Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's all about the money

Before we started homeschooling, I worked part time.  We had decided that the amount of money I would make at a full time job wouldn't offset the amount we would spend for child care, plus part time allowed me to do all the volunteer stuff and handle all the appointments  and school stuff that I did.  I was a lunch lady, working 2 hours a day, only when the kids were in school.  I didn't make a ton of money, but it was enough for all of the extra stuff that came up. Because it was lunch, it was directly in the middle of the day and there was no way I could be gone for 2 hours and get anything done at home, so I had to quit, but giving up that bit of extra has been hard.

There are several things that I've been doing from home to help earn a little earn.  It should be noted that this isn't "quit your job and move to the south of France" money.  This is, legit, a LITTLE extra.  It also requires only a little time and no kind of set schedule, which works well for me, right now.

The first thing I've been doing is SwagBucks.

This is a points program.  You earn 1 cent per point and can cash your points out for gift cards to all kinds of places likeAmazon, Walmart, a prepaid Visa gift card, or even a Paypal credit. If you sign up through the above link, you get 150 free points to start! You can use it as as search tool and occasionally, you will get rewarded with points for searching for the things you search for anyway.  You aren't awarded points for every search and the results aren't that great, compared to Google. I did just earn 31 SB by searching this afternoon, so it can be done, it just requires several searches to get anything.  I wouldn't count on searching to earn the bulk of your points, but there are a lot of other ways to earn points and those are all pretty easy.

The EASIEST way to earn points is download the SBTV app to your phone or tablet.  I have an old iPhone that I have the app running on and it just runs off to the side while I'm doing other things. It mostly shows movie trailers, which can actually be kind of interesting.  I have found that some of the ads that play between videos can require interaction and hang up the process if you aren't paying attention.  I've found that the ads tend (although not exclusively) to hang up more on the weekends, which is a little weird.  You can earn up to 36 points a day through that app, although a lot of times I qualify for a bonus, which means I just keep letting it play.  There are other apps, including EntertainNow, MovieClips, Sportly, and LifeStyles that are all associated with SwagBucks.  I only use them when all other methods fail me, because you have to watch a LOT more videos to earn SB than the SBTV app and you max out at 10 SB.  I've also found that a lot more ads require interaction and shut it down.

You can also earn points for your regular online shopping.  It is places that you shop anyway, like Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, Target, plus tons of other sites.  I don't do a lot of online shopping (I'm all about the instant gratification), but you can 3 or 4 SB per dollar spent if you shop online.  You just have to remember to go through the SB portal to get to your site to make sure you get your points.

The way I earn the bulk of my points is by taking surveys through the Swagbucks website.  There are different surveys throughout the day, every day.  They have various levels of points and time required.  Unless I'm really hurting for points, I try to stick to the short ones that have mid level points.  There was one the other day that wanted 72 minutes for 45 points.  I passed.  I may not be making SuperPAC money, but my time is worth more than 45 cents an hour.

Some days, my dashboard looks like this, with lots of choices.

Other days, it is empty or close enough, and I have to check back several times.  The majority (all? Although I wouldn't swear to that) of the surveys have an unpaid screener associated with them.  For the most part, it is a handful of demographic questions and only take a matter of minutes to complete. I've had a few that went on forever, but mostly they are short enough to not be a problem.  I get rejected from as many surveys as I get accepted for, but I still get accepted for enough to get my daily goal every day.  

You also get messages, that have stuff like download an app for 45 points or watch ads online, that can help you make your goal each day.  

The site has a daily goal, that if you meet it each day, they give you bonus points and if you make your goals for several days in a row, they give you more bonus points.  The more days you hit your goal, the higher the goal becomes.  It started out with 40 or 50 points a day.  Since I hit 14 days in a row, I've been having goals between 70 and 100 most days.  I've been doing this regularly since late August and I've made about $100.  Like I said, you aren't getting rich, but I've set a personal goal of earning 100 points a day or hitting the daily goal, whichever is higher.  

You don't want to go into this with no plan though.  You'll want to set a daily goal and figure out something that you are saving for.  It isn't enough money to keep you motivated on it's own, so you need to know what you want the money for.  I'm saving for Christmas presents but you could totally do it for your Starbucks fix or extra grocery money each month.  Since I started late in the year, I'm not going to have a ton for Christmas this year, but if I can earn an average of 100 points a day, I can save over $300 for Christmas, with a time commitment of less than an hour a day.

The second thing I do each day is MTurk from Amazon  They have you do small tasks for small pay.  I have my dashboard sorted by the tasks (called HITs, or Human Intelligence Tasks) that I'm qualified for and that pay the most first.  

These can and do change day to day.  I'm terrible at transcription, so I generally pass on those, although they are much higher pay per piece than what I normally do.  There are data entry type tasks, which are a few cents per item, like 1-5 cents per piece. I actually kind of enjoy those, although they are pretty mindless.  I do try to find ones that pay a minimum of 10 cents because a penny each isn't really enough.  There were ones a few weeks ago that were entering information off scanned hospital records, that the computer couldn't read.  I did a bunch of those and really enjoyed them.  

Mostly, I end up doing academic surveys, which can be pretty interesting.  I shoot for earning a minimum of $2.00 a day.  Some days, I'll get a couple of decent pay ones and be done in no time.  Somedays, I'm scratching together a bunch of 40 cents to add up to $2.00.  Once you do a survey for a group, you will occasionally get invited back to do additional surveys and those are generally much higher pay per survey.  

Finally, I do Perk  This is the same deal as Swagbucks.  You download the app and watch videos for points.  You can also download apps for trivia, games, etc to earn additional points.  They offer the same search as well.  The points on this one aren't nearly as good as Swagbucks, so if you have to chose between the two, do SB first and leave this one out.  PerkTV earns 1000 points per dollar instead of 100 points per dollar.  I started it at the same time as Swagbucks and I've earned almost $10, instead of closer to $100.  The thing Perk TV has going for it is that some of the channels are actually kind of interesting.  I have one running right now about DIY and crafts and I'm kind of enjoying it.

If you are  looking for something that pays real money check out Real ways to earn money online.  She has lists of "side hustles", stuff like I've been doing but she also has lists of real work from home jobs.  Stuff like call centers, virtual assistant gigs, free lance writing, etc that let you work from home.  Most of them require more hours a week than I'm willing to devote to it or need set hours that don't work with our schedule, so I haven't looked into most of them.  She does reviews of many of the companies and most of them seem legit.  

The links I included for SwagBucks and Perk should be my referral links, which should get you points to start off.  If it doesn't work, and you want to sign up, leave me a comment on here and I'll send you a direct invite.  Might as well get all the easy points you can! :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Curriculum choices

Seriously, that title is garbage, but I got nothing.  I'm willing to take suggestions, if you have any!

Last year, since we were totally new, I just made things up as I went along.  Homeschooling sort of happened on the spur of the moment and I didn't have much time for research before we were in it.  It was a little like jumping off the high dive without taking swimming lessons first!  We survived it, but it was kind of dicey.
Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I didn't want to start throwing money around, only to find out that I hated what we bought and needed something different, so I used free resources off the internet.  There are several sites that offer free full curriculums but I wasn't sure where we were going and I wasn't able to wrap my head around them at the time.  Mostly, I printed free worksheets from a million different websites and didn't have much direction because I wanted them to learn all the things.

This year, we've narrowed our focus quite a bit and I did purchase some curriculums.  I also had time to review some of the free sites and make choices that work for us.

For math, we've started using Virtual Homeschool Group and I really like it.  It works like a coop, with teachers, but all online, at our own pace.  They use Saxon books and do a video for each lesson, so the kids can watch those, read the lesson in the book, and email the teacher or attend open office hours to get help.  They automatically grade all the assignments, there are review questions from previous assignments on each lesson, and there are weekly tests.  It doesn't require much from me, other than answering questions they have during the class or tech trouble shooting.  They have a lot of classes in other subjects, including live classes for discussions, that I'm going to look into for the future, but for now, I'm digging the math.  This is completely free and run solely by volunteers, although they do accept donations to cover the costs associated with running the site.  Parents can also volunteer for various jobs, but it isn't required.

Price: Free.  Donations and volunteers accepted. Book is sold separately. Full set, including tests is about $70 on Amazon.  Student edition is currently running about $3.00 on Amazon. 

Term: One school year, online but book would be reusable.

Writing is something both kids struggle with, so I wanted to make sure that we had something that provided them a solid writing foundation.  Besides their general struggles, I feel like they both have massive gaps in what they SHOULD know about language, because mechanics of writing just isn't taught in public school any more.  I did some research and polled a few homeschool groups I'm part of and settled on Winning With Writing, which is part of the Growing with Grammar series.  I went with the 4th grade curriculum, even though it younger than either of them.  It wasn't so young that they felt insulted but it started at a point that they need practice at.  It is really the basics of writing, including paragraph creation, planning what to write, writing quotes, etc. I like that it still has the dashed lines to help them get control of their handwriting before moving on.  It is a grab and go curriculum, divided into lessons and days.  These are workbooks, so they aren't reusable or shareable, but the price is totally reasonable for a full year of writing instruction.  It comes with an answer book, but the reality is, you still need to know the basics yourself.  Most of the lessons involve actual writing and you have to grade them, since answers can vary.  It is just the basics though, so it should still be easy enough to grade. 

Price: $26.99 for one student.  $24.99 for additional student books.

Term: One school year, not reusable. 

Spelling is another subject that the kids struggle with.  WF is dyslexic, which causes him to have a hard time with spelling correctly.  I did a lot of research on spelling programs for dyslexics and the general consensus was All About Spelling was the way to go.  Pretty much everyone loves it and I can see why.  You need to get a teacher manual, a student kit for each level and a single interactive kit.  Teacher manuals and interactive kits can be used by multiple students, but they recommend getting each child their own student kit.  Since each kids needs to practice different things, it would be difficult to keep track without having separate kits, but it could be done if money is a major concern.  It comes with magnets to stick to the backs of the letter tiles and we use an old white board to hold all of ours but you can just store them in a ziplock bag and dump them on the table each day.

This is a multi-sensory approach, so they are saying things, hearing things, moving tiles with their hands, writing things, etc.  We started with level one and the words are too easy.  I'm not disappointed that we started with the very easy level, because we flew through it and I know that they have a solid base to continue.  

MF does it in the spirit it is intended and has made some serious progress in her ability to spell.  WF is a typical teenager and gripes about how "baby-ish" it is and we've had a few arguments about how he just needs to do it in order to move on.  He's doing better now, but he still growls and rolls his eyes about it pretty regularly.  Besides the multi sensory (which is good for my fidgeters), I like the repeated practice, including periodic reviews of things they've mastered.  I also love the "rules" for spelling, like C says /s/ before E, I, Y and /k/ the rest of the time.  I don't ever remember being taught stuff like that, you just memorized that celery and cake both started with C.  

After you pop out the cards and organize them in your storage box (you can get official AAS boxes that fit perfectly or 4x6 photo storage boxes hold all the cards nicely), with the included dividers, it pretty much grab and go.  The manuel tells you exactly what to practice, the concepts you are teaching and even provides a script for how to teach it.  It is very easy to execute from the teacher perspective.

They also have All About Reading for younger learners, but those are way way too young for my kids.  I looked at them, but they just didn't have any real value for us.  They dovetail nicely with the spelling curriculum though and there are notes in each spelling lesson about what reading lessons to use, so if you have young, non readers, they would be perfect together.

Price: Level 1 material, including teacher manual and card set $29.95. Additional card sets for additional students $14.95 each.  Interactive kit $22.85.  Materials are reusable for younger students. 

Term: We completed lesson 1 in 4 weeks and will likely complete lesson 2 in a similar time frame.  Younger students would need to spend more time on each lesson and levels would take longer to complete.  I'd venture to guess probably 1-2 levels a year for younger students.

For Social Studies, we are learning about all the countries of Epcot in anticipation of our trip to Disney.  This is the most boring thing I've ever done and I hate it.  I DREAD teaching social studies each week and I CAN NOT wait until we go, so we can do something that doesn't suck, when we get back! I was a history major back in the day.  I love social studies and this is killing me.  Once we get back, we will be using Easy Peasy All in one Homeschool.  I told the kids they could pick what they wanted to study and I just went to the website and assigned the section of history.  MF is going to learn about the Civil War and WF picked World War II.

We are also using Easy Peasy for Science for both kids.  Again, they picked the subjects they wanted to learn about, MF picked zoology (shocker, I know) and WF picked Biology.  The lessons include a variety of activities, like reading, videos, and hands on learning so they aren't getting bored reading and answering questions every day.  

The thing to note about Easy Peasy is that it is Christian based.  For social studies, that hasn't presented any problems but science is a little more of an issue.  I've tried to preview the stuff they've done so far, but I've also cautioned them that they might run across something that is contrary to our beliefs and that they should take it with a grain of salt and continue with the lesson. 

Easy Peasy is free of charge and besides covering multiple topics in science and social studies, they do offer full curriculum for grades K-8 and have a high school site they just recently started as well.  

Price: Free. Donations are accepted.

Term: One school year. Everything is online, so multiple students could use it.

The elective they picked this year is French.  MF wants to live in Paris when she grows up and WF wants to know what is being said in his video game (he is not the first homeschooler that picked a language based on a video game LOL).  Neither took into account that I took 3 years of Spanish in high school and know like three words in French! :) I've decided to learn it with them and we are using Duolingo.  I do exactly zero with this, except tech troubleshooting.  Because I don't speak it, at all, I'm no help to them.  I do like the website.  It provides lots of positive feed back when I get things right and the characters are cute.  

It is free, which is great, but the language selection is somewhat limited.  They have some user created languages that they have added, but I decided to stay with the actual language courses, which kept us to a handful of European languages (much to WF's annoyance, since he was looking at Russian or Irish originally). I do have issues with the microphone portion of it but I'm not sure where the problem lies.  I don't know if I have a microphone problem or if my accent is bad or what is going on, but most of the spoken portions get rejected a few times before it will accept my answer.  The kids don't seem to have the same problems, so it might just be me.  

Price: Free
Term: Lifetime or fluency in the language.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I'm totally into fitness

Fitness whole cupcake in my mouth!

Photo credit: Joanna Strauss 

As a homeschooler, it is really easy to sit at the kitchen table in my jammies all day long.  Finding time to exercise is tough and every time the kids have a snack, it's pretty easy to have one too.  When all you wear is yoga pants or pajamas, you don't even get the feedback of your clothes not fitting, until one day, you step on the scale and you are 100 pounds over your ideal weight (which is based on BMI, which is total bull, but that is another post entirely) and 50 pounds over a comfortable weight.  

2 years ago, we went to Disney.  I was near the lowest weight I'd been in my adult life and at the best fitness level.  I worked out 4-5 days a week, for an hour at a time.  Both kids were in school and I was only working a few hours a day, so I had tons of time to do that.  I ran on the elliptical, I did 5Ks (mostly walking, but I still did them), I lifted weights.  I felt great and coming home from Disney, I still felt like I'd been hit by a truck.  We pushed it to the limit, every single day we were there, and I needed a vacation to recover from my trip.

We are going back soon and when planning started for real (we decided while standing in line for Soarin' at Epcot that we'd be going back in 2 years but planning wasn't started until early this year), in February, it occurred to me that I would die if I tried to go back at the weight I was currently at and the fitness level (or lack there of) that I had.  I hadn't been to the gym in months and I had gained 50 pounds and none of that was ok.  

I started a low carb diet to lose the weight and I started trying to add steps to my day.  The diet was less hardcore than the low carb diet I did before.  It is maintainable for a longer term, averaging 1000 calories a day, instead of 700.  I drink my coffee for breakfast, which is carb free but does have heavy cream, so it isn't calorie free.  I have a protein shake for lunch and vegetables for an afternoon snack.  Generally, I have plain meat and vegetables for dinner.  Chicken, steak, and hamburgers, mostly.  I've done some low carb pizzas (they're fine, they just aren't real pizza and they are super labor intensive).  Vegetables are mostly salads, occasionally RF will make green beans with bacon, or a pepper cooked and mixed with my meat.  It is a low variety diet, but I'm a low variety eater and I prefer to live in my tiny little food box.  Although I do prefer when my food box includes ice cream.  

When I started walking, I was averaging between 1200-1400 steps per day.  I started slow, adding extra steps when I got up to go to the bathroom.  I'd make a lap through the kitchen on my way and then a lap through on the way back.  When the weather was decent, we'd walk around the park near the house after RF got off work.  It wasn't too far and it was nice to get out of the house and walk the dog once in awhile.  I'd do the cliche of parking at the edge of the lot when I went places.  I'd take the long route through the grocery store, instead of going directly to check out after picking up an item or two. When we'd go places, I'd pace.  The looks people give you, when you walk laps around a small space are pretty funny.

In June, I bought a fitness tracker, the Garmin Vivofit 2. 

 Prior to that, I had been using the motion tracking on my iPhone, which was fine, but it meant I had to carry my phone with me, all the time, instead of just laying it on the table most of the day.  I did a ton of research before I decided on this one.  I needed something that doubled as a watch and something that was waterproof.  This met both requirements and had the added bonus of not needing recharged.  It uses a standard watch battery and they claim it lasts a year between replacements.  I haven't gotten there yet, but so far, I've been very pleased with it.  The only drawback is that not nearly as many people have it as have Fitbits, so there isn't much competition.  The app is useful, but kind of plain.  I don't have fun colors or snappy badges, but it is accurate does what I want. 

I also started house walking.  Our house is laid out so the kitchen and living room create a loop.  I figured out a pattern and instead of going directly anywhere, I'd walk a few laps around.  My lap was about 50 steps, but it adds up eventually.  My first goal was 5000 steps a day.  It was hard.  I felt like I was always walking.  Eventually, I was hitting 5000 every day, comfortably and I decided to increase my goal to 7500, but several things happened all at once that made me go ahead and jump straight to 10,000.  My plan had been to increase by 1000 steps a month until I was regularly hitting 15,000 by the time we left.  That wasn't sustainable and I've settled in at 11,000-12,000 regularly.

I peaked in August, with 473,530 steps for the month!

Once school started, I decided that I wouldn't allow myself to goof around on the internet until I had 10,000 steps or I was walking.  So to check my email or play on facebook, my phone and I walk laps around the house. Sometimes, I'll watch a show while I walk, once school is done or I'll read.  Whatever, to keep me moving! 

Between the diet and the walking, I am 5 pounds from my final goal. Which means that I actually need to lose 10, so I can stay under it, comfortably.  Of course, that still puts me in the overweight BMI range, but like I said before, BMI is garbage.  My clothes fit better (actually, they fit terribly, I've had to take in ALL my pants, so they stop falling off).

This is a terribly unflattering picture of me in a skirt I made myself from a men's polo shirt. It was taken in April, shortly after I started getting serious about getting in shape.  Ignore how gross the mirror is, it is on WF's door and gets touched a lot.

Same skirt, picture in August.  33 pounds lost. 

At this point, I've lost this same weight 2 different times and I HAVE to make it stick this time.  Which means I'm planning to eat what I want on vacation (it's Disney, if you don't eat the food, you are crazy pants!) but then I have to get back to it.  When the holidays roll around, I have to take the day and then get back on the wagon.  I can't throw away a week or a month because I ate a whole pie on Thanksgiving.  I have to stay on track with measuring my food and tracking what I eat, even when it is off plan.  

As a homeschooler or as a mom, how do you stay on track with your fitness goals?  How do you find time to work out and what motivates you to keep at it?  Since I'm in the habit, I just have to stick with it and not let that slip.