Silver Lake Nature Center introduces curriculum for homeschool students

For the first time, Silver Lake Nature Center is holding regular classes for kids who won’t be going back to regular classrooms when they leave.

This month, new director Jerry Kozlansky introduced Homeschool Camp, an eight-week series of weekly classes for children outside the traditional school models.It kicks off on Sept. 13 and runs every Tuesday from 1:30 to 3:30 through Nov. 1. Two more tracks will be offered in the winter and spring.

It’s a new idea for the 235-acre nature preserve in Bristol Township, but not its director.

“I worked at several places that had a home school component, mainly because it helps parents teach that science or ecology component they can’t teach in their homes,” Kozlansky explained. “When I came here, I realized there was a large community here in Bristol of homeschool parents … and after talking with them, I realized they are very much underserved in this community.”

Kozlansky discovered this, in part, from meeting homeschool families who regularly visited the nature center. However, he also recognized many as Lower Bucks residents who regularly traveled to the nature center in New Jersey, where he used to work for its well-established homeschool programs.

“I learned a lot over there, and I’m trying to bring that all to this community,” he said.

The classes, which delve into topics like insect metamorphosis, fall bird migration and biological diversity in fungus, meet state requirements for education. After that, Silver Lake Nature Center offers unique learning opportunities, thanks in part to having a bog, wetlands and swamp on the property — a rare combination in this area.

“This place has its specialties, so we’ll be doing a lot about those ecosystems, and watersheds ” Kozlansky said. “It won’t be the only things we cover, but you can’t get that at every nature center.”

The program itself leans even further toward the needs of homeschool students. There’s continuity with the instructors, for starters, and none of the courses will repeat for three years. That way, students can return year after year and eventually move into different tracks with their age groups.

“It’s like being in the school year,” said Kozlansky. “Instructors get to know the kids, and (the students and parents) will be able to build connections and friendships between different groups.”

Those connections are an integral part of homeschooling, in his experience. Over the years, Kozlansky’s seen how important word-of-mouth communication and networking are to people who choose to homeschool their kids.

Oftentimes, he pointed out, the children are learning together in groups as opposed to just working with their own parents. Those groups often employ different learning styles, and work at different paces than each other.

Ideas like differentiated learning, which calls for providing students with a variety of ways to absorb information, and navigating differing paces for varying groups may constitute a bit of a learning curve at Silver Lake, Kozlansky admits. But he’s confident in his team, and determined to match the passion of the parents who bring their kids. Many, he noted, choose to be single-income families in order to dedicate the time they need to teaching their children, and work long hours, in many capacities, to provide the education they think is best for them.

“So many of these people are sacrificing so much for this,” he said. “I want to give them the best program I can.”

Silver Lake Nature Center, 1306 Bath Road in Bristol, is accepting registrations for the fall Homeschool Camp. Cost for the eight-week session is $100 per child for children 6 to 11 years old and $120 for children 12 to 18. For information, call 215.785.1177 or visit www.silverlakenaturecenter.org.

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