Monday, April 14, 2014

No cost activities to do with your preschooler, already.

So, this homeschool gig.  It hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns for us this spring.  In large part due to the fact that we've all been sick about as much as we've been well since December.  I'm a strict no running, watch a lot of Caillou-type mom when the kids can't breathe without hacking up half a lung, which has definitely made our school schedule a little more spotty than I would have liked.  

We've been using this curriculum, which I really do love for several reasons: 1) it works chronologically through the Bible, complete with memory verses and fun activities to go along with each story.  I'll admit, I'm not much when it comes to the creative, project-based kinds of crafts that kids really do need to help them develop fine motor skills, creativity and problem solving.  It has been superawesomefantastic to have those laid out for me.  2) It focuses on one letter each week, going entirely out of order.  This is awesome because it gives us an entire week to focus on learning how to write the letter.  

The thing is, by about December, she outgrew it a bit.  Yes, we still follow the "guidelines" for the curriculum.  But there is emphasis on number recognition, shapes and colors, and phonics, all of which she knows.  Like, really, really well.  

So, even though I'm still following the general outline, we're also implementing other activities focusing on more kindergarten-ready skills like reading and math.  Yes, I know she just turned four.  The really great thing about homeschooling kids is that you can feed them what they're ready for, when they're ready for it.  And yes, that makes my Nerdy McTeacher brain get all tingly with excitement...

So although I haven't moved on to a more strict curriculum (but oh, do I have dreams!  So many dreams for next year!), here are, in no particular order, some of our favorite homeschool activities.  Simple, easy additions we throw in using stuff we've already got to help those developing preschool-y skills flourish. 

Multi-sensory letter play.


Playdough is one of my all-time favorite creations.  It's useful for so many, many different things.  The thing that's great about using it to support letter building is that it turns early writing skills into a multi-sensory activity.  Hooray for engaging all parts of the brain! 


Another variation on this theme is popsicle sticks.  What letters can they build with just a few popsicle sticks?  What letters can't they build?

Another simple thing we use all the time is paint.  We looooove paint.  Painted letters, counting with paint, painting with paint because it's fun and we can... you name it, we've painted it. 

Grooming optional when homeschooling.  One of the many things I love about it.

But it's also great for reinforcing phonics lessons.  


We knew that O is one of those funky letters that makes different sounds, but look at what happens when you stamp it in different combinations with a paper towel tube!  


Salt/rice/sugar/sand tray - still one of my go-to's for letter learning.  It's a great way to introduce a shape and allow kids to practice before asking them to go at it with pencil and paper.  Rice in a baking dish works equally as well, and again, anything multi-sensory engages parts of the brain that helps translate into long-term memory.  WIN!


Math lessons with found objects.
One of the important prerequisites to math is that a child first have number sense - the recognition that one item equates to one number.  Can they accurately count items in a group?  If so, they may be ready to start grouping items using the vocabulary of math.


We learned the words for + and = and are practicing using them in a sentence.  In other words, we're learning how to say equations. 


Then, to give it concrete meaning, we counted out the equation using raisins and chocolate chips.  Because that's what I had on hand that was small and yummy.


As she ate her math snack, she had to say each equation.  2+1=3.  More important than the math?  We talked about it.  You have two chocolate chips and one raisin.  How many items do you have altogether?  Which two cups have five things in them? (3+2 and 4+1).  WOW!  There's more than one way to make five!  The talk is every bit as important as the ability to count and group.  And, also, the eating of the math problems... totally necessary to blossoming mathematicians.


Magnetic numbers and letters.
These things are genius, and way more fun than regular letters.


We use them all the time, for all sorts of things.  Initial consonant sound (change rat to pat), building words (how do you spell dog?).  Here, we were taking our math equations to the next step - solving equations without the concrete representation of raisins and chocolate chips.


It was hard.  I over-reached on this one, for the record.  Still, magnetic letters are a fun way to switch up the basics.  She loves doing it on our chalk board; a cookie sheet works wonders, too.

Stuff and glue.
Because everybody needs to work those fine motor skills.


We've done more versions of stuff and glue than I can count.  Cotton balls.  Popsicle sticks.  Cereal.  Google eyes.  Felt.  Flower petals.  Rocks.  Paper plates.  Beans. Shapes.  Color sorts.  It doesn't matter, it's all good, and this one is an end in and of itself.  Important skills are at work any time they're cutting, organizing and gluing.


On this particular day (recent, as you can guess by the eggs), she had to first cut out the small boxes of numbers, then count the eggs and glue the corresponding number in the box.  


Again, hooray for the multi-step, multi-sensory project!



Sight words. 
The easy way - through forced memorization and stickers.


I'm a big fan of this method.  Each week, I select three sight words and post them at very visible locations throughout our house: on the downstairs bathroom door, on the fridge, on her door and on the upstairs bathroom mirror.  You know, places we'll eventually have to visit (no, I see no connection between that list of important places in my home and pregnancy.  Two bathrooms and a fridge... your point being?).  It's a helpful reminder, kind of like a "password" any time we see it, to read and spell the words.



She also has a sticker book, and gets a sticker for each word when she reads it correctly.  She loves getting stickers, and it helps me keep track of the words she's already mastered and the ones she needs to keep working on.  

Again, to reinforce these I simply point to sight words she knows in books as we're reading.  Nothing fancy.  No magic tools.  Just a small investment of time to reap really, really big rewards.  It's amazing what percentage of words she can actually read in text using only a small selection of sight words.  Those babies really do pop up a lot in texts!

There you have it.  A few very simple and effective activities we hope you can utilize with your preschooler.  And, if you have anything to add that you love, we'd LOVE to hear it!  Jump in - the greatest resource we have is each other!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Parenting Paradigm Shift: Embracing the What-Ifs

There is no doubt: one of the most difficult things to do is modify behavior.

There's a reason that countless resources exist, whether in the form of books, college courses, self-help courses with any multitude of strategies and perspectives on raising children.  Because, the truth is that for each and every one of us, we all spend our adult lives analyzing the way that we were raised.  Nobody gets out of this without a little therapy. Freudian formal or over Starbucks with a girlfriend, we all end up laying on the proverbial couch over the relationships, habits, norms and values we were brought up with.

One of the things that is most troubling to me, though, as I try to define for my children what their "normal" will look like, is how very easy it is for the world to undo the lessons I am working so diligently to deliver.  Those values that I'm working so hard to model and reinforce are easily overridden by the hundreds of messages they are receiving simply as a byproduct as they go about their day.

It certainly plays into my decision to homeschool.  I've watched kids cry about wearing a certain type of pant to school because "the girls at school don't like pants like this."  You'd think this message came from my 8th graders, right?  I wish.  This was from kindergartners.  I've listened to second graders talk about Miley Cyrus (not those adorable Hannah Montana years, either) and all the images that conjures up.  At the age of four, Barbies have become the top "get" as presents, and, though I know it flies in the face of little girl "tradition," I'm just not sure what redeeming value that particular toy has.  At the end of the day, it just doesn't fit in with the values we're working so hard to help instill in our children.

 So, for our kids, we've made a very intentional executive decision: Embrace the what-ifs.

What if, from the time that child is tiny, we fed him or her exclusively with positive messages?  I am not suggesting parenting without limits - quite the opposite - but positive messages in the form of music, modeling, books, toys, movies, TV shows, other parents and, yes, other children.  What if we surround our children with an array of age-appropriate, well-vetted imagery, speech and actions that nurture their spirits, character, and souls?

What if we cast off that which is negative, limit that which is neutral, and seek out only that which gives voice to the value and potential of our children?

What if we stand between our children and the idea that the status quo is acceptable, even best, as a yardstick for what goes into developing our children?  What if we reject the notion that, since everyone else is doing it, strength in numbers somehow equates to raising compassionate, joyful and engaged offspring?

What if we approach parenthood not only as a major milestone in our own lives, but as an intentional, inspired launching pad for our little beloveds?

If there is one thing I am discovering as a mother, it is that God has entrusted me with the high honor to speak identity into my children.  Not to say that they are empty vessels who wait on me to breathe life into them; clearly they are their own beings with amazing personalities, strengths, ideas and preferences all their own.  Every mother knows how difficult it is to force a child to eat a food he or she doesn't like, or to argue a point with a toddler who has made up his or her own mind on an issue.  They are willful, independent beings right from the start!

Still, the ability we have been given as mothers to influence, touch, guide and develop our children cannot be overstated, nor should it be undervalued.  We are not to simply sit on the sidelines as our children grow - particularly when they are small and willing to embrace the lessons and wisdom we have to offer.

If you've ever tried to speak with someone about sheltering your children, the responses are as mixed and varied as your audience.  In some ways, the idea of "sheltering" has become a veritable bad parenting buzz-word, equated with unhealthy, awkward children who will undoubtedly grow into adults who melt at life's simplest challenge.

Done well, this could not be further from the truth.

The goal of sheltering is not to keep them from the world, but to better equip them to enter a world full of tough choices.  To arm them with self-confidence, Godly knowledge and discernment.  To help them know where their parents stand on difficult, controversial issues - and more importantly, why we feel that way - and give them roots to make their own choices out of wisdom.  To gift them the opportunity to develop their own character, skills and minds as individuals and give them lots of practice making choices while the stakes are small so that they are ready to function in our much larger world of pressures, choices and consequences.

In education terms, we would call it "front loading."  Without getting too technical, it means to spend a great deal of time pre-teaching the skills we know our learners will need to use independently later on.  In fact, most of what we do as teachers isn't conveying knowledge or facts, but investing up front in the "big ideas" that will carry them through the lesson, then refining processes and providing feedback so that when students are ready to grapple with the subject independently, they have the greatest chance at success.

The idea, then, for raising children, is to identify the characteristics and behaviors we would hope to see from our children and spend time investing in those while they are little.  To surround them with a world that supports and reinforces those values while we can, and gradually release them, with guidance and feedback, into young adults who make their own independent decisions.

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." 
Proverbs 22:5

It's not about protecting them from failure.  Failure is our greatest ally in making wise choices.  It's not about protecting them from pain, since some things you can only learn through experience, pain and loss.  It is about asking two questions: who can our children become if they are allowed to focus on becoming the best version of themselves, and what do they need from us in order to get there?  Not for the purpose of engendering selfishness or vanity or entitlement, but because when they embrace the best version of themselves, when they know who they are and why they're here, they have the most to give back to the world.  

Where they take it is ultimately up to them, and the issues they'll confront over coffee (I pray it's just coffee and not more intensive therapy!) will undoubtedly be their own.  For my part, though, I'm content to err on the side of caution.  It's alright with me that when my four year old hears "Don't Stop Believin'" on the radio, she confidently informs me that she likes the song because it's about God.  That she found it odd when, at a dinner with our friends recently, they didn't pray before their meal.  That she calmly informs other children that they need to use kind words and gentle hands. At four, this is the "normal" I have prepped her for.



And I'm cool with that.  

It doesn't mean we will be perfect.  It doesn't mean our children will be.  But what if we keep trying?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Three books I've read lately

Someday, I'll again put reading at the top of my list of things to do.

In case you were wondering, I have a degree in reading.  A Master's in how to help others do it.  I only bring up this overly-pretentious pedigree because I also have to shamefully admit that I totally stink at reading.  In the temporal sense, not the literal one; I can read as you may have concluded by the fact that I'm writing - usually they go hand in hand - I just kinda don't.

I've read for work.  I've read the baby books.  Our kids are seriously well versed in Fancy Nancy, Seuss and all things Eric Carle.  Reading for me, though?  Just for fun?  A book I chose for no other reason than I felt like reading it... I hear people still do that in some remote and backwards parts of the country.  I miss reading desperately, and yet it's one of those things that never quite makes it into my list of daily priorities.

I'm trying to remedy that, at least a little.  I'm not revolutionizing anything, but I did set a few literary-type goals for myself in 2014.  You can see I'm not trying for a marathon, just a quick little sprint to dip my toes back in the water before the baby comes.  I've made it through three of five books I set out to read - not nothing, considering the number of books I read for pleasure last year was exactly zero!


Review: Slow to start, and lacking the story arch I anticipated.  Lots of dates, lots of names, lots of art I had to Google in order to place.  BUT ALSO... AMAZING.  I do believe that somehow the men and women of the past were simply made of stronger stuff than I care to ever have to face.  Sometimes, history is better than fiction.



Review: With all the wonderful, creative YA fiction out right now, this one registers as white noise.  Among the ranks of the post-apocalyptic, dystopian-future fiction that has taken off in the last three years, this one starts cleverly enough.  Unfortunately, for me the characters fell flat and the plot was a bit too predictable in its attempt at the standard, earth-shattering Ender's Game, "Katniss, there is no District 12" plot-twist department.  This hasn't been done before, exactly, and yet the whole time I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew what was coming. 


Review: Written by a trio of siblings, this book reads not only as a "how to " manual for positive sibling relationships, but also an answer to the question, "why bother?"  It is a wonderful, Biblical take with very practical wisdom, written in a way that gives enormous credit to the maturity, spirit and self-efficacy of children.  The only drawback for me at this juncture was that it will be much more useful when my own children are ready to internalize the message!  I'll have to remember to get it again in a few years.

I may need to up my list a little, because, though I'm satisfied with my progress, I also realize that I could be reading more if I weren't wasting my down time waiting for library books to come in.  Like right now.

So while I'm waiting... what have you read lately?  Suggestion me!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Kids' room update and DIY window seat bench

Happy Monday, friends!

We are so excited to be able to give you a little glimpse of all the work we've been doing in the kids' room.  The nursery has to be cleared to make way for a new occupant at the end of the summer, and we decided that if they have to live together, the big ones will be forced to get along and love each other.  Seems like that's got to work, right?  

Leah's room was the very first one we actually took on when we moved into the house.  Sweet little Logan was one week old, Leah was only three or four months out of her crib.  {Yes, she was also two and a half.  What?  That kid loved her crib!}  It was a sweet little room, done with lots of love.  Perhaps a little rushed and a little premature, but as our first, we couldn't have anticipated how quickly she'd go from two to Big Kid.  
Notice the ultrasound photo?  All that stuff above her bed was stolen pretty much directly from the nursery.  Wow did she outgrow it quickly!


Now that we're moving Logan in, the goal is different: create a room that will grow with them and still be relevant in five years.  Although it's quite possible the occupants of the room will change over the years, we're trying to create a space that will be functional for kids (note: I didn't say babies or toddlers!  YIKES!)

So there's a few things happening.  The first - and by far most important - is this lovely paneling that has been installed by my wonderful husband.  


Isn't it fabulous?  


It has since received a fresh coat of white {and looks ah-ma-zing if I do say so myself}, and the entire room has gotten a new coat of paint.  New light fixtures, that absolutely awesome set of book shelves that I am so stinkin' excited about.  More photos of all of that are forthcoming (probably when we're a little further along on the whole being finished front), but today, we're excited to show you our latest DIY project.


LOVE IT!

We were lucky that we didn't have to build this little nook; it is one of my favorite features about the room even though it's pretty tiny (6' x 1' - perfect for little hinies even though mine kinda hangs over the edge).

Here's what we used:
:: 6' x 1' x 1" pine board
:: 4" foam pad (by far the most expensive part of this project, by the way.  Bring a coupon if you can)
:: 2.5 yards fabric

My plan was to simply put the board underneath the foam, but Casey had other plans.  He wasn't thrilled with the way the edges came together.  Instead, he carved out the center of the foam pad using our electric bread knife - which sounds crazy but worked like gangbusters - so that it fit snugly.


I'll leave it to your good judgement whether you're crazy enough willing to tackle that project.

We laid the fabric out smooth on the floor, which may or may not have taken a try or two, given all the help we get on our projects.  I've mentioned it before, but man do we have helpful children.  By the way, how much are you loving those chubby ankles?  I know what I'll be checking out all summer!


With the foam/board on top, we simply aligned the fabric so that it was straight.  Super easy to do if you have a pattern that repeats, not that easy if you're using stripes or chevron since it will show.


Once aligned, we simply used the electric stapler to secure the fabric to the board. 


It took a little bit of doing to ensure that the fabric was smooth on the front, but we pulled the fabric tightly, wrapped it around and secured it, again with staples.  


The foam was just a hair too long, so out came the handy bread knife again.  To secure the ends, we wrapped them literally like a present and stapled.  Yes, the underside is a total and complete mess...


...but it absolutely doesn't matter, since no one will see it!  As long as the front looks good, we're golden.  Casey also added L brackets to the back and sides to secure the bench to the wall.

So here we are.  Before:



After:

And let me tell you, those kids are loving it!


Because, really... who wouldn't?!


I'll admit it: I'm completely, beyond excited to get all the pieces in place and finish this re-model.  And that little guy up there?  He totally gets that this is going to be his room too, and he cannot wait.  He'd move in tomorrow, even if he had to sleep on the floor since the bunk beds aren't here yet.  


Alright, one more sneak peek, because I can't resist:


I know.  I can't wait, either.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A pretty 'Lil Surprise

This week, we hit one of my absolute favorite milestones of pregnancy: the 20 week ultrasound, aka the "gender ultrasound."


And...

Guess what????


IT'S A GIRL!!!!!




Or maybe...

IT'S A BOY!!!!

Alright, that was kinda mean.  Actually, the answer is currently sitting in an envelope in an unknown (by me) location, because after all that stress and anxiety about not finding out, I decided there was no way in the world I was going to be able to just leave that information never to be seen again.  I haven't caved and I don't know our baby's gender, but the point is that I could do both of those things if I decide to - and that makes all the difference!

And let me tell you, I really, really looked.  Hard.  It's a very good thing that Casey and I aren't responsible for actually reading those things and disseminating potentially life-changing information to expectant parents.  Because here's what I saw between Baby's legs: first something that maybe might possibly have lead to something boy-part-like, and upon closer examination, a complete and total lack of anything boy-part looking.  I'm only sure that it's not definitively a boy - unlike Logan, who was decidedly male from his first debut moment on ultrasound screen.  So, while it's possible that we're having an androgynous baby, I think it's much more likely that we just completely suck at reading ultrasounds, and Little Surprise remains exactly that: a surprise.

It's still amazing to me just how much we can see while that tiny human is still living in my belly.  We saw the four chambers of the heart, the hemispheres of the brain, femur and all ten adorable little fingers.  The best part was the moment that pretty little profile appeared on the screen.  That moment - though it's my third time through - still overwhelmed me with emotion and made me cry.



And so, our sweet Little Surprise, we'll be seeing you.  We're lucky, blessed beyond words, and oh so thankful that you're happy and healthy in there.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Half baked, take 3

I can say with complete honesty that this has been the fastest pregnancy to date.  Like, light-speed.


I'm still not completely sure how we got here, and I honestly can't fathom the fact that I'm halfway through this pregnancy. 

Until about three or four days ago, all had been extremely quiet on the baby front, and our Little Surprise was giving me trouble by not moving around and letting Mommy know all's well.

It's Logan's fault, really.  What with his moving and contracting from such an early point in my pregnancy, that kid has me expecting to feel summersaults from 15 weeks.  I've spent the last probably six weeks troubling over the fact that I'm not feeling movement even though that's still completely in the safe zone.  There was a good 10 day period where I convinced myself I'd absolutely lost the baby.  Several nights in a row, I cried myself to sleep imagining the worst, though I was assured by nurses we were probably fine. When I heard that healthy little heartbeat at my doctor's appointment, how the tears flowed!

There's a scene in the Sex and the City movie which always struck a chord with me. 

Carrie and Charlotte are shopping, and Carrie asks her why she's quit running after finding out about her pregnancy.  She responds: 
"I have everything I ever wanted.  I'm so happy that I'm terrified.  No one gets everything they want... Of course something bad is going to happen to me."

And here I am.  Two beautiful, smart, healthy and happy little ones who call me mom, and this big pregnant belly.  What kind of a glutton am I that I think I'm entitled to another?  Without so much as trouble getting pregnant or a miscarriage to speak of.  How did that happen?


I don't know the answer, but I am oh so thankful it did.  And so very grateful that this Little Surprise has begun to wiggle to give me a little peace of mind about his or her well being.  Grateful that, for whatever crazy reason, this turned out to be in the cards for us.  I could go on, but that's probably enough of that for one day.

In lighter news, I feel great.  So great.  The morning sickness has ebbed and I've been able to go back to eating a normal diet.  I've been able to exercise, though the sciatica I get with every pregnancy means that I have to be careful about which exercises and how much.  The point?  I'm exercising!  And not just walking and swimming like in previous pregnancies per doc's recommendations!  That's a big deal for me.  

I don't have very many cravings, though I could eat a spicy Santiago's breakfast burrito every single day.  There's never a time those don't sound amazing to me.  I've also been able to go back to eating salad, which is another milestone for me since in the first 16 or more weeks even the thought of a salad made me gag.  The only time I ate one, I promptly threw it up again. (I know you wanted to know that!)

I'm still convinced this baby is a girl, and I'm having major anxiety about the fact that we won't find out.  The last two nights in a row, I've woken up at 4 a.m. with crazy dreams about our upcoming would-be gender ultrasound.  Two nights ago, I dreamed that I convinced Casey to do the same thing we did four years ago and have a pink or blue cake baked (in my dream, the cake was pink, by the way).  Last night, dream-Melissa just sat in the ultrasound room and cried.  I think it's safe to say that I have some issues related to not finding out gender.  Type-A rears its ugly head.... we shall see whether I can keep from caving...

As for naming this baby, we're holding strong with "Hey You."  Girl or boy, it doesn't really matter.  Little Surprise is growing on me, too, though I'm not sure what it'll do for Baby's chances of being president. 

Nesting is a thing, and it's happening.  Twenty weeks doesn't seem like enough time to do all the things that need to happen before this baby arrives.  The kids' room has to be done.  Leah needs to be night-time potty trained.  The big one has to practice sleeping on a top bunk.  The little one has to be moved to a big-kid bed.  The nursery has to be redone (since, well, it was never actually finished to begin with, and what was done was done for a boy).  I may or may not have crazy pregnancy dreams about all those things, too.

It's definitely my third pregnancy, because this is the very first photo I've taken of the belly, which is either lovely and refreshing or kinda sad, depending on which way you look at it.

{Just in case you were under the impression that each and every pregnancy is the same, or that pregnancy doesn't have a lasting effect on the body...}

Twenty weeks down!  One very, very loved Little Surprise.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A ballerina birthday


This face.

Oh my word, it is the highlight of my very existence.  That smile.  Those eyes.  The obvious anticipation and delight.

We celebrated our tiny dancer with exactly what she asked for: a ballerina party.  Actually, if I'm being precise, what she asked for was a ballerina princess party, but truth be told I wasn't sure how to make that all come to pass.  It was every bit as sweet and lovely as she is.


We started with this invitation:


...which I admit I found at this adorable etsy shop, and, since it was exactly what I wanted, we went ahead and worked from there. Typically I like to do this stuff myself, but this was really just too perfect to pass up.

We set up cupcakes and cakes in the dining room with a few simple embellishments.





Other snacks included caprese sandwiches, mini quiche, heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly tea sandwiches and popcorn.


All was definitely enjoyed by the littles!




My favorite part was that each child had a tutu and looked absolutely adorable in their ballet attire.


Case in point?


The skirts came in very handy for a little dance party.  You know who knows how to dance like no one's watching?  Four year olds.


And man, can they twirl.




Not to be outdone, the babies had their own little dance party.


...Or, at least, they took turns slobbering on things and showing off their new found sit-up skills.  Which is pretty much the same thing.


And the cake.  Oh how happy I was that this silly cake turned out!


A pink cake with pink frosting was the birthday girl's request.  The plan was simple, but I had the toughest time making this darn cake!  If it wasn't the center sticking to the pan, it was the frosting getting too warm and sliding down the side.  


But we got there in the end!

And it was so worth it...





Every year, I'll admit to feeling a little silly for going through all this craziness over a birthday.  Part of me worries that it's too indulgent and over the top.

But the truth is that I'm strongly aware of the finite number of birthdays I'll have to celebrate with her.  Though I certainly hope she'll have many, many ahead of her, in a few short years she'll prefer to spend them with her friends doing things of her choice, which most likely won't involve her mom's homemade cake and decorations.  I can't help but feel like it's important for me to take advantage of these opportunities to make her feel loved and special.

More than that, for a second year in a row, she came downstairs with such awe and wonderment on her face.  She looked at everything and said, "Wow, Mom.  Thanks for planning this party!"  She told her daddy over and over again how much she loves him.  In other words, her little heart was filled with gratitude, joy and love, and she had so much fun!  As long as that continues to be the case, every second of planning is worth it.

Times, like, a million.



I changed my font at thecutestblogontheblock.com