Nature Study with Young Children

I recently listened to a discussion on the iHomeschool network over on Google+ about incorporating nature study into a school routine. It was very informative and got me thinking about how we do nature study at home.
We’ve done nature study in some form or fashion since we started homeschooling three years ago, and I think it is an important part of our schooling. Families do nature study different ways and I think knowing the needs of your particular family and the learning style and personality of your children makes a difference in how you do nature study. How nature study looks in your home may also depend on the “season” your family is in.
Local Classes
Classes are an excellent mixture of nature study and science lesson. There are often excellent classes offered at local nature centers, through a city’s Parks and Rec department, museums and botanical gardens. We often participate in homeschool classes at our Botanical garden and at the various natural areas around town. There is usually a lesson and some crafts/activities, as well as an guided nature walk through the gardens or natural area.
The resources listed below are specific for San Antonio but many cities will have similar programs available.
One program that we have participated in at our local parks is Growing Up WILD/Project WILD. I have even gone through training for this curriculum, and its great! It would be worthwhile to see if there is a Growing Up WILD or Project WILD program in your area.
Preplanned Nature Study Topics
There are wonderful resources available for planning nature study topics. One of my favorites is the site Handbook of Nature Study.
This is the home of Barb McCoy’s Outdoor Hour Challenge, a weekly “challenge” to get outdoors and do nature study.
McCoy has put together awesome nature study resources using Anna Comstock’s The Handbook of Nature Study as a guide. This book is wonderful resource and can be found free online. However, I think purchasing the book would be a worthy investment because it is a big book, and the free domain version is a bit cumbersome.
McCoy’s Handbook of Nature Study site uses this book as a guide to plan and organize topics of nature study. There is an abundance of activity suggestions and nature study notebooking pages available. Many of the resources are free to download as well as purchase in ebook format for a small fee.
Unscripted Nature Study
While we have enjoyed taking classes, as well as planning out what we wanted to look at on any given outing, Kyri has expressed interest in doing something a little less structured lately. She loves being outdoors, and wants to be able to just explore and follow where ever her interests lead her that day. 
We are putting together a field kit for these unscripted nature study outings. A few good field guides (we will be including Trees, Insects, Birds, and maybe Texas Wildflowers), a hand lens, a small notebook and colored pencils, and some bags and containers for (non-living) sample collections. A simple pair of kid’s gardening gloves, along with forceps and a small terrarium will round out our kit.
I have laid down some basic rules, especially as they apply to live specimens. The terrarium isn’t in the kit to start a collection of creatures at home. It is to hold a specimen for a short while to examine it, take some pictures, and possibly a simple sketch. Then, whatever she finds has to be released.
Between the natural areas, the botanical garden, as well as the parks around here, we have plenty of places to explore!


I recently tweeted that I’ve been trying to get up earlier to have some “me” time before anyone else wakes up. 
I used to consider myself a night owl, staying up late to get things done or just watch some television alone. But I want to be able to read a bit, tackle some chores to get a start on the day, and just sit and hatch with a cup of coffee.
I determined that late nights weren’t working for me. I was too tired to get anything out of my reading. And I was so tired that I honestly didn’t have the energy or motivation to get any tasks done.
If I get up an hour or more before the rest of the household, I can get the dishes loaded into the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, make a coffee, read facebook and the news, and spend a little time reading my current book. By the time anyone else starts stirring, I have a jump on the day and have had enough alone time to be mentally ready for having none for the rest of the day.
When I was younger and in school, I could go weeks under heavy stress, and then a nice weekend or even a week  of just relaxing would be enough to recharge. With kids and a household to run, though, I find that burnout comes a lot sooner. I need a daily recharge in order to be effective at running the house and being patient with the kids. 
When I posted my tweet the other day, a reader on G+ commented that with three kids you can forget what “me” time is. I think for many of us, this is true. Taking care of kids and dogs, keeping up with laundry, dishes and all the other clutter and mess, can be so time consuming.
Spending a little time in the morning reading and enjoying a cup of coffee can almost feel selfish in a way. Like, I should be doing something more “productive.” But I think when you have a house full of dependents, it’s even more important to carve a small portion of time out for yourself.
Though it often feels like it,  moms aren’t some infinite pool of energy and resources. We squeeze as much out of ourselves as we can, and we do it out of necessity, but there are limits. My children don’t get the best mom they can have if I am overextended and overwhelmed and overtired. If I can spend an hour in the morning by myself, reading and enjoying a coffee alone, doing my own thing, I feel recharged and prepared to face the day. I’ve gotten a jump on the day. I can get breakfast started, chores started and enjoy my coffee. I can even take a shower in peace! 
It’s really simple. We need to take care of ourselves if we expect to have the energy to take care of everyone and everything else. I don’t need a weekend at a spa, I just need  my morning “me” time.

40 Bags in 40 Days

I am always in need of some motivation to declutter. It seems I am always dodging piles of stuff, or rummaging through various junk drawers in search of something.

A friend posted about this “40 Bags in 40 Days” challenge and I was immediately intrigued. The goal is to tackle one room or area each day during the 40 day of Lent. You can read more about the challenge on the website or Facebook page.

What a great idea!

I woke up early this morning and planned out the next 40 days. I figured I would start out easy for my first day, tackling the first of four (yes, four!) junk drawers in my kitchen.

I’ll periodically share updates on my progress. If you are in need of some motivation to declutter, I encourage you to check out this challenge!



Children and Math

I’ve had two different stories about children and math come through my Facebook feed in the last two days. 


In Monday’s online edition of The Atlantic, there is a piece that discusses young children being capable of learning algebra and calculus concepts through play. You can read the article here.

One suggestion that is made in the article is that the normal progression of math instruction that we are accustomed to, is in fact developmentally inappropriate and does not allow for more playful exploration of mathematical manifestations in activities such as nature, art and music. 
“Mathematics is fundamentally about patterns and structures, rather than little manipulations of numbers,” says Math educator Maria Droujkova. 
In the article, Droujkova goes on to discuss this idea of “complex yet easy” versus “simple yet hard.” 
What a great way to think of things.
Complex yet simple – things like origami, building a house from LEGO blocks, snowflake cutouts. Complex concepts but simple (and fun) activities. Children can grasp the more complex concept through these playful activities.  
Simple yet hard – doing a worksheet of 100 repetitive math problems or memorizing multiplication tables without recognizing the inherent patterns present.
One of the take-home messages of this piece is that children can learn these complex mathematical concepts in an informal way. They get the concept and can think of it in a more abstract way. From there they can move into a more formal understanding of the subject matter, incorporating words, graphs and equations.


The second article I read was an Op-Ed piece in the LA Times. You can read it here.
The writer, Edward Frenkel, discusses the benefits of incorporating mathematical concepts and ideas, rather than just straight arithmetic, into math instruction. While he stresses that the tried and true method of math instruction, teaching addition and multiplication tables for example, was still essential, demonstrating some of the abstract along with the concrete would go a long way in capturing the attention of children and motivating them to learn math.
Frenkel writes of more abstract mathematic concepts as being “portals into the magic world of modern math, starting points as surely as addition, subtraction and fractions are starting points. The added bonus is that they give us a perfect antidote to the common perception of the subject as stale and boring.”
I think, as with most things, it is important to find a balance that works for your family.


I have written previously about how we have switched over to Saxon Math (starting with Saxon 5/4) this school year. While there is a bit of drill (each lesson starts with a Basic Skills “test” which essentially drills the student on basic mathematical facts), the Saxon lessons incorporate mental math and problem solving, which encourages students to solve a problem without a template, and then prompts the student to note which strategies he/she employed to solve it. The problem sets consist of new concept questions along with problems from previous lessons. While there is a steady build up in skills and difficulty, there is a constant review of previously learned materials. 


While we are spending time each week on formal arithmetic instruction, we also incorporate more concept-based learning experiences. 

Often these are puzzles and online games that focus on sequences, patterns, or solving. We have spent a lot of time exploring origami and LEGO building projects (if you are using Google Chrome, check out this cool app!) , even Minecraft. Video games, while perhaps not a traditional math experience, does provide ample opportunity to hone arithmetic skills – crafting recipes and working in multiples, tracking points in various skills, etc. 
We have also just started using  Dragon Box, an app I highly recommend! This app teaches algebraic principles in a simplified way. Starting with simple blocks with creatures, basic concepts are taught, reinforced and built upon. Kyri devoured the lower version (5+, for ages 6-8) in just a couple of days and was quite excited when I installed the higher version (12+, great for ages 8 and up). She is already quite comfortable with the concepts such as positive and negative numbers, reducing fractions, and balancing equations as a result. To her, algebra is a puzzle or game to be solved, not a math subject looming out in the future to stress over.
These activities promote an interest and drive to learn more without the pressure of formal learning. But we are also building a firm foundation in basic skills with the formal instruction. I think we are striking a good balance.

Gearing Up for Early Preschool

My big guy turns 3 this summer – I can’t believe it!

In the past several months, E’s vocabulary has just exploded. We’ve come a LONG way since struggling to get more than a handful of words out of him.

He has really started showing an interest in reading books together, and in the past month, he has even learned to recognize several letters. I was honestly a little surprised when he started pointing at letters on my shirts and trying to name them.

In addition, just in the past week or so, he has started counting objects. He can distinguish between one and two items.


Our plan has been to start some early preschool content this summer after the new baby arrives. I want to spend the next couple of months getting materials prepared ahead of time so that I don’t have anything to prepare or plan while tending to a newborn and an 18-month-old.

I love the Letter of the Week concept. Our local library branch does an ABC club each week, and plans stories, crafts and activities that focus on one particular letter. I have also seen a ton of ideas, as well as curriculum variations, online. If you follow me on Pinterest, I’ve been pinning ideas to incorporate into our preschool.

I have been putting together a list of materials to prepare and hope to have a full year of Letter of the Week prepared. I will also be introducing more computer and app time, and of course lots of reading!

Confessions of a Homeschooler: Letter of the Week This is a wonderful resource with many printables available. All are free on the website, or can be purchased as a bundle.

Brightly Beaming: Letter of the Week Wonderful book and activity suggestions for each letter.

ABC Jesus Loves Me: Preschool Curriculum Wonderful activities, printables and ideas. Can be purchased as a bound curriculum or available free from the website.

No Time For Flashcards Lots of printables, theme and craft ideas, book suggestions.

Starfall  Lots of online content. Songs, stories, letters, and numbers. And they are transitioning to being ipad friendly!

Before Five in a Row Not a letter of the week program, but great activities to go along with wonderful reading selections.

Preparing for our second homeschooler has really solidified our identity as a homeschool family. This is a lifestyle we have chosen to embrace and I am loving it! I am so excited to start preschool with Ender!


Our typical day with a 7-, 2- and 1-year-old

I know that homeschooling schedules are as varied as the people who count themselves as homeschoolers, but I always find it enlightening to see how other people manage their daily routines.

We are now halfway through our third year homeschooling, with our oldest being a 7-year-old second grader, and our two littles being 2 ½ and 1. We’ve also got a baby due this summer, which I am sure will require more adjustments to our school schedule.

We are year-round homeschoolers, but we do follow the “traditional” school calendar for some of our subjects, since we are participating in a small co-op that meets weekly. I also try to plan for a lighter schedule in the summer to allow for more outdoor, unscheduled activities.

We typically have two days during the week that we have activities. One day a week we spend our mornings at co-op working on science demonstrations and experiments, followed by a weekly park day with our local homeschool group. Since this keeps us out of the house most of the morning and afternoon, I do not schedule any “school” time at home. One day a week we spend a few hours at our local library branch participating in childrens’ programs and checking out books for the week. On library day I try to have a lighter school schedule that can be done in the mornings.


The baby keeping me company during co-op.

The remaining three week days, I try to devote to school work and getting housework done.

With our 2-year-old becoming more independent and wanting more interaction and activities, we have struggled to find the perfect schedule that works for us for the days we are home. At the beginning of the school year, I tried to start school by 9:00 and allow for longer breaks throughout the day. We would work through one subject area, and then the kids would have a break to play and get wiggles out.In theory I had planned to use those short breaks to accomplish my own tasks, but between caring for our youngest and refereeing the older children, very little on my personal task list was getting accomplished.

After the holidays, we changed our daily schedule up trying to find something that fit our family better. So far our days are running smoother, though I am constantly looking for ways to further refine it and be more efficient and productive.

We are not a family of super early risers, so the first part of my day from 7:00 to 8:30 is spent getting my husband ready and out the door for work. The children typically wake up sometime during this time and either have breakfast or spend some time playing.

I split the remainder of our day into three blocks of time.

9:00 – 11:00 Household tasks, breakfast if needed

I now have our 9:00 – 11:00 time block devoted to household tasks. Dogs are fed, the dishwasher loaded, and some light straightening up of the living area downstairs is done. If anyone woke up late, breakfast is served. I try to cycle some laundry, and do any administrative tasks during this time period. If the kids are done their tasks, they have free time. I try to keep us screen-free until after 5 PM, so their free time typically consists of playing or reading, or some type of paper craft.

11:00 – 2:00 School work (typically Math, Language Arts, Art/Music Appreciation and or Logic)

At 11:00, I have our school materials for the day downstairs from our classroom and set up on the dining room table. While we have our dedicated classroom space upstairs, it is much easier with the younger children to do our work downstairs. We do math and language arts daily, history and science reading one day a week (not usually on the same day). A couple days a week we spend working on Hebrew, and depending on the day, we may do some Five in a Row reading, art and music appreciation and logic.


Toddler tornado at a recent art field trip.

During our 11:00 – 2:00 block, both babies are usually awake and wanting some attention, so I try to have us cover subjects that are “interruption friendly.” We tackle math and language arts, and depending on how settled the littles are, we will get through art/music and any logic we have.

Short breaks are taken as needed, as well as a short lunch.

Around 2:00 our 2-year-old goes down for a nap, and if I am lucky our 1-year-old is either content to play quietly in his playpen or also falls asleep. It takes 30 minutes or so for me to get the 2-year-old settled for his nap, so this is free time for Kyri. Unless we have a lot planned for the day, I will typically not start back up until 3:00 so that we both get some free time.


Break time between subjects!

3:00 – 5:00 School work (reading intensive subjects like Science and History, Hebrew)

By 3:00 we are ready to wrap up our school work for the day. We have a 3:00-5:00 block of time set aside for any remaining school work. I try to save our subjects that have a lot of reading for this afternoon block. We get through our science and history reading, and any narration we have for those subjects. We also work on our Hebrew. We don’t often work until 5:00, but I keep that as our end time  to keep us screen free until then. If we finish early Kyri has free time to do reading or crafts or playing, but I try to keep TV, computers and tablets off.

So far our new schedule this year has been working for us. We’ve been quite productive with our studies. I’m still trying to optimize my housework schedule, but that is a whole other beast to tackle. Having mornings dedicated to household tasks have definitely helped, though.

Our schedule will change again this summer when we have a newborn, and we start early preschool activities for our middle child, who will be turning 3.



Out of the Loop

Until fairly recently I was an avid blog reader, following a variety of writers on topics such as vegan living, minimalism, homesteading and homeschooling.

I have been someone adrift since Google Reader was shuttered last summer. After the shutdown, I immediately switched over to feedly, and at some point, apparently I also signed up for Bloglovin. To be honest, though, I haven’t updated either in a while. I guess I just got so comfortable with using Reader that I haven’t had the energy to change to a new program. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, and if I looked hard enough there is probably a support community on G+ for folks like me.

While I do follow some of my favorite blogs on Facebook, which allows me to get updated content, I have fallen horribly behind in other content.



It’s time I moved on from Google Reader and just adapted.

I am trying to love feedly. I already have the apps installed on my smart phone and tablet, and I admit, I do love the feel of swiping through all the current content in my feed. I haven’t felt the same about Bloglovin, however. I guess I don’t “get” subscribing to a person’s profile as well as their blog profile too. I think that feed readers are one of those things that you tend to just love or hate, based on your personal preferences, so I don’t think it’s a reflection on Bloglovin, but more on what I need as a blog reader.

I’m sure I’m over thinking this whole thing…

In any case, I love sharing good content and feedly makes it darned convenient to do, so I’ll be passing along the good reads I come across.