A Long Lenten Healing

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Lent always makes me think of this boy and the Lent he spent in the Pediatric Acute Care Unit at UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He went into the hospital the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and came home on Palm Sunday.  While the tress budded and bloomed and the world came alive, we lived in a hospital room.

When we took him in the doctors told us right out they didn’t have any idea what was wrong, but that he was very ill. Not the words you want to hear about your two and a half month old at one of the finest pediatric teaching hospitals in the country!

Even after they diagnosed him with a congenital pancreatic cyst, the treatment was really experimental as the condition is very rare even in adults (usually seen in elderly alcoholics) and they had only ever heard of one other case (and that was an older child in Turkey!).

Five and a half long weeks of waiting to see. Waiting to see if his internal organs would stop secreting fluid. Waiting to see if he would gain enough weight that  surgery was an option. Waiting to see if he would come through surgery. Waiting to see if we could go home.

And then the joy of coming home! And the joy a couple of weeks later of moving from a feeding tube to a bottle! And weight gain! And developmental stuff starting to happen properly!

This boy brought me to so much a greater understanding of the seasons of the church year.

Born three days before Christmas so that I too was great with child throughout Advent. And then walking through Lent in waiting and surrender until for us joy did come in the morning!

That was five years ago, but the lesson is still new and needed.

 

 

 

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Picking Curriculum: Or Why I Start Thinking About September in February!

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Lately (for which I am very thankful) school has been going remarkably smoothly. We took a bunch of time off in December due to holidays and sickness and finished out 2014 by moving the schoolroom upstairs from the basement to the biggest and sunniest of our four bedrooms.

I only moved up the things we actually needed  on a daily basis, and have been diligent about rotating the independent learning toys for the little boys. I’ve also tweaked our schedule so that the big two and I now start school at 8 am while the little boys play downstairs for another hour, and somehow the result has been that the big two are working more independently with less dawdling, and Bull and Jack are getting more of my time and attention which has helped tremendously with their happiness and ability to learn.

One of the side effects (and one I’m very happy about with Number Five due in just twelve weeks!) is that the big two have been progressing through some of their subjects more quickly than I had planned. They have just about finished Latin (Buggle has two lessons in his book and about ten pages in his notebook, Mouse has slightly more than that), Spelling will be completed mid- March, History won’t be done until the end of April but that’s because I’m adding some more complex projects than I had originally planned. English will be finished at the beginning of April.

So I’m looking at how things are going now and starting my annual process of figuring out what we will need for next year!

Now I confess- I’m a bit of a nut about curriculum. When I was a girl I used to sit down and write lesson plans for fun! I love looking at materials and trying to match them to the children and their interests and learning styles!

But when I sat down to make my list of books for next year, I found that nearly everything we needed I had already picked out! Most of what we’ve used this year, I’m happy with and will just progress to the next level.

I do need to figure out something for science- I’m not happy with what we have and will probably be experimenting with some different approaches over the summer.

So far the 2015-2016 school books look something like this:

Handwriting: Continue with Handwriting Without Tears, add their Typing course

Spelling: Rod and Staff: Book Four for the bigs, Bull won’t start Spelling as a subject yet

Latin: Song School Latin I for Bull, Song School Latin II for the bigs (if they zoom through it like they did this year, we’ll either do the next level or switch to Lively Latin. I need to take a good look at both)

English: Rod and Staff Grammar 4 for Mouse, Buggle is doing that one this year, so I’m thinking about a year of writing a weekly or biweekly essay and no grammar book for him next year)

Math: Continue with MEP – we’ll go through the summer with that, with the plan to be in Book 3 in the fall and begin Book 4 sometime in the spring of 2016

History: Do a combination of Story of the World and RC History: I’ll need to source the reading materials and prep that over the summer, but this narrative approach seems to work well for the children.

Science: I don’t know yet, I want something that is more exploratory than what we have now, but also feeds into the children’s interests. I may end up doing unit studies with the materials I’ve been collecting over the years.

Not much is changing from this year.

 

In a way that’s probably good. I do most of my shopping at the HEAV Convention in June and with Number Five due in early May and needing to drive from Massachusetts I’m just not sure I’ll make it this year! If I do I’ll really miss all of the opportunities to touch, and read, and consider new books, but I think I’ll still be able to put together a good year for us.

However…just because I might miss convention doesn’t mean you need to and I’m very happy to be giving away a Family Registration again this year. All you need to do is leave a comment here or in the Facebook group or on the Facebook Page telling me something about what you are thinking for next year’s schooling! I’ll be giving you additional opportunities to enter throughout the week and then letting Jack pick a winner on Saturday!

Note: If you have already registered (and I hope you have) and you enter and win, HEAV will credit you for the amount of the free pass!

 

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Hosting A Soup and Bread Supper: Vegan Tomato Soup And Biscuits

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SoupweekoneTomato soup! So warm and wintery and so easy to make from scratch!

Tomato Soup BaseStart with two small onions and a few cloves of garlic. Chop and sautee in a neutral oil like corn or sunflower. Add a generous amount of of parsley, and a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Sautee and stir until the garlic and onions are tender.

IMG_1405IMG_1408Whisk in flour until all of the oil is absorbed.  Then pour in a small amount of tomato juice and stir until smooth before adding the rest of the tomato juice and the can of puree.

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IMG_1411At this point you can continue with the recipe or put the base away until you need it. Either way simmer it for 10-15 minutes before serving and then stir in two cups of coconut-almond milk or for a really creamy taste a can of coconut cream.

Vegan Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • Two small onions chopped
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon of dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup of oil
  • 1 46 oz Bottle or Can of tomato juice
  • 1 28 ounce can of tomato puree
  • 2 cups of coconut-almond milk (plain, unsweetened) or 1 14 ounce can of coconut cream
  • Flour (if making gluten free use chickpea flour)

Instructions

  1. Chop the onions and garlic and sautee in oil with the spices.
  2. When they are tender, stir in flour to make a roux, then thin with tomato juice
  3. Add the puree
  4. At this point you can refrigerate the soup base until the day you wish to use it. It will keep for several days in the fridge.
  5. When you are ready to finish it...
  6. Bring to a simmer and stir in the coconut milk or cream.
  7. Serve.
http://kyndrasteinmann.com/hosting-a-soup-and-bread-supper-vegan-tomato-soup-and-biscuits/

 

Biscuits

 

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2 cups flour

1 T baking powder

1 T sugar

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup fat that is solid at room temperature. (I use lard most often, but the vegan shortenings also work well. Earth Balance and the vegan margarines do not work as they are soft not solid at room temperature)

1 can of coconut cream well shaken

Mix dry ingredients and cut in the fat of your choice. Mix just enough that you have little flakes of fat and flour. Dump in the can of coconut cream and mix lightly until everything is moist.  Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes. Makes ~ 12 biscuits.

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Hosting A Soup and Bread Supper: Planning

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So here we are. Almost Lent and we’ve been up here a year and I’m thinking it’s time to start having weekly suppers again.  I don’t really want to commit to doing it all the time (we’ll have to take a break when Number Five gets here at least) but for the six weeks of Lent it’s doable.

Anyway I posted something about it on Facebook, and a friend in another state got inspired to host her own Soup and Bread Supper and that made me think I should run a little series on the topic. A combination of how-to and recipes that anyone can use.

Of course the first step is planning.  I like to keep these suppers loose and easy- not a real set menu, never any real idea of how many people, and the “program” basically being food and fellowship, but easy going is easier with some pre-planning and prep work!

Step One:

Think about what kind of supper you want to have. Is the point the food? The fellowship? Or some activity that you will do together with your guests?

If the point is the food you will probably want to do most or all of the cooking yourself, perhaps giving out a theme or assigning people dishes to bring.

If the fellowship is the point then you may not need to do much cooking but you will need to put thought into seating and serving arrangements that will make discourse easier.

If you want to have a certain activity, you may want to do that before eating as it can be difficult to get people to focus on the activity when the visiting is going well or to resume visiting once the activity is completed.

Step Two:

Plan the serving and seating arrangements. I find a buffet style meal the easiest to serve and the easiest to incorporate dishes into as people arrive with food that they have prepared. I generally push my dining table against the wall and serve from one side with the water tank and any other drinks on a separate serving table. Some people will bring their food on a serving plate with a utensil, others may need you to provide these items.

If at all possible use real plates and silverware instead of paper and plastic. Using china, glass and silverware sends a signal to your guests that they are important enough for you to wash dishes for them, and making people feel valued is  key to successful hospitality! I use a tablecloth of some kind and a few pretty serving dishes. Tablecloths can be a pretty sheet of appropriate size and serving dishes of different sizes and styles can easily be found at thrift stores. When we had suppers every week I rotated my table decor (tablecloth and candles) according to season and noticed how much people appreciated the attention to detail.

Seating doesn’t have to be fancy- for most of our time doing this in Virginia our chairs were salvaged from a high school auditorium! There does have to be enough seating and it should be set out in little groups so that people can mingle and have discussions without having to talk to the whole group at once.

 

Flowers and candles don't take long to arrange (and take less time the more often you do it) but brighten up a rainy fall day dramatically. The family feels drawn together as we gather for supper.

Flowers and candles don’t take long to arrange (and take less time the more often you do it) but brighten up a rainy fall day dramatically.

Step Three:

Will there be children at the supper? If so, take a little time to think about ages and needs. Many toddlers can eat off of their parents’ plates, but I have found it helpful to have some plastic plates and sippy cups available as it eases parental fears of their child breaking something and helps them to relax.

Older children can sit on the stairs if you have them, or kneel around a mini trampoline as ours often do.

Give a little thought too, to where children should play and what might need to be off limits. In Virginia, we kept the children in the main room with us and in the playroom/laundry room off of the kitchen and I put away any particularly noisy toys before the event.

Go over your expectations with your own children. I found that since ours were small at the time (six and under) that letting them stay up much past their regular bedtime did not work well. Instead I excused myself at a certain point, put them to bed and enforced that they stay there. Generally it was enough past bedtime that they fell asleep quickly! If there are other children in attendance the point at which your children go to bed is a good time to bring out quiet activities such as coloring or play dough.

Step Four:

Cooking of course is an important part of all of this.  Depending on what day of the week you are hosting, you may be able to do a fair bit of the cooking ahead of time and simply heat things up before people arrive. This will not be true of your breads which are always much better hot and fresh, so think about the timing involved.

Don’t worry about it too much though, there is always some wiggle room in the timing, as it takes twenty to thirty minutes for people to arrive, greet each other and settle. You can let the visiting go on for a bit too and then watch everyone leap up when you announce “Hot bread is on the table!”

 

 

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Kitchen Kids: Mouse Makes Grape Nuts (Dairy Free)

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wpid-20150129_185027.jpgWe eat a lot of cereal around here. The truth is we just eat a lot and there aren’t even any teenagers in the house yet!

Weekday breakfasts are almost always cereal since that means the big two can supervise while I take a shower and get set for school. I had been buying cereal at the discount grocery, but we kept running out at odd moments and we were really limited in what we could buy. I don’t like the sugary cereals and there aren’t many commercial ones that don’t include some form of dairy.

Sooo…

I bought a fifty pound bag of rolled oats and started making granola (which is a post for another time). And that was fine for a while but got kind of boring every day.

Then I was looking through my cookbook (More With Less from the Mennonite Central Committee one of the few cookbooks I would not willingly part with) and saw that they had a recipe for homemade Grape Nuts!

Yay! Two cereals I can make at home.

Actually one cereal the six year old can make with some supervision! Even better….

Adding wheat germ to the whole wheat flour

Adding wheat germ to the whole wheat flour

 

Two year old helps with the  counting.

Two year old helps with the counting.

 

Learning to put pans in a hot oven

Learning to put pans in a hot oven

 

 

 

A good cook gives her helper something to lick

A good cook gives her helper something to lick

 

 

And cleans up after herself

And cleans up after herself

Grinding the cake into crumbs the next day

Grinding the cake into crumbs the next day

And here’s the recipe!

Grape Nuts (Dairy Free)

Ingredients

  • 6 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 teaspoons soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice to activate the soda (the original recipe calls for sour or buttermilk and no lemon, but lemon juice and water make a good dairy free substitute)

Instructions

  1. Combine ingredients in order and beat until smooth
  2. Spread dough onto two large greased cookie sheets
  3. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350
  4. Allow to cool
  5. Break into bits and chop in the food processor.
  6. Toast crumbs at 250 as for granola, stirring occasionally. we like them somewhere between golden and brown.
  7. Adapted from More-With-Less Cookbook from Herald Press (Mennonite Central Committee)
  8. You can also grate them with a box grater on the coarsest side.
http://kyndrasteinmann.com/kitchen-kids-mouse-makes-grape-nuts-dairy-free/

 

 

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Seven Reasons “Extra” “Borrowed” Children Are A Gift!

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The past couple of weeks I’ve had “extra” children around fairly frequently and it got me thinking…

Why is it that adding a child or two actually makes things easier (most of the time?)

One

I get to sit down and write without being interrupted every five minutes!

We had our weekly Bible Study/ homeschool playgroup thing this morning and I kept a couple of elementary aged girls when everyone went home. Right now they are outside playing in the snow with Buggle and Mouse and the house is blissfully silent!

Two

My children are generally on their good behavior in front of their friends which means when I ask them to do something, they just do it. No arguments, no whining. They do it quickly and they do it well so they can get back to their friends!

Three

Everything gets eaten! Even if my children “don’t like” the food they will probably be extra hungry and eat it anyway. If they aren’t extra hungry they probably will still eat it because of Number Two.

Four

Creative stuff happens. Since our building materials are different than the ones the friends have at home they have ideas about them that my children don’t have. Currently there are four children downstairs building a town out of cardboard and masking tape!

Five

Friendships are built. Time together and mutually interesting projects are great relationship builders. I need time with my friends in order to be friends and so do my children. It’s neat to watch the friendships grow from “What’s your name?” to real love and relationship.

Six

Some Mom gets a little headspace. Sometimes it’s me when my children are at their friends sometimes it’s someone else when I take the extra children. We all need it and intentionally blessing each other with space is a great way to build our own friendships.

Seven

This happens at the end of the day.

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Regardless of whose friends actually came over to play- everyone is tired and goes right to sleep! What better end to a day is there?

 

Linking up with This Ain’t The Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes

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Invitations to Play and Learn: Letter B Fine Motor Activities

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I recently added another young preschooler to our school days and have had the opportunity to become much more intentional with my work with Jack. I’ve been wanting to work more with him for a while and adding A (she’s almost exactly a year older than he is) has been just the impetus I needed!

I’m doing a simple “Letter of The Week” type curriculum with them using some of the activities from ABCJESUSLOVESME and some other activities that I’ve either done with the bigger children when they were little or found online.

This week we looked at the letter B, and did a couple of activities that were also good for improving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

At the beginning of the week, I printed several copies of Big B and Little b from the ABCJKLM curriculum and put them in the tot’s folders.

On Monday I presented them with a page of B’s each, a bottle of school glue and a selection of dried beans. We talked a little bit about words beginning with a “B” sound and then I showed them how to put a line of glue on their letters and place the beans into the glue to outline the letters.

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This is always an interesting project with toddler/ early preschool aged children. Some will practically wallow in glue and cover their papers with glue and beans to the point where they nearly tear from the combined wet glue and bean weight while others don’t like the feel of the glue at all and carefully place the minimum number of beans while getting as little glue on their fingertips as they can manage.

Some children are also very particular about using only one type of bean while others don’t seem to notice the differences and just glue on beans.

These two definitely noticed the differences and wanted to know the names of the beans we were using (split chickpeas (Chana Dal), Great Northern, and Pinto), and were very precise in placement but didn’t worry too much about lining them up straight or using only certain ones in certain places. A had to be reassured a couple of times that we would wash hands when the project was done, but did really well with the feel of the glue which I know she doesn’t prefer.

The second project also involved the letter B and glue but this time we used scraps of blue, black and brown paper and glue sticks.

One of the things we’re working on is identifying different shades of the same color as part of the same group so we had two different shades of blue.

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Jack was still in his pajamas since he likes to wear them and keep his feet warm and we weren’t planning to go anywhere. A wasn’t with us as the snow made transportation difficult.

I like glue sticks at this age as they give the children a lot of freedom to glue where they want to without making a huge sticky mess or over wetting the paper.

These gluing onto an outline projects are so wonderful for the following skills:

  • hand-eye coordination
  • following directions
  • spatial relationships
  • pincer movement
  • Using multiple steps to accomplish something (putting on glue, choosing a piece to glue, placing the piece, putting on more glue)

All of these skills will be heavily used in learning to read and in math and this fun approach to building them helps to give a strong foundation.

For more ideas:

Follow Kyndra’s board Letter of the Week on Pinterest.

Follow Kyndra’s board Tot School on Pinterest.

 

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Invitations to Play and Learn: Science Center and Collaberation

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As the big children continue to mature in their learning I am trying to move them towards more independent learning and learning to work together to do a project or master a concept. As I set up the schoolroom upstairs I tried to think about making spaces that would encourage them to work together with minimal help or supervision from me.

One natural place for that kind of work is in science- so I decided to establish a science center and to have them work with each other on the both scientific areas we had chosen for this year.

I tried to make the space inviting and to have them work in it every day. All of the materials they might need are nearby and the little table provides enough space to work without isolating them from each other.

 

Every Classroom Needs A Skeleton!

Science In Epiphany:

I thought it would be appropriate to study the stars during Epiphany so I collected materials on constellations and stars and wrote assignments into my planner.

So far I’ve learned the following:

  • Neither of them is very good at explaining their ideas to the other. There tends to be a fair amount of perceived disagreement with me sitting on the other side of the room working with the little boys and saying things like, “Neither of you is in charge.”, “Listen to him/her before you say ‘no, that won’t work”, “Do you need to take a break?”
  • Both of them have a good grasp of how to read something and pull out the important information. I’m pleased because I haven’t really taught them this intentionally.
  • Mouse is capable of much neater work than Buggle, but he is more likely to insist on her doing careful work than she is. He will make her get a ruler and cut labels straight before he accepts them. She’s ready to move on to the next thing when she’s made some kind of label.
  • He has a tendency to be over meticulous. She shakes him out of that.
  • Their retention of information when working together is impressive. They both tend to “teach” the little boys random facts from their own lessons. The level of accuracy and detail when they have studied something together is much greater.
  • These assignments are going to take longer than if they were working individually.

In two weeks they have read two books about stars, started a “galaxy of star facts” on the wall, and made and mounted a diagram of the life cycle of a star.

The "Galaxy of Star Facts" is at the top of the picture.

The “Galaxy of Star Facts” is at the top of the picture.

 

Life Cycle of a Star

Life Cycle of a Star 2

 

We’re not moving as quickly as I had thought we would, but I’m not unhappy with that. Science is something we do all year and I’m very pleased with the way having them work together with very little input from me is helping them to deal with their strengths and weaknesses. The skills they are developing in listening, making a plan for a project, figuring out who should do what to accomplish it and actually implementing their plan are skills that will be useful for their entire lives. They are learning the material thoroughly even if slowly and that’s a trade off I’m content with for now!

 

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How-To Feed Two Families With One Chicken (and have some leftovers)

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The other day I decided to cook a broiler as I’m trying to eat down the store of food in the freezer! A friend of mine had had a weekend of sick children so I thought I’d stretch that bird into a casserole for us and some soup for them.

Here’s how it went:

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8:00 am: Send Buggle down to the freezer in the basement for the bird. Have him come back to report that he can’t find one and that the large bag of frozen cranberries has spilled all over the freezer. Go down myself, rescue the cranberries that haven’t spilled and find the bird. Put it, still frozen into the crockpot, add one tea kettle full of boiling water, find that the lid won’t go on over the frozen bird. Balance the lid on the bird, turn the crockpot on high and go upstairs to teach school.

11:00 am: Come down to discover the bird has thawed enough the lid can now be put on. Decide it needs a couple more hours to cook, and I might be able to get a bit of a nap after lunch.

2:00 pm: Get up off the couch, think about calling children down to help, decide I want the quiet more than the help. Pull the now falling-off-the-bones bird out of the crockpot to cool for picking. Wonder again what has happened to my meat fork and kitchen tongs which have been missing for months! Think about getting some next time I go to the store but forget to write it on the list.

2:10 pm: Quickly make a batch of roll dough and set it on the warm radiator to rise. Take the time to take a picture and post it to Facebook!

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2:20 pm: Pick the chicken and dump the bones back into the crockpot. Regret briefly that I didn’t call a child down to do this as it’s not one of my favorite jobs. Decide again that I really need the quiet.

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2:30 pm: Realize I have an hour and a half before I need to take Bull to dance and drop off the soup.  Chop two onions and start them frying for the casserole base and the soup.  Load some dishes into the sink and call Mouse down to load the dishwasher. Check the roll dough and punch it down. Grease two half sheets and form the rolls. Return them to the radiator to rise.

2:45 pm: Decide I need a cup of tea. Turn the kettle on, boil water and pour a cup, then forget to fix it several times!  Take a picture even though the counter has coffee grounds all over it. Walk away and forget to fix it again!

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3:15 pm: Finally remember to fix the tea and drink it quickly as it is now tepid. Add boiling water and fresh parsley to the soup base as well as most of the broth from the crockpot. Use the rest of  broth and some flour to make white sauce for the casserole base. Add chicken to both dishes and put the rest of the chicken in the fridge. Add frozen peas and lima beans to the soup as well as thyme. Grind some pepper and add salt and pepper to both dishes. Put a pot on for pasta for the casserole. Check the rolls, decide they are ready and put them in the oven.

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3:45 pm:  Add a pound of frozen spinach to the casserole base, stir the base together with the cooked pasta, pour it into a casserole dish and add bread crumbs to the top. Tell the children to load into the car.  Check the rolls, decide they aren’t quite ready. Wonder if we’re going to make it to dance on time.

3:55 pm: Everything is ready and the children are in the car. Take the soup and a pan of rolls out, put the casserole in the oven to heat while we are at dance.

4:10 pm: Deliver the soup and rolls and hustle off to dance. Decide that all that cooking is definitely worth a blog post!

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Kitchen Kids: Preschoolers and Kindergartners Can Cook!

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Recently my most avid kitchen helpers have been the toddler and the five year old. Partly this is a matter of interest and partly it is a result of the bigger two consistently having either chores or schoolwork to finish up when I’m making dinner.

Unfortunately, supper making time coincides with “We’re tired and cranky and need attention” time  for toddlers and five year olds so supper making is often interspersed with tears, snuggles and time in “the whining chair”.

Still giving them something to do helps quite a bit. Here are a few of my favorite jobs for preschool and kindergarten age helpers!

  • Peeling: Potatoes and carrots are good candidates for preschooler attention. I’ve also had them do garlic and sometimes onions. Garlic is pretty easy but having them do onions works better if I remember to put the onions in the fridge around lunchtime. Chilling them seems to cut down on the juices and eyes don’t “get spicy”.

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I really like this peeler. It’s easy to hold and because you peel away from the hand holding the vegetable accidentally peeling their fingers is much harder!

  • Chopping/Slicing: I give them a somewhat dull, serrated knife for this. Bull is able to cut most vegetables with this although the thickest parts of a carrot can be too much for his hands. Some of the rounder vegetables I will cut in half first so that they have a flat side on the cutting board. Precooked meat is also an easy item for them to cut.

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The serrated knife makes it difficult to cut themselves and I stay fairly close by until I’m sure they understand to keep their fingers away from their blade.

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Having Bull cut things up can actually be quite a time saver for me and it’s good practice for him in paying attention and precision.

  • Measuring: Counting and the sizes of things are skills that kindergartners learn in school. Measuring the rice and water into the rice cooker or the flour into the bread dough are good ways to reinforce those skills at home. Since we use a rice cooker almost every day, that’s a logical job to have the little boys do together. Bull does the measuring, they both count and Jack turns the cooker on. I do keep a little eye on them but they can pretty much do it on their own.

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None of these are particularly difficult skills  but they are foundational to other cooking skills and they can be a big help once they are mastered. Some safety precautions need to be taken of course, but with consistent training and application preschoolers can be quite helpful in the kitchen!

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