Natural Nature Learning

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Our family hasn’t been blessed with acres of property off in the country for our children to frolic to their hearts content. But a small city lot and many local parks have offered us tremendous opportunities for outdoor learning activities.

PARKS

To make up for the lack of open natural space in our neighborhood, we go to various local parks at least two to three times per week. We don’t go to the parks for the play equipment but for the exposure to a more natural setting. We are about half-an-hour driving time from Puget Sound so we often frequent parks with direct beach access. Continue reading

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Nature Study for City Dwellers

by Catherine Levison

Even in the city, children should get their knowledge of nature first hand and get into the habit of being in touch with nature.  Here are some simple nature and science ideas for city (and rural) families to share together:

1) Press and mount flowers on cardboard. Write the names of the flowers, and where and when you found them. I recently saw a photo-album used to store pressed flowers. Having a field guide to identify flowers and flowering trees is very helpful. Continue reading

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bard?

by Debi Taylor-Hough

A number of years ago (I think it was more than ten), we added Shakespeare to our family’s educational activities for the first time. My daughter loved our field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and I don’t think I ever would have thought of introducing my children to The Bard at such a young age if it weren’t for the inspiration of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late 1800’s.

First, we read through Charles and Mary Lamb’s story version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the book Tales from Shakespeare just to enjoy the plot and make sure we understood the basic story line before attempting to wade through the Elizabethan English of the play itself. Continue reading

Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers


by Deborah Taylor-Hough


It’s always fun to use things in our children’s everyday lives to spark discussion and easy educational activities. Since many of us are currently in the midst of winter, this season can be a great topic of “study” for our littlest ones.

Study time with preschoolers at home mainly consists of talking and laughing with them, helping them notice the details of the world around them. No pressure. Just a fun time spent in the company of a loving adult.

To introduce the topic of “Winter,” ask your child what she knows about the seasons. Is she aware of spring, summer, autumn and winter? Does she know what the differences are between the seasons in your local area?

Don’t lecture. Just make conversation and find out what she knows already. Have her look out the window and tell you what she notices about the trees, bushes, flowers and gardens. Are there leaves visible? Buds? Flowers? Greenery? Bare branches? Brown stems?

Find a photo, painting, or picture in a book of an obvious winter scene. Ask your child if she knows what season it is in the picture. What things tell her what time of year it is? If she doesn’t know, point things out to her that will give clues: bare branches, snow on the ground, no flowers, people in warm clothes, etc. Hide the picture from view and have the child describe to you in her own words what she saw in the picture. Encourage as much detail as possible, but remember to keep it low-key and fun. This process of orally telling back what she’s seen, helps cement the image in her memory.

To suplement your discussion, enjoy together a winter-time picture book such as Ezra Jack Keat’s ‘The Snowy Day’ or the Alaskan tale ‘Momma, Do You Love Me?’ by Barbara M. Joosse. You can browse

these books online at:

Ask your child how people stay warm in the winter (warm clothes, mittens, fireplaces, warm houses, etc.). Let her brainstorm for awhile. Then ask how she thinks animals stay warm in winter (thick fur, migrate to warmer climates, hibernate in caves, etc.).

Sometimes a preschool child might say things like, “Baby squirrels snuggle up in a tree with a soft blanket to stay warm.” Ask her gently if she’s ever seen a real squirrel with a blanket. Does she think that’s how they’ll really stay warm in those cold, winter months? The line between fantasy and reality in preschoolers is sometimes thin … don’t harshly bring your child into reality, just gently coax her into thinking about how things really happen in nature.

But just so you don’t think it all needs to be a serious dose of reality, have some fun and brainstorm about “pretend” ways animals might stay warm. For fun, read one of these wonderfully fun and beautifully illustrated winter-time books by Jan Brett (one of my favorite children’s illustrators):

You can also visit Jan Brett’s website to print out coloring sheets and other fun projects based on Brett’s lavishly illustrated children’s books:

For a fun activity, throw a collection of clothing and accessories into a bag or suitcase. Without looking, have your child reach into the bag, pull out a single clothing item and then tell you if the item they grabbed is appropriate to wear in the winter. Have the child explain to you why each item is — or isn’t — seasonally appropriate. Include a variety of things in the bag such as: a warm hat, a pair of gloves or mittens, an open-toed sandal, a swimsuit, summer shorts, a warm sweater, a snow boot, a woolen scarf, a sleeveless top, etc.

Have your child finish the sentence, “Winter is …” For example: Winter is … “cold”; winter is … “snowmen”; winter is … “mittens”; winter is … “cocoa and marshmallows.” Consider writing down your child’s responses (she’ll feel so official seeing her words written down on paper). If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even print out little “Winter is …” booklets using clip-art found on your computer that coincides with your child’s winter responses. Or have your child illustrate their own home-made “Winter is … ” book. Or let her cut out winter photos from magazines and newspapers, pasting them onto a large sheet of paper as a “Winter is …” collage.

Have a wonderful time as you explore the glories of winter with your preschooler!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and mother of three) is the editor of the Bright-Kids and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com

Twaddle-Free Holiday Celebrations

Copyright Deborah Taylor-Hough. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com


Since we’re currently in the midst of the December holidays, I chatted at length with Catherine Levison (author of A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education) and we put our heads together to come up with ways to apply the concept of avoiding “twaddle” (or what modern parents might call “dumbed down” literature or activities) in our holiday celebrations, family times and Christmas reading materials.

Defining Twaddle in Literature

First, let’s look at the synonyms of twaddle which include: babble, drivel and silly. Ordinarily twaddle refers to literature written down to children. Books written specifically to children are not avoided. A good example would be any of Beatrix Potter’s works — she wrote to children but not down to them. Or the original A.A. Milne “Winnie-the-Pooh” books are another good example of twaddle-free just-for-fun reading material.

Regarding children’s literature, look for interesting content and well constructed sentences clothed in literary language. The imagination should be warmed and the book should hold the interest of the child. Life’s too short to spend time with books that bore us.

If our children have only been exposed to junk food, they may resist trying nutritious food. If they’ve been raised on twaddle, they may need to be weaned slowly off of this mental junk food. Ideally, if they were not exposed to twaddly books in the first place, all involved would be way ahead of the game.

It’s our opinion that dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you’re standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you’re apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Almost anyone can write — but not everyone is gifted in this field. Gifted authors bring images alive with their choice of words. Gifted authors often write classic literature, and classics are an excellent way to spend one’s reading time.

Twaddle is easy to come by; the planet is filled with it. People coped with it in previous centuries, and we must cope with it in ours. If anything, literature has deteriorated even further. The best way to handle this excessive quantity of bad books is to stand firm and only spend our money on the best — even at holiday time.

But what about friends and relatives who unknowingly supply our children with twaddle at gift-giving times?

Try talking to those who are apt to buy gifts for your children and tell them about the direction you’re heading with reading material. Some people pick up on things easier than others, therefore, for some folks a simple explanation of the type of literature you want purchased as gifts is all they’ll need. If you’ve started to collect any particular set of children’s classics currently in bookstores or catalogues, you could provide Grandma with a list of titles you’d like. Be specific, and offer to help her with the ordering or perhaps even drive her to your favorite bookstore.

Twaddle-Free Holidays

How else can we apply the concept of twaddle to the holiday season as a whole?

Well, I firmly believe that twaddle is in the eye of the beholder. That means that some of the following ideas may appeal to you while others may not meet your expectations. Catherine and I put our heads together and came up with the following ideas — some of which were shared with us over the years by other people. As always, take what you like and ignore what you don’t.

During the holidays, I frequently discover a large number of low-cost entertainment options by reading the “What’s Happening” section of our local newspaper. For example, this week I found a listing for a singing group performing traditional Celtic holiday carols at a local church for just a small donation. Many churches and community groups put on low-cost (or free) live performances during the holidays.

Rather than taking the family to a newly released holiday movie, consider spending a few extra dollars and attend a ballet or classical concert instead. Many times attending a concert by a local symphony performing familiar Christmas songs is a very child-friendly introduction to symphonic music for children who haven’t previously experienced that type of music. Also, many churches offer sing-a-longs of Handel’s Messiah that are open to the general public.

As we all know, holiday music is drastically varied. Perhaps some attention to playing classical music around the house — while avoiding animated cartoon characters screeching their holiday favorites — would be more soothing.

Many families, including both Catherine’s and mine, buy one new Christmas book a year and have their collection on display. Catherine’s favorite is called The Christmas Story featuring the paintings of Gennady Spirin. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and priced accordingly — however Catherine insists it’s worth every penny. This is one way to include masterpiece artwork into this season of the year.

It’s also time to buy next year’s calendar. If you haven’t thought of it before, hold out until you find one featuring fine art rather than kittens, horses or cars. Along with being a practical item, the calendars often provide excellent prints to use for art appreciation throughout the year.

While grown children and other relatives visit, provide some old-fashioned fun that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Charades, sing-a-longs, board games and caroling are easy, affordable and fun. Catherine’s family collects Christmas jigsaw puzzles — which may appear to be a bit twaddly at first glance — but they truly enjoy spending time together which makes it more than an aimless pursuit. You could also choose puzzles depicting masterpieces or popular works of art.

Many families are constructing their own advent calendars from wood and incorporating photographs and other touches. If everyone participated in a project of this sort, then they can all look forward to getting it out each December.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, if the snow doesn’t come to you then go to the snow. Some folks make an annual trek to the mountains during December in order to be assured of some contact with winter weather.

Obviously, there are countless good ideas that help families enjoy each other. Catherine and I send our absolute best to you this holiday season and may each of you be truly happy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Deborah Taylor-Hough (author and mother of three) is a free-lance writer, editor of The Charlotte Mason Monthly email newsletter [ join-cm-monthly@hub.thedollarstretcher.com ], and author of the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series and several other books including Frugal Living For Dummies®. You can visit Debi online, connect with her blogs, and order her books at: http://www.SimpleMom.com

Scheduling a “Charlotte Mason” Home School Day

A number of years ago, due to frequent requests from my regular web-page visitors, I wrote out a general outline and description of our family’s daily homeschool schedule .

Just so you know, this was first written out back when my oldest child was 12 years old (the other two kids were 8 and 4) … my oldest is now 23 and a full-time college student planning on pursuing Masters’ studies after she finishes her B.A. (and doing very well, I might add). 🙂

Anyway, at that time, I had our weekly schedule printed out as a chart for each child which I hung on the refrigerator at the beginning of each week. We marked off the subjects as we finish them and added notations of any specifics we need to remember (page numbers read, art viewed, etc.) on little lines next to the space on the chart. (I wish I could visually show you the charts — it’s a bit difficult to explain. Maybe I’ll try scanning and uploading a copy so you can see what it looks like.)

When reading through this day-by-day schedule, some people might think this is a lot to accomplish in any given day, but we were using Charlotte Mason’s idea about short lessons (only ten to twenty minutes for each topic at their age) so our academic part of the day only came out to around 3 1/2 hours per day.

I found my children enjoyed having a set task to accomplish in a set period of time. Since I’m not a particularly rigid person (I tend to “go with the flow” of life), I first thought this type of schedule would crimp my “style” — but I actually found it to be incredibly freeing. What a surprise!

With many school subjects, I found I could teach both of my older children at the same time by reading aloud to them together. Early on, my son wasn’t reading fluently enough to gather much information from reading independently (he was still working on fluency and wasn’t really to the “reading for knowledge” stage).

My 12-year-old daughter did a great deal of independent work, so she did additional reading on the various topics we covered together as a group. Her independent reading time was followed by oral narrations for each subject (and occassionally written narrations).

THE GENERAL SCHEDULE

I was inspired to put together my own daily schedule after reading the books, A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison. The author had printed out samples of her own weekly schedules and also included examples of the actual schedules used in Charlotte Mason’s schools back in the early 1900’s (the schedules appeared in a December 1908 article in the Parent’s Review).

While my schedule was inspired by Levison and Charlotte Mason, it by no means is representative of their actual schedules. This is simply how our family adapted the idea to our own situation at the time.

–MONDAY–

  • Bible
  • Memory Verse
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Math
  • Literature
  • Science
  • Poetry
  • P.E.
  • Geography
  • Recorder
  • Crafts
  • Drawing

–TUESDAY–

  • Bible
  • Memory Verse
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Math
  • Literature
  • Science
  • Poetry
  • P.E.
  • History
  • Music Appreciation
  • Art Appreciation
  • Home Economics
  • Occupational Education

–WEDNESDAY–

  • Bible
  • Memory Verse
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Math
  • Literature
  • Science
  • Poetry
  • P.E.
  • Geography
  • Recorder
  • Crafts
  • Drawing

–THURSDAY–

  • Bible
  • Memory Verse
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Spelling
  • Math
  • Literature
  • Science
  • Poetry
  • P.E.
  • History
  • Music Appreciation
  • Art Appreciation
  • Home Economics
  • Occupational Education

–FRIDAY–

This was our less academic day.

  • Moms Group/Homeschool Group at church
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Field trips
  • Social activities
  • And time to fill in any subjects that were skipped for whatever reason during the rest of the week

And then every night at bedtime, I would read to my children from their “just for fun” books — no official narration with these books except for a question when we first sat down such as, “So, what was happening in Old Yeller last night?”

I hope this brief overview of how we scheduled our homeschooling day when our kids were younger proves helpful to someone.

Happy homeschooling!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (long-time homeschooling mother of three) is the author of several bestselling books including Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month; Frugal Living for Dummies; and A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide for Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity. Visit Debi online at: http://www.SimpleMom.com

Free Nature Study Resource

I was on the REI website recently  and stumbled upon this interesting item called the Family Adventure Program. It has a free downloadable journal for keeping track of outings and other outdoor activities.

There’s also some information on the webpage about family-friendly hikes in the local area, some free bonus activities you can download, and if your child is age 5-12, she can receive a certificate of completion and a free prize.

http://www.rei.com/family-adventure

Just thought I’d pass on the info in case anyone’s interested. Very unschooling and Charlotte Mason friendly. My kids are too old for this now (23, 20 & 15), but we all would’ve LOVED this resource when they were younger!

 I love REI and even used to work there … 😎