Early Childhood Homeschooling Made Easy

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Cookies, cookies, cookies!

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One of my favorite things about the holidays is all the cookies. Growing up, my mom always baked cookies for every holiday. She made the most at Christmas-time. She’d make butter cookies, sugar cookies, bar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, etc. We’d have plenty of cookies to take to school with us for our holiday parties, and we’d still be eating cookies for weeks at home. It was wonderful! Ever since I was in my mid-20’s, I have tried to keep this tradition going. It’s been hard with working over the years, and now with a kid to take care of at home. It’s hard to find the time for all the baking I want to do. This year, I had the added challenge of being sick and having a sick kid to take care of while trying to get my baking done. I think I managed alright.

I love peanut butter, so I decided to make peanut butter blossoms this year. This is one of those cute little cookies that are very easy to make. The recipe is quite simple, and it takes minimal effort to make.

Peanut Butter Blossom Recipe

48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional granulated sugar (for rolling cookies in)

Directions

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.

2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy.
Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into center of each
cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.
Recipe can make about 4 dozen cookies.

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A newer recipe I have started to use is one for Jello cookies. These are so yummy, and also easy to make for beginners. Kids will love helping with these colorful cookies. Since I was going with a Christmas theme, I used strawberry and lime Jello, so the cookies would come out red and green. The colors aren’t bright, but they are still festive.

Jello Cookie Recipe

1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2-1/4 cups flour
1 pkg. (3 oz.) JELL-O Strawberry Flavor Gelatin (only use half of package)
1 pkg. (3 oz.) JELL-O Lime Flavor Gelatin (only use half of package)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Directions

1. BEAT first 4 ingredients in large bowl with mixer until blended. Mix flour and baking soda; gradually add to cream cheese mixture,
mixing well after each addition. Divide cookie dough into two bowls. Add half of strawberry jello gelatin package to one bowl of
cookie dough, and half of lime jello gelatin package to the other bowl; mix well. Refrigerate cookie dough for 30 min.

2. HEAT oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 60 (1-inch) balls, or 30 (2-inch balls). Place, 2 inches apart, on baking sheets sprayed with cooking
spray.

3. BAKE 9 to 11 min. or until edges are lightly browned. (For bigger cookies, bake for an additional minute or two.) Cool on baking sheets
2 min. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

4. SPRINKLE with powdered sugar just before serving, if wanted.

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Kayla and my husband love the Jello cookies. They’ve been a big hit in our house and are super easy to make. They are a great cookie for kids to help out with since there are no raw eggs in the recipe. I let Kayla lick the spoon to her heart’s content. The kids also enjoy adding the jello gelatin to the cookie dough and watching the dough change colors as it gets mixed in.

I hope you all enjoy these simple cookie recipes. They are great additions to any holiday cookie menu. Enjoy!

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Whew, it’s Christmas, already?

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The past couple of weeks haven’t gone exactly how I planned. First, Kayla came down with a cold. Then not even a week later, I caught her cold…and was still trying to get rid of my cough from the last colds we had back at the beginning of November. Since we’ve both been sick, we never got around to doing half the stuff I wanted to do before Christmas. I barely got to bake any cookies, we didn’t get to make a gingerbread house, and I have various holiday crafts that never got done. Not to mention, all the holiday movies I never watched, and the holiday music that I never got to play. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched some holiday movies and listened to some music, but not as much as I normally would at this time of year. I’ve been a sucker and let Kayla watch some of her holiday shows over and over again to keep her happy. It’s hard to say “no” when your two-year-old has a red, runny nose and is coughing. So instead of watching some of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies, we’ve watched the Curious George Christmas Special every single day for the last few weeks. I am not kidding. EVERY SINGLE DAY. Thankfully, it’s cute, and I kind of like it.

Even though there’s been a lot we didn’t get to do this year, we still managed to have some fun. We started the Elf on the Shelf tradition this year. Kayla watched the Elf on the Shelf Christmas special last year, and has watched it all year long, so I decided it would be a good tradition to start with her. She loves her elf. She named him Chippey, like in the cartoon. She enjoys finding Chippey every morning when she wakes up. That silly little elf sure gets around our living room and kitchen. Kayla likes to say, “Chippey is watching me.” It’s cute, but the way she says it is slightly creepy.

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Kayla has a countdown to Christmas tree like the one George has in the Curious George Christmas Special. Each day, she marks off a day and I tell her how many days she has left till Christmas. She was extremely happy today when I told her that she only has two days left. She’s not very good with numbers yet, but she seems to understand that two isn’t much. So instead of getting a heavy sigh like all the other days, I actually got a “yay” today.

She also has one of those countdown calendars where you open the door and get a piece of chocolate each day. This kid is a chocoholic, so it took a few days before she got used to the idea that she only gets one piece of chocolate per day. She eventually was okay with that, but she makes sure to remind me every day that she needs her chocolate. “Mommy, I need chocolate! Now!” She hasn’t quite grasped the concept of “want,” not “need.” Everything is “I need” right now. The calendar she has is a Disney calendar with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, etc. My mom bought it for her, and she absolutely loves it. I’m sure my little pack rat will want to keep it after the holiday. I think I used to keep mine for awhile when I was little, and then my mom would throw it away once I forgot about it.

We have baked some cookies this year. Not as many as I planned, but we still got in a few. We’ve done chocolate chip cookies, toffee butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter blossoms, strawberry jello cookies, and lime jello cookies. We also did some toffee butterscotch chocolate bars today. And since Kayla and my nephew like them, we’ve done some store bought holiday sugar cookies with Frosty the Snowman on them. It’s been fun having Kayla in the kitchen helping me bake. She likes using the hand mixer and mixing stuff with a spoon. She also helps by adding ingredients to the bowl, but most of it tends to end up on the counter. I remember helping my mom bake cookies at Christmas-time, so this is very special to me to be able to do this with my own daughter now. It’s nice to carry on traditions.

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Kayla and I have watched a lot of Christmas cartoons together, including shows from when I was little. It’s nice to see that she enjoys watching Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol, Yogi Bear’s First Christmas and Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas. Those were some of my favorites when I was little. We’ve watched Christmas classics like Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman. She also enjoys a lot of the newer Christmas specials with Scooby Doo, Curious George, Mickey Mouse, etc. I’ve spent the last few weeks watching tons of Christmas cartoons with Kayla and enjoying every minute of it. No, I really didn’t need to watch them repeatedly, but it’s fun to watch her eyes light up when she sees Santa. The look of wonderment on her face is worth every minute to me.

I did most of my Christmas shopping early, and had the majority of the presents wrapped and under the tree by Thanksgiving Day. I did have a few extra things I bought after Thanksgiving that I let Kayla help me wrap. This is the first time I’ve really let her help me wrap anything. I usually just try to keep her away so she won’t mess it up, or unwrap it. She was uber excited to help me, however, her wrapping skills need some work. She randomly puts tape all over the present, not necessarily where I need it. She has a very unique placement of gift tags, and likes to scribble with a pen all over the wrapping paper to sign her name. And her idea of wrapping the gifts is more like rolling them in the wrapping paper. It’s been an interesting experience. Both funny and frustrating at the same time. I’m sure if I asked my mom about how I did when I first started helping her wrap presents, she’d have some stories about me too. We all have to start somewhere.

It will be nice to wake up Christmas morning and finally let Kayla open her presents. She’s been eyeing them like crazy. When I first started putting presents under the tree, with a baby gate around them, she kept reaching over and taking them out. Then she would unwrap them or empty the Christmas bags. Some of the presents were hers, some were not. This is what happens when your kid’s birthday is so close to Christmas. She’s in unwrapping mode and thinks every present is hers for the taking. I was getting very frustrated with re-wrapping presents all the time. Luckily, after a week or so, she stopped doing this. Then she moved onto ripping just a small corner off of a present and giving it to me. She’d say, “I rip it, mommy.” After a few more days, I pretty much got her to stop doing this as well. But then she just started picking stuff up to shake it, or trying to rearrange everything. She’d try to tell us, “It’s Christmas!” and hand us a present she knew was ours. I think in her mind she thought if she gave us a gift and we opened it, she would get to open one too. It didn’t work. Now she likes to stand by the tree and stare at the presents longingly. I’m starting to feel sorry for her. I know it must be hard to be patient when you’re only two. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas can feel like eons. I am very proud of her for being as patient as she possibly can for her age. It will be a delight to see her finally get to open all of her presents, and to see her face Christmas morning when she realizes that Santa finally came.

Looking at the presents

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

* I will be adding recipes for some of the cookies listed above in a separate post.

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Holiday Sticker Scenes – For the kids who love stickers

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Kayla and Alex (my nephew) are getting increasingly excited about Christmas, and I am trying my best to give them cute little Christmas projects and crafts to do each day. It’s been hard though since I’ve been battling a cold, and so has Kayla. It’s hard to find the motivation when I’m constantly blowing my nose, wiping my nose, wiping Kayla’s nose, and then washing my hands…over and over again.

I did manage to have the kids do two holiday sticker scenes today, and that thought it was a lot of fun. I ordered them from Oriental Trading Company and got them a few days ago. They are super cute and easy for kids to work with on their own. Kayla needed a little help with the smaller stickers, but Alex did it all on his own.

If you have kids that love stickers, this might be something for you to look into for them. There are a variety of different ones to choose from, even some Nativity Scenes. And they are pretty cheap too, which is a bonus. It’s always nice to find cost effective projects for them to do. Since the packs come by the dozen, I was able to do one with them too, and still have plenty left over for another time or even next year.

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Loving our children

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– I tell Kayla I love her every single day. Multiple times a day.

– I hug and kiss Kayla every day.

– I cherish every second I spend with my daughter, even when she is yelling,
screaming, and having tantrums.

– I try to include Kayla in most things I do, whether it’s going shopping, out
to lunch with a friend, or running errands. She is my side kick.

– I try to find entertaining and educational things to do with Kayla all the time
so that she is able to experience life hands on.

– I read to Kayla daily, take her to the library to check out books, and take
her to storytime.

– I take Kayla to classes, like dance, so that she is able to get out and interact
with other kids her age.

– I do craft projects, play games, sing songs, and dance with Kayla and my nephew
whenever I get a chance, which is a lot.

– I take the time to teach Kayla as much as I can, but within reason for her age.

– I teach Kayla manners, and try to teach her to respect others.

– I show Kayla compassion so that she will be able to show others compassion.

– I show Kayla how to nurture, so that she is able to nurture others.

– I make Kayla my top priority.

– I show Kayla every day that I am here for her, and will always be here for her
as long as it is within my power to be here.

– I spend as much time with Kayla as I possibly can and only take the “me time”
I feel that I absolutely need. Being with her is more important to me than going
out to do the things I did when I was younger. I lived that life, and now my life
is different…better. I CHOOSE to spend time with my daughter.

– I live my life in a way that I will have as little regrets as possible if
something unexpected were to happen.

– Life is too short. Spend it with the people who matter most to you. Kayla is
number one on my list and she will always know that.

– I cherish this time I have with Kayla while she is young because I understand
that as she gets older she won’t want to spend as much time with me. Again, no
regrets.

– I don’t care/worry about what other people think I should be doing, or how they
think I should be living my life. I live my life doing what makes me happy.
Being a mom makes me happy. Being with my daughter makes me more happy than I
have ever been.

– I try to stay close to my daughter so that if an emergency ever does happen, I
am able to be there for her. Be there with her. I would never want to have
something happen to her and not be able to be there by her side.

– I try to teach Kayla to be safe. People tend to forget that children die every
day from careless mistakes, accidents, cancer, sickness, murders, etc. We never
know how long we have with our children. It is part of our jobs as parents to do
whatever we can to try to keep them safe, and to be there with them if something
bad does happen.

– It is up to the parent to determine what is best for their child. Make good
decisions when your child is concerned.

– Consider homeschooling as an option, if you are able to do it. Why send your
kids to school to be taught by strangers and influenced by kids you don’t know,
when you can teach your kid the same things at home? You can provide your kid
with social interaction and group involvement in other ways. You can make daily
hands on learning available to your child with one on one attention by you. Who
better to teach our children than their own parents? There are resources available,
and homeschool groups/co-ops. Look into it. You may be surprised by what you
learn.

– I make an effort to create memories and traditions with Kayla. I want the time
we spend together to be special. I want holidays to have meaning. And I want
Kayla to have wonderful family memories.

– Take lots of pictures. Our memories fade over time. Make sure those memories
will be able to live on.

– Follow your gut. If your gut is saying something doesn’t feel right, then listen
to it. Other people’s opinions are simply that…opinions.

– Let’s all take the time to put our kids first and make sure that there are changes
taking place to make this country a safer place again. You can’t make a difference
if you don’t do anything…or if you try to pretend nothing bad happens. Bad
things happen all the time and can happen to any of us.

– I have had a lot of loss in my life, and have known a lot of people who have had
horrible things happen to them, to family members, and to friends. None of us
should be under the impression that bad things only happen to other people.

– Remember what is the most important thing to you. There may not be a tomorrow.

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A sad world we live in

My heart is breaking today for those poor children who lost their lives during the school shooting.  I don’t understand these senseless acts of cruelty.  I am digusted by it, and it saddens me.  This only further reinforces my belief that homeschooling is a valid option.  I wish more families would consider homeschooling their children, if it’s an option for them.  We shouldn’t have to worry about whether our kids are safe when we send them to school.  It should be a give in, but it’s not.  We can’t seem to be able to do anything now without worrying about what might happen.  We can’t go to the movies, go Christmas shopping at the mall, send our kids to school, or go to church.  It is insanity.  I am feeling less and less safe about living in the United States, and I honestly hate to say that.  I try to spend as much time with my daughter as I possibly can, and I cherish every single day I have with her.  It has been very important to me to be by her side as much as I can because I don’t want any regrets.  Life is short and we have no idea how long we have with our loved ones.  One thing that truly matters to me is that my daughter knows that I am always here for her.  I can’t imagine how those parents feel today knowing they weren’t with their children during their last moments.  That must be a horrible feeling.  My heart goes out to them.  Today is a sad day.  May our prayers be with the families who lost their children.

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Going to see Santa

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I’ve been meaning to take Kayla to see Santa, but I’ve been struggling to find the time during Santa’s business hours.  In my family, it is a tradition to take the young kids to see Santa every year.  (And truth be told, sometimes when we’re not so young anymore.)  They can tell Santa what they want for Christmas, get their picture taken, and wish Santa a Merry Christmas.  The kids in our family tend to not be afraid of Santa, so it’s a fun experience that we look forward to each year.  I have very fond memories of going to see Santa when I was little.  By the age of about 4 or 5, I knew that he wasn’t the REAL Santa, but just a guy who worked for Santa at the malls.  His job was to meet and greet the kids, make sure we’re being good, and to get our official Christmas wishlist.  I believed this with all my heart.  And a part of me has never stopped believing in the magic of Christmas. A magical time of miracles, giving, forgiveness, thankfulness, hope, and joy.  It’s a time to put your faith into things that you can’t see, and believe in something bigger.  Greater.

I love seeing Kayla’s eyes light up when she sees Santa, or even just talks about Santa.  Yes, my 2-year-old is quite the talker, and you can’t grow up in this family without knowing all about the big guy.  By last Christmas, when she was just over 1-year-old, I already had her referring to the big guy as Ho Ho.  And by this past Summer, she was already well aware that Ho Ho is Santa Claus,  and that he has elves and reindeer.  We even took her to Santa’s Village Amusement Park twice over the Summer.  (A great little kiddie amusement park in Illinois.)  So now with only a few more weeks until Christmas, Kayla is super duper excited about Christmas and the prospect of Santa coming to our house to bring her toys.  She watches all her Christmas cartoons over and over again.  I am happy to report that she absolutely loves Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which is one that I always watched when I was growing up.  We sing silly Christmas songs together, do craft projects, bake cookies, she tries to help me wrap presents, and we read meaningful (and some fun) books about Christmas.  Ah…what’s not to love about this magical time of year?!!!

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When we got to the local mall today, Kayla was ready to run right up to Santa to say “hi.”  I informed her that we had to wait in line for our turn.  There were two other families in front of us.  Going during the middle of the week at 3:00 in the afternoon was definitely helpful.  Kayla looked around at the animated figures with a look of wonderment on her face, and she patiently waited for her turn to see the guy in red.  When it was finally our turn, she ran right up to him and said hi.  She was all smiles and had no issues sitting next to him in his big chair.  (But she wasn’t willing to sit on his lap…let’s not push it.)  She happily chatted away with Santa about who knows what.  I only caught bits and pieces of what she was saying to him.  When he asked her what she wants for Christmas, the only response I heard her give him was “toys.”  I guess that pretty much sums it up.  As I fumbled to get my camera ready for a few shots, and Santa’s helper prepared to take a picture, Kayla continued to ramble on to Santa.  And of course once we were ready to start snapping some shots, she wouldn’t give us her big, cheesy smile anymore.  The pictures still came out nice, but I was hoping to get a picture with a really big smile like we got last year.  Oh well.  I was just happy to see that she never got scared of him.  She was too excited about seeing him in person to be scared.  And I think it always helps when the kids in front of you in line are also in good spirits.  There is nothing like a crier to to ruin it for everyone else.  I’ve seen it happen…not cool.

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Kayla told me she had fun, and she was all bubbly when she went home to tell grandma about her visit to see Santa.  That was more than I could have asked for today.  The smile on her face made the seven bucks I had to pay for the mall picture completely worth it.  And there is something nice to be said about the few malls that still do the traditional one picture shot for a decent price, like when we were little, compared to the big picture packages that you have to buy at most malls now.  I’m okay with keeping it simple, but making it memorable.  I’m already looking forward to taking Kayla to see Santa again next year.

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A Day of Christmas Crafts

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It’s holiday time and I love doing craft projects with my daughter and nephew to keep them busy.  They have fun, and it’s an easy way to teach them various skills.  It’s also a wonderful way to get them excited about the upcoming holiday.

I prepared a few different projects for the kids to do today.  They did some do a dot art projects, made foam snowmen, and they decorated foam picture frames that we made ourselves.  Yeah, I know it was a lot for a 2-year-old and a 3 1/2-year -old to do, but I broke it up into two separate project sessions.  One before lunch, and one after lunch.

I printed out the do a dot sheets from some websites online.  I would happily give the sites credit, but I honestly don’t remember what sites I used at this point.  I tend to prepare for these projects when I’m overly tired.  One site I tend to use though is Confessions of a Homeschooler.  If you haven’t checked out this website before, please take the time to stop by her blog.  It is awesome.  The site offers a lot of ideas for homeschooling lessons and projects.  And what makes it even better is that you can print most of the stuff directly from her site.

Kayla and Alex started off the day doing do a dot art projects.  They made two wreaths, an ornament, and a letter sheet with a tree (C is for Christmas).  Kayla tends to lose interest with the do a dot projects after a few minutes, so I have to make sure to keep giving her different color markers in an attempt to retain her attention.  Thankfully, it worked today.

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Later on, they constructed their foam snowmen and worked on their foam picture frames.  They each did two picture frames.  One frame for a picture of Kayla, and one frame for a picture of Alex.  I made the frames into ornaments so they can hang them on the tree.  The kids were excited to be able to create their own personal picture frames.

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The thing I really like about craft/art projects is that they don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t need to have the most expensive materials, and the kids don’t have to follow all the rules.  They can make it their own by doing things their own way.  Yes, I’m aware that when they are older they will need to learn to follow directions, which they do to a certain extent now, but it’s not absolutely necessary all the time.  I like to see them have fun with the projects and put their own mark on it.  Sure, they don’t always turn out the way I envisioned them in my head, but the kids are so proud of them.  That’s all that really matters.  Happy crafting!

The kids ended our Christmas crafting day with a game of memory.  Well...all they do is find matches, but they think they are playing the game.  :)

The kids ended our Christmas crafting day with a game of memory. Well…all they do is find matches, but they think they are playing the game. 🙂

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