Roots & Shoots Archives - Page 5 of 7 - Eva Varga

July 1, 20102

Over the past couple of years, we have been loosely following the Outdoor Hour Challenges from The Handbook of Nature Study for our weekly nature studies. Though science – particularly ecology and life sciences – is my strong suit, I haven’t been very consistent.  When life gets hectic – nature study is typically the first thing omitted from our schedule.

As I tend to be more consistent when I am accountable to others and as there was a need in our homeschool community – I started hosting a weekly nature study outing using Barb’s Summer Nature Study: Using Senses eBook & the Outdoor Hour Challenges as guidance.  I had been doing this with our Roots & Shoots club on a monthly basis yet I hadn’t been consistent with nature studies independently each week.  Inviting others to join us on our outing assures that I don’t let life get in the way.

This week (our second week) the focus was on Wildflowers.  We spent the first 10-15 minutes undertaking a “Wonderful Wildflowers Scavenger Hunt” from NaturExplorers publication, Wonderful Wildflowers. This proved to be a great way to focus the group on the days topic and to engage learners of all ages and abilities.  We were able to find everything on the list except one (a flower growing among rocks).

After the scavenger hunt, we gathered around the picnic table and spent time sketching a flower of choice.  A few of the boys (my own included) opted to sketch a leaf or tree rather than a flower.  The above sketch is from Mei Li’s journal … her yet unfinished Columbine.   

Sketching their observations provides children with the opportunity to slow down and really “see” the specimen. It not only hones their observation skills but also unlocks creativity and provides a window into the past. I can’t wait to look back at these early journals when they enter college.

Best of all, the data collection process is backbone of quality science. It also reinforces important record-keeping skills such as reading, writing, and drawing.

June 8, 20101

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  We met with our Roots & Shoots group on the 24th of May for a springtime focus on Earthworms & Cattails.  Three families joined us despite the overcast and cold afternoon.  The sketch here is from Sweetie’s nature journal.  I was delighted to discover that she also wrote the month and day in Chinese!  I’ve been trying to encourage her to write more in both languages … my efforts are finally coming to fruition and she is getting more comfortable in both.

The kids loved the earthworms but were less fascinated by the cattails.  My kiddos and I had previously done a winter cattail study at the same location but this time around all of the heads of the cattail were absent – as though they’d all been broken off.  We thereby opted to look at the stem and roots but I didn’t have a shovel so did my best to pull one up, breaking it off partially below ground.  Alas, that didn’t provide much but we were able to see that the leaves were white below ground (no chloropasts) and in fact we could distinctly see the individual cells.  Unfortunately, no one sketched our cattail observations.

March 24, 20103

I have been fortunate to see Jane Goodall speak on several occasions. Each time has been remarkable. Her demeanor and spirit are inspirations to me. I adore her. It is my hope that my own children will get an opportunity to know her – to know her work – as I do.

The Old Wisdom by Jane Goodall

When the night wind makes the pine trees creak
And the pale clouds glide across the dark sky,
Go out, my child, go out and seek
Your soul: the eternal I.For all the grasses rustling at your feet
And every flaming star that glitters high
Above you, close up and meet
In you: the eternal I.

Yes, my child, go out into the world; walk slow
And silent, comprehending all, and by and by
Your soul, the Universe, will know
Itself: the eternal I.

Bill Moyers interviews Jane Goodall

February 23, 20104

I’ve been wanting to introduce Nature Journaling to my Roots & Shoots group for sometime now. Today seemed like the perfect opportunity. I thereby utilized Barb’s Winter Nature Study as a guide and selected Winter Trees as our topic. All but two of the children (my own) had had previous experience with nature journaling, so I spent a little time in the beginning sharing examples of journaling and making suggestions of what one may wish to include in their own journals.

I talked briefly about observing trees in winter using the suggestions in The Handbook of Nature Study as prompts. We then went outside on our front lawn and made observations both from afar and upclose (looking for buds, leaf scars, etc.).The kids stayed on task (with the exception of my little guy who took the opportunity to run about in hopes of getting attention – it’s a good thing we homeschool or he’d be labeled, I’m sure of it!) for about 15-20 minutes – making sketches in their journals and asking questions.
I was happy to see that many of the kids took time to add detail to their sketches – and it was evident that they were looking for the characteristics I had previously mentioned (opposite or alternate branches, leaf scars, buds, etc.).When everyone had completed their journaling, we returned indoors and divided into two groups (as there were so many kids this time). One group worked on Japanese inspired fish kites while the other group listened to the book Winter Trees by Carole Gerber. We didn’t get an opportunity to rotate, however, as moms decided they needed to go home just prior to the time we would have switched. Everyone started to slowly depart at that point and I began to question the success of the activity. I also began to wonder about the make-up of the group. I started the group years ago when my children were small – before I had even considered homeschooling. The families that were involved at that time are still committed to the group and attend most regularly. All of these children attend public school. As the children have gotten older and have developed other interests, the number of participants have waned. I’ve thereby opened the group up to homeschool families that we’ve met along our journey. Presently, the group is comprised of about half homeschoolers and half public-schooled kids. This makes for an interesting dynamic.
I’ve also noticed that to some extent – the moms of the homeschooled children are hands-on. They are engaged in the learning process and work alongside their children to ensure they are getting the most out of the lesson. The moms of the public-schooled children more frequently stand back and visit with one another and intervene with their child less. Two distinctly different approaches to education.

I am beginning to entertain the idea of meeting 2x a month – once for homeschoolers and once for public-school kids – allowing families to attend whichever time/day works best for them. This would require more work on my part but would be valuable to my own kiddos, providing them more opportunities to interact with others in an educational setting. What do you all think? Should I continue forth as usual or make changes to accommodate different educational approaches?

September 16, 20093

A few weeks ago, the kiddos and I invited a couple of friends to join us on a letterbox outing at a local park. There were originally three boxes there – two of which we had scouted out in the past though we were successful only in finding one. A year has past since that first outing and I figured it was a good time to complete the quest and find the third as well as the one that eluded us previously. Unfortunately, when I re-printed the clues I discovered that the 1st box (the one we had found on our first quest) had since been muggled. My goal was to introduce our friends to letterboxing so I really hoped we’d be successful with the 2nd and 3rd boxes.

As the 3rd box begins in the parking lot, we opted to start our quest with that one. We ambled up and over the rocky cliff side along the river. We actually went a little too far and spent some time poking around at the base of the wrong tree. We had almost given up and were headed back when my girlfriend suggested another tree along the path. I moved a few pine needles and leaf litter and there it was!

The kiddos hurried over to open the treasure and revealed not one stamp but two! Mushy the Troll (shown above), a hitchhiking letterbox stamp, was concealed within the original box. What a find! Based on his accompanying logbook, I believe he originated in Ohio. We look forward to re-hiding him when we go on to California in a few weeks. We were all getting a little hot (it was nearly 90 degrees) so we opted to save the 2nd box for another time.

With our Roots & Shoots club, we have done several letterbox quests – most have been successful but a few have not. Each time, we’ve introduced new families to letterboxing and many have pursued other quests on their own. Despite our occasional failure to locate the box, however, the kids always express an interest in hiding our own box. Today, we finally did so.

I designed the stamp to resemble the official Roots & Shoots logo but rather than have a single stamp, I designed two stamps that form a single image. We put one stamp in each of two boxes and provided clues to each box location (both of which are located in the meadow of our subdivision). The kids enjoyed walking out to the meadow. We were surprised by the welcome of hundreds of tiny little green and brown frogs. Most of the kids spent their time catching the little amphibians rather than looking for the ideal place to conceal the letterbox.

We look forward to seeing how many people visit our boxes. In the future – it will be fun to create a graph of the locations from which those who sign the logbook are from. We assume that most will be local but it’s exciting to think tourists may also search for our box. Perhaps even other Roots & Shoots members?!

June 19, 20095

As most of you know, I am passionate about sharing my love of science with others and truly enjoy coordinating activities for my children and their friends. Doing so actually helps me ‘charge my batteries’ – though I must admit I do find myself fatigued when the activities come to a close.

A few months ago, a homeschooling mom and friend of mine asked me to teach a science class to her twin daughters and a number of their friends. All of the girls in this class and their families are devote Christians while I am very secular. We talked over our respective visions for the course and as I was planning to begin with a unit on Geology, parents wanted to know how evolution would be addressed.

I assured them that I would not teach continental drift. I would not introduce lessons on evolution or even elude to timelines. My focus for the class was simple… What causes an earthquake? How do volcanoes erupt? What kind of rock is this?

As our 4 week unit on geology came to a close, I extended an invitation to the girls and their families to join my Roots & Shoots club for a field trip to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. In short, I planned one field trip for two distinct age groups.

Upon arrival, I was delighted to discover that many families chose to bring siblings and friends. They had all asked in advance and I assured them, “The more, the merrier.” In the end, there were nearly 30 kids! My efforts were certainly not wasted this time. 😀

Unfortunately, the staff was unprepared – despite the fact that I had contacted them nearly 2 months in advance and had spoken with the education coordinator at least 3x by telephone to coordinate details. Thus, as they rapidly vacuumed the floor to open the visitor center and did a few things to prepare for us… I took my group on an impromptu nature walk on the grounds. I talked about the flora and fauna of the area – discussing many of the medicinal values of our native shrubs. Everyone was delighted and remarked how much they enjoyed the walk.

We then moved into the visitor center and seated ourselves comfortably for a brief talk by the staff coordinator and a volunteer followed by a short video on lava and lava tubes. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jim, our Naturalist Team Leader at the museum, was our volunteer. His daughter homeschools and he has always been very accepting of the kiddos and I have become more involved in leading nature walks.

Prior to the video, Jim shared that the cinder cone (Lava Butte) at Lava Lands erupted 7,000 years ago and covered over nine square miles with lava. To help the kids visualize how long ago this was, he talked very briefly about the geologic timescale. As he did so, one mom turned around to me with a look of dismay and astonishment. I immediately felt awkward and wished I had given him a ‘heads-up’.

After the movie, the kids were divided into two groups: youngers and olders. The youngers started with a guided walk along the lava flow with Jim while the olders remained in the visitor center for a scavenger hunt to find information on the placards and displays. I went with the younger group – as to best keep an eye on my little guy. We enjoyed our walk (though we didn’t go to the top of the butte) and we all learned a little something about the geology and flora.

When we returned to the patio, the olders had finished their scavenger hunt and were heading out on their walk as well. One mom delayed briefly to check on her daughter whom had stayed with me while mom and brother went with the olders. She thereby began the walk with Jim though the other ‘olders’ had gone ahead. Apparently, one of the other moms felt compelled to come back to Jim and say something in the likes of, “We’ve decided to go on ahead without you. We didn’t care for what you said about the timeline and the history of the earth. We’re Christians.”

Jim’s reply was, “So am I.” He didn’t get a chance to explain that his daughter homeschools as well… “Perhaps you know her?” He could have added. The mom had turned to catch up with the others in her group.

Jim thereafter said, “This is why there are problems in the Middle East.” Though I wasn’t there to hear him – it was relayed back to me by the mom who had stayed with him… his comment really touched me. As we drove to Taekwondo a few hours later, I inquired with each of my kiddos about what part of the day had they enjoyed the most. (The cave!) What was one thing that they learned or that stood out to them?

As we talked they asked me the same questions. I described the above scenario to them as best I could and explained that I had been thinking about it all afternoon. I told them I felt sad for the other moms because they might have missed out on something interesting. Would these moms be able to identify the wildflowers that were growing in the lava? (Penstiman) Or understand why the northside of the butte was vibrant with trees and shrubs while the southside was barren?

I stated that we are entitled to our opinions but that does not preclude us from learning from others who may think differently. I was impressed by Sweetie’s level of understanding. She even said, “We don’t all have to agree. That is what makes it more interesting. When we like different things.”

I understand that many people choose to homeschool for religious reasons. I chose this path for a different reason. To allow my children to develop the conviction in themselves and their beliefs to listen and learn from others… knowing others are opposed. To be courageous and not bend or conform to how others believe you should.

Administrator Note:
It is not my intention to put anyone down by describing this experience. As I wasn’t there – I can’t be certain of what exactly was said. I don’t know the reasons the olders chose to go on ahead. I just wanted to share because it provided me with a teachable moment for my children.