My natural born naturalist

If I wonder where he is and happen to notice he is gone, I need only holler his name in my sing-song mama voice out the back door.  Sometimes I simply peek and get a visual on him and just leave him be.

Nature, creatures, being outdoors are critical to his ability to cope with life.  Might seem like an overstatement, but for him, truly it isn’t.

He grabs my hand and brings me to a plant where a tiny frog is perched on a blossom.  I watch as he walks back and forth in the grass that isn’t anything close to the expanses he dreams of.  Literally every time we drive by a field of grass he tells me in a wistful tone, “Oh mama, look at that – I want to run there and run and run.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful?”.

He is looking.  Taking in the blades of grass and making his daily inventory of what lives here.  A giant beetle flipped upside down.  A freshly spun web with a lovely reddish spider at home.  He checks the chicken coop for eggs, still none, any day now though and he knows it.  He’s determined to be the first one to find one.

He delights in all things living.  He tears up when he tells me he accidentally left the frog in full sunlight and its “all dried up”.  His finger nails are a perpetual tinge of brown.  He always smells earthy when I bury my head in his moppy hair.

Why do I fuss about his dirt covered feet – again – when someday I’ll wish I could scrub them and make him laugh again?

He talks quiet by the place where his bunny is buried in the front yard.  He rescues a magnificent dragonfly from our cats paws.  He catches bees by the dozen in mason jars and marvels when he finds one four times as big as the others and wonders why in the world it is so huge.  He holds the jar to his ear and listens to the sound he loves of them buzzing.

Why don’t I ever take the time to listen with him?

We go on a walk and he sees a garter snake, snatches it right up and holds it up for the rest of us to see.  We come home and pile inside but he stays out and scours the garden for anything ripe to eat.  He proudly comes in holding a shirt full of snap peas.

So much about the way his brain works and body feels I know I can’t understand.  It is complicated.  Though I’ve learned a great deal, I still miss chances every day to love him the way he needs love.  I hold to a truth I often recite back to myself when I forget

“I am the best mother for THESE children in this home, they have been entrusted to ME as gifts uniquely created and put in THIS family with purpose.  It was not a mistake.  God doesn’t make any.”

On days when a doctor tells me “He would really thrive in a one child family” it is impossible not to cry or let my heart break.  But I still have a choice to make, I can choose to see the gift and the purpose (even when its unclear).  That part is up to me.

On days like today when he comes running in loudly with a handful of inchworms and we all sit and soak in their cute minuteness.

We go online and look up inchworm, only to find there aren’t really inchworms just larvae (caterpillars).  Who knew?  We take careful note of all its features and look up its name.  Just yesterday we read in science about taxonomy and how scientists organize living things.  So imagine my glee when we find the precise caterpillar, along with its complete classification.  We literally just finished talking about binomial nomenclature and here we are holding tiny Nadata gibbosa larvae right here in our family room!

We first had given them grape leaves but upon learning who they were (also known as green oak caterpillars) we got them some oak leaves and they started eating right away.  Too fun.

I may sound like such a nerd, but seriously after a week of sick children and the high point yesterday of all 6 of us crammed into a tiny dental room for an hour while the above mentioned nature boy got two cavities filled….well, really this find was more than a delightful end to our week.

It felt like a rare treasure.  Like a little window to God’s amazing world.  A world that my son appreciates and basks in more than almost anyone I’ve ever known.

Homeschool: What we’ve loved this year

**I just found this in my drafts from JUNE! – I’ll post it anyways even though my next post about what we’re doing for school this year is just about finished.  And ps – I’m technically NOT out of the new baby fog – he still gets up every two hours!**

As I come out of the new baby fog and am fresh from an all day trip to the local homeschool convention, there is oh-so-much I could say about this.  But I’ll keep my focus narrow and just share some of the things we’ve most loved this year in our home learning.

  • Freedom to work at the pace each child needs in each subject area – this piece is core to our reasons for homeschooling.  While kids have worked through reading at lightning bolt speed, math has been slower and more challenging.
  • Time to read and be read to – every single day.  When we’re able to get most of our focused work time done early in the day (always the goal) each child has the freedom to read their own choice of quality books.  In fact as I type this Caleb just interrupted me and said:
    “Did you know that the water they are traveling over in my book right now is fathoms deep?  They are crossing the Atlantic with three ships none of which have been destroyed but they did lose valuable equipment.”  He’s reading a biography of Captain John Smith and is absolutely captivated.
  • Time outside.  Especially with boys, coop them up indoors for days in a row and its a sure recipe for craziness.  They thrive on meaningful work (read: not loads of busywork and worksheets), outdoor time and the chance to be physical.  I’m still learning how to do this but our days at home offer again a great deal of freedom to figure it out.
  • Relationships – though our kids of course argue and bicker as any kids do, all in all they are forging amazing relationships with one another and with me.  I know we could still facilitate this if they were gone all day, but its simply easier to do when we’re together most days.
  • Practical life skills – once we’re done with our work (which takes a lot less than a 7 hour school day for many reasons) we can learn to preserve food, we tend our garden and harvest veggies, we catch bugs and marvel at them, we learn how to read recipes and help prepare dinner, we try our hand at various crafts like sewing, knitting and woodwork, we write letters to friends and family, we get out art supplies and make beautiful things, we snuggle up in a blanket for an hour and read quietly.

Those are just the first that come to mind.  The main theme I think is freedom.  We are totally, amazingly blessed in this nation to have the freedom we do to worship as we choose and to teach our children in the way we see best for our family.

First day of (home)school

These are for you Mama…

Only because she is very anxious to be in the mix, Audrey is doing preschool with us this year as a very enthusiastic 3 year old

At five years old, Kyler is beginning his kindergarten work this year – though if you’d ask him, he’d tell you that in fact no, he’s not actually.  It’s taken me weeks to convince him that ‘going into kindergarten’ doesn’t actually mean GOING anywhere.  He is relieved and I’m happy to have him here.

Caleb is heading into second grade this year.  He would rather study frogs and salamanders than math but we’re going to try and do both.  He is a voracious reader and we can hardly keep enough books around for his appetite.

Sweet Rylee Jeanne is ready to hit the ground running with her third grade studies.  She is most excited about her new math program (yay!) and the opportunity to learn crafts like needlepoint, weaving, sewing and the like every afternoon after she is done with her school work.

I needed to feed Phineas so Rylee read to everyone out of my new book stash.  This is one of my very favorite parts of learning at home.

Audrey tracing a leaf into her nature notebook.  We are looking so forward to one dedicated, directed nature study a week and trying to get outside and appreciate something in creation every single day.

How to surprise yourself

On a mundane Monday morning after a week of the hubby being with family 24/7 for his vacation, ponder how you can get some more time with him because, well, you miss him already.

Text beloved babysitter to see if she can babysit Friday night for a date night.  Grin when she says yes.  Vow to not tell hubby and surprise him.

Promptly erase calendar and start with next weeks date just to be efficient.

Brim thankfulness for a mother who offers out of the blue to watch all kids but the baby for a half a day so the mama can get life/home/self ready for the new homeschool year.

Spend nap times and night times organizing, planning, mapping out how to make one favorite quote from Charlotte Mason about education become reality:

Education is atmosphere.

Shop and think and rearrange and prepare.  Rearrange again.

Get lost in the details of everyday life.  Clean up spit up 8 times every day.  Feed small, hungry army.  Ponder why one child is not coping with life well this week.

Wake early on aforementioned Friday after broken and little sleep.

Wish I drank full caffeinated coffee.  Or Red Bull.  Or something.  Settle for home brewed Kombucha instead.

Ready kids to go with Nana.  Slightly embarrassed at the state the minivan, apologize for the mess.

Ready self to paint a large family/school room in 4 hours with a baby to tend to and a 7 year old enlisted at the last minute to help.

Work crazy hard and come close to finishing when kids rush back in the front door.

Chat with hubby throughout the work day.  Plan on taco tostadas for dinner.  Start cooking.

Still wearing jammies (now deemed ‘painting jammies’) from last night and smelling a lot less than fresh after the days labors, cook dinner, hold baby and supervise crew as husband rolls in.

Quietly think about how to get the paint dog paw prints off the carpet.  Wonder why she had to walk through the paint tray instead of around it.

Smile proud when he sees the paint job (anything was better than the key lime green he’s pleasantly put up with for two years now).

He dons pj pants and grabs a paint brush to pick up the rest of the job.

Puzzled at a dinner time door knock, figure its a neighbor and head to door in jammies with babe in arms.

A babysitter.  OUR babysitter.  But why I ask myself?  I look inquisitive and wonder.

She sees my confusion and asks, “Did you forget?”

Yes.  I completely, totally forgot my ‘surprise’.  And in the most delightful way, managed to plan my very own surprise date night, for myself.  Truly, I could not have pulled it off if I’d tried.

I holler that she’s here and say “Throw some clothes on, let’s go!”.  We all laugh, a lot.

“Hope you like tacos!” I quip to our sweet sitter.  I ask how she is and eyes well instantly, “Not so great…”.  All the kids hover in the kitchen and though my better judgement says don’t subject her to a hug give my jammie-clad-smelly state, I can’t do anything but.  Baby Finn gets squished pleasantly and I apologize for being sweaty.  Plain old, pure love may not always smell good, but it always feels good.

We clean up quick, the four-days-since-getting-washed hair stays in a pony tail.  The green paint stain I can’t get off my arm remains. No time for makeup or anything really, we hightail it to the restaurant where we have a great coupon I’ve been saving, you know, for this well-planned date night.

I giggle.  And we relish the time.  We talk goals and ideas for the new year at hand.  He makes sense of what I can’t figure out.  Love how he can do that when I just let him.

The joy of a good planner

I’ve owned all sorts of planners over the past 15 years.  Most lasted about two weeks or a month maybe though, I never quite found a groove.  I love the idea of a plan and thrive off of having a guideline for my day.  I’m a perpetual list maker.  About 2 years ago I came across a great article on Simple Mom that totally clicked.  I put it into practice mid school year, in January 2009, and it took me all the way to summer break.  Loved the simplicity of the Moleskine journal and I could set the bar as low as I needed to still be able to check things off.  It was what fully sunk me into meal planning because it felt so good to know what was for dinner before 5 PM every night, that alone took my stress level down a notch.  For the early childhood years, I think it is a really helpful method.

But the next year I tried, all year long, to write my own lengthy lesson plans and meal plans and shopping lists and such every Sunday.  It took hours and by the year was half over it was hit or miss getting all of the above done every week.  This left me disorganized and in constant ‘catch up mode’. I’m not sure why I gave up the Moleskine/daily docket plan of attack but it would have worked much better!

When a friend showed me her very loved and worn out planner last summer, it looked a bit daunting and much.  But she explained how she used it and I was inspired enough to try it.  Since late August, it’s been home to all the details of our school work and meal plans and even has little tear off shopping lists.  It is the longest I’ve ever stuck with a planner and though it surely doesn’t solve all life’s problems and everyone is different, just thought I would share.

The best part is that having the week filled in and laid out has given me more freedom to get up early before kids wake up and just read or pray instead of starting every day feeling ten steps behind (that still happens sometimes, regardless!).  It also helps me see where we can fit in fun stuff, playdates and such in the midst of keeping up with our home learning goals.  If your kids are still younger or if you don’t homeschool, they make a basic day planner as well and if it’s any bit as great as the Well Planned Day one I’m using, it would be a worthy investment!

At the moment the Well Planned Day planners are on pre-release sale ($5 off I think), which is a great deal – I intend to order mine this week!

OCC party – 4th year?

Just trying to put one foot in front of the other here…realize I’m way behind on blog pictures.   One thing I love about homeschool is that we can do stuff like this during the week, weekends tend to fill fast and get crazy and it’s nice to be able to move school work around to have a house full of people over for something special.   Back in November we did our annual Operation Christmas Child party and filled shoeboxes with friends, it was a wonderful time:

The perfect autumn day

This one of Kyler made me cry.  This is so him.  In every way.

Can you find her?

I count it all joy to get to share all of my days with these people.  Stunning blue eyes.  Glee-filled grins.  Tender sisterly sweetness.  Creativity abounding (they spent over an hour trying to ‘charm’ snakes out of a snake hole).  I can’t imagine doing this any other way.

King Tut

We don’t do quite enough art and crafts with homeschool but when we get to, it is truly a favorite for all of us!

Kyler painted his whole “Tut” all gold.  Then all blue.  Then all black.  Then the paper gave out and that was that.  But he had fun!

Imperfect people

Yesterday we read about the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle.  Fascinating and amazing the way God was present with his people in the desert.  I was all excited to build a tent ‘tabernacle’ in the living room and then read the 10 commandments as we talked about how they resided in the Ark.

But, food came first, as it does these days.  So Rylee and I were mixing up an apple cake for after dinner – which in case you wondered, I ate 4 pieces of before the day was over.  She was about done working and said:

After I finish helping you bake, I’m going to go make a dwelling place for God in the living room, okay Mama?

I grinned and said that sounded good.  I love that that was the part of our reading she’d captured, she didn’t try to pronounce tabernacle, but instead called it what it was.  And I for one would love more of God dwelling in our living room.  It’s been a more than challenging week with attitudes and behaviors.

She started gathering supplies then Caleb came to help.  It started off good but quickly went downhill as they argued about how the tent should be built, what parts to use, etc.  I was bummed but I couldn’t help but think, this is probably what it looked like…imperfect people who had clear instructions on what to do but they still grumbled about all the details. This is so me.  I know what my heart should look like (I’ve been reading through the New Testament, chock full of inspiration on how to live) but despite a continual pursuit, I still fall short.

And just like God patiently, faithfully led the Israelites through what had to be a crazy hard 40 years, he consistently does the same when I let him.  Not with a cloud, sometimes I think that would be nice.  But in ways that are just as real and relevant for me.

So, really still wanting to make it happen,  I gave up on our tent making and opted for our little pop up sun tent.  We huddled inside and started to read Exodus.  We got through 3 commandments, slight fussing about how cramped we were, and then somebody farted.

The moment was over and everyone ran away.  I was left at the door to the tent, holding my Bible and laughing.  This is my life.

Our family ‘code’

In history this week we learned about the code of Hammurabi.  He came up with 300 interesting rules intended to help govern his highly developed, ancient civilization.  One of our assignments for the week was to write up our own family code of conduct.  I’m not sure what I expected exactly but this is what our kids came up with verbatim at the dinner table tonight as I took notes:

  • don’t lie
  • don’t tease
  • don’t steal
  • be appropriate-don’t do anything in the living room you shouldn’t
  • don’t pull your underwears down or let people see your privates
  • don’t say bad words or be rude
  • listen
  • don’t pee on the seat
  • don’t get out of your seat till you’re done eating
  • don’t read at the dinner table
  • don’t run away from people
  • no hair in your food
  • don’t lie (this was listed twice by someone who has struggled with this issue lately!)
  • don’t chew with your mouth open
  • no gulping your water
  • don’t pick your nose
  • when you toot, say excuse me
  • when you poop, flush and wipe your bottom
  • we help clean up
  • don’t break anything special unless it breaks on its’ own
  • don’t kill someone unless it’s not in your family and it’s a bad guy

They asked me to read these back after we were done.  I wish I was mature enough to read words like poop without laughing, but alas, am not.  Maybe that comes with…turning 40?  I don’t know but I had tears streaming trying to recite their list back, which they’d made in all seriousness.