Sandhill Cranes

I Homeschool For The Impromptu Field Trips

Like the homeschool field trip we’re on right now to see the sandhill cranes.

homeschool field trip sandhill crane

This is an almost annual tradition in our family. One day in March, usually at the last minute, I look to see if there are any hotel rooms available and we head out to Kearney to watch the sandhill crane migration. We drive around the outskirts of town looking for cranes. We watch them dance. We watch them eat. We watch them in their family groups and in their larger flocks.

And at sunset, we watch them descend upon the Platte River, filling the skies with their calls.

It is the familiarity of the annual event that makes it special. The children look forward to different parts. There is always excitement when we spot the first flock just outside of Grand Island, And even more when we get to the river and they can finally just run. Their favorite is walking under the highway bridge to get down close to the river.

Why is it so fun to just poke sticks in the water?

And I always enjoy looking at the pictures they took when we get home. Like 15 different views of this sheet of ice on the shore.

homeschool field trip Platte River

Impromptu field trips are the best because I have no specific plans or objectives in mind. We are just here to explore and take part in the annual migration of the sandhill crane. They’ve never had an assignment about the birds. We have no lapbooks on the subject. All we have is a love for being out in nature, listening to their calls and sharing just a moment in their life journey.

And yet they know why the birds sleep standing in the river. They know how important this stop over is to birds that need to be able to start nesting and raising young as soon as they land in the far north. They know about their family structure, diet and migration pattern. They know about the Platte River, how significant it is to Nebraska and how significant it is to this migration.

And of course they know about the dance of the sandhill crane. We drive around the countryside outside Kearney, looking for flocks close to the road just so we can watch them dance.

I enjoy this freedom homeschooling gives us to just notice what is going on in the state and go out to take a look. Sometimes, our field trips have something to do with what we are studying. More often, we just take a break from our lessons to be travelers for a day.

They give us the opporunity to just explore.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Check out what I’ve written so far!

A is for Adventure
B is for Boredom
C is for Christ
D is for Daydreaming
E is for Every day
F is for Failure
G is for Grow
H is for Homework

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.