Today is Leap Year Day! Do you know the science behind leap year, and how it relates to history and math? Check out Geography For Kids, The Study of Our Earth to learn more about this day. Or you can visit Kids Page to learn even more about Leap Year Day and to engage in some activities that help to celebrate this special event that occurs every four years.
I heard birds chirping outside my office window this morning and I acknowledged to myself what a sweet sound it is. Their twittering reminded me that as the Earth rotates, each of us hears the morning calls of birds. I thought of my students in far off places such as Australia, Costa Rica, and Italy and registered that they were hearing their birds at very different times than each other.
I like to sit back and dwell on the planet as a little spaceship floating in the universe. Here we all are, floating through space together, caught in an orbit of gravitational pull by our sun. I marvel at that! At the same time, I’m also in awe of the scientists that came before me with their observations and predictions about the Earth and the universe. It is because of them that I can even have these thoughts. My studies of their work has led me to know the universe. If you are in the middle grades of Oak Meadow , then you will study the concepts of meteorology and astronomy in 6th grade, to light and sound waves in 8th grade physics, that will serve as a foundation for your own viewing the universe.
One exceptional and admirable scientist you will study about is Albert Einstein. His observations, predictions, and construction of theories continue to amaze us today. Just this month, one of his predictions made over 100 years ago was validated. Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. Physicists at The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) located in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana have been busy for about twenty five years hoping to detect the sound of gravitational waves.
Then, on September 14, 2015, at just before eleven in the morning, Central European Time, the waves reached Earth. Marco Drago, a thirty-two-year-old Italian postdoctoral student and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, was the first person to notice them. He was sitting in front of his computer at the Albert Einstein Institute, in Hannover, Germany, viewing the LIGO data remotely. The waves appeared on his screen as a compressed squiggle, but the most exquisite ears in the universe, attuned to vibrations of less than a trillionth of an inch, would have heard what astronomers call a chirp—a faint whooping from low to high. http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/gravitational-waves-exist-heres-how-scientists-finally-found-them
So the other “chirp” I am hearing isn’t the sound of birds! It’s the sound of gravitational waves!
To learn more about this, and to hear the chirp, go to http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/gravitational-waves-einstein-s-ripples-spacetime-spotted-first-time
Are you homeschool-minded? Even if you do not homeschool, you may have some of the key traits that also characterize homeschoolers.
Homeschool-minded parents are open to possibilities. They recognize multiple ways of learning, and they seek out ways to engage with their child in the way he or she learns best. They also recognize multiple solutions to the question of education. They see public school and homeschool as two potentially valid choices among many. If the status quo is not working for their child, they seek a different solution with an open mind.
Homeschool-minded parents don’t turn their child’s whole education over to others. They recognize the value of being regularly involved with their child’s learning. They search for materials to support, supplement, and enliven learning at home. They take an active interest in their child’s passions and go out of their way to support them. They recognize that school grades are never a complete assessment of a child’s well-being, character, or potential.
Homeschool-minded parents enjoy engaging with their children. They seek connection through shared pursuits and experiences. They find common ground by learning more about the things that interest their child so they can foster this connection. They consider themselves lifelong learners, always seeking to grow through new inquiries and experiences. They sometimes learn things from their children, and when this happens, they feel proud.
Are you homeschool-minded? Even if your child is not homeschooled, homeschooling might be a natural fit for you. How many of the following statements can you relate to?
1. You enjoy being with your child much of the time.
2. You take it upon yourself to find out ways to support your child’s learning when they are excited about something.
3. You believe there is more than one right way to learn.
4. You recognize that academic pursuits are only one part of a complete education and that learning happens outside of school walls as easily as within them.
5. Your child’s well-being matters much more to you than his or her grades.
6. Your family’s mealtime conversation includes things like word games, math challenges, and a discussion of what everyone is reading.
7. Your home is your favorite office.
8. When school vacations end, you fantasize about keeping your kids home with you instead of letting them go back to school.
9. You’ve been known to allow your children a day off from school “just because.”
10. When your child sits down to do a craft or project, you are tempted to join them – and you sometimes do.
11. You consider it your responsibility to personally teach your children the things that matter most to you, rather than leaving the job entirely to their teachers.
12. You find yourself often saying things to your child like, “How could we find out more about that?” and “Good question. What do you think?”
What does “homeschool-minded” mean to you, and how does it play out in your everyday life? Do you think you might ever make the switch to homeschooling – or have you tried it already? Why or why not?
In your time, there’s a plan in line for you to know.
Seeds are sown hidden deep
There to grow to be set free.
Light does yield a wondrous sight.
From earthly field, a dove takes flight.
In your time, reap what you sow from this common ground.
In your time, harvest all you know; share what you’ve found.
In the fourth grade science coursework, a seed investigation is conducted. It introduces the structure of the seed and the life force within. For many of us enthusiastic gardeners, it is common practice to collect seeds from our harvests and preserve them by storing these selected seeds over the winter in a proper environment. Sometimes, we don’t use those seeds for several years, and if the conditions are right, they will still grow.
The life force within a seed is truly a miracle, but it’s even more miraculous when a seed is actually preserved for thousands of years. Currently, the record for the oldest seed that was regenerated into a plant is a 32,000-year-old flowering plant native to Siberia, known as the Silene stenophylla. It was discovered by a Russian team who discovered the seed cache that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River.
Even in the United States, old seeds have been discovered, planted and grown. One of my Oak Meadow families recently shared an amazing squash seed discovery found on a Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin. As we enter the middle of winter and begin to think about going through our seed collections in preparation for the upcoming gardening season, it might be fun to do a little research and discover the oldest seed in your state or country!
Successful learning may happen organically, but it does not happen accidentally. One might be surrounded with rich educational resources, but without key capabilities, those learning opportunities will go untapped.
What makes a successful learner?
1. …are leaders in their own learning.
2. …engage with the world around them.
3. …question everything.
4. …think for themselves.
5. …are driven by their interests.
6. …push through challenges.
7. …are determined to succeed.
8. …have inner motivation and self discipline.
9. …exercise their minds and their bodies.
10. …cultivate good habits.
11. …know how and when to ask for help.
12. …are willing to take risks, fail, and learn from their mistakes.
What other characteristics can you add to this list? How did you encourage successful learning today?
“Every moment and every event of every man’s life plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them. For such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere, except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.” ~ Thomas Merton
For those who live in the northern hemisphere, the months of January and February bring us to a midpoint of the winter season, where we find ourselves experiencing drastic changes in weather and with focus. It is a time of contraction, in which we turn inwardly and reflect within. Often times, this season can also initiate a sense of tiredness and discouragement. Even our children’s attitudes can begin to disintegrate, and the enthusiasm during the first few months of school starts to wear off.
Since 1986, I have had the great honor and privilege to know and work with Oak Meadow’s co-founder, Lawrence Williams. Over the years, I have developed an amazing respect for his boundless wisdom and timeless energy in providing a quality education for homeschool families. I have also collected a plethora of articles written by Lawrence. So, “from the archives”, I have the pleasure of offering his timely article on:
Winter, Contraction and Frustration
Now that we are in a new year, and in the midst of winter, let’s stop for a moment to consider what effect this is having upon our children, the learning process, and us.
The learning process has two phases: expansion and contraction. These same phases are also apparent in the seasons of the year. The season in which we are presently immersed, winter, is the season when the forces of contraction are prevailing.
The predominant effect of the contractive phase is the feeling of being closed in, and the feeling that nothing is moving. In terms of the learning process, we often feel that our children are not making any progress, and we begin to doubt our effectiveness as teachers. Of course, this closed in feeling is much more apparent in the extreme northern latitudes, where the temperature is much colder, and snow covers the ground for most of the year. However, even if we are living further south, we still experience this sensation, although its effect is modified somewhat, and it tends to become a more subtle inner experience, rather than an outer obstacle.
Another effect, which is most fascinating, is that during the contractive phase, things do not appear as they really are. The same thing is occurring in nature. If we didn’t know any better, and just arrived on this planet without an instruction manual (a familiar feeling?), we would look at the barren trees and the frozen ground and would suspect that everything was dead, with no chance of revival. However, since we’ve lived through many winters, we know that things are not as they appear. Underneath the surface of the earth wonderful things are happening and in a few months life will spring forth again, and everything will be green and growing profusely.
So the most important thing to remember while teaching children in the midst of the contraction of winter is that, while it looks as if nothing is happening, it is only because everything is happening under the surface. However bleak it may look, however hopeless your children’s progress may seem, however many times you feel as if you are totally frustrated, just remember that it is not really that way. Within your children, just as within nature, marvelous things are happening at this moment, and in a few months the growth that is occurring will become apparent, as we move into the phase of expansion, when all things become visible.
The best way to handle the contractive phase is to accept it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. There are many ideal learning experiences available at this time of year. Take advantage of them. Don’t stay indoors, trying to complete academic work with everyone irritable. Go outdoors and look for animal tracks in the snow. Even if you are living in a more temperate climate, and there is no snow, watch for the events that happen in nature only at this time of the year, such as various animal migrations. By cooperating gracefully and joyfully with the opportunities available within this cycle, you will be teaching your children one of the most valuable lessons in life: how to find opportunities within apparent limitations.
In Lawrence William’s book, The Heart of Learning, Chapter 7 offers additional information on “Rhythm and Learning: Expansion and Contraction”. If you haven’t read this chapter recently, it might be a good time to add it to your reading list.
“I suppose the thing I most would have liked to have known or been reassured about is that in the world, what counts more than talent, what counts more than energy or concentration or commitment, or anything else – is kindness. And the more in the world that you encounter kindness and cheerfulness – which is its kind of amiable uncle or aunt – the better the world always is. And all the big words: virtue, justice, truth – are dwarfed by the greatness of kindness.” – Stephen Fry
Marilyn Scott Waters is an incredibly talented artist that shares her work freely on her website. This month’s “Kindness Cards” caught my eye! I love them!
This is a great time of year to show kindness as Valentine’s Day comes around! Print and give out the cards and see what happiness you can bring to others! You may also find that you feel pretty good also. Acts of kindness often bring us a feeling of happiness whether we are receiving or giving. Reaching out to others, lending a helping hand, comforting a friend, inviting someone to do something; whatever you choose, it will surely be something that will make you feel good!
If you are using the 8th grade Oak Meadow civics course, you will find an assignment that asks you to do some random acts of kindness. These cards would be awesome to use as you complete that assignment!
Have fun with this and know that you may be changing lives in a simple and very sweet way!
I have always appreciated how the month of February refocuses our attention on the most valuable gift we could ever give or receive. What I am referring to is, of course, the gift of LOVE.
I often wonder what this world would be like without love. I honestly feel that all would cease to exist. Without love, we could not maintain a healthy, supportive relationship with one another. Without love, we could not communicate in a rational, constructive manner. Without love, there could be no real understanding of one another’s inner feelings or outer expressions.
In a family centered education such as Oak Meadow, it is extremely important for us to keep our focus on the role that love plays in our lives. Throughout my course of parenting, I have sometimes asked myself, “Do I share my love in a manner that is truly felt by my family? Do I express love through my heart, or am I too much in my head and unable to express love in a tangible manner that my children can feel?” I have learned that the more warmth and love I share with my children, no matter what their ages, the easier it is to develop and deepen our family relationship.
Other questions I sometimes ask myself are the following: “Does each member of my family have an understanding of one another? Do we share points of agreement in order to bring forth a greater harmony in the family unit?” Creating harmony in a diverse family is not always an easy task! When my family enters into a disharmonious situation, and it can’t seem to be worked through on its own, I have often found that sharing a family activity together has been extremely beneficial. For example, we find pleasure in taking walks together or playing games together, whether it be charades or a board game or even magic tricks. When my children were young, there was nothing my family loved more than to snuggle under the covers after a long, tiring day and read a good storybook together. Whether it be exploring in nature, singing and playing music, reading aloud together, etc., it is the harmony that brings forth a deeper, more bonding relationship.
One thing we need to keep in our mind and in our hearts is that, for relationships to grow, we must nurture them by giving acceptance, support and affirmation of the goodness in each other. We must not be be bothered by or too focused on the temporary ups and downs of our personalities. Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is an important aspect of developing healthy relationships. Every drawing or painting we receive from our children, every conversation we engage in, or every touch we share, is an opportunity to communicate from the heart. If we want to form deep, loving relationships, we need to grab these opportunities before they pass by!
Oak Meadow’s co-founder, Bonnie Williams, once imparted words of wisdom that I would like to share with you. She wrote, “If we can convey that life is a journey that we undertake with others, and the most valuable part of the journey lies in the relationships that we share, we will have done a lot to help the family unit. As we learn to open our hearts more fully, we will be able to experience the fullness of life. The resolution of polarities cannot come about through ideas or the mind, but through the heart. Exploring the ways in which we can share more of our hearts with those around us is very important.”
LOVE is the essential element of life, and in my personal opinion, it is the greatest treasure on Earth. I have always told my children that love is also like magic. If we simply give a little away, it will come back to us doubled. Truly it will!
“But I have always thought that these tulips must have had names. They were red, and orange and red, and red and orange and yellow, like the ember in a nursery fire of a winter’s evening. I remember them.” Neil Gaiman from Caroline
In the middle of a snowstorm today in New England, I found myself thinking about spring! With so much snow cover in the garden right now, I looked out the window and wondered when I will see those first green shoots of bulbs. I love to look for the daffodils and tulips peaking up from the soil in my garden. It’s like searching for hidden treasure. Tulips have become very common in our nation, but at one time they were treasured like gold! I read that though now we plant our tulips from bulbs, it can take up to seven years for a tulip seed to mature into a plant. That is certainly something to treasure!
History buffs might be interested to know that in the 17th century tulips were such a hot item that bulbs couldn’t be grown fast enough to keep up with the demand. Because the demand was so great and people in Europe, especially Holland, so loved the rich colors of the delicate flowers, tulips became a treasured item that was worth a lot of money. This resulted in “Tulipmania” and the worth of a tulip bulb became astronomical. There are historical records that say that a single tulip bulb could bring in the equivalent of 64,000 U.S. dollars today!
So today, in the middle of a snowstorm, I’m thinking about my tulips and I’m thinking I will order some bulbs to plant this fall!
Homeschooling is a big step for many of us. It requires the conviction that we know better than anyone else when it comes to our children’s needs (or our own). We may have already had courageous exchanges with teachers, school officials, and other experts whose job requires them to look out for the well-being of our children and whose thoughts on how best to meet those needs may be at odds with ours.
We may not want to defend the details of our educational choices to everyone we meet. Nevertheless, friends, family, and strangers on the street often feel entitled to comment on, critique, or even assess the effectiveness of our homeschooling efforts.
Do any of these sound familiar?
“Is it a day off from school?” asks a well-meaning cashier at the supermarket (at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning). “They don’t go to school,” you say. Your children giggle. The cashier gives you a disbelieving look.
At a family gathering, the grandparents smother your child with kisses, hugs, and an impromptu quiz about the state capitals, leaving your child stammering and squirming.
At ballet class, you overhear your preteen’s friend say, “I don’t know how anyone can possibly learn anything if they’re not in school. Do you even know what a square root is?” Your child is embarrassed and doesn’t respond.
At your child’s annual checkup, the doctor chats with your child during the examination. “What grade are you in?” says the doctor. Your child says, “Uhhhhhh….”
A well-meaning friend looks at you doubtfully. “Homeschooling — I don’t know,” says your friend. “You’re not a teacher. And what about socialization?”
Sometimes it can feel like every social interaction brings the risk of an uneasy exchange about homeschooling. Here are some things to keep in mind when you encounter someone whose comments make you uncomfortable:
Homeschooling is not a familiar concept for most people. Yours may be the first homeschooling family they have seen up close. Most people are unaware that homeschooling is even an option, or they may have heard of it as something that only certain subgroups of people engage in. It may feel confusing for them to find homeschoolers in their family, neighborhood, or community. Let them know you’re in good company! “We’ve been so happy to find a supportive community of homeschoolers close by and online.”
Homeschooling challenges widely-held social values. Some people may not feel at ease with the questions that homeschooling brings to mind. They may see homeschooling as an implied judgement about the quality of public schools. Many of us were raised with the belief that all children must attend public school for their own good and/or the good of society. Times are changing, and schools are not what they used to be. We learn more all the time about how unconventional approaches to education can be better for some children. “Aren’t we lucky to live in a country where parents can choose the best educational path for their children?”
It may be difficult to imagine how homeschooling can be both flexible and successful. Perhaps their only experience of education was classroom-based, competitive, and institutional. Many of us were taught not to question that model, believing either that it was the best way or the only way to become educated and successful. But now there are alternatives, and that is a beneficial thing for many students. It might help to mention that there is also plenty of support available.“I’m so impressed with the great homeschooling resources that we’ve found online. It’s wonderful for families like ours to have professional educational support.”
Mass media perpetuates the idea that homeschoolers are freaks. The people who get the media spotlight are often the ones who are so far outside the norm that their stories make for good entertainment. It is true that some homeschooling families have over a dozen children, are religious extremists, or send their kids to Ivy League colleges ahead of their peers. Those are interesting stories, but most homeschooling families are relatively ordinary. Your family is also a good example of a homeschooling family. If the person knows you well, remind them that you’re still the same; you’re just taking a new educational path. “We’ve met some very nice local families who homeschool.”
Others want the best for your child. This is especially true for friends and relatives, but it can be equally true for the stranger at the supermarket. Where the perceived health and safety of children is concerned, many people do consider it their business and feel they have a socially-sanctioned right to offer advice. You do not have to share the details of your choices; simply thank them for their concern and redirect the conversation to more comfortable ground. “I really appreciate how much you care about my children’s education. Thanks for sharing your ideas.”
Our society places its faith in experts. We have been culturally conditioned to look to experts for the answers. So it may be helpful to invoke mention of one. “We are working with the school superintendent to meet all of the established requirements.” “We’ve enrolled in an accredited distance learning school and have the support of certified teachers.” Or even, “Our pediatrician is supportive.” The point is not to devalue your primary role in your child’s homeschooling experience, but to help conclude the conversation on a positive note and in a truthful way that meets the other person’s need for expert reassurance.
Your decision to homeschool is not about them. It is about you, your child’s needs, and the overall needs of your family. You are the expert on your own child, and you are empowered to make these decisions without defending yourself. You might say, “Public school works for some families, but we’ve found that homeschooling is the best fit for ours.”
Neither you nor your child owes anyone an explanation. Be upfront with adults who try to quiz your child to prove that homeschooling is “working” — it’s not acceptable. Your child does not have to prove anything to anyone except you, and it is not appropriate for anyone to put your child on the spot with such questions. You might coach your child on how to politely decline if someone tries to verbally test them. Keep it light! A younger child could laugh and say, “Silly, you’re not my teacher!” Older kids might respond with, “Homeschooling means I don’t have to take pop quizzes anymore!”
Remember that people with concerns about homeschooling usually speak from a place of caring. Respond gently and compassionately. If they persist in challenging you about homeschooling, consider turning it around and asking them to tell you more about their children’s education or their own experiences in school. They may just want to make sure you hear their side of things.
With time, patience, and practice, you’ll become adept at responding to questions from people who comment critically about your homeschooling. Acknowledge their perspectives, thank them for sharing, and move the conversation along. In time, they may surprise you with their support and approval.