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!

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! 

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?

8 Things That I Want a First Time Homeschooling Mom to Know

1. Family life is not classroom life.
Before I started homeschooling I had a picture in my mind about how we would be able to peacefully move through all of our school subjects in one sitting.  And then ten minutes into our first math lesson, the baby pooped.  And then the toddler glued my shoe to the floor.  A twenty minute lesson ended up taking thirty-five.  After a few weeks of less than perfect school days, I realized that I was trying to create a classroom environment in my home.  And I was becoming frustrated with the little interruptions of family life.
It took me a while to realize that my home is not a school.  My children are not all the same age and working on the same thing at the same time.  A teacher can set aside thirty minutes of time to complete a math lesson without interruption because a school is set up this way.  But in a home, teething toddlers will demand your attention too.  Older children will bicker with one another. A dishwasher will break and flood the kitchen.
Instead of feeling defeated and thinking you are not setting your children up to thrive when things go wrong, think about real-life work environments.  Working adults have to constantly navigate around distractions. Co-workers stop in to chat.   Managers email and want the latest report within twenty minutes.  It is real life to have to stop what you are doing, pick up something else, and then go back to what you are working on.  When this happens during your school lessons, your children are watching you to see how you handle unpredictability and they are gaining wonderful life skills!

2. Set a schedule that works for your family.
Homeschooling is a little out of the box so it might feel weird to break away from the typical September-May schedule.  It might even feel weird to break away from the typical 5-day school week.  But you are in charge of your homeschooling adventure so you can set up a schedule that helps your family thrive.  This might be something you adjust after you try it for a few months.
A lot of moms set up a schedule before school begins and by October feel burnt out.   You have permission to change your schedule as soon as it stops serving you.  Some families thrive by doing school first thing in the morning every morning and do not allow any sort of interruption during the week.  Some families work around weekly extracurricular activities and their school time varies each day.  Some families like to go to school year-round.
Our schedule has changed as our family dynamic has changed. I set up our school schedule after observing my children and noticing when they naturally were ready to sit down and focus.  We used to sit down at the table right after we finished breakfast, but my kids were so excited to play with their toys that their schoolwork was rushed and the quality of their work was poor.  Now I allow them to play outside for a while to burn off steam before we sit down to begin and their focus has improved!  If I would have stuck to our previous schedule we would have battled our way through this school year. 

3. It is ok to toss a curriculum mid-year.
Sometimes we don’t know which curriculum will be a good fit for our family until we try it.   I wrote a little more about that here.   If something isn’t working for your family, ditch it.  You set the tone for the day.  If you dislike what you are doing, you can’t expect your child to be excited about it.   If your kiddo isn’t thriving with the teaching style in the curriculum you are using, find a different one that better matches his needs.

4. Do not fall into the comparison trap.
Instagram has allowed us to have a peek inside the homes of our families and friends.   But when we are scrolling, our brain isn’t able to tell us that what we are seeing is just the highlight reel.  I love to use Instagram to get inspiration and learn about new books and ideas, but if it becomes a place where I start to feel inadequate about my life I know that it is time to put the phone away.  

There will always be a new curriculum hot off the press that you wish you had.  A family you know will have the latest gadget and it will make you feel like your budget is not enough.  You will see kids reading years ahead of your own kids.  Comparison is the thief of joy and will make you feel very small if you allow it to.  

You are blessed with the children you’ve been given.  You will have to teach them very differently than the lady next door.  Pretty curriculum doesn’t always mean that it’s better.  Your kids don’t need a house filled with educational toys and gadgets. They need you.


5. You are perfectly equipped to teach your child. 
You taught your child how to speak properly.  You taught him how to tie his shoes.  You were there when he learned how to hold a fork properly and when he rode a bike for the first time.  So why do you think you aren’t capable of teaching him how to multiply?  Your qualifications to teach don't come from a degree in Education. You are qualified to teach your children because you know them better than anyone else does.  You know what makes them tick.  You know about their quirks.  You know how to juggle the sibling dynamics and how to pull away right before a meltdown happens.  You know what embarrasses your children and you know how to speak to their love languages.

Textbooks are set up to guide your child through the academic content so you aren’t walking into this blindly.   They tell you what to teach and when to teach it.  But when you sit down and make a plan for your family, you will see that homeschooling is so much MORE than just academic content. Creating a family culture is something that only you can do. And you’ve been doing it since the day you became a mom so don’t doubt yourself now.


6. Set realistic expectations for your child to master.
School is the only place where we take a group of people who were born within a 12 month span and expect them to master the same things at the same time and at the same pace.  I cringe at the phrase “grade level” because it can make kids feel like they aren’t enough when they aren’t meeting expectations.  
When my son was in 1st grade, his stack of textbooks ranged from 1st grade – 5th grade material depending on the subject.  This is normal for humans!  We naturally move through some content quickly, and other subjects take us a little more time to practice and master.

Resist the temptation to push your child through a difficult subject at a pace that isn’t reasonable because the word “grade level” is driving you.  Accept where he is and love him through it.  You WILL see improvement with hard work and dedication but it might not be at the pace you originally thought it would be.


7. Give yourself grace.
As a homeschooling mom, you are wearing many hats.  You are lesson planning for multiple grades, preparing 3 meals a day, scheduling appointments, and trying to maintain some sense of order in your home.   It’s overwhelming sometimes because everything happens in the same space.  Make sure you are nurturing your heart and feeding your mind so you aren’t running on empty.  This post addresses how to figure out your priorities to make sure your cup is filled.   

8. Write down your WHY.
If there is a whisper in your ear telling you to homeschool your children, don’t run away from it.  Lean into it.   Why is this lifestyle so appealing to you?  What are you hoping to accomplish within your family?  What are the hopes and dreams that you have for your children?  Write all of this down and save it.  There will be days when you will be frustrated.   There will be days when life is hard.   It will be tempting to throw in the towel and quit.  

If you eventually discern that homeschooling is no longer for you, that is ok!  But don’t make that decision in a heated moment of frustration.  On the hard days pull out your piece of paper that has your WHY clearly defined and you will see beyond the moment. You will be reminded why you chose this life for your family.  And you will see how far you’ve come.

If you are interested in learning more about homeschooling, join our small community online! I'm excited to see you on the other side!

The Five Priorities

A few months ago I was in a rough spot.  I had spent the day snapping at my kids and when my husband came home from work I spent the evening unloading all of my complaints on him.  I was completely stressed out and nothing was coming together.  He patiently listened to my long list of troubles and then gently said, "It sounds like your Ps are out of order."  

I took a step back.  

How could I not see it?  

I had been raving about The Five Ps from A Mother's Rule of Life to all of my friends for the last few years but somehow I had let mine get out of order.  

I had first heard about A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot when I had three kids ages 3 and under. She wrote the book because she felt like she had three full time jobs: her mothering, her housework, and homeschooling.  

Her daily duties were consuming her time and she felt like she didn't have any time for herself or to pray.  

Pierlot said, "One evening I realized that I had to apply myself to my vocation - that it was a calling from God, a job, and that he wanted me to devote my attention to this job to the best of my abilities with the same attention and care and solicitude that a CEO ran a company."
Holly Pierlot decided to adopt a Rule of Life based on the Five Ps (or priorities) of the married vocation. Her book outlines exactly how to do this, but I'll keep my own summary short and sweet.  

There are five priorities of a married woman that will bring balance to a chaotic life if they are followed in the correct order.

What are the Five Ps?
1. Prayer
2. Person (Self)
3. Partner
4. Parent
5. Provider

If I place more emphasiss on my relationship with my children than my relationship with my husband, my marriage becomes tense.  

If I attempt to take on my role as provider without first taking care of myself, I am depleted and have no energy to take care of my family or my home.  

If I attempt to start my day without prayer and guidance, I am flying by the seat of my pants and get frustrated when there isn't a clear sense of where I'm going.

There will be instances when a child is sick and that becomes my number one priority.  This is an exception and it resolves itself quickly.  It's when the priorities get out of balance for an extended period of time that life becomes stressful and difficult to manage. 

Let's dive a little deeper into each priority.

1.  Prayer
As a mother, my top priority should be my spiritual growth.  When I jump out of bed in the morning and dive into the day according to my own agenda it is easy to become frustrated.  But if I begin my day communicating with God, He allows me to see areas where I need growth and He gives me grace to tackle the challenging things that come my way.  

I can't expect to form the souls in my care if I'm not practicing the virtues myself.  

2. Person
Bumping this priority up to the number 2 spot was a game changer for me.  I spent the first three years of motherhood putting myself last.  I was a little confused about the giving of self in the vocation of motherhood and thought it meant to devote all of my time and energy to my family. 

I was burned out.  

 I eventually came to the humble realization that if I didn't take care of the physical needs of my body and the spiritual needs of my soul, I wasn't taking care of anyone well.  I was exhausted, addicted to caffeine, and was walking around with brain fog.  No one had my real attention or affection.  

Taking care of yourself looks different for everyone.  It includes everything from eating to sleeping.  

For me, I have to take care of my physical body and stimulate my mind every day.  

Sugar gives me anxiety and causes me to be short tempered.  When I eat well, I can think clearly and have enough energy to keep up with my little boys until bedtime.  Exercise gives me energy and a clear head.  

I set aside 30 minutes every day to read something new.  Reading has always been my happy place.  It keeps my mind stimulated and fills my cup.  

Taking care of myself also includes self-awareness and emotional healing.  I can't be vulnerable and truly intimate with family and friends if I have protective walls set up so I am working on digging deep and seeking healing.  

3. Partner
Little kids are exhausting.  Throw in some postpartum hormones and the best way I can explain some days is that I just felt like a walking blob in those early years of motherhood.  When I read about the Five Ps I felt really convicted about where my husband was on my priority list at the time.  

Pierlot says, "God had given me a job to do, as a wife.  Love was something I was supposed to concern myself with giving, not receiving; giving to my husband the gift of myself; the gift of my time, my support, my presence, my entire PERSON."  
I love Ryan.  

I loved him first.  

It is because of our love for each other that we have our children. When I started implementing the Five Ps I was so emotionally exhausted that I wasn't giving my husband the full attention that he deserved. When I changed things around and put my spiritual and physical needs first, my marriage started to flourish!  

We like to have 2-3 date nights at home a week.  We aren't fancy.  We make a bowl of popcorn and sit on the couch and talk.  It's a genuine check-in of how we are doing individually and we can gauge how to help each other throughout the week. 

4.  Parent
Even though a good part of my day is spent parenting, being a parent is my fourth priority.  If my prayer isn't in order, my person isn't in order.  If my person isn't in order, my marriage won't be in order.  If my marriage isn't in order, I certainly won't be able to parent well.  

I am constantly evaluating to see how available I am to my children.  Do they have my full attention when they need it?  Am I meeting their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs?  Am I loving them in the way they need to feel loved?

I loved this quote from Holly Pierlot, "This mission meant that I was called to raise my children actively, not merely to watch them like a nanny.  Who else was going to teach them all they needed to know in this life? Who else was going to lead them to God if Philip and I didn't do it?  Together with my husband, I was the formative influence in my children's lives.  I was the one who was called to mold and form them and prepare them for this world and the next.  I was the primary educator of my children.  This was a privelage I would never again undervalue."

5. Provider
When I tell people that this is the last priority, I'm often met with a raised eyebrow.  Being a provider includes going to work, budgeting, taking care of the home, grocery shopping, scheduling appointments, and doing ALL of the things that take up most of our time throughout the day.  

But being a provider shouldn't take so much of our mental capacity that we have nothing left to give to our families.  

I sit with this priority often and set attainable goals.  I want my home to be a place where peace and love abide.  I want my business to flourish with empowered women.  I want to create systems and organizational tools for my family so we can spend more quality time together and less time tidying.

Even though a good part of my day is filled with scheduling, meal planning, cleaning, and answering emails, I can't let my to-do list be the thief of my joy.  So I don't.

When my Ps are in order, my life is in order.  

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