Saturday, April 28, 2012

Oh, Those Techie Kids

About a month ago, my husband and I had to go to the mall (something we almost never do, and actively loathe) to buy new phones. Our previous models lasted us three years, but were finally just done, so we hauled the family out to the Apple store to get new ones.

In the store I was practicing with the camera on my new phone, and snapped the following shots of the kids helping themselves to the plentiful opportunities to explore the most recent technologies on the market.

At home later- as I reviewed my shots- I was taken aback at how facile those quick shots revealed my children to be with new technology. At this point we didn't yet have iphone 4s or an ipad (we bought them that day), but both of the older children just picked them up and started to use them without hesitation. No teaching- technology is such an integral and natural part of their world that they just began using the new devices.

This got me thinking about technology beyond ipad apps and Angry Birds.

Beyond using the technology, there is- of course- building the technology. Do my children, who have used everything from a Wii to an iphone, know what's inside these devices?

I had to know. 

So I pulled out a few of our old laptops (yes, we have a laptop graveyard in our basement- computers which I hoped to someday resurrect but never did), and set the kids to work pulling one apart. 

You can't imagine how exciting this was for my five year old. He used Daddy's real tools (with supervision) to unscrew, dissect. He pulled out chips, labels, and parts we couldn't name, all the while guessing and surmising what each piece might be for, in what capacity it might be used. "Which parts made the computer turn on?", he wondered. "Which parts make the games appear?" It was such a joy to watch the gears in his mind turn, even as his fingers pulled the "gears" from the computer.

When he was finished, he kept his pieces in a storage container for quite a while. It seemed to him, I think, that these bits were the result of significant effort on his part, so he should keep them close. After a while I suggested that maybe he'd like to make a robot collage with the pieces, and he seemed to think that was acceptable.

My boy who doesn't like art very much at this point in his life found a whole new way to embrace his creativity, his inquisitive nature, and his interest in technology using an activity that I hadn't planned, aligned with state standards or anything of the sort. He just experimented, played, explored, learned.

I like that.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Lara Bars

This is my adaptation of Lara Bars, which my family adores and are one of our go-to snacks. As far as prepared food goes, these bars provide an excellent option for eating on the go. They are natural, whole food, and gluten-free, plus they contain few ingredients, all of which I can easily pronounce.

Still, since I can never just leave well enough alone, and actually endeavor to re-invent the wheel at least once per day, I decided I must make these myself. Just to see if I could.

 I got inspiration and tips from this recipe from Blissful Baking and this recipe from Enlightened Cooking. The great thing about Lara Bars is that they are made so simply, and with so few ingredients, that it really isn't hard to replicate them in your own kitchen.

You will need:
1 cup of whole, pitted dates
1/2 cup of pecans
1 cup almonds
1/2- 1 cup dark mini chocolate chips, adjust according to taste preferences
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

The process:
1. Put the dates into a food processor and process until dates become a thick paste. It's likely that this paste will form a ball, which is fine. Once the dates have reached a paste-like consistency, remove them from the processor and set aside (breaking up the ball, if necessary).

 2. Add the almonds and pecans to the food processor and pulse until they are chopped finely. You can put them right back into the same processor without cleaning it- you're about to mix all ingredients in the next step anyway.

 3. Add all the ingredients to the food processor, including the date paste. Pulse until well combined. It should look roughly like this when finished.
 4. Pour out the contents of the food processor onto some plastic wrap or parchment paper.
 Using the plastic wrap to cover the mixture (it's very sticky), form it into one large ball.
 Using a baking pan or other square mold, press the mixture into a large square, keeping it about an inch thick.
 5. Refrigerate for an hour or so before cutting.

My kids adore these bars. Do your kids eat them too?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fruit Salsa with Baked Cinnamon Chips

I was recently inspired when I saw, on Pinterest of course, a wonderful recipe for fruit salsa and chips from The Girl Who Ate Everything. Enticed by the mouthwatering picture of fruit heaven, I followed along to the post itself. I was so excited to try it out, but two things presented challenges- the same two things that always present challenges when trying a new recipe- it wasn't gluten free, nor was it whole-food-friendly.

Not to worry! I presented the challenge to my sous-chefs (children) and began the culinary remedy. Here is the result:

You will need:
A variety of fruit to cut up in the salsa ( I used a red delicious apple, 1 lb strawberries, 6 oz. each blueberries and blackberries, and 5 kiwi)
2-3 teaspoons of fruit preserves (with no sugar added)
2-3 teaspoons of honey
Corn tortillas 
3 tablespoons melted butter
Cinnamon to taste

The process:
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine honey and melted butter into a small bowl, and warm (in a microwave for 10 seconds). This will make the honey more liquid and easier to brush onto the tortilla, which is the next step. Go ahead- brush on the honey/butter mixture. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

2. Put tortillas in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Honey browns faster than sugar, so watch them carefully and pull them out if they begin to look too brown.

3. In the meantime, peel/dice all fruit into small bits. Put into a large mixing bowl. Add the fruit preserves and stir well.

4. When the tortillas come out of the oven, cut them into fourths. This may involve some ripping- it's OK.

I really like this recipe and the kids are huge fans. The chips are not very sweet prepared this way, and are quite thick because they are made with corn tortillas rather than flour. I found this to be beneficial because the chips held a good amount of the sweet, juicy salsa without crumbling or becoming soggy, and the salsa flavor took center stage.

If you find that you like them sweeter, you can always add more honey or even some raw cane sugar. Since we have been eating this for lunch, I added some walnuts and pecans on the side for protein and fiber- if your palettes are amiable I bet chopped nuts would be great if included in the salsa. (But you know, then the food would touch, and I don't know how your critics feel about that, but mine aren't enthusiastic.)

 The salsa didn't keep well for more than a day, so eat up! (We have found, however, that the salsa is great served over plain Greek yogurt- it's just sweet enough to make that a great treat. You can also stir it into plain yogurt to make homemade squeeze yogurt.)

Doesn't this just scream "summer party food?"

A Pair of Red Clogs FIAR Unit Study

We "rowed" A Pair of Red Clogs, by Masako Matsuno, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura for two weeks. We didn't necessarily plan on that, but between sickness in the family which kept us from school for a couple of days, and the fact that the weather theme connections to this book seemed endless, it became a longer study for us. (Have I mentioned lately that I *love* the flexibility of homeschooling?)

Here is how it all worked out:

Monday: Social Studies
 As always, we began our unit by placing the story disk on our map. Now that we have other disks already placed, we could have some great comparative conversations. I deliberately chose to row "Clogs" right after "Ping," so that we could make some compare and contrast statements between the two books. I asked the children, "since these two story disks are so close on the map, do you think the locations where each story took place might be similar?" The kids used Ping, and our study of China last week, to remark on similarities between the two stories (and countries) as we read during the week.

We studied Japan a lot during the first week, particularly focusing on map work. We created a Japanese flag, colored the country of Japan on a world map, and then found the US, where we live. The kids were impressed at how far away Japan was from our home! We added these pieces to our paper bag book for the unit (see video at the end of this post).

Part of our cultural exploration of this unit involved re-creating a traditional Japanese meal like the one Mako experiences in the book. Since we lacked kimonos, we used bathrobes and slippers to simulate proper attire. Ava even helped me put up my hair in several small buns as the women do in the illustrations in the story, although my hair is far too short to do this justice. We then ate sushi and tried chopsticks, and even drank some (decaffeinated) green tea and knelt on the floor for the meal.  I was surprised to find that the sushi was a big hit with our kids.

Tuesday: Language Arts
We did more reading words with this book, choosing this time words with both relevant meaning and repetition throughout the book.

During our second week of study we talked about the onomatopoeias in the story (no one remembered the term, but everyone understood that we were reading words that sounded like the sounds they described). We talked about why the author might have chosen to use words like this to describe the sound of Mako's clogs on the pavement, and my oldest volunteered that it was likely because the author was trying to make the scene as vivid as possible by making the sounds realistic. (Sounds good to me!)

We did some copywork from Homeschoolshare as well. 

Wednesday: Art
One of the projects we did involved making a sun to represent the "fair weather" which could be predicted using a clog-throwing game Mako and her friends perform in the story. I made the project simple to appeal to my younger learners: I cut a large circle and some lines from yellow construction paper. I gave the girls markers to color them in and glue to adhere the rays. This worked quite well- sometimes simple is best. Ben had no interest whatsoever in the pencil-drawing activity I proposed, so I let that go for now.

The following week I printed out a coloring page (also from Homeschool Share) and the girls just colored. No fancy art projects this week- I just didn't have any takers!

Thursday: Math
We counted. A lot. We counted clogs in the story, we counted kids on a page, we counted shops at the market... you get the idea.

I got a little sidetracked a few weeks ago, worrying about whether or not we're doing "enough" with the math and language arts pieces of the FIAR curriculum (mostly I was worried about the math). I re-read the intro section of the teacher's manual however, and instantly remembered why I love this curriculum so much. I had forgotten that math during FIAR time is supposed to be applied math, not necessarily skill building/learning new concepts. It's the time when the kids get to actually use the skills that they're using from their (separate) math studies. This realization comforts me tremendously, and gives me permission (at least in some sense), to let math and language arts be simple, straightforward review or application of concepts. It's great for the kids to know that the things they learn about in their math workbooks can be applied to anything- including our story row for the week.

With that in mind, we also did a lot of work with money as our playscape for this unit was a store. See below for details.

Friday: Science
We had a lot of fun doing weather experiments with this row. I fully admit that a couple of these, like the rain and the cloud experiments below, were more for show than anything else because both were a bit over my learner's heads. Still, the desired result was achieved: the kids started asking questions about the water cycle, and that's perfect for now. To reinforce the cyclical nature of the cycle I used this water cycle chart from 2 teaching Mommies.

We made it "rain" using this tutorial.
You need a kettle, ice, a mason jar and an (optional) water cycle chart to explain what children are seeing

See? Rain!

We continued using our weather charts in our morning binders to track the weather patterns. (A detailed post on how we use morning binders is coming soon.) Although we do this every morning regardless of which FIAR book we're reading, this week we played the "clog weather guessing game" that Mako plays with her friends in the story to try to predict what the weather would be like during the week. We charted our "predictions," then charted the actual weather on our chart. At the end of the week we compared our results.

Not shockingly, clog throwing is not an effective weather prediction tool. 

Here, we are throwing our sandals, the closest thing we have to wooden clogs.
 We look just like the characters in the book, right??

Ava found some cloth slippers she felt looked more Japanese than her rubber rain boots, and it was these slippers which *best* predicted the weather. Perhaps our inaccuracies were due to our shoes not being authentic wooden clogs? Yes, perhaps.

 Here is our set-up for weather in our morning binders:
This weather chart is from Funshine Express, leftover from my home daycare days. They don't seem to sell this version anymore, but I did find this one. I laminated the chart and cards, and we affix cards to the chart each day with Velcro dots.

Using this thermometer pull tab and these temperature tracking sheets, we tracked the temps all week. It was a great week to do it, as we had some unseasonably high temperatures and the "mercury" got to move around a lot!

We made a cloud using this tutorial from the NOAA.

There were so many weather experiements to choose from (check out my Weather Ideas board on Pinterest here), but in the end I picked the ones with the least mess with the greatest "WOW factor," and making a cloud was pretty high on that list.

 Other ideas we incorporated into this unit:

Our sensory tray simulated snow. Given the emphasis on weather this week (and given the fact that I needed to grate some soap to make laundry detergent anyway), we made a snow sensory tray to play with.
 I know this is pretty pathetic, but this is the best we could do for a Japanese doll. (Note to self: purchase more multi-cultural dolls!) Ava saw this doll had braids like Mako, and we tried to make a kimono for her, like Mako's, with felt and ribbon.

The red clog card on the tray is from this Red Clogs memory game from Homeschool Share.
 This is always a popular sensory tray at our house.
 Our playscape this week simulated the store that Mako went to with her mother. We included flowers, fruits and vegetables, fish, and wooden clogs for sale (and added a cash register and shopping basket).
 I used Google translator to put up a sign that said "market" in Japanese...

 ...and used Google Images to print examples of Japenese money for the kids to use in their play. (This spurred a great conversation about why we weren't using our "regular" money- the American money to play this week.)
 Our store sold "clogs" (our slippers), wooden fruits and veggies, and cardboard fish. So simple, and yet the learning from this portion of our unit was by far the most organic and most effective.

 Here is my favorite book-reading moment from the two weeks we spent on this book:

 Want to see a three minute, incredibly amateur video about the paper bag book I used to keep all of our learning experiences this week?


Template by: Bright Sunshine Designs by Mary - Affordable Custom Blog Design © 2012
Graphic Images from