Friday, June 24, 2011

One Potato, Two Potato

The fresh smell of spring and the heat of summer bring gardens of plentiful learning activities. Seems like every time we turn around we are enjoying another experience involving fruits and veggies. Here's a sampling of our fun, with a few extras tucked in for good measure. (For readers who heard me speak at the FPEA-Florida Parent Educators Association-Convention, some of these will sound familiar).


  • Estimate the weight of a watermelon. Weigh on a bathroom scale. Figure out the price per paid per pound.
  • Purchase a five pound bag of potatoes. Compare the quantity with a five pound bag of onions. Why the difference in quantity per pound? Younger children can weigh potatoes and arrange from lightest to heaviest.
  • Buy a basket full of veggie. Sort according to what part of the plant is eaten: stem, leaf, seed, root, flower. Eat vegetables and dip for snack.
Language Arts
  • Read Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert. Make veggie soup for dinner. (Dad will love eating what the children learned.)
  • Read the Farm Alphabet Book by Jane Miller. Make your own fruits and veggies alphabet book.
  • Play Garden Match to learn beginning consonants.
  • Read Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert.
  • Read Stone Soup by Marcia Brown (a traditional tale).
  • Read Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens (a trickster tale).
  • Make a growing vegetable soup lapbook.
  • Read The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle.

Social Studies
  • Tour the produce section of the grocery store.
  • Visit a working farm, garden store, orchard, or greenhouse.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Build a grow box and grow herbs.
  • Spout seeds. Discuss vocabulary: seeds, seedlings, cuttings, sprout, germinate.
  • Read The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons
  • Read Green Beans, Potatoes, and Even Tomatoes by Brian Cleary
  • Read One Bean by Anne Rockwell.
  • Sprout an avocado seed.
  • Grow or purchase a pie pumpkin. Open. Clean. Bake. Puree pumpkin and make bread.
  • Read The Life Cycle of a Bean by Linda Tagliaferro.
  • Read Foods from Farms by Nancy Dickmann.
  • Read Plants on a Farm by Nancy Dickmann.
  • Read Farming by Gail Gibbons. Discuss farming around the world.
  • Read From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons.
  • Read Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert.
  • Read The Victory Garden Vegetable Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta.

  • Make prints using tempera paints and fruits and veggies (potato, cabbage, celery, corn, and oranges)
  • Read Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork.
  • Make a seed collage.
  • Sing Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow. Act out the song with motions.
  • Read How Are You Peeling? by Joost Effers and Saxton Freymann. Discuss the illustrations. Children may also enjoy Fast Food by the same authors.
  • Play Hot Potato (hand-eye coordination)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nature Walks

Dear friends,

This is an excerpt from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.  I'm really glad my kids are nature lovers!  We're going back to Secret Lake Park today to catch some little fishies, with a real net this time! (See Florida Field Trips #4: Secret Lake Park)  The photos and bird sketch in this post are from my son Micah's blog,  (Note: We're having problems with his blog right now, so as of June 23, you can't access it and the pictures that I linked here from there aren't showing up.  We're trying to get that fixed ASAP!)  


Nature Walks  

Get outside and see nature!  After all, nature walks are free and easy to do, and observing nature for yourself is one of the best ways to learn about plants and animals.  Children get excited about their "specimens" and the fresh air is good for your health.  Francis Fenelon in his book Education of a Child says,  “A simple walk through the woods or splashing in a stream brings contentment to the soul and appreciation for God’s beauty in a manner that extravagant amusements cannot.”

Here are some ideas for your own nature explorations:

        Start in your own backyard. If you live in an urban or suburban neighborhood, you may not have much “habitat” at first glance.  Still, I’ll bet you could find lots of living things in your own backyard: birds, bugs, flowers, lizards, cats, worms...  To go farther afield, hike at a trail, park, preserve, lake, river, or mountain.

     Keep your eyes and ears open. Learning to pay attention is so important to nature study!  We often hear a red headed woodpecker rat-tat-tatting on our back fence.
     Be careful not to upset nature. Please remind your children to refrain from disturbing animal homes.  They don’t always know that they shouldn’t remove an egg from a nest, even if they return it right away.  This upsets the mama, and she may abandon it!  Talk about nature conservation -- how pollution and human expansion affect an ecosystem’s quality of air, water, soil, plants and animal homes.   Read about animals which have become extinct.  You don’t need to be a “tree hugger” to be a prudent environmentalist!  God has called us to stewardship!

    Practice nature safety.  Learn to avoid poisonous snakes, stinging insects, irritating plants, and hazardous bodies of water.  Wear protective clothing, sun screen, and/or insect repellent

   Collect and/or identify interesting specimens using a pocket-sized field guide. (Obtain permission from the landowner before you do this!) Look at your “finds” with a magnifying glass or microscope.  Do a scavenger hunt. Each person needs to find listed items like an oak leaf, a brown rock, a nut, etc.   You don’t need to take the items, just check them off on the list.  My friend Michelle suggests buying a plastic divided box in the sports department to store your treasures.

                           Savor the seasons of nature.  Do special activities related to winter (snowmen), spring (flower arranging), summer (beach trip) or autumn (pressing leaves).  My uncle in Pennsylvania hosts home school groups for syrup making when the sap starts running in the maple trees.  What makes each season special? Flowers have their own annual timetables for sprouting and blooming. Northern trees bud in spring, stay green through the summer, turn brilliant colors in autumn, and are bare in the winter (except for evergreens, of course)!

   Take field trips to organized nature study areas.  Go to the zoo, petting farm, botanical garden, nature center, science museum or county fair.   Out of their natural habitats, you can find specimens organized by category.  When you go to the zoo, have your child identify whether an animal is a mammal, bird, insect, amphibian, reptile, etc.  What are the characteristics of each group?  (Before you go, you can learn about this from books.)

       Find an experienced nature mentor.  This human resource can answer your questions and  help guide your explorations.  It could be an adult who works in this field, but don’t overlook home schooled kids as resources.  When we had questions about catching bugs or growing pineapples, we used to call two middle school boys in our support group.

        Keep a nature journal.  Have your children make drawings or rubbings of what they see, and then label them, also telling where they found the specimen.  For language arts, they can also  “paint” a word picture to describe a flower or other nature object.   A nature journal is also handy for recording changes in the seasons or the weather from day to day or week to week.


  Take pictures.  Show your child how to take landscape pictures or close-up shots.

    Bring portable field guides: I recommend Peterson’s or Audubon. At the minimum, you should have one each for birds, insects & spiders, and flowers.  Trees, reptiles, rocks & minerals, and other guides will be useful too, if your child is interested. A regional field guide will focus on species which are most commonly seen in your area. 

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