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Month: January 2011

Routine Enquiries

Routine Enquiries

I’ve been enjoying the series of posts this week on Simple Homeschool about the different schedules and routines that homeschooling families use.  Jamie, who writes the blog for Simple Homeschool and Steady Mom invited people to write a post on their blog about their own routines, I thought I would do this for a couple of reasons:

1.  I really like reading about, and have benefited from learning about, other people’s way of ‘working’ with homeschool so feel like I should pay back into the system as it were!

2. I recently discovered just how important routine is and what a difference it can make not just to our homeschooling, but to our well being as a family.

Over Christmas I adopted a ‘relaxed’ approach to our days, we took it as it came, giving ourselves the chance to enjoy opportunities as they came up.  With my Dad visiting we had the manpower to tackle a different approach so we were able to get out of the house a bit more.  Each day offered new opportunities and we would decide which ones to go for on a day-by-day basis.  Well that was how I saw it.

I’m pretty sure Huwyl saw it differently.  I don’t think he would be able to consciously articulate it but I think what he felt was chaos.  Our routine was gone, each day was unpredictable and our dynamic was different.  Madness reigned.  His behaviour deteriorated and he eventually had a massive meltdown, worse than we’ve ever seen.  It was horrible.

We spent time trying to analyse ‘what went wrong’ and we realised that there was no consistent routine to our days, the rhythm had gone.  Stephen, Dad and I talked about how to structure our days in a way that would be healthy for the boys but also for me so that I don’t end up burning out.  They are high energy beans and take a lot of work to keep happy, so building in breaks for me was important.  I got over my guilt about this when I realised the alternative is total exhaustion and an end to our homeschool journey, not the outcome I want.

Since we’ve decided on our rhythm (and stuck to it) we have a different child on our hands.  He is happy and content most of the time, he seems more secure and grounded and I feel as though he trusts me more.  I feel different too, knowing what is coming and knowing that I (mostly) won’t have to argue about it is liberating and very stress reducing.  I’ve also found that as I am pacing myself more through the day I am more able to invest myself during the times when we are all together, even if the children seem to be demanding a lot.   By thinking about their needs in advance and recognising the potential hot spots and difficult times of day (we find 4pm is a really tough time of day, we cancelled an activity because of the timing and I really don’t regret the choice) we’ve been able to avoid some of the clashes and tantrums from both the children and me!

So here is how it runs in our homeschool (Huwyl would be in  SK this year).

7.00 – 9am  This is basically breakfast and getting up time.  This covers everything from getting up, getting dressed, eating, clearing down the kitchen and getting Daddy off to work.  I often have a rest until about 7.45 as we have a nursing toddler who is a bit pesky at night, so I get a chance to have a few minutes to myself and begin my day a bit more gently.  I am really not a morning person.  Daddy takes over and I am very grateful to him for this!

9 – 9.45  Huwyl has some computer time and I can get us sorted for the morning.  This is a good time for showers and tidying, putting laundry away, meal planning, checking emails, getting resources ready…whatever is needed.  The site we use for games is Cbeebies, the games are all educational and really well thought out so they count as part of our ‘schooling’.  Huwyl enjoys this kind of independent learning, he is not restricted by being unable to read and it seems to give him confidence.  Plus he is having fun!

9.45 – 10.15  Snack.  We call a halt to whatever we are all doing and have a bite to eat, this can be a fruit platter or granola bars, something to take the edge off but that won’t fill them so much that they lose interest in lunch.

10.30 – 11.30  Outside time / movement.  Getting the boys moving is not, I’ve discovered, an optional extra.  For us it is essential and non negotiable.  Both of my boys have lots of energy and if they don’t have a good run about in the morning we pay for it by the afternoon.  During Canada’s winters this can be a challenge but I am willing to face anything up to about -17c (as long as it isn’t too windy) as it really is less horrid than crazy kids climbing the walls by 2pm.  Twice a week we have morning activities that are very physical and allow for a lot of running around, the other three days are free for either nature walks, a run around the block, playing in the garden or a playdate with a friend.  As long as there is the opportunity for big body movement we are good for the day.

12pm Lunch.  We are currently alternating a soup/sandwich schedule to make life easy for me!  Though there is room for compromise, today we had soup and a sandwich!

12.30  Quiet time.  Huwyl goes upstairs and listens to audio books, something he absolutely loves to do, and I can take time to eat lunch, catch up on a bit of computer time, get some things set up for homeschool, read to Neirin and play 1-1 with him…whatever the day demands.  Quiet time ends when Huwyl is done with his stories which is between 45 mins to an hour and a half.  Currently he is rotating the Magic Treehouse stories which he never seems to tire of.

2pm We start school.  This includes a variety of things, some that we do every day, others once or twice a week.  I try and make sure we do some music practise every day, as well as some reading and drawing/art/craft activity.  The drawing is often linked to the stories we have read but it is definitely interpretive as Huwyl likes to go his own way with things!  I encourage him to label things and we do a bit of handwriting practice once or twice a week.  Since November we have been using Story Of The World, Volume 1 and the accompanying activity book.  This is such great fun and Huwyl adores it.  He thrives on learning new information and loves to regale complete strangers with information about nomads and the battles of the Egyptian kings.  This makes for some fun conversations when we meet new people on our walks!

We are also working on maths through number recognition and some pattern work.  I try to keep this fun and allow us lots of different approaches such as reading books and playing games rather than formal worksheet type teaching.  I’m very excited about the Living Maths approach and want to develop that more as we go.  Another thing we will spend time on is our nature journal, I have a proforma that I fill in as Huwyl dictates, we are building a record of our adventures through the year and I’m looking forward to noting the changes as the seasons develop and change.

Just as a side note I want to mention that Neirin (currently 22 months) doesn’t nap, so this part of the day can be a juggling act.  I assume that he will be involved in any craft or art we do and am currently trying to work on our ‘sharing mummy’ skills.  This isn’t what I had visualised when I planned this year, I thought we would do school while Neirin napped but…when do things ever work out ‘as planned’ where little people are concerned?

3pm Snack time, often a nice biscuit with a cup of tea, something warming and comforting.  We are now done with school and depending on the weather we can head out for some fresh air or have some playtime, read a book, make some cookies…I like the flexibility this gives us.

4.15pm  is usually TV time.  During the winter months some tv time definitely comes in handy at this time of day.  I’ve mentioned that this is a tricky time of day for Huwyl so having some ‘downtime’ seems to help us.  While the boys are watching tv I make dinner for them and get some prep done for grown up dinner time later.  Neirin likes to be in and out of the tv room, he plays with toys and comes into the kitchen or sits with his big brother.  The shows the boys watch are pre chosen by us and they do not watch adverts (commercials) so I’m able to get on with my work without worrying they are seeing something they shouldn’t.

4.45/5pm  Dinner

5.30  Free play for the boys, tidying up for me.

6pm Bath and showers

6.30 Daddy is home and the bedtime routine begins.  Mummy is very grateful!

So that’s what we are up to at the moment.  Our outside activities at the moment are gymnastics and homeschool play group as both are in the morning.  We go along to our homeschool group’s nature walk once a month which takes us to new places and gives us the chance to mingle with other homeschool families.  We also do a music class once a week (Music for Young Children) which is our only afternoon/evening activity.  This also doubles up as 1-1 time for Huwyl and I, something we share and work on together.

I know that our routine will evolve and adapt as the seasons change, we will be able to spend more time outside as the days lengthen and warm, but I will work hard to preserve this rhythm we have found.  This heart beat at the centre of our days keeps us on track, letting us all know what to expect but allowing room for nice surprises.  I don’t know what each day will bring, but with a framework that keeps us all feeling secure I think the future looks bright.

Bits of Happy

Bits of Happy

I thought I’d share a few (but not all of course!) of the things that have made me smile this week.

-A nature walk in -16 temperatures with my intrepid friend.

This magazine that I love.  My dad bought me a subscription for my birthday and I love it. Yes magazine is the perfect title as it really is about what we say ‘yes’ to and how we can bring about so much positive change with our choices.

-A delicious lunch with even more delicious company.

-A moment of brotherly connection as they stalk their prey in the woods.  Not sure what they were stalking but they were pretty serious about it!

-Planning our future, or more specifically our to-be home and wondering if this might be part of it…could it work?

This soundtrack from one of my absolute favourite shows (I’m a Gleek), this is the latest one and I’m sure they are all great but this one has us all bopping and grooving around the house!

-Speaking of grooving…

I love, love, love the moves on this boy and the fact that he can’t stop those dancing feet!

What is making you smile this week?

Faery Sleep Spray

Faery Sleep Spray

Over Christmas I had a little bout of making some hand made pressies for friends, one of the things I included for some of the children I know was a Faery Sleep Spray.  Unfortunately I forgot about a couple of special children that I have quite a close relationship with.  Yes, that would be my children.  So I have made up another little batch and thought I would share the process.

What you will need:

A 30ml spray bottle.  I bought mine from a Canadian company here but this company has a good reputation if you are in the US.

Water

Essential oils – I used Lavender and Chamomile, 3-4 drops of Lavender and 2-3 drops of Chamomile.

Method:

Fill the bottle with water and then add the essential oils.    I used about 5-6 drops of oil as this was intended for children and I just want to gently scent the room not create a very strong smell.  Given that the concentration of oil to water is not strong it is important to allow the oil to sit in the water for a little while before spraying, this allows the scent to diffuse throughout the water creating a pleasing smell but avoiding irritation or danger to eyes and faces.

The spray can be used in a bedroom just before bed or even sprayed directly onto a pillow.  The advantage of the low concentration is that the spray will not cause irritation to skin if it is sprayed directly onto a person by accident (though care should still be taken to avoid the spray getting into anyone’s eyes) and is should not stain or damage hardwood or painted surfaces.

Luckily these are scents that are especially pleasing to faeries and so they are much more likely to visit if the spray is used in the room.  It is a signal to the faeries that the child in the room is ready for sleep and so ready to have a faery visitor in their dreams.  Of course a faery will not visit unless they are sure that the child is fast asleep so they should snuggle down and nod off as soon as possible.

Parents may be pleased to know that Lavender and Chamomile are soothing oils that promote relaxation and sleep and are especially soothing for children.  Chamomile can also help support a baby or young child who is teething and it will certainly not hurt anyone to be in a room with a pleasant atmosphere, especially when all are suffering.   I use both of these oils (I often alternate them so that the effects are not diminished) in baths or on a heat pack, allowing the scent of warmed wheat berries and oil to mingle and soothe as we snuggle for a story before sleep time.  This can also help to soothe and calm a Mummy or Daddy at the end of a long day.

So if you are looking to invite happy dreams and pleasant smells into your bedrooms then a Faery Spray might be just the ticket.  And to go with the lovely smells,  here is a little poem to whisper before bed.

The night is here, until morning dew,

Sweet dreams, sweet dreams, sweet dreams to you…

Winter Seeds

Winter Seeds

Winter has, unsurprisingly, been a running theme through our homeschool this last week.  As well as tracking the weather and temperature on our weather chart, we have been indulging in some winter crafts.  We’ve made paper snowflakes for our window, made icicle bird feeders to hang outside our windows (as the ice melts the seeds fall to earth, we actually had some very tall sunflowers grown from dropped seeds last year), brought snow inside for sculpting and sung songs about this chilly season.

I love that homeschooling allows us to be influenced by what is around us, we aren’t tied to a specific curriculum so we have the freedom to enjoy the best of what the seasons have to offer.  If a day dawns sunny and bright, we can take off for a nature walk.  When we get home we fill in our nature journal to record some of the details of our walk.  I have set up a pro forma on my computer and I fill it in as Huwyl dictates to me.  It encourages him to recall details from our day as well as letting him know that I take his words seriously; enough to write them down and put them in a special file.  It is also a record for us for years ahead, a slice of this moment, a record of the way he thinks now.  I know that will change and so many little details will be lost, I hope we can capture a few of his thoughts for posterity.

Just as the ice holds the seeds for a while, so I try to hold the sound of his voice, the cadence of his words.  The special thoughts that could come only from his mouth.  Then, like the seeds do, this time will fall away and a new life will be born out of them.  Though our days are not always plain sailing I am grateful for the chance to be present to see the blossoming and growth of those little seeds.  I am curious to see what they grow into and hopeful that my willing ears will always be a welcome audience.

Sights of Sunday

Sights of Sunday

A world made new by snow.

A boy explores the new landscape.

Play with Daddy.  It’s not quite cricket but it is a lot of fun!

Owzat!

When we all get too chilly we bring the snow inside with us.

The smell of sweet orange and frankincense welcomes us as we come in.

A big pot of stew bubbles on the stove all day; I am comforted to know this will fill our tummies for the next couple of days.

Now we can cosy up on the sofa together, enjoy a movie, read a book.  Be a family.

Today we are without my Dad for the first time in a month.  There is a funny space where I keep expecting him to be but I’m grateful for all his help, now we have the energy to embark on our big adventure of 2011.  Can’t wait for him to come back soon and see us into our new home.

I hope all reading  this are cosy and warm on this snowy Sunday!

Running Free

Running Free

We are really lucky to have a very active homeschool community in our city.  There are several groups, one of which I am involved with through a play group and nature group.  One of the dedicated mamas organises two walks a month on either side of the city, so far we haven’t ventured too far from home but the ones near us have been well worth the effort.

This week we ventured to a completely new (to us) trail, tantalised by the possibility of tame deer that will eat from our hands.  Armed with a bag of carrots and apples we ventured forth into the wilderness.

The children wasted no time in making themselves at home in their true home, nature.  They were drawn to the rocks and hills, the bushes and trees, making their entertainment and never even thinking the words ‘I’m bored’.  Despite a cold wind they were fearless and free.

I love watching Huwyl exploring his environment, he has always been thoroughly happy and at home in nature, exploring, playing, imagining.  It all blends seamlessly and I love watching him challenge himself.  However, it is not so fun to watch Neirin doing exactly the same thing.  My youngest child has no fear at all, I, however, have an overabundance.  Luckily Dad was on this walk to help herd Neirin who has a rather ‘off piste’ approach to trails.

Moving along we were teased by signs of wildlife but not the creatures themselves.  We knew, though, that we were getting close as trails intersected showing evidence of what we were seeking.

We did catch a tantalising glimpse of some deer but they could not be convinced to come near, I worried that we might be going home disappointed as the sharp wind was too strong to stay out in for too long with a not-quite-two-years boy.  However, it was just this boy and, shall we say, his vocal determination that startled some deer who then came our way.  We watched as they fed on the treats we left them, standing as quietly and as still as a group of excited children can manage.  Much to Huwyl’s dismay they didn’t actually feed from our hands but they did enjoy his delicious apples, cheering him somewhat to know that his treat was the favoured one.

Watching the mother and fawn pair I was struck by their affinity and connection.  The mother was constantly alert to danger, guarded and watchful as her fawn enjoyed the treats thrown to the ground.  Equally the fawn was sensitive to its mother’s reactions, aware of her better senses and judgement but equally curious and wanting to explore.  Did she recognise in us human mothers the same feelings?  Are we, like a deer, flighty and fearful, oversensitive to the possible dangers and pitfalls of life?

They seem so vulnerable these creatures, despite their size and speed, you sense from them their fragility and brevity of years.  Yet as they startled and fled I was caught.  My mind raced with them for just a second, speeding ahead with only this moment existing.  A beating heart, the sharpness of the air, bunching muscles and blood moving.  I could only imagine what it must feel like to live within a second in time, nothing before or after.  To dive unconstrained through the forest, feeling nothing but the exhilaration of living and my own hot breath rushing over my skin.  To be free with the snow on my feet.

When the snow falls

When the snow falls

Yesterday the snow returned.  After the unseasonal thaw (and subsequent lethal ice on all the walking trails), I welcomed back a layer of snow that provides traction and allows us safer passage.  With two high energy boys in the house a morning walk is absolutely essential; an added bonus of Dad being here is that we are able to go further afield and enjoy many of the great walking trails near to where we are living.  Of course next year we will just have to step outside our door…looking forward to it?  Yes indeed.

But in the mean time I feel really lucky to live in an area with many green spaces and nature trails that allow the boys to run freely and enjoy the outdoors as often as we like.  Although the snow just barely covered large expanses of glass smooth ice, it gave enough cover to walk on and even allowed for some sledge pulling.

Yes that is my Dad pulling two boys on two sledges.  Yes he is a total hero and yes I am seriously thinking about hiding his passport so that he can’t leave on the weekend.  If he asks, don’t tell him I said that.

I find the steady progress of snow flakes from sky to earth exceptionally calming.  Walking along a beautiful trail with snow falling steadily is my idea of heaven.  It doesn’t hurt for there to be another adult pulling my children on their sledges either!

Since I was a child I have taken intense pleasure in the sight of snow.  When we moved to Canada people would always ask us ‘how do you like our winters?’ and were surprised when I declared my love of snow.  Of course I had some experience living in Germany where the winters get pretty nippy, but part of my reason for coming to this country was to enjoy the snow filled winters.  Watching snow fall and knowing it will not end any time soon fulfills something within me and never fails to cause delight and joy.

I admit that by March I am ready for a thaw and summer just like everyone else.  But I can’t imagine a time in my life when the feel of snow flakes falling on my face, the sound of them hissing as they connect with one another on the surface of the earth, will not ease a tension that is only truly gone when the snow falls.

Two Scone Tuesday

Two Scone Tuesday

As the holiday days merged pleasantly into one another I was happy to see a much loved and not-seen-enough friend (isn’t that what Christmas is all about?) and thought that for a mid-morning get together only scones would do.  After all what is better than scones?  Luckily I happened to have received two new cookbooks for Christmas, both with brand spanking new scone recipes.  Scone heaven!

These two books (bought for me by my lovely Papa), are written by my two favourite cooks.  The first is The River Cottage Bread Book and the second is Nigella Kitchen which accompanies a BBC series of the same name.  Both of these people have inspired my love of baking and food in general and I adore their philosophies as well as their recipes.  Over the Christmas hols I also made the Devil’s Foodcake which is featured in this book, luckily the recipe can be found here allowing you to make it now.  I mean it, right now.  Off you go to the shops then back for some light baking and heavy scoffing.  Yes it was yummy, no I have no pictures, yes that is because we ate it all.

Anyhoo, back to the scones.  After my lovely pal Veronica left and I had gifted her with the scones (the River Cottage recipe) we didn’t manage to eat, I decided to embark upon what can only be described as a Sconeathon.  Two recipes, one afternoon, lots of scones.  The two recipes are actually quite different as is the end product.  A poll revealed that the guest tasters preferred by a hair the River Cottage scones for sheer yummy taste and loveliness.  But the Nigella receipt has the advantage of producing more (very delicious) scones that can also be frozen for future consumption.  Pro’s and more pro’s!

I would say if you are going for a quick and indescribably yummy scone that crumbles against your bite with a yeilding and moist texture to reveal a creamy taste that lingers on the tongue, then River Cottage it is.  However, if you are expecting several guests and want a recipe that will accommodate them all and will produce a scone that is exceptionally light, fluffy, sweet and surprisingly delicate (making it easy, oh so easy, to eat more than a few of them) with the potential for freezing a few for a special alone time with you, some butter, some jam, whipped cream and a cup of hot tea, Nigella is the one for you.

I want to take a moment to wax lyrical about the wonder of a really good (and new!) cookbook.  Is there any greater comfort than to leaf through a well built hardback book, knowing that within it’s pages are thoughts to inspire and tastes to create?  Seeking out those nuggets that will become familiar creations, well worn family favourites.

The subtle differences in weight, size and texture that make the difference between a book filled with recipes and a delightful treasure that can be pored over during the dark winter nights, plotting and imagining the wonders held within it’s pages.  Both of these writers talk with such passion about what and why they cook, about the significance of cooking for ourselves and our loved ones.  Each is different and happily unique, yet there is a constant thread, the kitchen is at the heart of hearth and family.  That cooking is at once simple and everyday but it can be decadent or even revolutionary.

It it books like this that make me glad of the dark nights to come when I might take the time to plot out a recipe and bring it to the table for those I love the most.

Oh and scones.  I am also glad of scones.  Lots of them.