Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Beyond Zombie Linky Party #7 - Lego Creative Play

Welcome back to the On Beyond Zombie Linky Party! This week we are taking a break from Super Heroes (*gasp* I know, right?) to talk about Lego's. Playing with Lego's may not seem important, but it is. Not only do Lego's promote creativity, but they help to promote fine motor skills, language skills, cognitive skills, problem solving skills, patterning practice, sorting skills, and hand-eye coordination, among many others! And don't forget the numerous open-ended play opportunities! We use Lego's daily in our homeschool, to teach math, language arts, and simply playing with them teaches them the three dimensions of physics! Lego has been, and always will be, one of our staples for creative play.

It came to my (shocked) attention last week that my daughter did not feel comfortable creating with Lego's unless she had very specific parts or directions. Both of my children have sort of out-grown DUPLO's and have moved on to the smaller, more complicated and creative pieces. Honestly we only own a few sets, and they each build a type of vehicle or prop for the vehicles. However, that still leaves hundreds of pieces of various colors, shapes and sizes.

Munchkin has very little difficulty using the small Lego's, despite being 3 and "too young," based on the age range on the boxes, which is usually 6-10. He's been playing with Lego's since his birthday in August and has really taken an interest in creating his own unique vehicles.

Bean on the other hand, will only touch them if she has picture directions or a very specific design in mind. That means that if, for instance, she wants to build a car, she will double check with me every other minute about the parts a car needs. How many tires? How many windows? How many seats? On and on and on, until she is satisfied with the car. And believe me, it has to look like a realistic car, otherwise she will tear it apart and start over.

One of the things we do at tea time is to create something. Usually I'll tell an original story, or ask them if they'd like to share one of their own stories. Lately Bean has taken to telling jokes. I've now added an additional activity to the routine, which is to create something out of Lego's. They are already in the mood to create something, so it has been an easy addition. All I do is set up the Lego's in a big bowl, and we all sit together and create something. Sometimes together and sometimes on our own. We might decide on a theme (Firetruck, fly, house, etc.) and all try to create something that fits the theme. Munchkin digs right in, finds all the pieces he wants and begins building. Bean takes her time and asks questions and requests suggestions. I'll ask her things like, "what do you want to make?" "what color is it?" "what pieces do you need?" "what is its purpose?" I try not to be intrusive and let her own imagination guide her. If she needs help, I'll suggest pieces, like wheels if it moves or quarter circle pieces if she's trying to make wings.

Here are some of our creations for Fly.

Mine: I'm not even sure what it is, but it's a little building with 3 doors and one wall of windows, and Yoda is standing inside. It's a helicopter of some sort... And the kids were fascinated with it!

Here's Bean's plane! After she was done with it, Munchkin picked it up and made many changes to it. (As seen in the pictures below.)

Here's another one of Bean's, this one is a sort of hover craft.

And here is Munchkin's wild creation. He built it upon Bean's original plane design. It's a plane, with extending wings made out of fire truck ladders. It also spins. So perhaps it's also a helicopter, except that pilot will be especially dizzy.

No one said it had to make sense.

Later Bean created a bath tub. It also spins, and half of the pieces are actually upside down.

It's pretty busy, but looks comfortable enough.

The original plane underwent more variations the next morning. This time with friends!

As I type this, Munchkin's already working on creating something new. This one is a sort of transport vehicle, though only about half finished.

(Please keep in mind that just because Munchkin is able to safely play with Lego's, that does not mean other 3 year olds are. Please use your own judgement when introducing Lego's to young children. Keep a close eye on them so no accidents happen.)

This weeks features are: Teaching Kids About Inventions from Planet Smarty Pants and Slippery Squishy Spooky Slime from The Science Kiddo!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Clued in Kids Review

Now this is a really exciting product to review! Clued in Kids sent us the Halloween Printable Treasure Hunt and the Thanksgiving Printable Treasure Hunt. Do you enjoy scavenger hunts? We certainly do! But let me tell you, it is sometimes quite a chore to prepare them. So it is certainly awesome to have a scavenger hunt already made and ready to go. These scavenger hunts are also created to be done inside a house, so they are perfect for rainy days, snow days, or even parties! Go ahead and gather up the kids and show them the scavenger hunt. It will keep them excited and busy at a family or holiday party.

We chose the Halloween and Thanksgiving Treasure Hunts, because those are the two holidays coming up, however we did also grab the Homework Reward and Winter Treasure Hunts. We plan to purchase the Christmas Greeting Card Treasure Hunt as a stocking stuffer. If you purchase the printable treasure hunts, you will need a color printer. I'll be honest that I decided on a time-consuming process of cutting them out (two cards per page) and laminating them, so they can now be used with a dry-erase marker and reused as often as the kids want. Having a laminated copy is good to have around the house, but if I was creating the scavenger hunt for a large party (5-10 kids), I'd print out a couple copies and break the kids into small grounds (mix of younger and older kids). Most of the scavenger hunts are suitable for children as young as 4, and younger kids may still tag along for the fun.

Here's what the scavenger hunts look like laminated and in order (12 activity pages, plus the cover and answer key). On the left side are the scavenger hunt pages for the kids. It takes a couple of minutes (5-15) to set up the scavenger hunt. And on the right side is mums (or a caregivers, a grandparents, an older siblings, etc.) copy of the scavenger hunt. This way if they need help I have it on hand to check it, just in case I have forgotten where I put the next piece of the scavenger hunt. If you happen to have a large group of kids broken into groups completing the scavenger hunt, we have found it to be helpful to leave one copy (the loose copy) around the house in the hiding places, while one member of each team holds onto a copy of the complete set (the one with the ring). This way when they come across the clue, they can turn the page, complete the activity and move on to the next clue, while leaving the clue behind for someone else to discover.

The Halloween Treasure Hunt was really fun, and we plan to bring it with us when we visit our cousins house on Halloween. You'll find riddles, fill-in-the-blank words, picture searches, decoding messages and even an opportunity to pretend to be a werewolf, among other fun activities! For the most part, my kids were able to complete the majority of the activities on their own, with only minor help from me, like reading the activity. But there were a few that were above their abilities, like the math problem activity and the unscramble letters activity. The one downside to this particular scavenger hunt is that one of the hiding places is a dishwasher and I don't own one. I feel like because most of the hiding places aren't actually related to the theme that they should have put a more general hiding place. And since that final clue's answer is "pumpkin," a pumpkin should have been the hiding place. Even if you didn't have a real pumpkin, you could have printed a picture of one or used a decoration and just placed the clue behind it. 

Clued In KidsReview

Here's what the Halloween Treasure hunt looks like when it's printed out. This treasure hunt consists of 12 clues and is suitable for children 4 and older.

One of the clues was a fork, which meant the hiding place was in the utensils drawer. (Bean's pointing to the fork in the picture.)

The Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt consists of 12 clues. The activities include hidden images, deciphering messages using a mirror, answering questions about the Mayflower's voyage. and math problems, among others. Older, school age children, might even find some of the activities challenging! Similar to the Halloween set, the Thanksgiving set included a location we do not own, this time a clothes dryer. My opinion stands that the locations should be more generalized. And it might make it more interesting if the locations of the clues tied into the theme, or at least the final one. 

Clued In KidsReview

The Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt is suitable for children ages 4 and older, but I found many of them to be better suited for school age children (based on the difficulty level of the activity). Like the Halloween Treasure Hunt, we will be bringing this scavenger hunt along with us to our cousins house on Thanksgiving to enjoy with the other kids.

Homeschoolers who create unit studies will love both of these scavenger hunts and can easily add them into their schedule. The scavenger hunts only take a few minutes to set up and kids will enjoy completing them in their own time. The scavenger hunts were meant to be done the same day, but you don't need to worry about timing them. Just let them have fun and they will come to you if they need any help.

I feel like I should mention that the editor needs to go back and correct the typo in the line for the Hunt Leader section; it reads: Give the clue to the kids to being their hunt

An example for one of the clues was to unscramble the word bike. I don't know too many people who store their bikes inside, because they are usually left outside, in a shed, or under a porch. Perhaps they were thinking that people stored them in an attached garage, but it will be different for everyone. 

Well, luckily we store ours in our hallway. One way to present the clues is to just leave them in the open like this, but typically they are rolled up or hidden slightly better. Had this not been our laminated copy, I would have folded it up and hidden the clue in the bike-purse.

If you sign up for the Newsletter, they will send you a free copy of the Homework Reward Treasure Hunt! We bought our copy, not realizing that, so don't make our mistake! We also laminated two copies of the Homework Reward and Winter Treasure hunts. I'm thinking of creating special pouches for them, but for now we just hang them from a hook on the wall. 

I wasn't required to tell you about the other treasure hunts that we own, but I felt like I should. Personally, I feel like this is more of a one-shot product. With younger kids, you could get away with using it multiple times, if you brought it out maybe once a month. For the Homework Reward Treasure Hunt, it would make a great "back-to-school" gift, or even a progress report gift. We don't do homework, being homeschoolers and unschoolers to boot, but it was still a fun treasure hunt!

The Winter Treasure Hunt was also a great addition and we will be saving it for the first day of December. Around here, we typically have a 24 Days of Christmas advent calendar. We spice it up each year as the kids get older. So this year I was thinking, kick-start the advent calendar with the winter scavenger hunt and end the advent calendar on Christmas Morning with the Christmas Greeting Card Treasure Hunt.
I personally really liked this product and so did the kids and their friends who joined us for the first round of the scavenger hunt. Since then my kids have used the scavenger hunt a half dozen times, and each time they get better at solving the clues. The Clued in Kids scavenger hunts would make wonderful holiday gifts, but they also have other themes, like princess, pirate, sports, play date, and slumber party, which would be good as gifts at birthday parties, and health and sports for more educational fun. I think they would be great to add to a unit study or if you are busy (with a new baby, cleaning, or just trying to get some work done) and need to keep the kids occupied for an hour. I feel like this product will be fun to bring out next year when it's autumn again. And since it is laminated, it will keep well.

One thing to note is that you do not have to actually place a treasure at the end of the scavenger hunt, although you certainly can! For the Halloween Treasure Hunt, I had set up a table with pumpkins ready for carving and for the Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt, I will have a wooden turkey ready to be painted and made into a homemade decoration.

The treasure hunts also happen to be affordable! The printable sets that I received were each $5.99 and since they are printable, you can save the file and print up however many copies you might need. Since we typically attend many holiday parties each year, all with a handful kids, this will be a really fun product to bring along to engage them. Then, they can all go home with their own copy so their parents can set it up for them at home. It's like a two-in-one gift.


Clued In KidsReview

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

New Liberty Videos Review

We received Warriors of Honor from New Liberty Videos to review for the TOS Crew. Over the course of the past few months, we have explored some of America's history, including the time before the settlers, colonial times and moving on into the ages of the American Revolution. We have not yet reached learning about the Civil War, and likely won't get to it this year. My children are young, and we are exploring history through reading books, cooking old-fashioned recipes, looking at pictures of the houses people lived in and the clothes they wore, and by setting up themed small worlds to play in using Safari Ltd.'s figures (they have a TOOB for both the Union soldiers and the Confederates).

We have not yet gotten to the age where they are ready to watch a documentary and actually take something away from it, so I'll be reviewing this movie from a parent's viewpoint. Keep in mind that we are not religious, and this movie was made for and by Christian's. Now, I honestly prefer historical documentaries to not be overly religious and to simply state the facts and tell me what happened and why. However, this documentary goes into great detail of the lives of two generals and the battles, and I did certainly learn a lot more than I previously knew of the Civil War. As a bit of a history nerd, I am often fascinated by wars (because let's face it, history is littered by them and wars often change the world), but I have always kept my distance from the Civil War. I knew enough about it to get passing marks in school. I won't go into much detail as to my feelings, but I will say I am absolutely glad the north won.

That being said, this video was told almost entirely from the southern viewpoint. The two generals I mentioned earlier were none other than Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Both are regarded as heroes to the "Lost Cause". They were both devout Christians and their faith led their lives. Their lives, wives, children and death are all detailed in the video.

Robert E. Lee was the son of a Revolutionary War officer and commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Virginia had decided to leave the Union in 1861 and Lee went with his state, turning down an offer to become a Union commander. After his surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, and the end of the war, he went on to become the president of Washington University. He died in 1870.

Stonewall Jackson is the second best known commander on the Confederates side and served under Robert E. Lee in the Northern Virginia Army. He was one of the most skilled tacticians in American history. Confederate pickets accidentally shot him during the Battle of Chancellorsville. He survived with an amputated arm, but died shortly after from complications. His death created a major setback to the Confederacy, as well as the morale of the army and general public.

You'll learn many of the causes for the Civil War and about some of the major battles that took place between the Union soldiers and the Confederates. If you are taking notes during the video, you would be able to keep track of the dates, name of the battles, who were in command, how long the battle lasted and who won. This video leaned heavily on the viewpoints from southerners, but occasionally made a mention about someone from the Union side.

I personally do not plan to show this video to my children for several years, simply because they are not ready for a history documentary. I feel it would be more suitable for children in middle school and high school. History documentaries usually talk more about the Union side, but with this video you will learn more about what was going on with the Confederates.

Warriors of Honor is available for $19.95 from New Liberty Videos.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

We received the K-2 Spanish Courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages to review. You can also choose from other languages, including French, Chinese, German and Arabic. These courses can be used by children as young as Kindergarten (5-6) and as old as High School (18). And despite being a language program for children, I'm quite sure an adult could learn a language using this program, especially if they work with their child on these courses. Middlebury Interactive Languages also uses an immersion approach, which is the best way to teach a new language.

The K-2 course is 35 lessons for one semester. K-2 students should ideally work on their lessons for 2 days a week. There is no speed limit, so children can work at their own pace and either work ahead of schedule or slow down and take their time. There are plenty of activities to review what they learn, but I feel like you should understand each lesson before you move on to the next.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Since we live in an area that could be described as a melting pot of cultures and languages, we decided to go with Spanish, since it was the most commonly used language in both our family and on the street we live on. It also is the only course that is suitable for children as young as mine are (granted, mine are 3 and 4, but did perfectly fine with this course).

We used this course 2 or 3 days a week, sometimes for as long as two hours. We honestly do not usually follow the recommended amount of time required for each block of the course, and that is because my children are slightly younger than the recommended age and we did not want to overload them with a new language, especially because both of my children were slow to talk. That being said, they did wonderfully with these courses. My daughter especially enjoyed them and will often reply to comments in Spanish or ask a question in Spanish. I made sure to stay by their side as they completed the lessons, mainly because it has been a really long time since I have spoken Spanish and definitely needed to brush up on my knowledge.

About a month after we began using the course we picked up a few books at a local used bookstore that were in Spanish, or Spanish and English (typically Spanish on one page with an English translation on the next). This became a really fun way to work on what they know and to learn new words. We also practiced speaking Spanish with our neighbors. The adults were really helpful and patient and had fun teaching the kids simple phrases and words. Many of the kids in our area, as we quickly found out, do not speak Spanish (or at least not well), despite their parents being fluent. I asked why this was, and they said it was because they wanted their children to focus on English, since that is what is taught in school. In our area, foreign languages are not taught until middle or high school. However, in many parts of the world, it is required to learn an additional language, if not several, at the beginning of their school years.  

The Spanish K-12 Course was really wonderfully designed and appealed to my children. My daughter did respond better to the real pictures, and very quietly told me she did not like the cartoon faces. But that is just her preference. My son sat through every lesson that we have completed, but for the most part did not engage himself in the course. He paid attention and occasionally I would hear him whisper a phrase or word that he liked, but otherwise let Bean focus on it. Occasionally she did have trouble with the pictures and matching a word or phase to them, so I had to go through and tell her what was going on in each picture (see the picture above).

The word matching activities were certainly Bean's favorite and the part of the lessons that she enjoyed at the most. I would say things like, "In English, this animal is called a lion. In Spanish, this animal is called a ___?" Then she would tell me her answer and I would drag the word for her. We practiced this sort of activity while playing, as well, and would quiz her knowledge of animals, objects and places (using maps). The one part of naming that she did not like, is the new names given to family members, so I had to reassure her that it was just part of the learning process and she did not have to start calling her Grammy abuela (although we do have a family member we call abuela, even though she is actually a great aunt).

I really liked that they had interactive activities, such as the one in the picture above. You would click on the pictures that needed to be colored in and you'd listen to the words in Spanish. They also had many videos throughout the lessons of stories spoken in Spanish. This reminded me of taking Spanish back in school and I would find movies in Spanish to watch. While definitely still being a beginner, they were able to understand many of the scenes, even being able to tell me what was going on, even if they couldn't understand all of the words. (Just a helpful hint: if you are learning a language and also have Netflix, many of their movies and shows have a Spanish translation.) This helped to expose them to more of the language and make them even more eager to learn.

I also created Spanish letter stones (I could not find an adequate printable to create a set of felt bean bags) to practice pronouncing the letters, as well as a set of numbers and punctuation marks. Not only were we able to practice pronouncing, but we used them for ordering and matching (having two sets of each), and for spelling and math activities.

While I can't say they are ready for full conversations or to read a book in Spanish, they are certainly doing as well as I expected. It helps that Bean is more of a visual and auditory learner and the lessons support both of these learning styles. However, Munchkin is a kinesthetic learner, which is why we have created so many hands-on activities on help him keep up with the lessons.

You can use Middlebury Interactive Languages on a laptop or computer, and you will need a microphone (which is a great tool for children to see if they are pronouncing words correctly). You'll also need internet available, as this is an online language course. I honestly wish this was the type of course you could download and have available at any time without needing internet (though only available for the amount of time you were subscribed to), since we spend so much time outside. We usually just take our lessons with us, and this is one that is only available in the house.

One thing I did not like, and honestly I find it to be a too common problem with online programs like this, that there is no easy way to track down a new password if you have forgotten yours. We typically use the same one for Bean's online curriculum programs (it's an easy one for her to remember), but on one day it didn't matter which password we typed in, nothing worked. I waited on the phone for over 20 minutes to speak to someone, and in the meantime I cleared out the cache, on the off-chance that that was the issue. It turns out it was, so I never spoke to anyone from the help line. However, I really wish there had been a note or helpful suggestion that said what the problem might be or a link to direct us to retrieve our password.

Overall, we did really enjoy this program and loved that it was available for younger children. I hope that they continue making their courses available for younger children, since Bean is interested in Mandarin Chinese and German. I have high hopes that this interest in foreign languages keeps up, because someday I expect it will be really helpful for her to speak several languages.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Spanish K-2 Course is available for $119 (per semester) for an Independent Study or an additional $175 (per semester) with a Teacher ($294 total cost for both). This course will provide a young child with fun, interactive lessons, with songs, games and practice activities. They will learn basic expressions and an understanding of Spanish vocabulary. Each unit is based on an authentic fable, myth or legend from a Spanish-speaking culture. If you're taking a fully immersion approach, you could also combine this course with Spanish-themed unit studies, learning more about these legends, the people who believe them and where they are located in the world.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Apple Butter Recipe

Recently we made a big batch of apple butter (the same day we made Pumpkin Butter), and per usual, it came out pretty amazing! My kids love it, and it makes a great gift to give at family parties around the autumn holidays! I fill up some canning jars, add a freezer-safe lid, and tie on a pretty ribbon and label (with a recipe printed on the back). It's an easy gift, and everyone loves it! 

I honestly don't follow too close to the original recipe for this one. I typically add more cinnamon and vanilla extract, and if an extra apple or four end up in the batch, it doesn't effect the overall taste. 

You'll need:
12 Apples or 6 pounds of Apples (Granny Smith, McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious, whatever you have on hand - ours were a mix of fresh picked apples from a local orchard)
2/3 cup packed Brown Sugar (or 1 1/2 cups if you omit the honey)
2/3 cup of Honey
1 tablespoon of Ground Cinnamon
1 tablespoon of Vanilla Extract (optional)
1 tablespoon of Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Ground Allspice
1 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves
And since we add water, we leave 1/2 cup in the pot, rather than adding 1/2 cup of apple juice or apple cider.

One thing we do slightly different is that we add about two cups of water to the batch while it has just apples in it. We let it boil for 15-30 minutes and then I scoop out most of the water. It's better than store bought apple juice, and it's nice and warm! The kids love it!

We always cook our apple butter in a heavy-duty pot, but you can cook it in a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker (8 to 10 hours on low). If you cook it in a pot, you'll want to add all the ingredients and let it come to a boil and then reduce the temperature to low. You'll want to cover the pot and stir it frequently. Once the apples are soft, begin mashing it with a potato masher. Continue cooking it until the mixture is really thick. Stick a knife into it and if it slides off, it isn't thick enough. If you wish, you can let it cool and pour it into a food processor to puree it. After 2+ hours it should be cooked down enough that there aren't many chunks left. Spoon the mixture into containers and store in a fridge for up to 3 weeks. 

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