While we do all of our homeschool co-op meeting with our little kids outdoors, we do have a half-day indoors for the middle and high school students. Certain things work best outdoors and others are must-do indoors. I am a huge advocate of doing what can be done outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Here is my list of activities that maximize the best environment for optimum learning.
History is the perfect subject for making gigantic outdoor timelines with sidewalk chalk on pavement. We have created timelines of the American Civil War, World War II, and the Thirty Years War. I assigned each student or student team (older student with a younger one) an event, made sure they were lined up in the right place chronologically, gave them chalk, and let them loose. Some kids created beautiful illustrations with their event, some wrote a description in fancy lettering, and a few just managed a title and date. Then they walked their parents through the timeline. By the time they have read, prepared, created a timeline, and toured adults through it, the historical events should be pretty firm in their minds.
Often there is wind outdoors. We have found that every kid having a clipboard keeps papers, crafts, and little parts from blowing away. They often sell them at the dollar store, so they are affordable. It gives kids a flat surface for drawing, painting, and copywork. Projects have to be done on laps sometimes, because park benches and tables often have bumps and grooves. It also solves the problem of whose craft project or copywork is whose when it is time to pack up. Clipboards are necessary for outdoor drawing and marking maps, another perfect co-op activity that goes right along with history.
Painting is a great outdoor activity, provided you have water or some way to clean up close by. There is no carpet or floor to worry about. We find using masking tape or blue painter’s tape to hold the paper down keeps the wind from frustrating small artists. The great outdoors is great for glue and glitter projects, too. Gluing tiny beads, beans, pasta, and birdseed is fun – and best done outdoors.
Story time on a blanket spread out in the shade is a favorite after-lunch activity for toddlers through elementary age children. Stories, poetry, songs, and nursery rhymes are best read and recited outdoors on a blanket. The Five In a Row series has lots of ideas. Anybody play guitar? Try little rhythm instruments for each child, played to favorite childhood songs. Music develops the brain! Poetry teaches self-expression. Start with Mother Goose collections and work your work through children’s poetry collections on an outdoor blanket.
The best way to teach history and literature is to act it out! When we reviewed trench warfare in our study of World War I, we found some pits and hills in a part of the park they were landscaping and demonstrated the back and forth, claiming one trench for Germany, then letting it go back to the Allies.
Battles and war strategy are better understood with army men on a large map with the pieces being moved around by the kids. They won’t soon forget a battle when students are given hats and find stick swords, given the front line boundaries, and allowed to reenact it!
Shakespeare is meant to be performed to be properly understood. When we study plays, we act out the most dramatic scenes: the stabbing of Julius Caesar, the final scene in Hamlet, or Antigone before the king.
Even reenacting courtroom scenes and famous speeches, big historical moments, and funny book scenes reinforces learning. Anything to get movement and emotion involved in learning puts the information into the long term memory.
Geography goes right along with history. If we look at the places we are studying in history on the map, they become more concrete and less abstract to us. We have found that sharing an atlas can be frustrating. One world atlas per child, or at least one per family is most conducive to learning.
A great activity for co-op is learning to draw the United States and the whole world (the seven continents) by memory. This activity gives a better understanding of the world and your geo-political place in it. We usually do it along with our memory work one year in the four-year cycle.
Physical games, where we move around, work best outdoors. We deal with wiggles by practicing Latin vocabulary this way: conjugate the verb, then run to the tree and back. We play mental math games, and other math games using little whiteboards. Our younger kids go on outdoor nature scavenger hunts, “bear hunts” (like the children’s book), and play traditional games like “Duck, duck, goose” and freeze tag. When studying the Black Plague our kids made up their own game and called it “rat tag”.
I mentioned this as a strength of co-ops in general and it works well for outdoor co-ops as well. Memory work or recitation requires no special equipment and can be done in all types of weather. It is the perfect way to start off your co-op morning. Some years we have offered a treasure chest where students that have recited this week’s work from memory get to choose a prize. It was very hard for little people who had not done memory work to watch older siblings get a prize. We switched to a sticker reward chart. We have done plenty of years where the competition and the accomplishment was its own reward. This was the simplest method. Personally, I work better if there chocolate at the end of it.
Related to the timeline memory work, we have found that keeping a timeline or history notebook for each student works very well. Older students are required to write a paragraph about the historical figure or event, with dates, that they read about in history that week. If there was more than one event or figure, they may pick their favorite. This works well because of the way Mystery of History is laid out. Story of the World lends itself nicely to this also, for the younger kids.
Nowadays we use Biblioplan for history. It is the only curriculum that neatly lines up all ages. This way we can study the same event at whichever reading and comprehension level we are on. Biblioplan also offers a Family Guide – that one thing I find indispensable for co-op. The author, Julia Nalle, coordinates every possible resource you could want to support and reinforce your study of history. She lists biographies, historical fiction, classics, stories on audio, movies, other history books, projects, maps, and crafts. Planning history for four ages groups was hard work, all summer long, before I found this gem.
Upper elementary students write one or two sentences about the event or historical figure they studied that week. They include dates and an illustration to help them remember. Younger students just write a title and dates with their simple, small illustration. They keep the same notebook (if possible) for all four years, so that they have a complete timeline to refer to. Sometimes we play review games that require them to look back to previous years. It keeps things fresh in their minds.
Charlotte Mason also advocated the use of timelines. She called them Book of Centuries. It is a quaint name and I love it. It is essentially what I described above.
Food is always messy, so it is a no brainer that this is a great thing to do outside. We often share treats based on the geographic region we are studying, a holiday, or a time period in history. All of this is done outdoors keeps eating light and sociable, instead of stressful.
Some of our favorite co-op memories revolve around snacks. St. Patrick’s Day, or the closest co-op day to it, always sees us making limeade together and savoring every drop. The kids look forward to the coldest co-op day of the year. My husband never fails to drive by and drop off a Dunkin Donuts gallon of hot chocolate for the kids to enjoy.
We have had co-op medieval and renaissance faires where our children hawked tasty wares and period trinkets that they had created by themselves, to each other. Harvest time has seen us sharing an authentic (as close as we could get) outdoor Thanksgiving meal when we studied early American history. Our older girls have practiced creative cupcake and cookie decorating and shared both the hits and misses with our hungry co-op. Sharing food is an important part of fellowship. Don’t let your co-op miss out on that bond.
While we are thoroughly classical in our approach to education, we embrace Charlotte Mason’s gentle art of learning for our younger students. Being out in nature, observing it, sketching it, and articulating what was seen are important skills for students to develop. Charlotte Mason calls it Nature Study. Whatever you want to call it, you have to be outdoors for it, so it is an ideal activity for a co-op that meets outdoors.
If you decide to engage in nature study with your outdoor co-op, each child will need a sketchbook to record their observations in. We like using quality colored pencils. Cheap colored pencils and crayons can be very unsatisfying to work with. Markers dry up quickly. High quality colored pencils and crayons are worth the investment. But initially, use what you have. Do not overspend for any co-op activities.
WHAT ARE SOME OF MY IDEAS FOR DOING CO-OP OUTDOORS? ______________________________
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