Embracing Winter

Meg's son, Ian, hanging a suncatcher on the tree

Meg's son, Ian, hanging a suncatcher on the tree

This is a special guest post by Oak Meadow K-6 teacher Meg Minehan.

Meg Minehan is an Oak Meadow teacher for grades K-6. She currently homeschools her own children using the Oak Meadow curriculum. Meg co-leads a monthly forest and fields program for preschoolers in Chester, Vermont. She embraces winter by cross country skiing and sweating in her woodfired sauna. 

Although all of us at Oak Meadow extol the benefits of getting children outside, we also recognize that getting young ones outdoors in winter can be quite challenging! Here are some helpful hints to help you and your children embrace these blustery, and for some of us, downright frigid days.

Perhaps most of you are familiar with the oft-quoted saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather…” Although my feelings about that quote can change depending on my mood, the wind speed, and the type of precipitation I am about to endure, it is important to acknowledge that wearing appropriate clothing in winter is a must. These past few weeks, you may have encountered temperatures that are too cold to be safe. Most days, however, can be safely enjoyed, if only for a short time, provided you and your children are clothed appropriately. But even after investing in or, better yet, inheriting quality outdoor clothing, how do you entice children and their caretakers to go outside?

For many children, a fresh snowstorm is usually a welcome invitation to play outdoors. There are the obvious tried-and-true activities, such as sledding, snowman making, snow fort building, snowshoeing, and skiing. Now that my children are older, ages 16, 13, and 10, these are some of their favorite activities. I no longer need to encourage them to go outdoors. In fact, usually I am calling them in, so we can get some of our Oak Meadow work done. When my children were young, however, this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes they needed a hook, something to entice them to “get out and blow the stink off ye.” (quote courtesy of my father, Ed Minehan) Here are some ideas that worked, at least some of the time, for my family.

Fisher and Turkey Tracks/Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Get Moving and Follow the Tracks: On the coldest days, the only option was to keep moving. Even getting out for a short hike or snowshoe was still worth it. To keep things interesting, we often went tracking. Because we live near the woods, this was, admittedly, pretty easy for us. But driving to a special trail adds a sense of adventure too. First, spend a little time familiarizing yourself with tracking patterns. Is the animal a straight walker, hopper, waddler, or bounder? Kids can practice walking in these styles as well. Next, examine the print of the animal’s foot. Notice the shape and size. Can you count the toes? Are their claws present? What other nearby animal signs or clues can you spot? To maximize child participation, I made each of my kids a laminated detective tracking card with pictures of the four patterns and common prints. I photocopied our cards from the Shelburne Farms Project Seasons book. There are many great tracking guides or cards available. We approached each tracking expedition like a mystery. As they got older, my children became more interested in the C.S.I. scene. They loved following the tracks and searching for evidence of last meals. Yes, sometimes the results were a little gruesome, but always exciting.

Curriculum Extensions: Keep in mind these snowy mysteries can lead to imaginative storytelling, story mapping, further research, and investigative writing projects. These activities can easily be integrated into science and language arts lessons. Talk to your Oak Meadow teacher about substituting assignments. We want you and your children to embrace winter too!

Trail Games: Simple trail games are another way to keep things interesting on a cold winter walk. One of my favorite games is Christmas Tree for a Mouse. I learned it from Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder. As we walked through the woods, we would look at various trees, gauge their relative sizes, and decide which animal would be perfectly suited to which tree. This can be a fun way to talk about the animals that live in your area. This game could be easily modified if Christmas trees aren’t part of your family’s traditions. Maybe you could find the tree with the best treehouse option for a mouse, a mink, or a bear. If you and your child are feeling really ambitious, you might even assist with the building process.

Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Winter Art: Scavenger hunts and treasure walks were also a good way to build enthusiasm for a cold winter walk. After collecting simple treasures, such as pine needles, cones, and winter berries, we would put them in a mold with twine or raffia hangers, fill with water, and wait for them to freeze. We’ve used mini-bundt pans for wreaths, but silicone molds work even better. These lovely ornaments or sun catchers can be hung nearby. Quite often, however, I would encourage us to share our decorations with the birds and squirrels. Aha! Another “excuse” to get out for a walk.

Finally, on those days when everyone needs a little extra enticement, there is nothing like the promise of homemade hot chocolate and a favorite board game awaiting. Happy winter!

NOTE: Oak Meadow recently posted a great link on Facebook about following tracks: http://www.audubon.org/news/a-beginners-guide-reading-bird-tracks-snow

Snowflakes!

Snowflake Photos by Wilson Bentley

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley

As I sit here this evening with a winter storm warning in effect for my area of New England, I am once again fascinated by how these tiny snow crystals can impact whole regions of the United States.

Some of you may have read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That story is about an actual winter storm that raced across the prairie lands of the United States in the winter of 1880-1881. In his book The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin gives an account of the deadly prairie blizzard of 1888 and he also gives an excellent description of the different types of snowflakes there are and what the conditions are that create them. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the science of snow!

The Native American Indians had many ways to predict the weather by observing what was happening in the natural world around them for clues. In the 1880’s the weather news was sent via telegraph across the United States from Army base to Army base. The weather often arrived before the news of its coming. Today we have the National Weather Service and technology to help us predict storms and to warn us of storms.

If you are interested in learning more about snow crystals, go to your library and find the book  Snowflake Bentley. You may also want to visit snowcrystals.com.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

                                Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

Knitting Suggestions

Photo Credit - Brooke Hampton

In through the front door
Running around the back
Out through the window
Off jumps jack.

In last week’s blog post, rhythmic handwork in Oak Meadow’s coursework for grades one through three was the main topic of discussion. This week, the K-8 Oak Meadow teachers teamed up and offered some suggestions and simple alternatives that will help to meet the “heart” of handwork, specifically in teaching the technique of knitting.

Meg Minehan: My suggestions are to first try finger knitting, the knitting mushroom, or the wooden knitting star. My children loved those “tools”, and the process was simple, repetitive and soothing (just like knitting should be). ​For what it’s worth, my son, Ian, didn’t really take to knitting when it was initially introduced in first grade. However, he picked it up again last year (at age 9) and loved it.

Michelle Menegaz: I agree that teaching knitting as an inexperienced teacher can be challenging. I suggest offering the “pre-knitting” activities and really encourage the home teacher to find a knitter to help them, if possible. Also, Sunny’s Mittens is a great book with a story that contains knitting directions right in the events of the tale. I would read a bit of this and knit along with the story. The child would also knit along, if interested. We would read a bit, knit a bit, stop and get our knitting sorted or show what the written directions in the story meant. Very satisfying!

Lesley Arnold: I highly recommend the DVD, The Art of Knitting 4 Kids . If a tutor isn’t available for knitting, then this video is great! Be sure to also check your library, for many libraries have knitting clubs.

Leslie Daniels: Another site that I absolutely adore and share with my Oak Meadow families is called “Knitted Bliss“. It includes story books to inspire future knitters for three different age groups: ages 2-4, ages 4-6 and ages 6-9. The title of each book is a joy in itself!

Meg Minehan: Shall I Knit You a Hat is one of our favorite Christmas books for 6-9 year olds!

Andy Kilroy: My friend Clare, a long-time kindergarten teacher, loves to take yarn into her classroom and just let her kids play with the yarn – wrap it, wind it, tie bows with it, braid it, touch it – just to get the feel of fabric/yarn on their skin. Then when it comes time to knit, they already have the awareness of yarn as a material. I taught my granddaughter to finger knit (she had never done it), and she was very excited at all the possibilities that opened for her! She has also enjoyed exploring loom knitting from kits. Long live fiber arts – let’s not give up on them!

Anna Logowitz: My micro-schoolers got a great start by making their own knitting needles. They sanded chopsticks smooth, and then glued wooden beads to the ends: nice and simple. It gave them a sense of ownership over their work before they began knitting, which also seemed to increase their frustration tolerance!

Handwork in Winter

knitting needles and yarn

Knitting

Hand (Unknown author)

Take my hand, imagine
What it will be someday
A hand that’s strong, a hand that’s kind
Is this what you forsee?

A hand that’s skilled, a hand that’s sure
A hand that someday may,
Take another little hand
and guide it on its way.

Oak Meadow’s kindergarten coursework introduces the art of finger knitting, the first-grade coursework introduces knitting with needles, and the second-grade coursework introduces crocheting. The main purpose of teaching children these creative, yet practical skills at this level of development is to refine and strengthen fine motor development and eye-hand coordination. It also aids in the preparation for learning math, reading and writing with more ease and less fatigue.

Sometimes a student will find these craft skills challenging to acquire. Perhaps it is because the home teacher does not know how to knit or crochet and finds it difficult to teach, or perhaps it is due to a child’s hands and fingers not nimble enough to handle working with yarn and/or needles. When the students are introduced to the handcraft at the beginning of the school year, it is often when they are still actively involved in outdoor play; therefore, learning this skill may be even more difficult for an active child to sit still for a time to master the skill. If you have experienced this with your own child and decided to set it aside, then the winter season may be the perfect time to reintroduce the suggested handwork. You might be surprised at the willingness and readiness in your child to try it again!

Photo Credit – Estelle Giannakopoulos

It’s important that that your child starts out with something comfortable, so if your child has never been introduced to finger knitting, you might try starting with the basics of finger knitting before working with needle knitting and crocheting. Taking time in developing the skill, even if it means knitting or crocheting only for a short time each day, is still providing the tools for healthy physiological development. Working alongside with your child, listening to quiet background music or a story tape, or even telling a handwork story to accompany the project could encourage more enthusiasm. Here’s a little video with a story that might help introduce finger knitting.

Any other type of activity that includes repetition and rhythm in movement will work well, too! If you have already re-visited the suggested Oak Meadow projects and discover they are still frustrating or uninteresting to your child, then keep in mind that developing fine motor control, no matter what the activity, should be the main focus of the student. Perhaps knitting with a fork or with a spool might be excellent substitutes.

Other craft activities that offer rhythm and repetition include beading, weaving, sewing by hand, lacing cards, stringing popcorn and cranberries (including for the winter bird residents), and building patterns with various materials. Be creative and work with something that creates enjoyment, for it is the joy of the process that furthers the healthy development.

Time Is Always Right

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

https://www.nationalservice.gov/mlkday

On October 14, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest man to ever receive it. He was just 35 years old and so committed to his cause that he donated the prize money of over $50,000. to the Civil Rights Movement. His protests and his “I Have a Dream” speech are world famous, and his accomplishments are still celebrated today. You can learn more about the 1960s and the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, by watching the excellent video The Sixties from Annenberg Lerner. In Dr. King Jr.’s honor, the United States Congress designated a federal holiday in January each year to be a national day of service.

To take part in this day, plan what you and your family may do to promote King’s values on January 15, 2018. It is the Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Each year I plan to mentor students in my community that experience challenges in school. It’s a service that I enjoy very much! Share with us what you and your family plan to do in the comments.

Create a Chore Wheel

Create a chore wheel

Create a chore wheel

Does chore time bring a chorus of complaints Do your kids need constant reminders of whose turn it is to do what? Make this easy chore wheel to help create a fair and hassle-free chore schedule.

Chore Wheel Chart

1.) Choose the chores you’d like to include. Create basic symbols to accompany the words if you have pre-readers involved.

2.) Decide how many people will be doing the chores. Adults in the family might be on the list or not.

3.) Cut out two wheels, one smaller than the other. These can be made of paper or a lightweight cardboard (like a cereal box).

4.) Divide each wheel into equal sections based on how many chores there are. You can section off the small wheel first, then just place it on top of the larger wheel and extend the lines outward to mark the large wheel. The sections on both wheels should be the same size so they line up.

5.) Write the names on one wheel (it can be either wheel), making sure there are an equal number of  names (or repeated names) as there are chores.

6.) Write the chores on the second wheel. You might find it useful to add a “No Chore” day, so the no chore day can rotate, if that works for your family.

7.) Take some time to make the chore wheel colorful and fun-you’ll want it displayed in a convenient spot so you’ll be seeing it every day.

8.) Connect the two wheels using a brad tack so they will easily spin. If you are putting this on a bulletin board, you can just use a push pin, connecting the two wheels and securing it to a board at the same time. If you want to hang your chore wheel from the wall, you can punch holes in 2 sides and attach a string.

9.) Your family can decide how often the chores are changed, and who gets to spin the wheel each time-that’s the fun part! Make sure to specify if the wheel turns clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Depending on how you’ve designed your wheel, each person will get a new chore each time the wheel turns, or, if there are multiple chores per person and you turn the wheel just one space at a time, each person will get one new chore and have one or two continuing chores. Creating a wheel to suit your family will help everyone do their part.

(This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Living Education, Winter 2015)

Building Connections

Comics by Naomi Washer.

As someone who juggles multiple jobs, interests, and artistic pursuits, I find it helpful to identify what each of these endeavors share. I gain a stronger appreciation for all areas of my life when I understand why I engage with each one, and how they influence each other.

Building connections between the different areas of one’s life is something I learned as a student at Bennington College. Similar to Oak Meadow, Bennington encourages students to approach their lives as learners, artists, and innovators holistically: rather than compartmentalizing the different parts of you, how can you step back and observe yourself on multiple levels, then build a complete picture who you are?

I am an essayist, a poet, an editor of a poetry press, and a writing and literature teacher. I also make comics and embroidery art, and write resumes for a career counseling company. These are such different things! What connects them all?

Comic by Naomi Washer. First in a series of daily comics I’ll be making this year about living in Vermont.

I’m interested in framing devices–finding a frame for a concept, and identifying a form that highlights that concept. This interest in framing is why I make comics, where the juxtaposition of panels, image, and text tell a story all their own. It’s why I write literary essays that spiral around a question. It’s the reason I make embroidery art, where the circular hoop frames the artwork. It’s why I choose artwork for my poetry magazine that matches the style of writing we publish. It’s one of the main reasons I teach writing–to guide students toward strengthening their ability to frame their thoughts, reflections, and arguments. It’s also the reason I work as an editor, where I help professionals learn how to frame their achievements in the best possible light.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. My beautiful hardcover planner, printed by Candor Arts.

I make a conscious effort to pull these threads together by filling my space with phrases and juxtapositions of objects that show me how things fit together. For 2018, I’m using a new planner with the words STILL LEARNING on the cover, to remind myself that I am still learning through all my endeavors, whether it be my new efforts in comics and embroidery, or the fields where I am already experienced, such as teaching and editing. I’m also restructuring my daily schedule to make time for handcrafts before and after long days in front of a screen.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. My living room table set up for making comics in the morning and embroidery pieces in the evening – next up is embroidering some of the comics designs!

Now, let’s take an Oak Meadow student as an example. What connections can a student build between the following courses and extracurriculars?:

  • The Hero’s Journey: Introduction to Literature and Composition
  • Geometry
  • Environmental Science for a Changing World
  • A Sense of Place: The Geography of Global Change
  • French I
  • Ballet

To answer this completely would take the fun out of a student making their own connections, but here’s what I see on first glance:

Ballet uses the French language for all the names of its steps and positions. By studying French more in-depth, a student of ballet can gain a much more grounded understanding of the art form. For example, the word échappé in French literally means “escaped,” and it is the name for a leap where the feet move from close together to far apart! There is also so much to learn about the history of ballet by learning about French culture, where ballet has been tied to the country’s aesthetics for centuries. This interest in the cultures of other countries can carry over to A Sense of Place: The Geography of Global Change, and can go even deeper by engaging with a focused exploration of Environmental Science for a Changing World. The changing world, along with the ways we must change with it, is very much at the heart of The Hero’s Journey, where students read coming-of-age tales that take their heros through unknown lands. And let’s not forget Geometry! Gaining the skills to draw and comprehend shapes and spatial topographies and orientations will be incredibly useful when studying and drawing maps and landscapes in all of these courses. It will also bring clarity to spatial patterns in choreography for ballet (not to mention why and how your body can make the shapes it is able to make!).

There you have it. As we all dive back into our work at Oak Meadow in this new year, I encourage you to identify connections between your courses, your extra / co-curriculars, and the interests that keep you aware, curious, and growing through each and every day.

Reflections on Educational Nourishment

Credit Photo: U.S. Dept. of the Interior

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a unique calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service.”   ~ Oprah Winfrey

The new year provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon “personal visions.” For many, it is a time to turn our thoughts to New Year’s resolutions!

I reflect and think about the coming months, knowing I can shape and reshape my everyday life, which in turn, creates my future. I view encouragement as a big role in helping to unfold the true self. It is a time for us as teachers, parents, and children to take a moment to look back at where the past year has taken us, and to look forward and consider what we wish to keep or change.

When I home schooled my children, I took advantage of this more introspective time of year. I thought about my children’s education, and how it was progressing. Regarding practical matters, I would do a check-in with the time frame of our enrollment schedule. How many lessons have been completed up to now, and how much time is left in the school year? Are we staying on track? I would also determine what areas might need more review before the objectives could be accomplished.

Most importantly, I would take the time to assess my children’s well being. I would determine what changes and modifications might need to be made in the curriculum that would provide more educational nourishment. Without this sustenance, the joy of learning can diminish. Children develop their own unique abilities, and it is invaluable that we support their individuality. Providing the essential guidance to tap into their own creative selves aids in their ability to fully experience the quality of life.

Even for parents and home teachers, it is essential to find and express our creative sides where we can share our gifts with the world. In the final social studies lesson in the second grade curriculum, the theme revolves around “Many People, One World.” We are all so varied and diverse in this world in which we live. How do you express the creativity that nourishes you, and helps make the world a better place for all? Perhaps you paint, write poetry, compose or play music. Or possibly you help with community services or visit an elderly neighbor once a week. My list is BIG. My nourishment comes from spending quality time with my family, taking my canine pals for daily walks in the woods, and creatively working with children and their families in an educational setting. Helping friends and neighbors, along with providing services in the community are high on the priority list, too.

Happy Solstice!

winter scene from the National Park Service

Lovely photo from the National Park Service

“I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,’
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.”
–   Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

Such a beautiful poem! I love to recite it every year around this time.

This year I’ve looked at it a bit differently because I have many students in the Southern Hemisphere. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are tilted away from the sun and experience these darker December days while my students in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoying warmer days as they are tilted toward the sun. Here, north of the equator, the December solstice brings the longest night and shortest day of the year and the Southern Hemisphere experiences the longest day and shortest night. As I look forward to snow falling, students in the Southern Hemisphere head to the ocean for summertime fun!

I looked for a poem to share with my Southern Hemisphere friends, but couldn’t find one. If you know of one, please share it with us!

If you would like to learn more about what is happening on the Winter Solstice on the planet Earth, go to EarthSky.org and enjoy!

Happy Solstice!

Nature Craft: Pine Cone Christmas Trees

Christmas Tree Pinecones

Christmas Tree Pinecones

Editor’s note: We are thrilled to welcome Veronica Dantzler to our team! She will be sharing original, recycled- and nature-based crafts with us, full of color, creativity and fun. You can follow her on instagram here.

Christmas tree pinecone ornaments on tree

Pine Cone Christmas Trees 

Materials:
Pine cones

Optional materials:
Paint (tempera is great)
Pom poms
Holly berries or any berries that grow in your area (I’m honestly not sure what ours are called but they grow every winter and they are a beautiful red. Editor’s Note: We caution against using bittersweet berries, as this is a very invasive plant and moving berries spreads it, especially in New England)
Clay
Beads
Yarn
Ornament hooks
Glue gun

There are so many things you can create with a pine cone. I have grown to absolutely love them! This craft requires no glue because of the awesomeness of these natural pods.  Simply decide which option
you want to make, gather your supplies and decorate! Push in pom poms, holly berries, lace, some beads and wrap – pushing the beads in as you go to make beautiful homemade ornaments.  You can paint them green for Christmas tree pine cones, white for snow covered trees or leave them natural.

White pinecone trees with berries
White “snow-covered” trees with berries

They are all beautiful and an easy craft to set up for your family. We made ours into ornaments by either using a glue gun to attach an ornament hook or by tying a piece of yarn to the top.  We also used them to make a centerpiece by sticking them into a piece of clay (to help them stand) and sprinkling some glitter to make them sparkle and shine.  The options are limitless!

Christmas tree pinecone centerpieces or placecards
Christmas tree pinecone centerpieces or placecards

Pinecones take paint fantastically. Tempera paint works wonderfully. Paint if you desire. We painted our holly berry ornament white so that the red would pop and we painted one of our forest trees green, spread some glue and sprinkled some glitter.  Let dry before you add your  pom pom or berry “bulbs”.

Bead-and-yarn "garland" on a pinecone Christmas tree
Bead-and-yarn “garland” on a pinecone Christmas tree

Pick your decor.

Pinecone tree centerpiece
We used pom poms on the green tree and we made clay balls for the other two trees in that set.

White Berry Ornament
We simply pushed in our berries to make our white tree ornament and added a hook.

Yarn- and Bead-wrapped Ornament
Tie a piece of yarn to the top of the pine cone (or glue it down with a glue gun) and thread some beads and wrap pushing the beads into the pine cone as you go.

Enjoy!