Lessons by the Gulf

February 12th, 2013 posted by Paula Dundore

The beach was alive with the smells of the Gulf. Seaweed, fish, and sun-warmed sand; all with the fresh fragrance of salt and life. It washed through our senses as we stooped to examine rocks upon the beach. A breeze started up and we lifted our faces to the invigorating Florida zephyr that was cooling off the afternoon. I took my daughter by the hand to catch up with my older son. He had climbed back over the sea wall and was involved in an animated conversation with some tourists I learned were from England. Boy with starfish on the beach

“—and this, if you look right here you can see still see the star shape. This is a good one, you can have it.” My eleven-year-old amateur fossil hunter said this to the lady “who talked real neat.” He gently laid his recent find in her hand and began immediately to scour the ground he stood on for more. The tourists were remarking on his knowledge and ability to spot the fossilized star fish. The fossils were literally strewn across the beach and embedded in rocks, it was just a matter of knowing what to look for. And then the stately English woman asked that question we’ve heard a hundred times. “Why aren’t you in school?” My children and I gave each other a brief, knowing look. I paused, waiting to see what my son would say. “I am in school.”, he replied with such nonchalance that it didn’t even sound like an answer to her question. She looked a bit confused, but she was obviously enamored by my little paleontologist and then she said her good-byes. I had already known that my son learned best through hands-on activities. But this afternoon’s outing was definitive proof for me. When we started our home school study in Oceanography I knew a trip to the beach was clearly in order. Lucky for us, we only had to drive across the street to get to the Gulf of Mexico. I was not happy with the textbooks we had for Science. We used them more for an outline than anything else. So when we reached the chapter on Oceanography I surfed over to the University of South Florida’s web site to find some more information. I found much more than what I had anticipated– A virtual lending library. In it, we discovered wonderful reference books, videos, software and even puppet show materials. I picked and chose those items that followed our Oceanography theme and ordered them via email. A few days later, our box came and we had all these materials to plunder and absorb for four whole weeks. We opened the books and breathed in that smell that only brand new books have. The children oohed and ahhed over the giant glossy photos of fossils and Florida sea life. Our custom kit even came with a short story about a child fossil hunter that my storybook-loving seven-year-old enjoyed the most. My older son was ready to ravage the beach and find some fossils, as his father had already taught him the art of locating them. My three-year-old wasn’t interested in the mechanics of searching for pieces of the past; he just thought it was pretty cool we were going to the beach for the third time this week. We didn’t just learn about star fish. We opened our learning experience to all ocean life in the Gulf of Mexico. We read about shrimp. Who knew there were that many different types of shrimp? We found maps that showed us where in the Gulf the coral reefs were and what sea life was found where. We learned that although horseshoe crabs were considered good eating by some– commercial shrimpers and fishermen whose boat pantries have run dry– it was just not economically feasible to harvest these critters. They live too close to the shore to allow capture with commercial nets. We read these and other facts one day while sitting on the boardwalk overlooking the immense Gulf. It was incredible what a change of scenery did to a potentially lifeless sentence.

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While it takes a bit more creativity to make math or language arts this fun, I endeavor to make every subject come alive. No amount of sitting in classrooms, reading books or watching videos can compare to our hands-on learning experience at the beach. Though most of our specific knowledge did come from books, it was reinforced and captured in our minds during those hours we spent walking among the rocks. I know that from now on, whenever we go back to the beach, we’ll remember how the ocean came alive for us. This lesson will not be forgotten with the closing of a book. It was real.


about the author Paula Dundore lives in Hudson, Florida. A stay at home wife and mother of three, she has opted to remain home in order to homeschool her oldest child who has ADHD. Her youngest child has developmental delays. In her free time, she does freelance writing. Lessons by the Gulf by Paula Dundore (c) 1999 Published in July/August 99 Issue Home Education Magazine




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