Monday, January 26, 2009

Celebrating Chinese New Year

Making Fried Rice
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann
January 26th marked the start of the Chinese New Year - The Year of the Ox. For Home Ec class, I chose to use this special day to focus on China - including food, clothing, and culture.

Started the class by giving each girl a "Culinary Passport" - a paper passport that is about 4" x 8", has the title on the front with a graphic of an eagle, and about a dozen blank pages.
On each page, the girls will write the name of the country they are exploring during the semester, with China being the first entry. Under the country, they put the holiday/special day and today's date.
Brought in postage stamps from China and each girl chose some she wanted to put in her passport.

After that, I distributed handouts that tied into the items that were on the display table.
The girls learned about silk worms and how to make silk, and then saw samples of silk (dresses, placemats, hats).

They learned about the custom of giving new shoes on the Chinese New Year - and then saw baby shoes that Olivia and Sophia wore. (They were handmade in China and are full of detail.)

In contrast, they saw an adult woman's shoe - the kind where the feet were bound. Found a children's website that had x-rays and diagrams of a "normal" foot and a bound foot. They compared the size of a baby shoe to the adult shoe. Quite a difference.

Showed them some chopsticks that were purchased in China when Sophia and Olivia were adopted. Gave each girl a handout about how to use chopsticks, and then told them some basic rules about what to do and NOT to do with chopsticks. They thought that part was funny.

After looking at more items, it was time for food. I showed them how to make fried rice. All the girls thought it tasted good.

Since I was making the fried rice, I doubled the recipe. Had the girls tell me how many cups, tablespoons, or teaspoons were needed for each ingredient (an easy way to incorporate math/multiplication into cooking).

They also tasted two beverages: white gourd drink and lychee drink. The snack was finished with two candy-type treats: seasame flake crisps and peanut flake crisps.

The snack was served on placemats from China. The girls had a chance to try eating with chopsticks which they thought was fun. (Brought in forks and spoons ahead of time just in case they had trouble with the chopsticks. All ended up using the forks.)

The hour was done before we knew it. This easily could have been stretched out for many more lessons. However, it was a good refresher for my daughters (who are both adopted from China), and a good introduction for the other girls.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Olivia's Choice Day"

What's a "Choice Day" may be asking. It's when one of the girls picks an activity that she wants to do that everyone in the family also can participate in and do together. It's a way to strengthen the family and grow closer together.

The "Choice Days" are always done on the last Saturday of each month. One month, Olivia chooses what she wants to do. The following month, Sophia chooses what she wants to do.

For January, Olivia picked going to the American Girl store at the Mall of America. She enjoyed looking at the different dolls, the outfits, and the accessories. Here she's standing in front of one of the many dioramas at the store. The diorama features Kit, her dog, and a little table set for a tea party.

For homeschooling, the girls are listening to the Kit series right now and learning about the Great Depression and life in the 1930s. The trip to the American Girl store was a nice "field trip" for the unit study.

After the American Girl store, we headed over to A World of Fish in Minneapolis off 66th Street. It's been around since the mid-1970s. Supposedly, it's one of the top 30 fish stores in the U.S. There is quite a selection of freshwater and saltwater fish. The girls enjoyed seeing the fish and feeding the koi fish.

Next month, it's Sophia's turn to pick what she wants to do for her Choice Day. It will be interesting to see what she chooses to do.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Playscape and Nature Table

Normally there are more natural elements on the nature table, but living in Minnesota limits what is available outside. I suppose I could go out and get some branches, but in just a couple of months the snow will be melted and there will be easier access to a wide range of natural elements.

So, instead this month I simply put out a playscape that I made last year (one of the first ones I made, so it is incredibly basic without much detail), some blue cloth, a King Winter doll, candles, gnomes, elves, wool snowman, and some toy sleds.

It's been interesting watching Olivia (who will be six on Sunday), play with these different elements. By providing just the basics, her imagination is allowed to create whatever scene and scenarios she wants. Each time it is different...but with these same characters.

A key element of Waldorf toys, and playscapes such as this one, is that they are simple in form, and that each one has significant "free" space to give a child physical room to move their characters as they wish. The idea is to provide a “jumping off point”...or a roughly "sketched canvas" only.

A playscape (or playmat) is a toy that will spark their interest and allow them to create their own world as they see fit, their own imagined details, and their own stories.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Homeschool Math Lesson

In addition to traditionally learning math, games are a great way for the girls to learn math skills. That's one of the things I love about homeschooling the girls - the flexibility to teach in different ways that reach them.

For today's math lesson, we're playing Farm-opoly. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, money management, decision-making skills... all are covered with this game.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Making Bird Suet

One of the things that brings a lot of enjoyment at home is watching the birds. Throughout the years, more trees have been planted on the property (especially pine trees which provide year-round shelter), and additional bird feeders have been hung in the trees.

Last year, I found a recipe that the birds seem to particularly like. It's from an Amish cookbook. The introduction to the recipe says, "The Amish so appreciate the birds in their yards that they have devised any number of ways to entice these feathered friends to their feeders.

This recipe for summer suet (suet is actually trimmed hard beef fat; lard is renedered pork fat) is a good example. It also can be used in the winter, but the advantage of it is that it doesn't turn rancid or melt in the heat of summer.

It's a good use for any odds and ends of nuts left over from baking."

The recipe is:

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup lard, at room temperature
2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant)
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
Leftover nuts of any kind

Melt the peanut butter and lard together over medium heat. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into pans. Cool and then cut into squares. Wrap extra squares in plastic wrap and store in a cool place until needed.

I put the suet into existing suet feeders as well as put some into mesh onion bags that I hung in new locations.

Because the temperatures during the past week have been in the 25 degree BELOW zero range, having the suet in lots of different locations is, I feel, good for the birds so food is readily accessible.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Public Speaking Skills for Children

I teach a Home Ec class each week, and the semester ended January 12th. For the last class, I had each of the girls make a brief presentation about the two special projects they did outside of class.

The audience included other children and adults, and - from a child's perspective - it looked like they were presenting to quite a few people.

I think it's important that my daughters have opportunities to make presentations to people of all ages - especially since they are homeschooled. They can be very comfortable talking one-on-one and within a family, but they need to be equally comfortable talking in front of others.

This was an good introduction to public speaking for my daughters, and something that they appeared to enjoy doing.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Try One Creative Thing Each Day

Raindrops on Roses
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann
My goal is to do at least one creative thing each day. It can be something quick (like an artist trading card) or more involved (like working on a quilt).

I also try to do a mix of things I'm comfortable with (for example, playing a song on the piano that I learned many years ago and that comes easy) and things that are a new skill or project (like this paper snowflake with roses on each point).

Not only does doing something creative keep me challenged and feed by spirit; but it provides a good model for my daughters to follow. It seems like every time I am making something, they eagerly get their art box or find art supplies and sit down and create something along side me.

I see their comfort with the process of art and creating increase each time they sit down and do something creative. As their skill level develops in different areas in the arts (visual arts, music), their willingness to try new things also increases which is exciting.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Natural Toys

Zebra Felt Toy
Originally uploaded by
Pictures by Ann
I've been enjoying creating patterns recently by taking two-dimensional images and making them into three-dimensional toys.

This particular toy came from an image on Flickr. A woman had created felt stuffed animal, but it didn't stand on its own. I wanted to create a small toy that would have four legs and be able to stand up (versus being propped up).

The zebra I made stands about 3 inches tall. It is made with wool felt and hand sewn/embroidered. There are 12 pieces in three different colors of wool that were used to make this toy. It is sewn with cotton embroidery floss, and stuffed with wool from sheep that I use to raise.

Although this one was sent to Italy, I've already had requests from my daughters to make more for each of them. They enjoy playing with the natural toys I make, and it's good knowing that the items are all safe for them to play with: wool felt, cotton floss, and sheep wool stuffing.