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.
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.
Of course, any time is a good time for a good book! But there’s something about these books that makes them especially appropriate for springtime reading.
It’s impossible not to fall in love with the magic of springtime right along with Mary in The Secret Garden. When orphaned Mary travels from her home in India to the English moors to live with her uncle in his lonely manor house, she has no idea that a bit of earth, a nature-loving boy, and a curious robin will change everything she thinks she knows about the world. It’s impossible to come away from this book without dreaming of your own garden. (Though be prepared: If you’ve never read the book before, the passages in Yorkshire dialect may twist your tongue.)
The Wind in the Willows begins in the spring, when Mole climbs out of his underground home to discover the river and Ratty. Just like a river or like the beginning of spring, the book’s pace is sometimes quick and adventurous, sometimes slower and dreamier, but the adventures of Mole and Rat capture the essence of spring adventure.
If you’ve been watching the birds returning to your neighborhood, The Burgess Bird Book for Children makes the perfect spring readaloud: Each chapter introduces a new bird, complete with descriptions, habits, and nesting preferences, as the birds return to Peter Rabbit’s garden. If you want to drill down to specific identification, you’ll want to pick up a birding guide—and, of course, the birds of the English countryside may not be the same ones singing in your backyard. But there’s no better book for encouraging your kids to study their feathered neighbors carefully. (It’s definitely worth splurging on an illustrated edition for this book.)
In Clementine and the Spring Trip, Clementine is excited that spring has finally arrived. She loves the apple trees and Margaret’s crazy spring cleaning—and, of course, her school’s annual trip to Plimoth Plantation. As she’s faced with a series of strictly enforced rules—from new girl Olive’s secret language to the fourth graders lunch mandates—Clementine realizes that it’s important to follow rules—and to break them—for the right reasons.
The Penderwicks in Spring focuses on Batty and Ben, the youngest of the clan. Rosalind is in college, Skye and Jane are in high school, and Batty has started a (sometimes hilarious) dog-walking business to raise money for music lessons. There’s a dark undercurrent to this book—Batty is most introverted of the Penderwick sisters and the only one who doesn't remember their mother—but that feels right for a springtime book: It is the coming from darkness to light that makes springtime so magical. And there’s plenty of Penderwick laughter and charm, too.
The charmingly old-fashioned Twig is about a little girl who builds a fairy house in the small yard of her city apartment building. With a little help from a friendly sparrow, Twig meets an elf who’s able to shrink her down so that they can play house together in Twig’s little home. It’s a sweet, simple story that will probably inspire a few fairy houses.
In The Minpins, Billy can’t resist sneaking into the forest near his home—even though his overprotective mother has warned him not to. When he’s chased into a tree by a ferocious beast, he meets the curious Minpins and teams up with them to take down the Red-Hot Smoke-Belching Gruncher for once and all. This was Roald Dahl’s last book.
Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow is a delightful hodgepodge of a book that perfectly captures the spirit of spring, with poetry on one page and science on the next. Read this to inspire your springtime nature walks or use it as a jumping off point for spring nature journaling.
Spring is practically one of the characters in A Room with a View, E.M. Forster’s gorgeous novel of uptight Brits on holiday in Italy. When Lucy Honeychurch visits Italy, she’s torn between the rules and restrictions of her prim upbringing and the freedom and passion she discovers in Florence.
“Here! lilac, with a branch of pine, / Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pull’d off a live-oak in Florida, as it hung trailing down, / Here, some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of sage,” writes Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass, perfectly capturing the enchanted beauty of the world in spring. A poetry collection may not be your traditional readaloud, but this one’s made for al fresco reading together.
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!
For my third citizen science project that I began in March, I picked Project Budburst, and I highly recommend this for homeschoolers with young children because it’s super easy.
The researchers at Project Budburst would like you to pick a plant in your area that you can visit often and record the changes it makes through the seasons. You will then create an account on the their website and input the data you find.
If you visit their website, you’ll find easy directions, and there is a database of plants where you’ll probably find your plant. (There are certain plants that they would prefer you to observe, so be sure to check out that list.) Once you find your plant, you can download a chart that will tell you exactly what changes you need to look for with a space to record the date. You can pick a tree, shrub, flower…whatever you want!
I picked a flowering dogwood tree that is growing in my front yard. During this spring season, it’s been changing rapidly, so I’ve been checking it almost everyday! Here you can see the chart I’m using to record the date of my observations.
I’m going to be recording my observations year-round, but they also give you an opportunity to do a single report (that is, a one-time observation: click here for that report), so if you are facilitating a co-op class, that would be a great choice.
The study of the timing of how a plant or animal changes or moves with the seasons is called phenology. As you work on your budburst project, there are many pages on their website that will teach you about phenology, why it’s important, and how that’s teaching scientists about climate change. This page has a short video that I showed to my boys.
If you try out Project Budburst, I hope you’ll have fun and tell us about your experience!
This week, Shelli's got the scoop on what's lighting up her April homeschool.
We’re a birding family, so we love the spring weather and watching the birds nest and fly about in our yard! My six-year-old especially loved this interactive website that lets you explore bird anatomy, and in the evenings we’re also enjoying watching some wild bird videos too.
in the magazine: Subscribers can download our free meal planning sheet (with spaces for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks because homeschoolers need spaces for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks!) when you log into the subscribers-only portal.
on the blog: Amy shares what she's learned teaching homeschoolers creative writing
on instagram: Why yes, our Friday nights are pretty thrilling
This month we’ve been learning about the Cherokee Indians because our local art museum has a Cherokee Basketry exhibit I want to attend, and this is an important part of our state’s history the boys should understand. (So, yes, this is a Mama-led activity!) I began by reading The Cherokee: native basket weavers by Therese DeAngelis, Sequoyah by Doraine Bennett, and The Cherokees by Jill Ward, which were all short (elementary level) books I checked out from the library. Then we read the (middle school-ish) book Only the Names Remain by Alex W. Bealer, a sad account of the Trail of Tears. These were all good books.
My New Adventure
It’s not always about the boys’ projects around here. This spring I have been delving into the world of bread baking, and not only that, I have captured my own wild yeast, too! The series Cooked (exclusive to Netflix) inspired me. I am using the book Classic Sourdoughs, but it hasn’t answered all my questions, so I’ve frequented YouTube and friends on Twitter as well! (Thank you, Twitter friends!) After four loaves of bread, I’m still trying to get it right! (I did have great success with pizza dough, however.)
The boys are constantly looking at our collection of Calvin and Hobbes books, which I keep on the kitchen table with the weekly newspaper. At least my nine-year-old is reading something without being told!
A couple of years ago, my nine-year-old lost interest in the Little House books when we got to By the Shores of Silver Lake. Now we’ve picked it up again, and he’s enjoying it. I think we’ll finish the series now!
For myself, I just finished reading Taking Lottie Home by Terry Kay. It’s a Southern novel, and I thought it was going to be predictable, but as the story gained momentum, I realized it was not! It was a very good read and a meaningful story.
Our most current beloved documentaries:
--NOVA’s Rise of the Robots (PBS)
--Nature’s Wild France (PBS)
--Cooked (Netflix exclusive)
--Chef’s Table (Netflix exclusive) (These last two were insanely great.)
Just for me: Mr. Selfridge (Masterpiece Theatre PBS; available on Amazon Prime)
Our spring issue is all about getting a little fresh air — literally (we have so many awesome ideas for outdoor adventures!) and metaphorically (in the form of ways to shake those I'm-doing-this-wrong worries that sneak into your head). By now, you probably know the kinds of things you'll find in every issue of home/school/life — intelligent reporting, thought-provoking columns, tons of book recommendations, and all kinds of resources and ideas to make homeschooling a little more fun. And yep, you will find all of that in our spring issue! But here are a few things we love that you'll only find in our spring issue: -- Tips for growing carnivorous plants in your own backyard
-- Step-by-step guidance for creating your own homeschool group
-- 6 Twilight Zone episodes that legitimately count as philosophy class
-- A science-minded guide to the history of space exploration in film
-- Practical ideas for carving out a little me-time in your busy days
-- Outdoor activities to make green hour part of your everyday life
-- The ultimate anti-Muzak playlist
-- A version of “Let It Go” inspired by Dante’s Inferno
-- Good advice for explaining your homeschool choice to people you love who just don’t get it
-- And Amy's favorite: a little Shakespeare for your first-aid kit
(If you're not a subscriber but now you wish you were, snag the spring issue here.)
CREATE A WILDLIFE HABITAT IN YOUR YARD
All you need are the three essential elements for wildlife to flourish:
1. FOOD :: Natural food like berries, nectar, acorns and other nuts. You can also provide birdseed.
2. WATER :: If you don’t have a natural water source on your property, you can provide water in dishes, a birdbath, or fountain.
3. SHELTER :: Dense shrubs, vine masses, dead trees, underbrush, wood piles, bird houses, gourds, or shelves.
If you want to get very serious about your wildlife habitat, you can follow the directions and register your habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.
Caution: If you add a feeder or water to your yard, you can also attract unwanted critters into your house. So take care to put keep your feeders away from the house.
GROW SEEDS IN A JAR
This is easy peasy and great for young kids.
- Buy some dried pinto beans at the grocery store.
- Find a clean, clear jar and put a moist paper towel at the bottom of the jar.
- Put 2-3 beans in the jar and cover with a lid.
- Put in a sunny windowsill and watch them grow!
- When they are too big for the jar, you can uncover it.
- When the threat of a frost is gone, plant in your garden.
MAKE YOUR OWN HUMMINGBIRD NECTAR
We have started to see a few hummingbirds in our yard, and that reminded me to put our hummingbird feeders back out. (We can actually leave our feeders out all year long in Georgia, but I like to take a break from making the nectar and cleaning the feeders in the winter months.)
It’s easy and healthier for the hummingbirds to make your own nectar. Just boil 1 part sugar to 4 parts water until the sugar dissolves. I usually do 1 cup of sugar and four cups of water, and I store the excess in my refrigerator.
Tip: Make sure your hummingbird feeder is red, especially the tip where your hummingbird will be feeding from. We have tried feeders that weren’t red, and no hummingbird went to them! There is no need to add red food coloring to the nectar.
Also, be sure to clean the feeders often in order to prevent mold or bacteria from forming inside, which could make the hummingbirds ill.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, we’ve got 6 tips for bringing a little opera to your homeschool.
1. Match your opera to their interests. Kids who dig Shakespeare can get excited about Verdi’s Macbeth or Otello,while Greek mythology fans might dig Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice or Montiverdi’s Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria. Being at least vaguely familiar with the characters and plots of an opera can make the new experience more comfortable.
2. Watch one of the Looney Tunes operas. (No, really!) The Rabbit of Seville (1950), in which Bugs accidentally becomes the Barber of Seville and torments Elmer Fudd and set to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, or What Opera, Doc? (1957), set to parts of Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen and Tannhauser, are both good options.
3. Familiarize your kids with classics operas by reading a book like Sing Me a Story: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories by Jane Rosenberg or The Barefoot Book of Stories from the Opera by Shahrukh Husain.
4. Don’t make your first opera a marathon test of stamina. If your child is ready to go after an hour, leave at the end of the act while your child is still excited about the show instead of forcing him to stick it out till the end.
5. Encourage kids to pay attention to the sets, which are often as interesting as the stories. In The Saturdays, Rush makes his Saturday splurge a ticket to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, where he’s especially impressed by the machinery that controls the fire-breathing dragon Fafner onstage.
6. Play opera music at home, and act out stories together based on the way the music feels. Encourage kids to focus on the feeling of the music, not the specific words — especially when they are in another language.
13 ways to celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4.
Pull out all your Star Wars-themed Halloween costumes along with the toy light sabers, and wear them all day. Be sure to say, “May the Fourth be with you” to everyone you meet.
Host a star Wars marathon by watching all the movies (or, you know, at least the good ones). You’ll want to do this anyway in preparation for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams and due in theaters next December.
Make a Star Wars pinata that looks like Yoda or Darth Vadar, or buy this really cool pinata of the Millenium Falcon.
Make your own lightsabers. Use pipe insulation — wrap one end with gray duct tape for the handle, and use colored tape for the lights.
If you live in California, get an early start at the official Star Wars Celebration from April 16-19, 2015 at the Anaheim Convention Center. There you’ll get to meet some of the actors from the movies and shows and maybe even George Lucas himself.
If you are in Seattle, you might enjoy Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume, a traveling exhibit at the Seattle EMP Museum. View 60 costumes from the first six movies and get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist’s work.
If your kids like Stars Wars and storytelling, they may enjoy the Star Wars Scene Maker app, which is made for the iPhone or iPad. It won “Best Creative Fun Award” at the 2014 Tillywig Toy and Media Awards.
If you really want to geek up on your knowledge of Star Wars, The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film or Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle will fill you in on all the nitty-gritty details.
My eight-year-old adores the Jedi Academy series by Jeffrey Brown. The third book is due to come out this summer.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars retells the classic space epic, Shakespeare-style. Forsooth! —by Shelli Bond Pabis