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.
Thanks!
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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?
Easy.
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.

Or:
*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,
Greta

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!

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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!
Best,
Greta

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:

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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.

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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.

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Here are a few of our favorites in the kitchen:
Cooking
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
Drawing
Painting
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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Adventure Is Out There! Los Angeles Maritime Museum

It seems our dry Southern California weather might be taking a sabbatical, and El Nino will be brining us a wet winter.
Or at least that is what we’re hoping for.

The rain is wonderful and much needed, but it does have an impact on the weekly field trips we take with our Adventure Club.
The majority of our weekly field trips are outdoors–usually hikes.
And while we are pretty adventurous, hiking in pouring down rain isn’t our favorite.
Even it if was, most trails are closed when it rains.

So that leaves us looking for alternatives.
In anticipation of a rainy winter, I’ve been busy making a list of rainy day field trip spots.
Its good to have ideas beyond our oft-visited, favorite museums.
We all like the variety.

As per my kids request, the first place on the rainy day field trip list was the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.
Aaron first took our kids there years ago and they’ve loved it ever since.
We haven’t been in a couple years though, and were excited to see the great additions they’ve made.
Now we like the museum even more!

Outside the museum are some fun pieces to explore: this boat, a giant propellor, a diving bell, and some military artifacts as well.
My kids always enjoy checking them out.
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Once inside, there are different ways to explore the museum.
If you explore on your own, your kids will be given a “treasure hunt” to help them learn more about the museum exhibits.
When they finish, they will receive a small prize.
My kids love doing this activity.
Or, you can arrange for a tour for your small group.
When we went, we didn’t even arrange for a tour in advance.
But since our group was the only one there and they had a docent available, they gave us a tour on the spot.
Isn’t that nice?
The tours are fabulous and I recommend them.

There is so much to see in the museum!
Like this huge model of the beautiful Queen Mary (this one was used in the movie The Poseidon Adventure).
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To beautiful displays of sailor made art.
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And lovely ladies who graced ships that sailed the seas.
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There are models big and small to study.
If you have any kids who love the intricate details of models like some of mine do, then they’ll love this museum!
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And besides the models, there is a wide variety or maritime artifacts to discover.
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We even met a gentleman from the United Radio Amateur Club who taught us a bit about morse code.
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New to us was the children’s section of the museum.
It is full of costumes to try on, a row boat full of books to read, and a variety of wooden harbor themed toys to play with.
This part of the museum was a huge hit with the kids.
Did I mention we were the only ones there?
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If you live anywhere in the LA area, I highly recommend a visit!
The museum is open Tues -Sunday.
Adults are $3 and children are free.
Parking is free.

If you are interested in finding more great field trip ideas, check out my Instagram account and the hashtags:  #hsadventureclub or #maandpamodernhike.
And if you have favorite spots you visit in the LA/Orange County/San Diego area, I’d love to hear about them.
Remember, the world is our classroom!
Greta

Adventure Is Out There! Pioneer Town, California

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We love to start the New Year with an adventure.
This year that took us to the desert.
It was a beautiful day for exploring–sunny, clear, and crisp.
We started at Pioneer Town.
We’d never been, but from what I’d read, it sounded like a fun place to visit.
It was.
Kind of bizarre, but definitely fun too.

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Taken from the plaque in front of the Pioneer Town Post Office:
“Pioneer Town was founded in 1946 by a group of Hollywood personalities led by cowboy actors Dick Curtis and RussellHayden as a permanent 1880s town for filming western movies.”
Roy Rogers broke ground on the first building, and in time over 200 movies were filmed in Pioneer Town. Main street and some of its buildings have been declared historical resources by the CA department of parks and rec.
And this post office is said to be the most photographed post office in the United States.
Its still an operational post office too!

Besides the post office the town has some other active shops too. Like the general store, where I found a darling pair of vintage cowboy boots (my first pair!) and the kids found coyote jaw bones for sale. There is a pottery store, and a used book…store.  Its worth a peep inside. There is also  a very busy and popular restaurant, Pappy and Harriet’s. It is definitely worth a visit!
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There are also plenty of fun spots that are just for looking at.
Or for taking pictures.
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And while you’re walking down Main Street, you might just run into Cowboy Lou.
He’s a real life cowboy who will stop and chat with you, let your kids pet his beautiful horse, Running Bear, and then even invite you to his house if you ever come back to Pioneer Town.
He was the sweetest guy.
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But more than anything, I think Pioneer Town is best just for wandering.
There are beautiful views, and lots of random things to see and wonder about.
We had a great time.
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And don’t forget to stop and take in the views on the way out.
You’ll feel like you are leaving Big Thunder Mountain.
In fact, the whole place is kind of like a wacky Frontier Land.
It’s a fun spot.
If you want to visit, Pioneer Town is just off of Route 62, about 20 minutes away from Joshua Tree.
You never know exactly when things are open, but Pappy and Harriet’s does have listed hours on their website.

And after you visit Pioneer Town, you can head to Joshua Tree.
That’s what we did.
Those pics will be up next.

Adventure is out there!
Greta

A Thanksgiving Tale For the Weary Mama

 

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I remember this day like it was yesterday. Davy was 5 months old, the others were 7, 5, and 3. Aaron had been out of town for work for 10 days and I was prepping to host 25 people at our house for Thanksgiving.
This particular morning I rounded up the children to head to Trader Joe’s to get the turkey and do all the shopping. This was nothing new, because as a home schooling mama, I took all my kids everywhere, all the time.
But just because I did it all the time doesn’t mean it was particularly easy. Trader Joe’s, in fact, was especially hard. Those aisles were narrow and no matter how many times I’d bark at the children, “single file! Single file!” they all liked to fan out in a horizontal line alongside me and the cart, effectively blocking any other shoppers from passing us.
It drove me crazy!
I broke out in a sweat on every TJs shopping trip, tried not to curse under my breath, and to smile with a saintly glow at the 50 + people who looked at me and said, “my! You have your hands full!”
Oh Trader Joe’s shopping trips with 4 little kids, you were so much fun. 😁
When we arrived, I didn’t put Davy in the cart like usual, but strapped him to me in the Ergo carrier. I’d need every inch of space in that cart for groceries. We started with the turkey, a big one for our crowd of guests. And we cruised the store, filling the cart to the brim, me telling the kids to “stop jumping, stop wrestling, no, we can’t get those chips, single file!” and all the rest. I also told Lilly, repeatedly, not to hang on the cart.
Those Trader Joe’s carts
are notorious for tipping. It happened to me when William was a baby and James was hanging from the side of the cart. It was terrifying. And I lived in mortal fear of it happening again.
So of course, on that day it did. As I was reaching for some carrots, I heard a scream and turned to see Lilly falling to the ground with the full, heavy cart falling on top of her. I lunged for it, but wasn’t fast enough. Girl and cart hit the floor with a thud. The boys and I yelled, groceries flew everywhere, eggs broke, and Lilly wailed. I tried to lift the cart off of her and to keep the panic out of my voice as I asked if she was all right.
Kind employees and shoppers rushed to help and we lifted the cart off of her.
There was no blood, and nothing seemed broken, but she was crying.
I collapsed on the ground next to her, pulled her onto my lap and sat there, with a screaming Davy between us, the tears running down my cheeks, mingling with hers, and dripping on the floor.
I tried to stifle sobs.
I was so tired. And scared. And relieved. And frustrated. And so grateful I had put Davy in the carrier that day. And embarrassed. And mad.
And why did this all have to be so hard!
The boys huddled next to us, patting my back, trying to comfort me, scared because of all that had happened, and scared because Mommy was sitting on the floor in the middle of Trader Joe’s, crying.
In that moment, the weight of mothering all those little people felt far too heavy for me to bear. It was just so never ending.
80 fingernails and toenails to cut and clean, teeth to brush morning and night, children who didn’t nap anymore, sleepless nights, endless piles of laundry to do, bodies to scrub, thousands of Legos to clean up every single day, and even a simple grocery store trip that ended in disaster.
Sometimes I wanted to quit.

Have you been there?

Crying in the shower? Weeping under your covers or sobbing into your husband’s chest? I know I admitted to him more than once, “I feel like I’m suffocating.” and then felt terrible for saying it.
It’s hard, hard work, this job of mothering.
But I have good news.
It gets easier.
I’m not saying it is ever easy.
But those relentless, sometimes suffocating, early days will get easiER
There will come a time when your children can cut their own fingernails. Cue the angel chorus! There will be a day when you’ll say, “someone get in the shower!” and someone will, and they won’t need you to wash them. They’ll wipe their own bums, and remember to wash their own hands. They’ll get their own snacks. And one sweet, sweet, day, you will be able to leave them at home while you run to the store for a minute all by yourself.
Now before you berate me for not enjoying every.single. second. of motherhood while my kids are young, understand that I enjoy much of it. Like a whole, whole lot of it. But I’m also OK with a little independence. Saying goodbye to diapers was not a sad day for me. Not bathing 4 kids every night feels pretty grand.
There are beautiful things about watching my kids grow up. From saying goodbye to those simple tasks that sometimes add up and feel overwhelming, to the much bigger and sweeter things, like deep conversations and seeing them become their own person.
Seasons change.
And that is a good thing, because if we were stuck in the same season forever, we’d become awfully weary of it.
For me, the physically exhausting years of early motherhood are beginning to fade. And even though there are parts of their babyhood that I’ll forever miss, I’m also really enjoying the spot we’re in now. There are challenges, to be sure. But there always will be. That is the nature of this job.
What I want you to know, all you mamas of littles, is that even though it’s hard to believe now, you’ll make it. And when you do, don’t get so comfortable in your new spot that you think you’ve got it all together. Or even worse, think to yourself that those new moms who are making a big deal out of every single thing are overreacting. And for heaven’s sake, don’t tell them to enjoy this moment because it will be so much harder when they’re teenagers.
Don’t. Just don’t.
Instead, remember that you were there once too. Think of what you needed to hear in that moment. Put yourself in their shoes. Smile at those moms in the grocery store when you see them looking frazzled or teary. Tell them they are doing good work. Just like I’m telling you that you are now.
Because you are.
So if you fall down, you can cry a little, but then get back up, and keep going.
Listen to me when I say, you are doing good work mama!
“Let us not grow weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
Happy Thanksgiving to all you mamas and your little turkeys too!
Greta

Home Schooling 101: Creating A Book Club For Kids

The Beginnings
When I was a little girl, I longed for a book club of my own.
I had read about them in books.
My mom wasn’t a part of one, and out of all the other ladies and girls in my circle, there was only one I knew who was part of of book club.
She and I had talked about it at one of my brother’s baseball games.
She spoke of it with such pleasure, of making special food, and of vacuuming and cleaning her seldom used living room specially for the occasion.
Most importantly, she told me about how much fun it was to talk about books with her friends.
Her words went straight to my heart.
This was just what I longed for!

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And so I went into action and began to create my own book club.
I sent out invitations to a bunch of my girlfriends.
I suggested the book. (I only wish I could remember which one we read!)
On the big day I cleaned my room and made cookies.
And later that afternoon, my friends were dropped off by their mamas for our first book club.

We crowded into my tiny room, squished ourselves together on my bed,  just a bunch of giggly 4th and 5th grade girls.
I tried so hard to lead a book discussion.
But it wasn’t at all like I dreamt it would be.
Before too long most of the girls wanted to go outside to play.
I was slightly heartbroken.
But I vowed to press on.
They just needed time to learn what to do at book club.

By the next meeting there was mutiny afoot.
One of the girls and I got into a disagreement because she said I was too bossy and was trying to make them talk about the book too much.
“But its a BOOK club!” I cried. “And its MY book club! We’re supposed to talk about the book.  And you are supposed to do what I want at MY club!”
It was our last meeting.
And this time I truly was heart broken.
Clearly I needed some help in creating a book club for my friends.
Or maybe they just weren’t ready for a book club.
Maybe I was just ahead of my time.

Knowing the tale of my childhood book club woes, you can understand why I couldn’t wait to start a book club for my own kids.
I planned to be a part of the process so it wouldn’t be a flop like my first book club was.
I wanted to give them the book club experience I had imagined for myself.
I wanted to introduce them to the joy of talking about books with their friends.

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Because in the years between that failed book club, led by a bossy, 11 year old girl who was desperately in love with books, I had the good fortune to be a part of the kind of book discussions my 11 year old self dreamt of.
I had sat in literature classes where we talked about books for hours.
I had become part of book clubs with my friends, with coffee and good food, and genuine interested discussion.
I had moments in my English classes where more than 2 of the students cared about the book we were reading.
Where most of the kids in my class were involved in the conversation, interested, and excited about reading a book.
I had tasted the glory of book talks.
And I was ready to share it.

Thankfully I am a part of a home school group filled with moms whose hearts beat the same way mine does.
A few years ago, we decided to start a book club for our kids.

My kids and I missed the first two meetings.
But the first meeting we went to kind of blew me away.
We met on the beach in the middle of summer.
At lunch time we spread out a potluck lunch on a surf board, called the kids in from the water, and after they had loaded up plates, they settled down to talk about the book.
I was floored by the way every kid wanted to talk about the book.
They had so much to say!
Even the littlest ones did not want to be left out of the discussion.
Instead of a short, shallow, ‘pulling teeth” kind of discussion, it was rich, lively, fun, and went on for a long time.
Watching it all unfold made me happy and weepy and so excited about the years of rich literary discussions that lay ahead of us!

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The Nuts and Bolts — How we organize our book club
Our book club has grown and blossomed rather organically.
But there were a few ideas we started with that have proved to very helpful in running our book club.
1. One family is the host for each book club.
That means that family chooses the book, picks the location for the discussion, plans the activities, and sends out an email asking each family to bring food to share, and other supplies for the day. We all pitch in to help, but she is the “event director”.
2. One mom facilitates the book discussion.
The same mom whose family is the book club host leads the book discussion.  That means she comes prepared with discussion questions and topics and helps guide the kids through the discussion time. Kids ages 3 or 4-11 participate in the discussion time, so a grownup facilitator helps a lot.
The idea is that by modeling how to have a book discussion, the kids will one day be ready to hold book discussions on their own.
3. We read classic literature.
This does not mean we are subjecting our kids to Beowulf or Canterbury Tales in the original Old English. But it does mean we are not choosing whatever is on the best seller list for that year. We generally use the free reading lists from Ambleside Online. (see some here, here and here.)
4. We have food at book club.
Books and snacks just go hand in hand. And book club is a celebration. And celebrations have special treats. So this was pretty much a no brainer. All the families bring food to share so the burden is NOT all on the host family.
5. We read 4 books a year.
In an effort not to keep ourselves sane, and to allow ourselves enough time to truly enjoy each book, we decided to read books on a seasonal schedule. That means we read one book for fall, winter, spring and summer. This is not to say that some families (ahem, mine) are not rushing to finish the book at the last minute.  But since you have 3 months to finish a book, you don’t have to cram it all in at the last minute.
6. Every family reads the books differently.
There is no set way to approach the reading. In some families each kids read the book on their own. In other families the book is read together as a family bed time read, or as part of school work. Other families might listen to the book on audio during drive time.  There are lots of ways to approach it, and no one way is better than the other.
In our family, we read the book together, because I don’t want to miss out on any of the books with my kids!

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The Fun Extras: 
As time has gone on, our book club has bloomed beautifully. Here are some of the extras that make book club days even more fun.
1. We try to align food and activities to the book. 
This doesn’t always work, but often it does.  For example, when we read My Side of the Mountain, the kids brought tools and supplies to build a wilderness fort, just like Sam Gribley did in the book. And when we read Swiss Family Robinson, we planned a botanical scavenger hunt for the kids, where they looked for plants from the book in the botanical gardens where we held the meeting.
And when we read Alice in Wonderland, you can bet there were tea and scones.
2. We wear costumes.
Again, this is not always the case. But if  anyone has a costume that fits the time period or characters in the book, then costumes are very welcome!
3. We meet at special locations.
Living in California, we have the luxury of almost year round good weather. That means we can meet at outdoor locations. If we can, we try to make those locations connect to the book in some way. We’ve met at the beach, in a botanical garden, in a secret garden, in a wilderness park, and once we took the metro to China Town. Plus lots of other fun spots. Come winter, we might be forced indoors, but knowing our group of creative mamas, I’m sure it will still be just as magical.
4. We’re all in!
Its true, book club days are a bit of extra work. If you aren’t up for planning costumes, games, and lugging tables and buckets of tools across a park, you don’t have to. Book club could easily be a circle of kids on the floor, a plate of cookies, and a handful of rich discussion questions.
This is just the way our group functions. We view these days as a special treat and go out of our way to make them that way.

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Giving kids a love of literature is a gift.
Giving kids a place to talk about the books they love and the tools to do it makes the gift even better.
I hope you’ll make book clubs a part of your children’s childhood.
How happy I’d be to know Kid Book Clubs were happening all over the world!
When you are contemplating the extra work and wondering if it is worth it, be encouraged by this beautiful quote from Gladys Hunt: “Reading enlarges my vision of the world; it helps me understand someone who is different from me. It makes me bigger on the inside. We tend to see the world from our own perspective; it is good to see it from the eyes of others. Good literature helps me understand who I am in relation to what others experience. Far from being an escape from reality, good literature is a window into reality. I read to feel life.”

For the love of books,
Greta

What the Rain Brought to Us in Yosemite

I can’t remember the last trip I actually blogged about.
I think it’s been years.
But this was our first time in Yosemite.
And the trip was so rich and full and dream like, that I don’t want to forget it.
Well, except for that first day.
There was a big part of that day that wasn’t the least bit magical.
But I want to remember that part too.
Because, like in pregnancy and childbirth, the bad memories fade, and all that is left is the glowing, good stuff.
I like that.
I like remembering the beautiful.
But I think there is a place for remembering the hard too.
Because the hard is where we learn the most.

I’ve often said I am glad God blessed me with 4 children, because there has been nothing like mothering 4 children to teach me to let go.
To let go of my pride, and to let go of my plans.
To let go of control, to let go of my notions of perfection, and, I confess I mourn this one too often, to let go of having my whole house clean at the same time and it staying like that for even 1 day.
Or 1 hour.
God has used my motherhood to help me rearrange my perspective and to show me what is most important.
It has been hard.
But it has also been good.

Sometimes though, I fall back into my old ways and try to hold fast to them.
I clench my fists tightly, unwilling to let go of my way.
Even when my way is clearly not working, I still hang on.
This vacation started off with a lot of fist clenching.
I had a vision and a plan.
I wanted things to go my way, and when they didn’t, I was not willing to let go and just take things as they came.
I wasn’t willing to see that what came about that might be better than the plans I had made.
I wasn’t willing to look for the good that might be the outcome of changes.
I was just mad that things weren’t working out my way.
Basically, I was a 2 year old.

From the start, things didn’t go the way I wanted.
We couldn’t get reservations at the right time.
As a result, our trip was shorter than I wanted it to be.
Then there were other things that came up and it was cut even shorter.
And again.
I was so frustrated.
And mad too.
We take several overnight or weekend trips a year, camping usually.
But this is our only longer vacation and I wanted the most out of it.
I wanted not to feel rushed and hurried.
Was that so much to ask?

So I sulked and pouted and acted like a 2 year old.
I realize how obnoxious this must sound to some of you.
I realize that because growing up, we went on 1 family vacation.
Ever.
There were a few other trips, but they were when my dad was working, so he wasn’t there for much of the trip.
We went to the beach a lot.
And did fun day trips now and then.
But money was in short supply and annual family vacations were not a luxury we could afford.
So I know how fortunate we are to be able to take them with our kids.
It is a tremendous blessing.
And one I should never grumble or complain about.
Yet I did.
Because it is easy to get comfortable with where I am, and instead of counting the blessings, to become unsatisfied.
How quickly I became like the children of Israel, yearning for the luxuries of Egypt, instead of remembering the life of slavery there.

But the day of departure arrived and we finally got on our way.
And I vowed to have a good time and a better attitude.
Whatever we had time for would be wonderful and we’d make the best of it!
After hours and hours of drive time, traffic and delays, mudslides, a fire, and a deer jumping in front our car, we pulled into Yosemite.
It was dark and late and cold.
But we were all so excited to be there.
This sign made my heart sing.
I loved this place already!

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The next morning, I woke early, put on my jacket, and headed out to find the bathrooms.
William was with me, and the first thing we saw was a mama deer and her fawn, wandering through the tent village where we were staying.
We followed them for a few minutes, marveling at their sweetness.
The leaves everywhere were beautiful shades of golden, and the air was crisp and so fresh.
We kept filling our lungs with it and saying, “doesn’t it smell so good here?”

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And then we walked a little further, where the views opened up behind the trees.
My eyes filled with tears immediately.
This.
This is what everyone meant when they said Yosemite changed them.
I was in awe of the beauty.
And that was just from they little pocket of sky I could see from Curry Village!
It was everything I had hoped for and more.
I couldn’t wait to wake the others and start our day of exploring.
I was right, it was all going to be great!
No matter how it started, it was going to be great!

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It would be perfect if the story stopped there, right?
A happily ever after ending.
But life isn’t happily ever after.
Life is isn’t edited to perfection.
Life is messy.
And most of the time we make that mess ourselves.

So the story continues.
We set off on that cool, cloudy morning to explore the Yosemite Valley by foot.
Jackets on, backpacks loaded, and ponchos too, just in case.
The kids wanted to take the bus.
Because buses are a novelty for us.
Buses are fun.
But we said, ” no way!”
“We’re going to walk while we can.”
WIthin minutes of us setting out, a gentle rain began to fall.
We basically told the kids to suck it up, except nicer, and kept walking.
Then it started to pour.
Just buckets of water raining down on us.
We were drenched.
And we turned and sprinted through the downpour, back to the bus stop.

We were laughing.
It was funny, and ironic, and the kids thought it was just great.
Aaron and I shared a “can you believe this look?” and laughed some more.
But we were all soaked.
And the bus quickly became crowded and hot with others trying to escape the rain.
We tried to figure out where to go and what to do, and suddenly it wasn’t as much fun as it had been a few minutes ago.

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Still, we determined to have fun.
We ran through the rain to the natural history museum at the visitor center, and then on to see a film so we could get to know Yosemite a little better.
Like the bus, it was packed.
And I was trying to have a good attitude about the rain, and the crowds and sticky, wet ponchos, but I’ll be honest, it was touch and go.
I wanted to hike Yosemite, not see it on a screen.
The film was wonderful.
And I fell more in love with Yosemite.
And was even more bummed that we couldn’t get out and see everything.

The rain was still coming down in sheets.
We braved it.
And got even more soaked.
So we toured the valley from inside the bus.
The kids loved it.
And I tried to put on a brave face.
I was failing.
I seriously wanted to cry.
I know.
It all seems very melodramatic now.
But in the moment, I felt like all the dreams I had for our first time in Yosemite were crashing all around me.
How quickly I forgot that magical morning, and all my promises to choose to find the good.

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Thankfully Aaron was a hero and kept up good spirits. (despite his serious looks in that bus picture)
He suggested we go explore the historic Ahwahnee hotel.
It was beautiful.
But like everything else, so crowded.
And 4 year olds are only interested in sitting in a lodge admiring gorgeous architecture and beautiful, giant fireplaces for so long.
How were we going to fill this day?
Sitting in our tent playing cards?
That was not my plan!

Aaron wandered off and came back with a grin on his face.
He bent down to the kids and said, “since today is rainy and we aren’t getting to do much, how about we have lunch in the most beautiful dining room you’ve ever seen?”
The kids didn’t seem too impressed.
But he walked us over and we peeked in.

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It was breathtaking!
High ceilings, and windows taller than our house to let in gorgeous views of must shrouded mountains, and rain falling from the sky.
We were all wet and disheveled, but they led us to our table like we were dressed for dinner.
They gave the kids Etch A Sketches to play with and brought hot cocoa and hot coffee.
I cried again.
From happiness and such a vivid reminder that letting go can lead to unexpected joy.
I guess there are happily ever after endings sometimes after all.

Or at least there are happily every after moments.
That are bought with Etch A Sketches for every kid at the table, plenty of hot cocoa, and a side of fries and a nap at the table for the very tired 4 year old.
Whatever it takes, right?

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It was one of the best, most beautiful lunches of my life.
Cheers to my knight in shining armor for saving the day!
I’m so glad he helped me choose joy.
Especially when I didn’t want to.

It seems that on every adventure we embark on, there is a moment, or many, where the words of Bilbo Baggins ring so true: “Adventures are not all pony rides and May sunshine.”
Indeed they are not.
But this time the rain helped change my heart.
And it brought the waterfalls.
And so much more.
More on that in the next post.

Home Schooling 101: Creating a Learning Culture In Your Home

I’ve decided to start a series here called Home Schooling 101.
My goal with this series is to share my thoughts and ideas in response to the many questions I get about home schooling.
I’ll also be doing a Charlotte Mason 101 series, so don’t get worried that I’ve forgotten about that one.
I haven’t.
I just have so much to say about both of them, that it makes sense to me to break them down into multiple posts.

Please know that I do not consider myself some kind of home schooling expert.
After all, I have only been home schooling my kids for 6 years.
However, since I was home schooled myself, and then taught in a public high school, I do have a unique perspective to offer.
And the longer I home school, the more reading and research I find myself doing about it.
Because I am passionate about home schooling.
I’m interested in it.
I care about it.
I’m excited about it!
And I truly want success for other families on this journey.
With these posts i hope to share my passion and excitement for this amazing kind of education with you.

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As I thought about how to start this series, I kept coming back to things people ask me often.
One of the most common questions I get is “what does your school day look like?”, and “how do you organize your school day?”
This seems like a great place to start when you are a new home schooler, or wanting to make some changes in the way you do things.
But I’d like to encourage you to look beyond simply setting up a schedule, creating a routine, or finding your rhythm.

Because I bet you already have a routine or rhythm happening in your home.
You and your kiddos wake up at roughly the same time every day.
You eat a similar breakfast, and lunch every day, and probably snacks too.
Your kids nap, or have quiet time, and like to play the same games and read the same books day after day..
You have created a daily routine in your home, and perhaps you weren’t even aware of it.

Now maybe you want to change the routine and rhythms yo’ve fallen into and create ones that serve your family better.
That is a beautiful goal.
I think most, if not all of us, could find new, better ways to manage our days.

However, I think it is wise to separate the routine of your home from the culture of your home.
Especially in terms of education and learning.
Your routines or rhythms are the order in which you do things,
But your culture is much bigger than that.
Your culture is your values and beliefs, your customs, and your ways of doing things.
Your culture determines why you do the things you do, and then, how you do them.

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So when think of yourself as an educator, and your home as your classroom or school, you need to ask yourself, “what is the learning culture in our home?”
What educational concepts and beliefs do we value?
And then you can ask yourself “do our school habits and customs reflect those values?”
And finally, you can look at your school days and routines and ask, “how can we arrange our school days so that they reflect the learning culture we want in our home?”
Do you see how creating your rhythm and routine can flow naturally from the learning culture you create?

Let me give you an example.
In our home, we start almost every school day with Bible/devotional time, hymn singing, and poetry.
Those things are all of great value to me and I want the things they represent to be a continual part of our learning culture.
I started this routine with my children when we began school, and they were 5, 3 and 1.
This has become one of our school customs–it is a part of our classroom culture.
No one is embarrassed to sing hymns together as we sit around the dining room table.
Even when we sing off key and acapella.
No one is uncomfortable listening to poetry and talking about it.
Because that is what we have always done.
Because I established it as part of our learning culture, it quickly became something we all look forward to and enjoy as the start of our school days.

But if I had never started school that way before, and then suddenly did, it might feel strange and awkward at first.
That’s OK!
If you are embarking on creating new customs or changing the learning culture in your home, that change is hard.
Change takes time.
And you need to give plenty of grace while things are new.

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If you don’t feel ready to change the learning culture in your home because you haven’t thought about it before, take some time to do so.
A great place to start is to pray for wisdom.
Then talk to your spouse and see what he values.
You may be surprised to find there are things he thinks important that you don’t. (I was!)
You could read up on some of your favorite educational philosophies. (I’m currently reading “Consider This” by Karen Glass and it is rocking my world) .
I also like to meditate upon quotes like this one, and think how they can be best reflected in the learning culture of our home. “We wish to place before the child open doors to many avenues of instruction, and delight, in each of which he should find quickening thoughts.” Charlotte Mason
But if that sounds overwhelming, you can start by simply thinking about the things you value in your children’s education.

Here are just a few of the key educational/learning values I’ve used to shape our school culture:
equipping my kids to become life long learners
cultivating an appetite for discovery, adventure, and exploration
encouraging my children to work until something is done to its best, instead of to a grade
learning subjects like history, science and geography through narrative literature
taking learning outside the classroom and into the world as often as possible
to learn by experience and not just from books
studying and experiencing nature to grow our connection and love to and for the Creator
exposing my kids to much beauty (art, poetry, music, and nature) in order to cultivate a life long love for those things and a desire to make their world more beautiful
having fun!

As I said, these are just a few of the things I value and have attempted to make a part of the learning culture in our home.
But they have all impacted how I teach my kids, the way I schedule our days (lots of field trips!) the curriculum we use, how we learn science, and even having things like an afternoon tea time and studying art history.
Creating your learning culture truly impacts the way you teach your children.
Of course, your list will look different than mine.
And some of it will change over time as you learn and grow and as your children do too.
The important thing is to mindfully think about the learning culture of your home and then to take steps to create the culture you long for.

I know I use this quote so often, but it truly is a guiding principle in my home education journey as well as a pillar of our learning culture.
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Friends, we have an amazing opportunity to create a learning environment in which our kids will grow and learn and thrive. So before you figure out your daily schedule, figure out what kind of learners you want them to be, and what kind of learning you want them to be doing.  Creating a learning culture that is unique to your family and children is such gift.  Make the most of it!

Home Schooling 101: Creating Your Own Adventure Club

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My love of adventure started when I was a little girl because my dad had the amazing ability to turn everything into an adventure.
If we had a few rainy days, we were on storm watch.
And he’d drive us around to see what creeks were overflowing.
He’d wake us up in the middle of the night to watch lightening storms.
If we were cleaning out the garage and doing a heap of yard work, and then making a trip to the dump, he’d make up a song about it and we’d sing it loud and happily the whole way there.
He made going to the dump an adventure!
My dad is one of the most enthusiastic people I know.
Kids follow him around like the pied piper because he exudes joy and fun.
He loves life and he loves people.
Long ago he made a decision about how he wanted to live life–by making the most out of all of it.
He sees life as one big adventure.

Growing up that way, I couldn’t help but want to make my life an adventure too.
And once I had kids, and began home schooling them, I decided that I wanted them to learn through adventures as well.
This idea has so shaped the way I teach my kids that I dedicate one day of our school week, every week, to adventuring.
We adventure with our home school group, but over time, we have begun to call ourselves the Adventure Club.
Occasionally I wonder if we are doing the right thing.
I mean, is it really OK to go on a field trip EVERY SINGLE WEEK?
But then I remember all that my kids learn while we are out in the wide world, and I stop doubting what my heart tells me is right.
Everything we are learning at home, sitting around the dining room table, or laying on the living room floor, comes to life in a new way when we are out adventuring.
Science, history, math, literature–every single subject gets covered.
Often in ways I could never plan for.
It just happens because we are learning wherever we go.
The world is our classroom!
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Maybe you are longing to adventure with your kids.
Perhaps you are ready to start an adventure club of your own.
I’d love to help you get started by sharing some of the things I’ve learned in the last 6 years of adventuring with my kids.

The first place to start, of course, is to Find A Group.
Adventuring is more fun with friends. Even if you can’t find a whole group of adventurers to join, I bet you can find one other mom.
The trick is, you have to find someone who likes the same kind of adventures as you do.
Not every mom is up for long drives, long hikes, or letting their kids get muddy, and catch bugs.
And If you are, then you need to find a like minded mom.
And once you do, hold fast to one another, and get ready to adventure!

Once you’ve found your adventure buddy, or buddies, you need to Plan Your Adventures.
Here is where the fun starts!
Our group meets at the beginning of each semester to plan.
We usually plan for 3 nature outings a month and one cultural adventure.
When we started, our kids were all 5 and under, and none of us knew how much we were capable of.
So we visited nature centers, parks, arboretums, and trails that were stroller friendly.
But in short order, we found our way and began branching out–hiking further, and visiting places where we had to climb over rocks, ford streams, and climb up and down steep hills.
Even when 8 months pregnant.
(this was Lilly’s first 4 mile hike, she was 2 and a half. We waded across streams on slippery rocks and logs, and climbed a long, very steep hill at the end of the hike. I couldn’t carry her, because I could hardly climb the hill myself.  We were both exhausted by the time we reached the top. But we did it.  And that feeling was pretty great.)
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Now most of us still have toddlers and pre-schoolers, but because those kids have been doing this since they were infants, we have different expectations for them.
They just have to come along!
The more you adventure, the more your confidence in your own ability and in your kids’ ability grows.
You’ll be amazed at the things you’re all are able to do.
So now, in addition to nature centers and parks, we also visit wilderness parks, mountain trails, tide pools, creeks, woods–basically any place we can hike and explore, and learn freely.

Our cultural days take us to museums of course, but there are also so many other places to visit.
In California, we have the missions, so those are on our list as places of historical interest.
When our group was studying weather for one of our nature study topics, we visited UCLA for a class on meteorology.
We’ve toured a lighthouse, a cheese shop, took the metro to downtown LA to visit China town, and toured historic mansions in Beverly Hills.
We’ve gone to plays and puppet shows, and visited the county fair.
Most of our trips are free or inexpensive.
There are so many field trips available to home schoolers now.
Many museums have free days for the general public, and some have days just for home schoolers.
The only limit to your adventures is your imagination!

So now that you’ve planned your trips, now you need to Pack Well.
One of the most common questions I get about our adventures is, “I don’t know what to pack.”
It’s a valid question, and it takes time to figure it all out.
For starters, you need a good backpack.
This was the first year that I haven’t had to carry a baby on my back, or front, so my back pack is different than the one I used while I was toting babies.
I use a Jansport, from their Heritage series.
I tried out a lot of packs to find one that is comfortable, and big enough for all the stuff I bring.
Inside my pack I always have a first aid kit.
I pack a sheet for sitting on because it’s lighter than a blanket.
For lunches, I have streamlined to fit the things that need to be kept cold into this one small cooler bag.
I bring things like string cheese, yogurt tubes, salami, and hummus in our cooler bag.
I don’t make sandwiches because they take up a lot of room and they get soggy.
Instead, I get a baguette and strap it to the top of my pack.
When it is lunch time, I tear off a hunk of baguette, stuff some cheese or meat in there, and hand it to my kids.
It’s the easiest lunch ever and my kids think its a great treat!
Each of my kids carries his own back pack with a water bottle and snacks.
I carry my own water and and an extra bottle because you never, ever want to run out of water on the trail.
It makes for a miserable hike.
And I always pack a treat of some kind, a lolly pop, gum, a fruit roll, or something that I can use to get tired kids to get down that last stretch of the trail.
Trust me, these little treats can be your saving grace.
My kids all pack different things for hikes.
My boys fill their back packs with things like knives, ropes, hammers and nails.
And they actually use those things!
My daughter brings stuffed animals, and all sorts of other random stuff that I don’t understand the point of having on a hike.
But since she carries it, she can bring what she wants.
They all carry their nature journals, a pen, and colored pencils, so they can draw if they want.
I carry thin, waterproof field guides for identifying plants and birds as we hike.

When we visit museums, we obviously leave much of this home.
I’ll still carry my back pack with snacks, water and lunch, and the kids will carry their art history, or nature notebooks for sketching.
Packing for your adventures is an art form.
Really.
And it helps tremendously to pack the night before.
It will help your mornings go so much more smoothly.
And you might not even yell at your kids before you get out the door!
Oh wait, I know that never happens to you guys.

The last thing you need for your adventures is the expectation that you will be challenged.
You need to be ready to Expect the Unexpected.
Whether you are visiting an art museum or hiking in a wilderness park, one thing you should expect on your adventures is that something you haven’t planned for is going to happen.
Your kid might try to touch a priceless piece of art and the guards will give you very dirty looks.
Talk to kids about museum etiquette before you go.
Or they might giggle and act all silly and embarrassed when you walk into a museum wing with nudes.
Plan ahead and avoid those wings, or talk to them about nudes in art before hand.
When we are hiking, I try to research the hikes as much as I can before we visit.
I look to see if they are stroller friendly, if there will be stream crossings, and if there is shade.
That way I know what shoes to wear, whether or not we need to wear sun hats, and if babies need to be carried rather than strolled.
My kids always wear layers, but I check the weather anyway, to be prepared for rain, or hot temperatures and pack extra water.
You might encounter snakes, and your kids, and you, need to know how to react to a snake.
Or what to do if they disturb a bee hive–that has happened to us.
Can your kids pee in the bushes?
Can you?
How about pooping behind a tree?
Cause I can guarantee it is going to happen.
And you need to be ready for it.
Always carry wipes and plastic bags.
Otherwise, you’ll be using socks to wipe someone’s booty.
Trust me, I speak from experience.

The thing to remember is that you are adventuring with kiddos, it won’t always be fabulous.
This quote from The Hobbit is such a perfect description of adventures:

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The wildest adventures may make you crazy at the time, but they are going to make the best stories later.

My dream is that I’ll be out adventuring and learning with my kids until they are off to college.
And then that they will continue to learn this way long into their adulthood, just as I am doing now.
I may not be able to take my kids on trips around the world, but I can still make their world as big and grand and beautiful as possible.
I can help them see the magic God has created for them to enjoy is everywhere.
I hope you feel like you can too.

In the end, I come back to this beautiful quote, by one of my educational heros, Charlotte Mason.
It encapsulates so well what I want to offer my kids in all of their education.
Adventures included.
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