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: