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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Catching Snowflakes

Christmas is past, and with our two sons, it was a wonderful time to reflect on the Christ child and enjoy gift-giving.  The spirit will linger and our decorations will remain for the week.  What could be better?  SNOW... and it is coming our way.

I remember as a child walking home from school on cold winter days in our little town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho watching huge snowflakes fall from a crisp white sky.  I would slowly meander and frequently stop to look skyward, catching flakes on my tongue and blinking away flakes that landed on my lashes.

As I type, it has begun to swirl outdoors, promising several inches.  Inside we watch and wait.  We are waiting for the afternoon when there will be several inches and we will break out the snowpants and sleds and the special dark cloth.  Yes, you read right. The Special Dark Cloth.

I keep an 8 inches by 11 inches cloth swatch specifically for snowy days so we can catch snowflakes and see them up close.  All you have to do is pick a dark fabric, we use navy blue cotton, and a piece of cardboard to set the cloth on so it will stay flat.  Five minutes before you go out, set the cloth outside so it can reach the outdoor temperature, otherwise the flakes will melt when they hit the cloth.

Once you are ready to go out let you little ones hold the cloth on the cardboard letting snow fall on the cloth.  After 30 seconds, go under shelter and look up close.  Among the clumps of flakes, you should see some individual snow crystals.


A wonderful books to learn about snowflakes and see them up close.
The beautiful enlarged photographs of snow crystals in this book put it at the top of my winter science reading list. It explores the science of snowflakes showing how they are formed and the different kinds of crystals. The authors, Jon Nelson and Mark Cassino, created a blog for the book where you will find photos, illustrations, videos, and a teacher's guide. Snowflake study is a wonderful way to use science to explore the beauty and order of creation. 

May you have time this week to enjoy nature and the beauty it holds.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Waldorf School Winter Faire

A few weeks ago we attended the Susquehanna Waldorf School's Winter Festival where we found...

The winter nature table welcomes all at the main entrance

School hallways cheery and bright

A little shop for children to purchase gifts for friends and family

Fun games and prizes for children.

The upper grades made special tree decorations

Sweet needle felted hedgehog ornaments

Ornaments that encouraged our wanderlust

Made by an 8th grade student

A tree decorated by the parents who made colorful paper ornaments


A shop with tempting toys for girls...
and boys of all ages.
Instruments waiting for little hands to make music
And a very happy boy enjoying the open-ended playground.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Copywork - I Heard the Bells...

I want to share quickly what we are doing for copywork right now.  We started copying and discussing the poem last Thursday.   Little did we know how appropriate it would be for events to follow.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th'unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
'There is no peace on earth, ' I said
'For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.'

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

May you have peace, hope, and joy this Christmas season.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will.

In the past, I have written about our homeschool adventure and how we tend to use the Charlotte Mason method and incorporate Waldorf techniques.  One of the many things I like about the Mason method is the idea of incorporating character development into our homeschool days. After all we are shaping our children’s minds, wills, emotions, and beliefs.  One of the fundamentals to developing one's character is the student motto:

"I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will."

Ambleside Online explains the motto in this way:

I Am . . . a child of God, a gift to my parents and my country. I'm a person of great value because God made me.
I Can . . . do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has made me able to do everything required of me.
I Ought . . . to do my duty to obey God, to submit to my parents and everyone in authority over me, to be of service to others, and to keep myself healthy with proper food and rest so my body is ready to serve.
I Will . . . resolve to keep a watch over my thoughts and choose what's right even if it's not what I want.

In leading my sons toward the motto, I tell them outright what my expectations are, expose them to things (art, literature, poetry, music, etc.) that will encourage noble thoughts, and teach them of real people, past and present, who have lived out I am, I can, I ought, I will.  Ultimately, my goal is that they will apply what they have observed to their own life.

 In our homeschool days, I have introduced "I am" by teaching my boys that they have a role to fulfill in both our family and the world at large, and that they are dearly loved.  We continue to work through "I can" by presenting academic and life skilsl challenges as something that they can accomplish although it may seem to take a long time and possibly be a struggle to master.  In our history lessons, we saw that people of the past, such as David and Joan of Arc, lived out "I am" and "I can" and did great things because of it.

Here is where some Waldorf ideas/techniques come in.  I also use the festivals and folk tales to encourage the boys to think about "I am" and "I can". For example, during Michaelmas, we talked about Saint George slaying the dragon.  In the story we read, Saint George and the Dragon, we saw that he did not question if it was his duty to protect Una nor did he say he could not do it.  I also try to model all four aspects in our daily life and guide the boys to do the same, usually without referring to the motto directly, but just in a "This is who God means for us to be" way.

We recently began to focus on "I Ought" and "I Will."  We began with a poem study.

How Doth the Little Busy Bee
by Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

We also read about a busy squirrel who keeps his focus on preparing for the upcoming winter although many animals invite him to distraction in one of our favorite Nancy Tafuri books:

For Aidan, who is seven years old, we are reading Robin Hood for his narration exercise, a simple telling back in his own words what he has heard.  This allows him to absorb the good deeds of Robin Hood and express in his own words what he remembers and admires in the story.  Inevitably, Aidan applies the deeds to himself and acts out the story in his play time.  Aidan is also a Wolf Cub in Boy Scouts, where there is a natural focus on the responsibility of each boy to his family and community.

It will be interesting to see how incorporating "I am, I can, I ought, I will" continues to guide our homeschool adventure. What a difference these eight words can make in our lives.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent - a time of Reverence, Love and Joy

Tomorrow is the beginning of our countdown to Christmas.  In addition to the Lego Advent Calendar given to the boys by my sister-in-law, we will use the Advent calendar from last year.  (One my mother made for my sister and I.) Like last year, the boys will have tiny treasures, ornaments to place on the felt Christmas tree, and words of encouragement in each little pocket. 
This year we are adding daily activities that will encourage us to have a spirit of Reverence, Love, and Joy.  I look forward to seeing their reaction as they find out what exciting activity awaits them each day! I'm thinking on some days, there will be squeals of joy and jumping up and down involved.  I got the idea from Joy at We're an Art Family where she keeps a beautiful, inspiring blog.
Some of the activities are specific to our location, but many can be done in families throughout the world.  Over the next few weeks, I will post links to the events and tutorials sharing how to do the crafts in the list.

Our countdown to Christmas activities.
We will also have an Advent wreath.  It is rather untraditional, with elements of nature that we enjoy.  We plan on using it to teach our boys that the wreath is a symbol of God's everlasting love and preparing our hearts for Christmas.  In the first week, we will light one candle in the evening at the dinner table and talk about how that candle represents Hope.  Over the next 3 weeks we will light the second candle (Preparation), third candle (Joy), and the fourth candle (Love).  On Christmas Eve, I will bring out a special candle, the unity candle from our wedding 12 years ago, and we will talk about the pure gift of the Christ child - the Light of the World.

Tomorrow will be a wonderful day! 
A day of new traditions.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ongoing thanks and our little handcraft

Thanksgiving day is past, but in our family, the sense of closeness stays strong with back-to-back birthdays for five days straight, ending tomorrow with my husband's birthday.  So our Thanksgiving decorations are still up and our hearts are warm with gratitude for each family member celebrated

While my sons are thankful that there have been few homeschool lessons over the past few days, I am thankful for the time we have together because of homeschooling.  One of the aspects of a Charlotte Mason education that I am implementing in our lessons is handwork.  Handwork is not making throw-away crafts, but taking time to make things that are useful. For our Thanksgiving feast, we made napkin rings that also serve as place cards. We will use them over and over again.

We cut a paper towel ring in to three inch pieces, glued on yarn, then watercolor leaves.  It was an easy project that I am sure we will do again in a few weeks for Christmas, replacing the leaves with fir trees or stars.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Late Autumn Nature Table

There was a time when our nature table was set with found treasures that filled the pockets of preschool and toddler boys after leisurely strolls.  Now that we are homeschooling, our nature table continues to change with the season and displays found treasures, but also reflects what we are learning in our lessons.

 Gone are the flowers and seashells of the summer nature table. Now, in late autumn, we have leaves and pebbles from nature study walks, half nuts used for counting, knights from our math stories, a felt bear out of his den preparing for a long hibernation, and a watercolor lantern lit for Martinmas.  Over the next few weeks, who knows what will find its way to the table.  Some gathered acorns?  A special feather? We never know what  will strike our fancy.  At any moment, a sweet child may come bringing a treasure imploring, "Mama, this has to go on the nature table!"  But one thing we know for sure...

Soon Jack Frost will arrive and our table will change again.

I've linked to the Magic Onion. Check it out for more inspiration.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Martinmas and November Verses

As the light recedes and the night grows long, I once again feel our family turning to the comforts of home in ways that we do not in the summer and early autumn.  After the children play outdoors, they come in seeking warmth and nourishment for both body and soul, running up to me to tell me of their adventures, asking for a hug and snack.

While I want my children to feel free to meet their needs, I want to also teach them that they have a responsibility to consider others even before themselves. Martinmas is a wonderful time to do this. Although we do not commemorate all the traditional festivals under the Waldorf spectrum, we do celebrate Michaelmas - when we learn to face our "dragons", and Martinmas - when we learn to let our light shine to others.

In a nutshell, Martinmas marks the burial of St Martin of Tours (316-397 AD). Martin is known for his compassionate gesture of sharing his cloak with a beggar and other acts of selflessness. The festival is the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas and a time to reflect on what dragons (fears, poor habits, etc.) have been slain, consider how we may take our new self and be a light in a dark world, and look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ.
Our chalkboard drawing for the week.
Shane's drawing of a lantern walk.

While my boys are too young to really grasp some of the darker aspects of this world, they are old enough to understand there is good (light) and bad ( dark) in the world and that they are charged with being good.  At this stage, I am to help them keep the light shining by filtering what influences enter their world (media, news, toys, etc.), introducing  them to deeper spiritual concepts (grace, gratitude, faith, etc.), and modeling these aspects in my own life.

In the Waldorf tradition, we made paper-mache lanterns, which the boys will carry on our night time walks this week as we discuss what it means to be a light in the world.

The lanterns are easy to make.  All you need is a balloon,
glue, a paint brush, and tissue paper.

Mix one part glue to one part water and paint the balloon
with  the glue mixture adding layers of pieces of tissue
paper as you go.

Make sure the lantern has at least 2 layers of tissue paper
all around and add more for the bottom so it will be strong
enough to hold the candle. Leave a few inches open at the top
Let it dry for a few hours.

When it is dry, pop the balloon and the balloon will pull
away from the tissue paper.  Cut a hole at the top large
enough to insert a candle.  Poke holes on opposite sides
and tie on a long string.  (If it is short, little ones may find their hand too close to the flame for comfort.)

Ready for an evening lantern walk with
a little boy who thinks making faces
is funny :)


During the last few weeks of November, I have found some verses we will use in our homeschool days for contemplation, copywork, and memorization:

"How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors.  It changes a child's personality.  A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people."-   Sir John Templeton

"A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made. The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air."-   Eric Sloane

"Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn."-   Elizabeth Lawrence

"How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.
At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow." 

-   Elsie N. Brady, Leaves

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

~John Muir

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ideas for Rainy Days in Autumn

Well, I have found that homeschooling really takes away from my blogging time.  I miss posting our fun projects and my thoughts, and hope to give myself more time to tell you about our days soon. But for now we have a hurricane barreling our way and very likely will be out of power for a bit.  So while I would love to take time to write about more of our lessons (Who knew studying the Roman Empire could be so much fun?!) and ways we are integrating Waldorf techniques into our lessons, for now I will share links to past posts with an autumn theme and activities to pass the rainy weather.


Colorful Felted Acorns

Corn Husk Dolls

Jack-O Poem

Indoor Autumn Tree

Autumn Leaves Fingerplay

Rhythm of the Season - Leaf Matching Game

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Learning about Christopher Columbus - combining techniques & theory into practice

Just a little more on how we incorporate Waldorf techniques into our Mason education: On Monday, Columbus Day, I wanted to teach the boys about Columbus and his 1492 voyage. Looking ahead, I also saw that in our 106 Days of Creation science study we had just finished learning about the atmosphere and were moving into wind and wind pressure, so I decided to combine history and science studies and throw in handicraft in the mix. First, we sat down to read In 1492 by Jean Marzollo and answered Who, What, Where, Why questions. Then it was on to the craft: walnut shell boats! I blogged about making walnut shell boats last summer and decided this was the perfect craft to accompany our history lesson.

*We started by painting watercolor sails*

*As the sails dried, I used an icepick and screwdriver
 to break the shells in half - a rather challanging task-
and cleaned out the inside*

*Next we filled the shells 1/4 way full with beeswax
and stuck in the toothpick mast with the paintd sails*

It only took a few minutes to dry and the ships were ready to sail in
a bowl of water - or the high seas when our imagination took off.

After a brief discussion about how wind pressure push against boat sails,
 the boys experimented with blowing through straws to see who could make
their boat move without blowing too hard, causing their boat to sink.
(If a boat tipped it would no longer sail becuase
the sail got wet and weighed down the boat.)
This was a great way for the boys to learn about so many subjects - history, geography, painting, and science!  And I am sure we will come back to our fun game of Sail the Ship many times in the next few months.

See Waldorf Wednesday for more inspiration.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Early Adventures in Homeschooling

We are three weeks into homeschooling and loving it, not that everything goes according to the smooth rhythm I had envisioned, but having fun nonetheless.On a few of the forums I joined, other homeschooling moms have asked for ideas on incorporating Waldorf techniques in a Charlotte Mason education.  While I certainly do not have it perfected, I thought I would share a few ideas that we are using.

To start, I try to set up a rhythm of the day, keeping in mind that a daily rhythm is not a schedule based around time, but more of a way to gently transition from one activity to another.  Young children work well with a song or fingerplay to transition, but my seven year old son wants something more concrete and visual, so I wrote different subjects and activities on small strips of cardstock and attach the ones we plan on doing to a string with a little clothespin.  As we complete each activity, we take it off  the line and move to the next. It sets up the day for him in such a way that he can literally see what we still need to accomplish and gives him the satisfaction of seeing a task finished.  Along with the subjects to be covered and activities to do are fun things, like "Play Outside for 30 minutes" & "Play with Legos" etc.  

In the next few weeks, I plan on refining our weekly rhythm and daily rhythm to include morning circle time, festivals - there are so many coming up - as well as incorporating additional subjects such as Nature Study and form drawing, and keeping a main lesson  book for math.

One of Aidan's favorite subjects is copywork in which he copies a short passage slowly and neetly.  It is a standard in Mason education and helps him learn to focus and appreciate the idea of doing his best instead of writing quickly.

For our first two weeks his copywork came in the for of a poem, writing one stanza per day and discussing the meaning of each stanza and looking at pictures that resemble the scene.

by Helen Hunt Jackson
The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bearing down.

The gentian's bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.

From dewey lanes at morning
The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer's best of weather,
And autumn's best of cheer.

But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.

'T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

Later in the second week, he copied some history facts as we moved from prehistoric times to ancient Egypt in our history lessons.  To make the lessons hands-on, I hid a secret message in our back yard and the boys pretended to be explorers/archaeologists looking for their Rosetta Stone, then deciphered our simplified "hieroglyphics" to reveal that in the next lesson they would build a pyramid out of Legos - oh that Aidan would be so excited about every history lesson! 

This last week, we began using wet-on-wet painting techniques in our studies.  Primarily by painting the cover of the books the boys will use to draw pieces of nature when they do their Nature Studies - but more on that later.

I am happy to see that so many of the traditional Waldorf techniques are fitting in nicely with our Charlotte Mason education.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Preserve the Nature Table

This time of year, many of us begin to consider how to alter our nature table to reflect the change of seasons.  Throughout our many season of having a nature table, we tend to take several days to move our nature table from one season to the next.  This summer, our table was filled with treasures collected from our Pennsylvania back yard, to the squares of Savannah, to Florida's Blue Spring State Park.  (It is amazing how much a 3 year old little boy can fit into his, and my, pockets!)

Now as we begin to transition to a fall nature table, the pebbles, twigs, shells, etc. need to move.  Usually we put them in a basket to look over and toss out the items we will not need for the next season, but this time we decided to preserve some of the special bits and pieces in a plaster of paris keepsake.

It's easy.  All you need is a small amount of powdered plaster of paris, water, paper bowl, and nature's treasures.

In the paper bowl, mix 1 cup of plaster of paris with 1/2 cup of water.
(An adult needs to begin the process as the powder is bad to breathe in.)  

Let the mixture set for about 1 minute then set in your treasures,
 pressing them just hard enough for them to be part way in the plaster.

After an hour your keepsake should slide out of the plate and
ready for your family to enjoy remembering the fun of the past season.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Looking to Days Ahead

Our home is still abuzz with summer fun, but I am looking toward autumn with excitement as we begin our homeschool adventure.  As my friends find out we have decided to homeschool our second grade son, they usually have  two questions: "Why?" and "How are you going to do it?" 

To the first, I explain that our good-natured, fun-loving son is waaayy too stimulated in the public school classroom and we want to take time to teach him skills that will help him learn to focus.  (My husband is a behavior therapist and will be a big help in achieving this goal.)  To the second question, I start off by saying that we are going to use the Charlotte Mason philosophy and incorporate Waldorf techniques.  At that point, most people just stare at me and blink, not having a clue what I am talking about.

To sum it up:

Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) was a British educator who created an education method based on the ideas that education has three aspects:  A child's home is a powerful learning environment that can be used to teach the whole child, the importance of instilling proper character and behavioral habits, and that we should encourage the child to love learning as a lifestyle, not just during study time, by presenting education as living thought not simply rote facts.  Some of the unique aspects to Mason education that drew me in include the variety of subjects taught, short lessons, narration, using living books, copywork, nature walks, keeping a nature notebook, hand crafts, and habit forming.  

While there are many things I like about the Mason method, I simply cannot let go of some wonderful aspects of Waldorf education such as chalkboard drawings, fairytales, festivals, wet-on-wet painting, math gnomes, and main lesson books.  I look forward to  incorporating them into our Mason education.

So in September, we will shift from carefree summer fun to creating a daily rhythm that includes homeschooling our 7 year old, and a encouraging a nurturing environment for our 4 year old.  I look forward to writing about the how-to aspects, my rambling thoughts, and our many adventures. Stay tuned, more is to come.

In the meantime, I have a big summer party to plan and am drawing deep from Naturally Fun Parties for Kids and will include a few ideas of my own.

My Sons, My Students.
Little bodies with big characters!

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