- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

Home-schooling families have the ability to explore topics in a deeper way than those in traditional schools. As we hear more about global warming and the environmental impact of combustible fuel usage, the question naturally emerges: How can safe and dependable energy production be developed?

Solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy and water energy, as well as energy from reclaimed resources, such as sewage or garbage or biofuels, are all barely tapped in terms of widespread usage in our society, not to mention in nations where the need is even greater.

The nation’s largest and most-advanced solar power plant, BP Solar, is located in nearby Frederick, Md. Visitors are welcome, and can learn about the use of photovoltaic elements to produce electricity for a home, business or other uses.

I was amazed to hear about some of the things now being done with solar energy. There are photovoltaic “shingles,” which can be installed as roofing material that can capture sunlight and transform it into power for the home.

Solar panels can be set up on an existing rooftop or at a distance and linked to the home through cables. Vertical gathering units can be set up on poles to capture maximum sun power. Information and tours can be arranged through the company’s Web site (www.bpsolar.us).

Another interesting use of solar power is that of solar ovens. In many countries, family members spend a considerable amount of their day gathering fuel to cook with, and this can destroy the natural vegetation cover. Soon, overgrazing, soil erosion and loss of adequate rainfall are the result.

Solar cooking units can allow families to cook their meals using only the freely available resource of the sunlight. Solar ovens can heat water to destroy germs as well.

If your young learners would like to explore the possibilities of solar ovens and cooking, and to learn their impact on communities in developing world nations, you may want to check out the Solar Oven Society (www.solarovens.org), which sells affordable, efficient ovens to consumers, but also helps with projects to bring such units overseas to help communities use sun power.

Solar hot-water heaters are another application of sun technology. The Mother Earth News magazine has many different designs in its archives. One simple one is described in an article on its site (www.motherearthnews.com/alternative_energy/1979_September_October/A_Homemade_Solar_Water_Heater).

A topic like solar power will actually lead your learners into a number of different areas: physics, to study how energy behaves and how it can be harnessed; electricity, including all those confusing definitions of volts and watts and amperes; environmental studies; and even home economics.

Don’t be in a rush, once the curiosity is engaged. You’ll be surprised how much learning will be generated, once children have a goal in mind.

In addition to studying about how alternative forms of energy can be used, your family may wish to do projects or participate in competitions based on designing and building equipment that uses freely occurring sources of energy.

Water wheels, wind engines, solar or even energy from waste could be a good projects for your young learners to try.

You can find many practical applications and photos of such inventions being used in real life at www.otherpower.com.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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