Upcycled Homework Caddy

Ever since Eden started grade 7 and homework became a daily event in our life, it seems like she is constantly “borrowing” my supplies and not returning them and leaving scads of tools around the house. I decided to build her a homework caddy stocked with everything she’d need to complete her assignments. The caddy can easily be transported, so she can choose to do her homework in her room or at the table ~ whatever suits her best. This project was all about the 4 R’s ~ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and of course, Repurpose.

Here’s What I Used:

The basis for this design came from these items that I had in my project bin. (Remember to click on the images to enlarge them.)

Of course, as I began to brainstorm and pull my ideas together, I needed additional items such as burlap, string, saw, drill and screws, wood glue, magnets and paint.

Here’s What I Did:

1. I removed the cord from the broken lamp and cut the shaft to create a nice pedestal-like base.

2. I attached the pedestal, circular “lazy susan” wooden base and the center post from the mug stand together with a long screw. homework caddy

3. I spray primed and painted the structure.

4. I then took the clean cans (of varying sizes) and wrapped burlap or string around them to give them a bit of a finished look.

5. I then wrapped some string around the center post as well.

6. I used a nail to punch holes in the bottom of each can near the center. I then screwed each to the wooden base.

7. Finally, I glued on a couple of strong magnets to hold paper clips and a mini-stapler.

8. The top pegs from the mug stand act as handles for the caddy.

Eden’s homework caddy contains an assortment of pencils, pens, markers, pencil crayons, scissors, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, a ruler, a stapler and a few paper clips ~ everything she needs, all in one place! Generally, my daughter prefers to do her homework in her own room, but when she needs help, she likes to work at the kitchen or dining room table. The caddy allows her to bring everything she needs with her.

If making something like this seems like too much work, don’t sweat it….pick-up a plastic caddy or something made out of wood or metal with dividers already in it….maybe something like a cutlery storage caddy. You can find many different styles and at a wide range of prices depending on the look you are going for.  The important thing is to have everything in one place and make it easy to transport.  Here are some of the options I found available:

Have You Fallen Prey to the Homework Beast??

Is homework taking over your life? Is it causing arguments and meltdowns that are driving a wedge between you and your kids?

homeworkIf the answer is “yes”, you’re not alone. Homework is an important part of growing-up and I believe that it not only helps children develop a good work ethic, but also teaches them to how to take responsibility for their own success. Despite the positives, I know I’m not alone when I say that it sometimes feels like homework is destroying our family time.  It seems like there is always homework to be done and when it’s not spread out across the table, we are giving reminders and removing privileges to pay penance for the incomplete work. The homework load, coupled with a few chores as well as sports and other activities seems to be enough to put the whole family on edge.

My daughter started grade seven this fall and the change in expectations has hit our family like a wild storm. Between teen hormones and the workload, there have been more than a few meltdowns at our house. Our daughter had extremely limited experience with homework, quizzes or tests, so let’s just say it’s put quite a strain on the entire family. She is a great student, but that didn’t help the fact that she had no experience with time management, juggling due dates and the pressures of homework. For the first six weeks of the school year, we tried to work on helping her establish good work habits by teaching her strategies to make the work load manageable.  Here are some of the things we tried to teacher Eden to assist her in coping with the changes and increased demands of grade seven.

1. Write down the due dates/test dates on a calendar. I actually found printable calendar templates and then printed 4 pages on one sheet, so my daughter could see the entire term at a glance. This allowed her to look ahead to projects that weren’t due for a while and still plug-in closer due dates as new projects came up. She didn’t use this for homework that was due the following day, more so for assigned projects, homework and tests.

2. Do not focus on everything that needs to get done. Pick one assignment at a time. Generally speaking, I’ve taught my daughter to work on those things that are the most pressing. So in other words, work chronologically with those items that are due first.

3. When there is more than one item due the same day, it can easily become overwhelming. In such cases, there are basically two plans of attack. One option is to work on the biggest/hardest project first to get it out-of-the-way. The second is to do all the small easy jobs first, so you don’t feel like there are so many things to do. Sometimes the sheer number of assignments/tests can be overwhelming, so completing the easy jobs means you can completely remove them from your mind and thus feel less pressure.

4. With large projects, it is really important to read through the entire assignment first, even if you aren’t ready to begin. Sometimes it is more daunting, when you haven’t taken the time to read over the assignment. Once you read it over, it sometimes helps to see the “big picture” and gives a better understanding of the expectations. In some cases, this can relieve some stress. The “unknown” coupled with deliberate avoidance (procrastination) can often cause more anxiety than the assignment itself. I’ve noticed that once Eden takes the time to read a larger assignment through, she’s sometimes able to see how she can break the project down into smaller manageable sections that don’t seem as overwhelming.

5. It is also important to read through an entire assignment right before beginning, so that specific expectations are very clear.  Most teachers include a rubric with assignments/projects.  A rubric is a step by step guide on how to achieve the best marks possible. When you begin without reading through the rubric first, it is easy to make very simple avoidable mistakes. My daughter learned this the hard way when she spent hours doing an assignment and then when she referred to the rubric near the end, she realized that her visual map was to be organized in chronological order. Although this was only worth a mark, it was an easy mark to guarantee just by following the rubric set out by the teacher. Don’t begin an assignment before reading over the entire rubric first!

6.no devices Turn off the devices! Believe me when I say that 20 minutes of homework can easily take over an hour if your iPod or phone are turned on. Those little interruptions to find a good song or answer a text are killing the homework. They are a huge distraction and absolutely need to be removed. Spend good quality, uninterrupted time on assignments and they will be completed much faster.

We are now almost at the end of October and I think Eden has gotten a better handle on how to approach her homework successfully on her own. As a parent, I want so much for her to be successful, but it is difficult to know when to help and when to step back. I will never do homework for my daughter because that serves no one. She needs to develop the skills to be successful and can learn this best by experiencing both the highs and the lows. She needs to know what happens when she leaves an assignment until the last-minute and does poorly. She needs to know how it feels when her name is called out because she didn’t hand something in on time. As parents we always want to run to the rescue, but it is often at the expense of our children. In life, they will have ups and downs, and sometimes the best way to learn how to make it through the difficult times is to learn from your own person experience. We need to give children the opportunity to do just that….fail. They need to know what it feels like, how to process it and how to move beyond their mistakes and failures, so they can learn from them. In life, we won’t always be there to rescue them or pull their weight at a future job ~ therefore,  they must learn to manage more independently.

homeworkDo not complete assignments for your kids. It is simply ridiculous. Do you honestly think the teacher doesn’t know you did the science project for your kid? Believe me….teachers know. In fact, they may even have your name in their books of marks! Don’t do your kids homework for them, but rather take the time to teach them strategies that will help them be successful and feel good about their accomplishments. Like my husband says, what’s the worst that can happen? She’ll bomb an assignment or a test. Hopefully, if there is a failure, your child will learn from it and do a much better job next time. If you bail them out by doing their work for them, believe me, they’ll never complete an assignment at school again…why would they? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out: “If I do my work at school, I have to do it, but if I take it home, my mom will do it for me!” Don’t fall into this trap!

If Eden has started an assignment and isn’t understanding something or needs me to proofread a finished report, by all means, but I will not do the work for her. Assist and teach as needed, but do not do the work. Hopefully, the worst is behind us and we have instilled some essentials techniques and skills that will help her to become more independent and achieve great success in grade seven without the entire family falling victim to the homework beast.

 

Schools Back and So are the Head Lice!

After teaching in an early years classroom for more than 20 years and being the mom of two, I consider myself pretty lucky that I’ve never had a personal encounter with head lice. That’s not to say I don’t deal with it in my job periodically. School has just begun and already the little critters have made themselves known. Yuck!

An article in the Washington Post states:

In a typical infestation, there are more nits than bugs since an adult louse will lay an average of five to 10 eggs a day and a newborn female needs only 10 days to become a mom. So the family tree grows quickly.

Although lice are no respecter of persons, school age children are most prone to them because they are more likely to be involved in activities in which transmission may occur.

Facts and Common Misconceptions Regarding Head Lice:

  • Lice can’t jump or fly. They crawl from one host to another and are generally passed via head to head contact or sharing of items such as hats, hair brushes, pillows, bedding, etc.
  • Lice thrive in hair. They do not care if the hair is long or short, blond or brunette, clean or dirty. They live on blood from the scalp and hair makes a great hiding place.  (I get creeped out just thinking about it!)
  • Lice lay eggs called nits which are sticky and attach themselves to hair follicles. Regular shampoo will not kill or remove nits or lice.
  • Lice can live up to 2 days without a host/source of food.
  • Lice can only be eliminated through the use of an effective hair treatment, combing out the nits and a thorough cleaning of all items that the “source” may have had contact with.
  • Although an itchy scalp is a symptom, there can be other reasons for an itchy scalp. Likewise, some people can have a full infestation and not have an itchy scalp!
  • Both nits and lice can be seen by the naked eye.

Dealing with Contamination:

  1. Treat the “hosts” hair by either purchasing commercial products or using a natural treatment. Continue to check for lice and nits daily until no more are found. You may need several treatments depending on the effectiveness of the product you are using.
  2. You must comb the nits out of the hair section by section with a lice comb. This can be a very time consuming process depending on the length and thickness of the hair.
  3. Vacuum all areas the “host” has come into contact with (including the car seat).
  4. Wash bedding, towels and clothing in HOT water and dry in a HOT dryer.

One of the concerns regarding treatment is that some lice are now developing an immunity to some of the pesticides/chemicals used in treatment shampoos and are rendering some ineffective. There are many different suggestions for products and remedies online ~ both natural and more chemically based. Whichever remedy you opt for, be very cautious and thorough in doing daily checks to ensure the treatment has worked. A lice problem can quickly get out of control when someone feels they have cleaned and treated properly, but then stop doing regular checks.

Although I’ve never personally encountered the little pests, I have tea tree oil in my medicine cabinet at home. It is a recommended home remedy for treating lice and I bought it as a precaution when there was an infestation in my classroom a few years back. I didn’t know this, but a student’s mom recently suggested adding a few drops of tea tree oil to your regular shampoo as a great way to help prevent lice. Like any product, some people may have an allergic reaction to the oil and many “medical” sites suggest that there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of this treatment. Besides this essential oil remedy, I also found some articles suggesting that lice are repelled by peppermint.

I’m certainly not a doctor, but I can’t imagine the chemical treatments are really that great for anyone. The bottom line is that no one wants to be saddled with an infestation of lice. Perhaps being proactive and adding a few drops of tea tree oil each time you shampoo your child’s hair might be a great option, especially if you know there are cases in your child’s classroom.  The oil has a wicked smell and I did not enjoy using it, the one and only time I did a preventative treatment, but a few drops may even go unnoticed. As for the application of tea tree oil as a treatment, there are several different recommendations for how to apply it and how long to leave it on. I think I applied it right to my scalp (I don’t really remember). Others suggest using it is as one ingredient in a “natural concoction” which may in fact dilute the potency, if someone is already playing “host” to the pests. I’m not really sure? The same mom also said that someone suggested spraying mouthwash on their hair before school. I wasn’t sure why that would work, but after reading about the peppermint, perhaps it is the peppermint flavoured mouthwash that would help to repel them?

It seems like the jury is still out on this issue, but at the very least I would be diligently checking my child’s hair until the issue is resolved. I’m not sure about the policy in other school divisions, but in our school we are required to send a note home to all families to inform them if there is a case of lice in the classroom. Out of respect for all of the other children and families, please make sure you tell the school office (as well as family/friends), if you find your child has lice. By informing the school, we can help to ensure other families are checking their children as well and hopefully prevent the spread.

The video at the top of the page is from Kelly the Kitchen Kop. She has two great posts about lice and shares her personal experience with a home remedy treatment. She had good success with a Neem oil shampoo, but for the full story, check out her posts.  She recommends placing combs and brushes in the hot dishwasher for cleaning and also suggests using a high heat setting on the blow dryer ~ lice hate heat. Great ideas Kelli!

Final Words of Wisdom:

Many years ago, one of the classrooms in our school had a lice out break. Like most parents, everyone was a bit paranoid and wanted to avoid infestation at all costs. One particular child arrived at school with her mom, who was in a flap about the lice. As a preventative measure, she had cut off a pair of panty hose and pulled them over her daughter’s head like a hat. She insisted her child wear this “contraption” until the “scare” passed. Luckily, the students were young enough that the kids just took the odd-looking hat in stride and really didn’t make a big deal out of it. For the adults in the building, it was a bit of a “tongue in cheek” situation…if you know what I mean. I think the stigma of wearing your mother’s cut-off pantyhose draped over your head far out weighs the stigma of getting lice….but that’s just my opinion. I must say, it is one of those stories you just won’t ever forget. Too funny!!

Remember contracting lice is not indicative of your family hygiene. Anyone can become infected!

Conversational Math with frogs

I want to thank Kelli Stewart for another great post. Being a kindergarten teacher, this one really strikes a chord with me. When parents ask me how best to prepare their kids for school my first answer is talk to them. Give your children plenty of time to play with real toys (not devices), use their imagination, explore and problem solve through everyday experiences and their own play. Take time to talk about their discoveries and the world around them. Don’t solve their problems for them. Let them figure out the challenges they face during play (eg Why won’t this tower stand-up?). Language skills are the foundation of learning and being comfortable with language concepts is the first step in developing literacy and numeracy skills. Finally, never speak “ill” of math. So many parents will say things like “I wasn’t good at math either. He/she is just like me.” Please don’t plant the seed of doubt or fear of math in your child before they ever start. Math is actually based on patterns and relationships between numbers. It is a system that really makes sense when you get it, but can feel like learning a foreign language when you don’t. Set your child up for success by speaking positively and making math a part of their world. Great work, Kelli!

 

What a fun and easy way to help your kid learn math? I suggest getting the help of a bucket full of leaping amphibians.

Emily's Favourite Math Teacher

Emily’s Favourite Math Teacher

Froghoppers from VikingToys is a fun game where you press the back of a frog to make it jump into a bucket. It is a lot of fun for the whole family for under ten bucks. I love it for that alone, but I have to say, that it has made teaching math words way more exciting!

Left Out of the Conversation

When my son was in preschool, we went to our first parent teacher interview. When we asked if there was anything we should be working on with him, she said that he could improve in his math skills. Aside from practicing counting, she said that one way we could help him advance was to be really mindful of using conversational math to describe the world around him.

“I’m sure you do this already… You know, counting stairs, dividing objects into equal groups, talking about adding or subtracting two more fruit in your basket as you’re shopping, that sort of thing. Even playing dice games.” she said confidently. That was the moment I realized I do not describe my world in mathematical terms EVER. Nathan and I would climb stairs to the beat of a song. We split things so they were fair. Fruit quantities were described more like this: a banana, a couple of bananas, a bunch of bananas. And could we play a math game? Sorry, no dice. To be honest, we had more Megatheriums come up more in conversation than Math.

With Emily, I knew I had to make a conscious effort from the beginning to talk math. Knowing myself, I knew that wasn’t going to happen naturally. That’s when the frogs came in.

Our favourite frog game

With the help of dice (we steal the dice from another great math game: Double Shudder!), we roll a couple times to find out how many frogs to add to the frog family (adding) and then roll again to see how many are leaving (subtracting). Smiles and subtraction seem to go hand in hand. As we “Minus one, two three…”, the frogs go flying! I’m not too worried about Emily actually learning her addition and subtraction, but it is a great way to introduce the words “plus” and “minus” while having some fun.

We even cut out lily pads and divide the frogs into equal groups. Emily is super social, so she is very content to put the frogs into groups (her ideal). The frogs are also great for counting, making patterns, sorting into colour groups, and are exceptionally good for launching across the living room!

Who would think that a frog would be such a good teacher?