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?




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!

Managing Our New Homeschool Life

Brace yourselves, kids. This is a long one.

After fantasizing for months about getting to have the opportunity to be with J-Man every day and all of the cool things we would do, the time is finally here. If I am honest, the transition has been a little hard on me. My job was hyper busy. Each day I would leave work feeling like I had run a marathon. I was exhausted mentally and physically, and sometimes even emotionally.

Fast forward to August. I talked about this overwhelming feeling to do everything with several stay-at-home mom friends recently, and the consensus is that it is really easy to get seduced by the idea that there will always be time to do more. The reality is, that the days get away from us when we don’t plan. So while I have the freedom to do anything, maybe I need to develop the discipline to narrow the focus and finish what I start. So in the interest of trying to organize myself I am putting to use the planner that I bought at the end of the school year to use at work, but this time, it is for my new job as Momster the Super Mom.

I bought this planner from Erin Condren, and I have to say it is not cheap. However, there are few planners on the market that have the customability and versatility that her planners offer. The video is positively seductive. I was convinced that upon purchase, I was going to have a transformative experience where the angel of organization would visit me with a gold pen to write appointments. Never would I double or triple book myself again.

And…no angel or gold pen, but I was rocking it with a  pencil. Here is an example of a page from my last month at work. Notice I have appointments! I was (semi)organized! If you worked with me previously, we don’t need to go into the hairy details of what semi looked like!

planner may


Now I’m planning for a move to a new house, a hopefully really cool creative gig, J-man social and gym calendar and we are already booked up again! Sometimes, because of not keeping track, I have double booked the J-Man for social engagements for the same day, not allowing him much downtime in-between as we rush from one side of the Tampa Bay area to another. I clearly need a plan.

Sooooo let’s lay out the priorities:

Grocery Shopping

Maybe, but after six years of often not having anything in the house for dinner, we have settled into a bad habit of fast food and eating out. So, this is now a priority.

J-Man’s Social Calendar

I swear that kid does more than I did in college. Of course, I was kind of nerdy, and there were a couple of periods when I had three jobs, but the long-winded point is, HE GOES OUT. We have to tame this socialization beast. I have pretty much accepted any and all invitations for us over the last month.

Gym/Fitness: I have not made this a priority since J-Man came into my life. The reality is this: how can I teach him independence and how to take care of himself, if I am not taking care of myself? He is going to have to see that taking care of yourself is important. I want him to grow up to have a healthy relationship with his body, and the best way to do that is to develop that in myself.

Learning/Reading/Library Time

Well, at some point we have to put the school in the home school. This will probably not include too much of me teaching and him sitting doing “work”, but I have to make sure not to overschedule him, or we won’t have time for spontaneous discovery and in-depth exploration. I have already found that the library is great to get him started. This will also include field trip times like when we go to the causeway at low tide to see the sea critters up close.

Work Time

Somebody has to make the donuts. I am trying to work several different hustles to make this all possible, and that takes some time. I will go into more detail later, when I hopefully have some good news to share on that one. If you don’t know the donut reference, this one is for you:

Family Time

Now that Hubs is working more on top of his class load, we need to be careful to schedule time for Jack to be with his daddy. I kind of want to see him too.

House care

When my fairy godmother drops in, I swear there will be a housekeeper twice a week. Until then, someone has to vacuum and do laundry. I put this waaaaaaaaayyyyy down the line in importance. I’m totally ok with dishes in the sink if it means a really cool experience with the J-Man.

Down Time for Mama (OK I really mean Pinterest)

I need some chardonnay, Netflix and sitting time as well. Most importantly this needs to not be at 2:00 AM.

So, how is this all going to happen. Well, I’m going to need some self-discipline and to really use this planner. I am also going to use the daily features that separate the day into morning, afternoon, and evening. I am going to start with the hubs’ schedule. This way I will guard some daddy-boy time in our daily schedule and add in all the other things we need to do.

What do you use to keep time sacred for what is important to you?


(I was not compensated for endorsing the Erin Condren Planner)

Homeschool Room Makeover–Big Work in a Small Space

homeschool roomEarlier this spring we converted our dining room to a “learning room” by removing the leaf in the table and moving in some comfy chairs and bookcases. We moved most of J-Man’s books in there along with his Littlebits, telescope, and some of the other learning games and tools that he has. I cleaned out the china cabinet to make room for new collections and art materials, and made space for our laptops. I hung some of the little Leonardo’s art pieces and thought I was good to go. He loved it. He is in there all the time. He pulls books out, often reading three or four at a time. I should have been happy with this.

The thing is, I am home all the time now (well when we’re not at a museum, aquarium, park, nature walk, gymnastics, or a meetup with other homeschoolers or unschoolers). Being home more has allowed (forced?) me see where some definite improvements could be made. On top of this, we live in a small house, and this room is right in the middle. I know that if this room doesn’t work well and look good, it will not bode well fo r this endeavor.

Here is what we look like today. Note: that I did not straighten up for this shot.

The messy and unorganized begining.


Setting aside some of the bigger projects, my first thought was how best to organize materials, leaving space for adding materials as we get going.  Thankfully, I have never been let down by a trusty Pinterest search! Here are some amazing inspiration photos.

I love the organization and bright cheery color in this picture from

Love the colors and clean lines of the white built in. From

This next one is from Live and Learn Studio from Mt. Hope Chronicles I don’t even know what to say about this. I love the space, color and the feeling like learning and living are going on here.

Love everything about this room, but don’t have anything like this much space.

What We Need

After pinning many different homeschool spaces and reading how other moms organized their materials, I made a list of all of the things that I would like our space to be and have:

1) Comfy-this is still our house and we are homeschooling for a reason. I don’t want to lose the comfortable feeling of beeing at home, so I want it to feel homey and comfortable.

2)Organized-I can’t function in a space that is chaotic, and I certainly can’t be creative there. I want everyting to have a place so that we feel good about coming in here, even if we do the actual learning at the park or the museum.

3)Bright and cheerful-Many years ago, when I was a reading coach in Jacksonville, we did a survey of our students to find out what makes the model classroom. After organized and clean, every single child said colorful. This is important because it was a middle school and many secondary teachers were under the mistaken impression that kids didn’t care about dressing up the classroom anymore. A colorful environment can be cheerful and inspiring.

4)Full of resources-Sitting the boy down and saying this is what we are going to learn today, is not going to work. He would do far better with that approach in a school setting, as he, rightfully, does not really see me as a teacher. What work for me is to just pull out a couple of materials and leave them where he can find them. Sandra Dodd calls this “strewing” and it works. This can only work if you have the materials and resources to “strew” around the room. I am currently working on a Minecraft themed unit with rock collecting and geography. I plan to put together a collection of some of the rocks he sees in Minecraft, along with some books on rocks, and some story starters.

5)A place for me to work while he is working and keep my homeschool materials.

Making it Work

What I’m working with is two white bookcases from IKEA, a green china cabinet,two club chairs and an arm-chair. We have a buffet that is about to be moved in favor of two new cubbie units.

I thought maybe it would help us fit more materials in our small space if we sorted books in baskets and bins by topic. While, the room is not completely done, the process made me realize how science heavy our collection is. J-Man loves science, which is a good thing, but we also want him to be well-rounded, so we need to support other interests with as much vigor, as they arrive.

Our room after a little organization.
Another view of our study room.


Soon to be painted cabinet to hold manipulatives and supplies.



The cabinet is an extra space for magazines, notebooks, and math and science resources. The key for me was to make sure all of our resources were easy to find, but looked attractive as this room is open to the living room.

So, all I really added were the magazine file boxes and white plastic bins I purchased at the Dollar Tree and the wire bins I purchased at HomeGoods. I took out more than half of my teaching resources as they won’t apply to us anymore, and removed all the duplicate Captain Underpants books (apparently the family did not coordinate purchases and J-Man had two copies of each). As I straightened organized and rearranged took inventory on some things I will add over time.

Comfy things:

I would love a soft rug and better lighting. The rug will give the room warmth and make the reading area more cozy, while the lighting will make it possible for this old woman to read better.


I would love to put up a large whiteboard. That way J-Man has a larger space to do his MinutePhysics inspired drawings, and I can have a space to use something like a Smartboard (apparently you can make your own with a bluetooth, a Wii remote, and a stand–more on that later).

We also want to order Lego Storytellers Kits. We don’t actually need anymore Legos, but I the software


More fiction for sure. We are seriously non-fiction heavy here. J-Man has been royally in to Roald Dahl lately, so we’ll probably add to his collection. He likes to read stories, so I am thinking about some Aesop’s Fables and Mythology.

Overall, I really like the progress we have made. I know he already used the space all the time, but I think he will really like the updates, and I know I will love spending time in here. So, if you could do anything to your homeschooling space, what would it be? What would you add or take out?