Juggling Preschoolers: The Workbox Solution

A workbox focused on the color yellow: My preschooler was given instructions to find items with the color yellow from within the workbox and glue them in her special “Color Yellow” book. This project required preschool skills like cutting with scissors, gluing, coloring, and sorting by color.

I can point to certain years in our homeschooling journey as turning points, and this has been one of them for us! Our oldest officially hit ninth grade this year, which meant we had one child in each level: high school, middle school, elementary, and preschool. It’s taken me nearly all school year to tweak our program to meet everyone’s specific needs, but as the year has progressed it’s become easier.

One solution that eased my load was using a workbox system for my preschooler. As she’s gotten older, the contents of the boxes have changed according to her needs, but the system hasn’t changed, which is helpful. There are multiple descriptions of workbox systems available online, some very complicated, but today I’ll share how we’ve made workboxes fit into our lives successfully.

First, a confession: I have failed miserably — multiple times — at systems resembling chore charts and anything requiring daily labeling and reorganization. So, my system only requires *refilling*, and we don’t put cute stickers on to indicate the boxes are complete, or move numbers from the boxes to a laminated chart. She simply finishes the boxes. My preschooler is entertained and learning, and I am free to help the older kids while she explores her “independent” boxes. It works for us.

In our homeschool we try to finish all school work (besides high school) before noon so that the warmer afternoons are reserved for free activities and outside play. Usually my preschooler has finished her boxes before 11 a.m. and has some time to play in her kitchen or color for the hour before lunch. I have found that once her emotional and learning needs are met, she is much more willing to play by herself quietly.

Our stack of preschool workboxes: They are labeled 1-5, showing the order in which my preschooler should work on them for the day. An * by the number indicates that box is a “work with mom” box; the other boxes are mostly independent work, or boxes that require minimal instruction.

So here are the nuts & bolts of a workbox system:

  • I have a stack of five lightweight plastic boxes/bins that are a good size for my preschooler to handle all by herself, and that also fit most preschool activities nicely. For activities that don’t fit in the box, I put a reminder note in for myself that my preschooler brings to me. A drawer or file box system works well, too, but I have found that the boxes are bigger and work better for preschool; once a child hits elementary school, the drawer or file system seems to work better.
  • The boxes are labeled numerically in the order I wish her to complete them. Each box is filled the night before with either an “independent” project or a “work with mom” project. I put a star by the number on the box if it’s a “work with mom” box. That way she knows to come and ask for my help before starting. I try to have three to four independent boxes and only one or two boxes/day that she will need my help with.
  • When planning what order I wish her to complete the projects, I consider what I will be doing with the older kids when she gets to, say, “box #3.” That way the preschooler’s independent boxes will hopefully coordinate with the time slots for my older kids’ language arts or other subjects where they will need my help. (If the timing is off, I simply change the numbering in the morning or tell her to skip certain boxes until I’m able to help her.)
  • In the morning after chores, breakfast, worship, and violin practice, my preschooler knows she can start working on her boxes at her own pace, staring with box #1.
  • We keep a large plastic tray in my preschooler’s area, and she knows to keep all the components of the boxes either in the box or on the tray to reduce the mess. This is especially important when using craft materials or kinetic sand!

Kinetic sand is always a winner in the workboxes! Warning: it’s still messy, even if it sticks together better than ordinary sand!

Ideas for Workbox Contents:

  • The internet is peppered with many fun ideas for “sensory bins.” These work wonderfully for younger preschooler kids or 4- to 5-year-olds. I would suggest having a closet shelf or bins designated for supplies for these types of bins. The supply list can be overwhelming unless you have items on hand that can be used multiple times for various projects. An example: Plastic animals or greenery can be used with sand, uncooked corn or rice, “easter” grass, water, beans, confetti, or with pictures of live animals to match with, etc. I stock up on items from dollar stores that will work for multiple projects so I’m not purchasing constantly.
  • We are using the Adventurer program as a part of our preschool program. One day every week or two, our bins are full of items to complete the requirements or awards for that day. I usually choose a day when my other students have mostly independent work to do.
  • Kinetic sand and molds.
  • Items from nature: leaves, large nuts, moss, etc. This is more of an exploratory/sensory bin, but older preschoolers can be encouraged to create little “houses” or “play areas” for small creatures or dolls.
  • Tongs, egg cartons, and items for sorting and counting.
  • “Find it” bottles filled with rice and small items. They shake the bottle and try to find what’s hidden.
  • Magnets and items that are both non-magnetic and have magnetic properties. Let them explore what does and doesn’t attract.
  • Water in a container and items that float or don’t float.
  • Craft items: feathers, paper plates with holes cut on the sides, pipe cleaners, felt, buttons, glue, etc. See what they can create with what’s provided. We usually have one of these bins once or twice/week.
  • Finger puppets.
  • Story book with a CD so they can follow along with a story (for older children) OR a book you will have time to read with them.
  • Play-doh and tools. Online there are many printable “mats” for play-doh to reinforce counting skills and the alphabet, or to develop hand strength and dexterity making shapes. (I laminate these printable mats.)
  • Measuring spoons/cups and items to measure such as rice, beans, water, etc. Funnels are fun to play with, too.
  • Fingerpainting supplies — and a smock!
  • “Paint with water” sheets and a paintbrush.
  • Pages from preschool books (coloring, “follow the line,” copy letters). Kumon books are a good option, too, especially the ones to help develop scissor or gluing skills.
  • Wikisticks (there are wikistick kits available for purchase that work great for boxes).
  • Cuisenaire rods (or another math manipulative). I love the Cuisenaire Alphabet Book: Problem Solving from A to Z. “Inchimals” is another wonderful preschool math tool, similar to Cuisenaire rods (which are in centimeter increments); Inchimals are divided into inches.
  • Puzzles: a page of dot to dot, a large floor puzzle, wooden puzzles.
  • Lacing cards.
  • Items to stack (cups or boxes) or sort by size (wooden blocks, shells).
  • Duplos or bristle blocks.
  • Pipe cleaners and pictures of items to make with them, beads to thread on it, or a colander to thread the pipe cleaners through.
  • Magnetic numbers or letters for the refrigerator.
  • Coloring page with only WARM color crayons. (Or if they’re old enough, put all the colors in the box & instruct them to only use warm or only cool colors.)
  • Counting bears. We found a set with a plastic balance/scale for comparing weights at a thrift store.
  • Bean bags and buckets to toss them in, or balls.
  • Potting materials & seeds.
  • Toy cars, trains, planes, etc., and sand or dirt and blocks of wood to create paths, etc.
  • Plastic fruit & veggies (especially those that come apart and can be “cut” with a plastic knife)
  • Beans (or any small item) and a card with a letter of the alphabet on it to put the beans on, “tracing” the letter.
  • A kids’ music CD and instruments or scarves (if you have a room where they can play and not disturb everyone else).
  • Items to make musical instruments with.
  • Felt or magnet sets.
  • Dress-up items.

Enjoy! I love these preschool years, though they are BUSY! Pretty soon my preschooler won’t be interested in the activities above, and I’ll miss this stage. For now, the workbox system is one of my strategies for attending to my older kids’ needs while giving my preschooler something educational to “chew on.”

Ninth-grade Home Ec and the Homemaker Master Pathfinder Award

You may or may not be ready to think about curricula for next school year, but if you’re stressing over your child’s first year of high school coming up in the fall, perhaps this will ease your stress.

Combining home economics and Pathfinder honors turned out to be a time- and energy-saving trick we pulled for my son’s ninth-grade year. I had my hands full with the younger kids on a daily basis, and just didn’t have the time to put into creating a curriculum for this basic elective overall. By using the time-tested Pathfinder honors, my workload was greatly reduced, leaving only teaching/supervision of the actual projects and looking over his completed paperwork on my plate in terms of implementation and evaluation. The planning process boiled down to calculating hours, choosing the honors to complete, and scheduling the content.

In this blog post, I’ll run you through the process we used to incorporate Pathfinder honors into a curriculum to receive high school credit. This could be accomplished for many different electives.

Assigning Credit Hours
(As always, you will want to check with your state’s education department to verify the following information, as each state may have different requirements. The following information is provided as a general guideline, and you may need to adapt accordingly.)

Calculating high school hours seems daunting, but it’s actually fairly simple. One HS credit hour = 120-180 hours of work. This translates as 50 minutes/day for five days/week for 36 weeks. (Just a note: “core” classes like math, science, and language arts should receive 180 hours/year; electives such as art, music and photography fall at the 120 hour end.) If you finish 75% or more of a high school level text in a year, this is generally considered the equivalent of a high school credit. You also may complete a three-hour course at a community college and count it as one (1) high school credit.

A 1/2-credit course in high school will require exactly half of the full credit hours: 60-90 hours/year, with electives falling on the 60 hours of work end. The class may be taught over a year or a semester since homeschooling by nature allows for flexibility. Over the course of a year, the student should spend approximately 30 min/day for five days/week on the subject matter, or 50 minutes/day for two to three days/week. If the elective is completed over a semester, you would want to adjust the days per week or number of hours to meet the requirements.

Choosing the Content
The next step was to choose the content to match the number of hours required, and also meet the general requirements of a home economics course taught elsewhere. When I compared the Pathfinder honors available to pre-packaged curricula, they basically covered the same material.

A list of the Pathfinder honors under “Household Arts” is available at: http://www.investitureachievement.org/wiki/index.php/Category:Adventist_Youth_Honors_Answer_Book/Homemaking_Master_Award.

If you click on the “Homemaking Master” honor, you will find a complete list of the honors available in one place. Take note that completion of seven of the honors earns the master honor patch in this category. As I wanted to cover Home Economics broadly, we chose honors from several areas, rather than choosing all of the food preparation honors, for example.

The honors my son and I decided upon were Baking, Basic Sewing, Cooking, Advanced Cooking, Household Budgeting, Housekeeping, Laundering, and Nutrition.

Worksheets for each honor are at this website: http://rmcap.org/files/Honor_Worksheets.pdf, and the answers may be found at the first link given, under “Homemaking Master Honor,” at the bottom of the page.

I enlisted Grandma’s help for the sewing portion!

Writing a Course Description
After we decided which honors to pursue, and printed off the corresponding worksheets, I helped my son organize a binder for the subject’s paperwork. Then it made sense to go ahead and write a course description (below), as I would eventually need this detail for a transcript anyway. (You would want to alter this description to meet your specific needs, or write your own.)

Course: Home Economics
Course Credit: 0.5
Grade Percentage: 60% project(s) effort and completion, 40% written assignments
Course Overview: This Home Economics course teaches the fundamentals of Family and Consumer Sciences. Topics include baking, basic sewing, cooking, housekeeping, laundering, household budgeting and nutrition. Each topic includes written assignments meant to cover basic and some advanced theory/concepts and skills. Multiple projects are assigned with each topic to provide practical, hands-on experience and real-time instruction. The SDA Pathfinder honor requirements for no less than seven (7) honors are covered in this course to earn the Homemaking Master honor.
Textbooks: (none)

Scheduling
We decided to run home economics over the course of the entire school year. Our reasoning for this was that his other elective was music and it would also run for the entire year, thus making daily scheduling consistent for the year.

  • Some tips:
    1. Make a list of all the projects your child will need to complete the chosen honors.
    2. Divide these projects out on monthly calendars. List the honor AND NUMBER these correspond to, as well — it is hard to figure out whether the Edamame Salad went under “salad” or “vegetable” or as part of the “complete meal” after the fact!
    Estimate the time it will take to complete the written work and fill those assignments in on the calendar, too.
    3. In general, for a semester-long course, you will need two to three projects/week plus two to three days of paperwork. For a year-long course, plan on one to two projects/week and one to two days of paperwork. (Take each project’s estimated length into consideration when scheduling.) We front-loaded the practical work into fall semester, so that March and April were clear for make-up work and longer written assignments such as compiling a recipe file, completing a meal chart, creating menus, etc.
    4. Have your child check off and date each project completed on the calendar itself. Circle any project not completed in the week assigned so you can attend to it later.
    5. Do not attempt to schedule complicated projects (such as the Strawberry Cream Cake on the cover of your favorite magazine…) on days when you already have a full schedule. Teaching for a practical course doesn’t lend itself to rushed or tense explanations. Learning is best achieved in a relaxed environment, so choose days that are more wide open.
    6. Planning time on Thursday or Friday for cooking or baking projects is sometimes nice because you can take the completed work to potluck! Don’t forget freezing items for use at a later event, i.e. garlic rolls or cookies for a church event you will have to contribute to, anyway!

Our scheduling system has worked fairly well. I probably underestimated the time it would take to complete so many Pathfinder honors; if I were to do it again, I’d at least double — maybe quadruple, OIY! — the time it takes me to make a recipe or do the laundry when initially counting the hours for the class. But as they say, it all comes out in the wash…and hopefully he learned something!

A cooking project: breakfast of fresh pears, boiled eggs, and potatoes and onions.

Our Apun Unit Study Experience

 

This wall of snow is in Kotzebue, Alaska, a town situated above the Arctic Circle.

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia — you know, that place that gets ridiculed when the occasional ice and/or snowstorm rolls through the southeast and completely paralyzes life there for several days, and where the grocery stores are sold out of bread and milk at the hint of a snowflake or freezing rain. So, snow has always been rather special; it was a much-celebrated event when it did arrive. But, I didn’t know the first thing about the science behind snow or the ecosystems where snow is frequent. My knowledge of the Arctic was vague and composed of cultural stereotypes.

In 2011 our family had the opportunity to visit Alaska for several weeks. At the time, my kids were still quite young: ages nine, four, and 16 months. My husband was working 12-hour shifts at the hospital there, which left me — a southerner with three brief years of snow experience in upstate New York — to navigate the town’s icy streets. It turned out to be one of the most fun, challenging, and meaningful experiences of my life.

The average high temperature in April is 21 degrees Fahrenheit in Kotzebue, and the average low is five degrees. It was a perfect opportunity to do a weather unit study with my third-grader, so we put up a chart on the apartment wall and tracked the temperature, precipitation, wind direction and speed, barometric pressure, and cloud formations. I had taken along a few lightweight resources, including the charts and crayons, a small poster, a rain/precipitation gauge, and the things we’d need to build a barometer and wind sock. (After our trip we compared the results with our Arizona desert environment.)

I wanted to visit the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, but it was a little over a mile from our apartment building, and we had no transportation. Cars are used in winter in Kotzebue, but snowmobiles are more useful as they can go over the frozen ice. Some cars and all boats are half-buried in deep snow drifts until late spring/summer. (Gas is very expensive. Kotzebue is supplied by barge before the bay ices over; supplies can only come in by air until the big thaw.) I turned to our apartment neighbor for traveling advice since the wind chill was -27 degrees Fahrenheit. She willingly told me where to buy a plastic sled, then showed me how to set up a box in the back for the bundled baby.

A half-buried boat appears to be cutting through waves of snow.

We proceeded to the Heritage Center at a snail’s pace on the frozen roads, me pulling the sled with the two younger kids on it and my oldest walking behind to retrieve accidentally dropped gloves and mittens from the sled riders. We arrived some 45 minutes later, with frozen tears on the 16-month-old’s face, just as the center closed for lunch. Ack! Thankfully we were re-routed toward the bay, half a mile away, where there were two restaurants to chose from. My kids were able to try a couple of local dishes and unthaw before trekking back to the museum, which proved to be a fantastic learning experience! I even found several great resources for a snow/arctic unit study in their bookstore.

This is the start of the Kobuk 440 dog sled race, a qualifier for the famed Iditarod.

The Kobuk 440, a qualifying dog sled race for the famed Iditarod Race, started and ended in Kotzebue during our time there. My seven-year-old even met John Baker, the Iditarod champion of 2010, who lives in Kotzebue. (The following year we tracked the Iditarod online, choosing a musher and team to follow for the long race of endurance.) We were also able to attend several cultural events that included native Inupiaq dances, handicrafts, clothes, and food. The Inupiaq people were warm and friendly; I thoroughly enjoyed talking with them.

A native Inupiaq demonstrates a dance about hunting walruses.

Though there is so much I could relate about our trip to the Arctic Circle, my point was merely to pique your interest in this subject as a potential unit study, or at least a special project for homeschooling. With the resources I gathered on the trip to Kotzebue, plus a few more I ordered online, we later delved deeper into this topic. The kids love snow anyway! (Apun — in the title of this post — is the Inupiaq word for the Arctic’s snow cover, just in case you were wondering!)

This is the view from our apartment window in Kotzebue at midnight (in April). The days were about 16 hours long at that point. People were out and about until about 2 am. The grocery store is on the right, where all the cars are parked. A carton of ice cream cost $10.

 

Here are some ideas for unit study projects (resource info below):

Handwriting & vocabulary (and art!) from Draw-Write-Now Book Four: The Polar Regions, The Arctic, The Antarctic OR create assignments and pull vocabulary from books on the subject.

YouTube has some great documentaries and “how-to” videos. During your next big snow, you could try building your own igloo! (My neighbors did that one year, and it was great!) Nanook of the North is an older documentary my kids found interesting.

Iditarod Dog Sled Race: You can track the musher teams online and document their times each day during the race, and there are many, many resources for teachers on the official Iditarod website. We made a dog sled out of popsicles (google instructions), followed the Iditarod, learned about the working sled dogs, and read several books on the subject.

Science:

  • The sky is the limit! And the sky is so amazing in the Arctic! We weren’t able to see any northern lights during our visit to Alaska, but we read some books (see below for reference) and watched some videos of the intriguing lights.
  • The Arctic tundra ecosystem — and permafrost. (Permafrost even affects how and where buildings can be constructed in the Arctic, but you can learn about its characteristics and the animals living within it, too.) A weather unit is a great learning opportunity.
  • Whales and their migrations: Whaling is a bad word in our modern vocabulary, but for the Inuit peoples, whales provided absolutely necessary food. (And, nothing goes to waste; they have a use for every part of an animal when it is killed.) In this culture, the breaking up of the sea ice and the return of the whales, along with whale hunting, was very important. These days, there is usually one ceremonial whale hunted, and the community comes together to celebrate as it did in the old days, especially up near Barrow, Alaska. So, studying whales can be a science or a cultural learning project.
  • Other Arctic animals: lemmings, Arctic fox, polar bear, walrus, narwhal, ptarmigan, caribou, beluga and humpback whales, peregrine falcon, seals, musk-ox, wolves, snowy owls, orcas, Arctic hare… Study how they keep warm in winter, their hunting habits or camouflage, diet, hibernation habits, etc. The story of caribou in Alaska involves a bit of Scandinavian history. Tracking in the snow might be a great option if you live up north.
  • Snow: The book, Apun, the Arctic Snow, is a fantastic resource for understanding and teaching about the science of snow. Written by an expert on snow, it is scientifically sound and has an adorable line drawing of a lemming (yes, you’ll want one) and snow crystals, diagrams, and easy-to-understand text. The author weaves in Inuit terms for snow, too. Did you know there are 35 types/categories of snowflake crystals?

    A display at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center in Kotzebue, Alaska shows what a cross-section of permafrost is made of.

Geography: Identify countries within the Arctic Circle, prominent bodies of water, mountain ranges and peaks, an Alaskan map (larger cities and towns), rivers. You may want to include Antarctica. It’s also an interesting project to learn about the “North Pole” and its various locations.

Literature: I’ve included a few picture books below that our family loved, but your local library probably has some books you can add to this list. Books for older children/high schoolers might include stories of the voyages to the Arctic and Antarctica, books on Inuit culture and life, the story of how caribou/reindeer were herded in Alaska, stories of early travelers and missionaries to the area. There is an interesting story of Maniilaq, who was given visions that some claim meet the Biblical tests for a prophet. He lived and prophesied before Europeans entered Alaska, and he gave a message of one day in seven (the seventh day) being holy to God. There are a couple of books at amazon.com on his life.

Cooking: We picked up a kids’ cookbook in Alaska, but be aware that recipes tend to contain meat. For vegetarians, you might try searching the internet for recipes from Arctic areas, perhaps trying a recipe from a different country weekly. Another option is to make snowball cookies (aka Mexican wedding cookies/Russian tea cookies) and snow cream (1 gallon of snow, 2 cups milk or substitute, 1 cup sugar, 1 T vanilla extract — stir until creamy).

Physical Activity: Try a new sport! Snow skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, dog mushing…

These are just a few ideas to get started on your snowy journey… Have a great time making tracks! (And, feel free to leave your ideas, resources and/or experiences in the comments below, especially those of you from northern climates!) See below for a few specific resource ideas.

Rabbit tracks can be seen in several inches of snow on our front lawn.

A few of my favorite resources:

Nanook of the North (documentary film, > 1 hour in length, available on YouTube)

How to Build an Igloo (available on YouTube)

Draw-Write-Now: The Polar Regions, The Arctic, The Antarctic (barkercreek.com, early elementary/kindergarten handwriting and drawing book)

iditarod.com (official website for the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, held in Alaska yearly; many resources for teachers under “education” and online games and information for kids under “students”)

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle (www.walkeryoungreaders.com)

Dashing Through the Snow: The Story of the Jr. Iditarod by Sherry Shahan (The Millbrook Press, Brookfield, Connecticut)

Apun: The Arctic Snow (a book for children; teacher’s guide is available with more detailed scientific information, but does not have activity guides or a teaching plan; truly a resource or a great text for seventh-grade through high school)

The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle (www.walkeryoungreaders.com)

TOGO by Robert J. Blake (illustrated children’s book about one canine hero of the Great Serum Run of 1925, the event commemorated each year with the Iditarod Race in Alaska)

Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints by Millicent E. Selsam, illustrated by Marlene Hill Donnelly (a “Let’s Read” book, science stage 1)

Survival at 40 Below by Debbie S. Miller, illustrated by Jon Van Zyke (beautifully illustrated and a great science resource for elementary)

Polar Bear, Arctic Hare: Poems of the Frozen North by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

One Small Square: Arctic Tundra by Donald M. Silver, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne (book about the tundra ecosystem written just for children)

My kids were attempting long-jumping beside rabbit tracks. The rabbit won.

Marrying Nature Study and Handicrafts for the Holidays

leaf-5

First, a disclaimer: I am not “crafty.” Artistic, yes, but not crafty. I am absolutely positive there are more creative and capable moms out there who could take these crafts to a much higher level. Please feel free to post your ideas (with pictures!) in the comments! No competition here, just sharing the love!

Now that the disclaimer is taken care of…

There just aren’t enough hours in the day around the holidays. I’m all into killing a couple of proverbial birds with one stone, so here goes:

Nature study tends die off in our household about mid-November. Not that we don’t enjoy getting out of doors — we do — but honestly, there is just too much to do! Between the Christmas programs, extra music to learn, seasonal activities, and keeping up with Saxon math (ugh!), the shorter winter days are just not conducive to adding in that extra nature assignment.

In October, as our Adventurer group was collecting leaves for the tree award, it occurred to me that collecting natural materials from the out-of-doors wasn’t a tall assignment, and then we could make Christmas (or other holiday) crafts on colder, icky days in December.

Subjects you can cover with this assignment:

  • Nature Study/Natural Science: Identify those pine and birch trees as you collect needles and bark!
  • History: The Phoenicians were expert dye-makers. What dyes can you make from food or natural materials you have around? How is the process different from in ancient times? What items did the ancients use — or what items were used just a mere 200 years ago? How are paints or dyes for textiles made today?
  • Handicrafts: Charlotte Mason, an educator in the late 19th century, advocated for practical projects that children could make and use (or give away) as an essential part of education. (You might even be able to get some Adventurer awards taken care of with these crafts!)
  • Art: Art history might even be a subject to cover during this time. Perhaps one of your cards is inspired by an impressionist artist, or you are interested in artists who use a particular medium or style. These would be excellent, delight-directed unit study or extracurricular research projects.

Pinterest and internet searches are obvious places to look for ideas, but you might even try collecting items in your yard or along a nature path first, and then brainstorming for ways to use the items.

We concentrated on making Christmas cards using birch bark, pine needles, natural (homemade) dyes, and leaves. I purchased some blank cards with envelopes and a few pieces of scrapbook paper to add to our collected items. We also used ink pads, stamps, twine, and embossing powder to embellish the cards. This was really my first attempt at card-making, so my kids and I were experimenting together!

Starting list of items to collect:

  • Grasses, weeds, pine needles, bark, sticks from lilies, acorns
  • Pressed flowers from spring, summer, and fall
  • Pressed leaves
  • Bird nests
  • Feathers
  • Snake skins
  • Dried lavender and other herbs

Ideas for handicrafts using natural materials:

  • Candle holders (Arrange materials around a glass votive.)
  • Wreaths
  • Shadow boxes (Arrange items and then tack them in; label them if you wish.)
  • Hairpieces
  • Decorative baskets (Hot glue natural materials to the outside of a basket to “spruce” it up, literally.)
  • Art pieces (Include a special feather or grass in a painting for a 3D effect.)
  • Cards or gift tags

Enjoy your completed projects at home or give them away as handmade gifts! Happy holidays!

10 Fall-Themed Nature Study Ideas

Taking a fall nature walk!

Taking a fall nature walk!

Nature study can be as simple as opening a window to hear bird songs, or as complicated as…well, as complicated as you want to make it! Those following Charlotte Mason’s philosophy might wish to do a short nature study weekly (in addition to frolicking outdoors daily), while others might enjoy folding the study of nature into a unit study approach. There is no right or wrong to nature study!

My 10-year-old son just popped in to ask for another plastic container to catch a stink bug. I replied that I think we’ve used them all (for insects!)…and…didn’t he already have a stink bug? “Yes! But this is a different kind!” he answered. Insects are on our agenda for this month, and acquiring the Insect Honor for Pathfinders is providing impetus for our growing bug collection. (I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to studying birds soon! And no, there will not be a collection, other than abandoned feathers!)

Hopefully our bug collection and outside moth-hatching projects will pan out, but there are many other opportunities for fall nature study. I thought I’d share a few things we’ve done in the past during this season, as kind of a starter list. If you try any of these, or if you have other great ideas to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

  1. Begin a color wheel of seasons that will eventually (by the end of the year) document all four seasons with the predominant colors the children see outside. Credit for this idea goes to Clare Walker Leslie, whose book, The Nature Connection, has some great ideas!

    A color wheel of the seasons three-fourths completed.

    A color wheel of the seasons three-fourths completed.

  2. Go on a scavenger hunt. There are many scavenger hunt printables available online, or you can make your own. (Hint: If you make your own, you may want to pre-scout the area looking for unusual finds to include, such as special birds, trees, or animal tracks.)
  3. Participate in the National Bird Count or conduct a simple backyard bird count of your own. Watch for migrations of geese and other birds. In our area, there is a nature center which has a collection of stuffed birds, bird nests, and eggs, which makes a wonderful rainy day field trip. If you do find a feather or an eggshell, try looking at them under the microscope. I’ve purchased a CD of common bird songs for the kids to learn on our trips to and from music lessons, and am hoping that they will be able to recognize birds by sound soon.
  4. Prior to the big freeze, check out the insects in your own yard. If you have an aquarium or terrarium, praying mantises are around this time of year, and you might be able to find a female and watch her hundreds of praying mantis babies hatch out!
  5. This is a good time to search for pupae of moths and butterflies, too. By marking the spot and checking on it each day, you might just get lucky enough to see the adult emerge! There are wonderful online resources and books about butterfly migrations, and this can introduce a new geographical area to study, too. Follow the butterfly’s path from the ground, and learn about the bodies of water they fly over and the various countries/cities they pass through.
  6. A mid-day hike can refresh students’ minds during these cooler, but not yet cold, days. While you’re out note the fall leaves, and even nuts and seeds, on the trees. Collect a few leaf specimens and start on the Pathfinder Leaf/Tree Identification Honor! We love art projects around here, and painting fall leaves was a favorite when we were studying watercolor techniques.
  7. (Related to #6 . . .) We’ve been known to take drawing pencils and colored pencils along on our walks in a storage clipboard. This is great for documenting landscapes with fall color or drawing specimens you’d rather leave in the out-of-doors. Mushrooms, mosses, ferns, lichen, and tree fungi are wonderful items to capture at this time of year if you’re in the right climate! (Taking along watercolor pencils and then finishing the art project at home with a wet paintbrush is lots of fun, too!)

    Mushrooms: natural art pieces.

    Mushrooms: natural art pieces.

  8. A weather study is a fun project to begin in the fall. Search online for instructions for making your own weather-measuring instruments. If you’re traveling to another climate for the holidays, take along your weather kit for something to compare to home. We once compared weather in Kotzebue, Alaska — above the Arctic Circle — to weather in Arizona during the same time period. It was quite a study to compare such strikingly different biomes! Even a small contrast in weather and climate can elicit interesting results, though. Simply note which trees are out in full color, or which fruits and vegetables are ripening. (Samples are required, lol.)
  9. Fall can be a good time for planting trees, or starting a fall/winter garden. It’s also fun to initiate a seed collection, or plan for a spring garden, beginning with soil preparation and how to amend soil or plant fall cover crops.
  10. Fruit orchards and pumpkin patches naturally translate into wonderful field trips this time of year, and we like to follow up with pie-making and sauce-making, too!

A couple of final thoughts:

Local libraries usually showcase fall-themed books, and it’s nice to stock up for the occasional icky day. With the internet, it’s easy to take a book theme and explode it for indoor fun involving arts and crafts, science experiments, and even writing assignments. It’s a great unit study starter, or a fun “day off” from regular school work. The kids don’t even know they’re learning! LOL.

Check out the Adventurer awards and Pathfinder honors that correspond with this season. Here’s the link to the Pathfinder requirements: http://gcyouthministries.org/Ministries/Pathfinders/Honors/tabid/85/agentType/ViewType/HonorTypeID/5/Default.aspx. There are 95 honors under the Nature category! The Adventurer Awards search tool is here: http://gcyouthministries.org/Ministries/Adventurers/Awards/tabid/83/Default.aspx. (Search under “Nature” for the list of almost 30 awards available. If you are following the Adventurer grade-levels, you can search specifically for nature awards corresponding to your child’s grade, too.)

Happy Nature Studying!

My six-year old daughter took this picture with my camera. I love it! Photography can be used in lieu of drawing or collecting from nature.

My six-year old daughter took this picture with my camera. I love it! Photography can be used in lieu of drawing or collecting from nature.