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.

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. 

The Calm Before the Storm or Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

The really and truly beginning of school has begun.  All the plans are behind us and now our efforts will be transformed into hard facts:  some successful, some not-so-successful.

I am awake at dawn so I can savor a few minutes of quiet.  At this exact minute everything is clean, organized and well, sort of perfect:  perfectly quiet.

Like stockings which are hung by the chimney with care, our books and our schoolwork are quietly waiting, the ensuing chaos as inevitable as Christmas morning.

This may be heaven but it is certainly not homeschooling.

Our homeschooling family, when it awakes, will be loud, boisterous, obstreperous, untidy, demanding and…most of all, excited to start the new school year.

 

 

Wait a minute, I think I hear them now!

In actuality, our first few days of school have been rewardingly peaceful, organized and productive.   Whew!

We are, so far successfully, using Debra Bell’s student planners.  I met with each student in my new “office.”  They loved having private time in a comfortable space.  We established individual goals, both personal and academic.  Then each student completed their planner with subjects and specific assignments due for each day of the next several weeks.  At first they felt that this was double work, writing down the assignments as well as completing them.  Imagine!  However, now they are gratefully ticking off their tasks and calling me to, “hurry up and come sign off on my assignment!” each time something is done.  This simple system provides me with plenty of checkpoints to both supervise and review their work.  Happily, it seems to be fostering independence and task completion as well.

Bounce is hard at work on Saxon Math 5/4 this year.   I recently discovered a great (free) program called Big Brainz, http://www.bigbrainz.com. This three-dimensional game reinforces multiplication and division facts while exploring castles and dungeons populated with monsters and dinosaurs.  Bounce elected to use his break to play this game.  It is the best one of its kind that I have seen.

Truth began by reading A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.  He was suspicious of this book because others had already read it.  What made us think that he would like it?  He will now freely admit that he is really enjoying the book.

My first days also included attending a parent orientation to Stanford University’s Online High School.  This school represents true diversity (as opposed to “manufactured diversity”) in its student population.

Like many traditional families, we began school with a haircut, straight out of the 1950’s.  Here is Scooter, getting his haircut by the same barber who cut his father’s hair on his first day of school.

Scooter has now officially started Kindergarten, which he is attending at a local school.  I love teaching kindergarten, but I also appreciate the advantages of structure and discipline, especially the first few years.

Scooter feels like a big boy as he gets on the school bus (all by himself!) each morning, leaving all his big brothers behind.

Scooter waves Good-Bye!

And thus the adventure begins…

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is each of us doing what works best for ourselves, while maintaining our family and community centered lifestyle. 

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.

Wood Works!

Our Destination Imagination team has been struggling with the technical difficulty of joining three 4’X8’  very HEAVY boards together into one unit and creating a platform on which the three boards can spin freely during their theatrical performance.  If you have been following the story you may remember that during their State competition the boards collapsed on the actors who then had to hold them up, with a smile, for the rest of the performance.  Now our team will be exhibiting their project in a local gallery.  This time the boards cannot fall down!

Frustrated with all their previous efforts, the boys are now getting serious.

They have borrowed a friends wood shop and are finally using the correct tools. (Previous efforts included trying to hot glue the boards into place!)

Math skills are actually useful!  Who knew?

Destination Imagination:  It is possible to learn a new skill and be successful!

And now for the real test.  Truth and Quantum have built a beautifully engineered base and top.  Will it fit the boards?  Will it be stable? Will it rotate?  Can the team actually put the whole thing together?  The anxiety level is high.

It works!  The boards are upright.  Quantum is afraid to .move.

Kimono of 1000 Cranes:  Dressed for Success!

Team I.C.E. (Imagine, Create, Empower) is ready for their first gallery opening, Kimono of 1000 Cranes.  It is very exciting to see all their wonderful backdrops and props on exhibit with other works of art.

Oh!  And don’t forget the famous Can-Can dancers!  They have a starring role as well.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is watching your children start with a dream, struggle through successes and failures and finally share their dreams with the world.

Word for Word: Scrabble Nationals

Happymess has just returned from the excitement of participating in this year’s Word Whirlwind, otherwise known as the National School Scrabble Championships (N.S.S.C.).

This year’s competition was held in Orlando, Florida.  Universal Studios provided a great background for Giant Ambitions.

Quantum joined a local library Scrabble club this year and discovered that he really enjoys both words and strategy.  After months of studying and extensive time playing, Quatum and his teammate are ready for the big time:  Scrabble Nationals.

Here they will meet their matches, literally.  Children grades 4-8 are arriving, Scrabble boards in tow, from all over the U.S. and Canada.  It will be two days of tension on the high seas of words.

Almost immediately, as the kids arrive, they unpack their boards and tiles and begin to play.  There are Scrabble games in the hallways, on the floor, in spare meeting rooms.  These kids love playing Scrabble.  School Scrabble is a team sport and the kids are eager to try their skills against one another.  There is a real sense of camaraderie amongst these verbose and competitive kids.

But finally, the real competition must begin.  Teams “square up” and check “distribution” to ensure that they have the correct number of every tile.  These kids keep careful track of each tile that is played and they are keenly aware of what tiles their opponents may hold on their “rack.”

The Number 1 ranked team starts off the day winning a $100 prize for a 104-point word:  ficklest.  Let the games begin.

Each team is allocated 25 total minutes of playing time.  Once the games begin there is almost totally silence.  Partners confer with one another through whispers and gestures.  They rely upon one another to find “bingos (8+ letter words) and to spot “phonies” (false words played by opponents).

The all-important leader board consumes the attention of team members.  As each team completes their round the placements are shifted.  Teams eagerly wait to see where they are placed, to view their “spread” (cumulative points won) and to determine the ranking of their next opponent.

The evening of Day One is spent at an ice cream party and, you guessed it, more games!  Word-crazy kids play a series of board games, but Scrabble continues to be the most popular.  In this more casual environment, kids pick their own partners and opponents.  It is an opportunity for the novice to challenge the leaders.

Famous Scrabble Masters are on hand to share their wisdom and love of the game. Joe Edley, author of Everything Scrabble, is closely watched by a group of Scrabble students.  He shares some secrets.  The School Scrabble Champions are eager to try to beat him.

Day Two brings many more rounds of Scrabble and the competition for the very top slot is getting fierce.  A single careless error can be costly.

Quantum and his teammate have finished their final game.  They are ranked number 20, with an impressive spread of +282.   After two days of Scrabble against some tough players they feel very satisfied.

Now it is time for the final round.  This game is played between the Number 1 and the Number 2 team to determine the final ranking.  The game will be played in a separate room but the play will be filmed and projected live in a special theater.

We all pile in eagerly to watch and to shout advice from our seats, which the actual players cannot hear.

The National Champions for 2012 are announced.  This team is a pair of 8th graders who won this same championship when they were in 5th grade!

This has been a great weekend and a pleasure to watch hundreds of kids for whom the WORD is still sacred.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is discovering a new world of people committed to the love of words.