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

Snowflakes!

Snowflake Photos by Wilson Bentley

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley

As I sit here this evening with a winter storm warning in effect for my area of New England, I am once again fascinated by how these tiny snow crystals can impact whole regions of the United States.

Some of you may have read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That story is about an actual winter storm that raced across the prairie lands of the United States in the winter of 1880-1881. In his book The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin gives an account of the deadly prairie blizzard of 1888 and he also gives an excellent description of the different types of snowflakes there are and what the conditions are that create them. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the science of snow!

The Native American Indians had many ways to predict the weather by observing what was happening in the natural world around them for clues. In the 1880’s the weather news was sent via telegraph across the United States from Army base to Army base. The weather often arrived before the news of its coming. Today we have the National Weather Service and technology to help us predict storms and to warn us of storms.

If you are interested in learning more about snow crystals, go to your library and find the book  Snowflake Bentley. You may also want to visit snowcrystals.com.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

                                Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

NORAD Tracks Santa!

Image from https://www.noradsanta.org/

Now that December has arrived, the holiday spirit is in full gear and children and families around the globe are excitedly making their special preparations. If Santa is celebrated in your home, you might like to join the NORAD Tracks Santa countdown that begins every year on December 1st.

This particular event hosted by NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has a wonderful story relating to how tracking Santa actually began. According to the NORAD Tracks Santa website:

On Dec. 24, 1955, a call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. However, this call was not from the president or a general. It was from a young child in Colorado Springs who was following the directions in an advertisement printed in the local paper – the youngster wanted to know the whereabouts of Santa Claus.

The ad said “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number.” However, the number was printed incorrectly in the advertisement and rang into the CONAD operations center.

On duty that night was Colonel Harry Shoup, who has come to be known as the “Santa Colonel.” Colonel Shoup received numerous calls that night and rather than hanging up, he had his operators find the location of Santa Claus and reported it to every child who phoned in that night.

Thus began a tradition carried on by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) when it was formed in 1958. Today, through satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters, NORAD tracks Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world.

Every year on December 24, fifteen hundred volunteers staff telephones and computers to answer calls and e-mails from children (and adults) from around the world. Live updates are provided through the NORAD Tracks Santa Website (in seven languages), over telephone lines, and by e-mail to keep curious children and their families informed about Santa’s whereabouts and if it’s time to get to bed.

Photo Credit: NORAD Tracks Santa
Photo Credit: NORAD Tracks Santa

If you visit Santa’s Village, you will discover there is even more than just the tracking of Santa on Christmas Eve. In Santa’s village, there is a Theater to watch movies, an Arcade to play a new game every day, a Music Stage for listening to Santa’s favorite holiday songs, and a Library to learn about Santa, his magic sleigh, and holiday traditions. There is even a gift shop you can visit!

For the past 62 years, NORAD Tracks Santa has provided a magical delight to families all over the world. If you are a Santa “believer”, then you just might like to join in these annual festivities!

Birding!

https://feederwatch.org/blog/

This time of year I start thinking about the birds in my area. The temperatures are dropping close to freezing. I see birds in great flocks swooping into the bird bath and landing on the feeder. Last week there were about 15 Common Grackles splashing and crowding into my bird bath. The winter is upon us here in New Hampshire. The birds need to eat quite a bit of food to keep up their energy for traveling south. Those that stay will need food all winter. I often look out the kitchen window in the winter to see a little black -capped chickadee at the feeder, and I wonder how it can keep warm. The tiny little feet and the skinny little legs look so vulnerable. They need high energy foods and lots of it! I know there are Oak Meadow students that enjoy watching and feeding the birds. If you do also, then you might like to join the Project FeederWatch that is a program of the Cornell University Lab of Orinthology.

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Project Overview, FeederWatch.org

Interesting bird facts can be found at: http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Birds_Kamm_Kuss/Pages/PAGE_HOME.html

Here’s one: The Common Grackle often allows ants to crawl over its body so that they may secrete formic acid, which is thought to kill parasites, a practice called anting. Besides formic acid from ants, the Common Grackle has been observed using various other substances, such as walnut juice, mothballs, lemons, limes, and choke cherries in similar ways.

Do you watch the birds? Do you keep a list of the birds you’ve seen? Let us know!

 

The Nutcracker Ballet

Edgar Degas painting - "Dress Rehearsal of the Ballet"

One of my favorite traditions during this time of year is watching the annual production of “The Nutcracker Ballet”. This grand holiday tradition dazzles and delights the audience with spectacular choreographed dancing, beautiful costumes, glorious scenery, and pyrotechnical magic as the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music is brought to life. “The Nutcracker” production is a very special performance for me, as it always brings back warm and wonderful memories of a magical family event during my children’s early home schooling years.

If taking your children to see “The Nutcracker Ballet” is a part of your holiday plans, then I highly recommend filling your home with the amazing orchestral soundtrack before you attend the performance. Since the performance is “told” in the form of music and dance, I also recommend reading aloud the story so your children can better understand the storyline during the performance. There are many books written about the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. One of my favorites is the original tale of Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann (in 1816), translated by Ralph Manheim, and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

If you are also interested in sharing a little history of this special ballet with your children, then I recommend the book, The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Cathy Gendron.

Who would ever have thought that during WW II, three small-town Utah boys interested in ballet would have  started this annual holiday tradition? “The Nutcracker Ballet” has retained its freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder in both children and adults. It is a memorable and magical event that every family should enjoy together at least once, if not every year as a family tradition.

Opt Outside with Oak Meadow

Oak Meadow Opt Outside

Oak Meadow is once again hosting our own version of REI’s #optoutside movement for Black Friday and the holiday weekend. We’ve coined it Oak Meadow Opt Outside, or #OMoptoutside on social media, because we want to see your photos of family time spent in the great outdoors!

Opt Outside started when REI decided to close their doors on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday, and to pay their employees for the day, urging them to get outside and reconnect with family, friends, and the great outdoors.

It’s a concept we loved and have been doing too since they started a few years ago, and we invite you to join us. Yes, we’ll have our Black Friday sale running. But we’ll also be outside running, playing tag, tossing a football, hiking, and generally enjoying the last of the good weather. When you come inside for a pumpkin pie or coffee break, browse our sale. We’re keeping it open until the end of Cyber Monday, so there’s no rush. Plenty of time to get it all in–food, family, fun, the great outdoors, AND 20% off.

We’re pretty fond of the idea of embracing gratefulness by being out in nature. We hope you are too. So join us for #OMoptoutside, tag us in your photos on Instagram and Facebook, then peruse our virtual bookstore!

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.)

 

 

10 Things to Do Before Your Homeschool Year Begins

Photo Credit: Ivey Family (Oak Meadow)

  1. Consider how your child has grown and changed since last year. What are they capable of now that would have been impossible last year? Think about last year’s homeschooling (or schooling) experience. What worked and what didn’t? Does your child need more or less of something this year? Do you need something to change this year?

    Photo Credit: Ivey Family
    (Oak Meadow)
  2. Make sure you have submitted any necessary paperwork to your state or province and received approval or a receipt if appropriate
  3. Organize and replenish your supplies. What sorts of things get used up fast in your house? How do you make those things readily available?
  4. Research, choose, and purchase your curriculum. Oak Meadow’s bookstore is a great place to start!
  5. Draft a daily rhythm. Consider it a starting point and be open to making changes in the early days and weeks of your school year. Make sure there is enough room for unstructured time each day.

    Photo Credit: Fischer Family
    (Oak Meadow)
  6. Investigate classes, activities, groups, and other activities. Research these things now; classes can fill up before the school year officially begins. Create a weekly schedule, considering how these options fit into your daily rhythm. Be sure to plan transition time and breathing room around activities.
  7. Plot out a yearly calendar. What seasons, holidays, themes will you engage with, and when? Where will you take “time off” from schooling, if that fits with your learning philosophy? Where do you need to focus more intensely on a holiday or other event? Where in the year will you take time to evaluate how things are working out?
  8. Make connections with other homeschoolers, or rekindle last year’s connections. If you don’t have other like-minded homeschoolers nearby, make connections online.

    Photo Credit: Fuller Family
    (Oak Meadow)
  9. Ask your children what they would like to get out of this upcoming year. Write it up and save it to revisit at the end of the year!
  10. Think about the ways in which you would like to grow as a parent, and consider what needs to happen to support your journey. We invest so much time and effort into our children’s experiences as homeschoolers; it is just as important to consider our own experiences and how we can have a healthy, happy homeschooling journey alongside our children.

THE AUGUST ECLIPSE!!

Solar and Lunar Eclipses Worldwide

Solar and Lunar Eclipses Worldwide

Hello! Here in New England we have had a good summer and it isn’t over yet! There are still weeks to go in August of lazy summer days and cool nights. Here at Oak Meadow one event we are all looking forward to is the upcoming eclipse on August 21, 2017. The following is a quick blast of great information from DeeDee Hughes, our Oak Meadow colleague:

Hi Folks,

We are all a little eclipse-crazy here in Corvallis, Oregon since we are in the “zone of totality” for viewing the total solar eclipse on August 21. I did some research and found this cool interactive map that shows the path of eclipses for years to come. I found a page where you can type in a city name and see what the eclipse will look like from there–I couldn’t resist checking out where friends and family members live. It’s fun to compare different places:  

Brattleboro VT

Santa Cruz CA

Corvallis OR

Seems like everyone in the country will be seeing something cool. Oh, and this article has good info about the solar eclipse glasses and how to tell if you have safe ones. 

I was wondering why the upcoming eclipse is being called “Eclipse of the Century” when they happen all the time, so I dug deeper. A total solar eclipse is different than an annular eclipse, but both have the moon lined up exactly in between Earth and the sun. In an annular eclipse, the moon moves fully in front of the sun but because the moon is further from the Earth at that time, there will be a “ring of fire” seen around the moon, rather than having the moon block the sun entirely the way it does in a total solar eclipse. The difference between an annular and a total solar eclipse is the distance between the moon and Earth. Here’s an article with a cool “ring of fire” photo. 

That’s my two cents on cool eclipse fun! DD

I’ll also add that EARTHSKY has a very good “Eclipse Day” checklist for getting ready for viewing. Be prepared, have fun, and enjoy the “Eclipse of the Century” with family and friends!

 

Stamp Collecting!

“The word ‘philatelist’ means a person who practices philately or stamp collecting. It comes from the French word ‘philatelie’, which was derived from the Greek words ‘philos’, meaning loving, and ‘atelia’, meaning exemption from tax which also came to mean ‘postage is prepaid.’.”

American Philatelic Society

The American Philatelic Society is the largest, nonprofit organization in the world for stamp collectors.

When I was little and traveled with my family, we didn’t have computers for emailing and so we wrote lots of letters to family and friends. We also made a tradition of mailing ourselves letters to our own home! We would go to a post office in a country or town that we were visiting, and purchase a special stamp. (You can ask the post master to show you what stamps he/she has available.) Then, using the stamp, we would mail the letter home to ourselves. It was fun to see the letters and the stamps when we arrived home. I don’t have a very big collection of stamps, but the ones that I do have hold some wonderful memories for me.

This year a really cool stamp is going to be offered! A first of its kind! Some background first:

You may have read that there is going to be a total eclipse of the sun across the United States this summer. (Monday, August 21, 2017.) People from all over the world will be coming to different spots in the United States to witness this solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse
Photo Credit: Public Domain

What does a solar eclipse have to do with a stamp? Well, the Postal Service will be offering a first-of-its-kind stamp! It changes when you touch it! The Postal Service announcement says: “The Total Eclipse of the Sun, Forever® stamp, which commemorates the August 21 eclipse, transforms into an image of the Moon from the heat of a finger.”

You can read the story of how the stamp was designed here.

If you would like to view other stamps that have commemorated eclipses, you can view them here.

So, as you travel to new places, or even stay in your hometown, take a look at the many stamps that the post office has to offer!

P. S.  Looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse can be dangerous; here’s a way to enjoy the eclipse without hurting your eyes: http://hilaroad.com/camp/projects/eclipse_viewer/eclipse_viewer.html