Supplementing your children's e-learning

This school year is like none other and there truly are no good answers. Every parent of a school-aged child is completely stressed for a million different reasons. I have been thinking about some hands-on activities to do to supplement the virtual learning that kids will be doing on the screen.

I realize so many parents are both working and struggling to ensure their child doesn’t fall behind, so these are simple, family friendly activities that can be done anytime, and they will promote interest and learning in the environment and sciences.

First, I think a great thing to do (also happens to be the most simple), is to talk to your kids about how their actions impact the earth. For example, you can talk during a meal about avoiding single-use plastics, and how the lake and the oceans have so much plastic in them, and how they can make a difference by making smart choices.

Another topic can be about how picking up litter in your neighborhood is protecting Lake Erie because that litter will not then make it into the sewer system and out into the lake. Other ideas could be conserving electricity and water, climate change, and fossil fuel emissions (depending on the age of your kids).

A great family activity to do this fall is to start a compost bin at your house. This is actually quite easy, and you will notice a decrease in the amount of trash your family is generating. A few years ago I purchased a repurposed food barrel, turned into a compost barrel. The compost cylinder (barrel) that I have is open on the bottom to the ground, allowing worms to crawl into your waste and compost. Additionally, the top, which is removable, has holes in it to allow air and rainwater in, which are both important for composting.

There are many different containers available for composting, including ones you can turn, and other types. It’s a good idea to check a few kinds out to see what would work best for your lifestyle.

What is compostable? Raw fruit and vegetable waste (but not citrus; citrus kills bacteria, you want to grow bacteria), eggshells, coffee grounds, black and white newsprint, fireplace ashes, dryer lint, and yard waste (leaves, sticks, etc.). When adding these materials, the smaller they are, the quicker they will break down, so crumble your eggshells and chop up vegetable/fruit scraps as much as possible.  

What shouldn’t you put in there? Do not put any meat, bread or dairy products, or cooked food in your compost. If you follow these simple guidelines, animals will not be attracted to your compost.  

Why is this a great family activity? With my kids home all of the time, food is constantly being prepared, cooked and eaten. Kids buy right into composting and enjoy participating. My kids do not mind collecting their fruit peels or rinds, eggshells, etc. and walking out to the compost to add it. And believe me, we are adding a lot more than ever before!

Another idea for supplementing online education is to take walks around your block and count birds. You can take it a step further and download a bird-watching app to identify the birds. You can play the birds’ songs on the app and as a family, you can start to identify birds by their sight and their song. Birding is a wonderful pastime and if your kids are into it, you are introducing them to a hobby that may last a lifetime. As a bonus, if they love birds, they will in turn want to protect the earth because those two things go hand in hand.

Two apps worth checking out for searching for birds by different features are the Cornell Lab's Merlin Bird app (free) and iBird Pro Guide to Birds (paid). Larkwire is free with in-app purchases that turns learning bird songs into a game, which kids will love. There are two versions of this app, one for water birds and one for land birds. 

If birds are not your family’s thing, you can do something similar with trees. Tree identification is another great family activity that promotes interest in the outdoors and conservation. There is an app called Leafsnap that identifies trees if you take a photo of a leaf. Tree identification is knowledge that is fun to have! Also, this type of knowledge may spark an interest in botany for your child as they move through their educational career. During breaks in their e-learning day, you can send them out into your neighborhood to gather different leaves and you can identify them as a family using the app.

As this school year begins, we are entering uncharted territory. Making learning fun at home and introducing your children to new concepts and ideas that may not correlate with their courses will provide invaluable supplemental education that they may carry with them throughout their lives, and simultaneously spark an interest in conservation! The earth needs all the young people it can get to take a major interest in saving it. 

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Volume 12, Issue 16, Posted 9:18 AM, 08.18.2020