Tuesday, April 28, 2015

La La Logic {Review} - Preschool Brain Exercises (Raise Your Preschooler's IQ by Playing Games)

La La Logic Review
     Marley and Dylan have been using an online learning program called La La Logic Preschool Curriculum and be prepared to hear me rave about how great it is in this review!  We La La LOVE this program! ;)
     La La Logic has created fun games and activities to help children develop their critical thinking skills.  But in addition to games and activities, the program includes an easy to follow schedule which takes the form of a substantial daily curriculum.  

     This online program is designed for ages 3-6, which worked out perfectly for my girls (ages 2.5 and 5).  I opened up an account for each of them.  You can have accounts for up to 5 children.  Each of my girls were able to choose their own little character icon.  Marley is the Elephant and Dylan is the Bumble Bee.  The program provides 100 weeks of lesson plans and over 500 online games.  The curriculum includes three distinct learning methods: 
     1) Brain Challenges
     2) Worksheets
     3) Extension Activities  

     My 5 year old, Marley really enjoyed the online brain challenges.  She would ask to do higher levels and more games. And Dylan (my 2 year old) struggled a bit with clicking the mouse but the practice has been great for her.  This program has helped her improve her computer skills by leaps and bounds.  The brain challenge portion became easy for me.  I just started the games and both of my girls were able to click right through the games and enjoy them without much help from me.  The brain challenges are very cute and have a variety of games, helpful for visual and audio learning.  The colors, shapes, and characters are very appealing for preschool aged children. 

     I think Marley liked the worksheet portion the best, because she enjoys hands on learning.  The worksheets require printing so a printer is needed.  The worksheets included visual thinking, categorizing, cutting, and gluing.  This was also very easy to prep for my 5 year old.  I would provide her with the worksheet, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick.  I gave her the instructions and she was excited to get started.  She completed the worksheets quickly and would look forward to another.  She would run up to me with a big smile and show me her completed worksheet.  The sound of "I finished mommy!" is such a sweet sound.  This is one where her critical thinking skills surprised me.  

     I asked her which categories the objects were placed in and I had in my mind that the 3rd column was "animals" but when Marley said "They are pets"  I looked again and I realized she was right!  Pets is a more specific category than animals.  She would have received a better score then me on that question. Haha.

     Here is another worksheet where I instructed Marley to match the animals to their shadows.  A fun and easy activity for her to do on her own.  
     My favorite part was participating in the extension activities.  Mainly because this portion included me and I was able to interact with my girls and watch them think and see the look in their eyes when they figured something out.  Those moments are priceless!  One of the activities was to lay out objects.  I asked her to look at them and remember what she saw.  I asked her to run to her room and I mixed up the items.  Her job was to place them in the original order. Then I started taking items away and she would ask where it went.  Marley enjoyed that tricky part.  She would laugh and say "Hey, where did you put it?" She LOVED this activity. We played for 20-30 minutes.

     I also appreciate the section where you can add notes to each week assignment.  I was able to record Marley's progress, and things she needs to work on, and if we should repeat the same week.  This makes it so easy to use this program as a self-paced curriculum.  I believe this is key to a successful education with young children.  Fun, variety, and no pressure.

     This online program is so simple and easy to do with your kids and I feel like it covers so many learning styles and thinking skills that are important, as well as prepping children with test taking skills. These activities help exercise the brain, while the children are having fun and feeling independent.  We used it at least 3 times per week and sometimes we used it every day! All of this for a one-time fee of $29 per household! (Your account never expires.)  Totally worth it!  I highly recommend this program for any preschooler or kindergarten student.  And for moms that would like to homeschool, but need some direction in lesson planning, this online program is super helpful.

La La Logic Review
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, April 20, 2015

People Who Inspire Me: Chef Kayla from Parsley & Pepper

     My dear friend Kayla is often told that she is an amazing cook.  When I was pregnant, she was such a sweetheart and brought dinner to my family when I wasn't feeling well.  We were able to get an idea of her skills, and everyone enjoyed it!  We had told her many times that she should start a blog and share her recipes and secrets.  I am excited to share her brand new website/blog! Parsley & Pepper.

     Kayla is sweet, talented, and humble.  She is a devoted wife and mother of three young adorable kids.  She is a supportive and helpful friend.  It is through her encouraging words, that I have started actually cooking for my family.  She has inspired me to improve my homemaking skills without stress.  

     You see...I DON'T cook!  We live off cereal, pb&j, frozen chicken tenders and frozen pizza.  No joke.  My family is lucky if I decide to make spaghetti, using jarred sauce.  I just don't have the patience and all the ingredients intimidate me.  I have often looked at the meals some moms prepare for their families and felt envious and inadequate as a mom.  However, by following Kayla's instagram account @parsleyandpepper and pinning some of her recipes from her new site, I felt empowered to give this cooking thing a try. This is how it went...

     This recipe is so awesome.  Only THREE ingredients! Yay!  Easiest thing I've ever cooked and I felt so fancy watching the spices and meat cook on my stove. ;)  It only took about 15 minutes to cook.  The guacamole is an awesome addition to the Fiesta Lime taste and that was also super easy to whip up.  My husband and I were excited to get some home cooked protein in our meal for a change. And huge bonus...my kids enjoyed it!  They ate every bite I gave them and my little one asked for more.  Victory!  I was even able to use the leftover meat for lunch the next day.  I just sautéed a few tomatoes added the diced up meat and salt & pepper.  I served it over white rice and again, my family liked it!  Definitely will be making this again.

     My kids are big fans of macaroni and cheese.  I was excited to try to make it from scratch for the first time.  I had no clue how easy mac and cheese is to cook until I read Kayla's recipe.  I thought, "Hey, I can totally do this!"  And I did.  I wasn't a fan of the smell of Gruyere, so I'll probably use a different kind of cheese next time, but this recipe is incredibly easy and fast.  My family was so impressed that we had a home cooked meal for dinner.  I am a huge fan of the Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts!  This was so easy and delicious.  I love sweet things and bacon...don't even get me started on my love for bacon. ;)  Not a big fan of Brussels Sprouts but somehow Kayla put together a recipe that made me want more. Yay.  Thumbs up!  

Condensed Soup-Free Chicken & Rice Casserole
     This one was my absolute favorite! When Kayla recommended me to try this recipe, she warned that it wasn't her easiest recipe, because there were a lot of steps, but she was confident that I would be happy with it.  For sure! There are a lot of ingredients and prep for this casserole.  I worked hard on this one and I was so proud of myself when I placed the baking dish in the oven.  It looked fabulous when I took it out, to place it in my broiler.  Warning: I never used my broiler before this, so I was not aware that placing glassware in a broiler is a sensitive issue.  This is how unexperienced I am with cooking ;) Haha.  Well, when I was taking the dish out of the broiler, it shattered in my hands and the casserole was everywhere. :(  I should have taken a picture of the mess (it's funny now looking back), but I was so sad.  I apologized to my family and expressed that it broke my heart because of all the work I put into the casserole.  We were able to salvage about 1/4 of the casserole, to taste some of it for dinner.  Let me tell you...it was SO incredibly delicious.  My kids asked for more.  This picture of Marley laughing is because daddy was teasing her about eating all her dinner...she is my picky eater, but she loved this meal.  My husband and I enjoyed it so much that we went back and picked through the broken glass for a few more bites. Hahaha!  This recipe was a lot of work, but this was the most delicious and the healthiest casserole I've ever made.  My husband asked me to make it again in the future.  But obviously, beware the broiler. ;)

     I have been able to provide nutritious meals for my babies and grocery shopping was not random chaos like usual, because I went with a set list for my planned meals. And since I have learned some basic techniques from Kayla's recipes, I am much more confident in trying out my own recipes or throwing in some extra ingredients.
     PARENTAL NOTE: I have also noticed that my children have been behaving much better!  The evening tantrums have diminished, and the crankiness has disappeared.  I am almost certain that the more substantial meals (in place of junk food and processed food) has had a direct affect on their behavior.  We have all been feeling good and more peaceful. Amazing!!  Um, this is awesome! Hopefully I can keep it up. ;)
     I am so impressed with the quality of Kayla's recipes.  She makes an effort to use natural ingredients to cook healthy wholesome meals.  They turn out delicious and beautiful.  I spoke with her several times telling her, "No really, I am not good at cooking."  She kept encouraging me and assuring me that her recipes are very easy and that anyone can be successful at cooking when they keep it simple and practice.  She has helped me take my first steps in improving my cooking and my family has benefited from my efforts in just the past week.  I am lucky enough to be good friends with Kayla, so I can text her with last minute questions.  But if you comment and ask questions on her blog, she responds as soon as she can.  Kayla is very happy to help and she loves to hear success stories.

      Thank you Thank you Kayla! xoxo

Visit ParsleyAndPepper.com and follow on Instagram @ParsleyAndPepper.

Friday, April 17, 2015

ARTistic Pursuits - An Art Homeschool Curriculum

     When I first received my curriculum handbook from ARTistic Pursuits in the mail, Marley saw it and was excited to get started on it.  I explained to her that we were going to be able to do some more art projects together.  My girl is quite an artist.  She loves drawing, coloring, painting, cutting, gluing, creating, anything where she is visualizing and using her hands.  Ever since she started holding a crayon, I could tell art was going to be a significant part of her education.  She shows passion and focus during all her art projects.  Therefore, I am dedicated to finding quality resources for art study to apply to our homeschool curriculum.

     We received the preschool edition of the series called "The Way They See It."  This book can be purchased for $47.95, which I think is very reasonable for the content that is provided.  It indicates it is targeted to ages 3,4, and 5.  My daughter is almost 5, so it was easy to apply to her activities.  I also have a younger daughter who will be 3 in October, and a baby boy who will be in preschool in a couple years.  So, one great thing about this handbook, is that it can be reused for several years for multiple children.
     This book is the perfect aid in integrating art into your daily homeschool lessons.  I love that the book starts off by giving you a very basic foundation on art study and exploration of art supplies.  You are briefed on the principles of art and conceptual elements of art projects.  The book also lets you know which art supplies you will be needing.  The layout and specific instructions were a dream come true for an organized perfectionist like myself!
     The book contains around 25 lessons or projects.  There are some lessons that ask the child to examine a work of art and point out certain aspects of it.  The children are taught to notice colors, shapes, ideas, and feelings.  I loved this part.  It is very easy to sit down and look at a picture and ask questions about it.  This got Marley using her own imagination to explore the artwork, and we had some pleasant mother daughter conversations in doing so.
    Some other lessons were specific assignments. For example, the book instructed us to go outside and look at the sky and observe it.  Marley was then supposed to go inside and paint a picture of what she saw in the sky.  Again, an easy project and it made me feel like we were experiencing a very artistic part of painting.  I had Marley lay on the grass and look at the sky.  Then I told her to close her eyes and hear the sounds that were happening outside, like the wind and the leaves and the birds.
     After a couple minutes, we went inside and I instructed her to draw what she saw and what she visualized in her mind.  So I was able to modify the directions a little bit to our preferences.
        Marley had a blast doing the art projects provided in the handbook.  I really loved this handbook/curriculum because it allowed me to develop a stronger understanding of art education.  Now I can apply that knowledge as an educator to future art project we do that aren't necessarily outlined in the book.  I also thought the authors of the book and curriculum seemed to be experts in art and art education.  I would definitely invest in higher levels of this curriculum.  It was simple, original, and very knowledgable.

ARTistic Pursuits Review
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, April 6, 2015

Teaching My Preschooler to Play Chess (The Benefits of Chess)

     "You have to have the fighting spirit. You have to force moves and take chances." - Bobby Fischer

     The educational value of chess is unmatched by any other game! Numbers, letters, grids, royal positions, strategy, math, and the list goes on and on.
     My husband and I love chess.  We find joy and beauty in it.  There is something very special about a game that is easy to learn but difficult to master.  There is art in the strategy and respect in the intellect.  It really is an amazing game.
We are excited that Marley has reached an age where we can start teaching her how to play.  And she is very excited to learn, especially since one of her favorite parts from Harry Potter is Wizard's Chess.  Chess flexes so many brain muscles and is a fun game to play once you have it down.

     Some ways chess enhances intelligence:

  • Memory - Each time you play, you are getting better at the game; remembering how players react to your moves and so forth.
  • Brain exercise - You are using both the logical and creative parts of the brain.
  • Strategy - Chess teaches you to know your opponent and plan for proceeding moves.  You improve your problem solving skills.
  • Math - You learn to visualize geometric shapes in the moves of pieces and to utilize numbers and grids.
  • Concentration - There is focus and meditation involved in chess.
  • Confidence & Integrity - The more you play, the more you adjust to being a winner and a loser. You begin to enter into competition with a more mature attitude towards various results. 

     And here is a great link for teaching kids: TEACH KIDS TO PLAY CHESS.
     This is the chess set we have.  Inexpensive, portable, and magnetic!  We love it.
     The first step (after getting a chess board, of course) in teaching a young child how to play is for them to learn the names of the pieces.
     The second step is to show them how to set up the board.
Here is a helpful image for Chess setup.

     The third step is to allow them to observe an actual game while indicating the BASIC RULES.  My husband and I played a game while Marley watched.  Every once in a while, I would say "Watch this Marley.  I'm going to move my Bishop to this spot, but watch what happens next." And then my husband would take my Bishop.  Marley made a sad face and said, "Hey! Why are you taking Mommy's pieces?  That's not nice Daddy."  It was pretty funny!  But we explained to her that it was part of the game and that I am not upset when he takes my pieces.  A little lesson on being a good sport.
     The final step is practice, practice, practice.  After our game was finished, Marley was excited to play a game.  She does not know how to play yet, so I would remind her of her options in moving pieces.  Her favorite piece was the Queen, because "The Queen can move anywhere she wants."  Haha.  Sort of. She made lots of errors and I set up the game so that she won, but I won't let her win the next one. ;)  Then I let Marley play chess with her sister, without any reminders or instruction.  That was quite an interesting game. Hahaha.
     We will continue to play and practice together.  The key is to make sure it is fun while educating.
     Marley had a great time and asked if we could play chess every day. The request made me happy, but probably not

every day. ;)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fools Day Lesson Plan

     As a homeschooler I am getting much better at recognizing learning opportunities.  Seems like anything can be spun into an educational moment... even April Fools Day pranks! ;)

Can't Hear My Voice? - How the Ear Works
     In the morning, I started to mouth my words to Marley without actually speaking.  She smiled and asked, "Mommy, what are you doing?"  I kept up my silent words for about 5 minutes and Marley started to copy me by speaking without sound.  I then let her in on my joke.  We then discussed how sound and hearing works.  Here are a few links on that subject:
Hearing and the Ear
Facts About Hearing
How the Ear Works (video)

Frozen Cereal - How Liquids Freeze
     Last night I poured my kids cereal and milk and put the bowls in the freezer.  This morning they had a little surprise.  Obviously, the frozen milk didn't stop my Dylan from digging in to her cereal. Hahaha!

After we had some giggles, we discussed why things freeze and how temperature works.  Here are some good information links:
- Freezing Liquids Experiment

- Melting and Boiling

- States of Matter Worksheet
- 3 States of Matter (video)

Brownies, er... Brown Es - Lower Case & Upper Case
     I told my girls that I had baked them some brownies. Okay, well technically I didn't say the word "brownies" but they got all excited and ran to the kitchen.  When I opened the oven, Marley said, "Wait a minute!  These aren't brownies."  I said, "Yes they are.  They are brown Es aren't they?... April Fools!"
She was laughing and was such a good sport about it.  I thought she would be sad that they weren't real brownies.

Since she took it so well, I decided to bake real brownies with my girls afterward.  But before that, I had them separate the brown Es into lower case and upper case letters.  Done! Let's bake! ;)  Here are links to upper case and lower case practice:
- Upper Case & Lower Case Game
- Upper Case & Lower Case Worksheets