Weekly review – 5/24/13

Seriously, it’s Friday already?!? This week has been NUTS!! We’re on our summer schedule, so it’s tons of fun and … math. LOL!!

Math – I think we’ve completed 5 lessons. Maybe 4. Math in our house it pretty much on autopilot right now. Little is on the geometry sections of Horizons 6, so it’s simple for him. Big is doing Algebra 1/2, but Saxon spirals so much most of it’s review and really easy. I’m super happy with both choices!

Writing– The kids are working on Scout stuff. Little is nearly complete with Citizenship in the Community.He had to do a write up on a movie, so he that this week. The kids are finishing the final touches on the family newsletter. Big is working on a massive tri-fold for an American Heritage Girls project. I need to be more diligent to FINISH the projects we start!

Scout Stuff – This week we attended the volunteer orientation for our local Humane Society and today we have our first volunteer session. To say they are excited is a HUGE understatement. Big is nearly complete with all the stuff she needs for her big award, also. We will be prayerfully considering our participation in scouting for the future. (The article linked sums up a lot of my feelings right now. It’s an excellent read. )

Field Trip! We had an amazing field trip this week. Here’s a teaser shot… More to follow this weekend…

ImageLife Skills Friday – We’re continuing with this and I LOVE IT! I am working on figuring out how to incorporate this in the school year. This week the kids are mowing the lawn, caring for a turtle, and volunteering at the animal shelter. I am sure we’ll stick one more thing in there for cooking or cleaning.

Rose for the Week – Animal shelter volunteer session and our field trip. I will report more on the first shelter visit later. I am confident that will be HUGE! I am loving seeing the kids find ways to serve in the capacities that God created for them to fill. It’s pretty awesome. (Also, getting the a/c in my car fixed was pretty sweet, too!)

Thorn for the Week – Or in this case, a thorn in my side! – THE FAMILY NEWSLETTER WILL BE FINISHED AND MAILED BY SATURDAY AT LUNCH!!!!!!!!!!! LOL!!!!

Perfect Bread Machine Dough

On a homeschool message board I frequent the question of homemade bread, bread machines, and baking bread come up a lot. It seems like a lot of people would like to try to make their own bread, but it seems really daunting. The “good” bread machines that bake well are really expensive, and a pretty huge investment unless you’re sure you want to bake a lot. How can you go about starting to bake fresh bread without a huge investment of time or money, AND make sure you have fun!? I’m here to help!

Gear: When I first started out I bought a bread machine for $5 at a yard sale. It had been rarely used and was in perfect shape. It didn’t have a manual, which didn’t concern me at all. You can find just about every manual online, and if you can’t, you really don’t need it. You can also find cheap bread machines on ebay, at thrift stores, or ask around – someone you know probably has one collecting dust and they’ll give it to you.

Dough“: No, not money. We’re covered that! For me, the best way to start learning to bake bread was to make my dough in the bread machine. The hard parts – kneading and rising – are handled and you then just shape and bake. When you use the dough setting on a bread machine you can use ANY recipe you want, since it doesn’t actually bake in the machine. I use this setting for pizza dough, rolls, bread, English muffin dough… You name it.

For this post I used the Amish White Bread recipe at Tammysrecipes.com. I picked it because it’s a no fail recipe, and it’s easy to tweak after you have a couple of successful batches (I’d recommend mastering an easy white bread and understanding the process a little before moving on to whole wheat). It also only has a couple of ingredients. Her recipes are awesome!! Definitely look around over there!

Ingredients: The two biggies for new bakers are flour and yeast.  I used to buy my yeast at Sam’s Club. SERIOUSLY – it’s a zillion times cheaper than local places! The last time I needed yeast I bought SAF Instant Yeast on Amazon. Either way – store it in the fridge, or in the freezer if it’s unopened. I open one of those big bags and keep it in a mason jar about forever in the fridge. I’ve never had issues with it going bad. For flour – bread flour really does make a HUGE difference. It’s worth having a bag on hand. I also bought my flour at Sam’s Club and I store it (and all my bulk grains) in old frosting containers that I got for free from my local grocery store. SCORE!! Food safe food storage for FREE!

ImageImageProcess: I start with warm water. By “warm” I mean baby bottle warm. Some dough settings start mixing right away, some preheat the water, but either way if you use warm water you’re covered.

After the water, I add in any sweetener. I used white sugar for this demo, but usually use honey, molasses, sucanat, brown sugar… pretty much anything works it just needs to provide the yeast with a little lunch. 😉

To the sugar water, I add the oil and salt. Oil can, again, be anything. In this I used coconut oil, but you can use butter, olive oil, vegetable oil… You get the idea. Something greasy goes in here. Image

Now all the “wet” stuff is in the bucket, I make sure the paddles are in. I usually don’t forget, but I have. It’s a mess. LOL!! I also make sure they can turn. As my pans wear out sometimes they get sticky.

To the oily, sweet, warm, salty water (yum!) add the flour. You don’t need to sift – but don’t pack it in. Level measures are good.

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This is a hold-over from baking in the machine – but to add the yeast I make a hole and add the yeast to the top. I think the theory is so the yeast doesn’t hit the water and start the party too soon, but I’ve seen it done a million ways. Let me know if you do something crazy- like getting your yeast wet – and if it works!

Insert your pan FIRMLY into your machine (because if you don’t the machine will spin, but your dough paddles wont, and you’ll get NOTHING! LOL!!). Turn on to the DOUGH setting, and start it up. Make sure everything is spinning. Take a minute to clean up the kitchen, save for the flour, and come look at your dough…

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Use the DOUGH setting. Most take between an hour and a half and two hours.

Now is the time you may need to tweak and troubleshoot.

If it’s too WET – add flour about 1 T at a time…

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TOO WET! It’s super sticky and spreads out under the paddles. It also will stick hard to your fingers if you touch it.

DON’T EVER stick your fingers in the machine (ask me how much it hurts…)!

If your dough is TOO DRY, add water about 1 t. at a time. Really, it takes very little if you’ve followed the recipe closely and didn’t go crazy packing in the flour.

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This is BARELY too dry. There is lots of flour left in the bottom, but the dough on the sides is pretty moist. Add only a tiny bit of water at a time!

You’ve done your work and the dough is PERFECT! Leave it alone. Walk away…

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This is great. It’s a little sticky… it’s nicely kneading but not sticky… most of the dough is off the pan walls. Just walk away!

SHAPING. When your dough is ready you have some decisions to make… Rolls? Loaf? Cinnamon rolls? Bread sticks? There’s a lot going on here. LOL!! You can search the internet, but the VERY BEST EVER video on how to shape a roll is HERE. When my son was 7 he made these into rolls using this video and recipe for 4H. He rocked it! So, if a 7 year old boy can do it – you can too! Today I went to run errands so I left the dough and my 11 year old shaped these for me when the bread machine “beeped”.

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SECOND RISE: After you shape the rolls, or loaf, or whatever, you need to let them rise a second time. There are two methods:

1. Sit it on the counter for an hour. (Or in all the old school recipes, “set it in a warm, draft free area”. Yeah, right.) That’s great if you aren’t in a rush and planned ahead. I rarely use this method.

2. As you shape, turn the oven to preheat to it’s lowest setting. I use 195. As soon as it gets there, turn off the oven, and pump the door a few times to dissipate the heat. Put your shaped dough in, cover with a wet cloth, and leave in there for 20 minutes. VIOLA! It’s risen. Pull it out, preheat to bake, and bake. Easy-peasy. I think I learned that trick at Everyday Food Storage, a really cool resource for scratch baking.

In short, don’t be intimidated. You can do it. Start easy – basic white bread. Try it out a few times. Make rolls, make cinnamon rolls, make a loaf of bread. From that you can get to know the process and chemistry, and then move up. It’s fun and easy and YOU can do it!!

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Scout School

Working Lunch, LOL!

Since the kids and I have pretty much finished up the official “schoolwork” for the year we’ve started working on “Scout School”. Big is a Trailblazer with the American Heritage Girls, and Little just “crossed over” from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. I figured with some down time and less school time, we could knock out some advancement requirements and merit badge stuff. The kids do fine with “free” time, but I think this will provide them with some framework for a couple hours a day, not to mention to field trips and other stuff we’ll be doing.

This week Little has been working on “Citizenship in the Community“, as well as keeping a turtle to finish up his “Reptiles and Amphibians” merit badge. Citizenship has been really interesting. We went to Municipal Court on Monday, which could be a post of it’s own! The kids learned a lot and I think we’ve come up with some ideas for bills to write for TeenPact in the spring. Tuesday we visited the Humane Society and filled out the paperwork to foster kittens or puppies, as well as interview the staff there. Tonight we’re attending volunteer training there also. Last night when I was at bible study DH and the kids watched “Hoot” as a part of the requirement (which we’ll discuss and record today). Little’s also been working on his worksheet and getting the details down, as well as prepping up a PowerPoint presentation on our town for the Troop. Hopefully not all of these merit badges are so thorough! LOL!

.Big is working on finishing up a few things for her huge end of year award. She’s working on Civics and Government, Bible Basics and Best Me I Can Be. Most of her stuff is paperwork since she’s done the requirements already. She is working on a really cool tri-fold about the operation of the federal government, and I am excited to post pictures of it when she’s done.

With all the fun we’re having this week I can TOTALLY see why people love Unit Studies. I talked to a friend last night and we discussed my going totally Unit Study approach for history next year. Maybe… We’ll see!!

 

Games with Kids

I am always on the lookout for fun games with kids. By “fun” I mean “not torturous”. Our current favorite game is Farkle. You really don’t need to buy the set – just get 6 dice and read the directions on line. It’s a lot of fun and you can knock out a game in 15 minutes. The kids can keep score (adding only … unless anyone infers a “nasty tax” for discouraging speech to a sibling… strangely that rule isn’t in the “official” rules, LOL!!). Once you get the dice rolling down to where it’s not annoying – hence the sheet pan and silpat liner – its a blast!

Homeschooling while Traveling

I am VERY, VERY blessed to have a husband with a job that allows me to travel. We use that privilege a lot and it’s one of the [millions of] reasons why I love homeschooling so much.

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Math during a layover…

That being said, if I used our ability to travel as much as we do, and never got schoolwork done, it wouldn’t really be a blessing to my family. For the record – I am not talking here about a family that rarely travels and dumps the books for a week at grandma’s. I would say we travel for at least 4-6 weeks during the “school year” (usually in 4-7 day chunks) and more during the summer, so it would have a significant impact on my kid’s schoolwork if we just dropped a week at a time.  Now that we’ve been homeschooling (and traveling) for 7 years, I feel like I can give my “best of” tips for traveling while schooling…

We school year round. There are a lot of reasons why I do this, and travel is a big one. I don’t want to stress out about taking a week off here or there and not getting math done for the year. So, if we’re home, we school. During the summer we usually hit math and writing, or do fun science stuff, but our “norm” is a couple of hours of schoolwork. The kids TOTALLY see the pay off, so it’s not (usually) a huge deal.

We school on the road, usually. Travel days are, to me, a waste. You’re usually cooped up somewhere (a car or plane, usually), and you have to entertain kids. Since my kids were little we would use those times to knock out a lesson. Assuming we travel for 5 days, and 2 we travel on – then at least we get 2 mini days done. By schooling “on the road” I mean a relaxed schedule. Math is easy to pull a couple of pages out of book… CLE (Christian Light Education – a favorite of mine) is simple to take anywhere (usually one light unit book)…  reading is a great way to occupy time and get some assignments done… keeping a journal/scrapbook/blog can cover some writing…

Usually we have no more than an hour or so of work a day, unless we’re visiting family. With family it’s a little more because the other kids are in school when we’re there, and we do it so often I have to compensate the lost time a little. Really though – 2 hours a day won’t kill the vacation and there is always great incentive to get the work done. 😉 Yes, some trips we drop everything and just relax, but my norm for casual travel is to “do something”.

FIELD TRIPS!! Ok, I am a field trip snob. To me, a trip to the mall is fun, but it’s not school. We make an effort to enjoy the educational aspects of where we visit. Tours, parks (local and National), events, museums – we try and hit a few every trip. It doesn’t need to be huge or expensive (though we’ve done some of those) but it does need to be instructional. If you’re at a loss as to what to visit – google the area and “field trips” and you’ll likely find some great options. Also, check to see if any museums have kid’s programs. LOTS of art museums have really cool kid audio tours, find it hunts, etc. Just ask when you buy your tickets. Lastly, the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program is totally awesome and well worth your time to earn a few badges.

Ted William's flight jacket - cool museum stuff iseverywhere!

Ted William’s flight jacket – cool museum stuff is everywhere!

Involve the kids in the trip planning. We’ve used trip planning for scouting advancement requirements, but it’s also a great way to get any kids involved and thinking about travel. This summer we’ll road trip nearly across country – and the kids will do most of the planning. Yes, it takes longer to do this, but they’ll be way more into the trip and excited about educational stops if they’re the ones who planned it.

Let the kids work while traveling. We’ve traveled enough that the kids are now fully qualified to fly into a large airport, navigate around, find and buy a meal, and deal with changes. If you land, read the gate board, and drag everyone with you – they’ll get nothing out of the experience of traveling. If you have time – let the kids manage the airport/finding a rental car desk/picking up baggage. This is life skills 101 and it’s an awesome learning lab. I do this with all trips now, and with public transportation, etc. Yup, with time, I get lost too. Nothing unsafe – but if the kids are leading – let them lead!

Limit electronics while traveling. I am generally anti-electronics anyway, but limiting them during travel makes schooling on the run so much easier. My kids are older (finishing 5th and 6th grades), so they now get a list of stuff to finish by the end of the trip. It works great. When they were younger we’d do school on trips to keep them occupied and quiet. Limiting screens always made it easier to get work done when they were little, and it’s a great incentive now that they’re older and can manage screens better.  If there’s a DS nearby, math looks a whole lot less interesting. If there’s a dvd player in the car, then books on audio are less appealing. My kids read, and read, and read, and read in the car and I am certain that wouldn’t happen on long trips if other things were available. It possible, limit or closely manage electronics.

I hope that helps a little.  Traveling with kids and homeschooling on the road really isn’t hard. It’s a great way to get all the adventures in – without any of the missing school guilt!

Weekly Wrap Up – 5/17/13

This has been a crazy and hectic week – but we still got some stuff completed. We traveled for the first half of the week, leaving home last Thursday. Sunday Big and I were in Boston to see my parents for Mother’s Day and catch a RED SOX GAME. It was amazing. Monday was a chill day at my sister’s (and it was COLD!!!), followed by Tuesday travel day. As usual, Wednesday was rest, recovery, and piano lessons. Thursday was art and errands, and today – Friday at Chick Fil A and life skills. Today we’re going to spackle some holes in walls, make freezer jam, and find a lizard. More on the lizard later, and hopefully pictures of the other stuff, too!

 

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Mother’s Day 2013… Fenway Park.

For actual school work – in History we wrapped up Veritas Press Self Paced 1850 to Modern. It’s a FABULOUS class and I would highly recommend it. This weekend I hope to watch October Sky or Apollo 13 to add to the end of the class (and we’re all space nerds here!).

Math went as usual. I think all in all we finished 4 of 5 lessons this week. I’ll take it. Big did well on her test (Saxon Algebra 1/2, Test 20), only missing a little due to minor mistakes. Little’s handwriting program (known mostly as my saying “Do it neatly or do it again!!”, and then him repeating assignments) is paying off in neater work. His test only went poorly when he couldn’t fit all the work in the space provided. When I rewrote it larger for him… 100%. He knows the math but man, Horizons 6 has some small workspace!

Writing is still going well. The kids are working on a newsletter for our family. They are working in Microsoft Publisher. They’re writing all the copy, adding pictures, editing…. It’s really been a fun project. I think this may be a once a month deal for the them.

Art – We got back into the swing with art this week. The kids have been taking drawing lessons from a friend who is a VERY talented (as in member-of-the-state-craftsmen’s-guild -talented!) artist. They LOVE it. This week the weather was great so they worked on pastel landscapes on the shore of the nearby National Wildlife Refuge. It was awesome.

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Pastel landscapes at the lake.

Rose of the Week – I am planning on writing a full post on this later – but my rose (or good thing) this week for homeschooling was doing schoolwork while traveling. This is something we’ve done since the kids were young, so they expectation is already there. It really doesn’t take anything away from our trips, and it keeps us on track with our goals. I also think it gives the kids some normalcy and something to do on flights or in cars. I’m always flexible with it, but with 8 hours to burn traveling, we might as well burn a math assignment and read something productive. Even if you do half assignments in one or two subject areas, you still get more done that you would have otherwise, and there’s way less stress when you get home.

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Big working on math on our flight home.

Thorn of the Week – My thorn (or bad thing) this week would be piano. We didn’t get in any practice up North, so the kids lessons suffered. I had planned on Little taking his music but I failed.  Strangely, the kids didn’t remind me when we were packing… LOL!!