Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Everyday Science

I'm not what you would call a science girl.  I am right-brain dominant, and I lean wayyyyy over into the arts and good literature zone.  Science just isn't naturally in my blood.  When I had to teach science in elementary school, it was the class I dreaded most.  And oh the sad sad sad days when I had to lead a science experiment!  (Confessions of a former public school teacher!)  The textbooks were so boring, and the experiments were so for a non-science-minded girl, it was simply no fun.  And then would come the questions from my students: "When am I ever gonna use this stuff??!  Why do I ever need to know the mass number of the isotope with the longest half-life?"  Ummm...excellent question.

For you science lovers, please don't take offense.  It's all good.  Everyone has their preferences.  But mine isn't science, and therefore I don't understand what an isotope is...and I don't even want to begin to contemplate what a half-life is.  

Then I stumbled upon organic learning.  And science took on a new meaning to me.  Science isn't about a textbook with facts and a list of experiments.  It's actually (dare I say) fun.  And science is everywhere.  

Sometimes I catch things on camera, so I thought I'd post some of those very random "science moments," although the majority of them were not labeled "science."  In other words, my children didn't set out to "do science."  They simply are curious, and in the midst of playing and living life, they do things that would be labeled as science if we were doing typical school.

This is a "science experiment" that I woke up to.  No, really...I literally woke up one morning to find this blue frozen balloon in the freezer.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was one of the boys who had done it.  Later that day,  T flew to the freezer, pulled it out, proclaimed, "COOOOOL!!!!!"  And he began peeling off the balloon.  I walked in to find this... 

I had to ask the obvious.  And he very excitedly explained that he just wanted to know what happened when a balloon filled with water was frozen.  I would have never even thought to ask this question myself.  But he is simply filled to bursting with curiosity.  He was so excited about this experiment that this bulky thing crowded space in our freezer for weeks until I asked if we could please melt it.  

Then there's our non-science-minded daughter who is leaning into the arts like her Mama.  But when she wanted to get a pet, she became queen of researching small animals.  Her focus narrowed to guinea pigs, and she quickly became an expert.  Mr. PetSmart didn't realize he'd get grilled with questions and then occasionally corrected when his answers didn't line up with her prior research.  Mrs. Pet-Store-Owner lady got a full lesson on the fact that fleece is the newest recommended lining for guinea pig cages.  She had no idea.  And research continues every time a new food is introduced to the guinea pigs.  She's a good guinea pig mom!  These little piggies eat organic food, no dyes or preservatives.  The newest research topic: "I wonder if I can make my own guinea pig food."  Hmmm...well, Mama steps back when these questions come up and I simply say, "I don't know.  Research and let me know what you discover."    

And let me just say that sometimes organic learning can be...what is the word??  Well, surprising...yes, that's a good way to describe it.  So a couple of weeks ago, the boys fly into the house with pockets bulging with something they discovered outside.  "It's a secret!  Don't look yet!"  Then about 30 minutes later, the entire family is invited to an impromptu "presentation" upstairs.  Ummmm...okay.  So, dish towel thrown over my shoulder, I head up with the rest of the crew, and we are told to sit down while they give a small presentation.  They are telling about how they were exploring the property and ran across this...  Drum roll.......they very ceremoniously unveil their discovery...

Yep, dead animal bones!  (And yes, that's a good towel!  Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue and smile and clap for their amazing presentations...and in the back of your mind you are so repurposing that towel to become a dedicated science towel that will never be used to wipe your clean hands again!  There are some things that even Tide cannot erase.)

And this bone excavation is ongoing!  More bones get placed on the science towel...

Yep, that is a jaw bone with teeth!  If you get queasy thinking of your own children bringing in such treasures, then you may want to just grin and bear it...because this gross stuff is quite enthralling to some children.  Oh how I try hard to roll with it!  (Okay, I did tell them they had to bleach all those bones and keep them in a box instead of strewn throughout the house.  This I felt obligated to say after I found a coyote tooth on an end table downstairs!)

The boys often go off on treks through our property.  This day they  put on backpacks, made makeshift tents and "lived off the land."  

This is LIVING SCIENCE.   And it can be messy.  

Look at what they found on one of their outings on the property.  They were guessing it was a fossil of some sort and decided to research it.

As you can see, most of our "science" is spontaneous and sparked by their own curiosity.  But we also have a science "curriculum" that we are using.  Because we want our learning to be organic instead of synthetic, we chose this curriculum for this year.  This is a living science book, with a Charlotte Mason feel.  We chose this particular book, because we were interested in gardening this spring on our new property, and Mary's Meadow has wonderful activities and information about gardening.  For example, one activity is to make a teepee out of sticks and train pole beans to climb up the sticks.  Everyone is excited about that!  So, even though it's a curriculum of sorts, it's not a boring textbook with information that we won't use in our lives.  It's loaded with all sorts of wonderful stories and activities that center around growing a garden, watching birds, etc.  

This is one experiment from Mary's Meadow.  We were discussing seeds, so we put some soaked lima beans and a wet paper towel in a jar, and we set it in a sunny window.  Every day for one week, the children observed the seeds and recorded the growth.  I remember doing something similar when I was a child in school, but I never connected the dots.  It was just a random experiment about a seed.  End of story.  End of learning.  But, because we are aiming to grow a big garden this spring, this seed experiment had context and connection in our lives.  We could see what happens to the seeds we plant in the ground.  Lots of "oh I see" and "wow, that's cool" when watching seedlings grow.  There's a connection made in the mind, and when we plant our seeds in the ground this spring, we will be able to remember the visual of these seedlings.  This is science with context and connection rather than random, unrelated tidbits.  

The thing with organic learning is that it can crop up at any moment.  Instead of a neatly planned science lesson during a scheduled science time, organic science can literally be birthed any time and anywhere.  And sometimes it's not what one would call "the right time."  Like say...during our read aloud time when we are deep into the story of the Cherokee Indians marching mercilessly on the trail of tears.  We are wrapped up in the intensity of a scene in the middle of a chapter, when out of nowhere a child says, "Hold on a second...I gotta show you this!  I had my hand on the floor just a few minutes ago, just barely touching the edge of the sunlight on the floor.  And now look at it!  The sunlight has moved quite a bit in just a few minutes."  The other children (and Mama too) stop and watch.  And, while the trail of tears reading is truly amazing and we can't wait to hear what happens to the characters in the chapter we are reading, we stop to watch the sun/shadow thing.  

I grab my camera, and the whole crew gathers around the child who is conducting his own experiment (did I mention it was in the middle of our good book??!).  He says, "Okay, I'm going to place my pencil on the shadow of the line from the window, and I'm going to place my hand with my fingers barely touching the edge of the sunlight.  Then every 4 minutes, take a picture so that we can see how much the sunlight changes in that time."  Okay, I'm game...let's do it. 

Ready, set...go...

Four minutes later...

And 4 minutes after that...

And another 4 minutes.  They asked me to show them the digital photos so that they could see it in "fast motion," and they marveled at how quickly the sunlight moves across the floor.  And here's the thing...  Because this "lesson" is organic...because they had a curiosity and connection, they will remember this.  If they had instead read it randomly in a textbook, it would have gone in one ear and out the other, staying just long enough to complete a page of questions or to take a quiz.  So, even though we had to leave our trail of tears book for a short detour, I was really happy that we did.  Because THIS is learning...and it was fun. 

Science looks different on different days and in different seasons.  And sometimes it simply looks like a boy's back pockets filled with field guides while he runs out with his brother to explore some Texas land.  (This one made me smile!)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Happy Valentine's Morning

Tradition finds me up early on Valentine's morning setting up the breakfast table with something fun.  Because we ventured into the city last night, we were able to pick up some Krispy my breakfast gift was fun and easy today.  

Tradition has it for Daddy to add in some treats and a note.  And a sweet Valentine's card from Great Grandmother (Gigi) is added to the mix.  This is what the children wake up to, and it's really inviting.

My big dilemma is going to be how to ration these caramels.  Really, is there anything better than chocolate-covered caramel??  Okay...maybe there are some better things, but this ranks right up there.

So we're off to a beautiful morning.  I'm choosing joy.  And not because it's perfect over here.  And not because things are peachy wonderful all the time.  HA...take a look in my journal before misunderstanding me in that area!  But sometimes we simply CHOOSE JOY.  We choose love.  We choose to breathe in the country air (or city air or whatever you have in your corner of this planet), and we choose to find joy in the simple things.  Heart-shaped plates and fun napkins and jelly beans that taste like soda flavors (Dr. Pepper completely rocks, by the way).  

I choose joy today.  Because God is good.  ALL THE TIME.