Top 10 Posts of 2015

It’s somehow 2016, and I know I say this every January, but how on earth is last year already over?

Our family had a pretty good year altogether–if you don’t count a rocky December, but I’ll talk about that in another post. Our year consisted of several road trips, lots of school, and some pretty exciting milestones from Junior.

Here are my Top 10 Posts of 2015…which post was your favorite?




























































Niagara Falls and Upstate NY with Kids















30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup














10 Reasons Having a Child with Cochlear Implants is Awesome













1. Sharing Secrets…A Look Back at Diagnosis Day

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Encyclopedia Scavenger Hunt

Encyclopedia Scavenger Hunt for Kids...Make Learning FunHi, I’m Sara, and I have a book problem. Phew. There, I said it.

Being a homeschooler, I have noticed a teensy-tiny tendency to buy hoards of books, and justify them as “for school”. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we now have a bunch of really neat and fun educational books. But, it didn’t really matter because Tater wasn’t really reading them. I mean, if you’re 7 years old, why are you going to pull out huge copies of A History of the World or 1000 Animals of the Ocean when you could read Berenstain Bears? So, I was pondering how to get Tater to really delve into these encyclopedias we have, without it feeling like a chore.

A scavenger hunt!

It hit me all of a sudden…Tater loooooovvvvesss games and puzzles, so one evening after dinner, I pulled out a copy of our Ocean encyclopedia and gave her a list of things to find. Some were easy, like a fish or a dolphin. Some were subjective like “something adorable” or “a funny looking creature”. It took her about 10 minutes to finish the hunt, but then she spent a while looking through the volume and pointing out interesting facts and trivia. She read the encyclopedia until it was time to get ready for bed (that’s an impressive feat since most of her free time has been going to Minecraft lately!) She even asked me to create another hunt for the following day.

The next day I pulled out an illustrated atlas of the US, and had her find things like “a city that begins with ‘M'”, “a state bird”, and “a lake in a southern state.” Again, she asked for more. I’m going to start doing one of these a week with her, since she truly enjoys it and is learning in the process.

Tips for creating an Encyclopedia Scavenger Hunt

-Have a Variety of Difficulty
     -Kids will lose interest if it’s either too challenging or too easy. You want to vary it up a bit. You could do something really specific, followed by a super easy task.

-Make Some Subjective
-In our Natural History hunt below (which is basically a big book categorizing all living plants and animals), I made sure to have a couple of subjective tasks on there, including “an animal you would want for a pet”. Kids will read more in depth if they feel they should form an opinion about it.

-Don’t Overdo It
-As fun as these are for Tater, I need to create them for her just a little less than she wants to do them. That way, it’s a treat and a novelty instead of a commonplace activity.

-Explore New Genres
     -If you don’t have a  book problem like me, you can borrow some books at the library to do these hunts with. Use different subjects, such as Encyclopedias of History (either broad or specific time frames), Bible, World Cultures, US Geography, Zoology, Marine Biology, and Botany.

Now that I’ve found a use for all these books, I think it’s time to start looking into a bigger bookshelf!

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photo 2

Update on Junior: Fall 2015

IMG_7725I can’t believe it’s already Fall. Summer really did fly by…between our family vacation to the beach, Tater’s and my journey to Canada and seeing family in New York, Junior’s therapy, house projects, and school (Tater started 2nd grade in August), I feel like I’m finally coming up for breath.

We had planned for Junior to begin preschool at a local church two days a week to help him learn good speech habits from his peers, but at the last minute, we decided with his speech therapist and OT to keep him home until he turns 4 in May. So, he’s starting to do “school” while Tater does. It’s taken two years of therapy, but he’s finally learning to sit still and focus on a single task. It’s so incredibly exciting to have him color or play with blocks for a solid 10 minutes while I work with Tater when this time last year he wouldn’t sit still more than one to two minutes. It’s the little things :)

As far as his speech, he’s starting to understand a lot more (receptive language), and is starting to say more words (expressive language). His receptive language is close to age level (he’s behind by a couple months), and his expressive language is about the level of a 2-2.5 year old. He’s doing pretty well, although his enunciation is lacking. In true little brother form, he can often be heard telling Tater to “go to timeout” when he’s mad at her, and has started saying “Bless you, momma” when I sneeze. So, he’s up to 3 word phrases. We’re hoping to get him saying full sentences soon!

Thanks to LeapFrog Letter Factory he’s started running around the house singing his ABCs, and can count to 20. He also sings Amazing Grace every night before bed, which brings tears to my eyes. Every. Single. Time. His cochlear implants conked out a couple times this summer and had to be replaced, but we were grateful that he was able to wear his backups so he didn’t miss out on any hearing time.

Junior received a big boy bike for his birthday (with training wheels), but just recently started riding because we had the hardest time finding a helmet to accommodate his cochlear implants. We finally had great success with the Giro Raze Kid’s Helmet (affiliate link) and it’s been fabulous. He can keep his ears on and keep his head safe! He also enjoys pretending to play golf and climbing whatever play structure he can find. Junior is so sweet, but all boy. There is never a dull moment with him!

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Niagara Falls and Upstate New York with Kids

Niagara Falls and Upstate NY with KidsOne of my favorite things about homeschooling is that we have the opportunity to go places instead of just reading about them in a book. I have family in Upstate New York, and in recent years have been trying to go out annually to visit my paternal cousins, aunts and Gramma. This year, I only took seven year old Tater (my mom, aunt, grandparents, and friend all shared Junior duty for a few days), and we decided to spend a couple days in Niagara Falls, Canada before driving into New York to see our family. Here are some of the highlights from our trip!

1. Niagara Falls
Obviously the Falls are just awe-inspiring. Since we were staying on the Canadian side, we took the Hornblower Boat Tour (the Maid of the Mist operates out of the American Side.) It was definitely worth doing and we got some incredible pictures (plus getting soaked felt good since it was hot and humid out.) However, I wasn’t really a fan of all the touristy areas–so many restaurants, hotels, clubs, and gift shops, I honestly felt like we were in Vegas. So, we spent one morning at the Falls itself, a couple of hours doing Dinosaur Adventure Golf and the Sky Wheel in Clifton Hill (Tater LOVED the mini golf course), and that was the extent of the tourist trap. Instead, we drove into Canada a bit, and avoided a lot of the cheesy tourism. (Ages 4+)



2. Butterfly Conservatory
The Butterfly Conservatory is part of Niagara Parks, and is located next to a Horticultural College, so there is also an amazing garden to walk through and see different trees, flowers, and Tater was especially impressed with the black squirrels. The Butterfly Conservatory itself has thousands of butterflies flying and landing around. One even landed on my foot. And some lady took a picture of my non-pedicured foot. Ummm, allllllllllrighty then. So, we spent a few hours there, and Tater was just tickled pink to see “sooooo many butterflies all in one place!” (All Ages)

3. St. Catharine’s Lakeside Carousel
Just 20 minutes outside the busyness of the Niagara Falls tourism area you run into the town of St. Catharines. On the edge of Lake Ontario lies Lakeside Park, a charming little beach park  with an original turn-of-the-century carousel that has been kept in pristine condition. Each ride still only costs $0.05. Tater and I went on almost a half-dozen times. It was a quaint little scene that we hope to return to. (All Ages)

4. The Laura Secord Homestead
Growing up in the States, what I learned about the War of 1812 was exclusively from the perspective of the Americans. Coming to the Laura Secord Homestead, I learned about the namesake, a woman who walked 20 difficult miles to warn the British of an impending American attack in 1813. The homestead is a charming little restored (original) home with period pieces and décor. The tour was educational and fun and there was yummy chocolate and ice cream to buy at the end! (Ages 6+)



5. Niagara on the Lake
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a charming, quaint little town right on Lake Ontario. There are plenty of roadside farmer’s markets (try the fresh peaches!), little cafes and bakeries (amazing fresh pies!), gallery type shops, and is considered the “wine country” of the region. The Laura Secord Homestead, Ft. George, Brock’s Monument (in Queenston Heights Park), and MacKenzie Printery are all fun educational experiences for the kids. (Ages 6+) 


6. Costco
Okay, don’t laugh. But I have this need to go into at least one local Costco when I’m traveling. And since I’d never been in an international Costco before, I just haaaaad to go to the Costco in St. Catharines. There were some really fun, unique, oddly spelled (flavour, colour, favourite, etc) products that were fun to browse. I got this book to bring home for Junior about Canadian animals. And, the best part–while we were there we met a little boy with bilateral cochlear implants! (All Ages)


7. Crystal Beach
In the little town of Fort Erie just south of Niagara Falls is a nice (albeit crowded) beach on Lake Erie. Tater made friends immediately, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to catch minnows. The water was warm, super clear, calm, and was only wading depth  so I didn’t have to worry about Tater too much while we were swiming. (All Ages)

8. Strong National Museum of Play
Our several day whirlwind in Canada done, we drove back into the States and headed to see my family in Upstate New York. One of the must-dos was the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester NY. It’s a HUGE children’s museum. The downstairs is a hands-on, interactive play area with a bunch of fun attractions. The upstairs is a toy and game museum with a full arcade of old video games. We spent 3 hours there but probably could have spent longer. (Ages 2-10)

Then we spent 2 wonderful days with family spending time together, eating amazing food (Tomato Pie, Buffalo Wings, Salt Potatoes, Hofmann Hot Dogs) and having a great little family BBQ pool party. We can’t wait to go back next year!

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*I have no affiliation with any of the above named places or attractions. These were simply the highlights of our vacation. All opinions are my own. Make sure to verify all directions and hours of operation before traveling.

Our 2nd Grade Curriculum Choices


So, I’m kind of torn about school starting. On one hand, I have a little obsession with school supplies, so I have a reaalllllly hard time staying on budget in August because I seriously covet boxes of fresh crayons and newly sharpened pencils…and notebooks, binders, backpacks…well, you get the picture. But, on the other hand, it means getting the motivation to sit down and do our lessons every day, and we’re definitely still in summer mode right now!

We’re actually planning to put Junior into a preschool program a couple mornings a week just to help with his speech, which will give me some extra time with Tater. She turned 7 last week, and is going into second grade.

See last year’s 1st Grade Curriculum Choices
See our 1st Grade Midyear Curriculum Update

Both for Kindergarten and last year for First Grade, I piecemealed our curriculum with different companies, but this year we are using an all-in-one for our base curriculum. Not sure if I’m going to like it or not, but I have heard great things about My Father’s World, so we are going to give it a shot.

Bible, History, Science, Art,  Music, Geography: My Father’s World: Adventures in US History

Math: Horizons 2

Grammar and Language Arts: Abeka 2

Spelling: All About Spelling 2

Handwriting: A Reason for Handwriting Cursive

PE: Basketball signups start next month, and in the meantime Tater has expressed an interest in karate. Basketball takes up the winter months, and she is going to play softball in the Spring.

Because of Tater’s Dsygraphia, we are going to start her on cursive…our Occupational Therapist recommended this, so hopefully it helps!