• 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, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)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"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "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."

    "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 © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Old friends

I’ve learned from Susan’s Chicken Spaghetti weekend reading list that Beverly Cleary, the eternal Ramona, is alive and well and will be celebrating her 90th birthday on April 12th; just as remarkable an achievement, all 39 books she has written since 1950 have remained in print. But her last, Ramona’s World from 1999, marks the end of the line and, according to the Newsweek interview, though Mrs. Cleary “admits she’s made ‘notes on another book,’ she doesn’t plan to write it. ‘It’s important to know when to stop,’ she says.”

Stopping by Mrs. Cleary’s own website, though, I learned that Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy will live forever in bronze at the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children in Portland, Oregon.

And from Kelly at Big A little I learned that Mike Mulligan’s and Mary Anne’s friend Dickie Berkenbush (misspelled in 70 million copies as Birkenbush) is alive and well at 81, and was recently profiled by The Boston Globe. My kids were thrilled to learn that little Dickie, who in real life as in print came up with the idea of using Mary Anne to provide steam heat for the new town hall, grew up to serve as both the fire chief (for 37 years) and police chief (for 10) of Popperville, er, West Newbury, Massachusetts. The interview came about to publicize the special display mounted by Mr. Berkenbush’s wife Sue at the GAR Memorial Library in West Newbury, celebrating the life and work of author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton, a close friend of the Berkenbush family. The exhibit runs through next month.

I’m such a big fan of Burton’s, with clear memories of borrowing Katy and the Big Snow and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel from the library week after week during my own childhood, and a newfound adult appreciation for her lyrical The Little House and Life Story, that the other year I bought a copy of Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art for myself, from BookCloseouts. Highly recommended, for her own life story and her beautiful art.

Poetry as broccoli, and a wrap-up for National Poetry Month

With apologies to Joyce Kilmer (poems are made by fools like me):

I think that I shall never see,
A poem lovely as a tree,
Unless it is my broccoli.

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
Nearby a child with mouth, too, pressed,
‘Gainst vegetable with ranch sauce dressed…

In her Young Readers column last week, The Washington Post‘s Elizabeth Ward (tip to Kelly at Big A little a) took National Poetry Month to task for rendering the subject thoroughly unappetizing to kids:

The American Academy of Poets obviously didn’t consult children when it decided in 1996 that poetry deserved the kiss of death as much as black history or crime prevention and gave it its own official month. The result has been a decade of Aprils reinforcing the idea of poetry as broccoli: You’d like it if you’d only try it, kids, and besides, it’s good for you!

Erm, maybe yes, maybe no. I can see Ward’s point, which is much the same as my father’s curmudgeonly take years ago upon discovering National Children’s Day — “What on earth do they mean? Every day is children’s day!” But for the kids who aren’t going to have any broccoli or poetry at all unless someone reminds the adults in their lives once a year, a national month isn’t such a wretched idea. And you can’t really blame the Academy for trying to fill the breach — as we’ve seen, schools are busy redesigning and/or gutting curriculum (poetry got the old heave-ho a long time ago); compared to iPods, poems are hopelessly old-fashioned, compared to X-Box hopelessly boring; and, I could be wrong about this, but I have the feeling that not too many parents read poetry to or with their kids. Not to mention the fact that poetry can often take some time and effort, and the former at least seems to be in very short supply these days. So what’s an Academy to do, short of sneaking into kids’ rooms at bedtime?

Of course, I come at thoughts on the subject from a decidedly peculiar vantage point; I have kids who enjoy both broccoli and poetry, and sometimes, over lunch, even at the same time. And it didn’t happen by accident, though it didn’t require a lot of work either. In fact, I suspect that my kids like both broccoli and poetry, for many of the same reasons:

  • Broccoli and poetry have each been a fixture and a staple of our daily diets, so the kids have just grown accustomed to the fact that they’re around, in the air, in the fridge, on the table, on the shelf. It just wasn’t an option, as far as my husband and I were concerned, not to offer our kids the same tasty treats we enjoy (this is part of that old chicken nugget theory, by the way). I’m also a big fan of poetry for every occasion. If you haveFavorite Poems Old and New selected by Helen Ferris on the shelf, you can find poems for and about the seasons, holidays, historical figures, not to mention cleaning the house and getting the mumps.
  • I try to serve up each tastefully. Raw broccoli can look like trees, or trees with snow (dip or ranch dressing), or keep other brightly colored vegetables company on a pretty plate. When I cook it, I try not to overdo it into grayness and mush (this is also useful to remember when helping your kids learn something by heart, too). For very special heart attack occasions I’ll even make Blender Hollandaise for drizzling. When it comes to poetry, especially for young children, illustrated books, spoken poetry, well-written poems, on subjects that are particularly appealing (though not necessarily {gag} “relevant”) can make all the difference. Poetry Speaks to Children (book and cd), Caroline Kennedy’s new A Family of Poems, and My Kingdom for a Horse are all marvelous examples of poetry that can appeal to children on many different levels, certainly not just as printed words on the page.
  • The kids have a say and a hand in what and how much poetry and broccoli they consume. Daniel prefers his broccoli raw, and his poetry fairly muscular; Davy enjoys his broccoli both raw and cooked, and prefers poetry more moving and pastoral (erm, about transportation and farming); Laura is stretching her wings to include such things as hollandaise sauce and Shakespeare, though she’s always happy with something about horses and fairies.

Here are some recent Farm School posts on the poems and poetry books our family has enjoyed lately:

* Something different, an old list from “What We’re Reading, Watching, Listening To & Playing With: The Poetry Month Edition”

* Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month

* Poetry Is Life

* Poetry sings

* Poetry festival selections I

* Poetry festival selections II

* Poetry festival selections III

* Irving Layton, 1912-2006

Our newest addition to the farm

The first calf of the year was born this afternoon, on a beautiful warm spring day. Okay, so we got nine inches of snow yesterday, but Tom was able to clear away a lot of the snow around the corrals with the tractor, and after some telltale grunting earlier today, we knew to move the heifer into the calving barn, so she could continue the birthing process in privacy and more comfort. Mother and calf — we can’t tell yet if it’s a little bull or heifer — are busy bonding and doing well.

Added Tuesday morning: The kids asked me last night for this poem instead of a story as usual.

The Pasture
by Robert Frost

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.–You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.–You come too.

Homeschool heresy

I’ve decided something akin to heresy in my local home school support group circle — we won’t be attending the provincial homeschool conference and trade show (i.e. shopping binge) next month.

For the first two years of our homeschooling, the big provincial conference and trade show definitely provided something I couldn’t find elsewhere, particularly when it came to companionship and curriculum, because I was so new to homeschooling and living in the boonies to boot. But now with a few years of experience and confidence under my belt, not to mention ever-more bulging bookshelves, and a better grasp of what’s available online (for both companionship and curriculum), Tom and I can save our money and wear and tear on the truck tires.

The first year we had a grand time. I got to ogle and fondle books and programs I had only read about in catalogues. There were a few speakers and subjects we were interested in, such as Donna Ward on Canadian history, and a few we didn’t even know we’d be interested in, like Steve Demme of Math-U-See, who made a big impression on Tom and left him marvelling, “I wish I had been taught algebra this way.” This from my husband the math whiz, so I figured there must be something to it, which is why we supplement Singapore from time to time with MUS.

Last year I signed us up mainly so I could follow Jim Weiss around for two days and listen to him speak; I’m sure he must have thought the crazy woman who kept showing up in the back of the room was a stalker, but he was very gracious when I bought one of his CDs and asked him to autograph the kids’ favorite, which I had brought from home. I particularly enjoyed his talk on how to teach history with stories, and the importance of narrative. He repeated some bits from Merle Miller’s oral biography of Harry Truman — “When I was in politics, there would be times when I tried to figure somebody out, and I could always turn to Plutarch, and nine times out of ten I’d be able to find a parallel in there. … It was the same with those old birds in Greece and Rome as it is now. I told you. The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know” — and I was in heaven.

But this year’s slate — “How NOT to Be the ULTIMATE Homeschooling Mom”, “World View and Home Education”, “Maintaining Hope Amidst Tears”, “How Does Dad Fit into Your Homeschooling?”, among other things — doesn’t hold much appeal, and I think we’re pretty well set for books and curriculum for the next year or so. Laura will be starting fourth grade, and that will be mostly a continuation of whatever books we’re using now; plus we’re stretching out SOTW3 into two years, and quite honestly we’ve done more unschooling science than chemistry with Living Learning Books. Next year, Davy will be my third child in about as many years to head through first grade, so I’m more than ready for him. Plus I still have several gift cards for Chapters as a result of trading in some miles in our Air Canada Aeroplan accounts, which should come in quite handy.

I also have to admit that I don’t really seem to have all that much in common with many of the other homeschooling parents I meet at the conference beyond the obvious fact that, yes, we are all homeschoolers. The first year, it was a tremendous kick (and a huge relief for Tom) to see an entire hall full of home educating parents and think, yes, there are others out there. But on closer inspection, of and by us, it seems that as classical secular types, few homeschoolers in this neck of the woods know what to do with us. The more urban secular types tend toward unschooling and think we’re tormenting and traumatizing our kids with Latin and history and poetry memorization, plus they seem to avoid this large, fairly sectarian gathering in favor of smaller, more nonsectarian ones in Edmonton and Calgary. The more rural types are, well, considerably more conservative politically and less secular than we are, and I feel a bit out of my element when public prayers and such are offered up at the conference and other get-togethers, or that I’m expected to nod in agreement as I pass the creation display where a large toy plush gorilla sits with a sign, “I’m not your grandfather!” Thank goodness for the internet, where through yahoo groups and blogs I’ve been able to assemble my own community, where I can get information and inspiration, fun and friendship, tea and sympathy (well, comfort really), at any time. And this seems like a very good time to say a very heartfelt thank you to all who stop by here, especially the regulars, and to those whose blogs have become my own stopping places.

The other favorite part — the two of us spending a whole weekend together, staying in a hotel, going out to eat, doing a bit of shopping, having long talks in the truck on the long drives there and back — well, we had a chance to do that twice last year, at the homeschooling conference and the organic farming conference, and who knows, there may be a bed and breakfast in our immediate future….

Besides, this year it would be wonderful to be able to take some longer trips with the kids, who are turning into some wonderful and enjoyable companions, maybe to Calgary to see the Glenbow Museum (Laura has been the only one of our kids to go, but she was three months old at the time and snoozed the visit away in the Baby Bjorn), or Drumheller, Alberta, to see the dinosaurs and the Badlands and the Hoodoos. In a weak moment, Tom even mentioned going to Vancouver, to visit some island friends of ours who are transferring to the Four Seasons Hotel there. And we’re thinking of surprising Daniel with a trip to the waterpark at West Edmonton Mall, and possibly even an overnight stay in the Wild West room at the Fantasyland Hotel, for his birthday next month. It’s not the Four Seasons, but it could be a swell birthday bash.

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

Sunday mornings after breakfast are my favorite time with the radio, because that’s when CBC’s “The Sunday Edition” with Michael Enright is on, followed by lunchtime with Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe. I’d listen to Michael Enright read the phone book, though I’d rather listen to him talk about it, because I know he always has something interesting to say.

The other weekend, “Sunday Edition” treats included an interview with bestselling author Sarah Dunant who always sounds so wonderfully enthusiastic, and a feature on the history of the saxophone. But my attention belonged to the last part of the six-part series, “Poetry Is Life and Vice Versa” with Bruce Meyer. I’ve found over the years that anything with Dr. Meyer on CBC is worth catching. Not only is he a very companionable radio friend, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s a poet himself, as well as a scholar of literature and poetry with, among other things, several books of poetry, some short stories, two books of interviews with Canadian writers, and two textbooks to his credit.

I missed the first four installations of “Poetry Is Life” because of our trip, so I was delighted to find that all of them are available for free online as audio files; each segment is about half an hour long, and the segments are: How Poems Sound (Jan 22/06); How Poems See (Jan 29/06); How Poems Think (Feb 5/06); How Poems Dance (Feb 19/06); How Poems Feel (Feb 26/06); and How Poems Read (Mar 12/06). And because the series has been so popular, it will be available for sale on CD in mid-April, just in time for National Poetry Month, tra la.

From what I heard the other weekend and today, this series seems to be as good as Meyer’s two previous ones for CBC Radio, The Great Books and A Novel Idea: An Exploration into the Evolution of Story Telling. The Great Books series was also made available on audio, in three parts, and if you dig around you can find the cassettes, or, preferably, the cds. Or you can get Meyer’s book, The Golden Thread: A Reader’s Journey Through the Great Books, which covers Homer, Virgil, the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, up through A Room of One’s Own and The Wizard of Oz; the book is out of print in the US but still available in Canada. The audio version of the Novel Idea series, too, is apparently still available on audiocassette.

I know, covering the Great Books isn’t a particularly original idea, having been covered already and in great depth by everyone from Harold Bloom (How to Read and Why) and Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren (How to Read a Book) — which has even spawned a study guide, How to Read ‘How to Read a Book’ by Maryalice Newborn — to WTM guru Susan Wise Bauer (The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had), but Meyer does it well. One of the nice features of Dr. Meyer’s book is that it’s very conversational and accessible, considerably less pedantic than some of the other works on the subject, and yet more learned and less how-to-ish than others. It’s definitely, as the subtitle says, a reader’s journey rather than an expert’s lesson, with a particularly learned friend along for the ride.

Paging Charlotte Mason. Miss Mason to the front desk, please…

Yesterday’s New York Times reports that

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Which means that the educrats have twisted already twisted enough legislation to wring any possible joy or educational benefit from the curriculum. Now, don’t get me wrong. I tend to think that kids, especially in the early years, need a solid foundation in reading and math. But I don’t think that spending hour after boring hour on math and reading will help any child learn math and reading, let alone to love math and reading, especially if that time is spent in the later years rather than in, say, Kindergarten or first grade.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School in Sacramento, about 150 of the school’s 885 students spend five of their six class periods on math, reading and gym, leaving only one 55-minute period for all other subjects.

About 125 of the school’s lowest-performing students are barred from taking anything except math, reading and gym…

Maybe, just maybe, if the schools considered reading and math so important in the early years, through about fourth grade, then maybe the poor junior high school students wouldn’t have to be forcefed, like miserable geese, a diet of little more than reading and math.

“Only two subjects? What a sadness,” said Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College and a former New York State education commissioner. “That’s like a violin student who’s only permitted to play scales, nothing else, day after day, scales, scales, scales. They’d lose their zest for music.”

And if you don’t believe him, what about this poor eighth grader?

“I hate having two math classes in a row,” Paris said. “Two hours of math is too much. I can’t concentrate that long.”

And both classes are, argh, back to back.

If Miss Mason is busy, maybe Marva Collins can have her way…

Paperwork season

Last night brought another four inches or so of snow, and it’s still falling; I feel sorry for the early geese and bluebirds.

So while the kids are out playing with the new unexpected gift, Tom and I are settled down, he in the living room with the TV set to curling, and I at the kitchen table accompanied by CBC radio, to start working on this year’s organic farming certification paperwork. I’m hoping that we’re done by tonight, so I can photocopy the whole shebang and Tom can mail it off in town tomorrow. Yes, I know I should get back to work, but I’m taking a break without any paper involved.

Between March and April, we (mostly I…) have the organic application; the first quarter of GST receipts, expenses, etc.; and then, ta da, a couple of homeschool paper pile bonanzas — our second visit of the year from the facilitator, to make sure we’re on track with the province’s requirements (a joke but the kids and I still have to spend several hours on this when there are so many other more fun and useful things we could be doing), and filling out the homeschool resource expense form. I hate this time of year, and I’m actually pleased when the weather isn’t unseasonably springlike, because it’s always much easier to concentrate on the nasty but necessary task at hand.

Right about now, for oh so many reasons, I’d be happy to settle for mud season.