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Teaching Kids Life Skills

8 Aug

So, I’m crafting a “Life Skills” curriculum for my kids which would include the basics in cooking/baking/kitchen skills, laundry care, car care, household handyman tasks, and personal finances. I may throw in some basic first aid, gardening, and household organizing for good measure. These are the skills I have thought of so far:


  • meal planning
  • grocery shopping (including selecting fruits, vegetables, meat)
  • reading a recipe
  • timing the different components of a meal
  • boiling water (very basic, I know, but definitely a needed skill)
  • cooking pasta
  • steaming vegetables
  • cooking eggs (boil, fry, scramble)
  • chopping vegetables
  • making a salad
  • making a vinaigrette
  • boiling chicken
  • roasting meat & vegetables
  • using a crockpot
  • sauteing vegetables
  • baking: cake, cookies, biscuits, pie


  • reading labels
  • sorting
  • treating stains
  • folding
  • ironing
  • sewing on a button
  • hemming


  • checking & adding fluids
  • changing the oil
  • changing a tire
  • washing exterior & cleaning interior


  • drive a nail
  • hang a picture
  • use a drill
  • paint a room
  • clear a drain
  • fix a squeaky hinge


  • creating a budget
  • living by that budget
  • managing bank accounts (checking & saving)
  • paying bills (paper & ebills)
  • giving
  • saving
  • using a credit card wisely

Some of my kids already have a handle on some of these skills, but none of them have them all.  I know there are other life skills that they will need to know like how to shop for insurance, how to buy a used car, how to shop for an apartment/house, etc., but the ones above I can teach even to my 10 year old.  I figure if my kids leave our house knowing these fundamentals, they’ll be able to navigate many of the basic challenges of living on their own.  (Plus, I’ll be brushing up on my own skills in the process!)

If you were compiling a list like this, what would you include?


Cooking Adventures Lesson 1: Searing

27 Oct

Our Cooking "Textbook"

So yesterday, Bravo, Charlie and I tackled the first kill lesson in Alton Brown’s book, I’m Just Here for the Food. As you know, we didn’t have the called-for skirt steak so we used sirloin tip steak.

Getting the "hardware" and "software" ready

The recipe called for only a few ingredients, or what Alton calls “software”: steak, oil, salt, and pepper.  The “hardware,” or equipment, he recommends is cast iron pan (which we happen to have thanks to our friend Emilie who gave it to us before moving out of the country).

Seasoning the meat

As per Alton’s directions, we let the meat sit out for 15 minutes to bring it up to room temperature and decrease the difference between the temperature of the meat and the temperature of the pan.  We lightly coated it with oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper and then gave it a good rub.  The girls both thought that was a little weird but did it anyway.

Massaging the meat (really!)

After allowing the pan to heat up for a five minutes we carefully put the meat in, being careful not to move it once it hit the pan so we didn’t compromise the crust on the meat.

Is it supposed to smoke this much?

The first thing we were hit with was smoke.  And I mean A LOT of smoke.  Like Smoke-Gets-In-Your-Eyes smoke.  Like Smoke-On-The-Water smoke.  Like, the-fire-trucks-will-be-rolling-up-any-minute-now-because-our-neighbors-saw-smoke-pouring-out-of-our-windows smoke.  Seriously.  The photos don’t do it justice, but we almost couldn’t see the cabinets on the other side of the kitchen because it was so smoky.  We were a bit worried that the smoke detector never went off (which it has under much less smoky conditions—not that I am saying I burn things alot—so I think I will check the batteries on that thing today!) I don’t know if the pan was too hot or not seasoned enough or this is normal or what…but we had to supplement our oven’s exhaust:

Clearing the smoke

We concluded that our cuts of meat must have been thinner than a typical skirt steak because we followed the directions and cooked the first piece three minutes on each side, which was definitely too long.  By the third piece, we found that a minute on each side was enough.

Although some of the pieces were a little too charred, we enjoyed our seared steak with mashed potatoes.  Not bad for a first attempt.  Now we just have to clear that smoke.

Next week: Cast-Iron Duck.

Embarking on a Cooking Adventure

4 Oct

Our whole family loves Good Eats and Alton Brown.  I can’t remember exactly when we got hooked , but my daughter said it was his episode about ribs called “Pork Fiction.”  We’ll choose to watch that show over almost any other, although it is in competition with two of our other favorites, Mythbusters and Top Gear.  For me, Good Eats harkens back to my Bill Nye the Science Guy addiction in the 90s.

My girls, Bravo and Charlie, have been wanting to incorporate a cooking class into our curriculum.  The boys haven’t been quite as insistent, even though they are Alton Brown fans, too.   Once they have the ability to cook good food on their own, I think they will appreciate this undertaking a little more.  Anyway, I decided to buy two of Brown’s books as our textbooks: I’m Just Here for the Food 2.0 and I’m Just Here for More Food (Baking).

If you are not familiar with Alton Brown or his show Good Eats on Food Network, here is a review for his first book as posted on Amazon:

Alton Brown, host of Food Network’s Good Eats, is not your typical TV cook. Equal parts Jacques Pépin and Mr. Science, with a dash of MacGyver, Brown goes to great lengths to get the most out of his ingredients and tools to discover the right cooking method for the dish at hand. With his debut cookbook, I’m Just Here for the Food, Brown explores the foundation of cooking: heat. From searing and roasting to braising, frying, and boiling, he covers the spectrum of cooking techniques, stopping along the way to explain the science behind it all, often adding a pun and recipe or two (usually combined, as with Miller Thyme Trout).

I’m Just Here for the Food is chock-full of information, but Brown teaches the science of cooking with a soft touch, adding humor even to the book’s illustrations–his channeling of the conveyer belt episode of I Love Lucy to explain heat convection is a hoot. The techniques are thoroughly explained, and Brown also frequently adds how to augment the cooking to get optimal results, including a tip on modifying a grill with a hair dryer for more heat combustion. But what about the food? Brown sticks largely to the traditional, from roast turkey to braised chicken piccata, though he does throw a curveball or two, such as Bar-B-Fu (marinated, barbecued tofu). And you’ll quickly be a convert of his French method of scrambling eggs via a specially rigged double boiler–the resulting dish is soft, succulent, and lovely. But more than just a recipe book, I’m Just Here for the Food is a fascinating, delightful tour de force about the love of food and the joy of discovery. –Agen Schmitz

Our plan is to work our way methodically through his books, learning both the science behind the cooking as well as actually attempting the recipes given for each cooking method.   This week we will read through the introductory information in I’m Just Here for the Food and compile a list of required equipment and ingredients for the first chapter, “Searing.”  I haven’t decided if we will record our efforts on this blog, or start one dedicated solely to that end, but I’ll keep you posted one way or the other.

National Punctuation Day?

24 Sep

Did you know there is actually a National Punctuation Day?  In the spirit of the day, we did an impromptu review of punctuation marks.  I found out that my kids knew most of the rules for punctuation, but I was surprised that they didn’t know the name for an ellipsis.

Of course, we had to watch some classic Victor Borge and his phonetic punctuation:

Here is a fun site for punctuation resources:

They even have a few downloadable newsletters full of interesting information.  Check it out!

Standardized Testing

1 Aug

At the end of this past school year, some of the parents from our homeschool co-op decided to have our kids take standardized tests.  For me, I wanted to know if we were “on track,” generally speaking, and  what areas I should give more attention to next year.  Our DS#1, who will be a Junior this year, took the Stanford Achievement Test and DD#1, DD#2, and DS#2 all took the Iowa Basic Skills Test.  Most of them had never sat for a comprehensive test like this before, so that in itself was an important experience for them.  I was pleased with the experience overall and was encouraged by the results.  All were at least at grade level and far ahead in some areas.  One subject they all need to work on is geography, which I was planning on incorporating this coming school year anyway.  Commas apparently were an issue for some, so I will make sure we address that this year in their writing assignments.  (I find commas to be challenging at times myself, so it will be good for me to review.)

I certainly do not put a ton of weight on the importance of the standardized tests, but I do find them  to be a helpful benchmark in our homeschool journey.

More Curriculum

23 Jul

Today  I got more curriculum in the mail.  These books came from Rainbow Resource.

More Curriculum

  • Learning Language Arts Through Literature (LLATL) Green Student Book (equivalent to 7th grade level)
  • LLATL Yellow Student Book (equivalent to 3rd grade level)
  • A Reason for Handwriting: Transition Level
  • Patty Paper Geometry Student Workbook (using this as a supplement to Jacob’s Geometry)

The only book I am now waiting on is Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek, which is the textbook for my son’s Greek class with The Lukeion Project.  I should have that in the next few days.  I like the settled feeling I have when all the curriculum is in hand.  I can stop considering options and focus on the choices that have been made.

Curriculum Choices

19 Jul
2010-2011 homeschool books

Most of our books for this year

Choosing curriculum can be a challenging task, even for veteran homeschoolers.  For new homeschoolers, it can be downright overwhelming.  Every year (sometimes it seems like every week) I evaluate the curriculum I have been using to see if I still like it and if it fits my kids’ learning styles.  I have tried and discarded some curriculum choices within the same school year, while others we have used many years in a row.  Math curriculum has been the one subject that challenges me the most in my decision making process.  We have tried multiple math programs: Saxon, Singapore, Videotext, Life of Fred (yes, there really is a math curriculum by this name), Making Math Meaningful, and Teaching Textbooks.  In the elementary years, I like and use Singapore Math, but in later years, I prefer curriculum that provides teaching via video (e.g., Videotext and Teaching Textbooks).  This year for my two older kids, I am using Jacob’s Geometry along with the Ask Dr. Callahan DVDs.

Some people go with “packaged curriculum,” which is curriculum from a specific publisher designed to cover all the core subjects for a grade level.  Some of the more popular choices of packaged curriculum are:

  • Sonlight
  • A Beka
  • Calvert School
  • Bob Jones
  • Alpha Omega
  • Horizons

This is a good way to go if you do not have the time or the confidence to wade through the superabundance of curriculum choices available or if you want a curriculum that is more uniform in style across the board.

Other homeschoolers take the eclectic approach, picking and choosing elements from a variety of sources.  This shouldn’t be a completely random process.  Having a grasp on the scope and sequence for your child’s appropriate grade level allows you to customize your curriculum.  This approach is advantageous if your child is at different grade levels in different subjects or if you have more than one child and want to teach them at the same time.  This method also allows you to choose unit studies that fit your child’s interests.  I am an eclectic homeschooler.

An important thing to remember when you have chosen a curriculum is that you are not locked in to that choice forever.  Take it year by year, or even semester by semester, if you need to.  If it is not working for you or your child, there are so many other choices out there and there is bound to be something that suits you better.

Here’s the rundown of the curriculum we are planning on using this coming school year.  I have most of it on hand now, with only a few more purchases to make.  My favorite educational catalog is Rainbow Resource, but I do purchase items from, Amazon,, and (their homeschool swap page).  I also like Teacher Created Resources for science and history unit studies, although their material is written for a classroom setting.

11th Grade:

▪ History, Government, Political Theory, Philosophy, Literature—Worldviews of the Western World

▪ Geography—Runkle Geography

▪ Math—Jacob’s Geometry along with Ask Dr. Callahan DVDs

▪ Science—Apologia Chemistry

▪ Second Language—Greek 1 (Lukeion Project)

▪ Logic—Traditional Logic 2

9th Grade

▪ History, Literature—Beautiful Feet Medieval History

▪ Geography—Runkle Geography

▪ Math—Jacob’s Geometry along with Ask Dr. Callahan DVDs

▪ Science—Apologia Physical Science

▪ Second Language—Rosetta Stone Arabic

▪ Spelling—Spelling Power

7th Grade

▪ History, Literature—Beautiful Feet Medieval History

▪ Geography—Runkle Geography

▪ Math—Teaching Textbooks 7

▪ Science—Beautiful Feet History of Science and Unit Studies (usually by Teacher Created Resources)

▪ Second Language—Spanish (at Co-op)

▪ Language Arts—Learning Language Arts Through Literature (Green)

▪ Spelling—Spelling Power

3rd Grade

▪ History, Literature—Beautiful Feet Medieval History

▪ Math—Singapore Math

▪ Science—Beautiful Feet History of Science and Unit Studies (usually by Teacher Created Resources)

▪ Second Language—Spanish (at Co-op)

▪ Language Arts—Learning Language Arts Through Literature (Yellow)

▪ Spelling—Spelling Power