Simple Space Sensory Bin

Space Sensory bin

Last year our little guy got a sand and water table for his 2nd birthday.  Since his birthday is in early spring and it was way too early to take it outside I decided to improvise so he could use it right away.  I bought several large bags of dried beans and dumped those in the table along with a few of his favorite small tractors, a few boats, some sand shovels, funnels and cups.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I put together his first Sensory table. We just called it The Bean Table. The little ones had tons of fun with it and eventually when the weather warmed up we moved it outside and it became a sand (mud) and water table.

bean table

I hadn’t thought much about putting together another sensory table until I can across the Play Create Explore website.  After spending some time researching and learning about the purpose and benefits of sensory bins, I decided that I definitely wanted to use them more with our little learners.

We are using My Fathers World for Rose and Little Man this year and the first 2 units are Sun and Moon. I decided to create a simple Space themed Sensory bin primarily for Little Man to play with while Rose and I did seat work.  As it turns out they both ended up playing with it for quite awhile today.  I just used rice, plastic toy planets and some multi-colored bouncy balls.  The kids used their scoops and cups to bury  planets, sort balls by color and size and practice counting. It was like Planet Search and Rescue to see who could find the most planets first. Of course the inevitable happened and rice ended up spilling over the sides, but they were playing on the train table so no big deal. I’ve been spending lots of time on Pinterest finding ideas for other sensory bins to go with this years units.  I am thinking the first item of business will be to find some bigger bins.

Sensory Box  Space


A Field Trip to Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo

We were lucky enough to spend part of Day 3 of our Chicago Trip with my cousin and her 2 daughters at the Lincoln Park  zoo.

lincoln park zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is a free zoo located in downtown Chicago.  It is  fairly small as far as zoos go but, as one of the nations oldest zoos it it truly a piece of Chicago history.  On a  weekday, you could likely see most of the zoo in about an hour….we were there on a beautiful Spring Saturday. It was BUSY, so we were there quite a bit longer.

There is a  petting zoo with all the usual farm animals.  Its has goats, cows, pigs and chickens as well as a milking parlor. Although I’m not sure why it is a petting zoo as you couldn’t actually get close enough to actually “pet” anything. They have a few displays about agriculture that explained where food comes from.  It was nicely done and there is a garden in the middle of the petting zoo area.  The funniest part of the petting zoo area for me was that there is a brand new sparkling John Deere tractor on display.  Guess who got to stand in line for 15 minutes with Mowgli so he could sit on a tractor?  You guessed it.  Never mind there are 2 tractors sitting just outside at home, although they are definitely not new.  ( I have since decided the educational part of this experience was practicing standing in line. )

The kids enjoyed the gorillas and the chimpanzees as well as the seals and monkeys.  Unfortunately because the zoo is so small many of the animals are in much smaller enclosures than what you typically see in most zoos.  This made me sad particularly for the big cats that were in cages indoors.

There is a nice cafe at the zoo where we had lunch.  There are many options from fresh fruit to salads, sandwiches, pizza and a grill.  Prices were reasonable and the food was fairly good. As expected, like the rest of the zoo it very busy. As I understand there is a farmers market nearby that I would like to explore next time.  We had planned to go get lunch there, but time got away from us.

Located just next door to the zoo, is the Lincoln Park Conservatory. We took a stroll through the conservatory but didn’t stay too long as it was awfully hot inside and the large open grass area outside seemed to be beckoning us to come and sit awhile.  (I wont tell you how at this point one hot and tired mom flipped her lid when she say her 5 year old playing with a cigarette butt she found on the lovely grass area…. in hindsight perhaps I could have used this opportunity to talk about littering but…I didn’t.  What can I say a 5 day field trip can’t be perfect all the time.)

The Lincoln Park Conservatory  (and surrounding area) is actually very nice  but if you are looking for a conservatory to visit with little ones, I highly recommend the Garfield Park Conservatory. It is truly an amazing place.  Last year it was  recognized by the  Institute of Museum and Library Services as one of 10 recipients of the 2012 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. It has a fantastic children’s garden and is one of my favorite places in Chicago.  We have visited the Chicago Botanical Gardens several times and really have enjoyed it as well.

Helpful Hints: Here are  a few  fun printables I found to use with our zoo trip. Most of these are designed for younger students.

Money Saving Tip:  While the zoo itself is free, parking is definitely not.  We drove around for quite awhile looking for street parking but ended up parking in a parking lot a few blocks from the zoo.  Parking was $27.00 for 4 hours, if I remember correctly…ouch! (This country girl just can’t get over the price for parking in the city)

A Homeschool Field Trip to Shedd Aquarium

Day 2 of our Super Chicago Field Trip was spent at the fabulous Shedd Aquarium.   The Shedd is in an easy to find location, along the shore next to Adler Planetarium and The Field Museum.  It was one of our favorite visits while we were in Chicago, so much so that it has made the itinerary on several prior Chicago visit as well. (Maybe not terribly surprising since we are huge animal fans)  According the their website, Shedd Aquarium is the largest indoor aquarium in the world and I can’t say I’m surprised as there is A LOT to do and see.

Here is a little sampling of some of the fun we had.

Shedds Collage

We all had a great time exploring the aquarium and were able to take advantage of several animal encounters, a dive presentation in the Caribbean Reef and an animal chat about Sharks in the Wild Reef.  (Incidentally did you know you are more likely to die choking on a toothpick than you are to get bitten by a shark? Who knew, right?)

The favorite animal (by vote) was the sea turtle in the CarribeanReef.  Her name is  Nickel and she is enormous!  She only swims with her head down and her bottom up because she was involved in a boating accident in Florida.  I appreciate that they share the animals’ stories, I think it help us make connections with  the animals and can serve as great conversation starters with the kids, especially about conservation issues.

The Special Exhibit that is currently on display through 2013 is Jellies.  The Jellies exhibit pass was only a few dollars extra and was worth the price.  It  captivated the attention of even the 3-year-old.  The exhibit itself was very cool and had some really neat features.  I love this picture of my sister and Rose talking about the Jellies.  She is amazing with the kids.  It is so natural for her to be completely present and in the moment with them. Love her!

jellies exhibit at shedd aquarium



Mowgli’s favorite place at the aquarium was the Polar Play Zone and Underwater viewing area.  The Shedd has a baby Beluga whale and it was in the underwater viewing are that Mowgli and my sister saw the baby and mother swimming together while the baby was nursing… so sweet.  (Although it was also in this area that upon seeing the dolphins, he announced he was going to “eat them on bread” Oy!)  If you have little ones you wont want to miss the play zone where they can explore a submarine, dress up like a penguin, practice their belly slides or touch a live starfish.  As you can probably imagine we could have spent the better part of the day just in this area.  Here’s my boy working on his penguin slide..pure joy!

ice slide


We did not do the Aquatic Show this time for a couple of reasons.  First, all the animals that are in the show are on exhibit and still can be seen.  There were several trainers in the Oceanarium available to answer questions when the show was not going on.  Secondly, I was raised in North central Ohio during the Shamu days when Sea World was still located near Cleveland.  We were regular visitors and have seen some really great aquatic shows!  We have seen the shows at Shedd Aquarium and while they are good…Sea World they are not.  ( I guess we were just spoiled…thanks mom and dad!)  Lastly, admission to the aquarium is not cheap.   Admission was almost $100.00 for myself and 3 kids.  Was it worth it.. absolutely. Was I willing to part with another $   Which bring me to my money-saving tips.

Tips for Homeschoolers: In addition to discounts for Chicago residents, there is a discount available for educators in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, but you do have to register online to get your pass.  Also I should mention that the Shedd Aquarium website has great information about the exhibits and aquatic animals in general so you will want to check it out.

Money Saving Tip: This may seem obvious but double-check your admission charges.   As I mentioned the prices vary widely with several options including shows and exhibit available as add-ons to the base admission price.  I was initially overcharged by over $50.00 and the employee, while nice enough, couldn’t figure out why and wasn’t sure how it fix it.  The charge on my sisters  card for her admission went through twice.  Maybe just a glitch with their system that day, but I thought I would mention.   My second money-saving tip is to pack a lunch.  They have a very nice cafe on site but as, I still have a child in diapers I carry a back pack anyway.  There is a lunch room as well as a beautiful multi-level covered outdoor eating area. This was the view from the deck.  We had a wonderful time at the aquarium and really enjoyed this amazing view of the city while we rested and enjoyed our lunches.




A Homeschool Field Trip to Chicago’s Field Museum

Day 1 of our Super Chicago Field Trip found us at the amazing Field Museum. We decided to do the Field Museum first mostly because we were tiring of Mowgli asking 10 times each day when we were going to go see Sue the T-Rex.  (That’s the downside of preparing the kids for what they are going to see, learn or do on the upcoming field trip.)

chicago 015 - SUE the TREX

There is a lot going on at the Field Museum!  There is a wealth of information about their exhibits available on the website.  It was very helpful for me to choose a few “must see” exhibits ahead of time for each child. I find that by doing so, the kids each get to see what most interests them. (Although I admit sometimes I am surprised at what exhibit they really enjoy, but I guess that’s the whole point, right?) It also allows me to relax and enjoy the experience more since I’m not so worried that we are going to “miss something.”  This Family Highlights Tour Guide covers several exhibits that we really enjoyed.

The Field Museum is great for exploring and thinking. Sunshine brought along a clip board and just really took her time with each exhibit, looking, listening and asking questions. I love that there is a lot of open space at the Field Museum. You can move from one area to the next without feeling like you are in someone’s way. In addition to the official exhibits, there are many “mini exhibits” along the way. As you are walking down a corridor your attention may be drawn to an interesting statue along the wall… and since there is open space not only can you see the statue but there is room to get to it to look at it more closely.


For the 6 and under crowd (and mom) the Crown Family PlayLab is a gem!  We were lucky enough to have the entire area almost to ourselves. There were only 5 or 6 other families in the Play Lab……however outside the main desk area were at least 100 preschoolers lined up to board school buses.  My recommendation…save the PlayLab for later in the day. (say 2:00ish) By this time of day my little ones have exhausted all of their self control trying to be relatively still and quiet while we looked at other exhibits. They are now ready to release some energy with some serious hands on activities and the Play lab is the perfect place to do so. Some of the areas in the Crown Play Lab include a Woodland discovery and dress up area, an art studio, an Amazing sound lab, a dinosaur dig and the Pawnee Earth Lodge. By the end of our visit to the PlayLab, (which also was the conclusion of our visit to The Field Museum) the little ones were ready to sit down in the reading area and explore their extensive collection of dinosaur books.  Who knew Sue the T-Rex had her own book?

The Highlights:

I asked each child which exhibit they most enjoyed and why.  Here are their answers.

Sunshine (10):  “I liked the Ancient Americans exhibit because I learned how the woman’s clothing told  the story of her life.”

Rose (5): “The Animals because they were really neat” ( Translation: The Nature Walk and Wild Animals Up Close.  We experienced this exhibit in its entirety twice, once to greet each animal and again to bid them farewell.)

Mowgli (3):  “Sue the T-Rex…..I a Dinosaur…Rrrrrrrrrr!”

Tips for Homeschoolers – Getting the most out of your field trip – I wasn’t able to locate much specific to homeschoolers on the website but when we arrived I spoke to someone at the membership desk who was happy to offer me brochures with additional information about many of their exhibits as well as a copy of the last few issues of In the Field, their member magazine.  The best resource is by far their website.  You will find so many interesting photos, videos and links on the website you will be amazed!

Money Saving Tip: Parking at the Field Museum lot is $19.00 for the first 4 hours, but if you park on the street, parking is only $2.00/ hour, if I recall. (Have your plastic ready… these meters don’t accept cash… yes crazy I know…don’t get me started!)

Sanity Saving Tip: We were at the Field Museum on a Thursday, which was awesome since I didn’t realize that the Crown Family PlayLab is only open Thursday – Monday. You don’t want to miss it!

Tips for getting the most out of your home school field trip

The kids and I were lucky enough to spend the past week on an extended field trip in Chicago. We had an amazing time visiting museums and seeing the sites.  As you can imagine however, travelling to the “big city” with a 10, 5 and 3-year-old can have its challenges so I thought I would share some of the things I learned on this, our first out-of-state field trip.


Unfortunately the Handyman was unable to travel with us this time; I was lucky enough to have my mom join us which was incredibly helpful.  While in Chicago we stayed with my sister who not only hosted us in her home, but also chauffeured us all over the city and accompanied us on most of our adventures. I am so blessed to have the most amazing family!

While we were in the windy city we visited The Field Museum, Shedds Aquarium, The Museum of Science and Industry, The Chicago Botanical Garden, The Lincoln Park Zoo and The Lincoln Park Conservatory as well as took the girls shopping at American Girl Place.  It was an amazing, busy, fun, and educational trip.  Here are a few of my take away thoughts.

1)      Have a plan but be flexible.

I spent hours researching and organizing for our trip. I put together a binder with all of our worksheets, info sheets, maps and menus. I actually had hoped that we would be able to also go to Legoland, Adler Planetarium and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, but after the first day it became obvious that less was going to be more.  We limited ourselves to one “destination” each day.  We started early and were done by about 3:00 pm each day. (which was really 4:00 pm at home) We spent the evening playing and relaxing.  We went to the shore one evening and the local playground another.  Everyone had a good dinner and got to bed at a decent time.

2)      Make the most of your budget by taking advantage of reciprocal membership benefits.

Most zoos, children’s museums and science centers offer some type of reciprocal benefits with your annual membership.  If you have a membership to a local museum at home there is a good chance there will be some benefit available at other museums. With our COSI membership we have access to hundreds of other ASTC  (Association Science-Technology Centers) museums. In Chicago, the local libraries also have a limited number of free passes available to their library members for many of the local attractions.  You can also check for “free museum days” but know that many others will likely be taking advantage of these days as well.

 3)      Plan to travel when there will be lighter crowds.

One of the best parts of homeschooling is that we have the flexibility to make our own schedules. Take advantage of it! High traffic “tourist attractions” are so much more enjoyable when there are fewer people, during the week and when the public schools are still in session. Early spring and late fall are great times to travel with your homeschoolers.

 4)      Extra hands are extra helpful.

With an age span of 3 to 10 years old, our kids are at very different places in their educations.  They have hugely different personalities, interests, and attention spans.  Having an adult with each child allowed us to move through the museums and exhibits at the right pace for each child. It was so much more enjoyable for me and they got so much more out of the experience. Obviously, this is not possible on every trip but for as much as we could, it was wonderful.

 5)      Do Your homework ahead of time so they get the most out of the visit.

Many places offer discounted admission and workshops for homeschoolers, but you have to ask!  Check the website of the location you are planning to visit for educator specials both for special pricing and for materials that will make your trip more educational.  When you arrive be sure to ask if they have special guides or materials available for homeschoolers. It was helpful for me to visit the websites of each location we were going to visit and get an idea of which exhibits and programs would be the most interesting and applicable to what we have been studying this year.

Sunshine and I are working our way through our photographs, notes and worksheets to put together a special Chicago Field Trip notebook.  Since I wasn’t with her for all of the exhibits it has been fun having her tell me what she learned and enjoyed about each different exhibit. I’m looking forward to sharing some of our favorite photos and experiences with you.

Dry Erase Crayons…A Review


One of the supplies we use most often in our studies are Dry-Erase markers.   I adore our large dry erase boards and have found my favorite brand of Dry-Erase marker.  The problem is that the little learners also do dry-erase activities.  The little ones use laminated pages from Confessions of a Homeschoolers LOTW, draw on the big boards and various other activities on dry erase boards and books. It never fails, the minute I turn my back one of them is drawing on themselves, the tables or each other. I went to Joann Fabric in search of Washable Dry Erase markers, that’s when I came across these lovely Dry-Erase crayons. I bought a package of each brand, Crayola and Leap Frog,  to see how they worked and decided I would share my results with you.

If you shop much at Joann Fabrics you must know that if you download the Joann app, you almost always have coupons of 40-50% off available ( read…never pay full price at Joann’s! No smart phone? Sign up for their flyer.  Better both! ) If you are an educator, homeschool or otherwise, you can sign up for an Educator discount card. (Be prepared to show proof..just thought you might like to know.)  Moving along.

The Crayola Washable Dry-Erase Crayons come in regular or Bright colors. They range in price from $3.00-$6.00 for 8 crayons depending where you purchase them.


The LeapFrog Jumbo Washable Dry-Erase Crayons seem to be priced a touch higher in the $4.00-7.00 range for the same 8 crayon box.  They were also a little more difficult to locate locally. The Crayola Crayons are readily available at most craft, office supply and big box stores.


I allowed the kids and their friends to use the crayons for a week to see how they worked.  Here is what I liked about the crayons.

Both  the Leap Frog and Crayola Crayons are approximately the same size.  They are a bit larger than regular crayons making them easier for the toddler and preschoolers smaller hands. 


Both brands wrote smoothly with ease and with good coverage.  If I had to choose I would say the Leap Frog Crayons were a bit smoother, but not substantially. 


Both brands of crayons erased well.  In the sample above I used the reds and pinks as these tend to leave the most residue when erased. The Crayola Bright left the most residue but again, not a ton and it was easily removed with a bit of extra wiping on my part.   As a bonus, the packages of Crayola  crayons came with a cloth for erasing.

Both Crayola and Leap Frog brands had built-in sharpeners on the boxes which is nice.  We typically keep crayons in plastic boxes or buckets and toss boxes, so not a huge deal for us.  I would say both crayons kept their points equally well, which is not long when in the hands of little learners. 

All of the crayons were in fact washable as they claimed.  The crayons washed easily off of  hands and arms, clothing and solid surfaces.

Here is what I didn’t like about these crayons. 

These crayons are very soft. As soon as the crayons begin to warm up, they break quite easily.  When I say “warm up”  I am talking about warming up in the fist of the three-year-old after a few minutes of use.  This was not as big of a problem with the 5-year-old, but she holds her crayons differently and has  learned to control the pressure she applies better than her younger sibling.  Both the Crayola crayons and the Leap Frog crayons had this problem.  I would say the Leap Frog crayons were quite a bit better though.  I am pretty sure if you left these crayons in a moderately warm car or even laying out in the sun on the porch on a warm day…they would be toast!

Having said that, I really do like these crayons and will continue purchasing them for the under 6 crowd in our home.  I prefer the Leap Frog crayons and as long as I can get them locally (especially at Joanns for 50% off) I will buy them.

Preparing for Homeschool Convention

I just finished booking our room and registration for the 2013 Midwest Homeschool Convention. Yeah! I am so very excited to have the opportunity to attend again this year. Our experience at this convention last year made a huge impact on our confidence level about beginning this homeschool journey. We met so many great people and listened to so many amazing speakers.

The Handyman and I will be attending alone again while the kids have a little mini vacation of their own with grandma. We haven’t had a chance to get away by ourselves since last year so I am super excited about just hanging out together.

Ive been pouring over the curriculum catalogs trying to plan my attack for the Exhibit Hall.  Tomorrow I’ll give you a few of my favorite convention/ trade show tips. If there is a convention in your state and you have not attended, you might want to check one out. I know it was not at all what I expected. There are some great deals to be had on curriculum. If you are a book junkie like I am, you can almost hear the angels sing when you walk through the doors of the Exhibit hall!  The Midwest Homeschool Convention  is the first of 2 homeschool conventions in Ohio. As you may be able to tell… I’m getting ready!

Changing up the “school day” for the Preschoolers

Over the past few months I have been struggling with schooling for the littles in our house.  Rose will be 5 next month and Mowgli will be 3 shortly there after.  Up until this point I have been trying to do worksheet type activities with Rose and some days it works and some days it doesn’t.  More days than not she just wants to do the “cutting pages” and Mowgli gets mad if he doesn’t get included as well.  I remember talking with a friend about how much they love Five in a Row.  So, I decided maybe it is time to try something new.  Last week we  started with the book The Salamander Room.  The kids loved it!  I read the story and then we did activities each day that related to the story.  We talked about family relationships, animal classifications, habitats, weather, did colors and counting and lots of art.  While the kids were doing their art project each day I just read from other books about salamanders and showed them pictures.  They were having so much fun that Sunshine has decided that she needs to join the little kids for their art project each day.

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So for now I am going to try using  Five in a Row with the little kids.  We will continue to do our daily board and Letter of the Week, which we all love. I have a list of things I want to accomlish, but I want to make sure I am making it more FUN and less SCHOOL for them at this point. If that means we dont get  everything done that I had planned but they had great learning experiences with what we did get done, Im okay with that. (Okay, Im trying to be okay with that.)

Today I also found this really cool cookbook from the 70’s at a thrift shop.  It called ABC Cookery and is written by Sunny Courington Stephens.  For each letter there is a simple recipe to make.  The best part is there are a lot of sensory activities included with each one.  For instance one recipe calls for oil, the book suggests having the child rub some oil between his fingers and describe to you how it feels.   I”m really excited to add this to our Letter of the week activities. It will be another activity we can all do together.  Plus you have got to love the great 70’s era pictures.  (Disclaimer***I did notice that, many of the recipes call for margarine or squeezable margarine….ewwww! We will be modifying some of the recipes)

abc cookery 002 (765x1024)

This week we are reading, Climbing Kansas Mountain by George Shannon. Ill let you know how it goes.

Homeschool Phys Ed?

Since we began homeschooling we have been looking for a good organized “physical education” option for the girls. In the past they have done various activities, they have taken swimming lessons, ballet lessons and played soccer.  A few of the things I was considering in my search were the proximity to our home, timing of activites, the chance for multiple childen to partcipate, ability to develop and refine both physical abilities and character traits, affordability and fun!

 I think I have finally hit the jackpot with figure skating.  As it turns out there is an ice rink less than 30 minutes from our home.  They offer skating lessons to homeschoolers twice a week during the day.  The program is taught by a former Olympian, Mark Cockerell. They have open skating everyday, and they also have a Learn to Skate program in the evenings. Everyone is welcome to attend, even little Mowgli at 2 1/2.  ( He may end up an accomplished skater before I get him out of diapers) The facility is very nice, and the people are even nicer. I havent been brave enough to put on a pair of skates but the kids are having a wonderful time and I am so pleased!

Review of the Well Planned Day Planner

In my former life  I was a devoted Franklin Covey Planner gal.  I loved everything about my Franklin planner, even after 3 years at home, I was still using a Franklin Planner.  I was hesitant to try a new planner but it was becoming increasing obvious to me that as a new homeschool mom, my planning needs were beginning to change.  I ordered my Well Planned Day Planner in early July, but I didn’t really start using it until early August. 

Here is what  I love about this planner!

1) This planner is strong and sturdy!  My planner gets taken most everywhere I go and so far it is holding up beautifully.

2) I really like the extra 2 blank spaces at the bottom of the weekly planning pages.  These allow room to record other events and activities we are involved in. I love this flexibility.

3) The tear out shopping lists are very nice.  While I don’t use them for shopping lists, they are great for other lists I need to quickly make.  For instance, each month I use one to quickly jot down words that Sunshine is misspelling so I can add them to an upcoming spelling lesson.

4) I am in LOVE with the extra Holiday Organization pages.  I keep another binder just for Christmas planning, but I really appreciate these extra pages built right in, what a nice surprise!

5)  At $24.95, this planner isn’t cheap but it is 1/2 the price of a Franklin Planner of similar size.

Here are the top 3 things I would change about this planner.

1) Monthly Tabs!   This is the only planner I have ever purchased that didn’t have monthly tabs making it easy to flip to the current month.  I improvised and added Post-it tabs with the months on them, but they aren’t very sturdy.

2) Larger boxes for Saturday and Sunday.  Weekends are busy days for our family and there often isn’t enough room to record everyone’s commitments. Ideally I would remove the Dinner menu box to allow more room.  I keep a separate more complete menu for the family so I don’t use the box on the weekly pages.

3) The grade cards in the back of the planner are cute, but unnecessary.  We don’t keep formal grade cards so we wont use them.  The same goes for the weekly grade sheets in the back.

Overall, I’m very pleased with this  planner.    The graphics and colors are lovely and make it fun to use. It is flexible and meets the special planning needs of  this homeschool mom. I have found my new “go to” planner.