Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Hodgepodge of Goodies: Sharing Some of my New Favorites

I loved this post over at Jimmie's Collage about gaps in homeschooling. She has a refreshing take on the subject and it's a quick read.

I have blogged before about A Rhythm of Rest and our family's need for Sabbath. Over at The Beginning of Wisdom, Jen shared about the need to protect our kids' schedules and thus protect not only them but our whole family in her post titled, Guarding Sabbath for our Children.

Moms of you know about MOB Society? It is a fantastic website for Mothers of Boys whose mission statement says, "Reaching the hearts of boys for the Gospel & preparing a generation of men to love the Lord." Wow! I love Jenn's (different Jen from the one mentioned above) post titled, "What a Boy Needs." After I read it I ran and hugged my boys and we forgot school the rest of the day. We snuggled, read books and played outside. So inspiring.

Dh introduced me to a website called Simply Noise. It is a free site where you can listen to white noise, pink noise or brown noise. Brown is my favorite and what I am listening to as I type this. The sound just kind of fades into the background while blocking out other noises that would typically distract me. They say that different noises can reduce stress, get rid of headaches and improve focus. When Dh originally shared the site with me he was thinking that it would be helpful for Thatcher since he is so distracted by every.little.thing but he doesn't like it and I love it. They even have an iPhone ap!

Don't forget to vote for the Homeschool Blog Awards. Voting ends October 30 so there's not much time left. Rush on over and nominate your favorite bloggers. There are 20 different categories to pick from. Let your favorite bloggers know how much you appreciate all they do. :)

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!
of men to love the Lord
And through Twitter I have found the most precious jewelry over at the Vintage Pearl. With Christmas not too far away, I thought I would share in case someone was looking for unique gift ideas!

I saved the best for last. Grab some tissues and watch Ben Comen's story. It absolutely touched my heart. One of my prayers for my Thatcher is that someday he will have friends who embrace him for all that he is, not worrying about all he is not. I guess that is what a true friend is for any of us. But Ben's story is about much more than that. Don't forget the kleenex!

Monday, October 25, 2010

SOTW I Lapbooks for FREE!!!

My Haddon is a crafty sort of guy. He loves to color, cut, glue, and put it all together. Projects are his thing. He is always making journals and coming up with his own little creations. He cracks me up. Thatcher...not so much. He is a "just give me the facts" kinda kid! I lean more towards Thatcher's style. Poor Haddon. ;)

I have been thinking about how I will approach history with Haddon next year, as we will begin back with the Ancients, and I knew that what worked for Thatcher will not work as well for him. He will really benefit from hands-on projects. I contacted Peace Hill Press (publishers of SOTW) and asked if possibly there might be lapbooks in the works to go along with any volume of SOTW. Right about this same time I saw a post on a message board about this wonderful mom who has created fabulous lapbooks and is sharing them for free!! Yes, for free. They are amazing.

PHP got back to me and said that there were currently no plans for SOTW lapbooks but you know where they pointed me? The same blog! And she has SOTW II lapbooks in progress right now as well. Rush over to her blog, The Chronicle of the Earth, and download her zip file right away for Volume I lapbooks. Thank you so very much, Alia!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Five Dollar Friday: Spinach Cheese Quesadillas with Black Bean Salsa

This has become a stand-by meal at our home because I almost always have the ingredients on hand, it can be prepared in under 30 minutes and it's a great way to get my boys to eat their greens. If I put a pile of spinach on their plates, they wouldn't touch it. But in four-cheese stuffed shells/cannelloni, blueberry smoothies (actually they don't know they are having spinach this way, so we'll just keep it between us ;) or in quesadillas they gobble it up!

A few notes: Even though the spinach comes chopped, I chop it again...and again. I make sure the pieces are tiny so no one will get a stringy piece of spinach. That would be the end of this meal for my boys who are hyper-sensitive to textures (if stringy can be considered a texture!). Also, the first time I introduced these I barely put in any spinach, so little they couldn't even taste it -especially dipped in salsa and sour cream. Each time I added just a bit more spinach to where now I can pretty much do a 50/50 ratio of cheese to spinach.

Also, the total cost of this meal is slightly more than $5.oo but the amount of food I have listed below will feed my family for one dinner (dh eats three and the boys and I each eat one) with enough leftover cheese and spinach to make three more quesadillas for lunch the next day for the boys. And still more extra spinach to put in blueberry smoothies for a snack that afternoon!

Spinach Quesadillas
with Black Bean Salsa

One package of flour tortillas (10 count)
4 T butter
8 oz shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1 box frozen chopped spinach - thawed, most of liquid squeezed out and finely chopped
1 can black beans
1/2 bag of organic frozen corn (we only do organic corn to avoid GMO's)
2 medium Roma tomatoes
juice of one lime (or less if desired - we like lime around here though!)

favorite salsa
sour cream

Directions for preparing black bean salsa:

1. Drain and rinse black beans
2. Cook the corn according to package directions
3. Finely chop tomato(es)
4. Mix all three together and squeeze juice of one lime over it all.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste

Directions for preparing Quesadillas:

1. Heat large skillet over medium heat.
2. On one half of each tortilla add a layer of cheese, a layer of spinach & more cheese on top. Fold each tortilla in half.
3. Add 1 T butter to pan and half of your quesadillas (you may need to adjust amount of butter and number of quesidallas you cook at a time depending on size of your pan)
4. Cook until tortilla is brown and crisp; flip to the other side and cook until second side is done (add one more T of butter if needed when you flip)
5. Cook second batch of quesadillas the same way.
6. Remove and serve with salsa, sour cream and black bean and corn salsa.

Cost Breakdown: $6.29 which for a meal that revolves around cheese is not bad ;) You can get the price even cheaper if you can get MJ cheese for less but in my area I rarely do. Also my butter wasn't on sale ($2 a lb) nor was the frozen spinach or black beans.

$ 1.oo - 10 tortillas (on sale)
$ 1.25 - Monterrey Jack (when it goes on sale for this price I buy in bulk and freeze)
$ .25 - 4T butter
$ .79 - one box frozen chopped spinach (store brand)
$ .25 - sour cream (1/4 of 16 oz store brand container on sale for $1)
$ .50 - half a jar of salsa (on sale with coupon)
$ .60 - can of black beans
$ 1.00 - 1/2 bag of organic frozen corn
$ .40 - 2 medium roma tomatoes
$ .25 - lime

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thoughts on Explode the Code (and How I Taught my Boys to Read)

I am using the Explode the Code series with my third child. Thatcher completed the entire series in the middle of second grade. Haddon is currently working in Book 2 1/2, and Beckett just started Get Set for the Code. I have some thoughts on this series after now working with these books for the past five years.

First, If you are not familiar with this series here is a quick overview. It begins with three primers: Get Ready for the Code, Get Set for the Code and Go for the Code. These books introduce the sounds letters make, letter formation and initial consonants in words. The main series has 14 books - eight main books and six "1/2" books. Each "1/2" books provides additional practice for the book before (meaning 2 1/2 reviews the concepts learned in Book 2). These books systematically teach phonetic skills and provide plenty of review as well.

Here is how I have used these books. I began the primers with my boys as soon as each turned four. All of them already knew their letters and sounds when we started (thank you Leap Frog videos!), so we used them to build confidence and learn how to write each letter. Plus my boys found all the activities fun! Once my kids complete the primers they start in Book 1 and I have them do 4-5 pages daily with the goal being to complete two lessons each week (no phonics on Friday). As soon as they finish ETC Book 1, I have them begin reading a book or two a day from either the Primary Phonics Storybook Sets (not the workbooks), Bob Books and Nora Gaydos sets. I don't worry about matching the book they are reading to me exactly with the lesson they are learning in ETC. I typically just jump back and forth between all three sets (especially in the beginning when they needs lots and lots of practice getting used to sounding out words).

When there are so many other ways to teach reading, why do I like ETC? I can count it as phonics, reading, handwriting and spelling (a real multi-tasker!) It is easy to implement and inexpensive. Most importantly, it works!

Now here are some of my thoughts on this series (not necessarily in order of importance):

1. ETC is not independent work. Honestly, I don't think much is at very young ages when they are learning new material (independent, self-checking games/activities that reinforce already learned material are another story). The stakes are too high. If they learn something wrong in these first few years it is so difficult to relearn it correctly. And Littles can get frustrated so easily. I know that it is easy to send them off to do their phonics (usually so we can work with older siblings) but I really don't recommend it. What is one of the main things you learn how to do in your life? READ!!! The ability to read well affects every other subject in school. Take the time to sit with them. Talk about it. Identify areas where they need extra practice and encourage, encourage, encourage!!!

2. If your dc has weak motor skills and initially can't do all the writing (or even if they just need a bit more practice) offer it in a fun way. I have a jelly roll pan in the schoolroom filled with salt so Beckett can get additional practice by "writing" each letter with his fingers in the salt. We also put shaving cream on the wall in the bathtub to practice our writing, and outside I give him a paintbrush and a cup of water to practice writing/painting letters on the fence (and NO mess ;).

3. Have your dc read Refer back to #1 and down to #6 as well. You need to be there with your child as they work through these books so you can correct them the second they make an error. And reading the same words over and over in different activities is one of the strengths of ETC. This is huge! On the left is a photo of one page of ETC in Book 2 1/2. The directions say, "X the same word". It would be simple to have them glance at the words and find the one that matches the first without reading a word on the page. Or you can have them stop and read each word - 28 total. Which will reap greater benefit?

4. Use nickels, jelly beans, screen time or any other means to keep them excited! I keep a bag of organic dye-free jelly beans in the schoolroom for Beckett and dark chocolate chips for Haddon. They get one candy for each page completed. My kids don't get much candy so five jelly beans or chocolate chips are a big deal for them, and it is a great trade off in my mind to keep them motivated. If candy is not a motivator for your kids, just find a reward that will be: each page earns five minutes of educational computer time, or a lego from a set they want, or a nickel...

5. They will pick up on cues from you. If you communicate boredom with the books, even if only non-verbally, they will pick up on it. Make it fun. When it gets challenging, don't say, "Oh this is so hard!" Say, "Wow, they really made it fun for you today. You get to use your brain a lot! Neat!!!" Or if you see them getting frustrated or tiring out say, "Let's get two jelly beans for finishing this page!"

6. You don't have to do all the "1/2" books but I think the repetition is one the strongest aspects of this program. I have my boys do all eight main books and all six of the "1/2" books. I just do. ;) I don't overkill many subjects but strong phonics/decoding skills (typically) lead to strong reading skills and strong spelling skills as well. Taking more time here really will gain you great benefits in future years I have found.

7. You don't need to start a formal spelling program until your dc finish the entire series. If you just must have a spelling program create your own list using the rule(s) they are learning in ETC that week. Have them do a fun activity each day with the words on the list you generated.

There are so many ways to teach children to read: Phonics Pathways, The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, The Phonics Road and on and on and on. They are all good. They all have their merits. For us ETC has been a solid part of our school and has started my boys with an excellent foundation for reading and spelling.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Almost Up to 100 Followers!

Would you consider becoming a follower of Smooth Stones Academy? I currently have 98 followers; it will be fun to have 100...or more!
All you have to do is click on the "Follow" button on my right sidebar.

And for accountability I am sharing a commitment to my readers with my readers: I will post at least one blog weekly for the remainder of 2010, hopefully more. I have more Five Dollar Fridays to come, ideas for saving money, and tons of random tidbits...not to mention our homeschool journey to share. :) Stop by again very soon!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's time! Fall, cooler weather, pumpkins....and the Homeschool Blog Awards!!! Nominations will be accepted through October 30 so hurry over to the Homeschool Post and nominate all your favorite blogs. There are so many wonderful bloggers out there who spend a lot of time and energy to encourage, inspire and share with others. Show your appreciation by nominating your favorites. The categories are as follows:

Best Homeschool Mom Blog
Best Homeschool Dad Blog
Best Blog Design
Best Photos and Artistic Content Blog
Best Crafts, Plans and Projects Blog
Best Family or Group Blog
Best Encourager
Best Current Events, Opinions or Politics Blog
Best Homemaking or Recipes Blog
Best Teen Blog
Funniest Homeschool Blog
Best Special Needs Blog
Best Curriculum or Business Blog
Best Variety
Best Thrifty Homeschooler
Best Nitty-Gritty Homeschool Blog
Best NEW Homeschool Blog
Best Homeschooling Methods Blog
Best Homeschool Nature Blog

Happy Nominating!!!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Waiting for Superman

I am looking forward to seeing this movie. Just the trailer made me cry. Very thought-provoking for sure. I am most interested to see if they simply present the problems or if they go so far as to offer possible solutions. I am not anti-public school. Never have been. But I so think the system is broken for many, many kids, and I hope this movie brings awareness for so many children who wouldn't have a voice otherwise. For those kids waiting for Superman...