Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Arthur Rackham

Just thought I'd share this wisdom from Arthur Rackham, an illustrator of fantasy art that lived from 1867-1939.
"I can only say that I firmly believe in the greatest stimulating and educative power of imaginative, fantastic and playful pictures and writings for children in their most impressionable years - a view that most unfortunately, I consider, has it's opponents in these matter-of-fact days. Children will make no mistake in the way of confusing the imaginative and symbolic with the actual. Nor are they at all blind to decorative or arbitrarily designed treatment in art, any more than they are to poetic or rhythmic form in literature.
And it must be insisted on that nothing less than the best that can be had, cost what it may (and it can hardly be cheap), is good enough for those impressionable years when standards are formed for life. Any accepting, or even choosing, art or literature of a lower standard as good enough for children, is a disastrous and costly mistake."

Starting up the new school year

Wow. I haven't written or even checked in here all summer. I guess we've just been having too much fun. Summer has been full and beautiful. We had some days that were well over 100 degrees, which never happens in Anchorage, and while it's the natural inclination to complain, I knew better than that. I tried to enjoy it, knowing that I chose this. I'll take the few hot days in exchange for an extra 2 or even 3 months of summer compared to AK. March & April here felt like May in Anchorage. Here we are almost in September and it feels like July in Alaska. Woo-hoo! I am happy in my decision to leave Alaska. I miss it, and I miss my family horribly, but there will be a hard frost there within 2 weeks, and it won't happen here for another 2 MONTHS!!! Yes, doing a happy dance here, can't help it. :-)
I am currently reading, "Honey For a Child's Heart", and thoroughly enjoying it. I don't agree with everything the author, Gladys Hunt, writes, but so much of what she has to share resonates with me. It is a great book to inspire me as we start a new school year. I am so excited and ready to get back into the swing of homeschooling. Gil and I worked a lot this summer getting our ice cream business off the ground, and so we took the whole summer off of school work. I used to go back and forth in my belief of year-round school, sometimes doing some school work through the summer and taking longer breaks through-out the year, but this year I have absolutely loved taking time out to do whatever we felt like (and work!). I feel so much more ready to work hard on homeschooling now that we've had such a hearty break from it.
As to actually starting serious study, we have a sort of tradition, having done something similar since the beginning of our homeschool journey 8 years ago. Even when we did some "summer school", we always took August off. We have a big end-of-the-summer hurrah on Labor Day weekend and start homeschool the Tuesday after Labor Day. In Alaska we spent the entire weekend at the State Fair; this weekend we are going camping. Tuesday after Labor Day will start our "getting back to it" week. This week we have been talking about what we will be doing next week so the kids are prepped and are part of the planning.
Next week we will ALL together set up our study areas, put up maps, organize books and papers, and plan field trips and such. We will set goals and organize art supplies, packing away everything that will not be used this year.
We will do some copywork, one math lesson, and start a couple of our AO books. That's it.
More than likely we will be out berry picking some of those days!
On week 2, we will start our full load, or at least most of it. We won't start music lessons or some of the extra stuff until October. When it's a nice warm day out in September, I tend to say things like, "Forget schoolwork, let's go take a hike!" ;-) I don't like to be tied down too much.
BTW, the "planning and setting up week" was a cherished highlight of mine from gradeschool. I remember doing it in 4th grade with Ms. Price. Any wonder I loved 4th grade AND Ms. Price? She totally respected us, having us help her organize the classroom the way WE wanted. She was awesome.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

We made it!

It's been over a month since my last post, and what a month it has been!
It's been exciting, hectic, frightening at times, thrilling at others, and all-around traveling nuttiness. But, here we are, settled into a new home, bird-watching from the kitchen window and preparing real meals again.
We left Alaska on March 19th and flew into Seattle, where we stayed in a hotel for 3 days and played tourists. One of our main destinations was the Seattle Art Museum, where they had an exhibit of Roman art from the Louvre. It was amazing and well worth the trouble of getting there, part of which was parking 4 stories underground. Heights freak me out, but being that deep in the bowels of the earth, especially in a man-made parking garage, scared the crap out of me, I think even worse than being on the Space Needle. No, it's about equal. Of course I had to put on my happy face for the kids, but the whole parking garage thing rather sucked. Oh well, got over it as soon as we got off the elevator at ground level and I could breathe again. Phew!
We also went to the Science Fiction Museum (very cool) and the Experience Music Project (not as great as I expected).
Then there were the visits to the places we always have to go to in Seattle: Pike Place Market, Pacific Science Center (we've never had time for the Tropical Butterfly Exhibit, but we did this time, and it was very neat), Broadway, The Boardwalk, etc.
We also took the kids to Volunteer Park, which they hadn't been to before, so that was pretty cool. We have a favorite picture of Gil and I at an outdoor concert there in the summer of '92 when we were first together, and the kids were pretty impressed to see the actual setting of the picture.
I'm going to have to sign off now with that first trip installment, since it's late and I really need to get some rest.
Next post: Yakima with Katy's and Danny's families and the cabin in Cle Elum.
One more note though; Gil and I had our 15th year wedding anniversary yesterday. Just amazing that it's been that long and we are still very much in love. Wow. I feel very fortunate.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Spring is coming. You can feel it in the night air. The daytime still feels like winter, but in another week, we'll be in Seattle, where it really is spring.
The following quotes fit my mood and what I have been going through with this move.

"And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk to bloom." -Anais Nin

"In Endymion, I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice." - John Keats

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How Do You Do History?

A few days ago someone on the AO list asked, "How do you do history?"

Since I adore learning about history, I had to answer and thought it would be nice to add my response here at the Woods. What follows is slightly altered, but I changed very little:

My children are 7 & 11 and we are doing Y2. My kids are retaining a lot of what they are learning (they tell dad all about The Little Duke, AIS monarchs and battles, etc. and we talk about these historical people and events in conversations throughout the day), so while I am far from a perfect teacher, I think we are doing something right, at least in the history dept. ;-)

We do three main things:

1) read the selections from AO, and they take turns narrating.

2) draw or print a picture from the Internet and place it on our timeline(s).

3) point out on our map(s) where the events occurred.

Now the details; for the reading, I follow the AO weekly guidelines and for history, we always do narration. We read a full chapter of Our Island Story at a time, for The Little Duke we read anywhere from 3 pages to nearly a chapter at a time. We finished the D'Aulaire books; Leif the Lucky and Columbus, and read some from This Country Of Ours (TCOO). We are also reading Story of Mankind (SoM), but I'm finding some parts hard to follow myself and not getting the best narrations, so we may switch to Child's History of the World (CHOW) and perhaps read SoM later. My 11yo is really interested in the U.S. Revolutionary war, so I may let him read those chapters in TCOO now. He's read books about Paul Revere, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others. The timeline really helps when you jump around in history like that. A child might be able to figure it out in their mind, but I believe it helps to see it chronologically. For the timeline, there are countless ways to do this. I took a long piece of freezer paper (see pics above) and made tick marks every 100 years 2 inches apart, starting at 3000 BC and ending at 2010 (I'll add more paper later or make a new timeline). I got the instructions here:

I have seen other really neat ideas like the moms who tack a string to the wall and add cards with the different events/people with paperclips or clothespins. Here are pictures from a really neat blog: http://higherupandfurtherin.blogspot.com/2006/12/our-historical-wall-timeline.html

One benefit of this style is the ability to add and take away, however, we've not run out of space on ours yet. I like having one large timeline and making other smaller ones for specific periods or countries. I know a lot of families make a "Book of Centuries" and I'd like to do something like that in addition to the timeline here in the near future. The reason I want to add something else is that my boys and I really like the animal lapbooks they've made and I thought it might be neat for them to keep personal little notes (written narrations) and drawings about history in book form. I made some little books when I was in school and I still have and treasure them. They were tagboard covered in pretty wallpaper with blank paper stapled inside. So simple, but I thought it was the neatest thing when I was a kid. I'd really like to learn how to bind books, so I figured what a perfect way to learn; by making our own little history remembrance books.

We also have a vertical timeline of British Monarchs, made just like our other timeline, but done vertically, for no other reason than I wanted to do it differently than the main one. I had read that idea on Susan's website. We are pasting up a picture and description of each monarch as we go along in OIS. We have done an inventor/invention one and will do a US history one like it. If we stick with SoM, I'm going to do a special one just for it, so I can keep all those characters straight! For the mapwork, we have a large world map on the wall that is laminated so we can make little pictures of boats, people, castles, or whatever and tape them up and move them around. We had such fun moving Paddle (from Paddle to the Sea) along on his journey last year. We also have the Blackline Maps from Knowledge Quest found here: http://knowledgequestmaps.com/

We pull out the specific area we are studying and tack them up on the wall next to the dining table (also our study area). The drawings are simple and can be easily copied into a BOC if you'd like. I think it's good to have children hand draw maps. We also have a large US map and it's good to have one of the state/province you are living in.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Moose tracks in the snow!

I'm not a huge fan of cold and snow, but I do try to "bloom where I'm planted" and I'm an avid believer in getting outdoors and breathing fresh air. I'm one of those strange types that actually enjoy shoveling for the exercise and outdoors aspect, and take great pride in trimming up the edges and doing a nice job. I always make specific hills the kids can play on (they do help shovel, too) and every year, I help the kids build at least one fort and tunnel, sometimes more.

I try to appreciate the snow and now I have another reason - animal tracks! We have been aware of tracks for years and have often noticed bird tracks and the tell tale moose droppings, but I'm not sure we were ever able to put together a story quite like we did these past few days.

Last week we put up a bird feeder in the middle of the woods out back, so we could be sneaky in our bird watching, which was quite fruitful (we got a lot of action out there) until we went out Sunday and most of the bird seed was scattered all over the ground. The feeder was still hanging there, and we were left wondering for a minute until Ealom noticed some funky tracks in the snow. Apparently a moose had wandered along our forest path and thought the seeds might be tasty. We followed the tracks back towards the house and discovered that there were actually two trails next to each other with one being smaller - a mama and baby! How exciting! Well, yesterday we were coming back from our walk out to the feeder and noticed that the moose tracks went over toward the yard, which we hadn't noticed the day before. The boys were running all over the yard following where the mama had walked around the snow people and snow horses without stepping on them and they saw where she did her business. Then they found the baby tracks and saw that it had walked around their snow fort without stepping on it either (but Aidan was disappointed that it hadn't gone inside). :-) Then we followed the tracks out the other side of the yard and saw where baby did it's business. The boys were quite impressed with how small baby's little nuggets were compared to mama's.

We all found a new appreciation for the snow, as we would've missed so much of the story if the snow weren't there to help us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Parable of the Seed

One thing I’ve heard lately, and the other I’ve read, have given me pause to think on destiny, on the potential of the human being. Last night as I was driving, I heard a small snippet of a talk show, where a man named Muhammad Yunus was being interviewed. Mr Yunus received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work bringing micro-loans to people living in poverty in Bangladesh. My destination was only five minutes from home so unfortunately I didn't hear much, but the small bit I did hear was truly profound. His story is long and one can easily look up his info on the web, so I will only say what I heard. Over 30 years ago, he spoke with a banker about loaning money to the poor to help them to go to school, to start businesses, and so forth. This banker told him that you don’t loan money to the poor, they won’t repay, they are born poor, and they will always be poor. Mr. Yunus he set out to effect change. He told a little story about a seed. He said, “People are like seeds; if you take a perfect Bonsai seed and plant it in a flower pot, it will grow to perhaps a meter, then it will stop.” The attitude of the people in his country would be to blame the seed, to say something must have been wrong with it, but there was nothing wrong with the seed, it was perfectly good. It just could not grow because of the pot it was in. If it were to be planted in a forest, it would grow to immense height and be beautiful. He went on, “It is the same with people; these bonds of poverty are like the flower pot, keeping the poor from ever becoming their full potential.” I wish I could repeat what he said with as much eloquence. He talked about the human potential, and how the person born on the street and the person born in a palace are equally smart, equally with the potential to create and become something wonderful. The end of his story was that he started a bank to loan money to the poor, and there are now 7 million borrowers, among them doctors and engineers, whose parents and grandparents were illiterate, never expected to become anybody worthwhile. He talked about how poverty is man-made, that humans all have incredible potential within themselves, it is governments and rulers who keep people down. There is a great desire to have a peasant class, a slave class. We Americans are no better. We want our cheap goods, our $100 TVs, our $5 t-shirts. Sad, really sad, considering that we should know better.
This morning as I read Lés Miserables, this idea came again. Here is the passage:
“(England) believes in hereditary right, in hierarchy. This people, surpassed by none in might and glory, values itself as a nation, not as a people. So much so that as a people, they subordinate themselves willingly, and take a Lord for a head. Workmen, they submit to being scorned; soldiers, they submit to whippings. We remember that at the battle of Inkerman a sergeant who, so it seems, had saved the army, could not be mentioned by Lord Raglan, since the English military hierarchy did not permit any hero below the rank of officer to be mentioned in a report.”
This reminded me of my sister who, while living in London 150 years after Hugo wrote that last passage, bought for herself an expensive pair of shoes. Her roommate was appalled and told my sister that she should not be wearing those shoes, as they were above her station in life. As completely foreign as this idea is to so many of us in the USA, it made absolute sense to this Briton, for whom you are born in a certain class and there you stay. It is worth noting that although there is much in that British hierarchy way of thinking, which still in these days holds the Queen and the wealthy in the highest regard, there is also much progressive thought that comes out of England. I am reminded of Charlotte Mason and her belief that, “Children are born persons”. In that simple statement is a really huge thought, a completely new and different approach to viewing humanity. With the proper (equal) treatment and support, all people, like seeds, can grow to their full potential. I am indeed humbled and honored to be the caretaker of two little “seeds” myself, and I must see to it that they receive all the nourishment they deserve. A lofty responsibility indeed, being a homeschooling mom, lofty indeed.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thoughts on Les Mis

From pg. 53 – “His universal tenderness was less an instinct of nature than the result of a strong conviction filtered through life into his heart, slowly dropping into him, thought by thought; for a character, as well as a rock, may have holes worn into it by drops of water. Such marks are ineffaceable; such formations are indestructible.”

This passage is prefaced with the fact that Monseigneur Bienvenu had previously been a violent man, and yet now, wouldn’t even step on a spider, he’s become so refined. I appreciated these thoughts on the formation of character and how even being born with or learning to have a violent nature can be changed into goodness and patience with small changes in habit, daily “drops of water”, if you will.

pg. 55 – “Was this narrow enclosure with the sky for a background not space enough for him to adore God in his most beautiful, most sublime works? Indeed, is that not everything? What more do you need? A little garden to walk in, and immensity to reflect on. At his feet something to cultivate and gather, above his head something to study and meditate on, a few flowers on earth, and all the stars in heaven.”

This beautiful passage reminded me of how little we really need to live a fulfilling life. People are so busy filling their lives up with useless junk, they have no space to till a little spot of earth, and so busy filling up their days with needless activities, they no longer have the time to contemplate. We are so busy seeking something, anything to entertain us, it is now seen as something deplorable to just sit and ponder. How many times have I heard someone say they are bored? What? Because you are no longer being entertained? I am never bored, I have my parents to thank for teaching me that reflection is a virtue, that solitude is sublime.
There is this constant message, especially from the public school institutions that humans, especially children, must have specific socialization, must have their hours filled with “something to do.” What a sad state of affairs when every moment must be planned, every spark of impulse and creativity vanquished! I remember many lovely hours spent outdoors, lying in the tall grass looking up at the clouds in the sky, or sitting up in a tall tree looking out over the landscape, just thinking. These are precious memories and little did I know at the time, moments spent forming character, learning the appreciation and wonder of nature.
Children nowadays are expected to be “properly socialized”. What does this mean? It means that our society thinks it beneficial for a child to be subjected to 6 ½ hours of dull education with the influence of 20-30 other children of the same age who’s values and ideas are generally not in accordance with our own. It’s thought to be good for them to have the influence of as many people as possible, no matter the moral values of those people. We as a society have forgotten how little we need, how excess is actually detrimental, how beneficial solitude is, how children can grow in strength and character with only the influence of family and community, how there is no need for formal so-called socialization.
I wish I could remember the exact words from the "Tao of Motherhood" by Vimala McClure, where she writes about simplicity. It was something to the effect of, "the more things we buy for our children, the more space we put between them and us." I totally botched that, I'm sure, but it struck me and continues to reverberate in my mind when I look around and see how much excess stuff we have, and how as soon as we get rid of things (workbooks!) or unneccessary classes or whatever, how relieved we feel, how much smoother life flows.
Successful homeschooling comes from simplicity, keeping things real. I've totally rambled off track now. :-) I better go pull some boys away from Legos and to their copywork.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On Les Misérables and Reading Only the Best

I am finally reading Les Misérables, having decided to do so well over two years ago at the behest of my mother. I’ve seen the movie version with Liam Neeson, which was arguably a decent movie, and read a highly abridged adaptation, so I’m familiar enough with the story, but oh! the richness of Victor Hugo’s writing! If only I could read his original French version, but alas, I’m sadly monolingual. Sigh… I am reading the unabridged translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee based on the classic C.E. Wilbour translation, and I’ve been told they do Mr. Hugo justice, so I can only trust that they do.
When I first took up the book to read, I observed that there were some 1463 pages. I figured that if I were to read roughly 10 pages per day, it would take me nearly 5 months (!!!) to read. This train of thought led me to ponder on how many (adult classical) books I could possibly read in the time I have left on this earth. Oh dear! Obviously, I could poof out of existence at any moment, however, even living to the ripe old age of 90 and taking into account that most books aren’t as long as Les Misérables, most being even 75% less, I could read an average of 8 books per year. Since I am 37, that leaves me able to read, gulp, 424 books. There are so many more!
Now, some days I read a lot more than 10 pages, some days less, and this is just me figuring in my current novel. Besides that, I read countless pages of classic literature to my children, pre-read books for my children’s personal reading, I often read and study the writings of Charlotte Mason and also the wonderful books based on her teachings (Penny Gardener, Karen Andreola, etc.), I am studying the mechanics of building a cordwood/cob home, I read magazines and internet articles about design, cooking, teaching, handicrafts, gardening, health, religion, faith, and more, not to mention e-mails and yahoo groups (which I’m trying to keep to a minimum-it’s SO hard!).
Another consideration is the idea of only reading 10 pages per day of a particular work of literature. Why not read more? Like I mentioned earlier, some days I do, however, this is an average, and I am not a fast reader when it comes to the classics. I can read a good, but fairly twaddly book in a considerably short amount of time, but I love more thoroughly getting to know the story and characters in classics by taking it slower, really appreciating what’s being read, pondering the ideas. Charlotte Mason was a big proponent of this type of reading, as others have been also. Victor Hugo spent nearly 15 years writing Les Misérables, why should I plow through it in a rush?
I could read faster and more hurried to “get through” as many classics as possible, but that’s not the point. There are pages I’ll never turn, I accept that. I read slowly on purpose. I have to accept that I’d rather savor 10 books than put quick checkmarks next to a list of 100.
This leads me to two separate ideas; the first being that I have made a goal to write a review of each book I read. For a book like Les Mis, I will make periodic notes as I go along, writing down favorite passages, and I’ll be sure to post some of them here.
The second idea, or goal, if you will, is that I am simply not going to waste my reading time. I have been a proponent of avoiding twaddle for several years now, but every so often (more than I care to admit!) I find myself reading pointless newspaper articles, junk mail, catalogs, etc. I am not going to limit myself to only classic literature just the same as I am not going to go through life only eating ice cream. Magazines and the like are relaxing and require very little of me and I think we all need that at times; just not too often. There are good reading choices, better ones, and then there are the best. I read a lot and since I have it within my power to choose from the latter group, I am resolved to be more discerning in my choice of literature.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Expanded intro and philosophy

I homeschool my children following the ideals of Charlotte Mason, and of course, enjoy the bountiful style of education her methods provide. I absolutely love teaching and learning with my children. We’re all doodlers, writers, and weather-watchers, but are just learning to sketch still life and keep formal nature notebooks; we all absolutely love it!
I also enjoy studying history, reading great literature on a variety of subjects, writing, gardening, wildcrafting, cooking, baking, canning, and doing pretty much anything with my hands from knitting, sewing, and felting to building furniture and tree houses.
Some day my husband and I hope to build our own home using the cordwood method.
I love to hike and take walks, and I also try to find time to ice skate, swim, and in the summer, bike. It’s imperative that we have daily doses of fresh air and exercise. Keeping our bodies healthy with proper nutrition and exercise is extremely important to me. Whole, organically grown foods and daily walks “through the woods” are as important to me as what we are learning academically.
I feel a great responsibility to provide ample opportunities for my children to build strong relationships with their family, other people, and the world around them.
Children (and all people!) should have access to the best ideas, literature, music, science, art, etc. available.
It has been said that “Education is the science of relations.” Humankind has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts; I feel it is our responsibility as parents to provide the best that life has to offer to enable our children to make sense of these relations. It is said that an educated adult, when presented with new information or ideas, will already know something with which to connect the new knowledge.
We are fellow students of life with our children, and as such, I do not pretend to be the sole source of all information, rather, I try to share as much as I know and give my children the inspiration and tools to discover more on their own.
It is the ultimate responsibility of the parent-teacher to raise children who have developed a love for learning, a desire for knowledge, and the skills to pursue these independently.