• 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.

Alberta takes one step forward, two steps back

From Paula Simon’s column, “One step forward, two steps back”, on this week’s introduction of Bill 44 amending the province’s Human Rights Act, in today’s Edmonton Journal:

Under Bill 44, school boards must provide parents and guardians with advance notice any time instructional materials or courses of study that deal explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation are going to be taught. Parents will have the right to pull children from such classes.

That may not seem so dramatic. Schools already send home permission forms that parents must sign before their children take classes in sex education. Parents can already pull their children from school programs that deal with religion. I pulled my own daughter from the classroom when the Gideons came to hand out New Testaments. Parents should have their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) respected. And in our multicultural, pluralist society, we have to balance carefully, to make sure we protect both the civil rights of gay and lesbian Albertans, and the cultural rights of those who are made sincerely uncomfortable by homosexuality.

Yet enshrining parental rights in the Human Rights Act marks a dramatic departure. Before now, parents who had concerns about a teacher’s teachings might complain to a principal or school board. Now, teachers and boards could be called before a human-rights tribunal. But it goes further. On Tuesday, Ed Stelmach was asked whether Bill 44 meant parents could pull their children from classes on evolution. “The parents would have the opportunity to make that choice,” he said.

Though Stelmach tried to back away from that point in question period Wednesday, Blackett confirmed parents would have the right to opt out of evolution classes.

Does this mean schools will be required to provide advance notice, any time a teacher discusses dinosaurs, fossils, continental drift, or sedimentary rocks? You can’t possibly teach science with intellectual honesty, if you’re constantly self-censoring to avoid offending strict Creationist sensibilities.

Read the rest here.


A history of Canada in folksong

Shortly after the Music Festival wrapped up earlier this month, Laura started talking about song choices for next month.  While I was tempted to ask her to change the subject after weeks and months the practicing, rehearsing, and performing, I was happy to see her excited about the festival and interested in finding some new and different songs.

For a while now I’ve been looking for a good source of Canadian folk music, because the songs are part of my children’s heritage and because they’re such a fascinating way to study history.  But it’s not a particularly popular subject for some strange reason.  Finally, poking through the library system’s database, I stumbled across “A Folksong Portrait of Canada”, an out-of-print three-CD set of songs compiled by Samuel Gesser, the impresario and record producer who had been the Canadian distributor for Folkways Records in the fifties and sixties, now part of Smithsonian-Folkways (which has a nifty Tools for Teaching page for educators).  The songs had all appeared on such LPs as “Canada’s Story in Song” by Alan Mills and Edith Fulton Fowke, “Songs and Ballads of Newfoundland” by Ken Peacock, “Folksongs of Ontario” by Edith Fowke, “Folksongs of the Canadian North Woods” by Samuel Gesser and Wade Hemsworth.  Many of these can still be found and purchased as CDs at, or downloaded from, Smithsonian-Folkways, but for us the three-CD set through the library is an easier, more affordable option, especially after factoring in the exchange rate and shipping.

The CDs are arranged geographically, with songs of the Atlantic Provinces and of Quebec on the first disc, songs of Ontario and of the Prairie Provinces on the second disc, and songs of British Columbia & Yukon of Native Peoples on the third disc.  The three discs include 94 songs by 70 singers, including Alan Mills, Wade Hemsworth, Kenneth Peacock, and Hélène Baillargeon (the star of the celebrated early Canadian children’s television show, “Chez Hélène”).

The set (Smithsonian-Folkways, 1994) is delightful, perfect for anyone with an interest in folk music, Canadian history, and Canadian singers. Check your library when you have the chance.  And a belated thanks to Mr. Gesser, who died about a year ago at the age of 78, for his efforts to preserve, protect, and promote Canadian music and Canadian history.

And a worthwhile link, Teachwithmusic.ca. Here’s the Canadian history section.

How to compete with the oil patch

The real value of an Alberta education

Interesting to wonder what happens to attendance when and if the dealership quits donating cars to the school…


One of my favorite lines from the terrific independent Canadian movie Wilby Wonderful (2004), which I watched again the other day,

“Well, you can like the backwards way, but the backwards way can’t be better because the backwards way is wrong.”

A beautiful little ensemble piece (not a comedy, as some reviews mention, but incredibly funny and also moving) starring Canadian gems Paul Gross, Maury Chaykin, Rebecca Jenkins, Sandra Oh, Callum Keith Rennie, Ellen Page, and James Allodi. Written and directed by Daniel MacIvor, who makes the most of his role as the mayor’s bumbling brother-in-law.

(Not for kids, by the way, at least not for mine, no matter how much they adore Benton Fraser and New Burbage…)

How to read your way out of a crisis

Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian‘s chief arts writer* picks her comfort reads.

* author too of the new Latin Love Lessons: Put a Little Ovid in Your Life

A telescope in every pot

New to me today, via CBC Radio’s “Quirks and Quarks” science show, hosted by Bob McDonald:

The Galileoscope, an International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone Project, US $15 each plus shipping to just about anywhere in the world.

You can also win a free Galileoscope in the Quirks and Quarks astronomical limerick contest, but I figured what the heck and just ordered one for each child.

Penny wise, pound foolish

Today’s news, entirely too close for comfort:

A report for the provincial government says a nuclear power plant could be in uranium-rich Saskatchewan’s future.

Examining the potential of power generation from uranium was among 20 recommendations in a $3-million report on how the province could develop its radioactive resource.

The power plant recommendation was evaluated in what the report authors described as a “high-level economic and technical analysis,” which concluded that “nuclear could be a competitive power-generation option for Saskatchewan.”

The report identifies nuclear power as a long-range project and suggests that Saskatchewan team up with Alberta to consider “a common power-generation solution for the two provinces by pooling their power needs.”

A nuclear power plant was also viewed by the report authors as a generator of economic activity.

“In addition to providing affordable low-carbon electricity for the province’s residential, commercial, and industrial users, a nuclear power plant would create 700 to 800 long-term jobs,” the report noted.

The report also suggests focusing on further exploration and mining of uranium, as well as more research and development.

The report specifically discourages Saskatchewan from pursuing two value-added ventures related to uranium: producing reactor fuel and converting uranium ore into various subcomponents. Market conditions make those activities not worth investing in, the report said.

In releasing the report, Lyle Stewart, the minister responsible for Enterprise Saskatchewan, said public consultations will take place before a final policy is announced.

“I can assure you that no decisions have been made,” Steward said. “The input received will be considered by the provincial government as part of the decision making process.”

The recommendations were released Friday in Saskatoon. The 136-page report was prepared by a government-funded panel and has been in government hands since March 31.

Kazakhstan poised to surpass Saskatchewan

The panel, chaired by Richard Florizone, the University of Saskatchewan’s vice-president of finance, included nuclear science experts, CEOs from the nuclear industry, as well as representatives from labour and First Nations.

The 12-member group also included a co-founder of the activist organization Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, who is currently associated with a consulting firm.

The panel was asked to make specific recommendations on how to develop Saskatchewan’s uranium industry beyond its current focus on mining.

According to the province, Saskatchewan is the world’s largest producer of uranium, with an output of more than 11 million kilograms of ore per year.

The report recommends Saskatchewan work to ensure its position in the marketplace is maintained. It says the province should encourage more exploration, particularly in light of the emergence of significant competitors.

“Forecasts indicate that Kazakhstan will overtake Saskatchewan as the world’s largest producer this year — and that Australia could overtake it next year,” the report notes.

Also on Friday, Stewart unveiled the schedule for nine community consultation meetings, which would begin on May 19 and end on June 5, 2009.

Alberta doubtless will not be far behind now.

The National Film Board movie, “Uranium” (1990)

“Will CANDU Do?” in The Walrus, September 2006

Poetry Friday III, or Poetry Saturday I

I had an email from my new friend, poet J. Patrick Lewis asking, with even more kind ruffles and flourishes, if I’d post the following poem he wrote in time for tomorrow, Saturday, April 4, School Librarian Day.  I said certainly, after stopping to wonder which comedian gave the poor school librarians a Saturday instead of a school day, where they could be properly fêted and appreciated.  I have a keen appreciation for school librarians, especially dear old Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Van Zandt in high school, because I spent so much of my free time between classes in the library.  And I have to admit to feeling lucky that my days were the pre-electronic ones.

Whether your child’s school librarian is Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Van Zandt, one of the wonderful blogging school librarians in the kidlitosphere, or you as the home educating parent, you couldn’t ask for finer thanks come Monday morning than a copy of Pat’s poem and this nifty certificate, colored by an appreciative student.

So, without further ado, here is

The School Librarian
by J. Patrick Lewis

A sign hangs on her door,
BOOKLYN, NEW YORK                   [sic]
When you walk in, the whole library knows—
A welcome bell hums like a tuning fork.
She’ll tell you what to read and what to skip.
You name a book, she heads right to the shelf.
The rumor is she’s read them all herself.
No one has ever run a tighter ship.
These days a job like hers is electronic
Because computers answer every need.
Librarians belong to a new breed.
But here at Booklyn, isn’t it ironic?
She still treats books like they are dreams come true.
And you had better treat them that way, too.

Poetry Friday II: More on the case for memorizing

It never fails.  Just as I press “publish” and even add a few quick edits to my Poetry Friday post this morning, I stumble across something new on the same subject.  I was delighted to see in today’s sneak peak of The New York Times Sunday Book Review Jim Holt’s essay on the case for memorizing poetry.  Here’s a bit,

A few years ago, I started learning poetry by heart on a daily basis. I’ve now memorized about a hundred poems, some of them quite long — more than 2,000 lines in all, not including limericks and Bob Dylan lyrics. I recite them to myself while jogging along the Hudson River, quite loudly if no other joggers are within earshot. I do the same, but more quietly, while walking around Manhattan on errands — just another guy on an invisible cellphone.

This may seem eccentric, not to say masochistic. If you are a baby boomer like me (or older), your high school English teacher probably forced you to learn some poetry by heart for class recitation. How we howled in protest! What was the point of memorizing Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” sonnet or — in Middle English, no less! — the first 18 lines of “The Canterbury Tales”? Our teacher could never answer this question to our satisfaction; the best she could do was some drivel about our feeling “culturally confident.” But memorize them we did, in big painful chunks, by rote repetition. (There is torture lurking in the very word “rote,” which is conjectured to come from the Latin rota, meaning “wheel.”) …

The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure. Between the covers of any decent anthology you have an entire sea to swim in. If you don’t have one left over from your college days, any good bookstore, new or used, will offer an embarrassment of choices for a few bucks — Oxford, Penguin, Norton, etc. Or you might try Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, edited by the former United States poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

Read the rest here.

Poetry Friday: Festival entries

Happy first Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month 2009!

To celebrate the occasion, and also how well the kids did this week at the Music/Speech Arts festival, I have a selection of the poems they recited.  Davy (age eight) recited “Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog” and “The Brook in February” by Canadian poet Charles G.D. Roberts (one of his sister’s selections when she was eight); Daniel (almost 10) recited “Every Time I Climb a Tree” by one of his favorite poets, David McCord, and also “A Mosquito in the Cabin” by Canadian poet Myra Stilborn; and Laura (age 11-1/2) recited “Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion”, one of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tales as well as Lewis Carroll’s “Father William”.

If you have a local music, speech arts, or performing arts festival in your town or city, or somewhere nearby, I strongly suggest having your children enter. Not only is learning poetry by heart worthwhile — it’s good exercise for the memory muscle and gives you a good way of entertaining friends and family (Tom’s great uncle, now 92, can still wow a crowd with his dramatic renditions of “Casey at the Bat” and other classics) — but reciting poetry, and listening to it, is one of the best ways to appreciate what really is a spoken art.  Much like Shakespeare’s words, poetry is best off the printed page.  If you need more convincing, read this or go to the post directly above this one.  And most festivals are teaching festivals with adjudicators who are professionals — speech teachers, singers, and such — offering useful critiques to improve understanding and recitations.  Plus it’s a bang-up way to spend a morning or an afternoon.  I still remember the thrill of listening to a friend’s 17-year-old daughter’s stirring presentation of “The Highwayman” .

Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog
by Judith Viorst (b. 1931)

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they smell,
And never sit when you say sit,
Or even when you yell.
And when you come home late at night
And there is ice and snow,
You have to go back out because
The dumb dog has to go.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they shed,
And always let the strangers in
And bark at friends instead,
And do disgraceful things on rugs,
And track mud on the floor,
And flop upon your bed at night
And snore their doggy snore.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
She’s making a mistake.
Because, more than a dog, I think
She will not want this snake.

A Mosquito in the Cabin
by Myra Stilborn (b. 1916)

Although you bash her,
swat her, smash her,
and go to bed victorious,
happy and glorious
she will come winging,
zooming and zinging,
wickedly singing
over your bed.
You slap the air
but she’s in your hair
cackling with laughter.
You smack your head,
but she isn’t dead —
she’s on the rafter.
She’s out for blood —
yours, my friend,
and she will get it, in the end.
She brings it first to boiling point,
then lets it steam.
With a fee, fi, fo and contented fum
she sips it
while you dream.

Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion
by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo —
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.

You know — or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so —
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim’s especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!

He hadn’t gone a yard when — Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.

Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.

No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted “Hi!”
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
“Ponto!” he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion’s name),
“Ponto!” he cried, with angry Frown,
“Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!”
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper’s Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!

When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say: —
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, “Well — it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!”
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James’s miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

*  *  *  *

Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by children’s librarian Amy Planchak Graves at ayuddah.net. Thank you, Amy!

By the way, don’t miss Sherry’s National Poetry Month round-up at her blog Semicolon.

Happy National Poetry month!

Begin your month of poetry over at GottaBook with Gregory K. and his 30 Poets / 30 Days celebration.  Today’s poet is America’s first children’s laureate Jack Prelutsky with “A Little Poem For Poetry Month“.

Today is also the official kick-off of poet Robert Pinsky’s Poems Out Loud blog.  Unofficially, Mr. Pinsky’s been blogging since Monday.

Updated to add: Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect reminded me in the comments below that this month she’ll have at least one interview with a poet everyday.  The celebration begins today with Kenn Nesbitt; you can find the entire schedule here.


Like Mr. Pinsky, our family couldn’t wait until today to start celebrating.  Our festivities began on Monday with the start of the local speech arts/music festival, with Davy, Daniel, and Laura each reciting two poems (Laura also gave her 4H speech and did a sacred reading of a traditional Mohawk poem).  The kids each won their classes, and Davy and Laura took the home awards for their categories.  They all also did very well in the vocal sections (traditional folk songs and musical theater), winning three awards.  Very, very well done all round and Tom and I are proud; Laura has her last performance this afternoon, in piano.  I was especially happy not with the awards but to see how much the kids had learned.  Laura had had a fairly dismal time with her speech in February at 4H public speaking day, because she was sick with the flu; she had just about given up on her speech as any good or her ability to deliver it, when her performance on Monday and the adjudicator’s comments restored Laura’s confidence.  Davy’s voice teacher got the last two pages of his music out of order while accompanying him on the piano, and Davy stayed calm and just waited while the teacher tinkled away, starting to sing again when the music finally sounded familiar. Daniel didn’t let the fact that he was in two tough categories (against his older sister in one) stop him from doing his best. We’re proud and pleased.

In other late March, early April news, the snow is still here but it is melting and the days are above freezing.  The geese and the crows are coming back, and the gophers are coming out. The organic farming recertification paperwork pile has been filled out and returned. We have seven sweet calves, with 20 more to come. Our first cow to calve should have been the last, with a premature, stillborn calf (she may have slipped on the ice and fallen, or another cow did so and fell against her); so at the kids’ request, we’ve started milking her.  Yesterday Laura and I made butter and put a pot of milk in the old O’Keefe & Merritt gas oven to make cottage cheese; the pilot light keeps the oven at just the right temperature, just warm enough to start the clabbering.

Unlike Gregory K. and Robert Pinsky, I can’t promise a blog post or a poem, even an old one, for every day of the month, but I’ll post as many poems this month as I can.  Here’s my April Fool’s Day offering, by Ian Serraillier.  As I wrote two years ago with another of his poems, Ian Serraillier (1912-1994) was an English author and poet who wrote often for children. His works are much beloved by many North American home schooling families, more for his retellings of classic tales and legends than for his adventure stories and poetry; some of our favorites are Escape from WarsawBeowulf the Warrior, and The Road to Canterbury.  And so, a fractured fairy tale for a foolish day,

After Ever Happily
(or, The Princess and the Woodcutter)

by Ian Serraillier

And they both lived happily ever after…
The wedding was held in the palace. Laughter
rang to the roof as a loosened rafter
Crashed down and squashed the chamberlain flat–
And how the wedding guests laughed at that!
“You with your horny indelicate hands,
Who drop your haitches and call them ‘ands,
Who cannot afford to buy her a dress,
How dare you presume to pinch our princess–
Miserable woodcutter, uncombed, unwashed!”
Were the chamberlains last words (before he was squashed).
“Take her”, said the Queen, who had a soft spot
For wood cutters. “He’s strong and he’s handsome. Why not?”
“What rot”, said the King, but he dare not object;
The Queen wore the trousers — that’s as you’d expect.
Said the chamberlain, usually meek and inscrutable,
“A princess and a woodcutter? The match is unsuitable.”
Her dog barked its welcome again and again,
As they splashed to the palace through puddles of rain.
And the princess sighed, “Till the end of my life!”
“Darling”, said the woodcutter, “Will you be my wife?”
He knew all his days he could love no other
So he nursed her to health with some help from his mother,
And lifted her horribly hurt, from her tumble.
A woodcutter, watching saw the horse stumble.
As she rode through the woods, a princess in her prime
On a dapple-grey horse…Now, to finish my rhyme,
I’ll start it properly: Once upon a time —


Farm School’s recent round-up of poetry resources, National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures