Archive of ‘Child Development’ category

Observing Play in Nature

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. -Margaret Atwood

Observing children is beautiful.

When people ask, “What are you passionate about?” My honest answer would be, “Watching children play.”  However, there is a slightly creepy connotation to wording a passion that way stops me and I often spit out some more socially excepted verbiage like, “spending time in nature, play-based learning or even something broad like mindful parenting”. Ok, nobody really even asks what people’s passions are .. but they should!

But truly, observing play is such an incredible thing. It is like watching a series of mini miracles happen before your eyes.

Each movement leads to more development. Each word used connects to a bigger picture of the world. Each experience of free-play forms a unique little human.

Free-play in nature, in particular, sparks immense joy in children. And as parent, the opportunity to understand who your child is as a person during these moments outside is incredible. If children experience nature on a daily basis as a young child, they are in peace when they are outside. I have found as an educator, of children with behavioral and social needs, and as a parent that time outside releases something in them and you can see the true spirit of who they are.

One of my favorite lines in a book, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, is, “Who is my child in this moment?” This question is something that I try to ask myself multiple times a day. The practice of reflection and honoring their growth and true self has helped me connect and learn my daughter’s personality.

Charlotte Mason, a mindful educator of the 19th century, spoke beautifully about observing children. In her book, The Outdoor Life of Children, she said,  “This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their power of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment-” Her perspective is that it is the parent, or the educator, needs to be there for the children to observe their learning. They need to allow time for free-play but also be near for reflection and discussion. The balance that she creates is wonderful and requires such a conciois effort. This balance is also discussed in Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. The line, “When we talk over and under and around a child- when we talk too much- there’s less space for their thoughts, for what they have to say” really stands out to me. Allowing the child to be deeply engrossed in play is a mindful practice. When do you speak and explain? When do you observe silently? When do you document? And when do you simply watch? These are questions only you can answer and reasonably change given the child and the situation.

But what do you observe? Everything.

How do their hands grasp the shovel?  

How they move around the root that they fell over yesterday? 

What new words are they saying when they sing a song to themselves?

What new skills are they learning when you introduce water to their bucket?

Do their eyes sparkle when they see a butterfly floating by?

Do they search the same area of the yard for the ant they saw last week?

When do they check in with you? When do they desire physical contact? When is eye-contact reassuring enough? 

When do they realize they have walked to another area of the woods and you are out of sight? 

Take a week to be mindful of your observations. You may even want to use a notebook to write them down after you walk back inside or when your child is engrossed in play. Notice the changes. Notice the patterns. And notice the incredible gift of playing in nature that you have given them. Remember that this is a practice and something to work on daily. You will notice that as you observe, you will become better at seeing small changes in your child’s development.

I would love to hear your observations if you are willing to share. Feel free to email me,, comment or message me on Instagram.

Prescription: Nature

“Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.”

— Charlotte Mason

Prior to staying home with our daughter, I owned a company that worked with children with disabilities. Many of these students struggled with attention needs. Some of these attention needs were neurological and often the children were diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or a similar diagnosis. Other times the attention needs were simply a matter of explicit teaching of executive functioning skills, the child’s diet and supplement routine and… their time outside.

I will always remember the day when a beautifully polished mom of three elementary aged children stopped me as I hopping in my car after a long day of academic coaching. I was on the way to a meeting with a psychologist to discuss one of our shared clients whom was recently diagnosed with autism. My stomach was growling and my mind was running. But this mom had a certain level of concern in her voice and said something that stopped me in my tracks.
“Another mom told me that you prescribed their child to outdoor time for their ADHD child. Is that true?”
I remember throwing my heavy bag packed with books, my computer and play-based games in my car, taking a deep breath and taking a big sigh of relief. This is something worth discussing.
“Yes, I may be guilty of that,” I said half laughing, half hoping this conversation was going to be a humorous as I thought it was in my mind.
She readjusted her pearl necklace, nervously shuffled through the gravel parking lot with her heels and said, “Well I just had lunch with her and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… it is working”
“You sound surprised?”
“Well, let me just tell you that we have taken our child to three different psychologists, had him in tutoring for two years and we are still not seeing any changes. She told me to ask you to prescribe outdoor time to us too.”
At this point I couldn’t help but laugh. “Prescribe outdoor time” This is not a phrase that I had ever used but I loved it.
“Sure! Let’s meet for some coffee next week and I will write you up a prescription.”
And I did. I wrote up a behavior modification plan surrounded around executive functioning skills, with the main solution being more free time in nature. 
No special educational therapy. No additional tutoring hours, even though I owned a thriving mobile tutoring company. I actually told her to reduce some tutoring hours instead.
I helped her look at their family schedule to find big chunks of time that could be free-play time outside. I looked at their rhythm and helped her think through how they could simplify so time in the backyard was part of their daily flow rather than a luxury on weekends.
 I encouraged time to soak in some vitamin D, feel the earth under them and just be in nature.

Nature Play: Part One

Spring is in the air and I’m craving barefoot walking through the grass, Sangria on the porch and the excitement of little toddlers discovering a new experience in nature. I will be doing a four part series in the month of March on the subject of nature.

This week is an introduction to a primary text from Charlotte Mason (volume 6) on nature study. Her sincere belief in time outside is beautiful:

“It is infinitely well worth the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather, to cherish in them, the love of investigation…

(FAQ: But how do you stop them from eating the dirt? A: You don’t. I mean you can tell them no and redirect all day long, but the truth is that they are learning. Obviously try not to allow them to eat mouthfuls but a little dirt probably won’t hurt them. In fact, some believe that small traces in the bacteria in dirt actually helps children.More to come on this topic another day..) (FAQ: What do you do with her outside all day? A: Follow her lead. Let her explore and discover the world around her. Sometimes I offer “Toy prompts” like this large metal cooking pot. But very often, I just let her use her imagination. You don’t need a bunch of activities outside to reap the benefits. In fact, I would argue that by not providing many objects outside of nature’s gifts, you are giving your child the opportunity to learn in the most authentic way)

The child who learns his science from a text-book, though he go to Nature for illustrations, and he who gets his information from objects lessons, has no chance of forming relations with things as they are, because this kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same as knowing them personally…

Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life…”

Charlotte Mason, Volume 6

Rhythm With a Toddler

Background: Lydia is 18 months. I work very park time from home while my mom watches her

Edited to add: I in no way have the rhythm “figured out” but I do learn a great deal from other parents all the time. These connections really help me and my husband form our views and shape how we want to design our lives. We are very grateful for friends near, far and socially that love to talk about ways that their families find simplicity and happiness throughout their days.

One of my favorite lines in Simplicity Parenting is, “A baby’s first lullaby is its mother’s heartbeat in the womb, a powerful rhythm that we try to re-create with gentle sounds and rocking in their first weeks, months and even years.” (page 97). This speaks to my soul. These precious childhood years are a time to guide children into an earth-side rhythm that can help them the rest of their lives.

I used to think that I would have a daily routine with my children. (Read: I am a new parent and was trying to figure it out.) It just didn’t work for me. I’m not good at specific times. I am however, fairly good at the flow of a household. I love this part of mothering and homemaking. The everyday is what makes me smile. I am an avid reader, especially on topics relating to play/development based learning, parenting and holistic health. All of my research over the past five years has led me to a place of such contentment with parenting.

I’ve studied education and child theory in depth. I love learning about the different philosophies and how to integrate this in my own life. I am mostly drawn to Charlotte Mason and Waldorf. Both of these philosophies have a strong belief in nature. A beautiful read, The Rhythm of Family, words the connection to nature as it relates to the flow of the day so well, ” The natural world can serve as both inspiration and reward on this journey. For it, too, is ever changing and constantly in motion.”

While Charlotte Mason focuses more on habits, Waldorf focuses more on rhythm. Learning about each of these have really helped me design our family life in a way that brings us such joy and simplicity.

You can read more about my posts about the philosophies here. It is ever-changing as her awake and nap times adjust but we are falling into a nice rhythm that is last longer, as she gets older. Flexibility is key. But, I also believe that gifting your children a natural rhythm and routine is key. For me it is not so much that nap time happens right at 1:00, but that the tiny routine happens right before that. It is not that we must do an art project followed by a stroller walk, but that the flow of calming and energizing activities fits our flow.

I truly believe that rhythm helps facilitate confidence and security.

Here is our general family rhythm as of lately. I have put in some times as general landmarks for you.  Please also remember, the important part of a family rhythm is that it works for you.

~5:30 Mindful Mornings

Coffee. Coffee. Coffee.

Start a load of laundry

Read, Journal, Planner

Me and my husband wake up and have what we call our “mindful morning time” where we read the Toa To Ching, do our 5 minute journals and review our planners together. This does not always happen. Sometimes I stay in bed. Sometimes my husband is traveling and I try to get one step ahead before Lydia wakes up. But sometimes these beautifully crafted Mindful Mornings do happen and those days are glorious because I feel that order and calm all through my day. My goal is to add a little yoga during this time but I usually get engrossed in a book or conversation with my husband instead.

Our mindful mornings end when Lydia wakes up, usually around 6:30. She soaks in some snuggles and soon starts saying “Eat. Eat”. She is my daughter! Wakes up starving. She usually finishes the banana that I started when I first got up.

Then Lydia hangs out with my husband while I get breakfast ready. They usually read books or play with the dogs together. Then, Lydia helps feed the dogs.

~7:00 Breakfast

By this time, breakfast is ready. It is some variation of the same thing. Every single weekday.

Eggs with Toast. Eggs with sweet potatoes. Eggs with peppers in an omelet.

It may sound boring, but we love how easy it is to plan. It uses one pan. I know how many eggs we use in a week. And it gives us some protein in the morning.

I make our daily smoothie while I make breakfast so that it is ready to go whenever people want to drink it.

After breakfast my husband gets ready for work. He works from our home office 3-4 days a week so it is an easy commute.

~7:30 Morning Rhythm

free play


free play

This is also the time when I get most of my morning chores done. I fold the laundry, sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. I am not the best house keeper in the world so I don’t have this part down to a science yet. But Lydia usually bops around with me while I do the chores. Sometimes she helps by sweeping,, rubbing a cloth around the floor, putting away dish towels or puts away the silverware. I involve her in as much as she wants to be involved in. Otherwise, she just plays around me, usually with her play food or baby doll and stuffed dog.

Lately she has been requesting to paint during this time as well. I used to try to structure the paining time to a particular time in the day but when self reflecting on our rhythm and “breath in” and “breath out” flow, I reconsidered this and allow her to paint during any of her free time. The two minute clean up is really not a big deal  and she is loving this therapeutic activity.

Her free time is a combination of independent play and time with me on the floor. There are so many different philosophies on how we play with children. I tend to not follow one directly. When she plays by herself, wonderful. When she plays with me, also wonderful.

This is the time we also read books and often do a “Morning Lesson”. These morning lessons are so simple at this time and can be just turning on a specific song to sing to with a puppet. Sometimes it is reading a book and looking at a little toy about the same subject, such as the zoo book with some zoo animal figurines.

But usually it is pure free play inside.

~9:00 Morning Snack 

  I was allowing Lydia to play while eating the morning snack, but after chatting with my mom about some concerns with her shoving food in her mouth(then grossly spitting it out on her plate), it turns out the child was getting to over-hungry and trying to fill up too quickly. Oops. (Mom Fail by me! Grandma always knows what to do!)

So now we sit down and have a proper snack time. We usually read one of our library books during this time.

Morning snack is usually some smoothie and either apples and peanut butter or cheese and crackers. We keep it really simple for breakfast, snacks and lunches. Snack time leads us into a calming portion of our day.

Mid-morning Rhythm

This is a breath out time for both of us. We generally head out on a stroller walk, nature walk or just play around outside. We let the fresh air hit us and observe different  wonders in nature. It is one of my favorite times of day and although  I love play dates, I often miss this special time we have in the mornings if we are out and about. We end this time by coming back inside, washing our hands and reading some books again.

This is also the section of day that we do most of our activities.

Monday: Library to check out books and grocery shop (bi-weekly)

Tuesday: Lydia plays at home with my mom while I work

Wednesday: Play at home for extended time, sometimes we do a playgroup

Thursday: Lydia usually goes to library time and plays with my mom while I work

Friday: We almost always go to the playground for a playdate

I try to limit it to only going out 2-3 times a week because I really like having huge sections of time for free-play. Last Friday, we didn’t have any plans so my husband and I took Lydia to the library to check out some books before dinner. It was a really nice family activity to start the week. We talked about doing that most Friday afternoons instead of me doing the Monday trip. This would open my Mondays to more free play and yard exploration (and gardening once we get into our new house!)

~12:00 Lunch

Lunches are super simple here. I usually drink my smoothie at this time and munch on something little like baked chick peas or leftovers. Lydia often finishes her smoothie (it’s huge!) from the morning and has some cheese. If she already finished her smoothie, she has yogurt with fruit. We all also love having soup for lunch. One of my goals is to get better about making soups that can freeze so we can have nourishing soups for lunch more often in the winter.


Lunchtime leads right into nap time. We usually read some more books  or play with a puzzle or something like that and then go into the bedroom. I rub a little bit of lavendar oil on her feet and throw on the white noise and diffuser. Then I either rock her or lay with her until she is asleep. Admittedly, I wish that the time that I begin nap time to when she is asleep was shorter, but I keep reminding myself that this is just the “season of life right now” and to cherish it.

Since my housework is done while Lydia is awake, I have nap time “free”. This is when I do house tasks like bills, budgeting, meal planing and meal prep. I also do a little bit of work to prepare my lessons for my student.  I work with an amazing high school student 6 hours a week on three academic subjects and executive functioning. Also, keep your eyes open for posts about my new project that I am working on focusing on executive functioning for young children.

 ~2:30 Afternoon Rhythm

This is another chunk of time that we usually spend outside. There is no agenda to this time. Just play outside. We are lucky enough to live near a woods so we do a lot of woods exploring. On Wednesdays, we have recently added a playdate with a friend and her son. They are outdoor lovers too, so we meet at a playground, park or at one of our houses to let them play while we chat.


After about an hour and half to two hours of play outside, Lydia is starving again, which really just looks like crankiness at the time. (Again, mom snack fail!) So we stop and have a snack. Usually it is fruit- orange slices and blueberries are her current favorites. Sometimes it is just a carrot and apple pureed pouch. Sometimes she has some gourmet cheerios or crackers. Sometimes bone broth.

Late Afternoon Rhythm

After snack we have a little calm time inside. We often have some tea. I may catch up on some office work during this tome. Lydia plays around the house. We eat early, so I often start cooking dinner. This is a hard time in the day. Lydia is getting tired, I am getting tired. She wants attention. I want her to independently play. It is what it is. This is the time of day that I pull out a sensory bin, pop her in the sink for water play or come up with some type of ridiculous game in the kitchen with pots and pans. Anything to give me that time in the kitchen to create. Cooking is one of my favorite things so taking the time to make nice dinners is so important to me…..Even with Lydia grabbing at my legs or asking “Up. Up. Rock Me?!”

Lydia feeds the dogs and (sometimes) washes her hands then we sit down for dinner.

I want to get in the habit of a blessing, lighting a candle then eating. This is my next part of our rhythm to focus on .The actual dinner and conversation is always sweet and a real grounding time for us all, but I would love to add an extra element in.

~5:30 Dinner

My husband wraps up his work day by about 5:15/5:30  most days when he is in town so he is ready for dinner early too. We eat our dinner as a family. Then Lydia usually goes off to play while my husband and I stay at the table talking.

Ok. Full disclosure. This is when our rhythm falls apart. Our bedtime (like the actual time) is a post for another day. I am reading, researching and looking at our patterns here. Reading and research suggestions are welcomed!

We live in walking distance to my parents right now and will be a short two minute drive from them in our new home (Blessed! Lucky! Grateful!) We often, especially when the weather is nice, have a drink with them before dinner. Or enjoy dinner together. This pushes dinner back to about 6:30 on these nights.

So we have this in between time here. Sometimes it is just free play inside. Sometimes it is a family walk. Sometimes it is playing outside for a little bit. It seems to always be something different.

Bedtime Routine

For how all over the place the rhythm is from dinner until bedtime routine, our bedtime routine is very consistent. My husband gives Lydia a bath. They both love this time together and I can often hear them in there laughing and chatting. I usually take a break at this point- shower, sit an play on my phone, or read a little bit.

After bath, Lydia know the routine so well that she prompts us with the next thing, “Teeth.” So my husband brushes her teeth, brushes her hair and get her in her pajamas.

Then I step in and put some more lavender oil on her and get her to sleep.  For how systematic our routine is, the actually “get her to sleep” part isn’t as beautiful. Again, a post for another day.


Then I creep out of the room and hang out with my husband. Sometimes he is back at his computer working. Often he is reading or finishing up the dishes. We hang out for a bit together- sometimes just on the couch reading or playing on our phones. We often chat and catch up on the day. Sometimes we go in the office, where our only TV is,  and watch something on Netflix. More days over the past eighteen months than I would like to admit, I stay in bed and fall asleep shortly after getting Lydia to sleep. I don’t like this habit and we talk about a lot as a couple. We discuss how important my sleep is as well but also that we want time together. This leads into why we want to “hack” our evenings more.


****More posts to come regarding these subject areas, including some interview style posts with other parents. If you need help with your daily rhythm, please check out Meagan’s resources with Whole Family Rhythms. She is far more experienced in this area than I am.***



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