It’s all well and good, not joining personally in the educational crayfish hunt, but next thing you know, your preschooler has a net full of tiny gasping creatures and there’s nothing for it but to woman up and help get them into their welcoming bucket of water.
Crayfish have too many legs and those disturbing pincer things and minnows are slimy. Also, I have a deep suspicion of water muddy enough that gigantic swamp snakes might be hiding in it, because I watched Swiss Family Robinson. I find motherhood a very stretching experience.
The reason we are out there fishing, instead of throwing rocks into the water (a perennial favorite) or creating beautiful leaf boats, or for that matter throwing rocks at a fleet of leaf boats, is Charlotte Mason’s fault. This fall, our co-op decided to follow Ambleside’s recommendation for Charlotte Mason educators, and so we are studying invertebrates. I’ve got to say, it’s going better than I expected. It’s more delicious, too.
For crustacean week, the mom in charge had a moment of brilliance. She bought crab, lobster, and shrimp at the grocery store, cooked them, and brought them with melted butter and brown paper to cover the picnic table. It would never have occurred to me to do that because I’m from the desert, but I now know you should always do co-op with a native Floridian because they understand the real reason you would dissect a crustacean. Then we went creek-fishing for their local cousins, the crayfish. Best. Co-op. Ever.
Another week we studied butterflies in the classroom, reading about them, sketching them, and bursting out of scarf-cocoons like them. The next week we went to a historic park for a program on monarch butterflies.
The guide had them dress up in butterfly wings (SO CUTE) and play a number of games. They did a life cycle game, arranging themselves with cards and props. They divided into four groups and acted out the generational migration thing that I had no idea monarchs do. The kids fluttered around for a game of tag and moms played the predators. Then we played a pollination game, mixing up colored balls among different tubs.
Then we moved on to studying bees. We found a beekeeper who brought her mobile presentation to us. She went through the various classes of bees in a hive, choosing a kid to demonstrate each one, pulling out lots of props and visual aids. She designated Meg as the queen bee, giving her wings and a tiara and letting her hold the poster.
We talked about how the queen bee is able to be the queen and lay eggs because when she was a larva, the worker bees fed her the special royal jelly, and they continue feeding it to her as an adult. The beekeeper brought her mobile hive and everyone gathered around and observed them.
Bees, obviously, mean honey, so after the beekeeper left, we brought out a flight of honeys to taste test. The most local honey, sourced from a farm within a couple miles of our host, was very light, so it added sweetness but no particular flavor to its peanut butter sandwich. The second-most local honey was mint-infused. It added a strong, minty flavor to the peanut butter sandwiches that reminded the tasters of chocolate. (I know where the kids usually find mint!) I probably wouldn’t buy it regularly because it’s too overwhelming. Last we had an orange blossom honey, which is a strong favorite of the Floridian mom. It was a full, flavorful honey, and it seemed to me a classic honey-ish taste.
Every week, I have Meg draw and label the invertebrate of the week if we didn’t do it during class time. The repetition is paying off. We’re starting to notice similarities and differences. A bee, for instance, has a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. It has six legs and two two-piece wings. A crustacean has the head and thorax fused into one piece, the “cephalothorax,” and an abdomen. It has six legs and two claws.
Now I can look at our collected crayfish, which are indeed similar to lobsters, and I regard them with less of the ack-too-many-legs, and more of a spirit of scientific inquiry. This is an improvement.
Meg seems to be cultivating an affection for skeletons, both exo- and internal. The craft store had out a display of animal skeletons for Halloween. I rolled my eyes and started to walk on, because pajama elastic isn’t going to buy itself, but the girls made a concerted dash for the skeletons. “Mom! Can we buy one? We can study it for school!” I took a closer look. The skulls of the cats, dogs, and rats had little bony ears poking up. Ears don’t have bones to give them shape, people, the bones of the ear are inside the skull and are part of the sound-transferring apparatus. No bare skull should have an ear on it. I took the opportunity to explain to the girls in no uncertain terms that ears are made of cartilage and we were not buying anatomically wrong skeleton cats, thank you very much.
This is what I get for taking nature studies seriously. We eat good things, we come home from creek fishing with two jars of crayfish and minnows, contrary to my avowed intention to leave the wildlife outside, and we don’t buy inaccurate animal skeletons. Ah, homeschooling.
Photo Credit: All images by Carolyn Bales.