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We're allllllmost done with our favorite subject over the last year, and I've been dying to write a full review for it because we have loved it so much. I'll try to just more adjectives than amazing/awesome/inspiring, but if I were to sum it up into three words, those would be it. We had so much darn fun. Hang with me, this is extremely comprehensive. I've plugged in some additions to the book list and some helps and suggestions.
We started school the first week of July with plans for schooling year round so that we could take breaks during our business' busiest season, the holidays. Our homeschool year started with science from Master Books, God's Design for Life (Lily, 5th grade, and Adair, 3rd grade) and God's Design for Life for Beginners (Oakley, 1st grade, and Coy, kindergarten), and after one week of lessons, we stashed those books on our bookshelf of shame #unusedcurriculum and dug into nature study.
What we all needed was restoration and ease. Outside of homeschooling, our lives were pretty unsettled with expanding our business and of course the pandemic, and science felt hard. I dreaded it after that first week and knew it wasn't a hill I was willing to die on.
I was enamored with the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling and happened upon The Pond and Stream Companion by Simply Charlotte Mason, promptly buying it before realizing I had to then buy all of the books on the book list from my nonexistent homeschool budget. Prioritizing the books needed earlier in the guide, I bought a dozen books or so that I couldn't find as read alouds on YouTube or Audible, and nature study sketch books
Lily being in 5th grade gave me a bit of pause before committing to it because it was developed for form 1, which is 1st-3rd grades, but the Simply Charlotte Mason community on Facebook said it was very customizable. She isn't very into science, and if she was I might have found another curriculum for her, but I just went back to our need for restoration...I just felt like it would help her find a love for nature. Totally worked, friends. Without me even prompting her, she would look up things on her own and record them in her nature journal. Mom win, right?! I felt like it was exactly what she needed this year, and would do it all over again.
After buying the curriculum, I copied the book list onto a Basecamp project and used the cross out function to mark off books as I bought them. I just went down the list and looked the book up on Amazon and Thriftbooks, then if YouTube and decided if I wanted it in used book form or as a read aloud on YouTube. I plugged the links into my list for easy reference, and I just checked the list each day, screen casting it to the TV if needed. Since the book list is public on their website, I've only compiled my helps and additions to it.
For the entire study:
For Pond and Stream by Arthur Ransome, I originally just used the free version online, but it was kind of hard to read, so I ordered this one from Amazon.
As far a field guides go, I cannot recommend highly enough buying local field guides. I asked this question on the Simply Charlotte Mason community group on Facebook and a local friend gave me specific suggestions of field guides for Nebraska and I'm so glad I went local. It's fun to open up the amphibian book, find your county, and see which animals you have a good chance of finding!
For specific lessons
I couldn't find any of the About books by Cathryn Sill, so I just found YouTube read alouds and linked them in my Basecamp project for this subject (more on how I organize Basecamp for homeschool coming soon!)
Butternut Hollow Pond by Brian Heinz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-sjNE5HCtM This one is about the life cycle of a pond, and we weren't exactly prepared for every animal to be eaten, so just a heads up! It wasn't morbid or anything, I just think if I was more prepared it would have been better.
Pond by Gordon Morrison (optional for 3rd grade)
Squish! A Wetland Walk by Nancy Luenn https://youtu.be/rB_6l9vJPEc
Ducks Don’t Get Wet by Augusta Goldin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr_qBWe-VkE (how to draw a duck https://youtu.be/o0ccHGvzofU) We went back to this book several times because I have one dear child who holds onto anger, and this was a great reference for "letting things roll off our backs." For her, it was helpful to have something very logical to think about to bring her out of that anger spiral.
Frogs by Nic Bishop https://youtu.be/WbY_KmQMVN8 or at Library (how to draw a frog: https://youtu.be/iRe-KoHD9hQ).
The Flower Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwQjwST5exo)
Where the River Begins by Thomas Locker (https://youtu.be/eTWENE1jXNM)
Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace OR Ellie & Ollie Eel: A Tale of a Fantastic Voyage by Suzanne Tate (https://youtu.be/cDsOrwcgvPo)
Henry the Impatient Heron by Donna Love (https://youtu.be/cDsOrwcgvPo or we listened for free on Audible)
Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey (https://youtu.be/swzv0C1qpXo)
Whistling Wings by Laura Goering (we listened on Audible for free)
Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl by Bruce Hiscock (https://youtu.be/ItG0Q5HLV3A)
We spent a lot of time watching the Brave Wilderness YouTube channel and found it to be a fantastic supplement to this curriculum. He has great videos about frogs, snails, and snakes, among other things. We don't spend a ton of time watching YouTube videos, but it seemed to fit with the Pond and Stream Companion well because we could see the actual animals even when the weather or timing didn't fit perfectly to go see ducks or frogs or eels.
Several of the books at the end we could not find; perhaps large libraries would have them, but we just looked up YouTube videos for the topics toward the end like otters and eels and it worked fine. I was still very new to narrating and it intimidated me, so we just drew in our nature sketch books for each book and I felt like the kids were gaining understanding as we went along. I started asking the kids about books later in the day or week and would get great renditions of books so I considered it a fantastic start to learning about narration for both the kids and me.
For field trips, we did nature study locally at a public pond, the state park lake, and a local private pond and river at least once a week. We recorded in our sketchbooks (you read that right, I sketched and observed and learned too) most of the time. I didn't make it a huge deal to draw everything we found, but I'd like to sketch more in the future. We did take one bigger field trip to a state park with a class about snakes.
My number one tip for this curriculum is to take your time. At first I felt rushed to get it in three or four times a week, but when I slowed down and only plugged it in once or twice a week I found the kids to be thinking on their own about what we were reading. I caught them all looking up animals in some of our reference books.
When we found something else that was related, we looked it up and added it to our study of wetlands. In Central Nebraska, we have the Sandhill Cranes visit for a few weeks in March when they hang out on the Platte River and feed heavily before flying north for breeding season. We found a book written and illustrated by a local author that sparked a stack of adorable crane drawings, and we spent an entire week digging deep into the Sandhill Crane. It was one of the highlights of our homeschool year, so I would recommend going down those local rabbit holes if you are able.
As I'm gathering my thoughts on this, our first subject to be finished up, I'm finding myself more emotional than I expected. Heading into homeschooling I didn't fully understand that I could choose whatever I wanted for school. I assumed it had to be a lot of work and rigorous to be valuable, but using the Pond and Stream Companion taught me probably the most valuable homeschool lesson I, as the educator, would need to learn in my first year...that sometimes what you need is to find the love for a subject before you can tackle bigger and harder things. This gave us that love for nature that we desperately needed to find after being cooped up in a brick building for years.
That being said, where are we headed with science next year? We have jumped on the A Gentle Feast train and are doing Exploring Nature With Children (follow #exploringnaturewithchildren on Instagram!) with all of the kids. The Cycle 3 family science is supposed to be human body and with one term of electricity, but we did a human body unit in January so we're studying weather all year, which ties in with electricity well. I feel like the last year just enjoying nature locally set us up for success moving forward and gave us a love for the outdoors that God has given us.
So, to sum it up...Pond and Stream Companion was a 10/10 for us. It was exactly what we needed for our first year homeschooling including a fairly traumatic transition from public school. 8/10 for the book list, just taking into consideration that I wasn't able to find several of the books for an affordable price. I knew I would only do this once, so I wasn't willing to invest for than a few dollars for picture books. I did, however, appreciate that the book list was public before I bought it, so I could start gathering the books while waiting on the guide to ship. 10/10 for the guide itself, I loved that it gave me a heads up when we would be needing a book soon and the price was great.
Have you ever had a curriculum change your mindset in such a huge way? Tell me about it!