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Perhaps one of the best parts of Spring weather is all of the wildflowers blooming. We naturally are outdoors more, and so I always look for ways to bridge the natural world in my children’s play and learning. This season we have studied flower parts, collected flowers, planted wildflowers, dried wildflowers, and more recently made Sun Art. I thought I would write down a few ideas to share, activities that are versatile for ages and locale. I also listed a few of our favorite flower books to complement our learning. Happy Spring!

1. Dissect a Flower / Wildflowers can be difficult for this since the flower parts are often small and more difficult to identify. We found that Lilies worked best since their parts were easier for young ones (and adults) to identify. Consider gluing/taping and labeling the parts to a sheet of paper as you identify them for review. Microscopes aren’t necessary for this activity, but they are a special addition for older children to see small parts up close. This sturdy, American-made Magiscope is our favorite, if you’re looking for future gift ideas for your homeschool. ;)

2. Create Sun Art / This activity always turns out beautifully, and is simple enough for preschoolers to enjoy. I purchased this Sun Art paper, although a smaller size would work, too. Consider cutting the larger sheets to create bookmarks or even layer over cardstock for special cards. The children collect the flowers and arrange them indoors on the blue paper, out of the sun light. When they are ready, they take the paper to the sun and lay a piece of acrylic, the set arrive with, over the top. Press down firmly to prevent shadows, and leave it in the sunlight for a few minutes until the paper turns white. Rinse the paper under water for a minute and let it dry. All Done!

3. Flower Scavenger Hunt / Print a paper with local wildflowers and set out on a walk around the neighborhood or in a nature preserve to see how many you can find. See how many you all can name without looking it up.

4. Press Wildflowers / I loved doing this as a child, and it only works if you’re picking in an area where it’s allowed. Spread and wrap a handful of blooms on a paper towel. Press between the pages of a book.  Stack heavy books on top and leave for a few days, until the flowers are completely dry.

5. Wildflower Memory Game / Gather several different wildflowers from one area. Spread out across the table, covering each different flower with a cloth. Remove the cloth and let the children study the flower for a 30 seconds to a minute, then cover again. Send them into the field to see if they can remember which flowers were on the table. For young children, choose five flowers. For older children, choose up to 10 different flowers. My kids love this one!

6. Make Nature Faces / Cut a piece of cardboard or brown paper bag in an oval shape. Have the children collect plants and flowers to make facial features for the oval. Glue them to the board and name their nature faces to play with or hang on the wall.

7. Create Flower Crowns / Of course, flower crowns can be beautifully elaborate and complex, but they needn’t be for child play. Look for long grasses or weeds to tie or braid together. Tie flowers to the mix and wear for outdoor pretend play.

8. Plant Wildflowers / For all the activities that require picking wildflowers, here’s an opportunity to give back. Purchase seeds that will grow well in your area and create a personal garden, or spread them along empty fields and highways for the public to enjoy.

9. Dry Wildflowers and Herbs / Gather a small bunch of favorite flowers or herbs and tie them together. Hang them in an arid area of your home, near a door or window that often open, and leave them for a couple of weeks until completely dried. Cu  herbs to use in the kitchen, or hang the wildflowers in a bedroom.

10. Create a Wildflower Journal / Take photos, dry-press, or illustrate wildflowers you discover. Help your children label their common and scientific names and location. Add new pages each time you go for a nature walk or even for the next season.

11. Make Your Own Wildflower Nomenclature Cards / Nomenclature or three-part cards are a Montessori memory and learning tool, where three separate card parts are matched together. The top part is the largest with a photo of the flower, the next part has the name of the flower, the third part a description (better for older children). Create your own local nomenclature cards by taking images of flowers you discover during nature activities or play. Learn about the flower together with your children, and help them create the name card and description card for matching and memory work.

12. Play Wildflower Board Games / Make your own Bingo or memory game with photos or try this one.

13. Gift Wildflower Seed Packets / Share the gift of Spring blooms with friends and neighbors. Purchase wildflowers seeds in bulk, and add a spoonful to these mini-envelopes. Let your children stamp a wildflower on the front.

14. Grow Flowers from Seeded Paper / What a magical experiment for young children. This is best matched with beloved Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed.

15. Color Previously Illustrated Wildflowers / This vintage styled coloring book has over 44 favorite, full-page wildflowers with information about each for your little artists. Plop down on a blanket with them and color together. Find out if any are local to your area.

FAVORITE LITERATURE + BOTANY RESOURCES  FOR YOUNG CHILDREN TO ADULTS

Miss Rumphius | This is one of my favorite books, and we read again and again each time Spring arrives. It prompts questions of what each of us are doing to make the world more beautiful.

Nature Anatomy | The spine on this book is worn thin with use and reference and is still my children’s favorite. It covers many topics lightly with beautiful illustrations, a perfect resource for wetting little appetites.

Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt | This book is larger in theme than flowers, but I appreciate how it shows the connection between the life below and above the earth’s surface, and the relational connection of the family in the garden. Plus, the illustrations are just lovely.

A Seed is Sleepy | Beautifully illustrated and labeled like each of Dainna Aston’s books, this one poetically tells the power and life of a seed.

Play the Forest School Way | This is another favorite reference for playful activities outdoors. I adapted two of the activities above from this book, and I love that they label each activity with age-appropriateness.

The Tiny Seed | Eric Carle. Need I say more? This one is perfect for exploring the way seeds travel and grow with early learners, and new copies arrive with seeded paper for you to plant and experiment with at home!

Planting a Rainbow |  This one is another perfect read with littles to introduce flower names, color, and seed bulbs.

The Curious Garden  | Peter Brown is another favorite author here. My oldest received this one as a gift several years ago, because he and the main character share a name, but I love this story for so many reasons. It models the importance of caring for the earth, the power of plant life to beautify spaces and uplift the human spirit, and the impact of even the smallest actions to create change.

The Secret Garden (I love this collector’s edition) | This is a wonderful read aloud or shared read with older children, exploring ideas about growing gardens both literally and metaphorically.

How to Be a Wildflower  | Filled with poetic quotes and ideas, this beautifully illustrated field guide is for older children and adults both to enjoy!

Botanicum | This one is currently on our wishlist, but we’ve enjoyed Animalium so much, I know we’d love the illustrations and descriptions here, too.

The Gardener | Like The Curious Garden, this introduces the contrast of urban and country settings, and the power of natural life and beautiful florals to uplift the human spirit. It is also formatted with letter writing, perhaps inspiring a lost art, even in our home.

Our family has been studying the 19th century this year, and while we are only scratching the surface of events and topics, it has been incredible to read the various narratives of women before women had the right to property, work, or education. From Sacagawea to Queen Victoria to the numerous women in pioneering homesteads to slave narratives and abolitionists and women who bravely took up new roles in the Civil War, I have been moved to read so many stories of courage and compassion, of perseverance and fortitude with my children. As a parent, I hope these powerful words become descriptions of their lives one day, too.

Although books are an important way we build character in our home, it isn’t the only one. Many of the practical character lessons our children learn occur just outside our doors, where they play with friends and build forts and garden. When possible, these lessons extend when we travel and experience other parts of the world or plan outdoor excursions. Today, I am partnering with Keenshoes our family has loved for yearsto share their new Moxie line for girls, and also a few character lessons growing in our girls through outdoor play and exploration.  

There are accumulating piles of research on the benefits of outdoor living for our children’s health: Vitamin D, decreased stress and anxiety, calming for ADD/ADHD, physical exercise, and so on. Yet as a parent, I also notice the ways outdoor living and play teaches my girls something about courage and compassion, about perseverance and beauty. When they climb trees or hike long trails, when they experience new people or ideas from history, when they rove through rivers or gather wildflowers, they are developing a greater understanding and appreciation for the world around them.

Naturally, I do not know who exactly my girls will grow up to be, but I have glimpses now when I see them try something new or speak the truth clearly, when I watch them work hard at a task or serve someone when they think nobody’s watching. As Marmee noted to her girls in Little Women, “I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know they will make it a better place.” Here are a few ways giving my girls plenty of time outside is equipping them to do just that.  

Perseverance / We love to hike, especially in the spring when our Southern air is still cool. There are times, our girls grow tired before we are done, especially our youngest. These experiences are opportunities of perseverance, of continuing despite the hardship, despite knowing how much longer until we are through. To lighten the experience, we might make a game, racing to certain points or playing “I spy.” I might hand them my phone to take pictures along the way. When they finish, we always high-five and celebrate!

Courage / There are plenty of opportunities for courage in the outdoors, whether in casual tree climbing, swimming, or in learning about wildlife. One summer we camped in the mountains in Colorado, and I remember the park ranger giving us instructions about bears. One of the girls looked at me with wide eyes and asked, “Did she say bears?” When we venture into new areas together and learn about the land and wildlife, sometimes it is scary. Sometimes unknowns are scary and unpredictable, a sign for us change course. Other times, they are an opportunity for courage.

Compassion / Spending time outdoors, even simply in our backyard or growing food in our garden, cultivates a love and appreciation for the natural world, and subsequently, a longing to preserve and protect it. When we are walking and find trash in the grass or bushes, we collect it. When we garden organically, we are learning about how to take care of the earth and our bodies. When we interact with homeless on the city street, we say hello and offer them something if we can. All of these seemingly small habits are growing a deeper awareness of the world and people around us, and how we participate in caring for them.

Gratitude / Even in the youngest years, children notice bugs and leaves adults might pass by. They listen to songbirds and the rustling leaves. They enjoy animals and wildlife and playgrounds and picnics. Playing outdoors has a way of cultivating gratitude, simply by its enjoyment. When we pray together, we often thank God for pieces of nature we’ve experienced that day.

Determination / There are moments my girls spot a specific tree or boulder and are determined to conquer it. Sometimes they slip and have to start over, but I love watching them beeline for something specific to work toward. I love it even more when they find a way to help one another, by coaching steps or lending a boost.


This post is sponsored by Keen, a business our family has loved for years. All thoughts and images are my own. Always, thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep our family and this space afloat. 

 
doing_less_homeschooling-2a simple path to nature studyEach afternoon, indoors or outdoors depending on the weather, I read aloud with the kids, while they flip through nature books, illustrate and paint. We’ve always had a simple approach to our study and enjoyment of nature, beginning with simply playing [and hiking and camping] outdoors when they were young. I use the term study loosely here since we aren’t often researching Latin names or classifications of plants and animals, although my oldest three have done so more as they grow, simply from their curiosity. For now, the primary focus of this time is merely to learn to pay attention to the world around them, to observe details in the things and places we experience, and even the illustrations we notice in a book.

Children can craft their own exploration through well-illustrated books just as well as they can in the outdoors, so I try to leave a variety of well-illustrated nature books available on the table for them to thumb through whenever. Ideally, these books compliment their outdoor time, even if they aren’t exactly the same in content and timing.  Together we might talk about a certain animal or ecosystem as they pop up in our stories or research something new we find outdoors, but for the most part I encourage freedom and curiosity in their nature studies, both indoors and out. I simply ask them to choose something that interests them, sketch it as best they can, and add color. For the older ones, I encourage more labeling, but for Olive, who tends to grow frustrated that she can’t draw as well as her older siblings, I simply encourage her observation and drawing skills.

For young children, I’ve also noticed drawing is far less intimidating when sketching from a book than trying to sketch a living thing, so I also keep a variety of drawing books around to help encourage them to notice the elements of shape in illustrations. A how-to on one bird will easily translate to another. A cat might have the same shape as a fox with different details. Sketching one leaf, will help you sketch another. And so on. Notice and alter the details, I encourage.

We haven’t ever kept a nature journal in the traditional sense, although I admire those who do. For now, notebook-ing is an easier commitment and process for us. After their artwork has dried, we simply slip it into a page protector in a binder to preserve it. Naturally, their notebooks also reflect their whim––opposed to a more orderly and processed study––revealing a starfish on one page and a rabbit on the next. But I’m okay with this right now, as it fits into our day in a less stressful way, giving exposure to a variety of living things perhaps they’ll order in later years.

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For those of you interested in beautiful resources, here are some of the ones we are using and enjoying in our home, often in those afternoon table scenes I share on Instagram:

DRAWING + JOURNALING REFERENCES /

Draw Write Now series (for young children) 

Drawing With Children (teaching parents to teach their children to draw)

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling  (for older children and adults)

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You (for older children and adults) 

The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You (wonderful for cultivating simple connections to nature from home)

ILLUSTRATED BOOKS /

Nature Anatomy

Farm Anatomy

Animalium

Natural World: A Visual Compendium of Wonders from Nature

Botanicum (pre-ordered and so excited to add to our study of plant life)

Nature’s Day: Discover the World of Wonder On Your Doorstep (wonderful for younger children) 

REFERENCES FOR PARENTS

Last Child in the Woods (re-reading this now; so good)

Play the Forest School Way (a wonderful resource of playful activities with nature, geared toward ages 4-11)

Wild + Free (their monthly bundles always include a beautiful section for nature study by Kristin Rogers)

The Handbook of Nature Study (intimidating in size and text, but a great reference for older children and adults)

SUPPLIES

LYRA Rembrandt Polycolor pencils

Stockmar primary watercolors

110# cardstock paper (cheaper than watercolor paper)

1″ recycled binder 

page protectors

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When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
   but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Mary Oliver, When I Am Among the Trees

Summer is always hot and sticky in the South, and this one is proving the same. My bedroom windows face the rising sun, and on my favorite mornings I am in bed long enough to wake to it. Even then it is hot outside, but I try to make my way out of the door anyway while the light is still sleepy. We do not live among the mountains or near a cold river or the sea. But we have the morning and the evening and of course also the green trees. And that is enough to fill me with hints of gladness, and to teach me how to walk slowly and bow often, as Oliver writes. And so I take a brief walk twice a day, once to begin and the other to close it.

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Yesterday morning, while the boys finished their breakfasts and morning readings, the girls and I visited our local garden shop. We are planting new ivy for our backyard wall and also a late-season garden. Although it feels odd to be planting in the peak heat, sometimes sewing new life into the hardest circumstances sews life into the soul as well. So we walked about the shop’s property yesterday, noticing the sun-loving blooms and vines. We took refuge in the potting shed, grateful for the mid-morning shade. When we grew tired, we paused near the pond and enjoyed the sound of water running over the fountains. Beauty truly can be found in the smallest places.

As I consider the remaining summer days (and months!), I’m learning how to find joy in these types of simple moments and outings. As it turns, my children are learning the same. Of course, our favorite summer activities this time of year revolve around water, but without a backyard pool or pond or ocean, water activities need to be planned in advance for travel or with friends. The garden shop can be a place to play outdoors, to experience a variety of plant life at once, and to inspire a personal garden space. For me, it was a place to visit and be filled.


This post is in partnership with MUNY, a Brooklyn clothier creating handwoven, hand-printed clothing for women and children. Cloistered Away readers can save 25% off of anything in the 2016 line before July 15 using the code summer25. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep this space afloat. 

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We didn’t plant a spring garden this year, minus a few yukon gold potato plants (which we’ve already harvested) and a handful of herbs. The spring felt heavy with projects around our home, and I felt the need to let the soil and my management of it rest for a season. In reality, I’m a novice gardener, learning most often though trial and error (more of the latter, I’m afraid), tons of internet research, and the simple practice again and again. I hope bringing my children into the learning process will teach them something practical about botany and science. More abstractly, I want them to learn how to patiently wait and tend small beginnings, and also to cultivate life.

After opting to rest our garden space this season, my sister mentioned letting our autumn garden go to seed, a new process for our home. The children are generally familiar with the work of seeds at this point and the assortment of sizes we find at our local farm store, but we’ve never seen them grow from the vegetable plant itself. This was the perfect year to try.

Our broccoli plants were hearty this year and produced well, so we opted to begin there. For weeks the stalks extended, shooting a stray broccoli floret that if left untouched would flower with the gentlest yellow blooms. Sometimes we would eat them anyway and find them just as tender. Nibbling vegetables straight from the garden is a simple life pleasure. After a while, the plant began to make slim bean pods, like a miniature sugar snap pea or green bean. We left them on the stem to dry out right on the plant. This process took a few weeks. When we noticed the pods turn a golden straw color, it was time to collect the seeds. The boys were away that afternoon, so the girls and I enjoyed the easy task of plucking pods and emptying seeds into a bowl on our own. It was a simple task for a child of any age to enjoy. The dried pods easily pried open to release the minuscule black seeds. For simplicity, we used a bowl, and afterward I funneled the seeds into a small, air-tight glass jar which I’ll store in our pantry until the autumn planting season. Although it’s still early in the summer growing season for running to seed, I thought I’d share a few tips for any of you wanting to save your seeds later.

Collect heirloom seeds only. / Apparently, hybrid plants are often genetically programmed to be sterile after one season, so the harvested seeds may not sprout next season. If you generally plant hybrid seeds, consider trying one heirloom plant to collect seeds from next season.

Allow seeds to dry on the plant. / It can take longer for seeds to dry out after plucking, so allow the sun and air to do the work for you. Let them dry before you pick them.

Plan ahead for seed saving. / Not all plants produce seeds the first growing season. Also if I had planted a spring garden, the broccoli wouldn’t have gone to seed quick enough for us to collect. According to this article, beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers are the best plants for beginning seed savers. Since tomatoes are commonly grown in this season, here’s a helpful page on saving tomato seeds.

Be patient. / This part of the process takes just as much patience as waiting for the first fruits. I will note: it didn’t require quite as much work in the waiting.

 

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One of the greatest gifts in my thirteen years of motherhood has been friendship, having other women in my life to hash out the hard questions and celebrate the victories of this beautiful, complicated journey. I also appreciate hearing thoughts and perspectives from mothers, even when we are approaching motherhood in a different manner. It’s nice to be reminded there’s no one set path. We all have something to learn from the other. On that note, I’m glad to be joining a few other mothers each month to write and share thoughts around a single topic. The series is called Real Talk, Real Moms and today I’m joining them to discuss thoughts on education, more specifically preschool–a topic dear to me.

It may surprise some to know I never planned to homeschool. My two oldest went to a sweet preschool two times a week, and it was in my oldest son’s last preschool year, we decided to homeschool instead of sending him to kindergarten. Perhaps I feel endeared to these years because of the sharp turn in trajectory it took for our family. Or perhaps it is that we are now closing this chapter of life for our family that allows me to see the beauty and simplicity of those years. Children learn so much in those years. Their imaginations and ideas literally gape open to the world around them. Still the preschool years can be busy and overwhelming, too. The changing brain causes shifting emotions and behaviors, too. When it comes to deciding how to best prepare young ones for the grammar school years, it can be intimidating to take the responsibility on at home. Where do I begin? How do I know if they’ll be prepared to leave for school? Will this mean I homeschool forever? Will they have enough interactions with other kids? Can I really do this? Thoughts can easily spiral. It’s normal, especially for your oldest child(ren).

Yet preschool at home doesn’t mean recreating a classroom experience at home. The home and world outside it IS the classroom. As Charlotte Mason famously noted, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Homeschooling the little years isn’t simply about finding the right curriculum or creating all the right folder games or even making sure they know a certain amount of information before age five. It doesn’t mean you even need to know what to do the following year or how long you will homeschool. It simply requires you to be attentive, to be willing to step into something new alongside your child. As Mary Oliver wrote, “to pay attention, this is our greatest work.” Homeschooling in general is in many ways simply learning to pay attention. For those of you who are considering homeschooling your preschooler or kindergartener next year, here’s a few helpful lessons I’ve learned along the way, often times the hard way.

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TIPS FOR HOMESCHOOLING THE PRESCHOOL YEARS

start small / Begin with something familiar, with what you know and already naturally do in your home. Do you love making food or being outdoors or painting? Use those processes to introduce letters/sounds and numbers.

focus on your home / Social media can be inspiring and paralyzing. Don’t work to live according to other home principles, but instead open your heart and eyes to see your own. Work to establish an atmosphere of curiosity and conversation. Children want to learn in the early years. They want to satisfy curiosities and discover causal relationships. And for the most part, they love being with you.

read books often / Reading aloud to your children will not necessarily mean they will learn to read earlier, but it will develop a love for stories and expand their vocabulary. Developing a reading culture at home will create an appetite for a lifelong love of words.

play with various art materials / Purchase a variety of quality art materials for your children to use and explore mediums. Make collages from different types of paper or magazines. Draw with pastels as well as crayons and pencils.

keep a basket for busy bees / If you have multiple children or small children who love to be busy, keep a special basket for them to play with at certain times of the day. Consider wood blocks, stamps, play-dough, doodle books, needling board, a lap loom, and so on. Pull it out during read-a-loud or when you’re needing to make dinner or spend one-on-one time with another child.

observe + study your children / Become a student of your children. Watch them. How do they respond to large groups versus alone time? Do they tend to move to learn or sit still and focus? Do they have trouble holding writing utensils? Understanding who your children are and how they learn will help you parent them, whether homeschooling or not.

consider hiring help / No one said you need to do everything to be a good mother. Prioritize what’s most important and look for ways to delegate other tasks. Do you have room in your budget to hire help with cleaning or a babysitter to help run errands or play with the kids for a few hours a week? If your budget is small, consider swapping children with a close friend or asking a close relative for help.

play, play, play / Children discover so much on their own by simply playing. Allow them time to create their own play, checking in on them occasionally for safety.

choose simple materials / When I began homeschooling during these early years, all of the materials we used fit into a small antique cabinet in our dining area (maybe one square foot of interior space). I kept a stack of drawing paper, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, a reading guide, and pre-k materials from Handwriting Without Tears. We made weekly trips to the library and our local children’s museum, and I met weekly with a couple of friends to do a few simple activities, have lunch, and play.

MORE I’VE WRITTEN ON PRESCHOOL AT HOME

Other contributors to this series:

AVE Styles

Design for Mankind

The Effortless Chic

The Refined Woman

Sarah Sherman Samuel

 

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I don’t often write about specific curriculum here, mostly because I believe children and parents can thrive together in learning at home regardless of the specific tools they choose. Some homes prefer guides that offer specific directives and concrete helps, while others will find the same guides stifling or unfit. There is room for both on this journey, and there is certainly not a right or wrong way to approach learning. I hope the tools I share here are always understood in this context: do what works for your home and forget the rest.

I also love sharing with other parents that for all the writing I do now, I wasn’t very good at grammar or writing as a child. I always loved reading, but I never really unpacked the structure of language or how to write clear, concise sentences until university. In those years, and later while working at a junior college, I learned to seek out the answers I needed in books or colleagues or the Internet. I hope this is an encouragement to lighten the load as parents: our children don’t have to know everything to become who they will. They simply need the desire to seek it out.

That said, I’ve had several people ask me about our language studies, about the materials we use in our home. Naturally, they’ve changed over the years, based on the kids’ ages or what styles best fit us, but I’ve generally looked for materials that introduce and build grammatical concepts in a beautiful way. Language studies, like maths, can leave a bad taste in ones mouth if reduced to worksheets. I wanted my children to enjoy dimension and color in our studies, the practice of structured skills balanced with art. This year, we have used Kathy Jo DeVore’s English Lessons Through Literature as a foundation for our learning, a curriculum that describes itself as a balance between the thoroughness of classical education and the gentleness of Charlotte Mason. I honestly think it could be applied even more broadly, depending on the home.

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Currently, there are five levels of ELTL, loosely corresponding to grade equivalents, although not restrictive in any way. I’ve used three different levels this year: level one for Olive, level three for Blythe, and level four for Burke. Liam’s language studies evolved this year into Latin studies, but that is a different topic for another day. Each level’s lesson builds around a brief book list, which is used for grammar and writing practice. Each level includes poetry, folk tales or fables, and picture narration around famous artists, but everything loops in a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The lessons are substantial but only three per week, so I typically spread them out over 4-5 days, omitting things that might not work or be necessary for us at the time. Grammar studies begin in level two and diagramming in level three. Both are introduced slowly and gently. Although grammar terms were a part of my children’s copywork this year, I think I may have them create memory cards instead for review of terms, like the parts of speech or the various roles of noun. I’ve realized that long gaps between using new terms in any subject area makes it harder for them to recall in practice.

This year, we’ve created notebooks for our language and history/science studies, a simple three-ring binder that contains each child’s writing and illustrations from the their reading. I began this when my children were little but became discouraged at various points in the follow-through and then eventually stopped altogether. After longing for more art work and color in our school work again, we began building little books sporadically last year and more intentionally this academic year. I’m loving flipping back through their work this year, and I imagine they will one day, too. Jodi Mockabee, an online friend and inspiring homeschool mother, shared more specifics about notebooking in Wild+Free this month. We use many of the same tools and practices. My favorite thing that she does is type and print her children’s narrations for them to hand copy. Genius! For years, I’ve been handwriting their narrations, and this is so much easier.

english_language_through_literature_homeschool-4english_language_literature_homeschool-2OUR CURRENT ROUTINE

We set apart a 90 minute block of time at the back part of our morning for independent language studies. It’s not necessary to take 90 minutes (or even 30 per child), but I like not feeling rushed and making time for read-a-loud with each of them. On lighter days, we don’t require as much time, and that feels like a bonus. No one ever complains about extra free time. Wink. I begin with Olive, since she requires the most help from me, and send the other two off to do their reading and begin their writing for the day. Liam is working on his own independent work during this time. I read aloud to Olive, typically a poem or a fable and a chapter of a book we’re reading together. I may have her narrate to me or she’ll pick out a favorite part/line from the story to copy and illustrate. I move on to time with Blythe and Burke. Depending on the day, I sometimes combine their grammar lessons since they’re close in age, introducing something new and giving them each a chance to write a sentence from their individual reading on one of our chalk walls. We label and diagram together. At different points they’ll each narrate to me their independent reading that day. Sometimes that’s their writing practice, other times we just leave it as an oral narration (a test for comprehension). Sometimes I work through building a brief summary or literary analysis with them individually. Although we have a daily block for language, M/W/F tend to be our heavier days, and significantly lighter on T/R. This is helpful for spreading out work over the course of the week. If we don’t get to all of a lesson on one day, or even skip language altogether in a day. We always have space to make for it elsewhere in the week.

OTHER RESOURCES WE’VE LOVED

Punctuation | Eats, Shoots and Leaves:Why Commas Really do Make a Difference by Lynn Truss | A hilarious picture book for children about the purpose of commas. She illustrates the same sentence side-by-side with different comma usage, a helpful visual for adults, too. She also has written a this book for adults or teens about punctuation. Truly, she makes it light and fun to learn about the proper place for all punctuation. Also love: Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why Every Punctuation Mark Counts! | The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes

Parts of Speech | Any picture book by Brian P. Cleary. They’re silly and simple, and so helpful for clearly recognizing words in their roles, over and over again. I especially appreciate the Adjective and Adverb books, as those two always seem to get jumbled.

simple_play-1simple_play-7simple_play-6The girls received beautiful play scarves from Shovava last week, and the timing could not have been better as it has rained almost every day of the last two weeks. We’ve had almost 30″ of rain since January. The boys keep joking that they almost played soccer this season–since they’ve had more games and practices canceled than they’ve actually played at this point. A soul-crushing reality for 10 and 11 year olds.

The kids have gone out to play in the rain several times lately, although I suppose they only want to be cold and wet for so long before they return to the porch or the indoors again. After our more formal studies are finished, our time indoors generally drifts toward art-work or books or various sorts of indoor play. The boys will sometimes play basketball in their room or build Legos across the floor. The girls tend more toward pretend play, sometimes mimicking everyday life like making food or taking care of babies, and other times living in stories as animals or fairies or queens.  The scarves have added a fresh flavor for the girls’ daily pretend play. Roza, the owner/deisigner of the Australian-based shop, draws and paints the wing designs by hand before screen-printing, and the light and soft material gives the wings such presence and flight during play. This week they have worn them as wings and head wraps and neck scarves in almost every variety of role. It’s so amazing what a piece of cloth can inspire, yes?

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My children play at home in quite creative, simple ways. I do allow them a bit of daily screen time, usually toward the dinner hour, and I’m not entirely rigid on this topic. Yet I learn so much about them during their play, whether the characters they become or the buildings they create. They also learn much about themselves, their dreams, their ingenuity. When they speak the word bored, I kindly remind them that boredom is their responsibility to resolve, but I usually offer them a few options to get their brains ticking. Our culture is full of passive entertainment with screens–and our family certainly enjoys that part, too–but as a parent, I want my children to begin learning now how to take responsibility for the way they live, even in small ways and at young ages. Life is something we choose, something we create daily. As adults, we choose daily how we spend our limited resources of time and money, and sometimes it requires great creativity and problem solving. These habits and lessons begin in our children in quite small, seemingly unimportant ways. Giving them space and time to create and play on their own seems small and trivial. However, it is teaching important skills necessary in adulthood, such as problem solving and decision-making, even lessons in compassion, empathy, and change of perspective.

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We love reading books around here. And I particularly love books that celebrate imagination and ingenuity. Here’s a few of our favorites. If you have a few of your own to recommend, I would love to know so we can find them on our next library trip. Wink.

PICTURE BOOKS

CHAPTER BOOKS

 

 

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Several weeks ago, long after my children were in bed, one snuck out to the kitchen to find me–I’ll leave names and pronouns loose to preserve the intimacy of our story. I noticed s/he had been crying, the sort of crying that leaves eyes red and swollen. During the previous hour, this one’s mind had wandered to our old home and the trees, and now s/he whispered to me, “I miss climbing our old trees. I was thinking about all of them, how we named them and would play in them for hours–especially the huge oak. Do you remember? We don’t have those kind of climbing trees here, and it made me really sad.” It has been almost two years since we moved from that home, and sometimes the ripples of our transition still catch me off guard. I didn’t see this particular thought coming at all. Large shade trees surround our current home, and it had never occurred to me that they weren’t climbable. Sometimes in our life transitions, we overlook the most ordinary parts.

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I’ve reflected on our conversation several times since that evening–more often pointing out climbing trees anywhere we walk or visit. I’m thankful for the ways that my children love and enjoy the earth, the way they appreciate Creation in simple, un-fancy ways. Although we don’t have anything extraordinary planned to celebrate Earth Day today, I thought I’d share a few simple ways our family enjoys and works to preserve the environment during the other part of the year. We’re not perfect, or even what I’d term environmentalists, but every small habit makes a difference.

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outdoor play | We spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in the spring and fall. It’s fun to have the kids collect pieces of nature and create art pieces with it. Or other times we just kick a ball around or identify the birds.  Some days we bring our school work or our meal outdoors. In my opinion, if you want to begin nurturing the earth, you begin by enjoying it. ;)

plant trees | All of the trees my children enjoy were planted by someone else. We recently planted 18 new trees in our yard (making sure a few are climbable) for future generations to enjoy. Pay forward.

plant a garden | Our garden isn’t large enough for us to live on, but it’s enough for my children to learn about the process of food, and a little about where it comes from.

compost + harvest rain water | We’ve done this in the past, and haven’t set it up here. In progress. ;)

recycle | This seems obvious, but our small town doesn’t have curbside recycling. We have to sort and drop-off, so many people in our area still don’t recycle because of the inconvenience. Recycling helps me see the wasted packaging or bags.

purchase/sell gently-used clothing | I still purchase new clothing for myself and our children, but when possible, I always look at thrift/vintage shops first. I’ve found some really great shops via Instagram and Etsy, too.

support small businesses | When possible, I try to buy goods and food locally or from smaller businesses. Honestly, this is the hardest one for me because of finances (often the reason I purchase used), but I really love and admire small businesses, especially ones who source well and give back.

reuse | When possible we’ve refinished salvaged or hand-me-down furniture. Most of the shelves in our home are from other buildings. We try to keep our eyes open for quality materials we can use soon. We have no interest in becoming a storage yard, so you have to be thoughtful to know how you will use the materials right away. If you like a piece of furniture, know where you’ll put it before you purchase it–regardless of how good of deal it is.

hand-wash dishes | Honestly, this is because we don’t have a dishwasher. I would like a dishwasher though. And so would my children.

DIY cleaners | I’m using essential oils more and more around our home, and this is one of my favorite ways. I reuse bottles, saving disposable packaging, and help keep the air in our home clean.

Also, if you’re looking for a way to celebrate the day, here’s a list of 50 Earth Day activities to do with kids. Do you have any of your own ideas to share?  Happy Earth Day to you!

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This post is sponsored by Winter Water Factory, a small business in Brooklyn, NY, specialized in organic clothing and textiles for children, made in the USA. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space alive. As always, all thoughts are my own.