Friday, September 23, 2011

Crazy Homeschooling Meme

Tagged by Lindsay at My Symphony, who has great answers of her own--go see!

One homeschooling book you have enjoyed...
So many.  How about, the first homeschooling book I enjoyed:  Better than School by Nancy Wallace.

One resource you wouldn't be without...
The library.

One resource you wish you never bought...
The set of 36 plastic counting bears in 3 sizes.  We were renting a house on the eastern end of Long Island for the summer, and I am pretty sure that every one of those bears is still in the air conditioning vents of that house.

One resource you enjoyed last year...
Teaching Textbooks Algebra...changed things up a bit.

One resource you will be using next year...
This year, as it has started already.  Teaching Textbooks Geometry!

One resource you would like to buy...
More bookshelves.

One resource you wish existed...
I wish more mid-century elementary science books were still in print.

One homeschool catalog you enjoy reading...
Not necessarily just for homeschooling, but I do enjoy Dover's catalogs.

I know I am suppose to tag folks...but everyone has done this, I think.  If you haven't, consider yourself tagged.  ;)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Painted and Petrified

A few more photos from our journey out west...Libby's choices for places to stop were beautiful.
(My favorite stop was a 7-11 in Albuquerque, which served the BEST coffee I have ever had.)

This doesn't look petrified.

This looks painted.  Those pink hills are far away.

L sits safely on the wall.

T assures me it is not a sheer drop.

Other colors.

Evidence of water run-off.

A beautiful formation.

Where the petrified wood is.

Scenic Overlook.

There's some.

And more.

Examining scraps of a former forest.

Look happy, L!

That's better!

Just sitting on a petrified log.

Pretty amazing.

Admiring the rings.

This would make good outdoor furniture.

Camouflage fail.

Our last view before finding the back exit.

Autumn (Originally from MacBeth's Opinion)

Anyone home?
"Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty for a while, till they could riot in rich masquerades..."--The Wind in the Willows

Have a Delightful Autumn Read!

(Funny Fall Fantasy from Finland.  Click on the link to read a few pages.)

Nature journaling favorites:
Start your school year off right with this book:  Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie.  In it you will find more suggestions to make you nature study permanent--by keeping the ultimate nature notebook!  Other books for inspiration:  Leaf Bird Days and Firefly NightsA Life in Hand, and Making Handmade Books.  And for crafty ideas, try Nature's Art Box

Looking for a way to kick off your time outdoors?  Try The Squirrel Project, perfect for large groups of children of all ages.

Enhance your nature study with bird watching!  Birding is a terrific pastime for all ages, and can even be done inside, with a bird feeder set at just the right window.  Use a variety of seed to attract a variety of birds.  A good guide to who eats what is the Backyard Birdfeeder's Bible.  Find a field guide that's right for your area.  I prefer to use Peterson's Guides.  These are available for Eastern BirdsWestern BirdsMexican Birdsand Advanced BirdingHandfeeding Backyard Birds is a one of a kind how-to  book.  Feeding wild birds by HAND will change your view of birds forever.  Kids love this!  They all look like little St. Francis statues while feeding the birds.  Get a closer look at owls with an online owlcam. If your family is very interested in birding, you can participate in Cornell University's annual bird count, Project Feederwatch.   

Of course, you'll want some great living books about birds to fill out your ornithology program this fall.  Here are a few of our favorites:

  • There's an Owl in the Shower is about a family that adopts an owl.  Lots of information on owls and conservation.
  • Arnie: The Darling Starling by Margaret Corbo (out of print--check the library!) This is about a woman who raises a "pest bird," the starling, in Texas.  The bird learns how to talk!  See the Talking Starling page! (off site)
  • Make Way for Ducklings  (picture book) The Mallards have landed in Boston, but where will they nest?  Turns out, they choose an island right near the Community Sailing boathouse where I learned to sail!
  • Owls in the Family  What is it about owls and families?  This is another great book, this time set in Canada, about a family that adopts 2 owls.
  • The Coot Club It's an English summer story, but is a fine tale of bird conservation and adventure, honesty and judgment.  Vacationing boaters threaten a nest of coots, and the Club tries to save them.
  • The Pigeon Post Another English summer story, but filled with homing pigeons!
  • Great Northern? finds the Ds looking for loons!
  • The Tarantula in My Purse  There are enough birds in this book to qualify.  Visit Jean Craighead George's house, and get to know its exotic inhabitants!

How tiny we seem among the trees.

Crisp was the air, and bright was the sun,
Brilliant and clear dawned this October day:
Flinging out pennons of victory won,
The trees stood flaming in gala array.
 --Helen Hawley
Preserving Leaves
(modified from Victorian Family Celebrations by Sarah Ban Breathnach)
Select large branches when leaves have first turned color.  Split the stems of your branches about three inches from the bottom; stand them in a bucket of warm water for several hours.  If some of the leaves begin to curl, remove them.  Prepare a solution of glycerin (available in the laxative section of your local pharmacy) and water by combining two parts water to one part glycerin.  Bring the solution to a boil, simmer gently for 10 minutes, and let sit until completely cooled.  Cut the bottom of your branches at a very sharp angle and stand your branches in the mixture, storing the container in a cool, dark place until all the glycerin mixture has been absorbed.  This will take about a week to 10 days.  When you first notice tiny beads of glycerin forming on the leaves, remove them from the solution, wipe down the leaves with a damp paper towel, and dry thoroughly.  They may last several seasons!

This is the best time of year to--

 Collect wild edibles (to get started, see Wildman Steve Brill's book:  Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (And Not So Wild) Places  We have had more fun with this book than any other.  Brill not only includes accurate descriptions of the edible plants, but also includes folklore and personal anecdotes.  This book is so easy to use you'll be eating your lawn in no time.

 Bake bread with wild nuts and berries (recipes are in Wildman's book)
 Cook outdoors
 Hike an old trail
 Hike a new trail
 Learn the Beaufort scale
 Track animals
 Collect dried wildflowers (make sure you have permission, and that the flowers are not endangered)
 Press flowers (see above)
 Build a "survival shelter" from fallen branches and leaves
 Sleep in your survival shelter :)
 Dig up some pond muck and see what's hiding in it--how do animals live through the winter?
 Turn that compost pile and see what's hiding there
 Visit a county fair
 Go pumpkin picking
 Record the temperature daily
 Watch clouds
 Picnic at an old mill, castle, estate, garden--some place with history--or a shrine.
 Breath deeply
 Listen to Vivaldi's "Autumn" from The Four Seasons (listen to Amazon samples here)

More living books and "how-tos" for fall:
Looking for ways to make that "Not-back-to-school" time of year special? Try a few good books with "not-back-to-school" flavor:
  • Prince Caspian  The Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy think that they are on their way back to school, but Aslan has other plans--terrific outdoor adventure.
  • The Castle of Llyr The Princess is supposed to be taught how to be a lady, but is kidnapped and the adventure begins.
  • The Hobbit I know it begins in summer, but this book is one I like to read in the fall.
  • I Am a Home Schooler Photo essay of a homeschooling family.

The Squirrel Project

The Gray Squirrel Project
A few years ago I was asked to put together a squirrel study for elementary school students. Here's the project I wrote.  We have used it in our family and with homeschooling groups with fun and success.

Eastern Gray Squirrel Project (may be modified to work with other squirrels, too)

Read A Squirrel's Tale and The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (Potter)  with the younger children, and information on squirrels from or Anna Comstock's handbook for older kids. Discuss squirrel behavior, especially feeding and nut storage.  
Research Gray squirrels on the internet.
(According to my research, gray squirrels bury acorns or other nuts randomly, and often don't find them, but may find those buried by others. Those they don't find may become trees!)

The Activity:
This works well as a large group activity.  Have each child find 10 acorns or other wild hard-shelled nut (beech or hickory). Mark each child's stash with a different color (nail polish works well). Have the children hide the acorns randomly around a large lawn or park. Leave the area for the next activity.
Find some squirrels, if possible, and observe them for a while, quietly. What are their most common behaviors? Are they fighting? Chasing? Eating? Walking? Foraging? For younger children, you might make up a chart of behaviors, with pictures if necessary, and have the kids check off the behaviors they see. Bring the group together to see which behaviors were noticed most often.
Return to the nut-hiding site. Have the kids collect as many nuts as they can--they may collect other children's nuts, so prepare young ones for this. Sometimes a child might get upset if he doesn't find any, or if another child finds his. At the end of a given time period (about the same time it took to hide the nuts), have the kids show how many of theirs they found, and how many of someone else's they found.  If older kids help the younger kids, ask them if they think a real squirrel would do the same.

How many acorns did you find in total? Is that more or less than the group had to start? How many did each child find of his own? Of others? Did you find any unmarked? Who is most likely to survive ? What happens to the nuts that no one finds?*
Add your own questions, and have fun!
Other Squirrel ideas:
Feed the squirrels with their own feeder
Put up a large nest box for squirrels in winter and breeding season 
Research other kinds of squirrels
Find out why squirrels are sometimes considered "pests" or "invaders"
Visit a wildlife refuge and talk to the rehab people about rearing young squirrels
Research squirrel behavior
Keep a squirrel notebook
Research squirrel predators (hint:  examine owl pellets for squirrel remains)
Squirrels are rodents.  Are there any other rodents native to your area?
Even though they are called "gray squirrels," some are black.  Are there any black squirrels in your neighborhood? (I have seen them here in Bellerose NY, Toronto, Amherst MA, and the Bronx...)

*Don't store acorns for a long period of time--acorn grubs are in most acorns...either toss them back into the wild, or, if they are white oak acorns, make acorn pancakes before the grubs grow (recipe from Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad and other Wild Recipes by Jean Craighead George). Acorns taste nasty until processed, though!
Copyright 2001 MacBeth Derham

Monday, September 19, 2011

Internet Otter-trawl

Fishy finds and treasures from the 'net.

5 Reasons to get Rid of the Dept. of Ed. from Doug Ross
Character without Values from CMR
Vouchers in Indiana from Pajamas Media

Coercive Liberalism from First Things
Why Obama was Never Going to be the next FDR from The Atlantic

Psychology of DaVinci Code Enthusiasts from Insight Scoop

Radically Silly:
A Report from the Occupation of Wall Street from The Awl
Day of Fail from Zombie (the best political photo essays on the 'net; language warning)

Does Our Education System Spawn Genius?

Has it ever?

I read two "if only" posts today on EdWeek-affiliated blogs. The first, Who Will Be Our Next Walt Disney?  takes a look at schools and innovations in education, including science and technology initiatives.  The blogger's conclusion, in part:

What can students who do not live near a STEM or magnet school do to find creativity? [Homeschool!]  Many of us spent our seasons playing outside in the woods or on child-made baseball fields where we played baseball for five or six hours. Our winters were spent sledding down big hills and making snowmen in freezing temperatures and we lived to talk about it as older adults. Sometimes disconnecting from the internet allows us to reconnect with our larger world. It is possible to find creativity within our own thoughts without the distraction of the internet and television.

As a homeschooler, of course, I have long given up the idea that any school reform might work, and I read the above with interest.  Time out of doors!  It seems that it is a remedy for nearly every problem that ails schoolchildren.  Anthony Esolen's wonderful book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child describes this remedy in more depth, and it's a great read.  Treat yourself.  I also recommend a good biography of Walt Disney, like Walt Disney:  An American Original.  Or, if you want some brief info now, check out the wiki page.  Walt got his art training on Saturdays at the Kansas City Art Institute, and at the Chicago Art Institute by taking evening classes, not at school.  In fact, as is true of so many geniuses...he was what we might unkindly call a "drop-out."  

Will building time in to school schedules promote Disney-esque creativity, as the blog author suggests?  I doubt it.  No matter how much time they use for creative pursuits, schools cannot duplicate the events in the life of a creative genius.  Will we send children to France to drive an ambulance in post war Europe?  Will our 16 year old children drop out of school to work in factories?  Will they suffer rejection, time after time, when seeking employment?   Many factors hone innate genius; schooling is only one of those factors, and very often, it is not the most important.

The second article, America's Strength:  An Innovation Economy, actually refers back to an op-ed, China's Rise Isn't Our Demise, by non-genius Joe Biden.  The blogger quotes Mr. Biden:

"The United States is hard-wired for innovation. Competition is in the very fabric of our society. It has enabled each generation of Americans to give life to world-changing ideas—from the cotton gin to the airplane, the microchip, the Internet. We owe our strength to our political and economic system and to the way we educate our children—not merely to accept established orthodoxy but to challenge and improve it... Our universities remain the ultimate destination for the world's students and scholars."

Well, he's half right.  America's unique political and economic systems are conducive to innovation, and our colleges do draw applicants from all over the world.  But the way we educate our children?  Maybe a time long ago, before compulsory high school, when being a "drop-out" wasn't stigmatized...for our list of American geniuses is comprised of those who could not or would not succeed within the system.  Eli Whitney, inventor of that cotton gin Mr. Biden uses as an example, was not in school at age 14, but was running a small manufacturing business.  When Whitney wanted to go to college, he prepared for Yale at a private school.  He was not a product of a compulsory, standardized education.  Neither of the Wright Brothers graduated from high school.  Jack Kilby, Nobel prize-winning physicist, was one of many in a long line of innovators who brought the microchip to us, and not all of them were American.  He took college classes while in high school to supplement his public education. And Robert Noyce, the microchip's co-inventor, was building dangerous backyard toys (like a functioning personal airplane) at age 12; I suspect this was not a school-sponsored project.  As for the inventor of the internet...the less said about him, the better.  But go beyond Biden's short list of great American innovations, and pick some wonderful inventions at random.  Very often, an unconventionally educated individual is responsible.

If there is any correlation between innovation and our educational system, it is that we have had, in the past,  great freedom to use it, or not, as we see fit.  We have never really had a unified national system like so many other countries have.  Is that a good thing?  Yes!  But as we creep towards a centralized curriculum, and give government more control over choices in education while taking those choices away from parents, and as we continue to stigmatize those who "drop-out," hold GEDs instead of traditional diplomas, and homeschool, mightn't we be guilty of curtailing the very freedoms that have nurtured innovation in the past?

My favorite educational reform movement (aside from homeschooling) is the Children and Nature Network, and the ongoing effort of this group to get children outside by informing teachers and parents about the deep need for time spent out of doors.  But then, the worst happened...the government got involved,  with the introduction of a "No Child Left Inside" act.  Sure, it's bi-partisan.  Sure, it is well-intentioned.  But has government ever, EVER co-opted a great grass-roots idea and turned it into a disaster?  Once or twice?  Um...let's keep this movement out of the hands of the government school bureaucrats.  

Let's allow freedom in education to spawn the next generations of innovators, just as it has in the past.

Who knows what time outside exploring might inspire?
A broken tree might inspire a materials scientist to invent more flexible compunds.

A hike at low tide might inspire new energy systems.

Tossing leaves off a bridge might inspire a better parachute design.

Hiking along a sea wall might inspire better coastal hurricane protection.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Merchant of Venice Highlights

Can it be that I forgot a blog post on Merchant?  Here are a few photos from the Front Lawn Players' 2011 production:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

High School Astronomy Books (because a friend asked)

Originally from MacBeth's Opinion website. 
 (Most links are to know the drill.  Links are for convenience.  Most books are available in the library.  Some are available on Kindle!  If you buy a book, Amazon gives me a tiny bit of dough towards books for my homeschool--no pressure, ever).

"And behold, the star that they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over the place where the child was.  And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly." (Matthew 2:9)
"At the dead of night, two noble planets, Tarva and Alambil, will pass within one degree of each other.  Such a conjunction has not occurred for two hundred years." --Dr. Cornelius in Prince Caspian
"Dear old leopard." --Lucy in Prince Caspian, admiring the Narnian constellations

As a spine:  Astronomy:  A Self-teaching Guide

365 Starry Nights : An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo (astronomy lessons night by night) .

For the more advanced astronomy student:
With a good back yard telescope, and not too much effort, this is one fun book: The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide : With Complete Maps, Charts and Tips to Guide You to Enjoying the Most Famous List of Deep-Sky Objects by H. C. Pennington (whew!) The Messier objects (about 100 of them) were catalogued in the 1700's by Charles Messier, a comet hunter who was annoyed by "fuzzy objects" that were not comets in the sky. He catalogued them to get them out of the way! His list includes star clusters and galaxies, all fairly easy to find (even with 1700's technology).

Need information about tonight's sky??
Online, Sky and Telescope   magazine is the best source for finding out what planets can be seen from your location and when they rise and set. It also includes meteor showers, comets, etc.

And some good theory books for high school and beyond?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Unschooling: Between Always and Never

We always never have a first day of school.

When the kids were very young and at the beach, they made some friends who were amazed that they had never been to school.
"How do you learn things?" they asked.
My oldest, probably around 8 or 9 at the time, replied, "Well, we are always learning things.  Don't you learn things outside of school?"
The blunt reply was, "No, never.  Why would we want to do that?"

We always never separate life and lessons.

Clearly, there was a communication gap.  The other kids equated learning with lessons in a classroom.  And that was something they did not want to do all the time.

But that's not what learning really is, as homeschoolers find out rather quickly.  Learning is an ongoing process; it happens everywhere and all the time.  We don't have a set school time every day in our house, nor do we have activities or books or lessons which are "school" things specifically, only to be used for lessons at a desk.  Oh, I suppose the kids would point to the several math books that float around as the most schooly books in the house, but even they are always never opened at a specific hour.

I have been homeschooling for 18 years, and my view of homeschooling has changed dramatically.  Full of enthusiasm after my first conference, I brought home tons of books and supplies and manipulatives, and other things that would make my homeschool ultimate.  Most were lost or never used as intended, especially the busy work from a popular curriculum provider.  I understand that curriculum providers and umbrella schools are a wonderful and necessary resource for many families.  But none is a good fit for us, so we (since that first year) always never use one.  Even those who use these resources know that learning is bigger than the box the books are shipped in.

And we always never use desks.

I once bought a school desk at a yard sale.  A desk!!  It has never been used for lessons, but has alternately held a printer, ink and paper, or has served a just-another-horizontal-place-to-put-stuff.  Mostly, it has just been in the way.

I quickly learned that the most important piece of furniture in my homeschool is the couch (or a comfy chair, as the kids get older and spread out).  The most important resources are those the kids love--good books, online resources, good people we know, and most of all, the great outdoors.  I began collecting real books, and gave the school books away.

The oldest child is always the guinea pig, suffering through all of the mistakes.  Fortunately, my oldest was also my best teacher, and she frequently let me know what wasn't working.  The others followed, each with his own way of learning.  These were lessons for me, and I was quickly learning that learning happens all the time, to all of us.

I always never fail to learn from the kids.  Usually.

A friend once asked T* how he learned geography.  He replied, "I have maps on my walls, and I look at them."  This year, on his way to college, he did most of the driving and all the navigation between here and California.  We never had a lesson on "how to get across the country" or even, "Which way is California?"  The same boy, at 17, planned and executed a three-day solo bike ride up the Hudson River Valley, passing through Manhattan, over bridges, and even sleeping outside, completely on his own (though he was aided and greeted at his destination--he is blessed to have good friends in far-away places!!).

Corollary:  We never always know what are kids are capable of doing unless we let them try.

That is not to say that lessons always never happen.  Sometimes a kid needs help with learning to read (but we don't have to do reading daily at 9am), or learning to measure (why not do that while baking a cake?), or  with visualizing glacial geology (time for a hike!).  As my kids can tell, you, I can certainly lecture when necessary. I try not to bore, and I pray I am successful.

So, when the bells ring in the school yard a few blocks away, we won't jump to our books. For us, there is no first day of school. We don't have to start learning, because we never stop; we are always learning.  And somewhere, between always and never, the kids grow up, find their own way, and their own interests...and leave for college.

I always hope they never forget they are learning all the time.

*Quick disclaimer:  T did go to high school.  I have not held that against him, nor does that preclude him from being a homeschooler...once a homeschooler, always never not a homeschooler.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Clucking in Church

We walked into the chapel at TAC for a look and a prayer.  There was one student kneeling in a pew, and the three of us, T, L and I, instinctively sat on the other side so as not to disturb her.  We chose a pew in the Catholic way...not too close, but not too far, and knelt for our own silent prayers....

I think I heard the other person leave.

Suddenly, in the quiet of that place, I got an urge.  Oh, I tried to suppress it, I really did, but the desire grew in my mind.  In that very silent space, hearing nothing but the sound of my silly mind, I had the urge to make a clucking sound with my know,  just to test the acoustics.  I am sure you will all be happy to hear...

I resisted.

Suddenly, next to me (and I won't say which of my offspring it was who did it), I heard a "cluck."

The chapel has great acoustics.

Angelic guardians of the acoustics.
I hope the confessionals are soundproofed.