The Good and The Beautiful Curriculum Review

I wanted to review this fantastic curriculum we have been using since July 2017 called The Good and The Beautiful.

Last post on homeschooling was about Simply Learning Kids and Peaceful Preschool. Their approach is a very gentle Charlotte Mason/Waldorf/Montessori approach to homeschool. It is not super rigorous but does emphasize good quality children’s literature and fun art projects that go with the letter or books. Its schedule uses Letter of the Week (some even extend to a letter per 2 weeks) and for a certain age, I think that is a little too slow to introduce letters and sounds once kids are motivated to read. I know we are aiming for mastery, but many letters of the alphabet do not need 3 to 8 days of coverage. I think PP is the perfect pace for 2-3 year olds but for my 4 year old he was asking for more and I didn’t have any more than what I prepped for that day. For that reason, I am glad to have implemented The Good and The Beautiful and Challenger Phonics Fun using songs to learn letter sounds and rules (see below).

I found The Good and The Beautiful (TGTB) curriculum through online searching for homeschool curriculum that used Charlotte Mason style. I was impressed by the affordability of the curriculum and looked at all the samples on their site as well as watched Youtube review videos by Salty Tribe Co, which are extremely informative and show how passionate its users can be. TGTB also has an emphasis on good literature, but its Pre-K is not solely art projects, handiwork or even around the children’s literature. It teaches basic skills like letter sounds, counting, colors, and introduces money and art appreciation.
I started TGTB when D was almost 4.5. I knew at that stage he needed more academic work. His Chinese is pretty good but he was a little behind in English proficiency. After several months of using this, I know this is a good fit for my son. He loved the literature of Peaceful Preschool, but I didn’t use the curriculum in full because I don’t have the time to prep for and do all the fun activities. TGTB is just the right amount of schoolwork. It seems too simplistic at first glance but it actually perfectly addresses the student’s needs and gives exercises to help them practice but in short lessons that don’t exhaust the child. For example, I had no idea that kids this age confuse lowercase b and d but the course book addresses this using fun practice activities. Kids do not realize they are learning but they are.

A friend (who does an informal homeschool co-op with me) thought her daughter knew all the letter sounds and identified letters but when we tested her blending skills it was so apparent she’s still working on letter sounds especially the vowel sounds. We’ve been working on each letter using TGTB when we’re at our place and it’s just the right amount of work for these 4 year olds.

I think the right amount of work is a lesson from TGTB and an art literary activity from PP or SLK

I have purchased the science units and history in support of this curriculum even though it is intended for grades K-6. I haven’t used these yet but I can tell you that they are so beautifully printed and thoughtfully made. There is a very minimal prep work involved, which for a busy mom like me, has been a breath of fresh air. My preschooler is of the logical and concrete style, so he doesn’t really miss the art. I think I will still try to incorporate it every once in a while for a well-rounded education. I find he really loves doing homeschool every day and asks for more. That’s pretty incredible.

I think it no coincidence that I gravitated towards simple but engaging curriculum like Peaceful Preschool and The Good and The Beautiful and that my blog (2013-present) has been called Simply Beautiful Beautifully Simple. I like things to be simple; I like things to be beautiful and uplifting and want to create this type of world in my home as a contrast to what is out there in the world.

I think I might return back to PP when my twins are ready to learn in a homeschool setting for tot school.

I will add that Peaceful Preschool and The Good and The Beautiful all have amazing Facebook communities; it really adds to my faith knowing there are others with similar values and are trying to intentionally raise their kids with a love of God and His word, respect for country and self, and many other things I feel is lacking in the public schools. I feel there is a great support system now that we have the Internet to connect us.

Challenger Phonics Fun

A short side note about Challenger School Phonics Fun – This is super old school (circa 1991) but I still like it. I attended Challenger School for preschool and still recognize some of the songs. It is much more intelligent than most (if not all) of the trash on Youtube pretending to be ABC and phonics songs. D loves the characters and the music. What I love is that the songs teach phonics rules and their alphabet song (“What does the A say?”) will teach vowels’ long and short sound as well as all the other letters’ sounds. The alphabet song (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle) most kids in America learn, “A,B,C,D,E…” is not enough because it only teaches letter names (not needed for learning to read).

I will also add that he doesn’t watch any TV in English except for the Pixar Cars movies and a little YouTube so he really loved watching Challenger and then kind of grew out of the first and second volume. The third volume is better introduced when kids have mastered the content in one and two because irregular vowels get tricky.

The activity books are excellent for him and I love that this set includes all the flashcards you need, unlike All About Reading (which is beautiful and I’m sure, very nice) where you need to buy multiple levels. It works for us, and I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but it’s what we’ve been using for our limited-English proficient child who is making a lot of gains in the language. 

I personally think you can teach reading earlier. TGTB doesn’t teach reading at pre-K, it is mostly reviewing letter sounds and letter formation (basic handwriting). We are currently half way through level pre-K and it hasn’t touched on blending or phonics at all. So that is why I felt D needed something supplemental. However, if you are fine with gentle approach, I know TGTB will eventually work on phonics and flash cards, so don’t worry too much.

This year’s curriculum:

I plan to use pre-K and the K Primer in the year 2018. This curriculum does take a back seat to our Chinese work using Qiaohu so we go very slowly compared to our monolingual homeschooled peers. I plan to start using Sagebooks for Chinese character reading; still anxiously waiting their arrival!

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School Room Reveal 

I had a goal this past year (2017) to be slightly more minimalist and we conquered a huge problem area: the formal dining/mom office/homeschool room.
Let’s clarify that I’m not an extreme-minimalist. I see the need to cherish your stuff and to not spoil your kids but I think there is also no problem with having an abundance of good literature and even age-appropriate toys, as long as what you have is organized and taken care of and used. Toys should be rotated and sorted through every now and again. My kids don’t receive too many gifts for Christmas and birthdays but since I have three kids now, those gifts are quick to take over if I’m not careful. 

Here was the desk area around February 2017. I kept books and curriculum in boxes under the desk. Now that I look back on it, this was completely insane. I don’t know how we lived like that. 

There is hope! Around June or July, the desk space became like this and there were fewer boxes of random Amazon purchases I was keeping hidden from the littles. But still a few.

Lastly, I was inspired by Pinterest and Instagram homeschool moms, many of which use Montessori method for their school rooms. Even though I am more of a Charlotte Mason/classical/unit studies homeschooler, I do like a ton of Montessori ideas for play areas but we are not Montessori purists.

It still drives me nuts that every toy on the bottom two rows gets strewn all over the floor every single day. I don’t know how to overcome that with two almost 2-year old twins. They are monsters.

Also you see how I’ve kept all board books below and the nice books out of reach? I’m sad that I have to do that, but they will destroy my books if I don’t take precautionary measures. 

If any of you can offer advice on how to keep low shelves orderly, please send any my way. 

The huge desk from Costco, which was way too wide and usually completely cluttered, was replaced by the sleeker and longer Ikea Micke desk (we chose black because it is more kid-friendly but I wish they made a high gloss white like the Kallax shelves.) This desk is perfect for me and D to sit together. He has one drawer of workbooks, magazines, etc. I have a mom-drawer where my keys hang out. Surprisingly, when things have a place, suddenly I don’t misplace them as much! The drawers are longer but shallower than the Sterlite plastic drawer unit we used before, but it still works. The old drawers were too deep.

Find a space that can optimally used. 

No, the desk is hardly ever this clean, but I can at least focus on keeping bare essentials on the desk and the mess is sorted right away, otherwise the desk would be unusable. This works well for me!

I hate using IKEA but in this case, the shelves and desk work perfectly and with a coupon only cost $189 combined.

What’s great about this is that all the books we were storing in boxes in D’s closet are now here and his closet is now a storage area with the old Sterlite drawers for crafts and other art supplies. This change transformed two areas in my house. 

Magic Holes Board Books Review

 

Just wanted to share that I found an awesome deal on the Magic Holes/Look and See books through Sharon’s Dynasty, an online bookstore that is closing at the end of the year. Please, please, please GO NOW and find a few titles for your Chinese-speaking littles. THIS CLOSING SALE ENDS 12/31

These used to be published in Chinese in Taiwan who bought the rights from La Coccinella (Italy). The English edition of the series is called Look and See and is available on Amazon; SimpleGuy said he grew up reading a few. (What?) My mother brought all of her Taiwan series (with a heavy ridiculous old-school spiral binding that was tearing the books up) to Texas once on one of her trips (bless her heart!).

This new edition is MUCH better than the old Taiwan version. They’re not perfect but there is actually a storyline. The old Taiwan version (which I gave to my sis-in-law and my older brother–sorry guys, it’s all we had before QiaoHu) was seriously written by idiots. I am sorry but I could have done better and I’m not native.

This edition uses simplified Chinese and there is also pinyin for those ABC moms like me. (Speaking of ABC moms, you NEED to check out this site chalkacademy.com –there are tons of awesome Chinese learning resources Montessori style for preschool and kindergarten aged kids. AND look at her book list, I am trying to acquire them all.)

I think the print is quality and kids LOVE the cut out holes. The storyline compared to a lot of other Chinese kids’ books is decent to adequate. The illustrations are FAR better than most YouTube style digitalized cartoons for the masses. (No, QiaoHu doesn’t count! He is from Japan and has a ton of educational and cultural content! lol)

Right now they are 60% off with the code CHRISTMAS during checkout. She uses Shopify for checkout and yes, I have received my books all in plastic wrap (just be careful, the pages get stuck together because they were in shrink wrap for some time).

You do pay for shipping Media Mail rate, but it is by weight. Example, 12.99 for an order 9-20 lbs; I think that is reasonable!

Recommendations:

  1. Little Star – Did I mention that a lot of weight is placed on illustrations? For books for this age range, it is so important that the art is beautiful, quality and comforting. That is really what reading at this age is about–enjoyment. So the Little Star book is pretty good here. The main character is a little fox who can’t fall sleep.
  2. A Year Has Twelve Months – This is also one with good illustrations. Luckily the months of the year are extremely easy in Chinese (January is month 1) so I actually need this in English for D to learn months of the year. Hopefully you celebrate holidays in your home because if you don’t then this book is not for you. Halloween and Christmas do appear.
  3. The Curious Cat – Another title with good illustrations. This one has big to little holes, most are animals’ homes, others are a little different: example, a hole in a leaf that a caterpillar has eaten etc.
  4. Who Weighs the Same – This has cute illustrations but also does a good job of comparing weights of different animals. It’s a good way to show kids the idea of “equivalent weight.” Example, a dinosaur apparently weighs the same as two whales.

Ones that are…interesting?

  1. Circus of Colors has some really weird colors like yellow and orange on the page for orange; magenta and purple for the page for purple, etc. and it has a woman cut in half on the dark blue page–yes, it’s a circus, but a little perplexing for youngsters.
  2. We happen to have the Wheels on the Go in Chinese and English now. I’m not a huge fan of it despite the fact that D is totally into cars, all day, every day. The vehicles are all really odd; they do not appear from large to small; there is no sense to them. It’s fine but just could have been better.
  3. I feel that What’s This and Hello Baby are extremely childish, just by judging the book’s preview pages. I could be completely wrong but I do feel I am a good judge of children’s literature. I’m shopping for 2 year old twins so I skipped these titles, but maybe you’d consider them for a infant or young baby.
  4.  The Little Green Caterpillar is so similar to Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar but just more nasty (no one wants to share their food with the caterpillar) so I just suggest skipping this one for the classic Carle book in Chinese which is also available on Sharon’s Dynasty.

 

Qiaohu 巧虎 2017-2018 Preview

I’ve received many responses and feedback from my previous Qiaohu posts, so I wanted to share the new updated subscription information.

This is the QiaoHu (CiaoHu) 幼幼 Youyou (Yoyo) version. Remember that the website and the version names use Taiwanese pinyin not hanyu pinyin, so if you search online for “Qiaohu”, it will only give you information for the mainland China not Taiwan version.

UPDATE: Do you know there is also a Cantonese version of Qiaohu too? Contact their California office for more information!

Twin Baby B is OBSESSED with 小花 XiaoHua. She loves her like a baby doll. She has played with XiaoHua literally every day for the last year. It’s kind of annoying. But it is the perfect size for toddlers. We took it to visit family and a 2-year old cousin M (a boy, I might add) loved to hold and play with her too. D still loves it whenever XiaoHua is in the DVDs. I don’t get why she’s so cute, I just know it’s cuteness overload for all kids!

D still plays with the restaurant food from this version; it’s cute and small, way smaller than our Learning Resources food. But it’s really the perfect size for them, small enough to develop some fine motor skills too.

Yoyo “Toddler” ban for ages 2-3

Here is 快樂 (kuaile) or Happy ban for ages 3-4. I LOVE the talking pen in this version, it is really a great teaching tool. D loved it and the books have some very advanced topics: the book on the hospital was a huge surprise. I don’t know if the books are different this year than last; if they are different, I’d be tempted to order just the books.

Kuaile “Happy” ban for preschoolers ages 3-4

Below is Chengzhang 成長 ban, the current version we get for D. It’s pretty awesome. It started to teach zhuyin and has more math and science covered in it. Before this version, the only math covered is number recognition for 1-10 and some basic counting skills (some basic dividing).
It is starting to teach more advanced language skills. This version also has zhuyin written in the workbooks, which makes it actually easier for me (as an ABC) to read. If you have gaps in your Mandarin Chinese reading skills, but learn zhuyin, you will be able to “spell out” the words.

I’m not stoked about the toys in this year’s Chengzhang ban subscription but we have PLENTY of Qiaohu toys at our house, so it’s not a big deal. I like that it is more academic in content; I am excited about a new talking pen with similar technology to the one included in kuaile ban.

Chengzhang “Growing” ban for preschoolers ages 4-5

The rate has also gone up from my last post. I am still willing to subscribe, but it is getting pricey. According to recent emails, the yearly rate is $345-355 and $188-190 for half yearly. I am assuming ABC Island (which is not as needed here in the US) is $345 while the Chinese subscriptions are $355.

If the information has been helpful, please consider adding me as a referral when you order. Here is the website. The order form is here. Their phone number is 714-888-5190.

My referral ID is 2600018310, first name’s Kyleen.

Referrers get a small Qiaohu toy or game; it isn’t much but my kids will love you forever. Thank you!

Pre-K with Simply Learning Kids Blog

I have loved using the literature units at Simply Learning Kids (SLK). This blogger mom has done everything right. Her original plans are detailed and creative. You do not need to commit to homeschool to do her activities, there is so much you can do on her site with your child just for fun or rainy day activities.

I honestly needed help finding good literature at the preschool level as I neglected to find these type of stories in English since I was so focused on keeping Chinese the dominant language in our home. Our books were mostly Usborne and by itself, it isn’t enough (and I’m sorry to say that because I am a consultant though inactive) because Usborne is mostly informational and really lacks in quality of storybooks—the classics we grew up with combined with some new modern stories—the good quality literature that helps kids love reading and in the habit of hearing a story unfold. 

SLK mom has transitioned to using the Peaceful Preschool (PP) from Peaceful Press. It’s similar but not completely the same style as her old curriculum. In comparison to PP, the original units at SLK are more time consuming work to prep but at the same time, it’s just prepping paper and lamination. I can do it while binge-watching Netflix. 

PP is a different style of prep work. I feel like PP is more Waldorf and Montessori in style than I’d like to be, so I’d like to apply some of the concepts, it’s just super difficult to with two toddlers and a preschooler. They bake bread, make all-natural cleaners and homemade play dough; I just don’t have time to do these things with my kids right now in my current life situation. I need a curriculum that is already made without time-consuming activities. (Also, because I have placed more emphasis on learning Chinese, I have skipped over a lot of material, like poems, for now. I have a lot of material to go over, more than the regular homeschooling family.) 

What has helped me is to go over all the preparation questions and family vision and school plan in the PP curriculum and her videos available in the Facebook group you join if you buy the curriculum. 

SLK is doing extension activities off of PP with less downloadable material (which is sad!) but even her basic activities and ideas are more what I want to do for the time being: simple art projects, montessori 3-part cards, emphasis on many different types of literature; so I’m grateful for the site. I will continue to make and use her old materials and gradually move to the PP letter units and her extension activities. 

She has recently made all letter unit (letters cards, scriptures, worksheets) and 3 part cards available. This is fantastic news for those of us printing at Staples or similar. You can now print everything you need at once instead of waiting for updated posts.

Please check out this site and for more ideas and inspiration, follow her Instagram. Remember, the key is to have the ideas inspire you, not overwhelm you. 
I love her lists of supplies, books and toys. I am learning so much about the resources to keep a minimalist style of home for kids. It’s easy as a stay at home mom to buy random things at the dollar store or education store without thought of the purpose behind them. While I have to say, I’m not completely minimalist, I do lean that way and strive to be less materialistic.

I have almost bought all of the items on her list of minimalist homeschooling supplies; it cost me a lot of money to buy the art supplies, in fact, initially, it didn’t seem minimalist to me; but as she said on the site, it is quality materials that will last over multiple years of use. And I will likely never go back to Crayola watercolor and crayons.  

A few tips on the supplies:

  • I got my Educational Insights jumbo letter stamps from Amazon and Zulily. Each pad is about $13 and sometimes you can score free shipping. The ink pad is also sometimes featured.
  • Get the watercolor cake palette from Michael’s, not Amazon. The set is only $5. Totally worth it. 
  • Get the XL watercolor paper from Walmart, not Amazon. It’s only $5 a pad.
  • Get the white roll paper from IKEA. It will be shorter in width but a lot less expensive. It also coordinates with the easel they sell. I have rarely used my roll paper because I am only homeschooling one; I probably would use it more if all three of my kids were involved in the art projects.
  • I haven’t bought a printer yet but I am tempted to. I am used to using Staples and Minuteman Press. Some of the printouts don’t need to be high quality if they are consumable, but the cards and activities you laminate and use over and over again probably should be especially if you have multiple kids.

KonMari with Kids: Part 3 Think Simple

I should get extra credit for typing this with manicured nails. (Yes, I’m 32, and I just got my first manicure last week!) At the time it seemed like an awesome idea to get a manicure. Then I went back to the real world, changing the twins’ diapers and cleaning toilets and eating chicken wings…what was I thinking? My life is not conducive to long nails at all.)

After Magic of Tidying Up, the real magic lasts if we address a deep-rooted issue most of us don’t want acknowledge.

If we do not change our consumerist habits then all the decluttering in the world won’t do any good.

Maybe it’s because somewhere in the cosmos, the fates realized I have a gift for decluttering that 3 (count ’em)—3 people I know (and I don’t really know many people to begin with) in the last 6 months have given/gifted/trashed me with garbage bags full of junk, things their kids stopped playing with ten years ago, a pile of garbage-looking toys, a collection of really nice Gymboree shorts I sold to Once Upon A Child (cha-ching) also 4-5 sizes old from a family with only one child at home. (So you’re saying you can’t trash these items, but I can?) I should start a business, “We trash your stuff so you don’t have to live with the guilt!”

In came more “stuff” and I had to revisit my need to hold onto things and my need to buy things.

Everyone knows I love shopping.
Everyone knows I love kids’ toys, kids’ clothes, and kids’ gear.
I may have de-cluttered, but I’m not recovered:

I realized that wall art is a nice new money-hobby because it takes up only room on a wall instead of part of my living room floor. It’s still buying things without the mess.

I don’t buy as much clothes now, but when I do I don’t feel bad overpaying because I’m already used to paying for very expensive LuLaRoe clothing. (If a shirt costs $35, then a $30 Mikarose shirt is a bargain right?)

I am also surrounded by people (ahem, millennials) who think they are rich. They want their kids to wear fashionable clothing. Statement pieces for toddlers? What? For moms’ day out, we’re going to order $40 plates for our dinner out? What? I mean, I love indulging too. But whatever happened to the simple life, the beautiful life I wanted when I first became a mom and had simple aspirations to just be content and not moving around the country for SG’s graduate school?

When did we become so entitled we feel we need to have stuff all the time? And to portray a certain value and status through the stuff we have?

I own to the fact I will always have stuff and I will be an Amazon Prime (get it in 2 days or less) type of girl. But there must be real change within, to not go back to the old ways. Maybe I’ll never fully embrace minimalism because I want things for myself and my kids but I can embrace a less consumeristic view. No, my kids don’t need every latest gadget. Yes, I want my home to feel comfortable and inviting but I don’t need to follow every Pinterest trend.

Think Simple.

New to Homeschooling

We have begun to homeschool our 4 year old.

This has been a difficult journey for many reasons. For one, I think every parent but especially every homeschool parent feels they are never doing enough for his or her kid. Why we feel this inadequacy stems from our own childhood, what we think we were deprived of, what we wish we had known, and also the tendency to parent the way we were parented, for better or worse. My preschooler’s tantrums really bring out the angry mom in me. My mom was strict with me too and part of it is my personality.

The battle to face your weaknesses is magnified when you homeschool. I realize not all of you want to homeschool, but I think this post can be related to just parenting in general.

I want to share our why of homeschool and share some early challenges:

The Why’s

There are many, many reasons why we chose to homeschool; the essence of why we are homeschooling boils down our family priorities and flexibility or schedule. We want to spend time educating our children on things that are priorities in our family and we think are neglected or dismissed in the public schools. We want our kids to be as bilingual as possible; I know that even in the best immersion setting, kids will not maintain bilingualism unless there is a need to speak the language and a lot of exposure in the real world.  So we want to take our kids to Taiwan/China or even the local Chinese-owned stores and businesses to speak in the real-world, not just on Saturday school. We also want to be able to have a religious education element in our schooling. We also want to have our kids learn about entrepreneurship and true financial literacy; all these things are not taught in regular schools; too many kids are taught to get hired, not to create value out of ideas.

We also want the flexibility to design curriculum and a school schedule that meets our family’s needs. We do not want to get up at 7 am and be out the door by 7:30 am. We do not want to have “early out” days or have to deal with inclement weather days or PTA meetings or teacher conferences. We especially do not want our kids bored for 8 hours a day and on the opposite side, we especially don’t want them stressed out for 8 hours a day.

My husband is somewhat of a unschooler. He and I both attended public school and he reminds me all the time how much time is wasted on classroom management or “parties” or fundraisers or pep rallys. He honestly thinks that our kids will just learn by being with us, going on family outings and unstructured play.  He does not care if our kids go to college, as long as they learn a trade and are competitive in their chosen field. And I might add, he is an optometrist and has a doctorate degree. Of course, he knows college is a good route for those who need a degree like lawyers, doctors or teachers, but we’re talking about other professions that really do not need a college degree.

As the English Teaching major, I have a different view. I think there are certain academics that need to be taught, like reading, writing and math. Also art, music, and history are vital to life-long learning. I love literature and school. I take a Charlotte Mason-classical study approach to many subjects. I would like to use Montessori and Waldorf elements to promote creativity in play. Basically I am an eclectic homeschooler and trying to stay minimalist, but it’s so hard, which takes me to my next topic: the challenges.

The First Challenge

The earliest challenge is determining the identity my home and homeschool will have, especially with our differing views. There are a ton of different philosophies of early childhood education and how that looks like in the homeschool setting. Luckily, we’re only doing preschool which is 20-40 minutes a day and only 4 days of school. Sometimes “school” is just art projects or reading. It’s chill now, but I want a long-term plan for the future and it feels like completely uncharted territory because we throw in things like foreign language and scripture study that others don’t. Do you know of any Chinese-speaking homeschoolers? The community is growing but it’s still incredibly small even in a place like Plano.

I think my biggest take-away right now is to succeed as a parent, you need to stay true to yourself and don’t be swayed by every little blog post, book list, toy list, Pinterest craft or Instagram feed out there. This overload of information is overwhelming and stressful and does not add to being a good parent.

I do think every parent can improve little by little. It is good to read up on child development and education, not leaving it up to others, which the study of homeschooling as done for me.

Recently I’ve been reading up on Montessori and Waldorf, specifically what kinds of toys and activities they use. (And remember, Montessori does offer day care and elementary school, so this is not just for homeschoolers.)

I stayed awake a couple nights ago thinking about how awful of a parent I’ve been for having toys with batteries in them, or for having plastic toys instead of wooden or wondering if I need to get rid of all the Disney, cartoon or pop culture toys in my house (which if you’ve read my Qiaohu posts, we have accumulated a ton of these!)

In efforts to improve, I even spent a ton of money on some homemade wood toys off Etsy (which I haven’t received yet, but I will review if they’re good) because I thought, “I’m really going to embrace this minimalist, natural and open-ended style.” I look forward to trying out a different style of toy for my kids, but in general, I need to avoid any extreme changes to be successful at child-rearing or homeschooling. I do not need to throw out all my kids’ toys right now because I have been attempting to be minimalist in the possessions we buy and have. I just need to improve the process moving forward and learn from my mistakes.

I’ve needed to step back and really think back to my “why’s”. Why do I emphasize certain ideals in my home over others? What has been successful  to excite my kids about learning? Yes, we use a lot of screen time learning Chinese; my son loves it and his Mandarin has improved so much. He has learned to recite a Tang dynasty poem and a handful of Chinese characters. Has it been done in a kind of plastic-toy cartoon-y commercialized kind of way? Yes, but who cares? He loves it. We really do not watch any other TV and he only has about three movies he gets to watch on special occasions.

We do have a lot of plastic toys. I try to buy quality over quantity, like play food and Duplo especially; but I also accept the gifts and hand-me-downs of others which has watered down my vision of our house’s toy stash.

Has it made my life a little crazy? I have tried to make good effort to buy more creative, inspiring and free-thinking toys. I do try to make an effort not to buy those so-called “educational” toys or toys that overstimulate.

I blogged once about used toys and clothes and I still think used and preowned are great options; however, after doing this research, I recently went to my local Once Upon a Child and realized that a majority of what is there is just that, junky electronic toys; not all of it, but most of it.

But then a family member buys a toy that sings and recites nursery rhymes. Another buys a plastic toy car with screws. (Don’t they know we have a ton of cars already? And aren’t plastic?) We have a lot of Pixar Cars and Hot Wheels and my son has played endlessly with them; have they opened his imagination? I think so. Should I feel guilty we have these mainstream-brand toys? I don’t think so.

I will post on some of the sites that have resonated with me, in hopes this will help you if you are doing some “school” time at home. My intent is not to give you pressure to be a certain type of mom but just to show you how you will know if a style of education excites you, then it is probably for you.

love you guys!

Cottage Door Press Board Book Review

Introducing chunky flaps! I have found some new favorite board books from Cottage Door Press, the Peek-a-Flap series and the Chunky Lift-a-Flap series. These are the perfect books for active toddlers who destroy everything. My firstborn was the perfect toddler, who never ripped or tore a book ever. He’s also mildly OCD so we have had our share of challenges.

My twins are much rougher with books. If I gave them my Usborne Peek Inside series (which I love and recommend as a must-have from Usborne), they would destroy or fold up the flaps in 30 seconds.

These flaps are durable, made of the same cardboard material as the book.

I found the Chunky Lift-a-Flap (Little Green Frog and others) at our local Barnes and Noble and I even let my twins try out the flaps and they did not destroy them! Usually I do not believe in using the bookstore like a library but in this case we were fine because the books went back on the shelf in perfect condition.

I like that the Peek-a-Flap combines a word book with flap books with informational text. This is age-appropriate for toddlers; babies might get easily bored with it, but you don’t even need to read every word; just talk about the illustrations.

I’m sure these will be dropped, worn and dented over time, but I am fairly confident the flaps will remain in tact.

For the younger babies, I liked the Chunky Lift-a-Flap series. I especially like Babies on the Farm and Little Green Frog.  I gifted Baby B with Babies on the Farm for Easter because spring and farm animals are so suitable for the season. I like that it uses vocabulary like goat kid, piglet and duckling instead of simplifying the words (like “baby duck”) as so many other baby books do.

Just based on my previews of the other board book series on their website, I was not as impressed with the other chunky flap books like First Word (called Babies ❤)  series or others, but I am judging them by their covers.  A lot of them seem cheaply done to me, however, these two series I’ve mentioned are fantastic and I highly recommend them for their illustrations and durability.

I own a lot of word and board books already and I’m trying to get the most bang out of my buck for each book I buy. I used to buy whatever was cheapest and I’m learning to stretch my dollars buy buying less but with more quality. I know there are a ton of choices out on the book market today, but these offerings are truly unique.

I would highly recommend Peek-a-Flap or the select few Chunky Lift-a-Flap for first-time parents. You will not be disappointed.

KonMari with Kids: Part 2 Organizing 

From the high of the discarding phase, I was hit with the reality of organizing.

My discard pile was one of the biggest in my life, but as I set out to organize, I could see now why my house always seemed cluttered. My house was severely disorganized. All this time I feigned organization and cleanliness, but I was letting areas of my house go to serious disarray.

Going through each category for the second time showed me where the problem areas were. First, I organized clothes, books, random stuff  (you know, the tray you stash everything in because it’s the landing spot of whatever is in your pockets). They were all relatively easy to conquer.

Using Kondo’s shoebox trick, I used both halves of my Samsung Galaxy tablet box in my closet which has built in shelves and acts as my dresser, and it works like magic. Shallow and sturdy, it is perfect for seeing what you have. (Better go get some more tablets! Do you think Samsung will sell me just the box?)

But then it hit me, my kids’ toys, books and homeschool preschool “classroom” is what is truly troubling the house.

I set out to fix the problem, first by consolidating all things in one locale. This method shows how much of an item you have. Doing some toddler busy book games let my crafting supplies run crazy. It’s time to tame the pile into controllable and organized amounts.

Does everything have a place? That’s the question of the century. If it does not, then things are left to roam without a home. Our house is messy because our stuff is homeless.

I’m slightly crazy so I actually had already my kids’ toys inventoried on a my phone, just using OneNote. I placed all toys I wanted stored away in categories. Lego duplo, play food and cars were the largest categories that are untamed and not easily displayed (because they break apart, are not stationary or have a lot of pieces).

Reluctantly I’m going to have to give IKEA more money. If we do end up going the IKEA route,  we’ll do a reveal.

I used to hate on IKEA but it works for kids. It’s inexpensive and simple. So the more kids I have the more IKEA our house has.

KonMari with Kids: Part 1 Discarding 

I just finished The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up book by Marie Kondo. Previously I had perused a copy at Costco when it was then new and cool. I dismissed the concept because she spoke about possessions like they were friends and thanking them before parting with them. It was just too much. Too crazy.

Years later, I read an excerpt from the illustrated companion volume Spark Joy about folding clothes found in the Reader’s Digest and it really was quite awesome. Especially after my LuLaRoe makeover, it felt like my new clothes were meant to be folded and stored upright. So I gave the book another chance and here’s some of my insights as I was discarding:

Day 1 Clothes

It actually started last night at like 11pm. I decided to do my clothes since I don’t own that much and sorted and discarded til 1 am. Yeah, I had to get up again at 7 am like I always do. But it felt great.

I am not a hoarder especially when it comes to clothing. I am pretty good about laying to rest old clothes and here in Texas, you can schedule a local charity truck to pick up the clothes and other small household items, to use for proceeds towards charitable causes. I usually support local organizations: the act of donating items to a charity instead of to the trash, helps dull the pain of the discarding phase.

The key to the KonMari method is letting go of emotion that bind us to material possessions that really don’t work for us. If the item sparks joy, then keep it. If not, then discard or donate.

I was finally able to let go of old clothing that I had saved to try to fit into again. I mean, maybe it’s all due to a matter of time, but I have accepted the fact that my last pregnancy has altered my body entirely (not just the little fat pouch, which I should work off, it will only take me like two years) as in new bra size (not cup), new shirt size, and new body shape.

The next day, I worked through my kids’ clothing, which I often do throughout the year but doing it all at once really felt effective. My kids didn’t seem to mind me sorting next to their play and they still napped well in the afternoon despite the indoor activity probably because it was so unorthodox of an after-lunch activity. This time I was finally willing to let go of some of the hand-me-down clothing I had received from other moms. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good hand-me-down just as much as the next mom, but there was so much I keep that was out of style, weirdly colored, or just ill-fitting. I mean, we’re talking clothes already 6 years old which my kids will not be able to fit into for another 3 years. It’s time for someone else to enjoy them.

It feels great. I know in the book, she says claims it will be life-changing, but to tell you the truth it is. It’s liberating.

It also makes me really evaluate my re-gifting of kids clothes that I did in the past to my brothers and in-laws. I am going to stop this practice mostly because I realize that I only kept a small amount of hand-me-downs due to geography. We all live in different climates and have different lifestyles. I don’t want them to have the burden or obligation to keep something. I would hope if I did ever send something to them that wasn’t suitable, that they’d be courageous enough to sell or donate it.

My Disagreements

There are, however, a few things in the book which are wrong, I mean, unrealistic for moms with kids. We use a ton of clear plastic bins in our house, the ones from Costco. Homes with children will need storage. I can’t start all over with new wardrobes with every child. I can’t throw away baby gear, even if it’s taking up a lot of space in my closet. The same thing goes with maternity clothes; perhaps she has never seen how expensive those clothes can be.

And some kids’ toys you can’t really get rid of. This falls under that gray area of others’ possessions and kids’ things. Yes, there are toys they don’t really play with and those will go bye-bye. But there are things that feel like clutter like random plastic containers, but they play with them all the time and would be a waste to throw away a cheap toy just because it looks like trash.

She says to stop the practice of packing away seasonal clothing but I still like wearing certain shades of colors for certain seasons. I do see how storing away clothes is a recipe for forgetting what you have in your closet. I need to change my shopping skills a bit though and stop buying clothes to last just for a season but to be worn throughout the year. We can wear the same shirts all year round here if I buy the right items.

Take all tags off clothes? I disagree. There have been so many articles of clothing that I returned because I simply changed my mind about how they looked on me after I returned home. I am so glad I didn’t take off the tags so I could return the item for a full refund. Keep in mind that I am one who does actually do returns within the time limit and I remember to keep receipts etc. For others, tag removal might be the necessary painful reminder to only buy what you love in the future in order to avoid buyer’s remorse.

Day 2 Books

I actually did a clean-out of my books years ago, so I only have 50 of my own books. What has grown is my children’s book collection, which I will not let go of yet, since my kids are still super young and need a good variety.

I did, however, let go of The Help, which was probably the last hard copy grown up book I bought.  And from the kids’ section, I sent packing a Nihao Kailan Look and See book since Qiaohu rules our Chinese library now.

I consider myself a pretty good declutterer. Cleaning a hoarder’s house, a pack rat’s house and living with my cluttered siblings is enough to change anyone’s life forever. This book was still relevant to me. What has helped me is the advice to discard by category instead of go from room to room. While this is kind of tedious work, it’s very dramatic and therefore memorable. It is true that you will not likely forget swimming in a pool of your own clothing, underwear and all.

Day 3 Papers

I used to do the binder method which I wrote about in this blog. I’m letting of the binder and I’m going to try out a simpler system of just using one folder or container.

I did a part with Baby B when she woke up from her nap. She loves playing with my checkbook and some coupons which expired months ago. Yes, paper trails are so easily created!

Day 4 Papers Again

She argues that eliminating what is unnecessary will help one determine what is most important to him or her and I agree. She also says it’s okay to donate or let go of gifts, as the gift giver already expressed love and care when the gift was initially given. If we hold onto gifts that are not used or enjoyed, we’re complicating our living spaces with things of little meaning and that was not the intention of our gift giver.

I also love that she sees right through people’s excuses when they claim they want to regift a possession or put it at a parent’s house for safe keeping: these actions are just delaying the thought of letting go. We need to love enough to let go and move on.

I have been working on papers for two days now. I’m finding it extremely difficult to let go of necessary documents because I was always taught to keep them for 7 years. I will simplify by trying to keep all paperwork in a single file cabinet instead of throughout the house and I did whittle down half of the existing paperwork.

I’m just having a hard time throwing away the paper trail. Medical documents, old tax forms and returns and some warranty information are all keepers but I can’t put them all into one file folder as she suggests. So I still have many folders, but instead of a ton of subcategories, I just have main ones: warranties, receipts, family history, kid’s medical and my medical. This is more my style.

I’m going to have to take some time to see what more can be reduced. I know it’s supposed to be a one-shot experience to discard, but on papers, I need some time.

Day 5, 6, and 7

So the last part is this vague conglomeration category called random objects and for this, I did do room by room mostly because of time and space and the kids. If I had things of a certain category spread throughout the house, like craft supplies, I did bring all items together to sort, but for example, bathroom stuff is only in the two bathrooms of my house and it is well-organized, so it didn’t make sense to take it all out.

On the last day and on days after this purge, I thought to myself, what more can I do? For days I didn’t know and that was because there was simply nothing else to do. Amazing.

Part of the magic is when you do it by category, your mind will take an inventory of all your belongings in the house. When you ask yourself, “Is this all my clothes?”, You’ll search for the random places you’ve stored all your clothing. When you’ve finished your mind feels at peace because it no longer has the burden of remembering where everything is, because if organized properly, anything will be easily located.

This does not mean my house is spotless clean and totally organized. I am still working on Part 2 Organizing.

You will still need to do actual cleaning every day but tidying up and decluttering are done long term. You will need to go through things again, like when you move or all the kids grow out of baby toys, etc. But it’s a rare event.

The results are fabulous. My closet looks awesome. I’ve started tracking down shoeboxes, her preferred storage container, for phase 2 and I am thrilled that we are donating 6 diaper boxes’ worth to the charity trucks.