EPISODE 144 SEASON 4 | The beauty of homeschooling is that you get to build it however you want. What better way to create supplement your curriculum than finding different pieces to make it a successful learning experience? Incorporating nature and animals into a part of homeschooling is what Sarah Skebba, founder of EdZOOcating, does. EdZOOcating is an educational approach that integrates animal-based experiences into your child's learning journey. From field trips to animal sanctuaries to interactive lessons with live animals, EdZOOcating provides an immersive and engaging educational experience that sparks curiosity and empathy.
Whether you're a seasoned homeschooler looking for fresh ideas or someone considering homeschooling for the first time, this podcast episode will provide valuable insights and make it a truly enriching experience. Join us as we embark on a journey to empower your child's education through homeschooling your way and EdZOOcating!
ABOUT OUT GUEST | Sarah Skebba is the founder and CEO of EdZOOcating, an education platform designed to use wildlife, nature, and conservation to engage kids in core science topics. She grew up in the Cleveland Metroparks where she developed a love for nature at an early age. After moving to Arizona to attain a BS in Conservation Biology and Ecology, she participated in several wildlife studies exploring animals like rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, iguanas, and more. She gained experiences as an educator at a variety of zoos, aquariums, and nature centers where she furthered my passion for both wildlife and teaching. During her furlough at the start of COVID, she was eager to continue educating both kids and adults about wildlife and conservation. What started as a website filled with animal facts and sustainable living tips transformed into hundreds of live Zoom classes, a K-8 science curriculum program called EdZOOcating Adventures, and 3 years of engaging homeschoolers from across the world in science using the wonders of the natural world.
Janna 00:00 Welcome to Homeschool your way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookSharks Community Manager. In today's episode, I am joined by Sarah Skebba. She is the founder and CEO of EdZOOcating. We're going to be discussing how you can engage your children in science using the world around you. Sarah, thank you so much for being here.
Sarah 00:19 Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Janna 00:24 I would love for you just to give a quick introduction of who you are and how educating came about.
Sarah 00:31 Yes, of course. So like you said, my name is Sarah Skebba. Originally, I am from Ohio, I kind of grew up with this really extreme love of nature and animals in the environment, and I kind of always knew that I wanted to build my career around that. I worked a lot at zoos, aquariums, and nature centers as an educator. And then when COVID came around, and me and all my co-workers were furloughed, I wanted to continue on my animal wildlife conservation education journey. So I made my website at https://www.edzoocating.com as kind of just a fun place for kids and adults to go to learn about animals and conservation issues and to learn things that they could do very easily to help make a positive impact on the world. And that kind of evolved over time as I learned more about homeschooling and all the different resources that parents were looking for. And so what started as my little animal website turned into a science curriculum program and lots of live classes online. And really our mission in educating is to use animals and nature and conservation as a tool to engage kids in science because it's all around us. So it makes it kind of easy.
Janna 01:53 It is amazing when you start to recognize or you're mindful of the things that are around us that can be used to educate whether it's science, history, or language arts. It's amazing. It's like this whole new world has been open to us to be able to do this as a homeschool parent. Now, let me ask you prior to 2020, when you were in these different areas, what was your experience with homeschoolers?
Sarah 02:18 My main experience with homeschoolers when I was working as an educator in kind of informal education settings was through the programs that we offered at those facilities. So for example, the Phoenix Zoo has its big homeschool days, and we would set up programs for all the homeschoolers that would come that day. at the nature center, we had a lot of homeschooling events. And so the programs that we were building for them, we're using, of course, the animals in the zoo, but then also at the nature center, using the natural desert environment of the Phoenix area to kind of teach all the different parts of science but honing them in using the tangible stuff that we had right around us.
Janna 03:03 I think it's surprising to a lot of parents who are considering homeschooling or just getting into homeschooling that there are so many programs that places like the nature center and the zoo offer. For homeschooling families. It's like before it was there was a lot of legwork that had to be done by the parent. And now since it's exploded, there are the places that are actually doing all the work. And as homeschoolers, we just get to show up and enjoy it.
Sarah 03:28 Yeah, definitely. And I will say too, with COVID, one of the big benefits that came out of that is right away when all the informal learning centers were shut down to in-person visitors, a lot of them went digital. And they took the educational stuff that they had previously only taught in person to families that came to visit a much wider audience of people who were even local because everything was virtual, and it just made it so accessible. So I think because of COVID It's gotten even easier to access
Janna 04:02 A silver lining for the dark spot of COVID. Yes, absolutely. So your program is really, I let you say that it is live classes do you also have on-demand classes?
Sarah 04:18 So we have kind of two parts with educating we teach live classes that we booked directly through the website. So that's everything from let's say your child is struggling with adaptations. You can request a specific, you know, standards-based topic from us, but we teach a lot of zoology classes as well. So we booked those through the website and we teach at our school. Parents are always welcome to self-schedule or request new topics or anything like that. But our curriculum program is all pre-recorded lessons. So that has the video component and then all of the other activities and quizzes and what have you and we're always looking For kind of special requests from parents in that too, we really like to gear our stuff toward what, as we have, let's say we have one family that asks for a particular topic. Odds are, they are not the only homeschool family that's looking for that. So that has really helped us kind of build our array of classes. And it's also made it I think, a little bit nicer for other homeschool families because someone's already asked, so it's already there for them.
Janna 05:28 Sometimes the pressure is off when you know that, Oh, good. I don't I don't have to ask somebody who's already done it. And the work is already done. But they're our purpose today is actually to help families, especially at the beginning of a homeschool year. There's a lot of feeling of overwhelm. I liken it very similar to when I was in college, and I got the syllabus for all five classes. And I was told what was required for the whole semester. And pretty much by the end of the week, I wanted to give up because I thought there was no way I was going to get all through this. And I think the homeschool parents feel that way too as they're gearing up in the fall for the whole year. And so instead of coming on and telling parents like, here's one more thing that you should be doing, or here's one more deficit in your homeschool that you didn't even know you had, we're actually going to give parents some ideas of what they could be doing very simply around in their house or their community to help kind of incorporate science into the world around them. So let's jump into that.
Sarah 06:29 Yeah, definitely. And I think that one of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that you get to build it however you want. And it's so easy to sneak science into other subjects, and potentially ways that your kids might not even realize that they're learning science as they're doing math and English and all the other kinds of core subjects.
Janna 06:56 So if I was a homeschool parent who was like, that sounds great. But now give me some practical steps. What would be would be the first thing to look for something like that?
Sarah 07:03 So I would say the first thing to look for is to identify your child's interest, right? So let's say you have a kid who is really into one type of animal or one component of being outside, right, kids love to be outside, they love nature, and they like to interact with things. So see what your kids are into outside and the terms of plants and animals, and then use that really in their other subjects. So let's say you're doing a language arts project, you're working on writing and spelling and kind of the core of that, select topics that are going to include something sciency, your kids might have to do a little research, they might have to watch a little video to get the information that they're going to need to do the writing, while at the same time they're practicing their research skills, they're practicing how to kind of organize data and new information in their head and then present it in a logical way. And that's a big part of science as well, that I think is something that we kind of overlook is that all the subjects are really intertwined with each other, you can't do science without the language arts. And it's really easy to kind of overlook that rather than intentionally focus on that and pull out those little details.
Janna 08:20 I think mindfulness coming back to this, this term, it just keeps coming out. For me, it's like it's there. But if we're not mindful, if we're not looking for it, if you are looking to buy a particular type of Jeep, all of a sudden, you see that type of Jeep or that color of Jeep everywhere, and you're like, What is going on? Right? Or, if you know, your shopper, you want to buy a particular jacket for the season. And all of a sudden, you'll see like, who's wearing that jacket. It's like when we tell our mind what to look for. It's so easy to find, I think one of the first research projects I did as a kid was on my favorite animal. And now thinking back, I'm like, Oh, well, that makes so much sense because they were either purposely or not purposely trying to connect the two subjects so that I could do a little bit of research and find out what class you know, you'll have to educate me a little bit on this, like, what class they're in?
Sarah 09:13 Yeah, yes. Good. Okay, because when we're talking about one type of animal, it's not just that one type of animal we are talking about how they're classified who they're related to, and what traits do they share with their relatives. And that kind of opens up this whole world of things that we might not consider to be super science-y. So if we're talking about how an animal is adapted to its ecosystem, versus a different ecosystem, now we're talking about geography and where we are in relation to the equator. We're talking about climate. We're talking about this whole other array of subjects, aside from just this fox that has big ears and I want to know why. So I think that too, is something to be mindful of. Is it As you're exploring one animal or one nature topic, what other science or non-science things could you tie into that lesson? I love that in my live classes, we focus a lot on geography, especially in relation to climate and where we are, you know, relative to the equator. And I have some kids in my classes who we first started, and we were, you know, organizing continents and where they were on the map. And now they're focused on specific countries in which animals in their ranges live in specific countries. So it's been interesting to see that as a topic, I never really thought that I'd be teaching but it has become such a big part of it, because like you said, it's all intertwined.
Janna 10:47 What's another helpful tip that you can give parents as they are just looking for ways to implement this idea of science and everyday living?
Sarah 10:55 Yeah, I think something that has become kind of a limiting factor for parents is the idea that if you live in a really suburban area, or a really urban area, you don't have access to a zoo or an aquarium, that you're not able to do the nature studies or the animal studies. But I think sometimes we forget that even if you live in a really urban area, you do have natural parts of the world around you. I always tell my kids, there are birds and bugs everywhere. So one thing about being in, I'm going to use my neighborhood for an example because I live in a very, I call it a cinderblock neighborhood, because everything is cinderblock fences, and it's very challenging for wildlife to get around here. But I've got bugs in my garden, I've got geckos on the walls, I've got birds flying around. And these are simple things that as a homeschool parent, you could use as a nature study, you could use that as a way for kids to, first of all, get outside and experience those things firsthand. But also to work on skills like observation collecting data and comparing and contrasting we see this bird in this season and this part in that season. And why might that be? And so I think one of my tips would be, don't let your environment around, you feel limiting, because there's something natural everywhere.
Janna 12:23 And so many communities are really good about building parks, even in the middle of a city that sometimes you just maybe part of the adventure is finding the park, you know, finding the place where the Nature Preserve is at because I would say almost every state I've lived in every area I've lived in, there's always something you can find something, you know, relatively close by and take it for granted as you drive past it every single day.
Sarah 12:50 Absolutely. And one of my favorite things as a kid, which didn't feel like science at the time, but it definitely is. It's just flipping over rocks to see what you can find. And that I think could be a wonderful experiment as well, if you're exploring different parts of your community, seeing what lives under what rocks in different places. So one park might have a different type of bug, and one park might have no bugs. And that could be a good research opportunity to think about why.
Janna 13:22 Yeah, and fortunately, on our lawn, we have very few bugs because my husband chooses to kill them all. So that his grass looks like a golf course.
Sarah 13:34 Very similar to my dad's as a child. The lawn is very important, but I'm just going to sprinkle in any science here. That's a great way to potentially open up a conversation about how we could do things differently to live more sustainably or perhaps if we're talking about ways that we manage our landscaping and things like that, does that have an environmental impact outside of the borders of our lawn? or what have you? So I think one of my other tips might be to, as you're thinking about things that seem like oh, well, we can't do it because of this. Use that as a way to think okay, well, what could we spin it into, that is still science, you're perhaps looking outside of the community, even though it's nice to really focus on your natural environment where you live.
Janna 14:30 Take another great resource I know where I have lived in the different states I lived is just the state parks. I know people are surprised at the fact that in our area, you can go to the library and check out a bag that is specific to the park that's within your county or close by and it will give you a pass for the day. And you can choose different topics like bird watching or bug collecting or different things like that. And it's so simple and yet if we don't know about it, then we don't know, you know that it's available to us.
Sarah 15:05 Yeah. And sometimes it absolutely takes a little bit of digging, I will say a lot of the the organizations around where I live in Arizona in the Phoenix area. The homeschooling resources are not front and center. When you walk in, sometimes you have to ask, you have to go on the website and do a little bit of digging. But typically, parks and nature centers, their objective is to teach you about where you are, because that, and something we talk about a lot with edzoocating is the first step in protecting something is learning to love it. And so the parks and all these other nature centers, they want to teach you about their environment, so that you want to do your part in protecting it because now it's a part of you at something you admire. So I think that that part of the local organizations in your area, if you don't see something, or you don't think you have something, definitely ask because it's just not always as available as we would like it to be on the homepage of their website.
Janna 16:14 And it's amazing what those librarians know. I mean, your library is such a great resource for so many things. But that's like the first one, I'll be the first one I'm like, I'm just gonna go up to the Help Desk. Like it's there. I might as well use it.
Sarah 16:28 Absolutely. Most websites have a phone number on their website for a reason, Charlotte, see what they've got for you. And you know what, to a lot of places in my experience of working in zoos and aquariums and what have you, they may not know what to create. So if you are really looking for something specific in your area requested if they don't have it, see if it's something that they'd be willing to make. Because a lot of the time the reason they might not have something is because they don't know what people are looking for.
Janna 17:01 So Sarah, what is one of your favorite things to teach when you are doing your classes? Like what just really, if somebody said you get to pick today, what is what's your go-to?
Sarah 17:13 That is a very challenging question. I love animals, I've been an animal lover for my whole life. I typically joke with my students that I have a new favorite animal every day because there are so many good ones that I can't pick. So one of my favorite things to talk about in that vein is that every animal has something weird, that makes them unique, but there's typically a reason that they have it. So I like with my kids, especially in some of our animal guessing games. I'll give a hint that something really bizarre that an animal has and then we will make some hypotheses about why they have it. And then that opens up the door to kind of talk about their animals that also have a weird thing like that. Is it used in the same way? Do they live in the same place? And that I really like comparing animals in different ecosystems to see what weird things they have, and why they have them in that particular place.
Janna 18:19 So give me an example of one of the weirdest.
Sarah 18:23 Lately, this is just fresh in my brain because I was just talking about this, this morning, and one of my classes, animal noses is really weird. An elephant's trunk is its nose, and the dolphin's blowhole is its nose. And one of my favorite questions to ask when we're talking about these things with the kids. What if humans had a nose like that? Why don't we because we don't live underwater? So we don't need our noses on the top of our heads to take a breath. We have hands so we can pick up our food with hands. We didn't need to develop a nose that worked like a hand. So I love getting the kids to think about how weird it would be if animals swapped those things and then why it wouldn't make any sense.
Janna 19:11 It would be even fun then to have them draw their interpretation of swapping that out. You know, you think about kids whose passion is art well then science can be artistic and you know if their passion is numbers, then science can be statistical. I mean, there are just so many ways, when we're homeschooling to use our student's interests and the things that they love and really incorporate them into anything, specifically science.
Sarah 19:40 Yes, absolutely. And I definitely acknowledge that science when you're a homeschool parent and your kids are learning how to read and write. That is the bread and butter. That's where your focus is. I completely understand that science is not always at the forefront, especially in early elementary but I think there's so much opportunity to include science in all of that stuff, when like how you were saying that whatever your child's passion is, should it be numbers, should it be art, there's so many good opportunities to make those things overlap. And in the educating adventures program that we have, that's something we really tried to include in our activities and our projects. If we are going to give a prod, one of my favorite little projects that we have is for our ecosystems lesson. And it's to design your own ecosystem. So you get to pick the climate, you get to pick what kind of plants and animals are in the area. But then you have to design an animal that lives there. So you're focusing on art, but you're also thinking about what am I drawing on this animal that would help it survive in this environment, you're learning about adaptations through your artwork. And then we do similar stuff to that with numbers. If we're talking about collecting data, we're researching different animals, we want to know how much they weigh, we want to know how tall they are, we want to know their wingspan, and we're going to compare and contrast the wingspan of different birds. That's numbers, you can put that on a chart, you can put it in a graph, you can turn it into anything math-related. And then my favorite way to incorporate it into history is to think about how plants and animals were used hundreds and hundreds of years ago. And that really caught my focus when I was working at the nature center in the Phoenix area. Because the plants here being from Ohio were very different than what I grew up with. And to see how people hundreds and hundreds of years ago used them for things that now we just build, or we just make in a different way. Like Tito's the really tall kind of spiny, they look like spiny sticks sticking out of the ground, but they used to be used as fences. And so that's a great way for kids to kind of think about what we have in the area and why it lives here. But also, how did people use it before we had all these inventions and technology that we have today? So incorporating that into studies of history or indigenous people just becomes really fascinating.
Janna 22:19 And the best way to find all that information really is through books. I mean, we have technology we can do with websites. But going back to like what Bookstart focuses on being literature-based, you can learn all these things through non-textbooks. There's so much out there through stories that you find out, and there are different people who use it in different ways. And it makes it so much more real, you know, living history, and the fact that science can actually be a part of that, that it doesn't have to be separate, really, I think, helps homeschool parents, take a breath and go okay, it's not all subjects are separate. It's not all different things. They all kind of work together. It's all one big story.
Sarah 22:58 Absolutely. And I think when you are teaching something like history, or language arts, or what have you, whether you're acknowledging it or not, or even aware of it or not, there may already be science hidden in what you're doing. So it might be worth taking a step back and really kind of seeing the big picture of what you're talking about. Because you might already be doing it. You could just highlight it a little bit more and then call it a science lesson.
Janna 23:28 Yeah, well, I as a homeschool parent love that. Because I want to work smarter, not harder. And I will be out and about and not stuck inside, necessarily with my nose in the book 24/7. Although we do love to read, Sarah, I know that you have an amazing hack for us. And as we start wrapping up this episode. Yeah, so
Sarah 23:51 I tried to think a little bit, I wanted to give a sustainable living hack, because that, again, is kind of the driver of what we do at edZOOcating. We want kids to be focused on things that are happening in real time in the natural world and know that they have an impact they can help. So I think many people are familiar with palm oil and the problem with palm oil and the deforestation that's happening because of it. But there is Sustainable Palm Oil that you can purchase. Palm oil is in so many different things that we use every single day in our lives. So I wanted to kind of make it a project for some of our homeschool families as well. So there's an app that was created by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Sustainable Palm Oil app and it's got a little scanner on it so you can open up the scanner and scan things around your house. Send your kids on a mission with a list. So make a list of things that you use every day food that you always have in the pantry, cosmetics, or stuff you have in the bathroom like lotions, have your kids scan them and a little chart and have them record their data of how it rings. Is it sustainable? Or is it not sustainable for the stuff that is not sustainable on that same app, they can find a sustainable alternative, so that the next time you need to buy something like that product, you can buy the sustainable version. This way, kids get a little bit of an opportunity to research, select data, organize their data, and then make a plan, which is a really big part of any scientific study or project. So that is my little challenge. My little hack for homeschool families can get your kids kind of aware of what's going on with palm oil but also make them feel like they're making an impact. They're doing something to solve it. And who doesn't love a scavenger hunt? Yes, exactly. And you're gonna realize you have so many things in your cabinet you didn't even know were in there. When your kids are scanning everything in your car.
Janna 25:58 I'll add a little mom homeschool hack have a trash bag. So as they're pulling things out that you haven't used in three to five years, you can start decluttering at the same time.
Sarah 26:08 Yes, I like that. I think one thing that becomes really overwhelming when people kind of make this with they're like, Okay, I'm going to live sustainably. Now, it doesn't have to happen all at once. As you finish products as you need new things, you can make that change kind of one step at a time. So I don't ever want that to feel intimidating for anyone like you have to get all that bad stuff out of there right away, just as you continue to live and purchase stuff just again, be mindful. And small changes, small changes have a big impact.
Janna 26:38 Absolutely. There are how can families find you and get more information about EdZoocating?
Sarah 26:50 Yes, so we have our website, www.edzoocating.com. And you can find all of our stuff there. We have, we call it our kids cave. We've got lots of free resources for kids, videos, readings, and animal facts. And then we've also got lots of our science resources on there as well. We've got some free resources on our educating.com. And then of course, we have our K through eight curriculum program, which is called EdZOOcating Adventures, and you can find that on that website as well. And then we're on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook as that at @edZOOcating. So you'll find us everywhere.
Janna 27:30 All right, we will definitely put that in the show notes. For those who are interested in looking more into educating theory. Thank you so much for being on today. I appreciate you taking the time and just giving us some really simple ways to open our eyes and look around us for the science that we didn't even know was available. Yes, good. I'm
Sarah 27:47 So glad to be here. So thank you so much for having me.
Janna 27:52 Thank you, guys. Until next time, bye-bye