Wild Turkeys in Maine. Photo by Jeff Hawkins

Homeschooling in Nature 2

Stacie continues her blog series on Homeschooling in Nature.

The Wild Turkey vanished from Maine in the 1800s. In the early 2000s, my family moved there and discovered a growing population of the wild bird. Our first encounter with them is something neither I nor my children will ever forget.

It was the early days of homeschooling for my family. The house was still in a sad state – truly an old and leaky farmhouse. We still used the shabby 70s furniture left behind by the prior owners and walked on greenish shag rugs through rooms clad in fake wood paneling and Styrofoam-covered ceilings. Later we would work together to insulate and gently restore the place, inside and out. Back then, however, one of our favorite indoor activities was curling up together on the old couch wrapped in home-made quilts, while reading aloud from the classics like Great Expectations, biographies, and science histories. It was a wonderful, family-focused winter within the homeschooling years.

The bird feeder is visible in front of the house, in between the downstairs windows. Note the large garden we were working on - it attracted an amazing variety of birds and insects.

The bird feeder is visible in front of the house, in between the downstairs windows. Note the large garden we were working on – it attracted an amazing variety of birds and insects.

One day, while deep in a Jan Brett tale, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, something moving strangely. I thought, “What IS that?” Noticing the movement also, my kids abandoned their warm blankets and rushed to the window to investigate.

Wild Turkeys! A flock of twelve ugly and awkward birds were shuffling about in the snow around our pole mounted bird feeder. At one point, three turkeys were on the scrappy old dining chair that we used as a tray feeder, all trying to peck at the seed at the same time. It was quite funny. They tipped the chair right over!

We watched those turkeys for a good long time. They finally wandered out of the yard, across the field, and into the woods. Seeing them up close, observing their behaviors and social interactions, they didn’t seem so ugly and awkward anymore. Instead, they showed us how perfectly suited they were to the location and habitat – our semi-wild intersection of old farm fields and woods.

Photo by smilla4

Photo by smilla4

The next day we were in the local diner (the only diner in town, located in the only gas station in town – it was truly a small town!) when we overheard a field scientist from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife telling the old-timer next to him how he spent eight hours up in a tree the day before, looking for the dozen turkeys that he had released the month before. The kids and I started to laugh out loud, catching everyone’s attention. We explained that he should have joined us in our living room instead and had some coffee while watching “his” flock at our bird feeder! He saw the humor in the situation, then graciously spent at least an hour answering the myriad questions my kids had about the turkeys, their history, and how the state was bringing them back into the landscape.

The old farmhouse, colorized and renovated inside and out

The old farmhouse, colorized and renovated inside and out

For the next seven years we watched the Wild Turkey population grow around the old farmhouse. Later, at the house we built on the other side of town, we watched a fox chase down a Wild Turkey, barely missing us in its single-minded determination. We saw flocks of Wild Turkeys along the highway every time we traveled into Bangor. The Wild Turkey made a remarkable comeback during the years after we first saw them at our bird feeder. Today they have been successfully reintroduced in Maine.

A different look at the snood and wattle on the turkey's distinctive head. Photo by Rick Cameron

A different look at the snood and wattle on the turkey’s distinctive head. Photo by Rick Cameron

I tell this story because, as homeschoolers, we didn’t just learn about habitats and wildlife by watching TV shows or reading books about exotic species in dramatic locations. Rather, we spent most of our time looking out our own windows and walking in our own neighboring fields and woods. We spent a fair amount of time speaking with local experts and learning about local habitats, local wildlife, and local ecology. We visited our regional cooperative extension offices and even visited some very cool labs at the largest university in Maine. I was constantly amazed by how much time professionals would spend with my two kids and how much everyone enjoyed it – kids, adults, and experts alike. But THAT is a story for another day.

Today, if you’re not already doing so, make a point of going outside with your kids. Even if it’s raining or snowing, even if you have no particular destination or learning goal in mind. Something will catch your child’s eye, your eye. Something will make you say, “I wonder…”

(For more information on how to use an “I Wonder…” Board, check out our free curriculum, Investigating Evidence, and our new course for educators, Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices.)Investigating Evidence Cover




  1.  by  Kristy T. Fleming

    What a wonderful story! I very much relate to this. Nature has so much to teach us all. We homeschool as well and “watch out our windows” every day at our many feeders. The kids are noticing more and more how weather, and time of year brings different birds and how our numbers have increased since we feed on a more consistent basis.

    With the help of Project Feeder Watch my children can identify and spot so many types that I didn’t even know a few years ago.

    The fact that bird sleuth and Cornell support the homeschool community will keep us coming back year after year! Thank you from The Fleming Family, Lewes Delaware.

  2. Pingback: Homeschooling in Nature : Cornell Lab of Ornithology: BirdSleuth K-12

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