Welcome to Paula's Preschool and Kindergarten! My class blog is the place I share information about some of the fun learning activities we are doing at school. I hope to provide parents with insight into what we are doing, and why, and to share ideas with other early childhood educators. Please don't use the photos or text of this blog without permission, but please do use any ideas you find useful. Thank you for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How to Roast a Pumpkin... and what to do with it

It is no secret that I LOVE pumpkins.  I've blogged about them many times, and cooked with them many more than that.  My students have helped me choose pumpkins at the market, taken photos with them, done art and sensory activities with them, cooked them, made muffins, pies, bread with them, grown them, roasted the seeds, learned about their life cycle, and over the last 10 years, eaten hundreds of pounds of pumpkin.  I REALLY like pumpkins!

What a surprise to realize that a lot of people don't know how easy it is to cook your own pumpkins, or how much sense it makes financially.  Today I want to show you!

Step 1: Procure pumpkin.  I got this beauty at my local Farmers' Market last Sunday.
Step 2: Cut it in half.  I learned the hard way that trying to peel a pumpkin is worse than herding cats.  Trust me, the flesh will come out much easier after it is baked!
Step 3: Remove the stringy bits and seeds.  I like to keep the seeds for roasting - they are delicious, and you are already going to have the oven going - you may as well have a yummy salty snack while you are waiting for the rest of the pumpkin to cook.  Which reminds me, turn on the oven to 350*.

Put the prepared pumpkin halves in an oven safe container that has sides - most pumpkins will release a fair amount of juice while cooking.  Here are my pumpkin seeds washed, and soaking in salted water.  You can leave them soaking for a few hours before cooking, or if you are impatient, skip the soaking.  Use spray oil on a cookie sheet so they don't stick, sprinkle them with salt, and put them in the oven.
I was really surprised that this particular batch took 30 minutes to cook through - thinner seeds may take as little as 10 minutes.  The seeds of every pumpkin are different, so you need to check on your roasting seeds every 10 minutes or so, and pull them out when you are satisfied with them.  This is the darkest I've ever roasted them (on purpose) and they were really good!
Let these cool a little, and then pop some in your mouth - you can eat them whole, even the seed coat.  If you have some left, let them cool completely and then store in a sealed container.  We didn't have any left. 

Here's the cooked pumpkin - this particular one was very dense, and cooked for 100 minutes.  I tested with a fork every 15 minutes after the first hour.  The pumpkin is done when the fork goes in easily - you want the flesh to be nice and soft.
Scrape the soft flesh right out of the skin with a spoon, and put it in a blender or food processor.  You may need to add a little of the juice that has separated from the pumpkin, depending on your processor.  If it is still hot when you do it, please be extra careful, only fill the blender/processor half way, leave a small opening for steam to escape, and lay a towel over the top of it before you blend.  You do not want to be splashed by hot pumpkin!  Pour the pureed flesh into storage containers.
I used plastic containers that lunch meat was packaged in, they're a handy dandy 2 cups size, and stack nicely to refrigerate or freeze.  I let them cool on top of ice packs on my counter until they are cool enough to go in the refrigerator.   That's all there is to it!

Your pumpkin puree will be a thinner consistency than what you get from a can of pumpkin, because you've retained all the juices.  You may need to adjust your recipes accordingly. 

This particular pumpkin cooked up to a lovely golden yellow - again, each type of pumpkin is different.  Experiment to find which variety you like best, and which ones have the nicest seeds.  I ended up with 8 cups of cooked pumpkin, as this was a medium sized pumpkin.  I've had large pumpkins yield over 25 cups before - so I freeze what I don't need immediately.  Use it within 6 months.

So why bother eating pumpkin anyway?  It seems like a lot of work, spending 2 hours in the kitchen to roast and process it, is it worth it?  I think so!  The cost per cup is much less than if you bought a can at the grocery store, and it is fresher.  You may even know the farmer that grew your pumpkin.  (I'm taking the grower some of the muffins on Sunday, and maybe getting another pumpkin.) 

Nutritionally, pumpkin is phenomenal!  According to SELFNutritionData, each cup of pumpkin has 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 19% of your daily vitamin C needs, and 245% of your daily vitamin A!

My favorite way to eat pumpkin is in my pumpkin gingerbread muffins.  I started, long ago, with a recipe I found on-line, and have tweaked and changed it until it's truly my own recipe.  I have people beg me for these.  Warning - they are hard to resist!

Pumpkin gingerbread muffins
2  cups sugar                    1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce           4 eggs         
***3 cups pumpkin puree (homemade)
2 tsp ground ginger           1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon                  1 tsp cloves
2 cups white flour              1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda              1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

***If using canned pumpkin, add 2/3 cup of water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees  F.  Grease 2 muffin pans (recipe makes 60 mini muffin, or 30 regular).
In a large mixing bowl combine sugar, oil and eggs, beat until smooth.  Add water, pumpkin, and spices, stir.
In another bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add dry ingredients to the pumpkin mix and combine.  Pour into muffin tins and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes (12 minutes for mini muffins).
Even although this makes a huge batch, they remain incredibly moist and fresh for about 4 days - if you can resist that long.  They also freeze well. 

Happy fall everyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Whoo-Whoo Loves Owls?

Owl imagery seems to be everywhere lately - from clothing to classrooms, home decor to Harry Potter movies.  Perhaps that's where it all started, but regardless, they are pretty fascinating creatures!

I've been thinking (and creating) about owls a LOT lately.  I was even lucky enough to find an owl pellet in my new backyard recently- totally cool!  I've been looking back through my photos for a couple of days, and cannot find (yet) photos of our owls crafts.  I do however have a lot of owl activities on my owls pinterest board, if you are looking for crafts.

I thought I'd start with a freebie, because really, who doesn't like free things?!  This packet includes color by number owl puzzles for addition and for subtraction, and an ordering by size page too.
If your kids love it, I have a larger pack available too.  Here's an example of what's included:

Have you ever worked in a school that didn't allow a Halloween theme?  Bats, owls and spiders make a nice alternative to witches and ghosts if you do!  This set has AB, ABC, AAB and ABB patterns made with bats and owls.  There are 12 pattern strips for students to extend, and for each pattern type I also included a worksheet  to continue patterns, and a make-your-own pattern page to engage higher level thinking skills.

For students who are already fairly fluent readers - I aimed for 2nd to 3rd grade, but of course, there are always students whose reading level is higher or lower - I wrote a non-fiction book about owls, which includes a reading comprehension page.  I learned so many cool things about owls while I was researching this project - like that different owls nest in very different places, from trees and on buildings, to nests on the ground, and even in borrows!  I love connecting different disciplines, like science and reading!

Last fall I worked on some fun owl hundreds charts mystery pictures, and created two different sets: an early primary number recognition set and a set that requires students to solve addition, subtraction andmultiplication problems.

The last owl activity I have for you today is a set of 4 telling time foldergames.
This is the game for time to the half hour.  There are also games for time to the hour, to the hour and half hour, and to the quarter hour.

Don't you love owls?

I've also linked up this week with
  Teaching Blog Addict Freebie Downloads
I posted my Owls Freebie - and there are LOTS of other cool goodies.  I hope you'll go check it out!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Teaching children to wash their hands

Children are young scientists, true hands-on learners.  Those little hands go everywhere!

We know one of the best ways to stay healthy is to wash our hands properly, but as anyone who has ever had/seen/known/been a child knows, children don't always do it well!  As an early childhood teacher, I've heard my share of, "they look clean to me".

I think that's the problem for a lot of kiddos.  Unless they can see something on their hands that they personally consider gross, they look "clean enough".  This makes sense in a way, children are concrete thinkers and learners.  If we want them to wash off invisible germs, we have to find a way to make them concrete for the children.

Several years ago I came up with a solution - glitter paint!  I explained to my students that germs are a lot like glitter: very very small, and very, very sticky.  I put a tiny squirt of glitter paint into their hands, and have them rub it in.
Then we hug each other, pass a few toys around - do all the normal things that children do.  After a couple of minutes, we look for glitter.  It's invariably on everything we touched, and lots of things we don't even remember touching: the carpet, our clothes, the toys, our faces.  That stuff gets around!

Seeing that glitter (and by extension germs) spread really easily is a good start, but next we have to learn how to get rid of it!

I model washing my hands super fast, just a quick splash under the faucet, and then we look at my hands.  Oh dear!  Glitter (and germs!) everywhere still!  I try again with soap but not much rubbing.  Again, there's still glitter all over my hands.

At this point the kiddos can usually tell me that I need to use soap, rub it all over my hands, and rinse well.  Sometimes we count to 20 (20 seconds is the recommended handwashing time), and sometimes we sing the Happy Birthday song twice.  When we look at my hands again, there's still glitter left, but not much.  I challenge the children to see how much glitter they can wash off, and they get busy!
Check it out, this little guy is really rubbing his hands together in the water!  So what's the result?

Clean hands!  (I love how the boy in the back is really looking at his hands to see how well he did!)

I recently had 2 former parents mention that their children take forever to wash their hands, counting outloud to 20 of all things.  Their children just started third grade.  It's been at least 3 years since they did this activity with me.  I think it stuck!