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.


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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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