Behinds the Scenes ~ Blog /Web Surfing, Organizing Ideas


I am obviously online a lot, and I get asked often what I use to help simplify my online life! This post is dedicated to sharing that with you!


First, if you are reading more than 5 blogs per day I HIGHLY recommend using a blog reader. If you are unfamiliar with this, I recommend learning it (not difficult at all), as it will make your blog surfing much easier and more time efficient! I have used Google Reader (with iGoogle also-I still use Google Calendar though)) and Bloglines, and I have now recently switched everything back to Bloglines, it is my personal favorite.

My favorite things about it is the little notifier I have on my desktop, it’s like an email notifier, so I always know if any of my subscribed blogs have updated.

I often skim through blogs in Bloglines and then when one strikes me, or there’s one I want to leave a comment on, I will open it up on the actual blog to remind myself I want to read that one further. I do that after I have sifted through Bloglines for the day- then the ones that I have opened are there for me to go back to before I am done!

I currently have 63 feeds coming in and obviously I do not have time to visit all of these blogs everyday. Bloglines only shows me NEW posts for that day! If I see an IDEA I like that’s where my next recommendation comes in…

Before I go any further I want to thank Alicia for sharing this with me last week, as I am new to it and already in LOVE! Evernote is the solution (for me at least) to organizing ideas I find online.
I am a very visual person and because of this my favorites bookmarks have gotten out of control, as I can’t remember why I put something in there, even if it is well labeled. The visual cue that Evernote provides is the answer for me!!!

The basic idea is that you “clip” a portion of a blog, or site (even straight from Bloglines) and send it to your Evernote account! It is so easy, fast, simple and AMAZING!

I am not going into a tutorial of how it works, but I promise with a bit of time YOU can figure it out! If you have ?s you can certainly see their FAQ page or contact their support. Here’s a bit of what I have learned and how I am using it so far…

Here’s a screen shot of a couple of my sections so far, the first is entitled “Homeschooling Ideas to MAKE” for all of those ideas I see online (mainly in blogs) that I am not ready to make yet but want to refer back to. In this image, you can see the little photos, and underneath is the blog/post name, and LINK back to it!!! They are also each individually tagged for even further organization. Here’s an example…I like the idea I found on Story Time and More. It is in my Homeschool Ideas folder, but also tagged with: colors, book ideas, Eric Carle. So if I wanted to find all things tagged about colors it would show up there too!

Here’s a screen shot of my “Tot Tray Ideas” folder…
Any time I come across a blog/site with a good idea for a Tot Tray I put it in this folder and then label it with tags too.


Here’s my current homeschool binders…

  • Tot School: I keep his assessment sheets, master list of Tot School toys/tools we own, Tot Tray stuff, idea sheets, and more. Basically anything that is hand written about tot school is in here.
  • Pac Man’s Lesson Plans (in it I file the old ones, and keep the new ones, as well as blank sheets for planning). His current weekly plan is stored in a tray thing on our school table, the notebook is mainly for storage of plans we’re not currently using.
  • File Folders games/Matching Boards (both K and P’s are in a big 3 inch one now, probably will have to divide them soon)
  • SOTW (Story of the World) papers: Pac has one notebook to put his completed SOTW pages into.
  • Old Testament Overview: Pac also has one special notebook just for his Bible work.
  • Pac Man’s Stories

Right now that’s all I have. I do NOT print anything in advance, I only print things when I plan to use it. That’s why I love Evernote. I do not print lapbooking materials until right before we begin that particular lapbook. I only print worksheets I like or printed cards/activities I like, if I plan to use them that week. If they are not for immediate use-they get filed in Evernote. I hate wasting paper and having tons of it everywhere.

I am NO expert in this field (you should see my desk right now!!!!), and have learned about everything mentioned in this post from other wonderful moms online!!! If you have ideas, please share them in the comments below!

Behind the Scenes ~ Saving $$ on Supplies


Not sure if this post will be of help to any of you, but I thought it might be so I decided to write it up. My thoughts were that we homeschoolers use a lot of office type supplies and obviously school supplies, and paying for these adds up! If my experience can help even one of you, it’s worth it to me to write up the post!

I have been a loyal Office Depot shopper for years now and without a doubt shopping with them saves me TONS of money and allows me to be able to order many special homeschooling supplies. I have heard other people who shop exclusively at Staples, or Office Max, but I personally have used Office Depot. What I will recommend is sticking with one office supply store, you will reap the rewards of being a loyal customer, I promise!

Here’s why… (I will be speaking only of OD, although these same things probably apply to the others)

  • Office Depot provides FREE shipping if your order is more than $50 (to most areas). We always wait until we need $50 worth of supplies before we order. AND it is delivered the next day!!! We actually JUST got an order at our door TODAY!
  • Hot Offers (2.15 - 2.21)

  • They have a Worklife Rewards program, that tracks our sales and gives us rewards for the amount we spend each quarter. This is where store-loyalty pays off-we received $69.27 for 2008 in rewards money. These rewards come quarterly in the form of a gift card, I just turn around and type in the code for our next order and it takes that amount off!
  • They track my past purchases in “My Account” on their website so re-ordering things we run out of is VERY easy.
  • They send me valuable coupons in the mail, constantly. I always use a coupon, that usually takes a significant amount off of my purchase. For example, the coupon I just used on my order that arrived today was for $21.55 off of a $100 purchase! That’s a great one! Sometimes we get free gifts (which a few we have actually liked and still use), and other times it is for different percentages off of certain amounts.
  • NO, I do not work for Office Depot-I just really like their store, products, and service!!!

A few of the things I order regularly from Office Depot to help me with homeschooling and more 🙂

Other School Supplies…

I do a majority of my shopping at Office Depot throughout the year, but I do some major stock-up during Back-To-School shopping time (Jul-Sept). The BEST place I have found for this is Staples, and their 1 cent deals. This is where we get our pencils, folders, binders, and MANY more items for the year. Start watching for these deals to begin in July, and they change them up each week.

I also love Target’s Back-To-School section, which always has some neat items that are hard to find the rest of the year. The best example: our tot trainer scissors, I can’t seem to find them anywhere now, and I got them last year during BTS time at Target!

Dollar Tree has a little school section, with teacher items too, sometimes I hit the jackpot there. If you’ve never found this section at your Dollar Tree, be sure to look for it! The $1 section at Target often rotates out different school items too, always worth walking through, especially at season change times-if you’re lucky enough to hit the half price days!

I also shop at Costco for some of our supplies. The best thing I have found there that are much better priced are: 3 ring binders (I use all sizes of these for organizing many different things), they have a whole aisle of office/school supplies and change them up often. Sometimes you can find GREAT deals there!

What about non-office related supplies?

If we’re shopping for books, the best places I have found are:

The first 2 you are all probably familiar with but just in case you haven’t heard of LES, you should certainly check it out. You have to be a member to shop there, but you will find incredible deals on books you can’t even find elsewhere-they are a wholesale company. My best examples are my science series books, we LOVE these books and I snatch up the sets when they put them on sale (I am talking deep sale, it’s amazing). As for CDB, I shop there a LOT. They do charge shipping but it is always very reasonable. When ordering a book, I will usually check a few sources to get my best price and for me it usually ends up being one of these places.

Honestly, I order just about everything else that is a puzzle, game, toy, etc. from Amazon. I ONLY buy things under their free-shipping option, and always search around for the best price. If I am not ordering online, I will use AC Moore or Michaels (especially for Melissa and Doug Tot School stuff) and get one at a time with their weekly 40% or 50% off coupons. I obviously also stock up on craft/art supplies this way too, saving the bigger ticket items for use with coupons and hitting the moonlight madness sales (usually 25% off your whole purchase) to get the little things. If you don’t already, be sure to get on the mailing list of these stores in your area, that way you’ll get email reminders of the current weekly sales and you can check your ever growing wish list compared to their sales!

If you have some great advice for stocking up on supplies-the cheap way-leave your ideas below in the comments, as I know I am not the only one with a few ideas and I would love to know of even more places the deals are hiding! If you have any questions, leave them below too, I will try my best to answer them!

Behind the Scenes ~ Book Storage

Behind the Scenes ~ Book Storage

I recently got asked how I store all of our children’s books. This was a very simple answer so I thought I would put it in a Behind the Scenes post! This issue haunted me at first as I had TONS of children’s books even before I began homeschooling. I used to teach Kindergarten and had kept all of the books I purchased myself over the years. Finally I came up with a solution!

I bought cardboard magazine boxes, made labels for them and sorted the books by the general themes or concepts. Specifically I have these boxes from Ikea, and I used my printer to make the labels, you could use a label making machine or just hand write them!

This makes it so much easier for me to find what we are studying at a particular time, or just to find books we want to read! As for my categories of books, I made them based on the books we had, trying to divide as much as I could to make it more simple to find things.I also keep our holiday/seasonal books like this so I can easily pull them down. I usually keep these in a special basket at the bottom of the bookshelf during that particular time so we can read them. I don’t have a photo of it, but at the bottom of this bookshelf there is a shelf with no boxes-it is for Krash’s books. Mostly board books, baby books, and stuff like that. Obviously those are on the bottom so he can easily get to them when he wants.

We also have books all over the house, I just keep our main storage here (it’s in our living room). I rotate out books for the boys in their rooms from here. Pac Man is also old enough to find what he is looking for and also help me put books back in the correct boxes- it’s awesome!

Behind the Scenes ~ Tot Trays

What Are Tot Trays

I know most of you probably read my Tot School post from this past Sunday, but if you didn’t read it first, then you’ll know what I am talking about ~ Tot Trays :).
Now, I will answer any questions I could think of that readers might ask 🙂 and if I don’t answer yours, put it below in the comments and I will!

First, WHY Trays?

  • Let me begin by saying that I am in NO way saying that my beliefs are right, they are just MY beliefs. I share openly about what I believe when it comes to educating young children, and yes I do have a college degree, but that in no way makes me any smarter than others out there. I just share what I believe!
  • The TRAY itself: I believe the tray itself provides a sense of space for a young child. When all items are contained on a tray (or a mat, or something similar), it is easier for the child to visualize all involved with the activity and also how to CLEAN it up! Cleaning up is a huge part of this method for me.
  • The ACTIVITIES: I believe in providing simple, yet engaging activities that sometimes expose a skill and sometimes are just fun! I love the discussion times these trays provide. I love the concentration required. I love that Krash is developing perseverance, focus, and determination to accomplish tasks. I love the vocabulary alone that stems from the tray activities, it really is endless. I love that I can change up the activities easily without a ton of work each evening. I love that most of the items on the trays aren’t *toys* so they are refreshing for Krash and engaging.
  • The ENVIRONMENT: Trays provide a more neat and orderly environment for a tot, it is easy to see where the activities are, what is involved, how to clean up, and where to put the tray back. These types of activities also (usually) stimulate a quieter environment as many of the activities require much focus from the tot! In a world of LOUD chaos (at least with MY tot), I enjoy the difference in these types of activities.
  • WHEN: Krash only uses these trays during SCHOOL time. They are not toys, they are not free-play items. My idea behind this is to keep them special and engaging. When a child sees them over and over again, anytime, they become just like the rest of his toys. Sometimes this is hard to manage but that is the goal. We have only recently gone back to this method and he will get used to it more and more as we go on.

Tell me about your shopping spree you spoke of in your Tot School post…

Here’s where I went, with items linked up if I could find them online. Many of these items were pictured in my Tot School post (or will be soon 🙂 )

AC Moore:

  • round paint tray
  • pom poms (bought 3 bags, of the colors we didn’t have already)
  • Valentines Day items for our seasonal collection (2-$1 tins, 1-1$ plastic heart jar, heart cookie cutters)
  • pipe cleaners (we just happened to be almost out!)
  • Cookie cutters-with a spring/Easter theme

Dollar Tree:

  • heart sticks
  • heart shaped ice cube tray
  • skinny long colored spoon assortment
  • cookie cutters assortment
  • foam beads in a box
  • pack of 4 colored clips

Ikea: (I am SO sorry for those of you who don’t live near an Ikea, that have the best stuff for trays!)

~edited to add… the trays themselves are from Oriental TradingI wrote a post sharing alternatives here.

I did not spend a ton of money, and many of these items will be used over and over again. These were just some things I wanted to get at this point, to go along with what we already had. And yes, I do have an educational supply shopping addiction (so my husband says).

How do you organize ALL OF THE STUFF?

  • I decided this FIRST, as I knew if I just brought home a bunch of stuff and mixed it in with the rest of our supplies, I would become overwhelmed with the whole idea and give up. So, when I went shopping, that was my very first priority and I knew I was not coming home until I had the solution! Here it is…The drawers are long, which is really nice for things like pipe cleaners, spoons, etc. Below is a photo of our bottle top collection…
  • I got a closet shoe hanging thing, that has drawer/box things to go inside. I didn’t have any floor space to put a new shelf or drawers or anything so when I saw this-the light bulb went off! We hang ours inside of our guest room/office “closet” area.
  • I made labels for all of the drawers and now that I am home, I plan to get one more red thing and set of boxes, just to not run out of storage-it’s worth it to me. I hung the labels on with key ring things I got at an educational supply store.
  • I also added a set of plastic drawers that I already had, knowing I would need larger spaces for some things. The main idea for this is the items I am collecting from the house (plastic bottles-my favorite is our coffee creamer bottles with the label torn off, TP tubes, PT tubes, and other bigger items we are now saving).
  • I am using a couple of the shelves in the *closet* to store some of the bigger items also, I still need to work on this area.
  • I am not entirely done with the space as I write this, but it will continue to be a work in progress, as all things storage and school related are!

How do you organize your IDEAS in your head when it comes to planning for these types of activities?

I think in the way of tray-themes, then change up within those. Here’s my *theme list* so far:

  • Transferring
  • Pouring
  • Beading
  • Spooning
  • Pasta Fun
  • Sorting
  • Counting
  • Matching
  • Small Spaces
  • Cutting
  • Gluing
  • Stickers
  • Simple Art/Crafts
  • Fine Motor-Muscle Skills

By keeping to these themes, I can wrap my brain around it easier and come up with simple ways to make it fun! I can also list out new ideas under a category-or add a new category!

Speaking of NEW IDEAS, I always find tons of ideas while blog-surfing but have a hard time implementing them (or remembering them), how do you manage this?

  • I struggled with this also, and finally made myself a sheet to keep next to my computer. I will give you the link for it at the end of this post. I jot down the name of the idea, and where I found it. THEN I add it to a folder in my Internet bookmarks so I can come back to it when I am ready to see it again.
  • If it is something I plan to make right away, I will just jot down my materials list and put in our current school plans!
  • I plan to come up with an even better way to sort new ideas as we get going, but this is my start!

What ages would you recommend these activities for?

  • I must tell you I am not a big age-range-suggester. WHY? Because I firmly believe that every child is unique and different and you must take the time to truly know your own child. I always post Krash’s age in my Tot School posts to give readers an idea, but kids are different!
  • I recommend starting simple, with the easiest of ideas and just see how your tot does! If an activity is frustrating for your tot (or you), then put it on the “later on” list!
  • Many of the tray activities are even enjoyed by my oldest son (age 6 1/2), that’s the cool thing about trays-they are simple but fun.


I made a new webpage all about Tot Trays! There’s ideas already there and I have tried to go into as much detail as possible to help you out if you’re looking to add this type of learning to your home. I plan to continually update this page, with ideas, photos, etc. so be sure to bookmark it if you are interested! On this page you will find:

  • The link to the New Ideas sheet
  • Items to Collect sheet, and Shopping Ideas (stores, lists, etc.)
  • Each *tray theme* outlined (with photos if I have them already)
  • More info about storage
  • My Labels (either for you to use exactly or to gather ideas to make your own)

As I said above, if you have any other questions about Tot Trays, please leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them there. I will also add more to the webpage itself as I get new photos and ideas!

Behind the Scenes ~ Routines, Schedules and Planning


I have gotten lots of emails and comments lately asking about my daily school routine/schedule and/or planning routine. I will do my best to give you a Behind the Scenes look into this area of our life, but I must warn you, the answers may surprise you!

I think I tend to *look* rather organized and in control on my blog(s) but in real life I am a bit all over the place. So I will be very transparent here for you all, and you will see I am not the super-mom some of you think I am!

Here are some of the most common questions I have gotten…

What is your daily schedule?

  • Honestly…I am a daily schedule drop-out. I tried, even made a lovely schedule to hang up on the wall and we followed it for awhile. Then I realized that it just didn’t jive with us. So we have switched to more of a general routine, with no set schedule. For those of you interested in seeing how we began, and my lovely intentions of having a schedule, here ya go…

So here goes the next question…

What does your general daily routine look like?

Now that I can answer, we do have one of those ;). I will give you the long drawn out details the best I can for a *normal* day at home right now. Keep in mind I am pregnant, my husband works odd hours (we are missionaries), and this is not EVERY day!

  • 8:00-8:30 Daddy feeds boys breakfast and I have “me” time (mostly computer, and getting ready)
  • 8:30-9:00-no real plans, Daddy leaves at 9, so sometimes this is just transition time.
  • 9:00-10:30ish-I focus on Krash and Tot School. During this time Pac-Man will do a few independent school work items, then play with us some. Pac Man will also have some free time during this time frame too (depends on my stress level of handling him being a part of Tot School-sometimes the fighting is just too much for me).
  • 10:30ish-11:30ish-I am usually worn out by this time and will put in a movie for Krash, or he will play on his own, depends on how difficult he is being that day.
  • 11:30-I begin preparing lunch, the kids just play
  • 12:00ish-we eat lunch.
  • after lunch: Krash goes down for a nap.
  • While I am putting Krash down, Pac-Man does his silent reading time.
  • 1:00ish-3:00ish Pac-Man’s focused school time with me. We do not go in any particular subject order, we just get done what we need to get done and tyr our best to enjoy our couple of hours alone together!

I hope that helps. Here’s a bit more info about us…YES my kids do watch tv, yes they play video games, yes they drive me nuts, yes I look like a horrible mom some days, yes I just tell them to leave me alone for awhile sometimes, yes I LOVE THEM DEARLY and wouldn’t want life any other way than this way-homeschooling! Oh and yes we spend some days out of the house. Krash takes a gym class at the Y on Tues and Thurs, and Pac plays soccer for the Y too. Daddy also takes them out a lot when he can. We also go to fun children’s places when I have the energy (which isn’t much lately).

How do you plan for Krash? (Tot School, age 33 mos)

  • I didn’t plan much until recently. I kept all of my ideas on a list and my tools/toys in one area and just chose activities. I have now begun to plan more to be a bit more focused. I plan to do an extensive post on this soon.

How do you plan for Pac-Man? (currently ending 1st grade in a few weeks)

  • I usually plan weekly for Pac Man, and have used many different planning sheets. I have added them to my site (blanks of course) in case they could be of help to any of you. Currently I use the weekly planning sheet found in the Old School House Planner.

    I could make it on my own, and honestly don’t know why I am sticking with this one, but I am, I like it.

  • I fill out our weekly plans for the week on Sat or Sunday, and pull all worksheets necessary.
  • Each morning, I get out the materials for the day and decide what Pac could do independently. We usually go over this in the morning. So if I say, “go complete something,” he knows what his options are.

As I said above, I have another Behind the Scenes post in the works detailing Tot School planning, and hope to have it done in a few weeks at least! If you have any questions you hope I address in that, leave them below or email me! Any other routine/schedule questions, leave them in the comments so I can answer them directly in the comments section of this post so others can see!