By Joshua Greer
Have you ever taken your kids grocery shopping and then had them tally the purchases by food group and spend the rest of the day making a full-color chart? As homeschoolers, we are always looking for ways to make everyday events educational. It takes some intentionality to pull this off, but the result is kids who are immersed in education and see learning opportunities everywhere.
It’s fortunate, then, that nature provides such a great classroom, and some of the greatest opportunities for learning come four times a year when the seasons change. Why not make the most of nature’s cycles by setting aside a special day of learning every three months? Following are some ideas for celebrating and discovering each new season with younger children.
On the first day of summer, track the temperature every hour throughout the day and use the data to create a line graph to show how the temperature rises and falls. Explore why this occurs and whether there seems to be any pattern to the temperature going up or down.
Prepare for a bug hunt by marking off a small section of grass and having your child predict how many insects can be found there. Then get down on hands and knees to look for critters. For even more action, turn the soil over and check for worms and grubs below the surface. Keep track of the number and types of insects found. You may also have to keep track of any bugs that your kids try to convert into pets.
Listen to the second movement (Largo) of Summer, by Vivaldi. Practice keeping the beat throughout the piece. For a greater challenge, try this activity with the faster first and third movements.
View The Poppy Field by Claude Monet. Discuss what clues the painting gives about the season and the emotions that each color reflects. Have your child create a similar brightly colored painting of a favorite summer scene.
Read The Berenstain Bears Go on Vacation by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Even younger readers can try this one on their own, and it has a typically strong message about enjoying family and making the best of difficulties.
Sometimes less is more. As I’m sure you noticed, none of these activities costs a great deal of money, and there is just a small amount of preparation involved in obtaining music, books, and basic materials. However, these special activities will add depth to your homeschooling experience and give your kids something unique to look forward to with each changing season.
Record the high temperature on the first day of the season. There are many clipart thermometers that can be printed for this activity, but find one that has both Celsius and Fahrenheit, so you can compare the systems with your child. Practice this concept by giving a temperature in one system and having your child estimate its equivalent in the other system.
Take a walk through the neighborhood or a park and search for leaves, collecting as many different kinds as possible. Once home, sort the leaves by size, color, edge, and structure. Have your child find at least three different ways to sort the leaves into groups. If you have a little more time, determine the leaf type using a botanical guide.
If you complete the activities throughout this article, you will be sharing all four sections of the brilliant classical piece, The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, so this is a good time to introduce or review the instruments in an orchestra. A wonderful website for this is www.sfskids.org, which was created by the San Francisco Symphony. There you can see and “play” every instrument in an orchestra. Then listen to the first movement of Fall and have your child try and pick out the instruments that can be heard within that movement.
View The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Have your children explain why different people are dressed in unique ways and how the people are treating each other. While our understanding of early Thanksgivings is forever changing, this painting does have a lot to teach about the early colonial period.
Read The Little Red Hen. There are many versions of this children’s book, but it’s great for fall because it shows the food cycle from planting a seed to eating the produce, with lessons about cooperation and determination along the way.
Use a clipart thermometer again to record the day’s high temperature. Use a number line to show your child different temperatures at which events occur, starting with the freezing and boiling points of water. Explore other temperatures, such as the temperature at which cookies are baked or the temperature inside a cave.
If you have icicles, measure the length of several of the longest ones. This activity has countless varieties. You might have children estimate the lengths before measuring, measure in inches and centimeters, average the lengths, or graph the results. If you have budding knights like I do, you may also need to let them have an icicle sword fight. If you don’t have any icicles, have your child measure her shadow at one-hour intervals throughout the day, each time predicting what the next hour’s measurement will be.
Listen to the first movement of Winter by Vivaldi. The song was composed to resemble the season it represents, so have your child listen for the sounds of winter. You might help by brainstorming beforehand about what sounds and ideas people associate with winter.
View Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel. Discuss what colors are used to give a wintry mood, and ask kids to point out winter activities they see in the painting.
Read Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. This delightful tale by the author of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel offers a good opportunity to discuss different modes of transportation and occupations within a community.
Again, record the day’s high temperature on a blank thermometer. Look up the historical averages for your area and compare the day’s temperature to the average. Use this discussion to explore other averages, such as the average height of your family or the average number of stuffed animals each child has. (If any of your children are like my daughter, this could lead to a lesson on infinity.)
Plant a bean or pea seed along the edge of a clear plastic cup where your child will be able to see the root system develop. Have your child predict how many days it will take to break through the soil, and track the results. If you have outdoor space or a larger pot, this can become an experiment that leads well into the summer, giving your child a chance to predict how much a plant will produce and to explore how plants create their own seeds.
Listen to the first movement of Spring by Antonio Vivaldi. Have your child call out “high,” “low,” “fast,” “slow,” “loud,” and “soft” as you listen to the music. This exercise builds awareness of diversity in pitch, tempo, and volume, plus it’s a great way to motivate attentiveness throughout this beloved classical song.
View Fishing in Spring by Vincent van Gogh. Discuss how the different colors reflect spring, and have your child write or tell a story about what is happening in the painting.
Read The Magic School Bus Inside a Beehive by Joanna Cole. As with all the Magic School Bus books, this book includes a bunch of fun science activities, interesting characters, and engaging illustrations. The setting of this adventure is spring, and this book introduces children to a very close look at the creatures that make so many of our flowers and fruits possible.
Joshua Greer is just finishing his first year as a homeschooling dad, after ten years of teaching English in public schools. He is married to Debra and they have three young children. He is a freelance writer, editor, and social media specialist, and he blogs about raising kids at josh-greer.blogspot.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.