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.

Annual Passes Worth Every Cent!

There are two annual passes we have bought every year that I highly recommend, the “Forest Adventure” pass and the “America the Beautiful” pass. You can buy them online at My Scenic Drives.

The “Forest Adventure” pass is $30 and a second is only $5 more, so share with a friend! It allows you to park anywhere in the forest. Yes, there is controversy here. Does the money really go to keeping the trails nice and the bathrooms clean? Who knows?! And do they give tickets for parking without one? Occasionally. And I’ve heard the fine is the same as the pass. But…I’m trying my best to teach civics here as well and the law of the land is to have a parking pass, so we get one and leave it at that.

The “America the Beautiful” pass is $80 and gets you into all the National Parks. Of course, if you don’t plan on leaving the immediate area this year,  you can always get an annual pass for just Joshua Tree National Park for $40, but we’ve found that we usually get up to other parks in California at least once a year, so the $80 one is a deal for that.

When I lived in Orange County as a kid, I rarely went up to the mountains. My parents worked regular, Monday through Friday type, jobs, so we only had weekends and holidays to make the trek. Those are crazy busy times! I just assumed it was always like that, so I didn’t take my kids up there until we moved out to the desert and were looking for fun stuff to do during the week while Dad worked. That’s when I fell in love with Big Bear!

We’ve been making the hour drive up there about once a week for years now. We’ve explored mountain trails, hiked all over, gone fishing (another permit, of course, we ARE in California), looked for geocaches, played in the snow, ate (a lot), mountain biked, gone to the zoo. There’s so much to do up there! And during the week it’s so NOT crowded!

Here are a few links to places we love!

Fishing – Take Me Fishing is a good place to start if you’ve never been before! You can get a license there and look up the myriad of rules. I also love Big Bear Lake Sporting Goods. You can get a license there and everything else you need. Ask all the questions you like, they are nice people!

Mountain Biking – Check out Mountain Bike Big Bear for trails and such. And the best bike shop ever is Chains Required! Great prices, great people, they have everything you need. You can even rent a bike for a day and see if you enjoy the sport!

Hiking – AllTrails can help you find the best trail for you. Add Geocache to your phone and find those on the way!

Big Bear Discovery Center

Big Bear Zoo

And my favorite tip, we always stop at the Village Visitor Center first for a bathroom break and to re-group after the drive. It has saved us many times. I’ll also admit that we stop there before we leave as well. Lunch, ice cream, bookstore. They even have an awesome music store!

What does this have to do with home education? Everything. This IS education. So much science, history, PE, even literature. This isn’t a day off for adventuring. The adventuring IS the education. We had a backpack of snacks, water, and tools we took with us everywhere. We took pictures of things we found, made maps of where we went, looked at things with microscopes and binoculars. We had a notebook to draw in, a nature guide, a bandana (for everything), and a first aid kit. We even brought a book with us and read out loud while we picnicked at the top of the hike, alongside the lake, or in a grassy meadow. Go explore!

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!

Toys!

Ask me what I think is the most important thing for homeschoolers to have around the house and I’ll tell you “awesome, colorful reference books” and “building toys”!

Legos are some of my favorite toys but I also love building blocks, Knex, and Tinker Toys. My sons still drag out the box of legos when they are trying to better understand some physics concept they’ve discovered or read about.

Here’s a list of my favorite building toys!

Lego – Crazy Contraptions
It’s a small set with lots of potential! We had an awesome storage system of little drawers that we got from Harbor Freight. It was for keeping nuts and bolts and you could hang them on the wall.

Knex – Model Building Set
The bigger the better! More pieces mean more innovation. We used to spend the whole day putting together the “amusement park” sets!

Wooden Blocks
They are expensive but so worth it! We had so much fun with these when my boys were little. And I still have most of the sets put away for my Grandkids (minus the ones the dog chewed up).

Keva Planks
They may seem overly simple but the more you have, the more amazing things can be built!

If you’re going to buy something as a homeschooler, make it awesome toys instead of expensive curriculum. Kids will get so much more out of them than any textbook or worksheet!

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!