Grateful for Life

4th of July Fun with the Kids!

I love the 4th of July!  Family, summer weather, cook-outs, fireworks, everything!!  And while many of our favorite traditions are those we repeat year after year, sometimes adding in a new project for those curious and active kids is the perfect way to make the holiday feel extra-special.

Here are some of my favorite ways to mix things up with the kids on the 4th of July.
1. STEM activities including 4th of July slime, ice activities, the science behind fireworks (in video form), and much more!

2.  Food, crafting, and kids’ games (including a Patriotic Trivia Game).

3. Parents magazine always has a wide range of ideas for holidays with kids.  Here is their contribution this year.

4. This blog includes a fun discussion about festive July 4th clothing and an easy Star Spangled Ice Cream Sandwich idea.

5. A Patriotic Playlist to add atmosphere to your family celebration!

6. A list of things to talk about with kids about being patriotic. 

7. And last but not least, School House Rock’s 4th of July Cartoon.

Have a fun and fabulous Independence Day from everyone here at Homeschool with Confidence!

101 Fun Summer Activities to Do With Your Kids

Summer is just about here! For many of us who don’t do school all year long, this means wonderfully long summer days full of potential (or potential boredom). Often, though, by the time August comes, it can feel like the summer just disappeared. After many years feeling like we missed out somehow, we decided to put a little more planning into our summer fun.

As some of you know, our family has a planning tradition that gets each person involved early in the summer to make sure we plan some of those special summer days in advance. You can go more in depth about the family friendly process here during the 4 Day Summer Fun Homeschool Challenge. To help give everyone in your family ideas for what would make their summer a ton of fun, I’ve put together the following list of fun summer activities!

101 Summer Fun Activities

1.    Bake cupcakes in ice cream cones and decorate them
2.    Run through sprinklers
3.    Go on a family bike ride
4.    Have a tricycle race
5.    Themed movie nights (perhaps everyone gets to choose a movie or maybe just have them pre-planned with a menu up on the wall to build excitement.)
6.    Go canoeing at a local pond, lake, or river
7.     Find and go to a bunch of summer concerts
8.    Volunteer at an animal adoption organization
9.    Go to your closest National Park and become a Junior Ranger
10.   Go horseback riding
11.    Visit grandma
12.    Bake a pie with berries the kids picked
13.    Hunt for fossils near a lake or gravel pit
14.    Have a luau in the backyard
15.    Create leis with wildflowers
16.    Get a wading pool
17.    Create an at-home art camp
18.    Go apple picking
19.    Set up a net and play badminton and volleyball
20.    Start geocaching
21.    Hold a Bigger or Better scavenger hunt for charity
22.    Play mini golf
23.    String beads into jewelry
24.    Have weekly game nights/afternoons
25.    Go camping
26.    Wade through a stream and search for minnows or tadpoles
27.    Make a giant slip-n-slide with a painter's tarp and shaving cream
28.    Make a bunch of greeting cards or birthday cards
29.    Visit a local museum or attraction you keep meaning to go to
30.    Throw a party just because
31.    Put on a play
32.    Invite friends to visit
33.    Read or listen to a book together
34.    Have your own Summer Olympics in your back yard
35.    Visit a museum you've never been to
36.    Learn how to juggle using handkerchiefs
37.    Go on a hike
38.    Learn how to knit or crochet
39.    Create a time capsule
40.    Start a garden
41.    Make paper airplanes
42.    Have a water fight
43.    Surprise Dad when he gets home from work with a Nerf gun, a note, and a house of full of hidden challenges
44.    Build a giant blanket fort
45.    Have a campout in your fort
46.    Create a family cookbook with all your favorite recipes
47.    Play flashlight tag
48.    Finger paint
49.    Get a bunch of chalk and draw on the patio, sidewalks, or driveway
50.    Play Frisbee
51.     Visit a retirement home and read stories to residents
52.    Build a tree house
53.    Have a yard sale
54.    Learn a foreign language
55.    Paint some canvas shoes with acrylic paints
56.    Get a pen pal and write real letters
57.    Go play laser tag
58.    Research your family tree
59.    Take naps on a super hot afternoon
60.    Catch fireflies
61.     Do a puzzle
62.    Have a pirate day with an “x” marks the spot treasure hunt
63.    Start a collection
64.    Go garage sale-ing
65.    Do an A-Z scavenger hunt or another type of scavenger hunt (There are tons of ideas on Pinterest.)
66.    Turn the backyard into a carnival -- set up a face painting area and games like ring toss
67.     Build a fort out of appliance boxes
68.    Decorate bikes and have a neighborhood Fourth of July parade
69.    Make popsicles with plastic cups and fruit juice
70.    Have a bonfire
71.     Fly kites
72.    Plan a massive water balloon fight
73.    Go fishing
74.    Make S’mores
75.    Go on a scenic drive and have sing-a-longs in the car
76.    Go to an airport and watch the planes take off
77.     Visit a farm
78.    Go roller skating
79.    Sketch, paint, or draw outside
80.    Make bird feeders by covering pine cones with peanut butter and rolling in birdseed
81.     Tie-dye some t-shirts or pillow cases
82.    Find a free outdoor movie or local drive-in
83.    Learn some magic tricks and have a show
84.    Clean up trash at a local park
85.    Learn a dance as a group like Thriller or even square dancing
86.    Have a fancy tea party
87.    Visit a cave
88.    Use face paints to transform each other into magical summer creatures
89.    Make Mexican paper flowers using different colored tissue paper
90.    Make a piñata by covering a balloon with newspaper strips and tissue paper
91.    Have a surprise birthday party for someone NOT on their birthday
92.    Set up a bike wash and raise money for a local charity
93.    Go zip-lining
94.    Make paper boats and have a race in a nearby stream
95.    Go fishing
96.    Practice making interesting shadow puppets and then put on a show with your characters
97.    Interview an older relative about what life was like when they were young
98.    Set up a lemonade stand
99.    Plan a picnic with food, friends, and games
100.  Surprise the kids and forget cooking -- set up an ice cream sundae buffet for dinner
101.   Record your family summer adventures in a scrapbook or photo album

Here is a link to a printable 101 Summer Fun Activities list to hang on your fridge or wall. Use this to inspire your family during the 4 Day Summer Fun Homeschool Challenge and/or to have around to inspire the kids all summer long. Now is the time to make the most of your summer!

From my family to yours, I hope you have an amazing fun filled summer!  Please share your adventures in our Facebook Group or in the comments below.

Traveling Off Season in the Spring

May is here and it is lovely everywhere! For our family, this is one of the main months we vacation, and no, not over Memorial Day Weekend!

As homeschoolers, we have the major benefit of traveling any time that we want.  We can shift our school schedule or even just arrange it so that our travel is part of our end-of-year schooling.

There are so many benefits to traveling in May! The country is awash with springtime color, the temps stay wonderfully moderate, and the pesky bugs are mostly not biting yet. But the major benefit is that the crowds are way down!

We have found that many attractions start to open in May (though you will want to make sure before you make any plans!), but because most schools haven’t let out yet, the crowds are way down.

Off and on for many years, we have traveled to Disney World during May. The spring-breakers are long gone and summer trips haven’t started yet. The flowers are in bloom all over the parks and the days are in the 70's-80's. It is absolutely beautiful. Many years, most lines weren’t over 15 minutes. And on top of that, I have often found lodging deals because we’re traveling so off-season. Tip: the first two weeks are the best!!  

Camping is also perfect for most areas this time of year. No mosquitos or high temps, and again, you’ll be beating the crowds.

So if the end of the school year is making things unproductive for your family, or if you are dreading the crowds of summer vacationers, plan a quick getaway in the next couple of weeks. Your whole family will thank you! Remember, one of the best parts of homeschooling is that you have the flexibility to travel during the week when most other kids are still stuck in school. Why not travel when it makes the most sense and the world is at its most beautiful? Make the most of it and plan your May getaway today!

Please share your spring travel plans in our group. We’d love to hear where you’re going!




Interviews with Homeschoolers

It's time for another exciting installment of the Interviews with Homeschoolers series! In this series, we share stories of awesome homeschoolers and homeschooled kids out there who have so much to share about their journeys in homeschooling. I was excited to get the opportunity to learn more about Teresa Bondora and her journey as an unschooling parent. Read what Teresa has to say about her children’s adventures in unschooling and how they are applying their childhood passions to their future careers!

My daughter will be 23 this week. She spent her teen years on the computer all the time watching Disney Movies, going to the mall to the Disney Store and concerts, and mostly showing no interest in anything. The time she spent on the computer was spent looking up random useless facts about Disney until she became an encyclopedia of “useless” information. This went on for years and I secretly worried that while she was a good reader and knew a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, she wasn’t really doing anything that resembled anything like working toward any career or skill. I saw visions of her with kids, being left a single mom and not one skill to support herself. Or maybe she was going to live with me until she was 30. Or maybe she’d move out and back in repeatedly. Then she told me, she wanted to work at Disney World. “Great”, I thought. “A part-time, minimum wage job pushing a button on a ride.”

At 16 she got a job at a pizza joint but spent her off time talking about going to Disney. Meanwhile, her brother started playing Minecraft. All. The. Time.

Okay so, she’s working at a pizza place, he’s watching YouTube videos, and she’s saving her money for an annual pass to Disney World when others her age are saving for college. My unschooling experiment was failing right in front of my eyes, but this was their entire life that I was failing. 

I had traditional schooling, taught high school science, wrote books. I had a life because there’s a reason for “school” and I was going to go down as not loving them enough to “care”. I can’t tell you how much I worried and cried and had anxiety.

I didn’t want to discourage her but seriously, an annual pass to Disney World when we didn’t live close to Disney World? She didn’t even have a car. But she was determined. At this point my son wanted to attend Minecon and it was held in Orlando so of course my daughter was coming. She got off work and we left for Orlando. Each day I dropped her off at Disney and my son and I went to Minecon. She was in heaven. While we were there she told me one day she was going to be a concierge at the Grand Floridian.

So one night we took the monorail to the Grand Floridian and I asked her to stand in front of the concierge desk. I took her picture there in that place in case, one day, she really meant it and needed some encouragement. She said I was silly.

When we got back home she hit the computer again, and this time more useless information. The history of Walt himself, his brother Roy, what the numbers on the doors on Main Street meant, the Google earth view, the roads there, Youtube videos on abandoned things, what happened to the parts of the 10,000 Leagues ride. I mean, seriously, deep into details of everything. She learned about the passes you can get, what they cost, how people are hired and paid, what jobs are there, details of the dates places opened, who designed what and how. She watched Disney movies from birth over and over and continued to do so until her brother finally just said no. I think it was after the 10th time Rapunzel played in the den he just said, “Enough!”

But then he couldn’t stop about Minecraft.


For me, though, I did love Disney. I took her there while pregnant with her. At age one, she picked out a Mickey Mouse shirt. She loved Pocahontas and we sang Colors of The Wind hundreds of times.  Now I found myself looking back at that little girl and I started singing that song again. I was starting to think that if she lived with me until she was 30, that would be okay. And I got happy again about the way I chose to raise my kids.
So one day, she bought a bus ticket to visit her best friend in Florida for a few weeks. I drove her to the bus. She was more clingy than normal when we said goodbye. I got a sick feeling as the bus drove away. And then I got the phone call. She decided, if she was going to ever work there, she had to live closer. She told me she was moving in as a roommate with her friend in Pensacola and getting a job. Before the week was out, she had a job in the mall and she wasn’t coming home.

I sank. She was just gone. I cried, I worried, I had to listen to her not have enough money, to hear her complain about work or worry about transportation. And I couldn’t hug her or see her. This was my worst fear coming back to haunt me. Then she bought that annual pass.

No, not a car, an annual pass. And still with the Minecraft, my son, just obsessing over every modpack, every crafting thing you can do, just nothing but Minecraft. And here I am, a shining example of real work, people. I am an author. I have real books. Why did they not DO something? I accepted her new life and struggles, listened, helped where I could and over and over more Disney facts.

So one day she decided living in north Florida wasn’t fun and she didn’t like her job. She and a friend decided to go to Disney World, use her pass and sort of scout out the idea of living there. So she quit her job and went on a road trip. Yes. She QUIT her job. What in the world could she possibly be thinking? Normal people ask for time off, they don’t just quit!  But since I had committed to this way of schooling and life and supporting her completely, all I could do was tell her how happy I was she was going to be in her favorite place and to please send me pictures.

I hung up and cried. I cried so much. I worried so much because now, NOW when the reality of not having any money, no job and can’t pay rent sinks in, she will come home broken and I will have to sit down and apologize for failing her in the most profound way a mother could ever fail her child.

Each day I got these amazing pictures of her, she was just so happy, smiling and happy. And unbeknownst to me, while there, she applied online to work there. And she decided, yes, she was moving there. Within a few hours of her application she got an interview online. Within a few days of that, she was asked to please come to Disney property and interview in person. It was her last day there. When her interview was over they said they were so impressed with her knowledge that they sent her to interview for a position that was harder to get and paid more. When that interview was over, they told her how impressed they were with her vast knowledge and hired her.
When the phone rang, I was thinking I would have to hear about how sad she was that her time there was over. And instead she told me she had 2 weeks to report to training in ticketing at Magic Kingdom at Disney World. And in that moment, I burst into tears for all the years of fear and terror and sadness and worry and all the joy any mother could feel. And in that moment I knew that she knew she was always okay.

That was 2 years ago.

Today she has moved into operations training and development, parades, and calls with more happy news about how much she loves her job.

About a month ago she called to tell me that a new position for a concierge opened up and she applied for it. As time went on and we didn’t hear anything we figured, “oh well.” Then last week she got a call. She got an interview. She didn’t know which resort. She was so nervous, she finished the interview and at the end of it they told her how impressed they were with her performance in those 2 years, her knowledge, the kudos from guests that went in her file, the things her superiors had to say about her and that she had the job. She doesn’t know which resort but in 6 months she can apply to any resort concierge desk she wants. And when that day comes and she’s standing behind the desk at the Grand Floridian, I will go there and I will take her picture. I will put the one from years ago beside it and I will cry more than I’m crying now. I worried for most of her childhood about her obsession with "meaningless" trivia and useless information. But it wasn’t meaningless for her. It was life training! To hear her voice on the phone and how happy she is, there are no words...I leave in a few days to celebrate her birthday with her in her magical world! She loves her house, she pays her rent, she has her car, and she loves what she does every day.

And today, my son has learned about chemistry from Minecraft and wants to go into physics. He and I are co-writing a book on the chemistry of Minecraft that I have wanted to write but didn’t have the Minecraft knowledge he had. Together we will forge a future into the unknown, one day at a time. And as one lucky mom, I get to play in the playgrounds of my children’s creation. What more could a mother ask for?
Teresa Bondora is the author of the Periodic Table of Elements Coloring Book and lives in Atlanta, Ga. She speaks on education and the sciences. You can find her with a cup of coffee, mostly in her car.
The opinions and thoughts expressed here are purely those of the individual, and do not reflect those of The Walt Disney Company.

Making Valentine's Day Special

We love Valentine’s Day!  Always have and always will!  It is a fabulous excuse to show all those people you are grateful for how much you care.  Here are 10 fun ideas you can use to make your Valentine's Day a little extra special this year.

1.    Gather all the crafting supplies, add some magazines, lace, ribbon, glitter, stickers, etc. Dump it all on the table for an afternoon of Valentine card-making fun.  
2.    Add a list of sayings and ideas from the Internet or Pinterest to spark creativity.
3.    Give the kids a budget and take them to a crafting store or a dollar store for fun new supplies.
4.    Add a bowl of candy (candy hearts, mini chocolate bars, etc.) to include in those “sweet” themed cards.
5.    Have each kid make their own mailbox out of a shoebox or cereal box and wrapping paper.  These are perfect to set up for a great way to receive some love.
6.    Create a little delivery pouch out of a larger envelope for each kiddo to store their creations. Use ribbon or string for a strap.
7.    If having just a couple kids in the family is not generating enough buzz, be sure to include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and even favorite neighbors.
8.    Make Valentine’s Day a multi-day occasion.  Build up to the day by delivering little pre-cards.  This is a perfect opportunity for the kids to tell each other what they are grateful for about each other!
9.    Have a special Valentine’s baking time.  Cupcakes, cookies, or homemade chocolates are always a fun way to celebrate. And don’t forget to stock up on red food coloring!
10.    Before they wake up, create a “Heart Attack” on their door!  Make a bunch of cute colorful hearts full of loving words and things you love about them to cover their doors!  Add some balloons for some extra fun.

Here are just 10 easy-to-do ideas to get your Valentine’s Day juices flowing!  I find Pinterest a great resource for inspiration, so don’t stop with just these.

Let’s keep the ideas coming in the comments below.  I can’t wait to hear (and see your photos!) of the fun things you do with your kids for Valentine’s Day!

So Your Child Isn't Reading Yet

So, my child isn’t reading yet...

Wow.  This is such a big topic for some parents right now.  One of my children was a late reader, like an almost-12 late kind of reader.  Anyone related to any school system either told me or diagnosed him as dyslexic.  Ok.  Let’s give it a name and we all feel better.  Nope.  

After a ton of research, here is what I found out. First, I was not a failure and totally letting my kid down.  We as homeschooling parents can go there pretty quickly, can’t we?  The thing is, all kids are different.  They learn at different times and in different ways.  That is part of why we decided to do this, right?  We didn’t want our kids doing exactly what the school wanted them to do when they needed them to do it.  It was about our kids and what they needed most to thrive.  

This is where we need to shift how we are thinking.  We are homeschooling specifically so we can do what is best for our child.  That includes encouraging them to read in their own time.  We get to be grateful we don’t have to push them to go through the frustrating tasks of learning to read at such a young age.  I’m not bashing that at all.   One of my kids read at 3 and that was cool, too.  It is all about how your kid is made.  

Think about this for a moment.  Why do kids need to be reading by first grade, or kindergarten, or second grade, or whatever your school district decides?  So it is easier to teach them later.  How are they going to be able to do their worksheets?  Read their textbooks?  Take their tests?  How is a teacher supposed to function if all of her students aren’t reading what she is giving them to do?  It is not the teacher’s fault.  It is how the system is set up.  The school then sets standards based on their system and if the kids aren’t reading to level it messes with the testing and then everyone is failing.  Now we have a society that believes a child must be reading by a certain age and we all lose sight of what the child needs or is capable of doing at a particular age.  

The science behind this, according to Dr. Raymond Moore, shows that children can learn to read as early as 3 and many as late as 8 or 9, especially boys.  It is not uncommon for some boys to wait until 11-12 when there is a key developmental change in their brain.  Check out the book Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child's Education.  He discusses all of this there as well as in some of his other books.  The key is that there is a huge difference between teaching your child to read and being a lifelong reader.  We can usually force a 5 or 6 year old to functionally read, but is there enjoyment or even comprehension? Our goal is to raise a lifelong learner, not a rushed reader.

What should you do with a child who may be, according to some, a late reader?  That is easy!  DO NOT make them feel bad about it.  It is normal and stress will make it harder and convince them that they will never enjoy being a reader.  
Here are several other tips:

1.    Read to them often and/or turn on audio books.  Hearing and experiencing the process will help them to enjoy it later as well as get there more easily.  

2.    If you are worried about them getting behind, teach them to “write” a paper verbally.  There are so many apps that can turn words into writing these days.  Use them to create a rough draft all while teaching the basics of an Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.  This is a great skill to have anyway.  Your child will end up being a great speaker as well as a reader/writer.  

3.    My son was very adept at memorizing as well.  Build on their strengths!  Maybe you have noticed that kids often develop quickly in one area and while that is happening the other areas can take a back seat.  Think of a baby learning to walk.  Usually their speech stalls for a while until they get all of that gross motor stuff figured out.  This way of development doesn’t stop after they are done being babies.

4.    You can totally find other kids in the same situation.  Let your child know he is not alone.  Check your local homeschool groups or check for other families on Facebook, for example.  Having friends or even knowing about them can be a huge help.

5.    If your child is feeling down about the whole reading thing, start focusing on what they are awesome at.  Usually they are really good with at least one other thing, if not several.  My son could describe a black hole in way I didn’t even understand two years before he was a regular reader.  Find out what they really know.

6.    The real key to all of this is that the whole reading thing is really not the huge issue we’re all afraid it is.  It really isn’t.  Search for your gratitude and show your child and yourself that you’ve got this and know that this is just part of the reason you chose to homeschool in the first place!

I would love to hear your experiences with teaching your own children to read. Leave a comment below!

Celebrate your Kids' 2015 Successes

Welcome to the New Year! A great way to get back into your regular work pattern is to reconnect with why you are doing what you are doing and learning what you are learning this year. I have a super fun 2-part exercise you can do with your kids to boost the second half of their school year!

If you haven’t already, and even if you already have, celebrate everything that went well last year. The goal here is to come up with 30 to 50 different things that your kids learned last year―you know, those things that they are proud of! It can be little things or big things, but the goal is to get them to see how far they have come and everything they have learned.

Have the kids work with you or another partner that is encouraging. Or they could get out their journals and you could be a partner to all of them at the same time, guiding them through the exercise. Start with the phrase “I am proud of…” and have them start writing down a list. It could include anything big or small that they have learned in the last year. Have them think about what they were studying a year ago, or even at the beginning of the school year, and compare it to where they are today. What do they understand or know now that they didn’t before?

Take it a step further. What are they proud of in their lives that was hard for them? How about standing up for themselves or others? Or a tricky situation that they handled well or even not so well but learned from? How about new character traits that they have developed? Or even inches that they have grown in the past year? (That is hard work too!) Did they hit any goals this year? Read a particularly challenging book? Learn a new sport, instrument, or language?

As they are writing things down they will hit a block, often at around 5 items. This is where their partner should quietly ask “What else?” You can make general prompts if they truly get stuck from the list above, but try to refrain from telling them what you are proud of. You can always do that later. 

They should write down anything that comes to mind that they were proud of over the year. Anything goes! This is their time to celebrate all of their accomplishments.

Now for the second part, take some time to cheer, congratulate, and really honor and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Here is where you can share things you have noticed in each other! Show them how wonderful 2015 really was.

This will totally get them pumped to keep moving and learning in 2016!

The Day Changer Question

Find happiness.jpg

Questions control our lives and our minds. Right now your mind may be saying “No they aren’t,” but that was a response to your subconscious asking: “Do questions control our minds?” Tony Robbins, a mentor of mine, often talks about the concept that the quality of our questions determines the quality of our lives.

I have a question you can use anytime to raise the quality of your day. It is a question that works when things are good and you’d like them to keep getting even better, or when things are not so good and you really, really, want them to change.

Here is the question: What is great about this? Ok. Maybe there are times you don’t want to even dignify that with a response. I get it. I’ve been there. So ask this: If there was something great about this, what would it be?

This is the magic sauce. If you can focus on the better or best parts of a situation, you can make it better. You can use those clues to get to a better result. I know from experience that if I sit for 5 minutes and brainstorm in a notebook 5, 10, or even 20 things that could be great about it, I feel better and less stressed. Right away! Sometimes the best I have is there is clean water to drink and my kids always have food, etc. but any situation could be worse.

More likely you will uncover the gift in the situation. Next time things aren’t exactly they way you’d hoped, ask: “What’s great about this?” and see what answers pop up!