Monday, August 24, 2015

10 Home School Lessons from A.C.E. Curriculum

A Page from my A.C.E. School Yearbook
I am a homeschooling Mom, but when I was a child, Homeschooling in our state could land a parent in jail. But, Prayer had been removed from public schools, and public schools also weren't teaching phonics-first (most still don't!), so Mom sent us to Christian schools. She made great sacrifices to do this, since she was a widow, and we didn't have much money.

When I was in 6th Grade, I went to a very small Christian School that used A.C.E. Curriculum. It was quite possibly the best academic experience of my life*, because it taught me skills that I have used constantly since then. The skills I learned did not depend on using A.C.E. Curriculum, but they were habits that were encouraged in users of that curriculum. These principles have been a great help to me, not only in my own life, but as a homeschooling Mom; I apply these principles when I teach my daughter.

1. Kids should learn academic self-discipline. In the A.C.E. program, each student was expected to make his or her own lesson plan. At the end of each day, we were to make a plan of what materials we would cover the next day. When I later transferred to public school, then went to college & grad school, if I knew what the syllabus said, I never again had to wait to get an assignment to start it. Nor did I have to wait for the night before the due date to get it done. I had learned to plan my own time. This inspired my 2 1/2 Minute Homeschool Lesson Planning which allows my daughter to plan her own lessons.

2. Kids should not be left to themselves academically. Although we were expected to be self-disciplined with our lesson planning, we were not left to choose what or whether we would learn. We regularly heard "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Children were expected to be raised in the Faith and in life skills by Christian adults who would guide them in the right way.

3. Don't move on until you "get it." When a new student started at the school, he or she was given a placement test for each subject, and then was given materials in the proper grade level for each subject. A student could be 11 years old, and doing 10th grade math, but 3rd grade reading if that was what they needed. Because, you really can't do 6th grade reading if you haven't mastered 3rd grade reading. Students were also given "patches" for areas of difficulty. I remember one girl in 7th grade was given a 1st grade workbook on how to tell time. She had never learned before. Then, when she finished that, she immediately moved up to 6th grade math. Many parents worry that Mastery type curricula are too easy, since the student isn't doing things that are as flashy as their peers. But the schools that are really "dumbed down" are the schools that pretend to teach Algebra & Latin to students that cannot read English competently or do simple Addition with accuracy.

4. A "C" is NOT passing! Mediocre work was not accepted. An 85% was passing - and only just. A person who got a 70% on an exam simply did not understand the material, and had to do it again.  This was such a blessing when the student moved to more difficult work. It is scary to think that when I go to the hospital, I might be treated by a doctor or a nurse who had "passed" an important class with a 70%.

5. If you work hard, you'll be able to play more! If we finished the assignment we made ourselves, we were done for the day! There was no homework unless we slacked off. There was a "light at the end of the tunnel" for each day's work.

6. You can't have too much Religion! As a student, I was quite worried about my A.C.E. school. It was "unaccredited," AND I spent THREE HOURS EVERY DAY on religion! We had Opening Exercises for 1/2 hour in the morning, then Private Devotions for 1/2 hour, then academic work to do in Bible and Church History, then afternoon Chapel! I was convinced that I was falling behind academically, and would be in bad shape when and if I transferred to public school. When I did transfer to public school, the Principal was also certain that I would be doing badly. He threatened my Mother, "Well, you've had your girls in an unaccredited school. We'll have to test them and see if they're at grade level. If they're behind, we'll have to put them back a few grades. But, we'll let them go ahead and start school at the level you say they should be at." A few weeks later, Mom called the Principal. Why hadn't we been tested yet? Well, as it turns out, we were at the top of our respective classes (I had NOT been at the top of my class before A.C.E. - I had been a mediocre student) - and he wasn't going to bother. You see, learning about the Bible teaches a lot of other skills like reading comprehension, logic, and historical understanding. But more importantly, God blesses the study of His Word.

7. A little motivation goes a long way. A.C.E. had a motivational system. Each week we could earn various privileges for doing an appropriate amount of school work, volunteer work, and Bible memory work. At the highest level of privileges, we were free to take a break any time we wanted. You can bet that I made sure I had the highest level of privileges every week!

8. Read for content. Most A.C.E. materials were workbook-based. There was a lesson to read, then there were fill-in-the-blank questions to answer that made sure we had distilled the important information from what we had read. Then, there was a test at the end of the workbook to be certain that the material had been retained. This approach helped me learn to read quickly for content, a skill that was a huge blessing in the subsequent years of schooling.

9. Learn Phonics First! Our school was very small - only about 100 kids in grades K through 12. So, those of us who were in 5th - 7th grade were on the other side of an accordion-curtain from the Kindergarten. All day, every day, I could hear the rigorous, intensive, phonics-first instruction given to the Kindergartners. There was no sight reading in sight! And, I still remember at the final assembly of the year, hearing those 5 year-olds (who were dressed in cute little suits and dresses) reading to all of us - long passages, straight from the King James Bible - without a flaw!

10. You can teach yourself most things you need to learn. Most people feel that if they need to learn something, they should sign up for a class, attend at inconvenient hours, and pay a lot of money for someone to teach them. Then, if the material is not properly spoon-fed by the instructor, they don't know how to study on their own, and they blame the instructor for their failure. But, I learned that most learning can be done by simply sitting down with the materials by myself regularly and studying on my own. After that, if I hit a snag, I could ask for help from a professional.

*Although I am a big fan of many ACE distinctives, I have not chosen the curriculum for my own use. I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, and the ACE Curriculum, while officially non-denominational, would not work for our family doctrinally. Besides which, I really LOVE customizing my own curriculum and having the relationship advantage of teaching my daughter face-to-face.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

How to Fix Sticky Spaghetti

We've all had it happen. Cook Spaghetti for dinner, drain it in the colander - then wait a few minutes.

There's a good chance that your Spaghetti is sticky! For most of us, that's not the ideal way to eat Spaghetti.

Now there are a few methods of preventing sticky spaghetti:

1) Put a little oil in the cooking water. This is not very effective, and for those who must avoid oil for health reasons, it is problematic.

2) Buy a brand that is less inclined to become sticky. This can help, but it's not an exact science.

3) Leave the Spaghetti in its cooking water - and just add a cup of very cold to stop further cooking. This was my Mom's method - and a pretty effective one. But, as you serve the Spaghetti, you have to wait for each serving to drain so that you don't get water on the plate, which could result in watery sauce.

But, let's assume that you've already drained your Spaghetti, and it turned sticky on you. What do you do NOW?

Here's my trick - and it works quite well:

Run cold water over the Spaghetti in the colander, tossing the Spaghetti to rinse all sides thoroughly. This will un-sticky it.

Then, simply rinse in your hottest tap water to re-heat, or for even hotter Spaghetti, microwave it hot again.

This works great for me, and is so easy to do.

By the way, when I have leftover Spaghetti, and am preparing it for refrigeration or freezing, I rinse it well in cold water, then add a couple of spoonfuls of water to the container to keep it moist. Then, when I remove the container from the fridge, the Spaghetti isn't sticky.

To thaw frozen Spaghetti, I simply rinse it well in hot tap water - it thaws and warms at the same time. If serving diners who don't like food piping hot (as is often the case with children), you'll find that you might not even have to heat the Noodles additionally after thawing in hot tap water : )

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Design Your Own Mini Unit Study

Design your Own Unit Study using a favorite book!
The first time I ever designed a Mini Unit Study, it was quite accidental. I'm not a "Unit Studies" sort
of Homeschool Mom - or at least, I didn't think I was.

( Personally, I don't care for Home School or Parenting Labels - and I refuse to wear one ; )

It all happened when my daughter was reading Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. I had really enjoyed the book when I was a kid, and wanted to share the joy with my daughter, so I scheduled into our Home School Reading plan.

If you've ever read the book, you know that early on, Ramona's Kindergarten class sang the National Anthem. But, Ramona was not familiar with the Anthem, and didn't understand its words. She misunderstood the phrase "Dawn's Early Light" and began to think of the song as the "Donzer Song."

Well, imagine my horror when I discovered that my daughter didn't "get" the joke - she didn't know the National Anthem any better than Ramona did! And then, I thought - where do American kids usually learn the Anthem? Well, either at "Far Away School" (as we call traditional school in our house) or at Ballgames.

My Daughter was unfamiliar with both venues : )

So, we looked up the National Anthem on Youtube. We found a recording that had the words, and also included the last verse - which is distinctly Christian : ) And, we listened to it every day, and sang along until we had learned it!

Well, that wasn't quite enough to suit me, because the words in the song were just as abstract to my Daughter as they were to Ramona.

So, we got the book, The Rocket's Red Glare by Peter Alderman from the Library, and we read about the writing of the National Anthem.

And, that only created more questions.

The next thing we knew, we were looking up the history of Ft. McHenry, locating Chesapeake Bay on the Map, and finding out about the causes of the War of 1812 (mind you, my daughter is young yet, so we didn't study these things in the kind of depth that a high school student would!).

And, I realized that, whether we were a "Unit Study" family or not - we had just done a Unit Study of sorts!

Since then, I have created several Mini Unit studies. Unlike Purchased Unit Studies, I generally just prepare these as we read. A book creates questions as we're reading, and we have to answer the questions - so we do! This is an almost-no-work method for the Home Schooling Parent! : )

Most often, our resources are simple: Wikipedia, Youtube, and topical Children's Books from the Library.

So - I've created this list of Unit Study Generating Ideas that we can use over & over whenever we read a book. We don't necessarily answer every question for every book - these questions simply act as a springboard for designing a study that fits our needs and interests.


Steps to Design Your Own Mini Unit Study 

Choose a Children's Chapter Book (ones that are set in history are really easy & fun to work with):
Right now, we're reading a great book, Anna Maria's Gift by Janice Shefelman, so I'll use that as an example. We didn't use all of these ideas on this book - just some of them - these are questions that we can use and re-use for every book we read and examples of how to answer them using a single book. We simply do those projects that seem most helpful each time rather than get bogged down in doing too many projects per book.

1. Read about the Historical Time Period (Wikipedia usually works here). 

What was life like in Europe in the 1700's?

2. Find the Geographic Setting on the Map, and learn about the Places. If you're reading about George Washington, check out the Mt. Vernon website. If you're reading about Egypt, find out about Pyramids & the Nile River. 

Here, we're finding out about Venice Italy. Where is it, and what is/was it like?

3. Google Images for Cities, Holidays, etc mentioned (use parental guidance here - have your child turn away while you scan the images before sharing them - ask me how I know . . . )

We looked up images for Venice, Gondolas, and Venetian Carnival Masks. 

4. Look up New Vocabulary

 What is a Basilica, a Gondola, a Prioress?

5. Prepare & Dine on the foods featured in the book. 

The Orphans in the book breakfasted on Bread & Chocolate. Tough assignment, but somebody's gotta do it!

Of course, you could also feature other Italian dishes that were available in the 1700's. Do a little research to find out if Italians ate Pasta back in those years as you might expect. When was Pasta imported to Italy from China? (Hint: Marco Polo). You might find something like this.

6. Listen to any music mentioned - This can be as simple as Youtube or as fancy as attending a concert!

In this book, young Anna Maria plays Vivaldi's D Minor Concerto to her dying father (that's not a spoiler - it's in the first chapter). We listened to it on Youtube to make the story come to life

7. Read a Children's Biography of any Historical Figures featured in the book.

The composer Vivaldi plays a prominent role in this book - I expect we'll be looking for a children's biography of him soon!

8. Research Religious Principles mentioned (this works whether or not the book has a religious setting or religious characters - indeed, the example could be negative instead of positive). 

In this book, the Anna Maria is greatly offended by another character and struggles with forgiveness. Also, Vivaldi and the Nuns dedicate their time & indeed their lives to helping Orphans.  Two great moral lessons to learn.

9. Memorize a Bible Verse that Illustrates the Moral to the Story.

You don't have to be a great Biblical Scholar to find a verse that fits! Simply do an internet search for "Bible Verse, Forgive" or "Bible Verse, Orphan" and you'll get lots of nice options, like these:
Bible Verses on Forgiveness
Bible Verses about Orphans
Then, choose one to learn : )
Or, you can even go to Youtube and search for a song to help you memorize the verse or principle. This can take a few minutes to find exactly what you're looking for, but is well worth the trouble. Since my daughter is young - we sometimes pick songs for young kids. Like this:

Or, you can choose a more grown up style, like this

We also have several CD's of Children's Bible Memory Songs to choose from.

If you already know a verse, song, or hymn on the subject, recite or sing it together. 

10. Research any technology discussed in the book & find out about when & how it came into being, and how it worked. Did the characters encounter magnets, a catapult, a castle, a boat, a bow & arrow? If you're really technically minded, build a scale model : )

 In this book, the construction of Venice is briefly discussed, and the characters ride in a Gondola - both would be worthy of research 

11. Create an art project that depicts an item or scene from the book (this can be a simple drawing, or a 3-D sculpture - your call!)

The obvious choices here are making a Venetian Carnival mask, or a project involving a Gondola or a Violin

12. Locate the events on a timeline, and determine their relationship to the rest of history (Were these things before or after Jesus lived on Earth? Were your Grandparents alive when these things happened? Etc) 

This book takes place during the life of the composer Vivaldi - locating that on a timeline, and also discussing Baroque Music trends during that time period would fit in quite nicely.

13. Research Foreign vocabulary, and learn some of the rules of pronouncing words & names borrowed from that language.

 When do Italians use the title "Don" (I was surprised to find that the author did not misspeak when she said "Don Vivaldi" - I had no idea that the title "Don" was also used for Priests! One of the Characters in the book is called "Francesco" - is that pronounced "Fran-ses-co" or "Fran-ches-co" and why? : )

14. Math Questions. There are seldom Math questions IN a children's book, but that doesn't mean you cannot easily create math exercises that come from the text - after a little practice, your kids will be able to do this themselves. Think of dates, ages, quantity, distance, speed & time, and how to compare them. Like this:

How far is it from Cremona to Venice? How fast does a horse drawn carriage travel? Then how many hours were Anna Maria & Sister Bianca traveling at the beginning of the book.

The Events of this book happen in 1715. Assume Anna Maria is 9. What year was she born? Who is Pope in 1715? What year did he take office? How long did he serve? How many more years will it be from the date of this book until the next Pope serves?

How many years did Vivaldi write? How many compositions did he create in those years? How many was that per year? (this one will require Wikipedia or other research)

Imagine that you run the Refectory at the Orphanage. Assume there are 16 Orphans. Each girl gets two rolls and one ounce of chocolate every day for breakfast. How many rolls do you make every day? How many ounces of chocolate do you buy? If chocolate costs 2 Lire per Pound, how much do you spend on chocolate every week?

How many years after this book was the American Revolution?

What date did the last book we read happen in? How much before or after that book is this book?

How fast does a Gondola travel (again, research) - how far is it across Venice? How long would it take a Gondolier to travel across Venice?

Well, you get the idea . . . .

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Five Muffins from your Own Mix

Need a little something special to put in that lunchbox? Or a breakfast treat for overnight guests? Muffins are a mainstream treat with broad appeal. They're super tasty comfort food - but these have the added benefit of being 100% whole wheat & very low fat! Besides all that, since you can whip them up from your own mix, they can be ready to bake in a matter of minutes. These are great to pop in the oven while you do the dinner dishes, or to bake for weekend guests while the coffee is brewing - they're really that easy! : )

If you whip up the Stuffed Veggies Muffin Mix for your pantry, you're ready to make these five muffins in minutes:

      Zucchini Muffins

      Apple Cinnamon Muffins

      Vegan Pumpkin Mini Muffins

      Banana Walnut Muffins

      Cranberry Streusel Muffins

Note: I often add sugar & cinnamon (or just sugar) to the tops of muffins before baking for a special touch. If you're eating them warm & fresh, they're delicious this way. If you keep them for a day or two, though, the sugar will attract moisture and make the outsides sticky & damp. SOOO - either toast them in the toaster oven to re-crisp, or omit sugar topping in muffins that will be eaten from a lunchbox, or on the road. 

These freeze well after baking, making them a perfect treat to keep on hand to pack a quick lunchbox.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Methods for Adding Mileage to your Freezer Cooking Plan

There are a few special types of recipes that really add a lot of mileage to your freezer cooking plan - they can be prepared in minutes, but save a lot of time later. Try using just one or two of these ideas next time you freezer-cook, and watch the return on your investment of time multiply!

Seasoning packets 

Mixes like homemade Taco Seasoning can help you create a meal in minutes later.

Once you have the seasoning made, you're ready to make any of these quick dishes:
Black Bean Enchiladas
Chili Cornbread Casserole
Chili-Topped Potatoes
Fill Your Own Tortilla Night
Guacamole, Super Simple 
Refried Beans, Easiest Healthy
Veggie Fajitas
Southwest Black Bean Burgers
Mexican Haystacks
Black Bean & Corn Salad

Pantry Mixes

Homemade Corn Bread Mix, Muffin Mix, Pancake Mix, Cake & Cookie Mix and French Breakfast Mix can be prepared quickly (perhaps while waiting for another dish to simmer) and make for a quick meal or snack later.

For complete variations on each of these ideas, check out the Make Your Own Vegan Mixes tab 

Just Add Water Pancake Mix

Pumpkin Mini Muffins from Muffin Mix

Make 1 Mix - Make 10 Cookies!

French Crepes from French Breakfast Mix, GF, Top 8 Free, Vegan


These can be mixed up & formed in patties, but require no cooking until the day they're eaten (though they can be cooked ahead for microwaving on the day they're eaten, if you prefer)

Burgers & Fries Vegan Style

Vegan Sausage Patties

Southwest Black Bean Burgers   


Some sauces can be prepared on cooking day, and then make dish preparation almost instant.

Yachni Sauce
Make Sauce Tonight, Have Easy Meals for a Week

Bread Dough

Having a dough on hand like this one can take 10 minutes of hands-on time, and allow you to have four nights of fresh, homemade bread over the course of a week or two.

Your simple double

If you're going to all the work to make a dish, doubling it means you can eat it twice for the same amount of work. If your family likes a dish a lot, and if you have the freezer space, this is a great way to go.

Cooking Ingredients for later use

Some ingredients take a long time to cook, but can be combined into a dish later quite quickly. For Vegans, cooking Beans, Grains, Lentils & even Pasta or Rice in advance for the freezer can prepare you for a lot of instant meals. This is especially helpful if you cook for one, and can freeze these ingredients in single portions. Many Omnivore cooking plans are centered around roasted meat for this reason. Holly over at "My Plant-Based Family" often does batch cooking this way, and has LOTS of meal plans that are focused around this method - like this one

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Zucchini Bread Waffles

Zucchini Bread Waffles
If you love Zucchini Bread, and you love Waffles - this is the perfect Waffle for you! It is made from your own mix, so it comes together quite quickly : )

Zucchini Bread Waffles
Stir Together in mixing bowl
1 cup Shredded Zucchini (approx. 1 small)
2 Cups Stuffedveggies Pancake & Waffle Mix (see below)
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch*
4 Tablespoons Sugar (more or less to taste)
2 Tablespoons Orange Juice Concentrate
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 1/2 Cups Water (more or less as needed for proper batter consistency)

Prepare according to Waffle Iron Instructions

Here are a few tips that work with my Waffle Iron:
I brush the Iron with a little oil from a pastry brush before each waffle is made.
I use a 1/4 cup batter per waffle.
I spread the batter around in the form with the back of a spoon before I close the Iron.
I wait until the light has gone off AND the steaming has almost completely stopped before I open the Iron to remove the waffle.

*The Tapioca Starch helps provide a nice crispy edge to the waffle without the addition of oil to the recipe.

Freezer directions: These are VERY freezer friendly! I let them cool on a wire rack
and put them in a plastic freezer container with a sheet of waxed paper between each one. When I want Waffles for breakfast, I simply remove the desired number from the box, and heat them in the Toaster Oven. They actually are better after toasting than they are fresh out of the Iron! 

Mix in a labeled container. This recipe may be doubled if you have a larger family, or like to have pancakes often.

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (also known as Graham flour) OR White Whole Wheat Flour*
1-3 tablespoons sugar (white, or raw/turbinado sugar)
1 Tablespoon arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, or cornstarch (acts as vegan egg-substitute for dry mixes)
1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

*Note Edited in December 2014: For a long time, I only made this with Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, but then recently I couldn't get to my favorite specialty shop, and was forced to try subbing the White Whole Wheat Flour. To my delight, it worked as well or better than the Whole Wheat Pastry Flour. This is great because White Whole Wheat - while still 100% whole grain, is easier to find and cheaper! : )

For LOTS more recipes from this mix, check out my Make Your Own Mix Tab

Monday, July 13, 2015

Zucchini Mini Muffins (Whole Wheat, Oil Free, Vegan)

Zucchini Mini Muffins
Zucchini Mini Muffins are a real delight. And, when you have your own mix, they're SO easy to make! Even better, these are much healthier than many other Zucchini Muffins, since they have no animal products, no oil and they're whole wheat (but not heavy)! This is my own recipe, inspired by the Make a Mix Cookbook.

Zucchini Mini Muffins
Preheat oven to 400 Degrees Fahrenheit
Stir together, till most lumps are gone, but a few remain

1 Cup stuffedveggies Muffin Mix
1/2 Cup Shredded Zucchini
1/2 Tablespoon Orange Juice Concentrate
I label my mix canister with the recipe for easy refills
1/2 Cup Water
Small Handful chopped Walnuts (optional, but tasty!)

Fill prepared Mini Muffin Pan. Sprinkle with Cinnamon Sugar (optional).
Bake until done, approximately 20-25 minutes.


(For Regular Sized Muffins, Double the Batch and bake at the same temperature for approximately
10 additional minutes)

Versatile Vegan Mini Muffin Mix

Just fill with mix ingredients & shake.
Mix together

8 cups whole wheat pastry flour *
2 cups turbinado sugar or other sugar of your choice
4 Tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch or Arrowroot Powder (Cornstarch may be used as an emergency substitute)

After all the ingredients are in your chosen container close securely and shake well to evenly distribute contents.

Store in pantry in cooler house temperatures, or if mix will be used in a month or less. For longer storage, or in very warm weather, store in fridge or freezer.

* The King Arthur website says Whole Wheat Pastry Flour & Graham Flour are the same thing. It's a lower-protein whole wheat flour, that produces a lighter, more tender product than traditional whole wheat flour.

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