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Dawn Smith has been a friend of home/school/life since its inception, and we’ve been a big fan of her and Annie Riechmann’s nature blog, Mud Puddles to Meteors for a long time. So we feel very good telling you about Dawn and Annie’s new book, Whatever the Weather, which would be a perfect addition to any homeschooler’s bookshelf.
Whatever the Weather is all about sparking wonder and excitement about the weather through art and science. It is filled with simple science experiments and art projects, and a section called “Science Behind the Scenes” accompanies each activity. This section provides families with the science related to the weather phenomena they are playing with in the activity. Dawn told me they did this because they wanted families to have easily accessible scientific facts about the weather phenomena so they would grow in their understanding of how the weather works.
I have my own copy of Whatever the Weather, and I have been having a great time reading through it and planning activities to do with my two boys. But I had to wonder: How does Dawn do it all? She’s a homeschooling mom, she writes books, leads nature walks, facilitates a nature lab, and is now working hard to promote her new book. I wanted to interview her about her book, writing life, homeschooling and more, and I thought readers of home/school/life would enjoy getting to know about this cool nature-homeschool mama too. So please enjoy the interview below, and then leave a comment so that you can get a chance to win a free copy of Whatever the Weather, compliments of Roost Books.
In addition, be sure to look for an article Dawn is writing for us about weather studies in our upcoming Fall 2016 issue.
What made you and Annie decide to write a book about the weather?
Well, Annie and I are fascinated with the weather. We both grew up on the West coast and moved to the east where there are different weather patterns and much more extreme winters (with the wild mix of weather that goes along with winter weather). This new weather made us realize what a big role weather plays in our lives, especially with kids. The weather had become a topic of study with our own children and it all just grew from there.
How did the journey of writing the book begin?
Annie and I had met while contributing to a nature blog that some friends had started, and we clicked. Once that blog started to wind down, we stayed connected and talked often.
One morning I got an email from Annie that said, “We should write a book!” I laugh just thinking about it. It seemed like such a natural next step.
I had quite a few half-started book projects already, and Annie had been creating Alphabet Glue for some time, so we tossed around some of those projects and came up with the idea to write a family guide to nature. We basically wanted to write the book we wished we had had for our own families when we first started exploring nature with our kids.
In a long and rather fun process a chapter of that book, about the weather, became an e-book on our blog, Mud Puddles to Meteors.
In the process of pitching our original book idea, editor Jennifer Urban-Brown at Roost Books, saw the e-book posted on our blog and wanted to see it. She had been thinking of a book about weather, and after seeing the e-book, asked us to write it.
I know you lead nature walks and also facilitate an online nature lab. Please tell us about those and how you got started in teaching nature studies.
I really got started with sharing nature studies by simply sharing our own discoveries with others online. When we first moved to Nova Scotia from California we did not have a car, or a friend network, so I relied on fostering online friendships with other homeschool families, and many of those families happened to also be involved with nature study. We shared and learned a lot from each other.
I started a “nature” version of my personal blog and things have grown from there.
The nature walks started because my local friend and I decided to do what I can best describe as a mini co-op. I took her older kids for a nature walk and taught them nature study once a week (while she did story time and activities with her younger children) and I dropped my kids at her house on another day for art lessons (while I went to the library for writing time). It worked out so well she encouraged me to start doing nature walks for our homeschool group. Now I do a Forest Friday program for our local group and it is wonderful.
The nature lab is an extension of that desire to share nature and nature study with other families. It grew out of a Fall Outside program I had done in the fall to encourage families to get outside for 30 days in November. So many people loved having a daily nature prompt show up in their inbox they asked me to continue. Now I offer the Mud Puddles Nature Lab and it is growing into a wonderful community of families (many of them homeschoolers).
You are a homeschooling mom, you write books, lead nature walks, facilitate a nature lab, and also co-author the blog, Mud Puddles to Meteors and help promote it! Whew! (Did I miss anything?!) How do you find the time to do all this? What is your routine like?
Whew! I am tired just reading all of that! Ha!
To be quite honest, I don’t find time for it all. There is an ebb and flow, just like with anything. Sometimes the blog sits for quite some time without a post, I am not always writing a book (although there are more books on the horizon), and the great thing about the nature walks is that we would be doing that anyway – we just get to take a group of families along with us, which is great!
Having so many things on the go could not be possible if it was not a family effort.
My husband works really hard for our family and cleans the bathroom (because it is my least favorite thing to clean). My kids pitch in around the house with their chores and are becoming more and more self-directed daily. I certainly could not do it all without the support of my family.
My son went to school this year for the first time (grade 4) so I only have my daughter at home now. That has certainly lightened the homeschool preparations and time. She is almost 13 years old and is very independent in her studies and projects. We spend time together each morning on lessons and project work and she works on her own for the rest of the school day until her brother gets home.
Most mornings I get up around 4 a.m. to write when the house is quiet. I don’t allow myself to go on social media during that time because I have to be really efficient with those quiet hours and I get the bulk of my writing done during that time. It is easier to catch up with the groups I have online, edit photos, and other tasks when the household is awake but for writing, I need to have quiet.
What does your style of homeschooling look like? What made you realize homeschooling was a good fit for your daughter?
We are fairly eclectic in our homeschool but mainly rely on project-based homeschooling. It is a really good fit for my daughter because when she has an interest in a topic she becomes consumed with it. She is an amazing researcher (I am sure because we have laid the foundation for her to be an independent life-long learner from the beginning) and loves to delve into even the most obscure aspects of a topic. Our librarians always know when she is on to something new because she puts every book the library owns on that topic on hold (thank goodness Halifax has an amazing library system).
What inspires you?
Other mamas inspire me the most.
While there are some really inspiring people out there who are making a big difference in the world on a larger scale, for everyday inspiration I look toward my little tribe of mama friends, people online who I have fostered relationships with over the years, and those mamas sharing the everyday life stuff on Instagram or Facebook. They are the ones I call when I am in tears because sometimes life is just too much, they are the ones cheering me on when I think things are too hard, and they are the ones who are right in the thick if it alongside me. It is such an inspiration to see everyday life play out in beautiful ways each day, even in the midst of piles of laundry, dinners being made, and crying kiddos.
I am also inspired by little details. Take one look at my Instagram feed and it would not take someone long to see I really like to tune into the tiny things that make the world go round.
It is inspiring when I see something small and think about how all of those little details make up the world. It makes me think of what is possible and realize that when things seem big and overwhelming tuning into small details can make life more manageable, in the same way that each letter makes a word, each word a sentence, and before you know it you have written a book.
Are you working on a new project now that the book is published?
There always seems to be at least one project, or more, in the works.
Right now my focus is on the Mud Puddles Nature Lab and reaching out to families who want extra support in getting out the door or to simply join a tribe of families moving in the same direction. It is in its infancy and is really becoming a lovely community.
I am also working on thematic, nature inspired activity guides that will include natural history, language arts, math, science, art and more. I am really excited about those too!
And, there are more books in the works. That is a very long process but hopefully there will be another book to share with you sooner rather than later.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would just like to add that I really appreciate the homeschool community as a whole. It is amazing how even when we take different approaches to teaching our children and have different points of view on other matters, we can connect over our desire to homeschool our children, find the middle ground, and support each other. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this wonderful community.
Now here’s your chance to win a free copy of Whatever the Weather. Leave a comment here on the blog and tell us why you’d like a copy of the book, and we’ll randomly select a winner from the entries. We’ll choose a winner on TUESDAY, AUGUST 2, so please check back then to see if you won. Good luck!