The garden keeps on growing! Each day we walk through the garden weeding, watering, and pruning the suckers off the tomatoes, we are amazed by the growth that seems to happen overnight. Gardening is truly a labor of love. If you’ve ever weeded a carrot bed, I’m sure you’d very much agree! Weeding aside, tending to a garden is therapeutic for me and I think it’s contagious! The kids along with Mike are always out there checking on their plants, pulling weeds, picking bugs off the bok choy and the eggplant, making sure the ground isn’t too dry, counting tomatoes and flowers in the pumpkin patch and dreaming of what the next couple months will bring like tomato sandwiches and homemade pickles!
Leo has been my right hand man in the garden this year. He seems to be pretty much in charge of the whole production, but like any good boss, he is always asking questions and learning himself! He is always out there first thing in the morning to check on things, especially his two bean plants that he sprouted from seeds in a jar and then transplanted into the garden. He is a seed saver. Everything he eats, he usually asks where is the seed and how did this grow on a plant and can he grow it in the garden. We are both learning something new everyday. We have researched corn, how many ears one stalk can grow, how to help your pumpkins grow bigger, where are banana seeds and why flowers turn into plants. We also have been studying bees; how they survive and thrive and how they pollinate plants.
People who love to eat are always the best people.
Spending time in the garden has always brought me great joy and I feel so honored to be able to share this gift with my family. I have so many beautiful childhood memories of my Italian grandparents garden in New Jersey. My Nonno and Nonna taught me so much about working the earth and making good food. They were the original “organic” farmers growing up in a little mountain village in Italy. They valued everything they put on the table because it truly was in every word, “the fruits of their labor.” So much of what I know about gardening I learned watching and helping them. They taught me at an early age to respect the earth and to take care of it because our existence depends on it. They weren’t environmental activists, they were Italian farmers who knew the importance of respecting the earth that feeds you. They taught me where food comes from, how to compost and create healthy dirt, how to save seeds for next year, how to can and cook what you grow and best of all, they taught me the great joy of sitting down to a meal together with those you love.
Gardening and food have a way of connecting us all
Planting a garden isn’t just about experimentation, it is about hope. It is about believing in the magic and beauty of the earth and the gift of tomorrow. When planting a garden there are so many things that are out of our control that can effect our plants. To believe in a garden is to have hope. Hope that the tiny little seed you planted will be nourished by the earth and weather the storms and be resilient. It is having trust in the unknown, which is something I hold very near to my heart during these uncertain times. Hope is something that like a garden needs to be nurtured and encouraged to grow. There is no time better than the present to harvest hope. To believe in tomorrow. So I encourage you to dig deep into the earth and plant some seeds of hope. Your garden will do more than grow plants, it will give you a harvest of plenty; one that will nourish the mind, body and soul.
Having a garden and believing in new beginnings is a Victory for us all!
Frustration is good. Some of the worlds best inventions and discoveries come from frustrations, boredom and nothing to do. We don’t need to constantly entertain our children. We don’t need to guide their play or explain everything they see or are doing – in many ways it is a disservice to kids. It takes away from their own curiosity and learning experience. Kids learn through figuring things out, through trial and error, through exploring their interests. Not from someone telling them how to do things. Telling and teaching are two totally different things.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
Over the past fifty years “parenting” -especially in the United States- has shifted from a very hands off approach to a new kind of parent controlled direct explaining of the child to the child of their own life experiences from the parents point of view. For example, we observe a parent at the playground: “Ok Sally, go up the slide. Down this way, whee! Wasn’t that fun? Didn’t you love that! No Sally, not the see-saw, you go ow. Danger!” There seems to be a renewed focus on telling a child how to think and how to feel –in a sense– pre-filtering and pre-digesting the child’s reality. This spoon-feeding denies children the creative learning experience that is so important for growth and development.
Parents have the best intentions and yes, it is important to guide your child up the ladder to slide down the slide, but you show them once, step back and observe next or a couple times and then back away and let them enjoy their new found freedom and their autonomy. This builds a self-confidence that becomes a model throughout life. If you don’t show your children that you trust them in early on experiences, then you are setting them up for your approval and needing you to do so much more for them through-out life because they lack self-confidence and are afraid they will fail. They won’t be able to go to the food store or college without mom and dad. It’s true and it’s really happening. Just ask your friends who have college age students.
Author Janet Hibbs, calls this a mental health epidemic stating in her book, The Stressed Years of Their Lives, that what we are seeing is very smart kids, which some researchers call brainiacs, that suffer from “destructive perfectionism; they cannot tolerate not excelling at everything. And no one typically excels at everything. We all have times when we both make mistakes or fail. And kids don’t have as much practice at that today, because they’re protected from having those experiences, and also it freaks their parents out, which makes then the kids feel more responsible.”
This is a very new phenomenon over the past 30 or 40 years and it’s something we have the ability to change for the better of our children; for their self confidence and encouraging resilience for life. Ask some earlier generation parents what they did as a kid. If they were born in the USA during the 60’s and earlier they say things like: work on the farm, tend to the animals, cook meals for the family, take care of their siblings (and most grew up in a household where only one parent was working). They did things like mowing the lawn, took their siblings to the local lake or pool to swim or ice skate (unsupervised by adults). They probably played outside a lot more than you and your own children, they may have walked to school (by themselves or with their friends or siblings), they may have had a job at the young age of 12…they may have ridden public transit by themselves. My mom often tells me the story of how she would, at the ripe old age of 12, take the public transit bus from her suburb town in New Jersey into New York City to meet her dad at work for lunch. Most of you reading this can probably remember your own freedoms as a child. It was an independence that helped teach you great skills like problem-solving, self-reliance and confidence.
Today, parent’s are nervous to leave their kids unattended in their own backyards to play. What has happened to us over the past 50 years as a society, that we now have more anxiety and fear about raising our kids and we have more children filled with fear and anxiety. In her book”i Gen: Why Today’s Super Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, author Jean Twenge explains that most teens today aren’t even interested in getting their license to drive, a privilege that most youth would be counting down the days until. It used to be a symbol of true freedom. Yet, todays youth are too anxious to get behind the wheel and are waiting longer and longer to learn to drive and get their licenses. This generation of youth is the first to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. With social media and texting replacing other activities. They spend less time with their friends in person and are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
In the book Free Range Kids: Giving Children the Freedom we had without going nuts with worry, a fantastic read for any parent with kids of any age, the author, Lenore Skenazy, decides to let her 9 year old son ride the subway alone. She builds her son up to this, first riding with him for years and then riding with him from their home to the desired subway stop to be sure he knows what to do. When she decided to write a column about her child’s adventure and new found independence, she was chastised by the media and parent’s for being called careless and “the worst mom ever.” I do understand parents’ concern. It is so outside the box for us to feel comfortable with actions like this, but Skenazy knew her child. She knew his capabilities and maturity; she set safe guards to make sure he would be ok.
I have struggled with giving my children these same types of freedoms because we don’t live in a society that totally supports it. Instead, people attack the parent as being negligent. Children have fewer and fewer spaces to grow, to explore, to be trusted to their own activities. They need space to build confidence and competence. I firmly believe that it is safer to allow your child to walk around the block in your neighborhood or up the street to the playground with a friend than it is to leave them unsupervised in their rooms all day on an electronic device! Here they are alone and engaging in material and media that may be more of a threat to their well being. This isolated media diet can be more harmful than a walk around the block without mom and dad. Yet, today, many parents believe that their children are safer on the couch in their home, safer at scheduled organized activities, playdates or even in their bedrooms– than in their own backyard! How sad is that?
It isn’t easy to give your children the freedom and space they need to foster their wellbeing. Showing them you believe they are ready to do things on their own encourages confidence and responsibility. It is the best lesson for children. When you don’t allow them to cross the street on their own and tell them it is because you don’t trust the drivers of the cars, all your child hears is that you don’t trust them. Instead, find a common ground that makes you feel comfortable and also allows them some freedom while being safe. We live on a very busy street where cars drive over 40mph. I haven’t felt comfortable with the kids crossing the street by themselves, but when Ava turned 9, she kept asking me why I didn’t trust her to cross the street on her own? I realized that this was the message she was getting and that I wasn’t giving her the autonomy she needed as she was growing. So, we made an agreement that she could cross the road and bike down the quiet dead-end street across from us during the less busy hours of the day. I have always taught the kids from an early age to look both ways before they cross – so, our next step was for them to tell me when it was safe to cross and to cross me across the street (this is what I started doing with the kids from an early age, maybe 4 or 5). So, the natural thing to do, was to now let Ava cross on her own. I watched her from the window as she looked both ways, looked again, waited, waited more and then finally she and her bike were off! The smile on her face and confidence that shined through her is a picture I have in my mind that I will hold onto forever – it was a gift to give her that independence and show her that I trust her.
So, what are the next steps when we live in a society that reports parent’s to the police if their kids are in the yard alone or walking their dogs around the neighborhood by themselves. Well, we couldn’t stop there – what I did next was try and think of a space or place that the kids and I both knew well and felt safe in and could let them go to by themselves. We visit the local library often and we know all the librarians that work there, so naturally, I started to let Ava and Lily at the age of 6 and 4 go into the library to check-out books on their own while Leo and I waited in the car outside. I first checked with the librarians to make sure they were okay with this and told them why I wanted the girls to have this type of opportunity and they were very encouraging. Ava and Lily both felt so responsible to go into the library, pick out their books (we always agreed on a number before they went in) and walk back out to meet me at the car. When Leo turned 4, I let him join them. I told Ava and Lily that they were in charge and told Leo that this was a privilege that would be taken away if he didn’t behave the way I expected him to and listen to his sisters. He was very excited for this freedom and now I even send him in alone (age 6) to pick up books. So many parent’s say, “oh I could never let my child do that,” but have they ever let their child do anything? If this idea sounds so foreign to you, take baby steps and build both you and your child up to it. There are so many ways to give your child freedoms that will instill confidence for their lifetime.
When I go food shopping with the kids, I give them each a list of things they need to get for me. They sometimes do this together or individually. I never send them off in a large packed store, only in the local food store that we know and the grocers have gotten to know them over the years. Ava always orders our meat and cheese at the deli counter – long before she could see over it! I have sent Ava and Lily into our local mom and pop farm store to buy milk or ice cream, especially helpful when Vivi was very young and napping in the car. I have always told the kids that if an adult questions you as to where you parent is, you can let them know that I am right outside waiting for you and if they don’t approve then they can come and get me. I have also taught my children that it is ok to respond and say hello to “strangers,” but you never, ever go anywhere with a stranger. I want my children to know that if they were ever in trouble that they could go to someone they didn’t know for help and to not be afraid of strangers. I think there is a difference that is important for them to understand.
I also let my kids walk trails that we all have walked together and that they know well. My girls have walked the sidewalk to the library with friends on their own. My husband had many freedoms growing up and so did I, we both rode our bikes far from home and were left at a young age to babysit our younger siblings. My husband even had a paper route throughout his town and biked many busy roads. I don’t know entirely why or how we have shifted to this model of fear and over concern for allowing our children to have similar freedoms. Some argue that the world is less safe yet, all news reports and honest statistics point differently. Is it because most of us don’t even know our neighbors? My father-in-law said he couldn’t get down to the end of his street without saying hello to most of his neighbors and having at least one of them call his mom to let her know if he was up to no good. Maybe that’s something we don’t have today in our communities. My own father grew up in a small mountain village in Italy and at the age of 5 was in charge of the garden, planting and watering the plants that were grown in a plot of land a 1/4 mile from his home. He also had to collect the beans in the summer and bring them to the market to sell (all of this was unsupervised and to help his family survive).
It takes a Village to Raise a Child – an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.
I write about this topic because I see in my own children how they get along better and have less frustrations when I give them more responsibilities and trust. Finding balance isn’t easy for ourselves or our children. Yes, there are dangers out there in our world. Yes, there are things fully out of our control, but we have options – we can shelter our children out of fear and pass on that fear and anxiety to our children from a very early age OR you can choose to empower your child. To foster independence, self confidence and encourage unsupervised moments that allow them to grow, build skills that prepare them for the adventures of adult life. These are the tools that they will truly need to grow into a healthy well balanced individual that is able to handle life’s ups and downs with a resilience that can only be taught through life experience. Don’t be afraid – the rewards far out way the dangers.
We’re all in this together,
I know right now this concept of giving your child more freedom and independence to grow outside your home might not work as most of us are social distancing – but like all change, it starts from within. Encouraging independence starts in the home. There are ways you can begin to create this change in yourself, in your daily routines with your child at home and in your relationship with your child. Have your child think of something they have never done before that they can do without your assistance. It’s a great assignment and encourages a little independence.
If you’re interested in doing any more reading or research on this topic check out these resources:
It’s easy to miss it if you look quick, but yes that is a spring asparagus Spear popping up in the garden! This is the third year since I planted three asparagus crowns in my garden and it usually takes that long for it to establish itself and yield some fruit. So as you can imagine, I was super excited to see this beauty break on through and say hello. Although, when I planted it, I didn’t know much about asparagus yields and just recently read an article that recommended planting 25 asparagus crowns to feed a family of four! Guess I can’t count on my asparagus to feed us through this pandemic!
Luckily, our area of Western Mass is very well known for it’s asparagus – around here it grows like grass. The soil along the Connecticut River is very fertile and great for growing asparagus. If you’d like to try adding it to your vegetable garden it is very easy to maintain. Unlike tomatoes and other garden annuals, asparagus are perennials. Once established, the crowns will continue to provide a crop for up to 20 years or more. No matter how fresh you find it in the store, there really isn’t anything like tender asparagus spears from the garden.
My family’s favorite way to eat asparagus is broiled in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s super easy and cooks quick. If you’d like to give it a try, first snap off any woody ends of the asparagus, place your asparagus spears on a baking sheet, pour about two tablespoons or enough to coat your asparagus onto the baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix it with your hands. Be sure to coat all of the asparagus in olive oil. Once you can pierce it easy with a fork, it’s done. Usually takes 10 minutes in the broiler on high.
Mother’s Day is a special time to reflect on the very significant beauty of the Moms in our lives. No amount of thanks seems to be enough to let these heroines of our lives know how treasured they are and how much we depend on them. Mothers know how to give; let’s give them back some of the love they share so freely.
So, thank you to all the Amazing Moms out there that never think twice about getting up in the middle of the night to comfort the cries of the baby, about driving to take their beloved to another lesson, or about all the duties that wear them down. Today –and every day,– let’s lift the Moms up, thank them, and help them fill the tall order of providing life and nourishment to all us kids.
I speak for myself, a Dad, a Son, a Husband, a guy who doesn’t always remember to wipe his feet, or clean-up after himself, or do the laundry, cook dinners, clean the house, bake fresh bread, change the diapers, do bath time, story time, school time, listen and console, be there for others, have a constant happy attitude, love selflessly, write thank you cards, buy special lovely birthday presents, write great blog content, food shop, develop a daily, weekly, and monthly mealtime strategy, make cakes, plan birthday parties, organize weddings, baptisms, and major events, the list goes on, and on.
My wife, Adriana, fills in these areas. I try to step it up to follow her lead as she cares for the kids and do the things she does with an endless supply of love and strength to carry on. She manages this no matter how much Leo fights her to take off his dirty clothes, or Vivienne climbs onto the table after the cat and bumps her cheek, or Lily and Ava duel it out over whose turn it is to pick the next Andy Griffith Show. Despite all the ebb and flow of daily challenges, my amazing wife carries on. She puts herself aside and forgoes personal time for the sake of each one of us: the kids and myself, also her own mother too, and her grandmother, her sisters, and for her father. My dear Adriana has a place in her heart and a moment in her day to listen and console, help, and give love to so many loved ones. She is an inspiration and a lesson. She shows me how love is in action: to do for others as you would want done for you–and to carry on even if it is not done for you! Thank you Adriana, I love you!
Adriana teaches me to try to act in this way, to think of others, to act with love, to smile and shine despite the odds. She paints a picture of motherhood on my heart that calls to mind my own mother, –another amazing lady. My mom– Nanna to the kids– also lives this way. My mother raised us 12 children (I have 4 brothers and 7 sisters) in a similar selfless and enduring way. No matter how many of us were crying or fighting or hungry or needed attention, Nanna was there, spreading herself out to cover us. She showed us how a mother’s love can be endless. She is still there for all the grandchildren now, watching over them, carrying on the love to the next generation, helping and guiding them as they grow. That love has inspired and lifted, sustained and nurtured all of us Powell children, and grandchildren, but also the selfless love my mom shares warms the lives of all those she meets. Thanks Mom for bringing me into the world, and giving me so much! I love you.
Adriana’s Mother, Mema, also is a lesson of love in action. Mema has been there for us countless times, pitching in, cooking for parties, setting up, cleaning, watching the kids, lending a hand, bringing lovely thoughtful gifts, helping at births, and always opening her arms to welcome me into her home, her heart, and her kitchen. Mema will drop everything and come straight to help when needed. If Adriana is sick, or one of the kids has some kind of emergency, Mema does not hesitate. In a flash she has packed her things and is driving hours to come to our side. Mema pitches in and carries on with an unsinkable spirit. She never lets the odds keep her down but always bounces back, rolls up her sleeves, and gets things done. Thats her love in action. Thanks Kathy! Love you too.
There is so much to say for Mothers. I only scratch the surface. The love that grows out of birthing a child, that pain that no man can ever truly understand, is a great love. Mothers love us –despite the pain– and I think that is the remarkable thing. May the Mothers out there know we are inspired by you. And let’s give some love back to Mom. Happy Mother’s Day to all you Amazing Moms out there. Thanks for giving us Life. Love you.
Having tea together is a sacred custom among many cultures for centuries. The Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, British, Indian and American cultures all have a history with tea. I am a big tea drinker and pretty much always have the kettle on in our house. I usually start the day with Earl Grey and share an evening cup of honey and chamomile tea with my hubby. It is a tradition we share from when we first met and would go out for tea together.
Research shows there are many health benefits to drinking tea. Tea drinkers benefit from antioxidants that help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases and certain teas are proven to lower the risk of developing heart disease. Drinking tea together as a family or with friends is not only calming, but fun!
Tea parties are a common occurrence at our house. The kids love to pick out a special tablecloth, fabric napkins, fancy dishes and tea cups to decorate the table. We usually have a seasonal centerpiece. Sometimes it’s fresh flowers from the yard or hand made paper flowers or even a large branch in which we hang festive seasonal decorations. Sometimes we have a theme, which could be a country we are learning about – we may dress up and eat treats from that country or culture and play music from that area. We also have poetry tea parties in which we each bring a favorite poem to the table. The verse can be one you’ve written or one from a book or even a story you’ve written or would like to tell. We sometimes dress up in fancy clothes or costumes! All our tea parties usually include a sweet treat or snack we’ve made. We don’t always have tea. At first we drank apple cider, lemonade or hot cocoa, now the kids are really into hibiscus, elderberry, pomegranate, peach, apple cinnamon, peppermint, chamomile even earl grey teas.
It really doesn’t matter what you have to eat or drink – the true gift is spending time together. Something magical always happens in our house as our dining table transforms into a beautiful tea room. We have tea parties with friends, share treats together and make crafts. We have tea parties with family when they visit and we have tea parties together.
You don’t need fancy china to have a tea party, anything that is fun and different will make the whole experience exciting. I have been collecting old china from the flea markets since before I had children. Who knew that they would take such pleasure in sipping tea from our flea market finds? They love picking out their own tea cups and dessert plates (all different and found at local tag sales). Nothing matches, but no one cares because that’s what makes it all the more fun!
In the summer months we love to make our own tea. We grow chocolate mint and peppermint in the garden and the kids will fill a pitcher with water and add the leaves to steep in the sun. We then chill it in the fridge and have an outdoor picnic with our tea. If you don’t have your own garden you can of course throw some tea bags in a pitcher and let them steep in the warm sun too. There’s just something about filling a pitcher with water and letting tea leaves steep in the sun that feels so cool and exciting!
We sometimes play games at our tea parties. Recently Leo suggested we play “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing an…. Apple. Then we go around the table and have to repeat what each person says and add to it with a word that starts with the next letter of the alphabet. This is a favorite game of Leo’s right now – although for the letter N he insisted on saying “gnarly farts,” but that is a lesson for another day.
Only recently before this pandemic, my neighbor who is originally from South Africa and speaks with a British accent, was stopping over for tea. It was a sweet time for us to connect, laugh and since she’s a seasoned homeschool mom with 3 grown kids, she is a wealth of knowledge and advice. Leo loves to listen to her speak and since our conversation was about gardening, when she left he was so curious as to why she says tomato different than we do. I explained that she has a British accent and some words are pronounced differently. Well, kids do say the darnedest things because Leo now thinks that he speaks with a British accent and keeps asking me if I understood what he was just talking about because he was speaking “British!” He asked me, “Mom, how do you say I need to use the bathroom in British?” I try very hard not to laugh as he continues to ask me how to say different things in British. So, maybe, as we have, you may find it fun to speak a different “language” at your next tea party. We had a fun time at ours recently, speaking “British!”
This Mother’s Day the kids are planning a tea party – it’s a surprise for me, but word is, they are going to bake brownies! Although we are all practicing social distancing –if you can– have a Mother’s Day Tea Party and invite a special someone in your life who may be alone right now for tea via “zoom.” We also have been having some family and friends for tea that way too! I encourage you all, young and old to make time for tea. It is a special time to pause, enjoy each other’s company and make this special time at home together something to remember and treasure.
Wishing you all a Very Special Mother’s Day.
“Cheers” (-Lets clink our tea cups together): Time for Tea!
Have you ever foraged for wild edibles? It’s something I used to do with my dad when I was young. We would hike through the forest looking for his prized “Hen of the Woods,” mushroom that he ate since he was a boy in Italy. He used to collect the mushrooms in a basket so that the spores would be able to fall to the ground and reproduce. I used to be so sceptic of collecting food from the woods and cooking it for dinner! Foraging for mushrooms is still something my dad loves to do and if the season is right and he’s up for a visit he always takes the kids into the woods hunting for mushrooms.
Garlic Mustard is new to me. It is an invasive species that is easy to find, and especially tasty in the spring. Ava took a “Wild Edibles” class at an Environmental Center near us last year and learned a lot about edible plants in our area. I have put my trust in her and with the arrival of the warm weather she took Leo on a nature walk in search of garlic mustard so that she could make us all some delicious pesto. It’s funny, when children feel empowered and given some autonomy to be trusted and do things on their own – they really shine. Ava and Leo were so excited to find the mother load of garlic mustard in the woods on our trail. They picked it, cleaned it and are now busy making it into a pesto to add to tonight’s dinner.
We like using the leaves to make pesto, but they also taste great added to a salad. The leaves, roots and flowers are all edible – the stalks are tasty sautéed if you get to them before they flower. Leaves in any season can be eaten, but they do taste bitter once the weather gets hot. The name’s no lie. Garlic mustard is filled with a fresh garlic character and a fiery mustard bite. The pesto it makes is great on pasta, toast, and as a meat rub. We also love to mix it with some mayo and add it to sandwiches or a cold pasta salad.
These plants are hard to misidentify, but I would recommend looking them up online or getting a good field guide to be sure you are picking the right thing. A telltale sign that you’ve found the right plant is if you crush the leaves or stems they will smell unmistakably of garlic.
Here’s our Garlic Mustard Recipe:
2 cups Garlic Mustard leaves
1/4 cup walnuts or pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil (add more depending on desired consistency)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
(Sometimes we add about 6 or 8 sun-dried tomatoes and some fresh basil)
In a food processor or blender combine garlic mustard leaves, nuts, garlic and parmesean
While the processor is running, slowly pour in the olive oil until mixture is smooth.
1.) Freedom from Guilt. I have put this as my number one tip because I think it is the most important for us parent’s and it is the hardest one to achieve. I have only recently begun to take my own advice and allow myself to homeschool guilt free. I haven’t mastered it yet. Don’t know that I ever will, but it is truly so important to not put too much pressure on yourself or to have unrealistic expectations of yourself or your children. One thing I have learned over the years of homeschooling is that there is no right way.
Children will learn everything they need to in time and the best lesson you can give them is a joyful learning experience. If you are stressed or feeling overwhelmed, they will feel that and that is the memory they will have of the experience. When I first started homeschooling Ava for kindergarten, I felt overwhelmed because I wanted to expose her to everything and felt that if I didn’t, then she wouldn’t be well rounded and that she would be missing out and that it would be better to have her in school. It took time for me to realize that all those things I wanted to teach her would happen in time and that it was better for her to have a happy mom, then a stressed out mom who felt the need to have things checked off her list as to having taught them. I realized through time that if Ava learned about ancient China or how to knit when she was 5 or when she was 25, it really didn’t matter. Yes, it is important to teach your children to read and basic math and science skills, but you’ll be amazed at how easy that all comes when you let go of expectations and enjoy the process of learning together.
Children are always learning and are curious by nature. Your job as a parent and teacher is to nurture that love for learning. It has taken me about 5 or 6 years of homeschooling to finally feel completely comfortable with that notion, but I promise you, it’s true. When you finally feel comfortable enough to let go of the guilt and just give your child your time and attention to their interests, you’ll find that everything that needs to will just happen naturally.
2.) Get Outside. Most often people assume that “school subject” learning can only happen when you sit at a desk and work on worksheets or read a text book. It’s something we have been conditioned to believe over time with the mass model of schooling. Yet, learning happens outside the box, not just in it. Some of our best learning happens outdoors and outside of a text book. My kids love to run or bike around the house and time each other (math work)! I sometimes give them math problems and they run around the yard and come back with the answers. This is a game that Lily made up when she was 5 and just starting to learn addition. She would ask me to give her a math problem, she would run around the house and come back with the answer and then do it again.
Bring the books outside; read, paint and draw. Who doesn’t love reading a good book under the shade of a tree or lying on a blanket in the grass. One of my kids favorite things to do is to take their writing journals and sit in the yard or walk the trail and free write or draw. We bring art outdoors all the time. Remember those early impressionist painters? They weren’t sitting inside imagining things to paint, they got outdoors with their easels and painted what they saw. There is something very magical about taking an easel or sketch pad outside with some paint and seeing the world around you in a completely different way. Being in nature brings out the artist and explorer in everyone. Being in nature is therapeutic. It is calming and renewing to us all. Take a hike or a bike ride on a trail, walk around the yard or visit a park, sit out on your deck and breathe in the fresh air. Stepping outdoors is the best classroom you can offer your children. Encourage them to explore their world around them and you’ll be amazed at how much it improves their attention and learning.
3. Read, Read, Read. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your children is the love of reading. Read to them, read with them, and have them read to you! Reading opens the doors to everything. If they have a love for reading they will be able to open a book and learn about anything. The more kids read, the better they will be at writing. The more they write, the better they will be at spelling. Opening a book opens the doors to topics you may have never thought you’d explore, geography, music, art, math, science… everything!
When Lily was 6 years old we read an American Girl Story together about a young African American girl named Addy who was a slave during the civil war in the United States. I was incredibly moved by Lily’s compassion for Addy and how the floodgate of questions opened. We read the entire 5 book series in a week and then had deeper conversations about the civil war and slavery. We explored those topics deeper with more books and then read about important people in history and events that occurred during that time like Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and Abraham Lincoln. We then started to read about the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Lily started to act out the stories in her play. She was playing with her people’s with Leo (4 at the time) and told him to be Harry Tubman and she was Rose and how they wouldn’t get off the bus. These were topics that I hadn’t planned to explore at all with her at such a young age, but we did because she was curious and interested and felt connected to a character in a story. These weren’t topics that were required learning for 1st grade, but we covered them because it was her interest. That is the beauty of reading and of following your child’s interests. Every book you open is a new life adventure and learning experience.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning.” Mr. Rogers
4. Play. Open-ended, free play is one of the best ways for kids to learn. Board games, card games, make believe, doing dishes and the laundry, learning to cook, taking care of pets, learning to use tools, and gardening are all extremely important life skills that qualify as time spent learning. Free play and life skills are education at every stage of life.
We are at a time when kids are over scheduled and have very little down time. In the United States the number of hours that children spend in free play has decreased dramatically while at the same time we have more children plugged into media and medicated more than ever before while, at the same time, the diagnosis of anxiety, depression, and attention disorder in children has sky rocketed.
Open-ended free play is crucial to human development and it’s often how children make sense of the confusing world around them. Research has shown that free unstructured play teaches children to be less anxious. It also teaches them to be resilient because it allows the child to figure out their own ways to regulate their emotions and cope with stress. Giving children the trust and space to figure things out on their own creates self-esteem and self-reliance because the satisfaction comes from inside the child, not from an outside source.
Through play that is unstructured, children learn to believe in themselves and their ability to work through stressful situations that feel out of their control. Letting your kids learn to do things on their own shows them that you trust them and their ability to do things. Teach your child how to cook or bake on their own from an early age, teach them how to do their own laundry and be responsible for getting it done, give them chores and responsibilities in the household (feeling part of a team is very fulfilling). This is truly a very important gift you can give your children and they will be learning some of the most important skills to take them through life.
5. Enjoy what you’re doing. This is an extremely special time in life that you have with your child and it truly does go too fast. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or burdened by the goals you’ve set for yourself or your child, then take time to re-evaluate and only put on the table what is truly realistic for you to accomplish. Remind yourself of why you have chosen to homeschool your children. *For those thrown into the realms of homeschooling your children during this pandemic, know that this is a short time in the big picture of things. It is far more important for your children to feel safe and loved than for you to have to stress of accomplishing work the school has assigned. You will get through it all in time and whatever they don’t accomplish now will be learned later. We’re all in the same boat.
I decided to homeschool my children because I enjoyed being with them and learning with them. My husband and I have both made sacrifices in order to do this, but the sacrifices pale next to the reward of seeing our children thrive. It is definitely not easy and some days I question if I’m getting it right. I’ve realized that there is no right way and just checking in with how I feel and how the children feel allows room to make changes and figure out what is working and what isn’t. If you incorporate homeschooling as a way of life, and time well spent together than there will be less guilt and more joy.
References: If you’d like more information on these topics and explore the research that supports this article, here are some great resources:
Psychology Today, Freedom to Learn Blog (website) – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learnAuthor: Peter Gray: Children come into the world with instinctive drives to educate themselves. These include the drives to play and explore. Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College.
This post is the opening of a series explaining our roots and our connection to parents and grandparents. I will try to describe the great teachers and loved ones that helped us learn, influenced our lives and how we teach and bring up our children as well.
This tale is regarding Mike Barbaro. I will try to show you a taste of his background, the family, his village in Italy, and the experiences that Mike has brought forth.
Adriana’s father, Michele Barbaro, has been a bright light for us.
For Adriana- of course- it is because he is her father, and for me, too- because he is my father-in-law. But he is so much more–his wife Kathy will tell you this (as she accompanies these stories on the same path with him, after-all). But then, Mike B is a bright light for everyone.
Mike’s life starts in a little village in Campagna, Italy: San Mango, and even smaller settlement there-in: Castagnetta. From there Mike and his parents: Nonna and Nonna, his uncles: Bill, Jerry, Frank, Tony and aunts: Rosa, Maria, Ava, Lina, Carmela, his best friend, Uncle Eddie, and so many relations, have unfolded into America, traced their roots, and welcomed us to share in their traditions, love and heritage, even their village home, itself. One year before we had children, Adriana and I visited the village, and slept in the same room Mike did when he was a child. The walls of field stone hugged us close and divided us snugly from the neighbor next door who we ate cheese with the next day in the little piazza.
We returned to the place in NJ where home had now continued to bloom all these years for Mike Barbaro and his family, and this video is a slice of that life -our life. This is the root still alive from a cutting made in the field where the cow used to graze under the fig tree in the little village.
One late Summer day the making of the wine was ceremoniously acted out together in a real sharing of tradition across the generations. The footage shows Fiori Nonno, and his wife Angelina Nonna, doing what they did every year (or at least someone from the family did every year): make wine. Adriana captured the spirit of the vino as Mike Barbaro- son of Fiori the Patriarch- reached out with his beloved parents to do again together what they did since he and Uncle Eddie were small boys in San Mango. And I, Mike from Massachusetts, got to tag along. I was working with Mike B at this time apprentice to building houses, setting tile, and learning carpentry. I also learned the wine.