Homeschool is Cool on Narragansett Bay
by Rachael Lewin, communications intern, Save The Bay
Homeschooling began to grow in popularity in the 1970s when educational theorist John Holt advocated for the reform of public schools. Holt asked parents to consider schools without walls, where kids can learn at their own pace in their own environment. This experiential-based approach has grown significantly over the years and now more than 2 million U.S. children are being taught from home.
In 2008, Save The Bay added a new program, Homeschool is Cool, to its robust set of marine science environmental education courses. Once a month from September to May, children ages 6-14 meet for two-hour sessions to explore Narragansett Bay through its various creatures, watershed and habitats. Learning progress is tracked in journals that students use to take notes and draw pictures of their observations. All of Save The Bay’s education programs are linked to national science standards and Rhode Island’s grade span and grade learning expectations, making Homeschool is Cool a win for parent-teachers and students alike.
On a typical chilly day in February, some 25 children from kindergarten to third grade arrive at the Bay Center abuzz about the day’s activities. Educators have already been down to the dock to gather microscopic plankton from the Providence River, and the lesson starts with a primer on these tiny organisms. The students learn that plankton are the most abundant species in the Bay, and can range in size from miniscule to larger than a human. With older kids helping the younger ones, microscopes in the plankton lab at the Bay Center give these young marine scientists the chance to look at the different types of plankton up close, and then the students draw what they see in their observation journals.
Craft activities help reinforce the marine science lesson as students “make” a plankton out of Play-Doh and spaghetti. And since plankton float, rather than swim, in the water, the students are challenged to make spaghetti plankton that actually float. Contagious excitement fills the room as the students cheer and clap for the “plankton” that looked like they might actually float. In the end, spaghetti and Play-Doh prove to be less-than-buoyant and all the plankton eventually make their way to the bottom of the container.
“Programs like this are so great because they allow for my kids to have some real hands-on experience with the animals they’re reading and learning about. They come home eager to share what they learned and inspired to continue learning about the Bay and all the different aspects that make it so special,” said a mother of an excited third grader.
On a hazy March afternoon, homeschoolers and their families gather on the dock at Bowen’s Landing in Newport. After the group receives life jackets and safety guidelines, the excursion to look for seals begins. Before heading out to visit the seals at their favorite hangout spot, the educators introduce Sealia, Save The Bay’s life-size harbor seal model. On the outside, Sealia is simply a stuffed animal, but on the inside she is anatomically correct, with removable plush organs.
The educators break down the replica, explaining how the seals’ six inches of blubber along with a metabolic rate higher than land mammals, keeps them warm. The children learn that Narragansett Bay is an ideal location for seals’ winter vacationing because it is a safe place to rest, free from common predators, with a bounty of fish to eat.
The parents, marveling at the large number and beauty of the animals, stand back to allow the youngsters to be in front. Some hold up their phones to take pictures, some chat amongst themselves about the days activities. Homeschooling has become much more than just parents teaching their children at home. An aunt of one of the students pointed out that when enrolled in traditional schooling, weekends feel so hectic and busy, especially if sports and other extracurricular activities are a part of the schedule. Homeschooling, she said, allows for more family, time whether during the week or on the weekends, and that doing programs like this during the week eliminates the worry of weekend crowds. Parents work together to connect classroom lessons and experiences, creating communities of families who use this style of education and programs that make these experiences possible.
A father of one of the young adventurers shared his memories of struggling through school and constantly feeling behind his peers, so when it came time for his own kids to go to school, homeschooling was the answer. He and his wife quickly realized that this style of educating is a learning experience for the parents just as much as the kids, but seeing his son’s passion and excitement for learning makes the extra work worth it.