Science Curriculum for K-4/Preschool

I have begun officially homeschooling my kiddos. I didn’t end up buying an official curriculum; instead I put together my own. When it came to teaching science for K-4/Preschool, I wanted something reading heavy and hands on. I decided to go with The Berenstain Bear’s Big Book of Science and Nature as my main resource.

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The first section is called A Year in Bear Country. It talks about seasons, holidays and weather. It has facts about snow, rain, wind, thunderstorms, etc. It breaks down the year into months and then talks about each season, giving a story and actual facts having to do with that time of year.

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The next section is about nature. It has sections about animals, plants and the earth itself, and is broken down into the smaller categories of things like specific types of animals, trees, rocks, earthquakes, etc.

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The final sections is about machines, matter and energy. There are some projects and things to do in this section.

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I am supplementing each section with these two books, Mudpies to Magnets and Everybody Has a Body:

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These are great for adding more hands on experiences with the subjects in the Berenstain’s Big Book of Science. I also did searches on the internet for hands on activities, and I will be using National Geographic’s kid’s pages and abcmouse.com to supplement. So far, it has been going really well, and I am enjoying teaching science more than I thought I would! What do you do for Preschool/K-4 Science? Any recommendations for Kindergarten and 1st grade?

3 Ways for Writers to Be Wise With Reading

As a writer, sometimes I get too busy with life and writing that I don’t have time to read. That might not seem like such a big deal. However, reading is like studying for writers. If you are a writer, whether seasoned or inexperienced, reading is essential to developing your craft. That doesn’t erase the fact that we are busy people. How do we best utilize our reading time? Here are a few tips:

  1. Reading within the genre you write. This is the most obvious and easiest way to be wise with our reading time. In order to write mystery, you must read mystery. To write fantasy, you must read fantasy. You write best what you know, and reading quality pieces within your genre will help you put together the best story possible.
  2. Branch out into purely literary work (or if you write literary work, check out genre work). Literary work is all about the art of language. Genre writers often get so caught up in the art of storytelling, of advancing the plot, that they leave out important details or description. I am writing a series of other world fantasy novels. My first draft of the first book has far too little description; the reader won’t be able to picture the world I’ve created. Purely literary writing can be more work in reading than I’m used to, but it forces me to think about description, details, and the art of language. Adding a little of those things to my own work will improve it. I’ve bought a few back issues of The Glimmer Train, a well known literary magazine. It has short stories so I don’t feel bogged down, and it has quality work full of truly artful use of language. Now, I’m not saying to add in a bunch of flowery sentences and long drawn out descriptions. I am saying that poorly written sentences ruin a story and that too little description can leave a reader confused and disconnected.
  3. Read different lengths of work. Especially if you write novels, throw in a few flash fiction and short stories into your reading regimine. I would suggest trying to write some flash fiction and short stories as well. Short stories are great for studying how to make a scene concise. There are no wasted words in quality short stories and flash fiction, which is an excellent attribute of truly great novels.

Writers, how do you choose what to read?

6 Tips for Healthy Low Cost Eating

***Please check out my updated About Me page; I believe it puts my blog into perspective!***

Eating healthy is not only difficult because it takes discipline. Healthy food can get expensive. So, how do we manage to eat well on a budget? Here are a few tips I’ve incorporated into my life that have been super helpful:

  1. Eat less meat and more veggies. Eating fresh vegetables doesn’t cut into your budget quite as much when you cut down on your meat intake. I’m not saying cut out meat altogether, but but lean cuts on sale and cut your meat portions in half (which actually could be closer to the recommended portion size anyway). You can also grow vegetables to cut the cost even further.
  2. Don’t buy junk food – ever! Junk food might be cheaper, so you think, “Hey, the rest of the family isn’t on a diet, right?” But you end up eating that junk, even though you promised yourself you wouldn’t. And if you are thinking of the way you are eating as a “diet”, you’ve got a problem anyway. I think when we really decide to change our lives by eating healthier foods, we have to make the new food choices simply the way we eat. And honestly, eating healthier is better for your whole family, not just you or your spouse. Kids will eat healthy food if they don’t have any other options, and once they get used to it, they will prefer it. Then, you’ve not only changed your habits, but you’ve helped your kids create better habits.
  3. Keep it simple. Cooking magazines are awesome. Those 20 ingredient recipes that look so pretty and taste so great…and take two hours out of your day…and are probably not the healthiest choice anyway….those recipes are fine for special occasions, but for day in and day out- keep it simple. Salads, lean deli sandwiches, healthy breads, simple vegetable sautes, fruit: these are simple choices you can eat while on a budget that don’t mess with your busy schedule.
  4. Know where to get things cheap. Look at sale ads and coupons. Sign up for emails from your local grocery stores. Know where you can get things on sale. I literally made a list of my most used grocery items and took it to three different stores to find out where I could get each item at a lower cost. It took a few hours on that first day, but now I know exactly where to go. I also know things like, almost always, my local Gerbes grocery has a fruit on sale for 99 cents/pound.
  5. Get a Sam’s membership (or something similar). Not everything is cheaper at Sam’s, but certain things are…especially the healthy stuff. Milk, Healthy Life Bread, healthy granola bars, low sugar yogurt, edamame, lean meats, and some fruits are just a few things that I’ve found to always be cheaper there. Also, non-grocery items can be cheaper there as well: pull-ups and trash bags, for instance.
  6. Smaller portions. Those recommendations on the box are there for a reason, and if you follow them, you’ll not only be learning to eat an appropriate amount, you’ll also save some money. Your food will last longer and you will feel better. You might have to use measuring cups for a while until you get the hang of the amount you should be eating, but it’s worth it.

What do you do to keep from going over budget on your healthy foods?

Genetix Program Update

I’ve gotten a few questions regarding the Genetix Program. I’m going to answer them below, but first a quick update on how the program has been working for me.  I’ve lost a couple pounds since my last post, and yes, I hoped I would loose more in four months. I’m down maybe 10-12 pounds consistently. Part of this is probably because I had entire an month where I had to travel a LOT, and it was very difficult to stick to a diet on the go. Although, I didn’t really gain anything during that month, which tells me that my new habits have been good for me. A bigger part of that is that my counselor and I have had to go through some trial and error to find what works for me. Apparently, my body needs a mostly vegetarian, possibly gluten free, diet, and I can not take meals off very often. (Every time I take a meal off, I feel sick.) I’ve actually only been trying to do that for a couple weeks. Let me give a list of pros/cons:

Pros:

  1. feel so much better. Seriously. Even if I haven’t lost a ton of weight, I feel healthier. My body used to be so swollen; I couldn’t wear my wedding ring, my legs hurt, and I just felt terrible all the time. Not any more.
  2. I’ve developed some really great habits. I don’t give in to cravings nearly as much as I used to. I drink more water, eat more veggies, and eat more fiber.
  3. I’m starting to feel fuller longer and fuller faster. This is a sign to me that my tummy is shrinking and that even if the weight isn’t coming off fast, it will eventually.
  4. I feel more confident about what I need to do for my body. Before this program, I was kind of overwhelmed and I didn’t understand what was going on with my body. I would go on a diet and when no weight was lost after two, three, four months of sticking to it, I would start to give up. Now, I’m confident that weight is not the only health issue I’m battling and that what I’m eating affects how I feel as much if not more than how much I weigh.

Cons:

  1. I have not lost the amount of weight I anticipated in the beginning. This is a big one. I’m not sure whether this has to do with my body having other issues or what. I am confident that I have learned enough and developed enough good habits that I can continue after my 6 months is over, and eventually I will loose weight, even if it’s just a few pounds a month. It just might take me longer than I had hoped. Keep in mind that I’m pretty sure my metabolism is really messed up from my past almost-starve-myself diet yo-yos.
  2. My counselor has a LOT of people to keep track of. I understand that this is a business, but my counselor has over 60 people she’s working with. So, I don’t feel like she can really concentrate on me or even remember things I’ve talked to her about. However, I do feel like she has provided me with a lot of really great information that I can take and use on my own. If you are a more dependent person or have less self-initiative, this might be a bigger problem for you.
  3. The website needs work. I did get my username/password, but the website is not really impressive enough that I feel the need to look at it very often.

Ok, now I’m going to answer some specific questions I’ve gotten:

Q: Are you able to get a hold of your counselor every day?

A: Not every day. She normally encourages me to only call M-F unless I have a question or need something Saturday or Sunday. She doesn’t always answer her phone on the weekends, but that doesn’t bother me. She’s a real person with a real life. There have been days when I call and she is in a meeting or doing something else and she has to call me back, or I text her and she texts me back.

Q: Did I get my username/password?

A: Yes, though as I mentioned above, the website is kind of blah.

Q: Are there medications/supplements that I have to take?

A: No. They really encourage you not to take medications/supplements. They are trying to teach you how to live a sustainable, healthy life. This is a long-term plan, not an easy fix.

Q: What is phase one like?

A: You eat nothing but fruit for about three days. It’s only three days, and then you go into phase two, where you are allowed proteins on certain days of the week. You have two veggie days and two days where you get one protein and then one day where you get two proteins. Unless you decide, like me, that your body does better with less protein, and then your counselor should help you decide a plan for your body.

If there are anymore questions, I would be happy to answer them! Just let me know! Has anyone else out there tried the Genetix Program? How is it going for you?

4 Ways to Prepare Yourself for Going Back to College

I am just a few days away from my first official day of college at Liberty University Online.  It’s been a little over four years since I’ve done any academic work, and the thought of being back in school is just as nerve racking as it is exciting, especially since I’ve never done an online college course. There are a few things I’ve done that I hope will help me be prepared for my classes.

1. I ordered my books for all my classes as soon as possible. That means I registered about two months in advance and I had my books about three to four weeks in advance. I familiarized myself with my textbooks, and I am reading them while taking notes to get a bit of a head start. I am almost done with the reading material for one of my classes, which will hopefully take a little stress off of me during the course of the class.

2. I have asked a LOT of questions. Even if I was pretty sure I had done everything for things like Financial Check-In, I logged into a live chat and asked any questions and made sure the process had been completed. I have several printed out live-chat conversations that I have since referenced several times. I’m not trying to figure it out on my own. In a sense, it’s like reading the directions carefully before assembling something complicated. I would encourage any online student at Liberty (or any other school) to utilize their live chat service. No question is too small.

3. I have gone over and watched all the available tutorials. I have never used anything like Blackboard, which is the system Liberty uses to allow students to access assignments, turn in assignments, contact other students and the professor, and view grades, etc. I have tried to familiarize myself as much as possible with Blackboard and other online systems, such as their online Library. I’ve also attended a Webinar and hopefully will attend at least one more.

4. I have gone over my syllabus and all of the assignment descriptions provided by my professors. Any information that my professors have made available, I have gone over so that I have a good idea of what will be expected of me. I don’t want to get to an assignment and not know how much time or effort I will have to put into it until it’s time to get it done. I don’t want to have a ton of late nights trying to finish a paper I wasn’t prepared to write.

Basically, I have utilized any and all information available to me to the best of my ability, and I suggest anyone beginning school again after an absence or attending online courses for the first time do the same.

For those of you who went back to school after a break or those of you who ventured into online classes- how did you prepare yourself? What were some ways you wish you would have prepared yourself more?

Top 4 Benefits of Joining a Critique Group

If you are serious about being a writer, I would highly recommend getting involved in a writing group.  I’ve gotten involved in three groups here in Columbia: The Columbia Novelist Group, Columbia Chapter Writer’s Guild, and a MeetUp group for fiction writers.

There are at least five benefits to joining a writing group:

1. Encouragement. Simply being around other writers always gives me a boost of encouragement to keep going, to keep writing and to have a little more confidence and motivation. Other writers understand what it means to sit in front of your computer banging your head against the desk, just trying to get one sentence out. They have conversations in their heads with their characters, too. When they watch a movie or read a book, they think about plot and how the audience is engaged.  When you are the only one you know who writes, sometimes you feel a little out of place or you don’t write as often because it feels like it shouldn’t be a priority, but other writers can be a great source of encouragement.

2. Critiques. It is very difficult to see all the problems with your own work. Critiques can help you see the holes, the areas where you added too much or put too little, the strength of your dialogue, and so much more. But hearing your own work critiqued isn’t the only benefit of belonging to a critique group. I’ve found that listening to other writer’s work being critiqued gives me a lot to bring home to my own writing project.

3. Expanded Knowledge. Many critique groups also have speakers and some even host conferences. I’ve listened to writer’s talk about self-publishing, character development, and plot. I’ve learned so much about the art of writing just by having conversations with other writers. I’ve gotten recommendations on books and materials that have helped me with technique.

4. Exchange of Ideas. When you don’t know where to go with your work or when you know something is missing, belonging to critique groups means that you have someone to brainstorm with you. You don’t have to always figure it out on your own. You can talk it out, hear what it sounds like, and find the right direction before you even begin writing it out.

Do you belong to a critique group? What benefits have you found from being a part of one?

4 Parts to a Birthday Adventure with Dora and Diego

As I have mentioned before, I LOVE throwing birthday parties for my kiddos. Reading others blogs and surfing the internet is always helpful to me when I am planning and putting together a party. If you would like to refer to my process of planning a party on a budget, click here. I also did a post called 4 Steps to a Royal Princess Party.

But this post is about Dora and Diego. That’s right, amigos; many parents (whether they like it or not) know the theme songs to these Nick Jr. television shows, and many kiddos love to explore with Dora and/or Diego.

For my son’s second birthday, we invited kids of different ages and gender, so I decided to go with Dora & Diego combined with activities appropriate for 2-5-year-old kids.

Decorations

For this party, the activity I put together added to the decor, so the only stand alone decoration I had was in the kitchen around the food table. I decided to turn our kitchen into a jungle!

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The trunks of the trees I made out of cardboard, and the leaves I cut out from a printed image I found on Google images. The vines are just cords I found really cheap at Hobby Lobby, and the Happy Birthday sign is Diego themed. This was an inexpensive way to decorate, and my kids both loved it. All of the kids thought it was great!

Gift Bags

I decided to make the gift bags out of dollar store purple gift bags. I painted on the face and stuffed it with take-home toys I made for the activity.  The bags were fine, but if I had it to do over, I would make them out of more sturdy bags, maybe even cloth bags. Because the kids had to carry them through the activity and the stuff inside was too heavy for the bags, they ripped easily.

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The bags, made to look like Dora’s backpack were stuffed with things the kids needed for the activity near the end of the party. First, there are the rain sticks.

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The body of the rain sticks is cheap pvc pipe from Home Depot. Home Depot will actually cut the pvc pipe down to whatever size you need. I bought one long pvc pipe for cheap, then had them cut it into foot long sections.  They also helped me find the caps which I painted black and used for the ends of the rain sticks. To make the rain sticks, I rolled them onto some zebra print contact paper. Then, I made a spiral of tin foil about a foot long. I painted the caps, and put one end on each pipe, put the tin foil spiral inside, and put a few handfuls of dry beans inside. I capped them off, and ta-da! Homemade rain sticks!

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Next we have the telescopes. These I made out of paper towel rolls. I just rolled them in the same contact paper I used for the rain sticks and decorated them with Dora and Diego stickers.

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Finally, we have the maps that I made to look like Map from Dora the Explorer. I used material I already had in my stash; it’s a creme colored and textured textile, almost like something you might use for heavy drapes or upholstery. I painted the face and the map with pastel dye sticks and set it with a hot iron (read instructions carefully) so that it would be permanent and washable.

This is the set I used. I found them at Hobby Lobby for maybe four or five bucks.

Refreshments

I ordered a Dora and Diego themed cake, and we had Little Caesar’s pizza with simple sides. I’ve decided that while my kids are little, they will have more fun with the things I make for the kids to play with than food, so I focus on making fun take-home items and games. When the kids are a little older, I might put more effort into homemade food, but for now, I normally buy a lot of the food already prepared.

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Going on an Adventure

We had about ten kids at the party, and they all got to go on an adventure! After everyone ate, I had my husband take everyone into the kitchen and get ready to sing the Happy Birthday song while I set up a few things in the living room. My husband opened the drawer where the candles should have been, only to find a note from Swiper the Fox saying he had swiped the candles! So all the kids were given their Dora the Explorer “backpacks”. They pulled out the map, and as a group, we started our adventure.

First, we had to get past the Cranky Volcano. He was upset and cranky because he had been awake for days and couldn’t sleep! The only thing that could help was the sound of rain. So, the kids all got out their rain sticks, and made rain for the Cranky Volcano so he could fall asleep.

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To make the Cranky Volcano, I used a poster and colored it with colored pencils. Then, I cut out two faces, one asleep and one cranky. I attached Velcro to the big poster where the face would go and on the back of the poster and to the back of each face. I hid the sleeping face with Velcro on the back of the poster, and as the kids used the rain sticks, I switched the faces.

Next, the kids had to cross Puzzle Bridge. But the Bobo Brothers had been playing with the shapes and left them in a pile of leaves! My son got to get the pieces and the kids helped him know where to put the pieces.

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For the lost shapes, I simply made a pile of leaves out of images of different leaves I found on Google images, which I printed and cut out. I cut out the shapes and painted them, and I just printed a picture of the Bobo Brothers to hang next to the poster.

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The fabric under Puzzle Bridge was a velvet blue. It looks much darker in the picture that it actually was. I cut the top flaps off of a couple of cardboard boxes, painted them, and taped them together to make the bridge.

Next, the kids went to the forest, where the candles were hidden in a nest in one of the trees. They pulled out their telescopes and tried to spot the candles. Before they could get the candles, Swiper the Fox popped up and they had to say, “Swiper no swiping!” three times like they do in Dora the Explorer.

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Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of Swiper. I used the pin the tail on Swiper the Fox activity at nickjr. com to make him. The trees and bushes I made out of cardboard boxes and posters. (You can get cardboard boxes from grocery stores, Wal-Mart, liquor stores, etc. We had just moved a couple months prior to this party, so I had a lot of boxes that I saved for the purpose of making these things, but cardboard boxes are free and you can make so many neat things out of them!)

We had SO much fun at this Dora and Diego party! This was about 6 months ago, and my kids still play with their maps and rain sticks. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. I’ve found that

Have you thrown a birthday party for your kids recently? What did you do? What resources did you use?