Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blueberry-Zucchini Yogurt Served Three Ways

Since blueberries and zucchini are both in season right now, and farmer's markets all over the Northeast are teaming with both, we decided to take advantage this week and make a new breakfast smoothie that provides BOTH fruits and veggies, yet remains quite tasty. Since we made a whole bunch of it, we wound up trying our recipe three different ways, and really liked them all, so we're sharing all three!

 We made blueberry-zucchini smoothies, frozen yogurt drops, and squeeze yogurt pops. Before you judge- you can't even taste the zucchini and I didn't share with my kiddos that it was in there. They never suspected a thing...

You will need: (all amounts are approximate- use your taste to determine your preferences)

A small organic zucchini, peeled and chopped
A small organic apple, peeled and chopped (sweet varieties work best)
A pint or so of organic blueberries (frozen or fresh will work)
Organic Greek yogurt (I recommend raw)
Milk or coconut milk, to thin the mixture as necessary
Flax seed (optional)
Raw honey or maple syrup to sweeten, optional 

First, we combined our ingredients with an immersion blender. Here you see raw, organic yogurt, frozen blueberries (fresh are great too), chopped zucchini, chopped apple and flax seed.

Once blended, the mixture looked like this:

 Since I used frozen blueberries the mixture was quite thick, so I thinned it using some coconut milk.  (I added about half a cup, but you should add until you achieve the desired consistency.) Plain milk would also work quite well, I just had some coconut milk on hand and the combination of blueberry and coconut sounded so yummy. (It was- I recommend that you give it a try!) If you use fresh berries you may find no milk is needed.
I taste-tested the mixture to be sure all was well (if you like it on the sweeter side then just add some honey or maple syrup), then filled up my favorite freeze pop molds. (Check out my whole post on making homemade squeeze yogurt here.)
Once our yogurt pops were in the refrigerator, I remembered a great post from One Good Thing By Jillee about making frozen yogurt drops. Here's our two-year-old doing just that!

These were a big hit, by the way. Such a fun way to encourage even reluctant yogurt eaters to pop 'em in and give 'em a try!

Once our yogurt pops and yogurt drops were complete, it was time to make a smoothie. I added a touch more milk to thin the consistency of the original mixture some more, and voila! instant smoothie. Store this in a mason jar in the refrigerator for a couple of days so you don't have to make a new smoothie everyday. You just shake it up if the ingredients have begun to separate, and you're good to drink!

That wraps up my yummy blueberry-zucchini yogurt done three ways. What are you eating right now that's healthy and versatile?

By the way, we're making all this blueberry deliciousness because we're reading Blueberries for Sal this week in our Five in a Row homeschool.
Don't you just adore this book??

Monday, August 19, 2013

First Day of School Pictures

Welcome to our first day of school! It hardly seems possible, but here it is, in all it's glory: the FIRST day of first grade for one, of preschool for another and tot school for a third. Beautiful!

For more fun picture updates throughout the day, follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

I hope your first day is as joy-filled as ours has been!

I'm linked up to the Not Back to School Blog Hop!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

An August Weekly Meal Plan

We're staring school tomorrow with a Five In A Row book called Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey. I'm thrilled for the "row", and I'll be posting all the wonderful activities we did to explore this book next week, when I have the pictures to share.

In the meantime, I was at the farmer's market yesterday and stocked up on lots of seasonal treats, including lots of blueberries to add to the ones we will pick next week. I came home to put together my meal plan, and I thought I'd share it with all of you lovely folks!

If you'd like to download our weekly meal plan, click here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxKEy7SIwYr_U1dUV0J6bEpHdU0/edit?usp=sharing

Here are a few photos of the yummy recipes (with some variations) I have planned for the week. (As always, all recipes are gluten free and whole food friendly.)

Blueberry zucchini smoothies- perfect to begin a row for Blueberries for Sal!
 Green bean and roasted beet salad with grilled steak and corn...
 A healthy breakfast on the go: locally made raw smoothies and dry cereal (fruit not pictured)...
 Ham and cheese roll-ups with fruit and veggies...
 You can download the whole menu here!

What is your family eating this week?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Five-Minute Zucchini and Tomato Quesadillas

I haven't shared a recipe in a while, and this one seemed so appropriate tonight because it's what we ate for dinner! The fresh kale, zucchini and tomatoes that have been flowing out of the garden prompted me to, at about 6 pm, decide to serve a dinner based around those veggies. Thankfully, I had some organic, gluten free tortillas and cheddar and mozzarella cheese on hand. Voila! Dinner.

Here's what you'll need:
1 small zucchini (or a large one if you like them a lot!), diced
A handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
Butter for sauteeing
Herbs for seasoning (I used garlic, rosemary, pepper)
A touch of lemon juice, if you like
Shredded cheddar cheese
Shredded mozzarella cheese

I am not listing any specific amounts here because this is the kind of meal that you don't waste time measuring proportions when preparing- you simply throw it all together. Courage!
Start by throwing the diced zucchini, with some butter and your preferred seasonings, into a frying pan and saute just until soft. Add tomatoes and continue sauteing until warmed but still firm. This should take about 2-3 minutes.

While that's cooking, put some butter in another pan (I use three pans because it's faster) and warm a tortilla on low to medium heat with a couple handfuls of cheese.

You can see that I've got kale going here as the side dish. Here's my no-fail 5-minute kale recipe, which my entire family loves and is a lovely complement to these quesadillas.

When the zucchini and tomatoes are soft and warm, toss some onto the tortilla with cheese. Add another handful of cheese to help the diced veggies stay put, and put a second tortilla over the first. Turn the heat to medium if you haven't already. (And stir your kale if you're making that as well.)

Remove the quesadilla from the heat and let cool while you plate the kale (if you're using). Slice up your quesadilla and serve with fresh tomatoes or salsa, if you have some on hand.

Yummy, right? My entire family will eat these until they're gone.

And one more tip? If you do have leftover kale or veggies, dice the kale small like the zucchini and tomato and put it in the fridge overnight. It will transform your scrambled eggs in the morning! Nothing like gettin' your veggie on right off the bat!

Happy eating!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Our Homeschool Room

Thanks for reading along with me this week as I posted about our "back to homeschool" experience. Just in case you missed the last few days, I shared our math, literacy, and geography Montessori-inspired shelves, and yesterday I shared a post on how we organize for homeschool, including curriculum selections, routines and planners.

Today I am sharing our homeschool room, and all the other little spaces in our home that we carve out for use in learning!

This is how our official school room looks when entered from the kitchen:
On the left you can barely see our geography shelves, then our low sensorial shelves below the window, then our math shelves. Along the right wall you see our literacy shelf under the window. Of course there is also a children's table with chairs and a rug for floor work. 

Here is the view of our schoolroom when entered from the front hall:

Visible in this photo are our literacy shelf (under the window with the star), and the general storage shelves along the wall furthest to the right.

 A few closer photos, with descriptions of how we use each space:
These shelves hold the bulk of our supplies and learning toys which aren't currently displayed on our montessori shelves.
From the top, this shelf contains one basket per subject area to store learning manipulatives and materials which aren't currently being used on our Montessori shelves. I keep a basket for language arts, math, science and "other". The plastic bins below the baskets are home to our craft supplies, and each one contains a type of material or tool: scissors, glue, clay, finger knitting, wool roving for needle felting, crayons, pencils, markers, stickers, stamp and ink, etc. The shelf below that contains our sorting trays on the left and two baskets with wooden games and our bean bags on the right. The next shelf contains puzzles of varying sizes and types, and the bottom shelf contains board games.
The next set of shelves contain our continent boxes (post on them coming up soon), which are taken down as needed and added to our geography shelf. Next, we keep our special papers (large or unusual sizes, plus homemade blank books and other fun mini projects) plus baskets not currently displayed on our Montessori shelves. The white fabric bins below that keep each child's daily work, such as their Singapore Math workbooks or their Handwriting Without Tears workbooks. They also keep their nature sketchbooks and their calendar notebooks in those bins. The next shelf contains a basket with our musical instruments, and the baskets on the bottom shelf hold coloring books and blocks, respectively. A closer look...
 The next set of shelves is for writing inspiration.
 The top shelf contains blank doodle pads and a basket of crayons. Next is some lined paper with a basket of pens and pencils, then colored and patterned paper, then a basket of blank postcards, stationary and envelopes for writing letters, and last is a basket of origami paper. These materials are always available to be used in open-ended projects and play as the children desire.

A closer look:

(Note: the Eco Paper and Eco crayons that are visible in the photo on the top shelf are environmentally friendly products made locally by a family business who want more for the world. I love supporting their business, and you can too by checking out their website here!)

Skipping past the door to the kitchen, the next thing you see in our homeschool room is my "command central", where I keep all my magic. Errrr, manuals. Smile.
My computer and printer/copier/scanner are available for quick use, but I keep my other toys (like my laminator and office supplies) tucked into the cabinets. The white tray under the computer holds ongoing project pieces, as in our passports and stamps from our current geography work. I keep manuals and teacher guides currently in use next to my computer, plus a magnetic whiteboard for use in lessons (right now it's got a world map on it for our geography world tour).
Next to my teacher's area we have the kid's table and our awesome felt calendar/weather chart that the kids can change on a daily basis.
This one was a gift from my parents as they traveled through the Philippines, but you could get a similar one here.

Again, skipping the door to the front hall, the next item in our schoolroom is our geography area.
Pictured here are our US and world maps and our geography shelf with the contents of a continent box, globe with atlases, books and puzzles along with relevant Montessori work. For a detailed description of this area, and the materials in it, read this post. The black board above it is a felt board, but I often put up posters or relevant pictures of our "travels" in geography as we go.
Directly next to our geography shelves we have a large USA map and world map, with the legend presented on the side of the shelf next to them. I love these because they are large enough to really see and use, plus they are laminated to we can use dry erase markers on them, then simply wipe them off.
Next are our sensorial Montessori shelves. Due to a lack of space, I alternate sensorial shelves with practical life at various points in our year, and sometimes use this shelf for special displays, like those for holidays or other thematic units. These shelves currently hold our red rods, some tactile dominoes like these, our knobless cylinders, and our cylinder block sets. Next to the shelf is the pink tower, a Montessori sensorial staple item.
Next to our sensorial shelf, we have our math shelf. For more information about what materials and "works" are currently being displayed, I invite you to read this post. For the most part, I split the space in the bookshelf between the three levels of learners I currently school, and ensure there is is something challenging there for everyone. The purpose of the shelves is always to invite a child to practice a skill they are familiar with, or two challenge them to develop a new skill.
The large bulletin board is currently empty, but soon it will be filled with work the children are proud of and want to showcase. That can be work they are doing for specific lessons, or art they create on their own.
Around the corner are the literacy shelves. Just before them is a numbers poster on the wall for use with the math shelves, and a framed picture of one of the children's first-ever finger painting. I'm such a sentimental sucker.
Next to the literacy shelves there is a basket of early reader books and an alphabet poster for quick reference while using shelf materials. Above that is another felt board, which currently is being used to display fractions. If you like the window star shown here, I purchase the paper from one of my favorite local businesses called Bella Luna Toys (fear not- they ship!) and their You Tube channel shares how to make the stars, along with lots of other Waldorf crafting ideas and methods.
Then you're back to the beginning! It's a small space, but we make it work well for us.

There are plenty of other spaces in our home where we make learning happen too, and to even suggest that all our schooling takes place in this room would be crazy. Here's a quick peek at some other great spaces that fill our needs:
I have a huge shelf in my office that houses all of my manuals, texts not currently in use, portfolios in progress, and our academic library of books I use to support specific units. I just got this shelf and I'm not using it to its full potential yet, but it's so amazingly helpful to have all my "teacher stuff" in one place.
We have a chalkboard door in our kitchen that gets used for all kinds of academic purposes, and artsy ones as well. Right now it's being used to remind us of our summer goals before we officially begin our homeschool year.
We of course school in the living room, when we snuggle to read and build huge block cities. We school in our kitchen as we preserve, prepare and consume our food. Ben has a desk in his room that he uses to create Lego everything, which I also consider to be a learning process. We've moved the play kitchen and dress up center to other spots in the house, but we still consider these activities to be "learning" activities too. Children's play is learning!
This is our new audio book station, which was literally donated to us (books, device, and basket even) by another wonderful homeschooling family. I've placed it on top of the small shelf of books we keep in the living room, and it's been the most amazing addition to our homeschool. Look for a full post on this coming soon!
 We also have a great deck that we do school on a lot in nice weather. You can read an entire post about our "outdoor classroom" here. You can also read the post on our outdoor play space here.

Would you like to see the tour of our school room from last year? Check it out here!

I'm linked up to the Not Back to School Blog Hop!
Check out my other posts for this blog hop:
How we plan our homeschool year (with curriculum)
First day of school pictures

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How We're Planning Our Homeschool Year

This week I've shared our math, literacy, and geography shelves in hopes of illustrating some of the ways we make our homeschool work. But our shelves are only part of the work we do together, so today I share some of the other things we do to make the most of our schooling. Namely, today I share the organization and planning that goes into making homeschooling work for us.

It begins like this...

...but it works out well enough at the end. Smile.

When I begin to plan our school year, I think about where each child is developmentally and in terms of their skill level in each academic discipline. Although I don't always teach each discipline separately (and in fact, I prefer to combine them when I can), thinking about each area uniquely helps me to construct an overall picture of what items to focus on for optimum development for each child. I don't worry so much about grade level, or what the kids would be doing if they were in public school since we live in a state which doesn't require standardized testing as proof of progress. Rather, each year I must present the state with a portfolio that documents "progress", which thankfully is a rather subjective concept. In this way, I am able to determine what areas are most important for each child to focus on at which time, and sometimes my children focus on things which are not traditionally defined as "academic". My son is currently preparing to race a pig in the county fair as part of a 4-H project, and that is consuming a great deal of his time. He is learning a tremendous amount about pig care, responsibility, performing in front of others, record keeping and math... the list goes on. With that in mind, I am currently choosing to allow him plenty of time in his day to pursue and explore that interest, even if it means he doesn't study French when I have it on the schedule.

But I do have a schedule. One that I use on a daily basis, even if it's only to glance at and choose to ignore. Each day I make the choice to "follow the plan" or to ditch it in favor of something else we deem more important. Sometimes that's a field trip, or seeing family, or weeding the garden before we loose a crop, and every once in a while it's to stay in our jammies and play all day. All of these things are important to the healthy function of family.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I begin my yearly planning by brainstorming things that each child does well, and things that we can work to improve. I compile a list of skills and knowledge I hope they develop throughout the year, based both on their interest and need, and then I divvy those items up as best I can among the 9 official months we homeschool. (We school during the summer too, but informally and with a lot of field trips and outings.) Doing this gives me a general sense of what we'll be exploring in each month of the year.

I also take into consideration any unmet goals from the previous term. In the beginning of the school year, I'll take into consideration our summer goals, which I keep written on the chalkboard door in the kitchen. We shorten the list as our goals are met.

It looks something like this:

Child One, Math:
Strengths: Telling time, understanding place value, addition.
Areas to work on: Fractions, subtraction and multiplication.

Which leads me to plan:
September: Math problems focused on telling time and subtracting to determine lengths of time.
October: Expanding understanding of place value and multiplying numbers.

I did this rather mentally this year, and didn't create a single document with the information on it. (I used the file folder system described below instead.) You can click here to view my annual plan from last year, left empty if you'd like to use it for your family, however. Or here is the filled-in annual curriculum plan from last year if you'd care to see the type of things I'm thinking of while planning the year.

Once I know what our general goals are, I pick materials to help us meet them. Some I order (Handwriting Without Tears, Singapore Math, printables from Montessori Print Shop, for example), and some I have on hand. Whenever possible, I put these resources directly into monthly file folders so when I go to plan school for the month, I have not only a general sense of what our goals are, but also what materials we've got to meet our needs. This saves tremendous time. Once per month I then split the month's materials into daily folders that can be pulled out and used at a moment's notice, or slipped into another day if we don't get to them. I no longer write out long plans for weeks or months which have to be updated- I just put what I'm going to use into these folders and record what we've accomplished each day (see below- I use Mama Jenn's Weekly Plan to do so) to be placed in the kids' portfolios, along with samples of their work.

Often I use a variety of sources to meet the needs of each child, but sometimes I follow along with a curriculum. My son last year enjoyed working through his Singapore Math workbook, deriving a great sense of accomplishment from seeing all the pages he completed. I let that guide him through his math work, even though I might not have envisioned introducing math to him in exactly that sequence. That's the beauty of homeschooling- we can adapt our expectations to meet our needs.

I create a weekly schedule each year so that I know we'll have enough time to accomplish all the tasks that I identify in the above described process. I tend to get excited at the beginning of the year and over commit (anyone else with me on this??), and actually putting all my ideas on paper makes me trim the extras and remember to add in quiet, unstructured time.

Here is the downloadable weekly schedule for this year, which I post on my refrigerator under our weekly meal plan. You'll note that I list seven days per week, and I include my own work time in the schedule, as well. This is an effort to balance the demands on my time. I've cut way back on our Five In A Row studies for this year, and a number of other things as well, because I know that I will be busy with a part time job and a new baby. There will be other years to do more, but this one will be about learning to live as a family of six and learning to share Mommy with her work. (Click here for the weekly schedule I used last year.)

Last year I used a more ambitious daily plan in addition to the weekly plan, which you can view and download here, but I've shied away from that this year. I typically like to have a daily routine, but I have had enough babies at this point to know that for this year, it's unlikely that there's going to be much a rhythm to start because we're more likely to catch a chance to school around naps and nursing. That's OK- I'd rather wait to see how our natural routine as a family of six emerges and make our school schedule around that, then try to force our lives around a school schedule. This post describes well how we "aim" to make our days unfold, if you'd like to see my ideal.

I also have gotten a lot of great printables from Mama Jenn this year, and you can get them from her, too. She offers printable weekly plans, monthly plans, and supply lists. I use her weekly plan to write down what we actually do, as opposed to what our plan is, because these papers make excellent portfolio additions. I track our homeschool progress without even trying, plus I create a record that I can reference as necessary. When I'm really organized in advance I like to use her supply lists (to plan out which books I need to pick up from the library for the upcoming week, for example), but I sincerely doubt I'll be doing much of that this year. We'll see. I keep clean copies of her printables on a clipboard at my desk area for quick reference, plus a binder with the filled out pages.

That's it! Brainstorming our goals and celebrating our strengths, creating a yearly overview then dividing it into months, selecting and compiling materials to help us achieve our goals, having a weekly schedule to follow (if we can), then splitting the materials into daily tasks, recording as we go for our portfolio evidence. Simple enough, right?! Smile. This is why people call homeschooling a full time job, folks. Even when it's easy, it isn't easy.

What strategies do you use to meet the needs of your students? What planning tools do you love? I'd love it if you'd share!
I'm linked up to the 5th Annual "Not" Back to School Blog Hop!

Check out my other posts for this blog hop:
Our homeschool room
Our first day of school pictures

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