Talking pollinators at the Common Ground Fair

At 2pm on Saturday, September 24th I will be in Unity at MOFGA’s annual Common Ground Fair to give a talk Ive dubbed “Pollinator Conservation through Agriculture”. *Insert excited squeal here.*

pollinator conservation at common ground fairThere’s a decided interest from the public in pollinators, I’m excited to be able to say. You see it in the news, in the increasing numbers of backyard-beekeepers, at your local garden center, and we see it in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The representatives who answer the phone there are getting more calls every year from gardeners and farmers wanting to grow plants for pollinators. People want to help, they want to raise pollinator-friendly plants that offer food and habitat for bees, and they want to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning to bees.

I’m sure the fact that I’m a bee-nut was not the main reason Johnny’s hired me, lol. That was just an added bonus─or a peculiarity they decided was worth tolerating. Lol, I think I’ve grown on them though, they asked me to represent the company by giving a presentation at the Common Ground Fair. Can you believe it?!

Actually I think when Amy LeClaire first mentioned it to me I was horrified and flabbergasted: “But what will I talk about!?” This is a different scale of audience then the Somerset County 4H and the Madison or East Madison Grange. It’s not the Solon Summer Rec Program or the kindergarten class at the Carrabec Community School in North Anson. We’re talking about the Common Ground Fair─the fair of fairs, a revelry for sustainable living, a festival to pay homage to Maine’s agricultural roots.

Amy looked at me patiently, spreading her hands out before her as if the answer should be obvious and said, “Bees?”

Of course! Duh! So I dubiously said yes, I’d do it, and set about revamping one of my favorite presentations about pollinator conservation.

pollinator conservation through agriculture
Monarch butterflies are becoming more rare, but we had one at Runamuk this season.

This presentation first covers why bees and pollinators are in peril, and then discusses specific actions gardeners and farmers can take to benefit and even increase their local populations of pollinators. All of the information I present is garnered from credible sources such as the Xerces Society, the Pollinator Partnership, the NRCS, and more. I’ll throw in some personal anecdotes of my beekeeping misadventures along the way just to keep things interesting. Along with my presentation I’ll have lots of handouts available, as well as book and website recommendations for further learning.

It’s been 7 years since my first hive─when I was suddenly overcome by this fascination with pollinators. Come spend an hour with me, let me share with you my love for bees, and learn what you can do to support local pollinators in your backyard, in the garden or on the farm.

Mark your calendars or fair guides:

Pollinator Conservation Through Agriculture
Saturday, September 24th – 2pm at MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair in Unity, ME
Railcar Speakers’ Tent

Unschooling at the Runamuk Homestead

hard at workOur youngest son “Summer” is never more content than when he his hard at work fixing something, and while the Runamuk truck is down for maintenance, Keith thought it the perfect time to include Summer in the repairs.  This is the rear axle that they are tinkering on. Read more

Pressing plants

For a long time I’ve wanted to learn how to press plants.  I like the idea of creating beautiful framed works of art using pressed flowers and herbs.  I had saved two large squares of cardboard for the project, and today I begged some newspaper from my mother-in-law’s recycling bin.  I attempted to entice both the boys in collecting specimens with me, and only succeeded in gaining Summer’s help.  So we happily trudged out back with a basket, scissors, notecards and a pen, to collect some samples.

The concept is very simple, and has been utilized by naturalists and scientists for hundreds of years to dry and preserve specimens for safe travel across vast continents and turbulent seas.  Plant presses are an important scientific tool, without them specimens would wither and perish before researchers have adequate time to study and deliberate over them.

Presses can be small, just big enough to fit in your hiking pack, ideal for collecting herbaceous plant leaves, roots and flowers as you wander; or they can be large enough to press an entire plant, from root to flower.  To avoid wilting, press your plants as soon as possible after picking them.  You should also make note of the plant’s common name, Latin name, location, height, habitat, abundance, date, and other valuable information that can fade from memory and leave you blank when you’re finally ready to make use of your pressings.

Not only will the pressed plants make great gifts this holiday season, but we could even start our own herbarium, by simply arranging the specimens on acid-free paper with all of the relevant harvesting information, and glue or cover them with contact paper to easily catalog them.

Check out this video from Barb’s blog “Handbook of Nature Study”where she posts all sorts of great information and lesson plans for nature studies.

Summer and I ended up collecting nearly a dozen different plant specimens–and even though he’s only four, I use the appropriate terminology with him–there’s no reason not to.  We found some daisies, clover, Queen-Anee’s Lace, buttercup, a couple of things I’ll have to look up in the guide books, and we picked a couple of herb specimens from the garden-such as a sprig of sage, and a couple sprigs of parsley.

Having never pressed anything before, this will take a bit of experimenting; we’ll see how well the specimens turn out.  For now they’ll be sitting at the far end of our dinning room table under Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary for the next few weeks.  I’ll let you know how they turn out.

Have you ever pressed plants with your kids?  Got any tips or hints for us?

Our field trip to the Maine Wildlife Park

painted turtles
We save all our change for our homeschool field trips.  It’s gotten to the point where Summer will fish the coins straight out of his Daddy’s pockets to put in the pickle jar that now serves as a coin-bank.  Papa saves his change for the boys too; and between the two jars I rolled a total of $53 Sunday to fund our field trip to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray.
From Anson it was 88 miles, mostly on the highway, and it took us an hour and forty minutes.  The kids were super excited, and surprisingly well behaved.  The park charges $7 for adults, $5 for children, but we had a coupon so we only ended up paying for the adults.  
Check it out:

 This is in front of the Eagle habitat; I couldn’t get a good picture of the birds through the glass–but they were beautiful and awe-inspiring.  A woman who was there with her own kids told us that if we were from the area we could see an eagle over in Windham, and I relayed that we were from “up-North” and we actually have several nesting along the Kennebec.  Bald Eagles have made a good come-back in Maine.

 This wild turkey seemed to like the camera and the attention.


The park has numerous display cases like this set up throughout the park, each one corresponds with the animal habitat you are about to enter, and hosts little mini-exhibits, with animal bones, feathers, nests, egg-shells, and facts about the animal you will see.  This was the display for the turtle exhibit, so it held several turtle shells and fragments of turtle eggs.

Painted turtles are quite common in Maine, but we also have Snapping turtles, Spotted turtles, Wood turtles, Blandings turtles, Musk turtles, and Box turtles. And turtle sculptures.


This is part of the wetland habitat; there were several trails through their wetland, and numerous birdhouses of varying sizes to suit different types of birds, as well as a bat house, and owl house, and a wood duck house.  And obviously birds are not the only creatures that live here, there was a nice little stream that we speculated could be a place where a raccoon might stop to wash his food.


Just beyond the wetlands habitat there was the fish hatchery (sorry-no pics!); where we saw Brown Trout in various stages of growth, and even got to feed a ravenous school of trout.

After hiking down to the lower end of the park, we returned to the picnic area for a cold treat from their snack shack–and a picture.
Then we went into the Visitor’s Center, where it was shady, to play with some interactive exhibits about Maine’s animals and their habitats.  This one was about the different types of tracks you might see when walking the Maine woods.  Winter couldn’t resist making “Winter Tracks”.
This was a sorting puzzle where you had to match the animals to one of four habitats.
 When Winter had finished, Summer took a turn.

After that nice respite, and after we’d refilled our water bottles, we walked through the woodland trail to check out various native trees to Maine woods, we solved all the riddles posted along the trail, and when we came to the end–we saw THIS!
You may not know this about me–but I’m a moose fanatic.  I think they are just magnificent, and I love their big, clumsy yet graceful style.  They remind me of creatures of the ancient world, like the Mammoth-all of which fascinates me–go figure!

Unfortunately I didn’t get very good pictures–and, while we were standing there observing him he chose to relive himself.  It was very rank–which made it a very memorable experience–to say the least!

Summer had been looking forward to the deer habitat; most of the deer were laying down during the heat of mid-day, but we did get to feed this little doe.  She was so sweet!


We saw the raccoon and watched him eat his lunch.


The fisher.  And their old Albino Porcupine (he was hot too! though I think porcupines are largely nocturnal).


It was feeding time, so I didn’t get very good pictures of the lynx–with the exception for this one below–eating what the animal keepers told us was chicken and rabbit.


The website for the Maine Wildlife Park offers a number of printable educational resources, including a map of the park, animal descriptions, an observational checklist, a scavenger hunt, and more.  It was a wonderful experience, not expensive, and one that I would highly recommend to any family who loves nature and animals and Maine!  But you don’t have to take my word for it–go to Gray and see for yourself!

How Unschooling Has Changed Our Lives

Back in October when we decided to make the shift from homeschooling to unschooling, I had no idea how drastically it would change our lives.  I hoped it would have a positive impact on our family, but there was no way I could comprehend the full implications of this change; no way of knowing how much it would change me.Switching from homeschooling to unschooling is a profound alteration to your lifestyle, your thought-processes, your values and ideals.  It does not happen all at once, and I admit I am still working to accept and trust my children.  It is scary sometimes, because this lifestyle is so very different from the mainstream, but it feels so right, it feels so good to actually live life–to be happy in your life right now.  Gone are the days of working toward a happy future that seemed somehow unattainable, I’m happy now, and given my own personal rocky start in life–it is truly a wonderful feeling.

FACING THE DIFFICULTIES
Letting Go
Unschooling is not easy, though.  I find one of the hardest things to overcome has been learning to let go.  Letting go of the control of their education, of their activities, of them.  Now that I’m looking back at it, and I’m wondering why I would ever want to control them–my boys.  In letting go I’ve let them know that I accept each of them for who they are, and what a special gift that is to give your child.  When most of us, as adults, only want to be loved and accepted by our parents, and many of us–including me personally–oftentimes don’t ever get that kind of loving acceptance.

My oldest son, Winter, who has a number of sensory sensitivities, causing him a lot of anxiety at times, has really benefited from this sort of acceptance.  In letting go my control of his education, his activities, and allowing him free reign to make choices that best suit his needs at any given moment, I’ve shown him that even though he’s different–even though he’s sometimes moody and anxious–I love him for who he is.  And that’s given him a sense of security that I think he was missing before.

It’s hard to think of my pre-unschooling self as controlling, because I was never one of those mothers who felt the need to dominate my child so completely, but even with my minimal amount of structure and curriculum I had been doing just that.  I had been attempting to force my child to bend to my will, for my own personal needs and the perceived needs of society.  And it wasn’t working (I should have realized sooner, since I already knew I was a non-conformist!).

Before unschooling Winter and I fought constantly.  We fought about doing school lessons.  We fought about social activities like going to the library, the grocery store, and visiting family.  We fought about his computer use and about following “the routine”.

Now we are much happier.  Our relationship is a much more positive one, and stronger too.

Accepting Screen Time
Learning to accept screen-time use has been difficult as well.  The negative perception of TV and video games are so prevalent in our society that it has been hard for me to see the positive aspects of such activity.  It seems to me an obsession, running rampant through our household.  Yet I look at the activity analytically and I can see the value in it.  

We’ve always watched a lot of documentaries on TV related to science and nature.  Right now we’re all really excited about the new show “Monster Bug Wars”, and occasionally Summer will sit with Daddy to watch “Through the Wormhole”.  Winter seems to like shows like “How it’s Made”; and who doesn’t like “Mythbusters”?

Since I let go my control over the boys’ screen-time, they’ve both learned so much that it’s impossible to ignore the value in it.  Winter not only plays games online, but researches the games through the Wikipedia, YouTube, and various online resources.  He’s honed his reading and spelling skills this way, by doing his own Google searches, and reads so well now that I am hard-pressed to assign a grade level to his ability.  Sometimes he’s even playing games like Bookworm, which promote spelling and vocabulary; other times he’s making comics at Garfield.com, but mostly he loves role-playing games, which feed his vivid imagination.  Even his use of language has improved, and he’s much more willing to talk and express himself with those around him.

Computer-gaming has been a benefit to the boys’ relationship too.  I don’t know about other homeschool families, but in our house we have an incredible amount of sibling rivalry.  Part of that I attribute to Winter’s sensitivities for which he has a low-threshold of tolerance, and certainly Summer’s high-energy personality certainly plays a part as well (and the way he seems to know just how to push everyone’s buttons, especially his brother’s).  But part of it I simply attribute to the fact that they are both boys, and of Scottish descent.  Their father has a lot of testosterone, and struggled to learn to control his own temper when he was younger, but he did learn, and provides an exemplary role-model for our boys.

Ignore the clutter on my desk–and yes, that is half a bouncy ball Summer is wearing on his head.
It was punctured and deflated by my sister’s dog on Father’s Day, and has since become Summer’s favorite “rubber hat”.

Often Summer will ask Winter for help with a games, or with typing a particular game into the Google search engine.  Sometimes they watch each other play, sometimes they play a game together.  Sometimes this turns out badly, but I believe the continued practice at coping with conflict in their relationship is good for them.  I believe it strengthens their bond as brothers, as well as providing them ample opportunity at learning to deal with their anger.  If I wanted to label that for academic value, I could call it socialization–as learning to cope with conflict in relationships is a valuable skill that will benefit them throughout their lives, and something that even many adults fail miserably at.

Providing Activities
I’d never really used any boxed curricula before we unschooled, preferring to pick and choose what suited us, even creating the Earth-Studies Units for our history & science studies.  But now that we’re unschooling and not using curricula at all, I find myself stressing sometimes about providing educational activities for the boys.  Shouldn’t I be offering guided activities more often?

To satisfy that anxiety, I’ve tried to look at these last eight or nine months as a de-schooling period.  Since we left the curriculum behind Winter has blossomed.  He’s less anxious, which allows him the freedom to explore on his own terms.  He’s become more open to his family, to new things and new situations, and he’s discovering his own sense of self.  He’s learning to love learning–perhaps for the first time.

When he was a toddler and the “professionals” suspected he might be autistic, we were pushed into evaluations and therapies, and everyone seemed to have an opinion of what was wrong with him, and how they could “cure him” so that he would be just like everybody else.  I was always pushing him, like the professionals (and family members too) were pushing me.  He was so resistant, and I didn’t understand why.  We walked away from those people and their insistence that we conform, but I had continued to push Winter, and his resistance became such an ingrained habit that we were always fighting, battling for control.

Now I realize that he really just wanted to be himself–though he does have some difficulty sharing control of certain situations–usually related to his sensory sensitivities, but he’s learning to cope.

So even though I’m not offering a lot of guided activities, I know that they’re learning, we all are, and they’re profound lessons too.  Life lessons.

While we’re still adjusting to this unschooling lifestyle, I also look at self-directed activities as proof that our family is learning outside the box.  Winter does an incredible amount of reading for an 8 year old boy.  He still prefers his comics and graphic novels, like Tintin, Loud Boy, and The Amulet series, but I purchased a subscription to Your Big Backyard, and despite some initial resistance, he’s excited about each new publication we receive, and I catch him reading and re-reading them sometimes on his own in a quiet part of the house.  

Since his interest is piqued, I’ve pulled out some old issues of Ranger Rick and Highlights an aunt had given us, which I had wisely saved.  Winter’s confiscated all of them. 

Other times Winter ventures out to the back yard to swing, it’s calming for him.

Summer, being much more active, likes to do puzzles, and games (how many 4 year old like to play Checkers? or Go-Fish?), play dress-up with our collection of old Halloween costumes, and has some fabulous dramatic play with a set of army men.  He’s also interested in coloring, and likes practicing his writing on pre-school worksheets, learning his alphabets and their sounds.

So those are some of the difficulties we’ve faced in transitioning to unschooling, and how I’ve learned to face those issues.  Even in the midst of those things that are hardest to accept about unschooling, you can see the benefits and the learning that takes place.  But there are many aspects of this lifestyle that are easier to accept.

EMBRACING THE BENEFITS
Time for Personal Interests

Personally, I have much more free time available to me, which suits me, with my numerous and varied interests and passions.  Since we let go of the curriculum I’ve been freed up to establish the Somerset Beekeepers’ group, a local chapter of the Maine State Beekeeper’s Association–and elected President of the group.  This spring I participated in the University of Maine’s Master Gardener class through our local extension office, which has created a nice bridge between my organic garden pursuits and my beekeeping obsession, via my creation of a program I’ve deemed “Gardening for Pollinators”.  I’ve spoken to senior citizens at a nearby memorial home, hosted a booth at our local farmer’s market with the display I put together, and I will be introducing beekeeping to our county’s 4-H groups on the 1st of July.

My husband has been honing his wood-working skills, and is able to spend more time with the boys, since they are less tied up with school-work, chores, and regimented routines.  

I feel that by demonstrating our passions for life and learning we are providing a model for the boys, and I hope they will follow our lead.

CONSISTENCY
Some things from our old life persist however, despite the changes in our lifestyle.  My messy house–for example.  Not necessarily classifiable as dirty; but definitely cluttery, with books, magazines, toys, and such strewn about our small house.  

The perpetual pile of dishes which never seem to be completely caught up.  

The yard that is forever in need of mowing.

Though I no longer need to extensively plan homeschool lessons or perform and enforce them, I feel just as frenzied, just as busy, with my new group and my volunteer-work in the community.  My garden is just as desperately in need of weeding, just as it was last year.  This year, instead of just one beehive to tend, I have two.  And did I mention we’re working on buying our first home (but that’s a whole different can of worms!) ? 

LOOKING BACK
Despite all of this, our relationships are less strained now that I am less stressed over homeschooling, and our entire household has an improved atmosphere–a happier, less anxious atmosphere.  I would have to say that unschooling has made all the difference.

Exploring Winter Through Play

The boys have been spending time outside almost every day learning about winter first-hand.

Summer received a shiny new sled for the holiday from Papa, and could scarcely wait to get home to try it out.

I like watching them from my front room picture-window; they can practically sled right out the back door and down the slope of our backyard.  Kids are funny in their antics and never fail to make me smile or laugh.

Just by playing in the snow they’re learning about the nature of winter.  They’re learning about how cold snow is, what it feels like–what it tastes like.

They’re learning the science of sledding–sure, there’s a science to sledding.  By trial and experimentation they learn which parts of the hill produce the best ride; they learn about the different kinds of snow and which kind is best for sledding.  They learn that you have to pull the rope into the sled with you or you don’t get very far very fast.

When the east-coast received a walloping blizzard right after Christmas they learned that wind is the key factor that makes a winter-storm a blizzard (the National Weather Service defines a blizzard as large amounts of falling OR blowing snow with winds in excess of 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 of a mile for an extended period of time-more than 3 hours).

Through play children learn about themselves, their environment, and about the people and the world around them.  They learn to solve problems.  Free play like this enhances creativity.

Kids develop healthy personalities through play; positive play experiences help children develop positive emotional well-being, something which is especially crucial for children like Winter, who have autistic characteristics, and struggle day-in and day-out with the world around them, and may need these positive play experiences to lift their self-esteem.

Most homeschoolers are well aware of the benefits of play; however, if by chance you are not familiar with the concept, here are a few choice resources I’ve located for you.

Resources

Learning Through Play – a Child’s Job

Building Unstructured Play into the Structure of Each Day

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds

Unschooling Update

bitsofnature
Dried flowers I brought inside to help us keep nature close.

We’ve been “unschooling” for a couple of months now, and I’m embarrassed to admit that my boys are still obsessed with their video games.  I even hesitate to share this news with you, but in the fairness of full disclosure I want other parents to know that the road to unschooling success has it’s own curves and bumps.

Daily Routine

One of the biggest concerns parents of children on the autism spectrum have regarding unschooling is the lack of structure and routine, after all isn’t that what all of the professionals tribute to success with autistic children?  Yet we’ve been homeschooling without curriculum for two months now and our routine remains in-tact.

The basic elements of our days have changed very little since Winter was a toddler, he gets up whenever he wakes up, I help him dress for the day, he chooses something for breakfast, then he brushes his teeth.  At lunchtime the kids eat at the table, then go to their respective bedrooms for a period of quiet-time (this was once nap-time, but neither of my boys nap anymore).  During quiet-time they can read or play quietly with toys.  Most nights we have dinner at the table as a family, and at eight o’clock (or sooner if they desire) the boys head upstairs for the night and the bedtime routine ensues–this consists of preparing their beds, dressing in pajamas, reading together, returning downstairs for bedtime teeth-brushing, toileting, etc.

These things have not changed despite the fact that we no longer conduct a period of formal school-lessons at the table every week-day morning.

Learning to Accept Video-Games

Most mornings lately have been filled with video-games, though occasionally one or both of the boys will finish after only a brief session, typically Winter will play for a good two hours at a time.  The same goes for the afternoon where once we would have conducted a “productive-activity time” we now have–yes, you guessed it–more video games.

Can you tell that I’m still struggling to accept this excess of gaming??

It’s hard for me, not being much of a gamer.  My husband accepts it in stride–he’s a bona-fide vidiot since his youth, and still plays when his schedule permits; he enjoys spending time playing one game or another with the boys.  It’s beautiful bonding time, and once in a great while I’ve followed his lead and played a round or two with the kids–depending on the game.  I prefer games like “Worms-Armageddon” and “Tetris”, when we were teenagers I used to play “Jet-Motto” with my husband to-be.  I never seem to win much when I play, and often kill my character in spectacular fashion, but I have fun and the time connecting with my family is of high-value to me.

I remind myself often that there is learning that happens in gaming.  Summer likes to play Spiderman on the Playstation3, as well as Lego Batman, but he has also been eagerly using the preschool games at NickJr.com, where I often catch him playing alphabet games, games that teach shapes and colors, and counting games–and that is reassuring to me.  Winter is still rebelling against anything even remotely related to educational, he plays games like “Adventure Quest” and “Wizard101”.  He has a vivid imagination and a passion for mythology, and these games sport numerous mythological creatures, fantasy themes, and are rich in creativity.  These probably are not typically considered educational, but the amount of reading involved in the games, and the strategy involved reassure me that he will at the very least be exercising his reading skills, and who could complain about a kid so happy to engage his imagination?

Unschooling Autism

One significant improvement I’ve seen in Winter which I can attribute only to this free-access to the computer, has been his sudden gravitation toward video media and a marked increase in his tolerance levels for music.

Most of Winter’s autistic characteristics are related to his highly-sensitive ears–he has exceptionally keen hearing–he notices very small noises.  Which also makes loud noises much louder, and lots of loud noises all at once were just unbearable for him when he was younger.  It’s confusing to figure out who’s talking to who in a room of fifty people, to discern who’s talking to you, and that the music in the background is coming from the radio.  Television was hard enough, but to ask him to watch something so stressful on his beloved computer was just asking too much.  And then all of a sudden Winter and Summer are sitting–side by side–on the couch in the living room–watching US Acres cartoons (Winter loves Garfield) on the lap top that’s lately taken up residence on the coffee table.  He’s even singing Christmas carols, for Pete’s sake!! That’s unheard of for a child who’s never even been able to tolerate “Happy Birthday”!

Yet, even though I can find good in all of this gaming, I have to admit I would much prefer them to spend some of their time doing other activities.  I often attempt to entice the boys away from their glowing screens with activities and projects I think might interest them, and often I can engage Summer in something aside from the video-games, but Winter is stubborn, anxious, and the activity has to be of high-interest to him in order to engage him.

investigatingwinterwall
One wall in my dining room is optimized for learning the science of winter. And I still have space to add more photographs or posters as our inquiring minds investigate!

Strewing Science

I found inspiration in the unschooling concept of “strewing”, where you leave out books and other things you hope the kids will discover.  And I had one of those light-bulb moments–when I connected strewing with my own concept of creating opportunity for scientific learning.  Basically the same general idea right?  So following this concept I am taking the Winter-Investigations unit and setting it up at home.  I’ve put together some winter bulletin-board resources, and I’ve gathered all of the winter-related books off our bookshelves and our library’s shelves and set up a display.

On a piece of construction paper I wrote across the top: Winter Questions, and DH and I brainstormed with Winter a few questions we had about the winter season.  Not wanting to raise anxiety in Winter we settled for three questions to start us off.

Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Why does it snow?
  2. Why do we have short days and long nights around the winter solstice?
  3. Why does it get cold during the winter?

I went back through some of the experiments posed on the Kids Investigate Winter lens I made at Squidoo, and pulled a few more out of some of our science books, and I made up these activity & experiment cards, with hopes to do at least one a week with the kids.

Bringing Nature In-Doors for the Solstice

Then the boys and I went out to “the Farm” to collect some “bits of nature” to bring indoors for the winter solstice; I collected a few extra things for our school-wall, and asked the boys to help me look for an insect gall specifically.  They did, but they left me for the warmth of the car before we could locate one.  It was 22-degrees yesterday at mid-day, and they weren’t really dressed for making snow-angels. We were surprised by the two-inches of powder covering the ground at that higher elevation just four-miles west of Anson, in-town we barely have anything left to show that it’s snowed at all.  So I tucked my precious “bits-of-nature” onto the floor of the passenger’s side front seat, and called the dog.  …somehow it seems like the boys are always ready to be done long before I’ve satisfied myself.  I always feel like I could spend hours more outside, like I haven’t yet seen everything there is to see.  But that’s me.

insectgall
Insect gall I collected.

I buckled them in and began back down the long rutted dirt drive that leads through the woods to the main road, but stopped to collect three insect galls from a place I remembered we’d once found them–when we’d lived out to the Farm before we’d had to move into town.  I let the kids take turns “playing” with one of the galls as I drove down off the hills toward home.  What they’re really doing is exploring the thing–feeling the hardness and the texture of the dried plant stem.  Seeing the bulbous growth that houses the mysterious insects inside.  We will sacrifice one of these galls in the name of science.  It will be cut open to see what is inside.  Is it just one insect or many?  Are there different kinds, or just one species?

The Freedom of Unschooling

Since I have dropped the curricula and eased up on some of the restrictions limiting my kids, there has been a marked decrease in the stress-level in our home.  No longer am I fighting with Winter over every lesson, every activity, every hour he spends in front of the computer.  He is decidedly happier.  I’ve also noticed that he his more conversational, too.  More apt to tell me about his games, or read his Garfield comics to me, or just to tell me a story.  It never ceases to surprise me the use of language my boys have.  I find great pleasure in listening to them tell me whatever they have to say, and they are happy to have someone who will listen.

Unschooling is a frightening venture when you’ve come from the regulated, systematized world of the institutional school-setting, the corporate grind, the every-day office, where it is all too easy to loose yourself to the hum-drum of that lifestyle.  This style of learning and living is awakening new concepts and new ideas within me–within my children too, it seems.  I can imagine that unschoolers who have come before me have experienced such an awakening; it is inspiring despite the uncertainty we feel at the start of the journey.  I feel truly free, for the first time in my life–free to pursue whatever passing interest takes my fancy.

It’s exciting–invigorating.

Recommended Reading:

Video Games Offer Kids Developmental, Social Benefits-Study Shows – article from Creston News.

Take Two Video-Games and Call Me in the Morning – a good article from Scientific American.

Studies: Video Games Can Make Better Students, Surgeons – from USA Today.

Does Your Child Have a Video Game Addiction – article and resources from Parenting Science.

Video Game Benefits for Kids – another article from Suite101.com.

How Do Video Games Help Children? – from eHow.

The Science of Winter

Now that the first day of winter is just around the corner, I have found myself standing at my picture window gazing longingly outside and wondering what I can do to encourage participation with nature despite the cold.  And how can I stimulate inquiry into the science of winter?  What are the sciences of winter anyway?!

chickadeeatfeederThere were the obvious interactions–feeding the birds-that’s an easy one and can lead you into a study of birds, their habits, migration patterns, aviation, and so much more.  But I drew a blank, so I did what I always do–I did some research.  I looked in our science and nature activity books, I looked it up online–and what I found I should have realized from the start, but sometimes you just don’t see what’s right in front of you.

Exploring winter could involve investigations into:

  • ice and snow
  • the three states of water
  • the water cycle
  • winter storms
  • animal/plant survival methods
  • icebergs and glaciers
  • avalanches
  • the winter solstice

This is by no means an exhaustive list–just some ideas to get you started, and who knows where an investigation into any one of these topics might lead you.

I’ve put together this Squid-lens: Kids Investigate Winter, which provides a multitude of links to online resources (including links to reference-sources, activities, experiments, and mythology), suggested items on Amazon, even recipes for feeding the birds.  Of coarse, there are plenty of science-studies you can investigate that don’t relate so directly with nature–I’ve listed some ideas on the lens to help with the not-so-obvious.  So if you find yourself wondering as I did–check out the latest squid-lens by the Scientific Homeschool and allow your family’s natural curiosities to flourish into a winter investigation.

And always stay critical!!

How to Teach Science Every Day

womeninscienceWhy is it that science intimidates us?  I’ve heard it more than once–I even used to feel that way!  That science was just too hard to teach, since I really didn’t understand it myself.  Science is so all-encompassing, and so critically important–as homeschoolers it’s daunting to think about teaching our children any part of it, especially when most of us don’t remember even half of what we learned in high school biology!

Defining Science

What exactly is “Science” anyway?  Merrium-Webster’s online dictionary states that science is:

1. The state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.

2. a: a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study.

b: something that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge.

3. a: knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.

b: such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena.

OK….but what does that mean?  Basically it means that science is both a body of knowledge and a process.  Knowledge generated using scientific methods is powerful and reliable.  It can be used to develop new technologies, treat diseases, and it is on-going.

me and my boysIt amazes me that as I’ve personally gone through the process of “deschooling”–all of these childhood curiosities have returned.  Interests I’d forgotten about have come back to me, homeschooling has enabled me to pursue them, and has led me to new curiosities, new passions.  Which I follow, in the name of modeling good lifestyle behaviors for my children….Okay, secretly this is partly just for me as a person, but I’ve also found that modeling good lifestyle behaviors has a positive effect on everyone I touch–not only my children, but my husband, my sisters, friends and family–it’s a positive thing and it’s infectious.  Don’t tell anyone.  It’s a secret.

Under the guise of “education” I can ramble the forests of Maine with my two boys, exploring our local vernal pool in search of amphibians. I can say that it is for the boys, and of coarse they have a blast doing those sorts of things, but in all honesty that is something I do to satisfy a curiosity within myself.  Herpetology is an interest that has remained constant throughout my life, and a passion that only seems to grow stronger as I grow older.

And then we dropped our curriculum in favor of unschooling.

It’s taken me a few weeks, but I think I’ve reached the point that so many other unschooling mamas have attained, where I have come to the realization that this indulgence in curiosity is the very heart of learning.  And it is through this long metamorphosis that I have finally realized that science isn’t hard to teach at all!  Since science is all around us, in every part of everything we see and do every minute of every hour of our lives, if we can only give ourselves the freedom to indulge our natural curiosities we would be learning science.

But How Do I Teach Science??!

I know what you’re thinking: that you still don’t understand how to encourage scientific learning.  Here’s something else I’ve learned since we began unschooling–creating opportunity for scientific learning and modeling scientific behaviors will stimulate curiosities in those around you, which facilitates the learning of science.

Creating Opportunity for Scientific Learning

 

Since science is all around us, creating opportunities for science is actually relatively easy, once you’ve broadened your perception of what science-education really is.  Here are some ideas to get you started (remember the key is to capitalize on an individual’s natural curiosities, and present them with opportunities for learning).

 

  • Organize nature walks with your family or with friends.  Utilize a nearby park, or visit your nearest nature-center, state-park, or anywhere trails are available for hikers.  This opens the door to opportunity for tree-study, botany, entomology (the study of bugs), bird-watching, rock collecting, identification of geologic features such as unique rock formations, investigation of rock strata, and so much more.  Who knows where any one particular curiosity might lead you.

 

  • Feed the critters in your backyard.  Backyard birding is a very popular past-time, one that can bring your family joy and can lead to all sorts of scientific investigation.  A spark of interest in birding can lead to bird identification, inquiry into which birds eat which bird-feeds and why, the principles of aviation, migration…A curiosity of the squirrels that rob your feeders could lead a person to study the creature, it’s habits and methods for survival, or to invent a squirrel-proof feeder.

 

 

  • Allow your children to “play” or experiment with scientific tools.  Thermometers, rulers, eye-droppers, measuring cups and spoons, even the microscope.  Just the other day my children we taking the temperature of their chicken-and-stars soup and using an eye-dropper to eat the broth.  Even such simple activities with science-tools will give the children better understanding of how to use these tools later on.

 

 

  • Encourage your children to start a collection.  Bugs, rocks, stamps, action-figures, comic books, whatever interests them.  Collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining the items within the set.

 

 

  • If another child likes to tinker and take things apart you could scrounge old electronics, things he can take apart and reconstruct in new and interesting ways.  Watch “How It’s Made” and “Junkyard Wars”.  Look online for “Do-It-Yourself” projects.

 

 

  • Make an occasion of it.  Hold a star-gazing party, just for your family, or invite some friends; provide refreshments, trivia, read related stories.  Or have a competition to see who can construct the best-defensible snow-fort and split into two groups for the prize.  Have a picnic at the meadow or park and hold a competition to see who can collect the most species of butterflies in a day.  Remember to record observations and make comparisons.

 

 

Modeling Scientific Behaviors

 

This is a prime opportunity to follow your own curiosities, all the while knowing you are presenting your children with a role model for a scientific lifestyle.  Maybe you’re already practicing science and you just didn’t realize it.  Gardening and cooking are both sciences that people use every day, yet they are so mundane to us that we rarely consider it science.  Here are a few other suggestions to get you started in the right direction.

 

  • Keep a nature journal for just yourself.  This will hone your skills of observation, allow you to practice your drawing and writing skills, and is completely customizable.

 

  • Track the weather from your home and record data on a chart for the whole family to see.

 

 

  • Collecting rocks is a simple way to practice science–splurge on a new guide to Rocks & Minerals.

 

 

  • Take up Birding–or herpetology, whatever creature it is you’re fascinated with.

 

 

  • Press and collect plants.  They would make a lovely collection, framed and mounted on your wall, or given as gifts.

 

 

  • Wonder aloud about things as you go along in your day.  Talk to your kids about why certain processes happen and how things work.  If they want to know more you can run with it.

 

 

  • Read science publications like Scientific American, Audubon, Mother Earth News, National Geographic, etc.

 

 

  • Watch science programs and documentaries.  There is a wide variety of science-program on television these days.  “CSI”, “Meerkat Manor”, “Mythbusters”, “Planet Earth”, “Wild America” (do you remember that from our childhood years?? I always loved watching it on Sunday mornings with my brother and sister!), “How It’s Made”, etc.

 

 
This method of learning, where you follow your child’s natural curiosities, is known as child-led learning.  Instead on making science lessons stressful as you struggle to follow the directions of a lesson plan, it is a laid-back method which encourages the true nature of science–and that is curiosity, intrigue, and inquiry.  Once you discover your child’s inner-spark, that grain of curiosity, you can develop a whole unit-study around it that goes into as much detail as your child’s curiosity needs in order to be satisfied.  Sometimes a simple explanation from you is all he will need to satisfy the intrigue, however sometimes, he will want a lot more–and that’s where the fun begins!

Resources

What is Science? – Fabulous resource from the folks at Berkeley, explains science and its many facets.

The Science of Everyday Life – article from suite101.com

Everyday Science – to get you thinking about the  very basic science that exists in your life on a day to day basis.

Science in Daily Life – discusses some of the very important ways science has effected humanity and our everyday life.

Chemistry in Everyday Life – this is a long list of resources provided by About.com, regards exploring various household chemical reactions and investigating how things work.

Everyday Science: Sites, Activities, & Projects | Exploratorium – excellent resource for things to explore and things to do; everything form the science of cooking to skateboard science.

Great Migrations on National Geographic Television

crabmigrationAs the Scientific Homeschool we love our science channels. We watch Mythbusters, How It’s Made, Planet Earth, Destroyed in Seconds (is that really science? or just the male desire for destruction?), Dirty Jobs, Bugging Out, Head Rush, Meteorite Men, Through the Wormhole, even “Punkin Chunkin” and more.  I even consider watching “Phineas and Ferb” on the Disney channel fair learning material, since it promotes creativity, interest-led learning, and individuality.  And I don’t feel the least bit guilty about allowing my kids to watch TV in the name of science, especially since my older son is a visual learner.  Truthfully these programs are how I justify the existence of a TV in my home (my husband was raised with television; I was not).  I draw the line at Sponge Bob, though–sorry kids, no credit there.

The first two episodes of Great Migrations aired Sunday and we saved both to the DVR for the family’s viewing pleasure; sometimes we like to watch our nature programs more than once (–okay-I like to watch them more than once!).  “Born to Move” and “Need to Breed” were entrancing, the photography was breathtaking and the films are everything I’ve come to expect of National Geographic.

This weekend the migration continues, with the “Science of Great Migrations” at 7pm on Saturday the 13th, and on Sunday the 14th “Feast or Famine” at 8pm, “Race to Survive” at 9pm, and a “Behind the Scenes” at 10pm.

A number of resources are available at the National Geographic website to accompany Great Migrations, including featured videos, slide shows, animals migratory profiles, episode scheduling, the science behind the migration and why scientists study migration.

If anyone calls me during any of the aforementioned viewing times for Great Migrations–don’t be offended if I let the answering machine take your message.  ;D

Some Other Resources to Consider:

National Geographic-the home page will lead you to all the different facets of NatGeo–including the magazine, photography, articles, teacher resources, and more.

Science Channel-videos, information regarding all the various shows and scheduling, lots of resources.

Discovery Channel-a myriad of resources, video-clips, show schedules, teacher resources, and more.

Animal Games-we’ve been playing these games at Sheppard Software quite frequently also, which make a nice accompaniment to the Great Migrations series.  I have the main page listed on our site’s links, but this will take you directly to the animal games, where you and your kids can play interactive games to learn about animal classification, producers and consumers, the food chain, herbivores, carnivores, and much more.