Friday, October 17, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Food in our environment

Busy busy week!
Branching out in cultural explorations a bit, James took Cadence and Hazel out for Sushi (Calliope and I opted out of this excursion due to food allergies...we hit up Shake Shack instead!).  They thought the little conveyor belt thing was pretty cool, and James reports that they did a decent job sampling foods outside of their comfort zone...even if they didn't eat all of it.

You can tell they enjoyed the experience!
We also went with our friend Laura and some of her friends on an apple picking adventure!

it evoked much emotion
Adventure it certainly was, as we hopped to multiple orchards and ended at a (kid friendly) vineyard.

Callie liked that she could reach some apples herself
Going to more than one location is exciting since we get to explore the similarities and differences in how the different orchards grow their apples - what types they have, whether they use chemical pesticides or not, how they handle their picking operations - and the reasons behind those differences.
Afterwards (of course) it is exciting to taste all the different varieties and see how they differ from one another.

unexpected camouflage
We also stumbled on this vine with what looked like wee melons growing on it.

Our attempts at identifying it were mostly futile, it might be mouse melon - but they seem too round for that!


We had a little picnic at the vineyard, and were joined by this spider.  The kids thought it was cute and asked me to take a picture so they could identify the species later.

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The kids went across the field to visit the resident horses and goats, but Calliope got tired of walking about halfway back.  Score one for having awesome older sisters willing to carry you back!

Still slightly unwilling to believe that Cadence is big enough to do this.
Back at home, Kelly came bearing...even more fresh apples.  (Not knowing of our picking adventures, she had procured a bunch of apples to bring us from the farmers market where she was working.)

obligatory group shot...that we almost never remember to take.

The haul...clearly many apple-y dishes are in store.
I have asked the kids to try to document their work even if I am not involved.  My thought is that it will give them a sense of ownership over their educational journeys, as well as providing me with an opportunity to see elements of it from their perspective.  I was very pleased to come across this photo, which I am told was part of a 'wild safari' they went on to learn about how to rescue animals.  This photo lead to discussions about ferrets, mink, weasels, and the fur trade.


The big main event this week, however, was the 4H homeschool camp, which the kids COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY ADORED.  (Yes, all caps necessary for that one.)
These were full days of classes and workshops held at the VA 4H headquarters.  The activities were roughly structured by age and everyone was invited to participate. They ranged from simple things like making model animals out of play dough:




To more complex topics, like insect anatomy:

We actually found this mama  on our way *to* the insect class, but it was too good not to share. Can you see all the babies on her back?
"The bug guy" brought lots of specimens to show the class, and delighted in talking to the kids about his work.  He talked to them about studying different species/families, collecting specimens for study, and even brought his "pets" - some live critters - to let the kids meet and handle.


Afterwards he had then take butterfly nets and try their hand at specimen collecting. Most kids didn't find much, but one kid caught something noteworthy, and he used the opportunity to show the kids the complete collection process...which, yes, does involve killing and preserving it, which my kids were not exactly thrilled by. (They much preferred the buggy meet-and-greet.)

Cadence and Hazel with their butterfly nets
The next class pushed them to think about their food sources better than most of what we have previously discussed:  Cooking with Bugs 101.  The first half of the class was a lecture/discussion on global diets, in which we learned that 80% of the human population on the planet consumes insects as a major source of sustainable protein.  The teacher did a good job of playing up the fact that, however weird this class of American kids might think that is, we are actually the weird ones for not partaking in buggy delicacies.

And to that end, she shared some recipes from around the world with us, and then, using the limited resources at hand (mostly portable hotplates), helped the kids to cook up three different bug-based dishes.  While Calliope and I refrained from tasting anything because of food allergies (there were some "spice mixes" that I didn't entirely trust...I didn't want to take a chance) I encouraged my allergy-free big kids to give it a try.

Cadence liked the spiced meal-worms, but was not as much of a fan of the fried crickets, and everyone agreed that the silk worms (which, to be fair, were canned - the teacher insisted that they are really good when fresh...but it is hard to come by fresh food grade silkworms in the US.  She was lucky to find even the terrible quality canned ones here, she said, but you can find them in most asian groceries) were rather unpleasant unless cooked in a significant about of sauce.

Dinner's on!
Hazel couldn't bring herself to taste anything, not so much because they were bugs, but because the mealworms had been cooked live, and she couldn't bear to eat them knowing that.  I thought this was an important lesson, actually, because it is one thing to know that your hamburger used to be a cow, but it is a totally different thing to actually see something go from being a live animal to a dish on your plate.  I can totally relate; I actually became a vegetarian at the age of 12 for similar reasons...anyway, we used this as an opportunity to discuss (on the long car ride home) the idea of food ethics, and why our family tries to get what we call "happy meat"...meat sourced from animals who were raised as naturally as possible on small farms, and not in big streamlined factories.

Cadence offering hazel a handful of spiced mealworms

Next, we moved on to a lesson about owls and (drumroll please)...dissecting owl pellets! Both big kids did a really good job with this, though afterwards they reported that they hated it with a passion because of how it smelled.  But then they wanted to keep the bones they found...but they wouldn't hold the bag they were in.  I think they were a little conflicted about it all.

our intrepid researchers hard at work
The teacher for this class supplied these handy charts showing which bone fragment was likely to be from which animal, and what bone it actually was.  This was actually a really fascinating way to not only get an idea of the variety in an owl's diet, but also to get a feel for the shape of different bones and how they were similar/different in various different species - and how you could tell what kind of bone it was, and what kind of creature it came from just by observation and a little bit of practice.

Hazel's pellet ended up having quite a few skulls in it, once she dug them all out.

On to leaf art! The idea was to make animals out of leaves, but the kids took some liberties and created some pretty cool stuff.

Calliope got pretty into this one.

Cadence and her butterfly
Calliope's abstract creation, great composition!

Hazel's pine forest of leaves
And they got to meet the chickens!

Big chicken!
This is a terrible picture, but I had to include it because it was such a wonderful moment...as we were closing out a long, soggy day of exploration, and discussing what each 'H' in 4H stands for (Head, Hands, Heart, Health), a huge, gorgeous, picturesque rainbow spread over the hill.  Everyone stopped to take it in, but I unfortunately didn't get a good shot of it.



I just love this shot of these three.

Another day, it was back to the classroom for a skeletal anatomy lesson.


And to the hills for a hike through the woods!  This was a really informative hike, where we stopped to discuss all sorts of things, touching on various topics related to orienteering and survival to simple environmental awareness, though of course we didn't delve too deep into any one subject.

Discussing berry types
If I recall, this started as a discussion on lichen but quickly changed upon the discovery of an inchworm in the bark.
The view from the bottom of the hill we hiked.  Pretty spectacular!
Next up, some light mineral explorations! I actually missed much of this lesson because Calliope needed some attention, but the big kids had great fun exploring the different properties of the various mineral types.

Cadence enjoyed learning that baby powder comes from rocks.


Then it was time to play in the mud!  Actually, it was time to study dirt, and what dirt was made up of.  After the discussion, they were given a 'recipe' for dirt and sent off in groups to make it.  It was raining, so it was more mud than dirt, but no biggie.

Dirt in progress.  I think at this point it had leaves, twigs, rocks, and an earthworm.
They also did a big craft project whereby they made holiday ornaments to send to soldiers overseas.  Some of the kids got really into it.


Hazel's wreath
This was a particularly interesting bit of teamwork...The kids had been getting a little crazy, and instead of threatening or yelling, the teacher gave them what was essentially a listening exercise: walk down the very steep stairs, backwards. It worked pretty well.

I admit I was a little fearful for my tiny kids, but they were totally fine, and not a single kid fell or acted up at all.
At the bottom of the stairs was arguably the most exciting event of camp (at least as far as Cadence & Hazel were concerned.)  CANOEING.  They did some dry instruction on the ground before they got anywhere near the boats, and then they were off. And oh MAN did these kids love it!! They can't wait to do it again.
If I hadn't snapped this myself, I'd assume it was staged for a brochure!

trying out a different grip

Hazel's turn with the oar




Calliope slept through the dry instruction and boat launch, and thought it was very strange to wake up to see her sisters paddling around the water.  She didn't seem to mind not riding herself, and had a grand old time playing with the rubber ducks they had on the shore.  She enjoyed lining them up like the kids had been in line earlier!

Row of ducks!
After boating, they all made their own pizzas (no bugs this time!) though they had to be trucked away & back for the actual cooking portion, so while we waited, it was time for classic camp songs/games.


And after dinner, of course, came gathering around the campfire for s'mores.

soooo stiiickkyyyyyy
A special little visitor showed up as we were finishing up, and the kids were really excited to see this deer after having seen numerous sets of tracks but no animals on our hike and walks.


There was actually supposed to be much more, but we got rained out -flooded out, actually, as the road leading to the site was washed out, so no one could get through!  We were disappointed not to get to do everything on our agenda (like launching rockets!) but hopefully we will get to make those up.  

I do have one last cool project to share from you from camp week, though.  During down times between classes/after lunches/etc, the kids were invited to help make this amazing group project.  They made this bottle cap (and soda tab) mosaic in the spirit of environmental awareness...I thought the result was really beautiful!

4H homeschool day camp 2014

It was a busy week, and I know I am leaving a lot out, but I think I will stop here regardless.  On to the next adventure!