Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lego Building Cards

Our girls LOVE Duplos.

I love that they are great for free imaginative play and can be used for a variety of "educational" play activities. Here's one that I made for Meghan to work on visual discrimination and following directions.

I built structures out of her Duplos, laid them on a white piece of paper, and took pictures. I ordered the pictures, laminated them, and put them on a ring.

She has a blast trying to build the structures that I made and they often provide a springboard for her to use them in creation of new buildings.

We have so much fun using these cards and building with Duplos!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Nature Journaling with Littles

Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.
-- Charlotte Mason

Nature study is a completely natural thing for a child to do. Children are naturally curious and want to explore and learn about the world around them. With just a bit of guidance, children have the ability to learn so much from the natural world on their own. A part of nature study that Charlotte Mason emphasized was keeping a nature journal.

As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.
-- Charlotte Mason

You can look on Pinterest and Instagram and see so many pictures of beautiful nature journals that older elementary and upper level students create. I wanted to begin nature journaling with my young child - and this method has worked beautifully!

When we are in nature and Meghan finds something that she finds interesting, and if she were older I would guide her to draw in her nature journal, I take a picture of it. Every few weeks, I send the pictures off to be printed. When the pictures arrive, I tape them to a piece of paper and put the paper in a page protector in her nature journal

When we "work" on our nature journals, she picks a picture and illustrates it as best as she can. I then have her tell me as much as she can about the object in the picture and write down what she says.

It's a super simple system and it's so intriguing to see how much she is already learning to love and appreciate and take note of the world around her. Nature study, and nature journaling, have done so much to encourage her love of the world around her!!

From the flower in the crannied wall to the glorious firmament on high, all the things of Nature proclaim without ceasing, ‘Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty’.
-- Charlotte Mason


Some resources I love for learning about Nature Journaling:

Pocket Full of Pinecones 
I love this book for Mamas. It tells the story of a mother doing Charlotte Mason homeschool, and particularly nature study, while they live in town. It's an enjoyable story for fiction reading while at the same time giving tons of great ideas for doing study with young children.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady 
This book is a reprint of a woman's nature journal. It's absolutely beautiful to look at and gives me inspiration for the kinds of things we can include in our nature journals as we grow into keeping them!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Outdoor Toys that We Love

Before we had kids I spent a lot of time outside - reading, perennial gardening, growing produce, taking walks, etc. Being outside is a favorite activity of mine - and I'm happy to say that our girls love to be outside, too! 

We have been collecting outdoor toys since Meghan was born in preparation for her to be able to spend hours playing outside on nice days as she grew! It's important to me that the girls spend a lot of time outside exploring and playing and breathing in fresh air while they are young. When they looks back on their childhood I intend for them to remember a lot of time spent freely living in their imaginations - and I would like much of that time imagining to have been spent in the great outdoors! 

We have several fun outdoor toys for the girls. Here are some that we have have love:

Little Tikes Sandbox and a Variety of Buckets & Scoopers 
This is great for sensory and imaginative play! We filled ours with pea gravel and I love that over sand - it makes so much less mess and they play in it more than when we had sand. I highly recommend Green Toys brand toys in the sandbox - they are awesome and so durable! We have several different trucks, shovels, etc. by Green Toys and love them.

Little Tikes Wagon
This is so fun for hauling toys around the yard or loading full of cut grass! 

This one has been fun since before Meghan was walking - she would play with the switches and gas tank and now enjoys pushing it around outside. 

This one was a second birthday present for Meghan and one she enjoys driving around in it. I can't wait to see Katie playing in it soon, too.

Little Tikes Sports Gear - T-Ball, Basketball, Plus other Miscellaneous Balls
 Balls are also great fun to chase around the yard, shoot in a hoop, hit with a bat, or to drop down slides!

Water Table & Green Eats Dishes 
We built this water table and they use their toy dishes or other Green Toys toys from the sandbox to have fun in the water. 

We were given both of our Little Tikes slides. Because we live in town and garden extensively we don't have space in our yard for a large built-in swingset but this climbing toy gives the girls something that they can climb on, use for imaginative fort play, etc. 

Fubbles Bubble Machine and Tumbler 
I love Fubbles products because they do not spill! The tumbler makes it safe for the girls to try blowing bubbles without risking spilling the entire bottle of bubbles. While a bubble machine is not at all necessary, it has proven to provide so much fun for our bubble loving girls! 

Any sidewalk chalk will do - Crayola definitely seems to be very high quality!

Watering Cans - Hape and Green Toys 
So far Katie chews on her watering cans, but Meghan LOVES to help me water our flowers and produce. I'm sure Katie will be joining us, too, when she can walk!

Dollar Store Artificial Flowers
These are so fun to plant and pull up. Plant and pull up. Plant and pull up. For hours!!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Raising Butterflies

One of the items on Charlotte Mason's "Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six" is to "keep a caterpillar and tell the life-story of a butterfly from his own observations".

Meghan has been very interested in bugs and butterflies in the last year, so for her third birthday, Mommy and Daddy gave her a kit from Insect Lore to raise caterpillars into butterflies. It was a wonderful experience for our family!

A cup of five caterpillars came in the mail and we watched them grow into big caterpillars (they also made a lot of frass during this time - yuck - but part of the natural world). It was fun to watch them crawl around the jar and explore their world. Then we were able to watch them hang upside down, form their chrysalises, shake their chrysalises if they felt threatened, and eventually erupt as butterflies. Meghan LOVED having butterflies on the table watch her while she ate, drew, played beads, etc. And then we set them free. It was a bittersweet day, but my sweet girl told them to love each other, give each other kisses, and to return to the butterfly feeder that we had created for them.

It was a wonderful experience for Meghan. It's definitely something that we will do again when Katie is old enough to observe what is happening. I also am hopeful that we can find some monarch caterpillars down the road to raise into butterflies!

If you want to make a butterfly feeder like ours, we followed the directions found here: Make a Butterfly Feeder

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Nature Study Tools for Littles

Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.
-- Charlotte Mason

Nature study is a completely natural thing for a child to do. Children are naturally curious and want to explore and learn about the world around them. With just a bit of guidance, children have the ability to learn so much from the natural world on their own.

When I first began reading Charlotte Mason's works and the things that she expected a child of six to know I was intimidated because they were things that I didn't know about the world that we live in. She believes that time in nature forms the foundation of a child's ability to form connections with other aspects of their education and with science. But, in just a year of paying attention to the world around us, I'm excited by how many creatures and plants that we see in the world around us that we can now identify.

We have invested in, and received as gifts, several tools for exploring nature. Meghan absolutely loves time in nature and exploring the world that she lives in. Even in our suburban setting, our children see a variety of plants and animals that they can learn to identify!

Here are some of the tools we have been using that have been helping us in our nature study:

Child Binoculars 
It took her a while to completely understand how these works, but Meghan is now a pro at using her binoculars! When I tell them we are going on a stroller ride, she runs to grab these before shoes! She also comes to grab them whenever she hears lots of birds outside our front door. (Can I just say? It's adorable!)

Bug Catcher 
This is a fun place for her to put bugs she has found or for me to put things I find when she is in roomtime or bed for her to see when she's able. It's been a handy tool - and as the girls get older I see it getting even more use!

Gardening Gloves 
These are helpful for handling bugs and for helping Mama in the garden.

Watering Cans 
Each girl has one of these watering cans. These don't really help with studying nature, but they sure are helpful for helping Mama water plants. And while we do we talk about what we see - plants & bugs!

Magnifying Glass 
Katie loves to eat this thing! But, there's more! It's helpful for looking for things on the ground. This one also has a little stand that can be used to stabilize the magnification.

Kansas Field Guides (Wildlife, Birds, Trees & Wildflowers, Butterlies & Moths)
I actually cut these in half and put them in our "family science book". When we go for nature walks, we observe and take pictures and then come home to look through the field guides to label what we saw. These are often just browsed through by Miss Meghan just for fun.

Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards
These cards are beautiful and super helpful for learning to identify birds in our area. I laminated the cards of birds that are known to live in our area. Then, whenever we see a new bird, I add it's card to the ring of hole punched cards. The cards hang on a shelving unit in our dining area near several big windows so Meghan can easily grab them to identify birds she sees. It's pretty impressive to me how quickly she, Cole, and I have learned to identify the birds that frequent our backyard!

We also have some nature study books that we enjoy looking at and will be using more and more over the next several years; these are Nature Anatomy (we also love Farm Anatomy), Fun with Nature, and More Fun with Nature.


Pocket Full of Pinecones 
I love this book for Mamas. It tells the story of a mother doing Charlotte Mason homeschool, and particularly nature study, while they live in town. It's an enjoyable story for fiction reading while at the same time giving tons of great ideas for doing study with young children.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On Open Ended Play - and - My Favorite Toy Companies

We are big about open-ended play around here! Given my past as an educator as well as research I have done on my own, I have strong opinions about toys and what is best for children. I am particular about what toys come into our home. As a result, I have found that our girls truly enjoys playing with their toys and are is learning to use their imaginations and creatively use toys at a very young age.

My general "rules" about what comes into our home are:

  1. Toys do not "play" for the child. We have only one which takes batteries - it's a stethoscope that makes a heart beat sound. I would prefer that they engage with a toy and make it do what they want  it to do rather than it having a pre-set number and type of activities which is does. Also, I find the sounds that come from most toys with batteries completely annoying - and if I have to listen to toys all day, I want to be hearing pleasant sounds. 
  2. Toys are not based on movie or tv characters. I very rarely even allow toys from books. I would rather the girls have a generic princess who can be any character they have read about, seen on a movie, or dream up in their mind. A licensed character is much harder to be creative with. 
  3. Toys are made from high quality materials. Wherever possible, this means wood. Wood toys have a beautiful aesthetic, they make pleasant sounds (as compared to many plastics), and they can last through lots of young child abuse love. However there are also some toys for which plastic just works well or better and for those toys we look for very high quality. 
  4. Fewer toys are better than more. I would rather pay more money to get a few of a high quality toy than have a whole bunch of toys which break or get ruined. This saves money and energy as we create less waste and have to shop for and re-purchase fewer toys due to not being able to take the abuse of playtime.
  5. They are pleasant to look at. For three reasons - 1) I have to look at them all the time and I appreciate pretty toys. 2) Our playroom is right inside our front door and we like the area to look nice and welcoming to company despite housing all of our toys. A most importantly 3) Beautiful toys are more pleasant and more inviting for children to play with.

Some of our favorite toy companies to purchase from (where most or all of their toys meet these requirements) include: 
  • Plan Toys (wood)
  • Hape (wood)
  • Green Toys (plastic made from recycled milk jugs) 
  • Schleich (high quality plastic animals)
  • Lego & Lego Duplos (plastic)
  • Haba (we love their games and cloth dolls)
  • IKEA (great prices on large wooden pieces)
  • Little Tikes (esp. for outdoor sports, climbing, riding toys)
  • Guidecraft (wood)

If you're looking for good, high-quality toys, a search on Amazon for these brands will reveal some of our very favorite toys! 

Do you have a favorite toy company that I missed or one I haven't heard of? I'd love to hear about it!! 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Education is an Atmosphere - April 2017

Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life....Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking -- the strain would be too great -- but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.
--Charlotte Mason

When we say that "education is an atmosphere," we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child-environment' especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child's level. 
-- Charlotte Mason

We have a home that includes our children and makes space for them to participate in family life; but it is not what would be called a 'child-environment'. Our home is a space for the family. It is a natural place where learning and growing can take place in the context of real, family life. Here is some of what that looked like this month: 


**NOTE** I don't share these images to make it seems as though we have figured this out or do it the 'right way' - this is just what an education atmosphere looks like for us in our home. I know I am inspired by seeing pictures of what a homeschool home looks like in the homes of others. I pray that sharing these posts provides some of that type of inspiration to your home.