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Spring Into the Season: An Interview with Mike Smith

April 13–17, 2015   |   Vol. 123, Week 1

Are your kids counting the days till spring? This week on Home School Heartbeat, Mike Smith shares some great ideas for exploring the wonder of spring—and learning some hands-on science in the process.

“Why is spring so often windy? Find the answer—and then take advantage of the wind and go fly a kite!”—Mike Smith

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Are your kids counting the days till spring?  Mike Smith has some great ideas for helping your children explore the wonder of spring through active botany and physical science projects. That’s today on Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt,” wrote Canadian author Margaret Atwood. This spring, why don’t you let your children get their hands dirty as they learn about the world? Do you have a spring unit study planned? Try one! A natural place to start is with botany or physical science.

What is the biggest crop your region produces? If you’re not sure, now is a great time to find out! If you live in an agricultural community, you can visit a local farm or dairy.  Many farms let visitors pay to pick a bucket of fresh produce, and even young children can pick berries! And don’t stop there—include your children in preparing the food you’ve picked, on whatever level they’re able. They will experience the satisfaction of taking a project from start to finish, and enjoy providing nourishment to their family, and begin to understand the time and effort that goes into producing the food we eat.

And if you don’t live near a farm or dairy, you can still enjoy spring and growth and dirt too. Grow a plant together! A garden is a great place to learn. Let your children be responsible for a plot of ground or a row of vegetables. No space for a garden? A row of potted plants on a balcony or window ledge can be a great learning tool.

Mike: Every spring, the Chinese give gifts in red envelopes and set off fireworks to celebrate the story of a boy from Heaven who scared away a child-eating monster. Fireworks would certainly start your spring with a bang!

Do a quick encyclopedia or web search, and you’ll find spring-time celebrations cropping up from every culture imaginable. Selecting one or two of these holidays to start with your children is a great way to learn about other cultures.

The Easter holiday has both religious roots and seasonal aspects. Both can be great learning opportunities. And there are lots of fun hands-on opportunities with symbols of the holiday.

Do you have any Irish roots? Even if you don’t, you might enjoy exploring the legend and history behind Saint Patrick’s Day. Did you know this Catholic Saint was not actually born in Ireland?

Israel commemorates its Holocaust Remembrance Day with a sundown service. Holocaust survivors light six torches symbolizing the six million Jews killed during the Nazi Holocaust. It’s a sobering day.

But other countries celebrate more light-hearted events in spring. Did you know Australia has a Spring Racing Carnival each year? Look it up—and experience spring in a whole new way this year!

Mike: People have wondered about the reasons for changing seasons for thousands of years. To explain the change from winter to spring, the ancient Greeks created a story about a beautiful queen who came back to earth from exile every year. Many other cultures have seasonal legends too.

This year you can delve into the science of spring with your child. Read about the Vernal Equinox or count how many extra minutes of daylight there are in each day. Make it hands on—use a ball for the earth and a lamp for the sun, and you can explain how the tilt of the earth lets us enjoy spring.

Spring weather offers the opportunity to study the types of clouds. You could go on a picnic and spend a balmy afternoon identifying the clouds passing overhead. And why is spring so often windy? Find the answer—and then take advantage of the wind and go fly a kite!

Spring is also tornado and cyclone season. Get your young meteorologist started by studying how those storms start up and where they go. Incorporate geography with a map and stickpins to mark the progress of current weather events.

Take a little time this spring to just go outdoors. Go on a picnic. Find a new walking trail. Visit a park, an arboretum, or a scenic place. Have fun!

Mike: You know the old saying, “You don’t count your chickens before they hatch?” Just this once, ignore that. This spring, why don’t you and your student build a birdhouse so you can count those unhatched eggs? You can also enjoy watching birds by erecting a birdfeeder with seeds or a humming birdfeeder with nectar.

But don’t stop there. Think about where your bird friends have come from. Many birds fly south for the winter, but have you and your student thought about studying which birds migrate and which ones stay around your neighborhood all year? You could incorporate geography by having your student draw a map of the typical migratory pattern of your local birds.

Insects are busy in the spring too. Your child might enjoy visiting a butterfly garden, or planting her own. Sketching the wings of a few resident butterflies turns a lovely spring activity into an art lesson.

Bees and butterflies go from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollinating the plants. Which plants in your yard are pollinated by insects? Your next biology lesson could include making a chart of the pollination cycle or mapping out the parts of a pollen-bearing flower.

Use the new life in spring to inspire your students to examine the world around them.

Mike: Did you know that Vivaldi used the sound of a dog barking for one of his most famous compositions? Vivaldi’s Spring in his great work The Four Seasons is only one of many pieces of art inspired by this season. Have your students listen to Spring and see if they can hear the dog. How does Vivaldi’s Spring compare to Strauss’ Voices of Spring waltz or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring?

Visit an art museum with your children to see how many pieces of art they can find that show pictures of spring. If they like, have them try to draw a sketch of their favorite piece. Better yet, send your children outside with a camera to capture their own piece of spring art.

And there is so much literature describing spring! For young readers, Charlotte’s Web and The Wind in the Willows might be good places to start to discuss spring and seasons. For older readers, poetry by John Keats or William Blake might be more engaging. Encourage them to write their own poems about spring.

Many artists use spring as a symbol of new life. Have your readers look at great paintings or books to see how spring is not only significant in itself, it’s also a symbol. What else might it symbolize?

Thanks for joining us this week to think about fun spring activities for your homeschool. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith

Michael Smith and his wife Elizabeth, along with Michael Farris and his wife, Vickie, incorporated Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and were the original board members. The Smith family’s lives changed dramatically when Mike heard a radio program in 1981 that introduced him to the idea of homeschooling. He and Elizabeth started homeschooling—taking it just one year at a time—to meet the academic and social needs of their children.

Mike came to HSLDA full-time in 1987 and has served as president of the organization since the year 2001. In addition to serving as president, he also is a contact lawyer for California, Nevada and Puerto Rico. All of Mike’s children are now grown, and three of the four were homeschooled. The most enjoyable part of Mike’s job is when he is able to go to homeschool conferences and meet what he calls America’s greatest heroes, homeschooling moms.

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