Tag Archives: exploration

Pigeon Milk

A few months ago, Alex and I had a disagreement.  He asked what baby pigeons eat and I told him they eat bugs and such. He disagreed and told me they eat milk as babies. I calmly explained that, no- birds are not mammals and only mammals produce milk for their young. He said he’d seen on a nature show that baby pigeons eat milk. I explained that he’d misunderstood- birds are not mammals and only mammals make milk. He insisted that baby pigeons eat milk. So, I said that he misunderstood and just let it go without further exploring the idea since I knew I was right (bad homeschool mommy!). Even though he was willing to drop it, I knew he still believed that pigeons make and drink milk.

Alex was right. Pigeons make and eat milk.

I recently saw this on Facebook:

 

 

And it got me thinking… the teacher above (if this isn’t just a mock-up to make a point) wants the student to be quiet and allow erroneous teaching, likely so the class can run smoothly. But the little boy refuses to allow an incorrect teaching to stand. He won’t allow the falsehood (intentional or mistaken) be left alone. I can imagine that the teacher felt the boy was being disrespectful, questioning his reasoning, his ability to think, his authority over the class even.

This picture made me think of that event with Alex- he’d insisted he was right about the pigeon milk. He knew what he’d seen- had been taught and had demonstrated before him- and he wasn’t willing to allow me to dissuade him…

In some ways, I guess it would be easy to have a pliable kid- really, Alex is generally pretty easy-going. But when I read the letter in the picture above and I remember that my son was willing to stand up for what he knew was right, it makes me feel good. I want my son to question. I want him to think independently and to take the sum of his knowledge and experience and to stand firm when he knows he’s right. There’s never a need for genuine disrespect (which I believe the teacher above is showing to his students)- disrespect is a failure to appreciate the imprint of God in others and to treat them without regard for that imprint. Questioning is not disrespect.

The flip side of that coin is humility. Alex needs to allow others to find their own path to Truth- he can’t spoon feed it (like pigeon milk) to others. Sometimes they have to find things out for themselves- like his mama did when I saw the nature program myself a few weeks later. Humility also demands that we question ourselves and our own understandings and beliefs when others challenge us. Instead of stubbornly sticking a point, humility allows us to ask the question again- even if our original answer is confirmed.

I hope that my son is gleaning from Brian and I the ability to stand firm, to allows others room for their own exploration and the ability to graciously accept correction when we are wrong. I hope these are the kinds of lessons that my kids are getting from us- their imperfect teachers and parents.

But I am really proud that Alex stood his ground. And pigeons make milk- who knew!?!

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Poetry Surprise

As you know, we are currently doing an informal Year 0 since Alex is in Kindergarten. One of the topics I’ve been so excited to broach with my kiddos is poetry. As suggested, we began Term I with Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander. The kids seemed… tolerant… of the poems. Sometimes they expressed enjoyment, but mostly the words seemed to wash over them and- as Alex is too young to require narration- I’d just let it lie. I knew the words, the rhythm and some of the images were working their way into his mind…

Term II brought us A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The children did not connect *at all* with the poems in this book. I’d find one that seemed really delightful and would read it several times over a few days hoping for a spark of interest- nuthin’.

Well, I deviated from the recommended Year 0 selections for Term III. But, as a dear friend reminded me when I dithered about using an ‘unapproved’ book, this is *our* education we’re giving to *our* children. It’s ok to make a substitution to include a selection that is particularly meaningful to us.

And so we began Term III Poetry using Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know what others think of this poetry collection as far as meeting dear Charlotte’s criteria for living books. It is written by a single author who is passionate about his subjects. But his tone is markedly different from the other poetry we’ve read. It’s… saucy. It’s clever. It explores the magic of the everyday and reveals the character of children in a way I haven’t seen in any other poetry.

But my favorite- my absolute favorite- thing about the poems in WTSE is the way they promote the endless possibilities that are available to us in life.

Consider the poem my kiddos are memorizing this Term:

 The Invitation

If you’re a dreamer, come in.

If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean buyer

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire.

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!

Ok folks, when I read this poem to Alex and Fae, their eyes grew round as saucers and they held stock-still. My whispery, conspiratal delivery invited them into to the world Silverstein has created that delights in children and understands both their wonder of the world and their sometimes less-than-perfect behaviors. It’s been only a few weeks and we reread this poem every day. The kids enjoy it so much, that even Fae- who is TWO- almost has it memorized. She recites it to me before she falls to sleep at night.

A few days later, we read this selection:

Listen to the Mustn’ts

Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the dont’s.

Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.

Listen to the never haves, and then listen close to me…

Anything can happen, child, anything can be.

This is poetry to inspire and to amuse. Yesterday, we read The Farmer and the Queen:

“She’s coming,” the farmer said to the owl.

“Oh, what shall I, what shall I do?

Shall I bow when she comes?

Shall I twiddle my thumbs?”

The owl asked, “Who?”

“The Queen, the Queen, the royal Queen,

She’ll pass the farm today.

Shall I salute?” he asked the horse.

The horse said, “Nay.”

“Shall I give her a gift?” he asked the wren.

“A lovely memento for her to keep?

An egg or a peach or an ear of corn?”

The wren said, “Cheap.”

“But should I curtsy or should I cheer?

Oh, here’s her carriage now.

What should I do?” he asked the dog.

The dog said, “Bow.”

And so he did, and so she passed,

Oh, tra lala lala,

“She smiled, she did!” he told the sheep.

The sheep said, “Bah.”

Alex is IN LOVE with this poem. He asked me to read it to him about eight times yesterday. He does all the animal responses (in funny voices, of course) while I read the main text.

And this is what makes me love WTSE most of all. My kids are anxious to hear the next poem. They are engaged with the images, the stories, the ideas. They are having a conversation with Silverstein himself and are sharing a view of the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to any poetry we will read in the future.

My kids beg for poetry. That’s pretty awesome.

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Family Reading: Lions and Spiders and Bears, Oh My!

Ok, so this is a quickie post. Between the holidays, my computer breaking (fie on you, fan motor!) and being on call for my job (as a doula) I’ve had almost no time to work on the second part of my 20 Principals post as I’d wanted. But that’s coming soon! (Really!)

I thought I’d quickly share the books that my family has used as read alouds since last summer. We just began ‘formally’ schooling Alex in September, but we’ve been doing family read alouds… well, forever! However, we transferred to real chapter books which have a story that is carried between chapters in August or so- so I’ll count these.

1. Edgrr, The Bear Who Wanted to be Real, by Alexandra Kurland.

This was cute. The story tells of a toy shop group of bears who find themselves out on an adventure. The father-figure bear, Kenyon, tries to take an unruly bear, Edgrr, in hand. Edgrr has a harrowing experience in the woods when he attempts to be a real bear and he learns the value of being ‘home’.  My kiddos enjoyed this and it certainly qualifies as a living book in my eyes as the language is not at all dumbed down.

2. Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne.

A no-brainer. These books are whimsical, funny and gentle. My son laughed out loud several times and both of my children now have a special place in their hearts for the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood. My advice is to read the first few stories to yourself first so you can get an idea of the pacing and sentance structure. It threw me for a loop for the first couple of stories, but once I understood the cadence of the language and syntax, it made for wonderful, lively reading. If you are anything like me, you WILL cry at the end of The House at Pooh Corner when Christopher Robin gets ready to leave for boarding school (sniff!!)

3. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.

Another excellent book. My son loved this and was able to remember details from the book much more clearly than we expected. Funny and sad all at once- wonderful coming-of-age, circle-of-life feel.

4. A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond.

This one I purchased at my local library’s ongoing book sale and then searched around Ambleside to see if it was recommended. I turned up nothing so decided I’d best just plunge ahead- and it was wonderful! Again, intelligent language and humorous adventures of an adorable, marmalade-loving bear from darkest Peru (who knew!). The way Paddington misinterprets everyday circumstances had me in stitches and I was totally delighted whenever Paddington gave someone a ‘hard stare’. Great book- can’t wait to read it again when Fae is older.

5. The Little Bear Treasury, by Else Minarik.

Lovely drawings, whimsical stories, but in all honesty it was a step down for us. By this summer, I expect that Alex will be able to read this book on his own, so it just felt too simplistic for our read alouds. The children both listened intently, but the chapters ended so quickly and with such little drama, I think they, too, wanted ‘more’. Ah well, a lesson for me- stick to books that are labeled for children aged 8 to 12 and we’ll have just the right level for my 5 and 2 year old for our read alouds (lol!).

6. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.

Yes, dear Reader, I have initiated my children into the wonder that is Narnia. I sat in my bed with my children snuggled around me and read the first line: “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.” and immediately started crying and couldn’t continue reading for a few minutes (grin). You see, the Chronicles embody everything I hope to pass on to my children- imagination, intelligence, adventure, goodness, justice and a heart that longs after Aslan/Jesus (to me, Aslan is a fictional Jesus in Lion form). I deocrated my childrens’ nursery in the Chronicles complete with full-sized lamppost nightlight and pencil drawn/pastel colored reproductions of the pictures from the original books. I hung a banner with a picture of a castle and underneath I hand-stenciled ‘Cair Paravel’. A framed parchment map of Narnia set on one wall and a framed pencil drawing of Aslan’s face rests above a reminder that ‘he’s not a tame lion’… Sigh… So much of my soul resonates with the simplicty of Narnia and I’m now sharing this beautiful story with my children. If you haven’t read them, start with LWW- read them in the order they were published (not in Narnia-chronological order). You have to discover Narnia just as Lewis himself did!

So it’s been about four days that we’ve been reading LWW and both kids simply love it. My son has already been making comments (unsolicited!) about how the witch was tricking Edmund and how he wasn’t nice to his sister, Lucy. He’s listening and the ‘moral’ of this story is going to deeply impress him (thank you, Lord!!) He will hear the gospel message here- sin has us frozen, sin corrupts us, but JESUS is our hope and our salvation and He has a wonderful plan for us!

A note: we actually own this Easton Press copy of The Chronicles of Narnia. This is also the first time my kiddos are getting to read from one of our ‘fancy’ books. How nice to have a special set of books as we share this special story!

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The Wonders of the Last Sea- exploring ‘narration’

A few weeks ago, we started our discussion of dear Charlotte’s teaching methods in a discussion about living books. To continue, let’s turn our attention to the second of Wikipedia’s methodologies- narration.

One of the most attractive attributes of a Masonian education is the lack of ‘busy work’. Busy work consists of all the many trifles that modern education insists upon to better drill a fact into a child’s head. A child reads a passage and then completes comprehension questions to show whether or not the child has understood. A math fact is learned and then is repeated ad nauseam in various ways just to be sure the child has really mastered the lesson. Busywork is all the things that the child is ‘put to’ to prove that the child has, indeed, ‘got it’.

Charlotte found this kind of repetition unnecessary and insulting to the child’s intelligence. Instead, she advocated narration as the only reinforcement of the lesson. What is narration? Simply put, narration is the act of retelling in one’s own words exactly what one remembers. Narration is a powerful tool in a child’s education.

Think about the times you have learned something. The information was received and taken into your mind. But if you later had to teach someone that same information, your understanding, your relationship with the material changed. It went from being a surface fact (something you remembered until the test and then tossed away), to being something your mind had really chewed, mulled over, and synthesized so it could be communicated to someone else.

The child listens, absorbing the story into himself...

Narration is not used to test a child’s knowledge. It isn’t used to discover how much the child forgot about the passage, rather narration is used to help the child reinforce the connections she has made with the material on her own. The teacher is not enforcing an agenda of comprehension- that is, that the child will remember what the teacher/adult thinks is important about a passage- instead the teacher is helping the child deepen her own connections and think through what has just been read. Leading questions should be avoided, as should correcting the child during the act of narration. If a child doesn’t mention a fact or seems to have misunderstood it, the parent may simply do a short ‘recap’ of the story immediately prior to the next reading (the next day, etc). If a child is simply lost, put the book aside for a month or two and try again later; the child may not be ready for that particular work.

I often think of professional wine tasters and how they differ from the casual drinker. The casual drinker tosses back the wine, notes how it tasted and if he liked it or not and then it is forgotten. The experience has left no lasting impression on him and an hour later he couldn’t tell you much about it. But the professional sommelier first looks at and smells the wine, chews it, interacts with it before rendering an opinion. And the professional is able to remember the experience, the nuance of the drink- it has become part of his overall wine experience. If it is an especially good glass of wine, he may be able to recall it years later.

The child can express her connection in many valid ways...

Narration can be accomplished in many ways- orally (where the child retells what he knows), in drawing/painting/sculpting, through play acting with figures or as actual play, and, after the age of 10 or so, in written composition (indeed, narration is the basis for fine essay writing in the future). Any way in which the child expresses a connection with the material is valid narration.

But what about evaluation? How can you be assured that your child has actually understood the material? Well, how do you know an adult understands the materials she’s teaching to you? As the person is speaking, you can hear an internal consistency of information. A clarity of reasoning that makes sense in context. A teacher in a classroom full of students may need worksheets and tests to ascertain if each student has understood the material, but a parent in a home with a limited amount of children will certainly know if a child truly understands what she is retelling.

My son is only five, so I am not requiring narration from him yet- dear Charlotte recommended that a child have no formal schooling until age 6, so I am holding off on asking for narration. However, even in our ‘informal’ schooling, Alex retells parts of his day. It’s interesting to me to see what he remembers hours later, which ideas and facts he connected with.

A Young Girl Reading- our current picture study

Narration seems simple- too simple to be an effective learning tool. But over a hundred years of history and many parents of graduates attest to the effectiveness of this method. As a child grows into adolescence, narration takes on more of a conversational tone. The child still retells, but then the parent may ask questions to draw the child deeper, may correct and challenge what a child has shared- as the student becomes an adult and has much practice forming a viewpoint, an opinion- the conversation becomes more like adult conversation. The teacher has simply refrained from usurping the child’s own mind prior to her learning how to use it.

I look forward to many conversations about books, politics, morality, science, literature on and on and on as my children grow…

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The Planting of the Tree- urban sprawl, apples and nature study

I have to say that, before encountering Dear Charlotte, I wasn’t much of a nature lover… Or, let me restate that- I have always felt an affinity for the outdoors. I remember as a small child curling up under a honeysuckle bush in my front yard for playtime. My sister and I packed the earth down so hard under that bush, it shone like linoleum. We’d take toys under the bush and would spend hours making mud pies and stealing the neighbors daffodils to decorate them (the neighbors were not charmed). It was during this outdoor play that I once dared my sister to bite a worm- she did (the power of an older sister!).

I remember taking long walks around the “Yellow Brick Road” (what we called my street as it had inexplicable yellow paint-spray marks all over when we first moved in). It was shaped like a ‘P’ and had only one entrance/exit. For many years, there were only about 10 houses on the street- much of it had been left wild and there was still a swamp around the circle from us. My grandfather took us to the swamp and we saw wild turkeys, turtles, snakes, minnows and many plants with berries, pickers, & leaves shaped like elephant ears. This ‘wild land’ was the playground for my family. The trees hung with vines and we literally swung from them for fun. My uncles created a dirt bike track on some of the unused land. My grandfather went fishing in the stream near the swamp. Deer were a common sight and we would often walk into the woods directly onto the lands and trails of the wildlife preserve that abutted the neighborhood property (in truth, this was the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary named for its most famous resident, John James Audubon).

I remember the land remaining this way until I was 12 years old when the developer decided to put in new homes. Our playground became a neighbor’s back yard and within a year, all ‘our’ land was gone… But, to a burgeoning adolescent, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. I retreated indoors and stayed there until my son was about 2 years old.

Like the proverbial butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, I took Charlotte’s advice and began taking nature walks with my family. I revisited all the parks and trails of my youth and have begun to rediscover the ‘wild’ within me. I feel more centered, more myself when I can hear water running and birds chirping all around me. I feel most alive when the wind is playing in my hair and the sun is lightly warming my face. I feel connected to all that God has done in my past and all He is calling me to in the present. How does simply being outside do that? Doesn’t scripture say that all of creation testifies to God? He somehow seeps into my soul when I get outdoors bringing peace and refreshment with Him…

Now, I live in an increasingly suburban area. When I was a child, there was a lot of land that remained either farms or simply undeveloped. But when I was about 12 a new highway opened and all along that corridor, housing developments sprung up like cancers, eating away all the natural space. Now, my county has ‘open space’ preserves to keep some areas undeveloped, but much of the country is now cluttered with cookie-cutter houses and suburban sprawl.

I admit, I do like the convenience of having stores close by, but I am ready to leave it all behind. Dear Charlotte helped me to see that my son has no where real to play. All our trails are maintained, carefully designed to allow speedo-shorts wearing bicyclists to share the path. It isn’t that the trails aren’t pleasant- they are- but they are also so very… planned. I am reminded of Charlotte’s warning not to come between the child and the author of a book by giving too much pre-digested explanation about the idea being out forth. As my child’s teacher, I am to introduce my kids to the author and then stand aside while they have a conversation: “Have you heard of William Penn?”; “Let me explain what happened to Beauty in the Beast’s castle”; “I’ll tell you about Agoognak and her wintry home”… Just as I should stand aside so my children can experience these ideas themselves, I’m beginning to feel that the county planners have come too much between my children and Mother Nature. All the trails are planned just so to allow passers-by to enjoy such-and-such a view. Flowers are planted and trees trimmed to give a specific effect at a specific point of the walk… There are some spaces that remain more natural, but… we are just so constrained by the artifice and management of it all…

Add to that, the fact that we have no private outdoor space to allow the children to wander and explore, no safe zone where little children of 5 and 2 can be set free to meander and explore at will, no place to build forts or plant gardens and… well… our situation needs mending.

Until the move is possible, we are making do as best we can by studying nature at farms, the less manicured trails and by visiting what nature centers/zoos we can locally. This is made difficult by having only one vehicle, but we are getting by. Today, for example, as our van was in the shop, we brought nature study into our home by continuing our apple study out of Anna Comstock’s ‘A Handbook of Nature Study’.

Forgot to take a picture of our apples before slicing for the taste test!

My husband selected 4 different varieties of apples; Red Delicious, Ginger Gold, Fuji and Honeycrisp. I followed the directions in HNS and had the kids look at the apples side by side. My son described their skins and I pointed out some color variations on each of their peels. We noted much about the general shape of each apple and then took small pieces to sample. It was so wonderful to be able to clearly note extremely distinctive flavors between apples! Alex was amazed! We gave each apple a new name based on its flavor composition.

These seeds were thrown off the porch in hopes of an apple tree next year!

We then cut each apple open and observed how the seeds in apples sit in little cavities (I described them as each having their own bedroom in their little apple home) and we then noted that the seeds- regardless of variety- were of similar color and size.

The kiddos munching apples. Fae had the Fuji and Alex wanted the Red Delicious. My favorite was the Honeycrisp!

Finally, Alex journaled his observations for the morning. It was a really nice time together- fun, educational and experiential.

Alex's nature journal. I was impressed with how he noted the subtle color variations on some of the apples.

Until we can get into a home that will allow us more space to roam and be without the input of joggers, hikers, dog-walkers, etc., we’ll have to do the best we can to get outdoors and explore- even if that means coming inside!

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