Nature is a major focus of homeschooling. Living on almost ten acres of land, nature surrounds us each day.
One of the girls' favorite activities during the summer is raising butterflies. In 2008, there were an abundance of monarch caterpillars. Seeing the life cycle - from caterpillar to butterfly was fascinating for the girls.
Olivia with a monarch butterfly.
This one was ready to be released.
Perhaps the most memorable release was when a monarch butterfly was brought outside and didn't want to leave the girls. It stayed on their fingers, flew to a nearby milkweed plant, flew back in front of them, and then...eventually...flew off.
The third butterfly to be released in August 2008.
This one was quite content
to stay around the girls for a long time.
Both Sophia and Olivia enjoying feeding the birds and squirrels. One of the first activities I had both of the girls do for homeschooling involved watching the birds that visited the feeders. Each time a bird would visit, the girls would add a check mark next to the type of bird.
After a certain period of time (10-15 minutes...30 minutes if they were interested and lots of birds were visiting the feeder), they would create a chart to show which type of bird came to the feeder the most.
Sophia standing by the squirrel feeder that she and Olivia built.
The corn cob pathways with shell corn
sprinkled on the paths was Sophia's idea.
The birds and squirrels enjoyed eating the corn.
One of the nice things about living in the country in a home that was built in 1890 is that the surrounding land has some very old trees which are great for climbing. The girls started out climbing the apple trees in the backyard, and have moved onto some of the larger pine trees in the front yard now.
The girls in the tallest pine tree on the property.
During the past year, we have begun taking time for weekly nature study using the book Handbook for Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
Taking the time to learn more about the wildlife, trees, and seasons has been such a highlight of the past year. It has given us a new appreciation for the land here as well as the wildlife that visits and lives on our farm.
Sophia taking a break from nature journaling.
She is listening to and writing down sounds she hears.
Olivia enjoyed nature journaling even when she was much younger.
Here she is at four years old
drawing a picture of what she sees outside.
Since the girls were young, gardening has always been a part of their life. They have learned to raise vegetables, pumpkins, fruit, and flowers. Both have been able to plant seeds; transplant trees; and harvest and preserve what they've grown.
Sophia with one of the pumpkins that she grew.
We enjoy going on walks with the dogs and horses. Living in the country, there's always something interesting to see in the fields, in the sky, along the road, or in the ditches.
Olivia is looking for rocks and
then putting them in her cone-shaped purse.
If you notice...she picked heavy winter boots
to wear with her light summer dress.
One of my favorite pictures is of Sophia on the far nature trail spreading milkweed. She had lots of milkweed pods in her pocket and she would open them and let the wind carry the seeds to new locations.
She hoped that by doing this, there would be more milkweed available for the monarchs the following year...and in years to come.
Milkweed seeds being carried off by the wind
as Sophia releases them.
Even though there are plenty of opportunities to explore nature right at our home, in the pastures, and on the nature trail, we enjoy exploring other areas as well. One of our favorite places to visit is William O'Brien State Park.
The girls running on one of the trails
at William O'Brien State Park.
We also have enjoyed walking on some of the trails at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This is a bit of a drive, but the trails are easy to walk and provide a different view of what we normally see at home.
Olivia observing a hawk in a tree at the
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
We enjoy picnics outside (especially when there are no bugs - which is spring and fall in Minnesota). There are lots of places to have picnics, but parks that have a lake or river by them are ones that are especially nice.
The girls feeding ducks and sea gulls
after a picnic we had.
Sometimes we visit places after we read about book. If a topic in a book interests the girls or if seeing an example of what was mentioned in the book would be of benefit, I try to find a place to go that would extend their learning.
For example, a few years ago, we visited Interstate State Park as part of a unit study we did on the ice age (after reading one of the Magic Treehouse books about the ice age).
Since the girls learn best by seeing and touching, I took them to this park to see first-hand what gorges are and the impact the ice age had on the area where we live.
This park has some fascinating and beautiful rock formations, glacial potholes, and gorges. The St. Croix River runs between the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the park.
The girls on a rock overlooking the St. Croix River.
This was taken at Interstate State Park
on the Minnesota side.
When we travel, we always make sure that nature is part of our trip. One of our favorite places to visit is Grand Marais (Minnesota). The girls enjoy being able to be in Lake Superior (although the water is very cold) and play on the shoreline.
Olivia and Sophia in Lake Superior
at Grand Marais, Minnesota.
One of their most memorable moments on a trip to Grand Marais that we took in September 2010 was being able to feed a chipmunk. We traveled up the Gunflint Trail and stopped along the way.
At the stop, there was a very friendly chipmunk who the girls fed Pik-Nik sticks (fried potato sticks). The chipmunk came up so close to them. They still - almost a year late - recall that moment as if it happened yesterday.
The girls feeding a chipmunk.
Nature is such an integral part of homeschooling. Each day, the girls are outside playing or discovering something new. Having both of them so excited about wildlife and caring for the environment is a direct result of being able to homeschool them and have the opportunity to spend so much time outdoors.