Today's blog is a guest post from Lisa at This Pilgrim Life. Lisa is the founder of This Pilgrim Life and the author of the cookbook, Family Meals From Scratch in the Instant Pot. A homeschooling mother of 5, she loves helping other busy moms simplify cooking for their families, adventuring with their kids, and finding joy and beauty in the everyday. Follow her blog and Instagram for helpful resources, healthy recipes, practical tips, and fun hacks!
We have been homeschooling since the beginning (my oldest child is currently in sixth grade), and have had experience using a variety of curricula over the years. As our family dynamics and needs have changed, and as my experience as a homeschooling mother has grown, we have made adjustments and swaps in curriculum choices. Some we really enjoyed and others were more simply tolerated, but I can honestly say that none of the curricula we have used has brought me as much joy as Treehouse Schoolhouse Nature Studies.
I credit this to a few different things:
- The ease with which we can enjoy poetry, art, folk songs, hand rhymes, and more each week
- How each week’s topic pushes us to be more present and more observant of the natural world around us in a purposeful way
- The ways the curriculum brings us together as a family
There are, of course, other ways to achieve each of these things apart from Treehouse Nature Studies. However, Lyndsey and Gabby have done such an incredible job putting together each week’s studies that using them is just a no-brainer for me. Literally, I do not need to do much thinking ahead of time, and very little prep during lessons because everything is so open and go. As a busy mom who also works from home, I appreciate this a great deal.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the last reason why Treehouse Nature Studies have brought us so much joy– we do them together as a family.
We have five children, ages 4, 5, 8, 10, and 11. They are roughly in “pre-school”, second grade, fourth grade, and sixth grade. My kids may be reading at different levels, be learning different math concepts, have varying writing abilities… but none of that matters when we are learning about nature.
Learning about these things together unifies my children with each other and our children with us as their parents. Because we are all learning about trees or birds or mountain ranges, we naturally have common ideas to discuss. We get excited when we see examples of things we’ve learned about, and we can share that excitement with each other. We observe together, nature journal together, sing together, and so on. Each instance may be subtle and seemingly minute, but together they are creating a family culture that my husband and I both cherish.
In a moment, I will share ideas to extend the lessons for older kids and how to make small adaptations for younger children. But before I jump into differentiation (dusting that word off from my school teacher days), let me share one final encouragement.
It is entirely possible to make these lessons more challenging, more rigorous, more involved. I personally love doing this and spring-boarding into deeper study or related subjects. HOWEVER, my ultimate goal isn’t that our children would test well or achieve what the “world” defines as success.
Especially as my kids get older, I want them to continue to see value in art, poetry, music, and nature. Appreciating beauty and nurturing a love of learning is something that has intrinsic value for ALL ages. It does not need to be complicated, and it definitely doesn’t have to mean extra work if that work is not adding value. It is simply meant to be enjoyed, and doing so as a family can be a beautiful experience.
Now, how do we help our families enjoy all these things when we are gathering all ages around the table? Let me share a few ideas for keeping everyone interested and engaged at their own levels.
10 Ideas for Extending Treehouse Nature Study for Older Children
Here are many different ways to delve deeper or study wider each week’s topic with the nature study. While the first two are more reoccurring extensions, the others could be chosen to add to your week depending how naturally they fit with that week’s topic, or really, what you and your children feel like doing that week.
- Create a science/nature dictionary that they add new terms to each week. Optional, make it an illustrated dictionary
- Use a large wall map or a map in their notebook to mark places each week: artist place of origin, geographic features, regional animals, etc. Use it to review map skills and learn their world.
- Copy the entire poem each week. Memorize poems. Discuss elements of the poems.
- Complete creative writing assignments on each week’s topic: create brochures, write nature poems, make travel guides, write related stories.
- Allow them to pick a facet of the week’s topic to learn more about, and present their findings to the family at the end of the week.
- Find on-topic documentaries, podcasts, or books to watch/listen to/read.
- Do a more-involved hands-on project like build models, dioramas, conduct experiments (I like the book Maker’s Lab for easy projects, or simply a quick search online)
- Create more detailed, or more varied, nature drawings on the week’s topic. Add written narrations to their nature drawings about what they learned.
- Help younger children with activities and teach simple facts.
- Read more about the artist and/or poet’s life, discuss the period in history in which they lived and how world events might have shaped their work, and look at or read additional pieces from their work.
In this week’s study on Weather, we used the poem to learn about homophones. We found them in the poem, watched a short video on homophones, then made a list of other examples we could think of. Below their copied poems, my older boys copied the definition of a homophone and recorded their favorite examples. Everyone then made different types of clouds with cotton balls, the older children labeling them on their papers.
5 Easy Adaptations for Treehouse Nature Study for Younger Children
Younger kids need fewer adaptations for nature studies because they already lend themselves so well to the early and middle elementary years. Even so, here are a handful of things we do in our house to help keep my littles engaged and help them enjoy the work at their own level.
- Use a lightboard to trace the nature pages instead of trying to draw them. My 4yo and 5yo love doing this, in part because a light board is just really cool. They generally trace the outline and then color the rest in.
- Alternately, provide coloring pages related to that week’s study. These can easily be found online (I just search “water cycle coloring page” for example and get innumerable options). Again, this helps them have something that resembles what we’re studying, and also gives them something to do while we read.
- Encourage the littles to practice narrating the small picture books we read. Just as simple as, “tell me something you heard”. It’s great, low-pressure practice, and really aids in strengthening recall and organizing thoughts.
- Provide simple quiet activities that younger children can do while you read aloud, or while their older siblings work on copywork or journaling. Keeping littles busy at the table is good because (1) your attention can remain in one place, and (2) they will pick up on things you’re reading or discussing simply by being present.
- When possible, create a multi-sensory learning experience. Special snacks, songs, tactile activities, lessons out of doors, visits to related locations— the more layers of connection you can provide, the more meaningful the learning experience will be. For younger children especially, novelty and fun will go a long way. Even if they don’t remember a lot about spiders or what enables animals to hibernate all winter, they will have connections and memories that tell them that learning about it was enjoyable and significant.
Lyndsey shared these spiders on Instagram, and I loved the idea so I made a version to share with the kids. It was a really fun snack to enjoy while observing a spider outside our window!
A simple light board is a great tool to help younger children still feel accomplished in their work, rather than discouraged at not being able to copy the nature pictures.
It is my sincere hope that this post gives you practical help in spanning a big age range with this one curriculum. It is not only possible to teach preschoolers alongside middle schoolers, it can also be fun and meaningful!