Archive for the ‘Nature Walks’ Category

Nature journaling wherever you are

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Nature journaling

Years ago, I discovered a small idea that quickly became an important one in my life with my kids. Charlotte Mason (the English educator of the early 20th century) believed an emphasis on nature was a critical way to develop into a well-rounded person. Her schools would follow their courses of study in the morning leaving the whole afternoon free to wander in the English country-side (no matter how moody the weather!). She couldn’t imagine that all various ills wouldn’t be cured by fresh air, walking and the keen ability to name all the plants and animals in one’s surroundings.

Unfortunately at the time, I lived in a condo in southern California. We had sprinklers, 80 degree temperatures, chronically blue skies, black crows and palm trees that never change their shape, color or drop leaves. It seemed to me that naming plants could be finished in a matter of moments (ice plant, vinca, pansies, bermuda grass, hibiscus and a few displaced maples). Weather amounted to sunrise and set. Bird watching included varieties of sparrows. The insect population offered us pill bugs and snails.

But Charlotte’s philosophy got to me. She contended that every child had a birthright: to know his or her environment, to love it, to cultivate even a postage stamp garden of one’s own. She believed deeply in the power of getting outdoors and forming a relationship with trees, bushes, wildflowers and the local wildlife (even if that wildlife turned out to be gophers and squirrels). Perhaps I hadn’t looked closely enough. Perhaps my years of growing up with a gardener in the suburbs had dulled my appetite for nature. Maybe there were more varieties of everything than I had guessed!

And so, determined to give my children a vocabulary I didn’t have, we bought

  • field guides,
  • sketch books,
  • colored pencils,
  • and maps of our local area.

Amazingly, as is so often the case, once I turned my attention to nature, it erupted into view as the varied, wild, fascinating world I hardly noticed every other day. Likewise, I discovered that just because I didn’t live in England with creeks and moors, woods and rose gardens didn’t mean there weren’t equally wonderful locations to enjoy in Los Angeles.

We went to tide pools at the state beach and met sea anemones. We sketched the pools, named all the barnacles, shell life, sand crabs, and creatures living in the salty ponds amidst craggy rocks. We noted sea grasses and sand pipers, evaluated the tides (low or high), tried to figure out if the beach was pure west (by the sun) or facing south (as some of them are).

We visited a nature preserve near our home (sure the creek was cemented in to keep it from moving into the neighboring housing development, but it was still preserved for us to hike in!). We learned about birds, we looked at acorns and pine cones. We sketched.

We found another huge, empty space of land only walking distance from us. We had no idea it even existed! In this vast empty space bordered by huge homes, a thicket of blackberries grew wild and we picked them and made pies. We took a can of silver spray paint with us one time and sprayed spider webs to see the differences between various spiders and how the webs were formed. Then we made mini books to show what we had learned.

We did all this before we moved to Ohio where nature journaling and walking were as easy as breathing. Once we moved here, we became avid birders, measuring the times they fed, looking up the best feed for the ones we hoped would visit our feeders most frequently. We took hikes in gorges and through woods. We skied mountains and had picnics in glorious state parks.

In all of these events, nature journaling had merely been the door that we nudged open through a suggestion by an educator. We did keep journals, with sketches and notes, trying to copy The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. But mostly, we learned to love nature:

  • to name it,
  • to observe it,
  • to know it.

thumb-nature-journalingIf you would like to enhance your love of nature, Brave Writer offers a wonderful course designed to make nature journaling a natural and joyful part of your life. What I wouldn’t have given for a class like this back in the dark ages before the Internet! I would have loved to have guidance, to have shared our work, to have experienced the process in others.

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Repost: Stuff to do in Summer

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Hi everyone.

I made a list years ago of things to do in summer. We posted it to our refrigerator so that if any child came to me saying, “I’m bored; I have nothing to do,” I could simply point a silent finger at the door and they would know to scan the list before asking for any more ideas. Usually, they found something.

The key to using la liste is making sure that you have the supplies already stocked up in your house. Don’t put “oil pastels” as an option if you haven’t bought them. Make sure everything that they may want to do, can be done.

Before I post the list, here are a few ideas to consider as well:

1. Create an art table that houses markers, paintbrushes, watercolors, glue (of varying styles), paper, pipe cleaners, string, tape, staplers, scrapbooking pages, old magazines, newspaper, construction paper, various sizes of oil paint canvases, and so on. (We use tin cans from beans etc. to hold the paintbrushes or markers.) Purchase colorful clay to bake into novel items. You might add a book or two on art (how to draw, paint, oil pastel, etc.)

2. Create a nature station which includes binoculars, birding guides, seeds, trowels, and a cheap digital camera for photo ops (when the squirrels fight or you see a cool caterpillar).

3. Tune up bicycles (air in tires, brakes that work), purchase a badminton or croquet set, collect water guns and pool toys.

All right, without further ado: here’s the list!

  • Paint
  • Make play-doh
  • Create a collage
  • Take a walk
  • Swing
  • Climb a tree
  • Listen to music
  • Read a book
  • Read a magazine
  • Legos
  • Playmobiles (or whatever toys you have that your kids love)
  • Reorganize your bedroom (moving furniture around)
  • Sew
  • Learn a new recipe
  • Hammer nails into scrap wood (for some reason, this is always satisfying)
  • Jump rope
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Fill the wading pool and splash
  • Shoot each other with water guns
  • Blow bubbles
  • Sidewalk chalk the driveway
  • Inventory the house (count windows, steps, pillows, door knobs, mirrors, paintings, photographs) Use a clipboard to record findings.
  • Write a poem
  • Make a phone call to grandma
  • Email Dad/Mom at work
  • Play a board game
  • Make a picnic under a tree
  • Lie on your back and look at clouds
  • Watch a movie
  • Play a video game
  • Create fairy houses with twigs, moss, leaves, acorns. Make fairies out of scrap fabric, pipe cleaners and wooden beads.
  • Create shoe box houses for little dolls
  • Catch tadpoles (in a local stream)
  • Catch fireflies in a jam jar
  • Do something for someone else (vacuum a room, empty the dishwasher, fold clean clothes)
  • Sort clothes that are too small and give to charity
  • Alphabetize the spices in the spice cabinet
  • Learn to do a cartwheel
  • Run through the sprinkler
  • Play HORSE with the basketball
  • Play jacks
  • Play pick up sticks
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Dress up in dress up clothes
  • Face paint
  • Draw with oil pastels or charcoal
  • Roast hotdogs in an open fire; make s’mores
  • Collect wild flowers for a centerpiece at dinner
  • Memorize riddles, poems, rhymes
  • Act out a favorite play or story
  • Polish nails
  • Rub on temporary tattoos
  • Learn to braid hair
  • Make a fort in the living room
  • Study a tide pool (if you’re lucky enough to live near one!)

Please add to the list in the comments section! I’m sure you’ll have ideas I haven’t included.

What you can do when you want to give up?

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

It’s April. Spring break is just around the corner, and happens to come at the right time every year (the moment when I want to collapse from the drain of winter quarter)… except for one thing. Sometimes when I allow myself to let down during the break, I lose all my energy to finish the year strong. Our homeschool dribbles to the end of May and ekes into June with just enough sluggish energy to feel we have completed the year’s work. Or in those “let’s just hurry up and get to summer” years, the dribbling and eking maybe didn’t even occur and we hope no one from the state shows up at our door in July looking for work samples from seven subjects.

I used to put it this way: in the fall, I was a classical educator. In winter, I shifted to a Charlotte Mason-unit study kind of school style. But by spring, radical unschoolers.

If this is you and right now you’re wondering how you can get to the end without the end coming too soon, here are a few Brave Writer suggestions that may help.

  1. Change the routine. Maybe you let everyone sleep in longer than usual and you start the day outside (weather permitting). Start with an entry in a nature journal or tending seedlings you plant. If you usually begin with math, start with grammar. Save math for later in the day. Maybe you can kick a soccer ball before you do any school work at all!  Do something utterly different than you have been. Look at the Brave Writer Lifestyle to trigger ideas.
  2. Get ready the night before. Best piece of advice, hardest to follow. Don’t labor over it. Before bed, pick one thing to use as your centerpiece the next day. It might be a book of poetry, perhaps flowers to plant. Maybe you find a DVD that the kids can enjoy in the afternoon, or you decide to bake brownies so that during read aloud time, there are fresh munchies. Stay simple. Just plan one thing (maybe all you do is stack the school books on the table so they are easily found and no one has to complain that they “can’t find the grammar book”).
  3. Play music. We forget how powerful music is in creating mood. If you’ve got an iPod and a speaker set, put that out the night before. You can throw it on shuffle and let the tunes roll, or you can be more deliberate and create a morning playlist conducive to studying. You might even pick a song (instrumental) to use for either freewriting or free drawing. For freewriting, allow the mood of the music to guide the writing. For free drawing, put a variety of writing elements on the table (markers, crayons, colored pencils, high lighters, pens). Your kids will express the mood of the music as they listen.
  4. Poetry. Perhaps you’re already good at poetry teatimes. If you’re not, this is meant for you. Spring is the perfect time to develop/cultivate the habit of reading poetry, sipping tea and eating treats. Read about it here.
  5. Shakespeare. May is the month of Shakespeare in Brave Writer. Take advantage of the fact that we have already structured into our world a focus you can usurp and use in yours! We have a Shakespeare class for high schoolers available and we offer some suggestions of ways to introduce Shakespeare to your kids in the Brave Writer Lifestyle. The blog will also feature some specifically Shakespeare-y kinds of things to do with your family too.
  6. Take classes. We have good ones. Kidswrite Basic, Kidswrite Intermediate and Literary Analysis start next week. Don’t miss your chance to get these in before the year ends.
  7. Take a day off just for you. Plan a hike in the local hills, go to an art museum alone for a morning, see a movie no one wants to see with you, spend a day wandering a labyrinth, get a massage, get a mani-pedi in bright red. Do something to recharge that takes you away from the burden of daily planning. You deserve it. You’ve been working hard all year.

Bottom line: Each year feels like you re-invent your homeschool. That’s because you do. You’ve got kids changing ages and stages, your income fluctuates, your home routine is up-ended by some sports schedule or dance or acting. You find that what worked one year is just not going to work the next. You’re at the end of one of those years now. What things can you do now, that you may not ever get to do again? What opportunities does this year offer that will vanish come September? Do those now. If that means going to Disneyland while you still have kids under 10, do it. If it means having teatimes outside in your backyard because next year you’ll be living in a condo, have as many as you can. If it means that you have leisurely mornings now but next year will be driving someone to school, enjoy sleeping in and reading together in pajamas these last few weeks.

Whatever phase of life you’re in, savor it. Look ahead and consider today. What can I do today that makes a memory, that preserves what I love, that enhances our well-being? Then do that. Math can wait (unless of course math IS that thing <g>).


Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Writing wears kids out, have you noticed? They may get that burst of linguistic energy working for them (when the inspiration strikes, they’re hard to stop!), but when they’re done, they’re done. Sometimes after a successful writing project, all anyone wants to do is lie about doing nothing.

While taking some time off, or while your kids aren’t quite proficient enough to write lengthy passages of prose, you might try writing lists. Lists can be an incredibly therapeutic way to interact with language. For one thing, there is no shortage of topics for lists. Let me give you a quick list (ha!) of what you can list:

Project Feeder Watch

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Yellow finch in winter drab
Originally uploaded by juliecinci

My family has joined the ranks of birders who report to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the birds that frequent our feeders. You can join or read more about birding by visiting their wonderful site.

If you are new to bird watching, here is a great site that has tips for how to identify birds you don’t recognize. One of the benefits of bird watching is that it s one of the easiest ways to teach careful observation and identification by details. Kids train themselves to be patient, to look carefully and to make distinctions (does the wing on the chickadee have a pale white stripe or not? Black-capped or Carolina?).

Additionally, keeping a log of all the birds you see, particularly what is called a “life list” where you note the very first time you see each species, is a great way to exercise those handwriting and listing skills.

I’d love to see photos of your bird watching! Send them to me. We’ll post them here.