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

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!

April Showers Bring May Flowers

May by Adele Abrahamse

In the month of May, the world’s at play outside.

The magic of the spring’s before my eyes.

A seed begins to stir from where it hides.

A plant springs up with others by its side.

The young plant knows it’s good to be alive.

In the month of May, the world’s at play outside.

 

Welcome to the merry month of May!

I hope you and your family are taking the time to enjoy this beautiful season of the year. May is certainly one of my favorite months in the springtime. The world is alive and fresh, and everything is bright and colorful. I love watching the children as they bounce and skip and dance about with laughter and merriment. It is just as if they have springs on their feet, for they are filled with their own kind of renewed energy and spirit.

Photo Credit: Leslie Ann Daniels

Planting a garden is a great way to take care of the earth and make it a more beautiful place. Children love digging in the warm soil, planting seeds for the butterflies, and watching their tiny green plants grow into fruition. Singing a little garden song or reciting a poem makes planting time even more joyful! One of my favorite songs is the “Garden Song”, a popular children’s song and American folk song written by David Mallett. A springtime poem I like to share with early elementary children is “The Little Plant”, written by Kate Louise Brown.

Photo Credit: Sowers/Woodward Family

We all know that April Showers bring May flowers, so if it’s a rainy day, then a craft project might be a delightful way to bring more color into your home. Oak Meadow’s Kindergarten Coursebook (Lesson 24) includes the art of making paper flowers. Hands can make a beautiful springtime garden, too, so perhaps you might like to handprint a flower garden. What you will need is tempera paints (green & bright colors) and a large sheet of white paper. Make green stems with a stroke of the finger, and add green leaves with the side of your palms. Then, make colorful handprint blossoms. Another enjoyable art project is making a seed mosaic. You will need a variety of seeds, construction paper, and glue. Seeds come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Try the many different ways to sort the seeds. Then, glue them on your paper to create different patterns or designs.

Flat Stanley

“People should think twice before making rude remarks,” said Mrs. Lambchop. “And then not make them at all.” ― Jeff Brown, Author of Flat Stanley

Author Jeff Brown created the beloved character of Flat Stanley as a bedtime story for his sons before it was first published in 1964. If you or your children have ever read the Flat Stanley books, then you will know that Stanley Lampchop had a mishap that made him famously flat. Rather than viewing his new physique as an unfortunate circumstance, this paper-thin boy turned his life into an amazing adventure of sliding under doors, flying like a kite, and traveling by mail.

In 1994, Canadian Dale Hubert created The Flat Stanley Project. He encouraged children to create their own Flat Stanley paper cutouts and mail them to friends and family members around the globe. His original idea was shared with his class of third grade students to help foster literacy activities and to introduce creative writing. Hubert also suggested that other teachers participate by hosting Flat Stanley visitors who arrived by mail. Now children (and adults) from all over the world are making their own versions of Flat Stanley from templates and mailing them to friends and family during their travels.

Photo Credit: Leslie Ann Daniels

I took The Flat Stanley Project a step further and photographed the bright cheerful faces of my local home school students. They then each created their own Flat Me. We had a great time creating colorful outfits and then sharing with friends and families by talking, tracking, and writing about their flat character’s journeys and adventures.

May 8 celebrates Flat Stanley’s fifty-third birthday. So, enjoy this world-famous story character by reading one of Jeff Brown’s books or creating and sending your own Flat Stanley or Flat Me to someone special!

Photo Credit: Danielle Drown
Photo Credit: Danielle Drown
Photo Credit: Danielle Drown

12 Ways to Foster Hands-On Creativity at Home (Even If You Don’t Feel Creative)

Does the idea that homeschooling parents need to be naturally artistic or compulsively creative stop you from trying? Don’t be fooled! Although there are plenty of parents who enjoy doing arts and crafts with their children, there are plenty who don’t. You can foster your children’s creative and artistic streaks even if you’re not sitting down at the table and eagerly leading the way. Here are some ideas to get you started and keep you moving forward:

1. Provide a variety of creative materials. Start by stocking up on basic, kid-friendly, age-appropriate supplies.

Photo Credit: Abbie L.
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Here are some possibilities:

Here are some other things that can be fun to have around:

  • wooden craft sticks
  • a hole punch
  • chalks, oil crayons, watercolor pencils, and other colorful drawing materials
  • fun patterned paper (origami paper, doilies, scrapbooking paper)
  • scissors with patterned edges
  • a straightedge or ruler
  • a stapler
  • play-dough, clay, beeswax, and other modeling media
  • wool roving
  • fabric scraps
  • random collage materials (feathers, sequins, beads, cutout shapes)
  • string, ribbon, embroidery thread
  • needles of various sizes
  • scrap cardboard and other reclaimed materials
Photo Credit: Warf Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

2. Establish a comfortable, easy-clean area for creating. It’s ideal to have a separate area with a table and nearby storage if possible. But if you don’t have abundant space, a vinyl tablecloth can protect any table or floor area from creative messes. Just shake or wipe down the tablecloth and put it away for the next round of creativity. Good lighting is also very helpful.

3. Store most materials in an accessible, kid-friendly way, with the important exception of anything you want to supervise. Some materials, particularly messy ones, might be available to young artists only “on request” until you’re sure they can handle the responsibility that such materials require. Even more important than making materials easily accessible is making it easy to store them away when the creating is done.

4. Remember that you do not have to teach your children how to create! Children are inherently creative beings. If you are not the sort of person who wants to patiently teach the proper methods, it’s perfectly fine to explain any safety points, and then just get out of the way and let your children figure things out for themselves. You might be surprised by what they come up with.

Photo Credit: Lynn Nash
(Oak Meadow Archives)

5. Open-ended situations allow for the widest range of creativity. Offering a variety of basic materials that feel good to use can bring about much more creativity than a preassembled kit for making a particular end product. You might encourage your children to think up new ways to use what they have at hand by saying something like, “Lots of people only paint with a paintbrush; can you think of any other good ways to apply paint to paper?”

6. There is no wrong way to be creative. Keep your own preconceived ideas out of it! Your child should be the one to decide what they will create and then explain to you in their own way what their creations mean. When your child inevitably asks, “What should I make?” follow it with, “What do you feel like making?” or “This is your project, so I can’t decide for you. What do you think you should make?”

Photo Credit: Jennie Smith-Pariola
(Oak Meadow Archives)

7. Look to nature for variety and inspiration as needed. Go scavenging outdoors as a family, and bring natural materials back to your craft area. Encourage your children to incorporate them into their creations. Ask them to draw or paint or create a likeness of something they enjoyed seeing outside or make a mobile with their found objects.

8. Less can be more! One tool. One color. One type of material. Keeping it simple can help prevent everyone from feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes having all possible materials staring at you at once can stop you in your creative tracks. If that happens, let simplicity be your guide. “What could we make if we only had paper and tape to work with?”

9. Be proactive about managing stress. Messy projects can be stressful for those who have to help clean them up! Set up your creative space for easy cleanup by keeping trash/recycling containers, a broom and dustpan, and a sponge handy. Keep smocks and/or aprons nearby. Cafeteria trays can also be helpful for containing bits and pieces. For projects with huge mess potential, consider setting up a creative space outdoors for easier cleanup.

Photo Credit: Neigh Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

10. Figure out your own challenges with creativity. What holds you back personally from feeling creative? Can you identify why you don’t feel like a creative person? Acknowledge your reasons, but don’t pass them on to your children. There is no right or wrong way to create. Be gentle with yourself, and if you feel inspired to pick up a piece of modeling wax or put crayon to paper yourself, go ahead and see what flows.

11. When in doubt, follow the rainbow. It’s helpful to own a rainbow’s worth of colors of materials when possible: paper, crayons, paint, modeling wax. Sometimes all colors will be used, but sometimes choosing just one color at a time to explore with your child can also be very freeing. “How many different ways can we think of to create with the color red?”

Photo Credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow Archives)

12. Remember that the joy is in the process! Many decisions are part of a creative experience, from choosing materials and colors, to predicting the outcome of an action, to deciding how to respond to the results partway through, to deciding when a particular project is finished. Creating can also be a highly sensory experience, allowing a child to integrate sight and touch, and in some cases sound, smell, and/or taste. It can also be extremely imaginative – you may find your child narrating their creative process or creating a story about their creation. Be open to the value of the process itself, and don’t worry if the project gets abandoned before it is finished. One of the best rewards of fostering a creative experience is hearing your child say, “That was fun!”

Genre?

 

 

 

The Stonekeeper book #1 of the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

 

I was at the public library the other day when I overheard a librarian ask a student what genre she had to read for an assignment. “Genre? What’s genre?” the student asked. I listened as the librarian explained that books are written in different genres. She went on to explain that in fiction for example, there is the mystery genre, science fiction genre, or even fantasy genre. Then the student asked what genre graphic novels are because she wanted to read one. I was very interested in the answer because I really love graphic novels! I’ve read quite a few and lately my favorites are Cardboard by Doug TenNapel and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. They are both entertaining and inspiring stories with lively illustrations.

As it turns out, graphic novels fall into many genres. They are not a genre by themselves. There are non-fiction graphic novels, fiction graphic novels, fantasy graphic novels, mystery graphic novels and the list goes on!

So again the librarian asked what genre graphic novel the student was interested in. She answered that she didn’t care at the moment. She just wanted to look at them. The librarian showed her the graphic novel section of the library.

When I looked around the library and saw sections of books divided into categories, I had to wonder when this genre idea came into being. I love to research, investigate, and learn about the things I wonder about so this will take me some time! In the meantime, I’ve got a whole list of great graphic novels, in all genres, that you may enjoy reading!

The city of San Jose, California public library has listed the best new graphic novels of 2016 and you can find them here.

Creative Craft-Festive Lanterns

The sunlight fast is dwindling.
My little lamp needs kindling.
Its beam shines far in darkest night,
Dear lantern guard me with your light.

Song written by Margaret Meyerkort

The season of winter is a time of contraction. As the days grow shorter, we find ourselves inside more. It’s a perfect time for expressing our festive, artistic side. Making lanterns that shine from within and bring a warm glow to your home can help you and your children ready yourselves for the cold days and nights of winter.

You will need:

-heavy water color paper (9″X12″ or 12″X16″)

-watercolor paints and paintbrushes

-scissors

-tacky glue, white glue, or glue sticks

-paper fasteners

-warming candles, votive candles, or tea lights (the ones in metal containers)

-tissue paper

What to do:

1. Paint the paper. (Dark colors work best, such as ultramarine or cobalt blue.) Encourage your children to fill the entire paper with color.

2. After the paper dries, make a fold all the way across the length of the paper, approximately three inches up from the bottom.

3. Cut a fringe of three-inch wide segments all along the bottom folded section.

4. Cut several small shapes out of the top portion of the lantern. These are the “windows” that the light shines through. (Star and moon shapes are always fun!) Small pieces of colored tissue paper glued over the inside of the windows create a beautiful effect.

5. Form the lantern paper into a cylinder, gluing it from the top to the bottom. Fold the fringed edges in and overlap them to make the lantern’s bottom. Put small dabs of glue between the fringes to hold them together.

6. Add a fairly long handle (12-15 inches) 1/2 inch wide and attach to each side of the lantern with paper fasteners.

7. Use candles that come in individual metal cups. A dab of glue placed in the bottom of the lanterns holds the candle in place.

Important Note: These lanterns should be used only under close adult supervision.

Exploring Science through Illustrations

“A natural science illustrator is an artist who works in the service of science, creating images of animals, objects and complex processes that teach, inform, and create understanding of our world.” Guild of Natural Science Illustrators: https://www.gnsi.org/

7360_571848169505984_493224923_n-350x225

From the Oak Meadow Archives

I’ve become fascinated with the illustrations my Oak Meadow students did this year in conjunction with their science lessons. Many were exceptional in the intricate details of the drawings and I could tell that a lot of effort, time, and research was put into them. In the 7th grade Earth Science, a student researched the structure of a leaf, found which part was responsible for transpiration, and drew a diagram of the leaf showing the process. Another student created an illustration of the ecosystem in which she lives that included the various habitats within her ecosystem. In 8th grade Physics I am continually amazed with the details students include in their sketches of wet cell batteries! In the study of color, 8th graders discover the shortest and longest wavelength of the colors of the rainbow and I receive the most beautifully illustrated and colored rainbows! Through artistic exercises students clearly depict scientific concepts in their intricate drawings.

As you explore and observe the natural world around you, take some time to illustrate what you see! It can become a most wonderful pastime, or even a career! The website of The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators explains: “The principle task of the scientific illustrator is to prepare accurate renderings of scientific subjects. These illustrations are designed for reproduction in professional or popular journals in the field of natural sciences, textbooks, as museum exhibits, web sites, and many other applications. Scientific illustrations in both traditional and digital formats provide a visual explanation and aid the viewer by clarifying complex descriptive information. The function of a scientific illustration, therefore, is essentially a practical one: to inform, to explain, and to instruct — in short, to communicate.”

 Below is a wonderful example of a scientific subject illustrated and then put into digital format. ENJOY the Metamorphosis of the Butterfly from http://artorium.com/:

http://www.metamorphosis.urban-parks.org/

Picture Books!

“For the rest of my life, I will reflect on what light is.”
~Einstein, c.1917

Hilarious! Not only was Einstein brilliant, he also had great sense of humor!

In the Oak Meadow 8th grade physics course, students study about light. The terms, incident ray, reflected ray, normal line, angle of incident, and angle of reflection are all principles that are studied in the lesson. The students are assigned the task of writing a short creative story using the principles of light ray reflection. It’s fun for me as a teacher to read the many imaginative ways that students find to do this assignment! In reading them I am often reminded of how powerful a simple story can be in teaching a scientific concept. Since I work in the youth department at our local public library, I run across many picture books that creatively depict scientific concepts. (Middle school students, don’t’ be afraid of checking out a good picture book!) I have lots that I love, but one of my favorites is Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants. medium_jacket_two-bad-ants

Right from the very beginning, an ant discovers a crystal and when the queen ant gets to eat it, she asks for more. The worker ants set off to get more of these precious crystals for the queen. When they get to the place where the crystals are, two bad ants decide not to return with the other ants and they stay and eat the crystals until they are so full that they fall asleep! What happens when they awake is hilarious and the illustrations are all “ant-sized” and lead you on their journey. It’s the illustrations in picture books that depict the scientific concepts so well. The crystals that Van Allsburg illustrates are magnified sugar granules. There is the science of a sugar granule! There are many more picture books that depict scientific concepts. Have you run across any?

 

Butterfly Art Project

Fly, fly butterfly.

Whither lies your way?

I fly to the sun

On this lovely spring day.

Fly, fly butterfly.

With wings of colored hue.

From the sun please bring us

A message or two.

Author unknown

I have discovered that watching butterflies is a delight at any age. I am in awe as I watch the butterflies emerge from their winter sleep or return home from their long migration. Butterfly watching is fast becoming a popular hobby. Did you know there are more than 650 species of these colorful winged insects in the U.S. alone? Did you know that people who study them are called lepidopterists?

Butterfly conservatories are a great way to observe many different species of butterflies, but most of you don’t even have to leave your backyard before you’ll notice them flitting about. If you are enthusiastic about attracting even more butterflies, you can plant particular varieties of flowers, such as Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Zinnia, Bergamot, Day Lily, Black-Eyed Susan, and Purple Coneflower, as well as herbs like Tansy, Garlic, and Chives.

1519fg78jCuL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Oak Meadow’s science courses in grades k-4 include various studies of the butterfly. In addition to the suggested lesson activities, you might include a guidebook, such as Robert Michael Pyle’s book, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Or perhaps you would enjoy sharing a butterfly story, such as Alan Madison’s Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly or Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Bruce Coville’s The Prince of Butterflies.

3
Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

If it’s a rainy day, and no butterflies can be observed, then you and your children might like to make a butterfly template, paint it with watercolors, and then create your own butterfly kite or wind waver. Before painting,  you might like to view pictures of butterflies to study the symmetry of their patterns. They truly are amazingly beautiful insects!