Tag Archives: nature

Can This Really Be True?

The other day, while we were listening to Science Friday, someone cited a statistic that kids only spend an average of 6 minutes a day outside.  I went, whaaaa?  And BalletBoy actually laughed.  He said, probably about four times, because the more he thought about it, the crazier it seemed, that can’t be right.  It can’t be right.  It can’t be.  Six minutes?  Really?

Well, since BalletBoy’s (and my!) statistics suspicion was raised, I went to look it up and found a couple of studies.  In this one from 2003, the average time on “outdoor activities” was 50 minutes a week, so that’s a similar statistic.  But this one from 2009 found that the majority of kids spend a lot more time outside than that.  More than three fourths of the kids on that survey spent two hours or more outside on most weekend days and more than half spent two hours or more on most weekdays.

I'm always grateful for Rock Creek Park.  It's a wonderful oasis of nature in the middle of our fair city.
I’m always grateful for Rock Creek Park. It’s a wonderful oasis of nature in the middle of our fair city.

As I read more, I saw that some of the studies that counted such a low level of outdoor activity were only counting some number of designated outdoor activities.  So, presumably, running around in circles in the backyard wouldn’t count as an outdoor activity, and nor would collecting rocks by the river, playing pretend in a field, or chasing each other around a friend’s house with Nerf swords.  If your kids are like mine, those alone would knock out hours of weekly outside time from consideration.  This reminds me a little bit of the reading study from a few years ago that decried how little people read these days.  But then it turned out that newspapers, magazines, and even nonfiction books, regardless of literary quality or purpose of reading, weren’t considered in the survey.  Only fiction was considered.  This is not to say that reading or outside time aren’t declining, just that it’s not quite as dire as all that.

Looking up things like this is interesting.  BalletBoy looked very pleased that he was right that the statistic was suspicious.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be true or not.  On the one hand, how depressing to think that only an average of six minutes is spent outside most days for children!  Assuming that time to transfer from place to place wasn’t counted (how could it have been with a number like that?) it would imply that the majority of kids have no recess, don’t play outdoor sports, don’t go into nature, and don’t ever play on playgrounds.  On the other hand, sometimes I worry that the kids and I don’t spend enough time outside and that would have certainly skewed my view of things in our favor.

Specimen Collecting

BalletBoy and I caught an awesome shiny green tiger beetle on our nature walk.  We examined him in the specimen jar then let him go.

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We also collected one of each of the wildflowers we saw for a total of eight specimens, from buttercups to violets, and pressed them in the flower press when we got home.  We’ll see how they come out.

Overall, we’re having such a blast with biology this year.


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I feel like I’m in a constant state of recalibrations as a parent.  The house and the homeschool are this incredibly complex, busy, multifaceted machine and it’s my job to constantly oil it, take readings, and generally do whatever tinkering engineers do on fancy machines.

Take our schedule and routine.  We started the year with little whiteboards for each boy that had a list of all the things we might do in a week, from copywork to a page in a workbook to watch a documentary.  At the start of the week, I would put little boxes next to all the tasks and we would slowly check everything off.  Worked great for a couple of months.  Then it was time for a recalibration.  I relabeled things on the little boards and would start the day by putting the boxes to check off.  Much more manageable.  Worked great.  And then…  it fell by the wayside because it was less great.  The other day, I peeled off the task labels so I could use the boards.  Time to recalibrate.  Lately, if we’re having a really full school day I list much more specific tasks on the easel board.  We need the checklists a little less in part because starting the day with our morning work routine gets us going.

Right now, I am loving the morning work.  I leave out simple things like math drills and grammar practice sheets.  I leave out more complex things like Wakeruppers pages and math puzzles.  I also leave out creative assignments like art challenges.  Will we still be doing morning work in a year?  Honestly, who knows.  It might have to be recalibrated.

The latest recalibration was that I realized we had drifted away from doing enough for language arts and writing.  We have still been at the poetry teas and have been plugging away at dictations, but we haven’t been as consistent with anything as I would like.  This is in part because we were playing with introducing All About Spelling to our routine and letting spelling be a big focus for Mushroom for the last couple of months.  Not a big deal.  We were like an old clock losing time.  I just needed to recalibrate.

One thing I’ve been trying to get back to especially is doing more narrations.  Mushroom wrote this one about butterflies and I think it’s his best writing for a narration yet (spelling and capitalization corrected, but nothing else changed):

First, the mother butterfly flies across the sky.  Eight hundred eggs come out of her or more.  All the eggs fall on different leaves.  As the eggs grow up they shed their skin.  They turn very colorful with yellow and black stripes.  The larva can only eat milkweed at this stage. Milkweed has poison in it that they can eat.  When they eat a lot of it other creatures that eat them get poisoned.

The time has come to make the chrysalis.  The butterfly makes a chrysalis.  At the top, there’s a silkmat.  Below the top there is a cremaster that sticks the chrysalis on to the tree.  The caterpillar changes into a butterfly.

I am always glad to recalibrate.  I feel like we’re always in search of that right balance with enough rigor, enough free time, enough fun projects, enough boring math practice, enough field trips, and so on and so forth.  It will, of course, never be perfect, but that’s okay.  As long as we keep tinkering and recalibrating instead of stagnating, then I assume the machine will just on humming along.

Read Alouds to go with Nature Study

I was lamenting as I wrote my post about fiction books about science the other day that there are so few great children’s books that really focus on science.  Then, I suddenly realized that there are actually plenty of books for nature lovers.  After we wrapped up Sassafras Science, we dove into The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and the relief I felt reading aloud rich, quality language was pretty excellent.  So here you are, a list of fiction books with nature themes.  May reading them bring on spring!

My Side of the MountainChasing RedbirdThe Evolution of Calpurnia TateGone-Away Lake (Gone-Away Lake, #1)

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
This is the classic story a boy who runs away to live in the woods alone.  The details about survival and nature bring this story to life.  It’s been in our required reading list this year but so far neither of my children have picked it out.  I’m thinking of doing it as our first all together read next month.

Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech
I think of Sharon Creech’s work as the middle grades answer to Barbara Kingslover because she weaves nature and everyday life together so well in several of her stories.  This one is about a girl who, in the middle of lots of pains about growing up, decides to spend summer clearing a path into the forest behind her house.  Note that there is a family death in this book.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
As I said, this is our current read aloud and a story with lots of rich language.  It’s about a young girl in turn of the century Texas who wants to become a naturalist under the tutalage of her science-loving grandfather.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
I could have listed almost any of Enright’s books.  The Four-Story Mistake contains an entire chapter about a boy watching a moth at his window which is one of the most beautiful passages in any children’s book anywhere.  However, the entire focus of Gone-Away Lake is on the restorative power in nature and the descriptions of the wild plants and the progression of the summer season are the overpowering features of this book.  Don’t read it in winter like we mistakenly did.  Be sure to do it when summer is on the horizon.

A Week in the WoodsOperation Redwood

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Most people probably already know this classic about a girl who is revived by finding a mysterious overgrown garden.  It’s a lovely way to celebrate nature, gardening and life, especially in the spring.  As I’ve posted before, when we read it aloud awhile back, we especially loved the Inga Moore illustrated edition.

A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements
Clements’s book about a rich kid who finds his place in a small town is more about teachers and students than about nature, but there is an enthusiasm for being outside and getting to know the woods in the story.  Clements has a knack for making characters that kids relate to, so this book may make readers feel like anyone could spend a week in the woods.

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French
This book is full of humor and adventure.  Through a series of accidents, a boy takes on saving a small patch of redwood trees.  The redwoods are obviously the nature focus and the reader learns about these amazing trees as the main character struggles to fight his own family to save them.

Our Island

We went to “our island” with our co-op group last week.  We try to go once every season, so this was our winter hike.  The kids know the place well.  It was the site of their first solo hike and they have special places picked out that they like to return to.  Every kid brought a camera to take pictures this time and a few of the pictures will be exhibited in a local cafe for a few days, thanks to a connection one of the other moms has with the owners.

Here’s BalletBoy’s pictures:

And here are Mushroom’s:

Not Our Backyard

I know Rock Creek Park isn’t actually our backyard, but I think of it that way sometimes.  We’re at that one little corner, playing in the Melvin Hazen stream and hiking that little stretch of the Ridge Trail that leaves from Pierce Mill all the time.  I think of it as my national park and I’m sure the kids do as well.  What’s always surprising to me is how, in the winter, the leaf cover is so bare that you can see the city all around – the apartment buildings on Connecticut and the ritzy houses abutting the park.  Then spring explodes and hides it all again.

Not a bad way to start the year on a balmy New Year’s Day.