young naturalists

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“One way to neutralize [a child’s] fascination with the natural world is to cordon it off in parks and zoos, and then to act as if only the parks and zoos were worth seeing.  Persuade a child that a giraffe he sees once every couple of years is really impressive, but the wren on the fence post is only a drab little bird- though he warbles out a love song in the morning, cocking his stubby tail, and is in general one of the bravest and most cheerful of birds. Persuade the child that the Grand Canyon is worth seeing, or Yellowstone National Park, or Mount Rushmore, or the breakers of the ocean on the Florida coast. But ignore the variations of hill and valley, river and pond, bare rock and rich bottom soil, in your own neighborhood.”

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child  by Anthony Esolen

One thing I hope for my children is that they grow to love the world around them — and I mean “around them” quite literally.  I want them to know what a rhinoceros is and be able to identify New Guinea on a map and to imagine what it might be like to live in the rain forest.  But even more important, I want them to know, really know, the place they live in — and to know that this place on the prairie is just as full of fascinating and wonderful creatures as any tropical rain forest or African savanna.

And so this summer we’ve been working on identifying the trees, bugs, birds, flowers, weeds, and all manner of things that we find in our own backyard, or down the street, or at the lake.  We’ve been using two wonderful books as inspiration: The Nature Connection and We Love Nature.  We’ve observed the life stages of boxelder bugs and watched a black swallowtail caterpillar make a chrysalis on the backdoor frame.  We now know more birds than ever (still using our favorite trusty bird guide) and are learning to identify some by their songs using this (so handy to have the Kindle edition on my phone!).  My six year old can tell the difference between a honey locust, an American basswood, and a Russian olive tree (which is something I couldn’t do as a twenty-six year old).  We are all learning together, and I’m just as fascinated by all this new knowledge as the girls.  And nothing makes my heart swell like Adeline saying, “Mom, I heard a cardinal in the tree and then I saw two red admiral butterflies!  What a lucky day!”



green! but only inside


We’ve been experiencing a typical spring — days of sunshine and mud and hope alternating with days of cold and snow boredom.  We’ve spotted a few slips of green outdoors — most notably our chives and some dandelions sprouting.  But we also decided to bring some green indoors.  We are conducting a twig study, with lilac, plum, and basswood branches clipped from our yard.  And we made a terrarium.  Just enough green and growing to get us through to the warmer side of spring.
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playing and learning, part 2

How we kept busy indoors this winter:DSC_0104


DSC_0112Adeline got really into making her own comics (templates here and here).  She’s still using the techniques she learned from Ed Emberley’s thumbprint books.


DSC_0117This accordion turned out to be a very worthwhile Christmas gift.


DSC_0130Sometimes an impromptu photo shoot is a good way to pass the time.


DSC_0136Ed Emberley again — this time we were inspired by The Wing on a Flea to make pictures out of simple shapes (we printed some from here to cut out.)




I am in love with Mr. Printables.  We’ve spent many hours printing, cutting, gluing, and playing with the wonderful creations there (including the dolls above and the calendar below).  Cutting out and pasting all the elements onto her own calendar really helped Adeline understand how calendars are organized — but it was quite a lot of work, and February might be the only one we make this year!

Made by Joel is another site for great printables and inspiration.

We’ve been studying a bit of Shakespeare with the help of this great book, watching this animated version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Adventures in Learning blog has some really fun ideas.

We “joined” the Dinosaur Train Nature Trackers club.

We’re loving the Willowbee Tree stories from Sparkle Stories.

playing and learning, part 1

Spring is nearly here and I feel as though we’ve been sprung from a cage.  But in many ways our time indoors this winter has been full and pleasant, so I’d like to take a minute to record what we’ve been doing.  I’m sure by next winter I’ll have forgotten most of these ideas and the links to them if I don’t write them down now, and perhaps you might find a little inspiration, too.


DSC_0042Adeline and I have been slowly working through Drawing with Children (an amazing book I learned of here), and during our last lesson Bea was more eager to join in than before.  We collaborated on the above drawings (I drew the palm tree and the baby birds) and I must say it was wonderful to work with a child who is not as much of a . . . perfectionist as my other child is.
DSC_0045We’ve been studying Mary Cassatt and we made these parent and child drawings (Adeline’s is on the left, Bea’s are the two on the right).



DSC_0070We read a really sweet book about a girl who makes a butternut squash into her doll, at which point Beatrice decided to adopt the squash that had spent most of the winter on our kitchen counter as her own “Bernice.”  She’s been with us for many weeks now, only slightly more soft and dented than she started out.

I was inspired by this post to get the girls involved in planning for this summer’s garden, and I was very surprised by their enthusiasm for the project.  We spent well over an hour one night poring through seed catalogs and drawing up plans, only stopping reluctantly for bedtime.

there are never any pencils


I think we are finally — after months of chaos and upheaval — settling into a comfortable homeschool rhythm.  It helps (me) that the house is a bit more in order now; we’re hanging things on the walls and organizing closets that have been in disarray since moving day.  I’m working with the girls to keep their school and art supplies organized.  For some reason we have every art and craft supply under the sun, yet the humble, essential pencil always goes missing.  Bea and I sharpened half a box of them the other day and I’ve been reminding the girls to place them back in the proper jar, so we’ve had about a week now without scrambling around the house every time someone needs a pencil.  Sometimes it’s the little things.DSC_0163 DSC_0164

We’ve been working on familiarizing Bea with numbers and letters, and also writing her name.  I’ve been using the alphabet printables from this site and she loves to do rainbow writing (writing the letter or number over and over again with different colored markers).
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We’ve been doing art more regularly, and it has been welcomed back into our lives with joy from all corners.  Adeline has been having fun using Ed Emberley’s fingerprint drawing booksDSC_0177 DSC_0179 DSC_0182

We printed out some play money to use in our alphabet store.  Both girls like this game, and it helps Bea with letter recognition and Adeline with addition.DSC_0187 DSC_0189

Our devotions lately have revolved around the Lord’s Prayer, using the activities found here.DSC_0203

These winter days have been cold, often with crazy wind, so we find ourselves indoors much of the time.  Bea will keep herself occupied for a long time with the Play-Doh supplies; Adeline has been reading chapter books and practicing songs on her accordion.  We are all wishing for warmer days — or at least some snow to go out and play in.

art class

A while back, Adeline really got into this card game we have, Close Up, which is basically a deck of cards of famous paintings.  You can use them to play matching games like memory or go-fish.  It is a wonderful set.  And it sent us on a little art exploration journey for a couple of months.

First stop, of course, was the library.  We found a treasure trove, but a few of our very favorites were:

Frida by Jonah Winter
The Usborne Art Treasury
The Art Box by Gail Gibbons
Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh
A Day with No Crayons by Elizabeth Rusch

I also stumbled upon this post just as we were beginning our hunt for good art books.

Anything by Ed Emberley is brilliant.

We really like 123 I Can Draw and 123 I Can Paint by Irene Luxbacher.

We read Mouse Paint and had fun mixing colors with a friend.

Don’t worry, Beatrice got in on the art action, too.

learning letters, part 2

Here, finally, is the second part of learning with letters.  I’m sure none of you were waiting with bated breath.  But it’s good to get rid of that nagging feeling of something unfinished (if only the rest of my to-do list would quit hassling me!).

Here are our sandpaper letters.  I waffled about these for so long, wondering if I should take the time to make them or spend the money to buy them.  Obviously, I decided to make some.  But I hadn’t got very far into the process before I was regretting my decision.   Hacking through that mat board and sandpaper and painstakingly cutting out each letter . . . not exactly worth my time (or my good scissors!), I was thinking.

Of course, I kept at it, since I’d already bought all the materials.  But if I could do it over again, I’d probably just buy a set (or maybe use felt instead of sandpaper).  It’s not that my DIY spirit is weak; there are just other things I’d rather be making.

I used the directions and template from How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, but here is a great post with links to lots of resources for making your own.  After cutting out a few, I found this method to be the least frustrating: place your sandpaper gritty side down on your cutting surface.  Place your letter template face down on the back of the sandpaper (so it will look like the letter is backwards).  Use your exacto knife to cut around the letter and through the sandpaper.  If it doesn’t slice all the way through, you might have to use a scissors to cut the letter from the sandpaper.

After seeing this idea in Playful Learning, we made our own alphabet book.  There are endless possibilities with this activity, and I’m sure we’ll end up with dozens of homemade alphabet books before we’re through.  But for the first go, we went with a photo book.

Adeline took most of the pictures herself.  We edited them in Picnik (how I mourn for it!), and then pasted them into a homemade book.

Then Adeline wrote a capital and lowercase letter on each facing page (though sometimes the lowercase are simply small capitals).

Another favorite pastime: using the typewriter.  Adeline is making a word list “of all the words in the world.”  It’s an ongoing project!  This is great to do while Bea is napping, and I can help Adeline spell the words while I’m washing dishes.