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.

That Moment When

I remember when my oldest child, Ethan, who is now 17 years old, was a tiny thing and I thought about everything I was going to teach him. I was going to do it right, too, I tell you!

I’d armed myself with all my books by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Books like Better Late Than Early and the annotated version School Can Wait, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, Home Grown Kids, and many more.

I was ready!

To WAIT!

And, wait I would. Because I wasn’t going to force my children to learn to read.

Then, while I was waiting, Ethan did something unexpected.

He taught himself to read.

But, seriously! The only thing I did, quite selfishly, was purchase a LeapPad for him to play with in the car. In fact, I wouldn’t let him play it anywhere else other than in the car because I didn’t want him to a) lose the parts (there were books and cartridges that went together) and thus have nothing to do in the car, or b) get bored with it and thus have nothing to do in the car.

After playing with the books, he would ask me these questions – out of the blue – like, “Mom? Why don’t you pronounce both these letters [referring to vowels]?” Pointing to the A and the E in the word SAVE.

“Oh, that’s because the second vowel is silent so that the first says its name.”

Several days later, he’d challenge, “Mom? This word doesn’t follow the rules,” pointing to the word SIGHT. “The letter I says its name even though there’s only one [vowel].”

“Nope,” I’d answer. “That’s because there’s another rule that says…”

Or, “I guess that one breaks the rules,” in the case of most of the sight words.

We walked our way through the phonics rules in this manner — me explaining one, Ethan identifying either one that followed a new rule or a rule breaker. That’s what he called them, “rule breakers.”

And, just like that he was reading! Before the age of six! By not-quite-eight years old, he was reading chapter books.

Boy, did I think I was good.

Actually, I kind of felt like a fraud at this homeschooling thing. I was supposed to be teaching him, but instead he was managing quite well without me.

In retrospect, I was so glad that he was my first child and not Lowell.

Lowell was a completely different story.

Lowell wasn’t reading by the time he was eight. He showed no aptitude by the time he was 10. At 12, I started second-guessing myself, second-guessing my methods. And then I would look at my son who, had he attended traditional school, would have been diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, SPD, with Asperger’s and dyslexia.

And, instead of being labeled, instead of believing himself to be “disabled” or stupid or a whole host of other less-formal labels, my son was a little oblivious — blissfully oblivious to what others thought of him. I was the one who fielded questions or looks from those who thought he should have been reading long before then.

My poor mother was almost beside herself. She’s a very in-the-box thinker, and she was not so certain about this whole homeschooling thing, at least not the way I was going about it. Unschooling, indeed!

And then one day…he was reading.

I don’t know how it happened. It wasn’t because I sat him down and worked with a curriculum. It wasn’t any one specific thing I did. Except that I waited.

I waited for him to find a reason to learn to read. And write. They came hand in hand since his motivation to read – and write – resulted from playing games on a server with his friends. The only way they could communicate was by a rudimentary instant messenger program.

My oldest daughter, four years younger than my youngest son, wasn’t reading at the age of six, or eight.

This child! Oh, I have to laugh. THIS child was the one that the other homeschooling mom at our church — one of the leaders — had to corral and explain to her that it made homeschoolers look bad when she went around announcing that she didn’t read because she was homeschooled!

My kids are long on confidence, short on nuance.

And so I waited with her too. Of course, it didn’t help that our youth pastor’s wife is a fifth-grade school teacher…who doesn’t appreciate the fact that my children are late readers…and that I do nothing about it.

Waiting has had a different feel to it this time. It feels a little like a subtle chess game punctuated with awkward silences where conversations aren’t had. Even when it’s just she and I, standing there, pretending that we aren’t not crazy about each other. It’s the silence instead of the “Good morning,” or “Happy Sabbath.” It’s dodging into rooms off hallways and seeing her do the same.

And, I smile. Because fundamentally, I know that she believes strongly in what she does. And, I know that I do too. I guess as long as I avoid the pitched battle, I should be thankful, no?

Until one day, my daughter knew how to read. Just like that. No fuss, no muss.

I used to tease this daughter, “Wait a minute. You can’t be texting. You don’t know how to read!”

Predictably, she would just roll her eyes, smile, and say, “Oh mom…”

I have one last girl child who is almost 10 years old. She’s not reading.

Since we now live in a neighborhood replete with little girls her age and younger who are all reading with ease, she’s made lots of noise about wanting to learn how to read. And so, I do what I’ve done with all my children. I encourage her. I purchase reading programs, just like I did with Ethan all those years ago. And, I’m not above bribery!

I’ve told Laurie that once she learns to read, I’ll start her in voice lessons. She was interested and excited for precisely one day.

I guess I’m just sitting here writing with a firm knowing in my chest that, one day, I’ll look up and this girl child will be holding a baby of her own. She’ll start on a journey where she’ll decide to allow her children to learn at home. Or she’ll homeschool them. Or they’ll head off to school each morning.

But, one thing I know: She’ll be reading long before then.

And, I’ll wait. I’m not in a hurry.

A couple of months ago, I took the kids with my mom up into the mountains to look at the fall colors. We went over a pass called “Guanella Pass” just outside Denver.

As we were driving, Mom and I were chatting about the name, wondering if it were an early explorer to our state.

“Lowell. Google it on your phone.”

Several moments later, he began reading about the history of the area.

In that moment, I had one of those times of clarity. I liken it to the commercials where the action stops. The man or woman has leapt in the air during a rainstorm and everything freezes. The raindrops hang suspended as does the main character in the scene.

Suddenly the camera swings around to a different perspective — from the side and behind to directly in front — and a second later the action continues.

I had one of those moments, with my mom, lately a believer, and my three younger children driving along a pretty mountain pass.

“Mom,” I said quietly as Lowell paused mid-sentence, “Lowell’s reading.”

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Unschooling

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Unschooling. There. I said it. What was the first thing that came to mind? It’s funny, because of all of the early homeschool methods I am going to be sharing with you, none seems to bring as strong a reaction as this one. Whether you are sold out for unschooling, or don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole, I encourage you to read along as you may learn a thing or two and find a thought or technique to incorporate into your own little one’s learning.

A Brief History of Unschooling
When it comes to unschooling, the name you will want to remember is John Holt. You might have heard the name before as he is also considered the father of modern homeschooling. Holt was a classroom educator who began to see that schooling was not the same as education (1). He believed that children were born to learn, and that by placing them in a classroom and telling them exactly what to learn and when, their ability to learn is impaired, not fostered. He argued that by allowing children freedom and giving them experience in real life, we would ignite a spark and true education in their minds. With the release of his first book, How Children Fail (1964), public speaking engagements, and his influence, the modern homeschool movement was born.

Why Unschooling for the Early Years
Unschooling is included in my list of options for the early years because it’s the way little kids learn naturally. They play, explore, ask questions, hypothesize, and test — with little to no direction from us. I also find that many people don’t feel comfortable with unschooling after about second or third grade due to greater pressure to stay on-track with a school system, so the early years can be a great time to incorporate unschooling concepts.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooling Family
It is very difficult to say what a day in the life of an unschooling family would be like, but I’ll give it a go. I’m creating a fictional family with a four-year-old boy (Will) and a six-year-old girl (Suzie) to paint a picture of what things could look like.

6:30 a.m. – Suzie wakes up early and comes out to the living room to play. She finds a horse drawing book her mom left on the table, knowing she likes horses, and immediately pulls out her art supplies and sets to work.

7:30 – Will wakes up and starts to help his mom make breakfast. He watches from a chair and helps mix and wash things when he can — anything in the sink with water makes him very happy.

8:30 – After breakfast, the whole family works together to do chores. Suzie has been focused on learning how to move furniture in a room before vacuuming, and Will enjoys feeding the dog. He usually makes a mess, but is getting better every time.

9:00 – The kids have time to play and explore while mom tidies around the house. Today Will helps fold the towels and rags. Both children spend a lot of time playing outside. Suzie is making a buttercup crown.

10:00 – Suzie comes to mom to get some help reading a new horse book she has started. Some of the words are too hard. She and her mom look at the book together. They decide to write down the words Suzie is struggling with and mark them with a sticky note. Suzie wants to learn the words so she can read the book all by herself. Will is building a train set and is trying to figure out how to make the track reach all the way down the hall and loop back. Suzie helps with the hardest part.

11:00 – Family reading time. Will brings a stack of books for mom to read to him. Then, they read a few chapters from a book about Seabiscuit, a famous horse. Suzie has been picking out horse books from the library.

11:45 – The kids help make their sandwiches for lunch.

12:00 noon – Lunch

12:30 p.m. – Will has a rest time while Suzie and mom work on projects that are hard to do with little brother around. Suzie loves workbooks, and is working through a math workbook with her mom. When they finish that, they start on the huge horse puzzle Suzie is trying to finish.

2:00 – Everyone goes outside to work on the garden. They pull weeds and learn how to train the plants to grow up a support.

3:00 – The kids have been reading about frogs, and are hoping to catch some. The family goes to a nearby creek. They don’t catch frogs, but they catch tons of tadpoles. They bring some tadpoles home in a glass jar and begin reading online about how to take care of them so they can watch them turn into frogs.

The day might follow with supper, more reading, family activities, etc. No two days are exactly the same, but contrary to common belief, unschooling can include a rhythm to the day, and children can be expected to learn. They are simply given freedom and the ability to follow their natural curiosities.

Materials, Resources and Curriculums for Unschooling
There is no boxed curriculum for unschooling. Materials and resources are gathered based on a child’s learning style, interests, and what’s available. The library will be a great friend. As you notice your child choosing books on a particular topic, think of other ways they might like to explore the topic. Gather activity books, look for YouTube videos, research opportunities to go on outings or field trips, and really follow their lead. Don’t be afraid to ask them what resources, materials, classes, etc., they are interested in.

Whatever resources you end up using, “strewing” is a commonly used method to get the materials to the children. You may set something up for them to find in their room, or leave a book conveniently at their favorite spot on the couch. It’s basically making a way for them to discover and expand on their curiosity. More on strewing here: http://sandradodd.com/strew/sandra.

Is Unschooling Right for Me?
Unschooling can work in a lot of different situations, but just like all schooling styles, the question is, is it a fit for you and your family?

  • If you are excited about sharing life with your little one, and find yourself resonating with some of the contributions of John Holt, unschooling might be a good fit for you.
  • If you like a bit of flexibility in your schedule and have a child who is particularly inquisitive, unschooling might help keep that spark alive.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, go ahead, try unschooling on for size. It just might be a great fit for you.

How About You?
Are you an unschooler of littles? Are you thinking about unschooling, but simply aren’t sure? What are your questions? Thoughts? Reservations? Excitements? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More
1. Growing Without Schooling http://www.johnholtgws.com
2. The Natural Child Project: http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/earl_stevens.html
3. I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write: http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com/p/new-to-this-blog-new-to-unschooling.html
4. Basic description of unschooling: http://www.homeschool.com/Approaches/unschooling.asp
5. A great video that gives examples of strewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhZSSxx-0RE

Raising Butterflies — Easy and Fun!

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Butterflies — beautiful creatures dancing on the wind! Fragile yet strong, mind-boggling in the thought of the migratory paths of some varieties. What homeschooling parent hasn’t drooled just a bit over those raising butterfly kits — wanting their child to have that “hands-on” experience, yet cringing at the high price of the kits! Or, you decide to splurge and purchase a butterfly raising kit, and once it is all finished your children want to do it again, but your budget doesn’t allow. The good news is that raising butterflies, either from a purchased kit or without, is a fun and easy home school activity to do.

Our family has enjoyed both ways of raising butterflies, starting the first time with a purchased kit, but soon realizing our desire for raising exceeded our dollars available for purchasing kits. So, in this blog post I am going to concentrate on how you can raise butterflies without purchasing a kit — but please remember that the butterfly raising kits are available and can make an awesome birthday or Christmas present!

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The first thing you need to do is educate yourself on butterfly raising. The above book is one that our family has found useful. It talks a little bit about what type of containers to use, and even shows how you can make your own container.

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There are also books that have butterfly activities in them — sort of like a unit study. We have used the above book on Monarchs, but it does not talk about raising Monarchs; it’s more of activities about Monarchs.

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We have used this Stokes guide quite a bit. A butterfly guide will help you learn what types of butterflies live in your area. This is important to learn first, as it will then help you discover what type of butterflies you can expect to find, as well as learning what foods those types of butterfly caterpillars eat.

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This little pocket size guide is perfect to take with you and your children outside. Go to wherever there are flowers planted, whether it is your own yard or a park. Sit quietly for a while, and observe what butterflies come to visit the flowers. Take pictures of them, and use your identification guide to discover the type of butterfly that you saw.

Once you have learned who lives in your area, do a little research either, in your field guides or online, to learn what that variety of butterfly caterpillar eats. Scan the list you find, and look for plants that you could easily add to your yard. You have a two-fold goal: 1) attract the adult butterfly with the variety of flowers they like to feed on, and 2) have host plants available near by. Host plants are the types of plants that your butterfly variety lays their eggs on. For example, we learned that Swallowtail butterflies are common in our area. We can attract the adult Swallowtails easily to our yard by planting flowers such as zinnias, cone flowers, etc. But, if we want to be able to raise Swallowtail caterpillars, we also need to plant something such as parsley or rue — two varieties of host plants that the Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on. Obviously, you want to make sure to not spray your host plants with any type of poison, or it could kill any caterpillars that have hatched out on that plant. Make your little garden corner attractive to butterflies. Think of it as a bed and breakfast for butterflies! Give them food, shelter, and host plants, and they will come!

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Once you have your flowers and host plants planted, start watching for butterflies around that area. You do not need a large garden to do this; a couple of potted plants will work nicely. Keep in mind, though, that the larger area of color with your nectar producing flowers, the easier the butterflies flying past will be able to see the banquet you have prepared for them! Examine your host plants frequently. Make sure you are familiar with what the different stages of the caterpillars you are looking for look like! In the above picture, this is a Swallowtail caterpillar that is almost ready to go into its chrysalis. It looks very different at this stage than it did when it was tiny. When you find caterpillars, carefully collect them and place them into your raising container. Remember to not touch the caterpillar itself, but rather gently break off the part of the plant it is eating on and place it in your container. Once you have a visitor, keeping its container clean daily is important. We simply line the bottom of the container with a piece of paper towel, and change it out daily for a clean one. It is also important to provide fresh food for your caterpillar daily. Have enough of your host plant growing in your yard that you can break off a few fresh pieces each morning to bring in to it. No need to provide water — it will gather all the water it needs from eating the fresh host plant leaves.

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Depending upon the variety of caterpillar, it will spend a couple of weeks munching and eating. At this point it will enter its chrysalis, and will no longer need to be fed. You will need some sticks inside its container for it to climb up on and hang from. Since you never really know when a caterpillar will be ready to change to its next stage, I keep sticks in my containers at all times. Even with this, they will sometimes still attach themselves to the sides or ceiling of your container and ignore your fine sticks. If this happens, do not worry about it. Just leave it alone and do not disturb it. Make sure the containers you are keeping your caterpillars in are large enough that when they hatch they will have enough room to stretch out their wings fully. If they are in a too-small container, it will damage their wings permanently.

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When your butterflies have hatched out, it is time to release them back into your garden. Gently carry your raising container outside. You can see in this photo one of our containers — a plastic terrarium that was inexpensively purchased at Walmart. It is hard to see from the angle of the photo, but this container is actually quite deep.

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Here is a second type of container that we also use. It is a net and has a spring going around the sides. When we are not using it, it folds completely flat. We purchased this from the Insect Lore company.

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With the large spring-type of containers, the butterflies often need help finding their way out of the container. You can gently place your finger in front of them and see if they will climb up on it. If they do, you can give them a ride out of the container. Never force the butterfly onto your finger, and never touch their wings — no matter how gentle you try to be, you will end up damaging their fragile bodies.

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Once you have a butterfly taking a ride on your finger, place him or her next to a flower and wait just a bit. They will happily step off of your finger and onto the flower.

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If your butterfly has just recently hatched out, they will stay on the flower for a while, sunning their wings and getting ready to fly. This gives you a great opportunity to get close up pictures that normally you would not be able to get!

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I hope you have enjoyed learning more about God’s beautiful butterflies! The fall time is a great time to begin researching and planning out your spring planting list — and don’t forget to plant something for the butterflies!

 

Life Skills for Homeschoolers: Food and Its Many Aspects

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As I was considering topics for this month’s post regarding life skills, I reviewed the topics already discussed. Then I asked myself, “What else is important to know?” In my opinion it is essential for children of all abilities to learn about food and its many aspects — how to grow, preserve, and use it in a healthy manner to promote optimum mental, physical, and spiritual health.

That’s a pretty big topic to cover in one post. Many children today grow up without knowing how to even prepare food from real ingredients. They may know how to pop a box into the microwave or dump something into a pan of boiling water. This is not real food preparation. Personally, as I work with people who have challenges, I always start with food. Often times it is even more important for kids with challenges be eating a healthy, real-food diet. That’s real food made from real ingredients.

As mentioned in a previous post, despite graduating with honors, I knew nothing about meal preparation or even menu planning. This is a good place to start. Have your child help you make menus for the week (health/nutrition). Once they get up in years (tweens and up), they can even do meal preparation as part of their weekly chores. They can learn to shop (price comparison, coupons, budgeting). For those challenges, the child may need a small notebook you create to help with measurements, simple directions using pictures, etc. It depends on what ability level your child is at. For my son, we ended up creating a special recipe book with things he knew how to make. When younger, I would use pictures to help him remember how to cook something.

Another thought when coming to meal preparation is allowing the kids to experiment. When my older kids were young, they would get in the kitchen and experiment with creating their own recipes. My only rule was that they had to eat what they created so there was no waste. The boys cooked just as often as my daughter. Today, my daughter can create the most delicious recipes. She has become a “foodie.” In fact, I have even learned more about meal creativity from watching her create.

Depending on your own family situation, gardening can be part of the food learning. Gardening is a wonderful way to learn about eating healthy and even to tie in spiritual lessons. There’s the science part of it (photosynthesis) also. From gardening, it is easy to move to food preservation. This can open up many options, including cultural dishes to tie in with social studies/geography. Again, use healthy choices here, and learn to cook from real ingredients. Gardening is actually good for mental health also.

Using gardening as a spring board, another helpful topic could be medicinal and culinary herbs. As we move closer to Christ’s second coming, knowledge of medicinal herbs will be very important. (It is easy to see how this could later tie in with medical missionary training.)

For the child with challenges, remember to keep things simple and hands-on. It could be useful to utilize nature journals and other notebook methods to help organize learning. For part of gardening, it is beneficial to record weather info so that future gardening plans can be improved upon (science).
Food is the basis of who we are. There is a cliche about “we are what we eat.” This is so true. As I have studied about food and behavior, I have learned the importance of our children learning how to cook and use real food for optimum health.