Un-Nature Trail – A Scavenger Hunt

I volunteered to coordinate a monthly nature hike for the homeschool co-op with whom we’ve connected. My plan is to develop a hike around a specific theme or topic area and meet every 3rd Tuesday of the month (allowing for changes due to holidays, the calendars of potential resource specialist/guest speakers, etc.).

We gathered yesterday for the first time and seeing as it was the first time, I thought it would be fun to do an Un-Nature Walk or nature scavenger hunt. I’ve done them with my students in the past and have always had success. The students have enjoyed them and everyone is engaged in the activity … suitable for all learning styles.

nature walk

Literature Connection

These walks are designed to get the ‘learners’ to be more observant while walking … encouraging them to slow down and listen, taking note of small movements and sounds, connecting with their surroundings. So, to begin, we read The Other Way to Listenby Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall.

unnature walk

Un-Nature Trail

We then started our walk. I slowly led the group along a meandering trail on which I had intentionally hidden objects that would not normally be found in this area. Some objects were natural (flipper bone from a seal, Douglas fir cone, a pumpkin, shark jaw bone, sand dollars, sandstone w/fossils) and others were not (handmade pine needle basket, small stuffed porcupine). Some objects were concealed well and others were hard to miss. Some were placed on the ground while others were suspended from trees or within the branches of shrubs.

After the initial walk-thru, we all went through together as a group and I pointed out to everyone the objects that were hidden. This provided time for questions and discussion. Many of the boys were intrigued by the piranha specimen, the one object that most overlooked. 🙂

Most everyone found more than 12 objects (there were 16 all together). I obviously didn’t hide them too well… and perhaps more objects were needed. Nonetheless, everyone had a good time. Due to the cold (it was threatening to rain and many of us were shivering despite our layers of clothing), I opted not to extend the activity and provide time for sketching in our nature journals as I normally would. We needed to be moving around. To top it off, my little buddy informed me (non-verbally) that his diaper needed attention, anyway.

This activity is adapted from Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.


Homeschooling in 1880 :: Living History Volunteers

Shortly after we made the decision to homeschool, we started volunteering at the High Desert Museum as living history interpreters.  It was an easy decision for I had volunteered there weekly before my second was born.  I have always been fascinated by history and was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer with my children in historical costume.

We volunteer once a week – generally from 10 – 3p.m.  We thereby pack a lunch that I carefully wrap in a piece of muslin and place into a basket.  I also toss in a few historic books and games to keep us occupied – but I seldom use them as the kids enjoy being there and always find a chore or task they love doing.

service learning

My Journal Entry – Sept 19th, 1880

It was a relatively slow day at the homestead today. As the weather gets cooler, there are fewer visitors. There are fewer chores to do as the garden vegetables have been harvested and the kiddos are no longer occupied with pumping water and watering the crops. It provides ample opportunity for us to work on schooling, learning our letters and numbers. We also have more time for crafts. Sweetie would love to learn to knit but I’ll need to acquire that skill myself before I can begin to teach her.

I wanted to work with the speller book to do some copywork and spelling but she wasn’t interested. I am beginning to believe her strengths are science and math as well as the arts. It is sometime difficult to get her excited about writing tasks and doing the mundane reading drills. She will learn to read and write in time, I am confidant. I don’t want to force her and thereby kill her interest and desire.

Instead, Sweetie and I worked on numbers for a while on the slate. She can do single-digit addition with ease and so I threw in some single-digit mulitiplication. 3×5, 2×3, 2×4, etc. After my example, she drew little groups of dots to help her to visualize the problems. For 2×4, she drew 2 groups of 4 dots. I tried to trick her later with 4×2. She drew the 4 groups of 2 dots and then proclaimed with glee, “It’s the same!” I then showed her how a number mulitiplied by 1 will always be that number. 2×1 is 1. 5×1 is 5. 12×1 is 12. 100×1 is 100. She caught on to that immediately.

service learningI then introduced her to double-digit addition; 23+12, 15+4, etc. Her initial response was, “Oh! That’s too hard.” I insisted it wasn’t as difficult as it looked and showed her how to add each column (carrying and borrowing haven’t yet been introduced). She worked through a few of them with relative comfort as well before becoming distracted by the activities of her little brother.  So, while she made mud pies with her brother, I read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems aloud. She enjoyed this very much and requested another when I concluded each poem.

Reflections on Living History Interpretation

It is fun to interact with the visitors. It is becoming easier to answer their questions and remain in character. In the beginning, I was stumped by these frequent questions,

“Why do you … / What made you choose this lifestyle?”
“Do you volunteer here or are you paid staff?”
“How often do you do this?”
“Do your children attend school?”

I try my best to respond in a way that answers their question but at the same time, maintains the appearance that they are traveling through time. For example,

“I don’t know any other lifestyle. Unless of course, you mean living in the city. I am not much of a city girl myself. But Mrs. Blair – she’s from Eugene City – she is always going into Prineville to shop and visit with friends.”

“We chose to homestead here. It can be difficult with the dry climate and all but in time our efforts will reap rewards. We make do. There are some hired hands here on the Blair place. But typically we take care of our own and look after one another. Being so far from family, we open our doors to neighbors and friends.”

“My children and I come to call on the Blair’s about once a week. We have family that lives down the road and we always stop by for a visit as we return home. Our homestead is a few miles closer to Prineville so it makes for a convenient place to rest while we enjoy our dinner.”

“There aren’t enough school children in these parts just now for a school. We are hoping more young families settle here so that the community can build a school and hire a school marm. I therefore school my children at home. They do quite well.”

Sometimes, it takes a few additional questions before the visitor understands. It is fun to hear Sweetie interact with the visitors. I occasionally overhear snippets of her conversations and can’t help but smile. Children are such sponges! 🙂

Why I Want to Homeschool

I originally posted this list on my ‘personal’ blog a few weeks ago as I was considering homeschooling. Now that it is ‘official’ – I thought I might re-cycle the post here for those who visit our homeschool blog exclusively.

The greatest thing about homeschooling is that my husband and his parents, as well as my own parents, are behind me 100%. My MIL even said, “That is great! I know they would learn so much from you.” It was certainly a morale-booster. 🙂

I’ve thus decided to post 13 reasons why I want to homeschool.

1. Spend more time together as a family. Children will bond more with siblings and parents since they will spend more time together playing, working, and helping each other.

2. Allow children time to learn subjects not usually taught in their school. Time is available for more nonacademic pursuits such as art or music. Children do not have to wait until they are grown to begin to seriously explore their passions; they can start living now. Children’s education can be more complete than what schools offer. This leads to a richer, happier life.

3. Allow children to have time for more in-depth study than what is allowed in school. Allow children to learn at their own pace, not too slow or too fast. Allow children to work at a level that is appropriate to their own developmental stage. Skills and concepts can be introduced at the right time for that child. Learning can be more efficient since methods can be used that suit a child’s particular learning style.

4. Spend a lot of time out-of-doors. Spending more time out-of-doors results in feeling more in touch with the changing of the seasons and with the small and often overlooked miracles of nature.

5. Children learn to help more with household chores, developing a sense of personal responsibility. Children learn life skills, such as cooking, in a natural way, by spending time with adults who are engaged in those activities. More time spent on household responsibilities strengthens family bonds because people become more committed to things they have invested in (in this case, by working for the family).

6. Children will avoid being forced to work in “cooperative learning groups” which may include children who have very uncooperative attitudes. Children will be more willing to take risks and be creative since they do not have to worry about being embarrassed in front of peers.

7. Peer pressure will be reduced. There will be less pressure to grow up as quickly in terms of clothing styles, music, language, interest in the opposite sex. Social interactions will be by choice and based on common interests. Friends can be more varied, not just with the child’s chronological age peer group who happen to go to the same school. Children will not learn to “fit into society,” but will, instead, value morality and love more than status and money. Children who are “different” in any way can avoid being subjected to the constant and merciless teasing, taunting, and bullying which so often occurs in school.

8. Field trips can be taken on a much more frequent basis. Field trips can be much more enjoyable and more productive when not done with a large school group which usually involves moving too quickly and dealing with too many distractions. Field trips can be directly tied into the child’s own curriculum.

9. Volunteer service activities can be included in the family’s regular schedule. Community service can be of tremendous importance in a child’s development and can be a great learning experience.

10. Scheduling can be flexible, allowing travel during less expensive and less crowded off-peak times. This can allow for more travel than otherwise, which is a wonderful learning experience.

11. Testing is optional. Time doesn’t have to be spent on testing or preparing for testing unless the parent and/or child desires it. Observation and discussion are ongoing at home and additional assessment methods are often redundant. Testing, if used, is best used to indicate areas for further work. Grading is usually unnecessary and learning is seen as motivating in and of itself. Understanding and knowledge are the rewards for studying, rather than grades (or stickers, or teacher’s approval, etc.).

12. Family will not be forced to work within school’s traditional hours if it does not fit well with their job schedules and sleep needs. A more relaxed, less hectic lifestyle is possible when families do not feel the necessity to supplement school during after-school and week-end hours.

13. I enjoy learning alongside my children. Seeing their eyes light up with excitement. Most definitely, it is fun.

As I proceed, you can be assured that I’ll share our activities and endeavors with those interested. 🙂

How Will We Begin?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals and expectations for homeschooling. I actually spent some time coming up with a schedule that alloted a specific amount of time for math, reading and writing each day as well as an hour for theme studies (social studies 2x a week and science 2x a week), nature walks, and picture studies (Charlotte Mason approach to fine arts). Looking back on it, I realized it was too constrictive and would take away from what was most desirable about homeschooling, flexibility.

Through my research, I have discovered that there are probably as many different approaches and styles to homeschooling, as there are those that choose to undertake the responsibility themselves. In other words, I know that I can do whatever works for us and that what we do will most assuredly evolve and change over time. As a teacher, it will be difficult to change my approach… difficult to not schedule specific time for each subject.

However, I know that we all learn best when we are hungry for knowledge… when something has excited us and we want to know more. I’ve therefore decided to let my children lead the way… while I sprinkle the 3Rs daily.

I am very intrigued by the Charlotte Mason philosophy. While some of her ideas don’t necessarily fit with our lifestyle, we already incorporate others. Some of her ideas that I will be integrating into our studies include:

Narration is the process of telling back what has been learned or read. Narrations are usually done orally, but as the child grows older (around age 12) and his writing skills increase, the narrations can be written as well. Narration can also be accomplished creatively: painting, drawing, sculpting, play-acting, etc. I definately want to do more of this… so frequently when I finish a story or book, I close it and set it aside. I am now going to make a more conscious effort to ask the kiddos to give me a narration of what they have heard.

In spite of often rainy, inclement weather, we will go out once-a-week for an official Nature Walk, allowing the children to experience and observe the natural environment firsthand. We will each have a notebook or artist sketchbook in which we may draw plants, wildlife or any other natural object found in its natural setting. These nature journals can also include nature-related poetry, prose, detailed descriptions, weather notes, Latin names, etc.

In addition to the weekly Nature Walks, we will continue to take our daily walk in the evening with Daddy for fun and fresh air, no matter what the weather.

Bring the child into direct contact with the best art. Choose one artist at a time; six paintings per artist; study one painting per week. Allow the child to look at the work of art intently for a period of time (maybe five minutes). Have her take in every detail. Then take the picture away and have her narrate (tell back) what she’s seen in the picture. I love this! I never had the opportunity to study art (with the exception of one art class I took in high school).

There’s great value in keeping a personal journal, encouraging reflection and descriptive writing. Record activities, thoughts and feelings, favorite sayings, personal mottoes, favorite poems, etc.Couldn’t agree more… why else would I be blogging? 🙂

Daily copywork provides on-going practice for handwriting, spelling, grammar, etc. Keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, quotes, etc. Especially for the younger kids, it is a great way to practice writing without having to do tedious pages of a single letter. A great resource I was introduced to by a homeschooling friend is Draw Write Now. DD has already done 2 pages! After reading the book Stellaluna, I asked if she would like to do the page about bats and she jumped up with enthusiasm! The next day, she asked if she could do one at bedtime rather than color in her color books (as she usually does at bedtime).

A Book of the Centuries is a glorified homemade timeline; usually a notebook containing one or two pages per century. As children learn historical facts, they make notes in their book on the appropriate century’s page about famous people, important events, inventions, wars, battles, etc. I love this idea, too! Even if I choose to later enroll my children in public school, I know this is something we will continue to do as it will enable them to see the big picture and see how events impact one another.

My hope is to finish daily academics in the morning, allowing the afternoon hours for free time to pursue crafts and other leisure activities or areas of personal interest. Of course, some academics will also take place in the evening as we enjoy reading aloud to the children or sharing stories of our childhood with them before they go to sleep. This is important for DDs favorite activity is doing craft projects and if you recall, “Scrapbooking, Knitting, Stitching and Painting” are the things she wants to learn most.

We’ve Decided to Homeschool!

We’ve begun a new journey. We’ve decided to homeschool. We’ve basically been doing just that since the children were born. The only difference now is that I will approach it more formally. This blog will serve as a place to share our daily endeavors with you (family, friends, fellow homeschoolers and others interested in knowing more).

We’ve been spending a little time getting things organized around the house… purging our craft supplies, taking inventory of what we have on hand already and making note of what we’ll need to purchase (book shelves!!), setting up our ‘classroom and library’ in the den, and discussing our goals for the year.

I sat down with DD yesterday afternoon and asked her what things she was curious about (I have an idea but wanted to hear her verbalize her thoughts)… what direction she might like to go. This was her response:

* scrapbooking
* painting
* knitting
* stitching (embroidery and quilting)

So cute! She just loves anything to do with arts & crafts and spends hours coloring, stitching, and creating scrapbook pages with the materials I’ve given her.

She recently discovered a caterpillar in our backyard that has since pupated. She enjoyed identifying it in a field guide and then creating a watercolor painting. So with a little prodding… we’ve decided to start this first year homeschooling experiment with butterflies and folktales. We’ll see where that takes us. 🙂

As I have browsed other homeschooling blogs, I discovered that many have official names for their school. I like this idea and opened a dialogue with my daughter to come up with a name of our own. As we’ve been talking about the school, I’ve explained that we would all be learning and that we would all be teaching – sharing in the adventure. With this, she came up with Family School.

I then read off a few names of preschools from our phone book and she locked onto one that she adored. I explained that we didn’t want to have the same name as another school, that we wanted to be different. I made a suggestion that kept the key word, stars, but was unique to us; Twinkling Stars Family School. She loved it!