Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Nature School~ Easter Hike and Benefits of Outdoor Education

Forest School Nature Hike 

 As Jack grows up, it becomes more and more important to spend time exploring the outdoors. We spent Easter Sunday hiking at a local riparian forest. Goals included:
  • free exploration
  • immersion in nature
  • multi-sensory exploration (listening to birds, touching plants and sticks, smelling the fresh air, observing our surrounding, etc.)
  • natural movement and exercise
  • nature therapy
  • nature education

 We traveled without a curriculum,  plan, or  specific objective.

We simply explored.

 Jack loved the bridges.

We heard many woodpeckers chiseling away in the treetops.

 We identified poison ivy (thanks to a helpful park sign) and learned to avoid it.

We used a plant identification app on my phone to identify local flora.

Below is a video of our Easter hike:


If you've been thinking of spending more time in nature, here are some wonderful benefits (from Wikipedia- Forest School (learning style):

  • increased confidence and independence
  • increased self-esteem
  • abstract learning of mathematics and communication
  • reduced stress
  • improved concentration
Other benefits include:

  • learning to overcome adversity
  • increased problem-solving skills
  • enhances teamwork and group solidarity
  • develops leadership skills
  • new understanding of natural environments

Saturday, December 5, 2015

15 Ways Homeschooling Warms My Heart

It's pretty clear that I heart homeschooling.

I do not think everyone should homeschool or learn at home in the exact same way. What I love about learning is that we can individualized the process for each child based on their needs and wants.

When we first started homeschooling during the preschool years, I made many, many mistakes (and hopefully learned from then by now!). I freaked out during kindergarten and sent him to public school, afraid I could not be so radical to go against the grain. But now that we have homeschooled for years, it has become our family's lifestyle. And it so warms my heart.

Here are 15 ways homeschooling warms my heart:

1. My children have a voice in their education.
Although I plan 90% of our home learning, Aidyn exercises his thoughts and opinions on curricula, our daily plan, outside classes, and his views on our book selections regularly. He's pretty much on the school board. I love that he owns his education and knows that it's his to use and grow from.

2. Hearing my child read aloud is the most beautiful sound to me.
I adore driving in the car and hearing Aidyn's voice read aloud from the backseat. I loved when he read in short, quick little syllables and how he progressed to more fluid reading. I love hearing when he uses a bookish cadence when he reads, or stops the story to comment on something with vigor.

3. My little one is immersed in the lifestyle of learning.
Jack, now 14mo, has been in the thick of our home learning since day one. He's been in my wrap while I write on the board, snuggled in my arms while I read history books to his brother, playing with geometric shapes while we do math at the table, and tagged along on several field trips. Now that he's walking, he toddles to our alphabet chart and babbles out his own lessons (where did he get that from?) and pretends to write lessons on the wall.

4. No subject is scary.
Home is comfortable. In our home, we've tackled some pretty intimidating topics: chemistry, Shakespeare, Latin, The Odyssey, square numbers, ancient history, The Aeneid, poetry, cursive, Norse mythology, and other subjects that would have sent me in a mild panic in public school. But Aidyn has loved and embraced each of these seemingly difficult topics. When we study Shakespeare and poetry in more depth when he's in high school, these tasks will not be mammoth and terrifying. There have been many times he has heard a reference to Odysseus or the Trojan horse and piped up with enthusiasm that he knows that person or thing.

5. My child will surprise me with the best comments.
On a field trip to the river, Aidyn said out of nowhere, "This day is adventure!" When we were thinking of something fun to do, he suggested, "Let's take Jack on a walk and look at all the trees and leaves and talk about how they are different and changing." After watching the film Robinson Crusoe after just finishing the novel, he quipped, "Eh, the book was much better." I love those expressions of his because they are unexpected and remind me that he does care about learning.

6. I can lovingly serve healthy meals.
I don't make Pinterest-worthy meals, but I love that I can make healthy, hearty, and wholesome meals, and through that, my children can learn the importance of nutrition.

7. Learning leads us on "rabbit trails" and we can meander and explore as far down the path as we desire.
Our plans are not chiseled in stone. Often a topic ignites curiosity and off we roam to explore it. Yesterday, for example, after reading about basalt and a rock formation known as Devils Tower, we watched a YouTube video showing someone driving to Devils Tower in Wyoming, something I had never heard of before. I love the constant reminders that there is much to learn and discover.

8. Every story we hear helps to build my children's hearts.
 Because we are home, we have the time to learn from Beowulf, King Arthur, Jane Goodall, and the many protagonists and antagonists in the stories we hear. We can look at their choices and form our own opinions and goals. We can observe various aspects of the human condition, practicing empathy and understanding.

9. Playing outside often leads to beautiful discussions and the care of nature.
Yes, many times my kids just want to swing on the swings, jump in the trampoline, and zoom down the slide, but often they hold and observe a pine cone, balance a pill bug on their finger and worry about it, run their hands on the trunk of a tree, and delight in looking at clouds.

10. Poetry teatimes create magical, warm moments.
We light candles, decorate the table, set out some delicious goodies, and fill the air with poetry. It's a beautiful experience.

11. We celebrate holidays with depth and reverence.
Okay, we don't always remember every holiday, but when we plan ahead we delve into a holiday and read books to breathe life into it. We have read beautiful Irish fables on St. Patrick's Day, historic texts for Thanksgiving, and so many warm and sweet Christmas stories. We tend to read in the season we're in, which helps us feel connected to the rhythms of the world.

12. My children explore a wide array of interests and hobbies.
Aidyn has an interest in sewing that I would never have guessed. He's been able to take classes in sewing and express more interests that might seem out-of-the-box. Usually when he chooses something surprising, it warms my heart because I know he's using his authentic desires to learn.

13. I can admire and empathize with their efforts.
If they were away, I might mostly see their grades, their final achievements, but at home, I can witness Aidyn struggling to get through a difficult math problem or sound out a terribly long word. I can express my admiration of their effort by saying, "Wow, that problem was a bear, but you did it!" It's not always about grades but powering through the tough stuff that warms my heart.

14. Being together makes me feel whole.
We can snuggle if need be. Pile on the couch under blankets with a book. Aidyn and Jack can play on the floor or trampoline together in the middle of the morning. Grandma can accompany us on field trips. Dad can oversee science projects. Neighborhood friends can join us for parties. We have time to be together and that warms my heart.

15. We can share in memories of my youth, and I can cycle my culture back to them.
We have spent mornings watching Bob Ross paint beautiful pictures, listened to Mister Rogers sing "It's You I Like," smiled at old Disney Silly Symphonies, read R.L. Stine for fun, and have even had whole weeks where we "went back to the 80s" and played Nintendo and lived the life of an 80s kid.

There are so many more ways that homeschooling warms my heart. As they pop up, I will add to this list and hope that it grows and grows. I want to hear about your homeschool and how it warms your heart. Please feel free to share in the comments so I can follow you! 


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Our {Winter} Morning Basket

Many homeschoolers use "morning baskets," or "afternoon baskets" during the day. They typically consist of a hodgepodge of reading selections, some often religious or spiritual. As secular homeschoolers, we do not use any religious texts in our school, but we love morning baskets!

I feel like if we can only get through an hour of morning basket work and nothing else, then I can happily live with that!

Come take a peek at what's in our winter morning basket. Ours is individualized for my fourth grader who is learning about our home state of California this year. Please feel free to glean some ideas from our basket or comment some of your own suggestions and/or experiences.

Topics we cover:

1. Morning binder
2. Memory work
3. Art/Picture Study
4. History
5. Nature/Science
6. Seasonal Extra 
7. Poetry
8. Shakespeare
9. Biography
10. Read-Aloud

Now, we don't read from every topic every day, but we do most of them.

1. Morning binder

The morning binder consists of a personal information and emotions page, in which he practices writing and signing his name, writing his address and phone number, and documenting his feelings that day. I printed an emotion circle chart with a host of emotions available to choose from.

 Next is a page with a letter of the day. He must brainstorm a noun, verb, adjective, animal, food, and place that all begin with that letter. It's been wonderful practice for him to remember parts of speech. He also writes down the book and author he's currently reading and jots down any spelling words he's working on.
 Then we have a page for Latin words and food. He typically picks a Latin word he's currently learning, writes its meaning, puts it in a sentence, and draws it. I write the name of a food, and he looks it up in our Wellness Foods from A to Z book and records its vitamin/mineral content.
 Because we're studying California all year, I write a different California city every day on this map page, and he searches online for it, marks its location and ours and records which direction that city is from us.
 2. Memory Work

This season, Aidyn is working on memorizing "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. We only work on this for five minutes a day with the goal of being able to recite it around Christmas.

3. Art/Picture Study

This season, we are looking at California impressionists. Most of the art is of beautiful California landscapes.

Once a week, we observe one painting, trying to copy it into our mind, close the book, and try to relate it back with words. Then we open it up and see if we missed any details. It's fun to hear what he sees compared to what I see, as he's usually more perceptive.

4. History

Again, because we are focused on California this year, we are mostly reading California history books.

Every day, we read a snippet about Native Californians.

Every other day, we read one of the stories in It Happened in Northern California, which is filled with all sorts of interesting stories from our region of the state.

Because early California history has us learning about Native Californians, we are also learning about extraordinary American Indians as well. We read one account per week.
5. Nature/Science

Aidyn loves rocks, so we're reading about different kinds of rocks and minerals every other day (or more, as Aidyn demands!)

6. Seasonal Extra

I found a fun Christmas book that explores the etymology behind seasonal words. We focus on one word a day.

What I love about this book is that each word references an old language (often Latin), a famous poet, and Shakespeare! 

7. Poetry

Once a week (usually on Poetry Teatime Tuesdays), we read a selection of poetry. This season is Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold and Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems.

8. Shakespeare

This season we are reading an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, a fanciful story of a magician and his daughter on a strange and haunted island.
 The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. We read a small section every day and plan to stretch it out all season.

9. Biography

We are focusing on a famous Californian, Joe DiMaggio.

10. Read-Aloud

So I'm not the only one reading, Aidyn reads a chapter every day from our current read-aloud, Stone Fox.

And that's it! Can you see why if all we do is our morning basket, I would be pretty satisfied? It usually only takes us an hour to get through it, and Jack is nearing an age where he is more receptive to materials we read and takes an interesting in listening along. Eventually my hope is that the morning basket unites us in home learning even if we are at different stages.

Please don't think this is all we do. After morning basket, we typically have a full day of math, Spelling Power, copywork/dictation, grammar, Latin, science (on some days), and outside classes (science olympiad, P.E., writing workshop, and study hall).

Does your family have a morning basket? What kinds of things do you read? Do you do anything special for the holidays? I'd love to hear about it!



Sunday, November 22, 2015

Play School with Jack~ Letter Ff

Play School for One-Year-Old (13M) Jack
Week Six
Letter Ff

Letter-of-the-week box~ Letter Ff

This week's letter box is filled with a frog puppet, a plush frog toy, a jumping frog toy and plastic frog toy, footballs, a fish, two books about farms, a fire truck book with wheels, a picture of a fox, foam letter F, and a foam number 5.

Jack enjoyed exploring his letter-of-the-week box, especially the footballs and the frog puppet. I made the puppet croak and talk to him, much to his delight.


This week, we listened to French children's songs and forest sounds on YouTube. His favorite, by far, was the video below, which simply consists of a frog singing French songs in a Chipmunk-pitched voice.

On Thursday, we played this relaxing forest sounds video and listened to the gentle sounds of forest animals, rivers, and brooks. It really mellowed the atmosphere in our home.

Other language activities~

We read Forest Babies (Animal Babies) together a few times this week. Jack enjoyed "petting" and giving kisses to all the animal babies. We talked about each animal and the sounds they make, and when he was open to it, I read him the actual text.

  • lots of talking, listening, and signing (still working on "more" and "banana")
  • ABC song and counting
  • talking about pain (he was dealing with some terrible teething pain, so we talked a lot about pain, where it was coming from, and medicine to help relieve it)
Physical/Sensory activities~

Jack is still mastering the skill of walking. He certainly walks more than ever but still relies on crawling to get him places fast. He's also still climbing up and down stairs and has become quite adept at it. Rocking in his little red rocking chair is one of his favorite activities.

Exploring the world~

We went hiking along the Tuolumne River in Modesto, and though I mostly carried Jack in the wrap, he enjoyed looking up at the trees and pointing whenever a bird flew overhead. He held branches, acorns, oak leaves, and other nature treasures.

His favorite part was crawling and walking in the dirt and leaves. He mucked through it all, picking up tiny sticks and throwing acorns, until his pants and socks were full of crunched-up leaves. When we got home, he took the longest nap he's ever taken.

Now that the weather is cooling down, it's hard to get outdoors as often, but the payoff is worth it!


  • We need more outdoor/nature time, even if the weather is terrible
  • I really enjoyed playing nature sounds instead of only traditional music
  • I would like to incorporate Jack into more of homeschooling activities, especially poetry teatime and P.E. class (as just an observer, of course.)
There will not be a play school post next Sunday because we are taking the week off to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. But we'll be back with letter Gg!

Our Three Most Treasured Thanksgiving Stories

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday--the colors, the food, the gathering, the warmth of home, and the pumpkin-infused everything. Over the years, we have read (and re-read) some wonderfully beautiful Thanksgiving stories, and I want to share them with you!

We'll start with the best:

 Cranberry Thanksgiving  by Harry and Wende Devlin is so delicious and heart-warming, it has become a family tradition. Set on a cranberry farm in New England, the story centers around a treasured and secret cranberry bread recipe in danger of being snagged. A sweet and delightful tale, Cranberry Thanksgiving shows us how important it is to reserve judgements and how easy it is to love Mr. Whiskers!

An Outlaw Thanksgiving by Emily Arnold McCully is a captivating story based on the true events. Young Clara and her mother find themselves at a Thanksgiving banquet with a man whose face seems oddly familiar to one they saw on a wanted poster, the notorious Butch Cassidy. Clara learns about human complexity and the unexpected in the Wild West in this adventurous Thanksgiving tale.

Thanksgiving on Thursday (Magic Tree House #27) Like all Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osbourne, readers are plunked right in the middle of the action. Jack and Annie find themselves at the very first Thanksgiving where they meet Squanto and the Pilgrims. What we loved about this book was how we felt simply transported back in time with a rare firsthand look at the origins of Thanksgiving.

 Do you have any Thanksgiving favorites I failed to mention? I want to hear about them!