September 29, 2012

See it, Do it, Learn it


Many people just aren't good at note-taking.  Still fewer are good at teaching note-taking.  Besides, what young kid, or teenager for that matter, wants to write page upon page of notes...let alone go back and study those notes?  Get creative with the information and make it memorable...and maybe even a little fun.  Here are four ideas I've discovered to help kids see it, do it, and learn it.

  1. Visual Note-taking.  Do you have a doodler in your house?  Visual note-taking may be a great way to combine his or her natural tendency to doodle with taking notes.  I recently discovered a blog post on Core 77 which explained that visual note-taking is simply a way to visually organize important pieces of information.  It can be done using images or words (or both), and is organized using lines, arrows, boxes, and even color.  Don't worry about being a great artist, it doesn't have to be pretty, as long as the information flows and keeps the note-taker interested.  
  2. Mind Maps.  Mind Maps are similar to visual note-taking in the sense that it is a way of visually organizing pieces of information.  However, it differs in that it doesn't flow.  It's more like a spider web, or a snow flake.  The main idea or topic is in the center of the page, and each sub-topic branches out.  Details then branch out from each sub-topic.  I found a great article on Mind Tools and a blog post on Beyond Talk that explain the technique in more detail.
  3. Power Point.  Some people can't stand making Power Point presentations, my daughter on the other hand, loves it.  She loves copying and pasting images & texts, then animating each slide.  Furthermore, she loves to go back and watch her creations over and over again.  Hmm...sounds like studying to me!  For younger children, a whole unit can be a long time to remember details.  By creating a slide for each lesson (or chapter, or whatever reasonable chunk you choose), the information doesn't seem to be too much to handle.  If you have access to digital or online textbooks you may even be able to copy important information directly from the textbook.  Then, have fun with slide transitions, animated text, and image entrances & exits.  You can even record your child reading some of the information and link it to an image.  If you don't have Microsoft Power Point, don't worry, you can download and install a free office program called Apache Open Office.
  4. Lapbooking.  If you've never heard of lapbooking, think of the big poster you made for the science fair.  Now shrink it down to the size of a manila file folder.  Lapbooks can be as ornate and detailed as you want them to be.   If you need more space, create fold out pages by attaching more file folders.  Now, fill the folder with minibooks that display all the information your child has learned.  Jimmie at Squidoo has a very informative article with everything you ever wanted to know about using lapbooks to help your child see it, do it, and learn it.  For even more samples, visit my lapbooking board on Pinterest.
There are so many ways to learn in the classroom, whether that classroom is in a brick and mortar school or your own home.  These are just a few that I find useful.  What creative tips do you have to share for making note-taking more fun and effective?

September 22, 2012

Cheesy Breadsticks with Nacho Sauce

Everyone in my house is a cheese lover.  I can get them to eat just about anything just by adding cheese.  So, it is no surprise that my cheesy breadsticks with nacho cheese dipping sauce are a bit hit.  I mean really, who can resist homemade cheesy breadsticks that are golden on the outside and soft inside dipped in warm, gooey nacho cheese sauce?  Certainly not my crew!  While it does take a little time, they are both very easy to make and well worth the effort.

Cheesy Breadsticks

1 C lukewarm water
1 egg
1/3 C sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/3 C flour (I use bread flour.  Wheat breadsticks can be made by using 2 C bread flour and 1 1/3 C wheat flour.)
3 teaspoons dry yeast (I use quick rise.)
2 Tablespoons butter (Use baking butter, not a spread.)

Add ins:
garlic powder
shredded cheddar cheese (or whatever you prefer)

Combine all ingredients, except add ins, in a large mixing bowl in the order listed.  Stir with a wooden spoon until a dough starts to form.  

Knead the dough for approximately 6 minutes.  (Skip the gym today, this is a great arm workout.)  

Warm your oven slightly...really...just leave the oven on for a couple of minutes.  Your not baking the bread yet, just letting it rise.  If the walls of the oven are too hot to touch, it's too hot.  Put the bowl of dough in the oven and let it rise for 1 hour.  

After that, punch down the down and sprinkle a little flour on your clean and dry counter top.  Flatten the dough out to about 6" X 8" or so.  It doesn't have to be exact or even pretty; you're just creating a larger surface area on which to add your garlic and cheese.  Sprinkle the garlic powder all over the dough to taste.  I like a lot of garlic flavor, but I've never measured how much I add.  Next, sprinkle your shredded cheese over the dough.  Again, I've never measured how much I add, but it's approximately 2 good handfuls.  Roll the dough up jelly roll style and kneading the dough until the cheese and garlic are distributed evenly through out the dough.  

Now you are ready to divide the dough into 16 equal(ish) pieces.  Roll each piece out like a rope until it about 8"-10" long.  Kids love to help with the rolling.  Place each rope on a greased cookie sheet; just touching.  

Slightly warm your oven again for the second rise.  This time they will rise for 30 minutes.  (Now is a good time to start your cheese sauce.)  

After the 30 minutes, take the dough out of the oven while you preheat the oven to 375ยบ.  Bake your breaksticks for 12-14 minutes, until golden brown.

Nacho Sauce

3 Tablespoons butter (Use baking butter, not a spread.)
3 Tablespoons flour (Either bread flour or all purpose flour are fine.)
2 C milk (I use 2%, but you can use whatever you have.)
1 C shredded cheddar cheese

Add ins:
garlic powder
onion powder
chili powder
ground cumin
Rotel juice

Combine the butter and flour in a small sauce pan over low heat to form a simple roux.  (A roux is a mixture of a fat, such as butter, and flour used in cooking to thicken soups, sauces, and the like.)

Slowly, as in a dribble at time, add in the milk, stirring continuously.  After all the milk is stirred in, raise the heat slightly and continue to stir until the sauce starts to thicken.  This will take about 5-10 minutes.  You now have a white sauce which can be used as a base for any number of sauces.  

Reduce the heat back to low and stir in your add ins.  I don't measure them, just add what you think you might like, stir, taste, and revise.  Just remember, a little cumin goes a long way.  Oh, and by the way, Rotel is a brand of canned diced tomatoes that have diced green chilies in it.  We use this regularly, and the juice adds a nice little kick to the sauce.  Stir the sauce until your spices are distributed evenly through out the sauce.  Finally, add in your shredded cheese.  

Stir until melted.  Serve warm.

Pair them with a dinner salad and make it a meal!  What are your favorite cheesy indulgences?


September 12, 2012

Grow with me, go with me growth chart

When my sisters and I were younger, one of our Papaws would periodically mark our heights (and those of our cousins) on a wall in his house.  It was fun as we got older to look at how each of us had grown over the years.  Unfortunately, all of that was lost when his house was sold after his death.  It would be so nice to have had a growth chart that we could have taken with us.

Okay, you're right, they do make those.  Finding one that looks nice and matches your decor is a different story, though.  One of my sisters (and her husband) made their own and I absolutely love the idea.  So, with her permission, I'm sharing it with you.  This is a very simple and inexpensive project.  You may already have all the supplies you need hiding around your garage or shed.  However, even if you do have to go buy everything, it should still only cost around $10.


  • one 2 X 2 X 8 piece of lumber
  • paint in color of your choice
  • measuring tape
  • Sharpie (or other permanent marker or paint pen)

  1. Cut the lumber to the length you desire.  I recommend choosing a height that would allow you to stand the measuring chart in the corner of a room, however, if your ceilings are tall enough you can skip this step.  A 2 X 2 X 8 piece of lumber can be purchased for as little as $2.
  2. Paint the lumber the color of your choice.  If you've done any remodeling lately, you may very well have enough left over paint lying around.  If not, consider buying a sample-sized amount of paint.  These can be purchased for as little as $3.
  3. Use your measuring tape and Sharpie (these are available in a variety of colors) to mark standard lengths along one side of the wood.  Or, for multiple children (or grandchildren), use one of the four sides of the wood for each child (or groups of grandchildren).
Now, line up the kiddos and start measuring.  Make one for a friend, too.  Custom grow with me, go with me charts are a great baby shower gift and so much more attractive than most store bought options.  One of the benefits of this growth chart is that you don't have to wait for the child to be able to stand in order to be measured against a chart hanging on the wall.  Simply lay the stick on the floor to measure baby!  How many growth charts do you know that can do that?  Do it yourself projects make it simple to live the good life.  How will you customize yours?


September 8, 2012

Play to learn

How many times have you heard, "Mommy, will you play with me?"  If your kids are like mine, you hear it more days than not.  Why not take a little time to play a game?  There are a number of ways to have some fun while sneaking in a little workout for their brains as well.  Here are some ideas to help get you started.

  1. Stock your game closet with educational games.  There are more educational games out there than you may realize.  Deliberately search out games with high educational value and include them on your holiday and birthday wish lists.  Wiebe, Carlson, & AssociatesEducational Insights, and Talicor have created some excellent subject specific games, while Franklin Learning Systems has a large selection of emotionally and socially focused games.  These and many other games can be purchased online from retailers such as Fat Brain ToysEducational Learning Games, and Learning Resources.
  2. Restructure non-educational games so that they become educational.  Have a deck of playing cards?  About.comPractical Pages, and Do2Learn all have some great game ideas using standard playing cards.  Play Monopoly or The Game of Life to practice counting money.  Play Yahtzee, Black Jack, or Cribbage to practice addition and multiplication.  Play Scrabble, Scrabble Slam, Boggle, or Buzz Word to practice vocabulary and spelling.  Any of these games can be modified to fit specific words or skills your child needs to practice.
  3. Make your own games at home.  Even with all the ready-made games out there, sometimes you still just can't find a game you like that really focuses on that one specific skill your child needs help make your own!  Turn your creative side loose and have some fun.  Make your own board game, card game, dice game, or even action game.  The Game, and Jefferson County Schools in Tennessee have some great ideas for make-at-home games to help get you started.
For even more ideas, check out my play-to-learn board on Pinterest.  The bottom line is, children love to play games; and they love the time they spent with you while playing games.  So put away the dreaded flash cards and live the good life by playing educational games with your children.  What are your favorite educational games?


September 1, 2012

Watch and Learn

I often cringe at commercials I see for t.v. shows marketed to children and tweens today.  Not only do most of them lack substance, but many of them actually seem to promote the sassy, know-it-all attitude I work so hard to try to prevent in my children.  Still, like many other parents, I find I am guilty of occasionally suggesting that the kids "go find something to watch" on t.v. when I am busy.  But, the t.v. doesn't have to be the time wasting bad guy it's made out to be.  Choosing the right program is the key to guilt-free viewing.

There are many quality shows out there, and for more than just pre-schoolers.  Let's start with the obvious...PBS.  I think they probably have the best selection of educational shows.  Yes, many are for younger children, but there also shows for older elementary and even high school students.  Here are some of my favorites (in no particular order).

There are other channels, as well, which have very educational shows.  Qubo has Time Blazers, and The Zula Patrol.  The History Channel periodically runs episodes of GettysburgVietnam in HD, and WWII in HD.  The Discovery Channel has Planet EarthCuriosity, and of course Mythbusters.  With a little research, and the help of a DVR, the right program can be ready to watch whenever you are.  Many shows are also available for online veiwing.  So, go ahead, plop the youngsters down in front of the "boob tube" to watch and learn while you live the good life.

What are your favorite educational tv shows?