Nature-Based Learning Feed

Seasonal Homeschooling: Using a Lesson Planner

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Hello my friends, and Happy Wednesday! 

Today I'd like to talk a little more about my seasonal homeschooling routine, specifically - how I plan out an individual week. addressed this issue to a degree during last Friday's Inspire webinar (the replay of which you can watch here), and the short answer is: there are lots of layers to seasonal planning! But since I'm not known for my short answers, here is the long answer ... :)

I start with the big picture, dividing a year into thoughtful segments. And by thoughtful I mean ... well, they make sense to me! So for this New England girl there are not four, but six seasons in a year, and two months per season. (September and October are "early autumn," for example.)

Next I brainstorm ideas to capture all the nuances and blessings that return to us again and again. This takes some thinking and imagining and reviewing of nature notes, retired calendars and favorite seasonal resources. (I made up printables for doing this, and they can be found here.)

Finally, I assign the most interesting ideas, or themes, to the weeks themselves and then I work said themes into the individual days of the week! All according to our weekly homeschooling rhythm ...

Phew, right? Lol. Well, it sounds more complicated than it really is and I will talk more about it in future posts, but for today I'm showing you how today I planned ONE week of seasonal activities, revolving around an assigned theme, and using a (really cool) lesson planner to do it!

Best of all - and the point of this post! - I found this particular planner spread allowed me to easily merge our Oak Meadow Kindergarten curriculum with my own seasonal homeschooling plans! So without further ado, here's a look at week one:

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This was the first time I put paper to pen! It's such a big lovely planner, I was a little intimidated to start writing in it to be perfectly honest. I am using my preferred Frixion Erasable Pen here in bright blue ink. Plus some Frixion pastel highlighters (also erasable!).

I sat down with my OM Kindergarten syllabus, open to Lesson One, and my seasonal planner (the one I'm GIVING AWAY tomorrow, as you might remember!) open to my "corn and crows" notes.

Then I set about filling this baby in!

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True confession: I wrote all of this information out on sticky notes first - moved those around where they belonged - and then wrote on the paper itself. I don't think I'll do that each week - πŸ˜œ - but it gave me a little flexibility while I figured out where I wanted certain information to "live."

First thing I did was write our weekly homeschooling rhythm along the left hand side of the planner:

  • Monday: Nature Walk
  • Tuesday: Crafting
  • Wednesday: Storytelling
  • Thursday: Out & About
  • Friday: Home & Garden

Then I wrote in our activities for each day in the first column:
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I used a highlighter to designate the type of activity, something I do in all my planners. So here, yellow means a special activity at home, blue is for EB's therapy, and green means we are going somewhere. 

The planner spread features six columns for planning subjects. Our homeschool subjects this year are as follows:

  • Language Arts
  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Nature/Science
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Other

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These pertain to our OM curriculum as well as our seasonal living/learning, and I utilized the far right column for specifically seasonal notes!

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I listed notes here for ...

  • Circle Time
  • Book Basket
  • Home & Family

Circle Time will be done each morning and this is influenced by our Oak Meadow curriculum, with a little music and movement, a fingerplay to learn and some calendar and weather discussion. We will also begin our day with a short blessing, not listed here.

Reading from our seasonal Book Basket can happen anytime, but I like to have a designated reading time in the afternoon, after lunch. It tends to happen when Mama gets her first cup of tea made! The titles listed here are ones we own (√), ones we can get at the library (L) and ones I plan to purchase (+).

A lot of people ask me how to involve older students in seasonal learning/living and one way to do this is to plan activities that the whole family can do together. (That's not to say seasonally-inspired academics can't be done at a higher level, but obviously there is just so much more that can be done with younger children in the family!) Celebrating the seasons as a family can be such a meaningful and rewarding lifestyle - making memories and encouraging our kids to slow down and savor the simple things in life. To look for the little gifts that return to us every year, while keeping our eyes open for new discoveries! These kinds of activities bring a family together, and fill a home with a touch of comfort and joy ...

So under Home & Family I included things like - foods we can enjoy, places we can go, seasonal decorations to put up, fun activities we can all do together:

fresh corn from the farm stand β€’ popcorn balls  β€’ corn muffins at Sunday breakfast β€’ the cornfield or corn maze β€’ tying up cornstalks at the front door β€’ how about a taste test! which tastes better: boiled or grilled? β€’ watching a favorite movie with a batch of freshly popped popcorn

Honestly, I think too many families stop doing things together as the kids get older and busy with their friends. But to my mind, our older kids should always feel welcome to join in - but not pressured. It might not be easy to get an older kid to come along on an outing, but they will probably enjoy sharing a special meal or snack, or seeing favorite decorations go up around the house. It's important to keep these kids in the loop in even the smallest ways. 
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Shown beneath the planner here is a folder for my weekly seasonal materials, mostly things I've printed out: directions for making a corn husk doll, a corn maze printable, library request sheets, etc.
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Here's a close up of one square (Language arts on Wednesday, our storytelling day):
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Our morning circle time will include oral exercises and a little nature writing (on the chalkboard). I then chose one suggested OM language arts activity as well as a seasonal/rhythm activity of my own.

OM offers several language-related activities to spread throughout the week and many are wonderful examples of creative, active, outdoor learning. I figure the boys can work on their stick/yarn letter As while a crow finger puppet shares some news from our woods. This story will be part of an ongoing nature tale, taking cues from our backyard critters and the current weather. I enjoy using my storytelling apron for this activity as well as the lovely nature mailbox my mother painted for our learning room.

I added afternoon and bedtime reading selections to my language box - some are filled in, for example, we'll be reading The Popcorn Book on this particular afternoon because on this day we are also doing "popcorn math" and making popcorn balls for a family snack. :)

By the way, if you are not familiar with the Oak Meadow School (located in Vermont), it is a wonderful, Waldorf-inspired curriculum - one we've used for many years, at all grade levels, and this is my fourth time cracking open this Kindergarten syllabus! OM really works well with the addition of my seasonal homeschooling plans - the trick will be trying to have realistic expectations!

This spread here is for one week - and as most of us know, five days fly by very quickly! During this first week of September, if all (or most) goes to plan, we will be reading the Tale of Peter Rabbit and learning to recognize and write the letter A. We'll be remembering Summer and setting up a Nature Corner with which we can welcome upcoming seasons. We'll learn a body-parts song and a sweet finger play and set up a Science Scrapbook. As a family we'll discuss chore division and allowance, an annual Labor Day tradition! We'll learn the difference between crows and ravens, and listen to Native American lullabies. We'll brave a corn maze and soak in the particular allure of a whispering cornfield in late summer. There will be reading and playing and baking and plenty of time spent in nature ... 

All in all, a great start to a brand new homeschooling year!

(And it might sound/look like a lot, but when you view my lesson planner spread, you can see that most days have a pretty good balance of activities. This is not to say that each and every day will go smoothly or to plan! But this is what I have prepared, and will have ready for my Earlybird and Little Bear, and hopefully we will not only learn a lot of interesting things together - but also have LOTS of fun!)

Now, don't forget! This Friday I'll be announcing the winner of my Seasonal Planner! I will be posting sometime later in the day - roundabouts teatime - so there's still plenty of time to leave me a comment and throw your hat in the ring. (Please see this post for all the details!)

Enjoy the rest of your evening, my friends - and as always, thanks so much for stopping by! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!


Seasonal Homeschooling: Favorite Resources

Hello again my friends! Why yes ... this would indeed be the 2nd post from me to you in one day! Crazy, I know - but I have lots of things I want to share in regards to my talk for the Inspire Virtual Conference this Friday - sign up is FREE and open to all! So I'm trying to get as many posts up before my afternoon chat, "Seasonal Homeschooling: Cultivating a Gentle, Grateful Year." :)

(Oh, and for those who asked, I will be able to share a link post-webinar for those who can't join us on Friday ... so, yay!)

For this evening's post though, I'd like to share some of my favorite "go-to" resources when it comes to our seasonal homeschooling. I've had most of these books for many years - many are nature-based, some are Waldorf-inspired and several are geared toward Catholic tradition. ALL have been wonderful as I brainstorm ideas for exploring our themes for the year!

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All Year Round β€’ Festivals, Family and Food β€’ Making the Children's Year β€’ Naturally Fun Parties for Kids β€’ Findus, Food & Fun: Seasonal Crafts and Nature Activities β€’ A Child's Seasonal Treasury β€’ Usborne Book of the Seasons β€’ Mrs. Sharp's Traditions β€’ When the Moon is Full: A Lunar Year β€’ Be Blest β€’ Festivals with Children β€’ Storytelling with Children 
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The Butt'ry Shelf Almanac β€’ China Bayle's Book of Days β€’ Mary's Flowers: Gardens, Legends & Meditations β€’ Catholic Traditions in the Garden β€’ Holidays & Holy Nights β€’ A Book of Feasts and Seasons β€’ A Continual Feast β€’ Catholic Traditions in the Home and Classroom β€’ Earth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks through Nature β€’ All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings β€’ Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children β€’ The Catholic Parent Book of Feasts β€’ The Big Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions

I have lots of other resources for seasonal planning, but these are the ones I tend to reach for most often. I'd love to hear about yours, too!

(Note - in full disclosure, as explained on my right-hand sidebar - I am a member of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you click though to Amazon from a link on this blog and make a purchase, I will receive a commission from Amazon. Thanks in advance if you click through my links!)
 
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Have a wonderful Thursday, my friends! More "seasonal planning" posts to come in the next day or so! And please let me know if you have any specific questions you'd like me to address in my talk!

Seasonal Homeschooling: A Few Printable PDFs!

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Hello my friends and Happy Wednesday!

I'm popping in again, just two days before the FREE "Inspire" Virtual Homeschooling Conference (mentioned in Monday's post), to share a few PDF's with you all that will assist with my talk on Seasonal Homeschooling: Cultivating a Gentle, Grateful Year. :)

First, here is a simple SEASONSKEEPING WORKBOOK (click on the link - it's a printable PDF!). In this packet you could brainstorm ideas for embracing the seasons of the year:

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There are two pages devoted to each season - one for listing monthly events and one for brainstorming ideas. (In my view, every two months make up a season - so I see the year as divided into six seasons rather than four.)

On the Events page you could list holidays, feast days, full moons, birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events (like the Superbowl or World Series), natural phenomena (such as meteor showers or lunar eclipses) ... really, anything goes! As for the Brainstorming page - well, it could look like a narrative ("Dear Deep Winter, here is what I love about you ...") or it could be filled with words that pop into your mind when you imagine that time of year. For example in the case of Deep Winter, those might be:

snow days β€’ warm mittens β€’ hot cocoa β€’ handmade valentines β€’ birds at the feeders β€’ ETC.

You could ask your family to participate in this activity! The seasons are meaningful to each of us in individual ways. If you're stumped for ideas and looking for inspiration, you might consult your own nature journal or personal diary if you have a habit of jotting down lots of seasonal details (as I do!) or you could thumb through favorite resources or you could even google it! (Pinterest is full of inspiration for the seasons of the year!)

Next, here is the SEASONAL THEMES planning outline I use in my homemade planner:

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You're welcome to use my outline for guidance, but I also have a BLANK version for you to use since you'll probably want to come up with your own themes and ideas. Seasonal themes really resonate when inspired by one's local habitat as well as fond family traditions.example, in a deep and snowy New England winter, exploring themes like "hearthside delights," "glass gardens" and stormy weather all make sense and bring joy - but February might look and feel very different where you live! And of course, each family enjoys its own seasonal pastimes. Maybe you all like to ski in the winter? Well, "hearthside delights" would work great! But what if you'd prefer to escape to the tropics? Well, how about a week devoted to exploring "winter citrus?"

Now, I personally like to break down the year into 52 weekly themes because this just works well with my kids and our homeschooling style. But that might seem like a bit much for some folks, so instead you could simplify things and choose 12 monthly themes for the year. Say, "the autumn orchard" in September," "planting time" in May, or "hibernation" in November.

Also on my outline you can see that I list pertinent monthly events below the themes (in green text) and I use little keys to signify in which week the full moon falls as well as when liturgical events tie into our seasonal theme. For example -

✝️ I connect St. Martin's Day (aka Martinmas) with the darkening days of late fall, and the need to light our own inner lights. (This also ties in with Daylight Savings Time ending on 11/4.)

✝️ I tie in the "sticks and stones" of the early December garden with St. Barbara's Day (and the traditional gathering of branches for Christmas bloom).

✝️ The week of the Annunciation is devoted to "sleepy seeds," and we not only plant our own spring hopes in a potting tray, but we make a sweet seed cake to serve on that feast day.

✝️ For St. George's Day we learn about "dragons of the wood" - aka spring salamanders! (Which were once thought to actually BE tiny dragons!)

The liturgical year has such a beautiful rhythm - a time for all things and a reassuring repetition - and I am often overjoyed to find how neatly it dovetails with the familiar framework of the natural year! Both calendars bring me much peace and by following them with my family, we are continually reminding ourselves of the many blessings to behold in any given year. The very gift of another 365 days on this earth is perhaps the best blessing of all - something to remember as the year turns and we take delight in another first snowfall, first crocus, first branch of fiery foliage, or first bat fluttering across a summer night sky ... :)

Ok, moving on now - here is a SEASONAL PLANNING SPREADSHEET, a new form I made up for myself this year:

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I'm sharing this two-page planning spread even though I realize it's quite personalized, re homeschooling subjects and all. For each theme I have a box in which to plan:

  • Events of Note
  • Nature Study
  • Outings/Field Trips
  • Creative Play
  • Reading ...
  • Verse to learn
  • Language Arts
  • Science/Math
  • Social Studies
  • Crafting
  • Home/Family (bringing everyone into it!)
  • Art/Music
  • Notes

This list represents the elements of our weekly rhythm - one day is for nature study, one day is for crafting, etc. This is the framework of our kindergarten at home - but at present we are still working out a few scheduling details for our new homeschooling year. I may be adjusting our weekly rhythm as September rolls around ...

Well my friends, I am running out of time, so in tomorrow's post I will share a few more things in preparation for Friday's talk. Please let me know if there are any points you'd like me to clarify or expand upon! I'm off for now, but as always, I thank you for joining me and will look forward to seeing you here again very soon ...

Blessings


August Plans & News!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! I hope all is well with you all!:)

I'm popping in today to share my August 2018 planning sheets ... and to say I'm very sorry it's taken me so long to post them! The good news is - it's not QUITE August yet, lol! The better news is - I'll have September through December sheets to share with you within a week or so. :)

But more on my planner situation a little further below, first I thought I'd share a little about our seasonal themes for next month ...

Our August Seasonal Themes

7/30-8/5: bats at dusk

8/6-8/12: shooting stars

8/13-8/19: blueberries

8/20-8/26: seashells by the seashore

8/27-9/2: sunflowers

Here is a look at the "spreadsheet" I designed for planning out our weeks:

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It probably seems like a lot of information overload, but I find it very helpful to see all these variables in one place - though I feel compelled to add, we won't get ALL these ideas done! These are all possibilities ... :)

I get asked about my seasonal homeschooling quite often, and so here's a peek at my list of weekly themes:

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I'm also frequently asked about the themes themselves - do I repeat them from year to year?

Well the answer to that question is yes - mostly. Because for one thing, we almost never explore a theme to the depth it might be explored (and some particularly busy weeks we miss out entirely) but also, the point of this rhythm is to nurture a fond familiarity with the nuances of each season, as well as a sense of happy anticipation throughout the year.

I do change things up sometimes though - for instance, this week we are doing "bats at dusk" but it could have been "first grains" to go along with Lammas Day. Though they won't be our focus, we will be exploring grains a bit - reading The Little Red Hen, baking corn muffins and observing this lovely poster, a gift from a friend:

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Meanwhile, just across the learning room, on display are the books we're using this week:

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Now, why bats you might ask? Well, at this time of year we spend most evenings watching tiny bats swoop over our yard! (And I know that because of the nature notes I keep from year to year, reminding me what to look for when.) Bat-watching has become something of a sweet, simple ritual - sitting on the front steps after supper, watching those tiny dark forms flit about the lavender sky, noticing the warm air and the lingering light ...

It's a fun and interesting activity to be certain, but more than that, this happy pastime reminds the whole family to slow down, pay attention, share in the blessings of each season, and TAKE JOY in the time we've been granted!

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OK, at long last, here in the nick of time are my:

August 2018 Planner Pages !!!

Yep, that's just ONE PDF for the whole month! I finally figured out how to create multi-page PDFs and that makes it so much easier to print out the planning sheets! Please let me know if you have any trouble opening this file - and I hope you enjoy! (I've changed this just a bit ...)

As I said above, I will have the rest of my 2018 planning sheets available to print with the next week. As for my 2019 planner ...

Well, I am trying my best to get that organized, too - and to figure out if this is something I might sell (!) or continue to share here as I've done the past couple of years. The good news is, I have about half the year done already ... so it shouldn't be too long before I have something to share with you.

Ok, and finally - here's some really fun news! On August 17th I will be taking part in a "Homeschool Connections" webinar hosted by Mary Ellen Barrett! I'll share more details in the next couple of weeks, but wanted to let you all know that I'll be talking about my homemade planner, my seasonal themes and kindergarten plans for the year ahead ... plus a few other things, depending upon what questions are asked!

So please stay tuned and thanks so much for your patience ... and as always, for stopping by! I hope you all enjoy these last few days of July ... :)

I will see you here again very soon!


Mitten Strings for God, ch. 15: "Listening"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! I hope this week is going well for you so far!

Now, before digging into our book study, I must first apologize that this post has arrived much later than promised ... and that my posting in general has slowed down so much lately. I feel like a broken record, but it's been such a busy season for us and I really haven't had a lot of time to spend on my favorite "mama" things (blogging, journaling, reading, making planners). You know, all the fun things that get highlighted in pink in said planners!

Anyhoo, we've finally made it through all that busy-ness! Because just this past week we not only wrapped up our school year, but we also celebrated Crackerjack's graduation AND attended Orientation at Emmanuel College! And these are all good and happy things ... leading up to what I hope will be a fairly quiet and restful summer. Because I'm not one for busy-ness to be perfectly honest ... needing to "hustle" does not make me happy, lol!

But let's get on with our Mitten Strings for God chapter discussion, shall we? This week we are talking about the concept of "Listening," and what a wonderful thing for a parent to consider ...

How often do I make time to stop and listen - not just to my children, but with them?

When I (re)read this chapter I immediately thought of a particular homeschool memory - an activity I blogged about 10 years ago that illustrated the value in slowing down and opening our ears (and hearts) to the natural world around us.

Longtime readers might remember this picture ... ?

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"In order to listen, we must be quiet." (MSfG, p. 104)

This picture was taken during one of my favorite homeschooling adventures, a Nature Club meeting back in April 2008. These are my older two boys, "on the trail," and the theme of this excursion, organized by two fellow homeschooling moms, was "Silent Spring." The purpose of the outing was to encourage our large and boisterous group to enter the woods in total and complete silence, so that we might:

"... amplify our other senses, and catch things we might otherwise miss. We could sketch, draw, take pictures, write notes or even poetry ... but not a word was to be passed - until we met back up again an hour later to compare findings." (A quote from my original post.)

It was such an amazing walk! Our kids who loved running about and climbing and shouting and chasing and pretty much doing absolutely nothing to entice wildlife out of hiding - took right away to the idea of silence, and enjoyed figuring out how to share their thoughts without words. They developed signals and used sketchbooks to communicate their questions about - and impressions of - the nature they encountered.

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We moms could have told the kids all about the things they'd see, but instead we left it to them to make their own observations and form their own opinions. Many times our wide eyes would meet across the trail as a sudden sound caught our attention - but we expressed our wonder and awe in ways that required careful attention. I think it was a richer experience for us all, immersing our silent selves in that not-so-silent woodland on that beautiful, unforgettable, spring day ...

Rereading this chapter (and reminiscing over that nature walk) reminded me of a vow I once held dear in my heart - to raise my children to be aware of the more subtle (yet plentiful) joys of our world. Day in or day out. Rain or shine. Whatever the season might be. Such an awareness doesn't just happen - it needs to be cultivated and maintained. I realized then (if I've sometimes forgotten it now) that it's up to we parents to show them the way through the years ...

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There is so much joy to be found in the activity of listening itself! We all know how wonderful it is to share a special moment with a child, to listen together for either a specific sound or perhaps await a surprise. The giggles, the hushing, the eyes that widen when at last a sound reaches our eager ears ...

How wonderful to encourage this type of quiet activity - and to engage in it ourselves! Children may be noisy creatures, but they also love to conspire. :)

"... within each child there is also an innate talent for listening that deserves to be honored and encouraged." (p. 105)

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(Now, this might look like an action shot, but actually, Little Bear and I were staying as quiet and still as possible here, perched on our herb garden, "communing with" the chipmunks all around us. I also have a neat little video you can watch (and listen to!) here ...)

For certain our world is a noisy one, and kids are, by and large, just that. Noisy. My house, for example (and as you might imagine), is not always (or often) quiet. (Reminder: We have four boys - 22, 18, 16 and 5 - and all of them (happily) live at home.)

The laughter and chatter of my children, the sounds of our home doing its thing - feet on the stairs, a coffeepot perking, the hens squawking, the birds singing, a toilet flushing, a door closing (perhaps slamming) ... these are loud sounds sometimes, yes, but life is just FULL of such happy, life-living sounds. (Well the door slamming isn't really happy and believe you me, some sounds are not as cheerful as others, but all in all, I am grateful for all these noises that represent a full and family-oriented life!

Our house, like many others I would guess, can also be full of just plain old noise, because there are audio/video devices everywhere - on our walls, in our cars, in our hands. Text alerts, tv shows, radio news, video games ... part of life, yes, but not necessarily the sounds I'd like to surround myself with frequently.

Too much artificial noise not only drowns out the "muted sounds of earth and sky, soul and spirit," but it can alter our listening "palate." Softer sounds like the wind in the trees, a distant bird call, the soft drip of rain off a roof - these might not hold much appeal if a child is not first shown how to appreciate them.

But oh, how they respond when they're let in on nature's secrets ... :)

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Quiet times spent together are such a gift - for both parent and child. We slow down, they absorb - we all enjoy each other. What a life-long gift to not only teach our children how to enjoy such times, but how to find a little quiet where they can. 

"We can all find a moment in every day for listening, a moment in which we gather our children close, open our ears, and luxuriate in the sounds of our world, wherever we may be." (p. 107)

I so enjoyed this chapter - as I do every chapter - and I deeply appreciate the lessons it reminds me of, veteran mom that I am now. ;-) I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, too! Please drop a note if you have time ... but as always, I thank you for stopping by and reading. 

I had all intention of setting a Mitten Strings for God book study schedule with this post, but alas - I'm cautious to do so. I do anticipate a quiet and laid back summer and in theory I should have more time for blogging, but I'm hesitant to set myself up for failure!

That said, the next chapter is a topic near and dear to my heart - Nature - and I am really excited to delve into it. I am going to propose Sunday, July 8th for our next Mitten Strings Tea ... but if I need to tweak the timing a bit I will let you know as soon as I'm able. (I generally announce things like that on Facebook and Instagram.)

For now though, I will be off ... take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

I will see you here again very soon!


Here's a Look at Our Day!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Thursday! I hope your week's been going well!

I thought it would be fun to share a "day in our life" with you all, so as we went through our day, one day last week, I took pictures and jotted down notes. Here then is a little recap of last Thursday, March 1st. :)

(Note: Our weekdays are currently quite similar in that, Bill goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Another constant these days is we have two ABA therapists who work here at home with our 16 yo son, for a total of four hours a day. And then some days Bill works from home, and four days a week our 18 yo son has outside-the-home classes - to (and from) which Bill or I must drive him because he does not yet have his license! But hopefully he will by the end of this month!)

Ok, here we go ...

GOOD MORNING! πŸŒž

5:00 a.m.

I wake up and realize I'm the first one up, which is quite surprising because usually Earlybird is the first to rise. (He has in fact been my alarm clock for the past 16 years!) I look over to see if Bill is still sleeping, and am not all that surprised to notice that the body softly snoring next to me is not my husband's but that of our four year old son's - with his head draped across my pillows, mind you! And this would explain the crick in my neck ...

I then realize Bill has already gotten out of bed, so I grab my phone and send off a text:

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As you can see our texting skills are not at their best this early in the morning! (Per family tradition, we always say RABBIT RABBIT on the first of the month - it's supposed to bring you good luck!)

Within a few minutes I hear Earlybird get up and head downstairs, and Bill sees to EB's needs (a snack, a water cup, the family room TV clicker) while starting a fresh pot of coffee. Then I wait, in the darkness, with as much patience as I can muster (which isn't a lot), until Bill brings me that first blessed cup of coffee. sigh ... JOY!

So while I savor my first cup, curled up in the rocking chair by my bed, Little Bear sleeps on with hefty pillows piled up on either side of him. (Our bed is quite high and I don't like to leave him alone in it - yet I'm loathe to move him for fear he'd wake and be up for the day!)

It's quiet, it's peaceful, and there's a purring cat in my lap ... β€ 

Soon enough, Bill starts getting ready for work - though he often takes calls at home until mid-morning - and Earlybird is happy as a clam in the family room with his Kindle Fire and breakfast snacks. 

(Note: EB usually wakes up VERY early - he always has! Sleeping past six is rare for him. He can't be left unsupervised however, so Bill and I always rise just as early as he does.)

Now some (perhaps many!) might cringe at starting one's day so very early in the morning, but honestly, I don't mind. In fact, I actually like it! As long as I have my coffee, of course, I appreciate these early hours before the day truly begins, when I can gather my thoughts and launch the day slowly ...

So the next few hours are spent in this way - I'm upstairs watching the room go from pitch dark to soft light, savoring cup (after cup) of freshly brewed coffee, working on my phone until it's light enough to see and then I start working in my planners. (Checking email, social media, news, etc.) I also use this time to think quietly and say my morning prayers. I love catching the sunrise when I'm able ... πŸŒ…

* Morning planning: I start with my little Katie Daisy planner, at the monthly spread, crossing off yesterday's block (February 28th). Since it's the first of the month, I readjust my binder clip to the March page. Isn't it fun when you get to start a new monthly spread? I then open my seasonal planner and consult the weekly spread - where are we at, what's what for today? Thursdays are "nature walk" days, per our weekly homeschooling rhythm - and as this is "thaw/sap" week we'll be looking for signs of winter-melt and possibly, any maple trees in our neighborhood. It's supposed to be a clear and very mild day so this is perfect! Finally I move on to my Day Designer and set up my daily page. If time permits I use a highlighter to visually target drive-times and outings.

(Note: During these early hours, spring through fall, I try to grab a quick 30 minute walk before Little Bear wakes. These days however, winter weather (and dark mornings) keep me inside. I do have a treadmill in our bedroom but I don't use it regularly ever.)

8:45 a.m.

Little Bear seems to be sleeping in, so I wake Crackerjack (first reminding him to say RABBIT RABBIT) so he can keep an eye on LB and an ear out for EB while I grab a quick shower and get dressed. 

(Note: I think it would be fun to do a post on our grooming/health/beauty routines, don't you?)

Once I'm done with my "primp and prep" (such as it is) Crackerjack goes off to get himself ready for class, and Little Bear wakes up soon thereafter.

9:00 a.m.

We head downstairs to officially begin our day! This is about an hour later than usual for us, so I'm running a little behind. Earlybird heads upstairs to his bedroom since he no longer has to be quiet, but first I give him his (anti-seizure) meds. Little Bear and I feed the cats and start making breakfast ... I always tune into the TODAY show throughout the morning. I can't sit and really digest it, but I like to catch a few segments here and there. :)

BREAKFAST: whole wheat waffles, apple cider, cheese and vitamins.

I now switch to decaffeinated tea. I try not to drink caffeine after 10 a.m.

9:30 a.m.

I drive Crackerjack to Spanish class, leaving the rest of the boys at home with Bill. Just before leaving I receive an email from a good friend of mine who is organizing our March Nature Club activity (maple sugaring!). She needs me to get back to her ASAP on a few dates/times so that gets me thinking and strategizing on the drive.

I drop CJ at his class, and head back home (a five-minute drive). Kiss Bill on my way in (and his way out) and then scramble to get things ready for Earlybird's first therapist who arrives at 10 a.m.

10:00 a.m.

Earlybird is working on his daily routine with his ABA therapist, Michael. First he showers, shaves and dresses - then he works on chores like cleaning his room, changing his bedding, doing his laundry, taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, etc. All these tasks build good skills but are also important for working on the concept of compliance. (Doing activities that are not preferred.)

Meanwhile, I return my friend's email, letting her know the dates that work for us, give my Mum a call, and then do some preschool activities with Little Bear ... and this is where I first start taking pictures!

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Here's Little Bear coloring a Welsh dragon for St. David's Day! We also read a book, and make a paper plate cloud - in honor of March coming in like a lamb. Little Bear says he's "still hungry" and wants toast, so we pop some bread in the toaster and start working on a Peppa Pig puzzle. 

Suddenly, a telltale rumble on the road tells us mail has arrived! So we decide to head outside for a bit to retrieve said mail, check on the hens and have ourselves a little nature walk.

But first we pop downstairs to change up the laundry and see if Bookworm is busy. (He's not working full-time at the moment, but doing computer design/site building at home currently, while studying for java certification.) We find him on his computer, but he tells us he'll join us outside for a bit. (While Bookworm looks for full-time employment he has been a HUGE help to us with childcare. I feel so blessed to have this time with ALL my boys at home!)

11:00 a.m. 

Outside now, and what a beautiful day! Bright and warm, nearly 60Β°! Not at all usual for New England at this time of year. (But we'll take it!)

After checking on the hens' needs, we walk around a bit. I love our yard because it's a good size and there are always interesting and new things to "discover!" Some things are new but familiar ...

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Such as the first daffodil shoots of the year! We found these growing by the front walk, beneath the dog rose bush.

Other things are not new, but perhaps unnoticed, and definitely not familiar!

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Such as this orange and green "fur" growing between the cracks in the stairwell. (It's actually moss - aka Hairy Moss!) Little Bear, as you can see here, made sure he grabbed his shovel, because ... you never know when you might need to dig.

I leave LB with BW and head inside to place a call and check on EB and Michael ...

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Oops, but first I remember to grab the mail!

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How I love a good mail day! New books, catalogs and magazines and ok, yes, bills. But still - I love when our mailbox is full!

Back inside I find Earlybird and his therapist taking a break in the family room. (EB gets five minute breaks between tasks and usually he likes to watch a little TV during this time.) I decide to place a call I need to make ... rescheduling a long overdue eye exam!

After earning that check, I decide to work on some chores, since Little Bear and Bookworm are still outside and Earlybird and Michael have left on a bike ride. It seems VERY quiet in the house, lol! Just me and the cats ...

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... who are intently observing a chipmunk perched just outside the patio doors!

According to my weekly housekeeping schedule, on Thursdays I clean the "back rooms" - meaning, the sunroom (aka the learning room) and family room. I decide to start in the sunroom since it's just SO lovely out I can have the windows open while I work ...

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My cleaning routine goes something like this: de-clutter/tidy, sweep, vacuum, dust/wipe.

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If I'm able to have windows open all the better for airing out the room, too!

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I leave the table set with things for Earlybird to see and work on today ...

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Just as I finish tidying this room, I am hailed by Bookworm and Little Bear to "Come see what they found!" I will spare you this picture though, since what they found was most surely a rather disgusting owl pellet! Fascinating, for sure ... but also, quite gross. 

NOONTIME

Michael is off and it's time for lunch! Bookworm brings Little Bear inside and sees to his washing up, while I set about making lunch for the younger boys.

LUNCH: popcorn, lemonade, cheese quesadillas, apple slices and fig cookies.

I also keep an eye on the noontime news - it seems we have quite a storm heading our way!

Earlybird's second therapy session begins once Gideon arrives. They head out to the sunroom to start in on his homeschool assignments and various other life skills activities. I clean up after lunch - with Little Bear's help, natch - and then LB and I settle in for a bit of reading time in the living room. He's really into "The Magic School Bus" right now and as you can imagine we have quite a few of those in our collection!

(Note: I need to read with Little Bear where Earlybird can't hear us since he has a strong aversion to people reading aloud, singing, talking too much. We're actually working on desensitizing him of this sensory challenge and some days one of his therapy activities is simply to listen to me read aloud (with or without LB present, depending on EB's current mood). We do this for a few minutes or pages at a time. Otherwise, LB and I read aloud when EB is elsewhere in the house or otherwise engaged with his therapists.) 

1:00 p.m.

I leave Bookworm home with EB and Gideon while Little Bear and I head out to pick up Crackerjack from class and run to the library. But first, I pour my fresh cup of tea into a travel mug! Here is my bag sitting on the seat next to me:

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It's not the most interesting picture, I just really love that bag! We have a few books and videos to return and I have a couple of holds waiting for me.

We pick up CJ - who as you can probably tell from this picture, had a karate lesson after Spanish!

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(We're very fortunate to have an active homeschooling community where we live. CJ, like Bookworm before him, has been able to take classes with other homeschoolers at a couple of different locations. This has made a huge impact on our high school homeschooling. I plan to do a separate post about our homeschool approach in the high school years ... now that Bookworm is actually OUT of college and Crackerjack is making plans to attend in the fall.)

Ok, we're now off to the library! We are here at least once a week - to make returns, pick up holds and sometimes just to browse. Today I allow Little Bear to pick out a video or two. He has a hard time choosing and finally decides on Reading Rainbow and The Adventures of Clutch Powers. (He is SO into Legos right now!)

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Before we leave, Crackerjack points out a book he thinks looks nice for Little Bear, Shelter. It is indeed absolutely lovely, and I make a note to add it to my November planner for "hibernation" week. (I scribble myself a note on the index card attached to my little planner and then transfer that note to my seasonal planner back home.)

A few minutes later we are back home, and heading inside, but Little Bear wants to feel the soft buds of the magnolia tree ...

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He is enchanted by the texture - though somewhat dismayed when he plucks the bud off the tree without meaning to! I reassure him the tree is fine and suggest he place the bud on our nature table. 

First though, LB takes a closer look under his "microscope!"

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He places the bud on top of his bowl of moss-dirt.

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"Doing science." πŸ˜‰ This little magnifyer was a wonderful purchase! It has served us very well for several years.

Btw, here are the books I had on the hold shelf:

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The Dance of Time is right up my alley - I LOVE learning about the calendar! I forget where I heard about it, but I decided it would be an interesting book to check out! The Vanity Fair Diaries is not something I'd normally read, but I saw its author, VF editor-in-chief Tina Brown interviewed on Greater Boston one evening last month and thought it all sounded quite intriguing! (We don't watch a lot of TV, but Bill and try to catch GB every weeknight - plus Beat the Press on Fridays as well as the wonderful Rick Steves' Europe also on PBS!)

3:00 p.m.

Now, time for a break! We sit in the family room for a bit - and yes, the TV goes on! Nature Cat and Wild Kratts are favorites and while Little Bear watches, I work on my plans for next week (and the weekend) and enjoy a rather large cup of tea!

Here's where we crash for a bit ...

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I just love this east-facing window - it gets wonderful morning light, and the cardinals just love those spruce trees! The couch is a bit beaten up (though only a few years old) but it's quite comfy. :)

Just as I decide to put off the rest of my "Thursday chores" I hear a car pull up the drive ... and we are all thrilled to see it's my brother - aka Uncle Matt!

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We have SUCH a nice visit with my brother ... as usual, he spoils us with a bunch of Trader Joes treats (he's a TJ's manager) and a new game for family game night! He doesn't need to bring a thing of course, it's just great to spend time with him. :)

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And this right here is why I'm so grateful to be at home, and that I live close to my family. My life is a simple one, but it brings me tremendous joy! 

❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀‒❀ 

Now I will confess, I got off track a little at this point - I stopped taking pictures and jotting down notes! But here's my recollection of the rest of our Thursday, March 1st ... :)

4:00 p.m.

After Matt left, I started in on my usual afternoon tidy. And by started in on, I mean, I didn't get through it all. (I almost never do!) "Afternoon tidying" includes sweeping the kitchen, prepping supper, neatening the kitchen sink and counters and wiping up the half-bath in the foyer. It's really great when I do make time for these simple tasks because they greatly impact not only the way I feel in the evening but especially how my next morning goes. 

Meanwhile, the boys were all over the house doing their usual things. I can (and do) often ask the older boys to keep an eye on Little Bear if I need to take a shower or work on a project of one kind or another.

I neatened up the learning room a little, by organizing the materials used and lessons completed. Then I turned off the space heater and lights and locked the door for the night.

6:00 p.m.

Bill got home around 6 p.m. and as usual, we sat down to supper right away. This is one of my favorite moments of the day - when we can all catch up and chat.

SUPPER: potato-leek soup (not homemade), grilled ham and cheese panini, steak fries, salad.

Once supper was eaten and dishes cleared, we all retreated to our comfort zones - the boys to their devices and Bill, Little Bear and I to the family room. Generally Bill and I like to watch a little TV at this time of night (as described above) before I head upstairs (planner bag in hand!) to tuck Earlybird in bed. (Because unsurprisingly, Earlybird loves an early bedtime!)

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My planner bag with all the things I'll need in the morning!

8:00 p.m.

Tucking EB can be a process - some nights he needs "two more minutes" multiple times! - but usually it doesn't take too long, since he's such an early riser. After washing up and getting my own "PJs" on, I readied all the beds for sleep and then let Bill know it was time to bring Little Bear upstairs. After washing up and donning "footie" pajamas, he snuggled into Mama and Daddy's bed to hear his special bed stories. Currently he loves hearing these three books before bed. :)

While Bill and Little Bear read, I read my own book until my lids grow heavy ... and next thing I know, everyone's asleep, save for the older two boys who are in charge of their own bedtimes these days! 

10:00

Zzzzzzz ....

GOOD NIGHT!

Well my friends, I hope you enjoyed this peek into our day! It was a very long post to be sure, but then - our days tend to be pretty long! (And of course, I tend to be wordy!) But as always, I thank you very much for joining me here today, and I wish you all a pleasant week's end ...

See you here again very soon!


Bits, Bobs & Mitten Strings ... ❀

Candle tea cup

Hello my friends, and Happy Monday Tuesday! I'm popping in today to share some Mitten Strings for God book study scheduling news, as well as a few other bits and bobs. :) I had meant to do this over the weekend, but alas ... life! And in particular, special needs parenting life. I won't get into the details of all that right now, but if I may ask for your prayers/good thoughts for Earlybird, who's having a rough time at the moment, I'd be sincerely grateful. β€

But on with the good stuff! First I'd like to share this quote from our next chapter in MSfG, "One-on-One Time" ...

MSfG quote bigger font

That is Little Bear of course, but the picture's a couple of years old. (It's weird that I can say that about his pictures now. Wasn't he JUST a couple of years old himself?!) It was taken during a woodsy winter solstice walk, and technically, it wasn't a "one-on-one" outing - because Bill was there, too! But I feel like this kind of picture represents the quiet times I spend connecting with LB apart from the bustle of everyday life. For this outing, we had left the noise and demands of the household behind us for a bit and it was a wonderful thing - to just focus on LB and his dear developing personality, to watch his funny expressions and listen to his very interesting thoughts. Young children have such a wonderful perspective on life, don't you think? And that's not to say I don't enjoy time spent with each of my boys, but I find myself alone with Little Bear most often these days. Spending one-on-one time definitely comes with more conscious effort as the kids grow older ... they get busy, and seem less enthralled with what their parents might have to say ... but more thoughts on all this at our next MSfG Tea!

And speaking of! Our next Mitten Strings for God study/tea will take place on Friday, February 16th. It's a bit later than I originally proposed, but I am trying to be very honest with myself about my free time - eg. how much I do and don't have! (Not nearly as much as I'd like but that's just the season of life that I'm in!) So please join me a week from this Friday for a wee chat and a winter's tea here at the blog. Let's talk about chapter 12, and the importance of making time for each of our children - while appreciating each of them for who they are. (As the mother of four sons I can honestly say that children are all just SO different, even same gender siblings raised in the very same way!)

Now, this might be a tricky chapter for me, because I don't think we (as in, Bill and I) do exceptionally well with this concept. As homeschoolers I think there's a bit of the feeling that "well, we spend tons of time together, anyway!" And special needs parenting comes into this, too - the demands it places on family life and the effects it has on maintaining balance - not to mention, sibling relationships. So I have some deep reading and thinking to do ...

As always, I'll be very eager to hear all of your thoughts on this, too! I invite you to send me those thoughts (with or without photo) or just chime in at the post itself. All are welcome to join this ongoing book study! (And at this rate we'll be talking about Mitten Strings all year!)

Now, while I'm here, I thought I'd share some photos from the past couple of weeks, beginning with Little Bear's first visit to the Lego Store ...

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Can you even believe how big he's getting? Granted, we're all crouched down around him, but he's truly getting quite tall. And the way he's talking has changed, you know? Even the way he walks is different now. It's a little heartbreaking how quickly time flies when our children are small ...

Well, about those Legos ...

Last fall, Little Bear - already a huge Duplo fan - discovered the extra-special magic of building with REAL Legos. Like the ones that BIG boys (and girls) build with. He's just four, so he's a bit young for such Lego building - they can be frustrating for little hands - but he's handling it pretty well and just loving all the creating and getting his biggest brothers (longtime Lego fans themselves) to help him out. I love this picture above because it's me with my Lego kids, big and small. And not to keep harping on the "time-flying" thing, but I swear those older boys were just the "little" Lego kids in my house. I certainly have the zillions of Legos to prove it - stashed in the attic AND the basement - not to mention the scars on my feet!

So since I'm now a bonafide 18 years + Lego Mom, I bought myself a minifig for my key ring ...

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That's "Rey" from Star Wars, in case you were wondering! :)

Now, here are some books from my "Deep Winter" basket ...

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Books that had gone MISSING because  - well, I'm not sure why they went missing. It's a bit of a mystery! Usually I'm very careful about our seasonal book collections, but somehow last year our Deep Winter and Early Spring bin got divvied up and the books ended up here and there in our basement. *GASP* Thankfully though, I found them all on Candlemas morning (Feb. 2nd) just in the nick of time to celebrate Groundhog Day!

But to back up a day, here are some pics from our February 1st, also known as "St. Brigid's Day," a lovely feast we enjoy celebrating each year ...

Butter

Firstly, by making our own butter! (St. Brigid, is patroness of Ireland and dairymaids.) This is that ol' marble-and-cream-in-a-ball-jar trick - the one the children think is SO cool until they realize just how hard and how long they have to shake that dang jar! (Mama gets quite an arm-workout on Brigid's Day, let me tell you!) We like to serve the smidgen of butter we end up making with our bread rolls at supper. Daddy always makes sure to be suitably impressed!

We also like to make a Brigid's Cross for this feast, a craft I've only in recent years gotten the hang of ...

Soaking rushes

We started with "rushes" from our yard. (Actually, dried ornamental grass, but they work!) Because the material was rather stiff though, we soaked them in snowmelt for about an hour before attempting to weave our cross.

(And note I said, "cross," not "crosses." Clearly we gathered enough grass to make several crosses, but in truth I overestimated the interest and energy levels of my children and their mama!)

Here's the end result:

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Now this was Brigid's Day morning ...

Muddy melty

Muddy, melty and the ground still smattered with snow ...

Ice

Not to mention ice once the temperature dropped! February can be a fickle month in New England, but mostly it's just cold and snowy ... and cold.

And YET ...

Eggs

Our hens have started laying again!! To me that's a sure sign spring is in the air ... or at least, in the amount of light we are getting every day. (Which has been increasing every day since the winter solstice.) I try to keep my senses very keen to the nuances of each season and I can tell you - the light is changing, and the bird song is different ... and yes, the air smells a little different on those drippy days. I feel certain that spring is stirring in the woods, underneath the half-frozen ground, deep inside those tough yet tender branches ...

Meanwhile, back inside ...

Archie in basket

Archie is purrfectly content (sorry, had to) soaking up the afternoon sun, spending his winter days in a cozy basket. Even when said basket is not meant for him (but rather, my books) Archie considers it fair game.

But really, how could I move him?

So instead I set up at the kitchen table a little to the left ... 

Cirtus week

And worked in my homemade planner to iron out some lesson plans for the week ahead. The current week's seasonal theme? Winter citrus ... :)

Last shot:

Daffs

My kitchen window yesterday morning. It was so bright and beautiful and the air was a balmy 40Β° ... I allowed myself to focus on these delightful daffs and those fresh eggs from my hens. It made washing dishes a little less of a chore and a bit more of a blessing ... I was home, I had my family to care for, and that sunshine was so good for my soul ...

Oh, and by the way - the first picture in this post is a shot of my writing desk, with a teacup candle I made for Candlemas. Very easy to do with a bit of beeswax and a simple wick ... I think I have a post that explains how this works somewhere here, hang on ...

Yup! Here it is. Same method, just a different vessel this year! :)

Well, my friends, I'd best be off now ... but I wish you all well and thank you, as always, for joining me! I hope you enjoyed these rambling thoughts and photos and I look forward to chatting once again in the not so distant future! For now though, enjoy these lingering winter days, and please take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I'll see you here again very soon!


Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 11, "Stories"

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! I am so glad to be back here at the blog with you all! I know my posting has been quite slow these past few months, but I hope - as we move forward into this bright and beautiful new year - I will be able to pick up a little blogging steam. So to begin with ... how are things in your corner of the world? How is Old Man Winter treating you? Are you reading any wonderful stories these days? I'd love to hear how you are if you have a moment to say hi ...

I am so excited to sit down with a cup of tea and dive back into our Mitten Strings for God book study. We left off last autumn with the chapter on "Wants and Needs" and so that brings us to the eleventh chapter, "Stories" and I'm quite eager to hear what you think! (And just as eager to tell you what I think!)

(Note: for those just joining us, here is the MSfG archive. All are welcome to participate as we read (and in some cases, re-read) this lovely little gem of a book about mindful mothering, slowing down, savoring life, and nurturing our children's ever-widening world. Feel free to chime in at any time and on any chapter!)

I should warn you though, this was, perhaps, my favorite of all the chapters, so this here post is a little *ahem* wordy ... but before we get into the chapter itself, I'd like to talk a little about my tea shown above. (Longtime readers know I love to "serve tea" whenever possible alongside my post!) My tea today ("English Teatime Decaf" - one sugar, whole milk) is served in one of my BIG ol' sturdy kitchen mugs. I enjoyed it at my sunny kitchen table this morning with my Mum (her tea is the rather bracing "American Breakfast" - no sugar, low fat milk). And, as you can see, Archie was not to be left out. ;)

So here's the thing about this chapter ... when I first read it (back in the early 2000s) I had a whole different concept of "storytelling" in mind, though I do love how it re-shaped my ideas. You see, I grew up listening to family stories told by my maternal grandmother, usually around her kitchen table - or sitting in her den, or in the car, or on the screened porch. Actually, it didn't matter where we were, she was always sharing stories from her life ... and I just loved them. I loved hearing her talk about her eight brothers and sisters and her beloved parents -  one from Ireland, one from Scotland - and the way life was back in her day ...

The big old house near the train station and the cousins that lived all over town. The animals they raised and the visiting they did and the personalities of each sibling. School days, work days and even a few family tragedies which to this day still haunt me when I think on them. But I especially loved hearing about my grandmother's life as a young mother and housewife ...

I was enthralled by the simplest stories about how she managed her home back in her day: the mending and tending, the cooking and cleaning, the serving and preserving and the storing and saving, etc. My grandparents came through the depression and built their own home in the 40s - a house still owned by my family today -and I was intensely fascinated by the cost-saving methods she used and continued to use in present day. She was, without a doubt, the best home-keeper I've ever known and even when I was a young girl I savored these homey bits of wisdom. I felt privileged (and proud) that she shared them with me, her eldest granddaughter.

(To this day, I just relish books that are full of these kinds of domestic details. Admittedly, I could read a whole book about one woman's housekeeping through the year. I'd find it so soothing and fascinating! Wouldn't you?)

My Gram also introduced me to tea (along with my Grampa who was just a big a tea drinker as Gram, if not bigger!), so in my memory, all these family tales were spun at their kitchen table over cups of black tea served in Gram's best Irish china. (Grampa, of course, would take his tea in a giant porcelain mug.) I know this is where my fondness for tea drinking began - and to this day I connect my favorite beverage with comfort, love, inspiration, contentment ... and stories. ❀

But I'm getting wildly off-track and I think it's time I started in on the chapter at hand!

Stories for me as I've said were rooted in family and so that's where I began with my children. When I first read MSfG (a fortunate find through the Chinaberry catalog if I recall) I was so taken by many of Ms. Kenison's ideas. As new and fairly eclectic homeschoolers, I found Waldorf education appealed to me deeply, and much of the ideas Ms. Kenison describes in this book resonate with this methodology. (She even references Waldorf Education resources in her final notes to her readers.)

At this time my children were small - we had just a couple of boys at the time - which was kind of fun for me because the Kenisons also had two boys, though when I first read the book they were a bit older than my own small lads. But a big part of my enjoyment of this book back then was the sense of reading another "boy mom's" thoughts, and one who seemed to find the same things important that I did. A mom who was trying to gently shape her family's world in a way that made sense and felt right ... and who seemed to truly have it all - or mostly - together.

So when I first read that eleventh chapter, I immediately thought, YES - yes, of course! Stories! Our boys will grow up hearing stories. 

I already knew of course they'd be surrounded by good books and that we'd work on our observation skills and staying connected with nature ... but the concept of telling stories - not just reading them - was fascinating to me! Eager to jump in (I was already looking up local storytelling groups I might join) I instead started small with familiar tales (of the folk and fairy kind), plentiful at the library but also firmly in memory. Then as I stretched my creative muscles I found I especially enjoyed creating nature stories - little tales that brought the world around us alive. Tales that marked the changes in weather, the flora and fauna in our surroundings, the sky and the earth and the four seasons themselves. Over the years I've told stories of all kinds and from all kinds of prompts, but nature stories still remain my very favorite. :)

Storytelling was going quite well for some time, but then our third son was born with special needs and one of his challenges was an intense dislike of being read or (worse) sung to. So fingerplays were out - as were puppets and most overtly imaginative play. I scaled back on the weekly group storytime and tried to slip in tiny bits of story magic where I could ... and leaving things open-ended seemed to appease him:

"Look! That crafty spider in the stone wall is peeking out of his home today ... I wonder what he's up to?"

"Hmmm, the apples are hanging very low on this tree ... who might come along and take a nibble?"

"The air smells a bit like woodsmoke today ... I wonder who's tending a fire?"

Sometimes these tiny prompts would garner a short answer or brief look-see - but sometimes they sparked some real interest and we were able to expand a bit on the theme. I had to watch how far I took it though - often I'd get a: "MAMA! That's enough!!!" 

And then, as life happens, the older boys got older and EB got older too, and less interested in hearing anything resembling a story. So we kind of put storytelling on hold ...

But then along came Little Bear ... ❀

So storytelling, I'm very happy to report has been revived in our family once again! And not just for LB (though at 4 yo, he's clearly my biggest fan) but for Earlybird, too. He's becoming less rigid and more open to listening activites - though I still have to do sing-songy things with LB when EB is out of the room. (I won't get into this too much right now, but blessedly three years ago we began a new and daily therapy routine with amazing caregivers who are working with EB to help him relax and allow for more creative experiences. But that's a post for another time!)

Storytelling for the older boys has continued through the years but in ways that are more similar to my own childhood experience - via family tales at the kitchen table. :) To this day supper is always a family affair though Earlybird is excused to eat in the other room because the sound of chewing is too much for him. So the older boys and Little Bear and Bill and myself gather at our kitchen nook table every night (and at lunchtime often too) and naturally we often find ourselves sharing stories. Shared memories, old memories, interesting tales we heard somewhere, sometime ...

I think for many families, storytelling seems easier when the children are younger and I agree that's true ... but I don't think stories have to go away once kids are old enough to own a phone or a computer. Once upon a time families gathered around the hearth to while away the evening hours - nowadays of course people are busy with activities that more often than not take them outside the home or pull their attention away from the family circle. But if your family is used to gathering together at recurring times of the day or week, it's relatively easy to begin sharing memories or reliving fun times. I think the family table makes for a comfortable storytelling space and the enticement of good food never hurts! I love the habit of Sunday dinner with the expectation that all who can make it will ... and with the promise of a delicious meal the audience will be even more receptive! Car rides, too, are a good opportunity for story-sharing as are neighborhood walks.

If storytelling appeals to you as much as it does to me, you might find this book a worthy read, as it expands on the ideas in this chapter and is just chock-full of storytelling inspiration!

Storytellingn with childrne

Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon is another one of those books I've had for many years and as you can see, it's quite battered - but beloved! (I share a few pics of the insides further down in this post.)

Now, I'm pretty sure I could quote this entire chapter, but I tried my best to narrow it down to a few favorites. ;-)

"Years ago, parents told stories to children both to entertain them and to teach them about the world's complexities. But we lost the art of storytelling when we lost that sort of open-ended time with our children, the reflecting, wondering, watching time that gives rise to stories." (71)

Speaking of wonder then, I had to snap a picture of Little Bear today in his rather fitting sweatshirt:

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"Never lose your sense of wonder." A cute and comfy Target find! Stories will percolate in your mind and trip off your tongue if you leave yourself open to wonder. That's the cool thing about wonder - the urge to share it is powerful! :)

(Little Bear's in mid-story himself here. Something about a Lego ship and a very stormy sea.)

As I read through this chapter, I was amazed by how easily storytelling seemed to come to Ms. Kenison - but then I realized she was intentionally opening herself up to the experience - by paying attention to the world around her, "observing the minute particulars of a season, a day, a moment ..." (p. 73)

She goes on to admit:

"... whenever I feel that my story well has run dry, it is only because I have not been paying enough attention to my life."' (p. 77)

I think this is a wonderful example of why this book has so many ideas that make sense for all of us - not just parents. Making time in our life to pay attention to the world around us - practicing mindfulness, connecting with others, reflecting - is something that tunes us all in to our inner voice. Children benefit from this certainly, but so might we all:

"And so for my own sake, as well as for my sons', I stop then, and breathe deeply and look more closely." (p. 77) 

Whether or not we go on to tell stories I think it's a worthy practice to cultivate: to slow down and be fully present with ourselves and our loved ones.

Another quote that clicked for me:

"The stories that seemed most satisfying were often the simplest ones - they made us feel alive and part of things, they fed us and made us happy." (p. 73)

I have found this to be true. Sometimes I spend a good chunk of time crafting a potential storyline to go along with a seasonal theme - for example, it's "snow" week so I'm cobbling together snowflake tales - when in truth, the quick impromptu tale I spin as we notice something in the here and now delivers the most sincere and memorable lesson. I find this kind of storytelling more honestly connects us with the world around us at that moment, and what a feeling it is to be part of the here and the now!

In truth, this kind of storytelling takes very little time - I think sometimes we make things out to be a bigger production than they are - but time is such a hot commodity these days!

"Real stories take time. They require, first, that we lay our own concerns aside for a while and open ourselves to the present moment." (p. 71)

Another lovely lesson to take from this chapter - perhaps the best of all - is that in storytelling we are first and foremost, making time to be with our children. We are doing something specifically FOR them with nothing more than the efforts of our hearts and minds. (Finger puppets and story props notwithstanding.) I think most parents are well aware of the need to make time to be present with our children, but let's be honest. Even when we're not doing anything else but sitting alongside our children, our minds aren't totally turned off. Maybe they're just set on pause, perhaps unconsciously listening for that ping or that ring ... for any reason that we might be recalled to the "adult" world where serious things need to be done. These days we are all so mentally busy, concerning ourselves (sometimes overly so) with what we need to do, where we need to go, what to read, watch, and yes - even post on social media. Even when we're not doing any of those things, they're percolating there in the back of our minds. It can be a real challenge to just turn all that off and give our kids the kind of time we know would deeply benefit them.

 That's getting a little heavy though, so here's a lighter thought:  

"A candle helps create that ritual space; somehow, a flame invites inspiration while also reminding teller and listener alike of the sacred nature of this work." (p. 71)

This was the storytelling candle I bought EONS ago when my older boys were quite young ...

Candle for stories

I'm pretty sure I bought it at a local Waldorf School Holiday Faire. It's a heavy thing, made of solid beeswax and so very sweet-smelling! Just the whiff of it brings me right back to those early years with my older boys. I had always meant to decorate this with symbols of the four seasons, but never mustered up the courage to do it! (Modeling wax and me have never been the best of friends. It requires warm hands and a very patient nature!) Well, I brought this candle out of retirement recently after re-reading this chapter and then lit it late this afternoon just ... well, because. I was alone in the room as I cleaned up the worktable ... but as you can see, the sky was growing dark outside. The wind was picking up and tree limbs were shaking ... the hen light was on in the coop ...

Not surprisingly, I felt a story forming!

The use of a candle in storytelling is touched upon in the aforementioned Mellon book as well:

Candle for storytelling

I can't help but share a couple more pictures from her wonderfully illustrated book, this first was the page I was reading today, soaking up some wintertime inspiration ...

Winter stories

And this one shows how lovely the illustrations are in this book!

Aprons

This chapter was where years ago I got the inspiration to make this ...

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My storytelling apron. :)

I started with a plain (inexpensive) crafter's apron, and I thought to add some pretty iron on patches (representing nature) but I have yet to get around to that part! I use the pockets for the elements of my story - often finger puppets, but also, wooden toys, natural items such as acorns or feathers, or perhaps a painted story stone. I use cute wooden clips to attach extra things like the wooden snowflake and felt leaf shown here. Tucked inside the large pocket is some white woolen felt ... all these items were part of a story I formulated for this week's seasonal theme, "under the ice." I imagined a wintry pond and the creatures that live in, and around, it having to handle a particular harsh winter. (Of course, had we encountered mild temps this week I would have tweaked the plot to include a January thaw!) 

I love to come up with my own stories because I like to tap into our own home habitat, but I do find inspiration in lots of places! These books are longtime favorites:

Kindergarten books brighter

I bought these through a Waldorf education website, but you can easily find them at Amazon. They are filled with poems, verses, songs and stories for young children (kindergarten I believe is the target audience, but I think they work well with all ages). As you can see, they're organized by season and I find them invaluable when writing up lesson plans for our seasonal homeschooling.

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter

Here are some of my favorite storytelling prompts:

Story stones

Story stones - sometimes painted with words, or simply with pictures.

Wooden toys

Wooden toys - lots of animals, from all different kinds of habitats!

Fairy tales

Fairy tale books such as these beautifully illustrated examples are wonderful storytelling resources! (Waldorf education has a whole schedule for which stories match up with which grade levels.) I also have many hardcover collections of traditional fairy tales: English, Russian, German, Scandinavian, etc. I just picked up a wonderful retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at the library today, because we are studying Norway this month and this is a great example of that country's rich folktale tradition.

Speaking of this old tale, look who popped up in our learning room mailbox this week!

Billy goats gruff

This mailbox has been a fantastic tool for storytelling in our homeschool! I enjoy coming up with different prompts to match our weekly seasonal theme, but these goats went along with our library book this week. Often I tell stories while the boys are working on a craft of some kind ...

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:)

Other prompts I use: our nature shelf treasures, our backyard - bird feeders and gardens, the scribblings in my own nature journal, a large collection of finger- and hand- puppets (as I've shown you all many times before!). If you'd rather not paint stones as I do, you could write words on cards and use them to inspire your children's creativity. Or how about starting story ... and then asking your children to work on the next part? A fun activity with a collection of picture stones - sit around the fire on a soft summer's night and pass around a bag of story stones. Each storyteller takes a turn creating a new page in the tale! 

Well, as you can see, I have a real soft spot for this chapter, and if I could, I'd go on ... but I am going to stop now because I've kept you all here so very long! I hope you enjoyed my post and I hope you are enjoying this book if you are reading along! I'd LOVE to hear from you if you have a moment. Please share your thoughts on this chapter (or topic) or just pop into the comments to say - hey! It's always lovely to hear from you. :)

Before I go a final word about storytelling. I have found it to be one of the most rewarding activities I've done with my children. It has created for us so many tender moments, and for me, so many treasured memories. These are dear times when we are quiet together, the boys listening only to their mama's voice and their mama pushing herself outside her comfort zone ...

It's humbling to ask my young fellas to stop, listen and appreciate the words I'm offering ... the story I'm crafting. It's an honor to have such a rapt and sincere audience. Most of all, what I love about telling my children stories is that I'm sharing a glimpse into my own imagination and the great love I hold for this world. For in every story told the teller reveals a little (or perhaps a lot) of themselves. When my children remember our storytelling days, that's what I hope they best remember.

"Telling a story is really a way of  breathing deeply with our children. Taking that deep breath, exhaling, and putting ourselves at the mercy of something universal, we allow our own voices to become instruments of our souls." (p. 72)

I wish you all a lovely weekend! I'll be back again soon with a long-promised planner post and details on our next MSfG discussion!


Advent Arrives in the Learning Room! ❀

Advent tags

Hello my friends, and Happy Monday! And Happy first week of Advent, as well. I'm feeling a little better this week and I thank you all for your kind words and prayers. I will be slowly catching up with things around here and hope to be back on track soon. I hope you are all doing well, too!

Today I'd like to share some of the ways we're bringing Advent to our learning room this year. I am especially excited about the beautiful wooden tree Bill made for us - modeled after one I spied at HomeGoods recently. When I first saw that tree at HGs I thought two things ... ONE, that it would be perfect for the learning room, and TWO, that Bill could easily make it! (Which he did, God bless him.)

At the time I wasn't sure what exactly I'd do with it, but then things started clicking into place and I came up with a plan ...

And not surprisingly it involves nature!

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I think you all know how much we love nature in my family and that we love infusing our faith traditions with simple nature-connections. This Advent season I decided to work with a theme of "All Creation Waits" and since we have many lovely wooden animals in the learning room I thought I might start there ...

But as with any plan, I had to flesh it all out on paper - and post-its!

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I decided to tell short simple stories using these toys, reflecting the traditional weekly Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love ... with the overarching theme of seeking or waiting for something (someone). I sorted through all our wooden animals and decided how each one would fit into the story schedule, and then I made up a sort-of storyboard, shown above.

I placed little stickers on the figures and then put them all in a basket ...

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... covered them up with a pretty starry-night playsilk and set that basket aside.

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Each day Little Bear looks in his basket to find the day's creature(s) and sets them on the Advent Tree. And as he places them on that little ledge, I tell a very brief, simple story. I have these stories mostly written out, and they meander from farmyard to woodland to wider global habitats. I even splurged a little and bought a few new figures that will show up throughout the season - I think Little Bear will be very pleased!

(By the way, we bought most of our wooden toys at Nova Natural many years ago, and last week I ordered new figures from Bella Luna Toys. Both New England-based companies are wonderful.)

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I'm happy to report that four days in - it's been well received! I love how these figures look on the natural wood of the tree, with that cute colorful rug just beneath!

Now, because Earlybird cannot handle storytelling for sensory reasons, I decided to come up with a different Advent plan for him, and the family as a whole. I brainstormed 24 very simple activities (again reflecting nature and faith themes) and then set up a daily "reveal" system I thought EB would enjoy.

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I used the learning line for these small cards and some very cute snowflake clothespins I found at Target ($5 for a package of 12).

(If you are interested, here is a PDF I made up with my notes for our Advent activities: All Creation Waits❀)

Here is the results of today's Advent tag - gathered branches for St. Barbara's Day!

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(Come Christmas, these branches *should* be blooming. It's worked every year!)

Here's a better look at our Advent Tree ...

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I will rotate the Christmas books displayed here each week ...

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I have a cheery red rolling-bin for the bulk of our books!

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Here's a sweet little board book called, The Animals' Advent ...

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We're using this countdown, too! 

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My sidebars are woefully out of date, but I'll try to share our Advent & Christmas book collection with you all soon!

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I just love this tree, and can see that there would be many different ways to use it. (Bill made the ledges easily moveable.)

Here is Little Bear holding up today's Advent animal .. the goat!

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Goat and his "kid" had a nice little story to tell ... new at the farm, Kid was hoping for a special friend to play with (as was Calf in the previous story). He was also hoping for a chance to run about and jump ... and so didn't my boys find some branches and stumps set up in the backyard for doing just that? (Our neighbors have the loveliest trio of goats and we're quite fond of them. I based this story on some of their clever antics!)

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Here's how the first figures are lining up on the bottom shelf of the Advent Tree ...

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The lights are so pretty, aren't they? Another Target find - $9.99 a box for a 9-foot line of lights. I used two to outline the tree.

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December days are surely dark, but oh - those lights! They lend an air of magic and joy to each and every day of Advent. β€

More Advent lights and sights around our home to come soon. And fingers-crossed, I'll be hosting our first Advent Tea this Sunday! For now though, I wish you all well - and a very Happy Advent! - and will hope to see you all here again soon. :)


Tea & Mitten Strings: Ch. 8, "Secret Places"

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday! I hope you all are having a nice weekend, and I hope my fellow Americans enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving! Ours was quite nice - and I do have some pictures to share - but for now, I'd like to serve one last cup of Autumn Tea and talk about our next chapter in Mitten Strings for God, chapter eight, "Secret Places." 

Now, despite the "Christmassy" look of my tea pic above, it actually is still Autumn! But I think most of us are switching gears at the moment ... tucking away Thanksgiving (and maybe Halloween) decor, and working on our December calendars and this year's holiday plans ...

But outside my window the world still looks very autumnal! There are crunchy leaves underfoot, and some still clinging to the mostly bare trees ... and oh, those late, glowing sunsets! But the chipmunks have gone underground now - we realized that the other day, shortly after we spotted our first dark-eyed junco on the front lawn. These two species disappear (the former) and reappear (the latter) around the same time each year and it's always a highlight in our household - right along with that first hard morning frost!

Who saw the first junco? Has anyone seen a chipmunk lately? Wow the grass is crunchy this morning!

Autumn's ending ... winter's nearing ... it's time to turn inward and "switch on the lights." β€

Here's a peek at our Saturday afternoon, roundabouts 3:00 ... 

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See how dark it gets around here?! And though my Little Bear is wearing a winter jacket in this picture, the temperature was strangely mild today - very near 60Β°! And, according to our local forecast, all next week is looking unseasonably mild as well - which doesn't bode well for our pre-assigned seasonal theme of "Welcome, Jack Frost!" Lol, we may be hard pressed to celebrate "frosty weather" next week, with highs near 50Β° ... though the nights will dip down to the 20s, so there is hope! (I contemplated switching themes, but I think we'll stick with it ... and if it stays mild we'll talk about how elusive that ol' winter sprite can be at this time of year!❄️ )

(p.s. The wooden structure is an Advent project in the works - more to come next week on that!)

Ok, enough with the weather talk now, let's talk about tea! This week I'm drinking my favorite decaffeinated black tea in a sweet mug I bought at Home Goods a year or so ago. It's a good sturdy mug that holds a nice amount of tea - and I love the bright red letters spelling out HOME - and the four birds heading straight for it!

(Note - I find the cutest mugs at HomeGoods for very little money. Well, they're not free or anything - as Bill would remind me - but they're a nice enough price I don't mind splurging once in a while! πŸ˜‰ )

So I took my tea yesterday in our sunny kitchen nook while filling out my December calendar -  because GOODNESS the new month arrives Friday! (Calendar post to come soon!) And though most Advent calendars begin on December 1st, technically, according to the liturgical calendar, Advent begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which in 2017 is December 3rd. And that's a week from today!

Either way you look at it though - whichever calendar you follow - Advent is coming - and SOON!

Before we get on with our chapter talk though, and speaking of tea and Advent, I have to share this with you all ...

Advent teas

This is MY Advent calendar this year, an extremely generous and incredibly thoughtful gift from a dear friend! It arrived in a wonderful surprise package last week, a lovely and festive box filled with special teas for each and every day of Advent ... 24 in all! I am so excited to try them all, and I love the inspiration they represent - a perfect reason to sit down and savor a few quiet moments each day throughout the season ... to soak it all in and think it all through. Advent goes so fast and we can easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle ... but as we tea lovers know, a hot cuppa something special is all the invitation we need to slow down and press pause. I am planning my teatimes already and making room for these special moments in each day. I hope to share most, if not all, of these teas with you all on social media this Advent season!

Ok, let's now move on to our next Mitten Strings chapter ... and today we are discussing the concept of "Secret Places." Here is a link to my post from 2008 and once again I had a chuckle reading back through my thoughts back then. Different house, different (aged) kids (plus one more kid now) ... unsurprisingly things were so ... different back then! Our house has more floors and our yard now has more acreage - so there are more nooks and crannies to explore - but my primary "secret place finder" is only four years old! So I'll have to adapt the concept of a "hideaway" this time around ...

"Every child needs such a place, a place that invokes the processes of the imagination and the possibility of transformation. A place that is at once a haven from the adult world and a source of mystery and wonder, a place that a child can discover and shape and lay claim by virtue of his or her own quiet presence there, and deep observation." (p. 62)

Little Bear is just at the right age for seeking out such special, secret places - though again, he's too young to be left to his own devices just yet. I hope next spring to help him explore a little more around our property, to find some little nooks in which he might find "a sense of ownership and mystery," (p. 58).

Here is one such place he has taken a liking to recently ...

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As you can tell from my posts, we are surrounded by woods here - even our front yard has "a small wood" of its own! Well, Friday afternoon, as I walked down to get the mail (taking a break from Thanksgiving cleanup!), I heard Little Bear calling ...

"Mama, come see what I found! Come see, come see! Me and Daddy are here now!"

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A little nook right inside this cozy wood, just a slight dip down below our driveway ... with big, moss-covered rocks to climb and (unbeknownst to Little Bear) a vernal pond to explore come spring. (No actual peepers, though. Just lots of muck and murk.) I was so pleased he stumbled upon this spot which is clearly visible from the house but feels "secretive" to him. Four is such a great age, and LB has such an adventurous spirit ...

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This will make a fun, out-of-the-way place for him to explore ... and "claim."

"The best ones are the ones that children discover on their own, the ones that are imbued, from the very first, with a sense of ownership and mystery; places that no adult would ever think to go, that are hollowed by the shapes of small bodies and furnished by wild nature and rampant imagination." (pg. 58)

Kids are magnets for these kinds of interesting outdoor spots, especially when and if allowed to roam (and lead). Their sharp eyes see such possibilities! But winter is coming and the weather will soon be turning inhospitable; outdoor explorations will be put on the back burner for awhile ...

So as we spend more time indoors, I thought I'd take a look around the house and see where else LB might find his own special nooks ...

Here's a great place for a little "fort" ...

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In the library, where Mama reads (and drinks tea) ... in between the chair and the loveseat, just beneath the (rickety) end table. :)

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He'd be snuggled up right next to the heating register, too! And just under the tablecloth there, you see a glimpse of the cats' soft pet-bed. This is used mostly (always) by Oliver, who is our quieter of the two cats. (There's a reason you see Archie in most of my photos - he's my constant sidekick!) Oliver though, likes being out of sight and prefers being somewhere dark and warm. I'm thinking Little Bear could make good use of this space, too!

And here's another possible secret (ish) place ...

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Well, there's really nothing too secret about the loft bed in Little Bear's bedroom, but I think it has "secret place" potential ... maybe with a curtain of some kind providing some privacy ...

Loft bed 1

He's too young to sleep up here just yet (and he has a separate single bed in this room as well) but I think this will be great fun for him as he gets a little older and more adventurous! And there's that neat little cubby just beneath the bed as well ... currently it holds out-of-season clothing but that too could make a wonderful "fort" or hidey-hole someday!

You know, "Secret Places" was another wonderful chapter, with some lovely inspiration for those of us with young children ... but I think the whole idea of a "secret place" is of value to all of us. Our imaginations might not be quite so active as we age, but the need to feel out of the limelight and "off on our own" on occasion ... really never goes away.

"Children need their privacy just as we adults do. In the secret places of childhood, the soul drinks deeply, is refreshed, and flourishes." (p. 63)

Do you have a secret place you retreat to? Do your children have such places they call all their own? I'd love to hear about them and your thoughts on this chapter, if you have time! Or how about the weather where you are, or the tea you are drinking these days? Do you, like me, feel called to pour a cup of tea and "hide away" as the days grow dark and cold?

I'd love to read your comments if you have time to leave them, or send me a link, your thoughts and/or pics if you have a moment!

---> drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you and I thank all of you who have been reading along and sharing your thoughts as you can! Sorry I am a bit late in my replies - last week was a busy one! I will be catching up with you all again soon (and sharing some pics from our family's holiday too). Next week's Sunday post will be our first Advent Tea and very fittingly our chapter is all about "Wants and Needs." Something to ponder as we head into the busiest shopping time of the year, and choose gifts for our loved ones ...

So until then (or next time, whenever that may be) I wish you all well and a very lovely last week of November! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... 

See you here again very soon!


Seasonal Homeschooling: Pumpkin Week Recap!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Tuesday! 

I'm back again because I have SO many pictures of our pumpkin week, and I just have to share! If you're new to my blog you might be wondering what in the heck a "pumpkin week" is, so - just to explain briefly - every week of the year we explore an assigned seasonal theme as part of our homeschooling. These themes are a big influence on our younger boys' learning experience, but they also infuse our family's home life as well.

I won't go into the whole "why and how" of our seasonal homeschooling, but the important thing to remember about it is - it's more a guideline than a rule! :)

Sure, some weeks we do it up big (case in point, pumpkins!), but other weeks just fly by and we only casually observe our theme. We may be very busy that week, or it might be the theme is not quite as appealing as another might be. Well, pumpkins in October (as you can imagine) are a big hit with most children! And pumpkins lend themselves to all kinds of great learning experiences - whether they be in the disciplines of science, social studies, language arts, cooking, storytelling, etc.! It's very easy to plan for pumpkins - just type "pumpkin activities" into the Pinterest search bar and you'll hardly know where to start!

Well, personally, I start with our own book baskets and family calendar - then start plugging things into our weekly rhythm! Here's a glimpse at last week's planner page as I was just getting started ...

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It's important to my planning "psyche" that I incorporate seasonal awareness wherever I can! So divider pages are vintage reflections of seasons and holidays past, ribbons and washi (when I use them) are also seasonally inspired ... as are the font colors I use in each monthly section. I just loved how the light hit this bit of planning paraphernalia on my kitchen table ... :)

Books are pretty much the backbone of our homeschool, so one of the first things I did, as I planned out our week, was to comb through our autumn book bins and pull out any that had to do with pumpkins ...

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Not surprisingly there were a lot!

Then I got busy planning out activities that would potentially A. appeal to my kids and, B. fit well into our week. Post-it notes are helpful for me here - because due to the special nature of our very hands-on homeschooling (one preschooler and a special needs teen) - I need things to be, above all, flexible. It's impractical for me to plan out each day's to-dos a week in advance, though I do set a rhythm to our week. (Mondays are nature days, Tuesdays are crafting, Wednesdays are for storytelling ... etc.)

So on a drizzly Monday we kicked things off with a little pumpkin investigation!

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I had a sugar pumpkin "specimen" all ready and I found a neat worksheet for them to use (on Pinterest). I don't use worksheets with my preschooler very often but Little Bear does get a kick out of them! First thing he said when he saw this one was, "Mama, I need TWO crayons! Orange and green, please!" Then he got right down to coloring those pumpkins!

Once the REAL pumpkin was open though, he was all about the seed scooping ...

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My mum had come over that morning and with her help, and Earlybird's therapist's support, this science activity was a real hit with both my younger boys!

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Soon the sugar pumpkin was all scooped out and carved to the boys' specifications!

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While Little Bear scooped and colored, Earlybird answered the worksheet's questions:

Was the pumpkin big, small or medium?

Was it orange, yellow or white?

Was the outside smooth or rough?

How many lines were around it?

How many seeds did he think would be inside?

How many seeds WERE inside?

Did he think the pumpkin would sink of float in water?

(Spoiler alert: It floated!)

The next day was better for outside investigating so we headed into the backyard with magnifying glasses in hand. Recently - and curiously - we have one tiny pumpkin plant growing alongside the back of the house - and we didn't put it there! So I wanted the boys to look it all over and think a little - theorize - about how it might have sprouted up here if we didn't actually plant it.

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What was SUPER cool about this observation though, was nestled in the center of the plant itself, alongside the one tiny yellow pumpkin bump we found forming, was a milkweed seed! Just one fluffy little seed, and there it was all snuggled up next that budding pumpkin! We do have milkweed growing across the street, but we mused it would take quite an adventure for a seed so small and delicate to find its way all the way here to our tiny plant. (And we were just discovering milkweed last week!)

This "mystery" seemed to me the beginnings of a really neat nature story ... the tale of two wayward seeds. (More on that in a moment.)

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For a craft I had in mind for later, I set the boys to gathering the driest, crispiest, most colorful leaves they could find ...

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Well, you can imagine how Little Bear took this assignment to heart!

The next day we were back on the deck with a little "leaf glitter" craft in the works ...

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Here's Earlybird with his therapist, working on those fine motor skills ... and sensory issues ... and patience!

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I just drew simple pumpkin outlines on orange paper and then the boys traced those lines with glue. Final step - crumbling all those dried leaves to make "glitter" and sprinkling it all over their gluey pumpkins!

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(A craft for the outdoors, for sure!)

Back inside the learning room, here are the boys' pumpkins on display! :)

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Another neat pumpkin activity this week ...

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Pumpkin tic-tac-toe! I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew it would be a lot of fun - especially for our Halloween party coming up this weekend. Fingers crossed the day will be a nice one and I think folks will have fun trying their hand at this tabletop game! 

Back inside, at my kitchen table later in the day: a fortifying cup of tea and a little read-aloud ...

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How I love Tasha Tudor books, and this one especially. I decided to "splurge" and buy a new board book version for Little Bear. He 

And speaking of my LB, I just had to include this pic of him hugging our giant blow up jack-o-lanterns on the front lawn. Pretty much every day this fall, on our way in or out of the house, he just needs to hug his pumpkin friends!

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Now, as I've mentioned before, our weekly rhythm includes a day for storytelling. These little stories are usually simple tales I make up myself, using our own yard, critters, weather, the season itself, etc. as a prompt. I like to place items in the learning room mailbox that will introduce the story theme and offer a few items Little Bear can use to play with as I narrate the plot. Well, here's what he found in the mailbox last week!

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This is a soft pumpkin doll rattle - something we've had for nearly 20 years! It's kind of amazing it's stayed in relatively good condition. The boys used this when they were babies and then it joined our finger puppet stash. (We also have a carrot!) So today this sweet little fella was an adventurous pumpkin seed fairy and as you can see he was surrounded by airborne milkweed seeds! (Remember, my story was reflecting our recent backyard garden adventures!)

I also created a watercolor verse card for us to read aloud. I used a pretty poem I found online ...

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I'm creating a collection of these seasonal cards for our homeschool!

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Now, when I plan out our seasonal themes, I'm mostly following the natural cycle of the year, though I often tap into the liturgical or secular calendar as well. I assigned this week in mid-October as "pumpkin week" for obvious reasons - they're everywhere and on everyone's minds right now! - but it also tied in nicely with the annual showing of this family favorite ...

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Last Thursday night all my boys, save Earlybird who does not like Charlie Brown specials, gathered on our couch to watch that timeless classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Yes, we could watch it on DVD (or streaming?) anytime we'd like, but there's something really fun and special about watching "specials" when they're actually being shown!

(The boys were kind of blown away by the fact that *ahem* ... back in our day ... if you missed a special on the night it was shown, well you were just plum out of luck until next year! And there was no pausing or rewinding, either!)

Friday morning - quite serendipitously and generously - my brother stopped by the house with a WHOLE BUNCH of pumpkin goodness for the boys!

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My favorite item so far? The Apple Cider Jam! It's like Thanksgiving in a jar ... 

Now, we didn't get to all the activities I'd planned for the week, but that's perfectly ok. We did what worked and clicked this year - there's always next year for other experiences! On our "marketing" day we tried to find as many pumpkin products as possible at the grocer's and on "hearth and home" day we baked pumpkin donuts for tea. Over the weekend we were going to visit a local pumpkin patch - but unfortunately it was just WAY too busy for my younger guys. (Like, crawling with customers crazy!) I had in mind a far calmer, less commercial experience - so I'm hoping to arrange a quieter visit for my fellas sometime next week. Next year we hope to have a little patch of our own so this past weekend we decided where we'd like to plant it and got the soil prepared. There was also pumpkin French toast for breakfast Sunday morning!

So there's a little glimpse of our pumpkin week and all we got up to! Here's a peek at our learning line and seasonal bookshelves as I tidied them Sunday afternoon ...

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And here's a peek at THIS week's seasonal planner spread ...

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One thing I like to do - because it is of course what happens in nature - is have certain themes trickle into other weeks. So for instance, we did "autumn seeds" weeks ago, but as the fall unfolds there are plenty of opportunities to learn about and live out this theme more. Case in point - those milkweed (and pumpkin) seeds last week! 

This current week's theme is "goodnight, garden" and I like to tie that in with Halloween. To our ancestors, Halloween literally meant the very end of summer - the time to secure the harvest final crops and prepare the land for the cold, hard winter ahead. We clearly don't live quite that close to the land anymore, but I think activities that echo those ancient seasonal traditions often resonate with us instinctually. So this week we are (as you can see from my planner above!) walking the bounds of our property, harvesting the last of our herbs, clearing our garden beds, raking up leaves, tucking spring bulbs in the ground, gathering natural materials for a bonfire, and seeking God's blessings for our "little farm" as winter approaches ...

Come All Hallow's Eve next week we'll be a little more prepared for a season of deep cold and darkness - both practically and spiritually speaking!

✨ ❄️ πŸ‚ πŸŽƒ πŸƒ πŸ”₯ ✨

Well my friends, I guess I'd better wrap up now because once again I fear I've kept you here too long! But I hope you enjoyed this little peek at our pumpkin week. Remember this was an exceptional week - I had lots of plans, and happily the weather, our time, my energy and their interest levels all cooperated! Not every week is quite so "seasonal" but pumpkins were especially motivating - for my homeschooling kids AND their mama!

I will be back later this week with my weekly Autumn Tea - and as I announced here and on social media, we will be continuing on with our Mitten Strings for God book study at a slower pace than originally announced. This Friday we will be talking about chapter four, "Quiet," and I'll be serving up a spot of Halloween Tea ... AND I have a fun little announcement to make in regards to our MSfG re-read, so stay tuned - and please take care!

I'll see you here again very soon ...


Woodland Wonders & a Peek at our Week!

Hello my friends and Happy Weekend! In my last post I promised a closer peek at my weekly planner spread so I'm here to share just that! I'm also going to share some pics and collages from "the week that was" in our homeschool ... :)

This weeks spread woodland

First, as I think some or perhaps most of you know, this is a weekly spread in my homemade seasonal planner (the one I talk about A LOT). And as with the rest of this planner I created these pages in what I feel are this month's colors: orange, purple, brown and green. :)

I like a two-page weekly spread so I can really spread out all my writing ... so I placed a general overview on the left, and an agenda with notespace on the right. On the left page I have at the very top the dates of the week: October 9th through October 15th, 2017. I like to begin my weeks with Monday - it's just the way I "see" the week! Beneath that I have two boxes - one for listing the days and events Of Note this week, and one for noting the week's seasonal Theme (woodland).

Moving down the page we have Meal Planning (which I just lifted from October's menu calendar), and beside that are my House & Garden notes for the week. In this box I write any current tasks we're tackling as well as any seasonal chores. Next I have a To-Do This Week box which is obviously pretty self explanatory! I start this list by using last week's list then add to it through the week as things come up ...

On the bottom left hand corner of the page I have a box called, Crafts & Comforts and this is where I plan out my seasonal "living and learning" ideas. Some of these pertain to our homeschooling, some of them are "personal nourishment" activities, and some are home-centered. It was my desire for this kind of planning space - specifically devoted to seasonal activities - that prompted me to make my own planner! I kept looking for a planner design that included such things in its layout and/or had space I could easily convert for this purpose, but I could never find a planner to satisfy me! So ... I just up and designed something for myself! It's certainly not perfect but it works - and it makes me happy. :)

Anyhoo ... this week's "craft and comfort" ideas are "woodland" related and as you can see I check things off as we do them. It is a rare week we do ALL the things - I'm not sure we ever have, lol! - but I love to brainstorm these kinds of activities! (See pictures below for more info on that!)

Moving over to the next page of the spread now ... and here I'm planning out our Weekly Rhythm and Student Goals. I basically use the left-hand column for listing out the agenda, or schedule, for the week - where we are going, what's going on - and the right-hand column for notes re ~ homeschooling my younger boys. (Actually mostly the preschooler because - as I think I've blogged about before, I'll have to check - I have a whole different system for planning out Earlybird's special needs homeschooling and daily therapies. You know, I think I am due for another "special needs homeschooling" post ... it's been a while!)

And as you can perhaps see, I had a little water spill this past week on this planner page - ACK! - and the remaining October sheets got wet ... and wrinkled ... and well, all ugly, lol. You all know how much I love a smooth planner page! In light of all the troubles in the world right now this is very much small potatoes but it does bug me when my planner (any of my planners) gets wrecked in any way. So I added a little woodland washi tape to cover up some of the damage and resisted the rather STRONG urge to make the whole planner over again!

Now you might notice I like to use post-its for my pre-k planning and I really don't have a sufficient explanation for why - I just do. They help me think and move information around and maybe just relieve me from writing something down next to a day permanently that might not fit well. Plus, I just love post-its. I use them ALL the time, all over the place ... really, my post-it note obesssion might warrant its own post!

Ok, getting back to my planner spread - between today and tomorrow I will review these pages to see what can be moved forward and then work on next week's spread (seasonal theme: pumpkins!). I actually gave a little sneak peek of that spread at FB and IG today!

So that's a rather thorough overview of last week's planner spread! Now, how about some pictures of the week itself? :)

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As longtime readers probably know, our seasonal homeschooling in the younger years involves storytelling in a very big way. We mostly make things up, taking our cues from our own seasonal changes and weather events (an owl visit, a hurricane, a snowstorm or a meteor shower, for example), but sometimes favorite storybooks inspire tales and adventures amongst our rather large collection of wooden figures and finger puppets!

So here we have last week's "storytelling" day, when Little Bear found a cast of woodland characters and some leaf-print fabric in his learning room mailbox. I'd been telling LB an evolving story about a silly old bear who - confused by recent summer-like weather - started emptying his cave of all its warm, snuggly leaves, all while his woodland friends tried to persuade him to stop! "Silly old bear, Winter is coming! You'll need all those leaves to stay warm in the months ahead!" Finally, as night (and the temperature) fell, Bear realized his mistake, and sat down to cry beneath the bright crescent moon. But not to worry (and believe me, my Little Bear was worried!), the bear's friends all pitched in to help and filled his cave with plenty of leaves until his den was perfectly cozy once again. :)

(Next week's story takes place in a pumpkin patch, natch!)

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And here we have a little bit of what I like to call, "parkinglotschooling!" Lol, you've heard of carschooling, right? Well, while we were waiting to pick Crackerjack up from class one day last week, we decided to explore the woodsy lot around us. Little Bear found an old rotting stump and we watched all kinds of bugs crawl over and through it (ants, beetle, earwig) ... and investigated a rather yucky looking fungus that seemed to be spilling out of it. (Ew.) Little Bear enjoyed all of this very much - as did I  - and note the Lego contraption clutched firmly in his hand all the while!

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At home later in the week we spent a bit of our morning watching a grasshopper close-up. We have lots of these insects around here - from the teeny tiny springing juveniles of spring to the quick-jumping, wing-whirring adults of summer. But in autumn grasshoppers begin to slow down, especially as the days cool. This fella was on our patio doors, and the sun had not warmed him up yet much ... so we took advantage of the situation and spent a little time observing. One point up for debate - was it a grasshopper or a cricket? We had our suspicions, but needed to do a little research to be sure!

(I wish I had recorded Little Bear and Earlybird having this very debate - it got quite heated!)

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More "woodland" exploring ... our yard is full of trees of course, but the log pile is especially interesting! (Earlybird was doing this with us but wasn't captured in any photos. He actually got a little freaked out by a spiderweb and quickly moved on!)

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And one day we made nature windchimes - a fairly easy and quick craft made with mason jar lid rings, contact paper, twine and things we found around our yard. Truth be told I did most of it myself - the boys liked sticking things on the contact paper and carrying the branch around, but that was about it. (Branches are always a hit.) I found this idea on Pinterest, and this post has great instructions!

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Here's a quick peek in the learning room where our woodland books are assembled along the windowsills, beneath the weekly learning line ...

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And here we have Archie exploring the "bear cave" (an Amazon box turned on its side and draped with soft blankets). And that's Archie for you - never one to pass up a new nook or cranny to explore!

(And to answer a question that might have popped into your mind - no, our learning room is not always this neat! I find though, that having lots of designated storage space, has really allowed for relatively quick cleanups! Each basket seen in these pictures has a particular type of toy assigned to it - and you can read more about that in this post!)

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A closer look at the "woodland" books for last week ... tomorrow I will be re-organizing this display with our books about pumpkins! (More pumpkin week details at my Autumn Tea next week!)

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More woodland fun - including a few things for Mama. ;-) Pretty journals and a calendar booklet as well as the sweetest woodland washi tape I ever did see! (I bought the journals at Paper Source but I haven't decided yet how to use them. The cute little "Woodland Tales" planner I bought at Whole Foods - it's a 17-month calendar, a perfect size to tuck in my purse/tote when I don't want to lug around my heavier (more precious) planners. The washi tape was found at Joann Fabrics but unfortunately I can't seem to find it on their website. And finally, the felt animal masks were SUCH a hit with my Little Bear! He has been having so much fun wearing the masks around the house and pretending to be each of these woodland creatures ... he's especially fond of the beaver mask. :)

(The photo of the scenic view was taken down the street. There is something so lovely about stone walls in autumn ...)

O with milkweed

And finally ... this collage was from last night, and you might have seen it if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I titled this: "Milkweed Magic on a Cool Autumn Evening." My apologies if you've already read this - it's a bit wordy, but it really captures how I felt last evening and I want to remember it! :)

We just had another one of those "daily" moments that really felt special - so special in fact, I took pics and made a collage to remember it by! πŸ’›

We've had a milkweed pod sitting on our nature table since early last month, and today - it burst! Much to Little Bear's delight we had little white seed fairies flying all over the learning room!

So LB (and his Daddy and I) scooped up that pod - and as many of the seeds we could round up - and walked the whole kit and kaboodle across the street where the milkweed patch grows ...

Well, I wish I could tell you how positively gleeful Little Bear was during this whole adventure (though maybe you can tell from the photos!) ... you would have thought we were going to Disneyland! LB cradled that little seedpod so carefully - HE had to carry it! - and then heartily blew its fluffy innards all over the roadside ...

And it was such a beautiful evening, too - that autumn light is so lovely, and the leaves are all changing and the air is still just warm enough to walk outside without jackets ...

Inside we went again - time to make supper - the house all warm and lit and full of big brothers' sounds ...

Feeling grateful tonight for this little afternoon adventure ... and for a child who has such a soft heart for nature's wonders! 

✨ 🍁 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ πŸ 🌞 πŸŒ²πŸŒ› 🍁 ✨ 

 My friends, I have kept you here so very long, and if you are still here, I thank you! (And if you bailed earlier, I still thank you!) I do hope you enjoyed a peek into our week and hearing about my planning process. Please let me know if you have any questions! I will be back again late next week with an Autumn Tea to share with you all ... and our first official Mitten Strings Book Study discussion!

(And of course, lots of pictures. When you come to my blog you KNOW there will be pictures ... and I'll have a lot to say about them!)

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend ... see you here again very soon!


Autumn Tea and Tidbits!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Weekend! Welcome to my first Autumn Tea  - of 2017! Something I hope to make a semi-regular recurrence at my blog going forward. Every so often I'll pop in with a cup of tea and a few bits and bobs from our homeschool ... a way to catch up and celebrate the season at hand. :) I'm hesitant to set a schedule however, as tempting as it is because you know I LOVE schedules - but it's been a little bit hectic so far this school year. Time at the computer (nevermind time for tea itself!) has been a little on the low side. But two things that make my heart so very happy are blogging and savoring tea, so I'm determined to make more time for both in my life!

So since it's been a while since we talked tea ... what are you drinking these days? I myself am enjoying Allegro Black Decaf during the afternoon (sweetened with raw sugar and a splash of whole milk) but after supper, now that the nights are cooler and darker, I am turning to a cup of decaf Constant Comment. There's something about that orange-spice flavor just makes me think AUTUMN! I still savor a cup or two of coffee in the mornings but after that I limit my caffeine intake as best I can ...

Well, I started in on my tea-taking early today as the above photo was taken just now (Saturday around 11 a.m.) because I was ready to get down to the lesson planning and for that, I absolutely MUST have tea! But before we talk about autumn homeschooling ...

Grab yourself a cup of your favorite brew and make yourself comfortable, please ... I have lots to share! :)

Let's begin with a peek into my October planning. Below you see the cover page for this month's section in my homemade planner (also seen in the top photo) ...

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And here is my planner stack on my kitchen counter - aka "mama's command center!"

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Sitting below my homemade planner is my Day Designer, and below that is a project clipboard. (I always put something underneath my planners in case there are spills or marks on the counter.)

So after the cover page (which is made from that cute vintage paper I love!) I have the two-page monthly calendar spread ...

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I added the stickers and a few quotations written with black ink and soft colored pencils ...

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I love peppering my planners with seasonal poems and quotes!

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Next page has my October menu calendar ...

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I described how I fill out these menu calendars in this post, but I want to stress that this is an ideal - we don't always keep up with the "new" and "varied" meals I've envisioned. Often - especially when we're busy or I'm tired (the state of affairs more often than not around here!) - I fall back on tried and true, easy meals. (Homemade pizzas, baked pasta, grilled cheese and soup, burgers, meatloaf and roasted veg, etc.) 

And next comes my monthly overview ...

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I added the highlighted notes at the top of the page this month, and of course there are post-its! The green apples reflect our October homeschooling themes and topics. I try to review this page every weekend to see where we're at and what tasks and activities can be scheduled in the week ahead. Note: "October Goals" became a place to write down upcoming movies, tv shows and books.

A closer peek ...

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And here is last week's spread!

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Next week I will do a WHOLE post on how I'm using this weekly spread, but in the interest of time and word count, let me move on and show you  ...

... next week's spread that I'm filling in now!

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You might wonder how long it takes me to fill in all those spaces, but honestly, it's not very long. A lot of the information is already available (Days of Note, Seasonal Theme, Dinners, Weekly Rhythm) so I just write those things in first. The to-do list is also pretty quick to fill in - I look at last week's list as well as our weekend planner to see what tasks still need doing. I take another look at the monthly calendar to see what new things have been written in for the week (a new event to prepare for, for example) and I also look back at that monthly overview to see what To-Dos can be fit into this coming week.

Beside my homemade planner I have parked my Day Designer ...

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Here's how it looked one day last week (when I first started working on this post!) ...

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Ok, moving on from planning (let me know if you have any questions or would like me to follow up on anything!) ... I thought I'd share some random photos from the past week or so ...

First, because it was the week of the Full Harvest Moon, I had planned to make "Harvest Moon Muffins," (a quick bread recipe baked in muffin tins) but due to the aforementioned busy schedule/tired mama syndrome, I stopped short at "Harvest Moon Applesauce." πŸ˜‰

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I love using my grandmother's food press when making applesauce! 

This was actually part of a little "science" experiment this week, making applesauce together! The boys helped me with counting and measuring before I loaded the apples, sugar and spice into the crockpot, and good GOLLY did it smell wonderful in our house all day! The apples were done cooking just before bedtime so I placed them in the fridge for the next day. After milling the apples into sauce we set up a little taste-test - our homemade applesauce vs. Stop 'N Shop brand! Could people tell which was which? (The answer, happily, was yes!)

Then last weekend I combed through the autumn book basket and pulled out titles that matched October's weekly themes ...

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  • Changing Leaves (10/2-10/8)
  • Woodland Flora & Fauna (10/9-10/15)
  • Pumpkins (10/16-10/22)
  • Goodnight Garden/Halloween (10/23-10/29)

I also have two sweet board books for my younger boys for learning the Hail Mary and Our Father prayers, as part of Holy Rosary month. :)

Speaking of books though, look at these lovely new titles that arrived in my mail last week!

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A couple of picture books we usually get out of the library to celebrate the Full Harvest Moon, a new (and adorable) autumn board book for Little Bear (which might be my new favorite autumn book of all time!), a CD of scientific storytelling for Earlybird (which we once owned but now can't find!) and a new Waldorf-inspired crafting book for Mama. I'm positively swooning over that last one in particular - a bit of a splurge, but worth it!

Here's a gorgeous page from Hello, Harvest Moon ... 

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Did you happen to catch it last Thursday night?

Harvest moon rising

We are surrounded by trees here so we have to wait a while before the full moon is visible ... but honestly, I think the way it peeks through the branches and illuminates the tree-line is quite magical! We let Little Bear stay up a bit late so he could watch the full moon rising ...

LB and the full moon

Now, back to books for a moment ... just look and see what arrived in my mailbox early last week!

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A very thoughtful gift from my friend (and longtime reader), Penny! When Penny read that I was positively pining for this particular PW book, she offered me her own copy. (How nice is that?!) Naturally I said I would just LOVE to have it, so she popped in the mail and I received it a day later! Hooray for packages in the mail and hooray for the ever-speedy USPS ... but most of all, HOORAY for kind-hearted and generous friends! ❀

Ok, now we all know the Pioneer Woman loves boots ... well, I'm no cowgirl, and I haven't been on a horse since I was 12, but how do you like my new "riding" boots?

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I have lusted after these "Westport," Maine-made boots for years ... and finally (with Bill's blessing of course), I made the splurge! I ordered them online because I don't get over to LL Bean's that often, but was very happy that not only do they FIT just as well as I'd hoped, they are truly quite comfortable. I thought they paired rather nicely with a knee-length denim skirt. :)

(This was me on my way to Sunday brunch with my college girlfriends!)

Speaking of shoes though ...

Archie and sandals

That's my Archie, flopped all over my favorite pair of summer sandals ... the ones I can't bear to put away for the season just yet. (Though truly, we've had plenty of summer-like days recently.) But as you can see, Archie's looking rather relaxed here, smug you might even say ... because while Oliver had to be at the vet's annual exam last week, Archie got to skip it completely. And all because he's just SO naughty when we bring him! Nothing like the sweetie-pie he is at home - at the vet he's all hissing, spitting and growing ... frankly, it's a bit of a horror show. The next attempt was going to include some serious sedation ... which makes me very nervous ... but fortunately our vet is wonderful and fully understood our apprehension. We decided he can wait till next year when he is due for his rabies shot. (My cats are indoor cats, but are still kept up on all their vaccinations.)

In other wildlife news ...

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Howsabout this guy???

Isn't he magnificent? This is a Barred Owl, and we hear him (her?) very often in the woods behind our house - usually around dusk, but my older boys (night owls themselves) say they hear hooting late at night as well. Well, there I was at the sink starting supper last Friday night when Little Bear, looking out the kitchen nook window, exclaimed: "Mama, look! It's a snowy owl!!"

And this is what he saw ...

Barred owl on feeders

Isn't he GINORMOUS?? And clearly looking for his supper! I took this picture above with my cell phone, then went outside with my big camera to try for a better shot. The first owl picture was taken from beneath the tree just to the right of the feeders. The owl was staring at me - really peering at me with those gorgeous black eyes! - then his attention would be caught by something moving in the underbrush and he'd turn his head downward ...

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Finally he'd had enough of me, my snapping camera and restless Little Bear and took off ...

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He landed in the front yard where LB and I were joined by Bill and Earlybird and we watched the owl fly across the road and into the woods to the north. Absolutely amazing ...

(Crackerjack and Bookworm were out on a driving lesson and missed the whole thing!)

Ok, and now for some autumn homeschooling ... these pics are all from the past couple of weeks!

First came APPLES ...

Apple collage

Apple Week included apple snacks, an apple star surprise, drying apples, applesauce and an apple-y harvest wreath on the front door. :)

Also, I finally made use of that peg dolls book I showed you a couple of posts back, and look who Little Bear found in his learning room mailbox one morning!

Autumn star fairy

I made this "autumn star fairy" from a wooden peg base, with a little sheep's wool for hair, an acorn cap for a hat and a silk leaf (plucked from a garland) as wings! I made the verse card with a blank postcard and watercolor paints. I just wrote the verse on the card once the paint had dried. I've been using these cards for little poems, prayers and verses this year and I love the effect of those pretty paints!

Next came SEEDS ...

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Seeds week included seed gathering, sorting and observation, seed crafts, seed treats, seed experiments ... and very happy chipmunks!

And then on Michaelmas Day we had our first Nature Club meeting of the year ...

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My younger boys all came along and we met with other homeschooling families to take a walk along a local trail. We found everything on our Nature Scavenger hunt checklist as well as garter snakes, spiderwebs, several types of leaves and some very cool fungus. Best of all, there were Michaelmas daisies growing all over the woods! :)

The next Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Guardian Angels ...

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I made another watercolor card for the Guardian Angel prayer and set up this small scene on our learning room table. I lit the beeswax tealight and read the prayer aloud to Little Bear ... who took great joy in blowing out that candle! :)

We also found time to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, our family patron saint ...

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Little Bear especially enjoyed assembling "all of creation" as I crafted a simple grotto and read aloud our favorite child-friendly version of Francis's "Canticle of the Sun." I made a verse card for the first stanza and plan to make cards for the rest of this beautiful prayer. :)

Last week we also visited a local agricultural fair - along with Earlybird's therapist and Bill who took the day off so he could join us. :)

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And the day after that we joined our homeschool group on a field trip to a local corn maze!

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It was a beautiful day - as you can see, warm enough for short sleeves! - and what fun we had navigating our way through the rows of corn and listening to the raspy dry ears in the breeze and hearing great vees of geese honking overhead! 

✨ πŸ‚ 🍎 🐿 🌻 🌞 🍁 πŸ„ 🌽 πŸŒ› ✨

Well this was quite a long post I'm afraid, but I hope you enjoyed it! I had meant to create posts around each of these collages - with more details - but time kept slipping by and then we'd be onto the next thing! I can certainly expand on any of these themes and projects (as well as my planners) in a future post and happily, though last week was particularly busy with two field trips, a fair trip, a vet appointment AND the SAT ... the coming week will be much quieter! Knock on wood!

So I will leave you now my friends, with my thanks for your visit and my wish that you all enjoy a lovely autumn weekend. I will be back again here just as soon as I can but in the meantime you can always find me on Facebook or Instagram. :)

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, dear friends ... see you here again very soon!


Books in our Homeschool: September ❀

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Hello my friends, and Happy Sunday!

I've had a couple of requests for a list of the books we're currently using in our homeschool, so I'm here to share just that! Since it's a rather long list, today I'll just focus on the books we're using along with September's plans and seasonal themes. In future posts I'll share more of our general resources and curriculum. (Also, I want to note that all of the links below have an affiliate tag - and what that means is, if you end up buying something from Amazon after following my link, I get a small commission as part of an affiliates program. So thanks in advance if you do happen to make a purchase!)

I'll begin with the books we are using in coordination with activities for our seasonal homeschooling.* (These are usually my favorites!) Typically I display these books on a windowsill in the learning room, but some are also found in the seasonal book basket. Most of these books we own, but we do borrow a few from the library each week ...

 

✨🍎✨SEASONAL THEMES✨🍎✨

CROWS and CORN ...

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Crow CallThe Company of Crows: A Book of Poems, Corn, Raccoons and Ripe Corn

*Note: We didn't end up reading Crow Call, as its story was a little too melancholy for my fellas. The illustrations were beautiful, though. And since most of those books have gone back to the library and/or seasonal bin, I didn't have a "Crows and Corn" shelf to show you. I did however use that crow finger puppet for a little nature storytelling that week! :)

APPLES/AT THE ORCHARD ...

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Our Apple Tree, The Life and Times of the Apple, Apples for Everyone, The Apple CakeThe Story of Johnny Appleseed, My Little Golden Book about Johnny Appleseed, Cider Apples, How Do Apples Grow?

WELCOME AUTUMN!

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Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, Hocus Pocus - It's Fall!, The Four Seasons: Fall, Fall (The Seasons), Autumn Days, When Autumn Comes, Fall (Bright Baby Touch and Feel), Wild Child, Autumn, Herbst, The Story of the Root Children, Autumn: A Pop-Up Book, We Gather Together

AUTUMN SEEDS & WIND ...

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Woody, Hazel and Little Pip, Miss Maple's Seeds, The Story of the Wind Children, Squirrels, When the Wind Stops ... and (not shown), A Seed is Sleepy, Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move and Pippa and Pelle in the Autumn Wind

* Originally I was going to share the activities we did/will do with each seasonal theme, but then this post became a little bit of a beast (as my posts tend to do) so I decided to stick to books only. That said, I will try to take pictures as we go through this week (Autumn Seeds and Wind) to share in a post by week's end. Or over the weekend, more likely! I'm very excited for this seasonal theme, it's one of my favorites!

 

✨🍎✨SOCIAL STUDIES✨🍎✨

For social studies this year, I've set up a "global awareness" corner (see learning room post for more details) and outlined a plan for studying one country per month. This month we are learning about England so those are the books I've linked below - plus, I also found a couple of "apple" themed books that were perfect for global awareness. :)

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One Green Apple, Till Year's Good End: A Calendar of Medieval Labors, Enchantment of the World series: England, City Trails: London, St. George and the Dragon, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

 

✨🍎✨ SCIENCE✨🍎✨

For the subject of science this year, we'll be focusing on the following topics: the importance of science, famous scientists through the ages, zoology (animal life and classification) and backyard science (aka nature study). In addition, sometimes (oftentimes), a scientific topic pops up that is of particular interest - such as this month's hurricanes - and then we follow that "rabbit trail" as far as it takes us! The windowsill below reflects an introduction to what it means to be a scientist, hurricanes, a forest habitat and chipmunks.

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National Geographic Kids: In My Backyard Sticker Activity BookS is for ScientistsWhat is a Scientist?Scientists Ask QuestionsNewton's Rainbow: The Revolutionary Discoveries of a Young Scientist (not shown - it's on its way from the library! Newton is our English scientist for September), Hurricane!, Chipmunk at Hollow Tree Lane

Here's a look at a little backyard science for this week - we'll be looking closely at the Eastern Chipmunk so very prevalent around here. I found an interesting fact page in a great book we've had for years, Fun with Nature, and a coordinating coloring page in Dover's A Walk in the Woods. The chipmunks are actually going NUTS (pardon the pun) these days as they scurry about preparing for a long winter's sleep. We've been feeding the chipmunks on our deck and this week we'll do a little "seed" experiment to see what kind of things chipmunks like to eat best. The coloring page will be filed in our family nature binder, alongside observations/photos.

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✨🍎✨LANGUAGE ARTS✨🍎✨

For language arts activities this month we are learning the alphabet, working on names, setting up nature journals, making homemade stamp pads, listening to an audiobook on the road, discovering seasonal poems, reading aloud to each other, and writing simple notes to friends. 

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Gyo Fujikawa's A to Z Picture Book, Cyndy Szekeres' ABC, Bobby Bear's ABC, An Alphabet by Molly Brett, Eating the Alphabet, I Spy Little Letters

(Note: I couldn't find the Szekeres book on Amazon but I did see some at Etsy. Ms. Szekeres is one of my longtime favorite children's book author/illustrators. I had her books when I was little!)

Here is Little Bear contemplating the poetry corner ... β€

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Poetry for Young People: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic, Flower Fairies of the Autumn, A Small Child's Book of Cozy Poems (that's another one by Cyndy Szekeres!), First Poems of Childhood (illustrated by Tasha Tudor), A Child's Calendar: Poems by John Updike

(Poems of the moment: "September," by Updike, "The Children's Hour" by Longfellow, "Hurt No Living Thing," by Christina Rossetti)

Our September audiobook: Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome ...

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(We mostly listen to audiobooks in the car but I'm working on having a set time during the week during which the boys will listen to the story while working on simple crafts, using play dough, coloring or painting, etc.)

Another favorite resource of mine for simple seasonal verse and songs, is a lovely set of Waldorf Kindergarten books. I've used all these books for years and they are just lovely. Here is Autumn: A Collection of Poems, Songs and Stories for Young Children, alongside my tea and a beeswax pumpkin candle!

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(This week's selections will feature little gnomes leading Autumn seeds to bed, Mary walking in the Autumn wind, and St. Michael's bright shining sword. These I use during Little Bear's circle time and whenever possible while venturing outside.)

 

✨🍎✨✨🍎✨✨🍎✨✨🍎✨✨🍎✨✨🍎✨✨🍎✨

So there you have it my friends, a peek at our September book list! I hope you enjoyed it and please let me know if you have any questions. I will be back again soon(ish) with a closer look at how we do our seasonal homeschooling. It's going to be a busy week for us but I'm excited to share what we get up to! 

And I hope you are all doing well and that your Autumn is off to a great start! Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ...

See you here again very soon!


A Bunch of Autumn Bits & Bobs!

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Hello, my friends and Happy Friday! And Blessed Equinox, too! βœ¨ πŸ‚ 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 πŸ„πŸŒ›πŸ‚βœ¨

I'm popping in today to share some autumnal thoughts and photos with you all ... but first, thank you so much for all the incredibly kind comments left at my learning room post. I had such fun putting that post together and I'm so glad you all enjoyed it! There will, of course, be plenty more pics and posts to come as we wind our way through the new year ... but for today, let's talk a bit about AUTUMN, which just began here about 20 minutes ago! To celebrate I made up the plate of "equinox cookies" seen above ...

Now, this was not my idea mind you - I saw a few variations of these cookies on Pinterest. I just took some vanilla cookies we had in the pantry and dipped them in some melted chocolate chips (also from the pantry) and gave them a good sprinkling of autumnal jimmies. (A mom can never have too many jars of colored sprinkles on hand!) One pretty china plate and a bunch of silk leaves later and I had a festive treat for our Friday teatime! :)

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Oh, children's books ... how I love organizing children's books! Last weekend I had Bill bring up the Autumn book basket (actually, a rather heavy wooden crate!) and I spent some time reacquainting myself with old favorites. I have a post to come (hopefully this weekend) with a look at our September book lists and plans ... I've had some requests since I've been sharing lots of book shots here and on social media lately! 

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I ask you - what is sweeter than chubby toddler hands?? Especially when they're trying to grab more than they can hold? This is actually an older photo but it popped up in my Facebook "memories" today and I had to include it ... it's always been a favorite of mine. :) 

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And look how those little hands have grown! Here we are on the couch the other day enjoying one of Little Bear's new board books. The sweetest little forest-themed board book I ever did see!

Kitchen autumn blessing

Now, if you follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram you've probably seen some of the photos in this post, and you might have heard me talk about my "Autumn Blessing" week. Well, I decided since the first day of Fall fell on a Friday, I would use the week leading up to that special day to prepare my home with a little cleaning and "cozifying." Basically, I just cleared each room of any extraneous stuff (aka clutter) and then swept corners and wiped surfaces as best I could. (It wasn't a super deep cleaning, more of a freshening up.) Finally, I added some warm autumn touches here and there ... :)

Above you see the kitchen on Monday evening ... and let me tell you ... it took me ALL day to get it that neat! (Because no, my house is not normally super tidy ... we really LIVE here ALL WEEK, if you know what I mean!)

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On Tuesday I worked on the front rooms: foyer, library and ...

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... dining room! :)

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On Wednesday and Thursday, I worked in the family room ... and as you can see, Archie approves of the "autumnal" changes!

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Heading back outside, here's a shot of Little Bear at a local farm we visited recently ... it was a beautiful crisp day here in New England!

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We also swung by a gorgeous sunflower field ... aren't they breathtaking? And can the sky really possibly be that blue? Nothing like an Autumn blue sky ... though this technically was taken in Summer. ;-)

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Here's a picture collage from our first day of home learning this year ... and that's alphabet pasta up top in case you're wondering, lol! I made Crockpot Alphabet Soup for supper that night. :)

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And here are some pics from Little Bear's first "official" nature walk of the new year. Honestly, I can't think of anything I like better than spending a "school day" roaming our yard looking for curiosities and wonders!

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And finally, here's a book I borrowed from the library recently. Making Peg Dolls is a craft I've wanted to try for a long time now and as you can see, I've got the supplies well in hand! At least the wooden peg part ... I need to see about getting some more felt and thread - perhaps a few more bottles of paint - and then I'll be good to go.

Something else I like to do in early Autumn is to come up with a few hobbies to carry me through the winter ... and brainstorm homemade Christmas gift ideas ... because as we all know, the Autumn will absolutely FLY by and suddenly we'll find ourselves knee-deep in Advent. Plus, it will get dark and cold fast (at least here in New England it will) and it's nice to have some cozy handcrafts to work on during those short afternoons in between busy and bed. βœ¨πŸŒβœ¨

Oh, and before I go!

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This is my lovely new Autumn "go-bag!" I bought this - a bit of splurge - at Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago. I just fell in love with the look and size of this tote! (And if you read my #fridayintroductions post at Instagram this morning, you know how I feel about tote bags!) It fits my handbag and a few notebooks and planners and I just find that sharp navy blue paired with the "Autumn Rose" print so striking. When I considered the price (not too bad as large bags go) and the fact that it not only fit all my stuff but it also matched my minivan ... AND my kitchen ... well, there was just no way I could pass it up! :)

Ok, I will be off now my friends as I've kept you here long enough! As always though, I thank you for stopping by and I wish you all a good evening (or day as the case may be). Take care of yourselves and your loved ones ...

I will see you here again very soon!

Summer sunset

The last sunset of Summer, 2017 ...

✨ πŸ‚ 🌞 🌻 🍁 🍎 🐿 πŸ„πŸŒ›πŸ‚βœ¨ 


✨ Welcome to Our Learning Room! ✨

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Hello, everyone - and Happy Sunday! How about a tour of our "recently revamped" learning room? I have a nice cold pitcher of apple "tea" in the fridge and some cranberry-oat cookies to share, so please come on in and let me show you around a little! :)

Now, four years ago when I first saw this sunroom, as we toured our potential new home, I immediately thought "Omigosh, this would be THE perfect learning room!" But for a few different reasons (which I won't bore you with now), it's taken us a while to fully commit this space to our homeschooling needs. But here we are at last ... and I'm so happy with how it came out!

As you can see, this room gets a TON of natural light thanks to all those south-facing windows. And that's what I love best about this room - feeling like we're outside even when we're inside! :) So first let me show you some wide-angle shots and then I'll talk about just what-all is in all those baskets and shelves! True to form, I may have gotten a little carried away with the pictures, but I hope that in addition to showing you our new setup, this post will also share a little of our homeschooling style and early learning methods ... β€

*And for the record, I am homeschooling three of my children this year - my 18yo Crackerjack is a senior in high school, my 15yo Earlybird (who has autism) really doesn't have an official grade but is developmentally very young and in many ways matches well with my youngest, Little Bear, who is four and just starting preschool! This room is geared towards the younger two boys. :)

As for location, this learning room (nΓ©e sunroom) sits just off the back of the house, and you enter it from a door in our family room. The only drawback at the moment is that it is actually a three-season room - so it gets awfully cold in the dead of winter! We're working on that dilemma though, and hope to have a permanent solution figured out very soon!

Ok, here we go ...

Sunny learning room

Most of what you see in these pictures are items we own, and some for many years. Case in point the trestle "work" table - a 10 year old, unfinished furniture store purchase that Bill finally got around to finishing!

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He sanded the whole thing down (smoothing out cat scratches and stray crayon gouges), treated the top to a plain polyurethane finish and then painted the base with some pretty paint I picked up at, of all places, Target. It was just the warm, soft red I was going for! The "saddle seat stools" we've also had for many years now - these were also purchased at a local mill store.

But the real game-changing element we added to this room would be the new white cubbies we purchased from Target. They were not terribly expensive ($35 for a 6-cube set), but as you will see, we bought quite a few! So it added up a bit, but this was something I really wanted (and needed) for organizing the younger boys' toys and learning materials. And happily Bill not only agreed, but very easily put the cubbies together! (He had help, natch.) Fyi, the cubbies are available online if you can't find them in your local store.

The seagrass baskets, also from Target, were another "splurge" at $11 apiece (on sale), but they are very well made and in my honest opinion one can never have too many well-made baskets - especially a homeschooler! The rest of the baskets in the cubbies and elsewhere throughout the room are ones we had on hand.

Ok, turning to the right, looking out towards the deck and patio ...

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Those doors lead to our second classroom - aka, the great outdoors! We're in the process of making the upper deck a little more child-friendly - a "nature lab" if you will, but for now let's turn back towards the house ...

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This is the wall that faces the family room ... and that beautiful Union Jack flag was a gift from my dear (and very generous) friend, Shirley Vels. When she found out we were studying England this September she put together a wonderful package of British goodies for us, including that glorious flag!

Here's another angle ...  

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I just love this shot of Archie and the dinosaur ... :)

Now, turning towards the east-facing wall (which looks out over the driveway) ...

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I'm standing in the doorway of the family room taking this shot, to give you an idea of the size of the room. It really is a great room for entertaining in ... but even better for spreading out with your kids! :)

Now, back to that south-facing wall and the tallest windows of all! (One of my favorite things to do is watch a storm from these windows!)

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I made the alphabet banner myself, using a few supplies from the craft store and a glue stick. It wasn't hard, but it took me a bit of time and when I finally got that banner up I stood back and said, "Yep, this is now officially a learning room!"

Ok, now I'll focus in on some smaller shots ... and here's your fair warning: I might get a little wordy because I'm so excited about every corner of this room!IMG_2120

✨ Just as you step in the room we have a little "mud and mail" corner. Here we park our boots/shoes and Little Bear's jackets ... as well as the "errands" bag (for library trips and such). There's not room for all of our footwear here of course, but these are the shoes and boots we wear when we're going outside ... usually to "muck about." In this corner we also keep Little Bear's broom and on the wall hangs a sweet "forest mailbox" ...

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✨ This mailbox is a true family treasure - a gift to Earlybird on his 5th birthday from my Mum. (Here's the post from 2007 with a few more project details. I can hardly believe it's been 10 years!) It's been sitting high up on a nursery shelf, "keeping safe," but I decided it really was time to introduce it to Little Bear!

And just last week, Little Bear found a sprig of something bright gold inside his mailbox, and I had a little verse ready to go along with it ...

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"The goldenrod is yellow, the corn is turning brown ... the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down." β€

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Later that morning we looked for goldenrod growing in the yard ... and we found some! (Plenty in fact! Next week we'll use some to dye a Michaelmas cape.) βœ¨

Next, on the other side of the doorway ...

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✨  We have a seasonal calendar on the wall, with a handy-dandy caddy-cart beneath ...

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✨  This is a monthly, at-a-glance calendar purchased at Staples. It has lots of space and nicely lined boxes, but instead of writing down class times and activities, I'm just writing special, seasonal events here and shading them in with soft colored pencils. I like keeping the focus on the rhythm of the season and in truth, this is all the information my younger boys really need to know. Some days are already anticipated in September (The Full Corn Moon, for example), but as a special activity gets planned I add it to the calendar. (Case in point, an apple picking field trip got scheduled after I took this photo.)

I made the decorative monthly cards myself - and it was very easy! I found images online (I adore Edith Holden's vintage nature sketches) and printed them out in the size I wanted. I used a glue stick to adhere the images to pre-cut cardstock. Then I used plain wooden clothespins to secure the cards all around a craft wreath base (found at the craft store for a couple of dollars). I hung the whole thing from an adhesive hook on the wall - situating the current month's card at the top - and that was that!

Now, a closer look at the caddy ...

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✨  This is one of those rolling caddy carts I purchased at Michaels last spring. I placed our seasonal book basket in the top tier, and this is filled with the books that go along with our seasonal homeschooling themes and any special days/events that pop up.

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✨  Right now the basket holds both August and September books since I haven't had a chance to file last month's titles yet! This week we added apple books and next week I'll add more books about Autumn.

Next tier down ...

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✨ Another little basket with some playing cards and flash cards, special prek planning books and our current audiobook case.

And finally, on the bottom ...

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✨  Coloring books!

Ok, let's continue on around the room ... :)

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✨  The Tree Fort/Elf House comes next with a dinosaur hand puppet clearly having taken over ...

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✨ And a basket of wooden puzzles beneath a pretty red table which once belonged to me - and my mother before me! β€

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✨ Here are some old wooden cubbies (meant to be painted, but I rather like the look of natural wood!) holding more baskets of toys - cooking things, favorite vehicles and Duplo legos. (We've had Duplo Legos - and I mean A LOT of Duplo Legos - since 22 year old Bookworm was tiny. None of our boys really ever took to them - they held out for the "real" Legos! - but Little Bear plays with them every single day. He loves them!) On top of the cubbies are a wooden cooktop (it perches on the edge of any table) with pots and pans, an alphabet abacus, and our ages-old, plush, nature puppet tree.

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✨  Across the large picture window (that peers into the family room) I had Bill string some twine so I could hang some lovely vintage-look zoology cards. I have a whole bunch of them so I'll swap them out every so often. I used wooden clothespins purchased at Target last month to hold the cards here and if you look closely you can see each pin has a number corresponding to the number of creatures on each card. :)

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✨ Here's another small table meant to be re-painted (butter yellow if I have my way) with our wooden barn situated on top and a basket of wooden figures underneath. Little Bear uses this "starry night" playsilk to put his animals to bed each night. :)

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✨  Goodnight, everyone!πŸŒ›

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✨  More cute wooden clothespins, another Target dollar bin find! (Those bins have since changed over to Halloween theme, but keep an sharp eye out next back-to-school time! I will too, and post when I spy those great deals!)

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✨ This easel was such a find last year! A neighbor had it out for - gasp! - trash pickup one day ... and we nabbed it! On one side there is a chalkboard which of course can be used for all kinds of things, but Earlybird uses it with his therapist every day for counting down to upcoming events. (EB is especially motivated by holidays!) On either side of the chalkboard we have baskets of miscellaneous stuffed animals and puppets. Directly below the chalkboard is a basket of various picture books, not related to any season or holiday - just really good reads. :)

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✨  Now the other side of the chalkboard was a dry-erase board but since dry-erase markers and EB don't mix well, I had Bill cover it with some felt I picked up at the fabric store. This is still a work in progress, but it will eventually be a felt story board!

True story: the lady at the fabric store tried to shame me for picking brown, lol:

"Why not blue or red for goodness sakes - why brown??"

So I told her that most of our story-boarding will revolve around nature ... πŸŒ›πŸ‚πŸŒ²πŸΏπŸ„πŸπŸŒž

"Aha, I see now ... good pick!"

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✨  This is my storytelling apron hung from a hook ... and it's basically a plain canvas artist's apron, but I'm using the pockets for finger puppets!

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✨  We've been collecting finger puppets (as well as hand puppets) for so many years, I've lost count! All my boys have enjoyed them on some level (though Earlybird not as much, having a strong aversion to finger plays and too much conversation) but I'm happy to say Little Bear just ADORES puppetry! I have little nature stories outlined to go along with each of our weekly seasonal themes and these are part of our Wednesday homeschool rhythm. I'm tying them in with our forest mailbox and so far it's a HIT! (Of course, we're only beginning week three, but I have a pretty good feeling about this!)

(The pretty clothespins? Yep, Target again! They'll hold little notecards for story prompts - simple sketches or sight words for the most part.)

Ok, rounding the bend! 

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✨ Here are the first two sets of cubbies (they can be connected, as they are here). Some have baskets and some have little "play arrangements."

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✨ Little Bear so enjoys the book, Hug (as well as Tall), and his two monkey puppets allow him to act out the parts of Bobo and Mama. β€

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✨  I filled this basket with Water Wow booklets - one of Little Bear's favorite activities! I'll often take one or two with us if we're going somewhere he might need a quiet diversion. 

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✨  And here we have some favorite counting and number recognition board books as well as a basket of wooden hand-size numbers. Now, I know you don't want to hear this again - but they are from Target, too! I scooped them up last month! They are stackable and the perfect size for little hands. :)

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✨  I think I love this set of nesting wooden elements - more than any of my kids! They have so many uses, and yes, they are pricey, to be sure - but Santa brought them one Christmas years ago. I feel incredibly blessed to have another chance to enjoy them with one more of our children! β€

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✨  Here is the finger puppets basket - I always perch a couple on the edge peeking out! Beneath that sit wooden fractions cups, and a favorite watering can.

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✨ Another learning line, strung across windows that look down over our driveway. Here's where I hang worksheets, paintings and other kinds of work to be displayed.

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✨ Right in front of these cubbies we have a wonderful little "Discover America" rug. I bought it at Babies R Us a few years ago and it has held up really well! In this photo, Little Bear is sporting a new pair of slippers for the new homeschool year! β€ (Yes, things like "slippers" go on my back-to-homeschool shopping list!)

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✨  At the end of these cubbies is a comfy bean bag chair, just the right size for Little Bear. This was a new purchase last month and I'm quite pleased with it - it's comfortable (or so I'm told) and seems to be holding up well. (We have not always had great luck with bean bags, but this just seemed to fit the room!) Also, I hung some little wooden stars along the side of the bookcase just because they looked kind of magical. :)

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✨ Turning another corner we have a very tall bookcase (some might remember it from our old house and long-ago posts!) which holds a real hodgepodge of items! Bottom shelf holds nature study supplies - a flower press, display cases and stands, cloches, etc. - as well as a wooden house shape I'm crafting into an outdoor shrine. (A project in progress!) Upper shelves hold some of my beloved mothering and seasonal idea books, and not seen on the top shelf are my favorite liturgical resources, as well as a statue of the Blessed Mother which once belonged to my paternal grandparents. ❀

And at the very top of this bookcase ... 

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✨ On the very tippy-top of this super tall bookcase is a large basket filled with crafting materials of all kinds. I'll have to do a separate post on what I keep in that basket because I didn't get a picture of the contents. (Let's just say it was precarious enough me getting this shot, lol!) Now, it might seem awfully inconvenient to keep oft-used craft supplies up here way out of reach, but it's the only safe place to keep them! Earlybird would only get into (and has done) all those craft things when I'm not looking and make an unholy mess (of himself and the supplies) and so it's easier just to keep things up and out of sight. The trick of course is remembering to check the basket before making a craft store run!

✨ The timer is also up here for similar reasons - EB is just way too fascinated with this cool gadget to leave it alone! I had been looking for a visual timer for EB to use (with me and his therapists) but was hesitant because of the typical "tick-tick" sound which really grates on his nerves. Thanks to a recommendation from Jennifer Mackintosh, I purchased this pretty little gem of a timer which makes NO NOISE AT ALL. (Thanks again, Jen!!) Using a visual timer is very helpful for EB when he needs to be patient for something ... because patience is not really his strong suit and numbers don't mean as much as does that vivid red wedge!

Turning the corner again ...

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✨ The next set of cubbies holds reading materials and more play arrangement! And goodness, do I love the light coming in at this time of day! :) Shown on display in the picture above is a favorite source of nature study inspiration, open to a September page. On the windowsill are a couple of poetry books for young children as well as a heart-shaped wooden caddy holding foldable, laminated field guides. (I painted that for my grandmother back in the 80s!)

Also shown here ...

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✨  Favorite children's periodicals on display - and these appeal to Earlybird so much! Thomas, Peppa and Nick Jr. Friends, especially, but he had made off with the Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. issues when I took this picture! I have collected Babybug for years (off an on) and I still read them with Little Bear ... because they are so sweet and they are such a nice size. Perfect for little hands and for popping in Mama's bag when going out and about! β€

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✨  Here's a handy basket of early readers, another favorite resource for Earlybird ... :)

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✨  And here we have one of Little Bear's FAVORITE board books, beside the little stuffed beluga whale he adores. We've long since lost the Raffi audiocassette we listened to in the car with Bookworm back in the day, but we do sing that song nearly everyday - out of earshot of Earlybird, of course! 

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✨  And there are plenty of crayons here ... and I've never found a better storage space for crayons than a wide, shallow basket. :)

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✨ Here's another favorite board book of Little Bear's ... and that beanie baby chameleon belonged to Bookworm back in the day! His name is "Rainbow" for obvious reasons, and he's been well loved over the years. (He's as soft as buttah!)

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✨  Stacked neatly in this cubby is a collection of favorite books celebrating morning and the new day ... πŸŒž

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✨ And nestled just beside is a soft and lovely baby doll - crafted in the Waldorf tradition. "Baby Jack" was a gift to our now 18 yo Crackerjack when I was pregnant with Earlybird. My mum crocheted the hat and scarf (as well as booties that have long since gone missing). The cradle basket was part of a gift basket we received from Bill's co-workers after we had EB. It makes a perfect crib for this little laddie!

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✨ Propped up here is an older picture book, all about community helpers. I added some corresponding vehicles to this cubby to keep things lively!

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✨ Another set of cubbies - the basket on top holds playsilks (for capes, etc.) and a royal fabric crown. (There is also a wooden camera that sits in here but it was MIA when I took the picture!) The bottom cubby has a sweet book of nursery school lessons and two plushie favorites - Peter and Benjamin Rabbit!

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✨  This set of cubbies holds favorite field guides and a pair of binoculars (top) ... as well as some favorite floor puzzles and games (bottom). Missing is the dinosaur floor puzzle which was being put to good use in the family room. ;)

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✨  Tucked behind the table are a few tote bags - one big one for Mama and two for Earlybird's primary homeschooling and ABA therapy resources.

Paper chain learning room

✨  A paper chain is a simple, pretty (and cheap!) learning room decoration! Earlybird LOVES paper chains, and counting down to special days. I used green and orange cardstock as well as some printed vintage print paper to make a paper chain with links for each day in September and October. We move a wooden clothespin along the links each day so EB has a visual reminder of how time is moving forward. (I'll make a new chain for the next season - Late Autumn, aka November & December.)

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✨  A garland of family photos strung above the worktable ... because, that's what it's all about! β€

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✨  I found this pine slice lazy susan at HomeGoods this summer and immediately thought it would be great for our homeschooling work table! And I love using mason jars for holding things like colored pencils, rulers, glue sticks, etc. The windowsill just behind the table holds our cute little prek mascot (a small fox Little Bear picked out at the craft store), a couple of new books for the season and a sweet log lantern, as well as our classroom cross ...

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✨ We've had this grapevine cross for a long time now, something bought at the craft store. (We use it at Easter as a living cross.) I haven't looked in a while but a few years back I checked Michael's and they had them. I added the wooden phrase, "Be Still" just recently (using a hot glue gun) because ... well, it's just a nice reminder to myself, and hopefully my children, to take time to breathe, listen, love - be loved - and feel blessed. ❀

Ok, we're nearly done now!

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✨  The final set of cubbies hold even more baskets and books and toys ... but on top we have our science/nature station, currently holding an assortment of late summer weeds, herbs and flowers. (What's still growing in our yard this month?) Science focus books up above ... What is a scientist? Nature focus books below ... In the Forest.🌲🌲🌲🌲

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✨  And here's my Little Bear enjoying his cubbies!

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✨ A stack of favorite car/truck/boat/plane/train books ... kept in place by a truck!

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✨ And this is Little Bear's snacktime basket, filled with a beloved Elsa Beskow set of dishes, a gift from my dear friend, Emma from Norway! Beneath the dishes are placemats and cloth napkins. Earlybird also has a cup and plate to use when we do snack together. (This is a weekly activity, a special snack that ties in with our seasonal theme.) 

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✨  A fantastically looong dragon lives in this basket! He originally belonged to Bookworm and has survived many years of "knights and dragon" play with my boys! He looks a little tired, doesn't he? But don't let him fool you! πŸ‰

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✨  And there are still more hand puppets! These are all of a certain size and style so I kept them together.

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✨ Here's the last end of the cubbies - with its atlases and social studies books as well as a wonderful wooden US puzzle, all leading to our "global awareness" corner ... 

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✨ Those cute magnets are gifts from Shirley, as well as the lovely post cards and some of the photos tacked to our boards. I had Bill hang two corkboards here and I placed our globe on top of the small fridge. A gift from my folks last Christmas, we use this fridge for parties and of course holding extra food! I bought a pretty white "farmhouse" pitcher in which I have that aforementioned apple "tea" - which is just organic apple juice and a fruity herb tea mixed together, sometimes with apple slices floating in it. And because it makes it feel a little different and special, we've been having "homeschool snack" at our worktable, while watching the wildlife outside our windows. :)

And speaking of wildlife ...

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✨  Here is the first stage of our outdoor "nature lab," which is just a regular old evergreen stump from our yard, pulled up onto the deck, in view of the sliders, where we can watch birds and chipmunks and squirrels up close!

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✨  And here's my Little Bear adding seed to the stump ... as you can see, he takes his job very seriously! (Even when wearing socks!😜 )

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✨  Oh, I forgot to show you these little chalkboards! They are hung above the coat pegs and I bought them at the craft store for a couple of dollars - including the wooden initials (one for each of my younger boys). I debated how to use these boards ... for assignments? Reminders? Vocabulary words? Poems? 

I finally decided to use these as "blessings boards" and each week the boys will read a new message about how they BLESS us with their very special selves. Something that is unique and treasured about each of them, perhaps something they've done recently that deserves notice and gratitude ... just a mention that I hope makes them feel appreciated and loved for exactly who they are! β€

(I already have Monday's ready in my head: O will read: "You ask such great questions!" and R will read: "You've shown great patience lately!")

Ok, I think I'd better wrap up at this point or else I might just go on and on ... and I've definitely kept you all here long enough! I hope you enjoyed this tour of our learning room and I thank you for stopping by! I will be devoting tomorrow to ironing out lesson plans for the week ahead because, while a pleasant atmosphere is certainly a good start, many ideas and activities need to be planned out and set up ahead of time. I'd love to do another post about that side of the equation - WHAT we do in addition to WHERE we do it! But I hope I at least gave you a little peek at how we spend our days. Little Bear is out here constantly, enjoying all those toys throughout the day and evening ... but we're still working on the concept of putting things back in place! And Earlybird comes out here often, too. Sometimes just to chill but also he does table work with his therapists here everyday. And I find myself out here lesson planning quite often ...

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It's been such fun coming up with ideas for making this a room that works in a lot of different ways!

Well my friends, I hope you all have a great rest of the weekend and once again, thanks so much for reading and let me know if you have any questions or would like me to follow up in any way. I hope to be back again soon with a post about those September event pages - Autumn Equinox and Michaelmas Day. Can you even believe we're already more than halfway through September???

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... see you here again very soon!


Seasonal Homeschooling: June's Weekly Themes!

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Hello my friends, and Happy Friday Saturday Sunday Monday! πŸŒž

(Whew, it's taken me a while to get this post done!)

Lots going on at the moment - homeschool dances, a year-end party, an ice cream social, the SAT, the last week of classes, doctors appointments, job changes ... phew! We're not usually this busy and I must admit, I'm looking forward to life slowing down again, but before that happens, we have a graduation party coming up this weekend! So the weekend was spent picking up party goods and getting the yard in order, and this week I'm cleaning the house room-by-room - but right now I'm indulging in some computer time. For one thing I really want to put up this post - and for another, it feels good to sit in the air conditioned room! (We're in the midst of a heatwave this week!)

Anyhoo, today I'd like to share some of my seasonal planning with you all. :) As I've blogged about before, I have a year's worth of weekly themes planned out, mostly based on the seasons and natural events. I use these themes as a springboard for weaving simple seasonal joys and awareness into our family life - via our home, food, education, activities, etc. Some weeks we do a lot with the theme and others not as much - it really depends on available time/energy/interest/mood/ and the weather, etc. I try to be very flexible and keep my expectations realistic.

For example, this week's seasonal theme is "butterflies," but with the big shindig planned for this weekend, any extra time and energy is focused on party prep these days ... so I know we won't delve into the theme as deeply as we might another year. And that's OK. I'm still sneaking in some butterfly goodness where I can. :)

So below I've written about my current themes for the month of June and why I chose them - as well as a few ideas for each week. I always have a LOT of ideas but that's not to say we do all those things! Some ideas work well while others might get left for next year. (Because I do recycle the themes, generally speaking ... part of the joy of the seasons for me is in the way they return to us every year, always seeming new and fresh but comfortingly familiar.)

You can read more about this idea and see my list of 52 themes here in this post but here's what I've planned for this month ...

5/29-6/4 "home garden"

    * Memorial Day is the traditional planting time in New England! We'll work together to plan and prepare our garden bed, concentrating on a sunny spot behind the sunroom. Keeping it very simple - something the boys can tend and enjoy. I have some books set aside for the younger two: This Year's Garden, Let's Grow a Garden, A Year in Our New Garden - and these will be woven into our home lessons this week. I also ordered two new books I think Little Bear, in particular, will love: The Vegetables We Eat and The Fruits We Eat. We just love those Gail Gibbons books! We'll also take a trip to the local farm to buy the plants we've noted on our list, and plant the seedlings at home. We'll take stock of our gardening tools and come up with a routine (chart?) for taking care of our garden. (Who will be responsible for which tasks and when?)

*True confession - we didn't get our plants planted that week! We talked about the gardens we already have (home orchard, herb patch) and the one we'd like to create (kitchen garden), and we readied a new garden bed ... but have yet to purchase seedlings! That's something I hope to do next week when we're all on a quiet, "home" vacation. :)

6/5-6/11 "strawberries"

    * The time is "ripe" to think about and enjoy strawberries - and for several reasons! This is the week of the Full Strawberry Moon as well as a local strawberry festival AND the berries themselves are just coming into their season. As you can see in the picture at the top of my post, our wild strawberries are blooming well - and all over the yard! Our local farms are advertising that their berries will be in the stands and ready for picking this coming weekend. We'll be reading The First Strawberries, and we'll spend time observing the wild strawberries growing in our yard. We'll take photos and/or make sketches for the nature journals. When they turn red, we'll try some in our morning cereal. We'll moon gaze, of course, and we'll head to our local farm to purchase strawberries in bulk. Back home we'll try making some strawberry-rhubarb jam (using our own homegrown rhubarb!). After we've hulled our berries we'll bring the tops out to our hens - they'll love them! I have a terry-cloth tablecloth with a strawberry print that belonged to my grandmother - that will grace our kitchen table this week. :)

* True confession - We didn't make it to the farm, and we didn't make jam, but I did bring home a big package of organic berries that the boys snacked on all week. I am hoping to make jam next week, once things have quieted down. We do have PLENTY of rhubarb stalks in the fridge, awaiting their sweeter counterpart!

6/12-6/18 "butterflies"

     * Now that warmer weather is here and flowers are blooming brightly, it's a perfect time for watching butterflies! We see them for sure, but don't get a whole lot in our yard, so I'm trying to remedy that with more butterfly-friendly plantings. One thing we'll do in our homeschooling this week is to research what plants attract butterflies. (I have lots of resources in our nature cabinet, and have already flagged the pages that refer to this topic.) I'd like to do a page in our nature journal for listing these plants and keeping notes on butterfly sightings this summer. (Bookworm already caught a lovely winged friend on his phone camera last week - a blue and black beauty that didn't linger long before heading to the skies.) There are all kinds of butterfly crafts we could do (a quick Pinterest search confirms that!) but I'll keep things very simple this year. I would love however, to make a butterfly bath and plan to pick up the materials at the craft store and set them aside for a slow summer's day project. The younger boys will read A Butterfly is Patient, and we'll use photocopies of this butterfly coloring book as we learn about different species. (Fyi, I absolutely LOVE using Dover coloring books with our homeschooling!)

*True confession - as noted above - it's a busy week here, there's not a lot of time for butterflies! Happily, butterflies will be around all summer - and hopefully we'll remember to keep our eyes open for them!

6/19-6/25 "sunshine"

    * The Summer Solstice arrives this week (Wednesday at 12:24 a.m., to be exact!) and so begins the season of SUN! Indeed, the longest day of the year is the Solstice itself so what better week to celebrate the glory of sunshine? We'll learn about the science and folklore of the Solstice, using several books. (Two of our favorites: The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice and The Summer Solstice.) Like last year, we will choose a solstice branch from the yard (and/or the wood pile) and hang it in our south-facing, sunny kitchen nook window. How we'll decorate it this year I'm not entirely sure - I'm hoping a trip to the craft store will spark an idea! We will also have a bonfire next week, depending on weather ... and naturally we'll be singing "You are My Sunshine" and "Sunshine on My Shoulder." Or, I should say, Little Bear and I will be singing sunny songs during our morning music time. (EB has sensory issues about singing singing and yet LB absolutely loves it! So in the very early mornings, LB and I sit by the open bedroom window, and sing in our rocking chair. We also sing while potty training - but that's a whole different story!) As a family we'll enjoy some barbecue and sun tea; we'll also make fresh lemonade and homemade Sun bread this week. :)

6/26-7/2 "herbs at home"

    * My hope is during the week previous to this one (our quiet, home-vacation week) we will have a chance to visit my favorite herb farm and come home with some new plants for my herb garden. I LOVE herbs and though my herb garden (or patch, really) is on the small side, I try to expand it a little each year. This week I'd like to use herbs as much as possible at home - in our cooking and cleaning, and maybe even in our health and hygiene. (I have lots of recipes and resources, and am combing through them now to pick out some ideas.) In our home learning we'll be investigating the history of herbalism and I have a couple of great coloring books for the boys to use (Medicinal Plants and Herbs, both by Dover). As we learn about common herbs, we'll make species pages, and note how they were used in the past - by native Americans, early settlers, colonial cooks and physicans. I also have my eye on a game called Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure - the price is a bit steep so I'll see just how interested my kids seem in the concept of herbal knowledge before I splurge!

Ok, so that's a look at the seasonal themes we'll be exploring this month, and some thoughts on how we might do this - given the time and inclination! I always follow my kids' leads - setting things up for them, inviting them to join me - but it they're not so interested, that's all right, too. Obviously I try to include lots of child-friendly activities, and over the years I think they absorb a sense of the seasons, and the rhythm of the year. I just try to model a constant awareness of and enthusiasm for a season and expose my kids to ideas and interesting activities. I think just being aware of such simple but meaningful concepts - gardening, strawberries, butterflies, sunshine and herbs - can be a little blessing for my family. Kind of a soft balm against a hard world that prefers fast and frenzied over slow and simple. The seasons take their time, and despite what the stores say, they always arrive when they're good and ready. β€

Well my friends, I'm going to wrap up now because as usual, this post went on longer than I intended! But I hope this was fun for you to read or maybe there was an idea or two here that sounded interesting to you. I will be back as soon as I can with a new post - a party recap perhaps, or a review of my new Day Designer (12 days in and still loving it!) as well as some thoughts on revamping my household routines ...

But for now I will say goodbye and wish you well ... hope to see you here again very soon! 


A Peek into Our Sunny Schoolroom ... ❀

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Hello and Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your new (and Holy!) week is off to a great start. :)

So last August I mentioned that we were finally ready to turn our sunroom into a formal learning room. But I guess "finally ready" wasn't quite accurate ... more like, "we're nearly ready" or "it's time to make a list" or perhaps, "when we can find some spare time let's get a few things set up!" Meanwhile life carried on, learning and play happened, while the room slowly came together - taking time out to host Thanksgiving for 20 and a Christmas Day Open House - then shutting down completely throughout the coldest weeks of the winter, because, as a three-season room, it doesn't have its own heat!

Well, warm and sunny days are here at last and the room has come together rather nicely! So how about a tour? :)

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This is looking in from the family room ... through what used to be the back door of the house before the previous owners built this south-facing sunroom. Archie is relishing the fresh breezes and constant critter activity!

And as you can see, there are patio doors leading out to the ... well, patio. And just beyond that are the birdfeeders and herb garden - both important parts of our homeschool! Inside we have a portable greenhouse (aka "classroom garden") and a small fridge. The fridge was a Christmas gift to Bill for his "man cave" downstairs but this is as far as it got! It's actually pretty handy having it on the main floor, especially when entertaining.

On top of the fridge I have one of our favorite seasonal books open to the April spread, along with some spring flowering branches ...

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And a lovely sign I got at Home Goods a couple of years ago. :)

I decided this would be a monthly verse corner ... not really a nature corner because that would mean tiny treasures and hands-on, investigative projects. This is more of a seasonal (top of fridge) shelf with an illustrated poem on display which I'll change up each month. The water-filled vases are set just up and back enough to be out of the way of little hands and paws - so far, anyway. Knock on wood! I'll change this corner up for May with the first dandelions and violets, flowering crab or apple branches and one or two other seasonal flourishes. Later on there will be driftwood, beach roses and a jar of seashells maybe ... then in the fall a small harvest sampling - apples and pumpkins and branches of burnished leaves. ETC. :)

(Clearly this corner is meant more for ME than the boys, but hey - even teachers need their visual inspiration, right?)

Right now the classroom garden has plenty of sprouting seeds!

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(Catnip for our kitties ...)

Just inside the doorway is a spot for Little Bear's jackets, backpack and shoes ...

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(Plus Mom's boots!)

On the floor we have a few different area rugs. Some are for comfort and some are for scraping shoes! And some are for learning and play ...

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The US map rug gets a lot of use since this year we're studying American history! (Crackerjack takes a local homeschool class but Earlybird and I are studying US geography - with a focus on state birds and flowers - at home. In fact, this coloring book and this picture book - along with a favorite geography book as well as several kinds of maps - have really kept EB curious and on track! (I can go into further detail sometime if anyone would like. This has been a really fun study.)

Ok, here's the back wall of the schoolroom - it faces south and lets in a good deal of light!

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I use the window ledges to display the books we are using that week (tying into seasonal themes and study topics). So this week we have ...

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Eggs!

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Easter, rabbits and (from last week) rain ...

The rooster postcard I've had for years - it's part of a lovely set purchased through Nova Natural. And speaking of roosters, next week Petook will take its place on this shelf. How I love that Easter story! And the bunny is a finger puppet - he appeared in one of the boys' Easter baskets last year. I tie storytelling and puppetry into our homeschooling whenever I can. ❀ Fyi, our educational approach has always been a mix of Charlotte Mason and Waldorf philosophies, primarily. As you probably know, if you've read my blog for any length of time! :)

And here are books about our current read-aloud:

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The Spiderwick Chronicles were beloved by my older boys (and me!) back in the day - and since Earlybird really enjoyed Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone last fall, I thought I'd try this series. We listen to audiobooks in the car - a great way for EB to experience all kinds of literature! - and I'm happy to say he's really absorbed by the Spiderwick series as well. We are on book four right now, The Ironwood Tree.

And beneath these windows stands the train table ...

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We've had this train table forevah and it has really held up quite well! I think we got it for Crackerjack when he was ... um, two? So that's about 15 years! Both Little Bear AND Earlybird play here every single day. EB (15) is developmentally delayed so he still plays with a lot of what one might consider "young" toys. Plus he has loved trains since he was tiny. It's nice (most of the time) that both our younger boys enjoy playing trains because often (though not always) they play with them well together. (Though we do go through phases where the standing rule is one kid at a time. Complete with timers.)

I use baskets to contain the tracks and trains beneath the table. Much like the cars and trucks collection described in my "Tale of Four Carts" post, these are only a fraction of the tracks and trains we own. The bulk is downstairs and we switch things up from time to time. (Legos are handled similarly - or were since nobody plays with Legos at the moment.)

Next comes this great easel ...

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This was a roadside find last fall! It's beautifully made - the other side has a dry erase white board, but we pretty much just use the chalkboard right now. I use it to write questions for EB to figure out (usually during his therapy hours). Beneath the chalkboard is a crate full of "extraneous" books ... not currently connected to any topic or theme, but reserved for the future or books we like to return to on a regular basis. (The bulk of our books are stored ... wait for it! ... in the basement.)

Never one to let good storage space go to waste ...

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I have the On-the-Go Water Wow activity booklets tucked in a little basket here ... and oh my GOODNESS does Little Bear just love these things! They keep him busy for hours ... or you know, at least 10 minutes. We have a whole bunch of them and they are well-used and still work great!

Now, just behind the chalkboard you can see our faith and nature shelves ...

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Top to bottom:

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Liturgical resources - these are the ones I like to have close by - many beloved storybooks organized by feast day (more or less) and my most-used Catholic idea books.

Next shelf:

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My favorite seasonal resources - including ones I've had for years and re-read often even though I pretty much know them by heart! These are quite crafty and "Waldorf" in flavor. :)

Bottom shelf:

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Here is the location of our new nature shelf!

It's just the right height for Little Bear to observe and manage. Admittedly, it's pretty sparse at the moment - we're just coming out of winter so we don't have many "fresh" treasures to display! But I do have some preserved items here as well as a flower press, binoculars, and two of my favorite children's nature guides: Round the Year by Enid Blyton (a gorgeous and generous gift from my dear friend, Kimberly) and Nature Hikes - an OLD but priceless nature walk resource.

In the cabinet at the bottom of this bookcase I keep most of my nature study resources ...

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And in a small basket perched on a small table I have all our field guides ...

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Now, tucked in on the other side of the bookcase is our homeschooling cart:

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This cart holds ...

Top bin: Earlybird's go-to educational resources, as well as my homemade lesson planning notebook

Middle bin: my favorite early learning teacher guides, and a fun little "basics" book for Little Bear

Bottom bin: favorite flash cards, educational games and a toddler workbook for when LB wants to "do school" like his brothers :)

I love how this cart looks out here - but what I really love though is how easy it is to move around! I can wheel this cart out to my "teacher desk" in the next room when I'm lesson planning!

Next comes the learning line and more books on display ...

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The clothespins hold pages EB has used for his studies during the week. Some are photocopies of books we're using and some are coloring pages he's worked on. He is a very visual learner  - doesn't really care to talk too much about things but likes to look back at stuff we've done. I sometimes use post-it notes on these pages to prompt further connections. For example, on a state bird & flower coloring page I might ask EB to look up that particular bird in our field guide, or find the flower in our yard. On a human body coloring page about breathing, I might ask EB to do a simple science experiment involving his own breathing. And so forth ...

The books displayed here, from right to left, celebrate the themes of ...

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Spring!

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Colors!

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The World around Us!

I do have a lot of wooden toys and educational items out here - these are treasured items that we've been collecting for many years! And can I just say how much I LOVE Toot & Puddle? Thankfully, so do the boys. :)

In the next corner of the room I'm in the midst of organizing a geography corner ...

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It's still in need of a little work - for one thing, that pretty table (a yard sale find!) needs a new coat of paint (something more boyish) and for another, Little Bear's chair is a bit cramped here! But the heating element is on the wall just to the left and I really don't want him sitting here until it's turned off for the spring-summer-fall. (Which should be any day now - thank goodness!)

The other items here are a globe (which is a bit wobbly), a wooden US puzzle (which is missing Missouri), a small planets board book EB and I made for LB last year, and tucked in the far corner against the wall are several large, child-friendly atlases. These are GREAT for spreading out on the floor!

I would very much like to add some book ledges on this wall so I can display picture books about the current state or country we're studying. We've been using the Discover America State by State book series as we move from region to region and they have been a HUGE hit with Earlybird! I might also like to add a small bulletin board here so we can tack up articles about, and prayer needs for, the people and cultures of this great wide world.

Ok, turning the corner now ...

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This wall is mostly all Little Bear's toys ... and mostly hand-me-downs from his older brothers!

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Our collection of nature puppets - oh, how they have been loved through the years! (And please note the bandaids on several of them. This was Little Bear's doing some time ago when just about everyone had a "boo-boo" of one kind or another.)

More stuffed animals here ...

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And here ...

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And the wooden barn that I'm pretty sure I love more than anyone ...

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The barn sits on a sweet red children's table that belonged to me when I was little - and my mum before me, and my great aunt before that! It was soft yellow when I had it, but my mother painted it this cheerful red after Little Bear was born. The basket beneath the table holds our wooden figures collection. I am so pleased Little Bear has taken a real interest in these. I bought most of these when Earlybird was young (and I was just getting into all things Waldorf-inspired) but EB didn't really take to them. (Imaginative play was and still is a challenge for him.) 

Then we have a couple of wooden stools and an unfinished cubby holding an assortment of toys ...

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Favorite wooden puzzles, an alphabet abacus and a farm-themed tin filled with a bunch of favorite board books. All years-old and well-used! (Are you sensing a theme here, lol?) Little Bear got the tool set for Christmas (does this boy ever love to "help" Daddy with his work!) and the red basket underneath holds play-doh stuff. The lower cubbies hold (l-r) Duplos, a wooden tea set (in the woodland box) and story stones (sea animals and wooden puzzles are stacked in bins just behind). The wooden bin on the right holds yet more wooden puzzles!

(We have always been big on puzzles around here! Bookworm used to like doing them upside down. I kid you not.)

And then we have the treehouses ...

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Also several years old but Little Bear enjoys both of these toys - hooray! Mostly it's the dinosaurs that live in the wooden tree fort (they were off somewhere else when the picture was taken) and the soft tree stump is usually stuffed full of wooden alphabet blocks. Go figure.

Finally, our work table ...

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And it is truly a worktable as you can see from the picture above! A bit of a mess, yes - but beloved, as it once sat in my grandparents' kitchen. It's hardly in the pristine shape in which they kept it, but I like to think they'd be pleased their great-grandsons have all spent a whole lot of time around it ... learning, crafting, playing, snacking. In the middle of the table I have a tray holding a basket of crayons and the day's paperwork.

And now for my favorite part of the whole room ...

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A view of the rest of our "schoolroom" ... which lies just outside these big windows! β€

Well I guess I'd best wrap up now ... but I hope you enjoyed this not-very-brief tour of our schoolroom! I took all these pictures over the past week or so - waiting for sunny days so the light was good! - but tomorrow I am dismantling a few areas to make room for Easter dinner tables. Thankfully this room is still versatile enough that we can use it for entertaining when needed. :)

So thanks as always for stopping by ... and my best wishes to you and yours as the Easter holiday approaches ... and to those who celebrate, Happy Passover!

And of course, a Joyous Springtide to all! β€

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends ... I'll see you here again very soon!


A Quick Craft to Welcome Spring ... ❀

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... because spring IS coming, without a doubt - nevermind the historic BLIZZARD bearing down on New England as I type up this post! Yes, we are in for a lot of snow tomorrow - over a foot, maybe a foot and a half - plus high winds and all the usual hazards that arrive along with a Nor'easter ...

However! I'm keeping a steady weather eye on next Monday, which is in fact the first day of Spring - with the vernal equinox arriving at 6:29 a.m.! Early spring can indeed be snowy in our region so it just is what it is - cold and blustery perhaps - but the birds are still singing a different song, and the bulb shoots are still breaking ground, and the days are growing longer and lighter ...

Well, big snow or no, I decided on this bright and sunny (albeit cold) morning to make up a wreath in order to welcome the new season, once it arrives and whatever the weather it brings with it. It was so super easy to do, and turned out so well, I just had to share!

I began with a grapevine wreath. I like to have these on hand as they make nice seasonal wreaths or centerpieces, and can be changed up quickly with ribbons, silk flowers and little holiday do-dads. Many families use a wreath like this for a Lenten crown of thorns project at this time of year - a tradition I love, but opted not to include since I have a curious little fellow at home who would make short - and undoubtedly dangerous - work of all those toothpicks. But maybe next year ...

So to this plain wreath I added a couple of simple embellishments ...

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My materials: a spool of ecru lace ribbon (sturdy, not sheer), a bag of speckled plastic eggs in soft shades of green and white, and a sweet "moss" covered rabbit.

I found all these items at Michaels Arts & Crafts yesterday where they were having a fantastic 40% sale on Easter decor. (I also bought a really cool metal utility cart which I will tell you all about in a post later this week!)

The first thing I did was to wrap the ribbon around the wreath ...

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... using a hot-glue gun to secure the two ends. Then I used the hot-glue gun to attach the eggs and bunny to the wreath ...

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And that was it! I won't hang this until Monday morning, but here's a sneak preview ...

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(Note: I had to reattach a couple of the eggs which did not have enough glue on them. I think it helps to press them into the grapevine for a minute or so to allow the glue to take hold.)

I have always wanted an "egg wreath" for the front door but the ones I've seen at the stores have either been quite expensive - or reasonable, but a tad garish. I really like the soft greens and beiges here because to me, these are the shades of earliest spring ... just before the world explodes in a riot of Easter pastels!

(I also have a forsythia wreath which we'll hang closer to Easter, probably on Palm Sunday.)

And I love featuring two special Easter symbols in my springtime wreath - because both rabbits and eggs represent new life and have ancient roots in their holiday connection! This is something the boys and I are investigating this year: how so many aspects of nature - including the four elements and various flora and fauna - are tied in with our faith traditions. And not just ours but other faith traditions as well!

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(A page from one of my favorite holiday books - Lilies, Rabbits and Painted Eggs: The Story of Easter Symbols by Edna Barth. She has a whole series of books about holiday symbols and they are all wonderful!)

Nature has always played an important role in the shaping of humanity and its interpretation of the world around it. We obviously don't need to rely on nature as much as our ancestors once did (for example, if a crop fails, I just pay a bit more at the market - my family doesn't starve), but I think a healthy amount of knowledge and respect (along with a good dose of awe) should be part of every child's upbringing. :)

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So come on, Spring - we're ready for you! Don't be shy ... let's send Winter packing and get on with the business of new life!

❀

Well my friends, I thank you all for stopping by! I'll be back again soon with a new post - I have so many drafts percolating, I hardly know where to begin! - but for now I'll leave you with my wish that you all have a good week ... and my hope that wherever you are, your winter ends peacefully and promptly!

Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and I will see you here again very soon ...