Tag Archives: outdoors

Lessons Learned In The Meantime…

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted and, as of today, it’s been weeks since we’ve ‘done school’. I look at my wonderful 36 week curriculum schedule with all my subjects neatly lined up and realize that we’re weeks ‘behind’. I say ‘behind’ even though the beauty of this system is that it holds a fantastic amount of flexibility for my family. We can easily move days around, or work within a specific subject- it’s just awesome like that (thanks to the original Ambleside Online moms who actually created the schedule)…

And yet, I’ve been feeling ‘behind’. Life has gotten in the way of school. Oh, I know that education is the sum of what our children take into themselves and that includes all the lessons learned along the way that are not planned or scheduled, but still, lately, I’ve been asking myself what has been worthwhile during this pause in our official schooling? What have my children been learning while we’ve been away from school?

At the end of March my 15-year-old niece came to live with us. The situation has been unsettled and there is much healing to be done in her heart and mind. When Selena came to stay, all of us in the household had to make adjustments. School time became shorter as I handled phone calls, doctor appointments and therapy sessions. We think that perhaps this week the custody agreement might be finalized and Selena might legally be in our care for the forseeable future.

I ask myself ‘what have my children learned from this new living arrangement’?  It doesn’t take much to see they’ve learned that there’s enough space and love for everyone in our home and that no one gets left behind. They’ve seen that we all matter and that doing the right thing is sometimes hard and requires sacrifice. The atmosphere of this home lately has demonstrated that family is deeply important, but that ‘doing’ family isn’t always easy. Sometimes there is conflict, and we need the Lord so much to know the right way to behave and respond.

Then, about a month ago, our little family traveled to my in-laws to assist them after my mother-in-law’s knee surgery. Since they live just south of Erie, PA we took the opportunity to do some Charlotte-y things like visiting the lake and collecting lake-stones from the beach, spotting red-winged blackbirds for the first time, and visiting a small homestead to discover how the family lives almost completely self-sufficiently (lots of handicrafts going on there!).

Alex, Selena & Fae at the Lake

But during this trip they also learned how to sit quietly next to a fragile loved one and just spend time together. They learned that their presence and beautiful hearts can truly lift the spirits of someone going through something hard. They learned that we can all work together to get the job done and that fun happens in spite of hardship.

The day after we returned from our 9 day visit with the in-laws, I traveled to Albany, NY to collect my youngest sister and her two children. She has an almost 2-year-old daughter and her baby girl is about a month old now. For the past two weeks, we played host and opened our home to them. In this case, my kids learned something about generosity and being hospitable. They learned how to expand their circle of two to include their young cousin. They watched my sister faithfully care for her sweet newborn. They saw how we simply swept them into our daily life and made more room at the table. I think they saw how joy can come from giving one’s self to others. We all cried a little this past weekend as we waved goodbye to the plane that carried this precious little family away to Florida to my mother and grandmother.

As I sit here writing about some of the lessons I think my kiddos might have been receiving from Brian and me (and, mostly, from the Lord Who is their Great Teacher), I realize that the past two months have been opening and deepening the way my children understand family. They are seeing how we, their parens who are trying to live a life that is pleasing to our Savior, seek to serve and care for those around us. I am not patting myself on the back- doesn’t scripture say that even pagans care for those who care for them?- but these are good lessons for any child to learn…

These past months have been filled with lessons about faith, family, service, love, hardship, pain, joy and hope. The kids have learned these from real life instead of our beloved living books, from the script the Father has provided instead of the curriculum I’ve out together. And I’m ok with that; I’m ok with Life being my children’s Teacher.

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Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Family Discipleship

The Planting of the Tree- urban sprawl, apples and nature study

I have to say that, before encountering Dear Charlotte, I wasn’t much of a nature lover… Or, let me restate that- I have always felt an affinity for the outdoors. I remember as a small child curling up under a honeysuckle bush in my front yard for playtime. My sister and I packed the earth down so hard under that bush, it shone like linoleum. We’d take toys under the bush and would spend hours making mud pies and stealing the neighbors daffodils to decorate them (the neighbors were not charmed). It was during this outdoor play that I once dared my sister to bite a worm- she did (the power of an older sister!).

I remember taking long walks around the “Yellow Brick Road” (what we called my street as it had inexplicable yellow paint-spray marks all over when we first moved in). It was shaped like a ‘P’ and had only one entrance/exit. For many years, there were only about 10 houses on the street- much of it had been left wild and there was still a swamp around the circle from us. My grandfather took us to the swamp and we saw wild turkeys, turtles, snakes, minnows and many plants with berries, pickers, & leaves shaped like elephant ears. This ‘wild land’ was the playground for my family. The trees hung with vines and we literally swung from them for fun. My uncles created a dirt bike track on some of the unused land. My grandfather went fishing in the stream near the swamp. Deer were a common sight and we would often walk into the woods directly onto the lands and trails of the wildlife preserve that abutted the neighborhood property (in truth, this was the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary named for its most famous resident, John James Audubon).

I remember the land remaining this way until I was 12 years old when the developer decided to put in new homes. Our playground became a neighbor’s back yard and within a year, all ‘our’ land was gone… But, to a burgeoning adolescent, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. I retreated indoors and stayed there until my son was about 2 years old.

Like the proverbial butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, I took Charlotte’s advice and began taking nature walks with my family. I revisited all the parks and trails of my youth and have begun to rediscover the ‘wild’ within me. I feel more centered, more myself when I can hear water running and birds chirping all around me. I feel most alive when the wind is playing in my hair and the sun is lightly warming my face. I feel connected to all that God has done in my past and all He is calling me to in the present. How does simply being outside do that? Doesn’t scripture say that all of creation testifies to God? He somehow seeps into my soul when I get outdoors bringing peace and refreshment with Him…

Now, I live in an increasingly suburban area. When I was a child, there was a lot of land that remained either farms or simply undeveloped. But when I was about 12 a new highway opened and all along that corridor, housing developments sprung up like cancers, eating away all the natural space. Now, my county has ‘open space’ preserves to keep some areas undeveloped, but much of the country is now cluttered with cookie-cutter houses and suburban sprawl.

I admit, I do like the convenience of having stores close by, but I am ready to leave it all behind. Dear Charlotte helped me to see that my son has no where real to play. All our trails are maintained, carefully designed to allow speedo-shorts wearing bicyclists to share the path. It isn’t that the trails aren’t pleasant- they are- but they are also so very… planned. I am reminded of Charlotte’s warning not to come between the child and the author of a book by giving too much pre-digested explanation about the idea being out forth. As my child’s teacher, I am to introduce my kids to the author and then stand aside while they have a conversation: “Have you heard of William Penn?”; “Let me explain what happened to Beauty in the Beast’s castle”; “I’ll tell you about Agoognak and her wintry home”… Just as I should stand aside so my children can experience these ideas themselves, I’m beginning to feel that the county planners have come too much between my children and Mother Nature. All the trails are planned just so to allow passers-by to enjoy such-and-such a view. Flowers are planted and trees trimmed to give a specific effect at a specific point of the walk… There are some spaces that remain more natural, but… we are just so constrained by the artifice and management of it all…

Add to that, the fact that we have no private outdoor space to allow the children to wander and explore, no safe zone where little children of 5 and 2 can be set free to meander and explore at will, no place to build forts or plant gardens and… well… our situation needs mending.

Until the move is possible, we are making do as best we can by studying nature at farms, the less manicured trails and by visiting what nature centers/zoos we can locally. This is made difficult by having only one vehicle, but we are getting by. Today, for example, as our van was in the shop, we brought nature study into our home by continuing our apple study out of Anna Comstock’s ‘A Handbook of Nature Study’.

Forgot to take a picture of our apples before slicing for the taste test!

My husband selected 4 different varieties of apples; Red Delicious, Ginger Gold, Fuji and Honeycrisp. I followed the directions in HNS and had the kids look at the apples side by side. My son described their skins and I pointed out some color variations on each of their peels. We noted much about the general shape of each apple and then took small pieces to sample. It was so wonderful to be able to clearly note extremely distinctive flavors between apples! Alex was amazed! We gave each apple a new name based on its flavor composition.

These seeds were thrown off the porch in hopes of an apple tree next year!

We then cut each apple open and observed how the seeds in apples sit in little cavities (I described them as each having their own bedroom in their little apple home) and we then noted that the seeds- regardless of variety- were of similar color and size.

The kiddos munching apples. Fae had the Fuji and Alex wanted the Red Delicious. My favorite was the Honeycrisp!

Finally, Alex journaled his observations for the morning. It was a really nice time together- fun, educational and experiential.

Alex's nature journal. I was impressed with how he noted the subtle color variations on some of the apples.

Until we can get into a home that will allow us more space to roam and be without the input of joggers, hikers, dog-walkers, etc., we’ll have to do the best we can to get outdoors and explore- even if that means coming inside!

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Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte