Each season in New England, where I live, brings a different type of outdoor play. Fall brings the crisp, cool days good for hiking and biking and playing in fallen leaves. Winter is full of building snow people and snow caves, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and ice fishing, sledding, and hiking. Spring takes us outdoors to enjoy sunning and fishing, kayaking in full rushing rivers, canoeing on lakes in newly melted waters, and playing in mud! Summer lets us rest by the lakeside, take trips to the ocean, bike, hike, and picnic.
When we can’t “go somewhere”, the city streets may look boring to some kids, but in my city neighborhood I see groups of kids that really love playing outside! Some have unicycles that keep them happy going up and down the sidewalk. They’ve gotten really good at it! They also have a permanent hopscotch pattern made on the street. A boy and his friends roll a basketball hoop onto the street and dunk baskets for hours. Smaller children seem to enjoy endless hours of tossing a ball back and forth.
As this beautiful spring season brought the kids outside, I got to thinking about all the wonderful street games there are to play. At our library we have a terrific book, Go Out and Play!: Favorite Outdoor Games From Kaboom. It is published by Candlewick Press. I recently discovered Kaboom which is an organization dedicated to getting kids to play! Check it out! Here’s a terrific list of games to play: Streetplay.com: The Games
Getting outside doesn’t mean you have to be active either. Just being outside can bring its rewards. Watching the spring flowers grow in my garden has been a wonderful activity for me lately. The Oak Meadow science curriculum has many assignments that lead students outside for observation and study of the natural world. One 6th grade student just sent me her leaf prints in the study of leaf venations. She wrote that she had so much fun looking at the different types of leaves she found, and also observing how they grew on the stems before picking them. Another student, in the study of Helen Keller in 7th grade social studies, spent a day outside blindfolded with noise canceling headphones on to simulate being blind and deaf. His reflections on the experience were amazing to read.
So, get on your sneakers, get a bike, a ball, or a nature journal, and head outside! I hope you all have a chance to play today!
We love moms at Oak Meadow, and we love to celebrate them! While we wholeheartedly seek to celebrate and serve moms (and families) every day, we particularly love that there is a day set aside JUST to honor this special superhero in our lives.
This nature confetti is a simple, fun project your kids will love to create for your Mother’s Day gift.
First, go on a nature hunt! You’re looking for leaves and grasses that are wide and sturdy enough to be hole-punched. Ivy, Magnolia and slightly dried dandelion and daffodil greens worked great for us. It’s also nice to pick some small buds, violets, dandelions or other flowers/petals to add to the mix.
Then gather your hole punches. Set to work! Let little hands use the bigger punches, and bigger hands use the smaller punches, to create a mix of shapes and sizes. Mix it all together, and spread the love (and confetti) far and wide!
We’ve also created this printable card for you…print it on an 8.5×11 piece of paper and have your kids draw a special Mother’s Day picture for mom in the blank space.
Thanks, Moms! You are APPRECIATED and you INSPIRE us!
These looms are the perfect way to connect nature and art, and a lovely nature craft to celebrate Earth Day! Earth Day is a day that was created to promote awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment and occurs each year on the 22nd of April. It is the largest, most celebrated environmental event worldwide! Earth day was established by Gaylord Nelson in 1970 (we’ll be posting more about it on Sunday!).
“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” Gaylord Nelson
-Sticks for loom base
-String, yarn, twine, rope, cable, fiber, anything you can use as a cord. We used kite string.
-Nature hunt items- flowers, twigs, grasses, bamboo, stems, leaves etc.
1.) Make your loom.
I had my boys go out and hunt for sticks. Once we had a good pile of sticks, I showed them how lash them together. I had them twist and turn our kite string around and around two sticks to make them perpendicular. My children are a little younger so I explained that we would be making the letter L with the sticks. This was much easier for my 7 year old, it was a bit frustrating for my younger son so I made one for him while he was happily playing around us while we made our L shapes.
Once we had two L shapes I told my son we were going to connect them to make a square shape. He connected the two L’s and made a square. You can make your loom any shape you prefer, any shape works!! We ended up making another one with a curved stick we found. We tied on in the middle, my son held it up while I wrapped and wrapped string around until we thought it was perfect. (see pictures)
Once you have your shape, tie a piece of string to one of the corners. Make sure to give yourself enough string to make plenty of loops for your loom. You will then wrap around and around the square to get your loom ready for weaving. (A tip to keep the string from sliding is to wrap it around the stick twice before moving on to the next line. We didn’t do this and our strings were not anchored and would slide around, but still worked great!) When you are happy with how it looks tie it off onto one of the sticks to anchor. I let my son do this independently so it is not perfectly straight or very taut but it doesn’t have to be, as long as you have a way to weave in and out it will work. I love how his turned out and he was so proud of it. I was worried it wasn’t going to be taut enough for the treasures to stay put but it all worked out. I was there to lend a hand if he needed it. I did have to help a bit with tying them off and holding the base while he wrapped but he did great!
Your loom is ready for the next step!
Nature hunt!! Go outside and play, collecting treasures as you go. We collected bamboo, big leaves, little leaves, flowers, twigs, grasses, shells, feathers, rocks anything that caught their eyes. While we were nature hunting we also picked up trash. It still amazes me that people litter?? I just don’t get it and I don’t think I ever will. We make it a point to pick up trash every time we go to a park and I encourage you to do the same. It only takes a couple minutes and you leave the environment better off than when you arrived, it feels good. Just make sure to wash those hands when you are done!
Once you have your items start weaving them throughout your loom. The results are wonderful. We made a couple looms and once I was done taking pictures I hung them outside so that we can continue to weave in treasures as we find them.
I have seen these looms a couple of times and always was a little intimidated by them but don’t be. We made the looms one day and did our nature hunt the next day. My sons couldn’t wait to put in their treasures!
Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are heading into spring and many of us are looking forward to growing vegetables in our own summer gardens. In my state we have a Cooperative Extension Service that provides lots of information and offers activities about farming in my area. With snow still on the ground, I’m dreaming of planting my garden. Since I’m in the city, I’m planning to start small this year with a few tomato plants in big pots, and some spinach and onions in a small bed. I look forward to my tiny harvest of spaghetti sauce!
We know that human activity does pollute the environment and that it can cause climate changes. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one way of helping to limit climate change. We also now know that driving a car is a major cause of climate change as the car emissions release carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. One way greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced is by growing one’s own food so that driving to market doesn’t happen so often. So, planting seeds is a great start to reducing the pollution of our planet!
Wishful thinking doesn’t make my garden grow, so first I have to buy some seeds and soil. Since my growing season is so short, I have to start my plants indoors. Many of you using the Oak Meadow science curriculum are planting seeds, recording their growth, and also exploring and reporting on different types of soils. This website from the Smithsonian National Museum of History is awesome: Dig It! The Secrets of Soil. I compost vegetable and fruit matter so I have some good soil to start with. I’ll also purchase some organic soil from a local landscape supplier to mix in. You may have studied the plant kingdom in the Oak Meadow 6th grade science curriculum and learned the difference between gymnosperms and angiosperms. I’ll be planting some angiosperms! My south facing windows will be a perfect place for starting my plants.
This student found a good spot outside to start the seeds!
If you are planting your own garden, and when you have a break from your farming, here’s a fun game to play to maintain a sustainable farm that grows healthy crops and reduces emissions! You might also enjoy reading Thor Hanson’s book The Triumph of Seeds. Visit his website to learn more about this.
What are you planting? What are some ways that you help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in your community?
Who else is ready for Spring?!? We have some fresh blooms and it is so exciting, beautiful, and awakening! It inspired us to make a flower craft. A great Easter gift, Spring craft or even a Mother’s day card!
“Came the Spring with all its splendor, All its birds and all its blossoms, All its flowers, and leaves, and grasses.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Cardboard egg carton
Paint – we used washable tempera paint
Background paper – we used a previous art project that was done on watercolor paper. It’s best to use a thicker paper will hold weight better
Construction paper – for stems and vase
1. I cut the egg carton before giving them to my children because its kind of tricky and I have smaller kiddos. Great hand work for older kids, even for me!! Cut off the round part of the egg carton so you just end up with the oval/bowl portion. I cut mine off and then cleaned them up after I had them separated from the whole.
2. Paint your egg carton bowls to your hearts desire. We had fun mixing red, pink, and purple with peach and then added two yellow flowers for a pop of color. This part gets a little messy for the smaller children so we did it outside but a drop cloth would also work!
3. Construction paper for stems and vase. You could even have them design their vase to their liking. We left ours blank because of the busy background. Another option would be to use another previous art project. I have a pile of art that I love to pull from. Of course I didn’t think of that until too late but in hindsight I would have used an old project for the vase! We may have to make another one…
4. Background- we used a previous project for our background. I’m always looking for ways to use previous art because I have a ton of it! This particular background was on watercolor paper and worked perfectly because you need a heavier weighted paper. I didn’t try but I’m sure a good cardstock would work as well. If you don’t have any previous projects to use this would be a fun activity in itself! Design a background for your flower vase.
In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.
In the northern hemisphere, spring has arrived, but many parts of the U.S. can’t seem to shake off winter. No matter what season of the year, strange weather events occur in every corner of the globe. In Oak Meadow’s coursework, observing seasonal weather and its effect on plants and animals is a significant part of the kindergarten, first grade and second grade science lessons. In the third grade science curriculum, weather conditions are studied by tracking weather and clouds, learning about lightning and thunder, and engaging in educational activities and artistic exercises in relation to tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes (or typhoons). According to encyclopedia.com, the definition for extreme weather is a weather event such as snow, rain, drought, flood, or storm that is rare for the place where it occurs.
For additional information on weather, meteorologist Crystal Wicker created an informational site for children called Weather Wiz Kids. Kids Discover also created an interactive iPad app for kids, which displays the most extreme forms of weather on Earth. It includes an interactive cross-section of a hurricane, HD videos of tornadoes and lightning, and the science behind extreme climates.
In addition to the serious side of extreme weather, you might like to read the book, Thunder Cake, written by Patricia Polacco. It is a heartwarming and beautifully written story about Patricia (the author) when she was a young girl, and how she overcame the fear of storms with the help of her grandmother. You can also introduce some fun ways we use the weather through idioms and phrases, such as under the weather, weather the storm, or fair-weather friends. It might be a great time to include a spelling and vocabulary exercise on the difference between weather,whether and wether.
Bluebell Field in England (photo used under Creative Commons license)
Happy March Equinox Everyone!
Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions. It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!
Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator.
During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”
I’ve just walked down to the path by the river and through the woods near my house, which I haven’t walked since before the winter hit. It’s sunny today, and another snow storm is coming tomorrow. This is what late winter is famous for in New England – the drastic flip-flops back and forth between warm sun, more snowfall, more sun. But I love that about New England. I love that we have no control over nature’s actions, that we must work with what we’ve got. I love how, in late winter, we can’t tell yet what the outcome will be. Everything feels in-between.
In New England, we call this time of year mud season (right around sugaring season!). I love mud season for all it represents–an uncovering, a messy digging, mucking through confusion and uncertainty. I love uncertainty because I love writing, and writing is about mucking through questions. It’s about walking the same old familiar path until you come to a clearing you don’t recognize, even though you’ve been there before. You suddenly feel lost, though you are standing still. You wonder how you got here. You wonder if you will ever find your way back.
Maybe it’s mud season that’s made me notice my students’ questions more lately–both the questions they ask over email, and the questions they include in their essays. Often over email, they will ask me direct questions that seek one clear, direct answer. But one correct answer is not typically what I send back. When the question relates to how they should approach a writing assignment, I can’t give them one correct answer because there is not one correct answer. I am looking for their own curiosities, their own questions, their own uncertainties. As a culture, we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty that it has filtered into the way we teach writing–we’ve come to see essays as a space for demonstrating expert knowledge, instead of a place to write through one’s questions in order to discover truth.
When I walk in the woods in New England in late winter, I think about the essays of Thoreau, and Emerson, and Diderot, and Rousseau. Their essays straddle autobiography, educational philosophy, and reflections on nature. They are firm in their opinions and beliefs, and express them strongly, but through writing and walking, and walking through writing, and writing through walking, they often found themselves on the next page believing the opposite of what they’d said before–expressing some new opinion they never imagined they would express.
This is what I hope my writing classes can be for students–a late winter walk in New England, through snow and mud and sun, crunching through dried leaves and brittle twigs beside a frozen, yet melting, river. That in-between space. And so, it is this landscape that I try to conjure when my students ask me questions. Instead of telling them the one right way to write their essay, I try to conjure up the landscape that will help them come to find and see it on their own. Often, I don’t hear back from students after I have sent them my response. I wonder how they’re doing. Then, a few days letter, I receive their essay in my inbox. I open it and begin reading. In the essay, I see them walking, perhaps hesitantly at first, then more steadily, as their feet press into the leaves on the ground. A paragraph begins, and I see them standing in a familiar clearing, speaking to me. After a while, I see that we are somewhere new, somewhere I haven’t been before.
We have been discussing how animals adapt and change through seasons, specifically Winter. A few words we have discussed are adaptations, camouflage, hibernation and migration. When we were researching birds and how they survived Winter we learned that it is harder for them to find food so we decided to help them out a little bit by making some bird feeders to hang on our trees.
The first two feeders we made were hanging for a full day before the birds discovered it but once we put the second set out the next day they came right to it. We also caught a squirrel trying to steal some seeds! Which led to a great discussion on squirrels and why they must store their food for the winter. It was so exciting for the kids to see the birds eating from their creation. We even got a picture of it. We enjoyed this fun and simple craft but our absolute favorite part was getting to watch the birds eat our creation.
Oranges – one orange makes 2 feeders
Skewer – worked best for me but a toothpick would work, anything sharp enough to penetrate the orange
Helpful material: a wet towel – this one gets a little sticky!
Cut orange in ½ right down the middle horizontally (so that you are cutting in the middle of the top and bottom). The halves will act as bowls for the seed.
Take out the orange segments and enjoy a delicious snack. I used a knife to carve/loosen the slices and then had my eldest scoop out the insides with a spoon. This part gets a little messy.
Using the skewer punch 4 holes in the peel of the orange bowl. Its best to evenly space your holes.
Weave yarn through holes in orange. We pressed the yarn through the skewer, as if it were a needle and pushed the skewer through the hole. It helped when we would twist the skewer. Once we got the yarn through the hole we would use our fingers to pull it through. Weaving through each hole.
Pull yarn so that you can knot the two ends together.
Once tied pull the two sides even so that you can evenly hang your orange bowl.
Fill with bird seeds. Its best to fill outside or near where you plan to hang your feeder. We dropped one of our feeders on the way outside and bird seed went everywhere!! Eeeeks!!!
Make sure to place feeder somewhere you can observe the birds eating their treat. It’s so exciting to catch them in the act!
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.
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.
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