MFW Adventures: States & Birds

We are loving our tour through the United States.
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The boys memorized all fifty states and capitols last year during Cycle 3 of Classical Conversations. They also tackled all the geographical features and memorized many different important pieces of American History in their weekly History sentences. I’ve loved watching all this information burst out of them at different points this year.

I was initially worried that the State Study would not be enough on its own for them. But once again, turns out what MFW has prepared is more than sufficient!

I comb-bound all our state sheets into one notebook for each boy and purchased a special set of Prismacolor colored pencils. The boys know these pencils are very special (aka mucho dinero) and are only to be used with our state sheets. I love seeing the special care they have taken with these new tools. Its made them work carefully and their trademark little boy sloppiness has diminished greatly as the days pass. They are eager to shade their state birds just so and capture the exact color of each state flower.

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While the boys work on their State Sheets and Lego State creations, I read from various books. We have been using the suggested book list from MFW, but I have also incorporated a book of collected poems by Lee Bennet Hopkins entitled, “My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States.” I also try and include readings from a few poets or authors hailing from the states we are studying. We usually glean these authors from the list of state poet laureates.  (PS There are FIVE states with Official State Poems).  Lastly, I read the next book off of our Beautiful Feet Books list. I will be posting our list and references soon so be on the lookout! We’ve read so many wonderful new books in the last two weeks. Its fun watching the boys play “raise the barn” or make knick knacks around the house to sell at Portsmouth Market like the Ox-Cart man.

Some days the reading outlasts the work at hand. On those days the boys rush to pull out their much adored US History Geo puzzle.  Some days the work outlasts the reading. On those days I rush to find a bottle of my much adored Essie nail polish. IMG_7143

The littles stay engaged by coloring their own states sheets and then making states out of play doh.  Other times they prefer to stick with their own motor skill/sensory play activities.
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I have honestly spent more time in the last two weeks preparing activities for the younger boys to engage with so that our older boys can focus well on their work. Of course, this means that when the older boys finish their work they rush over to see what their younger siblings are up to and the join in the play!

Our study of birds is progressing beautifully. I am in love with this portion of Adventures! Having the Everglades nearby blesses us with a large variety of birds year round. This gentle introduction of state birds has blossomed into a new hobby for my children.We’ve started collecting feathers and nests. The eldest has asked for several new books on Audubon’s life. We are eager to learn about the birds in our area and are planning a field trip to our local Audubon base.  Pretty much everyone was happy… until they realized we would not be making a delicious chocolate nest treat every single time we studied a new bird.  Oh, the drama!
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Training the boys to observe nature quietly is not easy. I’ve armed them to the teeth with binoculars, notebooks, cameras and colored pencils, hoping that occupied hands would silence voices that lack volume control. This plan met with mixed success. I finally realized that merging the toddler’s snack time with our nature walks was the way to go!

BEHOLD!!!

A recipe on my blog. This may not ever happen again, so enjoy it….


Audubonbons

Ingredients:
Granola bars
Chocolate Bar
Wax Paper

Step 1: Cut granola bar into bite sized squares.
Step 2: Place granola squares onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper
Step 3: Melt the chocolate bar and drizzle it onto the granola squares
Step 4: Place in fridge until hardened. Or place in freezer as an extra treat for teething toddler or as a tooth loss motivator for your 7 year old and his loose tooth thats been hanging in there for two months without falling out. Sigh.
Step 5: Place in baggie and take along on your nature hike.
Step 6: Hand it to your toddler and say “stick some Audubonbons in your pie hole and let your brother draw the mockingbird!”


Next week, we will be writing up a more thorough look at our bird watching activities. It will most certainly not be a “how to” guide, more like a “don’t you feel better about your nature walk/life in general now?” kinda thing.  Tears and laughter abound.

Speaking of life in general. The humidity is starting to dissipate! Its still warm, but its bearable. As in, I no longer feel like I am walking in a can of soup when I walk outside. From this point on, any schooling that can be done outside—will be done outside! Hooray! Time to bust that picnic basket out of storage.

IMG_6924Anyone else adoring “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Its inspiring the boys to get even more involved on the farm. Training the new pup to guard the chickens, pulling weeds and helping mark out garden plans. Its going to be a lovely, all hands on deck, kinda Fall!
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Nature Walks & Our Hike Pack

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Nature hikes and nature journals. Two parts of homeschool life that are growing in importance over time. In fact, it has become essential to our life as homeschoolers.

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When we first started homeschooling, I assumed that the scheduled “Nature Walk” portions of our curriculum were just a “get them out of the house” option. And while these scheduled walks do get them out of the house, they have become so much more than that to our family.

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Nature walks have given us an abundance of time. When we are at home I always feel like the days are slipping by and the children are growing too quickly. Out in nature, everything slows down. Time seems to multiply. Details, thousands of details, spring up all around us. We begin to discover and wonder aloud. We start naming, classifying, drawing and jotting down notes of things to look up later. We sit quietly and reflect. We are lost in a canopied cathedral, where worship and wonder mingle and flow unconstrained.

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This year we have been keeping more formal notebooks of our time outside. Seasons, times, sightings, sketches, thoughts, ideas.  The six year old loves making tree rubbings against the bark of the biggest trees he can find. My seven year old is quite keen on sketching hawks. The four year has been content to draw bats over and over and over. Guess what? He’s getting quite proficient at drawing bats! His drawing skills improve through this repetition. We are starting to find our bearings a little quicker with practice. Before the compass is pulled out we each take a guess. Which way is North? Over time the guesses have become more accurate. Where is the closest body of water? What are the names of the trees in this forest or park?

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Today, I finished reading “Keeping A Nature Journal” by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth.  It has inspired me to keep my own journal and quit overseeing my children’s journals.

Summers are difficult where we live. Extreme heat and extreme bugs make outdoor time a misery.  The majority of our outings are to parks and the beach. If we rise particularly early, then we are able to go out for a hike in the local preserves.  The rest of the year is gorgeous perfection and we are often outside rambling around the farm or in the pine woods nearby. We make great effort to get outside every day and once we are there, I leave the boys up to their own devices for awhile. Its amazing what stories they come home with.

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I keep a backpack, stocked and ready for these hikes.

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Included in our Hike Pack:

1) (4) 2 x 3 rugs from IKEA
2) Pencil case stocked with pencils (HB, 2B and 3B) erasers and a few colored pencils.
3) Pocket knife
4) Badger Sunscreen and Bug Spray combo
5) Take Along Guides
We use: Caterpillars, Bugs and Butterflies by Mel Boring
Trees, Leaves and Bark by Diane L Burnes
Tracks, Scats and Signs by Leslie Dendy
6) Nature Journals
We use:  Classical Conversations Nature Sketch Journals for 7 and 6 year old.
Run of the mill composition journals for myself and the 4 year old.

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Also in the pack but not pictured…

7)  Diapers + wipes
8) Flashlight for checking tree burrows
9) Cell phone w full battery
10) First Aid Kit
11) Compass

Before we leave for the Nature Walk we usually read a passage from an adventurous book my boys have expressed fondness for.  For example, “Wild Animals I have Known” by Ernest Thompson Seton or any of Thornton Burgess’ Animal stories. We make sure we are wearing the correct footwear and that we have been sprayed and lotioned in order to fend off ticks and UV Rays. We grab our water bottles and the boys usually arm themselves with binoculars and wooden rifles. Then, we set out to find the spectacular ordinary and the beautifully mundane.  We do not go looking for tigers or elephants. We walk quietly in the nature that is part of our space and time and we try to get to know it a little better and in doing so we know ourselves and each other better.

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Boys love to collect things. I am forever turning pockets inside out before loading the wash. I’ve had a few terrified lizards leap out at me and once or twice a wriggly worm. Usually, the pockets are stuffed to the brim with seeds and rocks and bits of twine.

This is quite wonderful for us. On rainy days or unbearably hot days, we pull out those little treasures and sketch them.  I have also found these small acrylic boxes from Oriental Trading Co. to be quite useful!

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We can enclose paper wasp nest fragments, snake skins, fragile exoskeletons or decaying leaves inside.  It is then passed around so the boys can examine their finds without crushing or mangling them.

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The clear view from every side is perfect for studying our specimens up close! The boys, inspired by Teddy Roosevelt, have decided to curate their own small museums. We are preserving their best finds each school year and then displaying them in shadow boxes. The boys will be responsible for curating their specimens, labeling them and pinning them in place.
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I asked my son the other day, “What is your favorite thing about Nature Walks?” He responded quickly, “Its the biggest space for me to wander and think about all I  am learning and all the stuff I still don’t know. Everything feels taped together. I feel really small and really big all at the same time. Mostly, I just like looking at all the wonderful things God took the time to make.”

MFW Adventures: 1492—go with the flow.

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Christopher Columbus!

I always love the way June Allyson, as Jo March in Little Women, lets that expression fly.

I ended up saying it all week…

i.e. “Christopher Columbus! There’s an armadillo in our yard!”
IMG_4747I have lived in Florida for the majority of my life and never once met an armadillo in the wild. To be fair, this armadillo has presumably lived its entire life in Florida and never encountered me once. We kept our distance out of respect for Mr. Armadillo’s wild nature and all around creepiness. Hooray, nature walk! Always exciting when something other than birds, bugs and/or types of bark, happens.

And that is not the only strange thing that happened around here….

IMG_4823My boys asked to do multiple crafts.

Multiple.

Crafts.

IMG_4825They made a pirate ship (Not what Columbus sailed on but I’ll take it), three maps, bead necklaces to trade for Indian gold and a flaaarrllaarggllaar made out of popsicle sticks. Ok, even after it was explained to me three times by my exasperated six year old, I’m still not quite sure. I believe it was some sort of navigation tool. I said “ooooo” and “aaahhh” whenever he paused for approval during his explanation. A flarrrrllaarggllaaar you guys! All on his own!

Ah, Columbus. He really wanted that trade route.

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He wanted the route and I really wanted the boys to hit certain goals this week. Halfway through I realized that they were going in a completely different direction than I.

Just like Columbus, I had hit an unexpected barrier.  Pesky ol’ South America kept Columbus from finding Asia (and months of madness, possible mutiny, starvation and eventual death in the middle of the Pacific). I decided to respect the road blocks my kids were putting up, lest I meet with disaster, and follow their lead. Last week, they were up for long discussions about Leif Ericsson. This week, they wanted hands on experiences and in-depth play about Columbus. In other words: “stop talking Mom and play with us!”

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We enjoyed the MFW materials in this unit–especially American Pioneers and Patriots. This became one of our favorite read alouds during our Literary Lunch hour. When the rains came, we hid in the boys bunks. Catalina, Pedro and Martin, riding out the storm. (We did not wedge any knives into the door)

Our Beautiful Feet book study continues to delight the boys. While I enjoyed “Leif the Lucky” more,  it was great to add in “Columbus” for a few great comparison discussions.  The boys have learned so much about diligence and self-control in these last two weeks of BF study. We press on, eager for more great living-book learning!
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The younger set of siblings had a great time tagging along this week. Every time the elder boys asked to draw maps or star charts, the younger boys would jump in on the fun. Lots of paint everywhere. Truly, a fantastic mess. They were so happy!

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The boys are still loving their manipulative maps from Interactive 3D Maps: American History. Its probably our favorite resource this year!

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We also enjoyed watching the Drive Thru History episode about Columbus. We asked for the series last Christmas and its been great fun so far–we highly recommend it!

After days of reading and mapmaking, the boys were itching for some adventure. When an afternoon rainstorm rolled in on Friday, my eldest stood at the window and watched the powerful winds shake the trees in our orchard.

“Can you imagine this kind of fury in the open unknown sea?” he asked.

“It must be terrifying,” I said.

“Mom, is it too late in the world to have an explorer’s heart?” he wondered.

“Never.” I assured him.

“Thats good. I am a kind of boy thats made up of courage and exploration but with safety too because, well, you’re my Mom and I love you,” he grinned at me.

I’m glad I went with the flow. Forcing them to do everything on my agenda, well, they may as well matriculate into our local school system for all the good it will do them as independent, creative learners.

I love watching them develop a love of learning.

I love that studying about Columbus and Viking Explorers has left my boys with a heart for exploring and a yearning for discovery, instead of an ache from sitting down all day staring at a textbook.

I read a passage this week about the unfurling of a mighty white sail from its massive yardarm. The boys were listening attentively, faces smiling and eyes alight with wonder. I’ve spent the last years hoisting their sails onto yardarms, tacking everything down and tying everything in place. Now the sails are beginning to unfurl, the wind may not have caught yet, but the sails are starting to stretch out and its a breathtaking experience.

Book List for Columbus (I found nearly all of them at the library)
1. Explorers Who Got Lost by Diane Sansevere Dreher
2. The World of Columbus & Sons by Genevieve Foster (this is an upper level BF book. We just looked through it)
3.  Who Was Christopher Columbus by Bonnie Bader
4. Christopher Columbus by Stephen Krensky
5. Animals Christopher Columbus Saw by Sandra Markle
6. Pedro’s Journal by Peter Koeppen
7. Into the Unknown by Stewart Ross
8. Great Ships by Patrick O’Brien
9. Columbus by Ingri & Edgar d’Aulaire
10. Land Ho! Fifty Glorious Years in the Age of Exploration by Nancy Winslow Parker (This was a great read for any kiddos wanting MORE explorers!)

The Walks Taken

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Our best moments of learning have oftentimes occurred in a forest.

If we can find a quiet wood to walk, then we have found a treasure.

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Nothing keeps children engaged in learning quite like ditching the books and fleeing into the trees.
We skip count as we march. We find new leaves to press into our nature journals. We figure out which direction we are traveling in.  I will ask my children: Where is the nearest body of water? Where is the best climbing tree? Can we find three different kinds of homes?  Recall our last walk in the woods and describe what happened?

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Burrows, nests and hollows.

Shells, rocks and tiny fossils.

Strips of birch, pine needles and acorns.

Pockets never return home empty.

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Anything can happen when your classroom has no walls.

We try and find a spot to sit still. We stay put for several long minutes and wait to see what happens. Just when we think nothing will change, different birds fly into view, squirrels dash out from previously unseen hiding spots, flowers that had escaped our notice before are now blazing in full view. We might pull out a field guide and try to identify things around us. We might tell stories while we fletch tiny arrows.

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There are days when the boys sling rifles across their backs and we march through the woods, seeking out the Green Mountain Boys or the Continental Marines.

Oftentimes there is no plan and I find that those are the best days. When the boys can ramble in the woods free of lessons plans and the word “no.”

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Take an unplanned walk in the woods. Pull over and visit that nature preserve you always pass by.

If you feel the weight of all the curriculum you have amassed pressing down on you–do yourself a grand favor and heave it to the side.

Take your little one by the hand and make for the trees!

They will not remember the elaborate handouts.

They will remember the walks taken.

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