15 Nature Activities + Books to Enjoy Spring Flowers

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.

Growing Character

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. 

Homeschooling | Encouragement for the Little Years

Our four children are five and a half years apart, meaning when we began our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a kindergartener, two preschoolers, and an older infant. I also had a calendar grid of all of the curriculum and plans I had researched and assembled for our learning––music, handwriting, math, reading, art, spelling, history, science and so on––I was optimistic, enthusiastic, and full of ambition. I had put so much thought and time into our decision to homeschool, I felt sure that with all of my plans in place, we could do it! And then, as happens with a home full of children under six, plans fell apart. Just a couple of months in, I found myself frustrated, sometimes only crossing one “school” plan off in a day and on the hardest days, not even crossing off one. I began doubting whether I actually could homeschool. Mark would come home and ask how the day went. Some days I could run him through some activities we had accomplished, but most days, I could only shoulder shrug: what had we actually done? I would rehearse the day aloud, at times feeling defeated by the mundanity: meals/snacks, laundry, nursing? Toilet training, tantrums, sibling squabbles? Read aloud, Legos, painting, play outside? Did we finish our reading lesson, have tears during math, practice our handwriting?

I was looking for check marks, for progression through my plans for our year. I was looking for affirmation, signs that I wasn’t going to screw up my children.  I needed a sign that what we were doing mattered. Like many parents, I wanted so much for our homeschool experience and was working hard to tweak and  improve. I wanted to have an answer when people casually asked about science or history or spelling, to prove that I really could do this, even if it was simply proving it to myself. Homeschooling worked so neatly together in my head, and yet in action, it seemed to be a mess! Some days our home life felt smooth and in sync, in spite of their busyness and our slow academic progress.

When I look back to those early years of mothering and homeschooling, what I needed most was encouragement––little reminders to keep going, perspective from a mother just a few steps ahead. I realize that every parent and home is different. Our goals vary and the texture and nuances of our days will too. That’s exactly as it should be, but today, I want to speak specifically to the readers with littles at home, those who are considering or trying out homeschooling for the first time, for families who have younger siblings at home with you. Here are a few things I wish an older homeschooling mother would have said to me in those years when I was about to quit because I couldn’t reconcile our family logistics with all I had hoped in my head or my plans.

You are exactly who your child needs. Your children are a gift to you, and you to them. Wisdom, counsel, and troubleshooting are so helpful on this journey, but in the end, you have to make choices for your home. Pray. Observe. Listen. Use your intuition. Ask for wisdom from people you trust. And just go with it.

You do not have to do it all to be successful. And neither do your children. Focus on a few important goals each day and let go of the rest for now. I wrote more specifically about this here and here.

Be present. The little years are so demanding, but you will miss them. They are foundational for who your children are to become, for how you will relate as they grow. Don’t worry about what you will do or how you will make it through tomorrow. Work patiently and connected with your children today and you will be prepared for it.

Build your day’s activities around your natural home rhythm, not an academic agenda. When I look back now I notice how often I was fighting our home rhythm. My plans were good plans, but aside from meal and nap times, they had omitted our daily living practices, the personal nuances that make our home work.

Be patient with yourself, and with them. As your children grow, their capacity and attention will grow, too. They’re not interested in a writing yet? Focus on reading and letter recognition and offer them play to strengthen writing muscles. Tears everyday in math? Try a more hands-on approach, like here, or wait a bit longer to begin lessons. Your child is eager for academic lessons, but your home schedule or routine doesn’t consistently allow it? Invite them to help with home tasks for a time and set a specific time for you to work one-one-one with their “school” work.

You do not need an academic checklists to validate your days. For list-makers and high-achievers (raises hand), put aside your plans and study your children. If you must make lists (raises hand again), list books you might enjoy together or a few craft ideas for your week or month. List questions they ask or topics them mention for your next trip to the library or museum or nature walk. Make your lists responsive to the conversations in your home, not burdensome tasks. The early years carry enough tasks and burdens of their own. Wink.

Play more. Play more. Play more. The gift of time and play are one of the best gifts for homeschool families. Here is a favorite book list for ideas to encourage play at home and some of the ways it benefits children of all ages.

Let them be messy. And teach them clean up. Wink. But seriously, the little years are busy and messy. That’s okay. Regular practice of cleaning up together with help them learn a bit about respecting spaces and how to care for one another and our things. It takes time. Our family is still learning this skill.

Save lessons that require more focus for a quieter part of the day. Most children need a quiet time for reading lessons or math. Consider how younger sibling activity and interruptions affect lessons with older children. Look for quiet windows of time, and consider using one of those instead.

Home care and self care are important, too. Teaching your child how to care for the home and themselves is an important lifeskill.  Perhaps your child loathes sitting still but loves helping in the kitchen or with chores. This won’t always be the case, but consider the ways busy hands might prefer to learn.

Everyone has opinions. Smile at strangers who glare or who give their opinions in the grocery line. Also have a short response in your mind’s pocket for the “what about socialization?” question. Wink.

Take care of yourself in the process. Some days you will need to just enjoy coffee on the back porch, while your children play. If you start to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. Let the kids play. Put the baby in the crib. Turn on a brief educational show for a bit. Make space for yourself to breathe and regroup. Mothering is hard work and you matter, too. Don’t feel guilty about carving space to take care of yourself in the process.

OTHER FAVORITE RESOURCES TO ENCOURAGE + LEAD

Wild+Free | A beautiful homeschool community full of rich wisdom and varied experience.

Whole Family Rhythms | Seasonal guides for the preschool years at home, inspired by Waldorf methodology.

The Peaceful Preschool | A gentle literature and project-based curriculum, inspired by a variety of methodologies.

Play the Forest Way | Several activities/projects to encourage parents and young children to play in the woods.

The Life-Giving Home | A wonderful encouragement for mothers about the beauty of home in each month and season.

 

 

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