{this moment} Tea Party

{this moment} - A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Visit SouleMama for more "moments" and to share your own...

Reclaiming Free Play

New research is shedding light on the old practice of providing children with oodles of free play time. Boston College psychology professor and unschooling advocate, Peter Gray, has recently published two studies in the American Journal of Play, arguing that open-ended, unstructured, non-adult-driven play time for children has dramatically declined over the past several decades, and may be largely contributing to increasing rates of childhood depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. (Click here to watch a recent interview with Dr. Gray about his new research.)

So how do we reclaim free play time for our children? How do we ensure that their precious play time doesn't become consumed by organized activities and adult-led endeavors?

For our family, homeschooling offers the gift of abundant hours of outside, unstructured play time to create, imagine, discover, and dream. Yet, it is easy to be tempted by the vast quantity of enrichment activities available to us in the city that could easily consume free play time. We try to stay connected to our daily and weekly rhythms to make certain that unstructured time trumps structured time and that much of our day is spent outside.

It seems odd, in a way, that we parents would need to be vigilant about protecting our children's play time; time that in generations past was naturally protected and assumed as part of a child's day. But as the pace of the modern world accelerates, as stresses mount, commitments climb, and demands rise, reclaiming and simplifying childhood play seem to be increasingly important pursuits in preserving our children's health and well-being.

Stop and Watch the Construction

Living in the city means there is always one or more construction or renovation projects nearby, and while we tolerate the inconveniences of sidewalk closures and traffic back-ups that these projects generate, we delight in the many opportunities to watch big trucks push piles of dirt, big cranes lift giant pieces of steel, and workers use their skills and interesting tools to measure, cut, drill, sand, hammer, and create.

On our walk to the park this morning, the kids-- especially my two-year-old-- became engrossed in watching the workers lay a new patio, and the experience provided new inspiration for J's ongoing pretend play, using sticks as drills and hammers and saws and diggers. We lingered for a long while, shelving our playground plans.

City homeschooling offers an array of these spontaneous, community-based learning moments that often prove much more fascinating than the playground.

Weekly Mothering Challenge: Stop and Smell the Roses

There are some beautiful roses in bloom around our neighborhood and it got me to thinking that I should really aim to stop and smell the roses more -- both literally and figuratively.

I find I can easily get caught up in the everyday *dailyness* of mothering and sometimes forget to stop and savor the moment...a beautiful, simple, magical moment to cherish with my children.

So this week's challenge is to seek out these beautiful moments among the busyness of our days, sniff them in, and find joy in the simple.

At The Orchard

Today we left the city to pick some apples at an organic apple farm in the countryside. It was a first for us, and I was a bit worried that the allure of Fall apple-picking would be better than the reality of piling three kids in the car for an early morning hour-long drive.

Happily, the experience exceeded our expectations as the kids roamed through the orchard gathering their apples, collecting and pretending with sticks, and picnicking with Auntie and Uncle who joined us on this excursion.

This will most certainly become an annual ritual for us-- perhaps a "First Sunday After the Autumnal Equinox" tradition-- to welcome in Fall with family, fields, and juicy apples.

Happy Fall!

There were so many great ideas about how to celebrate autumn in your comments on Monday's post. Bird feeders, colorful crafts, nature walks, autumn foods, leaf collections, apple orchards, corn mazes, nature tables, and festive fall decorations are inspiring suggestions for how to fully appreciate and enjoy the next three months with our children.

Thanks for sharing your ideas! The winners of Wendy Pfeffer's children's book, We Gather Together, are: Anne and Basbusa's Mama! Click on my profile link to send me an email with your postal information and I will send the books to you right away.

Wishing you all a lovely start to autumn with your family!

Waldorf-Inspired Toys

Over the summer, the exterior of our multi-family condo building was painted, and during the process we removed all of the outside toys from our small, shared backyard. Now that the painting is complete, I thought it was a good opportunity to leave most of the plastic outside toys in the basement (save for bats, balls, and bubbles), and start fresh with Waldorf-inspired outside "toys."

There is a lot about the Waldorf philosophy of early education that I like to incorporate into our days, like lots of baking with children, imaginative play, ample outside nature time, seasonal celebrations, homeschool rhythms, and natural, from-the-earth, multi-purpose playthings. As such, the kids and I gathered pinecones, sticks, seashells, pumpkins and gourds to have handy in our backyard. These natural materials foster open-ended, imaginative play with sticks transforming into drills and violins, shells turning into magical fairy crystals, and pinecones and gourds becoming play figures. The quality of play that originates from using multi-purpose toys compared to single-purpose ones is extraordinary, and makes me all the happier that our big painting project provided the perfect opportunity to start fresh with our outside toys -- just in time for Fall.

And speaking of Fall, there's still time for you to win one of the two children's books I am giving away on Friday to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox! Simply leave a comment on Monday's post with your ideas on how to celebrate autumn with your family. Thanks to those of you who have already shared your wonderful ideas!

Celebrate Autumn and a Giveaway!

With the Autumnal Equinox only a few days away, I thought it would be nice to focus this week's Mothering Challenge on finding ways to celebrate autumn with the kids.

We are planning a backyard camp-out to welcome Friday's first day of autumn, including pumpkin-carving, storytelling and drawing, and eating a yummy harvest meal followed by roasted S'mores.

Share your ideas for celebrating autumn with your family by posting in the comments section and gain a chance to win one of my favorite Fall children's books, We Gather Together: Celebrating the Harvest Season, by Wendy Pfeffer.

I will be giving away TWO books, so submit your comment by Friday to be eligible for the giveaway. (Make sure your comment gets posted, as sometimes Blogger's comment submission form can be finicky!)

Urban Agricultural Fair

Our city hosted its annual Urban Agricultural Fair today, celebrating local growers and harvests.

My daughter, who has been an enthusiastic member of the city's "pod patrol," was invited to sit at the "pod patrol" station and educate passersby about black swallow-wort, an invasive plant species with pods that look strikingly similar to nurturing milkweed, and as a result trick butterflies into hopelessly laying their eggs there. She planned for the festival all week as she picked pods in our neighborhood, and was thrilled to help spread the word about these malicious pods at today's fair.

The city cultivates learning moments like today's and creates opportunities for community involvement and activism. Homeschooling allows us the gift of time to seize these learning moments for our children, build on them, and watch them lead to new insights and discoveries-- all while collaborating with our neighbors and becoming immersed in our community.

Plimoth Plantation Homeschool Day

Plimoth Plantation hosted its semi-annual Homeschool Day today and it was nice to join our friends, and Grammy, in exploring the museum. There are always new questions to ask and new things to learn about the Pilgrims and Native People of the 17th century.

For instance, I found it interesting that babies and toddlers of the time often wore pudding hats, which were padded bonnets to protect heads from falls. I sometimes think that the (non-medical) infant helmets advertised in kid safety catalogues are a bit excessive and characteristic of today's hyper-vigilant society, and yet, parents have apparently been trying to protect their babies' heads during those unsteady infant and toddler days for at least a few hundred years. In fact, I may have to look into making one of these pudding hats for my eight-month-old...

I also learned that many of the dresses that the infants and toddlers wore had "leading strings" sewn into them to help the children learn to walk more steadily with an adult holding up the strings... or, as one Pilgrim mother confessed to me today, to tie the child to the chair leg to keep him out of mischief. All in the name of safety of course!

These designated homeschool days, which occur at several museums in the area throughout the year, are a wonderful way to connect with other homeschooling families and take advantage of homeschooling-specific programming. And as with so much of homeschooling, we parents share in the joy of learning alongside our children.

One Last Jump

Fall is coming. Leaves are already turning colors and crunching beneath our footsteps. Nights are chilly, days are shorter, apples are ripe, and pumpkins are abundant. We are filled with anticipation for next week's Autumn Equinox and the backyard camp-out we are planning with our neighbors to welcome the new season.

And yet, as much as we all love fall in New England, it is hard to say good-bye to summer. As the kids and I walked in the hot sunshine today, I took a mental snapshot of this beautiful, still-summer day to remember in the depths of Boston's winter.

Later, I took a few real snapshots of our farewell to summer, of our final moments to "jump-a-dock," as my two-year-old coins it, before the dock at the lake house is removed until next summer.

Next summer...

So much living and growing and changing to do before then.

So many reasons to savor this summer's one last jump.

Weekly Mothering Challenge #6 - Seek Moments of Still

Personal mom time is important. It keeps us invigorated, calm, and able to avoid the burn-out that could otherwise so easily occur with homeschooling.

I am learning to seek quiet moments of still throughout my days. Moments like this one when the littles are napping and my preschooler is reading quietly to herself. Moments when the kids are playing and engaged, and I can read a couple of pages of a book, or check my e-mail, or write, or knit a couple of rows...or just shut my eyes and take a breath. It's these moments, as short and sporadic as they are, that help me to recharge and re-engage with the important work of mothering.

So this week, let's seek more moments of still. Weave in some personal time during your busy days, encouraging the kids to entertain themselves while you focus a few moments on yourself. As brief as these still moments may be, they can make all the difference in maintaining our mothering stamina.

Convenient Care

Sometimes the city is too convenient. It's one of its few drawbacks, I think. We can get lazy and lulled into frequenting the closest, most convenient places, whether or not they are really the best fit for us.

So it was with our doctor's office. Why look elsewhere when a reputable medical group is only steps from the front door? (For one answer, read my recent post on "From Hospital to Home Birth" to see my progression away from my very convenient obstetrician.)

Still, it was hard to pass up the convenience of doctors who were so close and so accessible. But as I have shifted my thinking, mainly since my daughter's January homebirth, to reclaiming control over issues related to my family's well-being, I realized that the convenient, conventional medical practice around the corner no longer fit with my broader, more holistic view of family health and wellness.

So, now we are traveling. Out of town in fact. To a respected family medicine practice with a focus on integrative health and holistic care. To a doctor who will care for our entire family as an integrated unit and respect home, family, and Mother Nature as the central sources of health and wellness.

I am becoming more discerning about the choices I make regarding family care, and am broadening my scope beyond the city's borders...as inconvenient as it may be.

{this moment} Museum of (Fun) Arts

{this moment} - A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Visit SouleMama for more "moments" and to share your own...

Attachment Parenting and Homeschooling

Today I was invited, along with the kids, to speak to a group of moms from a local Attachment Parenting group about homeschooling. As someone who believes in the principles of Attachment Parenting, such as gentle birth, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, responsiveness, etc., it is always refreshing to enjoy the company of like-minded mamas.

It isn't surprising that APers would be attracted to the idea of homeschooling. The child-centered, trusting, nurturing environment that APers strive for often leads naturally into a desire for individualized, child-centered learning.

I enjoyed chatting with these moms about different homeschooling approaches, homeschooling reporting requirements, and homeschooling networks. But it was this provocative question that really made me stop and think:

What are the drawbacks to homeschooling?

Great question and one that I will have to think harder about, but my response about homeschooling's downside is that I think it is common for homeschooling parents, particularly ever-vigilant ones like APers, to have moments--hours even--of self-doubt. Parenting is tough work, and when you spend all day, every day with your kids it can be even tougher. But it can also be incredibly rewarding and effective if we learn to cut ourselves some slack. We can still be great parents and homeschoolers even if we sometimes get exhausted, impatient, angry, frustrated, annoyed, and overwhelmed.

I think more parents in general, and Attachment Parents in particular, would choose to homeschool their kids if they could see that it doesn't take perfection to parent or homeschool successfully. It takes trust in your imperfect self that you are perfectly positioned to help your children learn, and grow, and reach their full potential. You've been doing this job beautifully, thoughtfully, responsibly since your parenting journey began. You've been cultivating a warm, caring, interesting, and dynamic space for your children to learn and grow. And you can continue this important work even as your children age and their learning needs change... even when you sometimes feel exhausted, impatient, angry, frustrated, annoyed, and overwhelmed.

You don't have to be perfect to be perfectly suited to helping your children learn.

How Do I Get Started Homeschooling?

It's September, and for some of you this is a time to consider the homeschooling option, in addition to public and private school possibilities, to see which educational choice best fits your family. Perhaps your kids are very young, but you are delaying preschool and gathering more information about homeschooling. Or perhaps your kids are already in school, but something isn't feeling or working right and homeschooling might be a good alternative.

Here are a few of my suggestions on how to take the plunge (or just test the waters) into homeschooling:

Go To A Homeschool Park Day

More broadly, connect with your local homeschool group by joining its online community or attending events, but park days in particular are a great way to meet a variety of homeschooling families and begin to form connections. Almost all local homeschool groups have at least one weekly park gathering, and some groups even have themed park days (e.g., Young Homeschoolers meet-ups). Meeting the same families week after week and watching kids build friendships is very rewarding, and can often lead to spin-off playgroups and homeschool co-ops with like-minded families.

Learn More About Homeschooling

My favorite books about homeschooling are listed on the sidebar. In particular, Nancy Wallace's books, Better Than School and Child's Work, are gems if you can find them at your local library. There are also countless websites and blogs that can shed light on many different homeschooling approaches.

Think About Your Approach

What type of homeschooling approach seems to fit best with your family's rhythms and your learners' needs? Are you more comfortable with a school-at-home approach to homeschooling? If so, there is an abundance of packaged homeschooling curricula available for purchase to take much of the guess-work out of homeschooling. Would you prefer a more child-centered, community-based learning approach? If so, unschooling might work better for you and your learners.

Trust Your Children

Trust that your children's inner curiosity will lead to a fulfilling homeschooling experience that will challenge their intellect and deepen their knowledge, strengthen family and community connections, and trigger an unquenchable thirst for learning.

Trust Yourself

Trust your singular gift of knowing your children's needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses better than anyone else. Trust that you are perfectly positioned to facilitate your children's learning by cultivating a rich learning environment, both at home and in the community, using a variety of accessible resources. Trust that homeschooling will offer your family the freedom, flexibility, and focus on individualized learning to create a robust and engaging learning environment.

Try It Out

Experiment with homeschooling and its different approaches and see if it works for your family. Take it year-by-year, child-by-child and see how it goes.

Homeschooling is an option worth considering among the other schooling choices available. These simple start-up steps can help you begin to decide if homeschooling will fit your family.


Today was the first day back to school for our city's public school students, including several of my daughter's friends who began at the city's public, full-day junior kindergarten program.

We celebrated not-back-to-school-day with a crowd of local homeschoolers who gathered at our local library and park. Later, we took a rainy walk to the Harvard Square Farmer's Market and spent the evening cooking a yummy autumn meal that warmed our bellies on this cool September day.

How are you celebrating not-back-to-school time in your area?

Weekly Mothering Challenge #5 - Get Inspired

Mothers need inspiration. At least I do. It is easy to fall into ruts and routines, which is why I continually search for sources of mothering inspiration.

I have discovered some lovely blogs and websites that keep me thinking about ways to improve my mothering habits and perspectives. They affirm what I value and challenge me to dream bigger.

Some of my favorite sources of mothering inspiration are listed in the sidebar. In particular, the fall edition of Rhythm of the Home is now online and brimming with inspirational ideas.

But I am seeking more! Will you share some of your favorite blogs and websites to help all of us get inspired this week?

Fall Weekly Homeschool Rhythms

As September begins and our fall activities get underway, I thought it might be worthwhile to share our typical homeschool rhythms for the season. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Inspired by the Waldorf notion of daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms, this chart shows the typical pattern of our days. The kids and I begin most days with reading books, playtime and baking. Then we get ready for our morning activities, including getting dressed and packing snacks. Each morning consists of some activity, usually loosely-structured and involving family members, friends, and the outdoors as much as possible.

Midday brings lunch and then nap time for my toddler and quiet time for my older daughter -- and mom! Then we usually read or play.

After quiet time and nap, we have a snack and prepare for an afternoon activity, followed by unstructured outside time for as long as possible, often including dinner outside. Finally, it's bath, books and bed.

Now, not every day moves this smoothly and we sometimes have hiccups or interruptions to these rhythms, but I find the most successful days for all of us follow the natural ebb-and-flow of calm periods, followed by active periods, followed again by calm, and so on. This allows for ample rest and reflection for all of us among the busy pace of our days.

These homeschool rhythms provide a sense of flow to our days and weeks, but we also do not feel fettered by them. For instance, if it's a rainy day on homeschool park day, we may go to a museum or the library or just stay home and do crafts. If we've been especially busy and I can sense we all need a break, we may skip a planned activity and recharge. Often if we seem a bit out-of-sorts, it can usually be attributed to a mixed-up rhythm without the calm-active-calm-active-calm cadence.

There is something comforting about these rhythms as we move from one season to the next, incorporating seasonal festivals and holidays into our weekly plans. They help us to capture the city's vitality in each new season, but remind us when to slow down too.

City & Culture

Cities are cultural meccas uniting creative artists and performers with eager audiences. In fact, taking advantage of the cultural offerings in most big cities would create a robust arts curriculum for any family, homeschooling or not. And I don't mean only pricey trips to the symphony or the ballet. One of the great advantages of homeschooling in the city is the ability to take advantage of the quantity and variety of free or low-cost cultural offerings, like street performers, sidewalk musicians, outdoor theatre, city festivals, and university-affiliated performances.

As an example, on our walk today through Harvard Square to a popular playground, we stumbled upon the animated and entertaining dress rehearsal for the outdoor evening theatre performance of "Man = Carrot Circus," a show performed by the Vermont-based traveling acting troupe, Bread & Puppet.
The playground became an afterthought for the kids compared to the exciting opportunity to watch talented actors and listen to musicians prepare for their evening performance.

These unexpected and enriching cultural happenings help to make city homeschooling interesting and engaging, and add to the vibrancy of city parenting.

The Music Room

We recently created a music room in our small city condo. True to the Victorian era in which our building was erected, we have a double parlor in the front of our home. The first parlor room we use as the living room, and the second room was the "den" where my husband often worked during late evenings and where our television was located.

The second parlor room had been a topic of discussion for quite some time. As we focused more steadily on simplifying home and childhood, we were growing increasingly aware of the disconnect that this room was displaying. Eventually it became clear to us that we wanted all of the rooms in our home to reflect what we as a family value.

In place of cable and television, we now have a piano and guitar -- and various play instruments as well. Our music room was born! I play the guitar a bit, but none of us plays the piano and we are eager to learn as a family. We're not rushing into lessons for the kids for awhile, but they are having a blast exploring the keys, pretending with the sheet music, making up songs, and performing little duets.

Already the feel of both front parlors has changed. They seem warmer, more inviting, more child-centered, and more reflective of the things we value and strive toward. I don't expect we'll be the von Trapps, but there is something comforting about our home now showcasing an entertainment room more representative of its Victorian roots-- and more representative of who we are as a family.