Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tot School Continues

I am now in the throws of homeschooling two kids, but as tends in happen in larger families I think, the youngest will not be left out. I've had to find a way to incorporate Eleanor of late (she's 15 months, so you can imagine how well that's going!) without "diluting" the educational experience for the older two. (Scratching head over this a bit, still.)

Workboxes were an OK start to schooling Ava (to read how Ava announced one day that she was ready for school, and how I threw something together to meet her needs, this is the post for you), but with Eleanor really showing interest in being a part of the family's school time, I needed to rethink the structure and approach of our school a bit.

First, you may want to check out our daily routine, which describes in detail when each component of our school day happens. We've been doing our heavy skill- and knowledge-based work in the afternoon, when either one or both of the younger kids are sleeping. This is ideal. It means my time for folding laundry and answering emails gets pushed to the late evening hours, but that's a small sacrifice for a smoothly running school day.

We are doing our Five in a Row work in the morning, when all the kids are up and can participate. I've been differentiating the levels quite a bit to meet each child's needs (think mapping a country for Ben, coloring a flag the proper colors for Ava, and letting Eleanor go to town with coordinating stickers).  Actually, I'm thinking about starting Before Five in a Row for next school year to better hit the needs of the younger kids, but that's a whole different post...

Still, there has been this discrepancy between the amount of time that it was taking Ben to complete his more complex work, and the time it was taking the girls to finish theirs. I initially thought that they would migrate to other areas of the house to play... and they sometimes do... but not always. They want to be a part of the action, and since we're working very hard to create a culture of community learning in our family it was clear to me that they needed more extended activities in addition to their participation in FIAR.

Having studied Montessori in some depth during graduate school, I immediately went to that approach. Maria Montessori's Prepared Environment was going to be a great way to provide the younger children with meaningful activity and exploration- in the same room where school is happening for myself and Ben. While I sort of wish I could have purchased authentic Montessori materials, substitutes which target main learning areas from the Montessori approach have sufficed. You will see plastic materials in the pictures- what can I say? I'm educating three kids on a yard sale budget. *smile*

For those who may not know, in a Montessori setting the teacher lays out tools and materials to stimulate a child to think along certain lines or to practice a certain skill. The rest is interest driven by the child.

Here's what I have set up for Eleanor at the moment. (Sorry for the terrible picture.) She has one shelf which she really uses as a table more often than not.

 On the top she has a latches board by Melissa and Doug, which focuses in the Practical Life section of Montessori.  She also has a re-purposed food container with holes cut in the top for pom pom stuffing. (So fun for the little ones.)

The bottom shelf has a nesting Three Little Pigs play set with Uncle Phil and Auntie Kiki got for Ben years ago (it's a classic at our house). It also has a wooden knob puzzle and a (albeit plastic) music set for some exploration. These get at the Sensorial, Mathematics, and Cultural Studies areas of the Prepared Environment.
Ava's shelves are a bit more complex, but not terribly so.

The bottom shelf contains a simple shape puzzle since we've been working on identifying shapes, and a balance shape sorter as well. The middle item is this Melissa and Doug lacing beads kit ( with large wooden beads perfect for beginners).
The middle shelf contains a homemade color wheel (I used cardboard, clothespins, and dot markers to make it).
The basket contains a stickers alphabet puzzle Grandma gave us, and Ava's notebook of flashcards (right now they have shapes and the letters/numbers she working on learning to identify). The wooden box with a bear imprint next to it is this Melissa and Doug dress up bear puzzle because we just have to work on those Practical Life skills!
The top of her bookcase contains a basket of foam letters which she's already learned. I hot glued magnets to the back of them so she can arrange them on the floor, or she can use them on metal surfaces (or our whiteboard). The glitter lines you can see on the letters were a tactile element I added to help her remember which side of the letter is "up". She can see the line and also run her fingers along it to reinforce the concept.
 The last item is a re-purposed wooden tray containing pattern blocks and a few patterns for her to mimic. Sometimes she makes the provided patterns, and sometimes she makes her own. I love this tray for this activity because it keeps the oh-so-many little pieces together.

Phew! There you have a look at the new shelves for our Tot School. So far, so good!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When the world is loud

When the world is loud, and the distractions are incessant, it is time to retreat.

 Quiet, purposeful, intentional.
 Breathing in and out slowly.

 Feeling the breeze, smelling the flowers.
 Savoring the possibility of strawberries in coming weeks.
 Observing the innocence of youth.
 The smallest blessings.
 The promise of the harvest.

 The glory of full bloom.
 The beauty of collective spirit.

The joy and wonder are there for the taking; sometimes we must simply shut out the rest of the world to listen, feel, appreciate what we have.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sample Weekly Meal Plan

I've been posting a bunch of recipes lately (and you should see how many photos of food I have on my phone that I haven't uploaded yet!), so I thought it might be worthwhile to share with you one of our weekly meal plans so that you get a sense of how we fit all these recipes in.

To download the menu, click here.

I've managed to give you a preview of the menu below. If you want the recipe links, you'll have to download the full menu plan. *Any recipe which calls for flour, just substitute your favorite gluten-free flour mix.

A side note: you don't have to make everything from scratch as the menu indicates- for example, you can buy plain yogurt or hummus. We just like to make our own. (Smile.) 

Whole Food, Gluten-Free Weekly Menu Plan

Oatmeal with fruit
Fried egg on toast with tomato and avocado and green juice
GF Bakery (breakfast out)
Fried Apple Pancake Rings (use GF flour mix)
Cottage cheese with fruit and toast
Toast and fried egg with fruit smoothie
Lara bars and bananas
AM Snack
Yogurt with honey and apple slices

Carrots/Celery with hummus

Cheese sticks and cucumber slices

Cashews and raisins

PB Dip with fruit

Cheese sticks and cucumber slices

Coffee hour at church
Zucchini tots
with fruit
Egg salad sandwiches/hard boiled eggs with carrots and apples
Hummus with veggies; cheese and crackers
Fruit Salsa with baked cinnamon chips
Grilled cheese sandwiches with leftover tomato soup
Leftovers (or hummus and veggies)
Peanut butter and banana sandwiches with green pepper slices and cumbers
PM Snack
Cheese sticks and cucumber slices

Tortilla chips and fresh salsa
PB Dip with fruit

Yogurt and apple slices

Cashews and raisins
Cashews and raisins

Carrots/Celery with hummus

Roasted chicken with baked cauliflower poppers and spinach salad
Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup
Crustless chicken pot pie (made with leftover chicken; can use any GF flour mix) and sautéed kale
Grilled steak with mashed potatoes and oven roasted garlic brussels sprouts
Meatloaf “cupcakes” with mashed potato “icing” and  sautéed kale
Lemon lentil soup with GF rolls (or leftover mashed potatoes)
To Do’s
Reserve some chicken for Wed. dinner,
Bake bread x2
Keep some soup for Fri. lunch, make hummus
Defrost stake
Keep some mashed potatoes for Fri. dinner, keep some fruit salsa to mix in Fri. breakfast

Make Lara bars

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lines in the Sand: A Fun Way to Practice Letter Recognition

A really popular way to practice letter recognition at our house is to "write" the letters with our fingers in sand. This can be done in a variety of ways: a parent can prompt a child to write a letter, a parent can write the uppercase letter and the child writes the lower case, the parent makes the letter sound and the child writes the letter that makes that sound... well, you get the idea.

We like flexibility around here.

Today's activity involved matching upper- and lowercase letters, so I used two trays and poured colored sand into them- just enough to cover the bottoms.

(Note: the trays I use are simple stove burner covers that are something like this. I buy craft sand whenever I see it inexpensively.)

The funny coloring  that you can see under the trays is my old shower curtain that I use to cover the table when we paint. I recommend using one for this activity as well- that way whatever gets spilled can be dumped right into the sandbox, or funneled back into the sand bottle. (Reuse, reuse, reuse!)

Today, our activity went like this: I said a letter, and I asked Ben to write first the "big" version of the letter...

 ...then the "little" version of the letter in the next tray.
 I really like using this approach because it's easy to see exactly how the letter was formed thanks to the pattern in the sand. For example, I can tell (without necessarily watching him draw the letter) that when he made his "big B" he made the straight line first, then the little curve, then the big curve, just as we've learned using our Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. As any homeschooling mom can attest, it's almost impossible to school several children at once and still manage to see the way that each and every letter is formed. Using this sand technique helps to take some of the guesswork out (at least in that department).

When the letters have been made correctly, the child can give the tray a *gentle* shake to make the letter disappear and they're reading to start again.
 Right through the alphabet!
We have successfully used this "game" hundreds of ways by now. When we were first learning our letters (but weren't terribly *ahem* interested), we drew letters by driving matchbox cars in the sand. We've used dinosaur footprints to make letters. We've used pompom swishes to make the number of imprints which correspond to a number that I wrote in the sand. We've had one sibling draw the uppercase letter and challenge another sibling to write the corresponding lowercase letter. We've had a parent or sibling hold up an object or say a word and have the student write the letter that begins the word... the list goes on and on and on.

Have you ever tried this activity? How has is worked for you?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rainbow Fish Craft

Here's a fun craft to do with kids when you're using the Rainbow Fish books! I saw this tutorial from Crafting the Alphabet months ago on Pinterest, and was reminded of the idea when we started reading a bunch of the Rainbow Fish books this week. My version is double sided and without sequins (but I LOVE the idea of adding sequins for scales to the finished product).

You will need:
2 old CD's (per fish)
Googly eyes 
Foam, in purple and yellow (thick paper is fine as well)

The Process:
Cut some fins out from your foam. Glue them onto the "top" of one CD, as shown.

 Once your fins are adhered, glue to the "tops" of your two CD's together to cover the ends of the foam.
 Glue another fin on top of the whole in the middle of the CD.
 (I added a few more fins when I got to this point because I realized that the pictures in the book showed the fish with five total fins.)

Add a yellow mouth.
 Use glue to create some squiggly lines on the foam, then sprinkle glitter on top.
 Add a googly eye and voila! Rainbow Fish!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

10 Things I Love About Being a Mother

How about crazy pictures of us screaming, for starters?

 But seriously...

On this day for mothers- a day spent in honor of the women who raise us, and ourselves as "raisers" of a new generation- I have compiled a list of my favorite aspects of being a mother at this point in my life.

So many things for which I am grateful!

10. Mother's Day.

9. Reliving the best parts of my own childhood, through the lens of my children's eyes.

8. Baby giggles.

7. Scribble-gifts more precious to me than any gem.

6. Dancing instead of walking, singing for no reason and dressing up (in tutus) to go to the grocery store.

5. Tea parties and mudpies.

4. Nonsensical stories which demonstrate a child's whims and creativity.

3. Early morning snuggles in bed before we're awake enough to greet the day.

2. The overwhelming feeling of gratitude and pride that comes from being near, and watching my children.

1. "Mummy, I love you."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Pizza Mushroom Caps

You've probably heard of this idea before, as had we, but it was resurrected in our house this week to quiet the cries for pizza (not just from little voices, either!). This was a great alternative to the real thing, and far, far, far healthier. The pictures here are from a night when we used portabella mushrooms, but our kids actually prefer smaller mushrooms, which make pizza "bites." I am telling you- at our house everything is about being little and bite-sized these days.

You will need:
4 slices uncured, natural bacon
4 portabella mushroom caps (or several smaller mushroom caps if you're making "bites")
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
8-12 tbs. marinara sauce
1 tomato
4 tbs. butter

The process:
Cook the bacon in a pan and set aside.

In the meantime, wash the mushrooms and pull out the stems. Place them under-side up on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put a tablespoon (or so) of butter into large mushroom caps, less (1 tsp) in smaller caps.

Dice one tomato and fill the caps with tomato pieces. You can also dice the stem pieces and put those in for added flavor.

Add 2-3 tbsp. marinara sauce in each cap, until full. (Less, of course, for smaller caps.)

Sprinkle some shredded mozzarella over the top of each cap.

Crumble the cooked bacon and sprinkle over the top.

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350.

Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gluten-free Cornbread

 At our house everything is being put into muffin cups- mini ones, at that- so of course I had to try our typical cornbread recipe as "bites" this week. They worked great! Of course, you can make the same thing in a regular baking dish, and I've included the recipes for both.

You will need:

4 tbsp. coconut oil, divided
1 cup gluten-free flour mix or almond meal
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tbsp honey

The process:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8x8 inch pan with 1 tbsp of the coconut oil, or grease muffin tins. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and sea salt in a mixing bowl. Separately beat together eggs, milk, remaining 3 tbs. coconut oil and honey. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and combine well. Pour into baking pan or muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes (more like 15-20 for muffins), or until top is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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