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.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Autumnal Equinox

Tonight we had our family equinox celebration. The girls and I have been preparing for this all week. Along with our other daily activities we've been reading stories from Grandforest Tree and Circle Round, collecting fall things (leaves etc.), observing the change of seasons.

It all culminated this evening. Nightowl was busy all afternoon preparing for our celebration. To begin she created her first wool felt board:

She really loved manipulating the wool and had a lot of fun with the medium. For those who can't interpret the wool this picture shows: a changing tree, a pile of leaves and a rake, a lonely hawk, chilly autumn sun and rain clouds, and a little girl who's found the last violet of summer.

Then she disappeared downstairs to prepare for our party. It was a very secret operation and we adults were not allowed into the playroom. Our only hint of her activities was the come to the party sign, Chillymama helped with the printing:

She finished up right before dinner - our seasonal repast of baked pumkin and potatoes topped off with pomegranate fruit. After dinner we took an evening walk and looked for the autumn changes. Once we returned home the party began. Nightowl had set up a family game night complete with her newly created Equinox Matching Game:

We played this and other games and were invited to snacks and hugs. The evening ended with the spectacular lighting of the Autum Equinox Lantern. Nightowl and I finished the lantern Friday afternoon and we were so excited to see it at night. Upon lighting it for the first time she exclaimed: I had no idea it would be so beautiful.

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Grade One Book List

For our records here is a list of the books we've finished during our grade one year. I'll be adding to this throughout the year but will not create a new post each time. For now this list only includes books we've read together. This will probably change as Nightowl's literacy increases.

Ramona and Her Father - Cleary
Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder
Mr. Popper's Penguins - Atwater
Miss Hickory - Bailey
The Moffats - Estes
Fillipino Children's Favorite Stories - Various
The Middle Moffat - Estes
Rufus M. - Estes
Ginger Pye - Estes
The Moffat Museum - Estes
American Girl: The Addy Story Collection
Mary Poppins - Travers and Shepard
Don Quixote (Children's Abridged Version)- de Cervantes
Peter Pan - Barrie
Frog and Toad All Year - Lobel
Kaya: An American Girl
Old Mother West Wind - Burgess
The Adventures of Blacky the Crow - Burgess
The Adventures of Jerry Muskrat - Burgess
Catwings - LeGuin
Catwings Return - LeGuin
Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings - LeGuin
Jane on Her Own - LeGuin
The Adventures of Paddy the Beaver - Burgess
Unc' Billy Possum - Burgess
Peter Pan in Scarlet - McCaughrean and Fischer
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Carroll
Old Granny Fox - Burgess
The Little House in the Fairy Wood - Cook
Grimms Fairy Tales - Pantheon Edition


Today it wasn't raining but last night's deluge had helped our buckeye drop the last of it's seeds. So, after our morning walk we just couldn't head into the house or to the back patio area where we usually do our outdoor lessons - this was too good to pass up.

Nightowl grabbed a collecting basket and we engaged in our yearly ritual of collecting buckeyes. They are fun to gather, find, peel and collect. We discussed why some appear to be rotting (Were they sitting in a puddle?), we noted that the shiniest come right from the seed pod. We did our favorite magic trick: Watch closely! I'm going to hold an entire tree in my hand...Ta Da - I'm holding a buckeye (from which the tree comes..).

From this we morphed into our form drawing lesson using, you guessed it, buckeyes! An engaging task because the buckeyes roll. During this first block we've been working on linear forms (horizontal, vertical, three lines of decending length, etc. etc. etc.). We've named our main line Danny so we created Danny and his various positions with buckeyes, then sticks, then added sidewalk chalk for color and variance.

This morphed into color blending and color combinations which we've been working on during our watercolor painting sessions. Nightowl was completely absorbed in making color swatches of chalk, layering and then blending with her hands for effect and new colors. Her final product was not as bright as she wanted so we considered our options then began blending to make it brighter - quite the task.

During all our exploits Bearcub was busy in the yard hauling mulch (kinda), collecting buckeyes, rolling in chalk dust, and getting into puddles. Her favorite game was dump-the-basket-of-buckeyes-over-her-head-feeling-them-conk-and-then watching-them-roll-away. Hilarious. Then Nightowl and I would patiently gather them back up.

It was so beautiful and golden sunny and just so Equinoxey and Fallish that I dashed inside for the camera - only to find it missing. Turns out Chillymama has it with her in Boston - she's away on a work trip - so I've no images to share.

We ended our work with a long ride on the tire swing for Nightowl, some heart-rate-raising pushing for me, and some running in circles for Bearcub. The buckeyes are now waiting, in their basket, on the patio. We'll keep using them for forms and math and projects as long as they are not rotting. Who knows we may, eventually, have pictures to share.


When I began thinking about homeschooling the number one question I asked everyone was: What does your day look like? What do you do? I had a strange visions of neat little rows of desks in my living room mixed up with relaxed scenes of sleeping in late and following our dreams.

Now that we're officially homeschooling - parents know, friends know, you could say we're quite out about it - I've been considering this question a lot. For the record our days and weeks look something like this:

Main Lesson
Naptime for the Bearcub, Quiet reading time for Nightowl, feet up for me.
Crafts - or - Foreign Language - or - Watercolor Painting - or - Seasonal Festivities

Everyother Thursday we attend a two-hour session of "The Learning Club" through our local homeschool cooperative. On Fridays Nightowl joins a group for a three-hour-Waldorf-inspired class on World Folktales, while the Bearcub and I have a mom and baby music class followed by some good one-on-one time.

We usually begin this routine about 9 and end around 3:30. We spend as much of our time as possible outdoors. Within all that is time for household chores - laundry, the making of dinner, etc. etc. - wild out door play, and baby dance party. After dinner we have the extra-curricular activities: soccer and violin.

Our Main Lessons are grouped into three or four week blocks - where we work within one subject intensively. At the end of the block we switch. Our block schedule for this fall is as follows:
Form Drawing
Natural Science
Language Arts

But that's only 12-16 weeks? Ah, we have also scheduled our week long autumn vacation and several weeks to prepare for holidays/festivals (Equinox, Samhain/Day of the Dead, Thanksgiving, Solstice) not to mention the occassional day off.

I did not create this schedule - it evolved. Waldorf and Waldorf inspired pedagogy suggest following natural rhythms. Lesson blocks follow the rhythm of the seasons, daily schedules follow the natural in-flow and out-flow of energy, similar to breathing. Now, I cannot speak or teach Waldorf philosophy (you'll have to google to find those answers) but I did quite a bit of study and finally got quiet and the schedule evolved. Our days follow a basic Waldorf pattern of top-to-bottom noted as Head (Main Lesson), Heart (Music or Art), Hands (Craft). Of course we deviate somewhat and sometimes skip everthing entirely - that's the beauty of the homeschool. We can also sleep in when we need to....which happens...alot.

It's still evolving - just last night Nightowl and I discussed playing violin together in the evenings instead of during the day. Bearcub is usually in bed, it's twilight, and the music is lovely. It could work. Or not. We'll just keep with the flow and bend with the rhythm.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A rose by any other name.....

It's been driving me kinda nutty. The names. I absolutely hate typing "my six-year-old" or "my 16-month-old" within each post. It's impersonal. It's empty. It's long and tedious to type. So, I've been trying to come up with code names for my kids. In the tradition of friend Sara (see Schooling from the Heart under Inspirations) I want clever, descriptive names that seem to fit. We know her kids and husband and, believe me, her code names work.

But I couldn't seem to find anything that I really like. Everything sounded so contrived. After dismissing all of my own ideas I went straight to the source. Here are the suggestions from my six-year-old regarding herself: Princess Unicorn, SunFairy, Beautiful-Dancing-Child, Nightowl.

Here are the suggestions from my six-year-old regarding her baby sister: Destructo Baby, Butterbean, Butterbutt, Cutie-Pie, Bearcub.

Hmmmm....let's just say that I find these less than inspiring. However, as I've got nothing better, I hearby christen my eldest as Nightowl - it does fit, she's focused, strong, powerful, and usually up all night with an inclination to sleep during the day. Excellent.

And for the little-un: Bearcub. Her personality is still forming and this is my home nickname for her with her ambling, waddling walk and tendency to climb on unstable things. Excellent.

Henceforth, these two children shall be noted within posts as Nightowl and Bearcub.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What We're Studying This Year

In attempt to outline a path for our first year I find myself drawing from many, many sources. Most are Waldorf, some are Waldorf inspired, some are completely different. They all have little gems and pieces that I'm finding useful. Plus I continue to add more resources - it can seem a bit overwhelming. But it is all coming together.

This year we are attempting the following subjects:
Form Drawing
Natural Science
Language Arts
Watercolor Painting
Music - violin, piano, voice and song
Foreign Language - Chinese, Korean, Russian
World Culture
Phys Ed - We practice the bike without training wheels everyday!
Plus a variety of other subjects as we become interested in them - and they do come up!

Miss Hickory

I've spent some time looking for appropriate books to read together with my oldest daughter, age 6. That's why I was so delighted to find "Miss Hickory" on the award winners shelf at our local library. This simple chapter book is a Newberry Award winner (always a good bet), tells a story based on nature and the natural world and the magic of said world, and is full of amazing original lithographs. Success! Waldorf-ish, beautiful, award winning, chapters! Excellent choice.

Move forward one week. We've finished the book. My daughter is delighted, retelling the story at every opportunity, creating her own illustrations, flipping through the pages again and again. Me and my partner - we're a little stunned, because to be truthfull, this is one bizzaro book. Don't get me wrong, I liked it and would recommend it. But sweet? Sort of. Bizarre - absolutely.

Short synopsis: Miss Hickory is a small doll created by a little girl. Her body is a twig. Her head is a hickory nut. The story begins with the little girl and family leaving for the winter, thus leavning Miss Hickory to fend for her self with the help of forest and farm friends. Adventures in the woods abound. Beautiful.

Enter Squirrel.

In a nutshell (ha, ha) Squirrel stalks Miss Hickory through the entire book and get's his revenge (See Squirrel Takes Revenge, Chapter 14) by finally eating her head. Oh my. This doesn't kill Miss Hickory. She's alive just headless. So she just sticks her head, oops, I mean neck, into a cut in a tree and becomes grafted thus giving the tree her gift of life. Ultimately, she helps to provide apples (via her new tree self) to the little girl who made her. Full circle. Bizarre.

I truly thought my daughter would find this terrifying. But no. She finds it hilarious and dead serious. Perhaps I'm too adult and jaded. Or maybe I'm just too cynical or not Waldorfy enough. Whatever. I find this book completely silly and strange. However, we do not mock Miss Hickory, her quirkish ways or her headless predicament. She's become a sort of hero in our home..although, I must confess, we adults giggle about her late at night.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Day One

Last spring we dabbled with homeschooling and came to the decision that this was for us. But how to proceed???

Over the summer we took a break. My children played, swam and had delicious summer fun. I played, swam and had the delicious summer-fun task of reading every homeschooling item I could get my hands on. I grilled the homeschoolers I knew. Borrowed texts. Read blogs. Surfed the web. And then, I shopped. I bought supplies and books and art materials and other stuff I just knew we needed.

As the boxes rolled in my 6-year-old eyed them eagerly asking: "When do we start!" Right after labor day I told her, repeatedly.

I made schedules: daily schedules, monthly schedules, year-long curriculum schedules - drafts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... As I posted these in our homeschool area my 6-year-old eyed them eagerly asking: "When do we start!" Right after labor day I told her.

Finally, I felt ready. We could begin. But it wasn't yet after labor day. And then, my first "ah-ha!" moment: We had started long ago. As the supplies had rolled in and the schedules developed and the books were read - we had already started. The rhythm of our day unfolled long before I put a schedule down on paper. The supplies have been opened and examined long before our start date. We're making felt dolls, knitting, getting into our daily rhythm of head, hearts, hands. It's all been happening.

Thus the first lesson is mine - we really are learning all the time.

BTW we did start our first subject block today: Form Drawing. It went swimmingly.