Friday, July 6, 2012

Our homeschooling colors come out when we are in the woods or camping.
We went camping at High Point State Park last weekend with some cousins of my husbands. It was hot, but quite tolerable (thankful the campgrounds is up above and on the east side of Lake Winnebago!!).

I am rarely intentional/purposeful about nature study. I like to see what the children will find -  what catches their attention and stand out to them as unusual. On our campsite, there was a tree (practically in the middle of the site) that had a bees nest in the a hollow part of the tree - about 2-3 feet off the ground! Neat to find & observe, but not so thrilling to have one’s tent next to when you have little children who are very curious. Thankfully, our cousins site next door was huge in comparison to our little site & there was a fabulous spot on it to put our tent (keeping the little’s safe).

When we first observed the bumble bee hive, it was dark out & we had to use a flashlight to see it. You could hear the hive buzzing. However, it was not angry bees buzzing - it was the numerous bees poised at the entrance of the hive using their wings to cool the hive. It was something we had only seen on video prior to then. So to see it in real life was exciting not just to see, but to hear as well. During the next couple of days, from a distance, we observed the bees coming & going. The best part of that was noting the full pollen sacs on the back of the bees legs!  I was only able to get a couple of bad pictures with my camera (silly me - I forgot to make certain my batteries were charged).  However, Gary got at least a video on his phone & perhaps a couple of pictures. I hope to post those in the next couple of days.

We also had a huge racoon go through our site & we watched it run under our cousins camper. There was a horde of chipmunks around the site. While we were breaking camp, one fell out of a tree onto the top of our tent - G1 was inside and it scared him silly (he thought a limb had dropped). The chipmunk was no worse for wear & ran down the side of the tent. Another scurried around the side and chased it into the undergrowth. We could hear them rustling around the campsite. Finally, as the tent came down and it was just our family (cousins had pulled out by then), one of the chipmunks got brave and came within 2 feet of G3. He was very calm and sat so very still even though he was very excited that the chipmunk was so close to him. It snatched a piece of popcorn from the ground by him sat there for a moment, then dashed back into the woods.                   

When we got home that evening, something kept flying and bugging me. We did not figure out what it was until the next morning when it was cooler out & we removed the rooftop carrier. It was a giant fly! Huge! It was the size of my thumbnail (should have measured it).  G1 captured it in a jar so we could look at it better. It was like looking at the normal housefly and seeing it magnified. Horsefly, I assume.  We have a picture of it in the jar.

We have a mouse that regularly runs by the patio door & baby bunnies hopping through the yard. G3 regularly calls my attention to the various bird calls outside. They have looked at rolly-pollies in the garden, played with worms out there, helped ID various butterflies, we found a beetle "hole" in the yard to watch, and it is only the beginning of July.

Nature study does not have to be intentional. It can be done as it comes during play or travel. Observation can be done as the opportunity presents itself. That doesn’t mean that we cannot be intentional about it, but it does not have to be forced.  That means pointing out things they might have overlooked while romping in the yard/park.  It might mean reading up on it later. We have looked up the various critters in the Handbook of Nature Study (or other sources if they were not in the book) when time allowed at a later date. A week later from the date of the bumble bee discovery, M2 is learning about & sketching a picture based on the photo we took at the site. They know so much about the outside that I had not a single clue about (and I spent my childhood outside like most my age did). I was in it and looked at it, but never looked up more information about the various bugs & animals. I wanted different for my children and have made it so.

Sometimes, particularly in the younger years, people take nature study far too seriously and try to make it “schoolish” - directed, boring, overwhelming. Let the children do the observation & talking about it. You point out details they might have missed (like the pollen sacs!) but don’t make it boring or last any longer than their attention span allows (don’t force it). Nature study should be unintentional to a point - even accidental.  It is up to us as home educating parents to add in the finer details and let the children see the rest. That is when it becomes intentional on our part.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Warm winter weather and nature study

After a couple of single digit days, it warmed up to 45 degrees today. So, I turned off the heat, opened up a couple of windows (fully knowing it could be March before I have another opportunity do so) and sent all of us outside into the sunshine for some play, fresh air, sunshine (get a little bit of real Vit D manufacturing occurring!) and some exploration.

One thing that surprised all of us was the amount of green vegetation still out in the back flower beds, I knew that often in the fall we would see new sprouts that winter over (we have seen that with spinach in the garden), but I really did not expect to see unfrozen, green plants back there. The 3 year old found a stick and tromped through all spots muddy in his shoes (silly mama should have put boots on - I thought the ground would be frozen!).

All 5 of us went to see what was in the ditch (besides garbage that I suppose I will get to go out later & pick up). There was some very solidly frozen ice that intrigued the older 2. They decided by the color what areas were solidly frozen and what was not - they were right. I think the 3 yr old wanted to go down there, but he backed off when he saw the 13 yr old break the ice in a thin area (purposefully).

The toddler was just thrilled to be outside. She has always loved being outdoors. That will make for some fun nature study when she gets older!

I know many people just don't like to take the children out in the cold, but Charlotte Mason believed that children should spend lots of time outdoors - daily. During the very coldest days (ie single digits with wind or worse - below zero days, etc.), I do limit that time out and sometimes skip it altogether. The risk of frostbite on a excessively cold day is all too real. That said, there are very few days that we skip it altogether. I need the break & fresh air as do the children.

(A child) must live hours daily in the open air,” she said. “We were all meant to be naturalists, each to his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”

The three year old found joy in the birds that winter over. We can see/hear the crows that stay. We watch for hawks when we are outside. G3 wants to know where all the bugs are living since he does not see them in the dirt. That leads him to a new word - hibernation. We talked about Chippy & the mice spending most of the winter in their warm homes below ground. Three year-olds are ever so curious and bring out the childlike curiosity in the grownups as well - if they let themselves.

The weather tomorrow looks appropriate for a visit to our local nature preserve. It will be fun for all of us to walk around (in boots this time!) and see the difference between our last visit in November & now. It is good to go visit familiar places regularly so the children can see the changes. One of our favorite things to see at the nature preserve are some plants with HUGE leaves. They are fun to look at and touch when green, but after they dry up in the fall, they make a fabulous rustling noise when the wind blows. We must not forget that plants have their own seasons and what may seem boring at one point will be exciting in another. We have also noticed cold spots out there (okay, I admit it, it freaks me out just a little to go through those spots). And, in those areas, the plants are totally different. We are not talking about large fields like this only about a 10x10 plot in 2-3 areas in the preserve and they are not low lying - just weird to me, lol!  I suspect it might be worth an email to my cousin to get his thoughts on it since he works in a nature preserve area for a living. Hmmmmm. If I find out the what/why behind it, I will post about it later.