“How do you teach both of your children at the same time?”

Right after I get the socialization question, this is ALWAYS people’s next question.  Usually they ask with a kind of horrified look on their face as they silently motion to my three year old.  My short answer is, Ummm…easily.  That’s never enough though.  Here’s a closer look at what learning looks like in our home with two kids of different ages (5 and 3.5) 

I think before you can begin to picture this you first have to acknowledge and accept that homeschooling looks NOTHING like school.  As a former teacher, this was difficult for me!  I don’t think many homeschoolers are sitting down at the table for 6 hours a day breaking only for lunch and recess.  Also, what took me say, a month, to teach a room full of 1st graders often takes about 5 minutes to teach my one son.

Almost everything happening at home counts as “school.”  We don’t have to wait for math time to “do” math.  We measure and count while making breakfast, lunch or dinner.  We can leave a note on the fridge for dad and learn a new phonogram while we do so.  We can read a new recipe.  We can write a shopping list.  We can count the dirty socks as we throw them in the laundry.  I could go on and on.  But in short, learning is all around us, happening all the time.

Most things we do in our homeschool we do together.  I’ve posted before about our morning basket.  My kids go to forest school and our Wild + Free playgroup together.  Any “field trips” we take, we take together.  I read aloud to them together, except for bedtime.  

I do present lessons to my kids individually.  We use a Montessori approach in our “school work” so I present new materials or teach new concepts to each of my kids.  I do this when the other child is either engaged in independent work or play.  These lessons and presentations are very short but we have also talked a lot about not interrupting and respecting each others work.  They often will watch each other have a lesson but know not to interrupt.  Since the lessons are short, this is not hard even for a very young child. Lillian has surprised me many times by showing me that she has already learned something that I previously presented to Ethan.

Maria Montessori also refers to the prepared environment as the third teacher.  Our home is carefully prepared to support our kid’s states of development.  Our kitchen is completely accessible for the kids to prepare their own snack or cook a meal independently (I obviously supervise them when using a stove, oven, etc).  

Their clothing storage and toy storage is also set up for them to access and take care of independently.  Their learning materials are carefully organized, rotated and presented on shelves in our playroom.  Learning is really seamless this way. They can work independently and uninterrupted by me; free to try, struggle and succeed.

Also, it’s important to note that since Ethan is older, he is a natural teacher for Lillian.  She learns so much just from watching him.  And she is always, always watching.  Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn who has studied the value of mixed age learning and play wrote:

“If we want to capitalize on children’s and adolescents’ natural, playful ways of learning, we must find ways to break down the barriers we have erected to keep young people of different ages apart. Age segregation deprives them not only of fun, but also of the opportunity to use fully their most powerful natural tools for learning.”

Lillian just naturally knows that Ethan is older and that he is a valuable source of information for her.  She knows it’s important for her to pay attention to what he’s doing without me ever having told her to do so.  This is a natural borne drive.  

In short, teaching kids at home of different ages is not only possible, it’s awesome!  They learn independently through their own work and play and also from individual direct lessons from me.

They learn from each other by playing together, watching each other play or work, listening to the same books read aloud by me or Audible or working on a shared project together.

We all learn together when we take field trips together or choose to learn about the same topic (something that happens often).  They are both currently loving learning about rocks and soil.

To the shock and surprise of this former teacher, teaching different aged kids is very natural and organic.



Local Spotlight: Zucker Natural Exploration Area

One of our favorite places to visit in Prospect Park is the Zucker Natural Exploration Area.  It is often referred to as “the natural playground.”

The Prospect Park Alliance created this space using trees from the park that were downed during Hurricane Sandy.  These trees and other other elements of nature such as a large sand area, tree stumps of varying heights and a water pump feature form a natural playground for children.


My kids can spend hours there.  We usually only bring a bucket and shovel and the rest of the time they play only with the natural materials in the area.  While there, my kids are immersed in sensory, imaginative and unstructured play, all outside.  What a gift for city kids!

I think it is interesting to note that there are many, many traditional playgrounds in NYC.  We have been to a lot of them!  My kids do not have as much fun and do not have lengthy sustained play sessions like they do at the natural playground.  My kids, like others, definitely prefer to interact with nature.

My kids love Zucker because they have so much fun there.  I love Zucker for many other reasons!  There are so many opportunities for my children’s health and development simply by being at a natural playground.  I feel lucky that we have this amazing place to play, so close to home.

At a natural playground like Zucker, children have the opportunity for risky play; something that has been all but eliminated from traditional playgrounds which are covered in rubber padding and where jumping off the swings or climbing up the slides is prohibited.

Wait, isn’t risky play dangerous?  Yes, but it is also vitally important to a child’s development and it is sadly being eliminated from modern day playtime.  How can anyone begin to know their own limits if they haven’t been allowed to independently test them?

Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist, forest school owner and author of the book Balanced and Barefoot, explains that a child’s neurological system was designed to “seek out the sensory input it needs on its own in order to reach the next developmental level.”  Whether it’s rules on the playground, the disappearance of recess or overly anxious helicopter parenting, you can see how modern times are getting in the way of natural human development.  Risky play is an important part of building confidence and self-esteem.  It allows a child to experience frustration and learn coping skills.

Below is a picture of my son, perched atop a rather large log, really wanting to jump, but not sure if he should.  He is practicing self-reflection and regulation all in this peaceful pause.  He may or may not have started to scream in frustration because he really wanted to jump but he was scared.  He’s learning his own physical limits and how to accept them.  He didn’t jump, for the record.  Maybe one day in the future, he will.

Wild + Free 5

There is also much more room for creativity in a natural playground than in a traditional playground.  The logs can quickly become sharks or ships, or anything children can pretend.  At a traditional playground, the structures are more fixed, making this type of imaginative and dramatic play more difficult.

Making Bear Tracks at Zucker
My son used a stick to create bear tracks in the dirt.

There is also far more physical activity and exertion happening at a natural playground.  At a natural playground kids can climb trees and logs, carry buckets full of sand and water, move heavy logs and rocks, roll down hills and run in green space.  At a traditional playground, these opportunities are simply not present.  A natural playground provides greater opportunities to expand gross motor skills.


At a natural playground, children are immersed in natural sensory experiences.  They can take off their shoes to feel the grass, sand and mud between their toes, hear the leaves rustling, cover themselves in mud, “cook” with dirt, splash in water and smell flowers.  While they are surrounded by sensory input, none of it is overwhelming as it is all naturally created.  There are no overstimulating colors, bright lights, loud music or voices reverberating against the walls that you might find at an indoor playspace.


Another aspect unique to a natural playground are loose parts.  Loose parts have been popularized as part of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education.  This term was coined by the architect, Simon Nicholson, who observed that when children have access to loose parts (simply materials that can be moved around), there are more opportunities for interaction, engagement and tinkering.  When children have access to loose parts, their creativity can really take flight!  They also create natural learning opportunities for counting, pattern making, geometry, problem solving and fine motor skills.  Loose parts abound at Zucker in the form of rocks, sticks, leaves and flowers.

Loose Parts at Zucker

While at Zucker (or I imagine, another natural playground), children have the opportunity to engineer and build.  My children have moved huge sticks around both independently and cooperatively with friends to build a wigwam and to create an imaginary bonfire.  Again, these incredible opportunities are unique to natural playgrounds.

Building with Sticks at Zucker
Working together to build with large sticks and branches

As an added bonus, in the summer, the Prospect Park Alliance brings in goats to eat the invasive plant species that grow near Zucker.  The goats are kept in a fenced in area but are clearly visible to the kids.  My kids love to watch the goats!

Do you still need more reasons to believe why natural playgrounds like Zucker are better than traditional ones?  In How to Raise a Wild Child, author Scott D. Sampson cites studies which prove that bullying and aggressive behavior are greatly decreased at a natural playground vs. a traditional.  He details that real estate prices in one neighborhood spiked by 20% one year after the city of Toronto’s first natural playground was installed there.  The incidence of broken bones at a natural playground are a fraction of what they are at traditional playgrounds.  I could go on and on!

Do you have a natural playground in your area?  Have you been to Zucker?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!



Starting a Wild + Free Group

Wild + Free

I remember when I joined my first local homeschool Yahoo group, a veteran mom wrote an email giving advice to new moms who were just getting started.  She said, if there is something you want for your children but it doesn’t exist, start it yourself!  She said that chances are, others will be looking for something just like you and will happily join in.  She could not have been more right!  

When I found the Wild + Free Instagram page and began listening to their podcasts and subscribing to their monthly bundles, I knew right away this movement was going to have a huge impact on how we homeschool.  Their motto reads, “Our desire is to give our children a quality education but also to preserve the adventure, freedom and wonder of childhood.”  I thought to myself, yes, please!  Sign me up for that.  

So I began to think of how great it would be to meet other Wild + Free mamas.  Not so surprisingly, there was no group in NYC.

Soon thereafter a thread popped up on our neighborhood Yahoo board about a mom looking for alternative options to Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) for her daughter.  Now, in NYC, UPK is FREE full-day pre-k.  Very, very few people pass on this opportunity.  At this point, I had only met a handful of moms who were saying no to pre-k and who were questioning why three and four year olds should be in school six hours a day.  So I took a deep breath and replied that we too, were passing on UPK and I had this idea of setting up a Wild + Free group.  Guess what?  So many other mothers wrote back that they were interested!

And so it began, in the spring of 2017, NYC’s first Wild + Free group.  We meet once a week and the kids have free, unstructured play outside in nature.  My kids have made some really great friends this way!  And so have I! 

This Wild + Free group is another opportunity for my kids to engage in mixed age play, something often missing from a traditional school experience.  The older kids have each other to explore with and also have the opportunity to not only be role models for the younger kids but also to help them take off their shoes, fill up their water bottles and give them a boost up a tree.  Everyone in the group is fully included and valued, no matter how they join in. We often stay and play together for about 4 hours.

It has become such an important part of our week.  This group has helped me feel much less isolated as a homeschooling mom.  Currently, there are 63 families on the email distribution list.  No, 63 families do not join us each week.  But still, it’s comforting to know these other families exist and that we are not alone in our quest for alternative education options.  

Do you have a Wild + Free group near you?  Are you familiar with the Wild + Free movement?  Anyone going to the conference in September?  I am!  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  



Local Spotlight:  Tinkergarten

Oh, how I love Tinkergaten.  For those of you who know me in real life, you know I actually can’t.stop.talking.about.it.  I knew it would have to be the first local spotlight on the blog.  Fittingly, it was also the first class my kids and I took when we moved to Brooklyn.  

In NYC classes for babies and toddlers are a big business.  Some families pack their kids days with music, gymnastics, dance, art, sports, etc.  There are so many to choose from without having to walk far from our home at all and there were even more when we lived in Manhattan.  And there is a real social pressure to have your kids enrolled in as many activities as possible.  But, that is the subject for another post!  

I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon Tinkergarten, but it was probably through Google.  What is Tinkergarten, you ask?

From their website, www.tinkergarten.com

“Tinkergarten is on a mission to elevate childhood.  Each class becomes a tight-knit group of children and adults who learn together through well-designed, outdoor, play based activities.  We help kids develop a host of important capabilities including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving.  Our expert-designed classes and activities help kids aged 18 months-8 years develop core life skills while enjoying healthy, fun and engaging experiences in the physical freedom of local green spaces.”

Why do we love it?

Tinkergarten fun

One of my favorite parts of Tinkergarten is that it is fully outside, in all kinds of weather.  We’ve done Tinkergarten on a warm sunny day, a pouring rain day and a snowy day.  It’s been lovely getting to know our “outdoor classroom” in all seasons.  



We love the mixed age grouping.  Our classes have been for kids aged 0-8.  It’s a truly beautiful thing to watch the older kids and younger kids work and play together.  Also, if you are a homeschooler in NYC, these classes are a great place for kids age 3.5 and up who often “age out” of daytime class offerings when everyone else goes to UPK.

Tinkergarten classes are designed so everyone can participate in a way that works for them.  From babies, to older kids who might find their own exploring more interesting than the teacher’s planned lesson, everyone feels welcome, included and happy.  My daughter took her first class as an 11 month old.  I thought she’d just be tagging along with her older brother but she got right in there and joined in on everything!  At a recent class, the kids found a huge tree branch that had fallen off a tree.  Instead of eating snack on the class tarp as we usually do, our teacher encouraged the class to stay in the tree and eat their snack there!

11 month old Lillian at Tinkergarten


We love the Tinkergarten teachers!  We’ve taken classes with 3 different teachers and they have all been truly wonderful.  This is not something I have experienced with many other kid’s classes – that you love ALL of the teachers you’ve met.

These classes are truly developmentally appropriate.  I once ran screaming from a kid’s music class that involved an electric guitar plugged into an amp, a disco ball AND bubbles.  Cue the extreme overstimulation from sensory overload.  Tinkergarten is just what kids need – peaceful time in nature, sensory and play based experiences led by a loving teacher.  In my opinion, it doesn’t get any better.

Each week you get a follow-up email with photos and information detailing the skills (empathy, perseverance, etc.) the kids worked on in the previous session.

Often part of the class includes the teacher reading a book out loud.  Every book we’ve read has been great!  It’s a source of inspiration of books for us to read in our own home.

To be honest, Tinkergarten has changed, fundamentally, the way we play as a family and the way we structure our homeschool.  It has almost, in a sense, given me permission to play outside, get messy and get out there in all kinds of weather with my kids.  I never would have been led down the path to forest schooling without Tinkergarten.  

Tinkergaraten mud
messy play

So, thank you, Tinkergarten!

Do you have a Tinkergarten near you?  Have you tried one?  I’m curious if anyone is as Tinkergarten crazy as I am.  Let me know in the comments!

Why We Chose a Forest School to Compliment our Homeschool

While reading How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson, I came to learn about the concept of a “forest school.”  What is a forest school?  Forest schools are schools that operate entirely or almost entirely outdoors, year round, no matter the weather, and kids spend the majority of their time there playing.  According to Sampson, forest schools, also known as forest kindergartens or nature preschools, have existed in Europe for many years but have been popping up more and more now in North America too.

As a family that greatly values time spent in nature in all kinds of weather, as well as a mom who recognizes the importance and beauty of mixed-age play, I thought a program like this would be a great fit for us.  Of course, I thought we would have to move to Vermont or Portland, OR to find one.  To my surprise and delight there are forest schools right here in Brooklyn!  If there is a forest school right here in the concrete jungle, chances are there is one by you too.  If not, and you are feeling entrepreneurial, what a market opportunity!  

My children, who have never been to traditional school before, love their forest school.  They love their teachers and I love hearing about their day when they get home.  Often it involves battle re-enactments, stick swords and for my daughter, mud.  They love singing while they are there and eating snack with their friends.  They are so happy when I pick them up and so tired when we get home!  Our house is always so peaceful the afternoon after forest school and bedtime is so quick!    

What forest school is not, is cheap.  I realize it is a luxury to be able to send our kids there even just one day a week on a single income.  We’ve rearranged our budget to prioritize it; it’s that important to us.  

Yes, I could take them to play outside and it would be free.  But, the drop-off component appeals to us – our children having this type of experience away from mom and dad.  Also, as much as I love getting out there in all kinds of weather, it’s very easy to stay inside if it’s cold and rainy or windy and snowy.  But, if I’m paying for it and my kids are looking forward to it – it ensures they are out there!  It also ensures other kids will be out there with them.  I’ve brought my kids to the park many, many times when we have been the only people there!  So this program checks a box in the socialization department too.  

Also, for city kids without a private yard, a forest school program ensures they have a connection to nature on a consistent basis.  Suburban and rural parents have the luxury of opening their back door to send their kids outside.  We do not.  Aside from forest school, if I want my kids to play outside, I have to walk them to the park and be outside with them.  Again, this is something I do, often.  But it’s nice for them to get to play outside without me sometimes too.  It’s also nice for me to have a little break without the kids once a week.  I cherish our time together but I also know having time to myself is essential for my mental health and overall well-being.  

A further bonus to forest school is that, according Sampson, “studies show that kids in these schools experience fewer accidents and are more adept at assessing risk.  They also tend to rate well above average academically, including in reading and in math and their teachers find them to be more curious and motivated.” 

For more information about forest schools, check out the booklist in the Booklists section of the blog.  There is a forest school section on the Inspirational Homeschool Reads list.  If you’re looking for a great, in-depth look at forest schooling check out the title, Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens:  The Handbook for Outdoor Learning by David Sobel.  If you’re looking to find out more about how beneficial time spent in nature is, particularly for young children, check out Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom; it is one of my all-time favorite books on the topic of kids in nature.

Do you have a forest school near you?  Had you heard of this type of school before?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.  

P.S. Yes, for any other PBS Kids Dinosaur Train lovers, Scott D. Sampson is, in fact, Dr. Scott!

Below are some affiliate links to the books referenced above.