What to read

Some of Our Favorite Middle School Books

We love to read in our house….like a lot.  We actually have three huge bookshelves full of books that we love to read again and again and sometimes again.  One of the most common problems that readers face is what to read next, so I thought I would share some of our favorite book series that are appropriate for middle school children first. (I will admit that I have read a few of these series and really liked them)

Current Fiction

Warriors series by Erin Hunter

Seekers series by Erin Hunter

Goddess Girls series by Suzanne Williams (Intended for a younger middle school reader, but my daughter who is 13, still loves to reread them on occasion)

Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling

The Mother Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Frederick (This was a series that both my daughter and I both loved…..in fact, I have read it twice!)

Shark Wars series by EJ Altbacker

The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin (This is a series that I loved from when I was in middle school and I was so thrilled when my daughter loved it too! If you somehow made it through your childhood without reading this series, I feel so sorry for you!! Go read this series. Yes, it is still an adorable series for adults too.  I have to admit that I periodically reread this series and love it each time.)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Both my daughter and I loved this book.  In fact, I read it first and then made my daughter read it.  Its a really great story and very well written)

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

The Waterfire Saga by Jennifer Donnelly

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (Just in case someone has not read this amazing series….Read it!)

The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer

The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley (My daughter loved this series and read it multiple times.  I also have read the first few books in this series and it is a really cute take on fairy tale creatures living in the modern world)

Pennyroyal Academy series by MA Larson

Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler (This is a really cute mermaid story.  My 13 year old says she thinks it would be better recommended for 4th-6th grade readers but it is still enjoyable for older children as well.)

The Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (I have read this series and really liked it as well)

Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland

Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (This is a great series! Full of mythology and lots of action. I have reread this series numerous times and love it again and again)

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson (I love this book, it is so fun to read)

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (Really cute book and a great movie as well)

Classics

Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery (Loved it when I was little and still love it today.)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (My daughter was in a stage reproduction of this timeless book last year and she fell in love with it as well)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter (An oldie but goodie)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (I have loved this series for over 25 years and still reread it at least once a year)

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I hope that this list will help you to get out of your reading rut or maybe even be a list you can share with your child who hasn’t fell in love with reading yet.  I can guarantee that if you are raising a reluctant reader that one of these amazing books will surely peak their interest and jump start a lifelong love of reading. Enjoy!

If you think I have left off a great book that a middle schooler might enjoy, please leave it in the comments below.  We always are looking out for a new series to read!

 

 

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Saving you $$$

Saving You $$$

This week I will be focusing on ways to save money on cleaning products for your home.

1.Vinegar and water

I know most people equate a clean home with a great smelling home,  but a lot of the products that have the strongest smells are not always the best for your family.  A few years ago, I stumbled across a ton of articles that explained how bad so many commercial cleaners were for the environment and for my family.  I started seeking out natural alternatives for the cleaners I had been using and I was shocked to find out the most natural ingredient to clean almost anything in your house was….vinegar!

Did I mention that I have a huge aversion to the smell of vinegar? Well I do.

But I was willing to try it out for the greater good of my family, so I diluted the vinegar with water and tried it out for a week.  Much to my relief, the vinegar smell dissipates as soon as it dries, so there was no lingering smell at all. ** Also, my counter tops were less greasy after using the vinegar mixture, so that was a definite bonus.

After cleaning my kitchen, I moved onto my bathroom and again, the vinegar did a great job. (Another cleaner that vinegar and water can replace is Windex and it works just as well I promise) While the toilet and the shower did not have the trademark smell that my beloved Scrubbing Bubbles had, the vinegar actually left behind a nice, clean smell instead.

The last cleaner I substituted vinegar out with, was my…sniff, sniff…Swiffer wet jet.  I love the smell of Swiffer!  But, I was bound and determined to give vinegar a fair shot on becoming my cleaner of choice for my household.  Surprisingly, the vinegar did not do too bad of a job, the only thing I noticed was a slight film on the tiles after they had dried for awhile, but it was gone a few hours later. ** I also use a vinegar and water mixture to mop my laminate wood floors and strangely it also leaves a film which disappears after a few hours too, so I guess this is normal.

Besides one of the benefits of vinegar being so environmentally friendly, it also is crazy cheap!! So its definitely a frugal choice for an all natural cleaner.

2.Concentrated all-purpose cleaners

While I mostly stick to vinegar and water to clean my house, I do also occasionally use Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day all-purpose cleaner.  But again it can get pretty pricey buying a new bottle every month, so luckily I stumbled upon a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s concentrated all purpose cleaner at Publix and decided to try it out.  It is awesome!! I bought this product over 3 years ago (I think it was on sale for $7 at the time) and I still have over half a bottle left today.  I simple add 1/16th of a cup to roughly a quart of water and it is exactly the same as if I bought a brand new bottle each time.  **Mrs. Meyer’s is also one of the better commercial all purpose cleaners for the environment out there, so I try not to feel too badly about using it.

3.Dryer sheets

Apparently you do not really need to use dryer sheets to keep static at bay in your clothes, there are many non-chemical ways to do this.  Some people use wool balls, air dry clothes, or simple decrease drying time to avoid the use of dryer sheets.  I have tried not using dryer sheets, but still managed to get too much static in my clothes somehow.  So a simple way I save on dryer sheets is to cut them in half or thirds. Yes this really works! I have been doing it for 3 years and it manages to keep the static at bay just as well as a full sheet.  I know it is not a huge savings but every little bit helps.  I think that I only go through 2 boxes of dryer sheets in a whole year this way, so that’s pretty neat!

How does your family save on cleaning supplies? Do you use natural cleaners? If so, which ones?

Frugal Accomplishments

Five Frugal Things

Here are five ways that I saved money this past week:

1.Scored a Christmas gift for  0.49¢!

A few weeks ago, I received a coupon in the mail for a free Venus razor.  I was excited when I received this coupon, because my daughter happens to love Venus razors and this would make a nice Christmas gift for her. (As great as these razors are, they are quite expensive, especially considering that I can get most disposable razors for free with coupons) But free is free!

My daughter also loves the shaving creams that Gillette makes, so when I saw that Kroger was running a deal on shaving creams for $1.49, I knew I needed to jump on that offer. (Oh did I forget to mention that I had a $1 off coupon also?? Well I did!) So for 0.49¢, I got a brand new razor with 3 extra heads and a great smelling shaving cream that my daughter is sure to love 🙂

2.Said yes to leftovers

This year, we went to Auburn, AL (War Eagle!!!) to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s family.  Before we left, my wonderful mother-in-law sent us home with a ton of delicious leftovers. ** I decided to include these leftovers in my Five Frugal Things post because by snacking on turkey and rolls in the car, we avoided eating out on the way home.  So that’s definitely a frugal win!

3.Heated our home with free firewood

Since we had such a mild winter last year, we had a good amount of really dry firewood leftover to get us started on this year’s woodpile.  We decided that we would probably not have to buy any firewood until after the New Year, if at all….then a tropical storm hit our area.  An elderly neighbor had a huge oak tree fall in her yard (missed the house, but totaled two of her cars!) so another neighbor and my husband offered to help cut up the tree.  In return, my husband was encouraged to take as much wood as he wanted, because the lady’s son was planning on burning anything left behind.  So he gladly took her up on that offer!

4.Used gas points

Luckily, I remembered that I had gas points that I needed to use before they expired. So I made sure to fill up at that particular gas station when we returned from our Thanksgiving trip.

5. Got all I could out of nearly empty products

Did you know that when some containers are “empty”, they might still contain enough product for a couple more uses?  Well they do! This past week, I got all I could out of a liquid detergent bottle, an almost empty A1 sauce bottle, and a body wash container by simply adding a little water and then shaking them up to get the last drop from each container.  I also am proud to say that I finally scraped the last bit of chapstick out of a container that I have been working on using up for two years!

What were some of the ways that you saved money this past week?

 

Homeschooling

How I Spend Less than $100 a Year on Homeschooling My Children(Part 1)

One of the most common concerns that parents have before they start homeschooling their children is how much it will cost.  Yes, there are some really expensive homeschooling curriculums out there (cough cough…Sonlight) that are considered to be complete curriculums.  These will include all the books you need plus a daily schedule to take the worry and fuss out of planning your homeschool year.  I am not criticizing these companies because they offer a valuable service to busy parents and a no fuss approach to homeschooling.  I personally just cannot see spending up to $600 on one year of materials when I can put in a little work and create a curriculum that will suit my children’s educational needs and learning styles.

In this series, I will discuss how much I usually spend in each subject that I teach throughout our homeschooling year.  I also will be sharing some tips to show you how you can provide a wonderful homeschooling experience without breaking the bank.

Science

**In the early years of K-2nd grade, you do not really need a standard textbook.  The children in these age groups usually are focused on simple biology topics, like the life cycles of plants, frogs, and butterflies.  In our local public school system, I don’t think that they even start using textbooks in science until 3rd grade.

This year for my 1st grader, I picked out thirty science-related topics to learn about during our school year each week.  After deciding which topics to cover in our school year, I then searched Pinterest for some fun ways to reinforce the science topics that we would be studying each week. (Let me tell you, Pinterest is a great resource to use for homeschooling!)  Teachers, bloggers, and fellow homeschoolers have so nicely decided to share with the public some of the many ways they have taught their students various science topics. Why not take advantage of this wealth of knowledge??

After searching for ideas on Pinterest, the next place to go is to the library. Most libraries have a great selection of books on a variety of science topics. The best part is that it is totally free if you are a member! I usually take some time over the weekend to write down a couple of book titles to check out for use during our science class each week.

After I have searched Pinterest and the library, the only things that I might spend money on for K-2nd grade science would be supplies, but mostly we just use what we have around the house.

Another really cute idea for K-2nd grade science is to watch the Magic School Bus and read library books that reinforce the topics covered in the show.  A bonus is that the Magic School Bus series is currently on Netflix, so that is basically free if you are already a Netflix subscriber.

So in my experience, K-2nd grade science can be basically done for free with alot of planning and utilizing all the free resources that are at your disposal.

When my children start 3rd grade, we usually start using real textbooks. Our favorite science textbooks are from Apologia. They have a great selection of science textbooks and are really written well. You can usually find them used on Amazon or Ebay for $10-$15. The best thing about textbooks in my opinion, is that you can reuse them for each child at no additional cost and when you are done with them, they resell very well.

Another way to save money on textbooks is to borrow them.  Our homeschool co-op has a small library of books that teachers have used for their classes taught at co-op.  As members of our co-op, we can borrow textbooks and other materials from the library quite easily.  Another great thing about our co-op, is that our teachers generally use Apologia textbooks (which we love!) in all of their science classes, so they have a really great collection that we can choose from.

While we love Apologia science books, I just felt that something was missing in our school day, especially in science.  The problem was that my kids would speed through the daily readings and I never knew how much they were retaining from what they had read, so I started to look for study guides for the series.  Sadly, there were not too many options besides lap books (which I hate!) So…. I decided to write up my own study guides for each of our Apologia books.  Now if you don’t have the time or inclination to write out a study guide, there is a great website called Teachers pay teachers that has numerous affordable resources for homeschooling families.  ** I even have my own store on that site, check it out if you need some Apologia study guides 🙂

I hope some of the ideas I have shared will help you to think outside of the box, when it comes to finding unique ways to save on homeschooling materials.

Next, I will share how I save money while teaching history.

Saving you $$$

Saving You $$$

Each Wednesday, I will post three money saving ideas that will help you to save money in your everyday life.  Now not all of these ideas will be exciting or groundbreaking, but every little bit helps and according to one of my favorite thrifty phrases “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Menu Plan, Menu Plan, Menu plan

A huge chunk of the average American family’s income is spent on food.  While it is not always glamorous, we all know the cheapest way to feed our family is to eat at home.  Now, I know many people go multiple times to the grocery store throughout the week and that is totally OK if you can restrict yourself to buying only the items on your list.  But let’s be honest, there will always be something that catches your eye and makes its way into your grocery cart.  An easy way to avoid this money pitfall is to make a weekly menu plan and stick to it.

Take snacks with you while running errands(Especially if you have kids)

I cannot estimate the amount of money I have saved by taking a snack and a drink for my kids while running errands. Someone is always hungry or thirsty at some point in our trip to town and they always beg for a snack or a drink in the store.  By simply planning ahead, I can have one of their favorite snacks and drinks waiting in the car to enjoy on the ride home.  So its a win-win situation!

Use the library

If you are going to have to pay taxes no matter what, why not get something useful out of it.  The library is a wonderful way you can save money.  Besides having so many wonderful books to offer, most libraries have DVDs, books on tape, internet access, story times, community programs, book clubs, CDs, ebooks, and so much more.  Instead of having to buy the latest book or movie, just run into these wonderful establishments that you are already paying for, and treat yourself to some free entertainment.

Frugal Accomplishments

Five Frugal Things

1.Used up leftover Halloween candy

I teach a third grade first communion class at my church on Sunday mornings. ( I have the sweetest kids this year!)  While my students love to answer questions about what we learned during the class, they especially are eager to show off their knowledge when candy is involved.  So when I noticed that I was down to five pieces of candy in my treat bag, I luckily remembered all the leftover Halloween candy I reserved for just this purpose. ** The only problem with this solution was that it was a mixed bag of candy so a little whining occurred when they saw that other kids had different types of candies that they reeeaaaallllyyy loved…….sigh….

Savings/Freebies: $3 (rough estimate on a small bag of chocolate candy)

2.Pork Chops!!

While I was writing out my menu plan for the week, I noticed that it was full of four chicken meals and one beef meal.  So craving a little diversity, I started to add a different meat to my grocery list, when I thought, “Hmmmm I wonder if I should check once more for random meats in my freezer.”  Well lo and behold, there were five small packs of pork chops hidden at the bottom of my chicken tote bag. ***I use reusable totes to organize my chest freezer and I must have consolidated all the white meats into one bag to save space.

Savings/Freebies: $8 (Money I didn’t have to spend on store bought pork chops)

3.Cardpool

Awhile back, Macy’s had made an error involving an internet purchase made by my husband.  To rectify this error, the sent a $30 gift card to us!!! (Great customer service by the way) Well we do not live anywhere near a Macy’s and shipping would have eaten up a large chunk of the gift card, so I decided to look into one of the gift card trade-in companies online.  After researching a couple, I decided that Cardpool seemed like the best one based on customer feedback. Surprisingly, it was extremely easy to do and I received a digital Amazon gift card worth $24.01 to use whenever I wanted.

Savings/Freebies: Earned $24.01 and now have one less thing to worry about on my to do list!

4.Bought gifts using free money

With the Amazon credits I received from selling my unused gift card, I bought my son a variety of Scooby Doo movies he will love for Christmas.  So it was a win-win situation.

Savings/Freebies: $21 (The amount of money that did not have to come out of my pocketbook for Christmas gifts this year)

5.Credit card reward points

I agree with Dave Ramsey on most things, but not on the issue of credit cards.  I think that the smart use of credit cards can be a wonderful way of earning extra cash throughout the year.  We have not paid one penny of interest to our credit card company in over ten years. Instead, they have paid us an average of $75-$100 a year for just using our credit card on everyday purchases.  Admittedly, we have worked the system by using our credit card on purchases that we could have paid cash for. For example, we bought a wood stove for $2000 a few years ago and received $20 cash back from our credit company because they offer 1% cash back on every purchase made.  We really capitalize on the cash back purchases when we buy from the categories that offer 5% cash back on a quarterly basis. For example, the past three months our credit card company has been paying us 5% cash back on all purchases made at Walmart. **While I do not usually shop at Walmart, I will for 5% cash back!!

Savings/Freebies:  $42 in credit card reward points….yippee!

**Recap: This week, I have made $66.01 with basically no work and saved myself over $30 by being prudent and using what I already had….even if I didn’t know it!

 

 

Homeschooling

The Five Steps of Learning How to Read

Many people assume that homeschooling just comes natural to parents and that it is a fairy tale story of obedient children and smiling parents…..ummmm not in my family.  While my children mostly do their schoolwork with good attitudes, there are days of whining over how long an assignment is or how it is not fair that we have school on a day that the public school system is out.

Besides these everyday complaints, I also face many of the usual doubts that most homeschooling moms face. (Yes, we all have the same doubts, even if we are hesitant to mention them) One of the biggest concerns I had before I started to homeschool, was how I was going to teach my child to read.  While I do have a college degree, it definitely is not in the field of elementary education.  So like the big scaredy cat I am, I decided to wait to start homeschooling until after my daughter had learned to read in public school.  My rationale was that homeschooling would be a breeze if my child could already have the ability to read and do simple mathematics. (I know the other homeschooling moms reading this are chuckling at my naivety)  Despite all my fears and concerns, we had a remarkably smooth first year of homeschooling.  I attribute our success to my daughter being such a good sport and to her love of reading.  So overall, I felt that I could potentially pull this whole crazy idea off and do a good job of preparing my child for future academic success.

Then I had my son……

Now my scheme of teaching a child that already knows how to read was in jeopardy.  After homeschooling my daughter for five years, I had serious reservations about putting my son into public school just to learn how to read.  Once again those pesky fears and doubts began to fill my head.  Could I really teach him how to read? What if he is resistant to learning? What if I am a terrible teacher? How on earth can I be responsible for tackling this important task?

So I began to research all the different methods of teaching reading and discovered this wonderful new site called Pinterest, which was filled with wonderful ideas from educators from all over the world.  All of a sudden, my fears of teaching my child to read started to slowly disappear.  I developed a game plan of tackling this huge challenge and I am going to share it with you!

1. Learn the alphabet

The very first thing you should do to set the stage for reading is to learn the alphabet.  Sing the alphabet song everyday in the car, at breakfast, and in the bathtub. After the child knows the song really well, have them practice singing the song while you point out each letter. This helps to cement the ABCs into the memory by visual and auditory means.  Another fun way to reinforce the ABCs is to read books based on the ABCs.  Some of our favorite ABC books are:  Dr. Seuss’s ABC,  The ABC Mystery by Doug Cushman, Chicka Chicka Boom BoomMiss Spider’s ABC,  Click Clack Quackity-Quack,  Bad Kitty and so many more available at most libraries.

2.  Learn the sounds of each letter

After your child knows all the letters backwards and forwards, then you can move on to what sound each letter makes.  Start with sounding out three letters at a time and add on as each set is mastered. For example, on the first day teach your student that “A says aaah, B says buh, C says cuh” and then on the next day repeat and add “D says duh, E says ehhh, F says ffff” and so on.  Once the child has mastered all of the alphabet sounds you can move on to the next level.

3.  Practice word families

Word families are the first real step to reading in my opinion.  After practicing word families for a few weeks, something clicked in my son’s brain and he began to see that letters make words.  The simplest way to teach word families is to write them out in columns so the child can see that they all end in the same sound. For example,

-at                                                     -ig                                                -og

Cat                                                    Pig                                               Log

Bat                                                    Big                                               Cog

Sat                                                    Fig                                                Fog

Hat                                                   Dig                                                Dog

The options are limitless really.  Basically any words that end in the same letters are considered word families.  I think the reason that children like word families so much is that it feels like they are actually reading.  We all want to be good at something and this just makes them feel special, so make a big deal out of any success your child has in reading!  I have always made a big fuss out of any attempt that my son has made in reading and he just loves trying to impress me with his skills everyday.  You can search online for different word family lists that other teachers have created for their classes and add them to the ones you have thought up.  There are also some really cute Pinterest ideas concerning word families.

4. Find a learning to read book

There are so many great options for learning to read books out there.  We chose The Reading Lesson: Teach your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons.  I love this book because it slowly walks you through all the steps of learning how to read in easy to follow lessons.  We decided to just work through 1-2 pages at a time because my son got really restless after the second page when he first started out.  After he got better at reading, we started doing 4 pages a day.  He really loves the stories and the illustrations throughout the book.  I love it especially because they teach and review new words before each story, so the child has a better chance of reading the story by themselves.  Being able to read a whole story makes my son so proud of himself!

5. Start easy reading books

While we are making our way through The Reading Lesson, I decided to introduce my son to early reading books that I felt he could read.  When I felt my son could handle simple sentences, I had him to attempt reading our favorite Dr. Seuss books.  His very first book he read was Put me into the Zoo by Dr. Seuss.  Let me tell you……he nailed it!  His next book was Green Eggs and Ham and like the first book, he didn’t really need any help at all, much to my surprise.  I think what makes Dr. Seuss perfect for new readers, is that the books are all rhyming and use lots of word families.  Dr. Seuss books also repeat a good deal of words so the child catches onto new words really quickly. He just started I’ll teach my dog 100 words and what do you know…he is speeding through that one too!

After finishing my list, I realized that I left off probably the most important step on the road to teaching your child to read, which is…….read to your child everyday.  If your child is a baby, read board books.  If your child is a toddler, start reading easy rhyming books. If your child is in preschool, start picture books.  I really think most of my son’s success in reading is due to a love of books.  Our bedtime ritual always involves reading two books each night.  If I try to skip out or read just one, I have a mutiny on my hands!  Once the reading bug has bitten your child, I truly believe the road to becoming a great reader will be much smoother for the whole family, especially for the worried homeschooling mom….