give the "love of learning" for christmas


Give the Love of Learning With our approach to homeschooling, creating a naturally-inspiring environment to learn is key.  Having supplies, books, and necessary tools that lead a child's curiosity to engaged, child-led learning is the goal in our house.

With that being said, Christmas time is so exciting for me as the mother and mentor to my children in finding them gifts that will inspire and further encourage their love of learning.  (It's amazing to see how different each of my children's interests, skills, and passions for life are compared to each other.  It makes the "gifting" process so personalized and special!)

Here are 3 ideas to help you kick-start gift buying/making to INSPIRE the real "love of learning" for your child now and for the upcoming year...


  1. Pay attention to what your child is truly passionate about right now. It may be the sciences, art history, engineering, animals, architecture, gardening, magic, rocks, poetry, etc.  Take an extra 10 minutes per child to dig deeper in researching gift ideas for your child in facilitating their "love of learning" through books, toys, tools, or supplies online or elsewhere.

I love For Small Hands online shop for Montessori style tools and supplies from woodworking supplies to beginner science tools for kids.  I also like MindWare and Nova Naturals.

I also like regularly adding to Amazon wishlists I have for each of my kids: if I find a great book, toy, or supply of interest to them throughout the year I simply add it to their ongoing list.  It makes it handy when its time to order gifts for birthdays and Christmas.

    2. Start the tradition of giving an in-depth book/encyclopedia/guide book based on your child's current passion/interest each Christmas.  Do a little research and I promise you can find a book/guide based on their interest.  Do they love the engineering behind building with Legos?  This is an amazing book called [amazon_link id="0763669903" target="_blank" ]The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond[/amazon_link] that would be perfect for the Lego-engineering child for example.

[amazon_image id="0763669903" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond[/amazon_image]

I'm thrilled about this year's book selections for each of my girls.  [amazon_link id="1579128955" target="_blank" ]The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe[/amazon_link]

[amazon_image id="1579128955" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe[/amazon_image] For my 6 year old who asks daily what everything around her is made of and is beginning to take interest in the periodic table.

[amazon_link id="0756667526" target="_blank" ]Natural History[/amazon_link]

[amazon_image id="0756667526" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Natural History (Smithsonian)[/amazon_image] For my other 6 year old who collects and examines mushrooms, wildflowers, bark, and bugs.

[amazon_link id="1465414177" target="_blank" ]Knowledge Encyclopedia[/amazon_link]

[amazon_image id="1465414177" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Knowledge Encyclopedia[/amazon_image] For my 10 year old who, like her Daddy, loves facts and equally has the memory to remember them all.

[amazon_link id="1465419683" target="_blank" ]Ocean[/amazon_link]

[amazon_image id="1465419683" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Ocean[/amazon_image] For my 8 year old oceanographer who can't wait to be in a shark cage some day and scuba dive.

3. Think outside of the box and make a meaningful, personal, "love of learning" gift based on your child's current interests.

Some of my favorite simple "love of learning" gifts for my children have been:


Find one or two gifts that will ignite the already existing passion your child has towards a specific topic.  And watch how much more your gift will give throughout the year in inspiring their incredible, innate desire to learn more. 


Go out + live boldly.


the sleepy time gal


how to make a bug hotel (and let your kids enjoy the bugs as pets!)


How to Make Bug Hotels (1) As we are discovering what rhythms work and don't work in our days of homeschooling, one rhythm always works: Monday morning explore time.

After the busy Saturday ballet day for the girls and the quieter, introspective Sabbath day, I always crave order of the house while the kids are dying to get outdoors to explore.  It's a morning to get our needs met before diving more fully into a new week.


Yesterday, I discovered my children had made the most incredible creations from their exploration: bug hotels.


Here's a simple outdoor project that inspires creativity, problem solving, nature exploration, and many more skills...


Before the cold weather chases the insects away, set aside a morning or weekend for your kids to make their own bug hotels.  Here are the basics, based on what worked so well for my kids:


  1. Adopt a bug!  We've gathered crickets, caterpillars, and millipedes.  It helps if there are an extra set of hands to help hold the captured bug while your child is preparing for Step 2.
  2. Use a cardboard box as the "hotel".  My kids solved many problems while making their hotels like determining that caterpillars could live in wide, more flat boxes while crickets needed taller boxes with flaps (that they taped together) to keep the insect from jumping out.  Let your child discover their own insect's needs with a little of your guidance, if requested.
  3. Find out what your insect likes to eat.  Older kids can do this on their own via the internet.  If they need help, guide them on the computer or in an insect guide.
  4. Fill the hotel with niceties: food, water, leaves, rocks, decorations, etc.  This is the fun part for kids!  My oldest learned that crickets like to burrow in dirt to keep cool, for shelter, safety from predators, and to find food.  So piles of dirt (with food hidden beneath) were added to her hotel.

IMG_5155 4. Have fun with your bug pet!  Let your kids add their miniature toys, legos, and dollhouse furniture to their bug hotel to create a real world for them.   It is so fun to see how nurturing children are to their "pet", even if it is a bug, in playing with it, stroking it (like Annabelle's dear FuzzBall caterpillar), setting up a home with activities + specific rooms, and thinking ahead of what needs/comforts they would guess a bug would want for the day.


5.  Depending on the bug, free it when your child feels ready to or keep it a bit longer!  Our crickets enjoyed their hotels and owners for most of the morning and then were released.  FuzzBall the Caterpillar has been around for over 24 hours!  He is happy and well and still carefully cared for on the back porch in his beautifully decorated, well-thought-out hotel.


What bug do you predict your child would want to adopt most of all?


Go out + live boldly!


the sleepy time gal

officially fall



{The girls were eager to get our fall things out so the house would be "ready" for the fall equinox yesterday.}

Yesterday we did our best to celebrate the  fall equinox all day long.  We visited the beautiful grounds of our local Dickinson College for nature-found-object collecting to use for leaf/nature art. (My favorite of the leaf art is on Instagram @nshiffler.) Ainsleigh, my chef for the day, helped make up a mini pumpkin muffin recipe with me for our afternoon snack + milk, and we nestled in together at night after dinner and ballet to watch the BBC's Nature's Great Events (based on how the seasons affect animal life).


{Somehow dried beans return to sensory play for Rowan when this season returns.  Needless to say, most of the lentils ended up on the floor but boy was it the most exciting hour of his life as he poured and poured and poured...}


{It wouldn't be the changing of the seasons without the head crafting coordinator, Caroline, making seasonal decorations for her bedroom door and her siblings'.  Pictured here is her "Welcome" mat for outside hers + Johanna's bedroom door.} IMG_5113

{Thank you Pinterest for giving us visual inspiration for fall-inspired activities for our "table time" this week.  I think these scarecrows turned out absolutely adorable.  Especially the add-on of the extra large bandaid.}


The Sly Fox & the Scarecrow

by Caroline Shiffler

Cautiously prowled a fox nearby who thought of himself most terribly sly, 

And most other foxes would strongly imply to yield the farmer's field.  

But the fox said, "I am a fox quite sly" and while he went all heard him cry, "For I am a fox very sly and I will enter the field tonight" and so he went, very content...

(A little poetry work-in-progress by my Caroline.) ;)

And speaking of all things fall, if you live in the central PA area and would like to participate in our annual Bake Off please send me a personal email in the "contact me" section for rules and our home address.  

We have a variety of participants each year: homeschoolers, public-schooled kids that take the day off, young pre-school aged kids, and so on.

Our 6th Annual Bake Off

Have a great Thursday, friends.

the sleepy time gal

right now...





IMG_3666 IMG_3643

Right now we're...


  • enjoying giving extra attention to our Johanna with her special day around the corner
  • making new job charts for the girls to maintain the dishwasher + help regularly in the kitchen
  • remembering to use the slow cooker at least once a week--sometimes using it for a hot breakfast
  • baking the awesome ultimate keto buns weekly (the whole household loves these slathered in butter or with burgers or grilled chicken dinner sandwiches) and [amazon_link id="0984755195" target="_blank" ]Primal Cravings Cookbook[/amazon_link] Chocolate Coconut Scout Cookies--but sweetened with stevia + blackstrap molasses--yum!
  • slowly carving a new routine to our "homeschooling" day, like the official reinstitution of "reading time" on the couch in the afternoon--some sit as close as they can to me to see pictures, others make dolls on the floor and just listen
  • patiently waiting for inspiration for Plan B of potty training a boy (those darn pull-ups + underwear are so hard for him to pull down when he needs to!)
  • reading [amazon_link id="0399535667" target="_blank" ]The Gift of Dyslexia[/amazon_link], learning more about the "gift" and understanding so much about why my sweet girl has always creatively done everything different--in coping and understanding her world--from her sisters

Have a wonderful day, friends, and weekend.  I'm looking forward to a simple and special baptism weekend with family + friends.  And I'm hoping for a date night out before the shift in focus towards a family wedding.

Go out + live boldly!

the sleepy time gal

strengthen your home



 When it comes to developing character strength, inner security and unique personal and interpersonal talents and skills in a child, no institution can or ever will compare with, or effectively substitute for, the home's potential for positive influence.

Stephen Covey

I hope you were inspired by yesterday's post of 5 Ways to Inspire the Love of Learning in your children.   Our state of our homes are so important for us and our families.  No matter the chaos, insecurities, and vulnerability of being out in the world from day to day, the home is, and will always be, our haven and safety.

When your child returns from school, a trip, or any other time away, their very own home should be the place they can let down their guard and be their true selves.  They should feel loved and not judged--secure in who they are.

So here are a few personal questions about your HOME:

  1. What is one word you would use to describe your home/home life right now?
  2. What are two things that are working well in your home right now (i.e. order, kindness to each other, family dinnertime, etc.)?
  3. What are two things not working in your home right now (i.e. contention among siblings, rushing, no family time together during the day, etc.)?


Take a few minutes and jot down some ideas of how you can focus one week on improving those weaknesses.  Bring up the two weaknesses at breakfast/dinner when the family is together.  Ask for suggestions.  Involve the family.  Include every member of the family in resolving the concern with real ACTION.  Soon, little by little, day by day, you will see progress as everyone consciously works toward a goal together.  And those particular weaknesses can eventually become strengths.  There is such a powerful force among families that when members work together great things can take place.


Take the challenge and strengthen your home.  Make it a place where confidence, love, and goodness grow through constant effort.


the sleepy time gal

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

exploring: the renaissance faire


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IMG_3401 IMG_3397







{The PA Renaissance Faire in Manheim, Pa.}

It is amazing how much there is to learn in the big, wide world if you simply look around you. 

As you know, our love for all things medieval still is strong in this house--specifically for my historian, Johanna.  (Remember our Medieval Feast?)  In our quest to make August a fun, family month, we visited the PA Renaissance Faire recently.

The girls wore their most medieval/renaissance-like attire (all beautifully sewn dresses my mom has made them over the years) and they suddenly transformed and played the part of royalty.   And boy did they love it.


With a bucket of kettle corn in tow, our gang watched jousting, a potter at work, sang a song to the queen herself, and were knighted by the king.  It was a fantastic day of explaining to and observing with our kids.  I love exploring with curious kids--it makes the experience that much more thrilling.


Today we are off to explore something new... Super excited!  Follow me on Instagram to see our big adventures today.


Have you visited a Renaissance Faire?  

What exploring are you doing with the remainder of your summer? 


Go out and explore something new.


Exploring series:


the sleepy time gal


right now...



Right now we are...

  • cutting, hot glueing, and sewing purses + totes daily now that their art room has officially been turned into the "sewing + craft room"--tour coming soon!
  • beginning the life-changing magic of tidying our home (starting with all of the clothes throughout the house) since being completely changed from reading the book, [amazon_link id="1607747308" target="_blank" ]The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up[/amazon_link].  Caroline, who has listened to some of the audio with me, has taken the book's philosophy to heart and has been going through her own things--pretty amazing.
  • coming up with simpler, healthy summer desserts to make when company comes that only involve a few ingredients--like our weekend [amazon_link id="B004N5KUVC" target="_blank" ]Scharffen Berger bittersweet dark chocolate[/amazon_link] dipped strawberries (The youngest three loved rolling some in peanuts and unsweetened coconut.)
  • trying hard to regularly, daily, say no to more things to focus and give our best to the yeses in our schedule (which definitely can be challenging to be honest with yourself in deciphering what is most essential.)  Side note: if you haven't read my thoughts on the book [amazon_link id="0804137382" target="_blank" ]Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less[/amazon_link] check it out here.)
  • replanting green beans, green onion, and other vegetables in the garden today that are either teasing us or our friendly rabbits have been eating
  • enjoying my Chromic app that lets me do simple video editing immediately on my phone
  • literally sleeping under the big dipper in sleeping bags on a tarp around back, or for as long as we can handle the chill through the night ;)
  • finishing [amazon_link id="0440409411" target="_blank" ]The Castle in the Attic[/amazon_link] audiobook in the car--a book I stumbled across + remembered enjoying when I was younger


Our June + July will definitely be our busiest months this summer because of ballet.  And so I'm carefully + intuitively planning our days now to only contain the most meaningful things beyond the scheduled things: a lot of outside biking time, inspired creativity inside, simple meals + snacks, my most exciting personal goals at the moment, and better flow of maintaining the house daily for them + me.  And most importantly, being flexible when we're all together so we can really say at the end of the day (and personally in my 5 Minute Journal at night) that our days + summer has been absolutely thrilling + successful for all of us.



Go out + live boldly!


the sleepy time gal

video: top 5 "kid picks" for june


My Top 5 Kid Picks for June Good morning!

Here's my Top 5 "Kids Picks" for June video!  Super excited to share what we're loving right now at the beginning of summer.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here for my weekly video updates!


I shared with you now YOU share with me!  What are you and your kids loving right now??  I love hearing about new things my kids and I could enjoy.

Share and link below.


Have a wonderful weekend!


the sleepy time gal

video: what kids learn through creating


IMG_2776 SO much learning can happens with our kids every day when we simply inspire them.

Yesterday morning we had table time and I brought out art supplies, art paper, and, something new.  


If you saw on Instagram yesterday (find me here), I'm in the process of making over our less functional "art room" for something better.  In the early morning I began filling a box with tattered and unexciting childrens books during the room makeover.  I let the kids use the too-worn-to-donate childrens books for any creative project they could imagine.  You would have thought I just announced free chocolate cupcakes for a lifetime or something by their initial surprise and then total excitement!

And their creations were even more spectacular than I could have imagined.

Skills my 6 year old girls mastered from one morning of creating:

  • tape rolling to create double sided tape
  • making water + powdered tempera paint to get the right consistency paint
  • how to compensate for too much powdered paint to water
  • delicate, detailed cutting
  • multi-medium, collage layout
  • coming up with a system to take turns with the best pair of scissors
  • creating a unique story for their particular project
  • checking in with me on how to spell particular works for their project


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I like to put supplies out, maybe suggest a few ideas and then step back.  They hear me remind them often while I'm in the kitchen or elsewhere to let me know if they need my help.  And then their real work begins.  All of my kids start at the table and sometimes their ideas lead them to gathering supplies from other rooms or merging their creative work on the table with some creative play elsewhere.



Here's a cute little video segment of Annabelle + Ainsleigh's intense work at the table.  My favorite is Ainsleigh's focus as she masters rolling tape--all on her own!


the sleepy time gal