Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Monthly Newsletter: "The Little Green Corner"

I first started this blog, A Child's Garden, to chronicle the nature study activities of my family as we ventured into the new arena of homeschooling about two years ago.  It has been a fun activity for us, to consider what parts of our little day might be fun for others to see, to converse with our youngest son about what parts of his day he found most interesting, and to decide, as a group, what makes learning the most fun.

One thing that I have discovered, in these past couple of years, is that not only homeschoolers, but classroom teachers, as well, have been following this blog, looking for ways to get more nature study and science integrated into their already-packed, high-stakes day.

For this reason, I have decided to create "The Little Green Corner," a newsletter companion to this blog, which will be available the first of each month, via this blog, and my business blog, "Tip of the Month" 

Here is a little background history of where I got the name for the newsletter:

I began my teaching career in Columbus, Ohio, 30 years ago, teaching three distinct groups of students:

  • I taught at the university level, instructing students at the Ohio State University in basic plant science classes (plant identification, plant propagation, basic botany). Many of my students in these classes were country kids, who took days off from class to plant soybeans.
  • I also taught classes at a regional vocational agriculture program. Some kids there were from the city, some were from the country. Many had families who owned farms, nurseries or garden centers, and were familiar with country living.
  • I had the opportunity to be a visiting teacher in a number of schools right in the city. All of the students in these schools were from urban areas. Their schools were in the heart of Columbus, and were surrounded by blacktop. My kids in these schools, when reading a story set at the seaside, imagined the water park at King's Island, because it was the closest they had ever been to the ocean.

Fast forward about 20 years, to Connecticut, where my teaching career took me full circle. Once, again, I had three groups of students, much like I had 20 years before, in Ohio:

  • I taught  at the university level, instructing 2-year vocational agriculture classes at The University of Connecticut. Most of my students already worked in the agriculture industry, and were attending classes to pass their state certification exams, get a raise or promotion at work, or to start their own business.
  • My second group of students was a preschool class in the country. The town was situated in a rural area, and we were surrounded by ponds, woods and meadows for the students to explore daily.
  • I had the pleasure of teaching third grade for seven years in one of Connecticut's urban districts. Our school was in the country, but my students were from the city. Here, I first began intentionally planning for nature walks, outdoor observations and inside nature opportunities, to build my kids' background knowledge in science and the natural world, and engage them in inquiry about the world around them. As part of this effort, I created a nature table in my classroom, which became an on-going learning center -- my "little green corner" of the classroom. It was always full of interesting rock collections, bug cages, magnifying glasses and other fun things.

What I've learned from all these experiences is that there is something about the out-of-doors that we can take for granted  when we live in the country or suburbs. I can remember the wonder in my students' eyes when the first snowflakes began to fall -- many of them came from lands where they only had seen snow on television, and didn't have wide-open spaces to sled in, where they lived. As you can imagine, spelling and fractions were put to one side, so we could go outside and make snowmen and melt snowflakes on our tongues. What part of the lessons do you think engaged the students the most?

I have worked with teachers from all settings, rural, suburban and urban, in recent years, and have heard the challenges they have in fitting science instruction into a day full of reading, writing and math. The pressures of high-stakes testing have pushed science (and social studies, for that matter) to the edges of the day, or, in many cases, right out of the schedule, entirely. Yet teachers know that these are the very topics which get kids of all ages (and their teachers!) excited about school.

Why wouldn't the 15-minute nature studies advocated by Anna Botsford Comstock in Handbook of Nature Study work for the classroom, too? Can't classroom teachers use the same principles to engage students, incorporate rich content and teach deep thinking processes in children?

A Child's Garden presents...

The Little Green Corner

In the premier issue of The Little Green Corner (Sept 2011), you will find the following features:

  • Strategy of the Month: Using Your Senses
  • September Nature Study Ideas: Ants, Mushrooms, Moonwatching and Migration
  • September Specials and Links
  • For Your Library: The One Small Square Series, by Donald Silver
  • Skill of the Month: Observation
  • Organizer of the Month: The Bubble Map
  • Thematic Learning Centers Ideas

Each newsletter edition, which will be published on this blog on the first of each month, will contain these features, links to downloadable resources, and links to online resources for lesson planning.  These newsletters will be followed up by individual posts on the nature study ideas, for those who would like more details on how to study that topic and connect it to other content areas.

The newsletter can be downloaded and printed, or viewed online (when viewed online, you will be able to follow the many hyperlinks to other documents, web activities and printables).

Please let me know how you used the nature study ideas in your homeschool or classroom. Use the ideas in the newsletter and blog, or find your own topics. Then make sure that you share the link to your blog or website in Mr. Linky on my blog page, as well as The Little Green Corner Blog Carnival, so others can see.

Coming on September 9, 2011: The Ants Go Marching...