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Back to School Teacher Favorites Survey

Know exactly what to get your child’s teacher with this easy to use, editable My Teacher’s Favorite Things Questionnaire!

Know exactly what to get your child's teacher with this easy to use Teacher Favorite Questionnaire. This FREE survey will help you know all about their favorite thing so you know just what to get them for teacher gifts. It especially comes in handy with Back to School, holidays, and Teacher Appreciation week. AND, it's editable, so you can customize it just for your child's teacher! #teacherappreciation #teachergifts #teacherfavorites

For the first time since becoming a parent, both of my kids will be going to school this year! Since I understand how much time, energy, effort, and money go into teaching, I was eager to bless these teachers who were now spending 6 hours of the day with my babies.

While I love all of the mugs that students have lovingly given me over the years, I was eager to get these wonderful teachers something they really wanted. And selfishly, I didn’t want to buy something that was just going to end up going to waste or sitting around never being used.

So, I created this Teacher Favorites Survey.

Know exactly what to get your child's teacher with this easy to use Teacher Favorite Questionnaire. This FREE survey will help you know all about their favorite thing so you know just what to get them for teacher gifts. It especially comes in handy with Back to School, holidays, and Teacher Appreciation week. AND, it's editable, so you can customize it just for your child's teacher! #teacherappreciation #teachergifts #teacherfavorites

It asks about their favorite drinks, foods, shops, and general preferences, so I’d know just what to get them if I happened to be running by Starbucks in the morning and wanted to grab one for my kids’ teachers as well.

I created a pre-filled template if you simply want to print and go (just be sure you write your child’s name at the beginning of the paragraph so the teacher knows where to return it.

I also created an editable version so that you can include local restaurants, shops, etc. The editable version also comes in handy if you have a male teacher and want to ask them about things that tend to be more popular with guys.

Know exactly what to get your child's teacher with this easy to use Teacher Favorite Questionnaire. This FREE survey will help you know all about their favorite thing so you know just what to get them for teacher gifts. It especially comes in handy with Back to School, holidays, and Teacher Appreciation week. AND, it's editable, so you can customize it just for your child's teacher! #teacherappreciation #teachergifts #teacherfavorites

My boys’ teachers were shocked and absolutely thrilled to receive this wish list. One of them even said she felt like it was Christmas!

I’m eager to use these to know exactly how to bless these amazing teachers, and I hope you grab a copy too!

Just click on the button below to access this freebie!

Back to School, Family, Parenting, Teaching

STEM Activities

What is STEM/STEAM? Why is it important? Learn exactly what STEAM is and why it's important for us to incorporate it into our students's education.

When I was growing up, we never spent time in the classroom working on a STEM project. In fact, really the only time we referred to “stem” in school was in regard to our study of plants.

However, as I got closer to earning my degree and credential, the term STEM was beginning to become a hot topic.

And now, the term STEM –  and most recently the term STEAM – are becoming increasing popular AND powerful in classrooms across the country.

So, what exactly is it?

STEM (which we started seeing in the early 2000s), stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. And in recent years, there has been a big push to include an A in this acronym – intended to incorporate art and design  – creating what educators refer to as STEAM.

You may ask, “If teachers are already teaching science, math, technology, etc as subjects in the classroom, why is there such a push for STEM/STEAM?”

The goal of  a STEAM approach is to create a learning environment where students integrate science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics to solve real problems. STEM/STEAM challenges often ask students to work together to ask relevant questions, brainstorm solutions, communicate about potential problems, seek out information, and apply this information to create a solution.

Does it need to incorporate all of the listed disciples to be a STEM activity? No! Remember, the goal of STEM/STEAM is to encourage students to be innovative problem solvers through a variety of opportunities.

 

Who would benefit from STEM/STEAM activities?

In a word, EVERYONE!

Whether you’re teaching in a traditional classroom, homeschooling kids at home, or working with kids through tutoring, camps, or other programs, every child can benefit from STEM.

And one of the things that I absolutely love about STEM/STEAM is that it appeals to different learning styles and natural abilities. A student that might struggle in reading, may be the one who is able to come up with 3 different solutions for a STEM challenge.

Obviously, what I would present to a kindergartner would be much different than what I would present to a 5th grader, but the sooner we can teach kids to think creatively, the better!

The bottom line is, STEM and STEAM activities encourage students to be creative problem solvers – and why wouldn’t we want to develop this in our kids?

What is STEM/STEAM? Why is it important? Learn exactly what STEAM is and why it's important for us to incorporate it into our students's education.

Why is STEM/STEAM important?

25 years ago, the thought of people literally being able to carry a computer around in their pocket and be able to connect with other around the world seemed unfathomable. Even when I was in high school and technology was starting to change rapidly, I had no idea just how quickly the advancements would come!

Suffice it to say, our modern world is highly driven by the components of STEAM, and we need to develop learners that keep asking hard questions, developing creative solutions, formulating plans, doing research, and applying it to real world problems. STEAM not only exposes children to these learning experiences, but it helps them to develop an innovative mindset that we hope they will carry with them into adulthood.

Since we’re working with acronyms, I’m going to use that sane acronym to give you my top 5 reasons for including STEM/STEAM learning opportunities in your classroom.

S

Students Love It!

STEM/STEAM is FUN! Kids are naturally curious, and STEM activities are definitely driven by that! It encourages students to question, explore, and wonder about the world around them – and it’s hands-on! As a teacher and a mom, I have seen my kids fall in love with STEAM activities!

T

Teaches Cooperative Learning

The majority of STEM/STEAM projects involve students working together in pairs or teams to come up with a solution to a problem. Not only does this foster an environment where kids learn to work together, it also teaches them the value of listening to and learning from the ideas of others. Watching students work together (and celebrate together) is such a delight.

E

Encourages innovative problem solving

One of the most valuable components of a STEAM challenge (in my opinion) is that it encourages students to come up with creative solutions for problems. Furthermore, there’s not just one way to solve the problem. Different solutions can be suggested, developed, and tested. Students may come up with multiple viable solutions. All the while they are engaged in the learning process and learning from each other.

A

Allows Us to Focus on the Learning Process

I’m definitely a “recovering-perfectionist.” And looking back, I think that during my school aged years, I definitely placed way too much focus on the outcome (the test score, the grade, the award), rather than the learning process. How I wish I would have understood how much more valuable that process is! I love that STEM is all about the learning process. Yes, the hope is to be able to create a solution to a problem, but the end goal is not what it’s all about! We’re much more concerned with the questioning, innovation, and critical thinking that’s involved in the learning process!

M

Multiple Learning Styles and Abilities are Celebrated

As I alluded to above, STEM/STEAM activities focus on an integrated approach to learning, and often tap into students’ strengths, experiences, and even learning styles that may not otherwise be shared. I have seen students that tend to be reserved or hesitant in other subject areas absolutely “shine” during STEAM time.

 

 

Looking for some FREE STEM Activities for your little learners who are obsessed with dinosaurs? Be sure to grab these FREE Dinosaur pattern block templates and STEM Challenge Cards below!

Dinosaur STEM activities, Dinosaur STEAM activities, perfect for preschool or kindergarten

Back to School, Homeschool, Parenting, Preschool, STEM, Teaching

A Meaningful Easter Snack

 

My boys absolutely love Easter. And of course, one of the things that they look forward to each year is the infamous Easter Egg Hunt!

In the weeks leading up to Easter, we probably have at least 50 Easter egg hunts in various forms, just because my boys are completely captivated by “the hunt.” They ask Mommy and Daddy to hide eggs whenever they have a chance. They hide eggs for each other. And as the actual holiday approaches, we get to go to a few organized events (either with our co-op, church, or other family members) where the Easter Egg hunt is in full swing!

As much as I love a good Easter egg hunt (my parents have actually held one for the adults the past few years), I never want my boys to miss the true meaning of Easter – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, when they were young, I started trying to brainstorm ways we could weave the two activities together. Now, of course, we’ve done the popular Resurrection Eggs – which are absolutely wonderful! However, one element was missing for my boys – FOOD! I mean, with all of that hunting, they definitely needed a snack, right?

So, we created this Resurrection Snack Mix that not only points to the true meaning of Easter but also gives them a little something to eat after using all of that energy to find the eggs!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Clean, plastic Easter eggs
  • Pretzel sticks
  • Fish crackers
  • Chocolate chips
  • Small marshmallows or Popcorn
  • Any small red candy (sometimes I’ll save red M&Ms from the Valentine’s assortment or pieces of licorice – see my note below)
  • Large bowl

Now, you can do this a number of ways. If you want to place the actual snack mix items in the Easter eggs, be sure that you wash them thoroughly before filling them with the food items.

Then, fill the Easter eggs with the various items listed above. Leave at least one empty egg. Then, hide the eggs for your kids to find. Be sure to give them instructions NOT to open any of the eggs yet. Once all of the eggs have been found, come back together. Then, open the eggs and dump the contents into the large bowl. As you open each egg, explain what it represents in the Easter story.

The other option is to fill the eggs with instructions about which items to dump into the mix. For example, 1 scoop of popcorn. 1 scoop of chocolate chips, etc. I tend to prefer this option simply because 1) it takes less time to prep and 2) much fewer snack ingredients end up on the floor. If you do use this option, I recommend a 1/2 cup scoop for the popcorn, 1/3 cup or 1/4 cup for the goldfish crackers, a small handful for the pretzels (just because it’s hard to get pretzel sticks to fit nicely in a cup, a tablespoon for the red candy, and a teaspoon for the chocolate chips. Even if you’re filling the eggs with instructions and not ingredients, be sure to still leave an empty egg! If you choose this option, be sure to grab the FREE download. All you’ll need to do is cut out the paper strips and add them to the eggs.

Again, as you add items to the mix, review what it represents in the Easter story. By the time you’ve finished opening all of the eggs, your kids will have been reminded of these truths several times. Here’s what each ingredient represents:

  • Pretzel sticks – remind us of the wooden cross, where Jesus died
  • Fish crackers – remind us that several of Jesus’s disciples were fishermen and he also taught his disciples to be “fishers of men.”
  • Chocolate chips – remind us of the dark sin that we were covered in
  • Popcorn – remind us of how the blood of Jesus makes us as white as snow –
  • Red Candy – reminds us of how Jesus suffered and bled for us
  • When you get to the empty egg, celebrate that it is empty because the tomb was empty – Jesus is ALIVE!!!

Then, you simply pass out the snack mix for your kiddos to enjoy!

When we did ours this year, I couldn’t decide on small red licorice pieces for the red candy or red M&Ms. I loved that the licorice looked more like “strips,” reminding us of how He bled and died for us, but I also loved how the red in the M&Ms covered the dark chocolate (which we used to represent sin) – so literally, His blood covered the sin. So, we ended up using both!

An added bonus to making this snack mix is that it will last for 3-5 days if you keep it sealed well in an airtight container. And this means you can continue to draw their attention back to the true meaning of Easter.

I hope you enjoy this fun snack mix! And if you’re interested in other Easter activities that focus on the true meaning of Easter, be sure to check out my Christian Easter Activities below.

If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes. Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear all about it! And don’t forget to grab your free download below!

Faith, Family, Holidays, Homeschool, Parenting, Preschool

The Homeschooling Gift I Never Expected

As I’ve shared before, homeschooling was never something I thought I would be doing. You can read more about that journey HERE, but in short, after lots of prayer, conversations, and advice from people we deeply respect, we finally came to the conclusion that this was something the Lord was calling us to do – at least for a season.

 

And while I never expected to be in this role, the more we thought and prayed about it, the more excited I became.

 

I knew there would be some incredible benefits to being home with my kids and homeschooling them as they approached school age.

 

I knew that I would be able to build a strong academic foundation while also being able to pour into my kids spiritually. I wanted to be able to weave Biblical truths into our teaching and I knew

that was not something that would be possible at a public school.

 

I loved the fact that I was going to know the nuances of my kids simply because I would have months and years to observe their behaviors. Having had my oldest in childcare until he was around 18 months, I loved the fact that now I was going to be the one who would pick up on little things that no one else might notice, simply because I was around them so much.

 

I looked forward to building strong relationships with my kiddos just because we would spend so much time together and do so many things together. The sheer quantity of time we would have together would be irreplaceable.

 

With two energy-filled boys, I was thankful that they were not going to be locked into an 8am-3pm class schedule at such young ages. They would have plenty of time to play, use their imaginations, run around outside, and not be subject to so many of the demands that are placed on our young children.

 

All of these things were things that I expected, or at least hoped, would come out of me leaving the classroom, staying home with my boys, and homeschooling. However, in the past few months, I have seen another incredible gift that has come out of this decision.

 

My boys are best friends.

 

And I’m not meaning the kind of “Well, we’re brothers so of course we’re friends.” No, I mean the kind of best friends that if they could choose anyone to do something with, both of my boys would choose each other.

 

Recently, we asked our boys individually (when the other one wasn’t around), “So, who would you say is your best friend?” Without hesitation, they both replied, “My brother.”

 

My oldest tends to be an early riser, and if he’s been awake for more than 10 minutes or so, he’s eagerly waiting for his brother to arise – sometimes going in and waking him up just because he “misses him so much” (his words, not mine).

 

When one of them gets hurt, the other one often cries too.

 

And just this past week, my boys were at AWANAS, and it was “Store Night.” My oldest picked out an item for himself and one just for his brother with his AWANA bucks. My younger son (who is in a younger class and doesn’t earn bucks just yet) got to pick one item from the store. When we picked them up, the gift my oldest had selected for his brother was the exact gift the younger son had picked out. He knew his brother so well that out of all the items in the store, he knew exactly which one his brother would want.

 

I’m not saying any of this to brag – believe me, they have their moments, and sometimes they really just need some space from one another.

 

But I share this because I truly believe that their closeness has come as a result of our choice to homeschool for this season.

 

This is our third year “officially” homeschooling our oldest and I started thinking. 3 years, approximately 180 school days every school year, at around 7 hours a day. That’s 3,780 hours that these boys have spent together that they otherwise would have been separate. And that’s a lot of time.

 

A lot of time to build a relationship. A lot of time to have shared memories. A lot of time to talk, laugh, and play together. Plenty of time to get on one another’s nerves, but also plenty of time to learn how to talk, forgive, and make-up.

 

I know that this isn’t a possibility for everyone, and I know that every kid is different, but the relationship that has developed between my boys is absolutely priceless. And one I pray that will only grow stronger over time.

 

We don’t know how long we will homeschool, but this unexpected gift is something I will always be grateful for!

Faith, Family, Homeschool, Parenting

Homeschool Preschool: Letter of the Week

When I was first blessed with the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom I  was overjoyed. I soaked up all of the snuggles, hugs, “conversations,” and time with my boys.

 

However, as my firstborn got older, and I came out of the fog of having a newborn, I craved more structure.  Perhaps it’s the teacher in me, but I wanted to start implementing a regular routine in our day. I still loved just getting to spend each day with them, but I knew I wanted to begin working more intentionally with my oldest and create a daily routine that would work for us all.

 

So, our homeschool preschool was born. My husband is a teacher, so when he headed back to school, we started up as well!

 

At the time, my oldest was not yet 3 and my youngest wasn’t even a year, so our preschool was very basic. Lots of play, exploration, and using our imaginations. But for about an hour every day, we tried to work more specifically on skills that I felt were important for him to learn.

 

We always began our day by reading from The Beginner’s Bible and singing a verse song or two. (I highly recommend Steve Green and Seeds Family Worship if you’re looking for some) Then we moved into our alphabet work.

 

For simplicity’s sake, we started with a letter a week. I know there are so many different opinions about the order in which to do the letters – but again, keeping things simple – we just went in alphabetical order.

 

There were some foundational skills I wanted to work on with my son, but I didn’t want to be searching for, printing, and preparing a new activity everyday. So, during the summer (before we officially started our homeschool preschool), I created packets of activities that would set me up for success.

 

The purpose of these activities were to help my little guys begin to recognize and write their letters, to work on distinguishing between capital and lowercase letters, and to introduce them to the sound that each letter made. I also wanted to include activities that allowed them to practice counting objects, begin learning basic patterning skills, and even be introduced to the wonders of science. I’m a huge fan of reading to your kids, so I also looked for books that included ideas or characters related to the letter. And since kids always love a good snack, I brainstormed ideas for letter of the week snack ideas.  

 

Here’s a peek of some of what’s included in each letter packet:

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of the activity packets was that once I had made them, I was set. I didn’t have a lot of prep work during the week because we focused a lot on play, and when we were all ready to have a little more focused time, the activities were already ready to go. I just printed the pages I wanted for the week on Sunday evening, and I truly had the rest of the time to focus on my kiddos.

 

These packets gave me a focus for the week. And since I already had these ready to go, I could be as creative (or not so creative) as I wanted – or as the week allowed. Baking, crafts, gross motor activities, field trips, art projects, games, the list goes on and on. But I actually had time to think about what those other activities could be because my letter work was taken care of.

 

And I have to say, I absolutely fell in love with homeschool preschool. I loved being able to watch my kids learn and grow. I loved seeing them get excited about learning. I adored getting to instill values that were important to our family.

 

But I also loved the fact that we could move at our own pace. If we needed a break, we took a break and went outside. If someone was sick, we took the day off. If a task was a little too advanced, we waited until he was ready. We weren’t confined to a strict time schedule. It definitely brought some much needed structure to our day, but these boys still had PLENTY of time to play and we still had a lot of flexibility.

 

And what I loved even more – I used these letter of the week packets 2 years in a row for my oldest. During the first year, when he was 2 and turning 3, we just worked on recognizing letters. We talked about each letter’s sound, but I definitely didn’t expect him to master it. I showed him the capital and lowercase version of the letter of the week, but if he was able to recognize any form of the letter during the week, I was thrilled and we celebrated. We worked on counting objects, but I didn’t require him to form numbers correctly or even consistently match a group of objects to the number in written form.

 

Then, the next year, we went through the alphabet again, but this time we focused on different skills. We moved on from just recognizing the letter to being able to write (or trace it). I started to emphasize the sound that the letter makes and we worked on finding objects that began with that sound. He started to recognize the difference between capital and lowercase letters, and he started being able to count a group of objects and point to the number that represented the number of items. Sometimes we repeated the pages we had used the year prior (mostly because he had enjoyed them so much), but we also used pages that were just too advance the year before.

 

By the time that year was over, he knew all of his letters and could identify each letter’s sound accurately. His fine motor skills (writing with a pencil/pen as well as beginning scissor skills) had improved dramatically. For the majority of the letters, he could recognize, write, and differentiate between capital and lowercase. He recognized numbers 1-10 and was proficient in one-to-one correspondence for these numbers. He recognized different types of patterns and was able to continue them. However, most importantly, he was excited about learning. He felt confident whenever we talked about school. And he was eager for more.  

 

The next year, my oldest was 4 going on 5, and so we moved beyond simply working with a letter a week; however, by this point, my second son was now two going on three, and I already had all of the materials I needed to start working with him.

 

And that’s part of the beauty of these digital resources – you can print and re-print pages as often as you like for your kids or class. No need to go out and purchase additional copies! You are set!

 

I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed using these resources with my boys – and then with the homeschool co-op that we are  a part of.

 

If you’d like to get a taste of what these packets offer, you can sign up to receive my FREE Letter Ff Activity Pack HERE

 

Can’t wait to see how you use these!

And if you’re ready to grab the complete Letter of the Week Bundle, you can grab it HERE.

Homeschool, Parenting, Preschool, Teaching

Can I Really Start My Own Co-op?

 

 

Community. It’s something we all long for, need, and yet often resist because sometimes it just seems like too much work.

 

Now, if you’re a homeschool mom, you need this community more than ever! Yes, you seem to be talking with little ones all day, but having a conversation with another adult, especially in person, is a rarity.

 

And to be quite honest, when you don’t have a community encouraging, supporting, and pouring into you, your motivation to continue can become depleted quite quickly!

 

So, what’s a mom to do?

 

Our solution – one that has truly been nourishing to my soul was starting a co-op. On a side note, when we started, the kids were all preschool age, as you’ll see in my story below, but the principles and applications hold true for moms with older homeschool students as well.

 

Now, you might be thinking: Can I really start my own co-op? Or, my little one is only 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5), does he really need this? Or, I can barely make it out of my house as it is, do I really have the time and energy to coordinate a co-op? Or, my plate seems so full already, is the effort to attend another thing every week even worth it? The answer to all of these questions is YES, YES, and

YES!

 

I know because I wondered the same things.

 

After teaching for 8 years, I transitioned to being a stay at home mommy. I was incredibly thankful to be home with my little ones – a newborn and almost 2 – but I was completely overwhelmed. To be honest, I just survived for about a year. While I loved being home to pour into these little lives, I was exhausted. I knew something needed to change.

 

I knew I wanted to start incorporating some “instruction” into our day, especially for my then almost 3-year-old. I knew we needed more structure for our day because I constantly felt frazzled. And I definitely knew we all needed to get out and connect with other families more regularly. How that was going to happen? I didn’t know, but I started to ask.

 

The more moms I talked to, the more I found that so many moms were in the same boat. Being a stay at home mommy is HARD. Even when you have a wonderfully supportive hubby (like I have been blessed with), I truly believe it is one of the hardest but most important jobs in the world! So, we started talking…and meeting….and meeting at parks to talk some more.

 

We asked questions and discussed. We tried out different ideas – some were successful, while others weren’t. But we kept talking and meeting, praying and encouraging. Slowly but surely our co-op was born.

 

It has now been 4 years. Our little co-op of about 6 kids has grown into a much larger co-op that meets at a church because we’ve simply outgrown anyone’s home. We currently have 4 classes (grouped by age) and will be adding a 5th class next year. To be honest, I have been blown away by the way our community has grown, and it is truly a testament to how much we crave that community.

 

The friendships that have grown out of these weekly meetings are some of our most treasured – for the kiddos and myself. They have both learned so much – not only academically, but socially, spiritually, and yes even physically. They’ve learned about listening to authorities (other than mom and dad). They’ve learned about conflict resolution – when that one special toy just seems to bring out the worst in them. And I must say, I’ve been quite impressed with their academic growth! Personally, I’ve learned that I am not alone, even when it feels like no one else understands. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect – and neither do my kids. And I’ve learned that the push to get breakfast done, everyone dressed, and out the door with their school supplies (most of the time), is worth it every time.

 

It has truly been a blessing to our family! If you’d like to read more about Starting Your Own Co-op Group, you can check out my guidebook HERE:

Homeschool, Parenting, Preschool, Teaching