Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scientist's Creamy Pasta Salad

Scientist made dinner for us again tonight. He loves to be a helper in the kitchen, and I really like when I find recipes that he can mostly do on his own with supervision. Tonight we made Creamy Pasta Salad I found the recipe for it in our May Highlights High Five Magazine. (Which we still love, and I still recommend to anyone with 2-6 year olds at home.)

Scientist's Creamy Pasta Salad

2 cups sea shell pasta
15 oz can of corn, drained
15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed (the real recipe called for chick peas, but we don't like 'em)
1 cup frozen peas
1 small package of cherry tomatoes
4 oz block of goat cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

*Have an adult boil the pasta until tender, drain and keep warm.
1. Put corn, black beans, and peas in a large bowl.
2. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and put them in bowl.
3. Crumble goat cheese into bowl. Add olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper.
4. Add the warm pasta. Stir until goat cheese has melted into a creamy sauce.
Delicious warm or cold!

I'll admit, I wasn't a big fan of the semi-warm pasta salad, so I dumped our salad back into the pan the noodles cooked in and heated it until it was hot all the way through. This helped the goat cheese melt better too. It made a very tasty dinner! I was impressed. We were in such a hurry to eat that I didn't get a picture of the final product. The only downside was that after all that work, Scientist wasn't a big fan of the meal. But we'll definitely have it again. It would be good with pieces of cooked chicken cut up in it too, I think.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What an Unschooled Teen Can Do

Between a week long road trip and my two brother's weddings I missed the recent Internet explosion about GMA's unschooling report. I won't go into the absurdity of such biased reporting because that's clearly already been covered. What I think is interesting is the seemingly unrelated reports about Abby Sunderland, the teenager who is attempting to be the youngest person to sail solo around the world. There's been all kinds of talk about sailing records and the technical difficulties of the trip but I haven't seen anyone mention the fact that Abby is an unschooler.

I have no official documentation on Abby's educational status but I think it's safe to say that because she is on a boat in the middle of the ocean, she is not in school. I also sincerely doubt she is pouring over grammar and math workbooks in her freetime, so that would make her an unschooler. Even though she is living in a world without school, I don't hear anyone questioning her ability to work hard, her exposure to new things or her preparation for college. I just wish people would make the connection between Abby's unschooling status and her amazing accomplishments. Maybe then they would see what an incredible opportunity unschooling is!

Monday, April 19, 2010

M Day: Monkeys, Magnets, Marble Mazes, and Milk Mixing

Today for M day, I introduced the letter M by reading the book Five Little Monkey's Sitting in a Tree. It's one of Lincoln's favorites right now and he can sing along with the whole thing. Then we played a simplified version of Barrel of Monkeys. I had tried to teach Scientist the regular version earlier in the week, but he didn't seem to have the coordination for it yet. So, instead the boys took turns seeing how many monkeys they could chain together. They both did really well. Then they each got to color their own monkey.

After that, I got out Scientist's Mag-Neato set, which is basically just a bunch of big toddler sized magnets. I explained how magnets stick to some things that are metal. Then I gave each boy a magnet and brought out a pile of different kitchen utensils. They boys took turns picking a utensil and deciding if the magnet would stick to it or not. We made one pile of magnetic things, and one pile of non-magnetic things.

Next we went into the kitchen and made marble mazes. I got the idea for those here. I decided that the boys would be less competitive if they each had their own maze, so we made two small ones instead of one really big one. And, due to time constraints, we did not decorate ours like they did in the example. But the boys had a great time with the mazes. I think it was their favorite part of the day. If I do it again though, I'll try and find something better to catch the marbles in, since I think I still have about 30 marbles back behind the washing machine. :)

For our snack we "mixed milk", meaning I poured normal white milk for the boys, and then showed them how to make it chocolate milk by letting them mix in some Ovaltine. I think they enjoyed their snack, but once they were finished they went right back to the marble maze. I think we're going to have to do that one again one of these days.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Home Schooling, Minus the Home Part

Summary of a recent conversation:

So, your husband works from home?


And you home school your kids?


So, you're pretty much all home all the time? (Said with that you-poor-crazy-hermits look)

(This is the point where you know you have not met a kindred soul)

Pretty much, yes.

Only the truth is we're rarely home. When I first started home schooling I kept saying the only thing I don't really like about home schooling is the being home part. So we don't stay home much. Really who would when there are so many other things to do? Of course we're involved in all the usuals - scouts, science club, classes, youth group, piano, sports and field trips, but then we have the unique advantage of being self-employed, so we travel. This school year we've been to Yellowstone, Arizona and the Oregon Coast, tomorrow we're heading to Utah and next month we'll be in Illinois.

When people realize how much we travel they often say with longing, "I wish we could do that!" The ironic thing is, that was me five years ago. I had a husband who worked long hard hours and I was rarely brave enough to leave the house for more than a morning with my three small children in tow (and one on the way). My husband and I both felt like there had to be more to life. Taking the leap to make that happen was the hardest thing we've ever done. My husband quit his job just one year short of partnership and started his own practice. It was very stressful and scary but it was also successful and has liberated us from the rat race.

I know not everyone can make a leap like that, but I really do think most people can make choices that give them and their family more freedom to do the things they really want to do. For example, I have a friend whose husband saves up vacation time all year so they can take a long road trip each fall. Camping helps them to save money, and has allowed them to share some amazing experiences with their children. Even if you can only travel to your nearest state park, I am a believer in giving your children homeschool experiences away from home!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

College Without High School

Legos seem to be of far more interest around here than school, but with eighth grade looming before us, I've started ramping up my research on homeschooling or "unschooling" high school. A few weeks ago I came across College Without High School by Blake Boles . What a great read! His educational research was inspired by Grace Llewellyn and John Taylor Gatto, both of whom I find to be a bit extremist and not terrible concrete in their advice, but thankfully, Blake's book is very practical and inspiring. His approach to unschooling is very similar to my own. It's all about following your dreams and studying the things you love but also making a plan and setting goals. I found this so much more helpful than just a lot of talk about living wild and free. He even talks about how occasionally you may need to buckle down and learn something you don't love because you know it will be useful in helping you accomplish your goals. He provides in depth guidance in how to establish your goals and carefully explains what you need to do to satisfy college entrance requirements. I would recommend reading this even if you don't have teenagers yet, just to give you an idea of the possiblities that unschooling can provide. Now if I can just figure out how to make legos a legitimate subject we'll be all set!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Science

We are really looking forward to spring at our house, and have been trying to encourage it to get here as quickly as possible. Today we did a spring science project, that can be started indoors. We took an egg carton and filled each space with half an egg shell. Inside the egg shell we put potting soil. Then I showed Scientist how to use his finger to poke a hole in the dirt in the middle of each egg shell. We put a few wildflower seeds in each hole and covered them back up again. (I chose wildflower seeds because they are drought tolerant and require very minimal care. I wanted something that was almost guaranteed to grow, so that Scientist could see how seeds work. I've heard that marigold seeds, bean seeds, and grass seed, also work really well.)

Next we put a teaspoon of water in each shell. When we were done we put the lid on carton (so it would stay warmer) and put the carton in the window. Every day until the seeds sprouted, we would open the lid while the sun was out, and close it at night. After only a few days, we were rewarded with results.

Once the sprouts are a little bigger and the weather a little warmer, we will take these outside and dig a small hole and plant each egg shell. The nice thing about using the eggshell as a container is that you don't have to remove it before planting, just lightly crush it in your hand, and place in the hole.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

L Day: Letters, Licking, and Lambs

L Day today at Suzy's. Suzy started the kids off writing letters to their grandmas. It was more like drawing pictures for their grandmas, but the concept was the same. Scientist did really well, I was very impressed with his drawings. For the first time ever all on his own, he drew a head with hair, gave it eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and then drew some legs on it as well. (Don't mind that the mouth went in between the eyes and the nose, and that the legs were coming out the top of the head. He's got all the parts down, just not their exact locations yet.) That was his first picture. On the second picture he did even better. He got all the face items in the right place. This one didn't have legs though, but it had lots and lots of hair. When the kids were done drawing their letters, they got to fold them up and put them in envelopes to mail.

Next we did a really cool licking activity. Suzy had taken popcicle sticks and on the end of each one put different kinds of things to taste, like grape jelly, syrup, sugar, and a few others. The boys got to pick up each stick and lick it and try to guess what was on it. Scientist loved the licking, but did not do so well at the guessing part. :)

Once the sticks had all been licked to the boys satisfaction, we started on the next activity. Suzy gave each boy a paper with a lamb on it. They got to take Q-tips and dip them in blue glue and then paint part of the lamb with the glue and then stick a cotton ball to it to give the lamb some wool. I think they turned out super cute. And the boys seemed to really like working with the glue and cotton balls. Later, I wrote L is for Lamb on the bottom of his sheet and hung it up in our window with the rest of the Spring decorations we've been working on. Maybe if our windows say it's Spring, the weather will start cooperating. :)

For the last activity we all got in a circle and sang "Here We Go Looby Loo". Here are the lyrics:

Here we go looby loo
Here we go looby light
Here we go looby loo
All on a Saturday night

You put your right hand in
You take your right hand out
You give your hand a shake, shake, shake
And turn yourself about

Here we go looby loo
Here we go looby light
Here we go looby loo
All on a Saturday night

You put your left hand in
You take your left hand out
You give your left hand a shake, shake, shake
And turn yourself about

Here we go looby loo
Here we go looby light
Here we go looby loo
All on a Saturday night

You put your right foot in
You take your right foot out
You give your right foot a shake, shake, shake
And turn yourself about

Here we go looby loo
Here we go looby light
Here we go looby loo
All on a Saturday night

You put your left foot in
You take your left foot out
You give your left foot a shake, shake, shake
And turn yourself about

Here we go looby loo
Here we go looby light
Here we go looby loo
All on a Saturday night

You put your whole self in
You take your whole self out
You give your whole self a shake, shake, shake
And turn yourself about

The kids really like turning themselves about and by the end were asking to do variations of their own, like sheep. Suzy did a good job of improvising, and came with "put your sheep self in..."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Grounding the Helicopter

I made a startling discovery this week. I am a helicopter parent. It pains me to even write that down but it's true. I've always had a certain level of contempt for helicopter parenting, and have congratulated myself more than once on my laid back parenting style. I can let my children play in our woods alone for hours, I very rarely complain about them getting dirty or spreading their toys and projects all over the house, and I allow them a good deal of freedom in choosing their study topics, but I had an experience last week that opened my eyes to other ways that I hover.

Last Monay I started doing "dots" this idea from Kari Brimhall basically involves drawing 5 circles on a piece of paper, each with a different responsibility written (or drawn) in it. You place a penny or other small object on each "dot" (we use flat marbles). When a child has completed that activity they put the marble in a jar. When the jar is full we get to do a fun family activity together. Each of my children earns an extra dot if they finish their chores before 9:00 am. The first morning was AMAZING. The kids got up, and did all their chores without me saying a single word, which made me realize just how much I had been saying. That morning instead of spending an hour running around the house calling out, "go get dressed", "unload the dishwasher", and "did you feed the chickens?" I exercised, read and SAT DOWN to eat my breakfast! It was such a revelation to me that all my hovering was not only unnecessary but a total and complete waste of my time.

I think one of the greatest challenges of being a homeschool mom is not hovering. After all you know exactly what your children are supposed to be doing every hour of the day. You know what chores they need to take care of, what lessons they need to work on and what they were suppose to learn from those lessons. You also know if they're wasting time, and nothing's more infuriating then watching your children waste time! However, letting our children become indendent, responsible people is also one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

I can establish expectations and consequences but I cannot MAKE my children be responsible. Responsibility only comes when there is space to make one's own decisions and learn from the results. That is a hard concept for me to implement, but I am really trying to keep this parenting helicopter grounded!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sorting Jelly Beans

It snowed today, and it was freezing, so going outside was not an option I was willing to consider. Instead we decided to have some fun with our Easter Candy.

I gave Scientist a handful of Jelly Beans (I had to presort them so there were only 4 colors, because I only had four different colors of bowls) and four bowls that matched the color of the Jelly Beans. Then I told him that the game (he's been really into games lately) was to put the green Jelly Beans in the green bowl, the red ones in the red bowl, etc.

He did really well. I've never had him sort anything before except laundry (into whites and darks, and he does ok with that, but not wonderful) so I wasn't sure what would happen.

It was interesting to watch how he chose to sort the beans. If it were me, I probably would have just picked up a bean, decided what color it was, and then decided what bowl it went in, and then moved on to the next bean. Scientist on the other hand, looked through the pile and picked out all the red beans first and put them in the red bowl, then the yellow, then the green, and was left with only orange beans, which he could scoop up quickly and put in the orange bowl. After he'd done it one time, I dumped out all the beans, mixed them up and had him do it again. I tried to get him to pick out a red bean to put in the red bowl, then a green one, and so on, in a pattern. He didn't want anything to do with doing it that way, he wanted to pick out all of one color first and then move on to the next color. I was telling Aaron about this later in the evening, and Aaron said that the way Scientist was doing it was really a more efficient way of sorting, because he only had to sort three colors instead of four, because the last color was already sorted by the time Scientist got to it. So I guess that proves that Scientist has Aaron's brain. Engineers...gotta love 'em I guess.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

K Day: Kings, Kool-Aide, Kazoos, and Kabobs

At first, I thought coming up with something for K Day was going to be a challenge. But for some reason, I ended up having lots of time to look around for ideas and came across so many cool things other people had done, that the real challenge was trying to narrow it down.

When I was little, I always loved to play pretend. So, if I can, I try to incorporate some sort of something that the kids can use their imaginations to play with later. For K, I came up with King. I did my best to explain what a king was and what one did, and then I gave each boy their own crown so they could be kings. (I got the crowns for free at Burger King.) At one point in the planning process, I had considered decorating the crowns as an activity, but since the focus was on king and not on crown, and since those are really similar sounds and could be confusing to a toddler, I decided to leave the crowns as is, since they say King on them.

I found the idea for our next activity here. She used it as a letter I activity, but I chose to focus on the Kool-Aide part and use it for K :) but you could do either. For Kool-Aide painting all you need is a 9x13 pan, a sheet of white paper, a package of your favorite color Kool-Aide, and an ice cube.

Put the paper in the pan, dump out the powder from the packet, and put in ice cube in on top. Move the ice cube around while it melts and it will paint a cool picture with the Kool-Aide. In the directions on the other page, she has her kids hold onto the pan and move it back and forth to slide the ice cube around that way. I had the kids use their fingers because #1 My 9x13 pan is glass, and I don't trust Scientist with it, and #2 Ideally you would do this activity outside where the sun is shining and that would help to melt the ice, but since it SNOWED (uggghhhhh) today, we stayed inside and the ice wasn't melting as quickly as we would have liked, so by using our hands we added a little body heat to help it melt faster.

From doing this project we learned that Kool-Aide has a tendency to stain your hands. Oops. I guess Scientist and I will be sporting little green monster fingers for the next couple of days. He's ok with that idea, me not so much.That's probably why in the directions it has you move the pan around instead of the ice cube. I also decided that you don't want to let the ice cube melt too much, or it just makes a big colorful puddle. Next time we do it, we'll probably just go until we get a cool design and then take the ice cube out. Another thing, don't let the paper sit in the pan to dry, or it will stick to the bottom of it.

After our art project, the kids needed a little wiggle break, so our next activity was well timed. I found some little plastic party kazoos at the dollar store. I showed them how to hum into one end. They loved it and marched around making kazoo music. Even Sponge got into it. After watching the boys for awhile, he started making a kazoo noise with his lips. I was pretty impressed with how observant he was. I gave him my kazoo, and even though he couldn't make the kazoo make the noise, he could still make the noise with his lips while holding the kazoo up to his mouth. It cracked me up.

Next it was snack time...bring on the kabobs! Fruit kabobs, complete with the fruit of the day, Kiwi! I cubed apples, bananas, strawberries, grapes, and kiwi and put them into separate bowls. Each of the boys got a kabob skewer and got to put whatever fruit they wanted on their kabob. They did really well putting the fruit on too, I was proud. A good work out for the fine motor skills. And very tasty, and healthy. A plus all around. Scientist was kind of a banana hog, but other than that, things went really smoothly. When they were done kabobing, I showed them how to eat the fruit right off the stick with their mouths. I told them that's how kings did it ;) They thought that was great.

(And no, I did not have Scientist wear his Knight in Shining Armor shirt on purpose today, just a coincidence)

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Monday, April 5, 2010

The Important Things

My neighbors' house burned down today. They spent 3 years building it themselves while they lived in a travel trailer, they finished it a mere three years ago. No one was home, so fortunately there were no injuries. However, she's 8 and 1/2 monthes pregnant with their fourth. My heart ached for them as we watched the smoke pour out.

There's nothing like an unexcepted trajedy to open your eyes to what the important things in your life are. Just last night my husband and I were stressing out about vacation plans. I made the comment, "you know, some people have real problems." How clear that is today.

So now I'm wondering, am I teaching my children the most important things? Am I teaching them everything they need to deal with their own trials? Am I helping them build strong characters? Am I preparing our family to deal with whatever life might send our way? I hope I am, but it's certainly a lot to think about.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Happy Easter!

I generally only decorate for Christmas, but Princess and I had a great time making these eggs today. You can cut out any shape you want so this project can be done anytime. Plus it's super easy and fun!

1. Crush up several old crayons in a zip lock bag.(Lighter colors work better.)
2. Place an old towel on a hard surface, lay down a piece of wax paper with your design drawn on it.
3. Sprinkle the broken crayons on the wax paper.
4. Cover with another piece of wax paper and another towel.
5. Iron with a hot iron for about 15 seconds or until the wax is melted. (Be careful not to scrunch up the wax paper while you're ironing)
6. Cut out your design!

Here's another fun idea for Easter. I haven't tried these cookies yet but I have a friend who swears by this recipe/activity and I'm really excited to try it out this year. You mix all the ingredients Saturday night, put the cookies in the oven and Sunday morning you have hollow white cookies - how cool is that!

Easter Cookies

1 cup whole pecans (or almonds)
1 tsp. vinegar
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
Ziploc baggie
wooden spoon
2 cookie sheets
parchment paper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place pecans in zipper baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. Read John 19:1-3.

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30.

Add egg white to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us Life. Read John 10:10-11.

Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus' followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27.

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing, are they? Add 1 cup sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Psalms 34:8 and John 3:16.

Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3.

Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus' body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door closed. Explain that Jesus' tomb was sealed. Read Matthew 27:65-66.

Go To Bed!! Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight; however, Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20 & 22.

On Easter Morning open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty. Read Matthew 28:1-9