MFW Adventures: New Netherlands + Wiggle Room

IMG_5239Lots of new growth on the farm this month! Pineapples, bananas, watermelon, and avocados. What a great boost of encouragement for us as we lay out plans for our big fall garden.

We have wrapped up the unit on New Netherlands. Confession: I had no idea how to plan for this one. Not too many activities lurking around pinterest for this one. A trip to the library yielded a scant six books. I decided to keep the planner as bare as possible for the week. You know, keep a little wiggle room? I was tempted to take advantage of this “slow” week by adding extra geography or art, but I restrained myself.  Instead, at the end of each session, I would turn to the boys and ask, “Lets play what we learned! What should we do?”

IMG_5167
Well, these boys have zero problems being creative. They loved being in charge of our activities for this unit! We planned out settlements with our lincoln logs. We colored in maps of Old Boston and made a town meeting diorama.

IMG_5261We built windmills, sea port dioramas and Dutch step homes. We played with them during activity time.

IMG_5268We took the loom out to the backyard and did some weaving while we “watched the sheep.”  We had to bring our rifles along in case the wolf (our west highland terrier) showed up. We pretended to take long sea voyages while huddled in bunk beds.IMG_5291
Then we had this conversation:

Six year old: “Sooo how come you never make those crazy snacks that go with our Adventures stuff? Like that little cookie bear driving a covered wagon made out of marshmallows and graham crackers.”
Me: “Because toddlers.”
Six year old: “Can I make a cool snack for us?”
Me: “Sure, what do you have in mind for Dutch Pioneers?”
Six year old: “I was thinking crescent rolls stuffed with gummy worms. Ya know, for the moldy bread?”
Me: “Not bad kiddo. You should write out a line up for the whole year!”

Not all ideas were approved. For example, the suggestion: “Lets invent a Separatist’s Diarrhea Bucket for sea trips! You go mix some mud for the diarrhea…” was met with, “Hmmmm, lets rethink this game a bit.”

So we went on a very long sea voyage while summer rain pounded down on the roof of the farmhouse. Whenever lightning flashed we’d roll about on the bunk beds and pretend to be seasick while someone shouted out “Day 42!” or “Day 127!” The boys excel at feigning sea sickness, so I can check that off the list, “Things the Boys should learn in 2nd Grade.”  We sometimes read aloud from our book basket to pass the time during the voyage. Then the six year old began to direct things, “We’ll eat this moldy worm bread and Mom, you can be Trinka the cow. Go hide in the closet with the other cows and let out a sad, seasick, ‘Mooooo’ every once in a while.” (I have grown so much as an actress this year between my turns as Goodwife Misery and Trinka the cow). The six year old became a little overbearing and at one point my four year old rolled his eyes and said, “Ugh! You are such a Duke of York!” Guess the preschool gang has been absorbing more than I thought they would…

Have  I mentioned how much we love ” American Pioneers and Patriots?”  We are quite thrilled with it! Hands down our favorite part of Adventures so far. These stories about children throughout history make my sons wonder about their own place/story in history. Here are a few other books we read this week:

IMG_5294 James E. Knight books—so much information relayed through these engaging stories!

IMG_5295

We are also plodding our way through Betsy Maestro’s book: The New Americans: Colonial Times 1620-1689. We began last week during Pilgrims and we read a bit more this week about the colonists in New Amsterdam. The book does describe plenty of the violence between the settlers and the Native Americans. I am still not sure how much of the book we will finish in weeks to come. As always, I must balance informing their minds while still taking their young age into consideration and protecting their hearts. The fragility of their innocence is both humbling and terrifying sometimes.

IMG_5304
We watched Magic School Bus, baked bread and finished our yeast experiments. We churned butter and kept working on our handicrafts.

We completed our Beautiful Feet study of “The Courage of Sarah Noble,” well ahead of the MFW schedule, which allows us to read “The Matchlock Gun” next week, during Michigan Pioneers.  We snuck in “Sign of the Beaver” during our noon reading.  “Sign of the Beaver” carries many parallels to “The Courage of Sarah Noble,” but replaces a young heroine with a young hero. The boys were thrilled at the thought of being abandoned in the wilderness with only Indian neighbors for company.  They are currently wondering which part of the farm they can run away to and how long they might survive there.  Many votes have been cast in favor of “somewhere near the chicken coop so we can eat eggs!” We also managed to squeak in a few chapters of “Misty of Chincoteague.”  I had not planned to read this book at all for our Adventures year, but our language arts book, Writing With Ease, used it this week and the boy’s collective curiosity was piqued. After all, “American Pioneers and Patriots” featured animals brought over on ships to New Amsterdam. What other voyages did European animals take to come to the New World? My eldest is considering penning a small children’s book for his baby brother about just such a journey. Whether or not he ever does it, I am pleased that he is thinking about storytelling.

IMG_5222

This unit was 40% pretend play, 40% read alouds and 20% science experiments. Does it sound like we read a lot? Well, we do. If your family does not read out loud much, don’t feel less than. I love reading and it has naturally flourished in our home because I make a huge effort to read out loud as many times a day as possible. We suffer greatly in other areas because of that single minded effort (read: LAUNDRY). I encourage you to do what you can with where you are in life. Even if its just ten minutes a day. Don’t feel guilty, just start somewhere and be consistent!

IMG_5005 2

The boys always keep their hands busy while I read. The preschool gang made use of our sensory bins during story time. Mostly water beads, kinetic sand, corn and playdoh. They have learned to play quietly and are quite absorbed in what they are doing when measuring cups, magnifying glasses, scissors and toob figures are involved. Its taken training over the course of many weeks, but the stretches of quiet play are getting longer and longer each day!

IMG_5299
This week we used the book “Colonial America.” It provided the patterns for the projects listed earlier in this post. Dutch step homes, windmills, etc. This book was more challenging than the Pilgrims History Pockets book we used the week before. The boys had no trouble coloring in and cutting out all the pieces, but they were only able to independently assemble 2 out of the 8 projects we finished. I would not recommend this book if you are looking for independent work, unless your child is especially deft at constructing these sorts of models.

IMG_5338

Our favorite project was probably the “Look Inside Log Cabin.”
IMG_5339IMG_5337The boys loved seeing how simple these log cabin homes were. “No room for toys inside…so that means the outside world was where the kids played all of the time!” They seemed to be inspired by this prospect. During our Mom’s group playdate, my second-born eschewed the splash pad at the park in order to climb our family’s favorite giant banyan tree, far away from the group.
1561106_841007024898_2887365657950436297_n

When I asked him about it he responded, “I am a pioneer boy in my heart today. I want to only be in this tree with my thoughts and imagine whatever I want. I think its the best way to play.”  Little by little, his brothers joined him. When we arrived home, they quickly changed clothes and headed outdoors again; eager to collect eggs and mushrooms, scouting for places to build a log cabin, gathering pinecones and jasmine flowers to trade with neighboring Indian villages.

10915279_820075911018_1848104050298760662_nThese imaginative adventures are made of rich stuff, my friends.

Nature Walks & Our Hike Pack

11180324_10152835082813616_2522268700425445402_n

Nature hikes and nature journals. Two parts of homeschool life that are growing in importance over time. In fact, it has become essential to our life as homeschoolers.

11143527_10152828488068616_8828096578372364895_n

When we first started homeschooling, I assumed that the scheduled “Nature Walk” portions of our curriculum were just a “get them out of the house” option. And while these scheduled walks do get them out of the house, they have become so much more than that to our family.

11426185_843858959598_3746677832569009679_n

Nature walks have given us an abundance of time. When we are at home I always feel like the days are slipping by and the children are growing too quickly. Out in nature, everything slows down. Time seems to multiply. Details, thousands of details, spring up all around us. We begin to discover and wonder aloud. We start naming, classifying, drawing and jotting down notes of things to look up later. We sit quietly and reflect. We are lost in a canopied cathedral, where worship and wonder mingle and flow unconstrained.

10984137_10152832995808616_3634317237529173267_n

This year we have been keeping more formal notebooks of our time outside. Seasons, times, sightings, sketches, thoughts, ideas.  The six year old loves making tree rubbings against the bark of the biggest trees he can find. My seven year old is quite keen on sketching hawks. The four year has been content to draw bats over and over and over. Guess what? He’s getting quite proficient at drawing bats! His drawing skills improve through this repetition. We are starting to find our bearings a little quicker with practice. Before the compass is pulled out we each take a guess. Which way is North? Over time the guesses have become more accurate. Where is the closest body of water? What are the names of the trees in this forest or park?

10403668_768498856848_135646173844457322_n

Today, I finished reading “Keeping A Nature Journal” by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth.  It has inspired me to keep my own journal and quit overseeing my children’s journals.

Summers are difficult where we live. Extreme heat and extreme bugs make outdoor time a misery.  The majority of our outings are to parks and the beach. If we rise particularly early, then we are able to go out for a hike in the local preserves.  The rest of the year is gorgeous perfection and we are often outside rambling around the farm or in the pine woods nearby. We make great effort to get outside every day and once we are there, I leave the boys up to their own devices for awhile. Its amazing what stories they come home with.

11205183_10152835070338616_5037235124613795888_n

I keep a backpack, stocked and ready for these hikes.

IMG_5251

Included in our Hike Pack:

1) (4) 2 x 3 rugs from IKEA
2) Pencil case stocked with pencils (HB, 2B and 3B) erasers and a few colored pencils.
3) Pocket knife
4) Badger Sunscreen and Bug Spray combo
5) Take Along Guides
We use: Caterpillars, Bugs and Butterflies by Mel Boring
Trees, Leaves and Bark by Diane L Burnes
Tracks, Scats and Signs by Leslie Dendy
6) Nature Journals
We use:  Classical Conversations Nature Sketch Journals for 7 and 6 year old.
Run of the mill composition journals for myself and the 4 year old.

IMG_5253  IMG_5254         IMG_5252

Also in the pack but not pictured…

7)  Diapers + wipes
8) Flashlight for checking tree burrows
9) Cell phone w full battery
10) First Aid Kit
11) Compass

Before we leave for the Nature Walk we usually read a passage from an adventurous book my boys have expressed fondness for.  For example, “Wild Animals I have Known” by Ernest Thompson Seton or any of Thornton Burgess’ Animal stories. We make sure we are wearing the correct footwear and that we have been sprayed and lotioned in order to fend off ticks and UV Rays. We grab our water bottles and the boys usually arm themselves with binoculars and wooden rifles. Then, we set out to find the spectacular ordinary and the beautifully mundane.  We do not go looking for tigers or elephants. We walk quietly in the nature that is part of our space and time and we try to get to know it a little better and in doing so we know ourselves and each other better.

11182107_10152828488188616_2246222661145515585_n

Boys love to collect things. I am forever turning pockets inside out before loading the wash. I’ve had a few terrified lizards leap out at me and once or twice a wriggly worm. Usually, the pockets are stuffed to the brim with seeds and rocks and bits of twine.

This is quite wonderful for us. On rainy days or unbearably hot days, we pull out those little treasures and sketch them.  I have also found these small acrylic boxes from Oriental Trading Co. to be quite useful!

IMG_5257

We can enclose paper wasp nest fragments, snake skins, fragile exoskeletons or decaying leaves inside.  It is then passed around so the boys can examine their finds without crushing or mangling them.

IMG_5258

The clear view from every side is perfect for studying our specimens up close! The boys, inspired by Teddy Roosevelt, have decided to curate their own small museums. We are preserving their best finds each school year and then displaying them in shadow boxes. The boys will be responsible for curating their specimens, labeling them and pinning them in place.
18829_10152835070403616_3731618734268663438_n

I asked my son the other day, “What is your favorite thing about Nature Walks?” He responded quickly, “Its the biggest space for me to wander and think about all I  am learning and all the stuff I still don’t know. Everything feels taped together. I feel really small and really big all at the same time. Mostly, I just like looking at all the wonderful things God took the time to make.”

The Walks Taken

IMG_2169

Our best moments of learning have oftentimes occurred in a forest.

If we can find a quiet wood to walk, then we have found a treasure.

IMG_3967

Nothing keeps children engaged in learning quite like ditching the books and fleeing into the trees.
We skip count as we march. We find new leaves to press into our nature journals. We figure out which direction we are traveling in.  I will ask my children: Where is the nearest body of water? Where is the best climbing tree? Can we find three different kinds of homes?  Recall our last walk in the woods and describe what happened?

IMG_3898

Burrows, nests and hollows.

Shells, rocks and tiny fossils.

Strips of birch, pine needles and acorns.

Pockets never return home empty.

IMG_0620

Anything can happen when your classroom has no walls.

We try and find a spot to sit still. We stay put for several long minutes and wait to see what happens. Just when we think nothing will change, different birds fly into view, squirrels dash out from previously unseen hiding spots, flowers that had escaped our notice before are now blazing in full view. We might pull out a field guide and try to identify things around us. We might tell stories while we fletch tiny arrows.

unnamed-4

There are days when the boys sling rifles across their backs and we march through the woods, seeking out the Green Mountain Boys or the Continental Marines.

Oftentimes there is no plan and I find that those are the best days. When the boys can ramble in the woods free of lessons plans and the word “no.”

IMG_0521

Take an unplanned walk in the woods. Pull over and visit that nature preserve you always pass by.

If you feel the weight of all the curriculum you have amassed pressing down on you–do yourself a grand favor and heave it to the side.

Take your little one by the hand and make for the trees!

They will not remember the elaborate handouts.

They will remember the walks taken.

 IMG_0503