Thursday, April 2, 2015

Homeschool and Family Programs for Spring

Enjoying the Virtue Peace Pond

By Micaela Unda
Curiosities, questions, and collaborations–there is no place better to explore such childhood enthusiasm than Duke Gardens in spring. Sparked by the desire for discovery and the urge to explore, wonder, look, and learn, children and Gardens staff alike fuel their inquisitiveness through the Gardens' Homeschool and Family Programs.

Duke Gardens is pleased to address the growing need for quality homeschool education programs. In 1988, there were only 962 homeschools in the state. By 2014, that number had grown to 64,234, according to North Carolinians for Home Education.

Homeschool students have the opportunity to cover a wide range of subjects tailored to their age, ranging from botany to ecology, to flower anatomy, and more!

Students lean in to examine a water lily
Whether it be examining wiggling worms traveling through their vermicomposting bin, unearthing the variety of pollinators that call the Gardens home, or even taking a peek at the teeming life in underwater ponds, students will learn things they never knew.

Children share curiosities during circle time 
Education program assistant Hope Wilder described a typical day, which blends academics with outdoor explorations and hands-on activities. Each class starts off with an interactive activity, and then the students gather to read a book about the day's topic. 

Then it is time to hit the outdoors! "Students go out week by week and look at what's in bloom and at different flowering families. So it’s like actually hardcore botany," Wilder says. "I mean, we're looking at all the stamens and pistols and Latin names. We learn the characteristics of the family, go out there and look at lots of living examples, and then come back and do a dissection. They get to tear flowers apart and count everything that is going on there and do little sketches. And I think that that is just really real, rather than just talking about it or looking at posters or something.”

Studying plant parts

Wilder is passionate about the scientific process. She recalls one of her favorite moments: “Some of the questions that the kids were asking, you could write a doctoral thesis on those questions. They were things like, ‘I wonder how do the roots know to go down and the plants know to go up? How do they know how to do that?’ … ‘If a plant is getting eaten by bugs, does it know it is getting eaten by bugs? Does it hurt the plant?’ And I thought, ‘Wow, these are really interesting questions, and it seemed that curiosity can lead to much deeper learning.”

Learning more about plants

The classes also include a dash of fun, Wilder notes. “One time we were walking like animals, so we would be walking like raccoons, then walking like foxes, hopping like rabbits, we’re being bullfrogs, then at the end of class, once I had already given them back to the parents, I look out the window and I just see all the children rolling--they're just rolling from one side to the other side of the lawn.  ‘This is awesome,' I thought. 'That is truly great!’”

Children gaze into bug boxes during hands-on activity

If your children have a burning curiosity to explore the outdoors, or if you'd like to spark that curiosity, join us and come peruse the paths of the Duke Gardens in homeschool programs.

“I have a very collaborative process," Wilder says. "If parents and kids have new ideas that they want to explore, I like them to come out and let me know, because the shape of the programming is entirely based on what the kids are interested in.”

Remember, Duke Gardens is only a hop, skip, and jump away!

For more information about Duke Gardens programs, please see our calendar listings. To register, please call 919-668-1707.

Blogger Micaela Unda is a freshman at Duke University studying Environmental Science and Policy, and she is a Duke Gardens work-study assistant.

Photography by Kaitlin Henderson

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