Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Craft a Month: 12 Gifts Kids Can Start Making NOW

Get your kids started now on some great homemade gifts for 2014.  

Gifts Made by Hand... with Love

This year marked a year of big changes for many members of our family - new homes, new jobs, new families... And all of us have felt the pinch of an economy that hasn't kept pace with our basic needs and bills.

Many of us scaled back greatly on our holiday expenditures, in response to our precarious times. But what we discovered, when we cut back, was a blessing of gifts that were perfectly matched and perfectly made by the gift-giver. The LOVE made them perfect -- not the price tag:

  • a hand-crocheted "big" scarf...
  • home-made chocolates, in many flavors...
  • stained-glass Christmas cookies...
  • herb-infused cooking oils in beautiful carafes...
  • hand-made pathchouli-scented soaps...
  • bean-soup mix in a decorative canning jar...
  • woolens made from wool from the family farm...
This made me re-dedicate myself to creating hand-made gifts that show more than my ability to pull out a credit card the week before Christmas.

See this post, and more, on List It Tuesday

Handi-crafts and Kids

If you are a homeschooler, and you follow Charlotte Mason, you know that handicrafts are one of the "subjects" she believed all children should study, believing that all children should be able to make beautiful, useful things with their hands. Perhaps you have a scout in your house who is looking for a project or two for a badge. Maybe you just enjoy crafting and are looking for ideas that are more than just the typical kid crafts.

Here is a list of 12 DIY projects and craft ideas that are suitable for kids to create. They can be finished in a month, giving you the possibility of doing all twelve just in time for holiday gift-giving in 2014. I have listed them by month --  but you can do them in any order you'd like.

Click the links to see directions to make these, or see more like them on my Crafts for Kids Pinterest board.

January: Keepsakes from Old Glass Ornaments

Do you have a bunch of old glass ornaments with the colorful coating peeling off? Don't throw them away! If you soak them in warm, soapy water, the remaining coating will come off, leaving a clear glass orb that can be re-purposed into these wonderful keepsakes.

Simply remove the hanger at the top, fill with small objects that remind you of a special time together (beach glass from a vacation, tiny hemlock cones from a hike, blue confetti to celebrate the birth of a baby boy...), return the top, and decorate with a ribbon. For added flair, use a permanent marker to note the special occasion.

Don't have any old ornaments? You can pick up clear ornaments at most craft stores.

Wrap them in bubble wrap and store in shoeboxes until next Christmas.

Alternative: Dribble several drops of oil-based model paint inside the empty globe (metallic-toned gold, silver, red and green look nice for traditional Christmas colors). Put the top back on, and gently turn the ornament over and over to coat the inside with paint swirls. I made these with third-graders one year, to take home as gifts -- they were a hit!

February: Hand-folded Gift Boxes from Greeting Cards

Do you wonder each year what to do with all those Christmas cards you get each year? My ten-year-old gave gifts this year, presented in beautiful boxes that he created from folding old greeting cards.

These are simple enough for even young children to make, with items you already have at home. Do you want a demonstration? Here's a great video to show you how...

You could make a raft of tiny boxes to fill with hand-made food treats, or to give as a gift, themselves. Pack them in a shoe box to keep them safe until next year.

March: Hand-printed Wrapping Paper

(c) 2011 The Firebottle, via Creative Commons License.
Okay. I hate to throw ANYTHING away. Especially if there's a lot of it. Every once in awhile, I receive a package that is stuffed with yards of blank newsprint paper. Sometimes there is so much, I wonder if they realize how much good stuff they are throwing away in the packing materials! My boys always eye it for making huge battle maps, so we flatten it out and roll it onto an empty wrapping paper roll for someday.

You can use a cool iron to remove the wrinkles from this paper, which is now a "canvas" for some great hand-printed wrapping paper.

You can decorate the paper any way you want to, really, depending on the age of your kids: markers, finger paint, stickers, drawings, vegetable prints -- you name it. To make a really wonderful paper with a nice, repeating pattern, get a roller stamp (the kind you use to make a pattern border when you paint a room), and use a yard stick as a guide (I am not great with straight lines!). You can buy craft paint in a zillion colors at any craft store or Wal-Mart -- and get painting!

Hang your paper to dry.

There are endless possibilities to this project... all I can say is check out these Google images of hand-printed gift wrap for ideas.

April: Hand-tied Bows

My first Christmas on my own, I was homesick and poor. I bought the last Charlie Brown Christmas tree available on the only lot that was on my way home from work, and the last stand. And cried because I didn't have any money to buy any ornaments.

Hand-tied bows and hand-painted ornaments (c) A Child's Garden, 2013.
BUT I did have a crafty mom, and her crafty genes passes along to me. So I headed to a local department store, and rummaged through the remnants of the fabric department for wide ribbon. A few simple twists, and I made a whole tree full of hand-tied boys, with two partial rolls of ribbon. Here you can see them, along with another hand-made ornament (courtesy of Little Man)...

If your child can tie, he or she can make these bows. I used wide ribbon - 2" wide. Don't until these to store them -- simply stuff the loops with rolled up paper, and put a set of them in a shoe box for gift-giving next year.

Martha Stewart has excellent directions for four different kinds of hand-tied bows, for ornaments or gift-wrapping.

May: Commemorate a Special Event with Photos in Hand-made Frames

We always give those studio photos of our kids that you take at department stores and school photo fundraisers. This Christmas, I handed out envelopes with Little Man's photos to the adult children, and the Nurseryman thought out loud, "I always wonder what to do with the old photos." I didn't have an answer for him. But it made me think about all the money we spend on those photo packages, and some of the photos I've found MOST wonderful, that DIDN'T ever grow "old."

When my parents lived in New York still, we would all gather on the Cape for two weeks -- a kind of an "open house," where people stopped in and stayed for however long they could stay, then left when they needed to leave. While we were there, my mom would snap photos of all the kids and grands doing all those fun beach-y things: body surfing, sand-castle building, eating corn on the cob, playing beach volleyball... She would also collect buckets full of tiny shells -- whole bunches of them.

Back at home, she would craft simple frames from craft sticks and thin sheets of clear plastic, hot glue the sea shells to the frame, and glue the photos to the back, and mailed them out to all of us at the holidays.

What a great way to remember a happy (and warmer!) time! Just imagine the conversations you'll have with your kids as they select photos and talk about the good times they had. Fun for both the giver and the receiver!

Decorate smooth stones for garden art or table decoration.

June: Garden Stones

This is NOT a gift I've made (yet) but it is on my list for this year! I love garden ornaments, and calligraphy. And what kid doesn't like smooth stones?

Here is a photograph that I found on Pinterest -- unfortunately, one of those that is no longer attached to its original website. Fineline permanent markers and imagination are all that are required (and a kid to forage for smooth stones). I would spray them with a water-repellant sealer (Modge Podge makes an acrylic sealer that I spray over my paper beads when they are finished - that would work).

July: Bath Baskets

My family knows that I love bath items, especially if they are uniquely scented, or matched together. Call it one of my quirks.

And kids love to assemble gift baskets -- there's something about a collection of little objects that go together that is appealing to children. And this adult, by the way.

When my older kids were little, I used to send away for samples of fancy bath items (the kind you see advertised in the backs of health and gardening magazines -- the ones with herbs in them and interesting wrappers...). We would comb drug stores for travel sizes of organic bath products and add them to the collection all year. Then, at holiday time, we would find decorative baskets and bags, and assemble our gift baskets, including a few full-size products and things like loofahs or bath mitts to round them out.

If you want to check out a line of hand-made, all-natural bath items, see my Squidoo lens on Hugo and Debra Naturals -- mmmm.... so nice.

Hugo and Debra Naturals Soap, $4.99 on Amazon.

August: Hand-packed Sofrito

I had a bumper crop of hot peppers this summer. And there are only so many that you can eat by themselves.

So I began making home-made sofrito -- a staple seasoning in Spanish and Latino cooking. There are many recipes for sofrito, but all are easy to make, right in your blender. And kids love food projects, especially if you are making something that they planted, grew, cared for and then picked, themselves. That's a lot of learning and a lot of love, packed into that gift!

Look at tag sales for fancy jars (I have a few of the old Mason-style jars with glass lids -- perfect for this). You will also need some plastic gloves for handling the cut peppers. Find a recipe for sofrito that you like (I have recommended a few that we like, from the Posh Latin Cook, below), get your blender ready, and start chopping!

Because you will likely be making this in late summer or early fall, when you are harvesting your veggies, you can freeze your sofrito in ice cube trays, then pop the cubes into Ziploc bags to store in the freezer until you are ready to pack your gift. Simply thaw the cubes, fill your jars, label and dress up with a bow!

September: Herb-infused Dipping Oils

Here is an easy gift to make in the fall, when your herbs are at their best. Even the tiniest hands can help prepare these. My daughter-in-law made these as gifts for us this year and I can't wait to try her Tuscany Blend on a loaf of crusty Italian bread!

Scour tag sales for decorative bottles, or check craft stores and the Christmas Tree Shoppes. These oils are best used after the herbs have steeped in the oil for a few months, so September is a great time to prepare them. Just sit them in a dark cool cupboard into you are ready to give them.

The Naptime Chef gives a great basic recipe for dipping oil that she made in 15 minutes.

October: No-Cook Fudge

Oh, my! We also received three (three!) kinds of no-cook fudge this Christmas. I had to hide it from my husband who, although not a chocolate lover, found them irresistible.

There are so many recipes for no-cook fudge available. Make one (or more!) and freeze it in a tightly covered plastic container. Thaw when you are ready to pack it in December, and place the pieces in holiday-patterned plastic bags (most grocery stores carry these in December), tied with a bow.

Check out this quick search of Pinterest for no-bake fudge recipes.

November: All-in-One Soup Mixes

The kitchen-savvy daughter-in-law who treated us to homemade fudge also created soup mixes packaged cutely in canning jars. What a nice way to practice measurement and volume with your homeschoolers!

All you need is a recipe that is based on dry ingredients (ours was a bean soup recipe, that included dehydrated onions and other dried goods). Measure the dry goods into canning jars, adding each new ingredient to create pretty, colorful layers. Screw on the canning jar lid (don't seal), and add a piece of colorful fabric (fastened with a bow or rubber band) to decorate. Hang the recipe on a pretty recipe card, from the bow.

Alternative: I once received a hot chocolate mix presented this way, with cocoa powder, non-fat dry milk, sugar and spices layered into canning jars. For a tinier alternative, create single-serve mulled cider mixes in little jelly jars. Pretty and fun to make.

December: Stained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass Cookies - fun and oh-so-tasty!
I used to make these cookies when my youngest brother (who is ten years my junior) was a little boy. It was one of those "big sister" moments he enjoyed. This winter, I re-introduced the  tradition with my youngest son.

These cookies are so easy to make, and they didn't last long at all! (I think some of us even ate them as a breakfast food. Shh...). Use your favorite sugar cookie recipe, a cookie cutter shape in two sizes (we made stars, but two different diameter glasses would work to make wreaths, too), a few packages of Life Saver candies, and the decoration of your choice.

Roll out and cut your sugar cookie dough, as usual, then use the smaller cutter to cut out the center of the cookie, to leave a hole. Place the candy in the center, and bake -- the hard candy will melt quickly and fill in the space left in the center, creating a "stained glass effect" once the cookie is completely cooled. You can make a few dozen of these in an afternoon -- great for those vacation days right before Christmas, or a surprise snow day earlier in December. I always make sure to have plenty of flour, sugar and butter on hand for impromptu baking in November and December. Add a bag or two of hard candy to this and you'll be all set for these cookies!

After making these many times, I have decided on a few tricks that make the best-looking cookies:

  •  Wreaths made using two different sized glasses are the easiest for kids to make, and bake up nicely.
  • Many recipes tell you to crush up the candies, but the "glass" will be cloudy if you do -- better to just plop the whole candy in the center of the cookie and let it melt on its own.
  • You can use any flavor candies, but cloudy candies (like the "tropical" flavor lifesavers, or lemon drops) will make cloudy "glass." The really best "glass" comes from clear candies (regular Life Savers or Jolly Ranchers). My absolute favorite: hard, clear cinnamon candies. Now I'm drooling...
  • We tried to decorate our cookies using a "convenient" spray tube of frosting with different attachments. No bueno. It is hard for kids (and adults!) to control the flow, and my son was disappointed in his efforts (so we just spread it out like icing). Use a pastry bag or spread the frosting with a plastic butter knife, or just serve them plain.
After they cool completely, pile them onto holiday-themed paper plates, wrap with colored cellophane wrapper, and tie with a bow. Hand them to your guests as they arrive on Christmas Day!

Craft On, My Friends...

These are only a tiny fraction of the possibilities for monthly craft projects that you can do with your children, to create really nice gifts for the holiday season. Besides teaching them how to make beautiful things with their hands, you will also be teaching them stewardship by showing them how to re-purpose items that might normally be discarded, and showing them that the value of a gift comes from the love, time and thought put into it, not the dollar amount on the price tag. You will also be building memories with the time you spend together -- something that is beyond priceless.

Happy Holidays to All! (c) A Child's Garden, 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Scheduling Zoology I - Flying Creatures

Exploring Creation with Zoology I: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day

$39 at Barnes & Noble (click here).
Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, by Jeannie Fulbright (Apologia Science, Young Explorers Series) is written for use with children grades K-6. It covers all the flying creatures: birds, insects, flying reptiles (pterosaurs), and bats.

The course includes several components:
  • The textbook (required)
  • The notebooking journal (highly recommended)
  • Lab kit (optional)
  • Daily lesson plans (optional)
  • Lapbook CD-ROM (optional)
  • Lapbook package CD-ROM (optional)
This page provides links to articles and resources to help you implement this textbook at home or in the classroom.

This post was submitted to the 2/11/13 Blog Carnival!

How We Came to Use Flying Creatures

We began using “Flying Creatures” when our youngest son was a second grader. We wanted a science text that went beyond nature study and observation to some other science process skills, and we fell in love with the rigor, balance and Christian foundation of the “Exploring Creation” books.

We purchased the textbook and notebooking journal. As the notebooking journal includes a lesson scheduler, I did not purchase the daily lesson plans. I also did not purchase the lab kit, as this course uses primarily items that you can find in your kitchen.

Donna Young's Homeschool Resources and Printables has Table of Contents Planners for every book in the Apologia Science series, including Flying Creatures. For information on how to use these planners to help you schedule and make lesson plans for this book, see "What is a TOC Planner?" I started out using the TOC Planners, but found that the schedule included on pages 8-10 of the Notebooking Journal were sufficient for us. So, if you purchase the Notebooking Journal, you may not need another planner for this course.

See my "Flying Creatures" Pinterest board for more resources

Planning for Use of Flying Creatures, by Lesson Number

Below is the Table of Contents for this course, with links to information on each lesson, and links to the way we implemented each lesson in our homeschool day. I will also continue to add links to our nature studies, as the topics lend themselves to nature study. Check back often, as I update the links.

This organization is helpful if you start and stop within a given textbook (as we often do), or have to suspend a course for a period of time, for some reason.

Lesson 1: What is Zoology?
Lesson 2: What Makes a Bird a Bird?
Lesson 3: Birds of a Feather
Lesson 4: Flying Factuals
Lesson 5: Nesting
Lesson 6: Matching and Hatching
Lesson 7: Bats
Lesson 8: Flying Reptiles
Lesson 9: A First Look at Insects
Lesson 10: Insect Life Cycles and Life Styles
Lesson 11: Social Insects
Lesson 12: Beetles, Flies, and True Bugs
Lesson 13: Interesting Insects
Lesson 14: Order Lepidoptera 

More With Flying Creatures: Planning, by Month

The Notebooking Journal splits each Lesson over four sessions (2 per week), with the first session of each week mostly the hands-on portions and the second session being journaling activities. Our son loves the experiments and explorations, but the prospect of a whole day of journaling was daunting to him as a 2nd grader. We also enjoy more extended and frequent nature study, using the Outdoor Hour Challenges and other activities – we wanted more time for that, and less time per day spent inside working on notebooks. When we counted the actual number of tasks for the course, there were enough activities to do one per day, and allow more time for outdoor study – a solution that worked better for us. 

Here is a look at this way of scheduling Zoology I, which may be helpful for those of you who want to connect it to monthly nature studies.

Click on the links, above, to see related materials and nature studies for each lesson or month. See also my Pinterest Board, “Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day,” where I post links to helpful resources for use with this course.

Some "Flying Creatures" That Are NOT in This Textbook



Online Resources to Use with Flying Creatures

We have found these two websites to be extraordinarily helpful when studying our feeder birds and doing independent studies on birds:

"All About Birds" - from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. A vast resource full of videos, photos, drawings and audio clips to help with bird studies and ID in the field.

"What Bird" - from the Mitch Waite Group. An amazing online field guide that actually uses audio recordings from the "O Lab" (Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology). A bit more ad-laden that "All About Birds," but we like to tab both of them and go back and forth between the two.

Contact Us!

Let us know if there are other resources that would be helpful for you, as you study with Flying Creatures, and we'll be glad to link them up here. Just drop a line in the comment box, and I'll get right back to you!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Planning and Even MORE Poetry Resources!
Festus the Fish. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013

 "Be Ye Also Ready..."

We have a little betta (or Siamese fighting fish) that my youngest son named Festus. We don't know why. Festus used to live on my son's bookcase but we suspect his little fishy needs got neglected, amid soccer practice, LEGOs and other little boy activities. So I moved his bowl to the center of our dining room table, which might seem like an odd place, but he likes being the center of the action, and we kind of like him, too.

Bettas are labyrinth fish, which means they can breathe air directly, as well as taking in oxygen through their gills. This enables them to live in nearly dried up mud puddles in their native Southeast Asia, awaiting rains that will enable them to, once again, swim freely. It's always good to have a Plan B!

When rain does arrive, it triggers a series of "hurry up before the weather changes" kind of activities in the males. The males begin to blow bubbles in clumps of weeds, which they use to attract eligible bachelorettes, who then lay their eggs in these floating bubble nests. {We see this whenever I change the water in Festus's bowl, because he will spend the next few days happily blowing zillions of bubbles, preparing for the mate he hopes will come.}

It also causes the males to become even more colorful, and to fight intruders, which they do with an impressive display of gill flap flaring and fin raising. Our dinner forks have seen many a battle with Festus as the opponent. He's made a home for his family, and he will go down swinging to defend it!

Winter Plans/2013-14

In the winter, I feel a little bit like Festus must right now.  I am a summer girl, and winter makes me very restless (save this week, when our Connecticut weather soared into the mid-60's and I busted out the flip flops -- yes! -- and my cropped pants once again...).

Thankfully, I like to write, so I make plans and list for the coming months. Here is my "to-do" list for this winter, for this week's "List It Tuesday." How does it compare to yours?

List It Tuesday

1. Make a Seed List for 2014

I miss gardening dearly, so I make plans and seed lists (I subscribe to the Vegetable Garden Planner at Mother Earth News). My goal this year is to use all heirlooms, add companion plants (this worked so well last year), have my salad gardens in the yard, and my other crops in the five community plot beds I use (I wasn't good about getting to my lettuces and peas when they were not right there in front of me).

Other plots include...

  • Tomatoes and tomatillos (with borage, cilantro and parsley)...
  • Black popcorn and fava beans...
  • Chili peppers with sunflowers and nasturtiums...
  • Potatoes, fingerlings, and sweet potatoes, with parsnips, marigolds and alyssum...
  • Carrots/parsnips/peas sharing a plot with okra/eggplants...

2. Painting the Kitchen

I have countless household project lists. This winter, I decided to make monthly "to-do" lists, so that I could budget for purchases and schedule time for bigger things. Right now, I'm preparing to repaint my kitchen in THESE colors...
New Kitchen Colors (via Chip It!)

3. Blogging, Once a Week (or More)

THIS has been successful this month! I have given up on being a slave to a complicated blogging schedule, since I have many other things besides blogging to do! It was stressing me, and taking me away from my family. No bueno.

This month, I have been blogging about preparing  poetry workbooks for next year. I finished the last poetry workbook for next year, which I also saved in an e-book form to share with other teachers, parents and homeschool friends. The third poet for Ambleside Year 6 is Alfred Noyes (the author of the famous poem, "The Highwayman").
"Poetry of Alfred Noyes," (c) Kim M. Bennett. FREE.
 The e-book is 32 pages long, and I will use it in conjunction with Barbara McCoy's poetry analysis pages (they are intended for high school students, but language arts is my youngest son's strength, so will use them for his sixth grade studies, modifying them as needed).  I plan to bind ALL three poetry e-books into one workbook, supplemented with Celtic design pages copywork pages from the Notebooking Treasury (see the banner ad at the bottom of this post for more information on this great resource).

When I get ready to bind it all, I'll share the specifics of how I made this workbook (if you're like me, you need to know the steps!).

In case you missed the previous posts, here are the links to all three poetry e-books:

4. Set Aside One Day for Business

When you own your own business, you can find yourself working every day, all day. So I set aside one day (at least an evening) for business work, whether it's writing, grading assignments, sorting email or doing invoices. That way, what needs to get done, gets done, but doesn't encroach on other areas of life. Like sleep.

This winter, I have been working on writing a policy handbook for one of my clients. It's fun work, it's writing (which I love) and it fits well with my family schedule. From my mouth to God's ear -- this is the kind of work I'd like all the time.

5. Likewise, One Evening for School Work

I try hard not to take teaching work home with me. But we are encouraged NOT to email during instructional hours, so I allow myself one evening a week to do more than an "I'll check into that" email. AND to sort them. Because I hate a full inbox.

6. Take an Old Testament Survey Course

I've recommitted to my Bible course studies, and spent this morning charting out a course of study for myself -- Old Testament Survey this year -- and a schedule that (with God's help and my own dedication) I WILL commit to. As the first step toward completing my Old Testament Survey in 2014, I am taking an Old Testament overview this winter, through Christian Courses. I need to put this as a priority.

7. Homeschool Plans for 2014-15

I'm also beginning the planning of next year's homeschool, partly because we'll be changing up our arrangement next year, and because our son will be entering sixth grade -- which seems like a "big boy" grade to me. We are all excited about the many changes for our family for next year -- we'll keep you posted as they unfold!

As my son is entering 6th grade next year, I wanted more of his work to be independent, so that I could devote the "teacher time" to harder subjects or projects, where he will need more support. Hence, the development of workbooks to help guide him through the studies. This month, in addition to the poetry workbooks, I am developing a history workbook to accompany The Story of the World, Volume 4 (using activities from the corresponding activity book, and other things), and a geography workbook based on The Life of David Livingstone. Stay tuned for more on those in future blog posts.

And More on Thinking Summer Thoughts in Winter...

More wonderful ideas that keep me going until spring...

Monday, December 16, 2013

More Homeschool Poetry Resources

Snow, snow and more snow! (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013

A Winter Wonderland

Since we last chatted, we've had about a foot of snow, temperatures down to the teens and up to almost 40 degrees, one vehicle stuck precisely two times, one backyard clean-up day, one early dismissal (and a possible closure tomorrow), and a dead battery on a thermostat. But the snowblower started on the very first pull!

This has been a great week to get in a lot of work preparing workbooks for our youngest son to use next year.


Next Up... Carl Sandburg

Ambleside Year 6 includes a study of Carl Sandburg -- one of my favorite poets. As with the Robert Frost pieces (see, "... On a Snowy Evening"), I compiled a number of recommended poems of Carl Sandburg into e-book format.

Click the link to download a FREE copy of this 32-page e-book.

You can print the pages double sided or single-sided, with lined copywork paper on the reverse -- it's up to how you will use them. I will print them double-sided, and include pages from Harmony Art Mom's poetry analysis materials (see, "Poetry for High-Schoolers" for links to the pages, which include excellent response to poetry prompts). If you want some great copywork pages to use with these poems, see the variety of blank copywork pages at the Notebooking Treasury, including these Celtic design pages, with lines for a variety of length of stanzas for copying or dictation work.

More Poetry Planning

We will be studying Alfred Noyes for Term 3 next year. I was familiar with his poem, "The Highwayman," but not much else. Look for the next e-book with a selection of poetry by this English author.

We are also having a GREAT time planning our organic gardens for the coming spring. We hope to make really great use of our mini-greenhouse, and to can a bunch of food for next winter. Stay tuned for more gardening details!

Get 10% off gorilla grow tent when you shop at Valid until January 31, 2014.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

... On a Snowy Evening

A Child's Garden
Winter nature walk find. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013.

Winter Comes...

We had our first winter weather this week, awaking to a coating of snow and ice on cars, pavement, and tree branches on Monday. The day warmed up, after many delayed openings, and you could almost forget that winter is upon us.

So, just to keep us remembering that we DO live in New England, even more snow came on Tuesday, closing most schools and sending the rest home early. The kids can't wait for their first real snow day. This flip-flop girl can!

But the wintry weather makes for a great time to drink hot tea, wrap in a blanket, blog and think about school lessons and other cozy topics.

homeschool blog carnival
Click here for more information

Homeschool Planning for 2014-15

I am an overplanner. It just makes me feel good to have something well thought-out, even if I end up doing something different. So I am systematically going through each subject area of next year's curriculum and preparing materials now, while we're staying comfy inside, instead of in the summer and fall, when I'd prefer to be at the beach or in the garden. Because my little one is heading into 6th grade next year, I want to make as much of his studies self-directed as I can, leaving direct instruction time for the more complex tasks which require an adult (discussions, chemistry experiments, music lessons, for example).

Next year, we will combine materials from Ambleside Online and The Well-Trained Mind (I love the history texts from Ambleside, but also love the wee bit of structure of TWTM. This month, I am preparing the poetry materials for part of our literature studies.

My son likes to read poetry -- it's great for teaching rich language, and visual imagery, among so many other things. I wanted to create materials that could be as self-directed as possible, leaving me time to assist more with the things that really need a teacher, such as chemistry or writer's craft. So I compiled the poems suggested for this term into a workbook, of sorts, allowing space to illustrate each poem or take notes. You can print the pages out double-sided, or print them single-sided, and photocopy simple lined stationery on the reverse, if you'd like.

Ideas for how to use the poetry pages (from our own homeschool practice):
  • Read & illustrate (the simplest response)
  • Highlight a vocabulary word (e.g., shimmering) - use only pencil to illustrate the meaning of this word
  • Highlight a hard word (e.g., clandestine) - create a concept web of the word 
  • Circle specific details (words & phrases) - categorize them by part of speech
  • Circle words with your focus phonics or spelling pattern...
... anything you  can think of or whatever goes with your current spelling, grammar or writing focus.

The first set is a collection of poems by Robert Frost. I will print them out double-sided, and add in a 12-page set of notebooking pages on Robert Frost, from the Notebooking Treasury's Famous Poets Collection. I am currently waiting (with excitement!) for my ProClick Binder, which will allow me to bind my poems and other materials into oaktag and clear plastic covers to make soft-covered workbooks. The next sets will include the poets Carl Sandburg and Alfred Noyes.

For a great deal on the Notebooking Treasury, see the coupon, below -- we have been using the Treasury for most of our notebooking needs for the past five years -- the pages are wonderful. Do check it out.

A Child's Garden
(c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013. Click link for a free download. 54 pages.

Holiday Preparations

My dear friend, Lisa Kowalyshyn, from Kindred Crossings Farm LLC, raises grass-fed sheep and cattle, and produces (among many other things) organically-produced wool. My eldest son has been spending the last several weeks helping her button up the farm for the winter, spreading an incredible amount of manure over the fields and the vegetable garden. He loves it, and she appreciates the extra set of hands for the winter farm work.

The collaborative she belongs to uses the wool to create beautiful wool blankets and scarves that are perfect for holiday gift-giving. There is a new blanket design each year. The scarves come in a variety of gorgeous colors. I told her I wanted to share her photos and a link to her blog here -- please like Kindred Crossings Farm LLC on Facebook, too! {While my blog contains affiliate links, there are none for this listing -- it's totally a love thing!}. If you live in the Connecticut/Rhode Island/Massachusetts area, it's worth finding Lisa's products at the local farmer's markets, where she also sells her fresh, organically-produced lamb, beef and pork products.
Beautiful wool scarves, $15-$25 each,  from Kindred Crossings Farm, LLC. Order now for delivery by Christmas!

Next up...

Stay tuned for more homeschool materials sharing, and a sneak peak at our gardening plans (yes, the catalogs are already out! -- I miss summer...).

Saturday, September 28, 2013

September: Wildflowers, Hot Peppers and Other Reminiscings

Watching bumblebees prepare for autumn. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013

What's New This Month:

My eldest son. Plant Guy, calls me (hands-free, of course) every day when he's on his way home from work. I, in return, answer his call (also hands-free, of course) and we chat about our day on the long ride home.

Yesterday, I happened to remark, out loud, how the trees here in Connecticut were suddenly putting on their fall attire. Plant Guy remarked, "Yeah, it's going to be October next week. I can't fool myself into believing that it's still summer anymore."

No, the sassafras are purple-red, the fields are ablaze with wild asters and goldenrod, and sunflowers are covered with birds fattening up for winter or a long trip to their winter home. It is, indeed, fall here.

We have been having fun in the fall weather, though:

Roasted Vegetable Salsa. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013


I have put up several different kinds of salsa and hot sauce, dilly beans and some hot pepper pickles. The last of the green tomatoes went into ajo, an Ecuadoran version of sofrito, a delicious paste made from garlic, peppers and other wonders that gets sauteed in oil before you cook anything. Mmm--mmm-good.


Garden bounty. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013


Summer vegetables were pulled up and replaced with fall lettuces, peas and collard greens. We'll have to cover the lettuces, and the peas will be done by frost, but the collards will be a wonderful (and bug-free) treat next spring.

We had a bumper crop of hot peppers and pole beans this year. Our corn was a little disappointing - but we learn!

Roasting vegetables - the key to so many tasty sauces. (c) Kim M. Bennett 2013


Changing jobs sometimes means changing finances, and I have rediscovered the economical (and tasty) joys of homecooked meals each night. It's easy to take short cuts when you have more disposable income, but what wonders you can create in the kitchen with a little creativity and simple ingredients. My latest successes: white bean and chicken chili; gumbo; taco casserole; shrimp and broccoli eggrolls; and the world's sweetest pink lemonade cookie bars.

Whimsy in a butterfly and hummingbird garden. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013

New Job!

I started a new job (which I LOVE!) as an instructional coach for science, technology, engineering and math. One of the best parts of my job is the organic courtyard garden where students grow vegetables that the chef uses in student and teacher lunches each day. How delicious!

Roman gladiator puppets - a fun extension of our history work. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013


Each year, we exercise our rights to partake of as little or as much of the public school activities that we have paid for, as we'd like. Last year, our Little Guy attended all of grade 4 in public school. He has given himself an early October deadline for determining what he'd like to do about public school this year. He is leaning toward participating in band, music lessons (trombone & saxophone), chorus and some "specials," and leaving the subjects to home.

A little sand, surf and sunshine goes a long way. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013


My husband and I have been invited to participate in an event honoring breast cancer survivors and their families, in Hartford -- an honor, and always an emotional time.

I'm trying to get back in the gym routine. But relaxing on the beach is much more fun!

Up-cycling old magazines into beautiful jewelry. (c) Kim M. Bennettt, 2013


I have made LOTS of my paper-bead necklaces, and am trying to find some time to set up my Etsy shoppe (or something similar). They are beautiful!

I have continued to use magazines, but have branched out to include some junk mail, and catalogs. It is a very meditative process, rolling paper beads. You should try it -- very relaxing...

I want to try paper-pulp round beads (like papier-mache), brown paper bag beads, wrapping paper beads and tissue paper beads. So many bead ideas, so little time!

Katydid love songs. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013

Hanging With Bugs

We have an influx of katydids this fall. They love to hang out on our front door screen and scream in the evening. I guess it's a love song, but it is one of the loudest noises I've heard at night. They are very interesting, with their long legs. 

Plant Guy's farmer girlfriend harvested her celery and discovered dozens of yellow swallowtail caterpillars. Yey!

Goodbye, Alfred D. "Pete" Long. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013

Saying Goodbyes

My brother-in-law, Pete, passed away in our arms early this month. It was a beautiful passing, Pete surrounded by all of his family and friends, at home. And his homegoing was an event to be celebrated - complete with a jazz band, a saxophone solo of "Amazing Grace," and a military salute.  He will be missed, but we know we will see him and his sax again.


Ten Days of Wildflowers
$1.95 for 24-page e-book - click here for ordering information.


I've been so busy with my new job that I have neglected blogging for awhile. But I just finished a new e-book, Ten Days of Wildflowers, that is perfect for a 10-day study of the wildflowers where you live. Check it out at Teachers Pay Teachers - only $1.95 for 24 pages (including lesson ideas - great for homeschool or elementary nature study).

What's I've Planned for October

I hope to get some garlic planted next month (we LOVE garlic around here), as well as take in our yard furniture. The front steps are scheduled to be demolished and replaced (woot! woot! New steps...). And somewhere there are a couple of bushels of apples just calling our name.

Check out this week's give-aways and networking opportunities:

a mom blog community!
Member - Click to visit!

Have a blog? Join hundreds of other blogging women at Bloggy Moms' September Blog Hop -- let us know what you've been up to this month.

While you're at it, enter to win some FREE Purex UltraPacks at Our Everyday Harvest. Click on the image for details on how to enter.

List it Tuesday at Many Little Blessings and Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers 
This post was listed in "List it Tuesday" -- come see!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Studying Amphibians in the Field: Using Approximate Measures

Red Eft, the immature form of the Spotted Newt. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013.


Frogs and Toads and Salamanders... Oh, My!

Here in Connecticut, we have just come out of the April showers that were not.

Oh, we had wonderful, almost summery temperatures, and the buds began to break. But, without any measurable rain in April, almost everything remained frozen in time, waiting. The spring peepers we wrote about in the last blog post grew a bit subdued in their calls, not having anywhere to lay their eggs. The peas and lettuces that we early gardeners planted begged for water to carry them through what is normally our rainy and wet time of year.

But we have rain this week! And, with that rain, spring is bursting forth rapidly! The amphibian friends that have grown rather hidden over the past few weeks are coming out in droves now.

Our frogs and toads broke onto the scene early this year, with a few brave spring peepers coming out during a warm snap in February, and our woodland frog and toad species making their debut last month (we haven't gone down to the pond to check out the more aquatic friends, yet... Stay tuned.) This month marked the first month we have seen salamanders.

Our Amphibian Survey: May 2013

Here is a photo gallery showing our survey of amphibians, to date:

Our amphibian survey, May 2013. (c) Kim Bennett, 2013.

We created this survey form so we can observe the changes in the seasonal distribution of the amphibians in our area, over time, as well as to chronicle the seasonal patterns in each specific species over the course of a year. We like having all of the information on one sheet, which is posted on the refrigerator.

Even the adult children take part (the photo of the red eft, above, is courtesy of #2 Son, the Animal Whisperer, who dashed over to our house early [I mean EARLY] one morning after finding the little fellow in his driveway as he left for work).

To get an idea of the relative number of frogs, toads and salamanders in our area, we decided to color code our entries so we could know, at a glance. Besides, at least two of us in the house (probably more) have a fascination with those 16-color Flair packs they sell in Staples.

Did I ever tell you I have a thing for office supplies? I think it goes along with being a teacher.

While there are three main groups of amphibians here on our chart, they actually are divided into the following groups, taxonomically [click on the name to see a photograph of a representative species - or the link, if we've already written about it]:

  • Mole salamanders (here is our post on the Spotted Salamander that the Plantsman rescued from the road one night after work)
  • Lungless salamanders
  • Mudpuppies
  • Newts (see the image at the top of this post, courtesy of the Animal Whisperer)
  • Toads (here is our last post, showing a photo of a Fowler's Toad that was strolling across the driveway)
  • Treefrogs (there's a great video showing Spring Peepers on our frog survey post)
  • Spadefoot Toads
  • True Frogs (here's a little Wood Frog that somehow ended up in our living room) 

Since tree frogs are arboreal, often the only way that you can observe them is to learn their call. When we identify a frog (or a bird, for our bird list -- especially our owls) by call, we mark the entry with a (c).

The Animal Whisperer found a Gray Tree Frog once and brought it to show us. We considered that a treat, since you are not likely to actually see them, most of the time. They were a lot bigger than I expected them to be -- not tiny like Spring Peepers.

It's always good to have a site that you can go to, to listen to calls of animals. Connecticut Amphibians has excellent photos, descriptions, and audio files to help folks in our state learn more about the amphibians here.  They also have a great discussion of the importance of vernal pools to our local amphibian species, something that is an important part of any amphibian study, no matter where you live. -- [Here is an image of a vernal pool in the nature preserve near our home] -- The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History has a lot of great information, as well, but no audio files.

Measuring Amphibians

In our home, as well as in my classroom, we learn to handle wildlife gently, if at all, observe creatures for a short time and in a respectful way, then turn them loose. So we have to learn to observe them very carefully when we have them, so we can compare later. Having a digital camera is a wonderful asset to both homeschool and classroom, when it comes to reflecting on and studying things that we can't really hang onto for a long time.

If you are going to use digital images as a way to observe animals, try to make sure that you snap them with something in the frame that shows scale. See the images, below, for ideas:

This photo from  "Frog-Hunting in Connecticut" shows a Fowler's Toad in the parking lot. I waited until it hopped closer to the parking space number (most of us can visualize how big those numbers are -- about a foot tall) so you could get an idea of how very large the toad actually was -- about 6 inches long, although adult Fowler's Toads can be up to a humongous 9.5 inches long! Wow!

I considered getting a ruler to place alongside the toad, but my dog was so excited about the toad that I was afraid 1) the toad would be startled and hop away or 2) the dog would try to eat it.

Here's a great way to get a pretty accurate measurement of your amphibian, if it's one that slows down enough for you to gently pick it up.

The fingertip joint of an adult's first finger is about an inch long. Actually, this joint, even in a child from about the age of 8, on, is about an inch long. I used to teach my third graders to use their first finger joint as an approximate measure, if they didn't have a ruler. In this photo, you can use this measure to estimate that this little eft (which is probably on the large side, for efts) is about 3 1/2 inches long, from nose to tail tip. Red efts range from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches long.

Here's that photo of the Spotted Salamander from "A Night-time Surprise: Spotted Salamanders", showing another visual cue you can use to estimate the size of one of your amphibian friends.

My son was carrying the salamander from one side of the road to the other, in the front of his tee-shirt. In the photo, you can see the hem of his shirt. If you are wearing a tee-shirt now, check out the hem at the bottom. If it's a regular shirt, the folded over and stitched part will be about an inch wide. Accounting for the semi-curled up nature of the little fellow, we can estimate its size to be about 8-9 inches long, from nose to tail-tip, so it's probably an older member of its species, which range from 5 inches to 10 inches long, depending on their age. They can live up to 10 years, if they don't get run over during breeding season.

Data Sheets and Notebooking Pages, for Your Amphibian Studies

In the last post, I shared a link to "Animal and Plant Surveys: 10 Reasons to Get Outside and Survey," which explained the science behind surveys as a learning task. I also included links to blank survey sheets, such as the one I showed, above, which you can use to keep track of your animal species.

An amphibian study is a great opportunity to compare animal species, too. For one way to study comparison using an interactive bulletin board, see "Comparing Nests: The 'Same and Different' Center."

There are many sources of Venn diagrams (all kinds of varieties). At  {.docstoc}, you have many to choose from, all downloadable, free of charge.

We download a lot of our general nature study pages from The Notebooking Treasury - we have been members since we began homeschooling in 2010. From now through May 31st, 2013, they are having their 7th Birthday Sale-a-Bration Event, with discounted merchandise, chances to win prizes, and specially priced memberships (for new members) and membership extensions (for current members).

Become a Notebooking Pages LIFETIME Member (as we are) during their 7th Birthday Sale-a-Bration Event, and you get all this:
  • Save $25 on your membership
  • Receive access to 150+ current notebooking products
  • Receive ALL future notebooking products
  • Receive up to two years FREE access to their notebooking (& copywork) web-app, The Notebooking Publisher™
  • Receive a $100 e-gift Bonus Bundle from various homeschool publishers
  • Earn a chance to win some great prizes … an iPad mini, $100 gift card, LIFETIME access to The Notebooking Publisher™, and a LIFETIME membership to

How could you resist?

Try Our Amphibian Study Pages - FREE!

During the next four weeks, you can enter to win a copy of My Amphibian Survey, a 36-page e-Book full of notebooking pages, centers ideas and curriculum extensions on amphibians. Two lucky contestants will get copies of this e-Book. Also, in honor of springtime, we are raffling off one copy of Nests, Nests, Nests! - our fall e-Book on nests of all kinds of animals (including amphibians) for one lucky contestant. Just enter using the Rafflecopter Form, below.

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