Friday, 30 September 2016

Boyschooling Named in Top 100 Helpful Homeschooling Blogs

I'm so pleased to hear that my blog, which has been running for about five years now, has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Homeschool Blogs by Healthy Moms Magazine.

Woo-hoo! Boyschooling soars!

I started the blog because, like all the hiking we do as a family, it's so much better to travel along paths that are already worn than trying to create new ones in the tangle and undergrowth of life.

Homeschooling can be challenging enough,
so following a path worn by those who
have gone before can make it a bit easier.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not averse to being a pioneer, but when a lot of us find ourselves in a battle with boys who won't write, struggle with our son's anger issues, fear we're succumbing to the pressure to try this curriculum or that style, then it seems silly to re-invent the wheel, family by family.

So thank you so much to Healthy Moms Magazine, and all you who have followed me over the years, shared my musings and encouragements, and benefited from the posts in any way.

You'll find us listed at NUMBER 31 on the following website link:

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Three Pathways of Homeschooling

This is going to be a long post. I apologise in advance, but I encourage you to read it, and read to the end: it could fundamentally change how you educate your children at home.

You see, every August/September, I have a crisis of direction.
  • Even after doing this for 13 years.
  • Even after becoming a firm believer in the philosophy and fruits of the Charlotte Mason method. 
  • Even after applying all the good parts of public school that I learned as a teacher there, and knowing what to discard and what to bar completely from entering through our doors.

You’ve probably felt this way, too. In August and September, everyone starts shouting what they’re planning to do for the year — singing the praises of this curriculum, or that program, or about exams or credits or dual-enrollment or American style or whatever, and you think:

… maybe … I’m … doing … it … wrong.

Chances are, you are doing it wrong. Almost all of us are. Me included.

Let me explain.

First of all, I think there are basically three pathways to education, particularly home education. You can see from the introduction that I have certain biases, but we’ll probably all agree on the general principles I’m going to run through.

Number One Pathway: the school-at-home way

I call this the “world’s pathway” — that is, following the way that most people’s countries go about this whole education thing, and the fall-back position for most homeschoolers. It’s what we know, right? The bottom line of this pathway is that students are drilled in an effort to achieve pieces of paper. In some cases, they’re not even drilled: they just end up with pieces of paper because they’ve signed up for something and then proceed to teach themselves. Let me explain:

My teen has just signed up for her first “dual-enrollment” course at a local college. It’s an online English class, and it consists of reading some chapters of a book, writing a paper, and emailing it to the teacher. The teacher them writes back “accepted” or “not accepted”. If you’ve ever read T H White’s Once and Future King, this might remind you a lot of the ant colony where things are either “done” or “not done”. This seems the pinnacle of factory education to me, where a teacher runs a course only in name. All the real learning has either been done by the student before, or the student doesn’t get any real learning or … surprise, surprise … Mom does it! However she gets there, her ultimately outcome is simply this: Done.

The problem with the world’s pathway is that the outcome of “done” is what’s important, not the process along the way. Children can cram and vomit out the expected answers, then go on their merry way, none the wiser.

This is true of so many homeschool approaches, too. Don’t kid yourself: if it’s short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice, the level of learning is minimal, and the aim, at the bottom of it all, is to be “done” or “not done”.

Number Two Pathway: focus on the process of learning

Now we come to those home educators who have opted for the second pathway, that is, learning for learning’s sake. There is no sense of “done” and “not done”, but of “doing”. They have eschewed the hoops and hurdles of someone else’s idea of success, and focus instead on the process of learning. There are different ways of achieving this aim, and some are very rigid while others are very loose; however, they don’t settle for “done” and “not done”, but are pushing the learning outcome to something lasting. This would be more your Classical Conversations, your Charlotte Masons, your Montessoris and other “living” approaches, including (to some extent) your unschoolers. Curricula and texts and activities work on the nurturing of the learner.

Clearly, as a Charlotte Mason advocate, I find this approach preferable to the first. I’ve been in the done/not done environment as a teacher, and I can spot a done/not done curriculum from a mile away, even if it’s dressed up as something else. The second pathway is clearly a higher level of learning for the student. It takes students further, deeper, broader; expands their level of brain development, motivation, retention; and turns them from “done/to done” or input/output machines into organic, holistic creatures made unique and, theoretically, more adaptable to what life throws at them.

I’m constantly trying to encourage newbies to leave the first pathway and branch out to the second one, because the first one usually leaves them feeling burned out or insufficient teachers, leads them to lots of shouting fights with their kids who find it boring and uninspiring, and therefore, prevents the warm, fuzzy feelings one was expecting to have when teaching one’s children at home. 

Almost everyone who has changed from pathway one to pathway two, if they were having problems, is happier after the change, because it suits their vision of what homeschooling would be like when they were thinking about doing it once upon a time.



(Pardon my analogies … I’m doing my best!)

However - and grab onto your seats - BOTH PATHWAYS ARE WRONG!

The right pathway is pathway three. If you’re religious, it’s God’s pathway, but even if you aren’t, don’t give up … I’m not going to cram the gospel down your throat. I’m going to tell you something amazing about how to educate your children at home.

Or, maybe I should say “WHY” you educate your children at home.

You see, your educational philosophy — whether religious or secular — has a spiritual or philosophical or at least a moral element to it. I mean, if you’re trying to sit down and read a book with your kids or make them read a book, but they’re fighting instead, and you just say something like, “For goodness’ sake, can’t you just get along like good people do?!!!”

What about, “It’s not nice to hit.”

“Don’t call people names — it’s not nice.”

“Only bullies act like that.”


You see, the fundamental things that homeschoolers do — all of us — is instill our absolute values in our children.

Does that make you shudder? Maybe it should. You know, a Neo-Nazi white supremist family who homeschools will be inculcating their Neo-Nazi white supremist values to their kids. A free-love naturist hippy who homeschools will be passing on their free-love naturist hippy values.

Maybe they’re Muslim extremists, Christian extremists, atheist extremists, socialists, drug-heads, welfare “spongers”, Asian Tiger Moms, or even Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, monarchists, anarchists …

Hopefully, you’ve got the point.

Just to be clear. I am absolutely not making the point that the government should “do something” about all these different isms and ists who are homeschooling their children. For one thing, no government could possibly succeed in preventing parents from passing on their values short of removing the children from the family. Even sending children to school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week isn’t going to stop the family values from creeping into a child’s moral fabric. 

Perhaps naysayers would argue, “Well, at least they’re getting an alternative view to their parents’ weird ideas!” No, they’re getting a whole new set of ideas, few of which are helpful or preferable. More on this in a minute.

Schools, because of the plurality of the student body, can’t espouse any unifying message of morality beyond the most diluted “be good” (ie, shut up and be quiet and don’t make any waves). Clearly, it can’t put forth any religious position of absolute truths out there, or there would be major ructions. It can’t be wholly secular, either, because there are no agreed guiding principles if you have no agreement on “absolute truth”.

All the schools can do is hope that their “be nice” message and “work hard” hopes will filter down to some sort of general order, but we all know how well that’s succeeded. Even if you personally haven’t been struck down by major tragedies like mass shootings, you or someone you know will have been badly hurt by bullying — this might not be a national tragedy, but it’s darn well a personal tragedy for millions of children, all of whom relied on the school to teach a value system.

No. Schools aren’t where the value systems of worth are found.

So, legislate as they might, governments will never replace the moral compass of a child’s home. That means the only place that your child can set his or her moral compass is at your hearth, and that means the chief end of homeschooling — whatever your religious or philosophical beliefs — is a moral one.

If you’re a Christian, this is a clear-cut direction. You use the Bible to study more of who God is, who you are in God, and how that impacts on your unique mission in life. According to R C Sproul in his excellent book called When You Rise Up, this will include equipping your children to teach their own children, who in turn will teach their children, etc.

It is an impactful pathway!

If you’re not religious, then you may like to use the two fundamental principles of natural law as set out by Richard Maybury in his Uncle Eric series of books:
  1. Do all that you say you’ll do
  2. Do not encorach on others or on their property
These two fundamental principles will get you a long way amongst fellow humans in the world.*

So let me re-cap:

PATHWAY ONE - Homeschool in a way that follows input/output methodologies, where study is a means to an end like credit hours, exam grades, degrees, and a good job. This way serves a purpose.
PATHWAY TWO - Homeschool in a way that seeks learning for the sake of learning. Qualifications may happen along the way, but you’re mainly trying to equip your children for skills they’ll need throughout their lives, come what may. You focus on process more than you focus on outcome. This pathway also serves a purpose.
PATHWAY THREE - Homeschool in a way that’s mindful of the moral messages that you teach your children, both by study and by your life in words and deeds. You set the bar of what success actually means, both in terms of academic and personal success. You know a child can always learn from a book, even after having left home, but the moral compass is set when they’re young and at home. Your studies, therefore, are not taken in a vacuum. Even something like Texas History can discuss the moral issues regarding clashes of cultures and needs/wants, and these discussions can help them tease out the hard choices when they’re adults. This pathway not only serves a purpose, but serves a society.

So, if you don’t take PATHWAY THREE, does that make you a bad homeschooler?

I think it’s the wrong question to ask. You signed up to pathway three the moment you started having children, so it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when” you start walking this way.

Parenting is about journeying with your children.
Setting your child’s moral compass is a fundamental purpose of being a parent, and therefore, you should look into using every and all resources for fulfilling that purpose. Of course, moral compasses will differ from family to family. That’s the problem of our having free will because we’re human beings. I mean, clearly it isn’t for us to decide whose free will is allowed to be free, and whose isn’t.** 

Just by focusing on principles, you’ll be teaching your children that there are such things as absolutes, and that’s a eye-opening lesson in today’s relativistic world.

Having a generation of homeschoolers who know that there’s such a thing as right and wrong will be a great influence on future society, and possibly position them to be world changers.

Be careful: you’re not nurturing them so that they can be world changers … instead, you’re nurturing them first and foremost to be moral/kind/godly, and then they CAN be world changers.


*Of course, religious people would urge you to think beyond the tangible and limited world that we see, and consider the spiritual world beyond — but that’s another topic to save for another day.

** It’s easy to get self-righteous and judgmental here. Remember to take the plank out of your own eye before you point out the splinter in your neighbour’s.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Best Job in the World

Back, back, w-a-y back in about 2001, I was researching the idea of home-educating my daughter who was then only a year old. I was a teacher, and she was going to a child-minder three days a week. Out of the blue one day, it dawned on me: why was I leaving my own child with somebody, while I went out to teach other people's children?!!

Teaching your own has intrinsic rewards.

Sometimes, we parents get into home-education because we fundamentally disagree with the education system; or because we are torn to pieces about what a certain school or even a certain collection of children are doing to our own precious one; or because we don't find traditional schooling a good fit. All of these are perfectly good reasons, but they're kind of negative ones -- we reject the norm to embrace the unusual.

But what if the unusual were the RIGHT way, and that we embrace it because it's been the best way all along?

Learning in the "field" with the whole body

This became clear to me one summer’s day, right after I’d left that paying job. It was such a luxury to just sit on a bench and observe my toddler. She was pottering around in the grass, shaking my soda bottle and watching the bubbles, and I was amazed how I wasn't feeling the usual urge to put her on the swing for five minutes, then help her down the slide for five minutes more, wobble the wiggly bridge for five, then take her back home for a nap so I could get back to my "real" job.

The very moment it dawned on me

Instead, I could just sit there. I could just be. And let my daughter just be. 

Just let her stand in the field
and ponder the world ... that's fine.
This was when my perspective completely changed. My job now was to watch her. What made her tick? What excited her? What was difficult for her, what was easy?

The moral of this tale is this: home-education is often seen as a "running away from" or "opting out" of traditional schooling, but I want to encourage everyone who's involved in it to see it with new eyes. Not running away, but leaping into, soaring through, bounding ... or, if you're a quiet and methodical sort ... ambling/walking/tip-toeing along the path that you were made to follow. 

Clearly, we don't all learn the same way!

It's a path that you travel WITH your children, not a direction you point them in!

Life and learning are journeys ... together!

And that's why, of all the jobs I've had, homeschooling my kids is the best job in the world!

(This article first appeared in the Home Ed Gazette, an email newsletter available by contacting the editor at homeedgazettegmailcom)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Schedules, Schedules, Schedules

It’s that time of year. Facebook and blogs and Yahoo groups and forums are full of people’s schedules. I used to write mine up in great detail on Excel — talk about Throwback Thursday (even though it’s Saturday!)

Here two of my schedules from the past:

Best laid plans of yesteryear

And what about now? How do I home-educate four children between the ages of 8 and 15? Well, now my schedule looks like this:

My plan for this year

How have I gone from ticky-boxy to book-stacky? Basically, three things have changed in the past two years:

  • I have fully embraced the idea that homeschooling is as much as about a relationship among the family as it is about a relationship with our studies, and therefore, I’m committed to teaching the kids together as much as possible.

Homeschooling is so much more than just studies

  • I have fully embraced the idea that recording what we’ve done is as successful an approach as planning what we will do: more so, in fact, because the stresses of “falling behind” are gone entirely, and the joys of “capturing the moment” are here to stay.

Recording what you've done is less
stressful than planning what you might do

  • I have fully embraced the stage of the children’s lives that they can both work together, and work independently; this means that we study together in the morning, and the afternoons are free for play/handicrafts/Spanish/music lessons/hobbies, or further studies for the older two.

Afternoons are free for hobbies

Sometimes, my friends accuse me of being very off-hand with my approach, as though it’s as easy as falling off a log. I think I give this impression because I’ve been homeschooling for twelve years now. With time (and children’s maturity), one tends to grow into their individual rhythm.

However, if you want to embrace an all-together policy of home-education as I have, then it's possible for you to start now. Here are some suggestions.

First, following a flexible educational philosophy like the Charlotte Mason method. Sometimes, her method is made to seem overly complicated if you look at various websites. The hoops to jump through are made to seem overwhelming, as though each child has to have his or her own complete curriculum, and therefore, you have to spend your entire day in leaping from one child to another to support their studies.

To me, that’s the way to madness.

This is what madness looks like

Look — what they tell you is that their way is a CM curriculum, and I say to you that my way is a CM curriculum.  In fact, both ways — all ways of homeschooling — are curricula, because the definition of curricula is those subjects which you study. If you happen to study the lyrics of Janis Joplin songs 24/7, then that’s your curriculum. It doesn't have to be someone else's pre-set way of educating your children.

It’s a bit like saying you’re on a diet. Everyone is on a diet. Diet is what you eat. Some people are on a low-fat diet, or a low-protein diet, or a low-Starbucks’-vanilla-latte diet, but a diet is just describing that which you eat. Period.

That's the English Cream Tea diet

So my curriculum is the collection of subjects that we’ve chosen to study, and we do so by using the Charlotte Mason method.

Charlotte Mason, by the way, was a Victorian teacher whose forward-thinking ideas about education continue to be ground-breaking when it comes to churning out thinkers instead of hoop-jumpers. (She would have abhorred today’s focus on teaching to an exam rather than igniting interest in a subject)

In short, the CM method is characterised by:

  • short lessons
  • use of living books as opposed to dry textbooks
  • employing narration, dictation, and copywork for Language Arts skills
  • nature study
  • art- and music-appreciation
  • free afternoons to work on handicrafts, outdoor pursuits, or other personal interests

Our CM-inspired timetable consists of reading really good books for about 20 minutes each, sometimes getting to six or seven of them in a morning. We rotate through about twenty books at a time, and generally they have a similar theme. 

This autumn, we’re focusing on North America at the time of the early explorers, including the indigenous peoples who already lived there. Our science is botany with a focus on trees. We use Life of Fred for secondary school, and a mixture of Singapore and Shillermath for primary. We’ll also dabble in artist study, composer study, quantum theory, Shakespeare, US politics and economics, character study, and of course, biblical history and Christian faith.

We’ll work our way through this whole stack of books in the year, supplementing with great documentaries like Crash Course, local workshops, trips to museums, concerts, plays, and even creating a lapbook or two.

Most of these supplemental activities are reserved for Fridays, because we only “school” four days a week (see my blog post about the importance of Free-Day Fridays for us).

Free-day Fridays are just plain fun!

I realise this has been a really long blog post — probably the longest I have ever written — but I wanted you to know that it’s possible to combine your kids for a great learning experience. If you have babies or toddlers, you will be a few years away from this luxury (I used to employ a lot of Montessori-type activities to keep the toddlers busy: Tot Trays is a great website for ideas), but start getting everyone into a routine of learning together in the mornings, and it won’t be long before your youngsters are right in the thick of it, discussing which Canterbury Tales is their favorite, or arguing whether light is a particle or a wave, or saying they're sad because we'll only be in the penumbra and not the umbra of the solar eclipse. 

Honestly, with a diet of great books and great thoughts, stuff like this really happens!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Drawing Contest for new Chaucer Book

If you've ever tried to introduce your children to Chaucer, you may discover that you can find either story-book versions or modern translations. The former is rather dumbed-down, and the latter is ... well, if you know anything about Chaucer, Too Much Information!!!

To my mind, there is only one book that gives an adequate flavour of The Canterbury Tales without all the rude, farty bits, and that's a very old book called A Taste of Chaucer by Anne Malcolmson.

Now a rare book!

Up until about three years ago, A Taste of Chaucer was available in paperback from Sonlight, but after the death of the author, it disappeared from the catalogue, and pretty much all affordable options dried up.

However, good news! The book is due to make another appearance, this time in ebook format, thanks to the generosity of Malcolmson's family.

Knights dance at the news!

The publication date is set for 10th of October, 2015. Sign up to the website for updates, and "like" the Facebook page.

In the meantime, the publishers are looking for homeschoolers to draw some pictures as illustrations of the new ebook. Details are here:

All styles, stages, ages and abilities are encouraged to enter -- the wider variety, the better. The only real limitation is that the pictures must be original and drawn in black and white.

Enter now -- all winners get free copy of the book!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Summer Giveaway!!! Three Copies of Cindy West's new Charlotte Mason workbook!

If you have ever wondered what the Charlotte Mason method is about, or if you are implementing it in the best way or not, then look no further than Cindy West's new ebook called "Charlotte Mason Homeschooling in 18 Easy Step-by-Step Lessons."

New Workbook from Shining Dawn Books

I first encountered this book about a month ago when someone mentioned it on Facebook. I bought a copy because I wanted to see if there were an easy introduction to CM that didn't overwhelm a newbie with information.

The answer was -- YES -- this is an easy introduction to CM that doesn't overwhelm.

More than that, it's a great reminder and tool for veterans like myself to remember the important hallmarks of the CM method, and even gentle helps for re-introducing the bits that often fall by the wayside, like music appreciation or art.

It further inspired me in the planning of the online courses I run under the name of Dreaming Spires Home Learning -- to choose living books, to encourage a relationship with the subject matter, to inspire a desire to go beyond the ordinary.

As per my usual MO, I immediately wrote Cindy herself to tell her how much I enjoyed her book, and offered to buy a copy for giving away. She said, "Take three, and I'll just donate them!"

Wow! What a gal!!!

So, here's your chance -- enter the Rafflecopter giveaway starting the 25th of July for your chance to win a copy of Cindy's new CM workbook. Offer ends 1st of August!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 5 June 2015

My Purple Space, or How I Find Quiet Time When Homeschooling

It's one of the frequently asked question by newbie homeschoolers, or people thinking about taking on the responsibility/fun/adventure of doing so: How do you find time for yourself if the kids are around all day?

Here's my thoughts about finding time/space for just such moments: I call it my "purple space".

The colour for the stage of my life right now is characterised by the color purple.  Not like "Color Purple" of Alice Walker's novel of that name, though by the end of this post, you may think there are analogies between the two concepts.

My purple is literally the color. I color-code my belongings. My iPhone case, my Bible, Kindle cover, MP3 player and its case, the shell on my laptop, my water bottles, and even my eyeglasses, are all purple.*

These are a few of my favorite (purple) things

I am purple in our household because it's noticeable at the bottom of my bottomless handbag, but it's not flashy. I'm purple because it's sometimes the cheapest option. I'm purple because it suggests authority and royalty while also being a cool, calming color, and even feminine in an "I'm-not-pink" kind of way.

I am purple because I'm a mother of four homeschooled children who know few boundaries -- life is an adventure, to be explored, used, often discarded. The home is their classroom, laboratory, refuge, and headquarters. My purple things are marked out as though my signature were on them -- "These are NOT part of the curriculum!"

I have never seen the children borrow, use, or sneak the purple things -- the purple code is inviolate without my having to ever spell it out for them.

I think there's a life lesson in this; to ponder over. Carving out the purple spaces in my life are just as important as buying my pens in purple ink, so I know they will be found in the pen pot on my desk when I need to write something down.

For me, that's 9:30-10 am every morning most mornings. I have completed my shower, dressing, teeth brushing; put on a load of laundry; fed the dog; poured my coffee and made my two peanut-butter-cracker sandwiches. I close the door as the children go through their long-established morning routines, and take my time out of the day.

The Celtic Daily Prayer book I use reminds me of whom I am -- loved and gifted for some spiritually greater service, but dependent on God for that identity, that mission. I'm reminded to praise Him, thank Him, honor Him. I'm reminded to be "lowly and meek, yet all powerful" (from the Celtic benediction) -- thus, to use my words for giving life and encouragement, and to view all people as God's creations, whether or not they acknowledge it themselves.

Centered, refreshed, still: for just a few moments, I am in my purple bubble.

Then at 10 am, I set aside my purple pen, close my purple Bible, and take my purple peace with me into the technicolor world.

*My husband said that I should clarify that purple is NOT simply my favorite color -- that award goes to very bright, spring green.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Nature Study in Spring

Here in the UK, we haven’t sprung our clocks forward yet, but the signs of spring are definitely upon us.

As the followers of the Charlotte Mason method, nature study is supposed to be a big part of our homeschool curriculum. We’re not always very good at it, but this time of year, it seems that we can’t help but notice the changes all around us.

This week, we’ve been particularly revelling in the annual sightings of frogs in our pond, a frenzy of their little slimy bodies in piles, usually sitting atop a grapefruit-sized lump of spotted clear jelly.

It’s during this mating period that I am strict with what my kids can do with the garden pond, ie, absolutely nothing! Don’t touch! Don’t poke! Don’t ferry buckets of its water to your paddling pool!

Frogs have always been a fascination of mine, ever since I was 4 years old. One of my earliest memories is the day I kissed over thirty toads.

The endangered Houston toad - just look at those kissable lips!!

I lived in Houston, Texas, at the time. Whenever we got one of our summer gully-washers, the toads would come floating out of our downspout drains. This particular time, I collected them all in the paddling pool in the garage. I must have spent half-an-hour in just running around the pool, popping their little bumpy bodies back into their confinement. Each one I picked up, each time I picked it up, I kissed it.

Sadly, none of them became a prince (at least, not to my knowledge), and even worse, this species of amphibian (Bufo houstonensis) is now endangered, limited to only 9 counties in that vast state, and not seen in the Houston area since my childhood era of the 60s. The finger is pointed at habitat alteration, because this species is a burrowing animal and safe burrowing sites in that huge metropolis are rare these days.

My love for frogs and toads persists to this day, many years from those childhood escapades, and many (many, many!) miles from them as well. To me, frogs and toads of any description are still my dearest wild animals to observe, to cultivate, and to protect, and so I can be a little hitler when it comes to who can do what with my pond in early March.

Of course, the return of the frogs in England is only one sign of spring. Others I've noticed are the little nodding heads of pure snowdrops, the bright and upright purple crocuses under the walnut trees, and on one recent walk in Oxford’s University Parks, the starry yellow faces of the dainty little winter aconite. (Not yet time for the daffodils, but their spears are making their way up through the grass)

Winter aconites add floral sunshine to shady spots.

Then there are the birds. Oh, the birds!!! As England’s long winter nights give way to the piercingly early summer days, the birds are starting their dawn chorus at about 5 am right now (later, in June, it will reach its earliest of about 3:30 am). So far, I have seen only our winter dwellers: robins, dunnocks, a variety of tits, blackbirds, and my nemesis, the wood pigeon. It won’t be long, though, when I will hear the tell-tale calls of the chiff-chaff and the cuckoo, both of which make the same sound as their names.

Chiff-Chaff: I'm kind of boring to look at.

Some of the early signs that are still wanting include the buds of hawthorn bushes. These pale, yellowy-green leaves will soon give way to a darker, fan-shaped leaf which hides the nasty little thorns, but every year I see them, I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s beautiful poem about spring: Nothing Gold can Stay.

Nature's first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leafs a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay.

As with so many of Frost’s poems, this one is as much about life in general as it is about a season, but the hints of spring are so numerous right now that the cold and dark days of England’s winters will soon, happily, be a distant memory.

To capitalise on the current seasonal changes, there’s an initiative at the UK charity, Woodland Trust, to record eight “firsts” for this season: flowering, mating, bud burst, leaf, feeding the young, first cutting of the lawn for the season, and first live individual animal (which I think means those waking from hibernation or returning from winter grounds, like the brimstone butterfly I saw two days ago, and not the fact that, day in and day out, I've seen those darn wood pigeons flapping about in the birch tree).

The Trust provides many resources online such as some nice pdf charts; a set of 6 information packs about ladybirds, frogs, two kinds of butterflies, and two kinds of plants; and updates to remind you what to look out for: today, that’s the song of the song thrush.

The link for getting involved is here: The Woodland Trust.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

From Caterpillar to Moth

Back in December, Rocky discovered a bright green caterpillar on the floor of our kitchen. We scoured the internet and our butterfly identification books, but couldn't pinpoint the species of caterpillar we had suddenly decided to adopt.

 It was an important detail to pin down: different species require different plants for food. At first, wee hedged our bets with some bramble, grass, and nettles, but fortunately, we soon found out what it was through a very helpful website run by Steve Ogden, called Wildlife Insight.

Angle Shades Moth Caterpillar

So apparently, we were on the right track with our brambles and nettles, and before long, we had a cocoon!

According to Steve's site, it would be about 20 days until we got a moth. The jar sat on a shelf in my kitchen, in front of my cookbooks. I looked in on the cocoon every day, in between our full-on attention with our new puppy.

This is a bit more exciting than a cocoon!

But lo and behold, on the 18th of January, the one-inch long brown capsule had turned into a fully fledged, speckly angle moth!

Behold: the cycle of nature!

So thanks to Steve's great website, Rocky's keen eyes for spotting the creature on the floor, and our patience to see the project through.