MFW ECC Norway

Norway! Quite possibly, our favorite unit so far. Surprising because on the eve of this study’s inauguration, my husband had to call an ambulance to come get me after I began to experience sudden and horrific pain. Two days in the hospital, lots of prescription meds and a slow recovery had me forecasting a pretty dreadful, overwhelming and miserable few weeks of school, but the exact opposite happened. Our village lovingly reached out and made meals, came to visit, took over some of my responsibilities and encouraged us. My husband even went in my place to our Classical Conversations community day and wore the Director’s hat on my behalf.  It blessed me deeply to have such thoughtful love and care poured over us. Even the boys were extra helpful and diligent in their work. While we did not have as many outdoor adventures as usual, we still had a lovely time with our study!


We spent many, many hours reading this time around. The D’Aulaires have a wealth of books for Norway study and we read them all. Many cups of tea and several knit dishcloths later, we went through the pile and chose our favorites and read them again. We also enjoyed Joanna Spyri’s “Heidi” as one of our overall European books.

Norway/Scandinavian Booklist: 

Welcome Back Sun by Michael Emberly
D is for Dala Horse: A Nordic Country Alphabet by Kathy Jo Wargin
Once Upon a Northern Light by Jean Pendziwol
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
Norwegian Tales by Ingri D’aulaire
Ola by Ingri D’aulaire
Children of the Northern Lights by Ingri D’aulaire
Leif the Lucky by Ingri D’aulaire
Book of Trolls by Ingri D’aulaire
Katie the Windmill Cat by Gretchen Woelfe
Boxes for Katje by Candace Flemming
Hans Brinker, the Silver Skates
Hannah’s Cold Winter by Trish Marx
My Tour of Europe by Teddy Roosevelt Age 10 by Ellen Marx
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan


Science with ECC continues to be a bit shaky at times. The kids love the science experiments (don’t skip them!) but POE is still hard to get through. So we do what we can and then we take off on our own. The BBC Planet Earth series is phenomenal and we loved the episode on forests. We used tree cards from Tanglewood Hollow and a beautiful crochet tree ring I received from a Montessori Materials swap. My son and I have been knitting tiny crochet bowls like mad lately and we have been using them to hold some of our favorite nature finds.


While the older boys finished cataloging tree rubbings and leaf samples in their nature journals, my youngest children went with me to the kitchen to make The Homegrown Preschooler’s Herbal doh recipe. We had a lovely time practicing math and practical life skills. The older children went outside and collected pine needles and pine cones to decorate the table. I set out some natural materials like acorns caps, sweet gums, petals and walnut shells. The boys sat and played with doh while I read through books and eventually we switched over to enjoying various Scandinavian composers and musicians.


Its encouraging to witness the engagement that takes place through living books. Dry textbooks just do not impart the same connection and inspiration. The boys were utterly captivated by the life of the Lapp children and spent many hours learning more about reindeers and the midnight sun and of course, the northern lights.


Even during their quiet time, I caught them reading in little corners all over the house. I think we all needed to be still for a few days. Don’t get me wrong, by the time my husband returned home they were always bouncing off the walls with pent up energy, but overall, they were content to snuggle on my recovery bed, drink tea, knit and listen to stories. Or at times, day dream while I read and make incredibly accurate laser gun noises under their breath while they battle evil forces in a galaxy far, far away. Ah, boys.


Towards the end of the week we experienced an actual beautiful weather day! Granted, a massive tropical storm was providing cloud cover for the entire state, but hey! it was nice and cool! So we jumped on our chance and headed outdoors for a picnic. But first, the boys had to get incredibly dirty. They caked on the mud, made leaf crowns, painted each other’s faces, adventured in other realms and had a marvelous morning. They settled onto their blanket as I read aloud from a stack of books I brought outside with us. They watched the clouds for a bit as I read and eventually, they each closed their eyes and just listened to the story. They looked so peaceful all cuddled up together. This only lasted a few minutes before someone threw a punch or tooted or threw grass in someone’s face and the equilibrium was lost. But still, those fleeting moments of silence and peace were magnificent.


Lastly, we marked the anniversary of our faithful friend’s passing on September 6th. Our beloved pup, Frankie, who was with us for 8 years. It was a hard day for everyone. I am thankful that the boys have had time to grieve his death and I recognize that they are still sad and grieving. Its the biggest loss they have encountered so far and it was a heavy day in the midst of our study. I am glad that we could honor that day the way these boys needed to. Reindeers, Dutch cookies, Norwegian myths, poetry tea time and a walk to our friend’s grave with a fistful of purple flowers.


Norway was beautiful and its one of those studies I will treasure in my heart because of all we experienced as lived out our week.

We’ll meet again in Paris!


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.

IMG_0655 2.JPG

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!!!!!


MFW Kindergarten: Leaf


We experienced the most gorgeous weather during our Leaf unit! We had compiled a long list of activities for the week and the majority required nice weather, so you can imagine our thankfulness! Here are a few things we did in addition to our scheduled MFWK work….


We started the week out by reading “Counting on the Woods” by George Ella Lyon. This is a nature based counting book with lovely photographs and a memorable meter. He carried this book in his mind on all our nature walks that week, repeating some of the rhymes and looking for similar finds.  When we got home he made his own “Counting on Woods” book filled with the things he saw, numbered and recorded.

Later that day we read Louis Ehlert’s wonderful book, “Leaf Man.”


We bought a pack of double sided punch out leaves from the craft store and made our own leaf men.  He loved this project! We ended up with an army of leaf men, all with their own backstory and role to play. We ended up teaching our leaf men all of our bible lessons this week.

We continue to use our little sand box for tactile letter practice along with our sand paper letters.  His letters are slowly improving as we practice each week.  He works on these small whiteboards first and then we work on our handwriting student sheet which we have a higher standard for. Of all the worksheets in each unit, this one always takes us the longest. We take our time to do our work carefully with great diligence and attention to detail. As one of my Classical Conversations students recently reminded me, “Ms. Elsie, practice makes permanent.” First we learn, which takes time and is often sloppy as shapes and ideas are sorted out; and then we practice, which takes time and requires great effort and excellence.


As I mentioned, we went for several nature walks during the course of this unit. Our local cypress dome was a must see! We found such a large variety of leaves on this particular walk.


He loved the cypress trees, but his favorite was the sawgrass. Ah, the river of grass. How beautiful it is.


By his request, we studied leaves later on in the week. He left the house early in the morning with one of his older brothers in order to collect specimens. We laminated them against white paper and took a half hour to identify them all. He made several water color paintings of different leaves to add to his notebook. We sorted leaves by shape and size and color and texture. We skip counted smaller leaves in various groupings with our songs from Classical Conversations.


The rest of the day was spent playing. He made several leaf crowns for different family members and spent a few hours playing outside in his “Fern Palace.”


This evolved into muddy, muddy play with all of his siblings as the afternoon wore on.
We also use The Homegrown Preschooler curriculum in our home and I love how easily everything blends together. It has really kept me on track!  Gentle learning in the morning and non stop play in the afternoon.

There is pressure everywhere to make things much more rigorous at a much earlier age, but the research stands strong that children need play and a later start date with rigorous academics. I am reminded everyday that I do not teach to standardize my children, I teach to bless them with the opportunity to learn in their own unique way in their own time.




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!

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…..”


The Wonder of Child-led Play.


See the joy? Its catching.

My littles spent three days OBSESSED with parachutes. I could not get them to even glance twice at hot air balloons. How could they not want to learn about hot air balloons? Its the first picture in the curriculum! What is happening? I almost, almost, had a Type A panic attack.

I refrained.

I decided early on to surrender this year. I want the boys to experience child-led play, not mom-led agendas. It will look different from the picture in the book. It will be unspeakably messy. It will absorb their thoughts and mesmerize them as they sink into it. It will be unpredictable. This is more than ok. It is glorious.


I set out one story book about hot air balloons, a little invitation to come and wonder. It sat, undisturbed, for two days. Eventually, the four year old started looking through it. Then he asked, “will you read this to me? The pictures look so so funny!” He loved the book. This newfound love sent us to the library in search of other books. “Lets find more balloons and colors and travel!” We came back with our arms full. “Lets color something…something…amazing!”


So we got to work. He gave me directions. Cut this way. Draw these lines. Then we colored in each block.

“It has to go in my room!” he shouted.

We went to the nursery and took the decorations down off one wall. Decorations that pleased my aesthetic but held no value for him.


We put up his creation and admired it together.


“Can this ballon stay here all year long? And then everything we learn we can put up right next to it?” He was wide-eyed with barely contained glee.

“YES!” I said.

Yes, we gave our preschoolers freedom to decorate their own room with all the things they are discovering.  They are making plans to add coffee filter flowers and a book basket for all the books they will be making this year. By the end of the year it will be a spectacular, beautiful mess. I fully anticipate holes, glue residue and staples to litter this wall.


After we made our nesting world, we realized that it really needed an additional circle, “My Room,” this small space that is their domain and holds so much importance for them. The rhetoric around here is changing. Not just in deciding to “say yes” more often. The boys have taken ownership of their surroundings. Learning to say “please” and “thank you” has quickly evolved into learning how to unstack the dishwasher, feeding the dog, making the bed and throwing shreds of paper in the trash. This should not surprise me. After all, play is the hot air balloon that can take you far beyond your wildest dreams. When I first opened the curriculum I wondered why we weren’t given specific tasks for each day. Now I know. This cannot be tethered or outlined. These little-big imaginations run the schedule. How fantastic to see where the sparks fly and what they bring us to next. One question leads to a whole other avenue of exploration. I show them colorful balloons and before I know it we have spent three days with Lois Elhert, planting a rainbow. Then we are off around the around the world, finding ingredients to bake an apple pie. I remind myself everyday, “Hands off those imaginations! Let them be little and let them be!”  We still have our rhythm, but there exists another rhythm within that is entirely of their own making.


Our little sensory seeker is pleased as punch with his herbal playdoh. He was hesitant at first, so I set the playdoh down on a wood slice and walked away. A few minutes later I walked by and he was standing at the table, eye level with the herbal doh. Three minutes later he was sniffing its yummy cinnamon-apple scent. Soon he was poking one finger slowly into the warm center of the freshly made doh. I brought down a basket of items I had asked my elder children to collect. Then my second-born son (who is also my little guy’s BEST BUD!) sat down next to him and started to play. Soon they were both engaged in deep play.


Forty minutes later the little guy wandered off. My six year old kept on playing. The seven year old stopped by and joined him.


The four year old, having had his middle-child “someone is having fun without me” radar sound off, soon joined in as well. The littlest came back with him.

They played for hours. Deep, deep, engaged play.

I washed dishes. I folded laundry. I swept the floor. They played.

They played inside stories. They played new kingdom orders. They made tiny motorcycles for Ralph S. Mouse. They made plates and cups for Violet and the rest of the Boxcar children. They made snozzcumbers and Wonka bars. They made tiny shields for an invisible army on the brink of war with Uther Pendragon. Our youngest sat mesmerized by a ball of doh. Rolling it back and forth. Learning how applied pressure would change its shape. Many, many levels of play and learning occurred without a word or suggestion from me.

Wonder of wonders.


My eldest boys are currently in 2nd grade. They have not shown the least hesitation in joining in their little brothers’ curriculum. Far from it. I often hear the phrase, “Need me to test that out before you give it to Team B?”  They were yearning for this kind of play and I didn’t see it before. They played, but not to this degree. “A Year of Playing Skillfully” is geared for children 3-7. I wondered if Team A would bite. They did. They are soaking it in every chance they get! I love seeing them play. In a world where kids are forced to grow up at a break neck pace, its good to see innocence thriving. This world may be going crazy, but my kids can still be kids.





My husband did a lovely job building our sensory table and plexiglass easel. The boys love playing with it!

We have a lot of eager hands, so I requested three bins for our sensory table. For our pond play, I stirred up a tub of green water and left it in the sun to heat up. I put lots of ice in the blue water. The middle bin held our water beads and our frog life cycle figures. I loved hearing the surprise in their voices as they beheld the table and discovered the varying temperatures.


I also loved how down right dirty and disgusting they got.

Whenever its nearly time to go back inside, I love to ask, “Are you dirty enough yet?” They always say “NO!” even if they are absolutely filthy. “No! We can get dirtier!” Then they go and find the last few specks of dirt they had yet to discover and drag it inside with them. I’m a big fan of hosing them off before they enter. I’m also a big fan of Oxiclean detergent.

We are spending more and more time outside each day as the unbearable heat of summer dwindles. Pretty soon our main outdoor months will arrive and we will be outside the majority of the day. How I am looking forward to it! Exchanging anxiety for joy–what a life giving act. I thought my year would be one of sadness and regret. Instead it is unfurling into joy and peace.

This week, I corresponded with a dear friend about mothering and childhood and the difficulty of battling our insecurities and feelings of failure. I shared that I had stopped looking at my boy’s childhood as the top of an hourglass, sand slowly trickling away. In saying “yes” I have set my gaze on the hourglass as the sand builds, each grain that falls, each day that passes, I am watching my children grow into who they will become. I am not losing, I am gaining.


The ball is rolling. The “YES” answers keep coming. These boys are growing their wonder.


Why We Said YES!

It was crowded in the hallway. Hundreds of fellow conference attendees were bustling by.  I was tucked in the corner, weeping.

Weeks after a string of scary evaluations, doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions for our youngest son, we were still feeling shell shocked and overwhelmed. The thought of sending my baby to the state run special education preschool in our area depressed me. My one visit there left a hollow feeling in my chest.  I had carried those worries to the conference. Hoisted on my back and festering with every passing minute.

Every session left me wondering, how can I give my other children this beautiful education, but then turn around and surrender my son to a broken education system that does not care about him as a person? 


After the 12th lecture of emotional turmoil, my husband found me sitting on the ground in tears.  Frantic words started tumbling out, “I have to keep him at home. I have to do this myself. Can I do that? I’m not a therapist. We can take him to a speech therapist. But he needs to be at home. What do I teach him? How can I teach 2nd grade to the older boys, teach K-4 and then somehow squeeze in something else for him? I’ll just have to write something out. Plan my own curriculum for him. Something beautiful and meaningful with lots and lots of play. You remember the book by Anthony Esolen that I was reading? Or “Last Child in the Woods?” Fred Rogers and Anthony Esolen would have a baby and that baby would be my curriculum. (Sniff sniff) Leigh Bortins would be its fairy godmother and it will live in messy haven of finger paint and mud half the time and a woodland cottage the other half…. (sniff) You get that right? I don’t know how or when I’ll find the time, but I have to do this for my baby!!”

My husband held me, said all the reassuring things he knew to say (really, what could he say to all that craziness?) and then we parted ways for the next seminars. I looked down at my program and saw “The Homegrown Preschooler” circled twice.

I almost didn’t go. I felt exhausted. I wanted to cry on Sonya Schafer’s shoulder and bribe Cheryl Swope to come drink tea with me and SHOW ME THE WAY!!!

I found the correct room and sat down and prayed that God would show me what to do.

Then Lesli Richards fired up her power point and CHANGED. OUR. LIVES.

Turns out I didn’t have to write a curriculum because Leslie Richards and Kathy Lee already did it (and waaay better than I ever could have!).


A curriculum that my two youngest could use together. A perfect fit for our little boy and all his needs. A blessing for our lately overlooked third born. It was beautiful and heartfelt and loving and jam packed with PLAY.


Every slide in the presentation echoed my personal philosophy of education. Every. single. one.
Throw some Esolen quotes my way, read a passage from ND Wilson’s Death by Living, a few classical models for child development and you will have my undying affection. Before the session was out I was contemplating naming our next child after Lesli.

Of course, I walked back to The Homegrown Preschooler booth and waited like a sad puppy for Lesli to return from her lecture. She let me cry all over her and she encouraged me. I looked through the curriculum and realized everything we needed was addressed and covered through skillful play. Hallelujah! I bought the entire curriculum and the following day I went to Kathy’s lecture.

Kathy made me laugh. She reminded me to keep having fun. Undertaking a child’s education is a serious endeavor, but it is also a joy-filled wonder! What are my kids experiencing each day? What sights, sounds, smells, tastes will they recall from their childhood. It was the kick in the pants I needed to stop crying and keep experiencing life with my children.  I walked out of there desperate to find lightning bugs, bake gooey chocolate cookies, knit a soft blanket and sit in the woods with my kids until the sun set. I’m told this side effect is totally common after experiencing these particular lectures.

So we said “YES!”

YES to puddles and dragonflies and painting the driveway with pastels. Yes to blanket forts and s’mores at 9AM. Yes to amphibian guests at our daily tea party. Yes to reading our favorite book again and again and again.

We watched the YES effect spread throughout the house like a domino rally.  It tumbled into every room of our home and oh, how these children began blossoming and smiling and playing.

I’ll be recording our journey through Homegrown Prescooler’s curriculum, “A Year of Playing Skillfully.”  We’d love to have you follow along!