For the Love of Audio Books

“The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one is with another who shares the same books.”Katherine Mansfield
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I love the way listening to audio books brings all my kids together.
Yesterday they spent the entire afternoon in the boys’ room listening to The Last Battle, a book they’ve read and listened to several times before. But we like to listen to our favorite books again and again. It just makes us love them more.
They were all in there together, drawing, building Legos, or just laying on the bed and soaking up the beautiful language and storytelling of one of CS Lewis’ masterpieces.
We don’t use earphones or earbuds when we listen to books, at home or in the car, because I love the way listening to a story together builds our relationships with one another.

The moment we put those ear buds in, we are shutting ourselves off from everyone around us. I work very hard to cultivate relationships within my family and so this “shutting off from one another” is the exact opposite of what I want to see happening.
Instead, I love to hear my kids laughing over a story together, or discussing the book as they listen to it together. We aren’t all separated from each other–we’re enjoying time together. I love the way, everyone is drawn into a room when an audio book is turned on. We’re pulled together by the magic of a good story.
We have beautiful conversations about whatever book we are listening to. Everyone chimes in, and we all relate to the book in different to ways, but we’re experiencing it together,  which creates such special bonds. We talk in the language of the books we’ve read. I often hear my kids say things like this, “you know that part in The Hobbit…” Or, “it’s like in Caddie Woodlawn when…”
The books we read together become shared experiences and create cherished memories just as family vacations and adventures do. In fact, the books we’ve read together are some of our favorite adventures.
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I have always felt that putting something in, or over, our ears separated us from one another and I’ve never liked that. Even at 11 or 12 when I got my first Walkman, I didn’t like listening to it in the car because I was missing out on the conversation my parents were having. I hated sitting next to my mom while she drove, my headphones on, and not talking to her. It felt almost rude to me. But even more, l knew I wasn’t experiencing life with her. There would be no conversations about the simple things we saw as we drove, or the deeper conversations that might happen as we sat next to each other.
There wouldn’t be singing along together to the Sam Cook cassette playing in our hunk of junk Dodge Dart while my mom drove my brother and I to math tutoring. There’d be no laughing over silly stories together There wouldn’t be learning how to sit together in silence, each having our own thoughts, yet fully comfortable together in the quiet.

Building relationships is certainly easier when we are fully engaged with one another.
I suppose all those things played a part in my decision to keep our book time free from ear buds and headphones. It’s not that those things are bad in and of themselves. Or even that using them is bad. It’s just that for us, the experience of being together without them is better.
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So how does this life style decision play out in our family, practically speaking?
Truthfully there is no grumbling about listening to books together because it’s something they’ve always done. This is our way of life and they don’t seem to mind it at all. The only problem that occurs occasionally is that someone is being too loud and interrupting the book. Then that person is asked to be quiet or leave the room. And the problem is solved.

We get most of our books from our subscription to Audible. This does have a monthly fee, but I consider it an essential part of our kids’ education and to our family life, so it is 100% worth the money. I get two credits to use a month and very rarely use more than those credits That means I do not spend anything beyond my monthly subscription fee. Sometimes we can purchase a whole series for one credit, like all the Ramona Quimby books. Or we purchase lots of long books, so we really make those credits count.
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Our Audible books can be played on any computer or phone, so the kids can listen to them just about anywhere.
They often have the computer set up in the living room and gather there to listen to books.
They can also listen in their rooms on the laptop or on our family iPod.
We borrow books on cd from the library often and those get played on Lilly’s Hello Kitty “boom box” or on the computer.
No one has to stay in a room and listen to a book if they’d rather be doing something else.
Sometimes one kid is inside listening to a book while the others are playing outside or in another room drawing. But it just seems that once a book is turned on, they all just gravitate to where it is playing.
My kids have a hard time resisting stories.

We also listen to books in the car all the time.
My kids don’t mind long drives because they get to listen to books. In fact, short drives are far more troubling to them because they want to listen to the book longer.

Everyone takes turn choosing the books we listen to. Or we choose one together.
Occasionally there might be a groan when Davy picks “Tales of Brer Rabbit” agin. But mostly they are happy with each other’s book selections.
They just love listening to books so much that they are happy for every new book that is chosen.Or a beloved old book revisited.
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Beyond the relational ways listening to books together has helped our family, it has also had an impact in other ways:
1.  We’ve grown our reading skills because of listening to challenging books from a very young age. My younger kids are always listening to books high above their reading level. But because of the constant exposure to these books, their comprehension skills and vocabulary are through the roof.  We also listen to all our books unabridged. It has never proven to be a problem for them–even with the most challenging books. They are building skills to become great readers.
2.  Everyone is exposed to a variety of genres, and authors they might otherwise not choose. Each of us has our favorite books of course, but since we are listening to books together, we are kept from choosing the same types of books over and over again. My kids are open to reading just about anything, because they’ve experienced so many different types of great books.
3.  We’ve learned the art of listening and paying attention. Listening to books that are challenging has taught all my kids the skill of being a good listener. They have to pay attention in order to understand what is going on in a story that may have lots of characters, an involved plot, advanced vocabulary, or complex sentence structure.
4. We’ve learned the importance of asking questions. Many of the books we listen to are higher level books. That means the younger kids will often stop and ask questions about what is going on, who a certain character is, or even say something like, “wait, what just happened?” If they were reading or listening alone, there would be no one to ask questions of, and I think the temptation would be to just stay lost. But because we’re listening together, asking questions is a normal part of the reading experience.
5.  We’ve learned the skill of summarizing, translating, re-telling , and explaining. As we listen to books together, and questions are asked, those questions must be answered. That means my kids are learning how to explain things to one another, and how to summarize what someone just missed or didn’t understand. Best of all, they are doing it in a natural, real life way.
6.  My kids are learning the joy and pleasure that comes from talking about books. The exchange of ideas and thoughts that come to us as we read (listen to ) a book together is a valuable skill that will translate to so many other parts of their life. It’s teaching them to be critical thinkers who can then discuss their thoughts. That’s a very practical part of this journey that I appreciate. But as I said before, they are also learning the joy and pleasure of discussing books. That to me is of great value as well. In fact, it may be my favorite part of this whole journey. Because there are few things I love to do more than talk about a book with my favorite little readers.

Now to get you started, here is a list of some of our favorite audio books.
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For the younger crowd:
*The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection narrated by Stockard Channing
*Charlotte’s Web narrated by EB White
*A Bear Called Paddington narrated by Michael Bond
*Mr. Popper’s Penguins narrated by Nick Sullivan
*The Courage of Sarah Noble narrated by Barbra Caruso
*The Peter Rabbit Collection narrated by Peter Batchelor

Books for older kids (but even my youngest has enjoyed listening to):
*The Yearling narrated by Tom Stechschulte
*The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy narrated by Rob Inglis
*The Princess and the Goblin narrated by Ian Whitcomb
*Johnny Tremain narrated by Grace Conlin
*Littel Women narrated by Kate Reading
*Caddie Woodlawn narrated by Roslyn Alexander
*The Borrowers series narrated by Rowena Cooper
*Father and I Were Ranchers (and the following books in this series) narrated by Ralph Moody
*Danny Champion of the World narrated by Peter Serafinowicz
*The Wind and the Willows narrated by Michael Hordern
*The Merry Adventures of Robinhood narrated by David Thorn
*The Chronicles of Narinia narrated by various narrators

These books are all available on Audible.
But you might be able to find them at your local library or on the site LibriVox, which offers many books to download for free.
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I hope this glimpse into the way we experience books as a family will encourage you to listen to more books together. You don’t have to totally ditch those earbuds.But I promise the benefits that come when you share a book together as a family will make you want to tune into one another more, and tune out less.
Remember, you don’t have to go on fancy vacations, or grand adventures to create memories with your family. Making memories can be as simple as popping a bowl of popcorn and settling down with a fabulous audio book. You’ll laugh together, wonder together, and if you’re like my family, cry together. Best of all, listening to a book takes some time, so you’ll get to revisit that together time again and again until the book is done.
Its magic!
Don’t underestimate the power of books to bring people together.
For the love of (audio) books,

*For more on my love of books, be sure to follow me on Instagram. You can find me @maandpamodern, right here.

Mother Love

On my first Mother’s Day, James was only 2 weeks old. And I had just been released from the hospital.
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A few days before I had woken from an exhausted, new momma sleep, aware that something was dreadfully wrong with my body.
I stumbled to the bathroom and when I switched on the light, I saw my pajama pants were covered in blood. I ran frantically through the house, looking for the phone. I started to call my doctor but decided 911 was a better choice at the moment. And then I laid down in the bathtub because I didn’t want to make a mess on the bathroom floor.
I still remember my conversation with the 911 operator.
“Where are you now?” she asked me.
“In the bathtub.”
“Is there water in it?”
“A little bit.”
“OK, I want you to climb out of the tub and lay on the floor. I don’t want you standing and I don’t want you getting cold because I don’t want you going into shock. Can someone cover you with a blanket?”
By that time Aaron was in the bathroom with me, terrified and trying to help, and holding a baby James who had woken up from the commotion.

Then the paramedics came, and I remember the sweet, comforting presence of a female paramedic. She made sure to tell me how sweet James was. After a few minutes she gently told me I needed to go to the hospital because I wasn’t supposed to be bleeding like this.
“I’ve had babies,” she said. “This isn’t supposed to happen. But your doctor will help you and you are going to be OK.”
Her care for me comforted me in those moments of fear.
They loaded me into the ambulance and closed the doors.
As I watched Aaron and James through the windows, growing smaller and smaller as we drove away, I had never felt more alone than I did at that moment.
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After several hours in the ER, they were unable to stop my hemorrhaging. i was passing blood clots the size of softballs. My blood pressure was dropping. And things were feeling scary.
They gave me an iv and a blood transfusion.
Then they prepped me for surgery.
All this time Aaron had been in and out of my room with James in his arms.
The ER nurses kept tying to take care of James for him, but he staunchly refused to let go of his newborn son.
But those nurses were wonderful, still wanting to help.
They went up to labor and delivery to get a breast pump. They wanted me to feed James before I was out during and after surgery.
They brought it into the room and hooked me up.
And there I was, laying in a hospital bed, shirtless, with an IV in one arm, and a blood transfusion in the other,
On one breast Aaron held James up to breastfeed, and on the other the nurse held the breast pump.
“So this is what it is to be a mother,” I thought.
It takes everything you’ve got.
And then some.

Surgery was successful, and my doctor told me she’d never had a case like that.
I’d never been so grateful for modern medicine.
It saved my life.
I would be there to see my baby grow up.
Life had never felt  more precious.
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I came home scared, exhausted, and emotional basket case.
But then my mom came to stay with us.
And everything was better.
That Sunday morning Aaron surprised us with my favorite scones and coffee for breakfast. He bought us both sweet bouquets and gave us Mothers Day cards.
Mom and I sat around all day, holding the baby, eating, and watching one Tom Hanks movie after another: Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Cast Away, Catch Me If You Can, and That Thing You Do.
I rested and we reveled in my sweet, brand new baby. It was peaceful and calm and one of my most favorite Mothers Days.
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A few days later, it was time for her to go home. As I stood on the porch and watched her drive off, I felt almost as alone as I did that night in the ambulance.
I needed her.
I felt so silly, crying about it. I was a grown woman. But it didn’t matter.
We never stop needing our mothers.

Blame it on my new mommy emotions, but I wanted her to stay and take care of me forever.
And in a way, she has.
She has helped me after the births of all my babies. She prays for me in the delivery room. She remembers the baby we lost. She comforted me in my worries over first fevers, and later, over disobedient children.
She loves my babies as much as I do. She knows their favorite foods and how to take care of them when their sick.


My life is full of the love, wisdom and strength of my mom.
And of many other mothers.
There is Cathy, my mom’s best friend and my second Mom.
Cathy has stood by me almost my entire life, loving me, laughing with me, and caring for me.
She has helped me deliver my babies and walked with me through deep waters.
I love her dearly.
There is my mother in law, who gave me the sweetest husband in the world.
There is my sister, who always says yes to fishing, the skate park or the ball field with her boys. Even after a full day of work, she says yes. She is one of the most giving moms I know. She has taught me so much about being a mother.
There are the moms I knew growing up who loved their kids and loved me because I was their kid’s friend.
And there are all my mom friends, too many of you beauties to name, who encourage and inspire me in this journey daily. They keep me going.

Mother’s Day is special to me because being a Mom changed my life to a better that I never could have imagined. But also because I am blessed by the many Moms I know who show me everyday what real love is.
Mother love–there is nothing like it.
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“All I am, or hope to be, I owe to my mother.”
Abraham Lincoln

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in my life that I love so very much.

Ma and Pa Modern Adventures: waterfalls, frogs, and salamanders, oh my!

We love waterfall hikes.
In fact, they rank among our most favorite kinds of hikes.
Southern California is notoriously dry, and has been even more than usual for the past few years.
However, there are still some wonderful waterfalls to be found if you look hard enough.
And given the extra rain we got this winter, the waterfalls are flowing better than they have been for the past couple of years.
This spring has been wonderful for us in finding lots of full creeks to splash in.
And yesterday we found a full waterfall.
It was glorious!

We hiked the Millard Canyon trail to the falls.
The trail has been closed for a number of years due to a fire.
It is recently re-opened and still uncrowded and beautiful.
No trash or graffiti like on some of our other favorite hikes in this area.
We are hopeful it stays that way.

The trail up to the falls was lush and green, and full of rocks to scramble over.
At some parts the creek splashed along beside the trail and sparkled in the sun.
It was pretty perfect.


Also along the trail were these beautiful white flowers, actually a weed, called Mexican Devils.
It is considered an invasive weed and can take over native plants.
It can also cause respiratory illness in horses.
Its really pretty, but after seeing how much of it there was along the trail, it is easy to see how it could choke out native plants.

We also found many, many frogs at the waterfalls.
And let me tell you, it was quite a thrill!
We found this guy, the California Tree Frog.

These frogs are nocturnal and take shelter in rock crevices near water during the day.
This was the first time we had seen these frogs and when the kids saw a number of them hanging out inside some cracks in the rocks around the waterfall, they were so thrilled.
I encouraged the kids to handle them gently, while they looked closely at them for observation, and then to let them go.
It was so much fun to meet a new kind of frog!
FYI: all reptiles and amphibians carry salmonella in their digestive tracts.
I learned that the hard way when I got salmonella after touching a baby turtle.
Not fun!
I always make the kids wash with hand sanitizer after catching any of these little creatures.
Of course, this was the one day I was out of hand sanitizer.
Thank goodness for my other mama friends coming to my rescue.

There are high, rock walls around the canyon and waterfall.
The big boys, of course wanted to explore those, and so we did a little bouldering.
We got pretty high up one of the steep canyon walls before I looked down and thought maybe we should stop climbing.
Even though all of us really wanted to go on.
But those rocks were slippery, and went crashing down the hill when our feet knocked them loose.
I didn’t want to knock out any kids at the bottom of the cliff.
Nor did I want to see one of the boys go rolling down the hill.


So we found a less rocky place and slid down the dirt hill on our feet.
Those boys are growing more adventurous by the week!
Its a lot of fun.
But also……a little nerve-wracking!
I may need to invest in safety gear for them and their climbing!

I also spent a lot of time chasing these little guys.
They ran up and down the trail like mountain goats.
I’m not kidding!
I think they are going to be even more comfortable chasing and finding adventure than the big boys, because they’re getting an earlier start.
I love that they get to have these days of fun and exploring with their best buddies.

After the 1.5 mile back to and from the falls, our awesome group of mamas and kids felt like we really hadn’t hiked much.
So we decided to explore another trail.
It was quiet and peaceful and green and followed along the same sparkly, dancing stream.
Oh it was just heavenly!
The big thrill was when a couple of the little girls found a couple of salamanders swimming in the water.
We were all so excited!
The big, brave Daddy that was with us for the day picked them up and let the girls hold them.
I felt brave too and held one too.
It was smooth and soft and a little slimy feeling from being wet.
It had a bright orange stomach.
And after the pair were returned to the water, Davy and I watched them begin to wrestle.
Turns out salamanders return to the pools they were born in to “wrestle” or mate.
They swim together under the water, twisting and turning and getting busy!
It was pretty cool to watch.
This spring has been really great to us for seeing lots of mating and eggs, and brand new babies everywhere we go.
Nature is a great teacher.

But I guess I needed to learn a little bit more about nature.
Because we learned that the salamanders we so excitedly held yesterday are actually poisonous.
They were California Newts, and the most toxic of all salamanders.
I had no idea.
Neither did the other mamas in our group.

James, however, knew and told me when we got in the car that salamanders are poisonous and we shouldn’t have held them.
He learned it from the wilderness survival guides he likes to read.
My friend Karen, whose daughter was also holding the newt, texted me and said, “are you having any symptoms? These salamanders are toxic!”
Thankfully we were all fine and learned a nature lesson we won’t forget.

Form now on I’ll always remember not to pick up salamanders, that I must always check that I have hand sanitizer in my bag, and that I need to read a wilderness survival handbook STAT!
Time to earn my nature mama cred.
And to be like my Boy Scout son, and BE PREPARED.

We sure do love our adventures!
This is learning at its very best.
“The world is our classroom.”

Home Schooling 101: How to do Nature Study with a group

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The longer I use nature study as the means of teaching my kids science, the more I love it.
It lays such a great foundation for them for further study of the many different branches of science.
“Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” (Charlotte Mason Vol. 1, p. 61).

When we first began home schooling,we did nature study on our own.
We’d collect nature finds out on our weekly hikes, come home research them, and then the kids would draw and paint them in their nature notebooks.
It was good, but after a time, I was wanting to do more.

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So several years ago our home school group decided to engage in a more focused method of nature study together.
We’d chose a topic for each term, let our kids to study this topic together, add specific focus to some of our weekly field trips, and then have the kids share presentations with one another at the end of each term.
The focus of our group is for fellowship with one another each week, spending time in and studying nature together, to adventure and learn together.
We weren’t wanting to change into a science co-op.
We just wanted to add a more focused nature/science study to what we were already doing.

With a little planning and thought, our vision became a reality.
It has been a fantastic way for our kids to study science together!

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Here is how our group does it:
Every term we pick a new science topic to study.
To find those topics, we follow the nature study schedule from Ambleside Online.
You can find the nature study schedule  here.

There are 3 topics of study per year, one for fall, winter and spring.
Each family approaches the study in their own way.
We do share resources and ideas, books, websites, and lessons that are working for us.
And when we plan our schedule of field trips, we all try to keep in mind any hikes, classes, or trips that fit into our topic of study and then add those to our schedule.
Its been a great way to add some more focus to our nature study together.

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For example, when we studied weather, we visited the campus of UCLA and attended a class taught by the head of the meteorology department.
We also visited a historic lighthouse.
When we studied stars and sky, we visited the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium in Los Angeles.
And we went to a rocket launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base!
For reptiles, we visited a reptile zoo, and for brooks, rivers, and oceans, we visited tidal flats, some creeks, and tide pools.
For cultivated crops, we visited an olive packing house.
And even on field trips that aren’t specifically focused on our nature study, we can’t help finding ourselves thinking about the topic and seeing it everywhere we go.
Its really fun!

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At the end of the term, the kids all do presentations related to the topic of study.
Again, its up to each family how they want to choose the topic.
It seems like most of us just let the kids lead the way picking something that really interests them and is somehow related to our topic.
And they have a great time doing their presentations.
As they have presented on bugs, birds, trees and outer space, they have made dioramas, sculptures, home made food, smoothies, games, and lots of presentation boards.

Of course, standing up in front of a group and presenting also gives our kids those all important socialization skills.
I’m sorry. 😂
After a lifetime of being asked about socialization, I just can’t resist a little teasing when the topic comes up.
I assure you, presenting to a group of moms, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and an array other, multi-aged elementary students, is a real boost to those social skills.
In fact, our biggest problem is that our kids are all so social, its hard to get them to stop presenting or asking questions after each presentation.
They’ve got this socialization thing in the bag.

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Doing nature study this way has been a really great for my kids.
They love learning like this with their friends.
Its given them more focus when we are out together each week.
And more excitement as they discover things together.

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For us moms, it hasn’t added any extra work.
In fact, I have found its really given me more direction and excitement to study nature and science this way.
Its become one of my absolute favorite subjects to teach to my kids.
Because basically I am learning alongside them.
I never loved science as a kid, but I sure do now!
“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.” Richard Louve

For more of my thoughts on nature study, and nature notebooks, you can read my post about it here.

Cheers to learning!

Poetry 101: How to Discuss a Poem

///This is the second post in a series about teaching poetry.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing reasons why we need to teach poetry to our kids, explaining how to discuss a poem, offering lesson ideas, as well as giving you plenty of resources that will help in your journey of making poetry a part of your everyday learning. I look forward to your comments and questions, and I hope very much these articles will be useful to you.
Now let’s get started!///


“Poetry is the best words in the best order.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.” Carl Sandburg
“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” Percy Bysshe Shelley
“Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes.” Joseph Roux
“Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” Dylan Thomas

There is a philosophy out there that says  a poem should never be discussed.
That a poem should simply be read, the words savored, and then the book closed.
And the poem put away.
The proponents of this philosophy would say that the poem exists in and of itself, and that to pick it apart, to analyze it, and to talk it to death, destroys it.
I beg to differ.

I think that talking about a poem makes it even more enjoyable than just reading it.
The poem is beautiful in and of itself.
But if there is a meaning or lesson hidden in the words of the poem, I want to ferret it out.
If there are beautiful word pictures the poet has created, I want to pull those out and celebrate their loveliness.
If I am confused by a poem, I want help figuring out the parts I don’t understand.
If the poem makes me laugh, I want to share that part with others and laugh with them.
Things are more enjoyable when they are shared.
That includes poetry.

When we are moved by something we want to share it with others.
And the way we share a poem with someone is by talking abut it.
Not talk it to death, of course.
But to discuss it, study it, think on it, and yes, also to rejoice in its beauty.
I think the magic of a poem only grows when we talk about it together.

But how do we do that?
How do we go from reading a poem to our kids, which is sometimes a difficulty in and of itself, to actually talking about a poem with them?
The first thing is knowing what we can’t do.
Which is read them a poem and then say, “well, what do you think?”
At the most you might get an, “I liked it”.
At worst you might get a shoulder shrug.
Talking about poetry, just like talking about any art form, is something that must be taught.

You are the leader in this.
You are the one who gets the discussion going, and who keeps it going when there are long, awkward silences.
Because those will happen.
At least at first.
It takes time to learn how to talk about poetry, and then to feel comfortable doing it, and finally to enjoy it.
I encourage you to persevere.
It will be worth it!


Here are some tips for getting your discussion going:

*First, read the poem aloud a couple times.
I like to read the poem once, and then say, “I’m going to read it again. Sometimes it helps us to actually hear a poem better if we read it more than once.”

*Next, ask some easy questions about the poem to get the discussion going.
What is the setting? A farm, the woods, the city, inside or outside?
What season is it?
What time of day is it?
What colors are in the poem?
Can you describe what the animals, people, or other characters look like?

*Then, how does the poem feel?
Is it a happy poem or a sad one?
Is it slow and thoughtful?
Does it move quickly?
Does it feel hurried?
Is it a cheery poem that makes you feel glad?
Or does it make you slow down and really think?

*Next, what kind of poem is it?
Is it a describing kind of poem?
Is it a poem with a lesson or a moral at the end?
Is it a poem that wants to teach you something?
Is it a poem that is meant to make you laugh?
Is it a poem that is just meant to help you see something in a new way?
Or is it a poem that tells a story?

*Now tackle unfamiliar words in the poem.
Ask your child if there are words in the poem he doesn’t know.
Have him guess the meaning of those words. I
If his guesses are incorrect, have him look those words up, or tell him the definition.
Read the poem again with the new understanding of the meaning of those words.
Does it help you understand the poem better or see new things?

*Lastly, have everyone share their favorite part or thing about the poem.
Be sure to share yours.
It can be as simple as a single line, or an image that captured your imagination.
Or you could talk about how the poem made you feel, or what it taught you.
If the poem wasn’t your favorite, its OK to say that.
None of us share the same taste
So give your children the freedom to tell you if a poem didn’t really resonate with them.

*If you’d like, you can add a discussion about the poem’s meaning.
But this isn’t neccesary or even applicable for every poem.
Some poems really are just a descriptive journey and that is their purpose.
However, if you are struck by the message the poet is conveying through the poem, share it with your kids.
And don’t be afraid to ask them if they heard a message in the poem too.
On the other hand, if you are completely lost when it comes to the meaning of the poem, share that.
Once again, BE HONEST!
Just because you are the grown up doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
I think it helps our kids tremendously when they see we struggle with things just like they do.
Be human in front of them and let them see that you are on a learning journey together.

*You don’t have to do all of this every time.
Don’t let this list make you feel like you have to do all these things every time you read poetry together.
You may just choose a few questions from the list and talk about the poem for a few minutes.
But imagine you are doing that every day, and the many, rich discussions you are having as a result.
Some poems will really strike a chord with you and the discussion will last longer and be more animated.
While other poems won’t have the same effect, and will only merit a short discussion.
That’s OK.
The value comes not in the length of the discussion, or even the depth, but that poetry is being read daily, enjoyed, and talked about together.
As the discussions happen again and again, your children are experiencing an exposure to a literary world that will grow them as readers, writers, thinkers, and listeners.
And most of all, as people.
That is a truly valuable outcome.


Resources and Ideas For Further Study:
If you find a poem that really strikes yours or your child’s interest, don’t hesitate to learn more about it.
Spend some time researching the poet who wrote it.
Learn when she wrote it–at what point in her life, and what was happening in the world around her when she wrote it.
You can even look for other people’s thoughts on the poem.
See if you can find some critical analysis on the poem.
It never hurst to stretch yourself and learn more.

If you’d like some more inspiration for teaching poetry to your kids, including lesson plan ideas, I highly recommend this book.
You can buy it on Amazon here.
Or you can download it for free here.
There is a LOT in this book, and I haven’t gotten through it all yet.
And I don’t agree with everything I’ve read either.
But it has given me much to think about and opened my mind to new ideas.
Some of my favorite essays so far have been:
The Read Aloud Handbook (a must read)
The Process of Opening Gifts
Teaching Children to Write Poetry
The Care and Feeding of a Child’s Imagination
Recitation, Imitation, Stillness

There are some great lesson ideas too.
One of the ones I am excited to try is Street Sonnets.
It sounds like a fun one for writing spring poetry.
I’m also excited to try the lesson, Image LIst.
I hope you’ll try some of the lessons with your kids and share with me what you liked best.

Lastly, if you are looking for a great anthology of children’s poems that you can access for FREE, I’d love to direct you to the Ambleside Online website.
This Year One Poetry Anthology is a list of poems divided up by month.
So you can read seasonal poems, and poems that relate to particular holidays, as well as general poems.
You can simply read the poem from your phone or computer, or you can download and print a month’s or a year’s worth of poems.
It is a fantastic resource.
And did I mention it is FREE?!!
You can find it here.

I truly hope these Poetry 101 Posts are helpful to you.
If they are, I’d love to hear from you.
And I’d love if you let me know other things you are looking for from this series.
Lastly, if you are enjoying these articles, I’d love it if you share them around the inter webs. .
Truly, it would mean the world to me.
Thanks so much!
I’ll be back next week with the next article: Learning and Using Poetic Devices

Poetry 101: Why Teaching Poetry Matters

///This is the first post in a series about teaching poetry.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing reasons why we need to teach poetry to our kids, offering lesson ideas to help you accomplish that, explaining how to discuss a poem, as well as giving you plenty of resources that will help in your journey of making poetry a part of your everyday learning.  I look forward to your comments and questions, and I hope very much these articles will be useful to you.
Now let’s get started!///

Why Teaching Poetry Matters

Poetry is the best words in the best order.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”
Rita Dove
The crown of literature is poetry.”
W. Somerset Maugham
A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”
W. H. Auden
“A thousand thoughts that burn, come to us on the wings of verse.”
Charlotte Mason

I have always had an affection for poetry.
I had favorite poetry books that I loved reading when I was a little girl.
I have them still, and they are treasures to me.
The poems I read were of the simple sort, never very long or complex.
But as I grew older, I wanted to read more challenging poems, like Anne Shirley and her friends, reciting “The Lady of Shalott.”
I tried to read those poems, but it was always a struggle since I lacked the tools for reading them with any kind of pleasure or understanding.


You see, my early years of school were seriously lacking in poetry.
I don’t recall reading or learning about poetry in my earliest elementary days.
And when I began being home schooled, my mom hadn’t read, or even been exposed to much poetry herself, and therefore felt the difficulty in teaching it to me.
Beyond those simple poems I read as a little girl, I really didn’t read poetry again until college, when I began to study literature and writing.
That was when I truly fell head over heals in love with it.
Thanks to a few professors who shared their passion for poetry with me, my understanding grew, and therefore so did my love.

My experience is a pretty common one for most people.
Except for the part about falling in love with poetry.
For most people, that doesn’t happen.
After all, how many of us have said or heard it said, “I just don’t understand poetry,”
Or, “I stopped liking poetry in high school.”
There seems to be a great gap between the innate love of poetry that every small child has, and the aversion many adults feel towards it.
Why does this happen?
And how can we prevent it from happening to our kids?


To begin with, we must start reading poetry to our kids when they are young, and we can’t ever stop.
Poetry exposure can’t just be some Mother Goose and Shel Silverstein when they are young, and then a long dry spell until high school or college.
At which point, we hand them a book full of poems by TS Elliot, Keats, and Emily Dickinson and expect them to dive right in.
That’s like teaching a kindergartener to do simple addition, doing no math for 10 years, and then handing them an algebra book and telling them to get busy.
Not only will they be lost, but they won’t find any enjoyment in the work either.
We can’t expect our kids to love something when we aren’t giving them anything to fall in love with.
Loving poetry requires constant exposure.
“The only way to grow poetry is to make it a habit.” (J. Patrick Lewis)

One of the best ways to make poetry more accessible is to start reading it to your children when they are young.
Little children are naturally drawn to poetry.
They like the rhythmic, musical quality of poetry.
They like the way rhymes make things easy to memorize.
Above all, they will develop warm associations with poetry while it is read to them from your lap.
That is a sweet, sweet gift to give them.

At the beginning, it is so important to help your children simply enjoy poetry.
“Unless a poem says something to a child, tells him a story, titillates his ego, strikes up a happy recollection, bumps his funny bone—in other words, delights him—he will not be attracted to poetry regardless of the language it uses.” (Patrick Groff)
Read them fun poetry, silly poetry, even nonsense poetry.
Poetry doesn’t have to be serious to be “real”.
Laughing together over a silly poem is a surefire way to get your kids to enjoy reading poetry.
Read them poetry that tells a story.
You’d be surprised at the way your children can follow along with a long ballad.
After all, a ballad is simply a story told in verse form, and they know how to follow a story.
Read your children poetry about things they know.
Read about the seasons, and birds, and the sky.
Poetry helps our children notice and love the natural world around them because it is so often celebrated in poetry.
Read them poems about love and friendship, and families and pets.
Poetry helps children access their emotions in a positive way, when they read poems that praise and honor these relationships.
Read them poems that are illustrated.
The pictures add greatly to the understanding of a poem, but even more to the enjoyment of it.
Memorize poems with your children.
One of the very best ways to enjoy poetry is to read it again and again until it is committed to memory.
Then that poem becomes a friend.
One we call upon in times of happiness or sorrow, or simply because the way the words sound together gives us pleasure.
By making poetry reading a joy rather than a chore, we are laying in our children the foundation for a life long affection for poetry.


As they grow older, continue reading poetry as often as possible.
Poetry shouldn’t be a unit study or even a once a week thing “when we have time”.
Poems should be read and enjoyed together every day!
“If we wish children to believe poetry is important, the worst way to teach it is to develop a two-week poetry block, teach it, and then forget it—because that’s what children will do with it. The best way is to incorporate meaningful poetry throughout the day.” (Jim Trelease)
This doesn’t mean you have to create incredible poetry lessons for your children every day.
Its as simple as having a few good poetry anthologies on hand and reading one poem a day from them over breakfast, at dinner, or before bedtime.
Or it can be part of the school day, maybe first thing in the morning, after devotions, when your kids are in a thoughtful mood.
We read a poem or two at the start of most school days.
After our prayer, hymn, and devotional time, I read a poem aloud to all the kids.
We generally talk about it for a few minutes, because discussing a poem is part of what we enjoy about poetry.
That is all there is to it.
It is very simple, yet I often feel at the close of our poetry time that we have had one of the best lessons I could have given them.
Poetry makes us think.
And we should spend time thinking every day, shouldn’t we?


Once they reach school age, don’t drop poetry for other, “more important” subjects.
I think most of us recognize the artistic merit of poetry.
But beyond that, poetry is often viewed as an extra, or even as fluff.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth!
And for every parent or teacher that wonders what the practical advantages of learning poetry are, I can assure you they are many.
To begin with, reading poetry is one of the best ways to help your children become better readers of all kinds of literature, and also to become better writers.
Here’s why:
Poetry requires a different kind of reading than simple prose.
Poetry demands more of the reader because everything isn’t explained for him.
Poetry often expresses big ideas in a condensed space.
Therefore, poetry asks the reader to think, and often, to think hard.
If you want to help your children develop reading skills, read them poetry.

Poetry also is extraordinarily visual.
Its like a painting made of words.
Therefore, as your children listen to and read poetry, they are being fed beautiful, visual, language.
This encourages them to see those images in their mind, and to use their imagination to do it.
That is a critical reading skill.
It is also a skill that is increasingly lost in a digital age where everything is about the image being put in front of you, no imagination required.
This exposure to descriptive, visual language will also help your children with their writing.
By hearing lines like this: “For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim”  to describe a fish swimming through water, your kids can’t help but to incorporate this elevated, beautifully descriptive language into their own writing.
It won’t happen immediately, but that constant exposure to rich language will come out in their writing over time.


Also, more and more exposure to great poetry will aid your children in understanding other pieces of literature.
This won’t really happen until your child is older and reading more advanced poems, short stories, and novels, but it will be of great help to him then.
Writers like to make these things called literary allusions.
That is when they refer to another, well known piece of literature in the middle of their own piece of writing.
A working knowledge of famous poetry is helpful in understanding these literary allusions and therefore better understanding the piece of literature itself.

So, you see, there are practical reasons why we should teach poetry to our kids.
But I beg you not to allow yourself to become too distracted by these things.
Because interacting with poetry only for the purpose of taking tests, writing papers, answering comprehension questions, and having some kind of measurable data to prove learning has taken place misses the very heartbeat of poetry.
Remember, we want to help our children build a relationship with poetry.
We want them to learn from it because they love it, not just because they’ve been told to read it or write about it.
There are so many things wonderful things reading poetry gives our children and many of them can’t be assessed.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter.
“Teaching poetry is one important way to help children become human beings who are fully awake to the world.”
Megan McNamer


This resource list includes some of my favorite poetry books to add to your collection, a few poetry videos and cds, links to articles about teaching poetry, and helpful websites for teaching poetry.
There will be resources included with each article.

Books for the littlest ones:
First Poems of Childhood Illustrated by Tasha Tudor
A Merry-Mouse Book of Favorite Poems illustrated by Priscilla Hillman
The Big Golden Book of Poetry Illustrated by Gertrude Elliot
Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky

Books for those a little older:
Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems (this is a fabulous anthology)
The Tyger Illustrated by Neil Waldman (Makes reading William Blake’s famous poem even more interesting)
A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard (great to read with The Tyger)
Now We are Six by AA Milne (the author of Winnie the Pooh!)
A Flower Fairy Treasury by Cicely Mary Barker (beautiful poems and illustrations)
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (if you can track down a copy illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, (its the one pictured) then snatch it up instantly!  They are two of my most favorite children’s illustrators of all time.)
A Family of Poems by Caroline Kennedy (a great collection of poems organized by theme)
Childcraft Sorytelling and Other Poems (if you find any Chiildcraft books from the 40s, 50s or 60’s, snatch them up! They are just wonderful treasures)
Carver A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson (a beautiful biography of George Washington Carver told entirely in verse)
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (a beautiful story of a young girl surviving the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. Its also written entirely in verse.)

Funny and nonsense poetry
Poems by Lewis Carrol
Poems by Edward Lear
Poetry books by Shel Silverstein
Feg by Robin Hirsch (great book for an older kid who likes to read, and likes words and word games)

Books about poets:
The Poetry For Young People Series  (There are many different poets in the series and the books include the most loved poems by the poet as well)

Poems set to music:
Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant
A Child’s Garden of Songs by Ted Jacobs

Poetry videos:
Child;s Garden of Poetry produced by HBO and the Poetry Foundation

Helpful poetry websites:
The Poetry Foundation (check out “Children’s Poetry” in the Resources section. There is so much good stuff there!
Poetry Out Loud 
(An organization dedicated to bringing back the art of poetry recitation. There are some fabulous poetry recitations for you and your children to listen to, as well as quick descriptions as to what kind of poem it is, or sometimes brief words about the poet. I spent a whole afternoon listening to these!
Go to “Poems and Performance” and then “Listen to Poetry”
Some of the best pieces were: The Power of Poetry, The Lake Isle of Innisfree,We Wear the Mask, Pied Beauty, Conveying emotion, with excerpts from Hamlet, David Mason on knowing poems by heart,Hope is the thing with feathers, To My Dear and Loving Husband,

Articles about teaching poetry:

Again! Again! by Sonia Levitin (This one is fabulous! All abot poetry brining us joy)
Home Appreciation by Susan Thomsen (Poetry and home schoolers! This is a great article.)
Nurseries of Verse by Patrick Lewis
Open the Door –How to excite young people about poetry (This is a free, downlaodable book from the Poetry Foundation, full of essays about poetry. I highly recommend reading the first essay by Jim Trelease.)



When God Meets Us Where We Are

Do you know Patricia St. John? She was a life long missionary, and the author of many wonderful books for children. I read all of them as a young girl, but never knew about this book, her autobiography, until recently.
It’s marvelous.

The writer of the forward for the book describes Patricia St. John as a “redemptive person”. Isn’t that a beautiful description of a person? That someone would meet PSJ and come away feeling that from her? I was moved to tears at the thought of what a wonderful woman she must have been to garner such a description.
Redemption is certainly the theme of all her children’s books so I can imagine she must have been like that in person as well.

One of my favorite parts of the book thus far is a story PSJ shares of her time working in a small village in Morocco. Each week she’d invite the ladies of the village to come to her house for tea and fellowship, and then she’d share the gospel with them.
One older lady, the village water carrier, came every week, enjoyed tea, and then promptly fell asleep when the bible message began. Her snores were very disruptive, but PSJ let her sleep, knowing how tired she must be from her hard daily work.
One day this woman stayed awake for the message. She seemed happier and less bowed under the weight of her buckets. “What has happened?” PSJ asked her.
The woman replied, “I heard the message you spoke for me last week. The one where your Jesus said, “come to me all you that labor and are heavy laden.” You were talking to me. I am the one who is heavy laden with these buckets of water. And all the next day I kept saying Jesus’ name over and over as I carried those buckets, And they didn’t feel so heavy. He helped me.”
PSJ smiled in wonder at the goodness of God.
This woman had heard the words Jesus spoke and then she fell asleep and didn’t hear the rest of the words PSJ had spoken. PSJ went on further to share that the heavy burdens Jesus took from is were our sins. He carries them from us and for us.
But this woman didn’t need to hear that. She needed to know that there was a God who cared for her physical burdens. A God who would meet her simple, physical needs.
She didn’t theology or doctrine.
And God knew that.
He met her where she was.

I love that so much.
Because I have been there.
God has met me in the shower, where I hid my tears from my kids, and cried out my broken heart after a miscarriage and over a broken marriage.
God met m in the pages of The Chronicles of Narnia, where He showed me how much He loved and cared for me through the character Aslan. And what grace and forgiveness look like through the characters of Edmund and Eustace.
He met me as I read through the Jesus Storybook Bible with my kids, crying through every story that showed the mighty, healing, grace of a Savior who forgives.
He met me in a hospital room, in the gentle touch of a nurse, who washed blood from my legs and let me cry over a lost baby.
He met me atop a mountain, in the form of a hawk, hovering just over our heads for many minutes. Aaron and I were broken, bruised, and healing, and that hawk spoke to us a message of hope. He reminded us of a God Who brings miracles of beauty and grace, when it doesn’t seem like they could possibly be there.

None of these moments were in church, or came from deep, theological discussions.
They were, however, very much what I needed at the time.
God met me where I was,
He knew exactly what I needed from Him.
And He gave it to me.

I love my church, my pastor, and the way God ministers to me through both of them.
But I also love the way God knows me so deeply and personally that He brings me His love in many, many different ways.

He knows us.
He cares.
“You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”
Psalm 139: 1-12

If you are feeling weary and burdened, weighted down with care like that woman in the village, may you know the deep, abiding, caring love of God today.
You only need to call His name.

And remember, books change people.
The Good Book, and also so many others that God uses to speak to us.
Much love,

Sent from my iPhone

Inspiring Your Reluctant Nature Journaler

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It’s time for another Home Schooling 101 post!
This time I am tackling how to inspire your reluctant nature journaler.
If you are in a hurry, you can skip straight down to the how-to section near the end of the post.
You’ll find it under this heading:
“So what does it look like to offer freedom to your child as he nature journals?”
But I really hope you’ll take some time now, or later, to read through the rest of this article and really think about the WHY before you jump right to the HOW.
Its important to understand why we are doing things the way we do, and why we might need to change.
These are some of the things I’m discussing in this piece.
Please let me know what you think.

If you have spent any time reading about, learning about, or practicing a Charlotte Mason style education, then you’ve heard of nature journaling.
I mean, nature journaling is practically the holy grail of a Charlotte Mason education.
Nature journals, those beautifully sketched and painted pictures of bugs and wildflowers, acorns, and song birds–they’re what we all want our kids to create.
Nature journals are a Charlotte Mason educating mama’s street cred.
Or trail cred, as the case may be.

But what if you have a child who isn’t excited about nature journaling?
What about those unhappy moans every time you bring out that spiral bound notebook of 90 pound weight watercolor paper, the fine tip paint brushes, and the field guides for reference?
What if your child is a reluctant nature journaler?
What of your Charlotte Mason trail cred then?
Can you even be a Charlotte Mason home schooler with a reluctant nature journaler?
Or, can you not be a Charlotte Mason home schooler and still nature journal?

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Yes mamas, you can.
Yes. You. Can!
I know, because I was a reluctant nature journaler myself.
And I get a fair amount of guff about it from some of my fellow Charlotte Mason mamas who love nature journaling and excel at it. (you know who you are)
So I write this post with a understanding for where your reluctant nature journaler is at.
And sympathy for his frustration with nature journaling.
And also with a bit of pointed playfulness.
Because I think sometimes we mamas/schoolteachers need to relax a little bit.
We need to remember that learning should be a thing of joy, not a chore or tear filled session of frustration.
We can’t get so caught up in the way things are supposed to be, that we lose sight of why we are doing them in the first place.

If you’ve read some of my pieces on home schooling, you know I am big on finding your why.
Often times we are so ready to get started, to see results, and to prove to ourselves that our kids are learning something, that we miss a very important first step.
Before we worry about how our kids should be nature journaling, and how their nature journals should look, we need to be clear on why we want them to nature journal.
Why does nature journaling matter?

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And in order to answer that question, we first have to talk about nature study.
Because before nature journaling can happen, our children must engage in nature study.
Nature study is a truly unique and wonderful way to study the natural sciences.
It is one of the best ways I have found to make the subjects of biology, botany, physical geography, geology, entomology, and so many other “ologies” come alive, for both me and my kids.
Nature study is the close observation of many different subjects in nature.
It is the research and identification of the thing observed.
It is getting to know nature on an intimate level.
These are the reasons nature journaling matters.
And once nature study has happened, then nature journaling is the natural next step for continuing with the learning.
Lets delve into this WHY a little further and read what Charlotte Mason, our nature study guru, has to say about why nature study and nature journaling matter:
(taken from Volume One of the Charlotte Mason series found here)

Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in. Once they experience first-hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit. All people are supposed to be observers of nature and there’s no excuse for living in a world so full of amazing plants and animals and not be interested in them.”

“Besides appreciating the world, observing nature develops other mental powers–ability to focus, to tell things apart, to patiently seek answers. These things are useful in every facet of life.

“The ability to group things together by type and find differences is one of the higher orders of intellect, and every opportunity to use it first-hand should be encouraged. Learning classifications from a book takes no mental power, except maybe rote memory. If the skill of rote memory is deemed necessary, then the child might just as well memorize some phrases in a foreign language to satisfy that requirement!”

“Children can learn an unlimited amount of things that they’ll never forget before even beginning school. A child is ten times better off if he knows where to find the prettiest birch trees, or the four best ash trees in his neighborhood, than a boy who doesn’t even know the difference between an elm and an oak. He is not only likely to be more successful, but happier, too, because the beauty of nature affects our feelings. Dr. Carpenter said that, when our minds have contact with nature, our sense of sublime beauty and order is touched”

“A passion for natural objects can be like a wellspring of refreshment to a dry heart.”

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Wow! That is some good stuff right there.
Let me summarize the important reasons Charlotte Mason says children should engage in nature study and journaling:
*Nature study creates a sense of wonder and interest in the natural world.
*Nature study builds the skills of observation, focus, patience, and higher order thinking skills, such        as classification.
*Nature study connects children with beauty, therefore making them happier.
*Nature study requires time spent in nature, which brings refreshment to a child’s heart and soul.

I’ll add my own reasons for having my children take part in nature study:
*Nature study allows for meaningful interaction between my children and nature.
*Nature study creates meaningful connections between my children and nature.
*Nature study encourages further learning.
*Nature study brings them excitement, peace, and joy.
*Nature study makes learning science fun.

I encourage you to think through your own reasons for having your children engage in nature study.
Spend some time making a list, and really think about your WHY.
For me, knowing all the good that comes of nature study, there is simply no excuse for not incorporating it into my children’s’ education.
And, once we’ve engaged in nature study, to have them engage in nature journaling.
It is the natural next step.

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But that brings us back to my original question, what of the reluctant nature journaler?
I am going to guess that your reluctant nature journaler isn’t reluctant to study nature, just to record those studies.
So you have already won half your battle.
If you are out in nature and observe a coyote or a gopher snake, your reluctant nature journaler probably won’t turn his head in disinterest.
And I bet, once home, he’ll sit and listen as you read to him some interesting tidbits about the life of the coyote and the gopher snake.
Now you are already well on your way to helping him begin nature journaling.
You may just have to change the way you let him do it.
You might have to let go of the how and instead embrace your why.

Here is what Charlotte Mason has to say about your child’s nature journal; (emphasis is mine)
“The children keep a dated record of what they see in their nature note-books, which are left to their own management and are not corrected. These note-books are a source of pride and joy, and are freely illustrated by drawings (brushwork) of twig, flower, insect, etc.” (Volume 3 pg 236)
Please observe that the notebooks are theirs.
That they should feel pride and JOY in them.
Nature journaling should not be drudgery.
It should be interesting, and engaging — a time of happy study.

My children have loved nature journaling since I first introduced it to them.
But they have always loved drawing and making art, and have done so since they were 3 and 4 years old.
Therefore, getting them to draw in their nature journals was never a problem.
Through the process of nature journalling I do offer advice and instruction, “study all the colors and shadows on this rock. It’s not just brown. And look at its shape. Its not a perfect circle, is it?”
And I am almost always the one to suggest they nature journal.
But once they get going, they do enjoy sketching and drawing what they’ve seen out in nature.

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“So why”, you are asking, “do you consider yourself equipped to write about a reluctant nature journaler?”
“What is your experience with this struggle?”
My experience?
I’m a reluctant nature journaler myself.
I don’t enjoy drawing.
I don’t enjoy painting.
I feel stress and anxiety when I attempt it.
I do not feel peace, and certainly not joy.
And I know plenty of kids who feel the same way.
That’s why I wanted to write this piece.
I hate to think of you and your kiddos battling through nature journaling when it really doesn’t ahve to be that way.
When nature journaling becomes a battle, all that wonderful learning that has taken place through nature study gets lost.
And it is simply because your child is struggling to record his learning in the way you think he’s supposed to.
Let’s change that!

So what does that look like?
Yes, it is finally time to think about the HOW!
Well, almost time.

First, let me share how I came to understand that nature journaling could take many different forms and still be completely viable.
It was a real light bulb moment for me, and I hope it will be for you too.
Not very long ago I was talking about my own nature journaling inadequacies, making fun of myself, but still wishing deep down inside that I was a “real” nature journaler.
My wise friend, Jen, disagreed with me.
She said the pictures I take of the things we study in nature, and then the writing I do about those things are my nature journal.
They aren’t kept in a book–they’re on Instagram.
They aren’t beautiful paintings or drawings–they’re pictures I took with my iphone,
They words aren’t hand lettered on a page–but they are excitedly researched and lovingly crafted into stories.
They aren’t the way Charlotte Mason describes nature journals at all!
But they’re still nature journals.
They look different.
But they’re still the real thing.

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I felt so validated.
(yes, even a 39 year old mom needs that sometimes)
What a gift my Jen-girl gave me.
And what an understanding it opened for me for all the other reluctant nature journalers out there.
Kids, and mamas, too.

This revelation changed the way I thought about nature journaling.
As home schoolers, we have the wonderful freedom to change our children’s education so that it fits them best.
What a gift that is!
We must not forget to offer our children freedom in learning in our quest to do things only in the way which we think they should be done.

So what does it look like to offer freedom to your child as he nature journals?
*It means you study your child and find out where he struggles.
And then you:
*might put away the pens, the colored pencils and the paint brushes.
*might give her a camera while she is on the trail, and instructions to take photos of the things that capture her interest.
*might print out some of those photos and let her study them.
*might talk about what she sees in the photo, or simply saw out on in nature, just as you would if she were preparing to draw or paint them.
*might look at colors, shapes, and the environment that the item grew in.

*your child can collect items found along the trail and preserve them in her nature journal.
*wild flowers and leaves can be pressed between the pages of a heavy book and then glued or taped in her journal.
*lizard skins and butterfly wings can be kept in places of honor on her dresser to to be looked at and admired for many days to come, and then carefully placed in a ziplock bag and stapled in her nature journal.
There are so many different ways to fill a nature journal!

Once the photographing, collecting, and observing have been done, then the research can happen.
I find that my kids and I always want to know more about the things we see and bring home from our hikes.
We want to know the names of things, and how they grow and what they eat, and what their songs sound like.
So we:
*listen to bird songs online
*we read books, field guides, and look at countless pictures on line to determine exactly which yellow breasted bird we saw in that tree
*we closely study the leaves and petals of wild flowers to identify and name them.
*we collect acorns and leaves and use them to help us learn about the many varieties of trees..
*I look for information in the books on our shelves that describe the various plants, birds, and animals we’ve seen and read those pieces aloud to my kids.
The research is an extension of the nature study and a valuable part of our nature journaling.

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But perhaps your child isn’t thrilled with research.
Ask yourself why?
Are you giving him a stack of books and setting him to work all on his own?
Have you ever tried distinguishing one yellow breasted bird from another?
Its tedious!
Perhaps your child needs you to sit down next to him.
Perhaps he needs you to research with him.
You have the freedom to do that!

We always do our research together.
We share our discoveries and that makes the learning more exciting.
My kids, even my older ones, would not thrive if I set them before a stack of books and field guides and said, “now identify all the things we saw on our hike yesterday.”
We are working toward that goal, but in the meantime, they still need my help.
They need my encouragement.
And my goal right now is that they would enjoy the process of researching, rather than just get it done.

The last piece of our nature journaling for us is the writing.
And while my kids do love making art in their journals, they haven’t always loved the writing.
Sometimes there have been tears or great frustration.
So I have made adjustments along the way to get them to the place where they are writing in their journals and it isn’t a tear filled experience along the way.

Here’s what that looked like:
*at first, they just labeled the things they saw.
*all additional research was discussed orally and was not written in their journals.
*later, they narrated one or two sentences about the things we researched, I wrote it down, and they copied what I wrote.
*next, they had to write their own sentences, and if they needed help, I was right there.
*finally, some of my kids could compose their own paragraphs, synthesizing the information we’ve learned together, and putting it down in their journals.
But it took us a while to get there.
And if that had been my expectation in the beginning, or even later when I was sure they were ready, there would have been tears and resistance.
There would have been reluctance.
And that is never our goal.

You see, the point of nature journals is not to teach our kids to be great artists.
Or great writers.
Nature journals are about getting our kids to enjoy nature.
Nature journals should be the natural outpouring of the excitement they felt doing nature study.
Their nature journals should be a place where they remember exciting hikes, and discoveries, special trips and new learnings.
Nature journals, whatever they look like, should be a treasure that your child can look back on and enjoy for years to come.
And if you allow your reluctant nature journaler the freedom to find his own way to nature journal, then that will happen.
And you will have given him a great gift.
I so hope you’ll try.
And I’m wishing you all the best on your journey,

A few of my favorite books to use for research during nature journaling:
The Burgess Bird book by Thornton Burgess
The Burgess Sea Shore book by Thornton Burgess
The Burgess Animal book by Thornton Burgess
Pagoo by Holling Clancy Holling
Minn of the Mississippi by Holling Clancy Holling
Sea Bird by Holling Clancy Holling
John Muir’s Book of Animals by John Muir
Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman
Farm Anatomy by Julia Rothman
Animalium by Jenny Broom
Golden Nature Guides
How and Why Wonder books
Any of the vast collection of vintage books I’ve collected on all things nature.

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Wild and Free California–Your Guide to Adventure!

Wild and Free is coming to California!
I am just so thrilled that the next Wild and Free conference  is coming to my home state, and even better, to my home town!
I love where I live, and I’d love to share some of my favorite spots with you.
I hope you’ll be able to carve out a little time to explore beautiful California while you are here for the conference.
To help you get started with your dreaming and planning, here are a few sight seeing ideas.
There are ideas for any schedule–whether you find yourself with just a few hours to explore, or a few days.

If you have just a few hours…. 
You can head to downtown Long Beach. It s right across the bridge from the Queen Mary and there is so much to see and do there. You can visit the Aquarium of the Pacific for a chance to see an amazing variety of sea life. You can also explore Shoreline Village around the aquarium. Then you can walk down Pine Street for lots of great spots for a good meal.
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For a more eclectic vibe, you can visit the East Village Arts District in downtown Long Beach, where there are vintage shops, coffee shops, and some great little art galleries.
A little farther afield, but still in Long Beach is 4th Street. If you love vintage shopping, and good food, this is the place for you! Be sure to stop at Lola’s for amazing Mexican food–you are in California after all. And if you want to indulge in the best pedicure ever, schedule one at Salon Pop.
Last stop for strolling, shopping, and dining in Long Beach is beautiful Belmont Shore on 2nd St. Long, walkable blocks offer lots to see and do. Blue Windows is the best place for sweet stationary and beautiful gifts for you and maybe your kiddos. Stop at La Creperie Cafe for a delicious desert crepe and a cup of coffee. 2nd st ends at the beach, so you can stroll the sand too.
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If you have an afternoon….
You can go farther afield.
This is Southern California though, so having a car would be helpful for these excursions.
Just a short drive from the Queen Mary is the Palos Verdes Peninsula. There are stunning ocean views, cliffs to walk along, and great tide pooling. If you go, be sure to stop at the Korean Friendship Bell for gorgeous views to Catalina Island. Then hike along the bluff trails above Trump Golf Course and stop for lunch at Terranea Resort. If you are up for more hiking, visit Abalone Cove Shoreline Park, hike down to the beach and visit some incredible tide pools.
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For the perfect, small beach town experience, you can drive south a bit and stop in Seal Beach. The main street feels a bit like Mayberry, but with better shops, a pier, and the beach! Get coffee and amazing pastries at Crema Café and shop for pretty things at Petals and Pop shop.
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Farther south is Huntington Beach, also called Surf City USA. You can eat at Ruby’s Dineat the end of the pier, and watch the surfers catch waves.
If you want to see a beautiful piece of Southern California’s past, drive just a bit farther south to Laguna Beach and Crystal Cove State Park. The park is miles of beautiful beach, tide pools, the Beachcomber Café for meals right on the sand, and a hillside of gorgeous, abandoned cottages, just perfect for gramming.
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After Crystal Cove you can drive a few minutes south to the beautiful town of Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach is perched on the hills above the Pacific and with its windy roads, ever blooming flowers, and gorgeous architecture, it feels like you’ve stepped into the Mediterranean. Be sure to visit Shaw’s cove, or stroll the hills above the cove for perfect California views.
If you’d like to see a little more of the urban side of Southern California, then drive north a bit to Venice. If you dare, stroll Venice Beach to see the wild and wacky. Or just head over to Abbot Kinney Blvd for fantastic shopping and unbelievable food. It’s a must stop.
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For more culture, you can head to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA It’s a beautiful museum, inside and out. And just up the street is the Original Farmer’s Market, an LA institution since 1934! There are heaps of great food options, fun outdoor seating, and a great people-watching scene. It’s also right next to the beautiful, outdoor mall, The Grove. I generally don’t recommend malls for sight seeing spots, but this one is pretty marvelous.
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If you have a whole day…
You must drive north to Malibu. You can simply drive the coast with the windows rolled down to smell the salty air, and take in ocean views. Or you can spend part of your day at the Getty Villa.You’ll feel like you are in Ancient Greece or Rome. The art, architecture, views and food are all spectacular. If you have the time, I highly recommend it.
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Drive a little farther north and stop at the Malibu pier. Its small and so charming—my favorite southern California pier. There is also a completely wonderful restaurant, the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe, at the end of the pier. It’s beyond perfect for breakfast or lunch.
Right near the pier is Malibu Country Mart, home to uber fancy shopping, despite its homey sounding name.
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Malibu is famous for gorgeous beaches, so you should visit one or two while you are there. El Matador State Beach is breathtaking. Go there.
Leo Carrillo beach has sea caves and tide pools and is wonderful too.z

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If you’d like to end your day in Malibu with a bowl of clam chowder or some fish tacos, stop at Neptune’s Net for dinner. It’s right on PCH, and has been a Malibu institution since 1958.
After dinner you can drive back south, watching the sun set over the Pacific. A perfect California day.
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I’m so excited to know you’ll be here in California, enjoying some of my favorite spots, and getting your hearts filled up at the Wild and Free conference.
Please be sure to stop and talk to me at the conference.
I’d love to hear about where you explored and what all you got to see.
Can’t wait to see your smiles and give you a big hug!

Home Schooling 101: The Early Years

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“Do you have any suggestions for our kinder year?”
“What books should we be reading?”
“How much math should we be doing?”
“What should our days look like?”
“Is that all there is in Year 0?”
“What curriculum should I order?”
“What are we supposed to do all day?”
“Where do I begin?”

I get these kind of questions from new home schooling mamas often.
They’re excited to start homeschooling.
It looks amazing!
Especially when they’ve been following all those beautiful home schooling feeds on Instagram.
It looks so romantic and idyllic.
It looks so magical and creative.
It looks like everything that childhood and education should be.

But as inspiring as those images are, any one new to home schooling could easily come away from them feeling a little, or a lot, lost.
Because, what those lovely images don’t provide are the nitty gritty details of what to do with your 5 year old everyday.
Outside of nature walks, tea parties, and reading books, that is.

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So I thought I’d do my best to provide some helpful details and encouragement for those of you just starting out.
I don’t claim to be an expert on schooling any kids (even my own).
And the ideas I share are shaped by my belief that the early years of education should be heavy on play and making learning fun, and light on academics.
And they should, in fact, include plenty of nature walks, tea parties, and reading books.
But if you are ok with all that, let’s get started!

Now I know you’d like me to give you a list of activities to do with your child, and a list of books to read. And maybe post a sample schedule or two.
You think that’s all you need to get going on this journey.
But I’m not starting there.
Sorry. (not sorry)

Instead, I’d like you to sit back for a minute and stop worrying about curriculum and schedules and activities.
Instead, think about why you are home schooling.
Not how you will you home school.
But why.
If you haven’t done it already, spend some time now developing your philosophy of education.
(I talk about that here.)

Next think about these early years.
What is the purpose of education in the early years?
What are the most valuable things for a child to gain at the start of their education?
And what goals do you have for your child as they begin their school career?

For me, the answer is less about learning to read by age 6, knowing their colors, and being able to do simple addition and subtraction.
My goal is something less concrete.
But it is something that will set the stage for the rest of their educational career.
For the rest of their life, in fact.
It is something like this:


You see, I want to start my children off by falling in love with learning.
I want to light the fire in their minds and hearts.
I want them to give them a yearning for learning.

So for me, the early years are all about making learning beautiful, exciting, rich, and even fun.
Yes, fun.
I’m not sure why, but there is this idea that school shouldn’t be fun.
Or at least not too fun.
Because school should be work.
And work is not fun.

But I think we are doing a great disservice to our children when we embrace that idea.
Because learning can, and should be fun.
It should be a joy!
This quote by Plato says it so beautifully, “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent.”

So, yes, the early years of learning should be full of fun.
They should be rich with play.
Play time is not wasted time.
Play time is when children learn.
“We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively — they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent.”
This quote, from author and child development expert, Nancy Carlsson-Paarticle, supports what I know to be true based on memories of my own early education, of watching my own children learn, and the simple, yet profound intuition found in my own heart.
I am my children’s mother, and I know how they learn best.

In America, play time is becoming less and less a part of the academic day.
It used to be that kindergarten was largely about play time.
Now, even some pre-schools are limiting play time for their 3 and 4 year old students.
This is a tragedy for young learners.
“Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event. But play is disappearing from classrooms. Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”” (Nancy Carlsson–Paarticle0

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I’ve spent a good amount of time researching the value of play in early education and am greatly inspired by the schools in the Denmark and Finland.
Formal academics there don’t begin until age 7.
In Finland, the early childhood education program actually writes “joy” and “play” into the curriculum as a learning concepts. (Taught By Finland)
They subscribe to an old Finnish saying, “those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”
This is the kind of motto I want to embrace as I teach my own children.

Yet, how often have I struggled with feeling that my children were behind their peers academically.
And of course I then felt I was doing a poor job educating them.
I must constantly remind myself that there are a host of things my children are doing well, and even excelling at.
I must remember that giving them a joyful attitude toward learning, especially in the early years, is as worthy a goal as is achieving academic excellence.

The reality is that because I place such a high value on play in the early years of schooling, things at my house are going to look quite a bit different than at the traditional elementary school in my neighborhood.
I have to be ok with that.
I have to be ok with late reading, and messy handwriting, and children who are not up to grade level in all subjects.
I love this quote by Karen Andreola, “Let us be faithful teachers. No matter what the pace, children need to know they can accomplish the tasks set before them. Meeting grade level requirements in the early years is not as important as steadfast effort.”

Of course I do require my children do their school work.
But I also allow them more time with a concept or subject if they need it.
I allow playing with Legos while I read aloud to them from a book.
I consider a nature walk our science class for the day.
I must remember my end goal of education is to create life long learners.
And that happens when children are taught to love learning in the early years.


As you enter these early years of educating your child, remember its about so much more than your daily schedule or learning those ABCs.
Its about instilling a love for learning, and making that happen with play time and good books and time spent exploring out of doors.
Now is your chance to give them the world!

And thats enough educational philosophy talk, right?
Here’s that list you’ve been waiting for!
These are simple suggestions that you can start using tomorrow if you’d like.
I’d create a loose schedule or rhythm for your days and week, and think about what things you’d like most to incorporate into your days.
Start slow and start small.
They are little, they don’t need a packed schedule.
Remember to let them have fun and to let them play.
Make school time joyful!

To start your day:
I like to begin with the Bible, singing a hymn and poetry.

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Some of our favorites for Bible time are:
‘Read Aloud Bible Stories’ by Ella K. Lindvall for your youngest ones
“The Jesus Storybook Bible’ for your littles to adults
“Leading Little Ones to God’ by Marian Schooland for devotion time with the younger elementary set.

For hymn singing, we sing the same hymn for a whole month, and then pick a new one.
You can find them on the internet, or find a hymnal at a used bookstore or Christian book store.

Some of my favorite poetry resources are:
“A Light In the Attic” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein for poems that will make you giggle
“When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six” by A.A. Milne for more poems that will make you giggle
“A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a must for your library.
Ambleside online has a marvelous collection of poems arranged by month I printed them all out and we read them all year long, over and over. Find them here

You can add poetry memorization and scripture memorization to this part of the day
Just remember to keep the whole thing pretty short.
Little ones don’t need long lessons.

Creating a literary culture in your home:
It is incredibly important that you give your children a love for books from the very start.
Read every single day, all day, and make reading fun.

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Have a plethora of good picture books for them to read to themselves before they can read words.
You can find those at used books sales, library book stores, garage sales.
Find an excellent book list of picture books here.

Don’t be afraid to read longer books to them, even when they are young, but provide ways to help them focus while they listen.
Let them draw, play with legos or blocks quietly, or make it tea time and let them eat snacks and sip tea.
Just a few of our favorite longer, read aloud, books are: “The Little House on the Prairie” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the “Ramona” books by Beverly Cleary, “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien, “The Chronicles of Narnia” series by CS Lewis, “Caddie Woodlawn” by Carol Ryrie Brink, “A Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George, “Charlotte’s Web” by EB White and “A Cricket In Times Square” by George Seldon.
More wonderful titles of read aloud books for the early years can be found here and here.
(look under “Free Reading”

Take them to story time at the library.
Check out heaps of books at the library each week–make it a special day.
Just remember to return them!
Visit libraries with beautiful children’s sections and soak in the loveliness devoted to books.

Visit book stores and spend time reading new books.

Listen to audio books often.
When you are too tired to read aloud without falling asleep, or need to make dinner let them listen to audio books.
Listen to audio books in the car.
You’ll be amazed at their capacity to listen to challenging books this way.
Good narrators are the key to holding your child’s attention for longer, more complicated stories.
You can find some quality, free audio books on Librivox here (just make sure you preview the narrator and choose books with only one narrator instead of multiple narrators )
Or invest in an Audible membership.
It has been an invaluable resource for our family.

Learning Activities:
There are so many activities you can do every day with your child that have nothing to do with work sheets or sit down lessons.
And yet, they will be learning so much.


Here are a few of our favorites in the kitchen:
Baking (and sharing baked goods with neighbors and friends)
Making home made play dough
Reading cookbooks for inspiration and trying new recipes
Learning to unload the dishwasher
Learning to wash dishes by hand
Learning to set the table
Making grocery lists
Sprouting beans, potatoes and avocado seeds

Favorite activities around the home:
Playing with blocks–building towers and roads and cities
Playing with Legos
Sculpting with Clay
Cutting and glueing
Stringing beads, noodles, or cereal
Creating a nature notebook to record the discoveries we make while out in nature
Draw maps of the house and neighborhood
Making dioramas
Making forts
Playing dress up
Playing store, family, restaurant, post office, farmers market–the options are endless
Writing letters to family and friends
Singing–we learn the days of the week, the months of the year, our phone number and address, and many bible verses by singing them. Music is a great tool for memorization
Learning to care for the home–dusting, washing windows, cleaning baseboards and door frames, sweeping, and washing floors. Young kids love chores!

Favorite activities outside the home:
Building forts
Hammering and nailing
Drawing with chalk (full disclosure–my kids love chalk, I don’t. So messy, so…chalk dusty)
Riding bikes, scooters, skateboards, and skates–physical activity and developing coordination is so important
Climbing trees
Nature walks –now is the time to train your children to hike. Start slow and build up their endurance as they grow stronger. You’ll be giving them a life long gift!
Field trips–go on at least one a week. Make it a priority to make the world your classroom
Visiting nature centers, the beach, wetlands, wilderness parks, mountain trails, desert trails and anywhere else where they can run, climb, and see birds, plants, trees and animals.
Visiting museums of all sorts
Collecting rocks, sticks, bugs, wild flowers, and anything else they find out in nature
Use their grocery list to shop at the store
Try new foods at the farmers market
Find different kinds of architecture around your town and visit it
Draw in nature, at the art museum, or at a cafe
Plant a garden or just some seeds in a pot
And I’m sure there are so many more things you can do with your kids in the first years of school.
But I hope this is a good place to start!

One last thing.
Please remember that one of the best things about home schooling is that education can be tailored to fit each child.
That means if you have a child who is ready to read early, you teach him!
And if he just wants you to read aloud to him because he isn’t ready to do it himself, you read aloud to him!
There are kids who love worksheets and you should let them do some.
Others would rather die than fill our worksheets.
So have them practice writing in ways that isn’t so painful for them–draw in the sand, or steam up the mirror in the bathroom and write their name.
In the end it is up to you to know your child and what lights that fire of learning in his heart.
Be the match and get that fire going!
Cheers to the early years!

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