growing up good

mothering, homeschooling, and me

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Haunted Math

My kids love Halloween. Have I mentioned that lately? If I can combine anything with a Halloween theme, they’re excited.

Enter: MATH.

Elliot, my 5 year old, is working on addition. Mary, 3, can count, but needs to work on number recognition. In this activity, they each got to work on the skills that are appropriate for them, but do the same activity!

On the No Time For Flashcards website, Allison posted a fabulous haunted house math activity, which was my inspiration for this. I tweaked it to fit our needs, and bonus: I had the ghosts already done from co-op 0n Monday.

So, here’s what I did:

1) Draw a haunted house on paper grocery sacks.  I used post-it notes to stick up the numbers we focused on.

2) Make the math cards, whatever skill you want to work on: number matching, counting, addition/subtraction, etc. Mary counted the dots and matched the numbers, Elliot did the addition and the number words.

3) I used little loops of painter’s tape on the back (safe for the walls), and gave them each one ghost at a time. If Mary got stuck, we asked Elliot to help her out.

4) Our house has been properly H A U N T E D ! ! !

And then they got silly.


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Mad Scientists

Elliot has been begging to do a “mad scientist” activity for awhile now. It requires quite a bit of supervision, so with Edison getting into every little thing these days, I’ve been hesitant. Yesterday Elliot asked so nicely, I knew it was time to say, “Yes.”

This activity was inspired by a friend of mine. During a playdate once, our kids were in dire need of some sort of activity, and before I knew it my friend Helen had busted out 4 cookie sheets, some baking soda, vinegar, and droppers. Our kids were so mesmerized, I knew this was going to become a staple activity in our house, and it has.

Here’s what you need:

And a cookie sheet for each child. It will help contain the mess.

You’ll need some sort of containers for them to conduct their ‘”experiments”. You can use baby food jars, clear glass bowls, plastic jars, anything that allows them to see through. We have this, a Christmas present to my son last year and was worth every single penny my mom paid for it, we’ve used it a lot without even doing the experiments that came with it:


I gave each child a babyfood jar of vinegar tinted with the food coloring.

Then I let them play.


They played like this for 1.5 hours, with me only having to add some fresh baking soda now and then. Yes, I said 1.5 HOURS. That’s an ETERNITY for kids this age. I even left the room momentarily to put the baby down for his nap! The rest of the time I sat at the table and wrote the two blog entries I posted yesterday. After 1.5 hours Elliot was asking for more stuff, so I went to the fridge and found a bottle of tomato vinaigrette and stir fry sauce that had been in there, opened longer than what I consider usable, so I gave them a blob of each on their tray, and also gave them each a spoon and a pastry brush.

Warning: this does up the mess factor!


I’m happy that I finally said yes to this activity again! Both kids really enjoying creating their concoctions, and it was great to see them so focused on one activty- a real change of pace around here! Will I let them do this every day? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But maybe a little more often now.


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Chicken Freezer Meals

Back in the summer of 2011, I was pregnant with my 3rd child. I was determined NOT to let the fast food, pizza, and take-out binge that happened after I had my 2nd child happen again. My goal was to have 30 meals in my freezer before Edison was born. By the time I delivered, I had 45! That was awesome! I collected recipes from various websites and friends, and even came up with a few of my own ideas, one of which I’ll share with you now because it’s my FAVORITE way to save time and money in the kitchen.

I’ll start by saying this: if you don’t like to cook, you might not like this idea. If you want to have a meal you can just take out of the freezer and heat and it’s ready to go, this might not be the best option for you.

But if you like flexibility. If you like being creative. If you like using what you’ve got on hand to throw something delicious together for dinner, then this idea will work for you.

The idea is simple: roast up bone-in chicken breasts, take all the meat off, portion it up, freeze it, and you’ve got a quick, healthy protein choice to go in dozens (if not 100s of recipes).

Here’s what you do:

Watch for bone-in chicken breasts to go on sale. When I was pregnant with Edison, it was a .79/lb sale that inspired my cook-a-thon. I have not seen prices go that low since. But last week, I did find them for $1/lb, so I jumped on it and bought 3 family packs.

I highly recommend the bone-in chicken breasts for this purpose. We’re going to roast them, then freeze them. I find that doing this usually causes boneless chicken breasts to dry out more than the bone-in variety. Boneless breasts are great fresh or frozen fresh- but not as great when you cook, freeze, and reheat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Get out your breasts and arrange the breasts on a baking sheet. You can make the baking sheet nice and crowded, but in a single layer. I ended up filling the sheet three times.

Here are mine, already seasoned. I forgot to get a pre-seasoned pick.

Gather your seasonings. I usually use a generous dusting of salt and pepper and a sprinkling of olive oil. This time I also had some garlic grapeseed oil, so I used that instead of the evoo.

Simple. But so good!

I keep the seasonings simple because these seasonings lend themselves to many different applications. If you knew you were going to use this entire tray for something like chicken enchiladas, then you could adjust your seasonings to reflect that (chili powder, cumin, more garlic, etc).

Bake. I’m not going to give you a time because I bake my chicken breasts according to temperature- 165 degrees. If they’re smaller breasts, the cooking time is shorter. If they’re larger breasts, they’ll take longer to bake so I don’t want to tell you 15 minutes and have you end up w/ raw or over-cooked chicken breasts.

This sheet I pulled out at 170 degrees- just a 5 minutes earlier they were at 150! Whew, they were okay though. ūüôā

Let them cool. Then de-bone them. If you haven’t done this before, it’s the messiest step. And kinda gross. Peel off the skin and use your fingers to removed all the meat from the bone. How clean you get the bones is up to you, but you want to get as much as you can. Tear up the chicken as you go, putting all the chicken pieces in a big bowl.

Freezer-prep step:

I’ve learned my technique through trial and error. The first time I did this, I just divided the chicken meat into 3 large portions in freezer bags. I didn’t think the cooked chicken pieces would freeze in one big chunk, but they did! It made it really difficult to get smaller portions off and ended up using more than I wanted too because that’s what I was able to break off without defrosting the entire block.

What does work, at least for me and my family, is this:

quart sized Ziploc freezer bags  or quart sized Ziploc and gallon sized freezer Ziplocs.

a measuring cup.

a sharpie to label

Measure 2 cups of cooked chicken into a quart sized bag. Push out as much air as possible. Flatten the contents as much as possible. Repeat until all the chicken is divided up.

The quart sized freezer bags are ready to be labeled, but if you used regular quart bags you’ll have to put them into a gallon freezer bag to preserve their freshness and extend their freezer life. I fit about 3 quart sized bags in one gallon.

To give you an idea of how much chicken you’ll have:

I roasted 3 trays the size of the ones in my picture above.

I have 8 2 cup portions in my freezer plus I made chicken salad sandwiches the day after I roasted them (so in total 9 2 cup portions).

That’s a least 9 meals, almost ready to go!

What can you use cooked chicken for?

Off the top of my head, here are some ideas:

chicken noodle soup

chicken quesadillas

chicken nachos

chicken enchiladas

chicken fajitas

chicken and stuffing casserole

chicken and rice

chicken alfredo

chicken + tomato sauce, seasoned and tossed w/ pasta

chicken stir fry

chicken + your favorite Indian simmer sauce, served over rice

chicken + a box of mac n cheese + peas for an easy Chicken Mac

chicken pesto pasta

chicken, warmed and served on a salad of fresh greens and veggies, topped with lite ranch

chicken, seasoned w/ your favorite taco/fajita blend, warmed and served on a bed of fresh iceberg and romaine, with corn, black beans and salsa/sour cream dressing for a Southwest salad.

chicken lo mein teriyaki

chicken lettuce wraps

chicken salad, served on your favorite bread, crackers, or a chilled iceberg leaf

And many more…what would YOU use cooked chicken for? I’m always open to new ideas!!!

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Brookfield Zoo’s Creatures of the Night: The Good, the Bad, and the Lines

If you know my family, you know how Halloween obsessed my children are. ¬†Since he was 2 1/2, Elliot has loved this spooky holiday. We have to visit the stores, drive around the neighborhood, watch the cartoons. He is thrilled! It’s like Christmas, but instead of presents, there are ghosts and witches and zombies (I’m referring to the excitement level of Christmas, not that Halloween itself is comparable to Christmas).

When I found out that the Brookfield Zoo does a “Zoo Boo” (daytime Halloween fun for young kids) and “Creatures of the Night” (nighttime activities from mildly spooky to terrifying). I had asked about the scare-factor for the night events- would they be appropriate for young kids? The ladies at guest services assured me they’re okay. I also checked out their website and looked it all over to make sure that driving an hour each way was going to be worth it.

We’ve been to the Cincinnati Zoo at Christmastime for their zoo lights, and it was a wonderful evening of twinkling lights, listening to Christmas music, and gazing at all the lovely holiday decor. ¬†In my mind, I expected this to be a similar experience, except with a spooky factor.

I was incredibly disappointed.

10¬†5 ¬†4¬†reasons the adult Goods did not have a good time at “Creatures of the Night” exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo.

1) LONG LONG LONG lines. When there are only a few attractions to see, and THOUSANDS turning out for this event, there are long, Long LONG lines. The the attraction that we most wanted to see was the Haunted Tram. We got there shortly after it opened, saw the Pumpkin Executioner (5 minutes), the Corn Maze (25 minutes), and then got in line for the Haunted Tram. We stood in line for 1 hour, 25 minutes. The tram ride was 15ish minutes long. It was cool, and scary enough to make the teenage girls behind us scream the entire time, but no so scary to make all three of my kids climb in my lap. But I’m not sure it was worth the wait time. And the people after us? They waited even longer, the line quickly got much longer soon after we got in line. When we walked to the Extreme Bugs exhibit (which DID scare Elliot- go figure. He laughs at zombies on the tram, but it afraid of a giant plastic bug w/ a green light shining on it), we had to walk past the Trail of Terror PG13 exhibit. Their line was even worse! It didn’t even look like it was moving at all!

2) Large groups of screaming, unsupervised, children running. In the dark (see #3). Not only was I annoyed because these kids were running through lines, bumping into people and just pretty much being crazy, but also, from a maternal perspective, I was worried one of them was going to get hurt.

3) Darkness. The Zoo is not set up for nighttime attractions. There are a few outside lights, but they are far apart. So there’s a lot of darkness. They anticipated this, and set up floodlights. But they didn’t set them up high enough. So instead of illuminating your path, they are at just the right height to blind you. Awesome way to push a double stroller ¬†through a crowd.

4) Not a lot of nighttime decorations. A big inflatable pumpkins, a few bales of hay, but not to the extent I expected. I guess I expected orange and green Christmas lights around everything, Halloween music piped through speakers. I expected more Halloween ambiance. When I had to take the kids to an emergency bathroom visit (because no one can ever go to the bathroom when I suggest it), we ended up by the south gate- opposite from where everyone entered- and there were lovely decorations- hay bales, pumpkins, scarecrows, etc-  set up down there! But no one would see them at night unless they had wandered down to that bathroom too,

I had started this post with the intention that I was going to have this big long, venting list of complaints against the zoo for what I considered a parentally trying night. ¬†It isn’t as long as I had imagined it would be, it turns out those four things really grated on my patience, my nerves (are they the same thing?), and my sanity. By the time we got off the tram, it was after 9pm, and the animal exhibits that are open close at 9:30, and besides being on the opposite end of the zoo as those exhibits, I really wasn’t in the mood to see animals after waiting all that time. We did go see the Extreme Bugs (giant, animatronic bugs illuminated w/ colored lights). ¬†And I am still crabby about all that wasted time in line. BUT…Elliot had a great time. And the kids were relatively well-behaved despite all that waiting and being up hours past their bedtime.

So this morning I looked through the pictures. And despite my grumpiness on the subject, it looks like we had a good time. When I ask the kids about it, they say they had a good time. Even Mary, who got freaked out by the Thriller light show being projected on the Swamp entrance, said she’d go again.

Watching the Pumpkin Executioner (ie pumpkin smasher)

On of the giant bugs on the Extreme Bugs trail

On the Haunted Tram!

At the very end of the night. Smiles! Not bad for being 2+ hours past bedtime!

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Another day at co-op

My month of teaching continued this week at co-op. The whole month I’m focusing on the theme of Autumn/Fall, and so far I’ve covered apples and leaves, and this week we learned about pumpkins.

First, we read Pumpkins,by Ken Robbins. I chose this book because of its nonfiction appeal and because it covers the life of a pumpkin from seed to jack-o-lantern, but it’s also got fabulous photos in it. Last week we read leaves by the same author, and I must say, I’m going to search out more of his books, I really like the way he writes and makes these simple topics incredibly interesting. One of the things I love about teaching this age is that they are SO eager to share their own little stories- relevant or not- with me. It was hard making sure each one got a chance to tell me about pumpkins, pumpkin patches, fall festivals, etc, and even though we only have 9 students, trying to keep the “talk time” equal was challenging!

Then, I had to read Five Little Pumpkins. It’s been a favorite October nursery rhyme/fingerplay/story/whatever you want to call it of mine since I first learned it an ECFE class way back when Elliot was 4 months old.

Taking a cue from that story, the craft for the morning was making 5 little pumpkins sitting on a gate. Using a potato for a stamp, they kids stamped 5 pumpkins in a row then left them to dry until later, when we’d fill in the pumpkin faces and install fences.. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this step, ¬†I was too busy trying to keep 9 2-5 year olds from getting orange paint all over the place. Maybe someday I’ll remember to click as I go!

For our next activity, I wanted to try something new: center-based learning. I had 3 activities I wanted to do, but none of them were really large-group based learning. So I divided them into groups of three and had them rotate through the three centers. ¬†This is where having a co-op is fabulous! I’ve got 4 other moms there, happy to help out! Three moms manned the centers and I was able to help out and take pictures!

Station One: Fall vocabulary Memory. I got them from HERE. I love, love, love Jolanthe’s site (ok, I’ll admit that I’m strange referring to her by first name when I’ve never even met her, I’m just on her site so much I feel like I know her!). I can not tell you how many of my ideas have come from there (too many to count!). ¬†The Read, Build, and Write cards (station 2) came from there, too! Here the kids played a game or two of memory using the picture vocab words.


Station Two: Read, Build, and Write! Using the same fall vocabulary, each child got to pick a word and glue it on their mat. Then they got to stamp the letters of the word, and then finally got to write it. ¬†I chose this activity because it both the preschoolers and the kindergarteners work on valuable skills. The preschoolers, though far from being able to read big words like pumpkin, squirrel, and leaves, are able to practice letter-matching by finding the letters they needed to build/stamp their word. Their letters may not be perfect, but they took great pride in attempting to make their pencil strokes look like the ones in the word, AND they got to do the EXACT same lesson as their older siblings/friends. That makes them feel VERY cool. ¬†The kindergarteners are beyond letter recognition, but they’re working on beginning, middle, and ending sounds, vowel and consonant blends, letter order, writing whole words and letter spacing.

Station Three: ¬†Roll and Graph! I got the cube and the graph from this great site (another one of my favorites, she’s got some great ideas for homeschool organization). In this activity, they had to roll the cube and record the pumpkin that landed up until one pumpkin landed up 10 times.

After the centers, we re-grouped on the carpet and we went through the 5 Little Pumpkins story again, this time using sentence strips, a pocket chart, and a felt board to tell the story. I love this age because they are SO eager to help tell the story! They loved helping me get the sentence strips in order and my little felt board pumpkins on their gates.

I had hoped the paint from our 5 little Pumpkins craft would have dried by now, but it was still a bit wet. So, I just had them glue the fences on (black strips of paper), and take them home to draw on their pumpkins faces later.

I wish I could have seen everyone’s finished product! Elliot’s is adorable! It’s neat to be in that stage, after years of scribbles, to actually have them make something that looks like what it’s supposed to!

Here are some pics of them putting their fences in place:


I look at these pics and I just smile. It is such a joy to get this opportunity. Thanks to the other mamas for letting me teach your kids this month! They’re an amazing group!


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Doc McStuffins Day 2: Time for a Check-up!

After the success of our pizzaria play, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have another pretend playtime with the kids. They were so excited to play “Doc McStuffins”, they raced through their lessons so we could play. We have a little medical kit we got from Build-a-Bear last year, and miraculously I was able to find most of the pieces. ¬†I grabbed a couple stuffed animals, or “friends” as we call them here, and showed the kids how to be a veterinarian. First we had to find all their body parts and make sure they were okay: Where’s Queso’s nose? Where’s Dog Bones’ leg, is it okay? Then we had to listen to their hearts and their lungs, just like they have to sit through when they go see their Doctor. ¬†Then it was time to take their temperature, where I got to explain what a thermometer was, and how it was different than the one that goes in their ear or on their forehead. ¬†Then they got to fix their friend’s boo boo w/ a little cloth band aid.

They loved this.

This was a great chance for them to act out doing what they see their doctor do, and what they see Doc Mcstuffins do. ¬†But mostly, I loved how amazingly gentle Mary was with her “friends.” ¬†That’s why this post, it’s all her:

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Doc McStuffins day one: Chilly WINS!

Doc McStuffins is a favorite around here. What’s not to love- she’s adorable, she’s incredibly kind, and she’s a great problem solver. ¬†So while there are shows that I do have a problem with my kids watching, Doc McStuffins is not one of them.

When one of my favorite homeschool bloggers made a Doc McStuffins printable pack, I knew Mary would flip for it. ¬†You can find it here. ¬†There are times I need to have something for her to work on while I work with Elliot on a lesson. This was perfect! ¬†And, it’s C and D week at our house, so it’s totally in line with our curriculum, right? Most of what we do is focused on Elliot with me making accommodations for Mary, so this also gives her something to do that’s special, just for her (but of course, Elliot will want to do it too!).

She started just by finding the matches.

Then I had her play a little memory game by herself. Not that she needs any practice in memory, she’s the reigning champ at our house. But it’s something she likes to do, and she’s got a great memory!

Then she moved on to the Roll and Graph. There’s a printable cube that you cut out and fold into a cube, with the different on each side. She needed to roll the cube and record who landed on top. I told her the first who gets to 5 wins! She’s watched Elliot do similar activities before, but this was her first time doing this on her own. She was thrilled! My other challenge to her: instead of making Xs in the box, she had to make Os because Os are circles, and we’re learning about circles this week. ¬†She cheered a little “Doc McStuffins!” whenever she landed up, but Chilly ended up winning!



I love this shot of Elliot working on a money lesson (from the same site, the Monster Kindergarten Pack), with Mary working quietly in the background. With Edison sleeping ,this was one of those rare quiet moments in our house!