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Start Your 365 Day Family Fun Challenge

By: Dan Reiner
fun hula hoop family activity in the park

If you’re a virtual school or homeschool family, you’ve already taken a huge step toward spending quality time together as a family. Why not take an enjoyable next step and make a “365 days of family fun” pledge? That’s what one Connections Academy family started in 2011—and completed successfully in June 2012—with great results!

Inspired by her neighbor, Alana Greene of Buford, Georgia, challenged her husband and four children, ages 8 to 12, to join her in doing something fun and new every day for a year. With the flexibility of online education, the family could schedule schoolwork around community events, day trips, and other family outings. As they shared activities, laughter, and learning, the “Greene Team” reinforced their close relationships and built a congenial spirit of teamwork within their family.

Visit the Greene family blog, and you’ll see that while most of their ideas were free or low cost, the fun and memories they created were priceless. Here are some general ideas to help you and your kids start brainstorming your own unique and creative activities for family fun!

  1. Get active and get outdoors. The Greene Team roller skated, scootered, swam, hiked, danced, and Hula-Hooped their way through the year. Your family might prefer bowling, putt-putt golf, tennis, basketball, jumping rope, or flashlight tag. Keep in mind that many community and recreation centers offer free or low-cost ways to learn new sports and fitness activities. You can also find creative ideas for outdoor activities on Pinterest....

Brain Foods

By: Robin Miller

Need a brain boost? How about the kids? You can supercharge everyone’s concentration and memory just by choosing the right foods. The power is in your hands, and on your plate.

Here’s the skinny. What you eat directly affects your brain. Studies show that eating certain foods can boost your mood, your IQ (whoopee!), and your memory, while keeping your mind more stable. Who doesn’t want that?! And, I don’t know one single parent who wouldn’t want that for their kids—the ability to solve problems more quickly and easily, improved concentration and memory, and better coordination and balance.mom with two daughters holding a handful of berries

So what are these magical munchies? It comes down to three key things: neurotransmitters, vitamins and minerals, and fats.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry information in the brain. They are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein that are also found in meat, fish, and dairy. The three key neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin. Acetylcholine helps with memory and muscle movement, and is found in egg yolks, peanuts, wheat germ, meat, fish, dairy, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Dopamine is involved in movement, attention, and learning, and is found in meat, dairy, fish, beans, nuts, and soy. Studies show that the dopamine from just 3-4 ounces of protein will help you feel energized and alert (how about that at 2:00 p.m.?!). Serotonin affects mood and appetite, and is found in pasta; starchy vegetables like corn, peas, and potatoes; and whole-grain cereals and breads.

Vitamins and minerals are also ...

BEWARE of Forwarded Recipes!

By: Carrie Jean Ross

Looking for a fun way to warm up a winter virtual school day?  Me too!  I love getting forwarded emails filled with suggestions. I'm almost always ready to try something at least once. 

It was only natural that when I received an email about making homemade popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag, I was enticed by the promise of a wonderful, inexpensive, different, simple, nutritious snack being ready in a minute (be still my heart)!  It also gives my daughter and I the opportunity to use all those great reasoning skills she's learning in her courses.

bag of popcorn in microwave

I did a search for "brown paper bag popcorn" and found many people that said making popcorn in a brown paper bag would work just fine, there are even some references to it on some well known cooking sites.  Some of the directions given suggested stapling the bag shut  so that the popcorn doesn't pop out while microwaving.  I had some lunch bags and popcorn kernels and decided to give it a try. 

Suddenly I started thinking about whether or not a staple in the microwave was a good idea.   So, once again I headed back to my trusty search engine and rethought the questions that I was typing in.  Instead of searching for "brown paper bag popcorn", I searched for "microwave food containers safety". This second search led me in a whole new direction!

It wasn't the popcorn or the microwave that could be a problem, it was the brown paper bag! 

The Popcorn Board explains on their Web site

"Plain and/or recycled papers ...

Hot Breakfast in a Hurry

By: Robin Miller

In a breakfast rut? Got the cold cereal blues? Or do you dole out breakfast bars like a Vegas card dealer? Never fear – I’m here to shake things up!!

Robin Miller, Virtual Learning Connections BloggerWhole grain cereals and low-sugar breakfast bars offer a bounty of nutrients, but nothing screams COMFORT more than a hot breakfast on a chilly morning. Problem is, most people think a hot morning meal means setting the alarm 30 minutes earlier. Not so! And breakfast doesn’t have to be traditional either. I think outside the box for ALL meals. I serve eggs dishes for dinner and dinner meals in the morning. Just because it’s 6:00 A.M. doesn’t mean I’m hungry for waffles. Why not have chicken egg rolls with leftover chicken from last night? Put shredded chicken in a flour tortilla with salsa and shredded cheese, roll it up, zap it in the microwave for 20 seconds and you’ve got a hot, hand-held breakfast! You can also assemble the egg rolls the night before, wrap them in plastic wrap and in the morning, just micro-and-go! A few more ideas to inspire you…

Be Creative: Don’t relegate pasta to P.M. meals. Toss whole wheat pasta with cubed melon, sliced strawberries, blueberries, red grapes, and low-fat yogurt for the ultimate fruit-pasta salad. Add fresh mint or cinnamon for a twist.

Serve “Snacks” for Breakfast: And choose what you crave: some days you want salty, other days a sweet treat is in order. Some fabulous ideas:

  • Oat bran pretzels dunked in peanut butter ...

Quick School Snack Prep

By: Carrie Jean Ross

I admit it.  I love snack time during the day—even more than my kids do!   To me, there is nothing better than a snack that is already made and requires nothing more than to open the door of the fridge, reach in and hand it out.  

tomorrows snacks ready to go

Here's a quick tip to help prepare healthy school day snacks while you prepare dinner the night before.

Next time you are chopping up vegetables or cheese for supper, dice up a few extra and toss them in a plastic bag.   As you can see in the photo, we had green pepper stew for supper, (brown a pound of hamburger, slice an onion and a few green peppers, chop up a couple of tomatoes, top with grated cheese and voila! dinner).  After I cleaned and sliced the peppers I put a few pieces in a plastic bag.  Next I cut off a few chunks of cheese and tossed those in another plastic bag.

Now you are ready for that quick pick-me-up snack the next day.

Snack happy & I'll see you online!

Healthy Lunches for Home or On the Go

By: Robin Miller

Robin Miller and FamilyRobin Miller here! As a quick introduction, I’m host of Food Network’s Quick Fix Meals, a cookbook author (“Robin Rescues Dinner” is my latest book!) and a VERY busy mom of two ENERGETIC boys, Kyle (7) and Luke (6). I am excited to announce that I’ll be contributing periodically to Virtual Learning Connections – this is my first blog and I’m thrilled to share it with you. This is especially important to me because people stop me every day (whether I’m at home or traveling for my TV shows and book tours) to ask important questions about home-cooked meals and nutrition. How can we pull it all together and make it easy, fun and nutritious? Answering those very questions is my goal with this blog! I want you to find the answers you’re looking for on this site each time I post my thoughts, tips, recipes, strategies, and so on. Plus, I’ll be answering a few questions each time I blog – after I post – so I can TRULY reach out to meet your individual needs and help with your busy lives as you create an exceptional educational experience for your children from home!

Robin Miller - Blogger for Virtual Learning ConnectionsWe’ve memorized the mantra: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Yes, our first nosh is important, but what about lunch? Let’s face it, breakfast is often the most “routine” meal, where we consume the SAME foods every day. Lunch is different. By midday, we’ve already taxed our bodies and brains and we need ...

How to Keep Learning Alive in December

By: Carrie Jean Ross

This is the time of year for family fun and togetherness, for gathering to celebrate annual family traditions and seasonal activities. It can also be a great time for parents to keep learning alive at home, whether on the weekend, or during kids’ winter break from school.  The key is to make it fun, so kids will be learning even when school’s out! Each day this week I will list some “teachable moments” for families to enjoy!

Cooking together offers teachable moments
  • Baking Cookies:  When cooking or baking, read an age-appropriate recipe together and write an ingredient shopping list. You can look up culinary words in the dictionary (reading, writing, vocabulary). Visit the supermarket and figure out how much the recipe will cost to make (math skill). Prepare the recipe—measuring, counting, pouring, sifting, and sorting target math and fine motor skills. Various cooking techniques, like boiling, even offer an opportunity for a science lesson.
  • Shopping:  Ask your children to help you count the number of recipients on your family’s gift list. Brainstorm creative gift ideas, especially for your children’s teachers. While at the store, ask your child to count the number of items in your basket, or other details like, what color is this? Which is the biggest item? Which looks the heaviest? How many people are left on our shopping list? If you are comfortable discussing prices or budgets with your child, you can also encourage your child to keep running tallies of spending and budget remaining.

Sandra Lee Shares Money-Saving Tips!

By: Sandra Lee

A message from Carrie Jean:

Juggling Learning Coach responsibilities with trying to get your kids to eat healthy meals without spending a fortune can be challenging. So I'm sure all you parents will appreciate some tips and tricks from the "cooking elite"Sandra Lee Money Saving Slow Cooking Book regarding how to get meals on the table for less moolah!

I am so excited to announce that Sandra Lee from the Food Network, who developed the Semi-Homemade concept to make our lives easier in the kitchen, is sharing her top money-saving tips with us!  Sandra also will be contributing some delicious easy recipes and other great info soon so be sure to subscribe to our blog so you don't miss any of it!  Please feel free to also share your own money-saving tips in a comment!

Sandra, take it away...


You don't have to spend hours in the kitchen—or a fortune in the supermarket—to put a nutritious meal on the table. You just have to make good choices and read food labels.

  • One tip is to swap when you shop and replace full-fat milks, cheeses, mayonnaise, dressings, bread and crackers with lighter versions. Eat light and lighten your wallet! For example, Dairy:
    Milk 1 cup 24 cents vs. 1 cup light cream 96 cents vs. 1 cup heavy cream $1.52
  • Keep track of sale times. Top name brand items go on sale the first of the month, when many people have more money in their pockets. At the end of the month, when people have less money, the store ...