Spring Nature Studies with NaturExplorers - Nature Study made simple and meaningful!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's Spring!

Sort of.  I mean, we did have snow this week, but it is officially Spring according to the calendar, so, I'm hopeful!  So, it's time for me to share some of NaturExplorer's fantastic SPRING Nature Studies.

If you are looking for easy, hands-on, ready-to-go Nature Studies, the NaturExplorers units are a great option.  I love sharing these resources because I get asked all the time about how we do Nature Study in our home and I just know so many Moms are looking for a hands-on, simple way to embrace Nature Study without having to come up with everything on their own! (I hear ya!)

What is included in the NaturExplorer Units?

There is SO much in these amazing unit studies!

These are very Charlotte Mason-friendly. Cindy has packed the pages full of incredible ideas and inspirations to jump start all kinds of nature study as well as notebooking and nature journaling.  The guides are easy to use and very well laid out.   They are also good for quite the age range, with ideas to carry you from preschool to even high school depending on how you use the information and how you direct your student.

Some of the elements include:

Getting Started - Literature Launch gives a list of recommended children's literature to inspire and introduce the concepts of the study (love this so much!), Inspiration Point and A Bit of Background offer the 'teacher' a chance to gain quick and easy basic understanding of the motivation behind the study and some background knowledge before heading into nature study both in and out of doors.

Getting Outside - Nature Walks and Outside Activities (the core of the curriculum) is the section where Cindy has written so many great topic-related ideas for getting outside!  This is exactly what I was looking for since the simple, "Hey let's go for a walk," doesn't always captivate my kids anymore.  

Branching Out - This section goes more in depth and, well, branches out on the topic of study.  There are many ideas for hands-on science experiments and activities, vocabulary and scientific concepts (this one includes a look at Allen's Rule, Bergmann's Rule, The Egg Rule, and Gloger's rule, along with discussions and activities for the concepts of adaptation, camouflage, how to make your yard animal and bird friends, and much more.)

In the Branching Out section, you will also find a ton (really!) of ideas for research, study and creative writing.  The ideas are so many and so varied that I mentioned to my husband that I would surely keep these units for years to come and pull them out during the applicable seasons to use as a launching pad for Nature Study over and over again.  Cindy gives hundreds of ideas that could serve as a very engaging springboard for all ages.

Bible, Poetry, Artist and Picture Study, and Composer and Music Study:

I love the Bible Lessons from His Creation section.  This highlights multiple verses and chunks of scripture that relate to the topic of study.  We used Matthew 6:28-30 as our copywork in our Nature Journals.

Poetry Place includes several titles of theme-related poems and suggested books of poetry.  For this unit, we printed off all the poems and read them aloud.  We used Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Field as a nature journal page and learned more about the Canada Geese from Handbook of Nature Study. when we used Coping with the Cold this winter.

I was so excited to discover the Artist and Picture Study References included as well.  What a wonderful addition to any Nature Study!  Cindy gives great suggestions for kid-friendly picture study with artists and artwork related to the topic.  We really gravitated towards studying works by Robert Bateman for our Coping with the Cold unit and it was wonderful.  

Composer and Music References offers some lovely ideas for music study related to the specific theme of the given Nature Study unit.

There are also many notebooking pages to use within your home and homeschool for each unit - so many I couldn't list them all!  Each page pairs easily with the content within the unit study and can be printed off as needed!

Seriously, amazing resources!

My suggestions for Spring Nature Studies -

Remember, there are easily downloadable samples of all the NaturExplorer Units on the site!

First, I want to share with you the NaturExplorers Bundles.  These are a really inexpensive way to load up on tons of wonderful Nature Study resources that will last you way longer than one season (trust me on this one!).  Many of the units work great in many seasons.  I love that Cindy has made bundles so that we can get the best bang for our buck (so to speak) and grab 3 studies at once.  Both the Early Spring Bundle and the Late Spring Bundle have awesome Nature Studies that will work through Spring, Summer, and into Autumn as well, actually!

Early Spring Bundle

The Early Spring Bundle includes three great individual NaturExplorer units: A Fungus Among Us, Animal Signs, and Remarkable Rain.

Late Spring Bundle

The Late Spring Bundle includes: Wonderful WildflowersEverchanging ErosionBeautiful Birds.

Early Summer Bundle

The Early Summer Bundle includes:  Flying Creatures of the NightFrogs and Toads, and Peaceful Ponds.

Some more Ideas for Nature Study this Spring:

This Spring, we are diving into Everchanging Erosion, and over the Summer, I plan to do a bunch of  Hard as a Rock.  I'm sitting here flipping through the guides, so I thought I'd share some of the great ideas and resources in these two units.  They both look fantastic!

Everchanging Erosion

Some of the ideas in the Getting Outside section include:

  • Go on an Erosion and Scavenger Hunt (and use the notebooking page to go along)
  • Draw an Erosion site that you visit and/or draw a small area map 
  • Find examples of wind erosion
  • Look specifically for signs of erosion along a creek with a focus on bends in the creek bed (use the notebooking page that goes along with this)
  • After a heavy rain, observe a body of moving water for signs of erosion happening quickly because of the fast moving water, use the After the Rain notebooking page
  • At the beach, build a sand castle near the low tide - observe stages of the castle's erosion
There are also tons of ideas in the Branching Out section, including: experiments to show how water expands when it freezes, simulating ice, water, and wind erosion on a mound of dirt, a Lifesaver rock experiment, observing how sediment settles, a simulation showing how a cave is formed using sugar cubes, a landslide experiment, a water weight experiment, make clay models of various landforms, and many more.

On top of all this there are also suggestions for writing and research projects, poetry, music study, art and picture study, lots of notebooking pages, and ideas for including very young children as well as teens.  Love it!

Hard as a Rock

This study introduces us to types of rocks, the rock cycle, and various topics related to rocks and rock types.  Activities include:  keep records of interesting rocks you find and start a collection, compare and contrast different rocks you find, go on a fossil hunt, go on a rock scavenger hunt using a specific notebooking page, walk a dry stream bed in search of interesting rocks and pebbles.

Branching Out activities include: find the absorbency and volume of rocks, make sedimentary/metamorphic/igneous rocks to eat, create your own fossils from plaster, grow rock candy, build a rock wall around a flower bed, and many, many more ideas for looking under rocks as well.
As with all the NaturExplorers units, on top of all this there are also suggestions for writing and research projects, poetry, music study, art and picture study, lots of notebooking pages, and ideas for including very young children as well as teens.  

A couple more that would be great for Spring - 

I think Captivating Clouds could truly be done at any time of the year.  I think we might launch into this in late Winter this year.

Here are just some of the ideas from Captivating Clouds: learn to identify different types of clouds, observe and journal clouds on a nature walk using an identification chart, keep a log of the cloud types you see every day, use a compass to identify the direction clouds are moving, learn about water vapour,  identify shapes in clouds, observe and journal about colours found in clouds, write Haiku, sculpt clouds using clay, learn the five main cloud components, learn about condensation, evaporation, and precipitation, make 'fruit in a cloud' for a snack, and so much more! 

For writing ideas, suggestions include: make a chart showing cloud levels and altitudes, create an accordion book about fog types,  research, illustrate, and write a paragraph about Interesting Cloud Names, and several more engaging writing topics.

Multiple biblical references and readings are provided along with poetry suggestions.  Art and Picture Study includes Van Gogh, Monet and Norman Rockwell, among others.  Also has composer suggestions and numerous suggested fiction and non-fiction titles to work with the study of clouds.

Incredible Creeks

We used this unit over the Summer last year and still have TONS left that we can do.  It is full of great ideas for studying not only creeks, but streams, rivers, lakes, you name it.  This would work well in the Autumn, as it is often recommended to study creeks and watershed areas in Autumn!

Incredible Creeks includes: looking at the Water Cycle, completing detailed observations on both a large and small scale plus accompanying Notebooking pages, Wading Scavenger Hunt, observing rocks and collecting pebbles, finding and exploring waterfalls, discussing the various parts of watershed areas, looking at tree roots, identifying and journaling about Wild Flowers, looking for signs of a Healthy Creek, looking at amphibians, monitoring and charting creek temperatures, and tons more.

There are also ideas for making a model of a creek, drawing a cross-section mural of a creek,  and several really interesting science experience to help understand watersheds, erosion, and creek habitats.  Writing ideas include things like creating lyric poems, researching and writing about a famous gold rush, and learning and writing about dams.

There are multiple scriptures included in the unit that relate to life, water, and God's care and provision for His children as well as songs

Peaceful Ponds

Some of the hands-on ideas in the Peaceful Ponds unit include: Creating an underwater sampler, using a strainer to find live creatures in a pond, identifying specific pond plants and sketching and labelling parts in your Nature Journal, identifying and note booking the four main zones where pond plants grow, creating a map of your pond and surrounding areas, watching for birds/insects and create stories about their adventures, dissecting a pond plant, looking at pond water under a microscope, and looking at various pond animals.  

There are scriptures tied into baptism, creation, and God's hand in nature.    Poetry includes poems from Matsuo Basho, Alfred Noyes, and Eleanor Ferjeon and suggests a beautiful poetry book that specifically covers Pond Poems.  Picture Study includes Claude Monet, Cezanne, and Rousseau, and Renoir!

There are over 25 amazing suggested read-alouds to go with this unit as well as numerous note-booking pages to print-out and use along with the hands-on activities and learning.

Creative Nature Walks

This is such a great resource!  Who couldn't use 100+ 'easy and fun' Nature Walk ideas on hand to pull from?  I have used this at the drop of a hat, literally as we're walking out the door.  The ideas a varied in age range, length of time require, prep-time (most require none), and ease.  

Some of the ideas include: ABC's of Nature (I recently posted about our ABC walk here), Adjectives Abound - describing things in nature using adjectives, Below My Knees- noticing and journal things found below 'knee' level, Collect and Create - collect things that are no longer living on your walk, bring them home, and get creative, Fly By- noticing and identifying things found in air, and on and on it goes!  Honestly, this is an amazing Nature Study resource for any family to have on hand!  

I highly recommend it! 

I hope this is helpful as you embrace Nature Study this Spring!

Our Journey Westward

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How to Find Great Living {Picture} Books at the Library - Part 3 of the "What is a Living Book?" Series

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

So, I'm kind of in love with books.  Living books particularly.  That's why I've been doing this little series, "What is a Living Book?".

You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.  Welcome to Part 3 - How to Find Great Living (Picture) Books at the Library.  *smile*

Going to the library has been a weekly activity for our family since the children have been babies.  I love the feel, smell, look, atmosphere - well, mostly everything about the library.

What I don't love is how many inappropriate and low quality books seem to lurk on the shelves.  This is a huge frustration for so many of the parents I talk to -  libraries carry too much 'junk' and not enough living books.

I do have to agree - there is a ton of crummy books at the library.  BUT, there are also quite a few fantastic books.  I have had great success finding very high quality living books at our local libraries and I would encourage any parent not to underestimate the value of their local library.

Because so many Moms have been asking me, I thought I'd share how I use the library for homeschooling - also, how I quickly and easily spot great living books on our trips there.

Some quick pointers for getting the best from the library:

Search online and put books on hold.    Sounds super basic, but I know there are many parents who have never used their library's online search/hold function.  It is invaluable!!!  You can literally pull up almost every major library system and search the database and put any books you want on hold under your card.  They show up magically at your local library only days later.  It is so easy and such a great way to get the books you actually want!

Look in the Non-Fiction section.  There are a TON of fantastic living books in the non-fiction section of the library.  Both in the children's non-fiction and adult non-fiction.  This is where I find most of the high quality living books I bring home.  Make sure to look in the biographies section for fantastic living biographies like a bunch of the ones I took home this week!

Look in the 'New Books" section.  If your library has a section set aside for new titles, make sure you know where it is and check it every time you go to the library.  There are so many wonderful new titles available that fit all the qualities of great living book.

Try using the Inter-Library Loan program.  If you can't find a title in your local library or even in your city's library system, ask if they have an Inter-Library Loan program.  This allows you to request titles from outside your system.  I have been able to score very hard to find titles this way - one was even sent to me in Ontario from the East Coast!

Here is a peek at our stash from this week's library visit:  

I didn't put any of these on hold.  I simply searched the New Books area and looked in the Children's Non-Fiction section.  We found some real gems!

So, let's chat about some of the specific things I look for when selecting books at the library...

What to look for on the Cover of the Book (or in the title and subtitle):

  • Look for BIOGRAPHIES that are in a story format.  Books that have a famous person's name on the cover often embody many of the qualities we are looking for in a great living book.  Example:  "Ann Frank and the Remembering Tree".
  • Look for subtitles with words like how, when, why, what, who, and where.  For example: "When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom", "How Nikola Tesla Lit up the World". 
  • Look for subtitles like, "The life of...", "The story of...", "The true story of...".   For example: "The life journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony", "...the life of the famous Chevalier de Saint George",  "the story of Charles Atlas", "...the true story of Three Zoo Elephants who...".
  • Look for subtitles that express the story will be a relatable living book about something or someone real.  For example: "Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets", "What Thomas Edison told Henry Ford", and "Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor".
  • Look for engaging, high quality illustrations.
  • Look for awards and acknowledgements.  Not every great book has been acknowledged with an award, and truthfully, many books I would not read to our children have also won awards.  This is not a clear indication in every case, of course.  But it is worth noting that many times, a big round gold sticker on the front of that book means it is worth at least checking out.
  • Look for familiar authors.  If an author has earned your trust with previous high quality living books - stick to him or her.  I've found authors to be incredibly consistent.  Most have a similar style through all their work and if one book was a fantastic living book, another one of their books will have a high chance of being a great choice as well.

Shots showing examples of the above points:

What to look for inside the book:

Over the years, I've learned how to quickly flip through a book to see if it is worth taking home.  I'm not always right - I do get it wrong... after all, you can't read all the content in one quick flip.  However, there are some key elements to look for when hoping to secure a great living picture book.

  • Look for well designed pages with engaging, high quality illustrations.  That which is lovely and beautiful will draw us in.  I think it is universal to enjoy well done illustrations - not only are they nice to look at, they help bring the story to life for the reader.  You can also look for layouts that have larger text in some areas, paragraphs in one spot and descriptions of illustrations in another - this kind of layout is incredibly engaging for readers.  (See a good example in the second photo below.)
  • Look for lots of text.  The more text, the more likely the book will be a living book.  Once in a while, I run into a Mom who is surprised I routinely use picture books to teach our upper elementary kids.  Picture books have come a LONG way.  Many picture books are written with very challenging vocabulary and go into great detail.  Many read like short novels, to be honest!  But, truth be told, if a picture book has very few lines per page, it likely won't be a great living book.  There are exceptions, but I haven't found too many.
  • Look for timelines, maps, and diagrams.  These elements point to the story being true and the author/illustrator caring a great deal to express the details of the story in a living, engaging way.  These also serve as fantastic ways to research, expand upon, and dial into the content.
  • Look for things like Forwards, Author's Notes, Historical Notes, and the like.  Again, the presence of these elements often indicates a true story written by an author who actually cares are her subject.  Historical Notes often indicate a living history book.

Here are some examples from the books we got this week:

I trust this post was helpful in some way for you as you strive to offer a living education to your children!

A Review of Living Literature Grammar Packs from Shining Dawn Books

Saturday, March 12, 2016

If you've hung around this little blog for very long, you'll probably already know how much I love the stuff from Our Journey Westward.  I have several posts where I've talked about and reviewed the fantastic NaturExplorers Series.

I was excited to try out the Living Literature Grammar Packs for Language Arts.  

Grammar is something I have always struggled with as it always feels forced... it's just one of those subjects that I always felt simply 'needed to be done'.  Which, let's get honest, it IS one of those subjects.  How many people LOVE Grammar?  Well, maybe some people do... but not most.  And especially usually not 10-year-old-boy people.

So, searching for interesting and creative ways to teach Grammar is a bit of a hobby for me.  (I know, I'm so exciting).

Enter the Living Literature Grammar Packs.

We actually really liked these!  I used them for both my 10 year old son (almost 11) and my 9 year old daughter.

What Cindy has done is take several well-known/loved living children's books and used them to teach various grammar and language arts concepts.  Some of the titles include: Papa Piccolo, Owl Moon, Mailing May, Storm in the Night, The Hatmaker's Sign, Mrs. Katz and Tush (all Five in a Row titles!), as well as titles like, Alejandro's Gift, Harry the Dirty Dog, Goin' Someplace, among others.

This program is geared to 3rd to 5th graders (or in and around that ball park).

There are 15 titles in all - each book is a 'pack'.  Cindy recommends using one pack per week, or you can just pop in a Grammar Pack whenever you feel like it!  I would say, about a week is pretty much right on if you are doing a light amount of grammar daily combined with various other language arts activities (we also do copywork, dictation, etc).

The types of skills covered in this program include: identifying the author/illustrator of a book, comprehension, characters, setting, sequence of events, descriptive words, alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, and much of the parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, interjections, etc.).  The program also goes into sentence structure, word usage (think homonyms, synonyms, compound words, contractions, etc.), as well as spelling and some writing introduction.  Yep, there is a TON in these little packs!

I also love the layout of the PDF download.  Cindy does a great job with her programs because everything you need is right there.  She even includes a Preposition List, and at the end, all the answers to every single question in every single pack (oh, bless you, Cindy~!).

It is a very straight forward program... basically: download, print what you want to use, and start.

The only exception for this particular program is that you would need the books, or at least, it would be beneficial to have the books.  There are several references to certain pages of the books, etc. so not having it would be a major draw back.

So, you would need to get your hands on the titles, or at least a good number of them.  Several are available in most library systems.  If you use or have used Five in a Row, you will likely have many of them already (we did!).

How we Used the Living Literature Grammar Packs

Once I downloaded the PDF from the Shining Dawn site, I browsed through the introduction pages and decided which packs we would start with - which, basically was just based on which books we already had on our shelf!

In the pasts few weeks we have used the packs for Owl Moon, Papa Piccolo, and Storm in the Night.  Let's take a look at how we used Papa Piccolo and Owl Moon.

Papa Piccolo Grammar Pack - completed by Audrey, age 9

Audrey really enjoys this grammar program.  It's neat because she can use many of her loved picture books for grammar instruction, which makes it more enjoyable and familiar.  The work pages made daily 'prep' super easy (hooray) and we were ready to go at any time, as long at I had printed the pages ahead of time.

Some examples from this pack:

First, Audrey identified that Papa Piccolo's genre is fiction.  Then she did an activity where she circled preposition in sentences from the book.  She was then asked to think about Piccolo's character in the beginning of the story compared to the end and make a chart to show the differences.

She then worked on using "may" vs. "can".  For instance, would you say May I walk the streets of Venice by myself all night?  OR Can I walk the streets of Venice by myself all night?

Among other things, Audrey also practiced her helping verbs, corrected errors in four sentences, and wrote her own sentence using alliteration.

Owl Moon Grammar Pack  - completed by Simon, age 10

Simon is my reluctant man.  Oh, how I love him and his reluctance.  Really, I do - it makes him, well, him.  It also keeps me on my toes.  But language arts and Simon aren't the best of friends.  I'm happy to report, however, that he DID enjoy these Grammar Packs!  They are simple enough, straight forward enough, and gentle enough that even a reluctant writer can accomplish the work without feeling overwhelmed.

Here's he we covered.

He started with identifying the author/illustrator, then divided words into syllables, he identified pronouns, subjects, predicates, and adverbs in carious different ways.  He then corrected several sentences from the book by identifying the mistakes and rewriting them well.

Simon used words from the book to create his own sentences, identified the setting and main character.  He also had sentences where he needed to decide whether they contained a simile, onomatopoeia, personification, or alliteration (there were 8 sentences).   He then did an activity where he combined simple sentences into longer, complex ones.

He worked on singular vs. plural nouns as well as present and past tense verbs.  There were then a series of comprehension-type questions, followed by a spelling list using words from the book.

What I Thought...

I really love the Living Literature Grammar Packs for Language Arts.

I think Cindy has done a great job creating something interesting, easy-to-use, and very affordable for parents and kids.  Seriously... $8.95?  For what you receive - this price is crazy low.  And this is the case with every one of Cindy's unit studies and curriculums.  They are a REALLY GOOD value, in my opinion.  And instant access via download is very nice as well - no shipping costs, no waiting, just click, purchase, download, and start.  Love it.

These packs offer a different, 'living books' spin on grammar and I love that - especially as a Charlotte Mason homeschooler and a parent who loves to present my kids with as much living book learning as possible.

If you already own several of the books or can get your hands on the titles, this is a great program!

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