Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lessons in a Book Winter Pt 4; Winter Wonderland Edition

Uncle Andrew busting it up.

L1 is excited. This weekend we are headed on our yearly trip to the mountains. Grandma made the slight mistake of telling him we were going in one week, which is unfathomable to a 3yo. He was ready to go RIGHT.THEN. It didn't help that it snowed the next day. And has kind of snowed everyday since. He calls Grandma to tell her he needs his snowmobile and is ready to go.

L1's new jacket and Arctic Cat hat.
So, of course, our weekly trip to the library required a search for snow related books. We ended up with a GORGEOUS non-fiction work called The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder. It is filled with microscopic photographs of snowflakes, in all their glory. I love it, my boys like to flip through it and describe the flakes rather than read the information.

Monday: Our family is a snowmobiling family. We take many precautions when riding with the boys: there are harnesses to keep them strapped to us, and helmets that are REQUIRED, no exceptions. Also, being out in the snow means layers of clothing. So, Monday we will be having getting dressed races! I will split clothes to two ends of the hallway, then run back and forth putting on the next piece. We aren't concerned about teaching them to be in the harness, as they are very familiar with baby wearing, but we are concerned about them adjusting to wearing a helmet. Snowmobile helmets are full head and face, and can be daunting for kids. So, we will spend some time trying them on, getting them adjusted and hopefully getting comfortable with them.

Tuesday: Snow scenes! Paint, glitter glue, cotton balls, sequins. Need I say more?

Not your average Grandma!
Wednesday: We are making SNOW! I don't expect to have any real snow by then, so we have a snow making kit. If we happen to be lucky enough to have snow, we will be out playing in it. And maybe making some Snow Cream. (Just hush up about dirty snow.)

Snow Cream
1 gallon snow
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp vanilla
2 cups milk (in our case, almond)
Stir and eat!

What do your kids like to do when it snows?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lessons in a Picture Book Pt 3

This week, we continue to explore Eric Carle books. This week: Walter the Baker. I really do love Carle's style, the stories are simple and I can expand on them easily, the colors are bright and hold's even L2's attention.

We love a book about cooking. "It like Daddy! He cooks, like at Daddy's restaurant!" My boys have their own aprons and tools, including knives from Pampered Chef.

Monday: We won't jump right into cooking this week, as you might think. This book has another important message in it. How we treat people. My boys are generally sweet and caring, but we all need reminders sometimes. When Walter's rolls fail to please the Duke and Duchess, they throw them at his feet and banish him from the city in the wall. So, we are going to build a wall, and make our city inside it. This will have one of two outcomes: L1 will invite his brother to join us, but L2 will knock things down causing anger and frustration. Or, L1 will disallow L2 into the wall, which will end just as badly. I am hoping that by intentionally creating these situations, I will be in a better frame of mind to help them work through the issues that have become frequent in our home. In the story, a cat knocking over milk is the beginning of the end for Walter. So, it really does all lead to a great chance to work through this typical sibling behavior.

Tuesday: Making Pretzels! Yay! I am going to give this recipe a try, though if you have another that you KNOW works, I would love to try it. I am hoping it holds up well enough for the boys to really try and create their own shapes.

EDIT: This recipe is faulty in wording. I am trying things out to see if I can fix it, and contacting original author.

Gluten Free Soft Pretzels Recipe

Pretzel Ingredients:
  • 2-1/4 cups warm water
  • 2 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1 bag Pamela’s Gluten-Free Bread Mix including yeast packet
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 butter or margarine, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp powdered cinnamon
Pretzel Directions:
  1. Whisk together 1-1/4 cups warm water, brown sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Allow to sit for a few minutes until bubbles begin to show yeast activity.
  2. Pour Pamela’s Gluten-Free Bread Mix into a large bowl. Stir in olive oil and the yeast mixture until completely combined.
  3. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise for one hour.
  4. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and divide dough into twelve pieces.
  5. With wet hands, roll each piece into a “snake” between six and eight inches in length. Lay the snake onto the parchment paper, then gently flatten the dough with wet fingers until about half previous height.
  6. Pick up one end of the snake, so that half of its length is lifted from the cookie tray. Twist the dough 360° and gently lay the end down again. Pick up the other end of the dough and give it a full twist in the same direction. Smooth any rough spots with wet fingers.
  7. Repeat with each section of dough, so that both cookie trays have six pretzel twists on them.
  8. Cover both trays with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest for another 30 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 450°.
  10. Mix remaining cup of warm water and baking soda. Using a pastry brush, gently paint the twists with the baking soda mixture.
  11. Bake twists for 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown.Brush with butter and sprinkle salt.

Thursday: Once Walter gains the approval for his pretzels from the Duke and Duchess, he makes a giant basket of them to share with the townspeople. Thursday we will be taking our treats to a play date to share with our friends. There are many allergies/sensitivities in our group, so I hope they will be well received. 

We also have a bit of a bonus Lesson in a Picture Book this week: Over at Little View of a Big World we have been wandering Seattle with Larry the Dog. This week we plan to visit the Freemont Troll, tour a chocolate factory, and eat some yummy Thai food. L1 will have his camera, and we hope to share the adventure with you!

Giving Un-Schooling a Fancy New Title (Or, My Understanding of TJEd)

Yesterday, we attended the TJEd Basics Workshop I mentioned. And, came away with some interesting insights.

First: I stood out. Way out. I am not unused to this, I do it to myself. But, the other women all seemed 10-15 years older than I am, and wore the "mommy" jeans and sweater combo. I'm rocking the bright colors these days. Head to toe, and they felt the need to mention each piece. "How do you get your hair that color?!" (I stood under a unicorn and he pissed on me. How do you think?!) "Wow, I didn't realize they made Care Bear socks for adults." "Oh, even your husband has color in his hair. My husband would never do that." Yeah, well, that brings us to the second point.

My husband and I seemed to be the only couple at least NEAR the same page with each other. Mike was the one who wanted to attend this workshop. He was the ONLY guy. Not only that, each woman at some point in the class said something about their husbands "Being on board, but just along for the ride" as far as teaching their children. And that was the nice version. While I know the bulk of my children's time learning is spent with me, Mike and I are a team. We have different things to offer our children, and different approaches that hopefully compliment each other. I thanked him a number of times during the day for not being a "stand aside Dad" (actually, I used the term douche nozzle) and not just "letting" me teach our children, but being an active part of it as well.

Third: Most of these women were pretty tight laced. A few mentioned limiting their children's access from "bent" or "broken" books and keep their focus on "whole" or "healing"  to going so far as to not even allowing their children to pick their own books. I don't think I should limit my children's choice in books. They are all learning opportunities, and my place is to be there to talk with them and work through any questions that may arise. I feel if they are old enough to question an idea, they are old enough to learn about it in developmentally appropriate terms. One example was someone's daughter was "very distressed" while reading Mein Kampf because "It was confusing to her to read about someone she knew to be an evil man, yet read that there were positive things he did." Uh, yeah. Things are not always black and white. Hitler was EVIL, don't get me wrong, but it was an autobiography, of course he is going to make himself sound good. This is an important lesson. And one anyone old enough to read Mein Kampf should be ready to understand. (That book is horribly written, I didn't get more than a few chapters.)

AND THEEENN? (ala "Dude, Where's My Car?")

My true impression (based on these women) is that TJEd is pretty much unschooling retitled to avoid the negative stereotypes. They focus on learning through play as a child, looking back to when ideas were original to understand the evolution of thought, trusting your child's instinct to learn based on their interests, creating a foundation of learning that stays with the child so they eventually seek learning alone, and all while relearning those same instincts in yourself and continuing your education as a model for your children.

I don't feel I learned anything new. I am a little resentful Mike and I spent our first day without kids (we were gone 9 hours!) in a tiny church classroom and I didn't really get much out of it. But, Mike was glad we went and felt it did allow us to act more cohesively in our planning our boy's education. So, I guess it wasn't a total loss. Oh, and there was Taco Del Mar for lunch. So, not a total loss of a day. :-)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lessons in a Picture Book pt 2

This week we are feeling like being creative. Lots of coloring, painting, cutting, gluing, and shaping. Our book of inspiration plays right into this! Eric Carle's Draw Me a Star. The plan isn't a difficult one. Each day, I will pull out a different medium from our crafting supplies. Then we can read through the book, starting where we left off the day before (whenever the energy drained from the activity!)

Monday: The book starts simply. Draw a star. Draw a sun. So on. So, we will use crayons, markers, and pencils to draw.

Tuesday (Maybe Wednesday): paint. I am thinking of introducing my boys to fingerpaint. I love finger painting, I have been overly concerned about the mess. So, I picked up some new paint smocks from IKEA (Ok, they are meant to be bibs. They work.) and we are going to get messy. Honestly, I wish it would be decent enough weather to do this on my covered porch outside.

Thursday (or Friday): Tissue paper and glue. This is the method Eric Carle uses for his artwork. By tearing the tissue into shapes, then overlaying the drawing on top. I am pretty sure our art will be pretty abstract, but what kid doesn't like to rip up paper and play with glue?

This week is all about exploring our creative options. I have not been very good at digging into our well supplied art kit, even though my boys love it. They don't ask, and I rarely offer because I am lazy about cleaning it up afterwards. My other goal is to get in and make a mess with them. I don't have to take the time cleaning elsewhere in the house, and then be resentful to come back to their mess. I am going to make my own mess, and not try to manage theirs. We are going to have space to do what we like with our art, and hopefully enjoy ourselves and each other. Dang, I hope that isn't too much to ask!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Finding our Learning Niche

I have always known I would never send my children to industrialized  (public or private) school if it was at all possible. I have home schooled children in the past, and loved seeing children who were once suffering in the system become very involved, intelligent young adults. The children I home schooled each required their own style. One very structured with specific assignments I would devise based on what I perceived to be her interests (my guesses seemed pretty spot on) with pretty strict due dates. We tried other routes, but that was all that worked for her. The younger one started out very frustrated, not being able to read in the 3rd grade. When given the opportunity to learn his own way, and choose his own topics, he excelled. He would pick his topics, devise a system for attaining the information, and create a way to present what he was learning. The youngest was very little, so there wasn't really structure for him, mostly playing and manipulatives to assess. 

That said, I thought I had a pretty good idea on how to shape my children's learning experiences.  Follow their cues, meet them where they are, encourage them to reach farther. We are still a young family, so we haven't really begun "school," but I had ideas. IDEAS, ya hear?
L1 playing with our sensory tub.

My husband has always been on board with this, in the way he is on board with most of the ideas I have: "Sounds good to me," without anymore input that that. Don't get me wrong, I love that he just accepts my ideas and follows through. Sometimes, a girl would appreciate a little feedback.

Then a friend introduced us to Thomas Jefferson Education. I thought the book was great at explaining the "why" industrialized schools tend to fail so many children. The theory is "conveyor belt" education is set up like a factory: everyone in the class gets the same education at the same age from the same textbooks, and they are tested the same and graded based upon the same scale regardless of their individual talents, goals, interests, personal mission. Conformity is the name of the game in public education. But, I ask: What is it? The site's answer is "Once you’ve read five classics in math, five in science, five in history, and five in literature, you won’t be asking that question anymore." Well, ok. Thanks?

Why is this topic for discussion then? Remember my "supportive, but no-feedback giving" husband? Yeah, he read the book too. And he loves the ideas. So much, he really wants to use this format for our homeschooling endeavors. Guess I should be careful what I wish for? No, I'm just kidding. But, that is all well and good, I am glad he is excited, and has ideas, and wants to be a part of this. But still: HOW DO WE DO THIS?

Luckily, the TJEd group in our area is already organized. There are book groups, field trips, classes, etc. And this weekend there is a Basics Workshop. So, we registered, and hopefully we will learn more about it.

I am still feeling like I am more of a relaxed style, and don't really like the idea of structuring learning. But, I know a) My husband is looking for a style that is a little more "tangible" and "traditional" and b) My sons might need that kind of structure, so I may as well gain some insight to a way to do so without tedious workbooks and tests. The idea of teaching as the true geniuses of the past learned does spark an interest for me. I hope this workshop will have lots of great information for our family.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lesson in a Picture Book

I am hoping to start planning more activities to keep us busy during the week. We have been watching too many movies, and the boys started asking for them ALL. THE. TIME. So, as I used to do when I worked as a home-based teacher, I picked a book and created a "Lesson Plan" out of it. And, I thought I would share it.

You may or may not know, I have been wanting pancakes lately. So, I figured we could make some. And what do you know: there is a children's book about just that! Eric Carle's Pancakes Pancakes. I figured we could do just one activity a day, with our week being 3 days this week (because of other scheduled activities.)

Monday: Read the book. The book explores where each ingredient in the pancake comes from. Something I think our society is very disconnected from. Milk from the cow, egg from the chicken, flour from wheat, ect. I don't have access to a farm where we can see these things, but I can find videos online!
Milking a cow
Gathering eggs (I was going to find a video of egg laying, but I didn't find any that showed anymore than the chicken's backsides.)
Wheat to Flour (Plus an activity book I found for older kids, thought I would share.)

Wednesday: Because L2 is gluten, soy, and dairy free we needed an alternative recipe. I found this one over at The MommypotamusSo, we will be making Almond Meal from raw almonds in our food processor. We'll see how it turns out! We will also make fresh butter. Not dairy free, but I have yet to find a homemade butter dairy free, and this is any easy activity for kiddos. Besides, only L2 is sensitive (and my restriction my breastfeeding association.)

Homemade Butter:
Glass jar with lid
1/2 pint of cream

Leave cream out on counter overnight. Pour into jar, seal lid. Shake it! Steady shaking until it separates forming a ball. Pour our buttermilk. Add water, gently shake to rinse. Drain water, consume!

EDIT: My friend found a link to making two butter alternatives! I think we will be trying the olive oil one since finding soy free miso seems too big a challenge.

Thursday: Pancake time! Yay! (Talk about delayed satisfaction!) Mixing, cooking, eating! Not much more can be said about this, but I will add pictures to this post when we do. My husband is a chef, so my boys are already well on their way to running the kitchen. They are so cute!

We checked out a large collection of Eric Carle books from the library. His themes and style make for great "organic" planning material. The art, the topics, the stories! I hope to plan a few more weeks like this, keep your eyes out!