Monday, November 29, 2010

Win a $40 gift card to Minds in Motion Toy Store!!

Just in time for the holidays!! Minds in Motion is an independently owned & operated specialty toy store in Grand Rapids, with carefully chosen, educational and fun toys.
All this week, I'm offering a great promotion where you can enter to win a $40 gift card to this amazing store just for getting a friend to "like" my To Every Purpose Facebook page!! From today until this Saturday, December 4, at midnight. You can enter as many times as you want, once for every friend you get to "like" my fb page, then comment on my wall who you had join (they have to actually add it) and I'll take all the names from the comments and randomly select a winner. This is an amazing opportunity for free, beautifully constructed, educational toys for Christmas, don't miss out! If you haven't yet joined To Every Purpose on facebook, here's a perfect chance for you and a friend to stay up to date on my latest entries plus other links and resources I share!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Give onto others...

Service to others is an important virtue in our house, especially during the holiday season. Every year we make the memories of our service projects stand out just as much as the memories of boxes and bows on Christmas morning.
I love hearing stories of families volunteering at shelters or soup kitchens on December 24, as my kids get older I hope to incorporate more. Here is some of the cheer we've spread this season, please share what you do as well, so we may continue to inspire and rejoice in God, as well as teach our children the values of good citizenship.

Dress the Dolls, through United Bank, is one of our favorite traditions this time of year, and this year we participated with other members of our homeschool group, which was a lot of fun. The kids dress dolls for children in need and they are distributed through a local service center's Christmas gift basket program. Read more about it here: Dress the Dolls. My daughter loves dressing a doll for another little girl who doesn't have any dolls, it makes her so happy, you can truly see the joy of giving beaming through her.

This year we learned through friends of another fun service project, Operation Christmas Child, through Samaritan's Purse, where the kids fill shoe boxes to send overseas to children in conjunction with a word of God outreach program. We filled one for a boy and one for a girl, ages 2-4. The kids had so much fun picking out all the goodies to fill the boxes and wrapping them. Also, we found this video to watch about it, which helped them visualize who they were helping. Operation Christmas Child.

The local daily newspaper just headlined an article about Black Friday on the front page that I was quoted in. Daily News Article. Perhaps those filling their carts with gadgets they can't afford this time of year will pause to give second thought about the reason for the season and rethink what they get swept up in this time of year, you never know who God is trying to reach through little avenues. My monthly column, Mercy in Mamahood, touched on the issue of Black Friday last year: Happy Holidays, not Hectic Ones.

Another recent program we've enjoyed is one I just started up this fall for our homeschool group, called "Mondays at Metron" where the kids meet monthly with the elderly residents of the local retirement center and do seasonal crafts. We're coming up on our third trip there and it has been going well so far, I think over the course of this school year the kids will be more and more comfortable and familiar with, as my kindergartner says, "other people's great grandmas and papas". Also the residents seem to light up seeing the little ones and having visitors. My friend Marya expressed the benefits well in this article about it: Homeschoolers meet with Metron residents article.

Never think your kids are too young to appreciate the meaning behind service opportunities. Just as with the start of any traditions, decorations, activities, etc. the memories build on each other. Each year they'll get more and more out of it. Children will find joy and excitement in helping others when they see that excitement reflected in you. As parents, we have the ability to lead by example and show through our actions where the emphasis of the season should be placed. Santa is fun, (just as the tooth fairy and other tales are) and in our house he has a place amongst the festivities, but he shouldn't outshine lessons of character, Agape, service and citizenship. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, with minimal effort, you can strike a great balance between it all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Children's Books on Homeschooling

I really can't say enough good things about "I am Learning All the Time" by Rain Perry Fordyce. This book is a golden gem! The lovable main character, Hugh, is five-years-old and just learning what it means to be a homeschooling family. This beautifully illustrated tale delightfully reflects on the similarities and differences between the way children learn both in a homeschool setting and in a public school setting, reflecting neither in a negative light, simply exploring the ways people learn and have fun both in public and home schools. It would make a wonderful read for any family and I truly can't recommend it enough. Wish every library carried copies for it to be shared with one and all. Order a copy at Homeschool Adventure Books (where you will also find free coloring pages to accompany it!).

"Kandoo Kangaroo Hops into Homeschool" by Susan Ratner is a charming children's book on homeschooling, too. This one is faith-related and follows a little Kangaroo girl as she hops into the world of homeschooling.

Both books mention homeschool group picnics, which I found especially neat since our homeschool group does those too, a Family Picnic to start the summer and another "Not-Back-to-School" Field Day Family Picnic before the start of September. Fun times!! Here are some pictures of us enjoying those this year, complete with my husband and another dad from the group dressed as the Homeschool Crayon Dads! :)

My new favorite book :)

Sue Maakstad hits it right on in her inspiring book, "Home Sweet Homeschool, A Survivor's Guide to Giving Your Kids a Quality Education." I happened across it recently through a library search engine and with all the scores and scores of homeschool books I've read over the last two years, this one is in my top 3 all-time favorites. Her writing style is refreshing, humorous and incredibly uplifting. I've found myself cracking up laughing. Even after just one year of homeschooling, I can completely relate to it!! She also shares hilarious antics from the advice her older, married daughter seeks from her as she begins her own homeschool journey with her kids, which is delightful to anyone just starting out. Here are just a few examples from the first 50 pages that have leaped off the paper and into my heart with a smile:
Page 30: "Days like these make me wonder if I can muster enough collective brain cells and achieve a sufficient level of peace amid the pandemonium to conduct some sort of teaching, let alone impart pedagogical wisdom. My married daughter came over the other day to tap into what she thought was left of it. 'Hi, Mom. Hey, I just came over to roast some chilies. While I'm doing that, can you teach me real quick how to homeschool the kids?'
Oh, yeah, right, sure. No sweat!"

Page 26: "One of my married daughters, Dina, the eldest, called the other day in a moment of homeschool desperation... 'Mom! I just can't do this,' Dina said.
'Really? That's great!' I said. 'You're in a fabulous position. Because when we reach the end of ourselves, we're ready to give it to God and see him move.'"

Page 48: "Remember, homeschooling isn't all about you and what you perceive as your deficiencies, pedagogical or otherwise. Homeschool is all about you recognizing and accepting all your deficiencies and then trusting God to help you in spite of yourself."

Page 51: "We're talking about your children; nothing is too much to ask. When it comes to knowing your kids, you need look no further than the mirror for the best. You want a specialist? You're it. You've known this kid from the first wiggle in the womb. You two were in sync way before the first diaper."

And the inspiration goes on and on! The chapters are also filled with uplifting scripture marked "Lifesavers" that I'll be sure to reference again and again. Hats off to Mrs. Maakestad and her family for being awesome vessels for God to work through as an inspiration to others taking the journey of Homeschooling!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Great game!

Seriously, this game is awesome, I give it BIG thumbs up! My 4-year-old daughter just received Cranium's Cariboo Island Treasure Hunt Game as a belated birthday gift and it is great! I had never heard of it before. I know with newer games or ones aimed at being "educational" there's always the risk it won't be as cool as it looks. This one hits the jackpot. It's fun, keeps the kids interest and suspense as they search with a key for tokens to open the treasure chest, all while playing a match-up with numbers, shapes, letters and colors. The rules aren't complex at all, it's easy enough for them to play independently and not so long that they lose interest, in fact they play it several times over and over. I really recommend this for Christmas for any kids ages 3 to 6.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Raisin Box Bugs

My 4-year-old was creatively resourceful when she didn't feel like walking her raisin box to the trash today. The excuse she gave me for leaving it on the table, "um, but I can make it into, um, a little finger puppet later," was such a cute idea I decided to follow through and make it our afternoon craft project.
It was simple and fun, what better way to turn snack time into craft time?

Cover the raisin box with construction paper and glue on various pipe-cleaner, googly eyes, puff balls and feathers to create your own little Raisin Box Bugs for plenty of finger puppet fun.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Two nominations?!

Didn't realize until this morning I was also nominated under the Best Crafts, Plans and Projects category! Wow! How flattering and cool! I'm not very crafty, I don't think, especially compared to other people I know, but I definitely love sharing the projects I plan!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fun Thanksgiving Books

Thanksgiving at the Tappletons by Eileen Spinelli is a cute story where a series of mishaps leaves a lovable family of wolves with empty expectations for their traditional turkey & trimmings, but a thank-filled Thanksgiving nonetheless as they count their blessings in each other.
Also, Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende & Harry Devlin is a sweet tale revolving around a Grandmother’s secret cranberry bread recipe. At the end they include the recipe, turning the story into a great activity to cook together!

Stars and such

“Mom,” my four-year-old recently said during our bedtime routine. “How many stars are there in the sky? Are there a hundred?”
“Oh, there are a lot more than a hundred,” I explained. “There are millions and billions, more than you could ever count.”
She didn’t miss a beat before giving this sigh and reply, “That’s what dad said, but I thought I’d better check with you.”

I guess when mom is the primary teacher, it's best to run things by her first. ;) Besides, having just learned counting to the huge number of 100 recently, I'm sure the concept of infinity seems suspect to a four-year-old. Come to think of it, the concept of infinity is beyond any adult's comprehension as well.

We’ve just recently begun a small study with stars, which incorporates nicely with the Columbus and Pilgrim studies we’ve done this year, as we’re learning how the explorers used the stars to navigate. It also ties in nicely with the study of Creation we’ve been doing. One her classes at our weekly homeschool co-op this trimester was a Magic School Bus class, and they incorporated some planet and star study in that as well.

In addition, we have a field trip coming up soon with our homeschool group to visit the planetarium. She’s looking forward to it already, and in the meantime, she is having fun looking at the moon and more through Grandma’s big telescope.

Pilgrims, Pumpkins, Mayflower and More

We’re using the entire month of November to study Pilgrims, the Mayflower, and the first Thanksgiving. My kindergartner is really enjoying all the lessons, crafts and activities we’re finding regarding how the people from the 1600’s lived (and what they lived without!) and what the voyage was like on the Mayflower. (No television, refrigerator, etc. etc.) Last month we learned about Columbus which was a nice lead-in to our more in-depth studies now.
Here are some of the books, websites and activities we’ve been using this month and will continue through November.
“What is Thanksgiving Day?” By Margot Parker is an adorably illustrated, charming tale of a big sister explaining the first Thanksgiving to her little brother. It has what I consider to be just the right amount of religious inclusion of the Pilgrim’s faith and giving thanks to God-- not so much to be the total focus of the book yet still enough to display faith as a history and a very natural present-day extension of the holiday. If you are not a praying family, you probably wouldn’t care for the book, as the children in the story thank God, but for my family it was perfect. It is a great introduction for young children and I recommend starting out with it.

From there, I highly recommend the Scholastic series of “If you…” books. We’re currently working from “If you sailed on the Mayflower in 1620” by Ann McGovern which we are reading from a little each day over the course of a week. (For 2-5 grade students, here is an awesome accompanying literature guide with test and review questions for this book, some you have to be a member to view and other portions you can view for free: Lit Unit)
We made a small Mayflower ship out of an egg carton and popsicle sticks that we sailed across the “ocean” of a world map we traced onto blue poster board. The next day, we picked up an appliance box from the local furniture store and made our own Mayflower to sail across our yard, with Grandma’s house (next door) being The New World.

Plimoth Plantation has an incredibly amazing website with interactive games, coloring pages and a wealth of historical facts at

We also really enjoy watching, “This is America, Charlie Brown,” a two-part video cartoon on the voyage of the Mayflower.

Older children who need a more in-depth documentary will learn a lot from this free pbs series: "We Shall Remain" covers after the Mayflower and Colonial Times with an emphasis on the Natives, will compliment well the materials at, you can view online at

Scholastic has a terrific set of activities for Thanksgiving: Scholastic

Currclick recently gave away a great Thanksgiving vocabulary game kit and my daughter is loving writing new words every day such as Pilgrim, Pumpkin, Mayflower, Native, Thanksgiving, etc. They also gave a wonderful 141 page unit study about the American Colonies. OHC always makes such thorough guides, I absolutely LOVE when I can get them free from Currclick.

The book, “Colonial Kids” by Laurie Carlson is another recent favorite we’ve added to our home library. It is packed full of activities we’ll be using for years to come. One easy craft we’ve chosen is to make a Quill Pen with a real turkey feather that we had from wild turkeys in our yard anyway and a recipe for homemade ink you make from crushed up walnut shells. It’s really cool and both the kids had fun with it. Now they notice in the pictures and film clips of the pilgrims signing treaties that they are using feather pens like the one we made and think it is really neat.

For more art projects, we’ve delighted in the discovery of the activity tv site online, as you can pause as you go along. My daughter did a super job making this letter P into a Pilgrim:

Older kids will enjoy this advanced cartoon of making the Mayflower ship:

A wonderful tie in for us, too, has been some beginning study of the stars as the sailors used the stars to navigate across the ocean. See more of our exploration here.

As we head into the week of Thanksgiving, we’ll be working from “If you were at the First Thanksgiving” by Anne Kamma and making various recipes. My daughter just made a pumpkin pie with Grandma this week (not with pumpkins from our garden though, we used the last of those up at Halloween, and they weren’t baking pumpkins anyway). I was surprised to learn from Kamma’s book that pumpkin pie wasn’t actually served at the first Thanksgiving even though they had and cooked with pumpkins, they lacked other ingredients like sugar. A nice feature in the book lists the ingredients the pilgrims had in a different color in the pumpkin pie recipe they provide, although she and Grandma used a slightly different recipe than the one in the book. Her friends happened to come over later that afternoon, so she was able to share some pie and ice cream with them.

Here are a couple more books I can suggest for just-for-fun Thanksgiving reading. Fun Thanksgiving Books.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Learning to Read

Melted Homeschool-Mom Heart Moment #840: My kindergartner was recently recognizing and reading some words on her own with no help from pictures. When I congratulated her, she denied she was actually reading and said, almost in confession, "Mom, I wasn't reading, it's just, the letters helped me know what it said."
It really is moments like that which make passing up the temptation of the big yellow school bus completely worthwhile.
There are loads of Phonics programs out there, it's hard picking just one. No child is the same and you may want to try a few different things to see what your child likes the best. I figure mixing programs gives the benefits of learning from different angles while you find what works. We've tried out a few different programs and so far my daughter is enjoying the variety of several avenues. She really enjoys learning to read and write, she knows all her letter sounds, can write very well and is already reading some on her own. It comes naturally to her. Making grocery lists, asking me to how to spell words and writing letters to her friends are daily activities. We've worked some with the Hooked on Phonics Kindergarten program and with the highly-popular "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" book by Siegfried Engelmann, but currently she prefers the Scholastic Phonics Reading Program and the Starfall website, which is an AWESOME free phonics site for kids.

Nominated for Best New Homeschool Blog!!

Wow!!! I am so excited to share that I was actually nominated for Best NEW Homeschool Blog for The Homeschool Post's 6th Annual Homeschool Blog Awards!! I can't believe it!

What an unbelievable way to kick off month 2 of my new blog!! Now it's time to vote!! I don't think I'll actually win, it's a pretty competitive category, but honestly, I feel like I already won just being nominated! Thanks for the support! Please take a moment to vote, it is just one-click! To Every Purpose is third from the bottom.
Best NEW Homeschool Blog

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Princess Ballerina Tea Party

My daughter turned four years old this weekend. We threw her a Princess Ballerina Tea Party for her birthday and it was so much fun! I absolutely love throwing parties and finding deals to make it the most cost effective as possible, which made it a blast for me to plan and prep. We had to keep things small, so we had a limited guest list, but with the help of the dollar store, materials I had on hand from scrapbooking, everyday tea party/princess play, our wedding 6 years ago, and a deal on the cake, I was able to throw together this wonderful shin-dig for 8 girls including my daughter for $20! Here's a glimpse of the fun...

I wrapped tulle around the bottom backs of the chairs to make them look like tutus!

I also wrapped tulle and ribbon around small bubble bottles to turn them into ballerina bubbles.

Each place setting was complete with the girls' names, bubbles, a small "glass" slipper, a box of princess crayons, and individual tiaras with small princess jewelry boxes that had rings and earrings inside for each girl to dress up with during the tea party. They all delighted in having their own jewelry to wear during tea time, it was a big hit. I printed off various ballerina and princess coloring pages and games for each girl to color and we also did a Jewel-by-number tiara craft.

My daughter requested blueberry tea, and along with that we served princess toast shaped like slippers and crowns spread with strawberry cream cheese. We also served blueberries and strawberries. My husband wore a crushed velvet suit and played "Mr. Butler", serving the girls tea, honey and cake which was topped with a Barbie Princess Ballerina.

My son had his pick of the ladies and boasted a Burger King crown as the only Prince present.

Next it was time for some free play dancing, gift opening and party wrap-up.

During the group picture in my daughter's room, I didn't notice until after I took the picture how my own little princess in the middle was frowning so sadly...turns out she was trying not to cry because she wanted to dance with her brother instead of take the picture. I'll tell ya, life can be tough for 4-year-old princess ballerinas... but I suppose it was her party, and she could cry if she wanted to! ;)