Kyriandra’s Big Day

When Kyriandra was first born we chose a unique name (my husband came up with her name) and as new parents, we were (and still are!) just completely in love with her. So of course, we did what many new parents do after the birth of a child – we registered her domain name. Yes, that’s right. We have owned kyriandra.com since shortly after she was born. Until recently, however, we did not know exactly what we wanted to do with it.

Homeschooling takes up a large part of my attention and time, and it seems lately my posts reflect this. I enjoy writing about homeschooling topics, and specifically about what Kyri is doing in her daily schooling – topics we might be covering, field trips we might take. However, I would also like to focus on vegan and sustainability topics more, so I finally decided to put her domain to good use. For general homeschooling topics and curriculum discussions, I will still be writing here. But I am also using Kyriandra’s Big Day as a weblog addition to our homeschool portfolio. For more specific posts, such as topics we are studying or places we have gone, I will briefly post here and then I will link to Kyri’s page to go into more detail. These posts at Kyriandra’s Big Day will be more picture and detail heavy, to serve as our portfolio log. Another fun feature I am working on is Kyri’s Portal. She goes to several online sites, so I have a dedicated page with links she can use for her educational sites and game sites. I am really excited about this additional project, and hope you will check out the new site.

Amazing Butterflies Exhibit at San Antonio Botanical Garden

This is the first in a series of posts about events at San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT). We LOVE the Garden! Its a wonderful place to spend a few hours, just exploring and relaxing. They also have wonderful events and educational opportunities available throughout the year. We attended the opening weekend festivities for the Amazing Butterflies Exhibit this fall. This exhibit is currently touring, and had been scheduled to run at SABOT through January 2012. However, it has been extended through March 25th 2012, so there is still plenty of time to check it out! The butterfly exhibit is wonderful – it is an interactive maze for children (and adults!) to explore the lifecycle of butterflies. Kyri had a blast when we went, and she keeps asking to return.  Check out the interactives that make up the amazing butterfly exhibit! Another wonderful part of the exhibit is the curricula material that is available (aimed for grades 1 – 5) through SABOT. You can make the trip to the exhibit part of an in-depth unit study on butterflies!

 

 

Climb-in pupa pods

 

 Spider Web Climb

 

Monarch migration monorail

 

Religious education

We are Christians. We are homeschoolers. We are NOT Christian homeschoolers. Rather, we are secular homeschoolers who are Christian. What I mean by this statement is that we do not homeschool for religious reasons, we do not use a Christian-themed curriculum or teach from a Christian worldview. We do not (or rather will not, since we are still only at the kindergarten/1st grade level) teach Creationist science. Our reasons for teaching at home are academic – we believe that we are better equipped to give our children a thorough education at home rather than let them get an average (at best) education in the public school setting. We can work at our own pace, we can give individual attention and be aware when something is not working for our children. We can spend time learning about subjects that are important to us, rather that teaching to an annual test.

Even though we are not “Christian homeschoolers,” our Christian faith is still important to us. More importantly, it is important that we teach our children about our faith. We have not had a church home since we left Florida. We really clicked there, and we have struggled to get plugged into another church since then. Kyri’s Sunday school experience has usually been limited to supervised playtime due to her age, and so she has not had a strong foundation layed – we talk to her about God and the basic tenets of our faith, but she hasn’t learned a lot of the stories and details she might get in a Sunday school class.

I have started introducing some Christian activities during our weekly lesson plans to teach Kyri basic Chrisian concepts – memory verses, stories about Jesus’ parables and miracles, etc. We have devotional books that we read at bedtime to work on character issues. My feelings about religious education are in line with my feelings about academic education – its my responsibility as the parent to take charge of this.

I wanted to share some of the resources we have found.

Five-Minute Devotions for Children: Celebrating God’s World as a Family

Listen to the Animals: Devotionals for Families with Young Children

Read and Share Devotional

Jesus of Nazareth: A Life of Christ Through Pictures

The Miracles of Jesus

The Parables of Jesus

Creation

Jesus Saves! Take-Home Mini-Books, Grades PK – 2: His Life, His Love, His Promises, and Why Kids Can Trust Him

 

Listening

We have been in somewhat of a rut around here lately, as far as school goes. Normally I have our week planned out by subject – we do pages in our math workbooks, our spelling and phonics workbooks, we read our FIAR book and discuss the various topics, and we cover our History and Science reading and activities. The last two weeks, however, have not been productive at all. I think there are several things going on. I have been burning the candle at both ends around here working to get a new project ready (this will be an upcoming post!) so I have been tired and not really on the ball as far as planning out the week in advance. The house needs some additional attention lately so I have been wanting to spend more time cleaning and organizing. Life ebbs and flows so I am going with the rhythm – we read more, do chores together, and Kyri has had a lot of time to do crafts (which of course adds to the mess…). One reason I have pulled back a little from our school schedule has been because of Kyri’s behavior. I’ve been spending more time really listening to Kyri, not just to what she is saying, but also to the unspoken – her emotional needs, her feelings. I was inspired by a recent post over at Simple Homeschool to share our struggles and how listening has really played a role in turning things around for us.

A little background – Kyri can be easily frustrated, and will start getting huffy about something, and it takes very little to push her into a full tantrum once she gets like this. Once she is in a fullblown tantrum, she can’t calm herself down, and we just have to let it run its course and she wears herself out.  This is obviously very difficult to deal with, and we have struggled to figure out what sets off this response. Over the past few months we have actually made a lot of progress with regards to her behavior issues. I recently read Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm and found it to be quite helpful. This book goes into the power struggle that occurs between parent and child, and how there is an unconscious push by the child to be in control.The author goes into several parenting styles, and discusses how each style elicits a (usually negative) response, and how to reestablish a healthy balance. I read this book through, and found myself nodding along as I read the section that described my parenting style. It was if the author was a wallflower in my house, observing my interactions with my daughter. The book goes through a series of steps to reestablish control and actually use time-outs as a means of correction. To be honest, we have never really used time-out – it wasn’t something we really knew how to put in place and enforce in the past. As an example, when we both worked, we frequently struggled to get out the door on time in the morning because inevitably Kyri would have a meltdown right before leaving, usually about her pants or shoes. This would turn into a major battle and involve her stripping, and us struggling to redress her and try to get out the door. This ordeal usually took close to an hour. She would be in full meltdown stage and it would sour the rest of the morning for both of us. We did not have any way of effectively dealing with this behavior.  The book discusses reestablishing a healthy balance in the parent-child relationship, something I believe we were lacking, most likely due to not having enough attention on home issues with both of us working so much. Realizing what my parenting style was, and how to change it has been helpful. I am now mindful of how I speak to Kyri (on most days – sometimes my frustration gets the better of me and I find myself yelling more than I would like). We now use time-outs and they actually make a difference. We start before her behavior gets out of control – we tell her (not yelling) that this (whatever it happens to be) is going to get her a 5-minute time-out in her room. She knows she has a limited number of these “reminders” before she is walked upstairs to her room for a time-out. She’s not put in a corner, she has full run of her room. It is a time for her to collect herself and do her own thing. Most days, this works well. The days we struggle with it are when we are easily frustrated and don’t come with a calm approach. Its easy to get frustrated with a child and be short-tempered in our responses, but the kids pick up on our emotions and respond to that. One thing that I find amazing is that Kyri now calms herself down fairly quickly when she goes to her room. She pulls books off her shelf and reads aloud, and the reading calms her down. Incredible. I recently came across a “calm-down basket”  – its a basket that a mom put together with several books (on various subjects but also on anger and lashing out) as well as a sensory box. I think this is a great idea and I think we might be able to incorporate this into our response rather than going the time-out route.

Another resource I have found recently has been Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Its been incredible reading how a lot of behavior issues with children can really be attributed to them having too much. Too much to choose from, too much stimulation. In our household, we are not big television watchers. We ditched cable and use Netflix for shows or movies if we want to watch something. Kyri watches kids shows like Kipper, and Backyardigans and Disney shows – she was never allowed to watch Nickolodeon or Cartoon network type shows. But with both of us working, it was easy to come home and plug her into Backyardigans  to have a little while to unwind and make dinner. Now that I am home with her during the day, she watches a lot less, but still more than is healthy. The television really IS the electonic babysitter, used to keep kids out from under your feet when making dinner, or when mommy needs a break for a few minutes. But television sucks the children in – taking their full attention and overstimulating their brain. Then when we turn it off and expect them to behave calmly, their brains are still wired, and we have behavior problems. The solution is simple – turn off the tv! Simple solution, right? We know, without a doubt, that television watching negatively affects Kyri’s behavior. When we allow her to have a lot of screen time, day in and day out, we ALWAYS see problems. We have cut out screen time previously and have seen positive results. We tend to slip and use “the babysitter” when we have a lot of household issues that need tending and,honestly need her out from under our feet. But we always pay the price, and we know better. One thing that has worked has been to limit television to the weekends. Screen time is a weekend priviledge and good behavior and helping mom out during the week results in this priviledge. She can watch a few shows or a movie. She looks forward to it during the week. An interesting thing that I have observed, however, is that doing it this way results in her watching less tv on the weekend than I would expect. She watches a show or two and then finds something else to do. She doesn’t seem to want to sit and watch hours of television. I think this only happens when she watches tv day after day. Another point made in this book was about children having too many choices for toys. A room full of toys can be frustrating, because its overwhelming. Kids need simple. I actually boxed up a bunch of her toys, and on occasion I take some out to put into rotation. She plays happily with what is in her room.

Okay, so back to listening to Kyri. We have come a long way from where we were a year or even six months ago as far as her behavior goes. But we still struggle sometimes. Sometimes she is tired and cranky (I NEVER expect much from her around 3 or 4 PM) and sometimes I am cranky and short-tempered with her. But overall we are doing much better. But sometimes, when we are doing our school work, she gets a bit of an attitude and does not want to participate. There is a fine line between pushing her to do her work and making school a negative experience. I push a bit because she needs to know that sometimes we are not in the mood but we still need to do our work anyway. But I don’t want to be a drill seargent and make her hate learning. So I will back off a little and go on to a different subject and (hopefully) go back to whatever was frustrating her near the end of our school time. She will turn around in her chair so that her back faces me and won’t talk to me. If I push a little too much, she gets huffy and then it progresses quickly to a tantrum. So I am in a tough spot – when she tantrums she goes into a time-out in her room to calm down. But I don’t want her to associate school with time-outs and negative consequences. So I am trying to figure out WHAT it is that is eliciting this response from her. Sometimes she’s fine doing math sheets or flash cards. Sometimes she hates math. Lately I have been trying to be flexible (not always easy for me!) and remind myself that I am teaching HER and not the other way around. I need to use methods that SHE responds to. If it isn’t a workbook day for HER, I need to adjust accordingly. I don’t want her hating school. For example, we have been doing addition, subtraction and place value. Place value frustrates her. But I know she is a tactile learner, so we sat down with river rocks from the craft store and essentially did what the place value workbooks were doing, but instead of her getting frustrated, she responded and enjoyed the lesson. Then, to get her engaged with addition and subtraction drills, I put a giant number line on my livingroom floor using blue painters tape. I marked off 0 – 20. Kyri started off at 0 and I would read the flash card math problem to her. She had to go the first number, move forward or backward and then tell me the answer. She LOVED this! We did this for quite a while – I finally had to insist we stop for lunch. Then she was so excited to show Daddy when he got home from work! I have to let go of the need to “do” school my way – if teaching her math involves jumping around on the floor doing drills, or counting rocks, rather than pages in a workbook, then so be it. I don’t want to be a bully teacher – its not worth it. She will end up hating school (and learning!) and I will lose out on the wonderful relationship we have. This flexibility is part of the beauty of homeschool!

 

I have also been listening more to Kyri about what she is feeling. When she gets upset, she bottles it up and won’t tell you what is bothering her. I have not figured out a way to get inside her head during moments like this until recently. Kyri LOVES writing – she writes little stories and sentences and notes to people. So recently when she was upset about something but didn’t want to talk about it, I asked her if she wanted to write it down. She nodded her head. I got a simple spiral-bound notebook and told her that she could “narrate” to me what she wanted to write down about was upsetting her. She might say words or phrases, and I help her form sentences, but I don’t respond to what she is saying – my role is just to help her get her feelings down on paper. This has been an amazing tool – I help her express her feelings without judging her, being critical or even trying to “fix” what is bothering her. I just listen and write down her words. Listening to her, really listening to her, has made such a difference in our day.

Educating Vegan Children

When we first decided to homeschool Kyri, I wanted to incorporate vegan ethics into our education plans. At this young age, most if not all of what Kyri has learned about our vegan lifestyle has been informal – we discuss what we do and do not eat (or wear or use) and for what reason. She has learned to ask if something contains animals in it before eating it. We talk about why we don’t eat animals – at a level a five year old gets. She knows what it means for an animal to die, as she was with me when I discovered our 20-year-old cat had died. So she does understand that dead means, well, dead. So explaining to her that meat comes from dead animals is simple enough for her. She understands that animals are killed for food and that there are plenty of other things to eat besides animals, so why would you want to?

In our household, vegan is the norm. While my spouse is omni, he eats mostly vegan at home (we have a grilling agreement in place). However, outside of our home, Kyri is bombarded with non-vegan and non-vegetarian messages. From books and cartoons that promote circus attendance to toy food products that always contain meat products, messages about using animals for entertainment, eating meat and participating in the “standard american diet” are all around us. I try to buffer her and use the exposure as an educational opportunity, but I would love to have vegetarian- and vegan- friendly material so she doesn’t feel like she’s the only one. We are VERY blessed with our homeschool associations – at co-op the moms usually make an effort to ensure that there are vegan options for Kyri. This is so appreciated – I never ask for accomodation for our lifestyle (just a heads up so I can plan for an vegan alternative for Kyri if necessary) but it really helps to not have Kyri singled out over something like food.

I’ve begun compiling a list of childrens books that either have vegan/vegetarian themes or characters, or are geared toward vegan/vegetarian children. I’ve also found cookbooks aimed toward young vegetarians, and since Kyri is my kitchen helper and loves my cookbooks, I think these are worth checking out.

Fiction

That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon

Hubert the Pudge: A Vegetarian Tale

Friends Forever: The Story of a Budding Friendship between a Vegetarian Spider and a Feisty Fly

The Secret Life Of Mitch Spinach

Mitch Spinach and the Smell of Victory

Big Bob And The Thanksgiving Potato

Vunce Upon a Time

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

Growing Vegetable Soup

Non-fiction

I’m a Vegetarian: Amazing facts and ideas for healthy vegetarians

I Love Vegetarian Food: Coloring Book

Cookbooks

Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian Recipes Kitchen-Tested by Kids for Kids

The Jumbo Vegetarian Cookbook (Jumbo Books)

Easy Vegetarian Foods from Around the World (Easy Cookbooks for Kids)

Cooking With Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon

Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up

For Parents: Childrearing

Raising Vegetarian Children : A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Because I am parenting a younger child I was not looking for ethics books geared toward older children and teens. This list will continue to be updated as I find additonal resources. I am also in the process of finding vegan-friendly resources online that would be helpful in a vegan/vegetarian curriculum. Look for that in a subsequent post.

Baklava

We love baklava around here – its such a decadent dessert. I have been slacking a bit lately however and haven’t made any in quite some time. For our co-op, we have been reading about the ancient Greeks and Persians in Story of the World, and I thought it would be a fitting time to make some baklava. My husband thought that was a fantastic idea! The first time I made baklava I admit I was intimidated – it really does seem like a complicated dessert. But after that first time, I realized while it does take a little time to put together, it really is not so complicated.

Baklava is really just layers of phyllo dough, melted butter, and a nut mixture that is baked until golden brown. A simple syrup is then poured over the baklava after it comes out of the oven. The hardest part, I think, is waiting for it to cool completely – a couple of hours seems like forever, but is really important for allowing the syrup to soak into the phyllo sheets.

Each package of phyllo dough typically has two packs of rolled up dough. For a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, one roll will suffice. Butter the baking dish (I use Earth Balance) and set to the side. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place two sheets of dough in the baking dish (the dough will need to be trimmed a little to fit) and brush on melted Earth Balance (1/2 cup melted should be plenty), making sure to completely cover the sheets. Sprinkle on nut mixture evenly. Two more sheets go on, followed by melted Earth Balance and nut mixture. After the final layer of nuts is spread, a final layer of phyllo dough goes on. Place these individually and butter each sheet. The baking dish goes into the oven for 45 minutes, and immediated after removing, the syrup is poured over the baklava. It should cool for a few hours at room temperature before serving. This allows the syrup to really soak into the layers.

Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup agave syrup

1 tsp vanilla

 

Sugar and water are heated on stovetop until sugar is completely dissolved. Agave syrup and vanilla are then added and mixture is allowed to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Syrup should be cooled completely before pouring over the baklava.

 

Nut mixture

 

3 cups nuts (I like a 1:1:1 mixture of almonds, walnuts and pistachios – I pulse them in the food processor so they are ground coarsely but NOT into powder)

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

 

Nut mixture is combined thoroughly and then sprinkled over each layer of phyllo after its been brushed with melted Earth Balance. Try for even coverage, and don’t forget your corners! As you can see in the picture, the bottom layers ended up with more nuts – my daughter helped with spreading the nut mixture and was a little heavy handed for the bottom layers. Just make sure you have enough for all the layers. If you love baklava, you really should try making it. Its a lot easier than you think and totally worth the effort!

Grandmother’s Famous Vegan Cranberry Bread

We just finished reading Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin for our Five in a Row curriculum. Kyri LOVED this book! This book was about a woman who is well known for her Cranberry Bread, and has turned down multiple offers to sell it to local bakeries. She guards the recipe carefully and suspects Mr. Whiskers of trying to steal the recipe for himself. The book has a lesson in judging others based on outward appearances. This book includes a recipe for Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread, which I modified slightly to be vegan. Since we finished rowing this book last week, yesterday we prepared our own version, which I have called Grandmother’s Famous VEGAN Cranberry Bread. The recipe has a bake time of 1 hour 10 minutes, but honestly I ended up giving the bread almost a full additional hour – I used 3 cups frozen cranberries, and I baked in a stoneware bread pan so this may have contributed to the longer bake time. It was also a VERY moist cake – it almost looked as though it wasn’t cooked all the way through after two hours, but it was just SO moist. Its a sweet bread with a tanginess from the cranberries – YUM! Next time I prepare the bread (and I will soon, because it was just so delicious!) I will thaw my cranberries first (I just forgot this time around) and I may also try the half raisin/half cranberry variation.