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Peaceful Ponds Review by Melissa Theberge and Dawn Peterson

By Cindy West and Melissa Leach
Shining Dawn Books, LLC

Science-based unit studies are a fun way to enjoy in-depth learning activities, and the Peaceful Ponds e-book is the perfect guide. Two homeschooling mothers collaborated to assemble a comprehensive study about life in and around ponds during all four seasons. I was immediately pleased to see a wide variety of activities throughout the unit and an abundance of information, eliminating the need for me to spend time searching for appropriate materials and ideas on my own.

Peaceful Ponds opens with author biographies and an introductory page about how the unit is useful for all homeschooling styles and methods, not just for those who prefer unit studies. With slight adaptations, it could be used with any classroom or nature interest group. The introduction states that the book is written with elementary age children in mind, but there are numerous ideas included for extending the learning with older children.

The unit begins with a "Literature Launch" where three books are suggested for reading, followed by a brief page of background information about the differences between ponds and lakes. Then it's time to "get outside with ponds" using one of the numerous ideas included. Nearly three pages of ideas offer a great variety for experimenting in and around ponds. References to notebooking pages are included when appropriate, and these pages are found in the appendix.

The next section of the book extends the learning with more in-depth experimentation. "Branching out with Ponds" is where you will find a varied list of hands-on learning ideas for all ages, and it is in this list that I found the most creative ideas for use with my family, like dissecting a pond plant, viewing pond water under a microscope, hatching protozoa, and making origami fish! For the more involved suggestions, Internet links are provided for instructions. And as a mom who sometimes pauses at the suggestion of hands-on activities, I was overjoyed to see that many of the ideas could be implemented without a single trip to the store for "supplies."

To extend learning further, a two-page comprehensive list of research and writing questions is included for use, depending on the age and need of the student. The possibilities with these suggestions are endless, and in reading them I am inspired to consider the learning possibilities. I wish we had time to do more of them! Written reports, oral presentations, poster displays, science fair projects, and demonstrations are just a few ways that the list could be used.

The authors also incorporated Bible lessons related to ponds, poetry suggestions, art and picture study ideas, composer and music references, a literature list, related Internet links, and over a page of additional ways to incorporate the youngest and oldest learners in your family. As if that wasn't enough, nature club and co-op suggestions are included for group study. Finally, an appendix of creative handouts is included for family or classroom use. Following the appendix, three articles are provided to guide the instructor in nature study, offering encouragement in why, where, and how to study nature, including step-by-step instruction in creating student notebooks for use during the unit study.

All 39 pages could be printed for ease of use, but if cost-saving is a priority, simply pre-read the book on-screen and decide how much of the book you want to print. After reading the book on-screen, I chose to print portions of the book in black-and-white and to look at the color images on the computer screen with my children before using the printed pages. Another option would be to print only the activity pages and to read all preparatory and teaching material on-screen.

I am thrilled at the sheer volume of information and ideas in this book, but my one concern is its organization. At first glance, I was anticipating a read-and-go format. But as I began, I realized that the information for the teacher is split between the numerous introduction pages and the nature study articles found at the end of the book. In addition, the suggestions for including older and younger students seem out of place and could possibly go unnoticed at first. I would have liked to see those suggestions incorporated into sections of hands-on ideas and research ideas where they would be more easily found.

A study of ponds can lead to so many exciting discoveries, and this book touches on some of the countless possibilities. The authors have numerous other unit studies based on nature as well, and I suspect the ideas and suggestions in them are just as rich, varied, and well thought out as they are in Peaceful Ponds.

Product review by Melissa Theberge, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2009

Another review:

Peaceful Ponds is a nature-based unit study produced by two homeschooling moms. Available in a downloadable e-book format, this study is full of information on pond life and contains many ideas on how to nurture your child's interest in this aspect of creation.

The authors have put together a very useful resource for parents who want to implement nature study into their homeschool. Let's face it, this kind of thing can, and often does, get pushed to the back burner, and homeschool moms often feel overwhelmed at the idea of trying to get out and enjoy nature on a regular basis. The authors know this difficulty firsthand and have put together this product with a desire to come alongside us to equip, encourage, and inspire us to jump into this worthwhile endeavor.

There is so much included in the Peaceful Ponds study, it is hard to list it all! There is ample information on ponds and pond life, what to look for depending on the time of the year you and your children are observing one, common household tools to use (such as an old spaghetti strainer or ice cube tray) for locating and observing small creatures, and ideas for many hands-on activities. There is information on sketching and keeping a nature notebook, specific literature and poetry references to utilize, artist and picture study references to enrich, ideas for writing and research, Scriptural lessons, Internet links, tips on how to include very young children as well as older kids, guidance on how to use the study for co-ops, many colorful pages to print off for notebooking and observation, and much, much more.

This is such a wonderful resource! I am thoroughly impressed with the amount of information in this unit study and how well it is put together. These ladies really did their research well! I teach the nature component for our weekly co-op and found this unit to be extremely useful for a lesson I taught on pond life. I look forward to continuing to utilize it for our own homeschool nature studies.

The only real con I can think of is that if you're looking for a collection of pre-scripted or complete lesson plans, this isn't it. It is a unit study, and as such it will take time for you to become familiar with the material and to make decisions on what you want to implement. As one who doesn't care for unit studies a great deal, I actually very much like this approach for our non-formal study, observation, and enjoyment of nature. I didn't find it difficult to use at all.

The Shining Dawn website has even more helpful tools on how to use the NaturExplorer units (there are many more in addition to the Peaceful Ponds one reviewed here) and tips on lesson planning. I so much appreciate the heart these authors have put into this product and highly recommend it to any parent who would like some inspiration and ideas on conducting a peaceful pond study.

Product review by Dawn Peterson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2011