Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to School Pictures and Interviews

The first day of school! It's here!

It's going well, and I had to take a moment to share the "first day" pictures. Our family is also instituting a new tradition of including an interview at the beginning of the year, a copy of which is here.

I hope your day is going as well as ours!

Here are the pics... and the outtakes (which are endlessly more entertaining)!

 We even tried a few later in the morning to see if we could get everyone looking and smiling with their sign. We couldn't. :)

We're linked up to:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My best me

This is my best me.

No, no, no, not "the me with my face partially cut off in this picture!" No, I mean the "me who lived up to her full potential today"- the me that I'm proud of, and the me that I want to be all the time.

Yeah, that me.

This picture is of the me who woke up this morning and hiked a mountain with the kids (the first one all season thanks to my broken foot!). The me who thought ahead to pack a picnic lunch and ate it with all the style of a real queen in the "castle" (OK, observatory) at the top.

The me who generously helped a friend in need this morning, then graciously accepted some help in return.

The me who was happy to see her husband walk through the door from work, and not just because she had a job which needed doing.

The me who picked up a homeschool planner this afternoon and immediately lost herself in all of the incredible learning opportunities we could choose to partake in this school year,

and the me who put down the planner to take time to sit, quietly reading the latest Phillipa Gregory novel (deliciously indulgent treat!).

The me who split a few large garden plants and shared them with a friend,

the me who composted every single scrap of extra food, all day long, no matter how inconvenient it was to walk to the compost pile or chicken coop. 

The me who made a delicious, organic dinner for my family and stayed seated at the table long after the meal was complete just to savor the feeling of closeness.

The me who did four loads of laundry and took joy in the mundane task,

the me who *finally* answered the backlog of blog emails and gave myself permission to let go of the guilt,

the me who drank in every breath of crisp, pending autumn air, thankful to her very core for the promise of the season to come.

This is my best me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Goal For the Month Printable for Kids

My house looks like it exploded curriculum at the moment, but I think I'll be seeing some order again soon, mostly because I'm nearly done with our morning binders. (Thank heavens!) You can look for a complete description of our morning binders and school routine coming soon, but for tonight I'd like to share our new and improved goal setting template for kids.

We use our binders each morning, but I also have a section for monthly items. I have created a new template for Ben to use (he's in kindergarten) to create his own goals. For our family, the focus is on helping children to learn to set reasonable goals and create small steps in order to achieve them. This template is for young children- it doesn't require an outline of specific steps or provide a space for a specific timeline, which are things from which older children would benefit. The template is completely customizable however, so feel free to download it and make it suit your needs!

We ask Ben, once per month, to identify something he'd like to work on (academic, social, spiritual, physical, etc.) and write it in the provided space. Then we ask him to think about one or two things that he will need to do in order to achieve his goal. We ask him to draw a small picture of him achieving his goal, and then to write a sentence about how he will know when he's achieved his goal.

Most of our calendar binder work is done with Vis A Vis or dry erase markers so that it's reusable, but these sheets we mark right on the paper. This way, we have a wonderful keepsake and a good indication of our child's though process throughout the year.

Click here to download the goal setting sheet.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gluten-Free Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins

Did you get that?

Browned butter... blueberry... muffins. And they're gluten free. 

Do you need a minute? Yes, I can wait. Go ahead and compose yourself- it took me a minute when I first stumbled upon this recipe, too.

I love, love, love these muffins. Love them, I tell you! I had them for breakfast this morning in fact, and am still ready to go whip up another batch right now for lunch. They are just like the Duncan Hines blueberry muffins that come in a box mix- you know, the ones that taste good but are full of all kinds of frankenfood? Trust me, you're going to prefer this gluten-free, real food alternative!

*Small disclaimer: this recipe calls for sugar. Raw, organic cane sugar, but sugar none the less. Some of my whole-food readers might not love this fact, but I have to tell you that every once in a while we still eat sugar, and we do enjoy it. Not a lot, but yes, we use it every once in a while while cooking at home. This is one of those times!

Gluten-Free Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
Adapted from Joy the Baker (if you haven't ever checked out her site, you should! It's fantastic!), who adapted it from The Gourmet Cookbook, by Ruth Reichl

You will need:

For the batter:
7 Tbs. organic butter
2 eggs, 1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup white rice flour
3/4 cup soy flour
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 cups washed blueberries (local and organic are always best, if you can)

For the topping:
3 Tbs. cold butter, cut up into pea sized bits
1/4 c. millet flour
1/4 c. white rice flour
4 Tbs. cane flour 

The Process:

1. Put an oven rack into the top one third of the oven, and preheat it to 375 degrees.

2. Put the 7 Tbs. of butter into a small saucepan and melt over low to medium heat. Let the butter melt completely. You'll notice that the butter, after it's completely melted, will begin to fizz (like soda) and crackle a bit, which is good. Once the fizzing is done it will start to brown almost immediately so you'll need to watch it closely because it will burn just as fast. Remove from heat when you see tiny little brown bits on the bottom of the pan- that's the brown butter.

3. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix well.

4. In a smaller bowl, beat eggs, milk, vanilla well. Add the browned butter and combine.

5. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, combining well.

6. Gently fold the blueberries into the batter.

7. Grease muffin tins and pour batter evenly into each tin.

8. Combine ingredients for the topping in a small bowl, using fingers until topping is crumbly. This might give you carpal tunnel syndrome, so try using both hands at once to increase your efficacy. :)

9. Sprinkle topping evenly over muffins in tins and bake for about 20 minutes, or until browned on top.
10. Remove muffin tins from oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve warm.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mint Infused Water

Hot summer days are coming to a close, but chances are a few more sweltering afternoons remain. Try this delicious, healthy way to hydrate during these last uncomfortable days!

Clip a few sprigs of mint from your herb garden, or pick a few up from a farmer's market. Give them a quick wash in cold water to get the dirt off.
 Pull the leaves from the stem and crush them between your fingers. Enjoy the minty aroma while you do. :) Put the crushed leaves into a large drink container.
 Add some cold water (to taste- more water will mean less pungent flavor).
 Fill the rest of the way with ice cubes.
 Stir well, crushing the leaves some more as you do. Better yet, secure the lid onto your container and shake that baby!
 This is what your finished product will look like. (Can you tell I needed a cool refreshing drink because I'd been canning pickles over the hot stove?)
Pour into a glass and enjoy. You can pour the water through a strainer to remove the mint leaves if you prefer, but I quite like the burst of flavor the mint leaves provide. You decide.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Stamping Letters

This is such a simple activity, and yet it's so meaningful for early learners.

There is a period of time, typically when a child is 2 or 3, when they exhibit interest in learning letters but do not yet have the fine motor control to reliably write letters on their own. In order to honor and encourage the innate interest in literacy at this early stage (and yes, you really, really, really do want to encourage this exploration), parents and teachers must come up with ways to help build letter recognition without reliance upon writing.

Enter... stamps!

I bought this set for $1 at one craft store or another, and have bought other sets with different fonts since then. Ink pads should run you a couple dollars and you can use any scrap paper you have on hand, so this is all in all a very inexpensive but very meaningful activity. 

 You can be creative with implementation, depending upon your learner's needs. For example, you can call out a letter and ask your child to find it and stamp it. Maybe your child is working on how to spell her name, so you might ask her to find the letters which make her name.
 You can even stamp some words yourself, saying the sounds each letter makes as you stamp it, to help your child realize that each letter makes it's own sound and that the collective sounds make words.
 The added bonus this activity offers is that it's more than just "word work." Using stamps like these promotes excellent fine motor skill development, thereby preparing your child to begin to write even as she learns to recognize her letters.

Do you use stamps in your homeschool?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

8 Easy Ways to Promote Cultural Awareness in Young Children

We live in a relatively homogenous area, so we sometimes have to go out of our way to introduce the concept of other cultures to our young children. Below are a few painless ways we incorporate cultural awareness into our homeschool and daily life- maybe they'll work for you too!

1. Choose a few culturally-specific musical instruments to incorporate into your child's play. Sure, plastic drums and tamborines are fun, but including a finger drum or kalimba into your child's play will facilitate conversations between you about what types of cultures use certain instruments, and the types of music those instruments produce.

2. Play culturally diverse music recordings during playtime or snacktime. Using music to "speak" to children about different cultures and climates (what is a "rain dance" and why might people use them?) is a fuss-free way to make them aware that not all people like the music they listen to.

3. Incorporate some books into your home library which promote diversity. We have an extensive collection of children's books which alert kids to different cultures (I am a former social studies teacher, after all!), but some of our favorites are People, What is Your Language?, and The Usborn Book of Peoples of the World. There is also a neat bimonthly literary magazine called Skipping Stones which highlights multicultural writing- poems, short stories, etc- that we subscribe to and read with our children. (I really love the last one- it's even printed on recycled paper using soy ink!)

4. Observe national holidays from other countries. Check out this great list of opportunities to experience holidays from a variety of countries, right in your own home!

5. Put up a world map and/or globe at child's height in the room where your child plays most. Place stickers onto the map to indicate where you live, and then continue the tradition as your child shows interest in another country (likely through a few of the above suggestions!).

6. Include cultural dress in your dress up area. This can be as simple as including an Equadorian length of cloth or as elaborate as ordering a sari for young children. You can decide what your family needs.

7. Get cooking! Do a Google search for some native foods for a country or region your child has shown interest in. Perhaps you met a Sudanese neighbor today? Try making some tomato salad or basboosa. Did a story about a Vietnamese boy catch your child's eye at the library? Try some Bun Na Guong at dinner. Or check out this awesome Around the World in 12 Dishes post by Juggling with Kids. She even provides a passport and the essential facts for each country she highlights!

(Picture from our unit of A Pair of Red Clogs)

8. Visit a museum or cultural center in your area. What amazing things children can experience with an adult who is willing to read, experience and interpret new ideas with them.

Happy globe-trotting!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mess Free Window Painting Letters

 A while back I posted something about 40 ways to distract a toddler... remember that? Yeah, that's how you all found my blog, right? Great! 

Well, I decided to use one of those ideas, specifically the one about paining on a window through a Ziplock bag from No One has More Fun Than The Adams', to teach letters to my preschool set this week.

Here's what you need:
The largest, heaviest duty Ziplock bag you can find
Poster or finger paint
Duct Tape
An index card
A marker
Smiley face stickers, optional

Here's what we did:

First, we dumped some extra poster paint into a strong Ziplock bag. 
 Then we reinforced all edges and seams with duct tape. We really wanted to be sure the paint wouldn't spill.

 Then we taped the closed bag of paint to a window, with an index card with one letter written on it.
 To use this writing center, I asked Ava to first trace the letter A with one finger just as she does in our Handwriting Without Tears curriculum: "Start at the top, big line down, froggy jump, another big line down, froggy jump, and small line across the middle." Is she needed prompting, I showed her with my finger- careful to use the same vocabulary as we use in our curriculum- and then asked her to repeat what I had done. If she still needed help, I guided her hand along the lines first, verbalizing our actions as we went.

 Once she had successfully done each step in order on the practice card, I asked her to do the same thing with the paint bag. (After we'd been at it for a while I had to push the paint back up into the bag before she could do her letters- thank you, gravity!- but it was a minor inconvenience.)

 The resulting letters were so cool! Everyone got to try a few just because they looked like they were on fire thanks to the backlighting.

Then the baby just had to have  a try. It is a toddler-friendly paint medium as well, this idea.
 Only on the second day of having this center installed in our school room did I think to put a small smiley face sticker onto the top, left hand corner, just as all of our HWT work is done. Better late than never, right?
 I put the same sticker onto the top, left side of the paint bag to help my students remember to start at the top and from from left to right.
May I just share what a tremendously fun time we had with this  idea?

And may I also stress just one more time how important it is to use the heaviest duty bag you can possibly find for this project? My kids all used their finger tips well to trace the letters because we've practiced a lot using HWT, but a few kids from the neighborhood where using this over the weekend to play and could not seem to use the pads of their fingers rather than their fingernails. I am so, so, so thankful that I used a heavy bag reinforced with duct tape at each seam because I really, really, really didn't want poster paint all over my floor!


What fun "play" activities have you repurposed as "school" lately?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gluten Free Zucchini Fries

I've been seeing some great stuff on Pinterest lately about bloggers making zucchini fries (and zuchinni everything else for that matter) and I am so inspired! Of course, all the recipes I come across call for panko, which isn't gluten free.

Here's my answer to that:

Gluten Free Zucchini Fries with Honey Mustard Dressing

For the fries:
2 cups GF breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp thyme
1 large zucchini (about 1/2 or 3/4 pound)
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese to melt on top, optional

For dressing:
6 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
5 Tbs. raw honey

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Wash and slice zucchini into strips, like french fries. 

 3. Butter a cookie sheet to prevent the fries from sticking.

 4. Beat eggs in a bowl, then combine other dry ingredients in a shallow bowl. Keep shredded cheddar to the side, if using.
 5. Dip each zucchini fry into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs, flipping over to coat well. Place each one on the cookie sheet.

6. When each zucchini is placed on the cookie sheet, add some shredded cheese to the top of all, or some, of the fries.
 7. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender and the breadcrumb/cheese topping is browned and crispy.

This is how mine look with cheese:
 ...and without cheese:
 8. While the zucchini is baking, add all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and combine well.

9. Put fries on a plate with a small dish of dressing for dipping. They are best warm, right from the oven.
 These are so good!


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