Nuts and Bolts of Kindergarten

On a typical day, Noah knows we do 3 “school times”: Calendar and Bible, Story time, and Box time (math and phonics). We spend about 90 minutes per day on formal school subjects.

Other things like read alouds and science get woven into the regular fabric of our day, so to Noah they wouldn’t get classified as “school time”, but there is plenty of learning happening.

Next year we will be doing things quite differently, but this is an overview of what materials have worked for kindergarten.

Calendar Time: We use selected items like weather graphing, letter of the week, and calendar work from Confessions of a Homeschooler, 1+1+1=1, and Mama Jenn. My favorite part has been using Songs for Saplings Bible verses and the accompanying printables. I’m amazed at how well both boys learned the Bible passages!

Bible: The Story Bible includes gorgeous illustrations along with each Bible story. The Story Bible includes a few questions, a simple activity, and a prayer at the end of each story. I dream of buying the mini poster size reproductions at Northwestern Publishing House!

Literature: We started with Five in a Row – story books with accompanying activities. Then we changed to reading from a Charlotte Mason booklist, but still doing many of the activities like Five in a Row. We also do audio books and read alouds, most currently Trumpet of the Swan and Magic Tree House.

Phonics: We started the year with Montessori phonics work. After Noah made progress with those, we switched to Explode the Code workbooks.

Yes, he draws obnoxious lines and x’s over pages when he’s done. Homeschool is cool that way.

Early Readers: Dick and Jane, Bob Books, and currently loving the Biscuit books

Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears

Math: Currently using Math Mammoth and Life of Fred. We dabbled in Khan Academy, Harcourt, Aleks, and MEP this year, but now we’ve come back to Math Mammoth. I intend to stick with these two picks until Noah’s ready for Beast Academy.


Science: Mostly nature study with interest-led learning. We head out hiking at least once a week and are currently obsessed with birds.


We also do many things that do not go directly with the listed curricula. We throw in sight word work, living math, narration, flashcards, beginning coding apps on the iPad. Also, there’s Wild Kratts and Magic School Bus – and an occasional youtube video of baby pandas counts, right?

Are these the same curricula used in schools? Or are they specifically homeschool curricula?

Some of each. Handwriting Without Tears started as a program geared toward homeschoolers. Now it’s used in regular classrooms. The MEP math program started in schools and now is popular with homeschoolers.

A school chooses curricula to fit the average learner. One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to choose curricula to fit one child’s learning needs. Consequently, many of the programs we’ve chosen to use with Noah are not regular school programs.

As an example, Explode the Code is a phonics program known to have success with students with speech and language issues and that consists of simple black and white workbook pages.  It’s connected amazingly well with Noah!

Yet I would never choose Explode the Code for a classroom of 20 learners. While it might connect with a few of the kids, there are other programs out there that would connect with a greater majority of students.


Legos, Trees, and Homeschool Goals

Typical kindergarten goals involve a list of math and reading standards. Those are worthwhile goals, but we had different ideas when we thought about what would be best for Noah as a 5 year old. These goals are what led us to homeschool.

Keep Noah learning
Fill his mind with information and experiences. Noah is happiest – and most at peace – when his mind is full. Whether it’s thinking about scientists’ experiments with hummingbirds or calculating the division of Chima characters in the Lego encyclopedia, Noah needs a mind constantly exploring ideas, not rote ABCs. We wanted to maintain an environment of continuous learning and stimulation for him.


Take a child-led, developmental approach.
Noah adds three digit numbers. That’s definitely good with us! Noah also knows his letter sounds, but he does not know letter names. We are just as good with that as with the math.
We cater to Noah’s strengths and gently address his weaknesses. This doesn’t mean that we don’t work on letters. It simply means that we work on them at a pace determined by Noah – and with the confidence that he will learn it when he is ready.

Create a relaxed learning environment

“We’re not trying to do school at home. We’re trying to do homeschool. These are two entirely different propositions. We’re not trying to replicate the time, style, or content of the classroom. Rather we’re trying to cultivate a lifestyle of learning in which learning takes place from morning until bedtime 7 days each week. The ‘formal’ portion of each teaching day is just the tip of the iceberg.” (Steve & Jan Lambert, Five in a Row)

It’s okay to take a break from reading and go build elaborate Lincoln Log forts for an hour. If Noah has math on his mind, we may do math four times in one day. We spontaneously discuss pandas and China throughout the week. Noah has no deadlines for learning anything. No pressure to keep up with any expectations.

Keep nature a regular part of his life
Nature soothes the soul. We can spend mornings at Humboldt Park observing the arrival of spring or at Grant Park listening to the waves roll in. We have the time to let it all soak in – and then the time to spend drawing pictures of all the birds in his nature notebook. Time in nature is, quite simply, vital to Noah’s well being.

Continue to address Noah’s healing gut
At the start of this school year, Noah’s gut condition was pretty stable. Then on the very first day of school, he had a flare up. It was a stark reminder that it would be asking an awful lot of a 5 year old boy to go manage this on his own. While 25 days of the month are great, the remaining 5 days are a different world. Since Noah’s gut health and mental health are so closely intertwined, it is important that he be able to do things to balance his mind when his gut is off. This may mean spontaneous afternoon hikes, learning new math skills for him to twist around in his head, or spending 2 hours of uninterrupted work on a Lego creation. As much as Noah’s life is becoming typical, some days are still a dance. He’s not old enough to have the self awareness to know what to do when his body is off. That’s when I’m able to nudge him toward the activities that help restore balance for him.

So those are our goals. I won’t pretend that we eloquently wrote them out before we started. We simply talked about what would help him thrive. Then we talked – and prayed – about the best environment for that. The answer was pretty clear: homeschool.

Computers and Menu for February 23

We bought a computer! Our laptop literally broke in half a few months ago, which pretty much ended my blogging. I could have blogged using the iPad. I tried a couple times, but it was incredibly frustrating for me. In the end, I learned that my devotion to a real, actual keyboard apparently rivals my devotion to the 1984 NIV Bible. Unflappable.

We went about 5 months without a computer. It is oddly humbling to make trips to the library every time you need to format or print something. I think the humbling part is convincing your kids to sit quietly by the computer section while you work. And then having them act so obnoxiously that the librarian asks you to leave. It gave me a whole new respect for parents using library computers and made me realize how blessed we really are.

Anyways, here’s what we’re eating this week:

Breakfast Usually a combination of two of the following items:

  • Bacon
  • Breakfast sausage
  • Smoothies – Always made with coconut milk, a dash of juice, some greens, and whatever frozen fruit I have handy
  • Avocado pudding – A new favorite! Topped with coconut, nuts, seeds, or fruit
  • Pancakes – Chocolate pancakes for Andy, Pumpkin Plantain for the rest of us

Lunches All served with fresh fruit and veggies, which right now tends to be oranges, bananas, celery, and carrots. We miss summer!

Suppers All served with fruit like lunch

  • Pulled Pork and baked sweet potatoes
  • Buffalo Chicken wings, fries, and roasted carrots
  • Hamburgers, potatoes, stirfry veggies
  • Zesty chicken tenders, broccoli with bacon
  • Pasta – Brown rice pasta for all of us except Noah. He is currently on strike against veggie noodles, even when the rest of us eat them with him. So for now he eats leftovers. This isn’t an ideal situation since I don’t like the rest of us to eat food that he cannot eat or have a comparable version of. However, the food budget is a little out of control, and pasta is a cheap meal for the rest of us. That also explains the abundance of chicken on the menu this week.
  • Pizza – Grain-free and gluten-free crusts, goat cheese instead of regular mozzarella

Apple (and plum) Picking

Apples are notoriously tainted with pesticides.

Out of all produce, apples rank #1 for most pesticide residue left after being washed.

Year after year apples top the Dirty Dozen list – a list put out by the Environmental Working Group ranking produce according to pesticide levels after standard preparation.

The latest data showed 42 different pesticides remaining on conventional apples. (Seriously, you’re telling me the apple orchard really, truly required that many pesticides?)

While those pesticide levels are considered safe by the FDA, I simply am not comfortable with it.

My solution is to buy organic apples when I can find them at a good price. Truthfully, I don’t buy much organic produce since it is more expensive, but organic apples are a priority for me.

We consume a lot of applesauce. I have wanted to find cheap organic apples and make my own applesauce – and take the kids apple picking. I quickly learned that finding organic apples to pick is tough. Peck and Bushel is a new organic apple orchard in southeastern Wisconsin, but they struggle to get a good crop. I cannot afford to pay their prices. Plus, they rarely offer pick your own. I started looking for the next best thing.


Enter Barthel Fruit Farm. We went strawberry picking there earlier this year. I checked out a number of orchards online, but few openly disclosed information about their pesticide usage. Barthel’s was open and honest about it. It was clear that it is an important issue to them. While not fully organic, I am comfortable with their practices.

Outpost, our natural foods coop store, carries their apples. Outpost really vets their sources, so I trust their choices.

Just for the record, I am a huge fan of buying local. Any local apple orchard is a step up from the regular grocery store! 🙂

Barthels sold apples by the bagful. You could pick any varieties to fill your bags. I ended up purchasing 3 large bags at $16 each. Using the ever-scientific baby weighing method, I determined each bag weighed a little over 20 pounds. That’s less than $1/lb for local, low pesticide apples!

Baby weighing method = stepping on your bathroom scale with and without a baby to determine how much your baby weighs

What varieties did we pick? Whatever the kids put in the bags. We started at Macintosh, but ended up with a lot of Pippin, Jonathon, Spartan, Ozark Gold, and another Gold type that I can’t remember.


Ethan in awe of apple picking. Sometimes my kids are such city kids! 🙂IMG_0678 IMG_0680  IMG_0685

Anna was a master picker! She could pick apples faster than any of us!


No, boys! Pick them off the trees, not off the ground!


The boys taking advantage of my picture-taking to pick more up off the ground. I have no idea why they were so obsessed with it – probably because I told them not to do it.IMG_0689

I loved how the apple branches were so low to the ground. Even Ethan could reach them! (Maybe this shows I’m a city girl, too?)IMG_0690

Yes, that’s Noah eating an apple. More on that later…


Ethan with a 20 oz Pippin apple!


Time to head to a new section!


Pull, Ethan, pull!


I love apple picking pictures. Fall is my favorite season – by far.


By this point, eating had become the favorite activity rather than picking.

IMG_0705 IMG_0708 IMG_0709 IMG_0714

We can’t forget the plums! Plums were sold by the pound. Understandable, since they were tiny and time consuming to pick. It looked like the trees were near the end of their season, so we were walking sliding through fermenting plums while trying to find semi-firm ones to pick. It was neat to have the experience of picking plums, but I’m glad we spent most of our time at the apple trees.


Amazing how many plums can grow on a tree!


Andy contemplating trying a plum. “Like, I’m just supposed to take a bite out of it??”


Hmm, I’m surprised I have a photo of Ethan picking plums. He mostly sat in the stroller eating at this point.


Go head Noah, eat all the plums you want.


Andy making fun of me after I told him to rub the plum on his shirt to get the pesticides off of it.  IMG_0723

Anna hiding eating another plum.




Andy all proud of himself for trying a plum – but obviously not too thrilled.IMG_0726

Semi-gross, but proof since his family probably wouldn’t believe it. 🙂


Andy took on the manly challenge of retrieving fruit from the tops of the trees.

Noah and Apples

Noah broke out in hives twice as a kid from eating raw apples. It was clear that the hives were from the apples – although it’s always possible that it could be a pesticide.  Yet he often ate apples with absolutely no reaction. This was typical for Noah when he was younger. Then when he was 3 years old, we noticed hi, obsessively clearing his throat after eating raw apples. Again, it did not happen every time, but it was often enough that we could make a definite connection. Noah’s naturopathic doctor recommended staying away from raw apples, but allowing cooked apples. While apples are definitely good and healthy, they have goitrogenic properties that do not agree with some people. Noah is one of those people. (The goitrogens disappear when apples are baked or cooked into applesauce) So we decided to keep him away from raw apples. Well, Noah had not eaten a raw apple in over a year. So when we went to the orchard, I was torn about letting him eat an apple. We let him eat one. He liked it, seemed perfectly fine, and did not start clearing his throat. Hooray!

Not so fast. About an hour later, he started clearing his throat. Even Andy noticed that “the old sound he used to make all the time”  was back after disappearing for almost a year.

So. Back to no raw apples. Noah cleared his throat repeatedly on and off for 2 days after we were at the apple orchard. His body clearly has a strange reaction to raw apples.

Honestly, it’s frustrating. It’s just so weird and nonsensical.

But it was a really fun day and I have cheap, high quality apples for making applesauce!


Proof that I really was there!

Parsnip Fail

We made parsnip fries.

NEVER AGAIN. Ugh, they were awful. Up until this point celery has been the only food that I absolutely, positively cannot handle tasting. Now my short list includes parsnips.

Of course, it was after an idyllic prep time where the kids were helping and totally into it…so I can’t resist putting up the pictures. I think I am trying to prove to myself that dinner prep does not always have to be the craziest time of the day.



“Hmmm, parsnips look like white carrots.”

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(“Uppie!!!!!” Translation: Pick me up now!!!!!!)IMG_0659

Oddly enough, the boys liked eating them raw.IMG_0660

In case you ever wondered what the inside of a parnship looks like. You’re supposed to cut out the core. I thought I did a decent job at it, but maybe that was what was tasting awful?IMG_0662

He spent about 10 minutes mixing parsnips with a butter knife.

As much fun as they had, I am 99.9% sure I will not buy parsnips again.

My Girl

A friend once described Anna as demure. I think that fits her school personality pretty well. So when she came out of school super excited, telling me she had been brave, I made sure to listen up.
Her teacher had asked the class what job they wanted to have when they grow up. Anna raised her hand and answered, “Work at a restaurant.”
Her teacher asked if she wanted to own a restaurant or work at one like a cook or waitress.
(“Mom, I knew that I wanted to do both, and I really wanted to tell about my big idea. But I thought I should probably just pick one and say own or cook. Then I thought I might never have another chance to tell people about it, so I took a deep breath and got brave and told the whole thing!”)
“My family eats gluten-free, so I want to own my own gluten-free bakery.”
(Yes, that is the “whole thing” – for her to give details about it was huge.)
The next day the teacher gave them a chance to write and draw about their future job.


What We are Eating


I often feel like men get too much credit for grilling. Standing at the grill and turning meat really does not equal making a meal. Tonight Andy grilled chicken for us. It turned out amazing! So he can take all the credit he wants for this meal.

Here’s what we ate today:

Gluten-free chocolate chip muffins (I have been playing with this recipe for a few weeks. It’s a great base recipe, but the muffins keep coming out slightly chewy. I’ve halved the applesauce and compensated with coconut oil, along with decreasing the xanthan gum. Next time I may cut out the xanthan altogether and see what happens. Andy loves chocolate chip muffins, so I’m trying to find a good one for him.)
Banana chocolate chip muffins (grain-free for Noah)

Beef and Broccoli
Grapes and watermelon

Cumin Spiced Chicken (this recipe gives the basic idea, but we skewered the chicken and added peppers)
Roasted sweet potatoes
Kale chips

Super Easy Gluten-Free Brownies (made tonight to pack in Andy’s lunches this week)


Kale Chips


That is Andy eating kale chips.

It is worth repeating: That is Andy snacking on a green vegetable.

He asked me three times today to make these.

Now he just said, “Oh man, I need to stop or I’m going to end up eating all of these.”

I really have no words.

He is still eating gluten-free. He has not cheated at all, but this past week has not gone quite as smoothly for him. I think there was the initial “honeymoon” stage where he felt great and so incredibly different from before. Then it plateaued. He had a couple days where he felt “blah” again, which was frustrating for him.

However, he has not quit. There’s been no Pizza Hut. There have been no Roundy’s pretzels. He attended two parties without eating cake.

Today he reminded me to get kale at the farmer’s market so I could make kale chips.

I have been doing this gluten-free, crazy food life for long enough that I sometimes forget how hard it is at first – the discipline, self-control, and courage that it requires.  While yes, the gluten-free eating is impressive, I think what impresses me most is the inner strength it requires for an adult to make a major change. The reality is that it is not simply a diet change – it requires a life style change, a mental change. Once you go gluten-free, there is a switch that goes off in your head that can never fully be flipped back.  I am sorry, Andy, but you will never look at Pizza Hut or Roundys pretzels in quite the same way.

Or maybe you will. Men are more simplistic like that.

But I’m betting you won’t.

As I secretly took this photo of you, I thought of how you never cease to amaze me. You eating kale chips? You’re my new hero, because I have a confession to make: I don’t even like kale chips.

Stack’d Burger Bar

We go out to eat at a restaurant about once every month.
We know we are a handful.
We tip well.

We only go to restaurants that we know are gluten-free friendly. We learned this the hard way. I will never forget verifying that a dish was gluten-free at Applebee’s a couple years ago. The waiter had no clue what I was talking about. He claimed they had no available allergy information, although I had looked at their list online before we went out. Then the waiter got the manager, who went to the cook. He came back and told me he could only give me a plain piece of chicken. I tried to get cheese and salsa on it. “No, our shredded cheese looks like it has flour on it.” Wait, is that “flour” on your cheese just the cellulose powder they use to keep it from clumping? Forget even asking if they had a dedicated French fry fryer. (If you fry french fries in the same oil as chicken tenders and onion rings that are breaded with flour, the french fries will end up with wheat on them. Hence why it’s important for restaurants to have a fryer dedicated to just french fries.)

I consider it our responsibility to find safe, nourishing food. While I wish all restaurants were at least minimally knowledgeable about food allergies, that is outside of my control. They have the freedom to decide how or if they want to deal with food allergies and intolerances. Then I have the freedom to decide where we eat. One of my favorite resources is Celiac in the City’s list of gluten-free friendly restaurants in Milwaukee.

We look up restaurants online and are not afraid to call and ask questions before we go.

It can be confusing and chaotic.

But it is important to us.

Going out to eat at a restaurant is a normal activity. We can still do normal food activities. The kids all see that they can go to restaurants. They learn what they should and should not order. They see how it’s important to ask questions about their food. They learn how to behave in a restaurant.

It is especially important to me that Noah sees that he can go to restaurants. McDonalds and fast food is not an option for him. We usually do not attend school or church functions that revolve around foods he cannot eat. We do not purposely put him in situations where he will feel deprived and there are not any other food options available. There are more than enough incidental times when he is left out. I do not want to flood him with negative food experiences at this age. I strongly feel that it would be bad for his self-image.

But I do want him to know that food does not have to be “made by Mom” to be safe. I want him to grow up confident when it comes to finding good food. Life will require that of him. Eating at restaurants is one way of teaching him this. Noah is proud of eating at restaurants.

I also want Andy to see that he can still enjoy going out to eat, even when he’s eating gluten-free.
Maybe I think too hard about it, but it means a lot to me for us to go out to eat.

Saturday’s pick? Stack’d Burger Bar in the Third Ward neighborhood.

Andy and I had been to Stack’d before and enjoyed it. Then I saw a review on Celiac in the City mentioning their gluten-free options. I checked out the online menu. I called to verify that we could order child-sized portions since they did not have a children’s menu. I changed the boys’ dirty shirts and off we went.

It was a success.

I told the waitress right away that we would all be ordering gluten-free. The waitress sold me when I tried to order a turkey burger. “I’m sorry, our turkey burgers contain panko. Would you prefer a different type of burger?” This was my fault since the menu had gluten-free entrees labeled with a GF, so I should have noticed that turkey burgers weren’t gluten-free. I am always thankful when we get a knowledgeable waitress!

Even if my kids stared at her nose rings a little too much.

Andy got a hamburger on a gluten-free bun. I asked him how it was. “Good – it’s a burger.” In other words, let him eat and do not bother him with 20 questions about the texture of his bun. I managed to refrain from asking him to tear off a piece of the bun for me to try.

Their fries are gluten-free and do not share a fryer with any glutenous foods.

Noah had sliders. That meant two mini hamburgers on a bed of mixed greens. They call them mini, but they are definitely not tiny! This was great since Noah often doesn’t get enough food to feel full at restaurants.

I was a little nervous about his side. He cannot eat regular potato french fries and did not want sweet potato fries, so he choose fruit. In our experience, “side of fruit” is usually a cup of depressed mandarin oranges in corn syrup or room temperature applesauce. Not too appealing. Well, Stack’d got major bonus points here. Noah got a big tin cup overflowing with fresh fruit. Pineapple, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, and more that I would have noted if Ethan hadn’t needed his third ketchup refill.

In Noah’s words, “I’m ordering this exact same thing next time!”

Ahhhh, success.

No stomach ache complaints from him. No kid meltdowns. (I’m not sure which fact is more amazing)

All of us left full and happy.

P.S. You can tell if a restaurant has respect for gluten-free eating by their bed of lettuce. Putting one limp, warm leaf of iceberg lettuce under a hamburger patty does not make it appealing. Giving me a true bed of mixed greens? Wow, I will be back again.

They also had goat cheese.
And their beef was grass-fed.
And they had kiddie cups with straws.
But alas, no crayons.

Andy Goes Gluten-Free: The First 10 Days

I have spent 4 years thinking about Andy going gluten-free. I pictured him moaning every day about how this is awful and he just wants a frozen pizza. Complaining that gluten-free items are gross. Ranting that he doesn’t feel any different. Acting like this is all my fault. Me stressing out trying to appease him.

I didn’t give him nearly enough credit.

He’s not complaining.

At all.

About anything.

Except a 2 day bout with seasonal allergies, but that’s understandable.

I am only moderately stressed about making sure gluten-free food is always available. (I am a recovering Type A perfectionist, so moderately stressed is pretty good for me.)

To answer the major questions:

1. Has he cheated?

No, he has stayed 100% gluten-free.

2. How does he feel?

In the words of Andy, “I have more focus. I have more energy. I don’t have that ‘not feeling good’ feeling anymore. My stomach just feels lighter.” That’s putting it lightly. The difference in him is remarkable. I really did not expect it. I know gluten makes me feel sluggish, but I see an even more extreme change in Andy.

3. Doesn’t he miss the old food?

“Gluten-free pizza tastes almost equal to me. Bread and pretzels are slightly missed. There really are no cravings whatsoever.” This shocks me. Andy lived on wheat. In our gluten-free kitchen, he had his own designated cupboard filled with boxes and bags of wheat products. He randomly said goodbye to it 10 days ago and doesn’t miss it? Seriously?! It is baffling. You would probably have to live with him to believe it. Quite honestly, it’s been 10 days and I still cannot fathom the change that has happened.

4. What is he eating?

I think I could write a post on each item. He is not eating anything strange. Our dinners tend to be gluten-free, so it was mostly changing his breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I will start with the basis for Andy’s previous life: pretzels.

Gluten-Free Sticks

Gluten-Free Pretzels: Snyders taste the best and are the cheapest. If you look for them at Pick N Save, they are usually in the chip aisle, not by the gluten-free items. (Side note: I would like to work as a consultant for Pick N Save. They need some serious help with their gluten-free item placement. )

My goal price for pretzels used to be $1.00/16 oz. Andy ate 6 pounds of pretzels in one month, so $6 for a month’s supply of pretzels. Snyders gluten-free pretzels are $2.59/8 oz. If he were to eat 6 pounds of them, it would cost over $30. Not going to happen.

Enter the great tortilla chip. Tortilla chips are inherently gluten-free since they are made out of corn. I can pick up a 32 oz bag of GMO-free chips at Trader Joe’s for $2.99. I suggested to Andy that he switch to tortilla chips and only have pretzels every once in awhile. He said sure.

Really, the simple fact that he said sure is unbelievable. If you had mentioned him giving up pretzels a year ago, I would have said that asking Andy to give up pretzels is like asking him to give up the Packers. Never. Going. To. Happen.

Well, it did. I don’t like to say I was wrong about things, but I will gladly say that I was wrong about this.

But don’t count on him giving up the Packers any time soon.