Homeschooling Along the Gulf Coast

So far, we’ve homeschooled our children in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.  I hope we don’t have to move again…sorry Louisiana.

My boys have had some incredible experiences.

We started homeschooling when we moved to Mississippi.  We hooked up with two fantastic support groups: Olive Branch Christian Homeschool Educators and the Hernando-Nesbit Homeschool group.  Outside of group activities I took the boys on lots of field trips in Memphis TN.   We learned how to be birders and kept journals and a lift list.  We loved going to the Lichterman Nature Center.   I bought us each a copy of a nature journal in their gift shop.  The idea of the book is to return to the trails during each season of the year and answer questions about particular stops along the trails.  By the end of the year you have a completed book with nature notes, observations and drawings.  I remember on one day we had a lot of fun because we picked off the ground (in Autumn) as many different kinds of leaves we could find.  We stopped at the pole barn with the picnic tables and did rubbings or drawings of the leaves in another book we kept, searched through a field guide to identify them and label them in the book.  The boys loved it.  Other things we enjoyed were: the Memphis Zoo (we’d concentrate on a different section each visit), the Pink Palace Science Museum and IMAX theatre, the ducks at the Peabody Hotel, trips to Little Rock and their museums, and Shiloh battle field.

We moved to TX in June of one year and left that October.  During that time, the boys learned to identify more birds, since we were in a different fly way.  We went to NASA and the science museum in Houston; took trips to Austin and saw the bats, the black swan and swam in Barton Springs; went to San Antonio to visit and learn about Missions including the Alamo.  We traveled down the coast to Corpus Christi and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to see the Whooping Cranes (we saw one on the way but none along the coast).  Did you know the artist that made the Presidents Park in Williamsburg (www.presidentspark.org) has his studio in Houston?  We visited the studio/warehouse and saw some of the president busts.  It was so cool.  Also on the grounds were sculptures of the Beatles http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1407/549618589_7fa0b47543.jpg  and some other famous people. We lived only an hour from the Blue Bell ice cream factory so we made an effort to get there for a tour and a free taste.  Yum.  When we started school that August we joined the West Houston Homeschool Educators.  The group offered a lot to its members in terms of support, activities and enrichment/co-op classes.  Too bad we had to leave them.  The moms I had met were super.

In Florida we spent our time either with our noses in our books or on the beach learning about beach and marine life.  I do think we spent more time outdoors.  We joined Learning and Families homeschool group.  I’m still a member, only with website access.  What a fantastic group of families and the support they provide was outstanding: co-ops (which we didn’t do), field trips (which we did a lot of) and support meetings and gatherings for the kids.  The boys also joined a 4-H club and entered projects in the county fair.  In Florida we studied more birds, learned to fish, kayak, siened in the bay, kept a marine fish tank (which we still have).  We attended wonderful exhibits at GWIZ (the science museum), Ringling Museum, and Selby Gardens.  We were chased by flamingoes, collected shark teeth and sand dollars (I have over 300).  We experienced tropical storms and hurricanes off the coast (most notable Gustav and Ivan);  found octopus and man-0′- wars on the beach; kept watch over the nesting snowy plovers.  We made it to Sanibel, Captiva, San Marcos Islands; traveled through sugar cane farms to West Palm Beach.  And, attended spring training baseball games. 

We’re members of the Lake Forest Homeschool Club in Alabama: a great group of families.  I suggest anyone homeschooling in Baldwin County join this club.  They have a ton of activities so you’re sure to find something for your children to do with the club.  School just started so we haven’t done any field trips yet…oh there was a get together at the lagoon in Gulf Shores and Fresh Air Family hosted a group outing to learn about turtles.  We’ve done a lot on our own since moving here including visiting New Orleans (there’s our homeschooling connection to Louisiana). The way we live (moving here and there often) we never know how long we’re staying so we have to look at each opportunity and take it.  Just read past blog posts and you’ll see what kind of educational stuff there is to do here in Alabama and Baldwin County specifically…we haven’t even scratched the surface.  Hope we’re here long enough to. 

Homeschooling has given us the lifestyle to search out adventures and learn about things outside 4 cinderblock walls.  It’s a lot of fun to homeschool along the Gulf Coast.   So far we’ve enjoyed our adventure.  I do hope God protects our freedom to homeschool in America.  We pray every day about it.  Hope you do to.

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Florida Birding

I just got in the mail today my birding certificate from Wings Over Florida.  I’m a Cardinal level which means I’ve identified between 50-149 birds in Florida.  My life list is a lot longer because I’ve seen tons of birds in tons of states across America.  Since I moved here, for the Wings of Florida certificate I had to start over with my Florida list.  Birds that don’t count on the list are: Muscovy Duck, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Budgeriger, Monk Parakeet, Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Black-hooded Parakeet, White-winged Parakeet, House Finch, House Sparrow, European Starling. 

I’m almost at the 150 mark since I moved here.  Just a handful to go and hopefully I can make it further inland this migration season to see from of my feathered friends I miss from the other states I’ve lived.  That level is called the Scrub Jay Level, which is considered intermediate or 150-249 bird types.  Wish me luck.

Wings Over Florida is part of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Great Florida Birding Trail.  Check them out at www.myfwc.com/wof for your checklist and application.

Along with my certificate I also recieved The Great Florida Birding Trail  brochure, Checklist of Florida’s Birds, Commemorative Guide The Great Florida Birding Trail, and separate maps for the West Florida Birding Trail, Panhandle Birding Trail and South Florida Birding Trail. 

I am so excited about the migratory bird season and hope to see some really cool birds.  I live a few minutes from Myakka State Park and have never seen the Scrub Jay so I plan to get that one on my list.  I want to focus this winter on ducks and I also hope to see a Whooping Crane.  Whooping Cranes were introduced to Florida and are rarely spotted.  I got to see one in TX before we moved here.  We were driving to Corpus Christi for the weekend and were planning to visit the nature preserves for bird watching.  Driving down the interstate from Houston a HUGE bird flew out in front of us from the swampy grass in the median.  It was a Whooping Crane.  I never got a picture of it or any other but I saw it.  I’m hoping to actually spot one and photograph it this time.  But for now my memory is the best picture.

Edited: I did finally get my Scrub Jay certificate.  I’ve moved to Alabama.  I can still bird watch in FL which is about an hour’s drive but it’ll take longer now to get to the next level.  I hope to find some more great birds in Alabama.  I’m living under a different migration flyway.