Saturday, March 23, 2013

Back in the homeschool classroom: Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom

One of the huge advantages for homeschool families who live near Shenandoah National Park (SNP) is its availability for lessons, adventures, history, and physical education. While teaching my children at home, we often headed out to the Skyline Drive and our outdoor classroom.

My kids were Junior Rangers, complete with workbook to learn about plants, deer, historic home sites, plants, flowers, trees, rocks, bugs, streams, birds, and animal habitats. We always carried a picnic and would stake out a picnic table and set up with our books. Often it was Virginia history we studied with an emphasis, while in the park, of the journey westward for Governor Spotswood and early pioneers of the Shenandoah Valley, of the transformation of the lands along the Skyline Drive into national park land, and of surrounding historical sites and battlefields. Since I'm a history nerd anyway, especially when it comes to my home state of Virginia, my kids were doomed to extensive history lessons.

SNP offered an outdoor laboratory to study trees, flowers, rock formations, weather, directions, and animals. It was also a natural gym offering numerous hiking trails for young (and older) legs. My love of the park while growing up and camping along the Drive and studying all its nooks and crannies was encouraged in my children. Camping trips would involve site set-up, campfires, outdoor cooking, amphitheater programs, and hikes.

Tonight while checking out the SNP online site, I came across a section for teachers. What a great resource for homeschool parents! From their website:
Shenandoah National Park offers a variety of educational opportunities for students of all ages. From curriculum-based programs to classroom materials and advice on exploring the park with your students, the Education Staff will help you make the best use of the park's resources.

Shenandoah National Park is an ideal outdoor classroom, with its wildlife-rich forests, rocky peaks, and cool mountain streams. Imagine a kindergartner drawing a map of the sounds heard around him in the forest or a 4th fourth grader quietly watching a deer to determine for herself how it survives in a meadow community. Picture 6th grade students collecting and identifying macro-invertebrates as a way to determine stream health or high school students analyzing soil samples to understand weathering and erosion on mountain slopes.

Shenandoah National Park is also a place of heritage and history. Students can discover the conservation and work legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s or learn about the historic significance of Rapidan Camp, the nation's first "summer White House" used by President Herbert Hoover. They can explore the reasons why a National Park was placed here in Virginia and consider the life-changing sacrifice of the mountain residents that helped create Shenandoah National Park as a gift to the nation.

Whether you attend a curriculum-based education program or go on a self-guided adventure in the park, your visit to Shenandoah National Park will be a memorable and fun learning experience for you and your students.

For More Information on Educational Services:
Watch the short video

Shenandoah National Park
Education Office
3655 US Hwy 211 E
Luray, VA 22835
Ph: 540-999-3500 ext. 3489
My children are grown but if we were still in our homeschool classroom, this is one lesson plan I would include for our school.

Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina's Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia's Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son, 28, graduated from James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter, 25, graduated from Mary Baldwin College in Staunton with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The story of how she began her homeschool journey can be found here.

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