discovery-based learning

how unschooling, or "flow" learning, brings joy to our life with kids

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Certain things change when you have a child with a serious heart defect. I immediately saw through the veneer of certain societal norms : time spent staring at a screen to escape reality, time spent doing something that doesn't bring joy for the sake of getting ahead, time spent away from my kids in order to make more money. It suddenly all became just that: Time Spent. Spent and gone. That precious, precious Time. If there was any doubt in my mind that I would homeschool my kids before Lachlan's diagnosis, it was completely erased post-diagnosis. There would be no wasting of any time in school.  For kids with HLHS, childhood is often a Golden Time - their heart function often declines as they enter their later teen years and early adulthood. Why waste my son's precious life with time spent waiting in line and taking tests? I didn't know then that I would come to believe that schooling at home isn't worth our time as a family, either.

My little boy with half a heart is old enough to be in kindergarten, away from me five days a week. Instead, he is home with all of us. He wakes up in the morning and starts working on the ramps he builds for things with wheels, or he asks someone to read him a story. He helps with breakfast, and buils a boat out of cardboard. He fixes himself a snack of apples and almond butter when he's hungry. He might choose to go outside to swing, woo a neighbor cat from under the shed, or ride his bike down the neighbor's driveway. He plays with the neighbor kids in the afternoons, or enjoys a board game with me if the weather is crummy. He has become “quite the hiker,” to use his own words, and is amazingly helpful with outside chores and gardening tasks. In the moments in between, he is either playing the piano (figuring out melodies in different keys is his jam) or on the couch with a book in his lap.

Last year at this time, I was struggling with homeschooling. I didn't feel like family life was joyful. I felt pressure to help my eldest learn to read. I felt pressure to come up with a family rhythm that worked for all of us. I felt pressure to find time to get in all the “educational stuff” every day, to make sure our days were nourishing, calm, and enriching. In my head, it went like this: first, math play with Daddy. Then, violin practice, followed by family music time. Next, we would move on to read-aloud and a planned art project, followed by reading and writing practice, outside play, and quiet time. Oh my. I met with resistance from one or another of my kids at every step of the way. Even though I was trying my best to maximize our moments of enrichment, it just started to feel like Time Spent. Precious Time - wasted because I was still holding onto the belief that, if I didn't expose my children to most subjects most days, I was an unsuccessful homeschooling parent. I was doing a disservice to my kids.

Thank goodness I got over that. Because my goal is not to have children who can recite math facts at incredible speed, or whose handwriting is beyond lovely and whose spelling is pristine at age seven. My goal, quite simply, is to live joyfully with my kids. I do not homeschool in order that they may get into an Ivy League university. I homeschool so that their minds can flourish in an environment of respect, so that they can practice listening themselves and empathizing with fellow humans, so that they can explore and have time to hone their own gifts and passions. I homeschool so we can enjoy living and learning together as a family. Which is why we shifted to radical unschooling.

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I'm not writing this to convince you that unschooling is the “right” way to homeschool. There are so many different kinds of personalities, and a school-at-home method might be perfect for certain kids and families. I'm writing this for anyone who feels like I did at this time last year – that homeschooling is a slog. This is for the homeschooling parent who feels stressed out by the pressure of fitting in all of those different subjects, who might be meeting with resistance from highly self-motivated kids. That was me. Turns out, my kids can smell a “teachy mom” with an agenda from miles away. They don't want a teachy mom. They want me: a mom who listens, who empathizes, who marvels with them, who supports them, who demonstrates passion, kindness and work ethic through her way of living rather than her words and rules, and who gets out of the way when they are concentrating.

The day I accepted that my own passions and interests wax and wane, and that I learn best when given the time to focus on one thing at a time, really getting into the flow of concentration, the sky opened up and a chorus of angels started singing. Of course my kids were constantly annoyed that they didn't have enough time to work on what was important to them. (I get annoyed when told that I need to stop doing what I'm focusing on in order to work on something else, too!) Obviously, just because I don't write every day, that doesn't mean that I am not a writer. Just because I put aside my sewing design work for months at a time, that doesn't mean I won't come back to it later when the moment is right. Just because I lose interest in cooking fancy meals in order to make time for a burst of interest in painting doesn't mean I'll never cook again. The idea that learning must happen at a constant, plodding pace is just plain wrong. When I liberated myself from the idea that I had to be all things all the time, I passed along that grace to my children as well. (Notice that I don't commit to write a weekly blog post, or come out with a new sewing pattern every season. I'll do those things when I'm inspired to do them – that way, they fill me with energy rather than depleting me.) Just because my kids don't practice math daily doesn't mean they won't obsess over rubik's cube theory for two days straight. Just because they write a story one day doesn't mean that I need to worry if they put aside that work for a while after a burst of concentration and interest.

We cleared our morning schedule and allowed to allow the kids to get into interests and projects. And man, it feels SO right. We are all so happy. And learning, even the kind that can be measured by a test, has blossomed. No wonder – neurobiology has finally caught up with educational luminaries such as Jean Piaget and John Holt. It turns out that simply living joyfully, respectfully, and responsively with children provides the necessary environment for all sorts of learning to happen:

 

It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion. And after all, this makes sense: the brain is highly metabolically expensive tissue, and evolution would not support wasting energy and oxygen thinking about things that don’t matter to us. Put succinctly, we only think about things we care about. - Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang

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It was only when I stopped trying to teach Finn to read that he started to read on his own. When I stopped asking him to read aloud and stopped trying to institute a predetermined silent reading time, he took a mini reading vacation. He loved listening to read-alouds or audio books, but didn't pick up anything on his own. A few months into his vacation, I started displaying books that I thought might capture his interest. I put them, cover out, on the couch, which is where he first plops himself when he comes downstairs upon waking. He picked one up and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. From that point forward, he has been reading for several hours a day, nearly every day, of his own accord. All I do is “strew” books he will love in his path, and he gets lost in them.

The same has been true of Lachlan, who learned his letters in the hospital while recovering from his third surgery. Other than that, he was spared my well-meaning attempts at formal reading instruction other than following along with my finger during read-alouds, answering his direct questions, and playing some sound games. I put out books that I think might tickle his funny bone, and he happily plops himself down with them and reads book after book after book. I'm sure he isn't able to read every word in the Amulet series, but he gets most of them, and, like his older brother, he views reading as a diversion rather than a chore. Sadie is following suit, and she spends a good hour a day “reading” out loud all of the picture books she can get her hands on. Our living room floor is always covered with books.

Would I feel the same ease with unschooling if my kids hadn't embraced reading so readily? Sometimes I wonder, but the fact remains that they only started doing this once we had been curriculum- and rhythm-free for a good while. I attribute much of their rampant reading, natural interest in mathematical theory, and focused problem-solving capabilities to my graduate degree in Montessori education. Because of all of my immersion in Montessori, I understood the importance of preparing the environment to assist the child in entering into depth of flow, or concentrated effort. (For more on this theory, check out this talk TED talk by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow: The Secret of Happiness.)

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I've written before about our toys (and where we keep them) in a previous post. The gist is this: our few, open-ended toys are kept upstairs in a small play room. We spend most of our time downstairs, where they have access to myriad books, all of our musical instruments, the kitchen, and our art/tinkering space. During our “lazy” mornings, we all enjoy these activities (with some homemaking tasks thrown in for me and the occasional child.) All of these activities are set up to be welcoming and accessible for each child. We have cozy bean bags for reading, age-appropriate art materials available within reach (tempera paints aren't accessible for the 3 year-old, but markers, scissors, paper, etc. are.) We have headphones available to a child who wants to play the (electronic) piano while another is reading, so as not to disturb the reader. All of the baking supplies, as well as their cookbooks, are available to the five and seven year-olds in case they feel thus inspired. The snack drawer is nearly always stocked with a panoply of healthy options; even the toddler can serve herself whenever she is hungry.  Any Montessori teacher would feel at home in our house - the only thing missing is the expensive and space-consuming Montessori materials. Our home is designed so the kids can act safely and independently at a place where their interests are perfectly matched with just the right amount of challenge. They almost always enter this state of creative "Flow" given enough unstructured time.

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The one thing that we do differently from many radically unschooling families is screen time. Like most unschoolers, we don't restrict their time on screens and we don't waste our time or energy on arguing the value of video game vs. a good book. We just naturally don't have screen time. We don't own a television. (Since moving out of our respective homes at 18, Patrick and I have never owned a TV. It has never been our preferred way to relax.) We don't own a video game consul. Our kids don't have their own tablets or computers. Patrick is a computer programmer, and I have an online business and write on my computer, but it's clear to the kids that we don't look at screens if we aren't working. We'd rather be playing an instrument, drawing, hiking, or playing a board game. Screens just seem to suck away our precious time with each other, so we treat them as an occasional tool rather than an inevitable fixture. We are not Luddites; we use YouTube to learn a skill and watch documentaries together. We watch Spanish language kids' music videos. The boys really enjoy programming music in Sonic Pi with their dad. Finn spent a few weeks last spring putting together elaborate stop-motion videos, which required learning to use my camera and lighting equipment and gaining proficiency with the stop motion software. They watch the occasional cartoon at their grandparents' house. But they don't have their own screens and they don't do school work online.

Rather than making it a self-regulating screenapalooza or a stress-filled, parent-regulated, much-sought-after commodity, we just naturally don't have screens readily available in our house. It's a perfect fit for our family. I'm not arguing the merits or disadvantages to unrestricted screen time, but I wanted to add this screen-light option to the radically unschooled dialog. Perhaps knowing that a naturally screen-light home environment is an option will help some screen-wary families open to the possibility of unschooling. It's certainly been a positive shift for our family. Goodbye curricula, hello Flow, hello healthy connection between parents and children.


Encourage Your Kids to Hike and Give Them a Lifelong Gift of Joyful Movement

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In the past year, we've slowly emerged from a period of time during which I couldn't take my three kids out to hike by myself. When Sadie was born, Lachlan still very much needed to be carried after a short period of walking. He can tire easily (he only has half a heart!), but sometimes he just didn't feel like walking – something he shares with most kids of preschool age, I imagine. And when a preschooler doesn't feel like walking, well … you shift your ideal to accommodate your reality.

 

My ideal is being able to enjoy multi-day backpacking trips with my kids. I grew up next to the Tahoe National Forest, and my dad and I would often head to the trail for the weekend. My dad is not an effusive guy, but during those hikes, camped beside isolated Sierra Nevada lakes, we connected. We didn't talk each other's ears off, but we did hard things together, and shared many funny moments. I want to experience that same distraction-free connection with my kids. Also, my dad's implicit confidence in my resilience as a backpacker framed so much of my self-conception as a woman today – no less capable of doing hard, adventurous, physically and mentally demanding things than my three older brothers. This is an image he cultivated in me from the time I was four, when he and I summited Mt. Lassen. Throughout my life, he told that story proudly. How the rest of the our friends' kids grumbled their way up the trail, and I kept on truckin' and singing, all the way to the top. He and I did a goofy dance in the summer snow patch at the summit. It is one of my most cherished childhood memories.

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My little guy with a congenital heart defect would not have been able to summit Mt. Lassen at age four . Instead, I adjusted my ideal and we picked hike-free natural places to explore while he grew in physical and mental resilience. We would (and still do) bring a picnic, art supplies, nets, magnifying glasses, field guides and set about exploring and simply enjoying the nature right around us. Sometimes we would go for very short hikes, but we tended to stick nearby. I wanted to cultivate positive vibes about nature. Check.

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And yet … I didn't want our experience of nature to remain sedentary. I am very aware of the benefits of moderate physical exercise for heart kids. Lachlan's heart function depends on a lifestyle of movement. His little heart is a muscle, and the more regularly he works it out, the better and longer it will serve him. He won't be able to play competitive soccer, basketball, or any organized sport like that. But as a family, we can provide him the knowledge of a physical activity that he can continue to enjoy well past the time that most adults stop participating in organized sports and start sitting in front of a computer screen for work. Hiking. Outdoor adventuring in general. A joyful gift of lifelong movement and health.

Here are the things that I'm currently doing to pass along a love of movement in nature, with a goal of going on our first family backpacking trip within the year.

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Scavenger hunt hikes

Sometimes the excitement of a scavenger hunt will get them out of the house in a jiffy. These can be “collecting” scavenger hunts, where they look for bits of nature to bring home for the nature table, but sensory scavenger hunts are my favorite. They have a list of things to see, smell, touch, or hear. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

 

Snack bags

Have snack, will walk. It's really amazing to me how far my youngest two can go when they have bags of crackers or popcorn to dip into. While I try to keep cracker-face-stuffing to a minimum at home, on the trail they are a much-anticipated treat.

 

Gear Up the Kids 

Sometimes the gift of a special hiking backpack, hydration system, hiking boots, or trekking poles will inspire them to make some forward momentum on the trail. Lachlan is a big fan of “gear”. (Finn would go naked and barefoot into the woods, and Sadie of course prefers wearing her Halloween-princess-costume-turned-hiking-dress, but Lachlan is motivated by his backpack!)

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Gear Up the Mama

Two items have changed my ability to hike solo with my little family: my backpack with a comfortable hip belt and my ultra light-weight Boba Air baby carrier, which folds itself into a tiny zip bag when not in use. I'll start with the Boba carrier – I always stow it in my backpack. In case Lachlan or Sadie get tired, I can pop them in the carrier. In case both of them get tired at the same time, I can (as a last resort) put one in the carrier and the other on my shoulders and view it as an excellent work out! (I always anticipate this, and consider it a gift of a great work out rather than a situation to be feared and avoided at all costs.)

 

My backpack is filled with crackers, extra clothes, and water, mostly. It also provides me with the ability to facilitate a sweet little rest time, if needed. I love to pack a nature-themed story book like The Burgess Bird Book for Children, as well as some simple nature journal supplies (The boys tend to carry their own sketch books and water in their trail packs now, but I started out carrying everyone's supplies so as not to weight them down before they were ready.)

 

Sometimes a Curriculum is Helpful

I have loved some of the suggestions in Exploring Nature with Children, a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool curriculum. While we are radical unschoolers and don't follow curricula, I use this as a learning resource for myself, so I can be informed about seasonal details in nature. The book's suggestions are great, as are the themed nature walks. There are even some crafting ideas thrown in there! Highly recommended.

 

We've also participated in and enjoyed the Wild Explorers Club. The kids get weekly “assignments,” which vary from week to week. Some of our favorites have been making your own special walking stick and creating a map of a hike or natural area. When they complete a level (about 4 assignments), you can order them a special badge. We put our membership on hold this fall, but the boys have been asking to start up again. I should get on that.

 

Find a Hiking Community

It's no surprise that kids move more quickly, and with more gusto, when they are doing it with friends. So much more running happens on the trail when we hike with other kids! We are fortunate to have outdoor-loving friends. If you're still searching for your tribe, see if Hike It Baby or Adventure Mamas has an active community in your area.

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Go Slowly, Go Quickly

Be prepared to stop and play in water. Be prepared to marvel at small things. Be prepared to notice the feeling on dirt as it sifts from one hand to the other. Children move slowly, and we should follow their lead. Conversely, be prepared to play a game of tag. Be prepared to race to a tree. Be prepared to be playful. Children can move quickly, and we should follow that cue, as well. Nurturing a balance between fast and slow will keep everyone in balance as you hike.

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Talk it Up, Build Their Identities as Hikers

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Just like my dad did for me, talk about what amazing hikers your kids have become. Be in awe of their small triumphs, their resilience, their ability to do hard things. After a hike, talk up all of the neat things you saw, all of the fun you had. Plan hikes together - start a Pinterest board together of nearby trails you'd like to get to know. Teach them navigation skills, give them a camera to help document your nature discoveries. Let little ones take turns leading, and thank them for their help afterwards. Tell bedtime stories about them as explorers. Brag about their hiking to their grandparents in the same way you would mention how well they are learning to read.  Essentially, communicate that joyful movement in nature is an esteemed family value. In time, your children will come to self-identify as capable outdoor adventurers.

 


project-based homeschooling: the choice

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The seasons have changed. Not due to a tilting of our continent away from the Sun, but due to more travels around it. It seems like just three weeks ago that I was pondering how to put together the best treasure baskets for baby Finny. Now, closing in on four-and-a-half rotations around the Sun, he's way beyond the treasure basket. Heck, the whole world is his treasure basket. 

Lately, I've found myself wondering how best to support this curious fellow as he opens his mind to the world-at-large in a more conscious, thoughtful way. Right now, we've decided that it's best for him not to follow a specific homeschooling curriculum, or to be in a public, Waldorf or Montessori school. (Best for us, too, because it really has to be a "what is best for the family" kind of decision.)

Public schooling can be a wonderful option for some families. So can private school. We do not take for granted how fortunate we are to have the choice between homeschooling and traditional schooling, as we can live off of one income. For the past few years, he has been attending a beautiful Waldorf-based home nursery a few mornings a week. I love it. They play outside. A lot. They care for animals. They bake. They celebrate many seasonal festivals. But the truth is that our days go much more smoothly, and the boys settle into their own projects and interests more easily, if we don't have to be out the door first thing in the morning. So, although we already informally homeschool the boys, we have made the decision to begin in earnest this winter, after baby girl is born.

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We have a long history, as a couple, with homeschooling. Patrick was homeschooled for a while. I grew up playing with my homeschooled neighbors. In some ways, it is comfortable territory. In some ways, as I began to look at the possibility of starting imminently down the homeschooling path, it seemed daunting and completely overwhelming.

We have a strong, all-inclusive (secular and religious) homeschooling community in the Durham/Chapel Hill area. I'm already plugged in, as one of my dearest friends is a seasoned homeschooling mom. My friend is extroverted and excels at orchestrating amazing lessons for her own kids as well as others (Engineering classes? Current events gatherings? Geography co-op? She's quite amazing.) Me? I'm a homebody and an introvert, and my strength isn't putting together lesson plans. Plus, I'm pretty laid-back when it comes to learning. I believe that it will happen naturally. However, I'm uncomfortable with zero structure, so full-bore unschooling isn't for us, either. I began to wonder where we fit on the homeschooling spectrum. Is there a place for me? For a family like ours?

I used to think that I needed to become comfortable with following a familiar learning philosophy (Montessori or Waldorf). To ease my load of lesson planning from scratch, I sought out curricula of different kinds, thinking that I needed to have something set for math, reading, history, science, etc. The search for curricula to guide us down the homeschooling path started to become a case of too-much-information (and, when faced with paying for said curricula year after year, it started to look less economical.)

Then Finn developed a very deep and wide passion for geology, evolution and dinosaur fossils. And, eureka! I slapped my forehead, dusted off my Montessori training and followed the needs and interests of my own child, learning through a good deal of trial and error how to best mentor him as I guide him on his path of becoming a life-long learner.  As an enthusiastic autodidact who happens to be married to another one (who is currently spending his evening leisure time studying number theory and cryptography) this path makes so much sense for our family. We love our projects. We consider learning to be fun. Yes, even math. Especially math.

So it's not surprising that we've been drawn to project-based homeschooling. It fits us well. Patrick and I are currently enrolled in a PBH Master Class with Lori Pickert of Camp Creek Blog. I could go into a whole bunch of educational and spiritual philosophy as to why I love this learning path, for children and adults alike. But that's another post. For now, I feel excited to begin. I'm very much a novice who will be learning as much as my own kids, no doubt. 

What will our days look like? They will likely start out with some kind of circle - some singing or movement thanks to Lavender's Blue, followed by an entire morning of project time. We'll see how it all evolves. 

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A few inspirational project-based homeschooling resources:

The Simple Mom Podcast "Reasons to Homeschool" in which Tsh and Jamie share their different approaches to homeschooling. Tsh's family is into classical education a la "The Well-Trained Mind," while Jamie's family espouses a more project-based approach. 

David Albert - It's always good to search out well-seasoned homeschooling mentors, not just others with children the age of your own or perhaps a few years ahead of yours. 

The book "Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners". Obviously.

Project-Based Homeschooling, the blog. A wealth of information, motivation, and practical advice. 


imagine childhood book review + giveaway

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That book up there? It's amazing. Of course, I knew it would be - I've been a loyal visitor the Imagine Childhood blog and a supporter of their store for many years now.

What author Sarah Olmsted has crafted is a deep, relaxing breath in the form of a book . It's an invitation to experience the wonder of nature in a creative way. An invitation to notice. An invitation to experience a forest, a creek, a pond - through the eyes of a child and alongside your child.

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The activities in Imagine Childhood, I would say, are geared toward families with young children or older children who are able to read and craft on their own. None require a developed skill set - the sewing projects are very simple, the woodworking projects extremely basic - so anyone can jump right in. Everything can be made with little and big hands working side by side.

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The boys eagerly chose to work on the mud house project, and it was a delight to work alongside them. I cut the wood forms and they did most everything else - from oiling down the sides of the wood (even the oustide of the form - unneccesary for the house, but somehow perfect work for Finn, as you can see above.) Finn made design decisions (such as choosing to hammer a door frame together rather than using a bigger block. I just followed their lead. Come to think of it, Imagine Childhood and my other favorite, Project-Based Homeschooling, are perfect companion books.

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Lachlan really got into the mud part after his nap. (Do you see him nearly falling over in one of the above pictures, unable to give in to sleep with the excitement of the mud house construction?) Hold on - I have to go give him a smooch this minute - ok, I'm back!

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And here is our mud house thus far, still drying. Come to think of it, it had a very generous watering in the last few days, first by eager boys who love to go around watering this and that, then by nature herself, in the form of a rainy day. I'm not sure if it will ever dry properly without splitting, but the experience itself was quite worthwhile regardless. There is a town of mud houses being planned, as well as many other projects from Imagine Childhood.

Building this with the boys made me remember one of my first blog posts, back when I was living in rural Mexico and building a cob wall to protect our garden. It wasn't surprising that building with mud attracted the neighborhood children; there's something so simple, functional, and rewarding about it.

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Cob wall

Roost Books has generously offered to give away two copies of Imagine Childhood to my readers, and Sarah has chipped in a $25 gift certificate to the Imagine Childhood Shop. Three opportunities to win! Leave a comment to enter. I'll pick a winner on Saturday, December 1st.

Good luck!


Comments are now closed - congratulations to Gwenn, Joy and Milena!


giving thanks

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Inspired by the fat brush strokes in Giving Thanks, Finn sat down at his desk and started to work with a selection of brushes and paints. We chit chatted about colors, lines, and curves, then I walked away. An hour later, he presented his interpretation. Then he flashed that "I'm three so I never smile in a normal way when asked" smile. 

I'm awash with gratitude for all the little things this year. If I had known that this is the way it was going to turn out two years ago at this time, I would have saved myself those truck loads of worry. I'm still pretty amazed that I get to spend my days with two healthy and vibrant little boys.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! I'll be back here in a week.


Friendship

Hi, I'm Charlotte and I'm guest blogging in this space for Meg while she prepares for Quilt Market this month.  I feel honored to be writing here on this very page where our special friendship began.  I started reading Meg's blog before Finn was even born and sometime during his early months I realized that Meg and I lived in the same town, with boys just a few months apart.  So I wrote to her, and it felt something like writing to Punky Brewster when I was seven years old, only instead of a junky fan club postcard and Punky headshot, I got a playdate with Meg, the crafting and parenting rockstar. (Guess what?  Despite being starstruck in the beginning, she's just like you and me!) We found some common ground.  We got to know one another.  Then we got pregnant at the same time again, this time with Lachlan and my little girl, Kenzie.  We rode that rollercoaster together, and our bond strengthened.

Meg is one of my best friends, and when I thought of what I could say during my time in this space, I kept coming back to Meg herself.  I hope to share the things I love about Meg with you, and give you a more intimate look at the woman behind the blog.

This week we headed to our favorite river spot together, me with my four kids and Meg with her two. We hope to make this a weekly adventure through the seasons and this week's visit didn't disappoint, with clouds and rain and sun all in the same visit!  The rain didn't dampen our spirits and even made the views more beautiful.

I suppose to an untrained eye, nothing remarkable was happening.  Kids played.  Kids got wet.  Boots got muddy.  Insects and snails were captured.  There were smiles (a lot) and tears (a few) and lots and lots of snacks for our busy adventurers.

It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind.  We could spend that extra half hour cleaning house or doing one more work task or simply  choose to stay inside on a slightly damp day to avoid the mess and fuss.  But we wouldn't want that, now would we, Lachlan?

No.  Because the outdoors has lessons to teach us.  My own over-active brain slows down and breathes deeply.  Questions bubble forth from my older ones with regularity - do trees have DNA?  How do the leaves in the river affect the ecosystem?  Did the rocks erode from rain or from the river when it was higher?  They relax and open themselves fully to the experience, with creativity and problem solving blending into one seamless experience.  And Kenzie?  Well, she's been hesitant around steps lately.  My house has six sets of steps inside (yes, six!  they vary from 1-3 steps all the way to a full flight) and she was refusing to go up or down them, protesting to be helped each time, even transitioning from room to room.  But outside?

Despite their size and irregularity, she conquered that fear.  Thank you, nature!  And thank you, Meg, for bringing this city-girl out into the wild every week and reminding me that we have so much to learn just by being present.


where we're going

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We never know where we will end up when we start along a path, do we?

Things evolve organically. Our family is changing, and we're taking a turn in a different direction. 

Patrick took a leave of absence from his PhD program in history to take a computer programing job. He would like to finish his dissertation one day, if he can do so while working full-time as a programmer. (A high five for my brilliant and hard-working husband who is both a humanities guy and a mathy, programming guy. How often do those two talents get put into one (darn cute) package? :) 

He will start work soon. We will get a regular paycheck, which is a huge stress relief for us. We were working way too hard to get Sew Liberated to make up for Patrick's grad school stipend which was about to run dry, and it just wasn't happening. It's a good source of supplemental income. It's not enough for a family of four with hefty medical bills. We're tired of money stress. We needed to do something about it.

You know, part of me cringes at the mention of money. I have - as many of you have, too - embraced a movement toward simpler living. Less stuff, less technology. Focusing on time instead of income, living slowly instead of doing everything. Perhaps part of me wishes that I could fully jump on board and simplify our lives to the point where Patrick didn't need to work outside the home. Many families are able to do this, and I am grateful for their ingenuity and gentle influence. I'm moving toward a self-acceptance that we are not one of those families. But thankfully, I know now that we will be ok. We have health insurance. We will have enough money to replace our roof (which is a "green roof" by the happenstance of thirty years rather than ecological standards.) We will be able to buy plane tickets to visit my grandfather who can't travel anymore. We've had many sighs of relief around here.

Of course, Patrick's job precipitates a huge shift for both of us. Since Finn's birth, we have been co-parenting full-time - he worked half the day, and I worked half the day, and we each took the boys when the other was working. Patrick will be leaving around 8:15 AM, and will return around 5:30 PM. I will be with the boys all day, with the exception of three mornings a week when Finn is at his nature school and Lachlan is cared for by my parents. During those three mornings, I will work on the blog and Sew Liberated. It will be an exercise in letting go of the unnecessary, streamlining my productivity, and learning how to delegate. My parents will be gone for four weeks right before Quilt Market in Houston this October, which I am attending this year. I have four new patterns in the pipeline. It will be an interesting Autumn.

What I am both very excited about and very nervous about is orchestrating each day solo, from breakfast to dinner, with Finn and Lachlan. Right now I'm trying to get myself organized, so I know what kinds of fun activities we can do together while at home. I know many can fly by the seat of their pants, but I need to have a flexible plan. I also need to figure out how to recharge. As a borderline introvert, I need head space to myself. I'm contemplating daily quiet time for my non-napper, and looking into a yoga class on Sunday mornings. 

This is where I am - getting everything in line for the next turn in life. I'm full of optimism that with it will come new lessons, less stress, and a soon-to-be-found groove.


kids in the kitchen

Kids_in_the_Kitchen_Cover_for_Kindle

 

There's a new parenting/cookbook (my favorite combo!) on the block, and this is a must-have. Sara of Feeding the Soil and Kylie from How We Montessori have joined together to offer a primer on inviting young children into the kitchen. Kids in the Kitchen will provide you with all of the ideas and tools you'll need to make endless food prep into a memory-making, skill-building, family experience. 

Tell us a little about yourselves and why it is you're passionate about Montessori education. 
 
From Sara:

Whenever I read the news about another mass shooting or more death in Syria or corporate greed or climate change, I feel an overwhelming need to turn my attention and focus toward hope. For me, that hope is our children. Maria Montessori said, "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men [and women]."

The Montessori approach to education and parenting helps children become confident, loving, compassionate, and responsible for the well-being of themselves, others, and the world around them. It is a truly transformational approach that has the potential to change the world. 

I first experienced Montessori as a child and later as a teacher and parent. I am currently working to create more public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide as the founder and executive director of Montessori For All

Kylie found Montessori when she was searching for a parenting philosophy that resonated with her and her family's needs. She was immediately attracted to Montessori's emphasis on "fostering independence, following the child, order and consistency." She currently spends much of her time writing and communicating with parents around the world via her blog, How We Montessori.

We came together to create the cookbook we couldn't find in bookstores. It explains all the benefits of cooking with children (as young as 18 months), details step-by-step directions for setting up the kitchen in a kid-friendly way, includes a sequence of skills to prepare children for cooking, and features ten simple recipes that are illustrated with photographs so even pre-readers can follow along with confidence and independence. 

The simple act of allowing children to cook helps them develop a core of confidence that is so instrumental to their formation of self. 

DSC_0493


The cookbook is a very accessible, visually appealing primer on getting your young child into the kitchen. Could you share with us your own family kitchen routines? What does a typical day in your kitchen look like - busy? Peaceful? Chaotic? Fun? How does involving your children change the way you cook and the way you think about cooking? 

From Kylie: 
A typical day in our kitchen is all of those things--busy, peaceful, chaotic, and fun. Having children definitely changed the way I cook. More importantly, being a parent changed my entire life. I've learned to focus on the process not the outcome, to accept that things will not go as planned and to really live in the moment. I've learned that the key to living an active and engaged life with children is to look past the barriers and find ways to say yes. When things get a little crazy or out of control, I think about the wonderful memories we are making. Usually the the bigger the mess the louder the giggles.

My fifteen-month old has begun to pour his own milk at breakfast, he will help with snack and dehusk corn or shell peas at dinner. Most of all he likes to be by my side so he spends a lot of time in the kitchen exploring or sampling the food. My four year old loves baking and he loves experimenting. His favourite thing at the moment is making up his own flavor combinations and writing his own recipes.

No matter your child's age or personality, it is important to empower them. Give them the equipment and skills so they can work independently. Involve them in decision making as much as possible. Often they amaze us with what they are capable of.

Caspar

Because we all have different children, how do you bring out the best of their own personalities while working in the kitchen? One of us might have a vibrant firecracker of a child who joyfully generates the most fabulous messes, while another may have a detail-oriented, innately ordered child who is passionate about carrying out the ideas that she has in her head. 

From Kylie:
Not only are all children different but I've also found that children have different energy through the day. My best advice is to focus on the child and get to know your child in the kitchen. A little preparation can help. For a child who likes to work fast, have everything ready to go, ingredients out and measured. Other children might enjoy the process of collecting all the ingredients and measuring. It helps to have basic ingredients in the pantry and the basic tools for cleaning up ready. Flexibility is also important. Cakes can be turned into muffins, water can make up for too much flour, dinner can be late. It all works out!


Tell us about your non-profit organization, Montessori for All. All profits from cookbook sales go directly to benefit this great organization.

In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and only about 400 public ones. Montessori For All seeks to change that. We believe that all children deserve access to an educational experience that develops their minds, hearts, and bodies. We believe that children's educational options should not be limited by their families' incomes. We seek to open and lead high-performing, authentic, dual-language, public Montessori schools in diverse communities across the nation. We are currently working to open our flagship school in Austin, TX, in the fall of 2014. 

 

Thank you, Sara and Kylie, for putting so much of yourselves into Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way . I know it will be a fabulous, go-to book for families with young children!


fun was had

the fun we have

Before I left for Denver, I found myself with a bit of senior-itis when it came to my sewing course. You know, I had to pack, attend to small details, etc., but all I could do when I sat down in front of the computer was search for sensorial play ideas for the boys. 

And oh, my. The 'nets are chock-full of fantastic "activities," as we call them in our house. 

the fun we have

First up is shaving cream and ice paint from Growing a Jeweled Rose. Total hit. 

the fun we have

Lachlan had the idea of covering his hair in shaving cream. Finn and his friend thought this was the greatest idea ever. Somehow, we avoided shaving cream in the eyes, which was fortunate. 

the fun we have

What I like about Growing a Jeweled Rose is that Crystal has so many innovative ideas of her own, but she aslo posts thematic round-ups from around the web, which is very helpful for planning activities for children of different ages and interests. 

the fun we have

She does not shy away from messy play, and has great ideas for containing it in a bath. She calls them sensory baths

This was our first time trying a "special bath," as Finn now calls them. Both boys were awestruck with the glow bath I put together for them. 

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I'm pretty sure if Lachlan's cardiologist saw this picture, he would be concerned! Black light + camera at work. Speaking of Lachlan's heart, I forgot to mention that, at his last quarterly check-up, he was looking so great that his cardiologist gave him a six-month pass! No hospital for six months! Way to go, Lachlan. His heart function is excellent.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and that you have the time to do something crazy fun. We are heading back to the beach (can't stay away!) for an impromptu, two-night camping trip to celebrate Patrick's birthday. 

Happy weekending, friends!


glitter soup

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

There comes a moment in the day when the energy slows.  A warm, cut-grass-sticking-to-your-feet moment, when you are without a thing to do other than lay around with a popsicle. In this moment, Finn and Lachlan could either melt or seize the day. It was time to get out the water play.

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I just gathered some things I had around the house, including glitter, liquid watercolors, and ground turmeric, and filled the tub. I lounged next to the cat, hands behind my head, while they played in peace for over an hour. I could have fallen asleep were it not for the passing thought that a cup-full of green glitter soup could be poured over my head.

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

Oh, it was good. They're making soup again as I write these words. 

I will miss these little boys as I jet off to Denver for several days of filming starting tomorrow. I've never "left" before. Finn has traveled for a few days with his Dad, leaving me at home with Lachlan, but I've never NOT put a little boy to sleep in the last more-than-three years. Sigh. I already can't wait to be home! I'll let you know how it goes, from the filming to the uninterrupted nights of sleep!

Be well, friends.