Autumn Nature Studies from NaturExplorers... oh, how I love Fall...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It is no secret I love the NaturExplorer Nature Study Units from Our Journey Westward.  I thought I would share some of the great nature studies available for the Autumn season.

This is such a beautiful time of year for so many of us - Harvest, leaves changing colour, cool nights, sunny, wind-blown days.  Pumpkins, corn stalks, wheat bundles, Mums on the door step... oh, how I LOVE Autumn!  It is also a fantastic season for all kinds of nature studies!

If you are looking for easy, hands-on, ready-to-go Nature Studies, the NaturExplorers units are a great option.  

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!

So, specifically for Autumn, let's take a look at these -

Remember, there are easily downloadable samples of all the NaturExplorer Units on the Our Journey Westward site.

Delightful Deciduous Trees

In our area, we have so many delightful deciduous trees changing colours in the Autumn.  What a perfect time for the Delightful Deciduous Trees unit!

Here's some of what this unit includes (from the Shining Dawn site):  "Delightful Deciduous Trees comes with a huge amount of notebooking pages – Nineteen!  Some are seasonal scavenger hunts, others focus on tree parts, tree life and tree comparisions. The notebooking pages alone will keep you busy for quite some time! However, there are many additional ideas for studying trees outdoors. From leaves to bark to tree critters, ideas abound for detailed observation.
At home, you can choose from such things as making chlorophyll prints, graphing leaves or completing a transpiration experiment. You might also choose to learn more about photosynthesis, fungi, deciduous forests, state trees, erosion control, etc."

Fruits and Nuts

We absolutely LOVE checking out all the wonderful fruits and nuts that appear in the Autumn season.  This is why I chose Fruits and Nuts for Autumn Nature Study.  Some details from the site:

"This unit will not only have you observing and examining fruits and nuts, you will learn to observe insect and animal behavior, watch for the effects of disease or weather on plants and be challenged to create meals, make models, create history reports and so much more!
The outdoor and indoor activity ideas abound in this 64 page unit that includes 16 notebooking pages.  We’ve also included a slight focus on the Fruits of the Spirit in the Bible section with additional book, music and activity ideas to follow through with Biblical character training.  This is a well-rounded unit chock-full of lessons to fit every academic area!"

Remarkable Rain

I don't know about you, but in our area we get a TON of rain the Autumn months!  So, maybe a great time for a Nature Study about rain?  We haven't done the Remarkable Rain NaturExplorers unit, but I would love to get it.  
Here are some details from the site:  "Remarkable Rain will encourage you to observe the details of an approaching rain system through such things as the five senses and art journaling.  You’ll actually get outside in the rain (when the weather is safe) to examine, experiment and make notes about a variety of topics including erosion, run-off, plant and animal behaviors and much more!  And, you’ll get outside soon after the rain for many more activities such as photography, soil discoveries, and witnessing the water cycle to name just a few.
Inside, continue your discoveries through hands-on experiments and demonstrations that will help you understand more about the hows and whys of rain.  As usual, we’ve also included several art ideas.  In the Hands-On and Writing & Research sections, learn about the water cycle, weather fronts, erosion, pollution, storms, rainbows, plant and animal adaptations, rain forests, deserts  – the list goes on and on.  Eighteen notebooking pages are included, too!"

The Autumn Bundle

I think the Autumn Bundle would be a great way to dive into Autumn Nature Study with Delightful Deciduous Trees and Fruits and Nuts, then keep on going through the Winter with Coping with the Cold.  We used Coping with the Cold for about 3 or 4 months this past Winter and LOVED it.  You can see our full review right here.  It included quite a bit of pre-winter content, which made me wish I had started it sooner!  So, yes, this would make a great Autumn and into Winter study and bundle.

The great thing about investing in Nature Study Units like these is they are completely non-consumable!  This means, you can print them out, put them in a notebook or binder and use them year after year.  There are so many ideas in them, you will never do every activity or nature exploration.  We used Coping with the Cold last year, but we will certainly pull it out again this year!

Some more of my faves that would work well for Autumn...

Incredible Creeks

We used this unit over the Summer.  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.

Captivating Clouds

I love this unit study.  As I flip through all the wonderful ideas and suggestions for studying clouds, I'm reminded just how vast and beautiful our world is and how awesome our God is.

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.

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 truly hope this is helpful as you venture towards an 'awesome' Autumn season with your family and in your home.

Our Journey Westward

Psst... want a 2 week FREE trial of the Odyssey Adventure Club?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

So, I'm not sure that I've shared my love of Odyssey on this blog before, but here it goes.

I LOVE ADVENTURES IN ODYSSEY!  If you aren't familiar with Odyssey, I would sum it up by saying that Odyssey is a series of engaging audio stories for kids that are infused with biblical truths and character lessons.  They are presented theatrically and are super fun to listen to together as a family.  We first started listening to Odyssey when my Mom bought us a discounted CD-set of their Bible Eye-Witness set.  And I actually listened to Odyssey when I was a kid!  (Yep, it's been around THAT long... ha!)

The fun thing about Odyssey as well is that the stories are relatively short.  This can be a nice change from listening to longer, novel-style audio books.  This Summer, we travelled with two good friends of ours who are 13 and 10 years old.  Our kids are 11, 9, and 8.  We listened to countless Odyssey stories in the van and they were engaging for not only all the kids, but my husband and myself as well.  And because each story was only about 20 or so minutes long, we were able to follow along and get the whole story and moral/lesson out of them too.  Lots of fun!

So, I've been living back in the 2000's and just using the audio cds to listen to Odyssey.  But, did you know there is a whole Odyssey Adventure Club you can sign up for where you get access to pretty much every single Odyssey episode every recorded?  Also, it includes devotions, behind the scenes videos, bonus episodes, features, etc.  It's amazing.  Our kids love it!


Sign Up for a Free Two-Week Trial of Odyssey Adventure Club

"Getting used to a new school isn’t easy, especially for someone as paranoid as Buddy Norman. In “A Predicament of Biblical Proportions” he envisions wacky worst-case encounters with townsfolk who seem like mobsters, snoops and fairy-tale tyrants—until he gets to know them. He’s also a little confused about Bring Your Bible to School Day. What’s it about? Should he participate? See Odyssey through Buddy’s eyes in this witty celebration of religious freedom."

Listen to this story through a two-week trial only on the Odyssey Adventure Club.

We love Odyssey... so I really thought this was worth sharing!

A Peek at The Writer's Jungle and First Impressions and Thoughts about Brave Writer

Sunday, September 4, 2016

There have been many times when I've been absolutely sure that God led me to a certain book, curriculum, or resource.  (A few examples would be: All About Reading, Draw Write Now, Five in a Row, NaturExplorers, and Teaching Textbooks.)

THIS is certainly one of those times when I felt the Lord placed just the right resource in my lap. (He's so awesome!)

Let me explain:

When I got the okay to review The Writer's Jungle, I was uncertain what Brave Writer was even all about.  I had only vaguely heard of it and, quite honestly, I was skeptical.

We've been struggling our way through writing for a few years now.

My skepticism simply arose from the fact that I have really had a hard time finding writing programs that worked for our children.  Especially my eldest, who is an extremely reluctant writer. (He's 11.)

It only took me a short time of reading The Writer's Jungle and various other resources from Julie Bogart to feel confirmed that the Lord brought Brave Writer to us and our homeschool.  I am so (SO!) excited to starting using these philosophies and resources in our home.

I am nearly done reading through all of The Writer's Jungle.  I have about a billion sticky tabs all over the place to remind me of great suggestions, projects we need to do, and tips that will prove helpful more than once (I'm sure!).  It acts as a comprehensive, friendly manual for helping us understand how to better relate to our children and help them learn to write effectively.  The Writer's Jungle is not a curriculum, it is a description of a lifestyle and a compilation of chapters of insight and inspiration for moving past stumbling blocks and getting to the heart of what it really means to 'write well'.  It is fabulously inspiring.

Chapters include topics like: Narration, Copywork, Dictation, The Role of Communication in the Art of Writing, Rescuing Reluctant Writers, Revising, The Topic Funnel, Editing, Dumb Assignments, and so much more.

There are also loads of assignments to work on with your kids that correspond with the chapter topics.  A couple examples are:  The Communication Game, The Keen Observation Exercise, Topic Funnel Exercise, Journal Writing, etc.

I also decided to invest in A Quiver of Arrows and The Arrow for our language arts this year and so far, I'm loving everything I am seeing!  (More about that below.)

My first impression is that Brave Writer is a gentle, natural, intentional approach to not only writing, but also relationship with our children.

Julie Bogart (the creator of Brave Writer) describes that the Brave Writer philosophy/lifestyle often "...feels foreign, almost like entering a different culture."   

Honestly, I don't feel like we will have to change our educational philosophies at all - Brave Writer's philosophies fit so well with what we're already doing!  It's quite remarkable, actually.

If you lean towards gentle teaching and/or a Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool, Brave Writer is very likely to appeal to you and your children.

Julie also says:

"Brave Writer is focused on PEOPLE.  That's why it is called Brave Writer not Brave Writing... One of the reasons our program feels different is because I'm inviting you to get to know your kids.  To value what comes out of their mouths.  To be interested in their thoughts.  To have eye contact and big, juicy conversations.  To celebrate language with them not to do school to them. That's the difference....  We are about a lifestyle more than a program."

When I hear those words, I am overwhelmed with a sense of rest, peace, and great relief.

They affirm what I already know to be true in my heart, friends - that writing is a natural process that can and will develop if nurtured in the right ways specific to every individual child.  Especially when relationship is the core focus, children will thrive in their ability to communicate well with us and others.

Figuring out How it Works

So, it took me a bit, but I think I've pretty much figured out how Brave Writer works.  Or at least, what to purchase if you want to get started with it and get going on a great year of writing and language arts.  I mean, we still haven't put any of these resources into practice in our homeschool, so right now, everything is still only in my mind.  (We start next week!)

Basically, there are home-based study programs (like homeschool curriculum for writing and language arts) and then there are actually online classes you can take through Brave Writer's website.

The Writer's Jungle is the foundational book of the entire program because it goes into a lot of detail about the Brave Writer philosophy and how to implement this 'lifestyle' for not only writing, but learning and living in general.  I highly recommend starting with The Writer's Jungle if you are new.

Julie says you can literally stop there if you want to.  If you are motivated and understand the foundational principles, you can continue and implement the philosophies on your own.  However, if you want a little help (as so many of us do!), you can purchase more of the Brace Writer programs and/or resources to help you on your way to successful language skills and writing success.  This is what we've chosen to do, as I discuss below.

A Focus on Family Relationships and Reading Great Books

YES!!!  A writing 'program' that puts a complete emphasis on building great relationships with our kids and reading great books together!  Imagine that!?  The majority of everything Brave Writer offers in centred around relationships, an atmosphere of rest, and sharing age-appropriate living books together as a source of knowledge, inspiration, conversation, and enrichment.

Need I say more?  I was pretty much sold from 'hello' on this one, friends.

Poetry Tea Time and Friday Free Write

I'm sure some of you have heard the term, Poetry Tea Time.  Poetry Tea Time is encouraged for all families, once a week (at least)!  This is a time of rest, poetry, wonderful language enrichment, nurturing a love of reading and language, and of course, enjoying bonding time over yummy treats and soothing tea.

I LOVE this idea.  We have always read while eating... it's kind of something we just do.  Maybe because we're always eating?

But I've never intentionally had a tea/poetry time on a weekly basis.  We are starting this habit this year.  I'm pretty pumped about it.

Friday Free Write has also become a well-known phrase. This is an element of the Brave Writer Lifestyle that we plan to implement this year as well.  Every friday, we will attempt to free write for a short period of time.  For at least two of my children I am certain this will start with oral narration of their free write... and that's okay with me *smile*

Writing Programs

For Home Study programs there are both straight-out Writing Programs and also Language Arts programs available.  They all look so good, I'm tempted to buy them all, to be honest.

For Writing specifically -

If your child still isn't writing yet and is between the ages of 5-8, there is Jot It Down available.  This looks so Charlotte Mason friendly and I love the idea of allowing children to narrate aloud and Mom (or Dad) acting as the scribe for them.  We have done this a TON in our homeschool and it works wonders for getting more and better narrations out of them.

We are taking this year to focus on the main manual, The Writer's Jungle, which is applicable to kids age 8-18.  So, all three of our children will be doing the activities in it, some together, some separate.

We may choose to move on to other courses after that, but I'm not sure yet.

Language Arts Programs

Okay, so these programs are for if you are looking for more support in the area of Language Arts (not specifically writing, though many of these units include writing ideas and suggestions).

I am REALLY excited about my purchases of  A Quiver of Arrows (for Alex) and The Arrow (for Audrey and Simon).  

So, these are literary based language arts UNITS.  Each unit uses one book that is used to expand the world of language arts for our children.  So, there is suggested copywork, commentary about grammar and writing styles, questions to stimulate conversation, a monthly literary element focus, and suggested activities for writing practice and experimentation.  You are getting quite a bit with each unit.

A Quiver of Arrows is a bridge year between the younger program The Wand and the grade 3-6 program, The Arrow.  The booklists for The Wand, A Quiver of Arrows, and A Pouch of Boomerangs stay the same within the programs.  I see these as 'bridge' years.

The booklists for The Arrow and The Boomerang, however, change yearly.  They are digital downloads with a new title or unit every month.

One option for purchasing any of these is to use Homeschool Buyer's Co-op.  I got amazing deals on my purchases.  I paid only $47 for A Quiver of Arrows (instead of $79)!  

I particularly loved the way I was able to purchase units of The Arrow.  I actually bought a bundle of 10 back issues (instead of getting this year's titles month by month).  This was awesome because I paid a fraction of the price and was able to hand pick the titles we would do to suit our children's interests and what books we already had on the shelf.  Love it!  I also specifically picked 5 titles to suit Audrey and 5 titles for Simon.  It was $59 for all the issues instead of the regular price of $100.  

I love good homeschool deals... and since they are all digital downloads, there is no shipping or waiting to worry about.  Everything was smooth and easy!

Of course, you can also purchase directly from Brave Writer as well.

There are also countless online classes available through the Brave Writer website.  If this is something that interests you, you can learn more by browsing their website's Online Classes section.

If you are longing for a relationship-based, restful approach to language arts and writing?

Then Brave Writer might just be what you and your kids need.

I hope this preview is at least a little helpful if Brave Writer is completely new to you.

I am working on a full review of The Writer's Jungle along with my thoughts on A Quiver of Arrows and The Arrow, coming up in the couple of months.  We need to actually use the program for me to properly review and discuss it with all of you!

I just had to share this preview and my excitement in finding Brave Writer so you can start browsing their stuff if this sparks your interest!!!

More to come...

For those of you who are wanting more information about the foundations of Brave Writer and how all the pieces fit together - check out this video:

A *mini* Review of Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Teaching from Rest is a great big breath of fresh air.  There aren’t enough words to express how much I love this book. Honestly – I would love to give a copy to every homeschooler I meetSarah Mackenzie (the author of Teaching from Rest) is the kind of person who probably makes instant friends everywhere she goes.  Her blog and her book read as if you’re out for coffee with a friend you’ve known since 3rd grade.  She’s honest, humble, and incredibly relatable.  She speaks deep wisdom and truth with a warm smile and a tender touch – I love that about her.

We’ve been doing this thing for going on 8 years now and we homeschool using much from Charlotte Mason’s philosophies. Teaching from Rest is a wonderful source of encouragement for moms who are longing to embrace not only a more classical/Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling but also embrace a home life brimming with life-giving atmosphere.
My copy of this book is so dog-eared and underlined that it is hard to pick only a few things to touch on, but I’ll try my best. Something I really appreciate about Sarah’s blog and this book is her focus on helping us find peace in the midst of a hurried world.  And homeschoolers are often guilty (I know, I’m right there with you!) of living a bit of a frenzied existence.  We can easily be trapped by the stress and chaos of not only everyday living but also the constant quest to offer our children ‘the best’ of everything.  We seek the ‘best’ books, the ‘best’ curriculum, the ‘best’ extra-curriculars.  And sometimes, we can get lost along the way – forgetting what truly is good, and noble, and ‘best.’  Sarah speaks truth and calms hearts by reminding us tosimplify. I love this:
“Much of the best learning cannot be proven, measured, or easily demonstrated.  The kind of encounters that form our children’s hearts, minds, and souls occur as they come in contact with great books and learn to ask hard questions – and their minds are trained to think logically and well… Pacing doesn’t matter if you are sacrificing mastery and love for truth, goodness, and beauty.  Change the way you assess your success.  The quality of study matters far more than the mere quantity of learning.”
Sarah goes on to encourage Moms to lighten the load.  To breathe deep.  To do school intentionally.  Not frantically.  Not carelessly.  Not to ‘get through’ the curriculum.  But to study and learn intentionally – whole-heartedly, slowly, peacefully, purposefully.
One more thing I can’t possibly leave out is how Sarah Mackenzie (and Pam Barnhill) have inspired me to bring a focused, intentional Morning Time in our home. Sarah writes about how Morning Time (her family calls it Symposium) brings a focus on what is beautiful and lovely into the homeschool in a very special way.  We LOVE our Morning Time routine.  It truly has infused our days with wonderful gifts: scripture, memory verses, poetry read alouds and poetry memory work, art and picture study, composer study, folk tales, literature of all kinds, foreign languages, I could go on.  Morning Time is a huge part of what we do and what makes our little homeschool so rich and meaningful.
I absolutely love Sarah Mackenzie’s heart and absolutely love Teaching from Rest.
A must-read for homeschoolers, new and veteran alike.

To Read what other Hip Homeschool Mamas had to say about Teaching from Rest and for access to a special coupon code, follow me over here...

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