Inside the Mommyvan

Homeschooling & Life Inside the Mommyvan - an old dog learning new tricks


Amidst all of the adorable back to school pictures our friends posted on various social media, these were ours:

11953314_10153545551544727_8293208923135990811_oYep, THIRD graders! (Who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since preschool)
These are the days I need to remember when the going gets tough!

We use the Life of Fred books from Polka Dot Publishing as a supplement to our regular math curriculum. The kids usually read the Fred stories with Daddy in the evenings or on weekends.

These books follow the adventures of Fred, a five year-old professor at KITTENS University, and his doll Kingie. As we join Fred’s very silly daily life (one day, he watches as the campus bell tower tips over; on another occasion butterflies fly out of his office window), we discover that he uses math everywhere he goes. There’s so much more to Fred, though. The stories are not just silliness and math, they’re full of all sorts of interesting information about topics ranging from astronomy to yurts. There are a handful of questions at the end of each chapter, some about math and some about other topics covered in that chapter or previous ones.

This is fun math. How much fun? One daughter created her very own Life of Fred book:








(The spelling, yes, I know. We’re doing 2nd grade, I don’t fuss over spelling on just-for-fun projects like this one)

The latest addition to our point system is a new set of prizes, and they’ve been a huge hit!

In the clearance bin at a local craft store, I found some packages of reward cards made for this purpose, with a blank to write in the prize and scratch-off stickers to place on top. The hidden rewards include choosing dinner, staying up 30 minutes late, picking a show to watch on the big TV in the living room, and baking something with Mom.


You can find tutorials online, like this one at The Dainty Squid, to make your own; you’ll need acrylic paint, liquid dish soap, and clear packing tape. I’ve heard of people using a heavy coat of crayon over the tape as well.

Simpler is to buy online: has a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. I am using a couple of different 2″ x 1″ rectangular stickers (links below) and, although they are smaller than the ones in the kits, they are easier to scratch off and come off much more cleanly.


With some index cards (or cardstock) and my own fun stickers, I now have a nearly endless supply of surprise prizes. The kids are as excited about the mystery as the reward itself!

Today is the first day of school for most of the kids in our county; for us it’s party time!


Always fun to do a little socializing with our “unsocialized homeschooler” friends!


Before we headed out, we did spend a little time getting our school supplies organized and talking about what we’ll be doing this year — 2nd grade!


They made their own! (Sorry, the post title popped into my head and I couldn’t help myself)


We have a basket of fabric remnants, ribbons, pipe cleaners, and other embellishments that the kids can use for crafts or whatever else they want. The girls love to create their own costumes; sometimes they even put on a show using what they’ve made.

This is an activity I don’t ever suggest, they pull it out when they are feeling inspired. The fabric all goes back into the basket afterwards, so they do all of this knowing that their creations are temporary (I do try to get a photo or two of the finished product, though).

Sometimes presentation can make all the difference. When we need a little extra motivation, I’ll often pull out the mini M&Ms and use them as prizes for questions answered correctly during lesson time.

The other day, I changed things up just a little bit. Instead of announcing the next lesson as usual, I said “I’m going to show you how to win M&Ms!”

Whaddaya know… instead of moaning and groaning, three kids came running and were excited to get started!

Happy Halloween & some great costumes from my bloggy friends!

Alex Nguyen and her sons “the Stein brothers.” (Frankenstein and Einstein).



Teaching Ain’t for Heroes’ Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.

TotallyNursed — the Captain, and his friend, as Superman and Batman.


Pollychromatic’s adorable Wonderwoman and Captain America.


Jill Redding’s Doc McStuffin’s.

Fine and Fair’s Ladybug and Banana (she’s the monkey).


Elizabeth Hawksworth, tin-foil-hatting it.

Putting the twin in Parentwin, tbh. got a great stash!


It was A Day Well Spent, over here.


A Place That Does not Exist produced a raver this Halloween!


The Answer Is Garlic, or is it Yoda?



And Inside the Mommy Van gets outside!



Visiting the pumpkin patch at a local church has been an annual event since the kids were babes. They each pick one pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern and one mini pumpkin for decoration. I try to get a few nice photos while we’re there, since we don’t get much fall color anywhere else here in Florida.





A new role in my life, Girl Scout leader, means a new category here on the blog. I have a brand new troop of 18 Daisy (Kindergarten & 1st grade) and Brownie (2nd & 3rd grade) Girl Scouts, most of whom are new to Girl Scouting too. We’re just getting started, and my co-leaders and I have a lot to learn right alongside the girls.

One of our activities this month is a SWAPS meetup with other troops from our area. SWAPS, or Special Whatchamacallits Affectionally Pinned Somewhere, are a fun Girl Scout tradition.The girls each make a batch of little craft items, each hung from a safety pin, then exchange them with other girls at events and Girl Scout gatherings. Many people attach a tag with the girl’s (first) name, troop number, and sometimes the name or date of the event.

Since 2/3 of my troop is the youngest Girl Scouts, I wanted to come up with something that they could do mostly on their own without too much frustration. I feel strongly that it is far more important for kids to create a thing themselves than to have it come out perfect. This takes some careful planning, though, as children’s skill levels can vary widely at this age and just one task that requires fine motor skills they don’t have yet will likely end in tears (theirs or yours). Safe bets at this age are: cutting straight lines, free-form drawing, coloring, or painting (especially painting!), gluing, and embellishing with stick-on or glue-on beads, gems, ribbons, yarn, stickers, and other small baubles (not too small, though!). When gluing, a small cup or plate with a dollop of glue plus an applicator (stick, toothpick, glue spreader) will make it easier to get small amounts where they belong than squeezing a glue bottle. Some kids, especially girls, will be able to do more, but if you’re coming up with a craft for a group, better to aim low and let the more advanced girls add their own special touches like writing, detailed painting, or cutting more complex shapes.

After browsing Pinterest, soliciting ideas via email from other Daisy leaders, and brainstorming with my daughters, we came up with these easy-peasy camping themed SWAPS:

Supplies for Camping SWAPS

Supplies for the sleeping bags: felt, pony beads (small buttons or similar would also work).
Supplies for the tents: felt, toothpicks.
Both will require scissors, white glue, safety pins, and tags (optional).

For both SWAPS, the felt will need to be cut into small rectangles. A cutting mat and rotary cutter are very helpful here, but certainly not necessary. A pen and sharp scissors will do the job, especially if you’re only cutting a few sheets of felt. I first marked the measurements in one direction using a quilting ruler and a fabric marking pencil, then cut the felt into strips in the other direction with my quilting ruler and rotary cutter. This allowed my daughter to cut the strips into rectangles along the marked lines. I quickly learned that kid scissors do not cut felt very well, especially after being used to cut who-knows-what else around the house, so I

had to “help” a bit more at that point. Also, the sheets of craft felt are not always exactly 9″ x 12″, and sometimes the edges aren’t perfectly straight, so plan for some waste in the numbers below.

Sleeping Bag SWAPS

The sleeping bags are the simpler of these two crafts. The bottoms measure 1 1/4″ long x 3/4″ wide. The sleeping bag tops measure 1″ long x 3/4″ wide, in a contrasting color. Two 9″ x 12″ sheet of craft felt (one in each color) will make just over 100 sleeping bags.

When you have the felt pieces cut, just apply some glue to the top and stick it to the bottom piece, aligning three edges (the bottom piece should stick out at the fourth edge). If you have marked your felt sheets for cutting, you can hide the marks by gluing the marked sides together.


Apply a generous dollop of glue to the sticking-out edge of the bottom piece, and add your bead (this represents the camper’s head). Set the whole thing aside to let the glue dry. We liked our pony beads standing on edge—K said it looked like she was yawning that way 🙂 —but this is where even the youngest girls can use a little creativity and feel good about it. Although it may seem inconsequential to the grown-ups, the tiniest details like choosing the color and position of a bead can give a young girl a real sense of ownership and accomplishment.


And that’s all there is to it! Other ideas: make them out of different colors to make use of felt scraps; use them as decoration for a display board or a larger craft project; attach to name tags or tie onto goody bags for a camping-themed party or special event.


Tent sides measure 1″ wide x 1 1/2″ long. A 9″ x 12″ sheet of craft felt will make 72 tent sides, or 36 completed tents. We made our tents with the same color on both sides, but you could certainly get creative here and/or add embellishments.

These are slightly more involved than the sleeping bags, but still easily do-able by a 6 year-old. The first step is to glue two pieces of felt together along one long edge. Do several of these at once and set them aside, because the glue will need to be dry before you move on to the next step.

Once the top seam is dry, it’ time to add the tent poles. Break a toothpick in half. Next is the trickiest part of this craft: bend each toothpick half in half again, but don’t break them all the way. This is another area where girls may need some adult help. They may have trouble getting the toothpicks to break near the middle, or their fingers may get tired after breaking a few.

Spread a line of glue along each inside short edge of the tent and stick the toothpick “poles” in there. The bent toothpick pieces will hold the sides open a bit, giving the whole thing its tent-like shape. If some of your toothpick pieces break apart when you try to bend them, it’s not a disaster. Pair those pieces at one end of a tent with a bent (not broken) pole on the other end.

Stand the tents up to dry so that they hold their shape as the glue dries. That’s it! Older girls might want to embellish the tents, perhaps adding their troop number—maybe on a flag—or even a little camper doll inside. These could even be combined with the sleeping bag and some other pieces to make a whole Girl Scout campsite.

Here are finished SWAPS with safety pins and tags attached. I made the tags by using the “Labels” feature in Microsoft Word. The details may vary slightly depending on the version of Word you have, but the end result is that you type your information once and the software fills the whole page with whatever you type, in neat rows and columns for easy cutting.

Select Labels from the Tools menu, and use the Options button to pick a small label. I used Avery 8667 Return Address labels. Type whatever text you want into the Address box, be sure the Full page of the same label option is selected, and click OK. There should be a Font button somewhere if you need to change your text size to make it fit. When you are happy with the layout you see, print out however many pages you need (the label I used fits 80 on a page), cut them out, and punch holes near one end to make it easier to insert the safety pins. You can just poke the pins through, but a heavy-duty hole punch (if you are or know a scrapbooker, you can get a smaller hole from some scrapbooking tools than a standard notebook hole-puncher) will make the job easier by letting you punch through a stack of tags all at once.