Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ups and Downs

This has been quite a roller coaster of a week.  I am not a royal enthusiast, but I happened to be up for the big wedding Friday morning (insomnia, it's a wonderful thing--not really).  I think the couple is adorable.  I enjoyed their seeing their relationships with their siblings as well.

I have friends in Vancouver who have been waiting for seven months to take their premature baby home.  And finally that happened this week.

I have friends in Arkansas and Alabama who have lost homes, possessions, neighbors to deadly tornadoes.

My cousin and her husband will become custodial guardians (and eventually adopted parents) to a teenage girl who does not have a mother and whose father is dying of cancer.

I have a friend that has been struggling with eating disorders that may take her life.  She also welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world this week.

I have friends who lost a baby last week.

I signed my baby up for preschool on Friday.  He didn't talk during the testing (was awfully nervous about all these women who knew his name, but he didn't know them).  He did awesome for the finger poke and lead test.  We went out for ice cream afterward.

I have friends who are getting by on one income while the wife takes care of their baby and attends college.  The husband found out this week that his teaching position will be cut next year due to budget cuts, thus cutting their only income.

My school still does not have contracts out due to uncertainty of state funds.  I am still a little nervous about my job.

My sister and her husband will be having another baby around Thanksgiving.  :)

I have good things happening in my classroom, that I can't really talk about here.  And I am so thankful that my family is healthy and happy.

I know things will all work out.  I have trust in God.  But I'm ready for more ups than downs, my heart is heavy.  If you, my readers, are praying people and any of these stories have touched you, please take a moment and say a prayer.  I will try to work up a post that is a bit more positive.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Baking with Candy

Well, another holiday, another bucket (or 3) of candy.  I like to bake brownies to take to work using candy to doctor them up a bit.  Those Reece's eggs broken up a bit and sprinkled throughout a pan of brownie batter prior to baking, make for a yummy treat.  Basically any chocolate candy would work for this, but don't mix in too many flavors in one pan.

Don't forget you can get Easter goodies at half off now (should be 75% off by the weekend).  If you have storage and you don't forget where you hide it (both have been issues with me), now is a good time to buy Easter egg dying kits, Easter baskets/buckets, and other goodies (like pencils, stickers, stuffed animals).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Weekend

What a busy Easter weekend!  We hunted lots of goodies, ate lots of food, and spent a lot of time with family.

We started Saturday morning at the local Easter egg hunt.  Pastor Chuck from the Assembly of God church leads the kids in some upbeat music on the bandstand.  They tell the Easter story.  Then the hunt begins.  Each age group gets a small area that is taped off and eggs/candy are just thrown into the area.  It is a crazy madhouse of a hunt that only lasts 2-3 minutes.  They really need to double the size of the under 5 hunt area.

From there we headed home for a short nap for the youngest two before heading to Grandma and Grandpa Onn's (my parents).  Mom always goes a bit overboard, but the kids love it!  They get a couple full baskets of goodies that the bunny has hidden around the yard.  This year the loot included candy, bubbles (normal, colored, and scented), candy, balls, candy, hats, and candy.  We hung out together and spent time with Kayleigh, her parents (yep, you get second billing), my brother, and my parents.  We had supper together too.

Grandma Feehan had come over earlier in the week to hide eggs in our house while we were at work and school.  That was new this year and a surprise!  What a treat for the boys to come home to a big sign on the front door telling them there were treats hidden throughout the house.  Although, the boys have decided Grandma can't add since she mis-counted the eggs and they ended up finding more than what she said there were.  :)

Sunday morning... We really should have our own Easter egg hunt here, but we haven't for a few years because we are always overloaded with hunts and candy.  No one here has missed it.  We got up and dressed up for church.  This year the kids put on an Easter program in conjunction with the puppets.  It was cute.  Both of my older boys had their first speaking parts and pulled them off.  My youngest did not even stay with the group, but came to sit with me and Mom.  That was not a surprise.  Maybe next year. The youth served a tasty breakfast.  Reverend Stone had a very nice sermon and some great music for the service.

Then it was off to finish my cooking, change into jeans, and head in for the Lewis family celebration.  Way too much good food, lots of quality time with family, and another Easter egg hunt.  Megan got to let everyone know that Kayleigh will be a sister by the end of 2011--yay!  We also found out that my cousin is beginning the process of adopting a teenage girl who needs a good family.  Another cousin is also pregnant and still another is engaged.  So the family is growing by leaps and bounds.  The Lewis extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins is closer than most families.  We get together for every major holiday, and some minor ones.  I have always felt as close to my cousins as I have to my siblings.  Hopefully the next generation will feel the same.

Hope you all had an equally wonderful weekend and made some wonderful memories!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cooking with preschoolers

I plan a cooking experience every week for my preschoolers.  We don't always squeeze it in, but when we do I try to include some science in with our activity.  Cooking is chemistry, you know.  It involves states of matter (liquids and solids) and combining (mixing) or changing them (with temperature change, for instance) to create new substances.  I encourage the kids to describe the matter throughout the process and I use the terms 'liquids' and 'solids' along with other new terminology relating to cooking such as 'batter'.  I try to include picture recipes to 'read' and measuring tools (cups and spoons) whenever possible.

We do always talk about safety when we cook.  This involves not only hand-washing, but also safety around hot and sharp objects they might find in the kitchen.  I often pose situations and ask the children questions relating to safety rather than just tell them the rules.  As with other explorations, children learn best by relating things to their own lives.

'Cooking' in preschool does not always involve heat.  'Cooking' includes food preparation of all kinds in my classroom.  Some cooking experiences we have had this year include using measuring cups and picture recipes to make various cereal mixes and 'GORP' (good old raisins and peanuts-the generic term I use to include throwing a bunch of stuff out of the pantry together and enjoying it), chopping sliced ham with butter knives and whisking scrambled eggs to make green eggs and ham for Dr. Seuss week, and measuring and shaking Magic Leprechaun Powder to make pistachio pudding.

Last week we studied the farm and my favorite cooking activity to go with this theme is to make butter.  This is actually so easy, it's kind of pathetic, but it becomes almost magical to the children.  All you need it heaving whipping cream (found in the dairy case at your grocery store), a dash of salt (optional, I usually just have this in the container when we start), and a container with a tight seal.

As we pour the whipping cream into the container we talk about that it is a liquid.  I ask the kids what liquid it reminds them of and someone always compares it to milk, thus starting a conversation about the dairy group, animals that produce milk, and whatever other related tangents we travel down.  Conversation is important not only to make the connections but to keep the kids' minds off the fact that the making of butter is a bit boring.  As we talk we pass the sealed container around taking turns shaking the heck out of it.  I always make sure I get a turn as well so that it gets plenty of good shakes and also so I can tell where it is in the process of becoming butter.

As we shake it the liquid becomes a froth, then a gel-like solid, and finally separates into butter (solid) and buttermilk (liquid).  This is when it is done.  We compare the way it feels when we shake it as we take our turns.  And when it is finished we have it on bread, muffins, or other treat with our snack.  I always offer up a taste of buttermilk for the brave students too.  I talk about that buttermilk is used to make things like pancakes, biscuits, and brownies, (which many of us love) but many people do not like the taste of it by itself.

Cooking lessons teach lifelong kitchen skills, but can also include nearly every other area of the curriculum:  science (chemistry), math (measurement, counting, time), reading (a recipe), safety, vocabulary, fine motor (or gross motor, in the case of butter, which uses lots of arm movement) skills, language (both receptive and verbal), social studies (where our food comes from), as well as making connections to the children's daily lives and of course enjoying the products we create.  Yum!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Be Frugal with your Gas

Gas prices keep climbing.  They are $3.69 here for ethanol.  Since we live in the country we have to drive at least ten miles to get anywhere.  The last time gas prices were this high, a couple of years ago, one of the morning news shows had two cars leave Chicago and drive to New York.  One drove normally--speeding slightly, starting and stopping normally, etc.-- the other drove with science in mind and saved gas, got there just a couple of hours later.  I don't remember all the details, but a few facts stuck with me and I try to abide by them, especially in times when gas prices are up.

Whenever you will be sitting idle for more than 30 seconds (like in a drive thru), shut off your engine.  Thirty seconds is the magic number.  If you will not be idle that long it actually takes more gas to restart the engine than to sit idling for less than 30 seconds.

Fifty-five is the speed that your car runs most efficiently.  This has to do with drag and aerodynamics.  The details bore me, but if you go slower or faster you will be less efficient.

Starting and stopping should be done gradually whenever possible.  I try to watch my rpm and keep it in check.  This also has to do with physics and inertia.  (One of Newton's Laws of gravity, maybe.  High school science was so many years ago...)

Coasting down hills and refraining from running heat or AC if possible, both also help your gas mileage.

I know there is debate about whether it is better to run AC (uses more gas) or to drive with windows down (creates drag, thus uses more gas).  If I remember right it depends on your speed and duration of the trip.

One thing that I heard and haven't really been able to prove is that Wednesdays are the best day to buy gas as it tends to go up as the weekend nears.

Keeping your tires at the right air pressure will help your gas mileage.  Check them regularly.  Also take care of the fluids so that your engine is running at its best.

Plan your trips to be most efficient.  If you are going to be near the grocery store, get groceries then instead of making a separate trip later.

I believe any little thing can help.  I certainly don't do all these things all the time, but I do try to be mindful of them.  I hope you see something that will help you.  Please share other tips you have relating to gas prices, gas mileage, or similar topics.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gardening with Kids

Gardening with kids is a way to kill two (or more) birds with one stone.  Growing and harvesting your own food helps your budget and creates a bit of self-sufficiency for your family.  Having your children assist you in the garden builds the teamwork within your family, creates great family memories, and teaches children where their food comes from.  When children grow their own produce they are more likely to eat the fresh fruits and vegetables they need to be healthy.  Making gardening a habit at a young age begins healthy habits for a lifetime.

It is just the beginning of planting season here in Iowa.  So far we only have a few hills of potatoes planted.  Good Friday is traditionally the day to plant potatoes, so if you are looking to start a garden, this week is a great one to begin to make plans.  Other early plants to sow include lettuce, radishes, snap peas, and onions.

My family has been gardening together for six years (at my best estimate).  We are vendors in our small local farmer's market.  The boys are very much a part of that, and probably don't remember a time when we were not a part of the market.  My seven year old is a natural and cracks me up as he makes up little songs to sing when he is in the garden.  He's already asleep so I'll have to share the song he created during last year's onion planting later this week.  His dad and I can't remember it.

My preschoolers just completed a week-long unit on gardening.  One of the books we read is a Caldecott Honor Book by Janet Stevens called Tops and Bottoms.  To fully understand the book the child would need a bit of background knowledge about gardening, but I was able to supply that with a bit of discussion and some visual aids (vegetables) just prior to reading the story.  In the story a clever hare tricks a lazy bear three times over the course of a season of gardening.  It covers the parts of plants, the work involved in gardening, and several types of vegetables.

Other fictional gardening books include:  Planting a Rainbow and Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert, The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, and The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle.  Since nonfiction is so important to young children, let me also recommend these books From Kernel to Corncob and From Eye to Potato by Ellen Weiss.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Can You Come Outside to Play? Halftime

Well, somehow the first half of April has slipped by in the blink of an eye.  For the most part we have been very lucky to be blessed with fabulous weather for outside play.  Here are some things we did outside during the first half of April.

Cleaned up the yard

Played on the swingset

Went on walks on the road by our house and on the bike path in town

Played in the sandbox, even digging a 'pond' for the rain to fill (they were disappointed that it didn't work)

Rode bikes and big wheels

Built a fort

Played at the park

Baseball practice 

Played catch with Dad

Set up a refreshment stand at an auction

Planted potatoes

Tried to fly a kite (I bought this kite at a garage sale a year of two ago.  We have never been able to get it in the air.  I think it has some sort of defect in its design.)

Made 'kites' with plastic grocery sacks and twine and flew them

Climbed on the hay in Grandpa's barn

Grilled out and picnicked with family

Helped to feed the cows

Hmmm...  I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but that's most of it.  The weather has taken a turn for the worse lately.  We have gone from 90 degrees early this week to 40 with wind and rain over the last couple of days.  We did not make it out yesterday.  We had rain and wind all day and the temps never got above 45.  The rain looks like it has moved on for now.  It is still windy and cold, but we will try to get out for a bit later this morning or this afternoon.  The natives have cabin fever and will benefit from a short time outside to run the stink off.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blowing in the Wind

It seems like I'm always doing laundry.  I'm pretty sure it comes with the territory of having three active young boys and a husband who is just as active.  I posted a few weeks ago about the laundry soap recipe I've been making for almost a year.  (Three batches, at about 3 bucks a batch=less than ten bucks on laundry soap over the past year--woo hoo!)

This weekend I have taken advantage of the summer-like weather and have hung clothes on the line everyday for the last 4 days.  I love that I can allow the energy of the sun and the wind to do the work that many pay their dryer to do.  However sometimes I don't get the clothes in before a rain, or the nightly dew, and a few years back I noticed a lot of faded clothes.  So as I hang clothes I turn colored clothes inside out.  So now if they fade, it is only on the inside and no one notices it but me.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Science is Fun!"

Every week I try some science with my preschoolers.  I guess this might be the first time I called it science in front of them, because the declaration that, "Science is Fun!" rang through the room during our little experiment.

This week it was a simple and cheap lesson in cause and effect, observation, and fine motor development.  I provided a cake pan with a box of baking soda (the second day it was 4 boxes) dumped into it, two bowls of colored vinegar, and one eye dropper per student (the table was limited to four).  I demonstrated how to fill the eye dropper with vinegar and squirt it into the pan of baking soda once and then turned the group loose.

The vinegar was colored red from last year's volcano demonstration.  And when mixed with the baking soda, it made the most fantastic pink bubbles!  Kids could squirt over and over and get that fun effect over and over.  The reaction did eventually die out, but many continued to squirt even without the bubbles.  Some added the pink soggy baking soda to the vinegar left in their bowls and found that it would react again there.  Others enjoyed squishing the soggy mixture in their fingers.

I think every child had to come to the table at least once.  Some stayed for a long time.  Some left and returned.  I loved that it appealed to the kids on many levels.  I loved that they got to work out their fine motor and observation skills.  But most of all I love that "Science is Fun!" and I hope my preschoolers remember that as they grow.

Next week I think we are going to do cornstarch and water at the science table....

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cooking with Trash

No not real trash, but scraps of food I used to throw out...

My friend Kim has inspired me to save veggie scraps and ends to use to make my own chicken stock.  So when these veggie scraps become available throughout the week I place them in a ziplock baggie in my freezer.  This is where they stay until I am ready for them.  No more moldy science experiments in the fridge.  Ends (like carrots, celery, onions) and limp veggies work fine for stock.

My family does not eat the heels on loaves of bread.  I have found ways to incorporate these into our meals.  (1) These work great in grilled cheese sandwiches if you turn the heel side in.  No one notices it's a heel.  (2) Cook them up in french toast.  Slice them into french toast sticks.  (3) Cube them and save in a baggie in the freezer until there is enough to make breakfast casserole with (or make bread crumbs for recipies).  (4) Someday I might be ambitious enough to try them as croutons.

I read somewhere how much food we throw out in the United States.  It's an incredible amount.  I know I contribute to that.  I have tried to improve on this a little at a time.  This is one way I accomplish that.

And just for fun, here is a breakfast casserole recipe that will help you use up some of those heels...

Sausage and Egg Casserole 
1 pound lean pork sausage
6 eggs, slightly beaten
6 slices of bread, cubed
1 cup grated cheese
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried mustard
2 cups milk

Brown sausage and drain. Combine all ingredients and pour into a greased 9x13 casserole dish. Refrigerate at least 12 hours, or overnight. May also freeze at this point.

Serving Day:
Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. If using from frozen, thaw for 24 hours in the refrigerator before cooking.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Big Plans

On the way to church today my boys were talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up.  All three want to be policemen at this point.  (I might be one worried mama if that all turns out.)  They think being a policeman is a safer job than a fireman.

Later Brody was talking about being a cop.  He said he would be a cop, Brothers will be cops, Daddy will be a fireman.  I asked him what I should be.  His answer.....  a princess.  Ha!  For those of you who know me, know I'm far from a princess.  I guess I'd better get to work on that.

Splish-Splash Rain Play

The challenge to play outside every day in the month of April is on.  So far we have had good weather, but it is April and we will get rain (and maybe even worse) in Iowa.  So Danielle at Can You Come Outside to Play? has challenged us to brainstorm ideas about how to get outside in the rain this week.

I am wearing two hats for this monthly challenge.  I am both a mom of three young boys and a preschool teacher.  I find it easier to get out in the rain with my own children.  We have multiple changes of clothes on hand and it's no big deal to strip down and take a shower if we get muddy.  Plus I am okay with them getting wet.  I'm not concerned about the mud or the chance of them getting a cold.  As far as the preschoolers, we have gone out in some light rain, but we normally stay inside.  I'm going to be thinking about that this month.

So what can you do to get outside when it is raining?  Really, you can do the same sorts of things in the rain that you can do when it is not raining.  Playing on the playground and taking a walk become new, exciting activities in the rain.  Playing in the sand and making canals, dams, or sandcastles becomes a science lesson and a lesson in cause and effect.

Splashing in puddles, squishing mud between your toes, and making mud pies are activities that are easier on a rainy day.

I did a quick google search and found these art suggestions.  Drawing with chalk on a wet pavement is a different experience than drawing on dry pavement.  The chalk becomes more vibrant and almost paint-like.  Another idea is to sprinkle a few drops of food coloring on a paper plate and wander about the yard allowing raindrops to mix the colors.  No two plates will be the same.

A science activity would be to go to a pond or stream to hunt for frogs, turtles, and other rain-loving wildlife.

Lots of rain themed songs have been passing through my head as I have been typing.  I would love to just go out in the rain and sing and dance with my kids.  Here's a few song suggestions from a few different genres (I have quite eclectic taste):
Purple Rain, Prince
Rockin' With the Rhythm of the Rain, The Judds
Blame it on the Rain, Milli Vanilli
I Love a Rainy Night, Eddie Rabbit
Singing in the Rain, Gene Kelly
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Judy Garland (though there is a newer version by Isreal something that is catchy.  I think it is the version that played on ER when Dr. Greene died.)

So a rainy day does not have to mean that you can't go outside.  Certainly, you should watch the skies and avoid outdoor play in lightning or other severe weather.  But usually sometime during a rainy day you could get out and enjoy the rain.  Think of those memories you are making...

Friday, April 1, 2011

You don't get it...

Colby tells me he has a girlfriend.  Actually two girlfriends.  Alivia loves him and he loves her.  She also loves his friend Konrad.  And Konrad loves her.  And he's okay with that, by the way.  The girl he sits next to in first grade loves him too.  I asked if she was Konrad's girlfriend too.  Well no, Konrad doesn't love her.

Alivia and Colby went to the same daycare from birth (they are the same age) until a few months ago.  So they are like siblings.  They should love each other...

Sunday on the way to Sunday School I hear this conversation in the middle seat of the van.

Colby (to Brody):  Alivia is my girlfriend you know.  She loves me and I love her.  Konrad loves her too.  You don't get it Brody.  You don't have a girlfriend.

Brody (a bit put off):  I do so have dirlfriends!

Colby:  No your girlfriends are all old and married, probably.  Like Lady Gaga.

Brody:  I do have dirlfriends.

Colby:  Well who are they, then?

Brody:  Well Lady Gaga is my dirlfriend.

Colby (interrupting):  Oh Brody!  You just don't get it!

PS Brody's girlfriends are any female that draws his attention on TV or movies.  They tend to be cute and thin, like to sing or dance, and often are scantily dressed.  I have a feeling Brody 'gets it' more than Colby realizes...


"Wonder is the beginning of wisdom."            ~Greek proverb

One of the best things about working with young children is the wonder they have about things that we barely give a second thought to as adults.  

The week before spring break I put bubble solution (water, dish soap, glycerin) in the water table with several bubble making items:  slotted spoon, canning ring, plastic berry basket, several small random toys that have openings to blow bubbles through, etc.  I thought to kids would enjoy exploring bubble making with these unique bubble wands.  However, they instead enjoyed stirring the mixture with the slotted spoon and spatula, creating a frothy lather that no one could blow bubbles with.  

At first I was disappointed and explained that if they made the froth (new vocabulary), they couldn't blow the bubbles.  Even as the words were coming out of my mouth I was regretting them.  I've been trying to do better following the children's lead, rather my own agenda.  However once I said them, I decided to see what happened on day two of water table bubbles.  Free play started out with some of the older children going to the water table to explore the bubbles.  A younger child came over and began the mixing and froth making.  One of the older girls got after her, telling her not to make the froth.  The younger child left.  I took that opportunity to explain to the group that there was more than one way to play with the bubbles, but if anyone wanted to blow bubbles they should come to the water table early, before someone else makes froth.

It turns out most of the kids needed the opportunity to explore the making of froth before working with the bubble-making toys.  So we made froth.  My student with autism enjoyed the sensory exploration of feeling the froth with his hands, arms, face, and hair.  He would have liked to have climbed into the table, I think.  He was playing at the table with two other children, which has been a challenge for him.  So bubble blowing was not a success (at least how I envisioned it), but froth making was a huge success!

After a week of spring break, we returned to find bubble blowing at the science table.  This was a simple activity with cups of bubble solution on trays and straws.  I stationed myself at the table for most of Monday and the beginning of Tuesday's free play time.  I had each child who came to the table demonstrate to me how to blow out with the straw.  (In the past I have had some children who could not do this and ended up sucking in a mouthful of soap, not a huge deal, and quite a learning experience, but  a bit of trauma that is avoidable with a bit of instruction.)  

Once the child can show me how to blow out (onto my hand), they were given a place to work and instructed to make lots of bubbles in their cups with their straw.  The look of delight and wonder in their eyes was priceless!  They made mounds of bubbles which spilled out over the cups onto their trays.  We talked about blowing hard and soft, making big and little bubbles, and other concepts.  One child pointed out that his bubbles had rainbows in them and showed other children this.  We noticed that bubbles popped when you touched them, unless your hands were wet.  We made lots of clean messes!  This area was the most popular area early in the week, but interest waned as the week went on.

I'm taking another week off of bubbles (so that it doesn't become too mundane) then I will re-introduce the bubble blowers that I tried out in the water table before spring break.  This time I plan to use a smaller tub at the science table, rather than the water table.  Hopefully it will be nice enough to take the bubbles outside too.

By the way, bubble blowing is a science activity.  Children explore change in matter, practice their observation skills, make inferences, learn new vocabulary, interact with materials in new or different ways.  As they interact with these materials, they will create memories that will become prior knowledge to build future learning upon.  This is physical science at its best.