Posted in family life, hikes

hiking with littles: wet beaver creek day use area

It is good to simply be – to be present, to be at peace, to be free.

This is something I try to give to my children: freedom, space for wonder, opportunity for exploration and self-determination, time to be young and wild among the wild things of the earth.

Chores, deadlines, busy schedules, impatient adults – they all can make it hard to leave no stone unturned in the quest for interesting bugs (not to mention that riparian areas tend to have much more fascinating bugs than our urban desert backyard!).

Home is good, and safe, and stable – but unless you go out adventuring you will never stumble across pools to wade in, rocks to splash, logs to climb, and leaves as big as your head.

And when you begin, you may find that every bend in the river is calling you forward, over boulders and brush, through shadow and sun, to discover the unknown ahead.

Or perhaps it is the curve in the path that beckons, as it winds through the grasses underneath an archway of leaves.

The wild around you may make you feel small, dwarfed by the solid rock beneath your feet and by the broad, tall trees rising overhead, in whose roots alone you could take shelter.

Yet it is that same grandeur and size that makes overcoming those wild obstacles such a meaningful feat, such a source of delight and satisfaction – no worksheet or artificial task can hope to compare.

You learn to ask for help when the problem is too large to handle alone; you learn to stretch and bend and serve when your friend needs help that you can give. And in the serving, you come to find joy, and in the receiving, you find joy as well.

And when you cannot find the trail that others made, you go where beauty and danger call, where the challenge and reward are equally great, and never count the loss of what might have been for the thrill of the wandering.

How to get there: As you may have guessed, we didn’t exactly follow a trail on this adventure! Instead, we used the Wet Beaver Creek day use area as our base and spent five hours exploring the surrounding area. To get there from the valley, take the I-17 N through Camp Verde, exiting onto the 179N toward Sedona at exit 298. Almost immediately, turn right onto FR618 and follow for 2.4 miles until you reach the day use area on your right. There are several one-lane bridges, but the road is paved the whole way. The day use area has no fees and a couple port-a-potties and picnic tables.

If you do want to take an established trail (and I’ve heard this one is good, although I didn’t locate it until we were leaving), you won’t need to stay on FR618 quite so long, instead turning left into the Beaver Creek Work Center and parking near Bell Trailhead. This is a 3.5 mile trail leading to a swimming hole, so it’s probably better for older kids.

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – july quick takes: getting ready for school

  1. School starts early here in the valley, and while we’re not tied to any specific school schedule, I’m feeling ready to settle into more routine and structure than we’ve had in our (very fun and very busy) summer so far. Actually, for the first time in my life I’m creating tentative weekly and monthly schedules and will be trying to keep track of things in my own custom planner! I have never been able to maintain a planner for more than a week, so we’ll see how this goes.
  2. The most exciting part of preparing for school has been making a list of all the books I want to buy 🙂 My husband will probably arch his eyebrows at me and comment about our lack of shelf space, but I currently have forty-five books on my list and I’m sure I’ll come up with more!
  3. I’m also thinking of purchasing a science curriculum – I found one that is about climate and biomes from a Montessori background, and while I definitely can’t buy all the physical props to go with it, the curriculum itself still looks like a solid introduction to those topics (very beautifully and thoughtfully laid out). Rondel moved up to a full-day scholarship amount through our state’s ESA program, so we have funds to cover more than speech therapy this year and I may be a bit over-excited about it…
  4. Rondel turned six this month! I haven’t uploaded any of the pictures from my camera yet, but he had a great party with both sides of the family present. He has so much energy now, and so much creativity, and such a love of nature. He’s also starting to decode words and is willing to spend more time practicing writing, so I think we have a pretty solid foundation going into the school year.IMG_3056
  5. One of my other major areas of focus this year is going to be on the saints. Probably more than half of my picture book list is about the lives of various saints, working out to about 1-2 every month (I have several from the library as well – I work at the university, so I can get year-long loans on most of the children’ books, for school purposes). Each saint portrays a slightly different way of loving and following God, and inspires us to love and follow Him in our own way. The community of saints is such a powerful and beautiful reality – and the stories of the saints help us see how the truths of the faith that we hear at church and read in the Bible can be lived out in different cultural and personal circumstances.
  6. Music and art is another thing I want to be more intentional about this upcoming year. Rondel especially loves to make crafts, but he needs a lot of help and things can get messy and I know the creativity won’t be able to shine as much as it could unless I schedule it in and make myself deal with the mess 🙂 And since we do have some auditory sensitivities in the family, I may gently ease into music by making some simple instruments during our craft times, and then using them while singing together. Actually, if you have a list of high quality folk/traditional children’s music I would absolutely love it…
  7. Most importantly, our schedule is full of wide open times to play, explore, and go on adventures and trips. Routine provides stability, but flexibility and (some, minor) spontaneity provides a spark of excitement and energy.

How are you preparing for the new school year? Anything especially exciting or new? Also, don’t forget to visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the quick takes linkup today!

Posted in family life, musings

social learning through play

When I first read Peter Gray’s Free to Learn a couple years ago, I was struck by his descriptions of young children playing together. In the interactions he transcribed, these children were negotiating social hierarchies, defining relationships, experimenting with emotional expression and response, making small talk, and learning to understand the thoughts and feelings of other individuals – all through the context of undirected, independent, imaginative play with each other.

At the time I was both impressed and discouraged: impressed at the ability of the human mind to use pretend play as a means of acquiring important social skills, and discouraged at the thought that I hadn’t yet seen my son engage in pretend play with another child in that way. He could parallel play with his baby brother, and that was about it; other children overwhelmed and even frightened him.

But lately I have watched him playing with Limerick, roaring and yelling and screaming at each other, and when I cautiously peek around the corner they quickly assure me that it’s all part of the game, and their characters are angry, not actually them. Their pretend animals ask each other if they can come in, or share space, or help with something difficult. The boys ask each other, outside of the game, about what they are each comfortable with and what the other one’s preference would be for the kind of game they play, back and forth until they reach a compromise.

I have watched him playing with Aubade, laughing and wrestling and generally being silly, until suddenly she pretends to be sad with a pouty frown and a slump of her shoulders, proclaiming that she is sad, and he instantly changes his mood to match her emotional expression, curling up next to her to give her snuggles until she decides she is happy again.

While his understanding of other people’s emotions may not be as intuitive, and while social norms and niceties may always be more of a second language, he still has the innate desire to connect and belong with others. And so with the people he loves, he works hard to understand them, to compromise with them, to adapt to their wants and feelings. We’ve done a lot of “play coaching” with him and his siblings over the years, to get to this point, but now, every time I see him bend and adjust, every time I hear him ask what his siblings would rather do instead of demanding things go his way, I am so encouraged by how much he has learned, and by how much he can do without any adult around reminding him. Those hours of play have really been effective in helping him pick up and hone his budding social skills – and I have no doubt they will continue to be.

Posted in family life

a small rant on stereotyping of baby dolls

I don’t really understand gender stereotyping of toys.

Other people have expressed the general concerns with the practice better than I can here, however, so I will skip straight to my particular and most pointed dispute with it: baby dolls are marketed purely for girls, when both boys and girls are highly likely to be parents some day and have babies of their own. If any real-life imitative play skill is going to be useful in adulthood, surely taking care of one’s own toy baby is! It’s even worse than isolating toy kitchens to the “girl” aisles and construction benches to the “boy” aisles, because it represents an even more fundamental part of life and of being human.

With that said, I don’t actually have baby dolls for any of my kids. They’ve so far always had real babies to play with by the time they were old enough to be interested in dolls, and stuffed animals can be a decent substitute in a pinch. But Rondel’s classroom at church has a baby doll, and it has been his sole focus during free play for the past month at least – he rocks the baby, feeds the baby, puts the baby to sleep, and dances with the baby during music. It makes a lot of sense to me, since play is a child’s way of understanding their world, and we have a baby at home! I just don’t see why it isn’t an accepted and even assumed part of every little boy’s life, as it is for little girls.

Posted in musings

a moment of play

There were eight of them, boys and girls, from five to twelve years old. I watched them on the beach, as they scrambled up and down the sandy slope and splashed into the shallow water, as they dug and molded the sand and filled buckets of water, as they strategically laid down sticks and removed stones. Without a blueprint or a guide, without a leader giving directions, the structure they were building took on form and function. They shared ideas, gave each other space to innovate, collaborated without quarrels or criticisms, helped each other test their creations for soundness, and negotiated the course and scope of the project to come to a mutually acceptable solution. Occasionally they took a break to swim or start an independent project, but came back to help with the community endeavor.

When we impose our adult ideas of fun, we shut down this natural cooperative and creative play – along with all the learning and joy that accompanies it. Fortunately, all we have to do to encourage it is to give our children the freedom and opportunity to simply be.

Posted in family life, musings

learning together

Rondel and Limerick are near-constant playmates these days, and the presence of another child to play with is doing amazing things for each of their social play skills! Every day I see them create and play elaborate games together, both physical games or pretend games, with agreed-upon and negotiated setup and rules; I hear them get into arguments and fights and resolve conflicts independently of adult input; I watch them learn to observe and take into consideration the things that are important to and enjoyed by each other even if their own inclinations are different; and I see them choosing freely to share their toys and cups and take turns with coveted items. (It’s pretty adorable to hear your 2.5 year old ask his brother to “please move Rondel”, and even nicer to see said big brother make room for the little one – and best of all to see both of them accepting “no” as an answer and offering other options in the attempt to find a solution that leaves everyone happy.)

I don’t force them to share and take turns. If they seem stuck I might suggest those as possible solutions, but unless they’re overtired and getting physical about their conflict, they usually do better without my input, and can come up with solutions that seem “unfair” to me but result in them playing happily together – successful in resolving their short-term conflict with the added benefit of gaining diplomatic skills and confidence for the long run. Honestly, my interference can often make things worse, it seems!

I also don’t try to make them play together. When they want to, they can play alone; but they almost always choose to play in the same room even when they are doing independent activities, for the shear pleasure of showing each other their creations and telling each other their ideas and plans.

In short, they are friends, and they are learning the skills by which friendships are strengthened and maintained.

If they can learn these social skills so well just from each other, with minimum parental guidance for safety and advisory purposes, simply because they are intrinsically motivated to maximize their mutual environment, what else might they learn through that same motivating power? Forcing them to memorize and drill phonics or addition would be as effective as enforcing my ideas of fair play on their interaction: in other words, it would likely lead to resentment and poor skill acquisition. But when they are ready to learn, motivated because they are interested, caught by the beauty or use of a thing, they will learn with the speed and power of a wildfire in drought.