Thursday, July 26, 2012

Homemade Fruit and Energy Bars

I started making these fruit/energy bars for my older daughter who is an athlete and trains hard for part of the year. During that time, she relies heavily on "power bars" that she eats before or after practice. I decided to make my own healthy fruit bars as a way to save money and to ensure that my daughter is not consuming too much sugar.

My daughter absolutely loves these!

Fruit Bar Recipe

  • 1 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup of dates
  • 1/4 cup of oats
  • 1/2 cup of raw whole almonds
  • 1 tbsp of honey
  • a small handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

  • Put the cranberries, dates, oats and honey in a food processor and mix until everything is well chopped (small pieces).
  • Crush the almonds separately (almonds will turn to powder in the food processor).
  • Mix the crushed almonds with the rest of the ingredients and stir well.
  • Cut small pieces of plastic wrap and have them ready for wrapping the fruit bars.
  • Take a handful of the mixture and work it in your hands to form bars (ours are never perfect, they are a different size each time)
  • Making the bars is the hardest step because the mixture sticks to your hands. I've added a video to show you how I do this step.
  • Once you have a bar, place it on the plastic wrap and start to roll the bar into the plastic, molding the bar as you wrap it.
  • Refrigerate the bars to set.
  • They should be eaten with 10 days.
This is what I used, but any brand will do.

Almonds from Sam's Club and Wegman's

This is what the mixture looks like after

Wrapped fruit bars.

Another one.

A quick note about the process: rolling and shaping these little suckers are a major pain. They stick to your hands but don't want to bind. You have to patiently work them until they are semi together, then use the plastic wrap to shape them better. Here's a short video showing you the rolling/shaping process. Hope this helps!


If you don't like dates, you can use other dried fruit. I've made these with dried cherries and it turned out great.  You can also use walnuts instead of almonds.

If you make these, stop by again to let me know how you like it. And if you made any changes, I'd love to hear about that too!

Monday, July 23, 2012

10 (plus a few more) ways to encourage your Young Reader

 We share stories with our children when they are as young as newborns. We read to them even though they are too young to understand. But we, as parents, know instinctively that these shared moments are fundamental to a child's development. So we keep reading, from nursery rhymes to board books to fairy tales to chapter books and beyond.

Reading is important on so many levels. Reading is educational. Reading is therapeutic. Reading sweeps you away to far off places with interesting people. I love to read. But I didn't always love to read. I learned to appreciate and love reading.

Now I want to share my love of reading with my children. And I want to encourage them to see reading as a joy instead of a chore or boring school work.

Here are some ways to help encourage young children to enjoy reading!

For younger children
  • Show your child patterns in writing, such as rhyming words, word families, beginning sounds(introduction to alliteration), sounding out short words. 
  •  Introduce vowel sounds which will help the child later on when they are learning to to read (introduction to short/long vowel sounds).
  • Play with letter sounds, making different sounds for the letters and simple letter combinations (introduction to word blends).

For the Beginning Reader

  • Read aloud to your child often even if they are already reading on their own.
  • Encourage active listening during read alouds. Stop frequently to ask questions, make predictions, and talk about individual characters.
  • Ask your child to summarize the story. Thus is difficult for children, they will either tell you the whole story or will tell you things that are not quite relevant to the story (Ex: the color of someone's shirt).
  • Encourage your child to make real life connections to the story. Ex: Asking your child if something that happened in the story also happened to the child. Allow the child to explain the connection and ask questions about how they felt and what they learned. You can then circle back to the book by asking if the child thinks the character also learned and changed from that experience.
  • Introduce and practice the concepts of context clues, plot, and main idea.

For Older Readers
  • Encourage the child to make predictions, but take it a step further and ask the child to justify those predictions.
  • Encourage vocabulary building by letting the child jot down new or unfamiliar words and then looking up those words in a dictionary (don't give them the definition).
  • When they come across a new word, ask them to try to come up with another word to put in its place (synonyms).
  • Look for more complex vocabulary such as words with prefixes or suffixes which help in being able to define a word.
  • Encourage your child to explore different literary genres, by going out of their comfort zone. They might actually find something new that they like!

I'm sure there are other ways to encourage your child to love reading. This is my own little way to share with you what works for us.

How do you encourage your children to read? I'd love to hear your comments.

Happy Homeschooling Adventures!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Welcome to Mom's Monday Mingle.
Last week we had over 200 moms ready to mingle! Can't wait to see what round 13 brings! If you could help promote, Mom's Monday Mingle through facebook and twitter that would really help. Thanks for helping promote. It really does help make this hop a success and bring new moms to meet and network with.
Thank you!

Return next week to see if you are the next, "Mystery Host!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Aloha Friday Hop

This is all about sharing the Aloha spirit with other bloggers out there and helping each other to gain some exposure and find some awesome blogs to read!!! You don't have to be from Hawai'i to participate! In fact, we encourage and welcome people from all over the world to join us on this Aloha Friday Blog hop!

What's neat about our Blog Hop:

**Leave a comment with your blog address if you are new to our hop so we can follow you back**

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Raising Well Rounded Kids

When I was growing up (admittedly a long time ago), kids had so much free time. Besides going to school, my parents had me enrolled in language lessons and swimming lessons. That was it! I realize that in comparison to today's kids, I was seriously deprived. Poor me! I remember spending most of my afternoons and evenings playing outside with friends, riding bikes on the street, swimming, running around...generally just being a KID. I miss those days!

When I had my kids I vowed to give them as much freedom as I had growing up. I promised myself I wouldn't be one of those parents that enrolls their kids in lots of activities under the pretense that it's good for them. When in reality, it's more for the parents. It's a way to put the responsibility of raising your children on someone else's shoulders. Yes, some activities are good for kids. I just don't want my kids to join the rat race at such a young age. I've noticed it is more about status "Little Johnny takes horse back riding lessons!" than it is about providing learning opportunities for the kids.

As a parent, how can I give my children plenty of opportunities to experience life and to learn interesting things without pushing them to have a full schedule leaving them no time to be free, to just be kids?  I realized it's all about finding balance. Give your kids opportunities to try lots of things without too much pressure and they will naturally gravitate toward activities they enjoy. I let my children do just that and I follow their lead.

I am raising renaissance children. I have exposed them to sports, music, language, the arts, and many other pastimes/activities without forcing them to do any of them. My husband and I encourage our kids to try new things all of the time. But the one thing we don't do is put importance on how well they perform. I am not trying to raise an Olympic swimmer or the next American Idol. I really don't care about that. What matters is that they are becoming life long learners, explorers, adventurers. They are learning to take chances and delve into areas that might be out of their comfort zone. They  might unintentionally find something they love.

My children  have taken lessons in almost everything imaginable: piano, tennis, field hockey, ice skating, swimming, diving, gymnastics, ballet, tap, hip hop, guitar, cooking and yes, even horse back riding. 1D discovered swimming and has since stuck with it. We encouraged her. Buttercup loves gymnastics, but she is still young and will try other things before settling down on one.

Summer is the perfect time to get kids out there exploring everything life and our communities have to offer. To that end, here are some ideas to help you raise a renaissance kid. Just make sure to give them plenty of free time too, so they can catch fireflies, spend hours star gazing or picking shells on the beach. Find your own balance!

Cooking - Many towns offer cooking classes for kids as young as 5 years old.

Photography - What kid doesn't like to take pictures and what a great memory of their summer a photo collage would make!

Science/ Nature - Some parks offer classes on bird watching or learning about bugs. Check  with the Audubon Society.

Museums - Museums offer short classes or craft days for kids of all ages.

Language -  Summer is a perfect time to start learning a new language or to bone up on a second language your kids are already learning.  If you're traveling, give your kids plenty of opportunities to practice the new language.

Art - Sculpture, painting, pottery and many other art forms allow children to explore their creative side.

Dance - Dance camps abound in the summer, why not try one.

Theater - Local theaters offer short courses throughout the summer and often hold auditions that kids can try out for.

Technology - Computer programming, video editing and web design are some great options to explore.

Sports - There is not shortage of sports related activities all summer long. Encourage your kids to try something different, like table tennis, golf or rock climbing.

Music - If they haven't picked up an instrument yet, short summer courses are a perfect opportunity to try an instrument without all of the financial investment.

Volunteerism - Every community has opportunities for volunteering. Encourage your kids to share their time with those less fortunate. It is a valuable lesson that will last a lifetime.

How are you raising renaissance kids? Share your stories here.

Happy Homeschooling Adventures!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Healthy eating for the whole family - A Step by Step Guide

I've been on a kick recently to cut out as much of the processed foods out of our diet as possible. Well, actually, it's not a kick since I've been doing it for years now. I guess you could call it a mission.

Yes, I'm on a mission to keep my family healthy and to teach my daughters good eating habits. To that end, 90% of what we consume is purchased fresh. I don't buy anything packaged except for crackers, pasta, rice and a few other items. I do not have one aluminum can in my pantry.

Ever since I read about all of the chemicals that seep from the can into our food, I cannot bring myself to eat anything out of a can.  Taking a stand agains aluminum cans was easy since we already had the habit of avoiding canned goods (we just don't like how the food tastes out of a can). But there was one item that we used quite a bit...tomato sauce. Finding plain tomato sauce in a different container was hard to do. So my dear husband had the hare brained idea to make our own tomato sauce. I actually tried to do it, but found it to be too time consuming, not to mention, the mess I made.  I finally found tomato sauce in small cartons. No chemicals and the price was really reasonable compared to the cans.

The more I read about what's in our food, the more I am determined to cut out the processed foods. It's really scary. It's not just about eating chemical, pesticide, and additive free. It's about making sure my family is eating the best, freshest, safest food possible. By making all of our food fresh I can control what goes into it (fat, butter, oil) and how it is prepared (baked vs. fried).
Here are the top ways I have found to promote healthy eating at home and when we go out.

  • Planning - I plan weekly menus so we are not tempted to "eat just anything unhealthy" just because everyone's hungry. Menu planning also makes it easier to go food shopping because you are more likely to stay within budget when you stick to a list. By planning ahead, you can make sure you have all of the ingredients you will need for the meals you want to make.

  • Shopping - I choose to shop in stores that have more organic and natural food choices. Although I don't buy strictly organic, I do look for certain things like seafood that is wild caught instead of farm raised. You would be shocked at the conditions of most of these "fish farms" and how much bacteria and other stuff is in your seafood. Another thing to remember is that the FDA regulations when it comes to imported seafood are very lax. I've read that only about 5% of imported seafood is actually regulated. Scary!

  • Getting the kids involved - Asking for the kids' input in meal planning teaches them to make good choices and it helps them see the value of eating healthy vs. eating junk food.

  • Setting Limits - We don't have any type of junk food in our house. The children do not eat chips or drink soda. But as parents we do understand that kids like that kind of stuff. So we allow our kids to eat junk food on weekends. But it is not a free for all, there are still limits and they have to show moderation.

  • Finding balance - I think it's important to teach kids to seek balance in all aspects of their lives. It is no different with food. Since we don't eat cookies or other packaged sweets, when the kids crave a "sugary treat", we will bake fresh cookies. The kids get to eat cookies, they help in the kitchen with the baking and I know what they're eating(no chemicals or additives).
  • From frozen to fresh vegetables - Did you know that the US government allows a certain amount of bugs, maggots, larvae and other insects in our frozen vegetables? Yes, it's completely acceptable, so it should come as no surprise that with every bite of your frozen broccoli or corn, there are crushed up insects that you are unknowingly consuming. How gross is that? I knew that canned veggies were bad, but I always thought I was safe with the frozen ones. On the upside, it is very easy to prepare fresh veggies. Of course, you can purchase and eat them right away. But vegetables perish quickly so you need other options. See "Storing" below for tips.

Heres the article that changed everything for me    8 Bugs You Don't Know You're Eating

  • From processed to homemade - My oldest daughter practices sports and is very active. She's also always hungry and really relies on those power bars or fruit bars for energy throughout her day. So I decided that I would start making my own energy bars! My daughter was willing to try them out which was a great first step. It turned out that she loved them and asks for those little energy bars all the time! Not only am I saving money, but my daughter is eating something fresh, homemade and with no additives. It's a win-win in my book.

  • Storing - After I wash all of my leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, collard greens) I dry them with a clean towel and store them separately in sealable containers always with a paper towel. The paper towel absorbs any moisture and the leafy greens stay fresh longer. With other veggies, I'll wash them well, then blanch them quickly in boiling water. Once they're cool enough, I store them in the freezer. When I need them, all I have to do is put the veggies in a bowl with a little bit of water and microwave it for 30 seconds to a minute. They are ready to be consumed!

  • Cooking ahead and freezing - This is a good tip for us busy moms juggling a million things at once. Take a couple of hours on a Sunday and prepare your meals for the week, then freeze them. When you are busy and need a quick dinner, pull one of those dishes out of the freezer and you are still providing your family with a healthy homemade option.

  • From Canned to fresh - Buy dried beans instead of canned. It's a little more work but it's totally worth it. I wash and soak the beans, then cook them without any seasoning. I freeze them until I'm ready to use. I do this with black beans, red beans even lentils.

  • Your local farm - Go to your local farm for fresh eggs, meat, and poultry. This way you can be sure you are buying eggs and poultry from free range chickens and the meat comes from cows that are grain fed without hormones.

Other steps I hope to take:
  • Growing my own food
  • Raising chickens for eggs
  • Making my own bread and pasta
For now, I can feel good about the fact that my kids are learning healthy eating habits and becoming educated about food choices and nutrition. And I can rest assured that I won't find any bugs, animal or human parts in our food. Yuck. How many of those stories have you read? Too many for me!

What about you? Are you a junk food junkie or a healthy eater, or somewhere in between? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

1st Grade Photography

Today, as the horrible heat broke a little bit, we decided to venture outside. It's sad to say, but we've been stuck inside during this summer because of the heat wave that has hit us over the last two weeks.

Well, we finally got a break. It was still 86 degrees outside, but way better than the 100 plus degrees we've been having to deal with.

Armed with a bottle of ice cold water and a digital camera, Buttercup and I went for a nice, long walk in our neighborhood. I encouraged her to take pictures of anything she found interesting. It was a way to keep her mind off the heat and focused on something fun.

So here are the photos from our walk!

The result of a storm a couple days ago.
My budding photographer!
Buttercup took all of these pix herself!
A crawly creature in our path.



Where ever you happen to be, I hope the weather is great and it allows you to enjoy the great outdoors. Do you also have a budding photographer in your family?

Happy Homeschooling Adventures!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bean Salad Recipe

I love to make bean salad in the summer. It is so fresh and it's served cold, so it's perfect on hot days. I also love being able to make it ahead and just have it ready whenever we want something healthy for lunch.

I just made my bean salad for dinner the other night. We had it with grilled chicken and grilled corn on the cob. It was the perfect combination!

Bean salad recipe
  • 2 chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1 shaved carrot
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 cup red kidney beans
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 cups of corn kernels
  • fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil and balsamic vinegar

  • Mix all of the ingredients, season with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste. Refrigerate. Serve cold.

Chopped tomatoes

Fresh  parsley

The ingredients before mixing

Bean Salad!
It doesn't get much easier!! Enjoy.

If you try this recipe, come back and let me know how it was. And if you add or change some ingredients, I'd love to hear about that too!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Learning about Madagascar

 In a previous post, I mentioned that Buttercup and I had gone to Michael's Store for a free crafting event. We had so much fun that we went back another day and tried out a new theme. This time the theme was Madagascar and Buttercup got to make two different mini craft projects. One was the flag of Madagascar and the other was a gecko made with pipe cleaners.

The Flag of Madagascar.

These projects led to an interest in Madagascar. Buttercup and I knew pretty much nothing about Madagascar, except for what we had seen in the animated film. So really not much at all!

Now, let me tell you that we finished school in early June and my plan was to have summer break except for reading books and some light math. I really felt we both needed a break to relax and just have fun.

Well, lo and behold, without realizing it, we are doing some "school" even in summer. How did this happen? Well, the truth is I have become an expert at finding teaching/learning opportunities in our normal day to day. I have to tell you that I'm not trying to find these opportunities. Believe me, I desperately need a break.  But they happen and I jump on these chances because Buttercup has no idea she is doing school work or learning. That's the best part. She is exploring an interest and having fun.

This Madagascar craft project led us on a mission to learn what we could about this island country. I also took this opportunity to teach Buttercup to do research on the internet, something I've wanted to teach her but hadn't gotten around to it.

Buttercup doing research!

I came up with a small list of questions that she would have to research and find the answers.
The questions were simple:
  • Where is Madagascar?
  • What is the name of the capital?
  • What is Madagascar's population?
  • What is the official language?
  • What is the climate in Madagascar?
I helped her with the first question, we found the answer and she wrote it down. She then tried to Google the rest of the questions on her own. She did a great job for a first timer! I was with her the whole time just to make sure she didn't need help and if she did I was right there.

After answering those questions, we read a little bit about Madagascar on . This site has very good information for kids, in language kids can understand.

The Indri Lemur.
We came across a few vocabulary words that were new, so we talked about them.

  • Endemic
  • Extinction
  • Mammal
  • Deforestation
  • Habitat Destruction
I'm happy to say that Buttercup has a very good understanding of what "endemic" means. Impressive for a 6 year old (in my humble opinion, of course!).

We printed out tons of pictures of animals that are endemic to Madagascar and had fun reading about them. Some of the animals we read about were the Lemur, the Golden Mantella (a frog),  the Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher and the Marsh Owl.

Making our poster board about Madagascar.
Done! Lots of great information.

Are you finding it hard to NOT homeschool during the summer? Or do you homeschool year round anyway? If you do, how do you fit in breaks and vacation?

Happy Homeschooling Adventures!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Summer Fun and Learning Games

Here at our house, summers are a time to relax, unwind and be spontaneous. School work is not really part of our summer. I do this intentionally because I feel that we work very hard all year long and we all need time to just relax and have nothing too structured to do. Mom needs down time too!!

At the same time, I want to make sure the kids don't completely forget what they learned throughout the year. So for me, summer is about finding balance. We have lots of free time, with some structure thrown in, and a little bit of fun summer learning too.

I came up with these fun learning games with all of that in mind. Since we like to be outside a lot during the summer, I incorporated some learning fun in your everyday outdoor activities, like playing hopscotch. I've never met a kid who didn't like to play Hopscotch. It's simple, fun, and the kids will get a little exercise out of it too!

Here are some ideas:
1) Hopscotch to practice word wall words. Using my Words out of a Hat game, write one word wall word in each hopscotch square, for a total of 10 words. Mom or kid can then pick a card out of a hat (or bowl) and follow the instructions. For example, if the card says "Find a word with a long vowel sound", then the child will hop to a word that has the long vowel sound and hop back.

Some suggestions to write on the cards (or strips of paper):
  • Hop to a word with a long vowel sound
  • Hop to a word with a short vowel sound
  • Hop to a word that's a verb
  • Hop to a word that's an adjective
  • Hop to a word that's a noun
  • Hop to a word and name its synonym
  • Hop to a word and use it in a sentence
  • Hop to a word and define it
2) Hopscotch to practice word blends. Write a beginning blend on each hopscotch square, leaving a couple of free squares. To make it more interesting, write "take one hop back" and "take two hops forward". Ask the child to toss a stone or bean bag randomly on a square. Then, the child can hop to the square and name a word that has that blend in it. For example, the child hops on -CR, then they can say the word CRY or CRAFT or any other word they can think of.

Some beginning blend suggestions:

  • CR-
  • BR-
  • DR-
  • FR-
  • GR-
  • PR-
  • TR-
  • BL-
  • CL-
  • FL-
  • PL-
3) Hopscotch to practice word families/rhyming words. Write a word from a different word family in each square. Then ask the child to toss a stone or bean bag randomly on a square. Ask the child to hop to that square, read the word and name another word within the same word family. For example, if the word is "tree" the child can say "bee".

Some rhyming words suggestions:

  • Cape/Tape/Ape
  • Chick/Stick
  • Book/Hook/Look
  • Goose/Moose
  • Boat/Note
  • Egg/Leg
  • Heart/Cart/Part
  • Nose/Rose
  • Box/Fox
  • Corn/Horn
  • Yarn/Barn
  • Snow/Bow
  • Hat/Cat/Mat
4) For younger kids, hopscotch to practice the alphabet. Write a random letter in each square. Toss a small stone or bean bag, hop to the square and name a word that begins with that letter. For example, if the letter is "C" the child can say car, cat, or can.

5) If your child is learning a foreign language, hopscotch to practice vocabulary. Write words in the language your child is learning in each square. Then the parent can say the word and the child has to hop to that word. This is great listening comprehension practice. For example, if the child is learning Spanish, the parent can say the word "Nombre" and the child has to listen, understand and hop to the correct word.

6) Another foreign language practice idea is to write the words in English. Child then tosses a small stone or bean bag on a square, hops to the square and says the word in the target language.
For example, the child is learning Spanish and hops to the word "Thank you" in English. The child should then say "Gracias".

How do you incorporate traditional summer fun with learning?

Happy Homeschooling Adventures!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Body Paint Art!!

Every summer we try to do something innovative and fun with our art projects. Last year, on a hot summer day, I taped large pieces of paper to the side of the house and let the kids go crazy painting.  They splashed paint everywhere. It was so much fun! I was power washing the siding for a while afterwards.

This year, I had a different idea. I don't know how I thought of it, but it just seemed like something fun to do. 

Since the girls liked splashing paint last year and it was 90 degrees outside, I told the girls we were going to do Body Art. They looked at me as if I were nuts. Once I explained my idea, they were totally on board and loved it! Yes, I let the kids paint themselves! 

I know...I know, many of you will think I'm out of my mind (just think of the mess!). I thought that too! But then I thought: what could be more fun than using your creativity to paint your own body? We're always teaching our kids self control and moderation, and to follow rules. How often do we let them just be kids and completely carefee? So I just let them go for it. 

They put on bathing suits, I set up paint in a tray in our backyard, and let them at it. There were only two rules: don't paint mom and don't paint the dogs.

Guess what? By the end of this activity mom and the dogs were painted. Paint on mom was intentional, on the dogs it was accidental and only a couple of drips. 

They started out cautiously. I was surprised. A paint stroke here, another there. All very neat and orderly. I think they weren't sure if this was really ok. As they got into it, they started to mix colors, make designs and really let go of their hesitation. They painted with abandon!

This is the result and I couldn't be happier. When they finished their body art, I hosed down both girls. It was a refreshing finish to our activity in such a hot, hot day.

Happy Homeschooling Adventures!