Sunday, December 24, 2017

Favorite Christmas Picture Books

Reading aloud with my children when they were younger was always delightful, even when my voice and eyes became strained and tired from responding to the "one more" refrain. Sharing stories and images from the pages of favorite books created experiences and memories we treasure.

This year, as I was initially looking for our Nutcracker book, with the classic story by E.T.A. Hoffman, to clarify the many versions and character changes throughout the history of the Nutcracker, I pulled out a few other favorites from our picture book collection, as well, just for the joy of it.

Jonathan Toomey's story by Susan Wojciechowski is a bit of a sad one, but ends on the happy note of finding love again. A sweet story with detailed illustrations by P.J. Lynch, it may provide inspiration for trying some handcrafts, as well.

St. Francis is a saint who is easy to relate to, with his love and compassion for creatures great and small. Robert Byrd introduces St. Francis with a charming four legged companion and wonderful illustrations.

And one of my favorites, as far as art and illustrations go, The Story of Christmas, with pictures by Jane Rey. The images are gorgeous with golden accents, highlighting the glory of the season.

Merry Christmas 

May you find joy and delight in all of your Christmas traditions in the company of loved ones this season.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Learning with the Nutcracker - A Holiday Tradition Is the Lesson

A family holiday tradition of ours, of attending a performance of The Nutcracker Ballet, has become a tradition of performing in the ballet, for my teenage daughter. This year was her second opportunity to perform in a production of the Nutcracker. My homeschool plan for her, this late fall season, was to mold this experience into a comprehensive unit study covering; some classical musical pieces and composers, a little western civilization and some Russian history mixed in with her dance experience.

As most home school moms, any parent really, knows, any big idea for family and learning often ends up needing to be scaled back. Way back! The best laid plans....

So I began repeating to myself, the advice I've frequently repeated to homeschooling moms with a new baby "the new baby is the lesson" in an altered version. "The Nutcracker is the Lesson." In the case of a dancers participation in a production of The Nutcracker, it is most certainly true!

Rehearsing for The Nutcracker.

Following are some of my points of proof, of the learning that happens while participating in a full out production of a ballet.
  • First up: Time management. The amount of rehearsals required for dancers to learn and execute their part(s) is extensive. Maintaining a healthy schedule of rest and good nutrition is important in keeping up with the demands. Added to a dancers rehearsal schedule is time scheduled for costume fittings and learning the proper make-up application.
  • Music appreciation and music history. Appreciating classical music requires exposure to classical pieces. We added some research of Tchaikovsky and the creation of the music for the ballet.
  • Research about the creation of the music and the ballet led us into history generally and western civilization. Specifically the late 1800's, the era in which it was written.
  • And it all came full circle with conversations with my mother-in-law. Her own mother had danced in the Nutcracker herself in the late 1930's in Estonia. The connection brought personal meaning and depth to the historical aspect as well as validation to an aspiring dancer. Family history has been, for us, an excellent way to approach and make history appealing to my children.
All of these learning activities happened naturally as a result of planning for, rehearsing in and performing in the production. My plans to use additional reading, writing or listening resources didn't always come to fruition, but the learning happened regardless and the results were delightful.
From the late 1930's a Nutcracker performance in Estonia.

As a mom, I am delighted to see my only daughter pursuing the study of dance. At the young age of sixteen, her journey has already led her through competition gymnastics to this recent opportunity to perform in a local production of the Nutcracker. As a family, we enjoy our tradition of attending The Nutcracker with the added joy of watching a family member perform. For all of us, (performing or attending), The Nutcracker is the lesson.

Siblings and friends enjoy the performance and
support our daughter as a ballet dancer.

Many mandatory rehearsals requires
time management skills.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Pleased to Meet You

This photo series began as an attempt to get a few photos for a G+ community I participate in. The theme for the week was 'home town'. Living in the suburban sprawl of Chicago-land, I drive and spend much of my time in towns, referred to as villages by local residents, other then my own. Busy giving my kids rides to the train or scheduled activities, I was finding it difficult to get photos of the village that I live in. It was the last afternoon of the theme and I thought I could get a couple of shots to share. I had seen the colorful banners in the business district of our village and had been looking for some orange to shoot for some fall posts, so, perfect, I thought.

Well, I liked the idea of the orange on orange of the banners and awning on the restaurant but that didn't quite pan out the way I wanted. Something better happened. While I was trying to capture my orange idea, I started shooting the new murals on the windows instead.

From around the corner, came a voice, with the question, "You like?" The muralist was still in the process of finishing his paintings on the other side of the building and asked me to come look. Chris introduced himself and showed me the paintings he was working on. We had a delightful conversation about art, painting, photography, technology and raising kids. Chris was friendly and talkative but a little shy about the camera. I continued on, happy to have made a new artist acquaintance.

Wonderful surprises happen along the way to following through on an idea or interest. Leaving schedules open for a little room to play and being open to conversations with new acquaintances usually proves interesting and beneficial. I'm glad I found a little slack in my schedule that day and to have had the opportunity to meet Chris and learn about his art.

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!

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Monday, September 11, 2017


Updated 9/10/2018

We attended this emotionally moving event last year at this time. The flag display with featured commemorative events was held in the park of a community that we passed by on a daily basis. As we drove our daily route, we were witness to the coordinated efforts of volunteers as they placed the flags in the field over the course of several days. A quote from the event details for an upcoming 2018 Field of Honor event taking place in Tennessee describes my realization perfectly when this morning my daughter asked and research if the event was taking place near us again this year.

"The panorama of red, white and blue is hard to describe, but once experienced it is not to be forgotten."- from the Colonial Flag Foundation website.

We were all deeply touched by the impact of the field of flags with the attached personal info of each victim of the 9/11 attacks. If there is a Healing Field or Field of Honor Flag Display event happening anywhere near you, I'd recommend a visit. You can find event info here: Schedule of events.

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!