Our Goals for Homeschool Preschool This Year

Failing to plan is planning to fail, right? I am a goals person. I love setting them, I love working on them, and I love chucking them when things change and the goals no longer fit.

Meaning? I’m not married to my goals. They just keep me focused. And trust me, I can use all the help with focusing that I can get.

So today, I’m talking about our goals for homeschool preschool this year. Oliver is three and is a high-energy, active boy. Translation? A lovable boy who is very much into anything that interests him ALL.THE.TIME. I’m hoping to help him focus his energy a bit more on productive activities. ūüėČ

Our homeschool preschool goals for our 3 year old. We keep it simple.

Our Goals for Homeschool Preschool

Oliver is a solid 3.5 years old as we start this homeschool year and is showing a LOT of interest in learning about just about anything. He is inquisitive and loves people.

I have the feeling he is going to prove to be a kinesthetic, social learner…the two learning styles that challenge me the most. This is actually why I am starting to work with him in a more focused manner now. I started with kindergarten age with our older children.

Writing Readiness

Basically, I want to work on his fine motor skills. Both of my boys have always had good fine motor skills, I just want to fine tune Oliver’s a bit before diving into working with pencils. I am using the following resources to guide this area:

Developing a Love of Reading

I’m of the “if you can read, you can learn anything” mentality. I want to create a love of reading in my children. This is actually a goal for all of our kids this homeschool year. I’ve let reading fall in our priorities list and I want to remedy that now.

I will work on this goal by being intentional about reading to my kids. Yes, the dreaded read aloud. I am still conquering that one. Love to read, not so much out loud.

Fostering Independence

Oliver is very independent as it is. I am trying to not see this as quite so bittersweet (mah baby doesn’t need meee!) and embracing it. I want to help Oliver develop some good habits that I wasn’t quite so diligent about with the older three when they were little. Things like helping with laundry and putting away toys immediately after use.

I also want to encourage his growing independent play time. He is the youngest (by almost six years) of four so he has always had someone to hang out with. This is a great thing for his social skills (the kid doesn’t know a stranger), but isn’t such a great thing when everyone else has something going on that he can’t help with like their own schoolwork.

That’s pretty much it. I am not one for a lot of structure when it comes to the early years of homeschooling. We are pretty relaxed to allow a lot of time for things like play, exploring their gifts and talents, and building family relationships.

These three goals for homeschool preschool are a good fit for our family. Do you have any homeschool goals for this year?

Redeeming Anxiety

It’s been a long not-quite-two years for me. After weaning our fourth child, my hormones took a dive and it has been a long, long uphill battle with panic attacks and ridiculous anxiety. My nights just weren’t the same.

I’ve since made my way to a routine that works well for me and my hormones are recovering. I haven’t had a panic attack in a long time, and the most persistent issue of anxiety is slowly waning.

Today I wanted to share one of the tricks I’ve found to be particularly helpful when I’m fighting anxiety and why I believe it is so effective for me.

Redeeming Anxiety - One simple change that made a big difference for me.

For me, anxiety usually hits at night when I’m trying to fall asleep. If I am not careful, it can creep into full on panic attack. I’ve figured out a bunch of physical triggers for my panic attacks and know how to watch for those so I don’t trigger one.

But the mental ones are the ones that always catch me off guard. It can literally be one sentence a few hours before bed that will start one. The most recent one was on my husband’s birthday.

We were driving home and I asked him if he had a great birthday. He said yes and I said good…but my brain finished the sentence with “now I can die happy.”


It came out of nowhere and stuck with me all evening. By the time I went to bed, I was in full pre-panic attack mode. It was a rough night.

So what helps?


Now before you write me off with an “I already pray about this all the time,” please hear me out. I get it. I know what you mean. I have been there.

When I changed what I was praying about, I saw a difference. It was a simple switch. I simply went from praying about what was going on and asking God to change/stop it, to praying about the specific worry or concern that I had in a way that was bigger than myself.

An example: One of my biggest fears is losing my husband or one of my children. It is a big trigger for me. Before, I would pray and thank God for my husband and children when I feared losing them.

This was not a bad thing at all, but it was not particularly helpful. The last time this happened, it was triggered by hearing of the death of the 15-year-old daughter of someone I didn’t even know.

Now, when I find myself anxious about someone dying (or anything), I pray for those who are currently walking through it. I do this for any anxious thought that tries to come at me. If I don’t know anyone by name who is walking through whatever is making me anxious, I pray for those that I don’t know, knowing that God knows.

The reason this works for me is that what I’m dealing with isn’t reality. It is fear of something that MIGHT happen. It really isn’t logical. And I know this, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult to deal with in my head.

By turning my attention from me, I take the power of the fear away. I usually get lost in praying for those who ARE going through the loss of a loved one, a sick child, or <insert fear here> and my fears are replaced with compassion.

So, that’s it. My little trick is basically to stop thinking of myself. It works for me and, if you are dealing with anxiety, I hope you can find some comfort in it, too.

12 Books to Help You Take Better Pictures

Cameras are everywhere these days. Most of us carry at least one around with us daily (camera phone, anyone?) and we likely have access to at least one other. Whether you have a point and shoot, a digital SLR, or an old-school film camera, chances are, you want to take better pictures.

12 Books to Help You Take Better Pictures

Today, I’m sharing a collection of books that have spent a couple months in my house courtesy of our library. There is something for everyone here.

Snapp Shots: How to Take Great Pictures with Smartphones and Apps by Adam Bronkhorst – This is a fun book. It covers your basics like understanding how your phone’s camera works, setting up a good shot, and editing. My personal favorite sections were the last three: Using the Shot, Taking it Farther, and Accessories.

Sixty Tips for Creative iPhone Photography by Martina Holmberg – Obviously, this book is geared specifically for iPhone users. It covers the very basics like what an app is, and moves on to more advanced subjects. The tips are short but effective. There are a lot of examples to illustrate the tips, too. There is also a section on video and plenty of app suggestions.

The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life by George Lange with Scott Mowbray – The subtitle on this one sets pretty lofty expectations, doesn’t it? If you read this, I don’t think you can help but take better pictures. Photography is about more than pressing a button on a camera. This book focuses more on the storytelling of photography and why it is important in creating better pictures.

Mamarazzi: Every Mom’s Guide to Photographing Kids by Stacy Wasmuth – This book is geared for moms who want to take better pictures of their kids, but it is helpful if you want to shoot other people’s kids, too…with a camera, of course. Each section includes a focus on a professional photographer for even more ideas.

The Beginner’s Photography Guide: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Manual for Getting the Most From Your Digital Camera by DK Publishing¬†– This is a very good, visual guide book. Lots of photos and illustrations to show you exactly what they are talking about. This book includes a section on equipment that is very helpful.

The iPhone Photographer: How to Take Professional Photographs with Your iPhone by Michael Fagans – Each section tells of a specific session the photographer shot, including apps used. Aside from the apps, this book could work for any camera phone, I think.

Art of Everyday Photography: Move Toward Manual & Make Creative Photos by Susan Tuttle – This is a good guide for those who want to start working with the manual settings on their DSLR cameras. Great info that covers portrait, food, nature, and everyday life photography.

Understanding Flash Photography: How to Shoot Great Photographs Using Electronic Flash by Bryan Peterson – This is a great, thorough look into using a flash in your photos. There is an art to creating great photos with a flash, flash can make your pictures flat and wash out the subjects. Understanding how it works will help you take better pictures with flash.

Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs With Any Camera by Bryan Peterson – Another thorough book, this time on exposure. This is a great next step book for those looking to break away from the presets on their DSLR and gain experience shooting in manual modes.

Your Baby in Pictures: The New Parents’ Guide to Photographing Your Baby’s First Year by Me Ra Koh – This book is broken down by age brackets for ideas on what to capture when. Each suggestion includes tips for those working with a point and shoot camera and those working with a digital SLR camera.

A Beautiful Mess Photo Idea Book: 95 Inspiring Ideas for Photographing Your Friends, Your World, and Yourself by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman – This is an inspirational book. It doesn’t focus so much on the technical side of photography, but on the composition and creative side. This book includes creative ideas for props and backgrounds, too.

Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting From the Heart by The Shutter Sisters – The sections in this book are categorized like this: Horizons, Portraiture, Nature, Documentary, Togetherness, etc. Each section includes an introduction, approach, perspective, composition, lighting, details, and processing. The book is written by several photographers, so there is a variety of thought processes shared.

There you have it, 12 books to help you take better pictures. Pick one up from Amazon today or see if your library has it. Either way, start reading and then start clicking!

Printable Homeschool Planner

Do you have a homeschool planner that you love? I’m kind of a planner junkie. This goes for just about any type of planner. I love them all. One day in June, I got this great, absolutely crazy idea to make a homeschool planner for myself because I couldn’t quite find that “perfect” planner for this year.

Here is what I was looking for in a planner:

  • I wanted it to be pretty. Yes. I wanted it to be pretty. I really like the prettiness of The Well Planned Day, but it was not quite right content wise for this year (going a bit more minimalistic).
  • I wanted to be able to customize it to fit our family. This is why I ended up making one.

Free Printable Homeschool Planner - over 12 pages with 2 cover options

I started with some of the basic pages and went from there. I am now offering a version of this for free to you, my lovely reader-friends.

In this free printable homeschool planner, you will find the following:

  • two different covers – one chalkboard because it is pretty, one on a white background because printer ink
  • two year-at-a-glance calendars – 2015 and 2016
  • curriculum planner page – blank so you can choose which subjects to include
  • blank monthly calendar – fill in the dates each month
  • two-page weekly planner – plan each subject out each week, six columns and seven rows
  • daily docket – includes space to write out a to-do list, the day’s meal plan, track health and wellness goals, list errands, and a spot for words of encouragement or inspiration
  • two options for a student half-sheet daily docket – each half-sheet has three sections: schoolwork, chores, and important times, includes a black and white, less-girly option for those students who may not appreciate a pretty, purple font
  • weekly docket – to-do list, errand list, and weekly, three-meal, meal plan

The printable homeschool planner is free and includes over 12 pages. But that is not all, I have MORE pages in the works for this. I am estimating this to be available this fall. Sign up for email updates so you don’t miss those (top of the sidebar)!

Download your free printable homeschool planner now!

How to Save Links on Facebook

Have you ever had this happen? You are on Facebook and a friend shares a recipe that looks totally awesome, but you don’t have time to pull it up and check it out now? Or have you ever shared a recipe to your Facebook wall to save it and then forget all about it?

I have a solution that should help you…and it is right on Facebook. It is one of my favorite features (you’ll see in one of the photos below) and I think it could be one of yours eventually, too.

How to Save Links on Facebook - It's as easy as 1-2-3!

This is super easy and if you didn’t know about it before, you’ll likely be like me and wonder how you got along without it. Well, maybe not. Maybe you don’t use Facebook as much as I do. But, let’s not worry about that right now. Back to me showing you how to save links on Facebook…

How to Save Links on Facebook

When you come across a link that you want to save, you will need to click on the little “arrow” (I don’t really know what you call that thing, but it is #1 below.) and a menu will pull up. Then you simply click “Save link” and it will give you a little “link saved” message.

Your dropdown menu may look a little different depending on where you are on Facebook. I took this screenshot on an actual page, it is organized a bit different when I click on it in my newsfeed. You still click “Save link” to save a link. You can also do this on Facebook mobile.

How to Save Links on Facebook - It's as easy as 1-2-3!

How to Find Your Saved Links on Facebook

When you pull up Facebook, look at your sidebar. Scroll down until you see the little blue icon next to the word Saved. Click on that.

How to Find Your Saved Links on Facebook

This will take you right where Facebook keeps your saved links. It looks like this:

How to Find Your Saved Links on Facebook

As you can see, you can save videos this way, too. You can probably also tell that I use this feature pretty heavily. I haven’t found a way to save photos on Facebook like this, but if I ever see it, I will update this post to show you how to do that, too.

How to Use the Saved Links Feature on Facebook

I wanted to take a quick minute to tell you how I use the saved links and videos feature on Facebook.

  • A bookmark for things I want to read later. Sometimes I will come across a link to a post that I don’t want to miss, but I’m just checking Facebook before heading to bed or out the door (you, too?). I’ll save it to read later.
  • If I want to pin something to a Pinterest board, but I’m on mobile or in a general hurry. I’ll save it for when I am on the laptop and can take the time to put it on the correct board to find when I need it. Facebook links aren’t able to be organized, so I use them for short-term bookmarking. I use Pinterest for long-term, visual bookmarking.
  • To keep track of things to share on my Facebook page. I schedule posts to share on the Simply Vicki Facebook page and this is where I store the things I find on Facebook that I want to share in my next scheduling session.

So that’s it. Short and sweet. Did you know how to save links on Facebook before this post? If you did, how do you use the feature? I’m a fan of comments, so talk to me! :)

Baby Wipes Aren’t Just For Babies

Growing up, my Mom always carried a package of baby wipes in our vehicles. This was LONG after any of us kids were in diapers, though she obviously carried them with her when we were in diapers, too. When I was approached about a sponsored post for the Huggies “Because Kids Outgrow Diapers, Not Messes*” campaign, it felt like a good fit. Huggies wipes have been a part of my life for a very long time.

Baby Wipes Are Not Just for Babies!

My own children are out of diapers. Even my baby is now potty trained. He decided at 2 1/2 years that he was going to use the potty and that was that. Easiest of the 4, which was a bit bittersweet, but mostly awesome. I thoroughly enjoy not toting a diaper bag around with us anymore, but that often means we are without the ever handy baby wipes.

Then I had the ingenious idea to put one of the Huggies baby wipes packages right next to our toddler’s car seat. This works for a couple reasons:

  • The package actually fits nicely between the armrest of the car seat and the seat bottom (which we keep covered with a towel to protect it from wear from the bottom of the car seat).
  • The biggest need we have for wipes in the car sits in that seat. Ahem.

On any given car trip, these are the mess “emergencies” that I hear about from the back seat:

  • His hands are sticky because he’s been playing with his gum.
  • His hands are messy because squishing crackers surprisingly makes crumbs.
  • Some kind sibling gave him a piece of candy, which ended up all over his hands and face.
  • His hands are “berry, berry” sticky for some mysterious reason and he is reaching out to touch a sibling. This is usually a loud emergency that comes in the form of “DON’T touch me, Oliver!” and squeals of laughter as Oliver reaches as far as he possibly can.
  • HIS CUP CONDENSATED AND HE GOT HIS HANDS WET! (Yes, this constitutes an all-caps emergency to our resident threenager.)
  • Occasionally, there is actual dirt that ends up on his hands, that usually gets wiped on his shirt because, you know, no big deal…

So, yes, we are now keeping a package of baby wipes right by his seat. I’m realizing now that we are also going to need to put a trash bag by his seat or I’m going to have baby wipes all over the floor. If it’s not one thing, it is another, isn’t it?

Have Baby Wipes, Will Travel...With Kids!

Huggies Wipes – Because Kids Outgrow Diapers, Not Messes*

You can find a variety of sizes and decorative packages at Walmart. Huggies brand is the only wipes brand with Triple Clean layers. We have found Huggies fragrance free wipes to be gentle enough for all four of our children’s skin.

For more ways to use Huggies Wipes, be sure to check out the 101 Uses of Huggies Wipes video on the Walmart website.

Do you keep a package of baby wipes with you in the car?

Strawberry Pistachio Gelato Sundae

Have you ever tried gelato? I hadn’t until today. I am thankful to the folks over at Turkey Hill Dairy for sponsoring this post and introducing me to their new all natural gelato. My kids were pretty happy, too.

We each chose different flavors and toppings, but today I am going to show you my 3-year-old’s creation and a yummy recipe for a sugar free strawberry topping.

Strawberry Pistachio Gelato Sundae (includes a recipe for a sugar free strawberry topping!)

Yes, my 3-year-old chose the Turkey Hill chocolate chocolate chip flavor, the sugar free strawberry topping I made, and his favorite nut, pistachios. And he enjoyed it very much…

Strawberry Pistachio Gelato Sundae (includes a recipe for a sugar free strawberry topping!)

Strawberry Pistachio Gelato Sundae (includes a recipe for a sugar free strawberry topping!)

The rest of us enjoyed flavors like, sea salted caramel (me), chocolate peanut butter, mint chocolate chip, and purely vanilla. We picked up 5 flavors total, one of each that our Kroger carried. They did not have the hazelnut, coffee chip, or peach mango, but maybe your local store will!

Turkey Hill Dairy's All Natural Gelato - made with simple ingredients.

A little about Turkey Hill’s All Natural Gelato…

  • Turkey Hill is the first major ice cream brand to offer all natural gelato.
  • All natural gelato is made with simple ingredients like milk, cream, and sugar. I was pleasantly surprised to see no chemicals listed on the ingredient lists I checked out.
  • Gelato has less air in it than ice cream, which makes it have a denser, richer flavor. Definitely an indulgence.
  • You can find the all natural gelato wherever Turkey Hill products are sold.

This stuff is so, so good. Be sure to give it a try!

Turkey Hill Dairy's All Natural Gelato - made with simple ingredients.

Now, let me give you this super simple recipe to top your gelato with!

Super Simple, Sugar Free Strawberry Gelato Topping

Sugar Free Strawberry Gelato Topping

Since gelato is so rich, the tartness of unsweetened strawberries is just right.

  • 1 lb. container of fresh strawberries
  • 2-4 T. butter

Chop your strawberries. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium/medium-low heat. Add the strawberries and bring to a simmer. Cook the strawberries until soft and saucy. This takes about 10-15 minutes.

Allow your sauce to cool completely before you pour it over your gelato or it will melt it pretty quickly and you will have soup. Of course, you may be like I was as a kid and prefer your ice cream that way.

This is good over a lot of flavors, but over top the purely vanilla is simply divine!

Sugar Free Strawberry Gelato Topping

Sugar Free Strawberry Gelato Topping

Sugar Free Strawberry Gelato Topping

Connect With Turkey Hill Dairy

Be sure to find Turkey Hill on Facebook and Twitter to stay on top of all the latest and greatest news, like when they launch awesome products like all natural gelato!

Turkey Hill Dairy's all natural gelato - made with simple ingredients


Little House on the Prairie is Back!

Growing up, one of my favorite things to read was the Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was so fun imagining what it would be like to live on a prairie, in a log cabin, or even in a house in the ground!

Little House on the Prairie is Back! | Vicki-Arnold.com

I don’t remember when I first saw the Little House on the Prairie television show, but I loved it, too. I loved to not like (we don’t hate, right?) Nellie Oleson and just watch Laura and Mary live out the scenes that I had played in my head over and over again as a child.

Fast forward a few (many) years, and I taught a Little House class for our homeschool co-op. It was a huge class. We read through Little House on the Prairie, which is book number two in the Little House series. As we read, we did a few activities and discussed what prairie life really was like. I learned a lot in the class, I hope the kids did, too!

Why do I tell you this? So you will understand why when I came across the opportunity to review the newly relaunching tv series on DVD, I jumped on it! I was sent a DVD copy of the first season and a documentary about Laura.

Mail days like these are one of my favorite parts about blogging!

A photo posted by Vicki Arnold (@vicki_arnold) on

Little House on the Prairie is Back!

My kids have seen several episodes of the series from when we had a satellite dish a few years ago and we all came down sick when there was a Little House on the Prairie marathon on one of the channels. But we have never watched them in chronological order and I thought that would be fun to do with them.

The series has gotten a digital facelift, remastered is actually what they call it. The covers for these are gorgeous, such vivid colors. See?

The series is just a great as I remember it. It’s not overly dramatic or cheesy like some family friendly television can be. The picture of the remastered DVD looks great on our big screen. We will likely be adding seasons two and three to our movie library as we go through the series.

Little House on the Prairies is such a wholesome show, it’s one that the whole family can watch. There are hard times and death is a theme that is dealt with, so if you have particularly sensitive littles, you may want to preview each episode to know what scenes (or possible episodes) to skip watching with them.

The first season includes the pilot movie that chronicles highlights of their journey from the Big Woods to the Prairie. I think the actors/writers did a good job of showing how it wasn’t just a fun, easy going trip, but keeping it balanced so that it wasn’t depressing either. Simple little things like voice tones that I can relate to as a parent, facing hard times, but wanting to be strong for your children.

The episode Harvest of Friends was particularly heart-warming to me. I loved watching how the community came together to help a family in need that had given so much to so many previously. It was a great episode for showing the concept of reaping and sowing.

Little House on the Prairie Is Social!

This is kind of funny and would likely be a foreign concept to Laura and her family, but Little House on the Prairie now has a great website that recently launched. And it is just lovely. Perhaps my favorite find on the website to date was article on Pioneer Kitchen Gardens, but there is a LOT of information on the website that you will want to explore.

To celebrate, they are hosting an awesome giveaway so be sure to check that out, too. I’d love to read that Pioneer Girl book!

You can also find Little House on the Prairie on social media:

Be sure to check out all the new Little House on the Prairie fun and the digitally remastered DVD’s today!

Little House on the Prairie is Back! | Vicki-Arnold.com