A Homeschool Yearbook?

One of Bookworm Beauty’s greatest treasures are her yearbooks from Kindergarten through 3rd grade when she attended both public and charter schools. She pulls these treasured items out every so often and shares her memories with Sweetness and The Boy. During 4th grade her and Sweetness (Kindergarten at the time) attended a homeschool enrichment charter program where they participated once weekly. They were both excited to receive a yearbook from that program as well.

Last year and this year, all of the kiddos have attended a new homeschool enrichment program, that unfortunately does not put together a yearbook. They are feeling the loss of not having their years documented in some sort of formal format.

This year, along with our closest homeschool buddies, the kids have been tasked with creating a yearbook. We have outlined one of our classes much like a high school yearbook class. The kids each have a different topic that they had an interest in covering. We are walking them through every step of the way as they gather info, upload photos, create storyboard layouts and then create them electronically. We are thrilled to know that this year, we will officially have yearbooks for our homeschool.

One of the most exciting things for us is to see how our whole year of schooling is documented from some of our favorite studies to our field trips and even science experiments! I am proud of the kids for taking this project on and anxiously awaiting the ability to sign a special note in each yearbook!

Kids in the Kitchen

I have allowed my kids in the kitchen from the very beginning, which literally meant that it often looked like it had rained tupperware lids and pans. As they got a bit older, they were often helping to measure ingredients, load the dishwasher or help cut vegetables. Those early days were the best. I loved the big misshapen chunks of cucumbers that were often found in our salads.

A quarter of a century later and I now have mini sous chefs that are apt to teach me a thing or two. I also have three left at home that are between 6 and 11 years old. Gone are the days of chunked cucumbers as our salads are beautifully presented when the kids help out.

It is such a joy to see their love of the kitchen.

I believe that the more time people spend in the kitchen, the more willing they are to experiment, be creative and even taste foods that they would not otherwise have tried.

I am going to try something new with my younger children. I have long appreciated the monthly meal planning and even the bulk freezer meals. At one time, myself, a friend, and several family members got together one Saturday every month and prepared 20+ meals each that were to be frozen. We did this for several months. We found that when we bought in bulk and prepared it all at once, not only did we save time but we also saved a LOT of money. Our meals typically ended up averaging $10-12 for a meal for six.

I miss those days. I miss going into the freezer and pulling out an already marinated and prepared roast or an enchilada dish or even a delightful soup. I now have two deep freezers that are filled to the brim and although I enjoy cooking, I do not always enjoy coming inside from working on a project and having to prepare dinner. While I like being able to grab something and throw it into the oven, I also dislike buying pre-made, packaged food – unless it’s pizza (smile).

I am thinking that it is time to introduce the younger children to a once a month cooking program. I’m thinking that they, along with their closest homeschooling friends, could pick a freezable meal each and we can walk them through preparing that meal for the freezer. If they do this alongside their friends, they will experience what all of us mothers have come to appreciate so much – fellowship in the kitchen! I can also imagine how delighted they will be when they get to pull out their meal from the freezer and pop it into the oven to serve to their family one night during the month.

Yes. I think we need to do this.

I will keep you posted.

Time to Celebrate!

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We take every opportunity possible to celebrate the many accomplishments made in our homeschool. Some are small, like The Boy finally writing his o’s and a’s properly – starting at the top and moving counter-clockwise around; and some are a bit bigger like Sweetness successfully reading her first chapter book. Then we have the more significant such as Bookworm Beauty mastering the computer keyboard and able to fully type without looking. Then, there are the monumental milestones that are worth confetti, balloons, high-fives and sometimes a full on party.

This is one of those moments.

As a homeschooling mom, I am always looking at ways of doing things more efficiently or better than the way that we are doing them. Sometimes we feel a curriculum will be a perfect fit, only to get partially through it and realizing that it is lacking in one way or another and we search for another program and make a switch. There are times that we finally find the right fit and jump in with both feet and we start the journey through the curriculum, hoping that nothing will derail us from crossing the finish line.

Last week we completed our Astronomy program through Apologia!

Let me tell you why this is monumental. I already mentioned the times that we make a switch midway because we find something else that will be a better fit for our homeschool. There are also the times, which happen most often, when we fully intend from the onset to cover only certain portions of a program for a variety of reasons. It is for these reasons that we rarely complete an entire curriculum from beginning to end.

There is something just so satisfying about this accomplishment and even more satisfying about completing the program is that the kids have learned A LOT!

We have cracked open our new science program, Human Anatomy and Physiology and are still riding the wave of excitement from completing Astronomy as we jump in with both feet. I look forward to sharing our completion of this program as well, but I’m sure it will be a while before that happens!

Am I the only one that feels this overwhelming sense of accomplishment when completing a homeschool program in its entirety?

 

Sick Days

I have been a mom for almost a quarter century so I feel as though I can claim veteran status when it comes to kids in school. I am not, however a veteran homeschooling mom as my older children were only homeschooled for a couple of years before they attended public school. Bookworm Beauty did just the opposite, she started in public school, migrated to a charter school and has now been homeschooled.

There are several differences between homeschooling vs sending the kids to school. We can talk all day about curriculum, the ability to work and soar at one’s own pace, the opportunity to have a more hands on education, and so much more. One of the blessings of homeschooling that seems to rarely be brought up is that of sick days. We have not had any sickness in our home for nearly two years. I credit some of that success to not having the kids in a cesspool of germs at school – although I know that isn’t the sole reason.

This year, however has been the opposite. It seems that just as one person is getting over the germ of the day, the next person begins showing signs. It is as if we have been playing piano rounds with germs throughout the family!

One of my greatest pet peeves is people hauling their germ-laden kids all over the place and keeping them in their normal activities where other kids are. I can not count the number of times I have taken my healthy kids to Sunday school only to have them sick the following Tuesday. Keep sick kids home so they can get rest, recover and avoid passing the germs elsewhere. It is that simple.

Schools are one of the few places that enforces their sick policies – to the best of their ability. I have to make the point that if our kids were enrolled in the local school, Bookworm Beauty would have missed so much school this year that there could have been a question about her attendance. It seems that whatever germ was being bounced around, it started with her. To be fair, she is the one that is the most active and involved in the most activities where she is exposed to more germs because other parents don’t keep their sick kids home, ahhh but I digress.

Many days, one of the kiddos would have had enough symptoms to have to be kept home from school, but they were well enough to resume a fair amount of normal daily activities – albeit slightly modified. The fact that they are homeschooled is a tremendous blessing this year. They have been able to focus on getting the rest that was needed yet still complete some school work throughout the day when feeling up to it. We have been able to maintain an almost normal school schedule at home even while the kiddos have been under the weather.

Truth be told, there have been days that no schooling took place. If one is still in the stage of needing complete rest, then she gets complete rest.

How do you handle sick kiddos during your homeschooling days?

 

Homeschool Room Makeover

Have you ever experienced the ups and downs of homeschooling? There are weeks that we are jamming… as if some sort of cosmic happenstance exploded in our midst, placing us all in sync. The momentum grows as we rock and roll through those weeks!

Then we have those days… you know… those days where you feel as though you are pulling teeth just to get kids to crawl out of their beds.

Fortunately for us, those days are few and far between and are only days and not weeks! I have been greatly blessed with kids that enjoy schooling, get along great, contribute around the house (most of the time) and are just basically really good kids.

We seem to change our schooling environment a lot as well. I’m not sure if we are in line with the seasons or the lunar calendar or our general moods but we seem to spend weeks at the kitchen table and then suddenly we migrate to the living room for several weeks! While we actually have a designated schoolroom where we used to do most of our schooling, we really have not done much schooling in there over this last year.

After pondering why other areas work better for us right now, I realized that we simply needed a facelift. Our schoolroom table is too small for our growing kids to spread out their work. We had thought about putting individual desks in the room but decided instead to give each one their own desk in their room, away from household distractions. We have also outgrown the charts hanging on the walls. And then there are the walls. The puke-yellow walls that Bookworm Beauty so eloquently named, which were here when we moved in. Yes, the puke-yellow walls simply had to go.

Our schoolroom  is quickly becoming the happiest place in our home. We have brightened the walls with a new coat of paint. We have upcycled one of the bookshelves into a nice cubby system, freeing up valuable wall space. Lastly, we will be building the schoolroom table that I posted about a few weeks ago.

We are already feeling the gravitational pull of the schoolroom and are anxiously awaiting being able to get back in there.

I will post a reveal as soon as we are done. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, share your schoolroom makeovers…

In the Spirit of Giving During the Holidays

I had no idea how blessed I was when Handsome entered my life. He brought out the best in me from the moment I met him. He loved and accepted my four daughters – 2 teens, 1 preteen and a toddler; he made sure broken things were fixed in my home (like when he replaced my dryer while we were still dating); he even got down on his knee and serenaded my mother at her work! What was not to love about this man!?

Over the years, more goodness has been revealed. I simply love his heart and how he desires to serve others and be a great provider. Good men are not made by some cosmic happenstance, rather they are built… by good parents… and good parents do not raise just one great child but all are usually pretty great kids. That is definitely true for my in-law family. I am thankful and tremendously blessed with a wonderful mother in law. My father in law is pretty special too but Mom really fills that mother in law void that I had. My two sisters and brother in law are also spectacular people that have accepted me from the very beginning nine years ago.

One of the greatest treasures about this family is their love of people and their desire to reach out and bless others. Although they have done this in many ways, one of my favorites is their Christmas giving spirit! That first Christmas I had with them while Handsome and I were engaged, they invited my girls to participate in their 3rd Annual Christmas Dinner Theater. They had all of their kids, 9 under the age of 9 at the time, put on a simple Christmas production in the living room while serving a spaghetti dinner to friends and family that attended. They took up a donation and blessed a local family in need with the proceeds.

It was simple. It was precious. It taught the children to do something to give to others.

The following year we realized that we had outgrown the humble living room and would need a larger area to serve and perform for the regular attendees so we used Mom’s church. Our numbers grew as a result and we continued to perform an annual Christmas Dinner Theater for seven more years. Every year we chose a different recipient of our proceeds and our humble performances allowed us to bless others with several thousand dollars over those years.

Two years ago, three of the four siblings moved away, each in different directions. We suddenly found the Christmas Dinner Theater a larger feat to accomplish. 2015 we held our 10th Annual and final event. It was magnificent. The attendees shared their sadness over our finality as they had watched the children literally grow up on the stage over the years.

This year, knowing that we would not be hosting the Christmas Dinner Theater, we needed to find another way to give back to others. It was not the performing that brought so much joy to us all (although it was a joy to perform) it was the ability to give to others.

We decided to find another way.

We all met at Mom’s/Grandma’s on Sunday night so that the kiddos (which are not so little anymore) could bake sugar cookies. The following morning we took those cookies and the supplies needed to decorate them to the local nursing home. We gathered together and sang a beautiful lineup of Christmas carols and the kids gathered around the residents and helped them decorate their cookies.

It’s another chapter for us as a family to continue to find ways to bless others during the Christmas season. Although it blesses others, we are the ones left with the greatest blessing. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this family and their desire to teach their children that Christmas is not about ourselves… its about the gift of Jesus… His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection as the greatest gift to us all. Our giving to others could not even begin to compare to His gift but it is a way to share His love for others through us.

How do you give to others during this season? We need ideas of other things we can do for the years to come.

Cash Christmas on a Budget

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… or so we sing… yet many people approach Christmas with nothing but stress. I know, I have been there.

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From stressed Christmas…

Everywhere I go I hear people talk about how Christmas does not need to be all about presents and spending money but let’s face the facts… most of us do at least some of that. And more often than not, people would like to be able to do even more than their budget allows. For years, December rolled around and my bank account had nothing more than enough money for a tank of gas. We always made the most of it… making gifts… finding creative ways to spend time together. Those were humble Christmas’s and although filled with wonderful memories, I was always sad that I could not do more.

… to stress-free Christmas!

Then along came Handsome… who swept me and my four daughters off of our feet!

Marrying a wonderful man did not automatically bring better Christmas’s… we still had a tight budget… but he had a plan. I just have to take this opportunity to publicly praise Handsome and  thank him for literally making my Christmas’s stress free so that I can better focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

I am hoping that by sharing this, there just may be someone else that will experience less stressful Christmas’s for years to come.

His plan is simple… yet makes a tremendous difference and enables us to approach Christmas without going into debt. There is always the opportunity to set up a separate savings account, but when times are difficult through the year it is easy to make those funds accessible. Instead, Handsome pays a little bit extra each month on all of our bills throughout the year so that  when December rolls around, there is nothing due. He basically takes all of our on-going basic monthly bills… cell phone, internet, utilities, insurance… and divides their average annual costs by 11 and then begins paying that amount each month.

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Giving to others makes Christmas even better!

It is simple. It is only a little bit more each month but it adds up. It is always fun beginning in March to see the amount due is less than the usage for the month and then watching that grow. When December arrives, there is nothing due… and less bills for the month=less stress!

There does not appear to be a way to apply this plan to revolving accounts or loans such as our car and house payments, so those bills still roll in for the month, but all of the other bills add up quite a bit.

We are able to plan our Christmas to not only bless our children with some gifts under the tree, but also be able to do some special things for families in need around us. Doing something for others is what makes our Christmas even more blessed.

Thank you Handsome!

 

The 2016 Great Road Field Trip – Day 1

We had the great idea of having all of the girls sleep over at Melissa’s to make our departure time of 5 a.m. a true possibility. We made sure that the girls were all bathed because we really did not know how long it could be before they got a real bath again. As they settled in and actually fell asleep, Melissa and I were busy assembling breakfast burritos and packing the coolers… at 10 pm!

It was after midnight before we were done in the kitchen and began to seriously assess the plethora of back packs, pillows and sleeping bags, amongst the other necessary items to be packed. Wow… time to go to work… after midnight.

We organized as we loaded the van. Everyone had their own backpack under their seat as well as their pillow in preparation for the hopeful hours of quiet nap times. Our snack box – which literally looked like the honor system vending boxes you see in commercial offices- was purposefully placed up front where it could receive adult monitoring.

and the journey begins…

We were so wound up from the packing and loading, that we seriously considered just leaving when we were loaded… at 3 a.m. I had to convince Melissa that it would be best to get at least 3 hours of sleep before our journey which meant we would be leaving later than planned. Breathe… it’s ok to start this journey off-schedule… this is a vacation field trip…

Bright and early, the girls were cheerfully climbing into the van and settling in. We made our way down to Debra’s place to pick up her and Katrina. Ohhh myyy, there are more bags… I had to laugh at the thought of forgetting that we needed to deliver some left behind belongings to her college son… at the end of the trip! We found room. We settled in. We began pulling out of the driveway. Then we quickly had to turn around… we needed pencils… we are going on a homeschooling field trip and we forgot pencils…?

It is always funny to me that kids are eager to dive into their “to-do” bag immediately upon starting a road trip. All five of the girls were busily working on their Pioneer Field Trip education packets before we were even off of the dirt road.

The sun was rising as our journey finally began. This is going to be fun…. or at least a test of friendships… six days… five girls (7-11)… one infant… three women. We can do this… we can do this.

Our schedule for the day was to leave early enough to drive almost across Kansas and then head north into Beatrice, Nebraska to arrive at the National Homestead Monument. 483 miles… just under 8 hours. We would be there by 3 pm and be able to spend an hour or so at the monument, then head to Grand Island and set up camp late in the evening. This was our longest scheduled day with the most miles planned. We can do it… just focus... the rest of the trip will be a breeze.

Kansas welcomes us!

The breeze came. Shortly after crossing into Kansas, our beautiful sunny sky turned into a wall of darkness. Traveling speeds slowed a bit as the wipers sped up. Toes began tapping as the minutes seemed to pass by like seconds on a wall clock.

Debra was at the wheel during the heavy rainfall when suddenly a large work truck veered right into our lane as if our large 12-passenger van didn’t exist. We were immediately praising the Lord for her quick reflexes as she carefully swerved out of the way. It is unsettling to be faced with the reality of how quickly and easily our lives could be altered. The driver, completely unaware that he put anyone’s life in danger, swerved back into his own lane and continued his texting. Little did we know at the time that this was only the first example of God’s hand during our trip.

With senses heightened, I made the call to the KOA campground that was prepaid to inform them that we would not be making it there tonight as we have spent hours in dusk-like darkness as we traveled through Kansas. Thoughts of the whole Midwest being under a blanket of rain were put to ease as she informed me of the beautiful clear skies there just outside of Grand Island, Nebraska.

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Welcome to Nebraska- the good life!

We debated on a plan B as the miles slowly passed. It was evident that we could make it to the Homestead National Monument before they closed but we would have mere minutes for our visit. This simply was not going to be acceptable as the whole trip was centered on our first stop. We would need to search for a place to stay but unfortunately – we were still in Kansas – and neither of us seemed to have decent cell coverage while we were traveling. If only I could click my heels… there’s no place like home…

We stopped at a McD’s for a bathroom break and free wi-fi and made the decision to attempt a hotel room… hoping we could sneak the kids in…?

Plan B fell into place better than expected. Within a couple of hours we were in Beatrice and quickly settling into a nice-sized hotel room (we didn’t have to sneak the kids in as the clerk felt sorry for the three ladies with all of those girls in tow). We were happily enjoying dinner when we began to pay attention to the eeriness of the hotel that we were staying at. As the sun descended into the horizon the hotel guests residents began to come out… literally. Grills and beer coolers were being rolled out of rooms and the outdoor party began. We began sensing several eerie eyes watching our moves… counting the girls… uhmmmm, I think it’s time we come inside… and pray.

Us mommas exchanged the knowingly-yet unsaid-looks as the happy-go-lucky girls settled in for the night. I couldn’t help but have flashbacks of Children of the Corn flow through my mind. I know… I know… but I’m from Nebraska, I can say that…

As the morning came and the party ceased we loaded up and made our five mile journey to the monument. We eagerly greeted the day with absolutely no clue of what obstacles we may face… and you’ll have to wait for the next posts to hear all about the hand of God and His protection on our trip…

 

The 2016 Great Field Trip: Pioneer Style

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Just one of the many Laura Ingalls Wilder books she has enjoyed

Over this last year, Bookworm Beauty discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder. She devoured everything she could get her hands on that centered around Laura. Her mild obsession eventually morphed into a love and appreciation of studying the life and times of the westward expansion.

We tiptoed through our already planned History Studies while she relentlessly pursued studying this particular time period of American History. I relented. I went along with it. And it became contagious.

Then it happened.

I began sharing with Bookworm Beauty (and Sweetness who showed a bit of interest) my experiences of growing up in Nebraska. I shared the field trips to Stuhr Museum, Pioneer Village and The Pony Express. Her eyes widened, if she were a puppy I’d say that she began to drool. It was settled… we were taking a road trip.

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The Westward Expansion

The details swirled in my head as I tried to figure out the logistics. Is this a family trip? What is our route? How long do we plan for? What time of the year?

I began talking it through with a couple of homeschooling girlfriends  (dropping subtle hints along the way) that just maybe this could be a girl’s trip? They took the bait… hook… line… and sinker… Neither of us had any idea of what was in store for us.

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Now… to convince the men…

Surprisingly, when I brought up my ideas with Handsome, there was no push back. None of anything I expected. You see, he is an awesome Dad and he does not enjoy missing a single thing that we do. I was more than surprised that he did not want to participate in this activity (maybe he was celebrating the closure of the Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession…?)

Handsome was incredibly supportive and offered suggestions of places to add to our itinerary. Conferring with the other ladies, I found that they were given the same support.

Then came the planning.

We settled on a 6 day trip. Our plan was to leave Colorado heading East through Kansas, then North up to Beatrice to our first stop at the Homestead National Monument. We would then head to Grand Island, set up camp and make arrangements to visit my ailing mother. The following day would be our biggest day of play; we would head to the State Fair and see Chris Tomlin in concert! On the third day, we planned to visit Stuhr Museum and have a leisurely evening at the campgrounds. Day four would be a really long day. We would need to break down camp early and then be on the road to Kearney to visit the Platte River Rd Archway Monument – which by the way has a fantastic annual rate of $25 for homeschooling families – SCORE! After the Archway we would continue West towards Jailhouse Rock, Courthouse Rock and Chimney Rock and then finally head to Guernsey, Wyoming where we would need to set up camp – very late. Our last day would be spent touring a cool fort area in Guernsey, where wagon ruts were still visible.

This was going to be a phenomenal trip! There are 12 children still at home between our 3 families. The decision was made to only take the older girls and an infant. We were making this trek with 3 women, 5 girls ages 7-11, and the baby. We would be prepared to load up a 12 passenger van and hit the road early one morning.

I have the ability of being very detailed and structured. It is not in my nature, normally. But if I have a budget and a task, I’ll work it to death and figure out a way. I am very resourceful and enjoy finding a way to make things fit. Combine those skills with my girlfriends and together we had mad menu making skills. We literally planned each and every meal, snack and drink.

We prepacked accordingly, cleverly deciding that we simply could not do this trip without coffee and did not want to rely on the gas station every morning to meet that need. With that in mind, I pre-made 2 gallons of coffee with creamer and refrigerated them. Keep in mind, it was the end of August – a time when iced coffee is still a refreshing treat. Of course, we could always heat up a cup on the camp stove for the diehard hot coffee drinkers (me).

We precooked the taco salad meat, sausage and bacon (yes, must take bacon) and we pre-cut our veggies that would be a part of our initial meals. We knew that veggies were not going to keep for several days so the first meals were heavy on fresh foods; while the later meals relied on sandwiches, canned chili and similar items.

We did not want to take anything unnecessary, not even ice. I know, that sounds funny… certainly we would need ice. We simply did not want to take anything that would not be used and the idea of dumping out loads of water from the coolers daily (and dealing with wet items) was not appealing. Ice blocks were also out of the question as they would take up useful space and we would not have a way to refreeze them. We decided to fill 8 1-gallon jugs with our 9.5pH alkaline ionized water and froze them ahead of time. These served as our ice blocks and as they would thaw, they would be some of our drinking water – refreshingly cold drinking water! We would also pack an additional 7 gallons of drinking water but it would not be pre-frozen or even cold.

The plans were written in stone. There would be no turning back.

School Sports and Homeschooling?

 

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A few years ago, Bookworm Beauty was bitten by the sports bug.

Her first experience with organized sports was roller hockey. It was interesting, to say the least. To begin with, she could hardly walk on the roller blades that came with the enrollment. By the end of the 6 week season she was at least skating and learning the hockey skills. We let her participate for three seasons before deciding to put up the hockey stick – so to speak.

The team experience itself was lacking. We wanted her to have the opportunity to experience being part of a team and although she was, there was no cohesive team spirit in roller hockey. I can not speak for other locations, but at our location there was nothing to encourage that kind of team cohesiveness. For example, the kids did not even know each others names, except the names of the few “good” players; there was no real team practice to assist in that either as practice was for all teams at once. To top it off, at the end of the season, the team party was held at the same time for all of the teams (10 or so) during a regular open-skate public session. It was fun for her nonetheless, but we really wanted her to have an opportunity to be part of a team not just a group of kids getting together.

Then last year rolled around… one of her 5th grade friends gave her a flyer for the local youth basketball team. She showed a bit of interest and we found ourselves on our way to town to buy her a pair of court shoes.

The team experience was everything we had desired for her. She was part of something and felt important. Even more important, she got to know most of the kids on the team.

staco-volleyballNow Bookworm Beauty is in 6th grade and this changes everything. Where we live, 6th grade is when students can start participating in school sports. Suddenly it is as if the sky has parted upon Bookworm Beauty and the angels are singing.

Many homeschoolers are not aware that their students can participate in the local school programs – a la carte. We love our local school (I know… we are lucky), we love it so much that I would not be worried if I sent my kids there at some point. In the meantime we are enjoying what we can utilize their programs and Bookworm Beauty has been playing volleyball with many of her friends.

Volleyball was a great experience for her. She is excited though as she is now trading her volleyball for her basketball and in the spring she is considering running in track. It has been a joy to watch her actively participate in these sports.

Whether your child enjoys