back to {un}school: 5 ways to inspire the love of learning


back to (un)school

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions -- if they have any -- and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” ― John Holt


Children are born with an innate desire to understand the world around them; they are curious, want to discover, and learn.

Whether your child goes to school or is homeschooled, the concept of real learning can and should be taught by you, their parent.


Yes, there are teachers, texts, assignments, and grades for most children, but the heart of what it means to LEARN goes so much deeper than what can be taught in a classroom.  The core of learning comes when a child (and adult alike) is free from fear, open to discovery, and curious.  Inspiring our children NOW to love learning is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.


Here are 5 Ways to Inspire the Love of Learning in your Child:

1. Don't compartmentalize the concept of "learning" to be exclusive to your child's education at school, the education from homeschooling, college, etc.

We do our children a disservice when we only refer to "learning" as taking place in a classroom because they will only connect learning with someone else's agenda over subjects and assignments.  Real learning takes place when your child feels comfortable, relaxed, and open-minded, and interested.  It can take place in school, at home, at the lake, or through a telescope in the backyard.  It can happen anywhere, at anytime.

As parents, our personal understanding and concept "learning" is quickly picked up by our children. We can inspire them to love learning by speaking of school, homeschooling, unschooling, etc., as a means for real learning to take place, not the be all, end all.  Learning can and should go beyond their formal education.  It should be exciting and thrilling throughout their lives, beginning now.



2. Help your child to regularly recognize their interests and natural curiosities.  

For our children to really love learning it means they need to begin at a young age to follow their inner voice, their innate desire to understand their world.  By helping them recognize their personal interests/abilities, we can assist them in their path of discovery which always leads to learning.  Try sitting with your child once a month, once a quarter perhaps, with pen and paper and help them verbalize what excites them.  Once you know what your child is passionate about (science, bugs, architecture, geometry, cooking, etc.) you can assist them to make real learning happen and often.

As your child is encouraged to explore what he/she is really interested in, they will feel confident in themselves that they can personally find satisfaction through their discoveries.  You are there to assist and guide.



3. Create a year-round environment for learning.  Move away from the idea that learning starts in September and ends when schools is out. 

Your child will be learning throughout the rest of his life.  Create a safe environment for him/her to be excited to learn year round.  You can do this by treating learning as a thrilling, personal experience by not assigning the term "learning" to just what happens in school/homeschooling and is "turned off" over the summer.

Here are a few ways to create a year-round "love of learning" environment:

  • Plan a regular family night to the library, through all the seasons of the year.  Let your child be free to choose the books he/she finds interesting and make it a special family tradition.  As the parent, teach by example and load up on a pile of interesting books yourself!
  • Plan family trips, holidays off of school, and free weekends around a particular field trip, location, or activity that would further your child's interest in a particular topic.  Dig deeper than the local children's museum.  Arrange a personal tour or experience that fits your child perfectly.
  • At the beginning of the year (or school year), make a list as a family of the things you want to do/explore together as a family based on what everyone is interested in.  Review the list regularly and fill in your calendar with those activities for the year to ensure they take priority over less interesting trips/activities.



Think outside the box as to what learning looks like.  Try to remove the preconceived notion that learning looks one particular way and that way is how all children should learn.

If you are a parent you know that all children have different personalities, ways of internalizing the world, and different skills and interests.  Learning, then, will look different from one child to the next.  And more importantly, real learning happens beyond worksheets and assignments.  It happens out in the world.

When your child spends hours of his free time building with blocks, he is learning many lessons that are answering his internal questions about how he relates to his world.  When your child can't get enough of particular history books (that's my Johanna with Pompeii at the moment), don't stop her engaged reading time in order to switch topics during homeschooling to fit in math.  See that the most important learning is taking place now.  Anything else would be a distraction from real learning.



Put your child's education first. 

I love hearing about the mothers who take their child out of school for a day for a family trip.  A family-planned field trip to see or do something that the child/children are excited to do.  You are the foremost example and leader of your child's education.  Be open minded.  DO what feels right.  Listen to your heart and your child.

If your child is getting burned out or struggling with their confidence in the school/homeschooling setting, do what your motherly intuition is guiding you to do.  Take something off her plate--an extracurricular activity, give her more of your time after school, etc.

Real learning in school or without won't happen if your child is struggling internally.  Fill her cup.  Patch her knee.  Make the best decision for her beyond her attendance record or test score.  How we respond to our children and their needs greatly affects how they see themselves and the world around them.  Don't allow school or homschooling to take away from your child.  Only permit it to make something more of them and if that is lacking, step back and reevaluate.

Perhaps a day away from school/homeschooling to drive up to the mountains.  Perhaps a day to sleep in, collect leaves in the yard, and have a needed quiet day of reading, snuggled up to your child.  Prove to your child that they and their needs come before any other teacher's requests or deadlines.



Overall, be confident as the parent, inspire your child to love life, learning, and to trust themselves.


Here are some excellent resources to encourage your children to own their own education:

[amazon_image id="0471349607" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Guerilla learning[/amazon_image]


[amazon_image id="0465084990" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Free to learn[/amazon_image]


[amazon_image id="1475239068" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Project based homeschooling[/amazon_image]

Go out + live boldly!

the sleepy time gal

a child learns: using your library to its fullest

WIN A TRIP As unschoolers, our family doesn't follow a set curriculum.  Because of that, we are free to explore and dive into the subjects we are most interested in at any given moment.  That means the library is one of the most important assets of our homeschooling.

We visit one of our local libraries about every two weeks and come away with roughly 30-40 items from books, magazines, documentaries, and DVD series.  The library really expands any homeschooling experience by providing either supplementary material or primary material for learning and exploring and any given topic.

Our approach to our library visit is simple.  Each child chooses:

  • A handful of picture books (younger children) or chapter books of personal interest
  • A handful of interested topic-specific books
While my kids are enjoying the library (reading books, building with Legos, researching book titles) I help kids one-on-one find their interested topic-specific books.  Some weeks it may be Ancient Rome and baking, other weeks it's bugs and minerals.
Once I've helped each of my kids find their own special books, they return to their personal play/reading in the library and I continue my search for the remaining books/materials.

Each library visit I choose:

  1. One interested topic-specific documentary (if available)
  2. 2+ DVDs from a series we enjoy (Bill Nye the Science Guy, Liberty Kids, Signing Times, National Geographic, etc.)
  3. One classic children's literature book in audiobook form for the car
  4. The next book in the series of chapter books I'm reading aloud to the girls ([amazon_link id="0439129087" target="_blank" ]Royal Diaries[/amazon_link], Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Praire, [amazon_link id="0810993228" target="_blank" ]Sisters Grimm[/amazon_link], American Girl series, etc.)
  5. A new magazine to explore: American Girl, Ranger Rick, Thomas the Train, Astronomy, National Geographic Kids, etc.)
Each child has their library tote full (including Rowan) and I carry the remaining books in a large canvas tote.  We checkout and head home with the girls enjoying a new book on the ride home.  Once home, I make lunch and everyone is sprawled out in the living room quietly enjoying their new books.  That afternoon we sit together on the couch to enjoy our first library-book reading session.  (We do our library book reading with the iPad in hand.  More on that in another post.)
The local public library makes the whole wide world open to our family.  History, science, the arts, mathematics, and beyond have been explored in the comforts of our home and on our couch from the hundreds of books we've checked out at the library.

More library + learning tips:

  1. Visit the library with your kids right before a long road trip.  Let your kids checkout a handful of new picture books to be their entertainment on the road.  Grab a new chapter book to read to them during the trip.  And don't forget a few audiobooks for when you're needing quiet time in the car (possibly during a young child's nap time on the road).
  2. Teach your reading kids to use the library's digital card catalog at an early age.  Those children will love the confidence they have to sit and explore the library system anytime about any subject and then seek out the book on their own.
  3. Change things up by rotating local libraries.  Visit a different library each visit or every other visit.  Some libraries have better non fiction sections than others for kids which makes choosing the interested topic-specific book selection much more exciting.
  4. Organize meet-ups with other homeschooling friends at your local library.  It makes the visit a bit more social and fun for kids and moms.  Watch friends introduce your kids to new book series and vice versa.
  5. Keep your library books in the same place in your home for your children (and you) to return to daily.  Ours are always in a basket by our fireplace.

Go out and explore your library.   You'd be amazed by how much learning, growth, and excitement can come from always having loads of interesting books in your home.
Go out + live boldly!

The sleepy time gal

it's spring: explore nature!



 {Annabelle's spring shrine made of front-yard weeds, moss, grass, and unearthed ribbon scraps. } 

Good morning!

I'm so excited it's (technically) spring.  We've recently had cold, wet weather but I know the sun will return and so will my girls' frolicking in the meadow and post-dinner walks.

A few things:

Check out my updated sidebar for spring exploring inspiration!  I've put up some of my favorite projects, exploration activities, and tips for getting out of the door and discovering something new in nature.

If you don't have [amazon_link id="1590305353" target="_blank" ]I Love Dirt[/amazon_link], I recommend it.  It is a simple book of inspiring ideas of how to use each season to explore, ask questions, unearth, and find answers with your kids during each season.

[amazon_image id="1590305353" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]I love dirt  [/amazon_image]


If you want to begin a nature journal, here's an excellent resource for taking that first step: [amazon_link id="1580174930" target="_blank" ]Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. [/amazon_link]

[amazon_image id="1580174930" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]book [/amazon_image]


So be inspired, grab an umbrella, and get outside!


the sleepy time gal

rowan's no-sew felt quiet book


Add a little bit of body text (1) I'm very picky about felt projects.  There are so many felt projects out there that look too crafty or not well thought out.  Not that I'm a felt snob but if I'm going to use felt for something I want the project to maintain high quality and craftsmanship.  This may be why this felt quiet book took so long to finish; I would start a page and a week later totally change it because it looked too cheesy.  (Do you creative people know where I'm coming from??)

I remember putting a lot of time and love into Annabelle and Ainsleigh's special personalized soft books when they were young.  They treasured them.  Rowan somehow missed out on getting one of those, still doesn't have a baby book filled out, nor has a first year photo album like his sister have.

It has been a really satisfying feeling putting the finishing touches on his felt quiet book, though, and having him on my lap this past Sunday playing with it for the first time.

I hope my felt page designs and tips give you the confidence to make your own no-sew felt quiet book.  Come and see...



Why no-sew?

I wanted to put more emphasis into the details of each page of this felt book and not be constrained to the machine.  That is the advantage to working with felt: you can cut felt without needing to finish off edges.  I decided to do absolutely no sewing (except the binding) so the entire book would be consistent in terms of tension/stretch on each page of the book.  

Hot glue is the key for this whole project.

For the quiet book, all you need is different colors of felt (I used both craft + wool felt), sharp fabric scissors, metal snaps (for closure) , and hot glue gun + glue stick refills.

Page 2

 {The winter scene activity: 3 snowmen, rainy day gear, sneakers, small pieces for buttons + noses, hats, arms, and cold weather gear.  This activity page has the smallest pieces on it.}


Tip: To make your felt book project even easier, buy a precut package of craft felt sheets at any fabric or craft store.  These felt sheets (usually around 10" x 13" sheets) can be used as your book's pages--no need to cut felt pieces into pages.



 {The summer scene activity: the beach scene!  All of the elements from our beach trips like seagulls, a crab, bucket with sand, shovel, sandcastles, puddle, little boy + his beach ball, and clouds.}


Tip: Glue down the basic backdrop of your felt play scenes onto your felt sheets.  This makes it easy for a child to build onto the scene with the moveable felt pieces and not have to remember what the scene is supposed to be.  In the beach scene, I hot glued the ocean, sand, sun, and birds.  Rowan simple adds to the scene with extra details in his play.

Page 3

{The create-a-face activity: there are multiple hair styles, eyes, glasses, noses, lips, a beard + mustache, crown, and bows.}

Tip: Play around with your felt pages in terms of vertical and horizontal layout.  I liked my face activity vertical so there was room enough for the beard, bow tie, and tall hair.



{The favorite foods plate activity: fruits, vegetables, chicken leg, eggs + sausage, BACON, dark chocolate, gingerbread cookie, hot cocoa, ice water, and utensils.}

Tip: When making a narrow felt piece, hot glue a felt detail onto the piece to make it more sturdy and less flimsy, like my utensils.

Page 1

{The loadable dump truck activity:  add the truck's wheels and load the truck (which really is a pocket) with either rocks or shapes.}

Tip: Make your felt pages more realistic by adding depth.  You add depth by hot gluing another layer onto the base felt piece, like the outer piece with cut-out squares I added to the dump truck.


{The birthday ice cream shop activity: load your bowl or cone with your favorite scoops of ice cream!  Don't forget the celebration balloons.}

Tip: Add glitter, ric rac, beads, and other decorations to create a 3D effect.  I added hot glue + glitter to some of the ice cream scoops to create the drizzled topping effect on the ice cream.


 Where do I store all of the felt pieces?

After you've created each felt page and its pieces, cut out large felt pockets, one per activity page.  Hot glue the sides and bottom of each pocket onto the back of each activity page (excluding the last activity page--it won't need a pocket on its' back).

Fill each pocket with the coordinating pieces for the activity page that the pocket faces.  That means the first activity page's felt pieces will be stored in a pocket you secure to the inside of the book's cover.


How do I bind + close the book?

You have two options for binding your book.  I chose the easiest which was using my sewing machine.  I know this is a no-sew book but if you can machine sew the binding it will be your quickest, easiest option.

Simple sew the pages together with a seam and then sandwich the pages into the cover and sew one more seam.

Handsewing option:

If you don't have a sewing machine, simply hand sew the binding to create a strong binding.  I do not recommend using hot glue for the binding.


Add a few metal snaps to the cover flap for closing the book.  Follow the no-sew snap instructions which will require a hammer.  A few snaps will do the trick.




I hope you make a no-sew felt quiet book.  Make pages based on activities and themes that your child/grandchild loves.  Rowan's favorite pages are the dump truck and food pages, of course.


Which page was your favorite??


the sleepy time gal



Page 1

{Caroline's incredible felt doll + clothes closet board for a friend's birthday party this past weekend.  She imitated my concept of Rowan's felt book and created the coolest gift.  Doll (in underwear) on the front, liftable closet door for two dresses and 3 fillable drawers for tops, bottoms, and shoes.}

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.  

Salvador Dali 

There has been a lot of imitation happening in our home.  This is a sign to me in my little world of mothering and family life that life/unschooling is good, young minds are creating/problem solving, and my kids' understanding of the world around them is expanding. Page 1

{My on-call hand-mixing girl, Annabelle.  After initially fearing the mixer, she now loves the process, the steady control she has to maintain, and conquering a skill some of her sisters refuse to try.}

When kids imitate something inspiring that they see, they are driven by the thrill of trying something new and the satisfaction of physically understanding their world in an intimate way.  Children are driven by imitation.  It drives so much learning and development.  It is the most natural process of learning for children and adults alike.



And before you get tired of hearing about Rowan's quiet felt book,  I'm pretty excited to show you his book tomorrow.  I'll also include my tips for creating your own no-sew felt quiet book.

Happy Monday!


the sleepy time gal

the day the crayons quit: a book review


IMG_1514 You know those children's books that make reading to your kids absolutely delightful?  I have my personal favorites that are too good to keep to myself.  Here is one of our most favorite picture books that I promise won't disappoint.

[amazon_link id="0399255370" target="_blank" ]The Day the Crayons Quit[/amazon_link] is so creatively written.  The book is a compilation of letters from each crayon from the child, Duncan's, crayon box.  It is such a creative approach to what each individual crayon may be thinking from being overused, underused, misused, and beyond.


The illustrations are purely child-like and absolutely convincing that the crayons really are real and have feelings.  The black crayon wants to be used for happier, brighter subjects, like beach balls and suns.  The blue crayon is getting too short and stubby from all of the oceans and whales Duncan colors in.

The greatest part of this book is how authentic and realistic the crayons are: their feelings, needs, and desires from their beloved owner, Duncan.


My kids' favorite part (that creates the most giggles) is the peach crayon's letter.  He is so embarrassed that his paper has been peeled off that he can't leave the crayon box because he's naked.  Seriously, so creative!


By the end of the story, Duncan listens to all of his crayons' requests and adjusts his artistic creations to please each one of them through the ultimate coloring masterpiece (which you have to see for yourself).  My kids love the last page because they get to point out how each crayon's requests were realized in the artwork.  I love this reader-involvement on the last page.

[amazon_link id="0399255370" target="_blank" ]The Day the Crayons Quit [/amazon_link]is an excellent picture book for ages 2-8.


We frequently checked out this book from the library and recently gave it to Ainsleigh for Christmas.  Now it's a part of our collection of our favorite children's books.   I can't recommend it enough!


Make the most of "reading time"  with your kids!

[amazon_image id="0399255370" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]The day the crayons quit [/amazon_image]

the sleepy time gal




meet little miss, her playable pillow + wardrobe



Meet the happiest pillow on the block.

She's soft and huggable and quite fashionable.  Ainsleigh chose this adorable project for their young friend turning three.  I haven't made any dolls recently since Rowan's birthday doll last fall so was excited about familiar and unfamiliar steps that this project required.

The pattern is from one of my favorite sewing books [amazon_link id="1584798580" target="_blank" ]Wee Wonderfuls: 24 Dolls to Sew + Love.[/amazon_link]  I've made many dolls from this book for my kids, their cousins, and some of their friends over the years and the concept of a felt doll sewn onto a pillow (with a pocket to hold the doll's dress-up clothes) sounded like the cutest gift for a beloved little friend.


It started with sewing a soft fleece pillow with the doll's felt body and hair sewn to the front of the pillow.  (The twins cut out the patterns and felt.)  I spent a quiet, early morning huddled around my space heater in the basement carefully embroidering the doll's face and split embroidering her hair.


The best, most surprising part of the little pillow is the elastic pocket in the back.  I chose a vibrant, colorful fabric that would accentuate all of the colors in the doll's clothing.


Once the pillow was sewn, it was time to meticulously trace and cut out all of the doll's outfits first on felt and then on fabric.  (That was more time consuming than I expected.  Isn't that how special projects always turn out??)

Here is Little Miss' raincoat, rain hat + boots.




Party dresses, bobby socks, a linen top, cords, pajamas and variety of tops were simply edgestitched to the felt and embellished with ribbon, fabric marker, or applique.

My favorites are her pajamas + gathered pink party dress.  I'd like the dress in my size. Page 1

It was no surprise to me that after Little Miss' pillow + clothes were finished my Annabelle and Ainsleigh were not only over-the-top proud that they helped make it but were over-the-top excited giving it to their little friend at her birthday party.  I mean, over-the-top.  Including Rowan.


I've been going back and forth if I should commit to making two Little Miss pillows for A + A's upcoming spring birthday.  I can just see them spending hours up in their bedroom switching out outfits and adding the best dialogue to their pillow dolls.  It sounds so nice right now but I think I'm going to take a break from meticulous cutting/sewing for a bit. ;)


the sleepy time gal





{with new bulk velvet ribbon from the amazing PA Fabric Outlet that is devastatingly going out of business}


{poetry and riddles and rhythms inspired by the older girls' homeschooling poetry class}


 {miniature embroidered treasures like fairy houses, snails, and balloons--now to find a way to display them all}


 {a special gift with Annabelle and Ainsleigh's tracing/cutting help for a little friend's birthday this weekend}

"It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life."

Julius Caesar


Happy weekend, friends!


the sleepy time gal

right now...



 {loving the moments on the couch with Annabelle and Ainsleigh as they confidently read book after book of their [amazon_link id="0545019230" target="_blank" ]BOB books[/amazon_link] sets}


{admiring our dead Christmas tree on the back porch laden in fresh white snow from the recent blizzard}


{still endorsing more.starfall in our homeschooling life for their basic and fun learning activities for my kids from addition and multiplication to fun songs about the months of the year}  


{feeling awe-struck, humbled, and inspired from watching [amazon_link id="B000XJ5TPE" target="_blank" ]In the Shadow of the Moon documentary[/amazon_link] with my daughters--now they now about the real Buzz}


 {stepping back a bit from the natural, progressive flow of experiences I've had with my other daughters 

and diving deeper into understanding more about dyslexia}

I hope you have a wonderful weekend friends.

the sleepy time gal

winter indoor play: rice construction site


rice construction site  

The love my girls feel for crafting is as instinctively strong as Rowan's love for construction vehicles.  He's just drawn to them.  (And I'm guessing you mothers to sons are nodding your heads at this moment as if to say, "Well, of course!")

I'm doing my best to remember all of the names of the trucks we see when we are driving.  I've now know the dump truck, backhoe, crane, bulldozer, and some other ones.  (I'm trying to remember more to show off to you that I know more but I can't think of a single one!)

None the less, Rowan loves truck books and plays with some of his trucks but it wasn't until I made him his own table-top construction site have I seen him really use those trucks! 



The site is such a simple concept.  It draws Rowan to it throughout the day for long stretches of play and my girls when they are at the kitchen counter.  (They usually turn it into a fairy construction site but I'm sure you already guessed that.)

You can use any small construction vehicles you have.  Rowan received these [amazon_link id="B00LQXHBAC" target="_blank" ]awesome trucks[/amazon_link] for Christmas from his grandparents and now they have a place to get pushing, lifting, and building.



rice construction site


uncooked rice

extra large, rimmed metal pan

construction trucks

small, medium, and large rocks

play houses, blocks, wooden people, trees, etc.


  1. Fill the metal pan with rice about halfway.  Depending on your pan, you may need more or less rice depending on how shallow it is.  (And just know going into this that you will hear sprinkling of rice hitting the floor during play sometimes and that's ok.)
  2. Nestle in some differing sizes of rocks that can be pushed and lifted, etc.
  3. Add any other pieces like a growing town with buildings or blocks that the trucks can use to make buildings and such.  Wooden people and trees make a great addition by creating a more realistic developed plot of land.
  4. Turn the "construction site" over to your child at the table and let the truck sounds begin!

Page 1 {This is Rowan copying exactly what he watched me do: little orange man helps lift the bed of the dump truck and out comes the rice.  He'd repeat this about 5 times, beeping sound included!} IMG_0490

 Did you try our fall sensory seeds + colored rice activity?  


Here's a tip for keeping multiple sensory activities:

I like to keep one sensory activity out for about a week (usually on a kitchen counter).  Then I'll simply bag up each activity in its own gallon bag and keep it in my kitchen pantry.  When Rowan wants to play, I just pull out the large metal pan and let him choose which activity he wants to play with.  Then I pour the activity into the pan, set up the activity, and hand it over.


I hope you mamas give this indoor play a try!  I'd love to hear what construction takes place on your counter.


the sleepy time gal