Quick Answers: Spanish curricula, nature centers with free admission, and what to read next

We get a lot of homeschooling questions, and we thought it would be fun to answer some of them here, in case other readers have the same questions.

What Spanish curriculum would you recommend for high school?
Well, I have to recommend Jason’s awesome beginning and advanced Spanish classes at HEGA if they are convenient for you. (I'm biased, but his classes are great!) But if you’re looking for a learn-at-home curriculum, there are a few good options. The Rosetta Stone’s Spanish Homeschool program is pricey (about $160 for level 1 but $290 if you buy levels 1-5 together), but it is a solid introduction to Spanish with an emphasis on conversational Spanish. Our library in Dunwoody (and lots of other libraries in the metro area) offers free access to Mango Languages; if you like it, you can pick up the full version of Mango Spanish (about $30/month for up to six students). If you’re looking for a program that’s more academic than conversational, look at La Class Divertida’s High School Espanol ($400 for levels 1-3), which focuses on building vocabulary and grammar through online classes, homework, and quizzes.

We have spring fever but no budget for field trips. What are some fun, free, outdoor field trip ideas?

A lot of nature centers in the Atlanta area are free. The Dunwoody Nature Center, in my neck of the woods, doesn’t charge admission and is blissfully uncrowded while school is still in session. Download a brochure for the Alpharetta Arboretum at Wills Park, and you can identify all kinds of Georgia trees along the nature path.(There’s also a cool community garden between the equestrian center and the basketball courts.) I think the Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve is a great place for day hikes and rambling, and there’s no fee for parking or using the trails. (You can even go fishing in the lake if you have a valid state license.) I know we did a field trip report on it earlier this spring, but I can’t not recommend the Big Trees Forest Preserve in Sandy Springs, which is one of my favorite surprise nature pockets in Atlanta — and it’s free!

Thanks for recommending Egg and Spoon — we really enjoyed it! Any suggestions for a good follow-up readaloud?
Well, the thing I really loved about Egg and Spoon was how beautifully it incorporated Russian folktales into its story. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon incorporates Chinese lore and West of the Moon incorporates Norwegian fables in much the same way. If it’s the Russian flavor you fell in love with, check out a copy of Russian Fairy Tales (part of the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library), which includes the complete stories for many of the folktale references in Egg and Spoon.

Do you have a homeschooling in Atlanta question? Email us, and we’ll try to help you out!


5 Fun Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month — as though you need an excuse to add a little poetry to your life! Here are five of our favorite ways to celebrate the magic of words.

Fotolia:: 1 :: Carry your favorite poem with you on National Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30, 2015. Share it, pass it on, or trade it with another poem-carrier.

:: 2 :: Go to a poetry reading. There are a number of them coming up this month, including Alice Friman (The View from Saturn) and William Wright (Tree Heresies) at the Decatur Library Auditorium on Monday, April 27.

:: 3 :: Practice your poetry writing skills. SmallWorld’s WordSmithery curriculum (it’s free!) has a lot of good, practical ideas for exploring poetry together. If you just have time for one lesson, the Poetry Collage project is fun for a variety of ages.

:: 4 :: Read poems aloud to each other, enjoying the sounds and rhythms of the words. Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends or The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury, edited by kid-pleasing poet Jack Prelutsky, are good options for younger kids; for older students, consider The Rattle-Bag (edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes) or 100 Best-Loved Poems.

:: 5 :: Participate in the American Academy of Poets Dear Poet program — your kids watch members of the Academy’s Board of Chancellors (including poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Edward Hirsch) read and discuss one of their poems, then write a response that goes directly to the poet. Cool, right?


Field Trip: Georgia's Seven Natural Wonders

Take your state history class on the road now that spring has sprung, and explore seven parts of your home state that are worth breaking out the nature journal for.
Image via Boston Public Library/Creative Commons
:: 1 :: Amicalola Falls
Amicalola Falls State Park, Dawsonville
GPS Coordinates: N 34.562652 | W 84.247627

When William Williamson found his way to Amicalola Falls in the 1830s, he was stunned by “the most majestic scene that I have ever witnessed or heard of.” The waterfall, he learned, was called “tumbling water,” or Um-ma-eolola, in the language of the local Cherokee. Amicalola Falls and its surrounding land had belonged to the Cherokee Indians, but as new legislation pushed the Cherokee west on the Trail of Tears, European settlers began to move into the area, aided by Georgia’s nineteenth-century land lotteries.

The 729-feet-tall waterfall is the highest in the southeastern United States. Though the climb to the summit is tough, even with the built-in stairs along some of the steeper parts, there’s an accessible, paved path so that anyone can get an up-close look — and listen — at the rushing waters, which ultimately drain into the Etowah River.

While you’re there: Nearby Springer Mountain marks the official Southern end of the Appalachian Trail. Bordering the park is the Chattahoochee National Forest, which has more than 400 miles of trails to explore. The nearby Cartecay River is good for family paddling expeditions. Fuel up for hiking with a big, family-style lunch at the Smith House in Dahlonega. Visit one of the Dahlonega gold mines or the Dahlonega Gold Museum to learn about the Georgia gold rush.

FYI: Amicalola Falls State Park has cottages and campsites for rent, as well as rooms at the park lodge, if you want to make a weekend of it. The buffet restaurant at the lodge has great views and ho-hum food.

:: 2 :: Okefenokee Swamp
Stephen C. Foster State Park, Fargo
GPS Coordinates: N 30.8269500 | W 082.3621000

The word Okefenokee means “trembling earth,” named by the local Choctaws because the boggy ground quiveres under your feet when you walk across it. That boggy land still fascinates, but there’s a lot more than just quivering earth to explore in this 7,000-year-old peat bog that covers more than 400,000 acres in southern Georgia and northern Florida. You’ll also find waterways, lakes, marshes, and — believe it or not — prairie land to explore, as well as animals like alligators, bears, snakes, deer, and heron, who make their home in the protected land here. There are several entrances, but the one at Stephen C. Foster State Park is one of the best equipped—you can book same-day tours and explore the park’s environmental education center before your tour to get a peek at some of the wildlife you’ll want to keep an eye out for in the swamp. If you want to DIY, the park also rents boats.

FYI: You can rent a cottage or book a campsite at the park if you want to spend the night, but be sure to bring snacks and water with you whether you are daytripping or weekending. The nearest major grocery store is fifty miles away.

:: 3 :: Warm Springs
Warm Springs
GPS Coordinates: N 32.880700 | W 084.686416

The warm water springs that made Warm Springs famous start out as ordinary rainwater running down Pine Mountain. As the water is absorbed back into the soil, some of slips through tiny fractures in the Hollis Quartzite, a Precambrian rock formation that was pushed up during the continent’s early seismic activity. The water drops down about 3,000 feet, warming up about one degree with every 100-foot increment, and eventually builds up, pushing the warmed water out into the Warm Springs at a reported rate of as much as 914 gallons per minute.

European settlers learned about the hot springs from the Creek Indians. Friendly tribes brought wounded warriors and sick citizens from as far away as New York to drink the waters and soak in the hot springs. (In fact, the whole state of Georgia was called “the land where the waters are warm” by the northern Iroquois because of the warm springs.) The area blossomed as a resort town in the 1830s, then enjoyed a second Renaissance in the 1930s and 40s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt frequented the springs.

While you’re there: Stop by the Little White House, FDR’s home away from the pressures of the presidency. Arrange a tour of the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, where the warm springs are still an important part of physical therapy for patients.

FYI. The warm springs are closed to the public most of the year, but occasionally open to the public. If you want to experience the 88-degree waters for yourself, keep an eye out for public swimming sessions on the Little White House calendar.

:: 4 :: Radium Springs
Radium Springs
GPS Coordinates: N 31.52611 | W 84.13556

It wasn’t until Marie Curie published her groundbreaking work that people knew what made the cool waters near Albany glow with luminous blue light, but Curie’s research solved the mystery and gave Radium Springs its name.

Originally called Blue Springs because of the dazzling blue, startlingly clear blue hole springs that feed the Flint River, the 68-degree waters were a popular fishing and swimming spot for the Creek and for the settlers who
followed them. But the discovery of trace amounts of radium in the waters in the 1920s spurred bigger-scale development, and Radium Springs thrived as a high-end resort town until the Great Depression. Today, the remains of the resort and the blue springs are maintained by state and local governments as Radium Springs Gardens. Sadly, swimming is no longer allowed.

While you’re there: Learn more about the Flint River ecosystem and aquatic life at the Flint Riverquarium.

:: 5 :: Stone Mountain
Stone Mountain Park, Stone Mountain
GPS Coordinates: N | W

Stone Mountain isn’t just a mountain — it’s a monadnock. A quartz monzonite dome monadnock, if you want to get technical about it. The massive chunk of rock (which is made up of granite, granodiorite, and other minerals in addition to quartz monzonite) rises 825 feet from the level ground surrounding it thanks to its resistance to erosion over time. On rainy days, the mountain’s flat, pitted top is dotted with rock pools, where you can spot tiny fairy shrimp and clam shrimp, which survive by laying eggs that can survive years of dry spells thanks to cryptobiosis. The mountain is also home to some of Georgia’s hard-to-find flora, including the Georgia oak — look for it as you’re hiking up the trail or in the woods around the mountain’s base—and the Confederate Yellow Daisy, which blooms in fall in the mountain’s rock crevices and wooded areas.

:: 6 :: Tallulah Gorge
Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls
GPS Coordinates: N 34.739750 | W 083.395233

Leave your fear of heights at home if you want to cross the suspension bridge over Tallulah Gorge — the views of the falls and the river that made this tiny North Georgia town famous are spectacular, but the swaying, eighty-feet-high bridge is not for the weak at heart. The paved path following an old railroad track around the falls gives pretty darn good views, too. In fact, it may be hard to get a bad view of the falls. Tallulah Gorge, which probably got its name from the Choctaw word meaning “leaping waters,” is two miles long and as high as 1,000 feet in some places. (The Cherokee, who actually lived in the area around Tallulah Gorge, called the falls Ugunyi.) The falls, formed as the Tallulah River’s running water cut through the rocks over time, are actually made up of six individual falls that drop nearly five hundred feet in one mile. In 1913, Georgia Power won the right to dam the Tallulah and Tugaloo Rivers, forming Lake Burton. The dam was the largest generator of hydroelectric power in Georgia when it was built and for many years afterward, though it’s now just a small part of a larger system.  

While you’re there: Make time to stop by the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center, which offers a look at the history and ecological significance of the falls. The nearby Travelers Rest Historic Site, a stagecoach inn and plantation home built in 1815, is a great way to get an up-close look at Georgia’s tourism history.

FYI: Plan to visit during a falls release date — there are several scheduled for weekends in April and May — to get the full effect of the falls.

:: 7 :: Providence Canyon
Providence Canyon State Outdoor Recreation Area, Lumpkin
GPS Coordinates: N 32.064445 | W -84.921913

North Georgia farmers during the 19th century had no idea that the runoff from their fields would have such a dramatic effect on the surrounding landscape. But thanks to the region’s loamy, easily eroded soil, in less than a century, poor farm drainage systems had formed sixteen canyons — some as deep as 150 feet — showing millions of years of Cretaceous period geologic history in a rainbow of colorful layers. The oldest layer, on the canyon floor, dates back more than seventy million years. The top layer is more than fifty-nine million years old.

The canyon’s vivid colors come from minerals in the sandy soil: The purple shades come from manganese, yellow from limonite, and red from iron-oxite. Forty-three distinct shades have been identified in the canyon’s walls and floor, a fact which may have helped Providence earn its nickname, “the Little Grand Canyon.” The erosion that formed the canyon is still going on, and some pinnacles and overlooks have been known to vanish after a heavy rain. In addition to offering a fascinating look at Georgia’s geological past, Providence Canyon—named for the church that was once located on land eroded by the canyon—also demonstrates the long-lasting ecological effects careless environmental stewardship can have on the land.

While you’re there: Nearby Westville offers a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for the same nineteenth-century Georgia farmers.

Originally published in the spring 2013 issue of Atlanta Homeschool



New Books: The Murk

The Murk
by Robert Lettrick

If you read the Fug Girls, you know all about the scrolldown fug. If you don't read the Fug Girls, you should know that a scrolldown fug is when an outfit looks totally normal until you get to about the waist, where it switches to clown pants or carwash streamers or the dreaded tights-are-not-pants territory. What does this have to do with book recommendations? Well, The Murk by Roberty Lettrick is essentially the literary equivalent of the scrolldown fug.

It starts out normally enough. Piper, a tomboy-turned-pageant queen, is convinced that the cure to her baby sister's rare genetic disease is a plant hidden somewhere in the Okefenokee Swamp. Accompanied by her former best friend Tad (whose botanist ancestor perished on a similar search in the Okefenokee in the 1800s and who has a giant crush on his ex-best bud), her stowaway little brother, and a teenage swamp guide named Perch, Piper sets out to find the mysterious silver flower that is rumored to heal every malady. Perch cheerfully narrates the wonders of the Okefenokee to Piper and her companions (not to mention the reader) as they explore the swamp, tracing Cole's path through the wilderness. It's edu-tainment at its most palatable.

Then things get weird. Because the mythical plant isn't just real, it's sentient, with the power to hypnotize the gators, turtles, and other animal inhabitants of the swamp to do its bidding — and apparently its bidding is to make Piper and Company its dinner. (Oh, did I mention that the plant is carnivorous, too?) The second half of the book veers into a bizarre horror movie territory, with Piper escaping the burning digestive acids in the plant's giant stomach and fire-bombing the heart of the plant. Yeah. I know.

Usually, I'd skip reviewing a book like this simply because of the violence (which definitely gets a bit over-the-top), but I find myself with a soft spot for this book, despite its turn-for-the-weird. It's about the Okefenokee, one of Georgia's seven natural wonders, and the book does contain a wealth of information about our most famous swamp. And while the whole killer plant thing is pretty wacky, it does introduce some pretty interesting facts about botany. And honestly, it's so utterly odd that I want someone else to read it so its weirdness can be fully appreciated. So I say this is one to stalk at the library — worth checking out, though I'm not sure I'd want to allocate valuable shelf space for it in a permanent way. Though obviously, if you've had a hankering for a book about mind-controlling, carnivorous plants, you'll want to run, not walk, to pick this one up.


April Best Bets

Our picks for the best out-of-the-house homeschool fun this month

Get Your Climb on at Stone Summit’s Homeschool Day
Arrive between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to take advantage of Stone Summit’s homeschool climbing discount ($8 per climber, including equipment). Parents must sign a waiver for kids to participate.
Wednesday, April 1 at Stone Summit Climbing and Fitness Center

Celebrate Anime at Taiga Con
Wear your cosplay best to this weekend of anime obsession, complete with panels, contest, video games, and even a semiformal dance.
April 3-5 at the Hilton Atlanta

Immerse Yourself in American Tall Tales at the Center for Puppetry Arts
Paul Bunyan and his trusty ox Babe, steel-driving John Henry, King of the Cowboys Pecos Bill and more heroes and heroines of American folklore star in “Paul Bunyan and the Tall Tale Medicine Show.”
April 9-May 24 at the Center for Puppetry Arts

Investigate the Role of Storytelling in Art at the High Museum
April’s Homeschool Day at the High focuses on the stories art tells, using pieces in the museum’s permanent collection for inspiration. The docent-led tour starts at 1 p.m.; you can take the museum scavenger hunt or participate in drop-in workshops from 1-4 p.m.
Friday, April 10 at the High Museum of Art

Paddle into the Sunset at Sweetwater Creek State Park
Choose a canoe or a kayak, and paddle out on the lake to do a little evening birdwatching and soak in the sunset at this ranger-led paddle. Reservations required.
Friday, April 10 at Sweetwater State Park

See “Our Town” at the New American Shakespeare Tavern
Thornton Wilder’s play about the magic of ordinary life hits the stage at the New American Shakespeare Tavern. Go on Sunday, April 19, and the cast and crew will stick around after the show to answer questions.
April 10-22 at the New American Shakespeare Tavern

Volunteer on the River at Alexander Lakes at Panola Mountain State Park
The South River’s native cane creates a natural filter for the river and is an important part of the habitat for area wildlife, and you can help restore cane growth along the river for this volunteer project, which helps improve the help of the whole waterway.
Saturday, April 11 at Panola Mountain State Park

Travel Back to the 1860s at Red Top Mountain State Park
Volunteer reenactors demonstrate what life was like on a Civil War-era farm and in a soldiers’ camp.
Saturday, April 11- Sunday, April 12 at Red Top Mountain State Park

Learn More about Anne Frank at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education’s Homeschool Day
April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, so it’s the perfect time for the Museum of History and Holocaust Education’s Homeschool Day, focusing on Anne Frank in the Holocaust and beyond.
Wednesday, April 15 at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education

Have a Big-Screen Indiana Jones Marathon
The Earl Smith Strand Theater is screening Raiders of the Lost Art, Temple of Doom, and the Last Crusade in a trilogy of movie marathon awesomeness, starting at 2 .p.m.
Saturday, April 18 at the Earl Smith Strand Theater

Explore Native American History at the Etowah Mounds
Learn more about Native American tools and weapons as skilled demonstrators show how these items would have been made by the Mississippian people. Stick around for a torchlit guided tour of the mounds.
Saturday, April 18 at Etowah Indian Mounds History Site

Immerse Yourself in Arab Culture at the Atlanta Arab Festival
The 10th Annual Atlanta Arab Festival features a bustling souk for one-of-a-kind shopping experiences, performance by Arab artists and musicians, and a broad sampling of traditional foods from the Arab world.
April 18-19 at Alif Institute of Atlanta

Get Thee to the Georgia Renaissance Festival
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Georgia Renaissance Festival, a not-always-historically-accurate but always fun mix of theater, circus, and marketplace set in a reconstruction of a 16th century village.
April 18-June 7 at the Georgia Renaissance Festival

Make Lunch an Adventure at Buckhead Restaurant Week
Discount prix fixe menus let you try new hot spots without breaking the college fund.
April 18-26 at participating restaurants

See What Callanwolde Has to Offer at the First Annual Spring Homeschool Festival

Kids can participate in nature-themed activities, including building a sculpture to attract bees, making art from recycled paper, and doing a little plein air painting, while you learn about homeschool class options at the arts center.
April 23 at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center

Go Birdwatching with the Atlanta Audubon Society
An open lake, marshland, and mixed hardwood forest combine for some top-notch birdwatching at Fort Yargo State Park. Keep an eye out for woodpeckers, warblers, and wading birds on this Audubon-guided walk.
Friday, April 24 at Fort Yargo State Park