Friday, November 24, 2006


That's our car.

Sunday afternoon we were hit head-on by a 16-year-old who lost control around a slick curve.

We hurt. There were six of us in the car, including the kids. It happened so fast. It was terrifying and horrible and crazy.

We're still trying to assess the extent of our physical damages. They carted us all off in an ambulance, and we got to learn all kinds of things about x-rays and cat-scans and ivs and saline and iodine. We learned about broken bones and wheelchairs and leg immobilizers and crutches. We learned how much a head-wound bleeds versus a tounge-wound. We learned about shock and shivering and that we don't EVER want to learn about this stuff again. As long as we live.

We live. We're alive. ALIVE! And it blows my mind and heart wide open.

There's so much to be thankful for.... but now, I need to go lay back down. More to come.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Swallowing horses and other maths phenomena

For our Grade Two maths block we're back in the swing of things with the continuing saga, "The Adventures of Clara."

This time out, our heroine Clara (your average Wiseman's daughter who lives in an age of castles, horse-drawn carts, gnomes, talking dragons, and good sturdy walking shoes) is making her return journey home from helping nurse a sick family in a neighboring village. On the way she encounters an odd man on the side of the road. He is deep in contemplation but then abruptly looks up and yells out fantastic numbers, "1, 342, 105!" And then "2, 684, 210!" Clara interrupts him and they begin a great discourse on all the possible things you can count. Birds, ants, clouds, cows, trees... He even does some quick calculations to count the leaves on a nearby tree, assessing the number of branches, first, and then the number of leaves on each branch, and WOW! What a huge number of leaves! And WOW again, what counting!

I decided for the introduction to this lesson, that I would just put it all out there-- the BIG PICTURE. I wanted Sunburst to get a taste for the possibilities. My goal was to inspire her with the grandieur of large numbers, the quickness of counting, and how it can be used like a trick or entertainment. Numbers are fun and fantastic, and there are no limits.

Lucky for me, it worked. Sunburst was awestruck, and she loved how fast the man counted the leaves on the trees. She repeated the same trick on Einstein while we were sitting at the dinner table with some creative math of her own. She just made up some wildly large numbers and threw them out there, filling up the air with some kind of mathematical magic. Abracadra, I'm counting into the millions! And with that exciting introduction, we were off!

I gleaned this introduction and story idea from a book called The Man Who Counted which was written by a Brazilian mathematician in 1949. It's a marvelous story, and I'm finding a lot of useful story material that needs little adaptation to make it meaningful and useful for what I'm trying to present. It would be useful for any grade, with a bit of tweaking here and there, and that's precisely what I aim to do.

I'm also throwing in a bit of Aesops and other stories (fairytales, Sikh stories, legends, etc.) to mix it up a bit, deepen the work, and balance it out so that we keep it centered in the heart. We'll still practice our rhymical counting with games as we go along, too, but for Sunburst, a good story is everything. It has to move her and inspire her to carry us through.

The first thing we did was draw a picture of Clara encountering her new counting friend, Beremiz (yup, straight from the book.) At the top of the picture we put one of those astronomically large numbers he was calling out. Sunburst loved that. She got to write a number that was in the millions! Then we counted the leaves on the trees, but not into the millions. We counted much smaller trees --and ended with totals like, 16, 24, and with Sunburst's suggestions, 90, and 120. We counted from whole to parts and parts to whole, just for fun.

Next, Clara and Beremiz decided to walk together and the two were met by Clara's trusty horse, Penny (Sunburst is feeling deep horse-love right now.) The three were going along when they encountered three brothers arguing over the division of a pasture of horses (again, from the book.) They were trying to divide 35 horses between them, as per their father's will, by 1/2, 1/3, and 1/9. We worked it out and it necessitated cutting up a few horses-- a head here, a flank there (the gross factor works every time.) But Beremiz had a better idea - a trick!

This is what I love about this book. It's all about tricks and surprises, which is just where Sunburst is developmentally at. It just fits so well. Anyway, Beremiz offers to add Clara's horse to their hoarde (it's okay Clara, trust me) and everything turns out peachy. Each brother gets more horses than they would have gleaned from the original 35, and look! There are two left-over. Penny, which belongs to Clara, and another for Beremiz. Tricks and happy endings.

Sunburst wanted to draw the two horses and then we worked out a horse division problem on a smaller scale: 12 horses, divided between 3 brothers: 1/2, 1/3, and 1/6. She really, really understood what was going on. It was fantastic! Until she swallowed one of the marble counters we had been using to count horses... unfortunately, it was the one she had carefully selected to represent Clara's horse, Penny.... Poor Penny, down the hatch!

That night Clara and Beremiz stayed at an Inn. It was awfully cold and stormy, so to pass the time that night Beremiz and Clara sat in the parlor with their thick mugs of tea and played a dice game called "Twelves." Each person takes their turn at the same time, rolling two dice each. They add them up and keep a tally sheet. The goal is to get to (or surpass) twelve. If both players reach twelve on the same turn, they both win (which happened quite often.) If only one player does, then he or she wins. No one loses, really, because you just pick up your dice and play again and again and again. It was good counting and adding and estimating practice. And Clara enjoyed the game very much.

Next Clara taught Beremiz a dice game... this was Sunburst's idea. It was called something like, "Get to the Boat." We have a striped area rug in our living room. This was the sea full of logs. At the end of the sea is a loveseat pretending to be a boat. We used a large die we fashioned out of cardboard awhile back and took turns rolling it. Each roll of the die told us how many stripes we could move forward. The game was made more interesting by the fact that some of the stripes are skinny and hard to stand on without falling over, SPLASH! Finally we both reached the boat and then we had to ask the die questions, like Should we swim back? Should we cook dinner now? Rolling a 1 or 2 was a YES answer. 5 or 6 were NO. It was some kind of magic 8-ball dice thing, and all of this was made a bit more difficult with Kitty Bill's repeated attempts to abscond with our die.

Eventually we managed to swim home again and make dinner, but you knew that already. As for Clara and Beremiz, we left them stuck at the Inn... and who knows what counting fun they will encounter next! I've got a few ideas mapped out, but we'll have to wait and see...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lanterns in the night

Last night we went on our lantern walk to celebrate Martinmas-- bringing light into the darkness, lifting our voices in song, and trying not to get caught in the forecasted downpour.

This was our fourth Martinmas celebration-- just our little family. I don't know what it's like to walk en masse with a group of torch bearers, but there's something about the symbolism of this celebration that's deep, even with the light of one lantern lighting a path through the darkness. We've walked in the woods. We've walked in our neighborhood. And for the last two years, we've walked through the twisting, dimly-lit, forest paths of a university campus, singing our songs and bringing smiles to those who cross our paths. There's something about that... bringing this ethereal image to touch the lives of unsuspecting others that made our last two walks the most rewarding of all.

We carry very simple folded-paper lanterns that we painted with watercolors. For the lanterns below we used medium-weight drawing paper that measured 30x40 cm. After folding, cutting, and gluing (see pattern,) we attach pipe cleaner handles with a hole puncher and tape tea lights in the bottom. They turn out fairly sturdy.

There are many variations on the story of St. Martin and how he shared his cloak with a beggar. We tell a similar version, though not quite, to this one. The story itself is just one example of choosing kindness. By celebrating this day we're also recognizing the light within ourselves, our own goodness, and releasing it into the world. The light of our lanterns on this night seems to sustain us, carry us, through the long dark nights that lead up to the solstice. It keeps us mindful that there's something deeper, brighter, and more meaningful at play here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Balancing Unschooling and Waldorf

Big Mama asked me a really great question about how I balance Unschooling and Waldorf. Actually it's quite simple, really.

What we do is use unschooling (child interest) as our foundation where-upon all things rest/build. Last October Sunburst asked for something "more school-like" and I turned to Waldorf Ed and presented her a lesson. She loved it and wanted more, and that's how we got here. She still wants more and LOVES the stories, so we're still using Waldorf as a guide.

So far almost everything that I've offered up to her she has latched onto and wanted to see through to the end, though again I think it's that idea of school and authority. She loves to play school and have the idea of school. And I think she craves the authority of having someone else come up with the ideas. I have no doubts that her varied interests, if pursued, would give her a full education. But I think she really needs/wants to share the load of responsibility there. By handing the reins to me, she's free to sit back and learn. It's a lot of work to constantly run the show and be in it!

If one of my lessons hits a brick wall, I would have to really examine if it was lack of interest or poor presentation. I'd probably ask her. I think we're close to that brick wall with this tree stuff we're doing... probably because it comes less from me and my creative process and more from a book, so we've shelved it for now. I've asked her if she wanted to work on it, and she's told me, "No. Not right now." It's easy to tell when something just doesn't excite her.

I also use her interests to guide lessons. For our letter stories last year, one of the main characters was a girl that had similar interests to Sunburst, and Sunburst really latched onto her. I weaved that same character into our Intro to Numbers lesson, our introduction to the flute, in presenting the four operations, and into the math stories for grade two. Sunburst is currently into horses, so our current maths lesson is rife with horse-work. I've noticed that if it engages her heart, her current interests, then everything else just falls into place.

We don't have a set school time. It's really something impossible with an infant in the house. Kitty Bill's needs seem to trump everyone else's right now. Usually during his naptime I'll suggest we do school, and most of the time she's into it. Sometimes she'll ask to finish what she's doing first. Or do it tomorrow.

The handwork comes naturally, so I don't have to push that. It's monkey-see, monkey-do around here. I do have to instigate music lesson time, and she loves it, but it's not usually something she remembers she loves until she does it. Again, I try to tie the music in with her interests. A flute song will come from a story or it will be a song we've been singing in the morning. And oftentimes if I pick up the flute and play, she instinctively HAS to grab hers out and play with me. It's contagious.

Also there are times when I plan a lesson, and she likes it, but has a different idea of how it should work or what she wants to draw or what should happen in the story. So I try not to be too attached to my own ideas. Her ideas and needs are important, and I often seek them out. She helps name story characters all the time or will guide the plot with a simple question. And if she asks for a story, like more fairy tales when we've clearly moved onto something else, I will oblige her and work it in. That's probably not so different than what most homeschooling parents do. It's all about making it work and making it fun.

For the last two weeks there has been little impetus to do school, so I haven't pushed it. Sunburst has had her nose in a few books, and she's been content just to spend her time reading or outside raking leaves or playing with the neighbor's dog. And I'm okay with that. We also had the Biography Fair, Halloween to prepare for, and she came down with a fever two days ago, so there were no lessons. At least prepared lessons. I'm sure she's learning something, even if it's just what the warning signs of a concussion are-- we spent last night in the emergency room with Kitty Bill who inadvertently climbed up the bunkbed ladder and plummeted onto his head!

Even when we're not "doing school," there is this very Waldorf-inspired presence in everything we do, probably from all the books and information that I've digested over the last few years. I really think Unschooling and Waldorf can mix remarkably well --at least that's our experience right now. It may not always work like this as Sunburst changes and grows and wants less authority. But for now she wants school-time, and how can I say no to that? It's an open door. An opportunity, and I would be a fool to let it slip by.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Numerical Expectations

Sunburst loves computing numbers. Throughout our days there is always something she finds worth counting. Always. Though it's not enough, because if left to her own devices, she devises math worksheets and enlists her dad to play school with her. She's drawn to kids suduko books and other number games. She asks for "math work." Her thirst for number play is ripe.

In putting together our maths block, I recently looked up the mathematical standards for my state and discovered that we've mostly covered their expectations:

Grade 2
  • Counting
  • Fractions
  • Addition and Subtraction of Whole Numbers
  • Estimation of Mental Arithmetic
  • Number Patterns
  • Sentences and Expressions
  • Order of Operations
  • Identifying and Classifying Basic Shapes
  • Congruence and Similarity
  • Measurement (time, length, money, temp, weight, area, volume, etc.)
  • Graphs and Tables
  • Strategies, reasoning, connecting problems
  • Checking calculations

Then I flipped open the Waldorf book, The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner/Waldorf Curriculum, giving serious thought to my purpose, my goals, my role as the educational facilitator. Do I really want to tie us into the Waldorf School goals of Grade Two? Last year we didn't even come close to the ones for Grade One. And in looking at them, I have to wonder, how deeply does a class of 30 little kids manage this?

Let me show you:

Class 1
  • Counting up to 110
  • Learning up to the the 7 times table by heart and rhythmically
  • Intro of four processes with numbers up to 20
  • Notation from whole to parts (ie. 7 is 3+4)
  • Number riddles
  • Intro to mental math

Class 2
  • More mental math
  • Using four processes with numbers up to 100
  • Combined calculations
  • Intro to number connections (even, odd, primes, etc.)
  • Up to 12 times table by heart
  • Represent tables in drawing
  • Written calculations, including parts to whole (i.e. 3+4=7)
So in looking at this, the first thing I obviously ask myself is, where is Sunburst at?

Class 1: Can she count to 110? By ones - yes. Without fail? No. She skips a few numbers that end in 4, like 14 or 44. She knows she skips them, and it's not a big deal, I don't think. Does she know her times table up to 7? No. We've worked on it a little bit. Counting by 2's. Counting by 3's. Counting by 4's. By 5's, by 10's, by 100's. If I had to wager a guess, I would say she knows her 1's, 2's, 5's, 10's, and 100's. But only if it's phrased correctly, like 6 groups of ten, rather than 6 times 10. The rest of the list we've done, in small bits.

I'm also thinking about math attitudes. About the relationship of a girl's self-esteem to her math ability, as painted in Things Will Be Different For My Daughter by Bingham and Striker.
"According to the AAUW report, "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America," girls who like math and science have higher self-esteem, aspire to more ambitious careers, cling more tenaciously to those career goals, and even feel better about their appearance than girls who do not like these subjects."
They say that a girl's math ability has everything to do with attitude and expectations. I think that can also be transferred to boys. Attitude is key. Math needs to remain fun and exciting and applicable. I don't want to rush or push or squash anything.

Then the real question for me is this. How important is memorization of the times table for a seven-year-old? What are they going to do with it exactly? How is it meaningful? Sure, it can be made into a fun game. We've worked with it on that end, but is it useful? Can they apply it to anything much in real life?

That's the angle that I shoot from. Application and usefulness, as well as interest. My kids may grow up to be computational geniuses and need this stuff, but right now? Not exactly. Not unless it comes up. Not unless it's meaningful to them to memorize it. For now I'm satisfied with introducing mathematical ideas. Situations. Thinking adventures. Numerical fun. Mathematically themed stories to ponder on. Strewing the path to numeracy, so to speak. And I've got big plans there. Stay tuned.

Until then, my friends, what do you think?

Dia de los Muertos

I've been thinking about my dad all day.

He's been peeking out of the shadows in my mind all week, playing tag with my thoughts. I don't know if it's because it's that thin veil time of year or what, but I really miss him. More so this week than last. You know, it fluctuates. More at holidays. More when I smell pine trees or cigarette smoke or Polo or woodburning fireplaces.... More when it snows at night or when the leaves change. More when I hear Jethro Tull, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel or the sound of snow crunching under my boots. More when I really, really need a hug, the kind that only your dad can give you. And more when I need to talk about something that only he would understand.

The last time I saw him we passed around Freddy the Leaf by Leo Buscaglio. We all knew his time was short, though none of us said it outloud. We planned his funeral, together. We sat quietly. He played with the girls. We took him to the Alamo. We watched funny movies. We hugged and kissed and I spent a lot of time feeding him, holding his hand, holding his head in my hands, feeling the energy dissipate from his body. Trying to get a sense of what was going on. Trying to connect.

He died a month later.

It has been two and half years, and I'm still trying to connect. To understand. To work it out. I have, largely, but I don't think death is something you ever have worked out once and for all. It's more like getting your hair cut. For a while it's fine, but it changes, it grows, and you have to work it out again and again.

The kids and I were planning on celebrating his life for Dia de los Muertos, something I have purposefully neglected to celebrate since he died. We took part in a parade before he died, just to feel it out, knowing that his death was pending. That year I was interviewed by the local press: "What's a white girl like you doing at a parade like this?" they asked. Feeling it out. Thinking about death. Thinking about my dad, and myself, and my children. Thinking there has got to be another way to handle dying, I said.

Moonshine asked me today, "What does dying feel like?"

She's four. Where does she come up with this stuff?

Last night I missed my dad a lot. He was the King of Halloween. He loved everything about it --the pumpkin carving, the gooey candy, the spooky sound effects you can attach to your door to scare unwitting little children. He was a jokester, but in a good way. A fun way.

That's not to say he was perfect, mind you. He was also the self-proclaimed "meanest SOB that ever walked the face of the earth." And he was, for a time. He was very human. Smoked too much, drank too much, cursed too much, yelled too much. It was a life of excess. Read too much, loved too much, told way too many bad jokes. But he also loved to cook and bake and decorate for the holidays. Over-celebrate. Sing. Dance. Crank the music up louder and grin madly like a five-year-old.

I see him in that twinkle in Sunburst's eyes, and when she grins because she's up to something. He used to call her his little Meg Ryan. She remembers him as being a playful grandpa. The kind that read her stories, held her hand, carried her around, jumped on the trampoline, made funny jokes, and cuddled her in his arms. And he was. Moonshine remembers his face, nothing more. And Kitty Bill came after, as a promise to give my dad a body to reincarnate into. As freaky as that sounds, he did ask, and we were planning on another child anyway.

And me, what do I remember? How do you sum up a life in mere words? He would always tell it to me straight. He had an answer (or a joke) for everything. And he was deeply romantic about nature and ideas. He loved a good story and a good snowfall. And he gave the best hugs.

He caught me as I came into the world. He was my dad. Period.

And I'm still working it out.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween is here!

We spent the whole day in preparatory anticipation. Making decorations, gooey party treats, pumpkin soup, the whole nine yards.

The kids all sat on the kitchen floor and scooped out their carving pumpkins. Kitty Bill was grossed out by the pumpkin goo at first, but he soon got into the fun and helped. As the girls removed their stringy seeds from their pumpkins, he scooped them up and dropped them back in. It was a hoot. Until he decided to smear them around the room...

Sunburst saw some Halloween ideas in a Family Fun magazine, and she was amped about trying them out. We each made a goblin from magazine cutouts and lunch bags.

Then we made whole wheat skeleton cupcakes and whole wheat cookies, saturating all those whole grains with sugary goodness. I know, it's some kind of backwards healthfood trick, isn't it? But Mmmmm, good.

After our spooky dinner of witches brew (pumpkin soup,) goblin lungs (corn on the cob,) witches fingers (stuffed grape leaves,) and crusty old bread, they dressed up in their finery-- Princess Rosemarie, Karla the Super, and the fierce baby Tiger-- and we were off!

I took them trick-or-treating all the way down to the really decorated house, which was only a few blocks away, but it was COLD... well, enough to see your breath. 36 degrees. The girls wanted to stand around chatting it up with every person that answered the door, which I guess is some kind of trick. They're obviously not about the candy, though they take it anyway. They love the experience of trick-or-treating. The meeting people part. Talking to them about their costumes, decorations, pets, flowerbeds, whatever...

It's not that my kids are some super-evolved alien species, oh no! They actually DO love candy. But we're vegans who also eschew artificial colors, and they know full well that most of the candy they collect on Halloween isn't on the menu. Two years ago Sunburst talked me into trick-or-treating for the fun of it, and we've been doing it ever since. And it works out.

We came home, frosty, but none the worse for wear. The girls decided to run back out and share their cupcakes with all the neighbors, and then our little party began. The girls got down to snacking on their own happy chocolate skeletons, and I surprised them with a Halloween show, Little Goblin Bear, something we hardly ever do anymore. Then we dumped out their bags and sorted the loot. They each ended up with six pieces of candy they could eat, thanks to my knitting buddy across the street. And they were elated. In three years time, that's the biggest score yet.

And the rest of it? The reeces, m&ms and giant hershey bars? Einstein will lug it to school and unload it on his unwitting labmates. But first the girls want to disect that gooey candy hotdog. They've been taking turns fingering it through the wrapper; it boggles the mind.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Site Meter