Friday, March 12, 2010

Garden Project

Planting a garden with your children can be a wonderful thing to incorporate into your homeschool lessons. We have made substantial progress in our garden so far. We should have started planning in January and ordered great seeds in the mail. If you plan ahead, you can get heirloom varieties and hard to find things like garlic and onion sets. However, this didn't happen for me. I got my Burpee seed catalogue and never even opened it. Winter was so long and cold that the prospect of planning for spring seemed to far off to even consider. I waited too long. I didn't wait too long to go buy seeds from a local retailer, however. We spent one day planning our crops and buying seeds. The next day was spent plotting out the garden in the yard itself and beginning the tilling process.

Each seed packet has full instructions on when and what to do. The kids helped sorting out things into the following categories:
  • sow into the ground this week
  • sow into the ground later
  • start indoors

I was able to get peas, swiss chard, lettuce and carrots in the ground on time in the first corner of our garden that we tilled. The next day, we started our seedlings in a tabletop greenhouse that we bought at a big box store. It cost $6 and has 72 plant plugs. That plus the seeds was really affordable.

While we were planting seeds in the vegetable patch, we decided to get some real grass started in the front yard too, and sprinkle a healthy handful of wildflower seeds in the front flower beds. My small children were able to take part in each step. They learned how to plan, procure, ready the soil, plant, and water. Then, we got two exciting moments this week. God sent us rain to help our seeds grow AND we have germinating seeds in two rows in our indoor greenhouse. Not only is this a great science project for the kids, but it will provide us all with exercise, sunshine and delicious fresh vegetables when all is said and done. So, if you have the chance to, consider putting your books away for a day or two in the early spring and learn some things hands on in the garden with your kids.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Summer Lessons Learned

Some of the most important things about life, I learned outside. More specifically, I learned them playing in and around my grandfather's yard. They lived next door to us and he was an avid gardener. He tended to use too many chemicals for my taste, but his heart was in the right place. His yard was his masterpiece. He had been a farmer of some kind all his life. That's the way people got through tough times back then! My mom grew up with chickens, hogs, and a milk cow. She remembers her grandmother patting out their butter with her own hands. When they ate chicken, her older brother had to wring their necks and she and her twin sister had to pluck them. Compared to how easy it is to procure our ingredients today, it's hard to even compare the two. I might have to travel to several stores if I'm really budgeting and shopping the sales but I am not getting to know our food before I deep fry it.

After living through the depression, WWII, and the 1950's - which were pretty hard in their own right and no one ever talks about that - my grandparents developed some land off Atlanta Rd, back in the woods, and built a house. My parents built there too, as did my aunt and uncle. It was neat living next to my grandparents. It was like having two backyards to play in. Since he was retired and no longer had to raise "crops" or have farm animals, he gardened for pleasure. He planted azaleas, flowering trees, and roses. My grandmother must have loved this so much. I think he pampered her. They built in the early 60's and I didn't come along until 1976 so things were pretty well established by then. I remember thinking that my grandfather was this wise old gardener, who knew everything about how to make things grow. He liked talking to me and telling me stories and I liked listening to them.

One year, he planted a rose bush that was mine. He told me to come talk to it every day and pick off the beetles and watch it for disease. I loved having my "own" rose bush and I remember being afraid to pick the roses on it. I guess I preferred to see it covered in blooms; but if you know anything about roses, you know it likes you to pick them. That rose bush has been gone for years; but when I visit my brother who lives there now, I can still see the rectangular plot of my grandfather's garden and can imagine the exact spot where my rosebush was - second row back third bush from the right.

We have decided to plant a garden this year. I always plant something around the mailbox and in the flower beds but this year I want to grow vegetables too. We have begun planning our garden and will start our seeds this weekend. I hope my kids learn as much from the experience of gardening as I did. What a wonderful way to transition our learning from the classroom to the outdoors for spring and summer!

For helpful information on starting a garden in Georgia, visit the The University of Georgia Extension Service or refer to this helpful article from their office I found online, Georgia Gardens.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Thinking Ahead and Looking Back

It's official: I have begun searching for next year's curriculum. This will be our third year homeschooling and with each year, there will be new challenges. I want to begin first by thinking about our first two years.

In my first two years of homeschooling my kids, I will have completed teaching both of them how to read. This in and of itself is a monumental task. It's funny how little I think about that or dwell on how completely awesome that is. I can really testify to the fact that teaching your children to read is about as rewarding as it gets. In the first two years, we will have used the library a lot, reading our way through countries all over the world and many other subjects too. We have learned the joys of using Internet resources and television. I have become an expert in learning styles, time management, and loving my kids through a variety of frustrating situations. We have joined a homeschool group where we feel we fit in well and is a great source of social interaction. We suffered through one big move in which we downsized our home by more than half, made some sacrifices, and learned what is truly important in life. We also experienced a period of grief when my father passed away and we learned many life lessons together.

Our first two years homeschooling were absolutely the best thing I have ever done for my kids. Homeschooling itself allowed us to relocate with relative ease and gave us the flexibility we needed when faced with a family crisis. In tough times, homeschooling is actually the easier option. I couldn't imagine having my kids in school and trying to cope with either of those situations. Sitting down and thinking about the various challenges we have faced, both great and small, I realize just how wonderful homeschooling has been for our family. Whatever I choose for next year, I know that I'm making a wonderful decision for my family to educate them well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Australia Unit Study

Do you come from a land down under?? Well, we don't, but it's really fun to spend some time learning about this fascinating place. It really is like nowhere else on earth - a wealth of marsupials, opposite seasons, veggemite, dingiradoos - so much to capture the attention of my little ones. We spent two weeks talking about Australia and its neighbors.

We loved the many animals from our Draw Write Now book series that they included from this area of the globe. We chose to do the kangaroo, koala, echidna, and platypus. Each day we do a DWN drawing, we also read books that focus on that subject. I like to try and incorporate some non-fiction along with a fable, story, or picture book about the animal or element. That way, after the dry science text, my PreK student has something fun to look forward to. It's amazing how much they really learn about just by reading great books. It's not a fancy power-point presentation, but it's very effective. When the subjects are more interesting, you can get away with less creativity. It's when you're studying things that are a little boring to your child that you might have to spice things up more.

Learning about marsupials was great fun. The only thing is, beware the wealth of questions that may follow about sexual reproduction in general. They are starting to be aware of biology more and more and talking about another kind of reproduction is a sure way to bring up the subject. However scary this might be, making it a part of our everyday discussions takes a lot of the mystery out of it and hopefully will lead to great dialogue when they're older.

Some of the books we chose were WAY too focused on evolution and I edited the content for my readers quite significantly. I think it is tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater here and I refuse to give up a well illustrated book because it's not creation-based. Instead, I just gloss over those areas and avoid some key evolutionary terms here and there.

Besides books, TV and the Internet are great sources for video of Australia's rich animal life. We saw amazing video of Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, and crocodiles. We also took some time to talk about the original Australians - the Aborigines. We learned about their very unique culture and music. We were able to watch videos on youtube of real Aborigines playing the dingeradoo. And for fun, we watched the old 80's Men At Work video for "Land Down Under." My kids LOVE 80's pop music. HA!

To round out the unit study, we are learning about coral reefs and the Great White shark. NatGeo has a great site for studying the Great Barrier Reef. It is very interactive and gave the kids a sense of being there. Well, that's all for now, G'day!

My book list:

Australia Q and A, by Nathan Olson
Amazing Animals of Australia, J599 Ama
Australian Marsupials, by Peter Crowcroft
Outside and Inside Kangaroos, by Sandra Markle
Snap!, by Marcia Vaughn
Wild Wild World of Koalas, by Liza Jacobs
A Platypus, Probably, by Sneed B. Collard III
Surprising Sharks, by Nicola Davies
This Place Is Lonely, by Vicki Cobb
Uluru, Australia's Aboriginal Heart, by Caroline Arnold