Friday, August 12, 2016

University Model School - Tips for having a smooth homeschool day.

This is our fifth year at River's Edge Christian Academy. RECA is a university model school, which means that my kids go to school three days a week and I homeschool them two days a week.  Although teachers do all of the lesson planning and most of the grading for me on "in-school" days, I have struggled through the years to make my homeschool days be efficient and run smoothly.

Here are a list of tips I have found to be helpful:
  • Make the most of your space. Some families have the space to have a dedicated school room.  We don't really have the room, and since we only teach at home two days a week we don't feel the need to remodel, or drastically change any one living space into a school room.  
    • We do homeschool at the dining room table on Tuesdays and Fridays.  We eat breakfast and lunch on those days on a rug in our dining room, or outside if the weather is nice.
    • The only toys in the dining room are quiet toys that kids who are having a break can play with quietly.  Right now we have foam blocks, dry erase books and Zoobs available for kids who are having a break.

  • Wake up early. It is such a temptation for me to sleep in on homeschool days, but nothing will sabotage your day like getting started late!
  • Recess! We all need breaks.  Last year, no matter what we were doing the kids played outside from 10:30-11.  This year we have a recess after everyone has had their math and english lessons.  Unless it is pouring or below 40 degrees they must go outside. This break really helps us break up the day and the fresh air is so good for them.
  • A place for everything and everything in it's place.   This may sound weird, but before school starts I draw a map of the table and label where everyone will sit, where they will have their supplies and where I will be.  It helps me visualize how things will go and I even make name tag tents for the kids to mark their seat - the kids think these are so neat.
  • Have a master lesson plan just for Mom.  I print off individual lesson plans for the kids' binders, but then I also print off "all" the lesson plans for me.  I go through and highlight the things I have to do and put a box next to the things that need to be in the school folder before they go back to school on homeschool days.  I keep this on a clipboard and keep it with me throughout the day. As I am about to put the yellow folders back in backpacks I double check that I've got everything.
  • Papers, papers, papers!!  One of the most important things to decide when you have elementary kids is where will all the papers go? Make your system as simple as you can!  
    • When we get home on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the kids put their school folders on a stool in the kitchen.  That way I can look through them right away and we can do any homework they may have before moving on to afternoon activities.
    • On homeschool days I have each kid pull out their lesson plan and all the pages they will need for the day and they put these on their "board".  These are just the sides of binders that have been cut off.  You could also use clipboards.  The nice thing about these boards is that when they are empty we know their school day is done :)
    • During homeschool days I have three piles in the middle of the table.  One basket for completed work, one basket for graded (but needing corrections) work and the pile of yellow folders.  My kids "turn-in" their work to the first bucket and after I grade it I use a colored clip to put it in the second bucket if they need to do corrections.  If no corrections are needed the work goes straight into the third pile where it can be placed into the yellow folder at the end of the day.
  • One-on-one teaching time. 
    • In years past I would sit down one on one with the youngest child and we would try to finish as much work as we could until they needed a break.  During that time the oldest kid would work on independent work.  When the youngest needed a break I would take that time to teach the oldest a math or english lesson, or help them where they were stuck.  Inevitably the youngest would finish way earlier than the oldest and we could use the rest of the day to finish up anything else they needed help with.
    • This year I have three school aged kids and so I have invented the "Student One" chair.  Basically each child takes turns in the "Student One" chair and I just cycle through teaching the subjects.  First I teach math to the oldest while the younger two finish their Bible craft.  Then as the oldest works on finishing math I teach the middle child his math lesson, etc. I made a spreadsheet of our schedule so that I could keep track of what everyone should be doing.  If anyone finishes before their next turn in the "Student One" chair they can have a break.
  • Involve Dad. If you can, involve your spouse!  Kids love to read aloud to their dads, so you can save that portion of the lesson for after dinner.  I also find my spouse to be great at any big projects that are assigned.
  • Think outside of the box. If you are having trouble getting work done on Tuesdays and Fridays try doing some of the work on Monday and Thursday nights.  If you have younger kids it is really helpful to use those nap times to instruct the older kiddos.  It might make for slightly longer days on Mondays and Thursdays, but hopefully your Tuesdays and Fridays will go smoother.
I hope you are encouraged by this list and you have found some of the points to be helpful.  What are some things that you do to make your homeschool day run more smoothly?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Not a Horse

Image credit:

One of our favorite types of games are those that don't need a table and even more special are those that don't need any equipment.  We learned this game from a fellow Physics undergrad student at UL.  I believe he was from Russia.  Basically this game is a Russia version of 20 questions, one person thinks of a word and the rest of the players try to guess what the word is.  We really like it because as soon as your kids are old enough to spell words (1st-2nd grade) they can fully participate in this game.  Here's how you play:

  • Player One thinks of a word.  It can be any noun.  Then they tell the other players the first letter of the word they have thought of.
    • "The first letter is H."
  • Now the rest of the players (in no particular order) ask questions of the first player that all have answers that begin with the letter that has been given.  The goal is to eventually figure out the word the first person is thinking of. 
    • "Is it a farm animal?"
  • Player One must now think on an answer that begins with the given letter and answers the question.  They begin with the phrase "No, it's not a...."
    • "No, it's not a horse."
  • Players continue to ask questions and Player One continues to try and answer without giving up the word he/she is thinking of.  If at any time the players stump player one by giving them a question he/she can not answer Player One must supply the next letter of the word he/she is thinking of.
    • "Is it the capital of Botswana?" 
    • Player One: "I don't know the capital of Bostwana."
    • "The capital of Botswana is Gaborone."
    • Player One: "Okay, the next letter of my word is "O"."
  • Player One doesn't have to answer the question exactly like the player thought it should be answered.  If Player One still supplies an answer that fits the criteria they "survived" that question.  The player then must rephrase the question before asking it again.
    • "Is it a show on Netflix?"
    • Player One: "No, it's not Heroes."
    • "Is it a Netflix original show?"
    • Player One: "No, it's not 'House of Cards'."
  • Eventually the players will stump Player One so many times they will be able to ask a question who's answer is the word Player One was thinking of all along.  The player that asks the winning question gets to go next.
    • "Is it a place you live?"
    • Player One: "Yes, it is a house! Now, you get to think of a word."
  • We have little house rules too - Player One must answer the question within a reasonable amount of time.  Maybe as long as it takes someone to sing the Jeopardy song?  
If I've missed anything or is these rules are unclear please let me know.  I hope you enjoy playing this game with your family.  Our favorite is to play the game around the fire or a road trip since you don't need any equipment to play.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Instant Pot

Last Christmas my friend Betsy got a new kitchen work horse: the Instant Pot.  She told me how great it was and I was intrigued, but I really had no need for another kitchen appliance.  Then, after doing a deep clean on my crock-pot (and apparently getting water behind the electronic panel), it died on Easter Sunday with the ham already in it!  I was less than pleased.  Luckily I have the kind of Crockpot that has a removable stoneware crock and I was able to save Easter dinner in the oven.

Now I had my chance!  I had a genuine reason to shop for a new kitchen gadget and the Instant Pot was at the top of my list.  It wasn't cheap, but it was more than a slow cooker, it was a pressure cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker.  Normally I say appliances that try to do many things can only do them poorly, but so far my Instant Pot 7-in-1 has yet to disappoint.  I have made many recipes with this appliance and I even removed my food processor from the counter top to make room for this pot to stay out all the time.

Here are just a few things I like about the Instant Pot.  It:
  • allows me to make homemade yogurt and coconut yogurt cheaply and with minimal effort
  • shortens cooking time for most dinner entrees by 50% or more
  • as a nice display with self-explanatory buttons
  • has wonderful side slots that hold the lid for you while you saute or for serving
  • has an easy to clean, dishwasher safe stainless steel pot
  • makes the perfect brown rice in less than 45 minutes
  • turns two-pot slow cooker meals into 1-pot meals with the built-in saute feature 
  • comes with a recipe book that helps to introduce you to pressure cooking as well as yogurt making
  • cooks greens in a way that I actually like them! 
Drawbacks are few.  One of the drawbacks is that you have to be careful and not add any ingredients that might scorch before you use the pressure cooker.  Many recipes add flour to the pot before cooking, but the flour will scorch and prevent the cooker from functioning properly.  If this happens you will get a "Ovht" error and the pot will shut off.  Once, I had to remove an entire (still raw) chicken from the pot and clean the liner before returning the chicken and the pot to the cooker.  Now that I know I won't make that mistake again, and hopefully by reading this review you won't make it either!

Betsy has invited me to post recipe reviews for this pressure cooker over on her fulltummies page, so in the next few weeks or so you can look for full recipes there.  

Happy cooking!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches

At our church for the past six months we have been taking this amazing parenting class!  Amazing and challenging...some days I would walk out of class feeling like I was challenged and needed to change some things about my parenting, but most days I would walk away convicted of my sins and feeling somewhat like a failure.

One of the neat things about my Amazon wishlist is that when I hear about a good book I put it on my list.  Years (or just months) go by and I don't remember how I heard about the book or who recommended it to me, but I leave it on the list thinking, "It must have sounded good or else I wouldn't have put it on the list."  So it goes with this book.  I don't remember putting it on my wish list, much less who suggested it to me or how I found out about it, but I'm so glad it made it's way on there!!

My friend Rebecca bought me this book for my birthday last year and I had a chance to read it on our trip down to Louisiana for Christmas.  It is great!  It was just the encouragement I needed to balance out our parenting class at church.  The chapters average about 2-3 pages and take you 3-5 minutes to read.  Sounds like the author knew her audience!  Chapter Two was my favorite and lucky for you, if you download the sample Kindle book, you can read the whole chapter for yourself.  She compares motherhood to life in a rock tumbler.  We are always being rubbed by the (little) people around us and our sins are constantly being exposed.  Instead of it becoming overwhelming, we need to view it as an opportunity to become more like Jesus.

Whether or not you are the mother of little children I think the illustrations Rachel lays out will be an encouragement to you.  Relish this time you have with your littles and let God work in your life and theirs.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Jesus Storybook Bible

I've never written a children's book and I certainly have never tried to write one about God's word.  It is with humility that I write this post; I'm not trying to bash the author or question her motives but instead, point out some places where this story book Bible took liberties that other children's Bibles have not.  I'm not mad at anyone who reads or loves this Bible.  I just want to raise a warning flag about some certain problems I see with this book.

Problem Number One: Quotation Marks

I'll admit right off the bat that I'm a recently converted grammar lover.  I hated grammar in grade school, but after reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves several years ago I have loved investigating and learning the grammar rules that govern the English language.  Some might think that this is a nit-picky thing to mention, but if you follow my logic you will see that it can have more serious implications than you might think.

If you remember from English class quotation marks can be used when directly quoting what someone has said or, in a story, they can indicate when a character is speaking.  They are useful in narratives to set the dialog apart from the rest of the story.  The problem comes in this book when the author chooses to put God's words in quotes but does not directly quote Him.  Page 18 is the first place this appears, but just for comparison sake here is a quote from page 19 of the text:
God said, "Hello light!" and light shone into the darkness.  God called the light, "Day" and the darkness, "Night."  "You're good," God said.  And they were.
We know what God said at the creation of the universe. What God really said is written down for us in the first chapter of the book of Genesis:
3 And God said, "Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
This difference might be a small one.  Does it really matter if God said, "Hello light!" or "Let there be light"?  Maybe it doesn't but this is not the only time this literary technique is used.  In almost every chapter in this book, God is quoted but His actual words are not used.

To try and quote God but not include the actual words that He used seems to imply that God is merely a character in the author's story.   We know what God said and it seems best to me that we should only use quotes when we are directly quoting Him.
Problem Number Two:  Speaking where the Bible does not speak

In addition to adding words to the things that God has said, this book also seems to go beyond what is necessary when adding details to a story.  It almost seems like a Hollywood version of Scripture.  This next quote is from the story of Abraham and Isaac:
Abraham felt his heart leap with joy.  He unbound Isaac and folded him in his arms.  Great sobs shook the old man's whole body.  Scalding tears filled his eyes.  And for a long time, they stayed there like that, in each other's arms, the boy and his dad.
Was Abraham relieved when the angel of the Lord called down to him and told him not to kill his son?  I'm sure he was!  The Bible however, does not mention any of the details that this story book does.  I don't necessarily think there is any harm in this embellishment of the Scripture, but why do it?  What is the purpose of writing about something that we don't know happened?  I think in this case (and others) these embellishments are unnecessary and can hurt the validity of this book with older readers.  The other points that the author makes about this story (that one day another son will climb a hill and again God will provide the lamb) are great, but with these added embellishments the truth of God's word seems to be drowned out.

Problem Number Three: Inaccuracies

Going a step further than the first two problems, inaccuracies in the text are the biggest area of concern for me.  After the world wide flood on page 46 God is quoted as saying,
"I won't ever destroy the world again."
This is not what God promised after Noah left the ark; instead what God said was:
"I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  Gen 9:11
Is there a big difference or am I splitting hairs?  The problem with the first quote is that it implies that the earth will never again be destroyed.  My five year old pointed out during the reading of this particular story: "Except at the end, right Daddy?"  He is right.  God will destroy the earth again.  John saw it and recorded (Revelation 21:1) what it will be like when this earth is destroyed and God makes a new heaven and earth.  Also, 2 Peter 3 tells us that

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Problem Number Four: Using language the Bible does not use

...which can lead to doctrinal errors.  An example of this occurs in the story of King David.
No, David made a big mess of his life.  But God can take even the biggest mess and make it work in his plan.
Is that what happens?  Do we mess things up and then God makes it work in his plan?  Some people would say there is nothing wrong with this phrase, but I think you might be hard pressed to find this language used in the Bible.  Instead the Bible says in Genesis 50
20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Maybe I just would have chosen different words for this passage.  There was an opportunity here to highlight God's sovereignty in all circumstances, even those we seemed to have made on our own.

Another example is in the story of Ezra:
"God wants us to be happy!"  Ezra said.
This is a very popular half truth in our culture today: "God is love and He wants you to be happy."    What Ezra really said was:
 "...And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b
God is love (1 John 4:8), but God is also just to punish those who do not repent and believe (John 5:19-29).  Ezra wasn't telling the people God wanted them to be happy for happiness sake, he was telling them that God wanted them to find their joy in the Lord. 

Finally, on page 329 the author is describing Pentecost and saying:
...-- and Jesus himself was coming to live inside them.
Jesus lives in our hearts?  The Bible says (in Acts 2:4):
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
When we study the trinity we see that the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Spirit is God, but Jesus is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Son.  Jesus does not come to live in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts at the point of our salvation.  In John 14 Jesus explains that God will come to dwell with us, and that will be through the Holy Spirit:
23 Jesus answered him,“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. 25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Matt. 26:64, Mark 14:62, Luke 22:69, Eph. 1:20, Col. 3:1, Heb. 8:1 and 12:2).  To use Jesus's name interchangeably with the Holy Spirit does not follow what Scripture tells us.

Problem number Five:  Wrong emphasis

Several times during the New Testament stories (page 220, 235, 278) there is an emphasis on how Jesus came to heal the sick and show people that God was pleased with them.  When Jesus healed the sick or lame, even raising people from the dead, he performed those miracles to show his deity.  The point of these miracles was to show that He had power over creation, not that He was going to fix everything for everyone who is alive or even everyone who believes in Him.

Another stark omission is the mention of sin or repentance.  The only time I believe sin is mentioned is in Ezra, right before Ezra tells the people God wants them to be happy.  When we talk about Christ and what he did for us, how can we leave out the fact that our need to follow Him is really our need to repent of our sins and turn away from the life we have led before?  On page 258 the author goes as far as to say that God's love is:
...a gift and, as anyone can tell you, the whole thing about a gift is, it's free.  All you have to do is reach out your hands and take it.

While salvation is a free gift, it is obtained by a God given repentance of our sin and faith in Jesus’s work on the cross alone, and this concept is not explained well.  She does go on to say later in the Bible that salvation is not truly free, since Jesus paid the cost.  Still, no mention of salvation being tied to repentance.

What is right?

This book does a great job at a couple of things:
  • Every Old Testament story points back to the overall story, the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. 
  • Bible references are listed in every story.  I love it when children's Bibles do this because it makes it easy to find the story in the original text.  This is very helpful for parents and for older children who can look up the original text and read all of God's truth.
  • Artistically this book is beautiful.  The illustrations are great and changing the orientation of the text and image so that very tall images could be portrayed fully is neat and unique.
  • The book points out to the literal meaning of baptism: "he plunged them in and out of the water"

Your conscience:

I wrote this blog post not to discourage anyone from reading or purchasing this story book, but instead to offer a warning to my fellow believers about it's content.  There are plenty of other good children's Bibles out there that try to stay as true to the Word as possible.  One of my favorites is The Big Picture Story Bible.  We've had the The Jesus Storybook Bible for quite a while and I don't have any plans to get rid of it.  Instead we will probably only read certain stories from it and (as with all books) use discernment and wisdom when explaining these stories to our children.

How about you?  Do you love this storybook?  Are there things I (and the author) missed?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cooking for Friends

I love cooking for friends, but I'm sure if you are anything like me more and more of your friends are on restrictive diets.  This week for small group we had the theme of "Pies" for dinner.  After naming the theme I immediately realized that many of our members are gluten free and most pies have gluten in them.  We also have several members that are dairy and egg free.  Here is my solution:

Dairy Free, Egg Free, Gluten Free Shepherd's Pie

To start I used Alton Brown's recipe and just applied some minor tweaks:

For the potatoes:
 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes
1 1/2 -2 cups chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil (to taste)
1/2 tbl. The Melting Pot's garlic and wine seasoning (to taste)
For the meat filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced 
2 pounds ground beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoons corn starch
2 teaspoons tomato paste (I had some, but I didn't have the original container so I omitted this ingredient)
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
1-2 cups frozen mixed vegetables 

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the chicken stock, olive oil, MP seasoning, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the ground beef, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Make a slurry of the corn starch and 1/4 cup chicken stock.  Add slurry the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Add the frozen vegetables to the beef mixture and spread evenly into an 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Cover with aluminum foil and place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until warm and bubbly.  Because these potatoes do not have milk or butter in them do not expect them to brown! Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. 
I hope you enjoy this recipe!  Like any other recipe be sure to check all of your ingredients before beginning for allergens!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Babysitter Info Sheet

I first thought of making this sheet when I wanted to build my "Love Folder".  After all, if you were to die tomorrow, what important information would you want those left behind to have about your kids??  But then I began to see how my babysitters would probably also love to have the same information.  I've had it up in our kitchen for about 2 years and I get comments all the time about how much my babysitters love it.  Here is my sample document for you to edit and enter your own information:

If you don't already have the dosing charts for the meds you keep at your house, you can print them off here:
Of course you may want to double check with your pediatrician that these doses are correct for your child.


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