Tuesday, April 1, 2014

School's Out—Learning's In

  What adventures are in store for your nature lovers? 

It is intriguing to me what is accomplished, even when home school is officially out.

Our nature enthusiasts, Gideon, 8, and Benjamin, 5, had taken me on many turtle hunts near our farmhouse in Washington state, with no luck. Praying about it, Gideon finally captured an orange spotted painted turtle. Soon after, we found ourselves on an adventure: we moved to Arkansas. 

The boys loved getting to know many new creatures: armadillos, fireflies, ground hogs, slugs, giant beetles, crawdads, many new insects, even a skunk. Our animal encyclopedias were in constant use. They found the remains of turtle shells, and then discovered a box turtle, who they studied closely for five days. Box was scared and stayed hidden in his shell whenever the boys got near. He also did not eat. Two weeks later, we found another they named Friendly Ted, who allowed the boys to hold him, stroke his head, and feed him lettuce from their hands.

Teaching Gideon to use the card catalog at the library, we found a reptile field guide and read all about turtles and snakes. We identified states on maps which told us where the different species lived. On his own, Gideon got out his dad’s 25 ft. tape measure, and discovered just how big that python was if it was all stretched out. The boys both learned about measuring in inches, feet, yards, centimeters, and meters.

During all of this, their Aunt just happened to send them a book, The Practical Entomologist. It was a perfect book to further excite their curiosity. On one of our library trips, Gideon picked out a fascinating video on turtles. He also brought home Minn of the Mississippi, by Holling C. Holling, a delightful story that follows the travels of a snapping turtle. We read this together and even older brother who isn’t that much into critters, listened in. We learned about some U.S. geography from this book, too.

Gideon entered a contest in a children’s newsletter by writing an account of his summer activities, including his wildlife observations. He also answered a pen pal request and wrote a letter about his discoveries and interests in nature.

Being very artistic, Gideon drew numerous pictures during these summer months of insects, turtles, and underwater scenes. With my suggestion, he started a scrapbook for his nature drawings, and wrote titles and captions to explain them. He was inspired to view a collection of shells on display at the library, owned by a ninth grade boy. We read up on their favorite shells. Their Dad divided up his old seashell collection among our four boys, which they arranged in a new showcase in the living room. Out came the field guide on shells, and the 25 foot rule. "Wow, that Giant Conch gets to be this big!"

The boys went rock collecting and compared specimens to a book on rocks and minerals. When their Grandpa visited recently, together they picked out many new additions to their collections. And what a thrilling experience it was for us all when we were invited to visit Hurricane River Cave!

Earlier in the summer, we picked wild flowers on our daily neighborhood walk, and made nature notecards from dried flowers and leaves. Another display at the library detailed exquisitely painted Arkansas wild flowers by a local artist.

Many biblical and scientific discussions took place, including talking to God, how God answers prayers, the story of creation, the beauty of nature, clean and unclean animals, food chains, taxonomy classifications, and animal reproduction.

As I look back over the past two months I am amazed at the learning that has taken place with almost no planning from me. A love for nature, curiosity, a few supplies, and a shared enthusiastic interest from Mom and Dad provided a wonderful home (summer) school education for two young brothers. It makes me wonder if I could have ever planned anything better!

-The above post was from my journal, Fall, 1997. Mary Hood (the Relaxed Homeschooler) used this in her newsletter back then, and this was the inspiration on which I wrote an article for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine in their summer 2011 issue. Of all the summers we had I think this one was the best, and our introduction to Arkansas as well! 

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