Sunday, October 4, 2015

Tips for a Road Trip with Young Children

My children and I recently went on a 9-day road trip to the Grand Canyon with my mother.  This trip involved a considerable amount of driving, since our round trip was over 1,200 miles and over 20 hours of driving time.  I had decided early in the planning for our trip that this was to be a low-tech trip: no videos or video games to occupy the children in the car, and a break from the internet, email, and Facebook for me during our trip. (I did break this rule once, on the last evening of our trip when I succumbed to the temptation to briefly get rid of the accumulated spam in my email.)

My children (who are 5 and 8 years old) have never spent more than 3 hours in the car in a day, and they typically do not nap in the car. So I wondered how they both would do with all of the driving time on our trip. I had quite a few tricks up my sleeve to ensure that our drive time would be enjoyable. In short: my children did brilliantly in the car (and on the whole trip). 

How We Made Our Road Trip a Success 

Before Our Trip
  • Anticipation and Excitement: For several months before the trip, the kids and I talked often about our trip: how much fun we would have, and how amazing it would be to be able to see the Grand Canyon, saguaro cacti, the Navajo reservation, etc. To tie our trip into our homeschooling, we also read books about the Grand Canyon, Navajo culture, and saguaro cacti. Our anticipation and excitement for the trip were high.
  • Clear Expectations and Consequences: Before our trip, I talked with my children several times about the fact that there would be lots of driving time. I emphasized that, if the children chose to complain, bicker, or otherwise make the car time un-enjoyable, then we would not be able to take such trips again in the future. 

While On Our Trip

Do you have any tips to share for road trips with children?


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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Caprese Bruschetta

As the warm season winds down, I'm making the most of the remaining fresh tomatoes and basil.
Those two flavors will be sorely missed in a few months, but for now I am still finding many ways to enjoy them.  The latest is a very simple yet elegant combination: caprese salad on toasted sourdough bread.  This caprese bruschetta is so delicious that both of my children were moaning happily when we had this for lunch last week. Caprese bruschetta comes together so quickly that it is perfect for a quick lunch.

Caprese Bruschetta
Serves 2
  1. Lightly toast the sourdough bread.  Butter the bread lightly. (I typically like to slather on the butter, but this recipe works best with just a light amount of butter.)
  2. Slice the tomato and place a couple slices on each piece of toasted, buttered bread. Place a slice of mozarella on each tomato slice.
  3. Place the bread under a broiler for a few minutes, to melt the cheese. I like to use our toaster oven for this.
  4. In the meantime, mince the basil leaves.
  5. Once the cheese is melted, remove the bread from the broiler and sprinkle the basil over top.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve and enjoy! 

What is your favorite way to enjoy basil and tomato? 


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Sunday, September 13, 2015

10 Tips on Making Read-Alouds a Success

This post is the third in my Back-to-School Series for 2015-16. 
Reading aloud to my children is an essential part of our homeschooling.  Through reading aloud:
  • I am able to introduce my children to new ideas, cultures, and places. 
  • We can immerse ourselves in other loving households, in the triumph of overcoming struggles and challenges, and in the wondrous fantasy of fairy realms.
  • Our family is able to have some of our most important discussions, leading to the foundation  of good character, integrity, responsibility, and kindness in our children.


10 Tips for Successful Read-Alouds

We read aloud the vast majority of days, and often more than once per day.  Throughout our 8+ years of reading aloud, I have learned multiple ways of ensuring that our read-aloud time is a success.

  1. Do something active BEFORE reading aloud - This very important strategy helps to ensure that the children will be able and willing to sit and listen during read-aloud time. Having physical activity before reading is especially important for high-movement children.  In our household, we will often take a walk or bike ride before reading aloud. I, myself, tend to feel best when I am active, so on days when I am feeling a little stir-crazy during reading time, I may also do gentle stretching or walking while I am reading a chapter book aloud.
  2. Do NOT make read-aloud time into a requirement - Forcing children to listen during read-aloud time is a sure way to make them resent it. Allow children the freedom to participate, or not.  But also, be willing to read fun books that are easily engaging for children, especially in the early years of reading aloud. With the right books, it is easy to capture a child's attention.
  3. Allow and encourage quiet activities during read-aloud time - When reading books with
    few or no pictures, allowing the children to engage in quiet activities can increase the amount of time they want to sit and listen.  My children are free to color, draw, work on simple sewing projects, or work on their letters to grandma (which they dictate to me beforehand, and I type and print out so they can trace the letters). In our family, I find it works best to not allow activities such as Legos, playing with cars, or playing with figurines while we read aloud, as those activities are likely to involve conversation which disrupts the reading.   
  4. Take time to pause during the reading to discuss or answer questions - Although it can sometimes go against my "get it done" mentality, taking the time to encourage discussions during our read-aloud time has proved to be one of the most important aspects in making read-aloud time valuable. Our discussions include things such as:
    • When characters make poor choices or have tough decisions to make, my children and I will talk about what they could do in similar situations. 
    • When we encounter new places in our reading, I will take the time to get out our globe or maps to show the location of the new place in relation to where we live.
    • When we read about new animals, insects, or plants, we will look them up in the encyclopedia or on the iPad so the children are better able to visualize what they are hearing about.  
  5. Don't "retire" the picture books just because the children are getting older and know how to read.  Even with a 4th grader in our home, picture books are still a wonderful asset to our read-aloud time. Picture books are very engaging, some are very funny, and they can be so very enjoyable to read together. They also give me further reading options for times when we may have just a few minutes to read and don't have enough time to dig deep into a chapter book. I find that picture books are also one of the best ways to be able to incorporate my children's own interests into our reading time (such as reading aloud picture books about vehicles for my son, or about my daughter's current animal interest). You can see our Top 25 Picture Books here.
  6. When starting to read chapter books aloud, begin with classics that have illustrations and accessible language. As a general rule, I only read aloud books that I find enjoyable, and this means I don't read aloud many of the more simplistic or formulaic modern books (such as Magic Treehouse and Rainbow Magic Fairy books). My daughter is free to read those on her own, but for read-aloud time I instead focus on classics. Not all children's classics work well for immediately engaging children's attention, though. For example, Charlotte's Web and Little House in the Big Woods are much easier to start with than Alice in Wonderland and Black Beauty. (I'll be writing a follow-up post about our favorite books for getting started in reading chapter books aloud.)
  7. Give one character in the book a special accent or voice. My children love it when I use a "special" accent or voice for one of the characters in each book.  Often, I will use my own (not-very-accurate) British accent, or give one of the young characters in a book a "baby" voice. My kids love this so much that they are very quick to bring to my attention any momentary lapses in giving a particular character a special voice.  I always see my children smiling when they hear me use the special voice. 
  8. Find a time that works for reading aloud and make it a regular part of the routine.  I find that, as a general rule, if I try to read-aloud when my children are engaged in play, they are not very interested in stopping to read. But there are lots of other times when they do like to listen to read-alouds.  Some times that work for us include reading aloud right after the children awaken in the morning, during meals/snacks, after going for a walk, and, of course, before bed.
  9. Have a rotation for who gets to choose the math/history/science read-alouds. I aim to  read-aloud books on math, science, and history every week. One thing that has helped the children be even more engaged in this reading is for them to take turns selecting our reading for each week.  For instance, recently my son has chosen to read Sir Cumference, Story of Inventions, and The Puffins are Back!; my daughter has recently chosen to read Bedtime Math, Children of the Tipi, and The New Way Things Work.
  10. Create a home atmosphere where reading is a main form of entertainment.  In our home, limiting screen time makes it possible for reading to be one of the top forms of entertainment every day of the week. In quiet moments, we naturally seek out books to enjoy singly or together.
Reading aloud has become such a treasured part of our home life. I hope these tips are helpful for those who have struggled to have successful read-alouds, or those who are just starting out with reading aloud chapter books.


Do you have any tips to share for read-aloud success? 

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream (nutrient-dense : raw : primal : no refined sweeteners)

My son's pumpkin harvest is rolling in, and he has garnered many more pumpkins than I expected. Since it is still fairly hot here, we've been enjoying pumpkin ice cream. Creamy, spicy, and cool: this ice cream is so good!

All of the pumpkin ice cream recipes I found on the 'net involved cooking the cream, eggs and sugar to make a custard base, but I wanted our pumpkin ice cream to be raw and simple to make.  So I've relied on my old standby for sweetening ice cream, which is a combination of maple syrup and raw honey.  With plenty of spices and egg yolks, this ice cream is rich, smooth, and yummy.

This ice cream comes together quickly and easily by just mixing everything in the blender before pouring it into our ice cream maker.  You could also try this method to make ice cream without a machine.

Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream
Makes about 6-7 cups of ice cream
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Add the honey last, and then blend it right away so the honey doesn't have a chance to harden and clump.
  2. Whir for several minutes, until well-combined.
  3. If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can follow these instructions to make ice cream without a machine.
  4. If you do have an ice cream maker, pour mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the instructions for your maker.  I use the Kitchen-Aid ice cream maker attachment, and it works great!
  5. Transfer to the fridge to freeze solid for several hours. 
  6. Scoop and enjoy! If desired, top with chopped candied ginger or crumbled Ginger-O's.
*Since the egg yolks in this recipe will be consumed raw, it is a good idea to make sure the eggs used are from a trusted source.  Salmonella is typically only an issue with unhealthy hens.  Washing the eggs before you crack them will also reduce any potential salmonella risk, since it actually comes from bacteria on the OUTSIDE of the egg shells.  

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe?

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two Mosquito Bite Homeopathic Remedies

Since it is monsoon season here in the desert southwest, it is our rainy season, and that means the mosquitoes are out.  If we forget to apply our homemade mosquito repellent spray, it takes just a few minutes outside in the morning or evening to have numerous mosquito bites. And then the itch-fest begins.

Thankfully, we have found two homeopathic remedies that excel at taking away the itch: Apis mellifica and Ledum palustre. You may recognize these two remedies from my post earlier this year about the remedies in my purse first-aid-kit. My family uses these two mosquito remedies almost daily at this time of year.

Why Two Different Remedies?

As a system of medicine, homeopathy is different from many other modalities in that the remedies are individualized based on a person's specific symptoms.  That means, for instance, that one person's migraine may be treated with Bryonia alba, while another's is treated with Sanguinaria canadensis, while another's is treated with Iris versicolor (and there are numerous other remedies that can help with migraines as well). So there is no "one" homeopathic remedy for migraines; it really depends on the person's specific symptoms, and that is why treating a migraine with homeopathic remedies is not generally a do-it-yourself situation.

Fortunately, when it comes to first-aid, there is often a much smaller number of homeopathic remedies that are known to be effective in the vast majority of cases.  For mosquito bites, those two remedies are Apis mellifica and Ledum palustre. Within my family, my daughter's and husband's mosquito bites both respond well to Apis mellifica, whereas my son's and my own mosquito bites respond well to Ledum palustre

My Method For Treating Mosquito Bites

Rather than taking remedies for our mosquito bites internally, I find that it works well to apply the remedies externally directly on each bite. This is especially true since we have new mosquito bites almost daily, and having these remedies ready to apply topically means that both of my children can take care of their own mosquito bites as often as needed. NOTE: I do not use this method if there are mosquito bites that have been scratched to the point of broken skin.  In those instances, I would use Calendula salve instead to promote healing and reduce inflammation.

I like to use both of these remedies in 30x potency for this particular method, because the pellets can so quickly dissolve and are less likely to be affected by being left on the counter than higher potencies would be.

I make our remedy solutions as follows:
  • In a clean container with a lid, dissolve one 30x remedy pellet in 1/4 cup of filtered water. (I do NOT mix the two types of remedies in the same container; rather I make a separate solution for each one.)
  • Stir to combine.
  • Try to store away from light, heat, and strong odors (such as cooking odors or essential oils). 
  • Depending on the temperature in the house and the quality of the water used, this solution should keep for several days up to a week or so.  Alternatively, a small amount of unflavored vodka (~1.5 tsp) could be added to preserve the solution for longer periods.
To use the remedies, we do the following:
  • Dip a q-tip in the remedy solution.
  • Dab the remedy solution directly onto the mosquito bites. 
  • Shortly thereafter, the itchiness dissipates and then disappears altogether.  
  • If one of these remedies does not work, try the other one instead.


Apis Mellifica

Homeopathic Apis mellifica is made from the honeybee. In true homeopathic fashion of like-cures-like, Apis mell is one of the best remedies for treating insect stings and bites. Stings/bites that respond well to Apis mell tend to have burning pain and rosy puffiness (rather than hard, red swelling).  

Ledum Palustre

Homeopathic Ledum palustre is a great remedy for puncture wounds as well as mosquito bites.  Insect bites/stings that respond well to Ledum tend to have a white center with redness around, and may be numb or cold.

Are mosquitoes a bother where you live?  What are your favorite methods for treating those itchy bites?

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. I am a homeopathic practitioner whose services are considered complementary and alternative by the state of New Mexico. The uses of homeopathic remedies described herein are provided for educational use only.  

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Shocking Test Results for Fermented Cod Liver Oil

One of the most controversial posts on this blog has been the one about Why My Family Stopped Taking Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO). I've been thanked for that post, I've been attacked for that
post; it definitely seemed to hit some nerves. However, that will be nothing compared to the stir that will be created by some shocking new test data for FCLO.

This new test data comes from multiple independent laboratories, and is the result of efforts by nutritionist Kaayla Daniel, who is the Vice President of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). Over the last year or two, people started expressing doubts about FCLO, including how it is produced, its vitamin content, and its efficacy. The Board of the WAPF voted against testing FCLO (as they felt like the testing they had already performed was sufficient), but Kaayla wanted to investigate further to find out if there was any validity to the doubts about FCLO.

Because there have been questions raised about the accuracy of the FCLO test results that Green Pasture posts on their website, Kaayla sent unopened bottles of FCLO to multiple laboratories in the United States as well as abroad, who were known to be experts in testing marine oils.  Kaayla wanted to find out if there were any issues with rancidity, and find out how FCLO's nutrient-profile looked.

As the test results came in, she was surprised to find that, in addition to rancidity and nutrient issues, FCLO actually appeared to be made from something other than the liver oil of Arctic codfish.  This led to DNA testing of the Green Pasture Cattle Lick product, which is said to be made from the livers leftover from making FCLO. And the DNA tests showed that the source of the liver was actually Alaskan pollock, NOT cod!

In short, the test results showed the following:
  • FCLO appears to not actually be a fermented product, as its pH is too basic and it does not contain significant levels of lactic acid bacteria. 
  • At least one of the bottles of FCLO that was tested showed significant rancidity issues. (Note: there is not a consensus in the scientific community about what constitutes rancidity, so this conclusion is widely debated.)
  • The bottles of FCLO that were tested had extremely low levels of Vitamin D, nearly nonexistent Vitamin K, and less Vitamin A than claimed by Green Pastures.
  • The EPA to DHA ratio of the bottles of FCLO that were tested is not consistent with what it should be if it is really made from the liver oil of codfish.  
  • DNA testing of a product claimed to be liver leftover after making FCLO showed it to actually be liver from Alaskan pollock, NOT cod liver! Pollock is a member of the cod family, but it has a very different nutrient profile than codfish.
If you want to dig into the nitty-gritty details of the testing and data analysis, Kaayla has written a detailed report on the matter, which you can see here.

I am relieved that I trusted my gut instincts and stopped giving my family fermented cod liver oil a few years ago. And I am so glad that we can boost our nutrition instead with extra virgin cod liver oil!  The color, odor, and flavor of EVCLO are wonderful indicators of its freshness and purity; Rosita's transparency in describing and showing their processes for harvesting the oil is refreshing and gives me confidence that this really is a well-produced product.

Update from September 2015:  
Here are some links for those who want to read more analysis of Kaayla's FCLO report and the controversy surrounding it:

    What has been your experience with FCLO?  Have you tried EVCLO

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    Thursday, August 20, 2015

    Our Homeschool Curriculum for 2015-2016 (with an 8-year-old and a 5-year old)

    This post is the second in my Back-to-School Series for 2015-16. 

    Although we home school year-round, each summer we scale back our schooling and focus less on structured school activities and subjects. Once August arrives, it is time for us to start our new school year.  My children and I all love the fun of new school supplies, new curriculum resources, and new subjects to focus on for the coming year.


    Responsibility, Integrity, and Character

    The subject I focus on the most, the one that I keep forefront in my mind for homeschooling priorities, is my children's character.  At their young age, building the foundations of who they are is more important than any math or reading skills. Teaching them to be kind, compassionate, thoughtful, honest, and responsible takes the highest priority over all other schooling subjects. 

    To this aim, our homeschool includes:
    • reading-aloud books that illustrate people who have high character
    • having frequent discussions about scenarios in books and life, including different choices and what those would lead to 
    • daily work in the form of chores and responsibilities appropriate to my children's respective ages


    Individual Interests

    An important part of developing my children's love of learning is encouraging them to pursue their own interests.  I support my children in developing their own interests as follows:
    • 8-year-old daughter
      • My daughter has her own chicken egg business. After saving up money and demonstrating responsibility by caring for a couple laying hens over a period of a year, she bought chicks last year and has now been selling eggs for about 8 months. My husband and I have invested heavily in her business through providing housing for her chickens, building fenced areas for the chickens to graze in, and myriad other unforeseen chicken-related expenses. This business has been a huge learning opportunity for my daughter, as she has learned how to care for chickens, the value of hard work, decision-making to maximize her profits, and how to handle and save money. 
      • My daughter tends to have interest in many, many different subject areas. I support these interests by helping her dig into these areas through library books, field trips, and projects. I aim to be flexible enough that I can drop my "plan" when her interest is sparked so we can pursue her interest wholeheartedly. 
    • 5-year-old son 
      • Following in his sister's footsteps, my son has decided to start an apple business. Through many months of saving, he saved enough for 3 apple trees, which we have planted and cared for over the last year.  
      • My son is very interested in machines and gadgets. I am supporting him in this interest by taking him to job sites to observe machines in-action, reading him books about machines, and allowing him to explore the innards of old broken machines and gadgets. As a special surprise, we will also be putting together a V-8 engine kit later this school year.


    Academic Subjects

    I do not push my children academically, but nonetheless I do give them exposure to plenty of academic subjects and pursuits. You can get a general idea our daily and weekly homeschooling routines here.

    My 8-year-old daughter is an advanced reader who reads voraciously, so I no longer do anything in particular to help her with reading.

    My 5-year-old son is in the early stages of learning to read, and I find the following resources helpful when he chooses to sit down and do reading lessons (typically a couple times a week).

    We don't use a formal writing curriculum. Instead, I encourage my children to write in the following ways:
    • I make sure that my children see me writing in my own notebooks on a regular basis. This makes a huge difference in the amount of writing that they choose to do themselves.
    • Since their writing skills lag behind their composition skills, whenever they ask me to I will write or type poems, stories, or songs for my children
    • Whenever we do science experiments (which are discussed below), I give my children the option to write down their hypotheses and observations.  The children often want to write their observations themselves, but would like me to write them out first for them to copy or trace.
    • Whenever we do Nature Study, my children have the option to write in their Nature Notebooks
    • My children have become Pen Pals with their grandparents (even the grandma who lives close-by). My children love receiving letters in the mail, so this has been the biggest motivator for them in practicing their writing frequently. Most often, I will type the letters for them in an appropriately-sized printing font and then print out the letters for my children to trace.    
    I am not using a traditional math curriculum for my children. Rather, they are learning math in the context of everyday life, through games, and through math read-alouds.
    • Everyday math includes learning math through activities such as:
      • baking, which teaches measuring and fractions,
      • grocery shopping, including price comparisons and weighing of items, and
      • earning money for pulling weeds, then counting their money and saving to buy specific items.
    • My children love the following math read-aloud resources:
      • Bedtime Math - This series of books is new for us, and looks like a fun way to encourage mathematical thinking. My daughter, especially, loves to learn random facts, so she will get a kick out of reading this book since it includes so many little interesting facts.
      • Life of Fred - These books tell stories about Fred, a 5-year-old math genius who teaches classes at a university. The chapters are nice and short, and the end of each chapter gives a chance for us to practice math from the chapter (which we usually do on a lap-size dry erase board). In addition to teaching math, Life of Fred also teaches much more. For instance, we learned about the Orion Nebulae in Life of Fred: Butterflies
      • Sir Cumference books - Sir Cumference books are engaging picture books that cleverly wind mathematical concepts into the stories. For instance, in Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, my children learned about diameter, radius, and circumference in a fun and easy-to-remember way.
      • Anno's math books - Anno's books are beautifully illustrated and they show math concepts such as multiplication very clearly. My children especially love Anno's Magic Seeds, and I have found my son practicing to count to large numbers by counting the seeds in this book on several occasions.  
    • Math games are a wonderful, fun way to learn math. When necessary, I modify some of the rules for my son so he can play too. Currently, our favorite math games are: 
      • Sum Swamp - teaches addition, subtraction, odd and even
      • Yahtzee  - teaches addition, number recognition, and writing
      • Carcassone - teaches skip-counting and strategy
      • Milles Borne - teaches addition of larger numbers and an understanding of which numbers are greater

    Because I like to have some overarching themes of what we will focus on from year to year, we are using a 4-year cycle for History and Science. (I read about this 4-year-cycle in The Well-Trained Mind; I don't recommend following the overall schooling methodology laid out in The Well-Trained Mind as that is what led us to have total school burnout, but I do still like to use some of the ideas from that book.)

    The cycle starts with 1st-4th grade, and then gets repeated again from 5th-8th grade and again in 9th-12th grade, with more detail and rigor each time.  Being the second child, my son started participating in this cycle before he was school-age, and he is coming right along with us now on our fourth year of the cycle.

    Our science studies for the coming year will be centered around Physics, Nature Study, and Gardening. 
    • For Physics, we are performing science experiments from Physics Experiments for Children and More Mudpies to Magnets. Whenever we do science experiments, my children have the opportunity to record their observations, and we make use of the scientific method by forming hypotheses before each experiment. We also tend to use the experiments from those books as jumping-off points to investigate other phenomena as well. 
    • Nature Study is an ever-present part of our science studies. It can be as simple as collecting and studying Fall leaves or paying close attention to the changes in our yard throughout the seasons. We also take nature walks, looking at the flora and fauna in our own yard and desert landscape. Each of us has a Nature Notebook, where we can write about our observations or draw pictures of creatures and plants we encounter.We make frequent use of our National Audubon Society Field Guide and Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America in our Nature Study. 
    • Gardening is an activity that my children truly relish. In our family garden, each child has their own garden plot where they are growing warm-season fruits and vegetables. They are already looking forward to planting cool season plants in a couple months.

    Although we don't use specific curricula for many subjects in our homeschool, my children do enjoy having some workbooks to use at their leisure. These are the workbooks they are using for this year:

    Beauty and Creativity

    I think it is important to focus on beauty and creativity in our home school, so I make time weekly for the following activities.  

    Circle Time
    Once a week, my children and I have Circle Time, where we sing, dance, and read poetry together. Our poetry book is Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls (which is a great compilation of poems about a wide variety of topics including childhood, the seasons, and family). You can read more about our Circle Time here.

    Arts and Crafts
    I try to make sure that at least once a week my kids have the opportunity to do arts and crafts. Examples include freeform painting, simple sewing projects, and holiday decorations.

    Besides the usual construction paper and markers, our arts and crafts supplies for this year include:

    Art Appreciation
    Earlier this year, I set up an ever-changing art display of 6 pictures for Art Appreciation. Once a week, I change out one picture, and the children and I study it together. Over time, we study the works of different artists.  The kids love this, and I love being able to enjoy so many different styles of art in our living room. (Let me know if you want to know more about our Art Appreciation Display.)

    Music Appreciation
    In conjunction with Art Appreciation, my children and I are learning about the lives and music of great classical composers. We are working through the Music Masters CD's, which tell the story of each composer as well as demonstrate some of their music. This is a great way for us to make use of driving time, and we are all gaining a great appreciation for classical music.

    Free Play
    Play time is hugely important in brain developmentThough we do school work throughout the week, I make sure that there is plenty of time for my children to just play every day.  Through their play time, they are able to engage their curiosity, develop their creativity, and learn much about how to interact with each other and their environment.


    What changes have you made to your homeschool for the coming year?






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    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Ginger Pear Muffins (nutrient-dense)

    Here in the desert southwest, local pear and apple season has arrived.  I always seem to be taken a little off-guard when the first apples and pears start arriving at our natural foods co-op and farmer's market, as it is still hot and definitely still summertime here. But with our long growing season, these traditional fruits-of-Fall are starting to attain ripeness already.

    I brought home a small haul of beautiful green Bartlett and Comte pears the week before last. Unlike apples and peaches, pears are picked when green and then ripen to full sweetness and softness off the tree. So the pears I bought were still bright green and hard. By Saturday, after about nine days on the counter, the pears were soft and the skin was turning a nice yellow-green color. It was time for baking.

    One of my absolute favorite flavor combinations is Ginger and Pear. Those two flavors are good on their own, but when combined they are fantastic. This recipe for Ginger Pear Muffins uses my currently-preferred combination of Einkorn flour, coconut flour, and ground crispy nuts.  (For a grain-free ginger pear muffin recipe, click here.) These muffins are so very good that they won't stay around long.

    Ginger Pear Muffins
    • 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup organic einkorn flour 
    • 1/3 cup organic coconut flour
    • 1/4 cup ground crispy pecans or almonds (or substitute almond meal)
    • 1/2 tsp celtic sea salt 
    • 1 tsp dried ground ginger (or 1 Tb minced fresh ginger)
    • 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 6 Tb grassfed butter, at room temperature
    • 3/4 cup of sucanat (or use a combination of sucanat and sugar for a lighter flavor)
    • 3 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
    • 1/4 cup organic sour cream, preferably from pastured cows
    • 1&1/4 cup diced ripe pears (they don't need to be peeled)
    1. Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  (I prefer If You Care Unbleached Baking Cups because the muffins do not stick to the sides of the cups.)
    2. Combine the einkorn, coconut flour, ground nuts, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and ginger in a medium bowl. Whisk it all together to break up any lumps.  
    3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    4. Combine the butter, sucanat and sugar in a large bowl (a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer works great for this recipe). Cream together for a couple minutes until the mixture turns slightly lighter in color.
    5. In the meantime, crack the eggs into a small bowl. (I find that a Pyrex glass measuring cup works great for this because the pour spout makes it easy to add these ingredients to the mixer while it is running.) Do NOT mix up the eggs at this point.
    6. Once the butter and sucanat/sugar have become well-mixed, mix in the eggs one-at-a-time.  With my stand-mixer, I can just pour in each egg while the mixer is still running.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well. (It is okay if the mixture looks a bit curdled during this step.)
    7. Add the sour cream to the wet mixture and mix it in well.
    8. Add the dry ingredients a bit at a time.  Because the Einkorn flour does contain gluten, make sure not to overmix or the muffins will be tough.  The batter will become rather thick, but don't worry about it.
    9. Stir or mix in the pears.
    10. Use a 3-Tb scoop or large spoon to scoop the batter into the muffin cups.
    11. Bake the muffins at 350 degrees F for 23-27 minutes, until they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out dry.
    12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving.

    What is your favorite pear recipe?

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    Thursday, August 13, 2015

    Top 5 Books on Children's Education and Homeschooling

    This post is the first in my Back-to-School Series for 2015-16.

    With the arrival of the new school year, I wanted to share a list of my favorite books about children's education and homeschooling. These books are not just for homeschoolers, as they would be fantastic resources for parents of children who are not homeschooled as well.

    I started studying children's education and schooling methods about 5 years ago, when my eldest was just 3 years old. I knew I wanted to homeschool my children, and wanted to give them the best schooling I could provide. So I read, and read, and read many different books. These are the best of all the books I've read on education and homeschooling. 

    Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century

    Reading A Thomas Jefferson Education led to a paradigm shift in my understanding of education.  Before reading this book, I thought that the purpose of education was to learn specific concepts, to check-off-the-boxes of learning specific information.  In our home school, this translated to me trying to meet specific grade content in our learning.  This type of schooling is also known as the Conveyor Belt model of education. 

    Through reading A Thomas Jefferson Education, my views of education were broadened and expanded; I realized that I was teaching my daughter WHAT to think  instead of HOW to think. To quote from A Thomas Jefferson Education, 
    In a conveyor belt education, "the goal is to give students the same ideas, and to grade or rank them according to their conformity with these ideas... Only in the last seventy years has [public school] become the predominant system...
    "Almost everybody in America today is getting the kind of education that has historically been reserved for those who simply had no other options."
    A Thomas Jefferson Education is not a step-by-step guide on how to provide a Leadership Education, but it sets the philosophical ground work for doing so.  Instead of focusing on details of what to teach, it looks at the overall big picture of the purpose of education.
    Leadership Education has three primary goals: "to train thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and statemen - individuals with the character, competence, and capacity to do the right thing and do it well... The second goal is to perpetuate freedom, to prepare people who know what freedom is, what is required to maintain it, and who exert the will to do what is required. These two goals are accomplished by the third: teaching students how to think...
    "...leadership education is based on several powerful traditions: student-driven learning, great teachers, mentors, classics, and hard work.

    Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

    John Taylor Gatto, the author of Dumbing Us Down, was a public schoolteacher for 30 years who was named the NY City and NY State Teacher of the Year. This book made me cringe as I reflected on my own experiences in public school and realized just how true Gatto's criticisms of the school system were. This book made me look at schooling in a whole new light, and helped me realize that there was much from the school environment which I did not want to replicate in our home school.

    A quote from the introduction:

    "...I've come to believe that genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us... I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing them down. Was it possible I was hired not to enlarge children's power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior...
    "I began to devise guerrilla exercises to allow as many of the kids I taught as possible the raw material people have always used to educate themselves: privacy, choice, freedom from surveillance, and as broad a range of situations and human associations as my limited power and resources could manage... 
    "What I do that is right is simple to understand: I get out of kids' way, I give them space and time and respect. What I do that is wrong, however, is strange, complex, and frightening. Let me begin to show you what that is."

    Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning

    Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning is an excellent resource for implementing the principles of Leadership Education in our home and home school. This book provides a great overview of children's developmental stages, including information about how those stages affect learning and the optimal educational environment. The book then dives into the details (or "ingredients") of different techniques, methods, and environmental factors that work together to foster excellent education.

    I refer back to this book at least once or twice a year, whenever I am looking for inspiration on how to improve our home school or whenever I feel stuck in a rut.  It is filled with so many great ideas that aid me in creating the type of learning environment I am trying to create for my children. 

    Here is a quote from the book in the context of creating the right type of environment for learning:

    "Summers are a good time to sweat, something the last two generations have largely forgotten to teach (or been unwilling to learn). Some of this can be the 'assigned' kind, where the young person has daily stewardships that require hard physical labor, but much of it should be done together as a family. If you outsource the care of the grounds and the home, the children might be suffering for a lack of meaningful work. A very important part of Core [~age 0-8] and Love of Learning [~age 8-12] phases is to work together daily with parents. A vital part of Love of Learning is the mastery of skills which make one a confident and competent young man or woman. Those living on farms tend to find the phases naturally; those in other settings need to give work (work that the family really depends upon) to young family members. In our affluent society, we often think we are helping a child by not requiring him to do real work. In reality, we are stunting his development...
    "...Home businesses, pets, yards, homes, neighborhoods, church service, and daily meals and living require hard work. Young people gain as much education from cooking, cleaning, laundering, mowing and helping others as they do from books and manipulatives...
    "...real work done together in families is a vital part of raising quality future parents and citizens, and Core and Love of Learning are the time to do this well. If you do, you will have youth in Scholar Phase [~age 13-18, which in the Leadership Education model is when the young person begins a rigorous, disciplined survey of classic works and real life application]; if not, you will likely create modern teenagers in 'Entertainment Phase' -- a fate we would not wish on anyone."

    Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

    Peter Gray is a developmental psychologist who studies education from a biological perspective. In his book Free to Learn, he dives into an understanding of how learning occurred in hunter-gatherer cultures (which were the norm for 99% of human's history), looks deeply at our modern educational system, and draws conclusions about human educative instincts including the role of play in education. This book has been foundational to my own understanding of my children's learning and education, in understanding just how important their own play and explorations are in teaching them what they need to know and leading them to find their own true passions.  This book has given me a true understanding of how, by limiting free play time through more structured time and activities, I could actually be weakening my children's educations.

    A quote from the prologue,
    "Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning... Within their first four years or so they absorb an unfathomable amount of information and skills without any instruction. They learn to walk, run, jump, and climb. They learn to understand and speak the language of the culture into which they are born... They acquire an incredible amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them. All of this is driven by their inborn instincts and drives, their innate playfulness and curiosity. Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of school is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible...

    "I began to study education from a biological perspective... such work led me to understand how children's strong drives to play and explore serve the function of education, not only in hunter-gatherer cultures but in our culture as well. It led to new insights concerning the environmental conditions that optimize children's abilities to educate themselves through their own playful means... This book is about all of that."

    Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning

    Back before I found the Leadership Education philosophy, the Charlotte Mason Companion helped me take a step back and see that I was not making our home school reflect the "gentle art of learning". Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To quote from the foreword, "Charlotte saw children as thinking, feeling human beings, as spirits to be kindled and not vessels to be filled... She believed all children were entitled to a liberal education based upon good literature and the arts."

    Although this book does include sections on typical academic subjects such as grammar, spelling, and writing, where this book really shines for me is in its descriptions of how to incorporate the beautiful things into our homeschool: nature study, art and music appreciation, poetry, Shakespeare, and good literature. Shifting my focus to include more of all of these has helped me in setting a "gentle" tone, and focusing on the lovely things has also opened up my own appreciation for sharing these wonders with my children.

    Here is a quote about art appreciation (also known as "Picture Study"):
    "Against the rigorous demands of a full homeschool schedule that sees year-end testing in clearest view, our aims to appreciate art may drift out of sight or may even be forgotten entirely. So from time to time it is helpful to bring to mind Charlotte Mason's aim in providing certain subjects, like Picture Study, to children...
    "Why Picture Study? In order that children may be put in touch with the contribution that each famous artist has made to the world's store of all that is beautiful and worthwhile. Just as literature introduces us to the thought of the greatest writers, so Picture Study opens the gates to the ideas of the famous artists. It also provides a treasure store of images for our children that will help defend them against the commercial world's attempts to dominate their senses...
    "Charlotte Mason said in Home Education, 'We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon a child's sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he in enriched more than we know in having really looked at a single picture.'"

    What are your favorite books about children's education and home schooling? 


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