5 Steps to Begin Again After a Holiday

Happy New Year! It’s time to begin again in the Snell household after a full holiday season.

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Our Holy Family of Nazareth remains as a reminder of Christmas lessons

“Ordinary Time” sounds like a good idea after feasts, travels, a new puppy, family-time, a teething baby, gift-giving, and more. My 5 year old keeps saying, “I’m so tired and I don’t know why!”

But starting again is often easier said than done. I love Mason’s metaphor of “Laying Down the Rails,” because it rings true. When our whole system is up and running, it just keeps running. When the train falls off the track, it’s so hard to get it moving again…

So here are 5 steps I take to get back-on-track, after holidays, travel, extended illness, or at the beginning of a new term.

  1. Order and refresh your home.

  • Toys: Often on a break, I’ve let out more toys from our toy library or we’ve been given gifts so I take the time to go through play areas and bedrooms and return items to our toy library in the basement.

  • Food: I make sure we’ve restocked our pantry and have a solid meal plan. Over a break, it’s much easier to wing it, but since starting back is hard to do, having all of my meals planned (even breakfast and lunch), means I have one less thing to think about. Also, I try to purge all of the sweets and extra sugar that has made its way into our house and be sure we have lots of healthy snacks around instead.

 

  • Clothes: I try to do a quick purge of items that the children have outgrown or seasonal items no longer needed (Holiday dresses put away, for example). And then we catch up on laundry.

  • De-clutter Hot Spots: It’s easy for piles to start when everyone is in holiday mode–the stairs, the kitchen table, the mantle, a coffee table. We spend time to put things back in their places. After Christmas gift giving, there are usually a few items that need to find a new home.

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  1. Order and Refresh the school room.

 

  • Schedule/Timetable: I look over our time-table to be sure it is still will work for this new season. Has a new activity or sport started? Will the upcoming few weeks entail more travel or any disruptions I need to plan around?
  • Refresh Supplies: It sure is nice to begin with freshly sharpened pencils and to be sure all of our notebooks are ready to go.
  • Organize Bookshelves: I purge any books no longer needed and any books that have found their way to the school shelf that don’t belong. Books have a life of their own, don’t they?
  • Weekly School Prep Page: I walk through “my weekly school prep page” in my bullet journal
  • Pre-reading: I make sure any books I need to pre-read are up in my bedroom so I can skim them at night before bed.

 

  1. Choose one new habit.

Though we have turned the page of our calendar to a new year, for the Charlotte Mason mamma, not much changes…We think in terms of habits, not resolutions. The New Year is a natural time to pause and reflect, but we know that refinement is a slow, steady effort. Not a wild goal. Resolutions tend to be easily broken, frustratingly out-of-reach, quickly discarded. Big goals may help motivate us for a time, but we are in it for the long haul.

  • Habits are part of our regular, every day life.
  • Habits are consistent and reliable.
  • Habits become involuntary. Like eating, breathing, and making our beds
  • Habits are something we do because it is part of who we are.

“Learning How to Live” means we are in the Habit of Building Habits.

What new habit do you need most?

  1. Bullet Journal! (Yes, it’s a verb)

The bullet journal has truly revolutionized my life—I’m better organized and much more at peace. Here’s what I do:

  • Brain Dump: I just list out all of the things that have been swirling in my head—thank you notes, items to be returned, a check to send, a worry about a child, a goal I have. There is no rhyme or reason to the list.

 

  • Monthly Calendar and Project list: I migrate items from the brain dump that belong here and add anything that might be missing.

 

  • Weekly Calendar: I create the new weekly page.

 

  • Planning Routine: I look over my planning routine page just to be sure I’m not forgetting to do what I’ve planned to do to plan.

 

  1. Start with a modified schedule.

 

I plan to start at least a half hour later, if we’ve been sleeping in, so I cut back on a few blocks on our time-table for that day to account for the later start. I also know brains will be a bit sluggish so I lower my expectations. This might mean I read smaller sections than usual before asking them to narrate or I might allow a child who has difficulty writing, draw their narration. I might re-arrange the week to put the books and subjects that bring us the most delight on the first day.

I know the temptation to just jump back in and not take additional time off, but time and time again, I’ve seen this backfire. If education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, it make sense that we need to think on these things for our days to go well. Putting things in place will mean that the train will chug smoothly down the rails and in the end much more will be accomplished.

Often, I am disappointed that I didn’t “accomplish more” when a break comes to an end. But it’s important for us as parents and teachers to take real breaks too. So now I just tack on a few more days at the end of each break and try to fully embrace each holiday. “Work while you work, play while you play, this is the way to be happy each day.
Remember school teachers have in-service days to plan and organize–homeschooling moms need them too!

So take that extra day or two or three, after you’ve gotten off the tracks, and you will find delight again in your home, your children, and your day!

The Delightful Home

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Amy and I love to chat about home.  We could go on and on about books, blogs, and tips we’ve heard from friends that can help us to make our homes more welcoming, more beautiful, and more efficient. Between us, we have nine children to feed, clothe, and love.  It takes a lot of work to keep our homes in order, and even more work when that order falls away!  We love it so much in fact, that a few years back we asked some of our friends if they wanted to meet to discuss our homes once a month.  To get breakfast as a group and have some time for what we considered to be professional development.  If we were going to be homemakers, we should allot some time to discuss it, learn about it, and do it well.  That group is still going strong and has been an enormous blessing to us, our families, and our homes.  We now want to bring many of those pages of notes, tips, tricks, and new ideas to you, our readers.

This is not about having a dream house, or a home that could be showcased in a catalog.  This is about creating a home that is delightful to you and your family because it is both functional and beautiful.  It is about making small changes that make a big difference in how you use your home and how well it serves the needs of your family.  It can be done in small spaces or large ones, a home you rent or a home your family has lived in for generations.  You spend most of your time at home, so let’s work toward making that time enjoyable.

Why does it matter to have a home that is delightful?  Isn’t it good enough to have a roof over your head and a place to cook meals – even if you can barely see your counters?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, because we should be grateful for even the humblest of spaces and no, because we weren’t called to live in disorder.  As mothers and homemakers, we set the atmosphere of the homes we inhabit.  The atmosphere of a home with a calm mother, who is not stressed by the chores because there is a plan in place to complete them, and who has an orderly home ready for drop-in guests will naturally be different than one with a frazzled mother, constantly feeling behind and downtrodden by her workload.  We want your homes to be places of delight for your families, but also for you!

We were inspired by the Home Organization Challenge going on right now.  That is a great site for inspiration and tips!  We also knew that dedicating 14 straight weeks to overhauling our homes wasn’t going to work for either of us.  We wanted to stretch it out over the year and do a great job in each room of our homes.  Taking a full month to dedicate to decluttering, giving some thought to how the space it used and making adjustments, then adding in beauty to complement the improved function.  We welcome you to join us!  We can’t wait to see your photos and comments on Instagram and Facebook.

Nature Study in Winter

Getting out in winter looks different all over the country, but in Ohio and New Jersey, where we live, the winters mean cold and snow.  Sometimes just a bit, other times a big, heavy helping, but every winter is cold and snowy.  It is easy to think that in weather like this, we should stay in our warm homes until the season passes.  Hot tea and hot cocoa, books and warm slippers, movie nights and cozy blankets – all of this sounds pretty appealing when the weather is chilly.  With that said, if we prepare ourselves with warm and water-resistant clothing, winter is an especially beautiful season and there is so much to explore and learn.

Here are some ideas to inspire winter nature study:

Trees:

Buds: Did you know the buds on trees and many bushes form in fall, so they are ready to inspect and explore.  They will swell and become more visible in spring, but they are formed now.  Are they hard or soft?  Fuzzy or smooth?  What color are they in winter? Below are three that I found right in my front yard.

 




Bark: Being able to identify your favorite tree using the bark is a lovely way to know your favorite trees even better.  What better time than in winter, when you don’t have the benefit of seeing their leaves, fruit, or seeds?  I personally like using the book Bark, as it outlines the ways to look more deeply at the color, texture, and surface variations of the bark on trees.

Astronomy:

When the darkness comes early, its great to find a clear day and look at the skies after dinner.  You don’t need much knowledge to start – be able to find the north star or the big dipper and then see where your curiosity takes you.  If you are looking to go in depth during your winter term, check out The Stars or Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey (of Curious George fame, who knew he was an astronomer?)  Sometimes, I like to use my SkyView app as well to learn more about what I’m seeing.

Birds:

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Here, a wren and a Black-capped Chickadee get a snack.

Birds are easier to see in winter because the branches are so bare.  Head out for a walk in your neighborhood, at a local park, or at a nature center.  If you have a pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to spot lots of varieties of non-migrating birds.  Or, maybe where you live is “the south” for some varieties of birds that spend their summers in the far north?  My favorite idea blends my love of birds with my desire to stay warm – window bird feeders.  I’ve collected a bunch of feeders over the years and I really love to be able to have one right in my living room window.  I’ve found they work best when you have other feeders on a post nearby, then the birds eventually become brave enough to jump right over to your window.  Other sources of food are scarce in the winter, so I find my feeders full of delightful varieties of birds – right now I can see a nuthatch, junco, a pair of cardinals, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker, song sparrow, and a house finch.  In the past few days we’ve been visited by a whole murmuration of starlings, a red-tailed hawk (who did not have any seed, but perhaps was looking for all the song birds?) as well as a blue jay.

Is it truly just too cold to go outdoors?  A trip to your closet, thrift store, or donation pile might offer enough substance for a bit of nature study.  Find something made of 100% cotton, 100% wool, and 100% linen and get your magnifying glass.  Inspect the different fibers and then go in your encyclopedia or online to see what they look like when they are growing, how they are spun into yarn (both now and historically), and how they are woven or knit into the fabrics we wear.  This could also spur some handicrafts – be warned!  Suddenly, the kids might be interested in weaving, spinning, or knitting for themselves.

Lastly, study the snow!  Weather study is great most times of year, but especially in winter when the precipitation is so varied.  Is it snow, sleet, or hail?  Perhaps leave a few magnifying glass plates out in the cold and wait for a snowflake to land on them.  Can you get them in quickly enough to check out the flake magnified? Maybe a magnifying glass outdoors offers enough of a glimpse of the crystalline structure.  Try it out!  Why do icicles form and why does salt keep the streets from icing?  What kind of clouds bring the snow and what does the barometer do before the snow comes?  So many questions to explore around the weather in wintertime!

What is your favorite way to do nature study in the winter months?  If you aren’t in the snow areas, how does your climate and surroundings change during this time of year?

The Trivium, Making Honey, and Charlotte Mason’s Favorite Analogy

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I’m just popping in during our Advent break since I got a little window of time to think and relax with a good cup of tea.  In planning our spring term and participating in some online discussions regarding educational philosophy, I had some thoughts I thought you might be interested in reading.  I hope you’re having a lovely time preparing for Christmas!

Our chief concern for the mind or for the body is to supply a well-ordered table with abundant, appetising, nourishing and very varied food, which children deal with in their own way and for themselves. This food must be served au naturel, without the predigestion which deprives it of stimulating and nourishing properties and no sort of forcible feeding or spoon feeding may be practised. Hungry minds sit down to such a diet with the charming greediness of little children; they absorb it, assimilate it and grow thereby in a manner astonishing to those accustomed to the dull profitless ruminating so often practised in schools. – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 71 (emphasis mine)

A few years back, I read the book Desiring the Kingdom, by James K. A. Smith and it fascinated me.  I found myself alternately nodding in agreement and shaking my head in dissent, but I was so intrigued.  His ideas about education being the formation of a person rather than offering information were key in how I thought about my school day.  I vigorously agreed that we are more than our minds, we are embodied, and so what we do – our habits, our daily rituals, how we spend our leisure time, etc. – are as formative, or more so, than the facts we learn.  Also, the how forms us as much as the what of our learning.  This is also around the time I found Charlotte Mason.  I read her volumes and I delighted in the fact that she talked of learning through stories, of habits, being outdoors, learning handicrafts, having conversations, and that all of this was good because it was all from God Himself.  She talked of the mind, but she talked of the body as well – exercise, fresh air, proper clothing, and proper food.  She did not ignore the body, but rather found body and mind to be analogous in their needs – a proper diet being the one need she mentioned over and over.  Both body and mind needed varied food that they would then absorb, asssimilate, and would allow them to grow.

“…these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions.”  -Aristotle

Another person who read Smith’s book was Jenny Rallens.  I watched her video on having a Liturgical Classroom (a term used not in terms of Divine Liturgy, but rather repeated practices or habits) and realized that this idea is so much older than Mason.  From the days of Origen, who claimed them to be based in Jewish religious practices, to the present day Christians have been practicing Lectio Divina, or a holy reading of scripture through the process of Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Comtemplatio.  In translation – to read, to think deeply, to pray, and to be changed (their definition of contemplation was more robust than ours is today – it was more a change of self that would result in an outpouring to others).  When the era of scholasticism came about out of the monasteries and churches, the ideas of Lectio Divina was simply ingrained in their minds as the proper way to learn.  The prayer was dropped when the texts were not sacred, and so the idea of Lectio, Meditatio, Contemplatio (Rallens uses Compositio – to write or create) was the mark of education in this era.  It was so common in fact, that it was often simply referred to as “making honey”.  From early times bees were a symbol of the Christian church.  A bee worked tirelessly and most of its work went to benefit others.  Man and animals routinely eat the honey the bees give their whole lives to produce.  How do they do it?  They gather nectar, digest it, and then it is changed to honey in abundance for the benefit of others as well as their own needs.

I found this on etsy.

Are we to believe it was in the Church that we first saw this idea? Perhaps.  I would propose for your consideration, that the Trivium might be the first model for this way of learning.  For moderns, we may think of the seven liberal arts as seven subjects, but that thinking could not be more incorrect.  The trivium, or three ways, were more an approach to learning than subjects in and of themselves.  It was through them that one could then hope to make sense of their experiences – to understand what they are taking in, to discern its value, and to communicate one’s thoughts.  Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric would be the way a student learned to read, to think, and to communicate.  The trivium has to do particularly with language, so a student would take in language reading myths, poetry, singing songs, and hearing the great tales.  They would learn the skill of reading and writing, surely, but it was much deeper than that.  They would have been taking in the Greek culture with the reading they did.  Logic was then meant to refine one’s thoughts for the ability to think and reason clearly were held in high esteem throughout Greek culture.  Socrates is quoted as saying, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”  However, what good are thoughts that one cannot express?  The effective communication of these thoughts to others comprised rhetoric.  To be able to share with others the lucid thoughts of a well educated man was the goal of the trivium.  Here we see again, the same pattern to take in, to digest, to be changed and grow.

In seeing this idea across the ages, it makes me look again at the way my school and home operate.  Am I trusting that what the children read and do throughout the day are enough to feed them, or am I overly concerned about packing more into the day or testing to confirm the “results”?  Do I give enough time for the Meditatio?  Is there enough free time for their minds to digest all that they have been fed?  Do they have ample time to be bored or quiet?  How can I protect the quiet in my home when six people live in this house?  Do I allow them my undivided attention when they are trying to share and discuss their thoughts or am I more likely to rush them or go about my own tasks, thus sending the signal that this part of learning is not important – that we are “done” rather than continually learning?

Gift Suggestions for a CM Holiday – Nature

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We have created a few lists to help you get your Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Birthday, or any other gift giving day) shopping done and to help you in your quest for the things that with help you create and atmosphere, a discipline, and a life of education. It may seem a bit early, but we know many moms shop early so that job is done and they can enjoy the Advent season without the pressure of buying gifts.  If you’re a last minute shopper, bookmark this list and it will be waiting for you in December.  These are all items we have and love, or would like to have.  Most are not affiliate links and we are not sponsored by any companies.  We do however have a few Amazon affiliate links mixed in, which means your cost remains the same but we get a few cents for sending you there and it helps us with stocking stuffers for our combined nine children.

The Nature List

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John Muir Laws’ favorite binoculars.


I’ve been using this pocket watercolor set for years.  I love that I can refill it with different hues or better grade paint as I improve (though, for my level of skill, this is really great quality!) and it is so small that I can take it anywhere.

These water brushes have made all the difference for us! It used to seem so difficult to paint in the field, but now we can open our paints and begin with these brushes that hold a reservoir of water.

Wildflowers Poster

This beautiful wildflowers poster would be a lovely addition to any room in the house, and there are also versions for bugs, herbs, leaves, birds, and many others.  If you can’t fit a full poster, check out the nature cards.

Long Linen Pencil Pouch, Grey Linen Zipper Bag
How about a pretty pouch for paints and pencils?

How about some rubber boots that won’t break the bank, but will keep you both fashionable and dry?  Then you can step right into the creek with your kids or trudge through mud without flinching.  This is one of my favorite investments – now the kids don’t get all the fun! (Amy seconds the recommendation on these boots! They have held up better than any other boot brand we have tried and purchasing in black means they can be passed down from one kid to the next!)

My kids loved getting these 7-in-1 outdoor tools as stocking stuffers one Christmas. It features a whistle, compass, thermometer, led light, magnifier, viewfinder, lanyard and storage chamber.

We have used many different types of Nature Journals over the years, but have settled on these as our favorites. They feel good in your hands, are small enough to carry on a hike or on vacation, come in different colors which is nice for a big family!  (We’ve also used this one and this one,, if you are looking for a hard back edition.

One of the best purchases we’ve made are designated nature bags for each child to carry their own supplies when on a hike. With this many kids, it would be hard for mom to carry everyone’s water, paints, journals, etc.! Having everyone in charge of their own possessions is just one less impediment to getting outside!!! These are ultralight and durable and from the 2,000+ reviews and all the added videos and pictures, you can see how awesome they are.  A great gift was for each kid to get one of these in a different color.

 

This hummingbird feeder brought our family so much joy last summer.  I can’t even sing its praises highly enough.  Hummingbirds came right up to the window all day long!  They are amazing to watch.

If you aren’t in an area that hummingbirds frequent, what about a feeder for birds that do come to your area?  We love this window feeder to see them up close, but be warned that they won’t come right away.  We set up a few other feeders within two or three feet of this one (they were mounted on a pole) so that they would be bribed to come nearby and eventually be brave enough to jump to the window feeder.

 

Want to turn your iPhone camera to take amazing close up shots?  The easy macro allows you to take amazing shots of bugs, flowers, leaves, and all sorts of other nature!  Here are a few examples:

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Spaces to Think No. 10

The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves. The first sowing must be at their hands, or at the hands of such as they choose to depute.

What do parents sow? Ideas. (Volume 2 p. 29)

 

Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas are of spiritual origin; and,

‘God has made us so’

that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food. (Volume 2 p. 39)

In the early years of the child’s life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mould plastic matter, or nourish a life; but in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes. (Volume 2 p. 38)

  • What ideas were sown in your child’s life this week?
  • Did you see their education as a matter of filling a receptacle and inscribing a tablet (checking off a box) or nourishing their life?
  • In what ways did their education nourish their life and form their vital processes?
  • Are you still hanging onto old ways of doing school, even though you know it will, at best, be sawdust or, at worst, be an impediment to true learning?
  • Are we patient enough to sow the idea and wait for the seed to sprout as it is meant to do or, in our impatience, do we seek the easy or quicker way for immediate results, even if it may prove detrimental to their attitude about learning and themselves?
  • Do we value immediate results even though we know that these won’t result in true learning and the formation of character?
  • Mason tells us that our duty is to sustain our child’s inner life with ideas. Do you know how to do this? In Artist Study? History Class? What about Science? Math? Copywork?
  • Any struggles with this that we can help you with?

 

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This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.

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.

Getting Outside: The Outdoor Life Series

Problem: “But they get Dirty!”

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Okay, you take your kids outside and they have a blast rolling down a hill, exploring a creek, and making mud pies. You love that the hours flew so quickly and everyone had so much fun until…you get home.

You have a pile of muddy shoes, muddy jeans, and muddy kids!

It’s enough to make you stay home next time. Or should it?

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  1. Did you know that dirt is good for your children’s health? Studies show that dirt builds your child’s immune system. *

 

  1. Did you know that dirt is good for your child’s emotional well-being? Studies now show that direct contact with soil improves mood and reduce anxiety. Another study showed that there is good bacteria in dirt which activate neurons in the brain to release serotonin, much in the same manner as anti-depressants and exercise. *

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  1. Did you know that this kind of play builds children who are “vital and vigorous, full of living interests, available and serviceable? ” How does Mason suggest we do this? Facilitating our children’s relationship with nature.

She continues,

“There are, what I may call, dynamic relations to be established. He must stand and walk and run and jump with ease and grace. He must skate and swim and ride and drive, dance and row and sail a boat. He should be able to make free with his mother earth and to do whatever the principle of gravitation will allow. This is an elemental relationship for the lack of which nothing compensates.” Volume 3 p. 80

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  1. Did you know that this kind of play builds confidence and mastery?

Another elemental relationship, which every child should be taught and encouraged to set up, is that of power over material. Every child makes sand castles, mud-pies, paper boats, and he or she should go on to work in clay, wood, brass, iron, leather, dress-stuffs, food-stuffs, furnishing-stuffs. He should be able to make with his hands and should take delight in making.” Volume 3 p. 80.

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What we need are clothes and shoes we don’t mind getting dirty and a plan for when we get home.

  • Where do muddy shoes go?
  • Where do muddy clothes go?
  • Where do muddy kids go?
  • Where do water bottles go?
  • Where do nature journals go?

 

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This post is part of our “Getting outside: An Outdoor Life Series”.

 

 

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?
 

Getting Outside: An Outdoor Life Series

Problem: Getting Mom Outside!

This week we are beginning a new series to encourage us in our pursuit of an “outdoor life.” I thought there was no better place to start then on motivating us as mothers to go outside! In the future, we hope to cover a range of topics on why we should spend time in nature, what to do when we are there and solutions to some of the things that keep us inside. So to begin, 6 reasons for Moms to go outside.

“I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. Impossible! Says an overwrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children than a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares. Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.” P. 43-44

Do you struggle to get outside with your children? We want them to grow in fortitude but we ourselves complain of the heat, the cold, the bugs! There are also so many other things we could be doing: laundry, catching up on email, cleaning, napping, making dinner…we might even drum up work rather than get outside—“I know that drawer has been messy since we moved into the house, but now is the moment to tackle it!”

Why should we do it?

1. My children love it when I do. They are happy if I just park myself nearby in a chair with a book or my bullet journal. They stop by to show me discoveries and there are lots of “Hey mom, watch this!”

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Our boys showing-off!

2. Getting outside for a small chunk of time daily and for big chunk of time weekly forces (or inspires!) me to work diligently and efficiently. As Mason says, “mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.” So to get outside, I may have to prep dinner during lunch or get it in the crockpot in the morning. I might need to get up early to answer emails before the day gets going. I know I can’t spend time dawdling on facebook and pinterest. I must remember to get the laundry going and change it over right away, (rather than letting it sit in the washing machine for hours!), so it is done before our afternoon out-of-doors. Nicole Williams at Sabbath Mood Homeschool has a very inspiring post along these lines.

3. We must remember how good it is for us. Yes, we have a million things to do, but moms are people too and the fresh air and the natural world are good for us, body and soul. I often complain that I am stressed or tired, but then don’t take the time to rest, when given the opportunity. Being outside gives my body a chance to relax and my brain a chance to sort itself out. Just be sure to keep your phone in your bag, so you’re not tempted to check email or the app that temps you most! The more we do it, the more we see the fruit of it.

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Camille the fire-master!

4. It’s important for mom to play too. There has been a lot of research and attention given to the need for adults to play: we stay younger, healthier when we do!

Here’s a few links: the psychological case for play and the importance of play in adulthood  and a TED Talk Play is more than fun!

5. On the other hand, there is more to outside time then play, as Mason says in the quote above, “for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air.”

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This was the one of the few pictures of me outside that I could find on my computer!

And what is it we are to accomplish?

“…. here is the mother’s opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit ….” Volume 1 p. 44-45

  1. This is our chance to learn all about nature for those nature lessons later in the week or down the road! I’ve had many moms tell me they can’t do nature study with their children because they don’t know nature themselves. While our children play, we can draw in our nature journals, work on identifying birds, trees, and plants, and bring along a nature lore book for ourselves.

So let’s do it this week! Schedule what time each day you’ll be going out for a short time and pick one day to dedicate a few hours for outdoor play. Come back and tell us how it went!

Also, we want to know what keeps you from getting outside? Are their any topics you’d like us to cover in this new series?

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