May 31, 2010


Welcome to Men's Week! Our first guest post was written by Jack Rasmussen, my dad and the dean of the College of Education at Weber State University. I come from a long line of educators. I asked my dad to discuss the new "parental involvement in the schools" movement and what he thinks is necessary for a student to be successful regardless of where the child is educated. Among dad's nine children there are three master's degree, one MD, one CRNA, one dental hygienist, one studying to be an audiologist, and one who is just starting the MD journey. We were taught to believe in education. Take it away, Dad.

For what its worth, here's my take on the value (to the student) of parental involvement in the K-12 education system. Please note that I am defining parental involvement as a parent, or parents spending a significant amount of time volunteering at their child's school, helping their child with school work at home or at school, or being extensively involved with co or extra-curricular activities sponsored by their child's school.

First, however, I want three points to be clear: 1) If a parent gets a lot of personal gratification/satisfaction out of being involved at their child/children's school as a volunteer, as long as they are willing to operate within the parameters that the teacher sets, then I think that is wonderful. Wonderful of course for the parent, but not necessarily of any added value to their own child that is in the school. 2) If a parent is willing to help at their children's school, and again carefully follow the protocols set down by the classroom teacher, then they can be a great help to overworked teachers who often have difficulty giving personal attention to all the students in the class. Again, often helpful to some student in the class but probably not to their own child. 3) All bets are off in this discussion if we are talking about a parent volunteering to help their own child who has a handicap or exceptionality where additional individual attention increases the chance of the student being successful.

In the main, I feel that parental involvement is highly overrated in terms of its impact on the academic performance of the child of the involved parent. Most research in the area suggests a high correlation between involved parents and the academic success of their children, but in fact, very little research that I have seen shows any significant cause and effect. In other words, involved parents and successful kids are just common characteristics of a very easily identified population--the population where parents value and stress education, and where kids grow up with the same values and are motivated to be successful at whatever education entails. In my words, kids of good parents are usually successful in school and would be whether or not their parents were heavily involved in the schooling process.

Parental involvement, at the level we are talking about, is not necessary for the success of kids from educationally sound homes for just the same reasons that early childhood programs are not necessary for those same children. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these kids going to early childhood programs or with their parents being involved as volunteers at the school, it just isn't necessary for their kids' success. Even mediocre teachers will have little or no problem getting these students to meet and exceed the outlined learning outcomes of the school and can accomplish those goals without help or interference from the students parent/s.

Unfortunately, there are many students who do not come from educationally sound homes and what society and the K-12 system really needs is for these parents to be better parents at home, rather than be volunteers at school. I think that the parental involvement movement is all about trying to get these parents to school to provide training and modeling about both education and parenting, so as to develop better parents, which will in turn lead to more success with those students with which our schools currently struggle. Unfortunately, the parents that could benefit the most by being in the school are not the ones likely to be there.

To sum up this lengthy treatise, parents need to provide an educationally rich home environment, instill in their children a belief in the importance of learning and the value of an education, and to teach their children to take responsibility for their own learning. If parents do/did this, they would really have no need to be overtly involved in their child's institutional (at school) education because the kid & the teachers could easily accomplish the task without them.

I am certainly not saying that a parent can't or shouldn't talk to their child about what they are studying at school or shouldn't know about their child's grades, etc. Simply that they wouldn't need to be at school beyond parent teacher conference and should rarely if ever have to help with homework or other school assignments. This would be great because the K-12 curriculum is a very small part of what a child should be learning, and, in fact, aside from basic literacy skills, it is probably less important than many other things that parents could and should be teaching their children if they had the time.

May 28, 2010

Pioneer Books We Loved

Johnny Appleseed by Jane Yolen.

At first Miriam and the other children were a little offended by this book. Yolen had the temerity to intersperse the truth about Mr. Appleseed in between verses of a song about him. By the end though, we were all won over. It is a clever way to present a biography. Besides that, we all learned things about Johnny we didn't know before.

Papa and the Pioneer Quilt by Jean Van Leeuwen.

We loved the pictures. We loved the story. We loved the father and his wandering feet and the little girl who hopes his feet will settle down. It was definitely one of our very favorites.

Apples to Oregon: Being the Slightly True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (AND CHILDREN) Across the Plains by Deborah Hopkinson.

I don't even know where to start with this book. It was perfect. READ IT IMMEDIATELY. That's all I have to say about that. Okay, I have a little bit more to say. This book is written in tall tale fashion about a man who loves his fruit trees to distraction and, with the able assistance of his plucky daughter Delicious, manages to keep the trees alive all the way to Oregon. It has some wonderful pictures and it is just fun. Read it.
Nine for California by Sonia Levitin.

These last three books were Miriam's favorites. They are about the same family as they move west and have adventures. The first book is all about their traveling west by stagecoach. I liked that because most of the pioneer books feature covered wagons, so this provided me the opportunity to talk about other ways people traveled. Besides that, the mother had a bag (bag-of-tricks, or precursor to the diaper bag) that held the perfect thing for every problem that arose. The mother in this book rocks. I don't think my children appreciated, as I did, the ingenuity required to keep five or so children occupied for a month long stagecoach trip. Shoot me now was pretty much what I was thinking the whole time we were reading it.

Boom Town by Sonia Levitin was the best of the three. It showcases how a town comes into being. First there were gold miners, then there was Amanda's wild success at selling pies to the miners, then there was a laundry, a blacksmith shop, a bank, a school. The town grows around Amanda because she started making pies. Loved it.

While it is a stand alone book, it is more fun if you've read the first one and recognize some of the earlier characters.

Taking Charge by Sonia Levitin.

This is a book about asking for help when you need it and not letting pride create problems. Amanda's mother leaves their little boom town for a few months to take care of her mother. Amanda is left in charge of baby Nathan, who wasn't walking when the mother left, but was running and creating havoc by the end. At first, Amanda doesn't ask for help because she wants to prove she can handle it. By the end, she's learned that it takes a village to contain baby Nathan. It had a good moral, it was a cute story, and my children loved it because they loved the first two. It reminded me of the summer my parents were building a house and I was in charge of my youngest two siblings (and sort of the other two just younger than me, but not really). I ran around like crazy after Wyatt because he kept starting fires in garbage cans. He was a maniac. But, due to my focus on Wyatt, Lindsay is the one who escaped. Barely controlled chaos. This book really captures that "out of my depth" feeling.

All of these books are available through the Davis County Library System.

May 27, 2010

To Dog or Not to Dog, That IS the Question

Me on Maggie with Eli and Miriam

I realize I haven't blogged for awhile. My absence is entirely due to my hunt for the perfect dog for our family. I must state up front that I am not really an animal person. I love to look at my dad's horses out the window--the foals frisking, and the older horses grazing. I especially love watching them before a storm when they run back and forth along the fence line. Just beautiful. I also like to ride the horses now and again, usually around the corral with a child in front and a child in back. My favorite thing is watching my son learn to ride. He's five now, and Grandpa lets him ride by himself in the corral. A huge achievement.

When I was four, my dad let me barrel race in some of the local children's rodeos. My horse then was a retired thoroughbred racehorse, a stallion of not inconsiderable size. I adored him. I rode him by myself all the time. We even had the same red hair color. Kismet, I tell you.

You see, when I was younger, I was an animal person. I won first prize at the fair with my chicken for "Most Unusual Pet." It was a top-hat chicken that had feathers that stuck straight up and looked like a funny hat. I loved that chicken.

My other childhood pet was an old, old horse named Thunder. He was my best friend for three years. I adored him. He was the perfect pet because he never wanted to go anywhere, so it was easy to jump on his back (without reins or saddle--he was very old, I mean, well-trained) and chat with him for as long as I wanted, and then hop off when I was done. I also actually rode him sometimes. My dad would provide me with a stick to hit his rump to get him moving. Sometimes he was so excited to return he would trot a few steps. That was exciting.

In the meantime, I barrel raced using one of the other horses, and I played with the chickens, and I hugged the dog, and I searched the barn for new litters of kittens.

I had the perfect childhood.

So when my daughter says things like, "I've never had a real pet before," and my son begs every day to go to Grandpa's to see the horses, I feel a little guilty. Enter Phineas, the dog. You can read the entire story here. Phineas didn't even last 24 hours at our house. The problem now is that I'm a homeschool mom, with a wannabe writing career (hey, even wannabes have to write if they ever want to become something more than a wannabe), a husband in school resulting in my teaching a course for the local university next fall, and four children--none of whom are successfully potty-trained. And none of those are really good excuses for not getting my children a pet. I'm just no longer an animal lover. Or I'm an animal lover from afar. Or I just can't stand one more thing that poos anywhere near me or the thought of dividing my already limited time among my children and something so much less important to me.

Maybe I'm a wuss.

Maybe I'm destroying my children's childhoods because they'll never go through the ups and downs of loving an animal.

And maybe it doesn't even matter.

Any thoughts?

May 24, 2010

Monday Recipe: My Favorite Cleaner

All-purpose cleaner:

Fill a bottle half full of vinegar and then top it off with water. Or vice-versa.

Add 10-14 drops of lemongrass oil (I add more because I have to kill pee smell. A lot.)

Add 2-3 drops of dishwashing liquid.

The end. I keep mine in a spray bottle and use it to wipe down my children's plastic bed covers when I change their sheets, and for washing poo off walls (don't ask) and other things that require a small amount of cleaner that can be sprayed.

I also have a bottle full of the stuff that I add to a bucket of water for cleaning floors and other, larger, jobs.

Love the stuff.

PS Lemongrass oil costs about $6 a bottle and can be found in any health food store. It can also be purchased online and essential oil people can probably tell you all about it. I don't actually know much except that it smells nice.

May 20, 2010

A Day in the Life by Becky

So, I’m at the stage of homeschooling where I can still do whatever I want – in that technically he’s still four (five in June) and I don’t really care to sit down and write his curriculum just yet. So, for now, I allow his whims to guide us. This week, said whims guided us to a 3-D dollar store book on space. In that this fed into his endless fascination with spaceboys and rockets and aliens – I thought this would be a great time to build up some real and actual concepts about the solar system and space travel.

Now, as with all his whims, my main goal is to build a foundation of big concepts – and not to get caught up in the little details and distract him with ephemera. And beyond that, the dollar store book was written by someone with questionable authority in the area of aeronautics and astronomy, nor a great grasp of English – so we just sort of “fake” read the book. I would let him point to pictures and then I would talk.

The foundation points that I wanted to get out of this little unit were these:

1) the earth is made of rock,

2) we revolve around the sun and the moon revolves around us

3) there are bigger planets than us, the sun is a star (this leady to a lengthy debate in which I declared Luke the winner and he was allowed to continue to live in a world where the sun is a really cool planet with cool fire/alien people inhabiting it and someday he would go there and meet them – he’s only four, let him live the dream)

4) Saturn has rings

5) what those rings are made of

6) that a spaceship is called a spaceshuttle

7) that it needs boosters to get through the atmosphere

8) that it can be piloted like a plane to return to earth

9) that russia, china and the united states are the only three countries with the technology to go into space

10) that china and the united states call spaceboys “astronauts” and that Russia calls them “cosmonauts”…and so on and so on.

So, being that I’m such an artsy person, I try to drill a lot of this information into his little head as I keep his hands busy with an art project.

First I pulled out a piece of black paper and a white crayon. I told him to draw the sun at the center and to draw whatever planets he wanted to from there. He chose to draw Saturn (shocker), the earth, it’s moon and one of his alien buddies living on the Sun. from here we chose our paper colors and started to cut them up in little tiny bits to be glued onto their corresponding planets. I then wrote identifying words and he copied them.

As he did this we just ran over the information again and again and again. I will continue to quiz him for the following week whenever the topic comes up or I stumble upon him building a space shuttle or talking to his alien robot friends (made out of cardboard and wrapped in duct tape, there are 5 or 6 of them now). I found that it was the most important for me to continually stress who orbits around who – a core piece of knowledge he needs to get down before we go any further.

Anyhoo, this is how my loosey-goosey brain has decided to approach homeschooling at this age. Oh, and as a side note – why do they insist on making all kids material 3-D when 90% of kids hate the 3-D glasses and refuse to wear them (my kids representing the 90%, of course). I’m beginning to wonder if my kids think their world is just poorly drawn and covered in an angelic fuzzy glow. Go figure.

I also included a pic of what Charlie does 75% of the time we have school - stack tuna cans and ignore us. I don't know what she'll play with if we ever have to eat our food storage.

You can always find Becky over at


Make sure to check in from May 31-June 4 when my blog will be hosting

Men's Week: Father's Perspectives on Educating their Children

I've lined up five (male) guest bloggers who will be discussing their views on education. One guest post will be published each day. I hope you check in during Men's Week to see what the menfolk have to say!

May 19, 2010

End of Level Testing and Miriam

When Timothy and I first started throwing around homeschooling as a choice for our family (alright, I threw it around and Timothy mulled it over), testing became a sticking point. Timothy wanted our kids to take their end-of-levels, and I thought it was a waste of time. I think there are good arguments for both stances.

Pro Testing:

1) Helps your child get used to the format/set-up and expectations of that kind of test. Face it, even if your child never sets foot in a public school, he will still need to be a good high stakes tester.

2) It gives you a good reason to practice test taking skills. I think this is so very important.

3) It gives you a general sense of where your child's skills are strong and weak.

4) Curiosity. Your own curiosity about how your child stacks up to public schooled kids by way of test scores.


1) It is easy to give too much credence to the results. Whether the scores indicate that your child is behind or ahead, what you know as a homeschool mom is that your child needs to be working at his zone of proximal development and no one test can tell you where that is.

2) Often what the schools are teaching has little to do with what you are teaching at home. That might lead to some pretty low scores in some areas, which might embarrass or discourage your child.

3) Your child might ace the tests leading to both of you getting swelled heads.

4) Curiosity. Your own curiosity about how your child stacks up to public schooled kids by way of test scores.

Miriam has spent the past two mornings at the local elementary school doing her end-of-levels. She'll be there again tomorrow, in her assigned classroom, with a teacher and a bunch of other six year olds. It is a weird thing for me, peeking in the classroom and seeing her there at a little desk with a pencil. Since I adored school my whole life (even junior high), my guilt complex was activated the first day when I picked Miriam up and she said, "Can't I stay longer?"

My reply: "Why?"

Miriam: "Because I want to see the library."

Me: "Ahh." She's so constant.

Today most of the kids in the class waved goodbye to her and said variations of "Bye, Miriam, see you tomorrow." They seemed like a very nice bunch and the teacher is a sweetheart. Regardless, after getting Miriam to the school by 9:00 am two days in a row I've about had it. Me no likey getting kids places in the morning. I'll end this post with that whine. Happy testing tomorrow, Miriam.

May 18, 2010

New Schedule

A dear friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago about my schedule. I didn't reply because I was in the midst of deciding whether or not our schedule was working for us. I decided it wasn't.

Putting together a new schedule is fun and scary. Fun because it is nice to shed the old schedule that had lived past its time, and scary because you have to spend some serious time thinking about what your family needs.

After some deliberation I realized I had a major hang-up. When I first started homeschooling almost every homeschooler I talked to said something along the lines of, "If you get up and get going you can have everything done by noon."

After this year my response to that sentiment is, "Well yippidy-do-dah." In other words, just because you can get up and get everything done by noon doesn't mean it is the best schedule for your family. More precisely, it wasn't the best schedule for us. This became increasingly apparent these past few months wherein the feeling of happiness in my home had deteriorated and the level of contention had escalated. After some pondering, I recognized the following as truths for me and my family:

1) Type A personalities should not have very specific to-get-done-by-this-time lists. No matter how much a type A personality tells herself that homeschool can be flexible, if her mental timeframe says school starts at 9:00 am and it is 9:10 am and school has not yet started, she is going to feel angry and anxious and prone to contentious parenting.

2) Babies rule the house. Adapt to them and don't expect them to adapt to you.

3) Children who are prone to playing well for thirty minutes in the morning should be encouraged to do so.

4) Chores always take longer than I think they should.

5) Getting up at 5:00 am to exercise makes a woman too tired to fool around with her spouse. This is to be avoided.

5) Last, but definitely not least, those of us who have children who need a great deal of structure in their lives to keep them out of trouble might do better breaking up school and play time so that they do not have the entire afternoon free. To run amuck. Wreaking havoc.

With these thoughts in mind, here is my new schedule. It has been working marvelously.

6:00 am: Mom gets up and exercises.

7:00 am: Mom showers and gets ready for the day.

7:20 am: stick kids into tub, change sheets, make breakfast, all that good stuff.

9:00ish am: Chores. Including Miriam practicing the piano (I still do that sitting beside her so she'll sit up straight and count instead of sing).

10:30ish am: Devotional. Right now that means read a section of the Illustrated BofM and an article in the Friend, then sing a church song (or Twinkle, Twinkle if it is Emeline's turn to pick) and pray. For the record, devotional usually occurs when I think the kids are no longer playing nicely and/or when the baby goes down for his mid-day nap. It doesn't generally have much to do with when chores actually get done.

11:00ish am: Group activity that Emeline will like. Meaning, no math. No workbooks, worksheets, or anything like unto. This is when, lately, we've been singing about pulleys and building simple machines. Hands on stuff. Usually we read a book or two on the subject and then move on to the hands on part. This has worked so much better with Emeline than what I was doing before. PS--It is so great to have a couch instead of reading to the kids sitting on the floor.

12:30ish pm: Lunch. Emeline to bed for her nap. Miriam to the couch for silent reading. Cowen banished to the great outdoors or his room. I let him sit on the couch and read a few times but he mumbles and hums and makes noises the WHOLE TIME. Since quiet time = Mom's scripture study time, he was driving me bonkers.

1:00ish pm: School time. Since baby and Emeline are still asleep at this point, things go so smoothly. Miriam reads to me, usually a biography because we both enjoy those. Then we do a few exercises from her language arts book that I reviewed here. Then math analogies, critical thinking puzzles, and spelling. I'll review all the things I use for those subjects shortly.

2:30ish pm (depending on how many logic puzzles the kids talk me into letting them do and/or if the baby wakes up): Feed Eli. Let the kids play.

3:30ish pm: Have the kids go through the house and straighten up (if they aren't playing nicely and I need to redirect, otherwise I let them play until they hit that point). Then, give them something to do like play-dough, or counting cubes, art supplies. I limit them to the kitchen table area. Or, I kick them outside. The afternoon is also when I run errands as I hate getting the kids out of the house in the morning. Book reading often happens during this time or playing outside with Cowen.

Start supper, wait with baited breath for Dad to get home.

The end.

I'm learning to not give myself set times for things as some internal working of my brain is fanatical about punctuality. I'm learning to flex with how the day is going instead of always fighting to make everything exactly as I imagined it the night before. I am learning to align my actions with my belief that the children playing together is the most important thing for them at their ages. And I'm learning to fit the things I need to do in throughout the day, instead of waiting for that afternoon chunk of time.

The benefits of this less rigid, better suited to our family, schedule is already being felt by all of us. Happiness is up. Contention is down.

May 17, 2010

Bacony Barley Salad with Avocado

Bacony Barley Salad with Avocado

This salad is amazing. I'm not just saying that either. After I made this the first time it went immediately into normal rotation. I have very few recipes that are in my normal rotation (I try out a lot of new recipes). This is one of my very favorites and definitely my favorite barley recipe. I serve it with pita bread.


3 strips bacon, chopped

1 1/3 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup quick-cooking barley (I USE REGULAR BARLEY)

1 pound peeled shrimp, tails removed, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup lime juice

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (I use whatever tomatoes strike my fancy)

1/2 cup finely diced red onion (I use way more than that—I love red onions)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 avocado, peeled and diced (I use two avocadoes and serve them separately so they don’t mush if there are leftovers)


Cook bacon in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towel; discard fat.

Add water and salt to the pan and bring to a boil. Add barley and return to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. (Or 35 minutes or so if you are using regular pearl barley (which I recommend because it is healthier.))

Combine shrimp and lime juice in a large bowl. Add the cooked barley; toss to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the barley to absorb some of the lime juice. Add tomatoes, onion, cilantro and the bacon; toss to coat. Add oil and pepper and toss again. Stir in avocado and serve.

Make Ahead Tip: Prepare without avocado, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Stir in the avocado just before serving.


May 12, 2010

More Slavery Unit Ideas

Here are a few more ideas for a slavery unit.

1) I had the kids draw a picture of our house and show where they would hide a slave from a slave catcher. The kids loved doing this, but the end result was a little peculiar. Miriam drew a great picture of a barn with a hayloft and a slave's head in the hayloft. Um, we don't have a barn. Still, good idea. Cowen was really clever. He drew a still upright dead tree with no slave in sight. The slave was inside the dead tree because according to Cowen, if you hollowed out a dead tree and put a slave in it, nobody would ever find the slave. You may have already guessed this, but no, we do not have a dead tree on our property. Still, good times and a general understanding had by all.

2) Sing a bunch of gospel songs. In fact, play gospel music every day for a few weeks. I played my Johnny Cash gospel cd. I know, he's not black so it doesn't sound quite the same, but my children did get to hear 20 great gospel songs. We also watched a lot of gospel choirs and gospel singers on youtube. I prepped my kids by reading the book Hush Harbor and together we learned "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

3) We read several books about slaves making map quilts to help them escape. Then Julie copied one of the quilt patterns using paper and cut the paper into small pieces. Then we let the kids glue the patterns back together. After that, Julie assembled the whole "quilt." That was one of the better slavery unit days because Julie was in charge and she is crafty so the quilt turned out perfect. Everything aligned. Amazing.

Here are some great ideas that I didn't do.
1) Make a freedom booklet as your culminating activity.
Page One: Choose a slave identity and explain it--including where you live in the South.
Page Two: Make a map showing the route to Canada from where you are in the South.
Page Three: Draw a picture of fear.
Page Four: Write a poem about being free.
Page Five: Write a short paragraph about a person we've studied (ex. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln, etc.) and how you feel about that person.
Page Six: Write out a morse code message.
Page Seven: Include your quilt square.
Page Eight: Write a short mission statement about how you will treat all of God's children.
So many great idea . . . so many hormones.

May 11, 2010

Underground Railroad Activity

I'm going to admit something. I never planned out my slavery unit like I normally do--with each activity corresponding to one or more books and each activity carefully thought-out and prepared in advance. Nope. Right before the slavery unit I switched birth control and had a hormonal melt-down and was pleased with myself if the children were alive at the end of the day and something resembling school took place. Some days, I settled for the children being alive at the end of the day.

This unit won't ever have a nice outlined day-by-day plan. However, I am going to list a few more of my favorite ideas that we did (or didn't) do.

One of those ideas involved asking my homeschooling neighbor if she would allow her home to be a station on the underground railroad. She agreed. Yeah! Julie and I prepped the kids by reading numerous underground railroad books, and focusing heavily on Harriet Tubman over the course of several days. Then, for our weekly combined activity, we told the kids that Julie and I were slave catchers, Miriam was a conductor, and the rest of them were escaping slaves. Miriam was responsible for getting everyone to the next station on the underground railroad.

It was awesome. Even though we told Miriam she was responsible for getting everyone, including Emeline (age 3), to the station safely, Emeline was forgotten in the first 30 seconds and had to make her way across the street by herself. Good thing I checked the road before I allowed them out the door.

The shrieking, running, yelling that took place on the way to the station probably wouldn't have been a good idea back in slave days, but it made it easier for me and Julie to keep tabs on the kids' progress. When we knew they'd reached the station, we followed at a much more leisurely, and quieter, pace.

The whole thing went very well, except that I forgot to prep Miriam about the fact that Julie and I would eventually find her. When we did, Miriam was outraged and yelled about never returning to slavery and why did we find her and then ran outside and down to the street to hide at another neighbor's home. Grr.

Eventually I tracked her down and explained that she couldn't really escape me because I was her mother. The light went on, she calmed down, and the rest of the day was peaceful.

So . . . great idea. Next time, I'll have the snags worked out ahead of time.

May 10, 2010

Toasted Barley Pilaf

I love to cook. Really, really love it. I also love food. Lately I've been trying to include more whole grains in our diet--specifically barley. It is my holy grail of sorts--finding the most tasty recipes that include or feature barley. So far I've found two that meet my taste-o-meter standards. Here's the first one. It might sound like a fairly plain side dish, but it is tastier than the recipe might indicate and it pairs well with just about any main course because there is nothing frou frou about it. Like so many great recipes, it comes from an American Heart Association cookbook.

American Heart Association Quick & Easy Cookbook

Prep Time: 10 mins Cooking Time: 30 mins

Toasted Barley Pilaf

Serves 4; 1/2 cup per serving


1 cup pearl barley

2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup sliced celery

1/4 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1/8 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Cooking Instructions

Place barley in a large, heavy skillet. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring occasionally. Slowly stir in the broth and then add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and barley is pleasantly chewy.

May 7, 2010

For Those Wondering About Homeschooling With Younger Children

Becky asked me awhile ago about what it was like homeschooling with pre-school aged youngsters underfoot. I found this post from my first year homeschooling, when Emeline was two, and thought it might strike a sympathetic chord.

We went on our first "official" field trip today to the church history museum. It was awesome. Not only was there the replica of a boat (the reason we went) and the ship bunks to play on, but also a cabin with mud chinking and a wagon and the "I Am a Child of God Exhibit" upstairs that had a fantastic array of things for the kids to touch and play with. I can't BELIEVE I forgot my camera!!! ARGH!!! Oh well, the kids want to go again . . ..

The first week of school went well except that I forgot that Cowen likes to do exactly what Miriam does. The second day we did some hands-on math, and that was fine. But when we did book work and I had no book work ready for Cowen--that was not so great. I have since rectified the situation and Cowen has a math binder with his work sheets in page protectors so he can use the dry-erase markers.

Fixing Cowen's problem was easy, but Emeline--that is different. She wants to use markers. She's not allowed. She wants a white board. I didn't buy her one. She DOES NOT want crayons because nobody else is using crayons. Hmm. She's wound up in her crib twice because she was too loud. Cowen was never like this. I'm hoping the girl starts adapting . . . any day now.

The other thing that is interesting is how different young kids are from older kids. I didn't ever try to "teach" Miriam much when we did pre-school. We made pyramids out of sugar cubes, and colored pictures of kids from other countries, and made yummy Chinese food. But, not much sitting down and telling her things. Obviously, since sitting down and telling kids things is very ineffective at EVERY age, imagine my surprise when I sat down to tell them about the mysterious lost colony, Roanoke, and Miriam and Cowen sat on the couch CAPTIVATED. What??? By a lecture?? Granted it lasted three minutes, sounded like a story, and I was holding a doll. Who knew a prop would have such an impact? The doll wouldn't have done anything for my tenth graders. Miriam even remembered the doll was named Virginia Dare and was the first white baby born in the New World to tell her Dad at supper.

Of course, when I was done telling my "story," Miriam and Cowen insisted on sitting in the chair and holding the doll to tell their stories. And that was when I REALLY wished my video camera was handy. Miriam's story was convoluted, long, lacked resolution, and was HILARIOUS!! This school thing is fun!

May 6, 2010

Good books about slavery

There were more books about slavery at the library than any other subject I have ever taught my children. It was overwhelming. I brought home about 40 children's books on the subject (no joke) and read through them all. I did not read all of them to my children, but I did read most of them. These are my children's favorites.

If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine. This is a nonfiction summary of the underground railroad. It is just the right length and just the right amount of text per picture.

Henry's Freedom Box by Kadir Nelson. Gold Star. (That means it was one of our very favorites.) This is based on the true story of a slave who mails himself to freedom. Awesome.

Hush Harbor by Freddi Williams Evans. About a group of slaves who are forbidden to meet together to worship but do so anyway. It was the perfect introduction to a discussion on what masters tried to control and why, and how slaves circumvented the rules. It also led naturally into us learning several slave songs, including "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Liberty Street by Candice Ransom. Discussed the importance of reading and why slaves took great risks to learn how.

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson. The author of this book has slave heritage and the book traces back her history to slave times. It is very interesting/poetic. My kids loved it.

Up the Learning Tree by Marcia Vaughan. The book is about a young slave boy who takes great risks to learn how to read.

A Good Night for Freedom by Barbara Olenyik Morrow. Gold Star. This is definitely one of the best books out there. It is about a young girl who sees two escaped slaves hiding at Levi Coffin's house. When the slave catchers come, she has to decide whether to help the slaves or obey her father and avoid trouble. The kids and I had the best discussion after reading this book about courage and morality. I highly recommend this book.

The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroude. One of the better "quilt" books.

Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson. Another good "quilt" book.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson. Gold Star. Another one of our absolute favorites. This is far and away the best of the quilt books. Clara slowly gathers the information she needs to put together a map quilt to help her escape to freedom. The theme is the same as the other quilt books, but something about it makes it worlds better than the rest. Apparently other people like this one too because it was a Reading Rainbow book. (Take a moment to enjoy that nostalgic rush.)

A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman by David A. Adler. Although there are many Harriet Tubman books out there that have won awards and look all spiffy--this is the best of the lot. I liked it because it was so straightforward. A nice, interesting biography. A lot of the other Tubman books had some gimmick, like flying children (I'm not making it up--you can find the book at the library, but I don't recommend it), or overdone prose that really detracted from Tubman's story. Maybe I'm just picky. Harriet Tubman is one of my history heroes. I'm planning on naming my next girl Harriet after Harriet Tubman. She was an incredible person: unselfish, persistant, brave, independent. You don't need to "dress up" her story to add impact. My children agreed with me--they liked this one best too.

May 4, 2010

Importance of Knowing How to Read

This post is about my very favorite activity of the whole slavery unit. Mostly because it was designed to help my children appreciate the power that comes with knowing how to read. My homeschooling buddy Julie and I put together this activity and it worked out great. I was very pleased.

First, I did a lot of frontloading. I started by reading the two books pictured below.

Up the Learning Tree by Marcia Vaughan is about a slave boy who is required to walk his young white master to school and back every day. The slave boy realizes that if he is up the nearby tree, hidden in the leaves, he can hear the teacher and see what she writes on the board. He then practices his letters by carving them into the tree.

The risk, of course, is great if he gets caught (which he eventually does). My children were captivated by the story and it provided a perfect gateway to talking about why he would risk so much just to learn to read.

Liberty Street by Candice Ransom is another book about a young slave risking a great deal to learn to read. In this story, a free black woman forms an underground school for slaves in her town. All the children who attend this school take an incredible risk to learn. My favorite part of this book is that it showcases the power reading gives to people, but also that slaves used a variety of methods to take power. The mother of the young slave who is learning to read uses her washing to signal runaways that a boat is ready to take them across the river to safety. The kids and I talked about how learning to read helped the slave girl broaden her options and understanding and ability to escape, while her mother's bravery (despite not knowing how to read) helped numerous other slaves.

After reading those two books, we talked about Frederick Douglass and how learning how to read affected his ability to remain a slave. My son was excited about that because he played Frederick Douglass in one of our mini-plays and his big line was, "I can read, I can think, I will be free!"

Reading the books and discussing them were helpful but I really wanted to drive the point home that reading=power. Julie and I decided to meet at her house for a scavenger hunt with prizes (books, of course) for the kids who could reach the end of the hunt. Julie wrote the clues, however, in morse code. We picked morse code because my daughter already knows how to read so English was out. Also, picking a different language would make it really hard for the kids to unscramble the message. With an older child, a different language would work well, but not with our youngsters.

Julie wrote the clue on a big bulletin board and then wrote a smaller morse code explanation sheet. We told the kids that there was a great prize for them if they could find it and then we told them the first clue was on the table. The kids ran off, excitedly, only to weep and wail minutes later when they saw the morse code. We took a few minutes to talk to them about how the slaves must have felt, seeing a map but not being able to decipher it. Then we pointed out how they might decode the message and they took it from there.

They were very, very proud when they got the message all decoded and found the prize. Overall, the activity was a good one for really driving home the point about reading giving you access to information (power).

May 3, 2010

Rewards for Playing

I'm getting on my soapbox again. This time about the ridiculousness of giving kids treats after sporting events. This is just so wrong for so many reasons.

1) You are in essence rewarding children for getting to play a fun game.

2) You are basically saying--hey, playing a sport isn't enough fun, and me paying for it and driving you to it, and staying to watch and cheer for you isn't quite enough. You deserve more. Here's a treat.

3) Getting a child involved in sports is a good way to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle--the best offense against obesity and diabetes in children. Giving children a sugary treat afterwards does the exact opposite.

4) Providing treats for a whole team costs money. Some people don't have money. It creates an awkward situation for those people.

5) It promotes competition amongst the parents.

6) It makes the child more excited about the treat after than the activity. (Don't get me started on people who take treats to primary for all the kids in complete disregard of the manual!)

7) It makes it harder for me to feel good about giving my kids treats at home when I know they are going to get sugar from other places. In my house, we really only have treats for FHE and sometimes Sunday night if I'm feeling the need or my hubby makes cookies. But, I don't like giving my kids a treat on Monday if they had a treat in primary on Sunday (every single Sunday!!! GRRR!) and they are having a treat two days that week for a sporting event. Count up how many treats that is. Yep--too many.

I know, I know. I'll have sisters reading this post shaking their heads and muttering, "Take a chill pill, Ans." I recognize that while I'm not completely OCD about what my kids eat, I'm close. But surely there are other people out there who want a treat to be a treat. Not a daily occurrence. And I'm sorry, as much as we like to talk circles around it, parents are responsible for childhood obesity. Not the children.

Chalk another one up to she's a crazy red-head who is getting crazier all the time. That's okay, I get it. Or, join me in my anti-treat revolt and let t-ball be about teaching kids to run some bases, not about teaching them to eat ding-dongs.

PS My children are definitely not on board.