Little House, Lent, and Looking for Spring

Whew, we made it to March! After the beauty and bounty of Christmas, I’m always eager for January’s simplicity– decorations cleared away, piles hauled to the thrift store, treats sequestered in dark pantry corners. But then after all that…February can feel pretty flat. Will winter ever end? What can we look forward to now? Shall I buy a new curriculum to solve all our problems? Did we accomplish anything this year???

Thankfully, I’ve discovered a few antidotes to the end-of-winter blahs:

Antidote #1: Conduct a seasonal review.

I like to plan our home school year according to the seasons, rather than in twelve-week terms or semesters or what-have-you. So as winter winds down, I gather books on seeds, wildflowers, insects, and frogs for spring nature study. I choose a new composer and artist – hmmm, Monet seems right for spring. I look ahead to upcoming birthdays and holidays to plan handicrafts. I start to feel excited; it’s almost like a fresh start.

While looking ahead, I also glance back. The end of a season makes a perfect time to update the girls’ portfolios for our year-end evaluation. As I riffle through math worksheets and narration notebooks, I find that – wonder of wonders, lo and behold – we actually have accomplished something! Simply seeing what handwriting looked like three months ago compared with today boosts my morale exponentially.

The not-so-fun side of this review process occurs when I happen upon subjects we haven’t done so well. For example, after an ill-fated autumn nature walk, I’m chagrined to admit nature study has happened indoors more often than out. I’m tempted to throw my hands up in despair before a beautiful realization dawns: a new season awaits! And if I choose a simple and specific strategy, we’re bound to make some progress.

I learned the hard way that wilderness treks aren’t for us quite yet. So what? Nature study could look like a once-a-week read aloud (outdoors of course!) about our springtime world. Then we could trek into our very own backyard, look for signs of spring, and record them in our nature journals. The moral of this story? Devise an absurdly simple action plan instead of wallowing in regret.

Antidote #2: Ramp Up the Joy in Learning

When we start slogging through the day-in, day-out sameness of our routine, there’s nothing like a project to rekindle excitement. Last year ants saw us through our slump. This year we pretended to hit the beach when the thermometer hovered around 20 degrees. By the way, the following is an example of our indoor nature study (forgive the oxymoron) in case you’re wondering how such a thing is possible.

First, I dragged bags and bags of seashells home from the thrift store, plus handy cutlery trays, etc, to sort them in. Then we identified our shells with help from Houses from the Sea and Seashells by the Seashore. We made a game of closing our eyes and identifying the shells by touch.

This initial foray to the seaside sparked our curiosity, so we read a stack of books and then sketched and recorded observations in our nature journals. Some of the books were difficult for the girls to narrate, being of a more factual than narrative quality, so I used John Muir Laws’ nature journal questions to spark discussion. 1) What do you notice? 2) What do you wonder about? 3) What does it remind you of? I especially loved giving the girls time and freedom to wonder. As a side note, I think these questions would work wonderfully for many subject areas, like literature and art study, not just science.

Luckily, February was also the time for us to study pioneers in American history. After reading The Josefina Story Quilt, we couldn’t keep from baking cornbread and slathering it with molasses – surprising yummy. We also marked out the dimensions of a covered wagon on our floor with masking tape. This led to agonizing discussions over what we would leave behind if forced to confine our worldly possessions to that tiny rectangle (unsurprisingly, the My Little Ponies made the cut).

Josefina prompted us to look at examples of story quilts to see how pioneers commemorated their experiences in fabric. Suddenly, the light dawned – why couldn’t we make our own story quilt? Duh, because our life isn’t exciting enough! No, but Laura Ingalls’ life sure was full of adventure!

Out came the fabric markers and muslin squares so the girls could draw their favorite scenes from Little House on the Prairie. I found nicely coordinated calicoes at my beloved thrift store for patchwork blocks to complement their drawings. My plan is for each girl to have a lap-size quilt when we’re finished. Don’t you think this is an ingeniously sneaky way to give the girls narration practice as they tell family members about their drawings?

Antidote #3: Seek the Spiritual Significance of the Season

I always feel badly because we make such a big deal about Advent but skim right past Lent. This year I wanted to sow the seeds of Lenten traditions that will grow with us over the years. I found two wonderful books to help. Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter provides a beautifully simple explanation of the season. I read it to the girls during the first few days of Lent. Faithful Families for Lent, Easter, and Resurrection offers many wonderful ideas for simplifying, praying, and giving during Lent.

I feel this season needs to be more about thoughtful reflection than busy activity, so I chose just a few practices. We started with a major hauling out of closets and toy bins to lighten our load. I made a Lenten Candle display to focus our hearts for morning devotions. During devotions we’re reading Jesus, the Friend of Children, learning Easter hymns, and reciting the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. We also plan to fill a box with our favorite food items and donate it to a local food pantry (I love this idea for giving our best rather than our unwanted items!).

Finally, I’ve spent some time honestly facing my screen time habits. Those quick peeks at my phone all day long add up, distracting me from the girls who I am supposed to be teaching to have self-control with screens. So away the phone went to a drawer upstairs, freeing me to be ever so much more present with my dear ones.

These simple practices are infusing this waiting-for-spring time with beauty and purpose. How are you finding joy in the waiting?

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