Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Introduction to Chlorophyll

We're kick starting the school year with plant science.  The Core Knowledge sequence for Kindergarten (free download here) lists the following objectives:

• What plants need to grow: sufficient warmth, light, and water
• Basic parts of plants: seed, root, stem, branch, leaf
• Plants make their own food.
• Flowers and seeds: seeds as food for plants and animals (for example, rice, nuts,
wheat, corn)
• Two kinds of plants: deciduous and evergreen
• Farming
How some food comes from farms as crops
How farmers must take special care to protect their crops from weeds and pests
How crops are harvested, kept fresh, packaged, and transported for people to buy
and consume
This lesson on chlorophyll covers three of the above objectives - What plants need to grow (light), basic parts of plants (leaf), and plants make their own food.  It's an extremely simplified overview of what chlorophyll is, but I feel that it lays the foundation for future learning later on.

Lesson:  Introduction to Chlorophyll

Objective:  Student will conduct an experiment to illustrate how plants use chlorophyll.

Materials:  Black construction paper.  Green construction paper.  Scissors.  Sponge (the kind that has yellow on one side, and green scrubby on the other).  Glue.  Water.


1.  Cut out an oval leaf shape out of green construction paper.  Glue to black construction paper.  Cut sponge into little squares.

2.  Explain to student that the green paper represents a leaf.  Ask, "Why do you think leaves are green?" Encourage student to make several guesses.  You can reinforce the scientific process here, by saying, "That is a good hypothesis.  A hypothesis is like a guess.  Can you come up with another hypothesis for why leaves are green?  Here is my hypothesis _________ (don't say that it's because of chlorophyll - make up another hypothesis, to model that it's ok to not know the answer at the beginning of an experiment!)

3.  Say, "Did you know that leaves are made up of little things called cells?  The cells all have something called chlorophyll in them."  Indicate the pieces of sponge.  Say, "Let's pretend that these pieces of sponge are the leaf's cells.  The green part can be the chlorophyll.  Let's glue the cells onto the leaf."  Glue the sponges onto the leaf shape.

4.  Say, "Did you know that chlorophyll has a special job?  Let's pretend that this water is sunlight, and let's see what the chlorophyll does with the sunlight."  Pour a little water on a sponge.  Observe with the student what happens.  Say, "What happened to the chlorophyll?  What did it do to the sunlight?"  Discuss.  Say, "Chlorophyll's job is to soak up the sunlight.  The plant uses the sunlight for energy.  Let's give more 'sunlight' to the rest of the chlorophyll."  Continue pouring water on the sponges.

5.  Reiterate at the end that the chlorophyll's job is to collect sunlight for the plant to use for energy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Weeknight Recipes :: Chicken Artichoke Quesadillas ::

I've gotten into the habit of posting what's for dinner on Facebook.  People keep asking for recipes, so I'm adding a new section to this blog (since it's more 'business', and less narrative like my Ramblings), wherein I will post my recipes and show how the meals come together.

My meals have four requirements:

1.  They must be easy and quick.
2.  They must be relatively low calorie (which means not a lot of creamy sauces).
3.  They must be made with as little processed food as possible.
4.  They must be flavorful.  Really.  I don't like bland food.

Usually, I keep my pantry stocked with a certain set of ingredients, which I then pull from to make all my meals.  I know what I like, and what tastes good, so that's just what I buy!  Everything the following recipe was made from, I just had on hand.

First on the list, the inaugural recipe ..... (drum roll) .....

Chicken Artichoke Quesadillas

Simple and easy to prepare, the artichokes in these quesadillas lend a nice tang.  Pile on mushrooms, avocados and cheese, and you can't go wrong!


1 jar artichoke hearts
sliced mushrooms
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
1 cup shredded cheese (I used colby jack, since I had it in the fridge)
4 chicken breasts
tortillas (I used low carb ones, again, what I had on hand)
Miracle Whip (You can omit this, but I thought the quesadillas would be too dry without some sort of dressing.  If you're looking to cut more calories, then by all means, leave it out!)

1.  Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then cook them up.  You can either saute them in a skillet, or grill them.  I just bought a nifty griddle that fits over two burners on my stove, so I used that.  Slice the chicken.

2.  Stage all your ingredients close to your griddle or skillet (whatever you plan on cooking your quesadillas in).  Spread Miracle Whip sparingly on two tortillas.  Slap one tortilla, Miracle-Whip-side up, on the griddle.  Scatter chicken, then layer avocado slices, mushrooms and artichokes.  Sprinkle cheese over all, and top with the other tortilla, Miracle-Whip-side down.

3.  Let the first quesadilla cook while you assemble another one (assuming you have a griddle that can handle two quesadillas at once.  If not, you'll have to wait and do them one at a time).  Once the second is assembled, let it cook while you flip the first.  Cook the quesadillas until each side is toasty brown.

4.  Repeat the process, assembly line fashion, until all are cooked.  I made four quesadillas, which easily fed everyone with leftovers for later.  These suckers are fully loaded with lots of healthy yumminess, and are very filling!

5.  Serve with a fresh garden salad.  I keep two heads of romaine, a red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots in my fridge at all times so I can assemble salads easily and quickly.  I usually keep a salad bowl that I just add stuff to whenever it gets low, then toss the 'new' veggies in with what was leftover from yesterday.

6.  Enjoy!  I know we did.  And while you're eating, say it all together - "Just make yourself a dang kay-sa-dilla!"

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Week 2 in Review, and the Pros and Cons of Home Schooling

So we've been doing home school in earnest for two weeks now.  Sophie's started Kindergarten, and Xander's been doing some preschool work.  I had meant to take lots of pictures and blog the lessons, but it's taken more mental and physical energy than anticipated just to start up the rhythm of schooling.  Here are some quick impressions from the last two weeks:

Homeschooling Pros and Cons:

Pros - 

  • I'm spending a LOT of time with my kids.  I really love having the focused, one-on-one time built into every day for Sophie and Xander.  And they love it, too.  They beg all morning to start school, because they love sitting down with me, and having all of my attention.  
  • My house is cleaner than it was this summer.  Weird, I know.  You'd think that with more things on my plate, I'd have less time for housework.  But I've always thrived on schedules, and I have cleaning time built into our day.  We get up, eat breakfast, see Daddy off to work, then buckle down for two hours of cleaning. The kids help me, by cleaning their room and the family shared spaces, wiping down the bathrooms and kitchen cabinets with Lysol wipes, vacuuming, dusting, picking up outside, and loading the washing machine.  We're becoming a team, versus before, when I did all the work and they played around me. 
  • The lessons are fun.  Really.  I love teaching, and have missed it.  I really enjoy planning lessons, and teaching them.  I'm getting some intellectual stimulation in an area that has laid dormant some time.
Cons - 
  • Less social interaction.  I've noticed the kids getting more snappy at each other, and know they miss their friends.  At the library the other day, Sophie struck up a conversation with a little girl, which she normally doesn't do.  I think it shows that she misses being around other kids who aren't her brother.  
  • Less down time for me in the afternoon.  Up until this point, we'd been taking nap / quiet time from 1:00 - 4:00 every afternoon.  I got spoiled with three hours of alone time every day to recharge and get stuff done (like surfing the Internet, reading blogs, very important, I know).  Now, Xander, Sophie and I do combined school for an hour or an hour and a half before lunch, then from 1:00 - 3:00 Sophie and I work on her stuff while the boys nap.  I have been extremely tired and drained by the time 5:00 rolls around as a result. I'm hoping my endurance will build up, though, and that will become less of a problem.  
  • I can't help but feel that my kids (Sophie especially) are missing out on some fundamental experiences by not attending traditional schools.  There's a nostalgic part of me that mourns that Sophie will never experience the first day of Kindergarten.
What we've covered this week (like I said I wish I had the foresight and time to take pictures and blog some of these lessons):

Xander - 
  • Working through the alphabet, one letter per week.  We're learning the capital and lower case forms (which he mostly knows) and the letter sounds (which he mostly doesn't know).  So far we've done 'A' and 'B'.  We're working through a preschool workbook I found, which as the alphabet, numbers, and tracing.  He loves it.  I also put up a magnet board, on which we do some counting and patterning activities.  He's working through a Kumon cutting book.  
  • Every day we have calendar time (I'll write a post and do pictures of it later), with both kids.
  • Xander does some science work with Sophie, the stuff that doesn't involve a lot of writing or concentration.
Sophie - 
  • Writing - Every day she writes in her journal (so far it's all been stories, and she LOVES it.  Like mother, like daughter!).  She does a page in her D'Nealian handwriting book, and also practices her letters on a ruled white board.  I integrate a lot of writing into her science, as well.
  • Reading - 15 minutes of independent reading every day.  We use a timer, and she gets to pick what she wants to read.  So far, it's been Bob books and Dick and Jane readers I've gotten from the library.  We do phonics work using a workbook I found at the library, and also Phonographix, a reading recovery program I was trained in during my college years.  
  • Math - Math-U-See, Alpha.  LOVE it.  She just got to addition of 0.
  • Science - We're following the Core Knowledge sequence for Kindergarten (free download!).  I'm planning the units around field trips I want to take this year.  Next month we'll be visiting a local apple orchard / working farm, so right now we're doing Plants and Plant Growth.  Week One was a unit on Apples, covering the Core Knowledge topics of basic plant parts.  Week Two we covered that plants make their own food (and some REALLY cool lessons on chlorophyll, which I might recreate for a photo op so I can blog it), and what plants need to grow (sunlight, warmth, soil, water).  
  • Social Studies - nothing for now.  I've decided to alternate focus on Science and Social Studies, so that we can really go deep.  
  • Art - Apple stamping, a trip to the art museum in El Paso, some books about art from the library (the 'Touch the Art' series is really cool), bubble painting and primary colors.
  • Music - Some CD's from the library with basic children's songs on them.  We'll be covering different music genres later.

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's About More Than Just Pencil and Paper

So I expect to change my mind when the kids get older, but for us right now, homeschooling is about more than just pencil and paper.  It's more than academic seat work, checking skills off a list, or unit studies.  For my almost-5-next-week and 3 year old, homeschooling is about:

Weekly trips to the library.  
Instilling a love of books and reading at an early age.  Making the library a fun, safe, comfortable place of discovery and joy.  Sophie and Xander both have favorite series of books (Xander's is a set of nonfiction easy readers about different vehicles, Sophie's are Fancy Nancy, Madeline, Kevin Henkes' books, and now recently, Angelina Ballerina).  They know where the books are in the library and run to them every time.  I have to limit how many books we take home (as many as will fill my tote).  The library is one of the few places where you can be as excessive as you like.  I always feel rich when I leave with a bag full of books.

The learning lifestyle.
When we go to the grocery store, Sophie reads the can labels.  Now that she's learning about  money, we go over the weekly sale fliers together.  We have a billion discussions every day about:  why the man outside of WalMart is asking for donations for Marines.  Why we have to obey the speed limit.  What is the speed limit?  What is a star?  What is the sun?  What is the moon?  Why is that person using a white cane?  Why do women marry mean men?  We stop and examine the rocks, the insects, the clouds over the mountain.  We count stairs.  We find the letter, 'S' in signs as we drive by.  In short, learning is always on our minds.  It is a natural part of the day.

Getting together with friends.
We have play dates every week, where the kids can run, play, imagine, and explore with their friends. Sometimes they fight.  Sometimes somebody throws sand.  Sometimes somebody doesn't want to be friends anymore.  These are all things we talk about, redirect or discipline as they happen.  I'm able to take these little playground trials and turn them into learning experiences.  It helps that the other moms have the same discipline styles and goals as I do, and we all trust each other with our children.  Sometimes we learn a little.  Last week we made butter.  The week before that, painted with pudding.  This summer we're planning a trip to the local courthouse.

Being together. 
I feel so blessed to spend time with my kids.  To be intimately aware of the details of their day, and able to interject or stand back as the occasion requires.  Catching those moments when I really see my daughter and think, "Oh my God, you're beautiful."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Counting Coins - Lesson 5, Counting the Change Game {Pennies and Nickles}

This game can be played with any coins, but we're limiting it to only pennies and nickels, since that's what we've learned so far.  Fun, versatile, and the child won't know she's learning!  It provides great, hands-on practice at counting out change.

Lesson:  Counting the Change Game, Pennies and Nickels

Objective:  Child will use pennies and nickels to create specific change, up to 10 cents.

Materials:  Coin manipulatives or real coins.  Dice.  Construction paper.  Crayons / writing utensils.

1.  Review the pocket chart showing coin values you have been building in the last few lessons.  Review that a penny is one cent, a nickel is five cents, and five pennies equal one nickel.

2.  On a sheet of construction paper, create a table with three columns.  Label the first column, 'Penny', the second column, 'Nickel', and leave the third column blank.  I found a cool idea on Pintrest to place a die in a small, lidded, Tupperware-style container (I used a mason jar, because that's what I had handy).  This way you don't have dice flying across the room every time you toss them.  Pretty cool, huh?

2.  Toss the die.  I used a die with numbers written on it, instead of dots, to make the game simpler.  Write the number that comes up in the third column of your chart.  In this case, we got the number 10, so I wrote, '10 cents'.

3.  Instruct the child to create, '10 cents', on the chart.  She will probably use pennies first, because that is what is most concrete and familiar.  Make sure she places all the pennies in the 'Penny' column of  the chart.

4.  Draw a line underneath the pennies, and ask, "Can you think of another way to show '10 cents'?  How about using nickels?"  Write, '10 cents' again in the third column.  Guide the child in placing two nickels in the 'nickel' column.  Count to make sure that it equals 10 cents.

5.  Draw a line underneath the nickels, and ask, "Can you think of another way to show, '10 cents'?  How about using pennies and nickels?"  Guide the child in placing the nickel first in the nickel column, then counting out 5 pennies.  Note the questioning look on Sophie's face.  This will be difficult at first.  Be sure to provide lots of support.  It will get easier as the child gets more practice.

6.  Roll the die again, and repeat the process.  If you need to, add on a second (or third!) sheet of construction paper to continue your chart.  I wrote each new money value in a different color, to help distinguish visually.

Counting Coins - Lesson 4, How Much Is A Nickle?

This is an introductory lesson to the value of nickles, so your child probably won't fully grasp the concept of 'one nickle equals five pennies'.  Don't worry about that, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice making change later.  This just lays the groundwork.  Remember, we're going slow to give the child ample and varied opportunities to completely grasp the concept.  

Lesson :  How Much Is A Nickle?

Objective:  Child will understand that a nickle is worth 5 cents.

Materials:  'Hundred Penny Pie' sheet.  Printout of pennies and nickles.  Construction paper.  Glue.  Crayons.  Scissors.  Money pocket chart.

1.  Go to the pocket chart.  Review that one penny equals one cent.

2.  Put a card saying, '5 cents' on the next line of the chart.  Instruct child to count out five pennies to make five cents.

3.  Say, "There's another way you can make five cents."  Show a nickle.  Say, "A nickle is worth five cents." Put the nickle on the next line of the pocket chart, with the labels, 'nickle', and, '5 cents'.

4.  Pull out the Hundred Penny Pie sheet you made last lesson.

5.Say, "Now we're going to show how five pennies equals one nickle.  A penny is five cents.  A nickle is five cents.  They're both worth the same thing, five cents."  Have child color and cut out pennies and glue them onto the new Hundred Penny Pie (the one I used had each 5 cent portion cut apart).  Color and glue a nickle over each 5 cent pie piece.  Glue down on construction paper, and label.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Counting Coins - Lesson 3, How Much is a Penny?

Today's activity comes from 'Counting On Coins' by the AIMS Education Foundation.  One of the things I love about AIMS is that it builds slowly, and at the end children have a firm grasp of whatever concept is being taught.  The 'Hundred Penny Pie' activity in this lesson will be revisited and built upon for several weeks.

I've also pulled in a pocket chart that we will add to as we learn the value of each new coin.  My wonderful library has a kit of coin activities, including coin manipulatives and a pocket chart.  I may have to buy a pocket chart after this unit, because I've really liked using it!

Lesson:  How Much Is A Penny?

Purpose:  Child will identify a penny by name and value.

Materials:  'Hundred Penny Pie' worksheet and printout of pennies from 'Counting On Coins'.  Crayons.  Glue.  Scissors. Coins.  Pocket chart.  Paper.

1.  Show child a pile of coins.  Ask her to identify a penny.  Place the penny in the pocket chart.  Say, "You're right, this is a penny."  Write, 'penny', on a piece of paper and place next to the coin in the pocket chart.  Then say, "A penny is worth one cent.  We write, 'one cent' like this."  And write '1 c' on another piece of paper, and place in pocket chart. (Yes, it's not pretty.  But it does the job!  You could print the words out, but I didn't want to take the time.)

2.  Give child the printout of pennies, and instruct her to cut them out (she only needs 25 for this activity), and color them.  Then glue them on the 'Hundred Penny Pie' printout.

3.  Ask, "How much is a penny?"  When she answers, "One cent", reply, "That's right.  How much is this penny?  How about this one?  And this one?"  As you ask, point to each penny she has glued on her pie.  Then ask, "How many pennies do you have all together?"  When she counts up 25 pennies, ask, "How much are all of these pennies worth together?"  Answer:  25 cents.

4.  I know this activity seems simple, but it is necessary to establish the value of pennies, before you move on to nickles, dimes and quarters.  The end goal is for the child to understand the relationship between all the coins (one nickle is five pennies, one dime is 10 pennies, or 2 nickles, or one nickle and five pennies, etc), and this is an abstract concept that must be approached slowly.