Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Home Science Tools - Geography and Biology Supplies

Montessori Keys of the Universe KitJust a quick post today to remind everyone moving along in the elementary albums or those who are preparing for next year --- Home Science Tools carries a Montessori kit that includes most of the science supplies needed for AMI Elementary Geography and AMI Elementary Biology. If you have Keys of the Universe albums, your materials lists will specify further details. If you have other AMI albums, check those albums for a materials or scan the materials for each album page.

If you have other Montessori albums? I can't guarantee a perfect or even a close match - however, Home Science Tools is a fantastic source for your science supplies regardless of doing Montessori or something different. They cater to small schools and homeschools. Fantastic customer service, fantastic prices, small amounts of chemicals....

The kit is 10% lower than purchasing the items individually; and coupon codes DO STILL apply - so a free shipping coupon is great (they have a flat rate of $7.95 regardless of order size - I ship out a lot with my Garden of Francis business - this is a fantastic shipping price!) - or a 10% off coupon still takes another 10% off the kit itself. I bought mine for $83 or so. Their computer automatically generates the kit price according to current prices of the other items.

Caveat: chemicals can only ship to continental US (check your order contents if you live elsewhere).

NOTE: If you live elsewhere, contact me with your location, and the science supply companies that you do have access to - I'll see if I can set up a kit or package with them for Montessori homeschoolers in your area.

Home Science Tools

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Working-Mom Montessori: Domestic Sanctuary

No matter the circumstance, all of us want to have our home be a sanctuary - a safe place from the worries of the world - not an additional source of worries in itself.

But when our time at home is limited by full-time out-of-home employment and even 1 or 2 evening activities, it doesn't matter if the children are homeschooled or not (or even if there are children or not!), a home is easily made messy and there is insufficient time to maintain it.

Stay-at-home and work-at-home moms do NOT sit around doing nothing all day and still end up with a clean, organized home! The ones whose homes aren't pristine, are not necessarily doing nothing either - a home takes time to maintain.

So what we can do to minimize that maintenance load so as to maximize family time and to minimize additional stress?
That utilizes Montessori principles of order, respect for all persons in the environment,

I am a huge advocate for "use it or move it". Not that I practice it (anywhere near!) perfectly - but in the areas I have used it, the peace that flows is something wonderful!

Before going to full-time employment - or the first full off-day you have - or before starting homeschooling full-time (especially if you are pulling children out of school) - or before preparing to move - or any plethora of pretty major life changes:
I always recommend you take some time to do what I call "mindless purging".

This does not mean to waste anything or to throw something away you KNOW you will use in the next 5 years (some people say 1 year - but when I have items that I know will be used by an older boy than I have and it's not easily replaceable? yeah, we're keeping it ---- or when my son was a toddler, I had Christmas decorations I wouldn't use at that time (home size, family daycare regulations, single parent to monitor usage) but I would when he got older - yeah, we kept those too).

So be discerning, but don't get hung up on the emotions. 
  • Make a "gift" pile (items to set aside to use as gifts for birthdays and holidays - label them with the recipient if one comes to mind quickly - or just place it in that box/bag)
  • - and a variety of "donate" piles - local thrift shop is the obvious - but does your local church use a Montessori-based or materials-based religious ed program? or do you have other materials that could be donated to the church religious ed program or the office? to a local pregnancy crisis center? other collections that could take used items? 
  • if it's NEW and you've not used it since its purchase and you don't have specific, realistic plans for it - consider donating it to the places that can only take new items
  • or return it if you can. 
  • Recycle what you can. 
  • Throw away only as a last resort - irreparable items, inappropriate items, and the like. 
Get the children involved in this process - if you're about to start homeschooling, this could be the transition from school to homeschool: getting the home in order, learning about community resources and what each one serves, interacting with people in the community - all those things that non-homeschoolers don't realize are real socialization ;) 

Your goal is a home free of "things" that drag you down, that eat up space, that contribute to stress levels, require maintenance (even such as dusting - a home is so much easier to breathe in with fewer items in it that aren't routinely moved and used, meaning less dust) and that otherwise make your home not a sanctuary. 

Now, some people like lots of stuff, or think they do. That's great! Just make sure it's stuff that you like and want and will enjoy - not just stuff for the sake of stuff. 

Another area to get the children involved in. This is typically best for a different day than the de-cluttering day. And you may not get everything "done" before a deadline you have (starting full-time work, moving day). 
Have to start officially schooling by a certain day? That is negotiable - here's why: 
  • Almost all projects I can think of around my home, count as ART. And many include Practical Life skills ("home ec" if you need a credit - track the hours)
  • Got stacks of photos to get into a binder or photo album? The children can help with that - it counts as art - throw in some family stories for social studies - these will not be full credits if you have children at the age of needing credits (track the hours though in case they decide to go off on a related study that would add up to full credit), but elementary and middle schoolers? this stuff is perfect! Preschoolers can help trim pretty paper, be the runners for supplies, help prepare basic snacks. Get all the children involved (except the infant who only wants to eat truly internalize the current project) - this child can be set at a table with some claywork or crayons and paper. 
  • Sewing to do? Again - have the children help. At least to observe what you do so they can learn too. If they need/crave to do something with their hands, give them some scrap fabric, needle and thread and let them practice stitching together the edges or creating Xs or creating lines. Draw a simple design on a piece of fabric and let them do a back-stitch or straight-stitch over it, while you are doing the main work. This keeps the children involved even if they can't help with the actual project - and hopefully they CAN help with the actual projects. 
  • House repairs? Teach the children. It might take a bit longer, but then they learn. Have them help with all possible and observe the rest. Talk about what you are doing. Learn WITH them if needed
  • If you have a true deadline - PRIORITIZE. What needs to be done for the sake of the deadline that would cause a financial burden? A relationship burden? An emotional burden? In that order. (normally I put relationships first, but if we're talking about moving out and needing to make repairs to avoid high fees, or you could be evicted if the particular project isn't done by a particular time - well, that contributes to the relationship factor ;) )

I know this is listed above as part of the projects - but let's look at the bigger picture. You simply aren't Superman or Supermom - so how are you going to decide what really needs to be done first? 

The words are simple anyway: 

Go through your day. What do you need to have in place (or gone) to run your day smoothly. 

Make it happen. 

That "simple" - and that tedious. At the same time.

Need a bullet-point list? 
  • Morning routine: what is it? Mad dash to the bathroom to comb hair, get dressed and use toilet in that order (yes, this is my son's routine - even when he really has to use the toilet). Can you simplify any of it? What do you WANT to happen. Now make it happen: have clothes out the night before and in the most convenient place; breakfast items out and prepped the night before when doing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. Assure all items have their easy access home. Whatever it takes. 
  • Meal preparation: are the dishes and utensils you always use always hidden in the back of the cupboard? Keep THOSE items out - the ones you use every. single. day. Don't put them away - have a nice place on the counter for them. Have items you never-never-never use? Gift them; donate them; sell them (don't trash them, that's wasteful and poor stewardship). Items you rarely use? Those ones put away. 
  • Coming home: I am the type of person who wants to come in with my load of groceries or whatever it is, but then I need a minute to re-connect with being home (some aspect of asperger's I have heard) - so I'll go to the bathroom or change my clothes BEFORE putting groceries away. So I'll have a change of clothes ready and I won't place the grocery bags (or anything I am bringing in) in my path to that end of our home. But then I want everything put away, cleaned up, bags stored, and I want to SIT with a loved one and a treat - to reconnect with the relationship AND the home. This is the sanctuary part. 
  • So I'll think through - I want the entry way clear when I get home, so I'm the one cleaning it up on my way out - to protect that sanctuary time later. This is SO much more easily done when there are simply fewer ITEMS to sort, store, clean. We have a closet for our coats, so our rack has one (maybe 2, depending on the season) jackets per person. Legoboy's tae-kwon-do bag is always on the hooks so we're not spending time looking for it (he changes his clothes when he gets home and returns the bag to the hooks - a process we thought through to bring us some peace and consistency). I also want our dining table clear enough to place a purse on when I get home; and so we can eat without cleaning it up while we're hungry. (the dining room table is also my "office" - it gets filled up fast). 
  • These little things add up - in time, patience, in peace
  • Bedtime routine: what do you want to do with this? Snuggle time with the children, then work time for you before sleep? All go to sleep at the same time? Think through how/what you want to do here and think ahead to the morning - while you are putting on jammies, you can be setting out clothes for the next day; while brushing teeth, wipe down the sink and counter. 
  • Cleaning: If you'll be working full-time out-of-the-home - or even full-time in the home - you may not have blocks of cleaning time (or you'll have to pull time away from relationships). So don't think in blocks. Think in nibbles: as said above, brush teeth and wipe down the sink/counter; once a day or every other day (depending on the number/gender of local inhabitants), when you use the toilet, spray it down with white vinegar; take a shower, spray it down with vinegar on your way out; the time you're not spraying down the toilet, wipe up spots on the bathroom floor; washing dishes - wipe down all counters, surfaces, handles, light switches with the same water (before it gets dirty); have two or more levels to your house - take stuff with you when you go up/down; MAIN THING: JUST PUT IT AWAY - don't say "I'll set this here and put it away where it belongs not 10 inches from where I placed it" - and then never do it - JUST DO IT. TRUST ME. 
  • Mail In/Mail Out: Deal with it as it comes; OR have one time a week that you take care of it. Whatever your routine, have one - and stick with it. Don't let it pile up. Most of it can go to recycling anyway (more and more areas have a place where you can drop off your paper recycling and they earn money for it - if you're willing to make that trip vs going to the recycling center for everything or if you can put office paper in your curbside recycling). File what is needed. Whatever it is - when you do sit down to go through the mail, finish out the process for every item. Don't set it aside for later. NOT worth it! 
  • What else do you do in your day? What routine will make it go more smoothly? What physical objects are in the way? or could be in a more accessible location? Adjust whatever is needed to make it go more smoothly. 
  • Want a weekly movie night with the family? Have the movies in one place; have the items for popcorn making in one place in the kitchen. 
And if it doesn't fit with your life? Go back to the first category above ;) 

Humble pie - this is the master bedroom.
The result of starting with chaos years back
S-l-o-w-l-y getting through it.
In my additional defense:
we don't heat this room in the winter;
and I really have no defense.
There is stuff here I just don't have TIME to put to proper use.
Son's portfolio and scrapbook; stuffed animal repair;
sewing projects to finish and post on Etsy;
my own "scrapbook" type stuff;
routine materials used for Garden of Francis.
Not that many categories, but it sure adds up.
The children who visit, use the books - a LOT.
Everything else just needs to be DONE.
At least my whole home doesn't look like this ;)
because I already applied the above principles to the rest of our home. 

However, I did wake up to this sight in my living room this morning.
Apparently I did some re-arranging in the middle of the night,
cleaned out the file cabinet drawers,
and left these out to freshen up their organization.
Ok. Off to it! 

UPDATE: After writing this post, I did get through the files above. I was able to recycle two plastic grocery bags full of paper; sell a set of continent folder files; add to my plastic baggies collection; and ultimately consolidate all those folders (two drawers' worth) into ONE. I then sat down and did my taxes. Before the government even had their paperwork fully ready.

Of course, we're snowed/iced/windchilled in, so that helps ;)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Working-Mom Montessori: What are we going to EAT?

Use the tags at the bottom of this post to find the other posts in this "series". See the original post about what is happening in our home here: Temporary Change of Routine

Life while working takes a decent amount of planning anyway - if want to maintain the goals of eating properly, having a clean home, plenty of family time and that family values are being shared and enhanced.

Now throw in homeschooling.
And tae-kwon-do.
And atrium.
And maintaining 2 website businesses.
And most importantly, time with loved ones.
(or whatever blend your family has in the mixer!)

But before all of that, every member of the family needs to eat properly and have clean clothing.

When I work from home, we can kind of let things slide - there is a lot of flexibility when I know I can start dinner preparations at any time - or have Legoboy pull something from the freezer. Being out of the home - requires planning - unless we want to run to fast-food all the time (that would be a NO).

Regardless, even when home "full-time", we still use OAMM: Once a Month Meals. We use it every 3-4 months. It helps us to have things on hand - and a neat new feature on their website is the ability to mix and match recipes from their variety of menus; truly fine-tuning it to meet our family's needs.

No more breakfast in bed....
at least for a while. 
But we don't typically plan a MENU from those meals. If we know we have guests coming over, I'll prep appropriately. When we have items that are perfect for packed meals out of the home, that is where they are used. Otherwise, we go with whatever works. Over the course of any given month we get plenty of fresh fruits and veggies along with our cooked foods. The benefits of being home all day and stocking healthy food!

Now that I will be out of our home 5 full days a week, we'll need to actually plan. I'll have 4 days a week of packing my own lunch; he'll typically eat with whoever has him, but I'll want to send something for him to share with others. Breakfast needs to be quick (and we can't do cold cereal first in the morning - at least I physically can't). The evenings we have tae-kwon-do or a later atrium, we'll want items we can warm up quickly or pack to take with us or I can put in the crockpot after school and have it ready to eat when we are home from TKD; evenings we will be home can be something that takes a bit longer to prep (oven-prepped items for example). Weekends, we'll cook up something that we won't mind eating throughout the week through re-heating it (or eating it cold).

But I need to take a look at our schedule and coordinate the recipes appropriately.

Since my subbing position is a one-month thing, I think I will plan for most of the month, day-by-day - kind of OCD-fashion and NOT my preference. If this were going to be an ongoing thing, I am not sure if I would want to plan for the entire month - maybe just 2 weeks - it more depends on the reality of the situation when in the middle of it.

The goal here is to eat properly - healthy, enough, not too much - but not spend just TOO long in the kitchen because there is also family time, education, and downtime to consider. And still get in the daily healthy stuff we LOVE and our bodies CRAVE: yogurt smoothies of various blends, gelatin (real gelatin, not jello), turmeric, local honey for the boy.

So we plan the menu (Legoboy helps, yes) --- we do the shopping --- then we spend one evening and one full day doing nothing but food prep. Hm. Have to find the time to do this. A necessary thing to save SO much time later. It's worth it; just coming up FAST. In fact, we will likely be in the middle of our food preparations as this post goes live (writing it a week ahead).

This time around, I'll create a chart to show what to take with us on each day; what to take out to thaw and when; etc. Definitely too OCD for my liking. I just want the month to go smoothly, because I know what an emotional wreck this is going to try do have in me.

Oh - and here's a big one I completely forget about when talking to other people but just caught myself DOING without thinking about it:
Get a sharpie. LABEL items for when they should be consumed.

This is a great technique, too, for when you've bought some great item in bulk to save lots of money but you know (or think, or hope they won't!) you and/or family will end up eating/using more of that item than usual - and in the end, you've not really saved any money.

One time, I bought up a case of graham cracker boxes - one of those fantastic sales and I was actually able to stock up. I allotted one box per month (for the two of us) and only bought enough to cover until the expiration date on them. So they have a "use by" date and a self-added "OPEN AFTER" date as well :)

I do the same thing with ranch dressing (one of my very few remaining chemical-ridden items in my kitchen - I know there are better options, I just haven't gone there yet).

All this labeling - it really helped us learn self-control. And we don't use it just as much anymore --- but with the upcoming month, Labeling is Back.

UPDATE (prior to posting -  I just don't feel like editing) - I have to forego the OAMM plan this month because we have so much in our freezer and fridge already that needs to be utilized (when I do OAMM cooking, I need to start with a nearly empty freezer)

Part of our plan -----

  • oatmeal is always on hand; mix up a few instant oatmeal packs (with properly healthy ingredients of course)
  • I have frozen sour-dough pancakes yet I can split into serving bags - warm up and eat with (homemade) jam and (local) maple syrup. YUM! 
  • hardboil some eggs for each week or two weeks - to have one in a lunch and one for a breakfast for each of us each week
  • sausage-egg-potato mixture (can't remember what it's actually called - warm it up in a skillet with coconut oil - add some himalyan salt - and perfect morning meal!
  • hashbrown scramble (it's actually parsnips instead of potatoes) - again sauteed in some coconut oil and delicious! (it's actually only tasty when it's warm - gets cold and bleck)

  • lunch-meat and cheese sandwiches - make them a week or two ahead and freeze
  • leftovers from suppers when the sandwiches need a break
  • rotate through the fresh veggies in the fridge until those are gone
  • clementine every day
  • daily bone broth - YUM! 

Snacks (and rotate through lunches): 
  • smoothies
  • granola bites/balls
  • homemade cookies (my style of homemade cookies ;) )
  • marshmallows (homemade - all-natural - actual health BENEFITS)
  • fresh fruit
  • fresh veggies
  • handful of nuts (almonds, pistachios)

Suppers - to use what is in our freezer already: 
  • soft shell taco "packs" (baggies in the freezer - pull them out - thaw - cook - eat)
  • alfredo sauce and pasta (can mix it all together and warm up in skillet)
  • homemade mini-pizzas - just can't decide on the style.... 
  • turkey soup and dumplings (can sit in crockpot all day; add dumplings when we get home; set the table, get selves oriented and all will be ready to eat)
  • turkey/spinach burgers (because we have them)
  • something labeled "tie" (probably "thai"-something but Legoboy thought to be clever - I can't find the recipe card for it though. This should be fun ;) ). 
  • working on the rest
We do the Eastern Rite fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, so meals on those days are modified to suit. 

This week, we came home (from a week away to a very cold region) to warmth and dry roads; went to bed; woke up to 3-5 inches of snow covering EVERYthing. Winter weather warning. Right. No grocery shopping today. Good thing the freezer is more full than I thought it was - we won't need that full day cooking. Just a partial day. ;) 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Botany Product Review: Kidzerbs Garden Kit

Growing an Herb Garden
Here is the webpage from Learning Herbs about growing an herb garden (we found the Kidzerbs kit when we were at Mountain Rose Herbs looking to purchase individual seeds from A Kids Herb Book for children of all ages. That's when we also found Wildcraft, which led me on a price comparison which led to the discovery of the Learning Herbs site (where the game is slightly more expensive, but comes with TONS of free stuff!). (whew - deep breath ;) )

Description from Mountain Rose Herbs:

Kidzherbs Gift Seed Pack
A Kid's Guide to Growing Medicinal Plants includes:
Kidzherbs written and illustrated by Sena Cech. In this booklet, Sena and her mouse, Cheesie, give you a tour of her garden of medicinal herbs. Full of cartoon and botanical illustrations, stories and recipes.
Each kit also includes 12 packets of seeds from Sena's garden (organically grown of course). Basil, Borage, Calendula, California Poppy, Catnip, Chamomile, Fennel, Feverfew, Flax, Johnny Jump-Up, Lemon Balm and Love-in-a-Mist.
A wonderful gift idea at a great price.

From there, things have blossomed - almost literally (we took a long time to get things planted, then we needed to replace, but our learning has certainly blossomed!).

Here is Legoboy's review of the Kidzerbs Garden Kit for Growing Medicinal Plants.

The Contents - or What is Included in the Kit:
  • This kit also included craft sticks. 

Is it what you were expecting?      

What wasn't as expected?

Any surprises? What were they?
Yes. The craft sticks.

How have you used this kit thus far?
All I have done with the kit is planting the herbs. We have not used them yet because we didn't have enough sunlight. We are replanting during the winter.

Are there any components you've not used? Why not?
I have not used the craft sticks. I taped the name of the herb to the side of each box.

Would you recommend this kit to a friend interested in growing or learning about herbs? Why or why not?
Yes. I think that this kit is a good starter kit.

Is the price a fair price? Too low? Too high?
Yes. It is cheaper than buying them individually.

Anything you'd like to say about customer service from the company where you purchased this kit? 
(note from Mama: we bought it from Mountain Rose Herbs, but it is actually created by Horizon Herbs)

Anything else you'd like to share with people who might possibly purchase this kit? 
I like it and would buy it again.