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It’s almost Spring, which on top of prettier weather, baby animals, and blossoms means we will soon be moving into heavy testing season in many schools. While I work primarily with homeschooling families, it is immensely important to me that all parents and all children are aware of their rights to an education environment and experience that supports their individual needs.
It is important that you know your rights as public school parents:
1. You have the right to refuse standardized testing. You can either keep your children home during test days or the school is required to provide them with an alternate place to spend the day/testing time (library or otherwise). Ask the school office/principal for details, but it usually is as simple as a quick form or letter.
2. You have the right to refuse homework. It is NOT federally mandated that your child do homework. Simply let your child’s teachers know that you want your child’s time at home to be spent doing what children are supposed to be doing – playing. Any work that comes home will not be completed. They are not allowed to penalize you or or your child for this. Homework should not be counted towards grades.
3. You have the right to refuse that your child ever lose recess. FOR ANY REASON. Recess can not and should not be used as a form of reward or discipline. It is a NECESSITY. If your child is having trouble in school, welcome the teachers to contact you to discuss. Explain that under no circumstance should your child’s recess time be taken away.
If you need help standing your ground in any of these areas, I have created something just for you. A packet with helpful tips and resources, as well as email templates you can send directly to your child’s teachers, schools, and principals to support your stance. They include documentation, support, and state your claims clearly.
They are completely free. It is incredibly important to me that parents know what their rights are in the school system, and that every child is treated with the utmost respect for their individual rights. The goal of these letters is not just to make a change for YOUR child, but to educate the teachers and administrators on the rights of parents and the benefits of what you are saying, in hopes that changes for all students can happen.
I can’t fix everything, but I can help fix this. Children deserve time to be children. Recess is a right. Freedom from work at home is a right. Freedom from unnecessary testing is a right. But YOU have to fight for your child. These letters will help you.
If you are a parent of a child in school, these will be immensely valuable to you. If you are a homeschooling family, share this with your friends.
Note: All information here is based off of information for US-based schools and laws. If you live outside of the US, you can still begin your fight with these letters, but expect to do some additional research about your opt-out regulations.
After a revolutionary first year, we are back with the 150 Hours Outside Project, kicking off for 2020!
When this idea officially became a project at the beginning of 2019, I had no idea it would grow to as grand of a scale as it did in just one year. In 2019, we saw:
- Over 10,000 families join in
- Representation from over 45 countries around the world
- 1.5 million hours logged outside
- Over 18,000 shares of #150hoursoutside on Instagram
- Babies take their first steps in bare feet outside
- Families reconnecting through the power of Mother Nature
- Adults recognizing their power and strength and conquering amazing outdoor challenges
- Trees planted, animals connected with, new places visited, goals accomplished and surpassed
Overall, more than I could have ever hoped for in just one year!
Now, I’m more excited than ever to welcome you into the 150 Hours Outside Project in this new year.
Are you ready to take the pledge and spend at least 150 hours outside with your family in 2020?
If you KNOW you’re ready and excited, here are some next steps you can take to make this journey even more amazing:
- Join the 150 Hours Outside Facebook Group for support, accountability, idea sharing, connection, and more.
- Click here to subscribe to the mailing list for weekly supportive emails, challenges, and ideas from yours truly.
- Grab a copy of the 150 Hours Outside Calendar for daily visual motivation and to support our cause.
- Get awesome outdoor ideas through the Your Natural Learner Forest School Programs! Want to get your hours logged in one super epic outing each week? The 12-week Forest School Programs that I’ve written (for both Cool and Warm Weather) are a great way to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your outdoor time. These are especially amazing for families or groups that feel they need additional support in spending quality time in nature. Now… Mother Nature doesn’t discriminate who gets to spend time enjoying her beauty and wonder, so I don’t want to do that either. If your family or school is on a fixed or low-income budget, I want to make sure that you have the option to utilize my Forest School resources for the children in your home, program, or community. So, I’m offering a pay-what-you-can option for both of my Forest School Curriculums. No discussion or documentation required – you decide what you can afford, and help spread my goal of getting more children outdoors and expanding their learning through nature.
- Brainstorm a way to track your hours. That post has some good ideas, but feel free to be creative!
- Share this post on your favorite social media platform to invite even more people to get outside and change their lives for the better!
Still curious about the project? Keep reading to learn more…
Why 150 Hours?
Initially, I received quite a lot of comments about how 150 hours isn’t enough time for children to be outside, and that we should be setting much higher goals. And I agree… ideally our children are spending several hours a day outdoors, learning, and exploring in nature.
But the reality is that the average family isn’t spending much time outside at all. In fact, research shows that the average child is spending only 4-7 minutes outside on a daily basis. Yes, you read that right – MINUTES.
I love seeing posts and challenges aimed at families or classrooms that are spending thousands of hours a year outside. It warms my heart. And if that’s a goal you feel your family can achieve, please reach for it!
But, my goal is to make a bigger impact… and to help ALL families and schools get their children outside more than they are right now. In order to do that, I chose to set an attainable goal for this project. 150 hours averages out to less than 30 minutes a day… this is something that every family can work on, even if it’s in collaboration with their child’s school or caregivers. Even if parents work full-time. Even if you live in the middle of a metropolis. Even if you’re buried in snow for half of the year.
150 hours a year, 12.5 hours a month, about 25 minutes a day…. it’s attainable and it has the power to completely change your life.
By setting a goal of spending at least 150 hours outside, *everyone* can participate. No one feels left out, no one feels like they can’t ever make it before they even start.
That’s why I came up with the #150hoursoutside Project. Because it’s removing barriers. It’s encouraging all families and schools around the world to get outside, make it happen, track it and have fun, and become closer with Mother Nature and those around them.
I’m encouraging every person who joins the #150hoursoutside Project to set a goal that challenges their family. If you’re already spending hundreds of hours outside, set a bigger goal! If you haven’t made time outside much of a priority until now, set your goal of 150 hours! Maybe you’ll reach that easily and set a bigger goal partway through the year.
To the great outdoors!
It’s that time of year again! Time for the Holiday Gift Guide, especially for your adventurous, curious natural learners! Instead of scrambling at the last minute, fighting the crowds, or worrying about picking out that “perfect gift” for the natural learner in your life, check out this carefully curated list of my favorite gifts that you’ll find under my tree this year! This is also a great link to pass along to grandparents or family members who are asking for ideas for the kids, especially when you don’t want to fill your home with more plastic junk.
This list is broken down into some “must-haves” for all of your natural learners, other fun gift ideas, and even gifts for the parents (the holidays aren’t just for kids, after all!). Even better… most of the gifts that you’ll find on the list this year are from small, family-run businesses, who literally do a happy dance with each order and item that are purchased. As a small, family business myself, I know how special it feels to be supported in the work that I do. So… get your scroll on, shop these amazing natural learning gifts, and make sure to share the gift guide with your friends and family!
Ok, let’s begin with the HOLIDAY MUST-HAVE GIFTS!
- Polarn O. Pyret – The official sponsor of our Holiday Gift Guide this year is here to provide you with all of the stylish, yet functional and cozy outerwear that your children will need for a year of outdoor exploration. From the warmest parkas and wool layers for the coldest days to the light jackets and fleece-lined shirts for the random temperate days of Winter, P.O.P. is sure to have everything you could need to delight your littles with a gift that’s useful too! They don’t JUST provide outerwear either… just wait til you see the amazing designs of their various clothing selections. Check out their newest selection of outerwear today.Polarn O. Pyret is offering my readers 30% OFF with coupon code FFPOP through December 15th!
- Stick-lets – Yep… these amazing fort-builders are back on our list once again, because they are JUST THAT COOL! The older my children get, the more Stick-lets seems to be more of our favorite outdoor (and indoor) playthings. Stick-lets are strong and flexible silicone joints used to create anything you can imagine using sticks (or anything sturdy enough, really – my kids love using PVC pipes!) while strengthening STEM skills.You can currently save 20% off the following awesome sets: 6-pc Hexa Set, 18-pc Mega Set, 10-pc Camo Set, and the 90-pc Classroom Set (ideal for those of you who lead nature groups, forest meetups, homeschool groups, etc.).
Stick-lets is kindly offering Your Natural Learner readers an additional holiday discount for 20% off all kits! Use code: NATURAL20 at checkout through December 17th. One use per customer, no minimum required.
- Water and Lightning Toy Company – You might remember these lovely natural wooden toys from a feature we did on them a few years back. Though my boys are older now, they still thoroughly enjoy using their Water and Lightning toys in various playscapes and imaginary scenarios (and I just have to say – for the amount of heavy play toys get in this house, I am baffled at how well these toys have held up! They still look brand new over 2.5 years later!)Water and Lightning’s Sticks & Stones were inspired by the amazing things that you find on the ground while exploring the outdoors. Each set comes with two sticks and six stone-shaped blocks in different shapes and sizes. The blocks were designed and handcrafted to be one of a kind.
- Kids Moon Club – This incredible yearly subscription package from Wilder Child is an amazing gift idea for all natural learning families! At the start of the 2020 lunar cycle (which actually begins on December 19th this year!), and every new moon throughout the year, Club members will gain access to a new Full Moon Collection delivered digitally, for a total of 13 delivered collections! All Collections contain art activities, stories, recipes, and more! The Club includes everything you need to inspire your moon children, throw thirteen magical full moon celebrations, and connect throughout the month in a private Facebook community with other Kids Moon Club families.To learn more about Nicolette and her amazing work with the Kids Moon Club and more, follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and in her inspiring Wildschooling Facebook Group.
- Sunshine Buddies – These adorable little creatures by Beloved Family Traditions are here to teach your little one all about character qualities, while adding a delightful element of play and joy to the learning experience. Cinzia Chipmunk is the first of the series, and will certainly delight your child as they learn about orderliness!You may remember Lisa, the creator behind the Sunshine Buddies, for her work in creating the Pocket Bears for our 150 Hours Outside Project this year! After hand-stitching over 100 Pocket Bears for us, I know she’s super excited to be branching out into the Sunshine Buddies Project, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on the chipmunk I already ordered!
Some other favs this year….
- Whizz Pop Bang Magazine – We have started and stopped a lot of subscriptions for my children over the years, because the excitement and engagement always wanes. Not with Whizz Pop Bang! My oldest son (8) still does a happy dance back from the mailbox every month when his new magazine arrives. The balance of easy-to-read and understand scientific articles, exciting and fun activities, and the careful consideration of kid-friendly science topics makes this, in my opinion, the best kid’s magazine out there. Add to this the fact that they send parents an email every month before the magazine arrives with a list of all the things they’ll need to conduct the activities in the magazine, and baby you have a real WINNER.
- Right Brained Mom – Love loose parts play and want to bring more fun and excitement to your little one’s daily exploration? My mind is constantly blown by the creativity that flows out of Brandon’s shop! Seriously, I want to just run away to her workshop and forest and play like a kid for hours. Transform your child’s play and learning environment with these beautiful hand-made creations. With gorgeous colors, lots of differently shaped pieces, and tons of imagination at hand, these will be some of the most loved gifts under your tree.
- Big Life Journal – This might be one of the gifts under our tree this year that I’m most excited about. If you’re a parent of an upper elementary aged kid or pre-teen, it’s no secret to you that there are a WHOLE lot of emotions that come along with that stage of life. The Big Life Journal is a fantastic way to help your child learn about these feelings, give names and reasons to their big emotions, process through them in healthy ways, and communicate effectively with others. I especially love all of the additional printables and helpful resources for both parents and kids that come from this company. For parents with teens/older kids, they have a version of the BLJ just for them too!
- Magnetic Tiles – I keep waiting for the day when these beloved toys will no longer be the favorite in our home…. but I just don’t see an end in sight. There are many brands of these available, but we prefer Picasso Tiles (linked) for the lower cost and variety in colors. Every day it feels like my children are creating new and imaginative things with these magnetic tiles, and you just can’t ever have enough packs of them. The more you add, the more elaborate the creations! These are sure to be a favorite under your tree this year, even if you already have a set (or two or three).
- Gnomes at Night Cooperative Board Game – I truly agonized over which game to put on this list this year, as I take board games very seriously! In the end though, Gnomes at Night has created more joy, collaboration, and laughter than any other game in our home this year, so it had to get my final vote! My oldest son (8) absolutely loves it, and my youngest (5 and a half) is just about able to play completely independently. Highly recommend this game for any family with kids around my boys’ ages and up! For the record, the runner up games this year were GalactiQuest, Chickapig, and Trekking the National Parks.
Don’t forget the parents!
- Grow Your Natural Learner Course – Still need to add something to your wish list this Christmas? Make it this! Hosted by yours truly, this once-a-year 12-week transformational course will help you design a natural learning experience for your family that is exactly what you dream about. We work together in a community setting to learn, explore, discover, and create a natural learning experience for your family that works exactly for your unique learners, offering support and inspiration along the way. If you’ve been feeling like things aren’t going exactly like you’ve been hoping this natural learning/homeschooling thing would go, you need Grow Your Natural Learner! Doors close December 23rd.
- Sage Parenting’s Bucket System Workshop – You’ve probably seen Rachel and I collaborate numerous times over the years, and that’s because her work for gentle parenting is my absolute fav. This is one of her best creations yet, and a workshop that you should definitely gift yourself, ask a partner or grandparent for as a gift, or gift to one of your mama friends. Rachel’s Bucket System is a revolutionary way to encourage your children to participate in household tasks without the dreaded chore charts, nagging to-do lists, or those awful sticker charts. You get access to a super helpful guide to setting up the system and access to Sage Parenting’s private Facebook group for ongoing support!
- 2020 150 Hours Outside Project Calendar – I couldn’t be more excited to announce the arrival of the 150 Hours Outside Project 2020 Calendar! If you were a part of this revolutionary project in 2019, then you may have seen that we logged over 1.5 million hours outside with tens of thousands of families in over 40 countries around the world. AMAZING! To celebrate those milestones and gear up for an even more amazing 2020, there is a printed calendar available for you to hang in your home and celebrate the beauty of the outdoors all year long.
And there you have it! Simple, enjoyable, natural gifts for all of the natural learners in your life. I’d love to hear what other small businesses you’ll be supporting this year! Share in the comments below!
Oh… and don’t forget to grab a copy of the Christmas theme from A Child’s World Pre-K/Kindergarten Curriculum to explore holiday-focused natural learning all month long!
(Don’t want to read to the end to grab your freebie? No worries, mama! CLICK HERE!)
Does this sound familiar….
Your kids bound out of bed with the energy of 1,000 suns before your eyes even open.
You might be able to convince them to watch something on TV while you brew coffee, but you know you’ll never get through an entire hot cup before someone is melting down.
You struggle through making breakfast for everyone, while tamping down the sibling rivalry along the way (are you even a real mom if you haven’t flipped eggs with one hand while holding a baby on your hip with the other and breaking up a fight between the other two with your leg?).
By the time everyone has eaten:
- You’ve microwaved the coffee two or three times (do you even know where that cup is right now, actually?).
- Dishes have been corralled back to the sink to be washed at some magical time later in the day.
- And everyone is staring at you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready for the day’s adventures.
You’re already ready to crawl back into bed. Only it’s just now time to kick off the homeschool day.
You’re probably stressed out just thinking about this scenario. Or maybe you’re literally living it as you’re reading this (in between flipping the eggs, calming the littlest one, and feeding the dog).
Either way… I promise you: You are NOT alone. Having a frazzled and frustrating start to your mornings is not an uncommon homeschooling mama problem. I’d argue, in fact, that it is one of the most common fixable problems amongst the families that I work with daily.
It’s no secret that how your morning begins affects your entire day. If everyone is grumpy, under-stimulated (or overstimulated by screens), it’s really hard to come back from that and turn the day into something that is intentional, meaningful, and enjoyable for everyone (yourself included).
The biggest gap or problem we find?
Children wake up with ALL the energy. Parents…. Not so much.
But along with that energy comes focus, attention, excitement, curiosity… all of the things that make a learning and creative experience a thing of dreams!
When we wait until after all of the chaos of morning time to bring an experience to our children, we have potentially lost a lot of opportunities to engage and excite them.
ENTER: THE MORNING INVITATION
You may have heard of this idea before, as it has many names – morning basket, daily bin, provocation, invitation to play/create/learn, etc. Whatever you call it, they have the same purpose – to immediately engage a child upon waking (or very soon thereafter).
A morning invitation could be any number of things:
- A creative suggestion
- A sensory activity
- An exploration related to their current theme of study
- A writing prompt
- And the options are endless!
I’ll share some specific suggestions and ideas in a minute… but just know that you really can’t do it WRONG! Whew!
When your child has the opportunity to explore, create, or problem solve first thing in the morning, several amazing things happen.
WHY MORNING INVITATIONS?
- HARNESS THE CREATIVE ENERGY FOR GOOD
You are giving your kids a chance to harness all of that curious and creative energy for good. No more yelling out “Please stop putting X on your little brother/the dog/your face” before you’ve finished that first cup of joe (hopefully – no guarantees).
The time immediately after this morning invitation engagement will be so much calmer and connected, making it a great time to connect as a family, keep everyone focused to have breakfast together or talk about the days’ plans, have a family read aloud time, work together on a family clean-up time, etc.
- AN INTENTIONAL START TO THE DAY
By “turning on” that creativity in a focused way, it’s a more natural transition to learning experiences later in the day – even if they’re not directly related! Any morning invitation that encourages your child to be creative, be curious, engage their senses, or problem solve is fostering learning skills! This helps your child focus more intently on whatever learning activities you planned for the day.
- NATURAL BONDING AND FAMILIAL TEAM SPIRIT
All ages can bond together! This is a beautiful side effect of the morning invitation – if you have multiple ages that you’re homeschooling, this is a perfect time for all of them to come together as a group, yet still engage in individual ways. You can keep things similar (give them the same art supplies, for example), yet prompt them to create different/more appropriately challenged things (no expectations for the younger ones, and a specific prompt for older ones, for example). Win win win!
So now you’re probably thinking, “Ok this sounds amazing but how much time do I have to give up to prepare these things…. And do I really have to do it EVERY DAY?”
THE TIME REQUIRED
First of all, not much time at all! I plan every Sunday night what all of my morning invitations for the week ahead are going to be, which might take me a total of 15ish minutes.
Then, each night before I go to bed, I set up the invitation, which is also rarely more than 15 minutes of my time. Ten to fifteen minutes in the evening for the sometimes hour plus calm and engaged time I get every morning? So. Freaking. Worth. It.
And do you have to do this every day? No.
But hear me out: children are creatures of habit. And having that morning invitation as a part of the daily routine is something that I promise you will ALL come to appreciate and live for! When you see the benefits, you won’t want to walk away from it!
Personally, we have a morning invitation set up Mondays through Fridays. Our weekends are spent doing other things, so the routine is already set up that way and it works nicely for us.
WHAT EXACTLY GOES INTO MAKING A MORNING INVITATION
Like I said earlier, you really can’t go wrong! As long as it is something that your child can engage in independently (because it kind of defeats the purpose if you have to be right there beside them the entire time), then you’ve nailed it!
If you think about these three areas to guide you, and mix them up throughout your invitations, you should never run out of ideas:
- Invitations to CREATE – These obviously encourage your child to create something. For instance, you could place a vase of fresh flowers on the table and set up a canvas and some watercolors and invite your child to paint the flowers they see.
- Invitations to PLAY – These are invitations that give your child a chance to explore materials in a playful and open-ended way. Sensory bins, playdough explorations, foil sheets and blocks, shaving cream in a bin, LEGO challenges…. All great examples of invitations to play!
- Invitations to LEARN – These are the more focused invitations that have a specific purpose behind them. You might be introducing a new concept in a learning activity later that day, so you set up some of the materials in a morning invitation for your child to have a chance to explore before you dive in together. Or you might invite your child to add onto or continue an exploration you started together the day before.
By varying the types of morning invitations that you setup, you’re constantly giving your child something new and exciting to wake up to!
Feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities here? Don’t panic. I’ve got you covered! CLICK HERE to download a month of morning invitation ideas for FREE!
I’ve also created an entire YEAR of Morning Invitations Calendar for you to keep this momentum going all year long!
QUICK LITTLE TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Don’t overcomplicate the invitation! Add too much and it becomes overwhelming and cluttered. Always go for simple. Trust me.
Example: A mirror on the table with some dry erase markers can ignite all kinds of creativity from a child!
- For your children who are reading, write a simple prompt to start them off.
Example: Glue some googly eyes at random on a piece of construction paper and write a prompt that reads: “Can you turn these eyes into monsters?”
- However…. Have no expectations! This one is important! Your child should always be free to turn the morning invitation to anything they are inspired to create. Be open-minded and flexible and use this as an opportunity to observe what your child is thinking.
Example: If you set up the before-mentioned invitation to paint flowers on a canvas, but your child pulls a flower out of the vase and paints WITH the flower!
- When possible, include literacy. Prop a related book up on the table nearby to encourage your child to reach out and grab it. If they don’t, no big deal. Read it later together or include it in the reading nook for the week, but having it as an option never hurts!
Example: If you have an invitation set up to make marshmallow and toothpick constellations, prop up a book about constellations to inspire your child’s creativity!
I hope this inspires you to try out morning invitations in your home!
P.S. I often share my morning invitations over on Instagram, so come follow me there for more ideas. I’d love to hear how this goes for you! Come share your experiences over in our free Facebook Group or tag me in your social media pics (@yournaturallearner).
Every day I receive questions from parents just like you, with questions about my one-of-a-kind A Child’s World Curriculum. In an effort to make answering those questions easier, as well as helping everyone that is curious understand my process of creating this amazing curriculum, especially as more and more grades become available, I have put together this post about the creation of A Child’s World Curriculum! Enjoy!
What was the motivation for creating this unique curriculum?
As you may have learned from my About Me page, my work in education began in the public school system. With two Masters degrees (as a Reading Specialist and in Curriculum and Instruction Design), I worked in classrooms from Pre-K to 5th grade. It was during these years that I discovered so much about the WRONG way of doing things. The dry, boring, repetitive textbooks that weren’t grabbing kids’ interest. The myriad of testing that was crushing the spirit of excited learners (and causing those who were falling just a bit under the curve to collapse under the pressure). The complete lack of child-led, autonomous learning that developmental researchers knew to be the best and most meaningful type of learning. I knew that when I had my own children, this was never a path I would take with them.
When I had my first child, I stayed true to that vision. I left my job in the classroom to focus on creating a learning environment at home that supported his natural development. As he got into his pre-k years, I began searching for a curriculum that might help me support what he was already naturally doing in his daily life and play. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at the story’s end), I was unable to find anything that matched what my vision was. I wanted a program that focused on his natural development, not solely on academic skills. I wanted something that was flexible and allowed me to follow his interests, needs, and methods of learning, not a cookie cutter day-by-day program that became boring and repetitive to us both. After months of research, I realized that my only option was to create my own curriculum.Obviously that vision that I had for my own child was one that I shared with many other parents. That was 2014, and five years later, A Child’s World is being used by thousands of families on six continents around the world.
How is A Child’s World Curriculum designed?
I often say that I should create a sped-up time lapse video of my workspace during a curriculum creation time, because wow-oh-wow would it be intense to watch! Any family that is already using this curriculum knows just how in-depth and incredible the activities flow together, not just within each curriculum, but from one grade to the next. I can’t tell you how many times a family has come to me with the question “How will I know my child is learning anything if there aren’t worksheets and tests?” and then come back to me at the completion of a year exclaiming the “magic” of this curriculum and all of the wonderful things that their child has discovered on their journey.
So, how does that magic come to fruition?
Easy. Every curriculum begins with the child.
Unlike most programs that begin with skills or assessments, A Child’s World begins with the understanding of the unique comprehensive development that is happening for the children at that age level. I ask myself – what is happening in the physical development of this age? What is happening with their social and emotional development right now? How are they most likely sharing information, curious about, and happenings in the world around them? I begin with that foundation to set the tone for a year of enjoyment, child-led learning, and joyful experiences that ALSO provide intense learning opportunities.
Next, I look at the necessary skills and content that children at that age/grade level need. Not only does this help you ensure that your child is learning all of the basics and then some, but if you live in a state or region where you are required to submit your learning materials as a homeschooling family, you can be confident that all of the regulations and standards will be met with just this curriculum. Every grade level covers literacy, mathematics, science, art/creativity, nature studies, and social connections (with sensory play added in the Pre-K/K level).
Then the creative work begins (this is when the time lapse video would be hilarious to watch – SO MANY BOOKS and post-its and notebooks….). I carefully and creatively blend the developmental needs, the necessary skills and content, with meaningful literature and activities that allow your child to learn in a flexible, open-ended, and child-led way without the stress and repetition of worksheets, textbooks, tests, etc. Naturally, this is the longest phase of the operation, as I construct meaning out of the notes and ideas and put the curriculum together, with key learning and planning, along with helpful assessment and observation notes for parents. My goal in all of this is to create a flexible, one-stop-shop for natural, child-led learning experiences that are easy to put together for you and full of excitement and meaningful learning for your child. We’re looking for a win win win here! And as one parent recently described, “I’ve finally found a curriculum that doesn’t just TALK about good philosophy, but actually EMBRACES it.” Boom. Win win win achieved.
How does a child using A Child’s World Curriculum progress through the grade levels?
If each grade level is aligning with the child’s natural development, what does that look like stretched out over the elementary period? It’s great to know where you are and where you’ve been, but it’s also super helpful to know where you’re going. Here’s what that looks like:
Pre-K/Kindergarten: At this age, children are driven by curiosity about the world around them. “How do this work?” is the driving factor of that curiosity, as they encounter a myriad of new things in their environment. As they explore the world beyond their four walls, that curiosity is deepened by the excitement of nature and the never-ending discovery and learning opportunities presented there. For this reason, the Pre-K/Kindergarten Curriculum focuses on an exploration of nature and freely exploring the outside world to lay a solid foundation for meaningful learning to come.
First Grade: This is when your child suddenly becomes aware that they are their own person. Maybe you remember when you were first aware that you were a unique person with your own thoughts separate from everyone around you! It’s a whole new world to discover! And that’s what your child explores through First Grade – self-identity, creative self-expression, and how they fit into the world around them, from the small (family) to the large (world). It’s a year long discovery of how they relate to everything in the world around them, and their role in each of those realms.
Second Grade: Did you know that age 7 is the average culminating age of when literacy skills explode for a child? It’s the time when your child’s brain suddenly begins to make great sense of literacy, even if they’re already reading or not quite there yet. Vocabulary and conversation skills increase, writing progresses, reading skills expand at a rapid rate. It’s a year of natural literacy development unlike anything that’s happened for your child yet. This is what we focus on in the Second Grade Curriculum – exploring all of the different genres of literature to excite your child about the possibilities that lie in the written and spoken word.
Third Grade (set to be available 2020): This age is sort of like a first grade round two for your child’s emotional and social development. They’re becoming aware of their relationships outside of family and how to navigate social waters. They are more aware of their emotions and feelings and often struggle with regulating those two together. Third Grade takes that sensitive time period into account through an exploration of positive character traits, through exemplary characters in literature. Learning about feelings and navigating relationships is such a powerful experience, and embracing those big feelings through safe places like literature helps so much.
Fourth Grade (set to be available 2020): One of the biggest reasons we see a statistical drop-off of both motivation and academic success when children move to middle school is due to a lack of exposure to non-fiction texts and material. So much of elementary years is focused on stories and picture books, and when our children are suddenly expected to be able to understand non-fiction texts and complex scientific concepts, even the brightest children often struggle. In Fourth Grade, your child will discover how much learning fun can happen through non-fiction in a year of science-themed excitement!
Fifth Grade (set to be available 2020): Getting ready to move into the world of middle school is a big and scary undertaking for fifth graders. Learning experiences change, more responsibility is taken on, and as your child gets older and begins doing more outside the home and on their own, a need to navigate tougher social situations becomes a concern. In Fifth Grade, our focus is in exploring cultures around the world, helping your child learn about others unlike themselves, develop empathy skills, and realize how big and exciting the world around them is as they launch into a new year of self-navigation.
As you can see, through each successive year of learning through A Child’s World Curriculum, your child learns so much more than just what can be checked off in academic boxes.
How will I know that my child is learning if there are no worksheets or tests?
If you’re still concerned about this fact after reading this far down, the best thing I can tell you is to TRUST that your child is capable. No matter what, that is the true foundation of natural learning that A Child’s World is built upon. Beyond that, you will find tips and tricks for how to observe and assess your child’s progress in each activity, section, theme, and curriculum as you work through the material. Your child’s ability to write down or fact check knowledge of a subject is just ONE way to assess, and is really the lowest level of retention. Through A Child’s World, we encourage much higher levels of learning, application, and assessment through looking at a multitude of ways that your child is showing you that they’re learning. In grades 2nd and beyond, you will also find Final Projects in each theme that provide you with a final assessment as well as documentation should it be needed for records.
Will I need to supplement with any other curriculum materials?
Short answer: no. As I outlined above, everything that your child needs to know is covered in each grade level, so supplementation is not needed for the basics.
Long answer: it’s totally up to you. I know firsthand that sometimes a child’s interest can fall way, WAY off the anticipated path and throw you for a loop in terms of what to plan for your child’s learning (my oldest spent a period of 6+ months diving way deep into ancient Egypt at the age of 6). Although I strive to provide plenty of opportunities for your child to touch on a wide range of exciting learning opportunities in A Child’s World Curriculum, there may be times when you have to step off and forge your own path for a few weeks or months. In those cases, generally I believe your local library, internet, and community resources will provide you with everything you need, but there may be a curriculum out there that perfectly matches up with your child’s interests at that time. In that case, supplementing is a great idea.
What if I still have questions?
Yay! I love talking about it, obviously! 🙂 If you have questions for me specifically, click on over to the Contact Page and ask away. If you’d like to chat with other families who have experience using A Child’s World Curriculum, come over to the Your Natural Learner Facebook Group and post your question where you’ll definitely get support and answers from fellow users.
The other day I was sitting at the park with my kids, and a mother who had just picked her children up from school strolled by. I overheard a conversation that I hear so frequently….
Mother: “What did you learn at school today?”
Mother: “Really, you did nothing all day?”
Not exactly the kind of engaged and connected response we as parent are looking for, is it? Having conversations with our children that help them reflect on their day is super important and healthy for helping our children develop valuable skills like self-reflection, self-regulation, emotional health, and connection in their relationships. But if we can’t get more than one-word responses, how much is the conversation really helping them? The answer is: not really that much.
Changing up the way we ask these questions and connect with our children makes all the difference. Asking questions that are open-ended, being physically and emotionally available to listen and connect, and modeling how to reflect are all ways that we can encourage healthy conversation and connection at the end of each day.
Consider when you’re having these conversations. It doesn’t always have to be right before you fall asleep or right after the school day has ended. Family dinner time, bath time, snuggling while reading a story, on an evening walk… these are all great opportunities to slow down and ask your child some questions about their day.
If your child isn’t much of a talker or you haven’t made an effort to try this in the past, model to them what it’s like to reflect on your own day. Share your thoughts and feelings from the day, and don’t feel like you have to only focus on the positive. Studies show that by discussing our negative feelings and experiences with our children help them better cope when they are inevitably dealing with similar feelings in their lives. After you’ve shared your feelings and thoughts from the day, your child might be more inclined to share theirs!
Make sure your questions are open-ended. One of the quickest ways to shut down a connection conversation is to ask a question that can be answered with a one-word response. Instead, think of questions that you can ask your child that allow them to reflect, share feelings over actions, and get excited to talk to you. Here are some examples (with a handy infographic you can share on your social media to remind you and others of helpful ways to connect with your child):
“What was your favorite part of the day?”
“What made you feel proud of yourself today?”
“If you could redo something today, what would it be?”
“Who made you feel happy today?”
“Did anything make you feel sad today?”
“What inspired you today?”
“What questions did you not get answers to today?”
“How can I help you tonight?”
“What are you most excited about tomorrow?”
You don’t have to ask ALL of these every night, of course. Start with one or two questions, and vary the ones you ask each day to keep things fresh and new.
If you feel like you need some more support in creating a connected home and family, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of my 30 Days of Connection Journal! And right now, during the Annual Curriculum Sale, everything on the site is 20% off, so it’s a great time to grab that journal (and other resources!).
How do you connect with your children each day and encourage reflection and engagement?
Since beginning the #150hoursoutside Project at the start of this year, I’ve received tons of questions asking me how to gather a group of families and get a nature group or Forest School group meetup started. This is something I’ve done in the past, and recently started back up again in my local community (we’re just getting ready to start our Summer session!). So I figured I’d share my tips and tricks for getting a local group off the ground in your area in the easiest way possible.
Why might you want to set up this meetup group in the first place?
I’m sure you’re aware of the incredible benefits of spending time outdoors with your children – every single domain of development grows substantially when your child is engaging in play, exploration, or learning outdoors.
Connecting with a group of people and learning and exploring together provides an added layer of benefits as well….
* Social connection is an obvious benefit. Your children are able to work closely with a variety of age groups, taking on leader and follower positions, learning how to share their ideas, learn from others, and play and connect with many different people. You also benefit from this social connection too through getting to connect with other parents on these adventures!
* Longer periods of time spent in nature is another great benefit of Forest School Meetups. For families who struggle with enjoying outside time for more than a few minutes at a time, this is a wonderful way to extend your joy and passion in an outdoor setting.
* Balancing structured and unstructured engagement in nature is a great way to encourage creative problem solving, communication of ideas, and unique ways of connecting with nature. By providing specific activity ideas and allowing children to participate in their own way, you’re giving them a unique opportunity to choose how they engage with activities while also encouraging unstructured play. Win win!
So, have I gotten you super excited about starting your own local meetup group? Yay! Let’s chat specifics….
There are three things every Forest School Meetup Group needs: a LEADER, a LOCATION, and proper PLANNING.
Easy enough, right? Let’s get detailed….
- THE LEADER. Maybe that’s you, maybe it’s a friend, maybe you and a friend decide to be co-leaders, or maybe you even decide to split up the duties so that a new parent takes over each week. Even if you decide to split duties, it’s still helpful to have one person be the designated go-to person who takes care of the specific details of coordination, communication, etc. Don’t be scared to be the leader if you’ve never led something before! The duties really aren’t that hard. A leader: plans the activities, gathers resources and materials, coordinates the group communication, checks weather for possible cancellations, and promotes the meetup to families and friends in the community. And don’t worry – I’ll share all about how to make all of those things easy in just a bit! But, in a nutshell, that’s the Leader’s job.
- THE LOCATION. Where you decide to have your Forest School Meetup Group is actually really important. You want to have a place that’s in nature, obviously, and this will depend completely on where you live. If you’re in a big city, you might only have access to a park and that will be more than enough! If you’re out in the country, you might have more options to choose from. Anyplace that gives the kids access to nature is good – parks, hiking trails, creeks, riverbeds, forest spots…. Consider all of your options before choosing. You also want to think about your various ages and ability levels in your group. I recommend gathering your community of people FIRST, then choosing a location. You might have a group of all younger kids who need a flatter ground, or you might have all older kids who can use the challenge of tree climbing and a rougher terrain. You may have parents or children in your group with limited mobility, so choosing a spot that’s close to a parking lot or can accommodate all of your members’ needs will be important. If you’re using a public space, you should be ok to just show up, but make sure you make time to get permission from the city or private landowners before your first session.
- THE PLANNING. This is the part that takes up the majority of your time, obviously, as you’ll be planning each week (or biweekly, or however often your meetups occur). The Leader will plan the activities, gather materials needed, and show up a little early to get everything set up for the group. Now I told you I was gonna make this part easy, right? And boy, have I. My Warm and Cool Weather Forest School Curriculums have your planning completely done for you! Themed 12-week programs guide children of all ages through a variety of STEAM-focused activities and engagements in nature. Each week’s guide gives you reading suggestions, descriptions of the activities, materials list (which is minimal!), discussion prompts, and a take-home slip for parents to continue the learning and discussion all week until your next session! Amazing, right? And the best part…. It’s a Pay-What-You-Can Program to suit ANY budget. Check out samples HERE and buy it on your terms HERE. Of course, you don’t NEED a curriculum to be successful – any activities that encourage the kids to engage in nature together will make your meetup a winner!
A few other tips:
- Promotion and getting people to join your group. This can be the most daunting part, honestly. But in today’s tech-savvy world, social media has made it so easy. Make a post in your local Moms group or homeschooling group or, if you’re going to go an after-school route, connect with parents in your child’s school community. Generally I’ve found that most parents want to be involved in this type of group, but are afraid of being in charge. So if you’re willing to step into that role (or at least share it), you’ll likely find that tons of people are excited about joining you!
- Keep your group to a manageable size. It’s exciting when dozens of families want to join your group, but having too many kids turns your meetups into unintentional chaos pretty quickly. Decide what is a good group size for you and be firm on keeping it to that size.
- Payment. Don’t feel obligated to run your group for free. Not only will you be spending your time planning and preparing, but materials will cost you as well. Charge a few dollars each week per person if you are the sole leader, or find a way to split up buying materials amongst the families (trust me – most families would rather pay you for your time than to have to worry about going out to get supplies themselves).
And that’s the long and short of it! Choose a leader. Choose a location. Plan for an awesome time.
Now, if planning things your own way just isn’t your jam, there are lots of amazing programs out there that help you with that. Personally, I like having the control of activities, schedules community, etc., but if you need the additional support, I recommend checking out Tinkergarten, Free Forest School, or Forest School for All. There might even already be some groups meeting in your area that you can join in with!
Have more questions about how I run my meetups?? Feel free to contact me and ask away!
As the school year begins to approach its end, I’m starting to see posts pop up on my social media outlining all of the ways parents can keep their kids “busy” while they aren’t in school. And let me tell you, I cringe and go on long rants to my husband every time (and if he isn’t home, my poor dogs have to listen to it).
Maybe you’ve seen something similar before too….
- The “you can have the wifi password after you do these five things today” lists
- The “read for 20 minutes, write for 20 minutes, color for 20 minutes” lists
- The “complete x number of pages in your summer workbook before you can play outside” lists
And maybe you’ve even, just for a second, thought those looked like a great idea. I mean, after all, if our kids aren’t in school, shouldn’t they be doing something…. School-ish?
There’s a few things wrong with this logic though.
- Learning doesn’t only happen in a classroom or at a desk. Everything that your child does, especially when they choose it themselves, is a natural learning experience. When they’re mixing things in the kitchen, imagining with friends, drawing chalk pictures, or playing Minecraft…. Learning is happening! When you try to dictate what your child learns by insisting on a task completion or time limit, you’re not only taking the joy out of what should be a good learning experience, you’re interrupting what would otherwise be a valuable opportunity to make their own choices about how to spend their time. Which brings me to number 2….
- Play is important. Being bored is important. Doing “nothing” is important. Sure, in a classroom, every second of your child’s time is structured for them. But you know what? That’s not really for your child… that’s for the adults. It’s for crowd control. It’s for standards and discipline. It’s GOOD for your child to choose how to spend their time. It’s good for them to play and imagine for hours at a time. It’s good for them to be bored and find creative ways to occupy themselves. It’s also ok for your child to spend some time doing absolutely nothing! Not every moment of your child’s time has to be scheduled for them… give them the freedom and see what they do with it.
- READING IS NOT A CHORE. Don’t time your child’s reading… seriously, please… Don’t do this. Reading is something we want our children to learn is enjoyable, passionate, a way to get lost in a story, a way to learn anything we could possibly want to know, an escape, a whole new world! The moment we place a limit or a constraint on it, we’ve destroyed the possibilities. By the way – this goes for things like writing and creating, too. When is the last time you were able to create, paint, draw, write, or read and actually enjoy it because someone told you to?
If our goal as parents is to create passionate, lifelong learners who are creative, enjoy reading, love solving problems, and can be independent…. We have to start somewhere.
So, what if you still really feel like your child needs some structure (or, rather, YOU need there to be some structure)?
Instead of a chore chart or a ‘must do’ list, consider these ideas:
Look at your environment. For a child to be able to confidently make good choices about how to spend their time, they need to have an environment that supports those types of choices! Is your space full of clutter that’s just overwhelming your child? Do you have any designated learning areas set up?
Feel like you need a total overhaul and support with this? Consider joining my free 5-day challenge “Epic Summer Spaces” starting April 29th – I’ll walk you through some things you can do to make your home one that is a haven for natural learning fun for your child!
Make a Summer Fun list as an entire family, and include all of the adventures and fun things that you want to do together this Summer. If everyone is feeling like the day is just kinda “blah,” head to your family list and choose something that you can do together to kick the boredom. My ebook 60 Days of Summer has tons of fun ideas you can add to your list!
Practice saying “yes” as often as you can. The reality is that most of the time, our children really can come up with a super creative and enjoyable way to spend their time…. It’s when they run into the “parent NO block” that prevents them from being able to carry on. When your first instinct is to say no or not right now, pause and ask yourself what the real reason you’re saying no is. More often than not, you can definitely make it a yes moment.
And there you have it! Recipe for the perfect Summer! Only one thing left for you to do….
Share this post to save all of your friends from the dreaded Summer Chore Charts nightmare!
You’ve probably heard about some of the amazing benefits of letting your children climb trees. In our #150hoursoutside Project, we even had a tree climbing challenge one week to encourage everyone to get out into the forest and give it a try. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, not only have we seen an epic decrease in the average amount of time our children are spending outside in free play everyday (4-7 MINUTES on average! Yikes!), but along with that, the enjoyment of tree climbing has all but disappeared.
Some of the reasons we’ve seen this decline are that many parents are afraid of the risks of falling, so they don’t even allow it to happen, purely out of misunderstanding of the benefits and ways to teach safe climbing. In addition, with so much cutting down of established forests to create new housing developments, even when new trees are planted in yards and parks, it takes many years for a tree to be large and strong enough for children to climb safely, meaning that for good tree climbing, many families need to leave their neighborhoods and head into the forest to find good climbing trees. Overall, the art and joy of tree climbing has been lost and replaced by climbing on man-made play structures, which does not provide the same benefits as climbing in a tree.
What are those amazing benefits, you might ask? The short answer is that it truly helps your child on every developmental domain. But let’s break down some of the big ones:
Physical Development – Have you tried climbing a tree recently? It’s not easy! Your body needs to implement an incredible amount of arm and leg strength, core balance, hand-eye coordination, assessment of branch strength, awareness of all parts of your body, etc. Tree climbing encourages so much physical growth and development in children.
Creative Problem Solving Skills – Risk assessment is, of course, the most important problem solving skill that is developed in tree climbing or any kind of risky play. Learning to trust themselves, boosting confidence, and understanding their own limits is something that risky play offers in an incredibly unique way. In addition to risk assessment, children learn to judge their hand/foot holds, figure out ways to get from branch to branch, realize the difference in climbing up a tree vs back down the tree, and more. Being problem solvers in this real-world way is so beneficial!
Social Skills – Did you know that children are developing positive social skills every time they spend time in nature even if they’re alone? Pretty amazing, right? Empathy, positive communication skills, reading body language, etc. are all skills that are developed uniquely when one tunes in with nature. This is amplified when your children are climbing trees with a sibling or friend. Needing to communicate where each person is stepping/holding, being aware of where others are, and assisting those who need it make tree climbing a wonderful social development tool.
Ok, so you may now be thinking, “Yeah that all sounds amazing… but I’m still totally freaked out that my child will fall and break their wrist.” Believe it or not, statistics about the safety of tree climbing are pretty scarce. Unfortunately, tree climbing accidents are always lumped in with “accidental falls” or they combine childhood tree climbing accidents with professional logger accidents. So, of course, there can be some scary statistics if you don’t realize what you’re really looking at. Most nurses and doctors, however, will tell you that most childhood tree climbing-related incidents usually result in only scraped knees or elbows and, at most, a broken bone, but that the benefits to their social, emotional, physical, and mental well-being far outweigh the risks of climbing. So, yeah, theoretically your child could fall and break a wrist, but they can just as easily fall off of a playground slide, a bunk bed, a stairwell, or a bike (by the way – all of those things are statistically more dangerous to your child than a tree!).
One of the best ways to ensure that your child is as safe as possible in a tree climbing situation is to teach them some simple tree climbing “rules” that will help them best assess their own safety and ability. These are the things we teach our children at my home and in my Forest School Meet-up Groups, and (knock on wood) we haven’t had an injury more serious than a scrape.
- YOU MUST CLIMB INDEPENDENTLY. This rule helps our younger children know their limits. If you can’t get into the tree by yourself, it’s not a tree that you can climb. We don’t help children get into a tree or boost them onto higher branches. If they don’t have the strength or confidence to get into the tree, they don’t have the strength or confidence to STAY in the tree, and this invites falls and accidents. For older children, we say to only climb up if you are confident that you can get back down. Occasionally this rule is broken and a child finds themselves too high and needs help navigating down, but it’s always a great learning experience and there is rarely an issue again.
- VISUALLY ASSESS THE TREE BEFORE CLIMBING IT. Teaching your child to look for certain safety risks in a tree before climbing it helps to make the experience astronomically safer. Things to look for are dead or rotten limbs (these should be avoided as they cannot bear much weight), hanging or broken higher branches that could fall on you as your body shifts the tree, and objects on the ground around the bottom of the tree that could cause harm in the event of a fall (like jagged rocks, for example).
- ONLY STEP ON BRANCHES THAT ARE THICK AS YOUR ARM. Generally speaking, if a branch is as thick as your arm, it can withstand your weight. This simple rule helps children navigate safe passages up and down the tree. At first, have your child hold their arm up to the branch to compare, and overtime they will be able to quickly and accurately judge with just a glance.
Pretty simple rules, right? Easy enough to remember, quick to teach, and all three rules help your child stay as safe as possible when climbing a tree!
One other thing we typically encourage is when possible, climb barefoot. If the weather and situation permit, barefoot climbing gives your child a better sense of where they’re standing, the strength of branches, and getting a better foothold.
Now get out there and find a good climber! Make sure to snap some pics and come share in our Facebook Group!