26 Learning Centers for Play Based Preschool Learning

26 Learning Centers for a Homeschool Preschool Curriculum

I love setting up an environment where my young preschool aged children (and older children as well) can be engaged in play based learning. I do this by setting up lots of little centers in every room that encourage creative and imaginative play with a little bit of skill based learning thrown in there as well. This is basically a Montessori approach to learning where children are given a lot of choice in a resource rich learning environment that incorporates plenty of opportunities for guided instruction.

While being a stay at home mom and raising our four children (after being an elementary school teacher for 7 years and getting my Master’s degree in Linguistics), these are the learning centers that have worked for me and have helped all of our children learn how to read at a young age, develop curious and imaginative minds, and get ready for school.

Before I dive into the learning centers, I wanted to set the scene with a few tips and tricks that have helped my learning centers to be successful.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Little Learning Centers: Set up small tables, little chairs, small couches, and other areas that are easy to access for little ones.
  2. Organization: I love using baskets, bins, cardboard boxes (with the flaps cut off), and tubs to sort and organize my toys and supplies. I like to label things when I can as well.
  3. Children’s Choice: Introduce children to new learning centers, but after introductions are made, let them choose what they want to do. Follow them and provide guidance and support wherever they choose to be.
  4. The Way to Start Your Day: Start the day with the most learning intensive projects first. You’ve got maybe an hour or two after they wake up for optimal attention, so use your time wisely!
  5. When to Pack it Up: If I have a center set up (like a Play-doh or a water table center) that’s really messy, but doesn’t sustain their attention for very long, I will pack it up. I’m usually okay with cleaning up a big mess as long as it was really and truly worth it. *With a new baby on the way, I’m starting to pack away all centers that make a big mess, just to help me manage things a little better. 🙂
  6. Rotation: If a center isn’t getting used, I’ll pack it away. Then, when I take it out again later, it’s like a brand new toy all over again! (If they still don’t use it, I’ll just get rid of it.)
  7. Routines and Procedures: Having a good behavior management system in place will make the day run much more smoothly. I have found both as a teacher and now a parent, that most behaviors can be managed with consistent routines, procedures, and expectations.

Whether you are setting up an atmosphere for homeschool or just looking to create a stimulating learning environment for your little one(s), these learning centers are sure to engage, stimulate, and provide hours and hours of play based learning opportunities for your child(ren). Also, keep in mind that we have four children ranging in age from 21 months to 7 years, and they ALL enjoy using all of these centers to varying degrees. 🙂

Here is a little video of me showing most of the learning centers we have set up in our home.

1. ABC Magnet Letters

Learning the ABCs isn’t just about singing a song, it’s about learning BOTH the letter names AND letter sounds really really well. Doing so will lay a strong foundation for reading.

ABC Magnet Letters

ABC Magnet Letters

This ABC magnet letter center is a perfect way for little ones to explore what they are learning about letters in a fun and hands on way. *Watch a video of Ophelia using ABC magnet letters here

Using the ABC Magnet Center

Using the ABC Magnet Center

Materials Needed:

  • Magnet Letters: I like these foam ones the best (120 pieces, capitals and lowercase letters), but they are currently only available from third party sellers on Amazon. These would be pretty good too if you don’t mind the pastel colors. I do like the Melissa and Doug wooden letters (52 pieces, one capital and one lowercase for each letter), but the magnets separate from the wood after time. This set of 240 lowercase letters (blue consonants and red vowels) from Lakeshore Learning is also a really great teaching tool, but the letters just aren’t as fun for kids to use. I like using it more for a teaching tool or to set up a lot of words at once. If you look at my letter set up, you’ll notice that I like setting the magnet letters in a shallow box so that little fingers can easily dig through them. Don’t worry about sorting the letters out, they’ll just get mixed up again! 🙂 I also like having these Leapfrog ABC letters for the refrigerator.
  • Muffin Pans: I like using this 2 x 3 pan for learning three letter words, this 12 muffin pan for either three or four letter words, and this mini muffin pan for longer words (and counting practice).
  • Magnetic White Board: There are lots of different options here. You could get a larger white board to hang on the wall, mini white boards to fit on laps, a standing mini white board, or even an easel. It all depends on your space really.
  • Small Table: You don’t really have to have a table (the floor would be just fine), but it does make it more fun! I made this mini table (pictured above) using scraps of wood we had lying around, and I measured it specifically to fit this funny little place in our “homeschool room”. When I was a teacher, I liked taking the lower parts of the table legs off from my rectangular tables to make a lower work surface for kids, and they loved it!

Here is a video of 21 month old Ophelia using a variety of different ABC magnet letters.

*For more of my favorite ABC resources, check out my blog: 10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs.

2. Counting

Learning how to count lays the foundation for math like learning the letter names and sounds lays the foundation for reading. It can take young children a very long time to learn one-to-one-correspondence (meaning that each object represents one thing, so it is definitely a good idea to encourage children to count often.

In the picture below, you’ll see that I have a mason jar numbered and labeled. I used to have 20 or so different counting jars with different things in them from beans to legos to small cars, but these counting bears were always the favorite, so that’s all I use now. 🙂 *The Investigations math curriculum is great for teaching math concepts in a fun and exploratory way.

Counting Bears Center

Counting Bears Center

I like using anything that encourages counting like the game Connect 4. Not only is this good for counting, but it’s good fine motor skill practice for little hands too.

Counting with Connect 4

Counting with Connect 4

Materials Needed:

  • Counters: These are the counting bears that I like to use.
  • More Counters: Lakeshore Learning has TONS of great counting resources. Check them out here.
  • Mason Jars: These wide mouths jars are best for storing the counters.
  • Muffin Tin: I like using this mini muffin tin to practice counting and for my ABC Magnet Center too.
  • Connect 4: This Connect 4 game is a great way to practice counting (we usually go to 20).

3. Drawing

I really like having one table in the house set up just for drawing. This table is in our homeschool room, and I always have coloring books, workbooks, how to draw books, printouts of favorite things to draw, stencils, paper, crayons, markers, other office supplies like scissors and tape, and a little box for finished drawings laying out and ready to use.

Drawing Table

Drawing Table

Not pictured to the right is a tall bookshelf that I keep stocked with a variety of coloring and work books, mini books we have made, blank mini books ready to be filled, extra markers, and more supplies.

The pencils here in the picture below belong to our 7 year old daughter Ruby. She LOVES drawing and can be found doing one project or another here at this table every single day.

Ruby's Drawings

Ruby’s Drawings

Materials Needed:

  • Coloring Books: I like collecting coloring books and workbooks from garage sales, thrift stores, and trips to the grocery store based on whatever our children are interested in.
  • Crayons, Markers, Pencils: These are the pencils my older daughter loves. They are kind of expensive, but really good quality. I really like having this pencil sharpener too.
  • Paper: I get paper scraps from my parents’ business and cut it up for drawing paper, but blank computer paper like this works well too.
  • Printouts: I like going to Google and typing in “free coloring pages” and then whatever my kids are into like monsters, princesses, Dora, or the ABCs. I have a cool storage rack like this that I hang on the wall to hold available printouts for children to grab.

*Check out more of my arts and crafts blogs here

4. Painting

Yes, painting is messy, but soooooooooooo much fun for kids! Having a bunch of painting supplies on hand and ready to go makes for a really fun project.

My Painting Supplies

My Painting Supplies

I like letting kids draw whatever they want when we paint, but sometimes I’ll paint with them and we’ll talk about different things to paint like the sky, flowers, trees, cats, or whatever! If I’m feeling really artsy, maybe we’ll look up some famous artists someday and try to mimic their work.

Painting Over Masking Tape Letters

Painting Over Masking Tape Letters

Ruby Painting

Ruby Painting

Materials Needed:

5. Arts and Crafts Box

I love collecting things from garage sales, thrift stores, or the crafting aisles at Walmart to fill my craft box. (*I must also thank local artist Kelly Allen for giving me a bunch of crafty things when Wisemaker shut down.) I like to put most things in plastic bags and label them. It’s really fun to just take out the whole box, and get crafty!

My Craft Box

My Craft Box

Materials Needed:

  • Craft Box Items: Pom poms, little googly eyes, artificial flowers, buttons, sequins, glitter, pine cones, headbands, cotton balls, shells, pipe cleaners, paper scraps, yarn, and ribbons are some of the things I have in my craft box. Or you can just buy a random assortment of things here or here for example.
  • Glue: Glue sticks are nice for paper things, but you’ll want Elmer’s glue for bigger things, and maybe even a glue gun if you want things to be really permanent.
  • Paper: Sometimes it’s nice to make things on paper, so I like to have an assortment of large and small blank paper as well as construction paper.
  • Craft Ideas: I like letting the kids make whatever they want, but sometimes you need some inspiration or a pre-made kit like this headband kit or this bracelet kit.

6. Cutting and Gluing

Cutting is a really hard skill for little hands to master, and so any opportunities for young children to cut and glue will help prepare them for kindergarten. Sometimes it’s fun to just cut shapes out of colored paper and glue them onto large pieces of white paper. Other times, it’s fun to just cut and cut and cut! 🙂 One thing I’ve noticed though is that if a child isn’t ready to cut, don’t push it.

Fancy Cutting Scissors and Construction Paper

Fancy Cutting Scissors and Construction Paper

Materials Needed:

7. Stickers and Stamps

Stickers and stamps are a really fun way for kids to be creative, work on vocabulary and language skills, and develop their fine motor skills. I like to let the kids have complete freedom and do whatever they want with stickers and stamps, but sometimes they need a little help getting started. When this happens, I just get out my own piece of paper and think aloud as I choose what stamps to use and how to arrange my stickers. For extra vocabulary practice, I like to write descriptive words underneath the stickers or add word bubbles to the characters.

Stickers and Stamps

Stickers and Stamps

Materials Needed:

8. Write On/Wipe Off

Write on/wipe off boards are such a novel thing that it makes writing really different and fun. It’s a good way to give your child guided practice as they start to learn how to make lines, shapes, letters, numbers, and more.

Write On/Wipe Off Books and Whiteboard Center

Write On/Wipe Off Books and Whiteboard Center

Materials Needed:

9. Water Play

I usually save my water play centers for the dead of winter when we really need something to liven things up. It can get very messy, but kids LOVE it, and hey, it’s just water. When my water centers are in motion, I pretty much constantly have a load of towels in the dryer. 🙂

Water Pouring Center

Water Pouring Center

Ruby and Ophelia Pouring Water

Ruby and Ophelia Pouring Water

A less messy option is to just do water play in the sink, or better yet, in the bathtub! There have been many long winter days where we take a bath in the afternoon just for fun!

Elliot Doing Water Play in the Sink

Elliot Doing Water Play in the Sink

Materials Needed:

  • Cups and Saucers: There are many different types of tea sets that are really fun to pour with, but sometimes larger cups are fun too.
  • Tubs and Buckets: It’s nice to have a tub or bucket for collecting the water and another for pouring into. I like these rectangular dishpans a lot.
  • Water Table: I did buy this water table last winter, and it was a lot of fun, but not really as fun as the tables with cups and saucers. In the summer we keep it outside, and that has been fun, although a bit of work to keep clean.
  • Towels: I like keeping a stash of old towels hanging near the water centers.

10. Cars and Trains

Our youngest son Julian (21 months) is absolutely OBSESSED with anything that has wheels. All day long he loves pushing his cars and trucks. At the end of the day, there are little areas of cars and trucks everywhere. It’s adorable!

Toy Cars

Toy Cars

Julian Loves Pushing His Big Truck Throughout the House

Julian Loves Pushing His Big Truck Throughout the House

Even though we have an official “Car Center”, there are cars and trucks stashed in just about every room in the house!

Julian's Bedroom

Julian’s Bedroom

Materials Needed:

  • Cars and Trucks: Like with just about everything else in our home, I like finding cars and trucks at thrift stores and garage sales for $0.25 – $0.50/piece. This 20-pack Matchbox set would be a nice way to get started though, and these bulldozers and trucks would make a nice addition. I try to stay away from things that require batteries and make noise because a) they can be really annoying and b) I think that they stifle the imagination. We like using a large truck like this to store all of our cars in.
  • Ramps: We have this ramp, and it’s amazing, but apparently, they’re not making it anymore. Bummer. Something like this or this would be really fun too.
  • Train Tracks: Our kids have a lot of fun with these wooden train tracks. Smaller cars fit on them perfectly too.
  • Road Rug: The kids love our road rugs and play many imagination games using them. You can get a small one like this, or a large one like this. We got our large rug from a thrift store, but you can find some great ones on Amazon like this.

11. Building Toys

Toys that require building are my absolute favorite. They engage the children for extended periods of time, and they really help to get their creative juices flowing. When they’re first learning about how to use the building tools, my husband and I spend a lot of time building with them to model the possibilities. But once they get going, they really start learning from each other, and it’s incredible.

Many Different Kinds of Blocks

Many Different Kinds of Blocks

Big Legos, Kinex, and Unifix Cubes

Big Legos, K’nex, and Unifix Cubes

I love having this table set up just for Legos. The big kids play here as a part of their nightly bedtime routine every night while we put the little ones to bed first. We enjoy buying and making Lego kits from time to time, but mostly they just enjoy building whatever they’d like.

Lego Table

Lego Table

Ophelia and Ruby Building with K'nex

Ophelia and Ruby Building with K’nex

Materials Needed:

  • Big Legos: I like using two bags of these big legos at once. I have a large cardboard box that I cut the flaps off from, cut the front down so that little hands can reach in, and reinforced it with duct tape.
  • Small Legos: We inherited my husband’s old lego set from when he was a kid, but you can buy some basic legos like these. We have also enjoyed making many kits together, but when we’re done, the pieces just get thrown into the collection. I love using large shallow Amazon boxes with the flaps cut off, or a storage tub like this to store the legos in so that kids can find the pieces they’re looking for more easily.
  • Mathlink Cubes: These cubes are great for learning about patterns, counting, or just using to make swords and towers.
  • K’nex: There are so many different ways kids can play with these K’nex building toys. While there may be many different kits available, we have never tried any out.
  • Wooden Blocks: These large wooden blocks are something you must have! We also like these small colored blocks, these ABC blocks, and while we don’t have these large cardboard bricks, I always thought they would be fun to have.
  • Other Fun Building Toys: We don’t have the following building toys, but they are on my wish list!

12. Reading Nooks

I like having little reading spaces all over the house. By making the books easy to see and easy to reach, children are more likely to become engaged with them.

Little Chair and Boxes with Books

Little Chair and Boxes with Books

I like rotating my books based on who is reading them and where. The older children are able to go to the bookshelves to select books, and they each have huge assortments of books in their rooms, so I kind of like to keep my baskets of books and little chairs geared for the little ones.

Little Reading Chairs with a Basket of Books Inbetween

Little Reading Chairs with a Basket of Books Inbetween

Materials Needed:

  • Little Furniture: We bought our mini chairs at our local Walmart, but if I were to buy some online, these mini bean bag chairs look great and have great reviews, and this sturdy wooden framed chair would be the dream! I highly recommend getting something that has a removable cover that can be washed! We inherited a mini couch like this from my parents who bought it for my twin sisters (who are now grown). I think it really pays to buy quality when it’s an item that will get used a lot, but this foam mini couch would be really fun too.
  • Book Baskets: I started collecting wicker baskets like these when Ruby was born to hold diapers and such, and the size and shape is just perfect for storing books! I think this lined wicker basket would be even better, but it’s twice as much. I think it’s really important to fan the books out so that as many can be seen as possible (so big ones in the back), and so they are really easy to grab.
  • Bookshelves: I like storing chapter books and books waiting to be rotated in, as well as our adult books, on bookshelves. We have picked up small ones like thisbig ones like this, and square ones like this over the years at garage sales and thrift stores that have worked really well. I never bought one, but I always thought this book rack storage shelf would be really cool too.
  • Best Books: I have a blog about my favorite books for babies and an Amazon astore with my favorite books for children of all ages, but mainly, I just try to find really good garage sales where the books are like $0.10/each and stock up on ones that cover content, have interesting pictures, and contain text that is on the larger side. I’m always looking for really good sturdy board books especially.

*Read more of my blogs about teaching reading here.

13. Favorite Things Books

I believe in giving children a foundation of learning by helping them master the basic skills, but after that, I like to let them choose to engage in whatever they are interested in. These favorite things books are a great way for me to encourage each child to follow his or her own learning path. Basically, I just do Google image searches and print out pictures of their favorite things.

Ruby’s Favorite Things book is filled with her favorite Miyazaki films, My Little Pony characters, Digimon characters, and pictures of special memories that we printed out. Elliot is really into monsters, superheroes, Godzilla, octopuses, and anything gross. Ophelia loves learning about the ABCs, counting, Dora, seasons, weather, maps, and more, so her book is more educationally themed.

Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot's Favorite Things Books

Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot’s Favorite Things Books

Inside Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot's Favorite Things Books

Inside Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot’s Favorite Things Books

Ophelia Reading Her Favorite Things Book

Ophelia Reading Her Favorite Things Book

Materials Needed:

  • Paper: I like using laminated covers and card stock like this for the pages. Sometimes I just print the images right on the page, and sometimes I cut and glue them. This paper cutter has been very handy.
  • Printer: Finding a good printer is tough, and I am not too happy with the printer choices we have made in the past. But my dad owns a small business where he does a lot of printing and highly recommends the Epson WorkForce ET-4550. He says it prints great and the replacement ink is VERY affordable because it uses liquid refills. Once we’re out of ink for our current printer, we will be purchasing this one!
  • Laminator: This is the laminator I have. It is really basic, has a good price, and works great! This one is about the same price and has even better reviews though.
  • Binder: I have tried the comb binding (with binding spines) and it is affordable and easy to use, but not super durable (yet simple enough to fix). I have also tried the cinch binding (with binding wires) that is much more durable but the binding wires are quite expensive.

14. Little Figures and Houses

Creative and imaginative play is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of childhood. When I was a third grade teacher, I was always amazed when kids had no idea what to do with themselves during recess. When I was growing up, my brother and I always played intricate imagination games that would take us to other worlds and keep us engaged for hours.

Playing with little figures and houses is an excellent way for young children to use play to make sense of the world around them. Sometimes their play is about real things (going to bed, taking a bath, getting dressed) and sometimes it’s a completely made up fantasy.

Little House and Mini Figures

Little House and Mini Figures

When Ruby and Elliot were first starting to show interest in little house and mini figures, we would get on the floor and play with them as we modeled different scenarios with heroes and villains as well as other story lines that they could play along with. Now, Ophelia and Julian are learning from their older siblings how to do the same thing.

Doll House with Toy Baskets

Doll House with Toy Baskets

We have little houses and figures in just about every room in the house, and they always keep our children engaged in imaginative play for extended periods of time.

Ruby and Elliot Playing with Little Houses and Figures

Ruby and Elliot Playing with Little Houses and Figures

Materials Needed:

  • Little Houses: Just like with everything else, we look for all sorts of houses, castles, barns, tree house, and any other structures at garage sales and thrift stores. These things are so expensive to buy new, but just look on Craigslist or find a way to buy them used. Otherwise, Fisher Price Little People houses like this small one or this larger one are great too.
  • Figures: We are always buying these My Busy Books at the grocery store, not so much for the book and play mat, but for the mini figures inside. I am always on the lookout for small figures like these superheroes and these Peanuts characters. I try to stay away from Barbies and anything else that objectifies women.
  • Baskets: I like using wide shallow baskets like this because children only like to play with what they can see. This toy rack has also been very nice for organizing toys (although I just dump anything anywhere, it at least looks organized).

15. Dress Up

Playing dress up is another really great way for children to use their imaginations. By getting dressed up, they can become a different person with new characteristics. This imaginative play is a very important aspect of their development and actually a key piece of the highly successful Tools of the Mind Preschool Curriculum.

Dress Up Clothes and Hats

Dress Up Clothes and Hats

Sometimes when children get dressed up, they don’t know what to do. I like to provide scenarios and props to help spin them into action (usually some kind of problem and solution involving a hero and villain works well). Being able to engage in extended imaginative play (without adult interaction) is a very important skill for little ones to develop. It teaches them how to sustain their attention on something for an extended period of time and fosters all sorts of creativity that is a much more important aspect of an optimal learning environment than some would think.

Dress Up Dresses

Dress Up Dresses

Ophelia is a Cowgirl!

Ophelia is a Cowgirl!

I like looking for dress up clothes at garages year round, but my favorite thing to do is to hit up thrift stores right before Halloween to pick up more outfits, hats, and props to add to my collection.

Materials Needed:

16. Music

My husband is very musical, and so we have him to thank for filling our house with such wonderful instruments. He is talented at playing just about everything and has a very good ear for music. The kids love sitting on his lap while he plays the drums and we all enjoy making family music together.

Drums, Keyboard, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, and Amp

Drums, Keyboard, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, and Amp

I have placed colored stickers on the keyboard with letters on them to teach kids the names of the keys. We like printing out simple song sheets (look for ones that have the notes and letters for each note) and color coding them so that the children can learn how to read music.

Keyboard with Labeled Keys

Keyboard with Labeled Keys

Materials Needed:

17. Puzzles

Puzzles are an excellent way for children to practice their dexterity while also learning about the vocabulary and content of the puzzle. Yes, there are times when I have to hide my puzzles when the little ones want to just dump all of the pieces out in one big jumble, but when they’re ready to actually sit down and attend to one (or maybe two) puzzles at a time, then I leave them out!

Puzzle Rack

Puzzle Rack

Playing with Puzzles

Playing with Puzzles

Materials Needed:

18. Pocket Charts

There are many different pocket charts that you can get for a variety of purposes. I like having my pocket chart as an interactive wall center. Sometimes I use pre-made cards, sometimes I use my own flashcards, and sometimes I use flashcards that the kids have colored. There are so many different options for pocket charts and the best thing is that they don’t take up any floor space!

Pocket Chart with Beginning Word Sounds

Pocket Chart with Beginning Word Sounds

Materials Needed:

19. Play-Doh

Play-Doh is a fun moldable adventure for children. Little fingers love squishing and squashing it, and there are so many different options for creativity.

Ophelia and Elliot Playing with Play-Doh

Ophelia and Elliot Playing with Play-Doh

I like keeping my Play-Doh supplies stored in cardboard boxes (from Amazon) with the flaps cut off and labeled with mailing labels. It’s nice to have a table or space on the floor to play with the Play-Doh so that it doesn’t get ground into the carpet. Right now, my Ophelia is obsessed with this

Materials Needed:

20. Puppets

Puppets are a wonderful way to teach children new things or entertain them using funny voices and silly dialogue. I enjoy using puppets to talk to my children or read them books and we all like putting on puppet shows.

Puppet Stand

Puppet Stand

Materials Needed:

  • Puppet Stand: I made this puppet stand using spare scraps of wood we had lying around. It’s a good thing it’s covered up with fabric, because it’s a very crude job! I even had to screw it into the wall just so it would stay standing. 🙂 If you don’t feel like making your own, you could certainly just buy one like this.
  • Hand Puppets: These animal hand puppets are great (and a good price), but I really like the puppets with mouths that open, and my kids LOVE our Ernie and Kermit the Frog puppets because they recognize the characters. You can get this Sesame Street Puppet Collection here, but it is pretty pricey. This set of 8 multi-ethnic puppets is a better value.
  • Finger Puppets: This is a great 16 piece finger puppet set.

21. Games

I love, love, LOVE these big cupboards with shelves that we inherited when we bought our house, and I have one entire cupboard where we keep most of our board games. Many games I have found at garage sales and thrift stores, and many others have been on wish lists for Christmas and Birthdays. The frustrating thing about the popular games these days is that they seem to be made cheaper and cheaper with each generation. I like finding older versions of classic games like Connect 4 and Guess Who that are of obviously superior quality.

Our Board Game Cupboard

Our Board Game Cupboard

When little ones are first learning about board games, I find that it is very important to let them play however they want. When they are ready, they’ll want to play by the rules, so in the meantime, don’t make everyone frustrated by forcing it.

We try to make it common practice to just take out one game at a time, and we try to not make TOO big of a mess. Also, I’m sure there are a ton more great games (especially educational ones) out there, but we usually look for ours second hand, so we just get what we can find! 🙂

Materials Needed:

22. Science

When I think of teaching little ones science, I think about teaching them how to see the world up close and giving them opportunities to explore it. I want them to get magnifying glasses and look at bugs…how they move, where they’re going, they’re characteristics, I want them to catch frogs and learn how to gently handle them, I want them to observe the colors of the sky and to see the patterns in the clouds, I want them to get messy as they compare the texture of dirt to mud, and most of all, I want them to play, explore, wonder, question, and see…really see the world.

Ruby and Elliot in the Garden

Ruby and Elliot in the Garden

Ruby and Elliot Doing a Vinegar and Baking Soda Experiment

Ruby and Elliot Doing a Vinegar and Baking Soda Experiment

Materials Needed:

23. Social Studies

Learning about where we are in place in time should be a gradual infiltration of knowledge instead of a sudden mind dump. As a third grade teacher introducing concepts such as “we live in a city that is part of a state that is part of a country that is part of a continent” and “before we lived here other people lived here with fewer advancements in technology” are all really big ideas that can be hard to grasp when introduced too quickly.

The more children can be exposed to these concepts at a young age, the more receptive they will be to learn about them more in depth at a later age.

State, World, and Universe Maps

State, World, and Universe Maps

Materials Needed:

24. My Favorite Workbooks

During the summer (and weekends, holidays, etc.), I have a pretty nice routine that involves all of us adopting a homeschool framework that helps all of us to be productive and accountable. First thing in the morning, I like to have my older ones do about 2-4 pages from any workbook of their choosing. Sometimes the little ones like to do workbooks too, sometimes they just color, and sometimes they’re playing elsewhere. 🙂

My Favorite Workbooks

My Favorite Workbooks

Some kids really really like sitting down and doing workbooks, and some just don’t. I think you have to find what works for your child. Try to expose them to some pencil paper activities where you can and let their interests lead the way.

Materials Needed:

  • Kumon Books: Every single Kumon book is simple, fun, direct, to the point, and a very effective teaching too. I love everything they make from tracing and mazes, to addition and subtraction, to upper and lowercase letters, to rhyming words, and much much more.
  • Brain Quest: I love everything Brain Quest makes! Their workbooks are high quality with full color, simple graphics, age appropriate content, and fun for kids. You might like starting with the Pre-K or K workbook for your little one.
  • Star Wars: When I was doing homeschool preschool with my son Elliot, he was pretty reluctant to sit down and do any sort of workbooks, but he loved these Star Wars workbooks! We enjoyed the Kindergarten Phonics and ABCs and Kindergarten Math Skills. There’s also some really great Preschool ABC and Preschool Number workbooks.
  • Investigations Math: This curriculum does an amazing job of making learning math fun! There are lots of different games that help to build math concepts. You can buy individual student books by grade level on Amazon like this K workbook. If you go to the Investigations ordering page, you’ll see that it’s not super easy to order from them unless you’re buying the whole kit and kaboodle.
  • Grocery Store Books: If you go to the book section at any grocery store or Walmart, there’s always a selection of different workbooks. I have enjoyed using these as well. If you live near any teacher stores, I highly recommend going there and just looking through the resources in person.

25. Technology

We have always enjoyed using technology as a teaching tool with our little ones. Read more about why we don’t ban screen time for our little ones under two here, and also read more about how we set limits with technology here. If you are the type of parent who has trouble setting limits, leaves the TV on all day even if no one is watching it, or is struggling with young ones who want to spend all day in front of a screen, then you might want to skip this section. But if you’re okay with using technology in a structured and supervised way, then you might love the following blogs:

Our Favorite Preschool Apps

Our Favorite Preschool Apps

In Conclusion

By setting up a stimulating environment filled with many different learning centers, your little ones will not only be engaged, they will be growing and developing so fast that you might find it hard to keep up, and that is definitely not something to complain about!

You don’t have to be a teacher in order to provide your child with a stimulating learning environment, and you don’t need to wait until you send them off to school before you can expect them to learn anything. Babies and young children crave stimulation and learning. and you’re not going to find all that you need in workbooks and paper/pencil activities. Kids need opportunities to learn through play, and play based learning centers are a great way to get started!

For Further Reading

  • Zone of Proximal Development: Children of all ages, babies included, love to be challenged. By providing learning opportunities that are at the right level for your child and by scaffolding them to new learning, they will be engaged, happy, and continuously making advancements.
  • Learning Goals: Now, I’m not talking about state standards, lesson plan books, and goal sheets, I’m talking about knowing where your children are developmentally and thinking about where they could go next based on their ages, abilities, personalities, etc. Knowing this will help you to design your learning environment with each child’s needs in mine. See examples of the learning goals I set for my children here.
  • How Children Learn: When you look at brain development and see that the neurons in a child’s brain peak at about 2-3 years of age, you will understand why I believe that this is the most crucial window of opportunity there is.
  • Oral Language Development: Learning how to speak is what represents the background knowledge that children will bring to every new learning experience that they encounter.
Best Educational Programs for Young Children

19 Educational Programs for Young Children to Watch

Setting reasonable limits for screen time means that your children can enjoy some quality educational programming as a part of their balanced day. Studies show that children who watch educational programming at a young age actually perform better academically than children who do not. (Especially when “anti-educational” fast paced programs, like SpongeBob, are avoided.) Setting reasonable expectations for screen time, even for educational programming, is a very helpful part of the process.

In order to watch these programs, we connect our TV to our computer and are purposeful about all that we watch. If you decide to cancel your cable subscription, you can use the money you save for to spend $9.99/mo. on a Netflix subscription and/or $99/yr on an Amazon Prime subscription, and purchase some of these DVDs, and then (with the help of free YouTube, PBS, and Nick Jr. programs) you will have all you ever need to entertain and teach your kids!

So, when our children DO watch TV, the are the educational programs our little ones have been entertained by, learned from, and wanted to watch over and over again.

1. Preschool Prep

These videos have played a fundamental role in teaching our children their letter names, letter sounds, digraphs, consonant blends, sight words, shapes, colors, and numbers. We show them to our little babies to introduce them to the concepts, again as toddlers when they are fully engaged, and again during the preschool years for good review.

Preschool Prep DVDs

Preschool Prep DVDs

Buy the entire 10 DVD collection here for $60! If you get anything, at least get the Letter Names and Letter Sounds DVDs and your children will learn their ABCs in no time (which will help them learn how to read at a much younger age than you might imagine, check out more of my favorite ABC resources here and my Embracing Motherhood Store here.

2.  Leapfrog

These videos have a story line that makes them more engaging for an older child learning his or her alphabet, but I still love them for reinforcing letter sounds and other great concepts such as numbers, shapes, opposite words, and more. The characters are cute and engaging, and all of our children really like these programs in addition to the corresponding educational toys.

Leapfrog

Leapfrog

Get a 3 DVD collection of some of our favorites (Amazing Alphabet, Learn to Read, and Numbers Ahoy) here for $10.29, or you can watch 12 episodes on Netflix (if you have a subscription). There are also lots of great toys, like this Leapfrog Fridge Magnet set, this Leapfrog Letter Discoveries Board, and this Leapfrog Scribble and Write Tablet that will help your children learn their letters.

3. Your Baby Can Learn

I stumbled across what were originally called “Your Baby Can Read” videos before our first daughter was born and started watching them with her when she was 6 months old. By watching these videos, teaching her the ABCs, and reading lots and lots of books, she was reading by the age of two. I am very sad that they went out of business because some people were mad about the idea of having children under two watch TV, but they are rebranding themselves and coming out with new and wonderful videos that your little ones will love and learn a lot from.

Your Baby Can Learn

Your Baby Can Learn

You can buy the entire learning kit online ($150) that includes videos, flashcards, and teaching tips that will make learning how to read very fun and possible for children at a very young age. Or, you can check out their YouTube Channel to see free videos. I love how they are now making learning videos for all languages. My three year old daughter Ophelia LOVES language, is an amazing reader, and is really excited to learn other languages too. You can also just type in “your baby can read” into Youtube and find some of their original videos that I simply love!

Your Baby Can Learn Deluxe Kit

Your Baby Can Learn Deluxe Kit

These videos have inspired me to create my own system to teach young children how to read. You can see what I have so far at my Embracing Motherhood store and stay tuned for more!

ABC Flashcards

ABC Flashcards

4. Bada Namu

This is a cute little show that my kids actually found through YouTube Kids. It’s really great at teaching vocabulary and has lots of cute songs. I love how the lyrics are displayed at the bottom of the screen so that children can read along as they listen to the songs.

bada-namu

You can go to their YouTube Channel to see all of their videos and check out their pre-made playlists. If you go to their website, they have an entire curriculum to teach your little ones everything they need to know. The resources look really awesome!

5. Maisy

This show is particularly engaging for babies and toddlers, but the older ones don’t mind it too much either. This show focuses on simple concepts like bedtime and birthday which is great for teaching little ones about their world. I especially like watching this show so that my little ones will get engaged with the Maisy books like this 16 book collection (for $53.99).

Maisy

Maisy

You can watch full episodes for free on YouTube or you can buy the DVDs. We like the Goodnight Maisy DVD (for $8.97), the Good Morning Maisy DVD (for $9.36), and the Playtime Maisy DVD (for $9.32) to name a few.

6. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

This show was modeled after Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and even approved by Ms. Roger’s herself. It teaches children a lot about how to handle their emotions and about really basic concepts that they may deal with on a daily basis like trying new foods and making new friends. We pretty much love all PBS programming, and this is no exception.

daniel_tigers_neighborhood_logo

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

You can watch episodes for free, play games, watch stories, and color on the PBS website.

7. Harold and the Purple Crayon

Growing up as a child, I always loved reading Harold and the Purple Crayon. The simplicity and creative imagination it evoked seemed to open up a world of possibilities in my mind. We stumbled across this show, narrated by Sharon Stone, and were mesmerized by the melodic tone of the show. It’s a great show to watch during rest time or before bed because of the calm music and gentle stories that put you in a sort of dreamland with the feeling of being read a story.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Harold and the Purple Crayon

You can watch full episodes for free on YouTube or buy the DVDs on Amazon if you would like to watch this lovely program. I also highly recommend checking out some of the many Harold and the Purple Crayon books.

8. Blue’s Clues

This show is simple, predictable, engaging, and has fun cute characters that are very entertaining for young children. I love the concept of solving a mystery and how real children are incorporated into the show.

blues clues

Blue’s Clues

You can buy DVDs, like this Blue’s Clues Alphabet Power for $5.99, or you can watch full episodes for free on Nick Jr. Our children also enjoy the many Blue’s Clues books.

9. Peep and the Big Wide World

This show is extremely simple and engaging for toddlers in a way that feels like someone is reading them a story. I also like how it connects to real children trying out experiments that relate to the concepts in the show.

peep and the big wide world

Peep and the Big Wide World

You can buy DVDs, like this 3-disc collection of Peep and His Pals for $12.99, you can watch it for free here on YouTube, or you can watch free episodes and play games here.

10. Sesame Street

I grew up loving Sesame Street as a child, and to this day, sometimes I just prefer watching the older episodes. 🙂 But Sesame Street has continued to change with the times while still maintaining their recognizable and lovable characters.

sesame-street

Sesame Street

You can go to the PBS website to watch full episodes, play games, and do art activities, but I’m most impressed with their comprehensive YouTube Channel. You can watch videos here sorted by your child’s favorite character, watch different playlist compilations, or just explore all of their videos.

11. Peppa Pig

This is a fun little show that we recently stumbled upon. Our kids of all ages (1-7) love watching it. Maybe it’s the narrator’s accent that they love most of all, but at any rate, the simple story line and message of the show is really cute and engaging.

peppa_pig

Peppa Pig

You can watch full episodes for free on YouTube just by typing “peppa pig full episodes” into the search bar. You could also buy some DVD sets on Amazon along with some cute books and toys.

12. Backyardigans

This is a great show for modeling the use of imagination. I love how all of the characters come together in their backyards and then enter these creative worlds that they design in their minds.

Backyardigans

Backyardigans

You can watch free full episodes on the Nick Jr. website, watch full seasons of episodes on Amazon Prime, do a YouTube search for “Backyardigans full episodes“, or buy DVDs on Amazon. Our kids have also enjoyed reading the many Backyardigans books.

13. Super Why

Even though this is really designed for more of a preschooler to school aged child, our toddler has still really enjoyed it. It does a wonderful job of teaching the basic concepts of reading using characters and problems that children can relate to. I also like the Super Why books and learning games available.

4-superwhy-group

Super Why

You can buy DVDs, like this Fairytale Double Feature for $8.29, or you can watch seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix (if you have a subscription), or watch it on PBS if you have a cable subscription. *PBS has some Super Why games too.

14. Wild Kratts

This is a great program for teaching children about animals. I love how it switches from the cartoon characters to real life characters and animals. There is also a nice set of corresponding Wild Kratts books.

Wild Kratts

Wild Kratts

You can buy DVDs, like this Wildest Animals Adventures 5 disc compilation for $23.69, watch seasons 1, 2, and 3 on Netflix (if you have a subscription), or watch a select amount of videos on PBS for free.

15. Little Einsteins

I love how each program incorporates famous artists and composers and uses them throughout the program as part of the storyline. The show is very engaging, moves at a nice pace, and provides a balanced amount of learning and entertainment. There are also many Little Einstein books to enjoy.

little einsteins

Little Einsteins

You can buy DVDs, like this 3-Pack of Favorite Adventures for $24.96, or you can watch seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix (if you have a subscription). You can also watch a select number of videos and play Little Einstein games on Disney Jr.

16. Dora

Both of our girls (and the boys somewhat too) have LOVED this program as toddlers! I love the way the show teaches sequencing with the beginning, middle, end concept of a story while teaching Spanish at the same time. I especially love how watching the show has made our girls LOVE reading Dora books.

dora

Dora the Exlplorer

You can watch free full episodes on the Nick Jr. website, you can buy Dora DVDs, like this Greatest Adventure’s DVD (with a run time of 198 minutes) for $7.99, or you can watch full episodes on YouTube if you search for “Dora full episodes“. We used to watch full episodes on Netflix, but they’re not there anymore. You can find them on Amazon Prime, however. Our kids also really like Dora in the City. There are also some great educational Dora apps.

17. Magic School Bus

This show really appeals to more of preschool to school age children and does a wonderful job of teaching scientific concepts in a fun and engaging storyline with the unpredictable Ms. Frizzle! There are also tons of Magic School Bus books (like this one about the solar system, this one about the human body, and this one about the dinosaurs), and that connect to the TV programs.

the-magic-school-bus

The Magic School Bus

You can buy the entire 52 episode collection on 8 discs for $35.99 here, or you can watch all four seasons on Netflix (if you have a subscription).

18. Sid the Science Kid

This program is great for younger children and does an amazing job teaching basic scientific concepts such as why we need to brush our teeth, how we grow, and simple machines. The simplicity and predictability of the program are engaging, and I love how it shows clips of real kids and gives you ideas of things you can do at home. We really like the Sid’s Science Fair app too.

sid-the-science-kid-logo

Sid the Science Kid

You can buy some episodes on Amazon, like this one about rainbows (for $5.99), this one about weather (for $4.99), or this movie (for $5.99) or you can watch episodes at PBS Kids.

19. The Amoeba Sisters

This is definitely for the older preschool child (up to an adult), and may not be engaging for all, but our son Elliot started watching this when he was 4 year old. He LOVES the cute little characters with word bubbles and he LOVES learning about the science of biology, so this has been perfect! I really like it too because it helps me to learn as well!

Amoeba Sisters

Amoeba Sisters

Go to their YouTube channel here. You can watch all of the videos in order on their playlist, and I highly recommend subscribing so that you can stay up to date with any new videos.

In Conclusion

I love having some simple shows for the kids to watch when I need them to be entertained and know that they are going to be learning and benefiting in some way. I know that some people feel that banning all technology and TV and screen time is a good idea, but that’s just not something that works in our family. By setting reasonable limits with screen time using routines, I feel like we have a very good balance in our household.

Check out more of my technology blogs here, or check out more of my nature blogs here to see how we engage our children with outdoor activities as well! You might also like my blog: My Favorite YouTube Playlists for Teaching Kids Ages 0-6.

My 10 Favorite Resources for Teaching the ABCs Embracing Motherhood

10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs

Learning the ABCs (letter names AND letter sounds) is the bedrock for learning how to read. While you can certainly do a lot with just YouTube videos and some homemade supplies, these are the resources that have helped our four children learn their ABCs really really well in a way that revolves around play.

While everything you’ll need to teach the letter names, letter sounds, and word associated with each letter is included in my ABC Kit at my Embracing Motherhood Shop, these resources have been fun, engaging, and loved.

1. Leapfrog Fridge Letters

If you could only buy one thing to help your child learn his or her letters, it should be these Leapfrog Letters!  All of our children have enjoyed playing with these letters, learning about letter names and sounds, spelling words, and listening to the sounds and songs that are played.

Leapfrog Fridge Phonics

Leapfrog Fridge Phonics

Below is a video of my daughter Ophelia at 21 months playing with her Leapfrog Fridge Phonics set, and also some wooden magnet letters (that I’ll talk about next).

2. ABC Foam Magnet Letters

I love these foam letters because they are durable, fun to handle, and I love there are multiple copies of each letter including upper and lowercase.

foam-abc-magnet-letters

Foam ABC Magnet Letters

You can get also these cute Melissa and Doug wooden letters, but I have had some problems with them peeling apart (especially after they’ve been thrown into the water table or toilet a time or two). I also like using a muffin tin like this for teaching my children how to spell three letter words.

My ABC Magnet Station

My ABC Magnet Station

3. ABC Bath Letters

The bath can be kind of boring without a few toys, so why not make it fun and educational with some bath letters? If you’re taking a bath with your little one, this can be a great time to talk about letter name and letter sounds.

ABC Bath Letters

ABC Bath Letters

You also might like this really great storage caddy to keep them organized and within easy reach during the bath.

4. Leapfrog ABC Toys

Pretty much all Leapfrog ABC toys are great, and this Leapfrog ABC Tablet has been a real favorite.

abc-tablet

Leapfrog ABC Tablet

I like looking for Leapfrog learning toys at garage sales and thrift stores, but you can also buy some new like this ABC Dinosaur, ABC dog, and Alphabet Zoo.

Below is a video of Ophelia playing with our Leapfrog tablet.

5. VTech ABC Toys

This company makes really great educational toys for small children, and this ABC Apple is something that all of our kids fight over.

abc-apple

VTech ABC Apple

Some other great looking VTech toys are the ABC Bus, Spelling Station, and Write and Learn Creative Center.

6. Preschool Prep Videos

Meet the Letters and Meet the Phonics – Letter Sounds will cover everything your child needs to know about letter names and letter sounds in a very fun and engaging way.

preschool-prep-letter-names

Meet the Letters

preschool-prep-letter-sounds

Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds

You might also enjoy getting the entire boxed set which has everything your child will need to know about letter names, letter sounds, digraphs, blends, numbers, shapes, colors, and sight words.

7. ABC Puzzles

Puzzles are a great way for toddlers and young children to explore the alphabet in a tactile manner. I really like this Melissa and Doug ABC puzzle because the pegs make it really easy to handle each letter, and I like the pictures associated with each letter too.

Melissa and Doug ABC Puzzle

Melissa and Doug ABC Puzzle

This stand up wooden puzzle and this flat wooden puzzle with upper and lowercase letters are great ABC puzzles too. When your child is ready for a more complex puzzle, I love floor puzzles like this giant Eric Carle ABC Floor Puzzle. We also love using our matching pairs puzzle.

abc-matching-pairs-puzzle

ABC Matching Pairs Puzzle

8. ABC Rug

If you have the space for it (and the money), this rug has been one of my favorite purchases ever. The kids love running in circles around it saying the letters, and the solar system in the middle is another great teaching tool.

abc-rug

ABC Rug

At 5’4″ x 7’8″, this rectangular rug fits in our homeschool room perfectly, but you can also get a 7’8″ x 10’9″ rectangular rug, a 5’4″ x 7’8″ oval or 7’8″ x 10’9″ oval rug as well. This ABC rug looks really cute too.

 

9. ABC Posters

All of my kids have loved learning their sign language ABCs, and this ABC sign language poster is a great addition to any room. Check out this great sign language ABC video, and this one, and this one too.

abc-sign-language-poster

ABC Sign Language Poster

I like having handwriting posters up as well. Here’s the one I like for print, and here’s the one I like for cursive. This ABC “poster” (pictured below) is really cool because each letter is actually a sticker which allows you to get creative about where you put it.

ABC Bulletin Board

ABC Bulletin Board

For a more interactive poster, I love using my wall hanging pocket chart with these beginning sound cards. There are many other cards you can get from Smethport that are useful for teaching other skills as well.

10. Robot Letters

These ABC robot letters from Lakeshore Learning have been an absolute favorite with our son Elliot. He has always loved transformers and robots, and these were great for helping him to learn about his letters. We got these for him for his 3rd birthday, and at that time, we had to help him transform the robots. When he was about 4, he was able to transform them on his own.

alphabet-robots

ABC Robot Letters

Lakeshore Learning has so many amazing and wonderful things, like these alphabet tubs for learning letter sounds, this alphabet maze, these learning locks, and so, so much more!

alphabet-tubs

Letter Sound Alphabet Tubs

*Starfall

Okay, so this is really #11, but it is the most amazing resource I have ever come across. Now, you will need a computer, ipad or iphone to access the Starfall website or app, but it is an absolutely amazing resource for teaching children the ABCs and so much more.

Starfall abc

Starfall ABCs

People have asked me what I think of other programs such as ABC Mouse, Always Ice Cream, and Clever Dragons, and nothing I have seen or used holds a candle to what Starfall provides. You can play the ABC portion on the website for free, or you can get a home membership for $35/year. You can use your phone, ipad mini, or regular ipad to play the ABC app (for free) which is very easy for little ones to use with the touch screen. *Here’s a video of me using Starfall Math with our son Elliot.

*If you’re looking for more great apps for preschoolers, check out my blog here: Best Teaching Apps for Young Children (Ages 0-6).

In Conclusion

Of course, I want you to get my ABC kit with flashcards, book, mini cards, poster, video, and teaching tips booklet to teach your little one the ABCs found at my Embracing Motherhood Shop, but these additional resources that I’ve gone over here are things that my children have enjoyed as I have created an environment conducive to learning and have made their learning experiences seem effortless and fun.

Buying a New Computer Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

If you’re in the market for a new laptop or home computer, check out these recommendations from our resident computer guy!

By: Guest Blogger Scott Maaser

scott

Scott “The Computer Guy”

Bio: Not only does my husband fix computers for a living by day, but he writes code for desktop apps in a few different programming languages by night. He is also the resident computer guy in both of our families and circle of friends. He pretty much lives, eats, and breathes computers, and so when I saw this website recommending “great deals on computers for homeschool families”, I naturally showed him wondering if it really was a good deal. He laughed, and explained how buying a new computer these days shouldn’t be an expensive ordeal, and how “deals” like these aren’t really deals at all . I asked him to write me a post explaining his answer in more more detail, and here it is, from our resident computer guy!

Buying a New Computer Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

School is back in session, and that means back to school shopping. Pens, notebooks, backpacks – everyone knows how to shop for those items, but when it comes to computers, sometimes the amount of options and features can be overwhelming. Where do people go to get recommendations for computers? Most people I know go into a big-box store like Best Buy, but stores like that have to cover a lot of overhead and aren’t really looking out for your best interests.

Who Am I?

I’d like to take a quick break here and talk a little about myself and my experience. I’ve worked at Best Buy in the past, and I’m currently working as a Client Technology Technician, which is just a fancy way of saying I just fix computers at a large company. I’m fixing laptops day in and day out – both in the workplace and with my co-worker’s computers. I’ve been doing work like this on and off for the last 20 years.

What They’re Really Selling You

My wife just sent me a link to this website which advertises discounted laptops for homeschoolers. I looked through what they offered, and I noticed a couple of things. First of all, I saw a few models of the laptops they offered as ones I had worked on 4-5 years ago. Looking at their pricing, I didn’t really see how their price points offered any kind of noticeable discount. I know they do include a 4 year warranty, laptop bag, and 8GB flash drive, but not everyone wants to purchase all those add-ons. They also offer a slight discount on Microsoft Office at $118 (more on this later).

If you take a look at their Lenovo T400 at $250, for example, I noticed that it came out in 2010 and really does not have the specs to compete with modern processors and memory technology. In fact, Amazon currently has T400s selling at $118.49 (this includes shipping).

So look, all this aside, I know there are some really good laptops (and desktop computers) out these days that come with a manufacturer’s 1-year warranty, have modern technology, and cost significantly less than the computers you can get from big-box stores and most online retailers.

My Laptop Recommendation

Lenovo 100s with Windows 10 ($210) – I have been using Lenovo laptops and ThinkPad laptops for over a decade. They hold up the best over time and have had the least number of issues during normal wear and tear. This version of the 100s has double the standard storage space with 64GB of solid-state storage. This model also comes with a full version of Windows 10 which means it’s ready to handle pretty much any kind of educational software and web browsing you can find to supplement education.

My Desktop Recommendation

Azulle Mini Desktop PC with Windows 10 ($169, or bundled with keyboard and camera for $255) – With 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and a modern Intel Atom processor, it will handle any basic task you throw at it. You will be able to hook this up to your TV and watch Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, or anything else. It also has VGA video output, so you can connect it to most computer monitors.

If you are looking for a monitor, this ViewSonic 22 inch monitor ($99) can really bring your computing experience into vivid existence. ViewSonic has been in the monitor business for decades, and this display really showcases some of their best efforts. It comes with DVI and VGA ports, which allows it to not only connect to most computers, but also can scale up to Full HD 1080p resolution. It even has built in speakers so you can experience stereo sound right on your desktop without purchasing additional speakers.

The Azul Mini Desktop Computer can stand alone as it’s own system and will allow you to install Microsoft Office or any other variant of free Office alternatives. As a teacher or student (yes, even homeschool), you can get Microsoft Office for FREE (along with 1 TB of online storage). If you don’t want to go that route, here are your other purchasing options: purchase it for a one time fee of $149 (1 installation), pay $9.99/mo. (or $99/yr.) for up to 5 installations or $6.99/mo. (or $69.99/yr.) for 1 installation.

It also has 3 USB ports, which means it will not only handle a standard set of USB keyboard and mouse, but it also has one more port in case you want to hook up a USB external Hard Drive ($54.99) for extra storage.

Other Extras

Flash DriveThis device hold 32 GB, which is enough to move anything you need to move from one device to another. Speaking of devices, this has connections for both full sized USB, like on your computers, as well as micro USB, to connect to Android and Windows smartphones. This allows you to copy things to and from your phone or tablet to your computer – super handy. Also, at only $11.99, this is a great price for 32 GB of flash storage.

Keyboard/MouseAt just under $20, this wireless keyboard and mouse combo is a great buy. It’s made by Logitech, which is the industry leader in keyboards and mice. Plus, it’s wireless so installation is simple. Wireless peripherals have come a long way in terms of battery life. I use a wireless Logitech keyboard and mouse at work, and I usually need to change out the single AA battery in the mouse and the 2 AA batteries in the keyboard about once a year. Plus, the wireless feature means less wires coming in and out of your computer.

Printer: We have gone through many many printers, and finally settled on the Epson WorkForce Pro because it was reviewed to be the best quality and most cost effective printer for a small business, and with the amount of printing that we do, this has provided both quality and quantity, but not without hassles. It can’t handle thick card stock, we have dealt with many paper jams, and the ink is pricy, but overall, we have been quite happy. If we had to purchase a new printer today, however, we might take a look at some of these models.

In Conclusion

All in all, getting a new computer that can help you move your home computing experience into some newer, faster technology shouldn’t break the bank. Feel free to leave a comment (or send an email) if you have any questions about anything, and I will be happy to answer them!

Embracing Motherhood Chicken Soup Recipe

Healing Chicken Soup Recipe

This is just your basic chicken soup recipe, but when each component is carefully prepared from the roasting of the chicken, to the making of the stock, to the preparation and addition of other ingredients like the soaked barley, it is truly a masterpiece. I like to make some sort of soup every other week or so (especially during the cold months) because it makes a great “go to” lunch, dinner, breakfast, or snack. Whenever I am too busy to prepare a meal or feel hungry and tempted to eat a pile of cookies or go to McDonalds, I just put my soup on the stove and minutes later I have a nice, delicious, healthy, and nourishing meal.

Ingredients

  • Roasted Chicken (Cut into bite sized pieces. Usually when I make a roasted chicken, we are able to make one meal out of just eating the meat and what’s left over gets put into the soup.)
  • 4 Quarts of Chicken Stock (Check out how I make my simple bone broth here.)
  • 2 c. Soaked Barley (You could also use soaked rice or soaked beans, but barley is the healthiest choice.)
  • 2 c. Chopped Carrots
  • 2. c. Chopped Celery
  • 4 T. Real Salt (I buy my Real Salt in bulk here, you can buy a shaker here, or a refill pouch here.)
  • Optional: 1 c. Chopped Leeks, 1 c. Chopped Bok Choy, or whatever else is leftover in your fridge that could be chopped up and sounds like it would be good in soup (broccoli, potatoes, zucchini, green beans, etc.)!

Directions

  1. Bake the chicken. Check out my roasted chicken recipe here, but basically, you’re going to season your chicken and bake at 350° F for 1.5 hours.

    roast chicken

    Roast Chicken

  2. Cut it up. Let the chicken cool, cut it off the bone, and leave to soak in it’s own juices.
  3. Make your bone broth. Read more about making bone broth here, but basically, you’re going to low boil your bones, skin, etc. with cold filtered water and a dash of apple cider vinegar (to draw out the minerals) for 24-36 hours (or at least overnight). Then, drain the broth and use it for your stock.

    straining the broth

    Straining the Bone Broth

  4. Low boil and add the chicken. Bring the chicken broth to a low boil. As it’s heating up, add the chicken. If it looks like there is too much broth, drain some off and either freeze it or save it for later. (I like setting some broth aside and adding it later to make my soup last longer!)
  5. Add the veggies. Depending on how big of a pot you’re making and how long you think it will last, keep that in mind when you cook your veggies. Carrots and celery tend to take longer to cook, so I like to add them first. If I’m adding bok choy, leeks, and parsley, I’ll wait to add them to the end and not cook them for very long so that they don’t get soggy.

    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

  6. Add your starch. You can add your pre-soaked barley, some rice, or even beans too (garbanzo and white beans are my favorites). Sometimes, I like to hold off on the starch and just leave the meat and veggies, and sometimes, I like to cook a pot of rice and pour my soup over it. Yum!

    chicken soup over rice

    Chicken Soup Over Rice

  7. Salt to taste. Yes, you can over salt your soup, and I have done it many times! Start out with some, then add a little more and a little more until it tastes just right.
  8. Enjoy! When everything is just right, get out your bowls and enjoy some soup! It’s also really good to serve some piping hot sourdough muffins with this meal.

    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

In Conclusion

Chicken soup make with organic, pasture raised chickens using properly prepared broth and grains is just about one of the healthiest meals you can eat. I love making a pot whether it’s summer or winter for a nourishing go to meal that can last my family through the week. Read more of my soup recipes here or my chicken recipes here.

How to Make the Best Roasted Chicken

How to Make the Best Roasted Chicken

This is a very basic recipe for roasted chicken, but sometimes the best meals stem from simplicity. I like to make a roasted chicken about once a week. My kids love eating it cut up into bite size chunks when it’s fresh out of the oven, and my husband always gets first dibs on the legs! After I pick all of the meat off, I’ll boil the bones to make chicken stock and the extra chicken will either go into a pot of soup, or I’ll use it for some other meal.

Ingredients

  • One Whole Chicken (Organic and pastured is best, look for a local farmer, or check it our here)
  • 1 Stick of Butter (Pastured butter like Kerrygold is the best.)
  • 1 t. Real Salt (I buy my Real Salt in bulk here. You can buy a shaker here, or a refill pouch here.)
  • 1 t. Pepper (Buy it here.)
  • 1 t. Ground Oregano (I buy mine here or you can buy it here.)
  • 1 t. Ground Basil (I buy mine here or you can buy it here.)
  • 1 t. Garlic Powder (I buy mine here or you can buy it here or here.)
  • 1 t. Onion Powder (I buy mine here or you can buy it here.)

Directions

  1. Thaw the chicken. If the chicken is frozen, try to remember to put it in the fridge for a day or two until it thaws out. If you’re in a pinch, fill the sink up with warm water and let it soak for an hour. (Don’t try to cook the chicken frozen.)
  2. Get the oven ready. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  3. Prepare the chicken. Once the chicken is thawed, pull out the giblets and give them to your cat/dog, rinse with cold water, pat dry with a paper towel, and place in a roasting pan. (I like using a glass pan).
  4. Season. Sprinkle the seasonings generously all over the chicken, especially inside the cavity. I actually never measure my seasonings, I just try to coat the chicken evenly.
  5. Butter. Put the stick of butter inside the cavity of the chicken. (You could also rub some of the butter into the skin of the chicken. Just do it before you add the seasonings.) *Butter is not to be feared as we have so previously and erroneously thought. Read more here.)

    raw chicken with seasonings stuffed with butter in glass pan ready to be cooked

    Seasoned Whole Chicken Ready to be Cooked

  6. Bake. Bake at 350˚F for 1½ hours.

    roast chicken

    Roasted Chicken

  7. Let cool. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before cutting. (This gives the juices a chance to settle in.) If you notice that the juice is really pink or that the chicken is still pink, cook for another 20 minutes and check again. If you’re the type who likes to check the internal temperature, it should read 165˚F.
  8. Cut into pieces. Peal the skin back and cut horizontal lines in the breast followed by vertical lines. Then cut down at an angle until you get big chunks of breast meat falling off the bone.

    pre-cut chicken breast on a cooked roasted chicken in a glass pan

    Pre-Cut Chicken Breast from a Roasted Chicken

  9. Soak the meat in the juice. Let these chunks of meat soak in the juice of the chicken. Cut the rest of the meat off the bones as much as possible. (To remove the chicken legs, find where the two bones connect and gently saw through the cartilage.) Leave the legs and wings intact if it suits your fancy. Let all of the meat soak in the juice, sprinkle with a fresh bit of salt, and serve! *My chicken legs never make it past my husband; they’re his favorite! 🙂

    roasted chicken breast meat cut up and soaking in juices legs cut off

    Roasted Chicken Meat Cut and Ready to Serve

  10. Save the scraps. Save the bones, skin, and all other remnants to make a healing chicken broth and/or use the chicken (and all of the juice of course) to make some delicious chicken soup!

Variations:

You can use any combination of the following variations. Try a few things out. See what you like and don’t like. Get creative and try something new!

  • Cut a lemon in half, gently squeeze both halves into the cavity of the chicken, and place both halves in there as well.
  • Peel some garlic cloves (about 4-6 nice sized ones) and place them in the cavity of the chicken.
  • Use rosemary, salt, and pepper only.
  • Chop up some big chunks of onion and place them around the chicken.
  • Cut up some potatoes (or leave them whole) and place them around the chicken.
  • Cut up some carrots and celery into big chunks and place them around the chicken.
Embracing Motherhood How to Make Bone Broth

How to Make a Nourishing Chicken Bone Broth

Making a good chicken bone broth (or chicken stock as it is also called) is one of the simplest and most nourishing things you can make. You can use it immediately to make some chicken soup, put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it to use later, freeze it in ice cube trays to have little bursts of “bullion” to use whenever you need it, or you can simply sip a nice hot mug of it instead of coffee or as a snack/meal replacement.

Health Benefits of Chicken Broth

I love making soup of any kind because it provides a nice complete meal that can feed my family at a moment’s notice for the week, but I especially like making any kind of soup with chicken bone broth because it is pretty much the most healing and most nutritious food there is.

Chicken bone broth is easy to both digest and metabolize (two things that are very different yet people think are the same…I’ll be exploring this in more depth at a later time). This makes it perfect the perfect food when you are trying to heal from any chronic illness or are sick with the flu or the common cold.

During digestion, the gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid that attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, which helps to support proper digestion. In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon also states that chicken soup,

“Has a natural ingredient which feeds, repairs and calms the mucous lining in the small intestine. This inner lining is the beginning or ending of the nervous system. It is easily pulled away from the intestine through too many laxatives, too many additives…and parasites.”

Chicken broth also contains valuable minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur chondroitin, glucosamine, and a variety of trace minerals that are in a form your body can easily absorb. When your body is healing, you NEED these nutrients from nutrient dense food to heal.

Another cool thing about bone broth is that because of the anti-inflammatory acids such as arginine, it helps to inhibit infection caused by cold and flu viruses. In her article, Broth is Beautiful, Sally Fallon explains,

“Science validates what our grandmothers knew. Rich homemade chicken broths help cure colds. Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons–stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.”

My Recipe

Ok, so are you ready to make some broth? For such a simple meal, there sure are a lot of different recipes for bone broth. With four young children underfoot, I like to cook food that’s as nutritious as possible as simply as possible. This is why I don’t add anything (except apple cider vinegar, which helps to draw out the minerals) to my bone broth. You can surely get creative and add whatever you’d like, but if you’re looking for simple, you’ve come to the right place!

Ingredients

  • One Whole Roasted Chicken (Preferably organic and pastured, the stock will not gel properly with a battery-raised chicken.)
  • One Large Pot
  • Cold Filtered Water
  • 1 T Apple Cider Vinegar (This pulls the minerals, especially calcium, out of the chicken bones.)
  • Optional: Carrot tops and pieces, celery stalks and leaves, onion skins and onion, parsley, and salt (I usually don’t add any of these ingredients except the salt, and I wait to add that at then end so that I can salt it to my taste preference. If you’re going to add parsley, wait until the very end.)
  • Advanced: Chicken feet (Provides a more gelatinous broth.)

Directions

  1. Roast your chicken. You can read more about my roasted chicken here, but basically, I stuff mine with a stick of butter and season with salt, pepper, and onion powder and bake at 350° F for 1.5 hours.

    roast chicken

    Roast Chicken

  2. Pick off the meat. I like to cut my breasts into cubes before cutting off the bone. Then I methodically pick off all usable pieces of meat, cut into bite size pieces, leave all pieces to soak (Don’t you dare waste the drippings!) in the remaining chicken juice, cover, and store in the refrigerator until the next day.

    Pick the Meat Off the Bones

    Pick the Meat Off the Bones

  3. Save all skin, bones, and other parts. I do typically discard the giblets (unless my cats want to eat them), but other than that, every last little scrap goes into my pot including the carcass, bones, skin, and any other little tidbits. I also like to leave just a titch of meat on the bones for extra flavor.

    Save ALL of Your Chicken Scraps

    Save ALL of Your Chicken Scraps

  4. Cover with water. After filling the pot with your chicken scraps, fill to just about the brim with cold filtered water.

    Chicken Bits Covered with Water

    Chicken Bits Covered with Water

  5. Apple cider vinegar. You have to be careful that you don’t add too much or you will really taste it. You might want to start with just a teaspoon and adjust to taste. Even though 2 tablespoons would be most effective, I usually only add about a teaspoon because that’s the flavor I like.
  6. Slow boil. Bring the water to a slow boil and skim any scum that comes to the top. (These are impurities.)
  7. Cover and simmer. Cover and reduce to a low rolling boil. (On my stove, this usually hovers around a 2 or 3.) Ideally, you’ll want it to simmer for a good 24-36 hours for the maximum benefit, but at the very least, just let it simmer overnight.

    bone broth cooling

    Bone Broth Cooling

  8. Cool and strain. Turn off the burner, let it cool, then strain into a separate bowl through a colander. You’ll notice that the bones will be soft and break apart easily. Do not feed them to any animals, it will tear up their insides.

    straining the broth

    Straining the Broth

  9. Enjoy! Time to put your broth to use.
    • Chicken Soup: Add some chicken, celery, carrots, and soaked barely to make a simple chicken soup.

      Chicken Soup Bowl

      Chicken Soup

    • Egg Drop Soup: Bring it to a boil, add some Bragg Liquid Aminos, Sriracha, and eggs to make an egg drop soup to die for.

      egg drop soup

      Egg Drop Soup

    • Store in the Freezer: Store your stock in Ziploc bags in the freezer. (Just be sure to lay them flat instead of plopping them on a rack where they will freeze while seeping through the cracks and then rip open when you try to take it out later….um, personal experience!)
    • Freeze into Cubes: Freeze in ice cube trays to save for smaller size portions to use instead of those MSG laden “bullion cubes”.
    • Sip It: Pour into a mug to sip on. Sometimes, I like adding some Bragg Liquid Aminos and Sriracha for a spicy oriental flavor!

      Bone Broth in a Mug

      Bone Broth in a Mug

In Conclusion

If there is one food that you could add to your family’s meal plan that would make the most difference, I would say that bone broth is in the top ten for sure! If you’re not much of a cook, don’t worry! You can hardly get this recipe wrong! If you are, there are certainly a lot of variations you could try to make this a gourmet dish. As we enter another cold winter season full of viruses, I’m sure that I’ll be finding ways to incorporate this bone broth into our diets on a regular basis.

See more ideas for what to make with this broth in my soup section.

4 Ingredient Slime Putty

silly putty colors

Slime Putty Colors

We are always looking for quick and easy art projects, and this one fit the bill! Ruby actually found this recipe on YouTube Kids, and we just so happened so have all of the ingredients to make it laying around! This recipe was an instant hit with the kids, and after playing with the first batch, they wanted to make a variety of colors. This was quick and easy to make and the kids have really enjoyed playing with it…which is a win, win, win!

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Dump out the glue into the bowl. Tip those bottles upside down and get out as much glue as you can!

    elliot adding glue to make slime putty

    Elliot Dumping Out Glue

  2. Mix in the food coloring. Start with a few drops, stir, and then add more as needed to achieve your desired color.

    elliot adding food coloring to make slime putty

    Adding the Food Coloring

  3. Make the borax mixture. Fill up a cup with warm/hot water and mix in about a teaspoon of borax. Let it sit/stir it until it dissolves.

    mixing borax and water for making slime putty

    Mixing Borax and Water

  4. Add the borax mixture to the glue. *This part is really tricky and very easy to mess up! If you add too much of the borax mixture, it will turn to a hard blob, if you don’t add enough, it will stick to your hands.
    adding borax mixture to glue to make slime putty

    Adding Borax Mixture to Glue

    You want to add just a little bit, stir, stir, stir, add a bit more, stir some more, mix with your fingers (about 2 minutes), then only add more if it’s still sticky. Trust me, add less than you think you’ll need and you’ll be just fine.

    mixing slime putty mixture by hand

    Mix it By Hand

  5. Final Slime Putty: The consistency should be soft and stretchy, but not sticky. (Although, if you do what Elliot is doing below, pieces WILL get stuck in your hair, and watch out, because this stuff can get stuck in carpet and on clothes too if you’re not careful!)

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty on His Head

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty

  6. Play with your goo! Stretch it, pull it, roll it, and have fun! Store it in a ziploc bag when you are done so that it won’t dry out.
    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty with a Rolling Pin

    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty

    *Now that you’ve got your Borax out, you might want to whip up a batch of some homemade laundry detergent!

13 Tips for Creating Your Own Website with Blog

13 Steps for Creating Your Own Website

While there are a lot of companies out there that can create a website for you (like my sister Andrea at Curly Host), there are many benefits of creating your website yourself…especially if you don’t have much of a budget. Yes, it is quite a bit of work at first, but by creating your own website, you’ll be able to test out a variety of ideas, customize everything to your specific needs, and manage updates according to your schedule.

I’m not claiming to be the guru of all areas of web development here, but I have learned A LOT about what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to creating my own website. I started out just wanting a platform to blog about motherhood with a specific vision for my organization, and now I’m actually making some money with Amazon Associates and with my Embracing Motherhood Shop.

So without further adieu, here are my 13 steps for starting your own website.

1. Brainstorm Ideas

Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just start creating a mind map of all words that you would use to describe your website. (You could also use a mind mapping application like this.) Don’t worry about organizing your ideas at this point, just free associate the first words that pop into your brain when you think of your website.

For me, my initial brainstorming web included words like: pregnancy, birth, natural birth, healthy food, nutrition, recipes, food science, fitness, teaching, parenting, lesson ideas, homeschool, young children, stay at home mom, and so on.

2. Find Your Niche

Once you have a broad idea of where you’d like to go, find some other websites or blogs out there that are covering the topics that you are hoping to explore. I enjoyed finding several mothering, nutrition, and education websites and following them on social media to get their latest content. I would read their latest blogs, peruse their sites, notice things that I liked and didn’t, and thought about how I would try to define myself in my own way.

You will be constantly honing your writing style and finding your voice as you write. It is not something that will happen overnight. If you look at some of the earlier blogs I’ve written (mainly about health and nutrition), you’ll notice that my voice and style are different than they are now. Once I started getting an audience, getting feedback from others, and seeing my content live, I was able to see what things were working better than others. I learned how to create a certain flow that people could skim and scan through by adding quotes, headlines, lists, numbers, bolded and italicized text, and images so that a reader could get the general idea without reading every word.

3. Come Up With a Name

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas and done your research, it’s time to start thinking about a name. Same as the original brainstorming session, get a piece of paper and a pencil and just start writing down every possible name you can think of, no matter how crazy or silly, just get it out there. I think it’s a good idea for your name to be a pretty obvious representation of what you want to write about, but you can just go ahead and make up a new word too. Basically, you’re looking for something short, simple, easy to share with someone verbally, and something that has a nice ring to it.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few favorite names, start doing a Google search to see what comes up. After I had my heart set on Embracing Motherhood, I discovered that the domain name embracingmotherhood.com was only available if I wanted to spend $4,888 so I did what you really shouldn’t do, I used a hyphen…embracing-motherhood.com.

LeanDomainSearch is a great way to brainstorm ideas with available domain names. Once you have a name you think you’d like, run it through Domainr to see if it’s available. Also check out social media platforms like FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter to see if your name is already being used. *Check out some more great tips for coming up with a name here and here.

4. Purchase Your Domain and Hosting

Now, because my sister is helping me out, she helped me buy my domain name and does my hosting for me. She uses a company called BlueHost. This company is great, and I would recommend going with the plus package that gives you unlimited storage and will run you $5.95/mo. When you sign up for hosting, it will walk you through registering your domain name as well (for free). For an extra $2.99/mo. you can get Site Backup Pro that automatically creates a daily backup copy of your entire site. If you’re creating a lot of content, this is a good idea.

5. Design a Logo

This might be something that you want to save for later, but I enjoyed getting mine done early on. My sister Andrea knows a freelance artist who helped me design my logo, but there are many different logo makers online. This one is pretty good and will cost you from $20-$100 and this one is pretty great too and will only cost you $39. (Beware, many sites that claim “free logo design” will actually make you pay for the high-res image.)

As you pick a logo, keep your color scheme in mind. Because I was wearing a purple shirt in the profile picture I chose, I ended up using purple for my main color. Then I used green as my accent and went with a rainbow pattern of colors because I like rainbows! I hope to keep working on my design in the future, but right now I’m more focused on content. 🙂

6. WordPress

I recommend going with WordPress.org over WordPress.com. Once you secure your domain and hosting, you can download WordPress and get started. They have some free themes ready to go, but after checking out many many different themes, my sister highly recommended going with Enfold for $59. This is what I use, and I love it! Everything is drag and drop and there is a great online support forum. (Just log in with your WordPress info and search for your question or write a new one. I have used this many times, and always gotten excellent support.)

If you go with WordPress.com, it is free and a one stop shop for your basic blog, but only if you plan on hosting less than 3 GB of data ($99/year for unlimited data) and you’re not allowed to connect to affiliate’s programs like Amazon Associates and have very little options in terms of design.

There are two ways you can get familiar with WordPress. You can just dive in (like I did), and look online when you have questions (just do a very specific Google search). Or, you can check out this WordPress for Beginners Blog or watch this great tutorial series to learn everything you’ll need to know before or while you’re playing around with your own site.

*You can also check out Squarespace (7 pages for $12/month), Webflow (20 pages for $20/month), Weebly ($8/mo. for unlimited pages or free with limited services), or a free blogging platform like Tumblr or Blogger.

7. Customizing

Once you get your theme, you’ll want to customize it to work for you. This part can seem really overwhelming and is probably where you’ll need to do the most amount of learning/research, so you might want to skip this step and come back to this later.

  1. Hide Your Site: As you’re building your site, you might want to hide it from search engines. To do this, go to the “Settings” option on the left toolbar, select “Reading”, and the click on the box that says, “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”. You might also want to install a plug-in like this that will give a “Coming Soon” message.
  2. Theme Options: On the left toolbar, you’ll see a gear shaped icon with the name of your site. You will want to go here first and click on every option to set things up and get familiar with what you can do. When I was learning about WordPress, I spent a lot of time here changing one thing at a time, looking at things live (on the top toolbar, click on your site name with the home icon, and click “Visit Site”), and tweaking it until I liked what I had. This is where you’ll add your logo, set up your social media icons.
  3. Widgets: On the left toolbar, under “Appearance”, you’ll find “Widgets” (along with themes, menu, etc.). Widgets are a great way to customize the look of your blog. For my sidebar widget, I have a search tool, my picture, my affiliate’s disclosure, a subscribe widget, popular posts, and recent posts. In my footer widgets, I have four columns for my social media profiles.
  4. Plug-ins: Whenever you want to add something specific to your site, there’s a plug-in for that. Just like with everything else, you’ll want to play around with different plug-ins to see what you like/don’t like. *Now, don’t get crazy with the plug-ins, sometimes they can be the reason your site starts acting crazy, and you’ll have to deactivate them one at a time to figure out the problem. Here are the plug-ins I love:
    1. Askimet: Stops spam
    2. Broken Link Checker: Tells you on your dashboard page where all of your broken links are
    3. Pinterest Pin It Button: I always pin my own articles and have gotten a lot of hits this way.
    4. Print Friendly and PDF: Provides a button that allows users to easily print your blogs.
    5. Stop Spammers Spam Control: Prevents spammers from leaving comments
    6. Woocommerce: What I used to build my Embracing Motherhood Shop

7. Organizing

If you’re like me, you’ll want to have a framework of organization for your content before getting started. It’s a bit time consuming to do this on the front end, and so you may just want to write 20-30 blogs or build your content before you worry about organization, but then you’ll have to go back to each blog to add categories, etc. So, here’s what I recommend, but as with everything, you have to do what works for you.

  1. Create Pages: You’ll first of all want a home page (some people like their blog to be their home page, but not me, it feels too random). Then create pages for all of your main ideas and link them to your home page. (Mine are: Home, All Blogs, Parenting, Teaching, Mom Talk, Health, How To, Guest Bloggers, Etsy, and Shop) Start by using the “Advanced Layout Editor” to create a “Page Template”. Basically, everything needs to be in a layout box, then you can put a “Text Box” (under “Content Elements”) inside of a layout box to create a header. Then, you can add a “Magazine” or “Blog Post” layout to put under that and it will automatically put all blogs with a matching category there. Watch this tutorial to learn more about creating pages.
  2. Create Categories: These are how you’ll organize your blogs. Under “Posts” on the left toolbar, select “Categories” and just create categories for all of your main ideas. You can also create subcategories by selecting a “Parent”, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this at first. Now, when you write your blogs, just select which category they belong in and you can sort them to the appropriate pages.
  3. Create a Menu: Now that you have your main pages, you can organize them into a menu. Under “Appearance”on the left toolbar, choose “Menu”. There, you can add what pages will be on your main menu.
  4. Write Some Content: Once you have a general layout, you can start writing some posts! It may take awhile to find your voice and your writing style, but don’t worry about that at first, just start getting some content out there so you can see how everything works together.

8. Adding Images

When I first started writing a blog, I was so sad that I couldn’t just do a Google image search and use whatever photos I wanted. 🙁 How easy would that be??? But thanks to Creative Commons, there are lots of free works available to use.

  1. Use Your Own Pictures: It can be so tempting to buy stock photos, but using pictures that you have taken gives your blog a much more personal touch, and it won’t cost you any money!
  2. Attribution: When you use someone else’s photo, even if it’s “Creative Commons”, you should give attribution according to the specifications of the image. If I use an image within my blog, I’ll put the attribution right under the photo saying something like: Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Pearson Scott Foresman, 2008. I’ll also link my photo to the original source. You can also credit the image source at the end of your blog. Here’s a good article with more information about giving image credits.
  3. Canva: Canva is a very simple photo editing program that allows you to custom design images with text. This is what I use to create my featured images for my blogs (845 x 321 pixels are the dimensions you want for a featured blog image with sidebar). I like it because there are suggested dimensions for a variety of social media and other outlets many basic templates available, simple tools for adding text, and basic tools for modifying your image. You can even search for a particular image and purchase it for $1.
  4. Photo Pin: Here, you can search millions of Creative Commons photos and easily add them to your blog posts. A photo attribution link is provided for each image.
  5. Flickr: Start by clicking on “Explore” and then search for the type of image you’re looking for. Look at the image description to see if it is “Creative Commons” or free to use, if so, attribute the image according to the author’s request.
  6. Wikimedia Commons: This is my favorite place to go for free photos when I need them…usually to place within my blog. Just search for what you’re looking for and make sure to attribute according to each photo’s request.
  7. Pixabay: This is a great place to search for free photos, and they don’t require any attribution!
  8. Shutterstock: If you are willing to pay for some really high quality images (usually $1-2), this is a HUGE resource.
  9. Pexels: Great stock photos and videos for free use.
  10. Vimeo: You can find free stock videos here.

9. Search Engine Optimization

You probably won’t be concerned with this at first, but if you can keep these tips in mind as you create content, then you won’t have to go back and rewrite everything. :).

  1. Write Good Content: This is kind of a no brainer, but if your writing is good, easy to follow, and useful, you’ll have a higher chance of people reading it, sharing it, and linking to it. The more popular a blog post is, the more likely it is to show up on a search engine.
  2. Make Your Topic Clear: Clever titles (and click bait titles) aren’t as useful as clear titles that emphasize the main idea of your blog post. Then, make sure to state the main idea of your post in the first sentence and repeat key words throughout.
  3. Alt-Text: When you upload photos, make sure they have an accurate name that describes the image (this can’t be added later), then set the alt text so that it spells out any text used in the picture as well as gives an accurate description of what the photo is. This helps webcrawlers to find your content in search engines more easily.
  4. Categories: If you group similar content based on content, category names are a great organization tool that recommends similar articles in your website.
  5. Tags: As you create tags for your posts, think of what people will type into their search engines. Also, include your categories.
  6. Link Building: The more people who link to your site, the higher search engine ranking you’ll get.
  7. Networking: By having guest bloggers, doing guest posts for other websites, and teaming up with others selling similar or complementary products/services you can increase your traffic as well.

*Read more about search engine optimization here.

10. Social Media

Social media is a great way to get your content out there and advertise your website.

  1. FaceBook: This is a great place to network and share your content.
  2. Twitter: Another great platform to share your content.
  3. Instagram: A visual platform to share your pictures associated with your website.
  4. Google Plus: Helps your content to show up in Google searches more often.
  5. Pinterest: A great way to get your content shared in a visual format.
  6. YouTube: Think about starting a YouTube channel to share your content.

11. Amazon Associates

If you are going to be linking to products that people can buy on Amazon, you’ll want to start an Amazon Associate’s account. Watch the tutorial here to learn about the program in more detail, but basically, you can earn a percentage (which starts out low, but gets higher when more items are purchased) when people click on your links and buy your recommended items. The really cool thing about this program is that if people search for and buy other items once they’ve entered Amazon via your site (even items you haven’t recommended), you’ll still earn a percentage. This is called a “third party sale”. *On a side note: the cost of the product remains the same as if the customer would just do a regular Amazon search.

Amazon approves accounts on a case by case basis, and you’ll need to get a certain amount of clicks on your links in order to remain in the program. You also have to make sure you clearly disclose your affiliation or they could terminate your account. (Check out my disclaimer here. I also have a disclaimer link on every blog.)

12. WooCommerce

Woocommerce is the best way to set up a shopping platform. It’s free, easy to set up, and easy to use. Once you install the plugin, it will walk you through the install. I recommend creating your own shop page so you can customize it, but if you don’t, it will automatically create one for you. Once everything is installed, all you have to do is set up your products. If you have any questions along the way, check out Woocommerce Docs.

Setting up shipping was the hardest thing for me. I tried setting up a variety of shipping options, and in the end just decided to include the cost of shipping in my product and offer free shipping on everything.

Another option if you’re looking to have all of the work done for you (calculating shipping, printing shipping labels, sending customers tracking information, etc.), you might want to consider opening an Etsy shop and linking to it on your website. The benefit of using Etsy is that it can provide a platform for you to share your product, but the downside is that it doesn’t offer as many options if you plan on growing. Check out my Etsy shop here, and feel free to copy my shipping policies, etc.

13. Nitty Gritty Stuff

  1. Cite Your Sources: This isn’t English 101 requiring MLA format, but be courteous and find a way to link to the sources that you can use. You can link to the name of the author and/or title of their work, link to some key words in your text, or have a link called “source” in parentheses at the end of the information you’re paraphrasing. If you’re citing something word for word, make sure you put it in quotes and thoroughly cite the source.
  2. Grammar Police: Think about what tense you want to write in (past, present, or future) and stick with it. Find a pattern for personal pronouns (“you” is informal, “one” is really formal, or you can stick with your experiences and just say “I” or “we”). When referring to gender pronouns, you can try to make the plural form work, alternate between he/she, or take turns with each gender.
  3. Policies and Disclaimers: You might not want to worry about this until later, but it’s good to cover your butt and have these thing covered. Check out my terms of use, disclaimer, privacy policy, comment policy, and more in my About Me section.
  4. Make Yourself Present: Find a good picture of yourself to post and have a place for a personal bio. People like to know who is creating the content.

In Conclusion

I’m not going to lie, having my sister as a web developer has definitely given me an edge as I’ve created my own website, but I hope that by offering these tips, I can help to give you that edge too. I certainly don’t know everything and have a long ways to go before I reach my final goals, but I hope that by sharing my experiences with creating a website, I can help others out there who were once starting out just like me. If you’ve got a budget, I highly recommend getting ahold of my sister Andrea at Curly Host, and she will not only set you up, but teach you how to manage your own cite along the way.

FREE 2016-2017 School Year Calendar Embracing Motherhood

FREE 2016-2017 School Year Calendar

If you’re looking for a “year at a glance” calendar for the 2016-2017 school year that you can display in one location, look no further!

When I was a teacher, I loved printing one of these out for every subject area, and using pens and different colored highlighters to see my year at a glance. This was really helpful for keeping me on track during the year to make sure I covered all of the necessary curriculum.

Now, as a parent with two children about to be in school, I love having this “year at a glance” calendar so that I can keep track of all major upcoming events in one central location.

Download the Year Long Calendar

2016-2017 Year Long Calendar PDF

Unfortunately, I can’t upload the Publisher file where I created it (in case you wanted to edit it), but if you email me, I can send it to you!

Desk Pad Calendar

In addition to having my year at a glance calendar, I also like using this desk pad calendar because it allows me to write down a lot of details, and it’s big enough for the kids to see it and read it. I like hanging mine on the wall right in the kitchen.

I like writing homework assignments, when library books are due, gym days, and any other important school information on this calendar.

In Conclusion

Staying organized on paper is pretty much the only way my brain can function. I love using OneNote for just about everything so that I stay organized on my phone, but there’s nothing like paper accountability that’s visible and right in your face!