By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.
One of the many attractive features of homeschooling is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. I am writing this from our camper at Assateague Island. The children have drifted off to sleep. Granddaddy is outside looking at the stars once more on this calm, clear night.
Counting Campers and Collecting Seashells
This being only their second trip with the travel trailer, and me still being in my first month of homeschooling (highly motivated to squeeze in learning opportunities at every chance), we played a counting game during the two and a half hour drive from Annapolis to Assateague Island. We counted 65 campers in all: motor homes, travel trailers, and one pop-up. The second grader fell into a nap after a while but the fifth grader continued counting with me until we pulled into the park. Granddaddy even got into the game as he drove. Maybe we will count subcategories of campers separately on the way back, or come up with other categories of vehicles to compare. Is it obvious that I’m looking for an opportunity to make a bar graph?
As Granddaddy set up the campsite, with assistance from the fifth grade trainee, the other student and I climbed the nearby dune to embrace the ocean. Well I looked at it. The second grader, you may recall, had napped in the car and was completely recharged. Delighted squeals accompanied observations and imitations of shorebirds trying to outrun the approaching waves. A pair of lively puppies was playing the same game not too far away. We started a collection of seashells, naturally, with some casual comments (from me) that maybe we’d add to it tomorrow. In five days, could we get to 1,000? Maybe it’s too early in the school year to try to accomplish this lofty goal.
Perhaps the most unique feature of Assateague Island is the wild ponies. We saw a small band at the shore as we crossed the bridge onto the island. The children were delighted. (The fifth grader sang a few lines from the My Little Pony theme song.) I have vivid memories of seeing the ponies walking around like they own the place when my family camped here in my childhood so I am hopeful our students will get to see lots more over the next few days.
As a supplement to the first-hand lessons about the wildlife, I brought along a copy of Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. We only have a few chapters to go for the fifth grader’s bedtime reading of The Wizard of Oz so this book will be next in line. Are the ponies the lone survivors of a Spanish shipwreck? Or were they left behind by British colonists to avoid fencing laws and taxation? Daytime research on the ponies’ origins will be fueled by the children’s curiosity. We already fielded a few questions during the drive over. The park has suspended its nature programs for children during the pandemic, so we’ll rely on educational signs and the internet to find the answers we seek. Check off an American History lesson for this inquiry.
Crabs and Stars
After dinner – which the second grader and I set up like a restaurant, with a handwritten menu of options for the diners to choose from – we changed into warmer clothes for a quick walk to the beach. As I write this, I hear the waves crashing on the shore. We’re that close. From our experiences on many prior visits, my husband and I were anxious to share the after-dark phenomenon of ghost crabs with the children. These sand-colored crustaceans come out of the sand to look for food at night. They did not disappoint. Tomorrow’s loose plans include digging up the small, orange sand crabs. So much science at the beach!
We left the crabs to their foraging and turned off the flashlight to let our eyes adjust to the moonless sky. One of the early astronomy lessons I learned – probably from older children on my block – was to differentiate planets from stars. A planet reflects the sun’s light so it merely glows, while stars twinkle because they generate their own light with burning gas. Conversation buzzed among us about planets, stars, and satellites as the numerous points of light shone above.
“It’s the Big Dipper!” shouted the fifth grader, pointing up. “It’s the actual Big Dipper!”
You don’t have lessons like this in a classroom.
Dr. Wood will be Keynote Speaker and one of the workshop facilitators for parents and early childhood professionals at a one-day conference, Come Outside – Where Learning is Great! at Chesapeake Children’s Museum on Saturday, October 23.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.