let kids watch beauty and the beast

Road trips with boys

So, over the weekend our 4H group went out to Kearney, Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration.

sandhill crane migration
Sandhill Cranes Birds Wildlife Flying Flight

Somehow, I ended up with all the boys. ALL the boys.

Just let that sink in for a moment. One hundred sixty miles one way with ALL the boys from our 4H group.

Somewhere along the way, they decided to have a story telling competition. The goal was to tell the funniest story that made everyone laugh but everyone would just vote for their own stories. The only solution, it seemed, was to let Micah — my five year old — judge.

Thus it began. And they quickly discovered that any story involving poop or pee made him laugh. You can imagine what happened to the story telling from there. It went straight into the toilet.


After awhile, Asa, my two year old, decided he wanted to join in the fun. And, having gotten the main point of Every. Single. Story. for the last fifty miles, he began shouting.

Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee! Pee!

Given the sudden laughter that ensued, I say he won. Hands down.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

An encounter with owls

Four children stand in the walkway, huddled together against the cold.  Two came out without a jacket.  One didn’t bother with shoes.  It’s hovering just above freezing.  They stand silently, listening.  It is a rare moment of quiet.

What do they sound like, Mommy? [Whoo whowhowho Whooo]

“Whoo whowhowho Whooo,” I call back. Partially to let Bug know what she is listening for, partially in hopes the owl will answer.  The sun hasn’t set yet, but they’ve been calling to each other since I came out to lock up the chickens.

Are they in our woods?  {Whoo whowhowho Whooo}

No, I whisper back.  I point to the treeline where the calls are coming from.

Will it eat me?  {Whoo whowhowho Whooo}

Her timing is impeccable.

Bear starts to giggle.  I have no idea why. {Whoo whowhowho Whooo} I raise my eyebrows at him, ask him if he wants to go inside.

Silence is his answer.

They all answer with silence.  A minute of total silence as they strain their ears.  Bug and Bear look off into the woods, as if hoping to see something.  Mouse stares at the ground, concentrating only on listening.  L.E.Fant stares at me.

Another minute goes by.  A dog barks in the distance.

Another minute.  The setting sun is beginning to turn the sky a fiery red.

Are the coyotes coming out, yet, mommy? {Whoo whowhowho Whooo}

Shhh, I answer reassuringly.  Hunter is right here.  He’ll let us know if any come this way.

Another minute.  They are straining their ears, standing on tiptoe.  And finally, echoing through the silence of sunset:

Whoo whowhowho Whooo Who Who Whooo, calls a Great Horned Owl.

Their faces light up.

Whoo whowhowho Whooo Who Who Whooo, answers the prospective mate.

I don’t have to ask if they heard, their eyes are beaming with excitement.

“It is breeding season for the Great Horned Owl,” I tell them as we go inside to warm up.  “They will lay their eggs in an open nest at the top of a tree while there is still snow on the ground.”

“Won’t the babies get cold?”

“The owlets have their mommy and daddy to keep them warm and to feed them.  Mommy will stay on the nest and brood them, while daddy hunts for food.  That’s why we have to take extra special care to lock up our chickens.  They would love a nice juicy chicken for dinner.”

The children giggle. I tell them about the Great Horned Owl’s range, its habitat, how it uses the nest of other birds or even squirrels to raise its young.  I tell them how I once “talked” to an owl for twenty minutes before it flew in for a closer look.  Suddenly, there was a huge owl perched on a telephone pole, looking menacingly down at me and I wanted to know what I had been saying all that time.

Apparently, I was neither threatening its territory, nor particularly attractive in owl terms for it flew off almost immediately.  But it was the closest I had ever come to a wild Great Horned Owl, and it left an impression on me.

The children’s questions taper off as they get absorbed in other tasks.  I tell them the owls will likely continue to call for some time, while they lay eggs and rear their young.  Owl calls can be heard for miles, I say, but they don’t sound that far away.

If we keep listening, maybe we’ll get to hear their babies.  I’ve never heard a baby owl before.

They smile, and go on with their play.

More on the Great Horned Owl if you are interested.  Now is a great time to take children out to try to listen for them because they will be calling frequently until they have bred.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Homeschooling and learning things more deeply

I’m sitting in a hotel room after a long, but pleasant day of driving.  Three hundred thirty miles is a hike when you are alone with five children, one of whom is only four weeks old.  Fortunately, he seems to like sleeping in a car better than in this hotel room at the moment.  At least I don’t have to find a place to pull over to take care of him here.  We are on our way to see this:

The Sandhill Cranes as they take a break on their migration back to Canada . . . a t least that is what I am hoping to see and share with the children. They are looking forward to a few leisurely hours under the observation bridge poking sticks in the water while the cranes fill the surrounding sandbars.

This is our second year to see the cranes and as I planned the trip, our one big overnight field trip of the year, I couldn’t help but wonder how this money would be better spent.  Should we come to see the cranes every year, or should we use that money to go somewhere different every year?  Is there greater educational value in exploring new places or in revisitig the familiar?

Two years ago, I began thinking more intentionally about how to build a reflective homeschool after reading an essay by D. H. Lawrence.  He notes that we know it all and have done it all as we skim across the surface of the globe, but this knowledge is superficial.

Poor creatures that we are, we crave for experience, yet we are like flies that crawl on the pure and transparent mucous-paper in which the world like a bon-bon is wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it, though we see it there all the time as we move about it, apparently in contact, yet actually as far removed as if it were the moon.  (The Spell of New Mexico, ed. by Tony Hillerman, p. 29-30)

Vertical knowledge, that which penetrates to true understanding, requires us to move at a much slower pace.  And as my children bounce at the edge of the bed, excited to go back to the bridge, I’m thinking that maybe there is far more to be learned in returning to the same place year after year, like a signpost to the changing seasons.  Rather than merely learning about the cranes, we can share a brief leg of their journey with them.

Lori Potter of the Kearney Hub says there is poetry in the Sandhill Crane’s behavior.  Indeed, volumes could be filled with the literary tributes made to these magnificent birds as they make their stopover here along the Platte River.  When you study a poem, you dissect it, put it back together and analyze how the parts fit together.  Sometimes, however, a poem touches you and you return to it again and again, savoring it rather than merely studying it.

And I suppose you can do that under the observation bridge as well as on top of it.


Update: Some pictures from our trip and the countywide state of emergency that was called due to an out of control fire.

Not quite the same, but if you are unable to make the trek to Nebraska to share in the crane migration, you can watch a bit of it on the crane cam set up at Rowe Sanctuary.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

The weather, a carnival and some geography

Regarding animals and the weather, I’d have to say Sam Gribley’s nuthatch would have been a good forecaster. Here, the score is:


The weather report said it was to be sunny and warmer with a fifty percent chance of precipitation. The goldfinches said it was time to eat as much as possible before the weather turned.

We ended up with only light flurries, but by early afternoon, the sky looked ominous and the wind brought a dip in temperatures. Back in the 20s for us! Wind chill is now below zero.

So, fight off the chill and take the goldfinch’s advice. Actually, take a trip to Hawaii and enjoy this week’s carnival of homeschooling.

One useful post I found is some resources for teaching geography. We do map studies with everything. This involves printing up a blackline master and marking physical features according to the color key in our map maker’s kit. Mouse then locates the capital and other important cities. As we progress through our reading, she plots new places on the map. Of course, our current map is of Virginia since we are studying Jamestown.

The focus is primarily on topographical and political maps, but we look at others as well. Since we are also studying geology, we have looked at numerous geologic maps. Mouse is learning about contour maps, and has looked at an interesting sort of geologic map that neither of us can make much of. But they are important for geologists, particularly those searching for oil. Which is probably why the first example that popped up on the search was from Haliburton.

And here is another interesting program for anyone interested in studying geography. I haven’t figured it all out yet, and mostly it is just eerie. Google Earth provides you with a 3-D view of the world through satellite images. If microchips and the ability to track every moves bothers you, this will too. We located our house and were able to recognize our car sitting in the drive. My husband showed the kids his old elementary school and we took a look at the Eiffel Tower.

I can’t imagine how much more detail is available to the government if this is a free download. OK, maybe I can. Back in the 80s, there was a picture in one of the major news magazines which featured a man lying in a park. You could see the time on his watch as he napped in the sun. Nice satellite photo. And that was a long time ago, in technological terms. No wonder the US is concerned about China’s ability to shoot down satellites. Military applications aside, do you have any idea how dependent we are on satellites?

Without them, we’d have to watch the birds to see what the weather had in store for us.

Photo credits:
infrared weather map from NOAA
rocket photo from CNN

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