Capitol Reef in the Snow November 2013

capitol reef in the fog mom and girls snowy hike DSC_0292

 

Just a few pictures of the very snowy hike we were surprised about on Thanksgiving weekend of 2013.  For some reason, we didn’t realize that there would be snow.  We hike the Cohab Canyon trail at Capitol Reef in the snow — about 6-10 inches on the ground, and although it was cold, the views were fantastic.

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Another Great Family Hike near Escalante: The Box (Pine Creek)

On our family hiking trip to Escalante this year, we did 3 great hikes, but I can’t really recommend all of them to you.  We spent one very long day crossing the Boulder Mail Trail, including freezing in the chest deep water of Death Hollow.  I won’t recommend that one as a great family hike — it was HUGE!  But another hike, this one only about 10 miles up the Hells Backbone road outside of Escalante, I can recommend unreservedly for your family.  This easy hike up a beautiful drainage crosses a little creek through a Ponderosa forest, and could definitely done by any level of hiker.

sun coming up in the box the box -- looking upThere are two ways to hike “The Box,” which is what the Pine Creek drainage is called.  A really wonderful way to enjoy this whole trail would be to be dropped off at the top Upper Box Access point, about 19 miles from Escalante, where Pine Creek crosses the Hell’s Backbone road.  Follow the stream about 9 miles down and be picked up by a shuttle car at the Lower Box trailhead, only 10 miles up the Hell’s Backbone road.  We did not do this because after our monster hike on Thursday, we weren’t sure how much of a hike we wanted on Saturday.  Turns out, we could easily have done this as a through hike.  Instead, we hiked about 5 miles up from the Lower trailhead, then turned around and headed back to our  car.  It was a great hike, although we regretted not seeing the whole trail.

lulu crossing pine creek crossing at the boxStream crossings begin right away from the lower trailhead, and in the 5 miles we hiked, we crossed the stream 20 times. (And 20 more on the way back down.)  Many of the crossing were “rock hoppers,” and could be done without getting your feet wet (if you are coordinated–which I am not.)  There were trees across many spots as well, but all of us ended up with wet feet.  Eden grabbed a little tree to steady herself on her next-to-last stream crossing and it slowly lowered her into the stream, getting her whole side and back wet!  If only we had known in advance to turn on the video . . .

pine creekThere are many wonderful campsites along this trail, making it ideal for an easy, light (no need to carry water) overnight trip as well.

We completed our trip to The Box by driving the rest of the Hell’s Backbone road.  Of course, we had to take a picture at the Hell’s Backbone bridge, a narrow span between very steep drop-offs (Death Hollow and Sand Creek drainages.)

all of us at hells backbone

I highly recommend this trail to you and your family.  Have you started your hiking season yet?  How is spring progressing where you are?  Please leave me a comment below.

Living Books for Homeschool Science: Dissections

One of the pressures we put on ourselves as homeschool parents is trying to avoid textbooks for learning.  Whether you are of the Charlotte Mason group, the Thomas Jefferson education group, or an unschooler, much negativity resides on the word “textbook.”  Instead, we encourage ourselves to find “living books.”  A living  book is described as one with original, first-hand knowledge of a subject, not “dumbed down” for children but written in a way that broadens and challenges horizons.  Can a textbook be a living book?  Not in the minds of most people.  And yet, one of the main reasons Eden wanted to quit the online charter school she did last year and come back to “mom-school” was the Apologia Science Biology book.  While she was dissatisfied with the science she learned from an on-line textbook through the charter school, this biology book has encouraged her toward further research and led her in directions she would not originally have known about.

One of the reasons Eden wanted to use Apologia Biology was remembering the dissections that Brett did while he was using this book.  She was not convinced that online, virtual dissections matched the real thing.  While there might be discussion about whether dissections are appropriate, the only thing I have to remember to resolve this question for myself is that dissection of human corpses was banned for hundreds of year, and this led to lack of knowledge and more deaths for humans.  Since we already had the dissection kit, we only needed to purchase more specimens, and Eden was ready to go.

This week, she got to try her hand at her first dissection: an earthworm.

girls doing dissectionShandy had helped Brett with his dissections, but Eden needed help at a time when he was really busy.  Also, Brett had done his dissections outside (mostly to keep the smell of formaldehyde out of the house) but the weather has not been nice enough to do that kind of school work outside.  So we layered up the counter with newspaper and went to work.

The instructions in the science book were very detailed.  The most difficult part was slitting the epidermis, the outer layer of skin, without destroying any of the internal organs.  Worms are, after all, quite small.  There were clearly labeled step-by-step photos in the science book, I suppose to allow students who decided not to perform the dissections themselves a learning opportunity.  They were very helpful in identifying the different parts, although what our worm actually looked like varied from the photos.

All in all, Eden was very satisfied with her first dissection experience.  The little ones were eagerly looking over her shoulder the whole time, so I am sure they, too, will be looking forward to their opportunity to use this living? textbook. Although Eden’s future plans at the time do not include major scientific work, the experiences she has now can broaden her interests for her entire life.  I am glad she was able to perform this dissection.

In an upcoming post, I hope to list some of the other living books we have found useful for studying science.   How do you find living books for your children?  Do you believe textbooks can serve as these books?  Please leave me a comment below.

Why I Believe in Dessert

pecan pie

At a women’s conference recently, I listened to the Food Nanny explain how to have home cooked meals for your family most nights of the week.  While that is a situation I currently have well under control, I was interested in the things she said.  Even more so, I appreciated her statement that dessert was important because sweet smells coming out of the kitchen really build family bonds.  I personally am a firm believer in desserts.  Yes, I know we shouldn’t reward/punish/etc., ourselves or our children with food.  But if you divorce food from the pleasure of eating, what culture are you achieving?  After all, humans enjoy food.  Cars don’t savor gasoline — food is more than fuel.  Here are a few reasons I believe in dessert:

1.  Dessert is a great way to convince even reluctant teenagers to socialize with their family.  Even if they aren’t anxious to turn off their video game for an instant, it’s really hard to eat cake and ice cream and hold a game controller.  All members of the family come running to eat dessert, and this leads to (accidental) socialization.

2.  Desserts convince reluctant cooks to step into the kitchen.  Max wasn’t going to learn to cook — until he discovered that his “specialty” was going to be chocolate chip Cowboy Cookies.  Then he was eager to put on his apron.  Many desserts– cookies, cakes and quick breads — are easy ways with an instant reward to lure someone who is reluctant to learn cooking skills into the kitchen.

3.  Making someone’s favorite dessert can cheer them up like nothing else.  After a long, disappointing day at a concerto competition a few weeks ago, Eden and I came home and made homemade doughnuts.  We overdosed on sugar in a way we hadn’t done for a long time.  We felt better.  Our home was a warm, safe haven where we are capable, happy and appreciated.  A favorite dessert can celebrate an achievement or help mourn a loss, and either way, when it is homemade, it rarely leads to the kind of chronic overindulgence that typifies the American diet.  After all, who has time to make homemade doughnuts daily?  But as a splurge toward happiness, it really works.

Do you think dessert is an important part of your family life?  How often do you make dessert for your family?  Please leave me a comment below.

Ocean Science at the Beach

This post could be subtitled “Why we count beach vacations as school days.”  One of the things I love about teaching my children at home is being able to recognize the real learning that comes about in the course of our lives, without worrying about catching up on busy work missed from school.  Our recent trip to the ocean really reveals how that works in our family.

We had hands on experience with ocean science last week, as we took a quick trip to Pacific Beach to revel in sunshine, warm air and beach sand.  The kids had studied up on ocean science in the few weeks before our trip, learning about currents, tides and tidepools, so they were interested in thinking about some of the things they had learned.  But mostly, they were just delighted to play at the beach.

Max and Lucy running from the waves Max running from wavesWe visited Scripps Aquarium to see fish in aquariums.  My favorite part of this aquarium is the huge kelp forest tank, where the kelp forests off the coast of San Diego are recreated.  The kids especially enjoyed the jellyfish and the sea horses, which Scripps has in abundance.

seahorse aquariumScripps also has tidepool aquariums — man made areas where we saw many of the huge variety of creatures that live in this specialized environment.

seeing tidepools at scrippsWe were able to observe the tide going in and out, something not too easy for kids living in Utah to understand.  At low tide one evening, we visited the rocks on the beaches just south of Seal Rock in La Jolla to enjoy the tide pools.  We saw many anemones, large and small, small fish caught in the tide pools, barnacles, mussels, and hundreds of hermit crabs.

tidepools at La JollaThis sort of “live” experience is better than any sort of youtube video or book reading for helping us understand what the ocean really is.  Although the huge variety available in an aquarium or seen on tv is wonderful, it doesn’t match the experience of seeing it for yourself.  Of course, we didn’t have our camera with us when we walked to the end of the pier and watched dolphins swim past under our feet.  But our eyes saw it and our hearts will remember it.

There were some parts, however, that I’m not sure how to label as school — for example, would you call this mining science?  Or perhaps spa therapy training?

lucy burying Max buried in sandAnd the only name I can think of for what we did at Balboa Park was People Watching 101.

castle van, san diegoI guess in unschooling or interest-led learning, those are perfectly practical course options!

Another very interesting lesson was learned by the older kids.  Both Brett and Eden are reading The Grapes of Wrath right now, and traveling across the desert and through Barstow to southern California really made them understand the Joad’s journey.  What we traveled in a few hours in great comfort must have been quite a trip.  Eden kept commenting about the “weirdness” of reading about Barstow in Barstow.

Anyway, it was a great break from our normal routine, and left us refreshed to finish off winter with a smile.  Do you take a mid-winter break?  What is your favorite way to continue learning during vacations?  Please leave me a comment below.

Winter Fun: Snowshoeing with Kids

The weather broke here, for a minute, and instead of highs in the 10s we had a high of 40 degrees on Friday.  We grabbed our opportunity to go try out snowshoeing.  A local town has arranged a yurt in a canyon park to rent snowshoes, and there are several miles of groomed trails to try out.  This was my first experience with snowshoeing.  Aside from re-doing Max’s straps every 5 minutes, it was great fun, and so WONDERFUL to be outside in clear air after several weeks stuck indoors.

snowshoeing

 

lulu in snow Eden snowshoeing

resting Max

Snowshoeing is hot work.  My one word of advice (since I am truly not an expert!) is don’t dress too warmly!  The kids took breaks laying in the snow to cool off.

taking a breakWe were the only people enjoying this park in the middle of Friday afternoon (yay, homeschool!) So the quiet was wonderful, and although we didn’t see any animals or birds, really, it was just great too be listening to the quiet.

wintertime creek

snowy rock

Howdy to everyone, and hope you’re enjoying your winter.

mitten salute

Awesome Ocean Science at Home (for kids)

In anticipation of a hoped-for vacation to the beach, I began a Unit Study about Oceans today with Lulu and Max.  It has been about 7 years since I used this particular curriculum.  Lulu was 2 on our first (my first!) ever visit to San Diego to see the ocean.  In the months of planning toward that trip, Brett and Eden made Ocean Journals, read tons of books and did many experiments.  While our unit study may not be as in-depth, we are using the same book for the backbone of our curriculum that we used before.  The book Awesome Ocean Science, by Cindy A. Littlefield , is wonderful.  It is written in an interesting and entertaining way.  But most importantly — THE EXPERIMENTS WORK!  (And many involve food coloring, which is irresistible, right?)

Awesome Ocean Science

I have shared with you before my frustration with science experiments at home.  Often they require lots of mommy time, effort and mess, with little result or little correlation to the subject being studied.  I usually unschool science.  I bring home lots of books on various subjects, and try to let the kids go ahead with the experiments they can perform on their own.  I have been excited to do the experiments in this book, however, because they really prove their points, quickly and easily.

For example, this drop of salt water is dropping through the fresh water because salt water is denser than fresh water.

sinking salt water

This carrot is floating in salt water, for the same reason.

floating carrotThe kids now understand the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg.”

kitchen icebergAnd we know why melting ice in Antarctica can raise sea level, while melting sea ice does not.

melting polesSome of our next experiments are about ocean currents, and they will be looking at tide pool videos on Youtube and making tide pool creatures from clay.

Do you have any recommendations for our Oceans unit?  Please leave me a comment below!

Snacking and the Homeschool Family (How to Feed the Horde)

egg quesadilla

For those of you who, like me, are home with the kids all the time, you know that their appetites are bottomless.  After breakfast, and second breakfast, and lunch, and afternoon snack, and dinner and dessert, you may feel like you never get out of the kitchen!  Although I love to bake, I have nutritional qualms about feeding cookies and sweets for all the snacks my family wants during the week.  This started me working on some snack ideas which are not sweets, but would contribute to a positive nutritious balance to the day’s meals.

While I enjoy a bell pepper or a sweet potato for a snack, that is not something that flies for the kids.  They usually eat either fresh or home-canned fruit (peaches, pears or apricots) for one snack per day.  They complain if that is ALL there is for snack in the house, though.  While snacks like  crackers and peanut butter or popcorn are okay occasionally, I usually prefer to save the peanut butter for lunch (!) and crackers always seem like a waste of money to me.  There are enough cooks in our house to make cookies every day, but that could hardly be said to be nutritious.

Here are some quick foods we have eaten this week for snack.  Try out these “regular” foods at snack time, and see how they leave your horde feeling.

1.  Egg “quesadillas”.  This is not truly a quesadilla, since queso implies cheese.  Instead, I melt a tiny bit of butter in a skillet, add a scrambled egg, and swirl to spread.

scrambled eggAs the egg begins to set on the bottom, top it with a corn tortilla and another tiny pat of butter.  After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip the egg over so the tortilla side is down.  Allow to fry for another 30 seconds or so, until the egg is mostly cooked.  Fold in half.

folded egg quesadilla

Allow to brown slightly on each side before serving.  This would also work with a little cheese sprinkled over the egg so that you could have a real “quesadilla.”  We sometimes eat these for breakfast or lunch, 2 or 3 at a time.  Just one makes a nice quick mid-morning snack with a good protein boost to stave off hunger pangs.

2.  Tuna salad.  Lucy loves tuna.  When we make tuna sandwiches, she often asks for some more tuna salad “on the side.”  With this in mind, I mixed up a can of tuna with a little mayo, salt and homemade zucchini relish.  She ate the whole thing with gusto.  Another snack problem solved.

lulu eating tuna

3. Hard boiled eggs or egg salad.  This is another idea we often reserve for lunch, but everyone likes these by themselves or with a slice of bread.

Some other snack ideas I am exploring:  homemade pudding (tapioca, anyone?), fresh bread, homemade tortillas.  Obviously, I must love to cook!  What are some of your favorite ideas for snacky kids?  Please leave a comment below.

Kids in the Kitchen: Basic Beans and Rice

One my goals for my kids in the kitchen is that they be capable of making all basic dishes that are needed for healthy, economical living.  Two of those basics are beans and rice.  I thought everyone knew how to cook beans, until my sister-in-law told me a few years ago that she had never made beans “from scratch!”  Now I know that cooking dried beans is an art — not!

Max had his first lesson making beans and rice for us this week, and we turned his hard work into a delicious meal:  black bean soup with rice.

Here are the basics for cooking dried beans.

Step 1:  wash the beans.

washing black beans

Step 2:  Put in a pot with water to cover plus about 2 inches, and add salt (I usually add at least a teaspoon.)  The salt is not necessary, but helps the beans to be salted enough at the end of cooking.

add salt best

Step 3:  Bring to a boil and then turn pot to low.  Cover tightly, but keep an eye on the water level so the beans stay covered at all times.  Cook until soft, usually around 2 hours.  Taste and season as needed.

My kid-proof rice recipe is similar.

1 cup rice

2 cups water

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan, turn to low and set a timer for 20 minutes.  Turn rice off after 20 minutes and fluff with a fork.  The same method works for brown rice, just cook for 40 minutes.

black bean soup with rice

To finish this meal, we chopped 2 onions and 2 bell peppers and sauteed them in a LOT of olive oil (3/4 cup.)  Stir those into your pot of cooked black beans, and serve over rice with a homemade roll on the side — now that’s what I call YUMMY!  Cheap, healthy, good food, made by a 7 year old.

What basics do you think are necessary to teach your kids?  Please leave me a comment below.

Math Out Loud (the Easy Way)

For those of you who are familiar with Saxon Math, you know that each lesson involves lots of practice, both on new skills and review.  This is both a wonderful thing — old skills are not forgotten as kids work on developing new ones– and a difficult thing –very time consuming.

Saxon Math lessons are structured in 3 parts:  mental math, lesson practice and problem set.  The mental math section teaches kids to do increasingly difficult math in their heads, without any written practice.  This is one of my favorite parts of Saxon math, because I have seen so many adults who are unable to do even simple multiplication without writing something down.  As I tell my kids, you won’t always have a calculator with you, and who wants to be cheated at the store because you can’t do some mental math!  The lesson practice comes immediately after the new skills for the lesson are explained, and practices that skill in progressively more difficult problems.  Then comes the problem set, usually about 30 problems of review.  For my kids, that averaged to about an hour of math each lesson day.  While not terrible, it did cause lots of grumbling.

In the past, I have tried several different methods of shortening math time while maintaining quality.  Sometimes I would have the kids do only odds on the problem set.  Other times, I would do two lessons on the same day, and allow them to do only one of the problem sets.  Unfortunately, as I tried these strategies with Brett, I realized that the lack of practice was really robbing him of confidence.  He would come back to problems a few lessons later with very little idea how to solve them.  After struggling with him for math comprehension, I realized that, at least in our family, every single problem of math needed to be worked, even if it took a lot of time.  While we only do math 3 days a week, I still was seeking some way to cut down the time spent on math and still have great comprehension.

This year, we found a new way for me to be content that they have done enough practice while cutting down on the time of the lesson.  I take an extra ten or fifteen minutes after their lesson for them to do any of the problems they can mentally and orally without writing down either the problems or the answers.  Max is usually able to save himself about 15 problems of written work this way, and Lucy 10-12 problems.  This has been a great way to give them a boost toward finishing their math quickly.  I write orally next to the problems I have heard the answers to, and mark them in the book, so that I know when I correct papers later that those problems were done already.

DSC_0001

max doing math

This has led to lots more smiles during math time!  Do you allow your kids to do any of their math work orally?  What strategies do you use to keep progressing in math skills while maintaining interest?  Please leave me a comment below.