• 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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Science songs, updated

I just had a comment from Monty Harper on an old post about science songs. The original post was about his 2010 Kickstarter science music CD, “Songs from the Science Music Frontier”. Monty wrote yesterday that he’s recording a follow-up science CD for kids, “More Songs from the Science Frontier”, and is running another Kickstarter campaign to fund it, now through December 13th. As Monty writes, “A pledge of $5 or more will get you an immediate download of the first CD!” You can also find Monty on YouTube to hear his songs.

That 2010 post also mentioned the early sixties six-LP “Ballads for the Age of Science” series by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer (covering space, energy and motion, experiments, weather, and nature), which we loved when the kids were little. You can read about the songs here. The original online link we used is now unavailable, though you can find it through the Wayback Machine. Not sure if the music files are still available there, though.

I imagine the link was taken down because because the albums have all been re-released, likely due to the popularity online thanks to nostalgia buffs and home schoolers among other, on iTunes and, since last month, as a CD set (at Amazon here), thanks to Argosy Music (headed by Hy Zaret’s son Robert), Harbinger Records, and Naxos. According to Argosy’s website, “These albums and their songs are available for sale as meticulous digital restorations, done by Irwin Chusid, of the original 1961 recordings in all their monophonic glory. One happy listener of these new restorations asked ‘How did you get such amazing quality on the iTunes songs?’.” There’s a nice, long (two-page) article here at Broadway World, from which,

For the first time in over fifty years, Harbinger Records will release “Ballads for the Age of Science,” the most successful educational recordings of all time, as a six-CD box set.

Featuring more than four dozen original songs written by Hy Zaret, co-author of the iconic popular song “Unchained Melody,” and Lou Singer between 1959 and 1961, the albums introduced scientific concepts and terms using catchy, easy-to-learn lyrics and music to grade school students across America in the early 1960s.

The CD box will be available in stores nationwide on Tuesday, October 15, 2013. The albums are available from Harbinger Records and through downloads on iTunes. They are distributed by Naxos USA.

The article has more biographical information on the late great Hy Zaret and Lou Singer.

Shift in focus

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The one or two people who are still checking in here from time to time will know that with life getting busier and also a shift in priorities (kids getting older, with fuller schedules, among other things), there hasn’t been much blogging around here for several years.

But we have a new project and a new shift in focus for our family, which I’m planning to document on the blog; just as well, I suppose, since my youngest will be 13 before the end of the month and our home schooling is on the downward swing. We’re building a new house on the farm, which has been in the plans since we first married 19 years ago. We’d hoped to get started several years ago, the spring after my father died, but between being away from home and then my mother dying, and spending more time than any of us could have thought possible looking after estate and business matters, there wasn’t enough time or energy. We’re starting now and over the moon to finally be able to do this. Tom is a builder so we’re building it ourselves. The kids are helping, and the past month or so, since finishing harvest, we’ve been moving trees (fruit trees and shelterbelt trees) out of the way, stripping top soil from the site (which until now has been an alfalfa field) and hauling it away. Yesterday Davy hauled 40 loads of soil excavated by the backhoe. So this will definitely be a home school project — very hands on! Speaking of which, one book we’ve been using over the years and highly recommend is Math to Build On: A Book for Those Who Build by Johnny and Margaret Hamilton.

The other week Tom laid out 2×4′s on the ground so we could get an idea of what the floorplan would look like. Two days ago the backhoe arrived, and yesterday the excavating finished and forms preparation, for the concrete. We’ll be working on the house while Tom looks after project for clients, so it’ll be about a year for construction, but we want to get the concrete done before winter settles in.

My lovely new hole in the ground,

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The backhoe and operator were hired, the dump truck is ours is being driven by Davy,

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And our new driveway (in this picture, leading toward the house),

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Tom in the Case, and Daniel (age 14) in the yellow loader at right,

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Driveway between the vehicles,

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The digging turned up another digger, this Northern Pocket Gopher. The kids took him to safety, but he turned up again yesterday afternoon while they were working on the forms. Apparently he likes company. Northern Pocket Gophers, unlike Richardson’s Ground Squirrels (which around here are colloquially called gophers), don’t hibernate over the winter.

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There are no words for how excited I am finally to start. The new house will be only the second I’ve ever lived in (third if you include my parents’ house in the West Indies where we stayed for eight months 10 years ago), and will likely be the only house I’ll be involved in building. I’ve dreamed of houses for about 40 years, and when I left for college, I took my binder of shelter magazines with me. I still have some of those pages, and can’t wait to see them come to life.

*  *  *  *

Book recommendations for those thinking about building a house:

Designing Your Dream Home: Every Question to Ask, Every Detail to Consider, and Everything to Know Before You Build or Remodel by Susan Lang

Home Plan Doctor: The Essential Companion for Anyone Buying a Home Design Plan by Larry W. Garnett

Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid by Marianne Cusato and Ben Pentreath, with Richard Simmons and Leon Crier

Creating a New Old House: Yesterday’s Character for Today’s Home by Russell Versaci 

Surviving the amphitheater

On the CBC radio show Q this morning (podcast here), host Jian Ghomeshi spoke with New York Magazine author Jennifer Senior on her recent article, “Why You Never Truly Leave High School”, which had been languishing on my list of things to read but jumped up immediately. I was intrigued to find a mention of home schooling in the article. Here’s an excerpt from the article (emphases mine):

Until the Great Depression, the majority of American adolescents didn’t even graduate from high school. Once kids hit their teen years, they did a variety of things: farmed, helped run the home, earned a regular wage. Before the banning of child labor, they worked in factories and textile mills and mines. All were different roads to adulthood; many were undesirable, if not outright Dickensian. But these disparate paths did arguably have one virtue in common: They placed adolescent children alongside adults. They were not sequestered as they matured. Now teens live in a biosphere of their own. In their recent book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen note that teenagers today spend just 16 hours per week interacting with adults and 60 with their cohort. One century ago, it was almost exactly the reverse.

Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities. James Coleman, a renowned mid-century sociologist, was among the first to analyze that culture in his seminal 1961 work, The Adolescent Society, and he wasn’t very impressed. “Our society has within its midst a set of small teen-age societies,” he wrote, “which focus teen-age interests and attitudes on things far removed from adult responsibilities.” Yes, his words were prudish, but many parents have had some version of these misgivings ever since, especially those who’ve consciously opted not to send their kids into the Roman amphi­theater. (From the website of the National Home Education Network: “Ironically, one of the reasons many of us have chosen to educate our own is precisely this very issue of socialization! Children spending time with individuals of all ages more closely resembles real life than does a same-age school setting.”)

In fact, one of the reasons that high schools may produce such peculiar value systems is precisely because the people there have little in common, except their ages. “These are people in a large box without any clear, predetermined way of sorting out status,” says Robert Faris, a sociologist at UC Davis who’s spent a lot of time studying high-school aggression. “There’s no natural connection between them.” Such a situation, in his view, is likely to reward aggression. Absent established hierarchies and power structures (apart from the privileges that naturally accrue from being an upperclassman), kids create them on their own, and what determines those hierarchies is often the crudest common-­denominator stuff—looks, nice clothes, prowess in sports—­rather than the subtleties of personality. “Remember,” says Crosnoe, who spent a year doing research in a 2,200-student high school in Austin, “high schools are big. There has to be some way of sorting people socially. It’d be nice if kids could be captured by all their characteristics. But that’s not realistic.”

I’ve been intrigued by this subject since the kids reached school age and we started home schooling. I’ve read, digested, agreed with, and often recommended Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Doctors Neufeld and Mate. I also read and reviewed (briefly) The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen by Robert Epstein, a psychologist and former editor-in-chief of Pyschology Today magazine. Coleman’s The Adolescent Society (subtitled The Social Life of the Teenager and its Impact on Education sounds interesting, especially coming only six years after “Rebel without a Cause” and “Blackboard Jungle”.

Most of us who home school have heard from non-home schooling parents that it’s the everyday school interactions that “prepare” kids for real life. Senior writes,

Maybe, perversely, we should be grateful that high school prepares us for this life. The isolation, the shame, the aggression from those years—all of it readies us to cope. But one also has to wonder whether high school is to blame; whether the worst of adult America looks like high school because it’s populated by people who went to high school in America. We’re recapitulating the ugly folkways of this institution, and reacting with the same reflexes, because that’s where we were trapped, and shaped, and misshaped, during some of our most vulnerable years.

The most poignant part of the NYM article? “It’s also abundantly, poignantly clear that during puberty, kids have absolutely no clue how to assess character or read the behavior of others. … So much of what they think they know about others’ opinions of them is plain wrong.”

The article is well worth a read, if you have teens in the house, if you will have teens, or even if you were once one yourself. And, as the article points out, if there’s any chance you may be headed to a nursing home in the future. As sociologist Robert Faris points out, “It’s not adolescence that’s the problem. It’s the giant box of strangers.”

Winter

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After lolling and lazing about over the Christmas holidays, it was back to work for the New Year. We took several of our finished steers to the packers for customers who wanted organic beef. We’ve been selling halves and whole steers, and also combination packages. The kids helped us with some of the packages and we got a proper assembly line going. Have also sold some of our broiler chickens, and a trailer is coming for a dozen or so finished steers this weekend. Laura’s pullets, which arrived as day-old chicks in August, started laying last month and everyone, family and customers alike, are all happy that our egg drought is over. More January stuff:

:: Lots of curling. The kids have after-schooling curling on Tuesday afternoons, junior league curling Monday night (the three are curling with a friend and doing well, they start playoffs next week), and curling with Tom on Wednesdays for the men’s league. And various bonspiels on the weekend; we just had the local junior bonspiel, and the boys won the junior high division curling with two friends (and got second place overall for points), and Laura got second place in the senior high division. More curling up between now and mid-March, and my mother-in-law won some tickets to the Brier, so Tom and the kids will probably be going to at least one game in the big city.

:: Getting ready for 4H public speaking in two clubs. Laura has two speeches, one on antibiotic resistance in beef and the other on her time at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop last summer. The boys are doing a presentation together for one club (How to Make Jerky), and speeches for the other (Daniel on M. Bombardier and his snowmobiles, Davy on the history of root beer).

:: I wear two hats for the music festival, promotions co-ordinator (getting information packages with syllabi out to families and teachers) and mother. Registration went well the other week (numbers down a bit), and after 4H public speaking is done, the kids will hit the memorizing hard. I’m going to use Laura’s help again with promotions — last year she baked some chocolate chip cookies which we delivered to the local newspapers with the press releases.

:: The big library remodel is done and it looks wonderful. The library hadn’t had a facelift of any sort since it was first built in the early eighties, so this was long overdue. We were lucky to have a librarian and staff with vision and determination to take this on. I’ve been on the board for years and have thought every now and then of stepping down, but am so glad I stuck around. Well, except for the part about being on the policy committee and starting a review of all our policies this month. Ugh.

:: Planning meetings for the fair for three of us. Committee budgets to approve, hall booklet to change, sponsors to sweet talk.

:: Laura was invited by her aunt to the season home opener of the Edmonton Oilers, great fun even if they didn’t win…

:: I had “pre-ordered” (nasty term) the latest Flavia de Luce novel, Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, for Laura, and it arrived last week. I also bought her the dvd of the documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, since we don’t have cable/satellite television, it’s not available on YouTube in Canada, and there’s no chance any of the libraries in our library system will bring in such an American item.

:: latest documentaries for school: “Bowling for Columbine” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

:: latest reading for school: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which I think the kids are all ready for. I’m using my old copy of The Orwell Reader, which I bought because of the introduction by Richard Rovere, the subject of my senior history thesis in university. Happily, The Reader is still in print. I think along with the essay we’ll read this recent Guardian article by Steven Poole, and Frank Luntz’s recent Washington Post piece, “Why Republicans Should Watch Their Language”. And why citizens should watch very carefully when politicians start to watch, and change, their language.

Another book on the list, Mrs. Mike, very Canadian, very gritty, very plucky…

:: More in the learning to be a good consumer department: we’ve started watching a few older TV shows at lunchtime — last month CTV was airing episodes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” and then switched over to “Princess”. Quite eye-opening for the kids on the evils of credit and spending more than you make. Followed up with “Property Virgins”, where no-one seems to have heard of starter houses and everyone wants stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

:: The college in town is celebrating its centennial and as part of the festivities they organized what’s hoped to be a Guinness world record giant toboggan run; the toboggan itself was 36′ long (that’s Davy at the top of this post, tucked in just inside the front curve of the giant sled) and had to slide 100 meters. Tom was asked to take official measurements and the kids went along for the fun,

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The kids with the giant toboggan,

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Coming up later this month:

:: dogsledding as part of the 4H Outdoor club

:: a hands-on six-hour calving course for the kids, at the local agricultural college

:: annual organic farming recertification, aka a pile of paperwork, sigh…

Recent nifty discoveries:

Paper roller coasters

Bar Keeper’s Friend; I had used this before moving to Canada but until last fall never saw it on Canadian store shelves, at least not on the prairies. I spotted it at Home Depot a few months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my kitchen sink, which after 14 years, had some pretty stubborn stains after cherry and berry season.  It’s also the best, easiest, and least toxic cleanser I’ve found in 18 years to use on rust stains from our well water.

It’s light out now until at least 5:30. In December it was getting dark just after 4 pm. And sunrise is now around 8 am instead of an hour later, and by the end of the month the sun will be up before 7:30. Hooray!

Blueberry Oatmeal Squares, from CBC’s show, Best Recipes Ever; Laura made these twice in three days, doubling the recipe the second time. The perfect way to use the gallons of blueberries etc I froze last summer.

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May daybook

No, I have no idea what happened to April. A very short, very fast month.

Outside my window…

Spring was springier in March, which came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. April very lionish as well, at least weatherwise — cool, blustery, and dry. May so far is cool, blustery, and wettish.

We’re finished calving and that went fairly smoothly. The kids are busy working with their steers and other cattle (they each have a steer and Laura also has a heifer and a cow-calf pair) for 4H beef club achievement days at the end of the month. Yesterday was the annual 4H highway cleanup, where kids clean up months’ of litter tossed out of vehicles by irresponsible adults.

From the schoolroom…

I think I mentioned in my last post that we read To Kill a Mockingbird which the boys in particular seemed to enjoy. We followed that up with the movie, and then, because everyone quite liked Gregory Peck, we had a special screening of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” with a discussion of anti-Semitism in North America. Next up in American movie studies, and continuing with courtroom drama, we have “12 Angry Men” with Henry Fonda.

For political science/current events, between the American presidential campaign and our recent roller coaster provincial election (the Progressive Conservatives were a lock to win, the Wild Rose Party all of a sudden came out of nowhere and was poised to win a majority, the PCs ended up winning a majority, oy), the kids are all now old enough (Daniel just turned 13) to make it through George Orwell’s celebrated 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which they are now reading, writing, and discussing their ways through. I also managed to find a copy of Frank Luntz’s Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear in the library system, which is good, because I had no desire to further enrich Mr. Luntz by having to purchase the book. I disagree mightily with his methods, all the more reason it’s important to understand them, and how to parse the rhetoric, especially for young future voters.

For something a bit lighter, our new readaloud is a rereading of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, which Davy scarcely remembers.

I let Laura pick the Shakespeare play for spring, and she chose Romeo and Juliet. Although Davy had his reservations, he and his brother were transfixed by a story that had more violence and adolescent hotheadedness than romance. In addition to readings, we also watched the Zeffirelli version, followed by the Leonardo di Caprio version which all three kids found very unsettling for various reasons (Florida, the music, the abridging, and “That’s Temple Grandin?”). We’re going to add in a showing of  “West Side Story”, even though it’s in fairly regular rotation in this house, and also tossed in another viewing of “Much Ado” this time for comparison purpose the benefits of age, maturity, and waiting a bit). We found “Shakespeare in Love” at the library the other week, which is centered around Romeo and Juliet, and Laura now wants to see “Twelfth Night”, which is mentioned at the end; we’ll see what versions the library has. And I discovered that our library system has a DVD copy of “Romeo and Juliet” with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer; I think the boys are Romeo’d out, but Laura would probably enjoy this version if only to see what it looks like with MGM’s long-in-the-tooth teens.

We are beavering away at math, with decimals, percents, pre-algebra, and algebra. This year isn’t as easy for Laura as last year, but I’ve seen the lightbulb go on about having to work on a subject despite the difficulties and drudgery with her realization that she likely will pursue some sort of career in wildlife biology.

Which reminds me, have just ordered a copy of the newly (as in last week) published Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson. Mr. Thompson has a biology lab kit available for those living in the US, and is also working on his forthcoming title, Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (which will also have an accompanying kit available). According to Mr. Thompson, the Illustrated Guide is “intended to be used in conjunction with a standard first-year biology textbook. The book coordinates well with Miller-Levine Biology and the free CK-12 Biology, which are the two texts we recommend, but it’s easy enough to coordinate with any of the common homeschool biology textbooks”.

For whatever it’s worth, we have and use Stephen Nowicki’s biology text (bought cheaply secondhand at Abebooks), in great part because we have his biology course on dvd, and also Trefil’s and Hazen’s The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (also cheap secondhand at Abebooks). Throw in a couple of out-of-print Charles Harper books for the boys (The Giant Golden Book of Biology and The Animal Kingdom, and it’s a bit of a mishmash, but it works for us.

Here’s a link to a free PDF of a draft version of the Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments.

In the next few weeks…

In extracurriculars, besides getting ready for beef club achievement days, the kids are in the home stretch for this year’s play, “Alice in Wonderland”, with opening night a week from Thursday. Laura got off her application for the birding internship in Ontario, and we get word on the 15th whether she makes it or not; only six kids nationally are chosen, so our fingers are crossed. She’ll take her learner’s permit test tomorrow, so more fingers crossed for that.

This year’s batch of shelterbelt trees, somewhere between 900 and 1,000, are arriving at the county depot on Friday, so we’ll be planting them on the weekend. As usual, Mother’s Day tends to be more like Arbor Day around here…

I’m thankful…

The kids all did very well at the local music festival in March, and had some good fun. The boys each recited two poems, and Daniel surprised himself and us by winning one poetry category (lyrical) instead of his sister. He also won best speech arts for 12 and under. Laura sang two art songs, performed “Worst Pies” from “Sweeney Todd” for musical theater (she did a wonderful, very funny job, especially with the double portion of pizza dough I made for her to sling around), and had half a dozen speech arts entries. She won a number of awards, including best overall speech arts, and she and Daniel were recommended to the provincial music festival for speech arts, and Laura for musical theater. Unfortunately, provincials are the week after the play and a few days before achievement day, and Davy’s session is on Wednesday and Laura’s sessions on Thursday, so we are spending the night in the city, not the best time to be away from home. We will probably have to leave Daniel at home with Tom’s parents, so he can do all the farm chores and especially look after the 4H animals.

Laura’s been getting more and more wrapped up in her birding. Unlike her mother, she’s a dedicated blogger and keeps up with her birding posts. She joined a listserv for provincial birders last month, and was welcomed warmly by members who seem happy to see someone younger as well as outside the two main urban centers. Invited by one of the members, we attended the town of Tofield’s nature day and Snow Goose chase last weekend, organized by the big city nature club, and Laura was able to meet some listserv members in person. More on the day below.

Around the farm…

Late in April, I had a phone call from the big oil company putting in another pipeline across the road through our neighbor’s pasture. The rep asked if we would give permission for a two-man wildlife biology survey crew to come on our land and check for various species. We can’t do anything to stop the pipeline  – and at any rate, we’re dependent on our vehicles and the pipeline oil that powers them, living too far from town to walk or even to bike, especially from November to April and especially with any purchases too large for a bicycle basket. But we can do our small part to make sure that various animal populations and habitat are taken into account and looked after before, during, and after construction.

So I said yes, and also asked if Laura could go out with the crew, because I thought it could be mutually beneficial. She knows the land and wildlife like the back of her hand and could help the crew get the information they need (for example, they were looking for sharp-tailed grouse here and there are none), and I thought it would be good for Laura to see first-hand the work wildlife biologists do in the field. Apparently, asking to go along was fairly odd question — we were the first ever landowners to ever ask — but the pipeline company checked with the survey company, and everyone said yes.

The two young men who turned up on Monday are dedicated professional biologists and personal birders; in fact, one spent a fair amount of time going back and forth with Laura about their year birds and spring migrants they’ve seen so far. If I’ve learned anything about most birders, it’s that they are dedicated list makers and keepers. The other biologist, when he first arrived around 5 am, while standing in our driveway, quizzed Laura by asking her what birds she could hear at the large slough (pond/wetland) across the road in our neighbors’ pasture. Since it’s filled with thousands of Snow Geese, it’s pretty hard to make out much besides their honking, but Laura listed a number of other birds, including one (Green-winged Teal) the biologist hadn’t been able to hear. So with that, off we went, and spent some time in the pasture recording early morning birdsong. We met later in the morning for several hours and Laura led the way to a good viewing spot by the slough where the crew set up their spotting scopes, much to Laura’s delight because she’s been wanting a scope for a year now.

And based on comments in her letter of reference for the internship, from the local college biology instructor who leads our naturalist society and has been Laura’s unofficial mentor, and from the survey crew (as well as their boss, the company’s senior wildlife biologist) about her levels of knowledge and interest — Tom and I don’t know any other young birders so we weren’t sure if her interest and abilities are average or above average — we’ve decided to let her go ahead with the purchase of a spotting scope. She’ll be using her own money, and has decided to get one of the top-level Swarovski scopes, though not with HD to save some money. She’s decided that she’d rather pay more for a top quality scope she should be able to use for a good long time, through her university studies and as she starts a career. The fellow we’re working with at the store said Laura’s selections should give her at least 20 years’ enjoyment.

This TED talk by Canadian professor Larry Smith, “Why you will fail to have a great career”, which I heard on last week’s CBC Sunday Edition radio show, is as good a reason as any for encouraging Laura to pursue her present hobby as a career. Last week, the Sunday Edition also ran David Martin’s essay, “My Government Valedictory”, which along with the recently announced federal job cuts are all good reasons to consider avoiding government jobs; some of the cuts will be at bird, and birders’, haven Point Pelee.

I am thinking...

By the way, I’ve been adding any birding material, all of the writing and some of the photography, to Laura’s high school portfolio, inlcuding the letter of recommendation and nice email note from the survey crew’s wildlife biologist, who turned up on the provincial listserv and wrote her offlist. Laura also wrote a blog post about our nature day visit last weekend to Tofield. She was asked if her post could be used as an article for the club’s newsletter, and she’ll receive a published copy, so a copy of that will go in the portfolio as well. I think it might be helpful in the next year or two to make a book of her blog with Blurb or some such, as a record of her birding and writing.

Aside from the birds to be seen outdoors, there were many wonderful exhibits in the town’s community center: several owls and hawks from from the city zoo; well-known Canadian naturalist John Acorn (who used to have a marvelous children’s show on CBC, “Acorn the Nature Nut”, now available on dvd); here are the two nature nuts together,

a live Burrowing Owl from a nearby bird observatory, which Laura got to hold,

a Bugs & Beetles wetland display; and a gorgeous taxidermy display of mounted owls from the Royal Alberta Museum. My favorite, though, were the yard-long garter snake, enormous Malaysian katydid, and scorpion, also from the Royal Alberta Museum; here is Katy,

displayed by the enthusiastic Pete Heule, the Museum’s Bug Room Co-ordinator (know as the Bug Guy on his features for CBC radio, which we enjoy very much).

In the kitchen…

Plans for tonight include Banana Batter Cake with Coconut Caramel Sauce, apparently an Asian variation of sticky toffee pudding, found in last November’s issue of British House & Garden magazine, originally from Australian chef and restaurateur Bill Granger’s book, Bill’s Everyday Asian (recipe here).

Some books we’re reading…

Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect by William J. Hirsch (me)

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose (Laura), new and very good

All of Baba’s Children by Myrna Kostash (Tom), a personal and general history of Ukrainian Canadians

Finally, Friday night the whole family went to see “The Artist”, which was playing at the little movie theater in town, which is owned and run by a friend of ours. We don’t get a lot of first, or almost first, run movies in town, so this was a huge treat, especially since we’d seen lots of clips at the awards shows earlier this year and were quite eager for the movie to come out on dvd. Next month on the big screen — either “Bringing Up Baby” or “The Philadelphia Story”, two favorites which would be wonderful to see on the big screen.

Poetry

Farm School poetry posts over the years:

National Poetry Month 2010

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of my Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

 

Daybook

Outside my window…

the garden is dead. We had the first killing frost last night, -6 Celsius (it was -10 at my inlaws’ house). The sweet peas, cosmos, clematis, lavatera, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and even the zinnias under sheets (had we known it would be lower than -1, we would have used two layers) are all gone. I moved much from the greenhouse into the house, and it looks sad in the greenhouse now. But the kitchen looks like a florist’s shop, and the banana plant is wondering why it’s in the living room.

I am thinking…

how quickly the cold weather came on, after 30+ temps last week, though it has been autumn here for the past month.

I am thankful…

that Tom got the propane heater late last night for the greenhouse, when we realized the thermometer wasn’t finished moving at -2.

for a warm oven, containing peach cobbler.

From the learning rooms…

we are doing a quick run-through the 20th century before beginning another cycle of ancient history. We are focusing on the perils of populism, in the 20th century, and now.

We watched “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the version with John Boy. We are bouncing around a bit, based on what’s available and when from the library. Next up is the 1998 Disney movie “Miracle at Midnight”, about the Nazi occupation of Denmark in WWII, starring Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow.

In the kitchen…

more dill pickles, and canning peaches.

I am wearing…

an apron, and longer pants, because it’s cold in the house. I finally succumbed and turned on the furnace this morning.

I am creating…

good food and small skeptics.

I am going…

to town quickly to pick up a parcel with Laura’s newest voice book for lessons, and batteries for her camera.

I am wondering…

how to fit all my greenhouse plants in the house.

I am reading…

Elle DecorTraditional Home, and Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, which though terribly sad goes well with our history readings (writing in The Guardian, Sarah Waters called it “A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War”).

Also, new from the library, 101 Things I Hate About Your House by James Swan, and How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One by Stanley Fish.

I am hoping…

I have enough Ziploc bags on hand for the sliced peaches.

I am looking forward to…

cabinets in the dining room. We may have found some at Home Depot, the sort you can pick up in boxes and walk out of the store with. As long as everything is in stock, which is the rub.

And at Ikea on the weekend, we managed to get the long out-of-stock Numerar butcherblock countertops for the dining room. They’re oak, which I wouldn’t want for a kitchen, but for the dining room they’re fine.  The plan is for base cabinets on the east and west walls, topped with the butcherblock countertops, and then open shelving on the walls.

I am hearing…

the hum of the furnace. Very odd after so long without it. The kids were delighted, and ran to the registers with quilts.

Around the house…

there are plants, fruit, and vegetables in every spare nook and cranny.

I am pondering…

Professor Helen Zoe Veit’s editorial in favor of a return to Home Economics in the classroom, originally published in The New York Times. From which:

One of my favorite things…

peach cobbler

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Laura has her second babysitting engagement, which she finds thrilling.  Putting together the Ikea sideboard, which will be our under-the-chalkboard table, since it is not too deep. I may have the kids sand the sideboard, so I can stain it, because it’s a light pine which doesn’t go with much in the kitchen. And possibly painting the chalkboard, which is an old school board and green. Am thinking black might be a nice change.

Miss Mason meets the Mitfords

The other month Book Depository sent along my copy of Wait for Me!, the memoirs of Deborah Devonshire, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, though on the cover, the author is styled as Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire. Born in 1920, Debo is the youngest and last surviving of the celebrated, often notorious, and always entertaining Mitford Sisters and the one-time, long-time chatelaine of Chatsworth House, on which construction first began in 1552.

I’ve long been a fan of her writing, even before my marriage brought me to chickens and into what used the be the local Chatsworth school district (many English settlers here once upon a time); we can see the old Chatsworth one-room school building, now converted into a grainery by one of our neighbors, from our kitchen window.  Last year I read her volume of letters with Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of my favorite writers and one of her dearest friends. I couldn’t bear to wait until the end of this month, at the earliest, for the Canadian publication of Wait for Me!.

Anyway, I had just started the book, when lo and behold, up popped Charlotte Mason [I've added some links]:

The years at Asthall [the family home] passed in a haze of contentment from my point of view.  I was aware of The Others buy they were so old and seemed and seemed to Decca (Jessica, my daily companion [only three years older]) and me to be of another world.  It was not until later that I got to know them.  Unity, next up in age from Decca and not yet in the schoolroom, made her huge presence felt but, although always kind to me, she was not an intimate. Our life in the nursery consisted of the daily round, the common task, secure and regular as clockwork.

At the age of five we started lessons with Muv [Mother], who followed the admirable Parents’ National Education Union (PNEU) system with its emphasis on learning through direct contact with nature and good books and its disapproval of marks, prizes, rewards and exams.  She taught us reading, writing and sums, and read us tales form the famous children’s history book, Our Island Story. She was a natural teacher and never made anything seem too difficult. At the age of eight, I moved on to the schoolroom and a governess (trained at the PNEU’s Ambleside College) and never enjoyed lessons again.

And from the previous page, also on the subject of education:

With foresight, or perhaps by luck, Farve [Father] converted the barn a few yards from the house into one large room with four bedrooms above and added a covered passage, ‘the cloisters’, to connect the two buildings. [Brother] Tom and the older sisters lived in the barn, untroubled by grown-ups or babies, and made the most of their freedom. My father, who was famous for having read only one book, White Fang, which he enjoyed so much he vowed never to read another, entrusted Tom, aged ten, with the task of choosing which books to keep from the Batsford [another family home, which had to be sold] library. Nancy and Diana later sad that if they had any education, it was due to the unrestricted access they had to Grandfather’s books at Asthall.

I laughed out loud.  I can’t imagine a more ringing endorsement for White Fang!

Before you might dismiss Debo as a duchess swanning about an estate, you have to understand that when she married her husband Andrew in 1940, it was with the understanding that she was marrying the second son of the then-Duke of Devonshire.  She and Andrew rightfully expected that his brother, William, would inherit the title and Chatsworth House. But when William was killed in action in World War in 1944, Andrew became the heir. He inherited the title and the pile in 1950, when his father died. He also inherited a pile of inheritance taxes, some £7 million, amounting to nearly 80 percent of the value of the estate (or  (£179 million, or US $293 million, as of 2011). But it was primarily through his wife’s efforts that the estate was repaired, opened to the public, and became self-supporting (it is quite the going concern, one of England’s top tourist attractions). The Duke’s obituary in The Telegraph pointed out that while their marriage was a happy one, “for many years they were often apart” – “the Duke tended to prefer their house in Mayfair” while the Duchess lived at Chatworth, where she has been a very busy woman.  She was instrumental in the estate’s preservation, and in its promotion and expansion, with the additions of a maze, kitchen, cottage gardens and several commissions of modern sculpture. DD is also, as you can see from her writing, modest and self-effacing, and has a soft spot in her heart for Elvis Presley and chickens.

Debo has written that she’s not much of a reader, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing.  Some of her delightful prose, often with gorgeous pictures:

Chatsworth: The House; not just a lovely coffee table book, but a comprehensive record of the efforts to save the estate from rack, ruin, and taxes

The Garden at Chatsworth (1999)

Counting My Chickens and Other Home Thoughts (2002); out of print

The Chatsworth Cookery Book (2003); from her introduction: “I haven’t cooked since the war. I hoped this would be the title of this book, but it was not well looked on by others. However, it is true and I am all for the truth. I told my old friend, the hairdresser from Chesterfield, that in spite of this lack of practical experience I planned to write a cookery book. He told his wife. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘that’s rich. It’s like a blind woman driving down the M1′.”

In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley

Home to Roost . . . and Other Peckings (2009)

Wait for Me!… Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (2010)

Coming in September: All in One Basket, a collection of Home to Roost and Counting My Chickens

Spreading the word

I belong to the Sciencesongs group at Yahoo and today had word from songwriter Monty Harper at the group:

I’m working on a new CD of unique science songs for kids, and I’m  writing to ask for your help.

The songs are unique because they focus on every-day scientists and  current scientific research. Most of the songs were inspired by the  scientists I’ve had as guest speakers in my “Born to Do Science”  program at the Stillwater Public Library over the past two years.

Specific topics include phototaxic bacteria, stress hormones, wheat genomics, bacterial biofilms, bat taxonomy, x-ray crystallography, and luminescence dating! The deeper messages are that science is a process done by real people; science is important, cool, fun, and relevant; and science belongs to everyone!

I’m trying to raise the money to make a really top-flight recording, one that families will want to hear again and again.

You can watch Monty‘s pitch video for his “Songs from the Science Frontier” here.  I figure home schooling families are a pretty natural audience for a project like this, so if you’re interested, let Monty know.

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More science songs to listen to this summer:

Singing Science, science songs from 1950s-60s LPs; we love these.  EEK — no link any more!  Here’s the old link which apparently no longer works. Try this too, from the Wayback machine. I have these already, but have no idea where to send you so you can get them if you don’t already have them. Drat. If anyone knows, please leave information in the comments. You can read about the songs, from the six-LP “Ballads for the Age of Science” series by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer (covering space, energy and motion, experiments, weather, and nature) here.  You could probably, it occurs to me, find them somewhere online to download if you Google “singing science” and “torrent”.  Just an idea…

You can find oodles of science songs if you just Google “science songs”.  Some of the better sites:

Kiddie Records Weekly, where you can find some vintage LPs to download, including “By Rocket to the Moon”, “Space Ship to Mars”, and “What Are Stars?”

PhysicsSongs, more general than just physics; Prof. Walter Smith’s labor of love

Science songs at Songs for Teaching

And some Charles Darwin and evolution songs in my old Darwin Day post, which includes information on MASSIVE: a database for “Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere”. The database, which is maintained by Greg Crowther and is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library,

contains information on over 2500 science and math songs. Some of these songs are suitable for 2nd graders; others might only appeal to tenured professors. Some songs have been professionally recorded; others haven’t. Some are quite silly; others are downright serious.

A delight, which you can also listen to all day, all week, all year at MASSIVE Radio — many thanks to Greg Crowther (of the Yahoo Sciencesongs group) and the band Science Groove for putting it all together. Read more about them here.

And don’t forget the granddaddy of them all, the great Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements”, here and here.

In search of lasting import

Over on the right, in one of the sidebars (“Our Curricula/For the Parents”) ever since I started this blog about four years ago has been a link to Jane Healy’s book, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It, first published in 1999. It was one of the first books I read after we decided, fairly abruptly, to begin home schooling, and it dovetailed neatly with our choice of a classical education.

As Dr. Healy wrote back in 1991 (here),

Fast-paced lifestyles, coupled with heavy media diets of visual immediacy, beget brains misfitted to traditional modes of academic learning. In a recent survey, teachers in both the United States and Europe reported overwhelmingly that today’s students have shorter attention spans, are less able to reason analytically, to express ideas verbally, and to attend to complex problems.

Recently, Dr. Healy’s ideas have been supported by Nicholas Carr, author of the infamous Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and the new book arising out it, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; and last month’s report from Duke that high speed internet and universal access to home computers “widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores”.  Worth noting that the study took place from 2000-2005, before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter took off.

And in today’s New York Times came David Brooks’ column, ‘The Medium Is the Medium”, about a new study; from the column,

Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.

Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide” — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.

…there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.

As Brooks writes, emphases mine,

The Internet-versus-books debate is conducted on the supposition that the medium is the message. But sometimes the medium is just the medium. What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.

A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America. Internet culture is egalitarian. The young are more accomplished than the old. The new media is supposedly savvier than the old media. The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.

And more, emphases still mine,

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

Perhaps that will change. Already, more “old-fashioned” outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.

I’d tell you to read the rest, but I’ve included pretty much the entire piece above because I think David Brooks wrote such an important essay that supports what so many of us are trying to do with a classical education. There will always be two camps on this — witness one of the column comments that a friend’s son improved his reading by playing World of Warcraft — and neither side will be much convinced of the other’s merit, but I’m happy to be in the Brooks camp.

Carriers of arts, letters, and dumplings

I had a post yesterday on Rebecca Mead’s current New Yorker essay, “Learning by Degrees”, on the purpose of education, which I agree with her should not be to “compete in the global economy”, as our politicians like to natter on about, but as Ms. Mead wrote, to “nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.”

So I was interested last night to read in yesterday’s New York Times Wednesday food section the article, “Their Future, Made By Hand” about a new twist in the road for “young, college-educated, Internet-savvy, and unemployed” New Yorkers who now find themselves at “the intersection of the economic downturn and the rise of the local artisanal food movement”, leading to “the recent flowering of small culinary start-ups” and food entrepreneurs:

As the next generation of cooks comes of age, it seems that many might bypass restaurant kitchens [and possibly college...] altogether. Instead, they see themselves driving trucks full of artisanal cheese around the country, founding organic breweries, bartering vegan pâtés for grass-fed local beef, or (most often) making it big in baking as the next Magnolia Bakery.

That “ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently”, learned in high school or in college (if not afterwards for many of us), can come in very, very handy. Keep your mind and your options open, and your future might well be delicious.  Read the rest of the Times article here. (And while you’re at it, go get the recipe for 1989 Rhubarb-Strawberry Mousse.  Yummy.)

Related Farm School posts:

Moving in a common rhythm; from which one of my favorite Andy Rooney quotes, from his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia, “Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

Child’s play

David Elkind, professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times prompted by the decision of many American schools to hire “recess coaches” to oversee schoolchildren’s time on the playground.  As “someone whose scholarly work has consistently reinforced the idea that young people need unstructured imagination time,” he writes, “I’d probably have been opposed to recess coaches in the past. But childhood has changed so radically in recent years that I think the trend makes sense, at least at some schools and with some students. Children today are growing up in a world vastly different from the one their parents knew.”  Dr. Elkind writes further,

A Nielsen study last year found that children aged 6 to 11 spent more than 28 hours a week using computers, cellphones, televisions and other electronic devices. A University of Michigan study found that from 1979 to 1999, children on the whole lost 12 hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities. One can only assume that the figure has increased over the last decade, as many schools have eliminated recess in favor of more time for academics.

One consequence of these changes is the disappearance of what child-development experts call “the culture of childhood.” This culture, which is to be found all over the world, was best documented in its English-language form by the British folklorists Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s. They cataloged the songs, riddles, jibes and incantations (“step on a crack, break your mother’s back”) that were passed on by oral tradition. Games like marbles, hopscotch and hide and seek date back hundreds of years. The children of each generation adapted these games to their own circumstances.

Yet this culture has disappeared almost overnight, and not just in America. For example, in the 1970s a Japanese photographer, Keiki Haginoya, undertook what was to be a lifelong project to compile a photo documentary of children’s play on the streets of Tokyo. He gave up the project in 1996, noting that the spontaneous play and laughter that once filled the city’s streets, alleys and vacant lots had utterly vanished.

For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.

Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.

Bullying has always been with us, but it did not become prevalent enough to catch the attention of researchers until the 1970s, just as TV and then computers were moving childhood indoors. It is now recognized as a serious problem in all the advanced countries. The National Education Association estimates that in the United States, 160,000 children miss school every day because they fear attacks or intimidation by other students. Massachusetts is considering anti-bullying legislation.

While correlation is not necessarily causation, it seems clear that there is a link among the rise of television and computer games, the decline in peer-to-peer socialization and the increase of bullying in our schools. I am not a Luddite — I think that the way in which computers have made our students much more aware of the everyday lives of children in other countries is wonderful, and that they will revolutionize education as the new, tech-savvy generation of teachers moves into the schools. But we should also recognize what is being lost.

Dr. Elkind concludes that “We have to adapt to childhood as it is today, not as we knew it or would like it to be”, since the “question isn’t whether recess coaches are good or bad — they seem to be with us to stay — but whether they help students form the age-old bonds of childhood.”

Here’s an idea.  Rather than adapting to something that doesn’t work, dare to do something different.  For those who are able, join those — dare I say it — supposedly unsocialized home schoolers and show your kids that it’s not necessary to buy into a failing system.

Messing about in boats

I posted the following, part of the very famous first chapter of The Wind in the Willows, at one of my homeschool groups the other day, in response to a mother who’s been having so much trouble getting her young son to stay on course with their Well-Trained Mind studies that, as she wrote, she was ready to throw in the home schooling towel.  After receiving a variety of replies, including one from me recommending Melissa Wiley’s idea of “Tidal Learning”, the mother wrote, “It’s hard to know when to keep the boat in the current and when not to try and push the river and when to allow the boat to drift into an eddy.”

Which immediately brought this to mind,

“This has been a wonderful day!” said he, as the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in all my life.”

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a — you never — well I — what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that?” asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the ONLY thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING — absolute nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing — about – in — boats; messing —-”

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

“– about in boats — or WITH boats,” the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. “In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not. Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together, and have a long day of it?”

The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness, spread his chest with a sigh of full contentment, and leaned back blissfully into the soft cushions. “WHAT a day I’m having!” he said. “Let us start at once!”

Funny, isn’t it, the affinity between water and sailing metaphors and home schooling.  There’s also the famous quote from that other celebrated watery children’s book Swallows and Amazons — “BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN”, our unofficial family and school motto.

The road to history

Beloved of home schoolers, the writer and illustrator Jeanne Bendick, who from what I understand just celebrated her 91st birthday on February 25th, has a new children’s history book, Herodotus and the Road to History (Bethlehem Books, September 2009).  From the BB page for the book,

Best-selling author Jeanne Bendick takes us for another informative—and amusing—journey into places and events of long ago. Herodotus and the Road to History, written in the first person, details the investigative journeys of Herodotus—a contemporary of the Old Testament prophet Malachi—as he takes ship from Greece and voyages to the limits of his own ancient world. His persistence, amidst disbelief and ridicule, in the self-appointed task of recording his discoveries as “histories” (the Greek word meaning “inquiry”), means that today we can still follow his expeditions into the wonder and mystery of the “barbaric” north, Syria, Persia, and Egypt. Jeanne Bendick’s lucid text, humorous illustrations and helpful maps entertain and instruct as they open the way for readers young and old to join Herodotus . . . on the road to history.

Small Press Bookwatch in December noted,

Herodotus and the Road to History is a fictionalized account of the travels of Jeanne Bendick, detailing the story of Herodotus, the man who is often referred to as the father of history. Facing criticism in his day, Jeanne Bendick does well in presenting a thorough story of the man and his travel with many charming, simple illustrations. Herodotus and the Road to History is a fine pick for younger readers with an interest in history.

Jeanne Bendick‘s other books in print, all staples on most home schoolers’ bookshelves, include Along Came Galileo (Beautiful Feet Books, 1999), Archimedes and the Door of Science and Galen and the Gateway to Medicine, the last two part of  Bethlehem Books’ “Living History Library”, Worth noting that another book in the library, The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker, is illustrated by Mrs. Bendick.  Here you can find a timeline of BB’s books.

According to the biographical note for the Jeanne Bendick papers at the University of Oregon libraries,

An author and/or illustrator of over one hundred books, Bendick is particularly noted for her comprehensive research, clear text, and simple illustrations; her work reflects her ability to hold a reader’s interest even when elucidating a complex principle or invention. Much of what she has written clarifies the areas of television, movies, time, shapes, numbers, ecology, astronomy, heredity, and science history, urging in her readers a basic understanding followed by the curiosity to learn more.

On November 24, 1940, she married Robert Bendick [see which], a photographer who became one of the first three cameramen at the emerging CBS-TV network. This connection enabled her to work in the television field as a story editor and scriptwriter for series such as NBC-TV’s The First Look from 1965-1966, and Giant Step, 1968, as well as a segment for ABC-TV’s 20/20 titled “Evolution/Creation.” …

Bendick has commented, “One part of the job I set for myself is to make those young readers see that everything is connected to everything-that science isn’t something apart. It’s a part of everyday life. It has been that way since the beginning. The things the earliest scientists learned were the building blocks for those who came after. Sometimes they accepted earlier ideas. Sometimes they questioned them and challenged them. I want to involve readers directly in the text so they will ask themselves questions and try to answer them. If they can’t answer, that’s not really important… Questions are more important than answers… If I were a fairy godmother, my gift to every child would be curiosity.”

If you like garage and library sales, keep your eyes peeled for Mrs. Bendick’s older, out of print titles such as Exploring an Ocean Tide Pool, How to Make a Cloud, and Why Things Change: The Story of Evolution.

Belated birthday greetings, Mrs. Bendick, many happy returns, and many many thanks all of the wonderful books, including the newest.

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Other Herodotus resources for children:

The Boys’ and Girls’ Herodotus by John S. White; free online too

Stories of the East from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

The Story of the Persian War from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

Herodotus resources for older readers:

The Landmark Herodotus, edited by Robert Strassler and translated by Andrea Purvis (Pantheon, 2007); the NY Review of Books essay is here

Herodotus by James Romm (Yale University Press, December 2008); The New Yorker review of the Landmark volume and Romm’s volume is here

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski; published two years ago, Kapuscinski’s last work

Just out this month – The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History by Justin Marozzi

Herodotus on the Web

Herodotus at MIT

Herodotus to listen to:

At LibriVox

Phrase of the day

“the angry and puritanical razorback hog that is the American Internet-reading public”

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Read more here, though about home schooling rather than hogs, in Andrew O’Hehir’s current Salon article, “Confessions of a home-schooler”.  If the names of Andrew and his wife Leslie Kauffman sound familiar to you, you may have read this New York Times article on home schooling last year.

The hog, by the way, is in fine form in the comments section.

Science for all, and all for science

AMS

I’m still catching up on my online reading, so I only just saw Bob Thompson’s especially thorough August 1 piece at Make: on choosing a microscope, along with exciting news from the Make: folks,

We’re in the process of working on a new area of Make: Online that we’re really excited about. It’s called the Make: Science Room. We’ll have a full announcement and launch in a few weeks. 

Bob Thompson is the author of the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer, as well as the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture, which we like very much and which I’ve written about here and here. To go with the home chemistry book, Bob maintains the good HomeChemLab website.

Here’s to an imminent launch of the Science Room!

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.

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.

Tentative high school science plans

I’ve been working for the past few weeks on what I’m going to do for science with Laura from grades 9-12; she’ll be starting 7th grade this fall, but like many home schoolers I feel more comfortable starting to plan sooner rather than later.  Of all three children, Laura, the eldest, has struggled the most with math (though this year has begun to enjoy the subject, perhaps because she’s also now finding it easier), and is also a keen naturalist, animal lover, and excellent young farmer.  Science, as well as math, are the two high school subjects I feel least comfortable winging and feel best having set out as some sort of plan.

My tentative plan, always subject to change, has involved cobbling together my own choices of books, some of which are already on the shelves at home, along with Teaching Company DVDs, based more or less the Well-Trained Mind rotation of biology (9th grade), earth science/astronomy (10th), chemistry (11th), physics (12th).  There’s also the option, I decided the other day, which I’ll give Laura for 12th grade of another year of biology instead of physics, concentrating on something she’d find interesting; in that case, we’d probably work through one or both of the Teaching Company physics courses (see below) over a couple of summers. She can specialize in ornithology, animal behavior, evolution, botany or whatever she chooses. We’d probably sort that out at the end of 10th grade, after two years of high school science.

I’ve selected completely secular textbooks where necessary (rather than “living books”), but I have tried to make sure they are written by experts in their respective fields who, preferably, are also good writers who make the subject engaging, rather than by committee.

A note: there are so many excellent, worthwhile and worthy books and documentary series on the sciences that I had a hard time winnowing things down.  There is probably more winnowing ahead.  As always, my choices were informed by own preferences.  I’m keen on the works of Chet Raymo, Isaac Asimov, and have recently become a fan of Timothy Ferris.  You might have your own favorite scientists and writers, and I urge you not to be confined by my own preferences and prejudices.  This is science, not rocket science, and there’s more than one way to do this.

OVERALL: We’ve been unschooling science for the most part.  Starting this year and next with Laura for 7th and 8th grades, and of course the boys will be around (so they’ll have two sessions), I’d like to go systematically through one of the first Teaching Company courses I bought, “Joy of Science” with Professor Robert Hazen, along with the book Science Matters by Prof. Hazen and James Trefil; I think their textbook version would be overkill for us at this point.  Also, with Laura’s love of her iPod, perhaps too the audiobook version of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Aside from the four-year breakdown, over the course of high school I’d like to do a light survey of the history of science using the book and new-on-DVD series “The Day the Universe Changed” by James Burke, of “Connections” fame. I’d also like to see each of our children involved at least for one year in high school on the executive of our local naturalist club

BIOLOGY (9th grade): We’re actually going to do a fairly specific farm study, using the provincial Green Certificate program for young farmers, with the specialization of cow-calf beef production.  She’ll also be able to use the program as her 4H project for the year. I’d also like to see if the each of the kids could take a course at the agricultural college in town in connection with the Green Certificate program, in the animal sciences department (anatomy and physiology or genetics of livestock) and/or an internship at the vet clinic. Like most good cattle farmers, we have a copy of Beef Cattle Science by Ensminger on the shelf, for the kids to work through. Also to read: Cattle: An Informal Social History by Laurie Winn Carlson and Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef by Betty Fussell; possibly the new Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Rimas and Fraser.

The more general stuff we’ll use, especially if we can’t manage to arrange for courses at the local agricultural college: the Teaching Company class “Biology: The Science of Life” taught by Stephen Nowicki of Duke. To read: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas; The Way Life Works: The Science Lover’s Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson; if we weren’t planning on the beef cattle approach, I think I’d use Hoagland’s textbook version of The Way Life Works. Also, In a Patch of Fireweed: A Biologist’s Life in the Field by Bernd Heinrich (not as good as his later Snoring Bird, but more manageable for ninth graders).

EARTH SCIENCE/ASTRONOMY (10th grade): the combination “Nature of Earth” courses from the Teaching Company (“An Introduction to Geology” and “Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy”), along with 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo; Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe by Timothy Ferris; The Crust of Our Earth: An Armchair Traveler’s Guide to the New Geology by Chet Raymo; A Field Manual for the Amateur Geologist: Tools and Activities for Exploring Our Planet by Alan M. Cvancara or The Practical Geologist: The Introductory Guide to the Basics of Geology and to Collecting and Identifying Rocks by Dougal Dixon; Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space (for general reference); and The Natural History of Canada by RD Lawrence, for Canadian content. Also perhaps one of New Yorker writer John McPhee’s series on North American geology, Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, The Control of Nature, and Assembling California; if you don’t have the individual titles, as I do, you can by the one-volume collection, Annals of the Former World which includes all but Control. Additional DVDs: Timothy Ferris’s “Seeing in the Dark” and “The Creation of the Universe”, and Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”; and Iain Stewart’s “Earth: The Biography”

CHEMISTRY (11th grade): working through Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson, with the help of his HomeChemLab website; and either Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham or what WTM recommends (Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide by Houk and Post). I don’t know that we’d need the TC course (High School Chemistry) for this, but perhaps. Also to read: Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks; Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley; Creations of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite. Also, if necessary, by the co-author (with Basher) of The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!, high school chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle’s chemistry pages; and my own periodic table round-up.

PHYSICS (12th grade): I was leaning toward the WTM recommendations (this and this) until I ran across How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis A. Bloomfield; while/before Laura works through the textbook, I would work through Dr. Bloomfield’s How Everything Works: Making Physics out of the Ordinary. At his reassuring website, Dr. Bloomfield has a guide to physics homeschooling and an instructor resources page.  Plus either “Physics in Your Life”, “Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists”, or “Great Ideas of Classical Physics” course from the Teaching Company, and the puzzle/brainteaser books by Franklin Potter and Christopher Jargodzki.

I have to admit I’m also intrigued, more for the boys than for Laura, by Richard Muller’s “Physics for Future Presidents” course (with webcasts) and books (there’s a textbook edition and a general trade edition).  Also intrigued, more for Laura than her brothers, in the classic Physics for Poets by Robert March, which is also an option depending on how things go through high school; I like this additional bibliography. To read: Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov; First You Build a Cloud: And Other Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life by KC Cole (recommended by JoVE); and, if manageable, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard Feynman.  On DVD, NOVA/“Einstein’s Big Idea” and NOVA/”Physics: The Elegant Universe”. Free online from MIT, Physics I: Classical Mechanics with Prof. Walter Lewin.  And some Leon Lederer links: FermiLab, and QuarkNet.

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Other useful links:

MIT OpenCourseWare

Free online MIT course materials for high school (biology, physics)

Writer, home educating mother, and GeekMom Kathy Ceceri’s Home Biology blog and Home Chemistry blog; be sure to check all the links in the sidebars

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! co-author Adrian Dingle’s Chemistry Pages

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The Farm School Science page (at the top above, to the far right, over the carrot leaves)

Darwin 200: Day 3: Teach Evolution

ateachevol

Colin Purrington is also the force behind the Evolution Outreach Projects page, which includes a wealth of educational and amusing links

National Center for Science Education, and the Center’s page of resources.  And, the NCSE’s latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach — a new journal to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience — is now available online.

Ask a Biologist

Encyclopedia of Life

Scientific American’s 2002 article by editor John Rennie, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” (including the hoary old chestnut, “Evolution is only a theory”)

Two UK projects for schoolchildren as part of Darwin200:   Survival Rivals and The Great Plant Hunt

Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science by the Working Group on Teaching Evolution, National Academy of Sciences

Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science (NY Academy of Sciences)

Understanding Evolution website, created by the University of California Museum of Paleontology; lots of resources for educators and children

Evolved Homeschooling blog — “A collection of evolution and science resources for the secular homeschooler”, webring, and Cafe Press shop


If you need more resources for teaching evolution, there’s always my old post from last year,

Funny, you don’t look a day over 198

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