Cleaning Tips and Tricks: Wash Less Dishes

Once upon a time, three little kids used a cup at breakfast, another at lunch, a third at dinner and then 47 more throughout the day whenever they needed something to drink.   By noon, their weary mother had an avalanche of dishes. By 5:00 p.m. the family was out of cups and the weary momma had to wash them. You see, she was a rather busy momma, homeschooling her kids, taking them to tromp through creeks, pinning cleaning tips and tricks from Pinterest that she never got around to using and accidentally becoming an assistant scout leader.  She had no time for all these dishes.

So she invented the “My Cup Today” system and has been using it successfully for at least two years. She can’t remember exactly when she made it but, for ages now, people have been coming to her home and remarking about how clever it is. In fact, she just made a lovely set for her friend Janice, who also prefers not to do dishes. She will now share with you, the easy 3-step process, so that you, too, can do less dishes.

How to Wash Less Dishes

  1. Take cardstock and trace a glass for each person in the family and write their name below their circle.
    my cup today tracemy cup today write names
  2. Laminate it.*
    best laminator ever
    *And now, a word from our sponsor. Well, actually, it’s an Amazon affiliate link. This awesome laminator  has gotten a workout in the Creekside house for the last two years and it’s still going strong [link is to the updated version]. Paired with Scotch Thermal Laminating Pouches, you will be ready to laminate schoolwork, important documents and possibly, one of the children.
    laminator and Scotch laminating sheets
  3. Put it on the kitchen counter and say to your kids, “Children, you may use one glass per day. When you’re not using your glass, it goes on the circle. Rinse your glass after you drink something, unless it is water.” (Or rinse it for them if they’re itty bitty.)
    My Cup Today system to reduce doing dishes

That’s it.

The laminated sheets wash easily, right in the sink, so clean up is simple.
my cup today laminated sheets wash up easily

If you want to be vey fancy, you could make these on your computer and print them out in pretty fonts on fancy paper that matches your kitchen decor.  You show off, you.

My Cup Today system

Follow the Clean the house! board on Pinterest. It’s full of awesome ideas that I totally am gonna use someday. What? I am!

Thank you to our sponsor, Brave Writer.

The Homeschool Terrorist

Our resident Homeschool Terrorist*, otherwise known as the adorable 2 year old, Love Bug, has amped things up a few notches.  Not only does he rarely nap, but at the mere site of me and his siblings attempting to read a book, do a math problem or attempt a science experiment, he immediately stops whatever quiet, playing with trains or whatever he’s doing, and begins climbing on me, shrieking loudly and demanding snacks. Nevermind that I have just played trains with him for half an hour or that he’s had literally 6 breakfasts or that Mommy has fun toys for him, or the exact same things his siblings are using. He goes into full warfare and frankly, I am exhausted. So we are doing a very lite version of schooly stuff this week and lots of unschooling.

I know that this is a phase for him. He won’t always be this way. And we are so close to the late Spring/early Summer break that I’d planned to begin at the end of May, that I’ve just decided to be a relaxed homeschooler for the next month.  Firefly is signed up for art and science classes, he’s reading every day, we are testing out various math programs for the fall and fitting in whatever science, read-alouds, art projects and handwriting wherever we can.  The Queen Bee is doing some reading, some counting and a lot of pretend play with horses and ponies, as well as asking to take ballet again. We are going to museums and parks and theatres and various other field trips galore.

This is our schooling for now. I have my worries.  I worry that Firefly isn’t doing enough math and enough reading. It’s hard not to compare to other homeschoolers, some of who accomplish an amazing amount of stuff in a day.  But I know our lives won’t always be this chaotic. And I am looking forward to our time off. Lots of days at the farm and the pool. Time for me to plan and regroup.

In other news, our poor seeds that we lovingly planted, faithfully watered, and tried to coax into sprouts did not, well, sprout. Nada. Not a single one. We tried to warm them up. Water them more. Water them less. But they just wouldn’t budge.

So we gave up on them and plan to buy seedlings from the garden center, just as soon as we can get there. Which needs to be soon. Because they need to go into the ground. By May 1st where we live.

And the raised-bed garden The Husband so dutifully was willing to build me cost too much. So we revised our plan to just put beds right in the ground. But it keeps on raining. And raining. And raining.

So this weekend, unless we have to build an actual ark, The Husband will dig the beds and the Creek Kids and I will go to the garden center and get some seedlings and put them into the ground along with our wonderful garden markers. Well, about that. I put the seedlings outside for a few warm days and, well, they got rained on, of course. And my beautiful, laminated, seed-pack garden markers became such a mess, I couldn’t even bear to photograph them. The ink ran inside the laminated plastic (huh?) and the glue came off of the popsicle sticks. So much for that.

But, the point is, we can and will grow our own veggies right here on our little suburban plot of land and I hope to instill in my kids what my parents and grandparents instilled in me, and that is a love of gardening.  Of getting your hands dirty in the earth and growing something that you can bring into your kitchen, cook it, season it with wonderful herbs also grown in your garden, and serve it to your family. Yes, that is what we will do.

And we will plant flowers, too. “Pink and purple flowers”, insists The Queen Bee.  Yes, that is what we will do.

*credit for the hilarious phrase, Homeschooling Terrorist goes to Kelly at  In Everything .  Some time ago, Kelly left a comment on my blog referring to her own toddler’s efforts to sabotage school in her house.  Love Bug has been affectionately known as our Homeschooling Terrorist ever since.

Learning What Works

We are so, so, so off balance here this week.  We’ve added The Queen Bee to our homeschooling mix last week and we are trying to find out what works for all of us, what will make our day flow.  Currently, we have no flow.  Just a dizzying array of stops and starts and chaos and interruptions.

This is complicated by the fact that Love Bug has a new desire to eat constantly all morning long.  Literally, every half hour or so, he is tugging on my arm, saying, “I show you somesing.”  Which means, he wants me to follow him into the kitchen, where he will go back and forth between the pantry, the fridge and the fruit bowl demanding food but rejecting all selections.  Finally, he will settle on something and I’ll go back to whatever I was doing with The Queen Bee or Firefly but before you know it, HE’S BACK.  JavaMom, my friend and a very patient mommy, suggested giving him a bunch of containers of different snacks that he can play with or eat.  So that is what we did today, although we were out and about and he was sufficiently distracted, so we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

The Queen Bee enjoys homeschooling. She is eager to get started each day, clearly enjoys learning and stays on task. So what on earth am I complaining about?  Well…..the problem is, she wants Mommy all the time,  “doing school” with her.  She will work on a task by herself but if she finishes it or gets stuck and needs help, she does not want to wait. She wants Mommy now.

Firefly, on the other hand, is not used to having to share so much of his school time with her, and he too wants Mommy now. Between the two of them yelling, “MOMMYYYYYYYYYY!” every 2 minutes and Love Bug’s tugging, “I show you somesing!”  I am exhausted, not to mention extremely low in the patience department.  Oh, and it does not help that it is winter and very cold and we have been stuck inside.  My kids don’t do well with stuck inside in the winter.

So, not wanting to repeat all of that from last week, we are getting out and about more this week.  If I try and get them out in the morning, then the rest of the day seems to go more smoothly.  Firefly is ready to settle into his schoolwork and the younger two delve into their toys upon returning home, Mommy feels like we actually got something accomplished and all is right with the world.

And we have started to move away from the Monday through Friday only for school related stuff.  It is a million times easier and about ten times faster to do math with Firefly when The Husband takes the younger two kids out of the house.  In fact, not only can we get a math lesson finished but we can also catch up on phonics and get through several exciting chapters of our read-aloud book. So Mom is learning to relax a bit during the day and look for opportunities in the evenings and on weekends to delve into the deeper work with Firefly.  At least he can do his handwriting stuff on his own.  Once he is reading proficiently, this should be so much easier. Right?  Right? That is my hope.

I am also trying to seize more opportunities to learn “outside” of our classroom.  Hey, remember, I’m new at this. I am learning.  The Queen Bee started her gymnastics class today and lo and behold, what did the boys and I discover in the upstairs part of the community center?  A track! And it was deserted.  Yes! We went round and round.  Firefly did 7 laps at full speed. We calculated that he ran 3/4 of a mile. Then we clocked 3/4 of a mile on the way home in the car to compare how long that truly was.  Then we made a track with yarn to show the length of the lanes and how the inside lane is shorter, the outside lane longer. Next week we will see if we can do a mile. I am so excited!  Exercise to get the wiggles out and math.  And The Queen Bee gets to do gymnastics. We all win!

My Homeschool Lesson Planner

I love technology, don’t get me wrong. I spend way too much time on my laptop and my iphone. I love discovering new ways to use technology to learn things and to help my children learn things. But when it comes to keeping my personal calendar and my weekly  lesson plans, I am a paper and pencil kind of gal. Maybe it’s something about being able to see it all laid out before me and jot things down in the margins, or maybe just having that book in my hands, with it’s colorful dividers and pocket folders.  Maybe it’s because I am forty-something.  Very early forty-something.  Ahem.  I try not to overthink it.  It is what it is.

While I do love the idea of having lesson plans in a software program in theory, I just haven’t been able to find anything I like.  The closest I’ve come to using lesson planning software is Skedtrack, a free product with lots of features.   The appeal is that you don’t have to re-enter things if you get behind or have a week where everybody is too sick to do schoolwork.  There is one major drawback:  You can’t print it out. Remember how I like to have things on paper in front of me?

So what I have found that works for me thus far in my very new career as a homeschooler are free printables from Donna Young. Isn’t it so nice of Donna to make all of these great printables and share them with us?  I think so.  I use her basic weekly planner and have tweaked it to fit our needs. Because I can download it as a Word file, I can add or delete columns and rows, change the font, type in info that is the same every day/week, etc.
Here’s how I’ve adapted it to use with two kids, one who is in preschool and doesn’t do quite so many subjects as her first grade brother.

On my first grader’s page, I’ve put the things at the top that we all do together, like Out and About activities, Five in a Row, and Science. My preschooler’s page is half the size and goes over top of my first grader’s page.  That way I can still see the things on her brother’s page that also apply to her.

I think this system also works because currently, I only plan two or three weeks at a time. We are still so new at this, that I have to see how things go week by week in order to know what will work next week or next month.

Have you found something that works well for your lesson planning?  I’d love to hear about it.

Our Half-Year in Review

We are halfway through our first year of homeschooling and my how things have changed  since we began in mid-August.

We’ve gone from highly structured to nearly unschooling to funschooling and then on to structure with fun.  I’ve learned so much about Firefly’s learning style.  Our schedule has changed from mostly schooling in the afternoons to the mornings, mostly based on Love Bug’s naps, or the lack thereof.

Love Bug decided to make things exciting here at Creekside Learning by frequently refusing to nap or not napping until very late in the day.  However, he has spent increasing amounts of time playing on his own with cars and other vehicles (his passion) and he is being less disruptive to his siblings homeschooling activities on most days.  We began the school year doing the bulk of our school work beginning at 1:00 each day but now that he naps later (if at all) we often get going with school in the morning. We all have more energy for it this way and our afternoons are freed up to play with friends or relax.  Love Bug turned two this month.

Here are some of my reflections on what I’ve learned as a new homeschooling parent. Perhaps it will be helpful to some, amusing to others.

If you are reading this and you are also a homeschooler, you probably have been told not to go all out and buy tons of curriculum because it will wind up sitting on your shelf, mocking you.

Or you’ll feel compelled to use it because, dammit, you paid sixty bucks for it and you will not want it to go to waste.  Yeah, I read those things, too, but I went ahead and overbought curriculum anyway. You know why? Because it made me feel better.  It made me feel more secure, like I had an actual homeschooling plan. So I am not sorry I did it. It helped me start out our year feeling confident and, quite frankly, even though some of my curriculum choices turned out not to be the right fit for Firefly or some of them have yet to even be opened, I’m glad I started out feeling prepared and ready to homeschool my child.  And who knows, maybe they will be useful with my other two kids.  Or I’ll sell them at a used curriculum sale.  Whatever.

I also overscheduled. Where in the world I thought I would find time to do daily reading, handwriting, phonics, math, history, science, art and nature studies, plus Five in a Row and weekly field trips and homeschool group outings, all while taking care of a toddler and a preschooler, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, I do not know.  Clearly, I was insane.

It was (not surprisingly) overwhelming to Firefly, and I had to majorly back off and do a bit of deschooling for a while.  Then we settled into a really fun routine with Five in a Row, plus added phonics/reading and math.  But then I fretted about not having enough science and history. And handwriting.  Sigh.  If only I had three or four more hours per day.

So now we are revamping things for after the holidays. Here’s what we will do for Firefly, age 6.5, 1st grade:

Five in a Row We will only “row” a book once or twice per month, rather than weekly. And we will row a little differently. We’ll likely skip the math lesson that goes with F.I.A.R. since we will be more rigorous with the RightStart Math curriculum.  I also often do more of a craft rather than the detailed art lessons described in the F.I.A.R. planner because that fits my kids better. And guess what I got for Christmas?  F.I.A.R., volume II! Yay!

Handwriting Firefly has daily handwriting workbook pages to do (we use Handwriting Without Tears), but he often works ahead of himself now and gets it done in a couple of days. He’s finished the kindergarden book after a rough start of refusing, complaining, whining, oozing out of his chair at the site of the book, etc.  We put it away for a while, but even he knows that his handwriting needs a lot of work so we’ve settled into a nice rhythm with this curriculum and will start the First Grade book now.  I expect to move through it at a good pace, skipping the first part of the book, which is a review of kindergarden.

Math Our goal is to complete three lessons per week in our RightStart curriculum, with a few detours based on Firefly’s interests.  For instance, he wants to do more work with counting money as well as learning to tell time, so we will skip ahead to some of those lessons.  If he struggles with them we can always review again later, but I have the feeling he will do quite well with them.

Reading We are plugging away at Progressive Phonics. We are working on the intermediate level and we read each book as many times as needed, until Firefly reads that book with ease.  We do the extra worksheets and even flashcards, downloadable on their website. I am not a big proponent of flashcards but Firefly enjoys reading them to his siblings, his cousin, even the dog. Hey, whatever works.  He also writes each of the words several times, so that counts as spelling, too.

Science We are going to get back to our R.E.A.L. Science curriculum.  We completed the first section on cells earlier in the fall but again extreme resistance reared it’s ugly head (more whining, complaining, oozing onto the ground out of one’s chair).  And time is always an issue, just never enough of it.  But we are going to make a very good effort to get science in at least once a week from R.E.A.L. Science and one more additional project a week from something like Science in the Kitchen.

History We managed to complete our pre-history unit in early fall but haven’t done any history curriculum since then, except as it came up with F.I.A.R. books.  My goal is to plug away with science for a couple of months, and then, if we are doing well sticking to that schedule, we’ll add history in as well.  I have Story of the World ready to go, although I’m not sure if this will be the right fit for Firefly, but we are going to give it a try.

Art I purchased Mona Brooks’ book, Drawing With Children, as well as Draw Write Now, Volume 1. Firefly was less than thrilled with them both.  The Queen Bee, on the other hand adores Draw Write Now, so much so that I ordered the second volume. I have yet to try the Brooks’ book with her but I have a feeling it will be a hit.  Firefly has done well with random seasonal crafts and so we will continue with that. I just can’t see making art a battle.  I’ll save my energy for more important things, like Reading. I am hoping at some point in the future that we could do Meet the Masters or Artistic Pursuits or both. After all, there are only so many paper snowflakes and handprint crafts one can make, right?

Social Stuff Initially, we did too much. Yes, that’s right, homeschoolers who were oversocializing. We like to defy stereotypes over here at Creekside Learning.  We went to this homeschool group and that homeschool group, we had playdates with friends, we went to our weekly playgroup that started when the kids were tots.  We went on field trips and to parks and playgrounds and some days, I’d think, “Gee, we really should do some school work today.”  And that was before all of Firefly’s winter activities started: basketball, Lego League, Roots and Shoots.

It’s okay. We had to find our social niche in this very new and different lifestyle of homeschooling.  We had to forge new connections with other homeschooling families and meet the challenge of keeping the connections we had made with publicly schooled friends.  It takes more of an effort to keep friendships going when you don’t see your friends every day. Schedules, activities and lifestyles amongst homeschooling and between homescho0ling and  publicly schooling families are vastly different.  But friendships with kind, supportive, fun people are worth it. Quality, not quantity. I’d heard this before but now I really get it.  My child does not have the quantity of “friends” or really, many of them were just acquaintances, or classmates, or kids who rode the same bus or whose class was out on the playground at the same time.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve understood the value of a handful of close friends.

Initially, I thought it was critical that we find a homeschooling group that met regularly but we just didn’t find one that was quite the right fit, for one reason or another. Then it dawned on me that we didn’t need it.  We actually had more than enough social opportunities.  We had a couple of friends who homeschooled and we got together with them.  And Firefly’s basketball team and Lego Club are made up of kids that all go to different schools. He may be the only homeschooler, I’m not even sure. It doesn’t seem to matter much to anyone.  Our challenge, truly, is to only select the activities that are most meaningful to us, and not say yes to everything that comes our way.  We are so fortunate to live in an area rich with opportunities for groups and field trips and activities.  There are certain things we will drop everything and say yes, we’ll go do that right now.  But lots of others we need to decline, often reluctantly, so that we can stay focused.

For The Queen Bee, who is four and a half, and will now be joining us for home preschool, we will focus on a few key areas, with little organized curriculum:

  • Letter of the Week.  Lowercase letter recognition, letter sounds, pre-reading
  • Number recognition of teens and higher, counting, sorting, patterns and very simple addition with manipulatives.
  • Lots of read alouds.
  • She will join us for Five in a Row.
  • Handwriting Without Tears manipulatives and workbook, if she so desires.  Other writing as it comes up.
  • Lots of crafts.
  • Draw Write Now. She does the drawings with assistance, when requested, and dictates to me what she wants written for each picture.
  • Daily calendar.
  • Play, play, play!

For Love Bug, age 2: Other than play, play, and more play, we are focusing on learning the names of colors and shapes.  Love Bug also has some toys and games that focus on fine motor skills.  He enjoys building toys, like the large and medium size Legos, plain wooden blocks in various shapes and simple wooden puzzles.  Have I mentioned how thrilled I am that he is actually sitting for longer periods of time and playing with toys on his own?  He also is able to be in our art room with us, doing his own version of the crafts that the big kids are working on, or playing with play dough.

Thank you! Finally, I want to say thank you for reading my blog.  Writing is such a great outlet for me and a way to organize my thoughts and keep a type of journal that I can look back on.  I’ve tremendously enjoyed reading the comments people have left and “meeting” new friends, other bloggers and homeschooling mommas.  The support of family and friends has been so important to me and The Husband as we embarked on this new adventure of homeschooling.  Thank you all for that!