There’s no question those of us with young ones are getting the squeeze right now. I’ve chatted with many friends, neighbors and family members and there is no envy for being locked up with terrorists… I mean toddlers. At least older kids are generally able to self-entertain as long as WiFi exists but not these super-mobile, super-opinionated and super-energetic threenagers in my house. Still, this time also makes me eternally grateful for my twins who have each other to play with and to torment endlessly.
I don’t know about you but I’m hearing a lot of buzz about the pressures of homeschooling. In my world that’s not so much about homework and overseeing curriculum as it is engaging my littles and helping them to explore and learn. There’s a level of intentionality implied, a responsibility to serve up environments or activities for them to partake in. Also, it is a self-preservation tactic to try to guide the 3 year old mini-hurricanes that share this home.
Now, if you’ve read my other content you’ll know that I’m all for a dose of healthy boredom (Shelter In Place And Slow Your Roll, The Art Of Boredom: Embracing Summertime) . Still, that’s in the context of nature or a play-safe environment. Any parent knows that boredom inside the house will result in total destruction faster than I can say “lickety split.” The endless cleaning is killing my soul.
If you’re seeking for a fresh batch of ideas to engage your little ones, here are some I have to share that definitely qualify as organic homeschooling because they contribute to the development of mindful, inquisitive beings and are derived from exploring the simpler things. Also, many of them keep on giving past the initial experience and continually reignite the interest of little ones and big ones alike. As a mom I can officially say, “Yes please!”
Gardening in our household has officially been dubbed “Planting Kisses.” It all started with this cute little board book, Plant A Kiss.
And then we grabbed the nobly-intentioned Anywhere Farm from our local library. PS. The Santa Barbara local library is delivering books right now, in addition to hosting weekly book readings for littles. (Pictures from here)
Gardening with kids does not have to be grand! Have a spare windowstill or a nice sunny spot? Perhaps some flower pots or coffee mugs with broken handles? What about spare seeds lying around? Amazon can ship you any kind you want. Better yet, making squash for dinner anytime soon? Take a few seeds from hollowing out the innards and plant those instead. The way I see it, the more we can help our children learn about full life cycles, the better.
Our kiddos love to water those pots a little each day and are thrilled when each new sprout pushes through. We lined up a windowsill herb garden so the next step of incorporating these into food will be yet another discovery through their eyes of wonder. And now we have the ritual of whenever we plant something new, we blow it a kiss.
If you are feeling energetic and have the space go full bore with a proper garden. My husband built these with supplies from Home Depot.
We recently moved them from the backyard where they were being decimated by the chickens, to the front yard where we’ve enjoyed meeting new neighbors and socializing with passerbys while cultivating our crops. It has been a blessing to feel even more engaged with our neighborhood from the safety of our front yard. I can’t wait to pick zucchini with Knox and Camilla and make our favorite Zucchini Bread, a la Farm to Table. Even better, the kiddos love to check for weeds spouting that they can pull. Thumbs up from mom and dad! If you are trying to figure out how to get started here is a great article: First Garden – What To Grow and When To Start.
For Easter we made these adorable little bunny pots with crafts and instructions from Michaels (curbside pickup) although these would be fun any time of year and the instructions could easily be modified to make other animals. I’m thinking pipe cleaner for an elephant nose next?
Ok, maybe we’re not quite I Madonnari caliber over here but there is something crazy therapeutic about getting focused with chalk art. We did a lot of chalk art when the babes were younger and then somehow this oldie but goodie activity got forgotten about. It’s almost so basic it gets overlooked.
I’m a fan of adult coloring books and this has the same vibe to it except I get to zen out when I’m actually with my kids. Get down with creativity, soak up the sunshine and a quick sketch of hopscotch is a welcome release for energy with a lot of practice counting! By decorating the front drive we get to say hello to passerbys and hopefully provide a little cheer to our community. Plus, it’s one of those activities that is only limited by your imagination.
There’s a very good reason animals are welcomed into environments needing every lick of love and cuddle of compassion they can offer: because it works! Not only are animals beautiful and affectionate but they are welcome listeners to any book you want to read them, happy eaters to food you like to share, often great conversationalists and generally pretty non-judgmental of your “I haven’t changed out of pajamas for the last few weeks or brushed my hair” exquisite style.
Check out your neighborhood: Long before we had pets of our own visiting the neighborhood animals was a favorite pastime. First, we’d go by the house who had thoughtfully cut out and screened off look-throughs in their wooden fence so the neighborhood kids could enjoy watching their 10+ chickens do whatever it is that chickens do. Next, on our stop was Curious George, a very chatty turkey who is more than happy to stir up conversation, especially if you are willing to hit the right notes. We’d end the loop cruising by Vinny, an energetic German Shephard puppy who is always game to run out in greeting, and Vinny’s neighbors, Yonder and Odeby, two chunky English Labs who very occasionally unearth themselves from napping to huff “Hello.” *Caveat, be careful sticking fingers through fences and always check with owners before reaching for pats.
Bring the animals to you: Engage your kiddos in welcoming the animals to you. Check out this ridiculously easy, toddler-friendly recipe for homemade bird feeders or simply stir up an easy batch of Hummingbird syrup (1/4c sugar to 1c water) and hang a feeder in your favorite sunny spot. Next step: wait, watch and enjoying welcoming your new friends.
Enjoy the friends you have: We are blessed to have our lovely ladies: Betty, Blanche, Cecile and Jane. Something about simply spending time with animals and it’s as if I can see my babes learning an entirely new language right before my eyes! Read more about them in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Stir It Up
“I want to help. I want to help. I want to help.” Chances are you’ve heard this mantra repeated endlessly while preparing meals. I say, let them help! My kiddos love these healthy versions of Zucchini Bread and Banana Bread, as well as this not-crazy-healthy version of Banana Bread. Homemade Pizza is also an easy, toddler friendly food and you can buy both the dough or the crust pre-made. I remember literally having to wait until a chicken laid an egg in order to finish making our banana bread.
I see an online order and curbside pickup to Michael’s in your future. Anyone need to borrow some Elmer’s washable glue? Because I have a gallon. Just saying.
Here are some craft projects that are in my world right now:
- Bunny Flower Pots (shown above)
- Pony Bead necklaces, bracelets and anklets. It’s feeling pretty 90’s up in my house right now, maybe I should bring back the puka shells? I also gathered some Eucalyptus seed pods, drilled holes in them and spray-painted them to add to the bead collection buuuutttt I haven’t decided whether it was worth the effort. *Tip- Get the tipped yarn laces to make this easier for littler fingers
- Homemade slime
- Homemade playdough (recipe pictured below thanks to our wonderful preschool)
- Painted rock animals
- Next up is the Kindness Rainbow on page 14 but there are 99 other great craft ideas thanks to this Michaels 100 Fun Projects Guide
Nature Is The Greatest Teacher
Just get out *safely* and you can’t go wrong.
- Check out tide pools at low tide
- Make “nature bracelets.” A good friend we like to call Mama Ling Ling told me about this one. Next time you are going for a nature walk, make a bracelet out of masking tape for your little ones and be sure to have the sticky side facing out. Encourage them to find flowers, twigs, small pebbles, etc. to stick to the tape to make personalized masterpieces.
- Sometimes you just need to get out… somewhere, anywhere! Last week I threw the kids, some art supplies and some snacks in the car and hit the road. I didn’t know where I was heading but I ended driving up the coast a bit, turning down a small winding road and pulling off to the side of a beautiful lemon orchard surrounded by a blanket of yellow wildflowers. We had snacks and a painting fest right there, in the shade of the lemon trees. You don’t need to always have a plan, sometimes a change of scenery, a little wanderlust and handy art supplies is all you need for a little magic to happen.
- Plan a remote picnic. We drove up Figueroa Mountain in search of wildflowers and found a mystical mountainside blanketed in fog. After a picnic in the flowers we went for a little stroll, compared coniferous to deciduous trees, examined the scars left by forest fire on trees and oxidized rocks and watched deer graze from afar. It doesn’t take much at all to find an environment that inspires curious minds.
- Set up a backyard camp out. Tent, sleeping bags, flashlights and shadow puppets, oh my! Great news is that if you forget something, it’s just a skip away plus no worries about poison oak. Perhaps the campfire is a little too ambitious but you can always toast marshmallows over a few candles because S’mores are a must!
- Hike it out. Mama is hoping for a solid naptime and the best way to hedge my bet is to get those little legs moving! These days I’m passing on the more well known spots and putting in a little extra effort to find those off the beaten path. We most recently enjoyed Nojoqui Falls. It is a great half-miler that leads almost all the way up to a stunning waterfall. It is easy for the little ones and although there is poison oak along the trail, the trail is wide enough that it is easily avoidable. It’s just a few miles up from Gaviota.
I’m here, just like every other parent, in it for the long haul and trying to keep my sh*t together. If anyone else has suggestions to share, I am all ears! Hang in there, we’re going to get through this together. XOXO