Thursday, October 12, 2017

Simple Menu Planning

This is just a quick rundown of the very successful meal-planning system I have used for years to feed my large family (7 kids ages infant to now grown).

1. I don't plan breakfasts or lunches. They are the same simple options. My great grandparents ate oatmeal every single morning. Every morning. I am not remotely sorry my kids can choose between cereal, eggs and toast, or oatmeal--and any kind of fruit we have. Once a month I may buy graham crackers and/or yogurt (they love graham crackers and milk). On Saturdays when Dad is home I sometimes do pancakes or waffles or breakfast burritos or coffee cake.

Lunches are either 1) leftovers from our dinners (if they don't want it, then they're not hungry), 2) PBJ or PBH with carrots and/or apples or whatever other fruit I have, or 3) bean and rice burritos with cheese and sour cream--I always keep refried beans, a batch of spanish rice, and tortillas on hand. If my kids don't want it, they are not hungry. My five year old won't touch a bean burrito one day, but on another he will eat 4. I'm not remotely concerned about lack of variety. My children have never known true hunger and they are over-fed privileged middle-class Americans. I am teaching them to simplify.

So, I essentially plan for dinners only. My grocery list keeps me stocked on cereal, milk, bread, eggs, oatmeal, fruit, PB, jelly, tortillas, beans, and rice. Then I write my weekly dinner menu, then write the rest of the grocery list from that.

Sundays: Leftovers
Mondays: Pasta night
Tuesday: Sandwich night
Wednesday Mexican night
Thursday: Soup night
Friday: Pizza night
Saturday: Wild card night (like fish or meatloaf or...)

I have a master list of meals in each category. They are meals I can make without a recipe or with a familiar one. They are ones I know my family will eat, within reason. Sometimes I see a fun recipe come up on Facebook--I may throw that on a weekly menu to try it. If we love it, I keep it on my master list.  Here is my list:




PASTA MEALS

  • Spaghetti with marinara (optional add in grated squash, zuchini, eggplant, carrots, chopped spinach, ground turkey or beef, italian sausage, or make meatballs
  • Fettucine Alfredo (options include with chicken, shrimp, smoked sausage, ham or bacon, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, carrots, zuchini, squash--I change it up)
  • Tuna casserole
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Lasagna
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Stir-fry with lo-mein noodles or other asian noodle dish
  • Ravioli or Tortellini with sauce
  • Baked pasta--like shells or ziti or rotini--add in veggies or meat and change up the sauce
**I usually heat up a loaf of italian bread and maybe throw together a spinach salad or a caesar salad kit.

SOUPS

  • Chili (vegetarian or with meat)
  • Beef Barley
  • Chicken & Rice or Chicken Noodle
  • Potato Broccoli Cheese
  • Baked Potato
  • Wedding Soup
  • Minestrone (add in meatballs or tortellini or italian sausage or...)
  • Navy Bean soup with ham
  • Split Pea soup
  • Clam Chowder or other seafood bisque
  • Tomato Soup

**I usually have biscuits, bread, rolls, or cornbread to go with soup.Grilled cheese goes with the tomato soup of course (my fam loves it when I throw sausage patties in the grilled cheese). Sometimes just cheese and crackers. Sometimes a $2 caesar salad kit.

SANDWICHES
  • Meatball Subs
  • Philly Cheesesteaks
  • Reuben Sandwiches
  • Bratwurst or Polish Sausage
  • Hot Dogs
  • Cheeseburgers/Patty Melts
  • Tuna/Tuna Melt
  • Fried fish
  • Fried or broiled chicken (add in pesto and provolone or BLT)
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Barbecued beef or chicken
  • Cold cuts
**I usually serve a bag of frozen french fries, onion rings, or some chips, or I make roast potatoes, and cook some kind of veggie like canned green beans, frozen peas or corn, and maybe serve some fruit.

MEXICAN
  • Burritos or Soft Tacos (if I can find green chiles, I make a batch to smother). Served with refried beans, spanish rice. Filling is usually ground turkey. 
  • Shrimp tacos
  • Fish Tacos
  • Chicken or Steak Fajitas
  • Enchiladas (or enchilada "lasagna")
  • Nachos
  • Mexican "pizzas" (tortillas layered and stacked with beans and fillings then baked and cut into wedges)
  • Tostadas
PIZZA NIGHTS
  • Homemade pizza
  • Stromboli
  • Calzones
  • Pizza made on french bread or ciabatta
  • Frozen or take-out pizza (rare, but a treat)
WILD CARD NIGHTS
  • Baked fish with lemon pepper, usually served with brown rice risotto and veggie, or baked or roasted potatoes
  • Baked salmon or salmon patties, again with rice and veggie
  • Fried fish
  • Beef Stew
  • Pot roast
  • Chicken Fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Meat loaf with baked or mashed potatoes
  • Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes 
  • Stir fry with beef, chicken, or shrimp and veggies,
  • Fried chicken or chicken tenders/nuggets, mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Chicken pot pie
  • BBQ chicken
  • Hot wings
  • Chicken noodles with Mashed potatoes (southeastern ohio fave)
  • Roast smoked sausage, potatoes and cabbage
  • Jambalaya or gumbo (chicken, shrimp, sausage or any combo)
  • Roast turkey
  • Baked herbed chicken and rice
  • Quiche (usually spinach and bacon and/or ham and broccoli)

There you have it! My master list for meal planning. Email or comment if you need recipes. My recipes are simple and not labor intensive for the most part!

Happy planning!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

On Removing the Pledge of Allegiance from our Schools...

Yesterday, a hoax article (that appeared to come from AP and ABC news) circled FB that announced "Obama Signs Executive Order to Ban Pledge of Allegiance in Schools." According to the fake article, Obama did this because it is not "freedom" to make all students claim loyalty to the Christian God.

Before I checked if it was a hoax, I pondered this action. What would it mean for America if a President did in fact make this decision?

I homeschool, so why would I even care, you may ask? I care because I believe in freedom.

If our govenment wants to make a change at some point, I would prefer they just adjust the wording and kept the patriotic spirit for American Citizens--but maybe there is too much history with this pledge to simply alter it. Could you say it without having to ponder the missing words?

But I would say I would have to agree with this action. Our CHRISTIAN founding fathers agreed that there needed to be a separation of church and state. Schools are "state." Children cannot be forced to recite anything that alludes their loyalty to a God they do not choose.

America is great because we are FREE to choose our religion. Forcing all children to say a pledge that includes the God of Christianity is not religious freedom, and I want my religious freedom the same as the next person. I also want my parental freedom, which means being able to educate my children without having to worry that someone will tell them what religion they must accept or adhere to. I don't want my child forced to speak words of loyalty to ANY God or religion.

I don't tell my own children what they have to believe (that would not be freedom). I tell them they have to make their own choice. They have to find their faith or beliefs for themselves. It is my job to present things, to teach them to THINK. To teach them to SEEK. To teach them to LEARN. To teach them to listen to their own hearts and find their own purpose.
That's not the same as giving my own children the freedom to make other types of choices, like stealing, or bullying, or murder, or drugs. They have that freedom, but as a mama, as long as they live under my roof... ... they will have no choice but to be decent human beings who are kind and generous, loving, accepting, non-judgmental, and wise. As an American, they will have no choice but to obey our laws or be punished. We have laws to protect our safety and our possessions--or we really would crumble (you could argue those are Christian laws... but we will just agree that we need governed on a basic sense of decency to survive at all). Even removing speed limits and traffic lights would be disastrous to our society! As humans, we have learned the important aspects of a successful society.

I just read the story of the Mayflower to my boys this morning. Why did the Pilgrims come here? Because they wanted religious freedom. That was the dream. I would hope it still is. America is only America because it is a melting pot for all people who want to be free. I am glad our founding fathers were moral, principled Christians. That got us off to a good constitutional start . But even they understood we all needed to be able to be FREE in what we choose to believe.

I am a Christian. My closest friends may tell you I am one of the fiercest Christians they know--especially after coming face to face with death a few times. I had to get the issue of God and faith sorted out. If you ask me, I will be very frank with you about what I believe (and, sorry, some of you have gotten an earful from me without asking--but only if I love you the most!). I believe God designed us with free will and the ability to make our own choices. Therefore, it is not "God-like" or "Christian" to force anyone to choose to believe in God. As a matter of fact, last I checked, Christians are called to live in peace with others, and be charitable, loving, kind and non-judgmental towards all.

If you feel "called" or inspired called to stand up and preach the Gospel, or speak out on anything--any other religion or issue at all, then by all means do it. You have that freedom, and we have the freedom to listen or not listen and choose whether or not to believe you. How could America be so great if we were not so filled with diversity, and color, and options? There is such depth and possibility! No matter what you believe, your beliefs are only enhanced by the contrast of the others around you! My faith is only strengthened by the contrast and contradictions of others around me. The more your beliefs are challenged, the more strongly you can form them.  You can compare! Think! Reason! Learn! Expand your mind! Know! We are so blessed to have such freedom in America!

As for the pledge being removed from schools, what do I think? No matter what happens, I would hope American schools will always teach children to be patriotic citizens, proud of our great country, and inspire each one to contribute according to his/her strengths. We as parents must teach our children to be patriotic, loyal and helpful to our country however they feel called to do so. 

And don't forget, the greater burden is on the parents, not the schools. Schools have the burden of teaching reading, math, and science. Parents are the ones responsible for raising decent, loving, generous human beings who contribute to society.

If this "Order" is ever signed for real, some Christians will be appalled that I don't oppose it. It is not my calling to get up on a soap box about making America a completely Christian country. Apparently, I am called to step up on a soap box about being thankful for freedom in America. I am thankful to be able to be Catholic (my choice), which is the very religion our founding fathers were escaping when they founded this country.

I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America
One nation
Under God 
Indivisible
With Liberty and Justice for all.

Parting thoughts:

What part of "Liberty for all" do you not understand?

And whether we say "Under God" or not. If God really does exist, we are "under Him" no matter what. If God created us, He didn't need permission to create us. He wouldn't need permission to help us, or to destroy us (or the whole world for that matter--just ask Noah). It's my business if I want to believe in a God like that, and your business if you don't. 

I want to be a person who loves. Who is kind. Who is giving, empathetic, and understanding. I want to be someone who encourages love and unity to keep America strong, appreciating each person's unique spirit, strengths, and purpose. This is the type of person my God tells me to be.





Monday, August 22, 2016

A Different Kind of Detox

"Detox" is a big deal these days. Most people start off their new diets or health resolutions with a "detox."

Often, we are prompted to do this because we have been feeling bad. Our lack of self-control in life weighs on our conscience. We are having health problems: fatigued, achy, sleepless, sluggish, depressed. We feel guilty because we know we have been eating poorly. We know are losing muscle tone and can't run an 8-minute mile like we used to. The clothes in our closet that no longer fit hang there, taunting us, torturing us.

But our health is not always just about our bodies and what we eat. Our spiritual and mental health plays a big role in our quality of life.

I don't know about you, but the physical detox is hard for me. Actually--it's the closest to impossible thing I ever attempt. So. Hard.

We are not always ready to commit to the physical detox. It is hard to give up the very things that we have come to rely on to get us through our stressful days--the nap, the chocolate, the fancy coffee, the snack, the ice cream, the glass of wine.

There are other ways to detox. I'm starting a 40-day detox now. It's a Word Detox.

Our words are TOXIC. Not only the words we speak. Our thoughts are formed of words, too. (Other eloquent people have deemed this "Stinkin' Thinkin'.)

Starting today, I am eliminating speech and thoughts that are:

  • Angry
  • Whiny
  • Complaining
  • Judgmental
  • Selfish
  • Negative
  • Mean
  • Fearful
  • Discontent
Remember the Bible tells us that our words have the power of life and death. The power to bless and to curse. Not just our spoken words, but our thoughts, too.

If you are not quite up to committing to a physcial diet detox, or you have been trying to and failing, consider trying this spiritual detox instead.

I would dare to say the spiritual side of our lives is more powerful than the physical. Detoxifying spiritually will be life-giving to your soul. But it will also heal your body. Look. It says so:

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Proverbs 16:24
It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,
but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.
Matthew 15:11
From the fruit of the mouth, one's stomach is satisfied;
the yield of the lips brings satisfaction.
Proverbs 18:20
For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.
James 3:2

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
 Psalm 19:14

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak,
they shall give account thereof on the day of judgment.
For by thy words, thou shalt be justified,
and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
Matthew 12:36-37

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth
but that which is good to the use of edifying, 
that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
Ephesians 4:29
There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword:
but the tongue of the wise is health.
Proverbs 12:18
But now ye also put off all these;
anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
Colossians 3:8
Death and life are in the power of the tongue:
and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
Proverbs 18:21

Even so, the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things.
Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity:
So is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body,
and setteth on fire the course of nature;
and it is set on fire of hell.
James 3:5-6

Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth;
keep the door of my lips.
Psalm 141:3

He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life:
but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.
Proverbs 13:3

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life:
but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.
Proverbs 15:4 


These verses above are just a few of the many that make a connection between our words and thoughts to both our physical and spiritual health. This kind of detox will actually help you both physically AND spiritually. According to these verses and more, we can expect health to the body, mind and soul, self-control, and it even says that our stomachs will be satisfied! Yes. If we watch our words. 
So it says. Right there. In the Bible. I say we give it a try.

Who's with me?  Forty days. August 23 through October 2.

I will at least give an update to how it goes for me!

God bless you!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Routine, Routine, Routine...

Oh, what a lifesaver!

In the early years of homeschooling and trying to be a good manager of my home, my over-ambitious and hyper-excited self tried a little too hard sometimes. I tried the color-block scheduling thing, which was just too much pressure. Carefully-planned 15-minute increments for each family member? Yes... we never made it past 8:00 a.m. without falling behind. And leaving me feeling like an epic failure quite early every morning.


HOWEVER, attempting that method did usher me into the world of ROUTINE. As I prayed about my daily failures and offered them up to God, and asked repeatedly, "HELP," God took my ashes and started building.



I find keeping our routine posted generally helps my boundary-needing children
stay on track and be more willing and obedient.

God gently pointed to one thing at a time, and block by block, our solid framework of routine has been built. It is pretty unshakeable now.


It started by declaring nap time every day from 1:00 to 4:00. For everyone in the house.

That meant lunch was generally 12:30 no matter what.

Then we pledged to do our Bible lesson first every day at 8:30. That generally meant breakfast was at 8:00.

My husband's work schedule made it so 7:00 became our ideal dinner time. So...

We made a habit of doing our chores at 5:30 p.m. so the house would be nice when Daddy got home.

Then, at 6:00, as I (or my daughter) cooked dinner, we made a routine of the older ones playing intentionally with the younger ones. Reading to them. Building blocks. Playing with toys. Coloring.

And now... 14 years later, our routine is like a fine-oiled machine. It always works. Even if we deviate here and there, when we come back, it is still there, functioning perfectly, and we just pop right back in.

Here is how we roll:

8:00 Breakfast (Some kids get up earlier--if they do, they can eat and start on their independent school work. Also, since my pre-schooler is usually the first up, often his school is already done or we get it done while the older kids eat at this time)

8:30 Bible lesson

9:00 School

11:00 Beach or pool or park

12:30 Lunch

1:00 nap

3:30 Older boys (ages 6-10) do daily yard work

4:00 Play time (their daily 30-minute video game turns may be taken at this time)

5:30 Chores

6:00 Older kids play with younger kids

7:00 Dinner

7:30 Family time

9:00 Baths/showers/pick up house

9:30 Pajamas and brush teeth

9:45 Prayers/bedtime talk/devotions

10:00 Bed

Now what you don't see is all the things that occur within this framework during the course of the day:  Having the 4yo play with the toddler. Taking the toddler potty. Switching a load of laundry while the boys finish an assignment. Typing this blog post as the boys finish their last bits of schoolwork before we head to the beach. Helping my high schooler with her work.

Also, even if we don't start right at 8:30, the routine says that Bible lesson is first.

Soon, I will post an actual "day in the life" post so you can see how this routine looks in reality. The day may seem busy and crazy, but the framework remains solid and unshakeable and always keeps us on track. Hopefully, you will see!!

Blessings!



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Best Day of My Life

Do you know me?  If you were to describe me, what would you say?

I am a wife and mother of seven. A homeschooling mama. A homemaker. I am an organizational diva. A master of living simply. A laundry "nerd." I don't do crafts or scrapbooking. I'm horrible at home "decorating" (but my home is neat and organized!)  I love writing. And speaking. I am a good teacher. I love to crochet, and sew a bit. I love cooking and managing my kitchen. I shop at TJ Maxx (not Target). I like good coffee and dark chocolate and red wine. I love tamales. My number one greatest weakness is ice cream. Or maybe food in general!

I have been to death's door and back several times. I have lived in times of plenty and in times of poverty.

For those who know me best--those of you who feel you have had a glimpse of my heart (you have if you have read some of my blog posts)--I would hope you would say you know I love Jesus. I passionately seek God and His truth. His ways. His best. I desire to honor Him in all that I do.

I hope you will say you have seen a life that has been upheld by God, led by the Holy Spirit, provided for by God, and characterized by prayer, study, meditation, and obedience (as much as this sinful soul can muster).

Maybe you have read how God has saved and redeemed me, and made me a new person. How He rescued my  marriage and my family, healed me from mental illness, and led me into a blessed life of peace through many happinesses and many trials. He has taught me. Grown me. Tried me. Refined me. Changed me. Loved me. Forgiven me. Blessed me. Chastised me. Saved me.

I would hope you would say that. If you know me, I think you would.

I feel like that has been the underlying theme of my life for at least the last 15 years, or even more. Seeker of perfect truth. Perfect love. The Perfect One and His Perfect Ways.


If you would agree that you know this to be true about me, then I hope you will still have faith in me when I share my continuing testimony of my faith journey, of which this last step has been momentous.

Saturday evening, April 26, 2016, I was anointed and confirmed as a member of the Holy Catholic Church.

It was, without question or contest, the best day of my life. It was the day that everything my heart has ever longed for was fulfilled.

It has been a gentle journey of four years, led lovingly and surely by my Shepherd, which, truth be told, I tested severely and even fought fiercely at many points along the way.

And towards the end, these last few months, since starting RCIA classes, He has tested me. Would I hold fast to this gift He gave me in answer to my fervent prayers for truth and a faith that is finished?

I say with complete confidence that my faith has now been finished. Perfected.

I finally have a absolute peace about Jesus and His work on the cross and what that means for sinners. No, I didn't have that before. In the Protestant church there are too many differing doctrines.  Faith as a Protestant means having to choose which statement of faith you think is best.  In the Catholic Church, there has only ever been one doctrine on salvation since Jesus and the Disciples themselves.  

I now feel united in Christ with all my fellow Christians, even my dearest friends who even themselves differ between them on doctrines.  Now I am able to simply love Him with those who love Him and are laboring for Him, because my faith journey took me back to very Jesus himself, and the beautiful faith He entrusted to His disciples to unite us all as Christians as one in the body of Christ.


Maybe someday He will give me the grace to put my testimony into words. I would hope so. I blogged for years under the blog title "Growing in Truth." Because that was my heart. I longed to grow in truth. Many times during those years God clearly called me to be His "mark." To take a stand in faithfulness and obedience when others around me did not. And I set my face like a flint, pointed toward Jesus, and would not be moved.

The moment I knew that He had brought me home to the Holy Catholic Church, I closed that blog and opened this new one, "Surrounded by Truth." That is definitely how I feel now. I have found the pillar and foundation of truth, and am firmly planted on it. Within it. And thereby, I have made a new "mark". I have claimed and held fast to what He has told me, and followed in obedience, and I will not look to the left or the right, and I will not let go.

It was a big move. For a big answer to a big prayer--the fervent prayer of a soul preparing to meet God. But it was a sure move. For the surest thing I have ever known. 


God bless you and give you His peace and faith.

-Camilla "Therese" Anderson


Friday, March 4, 2016

Why Don't You Just Stop It?

One of my friends and I used to have a little running gag. We would send each other a bottle of "Stoppit Spray" if we needed to: stop complaining, stop over-eating, stop making excuses... stop anything.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just spray this on ourselves to stop an unwanted behavior or thought process?

I think this sketch by the famous TV-psychiatrist Bob Newhart is equally hilarious:


It's funny because on the surface, it seems absurd. But I think on a deeper level, it's funny in an uncomfortable way.

I mean, why DON'T we just STOP IT?

I will tell you why.

We are human.

We are sinners by NATURE. Which means, at the very core of our being, we desire selfish things which conflict continually with the well-being of others and the good of all things.

I want my way. I don't want to wait. I want to be recognized. I want to be respected. I don't want to work. I want to eat that (and that, and that, and that...). I want to watch that. I don't want to exercise. I want to be angry. I deserve respect. I'm afraid. I can't help this. I want to speak my mind. I want revenge. I want justice. I want sympathy.

I want, I want, I want...

Me, me, me...

I once read an interesting quote, and because I studied psychology for years, it struck a very deep chord:

The root of all mental illness is selfishness.

I know this is not true of all mental illness, of course.

But it struck me because I was mentally ill, and it was true for me at that point in my life. I spent many years looking for someone to label my selfishness, my weaknesses, my problems, my lusts, my laziness, and my chosen lack of self-control. I didn't want to take the blame--and wouldn't have to if it was an illness.

But it wasn't an illness.  For me... then, and now, I know that I just need to remember to STOP IT.

The Bible has much to say on this matter.  Have you ever stopped to think about how many times it tells you in the Bible to simply "Stop it?"  Repent. Turn from your wicked ways. Avoid fleshly lusts.  Why would God tell us to do something we were utterly unable to do? Why would He say simply, "Stop it" if we simply could not?

We can.

Are you sick or are you selfish?  There is a sure way to find out.  Shut down your mind. Lift up your eyes and your head and look around. Start looking, listening, helping, and serving others.  Live for others for a few days.

Your family, your husband, your children, your siblings, your parents, your friends: Listen, love, hug, encourage, help, serve, smile, give.

Your home: Be grateful for it, care for it, clean it, make it pretty as a gesture of thanks for God's provision.

The world:  Remember that all you see are needy. They may be discouraged, tired, hurt, sick, depressed, stressed, or struggling. Listen, encourage, smile, help, and give.

Try this for a few days. If you start feeling better, you are not sick. You are just selfish.

That indeed is good news. You can just STOP IT!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Homeschool Preschool

I get asked about our homeschool methods and resources quite often. After getting three questions in a row about what we do for preschool, it is time to share! Maybe you will get some ideas that work for you!

Starting at birth, we do a lot of counting, naming colors, looking at alphabet picture books, and practicing using a marker on paper. No pressure. Just for fun and play.

Starting at age 2 or 3, when I feel the child is ready, we play with alphabet flash cards. I made mine out of cardstock nearly 10 years ago, and have now used them for five children.  We start with two letters, then gradually add more. I lay them out, and ask them to find the one I ask for. I hold them up and ask what they are. I ask them to match capitals and lower case. We play with these for about 18 months--they begin to master them in no time.

I also have used this set of DK counting cards for the past five children. We simply point to the number, and then we count. Once a day.

I use a 10-cent spiral notebook to practice drawing with markers, starting at age 2 or 3. We practice coloring in shapes with specific colors, tracing along a path between two lines (without touching the lines), connecting dots--first two, then more, then before you know it, they are tracing letters and numbers.

First workbooks I love for age 2-3-4 are:
Kumon Coloring 2-3-4
Kumon Coloring 3-4-5
Kumon Mazes 3-4-5
Kumon Mazes 4-5-6

All my littles have loved these books and they are great for simply learning to hold and control a marker and/or pencil.

I also like to browse Dollar Tree for preschool/kindergarten level workbooks for letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Since they are a dollar, they are great for practice and feeling "grown up." Lots of these are great for learning how to "circle" things, for tracing letters, for attempting to make letters a certain size, for coloring, counting, and matching.

When ready for pre-K/Kindergarten stuff (the child recognizes most letters and numbers, can count to ten fairly well, knows colors, and can hold a marker to color), I use:

A Beka K-4 Phonics and Numbers (workbook only--no accessories or teacher's guides)
Spectrum Preschool Learning Letters
Spectrum Preschool Phonics Readiness
Spectrum Phonics Grade K
Making Math Meaningful Level K
A Beka Science, God's World K5



Note:  Any of the Spectrum Preschool books are great!

Spectrum Preschool Learning Letters


Making Math Meaningful Level K
I continue with homemade flash cards that have names (siblings, Mom, Dad, grapes) and words of favorite things.

I read books to them.

I also make them follow my finger as I read the instructions on each workbook page. This transitions always into them naturally reading the instructions for themselves by age 7 or 8.

Another important tip:  I never do too much. I never stress them out. I watch the "light in their eyes." If it goes out, we stop.

Sometimes we do the flash cards for just two minutes and we find it is not fun anymore or they are not interested "this day."  Some days we will play with them for 30 minutes.

Some days my kids will happily sit and work through an entire workbook. I let them. Sometimes, one page is tedious. So I encourage just one or two little tasks (color this item or try making this letter one time), then I tell them, "Great job!" And we move on to something else.

The workbooks above have lessons on each page that are easily done in just a couple of minutes.  Practicing writing a letter (or any worksheet) when you are 4 years old should not be tedious. Some children will find school fun and challenging. But most 4-year-olds, regardless of how much they love school work, can be reasonably asked to practice a particular letter two or three times, and be encouraged with their effort. And two or three times is enough for one day--because if you do that five days in a row, by the end the skill is mastered.

Bonus material:  I had fourboysinarow. They are Star Wars fans. They are also bookish school geeks. I don't know if God made them that way, or if we just cultivate a culture in our homeschool that is fun. But the above books are not enough for my 4-year-old. He often wants to do more.  He has a couple of the dollar store workbooks to attempt on his own (which he can do like a pro, now!), But then, one day, while shopping at TJ Maxx, I found these. They rock. Not only are they Star Wars, but the learning format is the quality that I demand.

Star Wars Workbooks Preschool ABC Fun Ages 4-5
Star Wars Workbooks Preschool Shapes, Colors, and Patterns, Ages 4-5
Star Wars Workbooks Kindergarten Writing & ABCs Ages 5-6

Note: They have lots of other options to choose from that include numbers, counting, and phonics.  Some are only $6.00 on Amazon!

Happy schooling! May God bless your homeschool!