November 8, 2010
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Students in the local school systems are not the only ones able to learn about science and natural history by visiting a local institution.
The Virginia Museum of Natural History, on Starling Avenue in Martinsville, has launched “Homeschool Wednesdays,” a monthly program in which the staff provides hands-on learning activities to students taught at home.
The museum often hosts groups of students from local schools as well as those elsewhere in Virginia and northern North Carolina.
Home school groups also frequently visit, said Denny Casey, the museum’s director of education and public programs.
But “we’ve never had a program for that group ... on a regular basis,” said museum Marketing Associate Zach Ryder.
“Homeschool Wednesdays” is being held from 10 to 11:15 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month through July, Ryder said.
“I think we’ve hit a chord” in terms of finding a way to serve a segment of the community that was underserved, Casey said.
Fifteen students and 10 adult chaperones took part in the first session last month, he said, noting that all of the participants signed up in advance.
According to local school officials, 28 students in Martinsville and between 100 and 125 in Henry County are being taught at home. That is enough to make offering the program worthwhile, museum officials said.
They think that as word of it spreads, the program will begin attracting students from other communities who are homeschooled, they said.
A recent session focused on scientific investigations. Students learned about the processes scientists use to do their jobs, such as collecting data and making observations, Casey said.
One activity they took part in, he said, was pretending to be a camera. They walked around the museum with their eyes shut. Then someone tapped them on their ears, at which time they briefly opened their eyes. Then they went to another part of the museum and drew what they saw.
Casey said it was amazing to see what the students remembered, especially objects that contrasted with each other.
“You realize the power that the mind has to make detailed observations in a short period of time,” he said.
Future monthly sessions will focus on physical and environmental science, energy, organisms, life and Earth cycles, properties of the Earth, water and the sky.
Students attending upcoming sessions will be divided into two groups, one for ages 6 to 10 years and another for ages 11 to 18 years. Older students will be given activities to help them learn more in-depth, Casey said.
Museum officials said they hope that “Homeschool Wednesdays” helps participants think of learning activities students can do at home.
More information is available on the museum’s website at www.vmnh.net. Pre-registration is required for future programs. To sign up, call 634-4185. Participants must pay a small fee.
Casey said that although each month’s activities are designed to tie into one another, students do not have to attend all the session to benefit from any particular one.
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