Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Reading and Writing

One of the biggest challenges to homeschooling for me is trying not to push too hard.  I am a natural teacher and would love to just sit down and instruct my kids on how to do this or that, but I realize that is not the best way to teach…especially not when you are trying to teach your own because inevitably some head-butting and resistence will come up.  I know kids can learn to read as young as 3 with rote practice and memorization, but for me I want so much more than for my kids to know HOW to read.  I want them to LOVE to read.  I know my kids will learn to read eventually and I have a great respect for the hardcore unschooler who can just let go and wait for their child to unlock the mystery of reading on their own.  I have decided that we will have reading instruction, but when the kids ask for it or express an interest.  The good news is I don’t think I will be waiting much longer!

Last week I took the kids to the library and H had an immediate interest in books with a certain urgency he has not expressed before.  I am not exactly sure how to describe it, but basically he was interested in a specific book that he heard about on some TV show and had absolutely no interest in working on the computers (which is usually what both children rush to).  It had been at least a month since we had been to the library.  He wanted picture books, comic books, and readers; he was all over the kids section just exploring and looking more intently than before.  We picked out several books and came home.  We read quite a bit of one of the comic books he chose and then I asked him if he wanted to read a BOB book.  He agreed and he did it!  He read the first book through twice and then wanted to read the second book.  Then he was so excited to share his new accomplishment with Dad and Grandma.  I was so proud of him and hope we can continue on this reading road and not have this just be a peek into the world of reading. 

Reading and writing go hand in hand and a few days after our reading excitement H made a big writing jump too!  Grandma was reading the newspaper and the boys took an interest in the toy ads.  So she took the teachable moment to have them write a wish list and encouraged H to write his own.  I heard what was going on and unable to resist the opportunity to ‘teach,’ I came in to assist him in making his list.  It has been over a year since H has taken ANY interest in writing, refusing to even write more than the first letter of his name.  But on Sunday he sat down and wrote a list of about 6 things he wanted.  I helped him sound out and spell the words and pointed out the letters on a chart for reference.  I also helped him with the letter S because I know that making the curvy shape takes some muscle memory and practice (that he hasn’t had). 

I’m so happy and proud, though since he just turned 5 I find myself having those ‘he’s growing up so fast’ moments way too often now.  

A little info on our reading background:
We have practiced Zoophonics off and on for about 2 years, so he has a good basis of letter sounds and he knows the names of all of the letters.  The BOB books are set up so that only a handful of letter sounds are used in the entire book and the text is heavily based on the simple pictures, so they can use the visual clues to decipher the words.  I created a fishing game to practice the words in the book and words in the same ‘word family;’ in this case –AT words. 

The fishing game is: fish shaped index cards with the words on one side and a face on the other and uses paperclips on the cards to attach to a magnet on the pole.     

(Ignore the mess in the background)
Also came across this great link for some BOB printables on Pinterest today: http://www.inlieuofpreschool.com/2012/11/free-bob-books-printables-for-beginning-readers-Mat-Sam.html

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Smelling Spices

Today we had a spur of the moment smelling and tasting project. AJ took a particular interest in a container of curry spice I had left out, so I let him smell it. He seemed to really enjoy sniffing it, so I pulled out about 12 spices from the cabinet that I thought would be mild smelling/tasting. Both boys had a blast taking a whiff of the spice, pouring a tad onto their paper and tasting it. H got a nose full of ginger spice which was pretty funny; I pulled out some coffee grounds for him to sniff after that to ease the ginger-y pain. (That worked well, until AJ stuck his hand into my coffee grounds and took a big taste…it was NOT decaf). When we finished, AJ was ready to do it all over again, he really enjoyed it. I think we will end up doing this activity again using herbs. A word to the wise...cloves smell really good, but taste VERY spicy. LOL

Alphabet Pretzels

Today we started our zoophonics program. We started with the first 5 letters of the alphabet, focusing on their phonetic sounds instead of the name of the letter. The kids had fun learning the names of the animals and the sounds they make. Then we did an alphabet walk, laying out the entire alphabet from A-Z and walking along singing the alphabet song. Then I removed a few of the letters and handed one to each child to relocate into the alphabet. It was short and sweet, but we are easing into our program. A little while later we extended the activity by making alphabet pretzels. They were delicious!

¾ cup warm water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup baking soda
10 cups water
Sea salt
Cinnamon/Sugar mix

1. Combine water and sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let it sit until foamy (about 5 minutes)
2. Add flour, salt, melted butter, and knead dough until it is no longer sticky.
3. Transfer dough to oiled bowl and let rise for an hour.
4. Separate into four to eight sections. Using your hands, shape the dough into ‘snakes’ and allow the children to create their favorite shapes. Challenge them to create a traditional pretzel knot.
5. Transfer pretzel to a baking sheet lined with parchment and sprayed with cooking spray.
6. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
7. Bring water and baking soda to a boil, and drop a pretzel in one at a time, boiling for approximately 30 seconds (great chance to practice counting).
8. Remove pretzel and transfer to baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pretzels. Top with a bit of melted butter and sea salt or cinnamon/sugar mix.
9. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.

Zoophonics Video from You Tube...I'll try to make our own, once they have it down. :)


Monday, August 20, 2012

Last week at our house

The week in pictures:

                                          Magnet play (cut up pipe cleaners and paper clips in jar)

                                         Bean shapes (I drew shapes, they glued beans)
                                          Mud baths

                                          Gak revisited with dad

Homeschool Choices

I’m so excited to enter into our first year of really homeschooling.  Last year we did a local program called HIPPY (Home Instruction Preparing Preschool Youth).  It was great.  A teacher came out and gave us lessons once a week and all the materials were provided.  Unfortunately, they had to put Hudson in the 3 year old curriculum because his birthday is at the end of October and he didn’t really care for the program too much; I think because it was below his level.  We also had some scattered goals like count to 100, identifying numbers, and beginning phonics.  I purchased some books recommended for his age level and did a lot of considering and trying out an unschooling philosophy  (more here).  We also have been involved with some social activities with local homeschool groups.  My conclusion is that something more organized than unschooling would be most fun for all of us and better suited to my personality at this point, but may be something worth considering when Hudson has a grasp of the basics and more self-direction in the future.
                         The kids were so excited to get the first half of their homeschool books. 
                               They both settled down to read, but I only got a picture of AJ.

This year we have settled on the Sonlight program for his core academics.  It is a literature based Christian program, but I feel like I can work with the Christian part and incorporate some Unity concepts and skip over the parts I don’t like (specifically, “it makes God sad when you….” And things like that).  For math we have chosen Math-U-See, a sequential and hands-on program (so I’m told) and will probably throw in some ideas from Family Math since I have heard good things about that too.  I feel really comfortable teaching reading, so I will be doing my own thing with that, beginning with Zoophonics and moving onto BOB books and word games.  Perhaps H will be reading in the Spring?  Who knows?  We will continue our social events with the homeschool group and I will be alternate hosting group ‘class’ days with other homeschoolers.  I have purchased tickets to several shows at the arts center for some enrichment and both boy’s will be doing soccer this fall and probably spring.  We are still trying to figure out some music lessons though; we would love to get our hands on a decent piano, but may have the opportunity to get H some violin lessons, so we may start there. 

It is kind of tricky figuring out what will work best and of course is an ongoing process.  I really liked the Sonlight program and they had great catalogs that were easy to see what I was getting.  I am also very interested in Oak Meadow, but found their materials to be less accessible and possibly not as structured as I am.  My thoughts are to try Sonlight this year and possibly next because I really like their Kindergarten books as well, but maybe move into Oak Meadow or something different in the future.  I really want to get our family to a big homeschool conference this year sometime and have a chance to look through some different programs.  It is such a fun and exciting journey to be taking with the kids; I’m really looking forward to it. 

If you homeschool, what program do you use (if any)?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chores: Finding Peace in Everyday Activities

Have you ever read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp?  It is about finding the magic or God in everyday things and really appreciating everything around you fully.  She is brilliant with words, you can get a taste of her writing here:  http://www.aholyexperience.com/
Anyway, there are a few chores that bring me peace, including:

      • Sweeping: I love the rhythmic nature of it and can easily get lost in my thoughts. I especially like sweeping outdoors.

      • Hanging laundry: I love hanging my laundry.  I feel like it is almost a priviledge that I live somewhere where I can hang my laundry outside on the line.  I love the look of the clothes or sheets billowing in the wind.  I especially love when all the little boy’s shorts are lined up together, it makes me feel very nostalgic and appreciative of my little men.  I LOVE MY CLOTHESLINE. 

      • Folding laundry: I know some people HATE this chore, but I don’t mind it .  I usually save it for the end of the day and sit with the kids watching a movie or something while I fold.  Honestly I have actually given up the ‘folding’ of most of the kids stuff, since it doesn’t get wrinkled and they just rifle through the drawers anyway.  Giving up folding was actually difficult for me because I like things to be orderly (at least a couple times of year I happily organize all the drawers folding underwear and matching socks, lining them up like in the movies-seriously weird and OCD, I’m trying to put an end to it). 

Okay, maybe that is it.

Less than peaceful chores:

      • Dishes: In her book, there is a whole passage where she discusses the beauty in washing the dishes and looking at the bubbles glistening.  Honestly I think if I had a window in front of my sink so I could look outside while washing, then I would be able to find a lot more enjoyment.  As it stands now, I loathe doing dishes and it seems like the thing I do most.  I have found one way that makes doing dishes and kitchen work easier and that is having a little helper.  If I have one of the kids (Especially H though), ‘helping’ me wash dishes in one sink while I wash in the other and load the dishwasher, it is so much nicer.  I like to lean over and kiss his fuzzy head while I scrub the dishes.  Maybe it is just the feeling that I am not doing it alone.
                                          Hudson putting away silverware, AJ doing dishes

     • Scrubbing: Floors, windows, showers, etc.  I don’t like scrubbing, maybe I just hate hard work.  I have found an awesome game that I like to call ‘spot detective.’ I give each kid a wet rag and have them look for spots on the floor, when they find one they yell, “Found one!” and then scrub it and yell, “Got it!”  The kids also will ‘scrub’ the shower walls if I give them a sponge while they bathe.
My 'spot detectives' (a little blurry, they were running around so fast the camera couldn't focus)

Painting the tub with colored shaving cream (followed by scrubbing with sponges)

     • Picking up: My dislike is probably just because my back hurts and the repetitive bending over to pick up toys or bits of paper-y trash aggravates it.  We have a daily clean-up time every night before bed, where we pick up the toys and dishes from around the house.  It requires a lot of adult guidance, but it gets the job done. 

Even if the kids may not do the work at the same ‘level’ that an adult would, I think it is important that they are contributing and learning that they are a valuable part of the family system.  It also makes me feel better because I am not doing everything by myself.  Also, it is so adorable to see them ‘working.’  I read a really great article on children and chores here:    http://www.authenticparenting.info/2011/07/if-not-chores-then-what.html
I would really like to avoid setting up a rewards system for something I feel like they should be doing anyway.  Also, if I teach them that they should be rewarded for doing it, will they see the joy in it?

How do you find peace in everyday activities? What do you love and hate? What chores do your kids do?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


For this week's playdate we made Gak (a gooey playdough like substance).  There were just 3 kids here for this experiment and they were ages 2-4.5.  I would say that this project was fun for all the ages, but the end product was most fun for H (the oldest).  It was a simple enough project found here:

Ours didn't come out that stretchy, but I think I just added too much borax too quickly.  H is still playing with his a few hours later.  The good news is, it also doesn't seem prone to stick in things like carpet or pets fur, make sure the little ones keep it out of their mouths though.  I would even try this again to see if I could make it come out more stretchy.

                                                           H with his Gak!

Magnet Board

I have been noticing that my kids have been a bit restless lately and especially wanted to make something that AJ would enjoy for some hands-on learning play.  I came across the idea of a magnet board (here).  I use a white board that is about 12x20inches, but the fridge would do just fine too. I printed out some characters that I liked and used colored pencils to draw the extras.  Then I had them laminated ($2.00 for 5 pages) and put magnet tape on the back.  (Print on cardstock for extra durability)

I made:

5 Green and Speckled Frogs (Click here for Clipart)
 5 Little Ducks (Click here for Clipart)
 There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly (Click here for Clipart)
 5 Little Monkeys (Click here for Clipart)

I sang the songs with AJ and taught him how to move the pieces around accordingly.  He seemed to enjoy it and I hope soon that he will be able to play with the pieces independently while H and I do dishes or cook meals.  H also enjoyed the activity, though I feel it is a little immature for him and he will tire of it more quickly. 

Doctor's Visits

Sorry for the lack of posts last week.  It was a very appointment full week for me.  I had a doctor’s appointment 4 out of 5 days last week.  I guess that is what happens when you don’t go to the doctor for the first 6 months of your pregnancy.  We will most likely be using a midwife for this pregnancy and choosing another homebirth.  I dislike the whole hospital and doctor part of giving birth and it is so much more peaceful afterwards to be at home and in my own bed.  I do plan on having this figured out by next week or so and beginning my regular midwife visits and hopefully some chiropractic visits will be in the not too distant future.  So, for those of you that haven’t heard (and no one has yet seen)

It’s a boy!!! Baby boy number 3 due November 24, 2012. 
To quote Hudson, “What am I going to do with another brother?!”  He was a little disappointed, as was I, but I have warmed to the idea now.  I can’t wait to make them shirts.  I am thinking 1,2,3 and “If you think I’m cute, you should see my brothers.”  Everything looks good with this baby and I am doing well. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Harvesting Basil Seeds

I’m a little disappointed in myself.  I purchased a basil plant this spring, so that I could have fresh basil.  This wasn’t my first time, so I knew I was supposed to trim the buds off so that the plant would continue nourishing the leaves.  Alas, I failed.  The plant went to seed and I used maybe a handful of my fresh basil leaves before then.  The heat of the summer has dried the blossoms and it occurred to me that I could probably harvest the seeds.  I figured it was the least I could do after my epic failure to tend the basil adequetely. 

So, I set out to harvest the seeds.  If you are interested here is a video explaining how: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEQNDWJeSG4

As I sat at the table picking the seeds out, Hudson came to see what I was doing.  He wanted to help, so I set him up a little napkin and showed him how to remove the seeds.  He helped me for a bit and we talked about seeds, big and small, and what we are going to do with these seeds.  We also talked about the cost of fresh basil vs. basil plants vs. seeds.  I learned how to harvest the seeds, but would probably never do it again since the cost for a package of seeds is less than the amount of time/effort it took to harvest them.  BUT It was an invaluable teachable moment and made the effort all worth it.

The Seeds                                    The Dry Blossoms
The total harvest

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Well, it was a ‘momentous’ day in our house today.  Little AJ has been wanting a haircut; I started asking him because his bangs were growing over his eyes.  So, we decided to give him his first haircut and low and behold H wanted to cut his hair too!  H’s last haircut (a buzz) was in May of 2011, about 14 months ago.  He said, “I’ll cut my hair on my birthday.” (October).  The birthday rolled around and he said, “I’ll cut my hair on my next birthday.”  Okay….so it grew and it grew and it became such a part of him and his personality.  We (Daddy and I) became attached to it, we stopped asking because we didn’t really want him to cut it.  Somewhere in there it became not about his hair, but about honoring him. 
We were honoring his choice to have his hair how he wanted it and to decide on his own when he wanted to change it.  It gave us a chance to respect him and his growing personality.  About three months ago he started to get called she or her occassionally, but he didn’t really seem to notice and we didn’t point it out.  Daddy even had a little conversation while helping a little boy about 3 at the park because the little boy was sure he was a girl, but Daddy Mro assured him that he was in fact a boy with long hair (H was on the other side of the playground).  I will admit I was proud to have a son who pushed the gender stereotypes (ever so slightly).  Anyway, it might not seem like a big deal, but it was special to us. 

More food for thought:
About a girl pushing gender roles: http://www.princessfreezone.com/pfz-blog/2012/7/11/youre-her-motheryou-can-say-no.html

Boys have long hair too blog carnival:  http://glitteringmuffins.com/2012/05/21/boys-long-hair-blog-carnival/

                                            Day before haircuts
                                          So this is what a haircut is about

                                            Happy Boys after haircuts

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shaving Cream Painting Playdate

Shaving cream painting playdate (http://www.growingajeweledrose.com/2012/07/summer-sensory-play-shaving-cream-and.html)
I know I said pictures, but I forgot again.  This playdate was not super eventful, the shaving cream painting was moderately fun.  I thought it was going to be a lot more fun using the colored ice, but it was very similar to just plain shaving cream play.  The kids enjoyed the sensory experience of it, but the use of color didn’t add anything.  We swam, played bubbles, ate popsicles and treats, and had a mini tea party.  I think next week we will have a tea party playdate (H’s request), but still do a project/activity.  Pretty soon our playdates will change a little as we gear up to do a more
‘co-op/school’ experience. 
Since this playdate wasn’t super eventful and I don’t have any pictures for you.  I am posting some of the kids in the kitchen. 
                                                    Washing Dishes
                                                 Making Sandwiches
                                               Making Smoothies
                                               (word to the wise....keep your blender unplugged until ready to blend)

And a bonus....our favorite smoothie recipe:
                         3-4 handfuls of frozen strawberries
                         1 banana (fresh or frozen)
                         3 cups of yogurt (soy)
                         2 TBSP ground flax seed (Omega 3s!)
                         1 cup spinach (any greens)
                         3 probiotic capsules broken open (not really necessary depending on yogurt type)
                         Splash of orange juice or almond milk for easy blending

New Kitty!

We have a new family member!  The animal shelter was giving away free kitties this past week and we just had to go and get one.  H has been wanting a kitty for some time now.  We had one about 6 months ago that disappeared (I think he was taken) and was an awesome cat.  He was with us for about a month or two, so H got a taste of having a kitty and taking care of it.  I think H is much more of a cat person (like me) than a dog person.  AJ on the other hand is a dog person, but he is also very fond of animals in general.  So we talked about what our new kitty would really need like food, litter box (he is already trained), treats, a couple little toys, etc.  then we headed to the pet store, where we also purchased treats and a bone for the dog so she wouldn’t feel left out.
I think having a pet is a valuable learning experience for a child.  They can learn responsibility and empathy, as well as learning about the specific type of animal they have.  H is 4 (almost 5) and his responsibilities will include cleaning the cat box daily, giving the cat food, and giving the cat water.  Having a cat was something he was very interested in and I hope both boys learn a lot from him.  As of right now, we have not named the cat. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Friday Field Trip

We had a fun field trip with friends (how do you like that alliteration?)  We went to the mill and learned how they mill the flour.  Of course the adults were way more fascinated than the children, but I remember things being that way when I was young.  I figure, as long as I am being passionate about something then they will learn that passion and one day be fascinated by things their kids are less than interested in.  We had lunch, which was practice in patience on my part.  Then we headed down the road a bit to the park’s visitor center. 
                                          (AJ peeking at the water wheel through the window)

The visitor center was beautiful.  I didn’t really know what they would have since I have been in some visitor centers that are basically cabins, but this was more than I hoped for.  They had a wonderful learning center with all the animals of the region represented and a ‘Please Touch’ table with bones and hides and all kinds of interesting animal/plant items.  They also had a ‘play area’ with books, blocks, puzzles and other toys.  The boys got to practice using some real binoculars too.  Then we attended a snake talk.  H was pretty interested/involved (considering it was his first time in a ‘class’ setting), but did not want to touch the snake.  I had to keep AJ entertained by taking him out, but when the lady pulled that snake out to touch, he was all ready and excited to go up there and touch it.  This is definitely a place worth visiting again and next time I will take more pictures.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just a Wednesday

Took the kids to the library, made pizza with AJ, swam in the pool, picked up the house as a family, cleaned the garage.  I’m proud of myself for all the good I did today (I try to always pat myself on the back and not focus too hard on the hardcore TV days, hopefully good days will multiply and ).  Let me talk a little about pizza making: AJ helped mix the dough for the crust, he loves this because he can actually stick his hands in the dough (unlike other baking projects).  Then I gave him his second knife wielding lesson.  He helped me chop tomatoes and garlic for sauce before losing interest. 
I think it is good to allow kids in the kitchen and let them practice using knives correctly, with lots of supervision, hand over hand showing them exactly now to handle the knife.  When the kiddos are babies I give them little (silver) butter knives (they aren’t even cerrated, a playset from IKEA) and let them chop bananas. When they are older (around 2) we use knives that are not super sharp, so if they touch the blade or even hold the knife upside down and push on the blade it won’t break their skin.  I also start them with softer things to cut (i.e.: not carrots, that are too similar to little fingers).  I show them for a little, then let them practice while I sit nearby correcting any missteps and always being very vigilant about knife safety (no flinging the knife about like a crazy person).  H (at age 4.5) can help me chop vegetables safely now without correction, I still sit by him and supervise, but he knows what he is doing and I am super proud of his concentration and ability.

(This is an picture of H from a few weeks ago, I didn't take any of AJ helping.)

Oh, we checked out a wonderful book at the library.  It is called In the Town All Year 'Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner.  It is kind of like Where's Waldo, but has several pictures of the town through each season.  At the beginning of the season there is a page of people and pictures that appear in the subsequent pages, some have questions like: "who is the mystery motorcyclist?" The kids will look through the pages and figure out the answers. Some things are simple like, 'this is Cassie the cat, she travels through the town, can you find her in each picture?' (I changed the wording slightly).  I like how it uses recall skills and shows all kinds of pictures of the seasons, there are a lot of questions you can ask like, "How can you tell it is still Winter in this picture?"  Here is a link:

Ice Excavation Playdate

Tuesday we hosted our playdate and darn it, I forgot to take pictures!  I froze some small plastic toys in blocks of ice, so the kids could do ice excavation as found here (I love pinterest): http://chasingcheerios.blogspot.com/2011/08/excavating-toys-from-ice.html 
This was a good crowd, 7 kids and 4 adults total.  We only had one hammer which was the tool of choice for this project.  H promptly broke his toys free with a few well placed bangs and was pretty much done with the project, then he passed the hammer on so the other kids could have a shot.  I found it to be great fun to watch how each kid handled the project a little differently, some tackling it with more gusto than others, but all remaining engaged.  Then we had some free play and pool time.  This pool has been a great source of fun for the little ones, I am so glad we got it.