Corn husks, twine, & fabric scraps make autumn decorations,
and step-by-step, they build attention spans in the group, too. 

The handicrafts we make in our home tend to be more crafty than handy.

CM advises that handicrafts should be useful, and our crafts in my family often fall short of that standard, unless you count fun and decorative as useful.

Even so, I see plenty of usefulness in crafty-crafting.

I've been using crafts with a group of kids at my church, either in Sunday School class with the lessons or during Quiet Time just for fun.

The kids in my group are highly spirited. That's the correct term, right? Maybe rowdy would be more accurate, if not as gentle. They are eager, really eager, to work on crafts, but honestly, they lack the listening skills, attention spans, and confidence in their coordination to do much on their own beyond using coloring books. I don't think most of them have had much experience with crafting, but that's all the more reason to begin.

So, we've been working on crafts together, some easy, some more challenging. Here's what I'm noticing about crafty work:

  • Attention spans grow! They really do.
    In a group setting, the time restrictions force me to plan short projects. The kids are learning, week after week, to keep up their attention for our entire time together, knowing it will take our full session to complete a project. This is slow progress for some children, but it's progress I'm most definitely seeing
  • Fine-motor skills improve with practice.
    No big surprise there, but I think the kids surprise themselves what they can do. The trick is learning not to rush, and slowing down seems harder to learn than the actual fine-motor skill.
  • Kindness happens.
    I've heard that Amish people use group projects like raising a barn or making a quilt not only to raise a barn and make a quilt, but to provide a social outlet for people. They understand that with a specific task on hand that requires focus and work, those bothersome personality quirks of others are easier to tolerate and ignore.

    I have found this to be true in our spirited group. When not engaged in a craft or chore that requires attention and some effort, the kids pester each other, provoke each other, jostle, tease, and poke

    When the craft captures them, they get along. It's a miracle, I want to shout! I've heard unsolicited compliments and I've seen unprompted sharing during an intense crafting time. No reminders from me about behavior are needed during those magical moments. 
  • Patience takes patience.
    One of the hardest things for the kids to do is to listen to instructions. They want to jump to the last step immediately. By crafting, you learn that things are constructed in a certain order. You have to build up to the last step. The kids are learning patience because they want their finished project to look good, and I'm learning patience in presenting the project in a way that makes sense to them.
  • Accomplishment feels good.
    I notice busy-work like coloring-book pages are cast aside, dropped, forgotten. But a project that challenged their minds and hands is like a friend they made and want to keep. 
It's really fun for me to use some CM ideas with kids other than my own in my home. My sessions with the group are not pure CM, I know that, but I do think about things like making short lessons, creating a pleasant atmosphere for learning, setting high standards, resisting prattling and over-explaining.

The kids have made progress over these months, but I suspect I'm the one who is learning more. That's a sign to me that I'm on the right track when I realize that just when I think I'm the leader, I see that I am, in fact, being led. 

Today's gratitude is the handiness of making crafts.


CM education showing itself

This is new to us, doing formal lab experiments and lab reporting. Science isn't new to us, as we've covered science topics every year most certainly, but a regular school textbook and a box full of lab equipment are new elements in our homeschool.

We're ready for the changes.

The path through a wooded area to the river near our home.

This week's biology lab assignment was about local biomes. We headed out the door with:
  • L-square
  • measuring tape
  • string
  • stakes
  • compass
  • thermometer
  • stopwatch 
  • trowel
  • lab notebook
  • Ziploc bags
  • and instructions on how to notice our local biome (ahem....aka CM "nature study").
Measuring the first location.

The assignment was to study two different local locations. And, the assignment was also about learning to take measurements and make observations, practicing how to record data properly, and writing lab reports.

I thought it was funny when my daughter (whose assignment this study was; little bro and I were simply lab assistants) got to the part of the assignment when she had to list the plants in the selected area. With a glance around her, she rattled off a long list of plants by name.

She commented, "We won't find this same list in our second location by the river. Well, we'll find lady's thumb because that grows everywhere in this park."

I smiled that she took for granted that she knew all these plants and where they grew. She might not always appreciate the nature journaling we do, but I knew she knew these plants and habitats because she has spent time with them and has drawn them in her nature journal. The area around her wasn't filled "green plants and stuff," but individual, identifiable plants.

When she first read the biome assignment, she had no problem coming up with local places to study. She knows her neighborhood and the things that grow here. That's a CM education showing itself. (Not that nature study is exclusive to CM, of course, and not that knowing plant names is essential for an education.)

My daughter also commented while she was recording data that I would be happier if we were drawing in our journals instead of just making recordings. She was right!  

I admit that keeping a journal is far more interesting than making lab notes, though I suppose others might disagree. But I wonder if my daughter would find lab notes boring (she doesn't) if that were her only exposure to science study. Her journals and written narrations are full of her personality and the things she finds interesting. If science involved only filling in data tables, I wonder if she'd care as much as she does.

Measuring the second location.

It doesn't look like modern schoolwork to draw in a nature journal. It doesn't look like test prep. Drawing in the outdoors seems like a Victorian pastime for idle ladies and gentlemen, not a transferable skill in an indoor, fast-paced, screen-based world.

But, nature journals aren't just about the drawings. They are about:
  • sticking to a long-term project
  • making a project your own individual work
  • caring about presentation and accuracy
  • developing curiosity
  • working through a challenge and accepting mistakes (that's a big one!)
  • communicating what you've learned about the world
  • seeing that the world is bigger than yourself
  • enjoying personal progress. 
Not that you think about these lessons while drawing a crab-apple sprig, but I can see from a distance now that these are some of the lessons we've learned. Seems like good "prep" work to me. Plus, we can add the bonus lesson of nature study: making memories.

I doubt my children notice or appreciate how their CM background gives them a firm foundation. It doesn't matter if they notice now or not. It's their job to discover in their own time the route they have taken and to make their own conclusions about it. 

In the meantime, we make room in our lives for science textbooks and lab experiments. We're ready.

Today's gratitude: the gift of perspective that time gives.


To market, to market

A spot of color on a gray day.
Before getting out of bed this morning, I heard on the radio that it was a rainy, chilly day. What motivated me out of bed and out of the apartment was the lure of the fabulous oatmeal-raisin cookies at the Tuesday farmers' market in my neighborhood.

The joke was on me, I guess, because the vendor didn't make oatmeal-raisin cookies today. Oh, poor me, I had to settle for a walk-along apple pie.

My daughter is studying nutrition has a high-school elective this year. Actually, nutrition has been a life-long interest of hers, and even as a toddler, she loved to page through books about health and food. Today she set up an interview with the farmers' market manager. The manager agreed to meet next week to answer questions, though she also said, "I really don't know much about nutrition."

The foliage this year is strange. The hurricane blew through before I noticed much color, and it seemed that trees went directly from green to bare. A few days ago it snowed, yesterday was hot enough for short-sleeves, and today sends a wet chill to the bones.

When we arrive home from the farmers' market and I put my key into our door to unlock it, I say, "Home again, home again, jiggity jig." I keep waiting for the kids to tease me that I recite that nursery rhyme too often or to roll their eyes that I'm babying them, but the ritual has been going on for over a decade and still no protest.

To make up for some missing days of gratitude, I'll list a few things:
* Nursery rhymes that stick with you for life
* Farmers' market
* Autumn color
* Hot apple cider


First of the season

We were outside yesterday morning when it started to rain, and we were outside afternoon when it started to snow. Last evening, my husband and son were outside with the snow accumulated, and the kids and I were outside this morning as the snow melted away to slush and then to mush and then nothing at all.

The view on our morning walk today.

Day 8 Gratitude: I'm grateful for cloudy, cozy, snowy days, for being in them, and from coming inside from them.

(I skipped Day 7, but I'll quickly scribble down that I'm grateful for homeopathy and the way it soothed my cold and sore throat yesterday.)


Election day gratitude

It was easy to pick today's gratitude item. On election day, I feel grateful for the right to vote. No further comment necessary. You get the gratitude, I'm sure.
On our morning walk.

I walked to the poll this morning with the kids, but the line was out the door and down the block, and we kept walking. I went back later on my own, and the place was much less chaotic.

Tonight my teen and I watched the results come in. At the next presidential election, she will be old enough to vote. When I mentioned that to her, I think even she was surprised at how fast time is going. 

We added current events "formally" to her studies about a year or so ago, and tonight I saw her in a new light as we discussed the election, the candidates, the issues. She's turning into a young lady, and I'm grateful about that and a little sad too.

Day 6 Gratitude: Voting.


Walk it off

Today was one of those days.

Everything I did, I fumbled. Every thought I had was jumbled.

Lunch? Burnt.
Art project? Missing supplies.
Covering grammar with the kids today? Well, I guess it wouldn't be a stretch to say we covered interjections, but I really don't want to hear a narration of that lesson.

Not a Good Day.

Then, this evening, I had to take a walk. I didn't want to take a walk. I wanted to go to bed instead.and avoid the minimal effort of going outside on this "sure feels like winter" evening. But, it was after dark, and I had to walk my daughter's friend home after a visit.

And, as always happens whenever I take a walk, my mood lifted. Just like that. The day ended as a Good One.

Day 5: Grateful for a simple walk outdoors.

(When I put on my warm coat for the first time this season, I found a few bucks in the pocket. Whoohoo. I'm grateful for that surprise too.)



What the Sunday School kids made.

It's my turn to supervise Quiet Time at church.

During worship service, little kids may go to a classroom for quiet activities, and this month it's up to me to make that happen.

As an added bonus to the challenge of keeping kids quiet, this season the kids are meeting in a room that is directly above the sanctuary. The sound carries.

And, while the goal is to be quiet, the bigger goal is that we enjoy each other's company.

It's not fun for anyone, including me, if I have to say over and over again, "Please don't step so heavily, please don't stomp, please don't bang your chair, please don't drop that!, please don't drop that again, please talk without shouting, please cut the loud laughter, please don't move the table, oh why oh why did you wear those heavy boots today and please can't you tie them?"

Finding an activity that keeps the kids engaged and that is enjoyable for the teacher to implement is a Godsend. Really, it is.

Today's project worked for the group, and it happened to coincide with my November blog project about gratitude. The kids painted clothespins and a round piece of cardboard. Everybody wrote something they are thankful for on the clothespins and then clipped the pins to the board.

I think the wreath looks rather festive. To give credit, I found this project by an online search for crafts and looking at what others have done. I wish I had thought of it myself, but I didn't. (By the way, I used sponge-tipped paint, which avoided the mess of liquid paint and brushes. Easy clean-up! Quiet!)

For Day 4 of this gratitude project, I'm grateful for Quiet Things.