Monday, June 30, 2008

Channel Islands National Park

How can you live in a state your whole entire life and not know about a fascinating, secluded, national park right at your doorstep? Off the coast of California is the least visited national park in the United States, Channel Islands National Park.

We were trying to think of something new and interesting to do during our few days we had down the coast and this came up and we decided to take a chance and go out to the islands. We caught this boat in Ventura, California early in the morning.

As we started out of the harbor, we saw this whole flock of pelicans sitting on the rocks of the jetty. If you have never seen a pelican close up....they are huge and wonderful to watch as they fly.

We chose to go to the largest of the Channel Islands to do some day hiking. Santa Cruz Island is about an hour's trip by boat from the coast.

As we cruised out to the island, we were happy to learn that a park naturalist was on board and would be giving a talk once we got to the island. The naturalist came around and introduced himself to our family and I told him that we were taking the trip to the island as a way to build interest in marine biology since we were going to be studying it this school year. He was so thrilled to have interested listeners and he gave us his special whale lecture as we rode along on the boat. He knew his whales and we were interested to know that we could actually see whales during their migration from the island at certain times of the year. (I see another "field trip" later in the year.)

Once on the island I realized that it was a wildflower paradise. Check out the size of these morning glories, unique to the islands.

How about this beauty of a flower....I haven't identified it yet.

And this is the remnants of a wild cucumber. See the seed inside?

We hiked about five miles from one part of the island to another. We started at Scorpion Ranch and then went to Scorpion Point and then went over to Potato Harbor.

Look at the color of that water and I wish you could have audio from this place. We could hear sea lions barking from the rocks at the entrance to the harbor.

There were many sea birds but the one bird that I never got tired of seeing was the raven. Their flight is so graceful and lovely to watch. Here is one raven that actually stayed in my camera's line of vision long enough to get captured.

Back at the cove on the dock where we waited for the boat to pick us up at the end of the afternoon, we were interested in watching the kelp as it swayed in the water. It was truly like an underwater ballet.

You can also see if you look closely in this photo, purple sea urchins under the water....lots of them.

Then at just as the boat was due to pick us up, this sea lion came to give us a show.

This was a fantastic place for nature study and you can camp on the island...a little primitive but Santa Cruz Island has potable water. I highly recommend a visit to the Channel Islands National Park if you are ever in California.

We are going to go back and spend a few days sometime in the next year. I would love to go whale watching and sea kayaking.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, June 29, 2008

First Sunflower Blooming For the Year

I was surprised to find this sunflower starting to bloom today. It just burst open with this beautiful, bright yellow blossom. The textures are unbelievable. This particular sunflower was not one that I planted but it decided to sprout up near the birdfeeder, I'm assuming from spilled seed.

Sometimes we cannot plan for the little joys in life, they come to us.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Raccoon Visitor

Amanda caught this raccoon on our deck a few nights ago. She said he was sitting in the doorway watching them in the house. We knew this creature had been around the backyard for a long time but this was the first time the raccoon showed itself.

There is a section in the Handbook of Nature Study on raccoons starting on page 247.

"None other of our little brothers of the forest has such a mischievous countenance as the coon. The black patch across the face and surrounding the eyes like large goggles, and the black line extending from the long, inquisitive nose directly up the forehead give the coon's face an anxious expression; and the keenness of the big, beady, black eyes and the alert, "sassy" looking, broadly triangular ears, convince one that the anxiety depicted in the face is anxiety lest something that should not be done be left undone..."
Handbook of Nature Study, page 248

We have seen the little muddy footprints where he washes his food in our watering can. We hear him rustling in the bushes under our bedroom window at night. I have heard him chatter as he crosses the yard in the dark. Now we know exactly what creature is roaming our yard at night while we sleep, or at least one of them. :)

I just don't want to see him in our doorway or inside the house any time soon.

Great job taking the photo Amanda.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Friday, June 27, 2008

Outdoor Hour Challenge #20 Summer Tree Study

“Besides appreciating the world, observing nature develops other mental powers-ability to focus, to tell things apart, to patiently seek answers. These things are useful in every facet of life.”
Charlotte Mason in Modern English, volume 1 page 61
With each new season we learn more about the natural world and the wonderful cycles we find in it. The seasons are a way to measure time and to learn to understand the subtle changes we find in the plants and animals that live close to home. (Gen. 1:14) We started a year-long tree study nine challenges ago and it should be a good time to make our next seasonal observation.
“And what about those six trees that the children were watching since winter? Now children will see that they also flower, although those flowers may be as green as the leaves. …This is old news to grown-ups, but a good teacher will present all knowledge as new and exciting by imagining himself in the place of the child and being amazed with him.”
Charlotte Mason in Modern English, volume 1 page 53
Your tree should have leaves for this season's observation and if you were not able to identify your tree before, this should help you do so at this time. If you are just starting your year-long tree study, consult the Handbook of Nature Study’s table of contents for trees and see if you can find a tree that you have close by your home. Turn to the corresponding section and it will give you lots of ideas for learning about your tree. You are not limited to the trees covered in the Handbook of Nature Study but if you choose a tree not listed, you will need to find your information either at your local library or on the internet.

Outdoor Challenge #20 Seasonal Tree Observation-Summer

1. We started a tree study project way back in challenge #11 and make our first observations of our tree. If you would like to review this section in the Handbook of Nature Study, you will find it on pages 622-626. This week the challenge includes making the next seasonal observation of your tree. If your first observation was in spring, you are now into summer and your tree should look a little different. If you are just joining the challenges, pick a tree from your yard, your street, or a near-by park to observe over the course of the next year. Check in the Handbook of Nature Study to see if your tree is listed there and then do the reading about that particular tree. There should be some suggestions for observations that you can follow. You can use the prepared seasonal tree study page to record your observations.

2. Take your 10-15 minute outdoor time to study the tree you are going to observe over the next year. You can take photos of your tree to put in your nature journal or you can sketch the tree in your journal. If you need help with tree sketching you can use this resource.
Clare Walkers Leslie's Guide to Sketching Trees

3. If you have additional time this week, you could complete another small square activity from Challenge #9.

4. After your outdoor time, complete your Seasonal Tree Study notebook page sheet or record your tree observations in your nature journal. Take a few minutes to talk about your time outdoors to see if there is anything that your child wants to learn more about. Follow up any interest shown.

Mini-Challenge #20 Year-Long Tree Study
This challenge can be done with or without the Seasonal Tree Study notebook page. If you have limited time or are trying to combine challenges, pick your tree and make a few short observations. Spend the balance of your time reading about your tree so that during the next season you can review what you have already learned and compare your observations from season to season.

 OHC Blog Carnival
Post an entry on your blog sharing your experiences. You can link up by clicking the carnival button or you can send them directly to me:

You can purchase all of the first ten challenges in a convenient ebook along with custom notebook pages.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our Bean Germination Results and Garden Update

Outdoor Hour Challenge #19-Germination

Here are our beans after germination. You can see the roots clearly and the stem and then the first leaves at the very top.

Another shot where you can see all the parts.

Here you can see the roots clearly and the plant trying to reach up out of the bag.

This was so easy and very rewarding. I hope everyone tries it at some time during their nature study.

Now for our garden report.

More tomatoes growing a bush.

Pumpkins starting to really put on the leaves.

Green bean blossoms.

Bean vines growing into the walnut tree....which is loaded with nuts (or seeds).

Pretty daylilies starting to bloom all over the yard. First a pink one.

Now a dark red and yellow one.

And finally my roses and sunflowers.

That's my garden update for this week. There are so many interesting things going on around the yard that it is taking me a long time to make my rounds in the mornings. This is what makes a gardener's heart happy.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival-New Edition

Here is the link to the latest edition of the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival posted on Makita's blog, Twinkling Stars Family School.

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival

There are quite a few entries in the nature section that you may be interested in reading.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, June 23, 2008

California Coast

So many times people have a certain vision of what it looks like to live in California. They envision the streets of Hollywood or the hills of San Francisco. I live in a totally different environment up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Every now and then we get the itch for a little beach time.

The advantage of living where I do is that I can travel in a matter of hours to just about any type of habitat there is except for maybe tropical rainforest. :)

We spent the day on the central California coast driving along the coast and then spent some time on the beach. Sometimes the beaches here are sandy and this one has a coarse sort of sand.

My boys enjoy building with this sand and even though the structures don't last very long, they still enjoy the process.

The one thing that I have noticed about California beaches is that they are always littered with seaweed. I am not a big fan of swimming with seaweed.

I am always interested to see what washes up in the surf and Sunny shares so many cool things that she finds on her Florida beach. Our "finds" of the day included a ten dollar bill and this big piece of green glass.

Lots of sun and fun and relaxation was had by all.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gardening in June

Just some photos from the garden this morning. The hummingbirds are out and chasing each other.....I keep telling them there is enough for everyone. The garden is growing quickly with the heat we are having this week.

Summer must be here.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Friday, June 20, 2008

Nature Study and Environmentalism

Many times I receive comments on this blog that I do not publish. It is amazing how many people feel the need to criticize my personal thoughts about nature and being a mother. I don't know why they bother to read my blog if they feel so angry about the encouragement to families to spend more time outdoors.

One recent commenter felt that even doing things like picking berries and building forts was abusing nature. Yes, you heard me, he felt berry picking apparently is one way that humans "exploit" nature. I had to scratch my head at that one.

One commenter felt that it doesn't matter how much we expose our children to nature at a young age, some will grow up to be "developers of land" and actually want to build a house out of wood no matter what. That is weird logic to me but I guess we all are welcome to have our own opinion. I personally live in a house made from wood but I truly have a great appreciation and respect for the natural world, trees included. Owning a house made from wood does not make me anti-nature. (Isaiah 65:21)

I approach the whole idea with a different point of view. My experience has been that the more we connect our children and ourselves with nature outside our own doors, the more chance there is that they will develop a love for God's creation. My point in spending our time each week outdoors is not to make my children into environmentalists; it is to bring them to a better understanding of the Creator, the world they live in and to provide opportunities for them to learn how to be more confident and skilled in being outdoors.

In real life, I am the most eco-friendly person you can imagine. We hung up our water skis for kayaks and a canoe. We ride our bikes and walk whenever possible. Most vacations are to national parks where we camp and hike and take photos. I recycle *everything* and use thrift shops and garage sales and ebay whenever possible. I hang my laundry outside to dry whenever possible. We no longer use paper napkins or paper bags. I pack my husband's lunch each day in reusable containers. We use the library and don't subscribe to a newspaper. My car is just about ten years old. I have read The Green Book and have implemented lots of the suggestions that I had never heard of trying before. You get the idea. :)

So this post is sort of a response to those that are taking shots at my "get out into nature" approach to helping homeschooling families. I don't dispute that there are things we all could do to have less impact on the environment. But I also know that the key to making this situation better is to keep on adventuring into the woods, hills, oceans, deserts, gardens, parks, and our own backyards as much as we can with our children. The more we get to know what is around us and under our noses, the more likely we are to develop a respect and awe for it.

Feel free to comment as much as you wish but if you are just going to criticize and not explain your solutions, please know I will not publish your comments. The focus of this blog is to share our family's experiences in nature study using the Handbook of Nature Study. If I encourage others along the way to start down the path with their own families using the Outdoor Hour and any other means of nature study, I have been successful. This was meant to be a positive experience for all who are involved. Debating methods is not constructive.

Thank you to everyone else that leaves notes and ideas that are constructive and upbuilding. I truly appreciate your time and energy and positive words.

It's summer! Get outdoors a little each day!

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Mammals in the Twilight

Last light just about sunset I was in the backyard puttering around. I love to go out at that time of the day and enjoy the cool air and the stillness. Walking back up to the house I realized that my friendly neighborhood skunk was standing right in front of me. He isn't very big, about the size of a large house cat. He has a very distinct tail that is actually quite lovely as long as it is pointing away from you. :)

He saw me coming and ran under the deck and I ran up the back stairs.

I called to my husband to tell him that the skunk was in the yard and asked if our cats were inside. One cat was in and one cat was out so I stepped back onto the deck to call Cocoa. She usually comes when I call her at bedtime but there was no sight of her.

My husband joined me on the deck and we stood for a minute looking out over the backyard waiting for the cat to decide to join us. As we stood there, we saw something amazing and new to our yard. We knew right away it was a fox! I think it was this kind: Red Fox.

"The red fox is so clever that it has been able, in many parts of our country, to maintain itself despite dogs and men."
Handbook of Nature Study, page 253

There is a whole section on red foxes in the HNS starting on page 251. I am going to read it today and see what I can learn about this creature. The skunk has a section in the Handbook starting on page 245.

We really do live in a fantastic spot for wildlife. We seem to have all sorts of creatures right under our noses and never realize it until we slow down and really look for them. I don't know if I really want a fox in my yard every night but last night I felt so blessed by his appearance.

We sat on the deck late into the evening discussing the events we had just experienced. The familiar skunk and the rare fox had touched both of us; the variety of life we have all around us was remarkable. Shortly after seeing the fox, the bats began circling around the yard having their evening meal.

Skunk, fox, bat, and then the curious cat all kept us company.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Outdoor Hour Challenge #19 Seeds and Germination

“Leigh Hunt said to imagine what if we had never seen flowers, and they were sent to us as a reward for our goodness. Imagine how carefully we’d watch the growth of the stem and every unfolding of each leaf in wonder. And then imagine our astonishment when a bud appeared, and began to unfold in all its delicate, colorful beauty. Well, we have been seeing flowers for years-but our children haven’t.”
Charlotte Mason volume 1, page 53
Before we finish up our eight week study of garden flowers, I wanted to do a little experiment that every child should do at least once their lifetime. Germinating seeds and watching the progress is something that will fascinate some children, not all but some. I encourage you to give it a try along with finishing up your garden flower journal entries with your lists of flowers observed, drawings of some garden flowers, and emptying out your flower press and putting them into your journal.

Please Note: The next two challenges (numbers 20 and 21) are basic nature study challenges and then we are onto a quick focus study of insects for the summer starting in challenge number 22.

I will be posting the photo of the week over the weekend....I'm waiting to hear back from the participant for permission to post the photo. :)

Outdoor Hour Challenge #19 Seed Germination

1. This week take a few minutes to go over the mechanics of seed germination. On pages 458-459 of the Handbook of Nature Study you will find a short explanation of how a seed really just holds a little plant struggling to get out.

Try this activity in addition to your Outdoor Hour time this week:
The Germinator

2. Take your 10-15 minute outdoor time in your garden, yard, or a near-by park. Look to see if you can find any seeds. Remember that cones and acorns are seeds and that beans are actually seed pods. You can also look in any fruits that you eat this week for seeds like an apple, orange, grapes, or strawberries. Nuts are actually seeds too so if you eat almonds or walnuts or anything similar you can talk about seeds.

3. Add any new garden flowers to your list in your nature journal.

4. You can encourage your child to sketch some seeds in their nature journals. Or they can draw the progress of their seed germination experiment for their journals if they wish. Record your flower seeds’ growth (from challenge 12) and/or record your sunflower’s growth (challenge #16) for the week.

5. Post an entry on your blog sharing your experiences and then come back to the Outdoor Hour Challenge post and add your blog link to Mr. Linky.

Garden Flowers Cover

This challenge is part of my Garden Flowers ebook. This ebook has ten garden related challenges that will walk you through a study of garden flowers using the Handbook of Nature Study. In addition to the challenges already written, there will be more photos, nature journal examples, book lists, and totally new notebook pages designed to go with each of the Garden Flower Challenges.
Follow the link below to view the ebook! Over 50 pages for $6.95

Please note: Mr. Linky is for linking to your Outdoor Hour Challenge blog post only. Please do not link to your blog in general because then when others want to read your challenge post, they have to dig around in your blog to find it.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nature Journal Sidebar Links Fixed

I think I have all the nature journal sidebar links fixed now. If you find something that doesn't work, please email me. I also found some more to add so you might want to check down the list to see if anything interests you.

Thanks so much for everyone's help and support.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Learn What is Closest to Home

This post is long but very valuable. Please bear with me while I pull some loose threads together and try to express them to you.

In the book Last Child in the Woods, the author makes the point several times that today's science textbooks and programs are missing the mark. Many, many young students know more about the tropical rainforests and volcanoes of the world than they know about their own backyards.
bulbs all in a row
Is there a better way to introduce our children to the world of science? Yes, but it may mean we have to get out and get dirty. We will need to spend time outdoors *with* our children and look at things through their eyes. It may mean that teaching science doesn't follow a straight path or a certain scope and sequence. It changes science or nature study into more of a way of life rather than a school subject to be checked off your "to do" list each week.

Here's a selection of quotes from one of my favorite sections in Last Child in the Woods:

"Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries."

"For some young people, nature is so abstract-the ozone layer, a faraway rain forest-that it exists beyond the senses."

And the best of all from this section:
"For a whole generation of kids, direct experiences in the backyard, in the tool shed, in the fields and woods, has been replaced by indirect learning, through machines. These young people are smart, they grew up with computers, they were supposed to be superior-but now we know that something's missing."

If you have read any of Charlotte Mason's writings, she tells us what is missing from most of our young people's educations. Charlotte Mason advocated the sort of science learning that Richard Louv encourages in this education where children are exposed to and encouraged to be out in nature. With her emphasis in the early years on nature study, Charlotte Mason is showing us how to make science meaningful to our children. It will not be some abstract idea or have a political agenda. Science really is as simple as the plan put before us by Charlotte Mason. We are the ones that make it complicated.

In studying nature close to home, our children will learn to observe, to write about their experiences, to draw their treasures, to be patient, to imagine, and to explore. You don't need a special textbook or kit to get started.
A nature walk can stimulate our children's senses and their inborn desire to ask questions. One bird, one tree, one wildflower or garden flower at a time, our children will learn about their own world and neighborhood. Whether your "outdoors" is a park, a few square feet of dirt, or an acre of forest, every child has the opportunity to be exposed to some kind of natural environment. If you live in a high-rise apartment or the weather is too bitter or too hot to be outside, bring nature to you in the form of a potted plant, a fish tank, or a collection of natural objects brought in from your time spent outdoors. (Check out my daughter's table-top garden post on her blog at HeartsandTrees.)

Anna Botsford Comstock in her book Handbook of Nature Study puts her thoughts this way, "Nature study is for the comprehension of the individual life of the bird, insect, or plant that is nearest at hand."

My eyes are wide open at all times to find ways to bring nature closer to our family. As Christians we want to appreciate the world that God made for us to live in. We want to be able to understand him better by learning about all that he created.

I will finish here with the promise to write more specifics next time.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lavender Days with Bumblebees

Today was lavender cutting day. Our lavender plants were over taking our front steps and walkway so I took out the scissors and gave it a trim. It was early and when I started there were no bees collecting pollen. By the time I finished, they were happily buzzing all around me.

The are really big dark bees with fuzzy yellow spots on them.

They don't stay still very long but I was able to get a few photos.

This one was more fuzzy yellow than the rest but just as busy and fast.

The Handbook of Nature Study, pages 389-391
"The bumblebees are the chief pollen carriers for most of our wild flowers as well as for the clovers and other farm plants. They should, therefore, be kindly treated everywhere; and we should be careful not to hurt the big queen bumblebee, which we see often in May."
The HNS on page 391 under observations (number 2) says to catch a bumblebee in a jar to observe it. I may try this. This was a perfect supplement to our study of pollinators.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom