Thursday, March 31, 2011

Afterschooling - March 31

We have been agonizing over what to do next year for school. (I know - this is a dramatic way to put things, but its true.) 2nd grade is 2nd grade. I know that. My biggest concern is that sitting in a classroom day after day without sufficient challenge will start to erode the love of learning that Alice currently has.

We looked into private schools. There was one that was a good fit, but it was too expensive. Homeschooling is a possibility, but no one's first choice. Alice is in the running for the magnet school honor's program lottery - but there aren't many seats available.

A few days ago I discovered that Tennessee treats "intellectually gifted" as a subgroup under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (Tennessee is the only state that does this. Suddenly I like living here a whole lot more...) This means that we can request an IEP (individualized education plan) solely because Alice is gifted! This could be a game-changer for us. An IEP is legally binding - the school would be required to make accommodations. Alice has already been identified as "intellectually gifted" by the district's own test.

Tim and I are planning to meet with the school sometime soon.

Anyhow, finding that out has been so exciting to me, I had to share.

Here is what we're working on with afterschooling this month:

Science: Plants - what do plants need to grow? Sprouting seeds. (Lima beans in wet paper towels, etc.) Different parts of the flower. Bees and pollination.

This is Alice's request. They are sprouting lima beans at school. She wanted to do the same thing at home, but made her request while I was in the middle of cooking dinner. I told her she needed to wait, but she could draw out the experiment if she wanted to. She stormed off to her room. A few minutes later I heard her reading a book about plants to her dolls. This is another great thing about afterschooling - you can take the curriculum that is being covered in school and explore it much further.

We will also probably start something with elements and the periodic table. She keeps asking me questions about it and is not satisfied with, "I don't know. We'll have to look that up later."

Math: Hammering addition and subtraction facts (always), telling time, counting money. (also supplementing school) I have a kid's clock kit with gears that I've been holding back since summer. That will probably come out this month as a daddy-daughter project.

Language Arts: Synonyms and Antonyms (school supplementation), letter writing.

History / read aloud: Little House in the Big Woods

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bachelor Buttons

My grandmother was a master cookie baker.

Every time we visited, she would have a spread of 5 or 6 different cookies from which to choose. As I got older and moved out on my own, she would occasionally send me shoeboxes of cookies. I always shared with my roommates and, later, with Tim, but there was always one type of cookie in the box that I would immediately separate out and hide.

Eventually I got around to asking Grandma for the recipe. She sent it to me handwritten on an index card. In shaky handwriting she had written, "Here is my recipe for Bachelor Buttons. It's so putzy I usually double the recipe."

Bachelor Buttons have been at the top of my list for a gluten free conversion. I have waited, though, because the thought of those cookies failing and running all over the baking pan in a molten, smokey mess was too sad.

Last week I took a chance and tried them. Oh my. They did not run all over the oven. We did not have to call the fire department. They did not fail. In fact, I think its quite possible I achieved cookie nirvana:

Here is the recipe.

Note: I am not using a specific flour mix. I have mixed together gluten free flours (such as sorghum, rice, teff, millet, etc, etc, etc) with gluten free starches (corn, potato, tapioca) at a ratio of 70% flour / 30% starch BY WEIGHT. This is VERY IMPORTANT. When I mix up my flour mix, I use my digital scale. I measure out 700 grams of flour (very haphazardly, just based on what I've got around.) and then 300 grams of starch. Mix it all together until it is a uniform color and consistency, and, voila, you have flour!

Okay. NOW here is the recipe!

Grandma's Bachelor Buttons (gluten free!)

2 sticks butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-5/8 oz (approx 1/2 cup) almond flour
11-1/2 oz flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum (or use 1 tea xanthan and 1 tea guar gum)
Finely chopped nuts
Something to put in the center - frosting, jam, frosting and jam....

Preheat the oven to 325.

Cream the butter and sugars together. Add the egg YOLKS, vanilla, and salt.

In a separate bowl, combine the almond flour, flour, and xanthan gum. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing until it looks like cookie dough.

Chill for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, allow the reserved egg whites to come to room temperature.

Roll the dough into balls. I made mine walnut size, which made GIANT cookies. No one complained (haha), but if you want reasonable sized cookies, a heaping teaspoon full is probably the way to go.

Beat the egg whites with a fork until they are frothy. Dip the dough balls in egg white, then roll in finely chopped nuts. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Stick your finger in the center of each cookie to make an indentation.

Bake for 10 - 15 minutes. This will vary based on how big you make the cookies. Mine took 15 minutes. They are done when they are a pale golden color.

Remove from oven, and, while hot, take a teaspoon and push down the center of each cookie.

Allow to cool, then fill with whatever your heart desires. Grandma used buttercream. I put peach butter that I canned last July on the bottom and covered it with cinnamon buttercream.

Cinnamon Buttercream
1/2 stick butter
2 ish cups powdered sugar
a splash of milk
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine everything, adding more milk as needed.

This recipe makes enough that there is no need to hide them. Go ahead and share.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Afterschooling Ideas for Preschoolers

If I think about it, we have actually been afterschooling since Alice was a baby. While she wasn't attending school yet, she did receive early intervention (EI) services on and off for the first three years of her life. Of course she had toys that were just toys, but we also looked for things that had therapeutic value.

My favorites from that time were:

Bubbles. These are GREAT for developing oral motor control, and kids LOVE them.

Cheater chopsticks and cotton balls or colorful pompoms. You can either make your own cheater chopsticks at home or buy some. We have these:
It is a great tool for developing the pincer grasp. Alice would dump a cup full of pompoms out on the table and then pick them up one by one with the chopsticks and put them back into the cup. She would sort by color, etc. I also let her eat snacks with the chopsticks.

A jelly roll pan and some mixed dry beans. The jelly roll pan is key here - it contains the mess. You can do all sorts of things with dry beans - sort them, make pictures with them, stick them up your nose...

Playdough scissors and cardstock. Did you know that using scissors is a skill for 18 - 24 monthers??? Neither did I, but there it was on Alice's OT goals. This was a skill we did NOT work on at home because I really didn't want my 2 year old to be able to use scissors. However, once you are ready to start working on scissors skills, playdough scissors and cardstock are the way to go. The playdough scissors will cut the cardstock, so it is satisfying to the child, but they don't cut much of anything else. Except playdough.

Pony beads and pipe cleaners. I think Alice was 3 or 4 when we first gave her some beads. Pipe cleaners are good for kids who are first learning to string beads because they don't wobble and the beads stay put when you put them on. This is also great for working on the pincer grasp.

Puzzles! Puzzles are great for developing motor skills, attention span, and spatial relations.

Playdough, clay, and silly putty / theraputty for hand strength. You can hide small "treasures" in the playdough for the child to find and dig out. This is especially useful if your child is reluctant to touch the playdough. Somehow giving them a specific task makes them much more willing to dive in.

Dress up clothes for practicing self-help skills.

TONS of art supplies. Crayola twistables were our crayon of choice for awhile. They don't require much downward pressure to make a mark. Alice had a hard time learning to coordinate that motion (downward pressure while moving the crayon on the paper) with regular crayons and the twistables relieved a lot of frustration.

A lot of these are things we would have had around even if Alice hadn't needed an extra push developmentally - they are just good playthings. Even if you have a typically developing child, I highly recommend browsing pediatric OT / PT catalogs. They have the best toys! My favorite companies are achievement products and Pocket Full of Therapy. I also got a lot of good ideas for activities from the book The Out of Sync Child Has Fun. (Hint - you don't have to have sensory issues to have fun with the activities in the book!)