• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2012 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

The Magnifying Glass
by Walter de la Mare

With this round glass
I can make Magic talk –
A myriad shells show
In a scrap of chalk;

Of but an inch of moss
A forest — flowers and trees;
A drop of water
Like hive of bees.

I lie in wait and watch
How the deft spider jets
The woven web-silk
From his spinnerets;

The tigerish claws he has!
And oh! the silly flies
The stumble into his net –
With all those eyes!

Not even the tiniest thing
But this my glass
Will make more marvellous
And itself surpass.

Yes, and with lenses like it,
Eyeing the moon,
‘Twould seem you’d walk there
In an afternoon!

*******

Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy has the week’s Poetry Friday round-up, including news about the naming of Jack Prelutsky as the new Children’s Poet Laureate, a choice I just can’t get too worked up about…

*******

We’ve been very busy this past month, a different kind of busy than the usual farm and garden busy that kept us so busy at home over the summer. This busy needs us in town more often and has us relying on meetings and other people. I don’t dislike it, but it takes some getting used to. Plus the kids are on a roll with school, and Davy has cracked the reading code, which is thrilling. It’s been a round of music and art lessons resumed (new voice lessons for Laura, adding Daniel to art), the semiannual homeschool facilitator meeting to check our progress (“There’s learning going on in this house!” he smiled at me), the start-up of homeschool gym days and homeschool support group meetings, and an organizational meeting for a new 4H baking club, so it looks as if Laura might be in two 4H clubs (the other meeting for the beef club is next week). And the calendar for the rest of the year is starting to fill up — Christmas music recitals, the possibility of a Halloween party at a friend’s house instead of the usual trick-or-treating, homeschool poetry recital, and more. Oh, and Canadian Thanksgiving is much too close (next weekend). I’ll try to get back here with some more posts, updates, and links, in which I’m sorely behind…

I’m sending you off to see Carlotta

Just as I was forwarding Carlotta the two emails my father had sent me this morning with the two recent articles from The Spectator on home education — with a “have you seen this??!!” — she was writing a post about them.

I will likely be posting my own two cents, but until I do, and particularly in case I don’t, head over to Carlotta’s blog, Dare to Know, for her thoughts.

Poetry Friday: Remembering Eiluned Lewis

We Who Were Born
by Eiluned Lewis (1900-1979)

We who were born
In country places
Far from cities
And shifting faces,
We have a birthright
No man can sell,
And a secret joy
No man can tell.

For we are kindred
To lordly things:

The wild duck’s flight
And the white owl’s wings,
The pike and the salmon,
The bull and the horse,
The curlew’s cry
And the smell of gorse.

Pride of trees,
Swiftness of streams,
Magic of frost
Have shaped our dreams.
No baser vision
Their spirit fills
Who walk by right
On the naked hills.

Another treat from Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard.

Eiluned Lewis was a Welsh poet, novelist, and longtime correspondent to Country Life magazine, where she contributed the “Countrywoman’s Notes” column. In her lifetime she was likened to Jane Austen, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kenneth Grahame, and Arthur Ransome. Miss Lewis’s sister Medina once observed, “Eiluned’s childhood days cast a spell on her from which she never really awoke.”

Her work Dew on the Grass, which originally came out in 1934, is scheduled to be republished later this fall, at least in the UK and Canada.

****

Kelly at Big A little a has the day’s round-up along with a poem, “A Little Bird” by A.S. Pushkin. Thanks, Kelly!

Deadline coming up for the Early Autumn Field Day

A reminder from Dawn at By Sun and Candlelight that the deadline for the Early Autumn Field Day is at the end of the day next Monday, September 25th. The Field Day will go up on Wednesday, the 27th. For all the details, read Dawn’s latest post.

The weather is just fallish enough — considerably cooler than the beginning of the month, with a fair amount of rainy days since last week, and gazillions of geese gathering together — that I might actually get something written for this one!

Turn on, tune in, drop out

Frankie at Kitchen Table Learners is hot on the trail of a crackpot scheme, involving a number of blogs, not all of them related to homeschooling.* We’ve run afoul of some prankster who appears to have confused Jesus with Ken Kesey.

Word to the wise — don’t forget the all-important “s” in “blogSpot” if you want to keep up with your blogging pals and avoid the self-styled “Mega site of Bible studies and information”. Voice of Satan, indeed. Better yet, get thee to Bloglines.

And a word the prankster, merry or otherwise: This is the sort of stuff that turns many people off, not on.

*updated to add that I did a Google search of “blogpot” and found that you can type anything — anything — in front of blogpot.com and end up there. Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait.

And so on to our Homeschool History Lesson #1 for the Benighted: Today, class, we’ll be studying Thomas Jefferson, who wrote:

“I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to Him, and not to the priests.” — Thomas Jefferson to Mrs. M. Harrison Smith, 1816.

“Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.” — Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, 1813.

“I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.” — Thomas Jefferson to Edward Dowse, 1803.

“Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to God alone. I inquire after no man’s, and trouble none with mine.” — Thomas Jefferson to Miles King, 1814.

“I do not know that it is a duty to disturb by missionaries the religion and peace of other countries, who may think themselves bound to extinguish by fire and fagot the heresies to which we give the name of conversions, and quote our own example for it. Were the Pope, or his holy allies, to send in mission to us some thousands of Jesuit priests to convert us to their orthodoxy, I suspect that we should deem and treat it as a national aggression on our peace and faith.” — Thomas Jefferson to Michael Megear, 1823.

“The Christian religion, when divested of the rags in which they [the clergy] have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind.” — Thomas Jefferson to Moses Robinson, 1801.

“I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this [i.e., the purchase of an apparent geological or astronomical work] can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offense against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason. If [this] book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose.” — Thomas Jefferson to N. G. Dufief, 1814.

“The advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from [the clergy].” — Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, 1802.

More news from across the pond: Lynne Truss on "Why arnt childrun being tort how 2 rite?"

My father was darling enough to send me this morning Lynne Truss’s latest article from The Telegraph.

The actual headline, “Why arnt childrun…”, is rather misleading since the article deals not with spelling — which isn’t taught anymore either, at least here in Canada — but with the mechanics of writing. I would have subtitled my post “Why Araminta and Philip Can’t Write,” only Dakota, Denver, and Chelsea in North America are no better off. Each year I spend an inordinate amount of time at the local country fair perusing the school displays, mostly gaping at the high school collages (not essays) about popular movies like “The Truman Show” (not books). Very adept with scissors and glue, not so adept with words, sadly, which are apparently optional. Or at least not as decorative.

As Ms. Truss — “Designated Worrier for the English Language” since the publication of her zero-tolerance Eats, Shoots & Leaves — writes,

Last year, only 71 per cent of girls and 56 per cent of boys aged 11 reached level four – the standard of writing expected for their age. School inspectors were themselves recently e-mailed some guidelines by Ofsted on the difference between “its” and “it’s”, and how to spell words such as (useful in the circumstances) “under-achieve”.

“But what about all those lovely A-level results?” you object. Well, a few months ago, the Royal Literary Fund published a report, Writing Matters, that put those A-levels into perspective. Since 1999, the fund has been placing professional writers in universities, to work one-to-one with students on their writing skills, and their report was full of plain, staggering shock at the state of students’ entry-level abilities.

From every angle, the same message arrived: students who are arriving at university, many with multiple A grades at A-level, simply don’t know how to write. Many of them actually resent the idea that suddenly they are expected to be able to….

Why isn’t writing – not reading – given more prominence in schools? I really don’t understand it.

And,

No one just picks up the mechanics of writing, just as we don’t pick up how to play the piano simply by listening to it. Theory, moreover, is no substitute for practice, or for learning through making mistakes.

For decades, there has been an ideological reluctance to point out mistakes in written work. Pointing out “errors” was seen as discouraging to children, as well as unacceptably judgmental. But, when you look at it, what a patronising attitude that is.

Don’t kids have the right to know if they are getting something wrong? Then they can either have the pleasure of getting it right next time, or they can make an informed decision that, actually, they absolutely don’t care. It is patronising not to correct someone who is supposed to be learning; in fact, it’s quite a good idea occasionally to force people to confront the scale of their own ignorance.

It’s not just people’s self-esteem that’s at stake, after all. It’s the future of written English.

Is this an elitist point of view? No, it’s quite the opposite. To me, it’s very simple: being good at English means you’ve been taught well. The idea that “correct” or standard English belongs only to rich and privileged people is preposterous from every angle.

The English language doesn’t belong to anybody: it certainly doesn’t trickle down from the top. Mark Twain said it brilliantly 100 years ago: “There is no such thing as the Queen’s English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company, and we own the bulk of the shares.”

Go on, read the rest. Read it and weep.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman…

Particularly in light of this past week’s tragic event in Canada, I was quite interested to read this letter sent to The Daily Telegraph, from children’s author Philip Pullman, UK children’s laureate Jacqueline Wilson, and more than 100 other concerned citizens [all emphases mine, all mine]:

As professionals and academics from a range of backgrounds, we are deeply concerned at the escalating incidence of childhood depression and children’s behavioural and developmental conditions. We believe this is largely due to a lack of understanding, on the part of both politicians and the general public, of the realities and subtleties of child development.

Since children’s brains are still developing, they cannot adjust – as full-grown adults can – to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change. They still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed “junk”), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.

They also need time. In a fast-moving hyper-competitive culture, today’s children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum. They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini-adults and exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past.

The signatories conclude,

This is a complex socio-cultural problem to which there is no simple solution, but a sensible first step would be to encourage parents and policy-makers to start talking about ways of improving children’s well-being. We therefore propose as a matter of urgency that public debate be initiated on child-rearing in the 21st century this issue should be central to public policy-making in coming decades.

And here is the Telegraph’s follow-up article on the letter it received, where, among other things, you can read the following:

The letter was circulated by Sue Palmer, a former head teacher and author of Toxic Childhood, and Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education at Roehampton University.

Mrs Palmer said: “I have been thinking about this for a long time and I just decided something had to be done.

“It is like this giant elephant in all our living rooms, the fact that children’s development is being drastically affected by the kind of world they are brought up in.”

She cited research by Prof Michael Shayer at King’s College, London, which showed that 11-year-olds measured in cognitive tests were “on average between two and three years behind where they were 15 years ago“.

“I think that is shocking. We must make a public statement – a child’s physical and psychological growth cannot be accelerated.

“It changes in biological time, not at electrical speed. Childhood is not a race.

Among the saddest comments came from laureate Wilson, who notes,

“We are not valuing childhood. I speak to children at book signings and they ask me how I go through the process of writing and I say, ‘Oh you know, it’s just like when you play imaginary games and you simply write it all down’.

“All I get is blank faces. I don’t think children use their imaginations any more.

High time for a similar debate on the other side of the pond, too.

Poetry Friday II: Poetry for Children

Thanks to the recent Autumn Clean Up by Kelly at Big A little a, I discovered a terrific new blog, Poetry for Children — where every day is Friday! — and a new book, both from Sylvia Vardell about poetry for (and with) children.

The blog is about “finding and sharing poetry with young people”, and Sylvia’s most recent post is inspired by Lynne Truss’s recent children’s illustrated edition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, with Kalli Dakos’s poem, “Call the Periods/Call the Commas” from If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand: Poems About School.

You can read more about Sylvia’s book, Poetry Aloud Here!: Sharing Poetry with Children in the Library, complete with chapter descriptions, in her first blog post from July.

*****

Don’t forget to head over to Kelly at Big A little a for the day’s round-up, as well as “an excerpt, a review, and a big, big recommendation.”

Poetry Friday I: My Prairies

My Prairies
by Hamlin Garland (1860-1940)

I love my prairies, they are mine
From zenith to horizon line,
Clipping a world of sky and sod
Like the bended arm and wrist of God.

I love their grasses. The skies
Are larger, and my restless eyes
Fasten on more of earth and air
Than seashore furnishes anywhere.

I love the hazel thickets; and the breeze,
The never resting prairie winds. The trees
That stand like spear points high
Against the dark blue sky

Are wonderful to me. I love the gold
Of newly shaven stubble, rolled
A royal carpet toward the sun, fit to be
The pathway of a deity.

I love the life of pasture lands; the songs of birds
Are not more thrilling to me than the herd’s
Mad bellowing or the shadow stride
Of mounted herdsmen at my side.

I love my prairies, they are mine
From high sun to horizon line.
The mountains and the cold gray sea
Are not for me, are not for me.

*****

For more on Hamlin Garland, who won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1921 for Daughter of the Middle Border, visit the Hamlin Garland Society website, which includes a bibliography listing other poetry and books by Garland available online and a good list of resources.

*****

Hop over to Kelly at Big A little a for the day’s round-up, as well as “an excerpt, a review, and a big, big recommendation.” Sounds good to me!

Celebrating the right to read and the joy of reading

Jennifer Armstrong, author of the new The American Story, was kind enough to send me an email with the artwork for this year’s Banned Books Week poster, because as it turns out it’s an illustration by Roger Roth from the new book, selected by the American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression for the official poster.

Banned Books Week this year is September 23-30. For more information on Banned Books, including lists of banned, censored, and Bowdlerized books, go to the websites of the American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression, the Online Books project at the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Library Association.

At the end of the week, on September 30th, head over (virtually or otherwise) to Washington, DC, to celebrate the National Book Festival with the likes of Douglas Brinkley, John Hope Franklin, Doris Kearns Goodwin, U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, Elise Paschen, Louis Sachar, Alexander McCall Smith, Judith Viorst, and many, many others.

And so I leave you with these thoughts:

“I never knew a girl who was ruined by a bad book.”
New York City Mayor James J. “Jimmy” Walker (1881-1946)

“I am going to introduce a resolution to have the Postmaster General stop reading dirty books and deliver the mail.”
U.S. Senator Gale William McGee (1915-1992) of Wyoming

“The sooner we all learn to make a distinction between disapproval and censorship, the better off society will be. … Censorship cannot get at the real evil, and it is an evil in itself.”
American writer and critic Granville Hicks (1901-1982)

“If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

“To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.”
French philolsopher Claude Adrien Helvetius (1715-1771)

“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”
Oscar Wilde

“The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.”
Walt Whitman

“The price of freedom of religion, or of speech or of the press is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson

Manhattan lullaby

Manhattan Lullaby
by Rachel Field (1894-1942)

(for Richard — one day old)

Now lighted windows climb the dark,
The streets are dim with snow,
Like tireless beetles, amber-eyed
The creeping taxis go.
Cars roar through caverns made of steel,
Shrill sounds the siren horn,
And people dance and die and wed –
And boys like you are born.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

Earlier in the week, Susan at Chicken Spaghetti had a great Wish List post, a round-up of fun books, movies, and CDs from other blogs. I’m pleased that Susan likes the sound (no pun intended) of the audio CD of The Little History of the World and the Building Big DVD I wrote about recently, and I think that she and Junior would be pretty pleased with them, too.

And then wisteria at Twice Bloomed Wisteria took the Wish List idea and ran with it, “without limiting myself to books” to include “resources and personalities” from the blogging community, as she wrote. I was surprised this morning, not to mention honored and embarrassed, to find myself included on wisteria’s Wish List, especially because she cited my “calm assuredness in schooling, farm, and life choices.” To which I say “Ha!” a heartfelt thank you, wisteria, while simultaneously looking over my shoulder to see if you might really be talking about someone else.

In part because what might sometimes come across this here blog as “calm assuredness” is mostly good lighting, smoke, and some well-placed mirrors. In other words, if you haven’t yet noticed, I’m a pretty cautious and private blogger. Part of it is is just in the genes, part of it is concern about this whole public internets bidness, and then too I remember those reruns of the old PBS series “An American Family,” where I got an eyeful of what happens when people like the Loud family let it all hang out for the rest of the world to see. Not pretty, and edifying only as a sociological experiment.

The other reason is that when things aren’t all that calm or assured around here — when we’re too busy running around like chickens with our heads cut off after chickens with their heads cut off; tracking down the neighbors before breakfast because their bull, snorting and stamping in a rather alarming manner, is my garden, to which I sent a small unarmed unaware child for strawberries; or spending an extra hour I didn’t have at music lessons rather than at the supermarket — I’m usually too busy to blog about it, and by tomorrow I’ll have moved on to being busy with something else. So the more exciting, moving target things don’t tend to make it to the blog.

I also have to give some credit to being 42 — old enough to know better about some things and to know what I don’t know about others; as well as my husband, whose stability, hard work, creativity, and reassurance allows me to concentrate on the kids, the schooling, and the house; and life on a farm, where it tends to be Mother Nature and not me who calls the shots, which has been rather freeing. Besides which, between three kids under age 10 and the farm, I’ve learned that life is short, the days are even shorter, and I need to have my priorities straight to get through them. Thanks again, wisteria, for the kind words and vote of confidence.

Reading your way through American history with picture books

Kids’ author and home educating dad Chris Barton (husband to Redneck Mother, too) the other day posted his most recent American history picture book reading list for children, for 1925-1975, along with — and this is the very, very good part — all of the previous lists and their wrap-ups, from Prehistory-1621 (list and wrap-up) to 1975-the Present (list and wrap-up).

Makes a great Master List for a fun family project, and if you start now you just might make it to the Pilgrims in time for Thanksgiving! Thanks very much for sharing, Chris.

Poetry Friday: Harvest edition

For Tom, our captain during the swinging change of days

Father
by Frances Frost (1905-1959)

My father’s face is brown with sun,
His body is tall and limber.
His hands are gentle with beast or child
And strong as hardwood timber.

My father’s eyes are the colors of the sky,
Clear blue or gray as rain:
They change with the swinging change of days
While he watches the weather vane.

That galleon, golden upon our barn,
Veers with the world’s four winds.
To fill our barley bins,

To stack our wood and pile our mows
With redtop and sweet tossed clover.
He captains our farm that rides the winds,
A keen-eyed brown earth-lover.

***

Frances Frost was the mother of poet Paul Blackburn (1926-1971)

Eminently suitable

I don’t know what JoVE thinks yet about The Voice since she’s still travelling, but our complete unabridged audio CD edition of Sir Ernst Gombrich’s Little History of the World just arrived, and I’m thrilled to find that The Voice of Ralph Cosham is just right, which isn’t always the case with audio versions of beloved books. My reservations have been dispelled after listening to the first two discs. Well done, Blackstone.

A wonderful addition — dare I say a must-read and must-listen — for any home’s world history shelf.

Combine time

It’s combine time now. [Updated to add: When I first posted this earlier in the evening, I was just recovering from the suppertime whirlwind that was my kitchen, complete with grain moisture reader on the kitchen table, and the rosy moon wasn't up yet. Then I realized, after we've been gazing at it all week that it's finally the full, Harvest Moon. Not just great timing, but a great gift of extra light when the men are out working in the fields till midnight. Shine on, indeed.]

Tom arrived home just before eight and was grabbing a quick supper when his friend arrived and it was time to start combining the wheat. With good luck (no breakdowns and no rain — only the latter is a virtual given), they may be done by Saturday. Tom will run the grain truck back and forth from the combine in the field to the grainaries, and his friend will run the combine. The kids were getting ready for bed, Laura already in her nightgown, when our friend arrived, but they switched gears very quickly. “Please, please can we go?” Harvesting/
combining for the junior set around here is like Christmas — it comes only once a year and doesn’t last nearly long enough.

And like Christmas, I have to plan special meals. These have to be ample, tasty, and portable. So far I think it’s chili and plum tart for tomorrow, pork roast and peach pie for Saturday.

Timely thought for a new school year

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp
Or what’s a heaven for?”
from Andrea del Sarto, 1855, by Robert Browning

True for Renaissance masters and especially for children.

Reminded by The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by the marvellous Stephen Fry. Thanks, Pop.

Back-to-school goodie bags

I have to admit that while I can’t stand the provincial public school system, I love the idea of school. In fact, I think I wrote recently that one of the reasons we pulled Laura out to homeschool is that Tom and I each loved school so much (I used to cry on the last day of school because I was so sad to find it over) that we wanted our kids to feel the very same way about school, education, and learning. Not all the same, but all good things in their own ways.

I love school supplies, and to me the excitement of a new beginning in September has always been better than anticlimax of the post-holiday new beginning in January. Call me crazy. And part of that crazy excitement bubbles over into new books, art supplies, CDs, and movies I can share with the kids. By the way, even though the CDs and movies are put in individual bags, it’s understood that they’re all for-sharing-with-the-whole-family items. I’m nuts but I’m not that nuts.

For Davy, five-and-a-half and in 1st grade:
all first graders around here get a Timex learner’s watch (this one has a dinosaur design) and a good quality set of colored pencils (Laurentian “Studio”, new this year and so far so good);
small Lego “Racers” kit, with small car (since Lego counts as both a science kit and a math manipulative around here);
Lentil by Robert McCloskey (for music appreciation);
George Shrinks by William Joyce (to make new reading lessons fun);
Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather and Eric Sloane’s Weather Book, for my weather nut who was wearing out the library’s copies, and because anything by Sloane is wonderful
American Tall Tales audio CD by Jim Weiss, to go along with our continuing American history/SOTW3 studies
stickers/tracing paper/notebook/cardmaking bits and bobs

Daniel, edging closer to seven-and-a-half, 2nd grade:
“Building Big” DVD series by David Macaulay, definitely a big ticket item and one that’s been on my Amazon wish list for years, both for Tom and for the kids. Based on our first viewing tonight, I’d say it’s a big success, too. Ten thumbs up. Even if I can’t expense it for Tom’s construction work…
Burt Dow, Deep Water Man by Robert McCloskey
Emma’s Strange Pet by Canadian author Jean Little, an I Can Read book for my lizard lover and new reader
Lego “Racers” kit, with small car (see above)
Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America audio CD by Jim Weiss (see above)
stickers/tracing paper/notebook/cardmaking bits and bobs

Laura, nine years old, 4th grade:
School Smarts planner from American Girl, discovered by Laura in a summertime AG catalogue, and upon reflection decided upon as a way of moving her to more independent work, with (first) reading and then writing assignments. I’m hoping yesterday’s excitement about the planner and extra responsibility continues;
Kaya’s Story Collection by Janet Shaw (which Laura is enjoying immensely)
“Living Adventures from American History” CD from Eye in the Ear, another companion resource for our two-year SOTW3 studies, and something I’m eager to hear myself after reading the write-up in the Chinaberry catalogue several years ago;
The Burgess Seashore Book for Children by Thornton Burgess, to take along when we visit my parents in the West Indies in the new year;
Thomas Jefferson’s America audio CD by Jim Weiss (see above)
“Handwriting by George: Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company & Conversation”, a cursive writing workbook to take advantage of Laura’s American Girl/colonial America fixation (I’m sure you’re noticing an AG trend here in my Canadian girl); that’s George as in Gen. Washington;
The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, which I’m hoping Laura will let me read aloud to the three of them;
a few bookmarks I made with a line for the day’s date and “I need to read ____ pages by _______” to keep track of her new independent reading assignments; we’ll see how this works and I’ll keep you posted;
stickers/tracing paper/notebook/cardmaking bits and bobs

Since Saturday

Finally made it to Staples on Saturday for our fun school supplies, mostly for Davy, who is overjoyed about starting first grade: oversize (5″x8″) index cards with primary ruling for beginning writers; Laurentien’s new best quality “Studio” colored pencils (not as pricey as Prismacolor Juniors which are more than Davy needs right now, but better than the usual store brand — even he noticed a difference, and Laura our colored pencil expert said they compare favorably to the Prismacolors); Crayola IQ Sketching markers; oversize index tabs long enough to peek out beyond the plastic page protectors; yet another package of aforementioned page protectors; new binders for Davy (orange, because purple and green have already been claimed); stickers for everyone (Hot Wheels x 2, and farm animals x 1); a new Mead “Upper Class” student planner for me (where I can write each day what they actually did for the day rather than what I planned for them to do); the Staples “house version” of the Desk Buddy (Desk Jockey? Desk Buddy?) with 10 slots (three of each — how did they know I had three kids? Plus the one extra in the middle for my own stuff) that will make it easy for us to keep pencils, rulers, erasers, etc. on the table and corralled while the kids do their seatwork; and an impulse buy from the Teacher’s Aisle, a $10 Multiplication Songs CD.

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The leaves and the sun, sadly up later and down earlier, not to mention the geese and ducks gathering together in droves, are all saying “autumn”, but the air temperature, still near 90, is saying “summer”. Rather a nice if unusual combination for the prairies, all in all. No rain either, good for harvesting and for leaving sneakers on the deck, but the trees are starting to get pretty thirsty again.

Tom decided to celebrate Labor Day and the good weather by inviting some family and friends to say goodbye to our incubator-hatched wild ducks — once and for all identified as blue-winged teals. After chores on Monday morning, he and I boxed them up, and then we all drove over to our pond, where we released what I still think of as my eight babies. I suppose I expected them to waddle out of the tipped over cardboard toward the water, but as soon as the lid was lifted, all of them took flight and circled around the dugout, practicing their takeoffs and landings. The kids gasped and giggled and said their goodbyes. For the past few mornings, the kids and I have taken part of a loaf of bread to feed our former babies, and while we can’t tell which ones of all the ducks swimming around are “ours”, they all seem to be more than happy with the treat. We wish them goodbye and goodspeed, literally and figuratively, in evading the arriving hunters and heading south.

We ended the day rather differently, by the side of the road 10 miles north of home, the kids and I standing by in the dark with pails of water, a shovel, and a fire extinguisher while Tom welded one of the bearings that had piled up (this is apparently a technical term) in the swather, the part on the tractor that cuts the grain stalks and lays it in a tidy, erm, swath. All the fire precautions, including moving the tractor out to the side of the road from the field, were to prevent a stray spark from the welder causing a fire in the ripe grain, which is after all just dry grass. Think tinder. Tom finally got everything fixed by 9:30, and if the kids hadn’t needed showers before we left the house, they certainly needed them on arriving home. So much for my grand plans of an early bedtime before our first day of school.

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All the more reason, along with our early harvest, to start yesterday’s back to school efforts gently, and with lots of coffee. The day began with the “goodie bags” I started a couple of years ago, when I realized that I didn’t really want to squirrel away the really fun books, art supplies, and CDs I had found over the summer: the American Girl Kaya story collection and the AG school planner for Laura, a few Jim Weiss CDs, some DVDs, a Timex learner’s watch with the dinosaur strap for Davy, a couple of Robert McCloskey books for Daniel, a couple of small Lego kits for the boys. The kids each did one lesson of Singapore math and some penmanship, we looked after the animals, then headed to town after lunch for the first music lessons with new teachers, piano for Laura and Daniel and voice for Laura. Both of the teachers seem personable and pleasant, and I needed to make some changes to keep Laura interested and inspired in lessons.

Today we did some more math, penmanship, and managed to read aloud some of the goodie bag books (George Shrinks, Lentil) before Tom spirited the kids away to work on the new-to-us grainaries at the corrals. This morning Daniel asked for a spelling test, so we may start spelling tomorrow, then grammar and history in next week, and science the week after that.

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I’m predicting a pretty slow day tomorrow too. Tom didn’t get in with the kids until almost eight, and after a quick dinner and necessary baths, they’re all unwinding by watching the “Bridges” volume from the goodie bag DVD, “Building Big” with David Macaulay (did you know that there’s an activity/experiment with the kids from “Zoom” at the end of “Bridges”? I didn’t). Or I could just consider that the science lesson for the day and go ahead and check it off my list, knowing full well the kids will attempt the activity on their own tomorrow…

Still here but busy with harvest and back to school,

or, more appropriately, back to the kitchen table and extracurricular activities like piano lessons (with an exciting new teacher), etc.

Today the field trip is to the corrals, to watch Dad and his hired man move the secondhand grain bins — needed for the new harvest — from their old home to their new one. Requires bin lifters, giant trolleys, and various other fun stuff.

Last year at this time I wrote this; I’ll see if I can update it a bit with some more resources, and if/when I do, I’ll let you know. Also good for this time of year are this and this, for last year’s International Literacy Day (if I had the time, which I don’t, I’d look up the date of this year’s celebration); and ditto on the updates. Reruns are all I can manage right now, especially while the sun is still shining and the mercury is, unusually enough, near ninety.

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