Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Have Fun Learning About Different Cultures Throughout the Year! Let’s Start with China and The Chinese New Year!!

Are you looking for fun ways to bring more culture into your home?  Whether you homeschool or not, we all could benefit from learning a bit more about different cultures and traditions from around the world.  When we do this we are role-modeling the value of diversity for our children and fostering an understanding of different people and their customs and beliefs.  We are also preparing our children for an increasingly global world.  Looking for more reasons to learn about culture?  Check out this short article that summarizes the key benefits.

Our family loves to learn about different cultures by anchoring our learning around specific holidays or celebrations throughout the year.  That way we are grounded in events that are happening in real time, making our experience more meaningful.  Each month we learn about a specific holiday, and integrate our learning into other areas such as history, geography, visual and performing arts, world religion, culinary, and political science of that specific country or region of the world that the holiday is celebrated in.  The children have so much fun choosing a new holiday each month and have created "passports" that are about the size of a small book made out of construction paper that are used as a way to journal about their experience.

Many of you I’m sure have heard about the Little Passports program, which we’ve never used as we like to create our own, but that’s an option if you are interested.  In our imagination, we travel to different parts of the world and add some of our favorite things about that region into our passports, it may be a drawing of a famous landmark, a description of the holiday, a phrase written in that country’s language, or thoughts on what it was like to cook a traditional meal.  Whatever resonates with the children is what they decide to add to their passports.  This monthly experience of learning about different cultures is a part of our family rhythm.  To learn more about how to create a family rhythm click here.

I plan to write a monthly blog post sharing resources and ideas on how to bring this cultural experience into your homes.  My hope is to keep these posts short with easy and fun information and inspiration!

With the Chinese New Year coming up on February 8th, my family is enjoying learning all about China!  Here is a summary of some of the things we have begun, and things that we will continue to do over the next several weeks:

The children and I start off our new monthly adventure by going to the library and picking out books to read on the region and holiday we are studying about.  Here are some of our favorite books on China and the Chinese New Year:

Folk and Fairy Tales:

Folk and fairy tales from the region are fun to read and are filled with wisdom.  One of our favorite stories from China is The Serpent Slayer.   The Serpent Slayer and other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana includes this Chinese fairy tale along with many other tales from around the world.  This month the children made beautiful drawings of The Serpent Slayer in their passports.

Some Fun Books on the Chinese New Year:

D is for Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine

We also really enjoy reading living books such as Festivals: My Chinese New Year by Monica Hughes as it is told by a real person experiencing the holiday.

A Couple Good Overview Books on China:

China by Adele Richardson

Another great living book is We Come From China by Julie Waterlow.


YouTube is a great resource for looking up videos on any certain area the children want to learn more about.  We will be watching some on the Dragon Dance and various New Year celebrations such as this one here.


It's fun to play traditional Chinese music throughout the month.  We especially like to listen to it while working in our passports.  I simply create a station on Pandora, or you can pick up a CD at your library. 

Arts and Crafts:

We plan to make these Chinese Red Envelopes.  Last year we did a different version of this craft where instead of the Chinese letters, we dipped a coin in gold paint and stamped it onto the envelope. 

A Traditional Chinese New Year Craft


We’ll have some fun learning how to cook a traditional Chinese meal.  We’ll shop for the ingredients at our local Asian supermarket, that in and of itself is an exciting experience for the children!  Seeing all the different types of food, smelling all the different scents, and hearing people speak in their native language is a thrill for the children.  Martha Stewart has some fun recipes and other Chinese New Year ideas here.  Visiting a local Chinese restaurant is a fun experience too!


We’ll have some fun learning a couple of words and phrases in Mandarin Chinese, we like this little video. 

Other Resources:

National Geographic for Kids is a great resource. Here's the link on China.

Local Community:

We like to leverage our local community as one of the primary resources for learning, in support of our value in place-based education.  Therefore, we will be visiting Chicago’s Chinatown and attending the celebrations on the New Year.  Check out your local Chinese cultural center if there is one available to you. Talk to your neighbors or people in your community!  We enjoy speaking with our Chinese American neighbors and learning about their traditions.  It is a joy for the children to learn from people of all ages in our community.

As you can see, there is a lot you can do.  You can go as deep as you like or make it a light - touch approach, choosing from a couple of books and activities.  We follow our children’s interests as we travel throughout the world without ever getting on an airplane!

How do you plan on celebrating the Chinese New Year and learning a bit about China?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Create an Intentional Family Rhythm for the New Year

With the start of the New Year, we are all setting new goals and schedules for ourselves and our families.  I’ve found that building a family rhythm, as opposed to a schedule, helps my family and I create a pace of living that fits the unique needs of each of us and eliminates some common barriers to feeling connected and in synch with one another.


What is a family rhythm?

Rhythm is very different from a schedule.  It’s also something that’s difficult to describe.  The best way to communicate this would be to show you, but since I can’t invite you all to spend a day with us, I will do my best to describe it here. Rhythm is a guide to our daily routine; it helps us flow through the day, transitioning to different activities with some amount of predictability yet also gives us the space we need for spontaneity. We have a daily rhythm anchored by responsibilities such as meals, chores, and work, filling our time in-between with whatever inspires us that day.  

What does rhythm look like?

We’ll start our day with breakfast followed by yoga, outdoor play, and then we’ll come in and do our “work”.  We like to use Montessori language here as we call what we do “work” – delving into whatever the children and I are engaged in at the moment.  For the children that may be some math, reading, or working on a science project, all of which is self-directed and customized to fit their unique learning needs.  For me that might include working on my leadership assessment and coaching business, working on this blog, or organizing our next field trip with our homeschool/unschool community. Sharing this time together working allows us to each respect our own individual goals and it gives me the opportunity to role model a good work ethic.  When our work is done we will move on to lunch, chores, perhaps an art project or time with our musical instruments, maybe a playdate with friends, a field trip or a class, followed by dinner, family time and bedtime.  Specific activities depend on current interests as well as what day of the week it is or time of the year as we also have rhythm to our weeks, months, seasons, and years.

morning yoga

As we move about our day, there are no set times, other than specific appointments or commitments we have made.  For example, if the children are playing outside in the morning and are engaged in deep play, then we will continue with that play to their content before moving on to our work.  Having a daily rhythm also allows our children to be self-sufficient, flowing through their day with much freedom but also with some structure.  Without rhythm, they would either rely on something or someone to direct their every movement (“what’s next mom?”  “what do we do now mom?”) or would live like “Lord of the Fliesresulting in complete chaos.  We’ve been on both ends of the scale, as it takes some work to find the right balance.  When daily rhythm is the guide it reinforces children to practice independence and time-management skills, which will be critical to their success as adults. It also helps them with transitions.  Knowing what is next, but having the flexibility to self-direct is especially important for children to practice, and is often something that parents have a hard time managing as described here.  

Rhythm also grounds us and allows us to pause between activities and reconnect with our values and intentions.  For example, at breakfast we will talk about our goals for the day, and at lunch we will reflect on how the day is going, making adjustments as needed for the remainder of the day, and at dinner we all share what we are most thankful for, reflecting on what brought us the most joy that day.  Rhythm gives us a way to live out our values and reflect on each other’s goals, filing our day with meaning and purpose. It anchors us and without it we would feel like we are just reacting to whatever comes our way versus being proactive in shaping our own day with intention and purpose. 

  *Internally driven (values focused)                               
  *Flexible to fit individuals or situations      

            *Externally driven (task focused)
  *Rigid enforcement of people and time


Where do I start in creating my family rhythm?

Creating a family rhythm starts with becoming in tune with each other.  Pay attention to each other’s personality and temperament and adjust your rhythm accordingly.  This is a core tenant of attachment parenting.  For example, when practicing attachment parenting, babies are not fed just because the clock says it is time to eat, but they are fed because they are hungry.  They are not put to sleep because it’s time for sleep, but because they are tired.  With time, parents begin to anticipate when their baby will be hungry and tired based on their cues and can start to prepare food and sleep accordingly.  That’s what creating rhythm is about, paying attention to the natural cues of each individual and forming a rhythm that supports that.  As children grow, you create rhythm for other parts of their life and for your own.  So rhythm emerges naturally from the individual and situational needs, as opposed to a set schedule that everyone is forced to adhere to.  And to get the most out of your rhythm, you need to secure it with intentional rituals. 

I’m hoping these concepts are resonating with you and that you are beginning to think of ways to experiment with intentional rhythms.  Both successes and failures have helped our family find what works.  To get your creative juices flowing, I’ve included a couple examples of rituals that have really stuck with us.  


Afternoon tea time

Twice a week my children and I have what we call “afternoon tea time”.  It is a ritual we created together and look forward to.  We gather around our dining room table and light a candle at the center of the table to signify the beginning of our tea time.  We prepare our tea and snacks and gather our reading materials.  We start by reciting seasonal poems, finger plays and songs.  And then I read to the children from books we have selected together.  We typically have some seasonal books that we are reading from at the moment about nature, a holiday, or celebration that is taking place that time of year.  We also enjoy reading from Chicken Soup for a Child’s Soul.  We also may read about a particular topic that we are studying at the moment, lately it’s been Greek mythology and ancient history. There’s always a lot of discussion about what we have read and we may have a project to go along with what we just read about.  When it’s time to end we blow out our candle and clean up.  

afternoon tea time

Family dinners

Another ritual that I am proud of is our family dinners.  It took a lot of trial and error before we settled on a rhythm that works for us, as dinners can be a difficult time for families with young children.  We all help with meal preparations, the children set the table, we light a candle to signify that it is time to sit down and eat, we say a short prayer and then we begin eating. As we are eating, we each take a turn saying what we are most thankful for about that day.  We do this while we pass around a beautiful glass blown stone that my husband brought back from a business trip.  We blow out the candle when meal is over and it is time to clean up.


What resources and tools are available?

To help guide our children at home, my family created the attached Rhythm Chart Template that we hang on the wall at our children’s eye level so that they can refer to it easily.  It includes icons for the little ones that are not reading yet.   We update it together, seasonally or on an as-needed basis.  I hope that you find this tool helpful as you customize it to fit your needs.  

Remember to reflect on your rhythm at the most micro level, i.e. daily routines such as family dinners, but also from a weekly, monthly, seasonal, and annual perspective.   When you are intentional about your family’s rhythm it allows you to make informed decisions about which activities to take part in.  For example, if I know ahead of time that a certain week or month will be a bit busier than usual, I can confidently decline an invitation to an activity.  

Furthermore, Waldorf education has been a great influence for me in understanding the importance of rhythm.  I have also found the following books to be full of wisdom and inspiration - The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties and Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.  Check out these resources if you would like to learn more.  

I'll leave you with a quote from the author of Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne, "In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trip to Disneyland, but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, and Saturday morning pancakes."