My daughter is a maker by nature. She makes at least one piece of art daily and if her artwork is a gift, she fashions an envelope to put it in. When she is outside, she weaves twigs and leaves into boats or she makes homes and yards for her rolly polly friends. She is happy for hours creating with paper, tape, glue, and yarn.
She started asking me to teach her to sew when she was three and I would reply that I thought a girl had to be six before she knew how to sew and then I would tell her about the dangers of sharp needles.
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Mostly, I hoped that she wouldn't want to learn to sew when she turned six, because I really didn't know how to sew myself. My inability to sew can be attributed to a lack of Home Ec requirements in school and a mom who didn't really like to sew herself. My husband was the button sewer and stuffed animal doctor in our house because he had Home Ec and a mom who was very talented at sewing. Two months ago, I could thread a needle and sew a clumsy running stitch. Those were the only skills that I brought to the table when I decided to teach my girl to sew.
When I began asking around about teaching my daughter to sew, someone recommended Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make, I checked it out on Amazon and bought it.
Sewing School was one of the best investments I have made in a long time. My daughter fell in love with the book the minute she saw it and immediately asked to write her name in it ...with a permanent marker. That girl knows how to make sure a book is not taken back to the store.
She was so sad that she couldn't start with a project right that very minute because I didn't have the right sized needle and thread that were recommended for the small hands of kids. But that turned out to be a blessing because it did give us time to read the preliminary sections together we could go over the very important rules of sewing, like always know where your needle is and be careful of people around you!
When we did gather our materials, we started with a project or two a day. Since, I don't know much about sewing, I have been doing every project alongside of her. I've been impressed that every project in the book has been useful for work or for play. The first two projects we did, a needle book and pincushion, that we use for future sewing projects. After the first two projects, we made a quiet mouse and pillow, which she uses for play.
We have also made a doll's skirt, a small drawstring pouch, a couple of pillows where she designed the pattern, and many, many more quiet mice.
So far we have only done hand sewing projects, because we don't own a sewing machine. Luckily for us, most of the projects in this book are hand sewing projects. The sequel to Sewing School is mainly projects that require a sewing machine. Someday, when she's ready for a sewing machine, I'll get her Sewing School 2 to go along with it.
Sewing School has taught us everything we need to know. We have learned how to do a running stitch and whip stitch, how to use a needle threader, how to make a bobbin, how to sew two kinds of buttons on, how to add embellishments, how to sew a casing, and how to stuff a toy or pillow.
(One thing that Sewing School doesn't teach as well as my husband taught me is how to tie off a knot at the end of a project. This video will help you tie a knot right where you want it to be.)
What You Absolutely Need to Get Started with Sewing School
What you have in you sewing box may not be appropriate for little hands. These are the materials mentioned in the book that I had to gather together or purchase to get started teaching my daughter and myself to sew:
Chenille Size 22 Sharp Point Needles
Lo Ran Needle Threaders
A Selection of Felt Pieces
Some Fabric (I like buyingpre-coordinated quarter samples)
A Small Pair of Scissors for your child and a Large Pair for you
Of course, don't forget to buy the book: Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make
One thing that was not mentioned in the what to buy section of the book that we have used a lot is a bag of stuffing! My daughter loves stuffing pillows and small toys! Another thing you may want to purchase is a bag of cute buttons.
I'm So Glad I Taught My Daughter to Sew
We both have a lot to learn when it comes to sewing and I hope that someday the student surpasses the teacher. I had a little conversation with my daughter that made me very, very happy that I took the time to teach my daughter to sew:
"Mom, do you know why I like to sew so much?"
"No, Sweetie, why?"
"Because when I sew, I feel proud."
Thank you for reading!
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After a couple of weeks of everyone being sick, it was good to have a normal, healthy week. I wouldn't believe that we were almost done with the year if we weren't so ready for summer to come.
After Spring Break, I like to change up what our homeschool days look like. We ease back on learning new math material and focus on short reviews of trouble areas from the year. I drop our formal writing program and and allow for more creative writing and journal writing. If I'm thinking of doing any changes to next year's school week, we practice them between spring break and summer.
This year, most of my post spring break changes have to do with practicing new skills and subjects. My daughter turned six last month, so next year I want add narrations a couple times a week to her daily lessons. This means I am asking her to practice narrating what she read a couple times a week now. Next year, my son will be in 7th grade and will have to do his science lessons more independently, since he is outgrowing our family lessons. I am having him do some science readings independently to get used to doing science on his own.
This week I wrote about how to homeschool when you can't really talk, because I have some firsthand experience in that area. (I had a triple whammy cold-allergy-sinus infection that left me speechless!) I also wrote a few reviews on books that I read last month. If you're a reader, you may want to check it out. Three months ago I wrote about why we keep nature notebooks. My kids now call every bird they see a pelican just to get my goat, but their bird identification skills have greatly increased since the great pelican incident by the river.
This week's Finally Friday header photo was taken in California's Gold Country, outside of Plymouth, California. Normally, the hills have turned gold by this time of year, but they are still green because we have been so blessed with a rainy spring after a season of drought.
One of the biggest challenges in studying ancient civilizations is the difficulty in finding interesting ways to make those time periods come alive. Unless of course, you are just studying Egypt, Greece, and Rome, because there are plenty of activities and books for those civilizations.
While being able to read straight from the Bible is such a great way to study the history of Ancient Israel, I also pulled together a handful of other resources to help spark my kid's imagination.
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Old Testament Days is a well written and well thought out activity book for students of all ages. The activities and readings in this book helped us to understand the life and culture of Old Testament times. Most of the activities were interesting and easy for me to pull off.
Ancient Israelites and their Neighbors is geared to a slightly older audience than Old Testament Days, and also includes activities for the Phoenicians and the Philistines. In addition to activities it also has short readings about the cultures, which was especially helpful in learning about the neighbors, because there isn't that much information readily available for kids about the Phoenicians and Philistines.
We also read the Jesus Storybook Bible as a read aloud during our study of Israel because it does such a great job tying the themes of the whole Bible together.
I used the illustrations from The Family Time Bible as I read the relevant chapters from our Bible because my younger kids like having a picture to look at.
While there are plenty of picture books about Noah's Ark and the Christmas story, I have a few favorites. My favorite Noah's Ark book is this award winning book from Peter Spier and my favorite nativity book is this beautifully illustrated one. The Story of Hanukkah tells the history behind the Maccabean revolt.
Throughout our study of ancient civilizations we have been going to our library to check out relevant videos from the series Ancient Civilizations for Children. Each video teaches how we learn about a specific civilization through archaeology. The Ancient Mesopotamia video covers the Israelites and the Ancient Egypt video also covers the Hebrews time in Egypt.
We also watched Prince of Egypt and Joseph Man of Dreams for fun when we finished reading about Joseph's life and later the Exodus.
Hands On Learning
Apparently you can buy toys for almost any story from the Bible, including the stories of David and Goliath, Noah's Ark, and the Calling of the 12 Disciples. A Bible Trivia Game would be a great review game.
For Further Reading
There's nothing like dealing with a learning disability to to make you fine tune your educational focus. My son's dysgraphia has taught me more about education than any other course, book, or experience I've had.
Choose Quality Over Quantity
I could have told you this before, but I wasn't practicing it. Our first month homeschooling, I assigned everything, because everything was good and useful. It turned out that too much work was too much work, whether it was high quality or not. Since I was conditioned to written output, I required my son to write, too.
I soon had a frustrated student and soon I was frustrated, too.
Only a drastic change would work, so I eliminated all writing that wasn't essential. Everything else was taught through reading, discussion, and hands on activities. By the end of the elimination process, the only pencil to paper work I assigned was in math and composition.
Even math still required a lot of paring down to get to what truly mattered. The math program we had required a lot of work on my son's behalf even if I just assigned the even or odd problems, because in that program, mastery was achieved through repetitively practicing concepts. In order to keep my son's math time at a reasonable about of time, I had to selectively choose the best quality problems every. single. day.
When I finally found the perfect math program for us, the job of choosing quality over quantity was already done for me. I had just the right amount of problems in the text to teach a concept and the workbook had just the right amount of problems to practice a concept. It also included hands on and visual problems that helped concepts stick in a different way than our prior program's daily review.
Worksheets Aren't All That
"Everything I know, I learned from a worksheet," said no one ever. Cutting back on worksheets threw the teaching ball back to my court and also made learning more authentic.
Sometimes the concepts worksheets are created for are ridiculous. You don't need a dictionary skills worksheet to teach a child to use a dictionary...You need a dictionary and an unfamiliar word. Reading comprehension can be determined better and more deeply by a simple conversation over answering a few questions on a worksheet. (Complete sentences, of course!) Working with a handful of change or math manipulatives before putting a pencil to paper to practice math, builds concrete math understanding along with the pencil and paper skills.
It is interesting to note, that every time I cut out a worksheet, I had to put something better in its place. Pulling an oak sapling out of the ground to observe a seed sprouting into a plant and then comparing that to a diagram in a real book is more instructive than a label the parts worksheet about the same concept. A Charlotte-Mason-style oral narration gives me far more insight to what my kids understand from a reading than a set of review questions ever could.
Sometimes the Roundabout Way is the Most Direct Route
Some things just defy "common sense." When it comes to poor handwriting, common sense says "slow down and try harder," but that strategy doesn't work when dysgraphia is a part of the equation.
Trust me. My son got that advice daily in his second and third grade classrooms from well meaning adult helpers and aids. He tried to slow down, but he was already writing slowly. His handwriting got worse despite following the advice he heard from every corner, so he started to dodge any assignment that he suspected someone else would give him feedback on.
What works for his type of dysgraphia and his personality involves a variety of tools not usually associated with a focused effort to improve handwriting: monkey bars, daily art, graph paper, a crazy figure eight exercise, highlighters, and time to write freely, without being judged for his handwriting. When every growth spurt sets him ten steps back with his handwriting and the fruit of his labors may not be evident until well into adulthood, we need patience and faith in the process. We also need hope that everything we do will eventually bear fruit.
Just Because Something is Hard Doesn't Mean There Can't be Joy
Handwriting is my son's greatest challenge. Writing is hard and for him can be physically painful.
But he writes his own adventure novels for fun. He fills composition book after composition book with stories and drawings from his own imagination, and he takes joy in the process. It amazes me daily that his biggest challenge is also his creative outlet.
As I've mentioned before, a learning disability has made me fine tune my approach to education. I can't just toss my son something educational and call it a day, I have to know my goals and my philosophy and carefully choose what I ask him to do for school in light of those goals.
I wrote another article about dysgraphia. To read it follow this link the one below.
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April is national poetry month! To help you share some poetry with your kids, I compiled a page of poetry that you can share with your kids at the beginning of your school days, over a delightful tea, or for a literature lesson. You may use these poems for copywork, memorization and recitation practice, or as inspiration for an art project.
Poetry is a beautiful way to help kids put words to the experiences around them and the sky is the limit on how you can incorporate a poem into your day!
If you like this poetry resource, sign up for the Freely Learned newsletter using the form below. You'll get a free, printable page of poetry every month along with a short newsletter.
One of the reasons I began homeschooling my oldest son was that, despite being a bright kid, he was shutting down in school due to his struggles with severe dysgraphia. This post highlights just a little of what I have done to help him learn with dysgraphia.
One of the biggest challenges with helping a dysgraphic student is getting him to the point where he can write legibly and independently.
While my dysgraphic son will happily write stories and comics for fun (he wants to be an author someday), it is difficult for anyone to read what he has written.
While typing is the best option for accommodating dysgphia, I consider being able to write with a pencil or pen an essential skill for learning and communicating. Keeping a notebook of research and ideas is such an effective tool for lifelong learning. No computer program or phone/tablet app comes close to the creative power of a pen and pencil.
So I am on a journey to help my son be able to write legibly enough to be able to read his own writing. The biggest success I have had helping my son write legibly was the day I handed him a graph paper notebook and instructed him to put one letter inside of each square.
In the same day his handwriting went from this journal entry on presidents day:
To this science notebook entry later in the day:
You can see that the top example is a jumbled mess of letters. His dysgraphia makes it hard for him to stay on the lines and space his letters. The second example, while he still couldn't stay on the lines, he could more or less stay in the box. The spacing took care of itself. I was ecstatic that he could write a short narration that was also readable, that I did a happy mom dance. Since then, graph paper has been a life saver for us. We use graph paper for math and his science notebook (pictured above) and a few other things. (I have found 4 squares per inch graph paper to be the best to help with handwriting.)
We have recently added a commonplace book to my son's set of learning tools, mainly because it was a part of Writing and Rhetoric Book 6. Otherwise, I would have put it off a couple of years since legible handwriting would seem to be a prerequisite to that type of book.
For his commonplace book, I decided to simultaneously work on writing on lined paper with him. Thankfully, I have figured out a way for him to keep a legible commonplace book without making him feel like I'm helping him too much.
I very lightly write out my son's commonplace passage for him in pencil and he traces it with pencil. This becomes his handwriting practice since he still has issues forming some letters and with placing words on regular, lined paper. I'm hoping this practice will help him get a feel for writing on lined paper and spacing correctly between letters and words. You can see the difference between what he traces and what he writes on his own below.
I leave a space after each entry so he can either rewrite the passage in his own words, comment on the passage, or interpret the passage however he chooses.
As you can see, he always chooses to write a short comic illustrating the truth of the passage.
This is just a little of what I do to help my son learn well with dysgraphia. I hope to write more about dysgraphia and homeschooling in the near future.
If you are interested in notebooking with a dysgraphic student, I have a set of 1 centimeter square notebook pages available at teachers pay teachers for young elementary students. I also have a set for upper elementary and middle school students with a smaller grid.
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I saw a resurrection garden last year, made simply with dirt, grass seeds, a cup, sticks, and a plant saucer and made a mental note to be sure to make one with the kids this year because the just sprouted grass growing around the tomb was such a beautiful metaphor for the new life that Easter represents.
Well, I didn't want to buy a whole bag of grass seed for a little project, so when I saw a more "fairy garden" style of resurrection garden, I knew we had our project.
The total cost for this project was zero dollars because I was able to use old pots and bits and pieces of our existing landscape.
Really, all you need is a cup, a pot, and some dirt. Fill the pot with dirt and press the cup into iton its side. Then mound up the dirt over the top and back of the cup for a hill. After that, you can plant seeds or gather cuttings from your garden to transplant. Groundcovers work especially well.
Each of my children gravitated towards the jobs that suited their ages and personalities. My three year old gathered rocks while my eleven year old carefully scraped up moss and the dirt it grew on. I trimmed bits of succulent and groundcover to plant. My daughter gathered flowers to decorate with.
We we were all super happy with the final result:
As soon as we finished, my daughter immediately asked for an old pot and cup so she could make her own garden. I helped her separate out some of succulent clippings and bits of groundcover, but she did the rest on her own.
Here is her creation:
I like how the old pot gives the impression of an aged garden wall.
I think my daughter may have found a passion for creating tiny worlds. I'll have to introduce her to building fairy gardens next!
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In a perfect homeschooling world, we'd always have a couple of uninterrupted hours at the end of the week to gather materials and plan out the upcoming weeks, no one would get sick, December would only be a little bit chaotic, Mom would always get eight hours of sleep, and family crises would just not happen during the school year.
Unfortunately, life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Giving our kids a good education means that sometimes we have to flip on the autopilot switch and homeschool the best we can in the middle of our crazy lives. Here are a few thing that I've found help me educate my kids well during the busiest times of the year.
Have a Routine to Fall Back On
Having a routine means that even when I fall short of sleep because I'm up most of the night with a sick kid or because I'm a bad sleeper, I can fall into the pattern of breakfast, get kids ready for the day, read aloud time, math lessons, then supervise the kids' independent work. A routine saves our homeschool day more often than I care to admit.
My kids have their routines that they fall into, too. My oldest son is so in the habit of narrating what he read in his history and literature readers that even if I am in the middle of cleaning up a big spill, he will be telling me about the Panama Canal while getting me another towel. He knows that he can't check history off his list and move on to the next subject until that part of the lesson is done. Believe me, he doesn't like to be doing a lot of work after lunch, so he is motivated to move forward.
My daughter (age 5) is still learning her schedule but she knows that she has to write something, read something, and do a math activity before she is free to do drag out her art supplies to make yet another messy mixed media collage/drawing/painting/masterpiece. So she will ask to do her math before she asks to do art.
Always Be in the Middle of a Few Longer Books
For a while, a few subjects in our homeschool week were solely dependent on shorter books from the library. This meant that if I didn't reserve my books or couldn't go to the library, we didn't have anything to do for history, art, or science.
While I still depend on the library to round out our curriculum and to add richness to our homeschool day, I am careful to have a few longer books that we are reading aloud at all times.Genevieve Foster's books and the D'Aulaires books are great read for reading aloud to a wide range of ages and they are long enough to last several weeks. My kids all time favorite science book was Birds do the Strangest Things. We would read about one bird a day over the course of a few weeks and they still talk about the crazy birds we read about. Often, I will take a book from theLets-Read-And-Find-Out series, divide it into quarters, and read it over the course of a week.
Currently, during our morning read aloud time, we are always working through a book of the Bible, a history book, a poetry book, and a science book. Even on the craziest days, if I just continue to read a chapter or section of each of those and add in math, give the kids free reading time, and ask each child to write in their journal, we've still covered seven subjects in our homeschool. That's what we call a minimum day!
Map Out Subjects So It's Easy to "Do the Next Thing"
While with some curriculum may be easy to open the book and do the next section, some subjects are a little more difficult to do without a little planning. A math book may need change for a lesson on money or a compass for a geometry lesson. A history lesson may require a trip to the library for a research project. Science labs always require materials. A writing curriculum may have some lessons that take less than 20 minutes while others take close to an hour.
There are many ways to plan ahead, without investing a lot of time. Spending a little time periodically to look ahead to make note of which shorter lessons could be combined and which longer lessons will require extra days is a great practice. Jotting down a list of materials that will be needed for each unit on post it notes at the beginning of the year and sticking them in the book is super helpful.
Technology as a Substitute Teacher
When I was a substitute teacher, I usually had to take students to the computer lab or pop in a movie. When I was a teacher, I usually kept a few VHS tapes in my top right hand drawer for emergencies. As a homeschool teacher, why should I feel guilty about occasionally relying on technology to fill in the gaps in my kids education?
There are enough great documentaries, movie adaptations of literature, websites, and apps out there that in a pinch I can call in a technological substitute teacher to help me through a pinch. ABCya, Duolingo, Xtra Math, Starfall, and Typing.com are a few websites I can count on to fill in the gaps on rough days. As a matter of fact, most of those websites show up on our homeschool on a rotating basis anyway! We just spend more time on them when Mom or the baby is sick. As for apps, we have Stack the States (geography), Zeus vs the Monsters (mythology and math), Moose Math, and Starfall (reading and phonics). I try to record documentaries on Animal Planet for rainy days. I can also pull up an episode of Salsa Spanish for the little ones.
How About You?
How do you homeschool on autopilot?
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Studying art history is fairly simple to accomplish during the homeschool day, provided I have done a little prior research and gathering of materials. All of the art that we study comes from the time period in history that we are already studying as a family. Currently, we are studying Ancient Greece, so once a week we study a sculpture, piece of architecture or pottery, mosaic, or building from that time.
Finding Pictures to Use
Before we begin a unit (or a week after, since I'm usually running behind), I start searching for images pertaining to the art of the period of history that we are studying and that I can legally make a print of. Just because something is online and it is easy to download, doesn't mean that it is legal to do so. Always check the copyright first. If a picture is "public domain" or "creative commons", you can download it and make a photo print of it for your own personal use. Creative commons photos have their own requirements that can vary image by image, so be sure to check. Usually, you just need to attribute the creator of the image. (More info on Public Domain and Creative Commons here).
Once I find usable images that I can make prints of, I save them to my computer and then download them to my Costco photo account and order three of each picture, one for each of my children.
How We Do Picture Study
When we do a picture study, we study a single picture at a time. My son (12) and daughter (5) each get a picture to study at the table and my youngest (3) and I head to the couch to quietly talk about our picture together.
Once we we have our pictures, I set the timer and we study our pictures. I ask my youngest about the colors and shapes of the picture. I also ask him what is happening in the picture.
When the the timer runs out we flip the pictures over and then take turns, from youngest to oldest, to retell everything we remember about the picture without peeking. My daughter knows that she has to observe more than her little brother and my oldest has to observe even more. I try to remember something above and beyond what my son retells.
After narrating our observations, I give the title of the artwork, the artist, and the medium used. If there is any vocabulary to learn, we talk about that, too. Since we are already studying the historical time period, I don't usually have to give a lot of "historical background." Occasionally, we discuss what we liked about the picture and why we think the artist made certain choices.
Finally, the kids glue their picture onto a piece of paper and label it with the title of the artwork and artist. The paper goes into their history binder.
Other Ways We Study Art
Occasionally, I will pull out our art supplies and sketchbooks and pass around picture of the week. I let the kids choose the medium of their choice and paint or draw their own version of the art that we are studying. Here is an example of this exercise after the Rio Olympics where we drew the Christ our Redeemer Statue:
The kids each chose to use oil pastels (they usually do) and I used acrylic paint...and then quickly filled in the background with pastels. I helped my youngest by drawing an outline of the statue before they began.
I like this exercise because it combines art history with the actual practice of art. It gets my drawing something they usually wouldn't choose to draw and encourages them to make creative, artistic choices.
Just recently we have been reading The Great Art Treasure Hunt, which is kind of an I spy book with great works of art. My two youngest and I have been going through this book sporadically a couple paintings a day. Even though they think reading it is a big game, they are also being introduced to art concepts at the same time.
How do you study art in your homeschool?
Art Supplies Mentioned in This Post
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Nature journaling is something that I wanted to start doing in our homeschool when I first read about it, but we didn't really start keeping nature journals consistently until I realized that being in nature and referencing our field guide as needed wasn't connecting my kids to nature the way I wanted. Read that storyhere.
At first, I considered incorporating nature journals the way I thought that we were supposed to. This involved packing each kid a small, hard backed sketchbook along with pencils, colored pencils or watercolors, field guides, water, snacks, and toys for the three year old. I thought about packing all of these supplies in a backpack and then going for a short nature walk to try out nature journaling for real.
Thinking about it was as far as I got because I knew that no matter how short the walk, I'd be packing in a backpack and then carrying out one or two kids while my oldest grumbled about carrying the backpack back.
Sometimes we walk to the park near our house and observe the native to California trees that were planted there and the birds that live in them. Sometimes we go to a park not to far from our house that borders the river. Sometimes we wait for the weekend and go as a family to the mountains or the ocean.
The only thing we bring along is an Audubon pocket sized field guide to California with a few small post it notes on the inside cover.
When we see identify a new bird or tree or plant, we read about it together and then I mark the spot with a post it, and that is all of the recording that we do when we are out and about. The rest of the time the kids run free and explore. They gather sticks and acorns and feathers and rocks to build tiny worlds with. They play games and look at the clouds. When they get bored, I tell them to go find something interesting from nature and bring it to me or, if they can't carry it, to tell me all about it. Occasionally, we bring home a special leaf, stick, or rock.
At home, we observe nature, too. We have bird feeders to draw the birds down from the heights 30 year old trees in our yard and we know what times they search for seeds and bugs on our lawn. We pay attention to our trees and how they change throughout the season. We keep a garden and go out every day in to see how things are growing. We run out to see the sunset and sunrise. We measure the rainfall.
When we do finally sit down and journal, it is at our kitchen table. Currently, we are journaling about the birds that we are seeing in our yard and around our neighborhood. Many of the birds that we see are winter visitors and a few are year round friends.
My kids have different expectations when they journal. My oldest has to draw the bird, paying close attention to its shape, field marks, and colors. He also has to write about where we have observed the bird and something that he learned reading about it from a field guide.
As you can see, I print off some images of the birds off of All About Birds. My kids prefer that the page stays put, unlike a field guide which tends to close itself.
My girl (age 5) has to draw a picture of the bird, paying attention to the colors and markings. She also has to write the name of the bird.
Can I just say that I am so in love with that red tailed hawk!
Do you nature journal? If you do, I'd love to know what works for you!
This post is a part of a series about how we are applying Charlotte Mason's methods in our homeschool. Click the photo below to read the rest of the series.