Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Maple Butter Brussels Sprouts (grain-free : gluten-free : Primal)

Brussels sprouts: people seem to either love them or hate them. In our house, we are split evenly between these two extremes.  My daughter and husband don't eat Brussels sprouts, but my son and I love them.

Anytime my son sees Brussels sprouts at the store, he begs me to buy them. Once we are home, I prepare them simply into Maple Butter Brussels Sprouts. We devour them until every last bit is gone.

Maple Butter Brussels Sprouts
Serves 2
  1. Prepare the Brussles sprouts for cooking by removing any withered or damaged leaves. Trim off the ends if they look dried out. Then cut the Brussels sprouts into halves (or quarters if they are especially large).  Place them into a
    small pot.
  2. Add enough filtered water to cover the bottom of the pot. In my small pot, I add water until it comes up to about 1/3-inch from the bottom of the pot.
  3. Put a lid on the pot, but leave it cracked a bit for steam to escape. Cook the Brussels sprouts on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.
  4. Take the lid off the pot and crank up the heat to high. Add the butter and a generous sprinkle of salt.
  5. Let any remaining water cook off, then caramelize the Brussels sprouts for about 5 minutes by letting them get a little color. Of course you don't want to burn them, but do let the Brussels sprouts develop some brown color. Don't walk away during this step; rather watch to see when you need to stir so the sprouts don't get burned.
  6. Drizzle in the maple syrup and stir to coat the Brussels sprouts. Sizzle for a minute or so, and then remove from heat.
  7. Spoon into bowls and enjoy!.

Do you love Brussels sprouts, or hate them?  What is your favorite way to eat them?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Our Circle Time

Circle Time was introduced as a part of our home school back in August, and it has quickly become one of my most cherished parts of our school routine. Our Circle Time combines music, poetry, and movement. It gives us a regular time to sing, giggle, and play together.

Our Circle Time Routine

My children and I have Circle Time once a week in our living room. It lasts 20-30 minutes. Our routine is as follows:

  • Light Candles - We begin by lighting candles, one for each child.  My children particularly enjoy having candles as part of our Circle Time, and I feel like the candles add an element of reverence to our time together. (Obviously, the candles need to be placed in a safe location where they will not be in the way of the Circle Time activities.)
  • Sing Hello Song - After lighting the candles, the children and I sit in a circle and sing our Hello Song. This is a song that my children remember from years ago when my daughter was taking a Kindermusik class. This particular song includes singing hello to each person present and incorporates the weather of the day.  The lyrics are:
    • We sing hello, hello, hello, it's a happy sunny day,    {change the weather to fit the day, such as "cloudy, rainy day"}
    • We sing hello, hello, hello, we sing in a special way, 
    • We sing hello to [insert name here]; Hello [name]    {this line gets repeated once for each person present} 
    • We sing hello, hello.

  • Alternate Between Poems, Movements, and Songs -  Next the children and I alternate reading poems, engaging in movement, and leading songs. 
    • Poems - I read poems from Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls (which is a great compilation of poems about a wide variety of topics including childhood, the seasons, and family). My children like to hear some familiar poems, so there are a few that I read week after week (which change with the seasons). I also like to include some new poems each week, including poems that stretch their comprehension (such as those by Shakespeare) and silly poems that leave everyone giggling. One poem that my children particularly enjoy every week is Hiding by Dorothy Aldis. They hide under their playsilks while I read and then I quickly reveal them during the last line.
    • Movements - Our movements include old classics such as Ring Around the Rosie and pretending to be various animals/insects while we sing songs about such creatures.  
    • Songs - We each take turns leading the group in a song. Each of us is allowed to sing a song of our own choosing, and the leader of each song leads us on a journey through the house while we sing. We each hold onto the end of a playsilk being held by the person in front of us, and the leader has fun finding ways for us to march, dance, or stomp along with our music. My kids especially love to sing songs they've learned from our old Kindermusik CD's.
  • Blessing for the Day - Once we are done with our poems, movements, and songs, I read a blessing for the day by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
    • For this new morning with its light
    • For rest and shelter of the night
    • For health and food, for love and friends
    • For everything thy goodness sends.
    • We thank thee, dearest God. Amen.
  • Blow Out Candles - Lastly, my children blow out their candles and we move onto the rest of our day.

Tips for a Hesitant Child

While my daughter is always up for anything fun and new, my son often takes a little while to warm up to things.  In order to make our Circle Time a success, I purposely set about making it something that he could enjoy with us by doing the following:
  • Allow for planning ahead of time - One of the things that can make my son slow to engage in new activities is the fact that he tends to plan things ahead of time.  If his plans are interrupted, my son gets stressed out and may resist doing something that wasn't part of his plan. I helped my son be ready for Circle Time by mentioning that we were going to have it a day in advance, and specifically mentioned that it would be happening in the morning after chores. 
  • Inspire, not require -  While I really wanted both of my children to participate in our Circle Time, I knew that forcing my son to do so would negate any potential benefits. I had to decide ahead of time that I would be okay with whatever my son decided and would not push him into joining us.
  • Choose songs and poems that touch on the child's interests - In order to make it the most likely that my son would want to participate in our Circle Time, I made sure that the first few times we had poems and songs that he would naturally love. Because he is very interested in vehicles of all kinds, we sang The Wheels on the Bus and read poems that included transportation themes. 
  • Make Circle Time a safe place - My son does not like to be the center of attention in group activities, and this can even extend to activities within our family. I made sure that my son was not forced to sing along or lead songs during our Circle Time; eventually he chose to do those things in his own time. In this way, our Circle Time became a safe place for him to be himself without any judgements or reproaches.
  • Giving a gift - A dear friend had a great suggestion for making our Circle Time a success: gifting my children each with a beautiful playsilk during our first Circle Time. Since then, these playsilks have become an integral part of our Circle Time.
By letting my son be the one to decide when and how much he would participate in our Circle Time, it has now become something that he enjoys as much as his sister and I do. I love that Circle Time allows me to share the beauty and fun of music and poetry with my children.

How do you include music or poetry in your home? Do you have a child who is hesitant or resistant to participating in formal activities?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vanilla Ice Cream (nutrient-dense : grain-free : gluten-free)

Moving into the new year, let's not forget that ice cream is a superfood. As I was whipping up a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream last night, I realized I've never shared this recipe with my blog readers. This is the flavor of ice cream I make the most often (vanilla is my husband's favorite flavor), and I've been making it this way for years. Yummy, creamy, sweetness.

Vanilla Ice Cream
Makes about 5 cups of ice cream

  • 2 cups cream, preferably raw and from pastured cows
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, preferably raw and from pastured cows 
  • 1/4 cup raw mild-flavored honey
  • 1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup*
  • 2 raw** egg yolks***
  • 1 Tb organic vanilla extract (or use homemade)
  • 1/4 tsp celtic sea salt
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Blend for a couple minutes to thoroughly combine everything.(I'm sure you could use a hand mixer instead if you don't have a blender.)
  2. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the instructions for your maker.  I use the Kitchen-Aid ice cream maker attachment, and it works great! If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can instead follow these instructions to make ice cream without a machine.
  3. Transfer to the fridge to freeze solid for several hours. Enjoy!
  4. For a special treat, top this vanilla ice cream with homemade hot fudge sauce.
*Combining maple syrup and honey together somehow results in a more neutral flavor than using either sweetener alone; the maple syrup and honey flavors seem to cancel each other out.  It also tastes great with all honey, which makes it more GAPS-friendly.
**Any time you'll be consuming raw eggs, make sure you trust your egg supplier. My egg supplier is my 7-year-old daughter, and I know her hens are healthy so I'm not concerned about the safety of her raw eggs. To err on the side of caution, you can make sure to wash the eggs before you crack them as that would reduce the risk of salmonella.
***The leftover egg whites could be used to make some lime and coconut macaroons!

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

What's Working and What's New? Our Home School Mid-Year Review

I plan the bulk of our home schooling curriculum once a year in June/July, but each December/January it is time for our mid-year review.   The intent of our mid-year review is to look at the following with regards to our home school:
  • What has been working well?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • What needs to be removed from our curriculum?
  • Is there anything new to focus on? 
  • What specific needs does each child have over the next few months?


Pen and Paper

I start the process of our mid-year review by writing out the answers to the above questions.  I think back on the previous semester with an open mind to identify things that need to be changed. Sometimes there may be a particular book or curriculum resource that I was very excited about, but that my children don't engage well with.  I may find that there are some subjects that we never even got off the ground with, and I need to decide whether I will re-commit to working on those or let them drop off the to-do list.

I think about each child and what needs I can identify. Perhaps they are struggling with a certain activity, chore, or skill; perhaps they need extra support in some specific area. I think about each child's current interests and ways that I can direct our schooling to make the most of those interests.

Mentoring Conversations

Once I have written down my own thoughts, the next step is to have a conversation with each of my children to discuss their goals and desires, needs and wants. I write it all down, and this shows the children that their input is valued and important. I give plenty of time for the children to think about what they want to accomplish and what they need.  While I may make gentle suggestions during this process, the children are ultimately allowed to decide whether or not they want to focus on anything in particular.

During the first couple years I was homeschooling, I didn't involve the children in the planning or mid-year review process. One of the many things I've learned while implementing the Leadership Education model in our home school has been the importance of giving my children ownership of their own educations. In the end, the goal of their education is not to cram information into their brains so they can pass a test. Rather, the goal of their education is to prepare them for their own life missions, to allow them to pursue their own passions and lead fulfilling lives.

To this end, rather than me acting as the teacher with my children as the students, I am acting as a mentor who supports my children in pursuing their own interests and fulfilling their own goals. My children are ultimately responsible for their own educations, and this means that their own interests are just as important as my own agenda for their learning. Mentoring conversations are a time for me to get a better understanding of what I can do to help my children in reaching their goals and pursuing their own interests.   

Bringing It All Together

After I've had mentoring conversations with my children, I am able to put together a plan for any changes that will happen during the coming semester. The whole process of our mid-year review takes only 1-2 hours. This is time well spent since it allows us to move into the next semester with purpose and a fresh perspective. 

Results From Our Recent Mid-Year Review

Things That Are Working Especially Well
When I thought back through the curriculum for the last semester, three things really stood out to me:
  • Circle Time  - Our once-a-week Circle Time has become a very special part of our schooling.  It gives the children and myself a chance to connect through poetry, singing, and movement. (Let me know if any of you are interested in more details about what our Circle Time actually looks like.)  
  • Chores - Children working alongside parents is an important part of Leadership Education in our home.  In the last semester, I focused even more on chores (and implementing Teaching Self-Government techniques), and the results have been beyond my hopes. My children are doing more and more chores, and as they have settled into this, I have found that they get much enjoyment in being able to contribute to the household in a concrete way.  My children are becoming more and more helpful over time, spontaneously offering to help and (most of the time) helping in a cheerful way. 
  • Little Britches Series - My husband has been reading aloud the Little Britches series in the evenings, and these books are absolutely fantastic. These autobiographical books tell the story of an early 20th century family from the perspective of Ralph Moody, who was a real firecracker of a boy. Through the backdrop of these books, we are having many meaningful conversations with our children about family, work, money, love, and responsibility.

Changes to Our Existing Curriculum
I've identified two areas of our curriculum that need to be changed:
  • Chemistry - We are loosely focusing on Chemistry for our science studies this year (in addition to Nature Study, which is an always-present part of our science curriculum). Although I have tried two different Chemistry read-alouds, neither of them seems to be sparking much interest in my children.  However, my children have been greatly enjoying chemistry-related science experiments from Adventures with Atoms and Molecules as well as More Mudpies to Magnets. Since my children are still rather young, it is more important that they find chemistry to be interesting than that they learn lots of facts about elements and molecules. For the coming semester, I will ditch the Chemistry texts and focus only on the experiments. 
  • Spanish - While I had intended to make Spanish a regular part of our homeschooling this year, it has just not happened. I've decided that, with so many other things to focus on, I am going to let Spanish fall off the curriculum list for the remainder of this year.

New Curriculum for the Coming Semester
I have found one new resource that I will be adding to our curriculum:
  • Art and Music Appreciation - One of the things I love about Charlotte Mason's approach is the focus on exposing children to the beautiful things in life, such as music, art, and poetry.  Up until now, though, I have never found a simple way to include these into our regular schooling routine. I recently found a fantastic resource that provides a weekly dose of beautiful art and classical music at the blog All Things Bright and Beautiful. With this resource, each week my children and I will be observing one new painting and listening to one new piece of classical music.

Surprises from Mentoring Conversations
Both of my children had some good insights and surprises for me during our mentoring conversations. 
  • 7&1/2 year old daughter Alina
    • In addition to pursuing the interests I already knew of (fairies, unicorns, horses, dinosaurs), Alina set a goal for herself to learn more independent cooking skills. I had not realized this was something she wanted to learn right now.
    • I suggested that Alina might want to work on correct capitalization and lower-case usage in her handwriting.  She decided not to work on this because she doesn't particularly enjoy writing now and thinks that practicing this skill would make her enjoy it even less.
    • Alina wants to have pet roly-polies to take care of. She agreed to share the ownership and care of these critters with her brother (who has a love for all insects).
    • Alina wants to have a garden of her own.  We moved to this house a year ago, but have not yet had a good place to use for gardening because there are so many rabbits here. Building a rabbit-proof garden enclosure is on my list of tasks for the coming semester.
  • Nearly-5-year-old son Ian
    • In addition to learning more about his obvious interests (cars, trains, trucks, construction equipment), Ian wants to learn more specifically about how things are made and assembled. He identified specifically wanting to know how our space heater, doors, and steering wheels are made.
    • Ian asked to start reading lessons about 6 months ago, but in the last couple months he has been less interested in doing these. During our mentoring conversation, Ian commented that he wants to do reading lessons more often now because he has noticed that he will "say the wrong word" if he hasn't been practicing regularly.  I thought it was interesting that he has realized that regular practice is needed to keep building on his reading skills.
    • Ian seemed very excited that I was writing down the things he wants to learn about. He started to get more and more enthusiastic during our conversation, and started naming all sorts of things he wants to know about: clouds, stars, plants and how they are planted, gigantosaurus, asphalt pavers, semi-truck fronts and trailers, airplanes... the list went on and on. It was great to end on a high note, with his enthusiasm being well-kindled.

Not Just for Home Schoolers

Mid-year reviews are not just for home schoolers. Any parents who are fostering a love of learning could benefit from periodic planning and mentoring sessions. These are wonderful tools for focusing our efforts on the things that our children need and desire in order to find their own personal missions.  

Do you have a mid-year educational review? Do you like the idea of being a mentor to children rather than a teacher?

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