Education & Activities

Gifts for Homeschoolers

Gifts for homeschoolers can be a lot of fun to buy.  Typically, homeschoolers travel outside of the mainstream in wants.  Since they are not around a ton of like-aged kids the peer-pressure element tends to lessen.  The desire for name brand clothes and shoes seems to be a bit less (my kids wouldn’t know the difference between generic sports shorts and Under Armor and my pocketbook is happy).  Often they are unaware of the “it” toys.  Homeschoolers tend to be a bit of a different breed when it comes to gifting.

Homeschooling is very tailored to the child(ren) often you are buying things year round.  Often the children have very specific wants that may not be obvious because they may be learning about a certain topic and be all-in.  It is really best to chat with the parents to find out instead of just grabbing the hard-to-get item of the year.  There are really good odds the kiddo has no idea what it is.  So, if you don’t already have a list a mile long of “things to buy” (I have an Amazon list just for homeschool books!) then here are some sure-fire options for the little homeschooler in your life.


Subscriptions

There seems to be a subscription or magazine for everything these days.  Some of the best-reviewed ones are (almost all have a discount code available for the first box, definitely check for current ones before ordering):

1. Amazon STEM Toy Club
($19.99/ month): STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) toys are sent each month, you can choose the age range that would be appropriate and they will handpick STEM toys and send them each month.

2. BitsBox (from $19.95/ month): For ages 6+, teaches kids to code by delivering insanely fun app-building projects in the mail every month. Kids code their projects on the Bitsbox website and their apps work on any device with a web browser.

3. Creation Crate (from $22.49/ month): Teaches you electronics, coding and high-level problem-solving. For ages 12-75. They say, “Once you receive all 12 badges you will have more hands-on programming experience than 99% of current college-level computer science students.”

4. Groovy Lab in a Box (from $24.95/ month): For ages 8+, blends Scientific Inquiry and the Engineering Design Process, which allows children to create ingenious inventions, enhance critical problem-solving skills and have FUN!

5. History Unboxed ($19.99/ month): For ages 5-young adult. You will receive a welcome box including an interactive timeline poster; A welcome letter and coloring sheet; A time capsule kit to create your own historic memento; A worksheet to help students understand how to read a timeline; A Family Tree kit for exploring your student’s personal history.  Subsequently, then each month you will receive a new box exploring a different place in time, according to the era you selected. Each box contains an age-specific coloring sheet; 1-2 (very!) high-quality crafts; A sticker for your timeline; 2-3 items of additional enrichment material.

6. Ivy Kids ($39/ month): For children ages 3-8, the kits are developed by early childhood teachers with children of their own. The goal is to provide monthly resources and tools to parents and caregivers looking to have more meaningful learning experiences with their children. Each month you will receive a kit containing more than ten activities based on a classic children’s book.

7. National Geographic Kids Explorers Club by Pley (previously the Junior Explorers Club) (from 17.99/ month): For ages 5-11. Each month your child embarks on a virtual adventure to a different ecosystem to solve a mystery that teaches them about that habitat and the wildlife that lives there.

8. The Magic School Bus Science Club ($19.99/ month): For ages 5-12.  This one is perfect for fans of the show.  Each month children will explore science through exciting and thrilling experiments that will spark an interest and curiosity in science.

9. Kiwi Co. Crates (from $24.90/ month): Kiwi Co. has monthly “crates” curated to specific age groups. Cricket is from 24-36 month (soon to expand to 4 months and up) and is designed for the youngest kids to explore and discover.  Koala is for ages 3-4 with hands-on play and learning. Kiwi combines science and art for ages 5-8 and will include a maker project and more.  For ages 9-16+ there are two options Doodle Crate, which focuses on art & design, or Tinker Crate, which focuses on science and engineering.  The entire line is well reviewed and comprehensive.


Memberships

10. Museums: Nearly every city has a museum for a kid.  Fortunately, here in Houston we have a ton of museums so you can pick and choose to suit your child’s interest.  The more common ones are Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Children’s Museum of Houston. But, we have some great more specific Museums like the Lone Star Flight Museum or Space Center Houston and more. Check out our extensive list of museums for other ideas.

11. Zoos:  Not many kiddos wouldn’t love a zoo membership (and someone to take them!).  This basically sells itself.

12. Sports & Athletics:  Many sports themed businesses offer memberships.  Here in Houston, there are several Rock Climbing Gyms, Ninja Warrior Gyms, Parkour, Crossfit Kids, and more that offer memberships for kids.



Handwork & Modeling

13. Knitting:  Knitting is a great skill for kids to hone their hand-head connection.  There are a lot of kits and books to get you started. And, using something like a loom or a knitting nancy is a great way to ease them in. It is an excellent skill for boys, too! Don’t forget extra yarn!

14. Clay: Again, something kids can work with their hands is a great option. There is always play-doh, but for something more permanent modeling clay is a great next step. You can start with a tub of air dry and some simple tools and move on from there if it is something your child enjoys.



15. Models: The sky is the limit here.  Models, as a hobby, can be as simple as a 3d puzzle to the more complex models like cars, buildings, and recreations.


Building Toys

Some of our favorite building toys are:

16. LegoIf you’re kid is into it they probably already have a very specific list…

17. BlocoHigh density foam and connectors are used to build fun creatures!

18. Trio: Trio blocks are the most fun discontinued toy around.  If you see someone selling these at a yard sale or online pick them up, they are great! They’re similar to mathlink cubes but have the fun spin of lego with branding and connectors, wheels, etc.

19. Straw and Connectors:  The Children’s Musuem of Houston has a table full of these downstairs, they’re great!

20. Rockets: I’m not sure if this is a model or a build, but either way shooting things into the sky is always a popular past time!



21. Books

So many books so little time! Here are some favorites:

Toddler: Board books by Byron Barton.  Personal faves are Planes, Trucks, Trains, and Boats.

Pre-K & Kindergarten: Here are 493 Options!  But, if you don’t want the whole list Strega Nona by Tonie dePaola is great.  As is, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and The Story of Ferdinand by Munroe Leaf.

Elementary:  Little House on the Prairie Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Peter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie, The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit.
    

 

Pre-Teens: By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

 

Teens: Beauty by Robin McKinley, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Just David by Eleanor H. Porter, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

For the Teacher

22. Laser Printer – If she doesn’t lust for a laser printer is she really a homeschooler? Seriously, the amount of printing and ink consumed in this chosen endeavour is astronomical.  With the cost of ink, I sometimes think it would just be cheaper to buy a new printer everytime I run out of ink!  I do like having the scan and copy function too so let’s swing for fences and go all in on this.  If I were buying for myself I would choose the Canon.

23. Laminator – Another gadget I love is my laminator.  Particularly if you are teaching your way through multiple children and you want to be able to reuse things – laminating is the way to go.  I don’t think they make the one I personally have but this 3-in-1 by Blusmart has awesome reviews and actually includes the two add-ons I would have suggested – a paper trimmer and corner rounding punch.  Mind. Blown.  It also seems compatible with the Scotch laminating pouches that are sold everywhere.

24. Something not “School Related”

As homeschoolers, it is sometimes hard not to find the opportunity to learn in everything we do.  Sometimes the kiddos just want some dinky hard plastic migraine-inducing noisy toy.  Get it for them.  Just one.

25. Stocking Stuffers

Stockings are a prime place to load up on pencils, pens, Crayons, colored pencils, dry erase markers, markers, glue, Play-Doh, and for more ideas check out our suggestions for the Best Stocking Suffers!

 

Did your favorites make our list?  Do you have other ideas? Share below and Happy Holidays!




back to school scrabble tiles on lined paper with pencils




School Days, School Days

Back to school time can be some of the most exciting and stressful times of the year. From the kid side you get to see friends again, maybe start at a new and unknown place, new clothes and binders – oh my! From the parent side, it is the “return of the routine.”  Running with your kids (and breaking up fights) all summer is great but so is the reliability of bedtime and knowing how to schedule each day.  On the other side of that, now you have to prep to make sure backpacks are ready and lunches are made and kids are in bed on time.  So, as they said in the eighties, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have. The facts of life,…”  And, that’s it we’re all just aiming for that sweet spot of just enough and not too much.

In an effort to be a very useful website here is your 2017-2018 Guide for heading back to School in Houston!


When to Go – School Start Dates (for students):Houston School District Map

Registration & Immunizations

You will feel better having all of this done in advance, but not to worry your school district has to take your kiddo even if you roll in on the first day of school (or the 13th).  The benefits of early registration are many.  First, the school will be ready for your child.  Meaning they will have had time to get records in order and put them in the best environment for their success. When you show up after school has started your child will likely just be put in a class until all that is sorted out.  Which, means if many people are doing this (and they do) that the first week or so of school can see some bloated classes which leads to a downtime in teaching and activities and stressed teachers (you would be a little stressed too if your class kept getting interrupted and eventually you had more students than desks).

To enroll most schools will require you to bring:

  • Proof of your child’s age and identity (birth certificate & Social Security Card),
  • Proof of your identity and residential address (driver’s license and utility bill), and
  • A record of your child’s current immunizations signed by a doctor (many schools will let you enroll and give you a 30 day window to get these done).
  • If transferring a transcript or report card from last school attended.

Immunizations can be a bit of a hot topic but for most children this is the right thing to do. The perceived dangers of vaccines drop significantly past toddlerhood so once your child is school ready it’s a great time to get caught up if you’ve previously used a relaxed schedule.  We live in an International city there are people coming and going from all over the globe and who knows where your apple came from?  When you put people together they get sick and sickness spreads rapidly. Don’t rely on the health of other children to protect your child.  In many cases, the disease is much worse than the side effect.  And, many of those dangers are well past by the time your child reaches grade school.

If you are still on the fence know you don’t have to get all of the vaccines or get them all on the schedule provided. You can do one or two at a time or just get the Texas Minimum State Vaccine Requirements for Student K-12. If you are still not going to do it you must qualify for an Exemption.


Supplies

School supply shopping can be easy – just pick up the package from your local store that has partnered with the school district.  However, this is one of those categories that the “I Wants” shine brightly because every store has new and colorful supplies on display and as far as things-our-kids-beg-for go, school supplies can be an affordable splurge.

Always get your list items first and follow those instructions to a ‘T’ – even if you think it stupid that Mrs. Smith only wants chartreuse folders just buy the chartreuse folder.  I guarantee you Mrs. Smith has a reason or a mandate and she’s a little stressed trying to put together a great year for your kids too.

If you find the most amazing chartreuse folder that will cause your child to bloom and grow then either write their name on it or just talk to Mrs. Smith and explain that when she gets a pile of chartreuse folders you would really appreciate it if your child could use the one you bought.  Teachers are people and most have children and will pick up what you are putting down.  And, I promise they will appreciate the talk over a steaming parent that they have to deal with for a year because they inadvertently angered them over a chartreuse folder.

  • Supply Resources: If you need a little help with school supplies this year, check out a couple of these options:
  • Texas Sales Tax Holiday is August 11-13th
    • The law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced less than $100 from sales and use taxes.
  • Off the list – Fun & Useful Supplies: After you get those items if you have some room in the budget these were the most fun and/or useful and unique school supplies we found for this school year. Does anyone else like the smell of pencils in August? 
    • Decorative Correction Tape...white out is so boring these tapes are so cute!
    • Erasable Gel Pens...like, really erasable and with a nice glide (you pen lovers know what I mean) and the eraser never runs out or leaves little squidgy eraser noodles all over your paper!
    • Fidget Ring  – far more inconspicuous than a spinner, just as satisfying (for girls too!)
    • Cocoon GRID-IT Organizer – this is super cool, originally designed to keep cords and whatnot it could be used for loads of things and it’s about the size of an iPad so you could carry it in a backpack or hang it in a locker easy peasy.
    • Customizable Allergy Wristband – better safe than relying on a page in a file!
    • No Tie Flat Shoelaces 
    • No-Iron Clothing Labels – these are great, they are washer and dryer safe and you can just write on them with a permanent marker and stick them on.
    • Nostalgia Breakfast Station – Okay, this one is for the families with someone going off to college, but it is so cool! Where was this thing when I was in school. It’s a coffee pot, griddle, toaster, and oven in one slick little package! (I’m too old to say jelly)


Return of the Routine

School start times can be as early as 7:15am. That, of course, excludes time for getting up, dressed, fed, packed, actually getting there, catching buses, or going in early for sports.  The routine is paramount.  This time of year can make kids anxious – schedules and expectations will reduce some of that anxiety.

Experts recommend school-aged children get 9-11 hours of sleep.  Teenagers need 8-10 hours.  And, everyone needs at least 7 hours.  Which means bedtime for the average elementary aged child should be around 8pm – which is hard when it’s still light out but better than a morning fusspot.  A couple of weeks is ideal to learn a new routine but even a few days will help out.  Get back in the habit of waking kids up, getting dressed (as opposed to lounging in jammies all morning), and eating a healthful breakfast.

And, remember, you don’t have to do it all by yourself.  Kids can be taught to get their backpacks ready, dress themselves, eat breakfast, and even fix their own lunches (yes, really).

If all this seems overwhelming and too much prep you can always homeschool!  (Spoiler alert: routines still help and there’s organization required there too!)

Have a Great Year!