Camp Creek Blog

Control issues

Published by Lori Pickert on September 9, 2008 at 01:19 PM

We love visitor centers.

For one thing, they have taxidermy. I prefer my taxidermy to look like it was done in the days of Teddy Roosevelt, and most visitor centers are accommodating.

Actually, while spiffy new visitor centers can be awesome too, there is nothing that thrills my heart like 1970s-era headphones and a row of colored buttons. That droning voice — the same guy who did the voice-overs for film strips in the 60s — telling me about the eating habits of this mammal or the significance of that geological formation ... that's my idea of fun.

When we pull up to a visitor center, our kids burst out of the car and race in. They grab free hand-outs for their trip journals. They try to locate and stake out the best taxidermy. They are enthusiasm personified.

I should state here that my kids like to people-watch. They have been known to stare in slack-jawed fascination at people from a distance of about two feet.

Recently we shared a visitor center with a family whose kids were markedly not enjoying the experience. They were being dragged unwillingly from exhibit to exhibit with sullen expressions. This caught the attention of my junior anthropologists, who almost unconsciously began to tail them around the room.

The mom read each sign and label aloud in a booming voice that would have made a theatre teacher proud. Her kids stared at the floor. Her voice grew more fake-animated. “Just look at this! Did you see this?!” The kids continued to study the carpet pattern and grind their fists into their armpits. When mom marched them off to the gift shop in military fashion, I managed to snag mine and keep them from following.

My kids were fascinated. “How could you not like the visitor center?!” “Why were those kids so mad?”

After we left, I realized the visitor center makes a neat parallel to project-based learning. If the parent (or teacher) insists on being in charge and dispensing all the information, the kids are completely passive. They can become nothing more than reluctant victims, regardless of how interesting the subject matter.

When we go into the visitor center, the kids shoot off in different directions. “Hey, look at this!” “Come here! Come here!” Everyone gets to read something aloud and point out something that they knew first. Each person gets to be an expert.

Nothing causes a child to lose interest faster than having no control in the learning situation and having someone else in charge of each nutritional bite of information being spoon fed into them. Nothing excites a child more than having the opportunity to learn something that no one else around him knows.

If we define the parameters of a learning experience before a child has even begun — deciding what will be studied, in what order, what information is important/not important, etc. — then we have taken the steering wheel and delegated our child to the back seat.

If we let our children define the parameters — as they go — then they’re in the driver’s seat. They get to show us around; they get to follow the path that is most interesting to them. They decide how far they will go. It requires parents (and teachers) to give up control of the situation. But aren’t we really here to teach our kids to drive?


Published by Lori Pickert on August 30, 2008 at 03:02 AM

I highly recommend the documentary Where Do the Children Play?, showing now on PBS.

Free play is slipping away from children’s lives. Yet time spent building forts or exploring outdoors, caring for animals, pretending or problem-solving with peers are now being shown by a wide body of research to be essential to healthy development, spiritual attunement, and emotional survival. Open-ended play in places that offer access to woods, gullies and gardens, ditches, boulders, and bike paths enhances curiosity and confidence throughout life.

We homeschoolers

Published by Lori Pickert on July 27, 2008 at 12:45 PM

A friend sent me a link to a blog where an excited homeschooling mom had listed the curriculum she’d purchased for the upcoming year — a list as long as my leg. Wow!

She delightedly said something to the tune of “this is how we homeschoolers do things!”

Of course, in truth, the homeschooling community is as diverse as America itself. There are many, many different ways to homeschool. “We homeschoolers” can’t be pigeon-holed.

The gleeful mom’s mile-long curriculum list made me smile. It reminded me of my diaper bag evolution. When my first son was born, I really would have been most comfortable if I’d had a diaper bag big enough to fit around the entire house so I could bring along absolutely anything I might need in case of emergency. By the time my second son was born, I could just stuff a disposable diaper in my pocket and grab my car keys.

That’s not to say that every homeschooler is evolving toward unschooling, but “we homeschoolers” do get more confident as we go along, no matter what methods and approaches we use. We trust ourselves and the process more, because you can’t help but be amazed by how much the kids themselves bring to the table, regardless of the materials we’ve gathered. Not to mention how much learning is just sitting outside the front door, waiting to be discovered.

I’ll be stuffing a field guide, a notebook, and a magnifying glass in my back pocket as we head out the door this fall. Because “we homeschoolers” know it’s an amazing world out there, chock-full of possibilities.


Published by Lori Pickert on June 5, 2008 at 03:31 AM


The creek flooded its banks and made a temporary lake behind our house.

The temporary lake brought a new temporary pet — a baby snapping turtle. With the woods and the creek in your backyard, it’s easy to adopt a little bit of wildlife, watch it, feed it, learn about it, then let it go again.

Last year we found a box turtle just getting into the road and brought him home for a couple of weeks, then carefully returned him exactly where we found him — except, you know, about 12 feet further on his way, on the other side of the road. Turtles are so slow, and pickups so fast.

For it was rather exciting. The little dry ditches in which Piglet had nosed about so often had become streams, the little streams across which he had splashed were rivers, and the river, between whose steep banks they had played so happily, had sprawled out of its own bed and was taking up so much room everywhere, that Piglet was beginning to wonder whether it would be coming into his bed soon.



Published by Lori Pickert on June 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Right now just about everything is calling more loudly than the computer and the blog.

There’s the garden, the landscaping, the toads, the frogs, the flowers, the berries, the clouds, the breeze, the trees, the anthills, the garden snakes, the kites, the lake.

It’s a rising chorus not unlike the peepers and tree frogs who are so loud in the creek at night we have to close the windows to sleep. All the glories of spring, demanding our attention. It’s absolutely deafening.

Soon it will be 95 degrees and we’ll retreat to the cool indoors every day around noon, and things will pick up again around here. I actually taught an art class this week (that wasn’t rained out!) and remembered to bring the camera, so I’ll have that to share.

But for the moment, just imagine the sound of the screen door slamming. We’re on our way out. But we’ll be back in soon.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. — Margaret Atwood

Reggio and kinesthetic learners

Published by Lori Pickert on May 6, 2008 at 01:30 PM

I got a great question in the comments to my interview at The Artful Parent, and I wanted to share it and my answer here.

Hi Lori,

What a wonderful interview! Thank you for the information. I have been doing some research on Reggio, homeschooling and other philosophies. I currently am a special education teacher in the public school system. For the most part I love my job; however, there are MANY things I don’t agree with. I have a almost 3 year old and 8 month old. I am reseraching my alternatives for them when it comes to education and I have a question for you. Everything I am reading seems to be art based, what if a child isn’t much into art? My daughter for example will paint, color, playdough, etc.f or about 10 minutes tops, but when it comes to running outside, dribbling a ball, or playing on a playground I can’t get her in! I guess I am wondering how she would fit into such models? Thank Eileen

Hi, Eileen - and thank you! While many people focus on the visual arts aspect of the Reggio approach, the Hundred Languages actually embrace kinesthetic learners - children do learn in different ways and can engage with a subject and express their knowledge by building, dancing, performing skits, dramatic play, and in many other active ways.

And while the visual arts (e.g., drawing, painting, collage) are important, an active child might be more engaged with building models, sculpting clay, creating large-scale dramatic play structures (e.g., child-size vehicles, buildings, rooms), etc.

The idea isn't to try to funnel a child toward visual arts, but rather give them a whole smorgasbord of choices - books about buildings and bridges and other structures *with* a fantastic array of blocks and other building materials, a great dress-up trunk *with* a stage to dance and perform on, an art studio with a quiet nook to draw in *and* an array of exciting things to build and scupt with. And when a child shows a particular interest, paying attention and providing them with what they need to take the work further.

If you are interested in the Reggio approach specifically, if you delve a little deeper you will find wonderful garden- and park-centered projects to read about.

Since you already know your child has a strong desire to be outside, you can meet her halfway and provide her with tools for learning outdoors - magnifying glass, binoculars, bug box, field guides, sandbox, outdoor building materials (rocks, shells, pinecones, etc.), a work area outdoors (perhaps a small table), scarves for running and dancing, a garden... We set up easels outdoors with pencils, oil pastels, and paint so that children can paint and play and draw and play - and there are so many exciting things to learn about outside!

You can read the whole interview and all of the comments here.

When does your homeschool year end?

Published by Lori Pickert on April 26, 2008 at 12:35 AM


As the weather turns warm and the green starts to emerge, we are putting down our books and moving outside — to play catch, read on the deck, draw in the woods behind our house.

We start living outdoors again. We may take sledding and snowball breaks in the winter, but it’s nothing like the wholesale move to outside that happens in the spring.

Public and private schools in our area start getting out around the middle of May (for those who have no spring break and a very short winter break) and some are still in session in June.

The biggest change for us when school lets out is that our school-attending friends are suddenly free to play during the day, during the week.

We like to schedule vacations for either the last few weeks of public school in the spring or the first few weeks in the fall. It’s such a luxury to visit popular places when the weather is beautiful but there are no crowds.

When are you “done” for the year? If you are unschooling, do you pay any attention at all to the “school” year?

Nature journals: Observational painting

Published by Lori Pickert on April 20, 2008 at 08:49 PM


Along the same lines as observational drawing, we will concentrate on looking closely, noticing details, and doing our best to paint what we see.

We will try to paint the colors exactly as we see them.


First we do an observational pencil sketch. (If you want to try ink, make sure it is waterproof.)


Then we add details in color using the watercolor techniques we have practiced.


Because we're working in our sketchbooks and the pages are not as heavy as watercolor paper, we’re careful about using too much water — and we use an extra piece of paper under the page we are painting on to absorb any wetness that soaks through.


Things to do while making observational drawings and paintings in nature:

4.08-j-waterc-woods2.jpg • Talk about what we see.

• Ask questions about what we see — and remember them, so we can look up the answers later.

• Talk about what has changed since we were here last.

• Write descriptive words in our journals.

• Pay attention to everything around us — not just what we can see, but also what we can hear, what we can feel.

• Make sure we take everything with us when we leave.


See also: the complete list of nature journal lessons (as it grows!)

You may also be interested in the complete list of art activities.


Most of our nature journaling will be done en plein air. But don’t overlook your local nature center. You can get up close and personal with birds, reptiles, and animals that you will be lucky to see from a distance when you’re drawing and painting outdoors.








See also: the complete list of nature journal activities (as it grows!)


Nature journals: Drawing outdoors

Published by Lori Pickert on April 20, 2008 at 02:18 AM


park bench, by Jack, age 8



Nice things to have when you draw outdoors:

• A big binder clip to keep your sketchbook pages from flapping in the breeze.

• A hand lens for looking at flowers, insects, and textures up close.

• Hat with a brim to keep the sun out of your eyes and off your neck.

• There is so much to look at, sometimes it’s hard to choose what to draw. A small frame or viewfinder can help a child focus on a smaller area that is easier to draw.*

• Take a photograph of what you were drawing.