When Curriculum Looks Different

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People often ask what we use for curriculum.

The short answer? We use anything which will help our children learn what it is they are trying to learn. And, if it involves real life, even better.

Sometimes our curriculum looks traditional, like a math textbook.

Other times our curriculum is a stack of Living Books.

A few months ago, my middle schooler initiated a flower bed renovation project. She wanted a flower garden to call her own, a place she could eventually grow cut flowers. A few visits to the clearance section of the local garden shop and she had rescued several very nice—but wilting—flowers (aka curriculum). With a little research in a field guide and a how-to online tutorial (more curriculum), the plants were thriving.

Today we added a few more resources to the curriculum—a collection of solar garden lights. Before placing them in the bed, we experimented with them in a dark room. So fun! The littlest learners were enthralled!

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“Flashlights without batteries!” one shouted.

Curriculum incorporates all that a learner uses to learn the content of a specific subject. Though we are often tempted to stay within the means of what we know or have experienced as curriculum, in real-life the definition of curriculum broadens to include any materials used to foster a student’s understanding.

The possibilities are endless.

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Consider broadening your sense of what curriculum includes. Maybe it’s

When learning is real, relational and intentional it's remembered! 

Every. Moment. Matters.

Ant Study

Our ants arrived!

It felt like Christmas complete with shouts of hooray and looks of wonder. 

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"Look at them move!"

"How will we get them out of the tube?"

"Let's read the directions!"

Questions. Comments. Ideas. 

Just a week before the ants arrived, we found the ant farm on clearance. Thrilled, the children marveled at the box as I I reminisced about the ant farm my older children experienced years prior. In fact, I had been praying I would find an ant habitat for study.  

Ant farms make learning come alive. 

In the process of getting the habitat set up and becoming acquainted with our new little friends, science intertwined with oral reading (reading the instructions and ant information), reading comprehension (following directions), math (setting a timer to measure duration and measuring water amount), as well as an experiential lesson in patience.


Put the ants in the refrigerator for ten minutes.

 

So much learning in a tiny vial of ants. 

Ants in the fridge, we watched as the timer counted down. When 10 appeared on the screen, we all instinctively began counting down.  10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, , 3, 2, 1...

"ZERO! Get the ants!"

"Look at them! They are still."

"They must be sleeping. Time to take them out and put them in!"

Then I worked fast. (Hint: Ants wake up FAST! Be ready to move quickly.)

Once in their new home, the ants got to work. My children were enthralled. 

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The children sat, watching progress, for at least thirty minutes. As they observed, they asked questions. 

  • Is that ant dead or sleeping? 
  • What is that ant doing with the sand?
  • Why are they piling the sand at the top? 
  • Why do they crawl over one another? 
  • I wonder what they will do while we are sleeping? 
  • Did that ant die already?
  • Do we have a queen? 
  • What does a queen look like? 

Our ant study was just beginning! 


Extended ant learning study for all ages

Read a good book. Experiences help children understand written material and fuel further learning. If a child becomes interested in a topic, place books related to the interest in the home: on end tables, night stands, or book shelves. If a study pops up spontaneously, plan a visit to the library and help the learner find the section containing books about the interest. Some of the ant books we read:

   Fiction

  • One Hundred Hungry Ants, Elinor J. Pinczes
  • The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

   Non-fiction

  • Are You an Ant, Judy Allen
  • Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros
  • The Life and Times of the Ant, Charles Micucci

Observe ants in their natural habitat. Take learning outdoors. Look for ants. Spend time watching their activities. Take pictures and make your own ant study book or journal. 

Make a sketch. Sketching integrates another learning modality into the experience. In an ant study, learners can go outside and observe real ants, sketching what they see. This will likely lead to wanting to know more about ant anatomy and environments. Add your sketch to your ant study journal. 

Learn and label body parts. Watching the ants made my children curious about the ant's body. From their questions, we researched and learned ant anatomy, drawing and labeling each major part (head, thorax, abdomen) as well as the more specific parts (mandible, antennae, compound eye, legs). Enchanted Learning offers a diagram of the anatomy and ant information.Life Studies site has a page devoted to ant study. Another great addition to an ant study journal. 

Study the lifecycle. Every living creature has a lifecycle. Ants are no different. In fact, one of my children asked if there were eggs in the vial. Enchanted Learning helped us here, too. 

Take a closer look. Magnifying glasses are great tools for looking at live ants. However, the Magiscope is a great way to take an even closer look. Do so with a few dead ants. Otherwise, you may get stung or they may crawl away from the stage. 

Have an older learner, perhaps middle and high schooler? Research myrmecology and entomology. How are these branches of science related? Who are the leading scientists in these areas and what contributions did they make to the field? How did their works impact science and the general population? If opportunities are available--perhaps through a local pest control service, zoo, or college campus--consider interviewing a myrmecologist or entomologist. We discovered how one scientist is studying ants and bees

Helpful sites

Arizona State University School of Life Science, Ask a Biologist page. 

Harvard Forest

Life Studies

We bought our ants through Life Studies

Ready to learn about ants? The process can be one of the most rewarding and remembered events of childhood learning. If you decide to introduce learners to this amazing creature, tell us about your experiences, or leave helpful resources your found, in the comments. 

 

 

 

 

Porch Science

In my recent FPEA workshop, I was speaking to parents about science little learners love. In the course of our time together, I mentioned the amazing wonders we had flourishing on the front porch, most of for which I cannot take any credit. The marvels were the treasures of my children, their purchases, their discoveries, their experiments. Indeed, my learners have gathered quite a menagerie and it is fun to watch them take responsibility for their projects. 

I told attendees I give them a sneak peek of our porch projects when we returned home. 

These are the science wonders little learners love! 

Rooting project. A friend blessed my budding gardener with some clippings from her favorite plants. My daughter listened as my friend explained how she rooted her plants and how some of the plants went to seed. Clippings in hand, my learner dreamed of the garden which might spring forth from the cuttings. Expectation was rooted in intrinsic interest. Since that day, my daughter has cared for the plants, watering them every day, each day growing fonder of her project. Today we have good sized plants which are transplant ready.

Our favorite planting books:

The Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss

Tops and Bottoms, Janet Stevens

Grasshoppers. Likely you can't see them in this picture, but I promise they're there. Big eastern lubber grasshoppers, romalea microptera, find their path to our porch. Their appearance prompted curiosity and independent research. Those grasshoppers, as destructive as they can be, are incredible creatures. When we found a dead grasshopper, we placed it on the stage of our Magiscope to take a closer look. Fascinating! 

Our favorite insect and wiggly wonders books: 

Are You A Grasshopper?, Judy Allen

Ant Cities, Arthur Dorros

The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole

Flowers. The day before we left for the FPEA convention we made a clever discovery at a local garden shop--$1.00 plants! We purchased a few plants to bring beauty to our booth and now those plants have found a home on the porch until they are transplanted. In the meantime, these flowers attract butterflies and learners notice differences in petals and leaves. In addition, each day an eager little learner heads out to the porch with a spray bottle to water the flowers. Another means by which to foster responsibility. 

Our favorite books about blooms: 

The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

Planting a Rainbow, Lois Ehlert

Sprouts. Several weeks before convention my little learners were on a "grow everything you can" frenzy. We grew beans in a baggie and beans and marigolds on peat pods. A few days later, an older learner researched how to harvest snap dragon seeds which she eventually harvested from a plant she had purchased on a clearance rack. Those seeds sprouted, too! Our porch began to be a haven of color, beckoning learners to stop every time they passed in or out the front door. 

Our favorite books about sprouting wonders: 

From Seed to Plant, Gail Gibbons

How a Seed Grows, Helene J. Jordan

Stems and Roots, David M. Schwartz

Tadpoles. Friends--bless them--gave us a container FULL of tadpoles! What an amazing wonder! Our littlest learner sat and watched and watched, marveling. Our tadpoles are still young--no legs yet--but every day we observe, hoping to see some soon! I know this will launch questions and even more discovery! 

Our favorite frog books: 

Frogs, Gail Gibbons

Frogs and Polliwogs, Dorothy Childs Hogner (pictured below)

From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer

Other things we have had on the porch in the past: 

Rocks. Children love rocks, especially ones they find on their own (digging them out is a bonus, too)! 

Our favorite reads about rocks: 

Pocket Genius: Rocks and Minerals, DK

Shells. Summertime trips to the beach bring shells! Not only is it fun to discover what animals live in shells, but shells make great items for counting, adding, or writing letters and numbers in the sand. 

Our favorite shell books: 

A House for Hermit Crab, Eric Carle

Sea Shells, Crabs, and Sea Stars, Christiane Kump Tibbitts

What Lives in A Shell?, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Abandon Hives. No bees, we made sure! What a wonder these creations are! Once we knew the hive as safe, it fueled further learning. One hive = many days of questions. 

Our favorite bee books: 

The Honey Makers, Gail Gibbons

The Life and Times of the Bee, Charles Micucci

What wonders have landed on your porch?

What marvels might find their way to your porch tomorrow? 

Please share your pictures in the comments.

Let's encourage one another as we keep our eyes open for the science little learners love

 

 

 

 

Interests Fuel Life-Long Learning

Dogs.

It's everything dogs for our littlest learner. 

She's curious about what dogs eat (getting eye level--but not too close--to watch ours furry friend eat). She's curious about how why they pant, how they feel to touch. She wants to know everything about every dog she sees, large or small.

Sitting in the dentist office last week, waiting for big sister to finish her appointment, I found a treasure--an attention grabbing-just-what-we-needed-at-that-moment treasure. 

A book featuring photographs of dogs. 

I handed it to our youngest. I knew it would keep her attention. 

It was a "mom hung the moon" moment.

She looked at me. Her eyes seemed to say, "Thank you for caring about my interest!"

The excitement on her face. The eagerness in her learning. The pure joy!

As she paged through the book, I engaged with her about the pictures on each page. She'd look at me and smile. With every smile, I thought about two workshops I have been writing for an upcoming speaking engagement; one workshop for parents of elementary learners and one workshop for parents of middle schoolers.

Relationships and curiosity fuel learning.

Like adults, children need relationships. Couple that with natural curiosity--questioning anything and everything--and there is a recipe for building a love for life-long learning. 

How do we keep a person's natural curiosity aflame for life?

Ask questions. When the art of questioning is modeled, it is readily available for learning.

I am not natural questioner. I like to teach; to tell. As a consequence, the parenting years hit me hard. The more I told and commanded, the more frustrated my children became. And, I noticed they stopped asking questions and waited to be told to do things--waiting to do school work and chores until they were told. Stepping back from the situation (and asking for Mike's input) I realized my children had valuable ideas, valid questions. They needed a mom who listen and then ask questions; a who would practice the art of questioning. At that point, I decided to be intentional about asking more questions and encouraging my children to to the same. I asked questions like:

  • I wonder how that works?
  • I wonder why the hermit crab needed a new shell?
  • I wonder what will happen if we add more soap?

I had to work hard at replacing my teaching/telling bent (saving it for where that bent was really needed) with an intentionality to listen and engage my children in thoughtful questioning. Though it took a bit of time to turn the cart around, I began to hear my children returning to their natural bent of asking questions. Definitely worth my effort.

Find answers. With questioning comes the need to find answers.

If I was going to be intent on encouraging critical thinking skills and the art questioning, I would also have to purposeful in helping my children find answers. And, as the children grew we had to have conversations about where to find accurate information; to ponder whether an author had the knowledge and experience to speak to a topic. 

We began to build a home library of reference and resource materials--field guides, a Magiscope, a heavy-duty magnifying glass, kitchen scales, history books, classic literature. In some cases, we found apps to be the best resource, for example Sky View and Sky Map. We talked to our children about the importance of primary source documents and role played how to carry on conversations with people--should they want to ask questions of someone. In addition, as our children entered middle and high school, we discussed volunteering and job shadowing. These opportunities encouraged our young adults to answer their questions about career interests by talking to professionals in the field.

Be observant. Interests are not always obvious.

Some interests are obvious, like my daughter's curiosity with dogs. Others are a bit more hidden, sometimes even unknown to the beholder! To discover the interests of some of my children, I had to watch, listen, and be open to how they spent their time (versus controlling every minute of their day).  In my watching and listening, I began to ask myself questions. 

  • Was my child wanting to take things apart and put them back together?
  • Was a particular career intriguing to my child?
  • When we were at a church event or field trip who did my child gravitate toward certain people--children or adult?
  • What did my child do to fill extra time in the day?
  • Did my child have an ability to put together colors, lines and shapes or craft inspirational poetry?

My littlest learner is not yet old enough to verbalize her questions, yet her curiosity is evident in her facial expressions and gestures, through her hand clapping and dancing. Her reaction--her joy in learning--invites us to ask her questions, interact with her excitement, and fuel her curiosity by providing resources (like finding her dog books at the library). In doing so, her siblings, Mike and I are learning to help her dig deeper into her interest. As a result, our curiosity about how she learns is fostered. It is a cycle of interest-fueling learning. 

 

And it is a beautiful life-learning cycle. 

It's intentional, real, and relational. 

 

 

 

Winter Fun for FREE Plus Extras!

We all need mid-year boosts--teachers, parents, and learners! 

Celebrate Simple is all about encouraging and equipping parents and families; adding spring in your winter steps! 

We have created several winter-themed, inter-related learning resources for your family--all ages preschool to adult. The contents of each resource is related but nothing is duplicated. 

Our first FREE winter resource is FREE to subscribers! If you are a current subscriber, you will receive this resource in the next newsletter. If you haven't yet subscribed, please do! We would love for you to have this handy, practical winter-themed unit. The contents are related to all of our NEW winter items listed below. The content of Simple Winter Family Fun includes

  • conversation starters for family members of all ages,
  • winter-themed book lists for preschool through high school, 
  • practical ideas for family team building,
  • learning activities for Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (different from those included in Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Snowflakes),
  • a four-year plan worksheet for families walking the home education high school journey, 
  • winter-related spelling words with fun spelling practice ideas, and
  • math practice for patterning, counting by fives, and solving word problems.

Our second FREE winter resource can be found in our FREE RESOURCES tab. Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Snowflakes is a shorter math study similar to Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Parks and Math Adventures: Experiencing Math in Nature. Click on FREE RESOURCES to download your copy!

Our third winter resource is intended to extend the learning in the above units.  The snowflake blank book and foam snowflakes are available in the store. The self-adhesive snowflakes can be use for sorting, counting, adding, and multiplication. When littles are finished sorting and counting, the snowflakes can be used to make a counting or addition book.

Finally, we are offering a winter special which includes all of the above resources AND a Magiscope! This sturdy, metal microscope has been a favorite in our home for twenty-two years and comes with a lifetime warranty! Our scope was a Christmas gift to our oldest son from his gandparents! 

Whether your winter will be spent outdoors making snow forts or indoors wishing it would snow, refresh the mid-year, winter blahs with some fun new ideas and resources. We would love for your family relationships to grow and for this to be your best winter EVER!

Remember, every moment matters when using what is intentional, real, and relational! 

Nature Adventures Made EASY- A Glimpse Into Part of Our Day

"I'm going on a nature adventure!"

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Those words were heard before the front door slammed shut and excitement ran to the backyard.

Ten minutes later, peering out the bedroom window to check on the adventure, my heart smiled--three little learners discovering, wondering together. Co-laboring in learning. 

I walked back to the living room  to listen to an older learner read aloud. 

Within thirty minutes the front door swung open, the metal doorknob placing a ding in the drywall. 

"Took at these amazing finds, Mom! These specimens are the best we've ever found!"

A HUGE beetle. A lizard skeleton. A small pine cone.

"Can I get the Magiscope!"

And, while they were outside, one decided to start working through My Nature Adventures



We observed, marveled at the wonders they had found! What amazing details we saw with the scope! We drew pictures in My Nature Adventures.

Then, I asked questions about their adventures. Observation, recall, and analysis are important skills for math, language, and science skills development. 

  • What was the first insect you saw?
  • Were the insects on certain plants?
  • Were all the leaves in the pile the same?
  • What colors were the birds you saw? 
  • What were the birds doing?
  • When some birds flew away, how many were left?
  • What did each person contribute to the adventure?

There you have it. A glimpse into our day, into the nature adventures our family enjoyed. Interestingly, most of it was unplanned. Yet, my intentional listening, attentiveness, and questions were essential. 

Our favorite non-fiction, field guide type books:

  • Birds, Nests, & Eggs, Mel Boring (Take Along Guides)
  • Caterpillars. Bugs, & Butterflies, Mel Boring (Take Along Guides)
  • Trees, Leaves & Bark, Mel Boring (Take Along Guides)
  • Florida's Fabulous Birds: Land Birds, Winston Williams (Florida's Fabulous Series)
  • Florida's Favorite Insects, Thomas Emmel (Florida's Fabulous Series) 

Nature books we enjoy reading after our adventures: 

  • From Tadpole to Frog, Wendy Pfeffer (Read and Let's Find Out Science)
  • From Caterpillar to Butterfly, Deborah Heilgman (Read and Let's Find Out Science)
  • A Nest Full of Eggs, Priscilla Belz Jenkins (Read and Let's Find Out Science)

The above three Read and Let's Find Out Science books are included in the Math and Science Adventure Combo Kit in our store

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More of our favorites: 

  • Waiting for Wings, Lois Ehlert
  • Counting is for the Birds, Frank Mazzola (an absolute favorite and great for math!)
  • Why Do Leaves Change Color? Betsy Maestro (Read and Let's Find Out Science)
  • Pets from the Pond, Margaret Waring Buck
  • In the Woods and Fields, Margaret Waring Buck
  • Small Pets from Woods and Fields, Margaret Waring Buck

Margaret Waring Buck books are some of the most fascinating nature books in our collection. They are vintage books published in the late 1950s; most by Abbington Press. The line drawings are done with intriguing details. Well worth the hunt to find. 

What might your children engage in today? Might it be an outdoor learning adventure or an indoor building project? 

Adventures await. 

My Nature Adventures
10.00

My Nature Adventures invites your child outdoors to discover elements of creation which innately capture attention, engage thinking, and cultivate questions. 

 

 

 

Celebrate Simple- Learning from Discovery

Imagine the discovery of a lifetime (at least from a little learner's perspective).

That moment when you think you've discovered something no one else has...or ever will! 

A dead baby black racer!

Thankfully, our friends had a Brock Magiscope. With it, they took a closer look!

I asked my friend if we could share her family's discovery.

Mom Janet says,

“The kids found the snake in our front yard. We couldn't find any reason for its death, no puncture wounds, etc. We had no idea what type of snake it was and quickly went to our Florida Fabulous Reptiles book. One learner immediately identified it non-venomous. It didn't have any fangs. We identified the snake and were all amazed! This colorful baby looked nothing like its parents. It was a baby Black Racer! It was so cool to hear my four children marvel at God's creation. That's when we got out the Brock microscope to take a look at the scales and check out its face and eyes. The microscope and Florida Fabulous books are a must have to explore science, nature, and foster the love of learning!”

Taking a closer look!

Intentional Mom. 

Real-life, relational learning. 

Summer Adventure Must Haves

I love summer! 

My children love the adventurous, uninterrupted play summer brings. 

Over the years we have accumulated a plethora of adventure must haves, tools and resources which purposefully foster curiosity and enhance discovery and wonder. 

Though some of our resources are specific to summer, most are used and loved year-round. 

What are the Bastian adventure favorites? 

  • Brock Magiscope. This is by far our number ONE favorite. This amazing tool is easy-to-use and portable for on-site pond, beach or forest adventures. Its sturdy build makes it a useful tool for all ages (yes, parents too!). 
  • Magnifying glass. Though  we LOVE our Magiscope, there is something about adventuring with a good old fashion magnifying glass. Perhaps it's the "fits in a pocket" feel. Small wonders for small hands. 
  • Sand bucket. Sand buckets make perfect adventure companions for beach and shore experiences. Buckets help us collect shells, bring home tadpoles and minnows or carry water to and fro across the backyard. We purpose to have buckets of every size, some for little learners and others for big helpers.
  • Sieve. Sieving sand fosters curiosity while building motor skills. The back and forth movements of shoulders and wrists are essential components for preschool and little learner developmental milestones. Great tool for the mind and body.
  • Shovel. My boys loved digging. Like many boys, their dream was to dig a hole through the center of the Earth. Indeed, they tried! Eventually, Mike and I provided a specific area for the boys to dig, a place where they could dream, dig together and build motor skills.
  • Bug catcher or habitat. Children love critters. Critters provide opportunities for observation and study. We have collected a variety of aquariums, screen-topped carriers, clear plastic habitats and containers in order to be prepared for impromptu safe care and release of any small creatures that perk curiosity.  Hand-held, portable carriers are our favorites. 
  • Butterfly nets. Another handy tool for young adventurers, our butterfly net has been used for grasshoppers, crickets, lizards and tadpoles. 
  • Field guides. We have a variety of field guides ready for immediate and on-site study. Having the guides handy offers opportunity for in-depth, intrinsically-motivated learning. 
  • Nature journal, pocket notebook or sketch pad. Explorers take notes of their discoveries. Our children have enjoyed drawing their favorite finds. We have used everything from a simple notebook and colored pencils to detailed nature journals. Having a means by which to record or draw interesting finds has not only enhanced our study but provided engaging contents for our portfolios. 
  • Water. Explorers need water. Discuss how water will be accessible on the pending adventure: canteen, water bottle, garden hose.  
  • Sun hat, sun screen. Protecting oneself from heat-related illness is essential while on an adventure, especially in the middle of summer. Have conversations about how to stay safe while exploring and adventuring. 

These are our favorite adventure tools and resources. 

We would love to hear about your favorites in the comments. 

Happy Adventuring!

Owl Pellets and a Magiscope = SIMPLE Discovery Science

Owl Pellets from Carolina Biological Supply Company

Disposable gloves, a paper plate and tweezers.

Our Magiscope.

 

Opened windows to small wonders.

We invited another family to join us for discovery fun! Children standing around the kitchen table. Quiet mostly, with an ah-ha here and there. They were engaged, learning. 

An dissection lab we found online guided us through some thought-provoking steps. 

Did we have feather, fur or both? 

Our Magiscope helped us take a closer look. 

A few extra online resources helped us answer all our curiosities, and more! 

Older learners benefited from other resources. 

"Let's Get the Microscope!"

"Mom, look what I found!"

"Let's get the microscope!"

"Let's see what else we can find!"

"These are so cool!"

"Let's put these in baggies to save with the rest of our specimens."

(Interject mom: "Let the rolly polly go outside!")

High school student enters the conversation.

"Hey, I just studied feathers in biology! I wonder if you can see the hooks?"

Littles, curious, wonder. 

"Let's see!"

"Wow!"

"Get the camera! I bet we can take a picture of this!"

And so goes the morning of learning. 

Three littles, one microscope + a high schooler + a camera = wonder, curiosity and learning.

Brock Magiscope Model #70
179.00

The Brock Magiscope hails as a Parent's Choice Award winner and is made in the United States.

Magnify whole specimens. No slide preparation needed.

  • Solid cast aluminum body
  • Tempered brass focus
  • Built-in patented Lumarod light source, no need for adjustment or maintenance 
  • Fine adjustment ramp
  • Solid and sturdy for little learners
  • Easy to use
  • Perfect for science study at a table or on location (beach, forest, backyard or other venue)

This model offers 20x total magnification with  a  4x achromatic objective and a 5x eyepiece. 

Other lenses can be purchased directly from Brock. 

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