Monday, April 24, 2017

Moms Need Wonder Too

"Wonder" is a word that is part of my foundational philosophy of education. When I think about the ideal childhood, it is one that allows lots of room for wonder.

Charlotte Mason herself used the term when she describes the outdoor life of children. It is something she believed was essential in the child's development generally, and more specifically in their encounters with the the natural world.

On page 44 of Volume 1, she speaks of the need for children to be let alone for much of their time outside, in order,

"to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this - that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of pace, wherein to wonder - and grow." 

I think that wonder is a foundational posture for education. For me, wonder encompasses receptivity, humility, and curiosity.

In a sense, it is a child's natural, God-given disposition to the world. It can be crushed, or it can be cultivated. It is part of the atmosphere of education, and it is a powerful tool indeed. Wonder opens us up to new observations, new encounters, and new ideas.

A case study for wonder can be found on pages 53-54. Mason quotes Leigh Hunt when speaking about the child's study of flowers, and I think the section is worth re-quoting here:

'"Suppose," says Leigh Hunt, "suppose flowers themselves were new! Suppose they had just come into the world, a sweet reward for some new goodness . . . Imagine what we should feel when we saw the first lateral stem bearing off from the main one, and putting forth a leaf. How we should watch the leaf gradually unfolding its little graceful hand; then another, then another; then the main stalk rising and producing more; then one of them giving indications of the astonishing novelty - a bud! then this mysterious bud gradually unfolding like the leaf, amazing us, enchanting us, almost alarming us with delight, as if we knew not what enchantment were to ensue, till at length, in all its fairy beauty, and odorous voluptuousness, and mysterious elaboration of tender and living sculpture, shines forth the blushing flower."'

"The flowers, it is true, are not new; but the children are; and it is the fault of their elders if every new flower they come upon is not to them a ... mystery of beauty to be watched from day to day with unspeakable awe and delight.' [...] All this is stale knowledge to older people, but one of the secrets of the educator is to present nothing as stale knowledge, but to put himself in the position of the child, and wonder and admire with him; for every common miracle which the child sees with his own eyes make of him for the moment another Newton."

Ah, here is a secret of educators - to wonder alongside the child. To encounter the thing together, as though for the first time. Not to dampen the experience with our own superiority or over-familiarity. Our approach is catching. If we have grown cold to these common miracles, our children may shrug them off as unworthy of their attention and affection.

But if we are willing to stoop down just a little, to make ourselves just a little smaller, perhaps we can again be captured by the grandness of God's world. We are His creatures, after all. Perhaps we can pray for our own spirit of wonder to be renewed. I don't think we ever grow out of this need for receptivity, humility, and curiosity. Moms need wonder too.

I can't think of any better way to share a sense of wonder with our children than to explore and enjoy nature together. And with this shared wonder, there's a good chance a shared joy will spring up as well. If we're missing that sense of delight in our lives, perhaps a trip to the woods or the river or even just the backyard is in order. Go with an open heart. Go and marvel at the softness of emerging buds, the music of the water, or the colours of the sky. Step back. Take it all in with the children. Wonder - and grow.

~ Lindsey

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Outdoor Life Challenge: Week 3 Log

We seem to be having a slowly revolving bout of sickness in the house. Two more kids affected this week. It makes it much more difficult to be outside. Still, we are trying!


1. Time Outside Together

I didn't record daily times this week. There's been a lot of other things going on around the house and with school too. I find it really hard to relax and enjoy time outside when I know there are things inside that really need my attention. It's disheartening to come back in to a mess. With housework, it's so easy to fall behind, and so hard to catch back up! It's probably time for a good spring cleaning,  to clear the space both physical and mental.

Our best day out was Friday. We all went out after lunch, with the baby bundled up in stroller. We walked around the property and into our little woods a little way, but it was too muddy to bring the stroller on the path. We had an enjoyable time inspecting trees for buds (the Manitoba maple's buds are out!), checking on the saplings we planted a couple years ago, and noticing the different kinds of new green growth peeking out of the ground. I know green will win over brown in the end, and I'm longing for that day!

2. Eat Outside

Between sickness and weather, we didn't get to do this.

3. Nature Journalling

Oh dear, this week is not looking good! We were going to do nature journalling on Friday afternoon. But then Micah had some time off and the kids went out with him. No journalling, but still time outside, and with Dad, so that was all good.

4. Default Outdoor Play

Oh, maybe when we don't have to put on hats and mitts this will be easier! At least for me! It will take some time to make this a habit.

5. My Own Nature Education

I've read a little more through Volume 1. I love what Charlotte Mason says about wonder. I plan to do a little post on that soon.

In many ways this week feels like a failure. I think I was out with the kids twice? But we're not giving up anyhow! Spring seems sluggish, yet we press on . . .

~ Lindsey

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Outdoor Life Challenge: Week 2 Log

I am posting this a week late. Last week I was still under the weather, and then we had Easter weekend and a birthday on top of that! Whew! This week has been a catch up week in many ways.

I didn't record our time everyday, and now looking back things are a bit of a blur. The kids went out every morning by themselves. I think I got out a few times with them, and they stayed out for longer when I came back in. The weather has still been up and down.


1. Time Outside Together

The kids are helping me out with this by asking me when I'm coming out with them! It's a good thing, especially on days when I don't "feel" like going out. Or when the weather is less than "fine."

One day when I wasn't feeling great at all, I went out and lay on the little hill in our front yard while the kids played. It was windy, but the sun was out. We tried a session of "Sight-Seeing." I called the kids over and said we would play a little game. I told them to go down to the big stump by the river and find out everything they could about it. I told them they could look, listen, touch it, smell it, and even taste it. "TASTE IT?" they said. "Yep!" I laughed, pretty sure there wasn't anything poisonous growing on it. "You can lick it if you want." Well, they thought that was grand, and off they went. They spent a few minutes down there, then ran back to report. My 5 year old wasn't interesting in telling me anything (no big deal), but my almost 7 year old gave me quite a detailed report about how the new branches were growing out of the stump, the condition of the buds, the exposed roots, and that there was a white fungus that was both squishy and firm growing near the ground. (Ok, maybe there was a poisonous fungus, but they had the good sense not to lick that part of the stump!) I was quite impressed with her little "narration."

2. Eat Outside

One morning we took our snack and Morning Time out to the sunny front porch. We read the Bible and our poetry outside. I hope to do this more when the weather improves. It's just a few steps from our dining room where we normally have our Morning Time.

3. Nature Journalling

I did one entry this week. We've been learning how to spot the difference between a raven and a crow. I have no problem if they're side by side, but sometimes from a distance it's hard to tell. I can almost always tell the voice of a raven though. It's part of the soundtrack of my northern upbringing. We have more crows than ravens around here. One day a few months back I was out for a walk, and I heard the distinctive and rather comical croak of a raven in a tree right above me. It made smile, because they have such an interesting vocabulary!

4. Default Outdoor Play

This is still a work in progress. One day the kids brought a bunch of toys out to the front porch, which is not exactly what I have in mind by outdoor play, but it still got them in the fresh air and sunshine, so that was good!

5. My Own Nature Education

I didn't have the energy for reading of any kind this week. But I do feel more solid in my raven vs. crow characteristics. I find it very satisfying to know these things. I can't help but feeling like the birds are my friends somehow, and I like to know about them!

~ Lindsey

Friday, April 7, 2017

Outdoor Life Challenge: Week 1 Log

I'm writing this on the first truly warm spring day! It's +16!!! I feel giddy! Maybe the winter will finally end!

Here's a log of our outdoor time this week.


It was sunny, but with a strong north wind, it was a rather miserable day to be outside! Nevertheless, we made an effort. It was way too windy for the baby, so I went out with the older two while she was napping. First we discovered buds starting to open on our big old Manitoba Maple beside the house. We walked down to the river to check out some other trees. The little Sugar Maple's buds were still tightly closed. The kids noticed that underneath the half-frozen hillocks of last fall's long grass there was new green grass growing! They were pretty excited. I was in and out for a bit, checking on the baby, putting supper in the oven, taking the mail inside. When the wind got to be too much, we sat on the sunny side of the house where it was sheltered. The kids wanted to do a rainbow scavenger hunt, so we tried to find a few colours along the side of the house. The most interesting find was a red ladybug. :)

Kids: 30 min in the morning
All together: 60 min in the afternoon


Another chilly day. We went out for about 40 min after lunch, and headed out again later while the baby was sleeping. This time, we got to talking with our neighbour, and invited her in for fresh banana bread! So while our outdoor time was cut a little short, being outside gave us opportunity for a much-welcomed visit.

Kids: 30 min in the morning
All together: 60 min in the afternoon


Wednesday afternoons we go into town for gymnastics. By the time that was over and we had gone grocery shopping and run errands, it was almost supper time! So we didn't get out together. I'm thinking I'll have to be creative on Wednesdays if we're going to be outside much, at least in the afternoons.

Kids: 30 min in the morning


We had a field trip to a local museum! We left the house first thing in the morning. The kids were pretty tired when our tour was finished after lunch. But we decided to take the scenic route home to get a view of the ocean, and stopped at a lookout for a few minutes where they scrambled on a big rock while I drank my coffee. :) When we got home, everyone needed naps! (We are also still recovering from sickness around here, so I've been noticing the kids are a little extra tired.)

All together: 15 min or so


I thought today was going to be a write-off. I woke up this morning with a sore throat, headache, and general aches. It was raining. It was a Magic School Bus sort of morning... But then the sun actually came out this afternoon, and when I looked at the thermometer, that's when I noticed the amazing warm temperature! So I rounded up the kids to at least send them out. It was so enticing though once I felt the warmth, so I brought a blanket to the bench on the back deck, and there I lay, still feeling sick but also happy! The kids, on the other hand, have been running and laughing and discovering all the things that they left out last fall. They've got their bikes out, and are now digging around the sandbox, which is basically a giant mud puddle! And after my little nap, I'm typing this log up from the backyard. I'm not really sure how long we've been out here... maybe an hour? I could have laid on the couch, but I'm glad I came out!

All together: 90 minutes and counting


1. Spend a portion of our day together outside
While we didn't do this every day, we did it more days than I would have, had I not been challenging myself! I probably wouldn't have stopped for an outdoor break on Thursday, or made the effort to go out myself on Friday.

2. Have a snack or lunch outside
We had our afternoon snack outside on Friday!

3. Nature journaling 
I made an entry, but the kids didn't. (Between our field trip day and a sick day for myself, we didn't get to do all the things I had planned on this week.) I drew the tree across the road from our house. I don't know what kind of tree it is! I'm starting with observing the shape of the branches (a good winter activity) and the nature of the bark.

4. Make outdoor play our default play
On Friday, I had hope that we might actually be able to move in this direction!

5. Continue my own nature education
I got some books out of the library on fish. I read up on getting a fish for a pet. I'm also curious about the tree I drew in my nature journal. I might have to wait till the leaves come out to be able to identify it!

Lessons Learned:

  • It's much easier to get outside when we are actually home! (Unless we are going somewhere for the purpose of being outside, which we didn't get to this week. But with a field trip already, I didn't want to add another outing.) 
  • Being outside opens us up to interact with our community. 
  • Even though we didn't get outside together every day this week, we still made progress, and that's the main thing. There's the ideal, and then there's real life. Just because they don't match, it doesn't mean I give up the ideal, or that we failed. We're moving in the right direction!

I'll leave you with this piece of wisdom from my 6 year old:

"When you get told to go outside, you don't want to go outside, but then when you get out there you start having fun, and then you want to be outside!"

Yes, that's exactly it.

~ Lindsey

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Basic Method for Time Outdoors

I've been sketching out my own notes as I go through Charlotte Mason's "Out-of-Door Life" section of Home Education. My temptation is to highlight or quote everything! But I'm trying to give myself a broad outline.

As it seems to me, there is a basic method introduced in the beginning of the section, into which the rest of the information fits.

After demonstrating the need for a robust outdoor life, and these MANY hours outdoors, Charlotte goes on to say that a method is needed.

The GOAL is that "every hour should be delightful." Sounds good to me!

WHY is a method needed? Why not just turn them loose? Well, without a method, the mother will be taxed and the children will get bored. She says "there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented." Again, there's the art of the mother's purposeful presence at work.

A few things to remember:

  • The children must be kept in a joyous temper all the time
  • The children must be let alone and left to themselves a great deal to make connections for themselves
  • This is also the mother's opportunity for training and "dropping seeds of truth"
  • An hour or two of vigorous play for muscular development
  • "Last, and truly least, a lesson or two must be got in."

With that in mind, she presents a framework for time outside together.

The Wild Scamper

Upon arrival at your destination (be it backyard or field trip), send the children “to let off their spirits in a wild scamper, with cry, halloo, and hullaballoo, and any extravagance that comes into their young heads” (p.45).

In other words, let the kids let off some steam and explore, and just "be kids" in the great outdoors.

Sight-Seeing or The Exploring Expedition

After a sufficient scamper, call the children back. Then, “while wits are fresh and eyes keen” send them on an “exploring expedition” (p. 45).

This should be done "in the spirit of a game, but with the carefulness of a lesson."

Basically, you send them off to find out everything they can about a particular spot or object, such as a hillside, stream, or tree. Then call the children the back and have them tell you their observations. With a few questions, you draw out all you can about what the children have observed. 

"By degrees children learn discriminatingly every feature of landscapes with which they are familiar." 

"This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work" (p. 46).

Educational uses of Sight-Seeing:
1. It trains the powers of observation and expression 
2. It increases their vocabulary and range of ideas by giving them names and uses of things in nature
3. It trains them in truthful habits by making them careful to observe and then state exactly what they saw
4. It gives "a delightful possession for old age." Things really seen in the first place can be really remembered in years to come. 


In Picture-Painting we take mental photographs of a landscape. Have the children look at a landscape, then shut their eyes and see if they can picture it in their mind's eye. See if they can describe the picture before them, in as much detail as possible. If it's still blurry, have them look again, and try to describe again. 

This effort of recalling and reproducing can be mentally fatiguing, so this should be done "now and then." (What would this mean? A few times a week?)

The goal is "seeing fully and in detail." Mason says it's worthwhile for children to know a bit of landscape by heart. They will also be storing up a mental gallery of images which they can recall for later enjoyment.

This reminds me very much of Wordsworth's famous poem, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye 

Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Charlotte goes on to say that in the course of Sight-Seeing and Picture-Painting, opportunities will occur to make the children familiar with a host of things, including
  • Field crops and farm life
  • Field flowers and the life history of plants
  • Trees
  • Seasons
  • Living Creatures

There's more to say about each of these areas, which I will come back to in later posts. 

 A Lesson or Two

I haven't read up to this point yet! More to come.

Vigorous Play

I'm not quite sure where the hour or two for vigorous play comes in Mason's outline. Perhaps this will become more clear as I read on. 

Putting It Into Practice:

This week, I'd like to try out some of these basics. First, to let us all loose for a little while, then have everyone come back for Sight-Seeing. I think "Exploring Expedition" sounds a little more lively, so that's what we'll call it! If that goes well, we'll try at least one round of Picture-Painting. 

We read Wordsworth's poem last week, and talked about how he "gazed and gazed," and was thus able to remember the scene in his "inward eye." So I will encourage them to "gaze and gaze" just like him, and see what we can see. :) 

Happy  Outdoorsing! 

~ Lindsey

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Outdoor Life Challenge Begins!

Yes, April is here, and with it the beginning of my Outdoor Life Challenge!

(In case you missed the original post, click here to read my initial thoughts on the challenge.)

And yes, it was snowing here today. And there's more in the forecast for tomorrow. Not exactly how I was hoping to begin April, but we will forge ahead anyway!

Here's a recap of my goals for the next three months:

1. Spend a portion of our day together outside

I'm going to start by trying to do this in the afternoons. I'm liking our current morning routine, and since it's taken a lot of effort to create consistent mornings over this year, I don't really want to mess with that. The kids do usually go outside for between 30 minutes to 1 hour before we begin our morning lessons. They go out and play while I put the baby down for her nap, do a few of my chores, or finishing getting ready for our lessons. I will add this to the kids' total tally for the day, though it won't count for my time.

I'm still working out how to structure our afternoons to go out together, especially with this tricky early spring weather. It's not quite "fine" enough to be eating outside, or for the baby to be crawling around yet. I think I'm going to keep the baby's nap time the same for now, at least on most days. The other thing I need to work out is how to schedule in the kids' quiet time, which is my daily sanity saver!! This usually happens during the baby's nap as well, which is around 1:30-2:30. We also have a read-aloud time that usually happens after quiet time, which is a highlight of our day. I can anticipate eventually moving that to our front porch once the weather warms up, but for now we might need to keep that indoors. I have a feeling things will be shifting around a lot as the weather changes over the next few months.

I'm also going to start small. My humble goal, at least here in the beginning of chilly April, is to go out with the kids for one hour in the afternoon. I hope it's doable enough to get some momentum going! And maybe we'll surprise ourselves with more, who knows!

In addition, I want to plan one "full" afternoon outside a week, whenever possible. (This may be a trip to the pond down the road, or a hike/bike ride once the trails are clear of snow. I'm also waiting on some new inner tubes for my stroller. We have a great backyard, but I'd like to try going just a little further afield if we can.)

2. Have a snack or lunch outside on fine weather days

Hmm, we'll see about this! The temperature range for the next week is between -3 and +4 celsius. Maybe we'll try a snack this week! I do have a little picnic table outside that is great for snacks and small meals. It's currently in a mud/slush puddle. Again, things should shift as spring becomes warmer.

3. Dust off the nature journals and make regular entries

We did this last week! It was great. Our goal will be at least one entry a week. Eventually I hope to move some of the actual journaling outside, but for now we may need to bring some nature inside for drawing purposes, or draw from our guide books.

4. Make outdoor play our default play

I know this will become easier as the sun gets warmer and beckons us out. I can see this being a challenge at the beginning. A lot of outdoor play this time of year means an awful lot of mud too. Besides finding some more splash pants, I think I will have to designate a set of "mud clothes" for each child that can be permanently stained "island red."

5. Continue my own nature education

What are these?

Right now I'm reading through "The Out-of-Doors Life for the Children" section of Mason's Home Education (volume 1 in the pink set).

Our "special study" area for nature study this term (following Ambleside Online's schedule) is fish. I'll have to read up on this in my Handbook of Nature Study. I must say, I don't know a lot about fish at the moment. I'm sure that will change by the end of June!

A few more things. . . 

  • Every day I will keep a tally of the kids' total time outside, and our time outside together. I'll post this at the end of each week, hopefully with a bit of a recap of our time outside. 
  • Once a week I will try to post a few thoughts from my reading in Home Education
  • I want to pay special attention to what sparks joy in our time outside! I hope to capture at least one moment a week, whether in words or in a photo, that I can share. Joy is a big part of why I'm taking on this challenge. :) 

If you'd like to join in this challenge and share your own outdoor journey, please chime in in the comments, or link to any blog posts you may have! I'm not tech-savvy enough to have hashtags and link parties and all that, but perhaps we can encourage each other in some small way. 

Happy Outdoorsing! 

~ Lindsey

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Winter Nature Journaling from The Burgess Bird Book for Children

We've been slowly reading through The Burgess Bird Book for Children. I think we started last spring when the birds began to return! We often read it during our afternoon snack time. I think we're about halfway through. (We're not reading it according to any schedule, as you can see.) Last week we decided to pull out our neglected nature journals and draw a few birds from recent chapters. We used Peterson's field guide to draw from.

On a side note, this was the first time Arden understood that the pictures in the field guide were actually painted by Roger Tory Peterson. I think she thought they were photographs. She was amazed! I think it inspired her.


Arden chose the purple martin ("Twitter," the largest of the swallow family), and I chose the barn swallow ("Forktail," with his distinctive tail). We used watercolours. Arden did her drawing and colour mixing very carefully, and was quite pleased with how it turned out.


This is something we both enjoy doing, and I'm hoping we can do more regularly this spring!

A busy day of living and learning together

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