But, I Don’t Know How to Start The whole Homeschool Thing

One of the biggest reasons that some parents shy away from homeschooling I have noticed is their “idea” of a lack of resources. This comes in various forms. the most popular problems I hear are:

  • I can not afford the curriculum and resources, especially not with multiple children in different grades.
  • We can not afford to have one parent quit their job to homeschool
  • I want to homeschool but we don’t have a space for a homeschool room
  • I would love to homeschool but I don’t think I am equipped to teach.
  • I am not patient enough to homeschool my kids, but I wish I could.

I understand where all of these parents are coming from when I hear these things. I thought the same things myself before I started homeschooling. I have some responses to all of the frequently heard homeschooling excuses and I understand it can all seem a little overwhelming if you have never tried to homeschool before. However, I wanted to pay some special attention to “I want to homeschool but we just do not have space for a homeschool room.” Who started this “You NEED a homeschooling ROOM” thing? I would really like to know!

A homeschooling room, while awesome if you have the space for one, is absolutely 100% NOT NECESSARY. You can homeschool ANYWHERE. If you have never homeschooled before and are wanting to branch out and try it, I will give you some quick tips about how you can start off your homeschooling journey the easy way.

Once you can get past not having a dedicated room (if you dont have that space) there are some other usual questions and issues that usually arise. Here are my tips to overcomign those obstacles.

  1. The first step is to be confident in your decision to homeschool.If you find it in your heart that homeschooling is best for your children do not let outsiders talk you out of it. If you will be the responsible person for putting in the time to educate do not let others, who have nothing to do with the education process of your children, become involved in your decisions.

2. The second step is to think about where the most effective and distraction-free area of your house is. A key to a homeschooling room is that the area is designated for homeschool only. That way when the kids enter it, they are in school mode. Also – I use the word “room” reallllly loosely here. You do not need an entire “room” blocked off for this. For many families this is unrealistic. Especially families that are one income families. If you think that the kitchen table is the best space… do it! If you have a sun room thats perfect during the school months.. try it, if you have an office/ spare bedroom that you can fit a table or desk in…. why not?! Find the spot that you think would be best for your kids and work it out.

3. Consider your childrens learning and personality styles. For example, I have a child who is artistically gifted but he does not like to do artsy projects for school. He likes to do art as his own enjoyment and expression. He does not like his art to be directed and structured by a lesson or a teacher. We do not do a lot of project based school work because it ruins his creative outlet and interest. Instead we do more of traditional schooling but we study some subjects that has a high interest in. Of course, we must hit all of the subjects at one pont in our year or another, but if this semester he has a high interst in astronomy that is what we will study for science. The basics and core principals of science will be in there. We will just learn about them as we learn about astronomy as he will stay highly engaged this way.

Also – if you know that you are worried about how to plan and manage all of homeschool buy curriculum. Buy it used or put it together as cheaply as you can if budget is your main concern, but think of way that make sense for you to not burn out on teaching, and for your student to not burn out on learning styles that dont work with them.

4. Take breaks. If you find that you are homeschooling and everyweek you can not get all your assignments finished, or you are always spending too many hours on school each day then take a step back. Be realistic. Some weeks, you may have a doctors appointment, a sick sibling, a spouse who needs assistance with something, an out of town sporting event and that is ok. Keep your records of school days off and school days on correct and you can make sure that you are having enough days off and enough days on in your year. You may also be over scheduling yourself. Overscheduling school work is ok, as long as you know you DON’T have to do EVERYTHING. I like to have TOO many options that way if we move quickly through a few subjects I have some other assignments left over to review with.

5. Mingle with other homeschoolers. Ok, so this should probably be higher than #5 actually! When we first started homeschooling I did not know any other homeschoolers in our area. I met a couple families at the park that were homeschooling but they did not really have any real interest in doing any type of academics in a group. That was fine, but I also did not have any interest in doing any special activity that I had to pay for with their kids either. That first year we invested a lot of money in curriculum, a little money in sports, and a lot invested in travel. We learned just as much and had just as many educational experiences traveling as a family than we would have had with the group activities. However, I joined a co-op group a few years later and I thought that doing this was a huge improvement in our overall homeschooling experience. It gave my kids a chance to make friends, I got to make friends, and we got to learn a lot of cool things through the classes that the co-op provided. This also gave us a sense of belonging since we had moved into a new area. Without the co-op I would have not known a single person in our new area. My husband would have been really busy with work and I would have felt much more “blah” about the entire experience.

6. Do not join the first homeschool group or co-op that you find. I think you have to weigh your options. The first group that seems great might not be the best fit, the closest group, the cheapest group, they wont necessarily be the right fit. Try some out, ask to meet them, ask any questions that you can think of. Even ask to come to an event they have if you are allowed to. Check out the area and the space that the co-op or group is held. For us the best group was not the least expensive, however it was close to our home, it did not have rigorious academics like we intended, but it did have great activities and classes that were outside of the box that I could not have provided my children with on my own. The greatest benefit to it is that my kids are having a great time getting to know new friends.

7. You don’t need the most popular curriculum. Sometimes the most popular curriculum and what you keep reading reviews about, and hearing about others buying it…well… it might not be for you. Don’t think that because the lady from church bout this $850 boxed curriculum that it is better or her kids are going to be any smarter than yours after the school year just because she got it and you didn’t. Biy according to what you can realistically afford and what works with your teaching style and your childrens learning style. I made this mistake the hard way – don’t do it!

8. Get Organized! That is it. Do whatever you have to do, printa a monthly calendar, buy a fancy planner. Whatever. Do whatever you have to do to get organized. Make some plans and stick to them! Plan on giving yourself time for just school and no distractions, plan some time for you to have to clean up the house after school and a designated time for chores every day. This will help you. Make a meal plan that includes lunches! This will save you! Have plans and write them down! Use them! your life will be less hectic and you will feel less stress. Kids will be less stressed as well.

9. Find your stressor and just let it go! So – read alouds arent your thing? You are struggling to get them done with multiple ages? Toss out the book list you have if you can and go get free cds from the library, use audio books from your library, or itunes. Washing dishes after lunch taking to much study time? Divide it up between the kids or **gasp** get some papers plates for a few months. Just whatever it is that is making it difficult to get things done in homeschool – cut it out! Even cutting out one simple thing can make a difference.

10. Enjoy school. Yes, enjoy schooling. If that means making your bible time at 10 am after everyone has had breakfast and done there own thing for a while – fine. If that means everyone reads their own bible in their own rooms at 6 am befor ebreakfast- fine. Just find the schedule and times that are best for you. Do not force something that just is not your style. There is no right way to homeschool and that is prob ably one of the reasons that you are homeschooling in the first place.

 

Howdy, Y’all! We Are Now Officially Texas Homeschoolers

So as you may or may not know we have been living in Tokyo for a few years. It was great, overall. We loved Tokyo – the people, the food, the city life, the weather, the gardens, just everything. However we did know that some things were missing. We were aware that homeschool itself could be better. The truth is were were unlimited as far as Japan was concerned … but we were really limited when it came to “Homeschool”.

We had so much to explore in Tokyo and throughout the Kanto Region that we really just soaked up our time there. We hit up our local English library and the librarians knew us by name. We finished shelves and shelves of books. We attended story times, engineering clubs, all the parties and events that the library had to offer. We dove into recreational soccer with other English speakers, and we explored all the nature, historic sites, cultural information that we could access in Tokyo. Oh, and did I mention we did a whole lot of theme parks? Yes, Japan does theme parks like none other. But I had to admit something was still missing.

We started homeschooling in Japan for various reasons. I never thought that I would be homeschooling. It was never some life long dream or calling that I had. It just simply happened because it was necessary, but that is for its own post.

After I had gotten into a routine of homeschool and I had watched hundreds of my favorite youtube homeschoolers sharing their advice with me I felt like I had it together.  I was getting through curriculum, and not just getting it “done”. I felt like we were really learning and even dare I say it – ENJOYING school now. Educational milestones were happening. I was also at a point where I started moving away from a total boxed curriculum set. Thats when I was feeling confident that I was able to handle it and it was something that we could succeed at. Sure, once in a while you have the occasional day where you wonder if you actually “taught” them anything, but everyone has those days. Even those teaching public or private school classes have days where they feel defeated or that they could have done better.  But at a certain point this just wasn’t enough.

I was feeling left out. I was feeling like my kids were left out. We had no co-op. No “group”, none of those expert homeschooling families that we could physically hang out with, get to know, or ask opinions on all things homeschooling. I kind of felt like we were the only people in the world homeschooling, even though I knew that we obviously weren’t.

I also felt like my kids didn’t really have a connection with anyone around us. That bothered me for sure. There was a birthday party here or there. But it was for kids we barely knew. Sure, there was a soccer team, but they kids were all friends at the local school in our neighborhood and they weren’t really what I would call friendly. And they had established friends already – at school. There just wasn’t anyone relatable for us.

Of course I do not think that the success of homeschool relies on making best friends. I also don’t think you have to go to the same school or play the same sport to be friends. But I do think that it helps a great deal when you are able to find at least a couple people that have a relatable experience to you. This is not only directed towards my children. It is directly towards me as a homeschooling mom. A homeschooling TEACHER. I also need someone that is relatable to speak with now and then. I like to ask others questions about what they use, how they are using it, get some tips, and actually see them face to face and see that hey “THE STRUGGLE IS REAL” from time to time.

So recently things changed. We arrived – deep in the heart of Texas! Thats right, we boarded a place from Tokyo and had our first stop in Seattle Washington. Boy was it cold there! And it was still summer. I did not pack for Seattle! Then we were onward to Texas. Of course we made a little pit-stop. Just a short few days in Ohio and then we drove down to south Texas.

I was so excited to try out Texas but I was also pretty bummed about leaving Japan. However I thought  that Texas could possibly make all my homeschooling dreams come true. I had contacted several homeschooling groups and co-ops in our area before we had even arrived. We checked out their facilities and met with some families and ladies that were coordinating the groups. I had known for a while which group I wanted to join. Actually I knew for like a year – but I couldn’t make it official until my husband had met with them and asked some questions.

So one rainy day we met one of the coordinators from a specific homeschool co-op and she was even better in person that I had thought that she would be. She was super friendly and welcoming. She answered all my questions and I signed us up.

Of course we are only a couple months into it but we are really enjoying homeschooling in Texas. The laws are straight forward and easy to follow. The co-op gives us an outlet and takes some stress of of me. It lets me have some ideas of what other families are doing and how they homeschool. It has allowed my kids to make some great connections and some new friends. I got to meet with a lot of great homeschooling moms, some are long time homeschoolers and some are new to it all.

I hope that anyone homeschooling has the opportunity to try our a co-op, or try out a different one if yours isn’t working out for you. I think that our current co-op is really making homeschool much more enjoyable for us. It is really a fun experience and allows us to try new things, like science with a group.

We are having fun here in Texas and for any homeschoolers out there struggling with a homeschool burnout or just feeling like something is missing… I would like to just encourage you to switch things up. Try a group, drive to a new locations for new schooling experiences, add in time at the museum, get to know your librarians, make a connection that aides your homeschooling life and do it now!

Costco in Japan

If you are relocating to Japan or are just looking to find some of your favorite American standbys look no further than Costco. Currently there are 26 Costco locations in Japan. 11 of those are actually located in the Kanto region. However they do span all the way from Hokkaido to Kyushu, so wherever you are in Japan, you can probably get to a Costco with a little planning!

This is the “cart parking lot” behind the food court lines, but in front of the checkout. It is like a bull pen for getting to go. You most likely won’t be able to get a table so be prepared to carry all of your Costco to go food out to the 4th floor of a parking garage.

I only have experience with the Iruma Costco location. As this is closest to my home I never traveled to any other costcos to see the differences in available products or compare the experience. However there are many Costco youtube videos from foreigners in Japan that have also found this place to be a life saver while living abroad long term. You may find some of their blogs really helpful before you venture there for the first time.

First of all, if you already have a membership it should be just fine to use it in Costco at any location they are worldwide. And if you do not have a membership but are unsure of buying one because you won’t be in Japan for an entire year- that ok .You can use your Japan membership worldwide as well. I do know this for a fact as I bought my membership in Japan and have used the same card in the United States with no problems at all.

This is one long curving ling for the food court. This is a typical weekday morning in Costco Japan.

I did not have a Costco card before I lived in Japan. So I actually had to sign up for membership while overseas. This was really simple. You can do the entire application online. You just need to go to costco.co.jp and scroll to the bottom where it will have links to membership information on the left side. You will click the link for membership, change it to English and fill out the information. Do the best that you can. My address did not match up with their spaces perfectly as my address has an English format and a Japanese format. I did not know the Japanese format because we do not usually have to use it. They will fix any of this at the membership counter if you have this problem. Once you fill out the form, you will submit it electronically. Then you will be given a confirmation number. Take a picture of the confirmation number or write it down. Have this available for when you arrive at Costco to get the membership.

Now you are ready to go and pick up your membership. Once I filled out the application online and took a picture of the confirmation number with my phone, I arrived at Costco and went to the membership counter. I just simply presented the picture on my phone of the confirmation number. The attendant entered the number in, verified my information but looking at an ID and then had me sign a couple of papers. Then I paid the fee. It is currently 4,400 yen (which is around $42 or so) for the year.

They will have you slide down to get your picture taken at another booth and thats it. You will wait a few minutes for your card to be printed and then you are free to shop till you drop. The entire process was really easy.

Once you have your membership and you are ready to shop it is the same process as the United States. You will be happy to know that many of your favorite items will be there too. We enjoyed being able to have access to things like Costco birthday cakes, pizzas, cookies, bulk juices, certain brands of clothing all from the U.S. and all the same taste and style at our Japan Costco. The other great thing is that we also found a lot of Japanese items that we enjoyed in larger sizes. Of course Japanese grocery items are usually in very small portions and for a family it is not idea. It was easier to go to Costco and grab a large portion rather than to keep running to the store constantly.

Also – great news. As it is so crowded all the time… there is never a shortage of samples! We found that our Japan Costco had much more samples all the time than our Texas Costco has. The only bad part about this is that you won’t necessarily be getting more samples as the lines just to get a small sample are sometimes 15-20 people long. And in Japan as you may know – people are willing to stand in line for anything. In fact, the more people that are in line, the more other people want to join that line! Where in the U.S. we would probably just avoid a certain thing if there is a line… the opposite happens in Japan.

The main downside to Costco in Japan is that it is very very crowded. All days of the week, all times of the day it is crowded. At any time the food court line will be more than 30 people long. Any time that we wanted something from the food court area my husband would go get in line with my son and they would wait in the ling as I waited in the ling to check out with our groceries. I would usually be finished checking out before they were even halfway through the foood court line. Then I would line my cart up with all the others in a “cart parking lot” that is created by the Costco employees. The area is just rows of parked carts and people all touching each other as there is absolutely no space. All check out lanes, food court tables, aisles are completely full at all times.

The other small annoyance is that it can be a little difficult to get boxes. There are always plenty of boxes available to put your things in (because in Costco Japan just like the US there are no bags) but they are just hard to get to. Most Japanese do not want to put their groceries in the free boxes as getting rid of your trash in Japan is an entirely different monster. They do not want to deal with the task of getting rid of cardboard boxes but for us our trash system was different so it was no big deal. The crowd at the check out area does make it hard to get to boxes though. And I think part of this is that none of them want boxes so no one realizes that you are going for the boxes that are underneath the checkout areas.

The parking is another obstacle. The good thing is that they do have their own parking garage attached to the building. We always end up parking on the roof because it is always crowded. But it is free parking – which you can not find anywhere in Tokyo- and there are escalators that you can put your cart on to get to your level of the parking garage. Go Japan!

Yes, It is that easy! Had I known all of this when I first arrived in Japan, I would have bought a Costco membership a lot sooner!

What We Are Reading In April

Here is a short list of what we are reading in April in our homeschool. For some reason I am super interested in seeing and reading posts about what others are currently reading in their homeschool. It is not only interesting to find new book titles that we might want to try but, I enjoy hearing about what other kids think about the books they are reading. Especially when we may be considering the same book as well.

This month has been a littler different. We do year round homeschool and do not take the traditional “American style” summer break. So, in March we generally have all of our materials for our next school year and we start our year off at the end of March/ Beginning of April. We switch our “grade level” and take off on to our next homeschool journey for another 30 something weeks! The past month or so our reading lists were a bit thrown together while we were waiting on new curriculum but this month things are starting to pull together!

My older child (beginning 3rd grade) is starting up with another year of my fathers world. We are using the Exploring Countries and Cultures curriculum however we heavily supplement this with extra reading material and just for fun books that have not a single thing to do with the history core that we are currently working on!

Here is our main list of reading materials for this month:

  • Roll of thunder hear my cry (finishing this from last month)
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basel E. Frankweiler

Visit the Imperial Palace Gardens – Its Free!

If you are in Tokyo one of the must see spots is the Imperial Palace. Although you can not enter the palace itself (except on  a couple of special holidays each year) the gardens surrounding it are open every day, except for Mondays and Fridays…. and it is free admission! No matter what season you are visiting the gardens always have something lovely on display. Spring and fall happen to be my favorite times to visit the gardens as the trees are beautiful but if you aren’t in Japan during those times it is still worth a visit.

This is a view from the entrance to the East Gardens. You will cross a bridge over the moat and enter through the castle archway walls.
One of the many historic buildings in the east gardens.

One of our visits was in mid November and we only needed to wear sweaters. After walking around the gardens we been got pretty hot as the sun was shining that afternoon. We went right around noon and the gardens were pretty crowded. There were many tourists walking through but also many business men and women taking a walk on their lunch breaks. There were many with picnic bento boxes and lots of mothers taking their children for a walk so that they could escape their sky rise apartments and enjoy nature.

This lookout point shows just one of the large areas in the imperial gardens where you can come to relax, grab lunch, or just enjoy the scenery of the perfectly landscaped gardens.
Here is just one of the numerous areas where you can cross the moat and venture into the gardens. Be sure to check out the swans and fish when you are walking by.

We got lucky during our visit and the Japanese Self Defense Forces Navy Band was playing in the middle of a large grassy area in the middle of the gardens. We walked right up close and picked out a great viewing spot on the lawn and had some snacks from out bento boxes. Many people stopped to enjoy the band and it was amazing how quiet so many people in a public park area could be!

It is amazing to see these historic buildings in the peaceful gardens. You can not imagine how quiet and peaceful it all is right in the middle of the one of the largest cities in the world!
The East Garden Entrance.

One of the best things about the Imperial Gardens is that every area of the park has some type of beautiful showcase. There is a large koi pond, tea houses, the palace, spectacular floral landscaping, and wide curving walking paths throughout all the beautiful nature showcases.

From the east gardens you can get a glimpse of someone the Imperial Palace official buildings. The palace itself is on the other side of the gardens and can be seen as well.

If you plan on spending a lot of time in the gardens with children I would highly recommend bringing a pack lunch and drinks. The gardens are large and there aren’t many opportunities to buy anything once you are inside. Even though we arrived in mid November we really really hot after walking through the park in the sun and were really glad that we had brought snacks and drinks with us. It made for a much more enjoyable experience.

Even on warm and sunny days you can find benches in the shade to relax away from it all!

Also – expect to bring a bag with you for any trash that you make as trash cans will not be out around the park. You must pack all of your trash in your lunch box and remove it from the park. This is pretty common in Japan and we are always prepared to carry any trash we have all the way home sometimes!

If you aren’t up for packing lunch or just don’t have anything available as maybe you are staying at a hotel then don’t fret. You can buy some type of snacks to take in from nearby convenience stores. They always have containers to keep your trash in, and your food will be prepared and heated in the convince store. You will also be able to put chopsticks in your bags along with napkins and you will have an instant picnic ready to go!

Standing on the Foundation of the former Edo area castle. This is all that remains today. Amazing that it is still able for visitors to climb the steps and enjoy the view from this famous landmark.

There are also various restaurants within a short walk from the imperial gardens. Most of the high rise office buildings just across the street will have basement levels that are filled with small restaurants. If you arrive at lunch time you will have the option of buying prepackaged lunches ready to eat on the go  or dining in instead,.

In case you were wondering how they keep the gardens so perfect, here is a crew of volunteers sweeping up the walkways and picking up leaves.

The gardens are closed on Mondays and Fridays

During the New Year holiday from December 28 until January  3 the gardens are also closed.

If it is a national holiday on a Monday or Friday the gardens are open but then will be closed on the following Tuesday or Saturday instead.

 

Hours

9am to 5pm from April to August

9am to 4:30 from September October

9am to 4:00 from November to February

9am to 4:30 during March

You can arrive 30 minutes prior to closing but no one is admitted after that.

the link below will take you to the official calendar in English to show the closing dates for the year.

http://www.kunaicho.go.jp/event/higashigyoen/gyoen-close.html

Getting There:

If you are driving there are some parking options. We parked in a garage under a hotel a couple blocks away form the gardens. It is difficult to find parking in this area. There is not much parking on the sides of the streets and with all the government buildings located in this area some parking area are private.

If you are taking the train, which I highly recommend, it is pretty simple. Otemachi station on the Chiyoda line is close to the Gardens east entrance. However if you are wanting to visit Tokyo station and all the amazing restaurants and shops there, then the palace gardens are just about a 12 minute walk from there.

I think the walk from Tokyo station is worth it because there are so many great restaurants and shops to see as you walk over to the Imperial Palace Gardens. You can also get a close up view of some of the government buildings and are able to check out the outside of Tokyo Station.

On one of our walks from the station we stopped to watch a Japanese artist who was in his 70s. He was Sketching Tokyo station from a sidewalk across the street.We complemented his work and watched him from afar. Then he talked to us about how he had traveled throughout France teaching art lessons when he was young. His work was beautiful and he made it look effortless. I will have to look back through my photos and see if I can find this artist and his work. I will be sure to attach the photos if I can come across them.

 

 

 

 

5 minute Oreo Pie – Kid Friendly

So although this might contain far too many calories for your liking here is the quick and easy Oreo pie! So easy that your kids can probably make it all on their own! With this recipe there is no baking, no raw eggs, and no dangerous cooking equipment needed. So it is totally easy to get the little ones stirring and measuring up a storm!

So there is an “official” Oreo pie recipe on the Keebler Oreo pre made cookie crust. However I do not use that version. I am sure it works just fine but we do not have access to some of the ingredients on that list. So we improvised and this is what we came up with:

What you will need:

Oh gosh the Oreo pie crust is missing in the photo!

Milk (almond milk is a perfectly fine substitute and I have made this with unsweetened vanilla almond milk previously)

instant chocolate pudding

instant vanilla pudding

pre-made Keebler Graham cracker oreo pit crust (just 1)

cool whip or whipped cream (whichever you may have on hand…any homemade mind would be awesome too however I never make it on my own 🙁 )

a hand full of Oreos

Hot fudge (optional)

 

Instructions:

yes, thats it! Already made and ready to go. The easiest way for a kid to make a treat without worrying about raw eggs!
  1. Prepare the Premade pie crust. Take the plastic top off of it. yup. that. is. it.

Now if you are using hot fudge layer the inside of the pie crust with hot fudge and allow it to cool and Harden onto the crust. (kind of a protective shield from all the calories to come if you will. )

If you are skipping the hot fudge step because A. you don’t have any on hand or B. you are saving the calories for more whipped cream instead then please do not hesitate to go to step 2!

add whipped cream. sometimes I use cool whip. I use whatever is on sale, or whatever I have on hand.

2. add whipped cream to the inside of the pie crust. Form a small layer of whipped cream as your base. This does not have to be thick. Remember to reserve most of your whipped cream for the next steps. This only needs to be a few sprays or spoonfuls.

watch out everyone, 2 year old in the kitchen! Get out of her way!

3. prepare instant chocolate mix and instant vanilla pudding mix according to their box directions. (Ok so you basically need to add the required milk or almond milk but you do not need to place in the refrigerator  for a long time just mix in the milk and stir them up!)

you don’t even really need a mixer or whisk for this. the toddler just used the spoon until her arm got tired. then she passed it off to the big bro!

4. mix chocolate and vanilla pudding together. Thats right… this much stirring and mixing pudding flavors is a preschoolers dream!

OK, I lied we ended up adding in a whisk. But more for the photography beauty than necessity!

 

5. layer the pudding into the piecrust adding small amounts of whipped cream in between layers.

Pouring it in may require help from mom, but if the mom isn’t a total neat freak the kids can probably do it just fine! ha!
mix your layers!

6. cover the top of your master piece of pudding with whipped cream. Do it slowly and make it pretty. This layer will be on top!

You are almost done! so quick, right?!

7. Crumble an order or two and add it over the top of the whipped cream and then add some Oreos around the edges. (I use to add entire Oreos around the edges but find they could get a bit soggy so I actually like this better if you break the Oreo in half and place them in the edges this way. They still look like entire Oreos from the top and it also reserves some of your Oreos for the kids to eat if you are giving this away as a gift!)

8. Let it sit in your fridge for a while (or freezer if you want it more like ice cream cake consistency)

9. Eat it up!

** I actually find that this is a really simple and cheap gifting treat! We have made this many times for military members away from their families and the young guys and gals really enjoy it. It is simple and a yummy treat especially in the summer. The kids get a kick out of making a treat for grown ups and this one they can make all on their own!**

 

 

Help Someone By Delivering A Homemade Meal

So usually in this section I plan on sharing some of our favorite family recipes and food adventures that we may have out and about in Tokyo. Today I am taking this in a different direction. I wanted to share our experience with “Meal Train”

The basic idea of a “meal train” is to help out by delivering a meal to someone in need. This can be applied for any need but most commonly used for new parents, illness, surgery, or other life event that may cause a burden on someone to have the ability to cook meals for themselves or their family. Of course many of us are familiar with these through churches or friends but I recently participated in this through an online forum and it made scheduling and coordinating meals for someone in need 100% more efficient.

There are several websites online that you can use but I participated in a meal delivering group through www.mealtrain.com. This was my first time using meal train.com and it was really easy to use even for a first timer! You can also use this for pot-luck and the like.

So basically the person who organized this idea of having meals delivered to a family just went to the site and created the event. It is free to create and then you can pass it around through emailing the link. Whoever wants to sign up for the meal train just simply clicks on the date that they want to claim for taking a meal and they follow the instructions. You must make an account which is pretty easy. You just need your name and a password. Then you claim the date you want to deliver a meal on and you type in what meal you will be taking over.

There is a section of information for each meal train where the organizer can request special diet requests like allergy information, dislikes, and such. This way you do not have to worry about what you are making and you do have a bit of a guide.

You can also view the entire meal train list. You can see what other dates are open and view the dates that are taken and what meals are scheduled on those days. So when I signed up for my meal train dates I just went in and claimed my dates. Then I also viewed the dates near mine. I wanted to make sure I didn’t serve the family chicken 2 days in a row and such.

The meal train had the delivery address, family names, and delivery time requested. It was all input by the organizer of the meal train. This made everything so easy. I didn’t have to worry about losing the address or calling around to make sure the family would be home. I just logged into the meal train and checked out all the details.

I also had reminders sent to my email from the meal train. We were pretty busy when we volunteered. We were in the middle of an international move and I had a lot on my mind. However I still wanted to help out and send over a couple meals to the family we were serving. I was worried that I might forget though! So I set up the meal train reminder to send me an email the week before, that way I could get all the items input on my grocery list. Then I had a reminder sent to me the day before meal delivery. This way I was reminded that I had a few foods to prep the night before. The automatic email reminders were amazing! This alone makes me want to tell everyone about meal train! So much easier to notify everyone and make sure no one forgets their dates or any information. And trust me I am the one the always forgets things!

Our meal train group made a meal for a family every other day for a few months. They had taken in other children that were having some family difficulties and were allowing the kids to finish the school year out before having to leave the country. Doing the meal train every other day allowed for the family to polish off any leftovers without bombarding them with food but also giving them enough meals to help them offset the costs of taking in more children without any assistance.

I only sent two meals. I also dropped off my meals on the same day. I had precooked everything and didn’t have to give the parents any cooking instructions. I thought this would just be easier for them. All they had to do was reheat. I also was not sure if they would have leftovers from my first meal. So I gave them the second meal in advance should they choose to use it early or should they decide that they wanted to make plans instead of waiting around for us to arrive with food as it was a weekend delivery.

I think that I will utilize meal train again in the future. It is just such a nice helpful way to help others. And this makes it so simple. I would not hesitate to creat a meal train in the future. When I think that someone could realize use a meal in the future I think I will just try to create at least a short meal train.

I do have a couple suggestions for anyone looking to create a meal train. I hope these will help you if you plan on trying this out.

  • suggest all meals be delivered in disposable containers (the family can skip a big clean up)
  • ( FYI- I used foil containers that were 3 for $1.00. Then I covered the tops with glad press and seal. It keeps out any leaks and is much cheaper than the large foil containers with tall plastic lids. Plus you can stack the press and seal paper without leaks. The plastic lids on foil containers crush if you have to stack them!)
  • choose meals that everyone in the household can eat (so nothing super spicy if it for a house with small children)
  • choose meals that can easily be reheated
  • choose a one dish meal if possible (easier for yourself to bake a casserole type of meal and transport less containers)
  • if you don’t have time to make a meal or think that your cooking skills aren’t adequate don’t skip out! Send over a gift card and then they can plan to eat out on a date. (if it possible for the family in the meal train)
  • simple is best, don’t stress yourself out by making a fancy dish you have never attempted. Many people who need a meal train for help with be thankful for your time and help. They don’t expect you to make a five course meal. Make a simple meal that you have cooked previously.
  • label your items. If you are not pre baking the meal make sure you leave prep instructions like the temp and time to bake. Also label what exactly you have in the containers.

I hope you have as much luck with meal train was we did! Leave your experiences or tips in the comments below!

What We Are Reading in April

One of my favorite things to read or watch from other homeschoolers (besides their awesome homeschool room tours, of course) is updates on what they are currently reading. This might sound completely boring but being a homeschooling family and using a “book basket” for a large portion of our education supplements everyday I really rely on finding new and great books to try. I have gotten tons of ideas from other homeschoolers about books I would have never come across without their suggestions.

I also want to point out that there are many more homeschoolers and families in general who can really utilize the book lists that are living over seas in non English speaking countries. We currently live in Tokyo. So of course the use of English is common here, but not in a level that would be appropriate for a child who’s native language is English and they are an advanced reader. If you are trying to grow your Childs English vocabulary and keep them interested in books there is little in most stores for an advanced English speaker. Most books here are English for preschool age kids learning the basics as a second language or ESL study books for high schoolers and adults tackling English to pass some sort of exam. Neither of these options in books and reading material is right for my 8 year old advanced reader who is a native English speaker.

We do have libraries here, and they do have small sections of English but not much. There are English libraries to be found as well but they are generally small and serve a specific population (like government employees or military and their access is restricted to those who live on location). Many of these smaller libraries will have a decent selection of children books but as the age of your children increases the reading material appropriate for them decreases. There just is not a high enough demand for things like historical fiction aimed at junior high / high schoolers and things like that to really homeschool with. Many expats that are not homeschooling would really like to supplement their children’s education as even many of the private international school have some questionable “advanced level” reading when most of the class is usually not “international students” but native students of the home country who can pay the pricey tuition. So the reading level and books available are not always on par with a native speakers level or interest.

One of the only things that we can really do is order online, have family ship to us, or order something from amazon or the like if shipping doesn’t completely kill it! Of course books on a tablet would save on this but some books, especially for younger children just are not the same when viewed on a tablet.

Basically my rambling is just to say this…. Thanks to every homeschooling parent who takes the time to post reading lists! It is so helpful and there are many of us overseas that could not locate these great resources without your reviews and information. We just simply wouldn’t not necessarily know that some of these great under the radar books are out there. I watch and read a lot of the lists and have built a lot of additional curriculum from the help of those of you who share your lists and it has really helped our homeschool experience.

With all of that being said here is our own May reading list:

Christian Hero’s Then and Now: Nate Saint

Friendle

Henry Huggins

The Giving Tree

Christian Hero’s Then and Now: Cameron Townsend

Biomes of the World: Desert

What About Deserts

The Importance of Michaelangelo

Michaelangelo

Famous Artists Michaelangelo

The Little Island

Cultures and People of Jamaica

Enchantment of the World The Dominican Republic

Enchantment of the World Cuba

The Secret Life of Trees

Eyewitness Books Tree

Crinkleroots Guide to Know the Trees

Arthur’s Chicken Pox

The Treasure

Fiesta Babies

Brown Bear, Brown Bear,  What Do You See?

Little Critter This is My Town

Mouse Soup

Just a Duck

Hedgie’s Surprise

 

The first few chapter books we will use a read alouds and just free reading. There nature books about trees we will be incorporating into our nature walks. The books about deserts will be used in our book basket time for the first week of May. The books about countries in North America will also be used in our book basket time during the first week of the month. The giving tree will be used on Fridays as we add in some poetry and different reading and writing times just for fun.

We have added a few books on Michaelangelo and we will use these as examples while we explore this artist. We will recreate his style and make one of our own creations for some art investigation time this week. We currently use My Fathers World for our spine but We do not use the art book that they provide. I prefer to have my older student learning about famous artists from history, different styles of art and trying them out rather than “crafting” for subject time. I  think a lot of kid crafts are really fun and a great way to learn but for art as a subject we want to move to something a little more formal this year since he is getting older.

Our Michaelangelo unit will be fairly short but hopefully packing a lot of information. I will post our schedule and what we use once we have finished.

Most of the young child readers listed at the end of the list are for my toddler. She is able to really get into stories right now. She especially loves stories with animals as characters. We will be focusing on reading stories, talking about them, acting them out and working with simple workbooks. (connect the matching items with a line type of workbooks)

She will begin formal “homeschool preschool” during July as we are in the middle of a move currently.

The science books, and easy readers will last for only a week. The chapter books may last 2 weeks, depending on our schedule. We will go to the library again next week and switch out our science, social studies, geography/culture, and easy readers with another set. This supplements our book basket time each day so trips to the library are necessary each week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Items For Relocation With Kids

Are you relocating? Do you have kiddos? If so… this list might just be for you! We have previously relocated overseas and will be doing so again soon. We have several moves under our belt along with the experience of moving with a very young infant and a school age child. There are many things that make life easier but these are 10 items that are great to have on hand. They make life so much easier!

I also think that most of you  reading this will be far too familiar with the items listed to actually care about seeing them online! So I have added some of our views from our relocation! I think they will be more interesting than moving supplies!

1. Ziploc bags

Yes, seriously this is a must have. It makes life so much easier. You have no idea how many times having an assortment of ziplock bags will save your life when you are moving. We use them for storing left overs when you are forced to eat out because all your belongings are in a truck or on a boat. We use them for packing coloring and drawing items to keep the kids busy in an empty house, on a plane. We use them for holding dirty diapers that you have no trash can for! Sometimes you just run out of bags and you just really have a diaper that you need to contain… if you know what I am saying! We use them for separating dirty clothes from s=clean clothes so that your suitcases won’t smell when you have a little baby who spits up on their outfit and you have no access to water at that moment. There are plenty more uses but this is just an example of how this can really save your day just by having an assortment of different size zip lock bags!

2. Sleeping bag / Japanese style sleeping mat and cover / pack and play

Depending on the age of your child you will either need a pack and play or a sleeping arrangement of some sort. My infant used a pack-and-play the first time that we moved overseas. It helped out tremendously. She did not even notice that she was in a different places multiple nights in a row. It helped her adjust to her new surroundings by having the same sleeping arrangements and it helped us adults sleep by not having to share a bed in a hotel room with a baby/small toddler. We all slept easier! The double room allowed for a bed for our older child, a bed for the parents, and the baby still had her own safe space. I also had the comfort of knowing she was sleeping in her own clean bed with her own clean sheet over the pad. Not a hotel crib covered in germs.

My older child uses a sleeping bag in a knapsack with a drawstring. It was inexpensive and you can find it on amazon for about $20. He got his favorite super hero and he can carry it himself on his back because it is small and not heavy at all. This might not be needed when you are staying in hotel rooms but eventually you might make it to your final destination before your needs and sheets and this will be a real life saver. Plus it turned into a way to save on space in the car. If you are doing a move by car it can be used as a blanket and then put away into the small knapsack instead of piling many blankets and taking up all the available space in the car. If you have a large family it also eliminates the issues of fighting over who gets what blanket and who is taking up all the space in the back!

During our overseas move we beat our household items to the new destination by about 3 months! We had some furniture to borrow and linens as well but they were not the best. My child decided to sleep in the sleeping bag instead of using the linens that we could borrow.

For our next overseas move my daughter will transition from the pack-n-play and instead use a Japanese sleeping mat with a blanket and mini pillow. It is small and fits inside a quilted bag. It buttons closed and has handles to carry. This is basically the same idea as a sleeping bag but for my small child it seems a little safer and comfortable than being zipped in a sleeping bag. She will be using it when our household is packed up and moving on a boat to another country. Then she will use it at our next destination when our furniture will not yet be delivered. She has been using it currently in her own room and it used to it. We live in Japan so these are easy to find. In another country you might find this on Amazon, or just a store that might sell some type of set for napping at a daycare. You could also check somewhere like the Japanese birthday store on line. The price range varies. I found ours on sale for $28.99 but it was originally much more. You can find most of the popular characters and a decent quality sleeping mat set for between $40-$70 USD. This washes in a regular size washer and dryer easily. It also holds up well in the wash but I would recommend hanging to dry rather than using a dryer.

 

3. Powder Detergent

You may not be able to take liquid with you on your flight to your new destination but if you have a long overseas move ahead of you I do recommend taking at least a small amount and putting it in a ziplock box ( I actually will take a small box of tide but you may not have enough space so a small bag will do also). Even if you can easily go to the store and buy some detergent once you arrive, I found it easier to have it on hand. Any messes that happen during the move, or on the flight can be washed out in your hotel sink or bathroom. There are wash services available in most hotels but lets be realistic…. large families with lots of children on a time crunch are probably not going to have the luxury of time and mosey to waste on a wash and fold service! If there is a mess, I put it in a ziplock bag and in a suitcase, when I get to the hotel I was it all in the tube by hand and then hang it on the line in the showers. Yes, people actually use those clothes lines at the top of the showers near the racks for things other than swimsuits! 🙂 This is how I previously survived my flight attendant life! Uniforms were washed every night in hotels by necessity!

 

4. Plastic Shower Caps
Yes, you technically could use shower caps for covering your hair if you do not have enough time to dry it… but that is totally an amateur move! You are going to sue your cheer caps for so much more than that! Have super dirty stroller tires? Cover those bad boys with shower caps when you enter your hotel so you are not walking on dirt or mud, have a sleeping baby in your stroller and don’t want to wake them? Slip your shower caps over the tires while the little baby sleep! Why wake them when you are moving and can use all the extra minutes you can get to unpack a few more boxes!

Have shoes that you would like to put back into your luggage but they are pretty yuck from your neighborhood run this morning? Slip the shower caps on your shoes before you pack.

Keep them on hand and cover food that you have left over from take out. No Saran Wrap needed!

5. Safety information for children

I know, it sounds crazy. You feel like you are never going to take your eyes of your little ones, especially in a busy airport or a train station, or the hotel lobby, but it can happen. Kids can get lost. And even though it is unlikely they they will get lost, what if their parents or family is in involved in an emergency and no one can explain exactly who should be contacted and quickly? If you are traveling in a foreign country or moving in a foreign country this can be stressful and even older kids can freeze in a emergency situation in a new place where they can not speak the language!

For older children, if they carry a wallet or are big enough to wear a necklace or jewelry you can easily attach all the emergency information needed there. Remember to also include the information in the local language.

For younger children you can attach it on the inside or a jacket or even write it on their arm on the inside so as the entire world doesn’t have to see it! I know it sounds silly but many little kids could escape your eyesight and not have the slightest idea who to call when they are on the other side of the world and can not use a phone to make an international call to grandma!

KEEP IN MIND EVEN 911 IS USUALLY A DIFFERENT NUMBER!!!
SO everything they have been trained to do will change!

 

6. First Aid Kit

This might sound like a no brainer but you would be surprised how many people have to ask flight attendants on a flight for band-aids! Traveling with kids you will be in cars, planes, trains, hotels, and a new home that is EMPTY! Even something as simple as a little Neosporin and a few band aids will go a long way.

Also keep in mind that the country that you may be relocating to many not have the same type of over the counter medication readily available. There are some countries even in Asia where it is pretty standard procedure for people to make a trip to a doctor or clinic for even simple over the counter medicine. It is best to just skip this possibility by just packing a few things on hand that you may really need.

Long flights and altered eating habits may also cause havoc on children and infants alike. If possible keep not only some type of fever or pain reliever but also some type of stomach comforting medicine. Being immobile on long flights and long car rides can really wreak havoc on a little ones system so be prepared for all the possibilities!

 

7.Tooth Brushes and Wet Wipes

Oh yes, of course you knew to bring your tooth brush. But don’t forget those wet wipes. They are not only for baby! They can really be a savior on the 12 hour over night flight. When the kids wake up feeling crabby and really lethargic a wet wipe can really make a world of a difference. Send them into the bathroom or use at their seat. Have them brush their teeth, wash faces, hand, arms and backs of necks with wet wipes. This can make kids feel refreshed and on many airlines, if you are not flying first class they will not bring you hot towels, even on long haul flights. Keep this in mind.

8. Do not forget your towels and linens!

A towel, hand towel and washcloth for everyone in your party can make life much easier! Sure, you will have towels at the hotel, but what happens when you arrive at your new home and nothing is unpacked yet? Al you may have the energy for might be a hot shower. It will not be as great if you do not have a towel with you! If your shower is not cleaned and ready to go st least you could use your wash cloth and hand towel as a make shift shower for the time being! and then you would still have a towel left over to dry off!

I also recommend brining an extra old sheet. This one you will not plan on using for sleeping. This sheet you need to use for the floors or carpets you may encounter that are not suitable for picnics or crawling babies! When we first moved overseas our homes floors were not yet cleaned. I did not have the time or energy the first couple of days to give the floor the type of cleaning it needed. I also found that old sheets were the best idea in an emergency. We have to evacuate our home during a typhoon and our temporary shelter was no place for kids to be playing, sleeping, or hanging around. It was extremely dirty. We put our sheets on the ground so we could sit on them for eating or read books and play with toys. We did not sleep with our sheets. We slept on cots with our blankets or sleeping bags.

 

9.Thumb tacks and maps!

So this might sound really strange but I found that Dumb tacks were really helpful to have in our moves. When we arrived in our new place we had a bunch of important papers, a bunch of delivery dates, a baby who loved to crumple things, and no furniture. Without a desk or table and no where to really put anything I found it especially helpful to have a few thumbtacks. I could just stick really important things to the wall, in the kitchen, near a door, where ever I really needed to see something I put it. We had to set up new phones as ours weren’t compatible in the new country, we had to buy a car, I didn’t speak the language and I was really forgetful! I had a 2 month old and a kiddo entering kindergarten. there were just oo many things happening! My husband was starting work at his new location and sometimes he would be in trainings and just plain busy so I really needed to have a handle on information otherwise I could have really missed some important information!

This may seem kid of funny but we also found it really helpful to hang a couple maps for our older child. He Hung a world map and a U.S. States map. I let him put some stickers on Tokyo and them some stickers on places where our family was. Then he could check out the map and have a better idea of where he was, where grandparents were calling on Skype from, and a better idea of time zones. That helped him understand WHY we couldn’t just call anyone at any time … even though we missed them! I highly recommend this map idea to anyone moving with younger children. it became a fun school lesson instead of just plain old confusion!

10. A pack of Comforts

For some kids this might be just some drawing materials, for others it might be ledges. Whatever is your Childs favorite things that are small be sure to pack it! We packed small backpacks for plane rides, some people pack an entire storage container in the back of a minivan. whatever you have the space for go ahead and do it! Some favorite snacks, favorite toys, and favorite books will really help them adapt. Sometime when you arrive you will not have quick access to internet setup, you may not be able to find movies in your language and your netflix might not be able to be used yet without your internet! Also different countries have different netflix movies and shows available. So if you’d kids have something that will destress them and keep them happy, pack it.

Another important one if a few packs of the favorite snacks. Some countries you won’t find things like ranch dressing. If they are having trouble adjusting, you might want to pack a few. If you need things like this to get you through the first few days, it is totally worth it. Sometimes the first few days will be hard but it does get easier!

My list could go on and on. Many ideas out there are available on Pinterest and through other groups. These are just a few things that I found to be really important and helpful in our specific situation. I hope it can give someone else out there a helpful idea or two!