Riparian Zone Nature Study

We are heading off to the pond tomorrow for a nature walk and I thought I'd share our plans here to make it easy for you to pack the kids in the car to try something like this for yourself.

This week our homeschooling co-op will be studying the riparian zone of our local pond. The riparian zone is the vegetative area between land and water.  This zone runs along the perimeter of the pond and it is often muddy and murky.  The riparian zone is the home to many plants and animals.  Because the plants in the riparian zone often provide shade, this zone helps the pond maintain a cool water temperature.  The plants in this zone also help with erosion control and they serve as a filtration system for the pond.

Have you ever read The Wind in the Willows?  The animals in this book spend a lot of time in the riparian zone of the river.

Although you don't need anything other than your five senses to do a proper nature study, I'll include a few items below that you could toss in your backpack if you would like to.

Optional Items to Bring on your Trip to the Pond
-Mud boots
-Containers to collect insects, plants, and other specimens
-Mason jars with lids to collect water samples
-Magnifiying glasses, pocket microscopes, and field guides
-Dip nets 

What to Look For in the Riparian Zone of the Pond
Cattails: Red Winged Blackbirds often build nests on top of cattails. (Don't disturb the nest if you find one). A cut cattail could mean that there is a muskrat at work in the area. 
Eggs: A pond is a great place to find fish eggs, salamander eggs, frog eggs, and mosquito eggs.  If you plan to do this nature study in the summer, you will most likely find minnows and the other creatures at a further stage in their life cycles.
Holes: Holes at the edge of the muddy bank might be a place for crayfish to hide. Holes in trees near the pond can indicate that wood ducks have a nest nearby.
Mud: Bend down and look for animal and bird tracks in the mud.  If your family is like mine, you are probably noisy when you come to the pond and you might scare the animals away.  We like to look for evidence of animals and birds.  Tracks in the mud tell us who comes to the water to feed, drink, and hide from predators.  If you are looking for discarded muskrat homes, check the mud.  Snails and dragonfly nymphs can also be at the muddy bottom of shallow water.
Insects: Look for insects skimming on the water and jumping on the plants in the riparian zone.  A good field guide can help you identify the many insects you will find.

Plants: Marsh marigolds, swamp grass and sedges will be on the outer edge of the riparian zone (near land). Cattails and arrow heads will be in the shallow water.  Pull out the roots of a plant that lives in the water and from a plant that lives on shore and compare the root systems.  Discuss how soft the mud is in the marshy area and why a huge tree couldn't grow in this area.

Logs: Painted turtles are usually found in the marshy grass or sunning themselves on a log.  If you turn over a decaying log, you might also be able to find a salamander

Optional Books to Enhance your Study
Handbook of Nature Study Pages 400-415, 498-500

What are your favorite plants and animals to look for in the riparian zone of the pond?  Leave a comment below with your favorite nature find!

The Holy Spirit as Fire: Gifts of the Spirit Part 1

Today is Pentecost Sunday and we recognize it as the birthday of our church.  Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles after Jesus' Ascension into Heaven.  

Acts 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly a noise like a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And tongues of fire appeared to them, distributing themselves, and a tongue rested on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with different tongues, as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out.

Did you catch how the Holy Spirit decided to manifest himself?  He could have shown up as anything, but he chose to manifest himself as fire and they were transformed.  

Fire has the ability to transform things.  What was cold becomes hot.  What was hard becomes soft.  When the Holy Spirit entered the Apostles as fire, he transformed them and they were given the ability to go out to preach the Gospel.

Pentecost is the perfect time for us to sit and ask the Holy Spirit to activate his gifts within us. When we were Baptized we received the Holy Spirit and he brought his gifts along with him.  We know from Scripture that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given as he chooses and they are all activated by him.  

My challenge for you on this Pentecost Sunday is to pray to the Holy Spirit and ask him to reveal a gift he'd like to manifest in you this year.  He wants to lavish you with gifts.  It's hard to wrap our minds around this if we are picturing him as fire or a dove.  The Holy Spirit is not a thing.  He is a person and he desires relationship with you.  He has many titles in Scripture.  He is known as the Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Consoler, Healer, and Paraclete (one who is called to your side).

Do any of these names resonate with you?  Do you need comfort?  Do you need healing deep within your soul?  

Address him with that title and allow him to show up when you need him to.   Ask him to stir up the gift within you that needs to be rekindled.  Ask him to reveal how he is working in your life.   

It's important to know that a gift is a gift.  If we want to grow in the gift of knowledge, it's tempting to take matters into our own hands by buying every book about God we can find or by listening to as many podcasts as we can during our free time.  Although spiritual reading and listening are excellent for our formation, the gift of knowledge is actually revealed to us when we sit with a posture of receptivity and allow the Spirit to lavish it upon us as he wills.  

What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Isaiah 11:2  
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Knowledge: The gift of knowledge helps us to know God more and more each day.  The word know in Scripture isn't referring to intellectual knowledge.  It implies intimacy.  (Example:  Adam knew his wife Eve and they conceived and bore a son).

Understanding: The gift of understanding  allows us to understand the meaning of God’s words.

Wisdom:  The gift of wisdom helps us to know what to do with our knowledge and understanding of God.  Wisdom makes us wise in the ways of God and helps us recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Fortitude: The gift of fortitude gives us power and strength.  A fort is a strong place.  The gift of fortitude helps us to be strong for God and helps us to use God’s strength to do what is right.

Counsel:  The gift of counsel is also known as right judgement.  Counsel helps us with decision making.  Counsel is knowing what God is saying to us and using that knowledge to make decisions.

Piety: The gift of piety is also known as reverence. Piety is loving God more than anything with our whole mind, heart, and soul.

Fear of the Lord: The gift of fear of the Lord does not mean being afraid of God.  Fear of the Lord is having wonder and awe.  This gift helps us to know that even though God is great and we are small, He loves us intimately.

Has the Holy Spirit revealed which gift he'd like to manifest in you this year?

To further explore the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I highly recommend The Spiritual Gifts Handbook 
by Randy Clark and Mary Healy.

2nd Grade Geography and Earth Studies

At the end of every school year I like to sit down with our materials and evaluate what worked well for us and I make notes about what I'd to change for the next child.  

Most of our lesson ideas come from Mater Amabilis which is a free Catholic Charlotte Mason homeschooling program.  I use the framework provided on the Mater Amabilis website and I tweak a few things to meet my child's needs. 

Our focus this year for Geography and Earth Studies was to work on map skills, to study Europe, and to learn about weather.  We did Geography and Earth Studies lessons 3x a week.  Each lesson was approximately 20 minutes long.  One day we focused on Maps and Mapping, the next day we read aloud from our People and Places book, and the third day we focused on a Weather lesson.  

Maps and Mapping

Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason I read the lessons aloud to my son and had him narrate after each lesson.  This is a book that he could have read independently but we chose to do it together.  

Maps & Mapping by Barbara Taylor  My son read one lesson per week and did most of the hands-on activities that went along with each lesson.  I skimmed this book at the beginning of the year and made a note about the materials I'd need to gather in advance and we stored everything in a tote so it was ready to go.  You can find additional mapping books here.  

People and Places

We spent this school year learning about Europe.  I selected one read aloud per term (3 total for the year).  We read one chapter per week together.  This was a fabulous way to immerse ourselves in European culture.  Living books made the countries come alive!  We learned so much more than we would have by simply studying a European map.

I read three of the following titles aloud and I checked the remaining titles out from the library for my son to read independently on his own time.  He loved these books and was excited for the independent reading, but I'd limit it to just three Geography books per year in the future if another child is not as independent.

The Family Under the Bridge (France) (This one is great at Christmas time)

Geography Coloring Book (Optional)  After we read from our People and Places book, my son would color in the countries, mountain ranges, and rivers mentioned in our read aloud.  There are amazing lesson plans available in the Mater Amabilis Facebook group for this.  Our plan is to use this coloring book for grades 2-5 so he can keep track of all of the places we visit in our books.  *My goal for map work at this age isn't for complete memorization.  I just want my kiddos to be familiar with the European map and to generally know where to locate the countries.

Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time (Optional)   This book includes an extensive book list about each continent to check out from the library.  We found a lot of great picture books in the Europe section.  

Weather and Climate by Barbara Taylor  We followed the Mater Amabilis plans that aligned with this book.  I skimmed the book in advance and made a list of materials we'd need for the hands-on activities.  I stored everything in a tote so it was ready to open and go.  

An alternative to this would be The Good and the Beautiful Meteorology Unit.

Fun Enrichment Activities
The following activities were an optional part of our Geography program.  I kept them out in the open and my kiddos would grab them occasionally to work on during their own time.

GeoPuzzles   I love GeoPuzzles because the puzzle pieces have the same shape as the country on the map.  When my kiddos are manipulating the puzzle pieces they are memorizing what the countries look like.  

Draw Europe  This book is a step-by-step approach to drawing a map of Europe.  By drawing the countries next to their neighbors, children are memorizing how the European countries are connected.  After my children completed their European maps we laminated them for durability.

What are your favorite Geography resources?  Do you have any favorite books related to European culture?  Leave a comment below! 

Word of the Year

When I was first introduced the idea of a word of the year, it felt overwhelming and it made me nervous.   I thought I’d be picking a word to guide my path for the upcoming year on my own terms and was afraid I’d create some sort of prophecy I’d have to fulfill.  Doubt started to creep in and I worried about getting it wrong.

Then I learned that the Word of the Year is a word given to us by God that is meant to transform our heart and give us direction for the upcoming year.  I actually had very little to do with the selection process.   I found comfort in knowing that my only job was to listen to the prompting of God on my heart.  He already had a word in place for me for the upcoming year.  

2019 was the first year I received a word of the year.  At the end of December I sat down and prayed for clarity about the upcoming year.  The word Ponder popped into my head.  I thought it sounded strange.  But then I sat back and really thought about it.  

I was BUSY in 2018.  I was moving fast.  Ponder was a call for me to slow down.  It was a call to really think before I spoke.  It called me to soak up the words I was reading before moving on to the next page.  Ponder called me to schedule quiet time in my week without an agenda.  It was a prompting to live in the moment and seek the Lord in the rhythms of my life.  Developing the habit of pondering was a welcome retreat from the busy state of life I was in with four people ages 5 and under.  

Last New Year’s Eve I sat down and prayed for a word for 2020.  When the word Renew jumped out at me, I knew it was perfect.  I had written notes all over my Bible about being renewed but had never made the connection that maybe it was a word I should focus on.  I found scribbles all over the pages that said things like:

You say, “I’m exhausted.”   God says, “Wait on me.  I’ll renew your strength.”

They who wait for the Lord will renew their strength.  Don’t stop asking Him for help.  

I will turn the dry ground into springs of fresh water.

I am the Lord Your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, Do not fear I will help you.

To renew something is to resume an activity after taking a break, to re-establish a relationship, and to restore something that is worn out.  

2020 was a hot mess, but I was in my cozy chair with a cup of tea feeling refreshed and renewed.   The world was chaotic, but I felt peace.   

Yesterday I sat down and asked the Lord about what is next for me.  Why did He bring peace to my heart?  Where will 2021 take me?

And I stopped in my tracks when I read Mark 14:3-9 which is the story about The Anointing at Bethany.   When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard.  She broke it and poured it on his head.  There were some who were indignant, “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?  It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor.”   They were infuriated with her.   Jesus said, “Let her alone.  Why do you make trouble for her?  She has done a good thing for me.  The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.  She has done what she could.  She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.  Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

She broke it.

Broken in this sense means to completely shatter without hope of repair.  In the act of breaking the jar, this woman gave up every possibility for holding back and keeping to herself.

She knew that being in the presence of Christ was the most important thing she could be doing.  She anointed Him because she recognized Him as the King and because she knew He wouldn’t have a proper anointing at his death because He would die as a criminal. 
How did she know these things?  She had eyes for Jesus, and for Jesus alone.  The others in the room criticized her, but she looked ahead.  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus says that her story will be proclaimed to the whole world.  And it isn’t because she is a Ministry leader or because she has an advantageous platform. It’s because she had eyes for Him alone.  
Although I know that last year was a time of renewal for me, I also know that I held little pieces of my heart back.

It’s scary to break the jar and let everything freely flow.  It’s easier to keep a little back in the form of self-protection. 

I also know that I haven’t always had laser focus with eyes straight ahead on Him alone.

Which brings me to my word for 2021: Abide

To abide is to live by a rule of life.  It is to dwell or remain.  To abide in Christ is to have eyes for Him and Him alone.

I don’t know what 2021 will bring, but I know that I abiding with Him where I’m supposed to be.  
Have you found your word for 2021? Please share in the comments!  I’d love to hear about what the Lord wants to do in your heart next year!

Evaluating our Current Family Culture

My husband took the older three kiddos out to run errands and the baby is napping so I have some quiet time to sit right now and think about our family vision for next year.  I love the new year because it brings a fresh start.  

Every year I try to evaluate our current family culture to see what needs to be tweaked and what we need to add in to create more of the family culture we desire.

A few years ago, I recognized my own need to get outside more without an agenda.  I'd see my kiddos come in with rosy cheeks and their eyes sparkling as they told me about the fort they built in the woods or the deer tracks they found on the path, but I was too attached to my To-Do list and schedule to delight in nature.  So I decided that for the next year we would have Thursday afternoon Nature Studies.  It was hard for me to leave my messy house knowing that when we would walk back in the door it would be time to start making dinner, but I knew that I never regretted time spent outside.  Fresh air is always good for the soul.  Our family Nature Study wasn't born because I'm a cool teacher mom.  It was born because I needed a lesson in letting go of control and knew the outdoors is a healing balm for a tired soul.  I ALWAYS walk back into our house with a little pep in my step after we've explored a pond or the woods.  

Last year I knew I wanted more time exploring fun books with my kids.  Somehow I needed to give myself permission to sit and read without guilt.  So afternoon tea time was born.  My kiddos need a snack anyway. I used to hand them some food and send them outside to play, but as soon as we started drinking apple cider and reading together in the afternoons they wanted to savor that time every day.  I didn't know it would be a family tradition, but now it's my favorite part of the day.  

As I'm sitting here thinking about next year, I know that I want to be more intentional about one-on-one time with my less vocal kids. I have one child who shoves a board game in my face and demands that I play with him. It's easy to tell when he needs attention.  But a few of my other kids are quiet and don't outwardly express that need for connection.  It comes out in other ways.  I don't have a plan in place yet, but none of our other traditions started from a predetermined plan.  They just organically fell into place as we saw a need arise.  

One year we switched to a whole foods diet due to behavior and health issues and we've never looked back.  (If this is your goal for the new year, we have a Real Foods challenge in our FB group).

Another year I went through every item in our home and really purged until we were down to the necessities.  It was the year that felt like chaos when everyone was fighting and screaming.  Simplifying our possessions helped simplify our routines which helped with the feelings of being out of control.  (If decluttering is your goal for next year, check out the New Year, New Home decluttering challenge in the FB group).

How are you feeling about your current family culture?  How do you decide when it's time to make a small change to turn your home into a peaceful oasis?  Do you have a family goal for next year?

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