Thursday, May 30, 2013

K is for Keyboard Spelling Mat

Years ago, I attended a hands-on make and take teacher workshop. I was digging through stored teacher materials in my closet a couple months ago when I came across an oversized keyboard. I created the keyboard at the workshop during my first year of teaching. This keyboard was kept in the spelling center in my classroom when I taught at public school.

It was only natural for me to utilize the keyboard with Alyssa when she was a baby and toddler.
I stated a letter sound and she identified the letter.
Matching tossed letters to the letter on the keyboard
Time Flies By . . . 
I recently posted my Scaredy Cat Reading System Level 3 review. Click on the link to read it. The author encourages curricula users to think of their own creative ideas for spelling and reading practice. I couldn't resist using this resource yet again with my five-year-old daughter. I think she remembered it because she was very eager and happy when she saw it on her assignment list. One of Alyssa's frequent spelling activities was to spell ten of her words using the keyboard. I gave her a colorful hand flyswatter just for fun. She would read the word, spell it by swatting letters, and then use the spelling word in a sentence. Other days, I would announce the word and she would see how fast she could spell each word. A timer was used to track how long it took her to spell all of the words.
Alyssa likes to put a space after each spelling word.
How I Made the Oversized Keyboard
Even though this activity was created a long time ago, I remember the materials and the general method for its creation. It's very simple for anyone to make with a few items.
1.) First, purchase a vinyl tablecloth with a backing (a brightly colored shower curtain would work too).
2.) A permanent Sharpie marker was used to create the letters and keys on the keyboard on the tablecloth. I believe a thick marker was used. I wrote each letter and used the QWERTY keyboard which was most popular at the school.
3.) Decide what your child will use to swat or "type" the letters.
4.) Choose 3-20 spelling words depending on the age or grade level of your child adapting to meet their abilities.
5.) You child can begin spelling words in a hands-on way.

P.S. Include the number keys so that you can also practice number recognition or early math skills with younger children.

Ways to Use the Keyboard
I used the keyboard when Alyssa was younger for a variety of activities. I know that I won't remember all the activities we completed, but here are a few to get you started.
  • Alphabet Identification or Recognition
               Hop to the Letter
               Swat the Letter
               Toss a Bean Bag to the Letter
  • Alphabetic Principle and Fluency - Sing and Swat ABC's
  • Put Words in Alphabetical Order on the Keyboard
  • Match the Letter (magnetic, paper, wood, plastic, puzzle piece, scrabble tiles, foam bath letters, etc.)
  • Identify the Letter That Makes a Particular Sound
  • Missing Letters - Which letter comes before, after, or in between a certain letter
  • Spelling Family Names, Sight, Color, Thematic or Unit Study Words, and Number Words
  • Spelling More Advanced Words (All Levels and Any Words)
  • Familiarize the Child with Keyboard
How would you use this keyboard? 

Alternative Spelling Keyboards
  1. Computer Keyboard Spelling (Obviously)
  2. Broken Keyboards - I cut an old keyboard from the cord and covered the wired end with tape.
  3. Kiki Creates a Simplified Felt Keyboard - This is cute!
  4. Keyboard Printable File Folder Activity
               Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational
                        Keyboard Coded Sight Words
               Making Learning Fun
                        Computer Name Spelling and Sight Word Spelling
               Marcias Lesson Links
               Teach Net Keyboard
               Typing for Children
               Primarily Speaking
               Mrs. Pohlmeyer's Archived Files - Keyboard Template

You can find a keyboard printable at one of the websites above. Just print one off and glue to the inside of a file folder. You may want to use a recording sheet for accountability - it just depends on your child and teaching style. I do not use one because I can hear Alyssa practice. However, I did use one in the classroom.

Do you have a printable keyboard template or activity? 
Please contact me or leave a comment with your website address so that I can add you to the list. 

Are you looking for more spelling resources? Be sure to check out my post mentioning my top ten spelling resources for additional help.

Thank you for visiting A Learning Journey! Please include a link to this post if you decide to use or recreate this activity. It would be greatly appreciated! Make sure you come back and let me know that you tried it, because I would love to see your keyboards. Mine was very basic using the supplies given to me at a workshop without planning or preparation. It was also done VERY quickly as we only had a few minutes at each station. I enjoy seeing other creative activities or alternatives.

I will link this post up at Montessori MondayTeach Beside Me: Share it SaturdayThree Boys and a Dog: Homeschool on the Cheap, Hearts for Home Blog HopTitus 2 Tuesdays123 Homeschool 4 Me TGIF Linky Party (on Saturday)Mama to 4 Blessings: Link and LearnBlogging Through the AlphabetI Can Teach My Child: Show-and-Share SaturdayWomen Living Well WednesdaysFrugal Family 2013, and Raising Homemaker's Homemaking Link-Up.
Montessori Monday Teach Beside Me3 Boys and a DogPhotobucket125 Titus 2 Tuesday ButtonTGIF Linky Party hosted by 123Homeschool4MeICanTeachMyChild.comFrugal Family 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Simplified Dinners by Simplified Pantry

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As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I had the pleasure of reviewing several products created by Mystie Winckler from Simplified Pantry. You can also find her blogging at Simply Convivial. I was given access to three instant downloadable e-books in PDF format including Simplified Dinners, Paperless Home Organization, and Simplified Dinners Gluten Free/Dairy Free. I will focus on Simplified Dinners for the majority of this review.
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What do you want for dinner? I don't know . . . what do YOU want? Does that conversation sound familiar to you? It seriously drove me crazy. We were stuck in a rut and we were constantly asking each other this question. I love cooking but I wanted to cook something my husband wanted to eat. He wanted me to plan the meals without asking him first. We ended up eating the same boring meals and we didn't look forward to dinner time. We started eating out way too often. We were spending a fortune on unhealthy restaurant food. Simplified Pantry pops into my life and literally saves the day. My husband and I already made a decision to eat out less, meal plan, and eat healthier. We just didn't know where to start or when we would actually start. This review product jump started our actions and helped us meet several of our family goals.

Simplified Dinners by Simplified Pantry is a 30-page cookbook available in e-book PDF format containing 16 different meal types or groups. Each group provides the user with the cooking "process" which contains step-by-step instructions for making that particular meal type. Many recipes offer a slow-cooker or stovetop process. Furthermore, many groups provide 3-9 dinner choice variations which means you won't be eating the same meals over and over again. The meals included in this cookbook consist of roasts (beef or pork), fish, chicken, pasta, eggs, bean pots, pizzas, soups, starchy sides, vegetable sides, main dish salads, side salads, and more. Twelve marinades, six pan sauces, five salad dressings, three pizza sauces, and five stir fry sauce recipes are also included in the book. A master pantry shopping list of basic staples categorized by common foods or grocery store aisles is provided at the beginning enabling you to stockpile grocery items so that you can cook ANYTHING in the book. Stockpiling helps save you money in the long run. This is especially helpful when you forget to defrost meat ahead of time (like me) or make last minute decisions about dinner plans. The e-book begins with an explanation about why you should simplify and gives you an introduction to the primary purpose of this minimalist approach or system. Basically, you choose the meal type and variation, then add a couple sides and you have a dinner plan!

Listen to the video below to hear how and why Simplified Dinners was created. It took Mystie over three years to complete this project. I am thankful for her dedication in making this cookbook.

Types of Meals
The table of contents along with samples can be viewed here.

How I Used Simplified Dinners
I used this product at least four times a week often using more than one recipe for each meal. First, I chose a main dish or type of protein and then I added two sides to the meal. The sides were usually green veggies or salads. I added a bread once or twice a week. We didn't get to try all of the recipes yet, but we made several of our favorites repeatedly during the review period. I viewed several recipes on my computer and printed others as I used them. The printed recipes were stored in a report cover with the master pantry list as the first page.

I didn't stock my pantry ahead of time, because I jumped the gun and started using recipes as soon as I received the product via e-mail. My daughter and I started to make grocery lists consisting of ingredients that we needed for one or two weeks at a time. We even started to stockpile ingredients for the more popular recipes. We shopped only when we needed ingredients to keep the pantry stocked. We are learning more about what to buy and what not to buy which saves us a nice bundle of money.

I placed the menu planner in a sheet protector and posted it on the fridge the first week. Eventually, multiple weekly meal plans were printed in calendar format. I was planning two weeks at a time by the end of the review. My hope is to create monthly menu plans and to eventually have the pantry stocked with all the ingredients needed for this book. This newfound goal of menu planning pleased my husband. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at the fire station or working on our house was to choose what we'd eat for dinner or stop by the grocery store on his way home.

Would you like to see a few delicious meals and sides we made during this review? 

Pasta Dishes
The first recipe we tried was a pasta dish. I love Italian food! We will eventually replace the noodles with whole wheat noodles.
Italian Sausage Zucchini Penne
This was one of our favorite meals!
Angel Hair with Ground Beef and Zucchini
(Quick and Easy Spaghetti with noodle substitute)
I have to tell you Jeff was a bit jealous when I made the biscuits from the cookbook. He loves cooking and baking just as much as I do. He tried several recipes in the past and none were as perfect as the scrumptiously soft and flaky biscuits I made from Simplified Dinners. It was my first time making homemade biscuits. I rolled them a little too thin, but we scarfed them down lacking manners of any sort.  
The BEST biscuits in the world!
Thicker Biscuits Second Time Around
Beer Bread
Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
The muffin pan made the process easier and the roll more uniform.
Slow-Cooker Roasts
Rich Savory Beef Roast
I accidentally combined ingredients for two recipes.
I also added in the potatoes and carrots. It tasted GREAT!
The cranberry wine roast was my hubby's favorite roast recipe.
Golden Glow Pork Roast
We don't eat a lot of pork but we were willing to try a few recipes. 
Slow-Cooker Chicken Meals
Orange Honey Chicken
Roasted Broccoli and Cilantro Brown Rice
Overcooked chicken - husband got home later than expected
Fruited Chicken with Peaches
Roasted Zucchini and Broccoli

Salads and Dressings
Popeye Spinach Salad with Toasted Pecans
and Berry Vinaigrette Dressing
Taco Bar Salad
We used ground turkey instead of ground beef.
Oops . . . we couldn't resist adding Fritos and ranch. BAD habits are hard to break!
Foil-Packed Fish Dish
Lemon Parmesan Tilapia with Vegetables 
(Zucchini, Squash, and Mushrooms)
Our favorite meal was the Garlic Butter Fish Packets!
Egg-Based Meal
Flexible Frittata
(Bacon, eggs, spinach, mixed cheeses, and mushrooms)
This was my first time making a frittata!
YUMMY! We'll make this one again for sure!
Vegetable Sides
Note: More vegetable dishes can be found in other photos. We made a lot of broccoli and zucchini!
Balsamic Vinegar Tomatoes
We added cheese cubes and rosemary.
Starchy Sides
I had a tendency to choose the bread and higher white starch carb recipes. During the review period, we were eating more carbs than we have in the past. My husband and I are trying to cut down our carb intake, but our lack of willpower kept us from saying "no" to the many delicious bread and white potato recipes like the one below. 
Roasted Potatoes
This reminded me of the parmesan baked fries I used to make. 
What I Like
  • The flexibility in recipes and meal planning. I loved the idea of variations or alternative recipes. We all enjoyed trying the new meals and having a plan. I had the freedom to alter or change recipes to my family's liking. The author encourages you to be creative when cooking. You can freely adjust the seasoning amounts, meats, and veggies adding more or less to your desire.
  • My husband loved the fact that I started menu planning and is encouraging me to stick with the idea. 
  • The simplicity of the idea caught my attention. The basic recipes were extremely user-friendly. The structure and organization of the cookbook was easily read and pleasing to the eye.
  • This gave our family a chance to try new or forgotten meals. I was also surprised to find out that most of the recipes really tasted good. The table of contents revealing appealing meals teased our taste buds. 
  • We were eating fresher and healthier whole "real" foods as opposed to restaurant foods. I also noticed a decrease in the frequency or number of migraines I had each week. 
  • We saved time and money. We became more frugal and started buying in bulk at Sam's Club. Meals were more affordable, because we were eating out less and making fewer trips to the grocery store. We were eating more homemade meals and using more items found in our pantry. Thankfully, there was also less stress around dinner time. We were wasting less food. Grandma's poor cows weren't being fed expired fruits and vegetables by us as often.  
  • The half-page weekly menu planner and sample winter menu plan provided me with the materials necessary and gave me a starting point for menu planning. The process was uncomplicated. 
  • A master pantry shopping list was provided to note which basic staples or ingredients to keep on hand.
  • The slow-cooker meals were the best! Simplified Dinners reminded me of how much time I can save cooking this way. Although, I have to get over my fear of leaving a slow-cooker on while I am gone.
Possible Cons
  • The author purposely eliminated many measurements or quantities so that the cook can enjoy the freedom of using whatever amounts suit the family needs. She wanted to encourage the user to be more creative when cooking. You may need to decide how much liquid is needed for slow-cooker meals, how much meat will feed your family, and the number of vegetables you'll need to prepare for many meals.
  • Some directions mentioned in the "process" and variations may be too vague for inexperienced cooks. This wasn't an issue for me, but I have been cooking for years. 
  • My family wasn't fond of the peach fruited pork roasts or chicken meals. This is a personal preference so you and your family may LOVE the taste of the meals. As with all recipes, it'll be a trial and error session of sampling meals to find what works with your family. 
Possible Vendor Suggestions
  1. I would consider setting up the table of contents with clickable links so that it can be interactive eliminating the need to scroll down to a particular recipe section. Users could click on the meal type of interest and be taken there immediately saving time in the end. E-book cookbooks I have used in the past with this format are more user-friendly. This isn't a huge deal because the e-book is short, but I am sure that the feature would be greatly appreciated. 
  2. Is there anyway to add checkoff boxes titled "have" and "need" to the master pantry list?
  3. We eat a lot of fish and shrimp. I would love to see additional recipes and variations added providing more cooking options for these meal types. 
  4. Please extend this e-book series. You can create e-books with recipes for breakfast and lunch meals. I realize that several of the dinner recipes can be used for breakfast or lunch. However, it would be fun to see your options for these meals. I have a hard time varying lunches. Even a dessert cookbook for those of us that have an unbearable sweet tooth yet still want to eat somewhat healthy could be offered. Furthermore, I would consider publishing a low-carb e-book as well. 
  5. I wanted to print out the e-book in its entirety, but our color ink is expensive and my printer is an ink hog. You may want to possibly offer a black-and-white version of the e-books for individuals having the same issues or limit the use of color on the pages. I tried to find gray scale on my new printer and it is not available. This isn't a huge deal because the e-book is short. 
  6. Could you please enlarge the menu plan page to fit a whole sheet of paper and possibly provide a few different formats or choices including a calendar format?
  7. You may want to add directions to the side dish salad category for toasted nuts. Inexperienced cooks will find this information more accessible and are more likely to try it if they don't have to research it online. Although, a toasted nut recipe can be easily googled.  
What's This Going to Cost Me?
Simplified Dinners sells for the reasonable price of $12.99 at the Simplified Pantry website. Hold up! There's more . . . Mystie contacted the crew offering our readers 30% off any or ALL of her products or e-books. This discount runs from May 20th through June 3rd so act quickly if you are interested. You must enter the code TOS2013 at checkout. I love it when vendors bless families with discounts!

Are you on a special restricted or allergy-free diet? 

Simplified Dinners is also available as the Simplified Dinners Gluten Free and Dairy Free (GFDF) version for only $12.99. We have friends that are on restricted diets and plan to utilize this resource more often in the future. I already printed a few of the gluten and dairy free recipes as substitute recipes. I saw a peanut butter cookie recipe that was similar to my hubby's recipe. This cookbook also contains a few light dessert recipes and extra starchy side recipes that can provide even more variety to meal planning.
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Our Overall Thoughts
My review pretty much sums up my opinion. This was an absolute life saver for us as we packed for an upcoming move. We enjoyed many of the meals and will definitely without a doubt continue using this e-book. My family has noted their favorite recipes and requested that they stay on future menu plans. I also found several helpful posts written by Mystie on her blogs including 31 Days to Simplified Menu Planning, Menu Plan Calendar System, and Pre-Prepared Beans that I utilized often during this review. I look forward to hearing about any future e-books that Mystie publishes in the future.

I HIGHLY recommend Simplified Dinners to any person looking to provide a variety of affordable meals to their family with flexible meal planning options. More experienced cooks will love that the recipes don't always list quantities so they can add their own flair and make it their own. Inexperienced cooks will appreciate the simplicity of the system. This book made menu planning easy!

Other Products Available
Paperless Home Organization is available in Kindle or E-Book (PDF) format for only $3.99.

I also began the Paperless Home Organization, but will utilize this resource more after our upcoming move. Paperless Home Organization is a guide that helps you create a digital homemaking binder which syncs with free web-based apps and programs that work on your computer or other readers. Wow! This is exactly what I need! It won't take up any space on my computer and everything is in one place eliminating scattered paperwork piles. I might be able to get rid of all my paper homemaking binders once and for all. I already created several free accounts to help organize my digital homemaking binder. I read over the information in order to gain an idea of "the big picture." This an extremely reasonable price for an electronic organizing system. I can't wait to dig further into this project this summer!
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Please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew for more Simplified Pantry reviews. Several crew members will discuss their experiences with Mystie Winckler's products. I look forward to reading the reviews on the Paperless Home Organization.
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Random Five on Friday (May 24th)

People We Saw and Places We Went
1.) Lily (my friend's daughter) celebrated her 1st birthday party on Saturday. It was loads of fun for us all. The children played outdoors. They created ant hills and collected dinosaur bones (sticks). There was cotton candy, cake, cupcakes, frozen fruit bars, grilled zucchini, appetizers, and delicious brisket. This is my favorite photo of Lily that day! Isn't she sooo adorable!

My Luck . . . 
2.) I was bit five times by either a mosquito or a spider that snuck its way into my jeans during the birthday party on Saturday. I was seriously considering a visit to the ER early in the week. This was a picture after the swelling went down a little. The photo makes the bite appear much smaller than it actually was, because of the angle of the shot. At one point that evening, I tried to cover it with a 3" by 3" gauze after applying medicine and could see the edges of the bite mark. The redness has gone down tremendously since this day. The bite mark bruised mid-week. It continued to itch through the entire week. The itching FINALLY stopped exactly one week later. I am sure I'll have a few scars. Apparently, I had a mild allergic reaction. I tried a couple natural remedies and also used two Beeyoutiful products that I reviewed last year. You can read my review for Ow Ease and Miracle Salve here. I am thankful for a reduction in swelling, redness, and itching - thank you Lord for answered prayers. I am so glad that this wasn't something more serious.

Oh . . . and the AC unit in the apartment died on us this weekend. It was hot and humid. Luckily, the outdoor unit was replaced the next day. My father-n-law owns the apartment and installed a temporary window unit so we didn't have to sleep upstairs without any air conditioning. Thank you Kenny! We were happy that you had the time to help us out since Jeff was working at the fire station. 

In My Life This Week . . . 
3.) The countertops were installed in the laundry room at the new house. I had Jeff push the freezer down closer to the sink to open up the door area. It is a little less crowded now.
Corner for Washer Dryer at End of the Countertops
White Laundry Room Sink Beside Freezer 
We have a few more odds and ends projects while we wait for the bank to gather paperwork for the closing date. The appraisal was also completed this week. It's cleaning time baby! We need to speed up the packing process now and thoroughly clean the house before moving in day arrives. The classroom walls were not textured because we had a rainstorm come through on Friday and Saturday. My hubby attacked floor repairs this week and still needs to wax the floors before we move inside the house.

Jeff painted the hardy panel at back of the house green. The classroom will eventually be the same color. I finally saw my carpet and countertops in person! Alyssa was making carpet angels on the floor and playing paper dodge ball with her papa in her bedroom while Jeff and I rearranged the laundry room. I didn't bother walking in the mud to see the classroom this week.

In Our Homeschool . . . 
4.) I posted my Scaredy Cat Reading System Level 3 review. Please head over and read my review if you are in the market for a new reading and spelling curriculum. Additionally, Alyssa and I also gained access to an amazing homeschool resource you might want to check out called The Schoolhouse Library. You can see my post about The Schoolhouse Library on my blog. Several items really caught my attention!

Alyssa started reading the Ivy and Bean book series on our iPad. I placed a hold on the library ebook. She had access the next day! I am loving the use of Overdrive Media Console app. She really likes this series and can read it independently. I haven't ever read them, but a lady recommended them to me.

I will hopefully post my Simplified Pantry review later this evening (Sunday). I know it is not a homeschool product but it's a product that'll benefit ALL families. Thank you to the Schoolhouse Crew leaders for allowing us to review it! If you are looking for a helpful menu planning cookbook Simplified Dinners may be the perfect solution. We are loving it! In fact as I type this review, I am thinking about and planning which meals we'll try next week. I am actually motivated to create menu plans thanks to this review!

I am Inspired to . . .  
5.) After seeing the house this weekend, I am inspired to pack even more. I can guarantee you that we will be packing and moving lots of boxes next week. Packing has distracted me from my final review edits. I am looking forward to a phone call with the closing date.

I will link this post up at Random 5 on Friday hosted by Miranda at The Pebble Pond. Please join the fun and link up your random five thoughts, facts, or occurrences. I will also link this post at The Homeschool Mother's Journal at iHomeschool Network and Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thank you for visiting A Learning Journey!

God bless, 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Schoolhouse Library

Have you seen the brand new resource that The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is offering to homeschool families?

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine recently introduced The Schoolhouse Library to the public! It contains 175 + digital resources including e-books in PDF format, 15 mp3 audio files, 2 video files, lapbooks, and unit studies providing encouragement, support, and fun teaching tips. The resources cover a wide range of topics from preschool through the high school years and can be accessed from any computer.

Topics Addressed
Arts and Crafts
Nature Study
Special Needs
Organization (Planners)
And More . . . 

The end of the year is a great time to rejuvenate and renew your spirits about homeschooling. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Are you new to homeschooling? Are you a veteran looking for ways to spice up learning? This may be the product you need! You should head on over to the website and check it out!

What's Included?
All 18 of the Curiosity Files Unit Studies
A 10 of the Wannabe Units Studies
Two Study Guides for YWAM books
Amy Puetz's Heroines of the Past-Victorian Unit Study
My Audio School offered 15 History and Literature Audio E-Books
Two Lapbooks from A Journey Through Learning
Grapevine Studies - Ruth Bible Study
Barker Creek's Draw Write Now Sampler E-Book
Map Trek: Atlas and Outline Maps of World History Sampler from Knowledge Quest 

The resources mentioned above are worth the price you'll pay. There's so much more available, but I'll stop there because I don't want to spill all the beans. Go visit the website yourself and see what you think! Check out the video below explaining the offer.

The Schoolhouse Library is reasonably priced. You'll pay a one-time fee of $25 to gain lifetime access to this immense collection of resources including any additional resources added in the future. You can use Paypal or a credit card to purchase.  
Please pin this deal, share it with your friends and family on Facebook, or tweet about it using hashtag #schoolhouselibrary. I know I will! 

Frugal Family 2013

Disclaimer: As a reviewer for the TOS Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was provided access to this library in exchange for a mention on my blog. I am disclosing this information in accordance with FTC regulations. As always these honest opinions are my own and not influenced by the company. I was not required to blog about this product. I just wanted to let my readers know about this helpful, frugal deal.  

Thank you for visiting A Learning Journey. Please feel free to leave me a comment.

God bless,