Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homemade Mbira for Children (African Studies - Kenya)

I've mentioned Mary and Rich Chamberlin's Mama Panya's Pancakes, A Village tale from Kenya, a couple of times now.

It's a sweet story of how a little can become a little bit more, when you invite friends to share what you have. I checked the book out originally as part of our pancake day celebrations. There is "pancake" recipe at the back, though it is really for more of a tortilla like flat bread, than an American style pancake.

We were intrigued by the recipe, but being somewhat pancaked out, we decided to explore other items from the story instead, like the mbira, or thumb piano, being played by the little girl in the blue headband, in the cover picture above.

We found instructions on Activity TV for making a simple thumb piano with items from around the house, and decided to give it a try.

I hot glued a couple of craft sticks to a block of wood (recouped from our catapult), far enough down, so a large bobby pin could touch them, and not reach the end of the block. The original project calls for craft glue, but then there's a drying time.

We donned our safety glasses, and cut four pieces from the fronts of bobby pins, each one slightly shorter than the one before it.

We taped them in place, in descending order, on top of the craft sticks.

Then, I hot glued two more craft sticks over the top of them.

We tightened the layers of craft sticks together by pushing thumb tacks through them, trying, but not succeeding, to keep from cracking the sticks in the process.

Finally, we bent the paper clips up about forty-five degrees, and our thumb piano was ready to play.

The children were pretty impressed with the sound, until I Googled "mbira" for them, and we listened to few clips of the actual instrument being played. The real thing sounds a lot like chimes or bells, ours sounds sort of like dying grasshopper, as T (age 14) describes it.

Still, it's been a lot of fun to play, while learning more about the culture of Kenya.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Geography Cookies - Countries of Africa

Between Mama Panya's Pancakes, which takes place in Kenya...

...and the sad, Sunday morning headlines of another church bombing in Nigeria, followed by a missions presentation during our Sunday school hour, from a team just returned from Uganda, our minds were turned to Africa, this weekend.

Technically, we're with the Medes and Persians at the time of Queen Esther in our studies right now, but the temptation to detour over a continent, for a day or two, was too great to resist.

I found myself rolling and cutting cookie dough, this morning (and for most of the day). Somehow it just doesn't feel like a geography lesson in our house, unless there's a cookie map to go with it.

We made up one batch of sugar cookie dough, and printed an enlarged "map of Africa" coloring page, to cut out...

...and use as templates for cutting the sugar cookie, country shapes, with a small pumpkin carving knife. This process proved a little difficult, so I took over while the children practiced their knowledge of Africa with a map matching game at

We baked the cookies for 13 minutes, even the tiny pieces, and allowed them some time to cool...

...before frosting them with food color tinted, butter-cream frosting in a variety of map-like colors.

We started piping on country abbreviations as well, before deciding they were less than helpful for identifying the English names of the countries, and we'll simply check our map, before picking which countries to eat our way through... we join David Livingstone, at story time, on a quest to find the source of the Nile, and a quick look at early Christian missionary work, and British colonialism, in Africa.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rainbows in a Box

Shine a flashlight on an old CD at the bottom of an upturned box, and it's fun.

Turn off the lights, and move the flashlight across the CD to make the rainbows dance, and it's magic.

Follow playtime up with story time, and its science.

And as usual, it's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kay Arthur, Inductive Bible Studies for Children - The Book of Esther

The older children finished up reading the book of Esther, last week, in their Bible reading. With Purim, the Jewish celebration initiated at the end of that book, coming up in another two weeks, or so, it seemed like a good time to pause and take a closer look at the story.

Kay Arthur, author of the Precepts Bible studies for women, along with Janna Arndt, has published a series of five week, inductive Bible studies for children, including one on the book of Esther (you can view the introduction, and first chapter, here).

Apart from fill in the blank worksheets, crosswords, word finds, and other puzzles, maps, time lines, and even a recipe for Hamantashen (the three cornered, jam filled cookies made, and shared as a part of Purim), the book contains a reprinting of Esther in the New American Standard translation, for children to highlight, underline, and circle their way through, as they discover the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of the text.

Each day's study is tied together with a fictional story following two children, Max and Molly, along with their dog, Sam, on a visit to Washington D.C. with their Uncle Max. So today, for instance, on our third day of the study, we not only focused in on the roll of Queen Vashti in Esther chapter 1, but also learned about the Constitution of the United States and the three branches of government.

The study is aimed at children ages 8-12, and that seems about right. I am working through it with five of my children, ages 7-14, and am finding the fictional storyline to be too babyish for the 14 year old, and the amount of writing required to be a bit heavy for the 7 year old, though she is working very hard to keep up with the older children. Of course, the scriptural lessons from the book are applicable to any age, 14 year olds included.

I'm not sure yet whether we will end up finding the fictional storyline helpful, or distracting, but so far the children seem to be enjoying the process of digging deeper into the biblical text, and we are all learning a good deal more about Esther, and ourselves, as servants of God.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Pancake Day! Updated

According to the fun loving folks at A Magical Childhood, Shrove Tuesday (as pancake day is more officially known), has its roots in a tradition of families using up ingredients, such as eggs and sugar, restricted during Lent.

We don't observe Lent, but just by coincidence, I spent last weekend placing pancake themed books on hold at the library, thinking maybe we'd spend some time next weekend trying out the recipes included in them (there are a LOT of picture books with pancake recipes at the back). The first few of the books have already arrived in, so we had Tomie DePaola's Pancakes for Breakfast already to go for this morning.

The book is typical DePaola, so a big hit in our house, and we thought the recipe (which you can view here, with a sadly, negative review) was fantastic - so much for reviews.

The pancakes turned out light, and fluffy, if not quite as fluffy as the blueberry pancakes from Wende and Harry Devlin's Old Black Witch, but delicious all the same, and when coupled with a few additional pancake themed picture books, made for a great kick off to the day.

All of the books above, except for the last two, promise perfect pancake recipes.

If you've already had breakfast, don't despair, there's plenty more to do on Pancake Day than just eating pancakes. Activity Village, Holiday Station, and Stuff4Teaching all have several craft, and game suggestions, as well as links to printables, for last minute fun.


Now that a few more of the books above have arrived in at the library, I thought I should give a quick update to this post.

As it turns out, while the original Nate the Great story by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, does contain a recipe for Nate's Pancakes (you can also find it, here) Nate the Great and the Lost List does not contain the recipe, but only the ingredient list, with a few fishy additions. Thanks to Kendra for letting us know in the comments, that the first story contains the recipe.

Piggy's Pancake Parlor by David McPhail, and Curious George Makes Pancakes by Margret & H.A. Rey do not contain recipes, either. Rather, George adds blueberry faces to already mixed batter on the griddle (something we tried without success), and Piggy divulges secret ingredients, that make his pancakes a success - nutmeg and love.

My father, who died long before my children were born, was a big fan of nutmeg in pancakes too, so we tried some in a batch of the buttermilk pancakes, we made from the recipe at the back of Tamson Weston's Hey, Pancakes!

Weston's recipe (which you can view, here) was a big hit with the children. It made for very fluffy, tasty pancakes. And, everyone liked the addition of Piggy's secret ingredient except for me. I think I finally figured out why I never liked pancakes as a child.

We found one more children's book, with a pancake recipe, this time a blueberry pancake recipe, included too, Judith Bauer Stamper's All Aboard Math Reader, Breakfast at Danny's Diner, a Book About Multiplication.

The recipe only makes six pancakes. As you might imagine, it is necessary for the characters in the story to multiply the ingredients for more pancakes. After looking the recipe over, we decided to stick with a single batch.

With no baking powder, baking soda, or sugar in the recipe I was pretty sure it wouldn't end up being the children's favorite, and it wasn't. That honor goes to Weston's recipe from Hey, Pancakes!, though my favorite is still Tomie DePaola's recipe from Pancakes for Breakfast, above.

Of course, if you don't like pancakes, we found not just one, but eleven recipes for waffles, including - Grandma's Waffles, Perfect Pumpkin Pecan Waffles, Crazy for Chocolate Waffles, Pa Pa Jack's Oatmeal Waffles, Bountiful Banana Nut Waffles, Lucille Victoria's Lemony-Blueberry Waffles, Peach Melba Waffles with Ice Cream and Raspberry Sauce, PB and J Waffle Sandwiches, Cheesy Mexican Cornbread Waffles, Betty's Berry Berry Berry Waffles, and Merry Christmas Waffles in Holly J. Williams Waffles at Grandma's.

If only I hadn't picked this week to start counting calories again!

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012