Monday, September 23, 2013

creeks and color

One of our cooperative learning days found me with these three in the woods.  Our goal was simply to walk the creek, and see what we could see...lots of leaves down, walnuts, pawpaws, some minnows, and, of course, I found some fungus.

pawpaw masquerading as a rock

three little chipmunks on a rock
My friend M. had just had a similar sentiment to Ani's expressed to her by her son, Noah:  enough with the overt teaching, let's just do it. However, she is an ultra-prepared and optimistic planner (somewhat like myself...) who threw a microscope and a few measuring tools in the back of our car just in case.   I had to laugh that the only tool that got used that morning was the meat thermometer, while everyone took turns taking the temperature of their lunch.  Apparently most sandwiches, while being eaten al fresco, maintain a steady 62 degrees.

what IS this?! some sort of hairy organism, hanging from a branch

After lunch, and before a downpour, we explored an activity that I did with the girls a few years back. After passing out glass jars in various sizes, and exploring the sounds they made when struck with wooden chopsticks, we added water to each jar.  Each kid had three jars, and experimented by themselves with adding and taking away the water (what made the sound higher? lower? did striking the jar in different places change the sound?).  Then I asked them to arrange their three jars from lowest tone to highest tone. This took a while, as some of the tones were very close. Sometimes we sang to match the pitch to figure out which was higher, which was lower.   When that was done, we combined the jars into our own kind of scale, lowest to highest, tweaking along the way to make more disparate tones.

Once they were satisfied and agreed on the tones, we added color to the water.  Much discussion here - should the highest note be purple, or the lowest? Is yellow a high color? Where does deep red fit in?

The next step was composing some music to go with the instrument. 

Some of the circles were filled with one color; some were split between two colors, and were usually played like a trill between two jars.

Eliza finished her piece and moved on to play with illustrating repeated notes, long notes, and ways in which high and low notes could be indicated.  She's a music reader, so this part made sense to her.  I think it would have taken more time to play for the other two to get this variation, and to be honest, for all of them the project could probably have stopped with "ok, here are some jars; what sounds can they make?"  They played them upside-down (muffled) and right-side up (ringing), along the rim, on the sides.   I forget how that simple exploration can be so engaging.

We finished by tossing the colored water into the bushes and making a break for the car in the rain, but before that happened we had a chance to perform our pieces for each other!

Friday, September 20, 2013

speaking up

So, we've been trying to figure out where the "school" fits into our homeschooling.  Generally it crops up here and there, when it seems useful, but not because it is a total fit with our family.  Joy-based anything is what appeals to me, and if joy can be the driving force behind What We Do, I can get behind it.  Sometimes that looks like math on the computer.  Sometimes it looks like sewing doll clothes.  It means lots and lots of games.  Hours spent outside.  And sometimes I forget what has worked for us, and get caught up in the new-year excitement of planning all sorts of things for us to do, activities, schedules, projects, curriculum

This fall has looked like a whole lot of structure where before there was play.  I was needing it, and Eliza is enjoying having a certain amount of structure and challenge, but Anika, while she played along for a few days, finally had it out with me during our drive to Eliza's dance class, the drive home and the whole hour before we went to pick her up.  It was a long conversation, heartfelt and focused, and she did not give up until she was certain I had heard her, and not just in the "yeah, yeah, I got it" way, but as in "Wow.  You are feeling this deeply.  I am hearing you!"

The gist of it was this:  I am down with the home part, but enough of the schooling.  I want to spend my time playing, and if I am learning something, that is great, but let's not call it that.  I am a great reader, I can read anything I need to read; I know how to write and I can do it if I need to, but I want to do it when I want to do it, not because you tell me to; and math, well, I can do math if it's a matter of life or death, but I do not want to work on it All.The.Time.

If you want to read through that again, you could do it the way I told it to Dan, over a margarita, with several emphatic expletives peppered throughout in my attempt to capture the real heart of the message.  Plus it made me feel better; you can imagine that my ego was a bit wounded throughout this delivery.  She told me I didn't play enough with her, and that it wasn't fun.  I can hear some of you saying to yourselves, "Well, life isn't always fun, so what?", but I really, really believe that Fun works.  Not "woohoo, isn't math fun?!" fun, but laughing, delighting, eager gobbling up of life kind of fun.  It's when we all learn best, and that is never more true than when you are eight years old.

When I got over myself, I sat there amazed at her ability to present this message to me so clearly and so emphatically.  She has not always been willing to converse with me (as opposed to talk at me), or to follow through a discussion so completely.  It can be exhausting and frustrating and doesn't always make a difference, and she is more likely to just shrug her shoulders and just do what she wants to do without having a conversation about it.  What I realized is that she was advocating for herself, and for the kind of learning that she knows works for her.

To give myself some balance and perspective on this whammy, I spent some time that night, looking back at the posts I wrote when Eliza was her age.  What did we do? How did we school?  Do you know what I found? We didn't.  We played.  We created.  We talked, hiked, explored, danced, snuggled and read books.  Eliza wasn't a solid reader, so we played games that involved simple reading and writing.  We went letterboxing.  We made scavenger hunts for each other, we sang songs. It was fun!

The last few weeks have felt stressful, off-balance and cramped.  I woke up the morning after this revelation feeling free and open.  Joyful.  The first thing I noticed was that Ani had found her pad of paper from our trip, where she had written Chapter One of her first story, and was working on the first couple lines of a new chapter.  Later in the day she showed Dan a drawing she had worked on for a long time while listening to a story;  she was really focusing on the "facial details, especially the eyebrows" and had discovered something about her usual approach that wasn't working for her, so she was experimenting on how to change it.  She also beat me at Blokus and then preoccupied herself with fitting all of the pieces of the game onto the board at once while I made lunch. And we got outside.  Ani visibly relaxes and opens during our hikes, chatting and narrating the path, showing me what she finds and running ahead and returning to press her face into my belly.  Her self is recharged, and she is Happy.

I want that for all of us, don't you?  I want us all to be able to ask for that, to notice what isn't working and dammit, say something! Anyone who knows Ani might be shaking their head, for she is not one to hold back anything that comes to her head, but this was different.  She cared whether or not I was listening, whether or not I was hearing her, and while she hasn't needed to talk about it since, she is warm with me, connected and softer than her usual self.  We are finding a new path...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

figuring it out

Fall always feels like a new beginning for me.  I'm hard-wired that way, I suppose, but it's the time when the juices usually start flowing, ideas are coming in fast, and creativity abounds.  This year the transition into fall has been less than smooth, and I'm not quite feeling the flow yet.  I think it's been all of the have-to's, even the fun ones like Silver Baby; we have been busy and not in the squirrelish way we usually are this time of year.  This past week we've managed to get Out a few times, in our own time, and I think that once again that might be what rights the balance for us.  The smell of leaf litter, the goldfinches rising from the tall grasses along the bike path to form quarter-notes along the telephone wires, the treasure hunt of mushrooms that pulls us a bit further and a bit further down the path.

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We are trying some new things this fall.  Eliza is dancing in a hip-hop class and tried out the local swim team that trains on campus.  She and I sat down to map out some goals for the fall; I asked her how she'd most like to spend her time.  Hip-hop, sewing, reading, making and selling art topped her list.  She's discovered manga tutorials on you-tube and is really enjoying exploring that distinct style.

Selling wares at the Pawpaw Festival
"Steampunk" came to town in the form of a day of workshops and exhibits at the public library.  Patrons were invited to come in dress, and Eliza spent the whole day there, making tiny tophats, balloon-powered aircraft, and hobnobbing with costume designers and modeling Victorian-era clothing (she was the one small enough to fit!).

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We're experimenting with doing some learning with a couple of other families.  The things we love about it are the small size of the group and the opportunity it gives us to try things that need some critical mass to move forward.  The challenges are being patient with giving it enough time to work out the kinks.  Isn't that usually the most difficult part of trying something new?  I'm finding that I'm taking a daily measure of how happy the girls are.  Are they feeling challenged enough? Are they excited or engaged about something in their day? Are they being kind to each other?!  Day by day, figuring it out. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the last postcards of Summer

Okay...the last of What I Did on Summer Vacation...the loveliest parts are being with the people, of course...
Great-Great Aunt Jean searches for Waldo
Eliza was noticeably so much taller this summer.  That and the gorgeous dye-job and she's a different person!  

93 and 11
We stayed with my grampa again this year, soaking up all of him that we can in our short days together.  He still humors the girls by reading Br'er Rabbit to them.  Ninety-five and maybe he's slowing down a bit.  We managed to catch him in between a trip to the Upper Peninsula and his work at Habitat for Humanity.

We were gone from home a total of three weeks.  Egads!! A year or two ago that would have been impossible, at least for Anika.  Her need for alone time is slowly diminishing, and she is more gracious and generous with her spirit, more willing to share herself with lots of people she only sees once a year.  Used to be that after 10 days we had to high-tail it home with a melting child who just needed "normal".  Three weeks was long for all of us, but there was never a melted moment for her (or should I say for just her!).

playing with new baby friend, Eve
 Part of what helped, I think, were a few bits of Normal, inserted here and there.  Crafting with a cousin...

At some point, lying on the beds in "the blue room" over the garage at Papa's house, Eliza started a story that is a riff off of Alice in Wonderland, and the story fever grew.  The girls threw themselves into long stretches of writing - writing! - which of course gave them nice pockets of down-time away from the crowd.

Ani's first story

I got a much-anticipated break from the family visit when I gathered for lunch with The Ladies from the spring trip to Israel.  Swoon. Stories, updates, pictures, Arabic coffee, and the best baklava I have ever had, at The Nile.

We spent the last few days of our vacation with my sister's family and my mom, up north.  It was a great, relaxing way to end our trip, with nothing to do but play games, swim, hike, read and take a nightly drive with my mom and sister, looking for wolves.

The girls read their stories aloud around the campfire on our last night

And that was almost it.  One more stop, in Chicago, to visit my cousin Ben and his family. Just when you thought there couldn't be more babylove...

Good lord, there is something so sweet about your baby enjoying other babies...suddenly she isn't so little.