14 Fun Ways to Use Plastic Eggs to Entertain (and Educate) Your Kids

I know most of us are still at home with our kids as we continue social distancing and “crisis-schooling.” And if your house is anything like mine, you probably have plenty of plastic eggs in a variety of colors littering the floor, counter, and anywhere else they may have landed. What in the world do you do with them now that Easter is over?

Well, one of the things that makes learning so fun in a school classroom is learning centers. These are areas where teachers are able to get creative by taking basic learning concepts and teaching them as a game or activity instead of in worksheet form. When we were homeschooling, I found this was a wonderful way to reinforce concepts we were learning that otherwise felt redundant or boring. Who wants to force their kids to repeat their math facts one more time? But make them into a game and suddenly my kids were begging for more!

So I thought I’d share a few ideas from our homeschooling days of ways you can use those colorful plastic eggs after Easter as part of your “crisis-schooling”- or maybe just to keep the little people in your house busy for awhile. (And if your little people have turned into big people, I have a few ideas for teens, too, so skip to the end!)

Preschool:

  • Color Sort: Start with mismatched eggs and have children match each top with its correct bottom and tell you the color.
  • Big A, Little a: Use a sharpie to write an upper case letter (A) on the top and a lower case letter (a) on the bottom of an egg. Repeat with different letters. Use mismatched eggs so they are matching the letters, not the colors. Take the eggs apart and let them match away!
  • Number Matching: Use a sharpie or stickers to write a number (3) on the bottom of an egg and the appropriate number of dots/marks/etc. (***) on the top of an egg. Mismatched colors are best for this one, too. Take the eggs apart and have them match the numbers with the same number of dots.
  • Noise Makers: Now, you may not like me much after this one, but little ones love to shake things and make lots of noise, so this is the perfect combination! Fill eggs with different hard items such as rice, beans, sand, cereal, and rocks, and then glue or tape them shut. Have kids try to guess what’s inside them and/or use them as musical instruments!
  • Activity Egg Hunt: (See below; last item in Elementary)

Elementary:

  • Easter Egg Math: Write the equation on one half of the egg (4×2=) and the answer on the other (8). Mismatched eggs work best so they are actually doing the math and not just matching colors. This works well with all ages because you can do adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, and even fractions- whatever your child needs to work on!
  • Easter Egg Word Families: This is a great game for beginning readers. Google a list of simple rhyming words or word families such as “rat, mat, sat, fat” and “sock, rock, lock, clock.” Then use a sharpie to write the ending sound (“at” or “ock”) on the top half of the egg and the beginning sounds (“r, m, s, f” or “s, r, l, cl”) spaced evenly around the bottom half of the egg, so that when the two halves are connected they form a word. Then show your child how to twist the egg to form different words. 
  • Easter Egg Letter Scramble: I wish I had known about this activity when my kids were younger. I found the idea at hangingaroundinprimary.com and it looks so fun! Use Scrabble tiles (or cut out individual letters on squares of paper) to form words, then put all the letters for each word inside an egg. Set a timer and see how quickly your child can unscramble all the words. You can do this with sight words, spelling words, Easter-themed words, etc.
  • Easter Egg Compound Words: Write two words that form a compound word on each half of an egg (butter fly, rain bow, race car, base ball, fire works, moon light, sun shine, etc) so they will make one word when put together. Mix up the tops and bottoms, and have children attempt to form the correct words (and laugh at the new words they create).
  • Easter Egg Contractions: Write different contractions on individual slips of paper (won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, hasn’t, she’ll, etc) and then write the two combining words on each half of the egg so they line up together. Have kids locate the correct slip of paper and put it in the corresponding egg.
  • Activity Egg Hunt: We have done multiple variations of this game and it will keep your littles entertained for days! Write various activities on slips of paper and put them inside the eggs before you hide them. When children find an egg, they open it up and do what it says, then either put the egg in their basket or leave the egg there for others to find (if there’s more than one child hunting eggs). If children are too little to read, they can bring their paper to you or you can put pictures in the eggs instead of words, or even team them up with an older sibling. Activities can range from physical tasks like jumping jacks, sit ups, and shooting baskets, to singing silly songs, telling a joke, or acting like an animal. Check out Aliceandlois.com for a free printable of ideas for younger children. And keep reading for some ideas for the whole family!

Tweens/Teens/Whole Family:

  • Work-out Egg Hunt: If you have been eating a few too many cookies the past few weeks like I have, or if your work-out routine (what’s that? Lol!) is getting a little predictable these days, this might be a fun way to shake it up! Fill each egg with a slip of paper containing different circuit training activities, such as 20 sit ups, 50 jumping jacks, 30 squats, 20 lunges, 20 burpees, etc. and hide the eggs around the house or yard. As you find each egg, open it and do the activity. Leave the eggs for someone else to find and either keep count of the eggs or do as many as you can in 15 minutes.
  • Photo/Video Egg Hunt: There are lots of ways to be creative with this one, so use your imagination! You can hide the eggs and have your kids take pics of all the eggs they can find in a certain amount of time, or you can fill each egg with a photo or video task, such as “Do a self-timer pic of yourself doing something crazy,” “Make a Tik-Tok (if your kids don’t have tik-tok, they can make a pretend one),” “Do a slow-motion video of yourself doing a trick shot,” or “Video yourself reciting your favorite Bible verse while hanging upside down from the couch.” If your teens are not into social media, try something like “Video yourself shooting 5 baskets in a row,” “Video yourself singing the chorus of a Hamilton song,” or “Make a video reciting the Periodic table” (hey, some kids might find that fun… Mine would rebel!)- fill in the blanks with whatever your kids are interested in. Then look at the photos and videos together afterwards as a family!
  • Smartphone Clue Hunt: This is a really cool idea I found over at blog.bitsofeverything.com!  She has printable bar codes you can cut out and scan which will lead your teens on a clue hunt to different places around your yard. If some of the clues don’t fit at your house, no worries- just leave them out! She also has printable clues in case the technology gives you trouble. Hop on over to her website to find everything you need, and read through the comments for some additional ideas (like adding a golden egg with Chick-fil-a gift cards or how to adapt and make your own barcodes to scan)!  

So, that’s just a few ideas to keep your family busy and the eggs off the floor! Feel free to share any other ideas you come up with!

So You’re Suddenly a Homeschooler… Tips for Surviving (and maybe even thriving!) During the Quarantine

I wish I had a dollar for everyone who has said to me, “Oh, I could never homeschool my kids. I don’t have the patience!” or “I couldn’t do that; I would kill my kids!” The truth is, NO ONE has the patience to homeschool, and all of us get frustrated with our children!

Most of you know we have four children whom we have homeschooled or hybrid-schooled for the past 10 years. What I learned during our early years was that homeschooling was about way more than learning and teaching educational information. It was about learning how to communicate and how to resolve conflict. It required listening and observing more than I talked, and recognizing (and admitting) when my children were right and I was wrong. It involved planning and being flexible and embracing the opportunity for my kids to be bored, which often led to great creativity.

There have definitely been a lot of struggles along the way- raised voices, tears, an occasional slammed door- but there has also been great joy and bonding when we worked through challenges and found a solution together. I believe parenting our girls’ in their teen years has been easier and much more enjoyable because of the patterns we all learned and the relationships we built during those years. And I’m hopeful the same will be true with our boys.

But chances are, that is not your story…

If you are reading this, it is likely because life as we know it has changed drastically in the past week, and you suddenly find yourself at home with your children. In addition to being their parent, you now also bear the responsibility of being their teacher for a few weeks (or more), and it’s not something you chose.  I imagine these first few days have been bumpy as teachers, parents, and students all try to navigate the shift to “on-line” learning.  

And on top of teaching subjects you have not studied yourself in decades, you also have the added bonus of enforcing that work gets done AND filling up all the free-time that comes along with cancelled activities and “social distancing.” Hooray! 

This is totally what you signed up for, right? 

Sigh.

But don’t lose heart, friend! Believe it or not, this time is a gift, frustrations and all. We will talk about this quarantine for years to come, and right now is when we get to choose how we will spend it. What do you want your kids to remember about this global pandemic? Fear and frustration? Or love and laughter? I am choosing to embrace this gift of time together (you can read about that here), and I encourage you to do the same.

I know, I know… that is easier said than done; and not just at your house, but at mine as well.  So here are a few tips I have learned during our homeschooling years that might help you not only survive your sudden schooling-at-home status, but hopefully even embrace it. 

Lower your expectations

Whether you are a working parent who is trying to put in a full day of work at home while homeschooling your kids or a stay at home parent who has a list of all the home projects you want to accomplish now that you have no where to go (like me), just stop. It’s not going to happen, at least not at the level you’re hoping. One of the biggest frustrations I face as a homeschooling mom is expecting to be productive myself during a homeschool day. The reality is that being a teacher is my JOB… and for the next several weeks, it is your job, too. And that means that several hours of our day will need to be spent teaching, or at least supervising, the educational activities of our kids. I cannot stress this enough!

It is not fair to our kids to expect them to school themselves, and it is not fair to ourselves to expect that we can do more than one job at a time. So for this small window of time (and really, while it may be a huge inconvenience right now, in the grand scheme, it truly is a small window), lower your expectations and allow yourself to feel like a success if, at the end of the day, most of their school work has been completed and your people have been fed.  And yes, cereal totally counts. 

Create a Routine

Even if you are a creative, free-spirited individual, a routine is going to help you in this season. And if you are a schedule-oriented person, understanding the flexibility of a routine will help you as well. My dear friend and homeschooling mentor, Tina Jobe, shared the following advice in a Facebook post, explaining the difference between a routine and a schedule:  

A schedule is rigid. Each time has a purpose. A routine means you do things in a certain order, but times are not assigned. Routine means if you start an hour late, it’s ok. Something else gives… If you are enjoying a read-aloud and the kids don’t want to stop listening, keep reading. Just jump back into your routine after lunch.”

Your kids are used to having a specific order to their day at school. Creating a similar routine at home- adjusted for your own circumstances and priorities- will add some consistency to their days and will help all of you know how to plan. We generally start with one or two quick and easy subjects and then tackle their hardest/longest subject, and alternate from there. Figure out what works for you and do it.

Build in time for what you need to do 

I know, I told you to lower your expectations, and you should! Go ahead and lower them again while you’re at it! But let’s be real… there are also things we have to do. The laundry and dishes need to get done, bills need to be paid, dinner needs to find its way into the crockpot, those of you with a job need to accomplish something to keep the paycheck coming in, and who are we kidding- we all need a few minutes to hide in the closet and stuff our face with chocolate!

Here’s how I attempt to make that happen (especially the chocolate part): Before I go to bed, I make a list of what I need to get done the next day. Then, true to my first tip, I try to cross off half the list. Next, I look at our normal routine and figure out the best windows of time to fit those things in. For me, that might look like starting a load of laundry as soon as I get up and then having my God Time while the kids are eating breakfast. I figure out which subjects they can do fairly independently and have them do those while I clean up the breakfast dishes, answer emails, swap the laundry, etc. We spend a few hours of concentrated schooling time (our girls are in high school, so they work independently for the most part, but my boys still need quite a bit of help). For me, this works best if I just sit between them and bounce back and forth between them as needed. If I know I need to spend concentrated time with one, I try to get the other one started on a subject they can finish without me.

Generally, for middle school and below we are finished with schoolwork by lunchtime which leaves the afternoon somewhat free. But in order for that to happen, we have to…

Start Early

One of the blessings of homeschooling is that you get to set your start time, and it doesn’t have to be when it’s still dark outside! Absolutely let your kids sleep in a little bit if you want! But almost all of my homeschooling friends agree that our kids are most productive in the morning. An assignment that takes us 30 minutes in the morning may take us two hours in the afternoon; I guess their brains get tired? I don’t know, but it’s definitely a thing. So keep that in mind when you create your routine. If you are working from home, you may be able to get a couple hours of work done in the morning before they start school, or you may want to get them started early so you have the afternoon free. Do what works for you! But don’t let them waste those morning hours, especially if you find schoolwork is taking All. Day. Long. 

Let them be bored

This goes against the very fiber of our over-scheduled society, I know, but it is one of the best parts of homeschooling… and also the hardest. Chances are, many of you have realized this week that schoolwork doesn’t actually take all day and you are wondering WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THE REST OF THAT TIME?! The answer, simply, is to let them be bored. Kids need time and space in order to create things, so letting them actually be bored for a change is a gift! Who knows what will happen when they are given time to explore a new interest or develop a hobby?

Just don’t let them tell you they’re bored. My friend, Tina, also mentioned this tip in her Facebook post, and her now college-age daughter replied in the comments, “ ‘I’m bored’ was not allowed… if we said it, we’d be put to work cleaning!” She went on to mention the secret form of communication they used in order to sneak outside and play to avoid having to do chores. I love it!!  That’s another tip: Cleaning is definitely the best antidote for boredom. Keep a list handy of cleaning jobs to assign when someone complains of boredom (wipe down baseboards, wash windows and mirrors, clean toilets and tubs, sweep the floor, clean out a drawer- many of these can be done even by preschool age children!).  You will find that phrase disappears quickly, and they will come up with all kinds of creative messes all by themselves!

Brainstorm activities with them

Okay, so it’s not really fair to fill every second of their week with activities and then suddenly thrust them into hours and hours of unstructured free time every day and expect them to know what to do. But it also isn’t your job to entertain them that whole time either. Supervise them, yes; entertain them, no. So, what’s a parent to do? Take some time to brainstorm:

  • Put together a list of all the chores you expect them to do daily.
  • Have them make a list of all the board games and creative activities in your house, and all the things they can do outside (walk the dog, ride a bike or scooter or skateboard, play basketball, etc).
  • Look up some ideas online of age-appropriate activities and hobbies and have them choose some things they are interested in learning.
  • Make a list of Netflix shows and documentaries and on-line activities/games/experiences they can watch.
  • This is also a good place to throw in some of those projects you’d like to work on around the house. Cleaning out closets, sorting through seasonal clothes, catching up on scrapbooks… add these to the list!
  • If just the thought of organizing this overwhelms you, ask an older child, babysitter, or grandparent to come up with some ideas instead. This might be a great way for them to be in contact with your children while they are unable to see them due to the quarantine.

Once you have all this information, build it into your routine. We do chores and schoolwork first, and we include walking the dog, practicing music, and reading for 45 minutes in our chore list. After that, you can either schedule independent time and sibling play time, or structure it around activities- creative time (art, writing, singing, dancing, building), outside time, physical activity time, technology time, etc. Do whatever works best for your family.

If your children are younger, they will need more structure and parental involvement. Once they reach middle school, or even upper-elementary for some kids, you can simply tell them to check their list and choose an activity. Either way, having a list is a fantastic resource and will help you avoid the “I’m bored” scenarios. Our boys have spent the past two days making contraptions in our basement using construction paper, legos, and ping pong balls after watching a few episodes of Dude Perfect. Sshh… don’t tell them they’re actually doing S.T.E.M.!

If all else fails, put on some music and have a dance party! 

Or take a break and watch a movie, go on a hike, or bake some brownies. Have some fun! Life is busy and stressful, and you won’t have always have this time together. Make memories together, and make sure some of them are good.  It’s okay if you’re not a perfect teacher or a perfect parent. Remember that thing about lowering your expectations? Yeah, go back and do that again.

And when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated or weary, take a deep breath and let the Holy Spirit fill you with whatever you need most in that moment. His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in our weakness.

Remember, no one has enough patience to homeschool! But we know the One who gives it. You can do this!

(Feel free to reach out to me personally or in the comments if you have specific questions or need help. We’re all in this together!)

Six Ways Parenting is Like Math

I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “There is no way parenting is like math! There is no easy formula to follow, and no variables to plug in that equal a perfect child.” 

You’re right.

And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Parenting is hard! Math is hard! I get it!”

And you’re right, too.

So if you’re both right, then what in the world am I talking about? 

Just hear me out… 

One of the things I love best about homeschooling is watching the light bulb come on when something “clicks” for one of my kids. This phenomenon is not unique to homeschooling- all parents experience this with their children in different ways. Maybe you are helping them with homework, or teaching them how to shoot a basketball, or even teaching them how to talk when they are little. There is something special about that first time they say your name, make a basket, or solve the math problem. Their eyes get big, their face lights up, and something special passes between you. Success! It is an amazing moment to share.

But those moments are rare, like finding a single pearl hidden somewhere among an ocean of oysters. It takes hard work, perseverance, and is often overwhelming. And in my experience, they usually come about the time I have decided to give up.

I find parenting to work much the same way. There are moments when they get it, when the hard work of character training and spiritual investment align in some sort of magical moment, and we get to high five each other for a job well done. But if your house is anything like mine, before the party’s over, another issue or growth area pops up, waiting to be whacked, and the challenge begins again. Sometimes it’s even the same problem, the one we were just celebrating- apparently prematurely.  What’s a parent to do?

Which brings us back to math. I’ll be honest- I like math, I really do. It has a rhythm and a reason to it; it is logical. It’s like doing a puzzle; you keep the big picture in mind, but mostly you figure out how to fit things together piece by piece, until the picture finally appears. Sounds simple enough.

However, in teaching math to my children I have found it is not always that easy. Sometimes they don’t catch the rhythm, and often they can’t see the logic. So here are a few things I have learned that apply to both parenting and math:

1.  It takes more than one time to learn a lesson.

I’ll be honest; this one caught me completely off guard. I assumed once a child learned long division and experienced the “light bulb” moment, we could check the box, right? No. Apparently kids can completely understand something one moment and then forget everything they know three problems later. It’s a real thing- ask any teacher in your life. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson, even when you learn it well.

The same is true in parenting. “Obey the first time” is an ideal, not a reality. I mean, do you always obey God the very first time every single time? I certainly don’t!  Believe it or not, we will have to teach our kids patience and kindness more than once. We know hitting their brother or talking back is wrong every time, but in their mind, that lesson requires multiple applications to every possible situation before it sinks in. It is not personal against us or limited to only our child. It’s just like math; it takes more than one time to master a concept, which requires… practice and repetition.

2.  Practice and repetition are necessary  for mastery

The idea is that the more you repeat something, the easier it will become. In math, there are two parts to learning basic “facts,” such as addition and multiplication. One must both understand the concept (2 cookies plus 3 cookies equals 5 cookies) and memorize the equation (2+3=5). The first one takes practice, over and over, to truly understand the concept, applying it to different values. The second one requires repetition of the same equation, again and again, until the answer is instinctive. 

How does this idea translate to parenting? There are certain concepts our child will have to repeat over and over again, with a number of different variables, in order to truly grasp the character traits involved. There is no substitution for practicing; we simply must be patient and consistent and understand it is a process. There are other truths they simply need to hear repeated over and over again until they become instinctive. These truths are foundational to the building of their faith and character, just as math facts are foundational to algebra equations. Choose them carefully and repeat them often!

3.  Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t help

Let’s be honest- frustration is inevitable in both math and parenting. However, an angry, yelling parent is not any more effective than a child throwing his pencil in frustration.

One day several years ago, I was helping one of my daughters with her math. I was frustrated because she had “forgotten” a concept she already learned (see #1), and she was not responding well to my extremely calm, patient, loving instruction (in other words, she was being a sassy pants and I was reacting like a pre-teen girl). I said something like, “You would never treat a teacher this way, would you?” and she yelled back, “No, because a teacher would never treat me like you are!”

Ouch.  She was right.

So when you find yourself getting frustrated– in math or in parenting- the best thing to do is…

4.  Take a break and try a different approach 

Sometimes the best thing for everyone is a little break. Take a time-out, move on to a different subject, walk outside- whatever it takes to catch your breath and calm down. And then when you are ready, you can approach the problem again from a different angle. 

As the saying goes, if we do the same thing over and over again, we’re going to keep getting the same result. If something isn’t working, whether it is a math problem or a character issue, try something different.  

Once I quit focusing on how I wanted her to solve the problem and started thinking about how she was trying to solve the problem, I usually saw a new way to approach it. The same is true in our parenting. We can solve a multitude of problems by simply shifting our perspectives. 

5.  Go back to the basics

More often than not, when my kids are getting wrong answers in math, it is because they have forgotten their math facts (see #2). Those foundational truths have gotten rusty and are no longer instinctive, causing them to spend too long figuring out a problem or guessing at numbers. A quick review of the basics generally gets them back on track with minimal interference from me. 

The same is true with parenting. When our children were really little and we suddenly found ourselves with sleep issues or attitude problems, a friend suggested I simplify our schedule and focus on structure, consistency, and my own attitude- the basics. The issues almost always resolved within a few days. 

As they have gotten older, we shift our focus back to heart issues- character, prayer, time in the Word, honoring others over ourselves… all those things we spent so much time “repeating” when they were younger. Okay, and cleaning a toilet often helps, too!

6.  If all else fails, ask for help

Even with our best efforts, sometimes we don’t have what we need to figure it out. In math, that means reaching out to a teacher or a tutor- finding someone who can see things we can’t and who can provide outside perspective we are not able to see or give on our own. 

More than once as a parent, I have been at my wits end, having tried everything I knew to try (usually that was my problem- I was trying to fix something that was not within my power to fix! But that’s a whole different blog post!). Assuming you have already spent time in prayer, the best thing to do is get help. Reach out to a friend whose parenting you respect and admire. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or staff member at your church, or ask them to help you find a solid, Biblical counselor who can give you perspective on your situation. There is no shame in asking for help. People get tutors, hire personal trainers, and visit professionals in various fields all the time. Your children are your greatest investment on this earth. Seek help if you need it!

So… no, there is no formula to follow that will give you a perfect child. And yes, math can be really hard and so can parenting! Both are true. Therefore, instead of wasting time worrying about them, maybe we can learn something from one that will help us with the other, trusting that God will meet us in our efforts to draw their hearts towards Him. 

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Luke 12:31 (NLT)

Real Life Interrupted

*Note: This was written 2 years ago during the last week of school

This was not exactly how I had planned for the last week of school to go. The kids had already completed several subjects, so their lesson plans were much lighter than usual. Noah had lots of fun activities planned for his last week of preschool, leading up to his graduation on Friday. My goal was to finish our school work, and then use our extra time to organize our work from the year, pack away our books, and clean up our schooling areas. With any luck, I’d get caught up on laundry and start packing for the beach as well!

Instead, as I was in the middle of securing Abby’s bun for her dance pictures, Noah came running in complaining of a tummy ache. Fortunately, the trash can was near by and little man made it just in time. Needless to say, Abby didn’t make it to her pictures. After a turn on the potty and with his tummy still hurting, little Noah climbed into bed, where he slept through dinner and didn’t wake up until 6:45 the next morning.

The next few days left little time for any of the things I had planned.

The laundry piled up. And up. And up.

Lesson plans were half-heartedly completed.

The year’s school work lay scattered in piles around the house.

The books remained unorganized and desks remained cluttered.

Packing? Yeah, right.

All my efforts were focused on trying to get Noah well enough to participate in his graduation ceremony. After all, he’s our baby! I couldn’t let this milestone pass us by. By Friday morning he was up and running around again (Thank You, Jesus!). So, with the house a disaster and my to-do list a mile long, we loaded the whole family in the car and watched tearfully as our little man closed the door on the Preschool chapter of10464015_10206909151271494_3834277550112502004_n our lives and stepped confidently (and a bit comically) into the world of School-Age children. Wasn’t he just born yesterday? How did we get here??

I decided to take Friday afternoon off. After all, I was emotionally drained from watching my baby grow up before my eyes that morning! Yes, the house looked like a tornado had torn through it and the there was much that needed to be done before we could leave for the beach, but this momma needed a break. So I ran some errands, snuck in a quick dinner date with my hubby (a huge advantage of having a Pre-teen daughter!), and went to bed with prayer for good sleep and a list in my head of all that needed to be accomplished the next day…This morning, however, I was awakened by Eli complaining of a tummy ache, and well… Round 2 has begun. Will it ever stop? Will life ever go as planned? Being a mom has got to be the most unpredictable, interruption-filled job there is!

Oddly enough, I read a C.S. Lewis quote on Sunday night that prepared my heart for what was to come:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”

C.S. Lewis, The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis

Thank You, Lord, for this crazy, messy, unpredictable, exhausting, real life.

Now, I’m off to do some laundry…