Friday, March 27, 2015

Plans for Holy Week

There are so many things that I want to do to celebrate Holy Week with the kids. As always, I plan big and then pick and choose what it seems like we can handle each day.

I really liked the ideas for scripture study and a little craft and activity for each day found here.

Of course we'll continue our tradition of Easter in Eggs. You can find instructions for how to put your own together here. I remember this fondly from growing up and my kids look forward to it every year.

Now that we live in California and have many, many palm trees all over, I would like to do a bit more for Palm Sunday. At the very least we will try to put one on our nature table. You can of course make your own palm leaves with green construction paper and scissors.

Earlier this week we made a Resurrection garden. It's beginning to sprout. This Friday we'll put crosses on the hill and cover the opening with a rock. On Easter Sunday we'll roll it back. I really like these directions.

I think we'll incorporate it into homeschool this week too. I'm going to have the kids handsew little bags for their Easter egg hunt. Then of course we'll also dye eggs. And then devil them with my favorite recipe.

Thursday a Jerusalem Dinner. I thought about doing a Passover dinner, but as we'll be covering so much of Hebrew culture and history in grade three, I think I'm going to save that for then. So we're going to do a Jerusalem dinner, which will just be filled with foods that would have been eaten during Jesus' time. We'll eat it on the floor and then discuss Jesus washing his disciples feet and maybe try it ourselves.

What do you like to do?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Starting a Nature Table

I've wanted to add a nature table to our home ever since I read about it three years ago in YOU ARE YOUR CHILD'S FIRST TEACHER. I've seen all the pretty pictures. I had inspiration (pinspiration) but how to start?

And where to put it?

And what about the baby getting into it?

These were all problems for me. Are they problems for you? Have you been letting these worries stop you from doing this? It's considered an important part of early Waldorf education, but it's really a fun place to mark the movement of the year, upcoming holidays, etc for anyone regardless if you are a "Waldorf" family or not.

So here's what I did and maybe it will help you.

1 - JUST START. Part of what held me back is that I didn't have anthing to begin with to have those beautiful nature tables you see online. What would I put on there except for a few dandelions my kids picked out in the yard that would shrivel up the next day? Well, guess what. That's what I put out at first. Use what you have. Start where you are. Stop waiting until you can "do it right" and just do it now. Pick something up on your next walk and bring it home.

2 - WHERE TO KEEP IT. This was a big problem for me. I barely have any knick-knacks, let alone little tables or display areas for said knick-knacks. I tried for a while on the side of my piano and that worked okay but it was sort of in the way when I actually wanted to use my piano. Then I tried the mantle and that worked fine but only I could see it which wasn't really the point. (But I just want to say if that's your only option then use it and just start.) What started actually working for me was when I went to Target and bought a wooden sort of raised, cake platter. That's not what it is, but it looks like that. It's wood and round and has a place to put things. You see it in the picture. That's what I used. I kept it on my dining table for a long time and just moved it off for meals. Now it's on a bookshelf in the family room. It's smaller, but it holds everything you need for a full nature table and the smaller size makes it feel less overwhelming, like I don't have to fill the whole thing up.
See that wood platter thing under the green silk? That's what I'm talking about.

3 - WHAT ABOUT THE BABY GETTING INTO IT? I've got an 18-month old and he gets into everything. Right now, the nature talbe is on that platter on top of the bookcase and it is out of his reach. He'll get bigger and I may have to re-evaluate. If that happens, it will move back and forth between the counter and the dining table. This is another perk of the platter display thing. I can move it as needs arise. That being said, I also put things on there that are really okay for him to touch. A pine cone. Some sea shells. A knitted cat. Felt fairies. I'd rather he didn't. But when he or one of the other kids makes a mess of it I just clean it up. It's not that hard becuase for us it is a SMALL nature table.

4 - WHAT DO I PUT ON IT? I have loved using Waldorf Essential's kindergarten curriculum. She gives you tons of ideas to put on your nature table with the handwork patterns and everything. But really, the pattern she lays out that you're supposed to take is very simple. Mineral, plant, animal, human. If you have one of each of these on your table, you're good. And sometimes we have two humans and no plants. And we've had the same seashells on there for two months now and they'll probably be there through the summer. Oh well. We're still having fun with it. Our decorations are not always amazing as you will see. I finally needle felted something pretty, but for a long time the humans were just tiny pipe cleaner and felt fairies and the kids still loved that. My animals are always knitted and often time not shaped well, but they get the point across.

As I've grown more comfortable with it, I've added more. A green silk. A watercolor painting. A leprechaun. Right now we have an easter egg banner behind it and have put our Resurrection garden there while it sprouts. Make it yours!

I love having this small section of my house to bring the outdoors in and reflect on upcoming holidays.

It's been fun, and not nearly as hard as I thought.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The problem with reading to your kids when they love books

Today I tried to sit down and do storytime with the kids. It went something like this.

*Open up THE RUNAWAY BUNNY*  Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
*Tommy climbs up into my lap with HIS favorite book. ITSY BITSY SPIDER.*
So he said to his mother, "I am running away."
*Tommy screams and waves the book in front of my face until I give in.* "Okay Jane. Hold on. Let me read this really quick." *Stick my finger in the spider puppet and sing* The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout. Down came the rain and--
"Can you start over?" Jane asks. "I missed the first page."
*Go back to the beginning. Start over* The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout.
*Finish that book but don't take finger out of the spider because Tommy wants to bite it. Go back to THE RUNAWAY BUNNY.* If you run away, said his mother, "I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.
*Turn the page and sing the first line of ITSY BITSY SPIDER to Tommy while Jane looks at the picture. Let finger take a break from being bit inside the spider puppet until Tommy starts yelling again.*
"If you run after me," said the little bunny, "I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you."
*Max runs in from whatever he'd been doing when I called him to come to storytime.* "Can you start over?"
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
*Tommy starts screaming and waving ITSY BITSY SPIDER again because it's time for his next reading.*
"Okay, hold on guys." The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout. Down came the rain and--
"Can you start over?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Our Homeschool Days Right Now

I haven't written about our homeschooling in a while. It's still moving right along. We're in a nice little rhythm that's flexible enough for changes but reliable enough to get things done. I'll give you a peek into our days but just want to warn you, especially those of you in more traditional school settings, we are using a Waldorf educational philosophy that doesn't push formal academics until first grade at the age of seven. As you'll see, we do a little bit of academics, but not much.

The day will sound laid back and it really is, but there is still a lot of learning going on here.

Today we began with a morning walk, then came home and did chores and played until 11. At that time we did circle and calendar time. The circle time is filled with seasonal verses. Last week Jane wrote her own poem and asked that we add it to circle time, so we have. There is a lot of movement and singing, but it lasts only about five minutes.

Then we sat on the floor and I told the story. This week it is Hansel and Gretel. I was amazed at how well Jane remembered it just from the one telling yesterday. She fixed little minor details that I didn't think they'd catch if I changed, like changing the word supper to lunch. Nope, she stopped me and made me say it right.

Yesterday they sanded the wooden spoons we are making while I told the story. That was fun, but we made the handles a little too small and Jane already snapped hers.

My chalkboard drawing for Hansel and Gretel.

Then we did some wet on wet watercolor painting. Tommy thinks he should be involved in everything and painting today was no exception. But he couldn't decide which paintbrush he wanted and he kept almost tipping over the paints and then screaming and throwing his paintbrush. I was very glad when painting time was over in about seven minutes.

Then it was lunch and quiet time. I've been cutting back on screen time a lot but they still get to watch some TV a couple times a week during Tommy's naptime and today was one of those days. They turned on Super Why and Jane continued to embroider her lowercase letter T square for her quilt. She is doing an actual cross stitch with this one, which was tricky at first but she has it down now.

After quiet time it was game time. We pulled out a game that requires reading of simple words and I was pleasantly surprised and impressed when Jane did beginning and ending blends all by herself without any trouble! Tommy joined in and kept putting tiles together, pointing and grunting and then wanting me to read it. He's adorable.

A page from my nature journal and Jane's nature journal.

Then we ventured outside, again. We spent a lot of time outside today. Max was in swim trunks all day. Jane and I nature journaled for 5-10 minutes and then the kids pulled out the popsicle sticks and glue (this was very undirected). Jane made a sign that she put in the garden next to the flowers she's growing and Max made the letters of his name (and then some).

After bath and jammies, Jane and Max each got to play one game of chess with Rob. They'd been looking forward to it all day but had to wait for Tommy to go to sleep.

Then they both got to listen to 20 minutes of audio stories and fall asleep.

I'm sure you noticed that I forgot reading time. We usually do it, but just didn't today. Right now we are working our way through Because of Winn Dixie and our books about spring and kittens. Rob usually reads them Shel Silverstein poetry for about ten minutes a day.

You'll also notice no math. This is where we really stray from Waldorf and venture into Montessori as I do have a math curriculum for kindergarten. It only requires two lessons a week though, so we'll do one tomorrow and one on Thursday. You can read more about our program (I love it) here.

And that's it. Tomorrow we'll dip Strawberries and talk about that yummy candy house from the story. We'll also begin making a felt easter egg banner to hang over our nature table. There will be more nature journaling, tending to the garden, checking on the kittens, some math, and maybe even another wooden spoon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Simple St. Patrick's Day

So you woke up today and forgot it was St. Patrick's Day. Your kids showed up to school in purple, the leprechauns didn't trash your house, you blew it.

Or maybe you just don't do big St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

That's just fine. Because I'm going to give you a few ideas that you can easily pull together to round off a very nice and simple celebration.

Waldorf celebrations focus on nature, simplicity, and rhythm. They usually incorporate something special that day with food, a song, and a story. I'm adding in a few other things that you can pick and choose from. But all of this can be done in about an hour and TA-DA! You did St. Patrick's Day.

So I'll give it to you fast.




Eat potatoes, or corned beef, or anything green.

Try THIS IRISH DANCE.    (Warning: you will get tired and feel silly.)

Go on a walk and try to find clover, or green things, or whatever.

Paint a rainbow.

Feeling overwhelmed? Just do the story and song. The kids will love it and it takes ten minutes.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Saying Yes to the Magic

My daughter is going through something called the seven-year change. When I first heard about it in my Waldorf Education forums, I thought it was rather silly. Then I experienced it.

The idea is that somehwere around the seventh year children start becoming more aware of the difference between reality and fantasy. They realize that maybe not everything is real, they begin to doubt the magic. It's called leaving Eden, leaving the dreamlike state of early childhood.

My Jane has handled the change quite well. A blossoming also accompanies the change, being ready to begin formal schoolwork, it's not all bad. But she's also very back and forth on magical things. She desperately wants fairies to be real and believes in them wholeheartedly. But then some days she just starts crying that she'll never see one. Why can't she see them?

She'll make wishes on stars and then when they don't come true, walk around the house mopey and sad for a day or two sighing and saying, "Wishes don't come true."

It's pathetic. And depressing. And breaking my heart. I understand wanting, needing, magic in the world. And this transition doesn't mean she has to stop believing in magic or fairies. She doesn't want to. I don't want to.

So last night, when she wholeheartedly wished on the first evening star (checking with me multiple times to make sure that was the real "wishing sta") I knew I needed to at least do a little something to make it come true. I couldn't bear the thought of facing her and talking about how wishes on stars never come true.

Instead, I sprung into action. She had wished for a Magic Tree House like the one in the book series with the same name. She wanted it filled with every book in the world so that we could visit all her favorite stories. She was so sure her wish was going to come true that she couldn't sleep last night. It was worse than Christmas. She kept asking me and Rob where we wanted to go first. She decided to let Max choose the first book. She worried if the books would all be in English. She drew pictures of her favorite book characters she wanted to meet.

And after she finally fell asleep, I placed her playhouse on the trampoline and put a picture book inside. A story about a concert that happened at the zoo. The next morning, Jane was up at 6 am. She looked in the front yard. No tree house. I had her look out back. No tree house, but who put her play house on the tramp? She found the book. She knew it was the wishing star. She was so happy, even though she readily admitted it wasn't quite what she was expecting.

Jane waited patiently all morning until we could go on our adventure. She asked me that morning if someone had put the house on the tramp. I said I didn't know for sure, but maybe. That's how wishing stars work sometimes. Just because your wish doesn't poof into existence doesn't mean it isn't coming true. Sometimes wishing stars work through other people to help your wishes come true. I also talked about how we can help other people's wishes come true when we do something nice for them. It's kind of like helping the wishing star.

Anyway, all that buildup finally got us to the magical adventure. We piled into the play house. I stood outside and spun it in circles a few times while the kids closed their eyes. When they opened their eyes...nothing had changed. But I had a strange pulling in my arms. It was pulling the car!

And we were off. The pulling of the wishing star finally got us to the zoo, where we ate lunch and I felt the inexplicable need to pull out my guitar and start singing. The kids grabbed instruments from the bag and we put on our own concert right there at the zoo, just like in the book. After a few songs, we went in the zoo. It's really more of an animal rescue. After feeding the goats we decided to play a few more songs for them.

Jane swears the goats were dancing.

The zoo director came out. She asked if she could video tape us. Then she asked if I'd be willing to come back on a Saturday and play for an hour or two. She loved it. Kept saying what a fun idea it was to sing with the animals. Then she started planning.

We'll put up posters. It will be a free day. Can you do this on a Saturday every month?

And just like that, Jane's wish wasn't the only one coming true. Because now my silent wish, to become more involved  in the community with my children, was coming true as well.

Just goes to show. You leave your house on an adventure and you might come home on a whole new one.

In the end, Jane realized that it wasn't exactly what she wished for, but it was fun nonetheless. She's ready to go on another adventure. I told her that's all up to the wishing star and whenever it will put another book in the playhouse.

So, if you have any great ideas for books and adventures. Leave them in the comments!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why does the ocean have waves?

I have a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Rob has his in neuroscience, not to mention all the science classes he had to take in dental school. We. love. science. And I've always dreamed of introducing my kids to the wonders of science. And for many years, I've tried. Oh, how I've tried.

But guess what? A four-year-old just isn't going to understand the world of atoms and hydrogen bonding and electrons, no matter how simply you explain it. I can explain to Jane (6) about how the sky is blue because of the size of particle in the atmosphere that bends light at just the right angle. But let's be honest, I barely understand the intricacies of that answer. I know she doesn't. And for a child, who still sees the world as a place full of magic, still believes in fairies, Santa, and talking animals it's a terribly disappointing answer.

I had to remind myself recently of one of my favorite quotes from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. "Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there someday."

And we will. One day I will sit across the table from Jane and squeal about the amazing qualities of water and the "magic" of that 104.5 degree angle.

But not yet. Because right now, Jane still loves to hear about water as a living, breathing, thinking thing. She still sees the bees and the butterflies as playmates. And she desperately wants to find a fairy.

And so for now, I preserve the magic. Oh, I give them what they are ready for. We practice observation and experimentation. We explore the science that is happening all around us, the blooming flowers, and buzzing bees. The butterflies, earthworms, and bird nests. What we can see and touch.

So today at the beach, when my children were mesmerized by the waves, instead of lecturing about the gravitational pull of the moon and the tide and the physical and mathematical properties of waves, I told a story. And it went like this.

A long, long time ago, when the earth was still very young. Before there were humans or even animals. The sand and the ocean were best friends. The played together, and told jokes, and laughed and laughed.

Then one day, Ocean said, "Sand, you are my best friend and so I am going to show you my greatest treasure." And with that, Ocean pulled out the most beautiful, white shell.** It was round and smooth and sand just had to have it.

"Oh, please let me hold that shell," said Sand. "Please."

"No," said Ocean. "It's my greatest treasure. Nobody can touch it but me."

"Please," said Sand. "Please, please let me hold it."

"No," said Ocean. "It is too precious to me. I don't want to lose it."

Then Sand got angry and yelled and stomped. "Let me hold that shell or I won't be your friend anymore!"

Ocean didn't want to lose his best friend, so he gave Sand the shell. "Just for a little bit," said Ocean. "Then give it right back."

But when Sand held that beautiful shell, he knew he could never give it back to Ocean. He wanted to always be able to look at it.

"Okay, give it back," said Ocean.

"No," said Sand.

"Give it back now!" said Ocean.

"No," said Sand.

The Ocean screamed, and kicked and threw a glorious fit. "Give me back my shell or I won't be your friend anymore!"

But instead of giving back the shell, Sand threw it into the air and it got stuck in the sky. Sand rejoiced. Now he could always see that beautiful shell and Ocean couldn't take it back to his dark, watery depths!***

But Ocean let out a loud roar. "No! Shell!" He reached, reached his wet, foamy hands out and out. But they couldn't reach the shell in the sky. But Ocean couldn't give up. To this day, he still reaches his watery hands up over Sand, reaching, always reaching for his shell, which we now just call MOON.

**Rob pointed out that this would probably work better as a pearl.

***I originally had this go so that Ocean didn't see what Sand had done with the shell, and so the waves are really Ocean searching through the sand, looking for his shell, thinking Sand has hidden it somewhere. He finds many, many shells, but not HIS shell. This version is kind of fun, as today Jane was sure we'd found Ocean's shell and she kept shouting "I think the Ocean is mad at us now!" as the waves washed over our feet. You choose which you like best! I added the moon bit in because I can't help sneaking a tiny bit of science in there.