Groundhog’s Day and Candlemas

A re-post from my personal blog, six years ago.

I don’t know why I love Groundhog’s Day so much.  I guess it’s just the silly fun of it.  Maybe it is the midwinter longing for a little spring weather.  My love might also have something to do with a rotund critter who visited our  backyard for many summers of my childhood.  We named him “Chubbs.”  Whatever the reason, I was excited to celebrate with my boys on February 2nd.

I borrowed the idea for these cupcakes from Gourmet Mom on-the-Go, but I decided to go with cupcakes instead of cookies.  I love cupcakes.  They just seem more festive.  That being said, if you visit the link above, you must look at the groundhog hot chocolate.  Too cute!  We enjoyed our cupcakes when Daddy got home from teaching around 3pm.  We had a little tea time celebration with cupcakes and decaf tea.  Earlier in the day, we worked on our new winter playscape.

 

 

 

In the evening, we celebrated Candlemas for the first time.  What fun to embrace a new tradition.  For weeks, I’ve been reading about Candlemas, researching its history, customs, and potential for creating a meaningful teaching moment for our family.  The internet is full of sources about this rather obscure little holiday, but here is the quickie version.  Candlemas marks the end of the 40 day period after the birth of Jesus.  According to Jewish custom, Mary would have gone to the Temple for purification (40 days postpartum for a boy baby, 80 days for a girl).  This would have been the day of Christ’s first visit to the Temple, His Father’s house.  The event is recorded in Luke 2:22-40.  While I consider myself pretty familiar with the Bible, I didn’t remember so many of the wonderful little moments in this story.  A figure named Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.  Upon seeing young Jesus in the Temple, Simeon acknowledges that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.  He gives thanks to God that he may now rest in peace.  Also, an elderly prophetess named Anna acknowledges and blesses the baby.  Such a beautiful moment in the early life of Jesus!

 

 

 

 

I drew and laminated some simple figures for the kids to use in acting out the story.  We even enjoyed a spirited rendition of the story by Daddy at the dinner table!

From my quick research I learned about several interesting Candlemas traditions.  Because the date also marks the center point between with first day of winter and the first day of spring, people eat round foods to remember the sun.  When the holiday is given its Christian identity, the acknowledgement of the sun also becomes the acknowledgement of the Son of God, the light of the world.  Candlemas has potential pagan roots in the Gaelic festival, Imbolc.  I find the parallel to be a wonderful statement about the way God shows up in creation and how He designed the world to reflect the presence of Jesus in all things.  We ate our round foods (cheeseburgers; sliced potatoes baked with olive oil, salt & pepper; carrots in “coin” shape; and orange slices) with candles on the table and talked about Jesus as the Light.  Other traditions include bringing candles to church for a priest to bless them and watching the weather for a prediction of spring’s arrival (“If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again.“).  Not hard to see the Groundhog’s Day connection!

It was a special evening, and I hope our family embraces this new-to-us holiday for many years.  It proved to be a great teaching tool and a sacred moment in the middle of a regular old week.   ~*~Erica~*~

Taking it Back

img_0829This year marks the eleventh year since I first began homeschooling. So many starts and re-starts, so many times I have thought “Am I doing a good job?” Well this year I have a new motto. “I am taking it back!”
I have come to realize that not every day of our home education program is going to be worth a journal entry. Some days…well, some days I’d just rather not talk about. My father would often remark to me on a difficult day, “Like the old song goes Daughter, ‘Some days are diamonds, some days are stones’.” (I finally listened to it, just today, on You Tube…good old John Denver) There is definitely some truth to that! But when I am having a day that seems more like an old rock, and not like a glistening diamond, I thank God that tomorrow is a new day. The days spent worrying about wether I am doing enough, or comparing myself to others turn stony. The days I remember God’s grace and extend that to my daughter-shine brightly.

On that note, back in September I wrote a journal entry that I thought was worth sharing with you. I had begun thinking about those things I wanted “IN” our days, and those things I wanted “OUT”. In the past few months it has helped me to refocus my efforts. Character training is at the top of my list, and being academic for the sake of being academic, is out! For me, this means embracing the Charlotte Mason method of home education…deciding to go “whole hog” there! The things that tend to creep in that don’t line up with my IN list, I can put a stop to, rather than granting them a hall pass. I am taking back her education, and mine!

img_0299I homeschooled my sons from their fourth and sixth grade years, through high school graduation, and now my daughter is in fifth grade. I have been keenly aware lately, that I have about eight years left with her at home. (Perhaps this has been magnified by my turning 50 last August!) I do not want to look back and think “I wish I had done things this way” and had left out the other. I do not want to have a mountain of worksheets, and forget to teach her to learn. It is such a priveledge to teach our children, let’s remember that. Let’s take it back. Take back what matters most to you, write up a little IN list, and look at it regularly! Be aware of what you want OUT. When OUTS threaten to squelch your joy-say Sayonara to them without reservation. It will free you up, I guarantee it.

Joy, peaceful days, the love of lifelong learning, quiet moments with my child…I am taking it back! Tracy Born

 

Hibernation Mode

It’s no big surprise that Pittsburgh is a grey city. This place has many, many cloudy days. In fact, it ranks in the top five major U.S. cities for # days in which the day is more than 3/4 covered in cloudy skies. (We are #4, with 203 days/year of “heavy cloud”.) All of these cloudy days equates to winter feeling like a long, often dreary season, especially when it’s cold, wet, or – most likely – both. Even in what was once an old Victorian boarding house, our home can start to feel like the walls are closing in on us, but I have been working hard to combat cabin fever, and have realized that we all feel better if we do so by slowing down, staying home, and entering what I like to think of as “hibernation mode”.

Reading on the couch.
Reading on the couch.

After a month of holiday festivities, visits with friends and family, and too many sweets, this first month of the year in our home has been embraced as family time. Now, we as a family, and particularly as a homeschooling family, spend quite a bit of time together. But January takes that up a notch – our calendar stays purposefully clear, jammies are worn all day, and we spend days inside. While hibernation often conjures up thoughts of sleep or laziness, our time is quite the contrary. Yes, it’s slowed down, in that we won’t be rushing around to get anywhere on time, climbing in and out of the van, trying to pack lunches and make playdates. But we ramp up our reading and imaginary play, as well as taking advantage of what we can walk to within our own community, having our world shrink down to about a square mile. Despite living in a neighborhood that does not have a high score on the walkability scale, we do have a corner grocer, a library, dance class for my daughter, and a neighbor who gives many of the local children piano lessons. And unless the windchill is down in danger zone territory, we are walking to those places.

Walking to piano in the rain.
Walking to piano in the rain.

A few snippets of the past few weeks include exploring the structural integrity of the various weights of blankets when building forts; delivering hand-written notes to neighbors up and down our block via scooter; cheese runs to the grocer for grilled cheese and tomato soup lunches (a family favorite on rainy days); building snowmen on our single snowy day thus far; and of course, books and legos. So many books and legos. There are a lot of moments when three children, age 7 and younger, running circles around our house make me question our choices and my sanity. But turning a corner to find them snuggled together on the couch while the oldest reads books to her brothers melts the tension away and helps me remember why we homeschool, why we have worked so hard to build and support this family-focused life, why sometimes hibernating is just what we need.

-Becky

New and Hard

New things are fun!  Over the weekend, we went ice skating for the first time in two years.  Two years ago, we had a 9 year old, a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and a one year old.  Only the older two truly skated.  The 3 year old held on to a bucket most of the time.  What a difference.  Now, we have five children, and four of them skated!  The buckets (shown in the picture) were still helpful, but everyone tried skating freely.  Most of the time we were smiling.  Most of the time we were laughing.

But new things are also hard–skating included  Ankles were tired.  Knees were sore.  Patience grew thin, and confidence was bruised.  We had to cheer for each other and encourage one another to get up again and again.  We paused to warm our hands by the fire and hopped back on the ice.  Some of us had a little more fun than others.  But you know how I know that this was a good experience?  Even the boy who had the hardest time was already asking when we will go again.  That, my friends, is learning at its finest.

Whether you are eight or 108, learning new things is hard.  You feel clumsy.  You feel worn.  But how dull would life be if you didn’t throw yourself out on the ice and glide?  ~*Erica*~

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Riding the Waves

Sometimes I, like Erica, try to categorize what sort of homeschoolers we are. I know we’re unschooly, as we don’t force learning in any way for my six-year-old son, but my husband and I are eager lovers of learning and do a lot more “strewing” of materials than most unschoolers, I bet. I first got interested in homeschooling when I read Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling, and I love her ideas, but I can’t remember the last time my son actually had a project that we called a “project,” though he’s always making things (most recently, a huge Nerf gun tower that resides in our living room). Last year sometime, I heard a podcast about something called “Tidal Homeschooling,” by Melissa Wiley and I think this perhaps comes the closest to describing what happens in my family, at least so far.

On her website, Wiley writes, “We have high tide times when I charter a boat and we set sail with purpose and direction, deliberately casting our net for a particular type of fish. On these excursions I am the captain; I have charted the course. But the children are eager crew members because they know I value their contributions. And also I provide generous rations. No stale or moldy bread on this ship: no dull textbooks, no dry workbooks. My sailors sink their teeth into fresh, hearty bread slathered with rich butter and tart-sweet jam . . . And we have low tide times when we amble along the shore, peering into tide pools and digging in the sand, or just relaxing under beach umbrella. The children wander off in directions of their own choosing; they dig and poke and ponder.”

Though I am not quite comfortable with the image of myself as captain and suspect that Wiley’s homeschool is more structured than mine during high tide, the ebb and flow that Wiley describes is very familiar to me. Indeed, it seems to be what we’ve naturally fallen into as homeschoolers. Sometimes my son seems to be learning at a rapid pace, sometimes aided by my husband and I, and other times he tinkers around, plays, and dreams.

I notice the ebb and flow the most when the flow is on, which has been the case since the New Year turned (this means, in hindsight, that much of October-December was a sort of ebb). I’ve always gotten a lot of energy from times of the year that feel new and since 2017 hit, my son has also been on a learning and creating wave. He’s been starting to recognize words, he’s been calculating equations in his head (of course, he always does this), and he’s been coming up with more intricate narratives for play.

The most fun part of this wave for me has been that my son has become interested in painting again. I say “again,” because when he was a toddler, I bought tons of art materials and dozens of art books and we painted all of the time. But as a 4 and 5-year-old, he mostly lost interest in anything painting or drawing-related, though he has continued doing the art that comes most naturally to him, large art installation-type machines and photography. Boxes of crayons, watercolors, construction paper, and markers sit on a table in our living room largely untouched. (I am not invested in him necessarily doing art one way, but I also want him to feel like he can use all of the materials available.)

The reason he’s been interested lately is that I have been doing a lot of creative work myself. As a professor at a research university, my job requires writing, which is sometimes hard to make happen amidst my overpacked teaching and advising schedule. So far this semester I’ve gotten a lot of leverage from combining writing days with dreamy sessions of playful artmaking and intuitive painting. I have been taking an amazing online art course called Lifebook 2017 (offered by Tamara Laporte), which features a lot of inspiring lessons including painting kind animals to symbolize qualities that might help us in the new year, and, perhaps also relevant to my son’s interest, I have been collecting shiny new art materials to do the sessions. Brave Writer’s Julie Bogart calls doing activities for ourselves that inspire our children “awesome adulting,” which I suppose I will own! I’ve had to buy extra watercolor paper because my son has become so prolific. And it’s been fun for me to rediscover a love for painting and drawing, which I did a ton as a kid, but largely ceded to my sister as we got older, since she was the one deemed to have more artistic talent.

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As soon as I began to use the wonderful materials arriving at our house—posca pens, gel medium, collage papers, watercolor crayons, acrylics—he immediately became interested and painted up a storm, usually inviting me to sit beside him, contributing too. I’ve noticed that he really likes collaboration—and tools, always tools. One night he wanted to sleep with an ink brayer.

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He’s moved back to his large installations a bit now—but with new ideas, like taking all of the packing peanuts from the boxes my art materials were shipped in, smashing them, rolling them in gel medium, applying paint, and gluing them to a large industrial pallet.

In all of this, I’ve realized that there are two kinds of flow—the kind that is really active and productive, and the other that is open, connected, and immersive. Often, they go hand in hand, but sometimes not. This is why perhaps the ebbs are so important; sometimes they are just processing and downtime and sometimes they are flows of a different kind.–Anne

Finding a Rhythm

We are definitely eclectic homeschoolers.  While I feel most connected to the Charlotte Mason approach and I envision our homeschooling through that lens, I happily adopt elements of other educational models.  In particular, I love aspects of the Waldorf tradition*.  The concept of rhythm–a foundational element of the Waldorf lifestyle–resonates with me.  Rhythms happen naturally.  The ocean has a rhythm.  The days and nights have a rhythm.  Even the newest babies have a rhythm to their sleeping and waking, their hunger and alertness.

Schedules, on the other hand, are imposed upon us, or we impose them upon ourselves.  Schedules tells what to do at what time.  At 8 o’clock, I must eat breakfast.  At 12 o’clock, I must eat lunch.  The reading lesson starts at 1 o’clock.  Dance class is at 5.  You get the idea.

Perhaps this kind of rigidity works well for some people, but in my family, a schedule is a promise of failure.  I can guarantee that someone will have a dirty diaper at breakfast time.  Phonics will take longer than the time I allotted.  We’ll fall in love with our latest novel and not be able to stop.

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So instead of watching schedules be unmet day after day, we follow a rhythm.  I love reading “day in a life” posts and articles, so I hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse into how our days run–the rhythm that keeps this family of seven moving forward.

Morning.  I wake up with the baby.  Sometimes that is 5am.  Sometimes, like today, it is a glorious 7am.  Usually, we are up for the day between those hours.  I change the baby, and I get myself ready.  I make breakfast for my husband, and our toddler usually wakes up during this time.  I make the little guy breakfast, too.  I sit down at the computer to breastfeed our youngest.  She’s four months old.  While we nurse, I post to my doula business page and the organizing support group I lead on Facebook.  Ideally, I spend some time in my Bible at this point.  One of my goals in 2017 is to make my Bible study time more of a priority, so I’m trying to read the scripture before I jump on Facebook.

I put in a load of laundry.  Slowly, the other kids make their way downstairs.  The big kids can make their own breakfasts, so they busy themselves with cereal and bagels while I nudge the young ones toward getting ready for the day.

I glance at my meal plan and the to-do list in my bullet journal.

Everyone is wide awake, and the inevitable squabbles are starting.  Milk has probably been spilled.  Oatmeal is probably getting cold.  Eggs are probably sticking to a pan.  I have already let the dog out about six times.

The process of morning chores is underway.  Each child (except the baby, of course) is responsible for bringing his or her breakfast dishes to the sink, dressing, brushing his or her teeth, and tidying his or her bed.  I don’t say “making the bed” because I want to make the job as easy as possible.  As long as the comforter is neat and the pillow is at the head of the bed, I’m happy.  I don’t need to know what dwells beneath the blanket!

When I think enough time has passed for everyone to be ready, I sit down at the piano with a baby in my lap.  I play a few simple songs (sometimes with one hand).  This is our “school bell.”  The kids know that it is time to come to the dining room.  I hope that we will come together for school by 9am, but that doesn’t always happen.  We sing a bit.  We read a bit of scripture, and we dig into our current family read-aloud book.  Right now, it’s Little House in the Big Woods.  Sometimes, we read a few pages.  Sometimes, we read a few chapters.  We do the picture study from Ambleside Online, and we listen to a piece from our current composer (also from http://www.amblesideonline.com).

The rest of the morning is spent on handwriting, language arts, math, and history.  I move from child to child and back again.  I attend to diapers, spit up, the dog, and the toddler who isn’t quite ready for formal school activities yet.  He and I do a puzzle together.  I eat a pretend bowl of soup with a pretend piece of birthday cake in it.  I savor it with a hearty “yummmm,” and my son laughs, his chef’s hat askew.  I switch the laundry.  I nurse my daughter half a dozen times. I sneak a peek at Facebook and chastise myself for doing so.

I coax my middle son back to the table.  He hates writing, but we manage to inch our way through his assignment.  I give instructions (again) through clenched teeth and remind myself to stay calm.  I shove down my fears about the standardized test he will take this year, and instead, I focus on the huge notebook of drawings that he wants me to see.  I praise him and kiss the top of his head.

Lunch.  Lunch is often a hodgepodge that happens some time in the vicinity of noon.  I plan to give everyone an entire hour for eating and playing.  I make a few peanut butter and jelly wraps.  I make a grilled cheese sandwich.  I serve yogurt, fruit, and veggies with hummus.  This isn’t gourmet.  The kids eat and talk.  I call my mom for a quick minute.  Sometimes that quick minute turns into a long one, and I have to rush to gather everyone back together for school.  On other days, I take the rest of the lunch hour for myself.  I nurse  the baby, read, or mess around on the internet.  I enjoy this time while I keep one ear open to the sounds of my children playing with zero agenda.  There are arguments to moderate, but mostly, they play well together.

Afternoon.  We finish up our history lesson.  We do science, art, or music.  Sometimes all.  Sometimes one.  The toddler takes a nap (on some days).  On Wednesdays, we go to a homeschool history class at the public library.  We’re done with everything by 1 or 2pm.  I bring all activities to a hault so that we can do a quick clean-up before the kids run off to play.  The oldest reads for pleasure, making his Mama’s heart sing.  I put on music, and it isn’t unusual to find someone dancing.  I scramble to do a bit of cleaning, make things less chaotic before Daddy gets home.  That’s the goal.

Evening.  On Mondays, my daughter goes to dance class.  We have dinner afterward.  On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we have church activities at 6pm, so we eat dinner before heading out.  The kids set the table, and they clear their own dishes afterward.  I contemplate how our chores need to evolve as these children grow and mature.  They are ready for more.  I wipe up spills and marvel at the number of utensils under the dining room table.  How does this happen?  My husband starts the dishes, and I give him a big hug from behind.  The baby is in a wrap, sandwiched between us.  The rest of our evening involves board games, stories, and a little too much wrestling.

On Fridays, we attend a homeschool co-op from 9am to 12:30pm.  We have lunch there, and the kids have some playtime with their friends.  Co-op is such a blessing to us.  I love watching my children form meaningful relationships with kids from a wide range of ages.  When the weather is nice, they play outdoors and run off some of that wonderful childhood energy.

This is how our days roll.  We move from one thing to the next.  We have interruptions.  We go with the flow.  We make messes.  We recover from the messes.  The next day comes.  It is predictable yet entirely new.  I soak in these moments and give thanks for both their comforting rhythm and their inevitable surprises.

~*Erica*~

*Waldorf education is founded on Anthroposophy, a philosophy by Rudolf Steiner.  Waldorf schools all over the United States and internationally celebrate festivals that have Christian and pagan roots.  Some elements of Anthroposophy do not align with Christianity in the way that I practice it, so I do not adopt Waldorf as our primary mode of education.  I do, however, have a great respect for the lifestyle, as well as the right for every family to choose the style of education that works best for them.  For more information, please visit http://www.waldorfeducation.org.

The Shapes of Letters

How well do you know your numbers and letters?  I recently learned that I know them way better than I thought I did! Let me explain….

My son and I are doing kindergarten this year. Each week we are working on a different letter and number.  We read books about a letter based theme for the week (A is for Apples etc.) and talk about the shape and sound of the letter. Pretty standard stuff; nothing terribly remarkable there, right?

The remarkable part for me has come in watching my son dissect, analyze and draw the shape of each letter. In doing so he is recognizing the patterns which are visible throughout the numbers and letters which make up our written language.

For example, did you know that the number 5 looks a lot like an S if you straighten out those corners?

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Did you realize that the letter P is hidden inside the letter B?

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Have you noticed that M and W are the same shape flipped upside down?

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Did you see the J hidden inside the U the last time you wrote it?

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My grown up brain has long since ceased to recognize these similarities because the numbers and letters have taken on their own meaning for me.  Through years of reading and writing, the letters have become parts of words rather than drawings. They are sounds; they are vowels or consonances; they are shapes in their own right.  I have failed to continue to see them as combinations straight lines and curved lines.  Someday I hope my son will do the same!

I am enjoying the process of re-discovery which is going along with our homeschool journey. Seeing the world through a fresh set of eyes is helping me to appreciate the complexity I have come to take for granted even in something as seemingly simple as the shape of the letters which make up our language.

Peace, love and happiness

Early this spring my son and I spotted the first of many peace, love, and happiness graffiti paintings we would see in the city this summer.  You have probably seen them too. They are on bridges and overpasses, on old train cars; all of the usual places you would find graffiti.   I loved them so much I used peace, love and happiness as my name here on the blog.

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I am usually fairly opposed to the idea of graffiti. I try to teach the ideal of respecting other people’s property and the practicality of using paint only on paper or other approved surfaces so my house and furniture is not covered in Crayola water paints. I don’t care how washable they are, they do not belong on the side of the couch!  In this particular case of graffiti though, I was far from offended; I was inspired. We had a great conversation about peace, love and happiness; about how our world is rich in these qualities but could always use a reminder to focus on them more.  Every time we spotted another peace, love, and happiness symbol we remembered to be kind to others and to appreciate the wonderful things we have in our lives. It turned into a great summer-long scavenger hunt.

I have always believed that people are basically good; that most of us strive for peace, love and happiness.  Surely, the paths we take toward those goals have a multitude of appearances.  Some paths have a more obvious outward appearance of goodness than others. Despite those outward differences, I’ve always believed that deep down inside we are all more similar than we are different and we are all striving for a better world for ourselves and for our fellow citizens.  I’ve tried to teach those qualities of basic goodness and tolerance to my son.

The recent election results have shaken my beliefs to their very core.  I am a pretty conflict avoidant person (peace, love, and happiness right?) so I was hesitant to address this here.  I don’t want to offend anyone, but I really feel like this needs to be said.  How nearly half of our nation’s voters could cast their ballot in favor of hate and intolerance is beyond my comprehension.  I have been forced to confront the very real possibility that my rose colored glasses are just that.  Perhaps the world is not as kind and generous a place as I thought it was. Perhaps a large part of our country is so angry and self-centered that they are not basically good deep down. Perhaps they are so filled with hate that they truly are striving to make the world a better place only for themselves and not for their fellow citizens. If this nation can enthusiastically elect a man who brags about bullying others, who laughs about violating women’s bodies, who threatens entire religious and ethnic groups with exclusion from our society and who has no qualms about lying to anyone about anything to get what he wants; what are we to tell our children?

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Those of us who have chosen to homeschool our children have taken on more than just the responsibility to teach them the academics they need to know to succeed in this world. We have also taken on more than the average parent’s share of the responsibility to teach them the values and morals they will need to succeed in this world.

I have always tried to teach my son to be kind to others and to be considerate of the needs of those around him.  I think those are important qualities for most of us to have in a civilized society.   Now I am doubting if those qualities are going to serve him well. In a world filled with bullies who have been emboldened by the mass cultural embrace of our president-elect, how far will kindness get him? Perhaps I should work harder at teaching him to make sure he gets the first spot in line even if he has to push others out of the way to get there. I’m fairly certain that is what the children in the homes of the adults who elected this man are teaching their children.

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I have always tried to teach my son that hard work and education are important keys to success in this world.  The blue collar work ethic of Pittsburgh was drilled into to me as a child and became a strong part of my core set of beliefs. If you are willing to work hard and learn, you will be successful.  Again, I am doubting now if those qualities are as important as I thought. If the candidate who has spent her life preparing for this position, who on paper was the most qualified candidate for president in decades, was defeated by someone who knows no more about foreign policy or about the way our government works than my five year old son does; perhaps being prepared and working hard is not as important as I thought. Our children are watching. I can see the wheels turning in son’s head as he thinks, “Perhaps bravado and making things up as you go along is the way to go. It is certainly an easier path. Why work hard if you can just lie your way to the top?”

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I have always tried to teach my son to include others and to embrace differences. I’m sure you have all been to pre-school playtime and seen the exclusion of one child or another.  As mothers, I think most of us try to limit that type of unkindness and encourage our kids to explore the idea of including those who have different ideas and interests in their game if they want to play.  This is the foundation of the social skills they will need to work with groups of people, personally and professionally, for the rest of their lives.  What are we to tell our children, when the leader of our country feels free to discriminate and threaten people based on their race, nationality and religion? Is it acceptable for exclusion to occur on that level, but not on a more personal level on the playground?  How do you explain that to a five year old?

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I could continue, but frankly the whole topic is depressing me so I will stop here.  My coping strategy so far has been to tune out – the TV is off; I am not reading the news; I have been staying at home a lot and Facebook is sending me increasingly frantic messages about how many urgently important things have happened in my account since I last logged in.  I know burying my head in the sand is not a viable long term solution to this problem, but it is the best self-preservation method I have been able to come up with.  So what are we to tell our children for the next four years? How are we to negotiate this hostile new world in which we live? ~P.L.H.

Everyday Lessons

I am sure I’m not alone in loving the everyday lessons that arise as a homeschooling family.  Sure, I feel great when I pull off a well designed lesson plan, and the learning meets my expectations.  However, my heart positively soars when I see my children gaining solid knowledge in organic ways that simply pop up as we do life together.  Life skills are never far away, and if we walk through life slowly enough to have the luxury of doing tasks in careful, mindful ways, then these lessons are ready-made!

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Are you ever struck by the “are we doing enough?” question as a homeschooling family?   I wrestle with those concerns weekly.  I think about the specific tasks that “should” be done but sometimes fail to make the top of the daily to-do list.  I feel the stress creep in as the joy gets pushed out.  Then I force myself to make a mental list of the life skills we practiced that day.  My household has five children in it, so there are many opportunities to practice sharing, negotiation,  compromise,  selflessness, organization, categorizing, decision-making, leadership, and forgiveness.  We exercise our bodies, our minds, and our creativity.  Every single day.  Even on the down days when we lounge a bit and read a lot, we are practicing many skills that will be valuable long past these “school years.”

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When I think about my deepest reasons for homeschooling, I come back to appreciation.  For my children (and myself!), I desire an appreciation for the beautiful Earth that has been given to our care, an appreciation for music and art, an appreciation for my kids’ own abilities to create music and art and objects of all kinds, an appreciation for their unique personalities and capacities for learning and sense of humor, and an appreciation for meaningful friendships.  In our particular family, an appreciate for God as a loving Creator is of foremost importance.* I want my family to have the time to appreciate these things and more–all those wonderful intangibles such as honesty, integrity, humility, and grace.  Don’t forget the very concrete skills, too.  We experience our share of laundry, sewing, dusting, digging, and cooking (and on and on and on).  So much life to live!

Everything I have listed can be found in the unique and brilliant lives of families who choose public and private schools as well.  I do not doubt that!  However, I love the opportunity to thoughtfully craft a life for my family that makes room for these things purposefully and without hurry.  When I have doubts and worry about the many, many subjects to cover in the fleeting years we have, I give thanks for the everyday lessons we share together.  They add up to a magical sort of life.  ~Erica~

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*Neighborhood Homeschool has a diverse staff of bloggers from a variety of lifestyles and faith traditions.  This is an welcoming space where people can share their unique experiences and points-of-view.

Knowing, Acknowledging, and Playing in Nature

Having confessed in my first post for Neighborhood Homeschool to being sort of an “inside girl,” it may seem strange for me now to write a post about nature. I should say, I’m an inside girl except when I’m not; I grew up in a state known for its outdoor activities (West Virginia), I’m an avid hiker, and I camped frequently as a child. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become a vegan and an environmentalist, with a strong love for animals, plants, and other wild things.

Still, one thing I mourn about modern life, and modern city life in particular, is the loss of an intimate experience with, and therefore knowledge of, nature: its seasons and its processes (though I totally agree with Tracy Born that one can take nature walks in the city!). Several years ago I took a walk with my father, who unassumingly identified different trees along our route, and I was amazed to discover this about him. It never came up when I was a child. But, of course, he lived on a farm until he was a young teenager and this knowledge is a part of him. (I think this also had to do with his generation; my family has recently been enjoying Jean Craighead George’s hilarious autobiographical book, The Tarantula in My Purse, in which she describes her kids growing up in the 1960s and having closer relationships with wild animals than I can imagine any family having these days.) I realized simultaneously that this was knowledge that my father never taught me, that was lost from his generation to mine. And now, living in the city, nature isn’t something I have to confront in my daily life; I can choose to completely ignore it for the most part. At the same time, it is here, just as present as the more demanding facets of city life. An uncultivated woods is just blocks from my home; an ecosystem is all around me.

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As I have been homeschooling my son (now nearly six years old), one of my priorities has been for us to rediscover knowledge of nature together, in part because I long for it and in part because it feels necessary and crucial in a world where nature’s voice is so often drowned out by other louder, human priorities. When I say voice, I mean that literally. Though we have used several resources so far in our quest to learn more about nature, including classes at a local nature center which focus on things like identifying animals and plants, some of the best resources that I have discovered are the Kamana for Kids series and other books by the skilled tracker and formidable nature educator, Jon Young. Last winter, after my grandfather bought a bird feeder for my son, I brought Young’s book, What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World, home from our library. In this revelatory book, Young shares the truth, supported by research, that birds can communicate with each other, as well as with other animals, and that their communications are heavily influenced by their responses to the human world. Humans, Young points out, used to understand this language because it revealed information that contributed to hunting and gathering, and to avoiding predators; this is, again, knowledge that has been largely lost, but it can be rediscovered.

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Learning bird language is a topic that is deep, but also fairly accessible and rewarding even for a beginner. In just a few months, my son and I came to know some 6-7 species that visited our feeder and the “baseline” sounds they made, enough so that we could begin to recognize when they were communicating something different—and, equally importantly, so that we could not interfere with them in our unconscious movements through the world, so that we could walk by them gently and acknowledge them, so as not to cause them to fly away in what Young calls a “bird plow.” Acknowledgement of nature, it turns out, is a natural offshoot of having knowledge about it—and Young argues that it can have a positive effect on keeping the animals around us safe from predators. Hawks apparently frequent trails popular with runners, so that they can take advantage of the birds fleeing from the humans.

My son seems to be drawn to nature as much as I am, though his investment is as much in playing in nature as in learning anything specific about it. The Kamana for Kids book series put out by Young’s organization is brilliant in its understanding of kids’ need to play in nature. (I recently heard that Young developed some of his ideas about nature education through his experiences with homeschoolers when he was involved with his mentor’s nature program in New Jersey!) The books are composed of magical stories, which teach kids about “nature awareness skills”: deer ears for listening, owl eyes for seeing, raccoon touch for feeling, and dog nose for smelling. While Young recommends that children and adults can learn a lot by staying still and observing one “secret spot” on a regular basis, his Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature emphasizes that for most kids, this skill is best learned through play—hiding under leaves, for instance, which emerges organically in many child-initiated games, is a great way to experience stillness and a chance to notice minute things about nature.

I was glad to remember this when my son and I recently visited the “secret spot” we chose in our urban woods. My son is the most active person I have ever met, and rarely sits still, so though I am drawn to the meditative aspects of Young’s ideas for nature learning, I wanted to be careful not to require this of him. I was happy when he developed his own game for using “deer ears,” a sort of blindfolded hide-and-seek where we took turns running away and seeing if the other could tell which direction we went with hearing alone. It was the most fun. (The other thing that my son wanted to do in the woods was take pictures—and I was intrigued to see what things he wanted to preserve and see again. He was especially interested in the interplay of light and shadow under the cover of the tall trees. All of the images in this post were taken by him!)

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Though we haven’t visited the “secret spot” as often as Young recommends (he recommends going every day), I think learning about nature is going to be a big part of our learning together. In addition to feeding and watching the birds, we have a garden and my son loves picking things to plant. I am learning about natural medicine from Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. With all of my explorations, I am increasingly aware that nothing is truly wild and nothing civilized; we are deeply interconnected with the natural world and the interface between humans and nature is fraught with complications. In the end, I don’t know exactly what I’m planting by trying to learn about the natural world with my son; the past of humans’ relationship with nature has been, to a large degree, devastating and the future of our lives as humans in nature is uncertain. It is inevitable in the changing world in which we live that some of the old knowledge about nature will be lost; I’m hoping that some of it can be passed on and there is still room for a more respectful acknowledgment.–Anneimgp5381