Hibernation & Torpor

Photo Credit: Kelli Larkspur

Thanks to Oak Meadow’s K-4 teacher, Sarah Antel, for this wonderful addition to our blog. 

As autumn finally settles in Vermont, I always notice mental and physical changes in myself. I am found in the kitchen making soups, stews, and bread, I pick up the handwork I abandoned last spring with renewed interest, and I often feel fatigued as the early evening darkness falls; a purring cat on my lap helps this state of calm occur more easily.

Even though it may seem many plants have died outside with a morning frost, I see this season as a time of rest and ultimately, renewal. A good rest often helps one to rise refreshed and ready to work. Winter is nature’s time to rest. The trees have dropped their leaves and stored the food they made in their roots, plants of all kinds have scattered their seeds, and many animals are nesting in warm places, preparing for the winter respite.

As winter draws near, people often remark that animals are getting ready to hibernate. This statement is only accurate for a handful of animals here in the Northeast. If animals do not migrate or stay active in the winter months, many enter a state of torpor, or light hibernation during the colder weather; most do not hibernate.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke

An animal that is considered a “true hibernator” stores fat reserves, their breathing slows to as little as one breath a minute, their heart rate often registers at four beats per minute, and their body temperature lowers close to the temperature of the surrounding air. Often, these creatures will not awaken, even if they are handled. The only animals that are true hibernators in the North East are bats, groundhogs, and jumping mice. Many other animals, including bears, go into torpor. These animals’ bodies stay very close to their normal temperatures. Additionally, their breathing and heart rates do not slow. They are easily awakened and will often be found foraging for food during a warm spell. Reptiles, like snakes, can be found in dens in a state of torpor, but they will sometimes be seen warming themselves when the sun’s rays beckon. Amphibians bury themselves in the soil, often at the bottom of a pond. But these creatures also can awaken during the winter as some people have spied them moving about below ice.

Although the winter season may seem like a silent time for nature, there is still an abundance of activity and life beneath the blanket of snow. If you live in a place where snow falls in the winter, you may want to set up a subnivean zone board so you can observe some activity that happens below the snow. Once there is some snow on the ground, lay a wide piece of wood like a large piece of plywood, over some seeds you sprinkle on top of the snow. In a few days, gently lift the board to peek underneath. Many of the seeds may be gone and you may see a network of tunnels under the board. The subnivean zone is the area in and underneath the snowpack where some small mammals like mice, voles, and shrews live out the winter and forage for food. Staying in the subnivean zone helps to protect them from predators and insulates them from the cold winter air. Sprinkle more seeds throughout the winter so these creatures can have a place to find food and you can make scientific observations all winter-long.

This post was written by Oak Meadow’s K-4 teacher, Sarah Antel. 

Homeschooling and Joy

Photo Credit: Lisa Kates White

“The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.” – Fra Giovanni

The following article, “Homeschooling and Joy”, was written by Oak Meadow co-founders, Lawrence and Bonnie Williams. It was sent in a newsletter to the Oak Meadow teachers and staff in October 1991. After personally experiencing a joyful occasion with homeschooling families, friends and fellow colleagues at last month’s Oak Meadow Open House, I am reminded of the true value of the message in this archived article. Twenty-six years later, these words of wisdom are definitely worth repeating and sharing with all of you.

One of the best tools a homeschooling parent can use for successful teaching is Joy. Joy is as natural to a child as talking and walking. When there is joy and laughter in the home, children will quite naturally want to enter into learning relationships with their parents. Not only does laughter create an atmosphere of receptivity toward learning, it also triggers the productions of chemicals in the body which have positive health effects. 

Joy can be expressed through singing, dancing, funny stories, and poking fun at ourselves. It’s very important not to take ourselves too seriously. Life can be serious enough at times without adding our own weight to it. When we are able to poke fun at our own mistakes and idiosyncrasies, children will be more likely to admit their own mistakes and weaknesses – an important first step in the learning process. 

At times, however, the challenges of life seem to be too great, and joy seems out of the question. How can we experience joy in such times?

Photo Credit: The Zietz Family

First, it helps to put the affairs of our lives in perspective. Most of what happens to us is not nearly as serious as we make it out to be. What makes it seem so serious is that it shatters our concepts about how things should be. If we can let go of our expectations and just embrace the experience as it is, we can usually find joy hidden in the very heart of that experience. 

Second, we have to remember that joy isn’t something that happens to us – it’s something we create. Visitors to third world countries are often surprised to find children laughing and playing games in the midst of oppressive poverty and hunger. Even in the midst of the most crushing circumstances, joy is always alive within us, but it remains hidden until we make a conscious choice to express it. When we do this, not only do we bring it to those around us, but we experience it ourselves. 

As we experience more joy in the homeschooling environment, we will find that we have more energy as well. Researchers have found that laughter actually stimulates the adrenal glands and triggers the chemical production of endorphins in the brain. These endorphins act as tranquilizers, which leave us feeling calmer and less anxious about the events happening around us. So we can see that laughter is not only beneficial for us emotionally, but physically as well.

As Lawrence and Bonnie Williams emphasized in their article, a healthy learning environment should be full of joy. Therefore, as each new day springs forth, we need to keep our hearts open to the gift of joy.

Thus, take joy and enjoy…with joy!

 

My Dictionary is My Best Friend!

dictionary, collegiate, college, book

A classic dictionary, photo via Wikimedia Commons

“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
https://www.brainyquote.com

For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!

With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.

Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!

While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:

Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder. 

Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.

Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.

Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!

Enjoy learning new words~

 

 

Samhain

The last of the harvest is collected.  Bonfires bring light into the dwindling sunlight hours.  Masks and costumes decorate the night full of merriment and somber reflection.  The cycle of the seasons mirror the cycle of life.  And festivals acknowledge these annual events.  Around the world different festivals are celebrated remembering those who have passed. … Continue reading "Samhain"

The last of the harvest is collected.  Bonfires bring light into the dwindling sunlight hours.  Masks and costumes decorate the night full of merriment and somber reflection.  The cycle of the seasons mirror the cycle of life.  And festivals acknowledge these annual events.  Around the world different festivals are celebrated remembering those who have passed.  Samhain, (pronounced  sah-win or sow-in)  in the Celtic tradition is one such observance.

Samhain means summer’s end, which celebrates the end of the harvest.  It is also a festival of the dead, where families and friends gather and light candles in honor of the departed.  The date of the festival is observed at the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, October 31 – November 1.

Samhain is celebrated in many ways including reflective nature walks; seasonal decorations; an altar for the dead; stories of the dead;  bonfires and feasting, and wearing of traditional costumes.  It is thought to be one of the original festivals connected to the Halloween traditions of many western countries, (All Hallow’s Eve).

Photo Credit: Liljegren Family

Whatever traditions you observe at this time of the year, keep your inner light shining, notice the changes around you, and listen to or tell stories of your ancestors or other important aspects of your culture.  

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

For those of you living in the Southern Hemisphere, what traditions do you have at this time of year?

“Celebrating Samhain.”  Circle Sanctuary, www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/celebrating-the-seasons/celebrating-samhain, Date: October 21, 2017

This post was written by Kay Gibson, Oak Meadow’s Interim K-8 Director. 

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part Two

Photo by Cindie Young

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.” – Sleeping Beauty

Fairy tales and other traditional stories offer children many chances to witness the struggle of “good” versus “evil”. By introducing this in oral story form, children can connect with the parts that are important for their individual development at that point in time. When told in a matter-of-fact way, and from an adult who believes in the story’s merit and its place in child development, children will naturally relate to the underlying, archetypal themes of the stories. With this approach, the child’s imagination will not be taken to a place that is too frightening or disturbing, or be forced to focus on elements that are emotionally-charged in the adult perspective.

Fairy tales provide a reference for all the fears conjured up in a child’s world. Facing these fears at a young age can help the child to move through different challenges in later years and stages of life. Fairy tales are a way for the child to imagine—in the safety of the mind’s eye—what it feels like to be scared, honorable, brave, selfless, selfish, frustrated, wicked, embarrassed, silly, giddy, left out, confused, and more. This is one of the ways in which social and emotional intelligence is fortified. Many parents feel the need to sanitize stories to remove all the challenging elements, and yet stories that are grounded in archetypal themes can help children grow into strong adults.

Photo by Brooke Doughty

Parents can often be at odds with the fairy tales because the characters are narrowly defined, known for their beauty, cruelty, foolishness, cleverness, or other singular attribute. Their actions are also, to the adult mind, frustratingly stereotyped: a princess waits for her prince, a simpleton loses his way, a wicked person tricks an innocent. While it’s tempting to attach these characters to their genders, orientations, or race, it is important to remember that archetypes speak to the universal traits that all human beings have within: the valiant solider, the trickster, the loving nurse, the wicked witch, the noble prince, the sweet and caring mother, the beautiful maiden, the knowledgeable father, and the lonely hero. We all are every character inside.

Fairy tales and traditional stories show that good overcomes evil, and provide children with an unconscious sense of empowerment when they face their own personal struggles. It is important for children to have an inner sense that good will prevail. We want young children to believe and embrace that the world is good.

Of course, not every story will resonate with every student or every parent. For this reason, Oak Meadow parents are asked to read the tales before telling them to their child and to modify or substitute when necessary. In addition, you are encouraged to read and choose stories that will meet the needs of your individual child. That’s the challenge of teachers in any educational setting: to meet the children where they are and to encourage them forward from there.

This post was co-written by Leslie Daniels and DeeDee Hughes, Oak Meadow’s Director of Curriculum Development. 

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part One

Photo Credit: Cassell Family

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” 
― Albert Einstein

Fairy tales and other traditional stories are an essential part of childhood development, which is why they have lived on for centuries as a rich oral tradition and have remained in the Oak Meadow curriculum. Oral storytelling is a flexible art that allows stories to be adapted to the audience. Many stories that we know from our childhoods were adapted from stories our parents heard as children. In the same tradition, we encourage Oak Meadow parents to tell the stories in their own words rather than reading them verbatim. This lets each parent make changes that reflect their own values and life situation. This is the true spirit of oral storytelling.

Telling the stories aloud with no pictures accompanying the story helps children develop listening skills as well as the ability to create the images in their minds. Repeatedly retelling the story allows opportunities for children to join in telling the story, which enhances the personal images and allows them to focus on story elements that have personal relevance. The home teacher can also incorporate into the stories nature, family members, friends, and neighbors as a way of making them more personal and meaningful. The underlying themes of a good story are never gender- or race-based, but embody archetypes that are part of the human experience. Changing superficial elements of a story to make it more relatable will not affect the archetypes of the Nurturer, Leader, Jokester, Hero, Mentor, Innocent, or Villain. Retelling stories, drawing pictures, acting out the stories, putting on puppet presentations, or creating dioramas offer opportunities for children to absorb and reflect the underlying themes.

Another tip for telling an archetypal story is to verbally share without too much of an emotional tone ~ especially the emotions in the home teacher’s voice that might instill fear, anger, resentment, etc. As an adult with a rich history and varied experiences, you will respond to the archetypes in a story very differently than a child will. Telling the story without adding layers of your own emotional expression of the story events will allow your child to filter it through a childlike lens.

It’s also invaluable to allow children to absorb the story without interruption, both during the storytelling and afterwards. Talking with a child about every little detail of a story is an established habit for many adults. In fact, it’s practically a cultural norm now for children to be asked to talk about their feelings, impressions, and opinions. This may originate from the belief that we need to encourage children to be more aware and continually teach and quiz them to “make them smart.” It might stem from the efforts to treat the child as an equal voice in the family to build self-esteem and confidence. When a parent is conditioned to “discuss” a fairy tale’s disturbing images with children, this focus on specific elements unnaturally emphasizes details over underlying themes. Discussing the tales afterwards only brings an adult perspective and awareness to story elements and prevents children from developing and using their own filters, based on their developmental stage. Letting the story rest in the child’s mind and heart, and than asking for the child’s interpretation of the story the next day will be of greater benefit.

This post was co-written by Leslie Daniels and DeeDee Hughes, our Director of Curriculum Development. 

Guidelines for Home Teachers

Photo Credit - Porco Family

Photo Credit - Porco Family

Oak Meadow founders, Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, believe that, in order to manifest a child’s education successfully, certain guidelines must be followed. Here are detailed guidelines for helping in the teaching process:

Clear a physical as well as psychological space: There should exist a particular spot where the student does work. It should be well stocked with supplies: main lesson book, additional paper for first drafts, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, highlighters, folders, notebooks, etc. In addition, it should be organized in some designated way so that order may be restored at the end of the learning period. Most importantly, it should be a pleasant place to be and one that is well lighted, with maybe an appropriate poster on the wall. There should be a comfortable chair with back support; however, chairs that encourage lounging are to be avoided.

A time must be set aside so the student knows not to plan other activities for that period of time. It does not work well to choose the time on a daily basis. The brain needs a rhythm and will come to a focus more easily as the lesson time approaches if it is a consistent time each day.

When a physical as well as psychological space have been cleared for schoolwork, half the battle with the undisciplined mind has been won.

Focus: If a student is having difficulty with focusing attention or understanding, the home teacher should sit beside the student and act as the “grounding agent” to bring the student to a point of focus. Ungrounded students must slowly be drawn into their lessons. For example, in grade 4 (and higher), a new sense of independence is encouraged in the coursework. However, this does not mean the student does everything independently. At the beginning of a new lesson, the home teacher should ask the student to read a paragraph, then ask the student to share the main idea of the paragraph. Highlight the word or words which are the main idea. Proceed to the next paragraph repeating the process. At the end of each page, the student should read back all the material that has been highlighted. Then putting paper or books aside, the home teacher should ask the student what was just read.

It may be slow and tedious at first, but as the brain stretches, the student will pick up speed. Always emphasize quality understanding over quantity of work done. Perhaps the student only does a fraction of the assignments while learning how to focus and organize the brainwork, which is fine. Accept this and praise the student for the fine progress. The only requirement is that you witness sincere progress.

How long each day should a home teacher focus with a student? At least one hour a day should be set aside for this kind of focused attention. The home teacher should not be in and out, but rather seated with the student for the whole hour without interruptions. Perhaps the home teacher may cover social studies and language arts three days a week and science two days a week in this manner for half an hour each day; and math for half an hour every day. Then the student should be left alone for another hour every day to do the assignment that can reasonably be done independently. This time should be eventually lengthened to three hours a day for a total amount of time spent on school work, with two of the hours being independent learning. More than that would be discouraging for the student who needs lots of time for physical activities.

When learning is difficult and a student is asked to spend more than three hours struggling through without help, it leads to burn out and the student shuts down altogether. Balance is very important. After each hour, the student should get up and do something physical. If the student has low blood sugar, offer at least one snack during the three hour period. The most important consideration is the rhythm of the schedule. The student should not be allowed to get up and go outside and get involved and forget the schoolwork. It should be more like a fifteen minute recess with an expectation that the work will be continued until the work for the day is completed, even if it is short of the assignment in the curriculum. (If enrolled in the school, Oak Meadow teachers are always willing to work with a student who needs a reduced load.)

Caring: Children need to feel that somebody cares about their work each day. The home teacher should read over the work and discuss it with the student. Praise and celebration for victories won are very important for all students, but especially the unfocused student. They need constant reminders that they are progressing and doing well. It is important to remind students where they have come from and how much they are accomplishing.

Accept your student with the present abilities: Do not present material the student is not ready for. Pressure creates negative stress and causes the mind to shut down. Begin with a review of material the student already knows, to get the mind moving and flowing. Then present the new material.

Remedial Students: If your student needs remedial work, choose one thing at a time to work on. For example, when working with reading comprehension and writing, do not be concerned about grammar initially. Then when the student is comfortable with the daily process, add grammar. Work with one grammar rule at a time. Start with each sentence beginning with a capital letter and ending with a punctuation mark. Proceed to capitalization rules, then punctuation, expanding sentences with adjectives and adverbs, then conjunctions, etc. If a student is a poor speller, present five words a week from the Dolch list. Also provide many ways to learn these words. Focus is the key to success.

Physical Activity: Emphasize the importance of daily physical activities to help the integration process. The martial arts are a wonderful tool for integration, as are walking and dance. Studies indicate that academic performance improves with daily vigorous physical activity. Discourage TV watching during the day.

Learning Styles: Become aware of your student’s learning style. Some people learn auditorily, others visually, and some are bodily kinesthetic learners. The best teachers use all three modes of teaching.

If your student is a visual learner, drawing pictures or diagrams will help to remember information. If your student learns best through hearing the information explained, share an hour each day with your student and explain the material being covered. Make up songs and jingles to remember key points. Some students learn best by teaching it to somebody else. Be a willing student and let your student teach you the material. Skits are great for learning.

Purchase a lap-size white board with marker (fruit flavored without the toxic fumes) so your student can draw, diagram, write jingles, and teach. Use it daily and you will be amazed at its effectiveness as a teaching tool.

I hope these guidelines will be helpful in making your home schooling adventure a very successful one. Wishing you all the best for an exciting year of learning!

Monarch Migration

Photo Credit: US Fish & Wildlife

Monarch Migration

Oak Meadow’s science coursework in grades k-4 includes 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. 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. 

Help track Monarch migration!

Photo Credit: The Liljegren Family

Awareness of the threats to pollinating insects is growing, and these beneficial pollinators need our help now more than ever. The Monarch butterflies have seen a population decline over 90% in recent years. Researchers and citizen scientists have been tagging the beautiful, graceful Monarch butterflies for many years. In fact, back in the late 1970s, tagging led to the discovery of the Monarchs’ wintering ground in Mexico.

Oak Meadow students have the perfect opportunity to participate in a Citizen Science project that can help to monitor an important population of pollinators. Here are a few sites that offer ways to assist in this exciting Monarch migration:

https://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/AboutFall.html

https://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/citizen_science.pdf

Photo Credit: The Liljegren Family

Focus, Process & Relationship

Photo Credit: Jennie Smith-Pariola

There are various principles and tools of Oak Meadow education that can help to enhance the teaching of your children and to make your homeschooling endeavors easier and more enjoyable. One of the most important principles of Oak Meadow education is the triangle we call FOCUS, PROCESS, and RELATIONSHIP, for it is the basis of education.

Children have a natural desire and eagerness to learn about everything that surrounds them in their daily lives. As parents and home teachers, you have the natural desire to treasure and nurture these “gifts” in your children. The way to do this is by providing a safe environment that revolves around the FOCUS, PROCESS, and RELATIONSHIP triangle.

Let’s first discuss FOCUS. Early elementary children often find it difficult to maintain a point of focus on their own, so it is important that teachers must learn to be the focused leader in the children’s school lessons. If you, as the guide and the home teacher, can truly focus or be able to direct your total attention, then you will discover that, as a focused adult, you can help your children to also become focused. Children naturally respond to the attitudes, thoughts, and feelings of their environment, so if they experience you as a focused individual, it will be much easier for them to also attain this important quality.

The way to become focused is by engaging in the PROCESS. You can experience process through focusing upon anything; however, the quality of your experience is deeply affected by what you choose to focus upon. You must keep in mind that the end result or goal should not be the main point of focus. Although you might have in mind a certain plan of action for your children’s main lesson, it is more important to enjoy the process rather than to focus solely on the goal.

This is also where RELATIONSHIP enters into the triangle. RELATIONSHIP is the result of FOCUS and PROCESS. If you share a process in a focused manner, and focus on the process itself, then the relationship develops.

There are three important ingredients needed to develop a successful relationship. They are the same three ingredients that nurture true intelligence: love, warmth, and acceptance. To totally accept, support, and affirm the goodness and true being of your children allows them to engage in an activity that is enjoyable, where there is no judgment, and where the love flows easily. If any of these ingredients are left out, there will be a noticeable decrease in the ability to create a safe, learning environment.

A safe, loving, and focused experience can occur anytime or place – even with a baby on your lap or other children in the room. But the most essential thing to remember is to instruct your children only when they are in a state of receptivity. True learning is very different from memorization and repetition, and a focused child enjoying a shared process learns easily and quickly. A child who learns in this focused manner will be an enthusiastic learner for life.

Research!

research

research

The Oak Meadow curriculum has awesome projects as assignments that lead to investigating all sorts of things! For instance, the 7th graders can research Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, or the clothing styles of the Renaissance period. The 8th graders can spend time searching for information on immigrants, a Superior Court Judge, or a country of their choice. These types of projects are fun and interesting as students examine, explore, and research! Researching leads to learning about new things and to the discovery of new facts. That’s why finding a reliable source for research is so important.

Many of my students, when they first start using the internet for their research, aren’t quite sure where to go for reliable sources. They often find a Wiki website such as Wikipedia. (The website Wikipedia is a type of encyclopedia. There are thousands of types of Wiki websites.)

Unfortunately, a wiki website is not a reliable source for valid information. Wikipedia is an example of a wiki site in which many people can edit, collaborate, add, and delete information. There are no actual “authors” of the content. For this reason wikis are not used in schools as a reliable resource for information. Oak Meadow does not accept their use.

Oak Meadow’s teachers tell students to use other sources and will not accept wiki websites in bibliographies from the students. WHY? BECAUSE all wiki sites are created and edited by ANYONE. That’s right! ANYONE. Any person that has a computer and the internet can put information onto a wiki site.

If you are looking for reliable sites for your research, turn to the local library, your local reference librarian, or your school’s own digital library. Since Oak Meadow is a distance learning school, it does offer a digital library to all its enrolled students. If your school doesn’t have a library or a digital library, the American Library Association has the Great Websites for Kids that is a really great place to start for reliable websites.

Enjoy the researching and investigating!