“My son has been homeschooled since Kindergarten using Oak Meadow. He is graduating high school this year, has been admitted to the University of Wyoming with a full academic scholarship, and is starting in the Honors Program at the University. Ours has been a very positive and successful experience."
Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions. It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!
Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator.
During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.” Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight
So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!
We have been discussing how animals adapt and change through seasons, specifically Winter. A few words we have discussed are adaptations, camouflage, hibernation and migration. When we were researching birds and how they survived Winter we learned that it is harder for them to find food so we decided to help them out a little bit by making some bird feeders to hang on our trees.
The first two feeders we made were hanging for a full day before the birds discovered it but once we put the second set out the next day they came right to it. We also caught a squirrel trying to steal some seeds! Which led to a great discussion on squirrels and why they must store their food for the winter. It was so exciting for the kids to see the birds eating from their creation. We even got a picture of it. We enjoyed this fun and simple craft but our absolute favorite part was getting to watch the birds eat our creation.
Oranges – one orange makes 2 feeders
Skewer – worked best for me but a toothpick would work, anything sharp enough to penetrate the orange
Helpful material: a wet towel – this one gets a little sticky!
Cut orange in ½ right down the middle horizontally (so that you are cutting in the middle of the top and bottom). The halves will act as bowls for the seed.
Take out the orange segments and enjoy a delicious snack. I used a knife to carve/loosen the slices and then had my eldest scoop out the insides with a spoon. This part gets a little messy.
Using the skewer punch 4 holes in the peel of the orange bowl. Its best to evenly space your holes.
Weave yarn through holes in orange. We pressed the yarn through the skewer, as if it were a needle and pushed the skewer through the hole. It helped when we would twist the skewer. Once we got the yarn through the hole we would use our fingers to pull it through. Weaving through each hole.
Pull yarn so that you can knot the two ends together.
Once tied pull the two sides even so that you can evenly hang your orange bowl.
Fill with bird seeds. Its best to fill outside or near where you plan to hang your feeder. We dropped one of our feeders on the way outside and bird seed went everywhere!! Eeeeks!!!
Make sure to place feeder somewhere you can observe the birds eating their treat. It’s so exciting to catch them in the act!
Spending time in nature is a fundamental part of learning, development, and healthy living. At Oak Meadow, we encourage families to spend as much time as possible outside and learning in nature. As Oak Meadow founder, Lawrence Williams, says, “Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life.”
For some children, unstructured outside play is naturally very compelling, with sticks to brandish, mud to stir, rocks to pile, dirt to dig in, flowers to pick, bugs to identify, water to splash in, and trees to climb. But for others, these activities do not come as easily or may even be overwhelming. Embracing nature may also be challenging for children who are new to homeschooling and have become accustomed to spending most of their day indoors, either in school or at after-school activities. Some schoolchildren spend very little or even no time outdoors, as recess is cut back to make room for more academics in the school day. Children who are used to spending lots of time with electronic devices can find it challenging to turn their attention to outdoor activities. It can take extra effort and energy to break out of a familiar habit and adapt to something very new and different.
Some children have personality or sensory challenges that cause them to feel overwhelmed by the outdoors. The brightness of a sunny day can shock our sheltered eyes. The sensation of the wind blowing on us can challenge every pore. We might experience powerful smells and sounds that are very different from those inside our homes. Adjusting to the outside temperature might demand a significant amount of bodily energy. These challenges may be true for parents and caregivers, too. For some parents, wanting our children to spend more time outdoors presents us with a challenge to adopt a new way of approaching life and learning. We may have spent a number of years going back and forth between climate-controlled homes and climate-controlled offices. Some of us grew up in families where television was central to daily life and most, if not all, of our waking hours were spent indoors. It may take some extra effort to develop a habit of spending time outside, for both parent and child. So what can we do? You, the parent, must lead the way, but at the same time remember that you are also learning and growing alongside your child.
For children who are reluctant to go outside, make a gentle transition. If the outside world feels too big, too loud, or too bright, create a sheltered space where your child can be comfortable outside. A lean-to, tarp, or fort might be just the right kind of transitional space. If your child has fears about what they might encounter outside, try turning anxiety into curiosity. What are they afraid of? Will information and some gently led encounters relax their fears? Develop the habit casually. If it’s possible to walk or bike a short distance instead of driving, do it as often as possible. Make a regular “outside playdate” with a friend whose children are comfortable playing outdoors, and perhaps your children will join right in. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Spending time outside every day is healthy and desirable for children and adults. It may help to just go outside without a plan or a formal agenda. “Just being” is enough, and it will allow them to be free to observe all sorts of things that might not otherwise have come into view. If your home is more urban than rural, scout out some nature-rich locations nearby. Parks, nature preserves and sanctuaries, public gardens, and hiking trails can provide good opportunities to explore. Choose natural areas with trees and rocks for climbing, rather than manufactured play areas.
Consider the outdoors an extension of your living space and move indoor tasks outside. Handwork, schoolwork, art, reading, playing with toys, food prep, snacktime, mealtime… Arrange an outdoor space that can substitute for the kitchen table or the playroom floor. Lead by example and encourage your children to be outside with you while you go about your daily work. Make note of anything your child finds particularly interesting outside, and foster their interest in that thing. If a family of birds is making a nest on your porch, keep checking it — at a secure distance — for eggs and hatchlings, and do some research on birds and their life cycle. If your child absolutely loves berries, plant some, tend them, and enjoy the fruit when it is ripe. If your child is very active and needs a lot of space to run around without the critical prying of neighbors or passersby, find that sort of space and let them run free. Give them ideas and materials for fun, open-ended outdoor play or projects. Mud, water, sand, and a variety of containers can be a good starting point. If you need ideas, check out Oak Meadow’s Pinterest boards for loads of fun suggestions. Ask your child what stops them from going outside. Make a list of their complaints and brainstorm ways to ease them.
“It’s too sunny and bright.” Would sunglasses or a special hat help? Make the most of times when the sun is low or the sky is cloudy. “I don’t like to get wet.”Would head-to-toe rain gear or a fancy large umbrella help make it easier? Having a comfort routine for drying off and warming up after playtime can be helpful. “It’s too hot outside.”Water and mud play are fun ways to cool off outdoors. Make sure they can easily duck out of the sun into a shady spot. Create shade for them if it’s not readily available, perhaps with a portable pop-up tent or large umbrella. “It’s too cold out there.” Do they need more or different clothing to compensate for temperature? Lightweight woolen long johns make a helpful base layer for maintaining body temperature. “I don’t like the wind.”Can you find or create a semi-enclosed area to provide shelter from the wind? If there are no natural windblocks in your yard, homemade wind-walls can be made using sturdy fabric and pipe. “It’s too loud outside.” Can you find an area that is more quiet and/or private? Ask your child to help you scout out their own special nature sanctuary or a comfortable sit-spot where they can sit quietly, surrounded by nature. Read more about Sit Spots in the Spring 2013 issue of Living Education. “I don’t want to stop what I’m doing.” Does your child have trouble transitioning from an indoor activity to an outdoor one? Routine can help. Set a consistent time of day for going outside. Some children are more open to challenging experiences in the morning; others do best after rest time in the late afternoon. Develop a particular sequence of steps that are followed before you go out. (“Here we sit to put on our shoes; here we put on our outerwear; here we choose a hat; now you open the door and walk out, and I close it behind us; now we look at the bird feeder to see if there are any birds, then we look to see how things are growing in the garden, then we ask ourselves what we’d like to do next…”) “I don’t like the spring/summer/fall/winter.” Is your child happy outside in some seasons but not others? Make the most of the time of year or type of day when they are most comfortable outside. “I want to be all by myself” or “I don’t want to be alone.” Would they prefer to have you outside with them – or not? Honor their wishes for support or solitude as much as possible. If they only want to be outside when you are with them, plan regular times in your daily or weekly rhythm to make that possible. If your child is too young to be unsupervised but wants to feel independent, establish an activity for yourself away from their play space. Maybe your garden will get extra attention from you this year!
What about older children who may not have developed a relationship with nature when they were younger, or who may have left it behind once they learned to read or started using an online device? It’s not impossible to develop a love of being in nature as an older child or adult, as many parents can tell you!
Encourage them by making an inviting space for them to enjoy their usual pastimes outdoors, perhaps on a porch or in a hammock. Create one or more semi-sheltered outdoor nooks where they feel they have some space of their own. This can be especially helpful for teens in a large family with a small house. A tree house is always a favorite, and building one might make a great family project!
Set out a picnic with enticing assemble-your-own ingredients so they’ll be engaged longer than it takes just to grab a handful and run back inside. Perhaps it would be helpful to mandate that certain juicy or drippy snacks, such as watermelon or popsicles, are only allowed outdoors! If you have a fire pit and feel safe doing so, allow older children to build and tend a fire — and then cook their own snack or lunch on it. Fire needs to be tended, and someone needs to be outside tending it if they want to have the fun of cooking on it! If your child is still reluctant, be flexible in your expectations and consider any time outside to be a success. Be patient and persistent. The natural world is can be very compelling. Once your child develops the habit of being outdoors, they will carry that with them for a lifetime.
by Chris Mays Anyone with a teen at home has probably worried about how today’s young adults are affected by the stress of modern life. The rise in anxiety levels of students in their teens and early twenties has grown to an alarming level. Leading research confirms that the number of teens experiencing unhealthy levels of anxiety in modern America is estimated to be five times the rate it was in the 1930s, a time of high anxiety for our country. We have much work to do to interrupt this pattern.
While many teens are able to process daily stress effectively, for some, the stress lingers and builds. Pervasive anxiety can be debilitating, often leads to depression, and creates avoidant behaviors, which further stress family systems, promoting even higher levels of anxiety. Students who struggle with anxiety often seek escape from the uneasiness of social, environmental, and academic stressors by avoiding situations and retreating to their rooms or home, appearing to be unmotivated or uninterested in the larger world. Many opportunities are lost for expanding their perspectives and life options.
Why is this happening? Several key factors contribute to this trend. They range from an overabundance of choices, social media influences, suspect diets, lack of physical activity, and a shift from intrinsic goals to extrinsic goals. Neurological changes take place as a result, and some of these changes are not for the better. Those of us working with high-schoolers level know how important it is for students to achieve self-regulation and engage regularly with the larger world. It is important to first understand these issues and then take effective action through a coordinated plan that actively involves the student in the solution.
So, what can we do? The discovery of physical activity in aiding depression and anxiety is well known and has been monumental in helping those who are suffering. Spending time outside has also been linked to positive effects on the human psyche. Walking, hiking, biking, skateboarding, horseback riding, swimming, running, and any other active way to enjoy the outdoors has myriad benefits. As Richard Louv (2005) worded it, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.” Engaging students in outdoor physical activity is a powerful way to address anxiety and other mental health issues. There are many possible kinds of outdoor activity that can help students cope with anxiety and other challenges. One form of physical activity that has proven successful in healing and transformation as a therapeutic sport is surfing.
Surfing can promote physical well-being, combat discrimination, build confidence and a sense of security, as well as play an important role in the healing and rehabilitation process for all children affected by crisis, discrimination, and marginalization…programs with organized and supervised activities can offer important opportunities for leadership development, discipline, teamwork, and personal and professional growth” (Lopes, 2013)
Connecting students with the natural world through hard physical exercise challenges them physically and mentally in a way that can be life-changing. In fact, there are many programs for youth that focus on spending time outdoors because simply being outside in nature has a therapeutic effect.
Some students benefit greatly from a residential, outdoor-challenge-based program. Such programs can offer students a supportive environment for their emotional and physical needs while also providing an appropriately flexible educational program. One such program is the Point School in Puerto Rico, which provides an Oak Meadow education as part of their program for high-schoolers.
All students can benefit from the opportunity to learn while engaging in their natural environment, challenging themselves physically, and receiving support from encouraging adults. Incorporating regular physical activity and outdoor time can help every individual, regardless of age or circumstance, lead a happier, healthier life.
Chris Mays is the CEO of The Point School, a residential community in Puerto Rico for young adults who need support and guidance to assist them in graduating high school and/or preparing for college. Chris has worked for over 30 years as an employee and manager of adventure-based youth development and treatment programs including sail training ships, Outward Bound programs, and private centers.
“Learning and the Natural World” excerpted from The Heart of Learning by Lawrence Williams, EdD
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. ~ John Lubbock
There is something very magical about being outside.
When I was young, a child’s connection to the natural world was not something that needed special attention. It was…well, natural. Kids played outside all the live-long day, as much as possible, in all kinds of weather. Then came the TV generation of the 1960s and 70s, and parents were often reminding kids to “Go outside and play!” Being outside was still an integral part of growing up for most children, however, even urban dwellers.
As a child, when you were outside, your curiosity ruled your actions. Your play was self-directed and engaged. Playing outside meant using all your senses. It probably meant meeting up with your friends and running around. It meant using your imagination and, hopefully, getting really dirty. Nature’s Classroom
The lessons that nature has to teach us are never ending. Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life. It’s not surprising that children who play outside are healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically. Human beings have spent nearly the entirety of our existence outside. Our connection to the natural world is so profound that when we are deprived of it, it’s no surprise that we don’t fare so well. Getting Back to Nature, Plain and Simple
If your child hasn’t spent much time outdoors, be prepared to start small. The crack in the sidewalk is always a good place to start. Collecting sticks and building a little teepee is another simple way to get a child who is timid outdoors to start getting his hands dirty. Collecting rocks, shells, nuts, or just about anything will appeal to most children, and it’s just a small step from there to building and decorating a tiny, magical fairy house or woodland dwelling.
Here are a few more tips for bringing the outdoors into your day:
Go outside early in the day.
Eat snacks or meals outside.
Devote a section of your yard to dirt or sand play.
Plant a bean teepee large enough to play inside.
Make a living fort by trimming the bottom branches from bushes enough to make a crawl space.
Make a row or circle of stumps (burying them in the ground partway makes them more stable).
Make a mud pit.
Create sculptures from natural materials.
Here’s a list of great materials to collect or make available:
dirt or sand pile
branches, sticks, and logs
seeds and seed pods
pinecones and nuts
leaves and bark
driftwood, shells, and seaweed
flowers and long stalks of grass
Sometimes it is tempting to become a bit too involved in a child’s outdoor play. There is something irresistibly appealing about a sand pile or a fairy house. However, just as it was important not to let our own creative process take precedence over our child’s, it is important to allow children the time and space to explore on their own. This self-directed, unstructured play often yields the richest rewards. Be mindful of your child’s process instead of trying to guide it in one direction of another. Let children make their own discoveries, and allow them to make their own mistakes. Just because they aren’t doing something in the most efficient manner doesn’t mean it’s not right. We all learn from experience, and faster is not always better.
The most encouraging thing you can do is express interest in your child’s play without intruding. Be available to show genuine awe or intrigue when a new discovery or creation is shared with you, but refrain from questioning, judging, critiquing, or praising. Even praise can change a child’s play — the focus may shift to doing things that will please you rather than letting the play evolve organically from the child’s creative impulse. Outdoor play has a naturally expansive element, and the use of praise to help maintain creative tension (as we talked about in the last chapter) is not necessary.
Be playful and curious, be interested and excited, but above all, respect the rich inner life of the child’s play. There is something very peaceful about creating a nature scene or just exploring the natural environment. Don’t force the conversation. Sometimes it isn’t possible or helpful to talk about a creative experience. Connecting with nature can be a very personal experience, and one that builds intricate and complex ways of understanding the world. By attuning to your child’s attitude, you will probably be able to easily feel when it is right to just let things be.
While educators (homeschooling parents and professionals alike) are perpetually open to the teachable moment, unstructured outdoor play is often a good time to let the teachable moment pass without comment. Trust that the learning process is in full sail without your guidance. There will be another time to give suggestions, instructions, information, and to ask leading questions. For now, just enjoy the beauty of nature’s classroom.
Here is Part 2 of “Immersing Yourself in the Emerging Spring”, written by Oak Meadow’s k-8 teacher, Sarah Antel.
Into the Forest
The forest is a place where the spring awakening can be observed and experienced. It is often in the forest that magic can happen. Your child can experience hearing similar to that of an animal with large ears; have them close their eyes and cup their hands around their ears. They can slowly turn around and see if they hear noises they did not hear before. You could each try it and count how many sounds you each can hear. A common place for many small creatures to hide is under rotting logs. If you slowly roll one over you may find a variety of insects and spiders, worms, fungi and molds, and perhaps a salamander! If you do find a larger creature like a salamander when you roll a log, set the log off the the side of where the animal is so you do not accidentally squish it. The animal will find its way back to its hiding spot. Keep in mind that salamanders are very sensitive as they breath through their skin. If you pick one up, make sure to not have lotion or bug spray on your hands. You can always rub dirt on your hands to help block the salamander from these products. You and your child can make a terrarium so observation skills can be practiced even if the weather is inclement as well as learning the invaluable skill of caring for a living organism. There are almost as many ways to make a terrarium as there are things to fill it with. One of my favorite methods is to use a quart sized canning jar. Begin the collection of materials by examining the forest floor. What can each of you see when you look closely at the layers of soil in the woods? Scoop some of these layers up and gently lay them in the bottom of the jar. What does your child notice the next layer is in the woods heading up from the soil? Try and use materials from each layer, as is appropriate to the size of your jar, to create a miniature habitat. You can plant seedlings and moss in the soil, insects and other small creatures can be added if you do not plan on keeping the terrarium much longer than a week. Once the terrarium is complete, sprinkle some water into the jar if the soil seems dry, then spread a piece of plastic wrap over the jar top, use a rubber band or canning jar ring to hold the plastic in place, and carefully poke several small holes into the plastic wrap to allow fresh air to circulate. Finally, you may want to build a fairy house with your child; this is a long time favorite outdoor activity that effectively explores the magical side of our surroundings. I like to use natural objects from nature. When I have built these with children, I ask them to allow plants to grow, that is, trying to not uproot a plant or use leaves that are attached to a living plant. I have had fun with students by altering the fairy house when they are gone in such a way so the child imagines that fairies or gnomes visited during the night. Two books that I have found inspiration in are, Fairy houses… Everywhere! by Barry and Tracy Kane, and Fairy Houses written and illustrated by Tracy Kane. Spring holds so many promises of new discoveries with each day. A favorite book from my childhood that I still use is the true story of a family that ventures outside the night of each full moon of the year. They wrote about what they did and the animals they saw; I highly recommend Walk When the Moon is Full by Frances Hamerstrom. I hope you are able to take the time to slow down with your child and spend some extra moments with a discovery or question that may be found in nature.
Oak Meadow’s k-8 teacher, Sarah Antel, wrote this inspirational two-part article. The light is winning over the darkness of night, the snow patches are becoming far and few between, and evenings are spent out on the porch again. While I am sitting watching nightfall, I find myself holding my breath and listening hard for one of my favorite harbingers of spring: the song of the spring peepers, a small frog that sings mightily this time of year. In the spring there are many events occurring, almost daily it seems, as plants and animals begin the annual spring awakening. One’s senses seem almost to explode with information from your outdoor environment. You can help your child to experience this sensory wonder through some favorite activities. At the Water’s Edge Creeks and ponds are beginning to swell with both plant and animal life. Take a little field trip to a creek, river, lake, or pond. Your child may see newts or tadpoles in the water; they may observe green leaves emerging on a pond’s bank. Many of the creatures living in the water are too small to see with a glance; most are insect larvae, or baby insects not more than an inch or two long. You and your child can observe these fascinating creatures by creating a net to temporarily catch them with. All you need is a metal coat hanger, a stick, sticky tape, and an old pair of tights or nylons. Bend the coat hanger to make a diamond shape; take one of the legs from the nylons and stretch it over the diamond. Have your child find a stick outside about half his height. Unbend the hook of the hanger and tape the stick to it to make a handle. When using the net, make sure to scrape along the bottom in the mud, as this is where many of the smaller creatures hide. Rocks are usually easy to come by along a river’s or creek’s banks. Your child can choose two rocks that easily fit in her hands; she can get them wet, and then rub the rocks together to see if they are soft enough to form ‘rock paint’. After rubbing the wet rocks together, have your child run a finger along one rock, if rock paint was made, she will see the colored natural paint on her finger. Your child can paint with it, or he can put designs on his face, hands, and arms.
Oak Meadow’s science curriculum in grades k-4 offer blocks of animal study. Did you know that some animals have a natural and innate ability to share love with each other? As we find ourselves nearing the special holiday of love, Valentine’s Day, here are some fun facts about animals in LOVE! What animals kiss? Snails do. So do many fish. One fish, known as the “kissing gourami”, has been observed kissing for as long as 25 minutes! Manatees hug one another and kiss, too. What animal brings gifts to his sweetheart? Male spiders offer the female delicacies, such as a fly wrapped in a web. This is done for self-preservation in that the present keeps the female’s attention long enough to give the male time to get away before the female tries to eat him. How to elephants show affection? They wrap their trunks around each other and swish their tails back and forth. How to elephants fend off unwanted romantic advances? WIth a slap of the trunk. What is the most family-oriented animal? The wolf. Wolves usually mate for life, and they even make a point of controlling their population! Generally, a “pack” of wolves consists of a father, mother and their offspring. Only two in each pack mate, but older brothers and sisters all help raise the newborn. Which animal is best at playing hard to get? The lady porcupine who, if not interseted, will threaten the male by raising her quills! Which are the least romantic animals? Zebras, wild horses and the male orangutan (who is a real brute). Which animals are most romantic? Gorillas, elephants and lions all show affection and are very tender lovers to their mates.
If you are interested in some concrete evidence of animals sharing affection, I think you will love viewing the BuzzFeed Community’s selection of “40 Photos of Animals in Love“.
Also, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read last year’s Heart of the Meadow blog post on “Personal Visions for Valentine’s Day“, I encourage you to take a moment to read and reflect on the special love that you share with your children and all those you love.