Several years ago we discovered vernal pools. In fact my first ever blog post was about exploring vernal pools and the cover picture for the blog is usually of the boys sitting beside their favorite pool examining larvae.
A person might think we would get tired of studying frogs each spring, but there is a certain happiness to hearing the first spring peepers. This year we are thrilled to join citizen scientist across the US monitoring local frog populations.
Our local zoo, Akron Zoo, is part of Frog Watch USA, a citizen scientist project. We attended training back in February and received a CD of all the local frog calls. Thankfully there are only 16 species of frog we need to know by call. We started out knowing about six of the calls and were able to learn the rest within a few car rides listening to the CD.
Once each month we will be visiting a couple of our favorite frog locations. After sunset we will listen to the frogs for three minutes and report our findings through the Frog Watch website.
When we started homeschooling, one of our major desires was to “learn more about animals.” Frog Watch is a great opportunity to learn more about our amphibian friends and contribute to our community.
Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a tidy answer to “What curriculum do you use?” We do use a couple of programs but those programs don’t define us. Instead I find myself coming back over and over to the following principles.
Reading should be interesting. Children should spend their time with books they personally desire to read. Nothing kills the desire to read as much as being required to read for the sake of being evaluated. We spend a lot of time reading about animals and scientists. We also like mysteries and books that are funny. It’s okay to read books that are “below your reading level” if you find them funny, interesting, or relaxing. When kids read books that are easy they develop fluency and feel a sense of accomplishment knowing it is easier this year than it was last year. Children need to move. Frequently. Sometimes every one is getting tense or squirrelly and I know we need to move. Some days we have to set aside a lesson for a while so we can take a walk or swim. Sometimes I try to push through just a little more book work even though I know they need a break and it doesn’t go well. Play. Every day. In play children explore their world. They make hypotheses and test them. Their hypothesis is either confirmed or re-evaluated. The scientific method develops organically through play. Play allows children to create and test a multitude of things. Developing plays and dialogue allows children to explore social reactions. Play allows a child to compete against herself and develop mastery of skills that lead to confidence. (The skill might be off the wall and not have any practical value to the observer but the child is still benefiting.) Play is not the exclusive domain of preschoolers. If you know some one who continues to tinker as they get older you know they are most often very knowledgeable in their field of interest. Even as adults we learn through play. Nature is necessary. Spending time in nature allows us to understand our place in the world. Nature allows us to feel big compared to an ant and small compared to the vastness of the ocean or the universe. When we study nature we begin to understand its cycles and the importance of time. We see the incredible abilities of small creatures like the monarch butterflies to travel thousands of miles. We can marvel for days over the fact that if ice were more dense than water our world would be vastly different. Nature creates a sense of awe and wonder. Curiosity is a wonderful teacher. I have noticed unit studies that start with a child’s question last longer, have more depth and more staying power than studies initiated because they match up with the core standards. Seemingly small events (a cicada molting on our soccer net, the call of spring peepers, a cartoon episode) can launch investigations if we take the time to follow our curiosity. Curiosity is powerful and motivating.
Grow the whole child. The goal of our learning environment is to grow physically, spiritually, emotionally, and in wisdom of the world. Each child has a unique personality with individual strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. As parents and teachers we need to listen carefully to their desires and provide guidance on the path toward maturity. We must meet children at their points of need, find the resources they need, and help them get the practice they need to develop new skills.
Those principles are the things I keep coming back to. That and the evidence of happy, confident, growing children.