Friday, April 30, 2010

Windowsill Orchard - An Arbor Day Update

Last year for Arbor Day, we planted a windowsill orchard from seeds harvested from fruit in our refrigerator. Although we originally planted seeds from a lime, lemon, orange, pear and apple, we now have two apple trees, a pot of chives, and a bottle of carrots growing on our sill.

The lemon, and lime seeds never sprouted - I assume due to some act of genetic engineering, on the part of the fruit growers. The pear, and orange trees sprouted, but didn't survive long, either because the windowsill was too cold, or because of my very brown thumb. Either way, they were replaced somewhere along the way, by the chives, and another apple seed.

Our two little trees, while not big enough to go outside yet, are ready for larger pots. So, I was planning on repotting them with the children for Arbor Day, today. However, since we're experiencing a week of rain, hail, and snow (yes, more snow!), I think the transplanting, which I hope to do on the patio, will have to wait.

Instead, I found some interactive, Arbor Day, coloring pages, at So we can mark the day, in a tree friendly fashion, that way.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Feed Me Books Friday - Books You Can Sing

The theme for this week's Feed Me Books Friday at The Adventure of Motherhood, is "Books You Can Sing". And, I just had to jump in with our favorite - Somewhere in the Ocean by Jennifer Ward (sung to the tune of "Down in the Meadow").

Ward actually has a whole series of these books, and they are wonderful. They're counting books from 1 to 10, contain simple science, have wonderfully detailed, brightly colored illustrations, with a number hidden on each page - and I get to sing them to the children! Never mind that I can't sing - the children don't know that yet, and so are always an appreciative audience.

Don't know the tune for "Down in the Meadow"? Don't worry, a musical score is included at the back of the book. And, if you can't read music, these are still great books to read to your children.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Homemade Easy Bake Oven Recipe Taste Tests

My girls have been after me for a while to buy them more mixes for their Easy Bake Oven. And, while the inner child in me is as drawn to the beautifully packaged treats in the toy aisle, as my girls are, there is the reality of the obvious waste in paying triple or quadruple the price of a full sized cake mix, for the tiny, and not so tasty versions, prepared for light bulb baking.

I finally got around to Googling homemade Easy Bake Oven recipes. It turns out there are quite a few. We (the girls, and my inner child), have great plans to try them all, and post our favorites.

Most of them require some sort of oil, or butter, that would prevent them from being mixed ahead, for easy, child friendly use. Though my older girls could certainly handle a little mixing, it does up the mess factor, and requires some supervision.

We did see though, that many sites suggested a simple recipe of 3 tablespoons of any packaged cake mix, and one tablespoon of water, or milk. That sounded pretty simple, perhaps too simple - just the kind of starting place we like. We actually wondered which would be better water, or milk?

So, last night, the girls tried both versions. They made one cake with 3 tablespoons of Duncan Hines white cake mix, and one tablespoon of water, and another with 3 tablespoons of the same cake mix, and 1 tablespoon of milk, baking them each for 12 minutes in their little oven.

The results were interesting. The cake with water (pictured below, on the left) looked better. It rose more, and looked generally fluffier, and more cake like.

But, despite a better showing, after sampling the two cakes, the girls declared the cake with milk, the hands down winner. It had a thicker, creamer texture, and tasted more like a regular cake.

We measured out the rest of the open cake mix into snack sized, resealable baggies. We ended up with 18 baggies, each with 3 tablespoons of mix, which I stored back in the original cake box. We often find cake mixes for under a dollar, and the baggies were about two cents a piece - bringing our Easy Bake Oven back into the world of affordable fun.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Fancy Nancy Posh Puppy Story and Activities

We had a sort of spontanious stART (story + ART) project, last night. I was helping the older girls test out some recipes for their Easy Bake Oven (I hope to share about that, later today), and the little ones were growing restless. Since, they're becoming big Fancy Nancy fans, especially my 5 year old, who I have to say is the main Fancy Nancy of our family, I downloaded an audio version of Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, from our library's electronic resource site (Montana Library 2 Go).

Again, to make up for the lack of illustrations, and to keep little hands busy, while I was occupied with the older girls, I turned to the printable activity sheets from Harper Collins. For The Posh Puppy, there are not only coloring sheets, but story sequencing worksheets, a dot-to-dot, a maze, a story starter, and even a make your own bracelet craft.

Apparently this appealed to everybody, minus my oldest. But then, a 12 year old boy couldn't be expected to enjoy a Fancy Nancy fest. My younger son, though, was happy to snatch the maze, and dot-to-dot, and work away. It's not often that so many of them gather enthusiastically around one story, or project.

It appealed to the younger girls, because it was a Fancy Nancy story, and because I let them use the glitter paint on their bracelets.

It appealed to the older girls, because they've recently started walking our elderly neighbor's dog - so a story about a posh puppy was right up their alley. They moved back and forth, between their own project, and joining in with their younger siblings.

I'm not sure what the appeal was for my seven year old, but the boys have been in such an anti-craft phase lately, that I was just happy to have him join in.

For more story stretching arts and crafts, don't miss this week's stART link up, at A Mommy's Adventures.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Liberty's Kids on Netflix

I just thought I'd mention, for those of you with a Netflix account, just in case you haven't noticed - all 40 episodes of Liberty's Kids are now available for instant view.

I've sung the praises of the animated series, dealing with the Revolutionary War, before. But, this is the first time we've had opportunity to watch all 40 episodes in the correct order. If you've never heard of the series, you can find out all about it on their website - here.
All of my children watch the episodes, though I think it's probably most educational for those 7 and up. They all find it entertaining.

I don't know about you, but I perceive a day of pajamas, popcorn, and the Revolutionary War in our future.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

The Teaberry Strangler - A Mystery, and a Muffin

I finally got my turn with our library's copy of The Teaberry Strangler, Laura Childs' latest novel in the Tea Shop Mystery series.

Though, I generally enjoy the series, I've been mildly disappointed by the last few titles, the characters were beginning to feel stale, and the mysteries were too easy to solve. But this time, Childs pulled it back together. She reintroduced several older characters, tied up some loose ends, and breathed fresh life into familiar friends.

And, the mystery - the strangling death of a neighboring shopkeeper, was interesting, and challenging, with several story lines intertwined. It felt like a fully developed novel, rather than a junior reader, like some of the other cozy "foodie" mysteries out there. It's not the great American mystery, but I think Childs is coming into her own, as a fairly decent novelist.

And, as to the recipes included at the back of the book...

...I found the "Pecan Pie Muffins" particularly tempting. But then, the "Chutney and Cheddar Tea Sandwiches", " Almond Devonshire Cream", and "Butterscotch Scones", also look pretty good. It will be a double session at the gym tonight!

But first, a quick stop off, to link this in as my 6th entry in the 2010 Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge, at Book Chick City.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Unscrambled United States - Geography Fun For Kids (and another cookie project)

We built our geography lesson today, off of Laurie Keller's The Scrambles States of America. This book is a lot of fun, and very educational, if your children haven't read it, I would highly recommend it. There are a number of fun printables available on Keller's website, to go along with the story, both for geographical knowledge, and reading comprehension. And, we have a Scholastic Video version, that tells the story in animated form, that the little ones really enjoy.

Gamewright, has put out a board/card game based on the book, too. It is for ages 8 and up, and does require some fast reading. But, it's excellent for teaching geography trivia, such as states' capitals, nicknames, border states, and so on. And, even better, it's a fun, and challenging game.

After playing a few rounds of it with the older children this morning, I left them to play on their own, and slipped away to help the little ones put together our Melissa & Doug U.S.A. floor puzzle.

We have several United States puzzles, but this one is a favorite, because the pieces are large, and most of the states are separate pieces. Each state is labeled with its name, capital, and a picture of something common to it.

Of course, the best part of our lesson, was frosting the United States cookies I made with my oldest daughter, yesterday.

She traced out the states for me, on a piece of wax paper, taped over a United States place mat.

Then I cut the states out (marking an R for right side, on the front of the pieces).

And, we used them as templates for cutting out state shaped sugar cookies. I thought this would be a long tedious process, but it turns out it's fairly easy to cut out 48 states, we didn't do Alaska or Hawaii, from sugar cookie dough. We baked the larger, and smaller states separately, so the tiny ones wouldn't burn, and then left them to cool overnight, so they'd be ready to frost today.

While I made the frosting, the children worked at unscrambling our cookies. It was a difficult job, because the cookies had morphed some in the oven, but also a good chance to practice finding congruent shapes, by comparing the cookies to our placemat.

Then, they helped to frost some of them, and tried to put on the two letter abbreviations. So, they not only got to practice the abbreviations, but also piping frosting - which they found out, can be tricky.

For more geographical fun, be sure to check out the geography link ups at Children Grow, Children Explore, Children Learn.
It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Old Black Witch! OR, A Long Time To Wait For Blueberry Pancakes

I don't usually like stories about witches. In fact, I avoid them on a matter of principle. But, when I found Wende and Harry Devlin's Old Black Witch!, tucked in a box of books from my mother, I couldn't resist sharing it with the children, before I packed it away again.

Old Black Witch!, was one of my favorites as a child. According to the inscription in the front, it was actually a gift to one of my older brothers, two years before I was born (I think that makes it a classic).

Reading it again, I was thrilled by the delightful illustrations, of the grumpy little witch, with her tiny pointed shoes, and the unsuspecting mother and son, who buy her broken down house, to fix up as tea house.

While the cranky little lady, never completely comes around to the idea of being good (there is nothing hidden in the fact that she is a witch, and it is noted, before she turns a couple of thieves into pet toads, that she "knew evil, and believed in it to a point", and so recognized them as her kind of people) she does agree to help make, and serve blueberry pancakes to the ladies in the tea room. In fact, there's a recipe on the back of the book for the very same pancakes.

When I was a child, I begged my mother to make them, but she wouldn't. In her defense, I was the youngest of seven, and she was tired. Plus, I didn't like pancakes, as a child, so the chance of my actually eating them, would have been slim. Even so, not making those pancakes, has always been one of the tragedies of my life. And, while that was quite sad, what was even worse, was that the neighbor children, across the street, borrowed the book, and made the pancakes - MY pancakes!

According to the neighbors, the recipe was a dud, which I found scandalous. How could something, that sounded so good in the story, turn out less than perfect in real life? Clearly, I needed to try the recipe for myself - something I never did. But, this morning, some 30 years later, my oldest son, tried it for me.

To my old neighbor's credit, the recipe does assume a prior knowledge of pancake making, that children might not have. And, the batter was pretty thick. I filled in the holes in the recipe, and instructed my son to add some extra milk. And, he opted to skip the incantation, which was supposed to be said while mixing:

"Gobble dee gook
With a wooden spoon,
The laugh of a toad
At the height of the moon!"

They turned out light, fluffy, and delicious - just like I always imagined they would.

Not too bad, for the big boys first attempt at pancakes.

Maybe this year, I can hope for more than burned toast, and cold tea on Mother's Day morning.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Oh, and I'll be adding this to the Kids In The Kitchen carnival at A Little Fun With Me And Lu (thanks to Wonder Mom from The Fantastic Five for suggesting it!)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dandelion Dye

My oldest daughter (age 11), helped me with making a natural dye from dandelions, for our Science Sunday experiment. Actually, the little ones helped, too. They gathered the dandelions.

And, they pulled the heads off the flowers for us.

Then, while we continued with our experiment, they made dandelion curls with the stems. This is actually a science experiment, too. You can read all about the science behind it at Brimful Curiosities.

But, ours were more part boredom buster...

...part craft.

Now, as to the dye - we added boiling water to the dandelion flowers, and let them steep for several hours.

Then, we strained out the flowers, and prepared our cloth (an old cotton t-shirt donated by the man of the house). The fabric needs to be 100% natural fibers, so wool, or cotton, or silk, or the like. We used a vinegar and water solution, for a mordant. A mordant is a substance used to set dyes on fabrics. Since we used all edible ingredients for our dye, and mordant, we were able to use our normal stainless steel cooking pans, without worry.

I missed the part of the instructions I was following, that said to bring the mordant to a boil, and let the cloth soak for an hour in the hot solution. So, we did it wrong, and just soaked our shirt, and then moved it right into the dye.

We let it sit in the dye all afternoon. It probably would have been good to let it sit overnight, but the smell, while not as bad as the alpaca wool, Kool-aid combination, we tried last time we experimented with dyes, was still not very good.

Before bed, I wrung the water out of the shirt, and ironed it, to further set the dye, with heat. The color was uneven, especially around the arms, but in the middle of the shirt, it was a sort of pretty, soft green.

Finally, I washed and dried the shirt, as normal. It turned a cheery pale yellow (I'm sure doing the mordant step right, would have helped to hold the green better). After being satisfied by a second washing, that the dye was fast, and the pale yellow will not fade any further, we're ready to turn the shirt on into the dust rags it was destined for, before it's detour into the dye.

I think when the children are older, it would be fun to revisit natural dyes, and investigate more of the effects of different mordants, on different dyes. But, the chemistry is a little advanced for their current ages.
For more science fun today though, check out this week's Science Sunday link up, at Adventures in Mommydom.

It's great to be a homeschooler.