Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Walk in the Woods

Being outdoors and observing nature has always brought me joy. Many of my childhood days were spent climbing and sitting in a beautiful old oak tree in the yard of our small house in Lincoln, Nebraska. From my secure perch, I listened to the chirping, rustling, buzzing sounds of nature's summer medley. I experienced the feel of a cooling breeze on my skin warmed by the summer heat. There was joy, security and discovery in those branches that remains with me to this day.

"Sometimes the most ordinary things can be made extraordinary,
simply by doing them with the right people." - Elizabeth Green

As a parent, I have naturally leaned towards getting my family outside whenever possible. As a homeschooling mom I have found the great outdoors and being in nature an easy lesson for all ages with or without a curriculum. Within a variety of topics; general science, biology, the environment and geography, my own intuitive lesson plans for an outdoor excursion have included an emphasis on:
  • Observation
  • Questioning
  • Comparison
  • Follow up research
It's a big world.

For most of our local outdoor adventures, there hasn't even been a specific plan, just general encouragement and enjoying together, what the natural world has to offer. When we've been on more extensive family vacations, we have incorporated visits to nature centers or state parks with trail tours or fireside lectures. All lessons, whether formal and academic or spontaneous and personal, have more significance if there is an experiential basis to relate observations and new information to. Interaction with the amazing natural world is an excellent base and solid grounding for further learning in many subjects.

I have an especially fond memory of  learning in the natural world. One summer, I discovered a blue jay nest in the oak tree I climbed as a child. I was uncontrollably curious about that nest and the eggs inside of it. I enjoyed and became obsessed with watching the eventual development of the young hatch-lings. My daily visits into those branches culminated in observing the early flights of the young birds. Watching them leave the nest was a metaphorical adventure I impatiently longed for myself. The parent birds encouragement of their young was noisy and focused. It was also interrupted by their instinctive protective drive to turn aggressive attacks on me, the unwelcome intruder. My beginning skills of nature observation were being honed during those prolific summer days. A nature lesson never to be forgotten is a simple and obvious rule of wildlife observation, don't mess with concerned parents!

Monday, September 11, 2017


Sixteen years old now, our daughter was one month old on 9/11.

Our youngest was one month old on September 11, 2001. It was a beautiful clear fall day in Chicago-land. My stay at home mothering activities of two young boys and a baby, included preparing breakfast and getting everyone out into the backyard to enjoy the wonderful weather. My first awareness of the attack on the World Trade Center came through a phone call from a friend who knew I wouldn't be tuned into the news. The awareness of the event explained the unusual, and in retrospect, eerie quiet of the beautiful morning. A quick peak at the tv seared an image of the burning twin towers into my mind. Fear churned internally with the added anxiety of being unable to contact my husband at work in downtown Chicago. I avoided sharing the national news with my children. The scary violent images had no place in their young psyches'.

Healing Field Flag Display
We were fortunate not to suffer a loss of a loved one directly, as so many others did that day. 2,976 families were forever altered that morning by losing a loved one, many more in the following days, weeks and years as a result of the attack. Looking back now, I can see that we were all changed that day. We were changed as individuals and we were changed as a country. We all moved on, living our lives, being about our work and raising our families but everything was different.

Learning history.

It has taken me sixteen years and attendance at a local Healing Field to really acknowledge and verbalize to my children the change that occurred that day. A Healing Field Flag Display was hosted by The True Patriots Care Foundation in a nearby suburb. In tribute to those who perished on 9/11, 2,976 American Flags were posted in perfect rows. Each flag bore a ribbon and card with a brief biography of the honored victim. The event included programs and participation from veterans, community and school groups.

I visited the field several times, once with my sixteen year old daughter, once alone and again with my husband and children. The attention to detail and the overall impact of the flags displayed, one for every victim, was overwhelming. Inspired by the display of flags; information, stories and emotions were shared with family and complete strangers. Words alone are inadequate in the processing of the tragedy itself and the resulting pain it caused. The events of 9/11 are still incomprehensible but awareness of it's overall effect on us is essential to the continued healing of our country and to the healing of each of us individually and within our families. We share, we teach. We remember...

Friday, September 8, 2017

Savoring the Last Sweet Days of Summer & Not Back to School

One wonderful advantage of homeschooling that we have always enjoyed, is the freedom to begin our "school year" when we determine it's beginning. It is clear that learning is constant and continual, an ever developing and deepening activity for humans of all ages. Determining a start and end to it, even when referring to academics, is arbitrary. So this year as my youngest begins homeschooling another year of high school, we are calling another day trip to the beach, the start of our school year.

A day of relaxing and enjoying is a beginning as much as an ending. Switching up our own perspective on it; we are reflecting, thinking and planning at a favorite place of ours. One season rolls right into another as we celebrate accomplishments and embark on new adventures.

 Fading fast the last sweet days of long summer daylight.

Thank you for visiting and allowing me to share a blog bit of our lives as we continue the last few years of our homeschooling journey and launch our children into the lives they determine for themselves. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a homeschooling parent of these three. There has not been a moment of regret. If anything I write about our own experiences, discoveries or memories encourages or inspires another parent, it is likewise, an honor and a privilege to be in your circle of awareness as you do the most important work of raising your children. Angie Runyan

Monday, August 28, 2017

Learning In Every Season

In the late days of summer, conversations with other homeschooling parents often include the questions of "Have you started school?" or "When do you begin the school year?" During the spring, conversations usually include questions and discussions regarding the completion of a school year. For us, conforming to the established school year has been secondary to living our lives together as a family, in rhythm with the natural seasons of the year and of the developmental stages and activities of our children.

The beauty of homeschooling is defining our own lives as a family. Humans, especially young humans, learn all of the time. If a family supplies a child with the basics; a physically safe environment including good nutrition, a nurturing home with adults who care and if those adults pay attention, are responsive and interact, they will all be learning. Conversations will encourage development of vocabulary and communication skills, a print rich environment will foster an interest in reading and encouraging responses from each family member will help a child develop self motivation to be an active participation in his or her own learning. However it's labeled, whatever the time of year, these are the basics of human development and learning.

It is a wonderful thing as a homeschooling family to have the ability choose our own schedule. Our "school year" of focused academic learning happens mostly in our own time frame. For us "schooling" follows the seasons more than it follows the standard public school calendar.

Energetic children need plenty of physical activity all year. That activity is easily pursued in the great outdoors. Where we live, the summer months provide the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time outside being physically active. During the beautiful days of late summer restricting outdoor time to begin intensive academic work has always seemed counter productive to learning.


When our boys were young, baseball participation dominated our summer days. Many years we capped off their baseball involvement with a trip as spectators to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. After following local teams to their final games we watched teams from around the country advance to the popular tournament to complete the season. The Little League World Series extends into the accepted school year with player participants usually missing their first week of school to complete the series. As spectators, we enjoyed the final playoff games as well.


Enjoying summer has naturally led us into an appreciation of the beautiful crisp days of autumn. Following the harvest, we gained an understanding of the cycles of nature and how it influences food production and food availability. Learning to appreciate the harvest lends itself naturally to increasing our knowledge of nutrition, biology and economics. Gratitude for the abundance we enjoy brings it home to our own family table, to the farmers of our region in the mid-west and growers of our food world wide.


As the temperature cools, we settle into the coziness of winter with lots of reading. This is the time of year when we really dig into the academics. Reading together or individually on a cold winter day is a pleasure. A cup of hot chocolate and it creates a comfy cozy atmosphere with a warm memory of time learning together. We have included academic activities like learning to play chess. Winter focus on at home academics has also allowed me to avoiding driving on snowy or icy roads unnecessarily. Physical activity is never gone completely from our agenda. The DIY backyard ice rink still has it's fair share of activity during the winter months.


Spring always feels like it includes new beginnings even though it as frequently for wrapping things up. We are often planning for summer activities, recitals, travel and baseball practice. There are frequent reminders that in Northern Illinois spring holds onto traces of winter weather long into the spring. Despite anticipation for warmer weather most outdoor activities are rainy, wet and chilly. Early in the season, baseball games are usually uncomfortably chilly for spectators and provide an annual reminder that sometimes there is a need to review what we have learned in the past.

Happy learning to you and yours, no matter the season or calendar you enjoy!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Beautiful Surprises in a Small Suburban Yard

Have a seat. Enjoy the garden.

I have know Pam and Jeff for years now. We are neighborhood friends and honestly, don't see each other much these days. Our two sons and their two sons spent many hours playing together as boys, running back and forth from one house and yard to another. They played some Little League together and on occasion they still hang out together in between college classes and work.

While taking photos in the yard, I actually came
across this little remnant from
the boy's play from more than a few years ago.

As I've mentioned before, teen jobs at our house have included pet care for a few neighbors and recently my son pet sat for their cute little pug. Over the same weekend a nasty summer cold ran through our household and my son was unable to visit said poor lonely pug everyday as planned, so some of the the pug care fell to me. The pug herself is a delightful little companion and when I visited, I sat with her in their yard and enjoyed her company.

Enjoy the canine company.
Or relax over here.

I also enjoyed the amazing suburban oasis that Pam and Jeff have created in their small suburban yard. The suburb we live in is made up of small modest homes with predominately small yards. Not really the classic image of expansive lawns one thinks of when thinking of suburbia. Our suburb is much more like a city neighborhood. Filled with Little Cape Cod style houses, Chicago bungalows and multifamily dwellings the yards are small. My husband mowed for years with a human powered push mower, no gas or electric power needed until moving to a home with an extra side yard. Most of these little yards have the typical grass lawn in the front and back.

Kitchen herbs near the door.

However, Pam and Jeff have explored and pushed the limits on what a small yard can be. They have been landscaping with a diverse range of beautiful plants for years within the boundaries of a small lot and around the activities of their boys. But now the trampoline is gone (it's in our yard for my daughter now) young adult life dominates and their wonderful yard plan is coming into fruition. Around every little corner of their property is a flora and fauna surprise. Beautiful apple trees adorn one side of their house.

Producing fruit in a small space.
Apple trees pruned and trained to
grow along the wall of the house.
Creativity expresses itself in as many ways as there are artists. Planting and maintaining a garden is an ongoing creative process. It requires continual observation and the response of the gardener may be based in horticulture but the result can also be an amazing artistic expression.The mixed media of plant life provides a palette of garden delights complete with an occasional offering of a tasty treat.

I responded to the suburban haven with my camera and attempted some artistic photo captures of the lovely combinations of color and texture. While my little pug friend sniffed about, I enjoyed the beauty and abundance of summer skillfully arranged even in this small yard.

A happy home for gold fish is included.
Beautiful color against a brick backdrop.
Beautiful ornamental plantings.
Beauty, abundance and edible harvest, it is all possible, even in a small space.

Resources for doing the same in your own small space at amazon:

Monday, July 24, 2017

For My Local West Suburban & Chicago-land Friends

Saturday West African Dance Workshop with Ojo Olumuywa at Hinsdale Dance Academy

Experience the joy of  West African Dance
Hinsdale Dance Academy
West African Dance Workshop

Saturday, July 29th from 2pm - 4pm

All dancers.
All levels.
Age 8 and older welcome.

Taught by Master of West African Dance, Olumuyiwa Ojo. 

Olumuyiwa Ojo

Olumuyiwa was born in Nigeria where he first learned how to dance. Between 1981 and 1986, he studied with Ms. Inaicyra Dos Santos at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Arts. Olumuyiwa went on to found his own dance company, the Youth Palace Dance Theater of Ibadan, performing and choreographing for the group. He also served as a lecturer in dance at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria and subsequently left for the United States to pursue a Masters degree in dance at Temple University where he studied modern dance with Edrie Ferdun, Ann Vachon, and Helmut Gottschild. He graduated with an M.F.A. in Dance Choreography and Performance in 1993. After graduation, he worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago as an adjunct faculty member and founded Langbodo Dance Theater of Chicago to teach and showcase Nigerian dance styles. Olumuyiwa is on the staff of the HSDC Education Department where he instructs teachers how to integrate dance with their classroom curriculum.

Live accompaniment on drums will be played by percussionist, Avo Randruut M.A., Director of DePaul University's African Drum Ensemble.

Shekere & Djembe
Learn more
Cost $20.00 per student.
Hope to see you there!

Hinsdale Dance Academy

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Djembe Drumming Course

My husband, Avo has been studying percussion for as long as I have know him. His degree in ethnomusicolgy was only the beginning. As a musician, he has continued to explore world music and specifically to study, in depth, African and Brazilian percussion styles. Living in Chicagoland has given him opportunities to learn more, perform and to teach the understanding of these styles he has acquired. He loves sharing and teaching those skills to others.

As a way to document some of those skills and to share them, Avo created an online intro to Djembe drumming class on the Course Craft platform. That online course is being offered to music camp students of his this month at a reduced fee. The wonderful thing is that because of how he set it up, it is also available to anyone for that price through July. Check it out and see if it's a summer learning option for you or anyone you know.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dance Adah Dance

Dance has now become Adah's study pursuit of choice. 

Achieving and celebrating; together.
View the video of their group dance.
This year Adah began pursuing dance skills and techniques with a passion. All that she learned as a gymnast about consistent practice and hard work has paid off for her this year as she applied it all in the dance studio.                                                           The best part for me, as her mom, is seeing her happy. Despite her demonstrated commitment, she has a relaxed and joyful approach to her goals. Competence through daily practice does not have to be excruciatingly painful. The process of achieving excellence can be accompanied by gladness.

Adah was given the opportunity to perform in Hinsdale Dance Academy's productions of the Nutcracker, Midsummer Night's Dream and recital. 

Adah with Jennifer Grapes,
Founder and Director
Hinsdale Dance Academy
Adah with Shannon Hershman,
Choreographer, Director
Hinsdale Dance Academy's Junior Company

As a member of the Hinsdale Dance Academy's Junior Company, she participated in dance competitions in group dances and with solos, winning two 1st place awards at Showstoppers - Chicago. Additional acknowledgement secured her transition to dance: she was honored with a scholarship. Following the recital she was awarded her studio's annual scholarship. Presented by Hinsdale Dance Academy's founder and director, Jennifer Grapes, the scholarship was newly named for a beloved studio staff member and dance patron Janet Saxton-Croughan. 

Thank you, Ms Jenn!

"Each year, HDA offers a 50% tuition scholarship to one student who demonstrates strong work ethic, positive attitude, and an eagerness to learn. Beginning this year, the scholarship has been named the JANET SAXTON-CROUGHAN SCHOLARSHIP and a full scholarship to our Summer Intensive has been added in loving memory of Ms. Janet."

"We are extremely proud to announce this year's 2017-2018 recipient is ADAH RUNYAN-RANDRUUT!"
Hinsdale Dance Academy
Many thanks to all the staff at Hinsdale Dance Academy for nurturing, inspiring and teaching! Your commitment to creating and maintaining a supportive environment for learning is much appreciated!