Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lemon Broccoli Chicken

The meat special at Aldi's last week was boneless, skinless chicken breast for $1.69/lb and I loaded up so expect to see a few chicken recipes for a while.  I've also found that cutting the meat into small piece makes it go farther (stretching the food budget)  so I opted to try this stir fry dish. 

Lemon Broccoli Chicken (serves 4)

1 lb            b/s chicken breasts, cut into strips
1/2 C         chopped onion
1                carrot, thinly sliced on a bias
1                garlic clove, minced
2 T             butter
1 T             cornstarch
14 oz         chicken broth  
3 T             lemon juice
1 t              grated lemon peel
1 1/2 C      instant rice, uncooked
1 C            frozen broccoli, thawed

In a skillet, cook chicken, onion, carrot and garlic in butter until chicken is browned (5 min).  Meanwhile, combine cornstarch, broth, lemon juice, peel, and rice.  Add to the skillet and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and add the broccoli.  Cover and simmer 5-10 minutes or until the rice is tender.

The consensus:  First I must confess that I didn't follow the recipe exactly because I didn't have instant rice.  I used brown rice in my rice steamer, added the lemon juice and then enough chicken broth for the steamer's requirements. When the chicken and veggies were ready I threw them in the steamer too.   Everyone agreed the taste of the dish was wonderful with the lemon flavor infused in the rice.  My Schnickelfritz doesn't mind eating carrots and "trees" (his name for the broccoli flowerets).   However,  it lacked the thick sauce we desired/expected from a Chinese dish so the texture seemed dry.  I expect following the recipe exactly you might have that sauciness.  Since I'm going to stick with my brown rice and steamer, I may need to find a lemon sauce recipe I can serve over the dish once it's cooked.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nature Study in Winter--That's for the Birds

No, I'm not saying I won't do it.  I mean it's a great time to study birds.  Think about it, the trees are bare so when you hear a bird calling, you much more likely to be able to find it sitting on a branch than when leaves are in the way.  Also, a lot of their food source is gone so it's easier to entice the winter residents into your yard with a feeder.   I'm going to focus in on two special birds for whom winter is prime time viewing season.

The Owl
For the last several years, the Conservation Dept has been host Owl Prowls in January.  This is the time of year the birds are picking mates and finding nest sites.  We spend about an hour inside looking at stuffed birds and listening to a ranger's lecture on the species that live in or winter in our state.  After hearing about all the specialized features of owls, I'm amazed anyone can doubt there is a creator.

  • Many owl species have asymmetrical ears that are different sizes and different heights on their heads. This gives the birds superior hearing and the ability to pinpoint where prey is located, even if they can't see it.
  • Owls have specialized feathers with fringes of varying softness the help muffle sound when they fly. Their broad wings and light bodies also make them nearly silent fliers, which helps them stalk prey more easily.
  • An owl's eyes are supported by bony eye sockets and they cannot turn their eyes. Instead, owls rotate their heads up to 270 degrees, but they cannot turn their heads all the way around.
  • Speaking of eyes, if an owl had a head the size of an average human its eyes would be roughly the size of softballs.  That doesn't leave much room for a brain so the adage of "the wise old owl" probably isn't accurate.

After the lecture we headed out into the night to see if we could hear any owls calls or attract some with calls of our own.  There are calling devices in the marketplace and we even had one young girt do a pretty good imitation of the famous "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all" call of a barred owl.  Unfortunately, the evening of the Owl Prowl it was only about 5 degrees outside.  I think the owls were all huddled indoors and talking about those crazy humans standing outside hooting.   For our next bird nature study though, I believe the colder the better...

The Bald Eagle

A bald eagle in a zoo is a sad thing.  It usually means it's been injured and can no longer fly or catch food for itself.  At best, it can take a few long hops, but for many people that's their only opportunity to see one of these majestic birds.   Those of us who live along the Mighty Mississippi though have the opportunity to see them at their best--soaring in circles and swooping down to catch fish.  So why is colder better?  When the river is ice covered, the birds congregate around the locks & dams where there is still open water.  Two years ago Schnickelfritz and I saw nearly 300 eagles (the conservation dept does aerial counts) around Clarksville, MO

Now the birds are there all winter, but on special Eagle Days the Conservation Dept has rangers with field scopes set up and usually the World Bird Sanctuary brings some of their injured birds for close up viewing. 

Just as a side note, nothing will ruin your enjoyment of winter nature study faster than a kid (or you) saying "I'm cold! I want to go inside."  Schnickelfritz and I both wear Hot Headz fleece hoods when we'll be out in the cold.  For the Owl Prowl it was only 5 degrees, for Eagle Days it might have been in the low teens.  Trust me when I say our heads were the warmest part of our body.  Here's a picture of Fritz in his blue Hot Headz.  If you're not interested, then here is Fritz comparing his wingspan to that of an eagle.

Of course, you may not live in an area condusive to bird watching in the winter.  Then you'll want to check out what other Homeschool Crew members came up with for Winter Nature Study ideas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Italian Chicken & Veggies

We're about 3/4 of the way through January and I'm sure many of you have already fallen of the resolution bandwagon.  That's why I never resolve to organize, diet or exercise on New Years.  I chose a much more fun resolution--to try a new recipe every week.  I've got more that a decade's worth of Taste of Home cookbooks with pages dog-eared and recipes highlighted.  Today's recipe though, is based on my 1st edition of 30 Day Gourmet cookbook.

Italian Chicken & Veggies (serves 6)

6                  boneless skinless chicken breasts  (I actually used 8 b/s thighs that I had on hand)
8 oz             Italian Salad Dressing
8 oz             Cream Cheese (low-fat works)
14 oz           Chicken broth
1 can           Cream of Chicken soup (low-fat works)
1/2 t             Rosemary
1/2 t             Thyme

Put the chicken in a slow cooker and pour the Italian dressing over the top.  Cook on low for 5-6 hours.  Remove the chicken and cut into small pieces (you can shred it easily if you want), set aside.

 Discard the dressing in the slow cooker and replace it with the cream cheese, chicken broth, cream of chicken soup, and spices.  Turn the slow cooker to high and stir the ingredients together as they melt (I actually used an immersion blender).

 Add the chicken to the sauce and heat everything through.

[At this point you could cool the chicken mix and freeze it.  On serving day, thaw and reheat it and serve it over pasta.]

We were planning to eat it that night so when I added the chicken I also put in:

1 1/2 C       frozen mixed vegetables
1 box          macaroni noodles, cooked and drained

I'm always looking for ways to add more veggies to our diet and they best way for us is to add them to the entree.  The macaroni was more to make the dish go farther economically speaking.  If you leave it out you could probably pour the chicken & veggies over baked potatoes for a good meal.

The consensus:  I was pleased with how much of the Italian Dressing flavor carried over to the chicken and the creaminess is fantastic.  Even my meat & potatoes husband said the dish was fantastic.  Schnickelfritz did not object to the bite-sized veggies covered with delicious sauce.  So this one's a keeper.

I'm sharing this recipe with  Home to 4 Kiddos'  Try a New Recipe Tuesday Linkup.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Project Passport: The Middle Ages

This year I  let Schnickelfritz choose what part of history he wanted to study and he picked the Middle Ages--knights & damsels, kings & castles, the Black Plague....what's not to love?  We use Mystery of History Volume 2  for our studies.  I do love their books, but the lessons are mostly focused on one person or one event in each lesson.  There is one lesson on "Life in the Middle Ages," but how much information can you pack in three pages for an era that lasted 1000 years?  I wanted Fritz to gain a better understanding on what is meant to work, eat, play, learn, worship and get sick  if he'd been alive then.

Sometime last fall I got an email from Homeschool in the Woods about their lasted series--Project Passport.  The first CD-Rom product was on the Middle Ages!!  I already love HITW Timeline figures and their occasional freebie sets so I was willing to give this a chance.   I'm so glad that I did. 

Scrapbook & Teacher's Guide from printables on the disk

The idea behind Project Passport is that you're part of a bus tour visiting medieval towns, a castle, a monastery, a Viking village, we even get detoured because of a plague outbreak.   Everything is themed like a vacation: the timeline is called "Snapshop Moments,"  you'll be making a "Scrapbook of Sights" (a minibook/lapbook),  you'll assemble a pile of postcards and you can make "souvenirs" along the way.  You even make a passport & luggage tag to use with this and future Project Passport studies.  What distinguishes this from HITW Time Traveler series is the addition of MP3 files.  We actually get to hear the tour guide showing us the sights of market day or speaking to a viking boy about is longhouse.  You can listen to a sample.

There are 25 stops on our Itinerary:
  1. Laying the Foundation--Part I: Packing for the Trip
  2. Laying the Foundation--Part II: Barbarians in the South & East
  3. Laying the Foundation--Part III: Barbarians in the North & West
  4. Everyday Life--Part 1: Family
  5. Everyday Life--Part II: Clothing & Food
  6. Everyday Life--Part III: Community
  7. Everyday Life--Part IV: Crime, Punishment & Entertainment
  8. Business--Part I: Towns & Guilds
  9. Business--Part II: Merchants, Trade & Exploration
  10. Science & Invention
  11. Education
  12. The Arts
  13. Medicine & Disease
  14. The Church--Part I: History
  15. The Church--Part II: Church and Other Religious Events
  16. The Church--Part III: Monastic Life
  17. The Crusades--Part I: The Big Four
  18. The Crusades--Part II: Other Crusades
  19. Knights & Chivalry
  20. The Vikings--Part I: Viking Life
  21. The Vikings--Part II: Era of the Viking
  22. Battles, Wars, & Conflicts--Part I: The Muslim Invasions
  23. Battles, Wars & Conflicts--Part II: Eastern Europe
  24. Battles, Wars & Conflicts--Part III: England
  25. Final Stop -- Packing Up

 I have been taking breaks in our Mystery of History lessons at appropriate times to use Project Passport to fill in details and add atmosphere as it were.  When we read MOH Fall of the Roman Empire,  we used stops 2 & 3.  We took two weeks at the start of the Second Quarter to read all the Everyday Life lessons and Science, Education and Arts.  We ended the quarter with a Date To Remember about the vikings and we able to supplement that lesson with stops 20 & 21. 

You don't have to use Project Passport as a supplement for another curriculum.  There's plenty of material here to make it a unit study on it's own. For language arts  your kids might enjoy writing "articles" about Trouble on the Silk Route or the Great Schism of the Church.  They can draw a picture for an advertisement about classes at the monastery, but there are other more elaborate art projects involving illuminating texts, stained glass, mosaics, and painting .

The teacher's text contains instructions and pictures for assembling all projects (including this lapbook which we chose not to use)

When we finish this timeline it will be more than six feet long.  The pictures match those in the text of our Mystery of History book.

This menu and pocket would normally take up one flap of a lapbook.  Instead I featured it on its own page in our notebook.  I love how Homeschool in the Woods products involve all the senses.  We rate the gingerbread high, but would pass on the gruel if we lived in the Middle Ages.

Each matchbook/minibook covers a different person involved in the Crusades. 

This is one of four minibooks to summarize life in a Viking settlement, a castle, a town, and a monastery.  They were designed to go in a lapbook, but I enlarged them with my graphic software and mounted each on a separate sheet of our notebook.  I was able to make the line spacing large enough for my son who still struggles with penmanship. 

Here I'm holding up a sheet of overhead film that has cutaway views of the castle interior.  Our tour includes the chapel, the great hall, the solar, the armory, a prison cell and the privy.

The quality of the materials is so great, I know my son will be proud to hold onto and share his Middle Ages notebook for years to come. 

This week's Virtual Curriculum Fair topic is Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science.  Here's a list of  other bloggers sharing their thoughts about history, geography, world cultures, worldview, biology, botany, geology, etc.

Exploring Eastern Cultures with Sonlight by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Cell Unit Study - Mitochondria and Energy by Julie @ Highhill Education
Our Blended Social Studies by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair-Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science by Leah C @ As We Walk Along the Road
Exploring Canada by Annette @ A Net In Time
Project Passport: The Middle Ages by Missouri Mama @ Ozark Ramblings
Virtual Curriculum Fair- Exploring Our World by Karyn @ Teach Beside Me
Our Absolutely Positively Favorite History Curriculum Ever by Wendy @ Homeschooling Blessings
Science: learning to use what you are given by Piwi Mama @ Learning & Growing the Piwi Way
Historical Significance by Kristi @ The Potter’s Hand Academy
How We Are Exploring Our World as Homechoolers by Laura O in AK @ Day by Day in Our World
VCF:  Week 3 The Social Sciences by Lisa @ Golden Grasses
A Trip Around the World:  Homeschool-Style by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun
Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Exploring Our World:
Biology by Dawn @ Guiding Light Homeschool
Virtual Curriculum Fair: Learning about our World  by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Math-magical!

Welcome to Week 2 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair  Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science.  Last year I shared some of our favorite math games and if you've never heard of the company, you should really read about Muggins Math.  (That's Muggins, not muggles--this has nothing to do with Harry Potter).   The point of the the games is to help kids have fun while drilling math facts--it is one of those core subjects that we can't avoid.  Is there a way though,  to help kids develop a desire to learn math or practice math in the first place?  After all no kids is going to buy the argument that someday you may be working in a store and the computers go down and you have to count change on your own (this did happen to me once as the purchaser, I had to show the cashier how to add up from the sales total to the $20 I'd given her). So how's this for a carrot to dangle in front of their little noses: you can use math to amaze and delight friends and family?

What kids aren't fascinated by magic at some point in their lives (I think it's a required phase, like dinosaurs). There's actually a lot of math that goes into magic tricks, especially the ones that appear to be mind reading.  The math manipulates you to turn to a certain page in a book or end a calculation by coming up with your age or house number.  My Schnickelfritz is in that magic phase of life (he got called up on stage to help a magician in Branson and attended magic camp last summer).   I've found several resources that combine math and magic.  PLEASE NOTE:  Usually magicians never tell secrets and I am not sharing any secrets from purchased magic books or tricks. All the material I'm using comes from math books, not magic books.

Math-A-Magic: Number Tricks for Magicians by Laurence B. White 

This book contains 21 tricks.  Each gives an overview of what should happen when performing the trick, how to do it, and the Math-a-Magic secret.  The last section gives the math principle that allows the trick to work (which, math geek that I am, is the best part).   The book is geared to ages 9 and above, but some of the tricks only require counting so even younger kids could get involved.  Here's a favorite:

Super Memory

The Trick:  Give someone a piece of paper and ask them to write down  a long number--say 15 digits.  Ask her to say each digit allowed because you're going to "memorize it."   When she's done ask her to cross out one number and then rearrange all the others into a 14 digit number.  Have her read the each digit of the new number.  Your magician's patter is that you have memorized both numbers and are comparing the two and will be able to tell her which number was crossed out.

How to Do It:   When the person is reciting each number you must add them up in your head.  In our example the 15 digits add up to 58 (this is the number you need to remember), when one digit is removed the new sum is 49.  Now all you have to do is subtract 49 from 58 and you know the missing digit was 9. 

Math-a-Magic Secret:  When most people will see only a long, hard-to-remember number.  You've misdirected them by saying you're memorizing it when all you're doing is adding and subtracting.

Mastering Math through Magic by Mary Lombardo

There are actually 3 books in this series geared towards grades 2-3, 4-6, and 6-8 (we have the middle one).    The book is actually written to teachers so it goes into a little detail about objectives, correlation with National Math standards, etc.   The math requirements are addition (with carrying), subtraction (with borrowing), multiplying and dividing.  The 30+ tricks are divided into categories like Calendar Capers, Dice Doings, Money Madness.  Again you always get a step-by-step run through, the secret, and an explanation why the trick works.  There are a few I hesitate to call "tricks," like using your finger to multiply by 9.  Still it's a good tool for teaching the times table.

Side Note:  Nine really is an amazing number.  When I worked in accounting I was always have to balance debits and credits.  If the two numbers didn't match the first thing I would do is subtract one from the other.  If the result was divisible by 9, I knew that I had probably transposed a number along the way.

EZ Math Trix DVD

My son checked this DVD out of the library so many times, I ended up getting him his own copy.  It's not strictly magic tricks.  A lot is simply shortcuts to help you do math in your head faster--like multiplying a 2 digit number by 11.  The way most learned in school is

The shortcut is to separate the two digits on the paper and then place the sum of the two digits in between them. 

Once you've mastered the skill, there's a great trick on the DVD.

Have someone write down two 1-digit numbers on a piece of paper or chalk board, etc. and  add them together.  Then add the second number to the third and write down the sum.  Have them continue this process until they have 10 numbers.  Then ask them to add all ten numbers together--you can even give them a calculator.  You'll solve it in your head and in mere seconds!

The secret is to take the fourth number from the bottom and multiply it by 11.  (You can start solving the problem as soon as they've written it down). 

Now if you have older kids (or math geeks), try showing  them the magic trick and see if they can use algebra to explain why it works.  For this trick lets replace the first two numbers with X and Y...

One of my main goals as a teacher has been to show my son that learning can be fun.  That's not always easy where math is concerned, but why don't you see for yourself if a little magic can do the trick (pun intended).

This is a virtual fair so please check out what these other bloggers have to share about math, science and logic products.

Delight Directed Middle School Science?  by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

The Hardest Part of Math by Kristi @ The Potter's Hand Academy

A Tour Through Our Math and Science Life by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

What Works for Us…Math by Piwi Mum @ Learning & Growing the Piwi Way

Math Art – Geometry by Julie @ Highhill Education

It's Math-magical by Missouri Mama @ Ozark Ramblings

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Fun and Games with Math by Tonia @ The Sunny Patch

Discovering Patterns by Lisa @ The Golden Grasses

Math for the Natural by Erin @ Delighting in His Richness

Virtual Curriculum Fair~ Discovering Patterns by Karyn @ Teach Beside Me

Too Many Math Programs or Not by Linda B @ Homeschooling6

Virtual Curriculum Fair:  Math and More!  by April @ Coffee, Cobwebs,
and Curriculum

The post where I admit I was wrong by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

High School Math - Beyond the Textbook by TechWife @ A Playground of Words

Discovering a World of Logic and Order by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair- Discovering Patterns: Mathematics,
Logic, and Science by Leah C @ As We Walk Along the Road

The Plans of Mice and Math (My Math in Focus review) by Chelli @ The
Planted Trees

Rightstart Math is right for us! by Leann  @ Montessori Tidbits

Our Favorite Homeschool Math Curriculums by Wendy @ Homeschooling Blessings

Friday, January 11, 2013

How to take advantage of Walmart's price matching

The local newspaper brought me the bad news---Ameren Missouri's raising the rates on their electricity by 10 percent starting Jan 1st.  And Ol' Man Winter decided to join in the fun too.  We'd had  relatively mild temps thus far but as soon as the price hike came the forecast changed to below normal temps and nights in the single digits.  Since I'm not a member of Congress, I'll actually need to do some jostling in the budget to deal with the higher cost of heat.

I've mentioned before that I don't live in Double Coupon Land.  The one store that does double is 13 miles away and only doubles the first 15 coupons 50 cents and under.  I figure round trip will use up 1 gallon of gas so it would cost me $3.15 to save $7.50.   In fact distance has been the issue in my missing several bargains at the grocery store.  My local paper carries ads for 5 grocery stores in nearby towns ranging from 3 to 14 miles away.  In the past I would combine trips to close stores (Schnucks and Aldi's are near each other) or stop when we had nearby activities (Country Mart is near Schnickelfritz's Royal Ranger's meetings).   But the truth is I don't like to make 3-5 trips to different stores every week just to take advantage of their loss leaders.

Thankfully Walmart (which is actually my closest store) has fully embraced their "We'll match any advertised price" policy.  Now I go through each store's ad and compare their sales to my price book (the subject of a whole other post).  If it's a stock up price, I'll circle it in the ad and write it on my shopping list.   I like to make the list on a spreadsheet so I can sort by grocery aisle (making me more efficient in the store).  Most of the stores in my area are not part of a national or even regional chain.  They all share the same generic brand--Best Choice, and most of their sale items involve this generic.  Walmart will price match generics and in-store labels with their own Great Value brand.  Here's an example from my Thanksgiving dinner shopping trip.

If I've got a lot of price matching to do, I'll try to go during non-peak hours.  In this case I was at the store at 6:30 on a Saturday morning before Thanksgiving.   I take the shopping list and my circled grocery fliers with me to the store. Walmart doesn't require you to bring in the competitor's ads-- they usually have copies, but having the items already circled helps to find them faster and just keeps the check out line moving along.  When I pick something off the shelves I'm very careful where I stick it in the cart.  I try to keep each store's loss leaders together so I can show the cashier all the sales in one flier at the same time.

Apparently I'm not the only one doing this either--someone had already changed Walmart's computers to match Schnuck's turkey sale although it wasn't reflected on the price tag or the freezer case.  The cashier didn't ask to see the Aldi's flier and already knew the sales prices for the potatoes.

So how did I do?  You'll note I left a column to write in Walmart's regular price.  It's not necessary, but sometimes it nice to see what you've accomplished. A few things to notice--Walmart's price on green beans was already lower that the competitor's sale price so sometimes you don't want to price match.  Also, Walmart only had two bottles of my husbands flavor of salad dressing.  I didn't actually need to buy three to match the 3 for $5 sale, the cashier figured out the cost per bottle and used that figure for the price.

My 20 minutes of scouring other ads saved me nearly $40!  Amy Dacyczyn of The Tightwad Gazette used to figure the hourly worth of a task to see if the savings was worth the time and effort of doing it.  Price matching, in this case, works out to $120 per hour--I'd say definitely!!!  And there doesn't seem to be a limit.  During Christmas shopping Walmart matched the price of a Cabela's hunting video game that another store had for $35 less.  The cashier had to call a manager over for the price override but no one disputed the sales flyer I'd brought with me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Chess Demo Board: a lesson in perseverence

This week we begin a new semester of Co-op classes and since we've already viewed all 10 Disney Imagineering DVDs (and there aren't enough new kids who didn't take the class), I'm moving on to a new subject--beginning chess.  We have the whole series of books and videos from Championship Chess .  You really should visit their website to learn about the benefits chess can bring kids: focusing, weighing options, thinking ahead, etc. Anyway, the one piece I didn't have was a big demonstration chess board to show the kids moves and set up puzzles.  Most of them use pockets into which you place plastic cards with pictures of the pieces. 

First Attempt: Buy One     Talk about your sticker shock--they run from $40-$60.  I even tried eBay.  Since I'm offering this class for free I needed to come up with a more frugal option.

Second Attempt: Use what I have     Years ago while garage-sale-ing, I bought a vinyl, roll-up chess board from a young enthusiast.  I thought perhaps I could hold the board up on my magnetic white board.  I went so far as to make circular chips with symbols of the chess pieces on them and attached magnets to the back.  The problem was the vinyl was too thick for the magnets to adhere.  I could have looked into more powerful magnets, but there again cost became an issue.  Still, I had the pieces.  I was making progress.

Third Attempt: Make my own board     I had printed and made my own pieces after all.  I did find some printable boards online but it involved printing on multiple pages and taping them together and it still wasn't big enough to use in front of a class.  I saved the info for any students who might need to make their own for class.

Fourth Attempt:  Copying what I had   The vinyl board was the right size, just too thick so what if I copied it onto thinner material.  I took my roll-up board to Office Max first but they couldn't handle the size.  They referred me to a local print shop that had a much bigger scanner.  It worked!  With a little coaxing the think vinyl went through their roller/scanner.  Now comes the embarrassing part--I didn't have any cash with me and they wouldn't accept debit or credit cards for such a small order.  God bless those good folks, they let me keep the copy and hoped I'd pay them the next time I came to town.

So I had my  20" square chess board, but I was already a little disappointed in it.  The original board had been green and the scanner had a little trouble picking it up.  Some squares were really faded out.  One the other hand the scanner had no trouble picking up the lines and creases from the vinyl being folded and stored so it looked like chicken scratches all over.

Fifth Attempt:  Improving the Copy    I'm a bit of a crafter and I had rolls of sticky vinyl left over from making cups with all my relatives' names on them from Thanksgiving (I was trying to be slightly more elegant than the standard tape and sharpie marker technique).  So I got out my quilting ruler and fabric cutting wheel (think pizza cutter, only sharper) and cut 32 squares of vinyl to mach my chess board.  They were a cinch to place over the grid on my copy.   I noticed when placing the vinyl, that I could still pull it up and adjust it so I worried how permanent the arrangement would be.  Then it hit me like a bolt of lightening--laminating the board would not only keep the vinyl in place, but we could use dry erase markers to show potential moves, etc. in class!  I went back to the local print shop so I could pay them for the copy and give them the laminating business to boot.

So here's my finished project.  Instead of $40 to $60,  I shelled out $2.50 to the print shop, (the cost of the vinyl may have been another dollar).  There's still some tweaking to do: I found that if the chess board lifts up from the surface of the white board, the magnets fall off so I'm taping the chess board down.  We'll just have to use the refrigerator surface for our All About Spelling lessons this semester.  True, it's not the invention of the light bulb, but it does show what can be accomplished by persevering,  learning from each attempt, and improving upon what you learned.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Writing help in a Critical Thinking book?

Welcome to the 2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair!  This week's topic is Playing with Words: The Language Arts. Last year I shared An In Depth Look at All About Spelling.   Spelling certainly falls under Language Arts.  So why am I sharing Building Thinking Skills with you this year?  Surely that would be better suited to next week's topic--Math, Logic & Science.  Well bear with me here.  First-- I already have a great math topic to share.  And second--this book really has helped my son learn how to pick just the right word and how to form great sentences & paragraphs.  Half of the book deals with figural skills --matching and drawing shapes, but even there we have some opportunity to practice describing attributes of shapes and their relative positions.  The second half of the book covers more verbal (actually written) skills. 

 Full Disclosure:  I picked up a 1998 edition of this text.  I have looked at the sample pages available on the Critical Thinking website and they seem to still cover the same material. 

The material is learned in baby steps.  We started by reading a short paragraph and pulling out the characteristics of the subject.  Here we learned about pizza and butter.
 To begin, we read the material together and I explained that we're looking for adjectives (which we covered in grammar).  We underlined them and then he copied the words in the appropriate spots.  After the first example he could do these exercises by himself (I love that!)    There were eight exercises to make sure we mastered the concept and then we were only given a subject and he had come up with the characteristics on his own.  I allowed him to use single words or phrases but he still needed four.

Again, there was plenty of practice -- 15 exercises on common animals, foods, vehicles, and occupations.  There was one page with geography terms so we also had to add the skill of looking things up in a dictionary and a children's encyclopedia.

Moving on... now we'll be building short paragraphs of our own using characteristics.  This time the page prompts us on important things to include:  appearance, origin, kinds, structure, value, and purpose for objects;  who, when, where, why, how, and significance for events.   Our current exercise involves beans. We need to go back to our Apologia Botany book and look up the structure of a seed (a good review since that was four year's ago) before he can write his paragraph.

 There are 6 such exercises in the book, but best of all is the blank form that I can use with any subject I choose.  One of Fritz's merit badge assignments is to write about the Space Shuttle and we'll be incorporating this form.

Sometimes I use Building Thinking Skills to supplement our grammar program.  You want to work on synonyms and antonyms?  There are pages and pages of multiple choice questions and others where you have to supply the word (if they can't come up with one on their own it's the opportunity to teach how a thesaurus works). 

Another execise we've enjoyed is the Word Web.  Take a word like good--it can have multiple definitions in the dictionary.  This form covers just four.

In our Institute for Excellence in Writing lessons we learned that "good" is not a "quality adjective" because it has so many meanings.  With a form like this, my Schnickelfritz can focus in on which attribute of "good" he's actually trying to describe and choose a more appropriate word.

Writing doesn't come easy to my son (he's the type of boy Andrew Pudwa says would "rather build forts all day") so I'm glad to have these short exercises that he can work on his own.  I don't actually refer to them as his writing lesson for the day, but it does help boost his vocabulary and writing skills.

Now this is a Virtual Curriculum fair and every participant can have a totally unique aspect of how Language Arts fits into their day so you'll want to visit their blogs as well. 

Building Blocks of Education--Learning to Read  by Kristi Kerr @ The
Potter's Hand Academy

Finding Our Way Through Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected
Homeschool http://unexpectedhomeschool.blogspot.com/2013/01/VCFLA.html

How Does a Unit Study Teach Language Arts? by Nicole @ Schooling in
the Sun http://schoolinginthesun.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-does-unit-study-teach-language-arts.html

Our Language Arts Adventure by Linda @ Homeschooling6

2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair-Playing with Words:  The Language Arts by
Leah Courtney @ As We Walk Along the Road

Virtual Curriculum Fair-Playing with Words by Karyn @ Teach Beside Me

Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Language Arts by Dawn @ Guiding Light
Homeschool http://guidinglighths.com/?p=792276

Writing Help in a Critical Thinking book? by Missouri Mama @ Ozark
Ramblings http://oramblings.blogspot.com/2013/01/writing-help-in-critical-thinking-book.html

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Foreign Language Immersion in the Homeschool
by Tonia @ The Sunny Patch

Formula for Reading by Erin @ Delighting in His Richness

Words and Learning by Annette @ A Net In Time

A Custom Designed High School English Credit by Tech Wife @ A
Playground of Words http://www.playgroundofwords.blogspot.com/

Virtual Curriculum Fair 2013: Still Loving Language Arts by Pam @
Everyday Snapshots

Word Play by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

Loving Language Arts by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

Learning Language Arts ~ 2012-2013 School Year by Laura O in AK @ Day
by Day in Our World

Virtual Curriculum Fair - The Language Arts Department by Joelle @
Homeschooling for His Glory

Playing with Words:  The Language Arts by Christa Darr @ Fairfield
Corner Academy: The Story of Our Life

Playing with Words:  Language Arts by April @ Coffee, Cobwebs and
Curriculum http://coffeecobwebsandcurriculum.blogspot.com/2013/01/playing-with-words-language-arts.html

What Language Arts looks like in our house - Are we doing it right? by
Hillary M @ Our Homeschool Studio

Getting lost and finding our way in Language Arts by Piwi Mum @
Learning and growing the Piwi Way

Friday, January 4, 2013

Welcome 2013

The lights and decorations are down and there's no excuse not to do school (okay we did take Wednesday off to go sledding--our first serious snowfall of the season).  Products are starting to come for the new TOS Review Crew year.  I'm gearing up for the new year's Virutal Curriculum Fair and Soup Swap.  Welcome to 2013.

But before we look forward, let's look back at Christmas break.

Favorite gift:   So far I'm leaning towards the pressure cooker cookbook--Great Food Fast.  So far I've made Layered Enchilada Casserole, Perfected Pot Roast,  Kiss the Cook Baby Back Ribs, and Best Ever Macaroni & Cheese.  All received raves( even from my picky eater).

Favorite Activity:  On Christmas Eve, the Toolman had to work sound for both church services.  Schnickelfritz and I went to his grandparents' house for our traditional Chinese dinner.  Afterwards, Schnickelfritz played director and several leading roles in an impromptu re-enactment of A Christmas Carol.  Without a crutch for a prop, his Tiny Tim seemed to slouch along like Dr. Frankenstein's assistant Igor which caused a total breakdown of the cast with a case of giggles.  A second outbreak occurred when Fritz was portraying the ghost of Christmas future.  He was wearing my hooded winter coat over his head, but to keep his face from showing he had to pull the hood completely over his head and hold it with his chin--the result was anything but the foreboding look he was going for.  The most coveted role of the evening went to Grandma who got to lay on the couch covered with a blanket (as the dead body)--no lines to ad lib and a brief rest. 

Favorite Christmas Card:  My great-aunt in Massachusetts.  She's 91 now but "still drives, sings in the choir, and visits with family and friends that aren't so lucky."
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