Back To School and Bannock Recipe

Last year, when my son was two (almost three) years old, I decided to start our adventure into homeschooling. Beginning at this young of an age has given me the practice of routine, scheduling, and also getting to know my son’s learning style all before we enter into the school aged years that will eventually require more depth, focus, and discipline.  We learned how to read an write our alphabet, counting and writing numbers, basic shape and color recognition, and we explored more abstract concepts through various books we read. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience to see my son absorb knowledge, and I was excited when he started to express interest in reading and math toward the end of the year.

After a summer break (which included an amazing vacation), I have been so excited to get into our homeschooling routine again. This year, however, I decided to include a lot more material to meet his interests and abilities. I receive a ton of questions regarding how I’m homeschooling him. Do I use a curriculum? What is my routine? How do I plan? It’s always a little awkward trying to answer those, because truth be told I’m just trying to go with the flow. I’m still sorting through what works best for my son and me, and it takes a lot of trial and error before getting it right.  So far I think we are starting this year off with a good rhythm, and as we get better at the routine of having a designated “school time”, I’m feeling significantly more confident in my abilities for the future.

With regards to curriculum, there are a variety of resources we are using this year:

Five In A Row – Five In A Row is a literature based curriculum that covers a little bit of everything. Each week we have a book that we read together, and various themes and lessons are pulled from the story. The curriculum provides weekly ideas on math, science, literature, geography, and art to create a well rounded curriculum that is very much appropriate for young children. The expectation of Five In A Row is simply to read and converse with your children. It’s nothing fancy and tedious, and it’s effective (at least it has been with my son). There are ideas for extra activities to go along with each book, however, most of the learning is intended to take place via reading and discussion. We use Five In A Row for geography (each book takes place in a different place), science, art, and any other abstract subject presented in the curriculum. For other subjects, particularly reading and math, my son needed/wanted something a little more concrete.

Math U See – As someone who had significant struggles in math, I have come to adore Math U See. It’s manipulative based in that the curriculum uses block pieces (think legos) to physically demonstrate the concepts being taught. I also love how the lessons build on one another. The sequence of learning follows a logical path – introduce, review, practice, master – and the order in which students progress helps solidify their understanding of concepts. At the moment we are using the primer, which has been amazing. We’ve gotten through basic number identification and counting, identifying shapes, and at the moment we are introducing place value. We picked up Math U See toward the end of last year, and this year we are continuing his lessons at the pace he naturally sets for himself. The good thing about the primer is that, unlike the rest of Math U See, it is not meant to provide mastery. It’s simply an easy way to introduce math in preparation for future lessons, so it’s great for younger ages. It’s a significant relief for me to see that my son is forming a love for math, because that was a major stumbling block all through my personal school experience.

Spelling-You-See – Since Math U See has worked so well, I decided to pick up Spelling-You-See to help with reading and writing. It’s a very simple workbook that teaches basic phonics. So far the progress I’ve seen has been absolutely wonderful, and my son learned very quickly how to sound out small words.

Time To Read Hebrew: A very simple workbook series that teaches Hebrew. You are given a few letters at a time, and immediately you begin seeing them used in words (for example, the first letters you learn are shin, bet, and tav…which spell “Shabbat”).  We use the workbook as a guide for progress, but mostly we are working with various games we play with flashcards.

The Bible Story Series by Arthur S. Maxwell – Chances are you’ve seen these books while sitting in a doctor’s office. They are everywhere, and yet most people don’t pay too much attention to them. Yes, they are a little outdated in artistry (think 1950’s or 60’s), however, I am finding these books to be fantastic reads for my son. The main focus I have at the moment with regards to teaching my son the Bible is simply familiarizing the stories. What has worked the absolute best for us has been to follow the model Five In A Row intends – we simply read through the story and discuss. These books are associated with Seventh Day Adventists, though there are very few grand theological pushes within the stories. The thing I absolutely love about this series is the fact that it covers Biblical stories your typical storybook Bibles leave out (for example – we just the other day read a chapter specifically about Enoch, and later on they cover various prophets that are seldom mentioned in storybook bibles).  While I do have to switch up some of the language while I’m reading (again, a few decades outdated), I do find these books to be a great way to introduce my son to the Bible (on top of the children’s Bibles we’ve already been reading).

Our first couple of weeks started out smoothly! Week number one was a lot of short, sweet, and simple activities that got us back in the swing of having a “school” time in the morning. I introduced the theme of Geography, and we spent a lot of time studying the map we now have hanging on our wall. Together we read Flat Stanley, and he even created his own Flat Stanley for The Flat Stanley Project! (Now, I just have to send those out…)

Week number two was a little closer to what I’m aiming for a far as goals and routine. We started Five In A Row with the book The Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews, which introduced us to Canada! More specifically we focused on Inuit culture. We placed our story disk on Ungava Bay, learned about how the Inuit fish beneath large blocks of ice , we studied igloos, and we also listened to Inuit throat singing (it was hilarious watching my son give that a try). We also learned about aurora borealis (northern lights). This provided an awesome opportunity to introduce my son to water colors while we painted pictures of the northern lights!

I also have a goal of bringing the various cultures we learn about into our home through food. I’m hoping that with each location we “visit” in his schoolwork, we try at least one culinary dish from that culture.

Since we were learning about Inuit culture, our food this week was bannock!

Bannock is a type of bread that can be found in a variety of cultures, but is pretty popular among the Inuit. Essentially it is flour that’s been fried in lard or shortening, and can be eaten in a variety of ways. We made ours for breakfast, and included some jam to go along with it. To make it extra delicious, you can sprinkle some powdered sugar on top for a tasty treat (it’s similar to an elephant ear you would find at a fair).

My son loved the stuff, and gobbled down the entire batch before noon. It’s super easy to make, and I will definitely be making it again as a special treat!

Bannock 

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
water
2 cups shortening

Directions

In a frying pan on medium heat, heat the shortening.

While you are waiting for the shortening to completely melt, mix together in a separate bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Gradually add water, mixing it well, until you have the consistency of batter.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot shortening. Once the bottom is golden brown, flip it over once to brown the other side.

There are a variety of ways to serve bannock. As I said, eating it with jam is a tasty breakfast and sprinkling them with powdered sugar makes them a delicious treat. However, you can also eat them with soups and stews!

My Free Range Childhood

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s you could look around my hometown and see kids wondering the streets unsupervised on a regular basis. Among those kids you would almost always find a ten year old me riding my bike to the park or pool down the street, or walking the 1 1/2 miles to the public library or Tasty Freeze. If I wanted to go to the mall or a movie, my parents had no qualms with dropping me and my friends off for a couple hours. If I wanted to go to a friend’s house within town, I didn’t have to wait until I had a ride. My feet were perfectly capable of taking me.

If I wasn’t around town I was running through the woods in my backyard. I built forts, climbed trees, scrapped my legs on thorn bushes, brushed through poison ivy, played war games, had campfires, and generally lived as if I were Pocahontas herself from the time I woke up to well past dark. If my parents needed me they could step outside and yell my name, but I was otherwise left to do as I pleased without their hovering as a distraction.

I was to a tee a free range kid, but that wasn’t what it was called back then. Instead it was simply refereed to as being a kid. My parents always knew my whereabouts. They trusted that I exercise the caution they taught me, and simply let me be.

These days when I visit my hometown I take a glimpse around and realize that while there were once handfuls of kids roving the place, I have seen very few unsupervised children lately. The kids at tasty freeze or the library are almost always accompanied by an adult. Children on bikes seem to be confined to their driveways rather than allowed to zip through the neighborhood.  I don’t remember the last time I saw a kid under 16 in a movie theater or mall by themselves. Times have drastically changed since I’ve grown up.

On one hand I can understand why this is. It is incredibly easy for parents to imagine in very vivid ways the driver of a rusty windowless van sitting at the side of a park, beckoning young children to get in. It’s a chilling thought, but it’s also mostly one of the imagination rather than practicality. We’ve heard it said that times have changed since “back in the day”, but that seems to be an assumption built out of emotion rather than evidence. In fact, when we do look at evidence we can find that times have actually gotten better. The chances of a “stereotypical kidnapping” (a case of a stranger snatching a child) is extremely rare.

In a 2011 report it is noted that homicide rates in general have “declined to levels last seen in the mid-1960’s“, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, with the majority of homicide cases against children being the fault of a parent or other family member. If you’ve ever stopped to look at the missing person’s bulletin board at Walmart you can see that most cases of kidnappings involve a custody issue within families, or a runaway situation.

It is heavily unlikely that a child will be picked up at the mall by a stranger, yet I rarely see kids hanging out in the food court alone with their friends like I used to do. What’s far more likely is a stranger meeting a child through social media, and yet there are more children at younger ages carrying their own smartphones and laptops. The idea of allowing children the freedom to explore their physical locations unsupervised is becoming significantly more challenged by the justice system (you can see a few cases here, here, and here). However, the idea of a 12 year old having practically unlimited access to the internet isn’t as widely considered to be neglectful.

It is natural parental instinct to constantly worry over a child’s safety, and it can sometimes be a struggle to make decisions that effect their well being. There is a comfort in having control over a situation, and when a child is under direct supervision it is easier to believe they are doing okay than when they’re allowed to drift on their own. Strangers can’t threaten them, bullies can’t hurt their feelings, and we can step in when they’re about to break a bone. Not only is it hard to trust the world around them, but it is also hard to trust them. It’s almost as if there is a piece of parental subconscious that believes children have no regard for their own well being, and lack any awareness of safety. Whether we want to admit this out loud or not, it is easy to withhold trust unfairly rather than giving them the space to take responsibility over their own security.

Is our knee-jerk reaction to be overly safe the best for their long-term welfare? Hovering over our children will grant us the ability to swoop in when a situation becomes uncomfortable, but at some point the lessons children will learn from their freedom will outweigh the risks taken when parents let go of some control. As I think back on my own experience as a free range kid I strongly believe that the freedom I had as a rover instilled some of the traits I find most useful as an adult.

If I wanted to go somewhere in town, and my grandmother (who raised me) was too busy to drive me, I was told to walk. To this day I maintain a “if you want something done, do it yourself” mentality that has gotten me through a number of stressful situations where I couldn’t rely on others. The idea of walking a mile to get ice cream, or to meet a friend, or to pick up a book from the library, or to buy supplies from the hardware store for a creative project was not foreign to me. I was motivated to abandon a little bit of laziness in place of determination. My schedule wasn’t under the dictatorship of my parent’s schedule, which allowed me the opportunity to learn how to manage my time and efforts. To this day my determination can get me up and going when I need something done my way, and I have always blamed that on the fact that my grandmother told me to walk myself from point A to point B if I wanted to do something bad enough.

Not only was responsibility and character built through free-ranging, but I also feel I had a better sense of safety than I would have, had my parents chosen to hover. If they were going to let me out and about unsupervised, they were going to be sure I knew how to handle myself in various situations. My freedom provided opportunities for us to discuss the common sense of keeping safe, and had I spent my childhood with an adult helicoptering over my every move I doubt it would have been as effective. I would have grown up with the expectation that my parents had my safety and well being covered, rather than understanding that I share responsibility in taking care of myself. When I walked through a neighborhood without my parents I was well aware that I needed to be cognizant of anything suspect.

And yet, I also believe that it helped me keep reality in perspective. The majority of people out and about are generally good, and I was comfortable accepting help from strangers when I needed it. Asking to borrow an unknown person’s cell phone at the library to call home when needed (which I did once or twice) is a far cry from climbing into the back seat of a windowless van. Rather than encouraging fear and over caution, my parents allowed me to have a healthy mix of common sense and a comfort in seeking help when I needed it. It is without a doubt necessary to teach  “stranger danger”, however, as we go through life we will find that strangers are significantly more likely to lend a helping hand rather than carry evil intentions. Had I been more sheltered I would have been less able to accept that help. As I grew into the person I am today I couldn’t count the number of times simple acts of kindness from strangers helped make my life a little easier, and in turn my comfort has allowed me to be on the giving end of these interactions . A dear friend and role model of mine once said to me that it is easier to instill caution than it is to get over fear, and I could not agree more. I didn’t start off afraid of the world around me. Instead I became aware of true dangers after I saw that most people at the library, or the park, or the public pool were regular humans. As an adult I realize that if something were to ever truly go wrong while I’m out and about, it would be these strangers who I would call out to for help.

But aside from the lessons and responsibility I’ve gained, the true benefit of my free range life was having a real and genuine childhood. I have been bumped, bruised, and my skin has been permanently scarred, but with each injury I have a history that I wouldn’t trade for the world. With my parents inside the house and unable to disrupt our activities in the middle of the woods with their watchful presence, the other kids and I shared a world that no one else could ever experience. No one could understand the battle lines of our war games, and our inside jokes will never make sense to an outsider. We trusted each other in a way that is incredibly unique among children, and encouraged each other to take new risks and overcome challenges. We developed teamwork and comradery while building forts and attempting the crazy ideas we came up with. We knew how to be silly, we knew how to be brave, we knew how to productively argue with one another, we knew how to encourage each other, we knew how to pick ourselves up when we fell, we knew where to find adventure, we knew how to make the most out of our carefree days. We knew how to live, because those were the first moments in life we were free to be who we were separate from authority.

Someday my son will experience something I could never be part of. He will have a world separate from anything I could understand, and there will be things he won’t be able to find the words sufficient enough to explain to me. My hope is that I can trust him enough to look out for himself, and that wherever we are at that time it is a place where I feel comfortable unleashing him. If I’m able to do that, I know he will learn things I could never teach him. They would be the type of things a child only learns while their parents are not looking. They are the things that will help shape him into the person I want him to be.

The Color Box Game

Most parents will tell you that one of the most favored toys in the history of childhood is a cardboard box. You can purchase the most flashy expensive toy on the market, and the box will hands down be the highlight of a child’s experience.

Lucky for us we purchase many of our groceries from Amazon’s subscribe and save store, which is really great in that it makes life significantly easier (and cheaper). I say we’re lucky because we have a toddler in the house, and it leaves us with an…Amazon…of cardboard boxes in the garage. In the back of my mind I’m always considering how I could use our ever growing collection of cardboard, and I’m well aware there are plenty of activities that can utilize those boxes. Everything from forts to pretend vehicles of various sorts, they are certainly the easiest way of keeping my son entertained.

With our latest delivery of Amazon groceries coming in yesterday, I’ve revisited the possibility of using the boxes for a new activity. I’ve also been thinking of new ways to encourage color recognition, as he’s starting to show some understanding in that subject.

And that’s why we now have the color box game in our house.

Cardboard boxes. Practice with color recognition. Gross motor activity. Spacial awareness. It’s a really great game that we spent a full hour playing today (and then another fifteen minutes after nap time).

The set up is pretty simple. To make the die, take a small box and wrap it in white paper (I used the reverse side of wrapping paper). On each side of the die use a marker to make a large colorful dot, with the name of that color written above it.

Find 1 large box for each color. Offering a variety of different shapes and sizes creates a more interesting challenge. Cut off the top flaps of each boxes, and tape down construction paper to the floor of the boxes. Arrange the boxes so that they are all standing beside one another.

The game is simple. Have the child roll the die, and climb into the box matching whatever color it lands on!

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Snow Painting

Snow happens about one time a year around these parts, and it rarely lasts beyond a day. This year we had a bit of odd weather patterns which brought us one day of pure ice followed by an evening snow fall (which will probably be gone by tomorrow morning). Coming from Chicago I had to get used to the lack of snow, which is the one thing I miss the most about my Midwestern roots. Come December I start getting a small tug in my heart when I think of the things my son is missing from my own childhood experiences.

So I have to take advantage of what I can get, even if it’s just pure ice that only looks like snow. We woke up this morning, had our breakfast, and immediately bundled up in our winter gear. Before stepping outside I paused just long enough to gather what was needed to make our ice excursion into an art project.

And that is how snow painting became a thing around here.

This time around I only used one color. It was a spur of the moment decision, so I didn’t have much time to prepare more colors. It only took about 1 minute to throw together. I filled the bottle with water, dropped a decent amount of food coloring in it, and outside we went!

At first we were distracted by the thick layer of ice that covered the entire driveway, especially since our driveway is on a hill. After a number of rounds of sliding down the ice on our bottoms, we then made beautiful art on the snow/ice covered porch. I had to demonstrate a couple of times, but once little man decided to give it a try he thought it was the best thing ever. There were lots of adorable giggles.

Snow Paint

What You Need:
Water
Food coloring
Water bottle

What To Do:
Mix water and food coloring in a bottle, and squirt it on to the snow to make art!

Clean Mud

Snow days (or if you’re from around here, they’re more like “ice days”) can be fun, but once outside time is over you’re left asking “what now?”. Being trapped in the house can mean a bad case of cabin fever. Throw a toddler into the mix, and you have a situation on your hands.

Needless to say, I had to think of something quick and easy to whip together. We played blocks, trains, cars, read books, colored, and we still found ourselves bored. On top of this, it was getting to be “that hour”.

You know, the one that hits between 3-4 PM where it’s too early for dinner, but the kiddo has just about had it for the day? Yeah.

Much to my relief we had all the ingredients needed to make “clean mud”, and we were able to get through the pre-dinner meltdown hours meltdown free. Even the preparation is an activity in and of itself. We were able to watch the ivory soap experiment (heating it in the microwave), and unraveling the toilet paper was quite exciting.  At first he was a bit unsure of what to make of the actual “mud”, but after a few pokes and probes he quickly realized what fun this could be. It was a parenting win.

Clean Mud
Ingredients
2 bars of ivory soap
1 roll of toilet paper
2 cups warm water

Directions
Heat the ivory soap in the microwave for 1 minute (one bar at a time). If you’ve never put ivory soap in the microwave before, be sure to watch it puff up! In a large bowl, mix the heated soap and water together.

Unravel the toilet paper from the roll, and place it in a container (don’t worry, you will have less mud than the mountain of toilet paper looks like). Carefully pour the water/soap mixture into the pile of toilet paper a little at a time. Knead it all together in between pours. Once everything is well mixed, it’s time to play (as if preparing this stuff wasn’t enough play already)!

Fizz Painting

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a die hard fan of vinegar and baking soda. Between the cool science experiments and the fact that it’s a non-toxic way to clean just about everything, who doesn’t love baking soda and vinegar? It’s a treasure in the land of motherhood.

Which brings us to the very simple art activity of fizz painting.

It requires ingredients that you would usually have laying around the house, so chances are you can make a last minute activity out of this when your children are going bonkers for something to do. As he normally does when I present something new to him, my boy spent the first few minutes simply observing with curiosity as I showed him what to do. The moment he decided to give it a try, however, he was enthralled.

Of course, the activity didn’t end when all the colors were used up. Oh no, not with this little man. The fun continued when he ran to his sensory/art supply shelves and pulled out some fun things to play with, including sponges, paper, and paint brushes. This quickly turned into a full on art project. I know, sometimes that’s a headache to deal with, but it’s also the type of initiative I (personally) like to encourage.

So, although I expected this to be an easy-clean up project , I feel it was even more successful than originally anticipated since he chose to let his creativity loose.

Fizz Painting

What You Need:
Baking soda
Vinegar
Food coloring
Plastic bowls or something to hold the colors in
A 9X13 casserole dish
Eye Droppers

Directions:
Spread a layer of baking soda in the casserole dish.

In each bowl or container, mix food coloring with vinegar.

Use the eye droppers to drop the vinegar into the baking soda, and watch it fizz! For added fun, use the mushy mixture to paint!

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Homemade Scented Play Dough

Homemade play dough is the thing to do these days. I sometimes wonder how much profit Hosbro has lost as Pintrest and mommy-blogs pick up in popularity, spreading the millions of play dough recipes out there.

I’m not against regular store bought play dough. I don’t believe it’s harmful, or that buying it proves someone loves their child less. In fact, I’m most certain that one of these days we’ll have a few store-bought play dough supplies strung around this house.

The creative side of me, however, wins over this time around.  I finally had a chance to try out something I’ve been wanting to do…scented play dough.

I know, I know. Using koolaid powder isn’t everyone’s idea of a good children’s activity. I’ve had a number of crunchy friends shake their head over this. Oh well. We had fun, and as far as I can tell my kid hasn’t grown any weird mutations from playing with such non-organic junk. In fact, I don’t think he ate any of it at all.

If you’re not afraid of koolaid exposure, try this one out. I did find that the colors were not all what I expected. I forgot that the green packets actually turn pinkish once mixed with water. Next time I’ll just mix the yellow and blue (I really wanted the green one). I also will end up skipping some of the pinks since there was an abundance of that, and rather than the regular cherry flavor I’ll give “dark cherry” a try next time. I’m hoping for a deeper red.

I was really happy to see how much fun this stuff brought, and I even had the chance to get some chores done while it had my little guy distracted. For extra fun I threw in spoons, cups, colorful feathers, and popsicle sticks. Next time we play with it (because I did store it for another time) I’ll add in cookie cutters.

Scented Play dough

Ingredients 
(each recipe is for one color,which equals to about 1 regular container of play dough, maybe a little more)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 envelope koolaid mix
2 tsp cream tartar
1 cup water
1 tbs oil

Directions:
Mix flour, salt, koolaid powder, and cream of tartar in a sauce pan. Stir in water and oil. Heat over medium heat, stirring regularly.

Dough will begin to form a clump in the middle of the pan (about 5 minutes). Once desired texture is formed, take the pot off of heat and let dough cool.1424478855.png