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!

The Snowy Day

I struck homeschooling gold this week! While planning through the Before Five In A Row curriculum I’m currently using with Hudi, I had scheduled to read The Snowy Day this week. I wanted so badly to be able to have a hands on experience, but there was no way  I could coordinate his curriculum schedule with the weather way back in June (when I was doing the planning). To add on to the struggle, it doesn’t snow here. Not really. We get maybe one or two ice storms a year, and every few years we might get one decent snow (decent being about  1-2 inches of powder). So I took a chance and picked a random week in January, since that was the most likely month (other than February) we’d see snow.

It honestly feels like G-d has blessed our homeschool endeavors, because this was the week we had snow! Not just ice like we normally expect, but about an inch or two of fluffy powder to play in! I had hoped all year (well, since June) for the off chance of this happening, and to my extreme delight it did!

Around here, everything shuts down at just the mildest snow/ice “storm”. It’s not that southerner’s can’t handle the weather (as much as us yankees like to joke about that). It’s the fact that we see so little of winter weather, there’s no point in maintaining the supplies and equipment necessary to keep roads safe.

Growing up in Chicago we had an entire season to space out all of winter’s homey charm. Here we have to jam pack it into the one day a year we see snow. Being stuck at home means you don’t have anywhere to be, which frees you up to spend the day on all the comfy and fun things that make this season special.

Our snow day fun actually started yesterday while we were still keeping an eye on weather reports, and crossing our fingers for a good snowfall. As part of Hudi’s school we did “snow painting”, which was an incredibly easy activity using staple ingredients.

2878756When the snow finally did come the next day (today) we woke up to eat breakfast (french toast), and bundled ourselves up to go play outside. Hudi immediately made the connection between playing in the snow and his book. Just like Peter in The Snowy Day, he made tracks with a stick, attempted to build a snowman, and enjoyed snow ball fights (which was his favorite activity). I also got a little artsy and took his paints outside. There was nothing special about it…I just let him paint the snow! Why this isn’t a more common activity, I don’t know, but we had a whole yard of natural white canvas, so why not?

When we came inside we warmed ourselves up with an incredibly delicious cup of hot chocolate. Candy Land was played over a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup (I keep that recipe to myself…sorry!). We then collected up the bowls we had set out earlier and made snow cream (3 different varieties!).

After spending some time inside, we eventually bundled ourselves up once more and headed back out. More snowballs were tossed at each other, and we took an evening stroll around the block. Our day began to settle down in front of the gas logs, where we had an indoor picnic dinner (once again…homemade chicken noodle soup).

It was exactly what you dream of when you envision a snow day. I’m hoping tomorrow (since this is a rare occasion when the snow isn’t melting within 24 hours apparently) we can make homemade pretzels.

So…the instructions for snow painting, the hot chocolate, and the snow cream we had today…

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Snow Painting
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
Dark construction paper
Paint brushes

Mix the flour, salt, and water together until it’s well combined and forms a sort of paste. This activity is as simple as painting the mixture onto paper. Dark construction paper works best! The final product looks like snow!

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Chocolate Hazelnut Hot Chocolate

Ingredients
8 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
8 TBS nutella
4 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups brown sugar

Directions
In a large saucepan, mix all of the ingredients until well combined. This can also be mixed in a crock pot and left to heat for as long as it takes to warm up enough to be enjoyed.

We definitely used the crock pot so that it could be ready when we came in from the snow!

Garnished with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and sprinkles!

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Snow Cream – Basic Recipe

Ingredients 
8 cups of snow
1 – 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1-3 tsp vanilla

Instructions
Place a bowl outside during a snowfall. To get even more snow, place multiple bowls outside. After a few hours, bring your bowls inside. If you had a few inches of snow, you can also collect the top layer of snow directly from the ground…assuming it’s clean. Have your ingredients ready to go before you bring in the snow, since you’re going to want to work rather quickly before it melts.

For a basic snow cream, add in one can of sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla. You can also add some sugar (white or brown!).

Be gentle with stirring (more like a churn), since you don’t want the snow to melt too quickly.

You can also get creative with your flavors. Simply use the basic recipe as a base, and add any variety of other ingredients. The two other flavors we tried today were…

Chocolate peanut butter: We mixed in a few tablespoons of chocolate syrup, and about three large spoonfuls of peanut butter.

We also created a “bourbon Italian sweet cream” flavor. I poured a little bit (maybe half a cup) of Italian sweet cream coffee cream into the mix, as well as torani bourbon caramel flavoring. I’d suggest maybe 1-2 tablespoons. This one was probably my favorite of the three!

Dyed Sugar Cubes

My son has crazy good dexterity, and his hand eye coordination has a tendency to amaze me. Not even 2 years old  and he can pull the outlet covers out of the sockets (which he doesn’t do much of, thank G-d), and build intricate towers out of his blocks with crazy balancing techniques. I truly enjoy watching him at work when he’s playing a fine motor or manipulative game, and I often wonder if this is going to be a factor in the hobbies and career he will choose someday.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. For now, he’s just a boy exploring the world.

Wanting to find a new fine motor activity,  I decided to let him experiment with eye droppers, colored water, and something to absorb the liquid…which ended up being sugar cubes.

I set out cups filled with water, and added a few drops of food coloring to each of the cups. The sugar cubes were placed on a paper plate in front of my son (who, surprisingly, did not try to eat them), and I gave him the eye droppers.

Having never seen eye droppers before, he had to spend a few minutes learning how to use them. I showed him what to do and eventually he was comfortable with it after a little trial and error. Once he got the hang of it his concentration was hooked to dying the cubes.

For older kids this might be a great science experiment when learning about absorption. For now, it was just a fun way to play with colorful liquid.

And then we did a bonus activity…We pulled out a light box.

Now, our light box is actually something my grandfather built for me when I was a kid so that I could trace stuff while crafting. At the moment I use it for activities like this. Being the extremely handy person that he is, it is a super sturdy and well buil2878756t design that I could not replicate.

There are other ways to get your hands on a light box that doesn’t require the blessing of a handy dandy family member though. You can buy something, such as an unnecessarily fancy and expensive piece. Or a children’s light box that is on the smaller and cheaper end (or something in between). Chances are you will actually have far better luck looking for a light box that was meant for artists. They are much cheaper and more often than not better quality. Just be aware that some boxes do get hot enough to burn.

There is also the option of creating your own, with less skill necessary than what my grandpa used. Pintrest is filled with ideas such as these.

Typically a good light box could work in a well lit room (our box is certainly bright enough), but to make it extra cool we retreated into our laundry room (which can be completely dark with the door shut). Wanting to protect my box from sugary gunk, I put a piece of parchment paper over the surface. Considering just how bright the light is, it also helped to filter the light and protect little eyes.

The sugar cubes looked very neat with the light shining through them, and we were definitely intrigued for a good while. Kiddo spent a lot of time lining them up in various formations, and designing intricate tower structures. That was also an excellent fine motor activity!

It was a  fun experience with an easy clean up, and I felt good incorporating a new fine motor challenge (working the droppers), as well as new ways to play with colors. It’s definitely something I would do again, and I’m sure my son will be very excited when he sees me pulling out the droppers and food coloring!

Liquid Chalk

I don’t think I need to go into detail why outside time is crucial for small children. Whether it’s improved vision, a dose of vitamin D, or simply a release of energy and gain of exercise, we can list a number of benefits that come with setting children free from the indoors. A good rule of thumb is that kids should spend at the least an hour a day outside.

I grew up in the outdoors. I loved sunshine, I loved snow, I loved rain, I loved everything about the fresh air and what seemed to be limitless boundaries. I was always outside. But I also grew up surrounded by woods that created an enchanting atmosphere. Unfortunately my son doesn’t have that at the moment. He has a regular yard in a regular neighborhood.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m super grateful that we live in our house, with our yard, in our neighborhood. It is, however, somewhat of a challenge trying to fit in time for the outdoors. The things that drew me outside as a kid were far different than what’s available to him at this point in time, and more often than not we resort to doing the same things we do inside.

We play with cars. He rides his little push truck along the driveway the same way he does in the living room. We run around chasing each other. We sit and read books.

He has a lot of fun, and I don’t feel like I’m failing in anyway. I just keep trying to figure out how to make outside time special.

As I’ve said in past posts, my son really loves arts and crafts. So today I thought I’d bring the art outside. We’ve played with chalk before, but this time around I decided to change it up by making liquid chalk.

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What You Need:
– Squirt bottles (or spray bottles if you want to give spray chalk a try)
– 3 cups of water
– 6 tablespoons of cornstarch
– Food coloring
– A bowl to mix everything in
– A funnel, or something that helps make pouring easier

The bottles are easy enough to get a hold of. Most dollar stores will have them in their cleaning supply or kitchenware section. The best part is the fact that once we’re done with the chalk, they can be washed out and put away for another use.2878756

To start out the activity mix the water and cornstarch together. My son loves helping in the kitchen, so this alone was exciting enough. Once that is well combined, add the food coloring (one color per batch).

For each of the colors I used 10 drops. The yellow turned out very well, and the red was nice and vibrant (though I may add more drops in the future to make it red instead of pinkish). The green was a little weak and more of a yellow, so next time I’ll add significantly more drops. The blue also needed to be a little stronger, as it turned out to be more of a gray color on the pavement.

Once the coloring is mixed into the liquid, simply pour it into the bottles and go outside!

This was perhaps among the more successful activities I’ve introduced to my son. He loved squirting the colors onto our driveway, and was fascinated by the designs he could make. I didn’t expect it, but he ended up using every drop!

Sponge Painting

It’s a very simple and cheap activity. All you need are:
* Sponges (make sure they’re not the kind with soap already soaked in them)
* Cookie cutters (or anything that can be used as a stencil)
* Marker
* Scissors
* Paint and paper

Having an entire box of cookie cutters, I had my choice of shapes. I choose a few, traced them onto the sponge, and then cut them out. The cutting was significantly more difficult than I anticipated, so I would personally recommend staying away from shapes that are more complex. Once the sponges were cut we were ready for our art project.

At 1 1/2 years old, stamping is a concept my son only partially appreciates. He thought it was neat, and even discovered that it worked better if he brushed the paint onto the stamp rather than dipping it on to the plate.

Mostly he enjoyed smudging the sponges around the paper, creating his typical blend of color across the page. The end result was not unlike his other paintings, except that you might find a recognizable shape such as a star or elephant somewhere on the paper.

That’s not what matters though. The important thing is that he got to explore a new way of doing a familiar activity. It allowed him to experiment, and once the sponges are rinsed out and dried we now have new materials to add to his art supplies.

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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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