Holiday Gift Ideas for the Indoor Techie Kid

Holiday Gift ideas

It is THAT time of year again. The time when I am wracking my brain to figure out what my J-man would love for Christmas that won’t gather dust two days after he opens it. Spoiler alert: J-man, if you are reading this, close my laptop RIGHT now.

Several years ago, when he was just two, we scored big with a Thomas set I bought second-hand from a friend and a few supplemented pieces. Immediately after seeing the set he lay down on the floor next to it and played for the next 14 hours straight. I am not even sure if he ate that day.

The Christmas of the Train. He stayed in that position until we made him change into new pjs and go to bed.

Since then, Christmas presents have been hit or miss. When gifts are too complicated or simplistic, they languish in the closet.  Your honors, I give you exhibit A:


chaos tower

The Chaos Tower was super cool, and J-man loved watching the ball travel through the entire mechanism, but all he did was watch. He was too intimidated by the number of pieces to take it apart and make his own configurations. It is so big and complicated that he can’t really put it together on his own. When put together, it pretty much dominates any room. We had no concept of the size and, really after J-man watches the ball go from one end of the set to another for awhile, he is looking for something else to do.

Unlike the Chaos Tower, Contraptions spark the imagination, can be done alone or with a partner, and can be changed easily. This toy was a definite hit.


He built that himself and he was about five or six in this picture. The key here is to find something he can do independently, but has more fun doing with a partner. He still gets out the Contraptions at eight. If we were looking at a cost per use figure, it would be pennies.

This year, we are keeping these lessons in mind when seeking that special gift for our buddy. J-man is hugely a techie kid, so if your kid likes all things computer and gadgety, this is the list for you!

****NOTE He will ABSOLUTELY not be getting these things. He is generally happiest with one big toy and  a few smaller things that he really loves. We do not believe in showering kids with loads of new toys that they won’t play with just so they can have something to open on Christmas morning.

  1. Let’s start this list big with the highest ticket item: Lego Mindstorm

This would be a huge reach for us, but he has been asking for it for two years and he is already in a Lego Robotics class. If we could pick up one on eBay, we would be done. It is pretty safe to say his mind would be blown.

Why we love them: This system builds on (see what I did there…builds on Lego? Builds…I crack myself up.) a kid’s experiences with Lego and Technics by adding a programmable robotic element. Here kids start to learn the fundamentals of coding with something that is tangible, not just a computer screen. J-man likes robotics like he likes oxygen, so if we can swing it, this would be a home run.

  1. Kano: Don’t just use a computer, build your own!


This is a new product to us, and we are really excited by it. This product allows kids to actually build their own computers. Kano is a pre-boxed set of computer components that kids put together to create their own laptop. Many STEM programs and often many of the Makerspaces we have attended seem to be about “exposing” kids to technology. The challenge with that is “exposure” just creates consumers of technology not creators of new technologies. Kano teaches kids how to make their own tech. Feeling the power to make their own cool things will hopefully become a feeling that kids want to nurture and repeat. Plus, a new computer!

  1. Little Bits

I know. I KNOW. I’ve talked about Little Bits before. But, folks, these things are great. I watched one of J-man’s friends introduced to one of these sets today and she was instantly obsessed. While we have a couple of sets, the Smart Home Kit gives ideas for practical uses of the little bits circuits.


  1. Ozobo: Cool, cool, cool!

Robots that you can make follow paths made by markers. different colors in different combinations act as codes, telling the tiny bots what to do. This is the kind of toy that would drive cats crazy! I am not sure about it’s longevity. While super, super cool, I am not sure how long children will really be enamored of this. While they can make the bots do hundreds of combinations movements, I am not sure that would be enough to keep them interested over time. However the price is relatively low enough, so it wouldn’t be soul crushing if it sat on the shelf after a couple of months.

So, these are some of the bigger things we are considering for our little tech guru. What techie tools are you considering for your future Silicon Valley star?




When You Can’t Call in a Sub-One Sick Homeschooling Mom

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For pretty much my entire life, I have been sick for the month of November. I get a hacking, horrible cough that leaves me pretty much incapable of doing anything. When I was in the classroom, I could call for a substitute. Now, there is no one to call.  I always thought it was because I have been around kids since I was in pre-school. I really thought that once I was at home with only my kid, I would avoid these fun little cold and flu bugs. Obviously no. That is not going to happen.

So when I woke up with a pounding sinus headache today, I am wondering what do homeschool moms do when they are down for the count?This is a short post. I am really hoping some of you experienced moms can help out.

So…here’s a thought. What will J-man do when if I get sick? The hubs is a full-time student with an almost full-time job outside the home, so I can’t expect him to take over for me. I know we will probably not be following a traditional school schedule., but what if something happens? What contingency plans do you guys have in place for when you are not at your best? This sickie mom wants to know!

3 Tips on How to Stay Sane While Moving and Homeschooling

3 Tips for Move
3 Ways to Homeschool During Your Move

Remember a couple of weeks back when we posted that we finished getting the homeschool area organized? Well…we found a house that we really like, and now we are moving all of those wonderfully organized materials to the new place. Moving is stressful even if you don’t depend on your home as your place of work, college course central, and homeschool. When your house has to be all things to all people all day, moving can get a bit overwhelming. If you are a homeschool family about to move, here are some of the suggestions I have to make the move go more smoothly

Purge, Purge, Purge

I know every article about moving emphasizes the importance of getting rid of things, but this time, I have found even greater use in getting rid of as much as I can. There are fewer boxes left in the living areas which allows us some normalization for a little longer. As soon as you find out you are moving start the purging. Don’t worry about packing yet. You are getting rid of stuff so that you don’t have to pack it.

What we purged:

  1. Furniture: This move required a serious purging mission as we are moving to a smaller house. We went      through the new house, taking measurements for current furniture, deciding a bit of our furniture would not be coming with us. We had a garage sale and sold some pieces on Craigslist. We got rid of two china cabinets, a small chest of drawers, a small desk, a side table, an arm-chair, and a night stand.
  2. Clothes: Anything you haven’t worn in a year or has a stain on it should go automatically. If you are holding on to something you loved when you were a different size, ask yourself if you would really wear it today, if you were that size again. Most of the time, if we are honest the answer is no. I got rid of two and a half garbage bags of clothes. Kids’ clothes that have been outgrown are a no brainer. Total clothes: about four garbage bags.
  3. Kitchen: We seem to accumulate tons of gadgets, cups, and knickknacks. If we haven’t used them in years, even if they were gifts from Aunt Lulu ten years ago, I got rid of them. Remember the goal is less to pack and less to unpack when you get to the new place. Take this opportunity to go through the canned food as well. If nobody has eaten the canned asparagus yet, they probably aren’t going to. Total kitchen: almost two boxes worth of glasses, mugs, and various unused items.
  4. Toys and kid stuff: J-man had a whole drawer full of coloring books that he didn’t even know were there. They went away and he didn’t notice.  Anything not played with in six months can make another child happy. We have an exception when it comes to Legos. Legos are sacred.
  5. Homeschool stuff: This is the hard one for us. He had about 20 books that were duplicates because we apparently need a book spreadsheet so the grandparents don’t buy the same ones or ones he already has. So those were out. We aren’t really giving anything else up here, but we went through these materials pretty thoroughly

Our total purge required four trips to goodwill, netted more than $500.00 in sales, and probably kept me from having to pack about 10 of the medium-sized boxes. This has kept the homeschool room free of boxes and clutter during the worst of the packing!

Stage 2:

Pack every other room first! My room, my living room and most of the kitchen are packed. Even his room has been packed up to some degree. We are leaving out several novels in which he is interested and all of the non-fiction sets until the night before we leave. Most of the non-fiction sets are in large baskets, so I’m just going to wrap them in plastic wrap, making unpacking the books we use the most that much easier.

So, at this point I’m a week out. The house is a mess and time is ticking away. This is not the time to be introducing new units or do multi-step projects. This week (and probably next week while unpacking) we will be utilizing the free three month trial at Gifted and Talented’s Red Bird Math, we will finish reading A Wrinkle in Time, and keeping up with our pen-pal correspondence. We will still go to our gymnastics and we will be getting ready for the homeschool co-op we have joined.

Stage 3: Moving Day and Unpacking

J-Man will be at his granny’s house during the day before and day of the move. During this time the priority for set up is the homeschool space and his room. I have ordered a number of paper brochures about Washington DC to arrive right about when we are moving in, to occupy him. While I am working on unpacking, I am going to have him start working on picking the must visit places when we visit DC in October. The fact that these brochures are coming in the mail, means that they will be new materials that he hasn’t seen and will probably garner more interest. The key here is to plan activities for next week that he can do semi-independently.

Moving at any time can be a dreaded chore, but with patience, planning, and effort it does not have to derail your homeschool. Have you moved while homeschooling, please share some of your tips with us!

Emergency Afternoon Dance Breaks And Other Homeschooling Joys.

So far I have shared all kinds of challenges we have faced in starting out on this homeschool journey. I don’t want to give the impression that it is all a challenge. We have a lot of awesome happening here! So much happened  that I am just so grateful to have experienced with my little man today. If I were working outside the home (believe me working moms, what our at home sisters say about the work is real), I would have missed so many moments. So here are a few really cool things that happen when you decide to homeschool.


1) I realized that I am not a terrible math teacher.

I totally rocked out some great math explanations and we showed Red Bird Mathematics who was boss this morning (after we got over ourselves about an initial mistake). We high-fived, we showed muscles. We may or may not have danced a little.

Since I was young I have believed that I was terrible at math. While we are only doing 2nd grade math right now, I was worried that I would not be good enough at explaining things to my buddy. I put that myth to bed today. I am an AWESOME 2nd grade math teacher, so far. If it sounds like I am bragging. I am. I am ridiculously proud of this.


2) Reading is done cuddled up on the couch.

My buddy and I love reading. He is like me in that he reads quickly and recursively. We started reading Roald Dahl’s, Matilda. Though we started the novel together, he has since gone on to read the whole thing (probably twice), but he still humors me when we talk about each chapter. We can’t make predictions, because he doesn’t want to spoil it for me. I love cuddling with him and reading because he is getting older and may not want to cuddle for longer. The best part was that he said we were the opposite of Matilda’s parents because we loved him and love to read.

3) Carschooling. It’s a thing, and it is cool.

We are in the car several times everyday whether we are on the way to the beach or gymnastics. As a long-time fan of podcasts and audiobooks, I had been used to listening to my favorites when I was in the car by myself, but now that I have my co-pilot with me most of the time, I have started looking around for some kids podcasts. We use the Podbay app and have been listening to Brains On! lately. The episode “Bright Lights, Big Sneezy” was one of our favorites so far.

It’s not that we talk about the actual episodes that much, but they make him question and remember other things he has learned and wants to share with me. It has a pretty good theme song that we like too.

We will be adding some audiobooks soon, too. We’re still debating what title to choose.

4) The Dance Break

So, I love the movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and the soundtrack is awesome. We have pretty much been listening to it non-stop for about two weeks. Today, when I Want You Back came on, we danced around laughing and spinning. He was reading, and I had been packing for our upcoming move, but we both stopped to have fun together and it was perfect.

These are the moments that I was so longing for when we made this major life change. Though I have no doubt that we will continue to have moments that are challenging along the way, we are finding our path with joy and love. You can’t ask for better than that.


FreshGrade a Digital Portfolio Tool Appropriated for Homeschooling

I have really been lucky with educational technology lately, and thought I would pass on some of these great resources to you.

For those of you that are not unschooling or who are required to document your child’s learning in an annual portfolio, Freshgrade, an app created for teachers might work for you. Check out the demo below.

How I am using this:

This is a screen shot of one of our portfolio entries. As you can see, we are still working on letter writing.
I have created a class with one very important student, J-man. He is my favorite! I signed up my husband as the parent, so that every time I update the portfolio, he gets a notification. It’s nice for him to get to have those little daily updates about the little buddy’s work.

As we work on different activities, I take a quick snap shot and write a caption. This way I don’t have to try to remember what we have done when I’m putting the portfolio together. So, while this is an app made for the traditional teacher, I am super stoked that I have this safety net to help me document all of our learning this year.

If you have more than one child, you can just add students to your “class”. You can view the portfolio as a whole class to get an overview on what you are doing over time, or you can view by student so that you can see what each individual child is doing.

This app is going to save me because as organized as I am trying to become, paper remains the bain of my existence and I just know these daily reminders of J-man’s work would not make it to his portfolio evaluation at the end of the year.

Do you have apps that help you in your homeschool? Are you appropriating something from traditional schools to use in your homeschool? Share those ideas here! I would love to learn what you are doing!