Life On The Park – February

“Keep your faith in beautiful things;
in the sun when it is hidden,
in the Spring when it is gone.”
–  Roy R. Gibson

February is kind enough to bring sweet whispers of spring; hope in the form of snow drops and aconites bobbing their heads in the late winter winds and rains.

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The park is still dark, despite glimmers of sunshine we’re still walking under cloudy skies and in cold temperatures but it hasn’t stopped the natural world moving forward like it always does so faithfully.

The slightly lighter mornings have beckoned me outside a little earlier. One morning I took a slow stroll by the river and through the woods to be greeted by a beautiful mistle thrush guarding her territory as a flock of green finches chatted loudly in the trees above. I have to admit I gasped and stood watching for sometime, they seemed beautifully unaware of of my presence – or just knew I was a friend (smile).

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This month we’ve witnessed life in pairs; two robins in the gardens, two squirrels stealing from my bird feeders, the male and female great tit flitting around the front of the house along with Mr. and Mrs Blackbird and we were strangely delighted to watch two drakes fighting for the same duck on the river; we’re not sure who won!

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One evening we miraculously managed to get our whole family out for a walk together with our dog, Eli – we all stood in awe listening and watching the great spotted woodpecker knocking for attention on one of the trees above us, wonderfully choosing his tree in our regular tramping ground.

The catkins are peeping out and fluffing up nicely, a lovely sign of spring being just around the corner when we’re still getting snow forecasts on our weather apps!

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Great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits and cute stripy headed coal tits are regular visitors to our feeders at the front on the house – we still (quietly) squeal with delight and grab the camera when they’re tucking into our seeds and peanuts.

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The greenery of spring bulbs are rearing their lolloping leaves amongst the snowdrops, the crocus are spreading colourfully across the grassy park hills and the pathways are brightening up beautifully.

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I’m learning to lean into the lingering winter but my heart is definitely longing for spring.

Blog audio recording:

Life On The Park – January

Hazel Catkins

“Chill airs and wintry winds! My ear has grown familiar with your song; I hear it in the opening year, – I listen and it cheers me long.”

‘Woods in winter’ – Longfellow

It’s almost one year since we put our house on the market and our year of major transition began; if you’ve stepped in the door of our new home, ‘Rehoboth’, you will have heard the story of God’s provision and our overflowing gratitude for this place of space He has given us.

He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” Gen 26:22

Our 1930’s extended English semi-detached home is set right on a city park; as I write I can see the squirrel attempting entry into my bird feeders as the long-tailed tits look on from a nearby tree wishing him away. The trees are waving their bare tops into a dark wintry sky and children are beginning to make their way through the park to their homes after a day at school.

We’ve lived in this home three out of the four seasons of the year and we’re excited to see spring explode from our doorstep.

So, here marks the beginning of a twelve-part series; I want to take you on an exploration of Life On The Park where I’ll journal what we see, hear and experience each month of the year. Are you in?

January

(scroll down for the audio recording, listen whilst you read!)

The darkness can be pretty overwhelming; really, apparently most of us living here in the UK are majorly deficient in vitamin D and I can see why. We really don’t see the sun; oh sure it gets light, but for days on end as the light comes up the clouds entirely cover the wide open sky and it’s as grey as you imagine when reading about the ‘menacing moors’ in ‘Wuthering Heights’.

The sky-line across the park is layered with varying shades of grey, brown and slightly orange bare trees; apart from the handful of evergreens in my front garden the tree-line is a scattering of charcoal-like spindly statues.

The gulls fly low, gather most mornings to swoop and squawk over the nearest field. The rose-ringed parakeets have stayed the winter and make their presence known loudly at times; despite their tropical origin, the parakeets are fully able to cope with the cold British winters, especially in suburban parks where food supply is more reliable.

The river is full and flowing fast due to the winter rainfall; you can hardly see the stepping stones my children love to wade through when I have enough energy to deal with wet clothes or bedraggled children!

Over the first few days of January we were visited by the impact of ‘hurricane Eleanor’; I was awoken by what sounded like rocks being thrown at our window and wind howling through any crack it could find. As the hailstones thumped against our window, thunder and lightning exploded right above our home; the room lit up blue but within a few dramatic moments the storm moved across the park and on to better things!

On one afternoon walk last week I was delighted to find the hazel tree had a beautiful display of male catkins shaking in the wind for our pleasure; the pink, star-like females are soon to follow winning first place in our calendar of firsts!

Through the frost and fog the birds are daily making their way to our feeders; long-tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, sparrows, and robins frequent the feeders whilst Mr. and Mrs blackbird along with their friend the song thrush graze on the seed and fruit I scatter on the ground.

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The collared doves and pigeons clumsily gather in our back garden pecking at the remains of the day from the bird-table.

Our nature highlight for January, albeit gruesome, was our visit from a sparrowhawk whilst he devoured a small bird he obviously spotted on the Boden bird table. My children and I looked on from the school room window to see him pluck the bird bare then polished him off peck by peck. It wasn’t the most pleasant of sights but it was an incredible learning experience!

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Shoots are beginning to appear but their identity still remains a secret; rumour has it the snowdrops are about to make an appearance in the park – I’m yet to spot them but I’ll keep you posted.

It’s a frog’s life!

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“‘Is the spring coming?’ he said. ‘What is it like?’ …
‘It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth.’”
—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The picture above was the scene that met us last week as we gathered with our friends for our weekly homeschool sports session; as my older children were lost in dodge ball I took a stroll over to the moat of the old castle ruins with my younger children and a few of their friends. The water is still and teaming with life; in a seemingly small, inner city park we’ve witnessed so much beauty through the changing seasons and this day was no different.

Before reaching the dense area of water we could hear the day time croaking and creaking from the army of frogs gathered; I can only imagine how loud and intense the evening sounds must be. The sheer amount of frogs congregated in one area was astonishing; they were moving amongst each other; climbing, nudging, tumbling, competing and yes, mounting – or as many of the children that day beautifully commented, they were ‘hugging’.

Collections of spawn were beginning to form and congeal around these incredible creatures; some drifted towards the bank but it also moved along as the frogs shifted in the water. As the children disappeared to play one by one I was left mesmerised by God’s awesome creative genius and knew I had to come back to photograph the amphibians in greater detail.

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The following day, around the same time my youngest daughter and I returned to the same spot to be met with more than double the amount of frog spawn – this army were hard at work.

We watched quietly, listened to the sounds and took photos with our eyes and camera of these sacred moments of life from the water below us.

We don’t just merely study ponds, water, movement and life; may these late winter observations bring refreshment to our souls and respect for God’s earth and creation. Let’s never think we’ve ‘seen it all before’, may we absorb our observations like a new day, a beautiful sunrise or a moment of reprise in our day to say ‘thank you’ and create a lasting memory.

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The frog by nature is both damp and cold,
Her mouth is large, her belly much will hold;
She sits somewhat ascending, loves to be
Croaking in gardens, though unpleasantly.

John Bunyan

We love these beautiful stories by Angela Sheehan, try to get your hands on a copy of ‘The Frog‘ – a wonderful living story of a frogs life!

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To Walk And To Wonder – Words & Pictures

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Every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself – Charlotte Mason

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In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt ― Margaret Atwood

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“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”
― George Gordon Byron

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“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”  ― Rachel Carson

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“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” ― Vincent van Gogh

Why We Nature Journal

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As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb – Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, p. 54)

Nature study is such a central part of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, allowing our children to be free to experience the great outdoors on a regular basis, to breathe in God’s creation and makes connections of their own is foundational to the methods we use.

Keeping a nature journal or diary is a wonderful way to help our children (and ourselves) deepen the connection with what they have seen and experienced out-of-doors. Nature journaling doesn’t require us to have a degree in fine art, a perfect knowledge of all things in nature or the most expensive tools and paints; nature journaling requires a little bit of time, attention and a lot of heart.

The Four R’s Of Nature Journaling 

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We journal to:

REFLECT

Reflecting is a form of asking questions of what we’ve seen and the connections we’ve made; we can make lists of what we’ve observed, copy out sections of poetry or prose that relate to our observations or a short entry on how our time out-of-doors made us feel. Nature study is not a mere page in a science book describing the facts of another living being, nature study is a beautiful opportunity for us to make a connection for life with part of God’s creation.

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RECORD

Nature study, especially for our younger children is a wonderful foundation for all scientific study and research. Our journaling process can be the beginnings of learning about the parts of a flower, the life cycle of a frog or the fascinating phases of the moon. Allow your children to develop their own style, fill their pages with wonder and not get too perfectionist about it!

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RESPOND

Our connections with God’s creation can cause a physical, emotional or spiritual reaction (or all three); my heart leaps with joy when I see a baby lamb skip, a spring crocus pushing up through the hard winter ground or the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Blackbird busy in my yard building their nest. Our journal can mark our emotions through the seasons, bring joy and spark gratitude.

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REMEMBER

Sketching, tracing, copying, writing or even sticking magazine pictures in our journals mark a seasonal journey of what we’ve observed through the year. What a wonderful, memorable collection of words and images to look back on through the years of our precious lives and our children’s education at home.

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Keeping a nature journal has been part of the rhythm of our home educating for the past 8 years but more recently it has become a part of my own personal life; my creative expression as a mother and educator but most importantly as a lover and appreciator of God’s creation.

You can follow my photo journal here on Instagram

 

 

 

 

Ten Top Tips For Winning With Nature Study

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An environment-based education movement–at all levels of education–will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world ― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

There are no ‘rules’ when it comes to nature study so you can relax now mama! Charlotte Mason painted a picture through her philosophy, of freedom to learn, education for the heart, mind and soul as well as a wonderful foundation for a whole measure of academic connections that come from ‘merely’ being outside, observing and paying attention.

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If you haven’t seen it yet, go check out my Periscope broadcasts on nature study, you can watch the replays on Katch.me/leahvboden.

Although Miss Mason especially advised mothers with young children to be outside 4 -5 hours a day (I know…when does the laundry get done right?!), we have to bring her philosophy (a guiding principle) into our 21st century lives and learning. I like to frame the facilitation of nature study in our home around these three guidelines:

  1. Be convinced that being outdoors is vital to their education and character.
  2. Create a daily rhythm which includes it
  3. Instruct, let them BE in nature, then reflect when you get home…not too much talking! 

It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation – Charlotte Mason

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Ten Top Tips

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  1. Put down the nature study books and just get outside!
  2. Start with your garden or backyard – can your children name the trees and flowers, bird and insects that appear in your space everyday?
  3. Be prepared – nothing worse than being 5 minutes into your walk when your 5-year-old starts complaining of cold feet and being hungry! Wear wool socks, wellies, bring a backpack with snacks, bring little bags so your children can collect ‘treasures’.
  4. Take LOTS of photos – you can reflect when you get home
  5. As you’re reflecting on your walk make a list of sensory experiences; ask your children (and write down) what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted (!) and felt.
  6. DON’T SWEAT THE SKETCH! For some children It takes time to develop a passion and skills to draw ‘what they saw’ – don’t cry over their wrong use of paints or their incessant desire to paint trees blue! Check out my friend Lynn’s post on nature journaling if you want to take steps towards bettering what you do…but take your time!
  7. You have my full permission to use tracing paper! Taking steps towards drawing from nature requires confidence and enjoyment. If you have children who breakdown over the thought of sketching, give them a beautiful nature book, a pencil and some tracing paper and let them go to town…and watch the smile appear back on their face (and yours)! I encourage my children to free-draw one of their traced pictures at the end of the week to help move them forward, go on – give it a go!
  8. Create a nature table, cupboard, tray or small space in your home or homeschool space to display the treasures from nature that your children bring home – remember, you’re creating an atmosphere!
  9. Be intentional. We walk our dog everyday and take a family walk on a Saturday afternoon, but once a week I take my children on an ‘intentional’ nature walk where I give instruction, then let them be in nature, then we reflect when we get home.
  10. Don’t be a slave to the nature study resources or books; make them work for you, your family and your part of the world. Have an array of choices which you can dip in and out of when you spot birds in your garden, trees on your walk or insects crawling along the wall in your yard!

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Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life – Charlotte Mason

 

Winter Poetry

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Out of the bosom of the Air
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poetry can be,  without a doubt, daily delectable soul food but so many of us archive it in the school classroom ‘box’ in our brain alongside uncomfortable uniforms (in the UK anyway) and long days in a cold classroom.

Shaping our home education around Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education has not only brought to my attention the importance of poetry in my children’s lives but also in mine. I read at least one poem a day for pure enjoyment; my older children write a long one out over a week for their copy work and we use lots of beautiful poetry alongside our nature study.

I  love seasonal poetry; it can inspire us in any season, but I think we particularly need it during these long, dark days! So here are 10 of my favourites for the winter season, feel free to add your own in the comments or on the Facebook page.

Ten Of My Favourite Winter Poems:

Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind – Poem by William Shakespeare

Snow-Flakes. (Birds Of Passage. Flight The Second) – Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Winter-Time – Poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Sky Is Low, The Clouds Are Mean – Poem by Emily Dickinson

January – Poem by John Updike

Woods in Winter – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

First Snow – Mary Oliver

Snow and Ice Poems – Roger McGough

Winter Stores – Charlotte Bronte

The Snowman – Wallace Stevens

 

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity – William Wordsworth

 

5 Tips For Winter Nature Study

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Lichen: a simple slow-growing plant which typically forms a low crust-like, leaf-like, or branching growth on rocks, walls, and trees

An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing – Charlotte Mason

Winter can be the most challenging time to get outside. In my early days of using the Charlotte Mason method we would revert to living nature study books in the warmth of my home more than heading out and observing it for ourselves. This was mainly due to my limited understanding of what was going on in nature in winter and my lazy, sluggish winter mode of not wanting to wrap babies up in a billion layers so they didn’t freeze whilst we hugged bare trees!!

Now, with slightly older children, warmer coats and a growing enthusiasm for the great outdoors I think winter nature study is becoming a favourite of mine.

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So, if you’re struggling to pull on your boots and head outside here are a few tips to get you mama’s motivated!

5 Tips For Winter Nature Study

  1. Check the weather and try plan ahead of time; if you can see a clear day coming cancel usual  ‘lessons’ and spend a good few hours roaming the countryside (with a flask of hot chocolate!).
  2. Wear the right clothes; there’s nothing more frustrating than your 5-year-old crying 10 minutes into the walk “I’m cold, I can’t feel my toes”. I highly recommend layers, hats & gloves and definitely a couple of pairs of wool socks.
  3. Do your research before you go so you know what to look for; beauty isn’t so obvious in winter but it’s definitely there. It’s a good idea to give your children a ‘heads up’ of what you’re looking out for as well as their own general observations.
  4. Take photos so you can sketch later – it’s hard to draw when your hands are cold! I print out pictures of our snaps the next day for the children to re-live and sketch in their journals.
  5. Visit places where you might visit in the spring/summer so your children can observe and appreciate the seasonal differences. I tend to go to 2 or 3 places over and over again so we can closely observe the change in seasons, learn the familiar trees and flowers and also the children get to learn the routes!

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5 Things To Look For In Winter

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  1. Moss, fungus and lichen – so beautiful, colourful and textured; often hidden so dig deep in the woods.
  2. Nibbled nuts and pinecones; signs of birds and squirrels enjoying their winter diet. Observe which trees you found them under.
  3. Space; when there are no leaves on the trees, woods and forests always seem much bigger; you can see the sky and through the trees for miles ahead.
  4. Tree shapes. Again, when the trees are bare you can clearly see their shape and structure – simple outline pencil sketches of these are a great way to journal this winter observation.
  5. Sound. Stand still and quiet in the middle of the woods or countryside area and count how many different sounds you can hear. It’s quite a discipline for little children but worth the try!

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Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating, there is really no such things as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather – John Ruskin

January – A Winter Walk

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It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation – Charlotte Mason

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January is here, with eyes that keenly glow, A frost-mailed warrior striding a shadowy steed of snow –  Edgar Fawcett

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January is the quietest month in the garden, but just because it looks quiet doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.  The soil, open to the sky, absorbs the pure rainfall while microorganisms convert tilled-under fodder into usable nutrients for the next crop of plants.  The feasting earthworms tunnel along, aerating the soil and preparing it to welcome the seeds and bare roots to come –  Rosalie Muller Wright

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Bare branches of each tree
on this chilly January morn
look so cold so forlorn.
Gray skies dip ever so low
left from yesterday’s dusting of snow.
Yet in the heart of each tree
waiting for each who wait to see
new life as warm sun and breeze will blow,
like magic, unlock springs sap to flow,
buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow
–  Nelda Hartmann

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Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life – Charlotte Mason

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