Being a Hometown Tourist

A common theme I read when going through the volumes is that children should know their surroundings and have a sense of place, topophilia if you will.  They should be aware of the nature that lives in their backyard and the surrounding countryside – what trees, wildflowers, and creeks are present, when they bloom and when they fade.  She also uses their local towns and neighborhoods as the perfect starting ground for geography lessons.  What better place to learn east from west than where you see the sun rise and set each day?

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I can’t help but notice however, that all too often, we mothers don’t even have this deep knowledge of our own place.  Perhaps it is due to a recent move, or perhaps due to the fact that we didn’t learn about our own surroundings well when we were growing up, but we just don’t know if our street is lined with ash, or elm, or maple trees and we aren’t sure if Elm Street runs north and south or east and west.

May I invite you then, to become a local tourist?  Why daydream of traveling afar, when the local surroundings may be just as new to you?

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First, it could be helpful to find a local Nature Center.  The center itself will probably have plenty of helpful information about the local flora and fauna – more than you can learn in a day, so consider getting a membership and making this a spot to visit often.  Sometimes these are privately owned and other times they can be found within state parks.  Learn the surrounding trails, creeks, and the trees and plants that grow there.  Immerse yourself in the native species around you.

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When you know a bit more about your area, it is easier to spot local species in local parks and on your local street.  Pick up a field guide to help you if you don’t have one specific to your area and climate.

Next, grab a map of your neighborhood (printing a map from google maps is easiest) and acquaint yourself with your immediate area.  Did you know there was a pond behind that house, or a creek?  Are you surprised by how much forest-like growth covers the neighborhood?  Next, explore your town center, or the neighborhood of a close relative or friends.  Walk it, don’t drive.  Don’t use a gps, but just your printed map and your senses.  Bring a compass and keep an eye of the movement of the sun during your walk.

If perhaps, you find yourself in an area that is new to you or that you don’t really love, consider this your chance to learn to love it.  Maybe the location is temporary, or out of your comfort zone (speaking as a northeastern gal who lived on the west coast and the deep south, I feel you) but there are tactics to loving it more and making wonderful memories there!

Once you learn a bit about nature and geography, learn a bit about the people.  Make an attempt to find local shops and restaurants and meet the owners.  It is all too easy to come to a new place and order all the stuff you need from Amazon so you can unpack, homeschool, cook, and clean.  Choose to lean into the local resources of your neighborhood and the people of your town instead.  Find a great book store, a great coffee shop, and the library.  Attempt to have a conversation at each place.  When you find your church, make an attempt to walk there if you live close enough.  If not, then just try to spark a meaningful conversation after the service.

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Soon, you’ll find yourself feeling a deeper sense of place and a deeper curiosity as it changes through the seasons and the years.  Being a hometown tourist will help you find real joy and contentment exactly where you are right now.

What We are Reading

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What we have been reading in October…

Charlotte Mason’s second Volume, Parents and Children, for book club.  We read chapters 3 and 4 for our meeting. It seems hard to find the old style pink paperbacks these days if you like to hold a book as I do, rather than read a website.  If I were you, I’d wait until Riverbend Press comes out with their beautiful hardback copies, but if you aren’t patient enough, you can find the book here.

Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, by William Harrison Woodward.  I started this in order to read along with Brandy.  I’m so glad I did.  There is so much goodness in his writing.  So much of it seems like it could have been pulled off the pages of Charlotte’s volumes, and indeed it was Charlotte who recommended that he be read in the back part of Volume 5 where she wrote this glowing review of this book she read when it first came out in 1897.

Vittorino da Feltre and other Humanist Educators, by W. H. Woodward (Cambridge University Press, 6s.). This volume is something more than an interesting study in the by-ways of history. True, it treats of the schoolmasters––especially of perhaps the most famous of them, Vittorino himself––of that most fascinating period, the early days of the Renaissance, the revival of learning. But the real value of the work to us is that it shows on what liberal lines the humanist schoolmaster dealt with the questions which are debatable ground to-day. The radical fault of our English thought and opinion on the subject of education seems to be that we have somehow lost the sense of historical perspective. At each new idea, which we believe we have ourselves conceived, we cry––”We are the people”; “Never was education like unto ours.” And here, towards the end of the fourteenth and early in the fifteenth centuries, we have every one of our vexed questions answered with liberality and philosophic conviction to which we have not attained. Should girls have equal advantages with boys? Vittorino taught girls and boys together. Is early education important? He laid himself out for children of five years old. Should lessons be pleasant? La Giocosa not only named but described his school. Should there be a mixture of classes in a school? He taught children whom he educated out of his large charity with the children of princes. Do we desire a wide and liberal curriculum? This was what he accomplished––Latin and Greek, Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, Natural Philosophy, Euclid, Astronomy, Natural History, Music, Choral Singing, Dancing, all Games for the training and exercise of the body, and a good deal besides. Plutarch was made much use of as an educational instrument, being employed with the Bible to teach morals. Does it distress many a mother that her son should wade through the pages of classic authors too apt to be unchaste? Such authors were not admitted into the curriculum of Vittorino. Do we pride ourselves on the higher education of women? This is an old story in Italian education, where women were advanced to professorial chairs even in universities for men. Are we beginning to expect that parents should be serious students of the philosophy of education? This was a matter of course for the fifteenth-century parent, to whom the schoolmaster looked for intelligent co-operation. We owe a great debt to Mr. Woodward for focussing our loose thoughts on the subject of the Renaissance in ltaly. Persons who wish to have just and liberal views of education, not limited by the last output of the last English writer on the subject, will do well to give this volume a careful and studious perusal.”

The book is really quite good and it tempts me to write here alongside Brandy because I’ve got thoughts people.

I’m also apparently the last person to read The Awakening of Miss Prim. That’s ok.  I’m late to trends all the time.  I really enjoyed it.  It falls firmly in the category of easy, enjoyable read and is far from “a stiff book”, but it has a charm and whimsy to it that I found so sweet without being cloyingly so.  Maybe it is because I am reading it at the same time as Vittorino up there, but it felt like a vacation for the mind and I read it in two days.

In the interest of full disclosure, the book I read most is really this one: Winter is Coming.  I think you might also love as much as we do. I’ve been reading it every. single. day. at the request of my toddler, but I gladly oblige.  It is rare to find a story that so seamlessly includes so many of the beautiful aspects of nature study without being at all about nature study.  You see the quiet observation, the drawing, the variety of animals illustrated beautifully and the changing of the season from fall into winter… it is truly delightful.

Amy

Well, I finally have some books to share! I really felt that all of the books I read last month weren’t worth mentioning. For example, my dear husband bought me a French novel as a gift. I had been a bit down and a new book was just the thing. However, he didn’t read it first–always dangerous, especially with the French. It ended with the main character throwing herself out of a window in despair. It was devastating! So, here I am at the end of October with more uplifting recommendations.

With our big move and adding a new baby, this book was a helpful reminder of the value of motherhood and habits that bring peace and joy to everyday life. “Making Time for Solitude” and “Maintain Key Friendships” were the most helpful chapters for me in this season of life!

I’ve just started a new novel. Since I haven’t finished it, I guess it could be like my husband’s gift, but this one comes recommended by Anthony Esolen.

We were able to hear Esolen speak this past weekend and he said it was one of the top 5 novels ever written! It is this piece written by Esolen many years ago on Touchstone that leads me to go with his recommendation. Here’s to hoping a Spanish novel set in Italy in the 1620s is better than a French novel set in Paris in the 1950s!

In the car, we are listening to Swallowdale, the second book in the series. The reader is excellent. I adore these books for their simple adventure and imagination. It’s also great to have a book which appeals to an 11 year old girl, a 10 year old boy and their two little sisters! Everyone thinks it’s fun to read a book about a family with 5 children who also like to play and explore together. We have taken to calling our baby, Fat Vicky, just like they do. It was a real laugh to find out in this novel how she got the nickname!

Even though the book is about children playing on summer holidays, it shows the virtues of self-reliance, fortitude, responsibility and a sporting spirit.

Here’s a great article from First Things on the first one.

Out-of-Doors Life: A Fossil Hunt, or Dealing with the Unexpected

“It is infinitely well worth of the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather to cherish in them, the love of investigation.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol., pg. 71

Let me share with you, I am a woman who likes a plan.  I’m not terribly spontaneous.  Maybe it is the decade of parenting under my belt, or the four dear children, or homeschooling, but I have learned to roll with the punches much better than I used to, but I still like a plan.  That said, the study of nature is not always one that will bend itself to my plan.  Perhaps you’ve found the same to be true?  On the plan it says, “Pin Oak”, and so you head out with your field guide and your nature journal and your colored pencils to study the Pin Oak at the state park only to find that they place is overrun with worms.  Worms lurk under every fallen leaf, every rock, and all over the trail.  You persevere in your attempts to call attention to a majestic tree, the shape of its leaves, and the acorns it drops in autumn, but the children squeal and jump and laugh because they can’t move their feet or they are likely to have their next step be into a bed of earthworms. Nature wins, it is now Earthworm Day.  You have no field guide to help you, but you press on. The kids have a great time, you go home and figure out some stuff about worms and share it with them and the day is a good one after all. These days may irk those of us who then look at our plan and see that the prescribed learning wasn’t accomplished.  We didn’t “cover” the Pin Oak.

Allow me to ease your concerns a bit.  If you go outdoors everyday, and you plan a directed Nature Study or Object Lesson once per week, even if you don’t exactly have a day that goes to plan, the habit of being outside daily will cover up any perceived lack from missing the lesson that was supposed to be “covered”.  Just keep going outside and following your plan as best you can.

Take our weekend nature study as an example.  We were planning to go on a fossil hunt at a local park.  Fossil guide in hand, we took to the car.  After we arrived, we noticed that the area was like stepping into another part of the country.  The park was an old quarry, filled back in and left to the public to explore, meaning that it had an eerie bareness to it that isn’t customary in Ohio.  It seemed like a western desert!

Already, talk of fossils changed to conversations about the Oregon Trail, covered wagons, and the expectations of tumbleweed.

Soon, we reached the fossil trail and this wall of rock that we all wanted to climb in order to find the treasures it seemed to promise.  Unfortunately, this trail proved to be only for those with steady balance as it was quite steep and made largely of loose rock that would slide out easily from under you.  My middle son was disappointed that he kept sliding down and was told it probably wasn’t a good idea to climb the high wall.  Also, I found myself unable to go at all because of a certain hitchhiker…

Mom and the two youngest found themselves unable to do the most fun parts of the fossil trail.  We could have let this be a big disappointment, but we decided to explore for other things.  The others could bring fossils to us.

So we found all the different colors of rocks that we could find…

We met a little grasshopper, who wanted to catch a ride with big sister, but wasn’t interested in staying very long…

And talked about how a leaf starts out as green and then turns brown and falls off the tree…

We found shorter hills to summit, so as to not let the older kids have all the fun…

and we even found a fossil or two.  Don’t let your plans or your expectations for the day dictate whether the day was a success!  Roll with the events that come your way and enjoy the surprises nature (or circumstance) throw your way.  Make the most of each adventure and teach your children, through your example, resilience, good humor, and joy.  Those matter so much more than if they found any fossils on the exact day I wanted them to!

Freedom in the Rules

Amy and I have been chatting a lot about schedules recently.  Largely, as she has already noted, we have both recently moved to new towns and as such we went from having scheduled obligations to having a largely blank calendar.  Now, I’ve had many a day where I lamented signing my kids up for even the best of activities because it has meant getting all four kids into a car and perhaps I didn’t have dinner quite ready and so I could already see the pending chaos that would ensue when we arrived back through that same door hungry, tired, and (likely) with all sorts of stuff that may or may not find its rightful home right away.  I would have thoughts of, “Doesn’t Charlotte say our afternoons should be available for handicrafts, poetry, tea time, good music, reading, and other fruitful leisure?” while creating pictures in my mind of children who would be painting en plein air and enjoying Mozart if only THIS ACTIVITY didn’t hinder them.  It seems silly written out, but I assure you, I have thought this.

Well, after moving 5 times in 15 months and having almost no kids’ activities scheduled during that time, allow me to tell you, it was nothing like my utopian vision of my homeschool. All too often, I would set up a temporary schedule but because the only thing keeping us from veering off schedule was our own discipline (or lack thereof), it was all too easy to change the schedule when even the smallest issue would come up.  There were no hard and fast stops in the day where we had to go, and so we could drag things out, dawdle, or substitute for other items in the schedule without regard to how much time they took.  We didn’t have a rhythm to the day, or enough good habits formed, and it left us feeling like we had both fallen behind and couldn’t figure out where our time went.  Less schoolwork got done, there was more bickering, less quiet, and general unease.  This was not the freedom I had envisioned. 

It reminded me of an extremely good example I had once heard about the need for rules and order. The premise was that if you are going to play baseball, you need the rules.  If each person was to play their own version of baseball, it wouldn’t really be baseball at all.  People would be free to run the bases backward or ignore the foul line.  That would have many consequences: 1. No one would every be very good at baseball, because there would be nothing by which to measure success, 2. No one would enjoy watching it, because they wouldn’t know what was going on or if things were going well or not for their team, 3. Squabbling, disagreement, and general anarchy would ensue with no rules and no authority there to decide if rules were being properly followed.  With the rules of baseball clearly set out and publicly known, we can know when the game is played well, enjoy the game, and know when a play has stepped outside of the boundaries of proper baseball.  It is the rules that create freedom, and not a lack of rules.

Now that we are in a place we plan to be for a while, I am attempting to rebuild enough structure to create checkpoints in the day, while leaving enough time for contemplation, boredom, leisure, and play for every member for the family.  Let me tell you, this is no small task.  I’m sure you’ve tried it, or at least thought about trying it, and it seemed intimidating.  I’ll be sharing some of my attempts, and their varying levels of success here as Amy and I start up a scheduling series of posts.  I will say, that in my first years of homeschooling, I have found some tools to be extremely helpful in my previous plans and schedules, so I thought I would share them here:

  1. Nicole shares a wealth of knowledge and study of CM’s programmes at her site.  I can’t recommend highly enough reading through her posts on planning a schedule for your homeschool.
  2. Pam is also a wonderful resource, and her eBook, The Confident Homeschooler was the key to my wasting a lot less time by creating procedure lists.  This meant that when I was starting a new book, or skill (like dictation, narration, etc), I would plan out what my plan was for that short lesson.  I could then follow the steps until it became a good habit for me and my student.  I can’t tell you how genius this is because all too often I would write down the book, and the time allotted, but when we go to it, I would forget that I had meant to bring out a certain journal or wouldn’t have the materials needed for a written narration, or forget a step altogether such as scaffolding the previous lesson.  Having a list helped me immensely.
  3. A bullet journal.  I use this one because I like that the pages come already numbered, but many people prefer a Moleskine or some other notebook.  I’m not artsy, my pages are not Pinterest-worthy, but I love having all of my lists, brain dumps, random thoughts, appointments, ideas, goals, etc all written down in one place.  I can plan future months, assess previous ones, see if I am following up appropriately, or making progress on goals all in one book.  Cute pens are key for me.
  4. Excel. I used this throughout my working days before I stayed home with the kids and old habits die hard.  I love it for creating neat checklists for the kids, schedules, and chore charts.

And that is really it.  I don’t want to clutter up my time with too many tools, so I stick with trusted sites and items that have stood the test of time.  What are your go-to tools for creating a schedule and a rhythm to your days?
 

The Out of Doors Life: A Vacation

“Children are born with all the curiosity they will ever need. It will last a lifetime if fed upon a daily diet of ideas.” Charlotte Mason

When we nurture habits of attention and spend ample time outdoors,  a life of wonder and discovery is a very natural result. You will also find that this type of life does not take a vacation. In fact, when you find yourself in new and unfamiliar places, the desire to discover intensifies.

Recently, we traveled for a beach wedding and it was an excellent place to explore the seashore in the Gulf of Mexico and see how it is both different from and similar to the Atlantic coast that we used to frequent.

Our first night, we took a sunset walk and found the blue herons were so used to people that they allowed us to come very close to se to them. We could examine their coloring, watch them walk, and then watch them take off in flight. It was really amazing!

The next morning, we decided to take advantage of the time zone change and get up before sunrise for another walk. It was absolutely beautiful. At both sunset and sunrise, the kids were amazed at how quickly the sun moved and that they could watch it without hurting their eyes. It led to lots of conversation and questions. How long does it take for the early to go around the sun? How long does it take to spin around? What is closer – the sun or the moon? We chatted about tides and the moon, seasons, and shortening days. It was fun to see how a walk on the shore sparked an astronomy discussion.

Creatures who hide in the heat of the day are out and about before the sun rises. We saw clams, crabs, a hermit crab, herons diving into the water hunting for a meal, dolphins frolicking in the waves, and loads of different types of gulls.

When you are reading Pagoo for your science time, it is especially exciting to find a hermit crab at the beach!

Of course, we don’t need an eleven hour drive to find new things (and would probably prefer not to!) – is there a spot you’ve been thinking about hiking, or a park you haven’t explored? I encourage you to find a place new to you and see what you find!

Mother Culture: What we are Reading

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This month, Amy has been fighting the flu and Camille has spent September moving to another state and then unpacking and packing up again for a wedding 11 hours away.  It has been a month where reading has been much more sparse than usual, however there has been some.

Camille:

First and foremost, I picked up this adorable little poetry book by T. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  It is charming and funny, quite British and quirky, and sums up the antics and attitudes of cats rather perfectly.  The kids were laughing at the first poem especially hard.

 

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I’ve also been enjoying the monthly bundles of information and encouragement over at Wild + Free.  This month’s collection of goodness is entitles Mornings and has got me thinking about how to structure our time in our new place.

 

While this one I’ve been listening to rather than sitting down to read it, I’m still counting it here.  It is getting me through some of our unpacking and I’ve never read it before.  I’m not sure how I’ve managed to make it to my mid-thirties and being rather bookish without reading Pride and Prejudice, but I’m now remedying that.

I also got this in the mail and could have read it in a sitting.  I slowed myself down on purpose because her points are worth mulling over slowly, so now I am 75% finished and really enjoying this book immensely.

Atmosphere in Our Home: Going Outdoors

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Besides, the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous… All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 43

Our home extends outdoors each time we look out a window or step out our door and so the atmosphere of outdoor spaces is worth considering.  This is an area that can feel somewhat daunting, but needn’t be so.

Consider first, what words you would like to use to describe your outdoor space.  Would you like a calm, restful space to read and wander?  An adventurous space for romping, muddy play, and climbing trees?  A natural wonderland alive with bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, and pond life?

Next, think about the your outdoor spaces – do you have a few window boxes or a small deck space or acreage?  Is is usually hot and dry? Humid and temperate? Cool, with hard freezes?  Unlike our indoor spaces, where you can fill a room with a seashell motif even if you live nowhere near the coast, the outdoors demand our obedience to the realities of our climate.  Learn a bit about what is native to your area, so it is easier to grow and you are more likely to have success in your endeavors.

Then, start with something small and delightful.  Do you want birds singing at the window?

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This is pretty much why I got bird feeders.

Then get some feeders and start welcoming in some native bird species.  I’ve had great luck with finches, chickadees, cardinals, and hummingbirds!  What lives near you?

Do you want a place to gather for meals out of doors?  It can be as simple as finding a favorite quilt to use for afternoon snacks in the yard or as elaborate as finding just the right table and chairs for your deck space. Do what makes sense for your family and budget, but make sure you find it a delight to spend time there.

Is having a cozy spot to knit, have a glass of wine, or tell stories around a fire your first priority for your outdoor space?  It can be as easy as digging a hole and surrounding it with rocks, or as complicated as going to the local hardware store and finding just the right thing.  Just make sure to not to start fires near dry grasses or too close to home!

What about the winter time?  Many of us assume we should be outside less in winter because it is colder, but in some areas of the country it is the most beautiful time of the year.  In areas with snowstorms, it might be fun to arrange for building a mountain of snow in the yard somewhere as a personal sledding hill.  Better yet, do it in the front yard and entice the neighbor kids out of their homes!  Putting out suet bricks for cold weather birds is also a lovely way to have a flash of red (cardinals) amongst the white scenery.  Or, maybe maple sugaring is up your alley?  I’ve even had my eye on the idea of a backyard ice rink… but it isn’t cold enough where I live.

The idea of spreading the atmosphere of your home outdoors can be as simple as washing your windows to see the outdoors better, or as complicated as calling a landscape architect to make a master plan for your property.  I encourage you to do something this fall that will make next spring more pleasant for your space and that will cause you to desire to step outdoors more often.

Mother Culture: Ten Minutes

“Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say ‘I cannot.’ Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we ‘cannot’ get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for ‘Mother Culture?’–one half-hour in which we can read, think, or ‘remember.'” Parents’ Review, Vol. 2, No. 2

I’m going to make this quick today in order to give you a bit more time to think about spending ten minutes today reading, creating, or in prayer.  Right now, if you are a bullet journal or Happy Planner or whatever other type of planning system type of gal, write down a plan for when you can spend those ten minutes alone and what you will do.  That plan may not work out, but knowing it is there in the plan means that if you find ten minutes in the carpool line or the parking lot after grocery shopping or wherever else, you’ll have it front of mind to use those minutes for some Mother Culture time.

Once the time is allotted into your planning system, prepare the things you need.  Get your book uploaded into your Kindle or throw your book into your purse.  Get your knitting stuff together now, and make sure your pattern is printed.  Locate a rosary or a journal or your gardening gloves now, so when that ten minutes comes around, you’re ready to spend it well.

Lastly, do it.  When you’re tempted to check your email instead or facebook or Instagram… don’t.  Put your phone down instead.  If the planned time comes and the baby is crying, that’s ok.  Perhaps your ten minutes will come later than expected and you’ll be more tired than expected and all you’ll want to do is lay down on the couch and zone out.  Fight the urge and just take ten minutes to dedicate to prayer or your gratitude journal if reading a book is too much.  Or, just read that book anyway and maybe you’ll feel more revived afterward.

When you’ve taken your ten minutes, assess if that time worked well or if perhaps it could be at a different time of day.  Either way, plan to do it again tomorrow.  Look at your day and pencil it in.  Then, schedule it in for each day.  Make this your new habit for one month and then see how it is working for you.  Perhaps then you’ll be ready to add in another ten minutes? Or ten for prayer and ten for reading and ten for creativity?  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves… start with ten today!

Mother Culture: A Change of Pace

“‘Oh, mother, may we go blackberrying this afternoon, instead of lessons?’ The masterly and the abject ‘yes’ are quite different notes. The first makes the holiday doubly a delight; the second produces a restless desire to gain some other easy victory.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 29

We’ve all been there – the kids are starting the day full of energy and you just don’t feel up to the challenge. Perhaps there is some pressing issue that is a stressor, or you are feeling woefully behind, or you just moved to a new town and have so many boxes surrounding you and no wifi or coffee maker… Maybe that last one is just me. When Mother Culture time alone isn’t an option, but white knuckling it through the day seems like a recipe for frustration, it’s good to know yourself well enough to know when to take a break. Sometimes a change of pace is just what you need and sometimes it is what your kids need. Don’t despairingly give in to your feelings as if the day is a failure – quite the opposite! Make the day enriching to your soul and enjoy it. Come back refreshed and ready to take on the challenges ahead. The key is to know what refreshes you that you can do with children in tow and what exhausts you, and to choose appropriately. 

Often, this is as simple as bringing our school work to the park. When you find just that right park for your family, it gives you to ability to let the little ones burn energy, gives the big kids some time to hang from monkey bars while they narrate, and a picnic bench for the laptop users who can get their math done with a warm breeze in their hair. It can be lovely. Often, we don’t get every single thing done. We don’t want to bring everything for the science experiment or all the art supplies for that painting assignment. Fine. That’s part of the change of pace and it is ok every once in a while. 

Other times, you may find that your go-to place is something else. A garden of some sort or a museum that your whole family loves. Today, for us, it was homeschool day at Carillon Historical Park. Our family loves history and a day filled with making corn brooms, seeing old trains, and hearing the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright was just what we needed to feel more at home in our new locale. It also fed my own sense of awe at how daily life has changed since Ohio was the wild west of our young nation. The kids loves seeing the blacksmith create iron hooks for the barn, and truthfully, so did I.  I came home a better mom than I was when we left the house.

When the weather is crummy, have an indoor location that suits your family.  During long, hot summers some theatres offer older family movies for cheap or free during the morning hours. In the doldrums of January and February, a science museum or local  history spot might be a great place to explore.  The key is still what refreshes YOU and is also enjoyable for most of your family (because no one is refreshed by listening to complaints).  In seasons with infants and toddlers, that will look different than seasons with school-aged and teenage kids, so assess what season you’re in and have some ideas lined up for when you need them. 


Lastly, it isn’t really Mother Culture if you feel like you’re just escaping your house to then feel frustrated and irritated elsewhere. Don’t just assume changing location will do the trick on frustrating days. Perhaps staying home and changing the pace is more effective for you – announce a baking day or a family bike ride or whatever it is that would reinvigorate your spirit and then truly aim to enjoy yourself and your family.  The kids will remember the days mom laughed and played! It will shape their ideas about what it means to be a mom and it will shape their relationship with you. Go out (or stay home!) and have a bit of fun!

Atmosphere in our Home: Sounds, Smells, and Textures

When we discuss mother culture, it seems we focus on our minds and souls, but I’m finding that here, when we discuss the home, I am appealing to your physical senses.  In our homes, whether we do so with intention or haphazardly, we are in the midst of using all of our senses.  From the type of flooring that your feet touch first thing in the morning, to the smell of dinner cooking in the oven, the music you play, the breeze coming in the open window, to the sound of the birds at the feeder outside – each of these has a small, but steady effect on your day and your daily satisfaction.  Now, this is far from saying that we need picture perfect homes in order to be satisfied!  Quite the contrary – your home doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.  (I love that book.  Freeing to the spirit of any perfectionist!)

“[Smell] might be the means of giving Mansoul a great deal of pleasure, because there are many faint, delightful odours in the world, like the odour of a box-hedge, of lime-trees in flower, of bog-myrtle, which he might carry, and thus add to the pleasure of life..” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 26

Smells, delightful or disgusting, and everything in between give our home a certain atmosphere.  So often, a certain smell will bring on a surge of memory in a person and we are transported back to a moment back in time.  Give a moment this week to what smells you would like associated with your home – it could be as simple as baking each Saturday afternoon, winter stews that cook all afternoon, dried lavender kept in the linen closet or planted outside a window, hiking in the pine forest, the list goes on and on… Think about how you can use natural and delightful smells in your home to enhance the surroundings.

“Those persons whose senses are the most keen and delicate are the most alive and get most interest out of life; so it is worth while to practise our senses; to shut our eyes, for example, and learn the feel of different sorts of material, different sorts of wood, metal, leaves of trees, different sorts of hair and fur––in fact, whatever one comes across.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 27

Textures too are so key, yet so often so taken for granted.  In Charlotte’s time, synthetic fibers were not yet invented, and so she waxes poetic about the beauty of wool and its delightful properties as well as the uses of cotton and flax.  While I’m sure she wouldn’t begrudge us a light and effective raincoat rather than a wool one for our drizzly nature walks, it did make me think a bit more about the clothing and fabrics that I use in my home.  There is little more delightful than cool cotton sheets in summertime, or brushed cotton flannel ones for those long winter nights!  The feeling of linen breezing over the skin in hot weather makes it clear why it is so popular in equatorial countries, and the delight of a warm, woolen sweater is unsurpassed when out in cool weather.  Textures then, of course, go beyond the fabrics that touch our skin. Consider textures in your food – while white breads are easy to pick up on the store shelf, I would encourage you to find a bakery (or attempt one yourself!) that offers a delightful bread with seeds and grains in a chewy, flavorful, crusty loaf.  It needs no sugary topping or layers of filling – that bread is simply perfect with a smear of butter and cup of tea.  Extend this line of thought to your other meals – which meal is the one you are most likely to reach for a processed food rather than the more natural one out of ease or convenience?  Perhaps this is a place to partner with an older child and teach them how to help you and how to experience the textures of simple, but wholesome food preparation.

“Then, as you listen more, you hear more. The chirp of the grasshoppers becomes so noisy that you wonder you can hear yourself speak for it; then the bees have it all to themselves in your hearing; then you hear the hum or the trumpet of smaller insects, and perhaps the tinkle and gurgle of a stream. The quiet place is full of many sounds, and you ask yourself how you could have been there without hearing them. That just shows you how Hearing may sleep at his post. Keep him awake and alive; make him try to hear and know some new sound every day without any help from sight. It is rather a good plan to listen with shut eyes.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 30

Lastly, let’s take a minute to think about the sounds of your home.  Perhaps it is best to take a minute to sit and simply listen to what the actual sounds are, and then assess which we like and which we could do without.  I personally wish I were better at identifying birds by ear, so I attempt to lure them close to my windows with multiple bird feeders and to have open windows whenever I can.  I also will say that the loud purring of my cat is a sound I dearly love and makes a family read aloud or movie night that much more cozy.  On the flip side, I dislike my phone alarms and so when I try to keep to fifteen minute lessons, I found it difficult to keep time while managing a 1- and 3-year-old and trying to watch the clock.  I found silent sand timers to be our solution.  They are beautiful and don’t add to the unpleasant noises in our home.  For this same reason, I don’t keep beeping, honking, or loud toys in our home.  I would simply go crazy and I am assuming that when my children are adults they will not miss that honking car, but will appreciate a sane mother.  I am working on Charlotte’s advice to keep my skill at listening “awake and alive” when we head into nature as well.  All too often, there is talking going on, but I am trying to encounter and enjoy the silence of the hikers so we can hear the concerto of the birds, trees, streams, and insects.  What sounds do you love or could do without?