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

The Outdoor Classroom

The Best Kind of Classroom
by Ian MacMillan

This is the best kind of classroom,
No walls, just sky and trees.
This is the best kind of classroom:
No radiators, just a gentle breeze.
You can learn here well, as the birds sing
About your place in the scheme of things.
You can make up poems about woodland flowers.
Why it’s almost as good at the Literacy Hour!

nature
Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

Yes, spring has sprung, and even though many parts of the world are still covered in snow and/or experiencing other wintry conditions, it’s that time of year to think about spending more quality time outdoors. Spring is often when our minds and bodies are yearning more than ever to get some fresh air and to stretch our legs. Perhaps you may just want to dip your toes into the cool water in order to sense the revitalization of the new season, or perhaps you might like to indulge in a more active role through game playing.

Active, outdoor games are always enticing to play this time of year; and what better way is there to spend time with your children than by playing games? Right outside your door, you and your children could play marbles, hopscotch or other sidewalk chalk games, such as tic-tac-toe or hangman. Jumping rope, flying kites, blowing bubbles, or even washing the family car (or your bikes) can be enjoyable outdoor experiences.

IMG_0941
Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

If you want to keep the outdoor activities on a more educational level and relating to the current school lessons, you might include: exploring nature and observing new signs of spring, taking a conducted sensory walk, practicing math skills with natural objects, writing a journal entry on a picnic table at a local park, gathering wild edibles for your upcoming cooking project, composing a poem by your favorite tree, painting a picture with a feather you found, or helping with a community clean-up event!

The creator of the website, “Mess For Less”, provides ideas and activities for playful learning with kids. You might enjoy viewing the ideas offered in 25 Outdoor Learning Games.

Jump Into Spring!

Jump Jim Joe

Jump, jump, jump Jim Joe!

Shake your head and nod your head and tap your toe.

Round and round and round you go,

‘Til you find another partner and you jump Jim Joe!

(American Tradition)

It’s official! Spring has arrived! It’s time to jump for joy! 

As we all know, spring is the season of the year when everything comes alive in nature. Spring begins on the day the center of the sun is directly over the equator. This year, the spring equinox (also known as the vernal equinox) arrived on March 20th, as the sun crossed the equator and started moving northward. As the sun travels north, its rays strike the northern countries more directly each day. Spring will last until June 21st; hence, summer arrives! (In the southern hemisphere, spring begins in September and ends in December.)

Springtime brings a new sense of renewal and rejuvenation, and everything bursts forth with a revitalized energy. It always seems like children grow springs on their feet in springtime, for their physical activities heighten at this time of year. One of my favorite activities to share with children during the season of spring is jump roping. It is an old traditional favorite that is often forgotten. Not only is it extremely enjoyable, it also builds physical endurance and is healthy for the heart.

I recently attended a basketball game at a local university. A troupe of jump ropers called the Firecrackers performed at halftime. They are an awe-inspiring performance jump rope team of physically skilled 4th-8th graders from the Kings Local School District in Ohio. They perform at venues around the country, and have even performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a Presidential Inauguration, and on The David Letterman Show. Your children will delight in watching one of their video performances.

Anna Banana bookThe Firecrackers’ amazing feats with their ropes inspired me to get out my own jump rope. I have especially enjoyed sharing with my local home school students a number of jump rope rhymes I remembered from my childhood. If you are inspired to jump rope with your children, here is an excellent website that offers a plethora of rhymes. You might also look for a book of jump rope rhymes the next time you are visiting your local library. One of my favorite books is  Anna Banana – 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes, written by the author of The Magic School Bus series, Joanna Cole.

So, now that spring has arrived, we delight in witnessing flowers bursting into bloom, birds beginning their nesting rituals, and bunnies happily hopping about. Spring is the time to shake off winter and explore the great outdoors. Watch your kites soar, splash through puddles, poke some fat pea seeds into the earth, hop like a bunny, or just jump for joy. There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate the arrival of spring!

UP With Words!

I woke UP this morning, and after getting UP, watching the sun come UP and drinking UP my cUP of tea, I began thinking UP words. UP on top of my list was the word, UP. “What’s UP with UP?” I asked myself. If you look UP the word, UP, in the dictionary, you will discover that its origins come from Old English and its first known use was before the 12th century. It can be identified as a noun, a verb, or an adverb, adjective or preposition; and as you can tell from reading this blogpost, it can also be used as an idiomatic expression.

upwords_lrgThere are so many ways to use the word, UP, in your vernacular. Here is a fun blogsite that brings us UP to date with all the ways we can use the word, UP. Now it’s your turn to come UP with your own word to play with. It’s totally UP to you, but what I know is that this two-letter word has brightened UP my day! So start UP your day by smiling UP to your ears. Look UP and read UP on your favorite word of the day. Then load UP The 5th Dimension song, “UP, UP and Away“, pull UP a chair and write a poem with your UPstanding children using the UP word family – or – you might even come UP with the idea of playing a word-building board game such as “Scrabble” or “UPwords”!

Thumbs UP for the words that keep us UP on top of the world!