Everyone in the homeschool world knows that no two homeschools are just alike, which works out well since no two families are just alike. And, come to think of it, I can’t think of any homeschool family I know who only uses one approach. Every family seems to make their own homeschool cocktail out of the approaches that appeal to them. (If you’re interested in learning about different approaches, 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy is THE book to start with, in my opinion.) In our home, that cocktail is about 70% Montessori, 30% Charlotte Mason at this point.
As I’ve stated previously, I haven’t thoroughly studied Charlotte Mason’s approach yet, but my understanding is that in the primary ages, she recommends that children spend hours outside each day and not have any formal, structured learning time.
Dr. Maria Montessori also had a strong emphasis on spending time outdoors, but also encouraged having a specific nature shelf within the community. (She used the term “community” instead of “classroom.”)
I certainly do not carry out either to the full extent that those two ladies envisioned. Drama Queen and Mr. BANG practically never spend six hours outside in a day, as Mason recommended. And I don’t have a wide variety of plants around the room/house for the children to independently take care of, as Montessori encouraged. I certainly do not have a variety of pets for the children to learn to care for!
But I do try to let the children spend at least one hour outside each day. Sometimes we do structured things, like gathering up some sand from the back yard and making land and waterforms, but usually that’s pure free time for the kids. We have a fabulous area in the back yard that is pretty much pure dirt and rocks. Mr. BANG could easily spend hours digging in that dirt (and has done so many a time). They play in mud and dirt and rocks, and gather leaves and acorns, and swing on a tree vine, and get absolutely filthy, and have a BLAST! We also have a nice wooded area right next to our house where my husband cleared a path for us to go on little hikes down to a rain-water creek.
Another thing that I’m wanting to do is put together a nature pack for each child, filled with tools to help them really focus in as we’re exploring nature outside. Those will contain magnifying glasses, some field guides, plastic baggies for collecting things, a notepad for drawing what they see, and a few crayons.
Inside, we have the aforementioned nature shelf. It’s pretty simple. Soon after we moved in last summer, our new neighbor brought over some plants for the children, which they water twice a week. I also keep a little nature tray with things the kids or I find outside. Right now, it has a collection of the different types of leaves we have in our back yard. My personal favorite was sea shells and coral we found on the beach during a recent Caribbean vacation. We have two magnifying glasses for the kids to study those objects more closely. We recently added a bug catcher for the kids to be able to closely examine insects. The only other thing on the shelf is a little tray with animal/insect/fish cards that come in our aquarium’s monthly magazine.
In another part of the house, we have our only pets: two little dwarf-frogs. I’ve never been much of a pet person, so I figured this was a good way for me to begin building my pet skills. These little guys barely need ANY attention! You feed them four little food pellets twice a week, and change their water every three months. (When changing the water, you don’t even have to take the stuff – or frogs – out of the tank! You just suck out most of the old water, then pour in the new water! Can you GET an easier pet?!) At this point we all work together both on the feeding and the water changing. They both come running when they see me getting things ready or hear me say that it’s time. We’ve had those little frogs, Nathan and Isabella, for over a year now, so I guess it may be time for me to branch out and add a second pet that takes just a little more effort!
(This was when we first brought them home last year.)