This week, we had the incredible opportunity to study coastal ecosystems first hand at Camp Sewee, in Awendaw, SC. We spent three days exploring four different coastal areas. On our first day, we took a 40-minute boat ride to one of the barrier islands. There we saw all kinds of wildlife, including Stone Crabs, Hermit Crabs, Spider Crabs, and Square-Backed Crabs. We also saw lots of Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns.
On the second day, we went down to the docks to investigate marine life. We caught five Blue Crabs (all male and very feisty). Everyone loved holding these swimming crabs by their swimmerets. The students also learned to cast shrimping nets and crab nets. Later, we looked at Oysters, Sea Squirts, Sea Grapes, Bryozoans, and Barnacles that were growing on a block suspended in the water, and then we collected our own specimens of these "fouling" creatures to look at more closely under a microscope.
Next, we walked over to see the Salt Marsh. This was a very mucky area that smelled of sulphur. It was teeming with Fiddler Crabs, which burrow in the ground and eat the detritus (decaying matter). They scoop out the mud in little balls, and then when the tide comes back in, they use the mud balls to cork themselves in their holes. We also saw lots of Periwinkle Snails and conducted an experiment to see whether they prefer the upper, middle, or lower salt marshes by counting how many we saw in one square meter in each area.
We visited another area of salt marsh to study the grasses (and the edible Pickle Weed). The children chased and caught lots of Fiddler Crabs and played in the mud as they watched the tide coming back in. Several even tried raw oysters straight from the rake!
Back at camp, our counselors kept us busy playing games, singing campfire songs, and doing team-building exercises. A good time was had by all, as evidenced by the request to come back next year before we could even get out of the parking lot!
Camp Sewee is run by Clemson University's Youth Learning Institute and will run camps all summer.
It was another active week at Willow Tree! We began with a special challenge:
Nature Study Challenge: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find as many different specimens as you can on the lawn of the school. No flower beds, no meadow, no woods. Just the mowed part of the lawn. You know, the part where you play ball, where it's just grass, where there isn't anything interesting?
Believe it or not, we found 37 different types of plants growing just on the lawn! There were 6 types with yellow flowers, 6 with white, and 6 with purple/blue, and lots that were not flowering. Some groups snagged azaleas and magnolia leaves, but these were easily spotted and discarded. The plants were sorted and pressed, and now our task is to identify as many as we can to make a school wildflower field guide.
We also have our own "Space Race" (of sorts) going on. Students are working in groups to design and create balloon rockets based on what they have learned about force. On Thursday, they built prototypes and tested them. Now, it's back to work to improve those designs so that the rockets will go faster, longer.
On Friday, we went to Muscadine Ridge Alpaca Farm in Gaffney, SC. The Wurster family taught us all about raising alpacas. Alpacas were brought to the United States from South America in the 1980s. These guys had just been sheared last week. The fleece is used in a variety of ways, depending on the part of the body from which it came. It is longest along the back, so this fleece is used to make fine, soft yarn for things like scarves. The neck and belly fleece is a bit shorter, so it is used to make yarn for rugs. Fleece that comes from anywhere else is too short to be spun, so the Wursters allowed us to put it into suet feeders for the birds to take to line their nests. Did you know that alpaca manure is some of the best fertilizer you can put on your garden? It doesn't even need to be composted! You can put it right on the plants, and they will not burn. Another interesting fact is that alpacas have no natural defenses. For protection, they need to be placed in a fence with herding animals like donkeys or, preferably, llamas. Whenever a threat is present, one llama will herd the alpacas into a safe place while the other stands its ground, and then both will fight off the predator. They have even been known to kill mountain lions!
"In Science, or rather, nature study, we attach great importance to recognition, believing that the power to recognise and name a plant or stone or constellation involves classification and includes a good deal of knowledge. To know a plant by its gesture and habitat, its time and its way of flowering and fruiting; a bird by its flight and song and its times of coming and going; to know when, year after year, you may come upon the redstart and the pied fly-catcher, means a good deal of interested observation, and of, at any rate, the material for science." Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, p. 236
This was a fun week for nature study at Willow Tree. Normally, students go outside and find something of interest to them to study and then paint or sketch in their nature notebooks. But in the winter, it is easy for some children to get discouraged because they think everything is dead. Sometimes it helps them to have something specific to look for. So this week, we studied a plant I knew was growing at the playground--a place the kids go every single day, usually overlooking the tiny plants under their feet. I showed them this picture, and then we walked to the park and they were charged with finding it:
As you can see in the picture below, these plants are very low-growing. But the little pink/purple flowers came to our aid. By comparing a plant with flowers blooming to patches on the ground, we were also able to identify those plants on which the flowers had not yet bloomed.
Since henbit is a prolific weed, each student was able to pick a specimen to study. We rolled the stems around between our fingers and felt the square stem. A few children remembered from our walk with Dr. Jones last year that this means henbit is in the mint family. We noticed the opposite, scalloped leaves. Then we took our specimens back to school.
When we got back to school, we read in Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study about weeds, which are simply plants that are growing where we would prefer something else to grow. The book said that the plant was edible, but we decided we should explore that further before we tried eating it. We found the following video on YouTube, which helped us be sure we had identified the plant correctly and gave us the confidence to try it. It was great to have an expert give us pointers about the properties of henbit. Finally, each student did a dry brush drawing in their notebooks.
Today, we extended our study of edible plants with Stacey Costner, of Wild Dahlia Homestead (https://www.facebook.com/WildDahliaHomestead) We met Stacey last fall at the Foothills Farmer's Market, and she agreed to come and talk with us about the medicinal uses of plants. She brought a few fresh and dried herbs with her and made a tasty tea for us to try. The tea was made from several herbs that have different benefits. Lemon balm (or Melissa officinalis), which is part of the mint family and smells heavenly, is calming and spirit-lifting. We used dried, but you can also use fresh. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is good for circulation and mental clarity. We steeped the whole cutting--stem, leaves, and flowers. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is also good for awareness and attention, with the added benefit of staving off allergies when used regularly. We used dried nettle. (Be careful with this one when harvesting--It got its name for a reason!) Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), which is not what goes in your tomato sauce, has a slight bubble-gum flavor and is used for sweetness. It can also have a leveling effect for those with unstable blood sugar levels. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is part of the aster family, and helps with stress, upset stomach, and sleeplessness. We used the dried flowers. We added oat straw, which is soothing and is good for the nervous system. Finally, Licorice Root (
There are several principles upon which Charlotte Mason's education philosophy rests:
Here is what Mason says about the science of relations:
"Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thought; so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of--'Those first-born affinities That fit our new existence to existing things.'" (Mason, Philosophy of Education, p. xxx)
In other words, there is such a wide variety of things to know and things to inspire us in this world! To trim it down to just basic skills, or even to skills that will be useful in getting a job later, is too restrictive. Those things are necessary, to be sure; but they are not the whole. To take this idea further, think about Psalm 24:1--"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it." Everything includes all the knowledge there is to be had on Earth. And it all belongs to His children by rightful inheritance. It is not mine to give or withhold as I see fit, even if I use "scientific" measures like intelligence or achievement tests to inform my decision. That is why all of our students will read Shakespeare, Bacon, Locke, and Churchill. It is why they will all study philosophy, art, music, and advanced math, and learn at least three foreign languages before they graduate. It is also why they will all learn to be naturalists, to cook, to clean, and to make handcrafts. All of those things are worthwhile, and the fact is that we just don't know what each child will need in order to fulfill God's plan for his or her life.
This week we worked on deepening our relationships with the principles of architecture. This is a new subject for most of our students. It combines elements of history, science, mathematics, and art, which is a great way to demonstrate that these subjects do not exist in isolation. We began this project with a simple task assignment: Use the materials provided to build a bridge from one block to the other that will hold the weight of three clay "people". The first day was primarily trial-and-error, and students kept a record of what they tried and the results in their science journals. Then, we incorporated two texts: The Art of Construction by Mario Salvadori and Building Big by David Macaulay. These books show pictures of actual bridges and outline how they were designed to overcome problems that were specific to the site upon which they were built. The first bridge studied used Roman arches to increase strength. In the pictures above, you can see how the children improved their bridge designs by incorporating this element. In the coming weeks, we will learn about other types of bridges and continue to improve our designs.
Another book that Forms 1 and 2 are reading is Eric Sloane's Seasons of America Past. This is a beautifully illustrated book about how people used to be more related to the natural world than we are today. They knew things about weather, planting, foraging, and construction that we have forgotten. So to help the children deepen their relationships with the food they eat, we made bread, butter, and apple butter from scratch on Friday. Actually, we had to start on Thursday by peeling the apples (the peels and cores went into our growing compost pile) and coating them in cider to keep them from browning. Then a parent had to take them home and cook them for several hours. When we got to school on Friday morning, the apples had cooked down and the sugars had caramelized. We ran them through a food mill, added cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, and then they went back on the stove for a few more hours. Then we mixed and kneaded our bread dough and set it to rise. We learned about yeast and the chemical process of fermentation that leads to light, airy bread. While we waited on this process, we read the day's books, had a math lesson, and recorded the week's history lessons into our Books of Centuries. "When is it going to be ready?!" was heard often throughout the day. The delicious smell filled the whole building. Still waiting, each child was given a baby food jar half full of whipping cream. We shook, and we shook, and we shook that cream! After about five minutes, it became whipped cream, but we kept going. It seemed like nothing was happening. And then, all of a sudden, we began to hear the swish of liquid moving and the thud of the fresh butter beating against the sides. We had to pour off the "buttermilk" and add a little salt, and then, finally, we were ready to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Things like this take time, but oh, was it worth the wait!
"At a former meeting of the British Association, the President lamented that the progress of science was greatly hindered by the fact that we no longer have field naturalists--close observers of Nature as she is. A literary journal made a lamentable remark thereupon. It is all written in books, said this journal, so we have no longer any need to go to Nature herself. Now the knowledge of Nature which we get out of books is not real knowledge; the use of books is, to help the young student to verify facts he has already seen for himself. Let us, before all things, be Nature-lovers; intimate acquaintance with every natural object within his reach is the first, and, possibly, the best part of a child's education. For himself, all his life long, he will be soothed by 'The breathing balm, The silence and the calm, Of mute, insensate things.'"
(Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, p. 261)
In the above quote, Mason alludes to Wordsworth's poem, Three Years She Grew, which can be read in its entirety here. She knew what modern researchers like Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle) are now saying: Nature is, indeed, a "healing blam." Louv writes that the disconnectedness from nature that is so common today in both adults and children has led to increases in obesity, anxiety, depression, and ADHD. But even more, removal of ourselves from nature takes us out of the Garden for which we were created. In stopping to breathe in the beauty of God's stunning handiwork, as the children in the picture above are doing, we feel nourished in spirit and are compelled to turn our faces to Him who clothes the lilies of the field.
On Friday, we had the wonderful opportunity of not only nourishing our spirits by spending the day in an exquisite landscape and hiking the Appalachian Trail, but also volunteering to do real scientific research at Big Bald Banding Station. We got to observe mainly the Tennessee Warbler. These little guys spent the summer in the Boreal Forests of Canada, and are now migrating to Central America.
This is a very different experience than learning from reading about bird migration in a book (or, worse, in a textbook) or watching a Discovery video. These students now have an intimate relationship with these creatures that they would never have had otherwise. Spending time in the field is helping these children become naturalists. It gives them joy, as expressed in the van on the way back to school in one child's comment, "This was the best day EVER!" It feeds their spirit, as evidenced in the top picture, in which the students just had to stop to drink in the view. And it is a very solid foundation for science learning, since they are participating in an authentic research project, observing, describing, and collecting and interpreting data.
The Big Bald Banding Project will continue for the next six weeks. If you are interested in helping as a volunteer or, even better, taking your children to volunteer, please visit their website at http://bigbaldbanding.org/.
This week, Willow Tree students were busy, busy, busy. We finished the first act of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and began learning basic yoga positions. We drew floor plans of our homes and labeled them in Latin. We practiced reciting the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edward Lear. We rehearsed prepositions in Spanish and listened to a new Spanish folk tale. We recorded events from our history reading onto our class timelines and into our personal Books of Centuries. In science, we created journals and learned how to record and interpret data. In the pictures below, students are playing with Newton's Laws of Motion using different types of balls.
This afternoon, we took advantage of the sunshine to clean out the garden bed we build last year. The kale had gone to seed, so we will probably see baby kale plants very soon. We had to deal with a colony of fire ants that had decided to move into the loose, rich soil. We also found other species that had made our garden home, including stink bugs, spiders, and an enormous larvae. Once the bed was cleared, we built a new compost bin using pallets. This is where we will dispose of our compost-able lunch leftovers. Students will take turns turning and watering the pile each week. Once our outdoor projects were completed, we came inside to decide what to plant next week in our fall/winter garden.
We are terribly excited about our next outdoor adventure! Next Friday, we will travel to Mars Hill, NC to participate in the research at Big Bald Banding Station! This is where volunteer scientists capture, study, and release song birds and raptors. They use the data to track populations and migration patterns. This is going to be a wonderful experience for our kids!
We had several treats last week. First, Chelsea came with Tucker, a one-year-old Labrador who is training to be a service dog for the blind. Chelsea talked with us about her time with Tucker, in which she was responsible for teaching him basic obedience. We learned that you should never approach a dog that is wearing a service jacket, because that means he is working and needs to concentrate on helping his master.
While playing at home on Tuesday, Susanna found a spectacular insect in her driveway! Of course, she caught it and brought it in for Nature Study on Wednesday. With a little research, we found that it was an Eyed Click Beetle. If these insects are placed on their backs, they sit still for a few minutes. Then, with a loud "click", they bend their heads back and launch themselves into the air to turn over. Our beetle did this while he was in the jar, but when we put him on the table and tried to video this trick for your viewing pleasure, he was uncooperative (or tired!). On the same day, Brett brought in the skin of a copperhead snake that he found at home and mounted on a board for us to study. While the children did their paintings, we read about poisonous snakes in our area and learned that copperheads are more aggressive than other snakes, but their bites are generally milder, since they do not inject as much venom as rattlesnakes or cottonmouths.
On Friday, we went to Catawba Science Center. It was, to quote Justin, "AWESOME!" We saw many specimens that are native to our area. We also explored principles of physics and played with technology. At least one cricket was eaten during the day!
Last week we enjoyed the warm, Spring-like weather by getting outside a little more. We explored the plants around the school and found two bird nests in the bushes. Several children studied how they were built and made sketches in their nature notebooks. Some of the students also chose to work on their hand crafts in the sunshine. On Friday we took a field trip to Historic Brattonsville, where we saw homes and other buildings from both the Revolutionary War and Civil War periods.
On Friday, we took a walk over to the observatory at Gardner-Webb for a chat with Dr. Don Olive. Here is what the children had to say about what they learned:
Abbie: He says it's easier to see inside the observatory with red lights because then your eyes don't have to adjust to the dark.
Brett: The telescope flips everything upside-down because of the mirrors. When we looked at the church steeple it was flipped upside-down.
Anthony: Apparently there are many stars out in space, and some of them are in a pattern that seems to resemble something else. These patterns are called "constellations". Perhaps you have heard of some of them, like Ursa Major and the Big Dipper. And there are also not-so-well known constellations like Leo, Gemini, and Scorpio.
Ethan: If you look through a telescope at the sun it can blind your eyes in less than a second if you don't put a special lens on it.
Marley: The sun is made up of a lot of colors. Ultraviolet rays cause sunburn. Inferred rays warm us. The black sun spots happen when parts get cool.
Anna: If it wasn't for the atmosphere we would all be baking by now. The atmosphere keeps a lot of the ultraviolet light out.
Justin: Sometimes the solar winds will hit the atmosphere at the poles and cause the Northern Lights. You can hear them crackle.
Susanna: We saw pictures of solar flares coming from the sun. We made star maps that showed us all the different stars and when you can see them.
Damon: Solar wind can knock out power if it hits the earth.
Kyrin: We looked through a telescope and we saw a church that was very far away.