Backyard Science!

I just received a reminder in my newsfeed about an awesome annual event. The Great Backyard Bird Count from the National Audubon Society! This is a great way to do real science at home with your kids and another great thing about technology in our age. We are all contributing to large-scale data collection that is helping real scientists. In fact, we ARE scientists! And best of all, it’s completely free!

My sons and I participated in this event several years in a row, both in the city and at our new desert home. Oh, who am I kidding? I did this several years in a row and told the boys all about it! They weren’t interested in sitting in the yard with a cup of tea for an hour, noting which birds and how many came by. I was very interested though! I printed off the data collection sheet from the website, grabbed a cup of hot tea and parked myself on the back porch for an hour, several days in a row. The boys would come out and ask me what I was doing, and I proudly told them, showing them the list of birds I had already seen. Sometimes they would sit for a minute and watch with me. They’d point out a bird or two, grow weary and head into the house for video games. Sometimes, I’d have to cut my session short over a battle between them or a request for lunch. If they were interested, I’m sure they would have been right there with me, asking me what bird it was or helping me look them up online. This kind of stuff just wasn’t their thing at the time. Fast forward years into the future, they now take pictures of birds they find where they are and message them to me, so they did get something out of it!

What did they get? Lot’s of things! They saw a small way an individual can participate in a large science endeavor. They learned that bird watching was a sport AND science and that there are people all over the world who are passionate about it. Best of all, they were witness to my real, honest love of learning in action every day.

That’s the best part about home education! It isn’t about following a set curriculum, having a long reading list, perfect penmanship, or great SAT scores. It’s not about keeping “at grade level” in school subjects. It’s about kids living and learning right alongside adults in ways that encourage them to explore the world around them and stay excited about learning new things their whole lives.

Before my sons were around twelve years old, most of the homeschooling at our house was me finding awesome stuff to do around our area and signing up for tours, field trips, and excursions of all kinds. I read up about each event before we went, sharing what I learned and how. I was the one asking questions. My boys were along for the ride. We kept it down to one organized event per week when they were little because it was generally something they weren’t interested in, but I thought they might be. If we got there and they just couldn’t sit still or hang through the whole thing, we’d leave early. That was hard for me sometimes, especially when it was something I really wanted to see or with friends I really liked. I had to remember that we were there for their sake, not mine. As they got older, they were more apt to sit through an art museum tour because I really wanted to see it with the offer of a kind reward for their efforts. As teens, they don’t need that reward anymore.

We also visited a lot of museums, parks, and zoos on our own schedule. We didn’t get the group discount or docent-led tour, but it was usually better for them because they could take their time exploring what they wanted and skip past things that didn’t excite them. It wasn’t the last time we’d be at any of these places, so I didn’t mind if they spent all their time at the playground at the local zoo instead of seeing all the animals. We bought annual passes and memberships to places they expressed real interest in.

Education in the elementary years was always fun, short and sweet. Sometimes it was directed by me and my interests and hopes of expanding their horizons. And sometimes it was directed by them and what they were interested in pursuing. It always focused on them and how they were responding. Getting antsy and a bit loud? They weren’t interested, we needed to leave. Quietly watching, having a great time? We’d stay. One interested, the other distracting people? I’d ask a friend to keep an eye on one, while I let the other find something else to do. It was all about watching them and knowing their limits.

Now that they are in their late teens, I can see the reflection of those early days in the way they pursue their passions and share them with me through texts and social media posts.

Have you heard of “Steam”?

I always love to share the awesome things my sons find on the internet so when I heard my youngest talking about a game called Democracy 3 and how he was thinking of just working on getting elected by pandering to the largest voting groups, I had to investigate and see if this would be something others would like to check out.

They found Steam years ago and have been playing games like “Besiege” for years. On that one, you’re supposed to build machines to win battles. Mine, especially my youngest, uses it to explore machine parts and better understand how they work. My kids have always been fascinated by machines of all kinds. With this game, they can build things they know and keep fiddling with it until it looks and acts like a real world equivalent. It’s pretty awesome to be able to do that virtually instead of in the garage. It’s cheaper and much faster to get a working machine. Much of what they learn there translates into better understanding of the cars and motorcycles they work on in the garage!

My younger son started playing Democracy 3 on Monday and it looks fascinating. He already has a better understanding of how political machines work and he’s been sharing it with us non-stop. Go check it out!

Fun Periodic Table of Elements

Real Science 4 Kids posted about this recently. I found it fascinatingly fun! I’ll admit, though, my sons know more about the Periodic Table of Elements than I do. They’re sciency like that! Check it out HERE.

Doodles!

I don’t know about you but I really can’t understand some things without drawing out pictures. Sometimes the pictures have nothing to do with the subject I’m trying to understand! Recently I found a cool series of books to add my Amazon Wish List and I thought I’d share them with you. Maybe they’ll interest you and/or your kids!

They’re called “Doodle Yourself Smart” and they have one for Math, Geometry, and Physics. For $35 you can get all three of them on Amazon. I haven’t received mine yet, but I’ll let you know if they are awesome when I do. But then, that wouldn’t really do because they may be boring to me but really click with you. Go check them out. For $12, you can’t really go wrong!

Homeschool Science Blog!

I saw this come through my Facebook feed over the weekend and I thought I’d share it with you. It looks like something my kids would love to explore! There are several pages of great science experiments, links, and explanations all written by another homeschool Mom. This is the kind of thing I love most about the internet, regular folks having a cheap and easy way to share what they know with the world. And here we are probably a thousand miles away, reading and learning from them for free. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it? What can you share with the world?

Have some fun checking out the site – Homeschool Science Geek!

New Science Page

I created a new “Science” Resource Page for this site! It’s short and sweet right now but I’ll be adding to it as I find (and sometimes remember) great books, websites, games, and yes, curriculum. Go check it out at Science Page!

Fiction and Biology

I just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s “Fantastic Voyage” and couldn’t help but see how I could have used this book as a jumping off point for a couple of great education adventures. Personally, as an unschooler, I already did that for myself. I’d like to watch the movie as well, read more about the Cold War in the 60’s, and learn more about what we know about the human body. If I had found this book when my boys were younger, I would have read it to them chapter by chapter over lunch and followed up with some of the movies, printables, and reference books I found. I wouldn’t assign them to the kids, though. I would have gone on the adventure myself and invited them along for the ride. I’ve listed some sites and leads I found below. Go get the book! It’s a great read-aloud even for younger kids! Although, remember “Journey Thru Inner Space” at Disneyland? It’s very similar and that ride scared me to death as a kid.

Free “Human Biology” class at Khan Academy

Human Biology Printable Book at TeacherVision (subscription required – 7 day free trial, $40 per year, $7 a month)

Anatomy for Kids list of great books and toys on A to Z Home’s Cool

Another topic that you could discuss and/or read about would be the Cold War. This book was written during the Cold War in 1966. It reflects many sentiments at the time about the race for weapons and “mutually assured destruction”. This would be a great way to lead into a study of this era and an expansion of the idea. These are a few ideas I had while reading the book.

Wikipedia Article about the Cold War (1962-1979) 

Cold War Books and Lesson Plans

10 Best Movies List

“Science Behind Pixar” in Los Angeles

The California Science Center in Los Angeles opens its new “The Science Behind Pixar” exhibit on October 15th! Tickets are on sale now and they strongly suggest you pre-order tickets before you arrive due to the popularity of the exhibit. Tickets run from $13.70 to $21.45 and include the Endeavour AND IMAX show. Group tickets are available for groups of 15 or more.

The rest of the science center is free and there is LOTS for kids of all ages to see and do. Also, the Natural History Museum and the Rose Garden are right next door to explore, not to mention The Coliseum! My sons had me take a picture of them in front of it and they love it when they see it in movies and TV shows.

Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

I took my boys here once when we first moved to the desert but they were already a little too old for it. I loved it, though, and wished we had known about it sooner! It’s located in Rancho Mirage and has lots of stuff to see and do. They even have a special space just for toddlers! Go check them out! Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

The cost is $9.95 per person over 1 year old, so if you like it, I highly recommend getting a Family Membership for $100 a year. It’s much cheaper if you plan on going more than twice a year, and if you have little people in your house, you will want to go more than twice!

Hi-Desert Nature Museum – Yucca Valley

If you’re looking for something fun to do with your younger kids that won’t cost much, check into the Hi-Desert Nature Museum! There always a lot going on there that homeschoolers can definitely use.

Brown Bag Lunch Lectures aren’t really meant for homeschooled kids but they sure are interesting! If your kids think the subject is interesting, take them, but to be respectful of others, sit towards the back of the room so you can scoot out and visit the other parts of the museum if they are being disruptive to the other guests.

The “Framed: Step Into Art” Exhibit closes on September 24, so be sure to go see it!

And for some great music, be sure to get tickets to see “Encelia Chamber Ensemble & Friends” on October 8 & 9.