Shedding the Schedule Shackles

1Mama in the stocks
It’s that time of year when many home teachers feel overtaxed in balancing home schooling with holiday events and activities. Oak Meadow’s K-8 teacher, Michelle Menegaz, shares whimsical words on beating the over-scheduled blues. So read on… and don’t get shackled by your homeschool schedule!
Ever feel shackled by the stockade of your child’s schedule? Do you feel locked up by all the appointments and lessons and experiences you so lovingly planned? Has the sweet scent of the spicy and free autumn air been replaced by the smell of your car’s heater? Do you wonder if you have traded the freedom of homeschooling for the incarceration of enrichment? Are you becoming a prisoner of your own choices?
I have. I do. I am!
So, well, hmmmm…how interesting. What to do? You could just blog about it and present some answers you have no intention or ability to implement. You could revamp your entire curriculum, choose a different path, or just decide that you might as well send the kid to school since you are tied to the school schedule with all those after school lessons anyway. You could just accept it and carry on.
Or…you could try this. Slow down. I did not say give up your activities (though that would be the logical, but not pain-free choice) and stay home.
Just slow down. Take longer over the basics. Remember when parenting was about feeding, comforting, and wiping…lots and lots of wiping? Guess what – it still is. If you can find even one or two times a day to sink more deeply into cooking breakfast with your child at your side, or ponder the weather with your children as they careen around the kitchen, or wipe with purpose and pride while deftly handing your child a rag so he can wipe pridefully, too, you may find that time actually ssssstttttrrrrrretttttches a bit. Just a bit, but in that short sweet moment, you may catch a whiff of holiday spice. Breathe it in and savor it before you rush off to whatever is next. There is magic and power in that small piece of time, which can sweeten the rest of the day.
Do this as often as you remember, but not more.

Amazing Corn Mazes

1usamapmazeCorn (also known as maize) is amazing! It is one of the most versatile vegetables and was originally cultivated in Mexico over 7,000 years ago. According to the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University, the Europeans first discovered corn in 1492, when Christopher Columbus and his sailing crew discovered this new grain in Cuba. 
1corn cakesFresh corn on the cob is a summer favorite for many corn lovers; however, corn can also be enjoyed any time of the year in soups, salads, salsas, breads, muffins, fritters, pancakes and casseroles. It can be used as cornmeal, cornstarch, corn syrup, corn silk tea, corn oil, and popcorn. Did you know it is also used in glue, ethanol, whiskey, and penicillin? Even decorating with colored corn, creating cornhusk dolls, weaving cornhusk baskets, and making corncob toys can be fashionable artistic activities. You can find cornhusk craft projects throughout the Oak Meadow curriculum.
1corn-mazeIn the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, corn mazes became another featured aspect of corn usage. These popular configurations are currently found in every state in the US. The biggest maze in the country is the Richardson Adventure Farm, located in Spring Grove, Illinois.  Along with enjoying fall festivals and viewing the beautiful fall foliage, you might like to make plans for packing up a picnic and visiting a farm near you to enjoy some old fashioned family fun meandering through a corn maze. Here is a list of corn mazes for each state in the US.

Happy Fall and Happy Funtober!


Let us know!

Tell us about your favorite corn maze.

Hilary's Second Day of First Grade…

As many of us begin the new school year, we often reflect on the success (and the bumps) of the first few days/weeks. Some home teachers like to journal their thoughts as a keepsake of these special “first” days schooling their children. K-8 Oak Meadow teacher, Michelle Menegaz, did this on the second day of her daughter’s first grade school year. I hope her sharing inspires you to create your own journal or blog. 1mmenegaz
We had an impromptu Michaelmas (Michael and the Dragon battling in the heavens) celebration when rainy weather cancelled our wonderful homeschool first grade “crossing the bridge” celebration. Sigh. I need to tell you that very little of what I describe next was pre-planned. I had only thought ahead that the clothesline was straight and she could walk under it and that we would do some forms in her practice books. I think the spirit of the day just took over…
So, the next day on Michaelmas, only day 2 of school for us, my 6 and a half year old daughter and I played dragons under the clothesline as I hung up a few things. The concept in play was “the curve and the line.” She either walked a straight line under the clothesline or ran from one end to the other in a big curve – depending on whether the “dragon” (ME!) was sleeping with a straight tail or a curved tail. I used my arm as a tail in mime. If it was curved, it meant the dragon was spewing fire and she had to run in a big curve to avoid it. If it was straight, she could just walk under the line.
Then we discovered that the pusher poles for the line, made from saplings, were actually dragon pencils (!) and we drew our lines and curves on the dirt driveway, despite the gravel.

1111picNext we ran up to the young orchard pretending a bigger dragon was in pursuit, climbed a tree or two and checked out the different leaves of the different fruit trees. Mama dragon then told her the secret of Dragon Hill, crowned on top with the sapling arch we made for last year’s home school celebration. The secret was that if a dragon marches forcefully and in a very, very straight line right up the steep hill to the arch and goes through it, on the other side the dragon will be able to fly down the hill in large graceful curves…which is just what we did. (See the little dragon under the orange leafed tree with her wings spread wide?)
Then homeward to practice form drawing, collecting beautiful bits of autumn color on our way. The curves were dragons (in green crayon) and the lines were their roars. Hilary had a slightly hard time bringing the bottom of the curve around enough so I told her that some of these little baby dragons like to sleep with their nose and tail pressed right up against a log. I put my finger at the end of the paper for the log and she drew the curve from the top of my finger around and down to the bottom of it. She looks proud but a bit afraid those dragonettes might bite!

Next we made some only moderately successful gluten-free dragon bread following the story linked with Michael in the book, All Year Round by Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton, and Marije Rowling. Then, we went off to a riding lesson while a dear friend baked the bread at her house. During the waiting parts of the bread-making, Hilary made a beeswax dragon that lived under the bouquet of colored leaves next to the beeswax votive candle we had burning.
After the great riding lesson, (all about balance by the way), 1111111picwe met one more friend and headed up the big hill with the incredible view down the valley to make and fly kites and eat dragon bread – at least the parts the dog didn’t get into! 4 kids and three mamas. I followed instructions for a sled kite but I must say it just didn’t work well. I think homemade kites have to be very exact to fly right. The cheap boughten one with the smiling sun on it went up in an instant as they ran squealing down the hill pulling it aloft. I have never seen such pure glee, arms thrust into the air, mid-leap…laughter, adventure, trial and error, run-back-uphill-panting-and-do-it-again delight!
We stayed till dusk and raindrops began to fall, then headed home for grilled cheese dinner and a late bedtime; but what a day!
I realized that our dear wee first graders had indeed stood at the hilltop viewing the road before them, raced on ahead alone, faced a challenge and were headed over that bridge to their next journey of childhood. This was exactly what we had been trying to plan for a formal celebration, which is turns out we didn’t even need!

May the spirit move us always in such simple yet deep ways…


Summer Reading!

Throughout each grade level, Oak Meadow offers a wonderful supply of classics and other cherished books for you and your children to read throughout the school year. However, free reading should also be encouraged during the summer months. Do you need some summer reading ideas? Here’s a good reading list provided by Common Sense Media. This site also provides a section on Wonderful Wordless Books that offers a list of “wordless books” you might like to share with your children. They are perfect for using as story writing prompts, too.
1Summer-Reading-Image-2014The Bookworm for Younger Kids booklist for June is also available to peruse for good reading materials. However, if you would like to subscribe for each month’s group of booklists, you can sign up for free by visiting the Bookworm for Kids official website.



Strolling of the Heifers

Since 2002, Brattleboro, Vermont annually hosts the world-famous Strolling of the Heifers weekend festival that honors and celebrates family farmers, local food and rural life. In this year of 2015, it will be held on June 5 – 7. Once again, Oak Meadow will be participating in the Strolling of the Heifers festivities this year. If you live in or near Brattleboro, or if you will be visiting the area, we would love for you to join us! It is an eventful activity that all Oak Meadow families, friends, and supporters are welcome to attend and enjoy a festive time with the Oak Meadow staff and teachers, along with other home schooled families.
Here are the two main events that include Oak Meadow participation:
Friday, June 5, 5-8pm
Bubble wand making activity at the Oak Meadow table in front of Brooks House.
Saturday, June 6, 9:30 to approximately 11am
March in the parade with Oak Meadow! We’ll be towing wagons with a bubble machine and buckets of soapsuds. Along the way we will be using our new bubble wands and leaving a sky full of little and big bubbles. We will also be carrying signs and our new Oak Meadow banner, waving streamers, and whooping it up. Our theme: DON’T LEARN IN A BUBBLE.
For the parade, we will meet at the Church Building parking lot on Flat Street by 9:30am. If you have an Oak Meadow t-shirt, remember to wear it for the parade. Otherwise, you can just wear something colorful. We hope you can join us!
calf with flowers

Springtime Storybooks and Expressive Activities

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

by Lorie Hill

March roars in like a lion

So fierce,

The wind so cold,

It seems to pierce.

The month rolls on

And spring draws near,

And March goes out

Like a lamb so dear.

Have you ever heard the saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb?” This expression describes the winds that often blow in late winter and early spring. In addition to your circle time activities, your children might find it enjoyable to roar like a lion of wind, and then be like a breeze that blows as gentle as a lamb.
You could also include the following finger play activity:

Five little children one March day (hold up five fingers)

Went for a walk just this way. (march in place)

The wind blew hard and the wind blew strong (wave arms above head)

As the five little children marched along. (march in place)

It turned those children around in the street (twirl around)

Then it blew each one right off their feet! (tumble down)

ArrivalOfSpring-smAsk your children how the weather changes in spring. In my area, spring weather usually means windy days and lots of rain showers. The rain brings flowers into bloom, so we start looking for the new shoots of green. The breezy days are the best for a highflying kite, too! Ah, as I look at the window to a foot of snow on the ground, I can already imagine the smell of fresh spring air and feel the warmth from the sun. After a long winter, it’s refreshing and rejuvenating imagery!

Below you will find a thematic early elementary book list for spring. Most of these books may be found at your local public library. You can even turn it into a treasure hunt as your children try to search for the titles to these books on the shelves.
Waiting-For-Spring Stories by Bethany Roberts
Dandelion Adventures by L. Patricia Kite
It’s Spring! by Linda Glaser
My Spring Robin by Anne Rockwell
Spring is Here by Lois Lenski
The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons
The Spring Equinox by Ellen Jackson
“The Sun and the WInd” – an Aesop’s Fable
Story of the Root Children by Sibylie Von Olfers
The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow
Ollie's ski tripFor those of you who are still encountering the more wintry side of spring, I highly recommend reading Elsa Beskow’s book, Ollie’s Ski Trip. It’s a delightful and imaginative picture book that involves Jack Frost, King Winter, Mrs. Thaw and Lady Spring. It’s a story that will be enjoyed by all!
Last but not least, in honor of the famous children’s writer and illustrator, Dr. Seuss, who was born on March 2, 1904, there must be made mention of the Dr. Seuss/Cat in the Hat color plus stencil book, Oh, the Things Spring Bring! Yes! May we all relish in the thoughts of the things that spring will bring!

Make-It-Yourself Scratch Board

1d16a0a28745d1a0d94a7cd4673b3381cOn the coldest days of the winter season, when inclement weather keeps us inside, it’s necessary to find more indoor activities that encourage self-expression. One of my favorite artistic projects during this time of year is to make a scratch board.
1Scratchboard2-by-Fred-MarinInstead of creating a picture with pen and ink (or with crayons and colored pencils) on white paper, you can create a scratch board by making white lines on black paper. Scratch boards are heavy sheets of paper covered with two coats of paint: first a solid white layer, then on top of that, a solid black. You scratch into the black with a sharp point and “draw” crisp white lines into the black background. Your scratch board drawing is a reverse of your usual drawings, and it’s great fun!
White drawing paper
India Ink
A bit of soap
A scratching tool, such as a bent paper clip or a nail
1. Color a thick layer of white crayon all over your drawing paper.
2. Brush a coat of India ink over the crayon. A bit of soap added to the paintbrush helps the ink stick to the waxy crayon. Cover the crayon completely with a solid layer of black.
3. Let the ink dry overnight.
4. Scratch a drawing into the black ink. The crayon below the black shows through.
If you wish to make a rainbow scratch board, color with many different crayons in a bright rainbow pattern before inking your scratchboard. Your scratch art will be multicolored!

February 2nd is Groundhog Day!

Today is the traditional Groundhog Day that arrives every year on February 2nd. It began as a European tradition that was brought to the United States in the 1880’s. It has been celebrated every year since then! How is the weather in your area today? It is sunny or cloudy? Will spring come early or late? Now, let’s do some Monday Magic Math with a calendar. Whether we have six more weeks of winter or six more weeks until spring, what month of the year and what day of the week is spring predicted to arrive?
12359728519_763ca15a4c_zIn Oak Meadow’s second grade course book, science lesson 13 (with the focus on animal characteristics) suggests making a card game to teach children about familiar animals. On one side of the card, the student writes a question about a particular animal’s character qualities. The name of the animal is written and illustrated on the other side of the card. Since the groundhog is not included in the science lesson’s list of animals, you could add a new card for the groundhog with questions, such as: What animal is also known as the land-beaver, marmot, whistle-pig or woodchuck? or What mammal hibernates in the winter and is famously known as the prognosticator or weather forecaster? 
1Groundhog-Predicts-Six-More-Weeks-of-Winter-it-Shall-BeTo learn more about the history of this furry rodent, CBS news offers a wealth of information in the article, Groundhog Day Tradition Casts a Shadow Back to Medieval Europe. It includes a “Groundhog Day Expert” quiz and a “Fun Facts Interactive”. Canadians also celebrate Groundhog Day with their special furry friend, named Wiarton Willie. I discovered a delightful National Geographic Kids production video on Kids Love Groundhog Day that you and your family might enjoy.

Happy Groundhog Day!


10 Ways to Keep the Holidays Simple

For many of us, December is a month of holiday planning, activities, and celebration. Even outside of our own family’s traditions, there is a bustle all around that can sweep us away while we do our best to keep ourselves and our children grounded. How can we resist the pull of the holiday frenzy that surrounds us? How can we help our families enjoy the simple joys of the holidays even while there are so many complicated distractions competing for everyone’s energy and attention?

1. Focus on the traditions you love most. If you could only choose a few traditions to honor, what would they be? Ask everyone in the family what few things they most enjoy at the holidays. Come up with a list of “essentials” particular to your family. Make sure your own wants and needs are taken into account, too. And then let go of the traditions and opportunities that feel less central. Keep your traditions within your means—time, money, energy.

2. Plan ahead where possible. Some people love a last-minute flurry of shopping, baking, crafting, and wrapping. Others find it overwhelming. Think ahead and plan to do what works best for you and yours. If you are reading this when the holidays are already underway, take notes for next year so you’ll remember what worked best and what you wish had been different about the way things flowed this year.

3. Keep expectations realistic. This goes for both parents and children. Remember that your child will follow your lead, even if it seems that outside pressures are competing mightily for their attention. “In our family we do it this way…” Those are powerful words.

4. Account for varied social needs. There are always abundant social opportunities at the holidays, and there is more pressure than at other times of year to participate in such things. Remember that not all family members have the same capacity for social engagement. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What about your children? Do some of you crave crowds and excitement while others prefer to hide behind a good book at home? Seek balance; everyone’s needs are important.

5. Value simple gifts. If your children are old enough to participate in gift-giving, encourage them to make gifts with their hands and from their hearts. Don’t worry about setting them up with complicated crafts, and don’t distract them from the process of creation by focusing on the finished product. Simple is fine. Homegrown gifts, especially those made by children, can be the most treasured gifts received by loving friends and relatives. Hand-decorated cards, bits of made-up poetry, coupons for helpful things they can do themselves, framed drawings, photos, bits of colorful handwork — these can make lovely and much appreciated gifts, enjoyed by both the maker and the recipient.

6. Cultivate appreciation. Pause periodically for moments of gratitude, and invite your children to join you. Voice your appreciation for the efforts of others, no matter how small. Encourage your child to find reasons to thank others. There are many ways to show appreciation, so if thank-you notes stress you out, model other ways. Appreciation helps us feel good about the extra work we put in around the holidays, and hearing it from our children helps keep us going during this potentially depleting time of year.

7. Preserve routines. Honor the normal rhythms of your home. Even while you weave holiday fun into your schedule, keep the basic structure of your day intact where you can. It is comforting to children to have a familiar routine, and comfort helps to keep stress levels down. Make sure to plan some down time and time for unstructured play, as well as some restorative time for you, the parent.

8. Capitalize on flexibility. For most families, homeschooling allows for extra flexibility. Plan outings in the mornings when most children are in school and adults at work. The roads are less busy and the stores and sidewalks are less full. If travel is part of your tradition, plan it for times when others are not likely to be traveling.

9. Give yourself comfort and joy. Make self-care a high priority. Eat well, stay hydrated, get enough rest. Take quiet moments for reflection — a cup of peppermint tea, a walk in the crisp outdoors. Light a candle and play soft music to help center and calm everyone in the family. For many of us, the holiday season tends to coincide with winter illness season. Plan plenty of unscheduled time at home for everyone to relax, and cancel less critical activities if you find you are starting to feel run down. Take preventive measures and care for yourself as lovingly as you do your children.

10. Make space for recovery. Once the holidays are over, it can feel like everything has suddenly come to a full stop. Plan some extra down time in the days following your biggest celebration to allow yourself and your children to recover. Even happy, wonderful, exciting stress is still stress. Take a break and restore your energy so that you’re ready to start the new year with full attention and commitment.

When in doubt, keep it simple! Happy holidays.

Homegrown Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner, and with it comes a host of modern traditions and expectations that are exciting for some but may not be a good fit for all families. Creating wholesome seasonal traditions for our children can sometimes be challenging in this day and age. But with thought and care, it can be done.
There are many reasons why families might not choose to participate in trick-or-treating or other Halloween traditions. Some children are easily scared by Halloween imagery. Some families have religious or philosophical reasons to forego Halloween. Some children must avoid sugar or other ingredients present in candy traditionally given to trick-or-treaters. Some parents object to the act of collecting candy from neighbors. Some families are offended by the commercial twist on this holiday. Some live in locations where neighbors are scarce or unknown, and in some areas it’s not safe to go door-to-door.
For some families, foregoing Halloween altogether is the right solution. But some of us have a nostalgic attachment to Halloween that we’d like to share with our children in some way. The turning of the seasons from summer to fall, the shortening of days, the arrival of chill air, the falling leaves, and the enticing harvest colors invite us to celebrate this special time of year.
One possibility is to host an old-fashioned seasonal party at home for family, friends, and fellow homeschoolers. My children and I kept this tradition for a number of years, and it held the lure of trick-or-treating at bay until a time in our family’s growth when that felt appropriate.
Ask each family to bring something yummy (preferably homemade or homegrown) for a harvest potluck table. Apples, cider, corn muffins, pumpkin bread, popcorn… A simmering pot of stew or chili on the stove can round things out if your party happens to be around lunch or dinner time.
Invite your guests, young and old, to come dressed in not-too-scary costumes. Those who need help might borrow from your dress-up bin if it’s placed in plain sight. An adult might offer face-painting. Start off the party with a festive “costume parade” and the opportunity for each participant to tell about their costume if they wish.
My children enjoyed making crafts and decorating the house in advance of the party. With a simple color theme — orange and black — anything they chose to make fit right in. We also played our favorite Wee Sing Halloween recording in the background, and it has remained a nostalgic seasonal favorite.
Offer a generous pile of seasonally themed craft supplies and simple ideas. Orange paper pre-cut into pumpkin shapes can become decorated “jack-o-lanterns,”
black cardstock can be made into bats, black pipe cleaners can become friendly spiders.
A basket of mini pumpkins and gourds can be beautifully decorated with black beeswax crayons. Orange, yellow, brown, and black construction paper and crayons, scissors and glue, and other open-ended supplies can become whatever little imaginations fancy.
Prepare a number of old-fashioned games for those who want to participate. Keep the emphasis on the fun and the competition gentle.
Here are some ideas for games that have worked well over the years:

  • bobbing for apples: We found that soft apples such as Macintosh work best for this. If your crowd has a low tolerance for potential germ transmission, this may not be an appropriate game, but for those who find it acceptable, it sure is fun!
  • pin the tail on the cat: (nose on the jack-o-lantern? branch on the tree?) There are many possible options for this game. Create a poster with an incomplete picture of something (such as a cat missing its tail), and make up many loose identical tails. Have each player write their names on them). Stick a piece of tape on each tail. Blindfold the player (“tail” in hand) and point them toward the poster. See whose piece gets stuck the closest to its target! (Blindfolded older players can be turned around gently a few times before setting off toward the target.)
  • sack race: We got burlap sacks free from our local coffee roaster, but pillowcases work well, too. Set up start and finish lines using ropes. Participants climb into a sack and hop from start to finish. Usually at least some of the players fall over and hilarious laughing ensues!
  • three-legged race: Use the same start/finish lines as the sack race. Use playsilks or other soft cloths for tying teammates’ legs together so that two people have “three” legs. Teams must run from start to finish as quickly as they can. As with the sack race, there is often great fun when teams lose their balance!
  • spoon relay race: We found googly eyeballs to use instead of hard-boiled eggs, but anything spoon-sized that is ball-shaped or egg-shaped will do! Team members should divide themselves between the start and finish lines. Each team gets a spoon and a ball (or egg/eye) to balance on it while they walk or run toward the finish line. When the first team member reaches the finish line, they hand the spoon to the next member, who heads back toward the start line. Try not to let the egg/ball/eye fall off the spoon! If it does, pick it up and keep going.
  • doughnuts on strings: Hang plain or cider doughnuts on string from the misc-Halloweenlow-hanging branch of a tree. Place them at varying heights based on the sizes of the participants. (Hint: Hang only one doughnut per person.) Ask each player to stand in front of their doughnut, hold their hands behind their back, and on the count of “ready, set, go!” try to eat it using just their mouth. Speed can vary; everyone wins a doughnut!
  • mummy wrap: This is a great game for groups with a wide range of ages. Form teams so that ages are fairly represented across the teams and olders can help the youngers. Each team gets a roll of toilet paper and chooses one person to be their mummy. Each team must wrap their mummy completely with toilet paper; first team to finish wins.
  • fishing-for-fortunes: Create a fishing pole from a dowel or twig, string, and a magnet tied at the end of the string. Make up strips of paper with happy fortunes written on them; curl them up and attach a paper clip to each one. Players dip the fishing pole into the bowl. When the magnet firmly attracts a paper clip, they pull it out and read their “catch”!

All of these games are appropriate for a wide range of ages, and parents or older children can help the younger ones. In most cases our parties shifted from games and snacks toward running around the yard shrieking and laughing. A bonfire would be a great addition if space and safety considerations allowed.
My children and those who attended our homegrown Halloween parties have fond memories and stories of the fun they had. What are your family’s homegrown traditions around Halloween? Do you have any suggestions to add?