Nature Watch: Canada Geese

One other Nature Watch from our day at Smithgall Woods State Park.

They wouldn’t let us get too close, but you can imagine our delight when we happened upon these beautiful Canada Geese swimming in a boggy area at the park.

As you may know if you read my blog, my six-year-old loves birds, but he doesn’t always like to go hiking or even outdoors. (Sigh.) It’s at these rare sightings that I get to tell him, “See?! You never would have seen those Canada geese, if we hadn’t gone hiking and exploring!”😉

What happy nature discovery have you made recently?

Nature Watch: Black Rat Snake

A month or so ago, we visited Smithgall Woods State Park, and while we were walking back to the parking lot, we came across this beautiful, medium-sized black rat snake. Black rat snakes are the most common snake in Georgia, so we’ve seen a few of them.

Snakes were my eldest son’s first love. When he was about four-years-old, he learned a lot about them by attending the knee-high naturalist program at the local nature center, and later I bought him a poster of Georgia snakes, which still hangs in his room. We started making a book about snakes too. Even though he’s decided he does not want to study snakes when he grows up anymore, he still loves snakes, and his younger brother thinks they are pretty cool too.

By studying snakes with my son, I learned quite a bit about them, and I know which ones are venomous and which ones are not. Black rat snakes are harmless, but, of course, any snake can bite, if you bother them, so you need to be respectful of them.

Snakes are very beneficial to the environment especially in that they help keep the rodent population in check, so you never want to harm one, if you find one. You might remember that many years ago, we watched a black rat snake eat a squirrel in our backyard, and I caught it on film! (So consider yourself warned, if you click on that link!)

My family has a deep appreciation for snakes, so finding this one was quite a treat!

Summer Day Camps

One morning late in the week I brought my laptop to the garden to get some writing done. I snapped this photo when the kids walked by. My eldest son is in the center, in the red shirt.

Last week my boys participated in a summer day camp at the botanical garden! It was so much fun!

My eldest son has participated in local summer and winter day camps since he was five-years-old. Last year, my six-year-old was five and could finally enroll in one of the summer camps at the botanical garden, which was a week-long half-day camp. He was very nervous about it,  but he ended up loving it. Then he got to attend the three-day spring camp there with his brother this year too.

When my eldest son was five, there were several mini-camps available at the nature center, and I’m sad those don’t seem to be available anymore. He participated in a lot of those, and I feel a little bad that my younger son doesn’t get to participate in as many programs as his older brother did, but I guess it all evens out when you consider all the extra things he does get to do because he has an older brother, and his older brother didn’t have those opportunities.

Getting ready to leave for camp in the a.m.

I think camps are especially useful for homeschoolers because the kids get to interact with regular school kids. There are tons of different summer day camps. Whatever your child is interested in, there is probably a camp for it. You just have to try them out and see what you like best.

My son is a big nature boy, so we tried a week-long camp at the nature center two years ago (which they still offer), but it was not a good fit after all. My son didn’t like it and said he’d never go back. We’ve also done pottery camps (very good!) and a robotics camp (mediocre), but we love the botanical garden camps the best. Usually we let him do two camps each year, but this year we needed to save money, so we let each boy pick one camp each. They wanted to go back to the botanical garden, and they also picked the same week, which helped cut down on driving for us.

My six-year-old performed in a skit with his group at the end of the week for the parents. He’s sitting down in the orange and white striped shirt.

Even though they took the camp together, they were separated into different groups by age, which I’m glad about. Sometimes the boys can use some time away from each other!

This year’s camp was titled Forest Explorers and Early Civilizations. The kids learned about ancient cultures and how they used the forests for survival. I also love the botanical garden camps because my boys get a good dose of nature while they attend, and since the garden limits how many kids can attend, it’s not an overwhelming experience. Plus, I think the garden staff takes care of the kids better than in other programs they’ve attended.

I love the orchids and always take photos of them whenever I’m at the garden.

This was the first time I was going to have a whole week without both boys to take care of, so I was planning to get so. much. done. I was so excited. Unfortunately, I got sick right before the camp, and all I wanted after that was for both boys to stay healthy so that they could complete the camp. So I took great pains to not expose my germs to them. It paid off because they made it through the whole camp. Yay!

But I got very little done.😦 Oh well. At least I was able to rest, and I can always look forward to next year.

Nature Watch: Cope’s Tree Frog

You’ll never guess where we found this beautiful little frog!

It was in our upstairs bathroom! We have no idea how it got there. This is actually the second time we’ve found a frog inside our house. Both times, we thought perhaps our dog had brought it in and dropped it, but now I’m wondering if somehow they came up through the toilets. That’s the only pipe large enough for them to fit through, and somewhere I heard that can happen. But who knows?

He appeared quite healthy and undamaged but also a little bewildered. We caught him, put him in a little bowl with some water to hydrate him and then released him immediately in our front yard.

I was able to identify this little guy as a Cope’s Tree Frog. The inner thigh is bright yellow or orange, and if you look closely at my photo, you can see a spot of yellow under his hind leg. This frog is small and still growing. Hopefully he found his way up to the top of a tree where they like to live.

My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers

Here’s my son a week after taking the test, super proud of a fish he just caught!

This year my nine-year-old is in the third grade, and according to the law in Georgia, I’m required to have him tested every three years, starting in the 3rd grade. Fortunately, we do not have to show the results to anyone, so it seemed like a good way to assess how he’s doing. But as I started thinking about having to administer the test, and I went over a test prep book with him, I started to realize why teachers in our public schools are frustrated with all the testing going on. This was taking valuable time away from real learning!

And, frankly, I already know where he’s strong and where he’s weak. I am the closest person to him, teaching him all the fundamentals that he would be taught in traditional school. I know what he gets, and I know what he needs more work on, or what we haven’t gone over yet, and the test didn’t tell me anything new. So, it felt like a waste of our time to have to do this, but then again, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally assess how things are going, and unlike the public schools, we only have to do it every three years. I’m grateful for that!

I spent some time trying to research the different test options, and I mostly came up empty. At best, I found brief anecdotes by parents who had used a particular test and liked it or didn’t like it for whatever reason. There were no details about how to order and what testing my child would really look like, so that’s why I’m writing this post.

Because it seemed like the easiest to order and administer, I picked the Personalized Achievement Summary System (PASS test), which is produced by Hewitt Homeschooling. This test is similar to other standardized tests, but it’s made for homeschoolers so that it is easy to administer in their homes. Unfortunately, it’s not approved in every state, but the state of Georgia (and some others) has approved it, and I’m glad because it was easy to order and administer at home.

The first thing I liked about ordering the test, besides the simple online order form, was that I could pick the date I wanted the company to ship the test. So, if you’d like to get the ordering out of the way, but you know you won’t administer the test for another month or two, you can have them ship it a week before you want to use it. You have four weeks to use the test and then return it to Hewitt Homeschooling to have it scored. (You have to do this with every standardized test. You also have to pay for them in case you didn’t know that, which I didn’t know either when I started homeschooling. The PASS test was $36 for one student.)

The test has three sections in reading, language arts and math. When you get the test, you’ll need to carefully read the instructions (but they aren’t complicated) and administer a pre-test to determine what level of test to give to your child. (If you’ve used the test before, you won’t have to do this.) This is because each test booklet (reading, language arts and math) each contains all the levels, and they are numbered from approximately 1-25. (Or something like that — I don’t have the booklets anymore to refer to.) The levels DO NOT equal grade level.

The pre-test is simply 12 questions in each section. It took my son less than an hour to take the pre-test, and then I scored it, and there were instructions to tell me which level to give him for each subject. The instructions also tell you that you can read over the recommended level, and if you think it’s too hard or too easy, you can pick another level that you think is more appropriate for your child. It said a child should be able to answer at least 50%-90% of the questions correctly.

What I also like about the PASS test is that I didn’t have to time my son. He’s never taken a test before, so I really wasn’t sure how he’d feel about sitting there for a long time taking a test. But I took three days to administer the test, giving one section on each day. I let him take a 5-minute break half-way through each test. It took him about an hour to complete each section of the test. (I’m grateful he didn’t have to take all three sections on one day! Three hours would have been a long time.) But he had no problem taking the tests, especially since all it requires is shading in those little bubbles. He kept focused the whole time, and he told me he didn’t think they were too hard.

Once you’re finished, you have to return the bubble sheet with your child’s answers and another form to Hewitt Homeschooling. You need to use a cardboard mailer so that the answer sheet won’t get bent, and you’ll have to pay the postage. You sign a form stating that you will destroy the test booklets because they are under copyright law, and you should not show them to anyone else.

In a few weeks, Hewitt Homeschooling will send you your child’s scores, and not only do they give you your child’s raw score, they’ll give you a percentile of how your child did compared to other homeschoolers who took the same test, and on top of that, they’ll  give you a percentile of how your child did compared to a national standardized test. I have heard that other tests do not give you this much information, so it was helpful to see.

If you’re looking at the PASS test, I hope this was helpful to you. I’m happy to answer any other questions too.

Click here for a list of tests that Georgia homeschoolers can use.

 

Dauset Trails Nature Center

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on January 20, 2016.

If you feel like an adventure, consider a drive down to Jackson, Georgia to explore Dauset Trails Nature Center, a private, non-profit center whose mission is to provide environmental education, outdoor recreation and an understanding of early farm life. It has 1400 acres of woods, fields, creeks and lakes, and it includes live animal exihibits, gardens, hiking, biking and horseback trails. Admission is free.

We took a day over the holidays to go down and see this place that we had heard about at a local nature center event. It was well worth the effort because Dauset Trails is beautiful and peaceful, and it offers so much to see.

The animal trail reminded me a little of Bear Hollow Zoo in Athens, and my boys loved viewing the wild animals such as the bald eagle who cried out to us, owls, hawks, otters, a cougar, bear, coyotes, a bison and more. All of these animals are non-releasable, and they have been either injured or orphaned.

Dauset also has a barnyard exhibit with chickens, pigs, cows, goats, a mule and a donkey. We walked through a barn and could see the smoke house, country store, blacksmith shop and other buildings, which I believe are used for events. On the day we were there, we had the place almost to ourselves.

Below the visitor’s center is a kind of classroom/reptile house where we found live turtles, alligators and snakes. Right outside the nature center, you can sit on the porch and watch the songbirds coming and going from the feeders – we had never seen so many different birds all at once. We spied chickadees, titmice, cardinals, bluebirds and two or three woodpeckers!

Behind the visitor’s center is a small lake, and you can walk over the bridge and purchase a handful of food (bring some quarters) to feed the fish and ducks, though there were no ducks the day we were there.

After walking the animal trail, seeing the barnyard animals, and walking through some of the gardens, we were too tired to hit a hiking trail, so we hope to go back someday.

I was impressed to learn that Dauset Trails was the dream of Hampton Daughtry, a man who had played as a boy in the woods where we walked. When he grew up, he made his fortune in the textile industry, and when he returned to his home, he put much of his money into the community. He was a big supporter of the Boy Scouts and youth recreational programs.

He and his friend, David Settle, dreamed of providing a place where people could learn about and enjoy nature without disturbance. Much of the land in Dauset Trails belonged to them, and the name “Dauset” was created by combining parts of their names. Mr. Daughtry is buried on the property in the Memorial Garden.

There is no food available at the center, but there is a drink machine and picnic tables. Camping areas are available for organized groups only and require a reservation. Facility rentals are available for special events. It is open Monday-Saturday 9-5 and Sunday 12-5. (No admittance one hour before closing.) See dausettrails.com for more information.

 

Nature Watch: Southern Leopard Frog

Last May, we took a vacation to see Cloudland Canyon State Park, and while we were there, we hiked into the canyon to view two waterfalls. The first waterfall was Cherokee Falls, and it spilled into a beautiful, tranquil pool that was filled with boulders we could climb and sit on. We were delighted when we found, sitting on the rock, this beautiful Southern Leopard Frog. I was pretty impressed that my son was able to identify it right away too.

It jumped into the water when we got too close, but you can see the green stripe just below the eye.

Oh, and here’s Cherokee Falls too. It was a cool nature find too.😉