“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more moth balls?” she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hands. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further.
I distinctly remember reading this passage from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a young girl. C.S. Lewis transported me right beside Lucy, traveling through the wardrobe into a magical, snowy world. It’s one of my most vivid memories as a child. So when the kids had the opportunity to join a book club this year through our homeschool co-op, I was overjoyed that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first book choice.
Before the party, each family read the book together. My only concern was that the book might not keep the attention of a wiggly 4 year old. I couldn’t have been more wrong – they were both captivated throughout the story, as was I.
The kids talked about the party for weeks leading up to it and planned out which characters they wanted to be. Draven knew immediately that he wanted to be Peter, the oldest of the children who is very brave. Cullen decided he would be Mr. Beaver, a character who lives in Narnia and helps the children find Aslan, the king of Narnia. I loved seeing all the children in their costumes embodying the characters. They were so into it.
Two of my amazing friends had a vision for the party and completely transformed a neighborhood park into a winter wonderland. Each family pitched in and brought food or decorations. We hung paper snowflakes the children had made and set a table for tea. There was a beautiful wardrobe created from kraft paper with coats behind it at the entrance of the park that the children walked through.
On the other side, Narnia awaited them. They had tea, like Lucy did with Mr. Tumnis, while discussing the book. After tea they made snowflake sugar cookies, had snowball fights, ate Turkish Delight and just played. It was all simply magical.
I hope it’s a memory they will treasure.
I’m already dreaming of our spring book club party. I have it on good authority that we will be reading Anne of Green Gables. Be still my heart.
I’d love to know some of your favorite books you read as a child. We are always looking for good ones to add to our reading list.
First off I should give credit to my dear friend Jaclyn for inspiring this post. She recently interviewed me on the topic of slowing down during the busy holiday season on her podcast, Mountains Are for Moving. On it I share a few ways our family is intentional about our time, our giving and our purchases and several moms I look up to share what works for them as well. If you are looking to connect better with your family and bring meaning to your holiday season, check it out at mountainsareformoving.com or search Mountains are for Moving on your podcast app.
The holiday season is so busy, isn’t it? I have always just accepted that as how it should be. There are parties, festivals, light shows, shopping, Santa visits, the list goes on. I myself have a natural tendency to over schedule our lives. At the start of the school year I tried to keep our schedule light and simple but bit by bit, other activities creep in. I decided to reevaluate in early November what I wanted our days to look like going into the holiday season.
So what does it mean to slow down? For starters, since we homeschool, this means cutting out some of our work and saying no to extra activities. My oldest, who is seven, still begins his day with math, a handwriting exercise and guitar practice but that’s about it for formal school work. During this time, my four year old also works on his handwriting and spelling (only when he is interested in it) and an activity of his choosing. The rest of our time is spent reading together, listening to music, baking, crafting and discussing the season. And as always, we get outside as much as weather allows, which is quite often in Central Texas. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy time with each other during the holidays:
The single greatest way to share the message of the holiday season is through stories. Reading aloud has been such a gift for my children and me but finding the right books with a good message and ones that spark their interest can sometimes be a challenge. It is also very important to me that my children are aware that while we celebrate Christmas as Christians, there are other holidays and traditions celebrated by our friends and neighbors and that diversity in our culture is beautiful. Here is what we are currently reading:
The Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
The Legend of the Poinsettia
Together at Christmas
The Story of Hanukkah
Room for a Little One
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree
Together for Kwanzaa
Advent readings from the Bible
I’ll be honest and say that giving has not been an area where we have spent a lot of effort this year, simply because my husband and I have not made it important. But it’s so important. Our resolve in 2017 is to give more; more of our money, more of our time and more of our lives. And tuning our children’s hearts to give is in turn a beautiful gift to our world. What is so amazing is that kids love to give and it comes quite naturally to them. Children have an uncanny ability to see without filters and prejudices that allows them to extend grace and mercy to anyone if given the space to do so. I also believe it’s important for our children to see their parents model a giving heart by donating money and time or simply inviting someone into our home for a meal.
Here are some things we have done as a family in the past or will be doing this holiday season:
Donating food to a food bank – its fun to check your local food bank’s website for needed items and have the kids make a grocery list to shop for and then deliver the food. Many food banks also give tours of their warehouses which is super fun for the kids.
Baking cookies for neighbors, police and firefighters, and various local ministries.
Making bags filled with small toiletries and snacks to hand out to the homeless men and women we see when we’re out
Donating to Blue Santa, which is a great local organization that provides needy families in Austin with a holiday meal and presents for children. We have not worked with this organization yet but are hoping to participate this year.
Filling and sending shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
Connecting with a foster family to help with holiday needs. We do this year round through Austin Angels but the holiday season is such a special time to start.
Visiting a local nursing home.
My boys love working with their hands so we spend a lot of time creating and crafting. All of the gifts we will give as a family this year are homemade with the exception of a few books. If you know my family, we spend a lot of time outdoors so naturally many of our crafts use pieces of nature we’ve collected. We also participate in a Nature Pal Exchange which has inspired many of our projects. Currently we are working on ornaments made from branches and acorns found on our hikes and rolling beeswax candles. Next week we will be making bookmarks by laminating foraged leaves and hand painting Christmas cards. It always amazes me how simple crafts can engage my energetic boys and keep them at the table. There’s also something to be said in making a gift rather than just purchasing one off a shelf.
Baking is a huge hit in our house as well. I’ll admit, I haven’t always enjoyed having my boys help in the kitchen. They’re loud and messy and always spilling something but I’ve found when I just let my issues with mess go, I actually have a lot of fun baking with them and they so enjoy it as well. We really enjoy baking things from scratch but that being said, I always choose simple recipes without a lot of steps, simply for my own sanity.
Many of our holiday recipes and crafts, along with our Advent readings have come from a book by called Slow and Sacred Advent by Jennifer Naraki. I highly recommend it if you are wanting to slow down and celebrate Christmas more purposely and with intention. It has been such a blessing to us this holiday season.
A few final thoughts…
We can do more with less. Less gifts, less decorations, less comparison, less stuff. We are bombarded with excess everywhere. It’s hard to avoid but it’s not impossible. All we have to do is turn off the TV, put down the phone and open up a book with our kids. Hope you all have a wonderful holiday filled with lots of memories your children will cherish for a lifetime.
If you read my last post, you know we started studying Asian culture at the beginning of the school year. I anticipated this study to last a couple weeks at most but the boys just kept asking for more. Much of their interest was fueled by their love of martial arts so we started our studies learning about ninjas and samurais. This evolved into studies of early Asian civilizations and what the lives of Chinese and Japanese children look like today.
We read tons of books and learned about Japanese kite making and a beautiful form of Japanese street theatre called Kamishibai. Our favorite story was about a dog named Hachikō whose owner was a professor at the University of Tokyo. Hachikō waited for his owner everyday at the train station and was well known and loved by the daily commuters. When he passed away, the town erected a statue of Hachikō and it still stands today.
Draven, who is seven, is now reading a biography on Bruce Lee and we’re planning a trip to an Asian market so we can try our hand at preparing a traditional Japanese meal.
It’s not uncommon for me to walk in the boy’s room to find them playing ninjas or samurais or pretending to be Bruce Lee. So when the boys asked me if they could be ninjas for Halloween, I thought it was a natural fit. I suggested that we find Storie a kimono so she could join the fun and they were ecstatic.
I didn’t think much else about our decision until I saw an article from The NY Times on costume correctness. The pretense centers around racially and culturally insensitive costumes that are meant to exploit specific groups of people or reinforce certain stereotypes. The article mainly references college students wearing offensive costumes but I couldn’t help but wonder if my kid’s costumes could be sending the wrong message. I know both my children and I came from a place of complete admiration and respect when choosing their costumes but I certainly wouldn’t want to offend someone unintentionally.
There are different views on where the line lies and it’s definitely blurry. I mean, the University of Washington sent out a video to it’s students and used the example of not wearing a karate uniform with a black belt unless one earned it. If we’re playing by their standard, my kid’s costumes are totally unacceptable. They certainly don’t have Japanese heritage much less ninja blood running through their veins, just complete admiration of the culture. But until they head off to college, I get to draw the line and their joy wins. I know if anyone asks them about their costumes, they’ll get more facts about a ninja than they ever wanted and that’s good enough for me.
So what were some of the acceptable costumes mentioned? A Starbucks coffee, a Crayola crayon, Where’s Waldo and Spider-Man. While these costumes might sound perfectly harmless on the surface, I actually have a big problem with all of them. They are all heavily marketed consumer goods. $17 billion is spent annually by companies advertising to our children friends. They are bombarded by it constantly. Consumerism can’t be the solution. Not in my house.
Yes that’s right friends, ninjas.
Our boys had a busy start to the summer with a vacation in Florida, a visit with family in Georgia and then family visiting us in Texas. When all the excitement died down at the end of July, boredom crept in and they started getting antsy. August is brutally hot this time of year in Central Texas with temps hovering around 100 degrees so we don’t get outside as much as I would like. About three weeks ago I suggested we start school a little early and to my surprise the boys jumped excitedly at the idea. So the following Monday, August 1st, we started our first day of school.
I really wanted to ease into our school year for all our sakes. The boys had very little structure over the summer and it can be hard initiating a daily school schedule when there is not a finite separation between home and school. I also knew I would be working much more in depth with Cullen and wanted to see how he responded to sitting at the table for a project or listening to a story with more difficult vocabulary than he was accustomed to. Factor in a now mobile baby sister, and the upcoming school year was looking a little daunting.
I’m a big fan of child-led learning. It’s one of the many things that drew me to homeschool. I believe we naturally apply ourselves more when we are interested in a subject matter. Obviously, there are things that need to be learned no matter the interest level but I’ve found that with a little creativity, you can take a child’s interest and turn it into an extensive lesson plan encompassing a multitude of subjects. Since I hadn’t planned on starting school until mid August, I decided to give the boys free reign on subject matter for the first three weeks of school. I asked them what they would like to learn more about and was met with the unanimous answer of ninjas. I wasn’t the least bit prepared for this answer. I thought for sure it would be animals or the ocean or something else science related.
Ninjas it was and there was no way I was going to talk them out of it.
Both my boys take karate which I’m pretty sure led to the fascination of ninjas so I decided to start there. The form of karate they practice is called Tang Soo Do which is a Korean style karate with some Chinese influences. All the commands are given in Korean and they are required to learn these as well as many other words as they progress in belt rank. Thanks to our awesome instructors and karate manual, Draven learned several new commands in Korean and we worked with Cullen on counting to ten in Korean.
Cullen practiced spelling simple words by both writing and using letter blocks. Draven has been vocal about wanting to learn Chinese as well so we practiced writing the five Chinese characters that are represented on the Tang Soo Do flag (foreign language and spelling…BOOM!)
We also worked on memorizing the Eight Key Concepts of Tang Soo Do and their school’s Student Creed that the boys will be expected to know for future belt tests (memorization, handwriting and art…BOOM!)
There were a few days we snuck in some real fun. I let the boys play ninjas while their baby sister was sleeping and gave them tasks to complete like army crawling under and around things and collecting weapons (picking up toys). This is an awesome quiet time game because ninjas are super sneaky and quiet. We also found an easy tutorial via
Youtube on making exploding ninja stars and had a blast throwing them at the fence outside (arts and crafts, science and hand-eye coordination…BOOM!)
Several days I read aloud about China from The Story of the World and Draven worked independently through two Magic Tree House Fact Tracker books, one on Ninjas and Samurai and the other on China. The Fact Tracker books never disappoint – they are chock full of history in a fun to read and easy to understand format.
We also used our Pin It Map to label China and it’s rivers, mountain range, desert and adjoining seas. Draven drew and labeled his own map of China with a narration from The Story of the World (history, geography and language arts…BOOM!)
Our final projects will be finished this week and are original pieces by the boys culminating all they have learned in our three week unit study. Draven is writing a fiction book titled The Ninjas Versus the Samurai. Cullen is working on several artistic ninja pencil drawings (it’s okay, you can laugh).
. Both have high aspirations of selling their finished products (creative writing, handwriting and art…BOOM!)
We spent about 1-2 hours a day for what will be three weeks. It was a lot more educational than I thought it would be and a ton of fun. Both the boys were really engaged and that’s not always an easy feat with a 7 and 4 year old. I would definitely encourage a project like this even if you don’t homeschool. It’s a great way to learn more about your child’s interests and just get them excited about learning. Deep down I think we all just want our kids to find something they are passionate about. Something that stirs their soul. Their interests most certainly will change as they grow and mature but it’s never to early to light that fire and instill a love of learning.
“I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found.”-John Muir
We are so fortunate to live in Central Texas with its unique geologic history that has created some of the most breathtaking scenes I have seen. Combine that with Austin’s Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, which has acquisitioned over 31, 780 acres of endangered species habitat and we have a wealth of green space in our area, much of which has public access.
You can find beautiful, secluded parks and trails nestled away all over the city and surrounding areas. I’m always on the hunt for the next awesome discovery but it can be quite time consuming, perusing websites and reading reviews on local parks and watering holes. A lot of people have asked me about the places we frequent so I thought I would compile a list of the good, the awesome and the yet to be explored.
I’ve tried my best to label everything like it is listed in google maps so once you’re ready to explore, all you need to do is type the name of the park or trail into your gps and go!
Our green spaces are all maintained to some degree but I am a big believer in us each doing our part to help preserve them. My children know to stay on the marked trails and pick up after themselves. We leave nothing but footprints and I must ask that if you visit the places below, you do the same. You can always find trash along the greenbelts as there are no entrance fees and many people frequent them so we try and pick up what we can. I make it a game and the boys really enjoy it. Often times we have had others around us pitch in to help. It’s pretty cool.
Almost all of the places I included are easy hikes to do with children and many have access to water which is always a winner with my crowd. So without further ado, here is a list of our favorite spots in no particular order.
Free Greenbelt Access Points, Parks and Trails:
1. Barton Creek Greenbelt – Main entrance on 360 between Mopac and S. Lamar
2. Gus Fruh entrance – Barton Creek Greenbelt
3. Campbell’s Hole entrance – Barton Creek Greenbelt, Spyglass access
4. Trail Head entrance – Barton Creek Greenbelt, by Austin B-cycle Station
5. Trailhead to Sculpture Falls – Barton Creek Greenbelt, Camp Craft road
6. Twin Falls entrance – Barton Creek Greenbelt, Capital of TX Hwy and Mopac
7. Bull Creek Greenbelt Upper
8. Lower Bull Creek
9. Bull Creek District Park
**A note about Bull Creek – It has been known to sometimes have high fecal content, most likely from dogs. Plenty of people swim in it but we don’t usually because Cullen swallows a lot of water when he swims and Storie’s favorite pastime is tasting river rocks.
10. Five Mile Dam in San Marcos – This park has easy access to the water but not much shade.
11. Balcones District Park – A nice park right in Austin with trails that lead to a pretty waterfall, just know you will see graffiti and hear street traffic.
12. Secret Beach (Roy G. Guerro Colorado River Metropolitan Park) – This is a fun little spot that’s tucked away. Here’s a link that tells you exactly how to get to Secret Beach.
13. Circle C Park – If you park in the first parking lot and you can walk right down to the water under the bridge or follow the walking trail to the right and take a quick hike before finding the water (this creek dries up in the summer without rain).
14. Colorado River Wildlife Sanctuary – This trail is heavily wooded so you really feel like you’re exploring in the wilderness and it leads right to the Colorado River. Be sure to wear bug spray and watch out for poison ivy!
15. Mount Bonnell – A fun, short little hike uphill with a fantastic view at the top.
16. Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve – Right across the street from Mt. Bonnell you can visit the beautiful grounds of Mayfield Park and hang out with their peacocks.
17. Wild Basin Creative Research Center –Run by St. Edward’s University, the preserve has several self-guided trail maps of the 227 acres. It is home to eight endangered species and 27 species of great concern. There is a $2-$3 suggested donation.
18. Spring Lake Preserve – Located in San Marcos, this lake is fed by more than 200 springs and is absolutely beautiful.
19. Stagecoach Park in Buda – There is no swimming access here but I love the trails and historic landmarks.
20. Austin Nature and Science Center – Housed on 80 acres in Zilker Park, the center has beautiful landscapes, nature exhibits and educational activities. One of our favorite places!
Parks and Preserves that Require a Small Fee:
1. Krause Springs – Located in Spicewood on 115 acres, it is hands down my favorite place in Texas. There is a breathtaking man-made pool and a natural pool, both fed by springs. If we lived closer, we would most likely be there every day.
2. Blue Hole – A beautifully forested swimming hole with rope swings. What’s not to love?
3. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – If I was by myself and it wasn’t 100 degrees, I could walk around here all day long. The center is home to 650 native Texas plant species and has a plethora of nature trails. Their children’s garden is simply dreamy!
4. Westcave Preserve – Guided canyon tours are given to a lush grotto on the weekends or you can schedule a group tour Tuesday-Friday. I love the staff here! You can tell they really enjoy educating their visitors and they offer the coolest adventure packs to check out which include field guides, nature journals, binoculars and more.
5. Hamilton Pool Preserve – Right down the road from Westcave, Hamilton Pool is a breathtaking swimming hole. We typically visit in the spring or fall because it gets so crowded. Note that you must make a reservation to enter now until September 30th.
6. Zilker Botanical Gardens – Located on 26 acres in Zilker park, this place is simply magical. Our favorite gardens are the Japenese Garden and the Prehistoric Garden.
7. Umlauf Sculpture Gardens – This is a unique outdoor museum centered on the works of Charles Umlauf. Admission is free through August 31 thanks to donors who gave through Amplify Austin!
8. Barton Springs Pool – A natural spring-fed pool in Zilker park, known by most everyone. We love the free Splash exhibit right by the entrance.
9. McKinney Falls – This is an awesome state park with falls that cascade over super cool limestone formations. It’s a fan favorite!
10. Landa Park – We recently discovered this park in New Braunfels that has beautiful nature trails and the most spectacular spring-fed pool with the coolest water slides ever.
Below are a few more places I’ve been dying to check out:
1. The Narrows, Blanco TX – The pictures I’ve seen of the formations are simply amazing. Everything I’ve read says it’s quite difficult to get to because the land around it is privately owned but that makes it all the more intriguing…
2. Enchanted Rock, Fredericksburg, TX – I adore the legends about this gigantic pink rock and can’t wait to go hiking with the kids here. I’ve also read that it’s a great place to stargaze.
3. Emma Long Park, Austin, TX – I’ve heard great things about this large park with lots of trees and a big sandy beach. Apparently it even has a motorcycle trail.
4. Pace Bend Park, Spicewood, TX – I honestly can’t believe we haven’t been here yet. This park has tons of scenic views from these amazing limestone cliffs and nine miles of shoreline on Lake Travis.
For more information, you can check out a full listing of Austin area parks here. Please feel free to share your favorite places in the comments below. We love finding new spots!
I’ve been reflecting a lot on our first year of homeschooling and what worked best for us. There were days that went so well and others that went terribly. I have a tendency to force things sometimes, particularly art and handwriting. I have this idea of how things should look and sometimes I forget that I’m working with a 7 and 4 year old…
The two things that could ruin a perfectly good day were – not planning our day out and having unrealistic expectations of my children and myself. As I plan for the upcoming year, I am constantly taking these two things into consideration.
Last year my oldest, Draven, was in 1st grade and we used Ambleside’s curriculum guide that follows Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching. I have really grown to love the use of what Charlotte Mason describes as living books to teach children a range of subjects from history to geography to science and beyond. Oftentimes you can combine subjects with living books.
A few months into last school year I made adjustments as some of the books have difficult language for a six year old, and sometimes for his mom as well. This year I’m feeling a bit more adventurous and have created my own syllabus based around living books and tailored to our interests (a copy is at the bottom of this post if you can’t wait). I did keep a few books Ambleside suggested and we are following their bible guideline because I think it’s spot on.
We won’t follow the syllabus exactly every week but it will be used asmore of a guideline so we don’t leave anything important out and stay on track for the year. We may not even get to everything because sometimes we end up spending longer on a book or subject matter or discover something else that interests us. This is where child-led learning comes in and where it’s important for me to keep my expectations in check. While I’ve created our curriculum around my children’s current interests, I’ve also left room for things that spark new interests and am willing to deviate a little from our original plan. So keep in mind as I share my syllabus, that it is a working document and will most likely be edited several times as our interests develop. My plan is to share resources, successes and failures throughout the year.
Our day starts around 7:30 with breakfast. I typically read a few poems aloud while they eat. We don’t analyze anything at this time, just read and enjoy the words. We also work on memorization before leaving the table. For September we will be reciting The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegience and Karate Concepts 1-4 (something they must memorize for belt tests at their karate school). After breakfast we move to the backyard or living room to practice yoga. My kids love doing yoga with me and especially enjoy meditating. This doesn’t last longer than 10 minutes and it’s a great way to get focused for the day. They may practice their karate forms at this time as well. We always end our yoga time with prayer and daily intentions.
The majority of our work is done between 8:30 and 12. Draven will work on math independently after a little instruction (we use Math Mammoth) and I will give Cullen his reading lesson (we are working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons). I realize it’s early to teach reading (Cullen is 4) but he is very interested so we will through the lessons as long as he stays engaged. I will read aloud several stories for both boys and we will work on a map project (using Pin It Maps) or watercolor painting. We use Waldorf’s wet on wet water coloring technique. It’s quite easy and always turns out beautiful (expectations friends).
The kids will then have a bit of free time to play while I get lunch ready. After lunch, the paintings are dry and we use them as base for Draven to write his narration and Cullen to write letters and simple words. They create beautiful backgrounds for their work. If you’re unfamiliar with narration, it is simply the retelling of a story back in your own words. This is our writing, grammar and spelling rolled into one activity. Last year, I had Draven tell me each narration after a story while I wrote it down. I read it back to him and we made changes together before he copied it onto his paper. As he copied, we focused mainly on handwriting and punctuation. This year he will be writing his narrations from memory which is much more difficult but will allow us to go deeper with grammar and sentence structure. After the boys are done writing, they will add an illustration to go with their story.
After narrations are complete, the boys may work on a science project, craft project, or Spanish, which is done Online through Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids. This is their only source of technology in our school day and a treat they look forward to.
Mixed in throughout the day, the boys are helping with household chores and their baby sister. Cullen may play with Storie while Draven and I read a difficult book and Draven may read books with Storie while Cullen and I practice sounding out words.
We are so fortunate to be involved in a wonderful co-op this year that meets every Monday for additional literature, art and science studies. We also attend classes at our local library and parks, lead a Wild Explorers Club, regularly go on field trips, train in karate and Draven will begin guitar lessons this fall.
Below is our syllabus for September which outlines our core reading, written work, memorization and all other activities. I also created a weekly schedule to reference until we get back into the flow of regular school days. I’m happy to send one or both in excel form if you comment below with your email. Currently, I’m researching Waldorf methods for Cullen and Storie and plan on sharing our daily rhythm soon. Happy homeschooling friends!