Minimalist Mom

So I know many people think of black, white, empty and void of joy when they think of minimalism but I am discussing a kind of a strand of minimalism especially in relation to motherhood and parenthood.

I have been recently following many Instagram moms who homeschool, use Montessori style toys or minimalism in their lifestyle, and I’ve been blown away by their inspiration. Funnily, it isn’t the type of fake inspiration that is actually guilt, pain and anguish I used to get following Pinterest (the “I need to have this and that and buy things for status mentality”) It’s truly inspiring and makes me feel calmer and more peaceful in my mom life. Of course, I’m like any mom who wants the best for her kids and I have bought a lot of things from the posts of others. But I have tried to be intentional about my spending as of late.

I read Marie Kondo but she doesn’t really address having kids and the mom life which does come with a lot of baby, toddler, kids gear. I took issue with that from day 1. I supposed that minimalism was not the answer for most women, especially mothers with young kids, but I guess I am giving it more thought because my small steps in cleaning out my house did help me so much. 

It’s not as extreme as blogger Allie Casazza’s (where her kids only have one bin of toys) but it’s the same concept, to have less and find joy in being less materialistic. Since decluttering, my life has improved a lot. This time, it is even more intentional and focused. Laser focused.

A few improvements:

1. I realized that after reading Allie Casazza’s blog that minimalism affects kids. And I didn’t realize this was true except that after decluttering during round 1, my kids played very well by themselves, and my twins even have improved a lot in this area though they just turned 2. We have been working on using open ended toys replacing the old toys. For a while the old toys thrown out were replaced by other similar toys. Now old toys are being replaced by more creative toys like Grimm, unit blocks and just plain wood bowls and scoops for sensory bins etc. Now, SG takes big issue with this because it seems like my consumerism has no end, but I actually do feel like there is a sort of closure to our old life. Yes, I will still indulge here and there but I’m not as concerned about my kids having to have a certain amount of presents for Christmas. I am a little worried that I’ll be perceived by others as being wasteful, in that situation I will just store away things so that they are a least out of sight. Then maybe people including my husband and kids will realize they haven’t missed out by having that one toy (with batteries that I hate so much). 

2. I am working on self care in a more positive, long lasting way and minimalism is part of that. Having twins was incredibly straining on me, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The past two years were beautiful but exceptionally difficult requiring me to give my all. On top of this I felt strongly the need to homeschool my oldest when he turned 4 and the twins were 1 and it was all too much. I built an excessive wardrobe of LuLaRoe leggings and clothes that basically acted as pajamas, loungewear and sort of outing wear. It was the worst thing I could have possibly done for myself. But at the time I really needed it. I shopped conveniently at home, I got retail therapy, and because I felt like I would never get my body back I just accepted my shape and size by just wearing stretchy clothes. Maybe it was all justified a little.

Perhaps I needed those two years to be chill years and it hasn’t been all that bad for D. He still gets his playdates, outings with dad and a lot of free time to develop creativity. He is also exceptionally good with younger kids. But I know he needed more. So this year, I enrolled him in swim and choir and I realized I needed to go back out into the real world with him. I realized we were actually doing more of a real homeschool schedule and that I don’t have time to handwash my clothing, pick out matching leggings and do massive loads of laundry every day. So I have cleared out most but not all of my clothing, to motivate me to look nice, to look healthier, to simplify the workload at home. This is true self care. It is making good habits and sustainable life changes.

I’m not trying to bash LuLaRoe as it helps many women feel beautiful, but I bought so much clothing, it was too much for my needs. And YouTubers and a few real life friends have told me that they stopped wearing it because they felt lazy in it and therefore weren’t as motivated to get into better shape or at least be more active. So just keep that in mind.  

I hope you can see that this is minimalism with a purpose and a realization that all things cost not just money but also time (from Allie’s blog). I think this is definitely worth exploring if you are a stressed out mom.

 I have had major breakthroughs just by hearing about minimalism the second time around but I haven’t paid for the class (I’m not sure I need to at this point in my journey, I liked her blog just for the reminders but it might be helpful to pay for the course if you are just starting out.)

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Inspired by Montessori and Waldorf

When I first started researching homeschool, I came across Waldorf and Montessori philosophies of education. At that early time in my homeschool career, I dismissed their ideas as too hippie or too abstract/imaginative for my son who is very much a concrete and logical learner.
I’ve always been drawn to the style of Peaceful Preschool and Simply Learning Kids but it was so much prep work when the twins were small that I couldn’t do it. However I have followed SLK mom for a long time, and even bought some wood tracing boards per her recommendation. We used them for a while but then it was time for more learning and less play so I closed the extremely short chapter of Montessori-inspired and Waldorf-inspired style. Or so I thought.

Interestingly, we had settled on Charlotte Mason inspired language arts work because of our curriculum TGTB and how awesome it’s been. It uses short lessons, copy work, appreciation for nature and above all else, love for God and family. So I was pretty settled in my ways. Short lessons were perfect for D because he really thrived on short small successes which helped lengthen his attention span. He is very focused when he puts some effort in.

Now that my twins are older, I feel like we are back to the Montessori and Waldorf. I don’t know why but this is a little revelation re-revealed to me, that early childhood education should be open-ended and imaginative.

It’s a little ridiculous, but I’ve been once again decluttering my house to be even more minimalist and more focused on open play.

You may be siding with my husband who thinks getting rid of perfectly good toys and books is a waste of time and money.

But if you side with me, my/our aspiration is to have “living” books of the highest quality per Charlotte Mason’s philosophy paired with open ended, durable toys that promote imagination and free style play inspired by Montessori and Waldorf.

These babies are only so small and sweet for a short period of time and you really do want to nurture their natural abilities. Legos and superheroes, while good, can come later. (I still love Legos, but I want them to have other creative options too.)

I would LOVE to rid myself of all plastic toys but I really cannot do that as I would get so much heat from SimpleGuy. So I am merely storing them away, telling my husband our kids have “outgrown” the toys with batteries and fluff books with dumb uninspired drawings. We do still have Qiaohu toys that use a lot of batteries and a LeapFrog ice cream cart, a recent Christmas present to the twins but I only bring them out once in a while. They are no longer readily accessible. The ice cream cart is so cute but I kick myself in the pants thinking, “What was I thinking when I bought this?”

After cleaning out the dining room to become a more functioning homeschool room (see school room reveal post) , I started to realize that cleaning up after all the little pieces and random toys was exhausting. Three kids make a ton of mess. If we put a single activity or toy on each section of the lower shelves, the kids knew exactly where things were supposed to do. One of the benefits of this style is that it promotes order which I really need.

Secondly, I have found that my oldest (D) is now more imaginative and creative that he was as a 3 or 4 year old and I want to encourage him to continue to be creative. Another benefit of Waldorf inspired toys is imagination.

I have also seen my twins and preschooler play in a variety of ways. Yes, D has the imagination and ideas but the twins have natural curiosity and willingness to explore that I wish I had nurtured more in D when he was younger. I feel I have missed a window of opportunity but I am trying my best to make it up to him by introducing it into our homeschool play area. The open ended nature of the toys creates a lot of possibilities and playtime and playthings both have longevity.

I think the reason why homeschoolers are so drawn to Montessori and Waldorf is because this type of creative thinking is no longer promoted in the public schools. You have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay tuition to send your kid to a Montessori school in order to have this style of learning environment. With a few basic toys and games, you can easily replicate the style in your own home.

My recommendations:

Grimm toys

I will probably still gift friends and family brands like Melissa and Doug, Hape, Haba and Janod but I feel your money’s worth goes into Grimm toys. There are two online stores in the US that have a good selection of Grimm toys. One is The Wooden Wagon and the other is Bella Luna Toys. (Land of Nod and others have some but not a lot.) Both sent me coupon codes for a first purchase over x$ and they ship free for orders over $99/$100 respectively. These options are both much better than Amazon; Amazon’s selection of Grimm is sparse.

Plain Wood Building Blocks

I just got a block set for my son’s 5th birthday. I admit, I bought way too many blocks but it will be fun when the three kids can construct together. I did extensive online research. I know there are local and artisan brands that charge $200+ for hardwood blocks and that was out of my budget.

The Melissa and Doug set is a good option but I really wanted the larger pieces too. I wanted to use Plan Toys (50 piece) because our library has a set or two but their newer version available doesn’t have the large pieces or the variety as the old version at the library.

A reviewer on Amazon also mentioned that ECR4Kids makes school and kid furniture so their wood is GREENGUARD certified so there are no chemical pollutants whereas all other brands (Guidecraft, HABA, Constructive Playthings) said nothing about how they treated their wood. I chose their 170 piece set which is available on Amazon for $99. They also carry a 64 piece set for $70 that is probably more realistic for those of you who don’t want three boxes of blocks lying around your house (like mine) and has a storage bin which is fantastic. Now I’m wishing that I had bought that set.

Sensory bins

Technically you can use any craft supplies around the house including pom poms and buttons but I really wanted nice quality of stuff but not a huge quantity. In my experience you have to buy craft supplies in bulk making it a bit of a problem when it comes to storage. I have bought a few of my supplies via Amazon but I have also done a lot of Etsy shopping. My favorite Etsy store for sensorial is Montessori ReStore but it’s not a full hearted recommendation because the shop owner didn’t respond to my messages while I was shopping around and had questions. I had to place an order, trusting my gut. She did respond after the order was paid for. It took a month to ship my order so any seasonal themed materials were no longer in season. But there is no question, her materials are really nice. She has wood acorns, wood figures, wool balls, wood buttons—to collect these things would have cost the same plus the time to browse the web to find similar items.

So I bought a couple of wood trays and plan to rotate them in the toy rotation. Her material comes in wood trays which are nice to store them Montessori style. I find that locating containers for me is the hardest part of organizing these toys or work.
Other Etsy shops have Montessori toys and activities too so shop around. I am not a purist enough to say everything has to be wood but I can tell you that Q (twin  a) loves the feeling of wood and glass in the sensory bin pictures above. He really loves texture and holding (gripping tightly) onto things and I think that is pretty common in toddlers.

Wood Monkeypod Bowls

I recommend wood bowls to store or sort these small items and I found a lot of good wood bowls made of monkeypod from the Philippines or Hawaii avaialble on eBay or Etsy. They also come in beautiful shapes like flowers, seeds and fruit so they are functional and aesthetic.

Hope this is helpful for you!

P.S I need help too. Please can anyone send me advice on how you’ve gotten your husbands or partners to back the idea of transitioning to Montessori? How do they handle the news of getting rid of nice toys that still could be used? And have you told your family and friends to not buy your kids plastic gifts? Or do you graciously accept all gifts and then regift them or return them? I’d love to hear your insights.

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!

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.