Review: Cranberry Thanksgiving

Cranberry Thanksgiving
Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende Devlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We read Cranberry Thanksgiving for our Five in a Row curriculum and loved it! My daughter really enjoyed the story and so many details stuck with her after just the first “row.” It’s a great story about a girl named Maggie, her friend Mr. Whiskers, and her somewhat judgemental Grandmother with whom she lives. This book prompts discussions about judging others based on appearances, being rude to others, and being compassionate. We will read one more time and then bake Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread (veganized of course!) this weekend.

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Making Playdough

I recently taught at my daughter’s co-op, and one of the activities I had planned for the children involved making a maze using playdough – we were learning about the Minotaur’s Labrynth that particular week. I had never made playdough before – my daughter has received Playdoh on occasion as a gift and does enjoy it but I had not ever attempted to make it homemade. I went in search of a recipe to use, and found this site which contains a large collection of recipes to choose from. I chose the Stay Fresh Playdough recipe, and the results were great! I made four double batches and prepared four colors for the children to choose from. While I do not typically use food coloring, our science kit had a pack for one particular experiment week, and so to use it up, I used the food coloring for the Playdough. THe next batch I prepare I will experiment with natural dyes.

For a single batch you would need:

1 cup of flour
1/2 cup of salt
1 tablespoon of alum
1 tablespoon of oil
1 cup of boiling water

I used my Kitchenaid mixer for this. I combined all the ingredients except the boiling water. While mixing, I slowly added the boiling water. I allowed it to mix until the right consistency was obtained and then I dropped in the food coloring. Continued mixing resulted in the color being mixed throughout. Finally I turned the playdough out onto some waxed paper and kneaded it several times to finish mixing the color. I allowed to cool and dry out just a little, and then stored in the fridge in a ziploc bag. I can honestly say that I will never buy commercially made playdoh again after seeing how easy it is to prepare my own – easier, less expensive and with minimal ingredients!

The final product – the colors and texture really came out great.

Packed up and ready for co-op!

Year in Review

We are slowly getting back into a normal routine around here, with next week as our official start back to school. I figured I would take this week to get reorganized and evaluate the first half of the school year – what worked, what didn’t, what we liked and some things I would like to change.

1. Our school schedule: Trying to juggle school work, caring for the baby and keep up with both the household chores and administrative needs is definitely a challenge. We have had some days where our school day has just not gotten off the ground, whether because of pressing administrative needs or the house was just a mess and needed immediate attention. Early on in the fall I would try to hammer out breakfast, household needs and administrative tasks, and then attempt to start our school day after lunch. I tried this on a handful of occasions, and what I learned (the hard way) is that this schedule DOES NOT WORK! If we aren’t done by lunch, that’s pretty much the day. Our best days start by 930 or 10 AM and wrap up for lunch by 1230. Two hours is long enough for a 5 year old, and this includes one or two 5 minute “wiggle” breaks. When we finish by lunchtime, this (in theory) gives me the rest of the afternoon to handle phonecalls, cleaning and other household tasks.

2. Subjects covered: Its important in my opinion to cover the basics pretty much every day. We read, do some writing, and unless she is so tired that we are on the verge of a tantrum, we try to get some of our math work done. We are also involved in a small co-op where we cover Social Studies and Science, so we need to cover reading and mapwork before our Wednesday co-op day. When I plan our weekly schedule, I plan for daily math and language arts work everyday and co-op prep work (Story of the World and Encyclopedia readings, Science reading, mapwork) for Mondays and Tuesdays. Because we meet for co-op on Wednesdays, I do not plan for much additional work in other subjects that day. I may have a page of math problems and some reading, but nothing intensive.

We are also doing Five in a Row, so at the beginning of the Fall, I had us “rowing” a book over two weeks, typically three days one week, and then another two days the following week. While I would plan to read on a particular day, I have always tried to be flexible on changing which day we read, since we have two weeks to get it done. The last couple of weeks before our Christmas break, I have attempted to cover the last two books over a week for each one. As long as I keep us on task once we start our day, rowing five days straight does seem doable. Additionally, because we are using FIAR as a supplement to, rather than our core curriculum, we tend to row a book and discuss the topics, rather than spending extended time doing projects or crafts. For this reason, I think it should be reasonable to get through a single book in a week.

Extra topics

At the beginning of our school year, I purchased three Intellego unit studies that I intended for us to work through – Astronomy, Civics:Symbols, and Geography:Maps. We have started each, but have not covered as much as I envisioned. We haven’t had time to move very far into our Astronomy unit, much to my disappointment. Geography – we did not go into as much detail for a couple of the topics due to her age and interest, but I think we have been making progress, though it has been slow. Civics has been similarly successful. Very slow moving – we spent most of our time on the flag, talking about it, and being able to recognize the details – how many stars and stripes, what each stands for. We just recently moved on to the next chapter, which covers songs. So far, we have only covered the Pledge. I put a flag in our classroom, and we started our day with the Pledge for a week or two, and now she has it memorized. Success! Overall, I think I am happy with the units. I think covering the material really comes back to our scheduling. I have to accept the fact that we will not move through as fast as I had originally planned, but that we can cover all the topics if I just plan our schedule out better.

Art, Music
We still don’t have a dedicated plan for art or music. I let Kyri have free craft time as much as time will allow, but I would like to incorporate something a little more constructive into our school schedule. For music, we are still using Music and Me material she had from her time at La Petite, but I would like to have something else – Wee Sing perhaps, where we spend dedicated time learning songs together. I think this will be one of goals for our next library trip.

Logic/Critical thinking

So far we have not done exercises specifically working on critical thinking and logic skills. I just ordered Lollilop Logic however and will start incorporating individual pages into our daily workload as extra material. We are also incorporating board and card games into our routine, which I think will be a great experience.

3. Nature Studies: While we have spent a fair amount of time outdoors, I think we should be doing more, or rather doing things with more focus. She has been learning about gardening (the basics) and birds, but I would like to spend more time in this area, especially while the temperature is tolerable. We have membership at the Botanical Gardens and I want us to spend more time there, learning about the different habitats and types of plants. I have also discovered letterboxing (it was suggested in our Geography unit study) and I think Kyri would really get a kick out of this, and it is less technical than geocaching.

4. Character building: I have been considering something for teaching character basics – Book of Virtues, something along those lines. I thought this might get covered in Girl Scouts, and Kyri seemed interested in joining, but as with ballet, I think she likes the IDEA of doing Girl Scouts a lot more than actually doing it, so GS might not happen. A character study might be good for us to incorporate I think. Once I shop around I’ll do a write up on what we choose.

Project Feederwatch

Being home with the children has given me an opportunity to do something I did not realize was such an enjoyment: bird watching. It started with us putting up a small feeder in our front yard. Our daughter and I would enjoy watching the birds eat in the early afternoons. We soon put a second feeder in our backyard, conveniently located behind our dining room window so we easily watch our bird visitors throughout the day. Just recently, I started to read about Project Feederwatch, a Citizen Science program through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had previously requested their Urban Birds data collection packet, but this was during the time of our relocation and getting ready for the baby and so unfortunately we did not find an opportunity this summer to do this. But I decided that since we get so much enjoyment from watching the birds who visit our yard, we could participate in Project Feederwatch this season, as this would be a great Nature Study to incorporate into our homeschool lessons.

The project is simple: people have their location that they feed and watch the birds on their property. The data collection season goes from November 12th through the end of April 2012. Participants should observe two sequential days every week or two, and have the option to report on the website (the preferred method) or sending in paper reports at the end of the season. Species at the count site are observed and counted over the two day period, and the highest number observed at one time is the number recorded for that species for that particular count period. Participation helps scientists observe bird winter migration patterns across the country and in Canada.

There is a small fee to participate ($15), and this provides a calendar, and some birding tips, bird identification posters, and information on feeding birds. We are novices at this, so the material has been quite helpful. The only species I could identify before we started was the plainly obvious Northern Cardinal, of which we see a couple of males and females. We also have a slew of small brown birds that I realized were house sparrows, which apparently are the bane of bird people nationwide because they are so prolific, and crowd out native species, like blue birds. They tend to crowd my feeder so I am exploring some ways to feed them away from the main feeder to keep the other species I get happy. We also get three (at least) Tufted Titmice and I have seen a single Goldfinch, a single Eastern Towhee (or at least that’s what I think it is) and a few White crowned Sparrows. We get a fair amount of Mourning Doves and the Grackles here are RIDICULOUS! And so noisy! I typically just grouped all the black birds I saw into one group until I really started watching them this past week. This is when I realized that while most of the black birds that we see are the Grackles, there are a couple of smaller black birds too – and they are not a solid black but rather a black body with a brownish-greenish head and chest. The best I can figure, these would be Brown-headed Cowbirds – so that’s what they are getting listed as. I will continue to tweak our feeder setup, hopefully draw away the House Sparrows to keep my other birds happy, and see if I can get some more unusual visitors. We plan on counting each week if possible, so I will have a counter on my main page throughout the months of November through April 2012.

Please check out Project Feederwatch and the other wonderful resources available from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Our backyard setup. Hopper feeder with Songbird food mix – mostly black sunflower seeds with some other feed mixed it. A tube feeder with thistle – so far I’ve only seen one Goldfinch visitor. I also have two small dishes near the ground that I fill with water daily for the birds. With our drought they are most appreciative! This is a great location because it is under two Live Oaks, and next to my fence and my neighbor’s smaller trees. Also, the ground under the feeders has tall grass for shelter so they feel secure. We also have a small brushpile near my composter that the birds enjoy. In the drier weather they enjoy using the dirt in my planter boxes for their dust baths.

One of the mourning doves perching in my tree. We get several of these – both larger ones seen here, and smaller ones that are similar in size to the Cardinals.

A Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow in the smaller tree against my fence. There are four or five of these trees against my fence, and this is the main congregating area for the birds. They spend most of their time in my Live Oaks or these smaller trees.

Our property backs up to a Greenbelt so there can be no development behind us. All there is to see is Texas scrubland. We usually get cows grazing a couple days a week, and deer on occasion. We were lucky to see this deer mama and youngster feeding just behind our fence. While I was photographing, one of our resident Cardinals was on the fence for a photo op!

The Great Outdoors

Since natural living is something we strive for here, one thing that I had hoped to become part of our homeschooling core was extended outdoor time. While at Keeber’s age (almost 5) and with a baby in tow, I wasn’t expecting to do hardcore nature hikes, I did want us spending time outside playing, exploring, just “being”. I’ve been kind of upset with myself because of how little time we have spent outside over the summer. There were no daily morning walks around the neighborhood or gardening in the front or back yard. These might have occurred once a week or once every two weeks. We did strive to do Park Day every week but that was just playing on a playground, which is great but not quite what I had in mind. In the past several weeks though, I’ve felt a lot better about things and have come to some realizations. Okay perhaps not realizations as these things were quite obvious, but mommy guilt tends to make us dismiss the obvious and go straight for self-blame. Or maybe that’s just me… In any case, we have been in a severe drought this summer, and its been HOT! We have had weeklong stretches of triple digit temperatures, and many mornings it was uncomfortable before 10 AM. We would often get outside to water our plants first thing in the morning, but had little time for anything else before it got too hot for us.

In the last several weeks, however, we have had much cooler weather around here, and I am finding that we spend A LOT more time outdoors. We will spend most of a Saturday in our backyard doing yard work and other projects. Keeber and I spend much of our mornings watching the birds from our back window – we have set up a bird area with feeders, shallow water baths, and an as yet unoccupied birdhouse that she painted. Often when we are home, she will head out back with the dogs to just explore the yard, dig in the garden beds, make mud and collect acorns or rocks. She loves playing in the dirt! The extended outdoor time we have had recently has really put my mind at ease over whether we were getting the outdoor experience I had desired. I came to realize that with the heat here in south Texas, I might have to accept that summer is not our season for lots of outdoor activities. We can get some things done in the morning, but (especially) with a baby, our window for outdoor pursuits is quite limited in the hottest part of the summer.

I think that I will take advantage of our extended seasons here – it warms up here earlier so our spring really gets a head start, and stays warmer (but not too warm!) longer. Even now in early November the weather is just amazing. Sixties and seventies during the day but still crisp fall weather at night. Today we sat on our front porch and enjoyed some much-needed rain. She drew with chalk on the front porch and picked some of our flowers (!). This is more like what I had envisioned for us. She is my rough and tumble, dirt-loving princess and it’s WONDERFUL!

A girl, her dogs, and her shovel. She LOVES to just go outside and dig! We got her child-sized gardening tools (rather than plastic toy versions) and she loves them!

Keeber and one of our dogs harrassing a beetle. Actually I think it was the dog who was doing the harrassing, she was just enthralled because it was a giant black and white beetle that she had never seen before. She is currently facinated with dung beetles…

Our resident squirrel. We are getting to know our “usual” visitors and this little guy has been around since we first moved here in the spring. He LOVES to taunt our dog from the power lines! We have been watching him over the last week or so kick his food foraging into high gear.

Part of our bird area set up outside our back window. We have a simple feeder with Songbird feed that the birds love. Not pictured are the tube feeder with thistle, which the birds really haven’t taken an interest in yet, and my daughter’s birdhouse. We are feeding A LOT of birds! This area is under our live oaks, and next to our fence, which is right next to our neighbors small trees. This makes this little nook we set up PERFECT for the birds because they congregate in the neighbor’s small trees, the branches of the live oaks (pictured) and on the fence. We usually have twenty or so House Sparrows, ten or more mourning doves, two tufted titmice, and four cardinals at our feeders. We also get a gang of grackles in our yard. We are getting to know our birds! They now love to explore the entire yard. We also have an identical feeder in our frontyard. We will be taking part in Project Feederwatch this year (more about this in another post…).

Keeber doing leaf prints at Growing Up Wild. I attended a workshop on a wonderful curriculum called Growing Up Wild when I first moved here, and several of the moms in our homeschool group did as well. We are getting together monthly and working through the activities in the (very extensive) curriculum guide. This month we did LEAVES! I’ll be doing an in-depth post about Growing Up Wild soon, as we have really had a great time with it!

Curriculum Review: Five in a Row

Let me start by saying that I love reading books with the kiddo. With the exception of those nights where I am just so tired that my eyes are crossing, we are reading several books at bedtime. And then with homeschooling, we read a lot of books throughout the day. Throughout any given week, we will read and reread the same dozen or so books. This is probably why when I first read about Five in a Row (FIAR) on the homeschool forums this summer, I took note. The premise is simple – read the same book to your child for five days in a row (I’ve seen this referred to as “rowing” the book…). Each day you read the book, you find the location it takes place on the map and place a story disc – simply a circle with some identifying drawing on it. The curriculum book has several topics for discussion or little projects to use with each reading of the book, covering Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Math and Science. For a given book, there might be several Social Studies topics listed. There is not a hard and fast rule on how to use FIAR – use all the topics, use only one, whatever. Some people use FIAR as their core curriculum, while others, like us, use it to supplement other studies. That is the beauty – you can use it as you wish.

I really like finding the location of each book on the world map, though. It really introduces the child to other places, and gets them familiar with using maps. We also use a Home disc (we designed our own – there are blank templates included in the appendix), so we find where we are and then where the story is taking place, so it really has more of an impact. It is clear that China (The Story About Ping) and France (Madeline) are across the world, while Ohio (Lentil) is relatively close to home.

Social Studies is the broadest of subjects covered: Geography, Cultures, Human Relationships – its really the catchall subject for FIAR. When I do my weekly planning, I try to pick a couple of topics if possible for the day we do Social Studies. Language Arts usually introduces a couple of new vocabulary, or literary terms that are used in the book. Art may point out the techniques used in the books illustrations, architecture of the time as seen in the illustration, etc. Math might involve counting, fractions, and other concepts along those lines. Science introduces topics such as weather and taste buds. For our age group at home (an almost five-year-old in kindergarten) I use a relaxed approach in how we cover the “lesson” portion. We start with the reading, and then find the particular location on the map (our daughter’s favorite part!). Rather than make a big deal of “now we are starting our lesson on such and such a topic…” I keep my curriculum book open while I read the book for quick reference, and then following the book reading and mapwork, I lead into a discussion with my daughter and cover the day’s topic. I try to plan ahead and have a book that I can show her about any corresponding country – she really enjoyed seeing pictures of Paris landmarks when we read Madeline – many were included in the illustrations so I tried to point out the pictures that went along with the illustrations.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, we are involved in a small co-op which covers Social Studies and Science. With our other school reading, I realized after the first week that I was not always able to read our FIAR book every day for five days. So in our studies, I give us two weeks to cover our book rather than just one. That is one of the best parts of homeschooling – the flexibility! One thing I love about FIAR is the choice of books. These are classics, and while I am familiar with some of the selections, others are new to me. We are really enjoying our books so far! For us, I would not want to use FIAR as my sole curriculum, I would feel like I was lacking in math and science. Beyond that, though, I think it really is a great choice whether as a supplement or as a core.

Week 8 update

So we are in the middle of week 8 here, and while we have our share of bad days, and some days are definitely more productive than others, I have to say that overall, I am quite happy with our progress. I have had to scale back some of the expectations I had regarding scheduling and how much I thought we could get through in a day, week or our six week sessions. This is why I do my weekly planning sheet in pencil! I think Kyri is quite capable, but with house responsibilities, a 3-month-old baby, and well, the fact that Kyri is a typical almost-5 year old who can’t be expected to put in several hours of academics, I have realized that things are not going to progress at the pace I initially thought. But that’s okay, because we are still ahead of the curve! I forget sometimes that we are doing kindergarten, and we started her a year early at that (she has a late birthday so she wouldn’t start school until next fall if we were going through the school system). We are moving at a slower pace on certain things and really enjoying ourselves. I don’t want to push through material for the sake of covering it. I want her to really enjoy what we are studying and for her have some retention of the material we cover.

Like I said, we have our share of bad days. Some days our schooling just doesn’t get off the ground. I try to hold her attention long enough to bang out the bare minimum and then call it a day. Some days we get through everything and she is really eager to learn more. At first, the bad days were discouraging. But I have realized that this is just a natural occurrence, and that I need to just remain flexible. I salvage what I can of the day and shuffle material over the remainder of the week if possible. The important thing is that she is learning, and that she is ENJOYING learning!

We are involved in a small co-op and we are using Story of the World (SOTW) for our Social Studies. We spent two weeks learning about the Ancient Egyptians, and Kyri was FASCINATED with mummies! We read the same book covering the Egyptians and mummification for two weeks at bedtime. We would discuss the steps and order in which the body is wrapped – I was amazed she remembered all those details!

Reading is such a big part of our school day. We read our Story of the World book, History encyclopedia, corresponding literature suggestions for our weekly History topic, books for our Science studies that we are also doing with our co-op, our Five in a Row literature selection, and a fair amount of reading “just for the fun of it.” She has started to read to me almost daily. She knows a lot of the “easier” words and I help with the tougher ones. READING TO YOUR CHILD MAKES THE DIFFERENCE!

I’ll save more details of what we are learning about for later posts. I’ll close with this thought: home schooling is a lot of work and takes time, hard work and dedication. I did not envision this for our family AT ALL but I am so glad this is where we are. It is very rewarding!

Adventures in Homeschooling

While we are definitely still working out the kinks, we have had a great start to the school year! This week will be Week 4 (I am trying to do my planning and scheduling in 6 week increments). We’ve had two weeks with our Social Studies and Science co-op and its been a great time for all the kids involved. We do our reading before we meet on Wednesdays and then as a group we do hands-on activities – coloring, crafts, experiments, map work, etc.

Week 1 Social Studies – We introduced the study of History and Archaeology. The kids had a dig site set up to find “artifacts.”


Coloring the world map and becoming familiar with locations as we study them is an important part of our lesson.


Week 1 Science – Learning about Solids Liquids and Gases. Melted crayons to form crayon cookies. Kyri showing off her cookie!



We followed up this lesson later in the week by making a full batch of crayon cookies at home.




Week 2 Social Studies – Learning about Prehistoric people. Making “cave paintings” with charcoal and acrylic paints.


Week 2 Science – We introduced dilutions, solutions and mixtures. The kids compared paint that was undiluted versus paint that they diluted with water. Later they mixed sugar and sand (separately) in water to observe the difference between a solution and a mixture.


We’ve only covered two weeks so far, and we are having a lot of fun! This is a great introduction to Social Studies and Science topics for kids at this age.