Friday, November 2, 2012

Teaching My Own: Powerful Pumpkins

From the very beginning of our days as a homeschooling family, we've gone on a lot of outings. Packing up diapers, changes of clothes, and enough snacks to keep the grouchies away, my homeschooling friends and I would drive our children all over the greater Seattle area in search of fun things to do. We went to the zoo, aquarium, petting farm, science center, and children's museum over and over again. We played at parks and playgrounds and beaches and along forest trails. Seasonal activities were often in the mix - we picked berries, went swimming, visited the model Christmas train display, and toured the tulip fields.

And while all of these outings were entertaining and just plain fun, it occurred to me that our trips with rich with learning opportunities as well. I had no desire to turn our adventures into dreary lessons, but I did begin to think about ways to revisit some of the cool things we were doing and seeing, once we were back home, and talk about them in a bit more depth.

After some trial and error, I hit upon a successful strategy. My girls loved to make things, as most children do, so I started to introduce little projects that we could make at home after our outings. 

Here's an example:

After a visit to the pumpkin farm, my two older daughters and I made this model that shows the life cycle of a pumpkin. 

First comes the seed...with a nifty little pocket for a real pumpkin seed.
And then a bright yellow blossom appears along the green vine.
As the blossom fades, a tiny little green pumpkin begins to grow at its base.
It grows larger and larger, slowly changing color from green...
to orange. 
When the pumpkin reaches full size, it's time to scoop out the insides and carve eyes, nose and mouth. Our smiling jack-o'-lantern's face decorates the orange, pumpkin-shaped pouch where the whole vine can be tucked away when not in use. 

My daughters had fun making this little project with me, but honestly, it did not light them on fire. They  played with it for maybe an hour or two, and then talked about it again at dinner. We kept our creation out for a few more weeks, within eye-shot and reach of the girls, and maybe they looked at it now and then. I can't be sure.

But the next spring, my daughters saw the seed packets in the store and asked me if we could grow pumpkins. Sure, I said. As we planted the pumpkin seeds, and saw them bloom and grow from tiny little green knobs to lush orange beauties, they watched each phase unfold with perhaps more understanding and interest because of this little felt model.

This, it turns out, was my introduction to the power of hooks and spirals

A happy day's adventure, reinforced with a fun project at home, builds some strong hooks in a young person's brain, and this became a tried-and-true formula for success in our homeschooling. 

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