Monday, September 30, 2013

Saving Money: Group field Trip Tips and Other Discounts

I found out some cost-saving tidbits from chatting with a friend that I wanted to share with you. Coincidentally, it was on a field trip to Port Discovery I organized for our group (more about that in another post). We all saved each other so much money by going in together as a group and I was grateful to them for coming because it allowed us to visit the museum for half the price, and where we ordinarily wouldn't have due to cost. 

Organizing group trips is a great way to save. Some other ways to do it are: 

Homeschool Buyers Co-Op*- Aside from getting a steal on curricula, they also offer a free Educator's Card you can print yourself, that as you find places to use your Educator discount, will come in handy. They also have an at-cost option that they send to you for about $8.

Barnes & Noble Educator card (FAQs)- Homeschooler-friendly! 20% discount on purchases and it's FREE to join. Join in-store by bringing your LOI (Letter of Intent to Homeschool) and your Photo ID.

Amazon Prime, Student, Mom*- free shipping, streaming videos & 1 free Kindle ebook/month. Like Netflix on speed. (There's the regular Prime Account, Prime for students, and Prime for moms.

Baltimore Aquarium- classes are only $15/MD student and this includes the child's admission as well as 1 chaperone's admission/reservation. For additional chaperones, the admission cost is greatly reduced, or I'd recommend making a separate reservation for each child to allow additional chaperones in at no cost. Additionally, all MD schools visit the Aquarium FREE, although I don't think we fall under this category just yet.

Michael's- My local store has given me a hard time about using my educator discount here, but in all fairness, I didn't have my letter handy. All my friends have used their discounts at other locations with no problems, but we'll see what happens when I go back...And don't forget about their coupons online or the ones that print out with each purchase. I usually Google coupons right there in the store on my smartphone and take a screen shot of the barcode for quick access for them to scan it right from my phone at checkout.

Free Fall Baltimore & Smithsonian Museum Day- a great way to see museums and other attractions for FREE! Reservations are sometimes required so pay attention to that.

The National Gallery of Art and the Walters Art Museum have Art Kits available for loan or purchase.

Bolt Bus tickets are dirt cheap for what you get. For just a few bucks on travel, you can tour NYC for a day or see the Philadelphia Zoo & the Children's Museum. Routes vary depending on your start location so additional transportation (commuter train, subway or bus) may be necessary in order to reach your intended destination.

*While I am not yet a member, I've heard rave reviews about these things and plan to join up as soon as I am able. No one is paying me or giving me free stuff to say this, by the way, even though they should be!

Where are your favorite places and ways to save??

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Checks & Balances & How I'm 2-Piecing Self-Doubt

Sigh, here it comes. I knew it! Year's starting off great, we are easing into it, I'm fighting becoming overwhelmed tooth and nail and it was going well. However, apparently it's grown enough strength to finally fight back. Maybe it happened while I was sleeping??

As you can tell, I'm going through a period of massive self-doubt. Here's a little of what I'm reading and viewing to ease myself through it, because as incredibly uncomfortable as it is, I know by now it's just another part of homeschooling and you might be going through it too. 

On the brighter side, I'd like to think it actually does serve a good purpose by helping to ward off complacency and keeping me on my toes. 
What would life be if you didn't have to sacrifice something great or small for a huge payoff? We'd all be spoiled rotten *wink and a smile*. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

FREE this week ONLY! Great Anatomy App for Kids

I just happened upon this Tinybop Anatomy app yesterday- FREE this week only!

I've played around with it and I feel like I'm stealing by catching it free. I really enjoyed this one and I know the kids will, too. It definitely panders to the scientist & teacher in me!

You can create a parent profile, pass code locked, to safeguard the child-safe settings & more advanced information on certain bodily functions (the urogenital system is available as an in-app purchase). This app gets five stars in my book. 

(I'm emergency-blogging from my iPhone and will include photos soon!)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

So Much More Than An App: My Disney Princess Royal Salon Review

We received a review copy of the new Disney Royal Princess Salon app to try out and give our thoughts, and Oh boy, this was a tough one. But more on that in a bit.

Overall, my girls liked the app, which normally retails for $4.99 in the App Store. Just be forewarned you have to have a 4S or newer before you can play. 

It has the standard dress-up/makeover features you'll find with similar apps: comb and style hair, add accessories, pick out dresses- all some pretty cool features that make these games a lot of fun. But one thing I haven't seen yet that I see with this game is that it also allows you to add an image from anything around you to "color" or "pattern" the princess' dresses with the camera.

So back to my reasons...

Anyone who knows me knows how I generally feel about Walt Disney's "tradition" as it pertains to the lovely, popular, mostly homogenous-looking line of princesses. And no, the bucket of stereotypes that is Tiana doesn't even begin to address that in my book. (I won't even touch on the messages that come across loud and clear in each love story).

Unfortunately, this tradition carries over into this otherwise really great app and I just can't allow it through the "Healthy Mind and Body" filter I've worked so hard to construct for them.

To be fair, this isn't the only app or game I've run across that shares this same issue, and I have equally edged the others out, as well. It's just so hard to believe that people today still haven't gotten the Diversity Memo. (Diversity Sells!, Diversity is Popular!, Diversity creates a healthy society!)

In a near-depressing world shortage of positive, powerful, diverse images for young, African-American girls, I find myself constantly on the lookout, constantly having to dig and dig through library stacks and screen movies, cartoons, and games to find material suitable for counterbalancing all the other images they are bombarded with in certain situations and out in the world. 

I say "certain situations" because the TV generally remains off in our house and we carefully screen computer games, thereby limiting their exposure to a lot of potentially negative content. 

Remembering my experience growing up seeing almost no one like myself doing anything of value on any screen anywhere- at least not overwhelmingly so- I know too well the feeling of being devalued by your own society merely through images, or lack of images, alone. 

What would we be if we didn't learn from our experiences and let those things be a benefit for others? 

My experiences created an awareness in me of just how powerful images can be, allowed me to see how I can and should move forward with my own children to turn it around, and made it clear to me that as parents and part of a dying "village", we can't ever be too careful with these young, impressionable minds. And that, as a homeschooler, is exactly what I'm shaping here as I actively choose to select "delete".

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back To School...Like it or Not!

Last year we kicked up our extra-curriculars a notch and it really did a number on me. When it was all over, I revolted/recouped by choosing NOT to homeschool (or anything else for that matter) formally over the summer and instead we continued our field trips and took advantage of teachable moments as usual.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been starting to think about what I need to do to get back into the swing of things and get us ready for the year ahead insha'Allah. Duhn-duhn-duhhhh. That was supposed to be a scary, suspenseful sound, for those of you with little imagination, ha, ha!

I've never been a fan of any shopping frenzies, and Back-To-School shopping is definitely included in this mix. I do light, necessity-shopping to catch sales for items I already planned to buy, but that's it. I found this awesome blog post on just this, entitled 12 Reasons I Refuse to Go Back-To-School Shopping and I really enjoyed reading it. As if I need more courage to say "No".

art_class_supplies.jpgI purchased books toward the end of last year in preparation for this year so with the possible exception of a grammar workbook, I think I'm covered. 

I do have to prepare my All About Me booklet printouts so the girls can fill it out during our first week back, and I was thinking of also doing something like this Back-To-School Time Capsule Craft. At the very least, I think I'll be pulling out the hefty cardstock and color ink to run off a couple of Back To School Interview Printables to go into their AAM booklets (more about those in a separate post). For now, I return to the pep-talking sessions I've been holding for myself. Ah, the homeschooling life...


Monday, August 12, 2013

Boxes & Books

Written Aug 5, 2013

Today I'm a rockstar. My girls are thrilled and full of celebration because I brought home some oversized boxes I found at a FREE book giveaway organized by the Homeschooling Office for our county.

The event started at 8am, precisely twenty minutes after I'd hit the snooze that one last time, and ten minutes after I finally dragged myself by the collar from my bed and stepped over the kids who were camped out (and knocked out!) on a plush pallet on our floor.

By the time I dressed and drove there, it was about 8:30am, or the equivalent of eternity past the start of an event like that. Just as I'd suspected, everything was gone baby gone.

Wasted trip? Meh, a little. But to tell you the truth, I'm not very fond of most textbooks anyway, so no loss there. I had really gone to look for educational classroom decor & tools, manipulatives, binders, things of that sort. Well, none of that did I find, but I did knock out a few orders of business while I was there, one of which included filling out my Intent to Homeschool the Littles for the year.

About a year and a half ago, I just happened upon a message post on an area homeschool group's listserv that gave details about the existence of such giveaway events organized by my County's Public School System,. Now I know to keep my eyes peeled. I highly recommend checking into whether your county does the same thing, you might score some cool, free items there you can use in your classroom or homeschool.

My tips and suggestions:

  • Obviously, get there early, at least 5-10 min, but don't be rude by rushing the door EVER, especially before it's time. It's bad form and just plain annoying, especially that early in the morning.
  • Bring a rolling crate, some sturdy reusable bags, or make use of the empty boxes that are sure to accrue by patrons such as yourself taking supplies and books off the organizers' hands.
  • Find a way to tag your stuff. Everything looks exactly the same once everyone starts digging, and it won't be long before some other well-meaning homeschoolers wander over and start looking through your stuff you thought you'd set aside. If possible, try to take someone with you who can help you get it to the car and look over what you've claimed while you continue to search.
  • Don't be greedy. Only take what you can use and leave the rest for someone else. We're all pretty much in the same boat and there are people out there who might actually need the materials just as much or maybe even more than you do. Think of what an incredible waste it'd be for those 5 copies of The Cat in the Hat to just sit and collect dust on your shelf instead of being enjoyed by 4 other families teaching their child to read.
If all else fails and you miss out, don't fret, you just might find that one discarded box that'll turn you instantly into a rockstar. 

*          *          *          *          *          *            

There's tons of free stuff online available to homeschoolers, and I have a growing list on my Links page of all my tried and true favorites. Here are some additional links you can try:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thursday Book Rec: Clothesline Clues: Jobs People Do

I am a book addict. It's just that simple. I will steal minutes to read "just one more line" and hide out in strange places (like my closet) to get it in before the kids discover I'm missing. The good thing is, I've got them hooked, too, and believe me, there's no greater feeling than suddenly noticing they're suspiciously quiet, only to happen upon them innocently absorbed in a book on the floor (and that my favorite Sharpie is still where I left it).

Here's what we're reading this week:

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do

This book is a great guessing-game book for teaching about different professions. My youngest loved it and I had a lot of fun reading it to her. From page to page, there are uniforms and tools for each job suspended from a clothesline and it's up to you (your child) to guess who the clothes belong to.

I really like the "Guess Who" aspect of this book, and the fact that the answers will come to your (young) child quite easily, along with smiles and giggles when they guess each one correctly- at least it was that way for us. When they don't guess, it's still fun because it's a learning/teaching opportunity for you both. There are also some really great, refreshingly positive messages in those pages about gender diversity in different professions. This is one we could read again and again.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ramadan Mini-Survival Kit: Printables and Islamic Apps for Kids

Ramadan Kareem!

Abstract background mosques
Wow, Ramadan, as always, is fast coming to a close! Here are some links you may find useful throughout the year, but especially now:

Mo Willems Does It Again!

I have been in the dark with just about everything lately since my plate is piled way high with P L E N T Y to do. So no surprises that I had no idea Mo Willems had released a new app until I was offered a review copy to check it out. Despite my stingy 8G of "space" (quotes because there's never any!) on my iPhone, I happily sacrificed a few audiobook tracks and twice as many of the kids' apps to cram this monster on there (905 MB!! According to my iTunes list).

I'm such a fan of Mo and what he thinks is funny.

There are lots of things to do in this app, all of which are peppered with Mo's great and always clever sense of humor, but I will keep this post short and sweet- relatively.
Dream Drive: Don't get me started on the mad cow!!

Dream Drive! This one had my heart racing because I'm so not a gamer and being timed to do a virtual task makes me unnecessarily all kinds of anxious. All of a sudden, my brain stops working and I panic as if my phone will implode when I run out of time, because, yes, I know it's definitely coming. I think I provided the kids with some real entertainment by letting them watch me play this one, drawing out the bus route for Pigeon to drive around obstacles to pick up all the ducklings. Side note: I loved how I started on level 27 then jumped to level 349 once level 27 was complete. 

Because I can tie just about anything to homeschooling/learning/things that are good for the mind, I have to give a small but mighty mention of the drawing activity where Mo gives you a part of a picture and it's up to you to fill it in as you like. There's so much potential for creativity and open-ended free-thinking there which naturally endears this activity to me.

My friends and I are notoriously and comically cheap when it comes to buying apps but this one would've been worth the purchase to me. A copy of it for your iPhone or iPad will run you $3.99 in the app store and here's the link for more information. They also make it for Nook ($2.99), but I only read books on that so....

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Long Time, No Post

UPDATE: Okay so it's now newly August and I am finally able to start posting again. Despite my best intentions and efforts, what my ideal plan was and what really went down were two totally different things. I'm re-evaluating what I want to do about publishing those last few science lessons and loosening up my timeline on that. Insha'Allah I will still proceed with them, and I'll back-date them to keep the lessons all together and easy to find, but it will take some time before I can get them up. Re-formatting them for public consumption on a blog is a lot more work than you'd think!

As for the PBS event write-up, I am also working on that and hope to have it published within the next two weeks, most likely after Eid ul Fitr.


You might have noticed an absence of regular posts over the last several months if you follow the updates to my blog. I hope what I've already written has been enough to help information seekers and spreaders out there alike during my unexpected but wholly therapeutic hiatus.

The truth is, I suffered a major burnout around the time my posting dwindled and nothing beneficial was coming to mind that was worthy of sharing.

I took a step back from blogging for a bit to give myself a breather and to get some things in order. I have also been doing more homeschooling and kid-attention-giving than writing these days, which in a lot of ways is good, but striking a balance is always better, in my opinion. After all, anyone who knows me well knows that I am nothing without my writing.

Creative Penn

My candle has since been re-lit and I'm looking so forward to getting back into the swing of things. I am working now to publish the last three or four science-based lesson plans I mentioned in my last few posts. I hope to publish them over the next few weeks, maybe sooner, to make room for sharing all the new ideas buzzing around in my head and for my take on an upcoming PBS event to make it to the www via "Confessions".

Thanks for your comments, thanks for your support, thanks for your patience. I am excited to get these fingers back on the keys with some kind of regularity again and I hope you'll stick around for it!