Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Time for Banana Muffins!

I will be the first to admit that I am no Betty Crocker.  I can manage a basic meal, but don't ask for anything fancy or extravagant, and certainly don't ask me to improvise.  Although my Paul Deen spaghetti turned out delicious despite my last minute I don't have the exact ingredients panicking, nothing else ever turns out right when I try to wing it.

My husband has a knack of buying the biggest bunch of bananas he can find, and frankly, bananas are only a so-so fruit in our house.  So, I've tried several variations of banana (nut) bread and muffin recipes.  It's always been a disappointment.

Until today!  Once again I had overripe bananas.  Elliott had some Toy Story baking cups he had been wanting to use, so I decided we'd give it a whirl.  I used this Banana Crumb Muffins recipe from All Recipes.  I figured a 5 star rating with over 6,000 reviews was worth a shot.

Elliott was in charge of the baking cups...

...and the stirring...

 ...and the banana mashing...

While Elliott and I were working in the kitchen, Emory popped in occasionally, but he got busy cooking on his own.



The crumb topping wasn't as good as I'd expected (I'm sure I did something wrong), and they aren't beautiful by any means...but they were GOOD!

I had already decided we would have breakfast for dinner, which the boys always love, and Elliott was thrilled to have his banana muffins for dessert.

(Please ignore the fact that I served muffins on paper towels.  I had already cleaned the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher.  This mom picked a lazy moment to capture on camera.)

Elliott took his time unwrapping his muffin...

...and Emory dug right in.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Word Building: AT

Elliott is past the point of learning or reviewing letters and letter sounds, but not ready for formal reading lessons yet.  So to meet in the middle, I am starting with basic word building that I have seen described on numerous Charlotte Mason websites, blogs and support groups, based on her writings.

We started with "at" because it is a sight word that we had already worked on.  I chose 7 rhyming words to start with and printed them out on a tracing sheet from Handwriting For Kids so he could trace them if he wanted.  He did about half when I gave him the sheet.

Then we moved on to spelling them.  I would give him a hint, he would guess the correct word, then decide which letter started the word.  (I pulled only the letters we needed for the exercise, so as to cut down on 'searching' time.)  We did about half the words on the fridge the first day.  Short lessons are ideal for Elliott, because our stopping point came when Emory started bringing us the orange shapes, and Elliott wanted to help.

We reviewed and worked on new words on the personal sized chalkboard the next day.

Starfall.com has an 'at' game in the Learn to Read section, so it was a nice reward and a fun way to end the week.

Pre-Writing Notebook

I cannot take the credit for this, as using page protectors is common among homeschoolers that want to preserve worksheets and workbooks for extra practice or for their younger children.

The idea for doing it a notebook format was not mine either.  It came from the files or database in the Ambleside Year 0 yahoo group.  I joined to get information, ideas and encouragement for homeschooling through the Preschool-Kindergarten years in a Charlotte Mason style.  I have not been disappointed.

Worksheets are not really Charlotte Mason in style, especially for Elliott's age.  However, a notebook format appealed to me for a few reasons.

(1)  I was given a massive amount of worksheets by a Kindergarten teacher who found out I would be homeschooling.  While grateful, I wasn't sure what to do with that many worksheets.

(2) Page protectors are forgiving.  Dry erase markers are much more easily erased than pencil from paper--and much more fun for a 4 year old.  They also give us the chance to do the fun pages repeatedly.

(3) I can change it up as his skill-level increases, his interest changes (right now he likes the mazes the most) and even change it during holidays, as there were several seasonal worksheets in the stack she gave me.

The first page is a "My name is Elliott" practice sheet.  I used a worksheet generator on Handwriting for Kids, which is a free website for Handwriting practice.  He taught himself how to write his name, but needs more practice with letter formation and size, and the name worksheet seemed like a good title page of sorts to mom.

I'll probably eventually add in pages with short sentences for his birthday, address, phone number and other information that he has already memorized but will need practice in writing and spelling.

So to get his notebook in order, I had to get the worksheets in order.  I separated everything out, then put the alphabet/phonics in alphabetical order, numbers in numerical order, holiday worksheets in seasonal order...you get the point.

Then I chose worksheets that would seem less like work and slightly more fun to Elliott.  I included dot-to-dots (both numbers and letters), matching, drawing shapes, mazes, letter and number tracing, blank pages for writing and drawing, and only a few that were for a specific letter or number.

This is daddy blowing up a balloon for him...we've had a lot of balloon play in the house since we had extra balloons from Emory's birthday party.

It's nothing spectacular, but he likes it, and it fulfills his desire for "school" work.  In order to keep the idea of the notebook fresh and fun, we don't use it daily.  He doesn't need to do worksheets daily, though he does need occasional practice to work on hand-eye coordination and handwriting.  I think it'll be nice to put in some new puzzles before the long car trip coming up...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Backyard Bubble Fun

Normally I don't give the boys anything to "do" when we go outside to play.  They have the swing set at our house, and we are within walking distance of maw-maw and paw-paw's trampoline and farm.  That is usually more than enough to occupy them.

However, the 2 year old received a bubble set as part of a gift for his birthday, and anyone with preschoolers knows that bubbles are fascinating.  The big brother just couldn't wait to break it out!

Elliott and I tried out all of the various bubble wands and blowers, and we decided the large, pink circle and the red straw were the most fun.  Emory only cared about stomping on the bubbles and laughing hysterically in the process.  We quickly used up the little bottle of bubbles.  Thank you, Emory for dumping our tray out.  The boys are always getting bubbles in treat bags and goody baskets, though, so I know there are more around the house for next time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

First Day of Pre-K: Homeschool Style

My natural inclination is that 4 year olds should be playing, exploring, and learning naturally.  My husband and I don't necessarily have a problem with public or private schools, and we realize there are wonderful teachers who share great ideas and motivate and inspire their students.  However, we have come to the conclusion that homeschooling is the best option for us at this time.  We feel it is what God wants for our family.

So although we have officially decided to homeschool, we’re not officially homeschooling yet.  With Elliott only being 4 years old (almost 5 if you ask him), he is only old enough for Pre-K by “school” standards, and since I don’t think he needs structured lessons yet, we are taking a very relaxed approach to this school year.  I have been extremely drawn to the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling, and this philosophy also stresses the importance of letting children learn from their natural environment without contrived lessons, particularly through the ages of 6-7 years old.

However, he realizes that his cousins and most of his Sunday School class are starting either Pre-K or Kindergarten this year, and he is slightly curious about school.  In order to satisfy his curiosity, we decided to have a formal "First Day" and let him choose what schoolish activities he wanted to do.

 So what did we do today?

Well...we took pictures for mommy's scrapbook.  :)

We read Jack and the Beanstalk, which is one of his favorite stories.

He chose to do a page out of a workbook called Sequencing.  He doesn't like traditional workbooks, but this one is different--he gets to cut/paste the pictures in the order of the short story, which I read to him. 

He can color the picture on the back if he chooses, but since he doesn't particularly like to color, Emory "works" by coloring in the pictures.

We played counting and number games with giant foam dice.  He ended by putting them in order for me.  When we were done, Emory used them to practice his colors.

Then he wanted to make a pattern, so he used the links.  He chose his pattern....green, green, blue, blue, red.

It had to be long enough to wear!

My goals for our preschool year is not to work through a preschool curriculum or a checklist of skills.  Instead I am aiming for a Year 0 as outlined on Ambleside Online.  I want to develop good habits and begin working on the "extras" so we have a solid foundation when we start formal academics later.  I want Bible Study, Nature Study, Music and Art to be part of our routine.  I am beginning to think that Elliott may be a kinesthetic learner, and so we will be doing a lot of hands-on and interactive activities to develop pre-reading, handwriting and mathematical skills.

While we are having a relaxed, informal and fun preschool year, I will be reading Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series.  I have read a couple of books that introduce her methods, but I want to see how I relate to her actual thoughts and ideas.  There's plenty of time for structured academics later, so for now I want to validate my decision to incorporate the Charlotte Mason philosophy into our lives.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"New" Books and Games

I took advantage of my dear husband's extra day off, and I ran errands alone.  I went to the bank to cash in the change that was weighing down my purse and visit with my former, but still wonderful, coworkers.  It was beautiful outside, so I left my car at the bank and walked around the corner to the library to return our books.

Then I decided to stop at goodwill and see what treasures I could find in the children's book department.

The first book that caught my eye was a children's art book, Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson.  I was very excited to find this, because I plan to do Artist/Picture Studies eventually, and this looks like a great introduction to Monet and Impressionism.
Then I found Young George Washington:  America's First President by Andrew Woods.  It's a very basic introductory biography, which is perfect for Kindergarten Social Studies next year.

I found a few small reference/informational books too.  I Wonder Why the Sun Rises and other questions about time and seasons by Brenda Walpole; Finding Out About Things That Fly by Kate Little; and Whales, Dolphins & Sharks which looks like it will appeal to my fact loving son.

I found several other books as well.  A few of these are unfamiliar to me, but as you can see, some of these are classics.

I know I am way ahead of myself.  Elliott is only 4 (almost 5, if you ask him) but at the same time, I don't think it's ever too early to start building a solid literary collection.  These books will go on the bookshelf and wait their turn.

At the end of the book section are the toys.  I always check for puzzles and games that my kids might find interesting.  Most of the time I find nothing, but today was an exception.  While these are older games and geared more for the 8 years and up crowd, they look absolutely fantastic for developing geometry and spatial skills.

PYTHAGORAS states there are 7 basic pieces that make up 179 different designs.  There is a booklet that gives the patterns, but not the solutions.

Then, HEXED is a puzzle game with 12 (Tetris-looking) pieces that fit together to make a rectangle.  The box claims more than 2,000 possibilities!

Elliott has a shape/pattern activity set called Playful Patterns made by Discovery Toys that was passed down from his older cousins--the cards increase in difficulty, but you place the shapes on them to make larger shapes (two semi-circles or four quarter circles make a whole circle) or several different shapes are used to make a complete picture.  Elliott thinks its a game, and I love that it's a wonderful introduction to geometry--and fractions--and I think Hexed and Pythagoras will make a great transition when he is ready for more advanced patterns.

Goodwill was not the only stop where I found books today.  However, if you've made it this far, I won't bore you much more.  I'll just say I found a few books at Ollie's, one of which was a children's beginner English/Spanish dictionary.  Seeing as how the boy is determined to learn Spanish, I thought I better start finding resources!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: The Adventures of Three Raccoons Raised by a Human Mother

The Adventures of Three Raccoons Raised by a Human Mother
Author:  Nieves Monge
I wanted to read this book to my children because I have a desire for them to develop an appreciation for nature and wildlife.  There is no secret to the storyline, as the title The Adventures of Three Raccoons Raised by a Human Mother, gives it away.  What the title does not do, however, is tell of Monge’s passion for wildlife.

Being only eighteen pages, and the fact that I am not familiar with the author, I wanted to pre-read the book before I shared it with the boys. 

Mom’s few dislikes:
The writing is disjointed, jumpy, and overall leaves a lot to be desired.  The word “etc.” has no place in a child’s story.  The language was not as descriptive as it could have been.  It was listed as a juvenile book, and as such, I made the mistake of expecting at least one or two pictures or photographs.

Mom’s likes:
The author clearly expresses her love and devotion to animals.  I think she made the rehabilitation process very understandable to a young child.  From rescuing the animals and feeding them nutritious foods, to developing their natural instincts and returning them to the wild, it is all very clear that this is a specific mission and the animals' survival is at stake.   Occasionally the vocabulary perked up with words like “immersed” and this I appreciated, as I prefer the books I read aloud to be descriptive and full of rich language.  I don’t think it needs to be watered down for a child to appreciate the story.

So...what does the boy think?

While Elliott is still a little young yet to follow the entire story and gets somewhat distracted during our readings, he does understand the story line.  We are still working through the book in short readings, and he will ask for it voluntarily.  Being 4, he was naturally disappointed that there were not any pictures.  To remedy this, I supplemented with a few pictures online and some YouTube videos of baby raccoons, and he has thoroughly enjoyed that.

To be honest, Elliott is naturally inquisitive and seems to prefer the straight fact-telling parts of the book over the story itself.  We have already had discussions about how animals belong in the wild in their natural habitats and of course we talked about nocturnal animals, as that has always been an interesting topic for him.  I am positive he will appreciate the ending, and this is a book I am willing to keep on our bookshelf.

You can learn more here.

I received a complimentary copy of The Adventures of Three Raccoons Raised by a Human Mother as a member of the Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team.  Visit http://dorrancebookstore.com to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.