Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Shoots" & Ladders and other math games

For our formal math curriculum, we use Sunrise Math from Christian Light Education and LOVE it! But we incorporate lots of fun supplements and math games too. This week while playing our Sesame Street version of Chutes & Ladders, my kindergartner made the adorable comment that it was strange they called it Shoots & Ladders, because there weren't any guns in it. :D I explained the different spelling and, without us having a laundry chute, it wasn't easy giving an example. She simplified it by deciding we'll call it Slides & Ladders, which I concur makes it a lot more sensible and modern.

Here are just a few of our favorite free math sites where you can download worksheets, lesson plans, math games and activities.
KidZone free math printables
Math games
Math Worksheet Generator
Math in an everyday way: this site has simple ideas for incorporating math in your everyday life, at home, the grocery store, on the go and for the fun of it.
Also, has a ton of great counting games your toddler and preschooler will love!

Smoothies and Shakes

My grandma would be glad her old blender gets put to such yummy use. Here's some quick and tasty recipes for delicious homemade drinks that your kids will delight in making and slurping!
Don't be afraid to change up the ingredients and experiment with what you have on hand, especially with fruit smoothies--just about any combo turns out and we often include bananas and yogurt.

Apple-Strawberry Smoothies

2 apples, peeled and cut up
1 orange, peeled and cut up
About 1-1/2 cups of frozen whole strawberries
1 12-oz. can of frozen apple juice concentrate
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Blend and enjoy!

Peanut Butter Shakes

3 cups milk
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tbs. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Splash of chocolate syrup (optional)

Blend and enjoy or refridgerate until ready to drink.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I remember participating in Book-It! in elementary school. You read so many books, or for so many minutes, whatever your reading goals are for the month, and you earn coupons for free pizza from Pizza-Hut.
I think it is so cool that the Book-It program is free for homeschool families to utilize as well. After registering, you select monthly reading goals for your kids (kindergarten can be read-to/read-aloud) and can redeem coupons for a 1-topping personal pan pizza.
Technically they ask the coupons not be redeemed as a group for pizza parties because of the large quantities, but one of the moms in our homeschool group called our local Pizza Hut and asked if they minded us doing a pizza party with them and they had no problem with it.
In public school, I remember us having reading time in school then getting a coupon to use later at home. It makes so much more sense to me to do the reading time at home, then celebrate the pizza reward together as a group for social time.
Find out more about Book-It!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Paper Chain Year-End Countdown

We make one every year around this time. A paper chain to count down the days, with special holidays and occasions in a different color. We started the tradition 2 years ago as a way to give my daughter a better grasp of time as we counted toward the days of her little brother's birth. All of our birthdays fall right in a row and having a colored chain that the special days stand out in really helps her grasp the order and length of time. Mom's birthday (yellow), Halloween (orange), Daughter's birthday (pink), Thanksgiving (orange again), Dad's birthday (green), Son's birthday (blue), Christmas (red). All the "regular" days are the same color, this year it's purple.
We use other calendars and count-down activities too, but nothing quite compares to the fun of the paper chain!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My kids' favorite snack

It's quick, easy and my kids love it. These simple snacks are "treats" to my kiddos, they get excited for both.
Either spread cream cheese on graham crackers and top with sliced strawberries, or spread peanut butter on graham crackers and top with sliced bananas. See? Told you it was easy. Yum!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Finn in me

Heritage is something I don't think many people appreciate or find interesting until they are older. At least for me it wasn't. My family is predominately Finnish. My mom is 100% Finnish. Both my grandparents were as well. I grew up with several Finnish traditions, many of which I didn't know were based on my heritage until I was an adult. Perhaps, to some extent, you need to be raising the next generation before you start to embrace the generations preceding you.
My grandparents didn't teach the Finnish language to my mother and uncle, even though they spoke it fluently. They, just as their parents and grandparents before them who settled here and in Minnesota, felt it was important to be American, learn English, and move forward not clinging to the old country. They didn't demand that things be written in Finnish for their benefit or that people speak to them in Finnish. Were they disrespecting their heritage by doing so? Not at all. They were simply embracing the melting pot. Embracing America.
I won't ever consider myself a Finnish-American, or hang a Finnish flag in place of an American one. But I do want my kids to have a sense and understanding where many of our traditions and even some of our character traits (SISU!) come from.
On that note, I thought I'd share some of our Finnish traditions. I'm hoping to host a Heritage Fair with our homeschool group soon because I think it would be neat for all the kids to learn where other people come from and share recipes and traditions along the way.

My family's Pasty Recipe
There are several ways to make Pasty, and many Finns use different methods. In a proper pasty, the filling ingredients are not cooked before they are put in the pie casing. Here is my family's recipe, we make them every year during Pasty season (the fall) when rutabagas are available at the grocery store.

2 cups beef, cut into bite size chunks
2 cups pork, cut into bite size chunks
1 small onion, diced
1/2 of a rutabaga, peeled and cut-up
4 potatoes, peeled and cut-up
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper, or to taste

Split up all ingredients in half and layer them in order in a pie crust (see crust recipe below). Repeat the layers, potatoes on top. Cover with top crust, vent top with a knife or fork and bake in a 350-degree oven for approximately 1-1/2 hrs, checking after an hour.

Depending on the size of your meat and potato chunks, the time could vary by 20-30 minutes. If you poke a fork in the center, the potatoes shouldn't put up much of a fight. Serve dry or with Beef Gravy. (Saying "serve it with gravy" is actually something my grandma (and even my mom) would say "HOGWASH!" to, but my husband prefers it with gravy, so I overlook the abomination.)

Basic crust: 1-1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 3/4 cup Crisco, 9 tbs. cold water. Mix the flour, salt and shortening in a bowl by hand until it mostly balls into crumbs. Add 9 tbs. cold water and mix briefly with a fork. Form it into a ball of dough and divide it in half. Roll out each half with a rolling pin, liberally dusting the pin and surface with more flour.

The history behind the Finnish Pasty is interesting as well. Although there is a rivalry between the Finns and the Swedes as to who invented it. (Allow me to further set the record straight, it was the Finns!) At the very least, the Finnish immigrants especially here in Michigan and into the U.P., following the Cornish miners, were the ones who perfected it. They needed a way to keep their lunch hot in the mines and when gone to work for long hours away from home. My husband may not be a miner, but he does work building construction sites with no microwave and has to leave in the wees hours of the morning, so our Pasty tradition is just as handy today as it was in the late 1800's.

Grandma's Sauna

Invented by Finns, the Sauna (pronounced sow-na, (like cow with an s) not sana) is as natural to us as a shower... in fact my great aunts and uncles in Minnesota take one daily as they bathe. Functional daily saunas will have the cold water shower set up directly next to or even inside the sauna. My kids are still too young to experience the FULL heat of grandma's sauna, my mom has a beautiful 12 person sauna they'll be enjoying in the winter as they grow up. Nothing beats rolling in the snow in your bathing suit (or birthday suit) after opening all your pores up in a steaming hot sauna then going back in for round two. Some of my close friends have delighted in the experience over the years--ladling water onto the rocks to make the dry heat even hotter, drinking ice cold water to cool down your teeth, seeing the steam rise off your skin in the winter air after emerging from a relaxing rest is rejuvenating.

Finnish word for our determined, gutsy spirit. It's true all Finns are born with it. Author Beatrice Ojakangas describes it well: "Finnish-to-English dictionaries define it as "enduring energy" or "to possess guts" but it is more than that. It is a never-say-die individualism that Finns seem to be born with; they have the physical energy and mental endurance to stick to a job until it is done, and done well."
My mom's mug...

Finnish books

Like anything else, if you are studying Finland and want an accurate portrayal, you'll want to incorporate books from various authors, as it would be rare to have one book on a country portray all elements and history and views of a nation. The Enchantment of the World series gives a textbook start.

For younger children, consider a delightful Finnish folktale along with your lesson.
The Princess Mouse: A Tale of Finland by Aaron Shepard.

And here is a suggested reading list from the appendix of my Finnish Cookbook (The Finnish Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas):
From the Shores of Ladoga by Tauna Hammer, a historical novel depicting life in Karelia in the early 1900's, translated from the Finnish by Emilia Ritari.
Green Gold and Granite by Wendy Hall, a background to Finland.
Kalevala, in two volumes, by Elias Lonnrot, translated by W.F. Kirby, this is a Finnish national epic and it is written in poetic form.
Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi, the story of seven brothers growing up wild on their farm in Southern Finland. It is a story mingled with humor and pathetic events that illustrate the plucky Finnish character often described as "sisu."
The Unknown Soldier by Vaino Linna, translated from the Finnish, this is one of the outstanding contemporary war novels that has been described as "tough and realistic."
Who are the Finns? by R.E. Burnham, this describes well the history of the Finnish language and race.
SISU by Austin Goodrich, a short modern history of Finland.

Finns and Education

I've recently learned over the course of the last year that, interestingly enough, Finland is actually renowned for their schools. I read an article about six months ago explaining that Finns have been leading by the world's educational measures and that it was due to their natural balance of academics and recreation, not pushing lots of homework, not replacing quality with quantity and in general not burning out students by pushing them too hard. I find this fascinating because it rings so true to some of my own personal reasons for homeschooling!! Here is another article about this topic, suggesting that another reason Finland is successful in education is because they are allowed to be liberal in their choice of material (not "liberal" in content, but liberal in variety.) Article. This also rings very true to me and my joy in an eclectic curriculum. All in all, I have to say, it's great being a Finn!

Juhannus is a celebration of Mid-summer, usually falls around Father's Day weekend, and is celebrated by bonfires and cabin vacations. We traditionally go camping during this time. It's a casual cheers to summer solstice typically celebrated near lakes in the countryside. Like other aspects of my heritage, it was another tradition I grew up with that I didn't connect to being Finnish until adulthood. (Ahh, so that's why I love the first bonfires of the season so much. ;))

So there is a small glimpse of the Finn in me. Hope it inspires you to study the wonderful traditions and culture of Finland as well as the history of Finns in America.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Mother of all Homeschool Book Guides!

Just got my Rainbow Resource Center Catalog in the mail. I knew it was going to be big, but WHOA. This thing is bigger than a phone book! It is jammed packed with TONS of awesome stuff- curriculum, workbooks, games, educational materials and equipment, anything under the sun... can't believe this is FREE to order, it's like a dream come true shopping guide for any homeschool parent. Check out to request your own. You'll love it!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Homeschool Blog Awards!

Like what you've been reading?
It's a little ambitious given I just launched this new blog a month ago, but I think it would be so awesome to get nominated for "Best NEW Homeschool Blog"! There are 20 different categories besides the one I'm hoping for, so if you have more favorite homeschool blogs, plug them in! I've got a different favorite for just about every category! 2010 Awards Nominations Thanks for the support!!

Falling into the season

Ah, autumn. There's nothing quite comparable to a beautiful autumn in Michigan. Crisp air, breathtaking colors transforming the trees in the season's last smile. The crunch, crunch, crunch of nature's paper underfoot. Fall has always been my favorite season, and experiencing it with my kids adds to the beauty ten-fold.
"Why do the Leaves Change Color" by Betsy Maestro is one of our favorites. It's an informative, Lets Read and Find out science series that I highly recommend. Another fun book for this time of year is "Fall Leaves Fall" by Zoe Hall. It is great because it describes all the things my kids love to do with leaves anyway. Raking them up, jumping in them, crunching them and finding all the different colors.
Finding dad in the leaf pile...

My daughter realizing leaves were getting stuck in her hair...

We did leaf rubbings recently at our homeschool co-op during craft time. Another leaf craft we did later at home was to collect leaves from outside and glue them down on paper after drawing the trunk and branches of a tree.

Young kids will delight in learning the impressive word, "photosynthesis." Even if they can't fully define it, it is still fun to say and learn about. Betsy Maestro's book breaks down definitions very clearly.
For a list of free lesson plans, worksheets and more sites about fall than you could use in one season, check out this fantastic link at Teacher Planet.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our "Learning Center"

Like most homeschool families, we can never have enough bookcases. We're lucky to have a wonderful set of floor to ceiling bookcases handed down from my grandparents that we're putting to use in the basement with curriculum, encyclopedias and science equipment. I've made use of one of our smaller cheap bookshelves as a "Learning Center" for my kindergartner and made room in the dining room for it. Everything on it is something my daughter can independently do during down-time. A basket with coloring books and crayons, one with flashcards & memory games, another with books on tape, etc. Making use of quiet time with a book on tape is something she is really delighting in, the magic sounds telling her when to turn the page on her own is a special treat... and I'm happy she's not using her little brother's nap time or my dinner cooking time to watch more television. Yes, sometimes our toddler tears it apart, but they are good about putting it back together because my daughter knows the rule for the Learning Center is one thing out at a time and put what you use back again when you are done.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Unwrapped Wrap

Need a quick new lunch idea? How about just unwrapping a wrap? Give your kids all the ingredients of a lunch wrap separately. Sometimes just changing up the plate will bring your kids' interest back to the table. It appeals to them on the same level a lunchable does.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Pinta, The Nina, & The Dial Soap Debacle

In 1492, Columbus sank to the bottom of the blue? The famous explorer would have if this homeschool mom was in charge of building the Santa Maria!
Not paying close enough attention to the directions in Gail Gibbon's wonderful book, "Things to Make and Do for Columbus Day," I simply grabbed 3 bars of soap from our linen closet to use for the soap sail boat craft. Yeah, I realized the moment the bar of dial soap plunged to the bottom of our bathtub that (duh!) we were instructed to use Ivory soap for a reason.
Oh well, the kids still had fun making them and even turning on the jets in our tub to simulate a storm. Poor Columbus didn't make it to the Indies or the Bahamas this October.


Other activities from Gail's book we did to observe and learn about Columbus Day:

Ate Tuna Salad sandwiches in honor of the salt-packed meat the sailors ate.

Shook various spices and herbs onto lines of glue on a picture of Columbus (got the picture here)

Among other activities, we also colored pictures of the ships (below), decorated homemade telescopes from paper towel tubes and let the kids play Columbus explorers.

1492 Poem

Columbus Cartoon

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Where Things Come From

Lately we’ve been learning where things come from. We have an awesome Let’s Find Out book called “What was it Before…” a series that includes “…it was orange juice?" " was a sweater?" " was a chair?" " was ice cream?" It shares appealing, simple explanations of the process each thing goes through from beginning to end. How a chair was made from a tree, how ice cream comes from cow's milk, chickens' eggs, sugar plants, vanilla beans and so forth.
We happened to have some oranges on hand a few weeks ago while reading the orange juice section and the kids had a blast drinking juice from oranges. Just cut a small hole out of the top of the orange, stick a straw in and let the kids squeeze while they sip! I cut the straws in half to make it easier to hold and get juice. It worked really well. They went through two oranges each; my daughter took delight in the fact that she could drink her orange, literally. (Sunkist and Florida Citrus also have helpful, free educational sites with teaching materials: Sunkist Link, Citrus Link for older kids & Florida Juice Link)

Timing on finding this book was perfect for us in many ways. The orange juice portion (written by Jane Belk Moncure) shares how the oranges were picked on trees, and later takes the reader through how they are processed, rolling down a slide into a warm bath and how some roll into big machines and are squeezed into juice.
This process came to life before my kids’ eyes on a recent homeschool field trip to a large local apple orchard, where we had an educational tour, rode the wagon out to pick our own apples and even got to see the apples being washed and squeezed into cider. My daughter immediately recognized what was happening as the apples rolled by on the belt, instead of just seeing a big, fruit-ride machine. She understood and took pleasure in watching it happen.

Spiced Apple Cider Recipe

I love making spiced apple cider in my crock-pot for dinner gatherings. It’s simple and always a big hit! Just pour a gallon of apple cider into a large crock-pot and heat it up with a tablespoon of whole cloves and 3 cinnamon sticks. A spice ball works wonders for this, but if you don’t have one, just retrieve the cloves and sticks with a slated spoon before serving. Let it heat for a few hours, one at the very least. Serve with cinnamon sticks for guests to stir with.

Apples and oranges are not the only source we are studying. Last month the kids went on a field trip to a family farm and learned how bacon comes from a pig, milk, butter and meat comes from cows, etc. One of our members runs a small hobby farm with a pig, cows and chickens. This woman gave a spectacular tour, explaining the many different uses for animals, including food source, fertilizer and more. My daughter loved watching her make homemade butter from the cow’s milk! It was funny, when my friend was trying to shape the homemade butter with a towel after taking it out of the blender, my lil kindergartner, obviously thinking it still looked a little lumpy and unshapely (not like the butter on our table) innocently raised her hand and asked, "but how do you get it shaped ALL the way like a rectangle?"
Bless her heart, the woman tried to keep shaping it more like table top butter for them. On the way home my daughter was telling me all the fun stuff she learned, like the fact that whip cream is just butter that hasn't been whipped/churned as much.

We've started a decently sized vegetable garden this year. The kids have delighted in watching as the things we plant turn into the food we eat, like fresh pea pods, strawberries and watermelon, all from our own backyard. You can actually see the lights going on as they learn and take it all in, and ask curious, smart questions about it. For me, there's no greater joy! (See our photo journal of this year’s Sunflower Project) We've also started a whole new world this year and taken on the task of raising some bantam chickens! (Something I never in a million years thought I would ever do, you can read about the start of that adventure here) so when they start laying eggs for us to eat, that will be exciting. My daughter knows eggs come from chickens, but collecting the eggs from the chickens you've been feeding and chasing for months and helping mom scramble them is a priceless lesson when you can learn it first hand. (Here's the post: Which came first, the chicken or the Egg.)

Along the same lines of where things come from... I think it will be a great tie-in to where we come from, as I teach the kids about our Finnish heritage and how some of the recipes and activities we use are traditions from our ancestors. Stay tuned for when I share my family’s delicious fall pasty recipe, talk about grandma’s sauna and how we celebrate Juhannus. The Finn in me.