Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mad Scientists in Wonderland

Every so often during the "school" year, our local homeschool community hosts learning fairs. Obviously they don't fit into a rigid Waldorf curriculum for littles, but my kids love them. It's a chance to be a part of a larger, collective, learning community of their peers. It's a chance to find out what they're interested in, explore it for a bit, and then share it. Through writing. Via art. And of course to talk their heads off in front of a captive audience.

This time around it was the Biography Fair, and Sunburst knew just what she wanted to do. She had been reading the new Magic School Bus book that recently came out: Magic School Bus and the Science Fair Expedition. It contains biographies of scientists, and she had a hard time choosing between Gallileo and Madam Curie. In the end Madame Curie won out. We did some heavy researching online, and Sunburst came up with this:

The portrait is watercolor and ink. I like how her lips and eyes bled... it makes her seem a bit "mad" scientist-like. Anyone that sleeps with radioactive material on their bedside table is probably a bit mad, or well on their way, don'tcha think?

Moonshine had co-opted Sunburst's last three presentations, but this time she was completely unsatisfied with the idea of doing a bit part project to go with her sister's talk. Oh no. This time, she had to do her own thing. She insisted on her own topic, her own presentation board, and her own air-time. That's right, she presented. Fearlessly.

You've got to love homeschool groups. They don't even bat an eye when a four-year-old wants to join in with the bigger kids. The range of biographies went from Tinkerbell to Genghis Khan, and it was really very cool. That said, Moonshine didn't do Tinkerbell (though she was awestruck by the idea.) She did "The REAL Alice."

We have a great book called The Other Alice which talks about the creation of Alice in Wonderland and the friendship between Charles Dodgson (aka Carroll) and the child Alice Liddell. It's a book Moonshine has spent hours looking at on her own, and it was fun for her to pick which pictures she wanted me to copy for her presentation board. We also grabbed some off the internet for her to color, and she asked me to make a line drawing she could watercolor, just like Sunburst did. I helped her with the eyes and lips (to stave off any tantrums) but Moonshine felt she could handle the rosy cheeks on her own.

And Moonshine really knew what she was talking about. A few times I prompted her with some ideas she had expressed interest in while we were gluing pictures down. Some of these ideas she had me write on the board for the benefit of people who could read. "Did she have any brothers and sisters?" and "Why couldn't Alice marry the prince?" Even without prompting though, that girl can talk! And she was hillarious. "So she married somebody else... whooooo mom?" "Uh, Reginald," I told her. "Reginald," she told them. "Reginald whoooooo?" "Hargreaves?" I whispered. "She married Reginald Hargreaves and had only boy children. This many. Three. No girls at all. Just boys. Hahaha."

Preparing for this fair pretty much dominated our week, but it was worth it. The girls had a great time.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Everyday Forms

Two weeks ago we finished up our Clown of God form drawing block, and it was a success! Sunburst was pretty upset when Giovanni grew old and died, even though she thought that the statue catching the golden ball was really cool. After she made a title page for her book, I went ahead and presented her with Tomie de Paola's book, from whence I lifted the story. We read it together, and then we read the endnotes where it talks about this being a really, really old story passed down from generation to generation, and Sunburst looked at me with her mouth open.

"It's true?! It's really true?!!!"

"What, the story?"

"You mean the statue really did catch the ball?!!!" Her eyes were as big as her open mouth. I grinned at her and mirrored her amazement. And then she closed her mouth and sighed, contentedly. And that was that. Another seed was nurtured. (Miraculous things happen all the time. There's something more out there. There's a connection. Can you feel it?)

But that's not all. You see, I've noticed something really fantastic in the last few weeks of these lessons. The forms have begun to emerge in regular ol' everyday artwork. The artwork that I like best-- the kind with zero involvement from me. No hovering, no instruction, no rules whatsoever. The girls worked on these mainly during our quiet time, the time in which I beg, plead and bribe them with snacks, a ream of paper, coloring pages, Super Ferby pencils and Crayola markers to be quiet enough to allow Kitty Bill, their baby brother, to fall asleep. Whatever it takes, just let the boy sleep.

And they draw stuff like this:

See all the forms? The spiral from last year. All the circles --apples up high and down low, the apple tree, ornamentation on her dress. The mountains on her crown, also from last year. The stab at symmetry on the pine tree. The loops on the saddle. The pyramid of lines on the unicorn's horn. --I also love that the princess is riding side-saddle (because of her foot problem?) And I love the depth.

Sunburst drew this freehand in pencil, erased the lines she didn't want, and then went over it with an ink pen. She brought it to me to copy, as a coloring page for herself and her sister, Moonshine. I thought it was remarkable.

And then I uncovered a stack of drawings just like this, with different themes. In each one you can see at least one form working itself out. It blew my mind... and it wasn't just Sunburst's drawings, but Moonshine appears to have absorbed quite a bit of our lessons just from being in the same room. Spirals, circles, and lines.

I don't know what this all means, but it's neat to watch. I have to tell you though that when we did the pyramid of lines drawing (plates) Moonshine came over to the chalkboard and informed Sunburst that she wasn't drawing it correctly. I didn't know whether to cringe or to laugh.

There's no holding these younger siblings back. As much as I'd like that to be the case, it's a monkey-see, monkey-do scenario. She's going to pick this stuff up. All of it, and probably fairly quickly. Moonshine is finding her footing. Sinking her teeth into new ideas and trying them out. "C starts cat. And rhymes with rat. And rat has this letter (R) in it." But not to worry. It's not sinking in too deeply. She's still dreamy enough to walk into oncoming traffic. We've still got plenty of time yet...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Unfortunate Reading

I remember when I couldn't wait for Sunburst, my oldest, to start reading. Einstein and I read to her pretty much from birth. We'd snuggle up in the bed with her and take turns reading aloud from the books on our bedside tables. Einstein would drone on reading the long, passages from The Magic Mountain, I would murmur the timeline of strange tales from Russka, and Sunburst would wobble her newborn little head around, mess her drawers, and drop off to sleep on our chests. It was our grand literacy-from-birth, plan, back in the days when we were a one-child family and had the time to languish in bed all day, and our needs were few. Ogle the baby, read, nurse, change diapers, and read some more...

We both come from a long line of readers, Einstein and I, and when Sunburst started making her first attempts at deciphering text we were giddy with enthusiasm. We couldn't wait to share with her all of our favorite literary adventures. We were excited, all of us, to see her world opening up page by page. At 7 1/2 years, she's now voraciously reading over 100 pages a day, completely captivated by the power of the written word. Reading changes everything. It's amazing...

Except when it isn't.

You see, I entirely forgot there was a downside to reading. Aside from the magazines headlines at the check-out counters (as if the pictures weren't risque enough...) Aside from the local war protestors with their faux-blood spattered signs proclaiming things like "Stop KILLING CHILDREN in Iraq..." Aside from the fact that I will have to start hiding my Christmas lists, even in cursive... I forgot that there are books out there that are just plain drivel. Books that suck.

Today Sunburst went to the library with Einstein and brought home some books that were just plain awful. Usually we're very commited to sifting through her library loot before we reach the check-out counter, but this time two books slipped through the cracks on a very busy Saturday afternoon. They came home with her and those books and I passed like ships in the night when I slipped out of the house to get some very needed "ME" time.

While I was out, she read them. Both.

They are so opposite of the lives we live, of the values we're trying so hard to instill in our children, that they made me sick. For one, they're "schooly" books, reeking of peer pressure and "fashion disasters," cliques, cheerleaders, and ridicule. But they also promote lying, materialism, and disobedience --as in, my parents said no, but I'm going to anyway. They're just absolute, over-the-top crap, hand-picked for her by the children's librarian.

I realize that I can't protect her forever. Slowly but surely she'll be exposed to the excrement that permeates our outside world... it's happening already. And though it pains me, I can't stop it. All I can hope for is to impede the flow.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Grand adventures!

A blogless two weeks has somehow passed me by... Admittedly, I've been in some kind of an emotional funk, but let it not be said that grass grew under my feet. Oh no!

For starters, we went apple picking! On a cold and frosty morning, no less. The girls had a grand time, and it proved to be quite a learning experience for all of us.

Mom learned: MapQuest will get you within TEN miles of your destination. Which is close... but c'mon mapmakers! Ten miles is a good stretch off.

The girls learned that the term "hayride" is completely open to interpretation, but that apple trees are much shorter than they imagined. They got to tour the apple processing plant and watch the apples move through the production line getting washed, polished and picked over. They saw the oldest tree in the orchard, still putting out despite the inside of the trunk having rotted out. Then they got to pick a few apples.

We all played the game, "What's that smell?" as we toured the facilities. It was unbearably awful! One child suggested vomit, though the tour guide said it was a mix of apples, wood, and insulation. Chemicals and rotting apples, maybe? It was bad. But we soldiered on, and made it through the building without adding to the smell.

Once we cleared the back door of the plant, I was startled to see a cemetary bordering the orchard. Now I don't know a heck of a lot about water tables and casket permeability, but it gave me a sudden case of the Soylent Green heebie jeebies. Nonetheless, the girls were determined to bring home some apples to make pie...

Next up, we co-hosted our co-op get together. We hiked around in the forest on another cold and frosty morning and collected leaves with the few families that were daring enough to brave the near-freezing temperatures.

The kids had a great time, and I got to put my poison ivy knowledge to use. I made up some posionous plant identification necklaces for the the kids to wear, and we were able to identify both poison ivy and poison oak on the walk.

Then we took another early-morning, FREEZING COLD, field trip to a local farm. The kids got to ride a donkey, feed some goats, hold baby chicks, pet a cow and a horse, and go on a hayride... complete with actual hay! The bumpy hayride took us through a shallow creek and to a huge corn maze. The girls ran ahead and Einstein raced along to keep track of them.

Meanwhile, I bumbled my way through with Kitty Bill, who after several twists and turns decided corn mazes weren't his thing. And he fussed, and kicked, and screamed, and inadvertently kicked the digital camera out of my coat pocket.... somewhere... along the way... in the maze of corn....

I didn't notice right away, of course. It's some kind of Murphy's Law. We walked a good way ahead of it, trying new paths and twisting ourselves around. It wasn't until I gave up and sat down amidst the corn and nursed him that I realized I didn't have the camera. Of course Kitty Bill and I had to turn back at that point. Luckily, we met up with Einstein and the girls just then and I let him know about our camera misfortune before winding my way back through the field, trying to retrace my steps through the maze. I kept asking Kitty Bill, "Does any of this corn look familiar?" But he wasn't having any of it. He only wanted to nurse, again.

Amazingly enough, I finally found the camera. But it took me a bit longer than Einstein expected, so while I was coming out of the maze entrance, he had gone back in the exit trying to find me. He shouted my name and worked his way deeper into the maze. I walked around to the exit and shouted his name to no avail. It was absurd, and awfully cold, and we still had a pumpkin patch to wade through.

After collecting Einstein, we headed over to the great pumpkin hunt, where in a large field of pumpkins and bramble there was ONE pumpkin marked with an X. The finder of said pumpkin was promised great treasure. So several families looked along with us, but after an hour we finally gave up thinking it must be some kind of a joke. Then to prove us wrong, the farmer drags Einstein back out into the field to show him... but he can't find it either. Finally, he wades through a thick patch of bramble and there it is, a wee little thing, marked up just like he said. The treasure? Blowpops. We talked him into letting us take home a small pumpkin instead, and made our way home. Whew!

And the adventure continues...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Eating our young

When I started this blog up months ago, it was my hope that Einstein (the central father, husband, and mad-scientist force in our lives) would feel free to contribute. We're a team after all, or at least that's the goal. Homeschooling is a family endeavor, and the dad in this house has plenty to say about it, as well. Here's Einstein's take, sort of a Natural Science lesson, wouldn't you say?

Sunburst is always wanting to play animal games where she is a horse or a dog and I'm the owner, or the other way around. It gets repetitive after a while and I'm always looking for ways to mix things up. So yesterday I thought, what if we read some little
snippet from the Becoming a Tiger book, and then act it out.

The first snippet I read was about the sharp-shinned hawk, which apparently isn't born knowing what size food it should be hunting. So when some ecologists went out and watched what sharp-shinned hawks tried to catch they found out that baby sharp-shinned hawks tend to go after food that is too big or difficult to catch (like pigeons). Adult sharp-shinned hawks know better and only hunt little guys like sparrows.

Perfect. First we got out the bird book and I showed Sunburst what a sharp-shinned hawk looks like.

"You be a young sharp-shinned hawk," I said, "and I'll be a pigeon."


Peck, peck, peck!!!

Lots of pigeon and hawk shrieks, and then the pigeon has some sharp-shinned hawk for lunch.

"That's not how it goes, Dad. Pigeon's don't eat hawks."

"Okay. Now I'll be an adult sharp-shinned hawk and you be a sparrow."


I pick her up and fly her up on to the couch, where I eat her. Yum.

And so it goes back and forth like this for a while and somehow
never gets boring.

How cursive saved the piano

Yesterday Sunburst hauled out her McGuffey Reader* and wanted to play "school." Basically what that entails is her setting up a makeshift desk space on the end table and reading a lesson to me. She starts by pronouncing the new vocabulary words and then reads through the lesson. Sometimes she does only one, sometimes several lessons, in one sitting. It's her call.

This is unschooling in action. Buying and using these books were entirely her idea. She taught herself to read using these books and is determined to work her way through the entire set, knowing full well that it will take a long time. She's near the end of the third book now (Second Reader.) These books are from the 1800's and she equates them with Mary and Laura Ingalls-- hence they are her passion.

The lessons in these books are mostly done in a serif typeface, similar to Times Roman font. But some of the lessons, here and there, are written in script. These script lessons are meant to be copied out on your slate board to practice your handwriting. We haven't been doing that at all. Instead, Sunburst has wanted me to copy them over in print so that she could read them. She tried copying my print, but it proved to be too tedious at the time, and she was happy enough just to read them rather than write. Her reading skills have far exceeded her capacity for copywork.

Yesterday was different though. She wanted to do some slate work. She wanted to copy something out. Certainly not the whole lesson though... this need coupled with two letters she recently received from friends in Texas with curious cursive signatures seemed to lead us down an obvious path. So I showed her her name in cursive. I so remember longing to write in cursive at seven or eight. I would fill page after page with loops upon loops, pretending that I too could write in this mysterious language.

One name quickly led to another... herself, her sister, Mom, Dad, and three of her friends. She was giddy and completely satisfied with this and practiced them over and over and over.

This morning she headed straight over to the piano and starting plinking out songs... something she hasn't done in a while. She lost her fervor for the piano and I let it sit while we focused instead on the pentatonic flute for the last three weeks. But today she plinked out three new melodies, and we wrote them down. Then we pulled out her piano books and looked through them trying to remember where she left off after that hairy sticker business. I marked a few pages for her to try, and suggested that when she had played them to her satisfaction she could initial them. And if she liked she could do it in cursive.

She upped the ante and chose to write her first name in cursive on each page she mastered, and started going back through the entire book signing her name on each page she had played... even surpassing what I had earmarked for her to do. It was like watching a fire reignite. She was thrilled with this new prospect of putting her name down in such beautiful letters. And even more so, thrilled with the idea of taking on the piano again.

After this she picked up her Reader and noticed that she could actually read most of the script lesson easily. Just by practicing a few names the day before she could now read cursive!

*You can view other examples of McGuffey Reader lessons here.

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