Friday, December 19, 2014

A Merry Christmas Message

I hope you have had a great Thanksgiving.  We are ten days from Christmas and I know that some of you have plans, parties and shopping to do.  Thank you for taking a few minutes to read the blog.

I would like to share with you a video that changed our family's Christmas over 5 years ago from the Advent Conspiracy

At the time, I was VERY busy trying to make hundreds of cookies and mini breads to give away to friends and family for Christmas, cleaning the house, and spending lots of time stressing out over buying the perfect gift for family AND trying to "fit Jesus" into Christmas.  I was trying to do both my family traditions and my husband's family traditions.   Most of the time, we would have marathon Advent Calendar meetings where we would go through 5 days at a time because we weren't home enough to do the daily readings.

I don't know how I even was directed to this.  I showed it to my husband and we started taking baby steps toward making this a reality.  We started out by limiting gifts to our kids to just three--just like Jesus received three gifts.  Instead of having each child buy a gift for all siblings and parents, we decided to have our kids draw one sibling's name in a gift exchange.  Another year, instead of spending lots of time ignoring my kids while I baked, I started inviting a family or two to come over and bake with me and we would split the cookies.  The kids didn't necessarily help much, but they usually had friends, which built relationships and I got mommy time.  My in-laws helped in our giving because they decided that they didn't need any more stuff and started asking us to give to their organizations.  A few years later, I decided that we should exchange non-material gifts of service for the year.  This year, we decided as a family to help an  organization by giving our time one day out of the year.  Our Christmases aren't perfect, but they are more memorable.

The biggest issue is still keeping Jesus as the primary focus of the holiday.  The past four years, we have been so busy with kids activities, we still have been having marathon Advent sessions.  Even this year, we don't have a standard time each day.  We still probably spend more time focusing on gift giving rather than spending time in prayer and meditation and relationally.  But I also know that our Christmas season is far less stressful because I have given up a lot of traditions that have nothing to do with Christ's birth and so we enjoy each other just a little bit more.  And there is nothing bad or ugly about that.

Monday, October 20, 2014

To Co-Op or Not to Co-Op

I have a confession to make.  I am not in a good place.  For too long, I have tried to do too much.  I have become a slave to the curriculum.  I have made a lot of the mistakes I listed in the last posts.   And I am exhausted, spent, uninspired.  I have considered ending my career as a homeschooling mom. That is the ugly news.  I see the effects on my family and know that it takes time to undo the damage, which is the bad news.  The good news is that God is dragging me through this, showing me where and how to lighten my load and my family's load and proving to me how He truly redeems bad situations.  Thank you, Jesus for unconditional love and faithfulness!  My situation has been what has inspired past posts, but it is also coloring this post.

For those homeschooling newbies out there, "co-op" is shorthand for "co-operative education."  A co-op is a group of homeschooling families getting together at a regular time during the school year in more of a classroom environment with either:
1.  The parents take turns during the course of a school year teaching a particular subject(s) OR
2.  Parents with different skill sets gather to teach to their particular skill set in a barter-like system.

I have been involved in a two-family barter-like co-op, a medium sized co-op and recently a big co-op.  Generally, the co-op organizers expect you to make a school year commitment, so don't join if you are not absolutely sure you can make the commitment.  And there is usually a nominal cost involved.   As always, there are good things about them, bad things and sometimes ugly things.

The Good:
  • Co-ops can lighten your load if they are organized right.  Just having one less thing to do can be amazingly helpful.
  • Co-ops can be a way to forge life-long friendships with your kids.  They also provide your kids a break from their siblings and a non-family socialization.  This is especially true of smaller co-ops.
  • P.E. co-ops specifically can help introduce your kid to team sports without having to actually sign up for one.
  • Co-ops expand your child's horizons not just through the curriculum, but also to get them used to other teaching styles.  It gives  you a chance to witness other teaching styles.
  • Co-ops can be a way to forge life-long friendships between mothers, who can encourage you when you are having a tough day/week/month.
  • Co-ops are a great way of showing God's grace to people who are not in your family.
The Bad:
  • Co-ops require more work in the short term.  I know this sounds like the opposite of the first bullet in the "Good" category, but the week you have to teach will require a lot more preparation from you than your normal, non-co-op days and teaching a classroom is harder than teaching just a few kids.  You have to work to get your own kids out the door with all of the supplies they need for the classes, plus possibly breakfast/lunch fixings.   Some co-ops will require you to have your teaching plan prepared a week in advance.  If it is a barter-system and a big co-op, they might make you have your year planned.
  • Being involved in a co-op when you have babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers can be extremely difficult, especially if there is no child care for younger kids provided.  I speak from personal experience when I say that teaching a class of homeschooled kids when you have a toddler who wants your undivided attention sucks all energy from you and leaves you a brain-dead jellyfish for the rest of the day.  If the co-op does not provide child care for younger kids, my advice is to find one that does, pay for child care, or if those are not options, wait to join until all your kids are old enough to participate.  
  • If you do not view co-ops properly and adjust your schooling accordingly, you could be adding to your kid's stress level.  Consider it school.  This might sound like "duh", but many moms I have met, myself included at one point, considered it more of an "extra-curricular activity."
  • After co-op is done for the day, give you and your kids a chance to decompress, especially if you or one of your kids is an introvert.  
  • The bigger the co-op, the higher probability of bullying, both with adults and children, even in Christian co-ops because all have sinned.  Double the probability for P.E. co-ops., though my only experience with a P.E. co-op involved watching middle school kids play team sports with elementary aged kids in a beautiful display of grace (I totally miss H.A.M.I.C. PE, which unfortunately dissolved shortly after I move away.  This was purely a coincidence and is a perfect lead-in to the ugly part)
The Ugly
  • Sometimes, co-ops fail.  Co-ops involve a lot more imperfect people managing things.  Tempers flare, harsh words are spoken, feelings are hurt.  This happens with the adults as well as the kids.  Grieve, wail, mourn.  Forgive.  Learn from your experience.  Protect your family above all else.  
  • If the co-op is unorganized or takes on too much for its size, the burden created by the co-op becomes heavier than the load it lightens.  I had to bail on a co-op two weeks into the "school year" because too many families decided to bail on the co-op and the workload for the remaining families was too much.  This realization totally conflicted with my desire to faithful to my commitments, but I also envisioned me having weekly breakdowns from September until May trying to meet its requirements.  Remember that if it comes down to a co-op or your mental stability, always let your mental stability win because your mental stability affects your family's mental stability.  Protect your family above all else.  
There are a few different options to co-op classes:
  • Paying for outside classes.  I generally outsource art classes because that is an area where I have no talent.  For a couple years, I paid for my kids to be in a PE group.  Last year, a group of families with high school students got together and paid a teacher to teach chemistry.  They also paid facility fees and lab fees.  There is a higher cost, but a lighter load than co-ops.
  • Social-based homeschooling groups:  These are valid options if you are looking for support and friends without the additional burden of having to prepare lesson plans.
  • You could consider a two-family co-op more of a barter system than a "real" co-op.
  • For older kids, outside apprentice-ships in an area of their interest.  This requires research.
Above all, don't load yourself down with too many activities, even if those activities look incredibly enticing because they will put unnecessary burdens on you and your family.  Protect your family above all.

Happy Homeschooling (or not!)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Curriculum Cunundrum

In the last post, I discussed reasons for homeschooling.  This week I am tackling the next subject:  curriculum.

Homeschooling parents who are now grandparents will tell you that we have it easy because when THEY were homeschooling, there were only a few curriculum packages out there.  However, to a newbie homeschooling family, they might view the huge variety of curriculum out there like a Sudanese refugee might view a trip to an American grocery store--too many choices can be overwhelming.  My purpose is not to tell you curriculum XYZ is the best, but to help you think through your choices. Before you choose a curriculum, here are a few things you might want to figure out first (which, by the way, is not necessarily what I did.)

  • Figure out your kids.  What motivates them, what interests them, and how do they learn best. To help you on that last item, you can buy, or even check out of your local libary, How they Learn by Cynthia Tobias.  She talks not only about different learning styles and different processing styles, but she also talks about how kids thrive in different environments.  She gives practical ways to assess your children.  For instance, my youngest needs silence while the rest of my kids like music.  This means that my original plan to have us all studying together in one room might not work out well.  One child really likes to do all their work on the sofa, rather on the recommended desks.  If you have really young kids, spend your time in homeschool figuring these things out.  
  • Figure out what is your family's identity and what is REALLY important to you.  For instance, we generally are a family who loves to read, watch movies and do stuff outside, like camping.  My husband and I are also science geeks.  The thing is, you will not be able to focus on everything without driving you and your kids crazy and making school dull drudgery.  Make sure they get the basics, like reading, writing, and math, but anything else is extra.  And there are ways to incorporate other subjects within those three.  For example, history has the word "story" in it.  Historical fiction or just "living history books" which is a fancy way of saying history lessons written in storybook format is a great way to get some history in your kids. 
  • If you have more than one kid, chances are, that at least one of your child will not line up with your family identity.  My husband and I are science geeks, but we have a really talented artist in our family.  I had all of my kids take art lessons, but she took more because that is what she really liked to do.  Another family I know is a couple who both majored in art, but their oldest is really into programming and science.  This is proof that God has a sense of humor.   If you keep your schedule down to basics, you are far more adaptable to add extras based on your kid's interests.  Now if you your kids are 
  • When you go looking for curriculum, you need to know the underlying teaching philosophy behind the curriculum.  I have found really good website to describe the different philosophies at The Homeschool Diner.  Go there and figure out which philosophy resonates with you, then go search for curriculum within that philosophy. 
  • Also ask yourself what you want out of the curriculum.  Do you want something that is very structured, a curriculum that you can pull "out of a box" or do you
  • What is your budget?  This will have a huge impact on what you will choose.  There are some free curriculum out there.
  • Don't be a slave to the curriculum.  It is very easy to serve the curriculum rather than letting the curriculum serve you, especially if you buy a box curriculum.  The box curriculums usually give you more than you can possibly do in a week.  Decide what you want to do and ignore the rest.  There is another way in which you can be a slave:  if the curriculum is not working for you or your family, don't be afraid to dump it.  Dump it mid-season, especially if you or your kids are finding yourself having a breakdown more than once a quarter over it.  If you can't afford another curriculum, use the library to have your kids explore their interests, take time to explore your community by going on field trips or just take some time off while you figure out a replacement.  The best curriculum is not necessarily the most expensive one.  
The Good:  Know that this is a continuous process.  Your kids will change, their preferences will change, your educational needs will change.  You will not scar your kids for life if you choose a bad curriculum.  There is no perfect educational process and no perfect curriculum.  Let go of perfectionism.  For me, this is a daily process.  Even this year, I re-evaluated the curriculum I had been using and decided to dump most of the stuff we had been doing as "non-optional" and change it to "extra credit" because I was trying to do it all.  
The Bad:   This requires a lot of work and, like laundry and housework, might seem to never end
The Ugly:  Curriculum research can easily suck up more time than you actually spend teaching.  Set a limit for research and get your spouse involved or even another homeschooling parent.

Next subject:  Co-ops

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Considering homeschooling

picture was copied from
I should have written this sometime in the spring or summer in order to be really helpful for people who want to make the homeschooling decision before school starts.  However, the truth is, you can decide to homeschool at any time during the school year.  Or you can decide to stop homeschooling at any time during the school year.  Sometimes, we THINK that we need to abide by the rules of when a school year should start so that our child/children get to enjoy the "full experience" and establish friendships at the beginning because, of course, once the school year starts, relationships are cemented and can never be altered (sarcasm is dripping here because as a public schooled kid, I experienced friends coming and going throughout a school year, depending on the circumstances).  So do not be slaves to someone else's timeline, but consider what is best for your family, even in the middle of the school year.  Deciding to homeschool should not be done on a whim.  There are sacrifices that will be made by both you and your spouse, there is opposition, sometimes openly belligerent, sometimes more subtle, second-guessing of your decision which will whisper in your brain every time you have a bad day or bad week or bad month. Or bad year--yes, that is the ugly side to homeschooling.

I was contacted several months ago by a writer in the United Kingdom who wrote about some practical, financial considerations for homeschooling.  You can find the article here.  Because this was written for UK parents, some of these considerations are not an issue for American parents.  For instance, most American schools provide transportation within their district.  Clothing costs are always an issue, however, because even if your child does not have to wear a uniform, there is a cost of being fashionable that can be extremely high for girls but is even present for boys.  But this is a very good summary of financial considerations.  And financial reasons are important though they can be issues that are overcome.

In addition, you need consider WHY you want to homeschool.  There are a variety of reasons people give for homeschooling their kid(s) and I have placed them in my standard categories.  The reasons you make will determine how successful you will be in this venture and will sustain you during the bad and ugly times in your homeschool adventure.

The Good Reasons:
*  If you do this right, your relationship with your children can be very close.  What I have learned from some pretty spectular failures is that the relationship is the most important part of your homeschool decision, not the education.  You will get to know your children VERY well and they will get to know you.
*  For those of you who believe in God the ability to include Bible study, prayer and worship in your school is a bonus.  We want our kids to be reliable, kind, honest adults.  Character development, however, is not necessarily dependent on religious convictions because we all want our kids to be hard workers, help others and be loving people.
*  You can help your child learn, adapting resources to suit their learning styles. (more on this later)
*  You can change curriculum that doesn't work at ANY point in time.  PLEASE take advantage of this benefit if you decide to homeschool.  Money wasted is better than a whole year wasted.
*  A guilty pleasure is that you can set your own schedule and go on vacation anywhere, including, let's say, Walt Disney World, at non-peak season and reap the savings.
*  If you are very good at this, which I am not, you can integrate your curriculum with life skills and teach your kids that learning never ends.
*  You want your kids to learn about grace and forgiveness both by giving it and by needing it from them.
*  You want them to be able to develop naturally, at their own speed and have time to develop interests.  NOTE:  This is not the same as letting them do "whatever" and "whenever".  It means that you don't stress out if your kid isn't reading by 6 because some kids don't or because your kid is behind in math or because your six year old boy can't sit still.  There is no daily peer pressure from kids and very little from outside adults to live up to what the current group of experts has determined to be "normal" development.
*  You want to limit their exposure to negative social influences like peer pressure, bullying, etc.  If your kids do stuff outside the home, whether in co-ops, sports, or other extra-curricular activities, your kids will get social interaction, including dealing with bullies without being exposed to bad influences 8 hours a day/5 days a week, 36 weeks a year.
*  Kids learn how to interact with people of all ages and generally don't develop age-based eletists attitudes, though I am finding it creeping into some of my kids.
*  The best reason is that this is what you feel God has called you to do because He knows what is best for you and your family.

The Bad Reasons:  These generally fall into the "Pride" category
* You can give your kids the best education possible.  The reason this is bad is that there is no perfect educational system and you are setting too high a bar for both you and the kids.  You will go crazy trying to find the perfect curriculum for your kids and  you might even go crazy when they don't like what you've chosen OR they are slower in some areas.
*  You want to protect them from peer pressure and school bullies.  Here is one problem:  there are adult bullies and your kid needs to be able to handle them.  The second problem is that if you have more than two kids, chances are, you will have a bully-wannabe in your school.  I know that I do.
*  You want to give them a high standard of conduct and limit peer pressure.  This is not bad as long as you can live up to the high expectations you set because the main example they are going to get for behavior will be you.  I know that I haven't.
*  You feel that it is your duty as a good mom.

The Ugly Reasons:  These generally fall into the "It really is more about you than the kids" category
*  You want your kid to be smarter than public school kids, possibly even graduating from college at 18.  This is a lot of pressure to put on you and your kid.  It will damage the relationship, which should be the most important.
*  You want to protect them from the big, bad world.  I have news for you, the big, bad world is inside your house as well as outside.  If you have more than one kid, chances are one of them might turn out to be a bully, or a drifter or a class clown.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
*  Your friends are all doing it and are subtly invoking adult peer pressure to get you to join their circle.

This advice is given to you by someone who decided to homeschool for good and bad reasons and initially dabbled in an ugly reason.  The bad and ugly reasons will haunt you as your children grow up.  Each year, after you have a break for a few weeks from the grind, it is a good idea for you and your spouse to review your decision, review your reasons, and review the curriculum that you are using.  The reason for this is to make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons.  Review the curriculum you are using to make sure that it is working for you and your family and that you are not becoming a slave to the curriculum.

If you homeschool and have any other reasons that I haven't included, please add them in the comments section.

Happy Homeschooling--or Not!

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Revolutionary Skit

This is something I wrote up so the kids would have fun summarizing the contributing factors leading to the American Revolution.  We performed it impromptu, with no props or preparation.  Use it as you wish.
portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1762,
courtesey of Wikipedia

Prelude to Revolution

Purpose: To summarize the rising conflict between Britain and the English Colonies that led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. It contains the primary laws that Parliament passed for the colonies and possibly how King George and Parliament viewed the colonists.  Put the King and Parliament on one side of the room and the Colonists on the other side of the room.

King: OK, colonists, we have sent part of our army to protect you from the big, bad Frenchman during the wars we were waging with France. We won the wars....
Colonists: (doing a happy dance)  Yay!
Parliament: But now we need to keep those soldiers there to protect you in case those big, bad Frenchman attack you again.
King: Or in case the Indians attack you.
Parliament: Or in case the Spaniards attack you. And by the way, you need to provide food and shelter for the soldiers and give us money to pay them in the form of Taxes.
Colonist 1: But we don't want the soldiers. We can protect ourselves from Indians.
(King and Parliament laugh)
King: (To Parliament) Isn't that cute, how they think they can take care of themselves. (To the Colonists): I know that you THINK you are big enough and strong enough to handle things for yourselves. However, if it wasn't for us, you would be speaking French!
Colonist 2 (speaking low): If it wasn't for you, there wouldn't have BEEN any wars
King: What was that?
Colonists: Nothing
Parliament: By the way, we need more money from you. Your king and your country have spent all our money on the wars. So we are going to tax 3 cents on every gallon of molasses that you buy from us.
Colonist 1: Wha???
Colonist 2: We hardly make any money on selling rum as it is!
Parliament: OK, we will make it one cent.
Colonist 1: That is still unfair!
Parliament: (grumbling). Fine. Have it your way. Instead, we are passing a law that says that you HAVE to entertain soldiers and pay for them to protect you. AND We are making you buy stamps in order to get newspapers, playing cards, diplomas, wills and some other legal documents.
Colonist 2: Wha??? We don't even want the soldiers here. If you can't afford them, send them home!
Colonist 1: You are trying to trick us. This Stamp Act is nothing more than another way to tax us.
Colonist 2: You know, you keep making rules for us. We are Englishmen. We deserve to be represented in Parliament if you are going to start making laws for us.
Colonist 1: That's right!
Parliament: (laughing). Oh, they are so CUTE when they are mad, aren't they, your Highness?
King: Yes, yes. But, too soon, they grow up and if we don't show them who is boss now, they will grow from little tyrants to big ones.
Colonist 1: We think we can govern ourselves, thank you very much. Please restore our home legislatures.
King (to Parliment):  See what I mean
Parliament: Well, instead, we are going to write laws for you. We will be your legislature.
Colonist 2: Then let us have representation in Parliament, please.
Parliament: Maybe when you get older. But right now, Daddy will take care of you and tell you what to do.
Colonist 1: You forget that we have been taking care of ourselves for quite a while now. You have no right to take representation away from us.
King: You are subject to your King and you will do as we say.
Parliament: And what we say is that you will pay duties on imports. We are sending our customs agents to you now to make sure you pay for everything that comes into your ports. We are calling it the Townsend Act.
Colonists: That is taxation without representation! We protest!
Parliament: You know, you are being quite a pain. But I will make a deal: you will only have to pay an duty on tea.
Colonist 1: (to Colonist 2): Let's buy tea from somewhere else.
Colonist 2: (to Colonist 1): Great idea.
King: Oh Colonists. You have to buy tea from us. We are sending ships loaded with tea for you and are cutting the price. But you MUST buy tea from your daddy.
Colonist 1: (to Colonist 2): Are you thinking what I am thinking?
Colonist 2: (to Colonist 1): To have a tea party and dump all the tea into the harbor?
Colonist 1: Yes!
(Colonists pretend to dump the tea into the harbor)
King: That does it. You have REALLY made me mad now. Close Boston Harbor until they pay for all the tea they have ruined! Do not let the Massachusetts legislature make any rules. Give the governor full power. And fire the current governor who let this happen and make one of the generals there the new governor!
Parliament: Aye, aye, Captain!
Colonist 1: Those acts are intolerable!
Colonist 2: Now we are really angry. We are going to get together and form the 1st Continental Congress to come up with a list of grievances.
(Colonists huddle together and whisper)
To the king:
Colonist 1: We will not do any more business with you.
Colonist 2: And we will start organizing militias.
King: Who do you think you are?!!! Without my help, you would have all starved or become subjects of France. I am the only one who can make decision for you and if you don't obey me by choice, you WILL obey my soldiers!!!!!

Have a child read the Declaration of Independence. Stop them every few sentences to rephrase or ask another student to rephrase what was just said. The child who reads can be a younger student and then the older children can interpret it, if they can. Help them.


The Good:  This didn't take a lot of time and the kids had fun hamming it up.
The Bad:  I found errors as we read through it.  Feel free to make some changes and improvements.
The Ugly:  Nothing ugly that I can see.  You might have a different opinion.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mad Scientist Moment

This idea comes to you from "The King of Random", a Youtube personality.  Don't ask me how I stumbled onto his site, I can't remember.  I was inspired by my youngest, who wants to be an inventor to look up cool experiments to do at home. And yes, we used potatoes to make the starch. The technical term for this is a non-newtonian liquid.  An alternative fun name for it is "oobleck."

The Good:  You can talk to your kids about starch and its uses.  You can dig deeper for the older kids and look up the elements that compose starch, view the molecule and dig into its properties. Making starch with potatoes is a patience-building exercise, which is always a good thing.  Also, hash browns for lunch was a nice change of pace.  We could also talk about how the potatoes changed color over time due to oxidation.  The kids loved bringing in the bottle of tonic water into the laundry room with our UV flashlight to see it glow.  Scorpions also glow under UV light, by the way, which is why we have one.  Summertime nights in Arizona mean hunting scorpions.

The Bad:  This experiment uses a LOT of dishes, which meant a lot of cleanup.  However, you can also buy potato starch if you don't want the clean up or, as he mentions, use corn starch for the same effect.  The amount of starch produced by slightly less than five pounds of potatoes is really small.  In fact, I poured too much tonic water and had to add corn starch to the mixture, which foiled my desire to make a second batch using tonic water and corn starch to compare the texture of the two.  Drat!

The Ugly:  The pan used to fry the potatoes was super ugly to clean up afterwards.  I need to learn how to make hash browns without getting the potato to chemically bond to the bottom of the pan.  If you have any suggestions, please put them in the comments.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Crab Grab game

I am teaching at our co-op today with older elementary students about crustaceans and developed a game you can play to show how a crustacean's chelipads (claws) make really bad hands.

Materials needed:
  • a mitten for a hand for each team (or each person has one mittened hand)
  • a bag of small items for each team.  
  • a cup for each team
How to play:
  • Divide the group into even teams (if possible).  
  • Place the bag of items near each team member and a cup on the opposite side of the room.
  • The bag of small items should have as many small items for each team member to go through at least once.
  • Give each team a mitten (Optional:  you can have each team member wear a mitten).  The mitten should be worn so that the pointer finger goes into each glove to mimick a crab's claw or chelipads.
  • Have the teams start at the same time.  The team member with the mitten on has to pick up one small item and carry it over to the cup and drop it into the cup.  Once the item is in the cup, the child runs back and gives the mitten to the next person in line to put on the same way.
  • Repeat until all the items are place in the cup

I used quarters in a sandwhich bag for the small items.  Pencils or maybe pick-up sticks (wooden shish-ka-bob skewers) might also work.  I live in the desert, where it doesn't snow, so I limited the number of mittens needed.   Fortunately, I haven't yet thrown out all the mittens with missing partners we gathered when we lived in the Chicago area, where mittens and gloves are a necessity from November to at least February, sometimes March or April.

The Good:  It will bring home the fact that chelipads are used mainly for cutting, not grabbing and help kids to see how useful opposable thumbs really are.
The Bad:  The sandwich bags into which I put the quarters broke pretty easily as the kids frantically grabbed for quarters.  Frustration levels for kids who are less coordinated are rather high.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for younger elementary kids, unless you find some bigger items, like maybe blocks.  
The Ugly:  Some mittens, like the one pictured are pretty ugly.  The worst, though, was a small, filthy, pink mitten with stars made for 5-year old hands.  It is a solo mitten and will be tossed at the end.