Spring is the perfect time to take your homeschool outside — and if you need a plan to help with that, we’ve got some suggestions.
Shelli's son's bird obsession has fueled their homeschool reading list. Here are some of their favorites.
Naturalist John James Audubon's biography comes to life in this gorgeous graphic novel that's a must-read for every bird lover.
Nature study doesn't have to be a fancy, complicated thing. These simple strategies make it easy to add a little nature time to your everyday homeschool.
Add a little oomph to your sunny days homeschool with these spring extras, designed to make learning (almost!) as much fun as the prospect of playing outside.
Fill your library bag with books that will get you excited about spring — whether the weather's in the right mood or not.
This month I stumbled upon an interesting citizen science project that anyone can participate in from his or her computer. Three scientists from Harvard University, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia founded Project Implicit in 1998. According to its website, “Project Implicit is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition - thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a ‘virtual laboratory’ for collecting data on the Internet.”
Once you register on the site, you can return again and again and take several tests, but if at any time you decide you would rather not participate, you can just close your browser to quit. The site is secure and will protect your privacy. According to scistarter.com, there are more than 90 different topics being tested. They seem to appear in a random order.
So far I’ve taken two of the tests, and the first one took me about 15 minutes. The second one took less than 10 minutes. They were not difficult tests, although figuring out what they were testing was a puzzle. Although I was given results at the end, I still wasn’t sure what it was about. However, I’m happy to help research as I continue my year of citizen science projects. Speaking of which, I have one to go! If you’ve enjoyed participating in any of these projects, I’d love to hear about it.
It’s that time of year when I am making an extra effort to check the weather report everyday because I never know if there’s going to be a frost, so I need to bring some plants inside, or if the day will be unusually warm, so I need to pull out some T-shirts for my boys. This is why I am happy to help the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) with their Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground (mPING) project.
That may be a mouthful of a project name, but it’s actually quite simple. The NSSL created an app called mPing so that everyone, including you, can quickly report the weather in your area. The information you send is completely anonymous. This is helpful because weather radars cannot see the ground level. According to their website, these reports are used by the NOAA National Weather Service to fine-tune their forecasts, and the NSSL uses them to develop new radar forecasting technologies and techniques.
I downloaded the app onto my smartphone, and I was happy to see that it’s very easy to use. You simply tap “Report Type,” and pick the appropriate report, such as “Rain” or “Hail.” You may be asked more specific questions such as the approximate size of the hail, etc. After that is done, you simply tap “Submit Report.” This is especially helpful to do before, during and after a storm.
For more citizen science project ideas, click here!
I know I have claimed past citizen science projects as easy to do, but Project Squirrel must surely be the easiest. That is, if you live in an area with squirrels. There is a guide on the website that will help you identify the kind of squirrels that live in your area. In my yard, we only have grey squirrels.
All you need to do is fill out a quick form online stating your location, the number of squirrels you see, and a little bit about the habitat. It literally took me less than five minutes while I was sitting on my porch watching the squirrels forage around in the leaf litter. The hardest part will be remembering to do this four times a year, which is what the researchers at Project Squirrel hope you’ll do. I put some reminders on my calendar.
Why study squirrels? Well, for one thing, squirrels are easily identifiable, and most people are familiar with them. They are found in most American cities. Squirrels are also diurnal, and they don’t hibernate during the winter. This makes them easy for citizen scientists to study.
Scientists want your data on squirrels because they can tell a story about the ecosystem you live in. Many other animals depend on the same food that squirrels depend on. If there is a predator in the area preying on squirrels, that predator is probably preying on other animals too. The more people who contribute to this study will help researchers learn about local and regional ecosystems.
Like I said, it was very easy and took very little time. Just walk outside, count how many squirrels you see, and fill out a short form online. Done!
Have you participated in a citizen science project this year? Please tell me about it.
A Venus flytrap is the quintessential kid’s plant. What child (or adult) isn’t fascinated by touching that little trap and watching it snap shut? Sometimes these plants provide a child with his first attempt at taking care of a plant, and they make a great way of bringing a little bit of nature indoors.
In the wild, those little traps are essential for helping the Venus flytrap catch
prey, usually flies or other small insects, because the prey makes up for a lack of nutrients not found in the soil where these plants live. All carnivorous plants have adapted to living in areas with poor soil by having a mechanism to trap prey. They usually grow in boggy areas or wetlands with very acidic soil that is low in nitrogen and other nutrients.
Did you know that there are over 670 species of carnivorous plants in the world, and in the United States, they are found in every state? (Venus flytraps are native to the Carolinas.) They also live on every continent except for Antarctica.
Believe it or not, Venus fly- traps are not the only carnivorous plant you can grow at home, and grouping them together make a beautiful and fascinating collection. You can probably find a Venus flytrap in the garden section of your local big chain hardware store, but you’ll have to visit specialty shops, order online, or inquire at your local botanical garden for most other species. If you want to make sure your Venus flytrap has been well-taken care of, you might want to buy it from one of these alternative sources as well.
Next time you are in the market for some interesting plants, try out one of these:
Pitcher plants are tall with leaves that look like tubes, though some of the species are hanging plants and look a little more like pouches. The beautiful colors on the top of the leaves lure insects by looking like flowers, and they also produce a sweet- smelling nectar on the rim of the “pitcher,” which slightly intoxicates the insect. As the insect travels down the tube, it’s impossible for them to climb back up because of the tiny downward pointing hairs. At the bottom of the pitcher plant is a pool of digestive enzymes and the end of the road for the unsuspecting insect.
Sundews trap insects like flypaper. There are over 500 species of sundew in the world. Their leaves look like fingers with tiny red spikes on them. At the end of each spike is a sticky mucus, and if an insect lands on it, it gets stuck. Then the leaf will wrap itself around the insect and devour it.
Butterworts are common in North American bogs. The common butter- wort has purple flowers with leaves that form at the base in the shape of a rosette. Like the sundew, its leaves have a sticky secretion that insects will stick to. After getting stuck, the leaves will curl up around the insect, and digestive juices will suck the flesh. As in all carnivorous plants, you can find the exoskeletons of its prey after the leaves open back up.
Bladderworts make a great addition to garden ponds because they produce pretty, yellow flowers. There are over 200 kinds of bladderworts, and most live in the water. Their trap looks like a tiny balloon. When a small creature, such as a mosquito larvae, brushes up against the sensitive hairs on the open- ing of this balloon-like sack, it opens up, and whoosh, like a vacuum cleaner, it sucks up its prey.
You can grow most carnivorous plants in sphagnum moss or peat moss that has no added fertilizer. Remember to never fertilize these plants. They are adapted to living in poor soil.
Shelli’s tips for growing carnivorous plants
- Water your plants with either distilled water or rainwater. Carnivorous plants are sensitive, and chemicals in tap water could kill them.
- If growing indoors, place them in a window with bright, indirect light. Read your instructions to see how moist you should keep the moss. you can keep them partially covered to retain the moisture, but they do need some fresh air to survive.
- Depending on your climate, you might be able to grow them outside. They make great container plants, and they also do well in garden ponds.
- Venus flytraps kept indoors only need to be fed once a month. Don’t try to feed them any other food besides insects, preferably live ones. even though it’s fun to touch the trap and make it close with your finger, be careful not to do that too much. each trap can only be open and closed about four times before it dies.
- For more information about carnivorous plants and how to grow them, you may enjoy looking at the International Carnivorous Plant society website.
- A trustworthy online resource for buying carnivorous plants is flytraps.com. Run by a husband and wife team since 1992, the owners can answer your questions and have detailed growing instructions on their website.
This essay was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life.
I’m calling this month's citizen science project “not quite” because technically, it’s not a citizen science project. That is, it is not supporting any kind of research, and there are no scientists or researchers involved in this. Instead, it’s a group of volunteers who are striving to help the Monarch butterflies, which studies are showing to be in decline.
As you may know, Monarchs are the only butterfly species who make a mass migration. They travel up to 3,000 miles! During the summer months, they live in the northern U.S. and Canada, and then they migrate to Mexico for the winter months. (We usually see them in our yard around October.) You can read more about this incredible phenomenon on this National Geographic page.
When my eldest son was seven, we raised two generations of painted lady butterflies. (You can read more about that in the Summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine.) Now I have plans to raise butterflies again, but this time, I’d like to raise Monarchs. I knew that before I do that, I’d need to grow milkweed in my yard because this is the host plant that the Monarch larvae or caterpillars feed on. This is how I stumbled upon LiveMonarch.com.
As it turns out, growing milkweed is a good thing because part of the reason that Monarch butterflies are decline is loss of habitat, i.e. loss of the milkweed plant.
LiveMonarch.com is run by the Live Monarch Foundation, a United Charitable Program. Their mission is to educate everyone about habitat loss and what they can do to assist the Monarch butterflies. For a $3 donation, they will send you 150 milkweed seeds! (If you don’t need that many seeds, you can donate some of them. See the different options on their website.) They will also make sure you get the proper seeds that you need to plant in your region and directions on how to grow the milkweed.
Even though this isn’t exactly citizen science, I thought it deserved a place in “My Year of Citizen Science” because 1) it’s easy to order and grow the milkweed, 2) it’s a great project to do while you learn about the butterfly life cycle, which is part of any homeschooler’s science curriculum, and 3) you’d be helping the Monarchs, which researchers and scientists are trying to do too! And who knows? It might inspire you to raise butterflies too!
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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!
Not sure you have time to do citizen science with your kids? Well, you have time for this project. It’s the easiest citizen science project ever!
The University of Oklahoma Natural Products Discovery Group is asking you to send them a soil sample from your backyard. All you have to do is go to their website, order a kit, which is free (although they welcome $5 donations to cover the cost of the kits), and once you receive your kit, follow the simple directions for how to collect the soil.
The kit comes with a short form to fill out, a scoop, and a small plastic baggy. Open the package carefully because it converts into a pre-paid mailer that you will drop back into the mailbox once you have collected your sample. It literally took my son and I less than 10 minutes to do this project!
Why do they want your soil? They are looking for the microscopic life in it. There are many kinds of fungi, and most of it we cannot see with the naked eye, but it could be life saving. They are using these samples to find molecules that might fight cancer or stop the spread of infectious pathogens or any other deadly disease. Since there are millions of different kinds of fungi on earth, you might have something they don’t have in your backyard.
Not only is this project easy, it will help your child understand the importance of scientific research, and you may be helping to save lives too.
Before you mail off your sample, you will write down a soil sample i.d. number, and with this, you’ll be able to track your sample on their website, find out how many fungi came out of your sample and also see photos of these amazing organisms! (It may take awhile before your sample shows up in their database, so be patient.)
What citizen science projects have you participated in?
For many families, “homeschool” is a misnomer—so much of our learning happens outside of the home. With the right materials, your family can make every trip out a chance to deepen learning, develop existing interests, and discover new ones. Some families fill a bag, and others fill the whole trunk. But when you lock the door behind you, what exactly do you bring?
It goes without saying that your family’s interests and the adventure ahead of you determine what you pack. The buckets and spades you take to a day at the beach may not be what you take to your local natural history museum. Nevertheless, there will be some items that you’ll want to take everywhere, and if you have them assembled and ready, you’re more likely to take them.
Some basics can make or break a trip. Spare clothes for children, if they are likely to get wet, waterproofs in the wet season, small bottles of sunscreen, and insect repellent and bite/sting cream during the drier months. You’ll need water and plenty of sustaining snacks. It helps to have a backpack to put it all in (children can share the load, appropriate to their size and age), but I know one family who takes it all in a basket on the hip, and another who pulls everything along in a wheeled trolley.
It’s a great idea to take some basic art supplies to record what you find and foster creativity on the go. Katie Pybus, who home educates her three children in the South of England, and has been blogging about it every day for the past four years, says that she never leaves home without a sketchbook for her youngest child, a keen drawer. If you’re not lucky enough to live near an art supply outlet like Katie, you could make sketchbooks by folding copier paper in half and stapling the fold. Bring along a pencil case filled with pencils, a sharpener, mini-ruler, crayons, markers, a glue stick, small scissors, and small roll of tape. If your children like to paint, a travel watercolor set makes the perfect pocket-sized paint palette, accompanied by waterbrushes (paintbrushes with a water reservoir in the handle). Having all of these small items assembled in one zipper-case has saved my bacon on more than one occasion when I’ve had to bolt out of the house at a moment’s notice.
If you’ll be spending the day outdoors, in addition to the right gear for the weather (and replacement gear for when socks get wet!), consider taking along a few light items to take your family’s learning even deeper. Very young children sometimes struggle to use binoculars, but a monocular is a lot easier to use and often cheaper and lighter to carry. A field guide for your area will help you identify flora and fauna, and you can keep a record of what you find with a camera or camera-phone. If you think you’ll be sitting down for a while, consider bringing a foldable sit-mat, but if you have a big family, an old shower-curtain makes the perfect water- and dirt-proof outdoor learning space.
Dawn Suzette Smith, of the Mud Puddles to Meteors blog, and co-author of Whatever the Weather, recommends carrying a small tin container for collecting specimens—leaves, insects, lichen, feathers—whatever treasures your child finds can be popped into the tin for examination later. Luckily, even if you forget your tin, any secure container or baggie does the job. I’ve taken to collecting plastic hummus containers and juice bottles for my son’s collections. For a collector, anything will do.
For the older child who loves the outdoors, a pocketknife and a length of rope can give great pleasure. Various kinds of pocketknives are on the market, from round-ended blades to clasp-less knives in leather sheathes. Once they know how to use a pocketknife safely, many children love to whittle and fashion walking sticks from twigs, and in an emergency, the tweezers are really handy for extracting thorns or splinters from little fingers. With a length of rope, you can make a tightrope between two trees to test your balance, play limbo, throw the rope over a sturdy branch to make a make-shift rope swing, or use it as a harness for a little tree-climbing. Or take a trip down memory lane and teach your children your childhood skipping songs and watch their eyebrows lift higher and higher as you demonstrate your skipping prowess.
Getting out of the house might be a great way of getting kids away from the TV or tablet, but don’t forget that those electronic devices can make excellent recording instruments. Most contain voice-recording software, so if your child can’t write yet, or is reluctant to, she can still take verbal notes on what your family is up to. The video footage and photographs your child takes can be brought home and spliced together to make a video of your trip out. For the naturalist, a photograph facilitates the identification and recording of species. Finally, photos can be printed and glued into a scrapbook—rather than only having snapshots of family vacations or holidays, you’ll have a priceless record of your day-to-day life as well.
Speaking of scrapbooks, Dawn’s family has a neat idea for a homemade scrapbook kit for longer trips. She says,“Before leaving we create a small scrapbook that is held together with rings to easily add things we collect along the way. We keep our book in a bag filled with extra paper, a hole punch, glue dots, tape, markers, colored pencils and other supplies used to build our scrapbook as we go. After each stop we punch holes to add things like postcards or brochures to the book, we tape things like business cards and receipts to the pages, decorate borders and write a little something about the location.”
Dawn’s rustled-up kit is a fantastic way to create a really unique souvenir of a family trip, and one idea I’ll definitely be using this summer.
There are two things I never leave the house without: a small journal with a pen. Jotting down what we see and do, along with my children’s questions and observations, has been invaluable in helping me to bring their outdoor learning back to our homeschool. As their mentor, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to remind them of what we did, encourage detail in their narrations for daddy later, and help them remember the questions they asked. We once spent an entire afternoon trying to figure out the difference between crickets and grasshoppers after a previous day’s walk when the chirruping creatures had been leaping around us at our every step.
Whatever you take, the right materials for your family’s outing can help you dive beneath the surface and immerse yourselves in your not-at-home school.
This article was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home | school | life as part of our big nature study feature. We’re reprinting it on the blog because (1) summer is a great time to have an outdoor kit handy, and (2) we really like it.
We’re so excited about our new online classes, and we thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peek at what’s on the lineup for this summer. Today, Rebecca shares her plan for the Art of Wildcrafting—a really cool class that will let kids get hands on with identifying and using herbs.
What Is Your Class About?
Wildcrafting is the term used to describe the harvesting of wild plants for culinary or medicinal purposes. The main focus of this course is on identifying, harvesting and using herbs found in natural settings.
What Will Students Learn?
This class will be highly interactive with weekly opportunities to practice new skills through home-based projects. Students will be encouraged to share their results with the class. Together we will:
- explore the history of wildcrafting and the work of contemporary wildcrafters.
- discuss elementary botanical terms and concepts.
- use a plant identification book.
- consider sustainable methods used to harvest and process herbs.
- practice storing herbs.
- cook with herbs.
- prepare herbal infusions and decoctions.
- consider plant conservation.
What Is Your Favorite Thing About Teaching This Class?
Wildcrafting is such a fun and meaningful way to connect with the natural world. It’s exciting to discover that our humble backyard weeds actually have medicinal properties or taste great in soup! I love watching students’ excitement as their understanding of nature’s resources grows deeper.
Why Did You Decide To Teach This Class?
Summer is the perfect time to experience nature in important new ways. Wildcrafting gets us outdoors, slows us down and helps us to look more carefully at our surroundings. In doing so, young people gain an understanding of their place in the natural world and are more likely to become stewards of the environment. It’s a privilege to help introduce young people to the joy and rewards of wildcrafting.
Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 2nd grade this year.
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 2nd grader. (You can see what 1st grade looked like for us here.)
This was a crazy year for us—I broke both my ankles (taking the trash to the curb, if you can believe it) and spent most of the fall pretty much incapacitated. We’ve always relied pretty heavily on readalouds in our homeschool, but I’ve never been more thankful for them than I was this fall. I had lots of big plans for 2nd grade, but I ended up simplifying a lot. And you know what? It all turned out fine. I was a little anxious that we’d have to spend 3rd grade playing catch-up, but we’re actually a little ahead of where I hoped we’d be—which, I remind myself all the time, is a completely arbitrary place anyway and not a real educational checkpoint.
Because we veer toward classical homeschooling (I always call it Classical, Dude-style because we require many snacks, are easily distracted by interesting stuff, and very occasionally go to the grocery store in our pajamas), history is the subject that we build our year around. My daughter and I loved Story of the World and used it all the way through, but in the interest of simplifying this year, I picked up the 5th grade Build Your Library curriculum. (I wanted to do U.S. history this year because my 8th grader tackled our state history—it works best for me when their history studies match up.) Build Your Library was great—the living book recommendations were spot-on, and my son enjoyed most of them. In fact, the book lists were such a good fit for him that I’m thinking of sticking with Build Your Library for history next year.
We’re still using Miquon Math, which my son has adored. He’s finishing up the last book, and I’m not sure what we’ll do next—maybe Beast Academy? Math is the easiest subject with my son—he’s always excited to work on it and Miquon’s approach seems to work really well for him. I’m sad there aren’t more advanced Miquon materials.
If you follow the blog, you know that my son’t reading (or lack thereof) has been stressing me out all year. We don’t do any formal reading or language arts—we read a lot together (favorites this year have included Sees Behind Trees, Heidi, Farmer Boy, the Melendy Quartet, By the Great Horn Spoon, and Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France), and writing comes up naturally. My son likes to write little books about Minecraft or Pokemon or his birds versus pigs baseball tournament series—he dictates to me, I write things down, and we talk here and there about why there’s a comma or a new paragraph. (This is really Patricia’s method, and she describes it much better than I ever could.) He memorizes a new poem every week or so for our Friday recitations. He’s also reading on his own, which I try as hard as I can not to make a big thing out of. But when I come out of my creative writing class and see him reading in the backseat of the car or when I peek in his room in the morning and he’s reading in bed, my heart swells with hope.
This is my son’s third year taking Philosophy for Kids at our local homeschool group. (It’s taught by Shelly Denkinger, whom I convinced to teach How to Think Like a Philosopher for our summer class lineup.) This year, the kids have been creating their own logic game, and they’ve gotten really into it. Philosophy has been such a great class for my son—he’s a super-rational kid, and this class has given him the tools to express, explain, and defend his ideas and opinions. Class is definitely his favorite part of the week.
Our daily nature journal is still the biggest part of my son’s science, though we’ve done a few one-off experiments here and there as something came up that we were interested in exploring. (The most popular was probably our chocolate chip cookie experiment, in which we tested variations—with baking powder, with brown sugar, with butter, etc.—of the classic recipe to discover which we liked best.) It’s really cool to see my son’t nature journal evolve over the past year as his observations have gotten more precise and interesting. We also worked our way, pretty casually, through a couple of the My Pals Are Here science workbooks, but that was mainly because I bought them when we first started homeschooling my daughter and never used them, so I was kind of determined to see them used. They were a little more school-y than we usually are, but my son enjoyed them in small doses.
We followed Build Your Library’s recommendation and worked our way through Great American Artists for Kids: Hands-On Art Experiences in the Styles of Great American Masters. We also do a little finger-knitting, soap carving, simple sewing, and/or beeswax modeling in what we like to call the “crafternoon.”
Our schedule tends to be pretty loose. My son and I usually start school after he has breakfast and checks his Animal Crossing town—this might be 8:30 a.m. or it might be closer to noon. We always start with a readaloud, then dive into history, but from there, it can vary quite a bit. We might get really engrossed in history and stay focused on that for a couple of hours, or we might spend a few minutes in every subject, or we might decide to watch a documentary on some rabbit-trail topic we’ve discovered. Ideally, we do a little history, a little math, our nature journals, and our readaloud every day, but I don’t worry if we don’t tick all the boxes. Some days, my son clearly has no interest in anything school-related, and we take those days off. At some point, he probably needs to power through something he doesn’t particularly enjoy, but I don’t think a few days off in 2nd grade is going to make him unfit for the adult world when he’s ready to enter it. Whatever work we end up doing usually lasts two to three hours. After we break for lunch (which my children are responsible for getting for themselves most days), we spend the afternoon working on our creative projects, and then he’s free to do whatever he wants. Sometimes that is non-stop video games. Sometimes it’s building a fort in the backyard, or playing with Legos, or doing logic puzzles, or coloring, or organizing his Pokemon cards, or watching Phineas and Ferb. He almost always helps me with dinner prep, and we try to all eat dinner at the table together and spend the evening having some family time—watching a show together (we were all hooked on Masterchef Junior) or playing a board game (Wildcraft is still our favorite).
One thing I’ve noticed—reading aside—is that I don’t worry about 2nd grade nearly as much this second time around. Second grade was the year we pulled our daughter out of school to homeschool—almost seven years ago now—and I had no idea what I was doing. I agonized over every decision and woke up in the middle of the night so many times convinced I’d totally screwed something up. It’s nice to realize that I’ve learned that a lot of gaps fill themselves, that things tend to come together in their own time so that waiting is almost always better than pushing forward, that you really can build a pretty solid educational foundation on readalouds and playtime. It’s not so much that I know what I’m doing better now—but I think I understand that it’s okay not to have any idea what I’m doing and to trust that—together—we’ll get where we need to go. In our own good time.
What about you? What did your homeschool life look like this year?
Spring has sprung. My young sons wake up earlier now, anxious to get outside for great big adventures. This time of year dandelion hunting, playtime in the mud, bike riding, and tree climbing fill our days. I am in awe of all of the learning opportunities nature conjures up for us.
The chance to accommodate and encourage our children’s love of nature is one of the many perks of homeschooling. Nature books are a much loved keystone on many homeschoolers bookshelves, and so I’m pleased to have stumbled upon Lynn Seddon’s treasure Exploring Nature with Children.
Exploring Nature with Children is a curriculum chock-full of ideas to take thoughtful learners through a full year of nature studies. Well organized and comprehensive, Seddon’s program takes the work out of lesson planning, ensuring that families have time to get outdoors and play in the dirt.
Seddon opens with tips for making nature studies a homeschooling focal point. Making and maintaining nature journals and keeping a nature display table indoors are two rewarding activities kids (and grownup) of all ages can enjoy. Seddon provides helpful ideas to make these ideas come to life.
Exploring Nature with Children provides 48 weeks of themed and guided nature study. Seddon’s program will help to develop your family’s appreciation of nature a well as to provide a scientific context for your child’s observations.
Although Exploring Nature with Children is designed to work well as a stand-alone resource, Seddon encourages using it in conjunction with one of my all-time favorites, Anna Botsford Comstack’s Handbook of Nature Study. This would be a particularly worthwhile choice for those using the curriculum with older children.
Each section of Exploring Nature with Children is designed to take students through one week of nature study. Seddon opens each section with a theme. Our family worked through a March unit on birds. The section opens with an informative paragraph about the behavior of nesting birds in early springtime.
Next up is a guided nature walk. Here Seddon suggests details to be on the lookout for during a walk in the wild. My sons and I loved the challenge of watching for birds at work building nests. We also kept an eye open for nesting materials. To find nests off the beaten path, Seddon suggests looking at tree tops with binoculars, carefully examining the woodland floor, and observing holes in the trunks of trees. Seddon encourages readers to spend time afterwards sketching and jotting down observations in their nature journal.
For those wishing to learn more, Seddon suggests readings in The Handbook of Nature Study as well as correlating page numbers to provide more in-depth information about the week’s theme. A themed book list also accompanies each weekly lesson. Whether you choose to use these books or not is optional. Recommended non-fiction, fiction, and biography titles are provided for a range of ages. Even in my rural library, most of the recommended titles were easy to locate. My family enjoyed starting out the day reading books from this list.
A poem and a piece of art relating to the theme of the week are included in each unit as well. Families can incorporate these features into a learning plan however they like. Keep in mind that the suggested artwork itself is not included in Seddon’s book. Rather, she provides the name of the artist and of the painting. A simple internet search will provide prints of all of these works.
Innovative extension activities to help delve deeper into the week’s theme follow next. As my family worked through March activities we enjoyed gifting the birds with small piles of nest-making materials such as twigs and grass. We left these near our bird feeders. Using a field guide we located local birds and researched their nesting patterns. Seddon also suggests creating a map of the nests in your area to put inside of nature journals. The extension activities throughout the book are wonderfully varied, original, hands-on, and substantive.
Living waaaaay up north means we need to tweak the book’s calendar schedule for our uses. In April, for instance, we worked through the March sections of the book. It may take readers a little time to sync up with the author’s schedule; however, once this adjustment is made there should not be any difficulty.
Exploring Nature with Children will work best for those living in regions with somewhat dramatic seasonal changes. Also, the author assumes readers have access to landscapes that provide opportunities to observe, touch, and interact with nature.
Exploring Nature With Children is only available as a PDF. The PDF download costs $15 and can be purchased from the author’s website.
Nature is the perfect classroom. Kids of all ages can find inspiration, information, joy, and satisfaction from time spent learning outdoors. Happy spring!
When I spoke with the naturalist at our local nature center about citizen science projects, she recommended that all kids use either Project Noah or iNaturalist to keep track of their nature discoveries. So during April, I decided to take some time and get to know what these projects were and how we could begin using them at home.
Project Noah and iNaturalist are very similar. They are both crowdsourcing tools that can help scientists and researchers study wildlife in your backyard. Through their websites or apps, you can simultaneously keep track of your nature discoveries, connect with other people who love nature, get help identifying that plant, bug or animal that you don’t know the name of and also help scientists with their research.
In each of them, you can also join one or more groups that focus on a particular place or specific plants or animals. This is a great way to connect with other people in your area or who are interested in birds, for example, or plants…whatever you like observing and taking photos of the best! In Project Noah, these groups are called “missions,” and in iNaturalist, they are called “projects.”
I signed up for both of these programs, but I was disappointed to discover that I could not find the Android app for Project Noah in Google Play. Perhaps it’s being updated? I sent a message to Project Noah to ask about its status, but I haven’t received a reply yet. Sadly, if I can’t use my phone camera, I doubt I’ll be using Project Noah very often.
I had better luck with iNaturalist. I signed up on their website, and then I downloaded their app to my phone and signed in there. I’ve only uploaded one photo of a little hairstreak butterfly my son found in our yard the other day, so I’m still tinkering with the site. I’m excited to see there’s an option to keep a “journal” – a sort of blog – on there too! I did not see this option on Project Noah.
If you’re a member of iNaturalist, and you’d like to connect with me, my handle is “mamaofletters.” I look forward to sharing our nature discoveries with you!