What I've Learned about 'Curriculum' and the Charlotte Mason Philosophy (and my thoughts on *gulp* Ambleside...)

Monday, February 23, 2015

When I first started trying to wrap my mind around Charlotte Mason's philosophies of home education, I was incredibly overwhelmed.  There just seemed to be so much to take in, to understand, to work towards.

But more than 5 years in, and I now see more clearly - yes, Charlotte's philosophies are profound - but her ways?  They are actually quite simple and incredibly gentle.

Charlotte's methods were never meant to overwhelm Mothers.  Quite the opposite, in fact - in their truest form, they are a breath of fresh air.   So freeing and liberating to embrace!

I've really learned quite a bit about embracing a Charlotte Mason education.  I've made many, many mistakes (and continue to do so...) and I've watched many other Moms both succeed and struggle.

It's a bit of a touchy subject, but I wanted to comment on something I feel is quite important.  Especially in the social media, web-based world we now live in...  

Many well-meaning Charlotte Mason home schooling Moms quickly recommend using  Ambleside Online to 'do' Charlotte Mason.  I felt the same way - like if I really wanted to embrace Charlotte's ways and reap the benefits - I had to use Ambleside.  I have no idea why this idea prevails, but in many (MANY) circles, it does.

But it just isn't true, my friends.  Stick with me here, I promise, I'm not throwing online tomatoes at Ambleside (I actually love the site for many reasons, which I'll get to in a minute...)!  BUT -

It is very, very easy to get lost in a sea of massive book lists and strictly outlined 'curriculum'.   It can (and just might) steal your joy and your child's joy if the curriculum or booklists aren't the right fit.  This is how I know...

Here's how it went with me:

Visit Ambleside Online.

Stare blankly for way too long, trying to wrap my mind around what I'm even looking at.

Realize about an hour later how absolutely incredible this site is and what a RESOURCE!

Do a happy dance that now, my Charlotte Mason education is all figured out!  I just follow this recipe right here!

Spend two weeks consumed with printing out all the required readings and schedules for Year 1, 2 and 3 (which is where I thought my kids fit).

Spend even more time and money trying to acquire all the books.

Become obsessed with downloading free Kindle books onto the iPad.  (Don't even get yourself started...)

Line everything up just perfectly and wait for the first day.

Then, the first week passes and...

Pretty much everything falls to pieces.

There are WAY too many readings for us to keep up with.

I am trying to cover three separate time periods with three very different children.  (I honestly have no idea how you Ambleside Mamas do this... it is CRAZY!)

My eldest dislikes almost all his books (and he's a prolific reader).

My middle child has no natural interest in any (ANY) of the history topics, which form the spine of the program.

My youngest is in the clouds dreaming of Lego and how to achieve better blasting sound effects.

And I become incredibly discouraged.  

I think to myself, well...  I should really follow these specific outlines and read these books... (which in some cases, were way too hard for our children, irrelevant to our geographical area and interests, or just plain strange to me) because, well, this is what all those Charlotte Mason people recommend.

Ladies - I'm not sure how Ambleside Online became the go-to for Charlotte Mason educators, but it truly is only a potential resource.  (One of many, many potential resources out there!)

The wonderful ladies who put together Ambleside Online even state it themselves - the site is merely a resource and not a recipe for a successful Charlotte Mason education.

There are parts of Ambleside Online that really work for us.

A few parts.  Specific books truly clicked with our family,  grabbing suggestions for poet studies and picture studies, and looking through and using suggested titles is very helpful.

But, I'll be honest, there is a whole lot that does't work for our family.  And for a while, I really let that get to me.

And I've also watched so many Moms struggle in the same ways.  I've read numerous comments like this: 'My child really didn't like this book, but we trudged through anyways...'.  Or other comments like this: 'I really don't like to content of (insert book name), but we read it anyways, since it was on the schedule'.  And what about: 'My son doesn't like that author at all, but he knows he has to read it - its part of school, and that's that.'

I'm not judging anyone, sweet friends... but when I read stuff like that, I just feel sad and confused.  And I just don't understand - why are we pushing books that go against our own personal convictions or don't work for our children?  

If a living book isn't 'living' for your child, then what Charlotte wanted for us is lost.  That wonderful connection - that interest-based, self-induced, excited learning process... where does it go when we force a book (or several books!) on our kids just because they are on a list or in a curriculum?

But that's the thing with 'boxed' curriculum.  Whether it is actually delivered to your front door in a physical box, or it is 'boxed' for us on a website, it is still, well, 'boxed'.  (Meaning that someone has put it all together ahead of time and we are using that put-together curriculum with our children.)

Most curriculum is created by Moms just like you and I.

Moms who found something that really worked for their children and wanted to share their success in hopes of encouraging and helping other families.  (Which is great!)  But we can't forget that what works for one family won't always work for another.  What books appeal to one child might not appeal at all to another child, after all, as Charlotte said:

Children are born persons.

Yep, they are their own little person (or big person!).  Us Moms know that better than anyone!

I'm convinced the way to find immeasurable success with Charlotte Mason's philosophy is this -  embrace the very heart of the method, rather than getting stuck on any particular book list or curriculum.

(Which, again, is what the ladies at Ambleside Online preach!)

Now, as a very important side-note, I want to openly state that many (MANY!) families have enjoyed success using book lists and curriculum like the stuff found on Ambleside and various other book-based curriculums (Sonlight, Heart of Dakota, etc.).  We are among those families (we have used Simple Charlotte Mason, Sonlight, Heart of Dakota, Five in a Row... and had tremendous success!).

I have seen the benefits of these lists and suggested studies over and over.

Sometimes, the books and rhythms click with the children and there is a great connection, a spark - that living education is found through a certain 'curriculum'.

But - I've also talked to so many Moms who get incredibly discouraged when a booklist and time-lined curriculum just isn't working in their home.  They figure, because the suggested curriculum for 'Charlotte Mason' isn't working, then it's the philosophy that's the problem.

The philosophy itself is not the problem.  Rather, it is the understanding of and the application of the philosophy that can be flawed.

So what does Charlotte Mason say about learning through Living Literature and Whole Books?

One of the key fundamentals of the Charlotte Mason philosophy is the use of Living Books in the home.  These are books that are written by a single author who shares his or her passion for a given topic with the reader.  This can be done through non-fiction or fiction (especially in the area of history).  These books inspire children to think, dream, learn, and explore.  They are captivating, well-written pieces of literature where the learning goes right from page to heart.

Some examples of beautiful living books we've read this year are: The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Backyard Birds by Robert Bateman, A Secret Garden by Frances Burnett, and The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Here's a quote from Charlotte:

"Therefore... we endeavour that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him; not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which in all his life he will not be able to explore..."

Did you catch it?

We are to encourage and inspire our children to have relations of pleasure and intimacy with as many interests as possible (the feast of ideas) but it ought to be proper to him.  Yes, proper to that particular child at that particular time.

This means learning alongside our children in the areas where God has gifted them and given them an interest.  It doesn't mean there won't be topics our children don't enjoy as much as others - but there is certainly a benefit to focusing on that which he or she DOES enjoy!

The whole idea of Charlotte's philosophy on living books is we use books that inspire our children to grow in character, knowledge and passions.  So, what books we use is up to us as parents!  There are literally millions of fantastic living books available today.  We get many of our books from the library and have collected several shelves worth of beautiful classics and whole books for our family to read any time we choose.  Many of these books are found on Charlotte Mason booklists, because the booklists are in many ways fantastic!

But, here's the catch - I've learned to use sites like Ambleside and sites that include Charlotte Mason booklists as a tool.  I don't get discouraged or stuck on them if a book isn't working for us.  

Any resource available is just that, an additional resource.  It is a tool in your homeschooling tool belt.  But it is not the belt itself.

When we get stuck on book lists and curriculums, especially for Charlotte Mason, we stifle much of the freedom of this beautiful philosophy.  We can lose sight of the very point of reading wonderful books - because we are stuck on reading the specific books listed on a given list for a given grade level.

So, this post is to encourage you - embrace the books and timelines that work for your family and your children.  Don't get too lost in the sea of Charlotte Mason Curriculum for specific age categories and seasons if they aren't working for you.  Your child is unique and your family will travel a unique road.

Sure, if you want to - log onto Ambleside Online and similar sites and enjoy the wonderful lists of living books for suggested reading.  Glean from them some great suggestions for books to read, but don't be discouraged if some of the books don't work for your children or don't fit your needs or personal philosophies!

Even choose to invest in wonderful boxed curriculums that you believe will work for your kids and let's pray they do!  (Again, for living book-centered, Charlotte Mason-friendly curriculum, I have really loved Five in a Row, Sonlight, Heart of Dakota).


Leave room for the Spirit of God to move in your home and lead you to the right topics, the right books, and the right areas of study for your specific children.  The Lord has given them gifts and talents all their own!

Recognizing a Living Book -

Here is an interesting thought from Karen Andreola, which she writes in her book, A Charlotte Mason Companion.

"The One-Page Test:

Here is another way to recognize a living book.  First examine the book to see if it promotes noble thoughts rather than a jaded or misleading outlook on life.  If the book captures your interest it very well may capture that of your children's.  Once you have determined its general suitability, simply give the book - whether fiction or non-fiction - the one-page test.  Start reading it aloud to your children and look for signs that it is opening the doors of their minds.  Stop at the end of the first or second page.  You will know you have found a living book if you hear them plead, 'Read me more!'"

I truly hope this is helpful!

The Sacred Ordinary. {snapshots of today}

Saturday, February 21, 2015

It's early morning.  

I'm sipping coffee and writing in my notebook.  The boys are playing a serious game of chess at the kitchen table.  Mr. Rules against Mr. Free-spirit.  I chuckle inside, listening to their banter.

Where did time go?  I'm sure it was yesterday these boys of mine were toddlers, grabbing at chunky toy cars and board books.  In the days when every day seemed to drag on for a thousand hours and I seemed to forget how blessed I was.

I forgot for far too long.  And I've been through the moulding and shaping and I'm starting to (finally) realize that every single second is a gift.  And I can choose to savour the seconds.  The minutes.  The days, weeks, months... years.

I can choose to dial in and gaze upon the glory happening all around me.

I can choose to savour the simple.

The older son wins again and the younger wells up, ready to cry real tears.  Always younger.  Always losing.  Always feeling a little bit less able than his bigger, all-knowing brother.

And my heart sings when the older brother soothes the younger in his own, 9-year-old way:

"Don't worry, Alex.  Don't worry.  If you were playing a 6-year-old, you'd totally annihilate him."

We all giggle.

Alex smiles and shrugs.

Two brothers, forging a friendship over morning chess.

This is the sacred ordinary.

Later, I hear squeals from the kitchen and see kids gathered at the back window.

"Mom!  Mom! Come!"
"A Woodpecker!"
"And a Cardinal!"

The oldest is bursting with joy, "He's HUGE Mom... look at the Woodpecker!  Look at him!  We've never seen one like that before!"

We gaze out at breath-taking bird clinging to our Suet perch.  His head is bright red, wings - speckled black and white.  Simon quickly finds the bird guide and searches.  I spot several Dark-Eyed Junkos, two Black-Capped Chickadees, a few sparrows in the mix.

He grabs my attention and points to the picture of a Hairy Woodpecker.  "It's got to be this one, Mom.  Wow..."  he breathes deep, satisfied.  "He's amazing."

"Yes, he sure is."  I'm awed by this winter morning, the feast of the birds.

"And Mama," a sweet voice chimes in.  "Mama, look at the Cardinal too." 

Mr. Cardinal is scarlet over a sea of white snow.  How could we miss him?  His song, his flash of crimson wings - he is an old friend around here.  But, nevertheless, cherished.

The children are all aglow, alighted, at the beauty of the Backyard Birds.

This is the sacred ordinary.

I follow Audrey in the late afternoon to our little leaning chicken coop.  

We greet our feathered pets with a high "Hello Girls!" and hear them 'buuuuh-rup-rup-rup-rup" in response.  Five little hens, the sweet birds I never (in a million years) thought I'd call friends.  Charlotte, Fudgie, Chancie, Gloria, and Champ peck at pieces of dried bread and veggie peels as we check for eggs and switch out the frozen water dish.

We pile straw and fluff bedding and try hard to make the hens' home as cozy as possible.  It's surprisingly warm inside the wooden walls.  Audrey plunks down and the hens climb all over their favourite human.  We snuggle in for a little bonding time with our feathered friends, chuckling at their antics.

So much personality and wonder in five little birds.  Five little birds most people call food.  But, as Audrey would say, "These girls are friends not food."  And I'm sure our hens are convinced their kittens, the way they allow us to pet and hug them.

We smile together and talk about when these girls hatched out and sit in bliss as the snow softly falls around us in the stillness of the afternoon.

Mr. Cardinal calls in the distance, perched on some far off branch.

This is the scared ordinary.

See, I used to think a life lived in communion with the Lord had to look extraordinary.

I mean, surely, it's only the missionaries to Africa or South America who truly see God.  I lived waiting for some special 'call' on my life.  Once I knew that 'call', I would really draw close to God, live in full, blissful covenant... my eyes "stayed" on Jesus.  My husband and I prayed relentlessly for the Lord to 'revel His plan' for us, over and over we prayed.  And we expected some big answer, and for a while, thought we were being led to serve in Uganda.  All the while, we were neglecting the here and now - everything that was right in front of our very eyes.

While we were begging for a calling, we were missing the whole point.

We'd already been called. 

Those of us who know the Lord and long to live for Him, already have a calling and it starts right now.  Right where we are.  We serve the Lord and dwell with Him in the everyday ordinary.

Yep.  The seemingly mundane.

Oh, but it doesn't have to be mundane!  Or ordinary at all.

When perspectives shift, time stands still and everything comes into focus.  Every moment can be completely spectacular.

Every ordinary moment can become sacred.

I've realized that if I want to truly know Christ and have His Spirit dwell in and with me, it has to be now.  I have to seek Him here and listen when He speaks.  Now.  Not later or when I have some huge calling that can be written down and labelled fancifully.

No, I find Him here.

Because if I can't embrace a life in communion with my Saviour in a country kitchen, who's to say I would find Him in Uganda?

And I'm not against missions or saying certain people aren't called to do something very out of the 'ordinary'!  It happens and God uses those people in mighty ways.  But, the truth is, most of us are called to live life right where we are and to live it on task and in surrender to the One who 'called us out of darkness and into His glorious Light'.

See, if I can't see His hand upon my life as I flip pancakes, teach spelling, and pet chickens - how can I fully understand the truth of who He is?

If I can't hunger and thirst for His presence as a Mama living a humble, almost invisible, little life - then when would that change?

He is Immanuel, God with us.
Not Immanuel, if and when and maybe someday when I'm 'called'.

No.  Immanuel, God with us now.

Today.  In your everyday moments, find Him.  Seek Him with all your heart.  He's there.

He wants to be part of our simple.  Our normal.  Because that's just how He calls us, isn't it?  'Come, just as you are...?"

And I sense His spirit with me -

sitting cross legged on my bed with a tea and an open bible
embracing our children in the morning sunshine
hearing the sing-song of the winter birds
gazing a the moving clouds as a storm rolls in
holding the hand of the one I love
giggling over poems and munching Fishie crackers

He is there.  He is faithful.

We don't need to go anywhere at all, we just need to open our eyes and our hearts.

We need to simply call out to Him and listen.  

And know that when we call, He will come.  

And the ordinary will be ordinary no longer.

You Should have been a Boy. (Blog for GFA)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My husband and I are passionate supporters of Gospel for Asia, so it is my humble honour to be part of the GFA Blogging Team.

This month, I feel led to share this heart breaking, and then heart warming story of a beautiful woman who found love and belonging in Christ Jesus.

I can't imagine being born into a family that not only didn't want me, but actually made up their minds to hate me.  But that is the reality for so many precious girls in many parts of Asia where girls are only seen as a burden on the family, especially financially.

This is the story of Ruth.

Ruth's parents already had three girls.  They were desperate for a boy and payed a local priest to pray to his 'gods' that they would conceive and give birth to a healthy boy.  But when the baby was born, it was another girl, not the boy the family hoped for.  The baby's parents were furious.  From that moment on, they treated the child (Ruth) with contempt.  They forced her to work in the fields when she was as young as five years old; and didn't feed her or clothe her adequately.  She did not know love, only the hatred of parents who didn't want her.

My heart wrenches to think of what girls like Ruth go through in family situations where there is no hope and no joy.  Where there is very real spiritual darkness, abuse, and fear.  Where there is no belief that all life is given by a sovereign God who loves us.  But that's exactly the family Ruth was born into.

One day, when she finally summoned up enough courage to ask her parents why they abused and hated her so much, her father shouted:

"You should have been a boy!"

As she grew, her situation seemed completely helpless until one day when she was able to connect with a group of local Gospel for Asia women missionaries.  Because of their great love for her, she was drawn to them and began to develop a deep friendship with them.  Then women missionaries (sisters) invited Ruth to come to church with them.

That day, the pastor was teaching from John 1:12 and John 3:16:

Yet, to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die - but have everlasting life.

Imagine.  Hated by your parents.  Never feeling loved or wanted in your home.  Ruth describes herself as a 'beggar for love'.  She was desperate to feel the touch of someone who cared for her - and she only began to feel that through the love of Christ extended through the GFA sisters.

And yet -even more!  Learning of a Creator who loves you so much that when you believe in His name, He adopts you into His family.  With open, loving arms He calls you child and claims you as His own.  A loving Father for Ruth.  And for me.  And for you.

And then, to learn how this same Father God gave His son to give you eternal life- hope, peace, purpose.

I have to close my eyes and try to imagine myself in this sweet sister's place, hearing these truths for the first time.  Feeling them right down deep in her soul.  What an overwhelming sense of acceptance and hope she must have felt.  The hope of the gospel of Christ Jesus, Yeshua, Saviour.

It changes everything.

This hope led Ruth to a new life and a journey to study at bible college.  When she left her family, her father's hatred still ran ramped.  She continued to pray and study, growing in her walk with the Lord and finding purpose in sharing her testimony and His love with other women.

After years of training and growth, the local pastors from her village asked her to return home.  Ruth was very cautious, for fear of what her father might do to her, but was reassured all was well.  Her father was now following Christ and his heart was changed.  (Imagine!)

When she saw her father again, he embraced her for the first time in her life.  This made me weep when I first heard it because I can't even begin to comprehend what this dear woman had gone through and what that embrace must have meant to her.

Praise Jesus, He is Redeemer.

He is Healer.

He is the One who mends the broken hearted and the broken families.

Praise Aba Father who adopts us as His own and loves us with an unending, unshakable love.

And praise Him for women missionaries like the precious sisters who reached out to Ruth in her darkest hour.  And now, for Ruth, who has seen her life and her family restored by the power of the Cross and longs to do the same for others.

As believers, stories like this ought to move us to tears and shake us to the core of who we are.  Stories like this ought to inspire us to action - to see the deep need of so many of our sisters in Asia who are literally dying to feel the love of Christ and the hope of renewal and restoration.

This hope can be and is being found through the love of GFA women missionaries who can reach Asian women right in their very own culture and communities.  But they do need our support, friends...

Watch a movie about Ruth's life and hear from her.

Have you considered sponsoring a Gospel for Asia Woman Missionary?

We are so blessed and honoured to pray for and support precious women missionaries in India.

... join us?

Winter Nature Study (...and a Review of NaturExplorers - Coping with the Cold)

Monday, February 16, 2015

We have been loving Winter this year.  However, it has been bitter cold.  We're experiencing some of the coldest days I can remember right now - freeze your nostrils together, cold!  But, there's no escaping these Canadian Winters, so we might as well try to enjoy it!

We were in need of something interesting to get us outside and enjoying nature, so it was perfect timing when I received NaturExplorers unit studies from Shining Dawn Books to review.   This independent publisher offers numerous ebook unit studies from a Christ-centered perspective.  This review is only for one of the many NaturExplorer units available.  (I will be posting reviews and links for more of the units as we work through them!)

We have been thoroughly enjoying our study of "Coping with the Cold", a nature study unit focusing on how animals survive the Winter.  I wanted to write a quite detailed review because author Cindy West has truly created something very special in these unit studies.

I'm excited to share them in hopes that other Moms and educators will find an incredible (and affordable!) tool for implementing more quality Nature Study into their homeschool.

Friends, these Nature Study units are FANTASTIC!

The NaturExplorers series is wonderfully in depth and so Charlotte Mason-friendly. Cindy has packed the pages full of incredible ideas and inspirations to jump start all kinds of nature study as well as notebooking and nature journaling.  The guide is easy to use and very well laid out and is an instant download. (Yaye!)  It is also good for quite the age range, with ideas to carry you from preschool to even highschool depending on how you use the information and how you direct your student.

Some of the elements include:

Getting Started - Literature Launch gives a list of recommended children's literature to inspire and introduce the concepts of the study (love this so much!), Inspiration Point and A Bit of Background offer the 'teacher' a chance to gain quick and easy basic understanding of the motivation behind the study and some background knowledge before heading into nature study both in and out of doors.

Getting Outside - Nature Walks and Outside Activities (the core of the curriculum) is the section where Cindy has written so many great topic-related ideas for getting outside!  This is exactly what I was looking for since the simple, "Hey let's go for a walk," doesn't always captivate my kids anymore.  (Not after 10 years of nature walks... and especially not what it's -10!)

Some of the ideas from Coping with the Cold include, observing animals in their habitats and recording your observations on one of the many notebooking pages included in the study,  watching animals who are collecting food for the winter (what are they collecting and where are they storing it?), watching birds and keeping a list of those that visit your backyard feeder(s), respectfully finding anthropods and hibernating insects in Winter,  searching for signs of animals (tracks, homes, hiding places, left-behind food bits, etc.), and many more unique ideas.

Branching Out - This section goes more in depth and, well, branches out on the topic of study.  There are many ideas for hands-on science experiments and activities, vocabulary and scientific concepts (this one includes a look at Allen's Rule, Bergmann's Rule, The Egg Rule, and Gloger's rule, along with discussions and activities for the concepts of adaptation, camouflage, how to make your yard animal and bird friends, and much more.)

In the Branching Out section, you will also find a ton (really!) of ideas for research, study and creative writing.  The ideas were so many and so varied that I mentioned to my husband that I would surely keep these units for years to come and pull them out during the applicable seasons to use as a launching pad for Nature Study.  Cindy gives ideas such as, making a diorama, writing a paper about an animal who migrates, mapping migration habits and 'flyways',  making a pamphlet about migration, researching and writing about dormant frogs and/or animals that build burrows, and countless other ideas that could serve as a very engaging springboard for all ages.

Bible, Poetry, Artist and Picture Study, and Composer and Music Study...

I was very pleasantly surprised to find a whole section of completely Charlotte Mason-inspired topics of study within the NaturExplorers unit!  What a treat!  (This is where us Charlotte Mason-ers start to get nerdy...)

I love the Bible Lessons from His Creation section.  This highlights multiple verses and chunks of scripture that relate to the topic of study.  We used Matthew 6:28-30 as our copywork in our Nature Journals.

Poetry Place includes several titles of theme-related poems and suggested books of poetry.  For this unit, we printed off all the poems and read them aloud.  We used Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Field as a nature journal page and learned more about the Canada Geese from Handbook of Nature Study.

I was so excited to discover the Artist and Picture Study References included as well.  What a wonderful addition to any Nature Study!  Cindy gives great suggestions for kid-friendly picture study with artists and artwork related to the topic (in this case, Winter and Winter animals).  We really gravitated towards studying works by Robert Bateman for this unit.  I was already familiar with some of his paintings and they are beautiful realist pieces, many of which show Canadian birds and animals in winter settings.

Composer and Music References offered some lovely ideas for music study, including, Vivaldi's Winter (from Four Seasons), as well as a piece from Chopin.

There are also many notebooking pages to use within your home and homeschool - so many I couldn't list them all!  Each page pairs easily with the content within the unit study and can be printed off as needed!

Just as a side note - we focused quite a bit on birds during this study, but it certainly is not exclusive to the topic of birds.  Coping with the Cold actually covers many topics quite extensively.  Because this year we have been so focused on our study of birds, it seemed natural to lean in that direction for this unit.  Hope that makes sense!

Some of our Winter Nature Study snapshots from this hands-on, Charlotte Mason-inspired unit...

"Can you dig a tunnel through the snow, the way Chipmunks dig underground?"

"Let's create a burrow in the snow."

More snow homes.

A peak at our neck of the Wintery Woods.

"Let's leave some yummy snacks for the birds, Chipmunks, and Squirrels."  Popcorn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds made a tempting feast and we were able to observe several types of birds and a beautiful little Red Squirrel who peaked out to grab some snacks before running back to the warmth of his home.

Making more winter snow forts (borrows).

Special Outing - A Wintery Walk at the Nature Sanctuary

We have the most lovely place close to our home where the birds are friendly enough to eat from your hand and the Squirrels and Chipmunks (in Spring and Summer) will follow you around and munch peanuts from your fingers.  We headed out to see what birds we could spot.  We were studying birds (we have been all year) and discussing what birds we could expect to see in Winter in Southern Ontario.  We were delighted with what we found!

Friendly and fast, the Black Capped Chickadee.

Simon's bonding with a Black Capped friend.

Agile and fun to watch, the White Breasted Nuthatch is pretty common in our area.

Audrey and Simon feeding Nuthatches and Chickadees.  Audrey will stand stone still for a long time in an attempt to feed the birds.  What a great exercise in discipline, patience, and attention!

Can you spot the pretty male Cardinal?

A rare treat!  We haven't had a Downy Woodpecker eat from our hands before.  This one looks like a female.  It took us several minutes of patiently waiting before she came!

Alex, thrilled to have the Chickadees come to his hand.

Another outing on a another day.  We decided to head out to a frozen lake to see if we could spot different types of birds.  We saw tons of Canada Geese flying overhead.  Simon enjoyed watching them through his binoculars.  

Backyard Birds...

Here's a peak outside our back window - we have many species of birds in our backyard and the children love to watch them.  A Downy Woodpecker loves to visit our Suet and countless types of birds come to our feeders.  We even leave peanut butter toast for the Squirrels!  Also:  Backyard Birds by Robert Bateman is one of my favourite children's books (non-fiction) about birds.  It is an amazing living book!

Always keep an easy to use Bird Guide close to where your feeders are hanging.  This allows for you and the children to easily identify new birds.

The view on a sunny morning...

Keeping lists of Winter birds you've seen can be a fun way to encourage the habit of attention, as well as infuse your children with a love of nature.  Our lists are quite a bit longer now, but here's a snapshot from our kitchen...

A section from Backyard Birds by Robert Bateman.

Bateman's art.

Books and Nature Journals

Three Reasons Animals Make Changes for Winter - Food, Shelter, Water.

Winter Vocabulary.

"Place the animals and birds in their proper winter habitat."

Nature Journaling with younger students - Alex used his journal for copywork while listing backyard birds.

Alex's pictures and sketches (no matter what!) always turn into some kind of robot being attacked by countless tiny fighting stick men...  oh, six year olds...

Learning about various types of animal adaptations.

Using Scripture for copywork in our nature journals.

Audrey's "Underground Habitat" art page.

Simon's list of the Winter birds he's seen in our yard.

This is one of the many worksheets including in Coping with the Cold.  We used this as a narrative exercise.  

Audrey's list of backyard birds with coloring.

Poetry page.

Audrey felt inspired to continue drawing different birds.

For giggles -

How are our hen girls Coping with the Cold?  (It's their first Winter, as they are only 9 months old.)  They're coping fairly well... although they do stand at the old back window staring in and looking pretty pathetic.  Yes, they are begging to come in...  *smile*

Thanks for reading, I pray this might inspire you to embrace the beauty all around you and dive into learning more about God's amazing creation!  (Whatever is lovely... think on these things...)

I give the NaturExplorers series two great big thumbs up.  Definitely an incredible value for unit studies that are sure to enrich your home and family life!

Click here to view more details about Coping with the Cold and the many other NaturExplorers nature study units available at Shining Dawn Books!  

Other Ideas and Links for Winter Art and Picture Study:
Pieter Bruegel's Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap
Winifred Austen's beautiful art.

Some more beautiful Winter art from Robert Bateman (great for Picture Study):
Winter Lady-Cardinal
Scolding Chickadees
Silent Witness

Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy of Coping with the Cold (NaturExplorers) from the publisher in exchange for my honest review... which is what you got!  Blessings!

Our Journey Westward
Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground