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A NUTRITION COURSE : ON SWIRLY MINDS AND SWIRLY LIFE

A NUTRITION COURSE : ON SWIRLY MINDS AND SWIRLY LIFE

Most recently, in our home school, we are doing a tiny course on nutrition. This has been in my mind for a long time, but then I found Usborne’s “Why do we Eat?” at a consignment shop for $0.75 and decided it was time. My kids and I read that book a few times, then I printed this nutrition book from The First Grade Sweet Life. We worked on filling it out, then today we went grocery shopping. I let my kids think of things we should buy, according to the variety of foods that we should eat to make our bodies function. We started our list yesterday, and went this morning.

There was nothing particularly terrible about this morning. It was just that… maybe we should have stayed home.

Do you ever have days like that? When you start to do something–whatever it is–you think it’s going to be easy and fun but it ends up giving you a small heart attack instead?

My kids were tired. We didn’t eat a big enough breakfast. And the always-always-always part of my life where I don’t know how to give directions was glaring at me.

Do my kids really understand what we’re doing? Did I explain it well enough to each of them? Of course, my two-year old wouldn’t really understand, but I may have neglected to tell my 4 year-old anything, relied on him hearing when I read that book with my 6 year-old. They might just think this is a regular shopping trip. 

Our list was made of only good things, a guide for real-life nutrition lessons:

Cucumbers
Carrots
Bananas
Oranges
Strawberries
Cantaloupe
Potatoes
Yogurts
Granola bars
Rice cakes

Whole foods. Not Whole Foods, but foods that are whole and untainted with chemistry. Strict biology, here!

But somewhere in the putting on of shoes and the checking for shopping supplies and the actual driving to the store, I just started freaking out. Things were so unclear.

Life things. Grocery shopping things. Self things. Kid things.

My mind just went around in swirls.

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Sometimes swirls are beautiful, but more often they look chaotic. This is the creative way. More, though, this is the way of life.

We are a series of connected, tumbling, intersecting, up and down lines that have no end and whose beginnings are often hard to locate.

Where does life go next?

There is no pattern to swirls. They dip and peak and then they dip lower and peak higher. To peak means to reach the highest point, but here I’m talking about the point that is highest at that moment, and moments change moment to moment.

That makes sense…

Guys, I admit that I’m just thinking here. This is a blog. Not a published book that has been checked and backed by others. I’m talking about my day, my emotions, my thoughts. I’m using my life with the admonition that my life is different from yours because we are all different people.

Yet we live in the same world.

Somewhere in the writing of all this, I’ve come back to the whole foods list. We made a list of foods that are untainted with chemistry. Strict biology.

We can learn how plants grow and how animals multiply, but life is so swirly. Chemistry happens. Even if no one pours vinegar into a bowl of baking soda, a bottle might spill. Then what?

A couple of weeks ago, I was challenged to diagram my faith race.

As in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (from Hebrews 12).

I was challenged to diagram my obstacles, my hindrances, my sins.

I had a hard time with this. First, I drew two lines:

_______________________________________________

_______________________________________________

But I didn’t think these two lines accurately represented my path. They were just a starting point because I didn’t know what to draw.

What is my path? I thought.

I thought about my life. It’s pretty common, when you sit down and put words to my actions:

Kids
Dinner
Dishes
Laundry
Writing a novel
Writing other things
Marriage

Perhaps my path is straight like the above lines, but my mind goes in swirls. Perhaps it’s not my feet that wander but my eyes. Instead of looking straight at Jesus, I look up at the clouds and I pause to listen to the leaves of trees. Then I find myself out of breath because I’ve gotten distracted. One minute I am breathing oxygen and the next minute I’ve stuck my head into a pond because I want to see how far the bottom is (total metaphor, guys… that’s just creativity). Today as I drove my children to the grocery store, I just found myself saying, “Jesus help. There has to be a way.”

A way to life. A way to mother. A way to streamline the never ending groceries. A way to end the swirls. A way to breathe. A way to think clearly in the midst of tiny obstacles.

These obstacles that I face, they really are tiny.

The simple answer was right there. “I am the way” (from John 14).

While we might expect to live the natural way of other living organisms, chemistry just works its way in.

The composition of our matter changes because we are not the way. We are only the vessel.

WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY WANT OUR KIDS TO LEARN IN HOME SCHOOL?

WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY WANT OUR KIDS TO LEARN IN HOME SCHOOL?

Lately, the reality of home school has set in for me.

And before we go any further, let me remind you that my oldest child is only just now in kindergarten.

We are using Saxon Math along with Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool (Getting Ready and Math 1). We are taking a relaxed approach because we have two younger children in the mix and, while my kindergartner could probably do math and reading all day long, I can’t keep the younger two engaged for it. We do what we can, and we take every opportunity. Like, “We have 10 gummies and 3 children. How many gummies does each child get?” Then we divide them up equally. “How many are leftover?” Then we might have a little lesson on fractions. Handwriting is often enforced when we make birthday cards. Vocabulary is learned every day. We might not have formal lessons on it, but we talk about words and what they mean as we use them. For us, this just works better.

I feel the pull toward more formal teaching, but our life just does not work that way right now.

But I also have these aches: Can’t we just sit close in pajamas, arms linked, bellies still hungry, still fasting from the night. Empty, but waiting expectantly for something delicious. Something hot. Can’t we just read books without fights about who gets to turn the page? Can’t we just listen?

I can teach addition and vocabulary, but we didn’t decide to home school because we wanted to be in charge of math lessons.

And this brings me to the crux of this post: What do we (my husband and I) actually want our kids to learn in “school”?

Here’s a list I came up with, and I’m sure we’ll add to it through the years:

  • to find joy
  • to live thankful
  • to marvel at God’s creation
  • to listen to opposition while remaining steady (not erupting) in truth
  • to say no to fear
  • to cast out thieves
  • to hear the voice of God
  • to love all people
  • to stand up for the weak
  • to respect authority
  • to make sound decisions
  • to value family
  • to build

These things are much harder to teach, and much harder to test. It takes time. It takes training. The answers to the questions tied up in these teachings are not so straightforward. There is no teacher’s manual, and while we teach these lessons, we are also learning them.

But we continue. And every once in a while we see that our children are learning.

Like when that song “Break every chain” comes on the radio and my kids stop everything to participate. “There is power in the name of Jesus,” they sing, “to BREAK every chain. BREAK every chain. BREAK every chain.”

Of course my destructive children love the word break more than any other here.

It’s the verb. The action. The thing that moves the sentence and gives force. (That’s a grammar lesson, guys!)

My children LOVE this song. And I know they’re not the only kids who do. Kids everywhere seem to cling to it.

To be honest, I don’t like when my kids break things. Be it glasses or toys or remotes, or the button on a pillow my diseased grandma made. But the power to break has a place. There are many things in our city, in our world, that need not remain. I know my kids are looking for these things because the library we live near is a historic school and at one flight of stairs, a chain hangs. I have no idea what it’s for, but it is probably a piece of the historic charm. My 3 year-old grabbed it one day and pulled. “BREAK every chain,” he said.

Luckily, the actual chain didn’t break, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that library came across some extra freedom that day.

Sometimes we have to start where it’s easy, where it’s natural or literal, before we can get down deep into uncovering the actual lesson.

Fun With Food: A Snacky Scrabble Game

Fun With Food: A Snacky Scrabble Game

**I admit that this is a little different from the usual Fun With Food posts, but stay with me. I promise this fits.

This morning’s Fun With Food brings us to a game that is dear to my heart. One that I have racked hours playing, in various scenarios, with all kind of friends and family. Yet my first love for this game is centered around my grandmother’s giant oval table, in her ancient dining room with a tall grandfather clock that ticked and chimed, next to french doors that never closed, sheer white curtains hanging over their glass and creating the opportunity for a barrier that was never taken.

My grandmother loved words. She loved literature, gardening, and history. Actually, she loved anything that could be learned, anything that could grow. She loved the act itself. She used to tell a story about how when she was a child her school did away with algebra and she and her classmates went to the teacher begging to be taught the ins and outs of the elusive x and y.

Yet her real love could only be found in literature and art history. Not a day went by without Shakespeare’s words. She knew them all. She believed learning could happen anywhere, and would say that the best way to learn American history was from Normal Rockwell and Ogden Nash. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother taught literature to a group of homeschooled teenagers. Together, they read Shakespeare and Homer. They acted out Macbeth (and others, I’m sure) because my grandmother always said the only way to really understand Shakespeare is to act it out, to get into the text and realize how the words created life. This is a Scrabble principle too. In Scrabble, we have to get into the confusion and find meaning.

I’m finding this is true in motherhood as well. In motherhood, we are given a tray of tiles that at first make no sense. Maybe we have tears, diapers, heartbeats, coos and gurgles, little arms that shake randomly, and a belly that is never full. These tiles continue to be moved around. The tray is confusing, full of non-words, difficult to sound out. We don’t know what to do with them. But we try anyway. We move our tiles around and we make their noises, we shuffle, we try to find meaning. Then, one day, we do. We place those life-giving tiles on the board and we draw new tiles. We start over. But not really. All new words must connect through existing ones.

In one of my college writing portfolios, I placed this in the front page: Dedicated to my grandmother, who unknowingly taught me to love words, whether mumbled by a weary man on a street corner, written in Shakespeare’s finest, or lost in a game of Scrabble.

Scrabble: scratch or grope around with one’s fingers to find, collect, or hold onto something.

Scrabble: the game where words are made.

In any game of Scrabble, both definitions are used. While we move 7 letters around on our narrow trays, we find newness in a void. Once an array of nothingness, we grope (we search blindly or uncertainly with the hands) until we find something useful, something that makes sense, something that makes our heart go “yay!” My grandmother added one rule to the game: if you learned a new word, you got 50 extra points. In the above dedication, I said that my grandmother unknowingly taught me to love words, but I know she was intentional. It’s just that her educational ways were not made from rules. She was simply sharing the things she loved. She was simply living and inviting others to live alongside her.

When I found these Scrabble Math Worksheets, I knew my kids would love them. My oldest had already found our game of Scrabble and was intrigued by the letter and numbers and set of squares that filled the board. We started our Scrabble life with those Math Worksheets, then we moved onto Word Building. My oldest was not content. He knew there was more to the game. So we tried a round of real Scrabble and we found that it was amazing.

Kids can play Scrabble! Who knew? (See: My Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers)

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First thing this morning, my 5 year-old asked to play Scrabble. I poured myself a cup of coffee, filled a little bowl with trail mix, added almonds and cheerios, and we sat down to a lovely morning with words and food.
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My 5 year-old is getting antsy to read and write. This morning he tried to spell the word “furnace” (FRNSHE). “Furnace. That box that heats up.”
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I told him “FRNSHE” was not the correct spelling of furnace. He was disappointed, but then found the word “FUN” on his tray.

At my grandmother’s table, food was a part of Scrabble. My grandmother was always hours behind the rest of the world, so by the end of a game she was usually still finishing dinner. We were probably all snacking on our desserts.

This morning on our Scrabble table, we snacked on this:

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Most of the yogurt-covered peanuts, banana chips, dried apricots and mango were gone by the time I took this photo. But this was the perfect pre-breakfast snack to have while Scrabbling.

There you have it, all the best thing in life: Fun! Food! Scrabble!

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

When it comes to teaching small children, I think the key is finding something you love, something that they love, something that is fun and also full of learning opportunities.

Enter, Scrabble!

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It’s not easy, but Scrabble offers so much for children:

  • word building
  • counting
  • adding
  • the concept of double and triple
  • the respect for rules and taking turns
  • the ability to wait
  • celebrating each other’s victories
  • the art of observation (you have to pay attention to double/triple word/letter)

Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers

  • Don’t get caught up in high scores.
    • I always want to find the longest word that will give me the highest score, but when playing Scrabble with preschoolers, I have found that a quick word they know is better. My kids won’t sit around for 3 minutes while I fumble with letters.
  • Small words are best
    • Three and four letter words, and words that they know, will help to reinforce spelling and make them feel good about the things they already know. When my 3 year-old spelled the word “ice” he was so excited because he loves ice and he could see how those three letters fit together to make a word. It’s okay, and encouraged, to find and introduce new words (this builds vocabulary!) but that should not be the goal.
  • Use all the pieces
    • What I mean by this is, let them draw on the score sheet. Let them run their fingers through the bag of tiles (really good sensory play!) Let them turn their trays on their sides and try to build towers. This is a game after all, and should be fun for everyone!
  • Think simply and don’t be afraid to bend the rules
    • Scrabble can be really simple or really complicated. Don’t get caught up in the Scrabble dictionary or proper names at this point. Just do what fits your kids, but make sure you spell real words. Making fake words won’t help much because then you could just throw anything down.
  • Use my grandmother’s rule
    • 50 extra points when you learn a new word! This gets kid really excited about building their vocabularies!
  • Let them count the points
    • Even a very small child can count to 10, or 20, especially with your help. Since you’re building small words, they can probably help you count most of the points. They can look at the tiles and identify numbers. If they can’t do it, then you add the points up for them, but count out loud so they can start to understand the concept. I love teaching my 5 year-old to count double digits by lining them up, and he’s really into it and it makes him feel important and smart to add such big numbers. 
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      Today, my 3 year-old quit playing and my 5 year-old won by almost 30 points!
  • Grab a non-messy snack
    • Something like trail mix or dry cheerios, something yummy to keep your kids busy when they have to wait for other people’s turns

Have you ever played Scrabble with your kids? What tips would you give to parents?

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

First, you must know that Twizzlers do not show up on our table very often.

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The idea for Twizz-Literacy started with this marked down bag of Patriotic Twizzlers.

I have never been the kind of person who buys candy or desserts of any kind. Except when I’m pregnant… then I’ve been known to purchase 5 cartons of ice cream at once to fulfill a lingering craving. (It seems that taking advantage of a “Buy 2 Get 3 Free” sale saves some money by preventing me from going to the ice cream shop twice a week.)

I’ve also been known, when pregnant, to eat half the Now and Later’s before arriving to the Halloween party.

But I am not pregnant right right now, so sweets are not in abundant supply around here. But my kids love candy, and every once in a while I give in to their cute little faces.

You know, candy was just made for kids. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, and it’s colored to look festive and bright and wonderful, even though it’s really kind of evil.

Anyhow, Patriotic Twizzlers were $0.60 a couple weeks ago at Food Lion so I snagged them, thinking that we could do a little literacy activity with them.

I had recently purchased two of these sheet protectors from Dollar Tree:

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I thought they would go perfectly with the Twizzlers. I thought my kids could peel the Twizzlers apart, cut them up and use them to make letters. Originally I thought I would print off 26 letter sheets. I thought I’d make my kids say each letter, then what sound it makes. Maybe a word that begins with that letter, too.

When it came time, though, I hadn’t printed off letter sheets and we all just needed a fun activity, so I just left the original papers in for inspiration and let them make the letters they wanted. Because right now the goal is just to make learning fun!

It definitely worked. My kids loved this activity! I sat with them to ensure that they actually made letters and didn’t just stuff their faces with sugar. I let them get creative, too! I’m a big fan of creativity. I love when my kids figure things out on their own. I did have to peel the Twizzlers apart because they were too sticky for my kids to do on their own. Maybe that’s because they’re from 4th of July, or maybe that’s how all Twizzlers are. I don’t know. I don’t usually try to peel Twizzlers.

Now, the thing you’ve all been waiting for:

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My kids made brains.
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And more brains.
Snakes!
Then they made rattlesnakes.

Oh yeah! We made letters too:

Carpe

A few days later, we made lemonade and we colored watermelons onto paper plates and gave them away as “Happy Summertime” gifts, one for the girl who manages the office at our apartment complex and one to the most wonderful maintenance man anyone could ask for (these people receive gifts from us a lot because we love them and it’s super easy to just walk over and brighten their day. Maybe you have a neighbor or a co-worker that you could start showering with gifts?) This was a hurried activity so I don’t have pictures of the finished summertime gift bags. But here are the watermelon cards the boys made for their dad. You probably know what lemonade looks like, so just use your mind to add it into this picture.

Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?
Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?

These are not quite as elaborate as the ones we made for the people who manage our home, but maybe you get the idea. I circled the inside and told my kids to color it pink. My 3 year old decided the inside of his watermelons were going to be multi-colored. Originally I thought we would cut these in half, but then we decided to just fold them like cards. We pasted pieces of green tissue paper around the edge for some texture and to add interest, and we added seeds and a little note.

When we were packing the gift bags, my oldest son suggested we include some Patriotic Twizzlers and I was fully on board. Guys, he wanted to give away his candy!

Now go, and spread forth your own generous, creative, genius children!