• 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."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Christmas in July

Bingo!

Even before we started home schooling, I started adding to the Golden Books, especially the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, collection of my childhood.  I’ve been able to find more titles at garage sales and the Goodwill shop in town, and Abebooks when necessary. Some of our favorites are The Golden History of the World by Jane Werner Watson, and illustrated beautifully by Cornelius DeWitt — perfect for the grammar stage — and Ben Hunt’s crafts and lore books (which I’ve written about before, including here).

The two most elusive titles have been The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments by Robert Brent and illustrated by Harry Lazarus, and  The Giant Golden Book of Biology, written by renowned children’s science writers Gerald  Ames and Rose Wyler, and illustrated by the even more renowned Charles Harper.  I’ve written about the scarce Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments before (here and here); that one is scarce because of the subject and because of nonsense (including much internet nonsense) that the book was once banned, by the government no less.

The Golden Book of Biology owes its popularity and high prices not to its content but to Charley Harper’s artwork and his popularity among graphic artists and designers, and the recent Todd Oldham-inspired Charley Harper renaissance.  Copies of The Giant Golden Book of Biology, published in 1961, the 1967 revised edition (The Golden Book of Biology), and the 1968 second edition have been selling for anywhere from $100 to $600. I’m not a collector of graphic design works* and didn’t want the book to put on the shelf, I just wanted a good quality working copy my kids could read.

Well, I finally lucked out  the other week with a 1967 copy at eBay, and while I didn’t pay anywhere in my customary 25 cents to $5 range, I didn’t pay anywhere near $100 either (or $500, yikes); little enough that I can leave the book on the coffee table for the whole family to enjoy and let the kids read it without encasing them or the book in plastic.  So the lesson here is that patience will pay off…

For me these books, and many of the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, on astronomy (also by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames), the human body, natural history, physicsworld geography (“A Child’s Introduction to the World”), world history, mathematics (another one with crazy prices), and the Golden Book encyclopedia set, are desirable because although they remain, after 40 to 50 years, some of the very best examples of children’s nonfiction. As MAKE’s Mark Frauenfelder wrote about The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments,

The book is an example of everything great about vintage children’s science books. Once you lay your eyes on it, you will come to the sad realization that our society has slipped backwards in at least three important ways: 1. The writing quality in old kids’ science books was better; 2. The design and illustration was more thoughtful and skillful; 3. Children in the old days were allowed and encouraged to experiment with mildly risky but extremely rewarding activities. Today’s children, on the other hand, are mollycoddled to the point of turning them into unhappy ignoramuses.

This blog post at Codex xcix shows a number of illustrations from the book, which gives you an idea of just why the book is so desirable for the art alone. Codex writes,

Charley admitted that he had to learn the subject while he was doing the illustrations, after all, he was an artist, not a scientist. The result, however, was a masterpiece – the quintessential mid-century children’s science text. It is widely seen as his magnum illustratus and has been widely influential to two generations of illustrators and designers. Todd Oldham described it as “…one of my favorite things I’ve ever had in my life,” and the illustrator Jacob Weinstein as “the world’s most attractive textbook.”

More illustrations from the book are at this Grain Edit post.

If you get the chance at library book sales or garage sales, keep your eyes peeled for books by Gerald Ames and Rose Wyler, who were married to each other and who together and separately wrote 50 or so children’s books, mostly on science but also on (science-based) magic tricks and other subjects.  Their publishers included Golden/Western, Harper & Row for a number of Science I Can Read Books, and Julian Messner. According to their individual obituaries in The New York Times, Mr. Ames died in 1993 at the age of 86,  Miss Wyler died in 2000 at the age of 80;

Ms. Wyler once recalled that as a girl she ”always had a collection of stones, bugs or leaves and always wanted to know more about nature.” She never could find books on nature as a child, she said, so at 11 she decided she was going to write them.

Among their best known titles: the highly recommended The Giant Golden Book of Astronomy: A Child’s Introduction to the Wonders of Space (1950), Magic Secrets (first published in 1954 and still in print as an I Can Read Book), Secrets in Stones (1954), The Earth’s Story (1957), First Days of the World (1958), The First People in the World, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (1958),  Inside the Earth (1963), Prove It! (A Science I Can Read Book, 1964), The Story of the Ice Age (1967), and Spooky Tricks (originally published in 1968 and not too long out of print).

The Messner books, written mostly by Rose Wyler, are lovely for young children if you run across them: the “Science Fun” series, including Science Fun with Toy Boats and Planes (1986), Science Fun with Mud and Dirt (1987), and Science Fun with a Homemade Chemistry Set (1988); and the Outdoor Fun series, including The Starry Sky (1989), Puddles and Ponds (1990), and Seashore Surprises (1991).

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Interview with Charley Harper at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

* Although I do have my mother’s old copy of Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book, also illustrated by Charley Harper and held together with a rubber band for the past 40 years.

The Book of Life

This has long been on my wish list at Amazon.com for the kids — The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth, edited by Stephen Jay Gould.  A few times a year, it goes back and forth between my wish list and shopping cart, and it was in my shopping cart in January when I hit send to order a few things for my mother to help spruce up the kitchen.

Since I missed Darwin Day 2010, I’ll offer this book as my belated many happy returns to the great man.  And a reminder for anyone who hasn’t seen it before, my big Darwin Day roundup from last year is here at Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day.

The Science of Christmas

Since 1825, December has been the month for The Royal Institution of Great Britain’s “Christmas Lectures for Young People”, established by Michael Faraday, who presented 19 of the early lectures himself. According to the RI, the lectures “serve as a forum for presenting complex scientific issues to children in an informative and entertaining manner, and are particularly well-known for students’ participation in demonstrations and experiments”.  Since 1966, the lectures have been on television thanks to the BBC, and many are available free online; registration, which is free, is required and highly recommended.

Some notable lectures and lecturers: in 1964, Desmond Morris on “Animal behaviour”; in 1973, David Attenborough on “The language of animals”; in 1977, Carl Sagan on “Planets”; in 1991, Richard Dawkins on “Growing Up in the World” (which is also free online here).

This year’s lecture is “The 300 million years war” presented on Saturday, December 5th by Prof. Sue Hartley:

Plants might seem passive, defenceless and almost helpless. But they are most definitely not! Thanks to a war with animals that’s lasted over 300 million years, they’ve developed many terrifying and devious ways to defend themselves and attack their enemies. Vicious poisons, lethal materials and even cunning forms of communicating with unlikely allies are just some of the weapons in their armoury. Using these and other tactics, plants have seen off everything from dinosaurs to caterpillars.

You can watch a number of Royal Institution lectures for Children at the RI’s web archives.

Also available online at the RI website: games (What’s Inside an Element?, The Science of the Elements Quiz, Build Your Own Skeleton, and more) and pages of educational resources for teachers and others.

Trip report, part 2: NYC, still wild

On our second day, Sunday, we were up bright and early to go birding in Central Park with Deb Allen. We met what seems to be a devoted group of regulars by the Turtle Pond dock near Belvedere Castle, where I spent many high school Saturdays climbing the castle and the rock walls below. Laura was delighted to be in the midst of the fall migration, surrounded by her favorite warblers, and found it interesting that some of the birds we take for granted and enjoy in full summer plumage, such as goldfinches, are simply visitors in New York in the autumn.  Also novel was birdwatching as a large group activity.

We started off at the Turtle Pond,

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Laura with her new binoculars, a belated birthday gift from Grandpapa,

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The lack of binoculars didn’t hinder Daniel,

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and I can tell you that by the end of our birdwatching, that backpack was full of acorns, all of which made the journey home with us.

The group zeroes in on a new specimen,

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Laura in her element,

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We walked through the Ramble, then out onto the very new Oak Bridge (which is really steel and aluminum), and toward Strawberry Field,

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Laura kept a list in a notebook of all her sightings for the day, which included ruddy ducks and gadwalls at Turtle Pond, brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglets, a swamp sparrow, a northern water thrush, winter wren, brown thrasher, eastern towhee, and pine warbler. I’m sure there were more, but I’m not the official birder in the family. Between the birds and the lovely New York birders we met, it was a wonderful morning.

We left after two hours (the walks usually last three hours) to head over to my parents’ apartment to make pancakes for brunch. As it was, we ran into a 10-block street fair at Broadway and 86th Street, which slowed us down considerably,

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Physics at home

You might already know that author and home educating mother Kathy Ceceri has a couple of very nifty home school science blogs, Home Chemistry (“Making science fun for my homeschooled kids”) and Home Biology (“for homeschoolers and anyone else who wants to learn about life science without a lab!”).  

Now she’s added Home Physics to the collection, billed as “All kinds of info on teaching and learning physics at home for homeschoolers, students, and hobbyists”.  Be sure to check out her collection of physics links in her sidebar.

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You can also find Kathy at her Crafts for Learning website, her Family Online blog, and at Wired’s GeekDad, where she’s one of the few GeekMoms.

Science for all, and all for science

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!

Dipping a toe

… back into blogging after what has turned out to be a two-month sabbatical.  No apologies, no regrets.

It has been a marvelous summer, and at the moment we’re marveling that, here on the prairies six hours north of Montana, not only is summer still hanging on but we’re having a heat wave —  high 20s Celsius, with a forecast 33 C for Thursday.  The farmers’ crops are are drying in the fields, but the weather is perfect for the tomatoes and peppers as long as I can keep the water coming.  And it’s getting dark now disturbingly early, just after eight o’clock.

Our own crops are harvested, such as we could this year.  After we finished cutting and baling the alfalfa for hay, we cut and bale our barley crop early, several weeks ago, for greenfeed, instead of combining the grain. The boys are out as I type, with the water trailer, giving the shelterbelt trees a good soaking, and weeding the rows.

Speaking of the shelterbelt, in early July we took our first ever summer vacation, a whopping two-and-a-half days through Saskatchewan.  Our main destination was the shelterbelt tree center at the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in Indian Head, SK, which holds an open house every summer.  It’s the first time in the four or five years since we’ve started planted trees that we’ve been able to make it, mainly because of the drought which meant the hay wasn’t ready yet for cutting.  We attended seminars, took a tour of the center, watched demonstrations of the equipment — including the where-have-you-been-all-my-farming-life Weed Badger, which we are thinking would mean an end to endless weeding — and went home with all sorts of goodies, including notepads, water bottles, posters, and more little trees to plant. The town of Indian Head not only has a lovely ice cream parlor on Main Street, but has some of the most gorgeous Victorian houses, and beautifully tended gardens, on well-treed streets I’ve ever seen in a prairie town. We also stopped at Moose Jaw for a tour of the Tunnels and (even better) the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre at the edge of town, where we met and handled George, the ambassador owl, fed grasshoppers to some others, and were able to buy very inexpensive owl pellets for dissection.  Next stop was Rouleau aka Dog River for the kids’ sake, though admittedly we were about two years late with that one.  On to Regina, where we managed to make a 6 pm tour of the legislature building and afterwards strolled through the lobby of the Hotel Saskatchewan since Laura has inherited from her mother and grandmother a love of grand old hotels.

Various other goings-on since my last post, but not in any sort of order (not much for pictures though, because either the camera hates the computer or vice versa and I can’t figure out which or why):

— Tom directed the kids to take the majority of the new-crop kittens to the fair, to Old MacDonald’s barn where they would be adopted. Only to turn into a softie when at said barn said kids discovered rabbits.  Laura asked first — “Dad, could I have a rabbit please?” But instead of a direct “No”, Tom mumbled something about having to make sure she’d do all her other chores first, etc. Which sounded, to Laura’s ears (and to mine) very much like “Yes”.  Which is all the boys needed to hear.  Which is why we now have two bunnies, Verbena and Claudia, happily munching on carrot tops, kohlrabi leaves, and other garden scraps.

— The rest of the time at the fair was equally exciting.  All three kids showed pens of chickens, their calves (on what turned out to be an exceedingly hot day), won prizes, spent two days riding the rides on the midway, showed off their handiwork at the exhibit hall (Laura displayed an example of handwriting, flowers, her quilling, and other things I know I’m forgetting; the boys displayed Lego creations, including Davy’s manure spreader made out of bricks, as well as first-prize winning birdhouses, one shaped like a grain elevator, and other assorted items; and all three and Tom displayed pint sealers of threshed grain, and sheaves of grain and forage).  We all ate homemade pie from the United Church booth and drank lemonade, and watched the show on the grandstand with good friends who came in from out of town to take in the festivities. And, as usual, we brought home the chicks hatched out at the incubator display.

— The kids spent the latter part of the summer getting ready for children’s day at the Farmer’s Market in town, when anyone under 14 can get a table for free, instead of the usual $10.  The boys decided to take what they learned from making my birthday present, a plant cart made from an old barbecue (I had seen the idea in the June 2008 issue of Harrowsmith magazine, and kept reminding the boys that it would make a dandy Mother’s Day or mother’s birthday present), and turn it into a business.   The first project they did with Tom’s supervision and help, and then they knew enough to set out on their own.

— Davy fractured his wrist in early August, jumping off a swing at a friend’s house.  His first injury in six or so years of professional swing jumping.  But the new doctor in town said all he needed was a splint and an ace bandage for three weeks, which was very easy to manage, especially for showers and baths. The splint and bandage just came off, and the wrist seems to be as good as new.

— Tom’s aunt and uncle in town took off for a 10-day vacation, telling us we could pick all of their raspberries.  One of the  most delicious presents we’ve ever received.  I went in every other day for an hour and a half of picking, and by the time they returned we had eaten as many fresh raspberries, and raspberry crisps, crumbles and clafoutis as we could, and I had canned the rest as jam and preserves to enjoy until next summer.  Ditto with saskatoons, some which we picked wild and others from friends’ bushes. Chokecherries, Evans cherries, peaches, and pears are up next for syrup, jelly, and canning.

— We started up our formal studies yesterday, a bit earlier than usual, but then we’re taking off for a few weeks next month to visit grandparents in NYC, and then on to Washington, DC.   Since Farm School is going to Washington, it seemed appropriate to spend our first day watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, which will be a springboard to the next two months of civics, folk songs, vocabulary, and more.  Next up, “Much Ado About Nothing”, in preparation for the Folger’s new production.  Oh yes, and math, grammar, writing, spelling, science…  For Laura, science will be based on around one of her recent 12th birthday present from her grandparents, Birds of Central Park. I’m looking at a bird walk or two with Dr. Bob DeCandido, and have already found the perfect city souvenir for Laura.

Many thanks to the two or so readers, in addition to my parents, who’ve stuck it out over here in the barrens. Any point in a (not) back-to-school roll call in the comments, just to see who’s still here?