Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wood Shop

I once saw this Waldorf School video where the students had learned to make hammer dulcimers in woodshop. Not one hammer dulcimer, as a group, but each and every student made one herself.-- It blew my mind!

Since seeing that video, I've been wondering how we're going to teach our kids woodworking. I never took woodshop in public school, and I've never really built anything. I've taken a car engine apart, with heavy supervision, but my own experience with wielding a hammer is more about hanging pictures or whacking wind-tossed birdfeeders back together. A hammer dulicimer is a bit beyond my reach... at least for now.

Einstein, on the other hand, is pretty handy with a hammer. He never took woodshop either, but this week he has been banging together garden planters and bookshelves. And where there's noise, Sunburst will follow.

Yesterday she asked him if she could use the hammer. She eyed a long piece of wood he had sitting out and asked him to cut it into 4 pieces. He randomly cut it and gave them to her, and then showed her how to hammer a nail. "Softly tap it at first, until the nail sticks in without needing to be held. Then move your hand out of the way and bang it."

Originally, Sunburst wanted to hammer two boards together, side by side, in one horizontal plane. But then, after realizing that was incredibly difficult, she began to nail the boards together perpendicular. Einstein left her to her devices, and came back awhile later to supervise. He told her, "When you hit yourself with the hammer, that's when you'll really learn how to hammer."

She turned to him and said, "Oh, I've already hit myself Dad. See, I've got a blood blister, but it doesn't hurt."

She managed to whack 5 boards together in all. Can you guess what she made?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Playing with brownies

Moonshine simply doesn't want to be left out of the mix, ever, and I don't blame her. I didn't formally sign her up for the International Fair, but I did let her present. Let? Perhaps not the right word. She fussed when they skipped over her, and insisted on presenting her topic...

"Well, these are cherries."

Um, is that a Brownie? What is a Brownie?

"Well, I don't know."

She does know, I think. The girls and I have been reading Adventures of a Brownie, and Sunburst has been writing letters to see if we have a Brownie in our house (no replies yet, so we think they might only speak Gaelic.) We talk about Brownies an awful lot, and there is some question as to whether or not the woodpecker that lives in a tree next door is really a Brownie in disguise.

For those of you that don't know, Brownies are small, brown house elves that originated in Scotland. Scots believe quite heavily in faerie folk, so much so, that they even rally to save sacred fairy homes: Fairies stop developer's bulldozers in their tracks

Moonshine co-opted the Scotland theme and drew a picture of a Brownie with cherries, sort of a little sister project for team Scotland. She was happy, we were happy, and Grandma found us this FABULOUS link for printing out our very own Brownie Paper Dolls: here, and here.

**EDIT - 02 May 06**

The brownies must be onto us.

The above links to the brownie paper dolls have mysteriously stopped working for some folks. Try copying them into a new browser window. If they work for you, I advise saving them ASAP to print out for your little ones.

Just to be on the safe side, I'll leave out some milk and bread for the wee brown folk. We don't want any nasty boggarts on our hands.

Good luck!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Scotland, the brave

She's a brave wee lass to stand up in front of a crowd of folks and give a presentation.

It's painful to be the parent watching it though. Sunburst introduced herself, said, "I'm doing Scotland," and froze. Just for a minute. She stared at all the faces, turned around and stared at her display, and tried to sort out in her brain what she was supposed to do next. The crowd was very patient with her, and I watched her take a deep breath and ready herself. "This is a picture of Scotland that I watercolor painted. And there are lots of castles in Scotland..."

I almost didn't tell her about this international geography fair. I thought she might be too young for it, and I recall reading that with littles you should start geography with where you are, which makes perfect sense. You can own where you are, you can see it, smell it, feel it, and connect with it on a heart level. Formally, we haven't really done local geography. Shouldn't I get out a map of our current state and go from there?

We watch the wildlife outside our window. We see the different colored blossoms on the trees, and notice that the squirrels here are red and fat and fearless. We watch the birds and the bunnies and the deer. We walk and drive. We meet people and see things. We experience the change of seasons and stick our hands in the dirt. How can you live and breathe and not learn local geography?

So I let her jump right in. It helped that bits of Scotland are already familiar to her, that her dad plays bagpipes, and that haggis is utterly foul sounding. It helped that the Loch Ness Monster is a thing to wonder about. And it helped that we're reading Little House on the Highlands. and we have Scottish ancestry, too, just like Mary and Laura Ingalls. That pretty much sealed the deal. The heart connection was there.

And she had fun. The kids that presented were homeschoolers ages 3-16. Some of them whispered and others cracked jokes. It was a chance for homeschooling kids to come together and be a part of something bigger than themselves. And that, at least at our house, doesn't happen every day.

When it was over she turned and said to me, "Mom, I think they really liked my shortbread cookies."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cha-Cha, the bee, and me

I was waiting in line at the craft store when I found myself standing in judgment of another woman and her kids. It was just Kitty Bill and I, sandwiched in a long check-out line, and at the front of the line was what I presumed to be a Grandma, a mom, and two kids. This wasn't any kind of Grandma we have in our family-- this one had a Cha-Cha DiGregorio thing going on. The big hair, tight clothes, scarf around her neck, the whole bit.

That's fine; I'm a big Grease fan. I'm no Sandra Dee, but I probably lean more that way than the other (we're just going to leave the leg hair and Birkies out of this one, okay.) The mom-type person was also dressed more, shall we say, modern. Or retro-modern. Hip huggers, heels, hairspray, you get the picture. Anyway, aside from the Grease flashback, I wouldn't have paid these ladies any mind, that is until the kids caught my attention.

The little girl with them looked about six-years-old. She sat down on a chair, crossed her legs, put her hands out and exclaimed something about not wanting to "break a heel or chip a nail." And I was forced to do a double-take. She was younger than Sunburst, and she was wearing hip-huggers, high heels, and carrying a bustier purse. At six-years-old!

Then she got up and did some kind of dance, to which Cha-Cha Di-Grandma remarked that they should charge us all for this entertainment. The little girl said, "I make 40 bucks a day." And the little boy, about the same age, said, "Good. You can buy me a gang." And he crossed his arms in that defiant stance and pouted. At least his pants weren't hanging around his ankles, which tells you I've fully crossed over into the 'Don't trust anyone over 30' category.

The other customers and I exchanged glances that said, "Yikes!" And I instantly thought, Thank God my kids aren't like this. I paid for my glue stick, patted myself on the back, and went home to my angelic children.

We spent some time in the yard, and Sunburst announced that she had found "the bee who lost his buzz," and tromped through the house with said bee perched on a dandelion. I started to think to myself, "crazy child," but then I remembered the little bustier girl. High heels or entomologist...? No brainer there.

An hour later we hurried the kids out the door to attend our neighbor's pipe organ recital at a local church, where rows 1 and 2 were reserved for families with children. It was a beautiful room and quite small, I think, as far as churches go. We arrived a few minutes early and waited patiently. Kitty Bill shyly flirted with the women behind us, and Sunburst and Moonshine, glowing in their new Easter dresses, sat very primly and quietly exchanging glances with all the other children. Homeschool enrichment at it's finest. Perfect, I thought. And then the music started.

What was I thinking taking my kids to an organ recital? At a church, no less. People dress up, sit quietly, and don't clap or fidget or anything until the song sequence is over --and these are good ten, fifteen minute songs; it's like a Phish jam but obviously not very Phish-like. Kitty Bill only made it through the first two parts of the first song before he started audibly fussing. And so what does one do with a slightly fussy baby? Breastfeed.

In the past this handy device has worked in many scenarios where I needed to soothe and quiet my children-- whether they were teething, bleeding profusely, or I was trying to handle an important phone call or make it through my father's funeral, breastmilk has always done the trick and done it well. With all the noise in my house, I failed to recognize one thing about Kitty Bill. He does not nurse quietly. It sounded like I was suckling an army of pigs, and oh how the heads began to turn. It's pipe-organ music, and so you would think that it would drown us all out, but it wasn't like that at all. Oddly enough, every cough, sneeze or gulp reverberated just as much as the music did. The room was designed to carry voices, after all, and it was designed well. You could hear a pin drop AND the music, simultaneously.

This is when that coveted aisle seat in the back row would have come in handy for my quick and painless get-away, which was neither quick nor painless. Moonshine lasted until the middle of the next song before she started climbing around on the pew and finally squirmed out of Einstein's grasp and ran for the door where she could see me through the glass. But she couldn't get to me. Only one of the doors worked, and only from the inside. She screwed up her face and prepared to have a full-on shrieking when Einstein ran up the aisle and let her out into my arms.

While Einstein, Sunburst, and all the well-behaved children of others enjoyed the rest of the music, we crawled around the lobby and got to know it pretty well. Moonshine got into a debate with a woman about vegan diets, Kitty Bill fingered the bronzed-eyes of St. Thomas, and I let the irony of the day wash over me.

Pride cometh before a fall.

It was just another humbling moment, one of many, where I'm reminded that no, my kids aren't all that.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tapadh leat

Today Sunburst worked on her Scotland project. She has been speaking in Scots Gaelic (apparently different than Irish Gaelic) for three days now. Not complete sentences, mind you. Assuredly not anywhere near the correct pronunciation, (I wouldn't even have a clue about that,) but in bits and pieces here and there as she can work it in, opening the book each time and requesting things like lite (porridge) and uisge (water.)

We talked through the planning stages of her display board, and she had me writing out a rough list of words/phrases she might want to recopy to include on it. She sat across the couch from me thumbing through a book on the Loch Ness Monster while I held the other book open and stared at those Gaelic words long and hard trying to spell them right ...uan, uisge, Ciamar a tha thu?

Thinking I was done, I closed the book and started to walk away, "Oh wait, tapad leet!" She yells at me. What? I looked at her blankly trying to interpret. "Thank you, tapad leet." Huh? "Write that one down too." Oh! I opened the book back up and there it was, on the bottom of the page, Tapadh leat. I hadn't heard that one before.

How on earth did she remember that?

Nothing gets past these kids. They remember every story, every promise, every everything. It's easy to see in the girls, as they come up with some new thing to amaze us with everyday (like knitting blind-folded!) The jury has been out on Kitty Bill, though. I mean, we weren't sure if we would be blessed with another sound mind. It's risky business, this gene pool lottery. But it looks like he's a clever one too. He's already watching to see what he can get away with, and as soon as we turn our heads --Zoooom! He's gone after some item of contraband, and he knows it, because he keeps looking over his shoulder to see if he's getting caught. At seven months! These kids can already outwit us, and they're not even close to being teenagers yet.

We are so screwed.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Meet the Family

My original intent in setting up this blog was to share what we're doing as a homeschooling family. I've read so many inspirational and thoughtful things out there, and it seems right to give something back to this worldwide community of non-institutional learners. What an amazing medium we have available to us-- we can connect and share and inspire each other all over the world, easily and instantly. That's nuts, isn't it? And really, really cool.

I've been reading other homeschooling blogs for a while now, and I seem to find myself looking at each one for that one post that gives me the big picture: this is who we are and what we're about. I haven't had much luck finding posts like that; I always feel like I'm jumping right in to the small pictures, which for the most part are either interesting or inspiring. But if the truth be told, I'm a big picture person. I like to check out the scene, get background information, read all the directions, and then get my feet wet --I'm a wader. You'll never see me dive into the water head first or do cannonballs off the roof. Nope. I wade, that's what I do.

So if you're like me, wading in and looking for the big picture, here it is. This is the one thing I can claim to be an expert on: my family.

I'm Sara --that's my real name. If I was going to make it up, it would be something natural and plant-based, but no, this is the real deal. I'm a Virgo sun, Virgo rising --which means I'm pretty scary sometimes, especially if you're my spouse or child, but honestly, at least you'll always know where I stand: pretty much in the same spot, right where you left me. That doesn't mean I'm boring (I hope!) just stable and reliable and honest to a fault. Ok, and a bit of a perfectionist, too. I enjoy making things --knitting, sewing, gardening, cooking, that sort of thing. I have special place in my heart for old Volkswagons. I read a lot, think a lot, procrastinate a lot. Very normal me.

I'm married to "Einstein," not his real name, but this is my world and I can name him what I want. In reality, many folks actually call him that because he's got that same wild, wiry hair, and well, he's smart. He has lots of degrees and plays just about every instrument there is, and if he doesn't, give him ten minutes with it. Really. It's sickening. And even with all the degrees, he still can't figure out where the laundry hamper is... so there you go. He's the person I love, extraodinarily talented, and a great dad.

We have three children: "Sunburst," "Moonshine," and "Kitty Bill." (I figure it's safer to just use code names for my family, since you never know.) It has always been our intention to homeschool them, so they have never been to any school, preschool, or daycare. The oldest has taken some outside classes and such--we're very open to learning from others, just not school. Primarily what we're aiming to do is give our children what they need, when they need it. This means unschooling sometimes and guiding them other times. Everybody gets to help steer the ship: so far, so good. When I steer, it tends to be withWaldorf Education.

Sunburst is 7 and in first grade. She has always been our faster, higher, louder child --walking early and on the run ever since. She believes she's a cheetah (she runs fast on four legs,) and I have to remind her to stand upright and pretend to be human. She tells me she's a wild animal stuck inside a human body, and it's the pits. She loves to climb trees, build forts, read, sing, draw, knit, and annoy the neighbors. She loves all animals and creatures, has a heart of gold, and lead between her ears-- or at least it seems that way. She's really and truly a fearless child.

Moonshine is 4. She likes to think of herself as a princess or a baby duck. She's completely self-entertained, very focused, and great conversationalist. She's sweet and clever and she likes to wear dresses, sing songs, think about fairies, and tell grizzly stories. She's full of questions and quite polite. Sometimes she whines incessantly. And she screams. She once flipped her lid in a bookstore when her helium balloon got away... as I held her, helplessly trying to comfort her for however many endless minutes she needed while gaping crowds gathered around us, I was sure the windows were going to shatter. She may not look it, but she's a thing of immense power.

Kitty Bill is only 7 months old. He's a braw wee lad. He doesn't sleep much during the day, but maybe that has something to do with the noise level in our house when his sisters are awake. He likes to study things intently, and crawl, and stand up and let go and fall on his head. Definitely not a one-time learner.... We're still getting to know him, and his code name may change as his personality reveals itself more and more. For now, he's Kitty Bill, according to Moonshine. And I know better than to argue with her about it.

Tada! Now back to work.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Inspiration and the Flute

The thing we were most taken with at the Native American camp was the flute performance by William Whitefeather. Sunburst has been learning to play a Choroi pentatonic flute for a month or so now, struggling through her third song, and it was neat for her to see real flute playing in action-- on a stage and everything.

I love the sound of the Native American flute. It's different than what Sunburst is learning to play-- the Choroi pentatonic makes me think of angels, sort of a hovering, airy sound, while the Native American flutes seem to sound more earthy, sweeping, and I don't know, connected to the whole of life. Maybe that makes sense to someone besides me?

Anyway, I asked Sunburst to watch Whitefeather's fingers, particularly, to help her get a better sense for what he was doing. At one point she turned to me and whispered, "Hey, I know that song!" He was playing a Native American lullaby off of "Under the Green Corn Moon," a cd that we have listened to on and off since Sunburst was just a day old. Hearing something familiar like that sealed the deal for her.

When he was done playing and started to pack up for the day, Sunburst went up and asked to see his collection of flutes, and she let him know that she recognized the lullaby. He told her that he has the same cd, and he just figured out how to play it by listening to the song. Then she asked him to play a couple of different-looking (and sounding) flutes he had, including a triple- chambered drone flute that was a thing of beauty and wonder in itself, before she admitted to him that she's has been learning to play the flute at home.

Next thing I know he had handed her a small flute so that she could show him. She was shy and reluctant at first, but then she took it and began to play "Deedle Dum," the first song I taught her using David Darcy's wonderful pentatonic flute book. The fingering is different, but she quickly worked it out and then lit into the second song she knows. While she was playing, a group of older school children had materialized behind her, so that when she turned around she found herself giving a surprise concert. Undaunted, she played the song a couple more times before thanking Whitefeather and coming back over to me with a huge grin on her face.

When we got home she took out her own flute and began to play around with it, not practicing the songs, but just trying out different notes and combinations-- happily playing with the sounds. She's used to hearing her dad and I play the pentatonic flute, and she hears her dad play the Native American flute and Irish Tin Whistle (among other things,) but somehow it's not the same kind of inspiration. Apparently Whitefeather struck some chord in her that we hadn't. Life is funny that way.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Longhouse Dreams

Today we managed to find our way to a Native American educational camp staffed with reenactors and props out in the forest. The drive was rather pleasant and green, and the girls ooohed and aaahed over the purple-flowered trees and frolicking baby cows on the way. It didn't matter that I got lost, twice, and that we missed several presentations. We had a great historical time.

The girls found plenty of things to hold their interest --things I wouldn't have normally expected them to be interested in. Like tool-making, for instance. They watched with rapt attention as one man scraped at some rocks and talked a good deal about arrowheads and the like.

They weren't interested in clay-pot making in the slightest. We explored the longhouse and imagined living in it, but what they really wanted to see were the buckskin hides pulled taut and slathered in some sort of juice that sprayed around every time someone scraped at them with some primitive hair-removal tool. One little friend of ours got splattered in the eye and was taken aback at this, "Ew, Gross!" My sentiments exactly. My girls were curious about all this skin stuff, but not enough to jump up and try it out with the rest of the kids. Instead, they laid in with their questions.

Moonshine (my 4-year-old) found it all very confusing. "Excuse me, why would anyone want to kill a deer?" The answer she got from the reenactor was something helpful like, "Deers were their cows." She looked up at him with these confounded big eyes, Huh? "They didn't have any cows, pigs, or sheep," he told her. Huh? "What about bears? Bears are angry creatures." "Well, sometimes they killed bears, too, but deer was their meat." Aha. "But excuse me," she asked with complete sincerity, "why would anyone want to eat meat?" Then it was his turn to be confounded. From the mouths of babes...

Both Sunburst and Moonshine jumped at the chance to participate in some Native American dancing, and they each had more than enough questions for the reenactor stationed at the weaponry and compass tent. Moonshine took one look at the loot spread out and decided that the "little gun" was just her size, and got into a very lengthy discussion with the interpreter. Meanwhile, Sunburst spent a long time examining everything closely and spent an extra bit of time maneuvering with the compass.

It's a good thing, too. I took a wrong turn on the way home (I have a particular talent for wrong turns,) and after a few minutes I asked the girls if they recognized anything familiar out the windows. Neither one did, and after a minute Sunburst said, "Are we supposed to be going West?" "What?" "We're headed West, Mom. I remember that way is North, so this has to be West." "Oh," I said, and pulled off and turned around. "Now we're going East," she said and caught the look I gave her through the rearview mirror.

She was quiet for a few minutes before she replied, "It's okay Mom, I'll be your compass."


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Just a bit whacked

Something happened in blog world. I inadvertently whacked my blog into, well, nonexistence. Everything is gone. I know, I know. I’ve got the word “Novice” spray-painted on my forehead lest I forget. But that’s what we’re doing here… learning about learning. I’m an easy candidate for that.

This week we’re unschooling. It’s a week filled with doctor’s appointments and an unhappy teething baby. All official and constructed learning is off until further notice. Some days/weeks/months are like that, and we’re just rolling with the punches to see what opportunities reveal themselves. It seems necessary and important to give the universe a clear whack at our lives from time to time (and I don’t mean tornados, if any higher source is listening. –Just wanted to clarify.)

Whack #1 –seems to be the International Fair hosted by our local homeschooling community. It’s happening next week. I’m sure they gave us more notice than that, but I’m equally sure that I wasn’t paying attention. Sunburst had so much fun presenting at the Science Fair in February that she’s fired up enough to do it again. She has chosen Scotland, which is dear to all our hearts, and it doesn’t hurt that her Dad plays bagpipes. She has already informed him that he will be her musical sidekick. So later today we’re heading off to the library to check out a pile of books.

Whack #2 –gardening. We got hog wild this last weekend and put in a modest container garden. It’s laughable compared to our 200 sq.ft. veggie-paradise we constructed in Texas, but hopefully it will do. Boy do I miss that garden! And that big house! (sigh) But I must forge ahead and not let myself get too caught up in what had been. We’re here in the Midwest now, and renting at that, so instead of digging and building and all of that, I’m going with containers. The container experiment! I hope it works. Last night it stormed (again,) and today everything is a sopping wet mess. I may have to whack bigger drainage holes if this keeps up. I really don’t have much experience with growing food in pots, so all advice is welcome.

The girls are terribly excited that we’re gardening again. I suspect it makes them feel settled and whole, but I could be projecting here. It definitely has that effect on me. It’s a transient life we’ve signed up for, as we’re only here on a two-year research grant, and then we’ll be moving on again until we land the tenure-track job. It’s a double-edged sword. This way we get to travel and have new experiences, but I think we could all do with a little more stability. Plus, it really sucks to leave your friends behind. That’s the clincher. By the end of it though we should have many, many friends…

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

About me... and them, too.

I'm Sara-- married to Einstein, and mother of three beautiful and spirited children: Sunburst, Moonshine, and Kitty Bill. Except for myself, I use aliases for my family to honor their privacy. Since this is my space, it seems only right.

We're homeschoolers currently living in the midwest, the Swiss countryside, England. We teach our children using mostly Waldorf Education in an eclectic mix that strives to honor each individual child-- his/her needs, interests, and learning style. It's honestly both the hardest and the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

When I'm not homeschooling the children, I enjoy making things-- knitting, sewing, gardening, cooking, general crafts-- and writing. I have a professional background in art and massage therapy, but none of those things hold a candle to being a mom.

I started this blog in April of 2006 to share our homeschooling experiences with distant family and other homeschoolers. I found so much inspiration from other homeschooling moms that I wanted to give something back. Our journey hasn't always been easy-- from accidents and deaths to overseas moves-- but one thing has prevailed: we're still living and learning together, enjoying each other and growing together. To me, that's what it's all about.

I invite you make yourself at home as you peruse the pages of our lives. It is my hope that you'll find some inspiration here. So pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and enjoy your visit.
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