Save Pequot Library!

My kids and their Destination Imagination Project Outreach teammates have been working hard all year to encourage global literacy. While they were redistributing books to children around the world, something terrible happened at home. Funding cuts threatened to close our local Pequot Library.

The kids interviewed people in their community about the library, donated their proceeds from a lemonade stand to the cause, and created this video and emailed it to to elected officials. They will be speaking at a rally on the Pequot Library Lawn at 1:30 pm tomorrow, and will were also invited to speak at the special RTM meeting to encourage the town to restore Pequot’s funding.

Inspired by Angie: Solving a Homeschooler’s Dilemma

Recently, Angie, a Homeschool HappyMess reader, sent me a series of questions that I thought might make an interesting post, and so with Angie’s permission, she and I will together tackle the intricacies of designing a homeschool curriculum..

A climbing Angie:  Allia, I have been following your blog and am inspired beyond measure.

A leap of faith

Believe me, I am grateful for your confidence in our humble homeschool.  Homeschooling is a leap of faith.  You have to believe in yourself and believe in your children.  It is my hope, through this blog, that people can see themselves bringing inspiration and creativity to their own children’s education.

A Bounce hand paint

Mine is one step in an effort to right the wrong of boring, stultifying education whose tenants of secular equality for all has whitewashed history and distilled learning to nothing more than a series of meaningless platitudes, creating a generation of children with no interest in reading and little ability to write, let alone create.  Break out the paint, glue and glitter, read original documents, apply literature to history, perform a science experiment…together we can explore the planet.

Angie:  I have a few questions:  Do you use the literature to guide the history lessons or do you teach history in a chronological order (like other classical homeschoolers) and choose literature that corresponds with that time in history?

I am a strong believer in the benefits of teaching history in chronological order, after all, that is the order in which it all happened.  Like domino’s, each event was the catalyst for the next, each shift in beliefs, a result of the immediate past.  That being said, I have found that if followed too literally, it is difficult to ever get out of the Middle Ages, let alone Ancient Mesopotamia.  So, although I enjoy reading A Childs History of the World, by Virgil M. Hillyer, and my children love The Story of the World (especially on tape), by Susan Wise Bauer, sometimes (often) I will jump around.

 

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.  Hall of Armour

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Hall of Armor

HappyMess boys wearing "real" armor!

HappyMess boys wearing “real” armor!

I am an even bigger believer in grabbing opportunities as they present themselves, and building a quick mini-lesson around an exhibit, or a play or an article in the newspaper.  History, and science are so much more interesting when a child can see the immediate application of the knowledge.

Joan of Arc, MET

Joan of Arc, MET

 

HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

History at the MET

History at the MET

Museums are a great place to learn about the past.  Here we find that ancient peoples had similar aspirations as ourselves.

History books that we have enjoyed include:  The American Story, by Jennifer Armstrong and A Young Peoples History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. There are countless wonderful books about ancient Egypt and Greece and about every corner of the world.  I like to choose books with engaging pictures as I usually begin every History lesson with shared reading.  Initially, it is the parent, or teacher, who breathes life into the history lesson.  A good history lesson is like a piece of theater, filled with anticipation, suspense, surprise and resolution.

We have found that many literature books dovetail nicely with our studies.  When reading historical literature we concentrate on understanding the feelings of the characters, asking ourselves, Why did they make these choices? Respond in this manner?  How is this different, or the same from our experiences, desires, actions?  Frequently we will read a book that is so compelling, we will read the literature first and then research the time period afterwards.

Celadon pottery at the MET

Celadon pottery at the MET

This was the case with A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.  We read the book, chose a quote as our school motto, and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to view original pieces of celadon pottery.

A wonderland boook picturesOh..and built an entire book club, around that experience, and created an Outreach Program, Wonderland BookSavers, that has so far, since September, donated 4,000 books to needy children both in the US and abroad…

A doc filmand created a 7 minute documentary film and a Destination Imagination theatrical presentation…see the importance of just one piece of quality literature…?

So, what was the answer?  Usually I am running at least two concurrent history programs.  One is plowing forward through time, looking at facts, geo-political factors, resulting changes, etc., the other is inspired by current events, great literature, museum exhibits or lectures on a topic.

Additionally, Homeschool HappyMess kids participate in National History Day each year. This leads to very in depth research into a specific topic.  This year we are focusing on the TET offensive and the media misinformation that surrounded that event, causing the American people to further turn against the Vietnam War.

A TET 1A TET 2 fall_of_saigonA 1968-Tet-Offensive-3Our older children have created a theatrical piece in which the “war fought in the living rooms of America,” literally comes home through investigative journalism.  They recently won First Place for their local presentation, and are off to the State competition next month.  Working on projects and competitions allows the student to “own” a piece of history.

We are also engaged in learning the fine art of the “research paper,” through a project on the Economy of Ancient Ephesus, as an offshoot of the study of Latin and a subset of the history of the Roman Empire.

History is the wonderful and terrible story that envelopes us all.  There are 1,000 ways to study, memorize, examine, and theorize about history.  Choose any path, as they say, “All roads lead to Rome.”

Angie:  How do you relate the sciences?

Well, we again take several different approaches to the study of science, for younger children I am content with doing fun experiments and visiting hands-on science museums and randomly choosing interesting science books or biographies from the library.  My goal is simple:  awaken curiosity and provide answers about our physical world.  Science and history can often be studied in tandem, as is the case with Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Copernicus.  Science, like history, is not a series of facts but a series of people.

A Truth at farm

leaf classification

leaf classification

Our 3rd grader is also following the BJU curriculum.  This provides many interesting facts and experiments in a more organized fashion.  Again, we read books, biographies and enjoy the world.  As our students get older we follow specific studies so they can learn the basics of chemistry, biology and physics.

Angie:  How do you go about choosing your reading list for the year?

A Bounce libraryI love classic literature. Generally those books, which have been known and loved for decades, are well written, use correct English grammar, have interesting vocabulary choices, reflect clear values and tell a compassionate story that resonates with young readers.   In other words, they are worth struggling with and will make your student a better reader and a more thoughtful person.  My annual reading list is comprised of those pieces of quality children’s literature which are at the appropriate reading level.  I mainly choose books the child can read himself, but also include a few that can be read aloud and discussed.  For our book club we have focused on books that reflect a message of personal growth and responsibility.  These books have included A Single Shard by Park, from which we took as our motto, “One hill, one valley, one day at a time…,” Old Yeller, by Gipson, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Carroll, Classic Poetry, Ancient Greek and Roman Myths and now, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan.  With each book, our book club performed a community service project…but that is a long story for another day…

Angie:  Also, a fun one:  is your schoolhouse an outbuilding or connected to the main house? 

 

HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

In this case, since homeschooling has taken over our lives and thus, every corner of our living space I think it might be more accurate to say that our home is a modified outbuilding connecting to our schoolhouse.

Angie, I hope this helps.  Thanks for your faithful reading!  Allia

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is sharing the experience of growth with an unseen, but forever perspicacious community.

Public Speaking: Shakespeare Untangled, Only Slightly Mangled

Our local Homeschool Theater Company will be producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare.  Auditions are being held and the Happymess Kids, and others, are busy practicing, rehearsing and memorizing.

This unabridged, original language version will be performed with a cast of 24 students, ages ranging from 8-18.  No mean feat.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grow

We like to practice public speaking outdoors where loud, confident voices can shout to the treetops.

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:

 

Our homespun Happymess public speaking program consists of repeated practice in reading complicated, often strident, historic addresses and rehearsing literary monologues and soliloquies.

On of our favorites, for this exercise, is Socrates’ speech to the Athenians upon being condemned to death for speaking the truth:

In the next place, I desire to predict to you who have condemned me, what will be your fate: for I am now in that condition in which men most frequently prophesy, namely, when they are about to die. I say then to you, O Athenians, who have condemned me to death, that immediately after my death a punishment will overtake you, far more severe, by Jupiter, than that which you have inflicted on me. For you have done this thinking you should be freed from the necessity of giving an account of your life. The very contrary however, as I affirm, will happen to you. Your accusers will be more numerous, whom I have now restrained, tho you did not perceive it; and they will be more severe, inasmuch as they are younger and you will be more indignant. For, if you think that by putting men to death you will restrain any one from upbraiding you because you do not live well, you are much mistaken; for this method of escape is neither possible nor honorable, but that other is most honorable and most easy, not to put a check upon others, but for a man to take heed to himself, how he may be most perfect. Having predicted thus much to those of you who have condemned me, I take my leave of you.

This speech, once the words can be pronounced, can only be said loudly and forcefully.  Socrates is unapologetic and accusatory.  Our young public speakers learn to belt out his defense at top decibel. No room for stage fright here.

In fact, when Athena was interviewed after working as a reporter on closed circuit TV for Destination Imagination they asked her, “How did you get so good at public speaking?” to which she answered, “My mother had me stand on a rock in the backyard and shout Socrates’ death speech repeatedly across the yard.”  I wonder what the neighbors were thinking?

Another great public address we have used is that of Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro”, 1852.

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just. 

This can only be said unapologetically with force and conviction.

We like to place the “speaker” about 60 feet from the “audience”. This encourages audible, self-assured voices that be clearly heard at a reasonable distance. We emphasize speaking S-L-O-W-L-Y and         C-L-E-A-R-L-Y. In this case, Bounce is practicing the part of Oberon for his Midsummer Night’s Dream audition.

There sleeps Titania some time of the night,

Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;

 

Happymess kids are dancing around Truth as he attempts to memorize his speech and rise above the distractions created by several bouncing brothers.  They are deliberately trying to confuse Truth as he valiantly recites his piece despite their best efforts at confusion.  Ultimately, this builds confidence, as Truth knows nothing can come between him and his chosen piece of recitation.  Plus, everyone has a lot of fun in the process.

And there the snake throws her enameled skin,

Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. (2.1.249)

We will be studying Midsummer Night’s Dream on several levels, increasing the difficulty as the children become more familiar with the unusual language.

So, how do we get the kids to learn all this stuff?  We start slowly.  Bruce Coville has written a wonderful series of Shakespearean children’s books.  Each book is based upon a different play and closely follows the plot line while interspersing original text in the adapted and simplified version.  The illustrations, by Dennis Nolan, are truly fanciful and capture the magic of the original plays.  These books make Shakespeare accessible to any reader.

We will eventually read and study the original play using the Oxford Student Shakespeare edition.  This series is annotated throughout with stage notes, explanations of character attitudes, vocabulary definitions and explanations of references to other texts (Biblical, historical, etc.)

Many of the children, at the auditions, are quite young but have already performed several times with this theater company.  They were readily able to cope with the difficult language.  Their prior experience was apparent and impressive.  The directors have really had a positive impact on this homegrown troupe.

Rehearsal of this play, which will take months, will certainly build public speaking skills, emotional emphasis, and clarity of speech.   As are great historical speeches, Shakespearean language is at first incomprehensible.  It is a great surprise and joy to the students as they begin to untangle complex language and interweaving plot lines and discover that they can finally understand, enjoy and begin to “own” these words for themselves.

 All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.        As You Like It, William Shakespeare   

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is practicing public speaking skills through reciting Shakespeare in the backyard with the sun shining, the dog barking and the boys joyfully bouncing about. 

Missing From Schedule: Daydreaming

A fellow blogger recently reminded me that daydreaming is central to creativity, intelligence and enjoyment of life.

So why isn’t it in the Schedule??!

Homeschooling is work, lots of work.  When we aren’t focused on our worksheets and textbooks we are reading historical commentaries and related fiction.  We are practicing our piano and rehearsing for our play.  We are preparing for our next contest and checking our boxes on our assignment sheets.  Yes, we are working away.

Many people are quick to comment on what they presume to be missing from the Homeschooling Lifestyle.

They ask, “But what about socialization?” 

Can-Can Dancers created by Athena

I respond, “With 14 kids here running around designing new machines, creating art and theater and jumping on the trampoline, it is a wonder with all this socialization that they ever get anything done!” (Exasperated Homeschool Mom after Heavy Kid Infiltration)

Still unsatisfied, they query, “How do you know they are learning anything?  Do you get them tested?”

Heavy sigh accompanied with small smile, “Yes, they take all types of standardized tests.  They have weekly review tests.  We are quite confident that they are learning.”

Doubting Thomas continues, “But aren’t you worried that they won’t know how to react in difficult situations? How will they know how to make the correct decision?”

I answer, “And how is that exactly being taught in schools these days?”  Because really, if they are teaching morality, propriety and good judgment I am certainly the last to know.

But, do you know what is missing from Homeschool Happymess?  Good old fashioned daydreaming.

The advantage of attending regular school is that you have hours upon hours in which you can simply gaze out the window.  School affords the student with the opportunity to escape through all manner of dreams.

Universe created by Bounce

The opportunity to contemplate the universe, to imagine oneself as a super-hero, to solve global problems, to examine the wings of an errant butterfly, should not escape the homeschool student.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And echoed by Shakespeare, through Hamlet, ‘To sleep, perchance to dream…”

So in the name of good old-fashioned schooling, shall we have a day devoted to dreaming?  It will certainly be a worthwhile way to spend our time.

Bounce in Self-Designed Chapeau

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is a cornucopia of possibilities.  Let’s remember to allow our children the simple but necessary joy of daydreaming, so they can imagine, and eventually build, a better tomorrow.

Global Finals Update 4: Day Before Departure

Tomorrow, we will wake up at five in the morning and begin the LONG drive down to Tennessee for the Destination Imagination Global Finals.  Our bags are packed, our cds are burned, and the trailer, containing all the props the two teams have worked on for months, has been (laboriously) filled and hitched to the back of my Suburban.  I am driving five of the fourteen kids involved (four of my own and a nephew) as well as my youngest son, who is coming to cheer on his older siblings

 

Today, some team members helped to decorate the car.  This is a fun (and slightly messy) Destination Imagination tradition.  The kids made sure to include their team names, the state they will be representing (they will compete with teams from all over the country and the world) and their names.

 

 

 

Connecticut is traditionally a very small group at the Global Finals. Whereas states such as Texas or countries such as South Korea can send from 200-400 teams, this year only 4 teams will represent our humble state.  They are all homeschooled.  This is because news of this amazing competition has spread through the homeschooled community in Connecticut, not because the competition typically attracts homeschoolers; globally, homeschooled groups make up a minute portion of the teams competing, which are generally school sanctioned.  The teams representing Connecticut are:

Team I.C.E. (competing at the high school level in the fine arts and improvisational Challenges) (thats us)

SolarNauts (competing at the elementary school level in the science Challenge) (thats us too)

VisionQuest (competing at the middle school level in the fine arts Challenge)

Crazed Carrots (competing at the elementary school level in the community outreach Challenge)

We wish all teams the best of luck.

As for us, we’re ready to start our journey.

 

 

Global Finals Update 3: 3 Days to Departure

Today, the kids continued to prepare for Global Finals, which, almost unbelievably, is just a few more days away.

TEAM I.C.E.

Team I.C.E. had two skits (one planned and one improvisational) to rehearse for the two Challenges they will be competing in at Globals.  They worked through some improv scenarios and rehearsed their play a few times.  Because their strongest team member wasn’t there, they were unable to assemble their incredibly heavy backdrop, so they rehearsed without props.

SOLARNAUTS

The SolarNauts rehearsed their performance with props (no costumes) several times.  Parents and supporters watched to remind them how it feels to perform for a live audience.  Their teamwork was great; if anyone forgot a line, he could rely on his teammates to remind him.

You can see their work in various stages of development here  and here

Their rehearsal went great!  Everyone was proud of the hard work their kids put into this Challenge solution.

BOTH TEAMS

Time to assemble all their props…

…and pack the trailer!  I’ll have to drive 16 hours to the University of Tennessee with this enormous thing, which holds all the props both teams have worked so hard to create.

These boards, part of Team I.C.E.’s backdrop, are really heavy, so everyone works together.  If you’ve been following their progress, Team I.C.E. had a challenging (but fun) time making them.   If not, you can read about their experience here and  here

Finally, fifteen kids swim and play capture the flag.  Later on they’ll head to a friends’ house to enjoy an outdoor movie night, and then have a sleepover with both teammates and other friends.

After all that hard work, its good to enjoy a pizza dinner.

Global Finals Update 2: 5 Days to Departure

The kids are still busy polishing up their performances for the Destination Imagination Global Finals.  They’ve developed not only the acting, improvisational, prop and costume design and engineering skills that one would expect from a competition that centers on theater arts; the contest has also presented opportunities to develop teamwork and to learn to research effectively.

Team I.C.E.

This group of middle and high schoolers continued to research news articles.  They will need to know six team-chosen articles inside-out in order to succeed at the improvisational challenge, which requires not only on-the-spot thinking but also the ability to quickly develop a story based on previous knowledge of current events.  Choosing and learning about the articles is a team activity.

To help them assimilate the information, team I.C.E. identified major facts in each article and created flashcards for effective studying. Because they are pressed for time, the kids will study and rehearse as much as possible over the next few days, and will review their articles during the 16 hour car ride to Tennessee.

SolarNauts:

The SolarNauts also had to learn to research important topics.  This group of kids, all in elementary school, participated in the science challenge, which involved creating a skit about a possible future use of solar energy.  Their idea, the “Beam Machine” is a machine that can redirect solar energy from outer space directly to earth.  Today they worked on the Beam Machine.

Globals has everyone incredibly excited.  Our Team Connecticut tshirts and trading pins (each of the kids receives thirty to exchange for pins from other states and countries) arrived today. There’s a ton of planning, rehearsing, and packing left to do!  We will have 29 people in our group, including 14 team members, team managers, chaperones and supporters.