It may seem far off now, but spring is just around the corner. To battle the winter blues, start learning about spring and the science behind dormant plants and new buds. You can even extend the lessons to include other topics. Why not celebrate spring now and be ready for the first new sprouts to emerge from the snow?
The changing of the seasons is important to your lifestyle, and that is probably something your kids have already picked up on. As a self-sufficient family, you need to be aware of the seasons because it impacts the chores and tasks you need to do on a daily basis. Your children have a head start in learning about what seasonal changes are all about, but you can also take the opportunity to turn them into valuable lessons. You can teach them about astronomy, biology, and with some creative thinking, literature, art, history, and math as well.
Equinoxes and Solstices
The changing of seasons presents a great chance to learn about the movements of the sun and the earth and how that affects climate, weather, and our calendar. Take some background information about the changing seasons and turn it into fun lessons and activities.
Start the discussion with your children by talking about the first day of spring. This day is also called the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox is the day when the path that the sun traces on the earth is on the equator. This actually happens twice a year. The other time is the autumnal equinox, or the first day of fall. The path that the sun traces on the earth is called the ecliptic. The changing path is a result of the fact that the earth is tilted on its north-south axis. If there were no tilt, the ecliptic would simply match up with the equator. With the tilt, the sun’s path changes as the earth moves around it.
The summer and winter solstices occur when the ecliptic is at its highest and lowest points, respectively, above and below the equator. The equinoxes and solstices divide up the year into four equal segments, our four seasons. The tilt of the earth gives us different climates in each season. When the North Pole is tilted towards the sun, for instance, the sun shines more directly on the northern hemisphere, giving us summer weather.
There is a wealth of lessons that you could create centered on equinoxes and solstices:
- Ask your children to investigate the different stars and constellations that you can see in winter and in spring. Take nighttime walks to find them.
- Create star maps for each month of the year.
- There are several myths about the equinoxes, such as balancing an egg on its end on an equinox. Find more such myths or claims and decide which ones are true and which are old wives’ tales.
- Discuss how people throughout history have used the stars as navigation. Research how explorers navigated their ships on journeys around the world.
- Explore the origins of our modern calendar. Extend the lesson to include a discussion of other calendars used by cultures around the world, both in the present and the past. Find the astronomical origins of those calendars to create a dual science and history lesson.
- Ask your children to find books about the changing seasons and have them prepare book reports to present to each other.
- Research the origins of the words vernal, autumnal, equinox, and solstice. Find out what language they come from and what they mean.
Spring is also a great time to learn about biology, botany, and ecology. When teaching your kids about what happens to plants in the spring, use examples of plants from your local ecosystem. This will make the experience more meaningful for them.
Start the lesson in the fall. When plants lose their leaves and appear to die, they are really going dormant for the winter. Dormancy is a biological trick for conserving energy. Plants essentially shut down for the winter to save energy.
When the days get longer in the spring, more sunlight reaches the earth and at a more direct angle. This heats up the soil and provides more light for photosynthesis. These are signals that dormant plants use to wake up from their winter hibernation. Only when the conditions are right will the process of forming buds and rising up from the ground begin.
Use the changes that occur in the spring to create fun lessons:
- Take a walk outdoors to find signs of spring. Look for new growth on the ground and buds on the trees. Turn it into a botany lesson and identify the types of plants and trees that are showing signs of “waking up.”
- Discuss the difference between coniferous and deciduous trees. Ask your children to find out why one loses its leaves in the fall and the other does not.
- Expand on the idea of dormancy. There are animals that go dormant for the winter. Find out what those animals are and how they do it. Use animals that are found in local ecosystem, like bears and squirrels.
- Use your garden to reinforce and teach the lessons of spring. While starting plants from seeds, talk about what happens inside the seed as it gets nutrients from the soil, light, and water.
- Teach your kids about photosynthesis. For younger children, this can be very basic. For older kids, have them find out more details about it, such as the chemical reactions occur throughout the process. Turn photosynthesis around and learn about respiration and the differences between plants and animals.
- Especially with older children and teenagers, explore the idea of rebirth. Start with the most obvious example: Easter and the resurrection of Christ. Expand the discussion to find examples of rebirth stories and myths in other cultures. Challenge your older children to find works of literature that use symbolism and plot to create a theme of rebirth.
Spring is a wonderful time of year. And just about now, it seems like it will never arrive. Prepare to meet the season with open arms by creating lessons about everything spring.
©2012 Off the Grid News