WEBINAR | Teaching Reading At Home

“TEACHING READING AT HOME”

When we first decided to homeschool, I felt intimidated about teaching my children to read. I am an avid reader. My husband is an avid reader. Both of us having university degrees in writing and the liberal arts. Our home is filled with hundreds of books and rich conversation. Why did I feel panicked about teaching reading? Of course, I knew how to read, but I couldn’t remember how I learned. Could I break it down well enough to teach my own children? Nine years later, with three––nearly four––fluent readers, I want to encourage parents of younger children: DON’T BE AFRAID.


What will you talk about? 

During this 60 minute live webinar, I hope to quell fear and doubt, and instead empower parents with tools and skills to help their young children learn and love to read. We’ll also end with time for questions and answers. I will discuss

  • our personal story of reading lessons across four different curriculums and temperaments
  • learning styles
  • developmental/environmental factors that affect reading
  • curriculum: is it necessary?
  • when to seek help
  • personal misunderstandings, discouragement, and frustration on the journey
  • finding a balanced and adapted approach
  • our favorite tools and resources
  • Q+A with audience

This webinar will not offer a didactic step-by-step curriculum, but it will provide many ideas, resources, and tools to implement in your own home.


Who is this for?

This webinar is for anyone

  • interested in helping their children learn to read.
  • feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with reading lessons.
  • curious about our personal journey, style, and methods.
  • beginning homeschooling.

I missed the live webinar. Can I still watch it? 

Yes! Click the link to purchase the recorded webinar.

$18

Notes : Once you have paid for the webinar in Paypal, you must click “return to merchant” at the bottom of the PayPal receipt in order to add your name and email and officially complete registration. Feel free to comment or email with any questions or feedback. Thank you for your support.

Choosing to Homeschool

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingSeveral times in recent months, I have been quieted by the thought that Mark and I can choose how we educate our children, not simply the methodology we follow but to homeschool at all. Even on the hard days––and there are hard days––it is such a privilege. The choice itself is a privilege. For a week each January, National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political effort, seeks to raise public awareness about the variety of educational options for children. Schools, organizations, homeschool groups alike host events nationwide hoping to empower parents with the positive educational options for their children. Last year they hosted nearly 17,000 events, and next week, January 22-28, 2017, one will more than likely be happening near you. If you are interested to know who is participating in your area, here is an event map for you. Today, in my own effort to celebrate the freedom of educational choice, I thought I’d share a bit of our own family’s story, how we arrived at homeschooling these last nine years.

It sometimes surprises people that I never intended to homeschool. In fact, not long after Liam’s birth, on a day when I sat nestled in a bookshop corner reading with him sleeping on my chest, a clerk paused me for brief conversation, wherein she asked if I planned to homeschool him. I politely laughed. Homeschool? Probably not. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought of school options yet. At that point, I was more concerned with showering regularly and sleeping through the night again. I didn’t know anything about homeschooling, let alone whether I was committed to that choice yet, and what little I had observed until that point seemed altogether unappealing. How could I do it with children at different ages? How could I have a life outside of it? How would I know what to teach them? Aren’t homeschooled children socially disconnected? Aren’t they a bit weird?

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began Homeschooling

A few years later, after two family moves and with two more children, I found myself in another conversation with new friends about homeschooling. Liam, my oldest was three and attending a two-day week preschool we loved, a godsend for me in the new transition of three children [in three years]. Kindergarten was growing closer by the day, and suddenly, the school conversation seemed more relevant. Listening to my friends’ conversation and excitement around homeschooling, I couldn’t help my internal naysayer. Do people really do this? Is homeschooling really an option for our family? I understood why people might be drawn academically to homeschooling. At that point, I worked part-time at a local college tutoring in writing and grammar. I experienced the callousness of classroom learning in the students’ attitudes, their lack of preparation and skill. I met many students who had only read one or two books in their entire high school experience, and others who hadn’t been required to read anything more than excerpts from anthologies. With access to computers, most of them didn’t understand the point of reading or of literary analysis. Many didn’t even know why they were there. I certainly understood the academic allure of homeschooling. But what about team sports and school lunch? What about recess and school plays? What about my own time for self, for errands, for personal work? For the most part, I had a positive school experience; wouldn’t my children? I felt stumped.

The following year, Liam returned to preschool two days a week, but sometime mid-fall, he began asking to stay home with us. His teacher, an absolutely precious woman who adored Liam, assured me he was enjoying the days there, but all of these previous conversations began to rattle in me. Was homeschooling an option?  With Liam’s first school years nearing, I began doing my homework, reading books from the library, beginning with The Homeschool Option, a wonderful overview of different ways to homeschool, and then onto John Holt’s How Children Learn and  Teach Your OwnSusan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained MindLeigh Bortin’s The Core, and Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion eventually so many more in Montessori and Waldorf methods. I looked into our state requirements for homeschooling, surprised to discover how homeschool-friendly our state is. My ideas about homeschooling were evolving. I began doing a reading lesson with Liam a few times a week, which he loved some days and hated others. I immediately had to deal with my own expectations and how this journey would look in our home. I was pregnant with our fourth child and could for the most part only imagine napping during the lulls in our day, not making space for a reading lesson. But we kept at it anyway.

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingDuring the preschool year while we deliberated about what to do, Liam continued at his two-day preschool, supplemented with afternoon reading lessons with me, and plenty of art time and outdoor play with his brother just 17 months younger. I used Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years to help guide a few simple hands-on activities. Mark and I also set up tours with several local schools, inquiring about the language immersion program versus the traditional classroom at our local neighborhood school. We visited a few private schools, too, talking with teachers and directors, observing and wondering where our son fit best. I was amazed by the variety of options and diverse experiences. There were schools I quickly crossed off the list, like the one where we were escorted on a tour by a woman in a fur shrug and stilettos. I knew quickly that environment wouldn’t complement our casual, relaxed home atmosphere, no matter how beautiful the classroom or how advanced the technology. There were schools with open concept classrooms and multiple teachers and children working on the floor instead of a desk. There were classrooms that included a child-sized kitchen and personal gardens, where the children were encouraged in independence. There were schools that included daily lessons in French and Spanish, and different schools that issued each child their own laptop or iPad and focused on STEM learning. There were classrooms with igloos made of milk cartons and others with international flags sprawling the walls. Classrooms with traditional desks or tables and ones with only carpet mats.  Uniforms. No uniforms. Neighborhood schools. Schools on the other side of town. I realized, even in our small town, there were several options for us to choose from, options that would require us to know our budget, our family goals, and ultimately, our children. Where would they thrive best? We had to make a choice. Based on Liam’s kinesthetic learning style, difficult time with traditional worksheet methods of learning, and his love of play and art, we chose to homeschool him, knowing three more siblings would be following close behind, too. He loved being at home and was as excited as we were for this option.

I would love to tell you I began homeschooling confident of my abilities, or even confident that we had made the right choice. I didn’t. We began homeschooling as an experiment, with more questions than answers, more ideals than facts. But nine years later, with many soul-searching moments, conversations, research, and prayer, we’re still here, finding this path meandering and growing right with us. While in the early years, I wavered often, especially on the hard days, wondering if we were doing the right thing. I can see the gift of those years now, how precious the experiences with my children are to each of us now, especially the more challenging obstacles. My children have seen me at my best and worst, and likewise for them; they have watched me try new ideas and encourage their own. The beauty of beginning something new together is that the journey has a way of growing us together. For us, this journey is about more than academics and social protocol. Homeschooling is about relational connection, about enjoying their childhood and young adult years together.

The Choice to HomeschoolLast week, we began our school routine again, awkwardly fumbling to find our rhythm for the new year. I grabbed my camera on Thursday afternoon, a random day with nothing extraordinary planned outside of our home. I watched each child toggle from independent artwork or play toward connection with one another, sharing a book or baking a pie together. They don’t always get along. Some days our lessons are more focused on serving one another, on kindness, on attitudes of the heart. These too are preparing them for independent lives outside our home one day, and I’m grateful. Other days we have rich dialogues about ideas and stories we’re reading together. We practice difficult skills in language and mathematics and more practical ones in wood carving or in learning to sew. It is an eclectic path, the most unexpected gift. I will never romanticize this homeschool journey for others. It is hard work and demanding of every resource, but it has empowered me as a parent, taught me how to trust instinct, an instinct that a random bookshop clerk seemed to intuit in me so many years ago.  


This post is sponsored by National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political awareness effort about the variety of educational options. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the organizations and businesses that help keep this space afloat.

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Music for the Afternoon Mess

A Music Playlist for the Afternoon Homeschool MessSomewhere amid the tidy online images, the Mess exists. I capitalize Mess because it seems to live and exist on its own, creeping in and out of corners unannounced. Between the creative projects and delicious meals are spilled paints and sprawling colored pencils, stacks of books and papers with scribbled writing and illustrations. Sometimes a glass jar of bugs sits with us. Nearly always a small cup lingers with the last bit of coffee, cold. The energy of our homeschool day pushes and pulls between cleaning up and pouring out. These rhythms seem in conflict with one another, yet they are connected, one requiring the other. The tidy space draws us to create, to read, to write, to build, and yet our busy hands and minds can destroy a table space, a living room floor, a kitchen counter in a heartbeat. The Mess is a part of the process; it is a part of our home, a part of living. On the days, I am overwhelmed or frustrated by it (more than I wish), I remember our learning is not a tidy experience, coiffed and prim. It is wild and organic, ordered and sometimes pruned, but so full of life. Mess does not always equate to disorganization. Our days are fairly organized in the order and routine, and Mess is a part of it. Here is what our table often looks like at the end of an afternoon, and as two older mothers reminded me last week, I’ll miss it one day.

To keep the Mess at bay, we’re focusing on three brief periods of clean up and chores during our day at home: just after breakfast, just before lunch, and just before dinner. I hope it will help us learn how to better partner with Mess, to let it move freely during our learning, but also prepare the space for the next segment of our day. We’ll see.

Several people have asked about the music I sometimes play in my IG Stories, so I put together a playlist of favorites for our afternoons of read-aloud, illustration, and writing. A playlist for the Mess.  Enjoy.


Apertura Gustavo Santaolalla | Digging Shelters Neil Halstead | Where’s My Love Syml | 33 “GOD” Bon Iver | Try Escondido | Riptide Vince Joy | Yes/No Ears of Light | Break Apart Bonobo | Celeste Ezra Vine | White Noise Ella Vos | Planet Earth II Suite Hans Zimmer | Everything Ben Howard |  Heartbeats José González | Stanley Park Aoife O’Donovan | Mushboom Feist | All Yours Widowspeak | I Need a Forest Fire James Blake | String Quartet in F Major, M.35:2 Maurice Ravel | Lullabye Emitt Rhodes

Playlist on Spotify

Growing a Hunger for Books

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If you were to walk in our home, you’d notice books of all sorts stacked in every room. You’d find them on shelves and tables, on nightstands and bedside floors, even a few in the kids’ beds. We are a household of readers, which may not be surprising considering Mark’s and my own love for words. From the beginning of our marriage we have read books to or alongside one another, at bedtime and on road trips and such, so when we had children, it was natural to establish a regular routine of reading with them, too. We read board books and picture books and chapter books. We read books aloud and together. We read books independently. We talk about books and write about books. And as our children have grown older, narrative characters and plots from books have often infused their pretend play with one another and with friends. It makes my heart smile, big time. We recently partnered with Amazon and their Kindle for Kids, so as it turns out we are now enjoying books in a new way in our home. I’ve always felt reticent about e-readers. I love paper books. But over the last few weeks, I’m understanding more of their benefit in our home, not as a replacement to printed books but as a partner to them. 

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While our three older children are now confident independent readers, my youngest is still growing as a beginning reader. She is a busy bee, always preferring movement to stillness, talking instead of quiet, doing instead of observing. She is so much fun and an excellent maker and doer––which I love about her––but sometimes she needs extra encouragement for the sort of activities that require focused, quiet concentration, like independent reading. As a parent, I want to help nurture this ability to quiet herself and concentrate, and so we practice a little each day, just enough to form a habit of it. As for loving reading, she’ll get there in her own time.

I have been surprised to see how the Kindle is helping hold Olive’s interest in more difficult reading. Perhaps the format is more approachable and engaging for her right now. I’m not exactly sure, but I’m going with it. Currently, she reads aloud a single book in her collection to me, A Bear Called Paddington, a book we’re both loving, and I let her choose from her collection which to read on her own, often something on a lower reading level. We have stacks of beginning readers at home, which are ideal for their brevity and familiar words, but while were were away, she kept trying to read Paddington on her own, as well as Tales from the Odyssey, both of which are more difficult reading for her still.

Naturally, the other kids are enjoying it, too––my middle two children especially––and we’re filling their collections with free books for Kindle through Amazon Prime to feed their appetites for books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Tales from the Odyssey, and The Hobbit to name a few favorites. Amazon also offers a Kindle Unlimited subscription for all Kindles that I may look into at some point. It seems perfect for a family of avid readers.

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We’ve spent more time in the car lately than usual, and last week, the kids and I quickly left town for several days on a family emergency. Without time to check the kids bags, I was grateful that Olive happened to grab the Kindle, even when she forgot a winter coat and boots. During different points, when the busy house called for a quiet hour or rest time, the kids rotated turns with it, even their cousins! As I’ve watched them with the Kindle for Kids this last week, I thought it might be helpful to note some of the features I am loving for my young readers, for any of you also new to the world of e-readers:

Simple Screen / I actually love the analog feel of the Kindle, the way it looks like a book page instead of a computer screen, and yet it’s still intuitive enough with a touch screen. For the kids, this seems like a perfect blend: technology without the distracting frills. It helps direct their attention toward reading.

Scalable text size / As an adult, I have forgotten how intimidating small text can be. Both of my girls love that they can enlarge the text size in chapter books. For more challenging books, increasing the text size helps Olive to focus on each word, rather than the page of text. I think it also helps her feel she is getting somewhere faster, since she can flip the page more often. Action-oriented. Wink. Wink.

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Create Individual Collections / As I’ve shared here before, we share most technology in our home, so I really appreciate that the Kindle for Kids allows me to create a specific collection for each of my children. We talk about the books they’re interested in reading and I inventory the content and double-check the reading level for the younger one. When my children want to read the same book (often!), I can put one book in more than one collection, although I only purchase the book once–just like our paper books. The collections give each of the kids a sense of independence and personal space with a shared Kindle.

Word Wise / When I read aloud to the kids and run across a more complex word, I’ll often pause and ask if any of them understands what it means. I also encourage them to circle new or unfamiliar words in their books during their independent reading, but more often, they simply skim over them. On the Kindle for Kids, you can turn on Word Wise for younger readers, which will add brief definitions in the margins to the more complex words on the page. If a child taps the word, it will expand to the full definition with examples and synonyms. These words are automatically filed on flashcards for you to review with your child when they’re done reading. I like to think of this as a reading assistant. Wink.

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Setting Time / I assign quiet rest time or reading time daily for my kids. For the older ones, they often read longer than I plan, but for the youngest, it helps cultivate the habit or being still and reading. The Kindle for Kids automatically includes a parental controls option, where I was able to set up Amazon FreeTime. The parent sets up a collection for the child(ren) and assigns a specific amount of daily reading time before they can exit. Each of my children is able to keep track of how long they’ve been reading or how long they have left right at the bottom of the page. For parents of struggling readers, this tool can be used to help track time and progress for other rewards or incentives, too.  

Password Protected Browsing / In order for children to leave the Free Time option, they have to have a parent password. So it prohibits my children from web browsing, which I love, as we don’t allow our children to browse the web on their own quite yet.

Two Year Damage Protection / Enough said.

Travels Easily / We don’t fly in planes often, but we do take road trips, run errands, and spend daily time outdoors. I love that this little thing can easily slide into someone’s bag, even my own.

Not just for the kids / Okay, so I made my own collection, too. Although I still prefer paper to screens––mostly because I like writing in my books––I love the convenience of the Kindle and imagine I’ll be borrowing it for myself from time to time.

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Learning to read can be really challenging for some children. On this journey, I’ve learned it’s best to adapt to the children’s time and pace. Reading isn’t just for one season of life. It’s for all of life. It’s a long game, and to cultivate anything for the long run means patience in the beginning. Cultivate the enjoyment of stories of words at home, and you’ll cultivate a hunger for books.


This post is sponsored by Amazon. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting this space, and the businesses that help keep it afloat. 

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Handmade | Gift Wrapping with Nature + Photographs

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It may sound silly, but gift wrapping is one of my favorite parts of gift giving. It is the icing on the cake, the thoughtful finishing detail to what I always hope is a thoughtful gift. That said, like many other areas in our life, I have paired down this process over the years, opting for more economical and ecological options to create less waste. As it turns out, simplicity and economy can be just as beautiful as all the glittery frills. Today, I’m partnering with Mpix to share a few ways I am using nature and photographs this season to beautifully and economically wrap our gifts.Holiday Gift Wrap, three WaysHoliday Gift Wrap

WRAPPING BASICS

sturdy craft paper and natural twine / For starters, I keep a large roll of sturdy craft paper (found at most hardware stores) and natural twine on hand at all times. Having a natural colored base allows for versatile, seasonal details based on the holiday or celebration at any point in the year. Plus, with craft paper, there’s the opportunity to transform it to kindling, coloring paper, or a craft project after the gift has been unveiled. Another option might be to use small swaths of cloth or cloth bags for wrapping.

washi tape / It’s easy to find washi tape anywhere these days, the dollar store to high end paper stores. I like to keep a couple around for my children’s artwork and crafts, but they come in handy for taping branches or photos to gift wrap, too. Wink.

twigs with colorful leaves or berries / This is an excellent way to include children in gift wrapping. They can help search for fallen leaves or twigs, or even learn how to prune a few on their own. In the past, I have also snipped stems from our Christmas tree for wrapping, but this year, we gathered a few bits from our nature walk earlier this week––colorful cedar branches and assorted tree berries.

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PHOTOS, THREE WAYS

photo prints / For friends and family who might who might appreciate an updated family picture for a frame or even a landscape from a favorite trip during the year, try taping an image to the wrapping or tucking it in the twine. I used double-sided tape on some and washi tape on others. Double-check the washi tape first to make sure it won’t ruin the photo paper. Pair smaller natural accents with larger images and vice versa for images that take up less space. Use natural pieces that complement the colors in your photo. I loved how the orange cedar complimented the sunrise in one of my images.

photo magnets / A medium sized photo magnet can be ideal for minimalist family members or those who love to keep images on their fridge. They’re strong enough to hold a piece of paper, too. So if you have littles, this might couple well with a handmade card or Christmas drawing. I used washi tape for the photo magnets, accompanied with purplish leaves that complemented the images.

mini-photo gift tags / You know those little scraps of paper leftover during the wrapping process? Tape a mini-photo to a piece of torn scrap paper and use it as a gift tag! I hole-punched the paper and used twine to tie with a small branch. Write a small message on the back and presto! It’s something special for the recipient to keep and more economical than purchasing pre-made gift tags.

Happy wrapping, friends!

 


This post is sponsored by Mpix, a photo lab based in Kansas, committed to quality printing services. All images and thoughts are my own. 

A Gift Guide for the Homeschool

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The Advent season has arrived, and with it so many favorite things: carol-singing, beeswax candles, tree trimming, hot chocolate, Christmas cards, afternoon tea and read aloud, baking, and of course gift-giving. Last year, I created a gift guide for the homeschool that has been requested several times again this season. For new readers, I suggest you begin there, as this list feels like more of an extension of the first. I also articulate some of our gift-giving philosophy in the last post, which might be also be helpful. In short, we purposefully select gifts that fit our family budget, home, and lifestyle. Read: minimal. We tend toward beautiful, well-made tools, toys, and resources that encourage ingenuity and creativity, and those which can also be passed down or gifted to someone else when we outgrow them. When our budget is tighter or when we want to avoid more things at home, Mark and I have often gifted experiences. I referenced several experiences in last year’s gift list if that is where your own family fits best.

Naturally, this guide isn’t exclusive to homeschoolers, nor is it exclusive to Christmas. Here, I have gathered a list of things we currently love or things we’re interested in for our own home. You’ll find it loosely categorized by interests, including gifts for a broad spectrum of ages, preschool to teen. This list, dear readers, is my gift to you this season, as it has taken many hours to gather. I hope it is helpful to you, a gentle guide in a sometimes stressful part of this season.  Merry Christmas!


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[ YOUNG ARTISTS + BUSYBODIES ]

1. Wood Multiplication Ring | 2. Indoor Outdoor Toddler Swing | 3. Wood Working with Children | 4. Wood Carving Tools + Knife Kit | 5. Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors | 6. Camera Obscura Kit | 7. Sarah’s Silks Play Streamer + Play Silks (not numbered) | 8. The Art of Tinkering  | 9. NUN Studio Doll Kits and Pattern Books | 10. Hedgehog’s Filled Sewing Box (or an empty one to fill) | 11. Stick-Lets Mega Fort Kit | 12. Wood Peg People | 13. Kikkerland Animal Multi Tool | 14. Lyra Rembrandt Watercolor Pencils | 15. Fair Trade Peruvian Hand Drum 16. Makedo Cardboard Tool Kit

christmas_homeschool_gift_list_2016_young_naturalist[ YOUNG NATURALISTS ]

17. Bug Bingo (also Bird Bingo and Dog Bingo) | 18. Student Insect Collecting + Mounting Kit | 19. A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky | 20. Wood Microscope | 21.  Animal Tracks Casting Kit  (not numbered) | 22. The Year in Bloom 2017 Calendar Kit | 23. Sturdy Stilts | 24. Play the Forest Way  | 25. Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music | 26. Moon Phases Wall Hanging | 27. Travel Telescope | 28. Flower Press Kit | 29.  John Muir Wilderness Essays | 30. Compact Kids Binoculars  | 31. 59 Illustrated National Parks | 32. Natural World: A Visual Compendium of Wonders from Nature | 33. Audubon Society Field Guides 

 

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 [ YOUNG ENGINEERS + SCIENTISTS ]

34. Mechanica | 35. mini 3D printer | 36. Morse Code Kit | 37. Wood Go Cart Kit | 38. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World  | 39. Aristotle’s Number Puzzle | 40. MEL Chemistry Experiment Subscription | 41. Rosie Revere Engineer | 42. 52 Amazing Science Experiments cards | 43. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind | 44. Block + Tackle Wood Pulley | 45. Da Vinci Catapult Kit  (or the Ornithopiter Kit) | 46. Tegu Magnetic Wood Block Set | 47. Grimm’s Nature Inspired Math Cards | 48. Leonardo Sticks | 49. The Story of Buildings

christmas_homeschool_gift_list_2016_young_techie_inventor[ YOUNG TECHIES + INVENTORS ]

50. How to Code in 10 Easy Lessons | 51. Who Was Thomas Alva Edison? (or other book from the series) | 52. Kano Computer Kit | 53. Seedling Design Your Own Headphones ( also the punk rock version) | 54. Dover’s Great Inventors and Inventions Coloring Book | 55. Digital Microscope and Camera | 56. Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: First Computer Programmer | 57. Kindle Fire Kids Edition | 58. Osmo Coding | 59. Sphero SPRK + STEAM Educational Robot | 60. GoPro Hero | 61. littleBits Electronic Base Kit | 62. First Computer Patent poster | 63. The Inventor’s Notebook

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[ YOUNG FOODIES + WRITERS ]

64. The Forest Feast for Kids | 65. Water Garden Fish Tank | 66. Williams Sonoma Junior Chef Set | 67. Camden Rose Tabletop Play Kitchen | 68. Food Anatomy | 69. Lyra Ferby Pencils | 70. The Foodie Teen | 71. Odette Williams Pinstripe Linen Child’s Apron Set | 72. Solid Wood Tea Set | 73. Opinel Le PetitChef Set  | 74. How to Be a Blogger and Vlogger in 10 Easy Steps | 75. Tombow Brush Pen (or in assorted colors) | 76. Kindle for Kids | 77. Olive Wood Mortar and Pestle | 78. I Am Story | 79. Handlettering 101 | 80. Cursive Alphabet Tracing Board | 81. Rory’s Story Cubes | 82. Woodland Pencils | 83. Leap Write In! | 84. Spilling Ink

a simple path to nature study

 
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

on doing less

doing_less_homeschooling-5doing_less_homeschooling-3 I have a personal drive and eagerness to try and do everything, and of course also to do it perfectly (some of which I wrote about here). It is our cultural assumption that more is always better, that quality and quantity can pleasantly co-exist. And perhaps in some instances they can. That is not my story. More often, doing more things taught me how to skim well, how to cut corners and brush over details. Sometimes that type of learning or living is necessary and fine, but this was the whole of my living. And after while, the lack of balance left me wanting and exhausted, even at times, isolated from my own need.

How does one ever do it all? Sitting just outside my back door, I watch the leaves break loose and float through the sky. How frustrated the trees would be if they tried to accomplish their annual cycle in a single season.

I mentioned on Instagram a couple of weeks ago in regards to homeschooling “what I wish I could tell my younger self again and again is: do less. You don’t have to conquer everything at once, to learn all the things in a week or a month or a year. Keep some room in your day for the unexpected, and watch how your children grow and flourish with room. And watch, Self, how you will grow, too.” I’d like to say that I live daily from this revelation, that I am always confident in what we are or are not doing, but the truer statement is I still have to encourage myself in this truth. 

I don’t have to do it all to offer my children a quality education. And neither do you. There are and will be areas of learning we skim and some we skip entirely. There will be areas that feel organic to our home culture, easy to expand on and delve into more deeply. There will be areas that I will always need and prefer a scripted path to follow (math). But in different weeks and months and years, we will have capacity to learn something different. What I can now understand on this journey is that as my children grow so does their capacity to learn. 

There is freedom in this journey for everyone to bend as each home needs it, whether your family uses a boxed curriculum or none at all. But on occasion, I begin to lose heart or soul or patience and need to reevaluate what brings quality to this journey in our home. Here are a few small thoughts that I have returned to when I have lost perspective or possibly my way: 

  • Teach your children to read as soon as possible. This may take one year or four, but in the process you will introduce them to more teachers and also show them how to learn. 
  • Open the door to nature and you will teach them about order in chaos, and also how to restore their souls.
  • Leave space in the day for them to make something with their hands–maybe a meal, a fort, a puzzle, a garden–and you will teach them about purpose the joy of creating.
  • Practice something hard daily, and you all will learn something about perseverance. 
  • Talk about all of it often.

You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to measure yourself by someone else’s standards, even your own. You simply need to look your child in the eye and listen. In response, you might offer them a book, a pencil, an encouragement, or even perhaps a door outside. When in doubt, take a gentle look into the mirror and do just the same.

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sharing an unexpected gift

handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-5handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-6 handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-2handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-4Although I love sharing and receiving gifts for special occasions, my favorite gifts are the ones shared for no reason at all. Don’t you love receiving random gifts from others? Maybe a stranger in line before you purchases your coffee or maybe a friend drops by a new candle or a neighbor leaves you a baked good. While small, these thoughtful acts can shift the course of our day. They gently remind us we’re seen.

This last weekend, my sister and I arranged bare branches, succulents, and candles across our backyard tables for Liam’s birthday, when she had the lovely idea to wrap some grasses I had purchased for our yard and use them, too. I tend to always keep some craft paper and twine around the house for these sort of ideas, and with several hands to help, we had added just the right mixture of textures to the table for early fall. These hand-wrapped plants would also be the perfect way to surprise a friend or a neighbor with a little gift for their own table this season.

The project is simple enough for the smallest of hands and the materials needed are quite simple, too: craft paper, twine, scissors, and a small plant or cutting flowers from a garden. You might also consider drafting a brief note to attach or adding a drawing/painting from your child. Discuss together with your children who might like a new plant for their table, or who might simply need a gift from a friend? These small gifts can remind us all to pay attention to those around us, especially to those around us who may need a reminder that they’re seen.