A long, long time ago, when I was in elementary school, we went on a field trip to a local conservation area. The only thing I remember about this trip was when the guide told us about sumac. He said that we could eat it. That’s all I remember. I’m certain he mentioned that Aboriginal people have been using it as a spice for centuries, and that it’s a source of food for local wildlife during the harsh cold winter, but that part just didn’t sink in. What has always stuck with me was the taste. It was sour.
I love sour things. When I was younger, I would suck on lemons. *Pucker*. And, naturally, my children have also developed a palate for all things sour. So, it came as no surprise to me after I shared some sumac with Little Miss a couple of years ago, that it became a forest favourite. Whenever we pass by a sumac bush, she always asks for a bunch.
Honestly, she eats this stuff like a corn dog. And yes, Sweet Pea has also developed an affinity for it. You should see the back of my car! It seemed like such a good idea at the time, to let them have it as a snack. Lesson learned.
I had been promising Little Miss that we would make tea out of sumac for the longest time, and we finally got around to making it this week.
The sumac tea was remarkably tasty (and sour)! If you’re wanting to try sumac when you’re next out and about, do! I tend to suck on the red fruit (I always thought they were seeds!), then spit them out. However, both the girls swallow them. Sumac is an antioxidant and helps with hypertension. You can read more here.
“Mommy, why did the woman say ‘it’s not polite to stare’ to me?”
“Who said that?” I asked.
“The woman pushing the wheelchair,” Little Miss replied.
Ah. The moment of clarity.
Today, we decided to head over to the Markham Fair. We had never been to this time honoured tradition, and we decided to give it a last-minute whirl. Folks, we had a great time! There was lots to see and do there. There were plenty of animals to see. We got to ride up in a cherry picker (the machine that allows the hydro company to work on hydro wires)! And, they had a demolition derby (that we unfortunately weren’t able to attend). It was great.
Today was the first day of the fair, and there were lots of school children there. It was also “homeschooling day”, so we got to see some of our friends, too. There were also several people there with special needs. Fantastic! I have worked with individuals with special needs, and I know the need for these folks to get out and enjoy a community event. Wonderful! And, it appears my daughter (4.5 years young) was curious.
We all have a natural curiosity to those who are “different”. It’s human nature. Children are trying to make sense of the world, and in this case, she was trying to understand why a person was in a wheelchair. I’ve been behind the wheelchair, dealing with the curious stares. You want your client to be respected. I understand that. However, I think that this could have been taken as a learning opportunity, rather than a scolding.
My daughter did not know it was rude to stare. Again, she 4.5 years old. She did not mean to be rude, but it clearly came across that way. Instead of scolding her, the caregiver could have said, “he (or she) needs help to get around. That’s my job. They aren’t able to walk on their own, but they still want to see everything that you do!” Connection and dignity go a long way on this two way street. I also told Little Miss that the nicest thing she can do, if she sees someone in a wheelchair, is smile. There’s a takeaway that she can carry with her for the rest of her life, as opposed to being scared to look at the people around her.
When I was in grade 6, I experienced a pivotal moment. I was doing a biography on a classmate, so she came over to my house. When her family came to get her, her brother came to the door. He had Down Syndrome. I suppose I asked something insensitive like, “why does he look different?” I really can’t remember. However, I do remember her explanation.
We were in the gifted program at the time. She explained the situation that we (students in the gifted program) had an IQ of 101. Other students, in the regular stream, had an IQ of 100, and her brother had an IQ of 99. This was not (and I didn’t take it as such) an explanation that he was “dumb”, but that he thought and processed information differently. So, when I was speaking with him, I may have to choose my words more carefully so that he understood me. I found her explanation to come from a place of love and respect.
As I grew older, and I took psychology courses, I learned that the IQ disparity was greater, however that didn’t change how I viewed those with special needs. They are people who deserve love and respect, and who are all too often underestimated. This is something I want to pass on to my daughters. I don’t want them to be afraid to interact with these individuals. This is an opportunity to show love and compassion!
So, let me encourage you to view every day as a teaching day. Help those around you, especially these precious little ones, to make sense of what they see, through eyes of compassion and love. And I hope and pray that the next time she sees someone in a wheelchair she won’t avert her eyes, but meet those eyes with a smile.
Last year, around this time, I wrote a couple of blog posts. I titled them Snapdragon Fun and Snap Chat Continued. Pretty witty of me, right? Well, I’m here to confess that I was wrong. I mistakenly identified those fun, beautiful plants as “snapdragons”, when in reality the orange flowered plant is “jewelweed” and the pink flowered plant is “Himalayan balsam”, both of the impatiens family. I stand corrected. This photo is a card from the board game Wildcraft. Wildcraft is a cooperative board game that helps children learn how various plants can help heal us. From sunburns to bee stings, it is a fun reminder of the healing power of the plants around us.
And, guess what? They’re back in season! Yay! If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know why I’m so excited. These plants, also called “touch-me-not”, have these fun little seed pods that pop when you squeeze them. It turns out that these seeds taste like walnuts, and are super healthy! The flowers are good for you as well. Both the seeds and flowers are nutrient rich. Foraging the seeds can be a fun game, too! See if you can harvest the seed pod without it popping, and let the seed pods pop in your mouth, instead! Naturally, we gave it a go:
Little Miss (4.5) wasn’t a big fan of the seeds, but Sweet Pea (1.5) was. Granted, she’ll eat just about anything, but I enjoyed them as well. As we continued on our walk this morning, we came across another plant that looks very similar, however the flowers are pink in colour. As I mentioned earlier, this is the Himalayan Balsam. It turned out that this plant is an invasive species to our area, which led to a fantastic discussion about invasive species, endangered species (we’d recently learned about those, and Little Miss was trying to audibly recognize the difference), and habitats. We decided to harvest some of the Himalayan balsam, and see if our fine feathered friends, the ducks, might eat it.
Before we got to the ducks, I asked Little Miss to develop a hypothesis, as to whether or not the ducks would eat the flowers. She doesn’t like to be wrong, so she decided not to guess. I hypothesized that they would eat them. Wrong again! Perhaps the flowers just weren’t exciting enough to munch on.
So, if you’re by a ravine, and happen upon these entertaining plants, take a few moments. Try a flower or two, and see if you have the gentle touch. Let the seed pod pop in your mouth. It’s fun for the whole family!
Last summer, before we had even begun our homeschooling journey, a well meaning neighbour asked me “Do you feel qualified to teach her?” Beyond the fact that I am, indeed, a certified elementary school teacher, I still had a few lingering doubts.
Was this the right choice? Does she need more peer interactions? Will I miss something? Will I be “enough”?
I answered with my well thought through list of reasons that I had been rehearsing for whenever someone asks “why?”, but the question still nagged at me. There are plenty of parents who may not feel “qualified”, but they do a fantastic job! They are encouraging, inspiring, nourishing, kind, loving, and passionate. Who else can care more about your child than you? And the best part of homeschooling is that we often learn alongside our children, feeding our own curiosities as well! Learning is a lifelong venture, after all!
So, as we embark upon our second year of homeschooling, I want to encourage you. You are their first teacher. Whether they go to a physical school, or “school” at home, whatever that may look like, you are their first teacher.
Yesterday, Little Miss (4.5) was drawing in the sand. She smiled and said “Mommy, look! A mineral butterfly!” I think we’re going to be alright.
I started reading Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom nearly a year ago, and I couldn’t put it down. It really spoke to my intuition that my children need to be outside. That the outdoors is an essential part of their development, and that I needed to be mindful of getting outside on a regular basis. And not only getting outside, but allowing them to explore with their whole body, mind, and soul.
I borrowed a copy from our local library, and devoured it quickly. In fact, Hanscom’s Timbernook forest play program was the inspiration behind a local forest free play group that I initiated after being a part of an established Forest school group, here in Toronto. If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll have seen many of our forest experiences that I’ve shared. I treasure our time in the Great Outdoors. It is calming, invigorating, energizing, balancing, and grounding.
Little Miss (4.5 years) and Sweet Pea (16 months)
The main focus of Hanscom’s book is that children NEED to be outdoors to develop appropriately, physically and psychologically. She noted that children today lack simple coordination skills because they aren’t given the opportunity to develop them. Simple things like walking on an uneven surface, rolling down a hill, and balancing on a log – things we enjoyed as children – are deemed “too risky” nowadays, depriving children of the opportunity to develop physiologically. The impact this has later on in life is remarkable. Did you know that children have started falling out of their chairs, while simply sitting in them, because they haven’t developed their core balance when they were younger? Children are more accident prone now than ever!
When children aren’t given the opportunity to “get messy and make mistakes” (thank you Miss Frizzle, of the Magic School Bus), they lack resilience later on. While we think we are protecting our children when they’re younger, we are actually putting up barriers for them later on in life.
The other component of Timbernook, and the reason I started a spin off group, was the idea of imaginative play. At Timbernook, the students are given the freedom to become pirates, astronauts, knights, and explorers. The only thing we bring to the forest is a bag of simple water toys. I have seen the children make a “hot tub”, bow and arrows, castles, etc. When given time and freedom, children’s imaginations will blossom. and fun will ensue. We try to be as hands off as possible, allowing the children to understand their own limitations, and establish their own risk assessment. We also span a wide age range of 1 to 7 years.
I was truly inspired by Balanced and Barefoot. I highly recommend it to all parents and educators as an encouragement to make getting outside a priority. Our children will be better off for it.
We love the forest, if you couldn’t tell. We try to go every week, with a lovely group of friends. We have been joining this group for about two and a half years. In all this time, Little Miss has never ventured over “the tree”. Ever since we’ve been coming, there has been a tree that has fallen over there creek. It’s a large, beautiful tree that just begs to be climbed and crossed.
I consider Little Miss to be rather adventurous, and I’ve always assumed she’d eagerly climb it with the greatest of ease. However, in all our time in the forest, she never has. She would explore the exposed roots, and climb to the top of them, but never over – until this week.
We’ve had a few kids over the years who love to shimmy across to the other side, but it’s never had the pull that I thought it would with her. But this week, one of the newer girls she was playing with climbed right over – and she followed! It was really exciting to watch her try something new, and be guided by her peer. She needed a little encouragement on the way back, but she did it. I love watching children attempt something, of their own accord, and accomplishing the task. It’s so exciting!
“The forest is changing…” was Little Miss’ observation this last week in the forest.
Here she is making her observations of what she’s seen, about a month ago:
(I thought her boots were in the car. I was mistaken… Oh well! I forgot my boots, too!) The giant tree tumbled down sometime during a fierce windstorm in the previous couple of weeks. When we returned a couple of weeks later, the tree had settled substantially lower, and left a beautiful mud hole for the children’s enjoyment:
The children spent a lot of time discovering the bugs that had made homes, or had their homes recently upturned. They investigated the effects of mud on boots (sluuuurp), and the month earlier, they explored the clay that had formed deep below the tree’s roots.
But Little Miss’ observation that “the forest is changing…” was spot on, and completely spontaneous. Although a month ago we were starting to see little buds all over, this last week it was so much more pronounced. And these beautiful Trout Lilies scattered the forest floor:
I can’t wait to get back out there this week, to see what else has sprung up.
Yesterday was Easter Monday. Unlike the school aged children in our area, who had the day off, I was drilling Little Miss making sure she was learning. Homeschooler’s don’t take a day off! Hahaha, OK, I’m joking. Well, kind of. We generally take a “learn anywhere, anytime” attitude, so it’s true that we don’t “take a day off”, but we are substantially more passive about our learning, as opposed to the lesson plans I was taught to prepare in Teacher’s College.
Yesterday, we decided to try out a few puzzles. Actually, my intentions were to purge that which we don’t play with anymore (I’ve been in a big clear out mood, lately), so I asked Little Miss if she was still interested in some puzzles. Confession: I LOVE PUZZLES. I can easily sit and do puzzles for hours at a time. One time, at a weekend church retreat, I stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning, completing one of popcorn (we had a friendly competition to see which group could finish their puzzle first. They underestimated my addictive spirit). No, I didn’t regret that decision the next day, although I did get an XL Double Double.
Anyway, we started out by trying out the puzzle on top, which has 24 pieces. Little Miss whipped through that one in no time, which I expected because she typically does ones that are around 48 pieces or so, lately. Then, we worked on the puzzle on the bottom, which has 60 pieces. I tried explaining to her that the second one would be a bit tougher, but she didn’t quite understand why. We pushed through, as she got a bit frustrated about halfway through. We had already put the first puzzle away, but she wanted to do it again, so we did.
We looked at the size of the puzzle pieces, and saw that one was larger than the other. Then, we put them next to each other. I counted the number of pieces along the side of the dragon puzzle (4) and then of the Camp Candy puzzle (6) #throwback! Little Miss then had the idea to put one on top of the other, to further compare their sizes:
I thought that was pretty neat. I wanted to purge some stuff. I also wanted a few moments to myself, where I could read my book (you can follow what I’m reading on Goodreads, if you’re interested). But, instead, a moment was naturally created to explore various math concepts (size, number)! This is one of the reasons why I love homeschooling! We don’t have to learn based on predetermined expectations, but instead we can explore as we go. They will learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it. When learning is done in context, it has that much more meaning.
P.S. Do you homeschool? Have you experienced a learning opportunity that seemingly came out of nowhere?
Have you noticed that I’m a bit thrifty? I love (and seek out) free activities! Today, we went to see the Canadian Opera Company (COC), for their free concert series with Little Miss’ homeschool children’s choir. Today’s concert was an excerpt from their upcoming opera performance of The Return ofUlysses, as well as some ballet. The COC runs their free series throughout the school year, and has performances both during lunch hour, and in the early evenings.
It’s a beautiful set up, and they whet your appetite for the upcoming performances. This is perfect for us, as the excerpt is an hour long, which is plenty for a four year old.
If you are interested in going, the seating is based on a first come, first served basis, and there is a line up. Try to get there an hour or so before show time.
They have a variety of performances as well, like latin music, jazz, ensembles, etc., so be sure to check their calendar to see if anything tickles your fancy.
March Break for homeschoolers traditionally means that we try our darnedest to hide away, while our usual hot spots (the Science Centre, swimming pools, and museums) become flooded with children enjoying their time off. This March Break, we decided to try out the Home Depot workshops, which Home Depot offers on the second Saturday of every month, and every day during March Break. Verdict: AMAZING! Now we can tick off “shop class” from our curriculum! Here is Little Miss working on her fully functional periscope:
We also worked on a fire station bank, with 2 compartments, one for “save” and the other for “give”.
You also get these nifty aprons, that I assure you are essential to the experience. After washing Little Miss’ dress, after our first workshop, I asked her how she managed to get so much nail polish on her dress. It wasn’t nail polish… Pro Tip: Wear old clothes! And be sure to take advantage of those free aprons! You also get a spiffy pin for every project you finish. One girl had to have had over 25! It was pretty impressive.
The project for April is a window birdhouse. Sign up online through your local Home Depot to reserve your spot. This is a nation wide program, so it should be available where you are, as long you’ve got a Home Depot in your area. The recommended age is 5-12, but I have found that they are lenient with the age requirements, as long as you support your child as needed. We had a blast, and I’m sure you will, too.