Preschool Nature Study: A Beginning in Wonder, by Briana Elizabeth

My very first memory is of sitting on my nana’s lawn in a sea of white and purple violets. I was mesmerized by how all of the purple splotches on the white faces were different on each and every violet. I would pick bouquets of them by the fistful, carefully layering the leaves around the outside. I still love violets and when I see them in my lawn, I dig them up and replant them, tucking them into places where they are a bright and happy face in dappled shade.

Sometimes I would find Red Efts crawling around the leaves where the woods joined her lawn, and I’d crawl after them on all fours, amazed that their tiny little fingers could carry them so far.

I turned over every rock in her flower garden looking for Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, and if I was particularly lucky, I would find a fat, shiny Yellow-Spotted Salamander. 

Nana had bird feeders all around the house, placed so we could watch the birds eat as we sat, and she knew the names of all of them and their songs. She knew who were mates and who was building a nest. I often would find bright blue robin’s eggs cracked on the ground, telling me another brood had been hatched.

I spent my days playing outside while she read or cooked, and she would answer my questions or name things for me when I brought them to her, from nuts to leaves.

 

Today I’m an avid organic gardener who loves her flower gardens, hatching mantis sacs, and watching the butterflies. We sat on my mother’s deck the other day and listened while the hummingbirds that frequent her yard had wars, dashing, darting, and chirping at each other through it all. My children sat too, amazed that those small little birds were so willing to be that close to us.

The wonder that I still carry with me, that I am cultivating in my children, is the gift of nature study.

Nature study doesn’t need a curriculum that must be accomplished by the end of the year. It needs time to wonder. It needs the space to look at a thing in awe.

I had the privilege as a child to play outside, but if that is not your housing arrangement, a houseplant can provide just as much wonder — think venus flytrap or Christmas cactus or spider plant. A leisurely walk in a park would, as well. My nana was able to teach me the names of all of the trees, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go on a walk to collect some leaves and bring them home to identify them from a field guide or on the internet. Doing a leaf rubbing and finding out why some leaves turn colors would round out the lesson (do you know why?). I had one friend who did a nature study on a cantaloupe seed that had sprouted in her sink disposal when her children found the plant growing up out of the drain!

Take them out on walks and tell them about the bees, how they make honey for your oatmeal and toast by gathering pollen from all of the flowers, and how the dandelions of spring are some of their first foods. Teach them to be gentle with the little bees, and wonder together at which flower he might choose next and why.

 

If you want, there are some amazing books you can add in for your nature studies. Field guides for mom or dad go without saying, but then there are books like The View from the Oak which is a great book to help us learn to wonder about nature. If your child has a fascination with owls, for instance, use your local library to read about them and perhaps visit a zoo for an end-of-the-year treat. Watch the moon and look for the stars with Glow in the Dark Constellations or bring Frogs, Toads, and Turtles to a lake with you.

But the most important thing of all is that you make time to do it and be present while you  do.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Blessed Be the Interruptions, by Briana Elizabeth

 

When my twins were three months old, I got pregnant with Child Number 6. He was born almost within the same year as his twin sisters. So, at one point in time, I had three toddlers in the house while I was trying to school their three older siblings who were 5, 9, and 13.

I would be lying if I told you I remembered those days. They were a sleep-deprived blur. They were days of crunchy things underfoot, endless nursing, laundry never being done, dishes almost never done, and my husband gone 16 hours a day because he was building a business to support us. We were ships passing in the night, and when he did crawl into bed, we almost always had a kid or two sleeping between us and our touching feet became the most comforting of hugs. We were in the thick of building our family, and he needed to know that I was holding the fort down while he was out there slaying dragons for us.

Through all of this, and despite all of it, those older three were homeschooled. Not only were they homeschooled, but they became excellent students who learned Latin, and Logic and are pretty well-read.

I have NO idea how I did it. None. I remember fighting over The Scarlet Letter. I remember fighting over Traditional Logic. The younger one even learned to eventually read and do basic math in those years. And I did it in a 1000 square foot house.

Much more, I remember buying chickens and how much fun my children had learning about them and caring for them, and then how we learned to butcher them together because we were trying hard to be farmers. They remember eating all of the peas out of garden before I got to harvest one. We remember a baby squirrel jumping on one of the twins and her giving a blood curdling scream that sent me racing into the yard to find her, and then putting that squirrel in a cage and learning how to feed it. They remember fishing, and learning to ride bikes, and life being very home-centered because that was all I could manage. We remember lots of days at the park.

What am I trying to tell you? That it will be OK. The children will learn, and just “sticking to the basics” is fine. The house will recover. Believe it or not, your marriage will be strengthened, because you trust your team member even more and take pride in what you’ve built together.

So, I’ve some ideas to help you do something with those toddlers while you ignore the laundry, and the dishes, and the crunchy things underfoot.

Create a flow. Call it a habit, call it a loose schedule. Whatever you do, don’t let it dictate to you what must be done. It’s only there to establish a routine to your day. Now is when we eat. This is when we rest. Now is when we learn. This is when we read aloud.

Get a baby yard. They will not die if confined. Do we? No, with confinement we learn creativity. Boundaries are safe things. Even use baby gates to fence off one safe room for them.

Minimize the toys that you put in the play yard/room. Can you imagine what your house would look like if you allowed three toddlers to keep every toy anyone ever gave them? Pack some up and rotate them every week or two.

Make yourself a busy board or two. Think of what fun this could be to make together! They are wonderful things that help fine motor skills, encourage problem solving, and are very Montessori. Make them smaller and switch them out if you can. Make tactile books for them with different surfaces. Get them a broom and dustpan and show them how to sweep.

Bring them into your schooling when you can, for the read-alouds (let them be busy in the room while you read aloud), and for art and especially for singalongs and nursery rhymes. Pull up their high chairs to the table and give them some paper and some watercolors. Make sorting games. Have your older children help you make these! What fun they will have helping and screwing things onto the busy board. This is a wonderful lesson in parenting, too, and for appropriate expectations for children.

Don’t forget to have fun days and school on the floor or in blanket forts! Let the older ones have some time schooling independently where they can, but always remember to check their work! I always had mine bring me their work them they were done.

Adjust your expectations. Stop comparing your season of life to a mother who has older children. Give yourself grace: this is a hard thing you are doing, and instead of criticizing yourself more, how about you pat yourself on the back more?

Find God amidst the pots and pans. St Teresa of Avila told her nuns, “Don’t think that if you had a great deal of time you would spend more of it in prayer. Get rid of that idea! God gives more in a moment than in a long period of time, for His actions are not measured by time at all. Know that even when you are in the kitchen, Our Lord is moving among the pots and pans.”

Know that this is your vocation and that this hard time will only be like this for a short time in the scheme of things. All of my children were out of the house for a weekend recently,  and let me tell you I was bored and lonely. I know that those days seem far off to you, but they are right around the corner. My youngest is only 8. I remember back when they were small thinking that if I was alone in a room for a day I would have done nothing but stared at a wall in silence and been content to do just that. This too shall pass.

Remember to bend when a child asks you for something. Your day is made up of a hundred small requests and demands on your time. God as our parent is always barraged with questions and requests from us, and is always patient and long-suffering.

This is a high calling, to be a mother. Don’t let it pass without letting it change us into the people we want to become.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Handwriting: Learning Cursive First, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I taught my children cursive first. Not because I thought it was superior, or because I read the studies saying cursive made kids smarter. I taught them cursive first because it’s easier. Yes, that’s right, cursive is easier to teach than manuscript. Why? It has fewer strokes.  And it actually uses more of your brain, and is beneficial for cognitive development.  But mostly because I’m lazy.

My lefty son was the first child child I taught cursive (my older two learned cursive in their public school). It was very frustrating until I learned that his using a pencil made him ‘push’ and that a fountain pen enabled him to ‘pull’ like a righty would do. This lessened wrist fatigue and enabled him to write more and for longer periods of time. If you’d like to start a young child with a fountain pen, I recommend the Pelikano Jr which comes in lefty and righty. If you’re starting with older children, try the Platinum Preppy which is very affordable and comes in lots of fun colors.

Now, for teaching the actual letters, we went with the French styled cursive, which I am partial to.

The French Cursive book starts out with letting the children copy simple strokes, then moves them on to letters. I cheated a bit though, so let me explain. For example, the French styled ‘a’ uses three strokes, but I  taught them to not take their pen off the paper. So don’t be bound to it.

Once they graduate from the French stroke and letter booklet, we found Seyes ruled notebooks (which is the lined paper you see in the above picture) for their copy work. There are some free printables that you can use to practice on.

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We love doing copy work this way. My children are very proud of their handwriting and their notebooks which, when finished, will be beautiful books of poetry that they will be able to keep for the rest of their lives. Children can respect beautiful things, and they can be taught to use these tools with care. I taught mine that they were not allowed to scribble in their copy work books, and they were supposed to respect them.

There is something very reverential about writing poetry in a beautiful book, with a beautiful writing utensil, and the children actually are proud of being trusted to use them. But best of all there is a gravitas during that portion of our schooling, which gets done almost as a morning benediction for the day.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Parents Are Teachers: No Operator's Manual, by Briana Elizabeth

by Briana Elizabeth

It’s a joke of motherhood, that these children we have came without operator’s manuals. Then, when you have one of them figured out, you have another that is the complete opposite.

They break our hearts, and they make us cheer, and they keep us up too late at night, and they throw up on us…yet we still keep having them! Mothers, who’ve given birth and KNOW what they are getting into, still decide to have more children because just look at them, and how they make our hearts burst within our chests.

But wait, you never got an owner’s manual. You didn’t get a certificate saying that you had attained the skills to successfully raise a virtuous person. You have no Parental Degree. How are you even capable of this?

Love.

And I would argue that that same love is what enables you to homeschool them successfully. Love, and the acting on that love — the drive to do your best by them at all times.

How?

Firstly, you know your child better than anyone else. You may not actualize all of that knowledge, but you can tell when you’re pushing too hard, when they’re not working to their hardest, what they like and dislike, and when they just need some food and a nap.

You want the best for them. I know there are questionable parents out there, but I have yet to meet a parent who wanted their child to fail. Having children makes us want them to do far better than we have done, and we would do anything to give them those possibilities.

Being a part of some large homeschooling communities over the years, I have seen parents from every walk of life successfully homeschool their children. Poor and uneducated themselves, to the multi-degreed and even teachers who have decided to teach their own at home.

Apart from the love you bear for your own child, you will need to be able to learn with them, perhaps ahead of them so that you can teach them. And though it’s hard work, it’s not impossible. Midnight feedings are hard, yet not impossible. Changing a bazillion diapers is hard, but not impossible. Raising kids is hard, but not impossible!

So what I am saying is that homeschooling is a continuum of parenting with all of the hard work, the losses, and the benefits. And just like  parenting, the good of love outweighs the hard work. You don’t have to be perfect, or have the perfect curriculum, or the perfect house. You have to want the best for them, and be willing to work hard for that best with them. Just like parenting.

 

Bribrianaana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Review: Primary Language Lessons, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I have long been a user of Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons. My children are wonderful writers, and I fully give credit to Emma Serl’s books for their ability. However, their only drawback has been that unless you understood what the lesson was trying to teach and had a firm grasp on grammar yourself, you wouldn’t be able to use them with the same success. This is why I was always very hesitant to recommend them to beginning homeschoolers. They are not lessons that you read through, fill in the blanks and check the answer key. The teacher has to be a fully active participant in drawing out in the student what the purpose of the lesson is.

I am hesitant no more. Cynthia of Primary Language Lessons and has done the hard work of not only making a wonderful workbook for the student, but also wrote Teacher Helps in the appendix of the download that will show the parent precisely what the lesson is about. There are beautiful pages for dictation, and she has also left the picture studies as the original. The structure and art are so pleasing and in keeping with the hardbound format that the workbook fully keeps with the tradition of Serl’s work. And, she has done all of this for an amazing price of $8.95 for each grade.

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The wonderful thing about using the same curriculum for each student is that it builds the family culture, and the homeschool culture, so when I told my very last student that she was going to be starting Primary Language Lessons just like her older siblings, she was so proud. The download was easy to print out, and all we had to do was punch it and tuck it into a binder. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed the lessons and I had to made her stop plowing through them. (Plowing through is not the aim of the workbook, even if they can. It’s a multi-threaded approach to language arts, and each portion is very important to the whole of the student’s learning!)

In closing, it is with great confidence that I recommend Cynthia Albright’s Primary Language Lessons. She’s done an amazing job with the product and given the homeschooling community much needed help with what was to begin with an almost perfect language arts curriculum.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review on the Sandbox to Socrates blog. Opinions expressed in this review are the opinions of myself or my family and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sandbox to Socrates blog. I received no compensation for this review, nor was I required to write a positive review. This disclosure is in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

 

brianaBriana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

What Does Creativity Have to Do With Classical Education? by Briana Elizabeth

 

What if I told you everything?

Stratford Caldecott in his book Beauty in the Word renames the Trivium’s Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric as Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating. Or Jenny Rallens in her video The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation uses Lectio, Meditatio, Compositi and talks about the idea of Compositi being ‘honey making’.

Both Communicating and Compositi are creative.

As I was thinking about these ideas and remembering Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was getting excited about creative projects I could bring into my homeschooling! I’m a creative person; I could totally think up projects for each subject that would segue well with what my kids were studying. Unit studies, lap books, crafts! But the more I thought about that, I started to wonder, is that really the type of creativity that Bloom’s Taxonomy is speaking about? Is that true Communication and Compositi?

If I make a project for my children to use with their homeschooling, who is being creative? Me? And am I dragging them through something that doesn’t add anything to their learning?

I had already done that a few times by following a few other curricula, and what I learned that no matter what the projects were, my kids forgot them. I came to the conclusion that the only person being creative in these situations was me. It was another moment for me to realize that homeschooling is not about me, what I want to do, or what I think is fun. It’s about what is best for them, how they learn, and even if writing out Latin words in Light Bright pegs on a rainy afternoon sounds like fun to me, my kids might not think so.

I had circled back to my first question: How do I foster this top tier of creativity in my children? Is this even compatible with classical home schooling? And then I thought about when I had seen it in my children. After a semester on poetry (and years of poetry copywork), one of my daughters started writing her own poetry, without any prompting from me. Another had written her own poem and made a cross-stitched picture of it. My sons loved drawing their own comic strips and I had seen what they had learned in our medieval studies making their way into the strips. Another son used what he learned in the poetry semester to write music and obtain a merit badge. All of this was totally unprompted by me.

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What I had given them was the scaffold to be creative. I taught them the skills (rhyme and meter) and gave them the tools (hearing poetry and a deep well of ideas).

Now, how can I more purposely build a scaffold, and foster even deeper creativity? What kind of schoolwork is making the creativity for them, and what type of schoolwork is giving them the ability to create with the skills and tools they’ve learned? What type of schoolwork enables them to behold glory and represent that glory in their own medium?

Something I am going to be trying is Charlotte Mason’s Book of Centuries. I recently read one of the best books on Charlotte Mason’s practices that I have ever read, aside from Charlotte’s own series, titled  The Living Page by author Laurie Bestvater. It is a book I am going to tell everyone about. What seemed like a murky idea in Charlotte’s books that I never quite understood, Laurie has teased out with a lot of research and devotion to her task, and she writes about it with eloquence.

Why the book of Centuries, The Nature Notebook, a Commonplace Book, and a Timeline Notebook? Because they are scaffolds. Here are the tools and here are the directions, but the end product is fully up to the student. It is about what they have assimilated through their reading and learning,  and taken as their own to be expressed on paper as only they can.

As an artist, a blank canvas can be intimidating. How much easier if the art teacher tells you to draw a still life in monochromatic colors, or complimentary colors? The notebooks have rules to follow which give the child support, and parameters. Freedom to create comes with parameters.

If you do narrations with your children, you have provided the skills, and the tools, you built the scaffold, and the narration is the creativity. The picture narration your child draws is the creativity. But you have also given the scaffold. You have read a story — the child is supplying an oral narration on that story. Or the child is giving a picture narration of the story. You’re not handing them a blank page and telling them to create. You’re not creating for them, and asking them to somehow ingest that lesson as their own.

This is something that I am going to be checking myself with from now on. Have I given them the skills? The tools? Have I built the scaffold? Or have I created something for them and asked them to fill in the blanks? I need to keep reminding myself that this is not about me, this homeschooling journey is about them. My job is to build the scaffold.

 

Briana brianaElizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Why Classical Education? Along An Old Road, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I grew up in the receding mists of the 60s. Because of that, and living with grandparents who survived the Depression, there wasn’t much time or thought given to extras. Presents came on Christmas and birthdays. Food was plentiful but simple. I didn’t know what McDonald’s was until I was in my early 20s. When I asked for a drink, I was given water, and if I asked for Hawaiian Punch, I in turn was asked, “What’s wrong with water?” Bread was always whole wheat, and peanut butter was always natural, the thick kind you had to stir together each time you used it. We took a lot of vitamins, mounded up in custard molds and handed out each day.

When I grew up, I found out that though I now had the choice, I disliked white bread. Fruit drinks seemed awfully sweet, and water suited me fine. I don’t remember the last time I ate fast food. I have a cabinet filled with vitamins, and every day I give my children their small mounds (I keep my eyes open in thrift stores for custard molds).

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Now, of course I tried a few fast food burgers and soda. I drank some bug juice at parties. But in the end, my tastes were trained to enjoy wholesome food.


What does this have to do with classical homeschooling?

I was raised with readers. My parents’ friends went to exclusive prep schools and colleges. I remember as a child listening to their conversations and being in awe of how they saw the world and what they knew. They loved art and music, they played instruments, they enjoyed nature and were amateur naturalists. They had paintings and specimens on their walls.

When I was in high school, I was privileged to have English teachers who loved Shakespeare and literature. My sophomore English teacher read us the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Old English, and I was enchanted. My senior English teacher had us read books like The Brother’s Karamazov, Narcissus and Goldman,  and Shakespeare. We did nothing in class but read and write. I was also given free reign of the art room – pottery wheels and kilns, stained glass, and paints of all kinds. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. I saw Les Miserables on Broadway. In my archaeology class, I was able to actually throw a spear with an atlatl. I was also able to study music for eight years and grew to love classical music because I had to play it. Knowing what I know now, I am privileged to have had that in a public school. I wish every child in public school could experience that.

I lived in a town that had a private prep school, with granite turrets covered in ivy, greens where we would play frisbee, and waterfalls with bridges over them. I was a ‘townie’  but those ivy covered stone walls meant something to me. Even though I was receiving a decent education, I wanted even more. I know what that deep longing is now. It was the heady allure of Rivendell.

“This is what the LORD says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16a

I had been brought up with truth, beauty and virtue, only I didn’t know it. I wasn’t taught what it was, but I was given the chance to experience it, to dwell in it, and it had made its impression on me.

When I pulled my son out of public school, I had no idea what other types of homeschool methods were available, but I wouldn’t have bothered to look at them anyway, I knew what I wanted, though I didn’t know the name of it. I also knew what I didn’t want, which is half the battle. I didn’t want what the public schools were offering. I had been trained up as a  child, and I didn’t want to depart from it. I had only read a few Great Books, but I knew there were more. I had overheard heard those conversations  as I fell asleep in Adirondack chairs, looking up at the stars. I wanted that and so much more for my children.

Now I spend my days giving them what I was only able to glimpse. I hope that they give my grandchildren more than they received. I determined to ask for the ancient paths – they were good, and I had walked for time enough to learn why they were good. They began before me, and they will go on far after I’ve left this earth. My great-grandchildren will have the opportunity to walk on them.

I chose classical because I see beauty in its transcendence. Because the ego, me, saw by grace that there was something bigger than I was, and we were offered to join with it. How could I refuse?

 

 

Brianabriana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.