Five years ago, when we sold our first home and started looking for a new one, one of the home features on our wish list was a bonus space of some sort that we could use for a school room. Even though our son was a baby, we knew we would homeschool and thought having a separate room for school was a necessity.
We ended up compromising on several items on our wish list in favor of a home that was smaller than the first home we owned but below our housing budget. For us, giving up extra square footage was well worth it since we have a very affordable mortgage.
We’ve lived in this home for 4.5 years and have attempted to sell but have realized that choosing to live small allows our family more financial freedom. And, a few months ago we set a goal to pay off our mortgage by May 2020 so we’re planning on staying here until the mortgage is gone!
Last month, our oldest started Kindergarten and we began our journey of homeschooling without a dedicated school room.
Homeschooling in a small space has proven quite simple for our family.
Our learning area is our dining room. Our table is the most used piece of furniture in our home. It’s where we eat 3 meals a day, do school, create and write (I’m currently sitting at our table writing this!)
As soon as breakfast is over each morning, we clear the table, wipe it down if necessary, then pull out our learning materials for the day and jump right into learning.
We have a cabinet in our dining room that holds all of our school supplies and books as well as our art supplies, coloring books, library books, learning games and there’s even a shelf with toys for our toddler.
While our dining room may have a bit of a classroom feel, I think it’s quite charming. I love having a map on the wall, our children’s art work displayed and books in our dining room.
Instead of viewing our limited space as a challenge, I’m embracing the simplicity of making our small space work.
The cabinet is our learning material storage space which makes me think carefully before making purchases and I ruthlessly declutter items that are no longer useful for our children.
I’m also thankful for our library, we check out our limit of books almost every week so our children are exposed to a variety of stories and information but we don’t have to deal with the clutter! Having a dedicated shelf for our library resources keeps them from getting lost and gives them a place to belong while they’re in our home.
After just one month of homeschooling, we’re loving the lifestyle of teaching and learning with our children. We also know that being content in our small home and homeschooling in a small space has given us more freedom.
Our children love having books read to them and all three enjoy looking at books. Our homeschool curriculum is literature based. We even keep a selection of books in our van for them to ‘read’ while they’re riding.
Of course, not all children’s books are the same. There are many books out there that are considered ‘twaddle’. We prefer quality, classic children’s books that inspire and spark imaginative play!
Here’s a list of our favorite books for baby, toddlers and preschoolers as well as a few of my favorite parenting books.
For babies, we like simple board books with bright pictures. We really like Bright Baby books, they’re simple with big pictures for chubby little hands to point at and learn basic words. We also like books that are interactive (like touchy-feely books).
As children grow, their attention spans begin to increase and you can start reading them books with more text per page. Of course, they’re still young children so illustrations are still very important!
Here’s a glimpse into a day in my life as a stay at home mama of two (with one on the way!) on January 30, 2014:
8:00 :: I’ve been lying quietly awake in bed for a few minutes and our boys come in our room right at 8:00. (This was one of the rare nights that we didn’t have one or both of them in the bed with us!) They wake up ready to go while their daddy and I aren’t quite as enthusiastic about starting our day. They crawl in bed with us for a few minutes before going to play. I read a little before they come back in the room ready to eat. We spend a few minutes talking to baby who is going crazy in my belly before I get out of bed to head to the kitchen to make smoothies.
9:00 :: I’m finishing up my yummy strawberry mango smoothie while fixing eggs for breakfast and unloading the dishwasher. After making more eggs for Paxton, I finally make myself an omelet and sit down and eat it while the boys start playing. Hubby leaves for work around 9:30 (Thursday’s are his late day so he typically leaves later on Thursday mornings.) I go make beds and start a load of laundry before heading back to the kitchen to clean up.
10:00 :: Back in the kitchen washing breakfast dishes. Once the dishes are washed, my morning routine is finished! The boys are independently playing together so I head to my computer to check e-mail and write a little.
11:00 :: The boys are still happily playing together! I peek in on them and make sure everything is okay and nothing has been destroyed. They want to keep on playing so I take some time to look over finances and write out a to do list for my day. About 30 minutes after this peaceful photo was taken, an argument happened and both boys come running to me crying. I decide cuddling up and reading is the best way to calm everybody down.
12:00 :: We’re finishing up our chapter in Farmer Boy. We’ve been reading this book over the past few weeks and the boys really are enjoying it – especially Paxton. They’ve been pretending they’re Royal and Almanzo the past few days – it’s adorable. Once we finish up this chapter, I head to the kitchen to start heating up lunch and then pop outside to move laundry from the washer to the dryer. We sit down and eat our lunch – leftovers beans and cornbread – Paxton eats 3 servings of beans and was so excited we had beans for lunch!
1:00 :: Lunch is finished and we’re sitting down to read a chapter in The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook. We received this book from Nannie last week and they’re really enjoying this one too! We end up reading two chapters before rest time. At 1:30, Paxton heads to the playroom with a stack of books and Weston heads to their room with a book, his barn and a few animals. Weston reads and plays before coming out around 1:55 saying “I not tired” which really means, “I’m tired, mama rock me.” We sit down and start rocking.
2:00 :: Weston is sleeping. We’ve been trying over the past few weeks to get him to nap on his own. We’ve had a few successes but most days I end up rocking him. (Hopefully he’ll start napping on his own within the next month!) With Weston sleeping and Paxton quietly playing, I sit down to start working on our meal plan for the next few weeks.
3:00 :: Meal planning and looking for some new recipes. Paxton finishes his rest time at 3:30 and joins me in my room. He colors while I continue working on the meal plan. (And, the amount of time it is taking makes me want to start using a bi-weekly meal plan again!) Weston wakes up around 3:50. He’s cranky and wants to be held so I hold him.
4:00 :: Both boys are hungry so I fix them a snack of homemade bread with apple butter. They received a package in the mail from their Mimi which was a loaf of bread! (Paxton was FaceTiming with her the other day while she was baking bread and asked for some, so she sent him a loaf!) He was so, so excited to open his package of bread! We FaceTime with Mimi while they’re snacking. Once we say goodbye to Mimi, we start the process of bundling up to head outside to play in the snow (which is mostly gone by now.)
5:00 :: The boys are having a blast outside in the ‘snow’. They don’t want to come in. We take off all their layers and then I start supper. Since John David works late on Thursdays, we often do snack suppers. Tonight the boys had bread, cheese, apple and orange slices and cubed avocado while I made nachos out of leftover pinto beans, cheese and avocado.
6:00 :: Dinner time is over and the area is a disaster! I decide to make a strawberry sorbet as a little dessert and we eat and enjoy that. Then I start cleaning up in the dining room and kitchen – sweeping, washing dishes and putting things away.
7:00 :: The kitchen is tidy and it’s time to pick up in the living room and playroom to complete our evening routine. Once we finish tidying, it’s time to take our FCLO (fermented cod liver oil), brush teeth, put on pajamas, read bedtime stories, say prayers and go to bed. We follow this routine every night and they don’t let us skip a step! Tonight we read about Noah in The Jesus Storybook Bible and our last chapter in The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook. I leave and the boys fall asleep easily tonight. (Always a blessing on daddy’s late night!)
8:00 :: Two sleeping boys! I finally finish my meal plan, make out my grocery list and start writing this blog post while waiting for my hubby to get home.
So, that’s how I spent 8 am to 8 pm in January 2014. Other than my husband working late, today was a pretty typical weekday for us. Monday-Thursdays are pretty much the same with Friday, Saturday and Sunday being a bit less structured due to daddy being off and going to church.
*As I was scrolling through these posts from the last two years, I noticed that I happen to be wearing the same flannel shirt this year as I was last year! (Proof of my minimal wardrobe!) I love this shirt…it’s almost too small for me thanks to my growing belly but it’s so comfortable. And, Weston wore the same pants that Paxton wore in the 2012 post…yay for hand-me-downs!
With Christmas quickly approaching, many parents and grandparents are thinking about gifts for the children in their lives.
Many toys that are given to children at Christmas are quickly forgotten, but some gifts have staying power. Classic, open ended toys encourage creativity in young children and are played with for months and often times years.
Here are some of our favorite toys:
You really can’t go wrong with blocks. A nice set of blocks is a simple toy that will be used over and over for so many different things from towers to bridges to play food. We gave our older son a set of Uncle Goose Alphabet Blocks for his first Christmas and they’re still being played with almost 3 years later. We added to that original set when our younger son was given a set of Uncle Goose Number Blocks last Christmas.
My boys love dressing up. We have a small collection of dress up items like train hats, superhero capes and a pirate outfit. They really enjoy pulling out the dress up bin and engaging in pretend play. One of the favorites is the Melissa & Doug Pirate Costume, it’s a high quality dress up set that has been played with countless times over the past year and will used for many years to come.
Wooden Train Sets
When our older son started showing an interest in trains, we chose wooden train tracks over plastic. We felt the wooden tracks were more open ended and encouraged creativity more than the plastic ones (especially electric trains) available.
You can purchase inexpensive wooden train tracks at various places but we chose to go with the Thomas Wooden Railway. It is expensive but we started out with a Starter Set which included 2 trains and a caboose, he received a track expansion pack and 3 engines as gifts last Christmas from grandparents and another engine for his birthday. Over a year has passed since the initial train set purchase and both boys are still playing with the track and engines and that’s what he wants again this Christmas.
In addition to the creative train play, building the track requires engineering. He’s so proud of the different track set ups he creates and I’m often blown away by what he has created.
We forsee playing with these train tracks for years to come. And, trains aren’t just for boys! Most little girls love trains too – so don’t buy into the gender stereotypes!
Art supplies definitely encourage creativity – and big messes! We don’t have a ton of art supplies but big pad of construction paper, colored pencils, fingerpaints, paint and paint brushes goes a long way in helping kids embrace their inner artist. Both of our boys love doing ‘art stuff’. And, art supplies are a consumable gift!
Our older son loves music. He received his first drum and guitar on his second Christmas and those two toys are still being played with and providing music for our family jam sessions! We added a small wooden drum for little brother last Christmas. Other favorites include the child size child drum kit and our xylophone.
While books aren’t exactly toys, they certainly inspire creativity and can be the starting point for inspiring creative play. My boys will role play favorite characters and act out their favorite stories.