Let’s Pull Together 2008 ~ Part Two

The kiddos and I met a number of other community members down at our neighborhood park for the annual Let’s Pull Together county-wide service project. Before our arrival, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the kids – wasn’t sure they would be too fond of the project.

We spent about 10 minutes becoming familiar with some of the common non-native invasive weeds that are common in our area. The area coordinator was concerned we would have difficulty identifying them because they were not yet in bloom. Fortunately, a gentlemen who works for the Soil and Water Conservation District was there and he helped us get underway.You can see him (center) with the kiddos pictured above. The kids took a liking to him and started following him about as we all worked to pull the weeds. They got really good at identifying the two most common weeds in our community, Cheat Grass and Dalmation Toadflax. When we go on our family walks in the evening, they point it out and frequently insist that they pull it.
After nearly 2 hours of weed pulling, Buddy said, “I’m tired now. I want to go home.” Sweetie would have loved to continue but I needed a break myself. We cleaned up and then joined other weed pullers at the park downtown for a BBQ. It was a great afternoon. The kids and I enjoyed learning more about invasive species – investigating a men’s tennis shoe that had been placed into Lake Mead and was completely covered with Zebra Mussels within 30 days.

We also observed a couple of men from one of the project sponsors giving fly-fishing demonstrations. I was impressed when Sweetie took it upon herself to request an opportunity to give it a go. The young man helped her get the hang of touching the fly onto the water surface and lifting it up quickly to entice the fish. She did very well and must have worked on her rhythm for 20 minutes. She’s been asking about going fishing ever since! 😀

What Schooling Looks Like in Our Home

As I’ve mentioned briefly in the past, we use a unique blend of materials and methods suited to our lifestyle of learning. It is largely literature-based, a little Montessori, a little unschoolish, a little unit-study, a little classics based (Thomas Jefferson/Well-Trained Mind), a little Charlotte Mason… We basically go with the flow.

I encourage the children to ask questions and investigate their natural curiosities. When they express an interest in something, I plan hands-on lessons, activities and excursions to provide avenues for them to explore and learn. We frequently create lapbooks for each of these explorations. Thus far, we’ve created lapbooks for Ancient China, The Iditarod, Song Birds, Ballet, The American Flag, and Maple Sugaring.

Sweetie will frequently ask to do schoolwork and pull down workbooks that we’ve purchased at Barnes & Noble or local teacher supply stores. She generally works through them independently, particularly the math books as this is her strength. When she selects a language arts workbook, she will ask me to sit with her. I’ll read the directions and help her to work through each page. Her phonetic skills are improving and she needs my assistance less and less.

On occasion (and according to the schedule I created to help maintain my sanity), I will ask if they would like to listen to a story. Either from Story of the World, books that relate to our focus in history or science, or an everybody book just for fun. In the evening, after they have brushed their teeth and changed into PJs, I read to them from a chapter book. They are loving Laura Ingalls’ Little House series right now (we’ve read both Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie) – they wanted to read the third, Farmer Boy, but I encouraged them to take a break as I wanted to read My Side of the Mountain.

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is knowing exactly what your children have been exposed to… particularly in books. When things come up as we are out and about, I am able to tie the experience back to a book we have read, helping them to connect the pieces of random information they have collected in their minds. Case in point…. The kids and I were at Safeway the other day and Sweetie picked up a package of tiny flint pieces near the cigarette lighters. “What are these?” she asked.

I replied, “Remember in the book were reading, My Side of the Mountain, Sam uses a piece of flint and steel to start fire. I further explained that these were pieces of flint I assumed to be used to replace the flint worn down inside a lighter. I am not certain, but I postulated that the components within a lighter consist of a tiny piece of flint and a when you move the ball with your thumb, a tiny piece of steel strikes the flint resulting in a spark. This spark in turn ignites the gas and behold, you have flame. When we go camping in a few weeks, I ask my dad to show them how to use flint and steel to start a fire.

I take advantage of every teachable moment that comes along. We lead a weekly nature walk at our local natural history museum. As the kids have become more comfortable with these walks, I have assigned each one a plant that they are responsible for teaching to the visitor. When we come to the Manzanita along the path, we’ll stop and I will turn to Buddy asking him the name of ‘his’ plant. He zealously calls out, “Manzanita!” I’ll then say, “Manzanita is Spanish for….” and I pause as turn back to Buddy. He shouts out again, “Little apples!” The visitors chuckle. His ‘speech’ is short. As he grows and learns more… he’ll be expected to share more.

Sweetie claimed the Ponderosa Pine. When we arrive at the Ponderosa, one of the first things she likes to share is that it smells of Vanilla when you put your nose up close in the crevices of the bark. She also points out that it has 3 long needles in a bundle and that it has very thick bark (she holds up a tree cookie) that protects it from forest fire. As she speaks, I remind her to look at her audience and speak loud enough for everyone to hear her. Public Speaking! She is getting pretty good at it but is still rather quiet.

We’ve recently started listening to audio books while we’re driving about town on errands. We are currently listening to The Last Dragon by Silvana de Mari. Sweetie picked it out at the library – she loves fantasy stuff! 😀 At dinner last night, I asked her to narrate what she could recall from the chapters we’d listened to thus far (Charlotte Mason in action!). It is also a great way to share with DH what we’re reading about… what we’re learning.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty laid back, however. I finished up the required elements for an art class I took (Art for Teachers) to renew my teaching license. I’ve thus been preoccupied and honestly, quite stressed. I spent many hours trying to develop a curriculum that would not only meet the course requirements but would also be usable in our homeschool. This turned out to be a waste of time but I did manage to find and review a number of great lesson plans and art activities.

We visited a new dojo and Sweetie is very excited to begin her training in Taekwondo. On Saturday, we saw Kung Fu Panda as a family and of course, she loved it (DH too)! We’ve both been singing the theme song all week! We have even had a few discussions over the week about the secret of the Dragon Master… that everything you need is within you, you only need to believe in yourself.

Let’s Pull Together 2008 ~ Part One

Our Roots & Shoots group will be participating in the state-wide Let’s Pull Together campaign this month. Invasive species have always been a favorite topic of mine. When I was teaching, I wrote several grants to develop an “Alien Invaders” curriculum and get my students involved in the eradication/prevention of invasives.

In anticipation of our upcoming endeavor, I thought I’d share a list of 13 Invasive Species that are changing the Oregon landscape. The graphic below describes how unwanted plants and animals are dispersed. Click on it to enlarge.

I encourage you to become familiar with the invasive animals and plants in your area and to do your part to prevent further distribution.

In the Woods

Two families joined us for our monthly Roots & Shoots activity (three others called with apologies they wouldn’t be able to make it – we’re going to do a make-up session on Thursday). We started out with a read aloud, a great children’s book called, In the Woods, Who’s Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George. There are 4 books in this series and all are great. Each page gives little clues or details about an animal and asks, “Who’s been here?” The kids make guesses and when we turn the page, we discover the answer. At the back of the book there is a brief description of each of the animals that was introduced. I love these books and use them frequently. Yesterday morning, the kids and I lead our weekly nature walk at the museum and picked up In the Garden, Who’s Been Here? – the one book in the series I hadn’t yet acquired.

After the book, we did a fun activity from Project Learning Tree called Tree Factory. There is a similar activity in Ranger Rick’s Trees Are Terrific called Build a Tree. The kids basically act out the parts of a tree and in doing so, learn how a tree works like a factory. We all get to act a little silly. It is a lot of fun.
We also did an activity I call, “Secrets of the Forest”. I distribute to each child a small paper bag with assorted things that can be found in the forest (cones, a small rock, a stick, a feather, a beaver chip, an acorn, a tiny tree cookie, lichen, moss, a deer tooth, etc.). The kids put their hand in and try to guess the contents without looking into the bag. It can be varied slightly depending on age – today for example, we did one item at a time and after we went around the circle, each child revealed one item.
We went around twice and then we dumped out the bags to see everything. As the kids investigated the items in their bags, I asked them to pick up the Pine Cone. There were actually three cones in each bag (Pine, Spruce or Fir, and Alder). Most of the kids picked up all three… some picked up just one. I then revealed the secret that not all cones are Pine Cones. Cones on a Spruce should be called Spruce Cones, those on a Fir are Fir Cones, etc.
We had also planned on going for a walk but it was too cold and windy – odd, since we had 90 degree temps over the weekend! The other kids are not accustomed to cold nature walks so instead, we enjoyed a light snack and then allowed the kids to play while we visited.

For the next few weeks, I have asked the kids to draw a picture of a plant or animal that lives here in the community. We are then going to use their illustrations and any research they may do to create a field guide for our community (focus is on native species; excluding ornamentals that have been planted in yards as landscaping). I’ll also incorporate photographs and factual information about each species. We hope to sell the field guides to raise money to buy bird houses for the meadow and the park.

COOL Owl Pellets

Our COOL friends gathered at our home on Friday for an engaging activity about birds of prey. We started out with a game from Ranger Rick’s Naturescope Birds Birds Birds called, “Pass the Part”. The kids worked in teams (I divided them strategically to assure there was a reader on each team) to review bird characteristics. After reading a riddle, the kids discuss the clue and decide what answer best matches. They then take turns using a straw (each child has his/her own straw) to pick up the answer (printed on a slip of paper) and take it to the answer chart posted on an adjacent wall. As soon as each team finishes, the game is over.I’ve done this activity many times in the classroom with great success. The kids love it and enjoy the silliness of using the straw to transfer their answers. In a mixed age-group like COOL, however, it was more difficult because not everyone was knowledgeable about bird anatomy and some terms were unfamiliar (air sacs, crop, gizzard, struts, etc.). I enjoy sharing activities and planning science lessons for the group but it is difficult to know what each family has been exposed to in the past. Nonetheless, I know they all enjoyed the activity and learned at least a little something. 😀
Perhaps the best thing about the day was the opportunity for the kids to interact with one another and learn from their peers. I love that homeschooling allows for children of all ages to interact more in a learning setting than they would isolated by age-group in a standard classroom. Of course, this also means I (as the one who planned the activity) need to mindful of different ability levels and varied interests.
I had expected all the kids to be interested in the owl pellet activity. As it was, only about half of the kids took the time to really investigate what was contained within each pellet. Some spent a good 20-30 minutes finding the little bones of the prey and worked to identify the tiny body part (vertebrate, scapula, skull, etc.). A few, like the girls pictured above, spent over an hour completely engaged and absorbed! Others, like Sweetie, spent only a couple of minutes at the table (I didn’t even get a chance to take her photo). Instead, she ran to get her crochet hook and sat down with another mom to practice her new skill.
This was perfectly fine! I love that she has her own interests and isn’t too timid to ask other adults for their help. Another great thing about homeschooling – the kids can follow their heart’s desire and learn what is of most interest to them! She will absolutely learn more this way than had I forced her to do the owl pellet activity.

The children will also be comfortable with other people – regardless of age, race, religion or otherwise. They will grow up appreciating that we can learn something from everyone. That everyone is valued.
As Buddy gets older, he surprises me with his curiousity and increased focus. He is beginning to play independently for longer and longer periods; building with legos or playing with his trains and trucks. He is also beginning to share an interest in doing schoolwork and periodically, when Sweetie is working on a task, he’ll say, “I do my schoolwork, too!”
He will sit and listen to picture books more and more. When I read aloud chapter books, he is beginning to use a much quieter voice as he plays on the floor nearby (he used to make very LOUD car noises which was not at all conducive to reading aloud). It is such a joy to me to be able to observe these little changes. To know that our presence in their lives is helping to assure that they are developing into happy, respectful, young people… curious about the world around them and eager to learn.

One Small Square :: Nature Study

I know we are a little behind on the Green Hour Challenges. We just got off track a little but we are back! We plan to catch up when we can and post as we go along.

Today we ventured out to the meadow in our planned neighborhood to do #9 – One Small Square. We probably should have selected an area randomly, perhaps by throwing a hoola-hoop out and studying the area in which it landed. However, the kids wanted a shrub in their study plot assuming it would provide more interesting discoveries. I figured I could introduce scientific sampling methods when they are older. 😀
This first picture shows the kids working together to investigate a small hole they discovered. They found a stick and used it to poke down in the hole to find out how deep it was. The hole was as long as the stick (about 1 foot) but it also turned as it went deeper so I imagine it went even farther. There were holes all over the meadow and we hypothesized that small field mice probably lived in them and that the holes were connected by underground tunnels. We plan to do a little research to learn more.
We also got out the loupes and looked at the small plants that were sprouting. We were surprised to find mostly dead grass. There were only 3 different types of small plants growing – 4 if you count the shrub which I think was Bitterbrush (hard to tell yet without the foliage). We were surprised to see only 2 insects (one small black ground beetle and a few ants) – we even dug small holes beneath the grass.
We spent about 20-30 in the meadow and then meandered over to the pond. We were hoping to find tadpoles as the kids have been wanting to catch some to observe the metamorphosis. Again, it seems spring is late in arriving to Central Oregon. We saw only a few water striders and whirligig beetles. Three Canada Geese observed us from afar.

Backyard Safari Frog Habitat by Summit ToysThe kids were delighted to get out again. We had intended on starting a year-long tree study, but our goals morphed as we were underway. We captured a few aquatic insects and the kids wanted to bring them home to observe more closely. We have two small habitats that the kids received as gifts some time ago but discovered when we added our specimens that they are much too small and are more of a cool-looking toy than a true aquarium for scientific study.

Backyard Safari Bug Habitat by Summit ToysBoth habitats are products of Summit Toys and are a great idea in theory. Put to use, however, I am not impressed. The water in the frog habitat splashes out and leaks out the bottom when the kids try to move the habitat to see different angles and there is so much plastic inside that there is very little ‘liveable’ space for the critters. The bug habitat is too shallow to add any substrate. My thought is that these toys are designed for one-day use and not long-term observation. I would not recommend these to families interested in studying insects or rearing tadpoles.