Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gingerbread Men cookies!

My daughter and I decided to make gingerbread men cookies to celebrate the Christmas holiday. I had never made these before, so I took the easy route and bought a packaged mix. It couldn't have been easier! We had so much fun making these. And because the recipe was simple, she was able to help every step of the way.

I used Betty Crocker's gingerbread mix. All I had to add was butter, water, and an egg. Then mix, mix, mix until it becomes a soft dough. I actually had to knead the dough with my hands because with just the spoon (or even the mixer), the dough wouldn't come together. Once I worked the dough with my hands, it worked out perfectly.

I would also recommend watching these cookies closely when they're in the oven. There are two options for bake time on the package depending on the type of cookie sheet you use. I went with the shorter bake time and my first batch came out a little burned. So for the next batches I decreased the bake time by a minute or two. They bake very quickly.

Then we let them cool and decorated them. I'm no professional baker so the decoration is not the most perfect.
Do you include baking as part of homeschooling? What kinds of things have you and your homeschooled children been preparing this holiday season? Share!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Merry Christmas" in different languages

If you're interested in teaching your kids some culture this holiday season and making it part of homeschool, here's an idea that my daughter loved.

We were doing a lesson on Christmas around the world and how people celebrate the holidays. We found some traditions that are completely different than ours, but we also found some traditions in common. It was a very fun lesson and it teaches kids that our way is not the only way. It also teaches kids to respect other cultures and other people's traditions.

To make the lesson even more fun, we looked up how people say "Merry Christmas" in other languages. Here are our favorites:

Spanish - Feliz Navidad
Portuguese - Feliz Natal
French - Joyeux Noel
Italian - Buon Natale
German - Frohe Weihnachten

We wanted to learn some other ones, but couldn't find phonetic spellings for them. If anyone wants to add to this list, please do in the comments section and I will add them to the list.

We hope you enjoy your holidays and we look forward to a New Year full of great homeschool opportunities as well as lots of health, happiness, hope and joy!

So from our family to yours,
Merry Christmas!
Feliz Natal!
Joyeux Noel!
Feliz Navidad!
Buon Natale!
Frohe Weihnachten!

What to do the week before the holidays!!

'Since this is my first year homeschooling, I had no idea what to expect the last week before Christmas vacation. I made my lesson plans as usual, with a little more flexibility. For instance, I didn't plan any formal lessons for Friday, since it's a half day at public school and my older child would be home earlier. I figured we can have a half day as well or even a day off.

What I didn't anticipate is the lack of enthusiasm for school work during this time of year. My daughter simply isn't interested in doing any work. Monday was totally stressful because I was in teaching mode and wanted to get all the work done. My daughter on the other hand was whiny; she complained she was tired, or sick, or anything that would get her out of doing school work. Throughout the month of December, we did tons of Christmas or holiday themed activities. We made Christmas tree mosaic, we made wreaths and snowmen. We did activities that taught us about Christmas in other countries, we even learned how to say "Merry Christmas" and "Santa Claus" in several different languages. I think we both feel all Christmased out!! So I re-assessed the day's plan and decided to do things differently.

We still got some work done but I chose to go a more relaxed, casual way. We did some guided reading and other activities that didn't involve deep concentration and focus. Success!

Tuesday started out the same way. So we veered from my plans again. Today is Wednesday and we are a little more focused. So we are trying to get some work done. I'm even hoping to get ahead of schedule so we can take it easy the rest of the week.

The other thing I didn't anticipate or plan for is the fact that I would be so busy this time of year. I have shopping to do, holiday meals to plan, guests to entertain, and house cleaning to do. With all of that homeschooling became a chore even for me this week.

Finally, I just allowed myself to be flexible and stray from the structure/routine, in order to preserve my sanity and not have a completely stressed out kid by the end of the week.

So far, so good. This afternoon we are baking Gingerbread Men cookies. That counts as part of school, doesn't it? Measuring=math, reading the recipe=language arts, talking about the origin of these cookies=social studies. Awesome!

I wonder how other homeschool moms deal with things this time of year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Tree Mosaic Arts and Crafts Project

As a homeschool mom, I am always looking for project ideas to do with my 1st grader. Arts and crafts projects serve several purposes. They can be educational, just for fun, or even to break up the monotony of the day sometimes.
I like to do projects with a purpose. Since we are going to be celebrating Christmas soon, I thought it would be fun to do a Christmas related project. We started by talking about decorating our Christmas tree and what kind of things we use to decorate our tree. Then we read a Christmas book. We finished off by doing our mosaic arts and crafts project. This was just a simple project I came up with to tie in our art class with the season. I had used this idea previously for other projects and it worked wonderfully.
It was really simple to do and my daughter and I had lots of fun doing it.
Here's what you need to make this project and instructions.
Materials needed:
1 piece of black construction paper
Elmer's glue
Paint swatches in green, brown, red, and yellow colors (I got mine from a home improvement store)
I made a free-hand outline of a Christmas tree on the construction paper. Then I cut out random pieces of the paint swatches, in different sizes and different tones of green (for the tree) and brown (for the trunk). I also cut out free hand circles of red for ornaments. And finally I cut out a yellow star.
My daughter then used glue to put the pieces of "mosaic" colors on the tree. After she did the green and brown, she glued red ornaments (we did some purple ones too, since purple is her favorite color).
Tip: Using different tones of the same color (in this case green) gives the mosaic a nice texture and interesting look.
Here's a picture of the project as we started and the finished mosaic.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The internet is your friend!

Since I've started to homeschool my first grader, I've done a ton of research on the internet. I mean, when I started homeschooling I had no idea what I was doing. So, naturally, I went to the internet for information, guidance and ideas.

Wow! I have found so much information. It's really incredible. What's more astounding is that every time I search for something, I come up with new pages, websites, etc.

Since I am working with my school district on homeschooling, I have their curriculum as a guideline. I am not interested in buying an online curriculum. Of course, there are alot of paid online curriculum, even schools, and the cost is pretty high. I was really surprised by that.

What I am most interested in is ideas. I want to read what other moms or teachers have done. I also want to be able to share with others what I've done. I'm very happy to say that there are a lot of people out there sharing their teaching ideas. There are so many good, free websites that offer amazing resources for homeschooling parents. I want to help promote some of these sites, so I'm putting together a list of the sites I use most and find most helpful. I will publish my list soon!

Also, if anyone has a site they'd like to promote, please let me know. I will check out the site and if I find it helpful, I will be more than happy to add it to my list.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To homeschool or not to homeschool? Part 2

So the start of a new school year was looming over my head. It was August and I was busy buying backpack, lunch boxes, and everything on the teacher's supply list. I didn't really have time to stop and think about anything. I hadn't considered the impact of what was about to happen. When you enroll your kids in school, it's almost a no brainer, that's what you do, that's what everybody does. You don't really think about how that simple non-decision impacts many years of your and your child's lives. I was blissfully unaware of the impact it would have on me, especially this being my youngest child.
Suddenly one day, it hit me. I will be all alone, all day. What will I do? How will I occupy my time? Do I go back to work? (I knew this wasn't an option because the kids get out at 2:45 and 3:15 respectively and each has their own afterschool activities). At first, I welcomed the idea of "me" time. Time to read a book (I haven't done that in years), organize the house, clean out closets, etc. I had big plans.
But something else happened. I realized that I wouldn't be spending all day with my child. I hated that thought, mainly because I knew she didn't need to spend so many hours at school to get the education she needs and deserves. So I felt cheated and it turns out so did she.
So I started to think about homeschooling. I knew based on prior experience that I could teach her more at home than she would be getting at school. Knowing my child, I also knew the flexibility of homeschooling would be very good for her. But I wasn't convinced. I didn't think those were reasons enough. After all, you're supposed to send your child to school, right?
School started and off we went for the first weeks with high expectations and positive thoughts. But I noticed a change in my daughter right away. The usually happy, outgoing child who loved school, suddenly did not want to go. She cried everyday from the moment she woke up to the moment she got to school. Actually, I heard from her teachers that she cried throughout the day. I had a hard time leaving her at school because she clung on to me. This was breaking my heart but I thought she'd get over it.
In the meantime, the homeschool idea kept nagging at me. My husband and I talked about it constantly. He was all for it. He also knew she'd get a better education at home. I still wasn't convinced. So off to school we go. And it's the same thing everyday. I wanted to be sure I was making this decision for the right reasons. "I'll be lonely" wasn't the right reason.
At the same time, I noticed that the work she was bringing home was very basic and way too easy. She wasn't being challenged. She began to complain that she was bored at school. That was the reason I needed. I told my husband I wanted to go ahead with homeschooling. My next step was to contact the school district. They were very supportive and even shared their curriculum, so I would have a guideline to follow in case I decided to re-integrate her at some point.
It's been 2 months now, and she's a totally different child. She's happier, she's eager to "do school" and she's learning at her pace, pursuing what she likes. I am so glad that I made this decision. Although I gave up "me time", I have gained so much more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To homeschool or not to homeschool? Part 1

The decision to homeschool a child is very personal. Everyone has different opinions on the subject and there are equally as many reasons to do it or not. For me, it was both simple and complicated.
Here's my story. I have two daughters and they were born 10 years apart. When I had my first daughter, I was a single parent. I struggled to make ends meet and had no choice but to work to earn a salary. As a consequence, my daughter had no choice but to go to daycare full time. Then when she reached school age, she spent her entire day at school including after school care. Since I worked full time, I could only pick her up around 6:30 pm. This lifestyle was devastating for me as a parent. I hated the idea of spending so much time away from my young child. I often cried from the time I dropped her off at daycare until I arrived at work. I'm sure I wasn't a very good worker, since I had a hard time focusing on work. I was riddled with guilt. I know a lot of moms can't wait to go back to work after having children. But I was never one of those moms. The minute I decided to have children, I decided that I would devote myself to them, raising them myself, taking care of them, etc. I vowed not to leave my children in the hands of others. So being forced to do just that felt like punishment. But we got through it. Eventually I married a wonderful man and had another daughter. I finally became the stay at home mom I always dreamed of. (I know people dream of winning the lottery or having a big mansion, but not me. I just wanted to be a mom.)

My youngest is very bright and loves to learn. When she was 3, I put her in preschool for socialization. I had no expectations that she would do anything of value academically. She loved it and had a great time. The following year, we decided to keep her home. At that time, I hadn't made a conscious decision to homeschool, but looking back we did just that. We spent our days reading, playing, going on adventures, and all the while my daughter was becoming brighter and brighter. She was a sponge, soaking in everything around her. Her preschool teacher had noticed that quality in my daughter and advised me to really challenge her. Her teacher was so wonderful and even gave me some guidance since I had never taught preschool before. By the time my daughter was at the right age for kindergarten, we enrolled her in public school. She got a wonderful kindergarten teacher and had a great time that year as well. It was such a gift. I truly believe that teacher made all the difference in the world for my child. By the end of kindergarten my 5 year old was reading. We enrolled her in first grade and that is when trouble started.