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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Benefits of custom weighted blankets: Are they worth it?

What are the benefits of a custom weighted blanket, and is it worth the cost? Those are the questions I asked when a local mom I know and trust started selling custom made, hand tailored weighted blankets online.

I met Kim Hewett, of Kim's Custom Creations, through our local homeschool group. She and her husband, a respected counselor in our community, adopted their youngest son from Uganda about five years ago. He's a sweet, good natured, helpful boy who I had the pleasure of teaching in a couple of science classes, but at home he was having trouble sleeping and suffering from some sensory issues. Kim set to work, researching solutions, and began to study the benefits of weighted blankets.

These blankets, often used to help children with autism calm down and fall asleep, can be very effective. They have also proven helpful for many kids with sensory processing disorder, ADD, PTSD, restless leg syndrome, insomnia and other issues. But they are expensive, with many selling for $200 or more on Amazon.

Of course, there is a wide range of prices, and according to Kim, that has much to do with the size and weight of the blanket. The weight should be approximately 10 percent of the user's body weight plus one pound, and the blanket should be sized the user's dimensions, so that the weight is evenly distributed without too much overhang. This is where custom made blankets stand apart from those that are mass produced.

You may already be familiar with the relaxing effects of a heavy comforter, but a weighted blanket provides even better stimulation, with deep pressure that not only calms both children and adults, but can also help improve focus and relieve anxiety. These benefits can be immesurable for those with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs.

And with regard to kids and adults on the autism spectrum, by purchasing a custom made weighted blanket from a shop like Kim's Custom Creations, the blankets can be made to order, in a favorite color, with a favorite character or team logo, or even in an exact fabric print as needed to satisfy the recipient's needs. This can mean the difference between a product that will be be happily and regularly used and one that will be rejected.

You might think that getting a custom made product just for your loved one or yourself would be more expensive, but in this case, buying from an independent shop can actually save you money. Kim said once she gets a customer's measurements, she can get them a quote quickly, and often create a blanket they'll love for up to 30 percent less than what they might otherwise pay.

Personally, I love non-invasive, drug free options wherever you can find them, and if you or your loved one are suffering from anxiety, insomnia or other problems that may be aided by the use of a weighted blanket, they may be one of the best purchases you could make. After all, a good night's sleep is worth more than gold when it remains ever elusive.

Oh, and by the way, for a limited time you will get a free unit study from me, The Unplanned Homeschooler, with your purchase of a blanket from Kim's Custom Creations if you mention this blog when you order!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New study shows age-based grade assignments harmful to millions of students

A new study published by the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University shows that millions of students in the United States are suffering from educational harm caused by age-based grade assignments. According to the study, a surprising percentage of students are performing at a level significantly higher than their assigned grade level, but because of rigid class assignments, these students are not allowed to work up to their potential, and often must rely on their parents to provide stimulating educational experiences outside the classroom.

This Institute suggests alternatives to the current K-12 system of assigning classes strictly by age, including grouping students according to their abilities and allowing advanced students to skip grades and progress through the system more quickly.

The results of this study are probably not surprising news to your average homeschooler. The homeschooling community has known for a long time that individualized education is the best option for most students, regardless of their skill level, because it allows each child to learn at their own pace.

Accoding to Michael Mattews, one of the researchers involved in the study, “Regardless of the instructional level, it is far more likely that teachers will be highly effective when they have a narrower range of ability to address in their classroom.” Matthews added, "It is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to design effective instruction at an appropriate level for all of these learners within the constraints of a 24-hour day.”

Researchers noted that there is a nine year gap between the reading levels of the most and least advanced students in the average upper elementary school class. That means a teacher who is tasked with instructing more than two dozen 5th graders may have students on a range as wide as 2nd to 10th grades, all of whom are being given the same lessons and preparing for the same high stakes standardized tests.

Gifted children, in particular, are often removed from public school because their educational needs are not met in the standard classroom. Too often, instead of being presented with challenging and exciting opportunities to learn, advanced students are instead turned into indentured servants, working for free as teacher's assistants.

If involved parents have to do the extra work of providing their children with learning opportunities outside the classroom, they might as well take hold of their children's entire education and set them free from the constraints they face during school hours.

Not every family is able to homeschool, whether for financial or other logistical reasons, but studies like this one may lead to positive reforms in the public schools if administrators would just take heed, and that could be a good thing for millions of students. Any reforms that would allow kids to work at their skill level, rather than be grouped and paced for 13 years or more based on their age alone would certainly be beneficial for students whose families are unable to provide them with a fully individualized education.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sometimes I just can't...

I think this post has been a long time coming. It's not easy to let your guard down and write something like this. I'd so much rather just maintain the illusion of being a successful, happy homeschool blogger and mom! Yeah, I know, I totally had you buying into the myth of my awesomeness, right? But I feel like I need to write this, if not for my own cathartic release then for the other homeschooling moms who are going through similar circumstances right now.

Here's the thing. Sometimes I just can't.


I talked to a couple of my best friends yesterday, after nearly two weeks of no contact. It's not like me to go so long without talking to my friends. I usually need contact and communication. One of them had asked the other whether she'd heard from me, but she hadn't. I had not even been on Facebook for more than a few minutes each day. It was like I had fallen in a hole.

And in a way, I had. I was in an emotional black hole, and it was one of those times I just couldn't. I couldn't deal with e-mails or messages on social media. I couldn't deal with talking on the phone. I didn't even want to think about going out around people. I managed to keep feeding my kids and providing them with assignments, so they wouldn't fall behind on their lessons, but I was worn out.
Maybe it was hormones. Or the Benadryl I was taking everyday to survive the ragweed in the summer air. Maybe it was the hot, sticky, 95 degree September days that felt more like 110. Or perhaps it was the blahs that seem to set in every year about a month and a half after we start back on our regular school schedule. I don't know.

All I know is that for a while, all I really wanted to do was crank up the air conditioner and hide under a blanket. And a part of me wondered why celebrities are able to retreat to a cushy hospital suite for a week to be treated for "exhaustion" and that option isn't available to moms.

We're the ones who really need that!

No break for you!

Even though I couldn't run off to a spa, I did try to take care of myself during this time. You might notice there is a gap in my blog. I took a little break from writing and played Plants vs. Zombies instead. I've been leading our local homeschool group for more than seven years, but I basically took the last couple of weeks off from managing that, too. I gave myself permission to stay in my cave and rest, as much as I could,

Homeschooling is a full time, year-round commitment that sometimes lasts decades. I think we're kidding ourselves if we think there won't be times that we run out of gas and need to take a break to recharge. Whether this is your first year as a homeschooler or your fifteenth, you've got to allow yourself to float through those occasional times that you are just mentally, emotionally and maybe even physically spent.

Brighter days ahead

I went out yesterday, to my youngest daughter's monthly co-op day. And I spent the afternoon painting at the library with my friends and our kids. I feel like I have made it through another slump, and I am excited for the activities we have coming up over the next few weeks.

I hope that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with homeschooling and all your other mom duties, you can take some time, even just a day or two, to regroup. Don't be ashamed to ask for help from your spouse, family or friends. And remember that it happens to most, if not all of us. It doesn't mean you are failing, and things will definitely get better if you can just get some rest and then reconnect with people who make you happy.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How good can a manual pencil sharpener be?

I couldn't help wondering what in the world all the fuss was about. How could a pencil sharpener be that much better than others on the market, that I would see it recommended over and over among homeschoolers? But I figured there must be something to it, especially after I finally became yet another devotee of those Ticonderoga pencils you hear so many homeschool moms rave about. Yeah, I buy mine by the 96 pack now.

But that pencil sharpener, the one by Classroom Friendly Supplies, with the funny looking black pincers that stick out on the front: would it live up to all the hype?

As a homeschool blogger, I decided to take advantage of the review program that Classroom Friendly Supplies offers, and try out their famous pencil sharpener for myself. I chose the red one, because I love bright red things. They make me happy. I figured even if the sharpener turned out to be pretty ordinary, it would still look cool.

It took next to no time for the sharpener to arrive in my mailbox. I was anxious to try it out. It took about half a minute to figure out how the black pincers worked. Basically, you pull the metal stage out, away from the sharpener until it clicks, squeeze the black pincers and fully insert your pencil. When you let go of the pincers, your pencil is held securely in place. There's no need to hold it steady. The sharpener holds it in the perfect position for you.

Next, you crank the handle. If you turn it the wrong direction, nothing happens. If you turn it the right direction, the pencil starts moving into the sharpener as the blades quickly and easily whittle a perfectly sharpened end in just a few rotations.

I have a daughter with very poor muscle tone. She was a preemie, and she never really developed much arm and hand strength, even with physical and occupational therapy. She has an extremely hard time even opening a can of pop on her own, so other manual pencil sharpeners are virtually impossible for her to use.

The Classroom Friendly Supplies sharpener was one tool she was able to use with ease. Three cranks of the handle and her pencil was perfectly sharp. It took her less time and effort to use this sharpener than the office grade electric one we normally use. And the pencil's tip came out smoother and neater than with the electric sharpener, too.

I'll admit it, I was a skeptic. I couldn't see how any sharpener could be that much better than others on the market, but I was wrong. If for no other reason than that it works so well for my daughter who can't use other manual sharpeners, I love it! I recommend it! I'm genuinely excited to have it in my home.

Yes, I got a free one to review for this blog, but if I hadn't, after trying one out, I am certain it would be among the top items on my recommended homeschool shopping list, along with a good three-hole punch, a sturdy printer with economical ink refills, and those irreplacable Ticonderoga pencils.

(Affiliate links included)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How do you teach your child that character matters?

We all want our children to build great character as they grow from little ones into adults. We want them to develop traits like diligence, patience and honesty. But how do you go about instilling these characteristics into your child?

Of course, modeling positive character is the best way to help them develop these traits naturally. We are our kids' number one role models, and they often mirror the way we behave. We can teach all day long from books, but it would be hard to undo our own mentoring if we fail to live as the examples we were meant to be.

Books and lessons are a good way to reinforce the messages we want our kids to learn, though, and I was recently given the opportunity to review a terrific new resource for positive character building from Stephanie Eidson, the Multi Tasking Mom.

Her new program, My Character Matters, includes a student work book, parent guide, flash cards and an activity guide. You can buy all the pieces separately, or together as a set. They work together to help you and your children explore the meaning of character traits like ambition, responsibility and honor, and discover what those words mean to you and your family, how you've seen those traits displayed in real life and in the media, and how your child can work to improve their character.

I am excited to share this resource with you, because it is on sale through August 12, and you can get all of the elements in the kit, a $25 value, for just $12. That's a full 30 weeks of character based lessons for only $12!

But even if you miss the launch week sale, this would still be a great value, at less than $1 per lesson, and an excellent addition to your student's curriculum for the year. I hope you'll check it out.

(Affiliate links included.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Need encouragement for back to school? Check out this giveaway!

I am proud to have partnered with Brookdale House homeschool curriculum publishing as a contributor to this year's Back to Homeschool Mom Encouragement Giveaway.

There are hundreds of dollars worth of prizes and multiple winners will be chosen, plus this giveaway is an excellent way to start your new school year because everyone who enters gets some freebies!

Click the link above to enter by August 3. You could be one of the lucky winners. Want to know more about the fantastic products included in this giveaway? Here's a list...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Homeschool Bullies: Dealing with Mean Kids, Cliques and Mama Drama

It's one of the least talked about issues in homeschooling today. That's right, I am talking about the problem of homeschool bullies. We don't want to acknowledge they exist, because they mess up the positive picture we'd rather paint. But they do exist, and although homeschooling can be a wonderful experience, and there's no other form of education I would rather choose for my kids, dealing with the bullies within the homeschool community is no fun at all.

I wrote this book after hearing way too many stories of families who started homeschooling only to find themselves bullied within their local groups or online. And having played the role of both a homeschool bully and the victim of bullying myself, I decided it was time to own up to my part in it and make a change for the better.

I take full responsibility for my own actions, and hope that the readers of this book will, too. I believe that working together, we can improve our community, if not for ourselves than for our kids. We can put a stop to homeschool bullying, if we are just brave enough to shine a light on it and learn how to deal with the mean kids, the cliques and the mama drama that we discover.

Visit my store to pick up your copy of "Homeschool Bullies: Dealing with Mean Kids, Cliques and Mama Drama" from CreateSpace or Amazon.