Shake Off the Winter Blahs.

 I recently visited the Art Museum on the Princeton University campus. It was great for three reasons. First of all, it’s free. There aren’t many places of culture and enlightenment nowadays that can boast that. And, the collection has something for everyone.  There are sculptures and pottery over 4,000 years old, paintings done by ANDY WARHOL, and everything in between.

The third reason it was a great visit is because where else but an art museum provides peace, quiet, and contemplation along with some magnificent objects of beauty? Being in such an environment frees the mind and allows all sorts of creative energy to enter. Writers who are struggling with writer’s block might find inspiration looking at any painting or sculpture, and stories begin to spring into mind. WHY did the artist choose such a subject? WHAT IF the subject were alive today? WHAT would she/he have to say?  The possibilities for story are endless.

Let the kids go on a SCAVENGER HUNT, searching for specific art pieces throughout the day.  Many museums have programs geared specifically for children.

So, if you feel as if you’re in a rut and need some CHANGE to jump start the muse, visit the Princeton University Art Museum – or ANY art museum and let your imagination run wild. Take notes, snap photos and just doodle in a notebook. You never know, it may be the start of something wonderful. artmuseum.princeton.edu

Didn’t someone say “a picture is worth a thousand words?”

VALENTINE TREATS

February Recipe: Sweetheart Pretzel Sticks

To celebrate Valentine’s Day and share a homemade treat with loved ones, your children can make these easy, delicious, chocolate treats.

Ingredients:   I bag of pretzel rods, chocolate morsels, chopped nuts, sprinkles, coconut or whatever toppings you prefer, waxed paper.

Note: (An adult needs to be on hand to monitor use of the microwave for melting the chocolate morsels.)

  1. Place morsels in a microwave-safe dish. Cook on high for 1-2 minutes. Remove and stir. If morsels need more melting, return them the microwave for 30 second intervals until they are melted.
  2. Dip one end of the pretzel rod into the melted chocolate until about 1/3 of it is covered. Place on the waxed paper covered cookie sheet.
  3. Then sprinkle your topping onto the chocolate covered section.
  4. Allow them to harden before wrapping into plastic bags to give as gifts. (For a quicker set time: Pop the logs into the refrigerator for an hour.)

FYI: Not only does chocolate taste great, it actually is good for us. Swiss researchers have found that the polyphenols in dark chocolate curb the body’s output of stress hormones. This helps prevent high blood pressure, racing heart rate, and shallow breathing that can lead to anxiety. Regular consumption of cocoa can also improve physical endurance by 50% due to compounds in it that encourage cell’s ability to convert glucose to energy. Dark chocolate IN SMALL QUANTITIES works best.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! 

Heated Political Battle Led to Frosty Dessert: by Marilyn Ostermiller

Looking for a romantic treat for special someone? You might want to consider whipping up a Baked Alaska, the classic dessert that’s fiery hot on the outside with a melting heart and richly delicious all over.

In it’s traditional form, Baked Alaska is concocted with hard ice cream on a base of sponge cake and covered in a shell of toasted meringue. Plan ahead because the cake must be baked and cooled before topping it with layers of firmly frozen ice cream. Just before it’s time to serve dessert, whip several egg whites into a stiff meringue, spread it completely over the ice cream and cake and place it in a very hot oven for a couple of minutes, until the meringue begins to brown. The trick to making sure the ice cream doesn’t melt is to seal the cake and ice cream with the meringue. Here’s a recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/baked-alaska-recipe.html

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If the classic form is daunting, consider a small version made with brownies that children with some experience in the kitchen can help assemble. This version with easy-to-follow directions comes from Baking Bites, a food blog written by Nicole Weston, a pastry chef, food writer and recipe developer based in Los Angeles, CA http://bakingbites.com/2015/07/brownie-baked-alaska/

Baked Alaska Day is commemorated nationally in February.

According to the National Day Calendar organization, Baked Alaska was created by a celebrity Victorian chef, Charles Ranhofer. The Frenchman was the chef at the swanky Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City in the mid 1860s, where he became notorious for naming new and renaming old dishes after famous people and events.

In 1867, a political debate was raging over the potential purchase of Alaska from Russia. Secretary of State William Seward agreed to a purchase price of $7 million and Alaska became a United States territory. Those who were of the opinion the purchase was a giant mistake referred to the purchase as “Seward’s Folly”.

Capitalizing on the heated controversy surrounding the purchase in the frozen north, Ranhofer’s Baked Alaska fit the bill. It was cold, nearly frozen and quickly toasted in a hot oven prior to serving.

Who knew!?       Marilyn Ostermiller

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

Anyone out there “daring” enough to try making your own BAKED ALASKA? If you do, send me the photo and I’ll post it here on the blog!

 

Home Schooling Ins and Outs: Things to Consider by Maureen Lasher Morris

Last week Maureen talked about how she came to be a home school-er with her children and grandchildren.  Today she will share her tips for what to think about if you decide Home Schooling might be for you and your family.  Here’s Maureen with part 2 of her series.

  • There is a plethora of information and support available for homeschooling families. It has become commonplace within many groups. Some home school for religious reasons, while others do not want their child going to the local school for any of a variety of reasons. Some schools offer a duel enrollment where your child attends school for certain classes and is home for others. Many districts provide enrollment in the community college paid for by the district. Some school districts are more supportive of homeschooling than others. The district I live in provides many resources for home schoolers. I would suggest that you check with your local district to see what they offer. The requirements vary from district to district also so it is a good idea to check and see what they are for your area.
  • With homeschooling, the program can be tailored to fit each individual child’s needs, abilities and interests.
  • There are many curriculum choices out there. Online schools are one way to start if you are nervous and unsure of how to begin (K-12 is a very well put together program that works within local school districts, just for an example). These programs provide ongoing support from an actual teacher. They provide the required testing for each state and also offer special education services if needed. They follow the school year and are considered a part of the school district not home school even though all the work is completed at home.
  • Many religious affiliations offer curriculum that corresponds to their specific beliefs and teachings. Some programs have a specific emphasis on science or math. The choices are many.
  • Some prefer to put their own program together. I would not recommend this but it does work for some. It is a lot of work and one thing to be aware of is the requirements that colleges and universities have regarding homeschooling. The program I used was an accredited one that was very rigorous in its materials. The accreditation is important because those schools provide a school number used in ACT and SAT testing and college applications. Without the accredited school number, the homeschooling provider needs to account for each class by giving the text used, date of text, author, etc. for high school. Hours of schooling needs to be regulated as well and documentation is important to show proof of what was taught. As a teacher, I felt that I did not need to reinvent the wheel and picked a curriculum that fit with my beliefs and standards.
  • I would recommend joining a support group both for your own help, and also for socialization for your child. These groups often provide classes, field trips, and fun activities. Colorado Springs has a very large home school presence. One of the support programs offered provided classes for specific higher level subjects such as chemistry and calculus. I took advantage of these since there were several areas of content that I was not comfortable in teaching. It so happened that Colorado Springs is home to the Air Force Academy and my son’s chemistry teacher was a retired chemistry teacher from the academy. My children also took classes in dance, puppet-making, acting, rock climbing, among others.
  • I also hired a private tutor for some of the higher-level math classes. She was very reasonable and worth every penny. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Another thing that I was able to do was trade for services. I taught sign language in return for help with physics for my son.
  • One of the most important things for me with homeschooling is keeping a schedule. We start the same time every day. The routine is helpful to both my children and myself. It gives a sense of importance to what we are doing. Another thing I feel strongly about is that my child get dressed and ready for school as if he/she were going to an actual brick and mortar school.  If they stayed in pajamas, with uncombed hair, etc.… then their schoolwork was not taken seriously.  
  • It is also good to have a designated area for school. I use my dining room which contains several bookcases, a chalkboard, a whiteboard, work table and 3 computer stations. On the rare occasion that I actually use the room for dining, the table is adjustable and works fine. Any space works fine, but try to make sure that the distractions are minimal.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
  • I also have what I called non-negotiables. These were what we did regardless of what was happening or going on that day. My non-negotiables were reading, writing and math. School is the priority but occasionally things come up at home the same way they come up at school. Many days while a teacher there were events that occurred and prevented a normal day of teaching.
  • There are many resources available online. There are also several places where you can get extra materials. Teacher stores are an excellent resource. Colorado Springs has two teacher supply stores which are filled with a variety of materials that are helpful to the home schooled family. I enjoy browsing through these and picking up colorful charts, flashcards, etc. even though the program I use sends me everything I need: books, workbooks, answer keys, science kits, even handwriting paper. Some of the online programs provide computers and a stipend for internet access.
  • Another resource that I use regularly is the library. Our library has a special program specifically for home schooled students. They offer something different each month.
  • Home schooled students are also eligible to participate in sports from the school that they would be attending if they were at school. My daughter swam for all fours years in high school and received a scholarship to swim at college. My son played baseball at the high school.
  • One of the criticisms that I often hear is the lack of socialization. This always makes me laugh because my children who home schooled were much more sociable and equally comfortable with adults as their peers than my children who attended school. They have become well-rounded adults, articulate, poised and confident in their abilities.
  • Do not be afraid to take on this challenge if you feel that this is right for your family. There is so much support available and it will be worth the hard word and challenges. It is a great way to develop close bonds with your child that will last a lifetime.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The following are some resources for homeschooling families:

A resource from PBS – http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/homeschooling/homeschooling-resource-list/

This site has resources available state by state – http://www.homeschool.com/resources/

This one is from Parents Magazine with many resources listed _ http://www.parents.com/kids/education/home-schooling/best-homeschooling-resources-online/

This site from The Pioneer Woman has links to printable materials such as flash cards and worksheets – http://thepioneerwoman.com/homeschooling/free-online-educational-resources/

 

 

Why I Home School by Maureen Lasher Morris.

Today’s post is courtesy of my friend Maureen Lasher Morris – who I’ve known since our days back in high school.  We haven’t seen each other since then, but have kept in touch thanks to social media.  Maureen has been part of the HOME SCHOOLING community for many years.  I asked her to share her thoughts about it and also to share some tips for those interested in becoming home schoolers.  Here’s Maureen.

I was a teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing for 22 years before I came a homeschooling mom. It was not something that I actually planned;  it happened as a result of several things that occurred around the same time.

In 1996, my husband and I adopted a three-year-old girl, Maggie, from China. She became our 5th child as we had four biological children already. Since we were supposed to go to China in late August of that year, I applied for a year’s leave of absence from my teaching job. I thought it would be a good idea to have her well established into the family before I went back to work. At the time, my oldest daughter, Kristen, had just graduated from high school, Patrick my second child was a high school junior. My son, Tim had just finished 7th grade and my youngest son, Sean, just completed 1st grade. Tim and Sean asked if they could stay home, too and I thought it would be a great way for us to bond with our new addition. So, I ordered a home school curriculum for each and began our new adventure in learning.

Shortly after our return from China, my father was diagnosed with leukemia. Since my youngest boys were home schooled, I was able to pick up their books and materials and go help my mother though this difficult period of time. My mother was a retired elementary school teacher.  It was good therapy for her to help me and keep busy while she took care of my father. We went back and forth every couple of months from Colorado Springs where I reside to Southern Arizona where my parents were living.  

When my leave was up for the following year, we decided that my place was better at home than working so I sent in a letter of resignation. My son, Tim, decided that he missed his friends at school so he went back to school for high school. I continued to home school Sean and Maggie  through high school.

My daughter, Kristen, married and has 6 children. I home schooled her oldest son, Joe, through 8th grade. He is extremely bright but struggles with learning disabilities. He has severe dyslexia and even the experts in reading at the university here in Colorado Springs were doubtful that he would ever read. He is also dysgraphic which means that he can’t physically write. This has had a huge impact on his life and it is something that he will always struggle with. He does however,  read well.  He has a fabulous memory and if he hears something once he remembers it for life. We worked together for 9 years and I mean together. We sat in a big double chair and I read everything to him with him joining in sharing the readings once he was proficient enough.  I became his scribe and basically his right hand. I am still scribing for his college work (not at school, but his home assignments).  I do not aid him in any other way except to type for him. His level of knowledge has surpassed mine and his vocabulary is excellent. 

One result of him being home schooled through his elementary years was that he knew he learned differently from most, but he also knew he was very bright and never had any self-esteem issues that could have occurred.  He attended one of the top ten high schools in Colorado. The school was excellent at providing him adaptive materials and he was able to take advantage of programs such as Dragon Speech which is a program that types what the persons dictates.  

Dragon Naturally Speaking Speech Recognition. The link for this is http://www.nuance.com/for-individuals/by-product/dragon-for-pc/index.htm.

I am currently homeschooling my 11-year-old grandson, John.  It is a temporary arrangement for this year only as he will be attending a new school next year that teaches technical skills while maintaining the requirements for college entrance. I am enjoying this opportunity to have this special time with him. He is as bright as his brother, Joe but does not have the learning disabilities.    

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If you’re looking to get into to home schooling, there are some things you might consider.  I will discuss these in my post next Friday.

 

 

Happy Chinese New Year: Easy Dragon Craft

The Chinese New Year will be celebrated on Saturday 1-28-2017.  It is the YEAR OF THE ROOSTER.  Why not have your kids join in the festivities by making their own CHINESE DRAGON PUPPETS.

Here is all you need (with scissors, tacky glue and some bag clips to hold pieces in place):

2016-01-16-19-52-20I used thin foam pieces for the head and tail, and card stock for the head fin and middle section.  You can also use craft paper for the whole thing, or felt and ribbons or yarn for the mid-section.  Pipe cleaners are another option for the mid section or stems. Let your imagination go for creative designs.

Using the pattern pieces below, cut the number of pieces indicated and set aside.

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If you’re using paper for the midsection, fold it accordion style as shown here:

2016-01-16-21-09-48Make it as long as you like…it actually looks best when the middle is long and twisting.

Assemble the head by inserting the fin between the two pieces.  Glue in place.   Insert the sticks (I used wooden skewers) between the head pieces and tail pieces.  Insert the ends of the midsection into these pieces as shown.  Glue in place and clip to hold together until it dries.

2016-01-16-21-26-15        2016-01-16-21-26-27Add a googlie eye or draw facial features with a Sharpie marker.  Don’t forget to put features on both sides!

 

Hold the sticks at both ends to make the Dragon move.

Here’s another version of a dragon puppet:  http://www.redtedart.com/chinese-new-year-craft-dragon-puppet-free-printable/

For more activities and easy crafts to celebrate the Year of the Rooster visit:

http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/chinesenewyear/

Happy New Year!

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The Art of Cursive Writing: Good for the Brain.

At first I thought I was a dinosaur – lamenting the demise of cursive writing in our culture.  Most schools no longer teach it in this age of keyboarding.  But I’ve recently seen a number of scientifically researched articles on the benefits of cursive writing in child development – specifically on brain development.

Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing, typing or keyboarding.   There is a reason why beautiful handwriting  seems like an artistic art form: Cursive writing engages the same areas of the brain used to create art.

Another important area associated with cursive writing and one that supports self-esteem building is when the limbic – or emotional area of the child’s brain –  is engaged in a positive linguistic exercise.  Writing in cursive stimulates this area of the brain as well.

So, encourage your child’s brain development by teaching them the art of cursive writing.  Not good at handwriting yourself?  There are many practice books to get started.  And, it’s never too late to “train your brain” to be more creative.

To learn more about these fascinating studies visit:

http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/3555

http://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2014/09/brain-benefits-write-in-cursive/

http://naturalsociety.com/how-cursive-writing-affects-brain-development/

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/why-handwriting-is-still-essential-in-the-keyboard-age/?_r=0

Information about the brain’s responses to cursive writing were taken from:

Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of  Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students. Dr. Sortino is also a primary provider for the FastForWord reading Program as well as trained in Neurofeedback. 

To contact Dr. Sortino, e-mail davidsortino@comcast or 707-829-8315 or go to his blog: Santa Rosa Press Democrat – Dr. David Sortino.