Gotta Get Outside!

Get Outside!

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!

Nature Confetti and Mother’s Day Card

nature confetti made from leaves and hole punch

Nature Confetti, photo by Natalie Wise

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.

Heart punches for nature confetti

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.

Free printable Mother's Day card for kids
Free printable Mother’s Day card for kids

Thanks, Moms! You are APPRECIATED and you INSPIRE us!

Happy Mother’s Day from Oak Meadow!

(and don’t forget today is the first day of our May Sale! 20% off everything in our bookstore, and 10% off new enrollments through the end of the month)

Planting Seeds

pxhere.com

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!

pxhere.com

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!

Photo from Pixaby

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?

Recycled Spring Bouquet

Recycled Egg Carton Flower Bouquet Craft
Recycled Egg Carton Flower Bouquet Craft

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

craft supplies for recycled egg carton spring bouquet

Materials

Cardboard egg carton
Scissors
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
Glue

cut up egg carton to form flowers

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!

construction paper flower stems

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…

background art for flower bouquet

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.

finished flower bouquet art

5. Assemble with glue and let dry.

6. Enjoy your beautiful Spring bouquet!

Wild Weather!

Tulips and Snow

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

-Mark Twain

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.

The wonders of weather are wonderful!

 

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.  ~Proverb

bluebell field in England

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.”

Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight

So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!

Citrus Bird Feeder

Create your own bird feeder from an orange!

Create your own bird feeder from an orange!

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.

orange bird feeder hanging in tree
Orange Bird Feeder Project

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.  

Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree
Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree

Materials

  • Cutting board
  • Oranges – one orange makes 2 feeders
  • Knife
  • Yarn
  • Skewer – worked best for me but a toothpick would work, anything sharp enough to penetrate the orange
  • Bird seed
  • Helpful material: a wet towel – this one gets a little sticky! 
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Using the skewer punch 4 holes in the peel of the orange bowl. Its best to evenly space your holes.
  4. 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.
  5. Pull yarn so that you can knot the two ends together.
  6. Once tied pull the two sides even so that you can evenly hang your orange bowl.
  7. 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!!!
  8. Make sure to place feeder somewhere you can observe the birds eating their treat.  It’s so exciting to catch them in the act!
orange bird feeder project close-up
Orange Bird Feeder project

Tips and Tricks for Getting Your Kids Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immersing Yourself in the Emerging Spring – Part 1

Oak Meadow’s k-8 teacher, Sarah Antel, wrote this inspirational two-part article.

The light is winning over the darkness of night, the snow patches are becoming far and few between, and evenings are spent out on the porch again. While I am sitting watching nightfall, I find myself holding my breath and listening hard for one of my favorite harbingers of spring: the song of the spring peepers, a small frog that sings mightily this time of year. 1spring-peeper-frog_722_600x450

In the spring there are many events occurring, almost daily it seems, as plants and animals begin the annual spring awakening. One’s senses seem almost to explode with information from your outdoor environment. You can help your child to experience this sensory wonder through some favorite activities.

At the Water’s Edge

Creeks and ponds are beginning to swell with both plant and animal life. Take a little field trip to a creek, river, lake, or pond. Your child may see newts or tadpoles in the water; they may observe green leaves emerging on a pond’s bank. Many of the creatures living in the water are too small to see with a glance; most are insect larvae, or baby insects not more than an inch or two long.

You and your child can observe these fascinating creatures by creating a net to temporarily catch them with. All you need is a metal coat hanger, a stick, sticky tape, and an old pair of tights or nylons. Bend the coat hanger to make a diamond shape; take one of the legs from the nylons and stretch it over the diamond. Have your child find a stick outside about half his height. Unbend the hook of the hanger and tape the stick to it to make a handle. When using the net, make sure to scrape along the bottom in the mud, as this is where many of the smaller creatures hide.

Rocks are usually easy to come by along a river’s or creek’s banks. Your child can choose two rocks that easily fit in her hands; she can get them wet, and then rub the rocks together to see if they are soft enough to form ‘rock paint’. After rubbing the wet rocks together, have your child run a finger along one rock, if rock paint was made, she will see the colored natural paint on her finger. Your child can paint with it, or he can put designs on his face, hands, and arms.

Spring Shoots