Ocean Science at the Beach

This post could be subtitled “Why we count beach vacations as school days.”  One of the things I love about teaching my children at home is being able to recognize the real learning that comes about in the course of our lives, without worrying about catching up on busy work missed from school.  Our recent trip to the ocean really reveals how that works in our family.

We had hands on experience with ocean science last week, as we took a quick trip to Pacific Beach to revel in sunshine, warm air and beach sand.  The kids had studied up on ocean science in the few weeks before our trip, learning about currents, tides and tidepools, so they were interested in thinking about some of the things they had learned.  But mostly, they were just delighted to play at the beach.

Max and Lucy running from the waves Max running from wavesWe visited Scripps Aquarium to see fish in aquariums.  My favorite part of this aquarium is the huge kelp forest tank, where the kelp forests off the coast of San Diego are recreated.  The kids especially enjoyed the jellyfish and the sea horses, which Scripps has in abundance.

seahorse aquariumScripps also has tidepool aquariums — man made areas where we saw many of the huge variety of creatures that live in this specialized environment.

seeing tidepools at scrippsWe were able to observe the tide going in and out, something not too easy for kids living in Utah to understand.  At low tide one evening, we visited the rocks on the beaches just south of Seal Rock in La Jolla to enjoy the tide pools.  We saw many anemones, large and small, small fish caught in the tide pools, barnacles, mussels, and hundreds of hermit crabs.

tidepools at La JollaThis sort of “live” experience is better than any sort of youtube video or book reading for helping us understand what the ocean really is.  Although the huge variety available in an aquarium or seen on tv is wonderful, it doesn’t match the experience of seeing it for yourself.  Of course, we didn’t have our camera with us when we walked to the end of the pier and watched dolphins swim past under our feet.  But our eyes saw it and our hearts will remember it.

There were some parts, however, that I’m not sure how to label as school — for example, would you call this mining science?  Or perhaps spa therapy training?

lucy burying Max buried in sandAnd the only name I can think of for what we did at Balboa Park was People Watching 101.

castle van, san diegoI guess in unschooling or interest-led learning, those are perfectly practical course options!

Another very interesting lesson was learned by the older kids.  Both Brett and Eden are reading The Grapes of Wrath right now, and traveling across the desert and through Barstow to southern California really made them understand the Joad’s journey.  What we traveled in a few hours in great comfort must have been quite a trip.  Eden kept commenting about the “weirdness” of reading about Barstow in Barstow.

Anyway, it was a great break from our normal routine, and left us refreshed to finish off winter with a smile.  Do you take a mid-winter break?  What is your favorite way to continue learning during vacations?  Please leave me a comment below.

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Awesome Ocean Science at Home (for kids)

In anticipation of a hoped-for vacation to the beach, I began a Unit Study about Oceans today with Lulu and Max.  It has been about 7 years since I used this particular curriculum.  Lulu was 2 on our first (my first!) ever visit to San Diego to see the ocean.  In the months of planning toward that trip, Brett and Eden made Ocean Journals, read tons of books and did many experiments.  While our unit study may not be as in-depth, we are using the same book for the backbone of our curriculum that we used before.  The book Awesome Ocean Science, by Cindy A. Littlefield , is wonderful.  It is written in an interesting and entertaining way.  But most importantly — THE EXPERIMENTS WORK!  (And many involve food coloring, which is irresistible, right?)

Awesome Ocean Science

I have shared with you before my frustration with science experiments at home.  Often they require lots of mommy time, effort and mess, with little result or little correlation to the subject being studied.  I usually unschool science.  I bring home lots of books on various subjects, and try to let the kids go ahead with the experiments they can perform on their own.  I have been excited to do the experiments in this book, however, because they really prove their points, quickly and easily.

For example, this drop of salt water is dropping through the fresh water because salt water is denser than fresh water.

sinking salt water

This carrot is floating in salt water, for the same reason.

floating carrotThe kids now understand the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg.”

kitchen icebergAnd we know why melting ice in Antarctica can raise sea level, while melting sea ice does not.

melting polesSome of our next experiments are about ocean currents, and they will be looking at tide pool videos on Youtube and making tide pool creatures from clay.

Do you have any recommendations for our Oceans unit?  Please leave me a comment below!