Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Homeschool Preschool

I get asked about our homeschool methods and resources quite often. After getting three questions in a row about what we do for preschool, it is time to share! Maybe you will get some ideas that work for you!

Starting at birth, we do a lot of counting, naming colors, looking at alphabet picture books, and practicing using a marker on paper. No pressure. Just for fun and play.

Starting at age 2 or 3, when I feel the child is ready, we play with alphabet flash cards. I made mine out of cardstock nearly 10 years ago, and have now used them for five children.  We start with two letters, then gradually add more. I lay them out, and ask them to find the one I ask for. I hold them up and ask what they are. I ask them to match capitals and lower case. We play with these for about 18 months--they begin to master them in no time.

I also have used this set of DK counting cards for the past five children. We simply point to the number, and then we count. Once a day.

I use a 10-cent spiral notebook to practice drawing with markers, starting at age 2 or 3. We practice coloring in shapes with specific colors, tracing along a path between two lines (without touching the lines), connecting dots--first two, then more, then before you know it, they are tracing letters and numbers.

First workbooks I love for age 2-3-4 are:
Kumon Coloring 2-3-4
Kumon Coloring 3-4-5
Kumon Mazes 3-4-5
Kumon Mazes 4-5-6

All my littles have loved these books and they are great for simply learning to hold and control a marker and/or pencil.

I also like to browse Dollar Tree for preschool/kindergarten level workbooks for letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Since they are a dollar, they are great for practice and feeling "grown up." Lots of these are great for learning how to "circle" things, for tracing letters, for attempting to make letters a certain size, for coloring, counting, and matching.

When ready for pre-K/Kindergarten stuff (the child recognizes most letters and numbers, can count to ten fairly well, knows colors, and can hold a marker to color), I use:

A Beka K-4 Phonics and Numbers (workbook only--no accessories or teacher's guides)
Spectrum Preschool Learning Letters
Spectrum Preschool Phonics Readiness
Spectrum Phonics Grade K
Making Math Meaningful Level K
A Beka Science, God's World K5

Note:  Any of the Spectrum Preschool books are great!

Spectrum Preschool Learning Letters

Making Math Meaningful Level K
I continue with homemade flash cards that have names (siblings, Mom, Dad, grapes) and words of favorite things.

I read books to them.

I also make them follow my finger as I read the instructions on each workbook page. This transitions always into them naturally reading the instructions for themselves by age 7 or 8.

Another important tip:  I never do too much. I never stress them out. I watch the "light in their eyes." If it goes out, we stop.

Sometimes we do the flash cards for just two minutes and we find it is not fun anymore or they are not interested "this day."  Some days we will play with them for 30 minutes.

Some days my kids will happily sit and work through an entire workbook. I let them. Sometimes, one page is tedious. So I encourage just one or two little tasks (color this item or try making this letter one time), then I tell them, "Great job!" And we move on to something else.

The workbooks above have lessons on each page that are easily done in just a couple of minutes.  Practicing writing a letter (or any worksheet) when you are 4 years old should not be tedious. Some children will find school fun and challenging. But most 4-year-olds, regardless of how much they love school work, can be reasonably asked to practice a particular letter two or three times, and be encouraged with their effort. And two or three times is enough for one day--because if you do that five days in a row, by the end the skill is mastered.

Bonus material:  I had fourboysinarow. They are Star Wars fans. They are also bookish school geeks. I don't know if God made them that way, or if we just cultivate a culture in our homeschool that is fun. But the above books are not enough for my 4-year-old. He often wants to do more.  He has a couple of the dollar store workbooks to attempt on his own (which he can do like a pro, now!), But then, one day, while shopping at TJ Maxx, I found these. They rock. Not only are they Star Wars, but the learning format is the quality that I demand.

Star Wars Workbooks Preschool ABC Fun Ages 4-5
Star Wars Workbooks Preschool Shapes, Colors, and Patterns, Ages 4-5
Star Wars Workbooks Kindergarten Writing & ABCs Ages 5-6

Note: They have lots of other options to choose from that include numbers, counting, and phonics.  Some are only $6.00 on Amazon!

Happy schooling! May God bless your homeschool!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Family Menu Planning: Meal Ideas

Here I am sharing my "Master List" for meal planning in case it will give you some ideas for things to make for dinner. Email me or leave a comment if you want me to share any of my recipes.

My master list is divided into these categories:
  • Pasta
  • Soups
  • Sandwiches
  • Mexican
  • Pizza-ish Stuff
  • Traditional/Other
When I plan a menu, I usually do about three weeks at a time, because that is what my pantry and cupboards can comfortably hold.  Each week has one pasta night, one sandwich night, one mexican night, one pizza night, one soup night, one day for leftovers, and one "other" meal. That is seven days. Easy to fill it all in!

  • Spaghetti
    • Vegetarian (with shredded spinach, zucchini, carrots)
    • With meat
    • With meatballs
  • Pasta Alfredo
    • Chicken & broccoli
    • Ham, tomatoes, spinach or asparagus
    • Smoked sausage, spinach or kale (cajun seasoning optional)
  • Baked ziti/penne/shells/rotini
    • with vegetables/ricotta
    • with mini meatballs
    • with italian sausage and peppers
  • Lasagna
    • Vegetarian
    • With meatballs
    • With meat sauce
    • Lasagna roll-ups
  • Ravioli
  • Chicken parmesan
  • Eggplant parmesan
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Tuna Casserole
  • Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini
  • Homemade macaroni and cheese
  • Baked four-cheese pasta with mushrooms/asparagus

  • Chili
    • Vegetarian
    • With meat
  • Beef Barley
  • Chicken Noodle
  • Potato-Broccoli-Cheese
  • Wedding Soup
  • Minestrone
  • Ham & Bean soup
  • 16-bean "goulash" soup
  • Split Pea and ham
  • Clam Chowder
  • Seafood bisque
  • Tomato Soup
  • Vegetable/Alphabet
  • Lentil Soup

  • Meatball subs
  • Philly Cheesesteaks
  • Reuben sandwiches
  • Cheeseburgers
  • Patty Melts
  • Bratwurst
  • Polish Sausage
  • Hot dogs
  • Corn Dogs
  • Tuna Melts
  • Fish
    • Fried
    • Broiled
  • Chicken
    • Fried
    • Broiled
    • Chicken caesar
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Cold cuts
  • Baked subs/sandwiches
  • BBQ Beef/Brisket/Chicken

  • Burritos
    • Smothered with green chile
  • Tostadas
  • Tacos
  • Soft Tacos
  • Enchiladas
  • Fajitas
    • Chicken
    • Beef
    • Shrimp
  • Enchilada Casserole
  • Tamale Casserole
  • Tortilla Towers
  • Nachos
  • Quesadillas
  • Chimichangas
  • Fish Tacos
    • Fried
    • Broiled
  • Huevos Rancheros
  • Breakfast Burritos
  • Puffy Tacos

  • Pizza
  • Stromboli
  • Calzones
  • Deep dish pizza
  • French Bread Pizza

  • Baked fish
    • Lemon pepper
    • Lime pepper
    • Dill
  • Salmon patties with dill cream sauce
  • Fried Fish
  • Beef Stew
  • Chicken Fried Steak
  • Meat Loaf
  • Meatballs with gravy
  • Pot Roast
  • Beef Stir Fry
  • Korean Beef Wraps
  • Beef pot pie
  • Beef meat pasties
  • Fried Chicken
  • BBQ chicken
  • Chicken wings
  • Chicken noodles
  • Asian chicken wraps
  • Chicken stir fry
  • Egg roll skillet
  • BBQ Ribs
  • Pork tenderloin medalions with black pepper cream sauce
  • Marinated pork tenderloin
  • Smoked sausage/cabbage/potato roast
  • Chicken & sausage jambalaya
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Turkey pot pie
  • Roast turkey
  • Chicken & rice casserole
  • Baked chicken
  • Chicken nuggets or chicken tenders (homemade)
  • Quiche

Saturday, January 9, 2016

12-Week Family Menu

I have this blog mainly to share the things I am passionate about. Meal planning is one of those things. 

I love meal planning and managing my kitchen. I think it is one of my strengths (unlike home decorating). I wrote out this 12-week menu in just minutes as I was sitting here. I am excited at how it works to feed our large family, and I am passionate to share it.

This meal planning "system" for our family works beautifully. It is very cost effective. It is RELATIVELY healthy (the majority of our meals are what constitutes "REAL" food).  I won’t go into the details of how I simplify the kitchen organization, and save money on the shopping (and believe me, I do).  I won’t go into details on how I sneak extra veggies into the meals (like sautéing shredded carrots, zucchini, and chopped spinach with garlic and Italian seasonings and adding it to our spaghetti and/or pizza sauce).

I just thought if I shared what I do, you might get ideas for you. I know what it is like to get stuck in a rut.  But for me, I have found the way to not get into a rut with our meal planning, is to create exactly that:  a rut. Or more or less:  a system that repeats and keeps things simple and RELATIVELY healthy.

Here is how we roll for breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and dessert:

Monday:  Oatmeal
Tuesday:  Eggs and Toast
Wednesday: Cereal
Thursday:  Eggs and Toast
Friday:  Oatmeal
Saturday:  Pancakes/Waffles/French Toast or Breakfast Burritos
Sunday:  Cereal

About once every other month, I will buy a bunch of yogurt, and sometimes bagels and cream cheese. Just for fun. It's a party--I tell you.

Note: If your child doesn't feel like eating oatmeal, then they are not hungry. They can wait until lunch.

  • Leftovers, or
  • Bean Burritos/Nachos/Tostadas/Quesadillas, or
  • PB Sandwiches with fresh fruit and veggies, or
  • Once per month: Homemade mac & cheese and/or hot dogs (treat)
  • If they’re lucky, I might have bought some ramen noodles (every 3-6 months)

If your child doesn't want the leftovers, or the bean burrito... again, they are NOT truly hungry. My children, and most likely yours, have never really known what true hunger feels like.  They don't have to eat. They can wait until the next meal.

  • Plain pretzels
  • Plain tortilla chips and salsa
  • Popcorn (that I pop in a pan)
  • Baby carrots or other fresh veggies
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried fruit
  • Nutella fold-over sandwiches about twice a month (they have to “pay” for those in smooches and other nonsense)\
If a child is complaining they are hungry, but refuses one of the above snacks, they are not really hungry. They are bored. Give them chores to do.

12 Weeks of Dinners: (The first three weeks below is the menu as it is currently posted on my refrigerator)

You will notice a pattern, which is what makes it simple:
•    Sunday is leftovers day
•    One night is “sandwich” night
•    One night is “Mexican” night
•    One night is “pasta” night
•    One night is “soup” night
•    One night is “pizza” night
•    Which leaves one “wild card” night

Week 1:
Sunday:    Cold cut sandwiches with fixings, chips and dip, apples, oranges, carrots
Monday:  Chicken-bacon-ranch & biscuit casserole, peas
Tuesday: Nachos with salsa con queso, ground turkey, black beans, guacamole, & fixings
Wednesday:  Eggroll skillet with ramen
Thursday: Fish Tacos
Friday: Beef Barley Soup, biscuits, pumpkin pie
Saturday: Meatball Subs with marinara, French fries, green beans

Week 2:
Sunday:  Leftovers
Monday: Salmon patties, risotto, peas
Tuesday: Chicken Alfredo with broccoli, spinach, and carrots, garlic bread
Wednesday: Burritos and Tostadas
Thursday: Lasagna, Garlic bread
Friday: Red lentil/tomato soup, quesadillas
Saturday: Reuben sandwiches, onion rings, corn

Week 3:
Sunday:  Leftovers
Monday: Smoked sausage roasted with cabbage and red potatoes
Tuesday: Spaghetti, garlic bread
Wednesday: Baked chicken, baked potatoes, peas
Thursday: Enchilada casserole
Friday: Stromboli with marinara sauce
Saturday: Bratwurst, French fries, pickled beets, green beans

Week 4:
Sunday: Leftovers
Monday: Chili
Tuesday: Tuna Casserole
Wednesday:  Burritos/Tostadas
Thursday: Chicken Parmesan
Friday: Cheeseburgers, French fries, applesauce, corn
Saturday: Asian Chicken wraps

Week 5:
Sunday: Leftovers
Monday: Quiche
Tuesday: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Garlic Bread
Wednesday: Fajitas
Thursday: Chicken Noodles/Mashed Potatoes, green beans
Friday: Pizza
Saturday: Lemon-pepper tilapia, risotto, peas

Week 6:
Sunday: Leftovers
Monday: Sloppy Joes, corn on the cob, onion rings, fruit
Tuesday: Sesame-ginger stir-fry with lo-mein
Wednesday: Tortilla Towers
Thursday: Homemade chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans
Friday: Stromboli
Saturday: Clam chowder, cheddar biscuits, salad

Week 7:
Sunday:  Leftovers
Monday: Polish sausage, roasted potatoes, beets, applesauce, green beans
Tuesday: Lasagna
Wednesday: Burritos/Tostadas
Thursday: Chicken Pot Pie
Friday: Pizza
Saturday: Grilled cheese, tomato soup, green beans

Week 8:
Sunday:  Leftovers
Monday:  Patty melts, corn, French fries, fruit
Tuesday: Pasta alfredo with spinach, tomatoes, and ham
Wednesday: Enchiladas
Thursday: Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, corn
Friday: French bread pizza
Saturday: Potato-cheese-broccoli soup, salad

Week 9:
Sunday:  Leftovers
Monday: Tuna melt sandwiches, chips & dip, salad
Tuesday: Beef stroganoff, asparagus
Wednesday: Fish tacos
Thursday: Chicken wings, corn, fruit, French fries
Friday: Calzones
Saturday: Vegetable alphabet soup, corn bread

Week 10:
Sunday:  Leftovers
Monday: Baked philly cheese steaks, French fries, green beans
Tuesday: Spaghetti & Meatballs
Wednesday: Burritos/Tostadas
Thursday: Chicken and sausage jambalaya with black beans
Friday: Pizza
Saturday: Chili

Week 11:
Sunday: Leftovers
Monday: Cheeseburgers, onion rings, applesauce, corn
Tuesday: Baked chicken/rice/lentil casserole, peas
Wednesday: Tamale casserole
Thursday: Baked ziti
Friday: Stromboli
Saturday: Chicken noodle soup, rolls

Week 12:
Sunday: Leftovers
Monday: Meatball subs
Tuesday: Tuna casserole
Wednesday: Thai-beef lettuce wraps
Thursday: Sausage alfredo with spinach
Friday: Pizza
Saturday: Italian Wedding soup, french bread

This system makes filling out a weekly  menu quite simple.  I think it is so very reasonable to have a few simple choices for breakfasts and lunches (our grandparents ate the same thing EVERY morning!).

I have a master list that lists all the meals my family likes for each category:  Soups, sandwiches, pasta dishes, Mexican, and “other”. It is not a lengthy list.  I am looking at it right now. There are nine soups, twelve sandwiches, eight pasta dishes, seven Mexican dishes, and about 20 dishes in the “other” category (chicken pot pie, fried chicken, quiche, stir-fry, meatloaf, baked fish, etc.)

I don’t stress about finding new recipes. I don't have any cookbooks (not needed if you have the internet!). I have one card box that holds our favorite time-tested recipes. However, if I see a recipe that pops up in my FB news feed that fits in one of our categories and really sounds good, I may grab it and throw it on the menu for fun. If it works and everyone loves it, I will add it to the master list to be put into our rotation, and add the recipe to our card box.

And as for desserts:  Maybe--MAYBE-- once a month we will bake something.  With cereal, pancakes, PBJ, and occasional Nutella sandwiches around the house (not to mention us big ones drink sweet coffee), we don’t need any more in the way of sweets!  With eight of us here, holiday and birthday treats alone keep us well supplied with desserts!  Sometimes Breton and I will find a recipe we are dying to try… so we do.  And sometimes we will make muffins or donuts for a fun weekend treat. We don’t sweat the desserts at all!  If you live in America, you do not need to put sweets on your menu. You will get more than enough sugar anyway.

If you would like any of my recipes, please comment or email me! I will be happy to share them!