Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Are These the 4 Skills Your Class Will Master In January?

These 4 skill sets are on  SALE for the New Year...

Phonics, sight words, writing, & math:
My favorite 3 Language Arts sets, plus my huge Numbers 1-10 set, are all on sale right now and through this New Year weekend! What a great way to welcome in 2016 and be ready for your "Littles" when school resumes in Jan.

January is the perfect time to focus on foundational Language Arts skills AND to review the numbers 1-10 before moving on to those tricky teens. Help your students to develop true conceptual understanding and build a firm foundation for the numbers 1-10. That will make the teens easier to understand.

Here are the highlights:

1. All About Numbers 1-10: You get all of this for each number 1-10! The different templates allow you to differentiate and focus on specific skills. Great for RTI too.

2. Seasonal Journal Pages with Rubrics: You get the basic "pencil" rubric plus four additional templates, one for each season. Your students will love returning to school to a new "winter" journal. You can copy & bind these into a daily journal or use them one-at-a-time as needed.

3. Sight Word Pocket-Lockets: This makes a FUN small group lesson and can also be used to create an independent center. Just copy on colored construction paper, add scissors, glue, and some yarn to help your students create a pocket watch or a locket to wear home.

4. Alphabet Picture Cards and a template for a cute alphabet book: You can do one a week or one a day. Each page reinforces initial consonant and short vowel sounds.

I hope you enjoy the sale and have a wonderful New Year!
See you all in 2016!

How To Make Every Student A Writer:

And I mean EVERY student!

This method is great to develop oral language and give your students a foundation for composing a sentence. I used it with my English Language Learners as well as my fluent English Language students and they loved it. The best part is that once you have taught this method a few times in a small group setting, you can turn it into a fun writing center.
You can create your own "Instant Writing" kit or you can purchase my "ready-to-go" kit on my TpT Store. Here is how you can make your own:
1. Collect pictures (from magazines, old workbooks, or a web site that offers free images) of "characters" like people and animals. (You will need 6 pictures for each child in your small group.)
This is the noun page that your run on pink paper.

2. Collect pictures of people or animals doing specific activities like running, swimming, singing, & dancing. (You will need 6 pictures for each child in your small group.)
This is the verb page that you run on green.

3. Collect pictures of places like a barn, a school, a store, or a park.  You can also include pictures of things like a mailbox, a bed, or a swing. (You will need 6 pictures for each child in your small group.)

4. Label all of the pictures. You might want to type up labels with a lined font so children can copy each label correctly.
This is the 2nd noun page that includes places and things.You run this on blue paper.
5. Glue your collection of "characters" to pink construction paper squares leaving a 1/2" pink edge all around each picture. Do the same thing with the "activity" pictures, but glue those to green construction paper. Last, glue the "places" or "things" to blue construction paper. 

If you use my "Instant Writing" kit, you copy the pages labeled "pink" on pink Xerox paper, the ones labeled "green" on green Xerox paper, and the ones labeled "blue" on blue Xerox paper. 
Each student will need one of the white templates in the kit or you can also use a sheet of lined paper with an area at the top for a picture. That is where your students can glue one pink, green, and blue card in that order. 

You will also need a list of "helping words" which is included in my Instant Writing kit. I run one copy for each child in my small group on yellow card stock and laminate it so we can use them all year long. These include the words they will need to complete their sentence like "the, that, a, my, on, by, under, over, near, around, through,...". I included an image of the "helping words" page below. Scroll down to see it.
The Procedure:
In a small group setting (of 4-6 students) give each child 1 pink, 1 green, and 1 blue page. Each page has 6 images on it. They should cut apart the pictures on each page and put them into a sandwich size zipper bag. (If you are using your hand-made kit, give each child 6 pink, 6 green, and 6 blue pictures to put into their zipper bags.)  They will also need one white page for writing and a yellow "helping words" page.

This is my small group table.
I was in the middle of attaching lined dry-erase contact paper to each laminated sheet of construction paper.
The dry erase paper allows me to write words for students to copy and easily erase.
They can also write on it, practice their printing, or work on a math problem and then erase it.
Have each students reach into their zipper bag and pull out one pink, one green, and one blue card and glue them to their white writing page in that order. (The white writing page in the Instant Writing kit is labeled with the color names.)
Choosing one pink, one green, and one blue card.

Help each child to tell you what each pictures is and have them verbally create a sentence using those three pictures.  For example, if a child has a pink card with a cat on it, a green card of a girl singing, and a blue card of a kitchen, he/she might say, "The cat, sang in the kitchen." Or... "My cat is singing near the kitchen." There are so many ways to use each set of cards. Have fun and encourage them to create silly sentences like, "The black cat will sing to the kitchen!" 
You can see that I wrote the word "The" for her
using a capital "T" and then, I wrote it with a
lowercase "t" so she could use it in the middle
of her sentence.

Once they have settled on their sentence ask them which article (A, the, that, my, etc.) they wish to use and circle that word on their yellow "extra words" card so they can copy it. Then, they copy their pink labeled card.
This is the "extra words" card that I copy on yellow card stock
 and laminate one for each student in my small group. When they
need a word, I just circle it with a dry erase pen.

Next they write their verb from their green card. If they wish to change the tense, you just write the new word on the back of their card for them to copy. 

Last, they decide which "helping words" they need to add the last blue card to their sentence. You ask them if their character did that activity in, near, by, on, over, etc. the last noun. Use the "helping words" chart or write the extra words on a lined Post-it so it can be easily copied.

At the end, sing this little chant which came from one of Heidi's teaching CDs which you can find at "I'm done, I'm done, oops, I forgot! I have to write a period, I have to make a dot."

Then, your students reads their sentence to the group and they get to press the Easy Button!
Available at Staples Stores in English and Spanish.
Do this for 6 days (at least once a week for 6 weeks) before setting this up as a writing center. 

You can send these pages home, bind them in a book that they can take home after 6 weeks to read to their parents, or post them on medical file clips on your bulletin board.

You can keep adding pages to these clips all year long.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Have You Seen These Top Recommendations For & By Homeschoolers?

How is you year going?

After the holidays, that's the time to gear up and get a handle on this year's academic goals. 
To help you along, here are some top picks by homeschoolers.
And they also offer some tips as to why these are great products. 

top picks homeschoolers 

 No matter what may be on your lesson plan for 2016, consider the resources below. Members within the Educents community put a list together of their favorite homeschool resources. If you'd like to learn more about the resource, just click the link! If you want to get more involved in the Educents community to learn more about homeschooling and the curriculum offered on Educents, join the Educents Facebook group!


Emily of Smith Squad recommends the Life of Fred books.

“As a child, I always hated math, even though I was good at it because it was soon boring. When I heard about Fred, I knew he had to be a part of our homeschool. My kids absolutely LOVE when it’s math time, and they are learning a ton about how to apply math to every day practical situations.”
Life of Fred Buyer's Guide


Lisa Marie of The Canadian Homeschooler uses the Writecraft and Mathcraft Units.

"The writing portion of this resource was the first time EVER that my oldest son ever willing wrote anything! He was excited to write instead of hating it."


Allison of Just Add Coffee loves the Magic School Bus Science Experiments.

“I absolutely love Magic School bus and all it has to offer. Each month you get a different science kit to take a Magic School Bus adventure. If you search really hard, online you can even find curriculum to go with each science kit and the episode from the television series.” Magic School Bus on Educents


Lisa of Chickens and Bunnies Homeschool loves the Life of Fred Elementary Books.

“My favorite resource at Educents at the moment is Life of Fred. There are so many to choose from I picked the Elementary Series. My kids love these books; we have them up to high school now. My most recent order was Life of Fred Chemistry. My kids will do these without arguing and love Fred and Kingie!”


Celena of The Traveling Sisterhood recommends the Times Tales Multiplication videos.

"I love Times Tales because it's made this year's math lessons so much easier! My kiddos quickly mastered their multiplication tables in one sitting with the movie. It's been such a blessing--instead of drills everyday, we can take more time to learn the actual concepts behind the facts!" Times Tales Review  


Kelly of Raising Samuels loves the Magic School Bus Science Club.

“The Magic School Bus Science Club is something your child gets in the mail each month, for a year! It includes numerous experiments per month, along with most of the materials required. (except household items such as scissors and tape). It is an incredible hands-on learning experience that helps children love science and have fun! My sons who are 4 and 6 absolutely love it!”

Amy of Busy Boys Brigade recommends the Life of Fred Beginning Readers.

“Life of Fred Early Readers series has been a game changer in our homeschool! Both my 6 & 4-year-old boys beg me to do their reading lessons now that we have added Life of Fred. I have noticed an increase in their fluency and comprehension.” Fred Readers tips


Jenn of Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling also loves Times Tales.

"All three of my girls, ages 8 down to 4 loved watching this DVD and learning the stories. In 1 hour, both of my older girls had memorized their upper times tables! And the real kicker is I was only trying to teach one!"


Amy of Teaching in Blue Jeans uses Learn to Mod Minecraft with her son.

"Learn to Mod Minecraft is an amazing program that teaches my son, a Minecraft lover, important computer programming skills through a game he loves to play. The lessons are easy to use, fun and engaging. I love that he is a learning a skill that I am not able to teach him." Kids Learn to Code - Educents Graphic


Tabitha of Life Learning Homeschool uses the King Tut Mini Unit.

“My son loves history (he gets it from me), and I love to throw in “extras” to feed the need for more than what our curriculum calls for. Mini-units are great for that, and this was one of our favorites because we both love Ancient Egypt!”


Amy from Not Your Average Homeschool Mom loves Minecraft Mod Design.

“I love that you can be totally creative, and these are all hands-on. Helps to build critical thinking skills too.” YouthDigital Educents1

Kayla of The Arrowood Zoo loves using Magformers for lessons at home.

"I love that you can be totally creative and these are all hands-on. Helps to build critical thinking skills too." Magformers_fine-motor-practice-copy-copy

Shelly of Free Homeschooling 101 recommends the Violin Starter Set.

"The violin starter set includes everything a budding violinist needs to begin their studies. The instrument is well made and economical. The lessons that are included are a huge money saver!"

Rebecca of Hip Homeschooling likes Magformers.

“We LOVE Magformers in our homeschool! They are a high-quality toy that provide hours of creative play. They are a great way to bring the fun back into your homeschool; your kids won’t even realize they are learning all about structures and geometric shapes and architecture (bonus!).”

Teri of Mommy Wife Life recommends the Spectacular Space Unit Study.

“A great resource for young astronomers is the Spectacular Space Unit Study. From writing, reading, math, and crafts, this complete unit, with its simple terms, will spark the interest of even your preschoolers!”Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 2.09.22 PM  

Jamie of Simple Homeschool loves Life of Fred too!

“I love the way the math is naturally integrated into Fred’s life, showing the importance of it in day-to-day life. The chapters are laugh-out-loud funny, and I often get asked to read “just one more.” I’ve never been a huge fan of math workbooks and worksheets, so the combination of math and story is a major win in my books!”

Gabriella, Homeschooling Consultant, recommends the Number Formation Poems.

“We have these cards laminated because we know they’ll be used for years to come. My son, who learns best through rhyme and tactile input, is learning to write digits using these easy-to-remember number formation poems! I have reduced the size of the cards, added a ring binder, and now have a portable number set. We also use the cards for matching games and learning about quantity. Such a great price for all of the value provided by this set.” Hands_on-learning-with-worksheets     What homeschool resource did you use this year that you would recommend? Leave your recommendation in the comments!!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Have You Ever Heard of Scaccia?

It has been a family favorite for over 100 years!

It is kind of like a calzone, but better. It comes from Ragusa in Sicily, where my grandfather was born and lived until he moved to the USA in 1910. You can find it, ready-to-eat, in every bakery in that little town. Even Rick Steves talks about this regional food in his book about traveling through Sicily and he highly recommends taking the time to visit Ragusa since it's the only place you will find this dish. 

My family has made a variety of different types of scaccia for Christmas Eve all of my life. I have worked hard to create vegan scaccia, veggie scaccia, and scaccia with meat. You can make these too!

I start with pizza dough. Back in the day I would actually make my own dough using my grandfather's recipe. But with all of the kneading, rising, more kneading, and more rising, I was exhausted by the time Christmas Eve arrived. Now, I order 8 rounds of pizza dough from our local Italian Deli. It is way better than the supermarket variety and just as good, but less expensive than Whole Foods' dough. 
Roll & stretch, but don't tear.

I also try to make this a little healthier, so instead of using lard, I use Spectrum's non-non-hydrogonated shortening. You start by stretching out the dough on a lightly floured board. You can use a rolling pin, but be careful to stretch the dough without tearing it. If it's not cooperating, walk away fro five minutes and then come back and continue to roll and stretch the dough into a rectangle.

Dab it with little pats of Spectrum shortening and start to roll up the dough from one of the short or the long sides adding more shortening along the way so the dough will be soft and flaky when baked. 

Then, roll it up from one end to resemble a cinnamon bun.

Once the dough is all rolled up, roll it into a "cinnamon roll" style bun. Add more shortening all over the surface and set it to rise on a clean, floured cloth.  Cover it with another clean cloth and allow it to rise for an hour in a draft-free place. 

Roll and stretch the rolled up dough out again, add more pats of the shortening.  In the center third of the wide rectangle, add one of the topping sets listed here:

My family's favorite: Ricotta/sausage/Provolone:  Ricotta (from the Italian store), Italian sweet sausage (removed from the casing), slivers of provolone (from the Italian store), salt, and pepper. You can replace the real sausage with Tofurky's Italian veggie sausage (diced) to make this a vegetarian dish.)

Our Veggie favorite:  Eggplant/tomato/onions:  Eggplant (peeled, cubed,  boiled until soft, & drained), sliced onion, jarred plum tomatoes, minced fresh garlic, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Our Vegan favorite:  Daiya/veggie sausage:  Shredded Daiya (vegan mozzarella cheese), Tofurky's Italian veggie sausage (diced), nutritional yeast (gives this a cheesy flavor), salt, and pepper.
Vegan Daiya is on the dough.
In the bowls you can see the real ricotta and real Italian sausage for the meat & dairy eaters.

Fold over one of the sides of the dough to cover the toppings and add some more pats of shortening to the dough. (I didn't say this was healthy, only that it's healthier than the ones made with lard.) :) 

Add more topping to that layer of dough, but not as mush as the first layer.  Then, fold the last end of dough onto the top of the scaccia.  Seal the ends by pinching the dough closed. You can also add a few toothpicks here to keep the ends closed. 

Apply an egg wash (1 beaten egg with a splash of water mixed in) to the top of the dough. You can use an egg replacer for the vegan variety.

Pierce the top with a fork.  Let it sit for 30 min before putting it in a 375 degree oven. Move it around the oven while it bakes making sure it doesn't brown too quickly. You want to make sure the real sausage is completely cooked and not pink, so leave that one in for a good 40-50 minutes.
My daughter and me making scaccia.

Let it cool. Then cut it into 2" wide strips and serve. 

This is what the finished product looks like:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fun Cooking To Do With The Kids Over Winter Break

Homemade Pizza The Easy Way...

We like to have homemade pizza on Christmas Eve, but we don't want to have to make the dough from scratch. The best place to get really tasty pizza dough is your local Italian deli.  Take it home and stretch it out on a lightly floured board. You can use a rolling pin, you can press it out, and you can even stretch it on the backs of your hands, but don't tear it. 

The pan is VERY important. You need a well seasoned pizza pan. Traditional Sicilian deep-dish pizza is made on rectangular pans and I am fortunate enough to have two that have been used in my family for over 60 years. I also have a round pan that belonged to my grandmother and then my aunt. I discovered it in the trash after my aunt passed away. It is a family treasure that makes the BEST pizza a would have been lost forever!

You have to heavily oil the pan with extra virgin olive oil. Then, press the stretched dough into the pan. If it keeps springing back, walk away for five minutes and let the dough rest. Then come back and continue to press the dough into the edges of the pan allowing the dough to create a nice thick crust. 

Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and be sure to spread it over the edges of the dough.
Let the dough rest for 30 to 50 minutes.

Top the dough with some fresh minced garlic, tomato puree or sauce (or jarred plum tomatoes, diced), fresh mozzerella (shred or slice your own, don't buy the pre-shredded variety), dried oregano, salt, pepper, grated Parmesan cheese (from the Italian deli), a few red pepper flakes, and more extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top and especially on the edges.

Let it sit for another 30 minutes and then pop in in the middle of a 400 degree oven for 20 min. Rotate it so it cooks evenly and lower the over to 380 degrees if it is browning too quickly. 
Remove it from the oven when the cheese is beginning to brown and the edges are golden. Let it rest for a few minutes. Then, cut it Sicilian style: into squares or rectangular strips with clean kitchen scissors.  

I put out a variety of cooked toppings so our guests can make their own pizzas. Topping included:

Italian sausage, peppers, and onions
Peppers, onions, and mushrooms
Eggplant, tomatoes, and onions

Buon Natale!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas At Our House Part 3 - Melding the Irish & Italian

Blending two traditions:

In our house, we blend the traditions my husband brought with him from Northern Ireland and the ones my family shared in an Italian household. Two of our favorite Christmas foods come from these two cultures. 
Have you ever heard of cannoli chips?
How about Northern Irish potato bread?

My favorite Italian food is a staple at our Christmas Eve celebration. It's cannoli. If you have ever had one, you know they are delicious, but very tricky to eat. The crispy thin shell combined with the creamy soft center makes it all but impossible to eat with any class at all. They crack, fall apart, and you find yourself trying to look graceful all with a smudge of cannoli cream on your face. My solution is to make cannoli chips and a small bowl of the filling which can be eaten like a chip & dip.

You can find your favorite cannolo (that's the singular of cannoli) shell recipe on the Internet. Roll your cannolo dough out paper thin. 

Instead of cutting out circles of dough and wrapping them around metal tubes,  cut them into triangles that are about the size of a Dorito.

Fry them up just as you would a regular cannolo shell, and serve them with your favorite cannoli cream. You can also find recipes for cannoli cream on the Internet. Top the chips with powdered sugar to give them a real wintery feel. 
Turn them while they are in the hot oil.

Cook until light brown.

In honor of the new Star Wars movie, I just had to do this:
Yes, it's Obe 1 Cannoli!

Our Northern Ireland inspired tradition is perfect for our Christmas morning breakfast. It's traditional potato bread, but with a holiday flair. Potato bread is usually eaten with fried eggs and bacon, but we add pancakes and fruit to our plates too. Here is how to make it:

Boil up a pot of whole, unpeeled potatoes in salted water until they are soft. Rinse them under cold water and rub the skins off. Mash the potatoes any way you like. I use a ricer for this, but you can use any mashing tool you have on hand. Salt the mashed potatoes and add enough flour to the mixture so it will hold together in a ball. I usually make several balls of dough. Flatten out the dough and roll it out on a floured pastry cloth until it's about 1/4" thick.  

Using holiday cooking cutters, cut out some cute shapes and dry-griddle the pieces on medium heat on a griddle.

Cool on a cooling rack. 

You can eat these warm with a little butter or you can make them really unhealthy delicious by frying them in bacon grease and serving them with bacon and eggs.