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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nature study for non-artists

Recently, I've been reading Pocketful of Pinecones (great book BTW) and mulling over the whole Charlotte Mason style emphasis on Nature Study.

Nature is fun. It is interesting.

So, why do so many of us avoid teaching it? Okay, to be more real, why do we (we meaning "I") avoid nature all-together? Why do we sit snug in our warm homes thinking that it is just too much of a bother?

I think I've made nature too complicated. I can't even tell you how many times have I decided to be "intentional" about enjoying nature with the kids. I've bought books about it, collected art supplies & backpacks, packed lunches, and tromped the little ones an hour into the woods just to hear "I need to go potty!"


I somehow have created this idea that NATURE is only located far away from home and we need to be actively pursuing it. How ludicrous!

Whatever happened to kids playing in the rain?
Catching bugs?
Pulling the bark off of a tree branch?
Just sitting outside doing nothing at all?

Nature shouldn't be made boring by over scheduling.

Nature shouldn't be made difficult by forcing kids to examine details when they are uninspired, write when they aren't able, or draw when they struggle with dexterity.

At the beginning of this school year I decided that I wanted to find a way to make nature study a joy for my kids, rather than another task to be done (and grumbled about), so nature study looks really different at my house now. It is intentionally tailored to my kids passions & strengths (photography for my boy and creative writing for my girl), avoiding our weaknesses (handwriting & drawing).

This is what I have found to work for us:

Day 1 - Enjoy nature
  • Hike, look through a collection, observe the back yard, play in a mud puddle AKA - send the kids outside to play and don't tell them what to do (they love this part), but be diligent about asking questions about what/where they were playing when they come back in and make a mental note of their answer
  • Allow kids to photograph items of interest, even if it is a poorly composed picture of mud
Day 2 - Research
  • Based on their observations on Day 1, choose a photo and print it in Black & White for each child (we use sticker paper, but regular copy paper works great too). Google images is a great source if the kids aren't in a picture taking mood or the photos are too fuzzy
  • Encourage kids to identify the subject themselves
  • While kids color the photo (colored pencils work best), mom reads aloud about the subject from the internet, guide books, etc. but only while the kids are still interested - when they tune out, I stop. If they stay interested for 2 hours, we keep going for 2 hours (or at least until the baby wakes from her nap). We love using the FIAR digital nature studies . It is one of the highlights of our homeschool.
Day 3 - Write (or more specifically, Talk)
  • Allow child to dictate a story about the subject they chose, using it as a character or setting. Whimsey and fiction are not only allowed in our house, but encouraged. (Burgess style - fiction with lots of accurate detail about nature) Mom types while the child talks.
Day 4 - Assemble Nature Journal
  • Print dictation
  • Ask child to copy as much as is age appropriate (sometimes we skip this, depending on the workload that week)
  • Allow child to paste into their journal: dictation, copy-work, & photograph, - Usually the topic that they choose is something of interest to them so they will have a random assortment drawings, magazine clippings, leaves, notes, coloring pages, & internet images that they want to add too.
*I had photos of our journals to include, but I accidentally deleted them (blah). I'll try to add them again later.

We don't do this every week, simply because of time constraints, but it is a system that my family has been able to not only stick to, but enjoy and look forward to.

~ Got a good mud puddle near your house?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom and Pure Gold

There is a strange kind of magic that happens when a group of moms get together. Over coffee, or more commonly, over a screaming child and another one yelling "I didn't do it," our life stories are shared.

As we share our stories, there is always the moment when another mom suddenly remembers her own experience in the same situation, and then begins to share. In these stories lies pure gold. Bits of wisdom acquired through years of experience, trial and, more often than we care to admit, error.
  • Give baby tylenol before getting vaccinations.
  • Sharpen colored pencils with your eyeliner (not pencil) sharpener.
  • Don't expect anything of your kids if you aren't willing to take the time to check up on them. They are only as industrious as you are.
  • Always hand-wash bibs while doing dishes to prevent velcro disasters in the laundry.
  • If you say it, enforce it - every time.
  • Take pictures of ordinary moments, not just major events.
  • Reassign chores every new year.
Yeah, most of these insights aren't earth-shattering, but it makes life a lot easier when you don't have to make each discovery on your own.

Not every bit of wisdom is for everyone. I will never make my own laundry detergent no matter how frugal my friends claim it to be. I can afford the $8 every two months thank you. Nor will I switch my family to an all organic diet. I simply don't see how anyone can market pure maple syrup as "organic" and demand extra cash because of the label. It is always organic folks. Personal preference aside, another mom would love these kinds of tips.

This is the beauty of these friendships. I don't have to use their laundry recipe or shop at their organic store, and they don't have to do everything my way either. The bits of these conversations that I pick and choose to apply to my family make my parenting task easier and assure me that I'm not the only one with a child who chews on his toys or refuses to pull a sweater over her head on her own.

Plus, it's kinda' funny to hear the story of how someone's kid got peas stuck in his ear - and how mom red-faced and stammering confessed to the doctor that it was done by his sister ... then to hear another woman pipe up "Oh that happened to my kids too!"

Laughter - now that's pure gold in itself.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

1st day of Kindergarden

Better late than never, right?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Daddy's little boy

Sometimes the similarities between my husband and son are astounding.

Today my little guy decided that he wanted to have lunch in my closet (which sounds strange until you realize that this is a completely empty closet in an unfinished room ~ just the right size for a play-house) so he set himself to work; first sweeping, then vacuuming. He dusted baseboards, washed walls and made the place look better than the room that it is attached to. He is a detail man - just like his daddy!

He always has a project or two underway. For the past few weeks he has been working on a "fort" in the backyard; spending hours sawing tree limbs into just the right length to add to his tee-pee style creation leaning into a bush. These aren't just any sticks. He has rejected many for being too weak, to short, not the right shape, etc. The ones he does accept are all meticulously arranged in a pattern that he has clearly thought out.
I wonder how much is biological and how much is learned. Does he just have an internal drive to stay active and do things thoroughly? Was he created with an eye for detail? Does God give some people the gift of being able to get stuff done? Or is it something that he has learned by watching his dad painstakingly renovate our home, step by step, since the day he was born?

Either way, I can't take any credit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Destination School

This morning I woke up late (thanks to a very considerate husband) and didn't want to get out of bed. Pure laziness had me in its grasp. I wanted to have fun rather than teach lessons. ~ Picture a stubborn 2 year old crossing his arms and stiffening his back so that you can't pull the pajamas off. That was me.

Reality pushed it's know-it-all head into my tantrum. Skipping class was out of the question. BUT that didn't mean that I had to settle for a yucky day. I decided to create a good day.

I called the kids together and in a very conspiratorial stage whisper I told them that they need to get dressed and ready to leave. Fast! Their eyes lit up and they started running around whooping and jumping on their way to brush their teeth and make their beds. They knew what I was up to - My favorite trick: Destination School.

Every so often, I like to shake up our school routine and take the kids to a new place to do our lessons. Sometimes we bring everything to a local park, the library, a picnic table in an apple orchard or the kitchen at my husband's office, but our favorite is to visit local restaurants.

Squeals and hugs, everyone smiling and working together. Oh yeah, THIS is going to be a good day.

We arrived at Panera Bread armed with a bag containing a clipboard for each kid with their work attached, several fun books to read aloud, our chemistry text - cuz' I couldn't get around doing that one, lots of pencils and paper, and a few quiet toys for the baby.

The next several hours were spent lazily munching on muffins and going through our normal routine. No complaints, no hassle. The newness of a different location seems to do magic on all of our attitudes. We even had time and energy to go apple picking and do our grocery shopping when all of our work was finished.

I think I smiled all day.

I've always thought that Grandma's house might be a good spot for Destination School, and I haven't tried out the museum cafe' where we are members. I'll save those up for another "I don't wanna'" kind of day.

Maybe, soon.