Our Winter Schedule

I like to keep a seasonal schedule to help keep myself on track in terms of homeschooling, meals, housework and so on. I am not any good at all with rigid structure, but a loose schedule helps immensely with a family of our size and with all the pans I always have in the fire.

Each day has a general theme in terms of food, activities and homeschooling focus. We are free to deviate from it, but it helps to keep things running more smoothly to have it as a general guideline.

Here’s our winter schedule, which I have posted above my desk.

Each day has a theme next to it, and the lunch is listed under it (kids make it when they can).  The dinner (or dinner theme) is listed at the end of the line.  I also list what area to clean and what HS area to focus on, plus anything unique to the day.  Along the side you can see what we have to do every day, chore-wise (dishes, laundry, pets, tidying) and at the bottom is the HS/personal stuff we do every day.

The schedule is very loose, like if we’re snowed in for Friday field trips we can still walk up to the library uptown (our whole town is like 8 blocks wide, so “uptown” is a relative term!).

And in case you’re interested, here was the fall schedule. I loved having it to refer to all during autumn.  I found that it made things just seem easier.

Since I cook from scratch and we have a lot of dietary needs in our house (various members are gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian, not to mention general tastes), it really helps me to have a general weekly meal rotation for the seasons.

Some of the benefits of this system are:

  • Weekly shopping lists are easy to compile since they don’t change that much during one season.
  • Meals are centered around seasonal foods, which are cheaper and fresher. In the winter, that means a lot of root vegetables and dried beans.  I also rely on the foods we put up earlier in the year.
  • It’s easier for me to quickly make suppers, since it’s rather routine.
  • Having a general theme instead of a specific meal plan lets me shop the sales and account for extras we have to use up. For instance, stir fries can include just about any vegetables and proteins.  Mexican can mean anything from burrito bowls to enchiladas to tostadas.  Baked potato night usually involves a horde of possible toppings, including any leftovers that sound like good toppers.  And obviously soup night leaves thousands of possibilities.  :)
  • The meal themes are loose enough to still allow for variety. “Use it up day” lets me make use of things in the pantry and fridge, so foods aren’t wasted and I need to buy less.  Feast night on Sunday allows us to have a little fun and satisfy our cravings.
  • The general meals are incredibly frugal. With a family of 7 and our budget (and my insistence on still buying healthy, whole foods and lots of organics), this saves me a ton of money.  On Saturday nights, we have the comfort food from my childhood — cabbage, potatoes and carrots.  We just boil it up in a pot and top it with butter and salt.  A lot of families survived on that type of food five nights a week or more in the past, and while it’s not a favorite for any of my kids it gives me a night off of cooking (Daryl takes care of it).  Other meals in our rotation are heavily reliant on affordable staples like rice and beans.
  • Having this system lets it become routine to do prep work. For instance, knowing that Monday night is always Mexican night, I automatically put some black beans in the pressure cooker to soak overnight.
  • The kids know what to expect, which they like.
  • I don’t have to panic at 5 p.m. about what’s for supper. That’s the biggest plus for me!

The same holds true for the homeschooling routine and the chore routines. They are loose, but they allow for a little bit of predictability and just enough structure.  It is too easy for me to feel overwhelmed at everything that needs to be done in the house or all the things I “should” be doing with the kids, but if I can look and see that today is a day to focus on poetry, making the day magical and cleaning bedrooms, I can handle that!

Winter is actually our calmest season. We don’t have any work to do in the gardens and all of the harvests have been put up.  It’s too soon for starting seeds, the snow keeps us from going too far from home, and there are not many activities even offered this time of year.

In Homeschooling Through the Seasons I talked about the possible winter homeschool environments:

Winter is an ideal time for slowing down and doing longer projects. You can introduce lots more read-alouds of both fun fiction and history, science and other educational subjects. Winter sports can include ice skating, skiing and playing in the snow, but can also incorporate more inside activities like Wii fitness games, yoga and using mini trampolines. Homemaking skills can be part of the learning, teaching kids skills like bread making and knitting (if you don’t know how to do these, this is a perfect excuse to learn along with them!). Computers can play a bigger part in homeschooling this time of year, using educational sites like Khan Academy, online curricula such as the free ACS chemistry curriculum and educational online games. This is also an ideal time to use educational videos from Netflix or the library. The Christmas season offers its own challenges and opportunities. Homeschoolers are lucky that we can take full advantage of the season without having to squeeze in the same schedule as usual. Many homeschoolers cut back on the traditional lessons during December and let Christmas (from baking to budgeting to religious education) be a main part of homeschooling.

Today, however, our routine is off a bit because we’re deviating by traveling to Sioux Falls to pick up Victoria from the airport.  She’s back from a fantastic week and a half with friends in Oregon so we get to bring her home.

What do you think of the new hair?

I swear Fiona is more of a fan than she’s letting on there!  ;)

And now I’m off to tidy the bedroom and grab some poetry books for the car……

 

 

Body System Posters!

Look at these delightful body system posters from rachelignotofskydesign.com.

To buy (and see other fun science posters about cells and more),visit her etsy shop at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Rachelignotofsky

 

The One Room Schoolhouse Has Taken a Surreal Turn

This is what happens when you are homeschooling little kids and also have older siblings with a penchant for social justice in the house.

Victoria mentioned a few minutes ago that three teenaged boys were arrested in Rochester, New York, recently for “blocking pedestrians” by waiting for a bus.

Alex was playing in the living room next to us and shouted, “What?! That’s ridiculous! Why did they arrest them?”

Victoria, ever the social activist, told him, “Institutionalized racism.”

That, of course, led to Alex wanting to know what that was, and Victoria explaining about how some people think bad things about other people just because they have darker skin.

This outraged Alex, who then went off on a six year-old tirade about institutionalized racism and how ridiculous that was.

He went on to blast,

“I could understand it if the boys were super strong and they were snapping stop signs in half!

Or if they were half shark and half human and eating the people at the bus stop!”

He came up with some very good scenarios for when it was okay to arrest boys at the bus stop.

Then he moved on to another tirade.

“AND — I think girls should be allowed to vote!”.

Victoria told him that girls can already vote.

“Oh, well good,” he answered.

So at least there’s that.

 

Homesteading 101

We’ve been so busy “putting things up” the past few months, and we have one more big push to do now — pumpkins — before we’re nearly done for the year.

Daryl picked up 19 pumpkins from our local farm family source for $5 today.  Daryl told Mr. H that we needed one jack-o-lantern pumpkin and 9 pie pumpkins and Mr. H told him, “How about you take as many as you want for five dollars?”.  After Thursday, all the ones left over are going over the fence to the cows, after all.  :)

We have 5 gallons of hard apple cider brewing on the kitchen counter right now and 18 pie pumpkins waiting on the lawn to become pumpkin puree tomorrow.

Oh yes, and Mr. H had a couple of extra flats of tomatoes and another big box of peppers he threw in cheap, so we need to prep those tomorrow too…

It is a lot of work, but I honestly really love this time of year and this work we do as a family together.

Over this growing season, we’ve canned, dried, frozen, foraged and otherwise “put up”:

  • applesauce
  • apple juice
  • hard cider
  • apple pie filling
  • chopped apples
  • green, yellow, red and purple pepper strips
  • roasted onions
  • shredded zucchini
  • wild elderberries
  • elderberry honey syrup (anti-flu medicine)
  • pears in light syrup
  • peaches in light syrup
  • roasted pumpkin seeds
  • simple roasted tomato sauce
  • rhubarb
  • refrigerator pickles
  • traditional pickles (various recipes)
  • corn (frozen and canned)
  • cattail stalks
  • cattail pollen (used as a flour and incredibly high in vitamins and Omega-3 fats)
  • acorn flour
  • mulberries
  • black raspberries
  • raspberries
  • triple berry sauce
  • mulberry fruit leather
  • dandelion syrup
  • tomatoes
  • roasted corn salsa
  • easy fresh salsa
  • fresh tomato bisque
  • grape juice
  • grape jelly
  • milkweed pods (when tiny, they can be cooked like breaded and/or sauteed and the insides are like melted mozarella cheese)
  • walnuts
  • various other wild berries (gooseberries, etc.)
  • whatever I’ve forgotten!  :)

I love the fact that even 6 year-old Alex knows how to ID wild asparagus and he can’t pass by walnuts in the park without gathering them up in his shirt to bring home.  :)

I get a kick out of teaching my kids how to do things like baking, canning, gardening and preserving the harvest. Most people used to think of these skills as those of our parents and grandparents, but I grew up with different role models.

My mother was a single mom who put herself through doctoral school and became a professor and then a prison psychologist.  Her mother was a teacher, then a principal, and eventually the dean of education at an Ohio university.  After retirement, she opened an educational resource center and ran that for over twenty years (she’s nearly 90 and just sold it and retired a few years ago).  Her mother was a factory worker.

My mom was actually a phenomenally terrible cook.  Not a single woman in my life seemed to know how to sew, garden, can, cook, bake or anything else remotely domestic.  Even normal jobs related to the keeping of a home were missing from my upbringing, since we moved at least once a year, rented wherever we lived and didn’t even own furniture.

Since my mother hid me from my father until after his death, I grew up not knowing anybody on my father’s side of the family.  I have been told that my grandfather loved to garden and my grandmother may have known all of the skills I missed out on from my mother’s side, but they were all dead before I found them.

So I had to teach myself.  I’ve become a regular pro at some of it (cooking and gardening, especially), and I’m still working on a few of those domestic skills (like using a sewing machine and keeping my house tidy).

I do love knowing these skills, though, and I love that my kids are growing up learning them.  They can choose to become deans of education and know how to grow an organic garden and pressure cook twenty-five quarts of back yard salsa. :)

Maria Montessori actually advised that the middle school years should focus on teaching homesteading skills instead of academics, for many reasons.  We loosely follow that during the middle school years, since it seems to suit the tween years so well, developmentally.  (Montessori taught that the high school years should see a refocus on academics, along with real-world work opportunities in the form of internships and volunteer work that provides helpful experience for later careers.)

I recently wrote up 10 Homesteading Skills Every Child Should Learn, and I pointed out some of the reasons it’s so good for kids to learn homesteading skills:

  • They have skills that can save them a lot of money when they’re on their own, since they won’t have to hire others to do them.
  • They are able to be self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on other people to help them or take care of them.
  • They are able to help their neighbors and communities. They can pass on their skills and use their knowledge to help others. Homesteading practices tend to help the environment, too.
  • They have the skills needed to not just survive but thrive even in difficult financial times.
  • They are prepared for emergencies and challenges.
  • They have what they need for financial freedom and are equipped to live comfortably within their means.
  • They have added pride and the sense of accomplishment that comes from “doing it yourself” and doing it well.

I’m still working on teaching a few of the top ten list to the kids (and myself!). I put links to lessons for each category in the article, like free woodworking pages and sites that help teach kids to sew.

If you’re interested in teaching your kids homesteading skills, I also have all my favorite stuff pinned on Pinterest to boards like:

You can see all my Pinterest boards here(BTW, if you’re on Pinterest too, leave a comment and let me know!)

Daryl also focuses on some homesteading skills like making applesauce, using wild foods and “putting up” foods in his cooking with kids column.

I honestly think that teaching our kids homesteading skills is one of the most important parts of their education. It gives them so many advantages in life, and sneaks in plenty of science, math and other subjects along the way.

I also just find that it greatly improves our quality of life, and gives us some pretty neat memories together — and really good food.  :)

Our Newest Visitor

This is our newest nature study pet. It’s a Cecropia moth caterpillar and Alex got to bring it home to research how to keep it happy and healthy.

It snacked on one of its favorite foods, a branch from our cherry tree, for two days. Then it did its magic. We will hopefully meet it in its next form in early summer.

We’ve raised monarchs for years and we’ve ended up with a couple of other butterflies over the years but this is our first Crecopia.

It is technically a type of silk moth.  They are massive moths too! They are the largest indigenous moths in North America.

Ohio Birds and Biodiversity has a great post about them, where they say:

For all of their ornate beauty, the adult Cecropia, like the other giant silkmoths, will live for but a week if that. It has no functional mouthparts and adults exist only to find a mate, and reproduce. They are little more than incredibly showy flying gonads. Once a pair has mated and the female has dropped her eggs, the moths soon wink out. It is the caterpillar stage that lasts by far the longest, and (arguably) is the most important facet of the moth’s lifecycle.

Here’s a picture of the moth stage, photographed by Tami Gingrich.

Ohio Birds and Biodiversity says:

No one, and I mean no one, would not stop for a double-take if they spotted one of these moths. If someone were to ignore one of these marvelous moths, I would feel compelled to declare them devoid of intellectual curiosity, and in a later stage of nature deficit disorder.

I agree!  :)

I’ll keep you updated……

Multiplication Models (in fun graphic form!)



This awesome graphic is from MariaD at the Natural Math google group.  You can view and download it here.

The Chemistry of Leaf Change

Here’s a three minute chemistry lesson that goes into the components of leaf colors.

 

Hiking Monday

It’s fall, and that means we ease into the fall season of homeschooling. I love homeschooling by the seasons, and even though I am always so sad to see summer end I have to admit there are things to love about fall.

One tradition I love is hiking.  We generally plan for hiking every Monday, and we aim to go to a different place every week.

Last week we tried out Kilen Woods State Park for the first time, even though it’s barely more than a half an hour away from us.

It was a wonderful visit.

We had it to ourselves, and had so much fun.

Daryl announced when we got there that it was important to mark the start of fall with an acorn fight, and the kids had an immensely wonderful time ganging up on poor Daddy with acorns by the hundreds.

Even Fiona grinned and grinned.

Then we left our oldest and youngest behind (Daryl’s legs are still not up to hiking and Fiona is not quite old enough for the amount we wanted to do) and we headed down the wooded paths while they stayed behind to gather walnuts and acorns and play.

It was a wonderful trail, full of meandering creeks and treasures to find.

There was even a section that met up with the Des Moines River, and it was a beautiful spot to rest.

When we got back, we played with caterpillars (we ID’ed ours thanks to the ID books in the little cabin at the site but I’ve forgotten what he was!) and water pumps and sand boxes.

It was a lovely way to do our nature studies and PE for the day!

 

Nature Studies Last Week

A big part of our “curriculum” this time of year is nature. We spend as much time as possible outside and much of our life in general is dictated by nature. We are harvesting in the garden, “putting up” produce like non-GMO corn from a nearby farm and homemade pickles with farmers’ market cukes, cooking like crazy with extra zucchini gifted by others, watching wildlife, spending days at the lake, foraging, climbing trees, playing and eating nearly every dinner outside in the back yard at our new farmhouse table.

(Daryl and Victoria built it for me.  Isn’t it marvelous?!)

This week was a pretty great week for nature studies. Here’s some of what we did….

  • We watched a cicada emerge from his alien-like skin with his new green wings.
  • We watched a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis right by our back door, pump its new wings until they were dry, and fly away.
  • We swam at the lake many times and played with sand, water, driftwood and water bugs.
  • Victoria found some neat rocks and an arrowhead artifact at the lake, and was with Daryl when he found another fossilized shark tooth.
  • Alex and Jack helped Daryl forage for acorns, walnuts, apples and crab apples.  The boys always excitedly gather any acorns or walnuts they come across to bring home to process, which tickles me since 99.9% of the world considers them nuisances for the lawnmower.
  • Daryl and the kids “foraged” for apples and crab apples by getting permission from various owners who said they would not be harvesting them and who gave us permission to pick them.  These were all organic apples since the owners didn’t plan to harvest them and therefore didn’t spray them.
  • Alex helped Daryl made applesauce from the apples and crab apples and we canned many pints and quarts of it for the winter.  We talked about why our new pressure canner can safely preserve low-acid foods.
  • Victoria helped Daryl process the acorns and turn them into acorn flour(Here’s how our family does that.)
  • I made gluten-free apple cake with acorn flour (and other gluten free flours) we made from acorns Daryl and Alex gathered at our UU church, then we brought the flour for everyone to see and smell (it smells divine).  We’ll be bringing them baked good samples and printed instructions on how to do it themselves, too.  (Here’s the recipe I used for the apple cake, substituting acorn flour for the soy flour.) The apples were also foraged ones, and the eggs were from a homeschooling family down the highway (we buy 5-10 dozen eggs from them at a time from their free-roaming chickens at $1 a dozen), so a lot of the ingredients were locally sourced.
  • Jack and Alex helped Daryl husk walnuts and put them in big mesh onion bags in the garage to dry.
  • The kids helped husk non-GMO corn from a nearby farm to blanch and freeze it for winter.  We buy enormous boxes of ears for $6 each and spend a day at a time putting it up.  It’s a lot of work but it’s well worth it for many reasons!  (Here’s how Daryl and the kids process it.)
  • We watered and tended our gardens.  I use wine bottles for drip irrigation, and Jack helped me fill the bottles.
  • We made gluten-free zucchini breads and cakes like crazy, and froze extra shredded zucchini for use in recipes later in the year.  (These are our favorite recipe so far to use extra zucchini — Easy triple chocolate zucchini mini donuts and Chocolate zucchini bread, which tastes like chocolate cake to us.) We also made lots of grilled zucchini and zucchini everything else!  :)
  • We saw hundreds of dead carp by Talcot Dam, littering the shore.  We believe the combination of hot weather and low water just killed them off.  It led to more talk about weather and climate change.
  • We saw great blue herons, vultures, sandpipers, cranes, pelicans and other beautiful birds at the lake and in the wetlands that we pass when we head out of town for groceries.
  • Toria, Alex and Fiona found a frog after church and played with him before letting him go.
  • We talked about our funny sunflowers that don’t usually turn to face the sun at all the way they’re supposed to, but rather stick their faces in all directions.  Incidentally, if you want to know why they turn to follow the sun, ask.com says, “Sunflowers face the sun due to their ability of ‘heliotropism’ or sun-tracking. Sunflowers have a hydraulic system in the stem which enables them to turn in the direction of the sun. Water builds up on the shady side of the stem, leading to pressure which causes the head to arc toward the light.”
  • We read from One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science! and the kids used their biology knowledge to try to solve the mysteries in the life science section.
  • I made the mistake of wandering into the Nature Bats Last blog and following rabbit trails there until I was left an utter basket case in the middle of the night and had to email a friend whose wife is an environmental science professor to talk me off the ledge.  If you want to feel despondent pretty quickly, google “near term extinction” sometime and take a look at the amazingly short number of years some scientists are giving humanity and pretty much all life on earth.  (Note:  I had Nature Bats Last hyperlinked for you but I really consider it a public service announcement not to send any poor unsuspecting souls there.  I prefer hope.  Yes, climate change and climate chaos is real and getting really bad really fast, but paralyzing us with fear isn’t going to inspire the kind of change that’s needed to save ourselves and our world.  For goodness sake, we all need to get serious about making real changes, though.)
  • We are starting an in-depth family study of ways to convert our house to more sustainable energy, along with various tools we use (for instance, we bought a push reel mower a couple of years ago to use instead of the gas powered one).  We are also going to see how far we can lower our utility bill from September of last year and talk to our minister about starting a community garden at our UU church next year (the church is already wind powered, which is pretty awesome and shows their commitment to sustainable living).
  • I made up a batch of elderberry honey syrup to beat a bad summer cold.
  • Jack, Alex and Fiona took part in the Think! challenge to make mandalas from natural objects.  The boys made fantastic ones (Fiona just played) and they were posted on the Think! blog.  Unfortunately, the blog owner posted Alex’s twice and didn’t post Jack’s at all and she apparently doesn’t read her comments, so you can’t see Jack’s!  It was awesome and I’m going to try to contact her again to see if she’ll put his up because I know he’ll be proud to see it online.
  • We have been taking walks, climbing trees, visiting with friends in the back yard, eating outside, grilling out (mostly produce and veggies… stuffed portabello mushrooms are our all-time favorite but they’re about 1000 calories apiece!), making refrigerator pickles and scrap apple juice and peach pie and a hundred other things to use up excess fruits and veggies, trimming trees and bushes, loving on pets, talking about the jet stream and weather, photographing bugs, pulling weeds, checking on wild edibles (grapes, elderberries and plums are ripening soon, among others… here’s what’s in season in September in the midwest)…

And that’s why we don’t start “doing school” in late August just because the local schools have started up again.  :)   Not that we ever do school anyway, but this is just not a sit-down and study kind of season for us.  We do homeschooling through the seasons and I love this season.

In other news…

Here’s some free science notebooking pages you can download.

Here’s some articles I’ve published lately…

Daryl read somewhere years ago that September is the month of winds and magic.  Since it is the month of his birthday and our anniversary, it is a special month for us.  Happy September!

 

5 Unusual Things We’re Doing Today

Well, it’s never a dull moment here! Here’s what we’re up to today (well, five of the things)….

  1. Victoria showed up at a nearby farm at 5 a.m. for her first day of field work. She’s hoping to save up for a Nexus.  I figure this should count for PE for a while too.  ;)
  2. Anna is at the hospital getting fitted for an “event monitor” for her heart.  She’s been having chest pains and the doctor suggested wearing it for a short time just to see what it shows.  We’re fairly sure she’s fine, but it will be interesting to be able to track what her heart is doing and I’ve learned that it’s never a bad thing to be thorough about medical issues with my kids.
  3. We’re processing bushels and bushels of apples. A wonderful homeschooling friend let us come and pick some of their plentiful apples the other day, and we really loaded up.  This time of year is great for finding organic apples since so many people don’t spray their trees and they often have more than they can use.  We’re making applesauce, Dutch apple pies, faux cider (I use the peels and cores, simmer them in water until the water is really infused with the apple flavor, strain and add sugar and a dash of cinnamon), and so on.
  4. There’s a whole lot of canning going on. I have a new pressure canner and have been canning applesauce like crazy.  Next is pickles and apple pie filling, and soon will be salsa.  This is my favorite salsa recipe of all time to use with fresh tomatoes (it’s the type you get in authentic Mexican restaurants instead of the vinegar-based jarred kind and it takes about 30 seconds!) and I want to make a ton to put up for later.
  5. To be announced! I’m not sure what we’ll do for number five so I’ll report back tomorrow.  :)

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