Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer... the season for real learning!

When I recall my summers as I was growing up, I remember how wonderfully free I felt to be out of that building. No homework until fall! I was going to enjoy every minute of this amazing season! And I did. I never realized until long after we began homeschooling, that those summers provided more true learning than any lesson I ever completed in school.

I spent hours playing with the children next door. We cracked rocks to see what was inside them, smelling them, gazing at the sparkly interiors, using the most beautiful ones to make “jewelry.” We gathered green apples, and timothy grass, and the tender middle part of the water reeds, and we made salads or soup. Soup and salad looked the same, but to us, they were vastly different.

Roy, the dad of the children next door, was a teacher at the local high school, and a back-to-nature sort of fellow. He knew about all of the plants and insects and was happy to have us join him on his walks. He could spot the tiniest things in the weeds and pull them out to show us, much to our amazement. He found things like cocoons, and bird eggs. Praying mantis would perch on Roy's shoulder, and he would walk on, as though he didn't even know it was there. But he did know. He just thought it was normal for that sort of thing to happen.

Roy, also, had cages attached to the outside walls of his garage, and several other places around their patio.  In the cages, there were twigs with cocoons (moths) and chrysalis (butterflies).  I loved to check the cages to see if a moth or a butterfly was getting ready to emerge.  One cage I checked only contained a stick.  No cocoon.  No chrysalis.  I asked Roy why there was just a stick in that cage.  Roy said,”Are you sure it’s just a stick?  Look again.”  I looked.  I didn’t see anything on the stick.  I looked again.  The stick moved!  What in the world?  Then I saw antennae and legs!  I had no idea what it was.  Roy explained that it was an insect called a “walking stick.”  That’s exactly what it looked like... a stick that could walk.  I was amazed.

Often, Roy, walked down the hill to the pond, that his family and our family shared. He would point out tadpoles, bullfrogs, turtles, damselflies, dragonflies, and so many other amazing creatures. Sometimes we would sit by the pond and watch the fish.  In the field by the pond, we saw a groundhog occasionally, or sometimes a muskrat.  I didn’t like snakes very much, but there were nearly always snakes near the pond.

When the vegetables began to grow in the garden, Roy would amaze me by pulling carrots from the ground, wiping them lightly on his overalls, then chomping them as if they tasted delicious with dirt on them. In fact, he said they were very sweet! I could hardly believe it, but Roy wasn't the sort of person to lie.  

My parents were both teachers, and at that time, teachers didn't have to work during the summer. My dad was, also, a principal, so he did have to go to the school occasionally in the summer months, but not too often. Summer was the perfect time for us to go on vacations. We seldom took a vacation that was longer than 2 or 3 days, but they were wonderful. We traveled all over Ohio, and through many parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky.

My mom and dad and I visited so many fascinating places in Ohio, like the Blue Hole in Castalia. I loved going there, because at that time, no one had been able to find the bottom of that pool of water. Mysterious! The Ohio Caverns in West Liberty were pretty scary, especially when they turned out the lights while we were in them. Aaah! Serpent Mound was amazing, and a little creepy, at the same time. So many strange things right here in Ohio!

My favorite trip each summer was our visit to the Ohio State Fair.  I loved any fair, but I loved the state fair most of all.  We would wake up at 3:30 in the morning, and pack a breakfast to eat on the way to the fair.  We didn’t live near any major highways, so it was a long drive to Columbus.  Just driving into the big city was an eye-opening adventure!  I would help my dad look for 17th Ave.  That was the street where the entrance to the fairgrounds was located.  We usually arrived at the fairgrounds by 6:00 am.  That’s when they opened.  My dad was on the Holmes County Fair Board, so he always got free admission to the fair.  I thought that was really cool!

Once we were inside, it just got more exciting.  Our first stop was usually at one of the Bob Evans sausage tents.  They were busy grilling sausage, and the smell was so wonderful.  You had to tell them if you wanted a smokey boy (sausage link) or a farm boy (sausage patty).  I loved both of them, but I knew we would stop at another Bob Evans stand during the day, so I started with a farm boy sandwich.  Bob Evans sausage today does not compare with the sausage sandwiches I enjoyed at the state fair.  Not even close.  

After we left the fair, we walked through building after building of exhibits.  I loved the commercial buildings with the Vitamix and vegetable chopper demonstrations and free samples, the massage chairs, and the spin-art!  I loved the spin-art.  My mom always made me wait until the end of the day, when we were heading toward the exit, before she would allow me to squirt paint on the spinning white card in the bottom of what looked like a flower pot.  I loved squirting the different colors on the card and seeing the pretty patterns they made.  

We always ate lunch in the dairy building.  First we would look at the cheese display to see which cheesemaker had won the blue ribbon as the best Swiss cheesemaker in Ohio.  We knew most of the cheesemakers so it was always exciting to see if one of our favorites won.  Then we would look at the cow sculpture carved out of butter, and whatever other butter sculptures they had on display.  After that, we would get our lunch of a Swiss cheese sandwich on wheat bread with mustard, and a creamy, delicious milkshake.  We usually ate lunch near the cow milking barn.  I liked watching the milk flowing through the glass pipes above our heads.  

After lunch, we would go visit the gigantic talking cardinal. He must have been 25 feet high, and if you asked him a question, he would answer you. If no one was talking to him, he would shout at people, and ask them questions. Sometimes he sang "happy birthday" to visitors who were having a birthday.  I was usually too shy to ask the cardinal any questions, but I loved to hear what he would say to other people.  

Next we would head to the Department of Natural Resources display. They had live wild animals in large enclosures. That was the first place I ever saw a coyote, a pheasant and a bobcat! How exciting!  A 12 foot tall Smokey the Bear stood by the entrance.  He talked, too.  I wasn’t shy with Smokey. He had a great “bear” voice. He sounded just like he did in those forest fire commercials. I was so surprised the first time he called me by name. I couldn't figure out how he knew who I was. I learned a few years later that one of the rangers from the Dept. of Natural Resources had asked my mom and dad what my name was, when I was looking at the animals, and then gave the information to a man who was in a room just behind Smokey. It was a little disappointing to discover it wasn't really Smokey who was talking to me.  I will admit that when I took my daughters to the state fair when they were young, I couldn't resist talking to Smokey one more time.

The afternoon was usually spent in the grandstand, so we could rest.  We watched the horse races and cheered for our favorites in each race.  Sometimes there were well-known singers performing in the grandstand, and that was fun, too.

After we were rested, it was time to go on some rides.  I usually had to ride by myself, because my parents didn’t ride, but they liked to watch me ride.  Sometimes I would find another girl or boy who was riding alone, and we would ride a few rides together.  

After the rides, we would go to the roast corn tent.  They had so many grills filled with roasting ears!  They dipped the ears of corn in big jars of melted butter and wrapped about 5 napkins around the husk that had been pulled down to make a handle.  Oh my, that corn was heavenly.  After an ear of roasted corn, we would walk across the midway to the Bob Evans tent for another sausage sandwich, "smokey boy" this time, and we would follow that with some ice cold watermelon.  There were large metal troughs filled with water and huge blocks of ice.  Each trough had about 10 watermelons floating in it.  They would pull a big watermelon out of the trough, and quickly slice it into about 8 giant slices.  People bought the slices as fast as the workers could prepare them.  Everywhere you looked, people were holding the slices up to their faces, eating big mouthfuls of watermelon and spitting the seeds on the ground.  Paradise!

After that, it was usually close to 10:00 pm, and we had to start toward home.  We stopped so I could make my spin-art picture and then we headed to the car. Oh, how I loved those days at the fair.

Summer afternoons meant homemade lemonade under the willow tree in our backyard. Or ice tea, while we sat by the peony bushes with their hundreds of blooms. Sometimes, we made homemade ice cream, and ate it while we sat on our front porch, and watched the birds and clouds, rainstorms and hail, Amish buggies and the high stepping horses!

In the evening, the lightning bugs would come out, and I would race around catching them, and letting them go again. Amazing little critters!  

At night, I would lay on my back in the yard, and gaze up at the billions of stars. I especially loved looking at the thick band of the Milky Way. Incredible! That was in the days before there was so much light pollution.

One night, I was walking through our dark yard, looking at the dazzling display of stars, when something HUGE sailed by me. I nearly screamed, but realized at the last second, it was an owl, probably a great horned owl, although I couldn't see it clearly enough to know for sure. It was absolutely silent as it flew. I didn't hear a sound.

I have so many wonderful memories of those summers gone by. Homemade ice cream, ice cold watermelon, rolling through the tall grass in our field, jumping when a grasshopper flew out of the weeds and startled me. And I learned from all of those experiences that created the terrific memories.

History, math, art, geology, astronomy, biology, reading, writing, geography and so many other subjects I can't count them. And... those summer lessons are the ones that have stayed with me all these years. They are the lessons that I remember best, and with great joy!

Many of the lessons from textbooks vanished almost as soon as I learned them. Test scores are forgotten and of little importance. Summer was real learning. Learning that had value and meaning. And it was fun!

Go have some fun with your family this summer! It doesn't have to be expensive or exotic or scholarly. Explore the world around you. See what you've been missing on those days you've been hurrying from co-op to the bank, to the store, to the library. Slow down and let the wonder of the world soak in.   

Go to fairs and festivals, art walks, the park, your backyard, fields and the lake.  Listen  for red-wing blackbirds.  Watch for butterflies and cabbage moths.  Smell the honeysuckle.  Make some memories.

Ready to savor summer,

- - - - -
"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time." ~John Lubbock

“Come with me,' Mom says.
To the library.
Books and summertime go together.”
― Lisa Schroeder, I Heart You, You Haunt Me

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.  ~Martin H. Fischer

“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books.”  ― George Washington Carver, George Washington Carver in His Own Words

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