Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stopping to Catch the View at All Those Turnoffs

Hubby and I just returned home from a trip to Northern California for a conference.  Grandma and Grandpa stayed with Max for the week and kept him on task with his school work and extracurricular activities.  They all did very well together!  It was really nice for Gary and me to be able to spend some good quality time together, not to mention the fact that Grandma and Grandpa got their grandson all to themselves for a whole week.

On Thursday after he finished attending his lectures, my thoughtful husband asked me to be ready to go when he got home.  He surprised me with a drive up the coast and a stop at a scrumptious vegan restaurant in Sebastopol called the Slice of Life.  I'm not a hard and fast vegan, but don't tend to eat meat or much in the way of animal products anyway; that's been a natural transition over the last five years.  The food was divine and I felt the day was as near a perfect day as a day could get (not quite perfect because by then I was missing Max!)

We continued on up the coast to a beach called Goat Rock State Beach where we kicked off our shoes and spent some luscious time dawdling in the sand.  I love to dawdle and take things in.  My best mate looked up and out at the Pacific, I looked down at the sand and rock patterns.  That's how we are; he's a big picture guy, I revel in the details.  It was lovely.

On the way back we followed Highway 1 south and noticed numerous turnoffs here and there that beckoned for attention.  Had I been driving, we would have pulled off at every single one to see new things, take in the view.  I thought about the yearning to know what's there and realize I have a tendency for pulling off the road as a homeschooling mom.  We stop and follow tangents whenever needed to broaden the scope of a subject we are focusing on.  Sometimes Max says, "why do I need to know this?"  Not in a complainy sort of way, but in an honest wondering way of what he would possibly do in the future with the information that might be in front of him at the moment.

Thank you, Norton Juster, for addressing this very puzzling thing in your book, The Phantom Tollbooth!  Here's the quote which now hangs on the fridge to remind us:

"And remember, also", added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, "that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach.  But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow".

~ Norton Juster

Sigh.  Isn't that exciting?  I admire this sentiment and think it bears some attention.  Go ahead and take those turnoffs while homeschooling - you never know how it will all come together in the future!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Peas in a Pod: Books that Compliment One Another

Seems to be the week of observations!  Here's a quick observation about a few books that go very well together, like just the right flavors served up on a plate.  We just finished reading Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book; one of the author's last stories in that book is about a young elephant handler in India in the late 1800's.  It is called "Toomai of the Elephants".  It's quite wonderful, really.  A glimpse back in time of a relationship with a boy and his mighty friend, Kala Nag.  We found all of Kipling's stories to be delicious, especially the adventures of Rikki Tikki Tavi, brave mongoose that he was!

You'll find a nice short summary of the Toomai's story HERE; You can read the entire story online HERE.

At the end of the book, the Puffin Classic version of The Jungle Book offers some information about Kipling's life, about wild animals, about the time period.  Makes for good discussion and a nice wrap up.

While browsing through a shop today I again ran into the book titled Modoc:  The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived, a book which has been on my reading list for awhile now. 

This story is also set in about the same time period and plays out for the reader a strong bond between a boy and an elephant.  In one adventure, Modoc has an experience with the Mahout elephant trainers of India.  Click!  Toomai in Kipling's imagination was also a boy growing up among the Mahouts.  That's when my brain made the connection.  The Mahouts are legendary in their abilities to handle elephants, although some of their 'handling' methods are painful to read about, if you ask me.  But I've never worked with an elephant........

Looks like there might be some controversy regarding whether or not Modoc is a true story, but nonetheless it is written by a gentleman who believes in using kind training methods when he works with animals, so if THAT'S true, then the guy deserves some respect.  Would read well right after a trip through Rudyard Kipling's stories. 

And then for some adult reading, you can head on over to the Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  Another connection with India and wild animals, only this time two unlikely species end up in a small boat afloat for 200 plus days out at sea; one of them is a Bengal Tiger, the other a human boy.  If you haven't read it, I won't spoil it for you.This story is a little heavier on the scale of weighty reading - it is pretty fantastical - so maybe more suitable for older teens or young adults.  It also deals with a boy searching for himself admidst three different religions, which might make for several interesting discussions were you to share it with your older child.  It's somewhat slow to get started; I remember kind of glazing over at first.  Sounds like a great read, doesn't it?  The boy's ability to understand and work with the tiger psyche is worth reading about. 
For whatever reason, my brain says that these books go together.  If you happen to be learning about India or elephants or handling animals, you might try tucking these into your curriculum, two for your child, one for you!  Good stuff.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Art is Great, Especially if There's a Scandal!

Art has become a good fit in our curriculum; both Max and I enjoy learning about artists and their work.  He declared yesterday that he likes Jackson Pollock's paintings - wouldn't it be fun to get out some tarps and canvases and paint Pollock style?  Nobody says you can't.  That's what I find most likeable about homeschooling!

We have been slowly working through this book and in the process get to appreciate some modern art.  Plus we have had to hone our eagle eyes to spot similarities in details and figure out which artist painted which painting.  It's not that easy!  So far we've sat with this book in short bursts over three days; there is a lot of detail to discriminate.  The best part for Max has been trying to find the rogue painting.  What I like about this mystery is that the child needs to construct a table or come up with something similar to keep track of all of the information in a logical format, otherwise it's just too complicated to try and do in your head. 

Same concept, same fun.  Identify 16 of 36 paintings that are forgeries and solve the mystery before the auction takes place.  Author and art historian Anna Nilsen has another similar book in her repertoire for children called Art Fraud Detective.  Any of these titles will keep you occupied with fine art for several hours.

Art pieces from 22,000 B.C. to 1964 A.D. with summarized backgrounds and historical importance.  This book is perfect for the overstuffed chair and a blanket to snuggle up in together.

My favorite take-away from this book is learning that Picasso had a pet goat who used to follow him in and out of his house.  That's charming!  This book helped to capture Picasso's personality as an artist, from his grumpy mornings (Picasso was not a morning person!) to his affection for his children and the animals he surrounded himself with.  The cover does a good job of laying the groundwork for Picasso's playful side.

On the shelf, waiting to be read.

"The name on the painting isn't the artist's only signature. Recognizing an artist's work may seem a mystery at first, but it can be as easy as spotting a friend's handwriting. Containing full-color photos of 12 masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, this book gives clues to identifying his paintings through color, line, shape, composition, and more."  Author Richard Muhlberger has published other books which concentrate on Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Rembrandt, Raphael, Cassatt and Goya, and more, too.

I picked up an inexpensive table easel ($5-$6)  at Hobby Lobby and some canvases at 40% off last week.  Drawing with pencils, pens and Sharpies crops up weekly, too.  Just having some materials handy is a pleasant reminder that art can become an important aspect of life.

Mark Kistler offers up some engaging art instruction via his website called Imagination Station; three summers ago Max attended a week-long art camp with Mark and enjoyed his humorous and encouraging approach.  The Homeschool Buyer's Co-Op offers discounts on subscriptions to Kistler's online programs, so watch for those if you are interested.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Something BIG is Coming

If you've spent any time on my blog, you might have noticed that we are a bit over-the-top with animals.  Maybe that's me and it just trickles down into the family, but I haven't seen anybody picketing in the backyard against the numbers.  Most of the time I am the impetus behind a new critter and having an uber-tolerant husband has been nothing short of wonderful.  The deal is, I bring someone new into the family, I take care of the new someone.  Sometimes I get kinda' tired!  But to me, the animals provide a level of connection that you often just can't find with most humans.  Max would agree.  He's nuts about the goats, dogs, cats and chickens.

After almost sixteen years of marriage, my husband has decided that it's time.  Time for a GREAT DANE!  Meet Noel and her babies:

Gary has always gone "soft" around Great Danes.  The Dane seems to be his dog.  Pups should be ready for their new families in December.  I think we'll be bringing home a female - get ready for the lovin'!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we are seeking out Cesar's wisdom, looking at puppy classes and are reading about how to wrangle multiple dogs, one in particular who will likely weigh 120 pounds or so.  Here is what's on my reading list:

Started this last night.  Puts dogs in a whole new realm of their very own, as it should be.  I always suspected that we over-anthropomorphize our furry friends!

This is available as a free download HERE - yay!

Hope the library has it!

Patricia McConnell has several good offerings in dog training books, too.  
Also reviewing basic house training and crate training protocol as it's been about four years since we last did that stuff.  We're all on board for helping her grow up to the best of our abilities.  And what a terrific opportunity for Max to help me with all this reading!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Current Reads with Retells

Retells, or narrations, are trending in our house lately.  Charlotte Mason, through her writings from the late 1800's, has convinced me of the value of asking a child to retell something in his own words.  These narrations are sprinkled throughout the week now and the fit seems to be a good one for Max.  It's his natural inclination to explain things anyway (in great detail sometimes) - many children like to do this!  Is your child one of them?  So why not open up that door and let him or her happily explain something to the nth degree as you listen attentively in bursts of focused attention?

Retells come in many shapes and sizes.  Some kids practically write their own novel on paper as they narrate a chapter or two from a good book.  Others fill sketch books with drawings from their imaginings about what the story told them.  Children like to speak into a microphone to narrate and then hear their voices played back to them, too.  What better way to record their precious voices before, during and after the maelstrom of hormones hits?  Max prefers to speak his narrations, but encouraging him to draw it out or put it on paper in words is worthwhile for him, too.  Sometimes he dictates and I type.  Other times he will transfer this flow of words that tumble so forthrightly out of his mouth onto paper, but it is frustrating for him since his hand does not transfer to paper nearly quick enough what he is thinking.  In an instance like this, listening to a dictated recording of his retell might prove useful because he can stop the recording as needed.

The main objective is to help him organize his thought process and learn to focus on a story line from an author worth focusing upon.  Ms. Mason championed this task in helping the child to own the information, to really take it in, to KNOW it.  I really do resonate with many of her philosophies and it will be fun applying them to our current world in a secular fashion.

Here are some books we are using for retells at the moment.  I don't ask Max for a narration every time we read or he reads; it is more random than that and after awhile you'll get a feel for the flow of it.

Beautifully written.  We are deep in the jungle with Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera, too.  

This particular edition contains the many drawings of Mr. Seton's that are so cherished by readers of his work.  Not for the faint-of-heart.  This is Mother Nature in raw form at times.  Warning: please see a more recent post that may nix this book from your list or possibly give you some potent material to work with discussion-wise.  Remember, my opinion.  Others see this book differently than I do.

Stumbled upon this in the library and it was the orangutan that got my attention, truth be told.  Turned out to be a quirky book written with humor and weirdness and accurate history, too.  Max ate it up, but he won't do a narration on it because he thinks I should read it first.  To avoid spoilers, I guess.

Began this one today with a retell of the first chapter about Thales, the Greek mathematician who figured out how tall the Great Pyramid is in Egypt.  I'm assigning chapters and asking for retells now and then.  Today he drew a stick figure Thales next to the pyramid and explained to me how to determine the height of the pyramid with the information that was available.  Smart guy, that Thales.

This will likely be a continued theme for us.  Max seems to be taking to it naturally; it's my job to continue to provide him with good, if not grand, reading material and to encourage him to know the information and decide for himself if it works in Max's world.

If you are curious about Charlotte Mason's philosophies, please Google her.  Keep in mind that the words straight from her pen are the most helpful, albeit a bit archaic as you have to slog through some Victorian writings; there are many people who seem to put their own agenda stamp over her ideas and thus a myriad of websites and blogs have sprung up which attempt to harness her voice. Her ideas speak for themselves - if you can get your hands on some good and fair summations of her ideas and then work your way over to her original words and slowly digest them, you'll be off to a good start.  Hers is a gentle, kind and wonderful approach that can be tailored to fit your needs.

Keep in mind, too, that Charlotte had time to sit and think.  She did not have children of her own and she  probably had help with tasks like cleaning and cooking, so her expectations of mothers in her writing can be daunting. If you're a mom who doesn't have a governess, a cook and a gardener and who is homeschooling - be kind to yourself!!  Put her words in context.   

If you are interested in viewing her philosophies through a secular lens, it will take some work on your part; you can begin by accessing this blog for help:  I also read Penny Gardner's secular handbook about the Charlotte Mason method of schooling.

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