Category Archives: A walk in the woods

Raising a Wild Child

A few weeks ago I was browsing the new book shelf at my local library (my favorite shelf, btw) and I came across the book, How to Raise a Wild Child. It’s written by Dr. Scott the Paleontologist (from Dinosaur Train). But, that’s not why I picked it up…I was quite intrigued by the title and while I think my boys are wild enough, I’m always interested in reading about how to help them become their own people while still respecting their surroundings. In fact, as I was checking it out, one of our local librarians commented that I could probably write the book…I’m not sure if that was a compliment or a criticism!

Our blooming Scarlet Hibiscus, a native Florida plant.

Our Scarlet Hibiscus, a native Florida plant which finally bloomed a few days ago!

As a big fan of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, I found a kindred spirit in Sampson’s book. His purpose is to foster a love of the outdoors within our children…and ourselves. Since it’s been almost nine years since I’ve read Louv’s book, I was happy to get a refresher – especially since we aren’t nearly as outdoors-oriented as I would like us to be.

Yet, as I was reading the book, I realized that we are doing many of the things that Sampson recommends. Since it’s blazing hot here right now, we aren’t “out” all that much, but we do a lot of observing. Last year, as part of my youngest son’s project, we planted a butterfly garden in our front yard, which is quite accessible from our large, air-conditioned front window. The kids will often sit – if only for a few minutes – and watch what’s going on outside. We have a family of bunnies that like to venture out in the morning and the hummingbirds are quite attracted to some of our nectar plants as well. Unwittingly, we had created a “sit place,” just like he mentions in the book.

Adding a butterfly garden - August 2014

Adding a butterfly garden – August 2014

We are also gardeners and compost our food waste, but I would like for us to have a better understanding of how connected we are to the the outside world. And, so this is the area that I am choosing to work on from the recommendations in this book. There are so many fabulous ideas and suggestions that you could become overwhelmed before even starting. So, I’m choosing one (especially since I’m not quite ready to allow them to explore the woods on their own).

I want to increase the attention that we pay to our “sit place.” Sampson recommends that we ask lots of questions and help our children to put themselves in the place of an animal that we observe. This is the one tiny step that I will implement in our home…inviting my children to sit with me and observe together. I will be asking more questions as to why the birds make so much noise in the morning and wondering why we’ve seen so many more snakes in our yard lately. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Sensorial :: Observing Nature

As we roll into the Fall season, my youngest son and I have found ourselves in a bit of a different situation than last year. This year, my eldest is trying out 2nd grade….and loving it.

Initially, this seemed like a sad time for me…and then I realized that my youngest son and I would have a chance to explore his world. The world where he gets to voice the first and only opinion. An opportunity to follow his own path, without regard to his brother’s wishes or agreement.

I began observing – truly observinghis wants and his needs. The first order of business: to nourish a sense of wonder with regards to the outside world. His interests are strong in that regard and I want him to grow curious and thoughtful when thinking about his life experiences on Earth. One of the main areas of Dr. Montessori’s educational method concerns the senses and it is a very important area for a three-and four-year-old. The Sensorial activities capitalize on the child’s natural ability to explore his world through the five senses.

Swallowtail caterpillars - July 2013

Swallowtail caterpillars – July 2013

We were lucky enough to find such a sense of wonder in our front yard. We have a potted plant – cutting celery – that is apparently close enough to the typical Black Swallowtail host plant (those being mostly herbs).

The kids (and adults) were all fascinated. We enjoyed playing host for these creatures. As soon as they devoured the plant (which took only a few days), they were off to another plant and their next developmental stage.

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Since I was open to observing and listening to my youngest son’s needs, I was especially attentive when he mentioned that we should get more fish for our little aquarium. (At present, it has homemade paper fish – my favorite kind).

He was obviously yearning for more real-life observations and when a gifted jarful of tadpoles came our way yesterday, of course, we accepted. While the gift was given to the eldest son, it has been the youngest one who has paid the most attention and gotten lost – staring – at these fascinating creatures.

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“It is true that man has created enjoyments in social life and has brought about a vigorous human love in community life. But nevertheless, he still belongs to nature, and especially, when he is a child, he must needs draw from it the forces necessary to the development of the body and of the spirit.”         – Maria Montessori in The Montessori Method

 

 

A Walk in the Woods

…according to Ronan.

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On Sunday we were able to get out to a local park and do a little "hiking." (In Florida, it's mostly walking with a wee bit of an incline, but lovely, nonetheless). Our adventure started a bit like this:

Me: "All right, Ronan can you go to the bathroom? Joey, can you change Calum's diaper (hee hee)? I'm going to finish getting the water bottles together."

Ronan: (in a whiny kid voice) "I don't want to go to the park. I want to watch…"

Me: "Argghhh!"

At which point, I may have lectured a bit about the perils of TV addiction and the outcome of said "discussion" was me mentioning something about when he is an adult and no longer living at home he can watch all the TV he wants. Ugh. It sounded vaguely like something my parents would say. So, I promptly realized that the TV at Calum's nap time has gotten out of control. I filed it away and planned my strategy with regards to hiking. Meanwhile, he planned on going to the park and staying in the car with me while Daddy and Calum went hiking. I was a bit agitated. And, so I put on my "parent" hat. (You know, that hat you keep in the bathroom so you can lock yourself inside and think about the situation without yelling?)

And, that's when I remembered about the scavenger hunts. I suggested we make one up and he looked interested, but he wasn't completely in my camp, until I said that he could take pictures of everything we found. BINGO!

And, that's how he ended up with my camera and some completely awesome pictures. I definitely think this boy is ready for his own camera.

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And, if you'll notice my new "banner," we seem to be doing a lot of hiking these days. A big thanks to Jen for the completely awesome design (it's a bit easy to tell that you do this for a living, Jen)! It looks great and I LOVE the camping Zebra.

SNOW!

As a native Floridian, I have never really felt like I was missing anything during the winter months. There was the ocassional ping of desire for a "white Christmas," but it was usually a passing feeling. I never missed the sledding or skiing or fort-building that a lot of kids had growing up. Nor, did I miss all the driving on icy roads and shoveling driveways. (Or, perhaps, that would be my Northern-transplant parents talking).

I think that I never realized exactly what I was missing. After this past weekend, I know what a cool thing snow can be. And, thankfully, so do my kids.

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We are so lucky to have lots of family just north of Atlanta. They got lots of snow and we had a chance to partake in all of the fun. (It doesn't hurt that they back up to a golf course…perfect sledding hills for the kids and I). Not so sure I would want to shovel the driveway, but everything else was a blast.

 

Blueberries…for me

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We went blueberry picking! I thought we would never be able to find the extra time. (We bought a house and moved within the last month, unpacked and painted, drove to Illinois to mourn a relative, and enjoyed many, many lovely visits with extended family). Although we missed the Florida opportunities for picking blueberries, we were able to catch the last week of a local blueberry farm near Gram and Pappy's house – just north of Atlanta.

I was so excited. I've never been to a u-pick farm and I was super excited to take Ronan. We talked all the way there about picking the berries. When we finally got started, we found a shady spot and proceeded to fill our buckets…for about twenty minutes. And, then the novelty was over for him. It may have something to do with the fact that he doesn't actually like to eat blueberries or that we were visiting relatives he doesn't get to see that often. I entertained him for another forty-five minutes or so and with my bucket only a quarter of the way full, we headed to checkout. We weighed in at a pound a half (which means that after two batches of muffins and a few hastily-eaten handfuls, we are out of blueberries). 

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We learned a lot and got to be outside – in July – without melting. (Hint: Go early before the sun gets too high and the blueberries are picked clean by everyone who went out early). Also, this is what poison ivy – in the South – looks like:

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For some reason, I had always thought the three leaves were connected – as in the same leaf with three prongs. Thankfully, we didn't encounter any on our skin, but just to be sure, the nice people at the farm had some lotion which protects you from the plant oils. Who knew?

And, it wasn't a total loss for Ronan. He enjoyed himself and there was a special treat at the farm. It required a mandatory stop – before and after picking the blueberries. An old tractor is always a required activity for my tractor-obsessed boy.

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We had fun and I enjoyed the alone time with my oldest. And, we'll definitely do it again next year. Maybe
twice. Once with the kids and once without. Hmm…why stop at two times? I love those blueberry muffins!

summer scavenger hunt

I'm fortunate to be a part of the summer edition of a great online magazine, Rhythm of the Home. This magazine is dedicated to articles that discuss mindful parenting, conscious living and activities that work within the Waldorf and Montessori educational frameworks (all things that are on my brain quite often). I was lucky enough to be able to share one of our outdoor adventures…the scavenger hunt.

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Our scavenger hunts were designed to get us out of the house – a little jump start for a boy who is quite engrossed in his morning work. But, sometimes, we need no push, just a breezy day and a willing parent.  On a recent family walk, we stumbled across a fantastic find :: a reddish egret (quite rare for these parts). We all took it in stride as Ronan quietly observed and then suggested that we go on over to the poster depicting the park's wildlife, in order to make a proper identification. His excitement continues to spark my own sense of wonder in this wondrous place we are lucky to call home.

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As our morning walks have become more prevalent, we've begun to linger outside for just a little bit longer.

A little bit longer to enjoy the fresh air…

A little bit longer to watch the everyday morning activities as they happen,

A little bit longer to enjoy the trees – something all three of us appreciate.

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And, on these walks, we often see that "summer" is nearing to an end as the babies are starting to get bigger each time we see them – and the air is staying cooler for just a little bit longer – every morning. We've started our indoor seedlings in preparation for the Florida growing season and my baby has started to roll over every time we place him on his belly.

School is back in session and the parks are quieter, but we are still learning all the time. I've been enjoying this book and we've started with the elements: lines.

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We're working on generalities, so lines have been found in art, on the ground, in nature. Not surprisingly, this also ties in nicely with a Montessori activity: walking the line. Typically, this is a group activity, but it's a nice way to focus an active three-year-old and work on some gross motor skills. And, well, it's lots of fun too.

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moon, moon, moon

There are no more fireworks, but still plenty to gaze at in the night sky.

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(Photo taken by Joe)

And, if you do it while listening to this song, it makes it that much better – despite the mid-eighties temperatures. The perfect close to a great weekend filled with family, friends and fireworks. 

Keeping it going

Despite living among piles (and piles) of dirty dishes, dirty laundry, and dirty diapers, we all felt the pull of the outdoors this weekend. We escaped the humble place we call home and attempted some kite-flying and visited a local park, as I was in desperate need of some shady trees (oh, summer is coming on fast here).

We walked along the trail and noticed fishermen, waterfowl and spiderwebs. I was able to take the time to appreciate the tree cover and the natural wonder – quite a feat considering this park is surrounded by asphalt and strip malls. But, once inside the vast acreage, the everyday “life” things seemed to melt away. We could only hear birds – and the water lapping on the shore of the lake.

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This excitement carried me through to today and we went for a short walk through the neighborhood – just the three of us.

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(C, tucked safely inside the Moby wrap)

As a classic suburb kid, I long to live somewhere with lots of land and most importantly, a little stream running through the property (not too unrealistic, huh?).  Most of my favorite stories are those set in the country (with a proper toilet, thank you very much). I’ve also noticed that in many of the picture books we read, those that present my idyllic version of childhood are ones where the houses are surrounded by hills and valleys and the children are allowed to run free. Seeing as how there are few hills in Florida, I will have to assume that these are mostly small New-England-type areas. (The same books where everyone is happy that it snows because  no one has to rush off and join the morning commute to work)!

Psychologists note, that as a race, we are notoriously bad at knowing what will make us happy. As I do have an affinity for certain conveniences (fabric shops and a natural food store), I’m not sure a farm in rural Florida is the best solution. But, more significantly, does it matter to my kids if we live in the suburbs and visit the parks on the weekend? Can they come away with the same experiences as long as they have unstructured free time in the woods?

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For me, it’s hard to tell. My kids are too young to have free roam in any type of woods right now, but the oldest can hang out in our (teeny tiny) backyard by himself if he would like. I do scan the area for snakes (since we’ve seen a few back there), but I love being able to give him that sense of freedom. I’m also interested in these for when they get older. For now, I am content to continue to encourage his sense of wonder and our neighborhood walks are good enough for that. Besides, a stick is a stick – no matter where you found it.

Being outside, getting dirty

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.
– Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

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A future zucchini from our garden

When R was a baby, I read this book and my thinking was forever changed. His ideas are not new, but they made perfect sense to me. At the time, I had a longing for home-grown vegetables and farm life, something which seemed in marked contrast to my very brown thumb. I seemed to have a problem remembering to water my houseplants.

A few months later, I did try my hand at home-grown veggies (tomatoes) and they grew and flourished, but didn’t fruit. I had much better luck with my herbs – they were also outside and they grew and grew. I have a sneaking suspicion that my wonderful neighbor – an avid gardener – was taking pity on my neglected herbs and watering them. I haven’t had that much success since we’ve moved.

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Lately, I’ve been wondering if it is time to create a more formal approach to nature for R. Dr. Montessori felt that children from ages 3-6 were hungry for scientific vocabulary. In her observations, she noted the constant desire for new words during this time period – this age group has a sensitivity to language.

And, while I wholeheartedly agree – his favorite question is “why?” As in, “why is that truck broken, why did they take down those garage doors, why are there bugs outside…” It’s enough to drive a sleep-deprived, caffeine-free mama a bit loopy.  But, I want to give him the “real” answer, whenever possible. So, we look up the names of birds we see, and discuss possible answers for the other questions.

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However, I think that for the time being, I will heed Rachel Carson’s words and concentrate on sustaining the sense of wonder – and in doing so, rekindle my excitement as well.

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