Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tips for an Easy and Fun Picknic

Everybody loves to spend some extra time outdoors while the weather is warm. One way my family loves to do this is to pack a quick picnic and head to the park or the pool. I have worked out a system for doing this through trial and error. The trial part being that for about a year (before my daughter was born) every day my son and I would pack a picnic lunch and take it to my husband at work. We would head to a nearby park and enjoy some extra family time during his lunch break. (I really need to start doing this again, though it's really hard to coordinate the two kids naps right now)

There were several tricks I learned that made this possible.

1. Always have a zip-topped bag of napkins, plastic forks and spoons, and paper plates stashed right by your cooler. If you use condiments like ketchup, save extra packets from fast food places and keep some of those in the bag too. That way you can just toss that bag in the cooler and don't have to remember to pack each thing you'll need.

2. A word about coolers... smaller is better! We have a large lunchbox-sized one that works well and takes up minimal room in the car. I've also had my eye on a large soft-sided freezer bag from Sams Club that folds up nice, and has the added utility of toting freezer items home from the wholesale and big box stores. (I drive 35 min to both of those) Having a smaller cooler to tote makes getting everything in and out of the car much easier, and also allows your kids to participate in more of the work. It's also a good idea to have some of those re-usable ice packs ready to go in the freezer. That way the food in your cooler doesn't get wet as the ice melts.

3. Ah the food! Many things I've discovered make packing the food easier. If you can, buy single servings, and if not, break things down into single servings. Things like yogurt cups, and apple sauce cups travel very well, and the disposable nature helps the packing up process. Try to avoid easily crushed items like chips and bread. Go for nuts, pretzels and boxed crackers, if possible. Consider cheese, beef stick and crackers, instead of the typical sandwich. Kids will have fun putting the mini-sandwich crackers together, and they won't get smooshed or soggy on the way. Cold chicken, tuna salad, and the like are also great choices. (Greek Turkey Salad is great on crackers!) If you're packing a lettus salad assemble it together before you go, but keep the salad dressing on the side until you're ready to eat. (save those fast food packets!) Another great veggie option is carrots or celery dipped in peanut butter! Fruit is always great to take on a picnic. Grapes, apples, bananas, and plums travel well if packed at the top of the cooler. And they make a cool and refreshing finish to the outdoor meal!

Other items you may need:
  1. Sunblock
  2. Insect Spray
  3. A Ball or Frisbee to throw
  4. Sun-hats
  5. First-Aid kit, including something for bee stings
  6. A Picknick Blanket
  7. A Camera!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Free Vitamin Samples

I always love to find out about free samples! I got a tip from a reader, Lisa, that Nature Made is giving away 14 day supplies of some of their most popular vitamins! Click this link then choose the type of vitamin you'd like a sampl of from the tabs along the top. It does only allow you to choose one sample to receive, but they don't charge any shipping, and you don't have to get any newsletters if you don't want to. (It's so nice that they give you that option not to!) I must say that I was rather impressed at how well-intentioned the Nature Made vitamin company comes across, offering a good free sample, and then not being too pushy. I think I'll remember that the next time I'm in the vitamin isle. ;)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sew your own Picknic Blanket

I always feel bad using a quilt as a picnic blanket. It gets dirty and grassy, and they are a pain to wash. I also don't have one that is quite small enough, and big and bulky just hasn't been cutting it.

So I decided to make my own! In addition to smaller, I wanted a waterproof bottom layer, so that if I inadvertently set it down someplace wet, I won't be regretting it the whole afternoon. So I hunted down a cheep rectangular vinyl table cloth from Dollar General in a cute aqua color. I then got 4 different fabrics that complimented the aqua. (1 yard each)

I cut the fabrics into 12 inch quilt blocks and arranged them in a random cute pattern, then sewed them in strips, then into the quilt top. I had a spare piece of cotton batting that I trimmed down to the size of the tablecloth.

I made a sandwhich of the quilt top (wrong side up), the batting, then the tablecloth. I smoothed it all out, and pinned around the edge, then trimmed the quilt top to match the other two layers. I then used some of the extra fabric to make a double-bias binding to go around the edge and hold it all together.

Finally I tacked through the 3 layers at each of the quilt square corners to tie everything together all nice and secure. It folds up pretty small, and works great!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Teaching Credentials for Homeschoolers

I will do my best not to make this a long rant, but you really can not get more personal with me that this.

Many of you have heard about the California state appeals court ruling that parents who wish to homeschool their children must have teaching credentials. This decision is currently being appealed, but the court's decision is already having side effects. It has raised a huge question about what should the standards of education be. And does the current public school system in America hold up to the standards it would like to place on those outside their own system?

Since George W has been in power, there has been a "No Child Left Behind" policy mandated towards all public schools. This policy was created under the assumption that all children are capable of learning basic literacy and math, and should be able to grasp basic history, and science facts. Each of the 50 states is able to interpret and tailor their own curriculum to meet the guidelines, allowing them to achieve the results in whatever way they choose. In most states, they have created massive standardized testing in order to do this. (Here in Texas we have the TAKS, for example)

Now here's the problem, the schools can't do it! They have done everything in their power to look like they are, to continue receiving the government money. But there are some basic underlying factors that schools can not control. You already know what they are! They are all tied to socio-economic conditions. If you are white, you have a great chance of passing. If you are Hispanic, you are probably on the bubble. And if you are black, well good luck graduating. Oh, the test is not biased towards English speakers. ESL students usually still do better than blacks! And it's not biased towards kids with a greater grasp of "American Culture" because if you happen to be of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Indian decent, you probably just blew the majority of white kids out of the water!

What these standardized test results show us is that intelligence is only vaguely inherent, and instead has everything to do with our home. A child who is read to regularly in their pre-school years almost always does better in school. The same goes for children who are given music lessons. Do these activities in themselves make the kid smarter? No. But they are indicators of the importance placed upon learning by parents in the home.

Not all parents are equal. Some parents instinctively know what will help their child, and what their child needs for intelligence to bloom. Others have the wherewithal to go find those things out, so their child is still ahead of the game. Other parents don't give a care, because hey, they made all "C"s and they turned out just fine, right? Other parents care so little that for whatever reason, they aren't even around. So which of these parents do you think will have a child on the "honor roll"?

So let's call the honor roll the top 10% of students. I would say parents of those top 10% would probably be excellent homeschool parents. I would have no problem saying that the proof is in the pudding, pull your kid out whenever you feel like it! If a parent who cares enough about their child's education to push them to excel, while they are in school, chooses to pull them out, they will probably be great homeschool parents and insure that their child receives an even better education at home. But that rarely happens. Rarely rarely. I guess it's the "if it's not broke, don't fix it" mentality. Probably the darn kid is way too involved in sports, student politics, and the yearbook committee for the parents to think about pulling him out. Isn't that what they wanted all along? And yes, for smart, outgoing students, public school is an easy, breezy ball of fun.

But what about those students under the 50% mark? Half the kids are down there, ya know? Half the kids sure don't make "A"s, hope for the best on their standardized test, and cross their fingers that they won't have to repeat any classes, or go to summer school. Now these are the kids that are ripe to get pulled out of a miserable, failed public school system! They can't keep up in their classwork (homework), often have social problems, probably miss out on athletics and other extracurriculars due to poor grades in one or more classes. What do they have to lose by being pulled out?

Well, you must recognize that "No Child Left Behind" was created for these kids. The whole point in saying that no kid should graduate illiterate is to find the illiterate kids! Then get the kid the help they need. Not many schools do a great job at this, but if you're considering pulling your kid out, you should at least be willing to go and talk to some school counselors first. I'm not talking about trying to get your kid in special ed. It is very unlikely your kid needs special ed. What they need is help catching up, encouragement, and lots of hard work! (And not to be told they are smart)

So that gets us back to, who is the best teacher for the child; a parent or a government employee? How do we know if a parent will be a good teacher? One quick way to check is to find out if the new would-be teacher has a college degree of any kind. There are exceptions to this, but think about it. A public school teacher has to have a degree for a reason, doesn't she? You wouldn't send your kid to be taught by an uneducated bumpkin would you? Well, if you are a bumpkin, thankfully the government has provided that other option.

A teacher should be someone who loves to learn. To educate others you must first educate yourself. If you have not gone beyond the bare minimum, on to college, and adopted a life of continual learning, what makes you think your home is an environment that will encourage your child to do for himself? If we expect a public school to have a standard of learning, however poor, how can we not have higher expectations upon individuals who want something more for their child?

Many homeschoolers would say it's no one's business but their own, how qualified they are to teach their own children. But that's just like a parent who complains about seat belt laws, saying that only they have the right to decide if their child wears one or not. Do you see what I'm saying? If the child really matters to you, you will already be fulfilling the law. You will appreciate the law because it puts into words what you have already known to be a good practice. The law is merely a reminder, a standard of what good parenting is.

So they want homeschool parents to get a certificate... is that all?! Go to a few classes over the summer to brush up on your algebra? Remind yourself of a few Civil War dates? Learn how to plan your lesson plans in an organized, understandable way? Is that ALL? Why are homeschoolers afraid of this??? Any homeschool parent worth their salt wouldn't hesitate to get the affirmation that what they are doing with their child is good. They would jump at the chance to get new teaching ideas, and tips for staying organized.

There are strange occurrences where results-challenged kids come from excellent homes. Those rare cases are how the modern homeschool movement was born. Educated parents shouldn't be happy when their kids educations are suffering. Leave that to the parents who don't care. If you don't care, then there is no reason for you to homeschool your kid. Homeschooling takes a ton of organization, time, and effort. It is a full time job, plus overtime. Especially if you are dealing with a kid who is behind.

If you read those last three sentences with an attitude of, "Crap, I was hoping this wouldn't be too hard" you are not a good candidate. Let the bloated, broken establishment deal with your mess. Pay for a good tutor, is my advice. But if you read the sentences with the attitude of, "Yes! My child is worth it! I will do anything for him to succeed!" Well, I'll probably run into you at a curriculum con somewhere....