Floating On a Cloud

From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cloud_sky_over_Brest.jpg

The autumn in New England is a beautiful time!

I live in the state of New Hampshire and fall is one of my favorite seasons. The sky seems to be such a crystal clear blue on sunny days, and the fall leaves glow with their wonderful colors.

On one of these beautiful autumn days I found myself observing the sky. Within the crystal blue of the sky, clouds were slowly floating overhead. I watched them for some time and was in awe of their beauty. I wished I could paint them, or even write a poem, but my mind led me to another place; the science of clouds! I’ve learned that in looking at clouds I can pretty accurately predict the weather. (I think I learned this from my father. He was a pilot and had to know where an approaching cold front might be lurking.) The clouds I was watching were white wisps of cirrus clouds sailing to the southeast. They told me that there would be a change in the weather, but probably no rain.

Long ago there was no National Weather Service in the United States. Weather information was passed from person to person, and then later telegraphed from army base to army base. Today the weather forecasts warn us of the coming weather. Pilots, farmers, sailors, teachers, all have access to warnings, forecasts, and radar maps.

In the Oak Meadow curriculum students study the clouds and learn to categorize them by where they are in the sky, and to identify them by their shape. Students learn what the clouds may predict about the coming weather. Students also have the chance to let their minds wander as mine did! Mine ended up in the science of clouds, but lots of students complete poetry, painting, or music projects about the clouds. So the next time you are observing something outside, let your mind wander! Maybe you will find a poem, a song, or a scientific fact wandering with you.

One of my favorite poems is by Percy Bysshe Shelley. He must have been observing the sky and clouds for a long time so as to complete the poem The Cloud. It begins:

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,

From the seas and the streams;

I bear light shade for the leaves when laid

In their noonday dreams.

From my wings are shaken the dews that waken

The sweet buds every one,

When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,

As she dances about the sun.

I wield the flail of the lashing hail,

And whiten the green plains under,

And then again I dissolve it in rain,

And laugh as I pass in thunder.

(Go to The Poetry Foundation website to read the complete poem.)

 

 

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and Turkeys? HUH?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might include a roasted turkey.  So, I’ve been thinking about turkeys.

One of my first thoughts led me to wonder where the word “turkey” originated. Why are they called turkeys? An article in the Atlantic Monthly had a good explanation. You can read it here. I was pretty surprised to find that the origin of the word is debated by etymology experts.

Then I was wondering if turkeys can really fly and I started to investigate. Sure enough, they can fly! This investigation led me to thinking about the wishbone in the turkey at our family Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the “wishbone” that is the bone that connects the wings of birds allowing them to fly.

So what do Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys all have in common?  I was amazed to find out that many dinosaurs, including the newly found “Mud Dragon” had wishbones. Yep! The wishbone is actually called the “furcula” and is found in birds and in DINOSAURS!

Next time you eat a turkey and find the furcula, remember that scientists have found that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Election Day & Leadership

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 marks the historic day for the 58th quadrennial US Presidential Election. For many citizens in the United States (as well as around the world), it’s an exciting day for each community and state, and especially for the nation! It’s Election Day!

Although US citizens cannot vote until they reach the age of 18, the Presidential Election is still a valuable lesson to share with young children by getting them involved and helping them to feel an important part of the election process. Sarah Coyne, who writes writes about life and motherhood in her personal blog offers activity and discussion ideas for teachable moments with your children in her blogspot, Sarah Coyne: Use the election to connect with kids.

If you prefer to include interactive sites to aid in teaching about Election Day, the following sites offer opportunities for voting and other activities centered on the 2016 presidential election:

PBS KIDS: The Democracy Project

Scholastic: Election 2016

Kids.gov: How to Become President of the U.S.

TIME For Kids: Vote for President

In Oak Meadow’s second grade social studies coursework, the students learn about the importance of a being a good leader, and Oak Meadow’s third grade social studies course includes a study block on the founding of our country and the importance of great citizenship/leadership. If you are inspired to share some ideas on leadership, “Let’s Grow Leaders” Karin Hurt contributed a list of children’s books that I highly recommend. She categorizes them in separate topics for more personal interest: Authenticity, Perseverance, Creativity/Problem Solving, Servant Leadership, Empowerment/Process, and Teamwork.

Calling All Bird Lovers!

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blue_Jay-27527.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org

For the Love of Birds!

Taking the time to watch the birds at a bird feeder can be such a relaxing and enjoyable activity. I’m in love with a blue jay that comes to my feeders at the same time every day. She arrives around 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon and she announces her entrance with lots of noisy tweets of “Jay! Jay! Jay!” She hops from branch to branch on a nearby tree, tips her head to each side, looks at the sky and at the feeders. It takes her a few minutes to announce that she has arrived and she repeats the behavior several times. I’ve noticed she doesn’t like the hanging feeder as much as she likes going to the platform one. She enjoys an occasional orange slice and she really likes to eat peanuts. (If you want to know what the birds in your area like to eat, go to: http://feederwatch.org/learn/common-feeder-birds/) I know it’s her because I’ve been watching her for some time and I’ve learned to distinguish her features from the other jays that come to bathe and eat. I’ve grown accustomed to looking for her special colors, dark eye-line markings, and feather shades of blue. I can’t be sure she’s a female because I haven’t seen her nesting behaviors. I’ve read that is the way to tell the male and female apart from each other. I call her Pooli. I think that’s the Greek word for bird, but I’m not sure and I like it anyway. She’s like a member of the family and even my kids will ask if Pooli has been around lately.

If you need some bird guides or great bird books, the Audubon Society has put together this list. If you live in North America, you may also enjoy viewing the Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds online at: http://www.audubon.org/bird-guide

Join Project FeederWatch!

Each year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies of Canada join together for Project FeederWatch. I encourage you to participate! It is a lot of fun and you will get to know the birds in your neighborhood as though they are family members.

Learning to observe carefully and in specific details is the making of a good scientist! Why not learn this skill by falling in love with your birds?

The Arrival of Fall (From the Archive)

by Lawrence Williams, EdD
excerpted from Living Education (October 1981) 

As the Fall of the year arrives, we experience once again the familiar contraction of Mother Nature, reminding us that all things must pass, and even the beautiful expansiveness of Summer must recede to allow Winter to work its magic.

Children often experience this contraction as a desire to focus their energies, after a long summer of either relaxation or unharnessed exuberance. For those who have been homeschooling for a while, the seasonal extremes are usually not as pronounced. However, for those exploring home study for the first time, the Fall can be a time of difficult adjustments to a new situation.

Often our instinct is to establish firm schedules of “schoolwork” within the home, as a natural response to the seasonal contraction which we feel. However, though it is true that children seem to appreciate more of a focus at this time of year, we should look for ways to integrate this focus as naturally and warmly as possible, to avoid the inevitable reactions that arise from trying to maintain a strict form.

Use this time to seek a deeper understanding of your children’s changing needs — this understanding will be a tremendous asset as you progress through the course of the year.

____________________________________________________________

This article first appeared in its original form in Living Education: The Monthly Journal of Oak Meadow School in October 1981. The early incarnation of Living Ed (as we fondly refer to it) provided a then-rare space for homeschooling parents and Oak Meadow staff to explore and share their thoughts about learning, parenting, and related topics.

What do you think of Oak Meadow founder Lawrence Williams’ thoughts in this article from years past? Do you agree with his recommendations? How do you approach the transition to Fall in your own family’s homeschooling rhythm?

As parents and educators, reading others’ thoughts, asking challenging questions, and considering new ideas will open up different opportunities for ourselves and our children. Our ideas continue to evolve as we move along our journey. How have your own thoughts grown and changed since your homeschooling adventure began?

Tips for the new school year!

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“This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change.”
Taylor Swift

It’s a new school year for some of my students and I was thinking about some tips to pass on about beginning a new grade. Here are some of my thoughts!

  • Think about last year: Reviewing the past year helps a lot! Take a look at last year’s lesson work to help you see the progress that was made from beginning to end. It’s fun to review and note the exciting lessons, the challenging ones, and the favorite activities. Where were you most challenged and what did you love?
  • Try using new stuff: Going over the materials used last year, cleaning out items not used any more, and making a list of new items needed helps to prepare you for the new year. If you can afford new pens and pencils, that’s great for starters! What materials are needed in the new curriculum you are using? Get a new space ready. Create a new workspace, clean off your desk, and organize your stuff. Try using a calendar or a planner for scheduling yourself.
  • Think of some goals for the new year: Looking at goals for the next school year is helpful. Maybe you want to become more independent in some areas? When will you need help or family support?
  • Make a display space: Let the work shine by showing it off! Find a place to display a certain page or project that was completed!

I hope these simple tips are helpful. Enjoy your new school year!

 

 

Tips and Tricks for Getting Your Kids Outside

Spending time in nature is a fundamental part of learning, development, and healthy living. At Oak Meadow, we encourage families to spend as much time as possible outside and learning in nature. As Oak Meadow founder, Lawrence Williams, says, “Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life.”

Photo credit: Katie Kline (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Katie Kline
(Oak Meadow Archives)

For some children, unstructured outside play is naturally very compelling, with sticks to brandish, mud to stir, rocks to pile, dirt to dig in, flowers to pick, bugs to identify, water to splash in, and trees to climb. But for others, these activities do not come as easily or may even be overwhelming.

Embracing nature may also be challenging for children who are new to homeschooling and have become accustomed to spending most of their day indoors, either in school or at after-school activities. Some schoolchildren spend very little or even no time outdoors, as recess is cut back to make room for more academics in the school day. Children who are used to spending lots of time with electronic devices can find it challenging to turn their attention to outdoor activities. It can take extra effort and energy to break out of a familiar habit and adapt to something very new and different.

Photo credit: Dru Guberman (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Dru Guberman
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Some children have personality or sensory challenges that cause them to feel overwhelmed by the outdoors. The brightness of a sunny day can shock our sheltered eyes. The sensation of the wind blowing on us can challenge every pore. We might experience powerful smells and sounds that are very different from those inside our homes. Adjusting to the outside temperature might demand a significant amount of bodily energy. These challenges may be true for parents and caregivers, too.

For some parents, wanting our children to spend more time outdoors presents us with a challenge to adopt a new way of approaching life and learning. We may have spent a number of years going back and forth between climate-controlled homes and climate-controlled offices. Some of us grew up in families where television was central to daily life and most, if not all, of our waking hours were spent indoors. It may take some extra effort to develop a habit of spending time outside, for both parent and child.

So what can we do?

You, the parent, must lead the way, but at the same time remember that you are also learning and growing alongside your child.

Photo credit: Michele Kay (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Michele Kay
(Oak Meadow Archives)

For children who are reluctant to go outside, make a gentle transition.

If the outside world feels too big, too loud, or too bright, create a sheltered space where your child can be comfortable outside. A lean-to, tarp, or fort might be just the right kind of transitional space.

If your child has fears about what they might encounter outside, try turning anxiety into curiosity. What are they afraid of? Will information and some gently led encounters relax their fears?

Develop the habit casually. If it’s possible to walk or bike a short distance instead of driving, do it as often as possible. Make a regular “outside playdate” with a friend whose children are comfortable playing outdoors, and perhaps your children will join right in.

Don’t make a big deal out of it. Spending time outside every day is healthy and desirable for children and adults. It may help to just go outside without a plan or a formal agenda. “Just being” is enough, and it will allow them to be free to observe all sorts of things that might not otherwise have come into view.

If your home is more urban than rural, scout out some nature-rich locations nearby. Parks, nature preserves and sanctuaries, public gardens, and hiking trails can provide good opportunities to explore. Choose natural areas with trees and rocks for climbing, rather than manufactured play areas.

Photo credit: Cindy Wallach (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Cindy Wallach
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Consider the outdoors an extension of your living space and move indoor tasks outside. Handwork, schoolwork, art, reading, playing with toys, food prep, snacktime, mealtime… Arrange an outdoor space that can substitute for the kitchen table or the playroom floor. Lead by example and encourage your children to be outside with you while you go about your daily work.

Make note of anything your child finds particularly interesting outside, and foster their interest in that thing. If a family of birds is making a nest on your porch, keep checking it — at a secure distance — for eggs and hatchlings, and do some research on birds and their life cycle. If your child absolutely loves berries, plant some, tend them, and enjoy the fruit when it is ripe. If your child is very active and needs a lot of space to run around without the critical prying of neighbors or passersby, find that sort of space and let them run free.

Give them ideas and materials for fun, open-ended outdoor play or projects. Mud, water, sand, and a variety of containers can be a good starting point. If you need ideas, check out Oak Meadow’s Pinterest boards for loads of fun suggestions.

Ask your child what stops them from going outside. Make a list of their complaints and brainstorm ways to ease them.

“It’s too sunny and bright.” Would sunglasses or a special hat help? Make the most of times when the sun is low or the sky is cloudy.

“I don’t like to get wet.” Would head-to-toe rain gear or a fancy large umbrella help make it easier? Having a comfort routine for drying off and warming up after playtime can be helpful.

“It’s too hot outside.” Water and mud play are fun ways to cool off outdoors. Make sure they can easily duck out of the sun into a shady spot. Create shade for them if it’s not readily available, perhaps with a portable pop-up tent or large umbrella.

“It’s too cold out there.” Do they need more or different clothing to compensate for temperature? Lightweight woolen long johns make a helpful base layer for maintaining body temperature.

“I don’t like the wind.” Can you find or create a semi-enclosed area to provide shelter from the wind? If there are no natural windblocks in your yard, homemade wind-walls can be made using sturdy fabric and pipe.

“It’s too loud outside.” Can you find an area that is more quiet and/or private? Ask your child to help you scout out their own special nature sanctuary or a comfortable sit-spot where they can sit quietly, surrounded by nature. Read more about Sit Spots in the Spring 2013 issue of Living Education.

“I don’t want to stop what I’m doing.” Does your child have trouble transitioning from an indoor activity to an outdoor one? Routine can help. Set a consistent time of day for going outside. Some children are more open to challenging experiences in the morning; others do best after rest time in the late afternoon. Develop a particular sequence of steps that are followed before you go out. (Here we sit to put on our shoes; here we put on our outerwear; here we choose a hat; now you open the door and walk out, and I close it behind us; now we look at the bird feeder to see if there are any birds, then we look to see how things are growing in the garden, then we ask ourselves what we’d like to do next…”)

“I don’t like the spring/summer/fall/winter.” Is your child happy outside in some seasons but not others? Make the most of the time of year or type of day when they are most comfortable outside.

“I want to be all by myself” or “I don’t want to be alone.” Would they prefer to have you outside with them – or not? Honor their wishes for support or solitude as much as possible. If they only want to be outside when you are with them, plan regular times in your daily or weekly rhythm to make that possible. If your child is too young to be unsupervised but wants to feel independent, establish an activity for yourself away from their play space. Maybe your garden will get extra attention from you this year!

What about older children who may not have developed a relationship with nature when they were younger, or who may have left it behind once they learned to read or started using an online device? It’s not impossible to develop a love of being in nature as an older child or adult, as many parents can tell you!

Photo credit: Wendy Hawkins (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Wendy Hawkins
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Encourage them by making an inviting space for them to enjoy their usual pastimes outdoors, perhaps on a porch or in a hammock. Create one or more semi-sheltered outdoor nooks where they feel they have some space of their own. This can be especially helpful for teens in a large family with a small house. A tree house is always a favorite, and building one might make a great family project!

Photo credit: Crawford Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Crawford Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Set out a picnic with enticing assemble-your-own ingredients so they’ll be engaged longer than it takes just to grab a handful and run back inside. Perhaps it would be helpful to mandate that certain juicy or drippy snacks, such as watermelon or popsicles, are only allowed outdoors!

If you have a fire pit and feel safe doing so, allow older children to build and tend a fire — and then cook their own snack or lunch on it. Fire needs to be tended, and someone needs to be outside tending it if they want to have the fun of cooking on it!

If your child is still reluctant, be flexible in your expectations and consider any time outside to be a success. Be patient and persistent. The natural world is can be very compelling. Once your child develops the habit of being outdoors, they will carry that with them for a lifetime.

Homegrown Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner, and with it comes a host of modern traditions and expectations that are exciting for some but may not be a good fit for all families. Creating wholesome seasonal traditions for our children can sometimes be challenging in this day and age. But with thought and care, it can be done.

There are many reasons why families might not choose to participate in trick-or-treating or other Halloween traditions. Some children are easily scared by Halloween imagery. Some families have religious or philosophical reasons to forego Halloween. Some children must avoid sugar or other ingredients present in candy traditionally given to trick-or-treaters. Some parents object to the act of collecting candy from neighbors. Some families are offended by the commercial twist on this holiday. Some live in locations where neighbors are scarce or unknown, and in some areas it’s not safe to go door-to-door.

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For some families, foregoing Halloween altogether is the right solution. But some of us have a nostalgic attachment to Halloween that we’d like to share with our children in some way. The turning of the seasons from summer to fall, the shortening of days, the arrival of chill air, the falling leaves, and the enticing harvest colors invite us to celebrate this special time of year.

One possibility is to host an old-fashioned seasonal party at home for family, friends, and fellow homeschoolers. My children and I kept this tradition for a number of years, and it held the lure of trick-or-treating at bay until a time in our family’s growth when that felt appropriate.

Ask each family to bring something yummy (preferably homemade or homegrown) for a harvest potluck table. Apples, cider, corn muffins, pumpkin bread, popcorn… A simmering pot of stew or chili on the stove can round things out if your party happens to be around lunch or dinner time.

Invite your guests, young and old, to come dressed in not-too-scary costumes. Those who need help might borrow from your dress-up bin if it’s placed in plain sight. An adult might offer face-painting. Start off the party with a festive “costume parade” and the opportunity for each participant to tell about their costume if they wish.

My children enjoyed making crafts and decorating the house in advance of the party. With a simple color theme — orange and black — anything they chose to make fit right in. We also played our favorite Wee Sing Halloween recording in the background, and it has remained a nostalgic seasonal favorite.

Offer a generous pile of seasonally themed craft supplies and simple ideas. Orange paper pre-cut into pumpkin shapes can become decorated “jack-o-lanterns,”
black cardstock can be made into bats, black pipe cleaners can become friendly spiders.

A basket of mini pumpkins and gourds can be beautifully decorated with black beeswax crayons. Orange, yellow, brown, and black construction paper and crayons, scissors and glue, and other open-ended supplies can become whatever little imaginations fancy.

Prepare a number of old-fashioned games for those who want to participate. Keep the emphasis on the fun and the competition gentle.

Here are some ideas for games that have worked well over the years:

  • bobbing for apples: We found that soft apples such as Macintosh work best for this. If your crowd has a low tolerance for potential germ transmission, this may not be an appropriate game, but for those who find it acceptable, it sure is fun!
  • pin the tail on the cat: (nose on the jack-o-lantern? branch on the tree?) There are many possible options for this game. Create a poster with an incomplete picture of something (such as a cat missing its tail), and make up many loose identical tails. Have each player write their names on them). Stick a piece of tape on each tail. Blindfold the player (“tail” in hand) and point them toward the poster. See whose piece gets stuck the closest to its target! (Blindfolded older players can be turned around gently a few times before setting off toward the target.)
  • sack race: We got burlap sacks free from our local coffee roaster, but pillowcases work well, too. Set up start and finish lines using ropes. Participants climb into a sack and hop from start to finish. Usually at least some of the players fall over and hilarious laughing ensues!
  • three-legged race: Use the same start/finish lines as the sack race. Use playsilks or other soft cloths for tying teammates’ legs together so that two people have “three” legs. Teams must run from start to finish as quickly as they can. As with the sack race, there is often great fun when teams lose their balance!
  • spoon relay race: We found googly eyeballs to use instead of hard-boiled eggs, but anything spoon-sized that is ball-shaped or egg-shaped will do! Team members should divide themselves between the start and finish lines. Each team gets a spoon and a ball (or egg/eye) to balance on it while they walk or run toward the finish line. When the first team member reaches the finish line, they hand the spoon to the next member, who heads back toward the start line. Try not to let the egg/ball/eye fall off the spoon! If it does, pick it up and keep going.
  • doughnuts on strings: Hang plain or cider doughnuts on string from the misc-Halloweenlow-hanging branch of a tree. Place them at varying heights based on the sizes of the participants. (Hint: Hang only one doughnut per person.) Ask each player to stand in front of their doughnut, hold their hands behind their back, and on the count of “ready, set, go!” try to eat it using just their mouth. Speed can vary; everyone wins a doughnut!
  • mummy wrap: This is a great game for groups with a wide range of ages. Form teams so that ages are fairly represented across the teams and olders can help the youngers. Each team gets a roll of toilet paper and chooses one person to be their mummy. Each team must wrap their mummy completely with toilet paper; first team to finish wins.
  • fishing-for-fortunes: Create a fishing pole from a dowel or twig, string, and a magnet tied at the end of the string. Make up strips of paper with happy fortunes written on them; curl them up and attach a paper clip to each one. Players dip the fishing pole into the bowl. When the magnet firmly attracts a paper clip, they pull it out and read their “catch”!

All of these games are appropriate for a wide range of ages, and parents or older children can help the younger ones. In most cases our parties shifted from games and snacks toward running around the yard shrieking and laughing. A bonfire would be a great addition if space and safety considerations allowed.

My children and those who attended our homegrown Halloween parties have fond memories and stories of the fun they had. What are your family’s homegrown traditions around Halloween? Do you have any suggestions to add?