Project-based Homeschooling in the Later Years

Recently I gave a Zoom presentation on project-based homeschooling (you can sign up here for the next one), and a question I received made me think about how I have never stopped using project-based homeschooling (PBH) techniques, but PBH looks very different in our home than it did ten years ago. I don’t think about the techniques anymore. My sons each have a project that has become more of a life goal, and my role is to support them on a higher level. In other words, our lives revolve around these activities. My own projects have evolved over the years, overlapping with the boys’ activities, so we learn and grow alongside each other.

Here are the current state of our projects:

My eldest son is a classical pianist, and at 16, it’s clear that he has his heart set on a career in music. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but we’re sacrificing a lot to help him. As we do more research, we know what we can offer him may not be enough to catapult him to the place he dreams of, but he works hard, and I have no doubt he’ll carve out a life full of music making. Besides taking the time he needs to practice and work on his technique, he has started a Patreon account where he will share short, weekly practice videos, and I’ll help him chronicle our research into his next steps, including college applications, scholarship applications, auditions and more. I hope someone will show their support for him there. 🙏

He got to hold his favorite bird!

My younger son has been interested in birds since he was four-years-old, and it’s interesting for me to look back at how this interest has always been there, though there have been long periods when he hasn’t done much with it. Now that he’s 13, this is changing, and that’s largely because he’s old enough to join certain classes related to birds on Outschool and get something out of them. He also has an active YouTube channel where he shares his videos of birds. Recently he also got to visit a bird banding station in a program run by Georgia Audubon for teens. Now that he’s getting a chance to meet people with similar interests, I hope it’ll introduce him to many possible paths that will most likely include birds.

As for me, I’m thinking about what I can do to support the boys in these later years, yet I also know they are going to go by fast. So I’m wondering what life has in store for me when they don’t need me as a teacher/facilitator/coordinator anymore. With that in mind, I’m slowly building a store and some other opportunities for families to connect with me in video chats so that I can share more of what I’ve learned. (Watch this space for updates on that.) I don’t know how much interest I can stir up, but if nothing happens, I’ll lose nothing….except a little pride, maybe. 😉

If there is one thing about project-based homeschooling, it’s that the learning never stops, the creating never stops, and the striving never stops. It’s a life-long endeavor. You have to find joy in the journey. Ultimately, the big project is creating a life that is worth living that also puts some good into the world. With the proper support, you can’t go wrong with that.

January 2022

My daffodils are blooming early, and they will always remind me of my dad who died in January 2021. He had given me these bulbs. They were growing on a back corner of his property, and they may have originally been planted by my great-grandmother! I have many more around the front of my yard.

It’s the last day of January, and whew — I’m glad it’s over. This has been a very busy month, and it has been cold outside with a few days of almost warm. It also has been a month of remembering….remembering loss from last year and remembering pre-covid times when everything was so much easier. I have been doing lots of random things like going to physical therapy, and I have been ordering specimens for my son’s biology labs. I also baked a loaf of bread for one of his science experiments. I haven’t baked in a long time, but I was pleased to have the skill when it was needed. I finished another James Herriot book, and I discovered that I absolutely love Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m so lucky to have musicians in my house!

The project that has taken the most time, however, is my 12-year-old’s new YouTube channel! Yes, we have taken the bird project to new heights! This year my 12-year-old is in an online ornithology club, which has really inspired him to dig deeper into the world of birds, and then I wondered if he might enjoy recording the birds in our yard and starting a YouTube channel. I was right, and he’s so excited about this. Every few days he’ll put the camera outside, picking a new place or a different angle, and we’ll put the seeds out there. Then we go inside and hope the birds will show up. They usually do. (And we’re at the window with our binoculars.)

This project is teaching my son more than just how to record birds. We have sat together to edit the film, and I’m surprised that he has so much patience to go through the recordings! He picks out the best parts, and I’ve shown him how to trim them. We are also going to learn more about video editing together, and I can see that it won’t be long before I won’t need to help. You never know where this could lead.

Naturally, he is most excited about getting new subscribers on his YouTube channel. So if you feel inclined, I hope you’ll subscribe. You never know, I might be fostering a YouTube star. LOL. Or, maybe Mr. Cardinal will become the star. We’ll see. 🤣

Here’s one of my favorite videos. Please go to his channel and click on “videos” at the top to see them all. And then you’ll understand why I’ve been so busy. This kid likes recording!

 

How has 2022 begun for you? I hope it’s starting out well.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

One of many highlights of our recent trip was being able to visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know I’ve written several times about my younger son’s love of birds. He’s nine-years-old now, and he’s been talking about birds since he was about four. I am pleasantly surprised that his interest has not faded, though he definitely has his own way of navigating this project. We haven’t done a lot  of in depth study about birds. Instead, we’ve drawn them, watched them, identified dozens of them, collected toy birds, made toy birds, and only occasionally read books about them. Though I encourage it and offer whatever I can to foster his love of birds, I haven’t pushed all the ideas I would like to see done. This has been a good decision. It’s truly a child-led project.

We’ve known about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for awhile now, and I have been wanting to visit it, but I never thought we would be able to see it so soon. Then my eldest son’s interest in music took us to Cleveland, and well, though that’s not extremely close to Ithaca, it was close enough for us. We had to go!

We loved Ithaca, and we loved the Lab. We went twice. On the first visit, we walked the trails in Sapsucker Woods for about an hour, and then we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the lab. The next day, we went back and took a longer walk through the beautiful Sapsucker Woods.

View of the lab from across the pond.

It’s a beautiful building. About 250~300 faculty, students and staff work there. We were told it is mostly member-supported, and Cornell University contributes only a tiny percentage of its budget. It has the beautiful Wall of Birds (click on that link and you won’t be sorry), the Macaulay Library, which you can contribute to, and the Lab also houses Cornell University’s Museum of Vertebrates, so bird specimens aren’t the only resource available to students and researchers.

Here is the Lab’s mission statement:

Our mission is to interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

If you are at all interested in birds, then you have probably already been to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. You have probably used the section All About Birdswhich can help you identify the birds you see outside your window. Or you have contributed your sightings to to eBird or another one of their popular citizen science projects.

Their website has much more on it, and if you are a bird lover or you have a child who is, then there’s a lot of educational materials that you can use. I can’t wait until my son gets a little older. I think he’ll really enjoy the Bird Academy. There are also activities and planned lessons for teachers or homeschooling co-op parents in their K-12 Education section. There’s even more than that, but I’ll stop there and let you explore their website yourself. You can also read about the history of the Lab on Wikipedia.

Sapsucker Woods is a special place, and we knew it before we even stepped on a trail. I’ll show you our walks through my photos.

I know Canada Geese are everywhere up north, but we don’t see them too often in Georgia, so we still enjoy encountering them.

Right at the start of the trail, we saw a pileated woodpecker. We see these occasionally in our yard, but it’s always a big deal when they arrive because they don’t come often. We stood there watching this one for quite awhile.

Mama wood duck and her ducklings.

fleabane

Fawn. Mama was there too.

Song sparrow

Haven’t identified this fella yet. Anybody know?

Baby raccoon. There were two siblings and a mom in the tree too.

Georgia Blue Jays have never posed for me like this one did. 😉

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Sapsucker Woods is a special place, and I highly recommend that you visit, if you can.

Have you ever been to the Cornell Lab? Please tell me about your visit.

January

A little visitor to our front porch. I like to think of the squirrels in our yard as friends, but I’m not sure she feels the same way about me.

January has been a quiet month around here. It has offered some very cold days — at least cold to us Southerners — so it’s been a good time to stay inside and get some work done.

The boys and I have been doing a lot of birdwatching out our windows, and we finally started some official Life Lists. (I love it when the boys get excited to write a bird’s name on their life list!) In Georgia, we have some birds who live here year-round, but it’s great fun to watch the winter visitors such as the golden-crowned kinglet, which is one of our our favorites (and comes in close second to my nine-year-old’s all-time favorite chickadee.)

For the second year in a row, we’ve had juncos visit the yard. Sometimes in pairs or sometimes twenty at a time! Also for the very first time, we saw two northern flickers! (They are so beautiful!) And we’ve been so excited to see a pileated woodpecker hanging out in the yard for a while. In the past, these big, gorgeous woodpeckers would only give us a brief glimpse before they moved on. We also had a young hawk hang out for a short time too.

(Yes, we’re going to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count this year!)

The pileated woodpecker. Gorgeous fellow.

Other than this, we’ve been keeping a good homeschooling routine — six days a week. Yes, that’s right. This morning (Saturday), my eldest son did science because it’s hard to fit it in during the weekdays, but I was thrilled to see he was enjoying it. He may be a pianist, but he still loves science, and I love that because I love it too. I love learning with him.

I don’t have much time for myself, and when I do have time, I usually end up lesson planning, cleaning, cooking (but not much — I still fail at this), or exercising (stupid hip thing), or planning the next six years. But to tell the truth, that’s kind of what I want to do right now. As I mentioned in my December post, I’m obsessing about planning for the next six years — junior high and high school. I’ve learned so much, and we’re already starting to implement some ideas in order to see if they will work and if I can fit them in. We’re going to try to fit more and more in as my son works through the rest of the 6th and 7th grade. The scheduling and how we do things is a sort of an experiment right now.

I keep thinking of topics and ideas to blog about, but when to actually blog? I’m writing this off-the-top-of-my-head, rambling post on a Saturday afternoon in about thirty minutes. (Saturdays and Sundays offer a little more free time.) Writing about specific curricula or other topics takes much longer because I have to think through what I want to say. Sigh.

I will tell you that we just signed up for a free trial of The Great Courses, and so far, we’re loving them. If we continue to like the courses, I can use some of them for our junior high and high school curriculum, and I’m so excited about this.

Now that January is almost over, I’m looking ahead to a very busy February when some important piano events and opportunities are starting. We will continue to lay low so my son can prepare and hopefully not get sick, and I’ll continue with my big planning. But right now I have thirty minutes until I need to start dinner, so I think I’ll take a nap. Thanks for reading!

Please leave me a message and tell me how YOU are doing this January.

Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge (and Carnivorous Plants)

Mississippi Sandhill Crane. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As I mentioned in my last post, we had good opportunities to do some birding on our trip to Mississippi, and this is my eight-year-old’s biggest interest.

On our last day of vacation, we made a stop at the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, and we were hoping to see these amazing birds at the refuge. They are three to four feet tall and have a wingspan of over seven feet!

I will keep you in suspense for a while as to whether we saw one or not because birds weren’t the only reason we went to the refuge.

I saw on their website that part of the habitat at the refuge – a wet pine savanna – is home to thousands of carnivorous plants. Remember when carnivorous plants were my eldest son’s project? We were seeing pitcher plants along the highways, and that made us excited, but to be able to stop and see them up close, that was amazing.  We still grow them at home, and we see them at botanical gardens, but we’ve never seen them in the wild. I never imagined we’d get to see so many in one place! Look at them:

According to a pamphlet I picked up at the refuge, you can find four different species of pitcher plants, four species of sundew, four species of butterworts, and eight species of bladderworts at the refuge. We found only a few.

Yellow Trumpet Pitcher Plants

flower of Pitcher Plant

Butterwort (The tiny, light green plant with pointy leaves that are curled at the edges.)

Parrot Beak’s Pitcher Plant

The little red plants are Sundews

Flower of the Sundew

My eldest son and I were taking our time on a short trail, admiring all the carnivorous plants while my husband and eight-year-old went ahead, hoping to find the cranes. We all wanted to see the cranes. But, unfortunately, they weren’t right where we were that day, and according to the people who worked at the visitor’s center, they rarely see them either.

But the cranes do live in and right around the 19,000 acre refuge, and this is the only place you can find them in the world. Mississippi Sandhill Cranes are a nonmigratory species that should not be confused with other Sandhill Cranes species who migrate through North America. They are critically endangered, and right now, there are only 135 Mississippi Sandhill Cranes.

We were determined to see a Sandhill Crane for my eight-year-old’s benefit. (Ahem. My eldest son and I saw two of them along the highway on the way to the refuge, but we were so shocked, we uttered a cry that made my husband think we were witnessing a car crash. And while going 60mph, there was no way to stop or turn around. It was one of those “if you blink you’ll miss it moments,” so we didn’t get a good look at them.)

The people who worked at the refuge drew us a map and told us about some nearby residential areas where the cranes are sometimes seen. One of the streets had a pond on it, and the cranes would stop there occasionally. So after we walked on the trail at the refuge, we took off in the car, hoping to find a crane.

And we found one! Only one. But we saw one. He was in the distance and in the shadows of some trees and bushes, but we were able to stop our car and get a good look at him with our binoculars. It was so exciting, and I think you could say that we’re official birders now — this was our first time searching for a bird! We were happy it was successful.

Do you like birding? Please tell me about your adventures.

Pascagoula River Audubon Center

Mississippi gave us a great opportunity to give some time and attention to our eight-year-old’s biggest interest, so we made a point to do some serious birding on our trip.

One unexpected perk of having a hotel room on the 5th floor was that we had a great “bird hide.” The boys sat at that window with the binoculars watching any birds that happened to fly by, especially the pelicans, laughing gulls, and an osprey that hunted in the ocean near our hotel everyday.

We also went to the nearby Pascagoula River Audubon Center. I wish we had this center near us! It reminded me a little of our local nature center, but our local nature center didn’t have the incredible views that this place had. Plus, the building was beautiful.

At the center we saw lots of barn swallows, red-winged blackbirds, herons, and for the first time ever — a common nightjar! That was thanks to a young girl who was also visiting the center, and she had found it in a tree. We could only see its silhouette.

barn swallows

I don’t have the proper camera lens to get photos of birds (unless they happen to be very close to me like these two barn swallows), but I do have a good lens for flowers, which I love too. I enjoyed the small garden they had at the center. The seeds of these plants help feed the birds, of course. And they are good for pollinators too.

We also went to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge! I’ll tell you about our adventure there next! 🙂