Happy Month of Thanksgiving! I want to say a heartfelt thanks to anyone who has been reading my blog long-term. I don’t know who you are, and maybe there’s only two of you, but for anyone who has stuck with me, I greatly appreciate it. I am also indebted to those of you who have reached out and sent me an email or message on social media. I appreciate your friendship so much.
I am not sure what compels me to keep writing on this blog. It’s just something I do to stay sane, I guess. But knowing it’s helpful to a few people means a lot, so thank you.
You may have noticed I’ve been blogging more lately. I’m trying something new as I reflect back on these years of homeschooling. I am writing posts that I might have liked to have read when I first started homeschooling. I hope that they can be encouraging to new homeschoolers. I don’t know how many posts I have in me, but we’ll see.
As I have been writing this, my son spotted a young hawk outside my window, and then I had the privilege of watching it for about fifteen minutes. I saw it dive down into the leaf litter and catch a red-bellied snake and eat it! Then I saw it go up into the trees again, fluffing up its feathers because it’s cold outside. It was always looking around, looking for prey, I imagine. A very nervous squirrel sat in a tree nearby and sent out warning sounds. I never saw another bird while the hawk was in our yard. The animals in our yard work well together when they need to, don’t they?
It was a good reminder to me to slow down and remember why I’m doing everything I’m doing even when it seems pointless. The fruits of our labor don’t always show up in tangible ways. I hope someday I will look back on this life and see that homeschooling and all the sacrifices we’ve made were worth it. I hope I’ll feel that I’ve done well by sharing my tips on this blog too. But I imagine it will be a lot like my nature encounters: The time I’ve spent savoring them will add up to time well spent, though only in my mind and heart. I can live with that.
As for my 13-year-old, he’s thrilled to have almost 100 subscribers on his YouTube channel, and he’s working on a celebratory video for when he reaches that milestone. If you haven’t seen any of his videos yet, here’s one:
“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” 🐇
Actually, I’m just behind in writing a monthly blog post. I thought I’d at least be able to keep up with once a month, but life has a way of snowballing as kids grow and we venture more and more into meaningful projects, which is a good thing!
My eldest son is working harder than ever on his piano repertoire, although he’s not doing any competitions this year, and he hasn’t posted much to his YouTube channel lately. He has longer term goals now. All I’ll say is that he continues to take us on many adventures, and while it can be stressful, it’s also a pleasure.
My younger son has taken charge of his YouTube channel that is dedicated to our backyard birds. I still help him a bit, though. It’s really great to see him learning video editing skills as well as developing his interest in birds and the natural world. Recently we tried to rescue one of our favorite bird friends, and we made this tribute for him:
And finally, I have a project of my own that I hope I can get off the ground in the next couple of months, but I’m not quite ready to share it yet. However, I did open an Instagram account that will be dedicated to our homeschool journey. So if you’d like to follow me there, here’s the link. (I haven’t posted much on it yet.)
I love our projects not only because they are personally fulfilling but because they are putting good things into this world. We need more of that, and I wish everyone made it their goal to put beauty and love into the world. I’m glad my boys are learning the importance of that.
I hope you have a beautiful spring. Please tell me what you’ve been up to in your homeschool.
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.
When Stacey O’Brien was introduced to a little barn owl chick that had nerve damage in his wing, making it impossible for him to return to the wild, she knew she was meant to become his caretaker.
Wesley the Owl is a heartwarming memoir that I believe both mature teens or adults could enjoy. Stacey takes you on a journey as she raises Wesley from a three-day-old chick. She keeps him until the end of his life, which at 19 years is much longer than the average lifespan of a wild barn owl.
Her trials and tribulations with Wesley are not much different from parents raising human children except that when Wesley comes of age, he doesn’t see Stacy as his parent. He sees her as his mate. This creates some funny and embarrassing moments for Stacey, but she is able to record some remarkable data that had never before been observed with a wild or captive owl. Not only did she form a life-long bond with such a beautiful, intelligent creature, he saves her life in return and teaches her many life lessons. In her book, she passes those lessons on to us.
This book touched me to my core, and I highly recommend it. I am saving it for my boys to read when they are in high school. It is a book in which science and the spiritual side of life come together in a beautiful and rare way.
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.
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 Birds, which 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.
Have you ever been to the Cornell Lab? Please tell me about your visit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you may remember that my eight-year-old has loved birds since he was about four-years-old. Well, we all love birds, but he’s the one that has inspired us to pay more attention to them, and birdwatching has turned into a family project.
If you’d like to see some projects he has done in the past regarding birds, you can read this and this. If you’d like to see a list of some of his favorite storybooks about birds, click here.
I have done various things to encourage his interest. Mostly, since I love birds too, I pay attention to them, and this keeps my son paying attention to them. We used to sketch birds a lot, but he’s lost interest in drawing this past year (sigh). I ask him periodically if there’s something he’d like to do regarding birds, but for the past couple of years, he’s mostly wanted to read a page or two in a bird guide during his lessons.
There are things I’m tempted to do to make a big project out of this, but I’ve realized it’s best to let his interest unfold on its own, especially since my son can be quite stubborn and balk at any of my suggestions. And I know other projects will happen as he gets older and capable of doing more complicated things.
However, recently he asked me to read some other bird books to him — books that are a little more complicated than the descriptive entries of field guides. They explain bird anatomy, how they fly, and their behaviors and habits. I’m very excited about this because I’ve been wanting to read these books to him for so long! But it took him to decide when we should read them. Whenever I suggested them in the past, he wasn’t interested. I think perhaps he wasn’t old enough to understand them.
If you are trying to encourage a budding interest in your child, I suggest you let your child take the lead. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t buy those books or do some research on what your child could do. My husband and I both keep in mind ideas to keep our bird-loving boy happy, and we’re looking into a few things we might be able to do as a family in the future.
One of our “bird highlights” of the year was when the eight-year-old and I were doing lessons one afternoon at his desk, which is positioned in front of a window overlooking our front yard. I was looking out the window when suddenly two ducks flew into the trees! And they weren’t just any ducks — they were a male and female wood duck. My eight-year-old has been wanting to see wood ducks in the wild for a long time! So we were shocked and delighted. We’ve never seen ducks in our yard before and don’t live near a large water source.
I called my eldest son and husband, and we all stood and watched the wood ducks while they stayed in our trees, checking out a cavity for a possible nest site. They stayed at least thirty minutes before the squirrels who were living in that tree cavity ran them off. It was an experience we will never forget!
A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. ~ Chinese proverb
In past years, I wrote a lot of posts with examples of project-based homeschooling in our home, mostly because my eldest son was always making things. This year I have written only two! This is because both boys have been pretty singular in their interests lately. My seven-year-old, while he still loves dinosaurs, and he loves playing digital games more than anything in the world (and I know I should write a post about that), has had one on-going interest since he was what? Four? Five maybe? I’m not sure, but it’s been a long time. I wrote about his interest in birds and several projects he did a year ago in Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers.
But this year, I have less tangible projects to write about, and that’s okay. Sometimes PBH isn’t about making things. Sometimes, it’s about playing make-believe or talking about an interest. Sometimes the doing may not seem educational in the traditional sense. Sometimes it’s a small observation here, or a short burst of activity there. Sometimes it’s simply loving something and enjoying its presence. But there does seem to be a slow progression toward a deeper understanding of the subject.
This is what my son’s love of birds looks like this year:
His constant companion is Chick, an Audubon black-capped chickadee made by Wild Republic. Chick is carried around the house, slept with, and travels with us in the car. The only time he’s not within reach of the seven-year-old is when he’s lost (3~4 times so far), but eventually he’s found and restored to his owner. This bird is so well-loved that the sound it made died a few months ago, and it’s been washed and sewed up twice. We tried buying another chickadee, but Wild Republic has changed their products, so the new chickadee looks different, and the sound died almost immediately! (Not an experience we usually have with these quality toys.)
We’ve been lucky to see some new birds in the wild this year, and it’s always exciting to come across them in our travels, on our hikes, or in our yards. Both my boys are very adept at using the iBird app on the iPad to look up information about the birds, and my seven-year-old will sometimes sit down and look at this app for a long time by himself.
But as the facilitator of my boys’ educations, I do keep an eye and ear open for opportunities to support them, if they have an idea to do something. Or, if a special opportunity comes up, I pounce on that too. This happened twice lately.
When we visited Chicago in September, we went to the Field Museum. (We never not go to the Field Museum when we are in Chicago.) I remembered their fabulous Hall of Birds, so I told my husband we had to make a point of going there again because the seven-year-old was too little on prior trips to remember it. So we went there first thing, and we all had such a wonderful time looking at the birds.
When you have a little person in your family who loves birds, everyone suddenly loves birds. Then again, who doesn’t love birds?
Later during the trip, we encountered some fabulous birds on our walk through the Chicago Botanic Garden. Most of these we had seen before, but we never had such long looks at them before. We saw Mallard ducks, Canadian geese, goldfinches eating the seeds from large sunflowers, and most exciting of all…the black-capped chickadee!
Note: The black-capped chickadee does not live in Georgia. The Carolina chickadee lives here. However, when I looked up the difference, I found out that they look exactly the same. The difference is in their songs and the ranges they live in.
While we were walking around the botanical garden, the seven-year-old said to me, “We should read more about birds.” This excited me very much because so far, he hasn’t wanted to read much about them. I promptly reminded him that the storybooks I bought him for his birthday all featured birds, and in the back of those books, they had bird facts we could read about…..
***INSERT LOUD BUZZER***
Ahem. That was an example of me taking over my son’s project. This is not recommended in project-based homeschooling. And what did it do?
My son shut down. He said, “No! Never MIND.” And he wouldn’t talk about it again.
***Insert me shuffling away with my tail between my legs.***
What should I have said? I should have said, “Okay. What do you want to read?” And left it at that.
But I did redeem myself. Later at home, when we were getting back into our routine of doing lessons every morning, I said to my son, “You mentioned that you would like to read more about birds. Would you like to do that during lesson time?” I received an emphatic “Yes!” Then I asked, “What do you want to read?” At that, my son went and got a little, old bird guide that my dad had given to him. He was very clear that we would read the entries for one or two birds each day….birds he would pick out randomly. Then we’d move on to another, similar book.
This makes sense to me. At seven-years-old, my son isn’t ready to understand lengthy science texts about birds, but these short little descriptive paragraphs are perfect. He picked out what he’s ready for. So that’s what we’re doing, and even though it takes only five minutes, it’s a very exciting step in this long-term interest.