Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

I am once again joining in the Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real link party from Like Mother, Like Daughter.


A few of us have been dreadfully sick this week, myself included, and my sweet, adorable husband has taken such amazing care of us. The man made me fresh squeezed orange juice, brought me hot tea and hot water bottles and, for last night's dinner, some chicken pho. I haven't been especially hungry, but this was just exactly what I needed, hot, brothy, a little spicy (with the addition of some hot sauce) and chock full of good things. He is all kinds of wonderful.


On Valentine's Day, before we all got hit with the bug, an elderly neighbour lady invited the big girls to a tea party at her house. They decorated Valentine cookies and ate strawberry sundaes. Mrs. Anderson is amazing. She has a level of refinement and class that you don't see a lot of anymore, and she has passed it on to her daughters and granddaughters. She has hosted the occasional tea party before and it's always a white-napkins-and-silver-tea-service affair with amazing homemade cakes, cookies and sandwiches, grapes in a silver grape server with silver grape scissors and the good china. She's an excellent example of what I love about my neighborhood. I love living in the kind of place where these kinds of intergenerational friendships flourish. I was lucky enough to have that as a kid, and it has been a gift of immesurable value. She also makes a mean sugar cookie. Normally cookies are nothing but a vehicle for frosting to me, but these were something to write home about. Very buttery and flavourful. I will have to get her recipe.

While the girls were at their party and the babies were napping, I had some one-on-one time with James making banana pudding for our Valentine's Day dessert. I love these times. He can be kind of a monkey, like any three year old boy, but when it's just the two of us I get to see his sweet side and hear what's going on in his perpetual-motion-machine of a brain, most of which involves dinosaurs and Captain America.


Speaking of dinosaurs... "It's just like the Jurassic Period, but with rainbow spaghetti instead of sand." - James Griffith. I think this was one of his favourite activities ever. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of walking away from it to check the laundry. Then, in a misguided attempt to help me clean it up, one of the big girls broke out the vacuum cleaner. This is the sort of thing you don't think about before you have kids. You don't imagine yourself one day, far in the future, picking rainbow spaghetti out of a vacuum cleaner. Luckily these kinds of things, while not amusing in the moment, can be pretty funny in the retelling.


This is not all the same picture. It is not even the bulk of the series. Preschoolers and toddlers have apparently been embarking on a photo project, Pictures of the Top of my Head, while their mother was distracted. It has a Warhol-esque feel to it, don't you think? 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Time Management System- Part Two, the Homeschool Chart

I have tried about a million systems of organizing my homeschool lessons and until I came up with this, nothing actually stuck. I am not really a big fan of rigid schedules. I have babies and toddlers and I have never been functional at 2:00PM of any afternoon in my 34 years of life. My life has a lot of variables to work around. Still, I don't want school to fall through the cracks, so something had to be done to keep us more or less on track. This little baby has been helping a lot.

 Each school kid has their own column of pockets, divided up by subject; Badge Work, Math, Grammar and Spelling (both of which include writing assignments) with a pocket at the bottom for completed work. James just has one pocket for preschool activites. The pockets are made out of envelopes I cut in half and stapled to the board. At the beginning of the week I put all of the week's assignments in their envelopes and they work on them during school time. If they want to keep working, and sometimes they do, and get it all done in a few days, good for them. They are done with school for the week. On the right side of the chart I have extra curricular activites, group activites, field trips and fun outings so they can see at a glance what our week looks like. It's not shown in this picture, but I have a simple dry erase calendar above this chart that shows us our month at a glance. It's simple, it's easy and it helps them work independently.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Time Management -Part One, the Chore Chart

I've been playing around lately with different ideas for time management. It took me until I was very nearly 30 years old to be any good at managing my own time, much less the time of five children ages 9 months to 9 years. I'll be honest. In the past I have been pretty hit-or-miss with charts. I'm not always good at remembering to update them, but I decided to give it a try, now that I have some children old enough to keep me honest. So, as I always do when I need ideas, I combed Pinterest and Google until I found a few systems I could meld together to make something workable for us. This is our Communication Station, with the chore/reward chart below and note boards above.

I found these chore cards on the Confessions of a Homeschooler blog. Her chore system, by the way, is pretty awesome, but I wanted to work in some stuff that we had been doing for a long time (dividing the house into zones and a few other things) and I didn't think I was going to find a pocket chart that would meet my needs. Instead I decided to use these book rings, dividing tasks (chores, school work, self care and prayer time) into Morning Activities and Afternoon/Evening Activities. Each kid is assigned a colour. These are James' chore cards. I like to start toddlers and early preschoolers out with self-care chores, moving, as they get older, into care-of-my-own-stuff chores, then care-of-family-stuff chores and finally, care-of-others chores. James has to get dressed, brush his teeth, make his bed and read a book with mom in the morning. In the afternoon he does a school activity and helps to set and clear the table. The girls' schedule is more variable, but it always begins with self-care, bed making, Zone chores (they trade kitchen/dining room and living room/family room weekly), followed by school work of some sort. They wear the book ring on a string around their neck to prevent them from getting lost.

Daily, drama-free completion of tasks on the list earn them a ticket. Tickets can be cashed in at our once a week Movie Night. Admittance is 3 tickets, snacks are 1 ticket and drinks other than water are another. Movie Night is a much anticipated event.

Best Bee-havior awards (it is killing me to write that without a u, I just want you to know that), are awarded by a parent (or grandparent) when we feel they have gone above and beyond the call of duty. These are redeemable for bigger rewards, like money or a treat.

These are the bad-boys of the chore chart. My go-to disciplinary action is usually chores, but I am awful at coming up with chores for them to do on the spot that will actually be of use to me. Enter the IOU. This baby goes on the ring of older children who are in need of a disciplinary action. They entitle me to one chore of my choosing, performed when I actually need it done. This, I will tell you, is how I keep up with my laundry.

Overall, the system works pretty well. The kids like using it, so it actually gets used, and I am comfortable with this reward system as not being overly bribe-y, if that is a word, which it probably isn't.

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

I have decided, after enjoying Leila's Pretty, Happy, Funny and Real Link-up party on Like Mother, Like Daughter for a while, that it's time to start participating.


Zach took me to a Knight's of Columbus Valentine's Day dinner on Tuesday and they let the ladies take the flowers from the table. James likes to bring them to me. "I picked you a flower mommy. You should wear it in your hair because you are so beautiful!" He's a charmer, that one. Except when he's not. He is three afterall.

Speaking of the Jamie-Monster, this is my Valentine's Day present from him. It's a house for my dinosaurs. Isn't that thoughtful? Since I don't actually have dinosaurs, he lent me some of his. Even a few of the dead ones. Heart of gold, I tell you.


I let Captain Mayhem and Admiral Chaos play with some shaving foam and glow sticks in the bath. I was not entirely prepared for what followed. Why I didn't see this coming? I have no idea. Still, if this kind of madness is going to happen, the bathtub is the best place for it. 10 minutes later, the boys and the tub were clean and all was right with the world.


Lent is upon us and I made it through Ash Wednesday. We read the gospel reading in the morning, the one about not looking dismal while you fast. I tried to do that and failed. In the Win column, we made this crown of thorns after learning about the idea from my friend Molly. Everytime one of us makes a sacrifice, we remove a thorn from the crown. I was mightily pleased at the number of thorns the kids removed. It made for a nice day. I'd ask someone to do something and, when you could see they were tempted to say, "not me!" one of them would step up to the plate and do the task without griping, quietly pulling a thorn from the crown. This is what I love about Lent. As hard as the sacrifices can be, when we really step up our game and make a run at virtue, the fruits abound.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Homeschool Badges -First Aid

Our Second Badge is nearly completed! The girls wanted to learn First Aid. The requirements for this badge were to learn what to do, at a kid appropriate level, for:

-Broken bones
-Asthma attacks
-Choking in infants
-Choking in children
-Choking in adults

CPR will be it's own separate badge. We found a site from the UK Red Cross that had a good set of videos and games that taught first, how to prevent accidents, and second, how to treat them when they happen. We did have to make sure they understood that in the U.S. they have to call 911 instead of 999, but they got that point pretty quickly and now, should they ever randomly be in the UK and have to call for Emergency Services, they will know the number. :)

To earn this badge they had to watch the videos and, on a separate occasion, to make sure the information had sunk in, pass a test in which a sibling pretended to need assistance with each of the injuries or incidents and they had to accurately assess what was happening to the patient and treat them. Then they had to make a video of their own using iMovie to explain how to care for a victim of one of these conditions, in their case, they filmed their treatment of a minor burn Cheyenne got in the kitchen. Finally, and this is the part we haven't finished, they have to research what kinds of materials go into a first aid kit and what each item is used for. When they have completed that, they will be done, and we will be on to the Detective Science badge. I am really looking forward to that one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Lenten Lunchbox

I know, I know. Lunch isn't really the first thing you think of when contemplating the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but meal planning around restrictions can be a tough thing to do. With that in mind, at the request of a friend, I have compiled a list of some meatless, kid friendly lunchbox meal ideas that might help you get through this beautiful season of sacrifice and preparation. I have tried to include some nut-free and gluten-free options, too, for those of you with further restrictions.

Sandwiches and sandwich-like:
-Peanut butter (or sunflower butter or almond butter, you know, the usual suspects) banana roll-ups. Spread peanut butter on a tortilla and roll a banana up inside.
-Banana dogs. Put a banana in a hot dog bun. Add pbj as "condiments."
-Bagel and cream cheese. Put the cream cheese on the side to avoid sogginess.
-Sandwich Skewers. Cheese, bread pieces and veggies on a skewer. Serve with dip. For a mini version use toothpicks for skewers.
-Tuna salad (can be fun in a pita or a lettuce wrap)
-Egg salad (ditto)
- Cheddar apple sandwiches on baguette
-Veggie wraps with a cream cheese spread (roasted garlic and cheddar, garden veggie or herb cream cheese spread and your choice of veggies)
-Falafel and pita
-Cold veggie pizza (roll out crescent dough in a sheet, bake and cool. Spread with ranch dressing and top with cold, chopped veggies and shredded cheddar or colby cheese)
-Pita with hummus or baba ganoush

Hot Meals in a thermal food storage container

-Vegetarian chili with chips and cheddar on the side. Good with a cornbread muffin too.
-Macaroni and cheese
-Potato soup
-Tortellini vegetable soup
-Italian tomato bread soup
-Tomato soup with popcorn on the side
-Lentil soup
-Pasta with alfredo sauce
-Pasta tossed with sauteed tomatoes, italian herbs and black olives (this is good cold as well)
-Egg drop soup
-Veggie pho (Vietnamese noodle soup)

Cold Noodle/rice/dumpling options
-Noodles with peanut sauce and veggies
-Cheese tortellini
-Cheese ravioli
-Veggie fried rice
-Veggie or shrimp summer rolls (OK, I know these seem a little putsy, but they really aren't that hard to make) with peanut sauce.
-Rice molds with soy sauce
-California rolls
-Soba noodle salad with veggies
-Italian pasta salad with Italian dressing, chunks of mozarella, grape tomatoes and black olives
-Tuna pasta salad with mayonaise, chunks of cheddar cheese and peas

Snack options: (Combine several and you have yourself a meal)

-Fruit and cheese skewers (pictured above)
-Hard boiled eggs
-Celery with peanut butter and raisins or cream cheese and black olives
-Whole grain crackers
-String cheese
-Yogurt (Greek yogurt has more protein)
-Build it yourself yogurt parfaits with yougurt, fruit and granola in separate containers
-Fruit and walnut salad with yogurt for dipping (think McDonald's, but homemade)
-Cheeses of the World (we did this once for about a month, trying different cheeses from different countries. It keeps the cheese + bread combo fresh.) So many options! Brie, Gouda, Manchego, Paneer, Queso Fresco.... the list goes on)
-Breads of the world. Rye krisp, naan, pita, pumpernickel, caraway rye, tortillas, baguette...
-Veggies and dip
-Soft pretzels (traditional for Lent)
-Muffins (blueberry, peanut butter and jelly, corn muffins, ginger peach, banana walnut, etc.)
-Apple slices with peanut butter
-Dried fruits
-Trail mix

Obviously, not all of these ideas will work for all kids, but it's a starting place. I hope it helps!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Homeschool Badges Week 1: Animal Care

Studying the matamata turtles

Week One of the Badge system of homeschooling has gone extremely well. We fleshed out our list (I can post as a document as soon as I figure out how :) ) and the children were so excited they didn't know what to choose first. They wanted to tackle the entire list in a month. What can I say? They share my starry-eyed idealism.

Their required badges, Spelling Star, Reading and Mathematics, are mine to choose. I'm still working on a way to break those subjects, especially spelling and reading, down into pieces that will be both challenging and manageable for continuous study. I'm open to suggestions, by the way, if anyone has any ideas. At the moment I am thinking that reading may work similar to the Book It program we had when I was a kid. If they read a certain number of age appropriate books in a month (no credit given for board books, for example), they will earn their Reading Badge for the month. I've been breaking math down by core skills. Spelling remains a bit of a challenge to quantify.

 The optional badges were easier. This months selections were Animal Care, First Aid, Detective Science and Archery.

I did some reasearch and adapted the Animal Care requirements from this list of Cub Scout activities from the UK. Our list is a bit different, but it gave me a jumping off point.

Animal Care Badge Requirements
Choose Four Activities

1. Visit a zoo or nature center. Interview a Zookeeper or Naturalist about the habitats and feeding habits of three different animals.

2. Visit a farm and assist with farm chores. Learn about common animal illnesses and how to prevent and treat them. Learn about the feeding and grooming of three different farm animals. Find out about how animals are cared for before, during and after birth.

3.  Read a book on the care of a specific animal you are interested in knowing more about.

4. Learn about five different fish or sea creatures in a particular aquatic habitat (rivers, lakes, deep sea, coral reef, etc.) Write a paper or give a presentation to your family and friends about the animals you have studied

5. Keep a nature journal for one month. Record the animals you view, or any evidence of animals you see (footprints, scat...) along with your observations of the animals. What are they doing? What do they eat? Are they alone or in groups? Are they frightened of you? Are they calm? Are they sleeping?

6. Care for an animal for one month.

Extra Credit:
-Participate in a junior farm or zookeeper volunteer program or class, such as the Junior Docent program at Como Zoo ( or a variety of programs at Gale Woods Farm in Minnestrista,
programs at the Minnesota Zoo (including a teen volunteer program) or the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center.

The kids chose #s 1, 2, 3 and 6, although they are interested in doing all of them. We've already gone to the zoo and interviewed the zookeeper on the care and feeding of tigers. We registered for a farm helper program at Gale Woods Farm park (which includes breakfast from the farm, yum!) and they have taken over the care of our cat Shadow. All that's left is a trip to the library for a book about cat care and we are done with our first badge. Technically. I suspect they will push to accomplish all of the tasks, and I will be more than happy to accomodate their enthusiasm.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our New Approach to Homeschooling: Scout Style

Image courtesy of Adafruit

I've been in a weird place with homeschooling lately. Sometimes my brain reminds me of a snowglobe. I've got all of these seemingly random ideas floating around in my head, and until I give them a chance to settle, I have a hard time seeing the pattern. I've been in one of these snowglobe phases with homeschooling the last few months. I could tell there was a plan brewing, but I couldn't really see it yet.

I have never been able to totally nail down our homeschooling style. On one hand, I really, really love classical education. I love its focus on quality reading materials and its rigorous standards. I was not especially challenged in school, at least academically. I'm not saying I was a straight A student, but the main cause of my stumbles was boredom. As an adult, I have struggled with the consequences of the lazy, undisciplined attitude that grew out of too many years of remaining unchallenged. Classical education does an excellent job of addressing that. The downfall is that a lot of classical education is very book oriented. That's great in some ways. We love to read. We love our poetry recitation and our Latin. We're a little obsessed with books, actually, but we are also very hands on learners. Any approach I take that doesn't consider that part of our learning style is going to be incomplete.

Because of our hands-on style, I also have a great love of project based homeschooling. I love its interdisciplinary approach. In the real world, almost nothing falls into neatly divided categories. You don't go to work and work on your math, reading and science. You go to work and do a whole job, often divided into projects. It seems like a more natural way of approaching a lot of learning oriented tasks and the hands-on aspect of it really helps to cement the concepts in the children's minds. We can (and do, all winter) read about gardening, but there's no amount of reading that replicates the experience of taking a garden through all of its stages, planning, planting, tending and harvesting. A project like that touches on a variety of subjects, from the composition of e-mails to a gardener friend asking for advice, reading books on different methods of growing, to the obvious science of actually planting and growing a variety of flowers and foods. The big downfall of this method is that it can be extremely hard to quantify what we have learned and make sure that nothing gets through the cracks.


I've been trying to integrate these ideas for a while, with varying degrees of success, but I've lacked that key something that would make it feel like a more cohesive school experience. Then yesterday, while I was conversing with a friend about her son's progress in Boy Scouts, it hit me. Badges!

I've seen these Maker Skill Badges from Adafruit before and really liked the idea, but what if I put together my own system of badges that correspond with skills or academic units that we want to cover? Each badge will have a specific set of activities associated with it that have to be completed. Some badges, like mathematics related badges or reading related badges, will be required. Others will be chosen by me on a monthly basis and others will be chosen by the children themselves. Badges that cannot be purchased, we will make using a button maker. We'll make each of the children a wall-hanging to put over their bed to display the badges they have earned.

We have been brainstorming our lists all morning as we recover from our latest bout of sickness. Here is a sample of what we are thinking of. Some of these ideas are borrowed from the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or Adafruit, others are our own creation.

Car care
Fossil Hunter
Tesla Coil
Ohm's Law
Soldering (already working on)
Solar Panels
Cooking (Series of Badges)
Money Manager
Adventure (borrowed from Cub scout list)
Animal Care
Reader (Series)
Marine Biology
Faith (Series of badges)
Personal Safety
Road Safety
First Aid
Out of Your Comfort Zone
Mathematician (series of badges by skill)
Historian (series of badges by historical era)
Winter Sports/Recreation
Summer Sports/Recreation
Child Development
Spelling Star
Foreign Language (Series)
Family Camp
Fire Safety
Knife safety
Knots and ropes
Fiber Arts (series, knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery)
Fine Arts (series, drawing, painting, sculpture)
Paper crafts
Bike Repair
Wild Life
Adventure Racing
Music (series)
World Cultures
Scientist (series)
Domestic Skills
The Great Outdoors
Jewelery making
Map Master (Geography)
Corporal Works of Mercy
Citizenship and Government
Fiction Writing
Non-fiction writing
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)
Nature Journaling
Memory Master
Handwriting Hero
Adventure Sports/Recreation
Crafts (series)
Human Anatomy
Martial Arts
Scuba Diving

Obviously, this is quite a hodge podge of ideas, some of which will have to be sifted through, organized and sorted, but its an exciting list of learning activities that should help to get the brain juice flowing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Help us Solve a Mystery!

Bella is a mystery lover, especially when the mysteries involve art. She spent a full month talking her siblings out of playing Avengers and into playing Finding the Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee for the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum. If she were any less sincere, it would be unbearably pretentious. She comes by it honestly. We are art lovers in our family. My sister owns an art gallery. When she and I were homeschooled as teens we'd get our work done by noon and spend the rest of the day at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. 
That said, we are not exactly on a fine art budget here in the Griffith household, so I get most of my artwork at the Goodwill Gallery. I brought these two pictures home the other day for $5 a piece, with another $5 for the candle sconce between them. I was sick to death of looking at the bare walls and these just kind of fell into my cart. (tangentially, whenever I am thrift store shopping I'll look at the prices and think, "Are you kidding? $5! This is not Target! You're a thrift store. Price like one." Then I get home and think, "Actually, that was a pretty sweet deal.")
As we were hangning these beauties, Isabella read the back of this one, on which someone had written A Little Princess, with a bunch of numbers above and below it. (and a price, written in another hand, of $40. I guess it was a good deal.) She set about trying to find out which princess and prince these pictures could be.


We searched the internet for the name of the picture and, not surprisingly, came up with nothing but a bunch of links to Amazon selling the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel by the same name. 
Next we decided to look for the clues in the pictures. The castle in the background, for example. Windsor Castle, maybe? We're not sure, but it could be. 
We asked my dad, who thought they looked a bit like the work of Thomas Gainsborough (The Blue Boy, which we saw at the Huntington Library just last winter). 

I can see his point. We did a search on Gainsborough and discovered that he painted King George III, who had 15 children. We looked up each of his children and found nothing that convinced us one way or the other.

And then I thought, I have a whole lot of nerdball friends and family. There's someone out there who can help us with this. Any ideas? What era is the clothing? Recognize the castle? The country? The style of painting? Do a nerdy seven year old a solid and help her find the answers.