School Days in a Nature Based Classroom

10.24.2014

Lewie's first day of kindergarten was emotional for me.  I was worried about all the usual stuff:  Will he like his new school?  Will he make new friends?  Will he love learning?  Will his teacher be patient, gentle, and understanding?

Although those worries were very real last month, I'm happy to say I'm over them!  After the first day of school, Lewie couldn't wait to tell us how much he loved kindergarten.  He loved everything--his teacher, his classroom, the morning meeting, the outside play area, and his little 'friends.'  Then we started getting wonderful letters from his teacher like these:

Dear Families,

We are having a wonderful second week of school! The children are adjusting nicely and enjoying the program very much. 

Our theme this week was friendship. We spent time getting to know each other better and talking about how to be a good friend. We read, Rainbow Fish, The Kissing Hand, ElmerChrysanthemum and Corduroy, which all lend themselves beautifully to friendship based discussions and activities. The children wrote a response to each story- wait til you see this great work coming home!

The children spent a great deal of time outdoors. We started our gardening curriculum and our Discovery journals. These are where we track our gardening and nature studies. They were very excited about these journals. We gave ourselves garden names: Evelyn Eggplant, Payton Pumpkin, Audrey Apple, Lewie Lavendar, Nicolas Nut and Andrew Apple Pie. What fun! We learned the parts of a plant and also planted some fall harvest seeds in our garden bed. We have a nature table set up in our classroom. It may have seasonal produce on it, rocks, soil and seeds, items the children collect and bring in from nature's classroom or home. Next week, we will be studying apples. Our table will have different types of apples for us to explore, cut open, draw, write about and paint with. If you have any apples to contribute to our study, please feel free to send them in.

We also started our handwriting program, Handwriting Without Tears. The children will begin with proper pencil grip, straight and slant lines and build to proper letter and number formation. Any additional fine motor practice at home is super. Writing with pencil, chalk and chalkboard, white board marker, in the sand,cutting, tracing, etc. 

This week we began our letter instruction. We are studying the letter Mm. We sing songs and read poems. We study the letter and the sound it makes, we learn how to print it, we search for it and highlight it in books and we generate words that begin with that sound. The children will be bringing small books home that they have made in class. Please keep them and have your child read it and reread it to you. This repetition builds fluency and reading confidence. 

Please keep in mind that much of our day is spent outdoors. We have unstructured time to explore outside but also we read, write, solve math problems and even have meals out there. Please remember to apply sunscreen and bug repellent in the mornings. Also, as the weather is up and down this time of year, please send your child in with a light jacket or feel free to leave one in school.

Folders are going home in backpacks today. Please take out your child's work and enjoy. Please return the empty folder to school tomorrow. 

Tomorrow is wear your favorite team jersey to school day.

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend,

Every Friday, we get a very special email sent to us about our child's progress and their curriculum at school where we learn about the stories they're reading, the letters they're practicing, and the games they're playing.

Since Lewie's school is nature based, he spends his mornings inside practicing reading and writing, and then has opportunities throughout the day to run around, explore, play, and learn outside.  They have an outside classroom where they continue to read stories, sing songs (in English and in Spanish), make art projects, plant seeds, and write in their 'nature journals.'  Every twenty minute lesson is followed by ten to fifteen minutes of play, so the children never get bored, and they never lose their focus.  Instead, they are fully emersed and engaged in their lessons.

Last Friday, I had the joy of visiting Lewie's class as a guest, and I brought in books from our local library about farms.  Before coming to his class, I really had no idea how the curriculum or the outside classroom worked, but once I had the chance to experience it for myself (and had a chance to read stories and play games both inside and outside), I realized how 1) quickly the time goes by for children, 2) how engaged they are, and 3) how the entire experience feels more like play and less like 'traditional learning.'   By the end of my two hour visit, the children had already listened to and discussed three books, practiced their letter sounds, numbers, sight words, days of the week, and months of the year, and they had already had a healthy dose of stretching, sun, and exercise.

Reading to Lewie in his kindergarten classroom...


Reading to Lewie in the outside gathering area...  I wish I could show all of Lewie's friends sitting on their tree stumps,
but I'm not allowed to post their pictures for obvious privacy reasons...

I can't say that all of my decisions in life have been perfect, but what I can say is that I couldn't be more excited and happy about choosing to send Lewie to this kindergarten.  I now love it just as much as he does and I'm looking forward to coming back at least once per month, so I can share some more wonderful mornings with my little boy and his class 'friends.'  I didn't know what a nature based curriculum looked like, and now I wish more schools around the country would adopt this idea.

A Trip to Vermont - Good for the Soul

10.12.2014

Last weekend, we went to Stratton, Vermont to celebrate my birthday.  We packed our bags on Friday evening after we came home from work and made the three hour trek to our hotel.  (We arrived just a little after midnight.)

After a long week of work and stress from our busy lifestyle, it turned out that a trip to Vermont was exactly what we needed.  On Saturday, we decided to take a train trip through Okemo Valley on the "Green Mountain Flyer" and on Sunday, we visited both Taylor Farm (a cheese and dairy farm) in Londonderry, VT and The Hildene (The Lincoln Family Home) in Manchester, VT before coming back home.

The Green Mountain Flyer (Sorry these are cell phone pics...)
 
Train rides are awesome!

My turn for a picture...



Daddy and Lewie had a chance to ring the bell.

One more picture of the "Flyer"

Lunch in an old farmhouse...

Dessert at a Cappuccino and Juice Bar...How can you resist a name like "Moon Dog Café?"

Inside the Moon Dog Café...

Another picture of this awesome place...

Downtown Chester Depot, VT

Stratton Mountain

The sunrise on a very brisk 30 degrees fall morning...

Outside our hotel, the Black Bear Lodge
 
The trip was short, only two full days, but it was exactly what we needed to feel relaxed and rejuvenated for all of us.  Did I mention that my husband and I treated ourselves to massages too?

The reality of going back to work full-time is that I often feel disconnected during the week--torn between life with my family and obligations at work.  The truth is that although I would like to make a distinct separation between the two, family and work often intertwine, meaning I never feel fully present at either.  At work, I'm desperately thinking about ways to spend more time with my family, and at home, I have racing thoughts about what I need to have prepared for work the next day.  My recent promotion, although a financial blessing, has created more stress as now I have obligations that run into the night and sometimes even on weekends...

I'm torn between family and work, but at least for two full days, I had the pleasure of being fully present with my family.  The crisp Vermont air, the turning leaves, the mountain views, the animals, the family-owned restaurants, and the country stores were exactly what I needed to bring me back to the important things in life--good food, family, laughter, and a slower pace.

Lewie on the Stratton Mountain Gondola Ride...

Going up the mountain...

The Gondola, according to Lewie, is almost as cool as a steam train.

Lewie takes some pretty good pictures...

The view...

Another view of the Stratton Ski Resort and Shops...




Taylor (Dairy) Farm



We fed the chickens...

Lewie was not interested in getting too close...

Three little piggies...

What's a dairy farm without cows?




Standing in front of  Hildene


I was so proud of Lewie... He enjoyed touring the Lincoln Family Home just as much as we did, and he even said,
 "Mommy, this place looks like where you work."  He's right.  The mansions at my College
were built during the same time period--the early 1900's.


Robert Todd Lincoln (President Lincoln's son) was Chairman of the Pullman Palace Car Company.  This is the only remaining replica--the 1903 Sunbeam.  Up to Seventeen people could sleep inside these "luxury cars."

Inside the "Sunbeam."





At now 39 years young, I don't know where my future will lead me.  I don't know if taking this promotion was the right choice, but as long as we keep on scheduling trips like these as a family, I'm hoping I will have a chance to savor life instead of watching it race right past me...

Currently - September Edition

9.29.2014

Ever since school has started, I find that the days and weekends are whizzing by fast.  The first two weeks of September were spent getting adjusted to new schedules, cooler temperatures, and shorter days.  We've been fighting off germs (and winning so far), and buying new school clothes and shoes to last us through the fall and winter. 

In the midst of these new routines, we've had 'school picture day,' 'pirate day,' and 'pajama day,' which are a welcome break from the norm but, to a certain degree, require their own planning and preparation.  Then, out of the blue, I received a job promotion, which is both exciting and overwhelming at the same time.  Will I be able to achieve a work/life balance?  At the moment, it feels like work is winning, but I'm determined to take days off ahead of time to make sure that my family remains a priority.

Today I'm linking up with Jenna of A Mama Collective, to discuss life...Currently.

Thinking about// APPLES!  Lewie's school has been focusing on apples for the past few weeks, and last week, he brought home his own "Apple Book" that had all sorts of lesson plans, stories, poems, and crafts focused on apples.  Since it's been a central theme this month, I thought it would only be right to end the month with some apple picking.  So today we went to a nearby farm, picked some apples, and bought some homemade apple cider donuts to bring to school.  (His class is small with only six students total.)  I'm sure they'll be a hit!



 

Thankful for// my family.  Our little family has gone through some rocky times over the years, but today it feels like we're closer than ever.  Although the days are getting darker quicker, we're still determined to fit in valuable family time even if it's outside in the dark.  At least four days a week, my mom watches Lewie (she lives next door) while my husband and I go for an hour long walk in our neighborhood with flashlights.  Then, on most days, I go on the trampoline with my little boy and play "bounce tag."  Even on days when I come home late for work, my little guy and I will put on jackets and bounce while looking at the moon and the stars.  I actually look forward to this time with him and hope he'll remember it just as fondly as I will...


Loving//  dress up theme days.  So far, Lewie's school has celebrated Pirate Day and Pajama Day.  For Pirate Day, we were able to find some old mix and match costume items from years before to dress him up, and on Pajama Day, we chose his very best pajamas and brought two favorite story books to school--How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? and Steam Train, Dream Train.  I wish I could have stayed behind as a school helper, but at least I had the pleasure of dropping him off and watching him be so excited to show his school teacher and his classmates his little outfits.  For Pirate Day, Lewie constantly grunted, "Yo, Ho, Ho...Ahoy Mates!" in his deepest voice.  (If you didn't see his pirate costume, you would have thought he was doing more of an imitation of a deranged Santa Claus--"Yo, Ho, Ho...Yo, Ho, Ho....) 

So we found an eye patch and pirate scarf that was from an old birthday goodie bag...

Then we added one of my mom's gold, loop, clip-on earrings from the 70's and of course, a Captain Hook type moustache.

We completed the outfit with an old Dracula vest we used for Lewie when he was three. 
(You can see old Dracula pictures here.)

Yes, September has come and gone, but at least we were able to savor some fun memories along the way.   Now it is on to pumpkins, leaf peeping, and Halloween...  Does anyone know how to make a steam train costume?  (That will be our October project this year...)

The Red Caboose Motel

9.16.2014

This weekend, we took a short trip to Strasburg, PA to sleep at the Red Caboose Motel and ride the Strasburg Rail Road, which just so happens to be 1/4 of a mile away from the motel. 

Planning the trip started back in early August when I saw that Thomas the Tank Engine and his friend Percy would be visiting the Strasburg Rail Road.  Being into trains, I knew Lewie would love the trip, and I also knew that he would enjoy seeing Thomas.  (I'm trying to get these special moments in before Lewie decides he's too old for Thomas.)

Needless to say, our trip didn't disappoint.  After packing our suitcases after work on Friday, we left our house in Connecticut around 7 p.m. and arrived at the motel around 12:30 in the morning.  The main office wasn't open, but they left our key in an envelope with directions to our room right on the front door.  (You've got to love the trustworthiness that  exists in the heart of Amish Country.)  Most people that stay at the hotel sleep in a real caboose; in fact, there's 49 unique ones to be exact.   However, since it was "Thomas Weekend," the cabooses were all taken when I called, so they put us up in their farm house, which turned out to be wonderful and have its own distinct charm.

The next morning, when it was light out, we had a chance to explore the area, and we soon learned that the Strasburg Rail Road could actually be viewed from the motel's front porch in plain sight.  Even cooler, Thomas the Train and Percy were running past the motel every 30 minutes, so we could either see them right at the train tracks or even from the windows in our farm house.  (As you can imagine, my son didn't want to miss a single one, so he stayed planted by the window while my husband and I both took showers.)

Our first daytime view of the country side on Sat. morning...

Lewie waiting for breakfast in a train car...

One of the many, many cabooses...

The view of trains passing by our farm house window.
 
On Saturday, we ate our breakfast in an actual train dining car and then spent the afternoon and evening riding Thomas, Percy, and the "Executive Train" at the Strasburg Rail Road.   That night, the motel sponsored an outdoor movie night of "Thomas and His Friends" where they actually projected the movie against the side of their white barn.  It was the coolest movie night ever!  We brought our dinner with us as we sat and watched Thomas episodes in the barnyard.  (I could get used to this country living.)

Eating breakfast in a train car...

Another picture of our new breakfast joint.

Waiting for another train to come by...

Percy...

Riding Thomas...



Yay for Thomas!

In front of the Strasburg Train Station

Waiting in the "Executive Train"



This is how the outdoor movie looked against the barn wall!

In the morning, we woke up at 4:30 a.m. thanks to the dozen or so roosters that live directly below the farm house.  We didn't remember them crowing on Saturday morning, but on Sunday morning, none of us could get back to sleep.  My little boy started yelling to the roosters, "Stop cock-a-doodle-doing!  It's not even morning time."  (Technically, it was morning time, but to my son, morning doesn't happen until the sun comes out.)

We reluctantly got out of bed and started our day early that morning, but we soon forgot about the roosters as we spent most of our day eating a big, Amish style buffet at Hershey Farm and then visiting a 1700 sq. ft. model train layout at the Choo Choo Barn.  Quite honestly, this was one of the best train layouts we had ever seen!

Bunk beds inside a real caboose!

Wonder what a bathroom looks like in a refurbished caboose?  Well, here it is...

Here's the main room of a caboose...

Can you believe that you just saw the inside of this caboose?

My personal favorite...Love the colors!


The Canadian Pacific and Lionel Lines


Our Farm House

One of the little buggers that woke us up at 4:30 a.m.

My two boys and their trains...

Goodbye Thomas!
After the Choo Choo Barn, we decided to make the five hour trip back home.  I had wanted to take a horse and buggy ride, but we were unprepared for the cooler weather, and my family promised me that we could come back to the motel again.  After all, we still have to sleep in a caboose and visit the Amish Village!  For a trip that was planned around our little boy and his love of trains, I have to say that I think Mommy and Daddy enjoyed themselves just as much if not even more!  Thank you Lewie for helping us plan all these wonderfully, crazy adventures; your love of trains has introduced us to this whole, new, exciting world.