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!

It’s Sugarin’ Season!

Photo Credit: Doughty Family

Oak Meadow’s k-8 teacher, Sarah Antel, shared this wonderful article on her thoughts regarding the tapping of maple trees. I hope you enjoy reading her wit and wisdom on the subject of the “Sugarin’ Season”!

It is hard to imagine on a subzero day, but trees will soon be ‘waking up’ as their life-giving sap starts to flow from the roots, where it was stored in the shortening days of autumn, to the leaf buds awaiting to unfurl. One tree in particular in the Mid-West and North Eastern United States and Canada provides more than beautiful scenery.

The Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, is tapped this time of year so humans can harvest its sap; the liquid will ultimately be boiled into maple syrup or maple sugar. The Sugar Maple is tapped because its sap has the highest sugar content relative to other tree species (2%-3%). North America is the primary producer of maple syrup.  The weather is ideal for this sap flow; the nights are below freezing so sap stops flowing, and the spring days are warm and often sunny, which encourages sap flow. A weather pattern such as this prevents the tree from turning sugars to starch. Once the nights are above freezing, and the days warm into the 50s, the sap will turn and is no longer ideal for making high quality maple syrup.

1-sugar shack
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

The modern maple sugaring industry has made sugaring an efficient and scientifically driven business. However, many of the tools used now still have distant roots in their ancestry. The Native Americans were the first people to make maple syrup. There are many stories of how this wonderful tradition was discovered. One story tells of how a warrior sunk his tomahawk into a tree trunk and water flowed out; his wife then boiled meat in the water and it made syrup. Another legend tells of a Native American finding a sweet icicle formed from the liquid of a broken maple branch.

Photo Credit: Michelle Menegaz

Native Americans’ methods of making syrup were rather ingenious. Some tribes collected the sap in birch bark baskets or hollowed out logs. They allowed the liquid to freeze overnight, then they removed the layer of ice as the sugar did not freeze. Several nights of freezing and removing the ice left them with a much sweeter liquid as the sugar content became higher. Another method, which may have been paired with the ice removal, involved adding hot rocks to the sap; this would cause the sap to boil and the water to evaporate. The sugar again became concentrated and the liquid thicker.

1-home sugarin' grandpa
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

Today, no matter a person’s level of technology, the methods of making maple syrup remain essentially unchanged. If you live in a part of the world where the weather allows for maple sugaring, you can make your own syrup with just a few buckets to collect sap in. If you do not live in a maple producing region, you can still include this rich lesson in your curriculum. Sugaring has so many cross curricular connections; one can explore density, history, measurement, botany, nutrition, geography, etc. The list goes on!

Whatever you choose to do with the information, enjoy sugaring season where ever you are, and the next time you put maple syrup on your pancakes, you will know a bit more about where your food came from.

Fostering Self-Esteem

Photo Credit: Kat Porco

“Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.” 
― Alvin Price

For many students, the first semester is finished and the second semester begins the advancement towards the end of another school year. For parents and home teachers, this is a perfect time to look at ourselves and our behavior. We might ask ourselves: How can we resolve to be a better person, parent and home teacher? As homeschooling parents and the primary influence of our children’s lives, it is especially important for us to foster good self-esteem. Bonnie Williams, co-founder of Oak Meadow, shared some thoughts on the appropriate way to do this in her archived article, “The Opportunity of Children”.

As homeschooling parents, we are in the position of primary influence upon our children’s lives. We can therefore insure their self-esteem is not damaged in childhood. In turn, we can feel confident that our children will grow to be happy, contributing members of society. Good self-esteem leads to responsible behavior.

We learn to love and accept ourselves when we are loved and accepted by those closest to us. Children who must compete with their peers and sit in a classroom of 30 children every day very often do not learn to love and accept themselves, but rather learn to judge themselves harshly. This in turn can lead to crime, anti-social behavior, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, anxiety, and disordered thinking. When we are starved physically or emotionally, we do desperate things. Most children (and adults!) have a tendency to look for external factors to resolve their desperation. Drugs, food and other abuses arise out of this internal experience of emotional malnourishment. In addition, a child with low self-esteem often hides this lack of self-confidence behind a mask of bossy and aggressive behavior.

Photo Credit: Alice Potchen

We can see, from the effects noted above, the absolute necessity to protect our children’s self-esteem. I would like to suggest two things that we, as homeschooling parents, can do to help our children maintain good self-esteem:

  • Teach age-appropriate material in a manner suited to the individual learning style of the child. If your child is not yet ready to read, don’t panic and try to drill him or her. This will only cause your child to feel like a failure. Trust in your child’s innate intelligence and curiosity, and know that he will read when the time is right for him. The same is true for math. Some children take longer than others, but as adults, nobody will ever ask them how old they were when they learned fractions! In addition, if the material that you are presenting does not seem interesting to your child, try presenting it in another manner. Many, many children learn best through doing rather than reading.
  • When we find a quality in a child that we are unable to accept, it’s important to ask ourselves why this quality disturbs us so much. Is it a quality within ourselves that we don’t accept? For example, a child may be hyperactive and drive us crazy. If we were able to focus patiently with that child, would he find it easier to focus? Is it our own inability to focus comfortably that makes us so impatient with our child? When we criticize him, are we really chastising ourselves? Perhaps the child is unable to express his feelings positively and bursts into expression through temper tantrums. We have to look to see how well we express our own feelings, then ask ourselves if we encourage the child to express his. If we don’t express our own feelings positively, then we set an example for him that ultimately drives us crazy.

Not only are we in the position of being able to foster good self-esteem in our children, but we are also able to recover ourselves in adulthood. As our children push our emotional buttons – and they always will – we cannot send them off to school for a respite every day. We must live with our children 24 hours a day. Therefore, it is a little more compelling to find ways to resolve some of these personality conflicts that exist between ourselves and our children. This is “recovery of ourselves in adulthood”. We must take this opportunity to discover more about ourselves and the state of our own self-esteem. Do we love and accept ourselves, are we free to love and accept our children, or are we still reacting to the way in which we were parented? Is it time for us to make new decisions about how we want to parent? These new decisions will flow forth as we become aware of our old reactionary patterns that are no longer appropriate. Each of us deserves the opportunity to create our family unit as a work of art, adding colors of our choice and not somebody else’s!

Winter, Contraction and Frustration

Photo Credit: U.S. Dept. of the Interior

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them. For such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere, except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.” ~ Thomas Merton

For those who live in the northern hemisphere, the months of January and February bring us to a midpoint of the winter season. We find ourselves experiencing drastic changes in weather, along with different forms of personal attention and focus. It is a time of contraction, in which we turn inwardly and reflect within. Often times, this season can also initiate a sense of tiredness and discouragement. Even our children’s attitudes can begin to disintegrate, and the enthusiasm during the first few months of school starts to wear off.

Lawrence WilliamsSince 1986, I have had the great honor and privilege to know and work with Oak Meadow’s co-founder, Lawrence Williams. Over the years, I have developed an amazing respect for his boundless wisdom and timeless energy in providing a quality education for homeschool families. I have also collected a plethora of articles written by Lawrence. So, “from the archives”, I have the pleasure of offering his timely article on:

Winter, Contraction and Frustration

Now that we are in a new year, and in the midst of winter, let’s stop for a moment to consider what effect this is having upon our children, the learning process, and us.

The learning process has two phases: expansion and contraction. These same phases are also apparent in the seasons of the year. The season in which we are presently immersed, winter, is the season when the forces of contraction are prevailing.

The predominant effect of the contractive phase is the feeling of being closed in, and the feeling that nothing is moving. In terms of the learning process, we often feel that our children are not making any progress, and we begin to doubt our effectiveness as teachers. Of course, this closed in feeling is much more apparent in the extreme northern latitudes, where the temperature is much colder, and snow covers the ground for most of the year. However, even if we are living further south, we still experience this sensation, although its effect is modified somewhat, and it tends to become a more subtle inner experience, rather than an outer obstacle.

Another effect, which is most fascinating, is that during the contractive phase, things do not appear as they really are. The same thing is occurring in nature. If we didn’t know any better, and just arrived on this planet without an instruction manual (a familiar feeling?), we would look at the barren trees and the frozen ground and would suspect that everything was dead, with no chance of revival. However, since we’ve lived through many winters, we know that things are not as they appear. Underneath the surface of the earth wonderful things are happening and in a few months life will spring forth again, and everything will be green and growing profusely.

So the most important thing to remember while teaching children in the midst of the contraction of winter is that, while it looks as if nothing is happening, it is only because everything is happening under the surface. However bleak it may look, however hopeless your children’s progress may seem, however many times you feel as if you are totally frustrated, just remember that it is not really that way. Within your children, just as within nature, marvelous things are happening at this moment, and in a few months the growth that is occurring will become apparent, as we move into the phase of expansion, when all things become visible.

The best way to handle the contractive phase is to accept it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. There are many ideal learning experiences available at this time of year. Take advantage of them. Don’t stay indoors, trying to complete academic work with everyone irritable. Go outdoors and look for animal tracks in the snow. Even if you are living in a more temperate climate, and there is no snow, watch for the events that happen in nature only at this time of the year, such as various animal migrations. By cooperating gracefully and joyfully with the opportunities available within this cycle, you will be teaching your children one of the most valuable lessons in life: how to find opportunities within apparent limitations.

In Lawrence William’s book, The Heart of Learning, Chapter 7 offers additional information on “Rhythm and Learning: Expansion and Contraction”. If you haven’t read this chapter recently, it might be a good time to add it to your reading list.

For the Love of Reading!

readers on the floor

Photo courtesy the Seeley-Love family

“The love of learning,
The sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The winter season is my favorite time of year to curl up in my coziest reading chair by the warm fire and indulge in a good book. I have especially fond memories of snuggling in the oversized chair with my children and reading storybooks as the snowflakes fell softly outside the window. Perhaps this scenario is also familiar to you and your family.

When I hear the exciting news that a child has just begun learning how to read, it brings a great joy to my heart. This child has now entered a new realm of learning and a new way of discovering the world. Learning to read is like receiving a gift of a lifetime!

We are fortunate that our modern-day world makes books so readily available. There is a numerous assortment of amazing classics for children, including many Newbery and Caldecott Award winner and honor books. The American Library Association recently announced 2017’s Caldecott and Newbery Awards.

Each year the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) also creates a “Children’s Notable” list that identifies the best in children’s books, recordings, and videos.

I recently asked some of my local homeschool students to share the names of their favorite books. It was both entertaining and educational for the other children to hear which book titles were selected. Many were familiar favorites, while the new titles sparked interest in a desire to read some of these unfamiliar books. It was also delightful to listen to each child’s oral summary of their favorite book. We even discussed how our “favorite” books often change because there are so many unknown books that are just as fantastic as the ones that have already been read!

In Oak Meadow’s fourth grade syllabus, a suggested activity for Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Search for Delicious, offers doing a poll for the most delicious foods. It could be inspiring to poll the choices your children and their friends’ favorite books. We can even create a list of your children’s favorite books right here on the blog. My all-time favorite children’s book is Gwinna, beautifully illustrated and written by Barbara Berger. If you haven’t read this story to your children, I highly recommend it!



What font?

Helvetica font sample

Public domain photo

I had a student that submitted a research paper about the country of Japan. It was really well written, but I was especially taken by the font she used for typing her final paper. It was different from what she usually used. It made such an impression on me that I had to find out what font it was.

I was reminded of the 2005 commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in which he spoke about how he came to learn about calligraphy and, inspired by that course, later developed fonts for the Mac. You can watch the speech here. 

So. I’ve been thinking how important it is to understand that each of the fonts one may use when typing actually COME from somewhere! They have a history! In my search for the history of one font I see all the time, every where I go, I discovered that there was actually a movie made about the font! You can view the trailer for Helvetica the movie here, and you can also purchase it.

How interesting to know that certain fonts are used to impress the reader! So if I use comic sans, I’m pretty much setting a certain mood. In fact, I may investigate further what font this blog is typed in. (It isn’t possible for me to change it to another font.) I think I’ll also find out which fonts the Oak Meadow curriculum uses.

By the way, the font the student used was Philosopher. Next time you type a paper, think about the font you are using and what impression it may leave on the reader!

Knitting Suggestions

Photo Credit - Brooke Hampton

In through the front door
Running around the back
Out through the window
Off jumps jack.

In last week’s blog post, rhythmic handwork in Oak Meadow’s coursework for grades one through three was the main topic of discussion. This week, the K-8 Oak Meadow teachers teamed up and offered some suggestions and simple alternatives that will help to meet the “heart” of handwork, specifically in teaching the technique of knitting.

Meg Minehan: My suggestions are to first try finger knitting, the knitting mushroom, or the wooden knitting star. My children loved those “tools”, and the process was simple, repetitive and soothing (just like knitting should be). ​For what it’s worth, my son, Ian, didn’t really take to knitting when it was initially introduced in first grade. However, he picked it up again last year (at age 9) and loved it.

Michelle Menegaz: I agree that teaching knitting as an inexperienced teacher can be challenging. I suggest offering the “pre-knitting” activities and really encourage the home teacher to find a knitter to help them, if possible. Also, Sunny’s Mittens is a great book with a story that contains knitting directions right in the events of the tale. I would read a bit of this and knit along with the story. The child would also knit along, if interested. We would read a bit, knit a bit, stop and get our knitting sorted or show what the written directions in the story meant. Very satisfying!

Lesley Arnold: I highly recommend the DVD, The Art of Knitting 4 Kids . If a tutor isn’t available for knitting, then this video is great! Be sure to also check your library, for many libraries have knitting clubs.

Leslie Daniels: Another site that I absolutely adore and share with my Oak Meadow families is called “Knitted Bliss“. It includes story books to inspire future knitters for three different age groups: ages 2-4, ages 4-6 and ages 6-9. The title of each book is a joy in itself!

Meg Minehan: Shall I Knit You a Hat is one of our favorite Christmas books for 6-9 year olds!

Andy Kilroy: My friend Clare, a long-time kindergarten teacher, loves to take yarn into her classroom and just let her kids play with the yarn – wrap it, wind it, tie bows with it, braid it, touch it – just to get the feel of fabric/yarn on their skin. Then when it comes time to knit, they already have the awareness of yarn as a material. I taught my granddaughter to finger knit (she had never done it), and she was very excited at all the possibilities that opened for her! She has also enjoyed exploring loom knitting from kits. Long live fiber arts – let’s not give up on them!

Anna Logowitz: My micro-schoolers got a great start by making their own knitting needles. They sanded chopsticks smooth, and then glued wooden beads to the ends: nice and simple. It gave them a sense of ownership over their work before they began knitting, which also seemed to increase their frustration tolerance!

Handwork in Winter

knitting needles and yarn


Hand (Unknown author)

Take my hand, imagine
What it will be someday
A hand that’s strong, a hand that’s kind
Is this what you forsee?

A hand that’s skilled, a hand that’s sure
A hand that someday may,
Take another little hand
and guide it on its way.

Oak Meadow’s kindergarten coursework introduces the art of finger knitting, the first-grade coursework introduces knitting with needles, and the second-grade coursework introduces crocheting. The main purpose of teaching children these creative, yet practical skills at this level of development is to refine and strengthen fine motor development and eye-hand coordination. It also aids in the preparation for learning math, reading and writing with more ease and less fatigue.

Sometimes a student will find these craft skills challenging to acquire. Perhaps it is because the home teacher does not know how to knit or crochet and finds it difficult to teach, or perhaps it is due to a child’s hands and fingers not nimble enough to handle working with yarn and/or needles. When the students are introduced to the handcraft at the beginning of the school year, it is often when they are still actively involved in outdoor play; therefore, learning this skill may be even more difficult for an active child to sit still for a time to master the skill. If you have experienced this with your own child and decided to set it aside, then the winter season may be the perfect time to reintroduce the suggested handwork. You might be surprised at the willingness and readiness in your child to try it again!

Photo Credit – Estelle Giannakopoulos

It’s important that that your child starts out with something comfortable, so if your child has never been introduced to finger knitting, you might try starting with the basics of finger knitting before working with needle knitting and crocheting. Taking time in developing the skill, even if it means knitting or crocheting only for a short time each day, is still providing the tools for healthy physiological development. Working alongside with your child, listening to quiet background music or a story tape, or even telling a handwork story to accompany the project could encourage more enthusiasm. Here’s a little video with a story that might help introduce finger knitting.

Any other type of activity that includes repetition and rhythm in movement will work well, too! If you have already re-visited the suggested Oak Meadow projects and discover they are still frustrating or uninteresting to your child, then keep in mind that developing fine motor control, no matter what the activity, should be the main focus of the student. Perhaps knitting with a fork or with a spool might be excellent substitutes.

Other craft activities that offer rhythm and repetition include beading, weaving, sewing by hand, lacing cards, stringing popcorn and cranberries (including for the winter bird residents), and building patterns with various materials. Be creative and work with something that creates enjoyment, for it is the joy of the process that furthers the healthy development.

Reflections on Educational Nourishment

Credit Photo: U.S. Dept. of the Interior

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a unique calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service.”   ~ Oprah Winfrey

The new year provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon “personal visions.” For many, it is a time to turn our thoughts to New Year’s resolutions!

I reflect and think about the coming months, knowing I can shape and reshape my everyday life, which in turn, creates my future. I view encouragement as a big role in helping to unfold the true self. It is a time for us as teachers, parents, and children to take a moment to look back at where the past year has taken us, and to look forward and consider what we wish to keep or change.

When I home schooled my children, I took advantage of this more introspective time of year. I thought about my children’s education, and how it was progressing. Regarding practical matters, I would do a check-in with the time frame of our enrollment schedule. How many lessons have been completed up to now, and how much time is left in the school year? Are we staying on track? I would also determine what areas might need more review before the objectives could be accomplished.

Most importantly, I would take the time to assess my children’s well being. I would determine what changes and modifications might need to be made in the curriculum that would provide more educational nourishment. Without this sustenance, the joy of learning can diminish. Children develop their own unique abilities, and it is invaluable that we support their individuality. Providing the essential guidance to tap into their own creative selves aids in their ability to fully experience the quality of life.

Even for parents and home teachers, it is essential to find and express our creative sides where we can share our gifts with the world. In the final social studies lesson in the second grade curriculum, the theme revolves around “Many People, One World.” We are all so varied and diverse in this world in which we live. How do you express the creativity that nourishes you, and helps make the world a better place for all? Perhaps you paint, write poetry, compose or play music. Or possibly you help with community services or visit an elderly neighbor once a week. My list is BIG. My nourishment comes from spending quality time with my family, taking my canine pals for daily walks in the woods, and creatively working with children and their families in an educational setting. Helping friends and neighbors, along with providing services in the community are high on the priority list, too.