Wonderful Wednesday – Prickly Lettuce

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Another weed I have been going by on my walks is the prickly lettuce. Thanks to Barbara from this blog, now I know what this plant is. Apparently, we could even eat it and use it for medicinal purposes, but I will not try that any time soon. I am not that brave.

It’s just good to know names of plants I go by though. I took the kids on a short nature walk to show them this plant just past our neighbor’s house. They drew it and filled out the rest of their notebook page.

Boy and girl sketching a prickly lettuce

My children sketching a prickly lettuce on our street

We split open the stem to see the milk inside, but it had dried up. I guess we got to it too late in the season. However, it was not too late to observe the seeds and the dandelion-like white puffed up flower.  Continue reading »

Something happened inside my children’s psyche once I asked them to sketch the prickly lettuce. At first, my son complained that there was no chair or table to steady his clipboard. I showed him our neighbor’s fence and he was satisfied to use it as a table. My daughter simply sat down on the pavement and started drawing, although she complained she did not know how to draw it. Would I help her?

I am no artist, and I am not being modest here. But I started drawing the stem (a vertical line next to another vertical line) and then a curved line to the side, for the flower, and I continued with two vertical lines on either side of the curve and united both these vertical lines with another curved line at the bottom.

My daughter got what I was doing. She asked for the pencil back. I inspired her enough to start sketching on her own. Folks, if I can inspire my children to sketch a plant, anybody can.

Oh, the other notebooking page I had brought along was “Signs of Autumn,” from the same blog mentioned above, where we have a membership. They were supposed to draw four things they observed in nature, which clearly showed autumn had arrived. We discussed it for a bit, as they were not quite sure what to draw. We came up with falling leaves, leaves on the ground, corn fields, rain and apples.

We got back home, I filed their notebook pages in their nature journal and did not think I much about it. The following morning, my children went into our school room of their own free will, grabbed paper and pencils and started sketching everything they could think of. My son has this sketch book with cars and he made several pages with shading and perspective. My daughter likes Draw Write Now and she pulled out all the volumes until she found a groundhog. But she also sketched a few other things, just scenes she imagined.

Boy and girl sketching in nature

It was hard to get them started, but the results paid off.

Art amazes me again and again. The slightest exposure to a painting or to the artistic process awakens something inside of us – the creative gene that was put in us. As I was walking around the house the morning following our first sketching trip for the prickly lettuce, I was making a mental note of this time I needed to record as “arts and crafts” in their school journal.

My husband asked me, “How did you get the kids to be so quiet?” I replied, “I didn’t. They just went into the school room and started drawing of their own free will.”

Girl playing with caterpillar

Playing with a caterpillar

The other by-product of this nature walk was a meeting with a caterpillar. My daughter stopped walking, put her clipboard on the floor, and let this caterpillar crawl onto her hand. She loves caterpillars. After playing with it for a bit, she let it crawl back into its natural habitat.

Wonderful Wednesday – Jewelweed

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I told you I invested in the Ultimate Naturalist Membership Level at this blog about nature studies. I am going through this year trying it out, seeing how it all fits in with our goals. I know I want my kids to learn as much as possible from nature: rocks, plants, animals, insects – they are all important.

We received so many ebooks and notebooking pages, it is quite possible we will spend years going through these materials. But, for now, it is one weekly lesson at a time.

Boy and girl studying jewelweed

Watching a youtube video about jewelweed, just before working on their notebooking page.

Last week, we looked at jewelweed. The week before that, it was catfish. While we did not get to go fishing for a catfish, or observe one in a river, we watched the suggested nature videos from youtube. It is a bit disappointing when you cannot study your subject up close and personal.  Continue reading »

So I was glad when, on one of my walks through my neighborhood, I spotted jewelweed and lots of it.

Boy and girl looking at jewelweed plants

Looking at jewelweed on the side of our road

It was so delightful to show it to my kids – as I brought some home. They loved looking at it. We worked through the text in Handbook of Nature Study and then through the suggested videos. It really is like a curriculum. And you don’t have to have a membership with this blog, either.

In her generosity, this blogger shares these lessons with all her readers every Friday, on her blog. It’s just that you don’t get the coloring or notebooking pages which come with the membership. Sometimes there are other worksheets, like organizational and goal setting sheets.

Girl looks at jewelweed plants

My daughter stooped low to look at jewelweed plants closely.

It just so happened that a few days before, an insect had managed to bite me on one of my fingers. The itching was unbearable. When I read that jewelweed works not only against poison ivy but also against any kind of insect bite or skin irritation, I quickly rubbed some of the juice from the stem on my bite. Would you believe the itching stopped in five minutes and the bite dried up in a couple of days with no need for more hydrocortizone cream?

My husband said, “I have lived here all my life, I have gone by that plant every year, never knowing its name or what it can do.” I felt good this city girl from Europe could show him something new in his backyard.

Wonderful Wednesday – Box Turtles

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We have been doing nature walks here and there, but I recently felt impressed to take it more seriously. Childhood obesity rates and nature deficit disorder motivate me to a degree, but the most important reason is that I want my children to learn from the book of nature. Nature is like a book in which we can “read” about our Creator. Then, of course, there is the issue of health and exercise and spending time outdoors and bonding with natural things.

Boy and girl taking a nature walk

Ready for a nature walk

As I was wondering how to proceed in a more systematic fashion, I received an email from Handbook of Nature Study, a blog I subscribe to and use off and on. I remembered how they have this great membership site now and they offer so much for so little. Plus, they sent a coupon for the summer (the offer ended a few days ago, I think, but I am sure they will offer more coupons as the seasons change, so stay tuned).


Wild daisies near our home

I invested in the Ultimate Naturalist Library because I will do these activities if I pay for them. It is human nature. We don’t always appreciate free things. But if we pay for a book, we are probably going to read it. In this case, we are talking about a lot of nature walks and challenges in order to discover our backyard and the different species of flora and fauna around us. It will also motivate us to get outside.

Black-winged dragonfly

Mystery insect (dragonfly?)

Every season, there are excuses for staying indoors. Continue reading »

Summer can be too hot, of course, not to mention the bugs and the bears who seem to be active enough in the National Park to warrant a red-letter warning on the Park’s official website.

So we went through our neighborhood with notebooking pages and observed different species for about 45 minutes. Our efforts were rewarded. Besides the usual flowers and insects, we spotted a new insect and a box turtle.

The insect looks like a glorified dragonfly with black velvety wings and a light blue tail. The box turtle hissed at us when we tried to pick it up. The kids loved looking at it and they counted its claws (four on each leg). We analyzed the differences between its back and its belly. We talked about its having bones on the outside of its body, for protection.

I reminded them that we read about turtles in Nature Lessons the other day. There are many kinds of turtles and they all have the same basic characteristics: two eyes, four legs, a shell etc. But some are small and others are big. Some live in the ocean and others live near rivers. It is the same with people. We all have the same basic characteristics, but we are different in many ways.

Wonderful Wednesday – Powder Days

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My son and I are taking ski lessons this year. Ober Gatlinburg offers a special program to homeschoolers in January and February. The age minimum is seven.

My son and I during our first ski lesson

My son and I during our first ski lesson

Oh, the lessons we learned as we went to our first lessons last Sunday! In no particular order, we learned how to:

  • pick up skis, poles, and helmets
  • rent a locker for our own boots
  • return said rentals
  • “park” said rentals so we could go have lunch
  • fall the right way
  • get up the right way
  • get into skis the right way
  • turn left and right
  • stop on a bunny hill
  • come to a stop on an intermediate hill
  • get back up a hill when there is no chair lift
  • persevere through the fear and discouragement
  • stop laughing at people who fall
  • help those who ask for help
  • make a phone call without cell signal

I can’t say enough about this first powder day. The fears we faced and overcame probably rank highest on my list of accomplishments so far this year. Many thanks to my son who was my  teacher in the subject of Perseverance. At seven, he knows how to persevere. He kept falling and could not even get back up. He got so tangled in his skis and poles, the teacher had to walk over to help him many times. And he got up. Again, and again, and again.  Continue reading »

It was just the two of us in the class, so it helped. But that meant I was left to my own devices, which are not many on a ski slope. Thankfully, it was a bunny hill. After falling a couple of times, I managed to stay in control and learned to apply the advice the teacher gave us.

Here’s the tricky part in today’s lesson: the teacher showed us how to turn left and right, but nothing appeared to be moving in her body. And yet, she was turning. She was doing something invisible with her toes… Lifting the right toe if she wanted to turn left and viceversa. The body remained the same, except sometimes she showed us the technique of looking briefly in the direction of the turn.

Boy waiting for the ski lesson

Waiting for the ski lesson

Anyway, #tryJanuary means skiing lessons for me and my son because I despise cold weather. I decided that if we were to spend any time in nature it was going to have to be doing a winter sport, like skiing. Ice skating can be done year round at Ober Gatlinburg – so we can always do that another time. Plus I have been waiting for these ski lessons since last year, when I first heard about them, but my son was still only six. And I really did not want another #dryJanuary…

Even though it has been warm – 57 F or 13 C – they managed to have three slopes opened at Ober that day, just enough for beginners to go out there and have some fun in the open air. Needless to say, my son did not want to leave. After the lesson, we stayed on for another four hours, trying our best to rehearse the moves we learned.

I so look forward to Lesson nr. 2, next Sunday. See you on the slopes!

McClung Museum Stroller Tours

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A couple of months ago, I discovered that the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture offers several free tours for families with children. Stroller tours are such events. As the name suggests, it is intended for adults who care for small children, ages 0-4. Since my youngest is still four, I decided to take advantage of this window of opportunity and try out a Stroller Tour.

Boy and girl in front of the McClung Museum

The kids in front of the McClung Museum

In short, we loved it. We are going back until she turns five next year. Then, we’ll have to make a decision: beg to be admitted for more as an exception to the age rule, or beg for something similar to be offered for school-age children. When there’s a will, there’s a way. Hopefully.

Birds Bugs Blooms

The October Stroller Tour was called Birds, Bugs and Blooms – Natural History Illustration from the 1500s-1800s. The exhibit itself will stay up through January, so you have a few more months to check it out. As a publishing person, I was fascinated with the history of books dealing with natural illustrations. My kids loved the pictures and the museum itself.  Continue reading »

After the guided tour, lead by a lovely, patient, and highly pregnant young lady – I don’t think she will be our guide next month, she was that pregnant – it was time for a matching game. The kids received a page with colorful illustrations and they were to match them to illustrations hanging on the walls. As soon as they found a match, they had to circle it on their paper. My daughter, the four-year-old, relished this activity.

Girl looking for matches between her paper and the exhibits

My daughter looking for matches between her paper and the exhibits

After the matching game, they did some coloring. Different birds sketched in black and white, as well as crayons, waited on the table. The babies did not color, but there were plenty of toddlers and preschoolers who got busy and so did my children.

Children coloring

The kids enjoyed coloring

The tour was over officially. What to do? We decided to explore the other exhibits, as well as the gift shop.

Boy and girl visiting a natural history museum

Fossil exhibit area

Great fun was had by all and we might even have learned something. In fact, I am sure we learned something. The next Stroller Tour deals with Ancient Egypt and it will be held on November 17. More info here.

Wonderful Wednesday – Summer Cattail Study

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A few weeks ago, we headed back to our cattail patch for a summer nature study. By “our” I mean a cattail patch about five minutes from our house, where we did our spring cattail nature study.

I printed out the toppers from Handbook of Nature Study – a blog we follow loosely for our nature observations.

Summer Cattail Notebooking Pages

I glued the toppers to white paper and divided it into four parts, so they could draw four objects.


While there, I asked the kids to walk around and get as close to the cattails as possible.  Continue reading »

Cattail Nature Walk

Walking to get the best view of the cattails


“Look, mom! A snake hole!” exclaimed my son.

Noticing A Snake Hole

Look, mom!


Not sure if this was a snake hole, but it was a hole indeed.

Maybe a snake hole

Maybe a snake hole


I asked them to draw four things they saw. They did – their drawings were in pencil, so they don’t photograph well. They drew rocks, trees, the creek, and the bridge.


The pretty covered bridge where our cattail patch lies

The pretty covered bridge where our cattail patch lies


I also asked them to listen to the sounds of the area. At first, they could hear only man-made sounds: the air conditioning of the apartment buildings nearby, car engines driving by. I asked them to close their eyes and see if they could hear insects. They could. Also, the breeze through the cattails. Yes, they heard that, too.

Then, I allowed them to frolic around the creek.

Boy and girl are having fun in the sun, around a cattail area, jumping over creek

Fun in the sun, around the cattail area


It was fun and easier than the first time we headed over there. Maybe because they are older, e.g. my daughter could now jump over the creek without actually falling in. Maybe because I knew what to expect. I can’t wait for our fall cattail study.

Wonderful Wednesday – Ad-Hoc Science

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My plan was to spend at least two hours outside today. We are playing catch-up with time outside.

It has been raining lately and I have been busy with different projects, so I did not make outdoorsy time a priority. My children play so well indoors, away from screens, and I did not want to deal with bugs and/or DEET and sunscreen (there, I said it!) – it was easy to forget how important it is for them to be outside.

Well, we ended up spending five hours. We left after two hours because I had a planning meeting with other Sevier County Homeschooling Group moms, then they had swims lessons. On the way back from swim lessons, we stopped at the park again, for almost three hours.  Continue reading »

It’s called Mills Park and it has a playground, a covered pavilion with picnic tables, several benches, a creek running by, a disc golf course, restrooms, outdoor sinks, grills and a wonderful grassy hill, perfect for rolling down on.

Children rolling down the grassy hill at Mills Park

My children rolling down the grassy hill at Mills Park

I don’t know why we don’t go to Mills Park every day. We should.

Oh, I know why. Because I used to be really bothered by their getting wet in the creek or muddy in the puddles around the playground.

I have since transcended that. The more I read about how time spent outside helps children reverse myopia or not develop it at all, the more I want them to spend time outside – no matter what the cost. That’s why we do laundry, right?

The more I read about how time spent outside helps children do better in science, the more I want them to explore and dig and analyze and take note of bugs, bees, trees, birds and everything in between.

Today I heard a mother scold her toddler rather harshly about his getting in the muddy area. I cringed but looked down at my shoes because that mother used to be me. My kids could not help but notice the scene. It was rather embarrassing for all parties involved, but the mother was relentless. I said a quick prayer for her, that she may allow her little boy to get a little dirty – it’s good for him.

Here’s what I have observed about kids in nature: they don’t need toys. The playground gets them started, but they use it differently after a while. Instead of going down the covered slide, for instance, they straddle it. They go up and down on top of the cover. I try not to panic. The ground is soft.

I did bring a soccer ball and it helped break the ice with one boy in the morning and another one in the afternoon. But the ball got put up after the second boy brought his puppy out. The kids let the puppy chase them and ran around on the grassy hill for almost an hour.

Little bird in a cage - my kids observed it and played with it for an hour

Little bird in a cage – my kids observed it and played with it for an hour

Through it all, they learned some science. They observed “small fishes” in the creek. I told them they were tadpoles.

My son came to the bench where I was sitting with my book and grabbed the water bottle. After he quenched his thirst, he tilted the bottle and took a good look at it. “Mommy, why does the water stay flat even though I tilted the bottle?” I explained about gravity and the state of being liquid.

We noticed a cardinal on a power line. He was busy singing and we could see him open his beak and hear him at the same time – always a special treat.

During my planning meeting, which happened at the Sevierville library, somebody brought a small bird in a cage. My children observed it and played with it the way you can play from just outside the cage. I asked them how many “fingers” the bird has. My son said, “Three.” A few minutes later, “Mommy, I was wrong. There are three in the front and one in the back.” I congratulated him for good observation skills.

They should sleep well tonight after this day spent mostly outside.

Wonderful Wednesday – Veggie Garden Update

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I have a small garden where I play “Farmer.” It’s only 4’x8′ and I don’t expect to feed my family from it. But if we can get some veggies every year while the children experience the cycle of sowing, weeding, watering and harvesting, I am happy.

This year, we already learned some lessons from it. Now, I’m back with an update.  Continue reading »

It has been raining almost every day for the past three weeks. I have not had to water my garden. Yeah!

I did have to clean up after our cat, who had been using our garden patch as a litter box. Yuck!

My husband came up with a solution: plastic fencing that can be wrapped around the four poles of the garden bed. I knew those poles would come in handy one day…

So here’s my veggie garden in full swing, with the new fencing around it.

Veggie Garden - Summer

My small garden is producing a lot this year.


Our one and only blackberry bush

Blackberry bush - almost ripe

We picked about 15 blackberries today and, from the looks of it, we will have more


Our one and only grape vine

Green grapes on the vine

This would be the first year we would enjoy grapes from our backyard


One of our blueberry bushes

Green Blueberries

We always get lots and lots of blueberries


A baby cucumber

Tiny cucumber

I showed this baby cucumber to my son. He touched it, got hurt and blurted, “It’s prickly!” all before I could warn him.


Tiny tomatoes

Green tomatoes on the plant

It looks like we will get some tomatoes this year.


Tiny peppers

Tiny green peppers on the plant

We love green peppers and grow them every year. They are so sweet compared to grocery store peppers.


These pictures are quite the metaphor for children. Growing, developing, not yet fully matured, but perfect in every way. And cute.

Wonderful Wednesday – Mosquitoes

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The Handbook of Nature Study blog challenged us to study mosquitoes. I hesitated because I really dislike mosquitoes. But how long can I keep avoiding Ms. Barbara’s challenges?

We live in a heavily wooded neighborhood and, as such, mosquitoes abound. One morning I got bitten 10 times on my legs while watering my small garden. Not fun.

Another day I wore long pants and long sleeves for protection, in 88F weather, and I still got bitten, through clothing.

Meanwhile, I am trying to rise to the challenge of spending at least two hours outside with the kids, every day. I have been spraying our clothes with repellents of the “deep woods” variety and mosquitoes still bite us.  Continue reading »

My husband finally found a solution that has minimized them drastically though. Thank God for my husband. He sprays the gutters with an outdoor bug spray he picked up at Lowe’s. With all the rain we have had lately, there is some standing water inside the gutters and that’s where the eggs must be.

I have also noticed that this measure has cut back on gnats.

Another observation: to have a bug-free experience outside, it seems that early afternoon works the best.

I printed out a mosquito coloring page and let the children decorate it. I also asked them if they like mosquitoes or not. They said “no” immediately and then added, “because they bite.”

I have talked to experts in essential oils and, in all honesty, they told me their oils do not work 100% either.

After I get bitten, I immediately apply hydrocortisone cream and it helps.

As I read more about mosquitoes, I was reminded that it is only the females that bite. Hmmm… I’m not sure how I feel about that… I realize they are busy mothers looking for quick meals, but do I really have to be the one providing it?

Wonderful Wednesday – Funny Trees

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Yesterday was a turning point for me in my homeschooling career. A medium size one.

I have been simplifying our routines and tweaking our daily schedule and transitions ever since we started. Yesterday, I continued in the same direction by deciding we will not be doing the Junior Ranger Program this year at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Also, I decided to cut out the Summer Reading Program at the Sevierville Library. We will still do the SRP at the Gatlinburg Library, but only two seminars out of four. (For the life of me, I can’t remember why I thought doing two Summer Reading Programs would be good.)

After we spent the morning at home, I took the kids to the Gatlinburg Trail in the National Park. We experienced 90 blissful minutes wading in the river, chasing butterflies, listening to the river, and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. That’s what summer should feel like.

In that particular spot, I even have cell coverage. So if I needed help or wanted to quickly check emails, I could. We will definitely play there again.

I took pictures of some funny trees. I have passed by these trees so, so many times.

Tree with a double trunk in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

This tree makes me think of siblings separated after an argument

But it was only yesterday that I actually saw their funny shape. It’s only after we open our eyes wide, i.e. to the things that matter, that we notice certain details around us.

Elephant-looking tree in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Doesn’t this tree look like an elephant?

My kids chased this one butterfly that kept coming back to play with them. They called it Mashi (think Japanese spelling if you don’t know how to pronounce it) and thought it was a girl because of its color – lavender. When a second identical butterfly flew by and allowed them to chase it, they decided it was Mashi’s twin sister and called it Mangsten.

This morning, as we came out of the house, a lavender butterfly fluttered in the yard. They started yelling, “Mashi came home to be with us.” That’s the kind of stuff I want my summers to be made of. Not rushing from activity to activity.

Here’s to a beautiful, relaxed, intentional parenting kind of summer!