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gift_of_boredom-2gift_of_boredom I’m not quite sure how or at what point the word bored enters a child’s vernacular, but it has here. In the last six months I’ve heard the word more than ever, and I find myself sorting through reasonings, attempting to connect dots, as to why. Boredom is such an entitled word if you think about it, and few words frustrate me more as a parent. In one swift syllable, it communicates discontent and complaint. It infers that someone else is somehow responsible for it, to blame for it. Often I feel the sentiment directed at me. Regardless of how this lull of activity might feel to a child, boredom is not an empty void; it is instead an invitation to ingenuity, to re-creation.

Children need time in their days to create their own worlds and play, time that is not pre-determined by someone else. Artists and designers alike understand the power of negative space in visual arts, how nothing can sometimes be more powerful than something. As adults, we often realize the same is true with time: less activity can be more for the soul, for thought, for restoration, for creativity. Whether we would phrase it this way or not, boredom is a gift, a cue even. If one has grown tiresome with an activity, boredom signals a need for change. If one is lacking activity at all, boredom requires a change in environment or even the creating of an idea or activity. Boredom is not itself a terrible thing to have to sort out, for adults or children alike.

When any of my children tell me they’re bored, it’s best that I first take a deep breath (or two or three), give them my full attention, and listen, instead of immediately badgering them with a mom-lecture on the gift of boredom. Obviously, in the moment, they disagree with me on point, and I’ve learned–although sometimes the hard way–that when I feel somehow accused by their sentiments, it’s best for me to first bite my tongue. Even when we cannot reach a point of agreement on the matter, in the very least, they will feel heard.
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Since context is everything, my response to claims of boredom change. Here’s a few thoughts from our home to gently nudge or re-direct boredom:

say no to screen time /When my children reach a place of boredom or need a new stimulus often begin asking to watch a film or to play video games. Although my children do play video games and watch movie films (gasp!), I rarely allow it in response to boredom. Boredom is simply a lack of stimulus, and I want them to begin recognizing it’s their brain’s or body’s way of telling them, I need more.  This is not an anti-screen issue but rather an effort to help them stir up curiosities instead of merely pacifying them.

go outside /Children do not need heaps of toys and electronics to be happy, although I do not think either are inherently bad. Sometimes what they (or we) need is found outside of our home. Sunlight, air, even rain can wake up an entirely different part of us. There is much to do with a stick, a box, or a ball. Last week, the girls seemed restless indoors, so I casually opened the front door and told them they could return indoors for snack, drinks, or the toilet. They gladly left the house. When I peaked out a few moments later, I noticed them carrying the garden trellis and a few blankets. Within a few minutes, they had created a play tent for themselves. I brought out drinks for them and noticed them “trimming the grass by the front porch [with scissors].” They stayed out there most of the day, bringing their dolls and packing an art box for a suitcase. They even left a hole at the top for a sunroof, to let in the light and air.

form loose routine / Every night, as I say goodnight to my children, one will inevitably ask, “what are we doing tomorrow?” Children love some amount of predictability. Keep a loose, but similar routine to help guide your children into how to use their time (even if you’re not planning specifics for them), especially with younger children. For instance, form a morning ritual with your children, a way that works for you all to begin your day together. Plan rest time or independent play/reading time or excursion time for roughly the same time-block daily. You get the idea. This helps me nudge children with the complaint into a direction, “this is the time for independent play. I know you prefer playing with everyone and you’ll have time for that later, but right now, I need you to find something on your own, like ____.”

take a spontaneous outing / Since we spend a lot of time around our home, I love surprising my children with a spontaneous trip. It’s not always fancy, but some days, it’s exactly what we all need. These can be a trip to the bookstore or coffee shop, a drive to nearby city, or a walk on trail.

meet with friends / I’m grateful my children have one another to play with and enjoy, but they (like most children) love when we meet up with friends to play. Make this a part of your weekly routine, too–especially if you homeschool. If you don’t have many friends, head to a local park or children’s museum, where other children are sure to be.

read books / For books I recommend that encourage imaginative play, see here.

How do you handle this topic? With summer soon arriving, I think several parents would love to hear.

 

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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When I first began homeschooling, I always imagined learning fundamentals of math, language, science, and history in a playful and artful way. At that time, my oldest really struggled with writing-and-paper approaches to learning, and although we still included this aspect in our structured learning time, it worked best when I balanced these periods with stories, art projects, or outdoor/indoor play. These less structured lessons also helped me to include my three younger children, too. I should note here, so you don’t begin imagining a perfect world over here: my son (and my other children now) still balked at some of our more routine work, but mixing our days with play and art did create sweet incentives for the more challenging work.

At some point in the tumble of life and moving (twice in one year) last year, I lost the more artful aspect of our learning together. With so many other logistical things to finish around our home, I relied more on simple book lessons to work through our basics and then would release my children to their own whim. Our formal routine had reduced to reading and daily math, so I could make sure they were covered, and a ton of free play and self-directed learning. On a side note, if you’re new to homeschooling or even parenthood, be generous with yourself, your children, and your goals during this journey. As in nature, the rhythms within your home will have variegated seasons over the years, and each one will offer you something special to learn just the same, if you pay attention. Where ever you are, receive every bit and aim to be present.

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Over the last year, I’ve been re-evaluating the way we learn together at home and have adjusted a few details to include more artful expression and play, more dress-up and making, more discussion and room for independent pace of work. It’s certainly not a perfect science or formula. Some days, our routine seems to work well, in spite of the mess and distractions, and other days feel simply disastrous. But I’m learning as a parent to receive and enjoy those days, too, even if just to remember, tomorrow is new.

If you’re wanting to add more play and art to your learning experience, begin with an area that feels most natural in your own routine. For our family, studies in science and history have been the most natural place to begin again. This year, we’ve been creating body books about the systems in our bodies, and are also just beginning books about the natural world, too–one for animal life and one for plant life. Obviously, we don’t use each of them all the time, but the idea is to create a place to begin cataloguing the various lessons we’re learning along our way.

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At the beginning of this year, we received a yearly subscription to the Opposite of Far’s Endangered Animal Mask Club. This has been a small and simple way to intertwine our learning about the animal world, writing, and art together. Each month the kids receive one new mask and information card featuring a specific endangered animal. We check out books from the library or use our Animal Encyclopedia or new favorite picture book, Animalium, to see more images and read more about the animal. Because we have an entire month, we have plenty of time to create several types of lessons or play experiences from them. Here’s a few ideas we’ve tried or plan to try with our mask club:

READ / Read the included card and any library books together. Learn about the animal’s environment and the reasons for their endangerment. Is there any way we can help?

DIFFERENTIATE / Study picture books and the illustrated card together. Discuss colors, shapes, and sizes of the animal. Are they always the same? How are they similar or different from other members of their family?

PLAY / Use the masks for pretend play. Re-create animal environments with sheets, furniture, or cardboard boxes. Even your older children will enjoy this. Give them some of the harder details, such a painting or cutting paper for a backdrop. My kids often do this on their own, especially when a new mask arrives or when the days are rainy and keep us indoors like here.

DRAW or PAINT / Take time to draw and paint your animal within its habitat. Refer to color and shape again and how you might mix paints to create the colors you need. If your children are young or struggle with drawing, try to find drawing books at your library that might show step-by-step instructions. We really like the Draw Write Now series, which also includes a few sentences to use for copywork with early writers. Some of the more rare endangered animals will be harder to find a drawing book. Consider how you might break down the strokes for your child to copy from you.

WRITE /Discuss what you’ve read about your endangered animal together. Help your older children find the main ideas: Where do they live? What do they look like? Why are they endangered? How can we help? Older children and advanced writers can write their own sentences and paragraphs, whereas younger children and those who find writing a more difficult skill might benefit from copying a few sentences they dictate to you (from what they learned).

For our family, I love using these animal masks as a simple way to encourage more pretend play and to inspire our own animal books. In busier months, we may have only used one or two of these, using them more for simple play around the house. You might find a ways to use them differently–or even for a birthday party or a gift. Either way, what a fun way to learn together about some beautiful animals that are currently struggling for survival.

For any of you interested in trying any of the Opposite of Far products, Jessica Near, the OOF founder, is offering 15%OFF any purchase using the code ENDANGERED. If you purchase a (6 or 12 month) subscription, you’ll also receive the Polar Bear mask and card for free. Regardless, I hope these ideas inspire some new ways to incorporate the arts and play into your learning at home.

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This post was sponsored by Opposite of Far, a business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own, and thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

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I loved the early years of motherhood, the snuggly, baby-wearing years filled with firsts and discovery. At times, I miss the kids’ chubby baby legs or our quiet moments nursing and reading aloud together. I miss how organized and simple life’s routines felt at that time, a rhythm of eating, playing, and sleeping. Those were the sweet parts I now hold tightly in my heart, the salve for the years that also contained toddler tantrums, potty-training, sleep-less nights, and tired days. For the latter, I’m grateful to be moving on.

As the kids age and inevitably grow closer to the horizon of adulthood, our goals and days have become more complex, filled with everything from taking care of our home and selves to learning our spelling lists, math facts, and how to make a meal. Sometimes in the process, I forget the importance of nondescript play, their need to move and be without the goal of accomplishment. On the outside, this sort of play seems anti-productive, activity working against the structure and rigor of adulthood. However, as a mother, I’ve experienced differently. Through unstructured play, I can see the ways each child learns important inter-personal skills and problem solving. They learn about creating and initiative, about imagination. Although small and casual, these regular periods of unplugged “free play” teach my children unquantifiable, yet intrinsic skills for adulthood.

Since arriving back in town late Sunday night, I have felt quite unprepared for this week, and we’re moving slowly toward our typical routine. The kids spent most of Monday morning jumping on my bed and sharing about our weekends apart. Although they have finished a little school work, most of this week they have been playing dress-up, building with Legos, or celebrating our Autumn weather by reading and drawing outdoors. Although we’ll have a bit more structure again next week, for now, I’m grateful to remember the importance of play in our home.

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This post is sponsored by Nico Nico, a clothier committed to making kids clothing that is modern, comfortable, and environmentally conscious. Their products are made from organic, sustainable fabric (and are incredibly soft) and are made in the United States.  All thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space alive. 

 

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To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
An eternity in an hour. {william blake}

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I’m thankful for seasons, how they allow us to hold time in our hands and, for a moment, to physically touch something eternal. Such a gift. Sweet farewell, Fall.

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identifying fungi

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exhausted

As I mentioned last week, lately we’ve been indoors more than usual, and while I value indoor activities in their own manner, there’s nothing quite like exploring the outdoors, especially with children. We spent all day Saturday inside cleaning in spite of the beautiful weather (ugh), so when Sunday arrived with glorious sun expected to warm us to almost 70 degrees, Mark and I agreed that a daytrip and hike in the nearby pines would be the best way to enjoy some quality family time and the weather. So we all filled our water bottles, threw some PB&J sandwiches and fruit into a backpack, piled into our old ‘Burban, and headed to Huntsville State Park. We upturned rocks, climbed through thickets, studied the layers of tree bark, and watched for various wildlife and young trees sprouting the park floors. With the sun trickling down through the tree-line, we noticed the various fungi growing along some of the trees — “Oh! That’s one of the kingdoms of living things!” Blythe exclaimed. (Thank you, Classical Conversations.) As the kids continued to touch and observe and breathe in just a few of the things they’ve learned through memory work or books,  I was reminded of this quote by Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator:

The question is not — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?  

One of the greatest gifts to me through my children and home-education is re-discovering wonderment. Wonder is easy for children. Everything is new, and if isn’t new, they will find something new to do with it or learn about it. But what about we adults? Often confined by our responsibility and practicality, we forget. Isn’t that what Barrie was addressing in Peter Pan? As grown-ups we forget to dream? To play? To discover? We even use the adjective childish in a condescending manner, as though immaturity and wonder and carefree-ness all equate. I get it. I know as adults we cannot literally live as children (nor would we really want to), but as I do live and learn alongside my children, I am understanding that I cannot live fully as an adult without wonder either. Exactly how full are our lives and how large the room where we tread? I’m still finding out.