Our Favourite Everyday Curriculum: Exploring Nature With Children

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We spend an incredible amount of time outdoors, so it’s no surprise that I continually try to find ways to incorporate our adventure and exploration into our everyday school work. For the last year and a half, we have guided our home study around a fantastic curriculum called Exploring Nature With Children.  It gives children the opportunity to fall in love and connect with nature through a variety of mediums.    There are works of art work to look up, a themed poem and suggested reading supplements that you can add in order to explore the topics even further.  It’s perfect when teaching a variety of ages because everything can be simplified or expanded as needed.

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One of my favourite attributes of the Exploring Nature curriculum is the additional readings.  These you can find your own, however having a list of titles and authors allows for an easy lesson when you’re having a rough week and could use a little extra support.  Who doesn’t have one of those now and then, right?

Once a month we go to the library and take out the supplemental readings for the following few weeks.  Most of the artwork we look up online, but occasionally we take out a book for further study.

We each started a Nature Journal which we keep in our adventure packs.  We use this journal to document and draw different things that we learn about and examine each week.  As a family that spends a lot of time in the bush, I found the nature journal was a light and compact way to continue learning on the go.

Last year, while hiking the mountain with fellow homeschool friends we started a nature journal game.  The kids varied in age from 5 to 12, so we needed to find something flexible.  We separated (in a meadow, where we could still control safety) and found something to draw.  Afterwards we came back together, lay our sketches out and worked as a group to try and find the plants that others had done, using only the sketch as a hint.  Then we discussed the plants we couldn’t identify, looked them up and labelled them all.  When I look back through the last year of doodles, sketches and paintings that we’ve done in our books, those pages always make me smile.

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First fish caught solo and cooking for dinner.

NJ - Crabapples

I find this a very flexible curriculum, one that I can morph easily and change expectations based on age and ability of learner.  Sometimes the journal entries take over and become the kids favourite part, other times they find a strong connection within the examination of the subject or the themed  poem.  No matter which part they connect with in any given week, it’s never dull and the boys always look forward to it.

Although we used this last year, I find we don’t learn enough in a single week of study that doing it again the following year is repetitive.  Change it up, add more depth, a new set of eyes and get the family outside – that’s all it’s really about after all.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, pop over to Lynn’s site http://www.raisinglittleshoots.com and download it from there.  There is also a great Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/exploringnaturewithchildren with some of her stunning journal entries, a great community of like-minded adults and other Charlotte Mason style ideas to add to your week of study.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

 

Take A Moment

Homeschooling from a mountain top is like any homestead, small town, isolated place.  It’s you, your kids and if you’re super lucky a parenting partner for back up.  Nevertheless, there is a fine line between savoring your time together and getting all together touched out, talked out, space invaded and fed up with family time.

As parents we often feel this way and there are piles of social media posts, blogs, and books to back it up.  Memes about needing mommy time, wine o’clock, date night or any excuse for a breather flash across a parents screen daily.  It’s natural and it’s reasonable.  There are days, weeks or even months when your little one is extra clingy, touchy, angry, or needy.  The truth is that although there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way, we rarely give our kids the opportunity to feel the same.

Today during a typical “Why can’t you just be kind to your brother?” conversation, my eldest started to walk away.  I called him back to finish our conversation.  His response was “Do I have to?”  So, true to form I told him that he did.  You know the whole obey your parents, it’s rude to walk away in the middle of a conversation, you need to talk things through, blah, blah, blah.  However when we were through, I thought to myself he’s just peopled out and I didn’t give him the opportunity to feel that.  We’ve had a long couple of weeks as I have been sick and practically useless.  The boys have been a fantastic help and taken excellent care of me, but now that I’m on the mend we’re all starting to show the signs of needing some alone time.   We’re edgy, and short fused and wanting to be somewhere else for a few minutes.

Parents own the need of occasional personal space and alone time.  We are so confident that it’s OK to feel that way that we write jokes and memes and we even get it printed on shirts and the bottoms of our socks.  Growing up my mother had a magnet on the fridge that said “Raising kids is like being pecked to death by a chicken.”  She would laugh and laugh, show all her friends and I always felt bad.  I didn’t feel bad for me or my brother, but I felt bad that that was the feeling she was taking away from being a parent.  Luckily, I don’t feel that way about parenting, but I do know that I need healthy breaks for my sanity.  These breaks don’t even need to be away from my family, they can be in the garden, or in a book, or in a hot bath, or with a quiet whiskey under the stars.  They are simply small moments alone with my thoughts.

Our children have the right to these breaks as well, and typically we snag that from them.  We have all this “rule and order” that’s been passed down generation after generation on how kids should behave, but we rarely give them the same space to compose themselves that we take ourselves.  They need a moment to walk away and regroup, a moment to think about what they’re feeling to prevent a meltdown, a moment to not get corrected, hounded and managed.  Maybe they just need a little peace and quiet or the ability to say “in a minute” and keep playing with their toys without getting scolded.  With all I have in my heart I love my children, but sometimes I need a moment and so do my boys.

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A Toast: To the Mountain Dwellers

For the desperate and the depressed, impatiently waiting for Spring.

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The winters get long here. They’re lovely, serene and the depths of silence and snow hug you close through the cold stages and allow you to center yourself. The food is hot and nourishes the depths of your ever expanding winter belly. In some ways, we hibernate; like the bears we get silent and still and warm and fat. We find ways to survive the seemingly endless winter months, entertaining ourselves with the temporary pleasures of snow games and exploration. Then comes a point where the patience begins to wane and we start planning for spring, pretending we’re closer than we really are: Garden plotting, seed starting, hatching eggs, maintenance and renovation plans, fishing trips, camping goals and the dream of diving off logs into the cool crisp lakes. Wanting to stretch in the springtime sun as we emerge from our cocoon, refreshed and ready to take on the real new year.

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This moment however, is the hardest part of winter. When the warmth and brightness of spring begins to tease you and torment the soul you didn’t know was desperate. It’s a time to feel lost and lonely within yourself. Your ideas and effort are spent, the novelty of snow men, snowmobiles, snowshoeing and winter games have worn off, the holiday glow is long forgotten, and you’re desperate for change.

This is when I start to feel unsatisfied with who I am and what I’m doing. The big questions start rolling in: Why? Who am I? Other than a mother and a motivator for this stunning life we live, who am I? On the rare occasion that I walk alone, how is it I can’t talk to myself anymore? I’ve lost my inner voice, my constant. What do I need to do in order to find her again?

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I sit with a coffee staring at the beauty and grandeur of where I live, truly grateful for the luxury and a little guilty that at that moment I want more. Even though the days are getting longer and warmer something makes them drag on, for it’s still not enough. I long for the grass on my toes and the dirt between my fingers. I long for the blue glow from the TV to disappear. I long to sit on the deck with my love and drink whiskey while we stare at the sky, contemplating whether the city lights or the stars are further away.

So here’s a toast, to you and to me. A toast to the last stretch of winter and the sneaky arrival of spring. A toast for all of our desperate souls that seem to run out of patience and sink into despair at the same time every year. We’re almost there and it will be just as glorious as every single spring before.

A Game of Lost and Found

Empowering Children to conquer more and believe in themselves.

 

It has been cold here the last little while, hovering around -20 for over a week.  It’s hard to get out and get motivated in the winter sometimes, but I strongly believe that it’s more important in the winter.  It’s easy to sit inside and cuddle up with a book or binge watch Netflix and our modern day luxuries don’t force us outside like they did decades ago.  As a result, children and adults alike have far less winter skills that we used to – so we’ve decided to change that as a family.

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The beginning of our hike with Dad in the lead.

We find way to engage the kids outdoors and teach them skills without them realising it isn’t just a game.  My husband and I wanted to get them out for some fresh air and exercise, and the kids were in the mood to act like zombies, so like the good little mountain parents we occasionally are – we invented a game.  We played this amazing game a couple of weeks ago and it’s sure to be repeated many times even during the summer months. A game of  survival, critical thinking and adventure!

We drove up our mountain as far as we could get in 4 feet of snow, then proceeded to unloaded the kids and the snowshoes.  Once everyone was strapped in we went for a bit of a hike asking the kids to pay CLOSE attention to their surroundings as we walked.

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Five and Fearless

Once we’d gone a ways (with a clear snowshoe path leading back to the truck), we asked them to lead the way to the truck but they couldn’t take us on the same route.  They needed to think about it and find an alternate route that would take us to the same spot – cut their own trail, if you will. They looked slightly forlorn, as the forest canopy rose 60 feet above them and a deep quilt of snow covered the ground.

We talked about the surroundings, the details, the things they may not have noticed on their own.  We asked them to study the trail we had left in the snow and think about where the truck was.  Could they point in the direction it was parked?  We asked them to look at the sun and compare it to the position of their body while they faced the direction they intended to walk.  When facing the truck it was slightly passed their right shoulder.  We were less than 20 minutes from the truck so the sun would move very little before we returned.

We didn’t give them the compass, so the boys (aged 5 and 7) had to get us back on sheer brain power.  They looked around for a minute, talked about it between themselves, made a plan and off they went with dad and I in tow.

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Taking turns leading the way

They chose a pretty route that followed an active set of coyote tracks over a hillside and into the forest.  The ground was alive with animal activity.  They looked at the tracks and the different sizes, trying to guess how many were in the family.  It hadn’t snowed in several days, so it was possible that this was days worth of activity from the same family members, therefore increasing track numbers.  My husband tracks for a living so he was teaching them different ways to analyse them and to tell how fresh or old they were.

At one point our path started to shift a little north and we had to remind the boys to notice the sun and turn their bodies back to the body/sun position they had started with.  We climbed over boulders and logs, we dipped down below fallen trees and we trudged though snow as deep as the boys.  Just as they were getting a little frustrated and feeling the shadow of defeat creep up our truck appeared over the bank. Huge smiles of pride and success washed over their tiny faces.

It was a day of triumph.

 

Cheep! Cheep! Is that Spring I hear?

Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks

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Veronica – Barnevelder

Nothing says springtime like an incubator buzzing.  It’s always hard for me to wait and time my hatching just right.  It gets so cold here that I don’t like hatching before it warms up, but I need to balance that with being a rather inpatient gal.  I’m a lucky girl however, with a VERY good husband for he has allowed me to designate an entire room in my house to chickens.  I have a “chick room” designed simply for incubating, hatching and brooding chicks.  It’s fantastic in the early months of spring when it’s just a little too chilly to let those babies outside.  Who doesn’t love having chicks in the house anyway?

My Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks:

1. Handle Your Chicks Regularly. 12797998_254433651570763_393543114_n(1)

This makes your chicken life SO much easier.  The babies that I’ve hand raised are so much easier to deal with as adults, than adult chickens I have purchased.  If you ever need to handle or doctor your chickens, you’ll want them as calm as possible around you. (Make sure your hands are washed, so that you aren’t introducing germs, parasites or any potential diseases to your new babes.  This is especially the case if you have a flock of chickens, or are handling any other birds.)

 

2. Feed Age/Stage Appropriate Feed. 

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Using bribery to increase handling by children – Especially important with young roosters.

If you are raising chicks for the first time this is essential and you need to do some research.  The growth stages of chicks is fast and you don’t have a lot of time to remedy mistakes.  Protein, vitamin and trace mineral level needs very at every age stage and the results of using accurate levels will make a huge difference to your chicks.  They will be larger, stronger, healthier and produce less waste.  Read a couple of non-biased studies and you’ll see the difference.  Quality feed is well worth the small additional cost.

 

3. Invest in a Good Brooder.  

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Marbles in the water dish prevent drowning

You can buy awesome kits or complete brooders for raising your chicks, or you can make one and get the same results – your choice.  We built ours and the kids still love adding new things to keep the chicks happy and entertained.  You can see some great ideas for brooders and coop ideas here. Your chicks need a warm, safe place to grow.  They need ample fresh water, food and a clean space to move and grow.  The temperature should be around 90F for the first week, and should be reduced by around 5 degrees each following week, until the chicks have their all of their feathers.  If your chicks are huddled up to or under your heat source it’s not warm enough, however, if they are all as far away from your heat source as possible it’s too warm.

Note: The chicks have moved the shavings away from the paper they are standing on, and you DO NOT want your chicks standing on plain newspaper – Bullet 4 will cover this.

chicken splint4. Keep them on a textured surface. 

This is a factor that most new chick owners are unaware of.  Chicks need to be kept off of anything slippery: newspaper, vinyl, linoleum, hardwood etc… Although handy and generally easy to clean those little feet have nothing to grip onto and some pretty serious developmental issues can follow.  Splayed leg for instance, where one or both of their legs slides to the side (looking similar to a break), makes the chick unable to walk.  Typically this results in the chick getting culled or you playing chicken doctor like me and finding a way to make the worlds smallest splint.  Let me tell you this was one of the most time consuming and frustrating jobs of my life.

I tend to have multiple surfaces in my brooder, typically shavings on one side and a folded towel on the other.  My brooder is large with a lot of room to exercise and we add stimuli to keep them thinking and prevent boredom.  I elevate the water, to prevent getting shavings inside.

5. Introduce to the Flock Early 

When, where and how you introduce chicks to the rest of your flock depends on several factors.  What is the season and temperature outside, for you need to make sure your chicks are fully feathered and old enough to withstand and temperature changes without a hen to keep them warm.  How large is your flock and how sensitive your flocks pecking order is also plays a huge role, as your chicks safety is your number one concern.  Also, it’s never a good idea to just throw your babies in the coop.  When I am introducing chicks I set up a metal crate inside the coop and the chicks live in the crate for several days but separated for their safety.  I find this gives them a good opportunity to watch and learn.  They see how the older chickens interact with each other, and they get a feel for the pecking order without having to be apart of it.  It also gives my hens an opportunity to watch the chicks and get comfortable with them.  When i’m ready to release, I do it at night with the lights out.  Typically, when the chickens wake up no one is the wiser, however, I do leave the crate in the coop with a small barrier door (chicks fit under but chickens don’t), so that if needed the chicks have a safe place to run and hide.  My goal is to have my chicks out and learning from the masters early.

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Sprout (the worlds kindest rooster) leading some girls out for a morning stroll.

 

Let Them Be Wild

Learning how to let go, even just a little bit.

As a fairly neurotic parent, I find great difficulty letting go of the reins and allowing my children to venture and learn solo.   Nevertheless, I believe at the core of my soul that letting them loose and controlling less is ultimately going to create, in my case, better men.  It is impossible to grow and learn and develop when we’re stifled.  Take a candle for instance, with a little room to breathe it burns but it will not grow, give it even less space and it will suffocate completely.  let me be wild I find that children living under helicopter parents are similar.  They don’t have the opportunity to learn anything; they’re spoon fed information and there is almost no engagement whatsoever.  How many times do you see parents answering the questions they just asked, or asking leading questions to “help” them find the answer?  It’s like we assume our kids are adorable little morons.  Personally I fight hard not be that parent, so if this sounds familiar don’t fret just keeping trucking.  At least if we’re trying it means we care, and that is more than our kids could ever ask for.  When in doubt help less.

When we moved to this mountain top all my boys wanted to do was run.  They wanted to kick off their shoes and get lost in the woods.  We did lots of hiking and foraging and collecting leaves and flowers and seeds that we found on our journeys, but they really wanted to test their skills solo.  Now we’re on 6 acres of land that backs onto endless miles of crown land (or government land depending on where you’re drinking your coffee at the moment).  We can walk out of our back gate and literally go forever, it’s fantastic.  At 4 and 6 years old however, I wasn’t about to let my kids run rampant in the forest.  As a true-to-form helicopter parent from the suburbs I wanted to see them, hear them, tell them to be careful stepping over that log and to watch out for the stinging nettles.  Nevertheless, I dug down deep and mustered a solution that allowed them to be “free” and me to be able to hover – I strapped our dogs tracking collars to their backpacks.  I could stand on the deck, or do the dishes and watch every single step they took, the direction they were looking and the meters from my handheld.  It was brilliant.  We had a strict rule that they needed to stay on the path that we’d made and take a dog, which didn’t allow them nearly as much distance as they felt (and it kept them within hearing range), but it allowed them out of the gate and into the wild ALONE.  They walked this path, with their Adventure Packs and all the survival skills they’d been taught about 100 times this past year.

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There is nothing my kids love more than hitting the trails and bringing things home to examine and wonder about.  Our rock collections are ridiculous and I always seem to have seeds and feathers and bones scattered on every flat surface in my house.  They search for treasures and creatures, they track different animals and compare their features. They practice physics and the laws of motion, they experiment with biology and study taxonomy.  They learn patience and care and measuring and monitoring.  They are better students because they are wild, because we let them loose.  We learn so much about the world around us, that often I go in with a plan or a lesson in mind and when we emerge from the bush the list of things we learned is only outdone by the list of things I need to look up because I didn’t go in prepared with the answers.

It’s hard some days to find a balance, or even to find my footing.  It takes a lot of motivation (for me) to get out, and some serious effort to foster their focus without controlling the learning.  I try and take a jump in/step back approach.  When I see a learning opportunity, I highlight it or point it out, ask a question that requires some critical thought and then step right back out of the situation while the wheels turn.  I keep a notebook for questions that they ask so that I can look up the answers when we get home.  Nothing is more humbling that home or forest schooling to remind you of how little you actually know about the world.

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So take this bit of encouragement from a mom that tries and fails regularly, because it’s still working.  Despite my failures, I can see that it’s working because I am watching my boys become everything I’d ever hoped they would become: strong, independent, intelligent, brave, kind and self reliant.

Get outside, follow their lead and learn whatever they’re in the mood for.  Find the strength inside to get outside, even on the days you want to binge watch the latest trash TV or become a FB zombie.  Let them go, let them run ahead without you.  You’ll catch up and they’ll have stories of adventure when you get there.

 

 

 

“… But can’t you hear the Wild? – it’s calling you.  Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know.  There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, and the Wild is calling, calling… let us go.” – The Call of The Wild, By: Robert Service

 

So You Think You Want a Coonhound?

Dixie - The one that started it all

If anyone reading this has had a hound I think it’s fair to say you understand the love-hate relationship.  They can be fantastic!  Loving, gentle, phenomenal hunting dogs and a go-go-go temperament when you want them to be, but turn a switch and they can play dead for 23 hours beside you on the couch.  However, they remind me of the nursery story The Little Girl with the Curl, “when she was good she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!” That pretty much sums them up.

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Scarlet

I have spent more nights chasing hound dogs up the mountain and making “friends” with neighbours bringing my dogs home than I can count.  Here’s the thing though, hound dogs were never my thing – they were my husbands dream.  He’d grown up with the fantasy of having a couple of loyal hounds as hunting buddies.  That mans-best-friend vision that was likely instilled in him as a child watching Where the Red Fern Grows.  At last his dreams came true about 6 years ago when we found someone living in an apartment in downtown Vancouver with a 6 month old redbone coonhound that was simply “too much” for them.

Now I’m not sure what’s wrong with some of you city folk (and I’m from the suburbs), but DO YOUR RESEARCH before you buy a bloody hound dog!  We now have 4 hounds and most of them were dogs we took from people living in the city that couldn’t handle them once they passed the cute stage.  The last darling we got (and I’m NEVER looking for more dogs) was a 14 month old Bluetick hound that the owners had to get rid of because he wouldn’t stop barking.

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Cinco – Finally a home where he fits

His yard was a 10 x 10 and he lived largely locked up – no wonder he was vocal.  We contacted the owners and he had bounced to 3 different homes in 5 days because no one could handle such a boisterous and loud dog.  Here he is chilling out on the couch after 8 hours of running and playing on our property.  Now he’s darling and I love him to death, but it takes a special kind of place for a dog who jumps fences, takes off into the mountains, barks A LOT and needs more than a walk around the block as exercise.  He’s like having another child.

We struggled with our first hound Dixie when we lived in the city because it was SO HARD to keep her home.  She was a master sneak.  If anyone left a door ajar or a gate not quite latched she was G-O-N-E.  I felt like the worst dog owner on the planet, and I certainly ranked up there.  I had little kids and people coming in and out all day long.  Even with gates on the decks and on the yards, accidents happened biweekly at least.  Finally we got to move to the mountains, where life fits us all a little better.  But with the move, strangely enough came… more hounds.  I wonder if deep down that was part of the appeal for my husband to move to a sky line?

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Old Blue and our boys

So now we have 4 hounds a Redbone named Dixie and 3 Blueticks Scarlet, Cinco and Blue.  Now when we moved here our property wasn’t fenced, so we dropped a small fortune into fencing it for dogs.  Field and Farm wire fencing around the entire perimeter and rail fencing within the property for livestock.  It was a monster job and it took forever!  Now that’s it’s done, we still have escapees on a regular basis because if the chase is good enough all three Blue ticks jump (let me reiterate how painful and expensive the fencing was).  We had bears regularly throughout the summer come down and hop our fence to eat the horse hay – I don’t know if that made them brave or stupid but did it drive the dogs insane!  It felt like almost daily I was going outside to absolute silence, knowing full well that I was packing kids into the truck and heading up the logging roads to look for dogs, it was enough to drive you X%#$ing bonkers!  Yet here I am with the stay-home hounds Scarlet and Blue outside lounging in their heated custom dog houses, Dixie the chronic sneak sleeping on my bed and Cinco nursing his icy run-away wounds by my feet.

Like I said before, it’s a love-hate relationship and a TON of work monitoring them.  They need to MOVE and they are born to follow that nose.  Think long and hard about this one….

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Scarlet – 13 months