Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Homeschooling - Top Ten Things You Might Not Remember, But Shouldn't Forget, To Teach Your Children

As homeschoolers we like to march to our own drummers, as we impart knowledge to our children in often unconventional ways (below is C's "back to school" picture from last year).

After all, we're not just doing school at home, we're homeschooling.

With that said though, let's not go overboard, and to mix cliche-ish metaphors - throw the baby out with the bath water.  Not everything taught in schools is useless, and sometimes even the things that can seem tedious, or silly, are useful, later in life, as our children start to merge, and blend back into mainstream society.

After 15 years (or is it 16?  I've lost count) of homeschooling, here's my top 10 list of the little things you might not think, but really should remember, to teach your children, while they're young.


1. How to cut with scissors.  Those preschool cutting sheets can seem like totally tedious time wasters at first glance, but you don't want to look back, and wish you'd spent more time on them, while watching a 15 year old struggle to cut out a simple a shape.

2. How to tie their shoes.  As homeschoolers, our children are with us so much of the time.  It can be easy to forget to teach them to function independently.  Velcro shoe fasteners, and days spent barefoot running around the house and yard can make this an easy skill to forget to teach.

3. Your address and phone number.  Again, because we are usually with our children, we don't always think to teach them how to find their way home, if we happened to be separated.  You don't want to find yourself jotting down your phone number for your teen headed out to a movie with friends.

4. How to write the date.  Children in school write the date across the tops of their papers every day, and get lots of practice at this skill.  You might want to take a few minutes with your children to teach them the different ways to write the date, too.

5. Which side of notebook paper is the front - and what the margin lines are for.  While you're teaching your children to write the date across the top of the page, you might also want to teach them which side of a piece of notebook paper is the front (mine always start writing on the back, and half the time with the paper upside down), and the purpose of the margin lines.

6. How to sign their names. No matter what your feelings about the importance or non-importance of cursive writing, everyone still needs to know how to sign their name with ease.  It's not something children do in the normal course of a day, but teens and adults have to do it all the time  You might want to make time to practice with your children.

7. How to open a half-pint milk carton.  I'm sure children learn this on their own at school, but it's embarrassing for a teen to be at a table of their peers trying to master this skill for the first time.

8. How to cross the monkey bars.  Again, this is one of those things children teach each other on the playground.  But, at home, we don't tend to have a lot of recess interaction, and most of us don't have monkey bars in our backyards.  Consider slipping onto a school playground in the evenings for some practice.

9. How to sit cross-legged.  It's funny to think of practicing how to sit, but if you've never heard anyone say, "Everyone sit cross-legged on the floor, now." - would you know what to do?

10. How to stand in line.  Given enough time, most of us will encounter lines to stand in outside of the school experience.  It's not rocket science to figure out how a line works.  But, you might want to take some time to explain line etiquette to children while they are still young.  No pushing, cutting, or saving spots (sometimes), and keep it straight.  There's nothing funnier than watching the lumpy curvy, very independent kind of lines formed by a group of homeschool teens.   Actually, now that I think about it, I like those lines - maybe let the children be.  Who said every line has to be straight, anyway?

Did I miss anything important, besides the actual academics, that is?  Reading, writing and 'rithmetic are homeschool givens.  It's the strange little life skills that sneak up and surprise us.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Where Has Summer Gone? Taking Time to Reflect.

Where has summer gone?  The question seems to be hanging in the air these days.  I'm running into it everywhere I go.

And, I have to admit the familiar fall chill in the air the last few mornings, combined with the boxes of books arriving on our doorstep daily now, have left me wondering the same thing.  Where has summer gone?  Did we actually do anything this summer?  Or, were we so busy, that I just didn't take the time to be present in the moment with the family?

After some reflection, I decided this has been a normal summer, with the normal amount of activity, togetherness, and fun - with the only differences being, having older children has meant their summer activities have been more self-directed, and I've been less involved in the planning - and blogging less this summer, I haven't stopped daily to reflect, with purpose, on what we've done each day, which has allowed the summer days to blur together in my mind.

So, before we plunge back into our fall studies, I decided to stop for a minute and reflect:  where has summer gone?

It started for us with a trip to Oregon.  G (age 17) and A (age 15) and I, took the train out for G's boyfriend's (hereafter known as "the boyfriend") graduation.

We took the train for a fun experience.  I'm not sure about fun, but it was definitely experience. We rode coach on the way out, and had a sleeper car on the return - we recommend the sleeper car.

We got back just in time to check D (age 13)'s bags, before he headed off for a week of summer camp...

...and to sign E (age 11) and C (age 10) up for their first week of VBS.  They attended four different weeks of Vacation Bible School, at four different churches throughout the summer (really three VBSs and one basketball camp), and despite the picture below (with sun in their eyes) they had a fabulous time at each one.

They did enough crafting at VBS to satisfy their creative urges for the summer, so we didn't do much in the way of art projects at home. 

And, instead of baking lots of different goodies throughout the summer, A (age 15) and I, filled in as the "snack ladies" for at our church's week of VBS, while D (age 13) helped with games.

We held our annual family water balloon fight on the 4th of July...

...which was only slightly overshadowed by A (age 15) getting her toe slammed in the front door (loosing a nail) and G (age 17) putting a fresh dent in the Man of the House's old truck (a few weeks and a little negotiating later, and G was the proud owner of a new-to-her, and only slightly dented truck, and the Man of the House had blood pressure returning to normal levels).

G (age 17) and T (age 19) took advantage of the break from studies to work full time.
But, still had enough time left over to catch a few movies, and plenty of Pokemon.

Grandma (my mother) joined us for a few weeks.

 C and T celebrated birthdays.

A (age 15) made it to the state fair with friends.

And we made it together as a group to a couple of museums, and a few homeschool park days.

Oh, and we continued to spot some cool things outside, like this 15-Spotted Ladybug (anatus labiculata)...

...and some awesome, bug catching, common night hawks (which it turns out are not hawks at all, but part of the Nightjar family).

The teens hosted an anime marathon.  The younger girls made it swimming twice, and put in a fair amount of time on their bikes.  We didn't set foot in our brick and mortar library once, but did make use of the online collection to download books from home.

So, where did our summer go?  Into trips, camps, fairs, museums, church, visiting with family and friends, reading, video games, movies, and summer jobs.  Or in other words, the business and bustle of daily life, with just enough room left over for an end of summer concert, and Shakespeare in the Park, before we slow back down into fall (Lord willing).

How about you?  Do you know where your summer's gone?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tips for Carving a Watermelon to Look Like a Clam: Step-by-Step

I saw a couple of shots of watermelon carved to look like clams, when I was researching ideas for our ocean themed VBS lunch, and thought they'd be perfect.  Unfortunately, when I followed the links from the pictures back to their sites, there weren't any instructions for the carving.  Still, I thought, how hard can it be?

Let's just say, I'm fortunate another family in our church offered to carve two of our four watermelon, and did theirs first - in time to share their tips with me, and stop me from going about the process all wrong.

Since, they don't blog, and you might someday want to carve your own watermelon clams (never say never), I'll pass along their tips, and a few from my own carving experience.  Just keep in mind, that watermelon carving is not big on my list of talents.

So, first off, you want to slice a thin piece off of the bottom of what will be your clam, so the watermelon doesn't roll around while you're carving - or on the serving table.

I cut a little deep (as you can see below), which was not ideal, as it let juice leak out later, but not so much that it was a big problem.

Next, figure out where you want the opening of the "mouth" to be, and cut out a wedge of watermelon.  In the picture below, it looks like I cut the wedge low - but for some reason the watermelon was rocked forward when I took the picture.  The opening should be a little above center.

Mark off a scallopy short of shape, to carve out - matching the ups to downs on the the bottom half, and vice-versa, to give the appearance it could close back together.

If you use washable marker, keep in mind, the watermelon juice will wash it away, pretty quickly.

I tried to carve the design before removing the watermelon, but found it was much easier after the shell was emptied out...

...which was done with a melon baller, followed by a scraping with a large spoon.

When you do carve, tilt the knife inward, to allow an outline of white to show around the opening (a straight cut ends up looking much less clam-like).

Finally, place the melon balls back into the watermelon shell, and serve (or cover with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator until your ready to serve - though then you might want to store the melon balls in a separate container, to keep the juice to a minimum inside the shell).

Oh, and one final tip:  We transported our watermelon to church on plates (as pictured), our friends had theirs in shallow baking dishes.  We arrived covered in watermelon juice.  They did not.  So, there you go.

Monday, August 1, 2016

VBS Snacks - Submerged

Our week, last week, was consumed with Vacation Bible School.  Our church hosted, using LifeWay's "Submerged - Diving Deep Into the Word of God" curriculum.  And, instead of teaching this year, I decided to mix things up a little, and signed on as the snack lady, instead.

Which meant my kitchen spent the week looking like this...

...or this...

...and I spent the week dressed in a gaudy swimsuit cover up and snorkel mask (as pictured at the top of this post), with fun foam flippers on my feet (find instructions for the pattern at Dazzle Design). 

Because, it's just not VBS if someone isn't over the top.

Anyway, the triple batch of squidamon rolls (thankfully made with the use of two bread-makers) were a mid-week treat for my fellow laborers...

...while the children received a daily Bible story themed snack as follows:

Rice Krispie and Kit-Kat trees with Sour Patch Kids for the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19 (snack idea from 52 Ways to Cook).  For a dairy and gluten free option, I used Smart Balance dairy free butter, and made a color free batch off Rice Krispie bars to cut up as "trunks" in place of the Kit-Kat bars.

Cups tied with brown yarn, and labeled with a verse of the story from John 4...

...filled part way with blue raspberry Jolly Rancher Jell-O for the story of the Woman at the Well. 

We built a "well" out of large cardboard bricks (from the nursery) on the table, and lifted our cups of "special water" out of it, to serve to the children.

For the story of Nicodemus from John 3, I went back to our old, chocolate and vanilla sugar cookie recipe (found here)...

...to make use of the Southern Baptist's ABCs of Salvation (Admit, Believe, Confess - click here for a free printable explanation, with go-along verses).

For our non-gluten and dairy free option, I made homemade gummy candies (using the recipe from Not So Idle Hands, and Jolly Rancher Jell-O in various flavors), cut into ABS with a cookie cutter, after they were set.

For the story of Jesus restoring sight to a blind man from John 9, I went very simple with "mud" pudding cups, topped with crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, and gummy worms. For a non-gluten option, I left the cookies (though you can purchase gluten free sandwich cookies) and gummy worms off.  We also made a special batch of Hershey's chocolate pudding, using chocolate almond milk, for a lactose free alternative.

With the exception of milk (chocolate, plain, and chocolate almond) served with the cookies, we served water with the snacks for most of the week, since the snacks were already sugary, and we had very hot weather.

But, to keep it fun, I made dolphin ice cubes to add to the cups (using silicone trays, found in a dollar bin at our local K-mart).  Each child got one plain dolphin ice cube, or a Kool-Aid dolphin (if they drank the water quickly, they could eat the dolphin like a little popsicle piece - or they could drink slowly and let it melt into their water as they drank it) in their cup.

On our last day, we had a short program for the parents, followed by a mini-dinner.  We made a few hundred dolphin ice cubes to go with Blue Hawaiian Punch, cut four watermelon into clam shapes (I cut two, and ask another family to cut two (ours were not as pretty as the other family's but I did come out of it with some tips, I hope to share in another post).

We made crescent roll sandwich crabs (which I totally missed taking a picture of, but you can find examples of on Pinterest, or here, in Google images) with green olive eyes on pretzel sticks.

And, a platter of hot dog wiener octopi (instructions here).

We cut bell pepper octopi to top store bought dips on vegetable trays...

...and used up left over rice Krispie treats, by cutting them into ABCs or squares decorated with blue frosting, fish crackers and sprinkles (following instructions from The First Year blog), which we placed out on a tray labeled with our Nicodemus story card, and a explanation of the ABCs of salvation)

We also filled a couple of large bowls with Cheetos (for corral), and fish crackers mixed with blue and green M&Ms, using the rest of the colors from the bag in several batches of cookies (which we labeled as "diving for pearl" cookies, to go along with a theme of one of the games the children had played during the week where they sought out colored marbles - which they called pearls).

Add to that a couple of bowls of chocolate pudding (regular and lactose free) with a separate bowl of crushed cookie topping, labeled with our Jesus and the blind man story card, and a bowl with our left over Sour Patch Kids, labeled "Wee Little Men" along with our Zacchaeus story card, and it wasn't too bad a spread.

Set atop blue plastic table cloths on a couple of long tables, it looked in keeping with the Submerged theme, and provided enough memory prompts to encourage children to share stories of the week with their parents - which I was very happy to over-hear a number of children doing enthusiastically.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Speak Russian Like a Minion

With the exception of Japanese, all of the languages the children have been studying, in our house, have alphabets very similar to our own.  This summer, we've been playing around with some of the other alphabets out there - not to seriously, and really just for fun.

I'm not sure how it works for iPads or iPhones, but Amazon offers a number of free apps for Kindles.  Many of them have advertisements, or offers to buy products within them, but most are just straight forward, extended samples of the games.  They are great for when you just want to play around, or check something, like the Cyrillic alphabet, out.

So, besides alphabets, we've also been working through a number of different apps,  this summer. Which, is how we happened onto ABC. Russian Letters, from ABCgamesoft.

It's a very simple, flashcard style app for the Cyrillic alphabet.  I don't speak Russian, so I can't tell you if the pronunciations are any good or not - but I can tell you, the voice (of the ladybug?) sounds just like a Minion. 

It's had everybody in the room laughing, and repeating the words, and letter sounds aloud (a very important, but difficult to encourage step in language learning).

If you're looking to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, or just looking for a fun way to pass some time, and have a laugh, I can highly recommend this app.  I mean really, who doesn't want to speak Russian like a Minion?