Our Week in Review: A Return to Learning


I've felt an itch for awhile now to spend a little bit more time on planning the activities that Silas and I share throughout the day and to become more intentional with how I spend my own time. While I love the slow pace of our days (and don't really intend to change that too much), I find that without putting in the time to plan, many days go by in which we don't really "do" anything. This is no huge tragedy, of course, but it does leave both Silas and I feeling a bit restless and unsatisfied. 

It started with a loose New Year's resolution to take a Facebook break, only checking in there when I have messages to send to the folks by which that is our only means of communication. Then it was a commitment to making and sticking with some sort of a cleaning routine (a very, very big challenge for me). Then, greatly inspired by this post, I gave myself permission to stray a bit from the Waldorf-inspired path that we've been following and to re-explore those elements of Reggio and Montessori that so resonated with me when I was first considering our journey of learning at home.

It has been wonderful.

We have had more meaningful conversations, more quality time spent together, and all around more positive days this week than we have in quite awhile. I think I'm just the kind of person who needs a schedule to motivate me. So a schedule we shall have.

So this week...

Exploring Art

It's been ages since we've done a proper art exploration. So, I opened up this book and decided to go through its activities one by one. First up, a color mixing experiment using colored water and cornstarch.


 


Silas was thrilled with this experience. Prior, I didn't really know whether or not he had grasped the concept of creating new colors by mixing any two of the primaries. He clearly demonstrated that he did. He discovered that he could make "light" and "dark" versions of his mixed colors by adjusting how much of each primary color he added to the dish. 

The cornstarch element is partially pure sensory fun, but when added to the mixed colors, it also "pulls" the colors apart so that you can see that red and yellow make orange, for example. We did notice this happening, but he was more focused on the variation in texture that he achieved by adding more or less cornstarch to each color well.

Watercolor Painting 

This summer we were in a wonderful habit of doing wet-on-wet watercolor painting once a week. This was something that I drew from the Waldorf tradition and I liked that we were returning again and again to the same medium so that Silas could really immerse himself in it and start to achieve some sort of proficiency with it. We finally made our return.



Practical Life

Part of the motivation to be more regular about cleaning is Silas' enthusiasm for helping. He really finds a lot of joy in doing meaningful work alongside me, which means that, ya know, I actually have to be doing meaningful work. One day this week I mopped the kitchen floors (you do not want to know how long it's been...) and he declared that he wanted to mop the floors too, when he's older. "How about right now?" I countered. He was so thrilled. He did the entryway on his own and was so proud of the job that he had done.


Project Work

As I mentioned before, we are diving head first into a project about polar bears. Silas has always had a variety of interests and I feel that I've done a pretty good job of supporting them, but by formally calling it a "project" and carving out time in our day and week specifically to work on his interests, I am motivated to pause and listen more closely to his questions and he is learning that the work that he does has value and is worth pursuing.

One afternoon we took a trek to our local Natural History Museum to look at the polar bears and the other arctic animals. Currently, Silas is really fascinated by how the polar bear waits at a breathing hole for a seal to emerge from the water and then pounces. He wanted to learn more about that, so we brought along paper and pencil so that he would have a way to record what he observed about the bear that might help it catch the seal. Spoiler alert: there has been a lot of talk about teeth and claws around here.

He also made drawings of several other things that caught his eye, including the feet and eyes of the arctic fox and the beak of a godwit.




Modeling

Another Waldorf element that we had previously included was a dedicated weekly time for modeling. I do think we are ready to introduce modeling with beeswax, but this week we stuck with play dough, since it's what we have on hand and what we know. We worked together for a long time before the open-ended work that we were doing segued into a return to polar bears. 

In this photo, Silas is using the drawing that he made of polar bear teeth and tongue as a guide to re-create those elements in play dough.


Nature Study

I downloaded the free Introduction to Biomes curriculum from Waseca and am excited about sharing it with Silas over the next several months. He has been showing an increasing interest in maps and knowing the names of places in the world and I love Waseca's method of introducing such things through hands-on study of animals, plants, and the environment, rather than rote memorization of country names and capitals. It includes a lot of art and storytelling, which, of course only makes it more appealing to me.

But, of course, I wasn't quite prepared to start it this week, so we did some very simple animal matching, spinning off from his interest in the arctic.  


I also plan to add focused time to explore science and math and hope to incorporate those in the weeks to come.

I also just wanted to send a shout-out to Kate at An Everyday Story, whose weekly photo journals of her own children's child-led learning have greatly inspired me. If you have any interest in project-based or Reggio-style early education at home, she is a wonderful resource.



A Year of Blessings



Ever since Silas has been old enough to sit upright, he has joined us at the table for dinner. It's been really important for both Steve and I to keep our evening meal together as an anchor to the day; something that we can all count on and look forward to. It is very rare that the three of us do not sit down together to eat and visit about our day. Over time we've incorporated a candle and then a short blessing that we all say together. 

Last year, we tried doing a new dinner verse each month. I wrote them out and then we would take turns reading it until we all had it memorized. I was able to keep up with finding a new verse each month for the first half of the year, but we kept the same verse for the second half.

With all of the verses written on watercolor paper that Silas had so beautifully painted throughout the year, I knew that I wanted to bind them together in some way to make a little "Year of Blessings" book that we could look back upon. I ended up doing a very simple stick binding. Just two hole punches in each page, a single rubber band up through the two holes from the back, and looped over a stick and we had our book. 

Here are the verses that we used:

Old Father Time stooped at his wheel
Hear the New Year's bell begin to peel
And at the end of spinning through
He joins the old year to the new.

Every good deed and kind word said 
Doth leave a bright gem on that golden thread
For those who have used their moments right
The angels will weave a garment bright
Where every gem like a star shall shine
And will bless the work of Father Time.

****

Blessings on the blossom
Blessings on the fruit
Blessings on the leaves and stems
And blessings on the root.

****

For the golden corn
For the apples in the trees
For the creamy butter
For the honey in our tea
For fruits and nuts and berries
That grow along the way
Dear Father Sun
And Mother Earth
We give thanks for this day.

****

Mother Earth, Mother Earth
Take this seed and give it birth.

Father Sun, gleam and glow
Until the roots begin to grow.

Sister Rain, Sister rain
Shed thy tears to swell the grain.

Brother Wind, breathe and blow
Then the blade, green will grow.

Earth and Sun and Wind and Rain,
Turn to gold the living grain.

****

Bless the Earth so stout and strong 
Bless the water that flows along
Bless the air that whirls and shakes
And bless the fire that our bread bakes.       (Reg Down)

Polar Bears: A Reggio Project






For the past year or so, Silas and I have been doing "theme week" learning. It's pretty simple and laid back (and we also took a several months hiatus during my first trimester of this pregnancy), but it's really helped to keep me motivated to create opportunities for learning as well as to keep his interest engaged. We've done weeks on strawberries, wool, bread, robins, farm machinery, and more. Our rhythm consisted of a morning circle time with songs, fingerplays, and verses on the theme and a new book each day (some picture books and some nonfiction) on the theme. I'd also plan one open-ended art experience and one open-ended science exploration for the week. Easy peasy.

It was working really well. We were discovering some really great books, he was excited about starting each day, and we were having a truly wonderful time together. But then, as seems to always happen, Silas' needs started to shift and change. While he still very much looks forward to circle time, it seemed that a week was only just enough time to scratch the surface of a topic and it started to become more and more obvious when his interest was piqued by something that he wanted to explore more deeply. We needed to make time for that. Time for him to think and to wonder and to come up with his own answers. So, I dusted off all of my Reggio and Emergent Curriculum books and ideas and we've made a full-force return to project-based learning.

We did a theme week on migrating animals earlier this winter, which sparked a keen interest in the arctic circle and, specifically, polar bears. It's been our main topic of exploration for about a week and a half now and the unpredictable, winding path this journey of discovery has taken has been nothing short of amazing.

We've read books, done sensory activities, built a model of a polar bear den, and drawn; with me documenting, discussing, and recording conversations along the way. I wanted to share just a little peek of this project, if for no other reason than because I am so absolutely taken with this method of co-learning; it is so very exciting. It's scary to jump in without a plan, but it is oh-so worth it.

Right now, in this moment, we're talking about polar bear dens. I invited Silas outside with me to try to dig a den of our own. We experimented and discovered that it's really hard to dig into a crusty snow drift. How does the polar bear do it? We talked about our hands and polar bear paws and Silas observed how they were the same and how they were different. He noticed that polar bears have much sharper claws/nails than we do, so he decided to try out some different tools to make his hands more like polar bear paws. Much experimentation and conversation followed, not to mention the full morning spent actively working our bodies out in the fresh air and snow.

I have no idea where we will go now, what we will do tomorrow, or how long this interest will last and that's okay. Silas is in the driver's seat here. I'm just (happily) along for the ride.

An Apron for the Chef









For Christmas this year, we gifted Silas with a wooden kitchen. And what kitchen would be complete without a little mama-embellished chef's apron to go with it?

He's actually had a play kitchen since he was 18 months old, the white one that is on the left, which we love dearly. My grandfather built it in the 40s for my mother and her siblings to play with and it lived on the porch of my childhood home for the duration of my youth. Silas is the latest in the line of children who have had the privilege of mixing up all sorts of concoctions on its counter. But, it's more of a pantry, really, lacking a stove, oven, and sink. Silas was more than happy to make do, of course, clearing all the books off a shelf when he needed an oven or stuffing all the dishes in between the couch cushions when he needed a sink. This mama, however, was ready for all the kitchen goodness to be a bit more contained. So, we took the plunge and ordered a proper kitchen. With the cabinet to the right (which used to be home to all my poetry books) as a refrigerator, I'd say we're pretty set as far as kitchens go.

The apron is one that I dug out of what's left of my childhood dress-up box. I honestly don't ever remember wearing it. I have a vague memory of my mom buying it for some specific purpose (a play of some sort, perhaps?), but I'm not exactly sure what. It's still a tad too big for Silas, but I figured he might as well have it now rather than later. The embroidery was so much fun to work on as I sat on the couch next to Steve in the evenings; it came together in just a handful of nights.

I had visions of making a bunch of felt food to go in the kitchen as well, but that didn't come to fruition, which is probably just as well. He has plenty of play food and the less there is, the less there is for us to pick up at the end of the day. I did have a few things tucked away that I received in a crafting swap last summer and a few others that I had picked up at the thrift store over the past year, so there was a bit of "new" there. The surprise favorite? A handful of blueberries. They're just some wooden beads stained blue, but we have "eaten" many, many blueberry creations over the past couple weeks.

Owlie




The winter that I was pregnant with Silas there was a Great Horned Owl that visited us every morning. On days that Steve and I were gone to work, we'd catch sight of him as he took flight from our roof as we pulled into our driveway. On the weekends, we'd see him in the morning, perched in the same tree, looking over at us, and we'd drink our coffee together. We wondered what he was doing out and about during the day, but were grateful for his company. One Saturday morning, he swooped down, caught a snake, flew away and we never saw him again. Birds of Prey, in general, hold special significance for me, and this encounter in particular seemed very meaningful. I held onto that image as that pregnancy came to a close and I gave birth to our little boy.

I had intended to knit this Owlie sleep sack and hat for Silas. The pattern was printed and placed in the ambitious stack of things I wanted make for my little one, but it never came to fruition. Early this fall, heavy with a new pregnancy, I rested in the rocking chair one morning while Silas got ready for the day. We heard a riot of crows outside, worrying over something. I told Silas to go to the window to see what the fuss was about. He did and looked for awhile.

"I see an owl!" he said.

"Oh?" I replied, skeptical that that was what he was really seeing, assuming that it was just a clump of leaves in a distant tree or something like that. But, sure enough, when I ambled over to the window to see for myself, there in a very close tree, looking at us, was an owl.

"It's a Great Horned Owl!" he breathlessly said. And again, he was right.

We laid on the bed together and looked out the window at this big, beautiful bird of prey. He looked back at us. We watched each other all morning. I told Silas the story of the Great Horned Owl that had visited us when he was living in my belly.

"I think this must be that owl's baby. He hatched and he grew up and then he came to visit us," he explained to me.

And so I knew that I finally had to make this little owl-embellished set. It's all ready for plenty of newborn snuggles and filled, I believe, with the protective power of our owl friends.


Joining Ginny.

Busy Holiday Weekending





The Tomten had us very busy this weekend. A tuba concert of Christmas Carols on Friday (there was, indeed, dancing involved), an Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble on Saturday, and on Sunday, a visit to the county museum to see the local model railroad club's set-up of trains (the favorite of the weekend, I think).

How was your weekend?

Joining Karen.

Orange & Clove Pomanders




Continuing our celebration of the plant kingdom this week, Silas and I made some orange and clove pomanders. I remember seeing these around when I was a kid, but I don't think that I ever made them myself. It's such a staple of the Christmas holiday season that we had to give it a try.

We actually used clementines instead of oranges. I pre-pierced the holes for Silas and he pushed in the cloves. In all honesty, this was a bit of a tough project for a three-year-old. He was definitely able to do it, but I think he found it a little bit frustrating and was happy to declare himself "done" after finishing two of the four sections on his clementine. So I peeled him a fresh one and he ate it while I finished the spiral design on mine and filled in the rest of his. Now, we'll just set them aside to dry and once they do they'll go on the seasonal table, returning year after year.

Wet Felting Stones






We did this project last week as part of our Festival of Stones. I had envisioned a nature walk where we would gather large stones to wet felt around, but alas, there are very few locations that I could find that had stones that would fit the bill and where we could legally gather them (our state parks, for example, do not allow you to take rocks, which I completely understand). So, I ended up buying a bag of stones at the craft store (although, I'm not at all convinced that those stones were any more ethically gathered than if I had picked them up off of public land myself...c'est la vie). 

The soft wool, the warm bowl of water, the slick soap...this was a wonderfully tactile experience to warm us up on a cold almost-winter morning. The motion of gently transferring the wet stone from hand to hand was incredibly meditative. We followed this tutorial and had great success. I needle felted a spiral of stars onto my stone and as soon as he saw them, Silas declared that his was in need of a moon.

Second Light of Advent: The Light of Plants


"The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower and fruit by whom we live and grow."


As part of our celebration of the second week of Advent, which honors the plant kingdom, Silas chose some plants to bring home that are his and his alone. We totally lucked out and found the shelf and all the plants in the same thrifting trip and so were able to spend an afternoon repotting and getting everything settled.

His watering can lives on the shelf just below and after a single demonstration, he was eager to do it all himself; filling it at the bathroom sink, holding it just so with his thumb over the spout to prevent spills, and walking oh so carefully.

Silas is very much at that stage where he wants to do everything by himself and he is very eager to take on responsibilities and it seems that a few plants that are all his own is a very fitting way to fulfill this need, as well as to add a much needed touch of green at this time of year.