Wintertime Nature Study

IMG_8955

It’s hard to be indoors this time of year. We spend so much time in the yard and garden from early spring to late fall I really feel trapped by the cold. This year I’ve made a commitment to getting out for a bit with Cora each day regardless of the weather. I’m meeting mixed results. The chickens help as she misses them as much as the swings. But overall we’re pretty disconnected from the natural world at this time of year.

We are growing all we can on the windowsills. The chia Gnome is sprouting his beard and potatoes are growing roots in glasses of water. For Christmas, we potted paperwhites for Cora to pass around as gifts. It’s been fun to these people’s homes and see the flowers growing taller and budding.

Cora has been eagerly waiting for our flowers. The other day I bumped into the tallest of the bunch and knocked off the largest bud. I was so pissed at myself but quickly realized the teachable moment this would give us to look inside the bud – if you’ve ever grown paperwhites you know the buds push out of their leaf cocoons to such a great extent that you can see the shape of them bulging. It was fun to cut that pod open and take out the guts. Cora chopped the stem, stuck it with a toothpick, and opened the flowers by hand.

DSC_0483

 

 

DSC_0496

I’m teaching a course on the history of art education this term. We always start with Frederich Froebel’s vision of kindergarten. I think he would have approved of this hands- and minds-on discovery time. What are you doing to stay connected to the natural world this winter?

Advertisements

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 9 [Homeschool Preschool Edition]

DSC_0021

Depending on your educational worldview, it may seem contradictory to hear a professional educator say she’s not sure she wants to send her kid to school. But I’m not.

I don’t want Cora to waste her time in a classroom being prepped for tests. I don’t want her sitting through classroom management nightmares. And I definitely don’t want her eating in a school cafeteria.

I’m sure I’d feel differently if she were going to attend some fabulous private school where teachers still have intellectual freedom, where parents are paying so much tuition kids wouldn’t dare make a nuisance of themselves, and where all the food is organic and locally-sourced. But that’s not the reality we are living in. We live within the bounds of a large urban school district with its attendant challenges, and a few assets like a nice range of specialized schools.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be a full-time homeschooler either. I have long argued that all parents must think of themselves as homeschoolers to some extent. Children just aren’t in school enough hours of their lives to leave their education completely up to school teachers. But I’m not sure I’m up to the task of teaching Cora everything she’ll need to learn. I could join a homeschooling co-op, but I haven’t been having the greatest luck lately with volunteer-led organizations. And, truth be told, part of me would welcome 5-6 hours of time to myself everyday.

As a kind of experiment, we’re trying out a homeschool preschool curriculum designed for the summer months by the mother-daughter team behind the blog Wee Folk Art. My friend Melissa (who plans to homeschool her daughter Maya, Cora’s best gal pal) recommended the program and upon initial investigation, I find it pretty well-thought out. They authors draw on their backgrounds in education (mother), the arts (daughter) and parenting (both). So far, the summer unit “Puddles and Ponds” seems age-appropriate, open-ended, and engaging.

Regular readers of this blog, and “Picturebooks on the Potty” specifically, will not be surprised to learn that one of the things I like best about the curriculum is the use of picturebooks as a foundation for each lesson. Cora and I are having a bit of trouble sticking to just two books a week, but after just a few days she’s already applying information from them to her observations in the real world.

The first two books we read were about clouds – The Cloud Book (de Paola, 1975) and Little Cloud (Carle, 1996). I don’t remember learning about clouds. I’m sure I did 30+ years ago but I’ve enjoyed this chance to reengage the terms and the science behind them. This afternoon, on a VERY long drive to pick George up from camp and drop him at a friend’s house (my least favorite type drive, the kind that makes me feel most like a taxi driver), Cora looked out the window and commented on the clouds. For the rest of the ride we talked about what we saw – wispy cirrus and fluffy cumulus clouds to the north, altocumulus in the distance to the east, and finally nimbostratus as a storm blew in from the south on our way back home. It almost made the drive seem worthwhile.

Shot at a red light. Earth to sky: Cumulus, Cirrus, and Cirroculumus