Storytelling Feed

Seasonal Homeschooling: Pumpkin Week Recap!


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 ...


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.


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.)


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


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 ...


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


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!


(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 ...


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 ...


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!


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!


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 ...


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


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 ...


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!

Pumpkin goodies

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 ...

Learning room

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


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? :)


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!)


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!


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!)


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!)

Wind chimes

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!)


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!)


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!

Advent Tea, Week 1: Stones, Stars & Shortbread

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Hello my friends and Happy Friday! Did this week go by REALLY fast or is it just me? Seriously - it feels like we were just finishing up Thanksgiving dinner and now here we are nearing the end of the first week of Advent! 

Well, at any rate - welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by and, goodness - please come on in out of the cold and let me offer you something warm to drink. Or maybe it's raining where you are ... or perhaps it's perfectly sunny and warm? But whatever the weather, please do come in! Let's pause together for some rest and refreshment ... time passes too quickly nowadays. We should sit down and savor the season while we can!

Now, my Tea theme this week, as you've probably gathered from the post title, is reflective of where we are in Advent this week. As described in yesterday's post, our family's Advent is a celebration of God's beautiful creation, because the whole world waits together for the miracle of life (and light) to return! Just as the earth goes quiet and dark at this time of year, we too slow down and turn inward, looking for ways to light the path before us ...


2:43 p.m. and yes, the sun is going down ...

So this week we are focusing on the beauty of "earth and sky" - stars, stones, shells, sun and soil. We'll be making crafts that utilize and rejoice in these blessings of creation. Because when you take the time to really observe and think about these things - particularly if you look through the eyes of a child - you get such a sense for how wondrous our world truly is.

And for me personally, I really do relish crafting with natural materials ... these kinds of projects, most of which become gifts or tree ornaments, just seem especially meaningful to me. :)

Ok, so I have several things to tell you about, but let's start with my tea mug this week ...

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This mug is an oldie but goodie and some readers might recognize it since I've shared it a few times before! But it's my favorite and most comfortable mug. And though it feels wintry to me, I use it all year round. And today in this mug I'm enjoying another old Advent favorite - Harney & Sons' Holiday Tea. This is a black tea blended with subtle spices with a lovely vanilla-type of taste. (I don't believe there's any vanilla in the tea itself, but it just seems creamy and comforting to me.) It's GREAT with a wee bit of sugar and a healthy dose of whole milk. :)

The shortbread you see on the plate - one piece for me, one for Little Bear - was baked Wednesday in honor of St. Andrew (of Scotland). Maybe it's because I'm part Scottish (my maternal grandmother was born in Edinburgh), but shortbread is my hands-down favorite type of cookie! I just love the simplicity of shortbread - the flavor and texture is perfect to my mind (or I should say, palate). I'm always tempted to dip the ends of the bars in melted dark chocolate or thick caramel but then never do. Maybe I'll try that for Christmas this year.

In these pictures you can see I was sitting in a rather sunny spot ...


The kitchen table gets such wonderful light all day. Usually I "take tea" in the library, but this is where I spread out yesterday - it was bit of a "working" tea. ;)

Here is a closer picture of our Advent Garden-in-progress ...


Last year we set up an Advent Garden on the patio and while I enjoyed having it there very much, I decided to do something different this year. (Ok, truth be told I had a much larger scale project in mind originally - turning a small section of the yard into a grotto of sorts - but that was deemed a project better suited to spring!)

So instead, we're bringing our garden indoors. Throughout Advent, each week we will add a new layer of creation to this terrarium bowl. This week we've added stones (and soon to come soil), then next week will be plants (aka moss from the garden). In the third week of Advent, we'll add some small animal figures, and then finally, in the last week before Christmas, we will celebrate our own kingdom of creation, humankind - with tiny peg people and little wooden houses.

I'm really excited for this project and I love how it's being done in stages ... really highlighting the "waiting" aspect of Advent. It's certainly piqued the curiosity of my cats and kids ... and even guests to our home!

Now the candles around the bowl technically number 23 instead of 24 - but you didn't hear that from me. *wink* It's all I could scrape up! I had purchased glittery battery-lit tealights for this project but then they didn't really all fit ... size-wise nor sense-wise. (Glitter is lovely but not necessarily, natural.) Then I remembered my collection of beeswax tealights and thought how much more fitting they would be. Some have already been burned a little but that's ok. We'll light a candle each night throughout Advent (one will be lit twice) and that will be another nice way for us to pace ourselves a bit. To gather around the supper table and talk about the good things that happened that day ...


Here are a couple of stories we're reading during this week of "stones and stars." Three Pebbles and a Song is actually one of our November books but I kept it aside just for this week. It is such a sweet little tale, perfect for this time of year - all about preparing for the long winter and appreciating that we all have gifts to offer. The illustrations - in grays, blues, browns and beige - perfectly suit these bleak days of early December. And another favorite book is this retelling of the fairy tale The Star Child - with its gorgeous illustrations and heartwarming tale of generosity and selflessness. I love how the little girl in the story is so selfless and never once hesitates to hand over something of her own to help another in need. Little ones might fret a bit over the girl's condition (as she slowly sheds her belongings) but her reward at the end of the story is simple and satisfying. β€

Speaking of stories ....


Another thing I'm doing this year is creating an Advent nature story to share with my younger boys - in particular my Little Bear who loves to snuggle and "hear stories." β€ I bought a couple of bags of "river" stones at the craft store (they're cleaner and more uniformly shaped than our yard stones!) and each stone is painted with a symbol from nature. The story is very simple (just a few lines a day) but it leads us towards Christmas in a way that meanders through creation ...

So ... we begin with a sleepy sun, a friendly starfish, a lonely rock, and a generous star ... and then next week we'll meet proud trees and humble plants ... later on there will be hungry birds, silly crows, clever bees ... and at last ... a humble home, a friendly barn and a very loving family. :)

I'm storing the stones in the 24 little drawers of that wooden Advent tree seen below, and each day we'll pull out a stone, tell its tale (Earlybird can read the card) and then nestle it in amongst the green branches.


I'm having a lot of fun with it so far! And the boys seem intrigued. :) And since my artistic talents are somewhat limited, I have enlisted our resident 17 year-old artist, Crackerjack, to help me out with painting the stones ... β€

Now I have one more thing to show you ... something that will be part of my "Winter Comforts Basket" giveaway!


These pretty soaps are made by a company called Hand in Hand, and whether you buy them for yourself or a friend (online or at Target), they are a gift that truly gives back. Because for every purchase, HiH gives a month's worth of soap and clean water to a needy child. β€ These soaps are so well-crafted, softly-scented, earth-friendly AND gorgeously-wrapped. (I love the subtle colors and natural themes!) I'm giving several people on my gift list a bar of this beautiful soap, and ...

... whoever wins my "Winter Comforts Basket" will receive one as well!

(Remember - to enter my Winter Comforts Basket giveaway, all you have to do is send me a picture of your favorite mug or cup. It can be a special one you use at the holidays, throughout the winter, or any old day. You can send me your picture by attaching it to an email (send to drhanigan AT gmail DOT com). Feel free to tell me as much as you'd like about your mug - we love to talk tea here! (And cocoa, coffee, mulled cider, etc.!) I will share these pictures in my weekly Tea posts and then, on New Year's Eve, I will randomly pick a winner! 

So without further ado, here are this week's Tea Friends ... :)

From Elizabeth: "I'm sending you a picture of my favorite mug that I use all the time. I love to enjoy hot chocolate, herbal tea and spiced apple cider in the evenings. Especially with a good book or favorite episode of a beloved TV show or movie."

Friends Tea 1


From Lauren: "For your tea post, I wanted to share my favorite tea cup that I use during the winter season."

Friends Tea 2


From Heather: "I have to share more than one ... They are all perfect for the season! Happy Advent!"

Friends Tea 3

"My Pioneer Woman Christmas Tree Mug."

Friends Tea 4

"My 'Home is the Nicest Word There is' Mug."

Friends Tea 5

"My Mary and Martha "Lovely" Mugs."

Friends Tea 6

"And these little glass mugs in our hot chocolate bar!"


And from Gill:

Friends Tea 7

"This is a photo of the corner of my kitchen, where I stand to make tea or coffee, cook and bake, or turn 90' to wash up! I spend many contented hours exactly here working or dreaming or gazing out of my window to the front yard, where the dog, cats, hens and wild birds all interact!

In the summer the troughs against the yard wall are overflowing with flowers, now they are stuffed full of daffodil, crocus and narcissus bulbs, covered over with pine branches. The tree is the one we went into the forest to cut down last weekend. The bird feeders are usually busy. It is the funniest thing that the wild birds throw down seed to the hens beneath, and the hens keep the cats away!

You can just see that I have hung my Christmas curtains and that they are swathed with fairy lights. I have my breakfast ready: Norwegian brown goats cheese on bread and a cafe latte in my favorite Emma Bridgewater JOY mug. The board I have my bread on says " A friendly word can work wonders" which is so very true. I had just poured my coffee when your post pinged in, so I snapped the photo and hope you won't mind an Advent breakfast instead of tea!

Wishing you a very peaceful Advent ..."


Oh my goodness, wasn't that fun? I just love talking "tea" (etc.) with friends. I do so wish we could all sit down in person and chat, but I guess for now this is the next best thing. (Maybe someday I'll figure out that periscope trend, lol ... or maybe host a "seasonal tea" webinar??)

My sincere thanks to Elizabeth Mary, Lauren, Heather and Gill for sharing their beautiful cups! I loved seeing them and hearing their thoughts on this cozy, happy topic!

And thank you all for joining me today ... I hope you enjoyed our teatime and hearing a little more about my family's Advent rituals. I will share Tea again here next Friday, and all are welcome to partake. If you'd like to send me a picture for the post (and giveaway!) please do so at your earliest convenience, by attaching a photo to an email addressed to ...

drhanigan AT gmail DOT com

I hope to hear from you! Until then, have a happy and restful weekend and I will see you all here again very soon!

~A Raccoon, a Cricket and a Few Book Reviews~


Look who paid a visit to the feeders early this morning!

Bill first spotted the raccoon on our roof, as it was closely inspecting the chimney. (Hmmm.) Next thing we knew it was in the seedtray, feasting away. It was not at all concerned with us, even after I opened the window and clicked and beeped away with my camera. I find it surprising (unsettling maybe) that a raccoon was out and about in the daylight hours. Aren't they supposed to be nocturnal? The other odd thing was that it was alone - when we've spotted racoons before there has always been a small gang of them.

It was damp overnight, and it's quite drizzly still - I think we might head outside in a bit to scout around for tracks in the muddy areas. I love this passage about raccoon prints from the Handbook of Nature Study:

"What country child, wandering by the brook and watching its turbulence in early spring, has not viewed with awe a footprint on the muddy banks looking as if it were made by a very little baby? The first one I saw I promptly concluded was made by the foot of a brook fairy. However the coon is no fairy ..."

(A brook fairy? How sweet!)

So now the small raccoon puppet has taken its place on the nature shelf. Later today, Earlybird and I will make up a small story about our encounter, including the blue jay and the red squirrel puppets as well - the two creatures who were brave enough to challenge the coon for the seedtray this morning.

I have also dug out Raccoons and Ripe Corn by Jim Arnosky, which is such a nice book, and the focus of a wonderful Reading Rainbow episode in which Lavar does some nature study with Mr. Arnosky himself! Don't you just love Reading Rainbow? :)

And, hey! Just as I was about to go to press, so to speak, look what I found in, of all places, the laundry pile!


A quick internet search has me wondering if this might be a cave cricket. We've found one or two before, only those were dead. Now that we have a live one in our possession, we have made a temporary home for it on our nature shelf (a tall glass jar with a pierced paper towel for a lid). We placed two bottle caps inside - one with a bit of water and the other with a bit of crushed pineapple. We're not sure if this is at all appropriate - or even appetizing - so we'll watch the cricket throughout the day and see what transpires. If he looks at all distressed, we will release him - only not back into my laundry pile, lol!

So where do I go when we have a new nature study subject to consider? Why to Amazon of course! And consequently, I now have Chirping Crickets and Quick as a Cricket in my cart. ;) I usually cross-check titles with my library, but I happen to have a gift certificate to use up, so I think we'll splurge a little. :) 

Good picture books are such a fabulous investment, anyway. I can think of no better way to expand upon nature studies than to follow up with a few (or many!) good books. So while I'm here, I'd like to mention a few other nature-themed picture books we have on display this week:

The Salamander Room ~ This was recommended by a friend after I described our recent woodland surprise. It's the dreamy story of a little boy who finds a salamander and imagines a scheme for keeping him happy and safe in his room. (Or at least we assume he is imagining it - that might be up for debate!) His mother questions him repeatedly (in a kind, not reproachful way), but the boy seemingly has an answer for everything, and a plan to meet his new pet's every need. A sweet and cheerful tale, it invites conversation about what living things need to live well.

The Tree in the Ancient Forest ~ A beautiful story told in the tradition of the Mother Goose verse, "This is the house that Jack built ..." It begins and ends with "This is the three-hundred-year-old tree that grows in the ancient forest ...," and in between it explores the life that thrives beneath, inside and all around this majestic force of nature. It is very much a circle of life story (the owl follows the vole, the marten follows the squirrel), but in a gentle and lyrical way. It's from Dawn Publications which publishes fabulous nature books, both fiction and non (including the well-known Sharing Nature with Children series by Joseph Cornell).

Our Apple Tree ~ I bought this book without even opening the cover - theOurappletree cover itself appealed to me so! (See picture below.) The story, and the illustrations inside, did not disappoint. A pair of tiny apple tree elves describe the seasons of their tree to the reader - beginning with winter's rest, and the various wildlife that frequent it (nuthatches, pheasants and honeybees). By the end of the story, the elves and their tree are quietly sleeping again, and we are left with a happy sense of completion - and a recipe for apple crisp. Apple tree books are generally thought of as autumn stories, but I think May is a perfect time to start talking about apple trees ~ when the branches are laden with their magnificent blooms, and the whole cycle of life has begun. This little book would be perfect to bring along on a picnic at the orchard - and don't forget the sketch pads!

Well, this post has meandered all over the place - from the birdfeeders, to the laundry pile to the bookshelf! And now I must be off to get this day started. Looks to be a rainy one, which is okay ~ we have much to do (and apparently to see!) within the four walls of our home.

Have a good one, my friends!

The Chickadee Post, Mid-December


Dear Earlybird,

Today is a very cold day in the woodland. Most of our food sources are snowed under, so we really appreciate the food your family puts out for us! Many of my feathered friends like the black oil seed the best, but I also like your spruce tree cones! I've sent you one as a small gift ~ I'm not sure if you like to eat spruce cones (I'm guessing probably not since there's always plenty on your tree!), but maybe you could put it on your nature shelf? (Or you could hang it on your Christmas tree. I've seen it through the windows. The lights are very pretty!)

In other woodland news, a Cooper's hawk has made himself quite a nuisance at the feeders. Perhaps you heard about poor Red Belly's close call yesterday? She's one lucky woodpecker, I tell you! Lately I've been keeping to the deeper areas of the woodland, so I've been safe. I'll come visit later in the winter when my food stores run low!

Well, Earlybird, I'd best get this note off to you as I'm expecting my cousin Gray Tail for tea at any moment. (I bet you'd like to know what I'm serving: fresh juniper juice and thistle seed cake!)

And here's Little Chickadee now, ready to deliver my note to you today! I'm so glad your Nana made you that special mailbox ~ now we can share all kinds of news with each other!

Keep warm and be well, my dear little boy ...

Your Friend,

Red Tail the Squirrel

There was some excitement here yesterday afternoon ~ Earlybird received his very first piece of Chickadee Post! How did he know? Well, for starters, the flag was up on his special nature mailbox!

Inside the box, EB found (top photo) a small note card and a real spruce cone ...


Now, the note card is just a piece of oatmeal-hued cardstock, folded over and adhered with a sticker. I used a rubber stamp for the chickadee image (and thankfully, my mum happened to be here, so she drew the little branch he's sitting on) ...


EB opened it up as fast as fingers would fly, and inside he found a special note ...


He was a bit over-excited to sit and listen at first, so I had him go and get his little red squirrel puppet and I read the note to him through the puppet's "voice." :) He enjoyed the story very much, and asked for it to be read again a few times over! Right after we finished reading, we set about decorating the spruce cone for our tree.

Of course, we began with a good spackling of glue ...


... followed by a liberal sprinkling of glitter, and then a jingle bell tied on with a bit of twine. Once dry, it was ready to hang:


Stay tuned for more tales from the woodland ~ brought to you (and EB!) by Chickadee Post! :)

A Special Gift for Earlybird*

*From the heart and hands of his Nana ...


I have been dying to tell you all about this project, a birthday gift for Earlybird from my mum (and to a much smaller degree me)! This is a mailbox, as you can see, but a very special mailbox ~ one that will bring Earlybird tiny notes and treasures from the woods ...

Let me back up a bit. A few months ago I came across an unfinished mailbox at AC Moore. Though it was quite inexpensive ($5), it was well made and sturdy. The door worked with a magnetic catch, the flag moved up and down smoothly. I immediately thought this could make a nice toy for Earlybird, so I purchased it on the spot.

Back at home, I started imagining how we could use it, and of course my mind wandered to nature study. You all know how much we love nature, well, what else could this mailbox bring but news from our woods?

So the next thing I did was to ask my mum (who paints beautifully) to help me with this project, and we hoped to have it done in time for EB's birthday. About a week ago, I gave her the mailbox and some vague indications of what I envisioned ("red squirrels, acorns, pine boughs and birds"), and from these sketchy ideas, she made this ...


I am just overwhelmed. It's too lovely for words!

Bill is going to build a special corner shelf in the learning room for our mailbox. And every few days, EB will see that little flag sticking up and that will mean ... MAIL!

And that's where I come in! I bought some rubber stamps, ink pads and some natural colored paper and tiny envelopes. Using these supplies I will pen little notes "from the woods." They will be delivered to EB's mailbox, naturally, by Chickadee Post. :)

And some days EB might find a tiny treat or treasure inside too! A spruce cone, a leaf, a feather, a ripe berry, a rock ... those simple, yet magical, kinds of things. Everything will have a story to it, of course. :)

My mum gave Earlybird (and me!) this lovely gift today, at EB's birthday party. Before I go, I'd like to share just a few pictures from our day ~ and you can be sure you'll be hearing more about (and from) the Chickadee Post before long!


EB helped me set the table. Everyone got at least one fork, and, possibly, a spoon. ;) Our theme was snowflakes, so Bookworm made lots for the windows, and I made a batch of snowy cupcakes for dessert ...



EB and his family!

Well, thanks for stopping by this evening and letting me gush share! It's now getting late, and we're hunkering in, waiting for that Nor'easter to hit sometime before dawn ~ now wouldn't that make a good story? :)

Have a good night!

As Far as I Got ...

... at my handcraft circle the other night:


I'm working with a soft green shade of wool felt right now, as well as some basic embroidery thread. Can you see all the tiny orange leaf-stars I made? (I call them "leaf-stars" because I meant to make leaves, but could only manage little star shapes. ;) I kind of like the storytelling possibilities actually - whatever this project becomes, it will probably be something for the children.)

My stitches may not be so fine, but I find the colors and texture soothing:


At one point, I attempted to make this into a maple leaf, as the outline seemed to suggest that shape. I abandoned that idea after it became too complicated, though. I may try to make some brown tree branches instead.

As you can probably guess, I talked far more than I crafted! But it was so much fun. My gracious hostess had music playing, brownies baking and candles burning throughout her lovely home. She even put out an array of her knitting books for her guests to peruse. I may not have come home with a lot of work done, but I certainly came home inspired and refreshed.

In my quest to find a crafting niche, I find I am gravitating towards hand embroidery. (I say hand embroidery, because I don't own a machine yet. Baby steps, right?) I'm not very good at it yet - notice I'm not showing you the back of my hoop, lol - but I do love the look and feel of it. I think I will concentrate my attention in this area.

To that end, I just ordered this kit (top set) from here. I am so excited! I have NO idea what I will do with these little designs, once (or, dare I say, if!) I make them, but I'm sure I'll think of something. Maybe I'll make a drawstring bag for our nature puppets? Those be-hatted squirrels would look right at home on such a thing! Hmmm ... this would be a nice birthday gift for my Earlybird who turns six in December. Two months should be enough time right? ;)

Painting Day!


Do you have a regular painting day at your house? A day when you break out the brushes and watercolors, tie smocks on the kids and let them have at it?

Well, in theory, we do - though in practice, not so much. I mean, I am completely sold on the idea that a regular painting day (just like a regular nature study day or a regular tidy-up day) has an important place in our home learning rhythm. So what keeps us from doing it more often? (I am asking myself as much as anyone!) I think the answer (as with most things) lies within the issue of organization.

Basically I am looking for a way to make kid-crafting more do-able: easy and spontaneous, yet with a manageable mess quotient. I would love - love - a corner all set up for this kind of crafting; in fact, I have one "on order." ;) Bill is working on making over our basement into a playroom for the boys. I have requested a craft corner - with enough space to work, to store supplies neatly, and with perhaps a clothesline hung above for finished or drying projects. It also has to be set up in a way that Earlybird can manage - i.e. enough materials to be creative, not so many as to be overwhelming.

But all that will be fodder for a future post (when I get some pictures of downstairs), for now, let me return to our "Harvest Moon" painting day last week. It was so nice out, we decided to work out-of-doors ....

Here are the boys at their workspace (the picnic table covered in newspapers):


Due to Earlybird's sensitivities, I hesitate to use traditional watercolors when working with him. Instead, I mixed up some natural food dye with a bit of water, and hoped for the best.

He pretty much liked the mixing part the best:


Working with a Harvest theme, we stuck to yellow and red (and thereby, orange).


I was a little fuzzy on the whole paper thing - it had been a while since we last painted - soak, don't soak, soak a little? I didn't have the OM manual at my side, so I hedged my bets and ended up wiping the paper with a damp sponge. It seemed to work well.


I loved watching all the boys get into it in their own way. EB was all about the water, Crackerjack wanted to get back to his baseball, lol (though he did finish his painting), and Bookworm took things nice and slow:


The only instruction I had given them was to fill their papers with "harvest color." Bookworm decided to make an autumn sunset, and he worked on it for quite some time.

You can see the paintings hanging to dry on our clothesline at the top of this post. They dried very quickly in the breeze and were ready to craft with before long.

I made an orange moon out of my paper and hung it against peach tissue in the windows:


It reminded me of the sky in the opening scene of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, when Lucy and Linus head out to the neighborhood pumpkin patch ... do you know the one I mean? The sky is always perfect in those CB specials.

Crackerjack made a pumpkin face with his (photo forthcoming) while Earlybird used his painting as drawing paper (photo not available). :)

Bookworm used some of my orange painted paper to cut out a smaller Harvest Moon. He rigged up a pulley system and suspended it over his sunset (adding a piece of starry blue scrapbook paper above) ...


He then had a neat little nature story to tell - the rising and setting of the Harvest Moon! You could do this with any full moon, changing the color to white or even blue or green. (Or even the shape could change as the moon waxes and wanes!)

I expect our next painting day will be held indoors, unless we get another touch of Indian Summer - but hopefully we'll have our craft corner soon ready downstairs! You know, I would love to see how other folks set up their crafting corners ~ now, wouldn't that be a fun carnival?

Well, thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a great Wednesday!

Friday Photos: A Woodland Adventure


Oh, I hope it is as beautiful where you are, as it is here today. It's still relatively mild, but it really feels - looks, sounds, smells - like fall. The skies are an interchanging mix of vivid blue and milky gray, and there's this constant cool, rustling breeze. It was a perfect morning for a little nature walk through the yard. :)

Above you see the basket Earlybird and I carried. We were looking specifically for acorns, and after a while we found some, far off in the northeastern corner. But as we began filling our basket, we noticed closer to the fence, the acorns were not so scattered, but lumped in small piles here and there. Consulting with the older two, we came to the decision that these acorns were actually already claimed - by the crazy gray squirrel we have seen hopping about in this corner of our yard. (It is right behind the playset so he always catches our eye, especially when he - or she for that matter - runs along the top bar and jumps down into the fort).

We kept our acorns for just a short while, admiring them, appreciating their colors and textures - and then returned our plunder to the scrubby little corner that this squirrel obviously calls home. We figured he needs them more than we do.

Next we had a most pleasant surprise! Take a look at this guy:


What an amazing looking caterpillar! Bookworm assured me the "stingers" were not really stinging at all, but soft to the touch. We've never seen one like it, and we're not sure what it is. (If you know, or suspect, please let us know!)


We only handled him long enough to move him off the busy pathway he was entering and into a quieter corner of the yard. He curled up in a ball at our touch, but soon began his slow amble again. He was obviously a caterpillar on a mission!

We wondered at his determination as well as his striking appearance. We thought that perhaps, despite the recent warm weather, he feels old winter creeping through the wood? And this fella knows just what he must do. He must spin his cocoon in some snug secure spot, so that he may be safe until spring. (This was the impromptu story we wove, and it added a fun element to the walk. Now I'm on a mission to make a furry little finger puppet so we can continue the story indoors!)

Just behind our fence, where the deep woods begin, we spied two treasures: this cool capped mushroom:


... and these Michaelmas daisies, just in time for tomorrow!


Now, these are actually New England asters that grow wild all over our state at this time of year. I don't believe they are technically Aster novi-beglii (true Michaelmas daisies) but because they do bloom right around the feast day, I like to point them out the boys and tell them how special they are. (I get so excited when I first spy them - it's like seeing the first goldenrod in August and the first bits of forsythia in spring!)

Later on, as I cleaned the living room, my mind still returned to the woods. I was trying to find something decorative for our front window when I came across some birch logs we had stored downstairs. They provide just the right woodsy perches for our miniature pumpkins!


And here are the three little acorns I saved from the lot. They now sit inside on a sunny windowsill, a reminder of our early fall nature walk.


Well, it's now late afternoon and the shadows are playing on the lawn. It's time to get busy with supper and evening activities, so I'm off till tomorrow - or more likely Monday - it is the weekend after all!

Have a great one, everybody! 

On Easter Eve: Resurrection Cookies

(This activity was kindly suggested to me by Sheila. Thank you!)

~Also known as Easter Story Cookies~

This is a great recipe to teach your Children the REAL story of Easter. Teach them that the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior is not dead but He has Risen. You could even sing this chorus while you make the cookies. "We serve a Risen Savior. He's in the World today."

This activity can be done as a family.

You will need:
1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
3 egg whites
a pinch salt
1 cup sugar
a zipper baggy
1 wooden spoon
scotch tape

These are to be made the evening before Easter. Preheat oven to 300F. *** (this is very important --- don't wait until you are half done with the recipe).

Place pecans in zipper baggy and let children beat them with the wooden spoon
to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested. He was beaten by the Roman soldiers.
Read: John 19:1-3

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 teaspoon vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross He was given vinegar to drink.
Read: John 19:28-30

Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life.
Read: John 10:10&11

Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest
into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus' followers, and the bitterness of our own sin.
Read: Luke 23:27

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1 cup sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him.
Read: Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16

Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sins
have been cleansed by Jesus.
Read: Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3

Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoon onto waxed paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus' body was laid.
Read: Matthew 27:57-60

Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF.

Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus tomb was sealed.
Read: Matthew 27:65-66


Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read: John 16:20&22

On Resurrection Sunday (Easter) morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.
Read: Matthew 28:1-9

"We serve a Risen Savior"

~ More Nature Study: A Maple Story ~

This morning, while the boys and I waited for Earlybird at speech, we brainstormed a possible legend behind the discovery of maple syrup. I got this idea from the first lesson in the maple sugaring unit in Project Seasons. (By the way, I cannot say enough good things about this book; even though it is geared toward a classroom full of kids, many activities can be adapted for homeschoolers.)

This activity continues our maple nature study, and also compliments our history nicely - we just finished reading a few versions of the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood. We've been talking about how legends are stories told throughout generations, and, while unverified, are believed to be based in historical truth in some way.

Before I get on with our story, though, I must tell you about a very neat thing that happened on our way out to speech. I had just gotten the boys all buckled in when I realized I'd forgotten my coffee. As I ran back up to the house, something bright orange on the lawn caught my eye. My first thought was that it looked just like a sugar maple leaf, but I chuckled at myself for thinking so, because A. we have no sugar maples growing nearby, and B. it is March, and even if we did have sugar maples growing nearby, they would have no leaves - let alone bright orange ones - at this time of year!

Figuring I just had maple trees on the brain, I walked over to check out the object more closely and almost fell over when I realized it was indeed a maple leaf - a silk maple leaf!! It must have blown off someone's wreath or garland or something - a long forgotten autumn decoration. And here it was, stranded in our yard, right in our very path - this week of all weeks! The boys found this very mysterious, and this curious happenstance set just the right imaginative tone for our morning lesson.

Anyway, now for our story! It was written primarily by Bookworm and Crackerjack, with just a bit of "prompting" now and again by me. ;) After we had all the details down on paper, I typed it up and printed it out for our nature notebook. You can see it there below on the right, embellished with that very leaf!

Once we were done with our own story, we read the well-known Algonquian Legend of Chief Woksis, as presented in Project Seasons. It's an interesting and probable story, but whoever discovered the "magic" inside the maple tree, we owe him (or her) a hearty thanks!

The Story of Gonswap and the Magical TreeMaple_story_2

It was a sunny morning in late winter, when Gonswap, a young Native American boy was out hunting for the very first time on his own. Suddenly, he heard a strange tapping noise coming from over by the river. Curious, he went over to investigate and found a downy woodpecker tapping at a tree.

"Hello, Friend Downy," he said. "What are you doing?"

The bird looked at him, tilted its head to one side, and then went back to tapping. Gonswap wondered if it was making a nest because it was nearly spring, and he knew that woodpeckers make their nests by tapping holes in dead trees. But this tree was still alive, and the bugs would still be frozen in hibernation, so there couldn't be much to eat. What was it trying to do?

"What is it you are doing there?" Gonswap repeated, and this time the woodpecker flew to another tree and resumed his tapping.

Before following the bird further into the woods, Gonswap noticed that there was something dripping from the hole in the tree.

Sticking his finger into the drip, Gonswap tried some of the strange moisture and it tasted sort of sweet.

"Amazing," he thought. "This must be a magical tree of some kind, perhaps a special tree spirit!"

Gonswap decided to run back to Chief Checktoo and tell him all about it.

The Chief was quite interested in Gonswap's story so he sent three of his warriors back with the boy to bring some of this magical liquid back to camp.

Gonswap led the way, and after a time, the party reached the special tree. The warriors held a wooden bowl up to the hole that the woodpecker had made, and after some time they had collected enough liquid for the Chief to sample.

Back at camp, Chief Checktoo eagerly drank from the bowl, and afterward he licked his lips thoughtfully.

"Hmmmm," he said. "Tastes a bit like water, but sort of sweeter. Maybe it's just melted snow. I don't really think it's anything magical, but who knows ..."

He turned to Gonswap and handed him the bowl.

"Bring this to our cook and ask her to warm it over the fire. Then, I'll try it again."

So Gonswap brought the bowl of liquid to the cook and sat with her while it boiled over the fire. Soon something started to smell really good. After a little while the cook ladled the liquid out of the pot and into a bowl for the chief. Gonswap saw that the liquid was no longer clear like water, but dark brown in color. He worried what the chief might think, because even though it smelled delicious, it looked like mud!

Well, Chief Checktoo took one sip and found that it tasted much sweeter now - delicious even - but there was hardly any left after one or two sips! He wanted more!

He smiled at Gonswap and clapped his hands.

"Bring my swiftest warriors here, I wish to send them out to find more of this wonderful stuff! Gonswap lead the way!"

And that was how maple syrup was discovered ... and how Gonswap one day became chief!

Still Winter Here ...

β€œThe stormy March has come at last,
With wind, and cloud, and changing skies;
I hear the rushing of the blast,
That through the snowy valley flies.”

          (William Cullen Bryant)

With all my talk of early spring lately, you'd think we were out of Old Man Winter's grasp at last! Not so, I'm afraid. Not here in the northeast, anyway. Why, just yesterday we had the second coldest day of the season! The wind chill will be less bitter today, but the temps. will barely budge out of the 20's. As New Englanders know, this is true March ~ a month which may appear dull in its mousy brownish-gray appearance, but never lacks for excitment in the weather department! March keeps Winter close by his hearth, but surely by now a polite invitation has been sent out to old Mrs. Thaw?

As you can tell, the boys and I have been inspired by the weather of late. We're setting up a nature shelf this week, and the seasonal stories have been popping up left and right. The other day we had an *arctic blast* blow into town, and we watched in amazement as it advanced from the west ... the skies grew dark, the wind picked up ... and for an hour or so we had what seemed like blizzard conditions!

Here are some photos we snapped ...


This is a robin on our front lawn that Bookworm noticed earlier in the day. We were all excited to see this welcome harbinger of spring, and immediately noted his appearance on our nature calendar. The robin puppet was placed on the nature shelf, but within a few hours all thoughts of spring flew from our imaginations ...


Here is how the backyard looked as the snow began to fall. I used a setting on my camera (not sure what its technical term is - its symbol is a flower - I use it when photographing bugs) that enabled the camera to catch a few flakes in motion. :)


The woods out back always look so dramatical (as Crackerjack would say) in a storm.


Just a half-hour later, Bookworm was out exploring and, as you can see, the sun was breaking out.


Ah yes, March is a fickle one - he might even be called a tease. Just how long will he allow Winter to rule the land? Perhaps a few weeks more, but before too long, that clever housekeeper Mrs. Thaw will sweep in with her broom and turn the Old Man out on his frosty heels. There's just so much to keep our imaginations alive at this time of year! Many nature stories just seem to jump from the pages of our minds.

Now for some true spring inspiration, I'm going to pop over to Jennifer's where it is always as cozy as spring. :) Her photographs today are a stark contrast to mine - lovely images I will have to wait weeks more to see.

Winter or spring, wherever you are, I pray you keep warm and well! Have an imaginative day!

Picture Books in Winter

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

  ( Robert Louis Stevenson)

One of the nicest things about wintertime is the way the world slows itself down and carves out a nice little niche for us to fill in with hours of reading. What can be finer than a cold afternoon curled up hearthside, paging through favorite books?

With this in mind, I set up our winter book baskets the other day. I thought you might like to see them and hear what we have tucked inside.


Here are the bins all gathered beside the fireplace. I actually spread this all out along the window-paned door on the right; I just forgot to take a picture once I did, lol.


Here are a few of our nature puppets close up - the purple finch, the Canada goose and in the background, the groundhog, who (along with his shadow) will figure into our nature stories in the upcoming weeks. The purple finches are flocking to our feeders in record numbers (their rosy coloring is striking) and the geese have been flying over quite a bit. For some reason I equate that honking with spring (or fall) - but of course it's been so mild around here ... I wonder if there's a story there?


Here's the rest of the gang! I only set out those critters that are visible at this time of year in our backyard: the crow, the black squirrel, the red squirrel (the gray should be in there, too), the woodpecker, the sparrow, the goldfinch (though he's still sporting his summer coat), the hawk, the cardinal, the chickadee and lastly, the blue jay.


This smaller tin is filled with bird-related resources:


And here is the main winter books basket. Since you can't really see what's inside, I'm going to list and link it all for you!

Here's a little idea I gleaned from my town library a few years ago. One January they announced a weekly afternoon gathering "Cocoa Club" - a time when the children would listen to a story (I think it was Harry Potter) while enjoying a cup of cocoa. It sounded heavenly but it was being held downtown, on a late afternoon which as we all know in the winter means two things - darkness and traffic. Well, my next thought was to try this idea out at our weekly homeschool co-op, which worked out lovely. At the end of a long co-op day, the 5 and unders (fondly known as Little Sprouts and Seedlings) gathered in a room for cups of warm cocoa and books. (I think the marshmallows were the biggest hit!) I also decided with a bit of tweaking, this plan could work out at home.

The general idea is this - a weekly (or daily) time when you sit down, cocoa in hand, to share in a good story together. You could choose a chapter book, or if your children are younger, a beautiful picture book or two. While they sip, you read, and watch the darkness fall outside the windows. It might be fun to invite another family to join you!

Now to make it more interesting, you could do one of a a couple of things. You could make up a chart and using small stickers (such as stars or hearts) keep track of who "attends" your Cocoa club and/or how many books are read. Perhaps the final week (just before Lent begins), there might be a special treat in store for all who participated? A trip to the book store to purchase a new book or a stop at the bakery for some tea and goodies?

You could also make a reading tree, similar to the ones quite popular in the fall. Make a paper tree or bring in a real branch to hang, or just use a window pane. Hang little construction paper cut-outs - each one bearing the name of a book you have read.

I started making the materials this afternoon ...


I'm using wintry shades of blue, white and a touch of red (for valentines). If you enlarge the picture you can see the bird and heart template I drew on a piece of tagboard. I cut out several birds and hearts, and over the next few days will have the boys make up white snowflakes. Instead of using a tree or a branch, I will place our decorations in the windowpanes facing the backyard. Though we have not yet begun our Cocoa Club, I hung up a few to give you an idea of the effect.


This will work nicely with Earlybird, especially. This winter we are working on increasing his attention span, and the length of time he will sit for books. He will really be working hard to earn his birds and hearts!

Here's wishing you many happy, chimney-corner days this long winter season!

Quick and Crafty Puppet Curtains

Do you know a little person (or 2 or 3 or 4) who enjoys puppet shows, storytelling or just plain old make-believe? Well, then have I got a craft for you! :)

As I've posted before, my boys really enjoy our nature puppet collection. (Notice I say, our puppet collection, LOL!) Well, we've been collecting various critters for years and have amassed quite an array! A few years back, my mum noticed how much Crackerjack, in particular, loved making up stories with his finger puppets, so for his birthday that year she made him several pairs of homemade puppet curtains! I helped pick out the material, relating to themes we usually pretended - snowy woods, starry night, magical kingdom, sunshiney days, etc. A simple tension rod was all we needed for the boys' bedroom door and voila - we had our own puppet theatre!

Recently we decided to add an autumn leaves theme to our collection. I picked up the fabric a few weeks ago and today I took advantage of my mum's visit and asked her to show me how to make the curtains. I am happy to report, it was very easy and it only took about 2 hours. (I can tell you that because we worked on them right after Earlybird went down for his nap, and we finished just before he woke up!) 

I have included many photos in this post - big surprise, right? :) I don't know about you, but I do much better with visuals. Let me confess right away, I am no seamstress at all. My mum - now, she can do anything - knit, sew, crochet, paint, etc.  Me, well, I can glue pretty well. :) I can also fold and iron - and basically that is all this craft requires - folding and ironing.

Now, as I sit down to write this post, most of the facts and figures have flown right out of my head so let me start by saying this craft is completely adaptable. There really are no "set" measurements - you can make your curtains in any size or shape that suits your fancy. I hope this post gives you an idea of one possible final product.

Our curtains are a set of panels, which fit on a tension rod that can be easily placed in a regular door frame. Spectators sit on one side (usually the bedroom side) while the performers sit (or lay) in the hall, and reach through between the panels with their puppets. It's really fun!

(Note: Another idea is to turn a small child's wooden table into a portable theatre. Simply attach velcro (dots or strips) around the edges. Cut material into two pieces to fit around the base of the table (leaving the back open). Then, the children can lay under the table and poke their puppets through the front, where the two pieces meet.)

But I digress - my aim is to show you the curtains we made today!

Start with a fabric to your liking. When choosing prints, consider themes your children like to play out - princess, knights, safari, etc. You might start with the puppets they own. And puppet shows can be performed by all kinds of toys, believe me - Bionicles, dinosaurs, Toy Story characters. You name it, if it's a toy they love, it belongs on stage!

I was even thinking our saint spoons might make wonderful "puppet shows!" We could re-enact the stories of the saints we've come to know. I'm sure we could find some celestial-looking fabric. Ooh - and a dark desert night fabric would be a wonderful backdrop for a set of Nativity-themed spoons (the Holy Family, three wise men, angels, shepherds, etc.). Hmmm ... the wheels are turning ....

Good grief, enough of my chatting, on to the project!


You will want to buy your fabric (approximately 2 yards), a tension rod (we use 32"; check your door frame size) and a package of Stitch Witchery.

The snowflake print above is already a curtain, we used it as a template to cut our autumn leaves fabric to the right size. This picture also shows the snowflake curtain's bottom hem.


Above you see the first panel we worked on. (Instead of using an ironing board, which I, er, couldn't locate at the time - funny, that - we worked on the dining room table with a couple of towels laid out underneath.)

A note on the fabric- it should be pre-washed before you begin. Once it's cut into shape, press it lightly to smooth out any wrinkles. As I mentioned above, your curtains can be any size or shape. Our panels measured 44 inches long by 22 inches wide before hemming.


The above photo shows the right side hem on one of the panels (and the package of Stitch Witchery). We folded each side of the panel in about an inch. (You want enough material to cover the Stitch Witchery.) We pressed the fold first, and then ...


... tucked in a length of Stitch Witchery (which by the way is a fusible bonding web - and I LOVE it). Following the package directions we pressed the hem twice (front and back) for 10 seconds each turn. We had a little bit of trouble with this but realized it was probably because I forgot to wash the fabric first. (Such a rookie mistake.)


Above you see the first panel with side hems complete.


And here is the bottom hem finished. (Turned in about an inch and a half.) My mum had an excellent point - you could finish the bottom hem in different (and perhaps easier) ways - for instance, cutting the bottom with pinking shears or adding a lace trim.


The above photo shows the top hem (folded down about 2-3 inches). Remember this does not have to be exact - just as long as the two panels match in length. We actually made two folds. The first was about an inch; we pressed this (using no Stitch Witchery) to keep the inside edge neat. We then turned the hem down another length - allowing space for the tension rod to run through. This edge we adhered with the SW once again.


Working on the second panel, we first made the side and bottom hems. We then lined it up with the first panel to check for accurate length. In the above photo you see the unfinished second panel on the bottom; the completed first panel on top. We used the finished hem of the first to guide where we folded the hem for the second. (I know that probably sounds very confusing, sorry! It will make sense when you do it, though.)


And finally here are the two completed puppet curtain panels (undersides up)! I am really very happy how they came out - nice neat edges and perfectly sized to each other! (Thank you, Thank you, Mum!!!) We will have so much fun acting out our late autumn stories with these!


Above you see our current curtain collection (left), a basket of nature puppets (right) and the folded new curtains in front.

I have a few other ideas for this puppet project, but once again it is getting late and I really should wrap up. I would like to post again more about all this, hopefully this weekend - including photos of the curtains in action! Because I bought 2 yards of fabric, I had a good bit of it left over ... but I have a really fun idea how to use it  up, and after a trip to the craft store this weekend, I will post about that too!


Thanks for sticking with me on another loooong post, LOL! Good night and God Bless! :)

Nature Study & Play: Autumn Leaves

"Come little leaves, said the wind one day,Leaf5_1
Come, over the meadows with me and play:
Put on your dresses of red and gold,
For summer is gone and the days grow cold ...

Is the fall foliage at its peak where you live? Here in New England we only have a week or two left to enjoy the autumn leaves in all their brilliance. Peak or past, who can possibly miss the vibrance of these last days of the season? Who would want to?

Leaf4_1Mid-autumn is a perfect time to add to the nature notebooks before the landscape is barren once more. Our own nature study has been on the back burner of late, but all it took was one great (wonderful, fantastic) book to put us back on track ~ and put us in the mood to explore and celebrate one of the wonders of autumn - the gorgeous falling leaves.

First, a few words about the book that started it all ... Fletcher and the Falling Leaves. Do you know it? It was just published this fall, and already it is an absolute favorite! If ever there was a perfect fall picture book, this just might be it!

I first saw Fletcher in the Chinaberry catalog and, though I wanted it immediately (I Fletcher_1could just tell by the cover and description this book would be a treasure), I held myself in check and requested a copy from the library. But I found the book was already so popular all the copies were checked out! So we requested, we waited, and finally we brought it home last week.

This book is a wonderful fall read - breathtaking illustrations combine with a simple and endearing story. Fletcher is a small fox kit who, as autumn moves in, is worried about his very favorite tree - and specifically all the leaves it is losing:

"The world was changing. Each morning, when Fletcher bounded out of the den, everything seemed just a little bit different. The rich green of the forest was turning to a dusty gold, and the soft, swishing sound of summer was fading to a crinkly whisper. Fletcher's favorite tree looked dull, dry and brown.

Fletcher was beginning to get worried."

Fletcher's mother tells him not to worry. "It's only autumn," she says. But worry Fletcher does. He even tries valiantly to save all the leaves from the wind and the frost - but as it always happens with nature, he simply cannot. He learns in the end however - spoiler alert! - that his tree has its own winter magic to share. Oh, I could just read this book over and over. And I do, even when no little ears are listening. :)

Leaf2_1So, inspired by this book, and Fletcher's abiding love for his special tree, as well as the beautiful leaves all around us ... I brainstormed some autumn leaf nature activities to have fun with over the next few weeks, before our trees must also enter their own winter sleep. Naturally, I first turned to the Handbook of Nature Study to see what Ms. Comstock had to say on the subject. And, naturally, she had a lot to say ... here's a sample:

"During autumn the attention of the children should be attracted to the leaves by their gorgeous colors. It is well to use this interest to cultivate their knowledge of the forms of the leaves of the trees; but the teaching of the tree species should be done quite incidentally and guardedly. If the teacher says to the child bringing a leaf, "This is a white-oak leaf," the child will soon quite unconsciously learn that leaf by name. Thus, tree study may be begun in the kindergarten or primary grades."

And since I know many of you enjoy nature study and play, I'm going to share my thoughts with you here!


  • Collect and press various leaf types for your nature notebooks.
  • Make leaf crowns.
  • Make leaf prints: With vibrant shades, paint the underside of a leaf and press it onto paper for a image. Or lay down a leaf and, using an old toothbrush, spatter paint around its edges.Leaf3
  • Preserve your autumn leaves (different methods described here).
  • Make beautiful stained glass leaves as found at Bountiful Blessings (hat tip Lissa).
  • Make a leaf mobile: Seal leaves between two sheets of clear contact paper. Trim the edges, punch a hole in one end and thread on a length of autumn-hued yarn. Attach yarn ends to a long branch and then hang from your ceiling, perhaps over your dining table or nature corner.
  • Make a nature print t-shirt using differently shaped leaves. (We made these for Bookworm's birthday; directions can be found here.)

Out and About:

  • Visit a local sanctuary and take a walk around the wooded property. Sign up for a class or a naturalist-guided walk. (Even if there is nothing scheduled, you could call ahead and ask the sanctuary if this is something you could organize for a small group of families or homeschooled children.)
  • Plan a trip to the park and take along a field guide for a leaf-type scavenger hunt. Work together to check off a "leaf list" prepared ahead of time.
  • How about scaled down leaf-peeping? For this trip, you don't have to make reservations or travel a distance. Plan a fun mini-jaunt on a Saturday afternoon. Pack up the kids and take along sippy cups or travel cups filled with apple cider and a bag full of snacks. (I'm thinking gingersnaps, homemade trail mix or granola bars, perhaps.) Tour the back roads and enjoy all the autumn beauty right in your own neighborhood! Be sure to pick some lovely background music for your ride. :)

Leaf1 Learn:

  • Why do the leaves change color in fall? I'm still surprised by the answer!
  • How do leaves help us (air), the earth (compost) and its critters (nests, shelter)? Take an afternoon and peak under the leaf litter - who's under there anyway? Late fall is a perfect time to look for squirrel dreys or start a compost pile.
  • Learn all your local leaf types. Consult a reliable and regional field guide - or alternatively, (or even in addition), a really fun project would be to work on a field guide of your very own. The children could sketch leaves they find or paste pressed leaves onto the pages. Add notes about the parent tree, where and when the leaves were found, etc.
  • Learn that a leaf's death is not what causes it to fall from its stem: I found this experiment in Janice VanCleave's Science around the Year (where there is an even more detailed explanation for this phenomenon).: "Procedure: Break a sprig with 4 or more green leaves attached off a bush or a tree. Stand the sprig in a vase. Set the vase where the sprig can be observed but not disturbed for 4 weeks or more. Observe the leaves as often as possible, but do not touch them. Results: The leaves die and turn brown but do not fall off the stem. Why? Chemicals have not digested the walls of the cells in the abscission layer. So the cells in the abscission layer, as well as the tubes in the petiole, remain attached to the stem after the leaf dies." Hmmm ... I'd better get out the science encyclopedia for that one!
  • Autumn is the perfect time to begin a year-long tree study as suggested and detailed in (where else?) the Handbook of Nature Study. Please let me share another of Ms. Comstock's inspiring quotes: "In the fourth grade, begin with the study of a tree which grows near the schoolhouse. In selecting this tree, and in speaking of it, impress upon the children that it is a living being, with a life and with needs of its own." Autumn would be a great time to look at leaves and tree wildlife. Winter would be perfect for examining tree shape and the wood itself. Spring of course warrants a look at the very lifeblood of trees, sap, as well as a study of what trees give to us (healthy air and products such as lumber, paper, maple syrup, fruit, nuts, etc.).
  • Learn leaf-themed poems like the fond and familiar "Come little leaves" with which I framed this post. (Full text here.) More poems may be found in Leaf by Leaf: Autumn Poems. A poem page with pressed or sketched leaves all around would be a lovely addition to your nature notebooks. :)


  • Let children crumble dried leaves into a pot to make "autumn soup" (complete withLeaf4_2 acorns, seeds, dried grasses and spent blossoms, of course).
  • Turn on Vivaldi's Four Seasons and let the kids dance to the music, waving leaves or bright autumn play silks. Maybe wearing their leaf crowns! (Idea from Little Saints: A Catholic Preschool Program.)
  • Rake up the leaves and jump right in! Or, offer to rake an elderly neighbor or relative's leaves. A child-size rake is an inexpensive and helpful investment - find them at For Small Hands.
  • Tell a woodland puppet story, with falling leaves as your central theme. Use the knowledge you gleaned about who in the animal kingdom uses leaves to weave a fun tale for your children. Or let them do the imagining! I've shown you our nature puppet collection before, but I haven't yet described the puppet curtains we use! A few years ago, my mother made Crackerjack several pairs of simple puppet curtains, using patterned fabric and iron-on fabric tape. She made several themes to inspire all kinds of stories - snowflake, sunshine, glittering silver, starry night sky, etc. We hang them in a doorway using a simple tension rod. A leafy pattern would be a perfect backdrop for an autumnal story about squirrels, beetles and snakes. Or how about a story about a small seed and a little leaf, both afraid of the cold and the changes, till at last they meet up and keep each other company all winter long ... Just thinking! I'll try to post pictures of our curtains sometime soon. :)
  • Finally, just simply lay back in the leaves and stare up the trees - and thank God for all of our world's natural beauty!


You just knew I was going to find a way to fit a "tea and a craft" day in here, didn't you? ;) Well, any time's perfect for afternoon tea, but especially after a morning outside enjoying God's loving handiwork - the beautiful autumn canopy. How nice would a cup of cinnamon decaf tea be with a plate of autumn linzer cookies? A little talk about tea leaves would be a perfect touch too!

Leaf2_2 Any of the leaf crafts mentioned earlier would be a perfect project for your leafy tea day, but so would making up a small autumn leaf tea set, especially if you happen to know anyone with a birthday this fall ... I haven't made any of these things yet, but I'm thinking of that leafy fabric I mentioned above, cut and hemmed into a set of cute cloth napkins. Wooden napkin rings can be found at any craft store and painted in an array of autumnal colors. A small terracotta pot may be decorated with paints, stickers or even tiny decoupaged leaves, and a thin colorful ribbon could be tied just under the rim. Tuck a votive sized candle inside ~ wouldn't Yankee Candle Autumn Leaves be perfect here? Add a box of favorite tea and homebaked cookies and this would be a truly memorable autumn birthday gift!


Of course, there are many wonderful leaf-themed books to read. Here are a few to get you started:

Wherever you live, I hope you are enjoying the changes fall brings to your corner of the world. I had planned to add some photos of the colorful leaves in our own yard, but today is damp and overcast, so we'll have to wait a day or two for things to dry out!

In the meantime, please share what you like to do with, or how you celebrate, the changing autumn leaves. Any good books to recommend? Any pictures you've snapped? Crafts, science lessons or playtime ideas? I'd love to hear about them and add them to my list! Drop me a comment below or share your ideas at your blog ...Leaf5_4

As with so much in nature, the autumn leaves are fleeting ~ let's enjoy them while we can!

Dancing and whirling, the little leaves went;
Winter had called them and they were content;
Soon, fast asleep in their earthy beds,
The snow laid a coverlid over their heads."

~ George Cooper

More about Tree Blocks

Jennifer asked about the tree blocks shown in my Nature Play & Stories post so I thought I'd talk a bit more about them. First let me just say I love them - perhaps even more than my kids do! I love their look, their feel, and their possibilities ... We've had them for a few years now and at one time we had a whole natural building center set up in the corner ~ tree blocks, shells, stones, pinecones, and acorns, etc.

Our set was purchased at Magic Cabin, but they are available atTree_blocks many online stores. Google "tree blocks" and you'll see what I mean. (Add in "Waldorf" and you'll get even more.) When I did so, I happened upon a company called, plainly enough, Tree Blocks that makes a whole Math Kit of Wooden Blocks - very intriguing!

Alternatively, you can also make your own set simply enough. (I say simply, though truth be told I've never tried). In Toymaking with Children, there are directions for making homemade tree blocks (as well as for knitted animals, dolls and playstands etc.). And here is an excerpt on tree blocks from a favorite nature activity book of mine, Earthways:

"Toys from Nature: The Indoor Playspace":

"Gradually begin to use more natural materials in your home and classroom. With the children's help, gather stones, shells, pine cones, anything that nature offers. Carefully wash and dry the stones, and sort other objects into appropriately sized baskets.

Bring in a few small branches and logs. Set up a woodworking bench, and let the children help you saw them into slices. These make excellent building blocks, and offer a wide variety of building possibilities, often more challenging and interesting than building with the more uniform square and rectangular blocks. Drill small holes in the sides of some of the smaller "blocks" and insert small dowels or sticks into the holes to make fences.

Someone who knows how to use a chainsaw could cut you a whole basketful of these natural blocks in no time. Make them of varying lengths and try to cut them fairly flat, although those with slanted cuts offer interesting possibilities too ... Sand and wax or polish the blocks if you like, or just use them as is. Over time they will develop a lovely patina."

I'm not sure which sounds like more fun - making them or playing with them! I highly recommend this book - we have done many of the activities in it and I even used it to coordinate a "Little Sprouts" program for the 4-5 yos in our homeschool group's cooperative. :)

And you know, Jennifer's question has inspired me ~ I'd been hoping to do more handcrafts with the boys this fall and there happen to be some fallen birch trees out back ... Blocks made from this wood would be beautiful and would certainly inspire some wintry stories!

Here's another tip from Echoes of a Dream:

"There are a number of characteristics which are important to observe in selecting wood at its source. Look for branches without any splits. Old branches rather than "green' wood are preferable since green wood is moist, stringy and inclined to split unless a coating such as beeswax is applied to slow its drying time. Leave branches with pin prick holes alone since the worms in them pose a threat to anything made of wood."

Older children could work together on such a project and perhaps give small sets to younger siblings at Christmas.  Hmmm ... time to start a file on autumn handcrafts; I'll have to think on this some more. :)

Nature Play & Stories

We're working on Earlybird's room today where we keep some of our favorite playthings. Many of these toys - puppets, gnomes, tree blocks, and animals - are used for acting out stories of all kinds: fairy tales, adventuresome epics and nature lore. Very often the pirates and knights join in, and matchbox cars, legos and dinosaurs are not out of the question. Here are a few recent scenes:


This was a gnome farm ~ elfin treehouse ~ troll forest story combination ...


Here is the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff in action. If memory serves, the troll made a quick getaway in that canoe.


This was escape from Night Mountain; the wooden bridge and unsuspecting wood folk became imperiled by flowing lava ...


Here is the beaver's dam; looks like he got creative with his building supplies.


And this is the owl in his enchanted tree (immersed in lava).


A giant pet hedgehog keeps watch over the gnome's vegetable garden. Didn't you know all gnomes keep hedgehogs as pets? ;)


Behind the Teetering Bridge is the Henhouse, Beaver Pond and Old Oak Tree.

So that shows you some of the nature play the boys conjure up - now for a bit about the nature stories we weave. I particularly like to use the animal puppets for telling stories from nature - a kind of continuing chronicle of life in our own Riverwood. Here is central casting (a mix of stuffed animals, finger puppets and Audubon birds):



And though I've gotten away from it lately, I plan to revive our storytelling this year as part of our nature study "curriculum." I find Earlybird and Crackerjack respond so well to this type of playful learning. Stories are a wonderful way to re-visit our nature study, inspire creativity (it's very much a group effort) and stretch our imaginations! This year we'll try to keep better record of the stories by writing them down (and perhaps sharing them here). We enjoy this activity all year round, but especially in the fall and winter when we're more often on the inside looking out.

Since it's been a while since stories were part of our routine, I'm a bit rusty. I'm sketching out an outline of possible story ideas for the months ahead - which will be fine-tuned by the changing seasons, weather and current backyard events. I also draw much inspiration from wonderful pictures books like these:

And while picture books are an important part of our learning, stories of our own making are great fun and fondly remembered. I get a lot of ideas from a gem of a book called Storytelling for Children. Here are a few other nature puppet resources:

I'm excited about this project, and the boys are too! Yesterday we acted out the Red-tailed Hawk crashing into the window and all the songbirds and squirrels scurrying into the bushes. This really happened! Of course our story went on to tell how this particular hawk was really a misunderstood herbivore ... ;) Sound intriguing? As you can see, our stories often straddle the fence between the real and fantastic - but they are always well steeped in the nature around us!

Stay tuned! :)