To explain my excitement about both of these classes, I will need to take a brief journey back in time, to trace the sources of inspiration that led me to develop the curriculum in the first place. Both courses come from a deep place of interest and engagement with the natural world, which happened over many years. Come along, and I’ll explain it!
Falling in Love with Orcas
My love affair with flora and fauna began on a third grade trip to a marine park named Marineland, in Los Angeles. Though these parks are now horribly out of fashion, I remember going as a child and being really struck by the “killer” whales. I remember seeing them in their show, doing their tricks, touching the red ball. What I most remember about that trip was viewing them in the underwater observation window. I remember standing there, watching Corky swim past me, feeling a deep sense of connection with this marine mammal. These were not fish, but sea mammals and apex predators. They were swimming so strong and swiftly, with such big teeth! While I was in elementary school, this moment with the orca led to my mother and I joining the American Cetacean Society in Los Angeles. Every month I attended the meetings and learned about issues surrounding marine life. We were also actively involved at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro under the aquarium founder, John Olguin, attending whale fiestas, whale watch trips, and other marine extravaganzas.
Learning Environmental Science in High School
Fast forward 9 years, and you would have seen me on an Academic Decathlon team during my senior year of high school. The theme for the year was environmental science, or global warming, as we called it back then. During the summer and fall months of that year, I immersed myself in biology, music, visual arts, and more — all relating to the science of our environment; we explored biomes, water, air, and geology of our planet and ways it was changing. What I remember from that experience was it was my first introduction to the biomes of the earth – the major habitat ranges such as the tundra, desert, tropical rainforest, etc.
Putting My Own Spin on it!
Fifteen years after high school, I had my own children: I saw what passed for science in our public projects-based charter school: life cycles. Life cycle of the butterfly, life cycle of the frog. That was the extent of learning. I knew we could do better! I remembered back to what I had learned in sixth grade at my private school: the kingdoms of living things — how flora and fauna were named and categorized. These categories helped to classify life and helped to explain how life forms were similar and different from each other. This broad framework was concise, smart, and clearly visible in all around us! I decided to introduce this to my own children. We added the kingdoms of life to our first year of homeschool study.
Noticing Life Along the Los Angeles River
In 2015, I attended a teacher workshop in Los Angeles, where we explored the fortified, concrete-lined LA River. As we walked the length, we learned about the animal life that could be found in the river: majestic herons, elongated egrets, awesome osprey, fish, and many other birds! In a concrete-lined stream, birds were thriving. They were hunting, musing, and just looking good! Riding my bike along the path, with my binoculars, I realized that even in overcrowded Los Angeles, things were okay. Even with all the muck of close urban living, exquisite birds could be found. This experience of countless trips to the river with my bike, encouraged me to look for life in many other areas: urban parks, flood control basins, and dams. When I began looking, I could not stop finding it. There was beauty to be observed all over the place. I went on to have other encounters with a bobcat, a beautiful kite raptor, and many coyotes.
Participation in the Urban Wildlife Festival and P-22 Day
This interest in life around me sparked my enthusiasm to learn more. In the summer of 2017, I saw a movie called The Cat that Changed America, telling the story of the majestic mountain lion living the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. At the event, I found out they had a P-22 festival, on October 22 each year, in honor of his mountain lion “study number,” p – for puma, and 22 for mountain lion number 22. The first year I took my kids to the festival as attendees. The next two years I participated as an art vendor, showcasing my urban wildlife paintings.
Developing the Earth Party Curriculum and Adding the Earth Party Science Class
This love of the animal world drove me to formalize my approach to learning about life science by authoring a new curriculum on the kingdoms of living things, which is now the Earth Party curriculum for grades 1-6. In this curriculum, learners study both the history of how the system came to be introduced, as well as life in the 5 kingdoms of life, from the smallest bacteria through the animal kingdom. While teaching the online class, I have seen many students over the years, come to observe, interact, and love lifeforms.
This year, we are excited as Ms. Chenning, who has taught our intermediate writing courses, will teach the Earth Party class. In addition to classroom experience, she has taught online and in-person at numerous homeschool co-ops; her families are so pleased with her teaching!
“I can tell how much time and effort Chenning puts in to make the class engaging, fun, and productive!”
– Sujin C., homeschool mom of former students on Ms. Chenning’s Intermediate Writing Class
In this class, students will read and use the following books:
Enter: Earth Story, Spring 2024
This newest class, which will be taught in spring semester of 2024, is designed to be a continuation of everything students learn in Earth Party. While Earth Party will look at the “what,” this class will look at the “where” organisms live: exploring things like how rainfall and geography can determine what lives in a place. (Animals and plants have such a close relationship!) Precipitation, proximity to the coast, and longitude impact life that can be found in a region.
Students will learn about major biomes such as the tundra, tropical rainforest, savannah, desert, etc., as well as how to look for life around where students live through observation, evidence of animal life such as scat and tracks, and learning how to piece the “story of nature” together. As I have personally witnessed, once you start seeing life, you won’t stop! Suddenly, even now, I find myself noticing owl pellets, bird nests, birds riding thermals, and tiny field mice around my home. Since many parks and nature reserves are close to cities, as we think about biomes we’ll explore their neighboring “urban wildlife” counterparts — subsets of the greater biome.
In this class, we’ll use this great resource: The Wonderous Workings of Planet Earth by Rachel Ignotofsky. (At my second P-22 day, my booth was right next to hers!)
I approach this class as a lifelong learner; while I am not formally trained as a scientist, I seek out as many opportunities as possible to learn as much as I can; always spiraling deeper down, learning more, noticing how everything fits together. I recently moved from California to Washington state. For me, moving from scrublands to temperate forests with nearby marine habitats has provided many hours of rich wildlife encounters. I love living closer to the orcas!
We’d love for your student to join us!
If your student is looking for a uniquely homeschool approach to life science, allowing for many avenues of exploration through hands-on science, we welcome your student into our Earth Party and Earth Story line-up. In Earth Party (fall semester) your learner will study diversity and characteristics of the kingdoms of life; in Earth Story (spring semester), these lifeforms will be anchored to various global regions. Your learner will spend time exploring where life can be found in the biome, ecosystem, or “urban wildlife” setting they live in. Come along…we invite your student to explore our amazing planet!
Christine’s Wildlife Paintings
Christine’s art Instagram