As the world shut down, the Hassell household, like the rest of us, faced the prospect of educating their children at home. But the Hassells had a bit of a leg up on many of us — dad Charles Hassell is a longtime teacher who taught first and second grade in Wake County until last year.
Starting this year, he's been working from home to blog about parenting and education and create music and poetry for kids, along with part-time kid care for the two young girls, ages 6 and 4, he shares with his wife, who is a full-time marketing content manager. The family lives in north Raleigh.
And now, as he started homeschooling his own girls, he also began sharing the lessons he's teaching them with the world, uploading eight to 10-minute videos of their nature walks on his Charles4Kids YouTube channel
. In them, he highlights what they find, but also sprinkles in some tips for parents. He plans to continue the videos with the hopes that his knowledge as a teacher will help parents who are attempting to teach their own kids a little something while traditional schools are closed.
I checked in with Hassell to learn more about what he's doing. Here's a Q&A:
Go Ask Mom: You've started sharing YouTube videos about you and your kids' nature hikes. Why did you want to share them with a broader audience?
Charles Hassell: I realized that with so many kids out of school, it was a good time to share what I am doing with my own kids for other families to see. I hope that parents will get ideas for how to make everyday walks more educational. I also want to encourage everyone to get outside and be active, so that in a time where we are restricted in so many activities and work, we are all getting exercise and taking advantage of what mother nature has to offer.
GAM: Are nature walks something you do on the regular or is this bit of extended free time allowing for more?
CH: Our family loves the great outdoors, and we frequent many of the great parks in Wake County and beyond. We are fortunate to have lots of great sidewalks and trails accessible to us. Now that we aren't playing on playgrounds or having fun recess breaks at school with our friends, we make sure to pencil in several nature walks and free play outside each day, rain or shine! In terms of homeschool, I definitely consider walking and observing in nature to be important learning and part of their education. I plan a more extended “Field Trip” at least once a week, where we spend several hours immersed in a natural area.
GAM: Lots of parents take their kids outside, but have no idea on how to sprinkle in some science and nature lessons while they're at it. What are your recommendations to them?
CH: One of the most basic pillars of learning is observation. Using your senses to gain information and pique your curiosity is what learning is all about. With this in mind, try to see the world through the lens of your child or children. They notice everything and are interested in absorbing tons of information. Encourage them to think about the birds, the squirrels, worms, trees, blooms, rocks, the sky, man-made things, too. There is so much that we can teach and learn ourselves. Why does it rain? Why is it getting warmer as we inch towards summer? What are street signs for? Why do we clean up dog doo? Asking open-ended questions is great… and be sure to give children time to think and answer.
Ask questions you don’t know the answer to … and go figure them out together! For example, yesterday the girls and I found two different types of salamanders, and today we will work on identifying what kind they were, and learning more about them. Also remember, not only natural science but math problems, writing ideas, art projects and reading topics can all easily stem from observations you make outside. Be open to connecting up academic subjects, because in real life they don’t exist in separate boxes.
GAM: Do you have any favorite outdoor spots in the Triangle (where social distancing can happen)?
Yes, we have a few favorites. I’ve been going to Shelley Lake
for decades, and it has all kinds of fun trails, meadows, bridges and creeks. There are actually baby bald eaglets there right now! If you are a runner and your kids like to bike or scooter, the paved trails are great and connect to the greater greenway. I also really like Lake Johnson
in south Raleigh for a good greenway loop. A place where we have had awesome luck finding critters and observing nature is Durant Nature Preserve
. For a less paved, more wild experience that’s highly recommended. Umstead Park
(which is now closed until further notice as of March 27) is a very cool place to ramble around, and for longer trips we have had good experiences camping in some of the sites around Falls Lake. Lastly, don’t forget about your own back yard! A few trees, a patch of grass or even a puddle can reveal great stuff if you look closely.
GAM: What other videos do you have in the works for the future?
I have a TON of ideas! I definitely want to keep going into nature with the girls; today we have a plan to look for salamander eggs (carefully of course!) and hopefully find some other reptiles and amphibians. I play the guitar and ukulele, and I sing and play a lot with my kids including many of my original songs (some of which are on already on my Charles4Kids Youtube channel
, along with a few of my original illustrated poems for kids).
I’m hoping to make some videos of our jams, sing-a-longs and musical movement times. My older daughter is getting interested in meditation and yoga, so she and I are starting to make a series of videos about that. We are beginning a garden and I’m hoping to film that process: how the kids are involved, what learning we do, and following the garden as it progresses.
In the backyard at “recess” this week, we started making up a very silly and fun game called “Beefder Ball,” so I think it would be entertaining to make some really wacky short movies of just us laughing and goofing around. And finally I have lots to share about teaching reading, writing, and math to young children; my hope is to show a variety of ways to engage children with those subjects and share them out to parents who are teaching at home.
Go Ask Mom features local parents every week, usually on Mondays.