A Year of Playing Skillfully


We just wrapped up our first year with The HomeGrown Preschooler.  I’ve been trying to post through our experience by writing a post a month and I must admit, this spring got away from me. But I do plan on posting about our last few months in the coming weeks! For now, I could not hold back my thoughts on our first year with this curriculum and decided to do our yearly wrap up first.


Friends, its amazing to me now that once upon a time, I felt I needed permission to have the year we just had. I didn’t realize just how deep the tentacles of modern education had penetrated my perspective as a parent and teacher. When I bought this curriculum at last year’s FPEA convention, I was a weepy, frightened mess. We were struggling to find options for our youngest. His evaluations at our local early intervention center were mightily discouraging. We also needed something for our third born son who was nearly five at the time. After hearing both Lesli Richards and Kathy Lee speak at FPEA (and crying all over them!) I came home with a bag full of curriculum and a boatload of hope.

I am moved to tears even now as I look back at how much cracking open those books meant to me.  We dove in and life started changing for my boys. Their childhood began its metamorphosis. I said, “yes!” and they said “YESSSSSS!!!!”


See that dirty face and that big smile and those arms creeping out to the side as his “airplane ride” progresses, that moment when he finally, finally, FINALLY, starts letting go? Thats my little guy. He is so brave. I always wonder how intense the daily battles are for him. I wish I could get inside his head and know for myself. But for as hard as those battles are, my brave boy is having a beautiful childhood. Not because of the material things around him, but because he is loved and given the freedom every single day to be a little boy.


See those dirty hands? Those hands have been hard at play this year. Even the hands belonging to the older brothers—those hands still needed play, were starved for play, and I almost missed it! I’m so glad that I made the concentrated effort to give them as much time to play and discover as I could. They are growing into themselves and that is hard work, playing is one of the greatest tools they have to daily sculpt who they will one day become.


See that basket of ribbon and tiny toob birds? That was our go to manipulative this year. He didn’t want to do every single thing listed each month. I had to be ok with that. He fell in love with these little birds and I am so glad that he did. They taught him empathy. They taught him storytelling. They taught him about life.


Speaking of story telling, see that book? #3’s favorite read this year by far. I think I will always have this image in my mind. Sitting in his Great Grandmother’s chair, wrapped in the blanket I made him, waiting for the cookies to finish baking, reading aloud the words he memorized while they were lovingly read aloud to him the night before. There is so much in this picture that is tactile to me. I can feel the warmth and security and love and simplicity and joy. It belongs to him. How great is that? This did not take a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education to accomplish. It just took one word, “yes.” It took intention and love. Speaking of intention…


See those hands busily chopping and preparing dinner? Say “yes” to letting kids do things they are more than able to do for themselves. We moved everything around this year to help them become even more independent. Wind in the sails! They are capable of so much.


Here is a look at one example of Math time. No worksheets to be found. Just one happy boy in his favorite apron, looking through the recipe on the last page of “The Moon Might be Milk.” Measuring, counting, pouring, mixing. We made the most delicious moon cookies that day.


Sometimes we played inside, and they surprised me with what they were absorbing and creating and testing. We took our time with those activities. It was funny watching their approach. Looking back, I see an organic Classical approach that was child initiated and the geek in me thrills over it.
Grammar: What are the parts to this and what makes it what it is? Give me the vocabulary for this activity, please!
Dialectic: Now I have a zillion questions, please answer them all. Mm Hmm, okay. Now here are a zillion other questions I have come up with based on those answers and I will now test everything using a ketchup, the dog, a piece of string and a balloon.
Rhetoric: I am the boss at this. I shall now teach my younger brother.

All the feels.


We spent a large amount of time outdoors and I realized that all those outdoor activities listed each month were slow enablers of courage and creativity and determination. Like tiny little training camps of fun that when set in the great outdoors unleashed a great big whirlwind of “I CAN DO THIS!!!”


See my precious boy cradling this still warm, fresh out of the nest, chicken egg? He is marveling at this egg. He is beholding the glorious, miraculous bit of nature that is the egg. I am on the other side of the lens, marveling at this little boy who is so confident in his newfound responsibilities. Do we lose a few eggs from time to time? You bet. But I would clean a hundred yolky messes off my kitchen floor with a glad heart to see that look of pride on his face. “I did this for you, Mama!”


Some people are show offs about it by now. 🙂


Toes in the mud.


Books and babes, cradled and savored.


Confidence and independence.

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Imagination and friendship.


The depth of the sensory gymnastics of our year and how they shaped us are difficult to put into words.

My children have had their hands on the world around them. They know the names of the trees in our yard and the birds that pass through our back wood. They know the names of the wild fruit and the trails near our home. They know where the owl lives and where the squirrel keeps it nest. They know where the cardinals like to look for material and they know just where to leave gifts of colorful bits of strings for Mr. Cardinal and his wife to find. They know the sounds of their backyard. They know the weight of the soil and the texture of the rocks. They know the trails the rainfall will take each time it rains. They can make forts and climb trees and make mud pies. They can name the pieces of world around them and put them in their order and know security and surprise.


They know the twinkle of the stars and the sound of laughter. They know that when we sit down to dinner every night, we will sing “The Doxology” together. They know that every day at lunch I will crack open a book and a door to another world will open wide. They know the joy of an unexpected ice cream sundae breakfast and the giddiness of breakfast for dinner and the fun of waking up to a crazy ninja training course in the hallway.  They know how fun it is to throw water beads and how long it takes to clean up water beads. They know that childhood is not just a word, its a mosaic of a hundred memories.


I can go on and on about how the program is structured and how I appreciate the freedom of the outline and the organization of the topics and the obvious love that went into every detail, but the truth is that above all, I valued the encouragement that sizzled out of this curriculum every time I opened the planner. I have opened up certain curriculums that have left me feeling like I had no chance at succeeding. When I opened AYOPS, I didn’t think, “Dang. There is no way I can do this.” I thought, “We can all do this together. Me and every other Mama I know. We could jump in and say yes and let our families and homes take their shape. Forget what its “supposed to look like” and relish what we have and who we have, RIGHT NOW. We can say yes to giving our kids a beautiful childhood and the freedom to be little because they are little.” Really, I think the above almost every day. If I am in the so called “trenches of motherhood,”  I’m in good company and the play doh smells like vanilla chai.

In a world where its the norm to be frightened into taking action, its life giving JOY to be lovingly encouraged into action. I’ve got this. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.


To answer the question that has been coming in from our readers, YES! We are using A Year of Playing Skillfully again next year.


Yes, I think they will still be challenged by it.

And no, I highly, highly doubt they will be bored by a second round. In fact, when I told them we would be doing it again, all four of my children (8-3 years of age) let out a resounding, “YESSSSSSSS!!!!!




We had a lovely January with AYOPS.  This is one of the first months that our littlest guy was willing to tackle the large majority of projects and activities listed. These past months, I have increasingly felt his need for a little boost towards independence. We planned with his special needs in mind and picked out a number of things that we felt he could now handle on his own and we set about adjusting his atmosphere to ensure that he could tackle his new goals.


We started with a small waldorf style baby doll.  This new friend engaged in all the activities with me before my son did. After watching for a minute or two, my son would jump in, eager to play and help his baby in case it ran into trouble. These two played in their bear den on bear day for hours! He taught baby how to clean up the toys and how to make the bed. I think this was an important piece in helping motivate our son to join in. It also took some of his focus off of his own experience and helped him learn to care for someone else and work on his empathy skills. If you have a little one that is reluctant to join in certain activities, I encourage you to think outside the box and try different ways of engaging them in play. We tried many, many different ways and experienced a multitude of failures before finally finding success this month!

I bought a wooden closet doubler rod so that the younger children could find and choose their own clothing each day. Everyday shirts are now hanging on the lowest bar. Shorts are in the baskets on the floor. Pajamas and underwear are in the dresser. The drawers are much less crowded now so its a snap for them to find what they need.


I set out a small stool by a mirror near the doorway. The boys can now sit and brush their hair each morning and have a place to sit while they practice getting their little legs into their shorts the correct way.


All this new responsibility gave our youngest the burst of confidence he needed to finally potty train. I’m still a little shocked at how quickly he managed to train. To be honest, I have been dreading this since we left our first evaluation at the special needs center. By the grace of God, potty training took all of two weeks and its stuck ever since!

Suddenly, our guy was on a maturity spree! Clearing dishes, picking up toys and even wanting to help in the kitchen. I’ve always encouraged him to help with chopping, measuring, sorting, etc. in the kitchen. But now there is no invitation needed. When I walk into the kitchen to make dinner, he is usually waiting for me, apron in place and hands washed and ready to work.


I cleared out the lowest shelf in our kitchen and put all of the children’s dishes and cups there. I included several small pitchers for them to fill and set on the table and use for mealtimes. The boys have a designated drawer in the kitchen containing tools they have been trained to use. Crinkle cutters, apple corer slicers, egg slicers, potato peelers, etc.
They can reach everything they need to make their own snacks and to help with meal prep.

I love watching him work with his hands. Zero hesitation these days!


There are still several sensations that he cannot bear to endure or process. But look at the boy in the photo below!


A happy, messy, shaving-cream-out-the-nostril, joy soaked little guy. He radiates confidence now and that encourages me to keep pressing forward.


The whole house continues to demand “preschool time.” I have now placed the eldest children in charge of the AYOPS activities. They love setting up for the activities and then “helping” their little brothers.

Our favorite activity this month was block painting. Everyone was eager to jump in and lend a hand. We were a multicolored mess for a few days (if you use Sargent Art Watercolor Paint, beware of STAINING!) but the boys were thrilled with the end product.


We love our brilliant collection of colorful wood blocks. Every time I pass by that pile I recall the beautiful breezy afternoon we spent together, laughing and painting and telling jokes.


This was the 5th month of our curriculum and it still doesn’t feel like I have spent the last five months marching my children through a curriculum. We’ve been making memories and learning together and having the most glorious time playing at just about anything you can think of.

We finished January with newfound confidence, enhanced skills, hearts bent on helping and a tremendous sense of peace with our special needs homeschool journey.


MFW Adventures: Fulton & Stain Glass


Greetings & Salutations!

The garden is in, my friends. No sooner had we turned our backs on those lovely beds than the heavens began to pour out rain. All our seedlings seem to have doubled in size the past week thanks to the ceaseless rains.

Unit #21 brought our merry group of adventurers to Robert Fulton and his Steamship.

Day 1: I read out of the recommended book basket list and set the boys loose in the yard with 4 kiddie tubs and an assortment of plastic trash. Empty bottles, milk jugs, egg cartons, straws and robber bands. They had a marvelous time constructing their own “steamships.”  This eventually led to us hauling out one of our Usbourne science books and executing another round of “sink or float” with other backyard items. unnamed-3.jpg

Day 2: We hauled out tons of books and encyclopedias that catalogued various ships throughout the ages. The boys looked at “Into the Unknown” by Stewart Ross and copied his diagram of the steam engine along with a few other pictures of steamships detailed within.

“Into the Unknown” by Stewart Ross

This was intense work for the boys. They took notes and later spent two hours drawing highly weaponized steamships.

Day 3:
Origami style steamboats! Thanks to Chaos Meets Creativity for the link!

Kreativ inredning

While we folded ships my youngest two tackled their own projects. Give the three year old an entire sheet of tissue paper and a glue stick–it will buy you at least 20 minutes!


The 5 year old was content to light up his Christmas trees with the correct number of red and white pony beads.


Day 4:
After finishing our state sheets, the boys did a little more work on their nature journals. On this day they transferred one of the public speaking presentations from our last week of the semester at our Classical Conversations Community. I love when they work so carefully and meticulously.




Day 5:
Thanks to the delightful “A Year of Playing Skillfully,” the boys and I discovered the lovely idea of window painting. My Adventurers join in almost every AYoPS activity and this was not to be missed.

We wiped down our sliding glass door, mixed the paint, layed out our painting blanket to catch any wayward drops of color and set to work!


We recently looked through our London Gallery Nativity book which featured several diptychs of the nativity. With two large glass panels at our disposal, we all agreed to make our own “Stain Glass” diptych featuring the nativity. The 5 year old was our creative director. He loves “Starry Night” and it quite obviously influenced his work.



We ended the day with a little sensory therapy in the form of homemade peppermint playdoh. It was worth the 20 minute make time. Peace on earth for over an hour!


We are on track to finish Adventures by the end of March. We’ll spend the rest of the month enjoying advent, studying The Nutcracker and prepping for our “Adventures in US History” Road Trip!

Finding Joy

I still get a lump in my throat when I remember our assessment interview with the local early intervention program.


“What word would you say defines your son’s day?”

The whole office and the four therapists sitting in front of me blurred for a moment.


“Frustration” I croaked. “He is frustrated.”

They wanted to diagnose him with heavy words. They wanted to place him in a state run preschool for special needs. Schools that are underfunded and understaffed, filled with children that are not getting the attention they need and deserve.


He was frustrated. He was limited to only a few words.

In the mornings he would often dig his fingers into my shoulders and arms, desperate for some kind of pressure relief.

I made a decision.

A bold decision.

A terrifying decision.

The right decision for our family.


I ignored the grim expectations and moved forward with our EI therapist and “A Year of Playing Skillfully” a beautiful play-based curriculum.


We are three months into AYoPS.


Ask me what word defines his day?

Go ahead, ask me!!!



The word is Joy.

Hallelujah! The word is JOY.


Joy & PLAY & more JOY. That is the focus this year as he gains his freedom from the frustration that ensnared him before.

Thankful does not seem like a big enough word. Thankfull? Thanksoaked? Thankwhelmed? One of those. It overflows.

Orderliness + Sensory Play: October

IMG_8177October has come and gone. It was an incredibly busy month for us. I am still trying to process all the things we learned together. I brought in lots of extra ideas from The Homegrown Preschooler this month. My newly minted 5 year old is quite over the moon whenever he gets to do “baking math,” my 3 year old is over the moon about the end product of “baking math.”

IMG_7180I love having my little Team B on this AYoPS curriculum together. It is fascinating to watch how they approach a new skill or activity. Add in sensory issues, speech & developmental delays and two very different personalities, and its a research field day of love and laughter!
IMG_7597I set out the invitation to play. Usually on a surface at his eye level and equipped with baby wipes or a small bowl with water and a dry towel, ready and waiting in case someone becomes overwhelmed by something. While the eldest children dive right in, my youngest always approaches new material with caution.  Sometimes it takes him awhile to acclimate to a new sensation or a formerly distasteful, but currently acceptable, sensation.

***Side note: Please never ever force your child to touch something that freaks them out. It will not “cure” their sensory issues. 

IMG_7624At times he will pause midway through an activity and stare at his hands this way. Wonder, watching, waiting? I’m not sure what he is doing, but he does it almost every time.  I leave out the invitation and walk away. He approaches and deals with it on his own terms. Its been working for us and his confidence is gaining momentum.

I love that his curriculum and therapy bring him JOY. That is a big, big deal.


IMG_7927 I remember paging through “A Year of Playing Skillfully” while standing by the Homegrown Preschooler booth at the FPEA convention last May. The month of October listed the  character trait: Orderliness.  I wondered how it would manifest itself in our home.

Yes, the boys put clothes and shoes away. Yes, they helped tidy up dishes and even swept under the tables for me. But the real surprise with Orderliness was ordering their world to the extent they did. The boys loved reading “A House is a House for Me,” last month. It carried over to the month of October and into the trait of orderliness. Finding a birds nest on the ground means that my little guy will carry it in and fill it with his toob birds. Tucking socks inside shoes because, “Go home, sock!” Making the bed because, “Go home, bed!” Wanting to put bananas back inside their peels because, “Go home manamana!”  Last month he would count when putting toys away, this month he would say, “First, and then, and then, and then.”

Meanwhile, the 5 year old ate up all art and music activities this month!
IMG_8399IMG_8406We currently have an orchard of family trees and more yards of apple stamped butcher paper than I know what to do with. “Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll tell every one its jingle bell paper and use it for Christmas,” he said with a sly smile. Ah, yes. Fall colored jingle bell paper. Perfect. 🙂

IMG_7655We went on many walks in October. After reading “Counting on the Woods” by George Ella Lyon and making ever so many Nature Counting books, the boys are now on a constant watch for math in nature. “5 Kestrels and 4 vultures, ahoy!” Being outside with them is my favorite. Nothing to make or prepare beforehand, nothing to clean up afterwards. Just the boys and I and all the time the day has to offer.


They come home with dirty toes and a million ideas.
IMG_8064Nature calms and soothes my little guy. On days when I know the invitation to play will be asking a lot of him, I make sure he gets time outside in the wide open.


We made our pile of leaves out of rubberwood tree offerings. The boys like to restock and form the pile anew almost every day for more jumping and leaf throwing. It was probably their favorite activity of the entire month and it required next to no preparation from me.

Though our little guy does take his time putting the pile together.

“First this, and then this, and then this, and then this, and then this…..”