Outdoor Activities You Can Fall For

My boys are outdoor country boys through-and-through! They wake up and beg to go outside before breakfast is warm and table is set. We coax them into waiting until their bellies are full (and mom and dad are dressed), and in the summer we have to debate about the usefulness of clothes on a young boy as well. When fall swings around, there is no damper on the boys’ excitement for the outdoors, but we do have to change the experience slightly.

Less Sun, Still Fun?

The sunny, warm summers meant the boys could run free morning, noon, and night. They’d come in the house with crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, roly-polies, caterpillars, lady bugs, frogs, lizards, and handfuls of other cringe-worthy organisms. They knew just where to look to find the best critters.

When fall comes around the leaves die, the tiny bugs and reptiles seem to hide, the wind is cold, and the boys grow…bored. Where we used to coax them into staying inside during the hottest parts of the day, now we have to convince them there is something worth finding outside after the first run of the morning. We don’t get much snow in even the deepest months of winter, but in October? Nothing but gusty, brown cold. Mom and Dad have to put on their thinking caps when the seasons change.

Routine, Routine, Routine

The R-word is one I hate, and I’m not fond of that word either. The only thing routine about our family is the places we go through the week at the same time every week: church, taekwando, Celebrate Recovery, my mom’s, repeat. During the winter, if we don’t slip outdoor play into our daily routine, it just won’t happen.

This year I’ll be talking a lot about practical life schooling, which is my focus in my homeschooling with my boys. They’re using an online curriculum for their main academics, which means Mom’s role is practical life application. Part of the challenge will be to include outdoor activities during cold months!

Practical Outdoor Play Made Easy 

First, make sure you know what your kid likes to do outside, how they like to learn, and how they burn their tiny-human energy. If it’s looking for critters (spatial, logical), then maybe they’d also like to look for other forms of wildlife — or proof of wildlife (nests, scratches, tracks, droppings). If your kid likes to dig in the dirt (kinesthetic), maybe he or she would also like to stack firewood, rake leaves — and jump into them — and paint a fence.

Here is my list for this October/November:

  1. Yard Work: Clearing trash, brush, weeds, leaves away so that next year our yard can flourish (and we can enjoy the snow more thoroughly this winter).
  2. Nature Hikes: To find nuts, nests, bones, turtle shells, etc., that point to life in the woods. Also bird-watching is fun this time of year because some leave, and others arrive.
  3. Building and Maintaining a Bird Feeder: Build a bird house or feeder for those winter birds that stick around. Let the kids photograph the birds and make a book that they can add to as seasons change.
  4. Stacking Firewood: Mainly because the kids unstacked our firewood this summer, playing, they can stack it this fall. Discuss fire, responsibility, safety, and gain a little exercise.
  5. Fun Play Ideas: Dodgeball, catch, freeze tag, Olympic competitions, leaf/finger painting, and an internet’s worth of other outdoor activities to choose from.
  6. Star Gazing: I don’t know one kid that doesn’t like a bonfire on a fall night. This is a great time to star gaze with your students. If you have a telescope of your own: BONUS. If you don’t, your local library may have some to check out.
  7. Local Nature Excursions: Our regional Nature Center has fantastic programs, and many specific to homeschoolers. They also have backpacks full of themes activities for two-week check-out. If you live near to a nature center, conservation area, or zoo, there are many similar programs for homeschoolers. Also, many regions have fairs, fall festivals, and orchards with regular programing.
  8. Camping: My family loves to camp, and unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity this summer. So we’re planning one fall campout before the weather turns too cold for our littles. If you are a camping family, plan ahead, and choose a camping area that has some educational programming during you stay.
  9. Have Fun: Your outdoor play may not be part of your specific schooling, but it is part of staying healthy! Set an example by spending time outdoors, and do something you love to do outdoors. Your enthusiasm will show.
  10. Include Others: Activities can be more fun when you include people you enjoy to hang out with. Spend time outside, then come in for some hot cocoa and popcorn by the fire.

Build Your Basics with Block Scheduling

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Do you ever feel like, as soon as you really start to delve into a subject with your children, it is too often time to put it away and move onto the next class? Do you find yourself wishing for larger amounts of time to spend really studying your current topic? Does your day seem crammed full of too many fragmented classes that never really seem to be properly attended to? If your answer is “yes” to any of the above, then a solution for your home school may be to consider block scheduling.

With block scheduling, it is exactly what the name states — blocks of time in which you schedule your homeschool classes. Your first step is to choose the period of time that you want to divide your homeschool into. You can have a block of time — called a term — that might be as long as half your school year, commonly called a semester. On the other hand, you might choose a term that is as short as a couple of weeks.

With traditional scheduling, you have your list of classes you are going to teach, and you teach all the classes each week. Perhaps you are teaching both science and world history: You might teach science class two days a week, and world history two days a week. If this type of a schedule works for you, great! But if you feel your child is forgetting what they learned earlier in the week because there has been a day in between of teaching a different subject, then you might want to consider block scheduling.

For example, with the two classes already mentioned above, you might decide to teach science class for four days a week the first semester, and no world history at all; then, when second semester comes around you do the opposite, teach world history four days a week — but you have already finished your science curriculum for the year.

If you have many topics of study you want to teach, block scheduling may help. For instance, I would like to teach my daughter cooking, baking, and sewing. I could try to fit in a day of each, every single week, but I would most likely burn out with trying to keep them all going. So, these subjects are a great possibility for block scheduling.

In our home school this year, I have our school year divided into six terms of eight weeks each. During our first semester, we did term one with cooking being one of our subjects. When term two came around, we stopped specific instruction in cooking — although of course my daughter continued making foods she had learned how to make — and changed our focus to baking. With term three, our concentration changed to sewing. Our plan now for the second semester coming up is to simply repeat a term of each one of these; so, we will have eight weeks of cooking, followed by eight weeks of baking, and finally eight more weeks of sewing.

Other possibilities for block scheduling could be to spend a term on writing and another term focusing on literature, or a term of spelling and another term of grammar. Using block scheduling this way can lesson the number of subjects you are concentrating on each week, and therefore each day.

“But, what about math?” I can almost hear someone ask! Well, I’m glad you asked that question! There are definitely some subjects that really are best done on a daily basis. Reading instruction when you are teaching your child how to read is one of those subjects. So can be handwriting practice, mathematics, and foreign language study.

Now, if you have a really, really good memory, you just might remember that back at the beginning of this school year, I wrote a blog post about loop scheduling. So, if I convinced you then on the merits of loop scheduling, but now I am singing the praises of block scheduling, which one do I use? The answer to that is BOTH! As I already mentioned above, I am using block scheduling for our cooking, baking, and sewing classes. I also use block scheduling for our physics, social studies, robotics, and art. However, I find I like loop scheduling best for our Bible, since I have a variety of materials I am using in our Bible time, and I want to make sure I can get some study or reading done using all of the materials. I am also using loop scheduling for our language arts materials for the same reasons; we are doing language arts every day, but the specifics of what we are doing changes as we work our way down our loop.

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And, what about our “must do daily” types of things? For our family, that is mainly our math and our music. So, those are the two subjects that I do not put either in a loop schedule or in a block schedule. We simply do them every single day.

I hope this has helped give you some ideas of how you can use different schedules to meet the needs of your family, and help de-stress your home school daily life! Remember — your schedule is to work for YOU, not you for your schedule!

Staying Consistent at Home and School

I’ve heard it since I was round with my first overdue baby: “The secret to parenting is being consistent.”

My parents said it. Uncles and aunts said it. The doctor, the grocer, the pastor all said it. To a large degree I see it’s true, but on many days it feels the only thing consistent about our life and parenting is the chaos. This is especially clear now that our kids are old enough to homeschool.

Staying Consistent at Home

Although we often feel like failures in this department, there are a few things we can count on in our house. They may be few in number, but they pack a punch.

  • Sabbath
    We keep the Sabbath in our house. We may be less strict with toys and activities than some Sabbath-keeping families, and more strict in other aspects, but the weekly observance is the same. Our kids can count on the Sabbath. They can depend on church, lunch with the grandparents, and a relaxed day.
  • Discipline
    It may have been a rocky uphill climb, but we have finally landed on a system of discipline that works well for us. We stopped spanking, and our kids do push-ups for disobedience. It really has stopped a lot of behaviors that we were not happy with (including our own). The push-ups give the kids a chance to slow down, calm down, and breathe.
  • Love
    No matter what happens everyday (as I said, we live a hectic life), in our house the kids can count on love — hugs whenever they want them, lots of kisses and cuddles and encouraging words.
  • Nap Time
    Sometimes we aren’t at home for nap time or the kids sleep in the car. If this happens we skip nap time. If we’re home, though, the kids can count on nap time at 2 p.m. every day. This recharges Mom, gives the oldest an opportunity to have quiet time, and gives the two youngest some much-needed sleep.

Staying Consistent at School

Our homeschool is not consistent in any stretch of the imagination, but we’re working at it. At this point in time there is very little the kids can count on, because we just changed our curriculum. Since it’s so chaotic, we try to keep the things that we can as consistent as possible.

  • Rewards and Praise
    We try to reward the kids for school work, both in game time (either video games, or the games on their school program). We also like to use stickers, along with hugs and kisses (which works the best for the youngest two!).
  • Same Time
    I try very hard to have at least some class time at the same time each day. This affords my son the opportunity to think, “oh, it’s time for school,” at the same time each day. It also gives him a special time that’s just his. When the others are old enough to have school daily, I will give them their own time as well.
  • The Subject Matter
    We tried a curriculum that only taught sight words for reading, but realized our son responds better to phonics. We finally chose a system of learning that we’re happy with, so now we are sticking with it. We’re sticking with a curriculum that reflects our beliefs as well as what we learned, so we’re better able to teach them.

A Routine

It’s so important to have a routine. Since we’re not in a place to have a consistent routine in our house, we’re at least going to discuss a routine every morning, and that will be consistent. We can call it The Breakfast Battle Plan. This will be a solid start.

Dirty Hands and a Clean Heart

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Moms don’t need New Year’s resolutions. There’s already enough on the to-do list. We are barraged by the tedious and annoying on a regular basis, and as a mom of three (ages two, four, and six), I am no exception. Whether it’s the six loads of laundry, the dishes that never end, or the continual fight for the blue cup, we tend to pass our days merely surviving under a load of work that is undone and re-done every hour. An online friend posted the other day that moms should add to their to-do list one thing, every day, that cannot be undone! I love it and I hope to take it to heart, but the tedious stuff still needs to be dealt with.

We all know that when we clean or cook with our kids, that small tasks take three times longer and patience can stretch thin. However, I have noticed that if I go with my natural inclination and do it all myself, that while I’m cleaning/cooking, the kids spend their time making new messes (or old ones that I just cleaned up) or fighting. When I go it alone for the sake of time and sanity, my kids not only lose out on precious domestic skills, but also the character development that comes from helping, laboring, and working together as a team…plus it usually takes just as long because I have to keep stopping to discipline them.

Homeschooling is a wholistic experience, one that includes home economics and hygiene. These particular lessons are important and character-building. So, I’ll share with you a few of my ideas for young children, ones that have made the tedious in life more bearable and, dare I say, sometimes even fun.

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Each responsibility/chore is a printed picture, “laminated” with wide clear tape, and glued to a piece of business card magnet. The kids enjoy changing their magnets every morning.

Their Friday cleaning choices are based on trucks! The enthusiasm for choosing their truck has lasted more than a year. They can be…

  • the Crane (pick up and put away any toys or clothes on the floor).
  • the Street Sweeper (sweep, mop, or vacuum all floors).
  • the Garbage Truck (empty all waste baskets, take out trash and compost).

They also help with the laundry. Long ago I stopped sorting their laundry by type and color. Each child has their own laundry basket, and everything of theirs goes into the washer together (gasp). Life is too busy and short to worry about fading colors and grass stains (that’s why thrift stores are such a treasure). Keeping their clothes separate from their siblings’ gives a sense of ownership and duty. They all help shoving them in the dryer, but when it comes time to fold, they help according to their age and ability, whether it’s sorting, stacking, or turning things right-side-out. It may not sound like much, but they’re actively learning, it really does help with the whole job, and they don’t have time to argue.

Now my oldest is in kindergarten, and as we begin our homeschooling journey, I’ve added daily assignments/privileges (Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer).

  • The Chief is in charge of family prayer, grace at mealtimes, and receiving first choice in things like colored cups. No longer do I need to strive to remember who got to pray last and whose turn is it this time. One of you gets to be Chief for the day.
  • The Cook gets to help in the kitchen! Cooking with small children can be a joy, a danger, and sometimes an impossibility. For too long have I tried to cook with all three, only to leave me frustrated and them in tears. With one in the kitchen, it’s safer, I can still reach the counter and the ingredients, there’s no arguing over who “scooped” last, and one child gets to have a meaningful experience. The two left waiting for dinner will play together much more cooperatively than three ever did. There will be special days when I cook with all three, but not every day.  washing-dishes-1112077_1920
  • The Bottle-Washer: It’s time to add “doing dishes” on to their domestic skill list, and at this age it’s still fun to stick your hands in the bubbles.

Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer are for our regular home life, but downstairs in our school room we also have Meteorologist, Time-Keeper, and Farmer.

  • The Meteorologist checks our outdoor thermometer and changes our daily weather forecast chart.
  • The Time-Keeper is in charge of changing our calendar and our day-of-the-week chart.
  • The Farmer is in charge of chickens! We are the proud new owners of six beautiful buff brahma bantams, and they must be fed, let out to roam, and cleaned up after daily. The kids LOVE it! The chickens sit on our patio and look in the windows during school.

And, my personal favorite is a daily “Good Habits” chart to help them on their path to independence and self-sufficiency in their morning routine (printable: Good Habits). It’s posted on the refrigerator, and they cover each box with a magnet as they complete them after breakfast. They enjoy the autonomy, choosing the order in which they do them, and checking them off. I’ve named it good habits instead of chores because we use it 7 days a week, including Sabbath.

These jobs are all based on a family of three, but, with a little imagination, can be adapted for any home. I hope this brings you inspiration as you balance the tedious and fun.

Time Management

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“If only I had an extra one or two hours a day, I could get more things done.” Does this sound familiar?  Home schooling is a big challenge, but yet rewarding. As parents, we juggle between school work, housework, cooking, field trips, and chauffeuring our children to music, sports, or other activities. By the end of the day, we are drained.

The Bible reminds us in Matthew 11:18, “Come unto me all who are heavy laden….” We are so busy seven days a week, and constantly on the go, that sometimes we forget to spend time with our Heavenly Father. We need to make proper use of our time to the best ability (Ephesians 5:16). Over the years of homeschooling my daughter, I have learned many things, some through failures, and some from friends’ advice. Here are few things I like to share. It may help you as it has helped me.

Set Goals

  1. Plan out what you want to achieve to complete the school year. For example, if your child is preteen, you may want to start teaching him/her some basic cooking or sewing (home economics); or, if your child is in high school and you want him/her to learn driving, you will have to set extra time for driving school.
  2. Is there a project you want to accomplish? Time with your love ones, your faith, your education or finances?
  3. Does your child have something that he/she would like to accomplish this year? Music, Pathfinders, Master Guide, swim team, etc.

Get Yourself Organized

  1. Before the school year starts or during holidays, set aside some time to organize the books/bookshelves, pantry, or room.
  2. Getting rid of clutter sometimes help. If the child/children are old enough, they can help with some chores.
  3. Prepare the list of things to do the night before like schoolwork to do, clothes to wear, dishes to cook, or things to bring for the field trip. Some things can be prepare over the weekend.
  4. If you are having a play date the next day, have the place ready.
  5. Check through when the doctor/dentist appointments are due, or time of classes to attend.
  6. Try to set a routine: first thing in the morning, a quiet time with God, family devotions/worship.

Prioritize

  1. Focus on what is important. If the schoolwork needs to be complete, get it done first.
  2. Shopping: Sometimes we may have to skip the shopping that morning and go later in the day or pick it up on the way home from classes/activities.
  3. Extra-curricular activities: We may tend to sign our children up for various activities. We have to make sure that we balance it up so that neither the children nor we are overwhelmed.
  4. There’s a times we have to learn to say “no.” We love to help, but there may be time when we have to leave some responsibilities to others. We are reminded in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season…” We need time for some relaxation so we are not stressed out.

We can easily get ourselves occupied with many things without realizing it. It is important that we plan our schedule well, and that we do not lose sight of God.