Hurricane Homeschool

Hurricane Sandy has swirled, uninvited, into our lives, and like our neighbors near and far, our lives have been temporarily rearranged.

The leaves are now gone from the branches.  They hover in clumps at the bottom of the pool, shimmering on reflected trees.

We, like many, were Mandatory Evacuated.  In a matter of 45 minutes we grabbed groceries (everything we could see), clothing (not much), schoolbooks (the basics), one computer and the dog.  Of course, we forgot the flashlights.  And so we returned to our Traveling Homeschool mode that marked so much of last year.  This time, with our previous experience, we knew just how to do it.  Hint:  fastest packing item, the laundry basket.  Grab everything you see and toss it in a basket.  Throw basket in trunk and drive away. 

Meanwhile the kids were most distraught about missing their friends and Halloween.  In fact, that was the only salient point they understood about the entire evacuation process.  Prompting my husband to question their sanity.

“But we will be missing Halloweeen,” they howled in unison, as our car pulled out of the driveway.

“It is a National Emergency,” Husband replies matter-of-factly.

“But we can’t miss Halloweeeen.”

Husband turns the volume up louder on the radio.

Three hours later, when we arrive at our new temporary housing,

“When can we go home?  It’s almost Halloween.  We HAVE to go home for trick-or-treating.”

A revolt was imminent.  I unpacked the kids, dog and books and promptly set up a portable classroom.  This shocked the kids into silence.

You may ask, Why school?  With every single school in half the nation closed, why do we continue, undaunted, as we are pummeled by wind and rain?

Simple.  Parental sanity.  With 5 kids in a small space, schoolwork is the most direct route to peace and tranquility.

 We brought only our most basic books, math, spelling and vocabulary.  With many online classes and textbooks we quickly created a computer-share system with priority going to kids taking classes on the West Coast, where there are no weather-related delays.  Remarkably, they got everything completed and uploaded in time, despite being granted extensions.

With few textbooks we quickly turn to the best education:  classics.  By late afternoon each day we are draped about the room, swathed in blankets and reading the available books.  Athena is reading My Antonia by Willa Cather, Quantum finished A Raison in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and then found a copy of Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  Truth is happily reading Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Bounce has finished Alice in Wonderland and is now reading Through the Looking Glass, both by Lewis Carroll, and I am finishing Black Boy by Richard Wright.  Happily, with few clothes and much food, we are comfortably dressed in our pajamas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Scooter found a box of alphabet letters and spent several hours figuring out how to arrange them in alphabetical order. Soon we may use these letters to show Scooter how to create three letter words.  He now knows there is a pattern to word-making.

The lights began flickering and I began steadily cooking all the food in the house.  My husband asked, as the second roast chicken came shimmering out of the oven with several dozen baked potatoes, “What ARE you doing?”

“Cooked ford is more useful than raw food,” I responded, and went on to hard boil another dozen eggs.

So now it is officially Halloween and the police have canvassed the neighborhood and forbidden children from wandering around in the danger-ridden dark.

Needless to say, our neighborhood is now scarier looking than the best Halloween and it looks like real ghosts have been playing havoc with the town.

Our family, like many others, is thankful for our safety.  We are grateful for simple family moments: meals shared together by candlelight, games played by the fireside, and long afternoons spent reading cherished classics, all punctuated by long rainy-day dog walks.

Hurricane Sandy has provided us the opportunity to stop moving at the speed of light (electricity) and begin to move at the more natural speed of the human being.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is being grateful for the miracle of safety and educating your children through literature in the midst of chaos and adventure.

Wordless Wednesday: Have Sign Will Travel

We observed this man at the beach.

Man and his Sign.

We stayed long enough to determine that:  Yes, he arrived and departed with his sign, carefully folding it along with his chair and book, before returning all parts to the trunk of his car.

This is one dedicated individual.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is enjoying the local political scene while drinking coffee at the beach. 

Mystic Aquarium: Sea (ze) the Day!

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

 The engine rooms of the Titanic are fascinating and tell a poignant story of ambition and destruction.  Bounce and Scooter are amazed by the sheer immensity.  How can something this big be so easily destroyed?

Examining the varieties of fish, touching the leathery-spiny hides of baby sharks and avoiding the nipping claws of sand crabs make marine life accessible.

 Small portholes in the penguin exhibit give Scooter the impression that he is inside the tank.

The (brainless) jellyfish exhibit pure poetry.

 But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. 

Khalil Gibran 

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is finding beauty in all creatures, great and small.

Old Yeller and the Homeschool Book Club

Happymess is hosting a new book club this year.  It is wonderful to find new children and new ways to explore classic children’s literature.

Bounce creates his own book cover

What makes a classic?  Believe it or not, this is a discussion which the kids enjoy debating every year.  Some think there is a “committee” which grants a book “classical” status.  Others are sure there is a “list.”  In actuality, it is determined by pure love of literature, granted by a doting audience that discovers the same wonderful titles and falls in love anew with outstandingly portrayed characters.  A novel becomes a classic when it succeeds in telling an enduring tale that resonates with every reader.  It is timeless in its message because it speaks to that which is human in all of us, be it through fantasy, historical fiction or mystery.

And his own back cover

The challenge to the teacher is to help new readers discover the same beauty and meaning that previous readers have known for generations.  Our new book club has given this group of homeschool buddies the opportunity to share A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and most recently, Old Yeller by Fred Gipson.  We like to discuss the major themes, examine the author’s stylistic approach and imagine ourselves in similar positions.  Each novel has inspired its own unique approach, and Old Yeller is no exception.

We began our group discussion with a series of open-ended questions, designed to explore the experience of reading Old Yeller.  We noted that the end of the story was in the beginning, as is the case with so many great pieces of literature.  We discussed how suspension of belief allows us to read the entire story, almost oblivious of the inevitable and dire ending.

The kids were excited to share their insights into this coming-of-age story as Travis struggles to be the man-of-the-house in an unforgiving world.  Travis is a hotheaded youth forced to be tolerant, responsible and hardworking.  Eventually this trio of requirements forces Travis to mature and become the “man” he wasn’t at the beginning of the story.

The open-ended discussion was inspiring but the kids felt they were ready to tackle something equally challenging:  a detailed 50-question test on specifics of Old Yeller.  We found this excellent quiz on Capo Creations:

www.nt.net/torino/old50test.html

I was truly surprised at the children’s ability to accurately recall minute details of the story.

Example:  The man who used to go from house to house getting free meals and was too lazy to go on the cattle drive was (a) Bud Searcy (b) Burn Sanderson (c) Jed Simpson (d) Bert Wilbur

I guess you will have to read the novel with a magnifying glass to find the answer to that one.  Or be a 10 year-old avid reader.

Some of the group thought they would write an essay discussing Travis’ character development, tracking the parallels in plot with Travis’ maturation.  Bounce elected to make a photo book cover, front and back, with his own synopsis on the back cover, see above.  This was really fun for Bounce as he loves his dog and can understand the dynamics of a relationship between a boy and his dog.

Our book club group has a soft side and they love to help others.  They decided that in honor of Old Yeller, and countless deserving animals just like him, they would like to help animals at a local shelter.

So, all last week our hard working book club members have scrubbed floors and babysat and ironed linens.  They earned a combined $95.00.

170 Lbs. of pet food

 

Adventure Bear joins in the mission

This morning, with a delightful break from homeschooling, we met at the local pet supply center.  After rejecting the most expensive brands, our group learned to study the “price/lb.” labels and the “sale” signs.  They carefully perused their options, lifting 50lb bags of dry cat and dog food in and out of shopping carts as they weighed their options.  Finally, after great deliberation, they purchased 170 lbs. of cat and dog food for our local animal shelter.

 And now for the best part, they got to carry all that food into the shelter and make their very own donation!  And then of course, they visited with all the animals, wishing always that we could bring them all home.  Sadly, we could not.
Old Yeller now “belongs” to this group of intrepid young readers.  They are building their very own criteria of what makes a classic.  For these homeschoolers, Old Yeller will be filled with memories of lifting 50 Lbs bags of pet food in the rain, making old-time photos with the family dog, writing short pieces about growing up, competing with one another over test questions, and crying with Travis when he finally has to choose between his family and his dog.

Now that is what makes a classic.

Let Me Count the Ways:  Homeschooling is remembering that for each child it is their first childhood, no matter how many generations have preceded them. 

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.

History: The Timeless Gift

A quick History lesson from Pulitzer Prize winner, David McCullough,

Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it.  Jefferson, Adams, Washington- they didn’t walk around saying, “Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?”  They lived in the present just as we do.  The difference was it was their present, not ours.  And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either.

 In a 2005 speech, David McCullough makes the point that “history” happens to the everyday man and woman.  What makes the story interesting, and thus memorable, is the way the people respond to the events of their time.  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Character is Destiny,” and McCullough makes the case that our Founding Fathers’ biggest attribute was their character.

McCullough encourages the teaching of history to ensure that we, the current occupants of this world, value the gifts we have been given by our predecessors.

He says, “We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed.  This is essential.  We have to value what our forebears did for us, or we are not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away.”

McCullough offers this analogy, “If you’ve inherited some great work of art that is worth a fortune, and you don’t even know that it is a great work of art and you’re not interested in it – you are going to lose it.”

Thus our precious Democracy will go by the wayside if we fail to teach our young students the value of freedom and personal liberty.  It becomes our responsibility as teachers, parents, and educators to instill a love of our Nation and an appreciation for the sacrifices that have afforded our freedoms.

One of our favorite books for the young historian. 

Our Happymess kids love history.  We strive to make every century seem relevant and interesting.  We use countless sources from illustrated children’s books, colorful atlases, ancient maps, primary sources, personal diaries, illustrated encyclopedias and dense historical dissertations.  We love documentary films, old newsreels and historical novels.  History is the story, our story.  And thus we were very gratified to find a perfect endorsement of homeschool-style teaching in the middle of McCullough’s presentation.

The original flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner national anthem. We visited this last year in Washington, DC.

And we need not leave the whole job of history teaching to the teachers.  The teaching of history, the emphasis on the importance of history, the enjoyment of history, should begin at home.  We who are parents or grandparents should be taking our children to historic sites.  We should be talking about those books in biography or history that we have particularly enjoyed, or that character or those characters in history that have meant something to us.  We should be talking about what it was like when we were growing up in the olden days.  Children, particularly little children, love this.  And in my view, the real focus should be at the grade school level…they can learn anything so fast it takes your breath away.  The very important truth is that they want to learn and they can be taught anything.  And there’s no secret to teaching history or making history interesting.  Tell stories.  That’s what history is: a story.  And what’s a story?  E.M. Foster gave a wonderful definition of it:  If I say to you, the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events.  If I say, the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.  That’s human.  That calls for empathy.  And we ought to be growing, encouraging and developing historians who have heart and empathy.

I wonder if McCullough knew he was actually accurately describing the homeschool movement and our emphasis on multi-disciplinary, multi-generational and multi-cultural education, all with the purpose of “making it feel real” and thus instilling empathy for all.

We are grateful for today’s history lesson, which was a portion of Lesson One from Exploring America, a homeschool curriculum designed by John Notgrass. We have used this program before and really love it.  Notgrass has written text, quizzes, short-answer questions and essay questions, which cover the myriad facts that together comprise our national history.  The companion volume, American Voices, is an amalgamated 400 pages of primary sources. Through these speeches, letters, poems and essays the student of American History can live and breathe the very words of the Americans who built our nation.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is bringing the past to life though original documents and mementoes. 

A Single Shard: One Hill, One Valley, One Day at a Time

We always begin our school year with an inspirational quote.  My goal is to allow my students to see themselves as part of the greater continuum of intellectual efforts and metaphysical thinking.  That was a mouthful!

In other words, school is not just learning facts. Homeschool Happymess is built upon the premise that learning can actually be interesting.

This year we are bridging the fun of summer with the seriousness of school with a wonderful novel, A Single Shard, written by Linda Sue Park.  The story takes place in 12th century Korea and teaches the values of friendship, honesty, integrity and hard work within the context of creating beautiful Celadon pottery.

The protagonist, Tree-ear, is a young orphan boy who desires to learn the art of pottery.  His mentor, Crane-man, is a homeless man who instills values by asking difficult questions which can only be answered through personal introspection.

When Tree-ear is presented with the question of facing hunger or stealing rice, Crane-man’s voice echoes in Tree-ear’s mind, “Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away.” Tree-ear ponders, “Does a good deed balance a bad deed?” He knows that Crane-man would say, “Questions (of morality) serve in two ways…They keep a man’s mind sharp, and his thoughts off his empty stomach.”

A Single Shard is a walking, talking vocabulary lesson.  The following is a sample list of the vocabulary words that Bounce (Grade 3/4) needed to learn in order to properly understand the story:  Perusal, Urchin, Garner, Sluggardly, Deftly, Emboldened, Impudence, Precariously, Ministrations, Diligent, Insolence, Parched, Felicitous, Vicious and Suffice.  Bounce’s actual list was much longer.  He rewrote every word, looked up the definition and wrote the definition along side each word.  Bounce was delighted to learn such interesting and unusual words.

Eventually, through hard work and self-sacrifice, Tree-ear is given the opportunity to represent the work of a famous potter, Minn.  He accepts the task, with encouragement from Crane-man, to carry Minn’s work to the faraway town of Songdo, where it will be viewed by the royal court.

This journey is so long that Tree-ear has grave doubts about his ability to carry out his mission.  But to not go is even more impossible.

Crane-man presents the journey to Tree-ear in the following manner,

“Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo.  But you must not tell your body.  It must think one hill, one valley, one day at a time.  In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.”

Happymess kids immediately recognized this quote as applying directly to their own lives.  Each child at our impromptu book club was able to think of a way in which this applied directly to themselves.  The group agreed that they had all grown weary of many school-related tasks long before the task had been attempted, yet alone completed.  They committed to taking a more cheerful, thoughtful and dedicated approach to this year’s enterprises.  In short, they recognized that often fear of hard work is greater than the actual work itself.

As a conclusion to our reading the children suggested making banners to remind themselves that each step in a task must be taken on its own merits.

We had great fun making the banners, even though for some of us this Herculean task took several days and nights.

And so there you have it, our 2012 school year quote with which we will commence our studies.  Our journey may be long and arduous but we will embark upon it one day at a time, lest our souls grow weary before we even begin.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is seeking inspiration in novel venues.