Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Make-A-State Activity


We are thrilled every time get to review a product from Home School in the Woods. This time was even more exciting though, because we were able to use their newest product! The Make-A-State Activity, which is part of their Activity-Paks line, is filled with hands-on projects that teach all about the 50 states.   


Home School in the Woods is a family business that was started as a way to make history real, understandable, and applicable. Using timelines and realistic illustrations as a foundation, they've created many resources to make learning history an enjoyable process. I, like Amy the driving force of the company, did not enjoy the boring textbooks in high school. It wasn't until we started our own homeschooling journey that I started to realize that learning history wasn't boring, but, in fact, could be quite interesting. I was excited to download this study and learn more about the individual states that make up America.

The download (also available as a CD) comes as a zip file. Once you open it, and see the multiple folders, click on the "start" file. At that point, the entire program will open in your browser, making it very easy to use. Instead of clicking through multiple folders, trying to bounce back and forth among the resources, everything is laid out as you need it.


The Make-A-State Activity-Pak contains templates to create an individual lap book for each of the 50 states and also includes a bonus book for Washington D.C.. The projects incorporate illustrations, coloring, creative writing, map skills, research, and more. Each lap book covers the same 20 activities. Some of the templates are the same for each state, while others are individualized. There are 20 activities for each lap book:
  • Key State Facts
  • Origin of State Name
  • State Motto
  • State Symbols
  • State Song
  • State Industry/Agriculture/Climate
  • State Wildlife
  • Regions
  • State Geography
  • State Government
  • State Seal & Flag
  • State History
  • Famous People From . . .
  • Native Tribes
  • State Landmarks
  • Sports Teams
  • State Quarter
  • Recipes
  • State Vocabulary
  • State Timeline 

While there is a bonus page of learning about each state that is filled with facts and other brief information, the activity-pak is designed to compliment your own curriculum, text, or research. This product is different, in that sense, from the other materials we've used from Home School in the Woods (U.S. Elections Lap-Pak, Project Passport: The Middle Ages, and Project Passport: Ancient Egypt) that included the complete lesson texts. The company is known for their detailed, hands-on curricula, and this study does not disappoint. The activity-paks encourage independent study, by guiding the student through a series of topics and offering activities and projects. Hands-on assignments add another level of learning that helps the student to better retain information. There are detailed instructions for each project.

This study is recommended for grades 3-8, but, personally, I've found that it works well even for my younger kids (ages 5 and 7), too. We like to incorporate as much family study as we can, and the Make-A-Sate Activity-Pak is wonderful. Everyone can be involved, whether it's helping to research the information on the internet or helping to cut and tape or helping to draw and color.

We chose to start with the study of Michigan since that's where we live. The kids already knew things like the robin is our state bird and Lansing is our capital, but they've learned so much more than that the last month or so. They've enjoyed seeing our state symbol and flag, learning our motto, and listening to our song. We've studied about wolverines, assembly lines, the Great Lakes, the Soo Locks, meat pasties, and more.

 
The only negative opinion I have about this study is the breakdown of the PDFs. Because everything has very specific printing instructions (regular paper, colored paper, white cardstock, colored cardstock) each individual page is its own file. I understand the need for the "special" pages, but because of the individual files, you have to open each file individually and print. On pages that are double-sides, you have to open the file, print one page, turn it around, open another file, and print the back. The other studies we've used from this company incorporated more cardstock, whereas this one used mostly regular paper. It would be so much simpler, if the entire resource were one file, or could at least also be given as a single PDF, along with the current format. That way, I could choose the double-sided printing option and my printer can do the work for me when needed and have the option of printing all the regular pages at once. Printers have so many options now that make printing easy, and I really feel that this format hinders it. It's the same complaint I have of each of the products from Home School in the Woods. I had really hoped to see this changed since it's their brand new study.

Aside from the printing frustrations, we absolutely love this study; so much, in fact, that we will continue with our study of the states, even with the extra work to get it all printed. The lap book activities are well done and offer such variety. Because of the slower pace of our summer schedule, we're at the point where the Michigan lap book is about to be assembled. The older kids (ages 9 and 11), especially like the resources from Home School in the Woods, and since they're away at church camp for the week, we'll wait until they're home to put it all together. I'm excited to see the final project with all its moving parts and opening flaps and pages.


Home School in the Woods really is a fantastic place if you're looking for hands-on history curricula. If you'd like another activty-pak, like this one, they also have options for The New Testament, Artists, and a couple others. If you'd like a product that includes more lesson text, their Time Travelers or  Project Passport lines might be more appealing. The also offer timelines, map sets, lap books, and more. A new feature that is being offered is the A La Carte Projects, if you're looking for just a few projects for topical studies. Currently, you can even use code "alacarte" at checkout to get the Erie Canal project for free! Try it out and fall in love with their resources, just like we have. You can find entire lists of products on their website. 


The Make-A-State Activity is a great resource for encouraging independent study of the 50 states. My kids and I are enjoying using this product and look forward all that we'll learn as we continue our study.


You can connect with Home School in the Woods on the following social media sites:


You can read more reviews of products offered by Home School in the Woods on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.


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Friday, July 7, 2017

Smile 6/23/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)


Happy Friday! This week we celebrated our 14th anniversary and Father's Day, did some major yard work, spent time with out-of-town family, and had many Smiles.


1. Jake: "Did you know that taking candy from a baby isn't exactly easy? I mean, they scream."

2. Tyler: "When can we do that?"
Me: "Whenever, I guess."
Tyler: "Right now! Right now! Right now!"
Me: "Well, not right now--"
Tyler: "Today! Today! Today!"

3.

4. Tyler, adding ice cubes to soup: "I just colded my broth."

and later . . .

5. Tyler: "With you hotten your water, please?"

6. Jake: "Nicky, do you want to go see Papa tomorrow?"
Nicholas: "I go Papa now!"

7. I walked into the kitchen and found these LEGO creations sitting in the counter. I assumed they were for me. Come to find out, the boys built them for Alyssa, because she made a big fruit salad for them. Flowers and hearts to show their appreciation


8. Zac, about a Lego set: "Do you think Hulk was a good choice for Dad? 'Cause Hulk is strong and Dad is strong."


10. Tyler: "Alyssa! Mom has your archenemy--mustard!"
Me: "Archenemy? How can mustard hurt her?"
Alyssa: "I hurts my taste buds."


What made you Smile this week?
 
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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola



Dark chocolate cherry granola.

The name itself sounds like a decadent dessert.

And while you could definitely enjoy a bowl of it for dessert (ooh, or on top of a scoop of ice cream), we like to eat ours for breakfast. I mean, anytime you can have chocolate for breakfast it's good, right?


The sweetness of the cherries is balanced by the bitterness of the chocolate.Toss in some almonds for good measure, and you've got tasty, crunchy, granola goodness.

I cut my cherries in half to keep everything uniform in size and because the kids especially don't like the large pieces. This time I also used dark chocolate chips instead of chopping a bar, so I cut those in half, too. Of course, you could save yourself some time and work and just simply toss in the cherries and chocolate as is. But if you have picky, big-chunk-disliking kiddos, you might want to give your add-ins a chop. 

Either way, this granola is worth the work.



Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola
Ingredients:
5 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup slivered almonds 
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup coconut oil 
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup dried cherries
3/4 cup chopped dark chocolate pieces

Directions:
1. Place oats and almonds in a large bowl.
2. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, combine the honey, coconut oil, and peanut butter. Microwave for one minute; whisk. Microwave an additional 30 seconds, or as needed, to melt everything and allow it to combine smoothly. (Can also be melted on the stove in a small saucepan.)
3. Stir in cinnamon and vanilla. Pour over oats and almonds and mix to coat. (I use a spatula.)
4. Spread granola in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 275°for 20 minutes. Stir and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Let cool completely before mixing in dried cherries and chocolate. Store in an air-right container. 
 
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Learning from Mistakes


I love working in the kitchen. Cooking, baking--I love it all and often make our meals from scratch. There's something therapeutic about kneading a batch of dough or creating a delicious pie or concocting a comforting soup. It's a creative outlet for me and relieves stress. It's also a way I show love to my family. Just watch the way their eyes light up when they see a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies or fall-off-the-bone bbq ribs. It's magical.

But I don't cook like that every day. 

Wednesdays are busy. School, chores, church. Leighton gets home from work, jumps in the shower, gets dressed, and we're out the door. There's no time for major clean up before church, and there's not much time afterward either. Rush in, snack, pajamas, brush teeth, bed. To save time in both preparing and cleaning, we opt for simple meals. Leftovers, sandwiches, homemade pizza, pasta, fend-for-yourself night. Something. 

This particular Wednesday was no different, except that I wanted to try something new. Well, not a new meal, but a new way of preparing it. 

The Instant Pot has been hugely popular with home cooks lately. Since I have a thing for kitchen gadgets and tools, I was won over by the lure of this magical pot a year ago. I had read rave reviews about this appliance and was excited when the box showed up on our porch. The kids and I tore open the box and carefully pulled out the pot. We oohed and ahhed. 

And then the pot sat there. 

I was intimidated by this thing! It's completely different than other cooking methods and can have a learning curve. There's no way to check doneness without stopping and restarting again. And how long do I cook things? Which setting do I use? Look at all these functions! And you have to decipher all sorts of jargon. QR. NPR. PIP. HP. 

I am trying to use it more, because it actually is convenient once you figure it out. Not everything has been fantastic though. The first time I used it for hard boiled eggs, I ended up with green rings in the yolks. The first time I cooked a pasta dish in it, the meal was a big pile of mush. I've also made under-cooked, crunchy rice and dry, over-cooked pheasant. Impressive, right? Not very appetizing. But those issues were a matter of following someone else's directions and not because I made a "mistake."

 
This Wednesday though, I wanted to use the Instant Pot for macaroni and cheese. When I bake the dish in the oven, I typically make it in the same basic way each time, but not by following a recipe. I change up the shape of the noodle and types of cheese. I never measure. A little of this seasoning. A little of that. But making it in the Pot was completely different. I found a promising recipe and gathered my ingredients. 

The oldest had spent the night at my parents, the toddler was napping, and the middle 3 children and I were playing a rousing game of Sequence for Kids. I was trying to multitask. Not a big deal, I mean, I have 5 children--multitasking is my life. I played a card and walked back to the counter to add an ingredient to the Pot.

"Mom, it's your turn."

It's a fast-paced game. Play a card. Add an ingredient. Play a card. Add an ingredient. Repeat. 

Despite their pleas, I finished up that game and called it quits so I could start getting ready for church before having to complete the next step of the meal. 

A little bit later, I heard the chime signaling that it was time to add the heavy cream and shredded cheese. Easy. Turn on the saute function. Pour, stir, dump, mix. I filled bowls for the kiddos and passed them out. I took a bite myself.

Whoa, is this salty!

My thoughts were mirrored on the faces on my kids. "This is really salty, Mom. Do I have to eat it?"

Well, let's see. We leave for church in 30 minutes. I have no time to cook anything else and you're not even dressed yet. That's a yes.

And there I was applying eye shadow and explaining to Leighton (er, grumbling) how I just have a hard time with this silly appliance. I know how to cook! Yet here I am, still having to look up cooking times and whatnot and following recipes and not liking the outcome anyway. I almost never follow recipes exactly, because I never like how it turns out. And why was it so salty? Do people really think that tastes good? I mean, I followed it exactly! It called for 2 teaspoons--

And that's when I stopped completely. Shock took over. And then laughter.

An image of the measuring spoon I grabbed out of the drawer was not a teaspoon . . . but a tablespoon. Oh. That's right, instead of 2 teaspoons, I used 2 tablespoons, which is the equivalent of 6 teaspoons. SIX. No wonder it was so salty. Huh, I guess it wasn't the recipe's fault after all. 

And I guess I wasn't doing so well multitasking during the game either.

We all gulped down the nearly inedible dish. I bribed the kids to eat faster by offering a piece of chocolate for each of them once they finished. You know, to compensate for the salt and balance it out. Big smiles. Empty bowls. Chocolate. Happy kids.


When we got home from church a few hours later, I was still laughing at myself. I grabbed both a teaspoon and a tablespoon and used my error as a teaching moment with the kids. I explained why it was so important to pay attention in the kitchen. Read the directions. Read the labels. Pay attention. I'm often pointing stuff like that out on Mondays when the kids cook, so this was nothing new. They were standing there listening intently, nodding their cute, little heads. And then I explained my mistake, and they visually could see the size difference and could mentally remember the taste of dinner. And their sweet, little faces broke into huge smiles. 

We all laughed, because, really, what else could we do?

All of a sudden, Alyssa stopped. "Wait. Did you do that on purpose to prove a point?"

Why, yes, yes, I did. 

 Ha. No. I made that mistake honestly by being rushed and not paying attention. But pointing out my fault to my little ones became a perfect example. These teaching moments are what I'm focusing on this year. And if they learn from my mistakes, then it's worth it.

Ok. Eating that much salt may never be worth it, but you get the idea.

These kids need to hear me admit when I make mistakes. Adding too much of an ingredient may not big a major issue, but if we're not willing to admit small faults, how we can ever expect to own major ones. Our kids like to put the blame on others when some mistake is made. It's a human flaw that dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden. We're trying to teach them to admit their mistake, accept the correction, and move on. Learn from it. 

I've since made macaroni and cheese in the Instant Pot, and wouldn't you know, if you don't add triple the suggested amount of salt, it's actually quite tasty, ha. 

We're never going to reach a point in life where we stop making mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. And don't be afraid to humble yourself, so others can learn from them, too.

Also? Don't use 2 tablespoons of salt for mac & cheese. Trust me. Learn from my mistake.


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Friday, June 30, 2017

Things That Make Me Smile 6/16/17

Jake (11 1/2), Alyssa (9), Zac (7 1/2), Tyler (5), Nicholas (2 1/2)


Happy Friday! This week, we went bowling with friends, painted pictures, played with Legos, read books, and took things easy as we dealt with a bit of sickness. What made you Smile?


1. Tyler: "Mom, you're never lonely. God is always with you."

2. Me: "Dad is dropping off these donations, getting a movie, and picking up Chinese."
5 minutes later . . .
Tyler: "What can I eat?"
Me: "Nothing. I told you, Daddy is picking up dinner."
Tyler: "What is for dinner?"
Me: "Chinese, remember?"
Tyler: "Ohhh! I thought that was the kind of movie."

3. Jake: "What king doesn't like getting rid of stuff?"
Me: "Hmm . . . I don't know."
Jake: "King Agrippa, because he holds on to stuff." (He grips it.)   

4. Alyssa and Jake made a Lego chess set that transforms to Checkers.


5. Nicky: "I ready, Mama. I ready."
Me: "You're ready? For what?"
Nicky: "I see Papa."


6. Leighton, to Jake: "You always have epiphanies right at bed time. Have your epiphanies in the afternoon."

7. Zac: "I named my arms."
Me: "Right and Left?"
Zac: "No. This one's Strong, and this one's Mighty."

8.

9. Alyssa: "Is that soy sauce?"
Me: "No, olive oil."
Alyssa: "Oh, my next guess was going to be wine."
Me: "Wine? Why would you think that?"
Alyssa: "I don't know."
Me: "Have you ever even seen wine in our house?"
Jake: "I've seen Tyler whine."

 What made you Smile this week?
 
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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Peanut Butter Cup Granola


We have been obsessed with homemade granola ever since making this version in the crock pot years ago. I've since switched my method to cooking in the oven, and it is just as delicious.

With a family of 7, you can imagine that granola doesn't last long (actually, nothing lasts long with a family of 7, ha), so I like to make a lot at one time. I usually make 3 types. While one is in the oven, I prepare another. This way, I'm reusing the dishes without having to wash everything, and since most of the ingredients are the same, I have those out already too. It saves me time and streamlines the process. In less than 2 hours, we can have a ton of granola and a clean kitchen. The most difficult thing is trying to decide which kind to make!


It's no secret that we love the combination of peanut butter and chocolate. I mean, homemade Butterfingers made with a crazy ingredient, a decadent peanut butter brownie torte, rich and creamy peanut butter pie, these peanut butter bars which is one of our absolute favorite desserts, homemade Girl Scout peanut butter patties, and a cool and creamy peanut butter cup ice cream cake, anyone? All delicious, yes, but did you notice a theme? They're all desserts. And while I could totally enjoy a peanut butter bar any time of the day, it's probably not the best idea. This granola though is completely acceptable as a breakfast food! Sure, it has a bit of chocolate and chips, but it's still better than those sugary cereals, and it keeps you full longer. Sounds like a good compromise to me. Besides, the kids always think I'm making no bake cookies when this granola is cooking, because it smells exactly the same. So, it's still kinda like eating cookies for breakfast, ha.

I have been working to perfect this recipe for a while. Each time I'd make it, I'd tweak it to make it just a little bit better until we got to this. It is bursting with peanut butter flavor with a hint of chocolate. Of course, with any granola recipe, it's easy to change it to meet your tastes. Leave out the cocoa powder for a pure peanut butter version or don't add the chips for a more subtle peanut butter flavor. I use Reese's brand of baking chips to give it more of a true peanut butter cup flavor, but any brand will work.
 
Of all the granolas we make, this is the kids' favorite. I hope you like it as much as we do.



Peanut Butter Cup Granola
Ingredients:
5 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter chips

Directions:
1. Place oats in a large bowl.
2. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, combine the honey and peanut butter. Microwave for one minute; whisk. Microwave an additional 30 seconds, or as needed, to melt everything and allow it to combine smoothly. (Can also be melted on the stove in a small saucepan.)
3. Stir in cocoa powder and vanilla. Pour over oats and mix to coat. (I use a spatula.)
4. Spread granola in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 275°for 20 minutes. Stir and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Let cool completely before mixing in peanut butter chips. Store in an air-right container.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Homeschool Panet Review



I was always a pen-and-paper planner girl. Just like I prefer a physical paperback fiction book in my hands as opposed to its digital counterpart read on my Kindle, I was set on using a tangible planner to organize my days, too. Then two years ago, I was introduced to Homeschool Planet through Homeschool Buyers Co-op and was won over. Much to my surprise, I've traded my paper planned for an online program ever since.

When my subscription expired a year later, I talked to my husband about renewing. He is a tech guru and uses his devices way more than the laptop. He wanted to find a planner that worked well for both of us so he could easily check our calendar from his phone. I agreed to try a few different apps and our search began. Nope, it doesn't have this feature. No, I don't like the format. Oh, that won't work at all. We eventually settled on one that was decent. But I've never loved it. So you can imagine my excitement when we received another subscription! My beloved planner was back in my life.


Homeschool Buyers Co-op is the world's largest buyers club for homeschool families. They are a family-owned and -operated business that is dedicated to supplying quality curriculum at the lowest price. By joining the co-op for free, you can purchase an individual product with thousands of other homeschools and take advantage of the lower cost of purchasing in bulk. They offer great deals, great products, free resources, and a rewards program.     

I've been part of the co-cop since I first reviewed the planner and have taken advantage of other resources they offer since then. It's also where we create our homeschool ID cards to receive discounts at various places. The co-op is easy to use and convenient. I appreciate that they won't sell my information or send me unwanted emails. Within minutes of making a purchase, I receive access to my products and can begin using them.


Here's what you can expect from Homeschool Planet:
  • The calendar view lets you see anybody's or everybody's calendar on the screen.
  • The planner view shows a simple list of all the tasks and when they need to be completed.
  • The resource view allows you to look at any books, DVD, websites, or the like that are needed for lessons.
  • Separate logins can be created so kids can view their assignments and chores and check them off as completed.
  • The Daily Digest email can be sent to everyone with their personal schedule for the day. 
  • Emails and text messages can be sent as reminders.
  • Easy attendance tracking, grading, and transcript creation.
  • Lesson plans can be created with assignments, web links, notes, and more.
  • Shopping lists for individual stores can be kept and either emailed or texted for convenience.
  • Multiple widgets are supplied for to-do lists, daily Bible verse, daily quote, weather, messages, and more.
  • A mobile version lets you view and edit on smartphones and tablets.
  • Calendar sharing allows you to link your calendar with your spouse's online calendar. 
  • Lesson copying lets you copy lessons for later for another student. 


I was excited to log back into my account and get things setup, but when I opened it, I was even more pleased to discover that it saved all my information from before. All of our profiles, anniversaries, birthdays, classes, chores--everything was still there. I just needed to input current obligations and I was all set.

Homeschool Planet has a way to organize and track everything for my home and homeschool. I can color coordinate things birthdays, appointments, church activities, vacations, deadlines, and more and can assign them to specific people. I can input assignments once and tell it to add it to "every day of the week" or "every Monday" or "every first Wednesday of the month" or any other option you might need. I can type in every every assignment the kids need to complete daily, but choose to hide it from my view so the calendar isn't cluttered. I can print individual calendars for my kids so they can easily see what schoolwork and chores need to be completed each day of the week, without my having to handwrite it all daily. If something doesn't get completed, I can quickly reassign it to a different day. Or time. Or just simply delete it without having unsightly scribble marks on my page.


There are so many features included with this planner that it could feel overwhelming. They offer over a dozen tutorials to make it simpler and help you better organize. There are also widgets that you can customize including a daily quote and Bible verse, to do and shopping lists, weather, and more. You can also receive emails to be reminded of the schedule both daily and weekly.

The co-op is currently running a sale. If you sign up now for a free one-month trial to Homeschool Planet, you will also receive a free lesson plan (valued from $5-15) from the Lesson Plan Marketplace. They offer plans for well-known vendors such as Rosetta Stone, IEW, Saxon, Veritas Press, The Magic School Bus, and so much more. The professionally-designed plans can be added to your calendar with a click of a button, and all the assignments, notes, and links to online resources will be filled in.  

I am so excited to be using Homeschool Planet again. I wish they created an app for it though. They do have a mobile version, but I haven't found it very helpful, honestly. I still have to access it through the web browser, which is not convenient, and I'm not fond of the view of it either. If I need Leighton to pick up a few things on the way home, I can text him the list from the planner, but it had an app, it would be so much easier for him to be able to check the list directly there himself. Other than that though, it's still my favorite planner and one that I anticipate using for a long time.


You can connect with Homeschool Buyers Co-op on the following social media sites:
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You can see what features of this planner other homeschool families utilize by reading the reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew blog.

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