Thursday, December 28, 2006


Our Solstice celebration was really fun this year. We continued our usual tradition of reading the Solstice stories from Circle Round. Then we added the new ritual of baking Sunflower Millet bread (We've added baking to our list of weekly activities. We bake now. We're bakers.)
Sunflower Millet Bread

Nightowl was very pleased by our craft for gifting: beeswax candles. She was able to make many of these for friends and family. On the 21st we had a fun time at a Solstice celebration with other homeschooling families - many treats, candles, kids and laughs.
Beeswax Candles

Finally, in culmination we woke early (for us) on the 22nd to wait for and welcome the sun. It was kind of a downer as our Indiana gray skies showed only brightening cloud cover, but we sang songs and ate our bread.
Mother Sky cradeling the newborn sun, by Nightowl

Then later, in the afternoon, when the sun finally burst through Nightowl cheered: "I knew you could do it!"
Sundancers, by Nightowl

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reading, Reading, Reading

That's what we're doing these days. Just a quick update (see our Grade One Book List). We are currently into a number of books (including books about Mammoths). These days you'll find the following on Nightowl's reading table:
Mary Poppins
Don Quixote
McGuffey's Eclectic Primer
Peter Pan
Frog and Toad All Year (she's reading this aloud to me)
Fira and the Full Moon
Meet Kaya

We've recently finished The Moffat Museum and Ginger Pye, which nearly completes our foray into the works of Eleanor Estes (I think all we have left is Pinky Pye).

Nightowl also listened to the complete Addy Story Collection from American Girl on CD. This was pretty intense as Addy is the American Girl who escapes from slavery and creates a new life in the North with her parents. Thematicaly, this set of books is a bit too old for Nightowl, we happened upon it while looking for something to listen to during our Thanksgiving drive to see the relatives. The first book was so realistic and sad that we very nearly abandonded it. I'm glad Nightowl listened through to the end as doing so helped to resolve some of her worries. However, these books have inspired endless discussions of human rights issues, racism and bigotry. Big topics for my little one.

- Addy in the fields collecting worms, by Nightowl

LA Story #5: The Best Time Ever

On our final evening in Los Angeles we headed to the famous La Brea Tar Pits. We waited until after naps and for a respite from the 90 degree sun(!) to head downtown.

Going late in the day was great. It was near twilight. The Page Museum was closing soon so we got in at half price. There were no crowds. We had the run of the place - great!

Nightowl describes this part of the trip as "The best thing I've ever done! The best time I've ever had!" She's been dinosaur obsessed since she was three, and a museum of ice age skeletons and facts thrilled her beyond measure.

We literally ran through the museum (the clock was ticking) which wasn't really hard because it's a very, very, very small museum. But it was thrilling. We dicovered a mammoth statue and real mammoth skeleton.

Nightowl loved the saber tooths, the wolf skulls and the timeline of ice-age man. She was really intrigued by the female skeleton that was found in the tar.

After going through the entire museum, twice, we ventured outside for a twilight stroll near the tar. Also thrilling. Seriously, Nightowl could not get enough of this. We followed the pathways imagining the mammoths, the cats, the hunters. Her excitement did not end with the end of our trip. At home we now have several books about the Great Ice Age Mammoths. Plus she's added Archeologist to her growing list of future careers: Paleontologist, Violinist, Ice Skater... Archaeologist.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

LA Story #4: The Seaside

Our main goal during vacation was to be out in nature - the weather was great and it was a good counter to the seemingly endless hours spent driving.

So, our next adventure took us to Santa Monica for a day at the beach and the Santa Monica pier. This was the Bearcub's first experience with an ocean. She was not daunted and ran merrily into the waves, headfirst. The water was chilly so we remained clothed, barefoot and near the edge. Quite fun and quite the challenge with the cub as she continued to head in (literally) again and again and again.

Once we were completely chilled and sandy we headed to the outdoor showers near the pier. On the way we found ourselves walking, quite unexpectedly, through a graveyard. Or rather, the image of a graveyard.

We were in the middle of Arlingon West a temporary memorial erected in the sand by the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. This graveyard gave us a chilling picture of war and it's consequences. Nightowl had some questions and we all discussed war, our nation and the world. Quite the unexpected Social Studies lesson. Despite the gravity of the memorial I was happy that Nightowl got to experience it. She has heard of the war from radio, our parental talks and from sermons at church. This particular memorial fell right in line with our pacifist, UU tendencies.

After lunch we visited Pacific Park - a small amusement park on the Santa Monica pier. It's just a few rides but enough to have a little carnival like amusement. Nightowl really enjoyed the bungee jump, entertaining us with back flips at forty feet. Wee!!

We ended our coastal adventures with a side trip to Venice Beach in search of a little yarn shop recommended by a California friend and fellow knitter. There we purchased our only bag of LA goodies: yarn and lots of it. The owner was very friendly and helped Nightowl find several types of yarn that she could use to make things for her dolls. She also got her first pair of circular needles. If you're ever in Venice check out A Mano Yarn Center - very wonderful.

LA Story #3: The Huntington Botanical Gardens

Saturday in Los Angeles was cool, sunny and wonderful. We chose to spend the day at the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botantical Gardens.

For Nightowl (and the rest of us) the botanical garden was the only option. And it really was amazing. Bearcub and I spent the morning at the Garden. Then we headed back to the hotel for afternoon nap. We picked up Chillymama and Nightowl when the gardens closed. They'd spent six hours in the gardens and we're still not really ready to go.

First we explored the Children's Garden - a very hands-on, experiential type of garden with lots of topiary, water, sand and fog. The actual Fog Garden was a favorite (first photo). Every five minutes chimes would toll and clouds of fog would billow. Bearcub enjoyed the topiary animals (second photo). There were rabbits, deer, dinosaurs. We also splashed in a number of fountains, enjoyed a "plant house," the prisim rainbow bridge and a number of topiary tunnels (third photo).

After the Children's Garden we went to explore the science lab and other nature exhibits - all very hands on and exceptional. One favorite was the tropical seeds exhibit. Nightowl saw a variety of spices and learned to connect them to the actual plant (vanilla pods - vanilla plants, cocoa - cocoa plant, etc.). Nightowl spent a long time here. In the first image she's checking out the view through a bee's eye. The second is a coconut exhibit. The third is an identify the plant game:

There was still more to see: Chinese Gardnes, Desert Gardens, Wildflower Gardens, Rose Gardens, Japanese Water Gardens and on and on. We could have spent days there. Days.

LA Story #2: Flowers, Flowers, Flowers

During our trip Nightowl was continually fascinated by the change in plantlife. Everything seemed to be blooming in LA and she took every opportunity to enjoy it. We spent one afternoon at a lovely park in South Pasadena. This particular park had a rose garden and Nightowl had a camera.

Sad to say that the camera she used was a disposable that we picked up during the wedding reception. The actual photos did not turn out so well. But a good time was had by all. And the observation of roses added well to our work on reverence for nature.

LA Story #1: The Incredible Glass Eating Baby

During the first week of November the entire family packed up and headed to the West Coast. Our main reason for traveling was to attend the wedding of a close college friend. But, as it had been so long since we'd travelled, we extended the trip into a week long vacation in Southern California. Fun!

The first item on our itinerary was the wedding. It was a lovely evening event. We dressed up - something we never do - but of course forgot to get a photo. Their ceremony was short and sincere. My dear friend was beautiful and so happy - her husband seems so perfect for her. There was a lovely meal, a kid's room with crafts, dancing, fabulous cake, visits with old friends and lovely chocolate. All in all a good time.

One noteworthy item from the evening: During dinner I held Bearcub on my lap. I gave her a drink of water from my glass while I chatted with an old friend. Then, from across the table I hear: "Oh my god! Your baby!" I look down and Bearcub has taken a large bite out of the piece of stemwear from which she was drinking. Gads!

It was a clean break. No shards in the mouth. No cuts. Just a big bite out of the glass and a good story for the baby book. And perhaps a career in the circus sideshow for Bearcub - possibly.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Spirits and Lights

Time to catch-up. I believe I left this blog right before Halloween. So....

We had a lovely Halloween.Time was spent getting ready by decorating with a number of rainbow skeletons. We also created the list of our beloved dead whom we honor during the day of the dead.

Although trick-or-treating might seem like the pinnacle of Halloween, our big event is the annual Halloween concert with the String Academy. Imagine more than a hundred young violinists aged 5-18 on stage playing together and listening to each other. Each violinist in an imaginative costume. The teachers wear costumes too. As this is an annual concert with all the students we do tend to hear a repetition of the songs every year. But it doesn't matter because each year Nightowl is at a new level, playing new songs and getting more and more confident. Plus, it's so darn cute.

Our final early-fall celebration was the lantern festival on November 11, Martinmas-- bringing light into the darkness. Nightowl made a simple folded paper lantern in her Oak Meadow class. It was decorated with cutouts and watercolor paints and contained a small candle.

That evening we all gathered for a lantern walk in the woods. There were songs and treats and a bonfire. The lantern processional always feels a little scary to me as we actually give children, little children, open flame lanterns to carry through the woods - yikes! (I keep looking around thinking: "There a lot of dry tinder on the ground..."). But I got over it as the feeling of reverence took over.

It's amazing how serious and careful the children were. And the trail of lantern lights twinkling in the woods is really beautiful. I, of course, forgot the camera but we took pictures once we returned home. Very lovely.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


We've been having a hard time here lately - there's been no time to post. We're still schooling and muddling through but it's been stressful and difficult. My job has kept me working long, long hours so my sleep is short - I'm quite lucky to get 3-4 hours per night. Chillymama's office gig is also extrememly demanding right now. There's lots of tension.

Our trip to LA came amidst lots of work chaos and wasnt' really very relaxing. It was fun. But it was work. Truthfully, it was a bad time for a trip. This month (and much of October) has been filled to capacity. I simply have no time for anything beyond working and doing the bare minimum to get by.

When I am exhausted beyond measure feelings turn to rage. My coping strategy is to hold it in, not let it errupt. But more than a month of repression takes it's toll. I'm edgy and often near panic. This leaks out in the household and I can feel my kids shrinking away. It's horrible. I even imagine giving up - on homeschooling, work, relationships - life. Not really an option.

I had a wonderful talk with a friend today. I called her after she sent an email asking: "Where are you? I haven't seen you since September." It was wonderful to talk to her. We discussed the stress and the rage and the joy. My spirit feels much, much lighter.

It all makes me wonder why I don't reach out or call out more often. Why hold it in? Why the need to sort it out all by myself? I'm not sure. But I'm glad for the connection I made today. It's why I'm including this in a post. I need to talk about it more.

The best part of everyday is the time I spend unschooling with my kids. But this gift has a cost. We are not wealthy. We choose to give up income and follow this path. For that reason I work in the evenings. And Chillymama remains working in a stable job with wonderful benefits for us all. Sacrifices all around - by choice.

This life we've created is not all chalk pictures and hand crafts. At times it feels effortless but at others it feels brutal and suffocating. There is a light at the end of the tunnel - at least for me. My deadlines are nearing and my 40-60 hours per week job should ease up to it's normal 10 hours by early to mid-December. Then we can find our rhythm again.

I'm looking forward to that.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What type of homeschooling do you practice?

I get this quesiton a lot. Mostly in conversation with friends, relatives or others who are out there, silently reading the blog. It's good to know you're there. :-)

So, here's the answer: We do what we need to do, as it works for us. How's that for elusive?

If I have to give a more defined answer I'd say that we defy categorization. I've never been one for following rules. Although we honor the schedule, understand the need for structure, and have a few tried and true beliefs, rigidity in any form is not our way.

That said, for those who'd like to know here are three areas we fit into:

Unschooling. Unschooling is a term coined by educator John Holt. He wrote many works about revamping public schools and how kids learn. Unschooling is kind of a hot topic these days. We are not radical unschoolers or parents who use the label and then ignore what happens. Rather, we try to follow our kids' lead; their natural curiosity generates their will to learn. We simply help them find the means. For more info check out this article: What is Unschooling? or The Sudbury Valley School.

Waldorf Inspired. Waldorf is a method developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian Philosopher in the early 1900s. This method emphasized child development and art.
We say Waldorf Inspired because we don't follow Waldorf exclusively. There is a lot I like about the Waldorf method, especially for the younger ages, in fact Waldorf inspired pedagogy is what we are mainly following these days (within our schedule and lesson blocks). However, some of the philosophy simply does not work for our family in this modern age. There is an intersting article entitled Oak Meadow and Waldorf that talks about this very topic. Oak Meadow is a Waldorf inspired homeschooling curriculum used by many. We use it and really like it. For more information check out this site: Waldorf Homeschoolers. Plus there are some Waldorf Resources within the links to the right.

#3 Core Knowledge. Core Knowledge Foundation is a non-profit that conducts research on curricula and developes materials. It was founded in the late 80s by Edward Hirsh and offers a variety of books on what the foundation deems: core knowledge.
The Core books were created to be used by teachers in the classroom and as supplements by parents of publically schooled children. We like the series "What Your ___ Grader Needs to Know." These are pretty rigid books, but they are well written, easy to follow and provide a good map of what a child might be ready for. Lots of homeschoolers use this series as the basis of their schooling. We like them and use them mostly as reference points and to see what public schooled kids of the same age might be up to. I also get some good ideas for answering questions that Nightowl frequently poses.

So there you go, that's how we homeschool - most of the time. While we draw from these sources we don't use them exclusively and sometimes we use them not at all. Sometimes we look at work by Charlotte Mason, Suzuki, various library materials, UU materials or we draw from our own experience. We also get a lot of information and ideas from other homeschoolers. We are finding that there is no single, correct map for learning. Our kids don't fit conveniently into any mold - and we like them that way.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Making Lasagna

At the end of our Natural Science block we decided to make lasagna. Actually, we've been planning this for some time but last week the weather and timing came together. Lasagna time!

In the cool autumn chill of mid-October the kids and I took ourselves out-of-doors and began work on our lasagna garden. No, not a garden where we grow the fixings for the cheesy pasta dish of the same name. In this case Lasagna refers to the layering technique for building soil.

We first heard of this method when we stopped to chat with Rhea, a lovely older woman who lives, and gardens, near one of our downtown parks. Rhea's lawn has no grass. It is completely planted with every imaginable native plant. We admired her lawn and stopped to tell her so. She recommended that we try it using the Lasagna method to kill our sod and begin planting. I did a little research and found The Lasagna Garden by Patricia Lanza.

In a nutshell: mark off a space, build layers of organic material, plant. In our case we're opting to build our garden space in the fall and then plant in the spring. But the layering is the same.


First, we marked our space. Then we added the first layer: wet newspaper.

Then the second layer: peat moss. Then the third layer: straw.

Then the fourth layer: leaves.

That's all we've done for now. Our plan is to add at least 8 more layers before it snows. The entire process took a couple of hours. The most suprising thing is how much we all enjoyed the endeavor. I am not a gardner. Despite growing up and spending most of my life in a farming state I do not garden, never have. And my eldest - she hates to get dirty. This is the child who as a baby rarely needed a bib, who at three finished painting in pre-school with a completely clean smock, who at six took a bucket of soapy water and scrub brush to the new tire swing before she would use it. We're talking neat and tidy.

Once I persuaded her to wear the old sweat pants ("They are comfy," she admitted) and told her that finally I was willing to try a garden ("I've been wanting flowers for years, Mommy.") she was game. She had a great time. During our peat mossing she kicked off her shoes and rolled in the dirt shouting: "I want to stay here like a pig forever!" During the whole session she kept exclaiming about how much fun it was. She even enjoyed raking the yard (a bonus chore off the to-do list).

I enjoyed it too - the work, the outdoors seeing my two kids so happy (Bearcub drank the newspaper water, poured peat moss in her hair, rolled in the hay and threw leaves.) And I'm so glad to have given Nightowl the opportunity to get down in the muck and love it. We're already looking forward to adding more layers! And who knows, perhaps in the spring we'll have a bed ready for planting. Here's hoping.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Right on!

I found this article: No Room For Site Inclusive of All, originally published in June 2005, when I was puttering around the UU Homeschoolers site today. Don't know why I didn't see it before.

Here's my favorite quote:
"With the homeschooling movement growing in popularity, experts say the philosophical mind-set is shifting to include more people who see home education as an extension of good parenting rather than an outgrowth of religious instruction."
Check it out!

Also don't miss: Unitarian Universalist Homeschoolers

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Handwork/Craft Log #1

Six weeks of handwork and crafts - here's what Nightowl's finished so far:

Pre-knitting: Twisty-turnies, braiding stick, finger knitting, hand knitting and beginning knitting project.

First finished knitting project: the multicolored washcloth!

Desk and chair for Elizabeth (she's practicing her reading and writing). Nightowl made this in the woodshop of our homeschooling friends Art, Gwen and Zosia. It was hand painted later by Nightowl.

Three sets of handmade knitting needles and the beginning of the second knitting project: the warm fuzzy scarf.

The scarecrow - halloween cometh! We were joined in this project by our neighborhood friend, Summer. Good times!

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Drawing Emerges

Last week we were busy with the continuation of our Natural Science Block. We visited her tree, compared needles and leaves. Made a book of pressed leaves (still in the pressing process) and heard more from Grandforest. The week ended with our trip to the Orchard.

Today we spent time learning about the process of the apple tree - from seed to fruit. Again using the Grandforest Tree resource we cut apart apples to find the five pointed star - memories of the flower bunch, blossom and seed. We've done leaf rubbings. It's all been good - learning all over the place.

Today, however, I'm struck more by how Nightowl's drawing is changing. Remember how frustrated she was when asked to "draw without outlines." She was especially worked up about her first drawing of the pine.

Since then something has changed. I noticed it first when she came to me with a new drawing of her evergreen tree that she wanted to paste into her main lesson book. She did this on her own, during free time, with her own crayons. Wow! Check out the difference.

The depth in this picture compared to the first. And her resistance to letting the image emerge, without outlines, continues to dissapate.

She did these images of different types of evergreen needles without outlines but stumbled when it came to the maple leaves (these were traced).

She tried the maples on the next page and viola - more vivid.

And then today we had no plans for drawings - like to keep things from getting too static - but she insisted that she wanted to create the lesson using block crayons. And so....

Again, sort of a combination of both techniques, but it's coming along. And she's learning how to correct aspects that she doesn't like. Plus, a good depiction of the science covered today. All in all lesson well learned. Can't wait to see what happens next.

Two Violins

On Tuesday last week I picked up my new violin and Nightowl and I entered the world of duet practicing. It's been about 5 years since I picked up a stringed instrument as I sold my cello when she was 13 months ("I can't imagine playing it again"). I'm a little rusty but so far so good. I ordered my violin based on reading John Holt (Learning All the Time) and his thoughts on the Suzuki method. Make no mistake the violin program Nightowl is enrolled in is wonderful - we couldn't be happier. After a year of playing she is confident and enraptured with the instrument. However the pieces have become more challenging - Minuets and the like, so a little dueting seemed like a good idea. We are playing together and she is taking the time to instruct me. "Mommy your bow is swooshing. Don't let it swoosh. Here watch me." This type of thing thrills her.

So on we go. And, confidentially, I love having a stringed instrument back in my hands.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"What I like about homeschool."

Today we went on a field trip, with the LEARN co-op, to Apple Acres Apple Orchard. We visited the orchard, the apple cleaning and sorting facility and the cider house. We picked our own apples from the trees. Nightowl loved it and had a lot of fun.

Later, after quiet time, we were sitting together and enjoying a hot drink when Nightowl mentioned that one of her public school friends said: Homeschool seems like it's a lot easier than public school. Nightowl reported that her friend seemed a little sad during this talk.

I find it interesting that Nightowl discusses schooling and other such important issues with her friends (both homeschooled and public schooled). She is interested in all kinds of issues and the notion of how one is schooled is something we discuss frequently. The comment from the friend today led us to a discussion of: Is homeschooling easier than public school? Instead of recounting our conversation from memory I've got Nightowl here with me. I'll type her answers as she tells me:
Remember the conversation we had upstairs? I'll type your answers about homeschooling being easy or hard. They will show up on the blog for our friends and grandparents to read. So, what do you think about homeschool? Is it easy?
I think homeschool is very easy because I like it so much and so well. I think it's fun because I can learn whatever I want. We get to have Learning Club and we get to have fun. Everything we do is based on having fun. And we do. It's especially fun for me. I think I'll always like homeschool.

Do you want to mention anything about it being hard or easy - like what we were talking about upstairs?
Some things are hard. And some things are easy. It all depends on if I like it.
What's hard?
Form drawing was hard. But we're not doing it anymore. We will do more but that won't be for awhile. I liked form drawing but I did not like the hard ones so well. For they were hard. Really hard.
Anything else you want to say about hard and easy stuff?
I think it's fun going to the apple orchard. They tell you a lot of stuff. There is a big refrigerator room that is really chilly. It's full of boxes and boxes of apples. The not so good apples they use to make cider. I liked it because my mom let me get a carmel apple. I also get to taste the cider samples. We got to pick apples and look at all the buildings. There is a funny polishing machine. Me and my friends thought it was funny to watch them swim around in the big machine.
Anything else?
You can start whenever you want and end whenever you want. I like that we can do anything we want.
What don't you like?
I do not like...actually there is nothing I don't like.
Even when you do hard stuff?
Yes, I liked form drawing but only once in a while. I think I'm all done. Oh there is something I wanted to say: The instruments I play are piano, violin and recorder. That's all.

From the mouth of the babe.


News of the day: Nightowl will be getting glasses. I suspected she was having vision trouble a couple of weeks ago - she was unable to see the music when we were working on violin. Our trip to the eye-doc today confirmed it. She's farsighted, at least for now - there is some chance that she will outgrow it. Truthfully, I'm not holding my breath as I've been in specs since I was about 8 and her father also wears glasses. On the plus side she only needs them for detail work: reading, writing, handwork, art, music. In short for all the school type stuff we've been doing.

She picked out a snazzy pair of pinkish/purpleish metal frames with small rhinestone flowers in the corner of the eye pieces. Plus they are engraved with our phone number in case they should be lost; modern convenience.

Today she would randomly burst out with: "I don't want to wear glasses." Then there would be a long sigh and silence. At other times she seemed excited saying: "I don't want to wear them just for reading and knitting and drawing and playing music - I want to wear them all the time!"

We shall see (no pun intended) what transpires when the glasses officially arrive.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What I Know Now

Monday was a sick day. Nightowl had been up breathing steam at midnight so this wasn't too surprising. What was surprising was the whole concept of "sick day." I remember as a kid that sick day meant relaxing, doing nothing, getting well while watching t.v. As a parent I recall sick days from the time when I was working or when we were doing preschool - the need to arrange childcare, the worry about what we would do ALL DAY LONG. Yikes.

The homeschool sick day is a horse of another color - largely, I suspect, because of my new attitude toward home and activities. So it was a sick day - but we're already home. Nightowl took it easy and stayed on the couch until lunch and during quiet time, after which she was feeling better. What did we do? Exactly what we always do - minus the physcial stuff. We worked on our natural science block, did some reading, some art, learned a little bit more Russian.

The school work we do is no longer "school work" it's everyday. It's what we do. For us learning is no longer a separate activity as in "Now it's time to do school." It just is. I was trying to explain this and our general way of life now to a friend whose kids go to public school. I had a hard time explaining. She laughed and called us all "a bunch-o-buddhas." Which is a good thing - I think? Words from those within the eastern religions.

Anyway, this is now the way and it seems to be working. Today was our second (sorta) sick day - although Nightowl was much better and even went to soccer practice this evening. We spent our craft time working on pop-up faces - a cool little craft that came to us from Wonder Homeschool. Neat!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Science (and other subjects)

Our first week of Natural Science was pretty successful. We did not do all of the activities I had planned. We did some and made up others. Exploring the Forest with Grandforest Tree is the main resource we're using for this block. I knew I liked this book when I first laid eyes on it (Thanks Andrea!). I started loving it when I read through it. Now, working the lessons with Nightowl I have to say that I really love it.

We started our week with a tale about how forests began. The story sets a very meditative mood. I had her lie down and look up at the branches of our silver maple. Nightowl was completely inspired when hearing about the rocks then the lichen then the moss then the ferns then the soil then the trees. She had some specific science questions about lichen etc. which we were able to find answers to from resources we had around the house. Then we went searching for lichen and moss and ferns. We found quite a bit - it's very humid and wet here. Next she wanted to draw the story into her main lesson book. Note that there are no trees in this picture just rain, rocks, lichen and moss.

The next day, on our morning walk I noticed that she was much more observant of the trees in our neighborhood. By the time we had reached home she had collected a variety of leaves. She wanted to do leaf prints - not on our schedule but ok. So we broke out the tempra paints, set up the easel for Bearcub and got to work using a selection of fall colors.

It was Bearcub's first attempt at painting and in about 3 minutes she painted herself, the paper on the easel, the cement, and me. In short she made a huge mess and had a great time. I was lucky to get the photo - the camera got painted too.

Leaf printing is tricky business and Nightowl found it frustrating as the leaves did not come out exactly as she wished. Her first inclination was to give up and start over. But, as she was putting the prints into her main lesson book there was no turning back. I think it was a good exercise for her. She worked for a long time and was, in the end, satisfied with the final result:

This picture inspired a nifty little math discussion about pattern and sequence which then led into leaf forms and form drawing - didn't see that coming.

On day three, during our walk, we searched for a tree that Nightowl could adopt and watch during the school year. She is most interested in pines so we stopped to examine most of the pines in the neighborhood. During this walk she discovered that:
  1. Different pine trees have different length needles
  2. Longer needles tend to be softer.
  3. Shorter needles tend to be sharper.
In the end she selected a medium sized tree located one street over from ours. It's a fat, full tree, 35 steps around, with medium needles that are "kinda pokey." She also figured out the street name from the street sign - reading in action!

On returning home we started our main lesson (hadn't it already started??) - a guided meditation with Grandforest Tree. Nightowl stood quietly next to our silver maple and tried to imagine her own roots and branches. From this exercise she got a pretty good idea of how trees get nutrients from the soil and how leaves take in moisture. She then happily dubbed our silver maple as our very own Grandforest Tree and gave it a big hug (I've created a tree hugger!).

When this was finished she still wasn't done. Now she wanted to write a story about her adopted tree.

So in we went. Opened the main lesson book and....well, I didn't actually mean to begin story writing until our next lesson block on language arts we go. I showed her how to set up the pages with golden lines and how to separate her words using golden stars (ala Donna Simmons) and she was off.

I tried to entice her with simple sentences and was successful with the first. But for the second she would not settle for: "It has pinecones." So we headed into the realm of the creating sentences with more than one multisyllabic word.

She ended her story with a picture of her pine. During last spring and summer we practiced drawing without outlines - the Waldorf way. This method is advocated for a variety of reasons (more than I will recount here). Nightowl hates it. She loves to draw - her way. She spends hours and hours and hours drawing her way. Drawing is her way of calming down, relaxing and soothing her soul. To be given directions in drawing is an insult deeply felt. So, we talk about it and she tries.

She was quite frustrated with her drawing of the pine. She kept defaulting to outlines and then getting angry. But she stuck with it and, in the end, made her picture into something she could live with. We'll continue with this type of drawing because it really taps into her focus, creativity, perfectionism and patience.

During the weekend we've visited her tree every day. She's quite insistent upon it. Plus she's learning to read all the street signs in our neighborhood - so she can find her tree. And she's been collecting things - for her main lesson book - from her tree.

So, we started out with the intent to explore science and ended up covering science, math, art, form drawing, language arts and a little bit of neighborhood geography what with the sign reading. The week ended with an episode our homeschool coop: The Learning Club, various music lessons and three soccer events. Whew. No wonder I felt so exhausted. No wonder Nightowl was so jazzed.

Wonder what next week will bring?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In Memorium

I learned today that we've lost a really amazing man: Michael Vincent Verbowsky. Michael was a friend of ours from many years ago. He was a talented artist and the creator of our commitment rings - among other wonderful works. His death was sudden, shocking and surprising - no prior illness, just a sudden heart attack. He was so young (45) and it feels like such a deprivation. Tonight we will light a candle and sing a song for Michael, and for his life partner Michael Wallace. Our hearts go out to them both.

The Most Important Things

There are three things that, I've discovered, are absolutely integral to our daily success. They are:
1 - The daily walk.
2 - Quiet time.
3 - Free time.

#1 - We try to always take our daily walk first thing right after breakfast. I load up the dogs, the Bearcub and Nightowl and we're off. At this point we can make it nearly a mile (Nightowl's legs get tired) at a slow pace. This walk really soothes our souls, wakes us up (we're not morning folks) and provides a good transition for our morning lesson. On a couple of occasions we've had to skip our walk - we could tell. Our moods were funny, our legs ached, and we felt itchy. We need it everyday.

#2 - I initiated quiet time after another homeschool mom noted that her kids were early readers because "I make them have an hour of quiet reading everyday." Interesting. I'm all for reading. I like quiet time. Viola! We take ours daily from 1:30-2:30 (give or take 30 minutes). Bearcub goes down for a nap. Nightowl gathers books, puzzles, and drawing supplies and heads for the bean bag in the playroom. She props up a pillow and grabs a blanket if it's chilly. During this time she gets a special quiet time drink - lemonade, hot tea, banana smoothy. I must make myself sit - no telephone, no email - and read or knit or nap. One whole hour. It rocks.

#3 - Despite the schedule I'm not a stickler and freetime is a most wonderful homeschooly thing. It's exactly that - we all do what we need to do. Play (Nightowl), throw and dump (Bearcub) or assorted chores (Me). Fabulous.

I'm finding that the kids really need these anchor points - even during weekends or holidays. These three things ground us and make our learning work. The ability to provide daily selfcare feels like a gift that I'm giving myself and my kids.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Form Drawing Block 1

On Friday we finished our first main lesson block: Form Drawing. For the past three weeks Nightowl and I worked on a number of linear forms for the beginner.

Initially, the notion of Form Drawing felt completely baffeling. I read many, many sources but couldn't get a plan to gel and aside from a notion of which forms to start with I had nothing: no creative story incorporating forms, no real order, no idea how to really begin. Ultimately, I just decided to jump in.

At the end of the three weeks I have to say it went pretty well. We covered ten forms beginning with the single, vertical line. I didn't have a story to use so I made it up as we went along. It was a simple tale - tale is a generous definition, more like a few defining sentences. It went as follows:

1 - Danny, a young boy who lives in a little house with...
2 - His grandmother, a wise old woman who walks with a cane...
3 - And his three sisters: Isabel, Mary, and Louise.
4 - Their home is in a large meadow of flowers.
5 - Sometimes Danny would walk out and stand in the meadow.
6 - Sometimes he would stretch his arms.
7 - Sometimes he would look up to the sky.

8 and 9 - One day while Danny was standing in the meadow he noticed two horses with riders approaching his house. One rider was carrying many gold baubles. The other was dressed entirely in red.
10 - As the riders continued toward the house they eventually passed Danny. As they did each gave him a gift. The first rider gave him a gold bauble. The second rider gave him a bottle of vivid red perfume....

The story ends on a cliff-hanger, of sorts, to be continued during our next form block. I have no idea what is going to happen but I imagine it will evolve.

Nightowl enjoyed drawing the forms. We started by drawing them in the air with our hands, drawing them with our feet, using sidewalk chalk, walking the forms, creating them with sticks, buckeyes, strings. She then tried them on the chalk board, the transfered them to paper.

Imediately after form number two (the old grandmother) I realized that Nightowl was not ready for curves, so we spent our weeks on linear forms. She was most challenged by form number four (the meadow - horizontal line) - it brought her to tears of frustration.

In my reading I've learned that form drawing is the precursor to geometery and handwriting. But it is so much more. Nightowl really enjoyed the activitiy, despite the difficulties. Our daily hours of form drawing initiated a depth of concentration and a desire work slowly and simply. It also gave her a new way of seeing - the form within the image. We find our forms all over the city. It was also amazing to see how she needed to sit with, or sleep with certain forms before she could translate them to paper.

I'm really looking forward to our next form block when we will begin exploring curves. We won't abandon form drawing completely until then. During the next few months I'll be asking Nightowl to put final versions of her forms in a main lesson book. I'm hoping that this will keep them alive and vibrant.

And what about the Bearcub? She enjoyed the form drawing as well - scribbling along and erasing on her own little chalk board. This block was a great introduction to both first grade and homeschooling. Based on this I feel completely happy and grateful that we are homeschooling.