Curriculum Overview: Exploring Nature with Children

One of the reasons I choose to homeschool is to give our children the time and space to study the natural world around them. Rather than simply looking at pictures in a book, they are able to experience the world for themselves. Nature study is an essential part of a Charlotte Mason home education. I love this article from Simply Charlotte Mason about its importance.

When I began learning about the importance of nature study, I felt lost on where and how to begin. I wasn’t sure how to teach it – especially since I am not incredibly knowledgeable about nature subjects myself. Then I found Exploring Nature with Children!

Processed with VSCO with a9 presetExploring Nature with Children is truly one of a kind. It is a year-round nature study manual that dives in week-by-week into different topics, according to the months and seasons. Everything you need to teach your students about the natural world around them is offered in this gorgeous guide. Topics like the plant life cycle, weather, evergreens, and the moon are all covered in Exploring Nature with Children.

Each week offers:

  • Easy to understand information about each subject for the teacher to learn before teaching. They also include relevant pages to read in The Handbook of Nature Study to better prepare yourself for the lesson
  • A nature walk & nature journal activity
  • A picture book list for additional reading about the topic
  • A selection of poetry that ties in with the theme of the week
  • A piece of artwork that correlates with the topic of study, along with questions to prompt discussion
  • Extensions activities such as crafts, writing ideas, and music appreciation

One of the best parts about this curriculum is that it isn’t age-specific. Lynn Seddon, the author, wrote this guide in a way that can easily be adapted to the youngest or the oldest of nature learners. We have dabbled in it up until now, but this school year I will be diving in head-first with it, and I am just so excited! I look forward to many, many years of using Exploring Nature with Children in our home education, beginning this Autumn. I hope you will join us!

Follow Lynn on Instagram @raisinglittleshoots and see how others are using Exploring Nature with Children. You can purchase the full curriculum here.

Preparing to Homeschool in an RV: Part One

Processed with VSCO with c3 presetI recently announced on Instagram that my husband and I purchased an acre and a half of gorgeous wooded property to build our dream home on. This has been a goal of ours for many years, and we couldn’t be more ecstatic that it is finally happening! When looking at our options for where to live while the build is being completed, we decided to purchase an RV! Before beginning our hunt, I had never even stepped foot inside of an RV. Now, only a week after making our decision, there is a 33-foot house on wheels sitting in our driveway, waiting for us to make it our home.

Naturally, one of the first questions rolling around in my head when making this decision was, “What am I going to do with all of my homeschool stuff?! Where am I going to store everything?” I quickly realized that I would have to be intentional everything I decided to bring with us in our interim home. The storage space in an RV is limited, so I only chose the materials that I absolutely LOVE and plan to use often. I know most of you won’t be homeschooling from an RV, but I wanted to share this list of minimalist homeschool supplies to show that you can educate well even if you live in a small home or lack a dedicated homeschool space.

Processed with VSCO with a2 presetBible

Leading Little Ones to God

We are working our way through this devotional and I really love the content and the language used to describe the bible stories and apply them to our lives. I also like that each entry gives discussion questions, a hymn or song, and scripture for us to look up separately.

Jesus Storybook Bible

This story bible is written so beautifully and every story points to Jesus. We have read it over and over and the kids just love it!

The Adventure Bible

This is the children’s Bible that we use to look up the passages shared in the devotional, as well as read as a family.

Attributes of God cards

We are loving these cards from Tiny Theologians. Each card has one attribute, a description, and a passage of scripture to read. We add one a day to our Morning Time, read the card and create a hand motion to match the attribute.

Processed with VSCO with a2 presetHandwriting

Small chalkboards, chalk, and small sponge squares

I use the small chalkboards to teach all of the uppercase letters and numbers, using the Wet-Dry-Try method from Learning Without Tears. I have found it to be a highly effective multi-sensory way to teach and practice proper letter formation. If you are unfamiliar, I found a video that shows the Wet-Dry-Try method here.

Large chalkboards

I use these large lined chalkboards to teach and practice lowercase letter formation and word writing. I also use the Wet-Dry-Try method with these boards.

Salt trays

Another sensory method to practice letter formation is using salt trays. Children practice by forming the letter with their finger in the salt. The trays I use are leftover from Melissa & Doug products that I previously bought. I find that they are the perfect size, depth, and shape.

Sandpaper cards

These tactile cards reinforce letter formation as well. We also sometimes use them as a moveable alphabet to spell words or match capitals with lowercase.

Handwriting Without Tears books

These are the handwriting books we use and love. I have one teacher’s manual and each of the kids have their own workbooks.

Learning Without Tears paper

For additional practice, I have two types of paper from Learning Without Tears. The Gray Block paper reinforces uppercase letter formations and the lined paper is the next level for practicing lowercase, as well as word and sentence writing.

Primary journals

These journals have lines on the bottom of each page and a blank space for drawing a picture on the top.

Processed with VSCO with a2 presetMath

The Good and The Beautiful Math K curriculum

This is the math curriculum we are using and we love the hands-on approach it offers. In order to continue with it, I need to bring the course manuals, a binder to keep my son’s completed worksheets, and the included manipulatives which I organized in this box.

Geoboards and rubberbands

The kids love to use these geoboards to practice making shapes and other designs. They’re also amazing for fine motor strengthening.

Games For Math book

I like to look through this book for inspiration for hands-on and movement games to reinforce something we are learning in math.

Kindergarten Toolkit Cards

This pack has numbers, shapes, and letters, but I use them mostly in addition to our math lessons.

Processed with VSCO with a2 presetPhonics

Explode the Code books

I LOVE these books for phonics practice. I have a few different levels, for each child and for when my son progresses to the next level.

Moveable alphabet

I made this moveable alphabet using wooden letters, a plastic organizer, and letter stickers. I found all of these materials at Michael’s. I also brought a little piece of felt for them to use it on.

Dash into Learning curriculum

This is a wonderful program for beginning readers. My four year old daughter loves the stories, games, and illustrations. I printed everything and organized it all in a 3-ring binder.

Processed with VSCO with a2 presetOther materials

Individual chalkboards and stand

I plan to use these in place of our large chalkboard for everything. My husband made me the little white stand to make them able to stand up on the table. I also use the stand to display artwork or an open book.

Clipboards

We will need these for taking lessons outside or sitting on the couch.

Small bowls and trays

I use little bowls and trays everyday to put little things that we need while we work. They’re perfect for manipulatives, chalk, and tiny craft items like cut up paper or sequins.

IMG_20190602_145648_260

All of these things fit in one box, ready to be brought into the camper! Stay tuned for Part Two of this series where I will share what we will be using for our main curriculums for the next school year, and everything I need to bring to use them. I also plan to show you how I store everything once I figure that out. I hope that was helpful to you! If you have any questions about any of the products or materials, leave a comment!

Homeschooling with Baby in Tow (and our updated Daily Rhythm)

Babies bring joy, delight, and fun to a family, but they also bring change and adjustments. I’ve shared about our homeschool daily rhythm in the past, but things have changed quite a bit since Huck joined our family in August. I try to balance giving him the attention that he needs while also maintaining the homeschooling routine that we were thriving in before he arrived. I am hesitant to share what I have been doing to make it all manageable because I am fully aware that every baby, mama, and home culture is different. What works for me may not work for you. I have decided to share, nonetheless, in case something that has helped us will give you new ideas try in your own home.

Processed with VSCO with s2 presetBefore I share my tips and rhythm, I’ll describe our current family dynamics, so you can have an idea of our unique challenges and draw from the tips that are applicable to you. My baby is 9 months old and takes 2-3 naps around the same times each day (this took months of work and we are finally there just recently). He is pulling up and crawling and attempting to eat every tiny object he can get his hands on. Part of our routine includes me sitting down to breastfeed him 4-5 times a day.

My older son is 6 and we are somewhere between kindergarten and 1st grade in his work. He is very easily distracted and needs my full attention for at least a portion of school time or I lose him completely. My daughter is 4 and only attends Morning Time, and then she is free to play independently or stay near us and do crafts at the table. My husband works full-time out of the home from about 7:30am-5pm each weekday. I don’t have a maid or chef, so keeping my home in order while feeding all of these people must also be a part of my routine or things go downhill quickly.

Here are a few tips that have worked for us:

Processed with VSCO with a2 presetSchedule your day around baby’s naps

I work really hard to get my babies on a consistent nap routine after those newborn months. Once you have established a nap rhythm for your baby, you can schedule the rest of your daily tasks around it. Even if you don’t have a time set for naps, you can still plan to save certain tasks for the time slot when baby is napping. In an ideal world, we would be able to squeeze all of our schooling in while the baby is asleep. Since that isn’t always possible, I look at our schedule and decide which parts of school are the top priority to be distraction-free. For us, that is Morning Time and our handwriting lesson.

Have everything prepared before you put the baby down for their nap so you can utilize every minute of undistracted time with your older child. For us that means 15 minutes before his nap I have the kids clean up any messes in the main area of the house, clear the table where we do school, and get their snack and water. As soon as I lay the baby down I can jump right in to our lessons. You can see how this plays out in my detailed schedule below.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetPlan to be home more

This has been key to maintain peace in this season of our lives. Before Huck arrived I counted on mornings for chores and school and afternoons for adventuring, errands, or playdates. Now, I have to spread out school activities and household tasks throughout the entire day, depending on when the baby is content or napping. I find that I lose control of my home and our schooling gets pushed to the back burner on the weeks that I plan too many outside activities. For now, since my son is so young, I am not too concerned with checking all the academic boxes each day. Play and being outside take priority at this age, but I can imagine as we enter more formal schooling that making the choice to stay home more will be the key to peaceful and productive days.

Processed with VSCO with  presetTrain your older children to help

As much as I try to do our structured activities when the baby is napping, it doesn’t always pan out that way. If I am working with my son and the baby is awake, my four year-old knows how to keep him entertained and safe. While always in my eyes’ sight and a few steps away, I can count on her to occupy him for a short time while I wrap up a lesson. We teach our children that as a family, we all have a responsibility to help and serve one another. Sometimes that looks like getting a diaper for mama or watching out that the baby doesn’t eat something too small that was dropped on the floor. I try not to count on this for too long or too often as they are still so young and easily distracted from their task, but it can usually buy me a few minutes.

It has been trial and error for sure, and while no two days are the same, we have arrived (for now) in a rhythm that is working for us! Here is what a day typically looks like when we stay home:

Our Daily Rhythm

5:30-7am

I wake up, enjoy some coffee and silence and spend time reading, praying, and preparing my heart for the day. The kids start waking up between 6:30-7 and I snuggle them and change and nurse the baby.

7-8:45am

I make breakfast and pack my husband’s lunch. He is usually walking out the door around 7:30. During this time the kids and baby are playing in the living room which I can see from the kitchen. While everyone eats, I spend this time starting laundry, doing dishes, preparing any last minute things for school activities, and getting myself ready for the day. When the kids are done eating, they clear the table and play until I tell them it’s time for “quick tidy.” Sometimes I can do these things while the baby is in the highchair and other times I tote him around with me.

8:45-9am

I call the kids together for “quick tidy” which simply means they need to get dressed and clean up the main living area and table from any messes they made during the morning. Then they get themselves a snack and water and go to the table for Morning Time. I keep homemade trail mix in the bottom of the cupboard and bowls and cups within their reach. This is always their morning time snack because it has lots of small pieces and keeps little hands busy while I read! Having the same snack every morning also eliminates requests and whining for something else. While they are getting set up for Morning Time I put the baby down for his nap.

9-10/ 10:30am

Baby is napping! Sometimes we can fit all of our school activities in this time block and other days we only get through Morning Time and one other area before the baby wakes up. If you aren’t familiar with Morning Time, it is simply a time that everyone gathers to begin the day. For us it currently includes reading and discussing our devotional, practicing finding scriptures in the Bible and reading it, praying , singing a song or hymn, practicing our memory verse, reading some poetry, and reading a few picture books aloud. I also use this time to have my son practice his reading aloud to us. If we have finished all of that and the baby is still sleeping I will go ahead with handwriting lessons with my son. We are currently using Handwriting Without Tears and love it.

10:30- 2pm

Once the baby is awake I change and feed him and the kids are off to play. They usually go play outside during this time until I call them in for lunch. We may take a picnic outside and continue playtime out there until it’s time for baby to take his second nap. Sometimes they spend this time inside playing or drawing and crafting at the table and I will work on some chores. Around 1:45pm I call them together to clean up any messes they’ve made during playtime or take a bath if messy, muddy play happened. If my daughter is still engrossed in play I will let her continue and only call my son in.

Processed with VSCO with s2 preset2-3:30pm

My son and I pick up where we left off in the morning, doing Handwriting lessons, our math lesson for the day, and any nature study or art project I have planned. This is also the time we have Read Aloud Tea time on some days, which is simply what it sounds like! A snack, some tea or juice, and I read our current chapter book aloud. My younger daughter can be as involved in all of this as she would like to be, but isn’t required to.

3:30-5pm

Baby wakes up and I feed, change, and play with him. The kids play outside again or free play inside until I allow them to watch a show around 4:30pm while I prepare dinner. They are currently enjoying Vooks, where they can watch animated books read aloud to them. I try to straighten up the house in this time as well.

5-6pm

My husband comes home and we all eat dinner together. If the baby had short naps throughout the day, he may nap again for 30-45 minutes during this time.

6-7:30pm

I usually take an evening walk with the entire family or just the baby after dinner. Then I come home and put the baby down at 7 or 7:30pm. Then I clean up from dinner and my husband puts the two older children to bed by 7:30 as well.

7:30-9:30pm

Rest! I spend the last two hours of my day showering, reading, spending time with my husband, blogging, or anything else I want. Before going to sleep I try to set myself up for success for the next day by tidying up the main living area and setting out anything I need for dinner prep and school activities.

Ideally, we would do all of our school in one time block each day, preferably mornings, but with a baby in tow I have to work with what undistracted time I have! I hope seeing our day detailed out is helpful to you. Now that I finally have a good routine going I am certain things will change because babies like to keep us on our toes! The goodness and sweetness of a new baby far certainly outweigh the challenges.