Friday, October 30, 2009

Look who's 7!

We celebrated my middle son's seventh birthday yesterday...

He wanted to spend his birthday afternoon at the park with a few friends and my homemade (read: ugly!) vegan chocolate cake. Nothing fancy. Nothing Halloween-ish. (Although we did bob for apples, 'cause that's just good fall fun.)

Having a birthday two days before a popular holiday has its challenges. October is so full of activities, and my energy wanes toward the end of it, so I always feel like I haven't made a big enough deal about the birthday.

But he thought it was just right. Simple, sweet, and fun.

That's my boy. Getting so grown up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall farm fun!

Our local family-friendly farm has gone all out this year with their "Octoberfest" activities. The whole farm has become a playground!

We started with the hayride out to the pumpkin patch, visited the petting zoo, found our way through the spider maze, raced around the ant hill, rode the wooden ponies, got put in the stocks under the Boo Berry tent, and watched the pig races.

We missed the asparagus maze because we were hot and starving by that time and ready to head to the shade of the picnic area for lunch!

Some of us wanted to stay forever! ;)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Scarecrow's Dance

"An autumn eve,
the moon was high,
As yellow as
A black cat's eye.

Out in the field,
Stiff and forlorn,
The scarecrow stood
And watched the corn."

--The Scarecrow's Dance, by Jane Yolen
In preparation for today's visit to the pumpkin patch and corn maze at a local farm, an employee dropped off a frame to use to make a scarecrow -- so the kids could dress him and take him on the hayride with us.

Sadly, our friends who helped us make the scarecrow didn't make it on the field trip today, but the result of their efforts is standing tall in the pumpkin patch now!

"With one great leap--
High, high, and higher
Than any dancer
Could admire,

Slid back onto
His wooden pole,
Which--tall and straight--
Just fit his soul.

'For anyone can dance,'
Thought he,
'But only I
Can keep fields free."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Boo at the Zoo

Trick-or-treating at the California Living Museum is an annual tradition around here. Sometimes the kids dress up, sometimes it's too hot, but it's always fun!

(They were supposed to sit next to the scarecrow, but you know how it goes... apparently they got him confused with Santa. ;)

Docents brought out some our favorite "scary" critters, including a tarantula...

A Great Horned Owl large enough to eat skunks, porcupines, or your neighborhood kitten...

A California Kingsnake, which resembles a coral snake, but is not venomous. "Red next to yellow can harm a fellow, red next to black is a friend to Jack"...

And a common gopher snake, also nonvenomous and highly valued for keeping the rodent population under control...

As we walked around the zoo, the kids played games like pumpkin bowling...

And others, collecting candy and prizes along the way (everyone won, of course!)...

And generally had a grand ol' time!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Nature Table: An autumn hike

On Monday we headed to Tehachapi for our first nature hike of the season.

It was cool and blustery when we arrived, and I forgot our jackets. It had been 85 degrees at home the day before! Thankfully our sweet friends had some to share.

Up on the trail, we were blocked from the wind, and by the time we reached the top of the hill, everyone had stripped off their sweatshirts.

We took along paper and pencils to do some tree bark rubbings, collected leaves of all different colors, snacked on rosehips from wild roses, admired the work of wasps in the oaks, and generally enjoyed the beautiful day.

Don't these look like happy kids?!

For more Friday Nature Table, visit the The Magic Onions. She has some wonderful Halloween and fall crafts posted!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A monster bash!

How can you not love October?!

The changing weather finally relieving us from the stifling heat of summer... harvesttime filling our kitchens with beautiful produce... county fairs... fall colors on the trees... apple-picking... pumpkin patches... monsters!

We were invited to a Monster Bash yesterday, and my friend Becky thought of every delicious detail. We had Monster Mouths and Monster Fingers...

Monster Bones with monster blood...

We drank Swamp Juice with jiggly worms and squishy fish...

For dessert we ate yummy Brain Cakes, but unfortunately I forgot to get a picture! (They looked a little like pumpkin-carrot muffins with squiggly orange cream-cheese frosting. ;)

I brought apples for the kids to transfigure into Shrunken Heads...

(If the idea of hanging shrunken heads is unappealing, you could make these dolls instead.)

After that, our little monster-eaters ran around making up murder mysteries, playing the Wii (of course), and even... reading to each other.

I found two wonderfully-illustrated books at the library for the occasion: "The Bones of Fred McFee" by Eve Bunting, and "The Scarecrow's Dance" by Jane Yolen.

More on the scarecrow theme later... But what a fun day we had!

What are you doing to celebrate fall?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doh! I've been reading instead of blogging.

Well, goodness.

Thank you all for your thoughtful, encouraging words on my last post. I really do feel supported by kindred spirits -- especially since my followers list is quickly creeping up to the 100th person mark!

I feel like I should have a giveaway in honor of the occasion to thank you for bothering to keep up with me! (And to make up for not posting in over a week -- sheesh!) And, what should I give away?

Why, a book, of course! ('Cause I really can't think of anything better.) Which book, I have no idea yet. But may I tell you what I've been reading while I've been neglecting the blog?

From this week's stack:
  • For the Children's Sake: Foundations for Life and Home, by Susan Schaeffer Macauley. Oh, this was SUCH a lovely book. Macauley beautifully describes Charlotte Mason's gentle, balanced, respectful and absolutely Christian approach to parenting and educating children. Find it, and read it now!
"But what is more important than all, God is no longer the God of one tiny piece of matter which we call the Earth; He is the Creator of millions of stars stretching away into the remotest depths of space. In such proportion as the modern astronomers have enriched our conception of 'heaven and earth' beyond that of the Hebrews, by so much should our generation have increased our conception of the greatness of God."
  • The History of the Ancient World, by Susan Wise Bauer. I've been recently bothered by the gaping hole in my head when it comes to knowledge of history. So, after we checked out Bauer's Story of the World on CD from the library a month ago, I decided to request the grown-up version, too. I'm working through it very slowly, but it's really fascinating.
  • Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World, by Katharine Beals, PhD. Yeah, you read that right. Maybe you've heard of Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World? Well, I suppose what kind of world it is depends on whose brain is making the observations! Beals' premise is that traditional left-brain methods of teaching are being replaced by more right-brained methods, particularly group work, oral participation requirements, and hands-on activities, which pose challenges for smart, introverted, left-brained kids with bad handwriting who would otherwise do well in school.
I could relate to much of what she said from my own experience in grammar school, even though that was 25 years ago. I was often confused by my literal interpretation of badly written test or homework questions; I was marked down on math homework for "not showing my work" even though the answers were all correct; I was frustrated by open-ended projects. And I don't even consider myself extremely left-brained. I could see much more of my husband in this book.

The author, on the other hand, is an extreme left-brainer who makes her points quite clearly, but does not hide her disdain for right-brained educational theories, including project-based learning and non-academic "discovery-oriented" methods! (This, I found highly amusing in my own quirky way.)

I'm sure which kind of teaching happens in a classroom varies quite widely, and probably both books address important issues. I think it's likely that my kids are more left-brained than right, but I'm not sure the line is drawn perfectly straight. Eldest and I are quite visual, we just don't care to express our thoughts in two-dimensional images. Mainly what I took from this book was affirmation that structure and sequential, direct instruction are perfectly appropriate for certain types of thinkers. Surprise, surprise!
Alright, enough blabbing from me tonight. Maybe I'll get to post what the boys are reading before another week goes by!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I've been pondering this month

"Research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am doing."

--Wernher Von Braun

Hmm. Maybe it's time for a vote.

I've been told by a good friend whom I happened to help convert to unschooling that I'm no longer an unschooler.

And really, I should be okay with that. I completely related to Tammy's post on the subject. I haven't participated in unschooling lists in forever. That was partially because lists are difficult to keep up with, and I prefer blogs.

And it was partially because I got tired of the way radical unschoolers so often tried to school the non-unschoolers in the correct ways of unschooling -- Sheesh! Unfortunately, I myself was guilty of that -- especially early on, when I had only two children, and they were far from school age. It's easy not to worry when the expectations are still so low!

I get it, I do. (I think I do.) I certainly don't want to discourage anyone who's reading and new to unschooling from continuing on that path. I'm not about to sit my kids down and say, "Okay, I've decided you need to learn this and this, and we're going to sit here every day until that's done. Even if we're both crying."

I don't think it's that black and white. It's not an either-or. You're not either following the path of Unschooling Enlightenment or on the road to Homeschool Hell.

Radical unschoolers have bad days, too. And non-unschooling homeschoolers can also experience joy and freedom in their choices.

(How convoluted these labels have become.)

We all have to figure out what works for our families. We all have to come to terms with our fears. Whether it's being so afraid of our kids not learning what they need that we coerce them until we're all miserable, or being so afraid of making a parenting mistake that we're unable to lead when our children need leadership.

Don't all parents start out with one foot in a place of Worry and the other in a place of Hope? Aren't all homeschoolers making sacrifices and taking a risk by jumping off the schoolbus while it's barreling down our culture's road? (Whether you're on the bus or running next to it, the road is full of holes.)

I sincerely believe that the Lord led me to the philosophy of unschooling to keep me from falling into patterns of perfectionism and control, and burdening my children with unreasonable expectations. We needed to experience the freedom of natural learning.
"There are a myriad of ways to learn about something. Rather than handing these things over to our children as a fait accompli, we want them to discover them on their own.

You’ve heard about slow food; this is slow learning. If you bring your child 20 books from the library, then announce a trip to the museum on Friday, you may succeed in getting done sooner.

But if you let your child go to the library and talk to the librarian about how to find books, let your child decide which books look like they have the best information ... well, it’s going to take a lot longer. But they are learning all the while."

--Camp Creek Blog

Unschooling gave us time. Time to explore without pressure of performance. Time to grow and mature at our own speed. We learned a lot on that path.

Oh, but it can be slow! And some of us are impatient and want to see proof. We don't want to take chances with our children's education. Trust is so difficult. I know it is only by God's grace that I made it as far as I did without worrying about the boys learning to read. But it happened. It worked.

The thing is, I have things to learn from other educational philosophies as well. I think wherever this homeschooling journey takes us, I will always be an unschooler at heart. I just can't guarantee it will look like it.

"...Education is a *life* as well as a discipline. Health, strength, and agility, bright eyes, and alert movements, come of a free life, out-of-doors, if it may be, and as for habits, there is no habit or power so useful to man or woman as that of personal initiative. The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer's day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother's part, but of much masterly inactivity."

--Charlotte Mason

That, to me, sounds like the heart of unschooling. There is certainly a difference between the philosophies, but I know I'm not alone in appreciating them both, and wanting to integrate methods somehow.

"Can you still be an unschooler if you make a plan? I think so, especially if those plans are based on the student's desires, made with their consent, and open to change. That's how we operate as human beings. We have hopes and dreams, and whether we realize it or not, we move that direction. If the path takes twists and turns, we adapt, and sometimes we trade plans in for new ones. But we are forever moving forward, and what we do now effects our future."

--Jena at Yarns of the Heart

And so, I've been making plans, buying materials, trying to find a daily rhythm that flexes with the changing needs of our family. I'm excited to share all of this with you!

But I don't want to confuse anyone about where I'm coming from, or whom I'm following. It's not John Holt, Sandra Dodd, or even dear Charlotte. I'm still trying to follow Christ, and completely dependent on His mercy and grace to show me where to lead my children next -- even as they learn to follow Him themselves.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Modelling beeswax

A mama in our homeschooling group organized a co-op order of Waldorf modelling beeswax off Etsy recently, and of course I had to order some. We received it on Monday, but we were so busy this week I forgot about it until one of the boys found the box in my knitting bag late last night.

I woke up this morning to Eldest saying, "NOW can we get out the beeswax?!"

The colors are so lovely and inviting, we all wanted to dive right in. But one of the qualities of the wax is that it requires patience.

First, you cut the round into small quarter circles. Then you let them sit in a bowl of hot water for 10-15 minutes. (The instructions said 5-10, but that was definitely not enough.) The more patient you are, the easier it will be to work the wax.

It was helpful to keep a bowl of hot water and a towel on the table, so the wax would stay warm in between handlings. I needed to get the wax started before it was soft enough for their small hands to work with.

We spent over an hour exploring this new medium, so very different from my homemade playdough. The beeswax was not what the boys were expecting at first, but they slowly developed a fondness for creating with it.

Of course, I had visions of tiny woodland creatures dancing in my head -- and they had cacti and tombstones and bullets and anacondas in theirs.

But together we made a cute little mushroom (and cacti with a hat) forest, where Mr. and Mrs. Beeswax lived with their pet anaconda.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What our homeschooling has looked like lately...

Completely absorbed in dissecting owl pellets...

Discovering the joy of independent reading...

A creative solution for my dysgraphic math lover...

Learning alongside friends...

Lots of experimenting!

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