Breyer Stablemates

I don’t know how I’ve missed this…but we have found the Breyer Stablemates books and Petra is in love with Penny. And I know I have seen the toys in the store, but it wasn’t until just now that I made the connection between the books and the toys.

These early readers are perfect for little girls. The story is always about a young girl and a horse. To make things even better, Penny is about a young princess and a Shetland pony. Petra fell in love the first time it was in her hands. She started reading and she refused to stop reading until she finished. The next day she read it all again. And the next.

To top things off when we were in the mountains about a week ago, we saw a beautiful Shetland pony at the first farm we visited. Oh, she was thrilled.

We returned it to the library. I felt so bad for her. I can easily say this is her first favorite book (one that she can read to herself). So of course we ordered it online, and many more to go with it from the series. I can’t wait for their arrival.

Teach Me: Kindergarten

First let me say I’m not a fan of computer games, programs, or videos for young children. Honestly, I just think a good book is the best way to start a young child. I checked out a few handheld devices as possible Christmas gifts this past year; I was appalled. After watching a fairy apply lipstick – the item went quickly back on the shelf. Not really the sort of image I want instilled in my young daughter’s mind. Trust me she needs no encouragement with makeup.

However, I have been searching for apps to use on our phone – something that I find educational, and the children will enjoy. Over the last few months I’ve looked for science apps, geography apps, french apps, and honestly I’ve not been impressed with what I’ve seen.

But I have been very impressed with a little game called Teach Me: Kindergarten.

Teach Me: Kindergarten (also comes in preschool, 1st grade, and other levels) covers basic sight words, spelling (beginning sounds), addition, and subtraction. The program provides hints and helps them if they have trouble.

I really like the way it introduced my children to subtraction. Before playing this program we had never done any subtraction with the children. As each of the my children first started this app I explained subtraction in a very basic way. No further help was needed because the game provides help along the way. For subtraction the game provides a waste basket where the child can throw away the subtrahend and then count up the difference. If a child forgets to count the difference, the game reminds them to do so.

The spelling questions test a child’s ability to recognize beginning letter sounds and select the correct letter. And the Dolce Sight words simply asks the child to choose the correct word.

I was most impressed with the overall design of the program. Up to 4 children can play; each with a separate account. In addition, the program tracks each child’s progress and as they progress they receive a “star” and move up to the next level. You can see on the picture below that Jasper is on Level 3 in addition, Level 2 in subtraction, Level 2 in spelling, and Level 1 in sight words. And I love to hear the encouragement it gives the child. Jasper’s face lit up the first week every time he heard it say “Good Work” or “Nice job, keep it up.”

To keep things fun, the children earn one coin for every three correct answers. And then they can take those coins and buy stickers to put on a virtual screen, or even to buy fish and other supplies for a virtual fishtank.  My kiddos had no trouble saving up 10 coins to buy the fancy fish. And feeding the fish is always fun.

After about 2 months of use, and at a low cost of just 99 cents on my iphone, I can say this app is the best I’ve seen yet. I would readily recommend to other parents.

I’d be interested if any of you had any app recommendations?

Laurel Falls and Homesteading

Our last day in the Smoky Mountains was Saturday and was spent: in the morning hiking to Laurel Falls and in the afternoon visiting a local family homestead.

My sister Lynn and her son Gabriel joined us for the day of adventure.

Although the head of Laurel Falls Trail was just about 12 miles down the road, the trip was quite lengthy because almost 7 of those miles was down a dirt road in the Natahala National Forest. It ended up taking about 40 minutes to drive there.

The trail hike was a little muddy for the small feet and legs in our group, but we all managed. And once we got to the falls it was tricky to get close, especially with young children. Jasper tired out on this hike. He was ready to be carried on the way back. And the baby loved the sights. She waited until after we saw everything before she passed out. It was enjoyable, but I definitely prefered Rufus Morgan Falls. If you only have time to see one of the falls in this area, go to Rufus Morgan.

After some lunch we headed to a local home to see the animals they raise for meat.  There were turkeys, chickens, ducks, sheep, and cows. Just recently they had purchased two baby calves that they will raise until the fall for beef. We all had the opportunity to feed the calves some raw cow’s milk. It was really a treat and I was thankful it worked out that it was feeding time while we were there. Even our 1-year-old foster son loved it. He stood there for 5-10 mintues feeding that calf. We can’t say thank you enough to our friend that arranged the visit, and the family that opened their home to us that afternoon. Thank you!

We are back home now in Florida. I think my children will always connect in their minds the Smoky Mountains with farms, hikes, and waterfalls….but I know they had a good time. They told me last night how glad they were to go, and also how thankful they are to be home.

Oh, and two more quick comments about the photos you are about to see. My sister made that adorable baby hat – I love it!  And Thomas didn’t really stack those rocks, they were there when we arrived. =) He was trying to be funny.

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Rufus Morgan Falls

We had a blast hiking to Rufus Morgan Falls on Friday. Starting out was a little tricky–a search for the road name had no result on our iphone map–but using a map in a book I bought on NC waterfalls more than a decade ago in a used bookstore (North Carolina Waterfalls) we made it without a wrong turn. The Rufus Morgan Trail is located off of Forest Service Road 388 (2 miles down a gravel road) in the Natahala National Forest.

The hike to the falls is a total of .5 mile, and not that difficult. There are several rocky places that have to be crossed, mostly stones across a river, but even Jasper and Petra (who are 3 and 4 years old, respectively) made it up and down the trail without a hitch. We had to hold Jasper’s hand at a couple areas, but that had to do more with the length of his legs than anything. Admittedly, our children are a little bit more “active/hyper” than most children, but in general I would expect any child over the age of four could make it safely without complaint. And Thomas carried our 1 year old up the mountain, while our 3 month old stayed with grandma at the house.

The falls are absolutely beautiful. The first cascading falls looks much like a water slide flowing about 30 foot down a rock, but the main falls cascades over 70 feet down. The trail takes you right to the edge of the falls. We all loved it. Even our 1-year-old was whooping and hollering over the sights on the hike. It was well worth the trip and time. It was so well enjoyed by all, there was not even the slightest complaint from any of our three young children. And the next day there was a request by all for more hikes and waterfalls.

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Day 4 – Yellow Branch Pottery and Cheese

We traveled north to Robbinsville, NC to visit Yellow Branch Pottery and Cheese. This is a fabulous, small pottery store. The owner gave our family a pottery demonstration; the children had never seen anything like it. Then we traveled up the road a short way for a visit with the cows and calves. The 2 month old bull was adorable. Thomas and I were full of questions about homesteading and the owners were very kind and spent time answering our many, random questions. If you stop by be sure to try the basil cheese – I love it.

For lunch we were thrilled to find a Bojangles in Bryson City. Oh, how we miss Bojangles living in Florida. And then we hit a nice, large park for the kids in Franklin later that day.

Dinner with friends and family.

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Franklin, NC – Day 2

We enjoyed our first full day in Franklin, NC by visiting a small local farm that had a herd of goats. We were especially excited about seeing a several kids, including one that was just 2 days old. It was so very nice of the owner to open her doors for a small personal tour just for us.  The children also LOVED the shetland pony. And we saw a cute baby rabbit. But the best part was watching two baby kids call for their mama – and see their mama come running for them. It really hit home with the children just how important mama’s are to all animals.

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