Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November Days

This morning we awoke to the first snow of the season.  It was met with the expected first snow glee--requiring an underwear dance on the deck (a little tradition I began in college) and a snow-suited foray into the semi-dark morning.  The mitten situation shed a bit of reality on the season to come (has there ever been a 4 year old who enjoys mittens?) but I was doing my best to persevere with my joy.   As I get older I have been appreciating more and more the differences of each season, and very much so the subtle beauty of the starkness of early winter.  The simple act of fetching wood from the porch inspires a photograph.   
November is raw, but real.  She's hiding nothing.  

The snow quietly settling on the frozen grass and the wood stove sparking to life was calling me to stay home for a quiet day.  But, today is Tuesday.  Which means homeschool coop--a raucous, wonderful crowd of nearly 100! homeschoolers (including parents and babies) packed into our rental space for the better part of the day, which we divide into 3 sessions with several classes each session.  It is amazing, sometimes exhilarating, and always exhausting.  My quiet day didn't happen.  Of course the kids had a great time rolling in the snow down Belfast Common, snow ball fighting, and eating snow with their friends (never mind all of the crafting, physics, ecology, research, and space studies going on).  The playdate extended into the afternoon, as friends joined us at home, and sleds were pulled from the barn rafters and hauled around the dark yard by headlamp.  

Its all good, and seems to be the way of November.  Crammed between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the time of year when all things non-holiday get scheduled, and pre-holiday preparations are already in the works.  Early last week Rob and I didn't see each other at all for more than 10 minutes (discounting sleep) over a stretch of 3 days.  As a family we've been soaking up bits of quiet time whenever the opportunity arises:  late morning solo art projects before swim, quick games of cards after lunch,  late afternoon tree sitting just for quiet (she even took her nature journal up there--love that!) projects on the brain that beg to be squeezed in between errands and lessons (Juniper's honey drops--a recipe she made herself and gifted to her piano teacher); sand play indoors, and yes, a bit of school work as well.  Lately our schedule has been loose, but good, with many late afternoon impromptu reading sessions or math work, and early morning risers who get right to work on their own, self created reading, writing and film projects.  Despite my attempts at direction we seem to be dispersing at low tide, heading about our personal explorations.  Its all busy and sweet and good.  



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Floor Work

With the completion of our fantastic kitchen island, we now may officially have more horizontal work surfaces than may seem reasonable in a house this size (can you ever really have too much work space?). Even so, the favorite place to work remains the floor. Go figure.  
There's a reason its concrete.  


Friday, November 15, 2013

The View From Here

This is a moment for sharing , inspired by SouleMama's "This Moment".  In her words,  "A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."  To play along go to the SouleMama blog.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fiddler On The Roof (and a new kitchen island!)

The big kids and I went to see "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Waterville Opera House with our homeschool group last weekend.  The show was very well done, and despite being a little long we all enjoyed it.  I'd seen the show once before, in high school I think, and remembered just a little about it.  What surprised me is that I either hadn't realized (or I'd forgotten) that the fiddler is only a metaphor for the lives of the people of their village, precariously balancing tradition and changing culture and surviving against the odds.  Somewhere in my adolescent brain I'd seen it as an actual trade in their town, albeit a risky one.  

The past few weeks I've been feeling like my own life is a bit like that fiddler.  Of course my struggles don't even begin to compare to those of Tevye's family as they face anti-semitism, extreme poverty, and an angry Czar who drives them from their village. There's nothing like refugees to put your life into perspective.  

Perpective aside though, my struggles have felt real to me--and its been a rough few weeks.  Monday's post of cheery, homeschool love and excitement was pre-written (two weeks ago), and while heartfelt and honest at the time of writing felt fairly like lying based on my present state of mind.  I've been dealing with some minor conflict in a couple of different areas of my life, which came to head just as two fairly large, long planned for projects were beginning with some other groups (one of them is a fantastic community build with Window Dressers organization to help keep our neighbors warm, reduce heating costs, and cut down on CO2 emmissions.  Check it out.) In the midst of these deadlines and commitments, trying to appropriately deal with conflict and meanwhile trying hard to stick to our homeschool schedule, Wylie announced, which quickly progressed to pestering, that he'd like to try public school.  For many of you, particularly those of you with kids in school this probably seems unoffensive, and rather normal.  Even so, to me his request felt like a sock in the gut.  I can't verbalize exactly why.  It didn't feel like an insult as some have suggested.  I know his curiosity well and can see where he's coming from.  But, it put me in an instant state of panic and unrest.  I'm still part way there.  

So, in the past week we have explored the local school, he has tried out the classroom and enjoyed it, though is not ready to make any kind of commitment.  He's not sure really what he's wanting from school, and I'm not sure that what he's looking for is really what he'll find there.  I feel like Tevye from fiddler, balancing pros and cons...  "On the one hand we didn't decide to homeschool him on a whim..."On the other hand, how much harm can come from 4th grade?  On the other hand.....   

As parents the decisions we make about and for our children are never easy.  But, when they were babies I always seemed to know in my gut what was right.  Now that they're older they have so many of their own opinions and feelings to add to each decision there's not just my own gut to consider.  At what point and with what risks do we decide to trust their instincts against our own?  

There are a few necessary steps to be taken before we can pursue the idea of school further, and Wylie is not sure what he wants to do from here.  I'm taking it slowly and trying to keep it all in perspective.  He's not moving to Siberia with his rebel partner, and none of us are facing an angry Czar.  So its mostly good, despite my angst.  

At the end of the play, refugees on stage, huddled against cotton snow flakes, struggling to carry all of their belongings as they are being displaced, Juniper turned to me and said flatly, "That was a sad ending".  Yup.  

I'm not sure how my little struggle will end, but I'm sure it will be better than theirs'.  

And, in the meantime, we have this amazing new kitchen island!  
Three cheers to Grampy, who is always up for a project when he visits, and is willing to work for chicken soup and BudLight.  And, to Rob who is almost always willing to agree to my design inspirations (despite his initial doubt) and who tackles any project with the mind to finish it before the weekend is out.  
We left for the play with the three of them, Grampy, Kale, and Rob, mulling over my design and working out the numbers.  We came home to a nearly finished piece, ready for me to sand and oil.  After 4 coats of mineral oil we've begun using it gently, but I'd still like to get another few coats on before we really get down to business on this beauty.  This new island has a proper overhang so the kids can eat without dropping food all over themselves, space for all three kids at once, and a cupboard on the end for storing our favorite school resources right near the table--where they get the most use.  We made the top and sides of birch plywood so they finished smooth and sleek, but should still be fairly rugged, and for 1/3 the price of butcher block.  I love it.  
Below pics from all sides, plus what happens when they all notice I'm taking pictures of them....


Monday, November 11, 2013

Project Mondays: Monarch Project

My (paid) work experience with early childhood education was based on the Reggio Emelio/ Project approaches to education, so project work is the stuff I really dig.  We started out homeschooling this way, with them playing and exploring their interests, while I gathered materials and books that corresponded with those interests, their play mirroring their learning, until they felt they were done with the exploration.  Among all this I would find a way to impose handwriting and math practice as needed. It was fun.

(For more info on Reggio Emelio read here --please note I am not endorsing this school, which may or may not be lovely, only linking to it for its easy to read information.)

But, sometime during Kale's toddling year--while wiping up pee, feeding three kids, and juggling our schedule it became easier to do things more traditionally, with alternate play, and sit down work whenever the baby happened to nap.  But, now that Kale is older, asking his own questions, and forming his own projects I feel like we're ready to return to a more project based approach.  We're still sticking with our six week experiment but have been incorporating time each week toward a formal project.  I call it formal to distinguish it from a traditional project approach which would be very much child led and directed (as described above).  At their age I think it is appropriate to include some formal study into their projects.  By "formal" I mean report writing, math skills, and eventually public speaking.   

This first formal project was very much Mama led, with the idea being that eventually the kids will do their own complete projects.  This is not to say that I doubt they could do some pretty amazing projects all on their own accord--but again, my plan with this was to model how research is done, teach them project mapping, and to encourage them to incorporate writing and math skills into the study.

Here's how it went:  
Each fall we collect a monarch caterpillar in our bug box, watch it form a chrysalis, hatch, and then release. Except this year, because all over the country this year, Monarch butterflies have been missing.  We'd been looking unsuccessfully in all our usual places, when I heard this news report on MPBN.   The story piqued my interest and the kids were curious as well, so that was the beginning of our project.  

For the next six weeks (this all began back in the beginning of September) we worked on memorizing caterpillar poems, (below is my favorite), watching a cabbage moth emerge from its cocoon, reading books, drawing pictures, crafting caterpillars from pebbles, discussing life cycles, looking up vocabulary words, researching, writing poems, reading and discussing articles, diagramming the "ripple effect" of climate change on Monarchs, watching videos, and  mapping monarch migration (how's that for alliteration).  

The older kids also learned how to take notes, and outline a report.  Then, using note cards the three of us worked together to write a two page report on the missing monarchs.  I did the typing while they narrated the sentences following the outline we had created.  I let them do most of the writing, but did offer suggestions for connecting words to make the paragraphs flow smoothly together, and suggested word changes when something didn't sound quite right. It was a little more hands on involvement than I usually have with their writing, but I think it was useful in their learning how to do it.   

As I'm writing this I realize it sounds like a ton of work, but we spread it out, working for just an hour or two each week (on this particular project).  It was just long enough each week to explore the interest for a bit, then carry on with the rest of our lives.  It was not at all overwhelming, and with the exception of the vocab work (they had to look it up in the dictionary) they enjoyed it.  Over all we're pretty pleased with how this first project formal went.  

newly hatched cabbage moth, in lieu of monarch butterfly

For our next project we're exploring geology--based on numerous questions that Kale has had recently about lava, volcanoes, and how rocks are made. As well as Juniper's questions about how the Earth was formed, and Wylie's interest in Pangaea.  I'm gathering materials, and planning a few activities, but will also be hoping the kids can take the lead and create some activities on their own--either for themselves, or for all of us to do.  Can you tell I'm excited?  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday Morsels

Morsels:  Tasty bits from the past week....

*  Juniper ran in her first 5K road race.  It was the first annual "Tick Me Off 5K" to raise money for research and treatment of chronic Lyme disease.  The event was local and a blast.  There were so many families, running and walking together, preschoolers on trikes, strollers, and of course dogs.  Juniper rocked it.  So much of my kids' childhoods (for me) have been mixed with a twinge of sadness for what has passed, but running this race with Juni gave me a glimpse of what our future could hold--running side by side with my girl as she grows up.  

*  Halloween was met with the expected excitement of pumpkin carving and costume preparations.  This year the kids did much more of their own costumes--which I highly encouraged!  When they were little I really loved sewing their costumes, but now I'm enjoying how they are taking over the process, and continuing to view the holiday as a celebration of creativity (and candy of course).  This year for trick-or-treat it rained.  That was a bummer, but it did keep the treating to a minimum which means less corn syrup ingested.  We finished the evening with a sweet little gathering at a friend's house, donuts on a string, cider and pie by the fire place. It was a warm end to a soggy evening.  

                    The amazing owl costume is not me...its our friend Molly--she made it herself!   

Here's me, Kale and I both dressed as a  dark knight/night.  You can't tell here but my shirt and face were covered with glow in the dark stars.  

    Even Boris and Brownie got costumes (entirely kid made).  

* Juniper had her piano recital this past weekend.  She's been working on "Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music since Spring, and she should be so proud of herself for her poise and calm throughout the song.  Three full verses sung and played beautifully, and loud enough for the audience to hear.  And in her "maria" birthday dress.  So sweet.  We are lucky to have such a wonderful piano teacher, who plans recitals before the rush of the holiday season, and who invites musical friends and siblings to share in the event.  Wylie played "Frere Jacque" and nailed the low C, which I'm told is a difficult note for beginners  (they all seem difficult to me).  The recital was short and sweet and culminated with a drumming workshop and impromptu jam session.  Awesome.  

*  We kicked off Novemeber with a sunny, calm 60 degree paddle in our new kayak.  Did I mention we won a Kayak in a raffle?  We won a kayak!  We brought it home three weeks ago at the forefront of a week of hard frost and drizzle, and were just about to pack it away for the winter when we were met with this incredible day.  Juni, Kale and I took to the pond for an hour long paddle. Juniper sat between my legs and paddled much of the way, and the cargo spot in the back makes the perfect seat for Kale. 
I'm already looking forward to next summer.  

Here's to a sunny November, and many more tasty bits ahead!