Embracing Winter

Meg Minehan is an Oak Meadow teacher for grades K-6. She currently homeschools her own children using the Oak Meadow curriculum. Meg co-leads a monthly forest and fields program for preschoolers in Chester, Vermont. She embraces winter by cross country skiing and sweating in her woodfired sauna. 

Although all of us at Oak Meadow extol the benefits of getting children outside, we also recognize that getting young ones outdoors in winter can be quite challenging! Here are some helpful hints to help you and your children embrace these blustery, and for some of us, downright frigid days.
Perhaps most of you are familiar with the oft-quoted saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather…” Although my feelings about that quote can change depending on my mood, the wind speed, and the type of precipitation I am about to endure, it is important to acknowledge that wearing appropriate clothing in winter is a must. These past few weeks, you may have encountered temperatures that are too cold to be safe. Most days, however, can be safely enjoyed, if only for a short time, provided you and your children are clothed appropriately. But even after investing in or, better yet, inheriting quality outdoor clothing, how do you entice children and their caretakers to go outside?
For many children, a fresh snowstorm is usually a welcome invitation to play outdoors. There are the obvious tried-and-true activities, such as sledding, snowman making, snow fort building, snowshoeing, and skiing. Now that my children are older, ages 16, 13, and 10, these are some of their favorite activities. I no longer need to encourage them to go outdoors. In fact, usually I am calling them in, so we can get some of our Oak Meadow work done. When my children were young, however, this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes they needed a hook, something to entice them to “get out and blow the stink off ye.” (quote courtesy of my father, Ed Minehan) Here are some ideas that worked, at least some of the time, for my family.

Get Moving and Follow the Tracks: On the coldest days, the only option was to keep moving. Even getting out for a short hike or snowshoe was still worth it. To keep things interesting, we often went tracking. Because we live near the woods, this was, admittedly, pretty easy for us. But driving to a special trail adds a sense of adventure too. First, spend a little time familiarizing yourself with tracking patterns. Is the animal a straight walker, hopper, waddler, or bounder? Kids can practice walking in these styles as well. Next, examine the print of the animal’s foot. Notice the shape and size. Can you count the toes? Are their claws present? What other nearby animal signs or clues can you spot? To maximize child participation, I made each of my kids a laminated detective tracking card with pictures of the four patterns and common prints. I photocopied our cards from the Shelburne Farms Project Seasons book. There are many great tracking guides or cards available. We approached each tracking expedition like a mystery. As they got older, my children became more interested in the C.S.I. scene. They loved following the tracks and searching for evidence of last meals. Yes, sometimes the results were a little gruesome, but always exciting.

Curriculum Extensions: Keep in mind these snowy mysteries can lead to imaginative storytelling, story mapping, further research, and investigative writing projects. These activities can easily be integrated into science and language arts lessons. Talk to your Oak Meadow teacher about substituting assignments. We want you and your children to embrace winter too!

Trail Games: Simple trail games are another way to keep things interesting on a cold winter walk. One of my favorite games is Christmas Tree for a Mouse. I learned it from Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder. As we walked through the woods, we would look at various trees, gauge their relative sizes, and decide which animal would be perfectly suited to which tree. This can be a fun way to talk about the animals that live in your area. This game could be easily modified if Christmas trees aren’t part of your family’s traditions. Maybe you could find the tree with the best treehouse option for a mouse, a mink, or a bear. If you and your child are feeling really ambitious, you might even assist with the building process.

Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Winter Art: Scavenger hunts and treasure walks were also a good way to build enthusiasm for a cold winter walk. After collecting simple treasures, such as pine needles, cones, and winter berries, we would put them in a mold with twine or raffia hangers, fill with water, and wait for them to freeze. We’ve used mini-bundt pans for wreaths, but silicone molds work even better. These lovely ornaments or sun catchers can be hung nearby. Quite often, however, I would encourage us to share our decorations with the birds and squirrels. Aha! Another “excuse” to get out for a walk.
Finally, on those days when everyone needs a little extra enticement, there is nothing like the promise of homemade hot chocolate and a favorite board game awaiting. Happy winter!
NOTE: Oak Meadow recently posted a great link on Facebook about following tracks: http://www.audubon.org/news/a-beginners-guide-reading-bird-tracks-snow

Knitting Suggestions

Rhythmic handwork is part of Oak Meadow’s coursework for grades one through three. For this post, K-8 Oak Meadow teachers teamed up to offer some suggestions and simple alternatives that will help to meet the “heart” of handwork, specifically in teaching the technique of knitting.

Meg Minehan: My suggestions are to first try finger knitting, the knitting mushroom, or the wooden knitting star. My children loved those “tools,” and the process was simple, repetitive, and soothing (just like knitting should be). ​For what it’s worth, my son Ian didn’t really take to knitting when it was initially introduced in first grade. However, he picked it up again at age nine and loved it.

Michelle Menegaz: I agree that teaching knitting as an inexperienced teacher can be challenging. I suggest offering the “pre-knitting” activities and really encourage the home teacher to find a knitter to help them, if possible. Also, Sunny’s Mittens is a great book with a story that contains knitting directions right in the events of the tale. I would read a bit of this and knit along with the story. The child would also knit along, if interested. We would read a bit, knit a bit, stop and get our knitting sorted or show what the written directions in the story meant. Very satisfying!

Lesley Arnold: I highly recommend the DVD, The Art of Knitting 4 Kids . If a tutor isn’t available for knitting, then this video is great! Be sure to also check your library, for many libraries have knitting clubs.

Leslie Daniels: Another site that I absolutely adore and share with my Oak Meadow families is called “Knitted Bliss.” It includes story books to inspire future knitters for three different age groups: ages 2-4, ages 4-6, and ages 6-9. The title of each book is a joy in itself!

Meg Minehan: Shall I Knit You a Hat is one of our favorite Christmas books for 6-9 year olds!

Andy Kilroy: My friend Clare, a long-time kindergarten teacher, loves to take yarn into her classroom and just let her kids play with the yarn – wrap it, wind it, tie bows with it, braid it, touch it – just to get the feel of fabric/yarn on their skin. Then when it comes time to knit, they already have the awareness of yarn as a material. I taught my granddaughter to finger knit (she had never done it), and she was very excited at all the possibilities that opened for her! She has also enjoyed exploring loom knitting from kits. Long live fiber arts – let’s not give up on them!

Anna Logowitz: My microschoolers got a great start by making their own knitting needles. They sanded chopsticks smooth, and then glued wooden beads to the ends: nice and simple. It gave them a sense of ownership over their work before they began knitting, which also seemed to increase their frustration tolerance!

Handwork in Winter

Hand (Unknown author)

Take my hand, imagine
What it will be someday
A hand that’s strong, a hand that’s kind
Is this what you forsee?

A hand that’s skilled, a hand that’s sure
A hand that someday may,
Take another little hand
and guide it on its way.

Oak Meadow’s kindergarten coursework introduces the art of finger knitting, the first-grade coursework introduces knitting with needles, and the second-grade coursework introduces crocheting. The main purpose of teaching children these creative, yet practical skills at this level of development is to refine and strengthen fine motor development and eye-hand coordination. It also aids in the preparation for learning math, reading and writing with more ease and less fatigue.

Sometimes a student will find these craft skills challenging to acquire. Perhaps it is because the home teacher does not know how to knit or crochet and finds it difficult to teach, or perhaps it is due to a child’s hands and fingers not nimble enough to handle working with yarn and/or needles. When the students are introduced to the handcraft at the beginning of the school year, it is often when they are still actively involved in outdoor play; therefore, learning this skill may be even more difficult for an active child to sit still for a time to master the skill. If you have experienced this with your own child and decided to set it aside, then the winter season may be the perfect time to reintroduce the suggested handwork. You might be surprised at the willingness and readiness in your child to try it again!

It’s important that that your child starts out with something comfortable, so if your child has never been introduced to finger knitting, you might try starting with the basics of finger knitting before working with needle knitting and crocheting. Taking time in developing the skill, even if it means knitting or crocheting only for a short time each day, is still providing the tools for healthy physiological development. Working alongside with your child, listening to quiet background music or a story tape, or even telling a handwork story to accompany the project could encourage more enthusiasm. Here’s a little video with a story that might help introduce finger knitting.

Any other type of activity that includes repetition and rhythm in movement will work well, too! If you have already re-visited the suggested Oak Meadow projects and discover they are still frustrating or uninteresting to your child, then keep in mind that developing fine motor control, no matter what the activity, should be the main focus of the student. Perhaps knitting with a fork or with a spool might be excellent substitutes.

Other craft activities that offer rhythm and repetition include beading, weaving, sewing by hand, lacing cards, stringing popcorn and cranberries (including for the winter bird residents), and building patterns with various materials. Be creative and work with something that creates enjoyment, for it is the joy of the process that furthers the healthy development.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

May by Adele Abrahamse

In the month of May, the world’s at play outside.

The magic of the spring’s before my eyes.

A seed begins to stir from where it hides.

A plant springs up with others by its side.

The young plant knows it’s good to be alive.

In the month of May, the world’s at play outside.

 
Welcome to the merry month of May!
I hope you and your family are taking the time to enjoy this beautiful season of the year. May is certainly one of my favorite months in the springtime. The world is alive and fresh, and everything is bright and colorful. I love watching the children as they bounce and skip and dance about with laughter and merriment. It is just as if they have springs on their feet, for they are filled with their own kind of renewed energy and spirit.

Photo Credit: Leslie Ann Daniels

Planting a garden is a great way to take care of the earth and make it a more beautiful place. Children love digging in the warm soil, planting seeds for the butterflies, and watching their tiny green plants grow into fruition. Singing a little garden song or reciting a poem makes planting time even more joyful! One of my favorite songs is the “Garden Song”, a popular children’s song and American folk song written by David Mallett. A springtime poem I like to share with early elementary children is “The Little Plant”, written by Kate Louise Brown.
Photo Credit: Sowers/Woodward Family

We all know that April Showers bring May flowers, so if it’s a rainy day, then a craft project might be a delightful way to bring more color into your home. Oak Meadow’s Kindergarten Coursebook (Lesson 24) includes the art of making paper flowers. Hands can make a beautiful springtime garden, too, so perhaps you might like to handprint a flower garden. What you will need is tempera paints (green & bright colors) and a large sheet of white paper. Make green stems with a stroke of the finger, and add green leaves with the side of your palms. Then, make colorful handprint blossoms. Another enjoyable art project is making a seed mosaic. You will need a variety of seeds, construction paper, and glue. Seeds come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Try the many different ways to sort the seeds. Then, glue them on your paper to create different patterns or designs.

12 Ways to Foster Hands-On Creativity at Home (Even If You Don’t Feel Creative)

Does the idea that homeschooling parents need to be naturally artistic or compulsively creative stop you from trying? Don’t be fooled! Although there are plenty of parents who enjoy doing arts and crafts with their children, there are plenty who don’t. You can foster your children’s creative and artistic streaks even if you’re not sitting down at the table and eagerly leading the way. Here are some ideas to get you started and keep you moving forward:
1. Provide a variety of creative materials. Start by stocking up on basic, kid-friendly, age-appropriate supplies.

Photo Credit: Abbie L.
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Here are some possibilities:

Here are some other things that can be fun to have around:

  • wooden craft sticks
  • a hole punch
  • chalks, oil crayons, watercolor pencils, and other colorful drawing materials
  • fun patterned paper (origami paper, doilies, scrapbooking paper)
  • scissors with patterned edges
  • a straightedge or ruler
  • a stapler
  • play-dough, clay, beeswax, and other modeling media
  • wool roving
  • fabric scraps
  • random collage materials (feathers, sequins, beads, cutout shapes)
  • string, ribbon, embroidery thread
  • needles of various sizes
  • scrap cardboard and other reclaimed materials

Photo Credit: Warf Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

2. Establish a comfortable, easy-clean area for creating. It’s ideal to have a separate area with a table and nearby storage if possible. But if you don’t have abundant space, a vinyl tablecloth can protect any table or floor area from creative messes. Just shake or wipe down the tablecloth and put it away for the next round of creativity. Good lighting is also very helpful.
3. Store most materials in an accessible, kid-friendly way, with the important exception of anything you want to supervise. Some materials, particularly messy ones, might be available to young artists only “on request” until you’re sure they can handle the responsibility that such materials require. Even more important than making materials easily accessible is making it easy to store them away when the creating is done.
4. Remember that you do not have to teach your children how to create! Children are inherently creative beings. If you are not the sort of person who wants to patiently teach the proper methods, it’s perfectly fine to explain any safety points, and then just get out of the way and let your children figure things out for themselves. You might be surprised by what they come up with.
Photo Credit: Lynn Nash
(Oak Meadow Archives)

5. Open-ended situations allow for the widest range of creativity. Offering a variety of basic materials that feel good to use can bring about much more creativity than a preassembled kit for making a particular end product. You might encourage your children to think up new ways to use what they have at hand by saying something like, “Lots of people only paint with a paintbrush; can you think of any other good ways to apply paint to paper?”
6. There is no wrong way to be creative. Keep your own preconceived ideas out of it! Your child should be the one to decide what they will create and then explain to you in their own way what their creations mean. When your child inevitably asks, “What should I make?” follow it with, “What do you feel like making?” or “This is your project, so I can’t decide for you. What do you think you should make?”
Photo Credit: Jennie Smith-Pariola
(Oak Meadow Archives)

7. Look to nature for variety and inspiration as needed. Go scavenging outdoors as a family, and bring natural materials back to your craft area. Encourage your children to incorporate them into their creations. Ask them to draw or paint or create a likeness of something they enjoyed seeing outside or make a mobile with their found objects.
8. Less can be more! One tool. One color. One type of material. Keeping it simple can help prevent everyone from feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes having all possible materials staring at you at once can stop you in your creative tracks. If that happens, let simplicity be your guide. “What could we make if we only had paper and tape to work with?”
9. Be proactive about managing stress. Messy projects can be stressful for those who have to help clean them up! Set up your creative space for easy cleanup by keeping trash/recycling containers, a broom and dustpan, and a sponge handy. Keep smocks and/or aprons nearby. Cafeteria trays can also be helpful for containing bits and pieces. For projects with huge mess potential, consider setting up a creative space outdoors for easier cleanup.
Photo Credit: Neigh Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

10. Figure out your own challenges with creativity. What holds you back personally from feeling creative? Can you identify why you don’t feel like a creative person? Acknowledge your reasons, but don’t pass them on to your children. There is no right or wrong way to create. Be gentle with yourself, and if you feel inspired to pick up a piece of modeling wax or put crayon to paper yourself, go ahead and see what flows.
11. When in doubt, follow the rainbow. It’s helpful to own a rainbow’s worth of colors of materials when possible: paper, crayons, paint, modeling wax. Sometimes all colors will be used, but sometimes choosing just one color at a time to explore with your child can also be very freeing. “How many different ways can we think of to create with the color red?”
Photo Credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow Archives)

12. Remember that the joy is in the process! Many decisions are part of a creative experience, from choosing materials and colors, to predicting the outcome of an action, to deciding how to respond to the results partway through, to deciding when a particular project is finished. Creating can also be a highly sensory experience, allowing a child to integrate sight and touch, and in some cases sound, smell, and/or taste. It can also be extremely imaginative – you may find your child narrating their creative process or creating a story about their creation. Be open to the value of the process itself, and don’t worry if the project gets abandoned before it is finished. One of the best rewards of fostering a creative experience is hearing your child say, “That was fun!”

Creative Craft-Festive Lanterns

The sunlight fast is dwindling.
My little lamp needs kindling.
Its beam shines far in darkest night,
Dear lantern guard me with your light.
Song written by Margaret Meyerkort
The season of winter is a time of contraction. As the days grow shorter, we find ourselves inside more. It’s a perfect time for expressing our festive, artistic side. Making lanterns that shine from within and bring a warm glow to your home can help you and your children ready yourselves for the cold days and nights of winter.
You will need:
-heavy water color paper (9″X12″ or 12″X16″)
-watercolor paints and paintbrushes
-scissors
-tacky glue, white glue, or glue sticks
-paper fasteners
-warming candles, votive candles, or tea lights (the ones in metal containers)
-tissue paper
What to do:
1. Paint the paper. (Dark colors work best, such as ultramarine or cobalt blue.) Encourage your children to fill the entire paper with color.
2. After the paper dries, make a fold all the way across the length of the paper, approximately three inches up from the bottom.
3. Cut a fringe of three-inch wide segments all along the bottom folded section.
4. Cut several small shapes out of the top portion of the lantern. These are the “windows” that the light shines through. (Star and moon shapes are always fun!) Small pieces of colored tissue paper glued over the inside of the windows create a beautiful effect.
5. Form the lantern paper into a cylinder, gluing it from the top to the bottom. Fold the fringed edges in and overlap them to make the lantern’s bottom. Put small dabs of glue between the fringes to hold them together.
6. Add a fairly long handle (12-15 inches) 1/2 inch wide and attach to each side of the lantern with paper fasteners.
7. Use candles that come in individual metal cups. A dab of glue placed in the bottom of the lanterns holds the candle in place.
Important Note: These lanterns should be used only under close adult supervision.

Butterfly Art Project

Fly, fly butterfly.

Whither lies your way?

I fly to the sun

On this lovely spring day.

Fly, fly butterfly.

With wings of colored hue.

From the sun please bring us

A message or two.

Author unknown

I have discovered that watching butterflies is a delight at any age. I am in awe as I watch the butterflies emerge from their winter sleep or return home from their long migration. Butterfly watching is fast becoming a popular hobby. Did you know there are more than 650 species of these colorful winged insects in the U.S. alone? Did you know that people who study them are called lepidopterists?
Butterfly conservatories are a great way to observe many different species of butterflies, but most of you don’t even have to leave your backyard before you’ll notice them flitting about. If you are enthusiastic about attracting even more butterflies, you can plant particular varieties of flowers, such as Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Zinnia, Bergamot, Day Lily, Black-Eyed Susan, and Purple Coneflower, as well as herbs like Tansy, Garlic, and Chives.
1519fg78jCuL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Oak Meadow’s science courses in grades k-4 include various studies of the butterfly. In addition to the suggested lesson activities, you might include a guidebook, such as Robert Michael Pyle’s book, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Or perhaps you would enjoy sharing a butterfly story, such as Alan Madison’s Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly or Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Bruce Coville’s The Prince of Butterflies.

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Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

If it’s a rainy day, and no butterflies can be observed, then you and your children might like to make a butterfly template, paint it with watercolors, and then create your own butterfly kite or wind waver. Before painting,  you might like to view pictures of butterflies to study the symmetry of their patterns. They truly are amazingly beautiful insects!
 

GO FLY A KITE!

images-1Imagine you’ve gone back in history and it is the year 1899. You are with the Wright brothers at their bicycle shop, the Wright Cycle Company. They’ve been making, repairing, and selling bicycles at their shop since 1892. As they work, you hear them talk freely about their new passion of flying. Orville and Wilbur have been observing birds in flight and they’ve noticed that birds tilt their wings to one side or the other depending on which direction they want to go. So now the brothers are talking and thinking about some experiments they are going to try. That’s when you notice they’re not working on bicycles; they’re building kites! Yep, kites! You try to follow their conversation about how they are building a kite with wings that can be controlled by strings, just as birds control their own wings in flight. Jump ahead 5 years and all their observing, questioning, building and experimenting with kites resulted in the first piloted glider and then the first powered aircraft!
Each year there is a kite festival in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the Wright brothers experimented with their kite flying. It looks like great family fun and The Wright Brothers National Memorial Park grounds there would be wonderful to visit.
APRIL is KITE FLYING MONTH! Make some kites! Try some of these: http://www.bigwindkites.com/20kids/

Getting Involved by Volunteering

“Those who can, do.

Those who can do more, volunteer.”

~Author Unknown

This week our blog post is written by Abigail Wilson-Kageni. She’s been doing some very special volunteer work in her hometown of York, Pennsylvania and her Oak Meadow teacher suggested that she spread the word and tell other students about her project. I invited her to contribute to our blog post and I’m delighted that she did!  images-1My name is Abigail Wilson-Kageni and I am a student with Oak Meadow. I live in York, Pennsylvania. I have many interests and the opportunity to express myself creatively through the arts is especially dear to me.
The creative arts are an art form that allows people to express themselves through varying art mediums. Many things can fall under the category of creative arts. Dance, music, poetry, and painting are just a few. It’s been proven that children often do well when schools incorporate the creative arts in their curricula. However, in inner-city schools, budgets are a factor that usually decides if creative arts programs will be included in the annual budget. In most cases, schools in under served areas often fall victim to funding cuts which means the arts is excluded from the curriculum. This leaves students from financially challenged homes at a disadvantage. A variety of creative arts is needed to help students develop a love of learning. It is the inspiring base students need to succeed in school.
When I discovered this, I felt that I wanted all students to be supported and inspired by the opportunity for creative expression. After months of brain storming sessions with my mother, Tiered Innovations Initiative was born. This program has been evolving through different experiences that I have been privileged to part take of. For the past three years I have been a member of TeenSHARP, a college discovery program that meets every Saturday through the school year. I also just completed my tenure as a member of Scholastic Kids Press Corp. I was given the wonderful opportunity of covering Mrs. Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move Campaign at the White House, on two different occasions. I was also a member of El Sistema, a music program in which I spent three hours each day of the week perfecting my skills for playing the violin. It is these opportunities that have helped me to expand my curiosity and love for learning through the years.
This year, on February 24th, I officially launched the program. My local library, Martin Library, which is where I volunteer once a week, hosted the event and the event had a two-fold purpose. A local art store, Prime Art Supply Co, was running an art supply drive to donate city elementary school art materials. I decided to help the owner with this cause by inviting my guests to donate toward the drive. I titled the event ‘Encourage Creative Arts in Our Children’ and asked that our guests bring one item of any art supply to be donated the art drive. Monetary donations were also accepted toward purchasing a projector for one of the schools. It was a great success!
The city’s Mayor, Kim Bracey, was gracious enough to deliver a keynote speech while a noted artist and lecturer, Ophelia Chambliss, spoke about the importance of encouraging the youth to tell a story through their art. We were also celebrating Black History Month and as such, three area poets were on hand to commemorate the African American heritage through poetry recitals.
Tiered Innovations Initiative is a youth program that nurtures teens toward global citizenry through the creative arts. I will be offering workshops, facilitating summer camps, and inviting guests to continue to inspire the youth. I was humbled that people came out to support my efforts. I am delighted and excited for the good things that are ahead of me.
 

Random Acts of Kindness

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“I suppose the thing I most would have liked to have known or been reassured about is that in the world, what counts more than talent, what counts more than energy or concentration or commitment, or anything else – is kindness. And the more in the world that you encounter kindness and cheerfulness – which is its kind of amiable uncle or aunt – the better the world always is. And all the big words: virtue, justice, truth – are dwarfed by the greatness of kindness.” – Stephen Fry

This quote is from the fabulous ToyMaker site on the “Kindness Cards” page.
Marilyn Scott Waters is an incredibly talented artist that shares her work freely on her website. This month’s “Kindness Cards” caught my eye! I love them!
This is a great time of year to show kindness as Valentine’s Day comes around! Print and give out the cards and see what happiness you can bring to others! You may also find that you feel pretty good also. Acts of kindness often bring us a feeling of happiness whether we are receiving or giving. Reaching out to others, lending a helping hand, comforting a friend, inviting someone to do something; whatever you choose, it will surely be something that will make you feel good! images
If you are using the 8th grade Oak Meadow civics course, you will find an assignment that asks you to do some random acts of kindness. These cards would be awesome to use as you complete that assignment!
Have fun with this and know that you may be changing lives in a simple and very sweet way!
 

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