For our second week of school, we spent the week with Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, which is in Volume 2 of the Five in a Row curriculum.
Our family has been dreaming of buying a little mini-farm in the country. We've spent the last six months renovating our house and decluttering and trying to sell our house. I even convinced the kids to sell some of their excess toys at a tag sale and start saving for their livestock fund.
For now our dream of moving seems to be on hold, but the kids still love to imagine all the livestock they can have in our dream house. After their dad played them a homesteading podcast about keeping ducks, ducks replaced sheep on their list. So they were eager to learn more about ducks.
I am still learning lessons in these first few weeks of homeschool. Every year, I print out way too many printables at the beginning of the year. My kids actually love worksheets. In fact, they will beg me to print out worksheets for them just for fun. However, I often fall into the trap of thinking, "if I print out that mini-book about animal parenting, that will help us learn about ducks," when really what it turns into is "we will have something to put into our binder to show we learned something." Well, this week reminded me how real learning happens:: by interacting with nature, reading great books, and integrating knowledge into play.
We started out our week with a lesson in geography. I found a map of Boston and we traced the route Mr. and Mrs. Mallard too from the Boston Public Gardens to the island in the Charles River and back. McCloskey was an art student in Boston, so all of the pictures are based on real places he would walk by on his way to art school. We are planning a field trip to the Boston Public Gardens to ride the swan boats soon.
On our second day we read several non-fiction books about ducks and nests and played a mother and baby animal matching game with my younger two. I knew I had printed this out last year and searched my whole house, then as soon as I pulled the cards out, my daughter goes to the cabinet and pulled out the old laminated cards. Now we have two sets! I did print out the cards 2 pages to a sheet the second time, which made them the size of regular Memory cards. I had planned to do a mini-lapbook page, but after the kids declared they were going to gather up all their toy ducks and play duck farmers, I left them to it and recycled the pages.
My oldest daughter remembered that she had seen ducklings at a local petting farm when she was on a Daddy-date, so we decided we would go there and draw and observe ducks the next day. She even printed us up some official nametags and laminated them so it would be an official field trip.
The ducklings had grown up some, but there were lots of mallards to observe. Gary Schmidt has some wonderful stories about the making of Make Way for Ducklings in his biography Robert McCloskey. Did you know that Robert McCloskey spent over two years on the art for Make Way for Ducklings? He studied stuffed ducks at the Museum of Natural History. He visited an ornithologist to learn about the shapes of their skulls. Eventually, he decided to buy live ducklings for his models. He carried them home on the subway and kept them in his studio in New York. His roommate Marc Simont drew the bad lot of having to share a bedroom with the ducklings. The little ducklings caused quite a ruckus in the studio. Gary D. Schmidt quoted McCloskey as saying "I spent the next weeks on my hands and knees, armed with a box of Kleenex and a sketch book, following ducks around the studio and observing them in the bath tub." They sloshed water from the tub, leading to complains from the apartment downstairs." The ducklings were always too fast for McCloskey, so"The solution for their rapid movement was an unorthodox one. "The only thing that worked was red wine. They loved it and went into slow motion right away." When he was done, McCloskey wandered all over New York trying to give the ducks away to a butcher and came home defeated with a box of loud, hungry ducks. They eventually were taken in by a friend in the country.
My nine-year-old took her camera along and took some amazing portraits of the ducks.
They were also made great models for some scientific drawings and notations such as differences in duck bills in different breeds of ducks.
We also got to practice drawing from live models.
My four-year-old was not interested in drawing, but he did love finding out if the ducks like peanuts. They do! When a mower disturbed some mallards resting in the shade, two dozen ducks jumped into the water and swam across. He shouted, "It's the real Make Way for Ducklings!"
Of course, we had to visit the pigs, llamas, mini-donkeys, goats, chickens, and peacocks at the farm too, and go home with a half-gallon of mint-cookie ice cream. A great field trip, all told.
On Thursday, we learned about rhyming words and made a word family of ducks in a pond. I printed out some duck outlines using the clipart on Microsoft word and the kids filled them in with words that rhymed with -ack or -uck. We managed not to get into any trouble with that one. We also learned the spelling rule for words ending with -ck. I'm trying to stick spelling rules in wherever we can these days! We had our weekly poetry tea time with ice tea and ice cream from the day before.
Then on Friday, we watched an excellent National Geographic film we found at the library called "Duckumentary."
When I write about our "rows" with Five in a Row, I never feel like I get to the heart of it all, because really "heart" is what is at the core of this curriculum. The books were carefully chosen for their heart, and the Five in a Row manuals have taught me how to read books with my kids in a way that is about relationships as much as learning. The little conversations you have with your kids about how a parent makes a good home for a child (even if they are ducks) or noticing little details in the drawings like the expression on Mrs. Mallard's face when she is leading the ducklings down the street, or the way your kid will pop up with some little bit of information days later about mallard ducks or nests or art, those are the priceless parts of our weeks that I can't quite capture here.