Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Unit Study Adventures ~ Ways to Liven Up Winter at YOUR House - Part 1

Happy Winter! Can you believe we are about to begin winter in just a few days?! I can't keep track of where the time goes, but I know that the kids are growing taller and it is cold outside so we must not be standing still in time. As we move into winter, the winter doldrums begin and symptoms of cabin fever appear. Like many families, we tend to read more, work on home and craft projects, and of course, our learning continues full speed ahead. I thought you might enjoy a few suggestions to help you with your family's studies, as well as enjoying the season.

First, remember the saying "bloom where you are planted" -- perfect for being cooped up inside and looking forward to the coming of spring. The seed catalogs will begin arriving next month, and I hope you are going to be receiving some of them. They are wonderful planning tools, bringing a reminder that the bad weather will end soon, and that a whole new season of fun and growing is about to begin. Start preparing for a fun study of gardening. Let each family member choose a vegetable and flower that they would like to grow, and have the children start listing the choices.

Bundle everyone up and send them out with a tape measure to choose a site and size for their future garden. As they choose their site, remind them that the amount of sun that the garden location receives is important, as well as close location to a water resource (or a good long hose!). Once the site and size are determined, have the children draw a plan for the garden, using graph paper to keep the sketch simple and accurate. Don't forget to order the new Garden Unit Study (on CDROM or in downloadable format) to get ready for spring, learning and having fun while it snows outside!

After sketching the outline of the garden, use seed and garden sites on the Internet to order seed catalogs, read articles about planning the garden, and ask questions of gardening experts. If you don't have or want an outside in-the-ground garden, consider doing this same kind of effort with above-ground garden containers, like barrel halves or large buckets that have drain holes. It’s also fun to have an indoor kitchen window-sill garden – that’s where I have grown herbs in the past.

When the seed selection process begins, either online or through the seed catalogs, have the children note the days to produce fruit, as well as the best time to plant that seed for your geographical area. Then, if you have time, plan on starting the seeds inside, in a sunny spot in your house. This can be a great learning experience, even with snow on the ground. We've learned so much just through starting seeds in plastic bags with damp paper towels, watching the roots grow and the seedling develop.

This jump-start on your family's garden will help bring some bright and fun times into the slump of winter. Also, keep an eye out for the small bulb gardens available at your local discount department store this time of year for forcing bulbs in the midst of winter. This can provide some winter color and excitement as you all wait for the first signs of growth, and then for the flowers themselves.

I've also recently discovered a fascinating book about the man that really opened our eyes to the structure of snowflakes -- William Bentley. The book that I refer to is:

Snowflake Bentley, written by Jacqueline B. Martin, and illustrated by Mary Azarian. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

This book is a biography of his life and fascination with nature and snow, from childhood through adulthood. It is a picture book for all ages, to be enjoyed by all. The book is very interesting, laying out the interests of William Bentley, how his family supported his interests, along with the point that his mother was his teacher until he was fourteen years old. Imagine! When talking about this, the author includes the quote: "She had a set of encyclopedias," Willie said. "I read them all." Through his efforts, he discovered that most snowflakes have six branches, and that each one was a unique "masterpiece of design." This book, along with the book that he wrote and filled with his photographs of snowflakes, Snow Crystals, are all that you need to enjoy a study of snow, as well as perseverance.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this article – see you next week on the Company Porch!

Amanda B.

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