• 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.

A reminder for summer vacation

from author Michael Chabon, writing in the current issue of The New York Review of Books:

As a kid, I was extremely fond of a series of biographies, largely fictional, I’m sure, that dramatized the lives of famous Americans — Washington, Jefferson, Kit Carson, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Daniel Boone — when they were children. (Boys, for the most part, though I do remember reading one about Clara Barton.) [I would think this is the COFA series.] One element that was almost universal in these stories was the vast amounts of time the famous historical boys were alleged to have spent wandering with bosom companions, with friendly Indian boys or a devoted slave, through the once-mighty wilderness, the Wilderness of Childhood, entirely free of adult supervision.

Though the wilderness available to me had shrunk to a mere green scrap of its former enormousness, though so much about childhood had changed in the years between the days of young George Washington’s adventuring on his side of the Potomac and my own suburban exploits on mine, there was still a connectedness there, a continuum of childhood. Eighteenth-century Virginia, twentieth-century Maryland, tenth-century Britain, Narnia, Neverland, Prydain — it was all the same Wilderness. Those legendary wanderings of Boone and Carson and young Daniel Beard (the father of the Boy Scouts of America), those games of war and exploration I read about, those frightening encounters with genuine menace, far from the help or interference of mother and father, seemed to me at the time — and I think this is my key point — absolutely familiar to me.

The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.

Chabon writes at the end about the consequences of losing this land:

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it — nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted — not taught — to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?

Read the entire piece here.

Back when Chabon had a website, which I remember a year or two ago, he had a very good piece on kids, Lego, and imagination.  Here’s where it was, in 2006.  Will have to see if I can use the Wayback Machine to get a better link. Aha.  Try this.

(By the way, Chabon is married to Ayelet Waldman, author of the recently published Bad Mother)

Speechless and scary

The New York Times‘s account of the arrival of a busload of paleontologists last week at the Creation unMuseum in Kentucky.

Tidbits:

“I’m very curious and fascinated,” Stefan Bengtson, a professor of paleozoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said before the visit, “because we have little of that kind of thing in Sweden.”

*  *  *

The scientists received the group admission rate, which included lunch.

*  *  *

“I’m speechless,” said Derek E.G. Briggs, director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, who walked around with crossed arms and a grimace. “It’s rather scary.”

*  *  *

Many of the paleontologists thought the museum misrepresented and ridiculed them and their work and unfairly blamed them for the ills of society.

“I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

* * *

By the end of the visit, among the dinosaurs, Dr. Briggs [of Yale's Peabody Museum] seemed amused. “I like the fact the dinosaurs were in the ark,” he said. (About 50 kinds of dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, the museum explains, but later went extinct for unknown reasons.)

The museum, he realized, probably changes few beliefs. “But you worry about the youngsters,” he said.

* * *

Dr. [Tamaki] Sato [a professor of geology from Tokyo Gakugei University in Japan] likened the museum to an amusement park. “I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Disneyland,” she said.

Did she enjoy Disneyland?

“Not very much,” she said.

*  *  *

Do yourself and your kids a favor this summer.  Visit and support a real natural history museum, and return often.  I have a brief listing in this old post from 2007,

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs

and there’s a good listing at Natural History Museums by Location, brought to you by Paleoartisans.

(While you’re waiting to go to the museum, read Carl Zimmer‘s February 2009 article in Seed Magazine on “The Awe of Natural History Collections”)

Ray Bradbury on libraries

In yesterday’s New York Times, legendary author Ray Bradbury on why, at age 88, he is campaigning hard to save the HP Wright Library in Ventura, California, from state budget cuts:

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

According to the article, Mr. Bradbury “spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.”  As for the internet,

Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Read the rest of the article here. For a different view, here’s a January 2009 post on closing the library from the Ventura City Manager’s blog.

Studying invention and innovation

Once a month the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation sends me an email newsletter, and once a month I think, oh! I should mention that here. This month, I’ve remembered.

ASpirit

The current newsletter includes word of the publication of The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation by Julie M. Fenster with the Lemelson Center, published this month by HarperCollins.  The book’s 224 pages include not just well-known inventors (a young Thomas Edison is featured on the cover) but also more obscure ones.  As the newsletter notes,

Pick up Fenster’s book and find out about the improbable and little-known career of Robert Switzer, a Berkeley student who made a hobby of magic tricks. In 1932, an accident in a part-time job at Safeway put him into a coma, from which he slowly recovered in an unlit room. To amuse himself in this darkened convalescence, he played with the spectacular rainbow emissions from fluorescent rocks. Turning on another light in his mind, this led to his invention of glow-in-the-dark paints that he and his brother marketed at first to magicians. Soon after, dropping out of college, the Switzers discovered a way to use ordinary sunlight to bring out fluorescent colors — DayGlo, patented in 1947.

(This is the perfect place for me to mention that if you’re looking for a children’s book about Day-Glo and its inventors, there’s a new picture book just out by my online friend Chris Barton, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors brightly illustrated by Tony Persiani [Charlesbridge, July 1, 2009], and according to Amazon it’s in stock now.  You can read all about the book at Chris’s blog, Bartography.)

ADayGlo

The Lemelson website has a page of Resources, including educational multimedia and print materials for classroom use, invention stories, the invention archives at the National Museum of American History Archives Center, and lists of invention-related books and websites.

There’s also a page for video clips and podcasts; one of the recent podcasts is an interview with Julie Fenster about her new book, The Spirit of Invention, and one of our favorite podcasts (in two parts) is an interview with biographer Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin’s contributions to democracy and technology.  On the same page, you can find a link for a PDF podcast activity guide.

The One-Straw Revolution

This month the New York Review of Books has published an anniversary edition of The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), about natural farming and permaculture, originally published in 1978 by Rodale Press. The new edition has an introduction by Frances Moore Lappé (Diet for a Small Planet) and a preface by Wendell Berry. Michael Pollan calls the book “one of the founding documents of the alternative food movement, and indispensable to anyone hoping to understand the future of food and agriculture”.

One of the book’s translators and editors, Larry Korn, a student of Masanobu Fukuoka, is beginning a book tour of Washington and Oregon to celebrate the new edition.

The Fukuoka Farming Website includes a number of sustainable farming resources.

An excerpt from The One-Straw Revolution:

Look at this grain! I believe that a revolution can begin from this one strand of straw. Then take a look at these fields of rye and barley. This ripening grain will yield about 22 bushels (1,300 pounds) per quarter acre. I believe this matches the top yields in Ehime Prefecture (where I live), and therefore, it could easily equal the top ‘harvest in the whole country…since this is one of the prime agricultural areas in Japan. And yet…these fields have not been plowed for 25 years! …

For 30 years I lived only for my farming and had little contact with people outside my own community. During those years I was heading in a straight line toward a “donothing” agricultural method.

The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask “flow about trying this?” or “How about trying that?”…bringing in a variety of techniques, one upon the other. This is modern agriculture and it only results in making the farmer busier.

My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming…which results in making the work easier instead of harder. “How about not doing this? How about not doing that?”—that was my way of thinking. By taking this approach, I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide! When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are really necessary.

The reason that man’s “improved” techniques seem to be necessary is that the natural balance has been so badly upset beforehand by those same techniques that the land has become dependent on them.

Make your way carefully through these fields. Dragonflies and moths fly up in a flurry. Honeybees buzz from blossom to blossom. Part the leaves and you will see Insects, spiders, frogs, lizards, and many other small animals bustling about in the cool shade. Moles and earthworms burrow beneath the surface.

This is a balanced ricefield ecosystem. Insect and plant communities maintain a stable relationship here. It is not uncommon for a plant disease to sweep through this region and leave the crops in my fields unaffected.

And now look over at the neighbor’s field for a moment. The weeds have all been wiped out by herbicides and cultivation. The soil animals and insects have been exterminated by poison. The earth has been burned clean of organic matter and micro-organisms by chemical fertilizers. In the summer you see farmers at work in the fields…wearing gas masks and long rubber gloves. These rice fields—which have been farmed continuously for over 1,500 years—have now been laid waste by the exploitive farming practices of a single generation.

For centuries, farmers have assumed that the plow is essential for growing crops. However, non-cultivation is fundamental to natural farming. The earth cultivates itself naturally by means of the penetration of plant roots and the activity of micro-organisms, small animals, and earthworms.


From the mailbag

I had a very kind invitation by email earlier in the week from Persephone Books, which celebrated their 10th birthday today with a party in London I was unable to attend.  And very sorry about that too, what with the promise of “champagne and cups of tea all day plus cheese scones for elevenses, salads for lunch, brownies and cupcakes for tea and canapés for the evening”.

And Persephone is offering a special all week, for readers abroad as well: three books for the price of two. For international customers, “the third book will be sent surface mail even if the other two are sent airmail.”  For those ordering online, write ‘free book please’ and the title of the third book in the Additional Info box on the website.

Best of all, Persephone Books has (have?) a new blog, The Persephone Post.

I think I started but never finished a post about my Christmas present to myself, an assortment of Persephone books, which included:

The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham, published originally in 1938 and reissued in 1955; I’d heard lots about this but had never read it.  Rather earnest and well before the end of the book you realize the children are behaving like adults and the adults like children.  A nostalgic oddity.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, author of my beloved Understood Betsy; a 1924 adult novel about a wife and mother who is desperately unhappy at home with the children, and a husband and father who is desperately unhappy at work. Circumstances first tragic but then fortuitous allow them to change places, and DCF’s interest in the Montessori method is evident throughout.

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett; another adult novel by a woman known now primarily as a children’s author, and another work ahead of its time.   An American heiress, Rosalie Vanderpoel, is wooed and wedded by an impoverished — and, we later learn, nasty and cruel — English aristocrat.  In a delightful twist, her spunky younger sister sets out to rescue her.  Because the novel was said to have been inspired by the true-life story of heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the Duke of Marlborough, after finishing The Shuttle I set off to read the double biography Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart and Marian Fowler’s Blenheim: Biography of a Palace, quite the rabbit trail. But still think I might be interested in FHB’s The Making of a Marchioness.

Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson; her “sparky and unflappable” diary account of World War II.

The Country Housewife’s Book: How to Make the Most of Country Produce and Country Fare by Lucy Yates; all sorts of handy hints and recipes, including — for JoVE — how to skin a rabbit and how to make a haybox, which makes an appearance in The Children Who Lived in a Barn.

Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes by Mollie Panter-Downes; my favorite hands down of my selection. The stories are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, but always moving and elegantly distilled. Next on my list are Minnie’s Room: The Peacetime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes also from Persephone, One Fine Day probably from Book Depository, and working my through The Complete New Yorker on disc in search of all of MPD’s “Letter from London” essays (1939-1987).

Down another rabbit trail, of interest to anyone who enjoys Jane Brocket‘s blog and books, the second issue of the Persephone Biannually (Autumn/Winter 2007) featured an article on her latest book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity, which included writings on “the literature of domesticity” in general and Persephone Books in particular. By the way, Jane is following up her last summer’s title, Cherry  Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats from favorite children’s books with this summer’s Ripping Things to Do: The Best Games and Ideas from Children’s Books.  No word yet if one of the ripping things includes making your own haybox.

More for the “to read” pile

One of my favorite book bloggers* Colleen Mondor, at her blog Chasing Ray, wrote recently,

Scott Wiedensaul’s Of a Feather is more than a history of birding in America – it’s an excellent piece of American history, a gossipy (in tone but not in fact) look at ornithology and includes so many bits of society and culture that my head was spinning with glee as I read it. This will be front and center in the that feature on birding lit this summer at Bookslut.

I need to remember to check back at Bookslut for that, since I know Colleen will have some great choices.

In the same post, Colleen writes,

Lisa Hamilton writes about being a traveler and witness in her essay for Powells. I just finished her book on three original farmers, Deeply Rooted and will be submitting a review for it for July. Every book on farming I read just makes me shake my head over how distance we have gotten from food and real life. It’s so odd to me how we watch Jon and Kate (and please – everyone has at least once) and that seems real to us. A staged show about a family is reality tv for families to watch. Why real farming and real food and real questions about both of those subjects (plus life and general) matter is what Deeply Rooted is all about. It’s very good stuff.

Colleen, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve never seen Jon and Kate except on magazine covers at the checkout counter.  One of the benefits of having (and, until the antenna is fixed, having had) only two TV channels!

By the way, here’s a link for the farming book,

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton (Counterpoint, May 2009)

* after doing some more catch-up reading, I see there is now a distinction between “book bloggers” and “lit bloggers”.  Heavens. Will need to give this some wine-soaked thought.

Summer surprise

Just received: a parcel from my father containing

-- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Not a children’s book, but selected for Laura (though I can’t wait to read it), was inspired by Marilyn Stasio’s recent review in the Sunday Times Book Review:

Nancy Drew drives her own blue roadster. Harriet the Spy travels in a chauffeured limousine. Emma Graham, Martha Grimes’s 12-year-old sleuth, takes taxis and trains. Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old heroine of Alan Bradley’s first mystery, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (Delacorte, $23), goes her way on a beat-up bicycle she calls Gladys, more independent and demonstrably naughtier than her literary sister-sleuths.

The neglected youngest daughter of a widower who never looks up from his precious stamp collection, Flavia takes refuge from her loneliness in the magnificent Victorian chemistry laboratory an ancestor installed at the family’s estate in the English countryside. With “An Elementary Study of Chemistry” as her bible, the precocious child has become an expert in poisons — a nasty skill that gets her in trouble when she melts down a sister’s pearls, but serves her well when a stranger turns up dead in the cucumber patch and her father is arrested for murder. Impressive as a sleuth and enchanting as a mad scientist (“What a jolly poison could be extracted from the jonquil”), Flavia is most endearing as a little girl who has learned how to amuse herself in a big lonely house.

After reading that, Laura said she thought it rather sounded like “The Secret Garden” but with a chemistry set instead of a shovel.

Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson, illustrated by Markley Boyer. Dr. Sanderson, who is Associate Director for Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis at the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, was a participant in the recent World Science Festival in the discussion, “The Hudson Since Henry”.  The book caught my attention in May while I was drooling over the planned events.  My father has obviously been working on his ESP skills, especially since the box also included

– Biologist Bernd Heinrich’s newest, Summer World: A Season of Bounty, which I’ve been wanting to read since starting The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology, a recent purchase from BookCloseouts.  But I didn’t mention anything until the other day, well after my father placed his order.

Books do make the best gifts!  Thanks, Pop!

A perfect school for learning

Last Thursday, Tom’s already unreliable helper — the Alberta advantage continues in the face of the recession — failed to show up for the first day of a big reshingling job.  All of the shingles needed to be removed and the roof tarped, and it was hot (31 Celsius) so moving quickly with several pairs of hands was much better than moving slowly with only one.  So I suggested he take the boys along, since we’re done with school for the summer.   The three of them worked long days, until seven pm or so, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then Monday with Laura along to make sure the job got finished by the end of the day. Tuesday, the boys begged to go along for Tom’s new project — renovating two bathrooms, which included the demolition of walls, which couldn’t be any more fun if you’re eight-and-a-half and ten years old and are smashing down drywall with hammers and wrecking bars.  And under Tom’s supervision and tutelage, the boys finally got to use the air nailer.  They’re very pleased and proud of themselves.

I was in town by myself yesterday and Tuesday, and at every stop at least one person asked, “Where are the kids?”  Each time I explained that Laura was home (yesterday she took her bicycle off to the corrals and with newborn kittens in her lap wrote her 4H essay) and the boys were working with Tom.  Twice I was asked, “Are they old enough already?”  I was torn between replying “Old enough for what?” and mentioning that our junior apprenticeship program started a long time ago.  The kids have been going off to work with their father, and doing farm chores with both of us, since they were old enough to walk.  When I was pregnant with Daniel, Tom took Laura, who was not quite a year-and-a-half old, to work where he was building a new house.  She would help him by passing tools to him, and kept busy for hours at a time hammering nails into a large styrofoam block.  When Daniel was six months old and Laura two years old, we took off for Toronto so Tom could help his sister and her husband build a  new garage.  Laura had no interest in spending her time in the house with her baby brother and newborn cousin when she could be outdoors helping her father, which she did, much to the consternation of her uncle who wasn’t used to useful and capable young children.  Really, the question shouldn’t be, “Are they old enough?” but “Are they able enough?” And the answer is yes.

It was last night while the boys were enjoying a well-deserved sleep after a hard day’s work at their father’s side that I read Holly Robinson‘s heart-breaking story of her sixth grade son’s experiences in his Massachusetts public school, with school as “a necessary evil instead of an inspiration”.  I want to write to her and say “break the rules”, or “send him to us, sight unseen, for a summer at the farm”.  Here’s some of the article, at The Huffington Post, including the beginning of the article which I confess confuses me:

A couple of weeks ago, I was volunteering at my son Aidan’s elementary school after hours. The building was empty but for a knot of teachers clustered in the hallway. As we entered his classroom, Aidan leaped up to touch the door frame. Immediately, one of the teachers scolded him about safety.

Aidan apologized. As soon as we were alone, though, he rolled his eyes at me. “Teachers don’t like boys, Mom. If I was a girl, she never would have said anything.”

“They’re just trying to keep you safe,” I said.

Aidan is in sixth grade, no doubt old enough to be safe no matter how he leaps or touches a door frame, no? Also confusing, and just plain misguided on the part of the teachers, who seem to have little understanding of classroom management and the nature of children in general and boys in particular,

Aidan earns A’s and B’s in school, yet I’m constantly fighting battles like this one: When he misbehaves, his teachers take away recess. Please. Are they out of their Vulcan minds?

The less confusing, more heart-breaking part:

Now that Aidan, the youngest of our five children, is in sixth grade, I have little hope that the system will change. Our public school curriculum in Massachusetts, as in so many states, is designed to help students conquer basic skills and prepare for the state-administered MCAS exam. Not a bad goal. Just one problem: our teachers now scramble to teach to the tests. This means lots of worksheets get handed out and there’s little time left for creative, hands-on projects.

This is a tragedy, especially for boys. Research tells us what most parents know: boys are apt to be “kinesthetic learners.” That’s educatorspeak for the fact that most boys learn best while they’re in motion. Boys want to get their feet wet and their hands dirty. They want to build things and take them apart, trap small animals and climb tall trees. Or jump up and touch whatever they can.

As Aidan observed once, after spending an entire science class watching a movie about the life cycle of frogs, “We’d learn a lot more if the teacher just brought tadpoles and frogs into the classroom and we could look at them.”

“Send him to us.” Or let him go pond dipping near home, if possible.

Ms. Robinson writes,

But I can’t help seeing school as a necessary evil instead of an inspiration. It’s great that Aidan has learned how to do algebra, read a map, write an essay and navigate social situations without a black eye. Outside of school, though, is where Aidan does most of his real learning. He pursues his interests with passion: rock climbing, coin collecting, fishing, engineering, snowboarding. Our house is one big science lab; in recent months Aidan has built a hovercraft in the driveway, figured out that you could shrink potato chip bags in the microwave oven, and erected a K’nex roller coaster taller than he is. He has memorized the periodic table and taken apart an old computer. He surprised me in the kitchen by saying, “Here’s a cool invention for kids, Mom,” and pushing a cup of milk onto the ice dispenser of our freezer. Instead of dispensing ice, cereal came pouring out of the freezer and fell into his cup of milk. Messy, but way cool.

What would a perfect school for boys be like? Classes would be small and held outside half the time. Boys of all abilities and temperaments would build, paint, draw, take things apart, play computer games and listen to music while reading if they felt like it. If they wanted to write about volcanoes instead of the weather, or study the Civil War in January instead of September, why not let them choose? And, if they wanted to do math standing up or run a few laps between exams, why not?

Oh, wait. Our boys couldn’t do that. That would be breaking the rules.

Yes, break the rules.  Perfect.

Free printable bookplates

Via Jess at How About Orange:

Free printable bookplates, perfect for children, from illustrator Helen Dardick at orange you lucky!

Orange we indeed.  Many thanks to Helen and Jess.

*  *  *

Other free printable bookplates I’ve come across in the past few years:

Thrifty crafter and graphic designer doe-c-doe lets you download a beautiful design

Free printable bookplates from Anne Fine’s nifty website (which I first mentioned in a post celebrating international literacy day)

And just for fun, Stanford University Libraries’ Bookplate Exhibit (with a page of bookplate links). I love bookplates, probably because when I was young my father made sure that my sister and I had an ample personalized supply from the now defunct Antioch Bookplate Company (though Googling Antioch led me to Bookplate Ink, which carries some of the old designs).

Down a lazy river

BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN.
from “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome

* * * * *

As I wrote the other day, the boys were eager to take their new inflatable dinghy (on sale at the hardware store last week) down the river.  I did have some doubts about sending an eight-and-a-half year-old, ten-year-old, and even a 12-year-old, with only informal paddling and sailing experience but strong swimming skills, off for three hours on their own on the river.  No cell phone either.  But they did have life jackets, common sense, and enthusiasm, and the river couldn’t have been any calmer.  Saturday night, after a long, hot (31 degrees C) day most of which was spent helping their father shingle a roof, the boys along with their sister set sail on the river about two miles south of our house, where the river valley backs on to a farmer’s pasture.  The plan was for the kids to paddle the eight to 10 miles in the dinghy to the provincial park in town.  With leisurely paddling along the very quiet waters and lots of animal-watching, the trip took them about three hours.  We collected them just before 10:30 pm, and they were all grinning broadly.  By their count, they noted 30 sightings of beavers (Davy figured only 18 beavers in total, with lots of repeats including one who kept swimming just ahead of the dinghy), six beaver lodges, five muskrats, two deer (one mule, one white-tail), two mother ducks with ducklings, one dead female mallard in the reeds during their only portage, and 20 geese.

The kids were inspired by hearing Tom regale them again and again with his story of paddling contest down the North  Saskatchewan River when he was in his twenties, and by the Arrogant Worms/Captain Tractor song, “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate”.  Here’s to many more summer adventures.

Some pictures from the beginning of the trip.  It was getting too dark for photos at 10:30.

Loading up the dinghy,
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Laura surveying the river valley,

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A curious muskrat,

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Around the bend and away,

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Related Farm School posts:

Paddle your own canoe

But will they change Titty’s name?

A manual for childhood

Why safer isn’t always better

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

Outdoor life, or, How to have an old-fashioned, dangerous summer

Spreading the word

Lynx at One-Sixteenth, who lives in the Eastern U.S., is selling off a wide variety of books, including top-notch classical home school books and resources, perfect for those using WTM, Sonlight, Charlotte Mason, etc.

There are books for children and for adults (John Holt, Gatto, Laura Berquist, Liping Ma, Catherine Levison).  Also a complete set of the Great Books. And William Gurstelle’s Backyard Ballistics.

Her husband has been out of a job for a few months, so hop over and see if you can help your family while helping hers.

BirdCasting

Laura has developed an interest in, and growing passion for, birds since last summer when I helped her put up some bird feeders around the yard.  Her interest in the Christmas Bird Count last year is what got our family in touch with the local naturalist society.  She spends much of her free time feeding, watching, listening to, and reading about birds.  And recently she realized that there might be birding podcasts she could make use of on her iPod; she’s become a big fan of podcasts.  So with my researching and her vetting, we came up with this list of her favorite birding podcasts:

BirdNote, on NPR

Birdwatch Radio, with Steve Moore

For the Birds and here too, with Laura Erickson

Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds

This Birding Life, with Bill Thompson

WREN Radio

If you have any other favorites, please let us know and we’ll add them to our iTunes list.  Thanks, and happy listening!

World Science Festival street fair

Even if you’ve been in NYC and haven’t been able to attend any sessions at the World Science Festival, if you happen to find yourself in the neighborhood of Washington Square Park tomorrow between 10 am and 6 pm, head over to the free WSF street fair.  From the email notice I received this morning:

The Washington Square Park area is transformed into a science wonderland when the World Science Festival Youth and Family Street Fair returns to New York City. This year’s extravaganza will feature a non-stop program of interactive exhibits, experiments, games, and shows designed to entertain and inspire. Join us for a full day of free family fun. A sampling of the day’s events include:

- The Math Midway
-  Discovery Labs
-  The CSI Experience™ at the World Science Festival
-  Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Harlem DNA Lab
-  The Bio Bus
-  Central Park Zoo’s Wildlife Adventure
-  Franklin Institute Traveling Scientists
-  NY Hall of Science
-  Math for America
-  Cooper Union’s Formula SAE Racing
-  Philadelphia Zoo on Wheels
-  New York City/ New Jersey FIRST Robotics
-  PBS Kids

Also tomorrow at the WSF, and also free and for families (first come, first served, so arrive early), are the following events:

“Galileo: The Starry Messenger”

“Author’s Corner” for adults and children, with readings, presentations, discussions, activities, book signings, and books for sale; some of the children’s authors in the corner tomorrow will be Deborah Heiligman, author of Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith; Brian Floca, author of Moonshot; science teacher Mary Stetten Carson, author of Let’s Play Science and the out-of-print The Scientific Kid.

“Surfing the Solar System” with Lucy Hawking, daughter of Stephen and co-author of George’s Secret Key to the Universe

“Move Speak Spin”, an afternoon of mathematical dance

“BioBlitzing the Planet”, with E.O. Wilson (did I mention that this is FREE?)

Risky business

Engineer, author, and Maker (and Farm School favorite) William Gurstelle‘s latest book, Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, is just out from Chicago Review Press and made a big splash in this week’s New York Times, reviewed with enthusiasm by Dwight Garner.  From which,

Mr. Gurstelle exactingly describes how to make your own gunpowder, a substance he calls “the most significant chemical compound mankind has ever developed.” It’s the foundation for many of his book’s activities, the same way the perfect fish stock undergirds dozens of recipes in a cookbook.

Making even small quantities of gunpowder, he adds, “puts you in the rarefied company of such important historical figures as Joan of Arc, Roger Bacon, Mark the Greek, Lammot du Pont, Black Berthold and Leonardo da Vinci.” From there, he’s on to making things like fuses, rockets and an eprouvette, or small cannon.

According to the review, Mr. Gurstelle was inspired in part by a 2005 op-ed piece in The Times by David Brooks, who wrote about the new age of the lily-livered, in which we find ourselves, “I blame parents. Kids are raised amid foam corner protectors and schooled amid flame-retardant construction paper. They’re drugged with a vast array of pharmaceuticals to keep them from becoming interesting. They go from adult-structured tutorials to highly padded sports practices to career-counselor-approved summer internships.”  Garner notes that Absinthe and Flamethrowers ends with its own call to arms,

Mr. Gurstelle’s own kind of Declaration of Independence, one perhaps worth reading aloud on the Fourth of July, ideally after strapping a battered football helmet onto your head so you look a bit like B. D. from “Doonesbury. “We, the intellectually curious, may soon find ourselves trapped in a pen, fenced in by rule-bound sticklerism and overzealous concern for our personal safety, unless we exercise our civil liberties and our curiosity,” he declaims. And so, “It’s time to retake authority from those whose goals are to limit, not expand, intellectual and physical pursuits.”

Bravo, sir. It’s the kind of speech you want to punctuate with a potato cannon blast.

And which gives new meaning to “the land of the free and home of the brave”.

For some families, the new book sounds like a dandy Father’s Day present or a good way to start off summer vacation.  As for us, well, I have to have a talk with Tom, who the boys informed me last night has plans to take them and their new inflatable dinghy (on sale at the hardware store this week) down the river this weekend. I don’t think Tom or the boys need any more convincing.

By the way, speaking of Father’s Day, Bill Gurstelle recently finished a stint guest blogging at GeekDad (don’t miss his post on “25 Movies with Catapults”, complete with Latin quote) and is in the midst of guest blogging at BoingBoing.

Related Farm School posts (all of which can be found under the “Courting Danger” tab above)

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

Outdoor life, or, How to have an old-fashioned, dangerous summer

Fun with gunpowder

Other fun William Gurstelle links:

Bill Gurstelle’s website

Bill Gurstelle’s blog, “Notes from the Technology Underground”

Bill Gurstelle on Twitter, which I still don’t care for, but he’s there if you want him

Make Magazine checks in with Bill Gurstelle (March 2009); with a link to Mr. Gurstelle’s King of Fling catapult contest

Make: television on PBS, which we don’t get but would like if we did (we don’t get even get our two channels anymore, since the wind twisted our antenna the other weekend; Tom and the kids zipped over to his parents’ last night to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, the first hockey they’ve watched in weeks.)

A recent interview with Bill Gurstelle by Harry Sawyers at Popular Mechanics. In response to Sawyers’ question, who is the book for, Gurstelle replies, “ We’re all the progeny of generations of people who took risks. The immigrants who came to America were incredible risk-takers. As a society, we’ve gotten comfortable, and fewer daily risks are necessary. This book is for someone who wants to become a risk taker.”

Organic options

From the recent Slate article, “Organic Panic: Michelle Obama’s garden and its discontents” by Christopher Beam:

“It’s a charming idea and everything, but it’s not practical,” says Xavier Equihua, who represents the Chilean Exporters Association as well as the Chilean Avocado Committee. The main problem, he says, is that local food is seasonal. For example, avocadoes grow in California during the summer months. Same with grapes. “What happens if you want some grapes during the month of December?” says Equihua. “What are you going to do? Not eat grapes?”

Well, yes. We don’t buy strawberries or tomatoes (unless the supermarket has the ones from the local Hutterite colony greenhouse) in the winter.  The  main problem isn’t that local food is seasonal.  The main problem is that we demand instant gratification in all aspects of our lives, including food.  Eating seasonally is sensible, not problematic.

Beam concludes,

And that’s the real subversive appeal of the Obamas’ organic garden. If it succeeds in shifting public perceptions about organic food, then the market for it may grow. And as with all market shifts, the most successful companies will embrace the organic movement rather than resist it. “For too long, the ag guys have said, If we raise it you’re gonna eat it. You don’t have options,” says Mitchell. “Well, now we have options.”

Thomas Berry, 1914-2009: Losing, and finding, the universe

Thomas Berry, the writer and environmentalist who considered himself a “geologian” –  “a historian of the Earth and its evolutionary processes” — died earlier this week at the age of 94.

There are biographies of Dr. Berry at his foundation’s website, here and here.  There are obituaries in The New York Times and in the National Catholic Reporter, which noted,

Fr. Thomas Berry, described in Newsweek magazine in 1989 as “the most provocative figure among the new breed of eco-theologians,” was among the first to say the earth crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. His diagnosis of the negative effects of our religious views on our treatment of the planet rang true for many who were willing and able to work for a cure. Many created their own earth ministries, inspired by the work and life of Fr. Thomas Berry.

An excerpt from Dr. Berry’s book The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (emphases mine):

I was a young person then, some twelve years old. My family was moving from a more settled part of a Southern town out to the edge of town where the new house was still being built. The house, not yet finished, was situated on a slight incline. Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in May when I first looked down over the scene and saw the meadow. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something, I know not what, that seems to explain my life at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.

It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in an otherwise clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do. Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression upon me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet, as the years pass, this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes that I have given my efforts to, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life. …

It seems to me we all had such experiences before we entered into an industrial way of life. The universe as manifestation of some primordial grandeur was recognized as the ultimate referent in any human understanding of the wonderful yet fearsome world about us. Every being achieved its full identity by its alignment with the universe itself. With indigenous peoples of the North American continent every formal activity was first situated in relation to the six directions of the universe: the four cardinal directions combined with the heavens above and Earth below. Only thus could any human activity be fully validated.

The universe was the world of meaning in these earlier times, the basic referent in social order, in economic survival, in the healing of illness. In that wide ambiance the muses dwelled whence came the inspiration of poetry and art and music. The drum, heartbeat of the universe itself, established the rhythm of dance whereby humans entered into the very movement of the natural world. The numinous dimension of the universe impressed itself upon the mind through the vastness of the heavens and the power revealed in thunder and lightning, as well as through springtime renewal of life after the desolation of winter. Then, too, the general helplessness of the human before all the threats to survival revealed the intimate dependence of the human on the integral functioning of things. That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human.

This experience we observe even now in the indigenous peoples of the world. They live in a universe, in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world, no longer live in a universe. We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disneyworld. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner. Summer and winter are the same inside the mall. Ours is a world of highways, parking lots, shopping centers. We read books written with a strangely contrived alphabet. We no longer read the book of the universe.

Nor do we coordinate our world of human meaning with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment inherent in our very nature. Our children do not learn how to read the Great Book of Nature or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.

We have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research to developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources whence we came and upon which we depend at every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. To achieve this perspective we must first make them autistic in their relation with the natural world about them. This disconnection occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet, if we observe our children closely in their early years and see how they are instinctively attracted to the experiences of the natural world about them, we will see how disorientated they become in the mechanistic and even toxic environment that we provide for them.

To recover an integral relation with the universe, planet Earth, and North America needs to be a primary concern for the peoples of this continent. While a new alignment of our government and all our institutions and professions with the continent itself in its deep structure and functioning cannot be achieved immediately, a beginning can be made throughout our educational programs. Especially in the earlier grades of elementary school new developments are possible. Such was the thought of Maria Montessori in the third decade of this century.

In speaking about the education of the six-year-old child, Maria notes in her book To Educate the Human Potential that only when the child is able to identify its own center with the center of the universe does education really begin. For the universe, she says, “is an imposing reality.” It is “an answer to all questions.” “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” This it is that enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” Then the writer mentions how this experience of the universe creates in the child admiration and wonder and enables the child to unify its thinking. In this manner the child learns how all things are related and how the relationship of things to each other is so close that “No matter what we touch, an atom or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We frequently identify the loss of the interior spirit-world of the human mind and emotions with the rise of modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant thing, however, is that we have lost the universe itself. We achieved extensive control over the mechanistic and even the biological functioning of the natural world, but this control itself has produced deadly consequences. We have not only controlled the planet in much of its basic functioning; we have, to an extensive degree, extinguished the life systems themselves. We have silenced so many of those wonderful voices of the universe that once spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence.

We no longer hear the voices of the rivers or the mountains, or the voices of the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. Everything about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.” We continue to make music, write poetry, and do our painting and sculpture and architecture, but these activities easily become an aesthetic expression simply of the human and in time lose the intimacy and radiance and awesome qualities of the universe itself. We have, in the accepted universe of these times, little capacity for participating in mysteries celebrated in the earlier literary and artistic and religious modes of expression. For we could no longer live in the universe in which these were written. We could only look on, as it were.

Read the rest here.

A partial Berry bibliography:

The Great Work: Our Way into the Future

The Dream of the Earth

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, with physicist and mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme

The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Berry, edited and with a foreword by Mary Evelyn Tucker (Columbia University Press, August 2009)

Some Berry links:

An 2006 interview with Father Berry: “I did walk in the woods a great deal when I was a child. Already, the woods and nature were the most important things in my life. By the time I was ten or eleven years old, I had a feeling that something was wrong. I didn’t, of course, have the least idea of what this was all about, but I grew up with the feeling that I couldn’t trust the developing industrial world in which I was living.”

A 2002 interview originally published in The Sun Magazine: “Much of the Bible is concerned with how humans should relate to God, and to one another. What’s gotten lost is our intimate relationship with the natural world. Our theology is highly developed, and our anthropology — our study of each other — is highly developed, but our so-called life sciences are still trying to figure out how nature works in order to control it.”

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