Archive for the ‘Nature Walks’ Category

Nature Journaling: Starts October 4

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Sign up for Nature Journaling, which starts October 4 (next Monday!).

Years ago, I discovered a small idea that quickly became an important one in my life with my kids. Charlotte Mason (the English educator of the early 20th century) believed an emphasis on nature was a critical way to develop into a well-rounded person. Her schools would follow their courses of study in the morning leaving the whole afternoon free to wander in the English country-side (no matter how moody the weather!). She couldn’t imagine that all various ills wouldn’t be cured by fresh air, walking and the keen ability to name all the plants and animals in one’s surroundings.

Unfortunately at the time, I lived in a condo in southern California. We had sprinklers, 80 degree temperatures, chronically blue skies, black crows and palm trees that never change their shape, color or drop leaves. It seemed to me that naming plants could be finished in a matter of moments (ice plant, vinca, pansies, bermuda grass, hibiscus and a few displaced maples). Weather amounted to sunrise and set. Bird watching included varieties of sparrows. The insect population offered us pill bugs and snails.

But Charlotte’s philosophy got to me. She contended that every child had a birthright: to know his or her environment, to love it, to cultivate even a postage stamp garden of one’s own. She believed deeply in the power of getting outdoors and forming a relationship with trees, bushes, wildflowers and the local wildlife (even if that wildlife turned out to be gophers and squirrels). Perhaps I hadn’t looked closely enough. Perhaps my years of growing up with a gardener in the suburbs had dulled my appetite for nature. Maybe there were more varieties of everything than I had guessed!

And so, determined to give my children a vocabulary I didn’t have, we bought field guides, sketch books, colored pencils and maps of our local area. Amazingly, as is so often the case, once I turned my attention to nature, it erupted into view as the varied, wild, fascinating world I hardly noticed every other day. Likewise, I discovered that just because I didn’t live in England with creeks and moors, woods and rose gardens didn’t mean there weren’t equally wonderful locations to enjoy in Los Angeles.

We went to tide pools at the state beach and met sea anemones. We sketched the pools, named all the barnacles, shell life, sand crabs, and creatures living in the salty ponds amidst craggy rocks. We noted sea grasses and sand pipers, evaluated the tides (low or high), tried to figure out if the beach was pure west (by the sun) or facing south (as some of them are).

We visited a nature preserve near our home (sure the creek was cemented in to keep it from moving into the neighboring housing development, but it was still preserved for us to hike in!). We learned about birds, we looked at acorns and pine cones. We sketched.

We found another huge, empty space of land only walking distance from us. We had no idea it even existed! In this vast empty space bordered by huge homes, a thicket of blackberries grew wild and we picked them and made pies. We took a can of silver spray paint with us one time and sprayed spider webs to see the differences between various spiders and how the webs were formed. Then we made mini books to show what we had learned.

We did all this before we moved to Ohio where nature journaling and walking were as easy as breathing. Once we moved here, we became avid birders, measuring the times they fed, looking up the best feed for the ones we hoped would visit our feeders most frequently. We took hikes in gorges and through woods. We skied mountains and had picnics in glorious state parks.

In all of these events, nature journaling had merely been the door that we nudged open through a suggestion by an educator. We did keep journals, with sketches and notes, trying to copy The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. But mostly, we learned to love nature: to name it, to observe it, to know it.

If you would like to enhance your love of nature, Brave Writer offers a wonderful course designed to make nature journaling a natural and joyful part of your life. What I wouldn’t have given for a class like this back in the dark ages before the Internet! I would have loved to have guidance, to have shared our work, to have experienced the process in others. Our instructor, Christine Gable, is passionate about nature journaling and has designed this course with the skittish parent in mind. She’s taught it numerous times and has unleashed a passion for nature in many families.

I hope you’ll join her next Monday when class starts!

Repost: Stuff to do in Summer

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Hi everyone.

I made a list years ago of things to do in summer. We posted it to our refrigerator so that if any child came to me saying, “I’m bored; I have nothing to do,” I could simply point a silent finger at the door and they would know to scan the list before asking for any more ideas. Usually, they found something.

The key to using la liste is making sure that you have the supplies already stocked up in your house. Don’t put “oil pastels” as an option if you haven’t bought them. Make sure everything that they may want to do, can be done.

Before I post the list, here are a few ideas to consider as well:

1. Create an art table that houses markers, paintbrushes, watercolors, glue (of varying styles), paper, pipe cleaners, string, tape, staplers, scrapbooking pages, old magazines, newspaper, construction paper, various sizes of oil paint canvases, and so on. (We use tin cans from beans etc. to hold the paintbrushes or markers.) Purchase colorful clay to bake into novel items. You might add a book or two on art (how to draw, paint, oil pastel, etc.)

2. Create a nature station which includes binoculars, birding guides, seeds, trowels, and a cheap digital camera for photo ops (when the squirrels fight or you see a cool caterpillar).

3. Tune up bicycles (air in tires, brakes that work), purchase a badminton or croquet set, collect water guns and pool toys.

All right, without further ado: here’s the list!

  • Paint
  • Make play-doh
  • Create a collage
  • Take a walk
  • Swing
  • Climb a tree
  • Listen to music
  • Read a book
  • Read a magazine
  • Legos
  • Playmobiles (or whatever toys you have that your kids love)
  • Reorganize your bedroom (moving furniture around)
  • Sew
  • Learn a new recipe
  • Hammer nails into scrap wood (for some reason, this is always satisfying)
  • Jump rope
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Fill the wading pool and splash
  • Shoot each other with water guns
  • Blow bubbles
  • Sidewalk chalk the driveway
  • Inventory the house (count windows, steps, pillows, door knobs, mirrors, paintings, photographs) Use a clipboard to record findings.
  • Write a poem
  • Make a phone call to grandma
  • Email Dad/Mom at work
  • Play a board game
  • Make a picnic under a tree
  • Lie on your back and look at clouds
  • Watch a movie
  • Play a video game
  • Create fairy houses with twigs, moss, leaves, acorns. Make fairies out of scrap fabric, pipe cleaners and wooden beads.
  • Create shoe box houses for little dolls
  • Catch tadpoles (in a local stream)
  • Catch fireflies in a jam jar
  • Do something for someone else (vacuum a room, empty the dishwasher, fold clean clothes)
  • Sort clothes that are too small and give to charity
  • Alphabetize the spices in the spice cabinet
  • Learn to do a cartwheel
  • Run through the sprinkler
  • Play HORSE with the basketball
  • Play jacks
  • Play pick up sticks
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Dress up in dress up clothes
  • Face paint
  • Draw with oil pastels or charcoal
  • Roast hotdogs in an open fire; make s’mores
  • Collect wild flowers for a centerpiece at dinner
  • Memorize riddles, poems, rhymes
  • Act out a favorite play or story
  • Polish nails
  • Rub on temporary tattoos
  • Learn to braid hair
  • Make a fort in the living room
  • Study a tide pool (if you’re lucky enough to live near one!)

Please add to the list in the comments section! I’m sure you’ll have ideas I haven’t included.

What you can do when you want to give up?

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

It’s April. Spring break is just around the corner, and happens to come at the right time every year (the moment when I want to collapse from the drain of winter quarter)… except for one thing. Sometimes when I allow myself to let down during the break, I lose all my energy to finish the year strong. Our homeschool dribbles to the end of May and ekes into June with just enough sluggish energy to feel we have completed the year’s work. Or in those “let’s just hurry up and get to summer” years, the dribbling and eking maybe didn’t even occur and we hope no one from the state shows up at our door in July looking for work samples from seven subjects.

I used to put it this way: in the fall, I was a classical educator. In winter, I shifted to a Charlotte Mason-unit study kind of school style. But by spring, radical unschoolers.

If this is you and right now you’re wondering how you can get to the end without the end coming too soon, here are a few Brave Writer suggestions that may help.

  1. Change the routine. Maybe you let everyone sleep in longer than usual and you start the day outside (weather permitting). Start with an entry in a nature journal or tending seedlings you plant. If you usually begin with math, start with grammar. Save math for later in the day. Maybe you can kick a soccer ball before you do any school work at all!  Do something utterly different than you have been. Look at the Brave Writer Lifestyle to trigger ideas.
  2. Get ready the night before. Best piece of advice, hardest to follow. Don’t labor over it. Before bed, pick one thing to use as your centerpiece the next day. It might be a book of poetry, perhaps flowers to plant. Maybe you find a DVD that the kids can enjoy in the afternoon, or you decide to bake brownies so that during read aloud time, there are fresh munchies. Stay simple. Just plan one thing (maybe all you do is stack the school books on the table so they are easily found and no one has to complain that they “can’t find the grammar book”).
  3. Play music. We forget how powerful music is in creating mood. If you’ve got an iPod and a speaker set, put that out the night before. You can throw it on shuffle and let the tunes roll, or you can be more deliberate and create a morning playlist conducive to studying. You might even pick a song (instrumental) to use for either freewriting or free drawing. For freewriting, allow the mood of the music to guide the writing. For free drawing, put a variety of writing elements on the table (markers, crayons, colored pencils, high lighters, pens). Your kids will express the mood of the music as they listen.
  4. Poetry. Perhaps you’re already good at poetry teatimes. If you’re not, this is meant for you. Spring is the perfect time to develop/cultivate the habit of reading poetry, sipping tea and eating treats. Read about it here.
  5. Shakespeare. May is the month of Shakespeare in Brave Writer. Take advantage of the fact that we have already structured into our world a focus you can usurp and use in yours! We have a Shakespeare class for high schoolers available and we offer some suggestions of ways to introduce Shakespeare to your kids in the Brave Writer Lifestyle. The blog will also feature some specifically Shakespeare-y kinds of things to do with your family too.
  6. Take classes. We have good ones. Kidswrite Basic, Kidswrite Intermediate and Literary Analysis start next week. Don’t miss your chance to get these in before the year ends.
  7. Take a day off just for you. Plan a hike in the local hills, go to an art museum alone for a morning, see a movie no one wants to see with you, spend a day wandering a labyrinth, get a massage, get a mani-pedi in bright red. Do something to recharge that takes you away from the burden of daily planning. You deserve it. You’ve been working hard all year.

Bottom line: Each year feels like you re-invent your homeschool. That’s because you do. You’ve got kids changing ages and stages, your income fluctuates, your home routine is up-ended by some sports schedule or dance or acting. You find that what worked one year is just not going to work the next. You’re at the end of one of those years now. What things can you do now, that you may not ever get to do again? What opportunities does this year offer that will vanish come September? Do those now. If that means going to Disneyland while you still have kids under 10, do it. If it means having teatimes outside in your backyard because next year you’ll be living in a condo, have as many as you can. If it means that you have leisurely mornings now but next year will be driving someone to school, enjoy sleeping in and reading together in pajamas these last few weeks.

Whatever phase of life you’re in, savor it. Look ahead and consider today. What can I do today that makes a memory, that preserves what I love, that enhances our well-being? Then do that. Math can wait (unless of course math IS that thing <g>).


Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Writing wears kids out, have you noticed? They may get that burst of linguistic energy working for them (when the inspiration strikes, they’re hard to stop!), but when they’re done, they’re done. Sometimes after a successful writing project, all anyone wants to do is lie about doing nothing.

While taking some time off, or while your kids aren’t quite proficient enough to write lengthy passages of prose, you might try writing lists. Lists can be an incredibly therapeutic way to interact with language. For one thing, there is no shortage of topics for lists. Let me give you a quick list (ha!) of what you can list:

Project Feeder Watch

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Yellow finch in winter drab
Originally uploaded by juliecinci

My family has joined the ranks of birders who report to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the birds that frequent our feeders. You can join or read more about birding by visiting their wonderful site.

If you are new to bird watching, here is a great site that has tips for how to identify birds you don’t recognize. One of the benefits of bird watching is that it s one of the easiest ways to teach careful observation and identification by details. Kids train themselves to be patient, to look carefully and to make distinctions (does the wing on the chickadee have a pale white stripe or not? Black-capped or Carolina?).

Additionally, keeping a log of all the birds you see, particularly what is called a “life list” where you note the very first time you see each species, is a great way to exercise those handwriting and listing skills.

I’d love to see photos of your bird watching! Send them to me. We’ll post them here.

The nature of things

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007


Just had to share.  Nature Journaling on Mondays has been a great exercise for us.  Today’s was exceptional.  We finished our morning “school” of math, dictation, history etc.  After lunch we try to go outside for at least one hour.  As I stepped out the front door the dog and I were upon a Pheobe.  It was obviously “not right” and I had to restrain our border collie from eating it.  A quick call to the boys to come see this stunned bird and “Nature time” certainly had begun.  This bird spent the next near-hour with us.  Everyone held it…either by personal choice or when it landed on us…even the dog!  Yes, we got a photo of that too.  The one I wanted to share with you was of my middle son starting his Nature Journal with the bird right on the paper.  We removed the bird from “us” one way or another to set it back on the bird bath at least a half a dozen times.  This was one of it’s landing spots…right on the nature journal.  It eventually did fly away to a tree.  What a wonderful time.  I thought you’d appreciate hearing about our nature journaling.  Learning at home can be so much fun!

~Rachel in NH

Nature walks

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Sharon Woods
Originally uploaded by juliecinci

Charlotte Mason recommends kids spend about six hours a day out doors. In high temperatures and humidity, it’s hard to get my kids to mow the lawn for a half hour let alone playing in the direct sun for six.

One way we get outdoors is to walk in the state parks of Ohio. We’re lucky in that these parks are not only gloriously green, they have lakes, play equipment and water apparatus, and loads of hiking trails. We invested in a second pair of binoculars in order to see birds, squirrels, foxes and “that pretty waterfall way over there.” (It’s worth it to purchase real binoculars like you might find in a camera store as they do see clearly and at a longer range than the kind you find in a toy store, for instance.)

Liam and I have taken early morning bird watching walks for the last several months, once per month. Going early in the morning means you’ll avoid runners and you’ll catch the birds in morning song.

Later in the day is nice for feeding ducks, hiking, seeing the light come through the leafy trees.

When we lived in California, I took the kids to the beach and tide pools. So if you have coastline available to you, load up the car and head west (or east). You may not be able to get your kids outside for six hours per day, but it’s not so difficult to get them into nature once per week, if you plan it. :)

Nature Journaling

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Originally uploaded by juliecinci.

Sometimes our nature journaling happens indoors. I have an African violet collection that has repeatedly inspired us to draw. I hope you take time to draw on occasion as well.

Some of you may wonder: Why keep a visual record of the natural items you find near and around your home? Charlotte Mason points out that as we spend time in nature or with art, we are slowly developing our perceptual skills. We learn to see, and to really notice nuances and differences between plants and flowers and times of day. We learn to observe more closely when we draw than when we run by a tree in a game a of tag. Drawing also helps with those fine motor skills where kids get a break from forming letters and instead learn to follow the contour lines of the item they wish to represent.

A few years back when I worked in a Charlotte Mason support group, one of the leaders did a workshop for the moms that gave us some simple instructions for drawing natural items. We eagerly took these three steps home to try them with our kids. I want to pass these fail-safe steps to you for those who are new to nature journaling.

For our exercise, we began with an acorn.

First we looked intently at the acorn from all sides, slowly, taking our time, without any talking. Then we felt the acorn with our finger tips. We let it roll around in our hands and looked at it from all sides. Once we felt we had thoroughly examined the acorn, we put it down on a white piece of paper. Then we closed our eyes and attempted to draw the acorn without lifting the pencil.

The only goal at this point was to imagine the acorn in our mind’s eye and then to draw it as best we could from memory. We knew we wouldn’t be able to draw it correctly with eyes closed, but keeping them closed meant we were being forced to really see the acorn we had just explored without the benefit of its appearance right in front of us. This is a mind muscle exercise. We were forming the mental image as accurately as we could from memory.

When we finished, we could look at the drawing. It’s always fun to see how the lines veer off the page or overlap awkwardly. But it’s also nice to see that some of the contours are strong and have an “acorn-y” feel about them.

For the next drawing, we looked at the acorn on the white paper and drew it again, but this time, looking at the acorn the whole time. Somehow having drawn it blind the first time meant we saw the acorn more clearly this second time and we were much more able to draw representationally, as well as to focus quietly.

When we finished drawing, we had this satisfaction of really having explored the acorn! I haven’t looked at them the same since.

This process works really well for intimidated kids who don’t think they can draw. The original blind drawing is a bit like freewriting. The second drawing is a bit like revising. These artistic processes are wonderful supports to writing.

So the three steps are:

1. Look intently
2. Draw with eyes closed
3. Draw with eyes open

If you all as a family draw together, it makes for a more satisfying experience. Let me know how it goes!

It’s spring!

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Nature hike
Originally uploaded by juliecinci.

Time to get outdoors and into nature.


  • Water
  • Trail Mix
  • Lacrosse stick
  • Dog on a leash
  • Happy children
  • Sunshine

Don’t let these gorgeous days go by. Get outside and enjoy them while they are here. You certainly may take off a day of copywork or dictation to hike. You have my permission. :)

Snow cream

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Snow cream
Originally uploaded by juliecinci.

We’re in the middle of an ice storm here in Cincinnati (I envy those of you in the dry west). To make the best of all this snow, my kids made “snow cream” last week. Nice change of pace. Caitrin is still in her ski jacket while slurping down what can only be described as a snow slushie.

If you want to try it (count this as your nature event of the week!), here’s what you need:

  • A bowl
  • Several cups of clean, fresh snow
  • Granulated sugar
  • Milk
  • Vanilla extract

Take a cup (a largish scoop) of the snow and put it in the bowl. Add several teaspoons of sugar (to taste). Dribble a bit of vanilla extract over the snow and then add enough milk to mix it all together.

The end result ought to be a bit like a slushie. The sugar doesn’t really melt so expect it to taste a bit grainy. One of our kids liked it, one didn’t. I thought it was tasty!