Our homeschooling style is eclectic with a generous sprinkling of unschooling so record keeping can be difficult with traditional homeschool planners.
A few months after using the planning forms that I created I realized that while they were getting the job done, it wasn't a perfect fit for our style. We don't do all subjects every day, we don't limit our learning to Monday thru Friday so I went back to the drawing board and simplified even more.
So far I like it and it seems to be working better for us, it's simple but efficient. Everything is logged as it happens without having to separate by subject or type of activity.
If you are an unschooler you may find this helpful as well so I have added this new template to the list of free downloads. Simply subscribe to receive the downloads for free. If you are already a subscriber, send me an e-mail and I'll make sure that you get it too.
I was recently approached by Pley, a toy rental company offering me 1 free month of service with no obligation to review although they would appreciate that. I decided to give the service a shot since it is something that I had looking into and considered trying in the past.
As part of the sign up process I got to select which toy we wanted to receive, I was afraid of renting a LEGO set due to our experience with another toy rental company and my kids being heartbroken at having to return them so I chose a different toy that my children had expressed interest in at the store.
Order processing was super fast! I got a shipping notification within minutes of submitting the order but the shipping method used was very slow so the cross country trek took over a week.
The toy pieces arrived in a mesh zipper bag with laminated instructions which I like. There were no pieces missing and the kids were super excited. There was a surprise gift included for my son to keep, a silicon Lego bracelet that he could attach bricks and minifigures to, he loved it!
What I liked:
Quick shipping notification
Toys are sanitized
Environmentally friendly- the website keeps track of reduction in CO2 emissions
No commitments, easy to cancel.
500+ toys to choose from including 400 Lego sets
User friendly website, easy to report problems such as missing pieces
Free gift- my son was surprised to get a LEGO compatible bracelet to keep
Customizable wish list, select categories to be suggested toys, x out the ones you are not interested in, star the ones you want to get
Ability to buy the toy if the child wants to keep it
Pley donates a toy to underprivileged children for every new member
Ability to print return label from website if you loose the one included in the box
As soon as the return tracking is active you can choose next toy that you want which saves time in waiting for the next toy
Referral program. You can earn free months of service by telling your friends about it.
What I didn’t like:
No search feature for toys, I have to scroll through pages and pages of Lego sets and can’t search by name
Some toys are not a good value. I saw several Lego sets that can be purchased for less than the cost of 1 month’s subscription so I recommend using this for bigger Lego sets and fancy toys to make sure that you are getting a good value
Despite it shipping quickly, it was with a slow method that took over a week to arrive, time is money when you are paying a rental by the month.
Toy purchase price was a couple of dollars higher than the regular price at several local and online stores
About the toy itself
We chose the Nano V2 Helix 180° toy. This is something that the kids had showed interest in at the store so we decided to try it.
The toy instructions were practically useless, not very user friendly but thankfully the toy wasn’t hard to figure out. Once assembled the boys had a lot of fun playing with it and customizing the configuration of the tunnels.
The bug would sometimes get stuck on its side and we had to right it before it entered a tunnel otherwise it would get stuck on the tunnel, other than that it was a great toy. The boys liked it enough to want to keep it but we chose to return it to buy a slightly different version of the toy that offers more configuration options.
This toy rental service is a great concept and fits a need in the market. This service is good for people that have limited space and don’t want to accumulate toys that don’t get played with after a while. Your child can play with the same toy until the novelty wears off and then choose something different.
It is also good for when your child wants a very expensive toy that you don’t think would be a good value long term. For example, I love building with LEGO but don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on a fancy LEGO set that I will only build once. With Pley I can rent it, build it, take pictures, play with it for a bit and then return it without such a huge hit on my wallet.
I received a free toy rental with no obligation for a review. The opinions expressed are my own.
Recently I heard from a friend that works at a 911 call center about a very stressful call that she handled. A 7 year old girl called to report that she and her 3 year old brother were alone with their father and he collapsed and was unresponsive. She didn’t know their address, they asked her to go outside and read the house number but she still didn’t know the name of the street (apparently it was a long street) and no neighbors were home.
It took an hour for the ambulance to find them and by then the father was dead. Such a tragic burden for a young child.
That reminded me that it had been a few months since I’ve had a safety talk with my kids. While I hope that we are never in the position that they will need to use this information, I do my best to have age appropriate discussions on emergency and safety procedures with them every few weeks to keep the information fresh. I believe that any parent with a child of toddler age or older will want to at least cover the basics.
I admit that this was tricky to do when I first started but it’s gotten easier with practice. Some parents create lesson plans with activities and worksheets, I personally found it easier and less intimidating for the kids to have a conversation while we are sharing a meal. If you want some resources to get started, check with your local community agencies. I have gotten some helpful materials and workbooks from the local police department, EMS and other agencies.
I don’t put the pressure of memorization on them, I simply repeat things and quiz them occasionally about it to see what they know. For example Zen doesn’t have my phone number memorized and only knows the house number and town but not the street. He however knows very well what to do if he sees a gun, he knows which strangers are tricky strangers and what the passwords and code words that we use are. Shammy on the other hand has everything memorized and while he may struggle remembering how to make an emergency call from my cellphone, he knows what to do and say once that’s done.
The things we discuss (not all at the same time to avoid overwhelming them):
Types of emergencies and what to do- Fire, medical emergencies, car accident, etc.
Home address- I make sure that they know our home address (house number, street name and city), I don’t worry about the zip code as I want them to be able to tell it to 911 dispatch or a police office, not mail a letter. I also mention not sharing their address with others except in an emergency.
How to call 911- We don’t have a landline in our house so we review how to dial 911 from a cell phone with a lock screen. I keep a unactivated old cellphone charged and my son knows where it is since they can make emergency calls even without being active. I sometimes forget to check the battery charge and it dies so my cell phone has an emergency call button on the lock screen so my son doesn’t have to remember how to unlock it to dial.
Memorize mama and daddy’s phone number- I want them to know at least one of them, preferably both.
Discuss “tricky strangers”. I personally stay away from “stranger danger” because not all strangers are bad. Instead I teach about tricky strangers and make sure they understand what makes someone “tricky”. This website is a good resource for that.
Discuss gun safety. Even if you don’t have guns in your house it is important that your children know gun safety because they may visit a home of a friend or relative that you don’t know has guns. We use the NRA’s Eddie Eagle curriculum but I expand on it through discussion. My gun isn’t a mystery to them and they are allowed to ask questions and look at it yet know that under no circumstances are they allowed to touch it without permission. They have seen a video of the damage that a bullet can do to a watermelon and can easily imagine what it can do to a person.
Review safety code words- We have a code word that if used outside the house it means “we need to go RIGHT NOW, follow me with no arguments” and if used inside the house it means “hide”. We also have password for an adult other than family having permission to pick them up, if the person doesn’t know that word they know not to go with them.
What to do if we get separated in public or mama/daddy collapses- Their first goal is to find another mother with kids, if not find police or employee. If nobody is around, use parent’s cell phone to call 911.
Body smarts- I remind them that they are bosses of their bodies and nobody can touch them in the areas covered by their bathing suit. Parents or doctor can only touch with their permission. There are no secrets or games when it comes to their body.
This post is not meant to be comprehensive and it doesn’t include all safety aspects but it should be a good starting point for a parent that may not have given safety planning a lot of thought before.
We are not “anti- screen” in this house, specially when it comes to educational stuff, however I don’t want my children to spend all day glued to screens.
I have learned that having the TV off is just asking to have them nagging me about watching TV all day so I turn it on to a music channel and that gets them off to playing with their toys or reading books instead of asking for a show.
My husband insisted on buying my oldest an iPad for Christmas (making his tablet fancier than mine, lol). While I wasn’t opposed, I feared that he could become addicted to it. Some families don’t limit screen time and it works for them but I soon realized that it wouldn’t work for us.
Things were great at first until fairly quickly my fears were realized, he started to ask to play with it more and more and get cranky if he didn’t get his electronic fix, sometimes he even seemed depressed! I didn’t like the changes that I was seeing in his behavior so something had to change.
I didn’t want to ban the iPad all together as it’s a very useful tool for homeschooling so I researched different methods to try to set healthy limits.
Some people have rules that a child has to do a list of things before they can use their screen, that doesn’t work for us well as I am not a morning person and it takes a while for my brain to boot up so Shammy likes to do some of his time while I am not yet coherent.
The first thing that I did was delete the Netflix app, my son was starting to binge watch cartoon episodes instead of using other apps, now Netflix is only watched on the TV and only once or twice a week, that has helped a lot. Then I needed to figure out how to limit his time without a struggle.
Enter our “stick” system, this was inspired by a token system that I saw online. I didn’t feel like printing, cutting and laminating tokens and creating a board to go with it so instead I bought popsicle sticks from the Dollar Store and took one of my kid’s cups.
The system is simple:
Every day my son automatically gets 2 sticks worth 30 minutes of “fun” screen time placed in the cup. He can use them one at a time and on rare occasions he can use them together to watch a long video. It’s an use it or lose it method, it doesn’t roll over and if he goes over time it can affect his second stick.
Bonus sticks of 15 minutes each can be earned by taking the initiative to do a chore or clean without being asked to or complaining about it.
Educational screen time is not limited and can be had at any time, provided he doesn’t have any pending chores. Educational time includes ABC Mouse, Scratch Jr Coding, Duolingo, Spelling City, Stack the States and similar educational games. He can also have unlimited Facetime with his father while he is at work.
How did it work?
He accepted the system without trouble and he knows exactly how much he can have and that when his time is up there is no point in asking for more unless he “earns” it. The tantrums over screen time stopped immediately, he no longer acts like an addict going through withdrawals and has no problem finding non electronic entertainment options.
We have been successfully using the sticks for over a month. He rarely bothers trying to earn bonus time and seems satisfied with having a 30 minute block in the morning and another one in the afternoon. He spend almost all of his time watching Minecraft Videos on the You Tube for Kids app which as annoying as it is for me to hear about them, some of them turn out to be educational and it does improve his Minecraft play.
At first my son was very good at keeping track of his own time but over time he either got sneaky or lazy and started to go over. Now I use the timer feature on my Fitbit watch to keep track, now that he knows that I am tracking he doesn’t go over anymore and I don’t have to remind him that time is up, he puts it away on his own.
I use Qustodio parental control software to restrict access and monitor activity. I get a daily e-mail telling me exactly what apps he used and how much time he spent on them or I can log on to their site at any time to review the activity. If he uses a search engine I am notified of the search terms. It has given me a lot of peace of mind.
Their free account is enough for my needs but there is a Premium plan available if you want to track multiple devices or use extra features.
We recently spent 5 days at Disney World, our first stay there since Zen’s diagnosis. That meant a lot of meals away from home at a wide variety of restaurants. Disney World’s restaurants have a reputation of being great for allergy sufferers. We found the experience to be pretty good but the ultimate quality varied by restaurant.
Quick Service restaurants have an allergen menu available by request but you are still encouraged to order separately so they can substitute ingredients if needed and make sure to avoid cross contact.
Regardless of restaurant type (quick service, casual dining, buffet, or deluxe dining) once they are aware of an allergy a Chef came to speak to us about Zen’s specific allergies and what he felt like eating. After the allergy has been reported at one reservation or hostess stand, it’s entered in our file and it follows us to other restaurants so we only had to speak up at quick service counters. This was convenient because our server was given a paper with a red allergy stamp (like the picture at the top of this post) to be made aware of the situation before we were even seated so there was no wait to speak to a chef.
After speaking to us the chef would then either verify that the item that Zen wanted was allergen free or try to make it so. His food was cooked in a separate area to avoid cross contact and was brought separately from the rest of the food so the plates won’t even touch, this didn’t affect our experience at most restaurants but it did lead to longer waits for food at the quick service restaurant at our resort. At a buffet the chef cooked everything for him from scratch because he didn’t trust anything that was on the buffet line.
Some chefs were more knowledgeable and friendly than others and I found that the more expensive the restaurant didn’t necessarily meant better allergy service.
I could tell that the chefs were not used to such a long list of allergies at once and that meant that the usual substitution on some items were not an option. For example, for a soy allergy they usually substituted the bun on a burger with the gluten free version but that was not an option for our son since that has rice flour and he is also allergic to rice. As a result my son age a LOT of mac n cheese because it was one of the few safe options available at most restaurants, thankfully he didn’t mind but I can imagine how boring that must be.
The one place were allergies were truly a problem was at the club level lounge at our resort. There is no chef on site at that area (with a minor exception for 2 hours of the day) and the staff wasn’t knowledgeable about ingredients in the foods offered at the different buffets during the day. So we had to play it safe on what we knew for sure was ok and didn’t take a chance with most foods. When there was nothing on the buffet that we felt comfortable trusting to be safe the staff was great about getting Zen a yogurt from the back so he could have something to snack on.
Overall, Disney is one of the best places to vacation with food allergies due to the extensive training and experience in handling these situations. This doesn’t not replace being vigilant, asking questions and bringing your own food when in doubt but overall it was a less stressful experience than we anticipated and I was glad that I never once had to touch our Epipen.