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The Simple Way to Make Learning Geography Easy and Painless!

I remember sitting in school as an elementary school kid and coloring maps until my hand hurt. I don’t know if the requirement to color the map was an attempt to make learning geography more enjoyable, but if it was, it didn’t work. At all. In fact, it just made it more tedious and painful. I also remember trying to cram all the countries, lakes and rivers on a given continent into my mind so I could spew them out onto a geography test the next day. I was pretty good at that. I usually did well on my geography tests. But when I transferred the names of countries and landforms from my brain to the test, they stayed on the paper and not in my head. In other words, I aced my tests but I did not learn geography. The whole process felt tiresome and laborious. So, I hated geography.

Geography is important though, so fortunately there are better and easier ways to learn. The way we study geography in our homeschool makes learning it so easy that it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be effective, but it is! Most of my kids actually enjoy it, and they retain the information really really well. This method works for all ages, so you can use it for your elementary school students and up through middle school and high school. I have to give credit here to Sarah Mackenzie, author of Teaching From Rest (which I highly recommend reading, by the way). I originally got this idea from her, and created my own version for my children. For this method, all you need is :

  • a dry-erase marker (use a washable one for the sake of your sanity)
  • plastic page protectors
  • a prong folder
  • blank blackline maps
  • a world atlas

Place the map that you would like your child to study in a plastic page protector in the prong folder. When my children are first beginning to learn geography, I like to start with a map of the world so they can learn the continents and major oceans before moving on to countries, states, cities, and smaller bodies of water. After they know the continents and oceans, we study areas of the world that we are learning about in history, so the kids can visualize the locations of the events that they are studying.

A great resource for blackline maps that I use a lot is the website George the Geographer: http://www.georgethegeographer.co.uk/Base_maps/Base_maps.html

You can also just do an internet search for “backline map of _______” and should be able to find what you need that way.

Once you have your child’s map book assembled, give him or her an atlas. I like this children’s atlas for elementary aged children – National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas. Older children will need a more detailed atlas. Ask your child to use the dry-erase marker and copy 2-3 names of places (countries, states, cities, etc.) and 1-2 bodies of water down on their map, then erase. The next day, have the child write everything on the map that he or she remembers. If your child doesn’t remember anything from the previous day’s map, that’s ok! Once your child has copied down the things she remembers, have her add another 2-3 places from the atlas and another 1-2 bodies of water. You can alter the numbers as needed. For example, if your child is struggling to remember, just have him add 1 new item to the map each day. If he is feeling really motivated, let him add as many new locations as he wants.

Keep doing this every day until he has mastered that particular map. That’s it! It’s so easy, so quick, and best of all, it encourages self-directed learning. Your child gets to study the map in the way that interests him and he is allowed to learn at his own pace. Give it a try! Let me know what you think!

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Budget-Friendly Hair and Skincare that is Healthier for Your Family and the Earth!

We hear a lot about toxins these days – all the things that cause cancer, disrupt your hormones, and damage your body in various ways. Everything is suspect – our food, the air, our water, even the soaps and lotions we use on our bodies. Many of us would prefer to avoid slathering ourselves and our children with toxic chemicals, but it can be tough to do in today’s world where such things seem to be almost universally present in cosmetics. There are cleaner products, or course, but I’ve gotten discouraged in the past by the price tag that so many of them carry. When you have five kids and a tight budget, it’s tough to pay 3 times, 5 times, or even 10 times the amount it costs for a cheap bottle of shampoo or lotion in order to get a healthier product. A lot of these “cleaner” products are also hard to find. You might not be able to pick them up in a regular grocery or drug store, and if I have to search all over town for a product or make a special trip when the kids run out of shampoo, it’s just not likely to happen. I have also been very disappointed to find, when I have taken the time to investigate the ingredients of products that claim to be “natural,” or “clean,” that many of them are not much better than regular products, or not better at all. You can make your own clean products, or course, but I’ve never really had a desire to spend time doing that for my large family. Just trying to feed these people healthy homemade food is a full-time job! Even though I haven’t had much luck in the past, I recently revisited the idea of cleaning up our body care products, and this time, I found some things that I am really excited about because they are inexpensive, easy to find, and super clean! It feels great to be able to use cleaner products without breaking the bank, and I’m excited to share what I have discovered with you.

Before I get started I want to tell you about my favorite resource for determining whether a product is really a healthier choice. The Environmental Working Group has a consumer guide on their website (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) where you can search for a product and see EWG’s hazard rating for the product. It rates products on a scale from “EWG Verified” to 10. The higher the number, the more concerning ingredients the product contains. If the product has a 1 or 2 hazard rating, it’s very safe for people and for the environment. And of course “EWG Verified” is pretty much the best you can get in terms of low toxicity. That’s the gist, but I highly recommend checking out the website. It is FULL of excellent information and great resources on living healthier and being kinder to the earth. In this article, the majority of the products that I share are EWG Verified, because ideally that is what I’d like to use with my family. ALL the products that I share are a 2 rating or better.

Ok, so now that you know how I am determining whether a product is “clean” and healthier, here are the products that I want to share:

The Winners! Really Clean, Easy to Find, AND Inexpensive

The first product I want to share is Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bars. These are just regular bars of soap, and they have an EWG rating of 1, which is just about as good as it gets. The best part is that these bars of soap are cheap – about $1 per bar, and really easy to find. Your grocery store or drug store probably caries them, as well as Walmart or Target. The ingredients are gentle enough for kids too, though you probably have to be careful around the eyes. You can also use these bars to make inexpensive and super clean hand-soap, which I will share about in another article.

If you prefer a body wash to bar soap, Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Nourishing Coconut Gentle Scent Body Wash also has an EWG rating of 1 and is inexpensive and easy to find. Aveeno has a couple of other body washes that are rated at a 2, which is still really good. They are called Aveeno Active Naturals, Skin Relief Gentle Scent Body Wash, Soothing Oat and Chamomile, and Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash, Fragrance Free.

I was super excited to find out that several of the Herbal Essences Bio:renew shampoos have an EWG Verified rating! These are also easy to find at your regular grocery store, Target, Walmart, or drug store and are very reasonably priced. Be careful because not all of the Bio:renew shampoos have an EWG Verified rating. These are the ones that do:

  • Herbal Essences Bio:renew Sulfate Free Potent Aloe + Bamboo Strength Shampoo
  • Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Sulfate Free Birch Bark Extract Shampoo
  • Herbal Essences Bio:renew Sulfate Free Potent Aloe + Mango Curl Definer Shampoo
  • Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Sulfate Free Honey & Vitamin B Shampoo
  • Herbal Essences Bio:renew Sulfate Free Potent Aloe + Eucalyptus Scalp Balance Shampoo
  • Herbal Essences Bio:renew Sulfate Free Potent Aloe + Hemp Frizz Control Shampoo

If you have ever used EWG’s rating system to try to evaluate products, you might be aware that a few years ago the Everyone brand of soap and shampoo was not rated that well. I was really pleased to discover that Everyone has reformulated their products, and now many of them have an EWG Verified rating! This is great news since Everyone products are easy to find and their large bottles of body wash, baby soap, and lotion are very reasonably priced. Here is a list of Everyone products that are EWG Verified:

  • Everyone Hand Soap in these varieties: Ruby Grapefruit, Tangerine Vanilla, Lemon + Basil, Lavender Coconut, Apricot + Vanilla, Meyer Lemon Mandarin, and Spearmint + Lemongrass
  • Everyone Foaming Hand Soap in these varieties: Spearmint Lemongrass, Lavender + Coconut, and Meyer Lemon Mandarin
  • Everyone Soap 3 in 1 in the following: Lemon Coconut, Vanilla + Lavender, Unscented, and Lavender + Aloe
  • Everyone Kids Soap in: Lavender Lullaby, Orange Squeeze, Tropical Coconut Twist, and Berry Blast
  • Everyone Baby Bath in: Chamomile + Lavender, and Simply Unscented
  • Everyone Baby Lotion in: Lavender + Chamomile, Calendula + Oat, and Simply Unscented
  • Everyone Lotion in: Unscented, Lavender + Aloe, Citrus + Mint, Cedar + Citrus, Apricot + Vanilla, Nourishing Lotion Vanilla + Lavender, and Nourishing Lotion Coconut + Lemon
  • Everyone Volume Shampoo and Everyone Nourish Shampoo
  • Everyone Face products: Face Tone, Face Cleanse, Face Exfoliate, Face Wipes and Face Moisturize
  • Everyone Soap for Every Man in: Cedar + Citrus, Lemon + Spruce

Everyone also has hand sanitizers that are EWG Verified! For the sake of reference, most of the sanitizers that you find at the store have an EWG rating of about 5. Since people are using a lot of sanitizer these days, it’s great to have a healthier option for your family. Not all of the Everyone sanitizers have an EWG Verified rating, so pay attention to which variety you are buying. The following sanitizers are EWG Verified:

  • Everyone Hand Sanitizer Gels: Peppermint + Citrus, Coconut + Lemon, and Lavender + Aloe
  • Everyone Hand Sanitizer Sprays: Ruby Grapefruit, Lavender Aloe, Coconut + Lemon, and Peppermint Citrus

That covers the basics! I will add more clean and budget-friendly products as I find and test them out!

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How Much Time Does it Take to Homeschool?

Homeschooling is a big time commitment, so it makes sense that many people who are considering homeschool wonder how much time it takes. The answer is that it varies tremendously based on many factors. The beauty of homeschool is that it is individual, and so every homeschool looks different. How many children are you homeschooling? Do you take lots of field trips? What are the ages of your children? Do you do classes online? Do you go to a co-op? What curriculum do you use? All those things and more are influences on the amount of time it takes. Another factor, and a very important one, is the length of your child’s attention span. On that topic, I would like to offer a bit of a time guide for gauging the time it takes to do bookwork based on the age of your child. Keep in mind, this would be bookwork or comparable activities with manipulatives ONLY, it does not factor in other types of learning experiences that you might want to include in your homeschool. Also, this is NOT absolute! If your child is super fast and gets her work done really quickly, great! That’s what makes homeschool awesome – she has time to do other things. If your child struggles or is meticulous and takes longer, great! That’s what makes homeschool awesome – he has the luxury of being able to take his time. Embrace this truth about homeschool: it is what you want it to be and what you and your children need it to be. There is no one-size-fits all or right way to do it. So, use the guide below to help you get an idea of the time needed, but realize that ultimately, YOU are the expert on what your child needs. Observe your child and listen to him or her and tailor your homeschool accordingly. The one caveat to this is that your state (if you live in the United States) might have a time requirement for homeschool, so make sure to check before you begin. This is a great resource for learning about your state’s homeschool laws and requirements: https://hslda.org.

Preschool ages: 5-10 minutes spent on a topic such as numbers, shapes, colors, letters etc., total time of 15-30 minutes, plus more time for reading, reading, reading! Formal instruction is not really needed at this age. Learning through books, dialogue, exploration, and play is sufficient if you don’t want to start “school” at this stage.

Kindergarten: 10-15 minutes per subject, total time of 30 minutes to an hour plus reading, reading, reading! Exploration, play, and lots of outdoor time are still excellent ways to learn at this age and should be emphasized over bookwork.

Early Elementary: 15-20 minutes per subject, total time of 1-2 hours, plus reading.

Late Elementary: 20-30 minutes per subject, total time of 2-3 hours.

Middle School: 30-40 minutes per subject, total time of 3-5 hours.

High School: 30 minutes to an hour per subject, total time of 4-6 hours.

Now, if you are new to homeschool and you have three or four children of different ages, don’t tally up all those hours and expect that to be the time commitment needed. Your young child will need you for 100% of their school time, but even kindergarteners and first graders can usually do some work independently, and your child will be able to work more and more independently as they grow and mature. Also, you can do many subjects as a family, which I strongly recommend. Science, history, and foreign language are subjects that can easily be adapted for group learning that addresses many different levels at once.

Along with daily instructional time, when considering your time commitment as a homeschool parent, you have to factor in time to review/grade/correct your child’s work, and preparation time. There are some curricula that are completely open-and-go, so little to no preparation is needed. Some homeschool parents design their own learning experiences, which takes more time.

One more thing to consider when estimating your time commitment is time for social experiences. This might not take much time at all if you live in a neighborhood full of children that play together, or it might take more time if you need to plan and travel to social events so that your children can spend time with other children.

If this all seems overwhelming, I want to offer a word of encouragement. I homeschool five children that range from preschool to high school. We start school work around 8 in the morning and finish around noon. My high school kid will often keep working past that time, and often begin before that time, but he can do so independently, so I can be done even if he isn’t. Because we can work so efficiently at home, we have the flexibility to take field trips and go on outings once a week if we want to and still keep up with our bookwork. Of course your homeschool will look different, but if I can do it, so can you! That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

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Adorable Crafts for Books! Old Macdonald Had a Farm (with FREE pattern!)

These finger puppets are fun to make with your toddler or preschooler, and fun to use as you sing along to Old MacDonald had a Farm. You might notice there is an unexpected character here – the bear! This is because I made these to go along with a specific version of Old MacDonald written by Gris Grimly which has a unique twist at the end.

To make your finger puppets you will need:

  • 1 sheet each of white, tan, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink, gray, and black felt
  • 16 googly eyes
  • one small black pom pom (for the bear’s nose)
  • either hot glue or glue dots (hot glue will be more secure, but the glue dots are safer if your little one is going to help with this project)
  • Old MacDonald Finger Puppets Pattern (below)

Step 1: Cut out the pattern piece for the body, and then cut out 2 bodies each of brown, tan, pink, yellow, and gray. Cut 6 bodies out of white felt.

Step 2: Match 2 of each color of the bodies together and sew them together with a scant 1/4 inch, leaving the bottom open.

Step 3: Cut out the rest of the pattern pieces in the correct colors. This is how the animal parts match up with the bodies:

Step 4: Attach the animal eyes and parts to the bodies using hot glue or glue dots. Here are examples of the animals so you know what they should look like when finished:

You’ll notice that some of the parts get attached to the back (donkey ears, turkey feathers, cow horns) and the rest get attached to the front.

Once all the parts are on, you’re finished!

Here’s a link to Gris Grimly’s Old MacDonald if you’d like to check it out.

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What Are the Requirements for Homeschooling?

The laws governing homeschool vary state by state. Some states regulate homeschooling quite a bit and require record keeping and standardized testing. Other states are completely hands-off and require nothing at all. Before you start homeschooling, make sure you know what your state requires. If you are just starting out on your homeschool journey, there is one resource that I recommend taking a look at: The Homeschool Legal Defense Alliance (https://hslda.org). They have a very user-friendly tool that shows you exactly what the laws of your state require of homeschoolers. The site tells you whether you need to notify the state that you are homeschooling, what subjects are required, what records you need to keep, whether your children need to participate in an assessment, and more. It is such a fabulous resource, and so easy to navigate.

Simply start here, with Homeschool Laws By State.

Click on your state.

See the Requirements at a Glance and by sure to View Complete Details

Look at all the great stuff on here!

Go check it out!

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How to Homeschool with Toddlers (or Get Something Else Done – Like Laundry, or Dishes, or Going to the Bathroom Alone)

Toddlers. Opinionated. Willful. Energetic. Emotional. And so demanding. I love toddlers. They are so much fun. But they can really make life challenging at times, including homeschool life. I’m not going to lie, it can be remarkably frustrating to be trying to diagram a sentence with an older child when your toddler decides to write on the wall with permanent marker, has a potty accident, or throws a fit. But there are things you can do to help your toddler to stay happily engaged in your homeschool life, and help your homeschool day go more smoothly despite that terrible two year-old.

Fill the Bucket

Fill your child’s need for attention first thing, before you start school for the day. Spend some time reading together, cuddling, playing a game, or doing a puzzle. Try to let your child choose the book or activity. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time – 15 to 20 minutes will go a long way.

Take Breaks

Trying to power through several hours of schooling while your toddler happily plays alone may not be a realistic expectation. It can help to break up the day and do things that your toddler can easily be involved in – a snack, a little exercise outside, some music, or a story that your young child will enjoy.

Activity Bins

Toddlers love novelty. And mess. Combine the two, and your toddler will be happy for quite some time. A great strategy for helping your toddler happily occupy himself is to have several different bins containing different activities that your toddler only gets to do during school. The messier the better. This can be play-dough, special sand toys, water play, a sensory bin, items for coloring and cutting, paints, etc. For sanity’s sake, I suggest having a strategy for containing the mess. One of my favorite things has been to put a kiddie pool inside and let my toddler stand in it (dry) with a bucket of water, measuring cups, and other water toys. She thought that was great fun. Play-doh can be done on the back porch so that it doesn’t end up stuck in the carpet while you are attending to your 4th grader’s math. Paints can be done in the bath tub if you have one within ear-shot. Or the kiddie pool will work for that too. The way to keep this interesting for your child is to rotate the activities. For example, you might have 10 different activities that only come out during school (or when you are trying to get something else accomplished). If you use one a day, your child only gets to see that activity once every two weeks. Keep the novelty alive. And the mess. Your toddler will be happy.

Field Trips

Field trips are a great way to learn and they keep your homeschool fresh and interesting. Plan field trips that your toddler can participate in and enjoy. You will all benefit from a regular change of pace.

Expectations

The final thought I have to share with you is this: expect hard days. They are going to happen. Your toddler will be cranky and uncooperative sometimes, and you will be impatient. It’s ok. If you are having a really hard day, just stop. The world will not end if you skip math one day because your toddler is having a meltdown. Do an art project together. Go outside and play. Spend time in nature. Read stories together. These are all still worthwhile activities. Remember, there are no perfect days in homeschool (or at least not many) and that’s ok!

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Homeschooling: What About the S Word? (Socialization)

When people talk to me about homeschool, the question that almost everyone asks is, what about socialization? If you are reading this because you are thinking about homeschool, I’ll be honest with you – the socialization thing is a challenge. It’s a challenge in a good way, though. I’ll explain more what I mean by that in a bit. You can rest assured that there are plenty of ways that homeschool children can engage with the world and develop socially. Public school is not the only environment, and not even necessarily the best environment, in which children can develop social competence. Family, church, and life in general provide lots of opportunities for social development. As for homeschool-specific social venues, those have been abundant in the two states and three cities in which we have homeschooled. There have been play groups, hiking groups, field trip groups, classes, sports, co-ops, book clubs, and the list goes on. I have also started many a homeschool group myself, and I have always received a lot of participation from the homeschool community. The challenge for us has been trying to narrow down the possibilities rather than finding enough of them.

But the really difficult thing, at least for me, has been that as a homeschooling mom of five children, I’m juggling a lot of things. Finding social opportunities and experiences for five different kids takes a lot of time and work. It is a commitment. It can be done, absolutely, but it is really important to consider whether you are willing to put time and effort into it. A child’s social development has to be nurtured, just like his or her intellectual development. Now, if you have a lot of children in your neighborhood, or your children already have lots of friends from church or whatnot, you are probably going to have an easier time finding opportunities for your children to practice their social skills and develop relationships. If your kids are outgoing and have an easy time connecting with others and making friends, that also makes it easier. I have a couple of kids like that, and I don’t worry about them too much because they make friends with whomever they are with. I also have a couple of kids who are picky about who they like to spend time with. Really picky. They are harder when it comes to being social because we have to spend a lot of time meeting people before they really connect. I don’t want to discourage you by saying any of this – it IS doable. But I want to be realistic and communicate to you that it does require work.

Now, here is the great thing. As a homeschool parent, you have the chance to be really intentional about how your child learns to socialize with others. Because I get to observe a lot of my children’s interactions with other children, I can see their strengths and weaknesses, and I can do a lot of coaching and teaching tailored to their needs. I can guide my children through tricky situations and help them develop actual skills for problem solving, communication, and diffusing a situation when emotions are high. I teach them about being social. When left to their own devices, such as unsupervised on the playground, children learn socially through trial and error, and through feedback from their peers. Sometimes what they learn is good. Often, it is not. Now, I want to be clear. I’m not following my children around when they are spending time with friends. I’m not hovering over them, constantly listening in on their conversations (although I will check in now and again). But I am being observant and watchful, so I can understand what their needs are.

Another advantage that you have in homeschool is that you can teach your child how to interact with all kinds of different people, not just their peers. Spend time with people who are older, younger, and who have different belief systems and live different lifestyles than your family does. Your children will be better for it.

I get to guide my children’s social development according to the values that I want to instill. I want my children to learn deep compassion for others, so we spend time serving together and learning about the hardships that some people face. I want them to look to God for their sense of self-worth, not their peers, so I teach them about God’s love for them, and I teach them to answer to Him above any person.

It is true that you can do these things even if you do not homeschool, and I know many parents who do it wonderfully. I hope all parents are intentionally investing in their children’s social development. As a homeschool parent you have the advantage of time – more time with your children to teach them the social values that are important to you, more time to invest in your relationship with your child. To me, that makes the challenge of homeschool socialization into a wonderful asset, one that I am willing to work for.

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Adorable Crafts for Books: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This craft is sure to please your little one! Some of the steps will likely require the assistance of an adult, but your child will love crafting with you! And when it is finished, your child can use the pieces as props to retell the story.

For this craft you will need:

(This post contains affiliate links for your convenience)
  • stiffened felt in an assortment of colors (I recommend red, yellow, light and medium green, light and dark blue, pink, and light and dark brown) Note: while most craft and fabric stores carry stiffened felt, usually the colors available are limited. If you can’t find the colors you want, this pack of felt gives you a good assortment.
  • 10 (10 mm) green wooden beads ( you can use larger or smaller beads if you prefer)
  • 1 (10 mm) red wooden bead
  • about 10 inches of green string or embroidery floss – make sure it is good and strong!
  • colored permanent markers
  • a .5 inch hole punch
  • hot glue or a strong craft or fabric glue
  • patterns for the caterpillar’s food

To Make the Caterpillar Food:

  • Cut out pattern pieces for the caterpillar’s food.
  • Trace the patterns onto the appropriate colors of stiffened felt, then cut them out.
  • Glue the parts of the food together. You can use Tacky Glue or another strong craft or fabric glue for this, but hot glue will hold them together better.
  • Next, punch a hole in each of the food items for the caterpillar to “eat” though.
  • Finally, use colored permanent markers to add embellishments such as seeds on the watermelon and strawberries, a criss-cross pattern on the ice cream cone, lines on the cupcake wrapper, cherries in the pie filling, and a swirl on the lollipop. I let my kids do this part!

Now the food is done!

Now comes the part that little hands will love to do – the caterpillar!

To Make the Caterpillar:

  • Thread your green string through the needle.
  • Thread the red bead onto the string and pull it to the center of the string. This is the caterpillar’s head.
  • Now, fold the string in half with the red bead at one end. Thread both ends of the string through the needle.
  • Next, thread 9 of the green beads onto the string.
  • Now separate the two strands of the string again and remove one strand from the needle. Thread the last green bead onto the strand that is still on the needle.
  • Pull the 10th green bead tight to the other beads.
  • Now bring the two strands of string back together and tie them securely in a knot.
  • Thread both ends of the string back into the needle, and thread the tail of the string back through the 3 beads at the end of the caterpillar in order to hide the string. Cut off the end of the string.

Now your caterpillar just needs a face and he’s done! Use a permanent marker to draw a little face on the red bead. Now your caterpillar is ready to act out the story and “eat” through all the food you made!

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The Fun, Easy, and Quick Way to Teach Your Child to Read at Home: Part 1

Teaching reading is probably the most important part of a child’s early education, but for some parents, it is also the most daunting. After all, most of us were very young when we learned to read ourselves, and we may not quite remember how it was done. Today I want to offer you this reassurance: teaching reading is simple, and you can do it! The thing to remember is this: written language is simply a code. If you understand the code, you can read. I learned this principle from a book I read long ago called Why Our Children Can’t Read and What We Can Do About It by Diane Mcguinness. I have been applying this principle to teach children to read for the last 15 years with great success, and ease, and I’ll show you how you can do it too.

Here’s the catch – before you can be really effective at teaching children to read, you have to know the code really well yourself. And even if you know how to read, you might not know all the parts of the code. As a young college graduate I worked for a tutoring company. I had graduated cum laude from my university and I considered myself pretty capable. I certainly knew how to read. But when I started my tutoring company job, my employer gave me the same phonics test that I would later use to evaluate children in their reading ability. I failed it. Miserably. It was humiliating. But I learned a lesson from that experience – a person can know how to read and NOT know the code of written language. It could be that a person was taught the code as a child, but no longer remembers, or a reader may never have been taught the code well at all. My experience in evaluating children in their reading ability showed me that many, in fact most, were not being taught the code completely. Schools take all kinds of approaches to teaching reading, and there is great debate on the efficacy of different methods. Some educators don’t believe in teaching the code of reading, in other words, phonics. My experience has shown me that when children understand the code of written language, they learn to read easily and well. It takes practice, yes, but it does not have to take a lot of time every day. And it does not require tears.

Let’s get started!

The step that I recommend starting with is teaching single consonant sounds and short vowel sounds. In other words, just teach the sound that each letter in the alphabet makes, making sure when you get to the vowels you teach the short vowel sounds, and the hard sound for C and G. A pet peeve of mine is phonics books and toys that use words like owl for O, ink for I, or giraffe for G. Those are not the simple sounds for those letters and they should not be introduced first.

Most consonant sounds you will know, just be careful of C and G – teach C with the hard C sound, as in cat, not with the soft C sound, as in ice, and teach G with the hard G sound, as in good, not the soft G sound found in giraffe.

If you are unsure of the short vowel sounds, here is a guide:

A – beginning sound of apple

E – beginning sound of elephant

I – beginning sound of in

O – beginning sound of octopus

U – beginning sound of umbrella

I usually start teaching these sounds when my children are two or three years old, but if they aren’t interested at that age (or you aren’t interested!) wait until age four or five. Start with just two or three letters and work your way through the alphabet. I use fridge magnets for this ( I really like these ones from Learning Resources! They are nice and big and chunky – great for little hands!).

I put 2-3 letters on the fridge and keep them there until the child knows their sounds. We go over the sound of the letters for a minute or two at a meal time or two. I don’t ask the child to say the name of the letter, just the sound. So – I start with A, B, and C. The script goes something like this: “A says ă like apple. What does A say?” Once the child starts to become familiar with the sound, I just ask, “What does A say?” I do this with the letters B and C as well. We do this every day until the child knows the sound every time. Then we move on to a new letter or letters. Don’t overdo it – your child will likely get tired of excessive drilling. Just ask the sound of the letter once or twice a day. And that’s it! Work your way through the alphabet until your child knows all the sounds of all the letters. Make sure to review the letters you have already covered from time to time. You can also use an alphabet puzzle to reinforce or add variety to the routine.

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13 Inspiring Children’s Books About the Civil Rights Movement

This is a list of living books that tell the stories of the people and events of the Civil Rights Movement. While these are picture books, they are stories that all ages can appreciate. Some of my very favorite children’s books are on this list because they tell such inspiring stories of courage and determination. I hope you enjoy them as much as my children and I have!

(Affiliate links have been included in this post for your convenience)

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey

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About an African American family trying to travel to the south in the Jim Crow era. Gives insight into segregation and discrimination. Highly recommend!

A Time to Act – John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech by Shana Corey

Touches on life during the Civil Rights Movement and segregation. Tells a little about the life and legacy of JFK, and his courage in trying to lead the United States to equality.

Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

Beautiful story about how Martin Luther King Jr. used powerful words of love and hope to fight for justice. Highly recommend! 

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

The inspiring story of Jackie Robinson and the role he played in the Civil Rights Movement. Highly recommend! 

Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

I can’t recommend this book enough! A true account of the life of Fannie Lou Hamer and her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Heartbreaking, moving, hopeful, and inspiring, this is an emotional read. Note: there are some difficult topics mentioned in this book: forced sterilization (p. 12), and the overall injustice and violence that were realities during this time. There is also strong language (p. 21). This is a beautifully written picture book, but you might want to pre-read before sharing it with your children. Highly highly recommend! 

Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton

The author tells the true story of her experience as a child observer and participant in the Civil Rights Movement. Told from a child’s perspective, so it is excellent for children. Features other prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who she knew and had a relationship with, such as Martin Luther King Jr.. Highly recommend! 

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson

This story is amazing and fabulous for children! Tells the true story of a nine year-old girl who bravely went to jail to protest segregation. This book explains segregation and the Civil Rights Movement in a way that is very accessible to children. One of my favorites! 

Between the Lines by Sandra Neil Wallace

This is the true story of Ernie Barnes who was a football player and artist. It highlights some of obstacles that he faced because of the segregation and discrimination of his time.

Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans

Told through the memories of “Lillian” and her ancestors, this story takes the reader from the time of slavery to 1965, when the right to vote was finally guaranteed for all Americans. Good read! 

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy

Talks about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the role of the song “We Shall Overcome” not only in the United States, but in civil rights movements throughout the world. The text is very clear and easy for children to understand.

Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson

The story of Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves post Civil War, who raised himself from poverty, gained an education, and became an advocate for black Americans. He formed the movement that later led to Black History Month. Great read!

If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold

This story takes the reader on an imaginary bus ride during which the bus tells the story of Rosa Parks. The author does a good job of making the story engaging and accessible.

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford

Based on real events, but told from a fictional child’s point of view, this is a gentle but powerful window into segregation and the movement to change it. Excellent read!

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Learning About Pioneers with American Girl Kirsten, Part 4: The Dakota Native Americans

Kirsten and her family found a beautiful new home in the Minnesota territory, but the Dakota tribe of Native Americans had already called the area home for many hundreds of years. They were a hunting and gathering people, and they lived mainly on the wild deer, elk, and buffalo that roamed the area.

When pioneers began to develop the Dakota’s lands, they chased away the wild animals. This caused major problems for the Dakota people who these animals for food. The Dakota did very little farming; they only grew a small amount of corn or squash, so when the settlers chased the wild animals from their lands, the Dakota began to starve.

In 1851, the United States offered the Dakota money and food for their land in Minnesota, and the Dakota were to move to a reservation, which was a small strip of land along the Minnesota River. Because the Dakota were starving, they accepted the offer. However, the United States often did not make their payments to the Dakota on time. There were very few animals on the reservation, and although many of the Dakota began to farm to try to feed themselves, when crops were poor they were still faced with hunger. They really needed the money owed to them by the government, and when it did not come they were angry. This led to the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Some of the Dakota attacked settlements and government agencies. The settlements were vulnerable because many of the men were off fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. Minnesota’s governor asked President Lincoln to send their troops back so they could defend their state, and after six weeks, the Dakota surrendered. Some of the Dakota fled, others were taken and put on trial. Over 300 Dakota were sentenced to death, but President Lincoln changed most of the death sentences to prison sentences. Thirty-eight Dakota were hung, and the rest were imprisoned in Fort Snelling throughout the winter, where many starved to death or dies of illness.

Despite this tragic time in their history, the Dakota have survived and preserved many of the traditions that they had at the time that Kirsten was a girl. In Kirsten’s day, Dakota women would throw blankets over porcupines and collect the quills that got stuck in the blanket. They would then flatten the quills, dye them, and sew them onto animal hides to decorate clothing, bags, moccasins, and other items. The Dakota women also wove beads together on looms to make beautiful sashes and bags. Some Dakota women still carry on this custom and teach their children how to quill and bead today!

(information from Welcome to Kirsten’s World, 1854: Growing Up in Pioneer America)

Weave a Beaded Sash!

This is a fun project that will help you remember the Dakota people.

You will need:

  • a cardboard loom
  • pony beads (you will need about 150 for each beaded sash)
  • centimeter graph paper
  • durable thread or string
  • colored pencils, crayons, or markers (in colors that match the pony beads)
  • masking tape
  • needle with a large eye

Instructions:

  • First, create your pattern on your graph paper. To do this, mark off as many rows on your graph paper as you plan to have on your beaded sash. Color in squares to represent beads on your sash.
  • Next, prepare the loom. Tape the end of your string securely to the back of your cardboard loom. Wrap your string around the loom, wrapping from back to front until you have six lengthwise strings.
  • Now, thread a needle with a long crosswise string. Tie the end to the bottom longwise string on your loom.
  • Start with your first vertical row. Thread the beads in order onto your needle. Slide the beads down onto the string, then slide the needle UNDER the lengthwise threads. Pull the string all the way up and place the beads in between the horizontal strings.
  • Put the needle back through the row of beads, making sure the cross thread goes OVER the horizontal strings this time. Pull through the beads and pull tight.
  • Cross out the row on your pattern so you know you have completed this row.
  • Now repeat the steps until you have finished your pattern.
  • Once your pattern is complete, tie the ends of your strings together to tie off the sash.

Now you are finished!

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American Girl Kaya Part 2: Nimiipuu Food

Nimiipuu Food: Fishing, Hunting, and Gathering, and Cooking and Storing Food

Kaya’s people, the Nimiipuu were a fishing, hunting, and gathering people. They did not farm. Because they lived by rivers, almost half of their diet consisted of fish – mainly salmon, but also included lamprey eel, and any other fish that could be found. They caught fish with spears, weighted nets, hooks and lines, and traps. They also hunted and ate elk, moose, deer, rabbit, squirrel, and duck. They sometimes even hunted and ate bear. They would mostly fish in the spring, especially when the salmon were swimming up river to lay eggs. Hunting was done at all times of the year. The Nimiipuu even used snowshoes to hunt in the snow! They used bows and arrows and spears to hunt the land animals. After the Nimiipuu began to keep and ride horses in the mid 1700s, they also traveled to the plains to the east of the their homeland and joined in the buffalo hunt. The men did most of the hunting.

The women gathered food such as roots, berries, and plants such as wild carrots and onions. The camas root, which was the root of a lily plant, was a staple food. The women used shaped sticks to dig up roots. There was a method to this – they had to know just where to dig in order to dig up the roots without piercing them with the stick.

Boys and girls began to help with the work of fishing/hunting or gathering food at around age 3. Usually by age 6, a boy had made his first kill, and a girl had started to dig roots and gather food. There was a special ceremony to honor a child’s first kill or root gathering where the food was served to a respected hunter or gatherer.

Dig for Food!

Because Kaya would have had the task of gathering food and digging for roots with a stick like all Nimiipuu girls and women, we used a digging activity to learn about the foods the Nimiipuu ate. I gathered pictures of the different animals, roots, and berries that the Nimiipuu ate and buried them in a box of sand. As the girls dug up each picture with a stick (just like Kaya would have dug for roots!) I talked about that food, what is was, and the way it was obtained, prepared, and eaten.

Activity: Hunting Games!

A game that young Nimiipuu played was one where one child would roll a small hoop along the ground while another tried to throw a spear or shoot an arrow through the hoop while it was in motion. This was meant to help them practice the skills needed for hunting.

To simulate this game, use a hula hoop or any kind of hoop you have on hand. Have one child roll the hoop while another throws a stick or dowel through the hoop. We happened to have rubber-tipped arrows so that is what we used. You could also try a bow and arrow if you happen to have one!

Nimiipuu Cooking

The women and girls did the cooking and food preparation. The women would skin and prepare fish and other animals for cooking. They would smoke the fish and meat, or boil it. This was done in a tightly woven basket, as the Nimiipuu did not make pottery. The basket would be filled with water, and then hot stones from the fire would be dropped in the water to quickly bring it to a boil. As the stones cooled, they would be removed and replaced with more hot stones.

Roots would often be steamed or boiled, then made into a soup or gruel, or ground and made into cakes. Any excess food, including fish and meat, would be preserved through smoking or drying and stored for the winter months.

Let’s Cook the Nimiipuu Way!

You Will Need:

  • a small amount of salmon cut into 1 inch cubes (approximately)
  • a large pot (if you have a water-tight basket that would also be really cool!)
  • lots of clean rocks
  • water

You can simulate the way the Nimiipuu cooked by heating rocks and putting them in a pot of water. The water really does boil! This is how I did it: I gathered some rocks from a nearby river. I cleaned them really well by soaking them in clean water several times and scrubbing them off.

You will want rocks that are as non-porous as possible. I put them on a baking sheet and let them heat in the oven on its highest setting, which is 525 degrees in my oven, for about one hour. You could also heat the rocks in an actual fire if you have a place to make one, which I think would be really fun! I then carefully placed the rocks one by one in a pot of water.

When the water was hot and bubbling in places, we held chunks of salmon on skewers in the water and watched them cook. It only takes about 5-6 minutes. We salted the salmon and ate it. It was tasty! NOTE: You will want quite a few rocks for this – your water should be just barely covering the rocks or the water won’t get hot enough. Also, the water won’t come to a rolling boil, it will be bubbling near the rocks, steaming, and definitely hot enough to cook the salmon, but it won’t boil all over.

Activity: Weave a Food-Gathering Pouch

The Nimiipuu used baskets as containers for many things. Kaya would have carried a basket or woven pouch with her for gathering food. You can weave your own small pouch too!

You will need:

  • About 1/4 yard of burlap cut into 1 inch strips. You will need about 14 strips to make your pouch
  • 1/4 yard of Fusible interfacing
  • thick embroidery floss
  • a tapestry needle

Cut your burlap into strips that are one inch wide and about 10 inches long. I recommend using a rotary cutter for this. Once your strips of burlap are all cut, weave them together by first laying 7 strips side by side vertically, then weaving in the horizontal strips by alternating in an over, under pattern.

Once your strips are woven together, cut a piece of fusible interfacing to fit all but the edges of your weaving. Press it on with a hot iron. I recommend using a press cloth to protect your iron while you do this.

Next, flip your weaving over and trim off the edges. Fold the weaving in half, then whip stitch the open side and bottom with your embroidery floss. Whip stitch around the top as well, to keep the edges from fraying, but be careful to leave the top of your pouch open – don’t accidentally sew it shut! Now your pouch is done! You can decorate it if you would like – the Nimiipuu put lots of beautiful designs on their woven items, so that’s what Kaya would have done!

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Learning About Colonial America with Felicity Part 2: Colonial Food, Tea, and the Boston Tea Party

The colonists in Felicity’s day were proud of their hospitality. They welcomed family and friends in for tea, and strangers as well. The “middling” class and the gentry loved to throw fancy balls and galas, and they included lots of wonderful food. A festive meal would have several courses, sometimes with over 20 dishes in a course!

The Virginia Colony, of which Williamsburg was the capitol, had a great mixture of cultural influences on its food. There was, of course, a lot of British influence on colonial food, and quite a bit of Native American influence too. The Native Americans shared many of their traditional foods with the colonists, including pumpkins, corn, and beans. So we can thank Native Americans for pumpkin pie, corn on the cob, popcorn, and baked beans! The colonists also adapted some of the cooking methods and foods from slaves that came from Africa, and from French cooks, which were considered fashionable at the time among the wealthiest colonial homes.

Colonial food was typically cooked over a fire in a huge fireplace in the kitchen, which was usually an outbuilding in order to remove the heat and smell of cooking from the main house.

This fireplace is in R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse in Williamsburg
Spider Griddle

The cooking would be done by the women of the family in a poor or lower middle class household, and by servants or slaves in an upper middle class or gentry household. They would use dutch ovens and large kettles and pots suspended from a spit over the fire, and the spit itself would be used to cook meat. Usually a small oven was built into the wall of the fireplace for baking. Cooks would test the temperature by putting their arm in the oven and counting. If they could count to a certain number (usually 20 or 30) and no more the oven was the right temperature! If they could not get to the right number without pulling out their arm, the oven was too hot. If they could count longer it was too cold. Colonists would also fry food over the fire on something called a spider. That is how Johnny Cakes were made!

Let’s sample some of the foods commonly found in Williamsburg that Felicity would have eaten!

Puddings

Puddings were often served in the colonies as a main dish, a side, or a complete meal in one! Chicken pudding most likely would have been served at dinner, which was the biggest meal of the day and served around 2 pm. The colonists would have breakfast around 8 or 9, which usually would include tea, then dinner in the early afternoon. They had tea again around 5, which included bread, and sometimes sweets such as tarts and spiced nuts. The final meal of the day was supper, which was a light meal in the late evening before bed.

Try making some colonial food to try!

Chicken Pudding (from Felicity’s Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • shortening or butter to grease casserole dish
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Directions:

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat
  2. Add the chicken breasts to the skillet. Brown on both sides.
  3. Add water and 1 teaspoon of salt to the skillet. When the water boils, turn down the heat until it simmers.
  4. Cover the skillet and cook chicken 1/2 hour.
  5. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish.
  6. Transfer chicken breasts to the casserole dish and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Make the batter for the chicken pudding: combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl.
  8. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter.
  9. Beat the eggs with the milk in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter.
  10. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Beat the batter until it is smooth, then our over the chicken breasts in the casserole dish.
  11. Bake the chicken pudding for about 40 minutes or until the batter puffs up and is golden brown.
  12. Let cool for a few minutes and enjoy!

One of Felicity’s favorite foods was pumpkin pudding. Pumpkins were a popular food in Williamsburg because they were easy to grow and they kept very well throughout the winter. You can make your own pumpkin pudding to share with your family and friends!

Pumpkin Pudding (from Felicity’s Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pound can of pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 cup milk
  • butter or shortening to grease a casserole dish

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Beat them with a fork until they are light yellow, then add the pumpkin and mix well.
  3. Add spices, molasses, and milk. Mix well.
  4. Grease a 1.5 quart casserole dish. Pour the mixture into the dish.
  5. Bake the pudding for 1 hour. Serve warm.

Now it’s time for dessert!

Almond Tarts (from Felicity’s Cookbook)

Ingredients

Pastry:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • extra flour for rolling dough

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup butter (I actually found this to be too much, you might try 1/4 or 1/3 cup instead)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. To make the pastry dough, measure the flour and the butter into a medium mixing bowl. Use a pastry cutter or fork to blend them until the mixture is crumbly.
  2. Crack the egg into the bowl. Add the cream and stir to form a smooth dough.
  3. Chill the pastry dough for 15 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
  4. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  5. To make the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.
  6. Zest the lemon. Put 1 tablespoon of lemon zest into a large mixing bowl.
  7. Add the melted butter, ground almonds, orange juice, eggs, and sugar. Mix well. Set aside.
  8. Divide the pastry dough into 12 pieces and shape each into a ball.
  9. On a floured cutting board, roll out each ball into a circle about 1/4 inch thick.
  10. Fit each circle into the cup of a muffin pan. Pat the sides to make them fit like tiny pie crusts.
  11. Scoop filling evenly into each tart crust.
  12. Bake the tarts for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  13. Enjoy!

Yum! Tarts were a popular dessert in the colonies and for good reason!

Candied Flowers

Colonists used things like dried fruit, candied flowers, fresh herbs, spices, and other plants to decorate their food and tables. You can decorate your tarts with candied flowers.

You will need:

  • edible flowers (you can find these at a health food store)
  • 2 egg whites
  • fine white sugar
  • a new paint brush (wash it with soap and water)

Directions:

Make sure your flowers are clean and dry. Whisk the egg whites until they are foamy. Use the paint brush to brush each petal of your flowers with a thin coat of egg whites. Sprinkle your flowers lightly with sugar. Allow them to dry overnight.

Liberty Tea

Tea was an important drink in Williamsburg, and in all the other colonies too. By the time Felicity was a girl, just about everyone was drinking tea, two or more times a day! But there began to be a problem with drinking tea. England had decided to tax all the tea that the colonies imported. It also had decided to dictate who the colonists could buy tea from. And the colonists were not happy about it. England had just spent years and years fighting wars with the Spanish, the French, and the Native Americans, and its treasury was depleted. England wanted to build its treasury up once again. King George III and parliament had a simple solution to this: tax the colonies. So first they taxed sugar (the Sugar Act), and then they taxed official papers and published items (the Stamp Act). The colonists didn’t like this, and they protested it, but when England started taxing tea, that was the last straw! The colonists had no say in parliament, so they could not give any input on these taxes, and they felt that was incredibly unfair. They called it “taxation without representation” and declared that it was against their rights.

The colonists began to boycott tea. Tea was an important part of their way of life, so they replaced it with coffee, chocolate, or “Liberty Tea” which they made from whatever plants and herbs they could find. They used raspberry leaves, chamomile, and other herbs.

Drink to Freedom with Liberty Tea!

You will need:

  • an herbal tea such an chamomile or raspberry leaf (use either a loose leaf kind or cut open tea bags for a more authentic experience)
  • a tea service and tea strainer
  • hot water

Place the tea in the teapot with the hot water. Let it steep for a few minutes, then serve tea to your guests as Felicity did! (Find details below)

In Felicity’s day, tea parties were important occasions, and so were the manners that went with them! The hostess of a tea party was the one who poured the tea and she was responsible for keeping the tea cups full. The colonists used loose leaves, not tea bags, so the tea would be strained as it was poured. The hostess would refill all of her guest’s cups again and again until they signaled that they were finished by turning their tea cup upside down and and laying their spoon across the top. If a guest was unaware of this custom, they might end up drinking a lot of tea!

A colonial tea service would include a teapot, cups, saucers, a small pitcher for milk, a sugar bowl, and a dish for discarding the tea leaves. You will notice in the pictures that these tea cups had no handles. The tea cups that Felicity drank from would not have had handles because the tea pots and cups that were used at the time were imported from China and the Chinese did not put handles on their cups. Sugar was added with little tongs from a cake of sugar. In colonial times, white sugar was made through a process that used water and resulted in a hard cone or “loaf” of sugar. The sugar was hard and was broken off in “lumps,” which is where we get the phrase, “one lump, or two?”

Make a Sugar Loaf

You can easily make a sugar loaf to go with your tea party. All you need is white sugar, water, cooking spray, and a small bowl. I used a silicone muffin cup so that I could remove my sugar cone easily, but a small glass or plastic bowl would work fine, I think. Just be sure to spray it with a little cooking spray before adding the sugar. In a small mixing bowl, mix about 1/4 cup of sugar with a teaspoon of water. Add water as needed until your sugar mixture is like damp beach sand and sticks together when pressed in your hand. You do not want your sugar to be too wet. Once the sugar is moistened. press it into your greased bowl until it is packed down. Then, leave it to dry completely. It should be dry in a couple of days, and you can turn it out of your bowl to use for your tea party.

As the colonists were boycotting tea, they were also organizing more aggressive protests. Samuel Adams had formed a secret society called the Sons of Liberty. It was the Sons of Liberty that organized the famous Boston Tea Party to protest England’s tax on tea.

Make a Teacup for Felicity!

These tea cups do have handles, so they are not accurate in that way, but they are still cute and fun to make!

You Will Need:

Just use your Sharpies to draw a pattern onto your tea cups and let dry. That’s it! Now your American Girl Doll can have her own tea party!

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Learn About the Southwest Frontier with American Girl Josefina Part 4: Work, Fashion, Trade, and the Sante Fe Trail

Life on a rancho in New Mexico was full of work! Josefina would have started her chores in the early morning and continued working until the evening time, doing things like washing clothes, fetching water, cooking, weaving, gardening, and sewing.

Josefina’s family raised sheep, and she helped take care of them. She also helped in the process of turning her sheep’s wool into beautiful blankets and rugs that brightened and warmed her home. To do this, the sheep had to be shorn, then the wool had to be cleaned, carded, dyed, spun into yarn, and then woven on a loom.

Spin Some Yarn from Wool!

You might be able to find raw wool to work with at your local farmer’s market. If not, you can get some here.

Clean your wool by dipping it in hot water repeatedly, but DO NOT AGITATE! You will felt the wool if you do! Or, you can skip that step by getting wool roving to work with.

After raw wool has been cleaned, it has to be carded, or untangled, before it can be spun into yarn. Here are some good instructions on how to card wool:

How to Prepare Fiber with Hand Carders

Once the wool has been carded, you can try spinning it into yarn. You can use a spinning wheel if you have access to one, or a drop-spinner, which is inexpensive to buy and easy to use. The link below is a good tutorial on how how to use a spinning wheel for beginners.

How to Spin Yarn on a Spinning Wheel

Once you have made some yarn, try weaving it on a loom!

Try Weaving on a Loom!

This little loom is really easy to use and is very similar to the kind of loom that Josefina would have used, although her loom would have been HUGE (like the size of a wall)! Josefina would have woven blankets, rugs, and certain items of clothing such as panchos on a loom similar to this, but bigger of course. All you have to do is set up the lengthwise fibers with the yarn, then use on over-under pattern to weave in the cross-fibers. That’s it!

Try on a Rebozo!

In addition to creating woven blankets and rugs, Josefina would have also woven clothing items like a rebozo and sarape. A rebozo is a kind of shawl that Mexican women would wear around their heads, shoulders, or waists. It was a really useful item of clothing and was used for warmth, but also to carry things such as vegetables and fruit, and even babies! Mexican women would wrap the rebozo around their baby and then around their back to make a kind of sling. The rebozo is actually still used by many Mexican women today. Try one on and see what you think! You can find one here.

Trading in Santa Fe

In the last lesson, we learned about how El Camino Real gave New Mexicans access to goods and ideas from Mexico, Spain, and many other places around the world including China, Africa, England, France, and other European countries. But when the Spanish were ruling New Mexico, they did not let Americans or any other foreigners trade there. As soon as Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, however, Americans immediately began to come to Santa Fe to trade. Thus the Santa Fe Trail was blazed from far-away Missouri all the way to New Mexico, and cultures from all over the world came together and mingled in Santa Fe. Trade took place in the Santa Fe plaza. Josefina was just six years-old at that time, so she grew up seeing items from all over the world! New Mexican girls admired the pretty things that came from Mexico City on El Camino Real and from America via the Santa Fe Trail, but they were often expensive and difficult for a rancho family to attain, so resourceful New Mexicans made their own versions of things like jewelry. Josefina’s grandfather brought her glass beads from Mexico City, and she made herself a pretty necklace from them.

Make a Necklace for Josefina (and a Matching One for You!)

All you need is:

  • wooden or glass beads
  • 30″ piece of leather cord (if the holes on your beads are big enough – works best with wooden beads), or hemp cord if you have glass beads with small holes
  • seed beads for Josefina’s necklace
  • 18″ piece of stretchy cord for Josefina’s necklace
  • crimping beads
  • scissors
  • small pliers

Instructions:

For your necklace, create a pattern with your beads and string them in your leather or hemp cord. When you are finished stringing the beads, tie two knots with both ends of your cord so that your necklace will be adjustable. First take one end and use that end to tie a knot around the cord. Then take the other end and do the same. Now you can slide your knots up and down your cord to make your necklace longer or shorter and get the perfect fit!

For Josefina’s necklace, cut an 18″ piece of the stretchy cord. String the cord with the seed beads in the pattern you like, and then string both ends of the cord through a crimping bead so they are overlapping through the crimping bead. Pull the cord through until the necklace is the length that you want and then flatten the crimping bead into the cord with a pair of pliers. You might even use two crimping beads next to each other for good measure, as they can sometimes come loose or fall off. That’s it! You’ve got a necklace for Josefina!

Becoming American

Through the Santa Fe trail, more and more American influence was creeping in to New Mexico. Ultimately, the United States decided it wanted to take over New Mexico and the rest of the Mexican land in North America, so they started a war. It was called the Mexican American War and lasted from 1845 to 1848. The Mexican army was under-equipped, underpaid, and under-fed, so the United States army had the upper hand. In the end, the U.S. took half a million square miles of Mexican land, and so Josefina’s home, New Mexico, became part of the United States of America. Josefina was now an American!

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Learning About the Southwest Frontier with American Girl Josefina Part 3: Cooking and Food in New Mexico

New Mexican Food

Like most parts of her culture, Josefina’s food combined traditions from the Spanish, Mexicans, and Native Americans. Families like Josefina’s who lived on ranchos (or farms) in northern New Mexico grew most of their own food. Their staple foods were corn, beans, and squash (including pumpkins), which they learned about from the Pueblo Native Americans. They also used many kinds of chiles, eggs, and cheese made from goat’s milk. They ate meat from the goats and sheep that they raised and hunted wild animals such as deer, buffalo, and rabbits.

Grind Corn Like Josefina

New Mexicans ate corn in many different forms. They ate it fresh, dried, roasted, and treated with lime and ground up for use in making tamales and tortillas. Josefina would have used a metate and mano to grind corn. This is a fun thing to try – you really get an appreciation for how hard people in New Mexico worked in order to feed their families! A metate can be hard to find, but if you can get your hands on one, place a handful of whole corn on the metate and use the mano to scrape the corn down toward the bottom. Pull the corn back to the top, then scrape it down again. Repeat 4-5 times. Then you have cornmeal!

Tortillas made from corn or wheat were an everyday food for New Mexicans. Josefina would have eaten tortillas at breakfast every day. They would have been cooked on a hot grille on the fire in the corner oven in the kitchen or the outdoor oven in the courtyard. Try making homemade tortillas like Josefina ate – they are delicious!

Flour Tortillas (from Josefina’s Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 c. lard (you can use shortening if you can’t find lard)
  • 1/2 c. hot water
  • extra flour for handling the dough

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add lard and blend it in with a pastry cutter or fork until the mixture becomes crumbly like sand.
  3. Add the hot water and stir until you have a soft, sticky dough. Form the dough into a ball.
  4. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead the dough for about 1 minute.
  5. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest for about 10 minutes.
  6. Flatten the dough and cut it into 12 equal pieced. Form the pieces into balls and cover with a damp towel for 30 minutes.
  7. Flour a work surface, your hands, and a rolling pin.
  8. Flatten a dough ball with the heel of your hand, then roll it out with the rolling pin into a circle that is about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
  9. Heat a griddle for 30 seconds on medium-high heat. Place the tortilla on the griddle, then flip after about 30 seconds.
  10. The tortilla is done when it has puffed up slightly and has light brown spots on both sides.
  11. Remove from the griddle and keep tortillas warm until served by wrapping them in a dry towel.

Special Foods

There were also some special foods that New Mexicans got from Mexico City through traders that traveled a trade route called the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. Some of these special foods were sugar, chocolate, and spices such as cinnamon and anise seed. It took months for traders to travel the Camino Real, and so these foods were not always readily available. It was exciting for Josefina’s family when traders arrived from Mexico City!

Map of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro

Grind Spices Like Josefina!

When Josefina’s family got spices from Mexico City they weren’t ground up like the spices we can buy in a bottle at the grocery store today. Josefina would have ground her family’s spices herself using a mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle were made of wood or stone. The mortar was the bowl and the pestle was used to crush the spices.

You can do this just like Josefina did!

You will need:

  • a mortar and pestle
  • whole allspice berries

A mortar and pestle is easy to find if you don’t have one already. You might might even be able to find it at your local grocery store. Your local grocery store should also carry whole allspice berries. Place a few of the allspice berries in the mortar and use the pestle to smash them up. That’s all there is to it!

Josefina’s Hot Chocolate

Josefina’s family could get chocolate from Mexico City in the form of partially sweetened, hardened wafers. Chocolate in Mexico dates back to the ancient Mayas and Aztecs, who consumed it as a bitter drink. When the Spanish came to South America and were introduced to chocolate in the 1500s, they brought it back to Europe and added sugar to sweeten it, and this is how Josefina’s family used it. It came in the form of cakes of sweetened chocolate that the New Mexicans would grind up and mix with hot water or milk to make hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate was a special treat for Josefina. Here’s a simple recipe for hot chocolate like Josefina’s.

Ingredients:

  • one cake of sweetened chocolate, such as Abuelita
  • 2 cups of hot water

Instructions:

  1. Grind the cake of chocolate with a grater
  2. Beat the ground chocolate into the hot water with a whisk. Beat the chocolate quickly and for several minutes until your hot chocolate is nice and frothy. For an even more authentic experience, you can use a molinillo, which was a special wooden stirrer that New Mexicans used to make their hot chocolate frothy.
  3. That’s it! Pour your chocolate into a cup and enjoy!

Serves 4

For an extra special treat, you can serve bizcochitos with your hot chocolate!

Bizcochitos are New Mexican sugar cookies that were a treat for special occasions. They were flavored with anise seed so they have a light licorice sort of taste. Here is how to make these tasty cookies:

Bizcochitos (from Josefina’s Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup lard or shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons cold water, or as needed

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Put the lard or shortening in a large mixing bowl. Use the wooden spoon to press the lard or shortening against the side of the bowl until it is soft and smooth.
  3. Mix 1/2 cup sugar into the lard or shortening a little bit at a time. Stir until the mixture is light and fluffy. Then crack the egg into the mixture. Add the anise seed and mix well. Set aside.
  4. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, then add to the lard and sugar mixture. Use a pastry cutter or fork to cut the flour in until the mixture is crumbly.
  5. Add the vanilla. Then add water a little at a time until a ball of dough forms as you stir. Use as little water as possible, just enough so the dough will come together. You don’t want your dough to get sticky.
  6. Divide the dough into 3 balls. Put 2 balls in the refrigerator while you roll out the other ball.
  7. Cover your table with a piece of parchment paper and sprinkle with flour. Rub flour on a rolling pin and roll out one ball of dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick.
  8. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  9. Sprinkle the cookie with the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  10. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them! They burn easily!
  11. Sprinkle more cinnamon sugar on the cookies and more them to a paper towel to cool. Continue with the rest of the dough until all the cookies are made.

Other Foods

There are some other foods that Josefina would have eaten that you might be able to find at your grocery store. Goat milk and goat cheese would have been everyday foods. Tamales and empanadas, both the sweet and savory kinds, would have been foods saved for special occasions, like Christmas. See if you can find some of these foods and give them a try!

15 Fabulous Children’s Books About Slavery

This collection of stories are excellent read-alouds for young and old. Most of them are true stories and give a lot of insight into the lives of slaves in America.

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter

I love this story! Tells the legend of Peg Leg Joe who helped lead slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Be sure to listen to the song after you read the book!

Hammering for Freedom by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

The true story of William Lewis and how he worked day and night for over 20 years to earn the money to free his family from slavery. Beautiful and inspiring. Highly recommend!!

Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

The tale of a young slave girl who escapes to freedom via the underground railroad narrated by her rag doll. Does a great job of telling the story of slavery from a child’s perspective. 

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Beautiful story about Harriet Tubman and the many heroic ways she served others throughout her life. Touches on her work as a nurse, a spy, a general, and a suffragette, which is not mentioned in many books. Highly recommend! 

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Caroline Boston Weatherford

Beautiful illustrations and rich poetic text. The author imagines what Harriet’s spiritual journey may have been like, as well as her physical journey to freedom. This story really helps you imagine what it may have been like to make the escape from slavery. Great factual information about Harriet Tubman at the end of the book. Highly recommend! 

The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome

About daily life for a slave girl and the heartache she endures when her older brother runs away.

So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt

Tells the incredible and inspiring story of Sojourner Truth, how she escaped from slavery, became an abolitionist, and later a voice for civil rights and suffrage. This book is stirring and impactful. Highly recommend! 

Beacon to Freedom: The Story of a Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Jenna Glatzer

The story of John Rankin and his work in helping nearly 2,000 people escape slavery. This story is so moving and inspiring. It really brings to life the experiences of those who were traveling and assisting on the Underground Railroad.  Highly, highly recommend! 

Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson

Inspired by the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum and his incredible “Floating Freedom School.” The school floated on a steamboat in the Mississippi River, and was Meachum’s solution to a law passed in Missouri in 1847 banning the education of all black people, slave or free. Really inspiring story and great read!

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Kadir Nelson

This story is heart-wrenching and triumphant all at once. Tells the true story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom. Highly recommend! 

Freedom River by Doreen Rapport

This is an incredible true story about John Parker, an ex-slave who risked his life many times to bring other slaves to freedom. The story is based on John Parker’s autobiography. Highly recommend! 

Frederick Douglas: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers

I love this book so much! Tells the amazing story of Frederick Douglas, how he overcame tremendous opposition to escape slavery, and became a leader in the abolitionist movement. 

Frederick Douglas for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders

This book is packed with great information about Frederick Douglas and slavery in general. It is very text-heavy, so more suitable for upper-elementary and middle-school students. The activity suggestions are also great.

If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

This book covers a lot of information, and gives a lot of great details on what it was like to try to escape slavery. This is more of an informational type book, not a story. While very interesting, it might be best in smaller bites for a child with a short attention span.

If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma

From the same series as the title above, which I really recommend for elementary age history study! This is a very informative and interesting read, but like all of the books in this series, children with shorter attention spans might need to read it over a few days.