Scientist Roberta Gibson explores weather and how it affects our lives in these days of global weather changes. Cloud formation, air temperature, wind speed, humidity, precipitation; meteorology often fascinates children of all ages, from preschool and Kindergarten to high school.

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The Unschooling Handbook
How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom
by Mary Griffith
Unschooling, a homeschooling method based on the belief that kids learn best when allowed to pursue their natural curiosities and interests, is practiced by 10 to 15 percent of the estimated 1.5 million homeschoolers in the United States.

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Patrick Farenga, editor, "Growing Without Schooling": An honest and touching account of how homeschooling leads to new attitudes and possibilities for learning.

Eyewitness: Weather (DVD)
Narrated by Martin Sheen
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
~ Albert Einstein

    Weather: Always a Hot Topic
    Roberta Gibson

    This year in the Southwest, weather has become a “hot” issue, if you can forgive the pun. A long drought has led to forest fires and lakes levels so low that hydroelectric plants have had to suspend operations. Meteorologists are excited when even the slightest hope of rain is in the forecast. But the monsoons have remained elusive. Everyone is watching the coasts of Peru and Ecuador, hoping for El Niņo. All this talk of weather reminds me how important it is for our children to understand weather and its causes.

    What is weather anyway? We all seem to understand the concept, but putting it into words is not always easy. Technically weather is what is happening in the atmosphere above us at a specific time and place. It includes things like air temperature, wind speed, humidity levels, and amount and form of precipitation. Weather is constantly changing because the part of the atmosphere around us is constantly in flux. Scientists who study and predict the weather are called meteorologists. The term comes from the Greek philosopher Aristotle who wrote about rain, snow, and other “meteors” that fall from the sky and the meteor part stuck (Resource 1). Even if we are not weather scientists, however, most of us are interested in weather because it effects our lives in many ways.

    Karen Gibson wrote in her Do You Need to Teach Kindergarten? article that beginning to observe, describe, and record daily the weather is one of the science scope and sequences for Kindergarten. Probably most of you have started even sooner. When my son was a baby, I would discuss the weather with him each day. As a preschooler, we would examine the cloud formations and weather forecasts every morning as we opened the curtains in his bedroom. Now he enjoys studying the weather forecasts in the newspaper and has recently concluded “these weather forecasts must come from someone who lives somewhere else because they are never right.”

    Look for times when your children may be interested in learning more about specific events or aspects of weather. Do your children seem interested in clouds? Then go to the library and Internet and find out about the different cloud formations and what weather conditions they form under. You don’t have to be able to tell an alto-cumulus floccus from a fracto-nimbus, but you might learn that a stratiform cloud is a straight layer of clouds that indicates a stable atmosphere and that cumulus clouds are heaped up clouds indicating updrafts and unstable conditions. I call these “blankie” clouds and “pillow” clouds, respectively. Most of us can recognize “mares tails,” “cauliflower clouds,” or a “mackerel sky” with a little practice. And I recently learned that the dark clouds are dark because they contain more moisture and thus block more light from coming through. The World of Weather by Brian Cosgrove contains some stunning photographs of clouds (Resource 2).

    On the other hand, your budding scientist may be more interested in the equipment used to measure the weather. The equipment used, as well as its history and development, is often as fascinating as the weather itself. The Weather book of the Eyewitness Books series has some great information and stunning photographs of equipment used to measure the weather (Resource 3). There is also a section about what to include in a home weather station.

    Does your child’s taste run more toward fiction? The younger set might find Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs a fun way to start thinking about weather (Resource 4). If you’ve never read it, this is a classic tall tale about how the town of Chewandswallow deals with food falling from the sky. A supplemental unit is available on the Internet to help you get some ideas about weather tie-ins (Resource 5). You might also try Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss (Resource 6). In this story the old king is bored with the weather in his Kingdom and asks his magicians to come up with something new (does contain references to magic).

    Studying the weather can be a great way to introduce geography as well as to start your children thinking about large scale patterns of climate, prevailing winds, atmospheric circulation, and global weather changes. The El Niņo event is a good example (Resource 7). El Niņo starts with a change in the temperature of the ocean water off the coast of Ecuador and Peru in South America. Instead of the usual cold water temperatures in late December, the surface waters are unusually warm. The resulting changes can effect the weather as far away as Canada and Indonesia. For example, we in the Southwest usually receive extra rain and may even have flooding during El Niņo years and that’s why we hope for an El Niņo year to end our drought.

    In conclusion, weather is a vital part of our lives. You can delve into this interesting and important topic by just looking out the window or stepping outside. And if your children are budding meteorologists, you might want to try some of the activities in Investigating Thermometers and Temperature.


    1. Jonathan D. W. Kahl, Weather Watch: Forecasting the Weather (How’s the Weather), Lerner Publications Co., Minneapolis, MN, 1996.

    2. Brian Cosgrove, The World of Weather, Swan Hill Press, Shrewsbury, England, 1997; ISBN: 1853107654.

    3. Brian Cosgrove, et. al., Eyewitness: Weather, DK Publishing, 2000; ISNB: 0789457822.

    4. Judi Barrett, Illustrated by Ron Barrett, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Scholastic, Inc., New York. 1978. ISBN: 0590303848.

    5. Teacher Cyberguide “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” website

    6. Dr. Seuss, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, Random House, New York, 1970; ISBN: 0394800753.

    7. Franklin’s Forecast El Niņo section

    Copyright August 2002
    Originally published in July/August 2002 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)

    Investigating Thermometers and Temperature
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Peterson First Guide to Clouds and Weather
by John A. Day, Vincent J. Schaefer
This Peterson First guide contains easy-to-understand answers to questions about the weather, such as why the sky is blue, what makes it rain, and what causes rainbows. The book also features 116 color photographs that show how to identify clouds, with explanations of what each cloud type tells about the weather to come.

The World of Weather
by Brian Cosgrove
A straightforward, non-scientific text is complemented by spectacular photography and color diagrams of the phenomena described, providing a solid understanding of basic principles and forecasts, and even allowing the reader to make predictions of wind, rain, and temperature with some rationale.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett
Life is delicious in the town of Chewandswallow where it rains soup and juice, snows mashed potatoes, and blows storms of hamburgers--until the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Eyewitness: Weather
by Brian Cosgrove
These series' entries feature attractive spreads filled with eye-catching illustrative materials and clear, concise writing. In Weather , the imaginative use of photographs helps to clarify many of the concepts.

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