Friday, 29 November 2013

About snow

In my last post, I mentioned that I decided to hastily put together a unit study on snow to carry us through the two or three weeks until we decide to pack homeschooling for 2013 away for the year.  This unit is mainly for Jaelyn, as Nicholas is happily writing about birds and is diligently watching his bird feeders for Project FeederWatch.

Jaelyn's reading has simply exploded over the last month or so.  While she's typically done a good job of reading the words in her readers, I was never quite sure if she was reading the library books she cozied up with on the couch or if she was looking at the pictures.  Now I know that she's reading them word for word and understanding them.  She reads to me or to Astrin, and is proud to tell me how many pages she's devoured during her day.

Since this little one loves to read, we started off our unit on snow with the tale of The Snow Queen.  We spent a little bit of time each day for a week doing some sort of activity related to this story...reading it, drawing a picture about something from the story, narrating a summary of the story, writing a poem. 

We're using blank sketch books to compile all of our work.  It's my attempt at a main lesson book used in the Waldorf philosophy.  While I have no idea whether I'm doing it "right" and fully intend to do more research at some point, it serves its purpose for now and Jaelyn is enjoying what she's drawing and writing in her "green" book, as we refer to it here.

I'm looking forward to getting into some learning about snow crystals themselves and how they are formed next week.  We will be reading Snowflake Bentley (a perennial winter favorite here) and looking at some of the pictures he published in Snow Crystals.  We'll be catching our own snowflakes (we're in for a big dump of snow early next week), photographing them and making sketches, making snowflake cutouts to decorate our windows, and creating our own snow crystals inside.  There are also a couple of books kicking around here on snow storms and blizzards that could be an interesting treat.  And of course there are all sorts of chances for building snow forts and snowmen in the fluffy white stuff.  But more on that later - stay tuned!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Rhythm revisited

We went through a funk a couple of weeks ago where my body refused to leave the house.  I'm serious.  Gloomy skies hung down over us, the temperature dropped, and I couldn't get myself out the door.  Knitting, toes tucked into wool socks and slippers, hot tea, and a warm fire were all I wanted.  Fresh air seemed overrated.

Yet all of us staying inside and only leaving our comfy abode to run urgent errands is a recipe for stir-craziness.  Thankfully my little ones will go outside on their own and they will, for the most part, get along with one another.  But I think I noticed that too much indoor time for mama led to my own restlessness and discontent growing.  Falling out of our daily and weekly rhythm left me feeling unanchored and like life was slightly spiraling out of control.

At the same time, we had finished up our unit on the human body.  All of the (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Samhain, Hallowe'en, and Martinmas festivals were behind us.  We now had an empty void of time that we weren't accustomed to.  And, I'm coming to terms with my littlest one being a non-napper and quieter afternoons for planning and prepwork (or knitting) being a thing of the past. 

So, I find myself in the midst of transition.  Of discovering that it feels like too much effort to get outside twice before lunch...once all the socks are found, the snowsuits are donned and the winter boots are laced up.  Of realizing that we won't be able to do that deep dive into the world of birds without a lengthy pause as we prepare for and celebrate Christmas and that we should postpone that to the new year and do something lighter and less intense instead.  Of finding my evening hours getting longer and longer with planning for the days and weeks ahead and striving to keep my head above water.

All this means that that lovely rhythm we had created in September and tried hard to follow through on in October is begging for a tweak here and there.  It means I'll need to be aware of the impact the physical change of seasons in this part of the world has on our days, instead of insisting that winter doesn't start until December 21!  It means I'll need to do a better job next year of building a skeleton for our whole year in advance so that I'm not surprised by this two or three week space I find myself now in.

I'm now willing myself to step outside again once a day.  We usually get out in the morning, after we've finished our formal bookwork.  And it's usually not as cold as I expect it will be.  We're spending the next few weeks in a unit about snow, as I come to terms with the white stuff being around for the next five months or so, as we bring our awareness to the changes happening in nature around us.  I'm now setting aside one afternoon a week to bake with Astrin.  I'm also trying to spend a wee bit of time in the afternoons, while the children read, working a row or two of what happens to find itself on my knitting needles.  I'm trying to get myself to bed a little earlier at night so I don't feel like the walking dead the next day.  It feels like I'm trying to regain what I lost by letting my own rhythm slide.  I know it's a good thing.

When the holidays are over and I find myself juggling less, I'll look a little more closely at our rhythm and whether it is still working for us or if it needs more of an overhaul.  Do we need to have a set day of the week for baking, making soup, doing laundry, painting, modeling, and whatever else?  How does this work when external factors seem to put flux into a predetermined schedule before the ink has even dried on the page?  Is it that I need to be more diligent or discerning about the things I allow to change our rhythm?  Is it just that I need to relax and go with the flow a bit more?  Have I thoroughly observed and thought about how my children react to changes in our daily and weekly rhythms?

Hmmm...it seems that while I have lots to think when New Year's approaches, I have a pretty good idea of one of the themes that may show up in my resolutions!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Club Day. The Nature Version.

In the busyness of our days I find myself writing this post a day late.  Amid making a supper on the fly, preparing for a homeschool co-op class the next day, dreaming up a little bit of science love to carry us into December, and casting on the next project, yesterday was full, full, full.  And that was just after 5:30!

Before all that busyness though, in the afternoon yesterday, we hosted Nature Club.  As I was tidying the kitchen before Nature Club arrived, I pondered that our part of the world looked much different than it did when Nature Club met last.  And that's where I took Nature Club this week - on a sensory scavenger hunt to discover just how much different our world is this week, with its heaps of snow, bitterly cold winds, and shorter days.  Different than the dusting of snowflakes, the mild days and evenings, and the rich smell of rotting leaves of two weeks ago when we made lanterns for Martinmas.

The Clubbers turned into feral wolves as they walked, ran, and crawled to the park.  They howled at passersby, pretended to be playful cubs, and snuck up on unsuspecting prey.  When it looked like they'd worked off all their pent-up energy, we started our scavenger hunt game. 

We started out by sitting in silence for a minute to see if we could hear different sounds than we heard last meeting.  We then walked for a distance in silence to see if we could hear any other different sounds.  And different sounds there were...the breeze, the crunch of snow under our boots as we walked, the sound of ski pants rubbing together, the sound of running noses.

We moved onto bringing our awareness to our sense of touch...whether we could feel anything different.  Most told me about how their toes and fingers felt cold.  We also talked about if we could tell which direction the wind was blowing from, whether we could feel the sun on our faces, or whether our skin felt itchy in our dry winter climate.

At about the half-way point of our walk, we turned our attention to what we could perceive with our noses.  Did the world smell any different?  When first arriving at the park we noticed the aroma of popcorn, which was an oddity.  I was hoping we could catch the smell of wood burning in fireplaces, but I think it may have been a bit early for folks to have lit their evening fires.  Further along, we did notice that the world smelled a bit cleaner...like there was an absence of smell.

Lastly, we used our eyes to look for differences in our natural world from two weeks ago.  As we turned to the west, we noticed a fantastic sunset (and noticed how different it was just five minutes later).  We noticed tracks of animals.  We noticed icicles hanging from the eaves of houses.  And yes, the obvious covering of snow, too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Pick up sticks

Our week has gotten off on a good foot!  That's always good news to share.  While it is still winter-coat chilly in our little patch of the world, the sun burned away the clouds and it's rays felt like streams of joy beaming down from the sky.

Our morning walk (which was sporadic on those grey days where I didn't feel like moving outside of our kitchen) took us to the park on a search for sticks of all shapes and sizes.  But more of that later.

You see, I won a Waldorf-inspired kindergarten curriculum from Lavender's Blue Homeschool.  And it has come in very handy for the circle time Astrin and I spend together as the other children start on their schoolwork.  The winging it on my own wasn't going very well, so new songs and verses, ideas for crafts connected to the stories, and the overall alignment of the activities with the seasons was very welcome!

Astrin has been loving the songs and verses.  I love that there is an opportunity for movement with most of the verses, and I love that the package comes with an audio file so I know whether I should be singing or speaking (though I may opt to do my own thing too).  She also seems more content to do her own thing after we've spent circle time together, which is great when the other children need my attention.

I haven't done any watercolour painting or modelling with my little ones yet.  This is partly because I'm too tired, lazy, adverse to mess, not sure how exactly to do it, or all of the above!  Perhaps in the winter though.  We also haven't done many of the crafts, mostly because I think they are above Astrin's ability right now.  It is a kindergarten curriculum after all, and she has a few more years before that!  But today I thought the curriculum had an activity that we could all enjoy.

You see, we've been singing and acting out all sorts of rhymes to do with the wind.  Last week, we enjoyed the story of the three little pigs.  And thankfully, it dawned on me that we could all do the activity of building a house of sticks.  So off to the park we went in search of sticks!

We could be making stick houses for days on end.  And it was interesting how we all took a different approach.  Astrin was satisfied to simply break the sticks into pieces and cut the string to shreds.  Nicholas made walls by weaving larger sticks and is now in the process of figuring out how to connect them all together.  Jaelyn made a teepee and is now decorating a paper cover to keep the wind out.  And I experimented with weaving many little sticks.  Yes, this was a learning project for us all.  I was very careful to express that this was a trial and error project, and that there was no "right" way to do it.




I hope your week is off to a lovely start! 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Catching up

My, I've been quiet in this space for the last week or two.  It's funny how I think that longer stretches of a slower pace are just on the other side of the figurative hill we've been climbing, but we never quite make it over the crest.  From tracking down skates or other miscellaneous gear, to planning games, crafts, and festivals for us to celebrate, not to mention the holiday season that is in my peripheral vision, it feels like the moments for quiet introspection are short and I prefer to spend them alone rather than in front of my computer.  I'm feeling the side of my brain that does all the list-making and organizing needs to be working in full-gear, while the side that spins a story and tries to see the interconnectedness and lessons in it all is asked to sit this one out.  I'm feeling the itch to be making tangible things with my hands rather than writing words into cyberspace.  A row or two of knitting or a snip or two of scissors on fabric is my chance to catch my breath before we start it all again the next day.

I'm at least happy to say that the last several weeks have been good ones...crafting beautiful things, enjoying the beauty of an evening lantern walk with friends and family, celebrating our wrap up of our human body unit with a field trip to the science centre, story telling, singing and smiling together, tailoring our "schoolwork" time so it really doesn't feel like schoolwork at all...good stuff.  And those moments of pause are spent sipping my favorite tea and knitting in front of the fire.  Or holding my breath as I take a knitted creation and plunge it into hot soapy water all the while hoping I have the intuition to stop felting it before it's too late.  Or thinking out whether that Christmas countdown calendar will really be started or finished this year, before brushing those thoughts aside and considering instead the creative possibilities we could explore together.

Yes, a pause in this space is necessary when I feel like I'm writing because I have to, not because I want to.  It's easy not to bring your best when it feels like you're just going through the motions and don't really have your heart behind it.  It could easily turn into a laundry list of what the day looked like rather than a place to think through why we do what we do, what we could do better, what might inspire or prove useful to others, and to remember the things that were awesome and beautiful in our days.

So, till next time...whenever that may be...

Monday, 4 November 2013

Surrounded by birds

We're winding down our unit on the human body this week, finishing off with my favorite...the musculo-skeletal systems.  And that means we're that much closer to a field trip to the Science Centre to finish it all off.  And it also means that we'll be moving on to something new.

That something new will be a wee bit of citizen scientist work.  We've joined Project Feeder Watch and will be watching daily to see who happens to show up at our bird feeders this winter.  We're fully stocked on birdseed and kicked off our birdfeeder project by adding a suet feeder as well. 

We were all ready to start observing this morning.  But what did we find?  High winds, blowing snow, icy streets...it's likely the birds were hiding somewhere where they would be well protected and weren't going to come out for a peck or two at the bird feeder (neither was the squirrel that likes to spill the birdseed all over the ground).  Despite the lack of activity, we did put together a hypothesis or two about our observations.  We'll see if our theory that ties the lack of birds at the feeder to the dismal weather will hold true throughout the winter.

We were also treated to a special event tonight.  An expert on the decline of the burrowing owl population in Canada made a stop for a talk in our town tonight.  Nicholas and I went together, with notebooks in hand for taking notes.  We listened intently, jotted little bits and pieces of information down, asked questions, and enjoyed the company of other nature lovers we hadn't met before.  Part of what excited me about homeschooling was the opportunity for my children to dive deep into the topics they love and the chance to learn from and connect with enthusiastic experts that they typically wouldn't have access to in school.  I'm so glad we're getting a taste of that now, and I'm looking forward to more of it in the months ahead!