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Friday, February 27, 2015

Polar Bear Day

Polar Bear theme offers such a wealth of exciting activities that I decided to stretch the Polar Bear Day into a Polar Bear Week.  Grandparents were visiting for a weekend, so I had a bit of extra time for planning.

Polar Bear Dot-to-Dot
I started off by drawing a polar bear with a help of a youtube video.  Do you like my polar bear?  Can you tell I've been taking Drawing lessons lately?   I then  turned my drawing into a dot to dot, and laminated it.  Kids got to practice numbers 1 through 70 and have fun doing it.  I asked them to say the numbers out loud as they connected the dots with dry erase marker.

My 4-year old colored her polar bear black after she connected the dots.  She said, white was boring.

Polar Bear Puzzle 
Next I laminated another copy of my Polar Bear drawing and cut it into eight pieces for puzzle fun.  Kids love puzzles.  (I do too, but of different nature).  Note the intense look of concentration.


(By the way, I can not imagine a homeschooling life without my Scotch Laminator).

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? (Brown Bear and Friends)by Bill Martin and Eric Carle, of course!  This book gets them very excited.  And loud!  Don't read it before bed!

The Polar Bear Scientists by Peter Lourie.  The text might be a bit difficult to grasp for little kids (skip it!), but beautiful, astonishing photographs in this book will start a great discussion about the polar bear scientists and what their life is like.  I now have two future polar bear scientists right in my own house.  They are eating oatmeal right now wearing their hats and gloves for practice (because Polar Bear Scientists work in such extremely cold conditions they have to do everything while wearing lots of clothes on).  We loved this book!

I came across this cute experiment while I was researching polar bear facts.  Turns out that polar bears stay warm in the Arctic due to 4-5 inches of fat called blubber.  So for this experiment kids had one hand covered with shortening (very similar in nature to animal fat) and the other one not.  They put their hands in ice cold water and reported, which hand stayed warmer.  For keeping the shortening on My 6-year old chose putting on a latex glove and my 4-year old tried a plastic bag held on with a rubber band.  Kids reported that the hand inside the bag/glove with shortening felt much warmer.

And as for the craft I simply printed out a polar bear printout and  gave it to kids.  They cut it out, covered it with glue and cotton balls, and used a black marker to mark an eye and a nose.  Happy Polar Bear Day!

What do you know about Polar Bears?  Have you ever come across interesting Polar Bear resources?

Chocolate Cake

Spring is almost here!  Right!  But we are practicing spring anyway.  The good way to start practicing is by making lots of cakes decorated with flowers and bunnies.  This is a chocolate cake recipe that my six year old picked from the DK Children's Baking Book.  I like that each step has a picture to go with it, so for children following instructions gets a whole lot easier.

Toddler is the first tester
Double Chocolate Fudge Cake (DK The Children's Baking Book)
We skipped the icing and the chocolate that it calls for, so our cake is not double chocolate, but it was delicious anyway.

For the cake
6 oz butter (softened)
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 eggs (beaten)
1/2 cup sour cream

The recipe calls for icing, but my kids wanted Cream Cheese Frosting instead.
I don't know where this recipe comes from but we have been using it for years.
For the frosting
8 oz cream cheese (softened)
powdered sugar about 3 cups (sometimes I add a bit of butter, maybe 1-2 Tbsp and then add an additional cup of sugar)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325F.  Grease and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
(I was sceptical about doing this extra step.  I always skipped it in the past and my cakes turned out just fine.  But my son asked what it meant and I explained how he can put a pan on top of parchment paper and use a pencil to mark the outline, then he can cut it out and have a perfectly sized circle to line the pan.  He actually got very interested in this step and decided to do it).
2. Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix together until combined.
3. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add the eggs and the sour cream and beat with an electrical mixer or whisk until combined.
4. Divide the mixture between the two pans and level the tops.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Leave to cool slightly then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Remove the parchment paper.
4. To make the frosting, place cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in a mixer and beat until smooth.  Use a little of the frosting to sandwich the two cakes together.  Spread the remaining frosting over the top, Decorate as desired.

Bon Appetite!

Under the Sea Day

We have a wonderful 4-feet Under the Sea puzzle that is challenging enough to make my four-year old and six-year old cooperate in the sweetest way.  Yesterday I was watching them do it and Under the Sea song from The Little Mermaid kept circling over and over in my head and suddenly I thought, "Hey!  Under the Sea is a perfect theme for tomorrow's activities!"

Math Games
I dug out some fish stickers and while kids were finishing with the puzzle I made some math cards.  My math cards are just a fancy name for index cards with some stickers on one side and answer on the other.

English and Math
We read our worn out copy of Sea Shells by the Sea Shore book and Shark (Eyewitness books).  Then we dumped our sea shells on a floor and played some simple math games. Counting, sorting sea shells into the piles of fives and tens, making the shells march in pairs, and adding and subtracting and multiplying.

I asked them what sea creature they wanted to draw and they picked a shark.  I looked up step-by-step youtube video, memorized it and then lead them through the steps by drawing with them.  This is what they ended up with.

Drawing of a 4-year old

Drawing of a 6-year old

No shark project is complete without reading Shark vs Train book by Chris Barton.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Valentine's Day

CNN reports that couples in America spend over $18 billion on Valentine’s Day presents!  What?  I think Valentine’s Day is great when you spend it with people you love, doing special activities together, but, please, hold the chocolates and stuffed teddy bears.  They are not necessary!  Our solution to a super special Valentine's Day that is not commercialized is eating lots of heart-shaped food and playingValentine’s Game that we made up a few years ago and that has become a yearly tradition (it makes everyone laugh).  

Our favorite sugar cookies recipe comes from Martha Stewart website.  
Basic Sugar Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (what I do is throw butter in a microwave in this glass dish and then just use it for mixing)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (this organic kind is my absolute favorite.  I even have it on subscribe-and-save)

In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt.  With an electrical mixer, cream butter and sugar (in that glass dish I linked above) until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined.  Divide dough in half; flatten into disks.  Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 325F.  Line baking sheets with parchment.  (I am now a proud owner of these huge baking sheets and I can bake all of the cookies in one go!)Remove one dough disk, let stand 5-10 minutes.  Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed.  Cut shapes with cookie cutters.  Transfer to baking sheets.  Reroll scraps; cut shapes.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat. 

Bake until edges are golden, 10-18 minutes.  Cool and decorate.  

I like to decorate my cookies with meringue powder.  I just follow instruction on a can.  All you need is to mix meringue powder, confectioner sugar and water.  Add food coloring, if desired.  Considering that I had one kid shaking my elbow, another one pulling on my knee,  and the third one saying, "Are they ready yet? Are they ready yet?" while I was decorating the cookies, they came out pretty good.  Anyway, I judge the outcome by how fast the cookies disappear and these were gone in no time.

Valentine's Game

For a few weeks preceding the Valentine's Day everybody wrote down (the kids who can't write dictated it to me) what they love about some family member without saying who it was about.  "I love you for... " was a starter.  We put the folded pieces of paper into our Valentine Day's truck (we got this project from Oriental Trading Company).  After the Valentine's Day dinner we read each one in turn, guessing who it was about and laughing like crazy.  

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!