We planted small hydrangeas alongside our garage last month. The pathway faces our backyard garden and lines the avenue to our outdoor grill, a well-loved space in the coming months. Hydrangeas, named for the Greek words water and vessel, are one of my favorite flowers and are generally recognized as symbols of heartfelt emotion. This week, they have been blooming in vibrant shades of pink and pale purplish blues.
Over breakfast this weekend, my son prayed, “Dear God, let the people of Nepal know your nearness that their grief would not overtake them.” I thought of our small hydrangeas in the backyard, offering their blooms to the sky. Perhaps this week, they are vessels of tears, like my young son, offering humble pleas to God for comfort and peace. Grief has a way of transcending borders and large bodies of water, but the same is true of hope. Our hearts are broken for so many people we don’t even know.
We’ve never used a formal science curriculum over here. Instead, we’ve learned more through reading about and observing the natural world. My children will tell you it is one of their favorite parts of our days. This year, we have primarily focused on anatomy, and each has created their own body book (an idea inspired by my friend Kirsten). We took a break from anatomy for much of March and April, as we spent more time preparing for our garden and working in the yard. As my children grow older, I’m more aware of how our school work ebbs and flows with our life work and seasons. I’m noticing patterns, more of which I hope to plan around better for next year–but that’s a different topic. Thus far, we have read about the circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems. As we are turning back to our books this week, we’ll aim to complete the respiratory, skeletal, muscular, reproductive, and endocrine systems. (Yikes–that’s a lot.) We’ve taken more unanticipated breaks through this study, but the nice part of homeschooling is not being in a hurry, or limited to a particular schedule, to complete a project. And so, we gather our resources and begin again.
reference books| During our study, we’ve used many books from our local library in addition to the books we own. We’ve referenced everything from science encyclopedias to early readers, adapting as we go. I’ll usually browse several books ahead of time, to choose the ones that might work the best for us. We take turns reading and usually have several books open at once for visuals. Some of our favorite references this year have been The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia, a neatly organized and detailed reference, and The Way We Work, by David Macauley, a robust and cleverly illustrated reference. We’ve also used simple readers we’ve collected over the years at used book stores or during our library trip, such as Usborne books, Let’s Read and Find Out Science series, The Magic School Bus series, and sight word readers.
projects | When possible I try to include a few projects or experiments since, like most kids, my own children love making or playing with ideas. This year we’ve done a few projects, such as taking our pulse/heart rate, identifying our senses by using a blindfold, or crafting a brain replica with clay.
body books | This year, we’ve used the simple primary composition notebooks found in office supply stores to create our body books. The primary one is set up with partially ruled/un-ruled pages as shown. Next year, I’ll move to using the Strathmore notebooks, as they’re a little larger. Each lesson, my children sketch and color an image pertaining to the day’s reading. They then illustrate, label, and write a bit about what we’ve read together. The boys enjoy creating their own sentences, so after they’re finished, we look for spelling and grammar corrections. They record their misspelled words in their spelling notebooks, which become a part of a future spelling lesson. For the girls, I still rely on the narration/dictation/copywork model. We talk about what we’ve read. They give me a sentence or two, which I write and they copy. It’s a little advanced for Olive yet, but like most youngest children, she wants to do what everyone else is doing.
making mistakes | You’ll notice Liam still struggles with spelling, but he understands the concepts and how to create clear, concise sentences, as does my left-handed Burke who still struggles with letter reversals and capitalizing mid-sentence. In earlier years, I tended to correct them along the way, often seeing their mistakes as a reflection of my poor teaching–especially if it’s something someone else might see. I’m sharing the imperfections here so you see, no one is perfect, especially not this mother. Be patient with yourself and your children and try not to control the learning process, combing for results. I’m learning to move them forward in certain areas, while returning to basic skills in other areas over and over until they master them. That means Burke still does simple handwriting exercises and Liam is still in earlier spelling years, even though they both read voraciously far above his years. We repeat again and again, knowing it will catch one day. These mistakes are a part of life, a part of our body. They do not make any of us failures.
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.
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.
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!
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.
olive | Every morning you brush your hair and tie it up on your own. Sometimes you ask to wear lip gloss, and when I tell you no, you respond, “but you do!” as if we are the same age.
blythe | You’ve been pushing some buttons lately, which has always been a flag that you need more quality time together. You’re getting older and, as such, our time together is growing sweeter, deeper. I’m grateful.
burke | You’re often like a cat, moving from one spot to another, lying in the sun. For a boy who barely slept as a baby, I can barely wake you now. You’re making up for lost time, I suppose.
liam | You entered a Lego contest this week, and on our way there, you noted, “I just realized a lot of kids might not know what this is.” I laughed at your old soul. You won a prize for the most sophisticated entry.
olive | You weren’t feeling that well this week, so I let you climb up on my bed and enjoy the ipad all on your own.
blythe | You began reading the Little House series this week, and I can hardly bare to think of how you’ll handle Jack’s death. We have a while before that though.
burke | After spending weeks (maybe months) sketching trees, you’ve moved on to eyes. “Aren’t eyes fascintating, mom?” You ask. They sure are, kid. As are you.
liam | You began The Lightning Thief series and are currently finishing one every other day. I have regularly wondered where you are, only to find you here or in the living room chair or outside with your book.
I think all mothers sense the fleeting nature of childhood at some point. We grow a longing to pause life just long enough to breathe it a little deeper, laugh a little longer, and enjoy right where we are with our children in that moment. Some mothers might feel that way in the first days and months following birth–the quiet moments nursing, the series of firsts as they unfurl from womb to infant. Other mothers enjoy the early childhood years more, when their babies can move freely and express and interact–or even later, as their children bridge into adult years, straddling two worlds at once. Regardless, a mother’s heart always rubs up against time.
We all respond a little differently to time’s slipperiness. I met an older woman last week who saved all of her daughter’s hair clippings. “I literally have bags of it,” she told me. I honestly couldn’t imagine bags of anyone’s hair around my home, but I am forever trying to store time with words and photos. This in itself can sometimes feel like catching the tide. For many of us, parenting can feel overwhelming mundane and rote. Childhood is a collection of routine nothings that we know we’ll one day miss (at least some of them). Today we went to the park. Today you played in bubbles. Today you swam underwater. Today you carried your bag to school. How do we find the moments that matter to us, the ones we’ll really want to savor in future years? I’m not always sure myself, but I keep trying through this space, Instagram, and my own portrait project. As my children grow older, and we’ve closed the door on early years, I want to see and enjoy them more in our daily living together and somehow bottle up a bit of time in the process.
Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and professional photographer, helps parents discover the lovely bits of their days–and makes us crave summertime, too. In her online workshop, Everyday Beauty, via the Bloom Forum, she leads parents to find the beauty in our routines, in the nothings. She helps her online students understand how light and composition and detail come together to create your story, but she also covers practical topics like taking photos in public or even getting in the photo yourself. (Shock.) Her next three-week online workshop in May is currently sold out, but she is offering one lucky Cloistered Away reader a spot in the class. You can read more about her workshop here, and enter to win a spot below. Make sure to check back, since some of the options are available for daily entries.
This post is in partnership with Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and business owner who loves helping other parents find the beauty in their messy days. All images are courtesy of Ginger Uzueta. All thoughts are my own.
In one section of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sardines swim above your head in a perfect circle. It’s almost dizzying to watch. They move laterally among one another, but always in the same direction and with such intensity– as if they might swim their way out of the circular glass enclosure. I sometimes think of them as we flit about our days at home, swimming through our daily routines that somehow always manage to end where they’ve begun. On certain days, I almost feel carried away by the whirlpool of activity we create around here, grounded only by the tips of my toes. We’re nearing the end of our school year, and I find myself moving harder for it, ready to find a nice place to rest–a sandy shore or a field of grass–a place for my soul to be grounded again, heals to the earth.
Early last week, the girls and I baked cookies together before bedtime. It was a necessary therapy following several days of harrowed conflict and petty arguments between them, not to mention my own exhaustion having managed it. Although making quality time for them in any way always helps navigate us to calmer relationships, the kitchen always has a way of healing these broken connections, of becoming a salve for the rifts caused by careless or hurried days. Honestly, my motherly reminders tire all of us some days–Use kind words. Be generous with your touch. Share with one another.–but a warm cookie that we’ve made together just before bedtime might be the precise tending our tired souls need. (And just in case you’re interested, we made the grain and dairy-free Snickerdoodle found in this tremendous recipe book.)
These moments in our home are often small and spontaneous. We largely rely on whatever I have in the fridge or shelf (or that of my neighbor’s). They tend to be messy because my children love making messes, and cooking with them is not a time to be clean or perfect or style the ideal plate. Cooking with my children is about mixing and measuring, about tasting and inhaling, about sharing in a small and concrete process together, and above all, savoring. Literally. Figuratively.
This post is in partnership with Odette Williams, a small business owner and inspiring mother who designs and manufactures simple and playful children’s apron sets in Brooklyn, NY.My girls adore these sets and use them daily. Thank you, Odette! All images and thoughts are my own. For a chance to win a free OW apron set of your choice, hop over to my Instagram page.