Friday, February 19, 2016

Host a Seventh Generation Healthy Baby Party!

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  • Sign up at to join the Generation Good community, or log in if already a member.
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Friday, February 21, 2014

~ A Day in the Life of Our Kindergartner... and her little brother ~

Teacher: me, mom!
Students: Elli and her two-year old brother
Reasons I choose to homeschool: I've always wanted to be a teacher, and know in my heart that I'm the first and most suited teacher for my children. I want to instill in them a love for God, good books, and learning about the world around them... Not because they have to, but because they want to. 
My method: I appreciate a classical education, and absolutely love the writings of Charlotte Mason.

I am excited to share what our homeschool day looks like, even though each day is different from the last around here! I have a lot left to learn about homeschooling, but I'm happy to relay what I've learned thus far. My kindergartner turned five in November. I've basically been doing school/educational activities with her since before she turned two. So the preschool, pre- K, and now K have been good practice for us both. We live in Brooklyn, NY and I don't start reporting grades or anything until next year, so that's all still foreign to me. Since I'm not a stickler for an exact schedule, I'll give approximate times and activities. Hoping to run a tighter ship by first grade, but yeah... we'll see. 

When my daughter was in Pre-K, I made up this nice schedule board with times (and even pictures of clocks so she see the times on them!) and when we would eat and sleep and do schoolwork and blah blah blah... and then baby brother came along! When his nap times started to change or went from two to one, I think that's when the chaos started. To put it another way, we no longer have that poster up. 

This year I settled for a simple school calendar ($1 section at Target!), which has helped tremendously. We just move the " today is..." sticker each day, and our usual "school days" are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with Monday being a prep and/or catch up day, and Friday being my day to prepare for the Sabbath (we are Messianic believers.) We are using My Father's World as our primary curriculum, and I sometimes add to it as well. A typical day/week looks like this:

6:00- 6:30 a.m. Toddler usually wakes me up :)

between 6:30- 7:00 a.m. Elli usually wakes up

7:00 -8:30 a.m. waking up, eating breakfast, (sometimes) getting dressed...(if it was up to the kids, they would probably just live in their pajamas... and in the winter, I'm the same way!)

8:30- 10:00 a.m. If there are errands to run, we leave the house to do those. If there's laundry to be done, I like to start it early because we live in an apartment building and the washers are in the parking garage, and there's only three of them. If the kids are playing peacefully together, I leave them alone and wash the dishes or something else that needs to be done in the kitchen. Also, I may be preparing what schoolwork we will do later on. I try to buy groceries on Mondays when my husband is home, (especially in this cold, nasty weather) so I can shop alone. I won't go into here what shopping in Brooklyn with two kids is like, even in nice weather... (In case you're thinking I'm being selfish with my time, I'm really just an introvert trying to steal a few moments of solitude throughout the day) :)

10:00- 11:30 a.m. Monday is usually library day. I do a lot of searching for school books and putting
books on hold online, so sometimes we simply have to pick up books from the desk. Little brother has story time there at 11:00 a.m. so we try to get there early to look at books beforehand. Fortunately for us, the library is literally half a block from our home, so it's very easy to walk to. If we didn't make it to the library, we're most likely out shopping with my husband or recovering from a busy weekend. On some Tuesdays or Thursdays (in nice weather), we would get together with a friend for a joint activity (they also have a kindergartner who uses the same curriculum). The weather has been cold and wet lately, but last month we made it to the American Museum of Natural History during our study of dinosaurs! A nice perk of living and homeschooling in NYC! As she gets older, I look forward to visiting many more museums in the city. AMNH is great because it has a Discovery Room for kids, where they can touch everything and participate in fun activities.


In warmer weather (because frankly, I hate being cold), we frequent parks and a new natural
playground in Prospect Park that is made entirely of fallen trees (from hurricane Sandy).

After beginning to read through Charlotte Mason's volumes on homeschooling last summer, I have tried to incorporate as much nature study as possible, and I'm really anxious for warmer temperatures so we can get outside more. We are in the middle of a three week farm animal study, so we were planning to visit the Queens County Farm Museum this week (because the temps got up to the 40s.. woohoo!) but there is still snow on the ground, and I found out that it would hinder us from getting close to the farm animals. We'll wait until the weather warms up... a lot!

11:30 a.m.- 12:00 p.m. If the kids are playing peacefully together, I leave them alone. They always come to the kitchen when they're hungry anyway. :) I'm preparing lunch during this time. If they are not playing peacefully (either now or earlier in the day), then I may get out our sensory bin. They both love it, but especially the toddler. Of course, it is extremely messy. I have decided that it's worth the mess if it keeps Judah's busy little fingers occupied. Otherwise, he's probably rummaging through my closet now for his father's shoes and rolling suitcase, which are some of his favorite toys. It's amazing how messy small children can be, and mine successfully turn our small apartment upside down on a daily basis. Since we are learning about farms right now, the bin is full of oats, split peas, rice and some beans. I've also tried potting soil (fun, but don't close the lid up with any kind of moisture in there... yuck!) sand from the beach, floral water balls (found at craft store in floral arrangement section), barley, pasta, flour, and water (of course).

12:00 p.m.- 1:00 p.m. Lunchtime! We eat most of our meals at home, and I usually just pull up my Ikea stool and sit at the kids' table with them! Why? Because my table usually looks like this, especially on school days:

Living in a small, city apartment, organization has been a challenge for me. Believe me, organization has never been one of my strong points. I used to think I was organized, but having children tends to bring out the blatant reality that I'm not! Most of our actual "schoolwork" is done at the dining room table, and mostly when my two year old is sleeping (in case you were wondering if I had forgotten what this post was supposed to be about!) Although I am more of a morning person and would rather do school in the morning, it usually proves much easier to do in the afternoon when the little destroyer is asleep. When we do choose to do the "sit-down" work in the morning, I try to distract little brother with the sensory bin, or my ipad, or busy bags (to see my Pinterest board on busy bag ideas, click here.) But it's hard enough for a five year old (and me) to concentrate on the written work without a curious toddler getting into everything, so for now, naptime works. :) 

1:30 p.m.- 3:00 p.m. ish Helping Elli with her schoolwork. My Father's World for kindergarten is very simple and straightforward, but can be redundant (and even boring... shhh) for scatterbrains like me. I choose to supplement my own stuff and ideas that I've found on Pinterest, etc. Because I've always wanted to be a teacher, and I spent a year and a half being a substitute preschool teacher, I have quite the collection of e-books and e-workbooks on my computer from Scholastic Teacher's Express that I either got for free or spent maybe $1 on. I have way too many, though, and after reading Charlotte Mason, I have restrained myself from giving my daughter so many worksheets (which she actually really liked in Pre-K.) Now we simply do writing practice on the worksheets that came with the curriculum, on dry erase boards, chalkboards, and even in salt. I will admit that I am a paper fiend, so I had to stop printing out so much stuff! I know that kindergartners don't need worksheets to learn. In addition, I'm starting to think that my daughter is more of a kinesthetic learner than I thought. She definitely recalls things that she has seen on TV or heard about, but she doesn't enjoy sitting still and writing on worksheets anymore. That's probably typical for her age, but I would like to incorporate more moving and learning activities. 

I don't stress about her finishing all the MFW worksheets every week. If you're not familiar with the My Father's World curriculum, it basically focuses on a weekly letter and the corresponding aspect of God's creation (animals, rocks, water, etc.) and something about God we can learn from that aspect (from a nest, we learn that "God takes good care of me,"etc.) We practice writing letters and numbers, counting, letter sounds, sounding out simple words, sight words, reading lessons (Charlotte Mason style)

I have tried to utilize every available space in our apartment for education without making it look like we live in a preschool, ans sometimes to no avail! Our hall closet serves mostly as my arts and crafts and school supply storage.

 We also use a storage cabinet and bookcase next to our dining room table for school storage. Immaculate, isn't it? ;)

It's been great having a large metal front door for one reason: it's magnetic! I printed and laminated sight word cards from and attached magnets. I also use the door for little brother's activities.

Although my daughter has a nice desk in her bedroom, it doesn't work for school if her brother is sleeping in their shared room. For now, she uses it occasionally for art or coloring. She'll use it more when she's older.

3:30 pm- 4:30 pm Little brother is usually awake by now, which means school time is over! Some days I allow Elli to play educational games on my iPad (which means that the toddler then must have a turn of his own), or they watch some television. We watch mostly nature/science related shows like Curious George and Peep and the Big Wide World, which they both enjoy. I am cleaning up the school stuff (sometimes) now, or just watching television with them if I'm tired! Or trying to sneak into my bedroom and blog for a few minutes at a time whenever I can... to keep me sane. :)

Since I have mentioned the iPad, let me just say that it was been a wonderful educational tool for us. Since I feel that she's too young for written math in kindergarten (Charlotte Mason's suggestion), I do allow my daughter to play math games for fun. Also, she loves music. I have recently discovered an iPad app called Kinderbach, which teaches young children the very basics of music and playing a keyboard at a slow pace. This isn't a free app, like most of the ones we use, but she really enjoys sitting down with the iPad and the coloring sheets that I print out to go along with it (included with the app), and having her "music lesson." This lesson is also usually done when little brother is asleep, because he wants to do it too if he's awake!  She sits at the dining room table, within earshot of me (usually while I'm having my own party at the sink full of dirty dishes that never goes away), so I can help her when she needs it. It also teaches some rhythm, so she gets to bang (quietly) on a pan with a wooden spoon.

4:30 p.m.- 6:00 p.m. We eat dinner pretty early, so by 4:00 p.m. or 4:30 p.m., I am at least starting to prepare it. The school day is over, and everyone's energy is winding down by now. Dinner, cleaning up, some family fun time, baths, and getting ready for bed take up the remainder of our day.

between 7:30 p.m.- 8:00 p.m. Kids are usually in bed. Dad is finishing up his ministry work or relaxing. I am usually exhausted and useless by this time at night, so I try to read or blog... or veg out and get ready for bed! :) 

It's been a busy day for us, and some days run smoother than others. All days don't look like this, and to be honest, there are days when we accomplish very little...and watch movies! However, I know deep down that homeschooling is in our lives to stay, and I pray for the strength I need to make it through another day. As an introvert myself, it is extremely exhausting to pour myself (the good, the bad, and the ugly) into my kids all day long.... being watched, being followed around, teaching, mediating, disciplining, being asked countless questions, answering them for the 15th time.... it has a way of wearing us down. (I'll be posting in the near future what homeschooling is like for an introverted mom like myself.) 

With all that said, I love homeschooling, and wouldn't change it for the world. It allows me to be myself, providing the freedom and flexibility I need to teach them what I know to be important. It also allows them to be themselves, providing the pace and security that they need to thrive. 

I know I will never regret spending too much time with my kids, even when the apartment is constantly a mess, the hamper is constantly overflowing with dirty laundry, and the sink is constantly full of dirty dishes... 

~And there you have it, a day in our life. ~  

Thanks for reading! ~Joanna~

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From Homeless to Hipster... (and Everything in Between): WhyI've[Almost] Always Allowed My Daughter to Pick Out Her Own Clothes...

I'm sure that this post has been years in the making, just as my little girl has been five years in the making... but I'm finally taking the time to write it down!

"Did you dress yourself today?" is a question my daughter gets... a lot! It's always asked in love, and she always answers "yes" with pride. I can't remember exactly how old she was when she began picking her outfits out, but she has loved " dressing up" since she was one. As I was looking through old pictures, I found so many of her dressed up that I can't post them all, so we'll have to settle for a choice few. The question I will attempt to answer is why I have allowed her to dress herself on most days. 


I want her to be a trendsetter, not a trend follower...

She has possessed her own sense of style for as long as I can remember, and my husband and I have always enjoyed her outfits (although he's usually the one that tends to get embarrassed to take her into public wearing some of them!) She has rarely embarrassed me, and in a few years I'm sure I will be the one embarrassing her with how I dress. I'm not much of a trend follower, either!  I wanted to share my "method to the madness" theory of why I have encouraged and allowed her to express herself through her clothes. Don't get me wrong, there are times when she just can't wear whatever she wants... i.e. picture days, or when we need to look presentable for whatever reason. On those occasions, I help her choose an outfit or coach ( maybe coax) her in what she should wear to the event. Although she has a knack for putting wild patterns together and is certainly not too "matchy matchy," she actually comes up with some cute ensembles! 

I am currently reading (re-reading?) The New Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson. Not only because my daughter has a mind of her own, (at least since she turned two!) but because her little brother is now two and is most certainly a strong-willed little boy! Most, if not all, information I have read about strong-willed children is that it is actually a good thing. They are more likely to have the resolve to not give in to peer pressure when they are faced with it, and they tend to grow up to be hard working adults. Now, when they are two years old and would rather spend 15 minutes screaming, flailing, and refusing to sit in their stroller... ignoring your attempts to bribe them to do it with a soft pretzel, and would rather lie on the nasty concrete of a busy city than do what you want them to do, then it doesn't seem like a good thing at the time (yep, true story). However, I would much rather my children to grow up with strong wills as opposed to weak wills, wouldn't you? Charlotte Mason has some fascinating stuff to say about a child's will, which I will be writing about in a later post, but even with its challenges, I'm sure that she would agree that a strong will is to be desired.

Even as a five-year old princess, I want my daughter to be able to confidently put something on, and be able to still feel confident even after someone has shown their distaste for what she is wearing. Being a girl, I know that she will get "looks" from other little girls, and I'm sure she has already. In fact, we were shopping one day and I actually heard another girl who passed by us say to her grandma, "She's not beautiful." She was speaking of my daughter, so it irked me a little bit, and my daughter was distressed by it as well. Believe me, from how this little girl was talking, I could tell she was not a nice little girl. Our daughters are going to face ridicule, rejection, teasing, and just plain meanness... Whether we like it or not. Whether we homeschool them or not. Whether we're overprotective or not. It's our job as mothers to teach our daughters how to handle those comments and the emotions that follow. Trendsetters will have far more ability to bounce back and continue to be themselves no matter what others say or do. Real trendsetters know that real beauty comes from within.

I want her to have enough self-esteem to not strive to be beautiful, but to know that she is.

Girls will be girls. I'm not opposed to trying to look "beautiful," although I'd much rather just be beautiful, as all women are. And if you know me well enough, you know that any beauty that I possess is natural beauty, because I certainly don't work at it! ;) The difference between myself and my daughter is that I was a complete tomboy growing up. She is most certainly not. She can gasp, giggle, squeal, scream, and twirl with the best of them... all things that drive me a little crazy, but I remind myself to just enjoy them while I can...because they're "cute," and they're what differentiate little girls from little boys (although little brothers can do them pretty well sometimes, too!) 
I'm not the type of mom who will ever put my daughter into beauty pageants or anything like that. That's just not me. I won't force her to wear a cute outfit or cute shoes that don't look comfortable. I won't force her wild hair to do things it was never meant to do, or force her little body into clothes not appropriate for a five year old to wear. Not gonna happen. The words "beauty hurts" will never leave my lips (because it's not true), nor will I ever tell her she's anything but gorgeous (because it is true). I will always remind her that everyone is unique, and that G-d made everyone beautiful in their own special way. Not because I want her to be delusional, but because I remind myself the same thing every time the thought crosses my mind that someone is less than good-looking. Who am I to judge what G-d has created? Perhaps people can make themselves "ugly," but I don't think G-d makes
"ugly" if that makes sense.

Yes, I tell her that she's beautiful. I won't deprive her of that confirmation, because as every mother knows, especially those who have been little girls once themselves... little girls want to be told that, need to be told that. If you've ever read the book Captivating by Stasi Eldridge, then you know that every girl's deepest question is "Am I lovely?" and mothers (and fathers!) need to answer that question with a resounding "YES!" I recently read a great quote by Alvin Price: "Parents need to fill a child's bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can't poke enough holes to drain it dry."
That sums it up well. I didn't grow up with an amazingly high self-image, or high self-esteem. But once I realized that G-d made me beautiful, that was good enough for me. I want my daughter to be able to see that beauty in herself, and be able to point it out (even bring it out) in others. That's what makes a girl pretty. As she will find out, pretty girls (so-called by their peers) can be ugly girls (by their words and actions).

I want her to embrace modesty as the most important factor in choosing what to wear.
As far back as I can remember, my girly girl has been a fan of modesty in clothing. She has always loved my long skirts, and is often disappointed they don't make them in her size! She loves flowing dresses and long-sleeves (seriously). At times, I have had to discourage her from wearing leggings or long-sleeves when it was way too hot for them! I think she understands the importance and the beauty of covering up. Of course, we have talked about modesty many times, usually when she asks about it. In Pre-K, I gave her a big Melissa & Doug sticker pad full of little girls she could choose clothes for. Together, we made sure their short skirts had leggings underneath, and their swimsuits had cover-ups over them. We dubbed them "The Modest Girls" and since I only gave her five or six girls at a time, the pad lasted a long time! We have made (glued together, not sewn) dolls' skirts longer if needed or added fabric to Barbie's shirts, learning about modesty all the while. 
Although she has an understanding of what's modest and what isn't, I try to make it a point to not allow her to criticize what other people choose to wear. She usually doesn't hesitate to tell me when she's seen something "not modest." I have a friend (who lives really close now) who will tell you that one of her first experiences with my daughter was being shown a picture of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, and told that Jasmine was not modest! She laughs when she recalls it, and so do I. 

My fashionista has put together some wild outfits, usually involving several different patterns that definitely don't belong together... but usually the only times I have her alter it is due to modesty. She knows that's my only "rule" when it comes to dressing... is it modest? My second question is... is it comfortable? (i.e. Are you sure you can still wear those size 8 shoes when you're really a 10?) Third question is... is it appropriate for today? (i.e. Are you sure you're going to be able to run and slide at the park in that long dress? or Won't you be more comfortable running in sneakers, not jelly sandals?) Again, true stories. ;)
I know she's only five, and she wants to be like me and dress like me. Modesty is important to her because it's important to me. We are blessed to have several friends (and their little girls) who embrace and model modesty as well. It also doesn't hurt that we live in a highly orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Hey, little girls (and big girls, and women) running around in long skirts is the norm here! I'm glad that she has this early understanding and foundation of modesty, because I certainly didn't. I know that she will get older and want to look like everyone else... but to embrace modesty is half the battle. To value yourself and dignity more than you value what others think and do (and what advertisers force on you) is the other half.  She can be as fashionable and stylish as she wants to be, but I want her "rule" to also be... is it modest?      
If it was just "my rule," then perhaps she would just reject it as she gets older. Fortunately, it's not "my rule." It's G-d's design and desire for all women (and men) He created, and it goes far beyond the clothes you wear. 

I want her to gain confidence in making decisions. 

It was my plan to locate two books on discipline (that I own) somewhere in the midst of my husband's hundreds of books, but I was unable to do so (which is pretty bad). The first one was Dare to Discipline by Dr. James Dobson, and I recall him mentioning kids benefiting from being able to make "safe choices" at home in order to learn how to make good choices in the real world. Children need to be able to make choices (whether they be good or bad) because they can learn from them within the safe confines of their family environment. The other book was Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp, which I also enjoyed reading. Ironically, the books are kind of opposed to each other (sometimes purposely) on a few subjects, and I remember that making decisions was one of them. Hopefully I recall this correctly when I say that Tedd Tripp seemed to think that children making decisions for themselves (even on simple matters) was to be frowned upon, and that they would learn how to make good decisions by watching their parents make decisions. Both authors pleaded their case here, but I would lean more towards Dr. Dobson's understanding, simply because I have survived one two year old and am in the process of surviving another. Any mom knows that toddlers love to have some say in any (or many) areas of life, in fact, they thrive on that little bit of control. If you were to give them no control whatsoever, they will act out in many ways in the areas where they do have control whether you like it or not. For example, I have never successfully forced a toddler to go to sleep, to eat a particular food, or to use the potty. Perhaps I've tried...with coaxing, bribing, threatening... but let's be honest. It doesn't work.

As I was thinking about how to word this section, I watched (my first ever) webinar on parenting last night. It was free, and I wanted to try it. The topic was "How to get kids to listen without nagging, reminding, or yelling" so I was curious. It was led by Positive Parenting Solutions, and I would recommend it to other moms. While it was designed to get parents to go further and pay for online training courses, etc. I feel like the information I received in the free webinar was enough for me to really move into a more positive way of discipline.The reason I mention it here is because the first thing she said was "Kids have a hard-wired need for attention and power." If they don't feel like they receive enough of either "in age-appropriate positive ways," they'll act out. She wasn't saying that they should do whatever they want (I wouldn't go along with that!) The point was that as parents, instead of trying to control them and fight against that need for power, we should give them the choice to exercise their free will (which they possess because they are human beings!) If they choose to disobey, they choose to reap the consequences.

Therein lies one of my biggest motivations for allowing her to choose her outfits. I want her to make confident decisions when she can. I don't ask her to decide between right and wrong, or decide any "big ticket" items in life, but getting the choice between this shirt or that one, these shoes or those shoes, broccoli or peas.... goes a long way in showing her that I respect and trust her judgment in these areas. Then, in the event that she needs to change or choose something else, I have found it's been easier for her to trust my judgment at those times.

I think as parents we sometimes forget that we are raising people... they have opinions, tendencies, likes, dislikes, style, personalities of their own

We don't want them to "be like us"... we want them to be better.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Year(s) with Charlotte, Part Three: ~Pay Attention, and that goes for you too, Mom!~


First of all, I had to get real with the title of this series, because "Summer with Charlotte" was just NOT going to happen... the summer has long gone (it's now winter), and I have made it through maybe two of her six volumes. I'm still digesting and re-reading the information in those two! Although I began this post in the summer, it has been lying dormant along with my other unpublished posts since then. After recently sharing with a mom's group about my struggle and desire to become a gentler mom, I returned to this post because Charlotte's method of forming habits in children is very gentle, and that's why I love it. 

 A  favorite topic of mine in Charlotte Mason's writings has been her treatment of forming good habits in our children.  This post will focus mainly on the "habit of attention," but first I would like to share directly from her work how Charlotte suggests we help a child form a good habit. I am impressed and touched by the gentleness involved, and I think there is much wisdom in trying to avoid "friction" with our children.  

(I apologize for having to use pictures of the texts as quotes, but I cannot figure out how to copy and paste anything from the Kindle app on my phone, and this is better than typing them all out. Hopefully, they are legible.) It's long and tedious, I know, but it's worth reading:



While this is more her "formula" involving the forming of physical habits (which she makes sound easy, doesn't she?!), she also spends a good amount of time on the more difficult and perpetual task of forming mental habits, one of the most crucial being the habit of attention, "because the highest intellectual gifts depend for their value upon the measure in which their owner has cultivated" this habit. Charlotte gives no single formula for helping children develop this habit, but rather gives many examples of how mothers can advance it on a daily basis.
Before I go into these examples, allow me to digress and mention why I added us "moms" to the title of this post. If we don't cultivate our own habit of attention, we won't be able to help them with theirs! When I think of mothers of small children (myself included), the one adjective that always comes to mind is: distracted. We are always distracted... by our children usually, but also by our housework, homeschooling duties, hobbies, desires, and whatever else we allow ourselves to succumb to. 

Noticing the importance that Charlotte puts on children attaining this habit of attention really convicts me that I have to work on it in myself as well. In fact, this is not the only habit she mentions that I need work on, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there! :) With G-d's help and grace, we can develop and improve these good habits in ourselves. As an example, I have noticed that although I enjoy reading and I read fast, I don't always retain what I read, because I have not thoroughly paid attention to all of it. With Charlotte Mason, I have had to read these sections at least twice, and sometimes more. She uses some lofty (British) English, and her wit and even her sarcasm can be hard to discern and follow at times. I have found reading it several times over very helpful. I am still only on volume two, but I really want to understand her, so that's okay. 

The same exercises that CM suggests for children can be used by us to increase our power of attention. CM gives examples, such as piquing a child's interest in something as simple as a daisy. A mother could say:
I think it is very natural for a mother to do this, whether she knows why she is doing it or not. After reading a book called "Nature Spy," my four-year-old has decided she wants to be one. With us being on an extended road trip, we have had many opportunities to visit parks and even stay on 45 acres of farmland with a garden on it, where we spotted all sorts of insects and plants we don't see in Brooklyn. I have been documenting the findings with pictures. 


We have also been collecting some natural objects to take back home. These will go in our "nature center" I plan to create in our Kindergarten homeschool space. Being a lover of nature, I have always pointed wildlife out to my daughter. I am pleased to say that she is now pointing it out to me! In our travels, she has spotted a snake and a small green anole lizard before me! :) 


Another example that CM suggests which may not be so commonly done, is asking a child to survey a (real, outdoors) familiar landscape...


...and then close their eyes and tell you what they see, practiced frequently until they can "see" everything with their eyes closed. Adults could certainly benefit from this exercise. CM makes the interesting point that the reason our childhood memories of places tend to be foggy or unclear is because we never took the time to really "see" them when we were young. I want my children's memories to be clearer than mine are. CM speaks of taking mental pictures, which makes us more likely to remember what we saw. This also comes into play in her mention of reading and spelling, and I have since been telling my daughter to "take a picture" with her mind when I show her new words. 

The reason CM places so much importance on raising children who know how to pay attention lies in the fact that she is always trying to look ahead to their "after life" (by which she means their 'after school' or adult lives). I have gathered that one of her primary goals in educating children is to make them independent, self-compelled learners. That is definitely what I desire for my children. The habit of attention goes far beyond being able to observe nature. Children need this ability in order to learn anything really. As CM illuminates, children's minds are "slaves to association" insomuch as when they hear one thing, they instantly associate it with something else they know. CM explains it like this: In the

This makes it a challenge for children to develop the habit of attention, but its something they must develop nonetheless. (Am I holding your attention? Just checking...) I know that my mind tends to wander all.the.time, so I am in the same boat as my children sometimes! CM has some more methods to help us and them learn to focus. Short lessons, interesting books to read, not allowing children to "dawdle" over any lesson or daydream when they should be doing math, and always giving a set amount of time in which they must complete their work are a few she lists. 

With my 5-year old daughter now a homeschooled "kindergartner,"  I am realizing how difficult it is to homeschool, period. Trying to incorporate CM's methods into modern-day NYC presents its own additional challenges. However, as CM would challenge us to do, let's "work wonders" and make it happen anyway. It seems easier to form and accept bad habits than to turn them into good ones (in our kids and ourselves). Forming good habits is hard (but important) work, because it leads to good character as our children grow.

My Summer with Charlotte: Part Two ~Go Ahead, Learn about Nature~

In searching for a kindergarten curriculum, (which I finally...(painstakingly) decided could be a good thing to have!), I was told many good things about My Fathers World. But it wasn't until I looked online at their website that I fell in love. I saw a Butterfly Garden, an Ant Hill set, and other things country folk may take for granted, but hey, we live in Brooklyn!! ;) We can't have pets, we live surrounded by concrete, and my daughter loves butterflies (when we happen to see any!) I, on the other hand, grew up in South  Florida...with a back yard full of citrus trees, plants, dirt, reptiles, and bugs. I loved being outside and barefoot. We didn't have much money, but some of my fondest memories are of climbing trees, making leaf and dirt burritos, and spending time with dirty dogs and stray cats. 

My two little New Yorkers don't experience this "back yard living" on a daily basis. While there are some "patches of nature" here and there, we have to walk the several blocks to the park to fully experience any natural expanse. And even then, "nature" in Brooklyn is anything but "untouched." Still, we do what we can (and am now inspired to do much more.) We do a lot of "bird-watching" (out the window, beyond the fire escape), we have a few houseplants, we go to the zoo, we have made a bird-feeder and planted seeds, we play with dirt, sand, snow, and I try to encourage as much exploration as possible when we are out for walks, etc. After reading Charlotte Mason's (I will call her "CM" for short) take on the importance of children being outdoors, I dare not make excuses for not exposing them to nature. "Oh, you live in the city?" she says... Get the kids on a train and go to the country once a week! While the suburbs of New Jersey are a far cry from the English countryside she speaks of, we do go there fairly often. Closer to home, Prospect Park is like a mini-Central Park, complete with a lake and a zoo! We definitely need to spend more time there!

To steer myself back to the point I was trying to make here, I fell in love with My Father's World curriculum because it seemed so nature-oriented. A nature lover myself, I've always tried to incorporate it into my lesson plans, as it is my favorite kind of information to convey. Imagine my joy when CM stated outright that learning about nature is the most important thing children can learn about during the first six years of their life. I agree. By nature, we mean the world around us as G-d's Creation. Because G-d created everything with a plan and purpose, children's observation of nature leads to much more than learning certain facts about bugs and leaves, but it sets the foundation for many future subjects of study: science, logic, cause and effect, social relationships, and actions and consequences just to name a few.

CM's suggestions include allowing children to explore nature, (mostly on their own, unless they need a little "push" to get their curiosity involved, or if they ask a question), to run, to be noisy, to get dirty, and just simply spend many hours "out-of-doors." She gives examples of methods a mother can use while they are outside to further their learning. She can send them to a particular area, asking them to return to her ready with a description of everything they observed. This is to strengthen their habit of attention. The younger children will follow (and learn from) the older ones, as they frolic along behind. If a child seems bored or uninterested in the nature around them, perhaps all they need is a small tidbit of information about a tree or plant, or they need that tiny ladybug pointed out to them. CM advises, however, mothers not to lecture or intervene too much in the children's interactions with nature, as the goal is for them to form relationships with what they see and experience. She basically says that mothers talk too much (which is true at times, even for quiet ones like me!) It is a mother's tendency to want to share everything they know about something all at once, but it is better to give the children space and answer their questions as they arise. Then, the children will remember and relate to that information. As CM puts it, children are always fascinated by "things," but sometimes "words" can be a bore. Therefore, it is most beneficial to teach them something about a rock when they are holding it in their hand, or when they have just become interested in that tree over there. 

To clarify, it is more in the child's mind that they are out in the open to simply play and have fun, but to the mother, the day outside is never one spent without purpose. As CM puts it, "there is much to be done and much to be prevented" during this time. The children will have periods of  releasing their energy, practicing their skills of observation, narrating to their mother, learning countless new things, taking mental pictures of landscapes until it becomes a habit, getting to know all the trees, plants, and living creatures in the environment, collecting things, and even stopping to draw a flower or other object as they see it. The children must, however, remain engaged in these "lessons" and negativity must not be tolerated, but turned into a "joyous temper" so that all benefit from the fresh air. The mother will have a method, and the children will enjoy learning without even realizing it! It is a day well spent. In fact, CM states that for the first six years, the majority of a child's days should be spent like this, "a quiet growing time" in their "passive receptive life." Hey, I'm all for it! I definitely have to work on my time management, so that we are able to spend these hours outside. But I agree with CM when she says that mothers will "work wonders" in this area when they realize that it is what's best for their children. If you are beginning to think she is sounding eccentric or strange, google "nature-deficit disorder" like I just did, and realize that there is a growing concern for children who don't spend enough time outdoors. Depression, obesity, and behavior problems were just a few issues I noticed. There are also movements I have seen that try to counteract this, like "outdoor preschools" or "forest kindergartens." By the way, they look pretty amazing! But CM knew what she was talking about way back in the early 1900s, and you don't have to send your kids to an expensive nature preschool to do what's best... just turn off the TV and  take them outside! 

For the next week, my family and I are in New Jersey, and we have discovered an amazing park nearby called Duke Island Park. I definitely have plans to go there as often as possible this week, as there is a great trail that winds through the woods and alongside a river! Our first trip was a short one, being in the heat of the afternoon and with one child under the weather, but even then we saw a caterpillar, worms, butterflies, dragonflies,  and countless trees and plants we don't see close to home. I am excited to go again for some time well spent in nature.