DIY Suet Cakes

Note: This post was originally published back in 2011. With the temperatures beginning to dip and lots of migratory birds making their way to winter homes it is the perfect time to cook up something for our feathered friends! I am working on a peanut free recipe so those with nut allergies can participate!

We just read "The Big Snow" by Elmer Hader and (if possible) Claire has become even more obsessed with birds. Having lots of wintry weather here like in the story, it was the perfect time to provide some sustenance to our feathered friends. Claire said I looked just like the old lady in the story when I through the remnants of the suet cakes in the, thanks sweetie.

I house all sorts of experiments in my fridge (both intentional and unintentional, green shrimp, anyone?) but this hodgepodge of lard, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, cheese and bird seed was a success, both in "cutifying" our backyard and keeping my three year old occupied. If birds could talk I'm sure they would be raving about this recipe, our feeding stations were swarming with visitors and the birdie cakes were the hottest thing there.

There are lots of tutorials for DIY bird suet on the web but I liked this one for two reasons, I had the ingredients on hand and the recipe came from reputed wildlife organization so I figured we wouldn't accidentally harm any wildlife.

The cast of characters, do NOT melt the lard. 

There are no ingredient ratios, so I randomly lopped everything into the bowl. The basic goal is to get everything to gel together in a firm enough package to mold, the freezer will take care of the rest. I wasn't sure how birds felt about Parmesan cheese so there's only a bit of that.

This is a kid friendly recipe, nothing to heat. I highly recommend limiting the distance from jar to bowl, or pouring the seed in. I was trying to make this project take up time on a cold morning and while Claire is very careful, there was still scattered seed from her scooping the seed little by little. Nothing intentional, but those little seeds kept rolling right off the spoon...maybe a scoop would work better?

 We tried a few different mixing options, of course hands won out. I had to dig in and help at this point because I intentionally left the lard pretty firm. We packed (squished might be a better description) the suet into cookie cutters, mini muffin tins and tupperware containers then froze for about 3 hours. I brought the tray of mini muffin bird cakes outsides and set them right in the snow with a cover to protect them from the squirrels. Easy peasy.

I know everyone else who blogged this project put little straws in to allow string to be passed through a hole after the were frozen. I found it just as effective to load a bit of the suet into the container and then have Claire put some yarn (birds love pink, it's a fact) in the center before loading the rest of the suet in. It might not be as cute, but we liked it just fine. The final product:


Thinking about BIG numbers with little kids

How Much? How long? How many? Answering ONE MILLION questions is par for the course with a 5 year old.

The questions come quickly, especially in the car, where I’m captive and nothing seems to make Claire happier than rambling on about all those things she wonders about.  

Claire: How long until I start Kindergarten?

Me: In September. It’s about 3 months away.

Claire: When will that be?

Me: About 90 days. 90 sleeps.

Claire: Ok.

[she counts to 90 methodically, seeming to count 14 twice because the “th” sound is a challenging one. The thirties are another interesting bump along the way; I work hard not to smile…]

I want to do it faster Mommy. How can I count it faster?

Me: Count to ten 9 times.

Claire: [racing through 1-10 in an unintelligible blur, but one that seems to satisfy her]. What about how many minutes and hours? Can you add them all up? Would it be like a million? Or more? What IS a million? 

Good of you to ask young grasshopper.

As luck would have it, I had checked out a book from the library about just that.

How Many Jelly Beans? By Andrew Menotti
Check it out on Amazon 

There are lots of counting books available for children, but many stop at 10 or 20 or even 100. Estimation, especially visual estimation is so valued in mathematics curriculums but it’s hard to find concrete examples of the larger numbers. Thank you Andrea Menotti bequeathing kids this book of BIG numbers. The story was sweet, the illustrations fantastic and the concept perfect for a math-curious kid.

Each page has simple line drawing of the main characters, but it is the brightly drawn jellybeans that take center stage as siblings Emma and Aiden decide just how many jellybeans is too many. 10? 20? 10,000? On and on to ONE MILLION.

Hoarder tendencies aside, my daughter claimed about 1,000 would be great, roughly three a day.

Seeing one million of something was impressive to even us adults. I mean, think about it. How much IS one million? Have you actually seen one million of anything? Claire poured over the illustrations wondering if there were indeed one million jellybeans on the huge gatefold conclusion page.

And my final answer, the one that seemed to satisfy my ever questioning 5 year old in regards to when Kindergarten is starting?

Corn. That’s right. Corn.

I showed her the cornfield at the end of our road and sounding quite wise, I informed her that the corn would be ready for harvest when she is ready for Kindergarten. Considering my daughter is going to be starting school about 33 minutes from downtown NYC I find this answer equal parts hilarious and sage-like.

I love finding math and literature connections - share favorite picture books related to math, number sense and counting in the comments.


Tech Tuesday - A Few Favorite iPad Apps

Long ago, I surrendered to the fact that my iPad is "our" iPad. Good or bad, immersion in technology is part of life today and sorting through the muck is a teachable moment. I wanted to share a few of my favorite apps, many of them we enjoy as a family - especially Toontastic (more on that later).

With iPads becoming so prevalent in early elementary classrooms, I've been excited to see engaging apps that go beyond the rote drill games seen in previous years. Here is a sampling of what is installed on my iPad at the moment:


Finally! A math program without a flashcard feel to it. I love puzzles and those looking for an excellent edtech infusion for their math program should check this one out. This is a really engaging logic puzzler game. The automatic difficulty progression works well, but there are no hints which might frustrate some kids. The flowers placed in your garden as rewards are kind of hokey - but in a good way, Claire eats it up! The completed number sentence/equation flashes on screen as the operation is complete but is not an integral part of the experience. Simple concept, elegant execution. I really like this application.

(3 - 1 + 3 = 5) This is a screenshot from one of the first levels


It's not often I cough up money for an app, but the 6 month subscription I purchased for full access to all Reading Rainbow's books and videos has been worth every cent. Claire loves being read to and has a voracious appetite for new material. With literally hundreds of books in this app, neither of us have grown tired of it. I appreciate the quality of books RR has chosen to feature, it is a well curated collection with diverse illustration styles and topics.

The interface is fantastic, there are different "islands" to fly in your hot air balloon each featuring a different genre of books. I grew up watching Reading Rainbow on PBS and this is a wonderful crossover to a new platform...but as LaVar would say:

"Don't take my word for it!"


I cannot get enough of this app. If I was back in the classroom I would have this program in the hands of each and every one of my students. Storytelling is just the tip of the iceberg here - which the capability to animate and narrate a multitude of characters and places (including hand-drawn creations) this app has possibilities outside the realm of language arts. The only thing missing is the capability to export files. Boohoo!

A few others that I'll write reviews for in the coming days: Leo's Pad, MOMA Art Lab, Umi Numbers and Bob Books Magic. Happy "Apping!"


From the Archives: Nesting Material Dispenser for Spring Birding

This post was originally published in 2011, we've recreated it every year since. Enjoy scouting for colorful nests the birds have made with your materials!  -Regina @ ChalkinMyPocket


Some of the most spoiled birds in the northeast live right in my backyard. During the past few months we’ve faithfully provided gourmet food , braving ice and snow to access the feeding station. Claire spends hours snug in her pajamas gazing out the living room window laughing at the antics of the tree clinging nuthatches and the clever tufted titmouse. You'd be hard pressed to find happier more loved birds.


Today, we are welcoming spring with homemade nesting material dispensers! I hope this will entice the birds to stick around through our gardening season eating bugs and laying eggs (hopefully where we can watch the chicks hatch).


Celebrating Math with Children - Happy Pi Day!

flickr user mag3737, Tom Magliery

On a day where so many are celebrating one of the most recognizable math mathematical symbols out there - I wanted to take a second to point some of you in the Northeast to a new children's museum celebrating math in New York City. 

Don't picture galleries of ancient slide rules and walls filled with retired models of TI calculators (my friends and I used to exchange notes on ours during math class, sorry Mrs. Sealock), the reality of MoMath is far more exciting.

Here's a video from CBS all about the museum:

And in case you were wondering, my favorite math experience was coursework in college in Discrete Math. All those P's and Q's and logic tables just "clicked" with me. How about you?


Winter Woods Trek

Hooray for snow! Just enough snow fell that we were able to enjoy its beauty without grumbling about cold toes and plowing woes.

Above is a picture out our living room window of our "frog pond." Remember the tadpoles we watched develop in the spring? They are now sound asleep in the muck at the bottom of the pond, I'm sure they're enjoying their long nap!