Monday, January 30, 2006

January 30, 2006: Slice of Life

Yesterday. A mid-March kind of day in January. One of those days that makes us breathe deeply, still grateful after six years that Iowa winters are behind us, in another life. Still amazed to look across the road and see that endless stretch of blue mountains.

Laurel and Duncan in the pear tree. My little girl in flowered rainboots shouts, "I'm the queen of the tree!" My little boy in bright red Chucks ("Cons" nowadays) replies, "Well, I'm the prince of the tree!" "I'm the Mama of the most precious children in the world!" I shout back to them. The wind kicks up leaves and a train whistles in the distance.

I love the curve of the sidewalk here at the front porch. I love the chipping red paint and the potential at this spot. Someday I will line the sidewalk with marigolds and zinnias. Sometime bountiful hanging baskets will grace my front porch, and I'll sit in a rocker and watch the mountains change colors.

But for now, there's a little boy with a handful of tiny hard pears and the warm sun on my head. For now there's a pup chewing a stick and a mockingbird in the cherry tree. For now there are daffodils thinking it's March, and a sky as blue as my mother's eyes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

January 23, 2006: At the Edge

I have reached it. I am standing on the edge of Cliff of Overextended with my tip-toes hanging over. Now I am suffering from a dose of guilt because I wouldn't do the one thing that would have sent me officially over the edge. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were like one giant glob of STUFF that had to be done by a particular time and EVENTS that had to be attended and, in which, in 5/6 of the cases, I had to play a major "directing" role. And then tomorrow! Tuesdays are traditionally my do-nothing, go nowhere days...but I have a meeting in the a.m. and a party in the evening. What was I thinking, scheduling activities on my precious day off??

But the guilt! The guilt comes from not baking my mother an apple pie for her class luncheon. I just could NOT do it. And I'm feeling guilty because my schedule is so packed that I could not even take one hour to bake my mother an apple pie. Part of me wants to be callous about it. To shrug it off with--What would possess my mother to ask me to bake her a pie, when she KNOWS all this stuff I have going on? And why can't she bake the pie herself? But what I really feel, when I take a painfully honest gander at myself, is that I brushed my mother aside. I was so stacked with activities that I couldn't even set aside a little time to do this act of service for my mother. And now this day is gone, and perhaps my mother will wait a long time to ask me for another favor. She asks me for so little, and she gives me so much.

All this has added to that knowledge that's been creeping up on me lately: something's got to go. I feel some relief knowing that we will be sharing the teaching of Sunday School now with another couple and that we only have another month as leaders of our Small Group. It's not the everyday things so much as the extras: the parties here and there, the dinners, the extra meetings, the special event. I have to be better about leaving free time in our schedule.

I once had a boyfriend who summed it up well. One time we were driving back from a date and, when we passed a certain place where lots of our friends hung out, he said, "You just hate to miss anything, don't you? You can't stand to know that something is happening and you're not there." That's still true. And yet I read blogs written by women who have time for things like scrapbooking and quilting, and I think "That would be SO lovely!" But I love most of the things we do! Oh, it's such a catch-22. "It's such a conundrum," as my old boss would say, "that I'm all discombobulated."

Friday, January 20, 2006

January 20, 2006: Making Good Writers

Today I began an essay writing class in my home. I have 7 students, 7th-10th grade, who were there almost entirely because their moms made them come (except Brittany, who seriously came for the fun of it). This is very typical of even my creative writing classes. The kids--well, generally the BOYS--dread taking it. They are so mad at their moms for signing them up! They are either sulking or breaking out in a cold sweat. All kinds of anxious thoughts are buzzing around in their heads: Is she going to make me READ in front of everyone? Am I going to have HOMEWORK? But I'm a terrible speller!

I love that moment when they all realize: "Oh....this class is going to be FUN!"

Which leads me to the puzzling question: why are kids so scared of writing? Sure, there are kids like I was, who can't stop writing. Kids who keep journals without being told to, who scribble poems on scraps of paper, who keep lists of names and funny words. Kids who blog. There are even a few kids who enjoy a good essay now and then. But on the whole, kids are terrified of the writing process.

I can understand how writing loses its magic when it becomes a rote drill every day in public school--when the process is always the same: prewrite, rough draft, edit, revise, new draft, better draft, best draft, etc. But why do homeschooled kids dread writing? Most of them haven't been turned off of writing by the public school's endless busywork and tedious worksheets. Do kids have a natural dread of writing? Is this something that subtly seeps out of the pores of parents, so that parents are conveying their own fear of writing?

My personal goal is to turn out a crop of homeschoolers who are confident in their writing. I want them to be able to churn out an essay in response to any question posed on the SAT or a college exam. I want the incredible simplicity of the 5-paragraph essay to become completely natural to them. Some day they can take this basic form and make it their own style, but to have that backbone of essay writing as natural as multiplication--THAT will set them free.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

January 18, 2006: Notes in my Slippers

I love that my little girl leaves love notes in my slippers. I cherish her misspellings and her happy-faced people drawings. I have dozens of "I love you, Mama!" notes tucked here and there. I love when she writes me notes like, "I undrstnd that you have a meting and I love you mama." I never want to throw any of them away.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Titanic Unit Study


Written by and used in SmallWorld
Geared to 2nd-6th grade but can be adjusted and used with multi-ages

Day 1: Background

* The Titanic: Lost and Found (nonfiction)
* You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Titanic! (nonfiction)

Internet: Eyewitness History: The Sinking of the Titanic. Read about the sinking from the perspective of a governess on board.

(arts and crafts, handwriting, research)
Begin writing a book about mistakes made surrounding the Titanic tragedy. What are some ways that the tragedy could have been prevented or lessened? What could have been done differently? The whole story of the Titanic is full of little mistakes that added up to a big disaster. We used the first two books (above) and websites for research.
To make this book, we folded construction paper in half for the cover and stapled plain white paper inside. We have titled the book Oops! The Titanic's Book of Hindsight. On each page, we describe one or two mistakes that were made by various participants. For instance, "Oops….I forgot my binoculars! The lookouts left their binoculars back in England." And "Oops…Do we have any more lifeboats? The Titanic's lifeboats only had room for 1,178 people." The kids can write and illustrate each page, according to his/her ability level.

DAY 2: Background
Titanica: An Imax Presentation (95 min.)--from library

Reading: Titanic Crossing (begin--this is a rather long fiction book)

Do more work on the Oops! Book
Titanic sketch: Draw a sketch of the Titanic. Use lots of books as resources, and encourage your child to add lots of details. He or she may want to work on this over several days. We did this with about 8 pieces of paper taped together.

DAY 3: Getting Personal
Video: Titanic: The Truth Behind the Legend (55 minutes)--from library

Titanic Crossing
Titanic (Victoria Sherrow)

• Add another page or two to the Oops! Book based on today's reading and watching.
• Family history: Make a family tree, going back as far as you wish. Be sure to write the surnames of your ancestors. Talk about whatever family history you know. Where did your ancestors come from originally? Point out the different countries on a map. Trace the route they may have taken over. Afterwards, search the passenger/crew list for names that belong to your child's family tree. (Titanic: Fortune and Fate has a nice passenger/crew list at the end of the book.) We found our surname and a couple other names on our family tree. (You may like to find names of friends if you can't find any of your own family's names.) Talk about the names you've found. What class was the passenger in (first, second, steerage)? Where may they have been going? How might their lives have been changed after the disaster (particularly if one family member was lost and others survived). This project will be continued on another day.

DAY 4: Passenger Stories
• Family history: Choose one of the names from your family tree. Write a story from this person's perspective. For instance, we found that the chief firefighter on the ship shared our surname. We wrote a journal-style essay of his last hours, from the moment that Captain Smith sounded the alarm until the ship went down (he was lost at sea). To spark ideas, I began each journal entry with a sentence, and then Jesse wrote several sentences on his own.

Titanic: Fortune and Fate. This is a wonderful book with lots of photos, letters, mementos and personal effects from passengers and crew members.
Discussion: Class structure. This is a good time to discuss class structure. Ask your child if we still have a class structure today in the United States. He or she will most likely say "no." We launched into a long discussion about our own class system, ranging from homeless people to tycoons. We also briefly discussed the caste system of India.

Science activity: Floating
Materials: 20 paper clips, foil, ruler, bucket of water
1. Have your child state why he believes heavy ships can float and what he thinks will happen with this experiment.
2. Cut two 12-inch squares from aluminum foil.
3. Wrap one of the metal squares around 10 paper clips and squeeze the foil into a tight ball.
4. Fold the four edges of the second aluminum square up to make a small one square pan.
5. Place 10 paper clips in the metal pan.
6. Set the metal pan on the water's surface in the bucket.
7. Place the metal ball on the water's surface.
8. Record what happens when in steps 6 and 7. The metal pan should float and the ball should sink. Have your child write an explanation of why this happened.
9. Discuss buoyancy and how it allows huge ships like the Titanic to float. *
* At this point your kids will most likely want to test all kinds of different objects to see what floats and what sinks! Try to have them predict beforehand if an object will float or sink based on its density.

Reading: Continue reading Titanic: Fortune and Fate.

Activity: Graphing lives lost and saved
Using a passenger list, begin tallying statistics on passengers. We divided these into Lost and Saved, and then 1st, 2nd and 3rd class within each category. Our goal is to graph a few hundred names of each class passengers both lost and saved. We will spread this activity over several days, as the tallying becomes tedious after a few pages!

Polar: The Titanic Bear. This is the true story--told from the POV of a stuffed bear--of one family's experience on the Titanic. This is such a wonderful story, with so many topics for discussion. Note especially the lifestyle of the rich and famous in the early 1900s.
Activity: Write a story from the POV of a favorite toy. For example, Jesse's story is about getting lost in the mountains, told from the viewpoint of his hermit crab.

Internet: Mary Jane's Q&A Page
Questions and answers about the Titanic, including myths and legends surrounding the disaster.

Day 6: The Sinking

Reading: Continue reading Titanic: Fortune and Fate. Begin reading: Titanic: The Story of the Disaster in the Newspapers of the Day. This is a wonderful collection of newspaper articles dating from the launching of the Titanic through the sinking and its aftermath. It is very interesting to note, on the first several pages, how inaccurate the reports were. (This is a good time to discuss—briefly—how we can't always believe everything we read!)
Read The Heroine of the Titanic. This is a fun story about Molly Brown.

Activity: We graphed another 50 names or so of the passenger list (saved or lost, which class). We then discussed our results (i.e., that so many more third class passengers were lost than either first or second).

Add another page or two to the OOPS book.
Activity: Lifeboat crisis:
• Discuss the issue of lifeboats and why they were such a factor in the number of people who died on the Titanic. Ask questions about what/who determined who got into the lifeboats.
• Figure out how many lifeboats there were on the ship and how many people each could hold.
• How many people would be without a lifeboat?
• How many lifeboats should there have been?
• How many people would be without a lifeboat

On Board the Titanic by Shelley Tanaka
This is a really excellent, comprehensive book about the disaster, told through the eyes of Jack Thayer, first class passenger, and Harold Bride, assistant telegraph operator.

Titanic (part 1)
I was able to record this when it was on television and edit out all of the sexually explicit material. I would NOT recommend allowing a child watch the unedited version unless you are right there to fast forward. Some parts are very inappropriate for children. However, the movie as a whole has some wonderful images, social customs, views of the ship, etc. We paused often to talk about various parts of the movie.

Construct the Titanic! Jesse made a wonderful model of the ship with black construction paper. He used about 8 sheets to make it about 3 feet long by taping the paper together. He cut out all the details around the outside of the ship and used a white gel pen to make the windows, etc. Looks really great! A great book to read along with this is Inside the Titanic.

Reading: Skim the rest of Titanic: The Story of the Disaster in the Newspapers of the Day. I would have enjoyed reading this a lot more if we had time. Some of the stories in here are fascinating. We did take quite a while to read one near the end of the book that was written for Harper's Weekly. This is a narrative told by a passenger who escaped in one of the early lifeboats. These articles give a lot different details than some of the modern books.

Movie: Titanic (part 2)
Again, this movie should be watched with careful guidance. I had edited out quite a lot of material in the first part, especially. You know your child best. You should definitely watch the movie first yourself to decide if it is appropriate for your child.

Take an icy plunge! Fill a large mixing bowl with a lot of ice and add some cold water. When the water gets really, really cold, have your kids try keeping their hands in as long as possible. Talk about hypothermia.

Day 9
Finish OOPS book.

Titanic: Lost and Found by Judy Donnelly
You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Titanic by David Stewart
Titanic by Victoria Sherrow
Titanic: Fortune and Fate (letters, momentos, and personal effects from passengers and crew)
Polar: The Titanic Bear by Daisy Corning Stone Spedden
Heroine of the Titanic by Joan W. Blos
On Board the Titanic by Shelley Tanaka
Titanic: The Story of the Disaster in the Newspapers of the Day.

Titanic Crossing

Titanica: An Imax Presentation (95 min.)
Titanic: The Truth Behind the Legend (55 minutes)
Titanic (Leonardo di Caprio) --home edited version, about 3 hours

Internet Sites:
Eyewitness History: The Sinking of the Titanic.
Read about a young girl's account of the sinking.

Take a tour of the Titanic.

PBS Titanic

Mary Jane's Q&A Page, includes myths and legends surrounding the disaster.

January 16, 2006: Look Who Came to SmallWorld!

What an awesome afternoon we had yesterday picking up our new puppy! She is way, way, way too cute! landdaisy


Saturday, January 14, 2006

January 14, 2006: War


Our mother is beautiful
without makeup, with the round balls
of her cheekbones like crabapples
or plums, and her crooked front
tooth. But with a little
pencil to shade in the sharp arch
of eyebrows and bright red lipstick
she becomes
a black-and-white
photograph hung in a young man’s barracks
where in the early evening before dark
and after a green supper, one soldier lies
sideways on his cot facing her,
tracing the soft outline of her cheek
with one knuckle, three fingers from his lips
to hers and back. We will never be
so carefully memorized.

By Sarah Cummins Small. Published in The Willow Review, 2000.)

Monday, January 9, 2006

January 9, 2006: Why We Homeschool: The Intangible Version

We homeschool because....
* of days like today, when we had a spontaneous winter picnic. That in itself is lovely. But every aspect of it adds to the delight of homeschooling: my daughter made pbj's cut into perfect triangles; my 12-year-old son pushed my 5-year-old son in the swing so we could prepare the picnic; my parents joined us, making it a three-generation spontaneous winter picnic;my kids don't think it's weird to have a picnic on a rickety table in January. They're used to stuff like that.
* of days like today, when my son had fun doing pre-algebra.
* of days like today, when my dad came to hang out and read my son's math book.
* of days like today, when my daughter gave her little brother her "squishy pillow" to sleep with because he was upset.
* of days like today, when my littlest guy said, "Can I have these pennies to send to the poor children in Africa?"
* of days like tomorrow, when we can just drop all our "regular" studies to take advantage of a wonderful wildlife program that's going on all week.
* of hundreds of yesterdays and tomorrows, filled with yellow rainboots jumping in puddles; mouths smeared with cookie dough; tears shared over sad books; lightbulbs flashing when a concept is mastered; muddy clothes and huge smiles; popcorn and movies; little prayers said; brothers and sister huddled over a game; sweet kisses on my cheek; fights over who loves Mommy most; happy yells when Daddy comes home; sweet friendships with other homeschooling families; and a million other little day-to-day treasures that might never be captured without homeschooling.
And THAT is why we homeschool.

Why We Homeschool: The Practical Version

There are so many different reasons why we decided to homeschool. This is always a hard question because all of the reasons are important but it always seems to be only one or two that get discussed. I've listed several reasons below, but even these don't come close to saying it all. It's impossible to tie "the reasons why" up into a nice bundle. Every single day I find new reasons. But here's a go at it:

Family: Probably the most profound reason why we homeschool is our desire to truly appreciate and celebrate the daily sanctity of family. No human can know our children better than we do. Why give away their best hours to someone else? We feel so strongly that our family is a gift to nurture and enjoy. We don’t have to conform to the standards of an individual or an organization whose values we don’t support. We want a more relaxed, less hectic lifestyle. We want to watch ants carry a dead wasp or watch birds on a sunny afternoon or read for hours on end. Our children are able to bond more with each other and with us as they spend time together playing, working, and helping each other. Our time with our family is so short and so precious.

Learning. As far as learning goes, our values about learning were quite different from those of the local school system. We want to teach our children creatively. We want them to love learning—not look at learning as a chore that must be completed, day after day, year after year. We wanted to be able to spend weeks on a certain subject if we were enthralled by it, or to spend only a day on a topic or a process that we found unnecessary. For instance, in PS, a child might spend weeks learning a math process that we spend one hour learning. Homeschooling allows us to teach very specifically to our own children without having to teach to the middle—or to the lowest—end of the class.

Time. Too much of the precious time allotted to childhood is wasted in school buildings! How much time is spent engaged in meaningful learning in a typical day at a typical school? How much time is spent with discipline issues, waiting in various lines, waiting for the teacher, waiting for the next activity, waiting until everyone else is done…. Also, I think about how much learning my kids do OUTSIDE during the day.

Identity: I want my kids to have a clear sense of who they are. Not who they are as defined by their teachers or their peers, but who they really are. It is so much easier to be a confident, secure adult of you can bypass all the crap that goes on in school.

Socialization. My children are socializing with the real world—with people of all ages, in all walks of life. They are not stuck with a group of 20-30 of the same kids every day—kids their own age. One of the funniest things about people voicing their concerns to me regarding socialization is that they will often talk to me about their concerns after complimenting me on how well behaved my children are or how much they appreciate their clear delivery of scripture at church, for example.

Shelter. One of the remarks I hear occasionally during discussions about homeschooling is whether or not I’m concerned about the fact that our children are sheltered too much from reality. I explain that "shelter" has developed a negative connotation. To be sheltered is one of our basic needs. Think about how God promises us shelter--how he shelters us in the cleft of a rock or under a wing. Providing shelter is a good thing! Yes, I am very concerned about sheltering my children from the reality defined by the culture of school.

Faith Heritage. Finally, we homeschool for our faith heritage. We want our children to learn to serve others and to engrave the Word of God on their hearts by acting it out daily. We want them to grow to be servant-leaders who will make a difference in the Kingdom of God.

Monday, January 2, 2006

January 2, 2006: A Different Life

I cannot come to Indiana to visit my husband's family without imagining a life in an old white farmhouse. I can see myself washing dishes while watching my kids out the kitchen window. In the winter the cornfields are harsh and stubby and the trees are bare. I would be able to see the children for a mile or more--see them tromping through the woods or testing the ice on the pond. In the winter the snow would come and bury us inside our drafty house, and we'd haul in wood and bake bread.

I cannot visit my hometown in upstate New York without imagining a life there. What if we lived in one of those big white farmhouses with the widow's watch facing Seneca Lake, with a view of the lonely expanse of vineyards rolling down to the gray lake? I could sit in the widow's watch and wait for my husband to come home on snowy roads. Or we could live in the town where I grew up, like nearly all my high school friends still do. We could eat at Uncle Joe's and walk fast, the way we do in New York.

How can all that midwestern and eastern expanse make me feel so claustrophic? I breathe easier as we drive down Interstate 75 from Indiana and start coming into the mountains. It's a wet day, and the mists settle on the mountains like wisps of tulle. I love to be enveloped in their shadows and then reach a peak a crane my neck to look down into the valleys. I'm even happy to see the maligned kudzu, sad and scraggly in the winter woods.

It's good to be home.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Jan. 1, 2006: True Love

I could listen to Grandpa's stories all night. It's all interesting: riding on horseback to his one-room school ....growing up poor in the Ozarks....quitting school in 7th grade to work at the A&P.... I love it all. But nothing touches me like his love for the dark-haired beauty, Alice Rose.
Grandpa is actually my husband's grandfather, but he's been a grandfather to me for 17 years. My own grandfathers both died before I was 10 years old, and I believe I loved Randy's Grandpa the moment I met him. He is a precious man.
At 93 he is well aware of the limited time he has left in this world. Alice Rose, the love of his life, passed away 9 years ago. It has all been a waiting game since then. He is waiting for the day when he can join his Alice again. New Year's Eve he again shared with us the story of his life. I love all of it, but nothing touches me like his love of Alice. I can hardly keep the tears wiped off my cheeks when I hear him say, "We had a good life then." Here is Alice in the black-and-white pictures: simply beautiful, and so haunted.

I know what comes later. I know Alice suffered from severe depression most of her adult life and from Alzheimers the last decade. But then, back then in 1934, there was just a young man not unlike Jimmy Stewart and a girl who looked like she stepped off the boat straight from Italy. (In fact, Alice had not a drop of Italian in her, but there was something Mediterranean about her, something mysterious and cultured. You would expect the girl in the wedding photos to speak with a thick foreign accent.) In 1934 there was endless possibility, a snug house and a good job at the A&P.