October Journey

What’s on our learning path?

How did we get here?

Where are we going?

How do I plan?

Do I use a curriculum?

 

I was recently asked, “What curriculum do you use for Homeschooling?” That question inspired me to write a detailed blog post to share how I use the Reggio Emilia Approach at home.

A short answer is I mainly use and focus on the Reggio Emilia Approach and I dabble into Montessori, Waldorf and Charlotte Mason.  All of these approaches have significant nature-based elements to their philosophies.  Curriculums have been created for all of these approaches except for the Reggio Emilia Approach.  There is no set curriculum because the curriculum emerges from the child’s interests and play that is discovered through observation and documentation.  However, the Reggio Emilia Approach is more than an “Emergent Curriculum” and “project-based learning,” which is why I never simply say it’s an emergent curriculum or project-based alone.  The child’s dialogue, input, reflection and revisiting of ideas all make the course of study run deeper.  There is much more to be said about this, the teacher’s role as a facilitator of learning and the environment as the “third teacher,” as all are important facets of the Reggio Emilia Approach.

When I do supplement learning materials I think about my children’s strengths and needs.  I also think about our environment as the “Third Teacher.” Supplemental materials are used for our provocations as well.  I try my best to supplement materials from other entrepreneurial women who are mostly mothers that have used these materials with their own children. Here’s my list so far as it is ever growing:

Mariah Bruehl is the author and founder of Playful Learning. The Playful Learning Website offers Lessons, Resources (for observation and assessment) and Professional Development! I first became a fan of Playful Learning through her book, Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder.   Then she recently developed The Playful Learning Teacher’s Lounge!  where I can search based on topic, category or age.  All lessons come with goals and standards as well to show me how play is meeting these goals.  The Teacher’s Lounge is a gold mine for me! Several curriculum writers are Reggio Inspired and teach in Reggio Inspired classrooms.  One of their P.D. videos is literally titled, “Image of the Child.” My heart leapt when I saw it and yes I started watching it seconds after discovering it!

Allyson Speake is the founder of Tanglewood Hollow.  I love her nature-inspired curriculum and pdf downloads from her TeachersPayTeachers website.  I have also used The Homeschool Printing Company to affordably print Allyson’s larger nature-based curriculums.  Her work is eye candy to me and my girls have loved her engaging materials.

Some Etsy favorites I’ve purchased from in the past were: Just Off Normal: Personalized Wooden Toys, Games and Learning Tools,  Montessori Restore, Simple Gifts Toys, From Jennifer and Readysetplay.

Every child is different.  I don’t have all the words to fully express that enough.  I’ve learned more about children developing at their own pace from being a mother than I could have learned in any child development course.  And trust me, I’ve taken a lot of child development courses! For our family, I felt strongly we needed to supplement our learning with Handwriting Without Tears (I have found cheaper materials from Amazon and christianbooks.com). My daughter who is very self conscious about her handwriting gets excited when we implement the tools from this program.  That’s exactly what I want: something my kids find fun and naturally engaging, which in turn develops the skills they need to express themselves more.

I wrote another post awhile back about the early readers we use.  You can view that here if you are interested: Supporting Your Emerging Reader Not mentioned in that post are Secret Stories: The Secret Reasons Why Letters Do What They Do When They Don’t Do What They Should.  and Usborne Books And More: My First Reading Library.

Last but certainly not least, one of my favorite resources and podcasts is Julie Bravewriter. I also love following her on Instagram @JulieBraveWriter. We are doing Jot it Down right now and loving it.  I can incorporate it into ANYTHING.  Any life experience can be made into a meaningful writing experience.  When I’m mindful of this, I’m showing and teaching my girls that they have an inner voice.  I’m showing them how that inner voice can be expressed through writing. It’s a beautiful, powerful and yet so basic of a concept.  The Bravewriter Lifestyle is a FREE course on how to more naturally incorporate writing into your everyday life.  I highly recommend checking out Brave Writer Values as well.  It values the child in ways that align with my beliefs from The Image of The Child in the Reggio Emilia Approach.

I don’t supplement from other programs or resources lightly.  I give everything much thought.  I ask myself: Does this align with my Reggio Inspired beliefs about children? Is this Developmentally Appropriate? I have 6 teaching certifications.  I’m not sharing that to brag, I share that because I have a lot to think through when reading through different programs and resources.

My planning is based on observation and reflection.  You can find more on that here: Documentation: Honoring Childhood and Enhancing Discourse.  I observe my girls during their play, during our nature walks and what stories they repeatedly gravitate towards.  After a month or so, I have a good idea on where we’re going on this learning journey together.  In the Reggio Approach, I don’t see my children as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge, but rather as co-learners on this journey with me.  I am a facilitator rather than a teacher.  They have so many thoughts, predictions, questions and hypotheses to share with me and the world. I see THEM as experts.  I help guide and facilitate these childhood years that I find so sacred and special.  Because I value their insight, I don’t rush through topics.  We really take our time.  Some projects last ALL YEAR, others last a few weeks to a month, sometimes a couple months!

Outdoor play and nature walks are experiences we value and incorporate every day.  Because of that, I find it easy to supplement nature materials based on the current season.  Provocations (an invitation to provoke learning that may or may not be of interest to the child) have generally been based on items found in nature or supplemental materials that encourage further exploration of those items from the season. So far my girls have loved exploring the current season.  My guess for why that is, is that it’s always at our fingertips, literally! Nature is always changing and it brings great joy when we pay attention to those details.  For me, those details have been life giving and develop great empathy for all living things.  I can see that happening in my children and it’s a wonderful gift to pass onto the next generation.  With that said, my girls have specifically shown current interest in butterflies, birds and trees regarding the changing of leaves.

Regarding pretend play my girls also show repetitive interest in playing Store.  All kinds of store: Quilt stores, craft stores, grocery stores, pizza shops and bakeries. They also love building blocks (all kinds of buildings from museums to apartments) and maps.  Their current interests also include this Autumn season (apples, pumpkins, migration, animals getting ready for winter–which is related to their interest in butterflies and birds), and variations of fairy tales. These interests seem all over the place listed this way, but they are repetitive themes I continue to see in the natural course of their days/weeks.

For me, nothing is separate. A child’s interest contains a deep well of learning to explore and discover.  Subjects that are easily separated in the classroom (and sometimes homeschooling) like math, science, reading and writing, can so easily be interwoven into those interests.  Then they also get to see how math, science, reading and writing is incorporated in everyday life, which I think is more meaningful.

I have a rotating list of interests I use to reflect back with them, to reflect on myself and build from.  The supplemental materials I mentioned above are incorporated into these interests as I see fit.  Sometimes my plans and ideas run smoothly, other times they are a complete mess. Other days we just relax and let life teach us lessons for that day.  For example, it may mean we spend the day in pages of stories snuggled on the couch, or mostly outdoors or running errands or doing chores.  All of us (the girls and I) seem to function better when we have a routine, but not everything always goes as planned.  I learn from my children what works and what doesn’t work.  The road isn’t always clear or easy, but the journey is always worth it.

 

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Building a LEGO food truck with Uncle Pete

I have a few Reggio Inspired Reflection Templates I use to help map out my thinking as I observe and play with my kids.  I could only get one of them to upload for now, but I’ll upload the other one as soon as my computer is fixed. Try out one of my Reflection Templates I created here: Goals for the Week Based on Reflections.

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Dear Squirrel,

Birds have been a wonderful ongoing study in our family for the past couple years.  The interest peeks and wanes but it’s constantly there.  Just like in real life.  I don’t know about you, but my heart leaps when I start to hear more song birds at the beginning of each Spring.  Every Spring my inner bird antennae are active and alert! As Spring moves onto Summer, we get used to the birds again… Our interest isn’t as high, but we still acknowledge and love the birds around us.

Penelope loves knowing your favorite kind of bird.  If you tell her once, she’ll remember… probably for the rest of her life too! After receiving a bird book from Aunt Mary for her birthday, she decided the Northern Oriole was her favorite bird because she likes the nests they make.  I started to wonder, “Are there Northern Oriole’s where we live? Will she ever be able to see one?”

One afternoon we were returning home from errands, and as we were getting out of the car, something yellow caught my eye.  I looked up, and low and behold, a beautiful Northern Oriole was gliding in the air through the Sycamore tree branches in front of our house! We were SO excited.  Shortly after that we ordered our first Northern Oriole Bird Feeder.  Penelope was thrilled to help install the feeder.

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At first we weren’t sure where it should hang outside our bird watching window.  We placed it carefully in a spot where we could see it from the window. There were a couple problems about this spot.  1. It was so low to the ground that you could only see it if you walked right up to the window.  Up until now, we were used to watching the birds come from the table because one of our feeders is on the window itself.  Little did we know, a new problem would arise…

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“Mr Squirrel! That’s for the birds!” Oh poor Mr. Squirrel, (Penelope was pretty sure this was Nutkin to be exact) our culture honors feeding wild birds, but does not honor, feeding you Squirrels! You get a scolding if you “steal” the “bird’s food!”

Although we love the squirrels and have pity on them, we knew if this behavior kept up, we wouldn’t get to see Penelope’s favorite bird, the Northern Oriole. What to do?

I could have done two things.  1. I could have solved the problem myself or 2. I could let Penelope take the lead in trying to solve the problem for herself.  I chose the second option because I saw this as a wonderful motivational learning opportunity.  We did this the following way:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Think of possible solutions
  3. Try them out
  4. Assess/Reflect: Did it work? Why or Why Not?
  5. Repeat 2-4

Penelope chose to write Squirrel Nutkin a letter.  Clearly in her mind, he needed to simply be told what to do.  Since he wasn’t listening to us through the window, she thought a sign outside would help.  He would see the sign, read it and know what to do.  Did this work? Or rather, would I know if it would work? I thought we were going to problem solve in a more scientific way.  I was surprised to hear her solution actually and I honestly didn’t think it would work at all! Before leading her in another direction, I decided to let her try it out.  I was amazed that her mind immediately went to a literary solution, and I decided to honor her thinking process.

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“Dear Squirrel, please stop eating the bird feeder. Love, Penelope” See Mama, I wrote it in cursive. That’s why my lines are squiggly. I drew a circle with a line across which means “NO Squirrels” so he knows he’s not allowed on the bird feeder. 

One of my summer reading books for this year is Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia by Via Vecchi.  When I read these paragraphs, I realized that this is what separates the Reggio Approach from all other approaches… Respecting and listening to children’s theories… no matter their age!

Alice (aged 4 years 11 months) lying on her mattress suddenly says, ‘I think brains have books all around them.  We say ‘Brain! read the rainbow book!’ and we think of a rainbow.   The brain is surrounded by millions of books where lots of things are written and the books are what we think.’ Some months later, the same girl, Alice, walking through a meadow says, “Where do they get the colors we use? Perhaps they collect lots of dead butterflies and make colors from their wings. No, perhaps they use grasses?’ 

How children make theories is fascinating.  The presence of rationality and imagination and such close intertwining between them is found only in the theories of great thinkers; in children’s theories there is also that highly empathetic approach to things which is highly developed in children and a sensitive filter for understanding and connecting things. (p. 29 Vecchi, 2010).

After I read this, something hit me hard inside.  My heart softened, my gut deepened.  I realized how precious this short window of time really is.  In ALLLL her future years, she would problem solve more scientifically… more rationally.  ONLY now, I get to witness the presence of rationality and IMAGINATION intertwine!! What. a. gift. 

After we hung up the sign, we found the Squirrel and his friend (probably TwinkleBerry this time Penelope thought) at the bird feeder.  I asked Penelope, “What happened? Didn’t he read your sign?” She looked puzzled and didn’t answer at first.  Finally she said, “He must have trouble reading.  Let’s think of something else.”  It was at this second phase of problem solving, Penelope decided the bird feeder should be higher off the ground.  We found this new window feeder hook and tried that instead.  The next day something wonderful and almost magical happened….

“MAMA LOOK! NORTHERN ORIOLE! NORTHERN ORIOLE!”

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I was actually in the kitchen making lunch when she called me.  My first thought was, “Naw, she must be mistaken…” When I saw she was right (and of course she’d be right!) I squealed and grabbed my phone to take a picture! A tear formed in my eye… I was so happy for her! She problem solved in a way that was new to me and it worked! I got to witness the rational and the imagination close at work in her mind.  It was a memory I will cherish forever. I hope there are many more to come before she grows up!

8 more days!

That’s right! Only 8 more days to enter the 2017 Honor The Child, Honor the Process Challenge!

For a chance to win First Art, simply do the following:

  1. Try out ANY open ended art idea or an idea from the book.  I take pictures of some pages and post them on the blog.
  2. Take a photo of your experience and use the hashtag #processnotproductchallenge2017 on Instagram.
  3. Most important, HAVE FUN!

Winner will be drawn on June 1st!

This week we tried Texture Scrap Painting

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Everleigh kept putting her hands out and saying, “More paint?” I’d put some paint on one hand, but she continued to hold both hands out and said, “other side paint?” insisting I squeeze paint on both hands.  I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture of that, unfortunately, but it was super cute.  When I do this again, I will leave puddles of paint out in trays like the book suggests for them to use at their leisure. However, anytime Everleigh asks for paint to be squirted on her hands, I will gladly do so! We hung up their collaborative art piece in the dining room per Penelope’s request.

Were you able to try out any process oriented art this month? Did you want to, but had some challenges come up? What was successful or not successful? I’d love to hear your thoughts! There’s still time to enter the contest so give it a try or let me help you! Hope you have a fun creative week full of color and joy!

Process Oriented Art Creates Wonder in the Experience

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Last week it rained a lot. It was also unseasonably cold.  I wish we had used rain puddle water to paint with paintbrushes.  Do you ever have an idea of how your day or week will be and then it turns out nothing like you imagined? Ha, that happens a lot.

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Last week I shared the idea of using water to paint outside.  Instead I poured water down the chalkboard.  The chalkboard was full of chalk and not being used for a couple weeks. As soon as I poured water down it, it came alive again! The girls loved the interaction between the water and chalk and interweaving it with paint brushes. “How is it doing that!? Look! Look what’s happening! Watch when I do this!” This dialogue sparks  the wonder in the experience!

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This week I share some more ideas from the book,

First Art

May they inspire you, but remember, any open ended art experience will do for the chance to win this book!

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For a chance to win this book, simply do the following:

  1. Try out any open ended art idea or an idea from the book.  I take pictures of some pages and post them on the blog.
  2. Take a photo of your experience and use the hashtag #processnotproductchallenge2017 on Instagram.
  3. Most important, HAVE FUN!

Winner will be drawn on June 1st!

Week 2 of Honor the Child, Honor the Process Challenge!

In honor of Everleigh turning 2 this beautiful month of May I am giving away this book:

First Art

Children older than two can also participate in the challenge! My five year old is getting a lot of out of these open-ended art experiences as well. To win this book please do the following:

  1. Try out any idea or recipe from this book.  I take pictures of some pages and post them on the blog.  Last week we tried mixing liquid starch and tempera paint one day and another day we mixed cornstarch, water and food coloring.  This week there are more ideas posted below!
  2. Take a photo of your experience and use the hashtag #processnotproductchallenge2017 on Instagram.
  3. Most important, HAVE FUN!

That’s it! ANY effort is acceptable!  As long as the experience is open-ended and focuses on the process, you’re good! You can also do last week’s examples instead of this week’s! It really doesn’t matter. I just want to give away this book to anyone who is willing to try any open-ended art experience with their child(ren).  Let me know what you try by posting on Instagram with the #processnotproductchallenge2017 hashtag.  Here’s this week’s suggestions:

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I did this one when Penelope was younger.  If the sun pops out this week and it warms up a bit, I’m hoping to try it again.  I wonder how my older daughter with her vivid imagination and robust language would respond to painting water outside now?  I wonder how my almost two year old with her developing language, phrases and short sentences will respond? Will she follow her older sister’s lead or marvel at the individual path she creates? 
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I’ve never made a paint bag with either girls yet. So this looks like a fun indoor process art experience to try! Will you try it too? Or a different one?
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On Friday we used air dry clay, some clay tools and tiles to create.

Best of luck!

Honor The Process Honor The Child Challenge! #processnotproductchallenge2017

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In honor of my baby girl turning TWO years old this month, I’m having a GIVEAWAY! I’m going to give away a copy of MaryAnn F. Kohl’s book, First Art for Toddlers and Twos: Open-Ended Art Experiences. 

First Art

Here’s the CHALLENGE: Each week I will post an open-ended art experience(s) from pages of the book to try out with your little one(s). (I also have a five year old and these are also very appropriate experiences for her as well). Every time you join me in trying out an art experience, please do the following: (Please note: You don’t have to do exactly what we do, just try a recipe or suggestion from the book pages I share for the week).

  1. Take a photograph of the experience.
  2. Post your photo in Instagram with #processnotproductchallenge2017
  3. Have fun!

That’s it! The more you post, the more times you’ll be entered in a Random Name Generator online.  This challenge is for the month of May so on June 1st, I will be drawing a name for the winner!

It’s the Process, Not the Product

Toddlers and twos explore art as a learning experience or an experiment, discovering what is stimulating and interesting.  They are more interested in doing art rather than making a finished product.  During the process, toddlers and twos discover their own independence as well as the mystery of combinations, the joy of exploration, the delight of creating, and the frustration of challenges– all important pieces in the puzzle of learning.  Whatever the resulting artwork–whatever it is a bright, sticky glob or a gallery-worthy masterpiece–to a toddler or two-year-old, it is only the result of “doing art,” not the reason for doing art. -p.10

Challenge for Week of May 1st-6th 2017:

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We chose the “Easiest Fingerpaint” and decided to do it outside on a gorgeous sunny day using a plexiglass screen.

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“Yellow!”

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Penelope loved swirling the paint all over the place
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Everleigh was much more cautious and slowly eased into glopping the paint on the board.

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Penelope realized the paint could splatter on the driveway next! She loved the designs she could make just by dripping it all around!
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Then she wanted to use a stick to “draw” with the paint.

After this, the girls started to paint on the other side of the plexiglass.  Penelope originally thought she was covering up a painting, but then was surprised to find it still on the other side! We talked about why that might have happened and how it caused an illusion.

After all our painting fun, I put soap and water in our water table for the girls to rinse off in.  We changed our clothes and all the paint washed out of their clothes too!

When you participate in the challenge, you don’t need to document as much as I am! Just the simple photo and hashtag will do! Good luck!

“Good morning Birds!”

“Mama, please remind me to say, ‘Good Morning’ to the birds tomorrow.” – Penelope, age 5

Our Window Bird Feeder was one of the best $6 spent last year.  When the first signs of Spring arrived in our neck of the woods in upstate NY, Penelope started inquiring about The Burgess Bird Book for Children.  I love that she associated seeing the birds come back for Spring with the stories of Peter Rabbit and Jenny Wren. Burgess eloquently introduces the birds returning from their migration in captivating dialogue between curious Peter Rabbit and his feathered folk friends in the Old Orchard. The chapters are only a couple pages long and the humor and story grab your attention so much that you don’t realize you’re learning interesting facts about different birds!  It’s the perfect read aloud while my girls are eating a meal.

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Our Bird Watching Window
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Our Bird Basket: Bird Watching Tally and Diagram from #TangleWoodHallow, camera, binoculars and books!
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Window Bird Feeder- never a dull moment!
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Our Bird Books for this year!

What’s different about this year is I added Birds, Nests and Eggs Take Along Guide (thanks to Aunt Mary– very excited birthday gifts received this March)! This book has vibrant illustrations that is a great companion to the Burgess Bird Book.  Birds Build Nests is another beautifully illustrated book that’s more poetic than informational and includes birds from all parts of the world. Feathers for Lunch is one of our favorite stories that not only has labeled eye-catching illustrations, but a bird checklist in the back!

What I’m really excited about is the Backyard Birdsong Guide! If you purchase this amazing bird book directly from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, part of the proceeds support their mission of research and bird conservation.  When we are introduced to a new “feathered folk” in the Burgess Bird Book, we can listen to the bird from our interactive birdsong guide.  We even brought it in the backyard to compare with the bird calls we heard around us!

How does all of this relate to the Reggio Emilia Approach? The Environment is the Third Teacher.  Not only has our environment outdoors naturally evoked interest in the coming of Spring, but indoors I created this bird watching space because it was a huge hit last year.

This year, my youngest is 22 months and she is showing a whole other side to the bird watching experience.  Her interactions with the birds up close and far away are interesting to document.  At first she was “spooked” by how close the bird came to the window, but now she’s very comfortable with them.  Some of her first words were “cardinal,” and “blue jay.”

We also joined Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch this year! In 3 easy steps you 1. Install a Feeder 2. Count the birds that visit and 3. Share the data with Scientists! We’re already doing 2 out of the 3 steps so I figured why not add the third step and help a worthy cause!? Now is the time to Sign Up so check it out! 🙂

Researchers in the fields of ecology and conservation frequently conduct studies aimed at answering two questions: Where does a given species live? and How abundant is it? Knowing where species live, what habitats they use, and how abundant they are is the most basic information needed to protect a species. Knowing whether these patterns are changing with time is perhaps even more critical, since changes in bird occurrence can often be one of the first signal of more widespread environmental changes. (help.ebird.org)

As you prepare your environments for learning this Spring, don’t forget about the birds! May the birds teach us new ways of living and learning as we welcome them back.