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A Charlotte Mason Inspired Preschool Daily Rhythm

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Our Preschool Curriculum

In May 2017 we started our preschool at home with The Peaceful Preschool plus additional activities based on my children’s interests and seasonal changes in the natural world. I have mainly been “doing school” with my now-4 1/2-year-old and including my youngest (just now 3) to the degree that she is interested. It’s actually amazing what she has been able to pick up without direct schooling efforts on my part, just by participating and watching her older brother!

Looking ahead, I plan to finish the curriculum through Letter Z, and then start over again with The Peaceful Preschool Letter A with both of my kids (adding a few additional reading and writing lessons for my son as he continues to show signs of readiness). My son (4 1/2) checks off all the boxes on the lists of “Kindergarten Readiness” but I do not wish to start a kindergarten curriculum just yet with him. Why?? Because of Charlotte Mason…

A Quiet Growing Time

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“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it for the most part out in the fresh air.” (Charlotte Mason)

Charlotte Mason believed no formal schooling should be done until a child reached the age of 6. Now, I’m obviously not in that exact same frame of mind but I do love and appreciate the heart behind that.

Recently I wrote down my ideal focuses for my children’s days right now:

  • Read Alouds
  • Outdoor Play & Exploration
  • Knowledge of God
  • Habits & Character
  • Gentle Preschool Academics
  • Appreciation of Beauty

—Since my children have been tiny tots Read Alouds and Outdoor Play & Exploration have been the easiest and most natural for me to include in our days. Even on the rough days where I feel like I’m running on empty, we still do these two things. At the heart, these things inspire our deepest connections and incite my fondest memories.

—Knowledge of God includes: Bible stories, memory verses, and prayer.

—Habits & Character includes: daily and weekly chores, manners, self-care, and then the top three habits for Charlotte Mason in the early years are attention, obedience, and truthfulness. 

Appreciation of Beauty includes: poetry, art, music, and handcrafts.

Gentle Preschool Academics can be a harder thing to “nail down.” I will admit over the last year not all of my preschool activities for my kids have fit in to the “gentle” category.  Over the last year I have done a lot of add-on letter-of-the-week activities as we moved through each letter of the alphabet. I plan to still do some of these things, but definitely will be doing a lot less extra the second time through.

I have come to realize through my own efforts and by comparing curriculums, that The Peaceful Preschool absolutely fits the bill when it comes to a gentle academic guide in the early years, in line with Charlotte Mason’s “quiet growing time.” I plan to stick to The Peaceful Preschool moving forward.

Additional Charlotte Mason Resources on The Early Years

The Importance of Rhythm: A Platform for Growth

I highly recommend reading Simplicity Parenting for inspiration as to why having a daily rhythm matters!! Overall this book is so inspiring, but there is one particular chapter devoted especially to rhythm that I revisit every couple of months.

“Children depend on the rhythmic structure of the day–on its predictability, its regularity, its pulse…. By surrounding a young child with a sense of rhythm and ritual, you can help them order their physical, emotional, and intellectual view of the world. As little ones come to understand, with regularity, that ‘this is what we do,’ they feel solid earth under their feet, a platform for growth. Such a stable foundation can facilitate their mapmaking: the connectedness that they are charting in their brains, in relation to other people, and in their emerging worldview.” (Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne)

Our Daily Rhythm: At A Glance

Below is a scan of our Daily Rhythm sheet I hand illustrated for my kids, and we keep it hung on our fridge.

This is for those of you who are super busy and do not have time to read this entire blog post. I see you. I hear you. Here is the condensed version of this post:

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Our Daily Rhythm: In Detail

7:00 – 8:00 AM | Breakfast and Self Care

We have one hour between when my kids wake up and when my husband goes to work.

Most days my husband and I are awake for an hour or more before the kids. I like to read or paint or workout before the craze of the day begins.

All four of us eat breakfast together and then get ready for the day. Sometimes there is a decent chance for the the kids to get some just-dad-time in before he goes to work: lately they have been having him read books to them or play a short game.

7:00 – 8:00 AM | Chores OR Physical Play

“As has been well said, ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.’ And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.” (Charlotte Mason)

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I used the chore cards from The Peaceful Press as a guide to create our personalized weekly chore plan you see above. There are daily chores listed at the bottom just as a little visual reminder of what we are already doing on a daily basis (e.g. dishes or toy clean-up) but do not need to happen at a designated “chore time.”

Each day I have 3 things listed and there’s at least one thing the kids can do mostly independent of me (except for Sunday: those tasks are for me). Usually I am able to give them a choice on which task they want to do. I expect their participation and I make it fun: lately we have been playing some Mary Poppins songs while we work.

We mark off the chore with an “X” when completed. “We entertain the idea which gives birth to the act and the act repeated again and again becomes the habit” (Charlotte Mason). I do not do stickers or rewards — chores are for responsibility, not reward: when the task is complete, the kids feel capable for completing the work and responsible for taking care of the home they live in.

With chores there is obviously some flexibility: we can decide something can be done a later time, or maybe we need to do a little extra on a given day if we have guests coming over.

Physical work AND play

My kids wake up with a lot of energy so I like to let them get some of it out before requesting that they sit down at a table for 30 minutes for morning time or preschool activities. Luckily, doing chores is a GREAT way to get the blood circulating and do some physical work. If there aren’t many chores to do we may also have some physical play, a living room dance party, or do their yoga workout DVD, or a song & movement game from Games Children Sing & Play.

8:30 – 9:30 AM | Morning Time OR Preschool OR Unstructured Play

I see three different options for our time together in the morning:

  1. Morning Time
  2. Preschool
  3. Unstructured Play

Remember my kids are 4 1/2 and 3 so there is not an intensive amount of academics to get done in the course of a week!

I separated out “Morning Time” from “Preschool Activities” below and hopefully it will make sense why after I describe the differences below:

(1) Morning Time

“But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion.” (Charlotte Mason)

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If we have a “morning time” this will include some but not all of the following in one day:

I will not have a morning time like this every day of the week. More than likely this will be once a week. The important part for me is that I plan for it. I must plan for my children to have contact with God’s Truth–if I leave it to chance, it won’t happen.

As for the habits / character lesson — in Laying Down the Rails For Children they really suggest ONLY once for a habits lesson per week. And, they suggest spending 6-8 weeks on just one habit! We will first go through Charlotte Mason’s three core habits for the early years: attention, obedience, and truthfulness. Added bonus: many of these require habit-training for parents, not just the kids! For us — fun, age-appropriate games are involved: for example, for our Obedience lesson last week we played “Simon Says.”

An important point to add, in keeping with a “gentle” structure to our days: I will not do a morning time like this AND do a bunch preschool activities on the same day! Quality over quantity is my goal, and Charlotte Mason even advocated for short lessons to develop the habit of attention. When we move towards Kindergarten, I should be able to extend our morning time to include Bible time AND school. 

That said, if we do Preschool as detailed below, we will still do a prayer and brief review of our memory verse…

(2) Preschool

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For days in which we do preschool, we will continue to follow The Peaceful Preschool through Letter Z, and then we will begin again with Letter A. The aspects of The Peaceful Preschool we will do are:

  • Read Alouds (Here’s my blog post detailing how I select books for Preschool)
  • Phonics & Letter Formation (for my oldest I have begun to include some more advanced reading and writing activities (Montessori-based) and my daughter will follow the curriculum as-is)
  • Counting Skills
  • Fine Motor Skills

I often skip the Large Motor Skills from The Peaceful Preschool because I feel that our outdoor play & exploration time covers this pretty well. For more on that topic, I highly recommend reading Balanced and Barefoot!

I often will save the following activities from The Peaceful Preschool for later on in the day:

  • Practical Life Skills (baking / cooking project)
  • Art Skills (unless it directly relates to the Read Aloud)
(3) Unstructured Play

There currently are and will continue to be days where I have zero things pre-planned for my kids in terms of lessons. We play a lot. And: I leave plenty space for my children to be bored and figure out what to do with their time on their own.

Again, I recommend reading Simplicity Parenting if you are looking for ideas on how to create an inviting play environment at home with a minimalist approach: having fewer, high quality open-ended toys actually enhances children’s ability to have longer stretches of imaginative play.

During this time, even if I have no pre-planned learning activities, we often read stories too. See this post for book lists I reference to find read alouds!

Also, I want to point out: so much learning in the preschool years can happen naturally through play! In fact, often the best “teaching moments” happen with prompting from the kids through their play, not through something I pre-planned.

9:30 – 11:00 AM | Outdoor Time OR Errands OR Fun Outings

<INSERT SNACK BREAK>

The transition from the above time to going outside is made by having a snack break. If we are going outside we may just bring some snacks in the yard or on our walk with us. If we run errands or go out of the house, we may bring a snack in the car. The bottom line: morning snack is essential for my children’s happiness.

(1) Outdoor Time

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without” (Charlotte Mason).

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Often in the mornings, our outdoor time involves movement: we are walking or hiking or off exploring. We live on a camp property so there are lots of options of places for us to explore. After a walk we stay outside and play in the yard until lunch.

I also LOVE using the outdoors as our natural learning environment because it requires zero pre-planning on my part. We use all of our senses. We pay attention to seasonal changes. We observe, we collect, we treasure. We nature journal. We share stories of our experiences.

Additional Resources on Outdoor Time:

(2) Errands

I am a morning errand-runner because I feel that it avoids crowds and traffic. I try to keep errand I do with the kids to once per week.

(3) Fun Outings

A children’s museum, playground, nature walk with friends, the zoo, the library are some options for us. We typically have something like about once a week.

11:30 AM | Lunch

After lunch my kids clean up the common space: all toys and books and art supplies go away other than what my son wants to keep out in the kids’ room for his quiet time.

12:30 – 2:30 PM | Quiet Time

The kids typically get 30 minutes of screen time after lunch. I like having a set expected time that the screen time happens, because then they aren’t requesting (or demanding) it all throughout the day. Weekends we may watch an extra show in the evening or a movie as a family.

My daughter naps in our bed (since the kids share a room). I always read her a book first.

My son has his quiet time in the kids’ room. I read him a book and he either looks at books or plays with toys and puzzles.

The time they are actually in their separate rooms & the time I get in solitude to myself usually is about 1 hour 20 minutes. I usually read or do something creative or catch up on computer stuff.

2:30 – 3:00 PM | Tea Time OR Additional Preschool Activities

Generally speaking the focus during our afternoon together time will be beauty and togetherness: sharing tea, poetry, stories, art, music, baking, etc. I really enjoy this time because we all come together at the table for some arts and culture (and sweet treats) after our separate quiet times.

(1) Tea Time

“Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers…Poetry supplies us with tools for the modeling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at ourselves” (Charlotte Mason).

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For tea time, we make either cinnamon or peppermint tea (because the kids actually drink it), and either:

(a) Read a few poems. As of now we do not work on memorizing any poems, but on Charlotte Mason’s Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six she has listed “to recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns,” so I would like to start doing this.

Here are our favorite poetry books:

OR

(b) Read short stories that aren’t poetry but we enjoy reading during this tea time:

OR

(c) Read from chapter books. I find that this afternoon tea time is a great time to read chapter books which do not hold my 3 year old’s attention as well at other points in the day. If she’s sitting at the table with us and has a snack, she’ll stay and listen.

Lately we have been enjoying Beatrix Potter and Thornton Burgess Animal Stories.

(2) Additional Preschool Activities

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At this time we might do any ONE of the following additional fun Preschool Activities. I never feel like these following things have to happen; but, our afternoon time at the kitchen table where we come together after our quiet times has proven to be a nice time to explore some poetry or art or culture together. This is an example of our natural daily rhythm existing before adding in activities. These activities are built in to our natural daily rhythm, and not some academic agenda or checklist:

  • A baking project from The Peaceful Preschool
  • An art project from The Peaceful Preschool
  • A Picture Study from the Ambleside Online schedule (to incorporate art into our days in an informal way, as opposed to doing a true academic Picture Study the Charlotte Mason way (for a child greater than 6))
  • A Music Study from Ambleside Online schedule (again, keeping this more informal, I plan to select one classical composition at a time to listen to, naming the composer for my kids — we are not doing a detailed academic study of a composer as you would with older children but I thought it would be fun to coincide with the Ambleside schedule)
  • An Arts & Culture study from The Habitat Schoolhouse
    • This may involve looking at art, learning about artists, musicians, or other countries and cultures (likely using our MAPS book)
  • An Animal & Plant study from The Habitat Schoolhouse

Note: I would never do several of these at once! And, further: I will not hit all of these categories in a given week. I see this not a checklist, but more of an opportunity.

3:00 – 5:30 PM | Outside Time

“We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things” (Charlotte Mason).

This may include unstructured play, a hike or walk, maybe a specific nature study, or maybe even a trip to a close playground.

There may be some outdoor play and learning activities that I have for us to do as well.

A Note About Nature Study:

For our “nature studies” — to me this mostly means that we are present to the natural world around us, taking everything in with all of our senses. We observe, we discuss, sometimes the kids add to their nature journals.

I do not do anything super extensive by way of academics here. I like to keep it fun and playful, but mostly just keeping in step with the season we are in and knowing fully the place in which we live.

I have looked through Exploring Nature With Children and this curriculum is an absolutely wonderful resource! Right now I do not plan to use this week-by-week, but I may reference it as-needed if there’s some aspect of the natural world my kids seem to want to explore further.

Additional Resources on Outdoor Time:

5:30 PM | Dinner

We eat food. Together. Light candles. Pray for the meal. Share about our days.

A Note About Dinner Prep:

Often I prep dinner once my husband gets home shortly after 5 PM. He can play with the kids outside or inside and I can do dinner. Often, though, we have leftovers or do really simple meals that I can even prep during the day. If I do pre-prep I likely do that during lunch time since we are all in the kitchen anyway.

6:00 – 7:30 PM | Family Together Time

Outdoor adventures, board games, books, puzzles, animal shows, random trips out for ice cream, coloring, playing with Dad-as-a-jungle-gym, etc.

7:30 PM | Bedtime Routine

Bath, PJs and brush teeth, and then either my husband or I read to the kids for about 30 minutes before lights out.

Bedtime stories has always been a favorite time of day for me. We read for a long time! We read books we own, but I also keep a shelf of library books that I pull from a variety of sources. These are often seasonally appropriate or related to our preschool curriculum in some way.

8:00 PM | Bedtime

Phew. We made it!! Likely not without some messes and failures and fights and tears.

A Sample Week: Letter V

Putting ALL of this together I decided to share a sample week of what I planned out for our Letter V week (click here for the PDF version of what is below). Mostly I think it’s important to see how many categories are left blank on any given day. I’m not trying to check off ALL the boxes on every day. And the truth is: this week was a fuller than an average week in terms of my planning because we just did not have any scheduled outings. Normally one of these days would be left totally empty in terms of my planning.

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Just for a frame of reference, each day this week the morning block of activities where we sit together and read and do some preschool actives took maybe 20-35 minutes, except for Tuesday when we spent a lot of time learning a variety of orchestra instruments and did extra learning with videos and music and supplemental materials–that was probably more like a hour. Afternoon tea time & projects range from 20-40 minutes before we head outside.

And OF COURSE…

Obviously there are days where NONE of what I just mentioned is happening. We’re sick. We’re off our groove. We’re traveling. I just want to have a “break day” for no particular reason. Please do not read this and think I’m a perfect human and totally nailing it every day. There are good reasons and not-so-good reasons why our days sometimes are not fully perfect and flowing nicely. The truth is, though, I am glad it’s that way because it means we are normal.

Another thing I want to be clear about: I have 2 children, but in a way school right now is like schooling only 1 child. We have 1 curriculum, and basically my 2 kids are doing the same things with the exception of my son doing some more advanced language arts. This will change. Our daily rhythm will change. I am happy to shift things around when it is appropriate to do so!

EVERY SINGLE FAMILY is unique and different and what works for me will not work for you in the same way. It’s just a fact. But — I know that when I first started out this homeschool journey it was so so helpful for me to read other mom’s daily rhythms just to have somewhere to start! I understand it can feel overwhelming to start.

If I have any advice it’s this: dive in, and expect to fail. Sometimes the only way you’ll find your “groove” is to find out what doesn’t work through failure. When I started out Letter A with The Peaceful Preschool in May 2017 I did an INSANE amount of activities in a 2 week period! I cringe a little. But, here’s the thing — I don’t regret it. I had to know what was “too much” in order to know what was “just right.” And I had to learn that checking off all of the boxes on my to-do list did not inherently make our day a good day. And then I had to go back and re-read Teaching From Rest because clearly it didn’t sink in enough the first time!

Additional Resources on Rhythm

Small Beginnings: A Homeschool Starter Guide

This ebook is an EXCELLENT starting point for homeschooling with themes from Charlotte Mason. There is a whole section in here on rhythms. Rachael Alsbury & Kate Heinemeyer share their daily rhythms as well as so many more additional resources.

The Peaceful Preschool Curriculum

The introduction pages of this curriculum have SO MUCH guidance and wisdom for creating a Family Vision and ideas for establishing a daily rhythm. Included is a sample daily schedule. If you buy this curriculum do not skip these pages! For those following The Peaceful Preschool, I also recommend reading Kaitlyn from Simply Learning‘s daily rhythm here as well as Lyndsey from Treehouse Schoolhouse‘s daily rhythm here.

Simplicity Parenting

I mentioned this book already above but the chapter on rhythm in particular of this book is so good, aimed at simplifying our home environment and lifestyle.

Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace

This is not directly about “rhythm” per se but this serves as an excellent invitation to approach the daily grind with a peaceful heart. Sarah Mackenzie beautifully encourages us how to have reasonable expectations for our homeschooling days and how to simplify our goals to get at what really matters to us. Daily rhythms are always evolving and we, the homeschooler, set the tone. We are the atmosphere. The biggest take-home for me after reading this book was the fact that how we interact with our children matters more than getting through the curriculum material.

Encouragement for the Little Years (Cloistered Away)

This blog post was so lovely and encouraging to me last year before I began our homeschooling adventure. I re-read it whenever I am feeling crazy.

The Life Giving Home

Sally Clarkson has a lot of wonderful books on homeschooling and mothering, but this one in particular considers the rhythms of the home, and gives month-by-month ideas for creating a rich home environment full of intention. Charlotte Mason said that “education is an atmosphere” and our daily rhythms can be enhanced by cultivating a meaningful home atmosphere full of beauty, life, and order.

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Egg Carton Nature Scavenger Hunt

I recently created this Nature Scavenger Hunt egg carton cover using my own illustrations, and it’s yours for free if you want it!

The kids each carried their own box around as we hunted for the corresponding nature items. They both enjoyed this a lot and I’m sure we will do it again!

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CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE FREE PDF

I printed mine on to card stock, laminated it, cut it and glued it to the top of an egg carton. 

Get those kiddos outside and enjoying the natural world, and be sure to tag me (@the.silvan.reverie) in photos if you post it because it would bring me lots of joy to see this in use!

 

 

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DIY Real Flower Resin Cabochons

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Why Cabochons?

This past winter one of our favorite reads was Chirri & Chirra: The Snowy Day where two girls have a lovely fantastical winter adventure. Chirri and Chirra, hanging out with some woodland creatures in an igloo, play with frozen marbles that have flower buds in the middle, then later take a hot springs bath and drop the marbles in to the water only to watch the buds melt and the flowers bloom! It’s gorgeous and basically I KNEW when we read it in the drab and cold winter that, come springtime, I would make our own real flower glass marbles. And so we did!

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Collecting Flowers

All of the flowers we used were freshly picked.

A couple things to note:

  1. Some flowers wilt fast so you do not have much time before getting them in to the resin mix.
  2. Any blue or pink or purple flower lost its color almost immediately upon contacting the resin mix. They turned colorless. Yellow flowers seemed to do just fine.
  3. An alternate method to keep the flower color in tact would be to use flower press first, and then later cast the dried flower in the resin. I have not tried this yet.

Resin Casting Supplies

How-To and Some Tips

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This is NOT a kid-friendly process. Epoxy resin is not something to mess with. My kids helped collect the flowers and then just watched me do the resin mixing and pouring.

That said, this is not really a difficult process, just something that requires a little attention to detail and patience.

  1. Have all your supplies ready before you start. I would even have everything ready before going out to pick some flowers.
  2. Mix the resin according to instructions EXACTLY. Your mixing ratios need to be spot on. The curing process is also temperature and moisture dependent. If you get the ratios wrong or under-mix the resin or it is too hot in your work space then the resin will not fully cure and you will have a sticky result (not solid and glass-like).
  3. Work in small batches! I worked with just 2-3 cups total of mixed epoxy resin at a time, filling 4-8 molds, depending on the size of flowers I had.
  4. Cover your mold with an upside-down plastic bin so no dust gets attached to your cabochons as they cure. Read your resin instructions but it takes approximately 24-48 hours to cure fully.
  5. You do not need to fill the entire mold. Note that the flowers will start to float to the top so if you have a lot of resin in there the final effect of the domed half-marble will not be as clear if your flower is now at the bottom of a massive half dome.
  6. The smaller molds actually turned out the clearest (less bubbles), so I would fit your flower in to the smallest mold possible.
  7. For cleanup: use vinegar. It works like a charm to clean the mold and cups for re-use. Or you could just toss the cups you used and start with a fresh set the next time you do some casting (this is what I did).
  8. Vinegar also cleans the resin off your holds should you get any. You could also work with gloves.
  9. If your finished cabochons have minor sticky parts or parts where the plant material sticks out a bit, you can cover these areas in clear nail polish to finish it off!

That’s it! you can also look at other shapes & molds available (making flat pieces instead of half domes). These could be added to necklaces and earrings to make jewelry which could also be fun!

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Forest School Backyard Play Supplies

“Daily exposure to the outdoors stimulates the brain in many ways: (1) There are no expectations. Children are forced to use their imagination in order for that stick, rock or pinecone to become a part of their world. (2) There are endless possibilities. The outdoors challenges the mind to constantly think in new ways. (3) There is no pressure. When engaging in active free play, children can play with others or not, make up their own rules or follow someone else’s, be rough-and-tumble or quiet and contemplative.” (Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom)

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The Heart Behind This Post

Lately I have been reading lots of books about nature engagement, and have been particularly inspired by ideas for backyard play.

I have been asking myself questions like:

  • What if we had no toys but only sticks and rocks and whatever else we could find in the great outdoors?
  • What if I had no predetermined expectations for outdoor play?
  • How can our outdoor play foster connection?
  • What materials can I provide in our outdoor play space to foster independent, creative, and limitless play?
  • What are things we do indoors that could be done outdoors instead?

Think: Roxaboxen. This book is exactly what I am going for: children in the desert imagine an entire town with a wide range of open-ended activities using nothing but sticks and rocks and crates and other random things they find.

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What Our Backyard Looks Like

I am particularly drawn to Play the Forest School Way and play activities similar in that style because we live in a forest. We live on a camp property in southern Indiana. It is a 2,500 acre woodland property–the center of camp has a lake, natural wetland areas, several creeks, a vernal pond, and even fun camp structures that are fun for my kids like challenge courses and a play house and an amphitheater.

Often I find that our daily outdoor time is spent hiking and exploring the woods. This absolutely makes sense for us to still do, as we all love it. But, lately I was sensing a need to put some more thought and effort in to our backyard play environment. And, truthfully, our “nature treasure” and loose parts pile was getting out of control and I needed motivation to get our stuff organized!

So, while we live in a forest and access to natural loose parts comes as an everyday thing, I do think what I am about to share will still be relevant for those of you that live in suburban or rural areas NOT in a forest! I just wanted to be clear about our particular context.

For those of you who live in an urban area, nature engagement with your children is going to be a totally different ball game for you. I recommend the last chapter of How to Raise a Wild Child if you live in the city.

I also want to mention that I think The Backyard Play Revolution has so many great ideas for open-ended loose parts play for the backyard that’s not so forest-school-ish.

Our Outdoor Play Supplies

Below I will be sharing a list of all our outdoor play supplies. I organized most of the smaller items in to an IKEA TROFAST storage system on our front porch.

Mud kitchen supplies stay in a crate with that area of the yard. Other large items like tree stumps, ramps, crates, and tubs stay either in the yard or in our storage shed in the yard. A few other things will have to stay inside the house in the dead of summer because of humidity issues–I don’t want mold growing on things!

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(1) Natural Loose Parts

The term “loose part” has become a bit of a fad. Basically it means something that can be played with in a very open-ended way. The opposite of a loose part is a “fixed toy”—a Mickey Mouse figurine can only ever be Mickey Mouse (and always happy because he is smiling). A pinecone or “loose part” can be currency or an ice cream cone or a mixer or a bug or a rocket ship or … even a Mickey Mouse!

Here’s what we have for loose parts play:

  • Tree slices (large & small)
    • We made ours but you can purchase these at craft stores or Amazon
  • Sticks (various lengths and widths)
  • Rocks (a variety of sizes)
  • Tree nuts
  • Acorns
  • Pine cones
  • Large movable tree stumps
  • Flat wooden boards

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We also have some non-natural loose parts in the mix like old tires and rope. I’m also including a traditional wood block set made for us by my father-in-law.

We actually have a gravel driveway and the rocks there have proved to be a favorite yard toy for years.

Shells, dirt, sand, mulch, wood chips are just a few other ideas for natural loose parts.

We have small wood scoops for use with the small loose parts.

(2) Imaginative Play

Note that I’m including a separate list for imaginative play BUT the idea with the loose parts listed above is that they could also be used for pretend play. A pinecone can be a hand mixer in the kitchen or currency at a shop. A stick can be a horse or a wand or musical instrument. Small loose parts can be built in to small worlds like castles or bug villages.

 

  • Play Silks (be sure to see this list for the play possibilities with play silks if you are not already familiar with these)
  • Bow & Arrow
  • Butterfly Wings
  • Crowns (handmade, could be crafted or made with nature items)
  • Wands (just a plain stick or one that is crafted)
  • Bubbles
  • Pinwheels
  • Sheets, Tarps (for building shelters)
  • Garden tools (hand rakes are fun!)
  • Wheelbarrow (kid sized)
  • Wagon
  • Baskets
  • Buckets

You can also construct stick shelters or use play silks or tarps for shelters to go along with imaginative play. As mentioned earlier, I also think imaginative play can include building small worlds for wooden peg dolls or other toys–e.g. build a camp site or fairy houses.

I will also say: if you have a tent, you can always set it up in your backyard for a couple of days for your kids to just play in! We did this last summer for maybe 5 days and the kids were obsessed and so engaged and absolutely loved it. I would not leave the tent up for a really long time, but was nice to change up the play for a week.

(3) Mud & Water Kitchen

Note that you won’t find a Pinterest-worthy mud kitchen in our backyard. Here’s how I put it together: I scrounged around for items we already had. I spent no money. Remember you do not need elaborate & beautiful mud kitchens: you just want something your kids will want to play with!

The hose is nearby so the kids have a water source they can manage on their own to make mud.

 

  • Pots & Pants
  • Muffin tins, cake pans, pie pans
  • Plates, Bowls, Cups
  • Mixing spoons
  • Pitchers
  • Canisters
  • Scoops
  • Buckets
  • Spray Bottles
  • Watering Cans
  • Larger tubs for holding water

Again note that the natural loose parts listed above are often used as ingredients in our mud kitchen or used in water play.

(4) Nature Study, Art, & Handcrafts

I created a category for nature study and nature art because I find that we will bring back a variety of nature treasure from hikes to our yard and I wanted to have materials accessible to explore and play with those nature finds some more.

 

(5) Games

I am aware there are a wide variety of lawn games but I wanted to share what we have: my preference is for (1) traditional games with not a lot of bells & whistles and no plastic parts, (2) games that can be used by small children and (3) games that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, the boards for our bean bag toss game can also be used as a ramp, or if they are standing upright can be pretend archery targets. Rope rings can be used for ring toss, or they could just be bracelets or something to fish out of the kiddie pool with a stick.

 

  • Rope Rings
  • Bean Bags (we have a bean bag toss game with boards)
  • Wood Ramp
  • Kubb
  • Balls (a variety)
  • Wood Block Set
  • Old Tire
  • Movable Tree Stumps
  • Rope
  • Clips
  • Buckets

Other ideas for games are making water ramps with old gutters or PVC pipes. Make a pulley system. Make a scale. Create an obstacle course.

(6) Practical Stuff

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  • Blankets **
  • Water
  • Insect Repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Rags & Towels
  • First Aid Kit

** I love this style of outdoor tarp blanket because it is light enough to be used to make a play tent and it is really easy to clean if we spill food on it while picnicking (you do not have to put it in the laundry, you can just wipe it down or hose it down). Also, it compacts down small so it is easy to travel with.

Books for Inspiration

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For further reading, see my other posts on nature engagement:
Uncategorized

Inspiring Kids With a Love of Nature

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“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.” (Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods)

Recently I was asked to give a talk to my church’s moms group about tips for hiking with children and nature engagement. I believe that instilling my children with a love of the natural world is one of the best gifts I can give them as a mom–we have an established family rhythm that includes time spent in nature as a priority for all of us.

Below I’ll be sharing several tips on how I go about inspiring a love of nature in the hearts of my preschooler and toddler through the following:

  • Hiking
  • Play, Arts, and Learning
  • Reading Stories

I will be sharing personal tips but also lots of resources and have a large picture book list at the end of this post, with referral links included.

Tips for Hiking With Kids

hiking with kids

Start Small —

Don’t try to do a 6 mile strenuous hike on your first adventure with kids, and definitely not if you have a baby with you and/or a resistant-to-hiking kiddo (or kiddos!). There’s nothing wrong with a short hike well-enjoyed.

There’s also much to be said for staying local, staying close to home, and even in your own neighborhood. Don’t feel like you have to drive an hour away to get some amazing hiking adventure in. One of my favorite naturalists, Wendell Berry, has said “If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.” Get to know deeply where you are from, get to know deeply what is around you. Cherish time spent nearby and save yourself the car time.

And … repeat the same simple hikes over and over with your kids! Do the same hike throughout seasonal changes (if you have them) and observe what changes occur. Let your kids take ownership and lead the way once they are familiar with the trail.

Use Your Resources —

Go to Nature Centers or Visitor Centers! Also, be sure to check the website of the place you plan to visit. Often they list helpful information for nature studies–for example, what wildflowers are currently in bloom. Websites will also have specific safety tips for that area you will want to be mindful of. If you are going to a National Park or somewhere with a lot of trail options, take the time to investigate those trails in advance–often you can find websites that will give good detail on family-friendly hikes. You can know in advance what to expect on a given trail and prepare your kids for potential highlights (e.g. a waterfall, a cave, or an arch).

Get the Kids Out of Their Heads —

Sometimes we legitimately get tired legs or are hungry or sleepy … but sometimes the desire to NOT hike can just be a matter of a mental block. You’re too much in your head. I’m going to share some tricks we use with our kids when those moments occur. Note that many of these tricks are things my husband does with adults when he leads backpacking trips!

Play games

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  • “I SPY” is always a hit
  • Scavenger hunts, for example:
    • Find 10 pinecones or find 5 squirrels
    • Find as many different colors as you can
    • Find as many different leaves as you can
  • We also sing “We’re going on a _____ hunt” from the We’re Going on a Bear Hunt rhyme for a lot of things. On one of our recent hikes in the Smoky Mountains I was pretty sure we would see a salamander so I sang “We’re going on a salamander hunt / We’re going to catch a big one … “

“Trick” them with encouragment

  • “We’re almost there” is the vaguest expression ever, but IT WORKS! If you’re all feeling a little tired and like you’re not going to make it, just anyone saying “We’re almost there!” can be the psychological help your kids and you need to keep going.
  • Talk. What about?? Anything!!! Just talking to your kids about literally anything can help get their minds off of the my-legs-are-tired funk.

Engage all the senses

  • I will often play “quiet game” with my kids where I just say, “STOP, quiet game!” and they know to stand still and be quiet and listen. After a little bit we talk about what we are hearing.
  • Smell flowers
  • Rub your fingers over leaves
  • Make weather observations, e.g. temperature, wind, cloud clover, and sun position

If your kid wants to stop every 2 seconds and observe EVERYTHING

  • Try letting them collect ONE thing that strikes them and have them hold that item the whole way (or as long as they can). Sticks or rocks are perfect for this. “Let’s take that stick to the creek at the end of the trail and throw it in!
  • This is where your research pays off: what’s something your child will be excited about seeing further down the trail? Talk about reaching that point and encourage them to keep moving.
  • You’ll have to figure it out on that trail on that particular day how to find a balance between (a) being present to your surroundings & slowly observing the natural world and (b) actually hiking and moving forward to your destination. This “groove” will likely be different every time you hike!

Be prepared for meltdowns and to be met with resistance

  • You have to go with the flow. Sometimes you will want to hike further than is appropriate for your kids on that day at that particular location. Be flexible and try to quit before you all get to the point where you are totally exhausted and cranky and may not want to repeat another hike.
Pack as Little as Possible —

The reality with hiking for parents is that you are probably going to be carrying your kids in some fashion for at least some of the time if not all of the time. Maybe you have a baby in a small carrier or a toddler in a hiking backpack or your normally-great-hiker of a kid decides he just cannot walk the last quarter mile back to the car. SO, given that, you don’t also want to be bogged down with a ton of gear in your backpack. Keep the “stuff” to a minimum. But, on the flip-side: don’t be the person that heads out on the trail totally unprepared.

Right now with our 4 and 2 year old we have our 4 year old hike the whole way (with minimal carrying if needed for encouragement or over a particularly tricky or strenuous area). The 2 year old rides in our hiking backpack and we let her hike if she’s interested but don’t force it. We often stop for at least one snack & water break and let her get out of the backpack and explore at that point. In my opinion, a good hiking backpack is not something to go budget on—the cheaper options are cheap for a reason. It is worth the money for the sake of your personal comfort (and sanity) while hiking!

Here’s what I always bring:

  • Plenty of water & snacks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Trekking poles or find a walking stick. We have extendable trekking poles so if my kids don’t feel like using them, I can adjust it back to my height and then I get to have a turn. It does work just fine to use only one trekking pole at a time, so right now we own only one pair for the 4 of us.
  • Change of clothes if you plan on getting wet or muddy (and you should plan on it!). I usually don’t bother with a towel for the hike itself — though you could bring a compact camping towel pretty easily!
  • Rain coats if needed (luckily these are light and pack down small)
  • Zip loc bags for collecting nature curiosities
  • A couple Band-aids
  • Small batch of either tissues or wipes
  • My husband carries a pocket knife which is also handy
  • Camera

I leave as much as I can in the car:

  • Bug repellant & sunscreen
  • *Another* change of clothes including dry socks & shoes
  • Towels
  • First-aid kit
  • More water and more snacks!

If I have the ability to do a stroller “hike” I also might bring:

  • Magnifying glass
  • Butterfly net
  • Binoculars
  • Scavenger hunts I create
  • Several bags for collecting nature treasures & scissors or clippers

And when I had a baby and a toddler (my kids are 19 months apart) and wanted to do a nature walk with just me and the two of them??? — I wore the baby and pushed my son (a toddler) in the stroller and encouraged him to walk when he could. As he got better and better at walking, I transitioned to going places where I could still wear my youngest in a carrier and let my son hike [to help transition to non-stroller hikes]. We kept it less than a mile for sure to build confidence, and I didn’t want to be in a situation where I’d have to carry both kids! We gradually worked up to longer hikes, and now my son can make it several miles without being carried.

Make It About Togetherness —

Go for weekly or bi-weekly hikes as a part of your built-in family time. Or, share the fun and spend the hike with friends! Children hiking with other children in a variety of age groups can be so special: being in nature levels the playing field. No one has to fight over the same toy or feel left out if they aren’t “big enough” — everyone can grab a good stick, stomp in the same creek, and run free! Also, the kids that are better hikers can help in a huge way to encourage the younger kids that may not be so great at it yet. Your child may be better encouraged by an older friend than they are by you.

Set Expectations & Rules —

One rule I set for my kids in the deep woods: stay on the trail unless you are with us and we say it is okay. Around us there is poison ivy right at my kid’s eye level. We do go off-trail but they are right with us at those points and it’s usually not in the summer. At National Parks you are not allowed to go off trail.

Another rule I might establish for the day — don’t get wet … yet. We recently went on a several mile hike up a mountain in the Smokies and on the way up the mountain (at the beginning of our hike) I told my kids not to get in the water at all and that we were going to do that on the way back down. I did not want them starting the hike out with water-logged shoes & wet shorts that were going to be bothering them the whole hike. On the way back, closer to the end of the trail, we let them get wet to their heart’s content.

If you have older kids you’ll probably want to set some boundaries as far as how far ahead they can go without you on a trail. For example, stay within hearing distance: if they can’t hear you they have gone too far.

Check safety warnings at your location before you set out — there could be important information to know regarding creature dangers or bad weather or trail hazards.

Are there rules at your location that you need to follow regarding picking flowers or taking rocks? National Parks are very stringent regarding collecting nature items or going off-trail. Smaller natural areas like your local nature preserve may not be so stringent (but no doubt have rules in place). The At Home Podcast has this absolutely wonderful episode entitled Hands-On Nature that deals with this very subject. It’s worth listening to and forming a set of guidelines for your family based on what you feel is appropriate.

Retell Stories —

IMG_4739When you return from your hike, tell stories about your day! Let your kids engage in the retelling with your prompting. Tell them the names of the trails. Create family memories. Discuss your personal highs and lows of the day. Journal about your day together. Create maps with your children of your hike — it doesn’t have to be accurate or elaborate–just do a simple line drawing of a trail and draw different highlights along the line (e.g. this is when we crossed that cool bridge; this is where we stopped to throw rocks in the creek; this is where we saw that deer, etc.)

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.” (Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods)

Camp & Hike —

IMG_9845A lot can be said about camping, but I’ll just leave it simple: camping can be such a wonderful family adventure! The best way to learn how to do it with your family is to just try it out and learn from that first experience (probably filled with lots of mistakes) to help make the next camping experience even better! Learn by doing. You don’t have to do backcountry camping–start out car camping if you’ve never done it but would like to.

FYI — I have a whole blog post on Camping activities for Preschool for inspiration and fun (which can be done at home). If camping adventures seem too much to tackle right now, just set up a tent in your yard and pretend! My kids went NUTS this summer when we set up the tent in the yard for a week — so much fun and we didn’t have to pack any gear up.

Bringing Nature Engagement Back Home: Play, Arts, and Learning

Simplify Nature Identification —
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“One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it.” (Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods)

Remember: the best teachers in the world say “I don’t know.” You do not have to know all of the trees, bird, flowers, etc. that you see on a hike. You just have to be interested. Display a sense of wonder at the infinite possibilities for discovery in nature, and that interest will rub off on your kids.

I have a 4 year old and 2 year old and both can correctly ID a few trees by bark or leaves, several wildflowers, and several birds (some by sound). How?

  1. Experiential or hands-on learning when possible:
    • Learn by being immersed in nature. This doesn’t mean intense and long hikes: just be outside and observe what is happening in the natural world.
    • Nature Centers are great for up-close hands-on learning
    • For birds, at home I let my kids use our Sibley postcards as flashcards. We also just bought my son this awesome bird song ID book. We connect dots between our at-home learning and what we see in the wild.
    • For another example of some hands-on learning + play, we have these animal track rocks and use them in play dough a lot. I created a real-life 3-Part Card set to go with these rocks — if interested you can have that PDF here.
    • When feasible, let your kids handle (or gently touch if rare or fragile) the items you are learning about.
  2. Repetition
    • I do not expect my 4 year old to learn a new leaf or a new tree if we discuss it one time. I wouldn’t expect that for myself or any adult! If we are discussing a particular tree, for example, I point it out day after day on our hikes, in different ways in different settings (e.g. I’ll pick up a leaf one day, point out the bark another day, find a fruit or flower another day).
  3. Keep it small
    • I don’t break out the ENTIRE tree guide or overwhelm the kids by naming every tree we see on our hike. So, instead, I’ll focus on maybe one or two trees at a time. For wildflowers, this past spring I created a one-page printout of maybe 15 wildflowers I knew that we would see where we live. We made it in to a scavenger hunt and crossed of the flowers when we saw them. We’d focus on finding one or two on a given hike.

Obviously for older kids than mine you’ll have more opportunity to go more in depth here. Hopefully you will get to a point where your kids will be able to ID many more birds and trees and flowers than you know and get to inform you what they are on your hikes! I look forward to the day when my kids know more than me!

Our Favorite Nature Guides:

Nature Journaling —
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The following resources have been incredibly helpful to nurture my own understanding of nature journaling and to provide that kick of inspiration needed to begin my own adventure:

Eventually I will include my children in this in a more purposeful way. For now I share with them what I’m doing, and enlist their help in creating memories for me to journal.

Build Nature Collections —
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I have been extremely grateful to have purchased the Curiosities: The Guide ebook by Angie Warren. This has been a great source of inspiration to get my collection in order and not just sitting in a bin where none of us can enjoy it. It has also inspired me to start collecting things I never knew I wanted like small animal bones or dead insects!

Curiosities: The Guide has an excellent book and resource list which I will not copy here, but I did want to share the few books that I have perused this year that have helped inspire me to build our own family’s cabinet of curiosities using all of our nature finds.

When we go out in nature now, my kids are all-in for collecting items. They get so excited and love it (we call anything we find “nature treasure”). I’m planning to get each of them a tea box to store their own personal treasures in.

Of course: we do not take everything! We are definitely thoughtful about it as we curate our own family collection. For me, the items collected are not just items: they are memories. I don’t just want random things that look cool: I want the treasures that remind all of us of our family story.

Arts & Handcrafts —

With a 4 and a 2 year old we cannot do a lot of handcrafts quite yet because I want their fine motor skills to develop more in practical ways (e.g. pencil grip & scissor skills), but there definitely are some simpler handcraft options out there with adult-supervised help that kids their age can really enjoy. My goal has been to include natural materials in to our crafting and arts projects in a variety of ways—it can be a way to extend the outdoor experience to the indoors. We can collect something one day that we use a few days later to make something: the kids are then a part of the whole process and (hopefully) are growing  a love for the *process* of making things.

Here are a few arts & handcrafts I’ve been able to introduce to my kids:

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Dipping leaves in wax

We use this beeswax

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Sun art prints

We use this sun art paper

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Natural material critters

Book: Nature Anatomy

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Flower press

Book: Farm Anatomy

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Leaf threading

With a plastic yarn needle

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Nature paintbrushes

Or attach flowers to sticks

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Loom weaving

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Stick painting

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Leaf rubbings

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Rock painting

Make little creatures

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Nature prints in clay

We use air-dry clay

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Leaf collection loom

Another loom option

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Create small worlds

Natural materials play

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Loose parts play

Play dough + nature items

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Process art

Acorns + paint + fingers

Here are some resources for handcrafts and nature-inspired art and play with kids that I’ve found useful and inspiring:

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LOOSE PARTS PLAY

This is the bin of loose nature parts I keep available for play indoors and outdoors. It’s a repurposed cutlery tray. We most often use this when playing with play dough, but we also use it when playing in an outdoor “mud kitchen” or “water kitchen” — tree parts and rocks become pretend food. The possibilities are endless. 

“A ‘loose-parts’ toy … is open-ended; children may use it in many ways and combine it with other loose-parts through imagination and creativity . . . Nature, which excites all the senses, remains the richest source of loose parts.” (Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods)

Food From the Wild —

IMG_1972Foraging can be daunting (and a bit scary) if you’ve never done it. If you are interested, I suggest finding someone who knows wild edibles to hike with you! There are excellent field guides available and tips online but I do think it can help to have a person who knows wild edibles to teach you experientially. We keep it pretty basic with our kids at their ages because I don’t want them thinking everything they find is edible! We always hunt for morel mushrooms in the spring time, a popular and easy to identify wild edible … though not so easy to actually find.

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We also tap Sugar Maple trees in the winter and make our own maple syrup. This has been so much fun to do with the kids and it’s something I look forward to every winter. It can be a time investment to actually cook the sap in to syrup (it’s a 40:1 volume ratio to cook it down) but we usually build a fire and make an outdoor day of it! I will say that tapping maple trees seems like a lot of work BUT once you do it one time, you’ll be more equipped to do it again and again. If you want specific details on what supplies we use, send me an email and I’ll get you the info! If you don’t feel like making your own syrup or don’t have Sugar Maple trees nearby, attend a Maple Syrup Festival!

Read Nature-Inspired Stories!!!

“A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure. Books are experiences that make us grow, that add something to our inner stature.” (Gladys Hunt, Honey For A Child’s Heart)

Please visit this page for multiple book lists of nature-inspired stories!

LASTLY …

Some resources for further reading and inspiration:

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Letter Unit Activities · Uncategorized

C is for Camping Preschool Unit

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OVERVIEW

I knew before we started our preschool-at-home journey we could do C is for Camping but I wasn’t sure how exactly it would work until we got there: I wanted to actually camp with the kids, but I also wanted to do a bunch of fun activities to pair with it. We spent a whole week on C is for Camping since I kept coming up with fun stuff to do and couldn’t stop! We began our week by setting up our big family tent in our yard — that way we could do school stuff outside but also just PLAY outside all week. I can’t even describe what a JOY it was to simply have the tent set up in the yard for a week: it ended up being a gorgeous week for it (thankfully) and I even slept in the tent by myself a couple nights.

CAMPING BOOKS

LEARNING ACTIVITIES & ADVENTURES

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We kicked off our week by setting up our family tent in the yard with the intention that we would do all of our school time & play time outdoors this week.
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“The watery world goes sliding by. Our paddles dip and swing.” (In The Red Canoe)

C is for Canoe!

We took a family canoe trip on our lake and saw a beaver dam & hut, wood ducks, dragonflies on lily pads, and lots of fish jumping.

IMG_4288.jpg C is for candles & campfire!

We live in a cabin in the woods and lose power *a lot* in the winter (and sometimes in the summer too!) and have a hefty supply of emergency candles. I brought some in the tent today and had my son form a C with them. We kept them lit for a little while while I read some of our camping stories & poems.

Book: Toasting Marshmallows

IMG_4317.jpg Mini marshmallow fun inside our tent: (1) counting into a numbered cupcake tin, (2) BUCKET TOSS, and, without question… (3) snack.
IMG_4319.jpg C is for Camping Gear. I created this camping gear lotto-style game for learning & fun (free PDF here). We matched all of the cards with actual items and then played lotto (each person has one card & you randomly draw individual items and the person who fills their card first wins).

Book: S is for S’Mores: A Camping Alphabet

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Hammering tent pegs into the ground with a mallet. . .

There are SO MANY practical life skills in camping. Other than managing a campfire, I don’t see any reason to say no to my kids’ involvement on a campsite. I want them all-in.

IMG_4341.jpg Woodland animal tent tea party. We just gathered a bunch of stuffed animal toys and had a tea party! Super simple and so fun. We have the Green Toys tea set and adore this wood cupcake set.
IMG_4460.jpg We made s’mores at the fire pit by our house and read camping poems from Toasting Marshmallows
IMG_4502.jpg Loose parts ABC formation.

We use this loose parts bin for a lot of play & learning activities. We worked on forming letters today — I provided printouts.

The wood tray is just a cutlery tray from the set we got for our wedding! We collect nature items and change them occasionally.

IMG_4503.jpg Camping inevitably involves nature exploration!

We walked around our home for a nature color scavenger hunt. We collected flowers, leaves, tree nuts, tree seeds, berries, rocks & sticks.

We took our color sorting tray outside to try to find something of every color. No blue — though my son pointed out that the sky is blue… I asked him if he could reach up and grab some and he said “No, mama–it’s too far away!”

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C is for Clipping Carabiners on to a Chain

Again, I can’t say enough about the possibilities for preschool learning in camping gear. This is not for the faint of heart: my 2 year old would pinch her fingers when she first tried this but she’s persistent and kept with it (the smaller ones worked best for her while big brother could do all of these.

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Small world play campsite with hand-painted craft stick & cardboard mini tents, nature loose parts bin, and handmade peg dolls.

I used a hot glue gun to create the little tents with 2 rectangular cardboard pieces & 4 craft sticks each. Then, we painted them together and brought them outside when they dried to create a little play/pretend campsite.

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Flashlight storytelling fun with homemade glow-in-the-dark story stones! 

Flashlight is the BEST BOOK EVER by Lizi Boyd. Personally, I absolutely adore her illustrations and basically want to be her.

A boy camping at night wanders away from his tent with a flashlight to discover a bunch of woodland creatures. It’s mostly black and white illustrations, with no text. A visual poem of a woodland adventure. And a fun way to dream about nocturnal animals. I want to LIVE this book. I dream that my kids will live this book.

SO, awhile ago I painted these rocks with the illustrations of the boy & animals (including the green luna moth) from the book. I also painted them to glow in the dark so we can hunt for them with flashlights in the dark like in the story. We have brought them in the tent this week for some fun & storytelling engagement.

IMG_4157.jpg “Turn something we do without thinking into a learning activity” (John Bowman, Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain)

Flashlight assembly! Right is tight, left is loose — I also brought out some nuts & bolts to further illustrate the point (and so one kid could work on the flashlight and the other kid would have something equally fun to do and not be mad that there’s only one flashlight!)

Free printable PDF of the cards here.

SO MUCH PRACTICAL LIFE LEARNING IN CAMPING. I can’t say this enough!!

Hand & finger control, eye-hand coordination, sorting & matching skills, and problem solving skills.

FYI: John Bowman has a helpful list of sizes to buy for nuts, washers, & bolts in Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain on page 87!

IMG_4668.jpg Camping bingo for a fun tent game. Thanks so much to Rachelle at Mom Collaborative for sharing this idea from her family camping trip.

This is a free printable from the National Wildlife Federation! I printed one card for each of us (it’s a set of 4) and then one extra sheet to cut the little squares to put in a basket. I put the kids in charge of picking the cards from the basket, naming the item, and placing a little tree circle on the correct spot to try and get a BINGO.

IMG_4702.jpg Campfire handprint art activity

We did this in the order of building a real campfire: we first glued the sticks on, then I put paint on a tray for them to do a handprint stamp as the fire. Then for roasting marshmallows we glued little white pom poms on to mini craft sticks (great for fine motor skills!) and glued those on the paper (after playing with some and pretending to burn our marshmallows in the fire!)

Book: S is for S’Mores: A Camping Alphabet

IMG_4718.jpg C is for Cord stops

These little cord stops are on pretty much EVERY camping gear item: sleeping bags, tent bags, gear bags, etc. Awhile ago when we got sleeping bags for the kids I started challenging my son to do the cord stop himself to open it up. He couldn’t do it at first but every time they got their sleeping bags out, I invited him to do it on his own … and now he can do it! Great for strengthening those little writing fingers.

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Invitation to paint sticks.

Stick-painting is simple, involves fine motor skills and coordination plus it’s also this wonderful open-ended invitation to create. We play with sticks a lot but never painted them before and my jaw literally dropped at how intensely both kiddos were so focused on this and lovingly selecting each color, attempting to paint the entire stick surface. I want to capture that moment and bottle it up forever.

We also painted big hiking staffs because every decent adventurer needs a staff. Just the perfect size for him and for her.

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C is for Compass & map skills.

Okay, we didn’t really do a true compass lesson! BUT, my son has shown interest in the compass this week and I tried to find a way to make it more practical for him.

SO, to simplify: I taped off a 6×6 “map” grid of small squares big enough for us to stand in, with N, S, E & W marked on the four ends of the blanket. We played a game where they had to follow instructions: “Take one step toward the N is for North. Now take 3 steps toward the E is for East….” THEN I had my son give the instructions to me to move me around the blanket. Super fun!

IMG_4739.jpg More Map & Compass.

Here’s a watercolor & ink map of the camp property where we live I created last year for my kids. They love reading “Winnie the Pooh” and adore looking at the map at the back of our book. So, I thought I’d make a map in that same style of our very own. I basically left out a lot of the camp property and only left landmarks that we really interact with on a weekly basis, putting their names for things like “owl tree” and “frog water”.

Making a map for you kids is something you can totally do in a much simpler way than this! Do you have a regular walking route that you take with your family? Make a simple map on a white sheet of paper with a pen or marker (or have your kids do it!) — add landmarks they know like the park or a gas station or a friend’s house, etc. Take it with you on their walks and show them directions (NSEW or right/left). When you get home have them show you on the map the route you walked and tell you what you did along the way. I keep our map on the wall in the kids’ room but take it down a lot and ask my kids to tell me where we went that day. It’s great for inviting them to think about *place* but also to narrate their day!!

IMG_4514.jpg Super simple scissor skills activity: cut grass. This will occupy kids for ages.
Letter Unit Activities · Uncategorized

B is for Bird Preschool Unit

OVERVIEW

We spent 3 weeks on Letter B. You can see our activities for Bees, Butterflies, and Blueberries for Sal on this post.

One week of Letter B was spent on B is for Bird, which I’ll share about below.

BOOKS

There are SO MANY great bird picture books! We really enjoyed all of these, and own most of them.

RESOURCES
IMG_2098.jpg Birding books:

IMG_2099.jpg Some non-book resources:

Binoculars — ones for kids or just let them use yours

If you’re really in to birding you could go further with camera equipment and a scope — both of those things my husband uses regularly and involves the kids.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds — this website is incredible!

SAFARI Bird TOOBS:

LEARNING ACTIVITIES
IMG_2865.jpg Beautiful Birds is a wonderful A to Z book. 

We formed letter B with our Safari TOOB birds (Backyard Birds and Exotic Birds), and worked on forming letter B on a small chalkboard slate. I have my son wipe it clean with a small sponge dipped in water and then repeat.

IMG_2466.jpg Bird themed large motor skill movement game: act like a bird! Draw a bird card from the basket & do the action (I came up with a wide variety of things: fly forward / fly backward, penguin waddle fast/slow/left/right, hoot & hop, flap in a circle, etc.)

My kids often need large motor skill breaks from focused learning activities. I don’t want all of “school” to feel like intense focused learning. Plus really the brain development happening through coordination & movement is just as essential to their days as phonics, counting, etc!

I created the cards using Charley Harper bird stickers (a favorite artist) on a square piece of paper & then added a bird-action on the back.

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Invitation to build bird nests with natural materials & play dough. We grabbed some materials on our morning walk like sticks & grass & pine needles, plus we also have an actual abandoned Carolina Wren nest. My son opted to make mini nests in a muffin tin, then used rocks as “eggs” for our little mama birds to keep warm (Safari TOOB birds: Backyard Birds and Exotic Birds)
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Books:

IMG_2100.jpg Very *simple* bird anatomy with tangrams. I just traced the tangram pieces we have on half-sheets of paper with pencil and then went over it again with black marker. I made maybe 10 different ones. I left this on our learning shelf all week & encouraged my son to do this during his quiet time.

Book: Nature Anatomy

IMG_2493.jpg Bird sound bingo fun!

For this, I selected 9 birds my kids already can I.D. by sound (birds we encounter a lot where we live). I initially played the sounds & identified each for them via All About Birds. After I played the sounds for the kids the first time through, we then played sort of a Bingo game where I changed the order and they had to shout out what it was and fill their little sheet up with the corresponding bird picture (bird photographs taken by my amazingly talented and wonderful husband).

Identifying birds by sound is something even little kids can totally do — on our walks I often play “quiet game” with my kids & simply ask them to tell me what they hear (everything, not just birds). Some birds are obviously easier than others, and we are definitely limited by my own knowledge, but it’s still good fun to listen to the birds and think about what they’re up to! For years now, whenever my son hears a Pileated Woodpecker he says: “it’s laughing at the squirrels!”

Book: Have You Heard The Nesting Bird?— which features the sounds of Mourning Doves, Pileated Woodpeckers, Starlings, Sparrows, Swallows, Crows, Cardinals, Chickadees, Catbirds, Blue Jays, Whip-poor-wills, Wood Thrushes, and Robins. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD!

Another fun bird sound book: the classic Owl Moon

AND: Elizabeth Mitchell’s song “Little Bird, Little Bird” is also a wonderful intro to bird songs!

IMG_2926.jpg Counting & color sorting eggs: jellybeans into plastic Easter eggs. I was surprised at how much they were willing to do before eating!

Book: Nature Anatomy

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Invitation to paint some feathers! Super simple activity that combines creativity and focused fine motor skills.

I just bought some plain white craft feathers.

Books:

IMG_3026.jpg What’s it like to have a bird beak? Invitation to feed our little baby birds (Safari TOOB birds: Backyard Birds and Exotic Birds) in the nests we made earlier using tweezers & gummy worms.

Book: About Birds: A Guide for Children

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Fingerprint bird art piece based off of the book Little Bird

Basically all I had my kids do was put two fingerprints together on a blue sheet of paper (with this ink pad set — lots of color), and I made them in to birds with markers with their help — two wings, a beak, a dot for an eye, and tail feathers.

IMG_3103.jpg Bird seed sensory bin & forming the letter B (we added glue to the B first with Q-tips, then I had them put the paper in the bird seed bin and pour the bird seed on top to get it to stick to the B).

With sensory bins I often place a few items out at first to play — they always want their little scoops and usually measuring cups and spoons.

IMG_3208.jpg Birdseed cake ornaments! The kids helped do all of this except cooking the gelatin on the stove. We made ours in to woodland animals shapes (IKEA cookie cutters) and hung them outside our front window. If you do this I’d recommend using a birdseed mix that’s finer than what we used: the large sunflower seeds made it fall apart easily!

Steps:
(1) Cook a pack of gelatin according to instructions
(2) Add birdseed & stir in bowl until well incorporated
(3) Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper & place cookie cutters on sheet.
(4) Fill each cookie cutter with a spoonful of birdseed mixture, packing it down as you go
(5) Place a straw in each so a hole remains to hang it later
(6) Let cool (or add to the freezer to speed up the process)
(7) Add twine or ribbon
(8) Hang outside & bird watch!

IMG_3052.jpg Investigating bird feet:

Woodland Footprint Rocks set (one side shows the animal, the flip side has a raised footprint)

Book: Birds: A Guide to the Most Familiar American Birds (Golden Guide) (Herbert Zim)

Safari TOOB birds: Exotic Birds

NATURE STUDY

Birds up close…

IMG_2838.jpg We did our bird unit in June so there were plenty of opportunities to hunt for bird nests.
Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 2.16.58 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-09-05 at 2.17.30 PM.png We were able to find bluebird nests at a variety of stages so that was fun!
19051094_1890989311219998_4883283845962530816_n.jpg Interactive bird feeding aviary at our zoo! The birds in this aviary definitely try to eat your shoelaces 🙂
Books · Uncategorized

Seasons Picture Books

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Below is a list of fourteen of my favorite picture books that celebrate and show all four seasons. There are a lot of one-season-specific books out there that are equally wonderful, but there’s something so charming to me to have all four seasons represented in one book. We own most of these–I’m that obsessed!

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd

The illustrations are perfection. This is a story told in pictures only that takes you through all 4 seasons. It has the appearance of a handcrafted book (complete with die-cuts!). We have had this book for years and never get tired of it. Lizi Boyd is my hero.

Seasons by Alain Grée

I’ve recently become OBSESSED with all things Alain Grée! Bold & engaging illustrations and LOTS to explore as the book takes you from Spring to Winter.

Circle of Seasons by Gerda Muller

This book is out of print, but I found it thrifted on eBay. There ARE 4 separate board book versions of this for Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter … BUT, I really love having the one-volume book to read through in one sitting.

ALSO NOTE: the board books do NOT have words but the Circle of Seasons one-volume version does!

Tree by Britta Teckentrup

What’s not to love? Bold illustrations with several fun die-cuts on each page. You view one single tree as it changes through the seasons. I LOVE how this starts with winter, takes you through spring, summer, fall, then winter again, and then spring again — it’s easy to see & feel the full cycle.

Lots of fun little things to hunt for on each page: the spider is our current favorite. And the words are lyrical and rhyming — something young ones can memorize before they can read.

Recently, some Instagram friends put together these absurdly wonderful picture book retell activities for this book. Go check them out.

Around the Year by Elsa Beskow

This little gem has one poem for each month, plus others for days of the week, months of the year, etc. Short but sweet. My absolute favorite to read with the kids as soon as we turn the calendar to a new month!

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

THIS BOOK. I love it! The book is divided in to the four seasons with 12-15 poems for each season. Each individual poem is titled by date and perfectly conveys the wonder & beauty of each season.

AND the illustrations are by the always-stellar Julie Morstad! We use this every week for our poetry tea time.

The Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice Provensen

A lot of text to these pages but who doesn’t totally love farm animals?? This shows seasonal changes by dividing up farm animal life month by month. Fun to read just a single month at a time or read it through and track various animals.

Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie

Toot’s adventures at home track through all of the seasons while Puddle is off adventuring on his own. My personal favorite is “March meant maple syrup” because we tap trees for syrup every winter too! There’s joy to be had in winter!

Seasons: A Book of Poems by Charlotte Zolotow

“Charlotte Zolotow is a legend in children’s books” (Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart)

Another out of print book! There is a newer anniversary version of this called Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection (see below) but note that these do not have the same poems as this older copy. I prefer the illustrations in this one as opposed to “Changes” but that one is still lovely!

The poetry in this collection is all by Charlotte Zolotow and perfectly evokes how a child views each season. My kids can feel themselves in these poems rather than feel that an adult is telling them about the seasons.

Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow

Originally I thought this book was just a reprint of the above Charlotte Zolotow collection, but the poems are actually not all the same (there’s only a couple crossovers)! I will say I like how the poems & corresponding illustrations span the entire page so my kids can track one single poem and view the corresponding picture while we read (rather than get distracted by lots of other illustrations across the page).

Sing a Season Song by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen … of the Owl Moon variety!!

The illustrations and the poetic rhyming verse take us on a journey through each of the four seasons while celebrating the natural world. Seriously: the illustrations of woodland animals in this book are stunning and engaging. Not too much text per page so this works well for my toddler!

My Four Seasons by Dawid Ryski and Amy Visram

This book was recently published and has such gorgeous minimalistic illustrations. I basically want to frame each page. This tracks one family through the seasons engaging in their favorite activities. I love that this book has a balance of city living + engagement with nature.

Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel

And absolute all-time favorite. There was a period of time when ALL we read was Frog and Toad and ALL we listened to in the car was Frog and Toad! This one in particular has 5 stories that track through the four seasons. LOVE this, forever. Seriously get the audio versions of Frog and Toad if you are a fan. It’s Arnold Lobel himself reading and they are wonderful!! I sell Frog & Toad peg dolls because we love these characters so much.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner

This book tracks the care of a garden through all for seasons!! It’s filled with a sense of simplicity and peace, which I totally adore. It pairs the work of the gardener to the work of the earth quite beautifully.