Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Family Arts Weekend

Last Thursday Nightowl and I headed out on a mother-daughter adventure. We had signed up for the Family Arts Weekend at Taproot Farm in rural Ohio. We learned of this event via the Barbara Dewey newsletter (Waldorf Without Walls).

We started our trip with a side visit to our wonderful friends in Columbus. Nightowl got to play with her same age pal, Francie, and I got a late, late, late night chat with kindred spirit Nikki. We took the girls to see a production of the musical Annie and spent the rest of our time chilling and visiting and recollecting how much we all adore one another. It was a true love fest.

We arrived at Taproot Farm on Friday evening, unpacked our bags in the farmhouse (we got to stay in the Cinderella Room) and headed off to meet the six other families and play theater games. Over the next 24-plus hours we created original characters, built relationships between said characters, came up with a plot, created costumes, and staged a play. During our "free" time we learned how to wet-on-wet paint, make origami, participated in KP duty and creating communal meals, played theater games and sat around chatting and enjoying each others' company.

It was an amazing experience. Aside from what we created (which was pretty cool) the organic nature of the event is what I found most inspiring. All participants from aged 4 to much older, were able to be involved in all activites. The kids, and the adults, were included in the creation of their characters, which led to the creation of relationships, which led to the creation of the story, which led to the creation of the play. It was empowering. Everyone felt heard, and everyone seemed invested in the story.

Nightowl had a great time. In our final play her character was Carlos, the flying fairy. Working communally was very, very good for her. My character was Ref, the bashful newt. Working communally was very, very good for me.

I also came away with lots of wonderful new ideas for incorporating more dramatics into our everyday lessons - drama queens rule! I even learned to do wet-on-wet painting - a true miracle. Overall: a wonderful time had by all. (I've lots of photos from the weekend and plan to publish them somehow, sometime - when it's not nearly midnight.)

Flush right photos:
1 - View of the pond at Taproot Farm.
2 - Barbara demonstrates wet-on-wet painting
3 - My miracle painting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Alien Under the Bed

The alien that lives under my bed can change shape.
Today he is an Eyeball.
And he is giving a talk about
eyeballs and eyeball stuff.

- Nightowl,
age 6

Making Granola

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Back to School

It's been busy, this first week "back to school, back to violin, back to piano." Hmmm....let's see:

This was the first week of our Math Block. We did a lot of singing number patterns, rhythm games for number patterns, working on odd and even, counting by 2s, 3s, etc. We've been playing number games: mancala, dominoes and geometric games: tangrams, blockus. One afternoon Nightowl spied Barbara Dewey's Math for Waldorf Homeschoolers book. She was delighted by the illustration of gnomes on the cover and begged to begin learning about the gnomes. Thus we have entered the world of Math Gnomes. We're at the beginning but she is delighted with the tale of the four gnomes: Plus, Minus, Times and Divide and their adventures in the jewel mine digging up treasures. She requests more of this activity faster than I can provide it. I suspect that during the next few weeks we'll be doing even more. I'd better get ready.

One morning Nightowl and Bearcub got busy with measuring tapes. I looked up from my morning tea and noticed that they were both very intently measuring all the furniture in the living room. Ta da: impromptu math lesson. Nightowl measured many pieces of furniture then noted the measurements on paper. She next cut out each item and arranged them in order from smallest to largest. She had some confusion regarding the order of the higher numbers so we got out the Unix Cubes. These little cubes attach in columns and can be used for a variety of things. Nightowl used them to figure out the numerical order of the items she'd measured. As this progressed she figured out that it was much easier to count using columns of ten. This prompted a little lesson on counting by 10s to 100.

Nightowl was also busy building this week. She asked that I include the following images of her dollhouse world - a city of rainbow buildings and multi-cultural communal living. The entire world is presided over by two Grandmas and their children. The Grandmas have been together for many, many years and have many, many children and grandchildren.

After math, our next big project has been getting ready for the homeschool science fair. This year Nightowl has selected Shells as her topic. We discussed her project, came up with several questions that she'd like to find answers for and took a trip to the library for research materials. Nightowl has been diligently sorting through the family shell collection in search of beauties to display for her project.

Finally, our biggest project was working on Rosetta. For Christmas, Nightowl received a doll making kit and this week we began the task of creating the doll. I purchased the kit on-line from Joy's Waldorf Dolls and, as it was our first doll, I took the easier route of getting several pieces created for us (the head, the wig). Our task was to take the head and attach the skin, create the nose, stuff the hands, feet, arms, legs and body; sew it all together; embroider the face and attach the hair. This was a really fun project. Nightowl helped as much as she could. She sewed the nose, did the stuffing, attached the head covering, and placed the eyes, mouth and hair.

After our first day working on the doll Nightowl had named her Rosetta. This inspired us to work even hard to get her finished - we just couldn't leave Rosetta in pieces! It was a really magical experience. Nightowl was so excited watching the creation of this doll. When we weren't working on her she would randomly pick up the pieces and hug them. I'd hear her whispering to Rosetta, telling her what her life would be like. She prepared her other dolls for an introduction to their new sister. And then she announced that, unlike her other dolls who sleep in doll beds, Rosetta would be sleeping with her. "She's not hard like my other dolls," Nightowl explained. "So she'll be more comfortable sleeping with me." Wow. Normally Nightowl doesn't sleep with dolls or stuffed animals. While she has quite a routine for putting her various doll and animal family to bed none of them get the invitation into the big bed. An interesting development.

By the end of the week Rosetta was finished!

And, true to her word, Nightowl has slept curled up with her every night since.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Back when we started this little homeschooling adventure I posted a couple of times about schedules and rhythm. The months have passed and oh, how much I have learned.

I now know that:
1. Rhythm has little, if anything, to do with schedules.
2. Schedules, like all rules, are made to be broken.

So, on we go. We are completing the same activities - sort of - only now they happen a bit more naturally; more in rhythm and not so forced. It's good. A trifle frightening for a control freak like me...but I'm getting used to it. Sort of.

Friday, January 05, 2007

All About Bearcub

The youngest member of our little homeschool is rarely mentioned. However, her presence at home and in our lives demands that her exploits and activities get a little screen time too.

At 20-months, Bearcub can no-longer be considered the baby (though that's what we still call her). She is busy from the moment she wakes. In temperament she is easy going, good natured and friendly. She is strong willed, tenacious and stubborn. The decibles of her joy are matched only by the decibles of her tantrums. In the mornings she is the first to open her eyes and then wakes me with kisses. All friends receive hugs, strangers loud shouts of hello.

Whereas Nightowl's mantra might be "I think." the Bearcub's is surely: "I do." My little one is a master of dexterity, manipulation and physical activity. Few locks, doors, or latches confound her for long. If someone in the family is busy at a task or activity, then surely she should be able to as well - preferrably loudly and with gusto. Initially content to ride along in the wake of our activities, the Bearcub has emerged as a force to be reckonned with.

Case in point: the piano. Whereas Nightowl never noticed the piano until age five, Bearcub has been aching for a chance since she could crawl. She can now successfully open the instrument, select a music book, climb onto the bench, place her music, turn on the metronome, sit down and belt out a tune. No matter that she cannot read music, she turns the pages every few minutes just the same. And she plays, plays, plays as long as she can. The longing I see in her eyes now is for the violins - kept high out of reach. She hums along to every song that Nightowl and I play. Indeed, Bearcub knows the entire rep.

Similarly, Bearcub uses her own chalkboard for writing and drawing and her own materials for painting. Her exploits into the fiber arts are confounding explosions of knots and piles. Her love of books and being read to matches that of the rest of us. She loves puzzles and pieces and biking and swinging. She launches herself into every activity, shows little hesitancy in exploring new places and situations and displays a shocking lack of caution in most areas. If she falls or is somehow thwarted? No problem, she's up and mastering the feat - beit scaling the bookshelves, pushing the tire swing, or puzzling apart the newest toddler lock.

Aside from these many activities, what Bearcub likes most is to help. She enjoys helping to fold the laundry, empty the dishwasher, feed the cats, set the table and pick up the toys. Either from example or intrinsic nature, Bearcub is turning out to be pretty tidy. She sings the "toys away" song with joy.

Her newest and most favorite helping activity is vaccuming. Previously, Bearcub has eyed the vaccum with trepidation and fear: It's loud, it's clunky, it's takes Mom's focus. But over the past few months she's been taking cautious steps: a willingness to be in the same room with the ghastly thing, tip-toeing past it, sneaking over to push the power button. And then today, the unthinkable: a request to do it herself. So, I lowered the handle and passed it over. Oh joy! Oh rapture! Forty minutes later she was still involved: Vaccum. Turn off the power. Turn on the power. Vaccum. Turn off the power....

When lunch was on the table I had to step in and bring the activity to an end. "No, Mama," she cried. "More vaccum!" she signed. But I insisted. Oh, the wailing that ensued - complete with a full body drop to the floor, and the beating of fists and feet. Call CPS because I won't let the child vaccum any longer - it's time for lunch and a nap.

True to her nature the hysterics passed quickly. Now it's lunch time. Time to scale the chair, wash the hands, insist on an open cup. Time to eat heartily and messily and after, exhausted from the effort, enter sleep quickly and deeply and then wake, refreshed, for more.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Prince of a Tale and Then Some

It might seem like with travel, work and holidays that "school" has gone by the wayside. Actually, we have been working on the more traditional stuff too - well traditional for us.

Our most recently completed "school" block was language arts. I had originally planned four weeks for a Waldorf type block but we got so involved and took so many exits into the land of unschooling that four weeks morphed into ten.

What have we done? In nutshell: We completed the first two language arts blocks as presented in the Christopherus Grade One Curriculum - with a little tweaking of our own in some places. These two blocks consist of creating a pictoral letter alphabet based on a continuing story infused with Grimm's Fairy Tales (re: a big story with little ones nestled inside). Our story went something like this:
There was Kind King and a Quiet Queen. They were parents to a Proud Prince. Because he was so proud he was not ready to lead the Kingdom. So, their cousin, the Wise Woman, took him on a journey. During this journey he learned many things and returned home much wiser and ready to lead the Kingdom.
Every week I told Nightowl a segment or two of the Prince's story - oftimes this segment included a tale from Grimm's. The story segment would emphasize a particular set of letters (ie: Proud Prince = P). She would illustrate the story segment including the actual letters within her drawings, on other days she would practice the letters she learned. By the end we have a complete alphabet and a completely illustrated tale. At the end of the tale she moved onto writing simple allitrative word phrases. We also brought this story into our craft time, creating hand puppets (pictured above) of the Prince and the Wise Woman. We have re-enacted the entire thing with said puppets.

This activity worked extremely well for Nightowl. We did a similar type of illustrated alphabet last year for Kindergarten - as per Oak Meadow instruction. It was good introduction for her but not nearly as cohesive. My decision to engage in a similar activity for First Grade came about primarily because she seemed ready for the archetypal stories in Grimm's (she loves them). I also sensed that a letter review would be well received. True on both accounts - this activity was a hit. Nearly every day she asked for a new episode of the Prince. I put pictures up on my larger chalkboard. She then copied the pictures and letters first on her own chalkboard then in her main lesson book.

Included here are a few of the drawings from the Prince's Tale that Nightowl wished to showcase on the blog.

Images: 1-Kind King, Quiet Queen, Proud Prince, Wise Woman; 2 - Lovely Lady, Holle House,;
3 - Ooohhh!; 4 - New Needle, Curled Cat;
5 - Rapunzel; 6 - Letter practice

So that was our Waldorf. Our other adventures in reading during this past ten weeks include: working through McGuffy's Eclectic Primer, Nightowl reading aloud chapters of Frog and Toad, delving into classic children's books (see our Grade One Reading List), and creating original books.

That last part is pure Nightowl. For fun during her free time, Nightowl has been book making. She has written and illustrated several small books (I am usually called upon to dictate spelling). But the main project has been the creation of her own Magic Schoolbus adventure. Entitled "The Magic Schoolbus Goes to the IU String Academy" this work has taken a life of its own.

I gave Nightowl a blank main lesson book and she started by laying out the story via pen and ink illustrations, coloring them in later with colored pencil. This is a work in progress and not yet finished (so no photos at this time), but progress is being made. She is writing many of the words herself and she knows the storyline. I suspect that I will be called in once again to dictate spelling and help her locate music and string facts - but then that's my role in this: purely support staff. This is her project, fueled by her own desire, her love of playing the violin, love of the program she is in and her love of the Magic Schoolbus books.

This type of free learning makes me giddy with delight. It's what I hoped for when we began this adventure. On many occassions the entire day has been spent at work on this project. It's incredible to watch and has proven what almost all of the homeschoolers I know have told me: Let them go and they will learn. Fabulous.