• 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.

The Magnifying Glass
by Walter de la Mare

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

I’m sending you off to see Carlotta

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

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

Poetry Friday: Remembering Eiluned Lewis

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

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

For we are kindred
To lordly things:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Deadline coming up for the Early Autumn Field Day

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

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

Turn on, tune in, drop out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman…

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

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

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

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

The signatories conclude,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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