Planting Seeds

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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!

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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?

FUN With WORDS!

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke

I woke UP this morning, and after getting UP, watching the sun come UP and drinking UP my cUP of tea, I began thinking UP words. UP on top of my list was the word, UP. “What’s UP with UP?” I asked myself. If you look UP the word, UP, in the dictionary, you will discover that its origins come from Old English and its first known use was before the 12th century. It can be identified as a noun, a verb, an adverb, an adjective or a preposition; and as you can tell from reading this blogpost, it can also be used as an idiomatic expression.

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Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

There are so many ways to use the word, UP, in your vernacular. Here is a fun blogsite that brings us UP to date with all the ways we can use the word, UP. Now it’s your turn to come UP with your own playful word. It’s totally UP to you, but what I know is that this two-letter word has brightened UP my day! So start UP your day by smiling UP to your ears. Look UP and read UP on your favorite word of the day. Then load UP The 5th Dimension song, “UP, UP and Away“, pull UP a chair and write a poem with your UPstanding children using the UP word family – or – you might even come UP with the idea of playing a word-building board game such as “Scrabble” or “UPwords”!

Photo Credit: Ojeda Family

Words can be FUN and weird, especially in the English language! The Oak Meadow coursework offers a variety of ways to have fun with words. There are also many books to share with growing readers, such as My Fun With Words – 2 Volumes: A-K & L-Z , written by James Artel and illustrated by Geoffrey Brittingham. “The Book of Pooh – Fun with Words” is a sweet movie about words with all our favorite A. A. Milne characters. There are also enjoyable games and word exercises to strengthen your children’s reading and writing skills, such as the 10 Word Games for Kids.

So, thumbs UP for the words that keep us UP on top of the world!

 

 

 

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!

 

A Seed of Love

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

A seed of love, when planted in the tiniest of hearts,  can grow to lead a life to that which happiness imparts. – Unknown 

It is important to recognize that one of the major tasks for a home teacher is to create an atmosphere in which real learning can occur. Such an atmosphere exists where the children are nurtured and supported to explore their own personal interests, as well as the world around them. As we are all well aware, this best happens where there is a warm, loving relationship between the child and the parent. 

Sharing love is like sharing a treasure. Whether it be through expressing warm thoughts towards one another, opening up and sharing feelings with each other, or just spending some pleasant moments together, it is the essence of the learning process. In a loving relationship, we also discover that communication becomes greatly enhanced. When communication comes from the heart, be it verbal or nonverbal, it allows the opportunity to better understand and accept the thoughts, ideas and actions that are shared with each other. This form of communication may come through a special hug, a quiet conversation, a wonder-filled nature walk, or even in the sharing of a favorite art exercise or baking activity. Whatever the form may be, grabbing these wonderful opportunities will truly aid in deepening the bond in our relationships. 

Photo Credit: Crawford Family

When we are sharing these treasured times together with our children, we are spending true quality time with them. Quality time certainly does not mean planning a special activity at a particular time, but rather means experiencing quality moments that are unscheduled and spontaneous. All of us, as parents, have had our children rush to us with enthusiasm and bright faces saying, “Come quickly! I have to show you something!” How do we respond to our children’s excitement? Do we reply, “In just a minute.” Or do we say, “Later, I’m really busy right now.” Or do we not even hear them because we are so absorbed into our own work? If we could just keep in mind that, when we give our complete attention to these unexpected and unplanned moments, we are also acknowledging how important they are and how wonderful it is to be a part of the joy in their lives. If for some reason, you can’t drop everything and attend to your child’s request at that very moment, you can still express your eagerness: “I can’t wait to see it! First, just let me _______ (finish making your sandwich, hang up the phone, take the sleeping baby to bed, etc.) and then I’ll come right away.” Of course, then you have to do that, as quickly as possible.

I once asked my sweet little seven year old friend, Anna, “What do you think of when you think of love?” She replied without any hesitation, “My family.” This immediate response would be the same answer for most children. Family plays a very integral part of life for the child, which is certainly another valid reason why family-centered education will flourish most in a healthy, happy environment.

As your family ventures through homeschooling, please remember to keep in your heart that when you clear time and space to focus completely on your child’s lessons, when you teach the lessons with personal interest and enjoyment, and when you introduce the new material with sensitivity towards your child’s skill level, you are sharing love that will provide not only a sense of fulfillment for your child, but will also give you great satisfaction for your own teaching endeavors.

Hibernation & Torpor

Photo Credit: Kelli Larkspur

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke

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

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

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

Homeschooling and Joy

Photo Credit: Lisa Kates White

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: The Zietz Family

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

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

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

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

Thus, take joy and enjoy…with joy!

 

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part Two

Photo by Cindie Young

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

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

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

Photo by Brooke Doughty

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

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

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

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

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part One

Photo Credit: Cassell Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guidelines for Home Teachers

Photo Credit - Porco Family

Photo Credit - Porco Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Get Outdoors Day

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” Rachel Carlson On Saturday, June 10th, the Defenders of Wildlife organization will celebrate their 10th annual National Get … Continue reading "National Get Outdoors Day"

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

Rachel Carlson

On Saturday, June 10th, the Defenders of Wildlife organization will celebrate their 10th annual National Get Outdoors Day. This national event encourages families to go outside, visit a park or refuge, and renew a personal connection to nature, as well as regenerate a commitment to leaving a healthy planet for future generations. There’s nothing better than introducing your children to the wonders of nature, especially since it’s only a matter of time before the future rests in their hands. Here is a list of all 198 National Get Outdoors Day locations. There might be one near you!

“What do parents owe their young that is more important than a warm and trusting connection to the Earth…?”

– Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth

Every grade level in Oak Meadow’s k-4 coursework suggests environmental awareness activities and exercises. We also feel it’s important to introduce and teach young children about the natural environment. So, go ahead! Make summer plans, get outdoors, and let Nature be your teacher!

“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.”

-Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth