Monday, October 23, 2017

October Reset: Friendship

I put off writing this October Reset post because it made me nervous.  Friendship is a sensitive and difficult subject for me.  I am not really good at friendship, yet I crave it like water.  I am motivated most by relationship, but I'm terrified of others coming face-to-face with my flaws and insane quirks.  So, a friendship reset is something I've needed to do for years, but it seems so deeply rutted that I'm overwhelmed at where to start. 

First things first I guess.  I love deep meaningful relationships where loyalty and authenticity are mandatory.  As a kid and through adolescence I usually felt deeper (or at least more loyal) about my friendships than the friends did.  I was always a bit of a know-it-all which meant not really a barrel of laughs, but got a lot of people asking me for advice.  And truth be told, who doesn't like being asked for their 'expert' advice, right?  But when the crisis was over, most would move on to their regular friends.  Before you think I'm throwing a pity party or something, understand that I have been blessed with some amazing people in my life where I've spent some amazing weekends of fun with. 

I seem to remember a crazy weekend with some beautiful Bradford girls that involved way too many accidents and emergencies, but made for some great laughs and stories.  Whenever the subject of no friends would come up, my mom would always advise us to look for others who needed a friend.  I remember a couple of sweet Tidmore girls recently back from living in Honduras for a few years that became fast friends at first because we all didn't really know anyone.  Teenage years into my twenties brought some really great people close to home that were the building blocks to so many adventures - Melissa, Annette, Darcy, Olivia, Brandi, Andrea, Jessica, Afton, Stephanie and I could just keep going.  

So, yes I was blessed with friends, but friendship is complicated and then adulthood starts happening.  People get real jobs, get married, children take over and before you know it, an introverted, easily-overwhelmed girl who was always scared to really put herself out there first anyway, finds herself drifting farther and farther away from true friendships.  Why? Because life for one thing.  If you don't see each other on a weekly basis, then staying in touch requires more.  If your timelines in life (if you marry, age of your kids, values, etc.) don't align, it requires even more commitment.  And then there is me:  All of that plus my life and kids taking up a lot of the limited free space in my brain.  I go to bed longing to be closer to people - to be invited or included in things, but figuring a random text message at 11:00 probably won't be welcome or bring me that much closer to them.

The snowball of drifting away from friendships is sometimes impossible to avoid.  When you have a baby (and then two and then three), your life has to change.  For better and worse, you have a new job in guiding that little soul.  Your priorities have to shift.  And that's a lot of what has happened to me.  I take my job seriously as a mom and before I knew it friends were changing.  And then I want to do friendship perfectly or effortlessly - both of which never happens.  So I tend to give up before I try because it can't be either.  Thus, arms length or whenever its easy, which can be really unfulfilling. 

So, a friendship reset for me involves starting over from this new normal.  This new normal has 3 children, awkward introductions, 40 lbs of baby weight to lose, and a mountain of things to be grateful for.  My desire for friendship to be perfect or easy always required me to be the perfect friend.  If I was thinner, if I was funnier, if I was more stylish, if I was a million other things, then maybe friendship would be easier.  The first reset truth is that friendship requires work and maintenance, things I've resisted in so many areas of my life over the years.   The second truth is that I'm not perfect and neither is anyone else that I might be friends with.  I have to be okay with both of those things.

This month has really turned a corner in my heart with recovery from the really rough first half of this year and my little racecar's first 6 months.  I'm feeling more hopeful and joyful than I have in several months.  Ladies, motherhood makes so many other things in life hard.  Now may not be the right season for seeking friendship beyond what is already available to you.  That's a reality that we must accept sometimes.  I've been a lousy friend on multiple occasions - and knew it - but just never seem to have enough energy or brain power to fix it.  Now my season of life, especially with the racecar being our last planned pregnancy, is shifting.  I'm not exactly declaring I'll be everyone's best friend in 30 days or less, but I am committing to the pursuit of real, deeper friendship.  You might not be in the right place for this kind of reset right now, but tuck it away for another day when the time is right.  Isolation and arms length is just not how we were designed to live.  

If you find yourself in the presence of an awkward exchange or a nervous invitation from me or anyone else, try to have mercy on us.  Even if we aren't your forever friend, you might be just the practice we're needing to not give up!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reading Eggs: An Online Reading Program Review

Reading Eggs

With learning to read being one of the big milestones for our kids to hit, we are always looking for new and creative ways to encourage them during that process.  We were given the chance to review Reading Eggs with my almost 7 and 4 year old this past month and half and were absolutely blown away.  Reading Eggs is an enormous program full of a zillion activities that teach everything from phonics to comprehension with very clever games and reward systems.  In this one program there is so much content that this review will not begin to give you a full picture.  Regardless of what I share with you today, you should take advantage of their  Free Trial by November 30th because it  gives you free access for 4 weeks!  
Reading Eggs
What do eggs have to do with reading, anyway?  Before I explored the site, the name always made me think of chickens - certainly not reading!  The eggs are actually a currency all over the website to access different activities, rewards and levels.  This is what makes it such a hit with the kids, I think. It's a great combination of a typical video game format and a reading program.  

The Reading Eggs website contains 3 reading levels: Junior Reading Eggs (for ages 2-4), Reading Eggs (for ages 3-7) and Reading Eggspress (for ages 7-13).  There is a Bonus Material Section that includes Activity Sheets, a Parents User Guide, Homeschool Curriculum Guides for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd Grade, and access to The Eggsperts, an animated  series about solving problems with letters and sounds. There is also a Mathseeds area in a just as clever video game format that is all about math.  For this review, we're focusing on the reading portion but the math is a fantastic bonus with your subscription!

Before beginning any program, each child has the option of taking a placement test where they can begin where most appropriate rather than at the beginning of the program.  If your child has some reading skills, this is a wise option.  My 4 year old was just learning about word formation so beginning at the start of Reading Eggs worked perfectly, but also spent some useful time in the Junior section where things were a little easier.  My almost 7 year old is a great reader and the test started him near the end of the Reading Eggs for some comprehension work.  He also tried out the Reading Eggspress, where he really liked the games, but sometimes grew tired of the higher level work.

If you are familiar with my family and homeschooling style, you know that I prefer hands-on, screen-free curriculum whenever possible.  Send us outside and it's a perfect day!  However, if I didn't know before, the past two years have taught me that life is full of less than ideal circumstances.  This program does a solid job of teaching children to read while getting them excited about their schoolwork!  Whenever I need something they can work on independently this is one of everyone's top pick.  For our household, this program was used as a supplement to their other reading activities.  If you are in the market for a complete reading program, Reading Eggs offers a Parent User Guide that lays out the different ways you could use the various elements.  A new option they offer is a complete homeschool curriculum guide (as seen in the picture below) that uses Reading Eggs, Mathseeds, activity sheets and all of its online books for the entire program of work for the school year.

The incremental levels just seem to be unending and the games continue to entertain long after the newness wears off.  This program exceeded our expectations and has provided loads of educational fun for both of my school age children.  Don't forget to try it out yourself for free before November 30th!  
Reading Eggs*

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Read what other households thought of Reading Eggs below:

Reading Eggs
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Monday, October 16, 2017

October Reset: Parenthood

When I feel out of my normal control, I (too often) default to panic.  In my marriage reset post, I mentioned this panic too.  Children, especially as they multiply, can hit your overload button just by breathing sometimes.  Since Zoey was about 1, I've been trying to fully recover from the default panic mode my body had been set on.  Before we moved to the new house, I had finally started feeling healthy again, but then change ran amok.  Of all the roles I play in my life, being a mom is perhaps the one I feel the fiercest.  It's hard.  I'm easily overwhelmed.  I'm an introverted homeschooler which makes me a little crazy for alone time.  But I am absolutely enthralled with  what they are (miracles that combine their dad's DNA and mine in a beautiful way) and deeply committed to the responsibility of raising them.  So, despite the panic roller coaster they have kept me on, I keep coming back for more!

Still, panic is bad for your health long-term.  Trust me, I know.  So, my parenthood reset involves breathing first.  Before a reaction, before a demand, before a scolding, I'm learning to breathe.  My stressful state shouldn't be blamed or perpetuated (long-term) by their lives.  They are precious and the parts that aren't fall under my domain.  I'm the parent so it's my job to work on those.  Panic, stress and reaction is my responsibility to eliminate, not theirs.  The times when I struggle to enjoy my children have more to do with my state of mind than their behavior.  Parenthood reset puts my mental health under my control and responsibility.  A long day is still a long day, but I need to be cautious about blaming my children for what is largely my doing.  When I stay up too late or don't take time to pray and set my mind for the day - that's not their fault.  It is very easy for me to react to the behavior of now - like loud talking or children squabbles - as though they are the worst.  However, when I'm rested, emotionally filled and peaceful, managing those things are as simple as breathing.   The difference is me, not them.

It always sounds silly to hear someone say, "You're the parent, remember?" As though we could forget.  But somewhere along the way we do forget that being the parent means we are in control of so much whether we like it or not.  They do what we do.  They react like we react.  They resist what we resist.  Join the parenthood reset in taking control of what is and should be yours to direct.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CTC Math: An Online Curriculum Review

For learning sake, it really is unfortunate that our education system is too often on a very rigid assembly line with mastery expectations lining up just so.  I don't know what kind of kids they are used to but all the ones I've ever encountered don't seem to learn at the same kind of pace or often even in the same way.  So when you find tools and resources that highlight a student-based learning pace, especially in math, it is something to talk about! CTCMath can help catch up students that have fallen behind, give some extra practice or be utilized as a full math curriculum, whatever you need it for.   Last year we reviewed CTCMath with only one child using it and this year we got the chance to review it again with two students this time on the Family Membership.  The only major downside  we found was not having enough computers when both kids wanted to do their work at the same time!

In case you are unfamiliar with CTCMath,(which in that case you should take advantage of their free trial) it is an online math curriculum for ages K-12 that comes complete with video lessons, questions, diagnostics (tests), summaries and worksheets (only for some of the higher grade work).  As the teacher, I can login to my account and assign tasks to each student.  I can set deadlines for each task and an assigned order of completion.  If there aren't any tasks or parameters set, students can still access any lesson at any time. Students have their own login, but I can see their progress from my login at any time.  For each grade level, you can download a checklist of all the lessons if you prefer to keep track on paper.

How We Used It:

While miss Z is just 4, she is determined to do school like her brother so we've been exploring Kindergarten slowly with her.  She'll watch a video and then try the questions.  She would usually ask for help, just to make sure she's doing it right.  A lot of times it gave her brother a chance to help her, which is always a good thing for everyone.  Because she is moving at a really slow pace, it is helpful that she can always do lessons and questions as many times as we choose.

Since this isn't J's primary math curriculum, he used this to reinforce areas he was weak in.  Being able to jump around is a huge benefit to using it this way.  It is so nice to see his struggles improve simply from a little extra practice in a different format.  Our experience has been mainly with the Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades, but they seem to use a wide variety of pictures and examples in their content. 


Are you interested, but not sure if you're ready to commit to a membership?  CTCMath offers a free trial where you can try out the first lesson of any topic.  If you decide to buy a membership from now until November 15th, 2017, you will receive 60% off AND 6 months for free. It's definitely a good time to sign up!


Keep Up with CTCMath on Social Media:

CTCMath Online Math Tutoring {Reviews}
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Monday, October 9, 2017

October Reset: Marriage

I've never been shy about how different Mr. Butler and I are.  Introvert, extrovert.  Logic, feelings.  Red, blue.  So from the very start things can get complicated.  The past almost 2 years have been full of life changes and now coming down from having the little racecar, we continue to hit different stages of our relationship.  In line with the October Reset, I have needed to refocus my energies in our marriage.  Between physical healing, sleep deprivation and emotional turmoil in general, it has been easy,  and sometimes even necessary, to make anything else a priority.   A new baby takes the cake for a while, whether it's #1 or #3, and then everyone is deprived of the usual.  Other kids are clamoring for attention, chores pile up, and then heaven help us if there is an emergency or big holiday event.  The freight train just doesn't stop for a few months.

Praise the Lord, I think we figured out the baby's sleep issue and he just turned 6 months old so our freight train seems to be slowing down a bit.  In the midst of children happenings, it seems easy to love sacrificially - unconditionally - because they are children.  Maybe it is a maternal instinct thing, but when it comes to spouses, it seems different somehow.  They are adults so you expect different things from them (of course), but suddenly I found myself refusing to demonstrate the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated.  Conditions, demands, judgments - Instead of a relationship held together with an agape kind of love.  I was finding it really hard to love for love sake - to love anyway.  When life gets stuck in emergency mode or autopilot, it is easy to just react rather than being intentional with your choices.

Marriage Reset for me involves returning to the original order and intention of things.  I've always wanted to be a loving wife that makes life better, but in the chaos of the past couple of years I started reacting from a place of panic.  This month, though, I'm trying to eliminate the panic and replace it with love.  Once love is the starting point, Mr. Butler gets first dibs on my attention rather than last.  After all, he was there first and has weathered so much with me.  Everyone benefits when mom and dad are happy.  How does your marriage need to be reset?

In honor of #marriagereset I asked him to take a picture with me.  As usual, we couldn't really get our act together at the same time so imagine this is photo booth strip.  Here's to love!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Easy Peasy Cursive: A Channie's Workbook Review

 Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks
Handwriting can be a sore subject sometimes.  To kids it can feel so tedious.  Parents and teachers are continually debating the validity of learning cursive.  Especially when it might take your child an excruciating long time to finish a simple sentence or paragraph, it could be tempting to toss the whole subject.  J is somewhere in the middle on the subject.  He doesn't love handwriting for handwriting sake and can complain about it a lot, BUT he's always been very interested in cursive handwriting.  Since new stuff (books, curriculum, etc.) is always motivating to J, the Easy Peasy Cursive Workbook from Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks looked like a great way to light a new fire in his handwriting.

Channie's Easy Peasy Cursive Workbook

Channie's was born from a mother filling a need in her son's education with a visual guide for handwriting.  Her son's teacher noted that many other students could benefit from the sheets she was creating for her son and so she decided to share with the world!  Typical handwriting sheets are just dotted lines - usually one example only - and a lot is expected from little brains to visually remember what it looks like before really learning what it feels like to write the different symbols.  Even noting the difference (in location) between uppercase and lowercase is usually a big challenge, but these workbooks shade in the area for lowercase making it very easy to follow.  In addition to cursive, Channie's also offers workbooks for print handwriting for preschoolers and up, sight word practice books, and a whole set of math workbooks too.

 Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks
One of the big things with handwriting that we struggle with is getting overwhelmed.  This workbook contained 3 pages for each letter - 2 tracing and 1 on your own.  There was plenty of work that it made sense to break it up.  In his mind, completing 1 or 2 rows at a time was much easier than a whole page.  Having it all contained in a workbook was much more convenient than lone sheets of paper scattered around.  However, if you prefer single sheets, all the pages were able to be torn out if necessary, like a typical pad of paper.

Over the review period, there were many instances when he would experiment and try writing out  words on his own.  Without me even asking to evaluate, he provided me a chance to see how his writing was improving and he was retaining the cursive lettering.
 Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks
If handwriting or managing visual spaces on paper is a struggle in your house, Channie's Visual Handwriting and Math Workbooks is a great place to start.  They are versatile, cheap, and effective! 

Keep up with Channie's on Social Media for their Latest Releases:

Channie’s Visual Handwriting & Math Workbooks {Reviews}
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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Super Teacher Worksheets: A Printable Review

 Super Teacher Worksheets

Worksheets sometimes get a bad rap as the makings of a miserable education, but most any teacher will tell you that they are very useful.  Maybe it's a homeschool thing, but my kids are always begging me to print them off some school!  There are a lot of free websites around, but I usually can't get more than a couple of pages off of a website before I hit a snag of some kind like asking to pay for the good quality pages or the printing is all weird.   Getting to review the Individual Membership from Super Teacher Worksheets  helped me see what I had been missing when I relied on Google to give me what I needed!

 Super Teacher Worksheets

Super Teacher Worksheets provides a very diverse assortment of printable materials to use in your classroom.  Starting with Preschool up to around 5th or 6th grade levels, there are many subjects and lots of worksheets/activities to choose from in each category.  Math, grammar, social studies, science, spelling, phonics, puzzles, handwriting, coloring, seasons, holidays, and if that wasn't enough, a worksheet generator for quizzes, crosswords and word searches are all included in the Individual Membership which is $19.95 a year.  With worksheets in the name, you of course think mainly of that, but they offer flash cards, card games, scavenger hunts, word wheels, cut and glue activities, maps, bingo and more.   
 Super Teacher Worksheets

Whether you have Spanish speaking learners or you need some reinforcement for your Spanish lessons, there are some really neat printables in Spanish!  There are also teacher tools like award certificates and lesson planners.

We tried a lot of different activities over the review period and I discovered how nice the file cabinet they offer is.  Teaching multiple students means that if I find a good worksheet or activity, I'm probably going to to use it again.  Being able to save it and access it quickly anytime is a great tool.   Like the Story Cube pictured above, I am definitely going to use it again and I don't expect it will last a couple of years in my house.  So having it saved will save me some time.  The cube itself was a big hit with the 4 year old and 6 year old as it can be used with any kind of book.

 I tried out the worksheet generator and made a fun word find using family members names including cousins and grandparents.  Just that little bit of personalization seemed to make it a lot more enjoyable to the kids.  Whatever the subject we are studying that week, the worksheet generator makes it easy to adapt to it.  Plus it is an easy way to reinforce vocabulary words.

 Super Teacher Worksheets

 Super Teacher Worksheets

Since I homeschool two and eventually three children, having this kind of a resource makes a lot of sense.  If I had a classroom of 20 or 30, I would see it as a necessity! If you're in the market for an easy way to fill in gaps in your curriculum, Super Teacher Worksheets is a good, reliable option!

Keep with Super Teacher Worksheets on Social Media: 
Super Teacher Worksheets

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

October Reset 2017

Like gutters or plumbing, life gets backed up from time to time.  We get busy.  The unexpected happens - times three.  Things get neglected.  Sometimes it is justified.  Sometimes it is embarrassing.  At some point you get fed up and the gumption to do something about it grows big enough.  As you know, this year has really done a number on me in this area and I'm ready to break away from the build-up.  October is so refreshing - in color, in activity, in sunsets, in weather (usually) - that you just get itching to hit the reset button somehow.  I've been getting stuck in a lot of emotional frustrations and really needing to start over.

So to that end, I declare October my reset month.  My posts will highlight several key areas that I'm working on resetting this month like my marriage, my friendships, my role as a parent, and my soul and relationship with God. 

Tonight we went on a walk and ended up at the pond right as the sun was going down.  I really wanted to start this month and reset off right so I asked everyone to share something they were happy about/thankful for and then something they wanted to get better at/work on this month.  Watching a fish here and there send ripples through the water, feeling the breeze through the trees, and listening to my little family be happy for things like the pond, smart  and healthy kids, walks, and as J put it "the WHOLE world", I suddenly felt the strength to let go.  Let go of shock and terror that we felt in the hospital with Rory.  Let go of some of the grief we had at losing our Grace too soon.  Let go of just the sluggish ruts of this new direction our life had taken with three kids.  October 1st was has officially started this reset and it couldn't have felt better.

I still came back to dirty kitchen, two baskets of laundry, lesson plans, bedtime routines and a baby that may or may not stay asleep tonight, but I had a better attitude.  And that's a start!