Aftermath and Leisure: A poetic taste of Indian summer

The end of summer and the beginning of autumn begins with blurred edges and ends with a sharp quick taste, like too-dark chocolate.

Aftermath Scooter in oceanThis year fall we have been graced with long Indian summer days paired with apple crisp evenings.  Our too short summer is now extending into October.

Aftermath library pillow fight 1

Aftermath library pillow fight 2

Our local library hosts an evening pillow fight.

Aftermath kayaks 1We daily wear bathing suits and T-shirts while frisking in the riotous spanking yellows and poignant orange pigments of the season.

Aftermath bioDespite the weather, school is open…and with it we have new lessons, sharpened pencils, more Shakespeare, biology experiments and new poems to memorize.

What better poem to capture the season than Aftermath by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?

Aftermath Scooter w:bird

Aftermath Bounce w:bird

When the summer fields are mown,

Aftermath Bounce hands w:bird

When the birds are fledged and flown,

And the dry leaves strew the path;

With the falling of the snow,

With the cawing of the crow,

Once again the fields we mow,

 Aftermath tents

And gather in the aftermath.

Not the sweet, new grass with flowers

Is this harvesting of ours;

Aftermath vase 

Not the upland clover bloom;

But the rowan mixed with weeds,

Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,

Where the poppy drops its seeds

In the silence and the gloom.

Or perhaps we need to hold a nugget of summer in our hearts, as expressed in this poem, Leisure, by William Henry Davies.

Aftermath butterfly

What is this life, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is spending just the right amount time studying this butterfly, and every other thing of beauty.

Adventures in Bookland: Destination Imagination (again!)

Homeschool Happymess is counting down to Christmas and the vacation that surrounds this wonderful time of year.

WBS Truth and Bounce atlasWe are crazily trying to complete all our fall projects, blasting through those half-discarded spelling books, competing with one another,

“How many chapters have YOU completed in Wordly Wise?”

Our older students have final exams in Latin, Witty Wordsmith, Chemistry, Algebra, and History of Science, to name just a few.  They can be found up at all hours, musing over flashcards, strewn across couches, reciting archaic languages and studying arcane scientific facts.  They are dedicated.  They are restless.  They anticipate the conclusion and yet, 15 page term papers still loom in their immediate futures

Our younger students are delighting in the wreaths that are newly hung on all the doors and windows.  They eagerly search every magazine for clues as to what Santa may bring.  They are crafting and wrapping small games and puzzles for their favorite stuffed animals.  Adventure Bear will receive a lovely pot of marmalade, purloined from a breakfast buffet.  Gifts are wrapped and hidden.  Bounce has an elaborate pirate treasure map detailing all the locations.  I encounter these odd items as I search the back of cupboards and behind doors looking for missing Christmas china and wrapping paper.

WBS reading trainAnd throughout the mayhem emerges our newest project:  The Wonderland BookSavers:  Inspired by Literature

This year Bounce and his friends formed a new book club dedicated to reading and discussing   Classic Children’s Literature.  The book group members are young enthusiasts who are committed to making the world a better place.  Following their reading of Old Yeller, (previous post), the group read, and became entranced by, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll.

alice-in-wonderland white rabbitThey decided to name their Destination Imagination Project Outreach team after Alice in Wonderland and after great thought they have created the already amazing, Wonderland BookSavers.

WBS researchingTheir mission is to redistribute gently used children’s books to children, libraries and schools who have need of these books.

WBS donate 1WBS donate 2Thus far they have donated 685 books to a local charter school library.

WBS boxes and bookThey are currently preparing another 1,000 books to be sent to a community in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia.

Wonderland BookSavers has already had a strikingly positive influence on this initially simple homeschool book club.  The children are able to see the tremendous impact that literature can have upon the imagination and the spirit of the reader.  They understand that reading is a form of communication, both with the author and with other readers.  They value the time that they spend reading and discussing literature and thus they see the value that books have for all children and communities.

WBS Bounce with booksWonderland BookSavers are committed to enlarging the community of children that have access to books.  The children love handling all the “used” books.  They pore over the pictures, read aloud sections to one another, and generally have the opportunity to enjoy hundreds of books that they might otherwise never have seen.

Occasionally they will hold a book up in disgust,

“This is TOTALLY inappropriate,”

as a modern and heavily pregnant Mary goes lurching along on a donkey in a parody of Mary and Joseph, and out the book goes in the trash.

WBS stacked boxesBut mostly, these discarded and unloved books are wonderful classics and our children fall in love with them before carefully placing them in the box with the other treasures.

Wonderland BookSavers are wondering, “Who are these other unknown children?” and, “Will they like these books as much as we like them?”

And so, as the Christmas Season is upon us, we find once again that, “Giving is better than receiving.”

WBS Bounce on boxesWhat we didn’t realize is that we would be watching 4 young children locating and donating literally thousands of books to communities across the country and even across the oceans, with their motto, “Inspired by Literature.”

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is watching a small book club reach out and touch the world.

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.

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. 

Teaching Scooter to Read: A Cautionary Tale

For the 8th time in my life, I am embarking upon the initially impossible task of teaching a young child to read.  Not memorizing, but actually decoding the letters into real sounds and real words with meaning.  I will be honest. It is daunting.

We began months ago with rhyming words and consonant recognition.  This initial step was successful but we were not able to make much headway, so like a good progressive mommy, I gave Scooter time off to grow and develop.

Months later, as we were preparing for Kindergarten, I was called into the new school’s office for a “special” meeting.

“We are delighted to be offering Scooter a spot in our school,” the earnest headmistress assured me. “However, Mrs. Happymess, it has come to our attention that he may need some assistance learning to read…”

“Oh, of course, Miss Headmistress,” I smiling assured the brusque woman addressing me, “I can certainly help Scooter as he prepares for Kindergarten.”

Well, since those fateful words have been spoken, Scooter and I have used every learn-to-read program I can find, and we are still just mastering the consonant sounds.

To be sure, Scooter, as Dr. Seuss says, “Can read little words, little words like if and it.”  Actually, he can read Mat, Pan, Can, Jam, And, The End.  That’s about it, and I generally put that skill set into the memorizing rather than decoding box.

So when my husband and I recently went to Parents Night at Scooter’s school and were asked to write him a note, I struggled to compose one that I thought he could read.  It went something like this,

Dear Scooter,

I can see you like school.  We can be sad to miss you.  And do you like to eat jam with no ants?  Me too.  The End.

My husband was quite mystified.

“What the heck kind of note is that to write?”  He asked suspiciously.

“One he can read,” I answered defensively.

And there you have it.  Months and days and hours of effort and still we are learning the same lesson each day.

Our pediatrician smiled wisely and said, “They all develop at different times and there is no point trying to teach them beyond their capabilities.”  Truer words were never spoken, and yet she may not be acquainted with my tenacious tendencies.

Scooter is not without his charm.  In this picture he has copied the Bob Book cover and carefully written “Pre-Reading Skills,” not withstanding the fact that he has no idea what that actually means.

 My favorite learn-to-read books have always been the Bob Books.  They are simple, uncomplicated and truly tell a viable tale with very few letters.  Each story adds just one or two new words and your child will soon be able to gain confidence “reading” these short stories.

Once Scooter can read approximately 20 – 30 words I will begin to “write” my own little stories for him to read.  For me, this is always the really “fun” time in a child’s reading development.  They love reading the little, silly stories about themselves, their friends and family.  We are definitely not there yet.

This year, owing to needing additional material for Scooter, I have used Hooked On Phonics Pre-K and Kindergarten levels 1 and 2.  These are nice sets, easy to use and quite appealing.  Scooter enjoys the words and graphics.

Scooter loves interaction.  He is fascinated with the “sounds” this computerized D for Dinosaur makes.  I am wondering, Who is that knows what a dinosaur sounds like?  Scooter enjoys the “Dinosaur Dance.”

 I have also found some great FREE online reading programs.  My absolute favorite is Starfall.  www.starfall.com

This program offers a complete introduction to the alphabet, beginning word construction Pan, Can, Fan, etc. and then small stories using each new word and sound set.  Additionally, Starfall has some very nice introductory number and math programs.

 There are countless electronic learn-to-read programs but it still always comes back to the basics.  Words and Books.  After all our lessons, Scooter and I return to the basics of reading together.

 Scooter loves stories and I show him how the words I am reading are right there on the page.  Ultimately, I evaluate his reading skills based upon true decoding.  Can Scooter read a new word in a new context because he can sound out the letters and recognize the word?  Can he read a story and understand the meaning?  We are still a long way from success but I am confident we will get there.  Meanwhile, Scooter is learning that I love him and I love words and together we are loving the words that make up the stories that we always enjoy reading together.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the opportunity to practice eternal patience.  For each child, it is their first beginning. 

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.

So Long Sweet Summer, So Long…

Summer is our favorite season.  The weather is warm and wild and thus prohibitive of difficult endeavors.  Freedom reigns.

Each person is free, like the wildflowers, to grow in any direction and to follow the sunshine of their dreams.

Happymess kids begin the summer with a trip to the zoo and a greenhouse.

The plastic gorilla is even more fun!

The Fourth of July was shared with friends and family.  Watching shards of light sparkle and reflect across the ocean waves is spectacular.

This summer Scooter got his first set of wheels.  He is finally able to ride to the library, church, candy store and beach with his brothers!  This is surely the high point of Scooter’s summer.

For the first time, Truth and Quantum left home to spend a week living in the woods.  We missed them, but loved coming up for the closing bonfire.

Athena traveled most of this summer.  We did manage to catch up with her long enough to enjoy kayaking on the lake together.

Oddly, perhaps, most of our summer was spent reading.

We read long, complicated historical novels like Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and fun, short books like Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown.  We read intriguing children’s books like A Single Shard by Sue Parks and we read Bob Books as we struggled to teach Scooter some basic reading skills.

One of our favorite activities is the Library Summer Reading Program.  Bounce and Scooter race to the library everyday to record the new number of hours they read.  They average 2-3 hours per day.

We allow Scooter to count his pre-reading activities towards his reading total.

One of the fun aspects of summer is that everyone enjoys the whimsy.  Here is the ceiling of our favorite summer diner.

Bounce loves art.  I am not a big fan of scraping paint off the floor so summer and art and I are best friends.  Bounce created an outdoor studio where he can paint whenever he likes.

 

As summer comes to its inevitable end, I begin organizing, arranging and planning for the unsentimental months ahead.  Here we have all the un-owned shoes looking for new feet so they can attend school next month.  I managed to find several pairs each for Bounce and Scooter.

And so the month of August draws to a close and we must finally say, “So long sweet summer.”  What a wonderful interlude it has been.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the freedom to dream, create and cherish the unscheduled and the free.