posts tagged with 'home'

not much of a holiday

In the past, Patriots Day has a been a big deal for us. Parades! Battles! Last year, of course, all the observances were cancelled, but we were still excited to follow along online. Then along came the second Patriots Day of the pandemic, and we put our trash out like it was any other Monday. What holiday?

Actually, while that is technically true, we didn't forget about the day completely. We watched the reenactment in the morning—the same reenactment we watched last year, since they haven't filmed any newer ones (does that make it a re-reenactment?). And Elijah wore a tricorn and carried a gun all morning. But it was hard to feel like it was any kind of a holiday. We even did school! Of course, in keeping with the day it was solidly Patriotic. Our poem for the day was Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" and we started an overview unit on the American Revolution. The boys have research projects they're working on on Revolutionary topics of their choosing. Which is fun and all, but it can't really compete with a parade. Next year back to normal?

how we support life-long learners

We had a busy day in school yesterday: besides celebrating Elijah, we had to do some actual school work! After a fashion. See, sometimes when homeschoolers do school it's not totally clear what the learning objectives are. But looking back on the day, I think I can recreate them...

As part of their Narnia book study the bigger kids made tissue-paper stained glass art, an assignment which was actually quite a challenge. For two reasons, actually: because they had to follow exacting directions, and because the work involved cutting little details out of card stock with an exacto knife. There were some moments of extreme frustration, but in the end they all finished. They learned perseverance.

While that was going on I was reading with the smaller kids about how people make maple syrup. We talked about plant circulation, and about evaporation, and about pancakes. Then we boiled some syrup until it reached 240°F, at which point we poured it onto bowls of snow to make maple taffy. We learned that boiled syrup is very sticky, and also delicious—except to Elijah, who continues to not like it. Oh well, he still had fun anyway. How can you not, at a school like ours?!

all kinds of learning

This past Sunday I titled one of our "moment" photos "playing with fire", because that's what the Bubble School kids are into these days. Both school days at our house last week they spent all their outside time making campfires and boiling water, and yesterday in Acton they were excited to do the same thing, with the additional fun of building a shelter by their fire pit (since our friends' yard isn't blessed, like ours, with a playhouse). Some of us parents were slightly worried about the possibility of conflagration—they were doing their fire-building in a corner of woods thickly carpeted with fallen leaves—but when I went out to check I saw that everything was so wet they could barely keep their kindling burning without constant effort from the lighter. So probably no conflagrations were likely, and we could rest easy with an occasional check-in glance out the kitchen window. Or so we thought!

No, the kids didn't set anything on fire (though they did succeed in getting the fire in their ring to be self-sustaining after a half-hour of sustained work!). But a neighbor was even more concerned than we were, and she came over and, after staring for a while, asked the kids if their parents knew what they were doing. Well of course we did! And as we heard the story afterwards, the oldest of our wonderful gang of kids—not Harvey, he's the second-oldest by a month and a half—had the presence of mind to answer. "Yes, they do, thank you," she said. "Goodbye!" (She emphasized afterwards that she said "goodbye").

Now of course, if they were hardened juvenile delinquents they would have scoffed at a question like that—or worse!—but our homeschool children are sensitive! There were some tears when they came in to report to us, and it took some work to reassure them that no, they hadn't actually done anything wrong. Some people just like to... involve themselves in other people's lives. It was too bad, but even as some kids were upset it was awesome to see how they supported and comforted each other. And even better, they went back out and relit the fire that they had stamped out after the neighbor's visit. And this time they set a guard to make sure they'd be ready if she came back!

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happy birthday Dr King

Today is Martin Luther King Jr's birthday. We studied his life this week, and today in Bubble School the kids each gave their reports. (I freely acknowledge the potential pitfalls in doing Black history with a bunch of white kids, but I think trying is still better than the alternative—and anyways, at this point 1/3 of our school population is 1/2 non-white, so there!) Our discussion was sensitive and nuanced. We talked about the considerable role Dr King played in the Civil Rights movement and also about the fact that there were others, less famous, who played roles that were just as significant. We talked about the importance of non-violent protest, and also thought about situations where violence is necessary for tactical or emotional reasons. And we celebrated that there is a Martin Luther King Day holiday, while also all agreeing that we have a ways to go, both as a country and as individuals, before Dr King's dream can come true.

Without libraries the research was more challenging than it might have been—like everything in this pandemic. But our group found a way to make it happen, using a combination of web sites (mainly Wikipedia), audio books from Audible and LeVar Burton's Skybrary, documentary films, and audio of Dr King's speeches. Plus the diversity of sources gave us a chance to talk about historiography, and why you might want to seek out a variety of accounts about any one person or event.

Martin Luther King Day is Monday, of course. We're not taking school off that day, though; we're honoring Dr King's memory by meeting, talking about his legacy and the road ahead, and eating a cake to celebrate his birthday. We're looking forward to it!

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wet weather? let's go to the ocean!

It's been sunny and beautiful for at least parts of the last couple days, so of course when it turned gray and rainy we headed out to visit the ocean!

the boys by the shore at Good Harbor beach under gray skies

perfect beach weather

Actually, the timing wasn't really deliberate like that. It's just that we have a lot on our schedule, actually, and it's been a couple months since we've been any distance from home; so when last weekend I saw that Thursday was free I put a trip out to Cape Ann on the calendar. In my defense, the forecast at that point called for sun! Not that we minded the light drizzle—we're that hardcore, and we'd actually much rather have rain than crowds.

Our first stop of the day was the rocks along Atlantic Ave, where, before we did anything else, we had lunch (we got a late start because there was lots of school work to do first—like I said, busy schedule!). It turns out it's cold at the ocean; at least two of us wished for warmer clothes (not me! nobody dresses warmer that I do). But as soon as we finished lunch, an hour of climbing around the amazing rocks warmed us right up. Nobody died, either. When Elijah fell on his face it wasn't from 25 feet above jagged rocks, which had been my fear.

Zion and Elijah looking down at white water from orange rocks

looks perfectly safe, right?

Then just as we were about done with the rocks, Harvey found a piece of sea glass, and then another one. I don't know if you're aware, but sea glass is rare in New England these days—maybe the only downside of people no longer routinely throwing their garbage into the ocean. So his find touched off a sea glass gold rush, and each of us got at least a dozen pieces. Lijah and I are going to combine our hoards and display them in a jar.

Next we went to Good Harbor beach. The tide was rushing out beautifully under the bridge and it wasn't at all crowded, but the boys were getting a little tired—and it turns out that without a full tank of physical and emotional energy the water's a little too cold mid-January to do much wading. We did find—and walk through—some very interesting sandy mud: it was almost fluffy, with a consistency like slush to a depth of three or four inches. It's lucky there was something harder underneath, or we would have sunk to our deaths!

We ended the outing with a visit to Rockport. We walked around town and out to the tip of Bearskin Neck, admiring all the closed stores and their range of varied and clever please-wear-a-mask signs. Then on the way back to the car we stopped at the candy store where we bought some fudge...eventually. It was actually kind of hard to come to a decision about what to get. It may be that she felt sorry for us or just that she's a wonderful human being, but the woman running the store also gave us—for free, gratis!—a bag of chocolate-covered swedish fish. I had no idea such a thing had ever been even contemplated, but they actually aren't bad! It helps that Tuck's Candy has, as well as wonderful generosity, really good milk chocolate. Tuck's Candy—check em out if you're in the area!

Then we went home. On the drive, both ways, we listened to an audiobook about Martin Luther King Jr. Because, you know us, that's how serious we are about school work!

Oh, I almost forgot the best part of going to the ocean in the winter! Even better than the empty roads and beaches: we found ice among the rocks! It may have been small, but our rink by the water was, for fifteen minutes at least, just about the best thing ever.

Zion and Elijah sliding on a patch of ice among rocks by the ocean

our two favorite things, together at last!

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back to school

I don't know how the school kids felt about going back this January, whether to their classrooms or their remote terminals. Given what Christmas looked like this year, maybe they were fine with it; even excited. But there's no way they were as happy as we were, because our return to "school" this week has been absolutely delightful. We started off on Monday with a joyful reunion with our bubble group, who came over for the day. Certain of the children were looking forward to doing some math work, but that didn't happen; instead, we talked (and wrote and drew) about what we're looking forward to in 2021, listened to some stories, ate lots of dessert together, then took a long walk in the woods. After school time ended, the kids who got to stick around a little longer did woodworking in the basement and made some swords, which they of course proceeded to battle with.

kids on a rock ledge overlooking the airport

school friends together

On Tuesday Harvey's online classes started back up. He enjoyed playing his banjo with his grandpa and cousin in his music class, and had an even better time hanging out with the boys of the ancient history class. The younger boys did Zoom yoga with Grandma, which activity has replaced their read-aloud now that they've finished Tuck Everlasting (and received yoga mats and blocks for Hanukah!). And Wednesday was the online book group party celebrating the completion of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Elijah was super excited to wear his monkey costume and bring a peach, and the other boys were interested enough to come up with costumes of their own. In the event peaches were not available, it being not at all the season, but Lijah was contented with a jar of canned peaches from the basement. The best part of the party, though—the best part of this whole book group—was the tea: herbal tea has a fairly important part in the story, so one of the things all the kids enjoy is having some as they listen. I'm working during book group time so the boys have to make theirs themselves... which I think makes it even more fun.

I thought today might be a bit of a letdown, with nothing on the schedule, but that was actually perfect for Harvey. He's been after me for a couple weeks to teach him programing, and today we finally had time to get started. Not that I know too much about the subject, but more than him—and certainly enough to pique his interest. Today we wrote some pseudo-code to talk about functions and loops and things, and then did some actual programing in Apple Basic (which, delightfully, is implemented in Javascript here). And we also took a good exploring walk. All in all, I think our first week back is going pretty well.

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party in person

Bubble school has been great, but only this week was the best part of bubbling up revealed: we can go to each other's birthday parties! We did that today. It was a shared party for the sisters who make up two sevenths of our school-age kids; their birthdays are just a week apart and since homeschoolers are kind, loving, and non-jealous as a group they're happy to have one party between the two of them. Not that they missed out on any party fun: we were there for five and a half hours of nonstop delight!

the kids waiting to batter a pinata hanging on a line

they still remember how to party!

There were no organized activities for all that time: the kids just like playing together that much. Even more so since usually when we're together we keep dragging them away from their games to do schoolwork! Today was all social time, and they really appreciated it. We grownups did our share of talking, but we also got in on the active fun a little bit, with some jump rope and some tug-of-war (surprisingly, the 3rd-through-6th graders beat the team of the six-year-olds and me in the tugging... those big kids are strong!). And there was food—tons and tons of food. It occurs to me that I hadn't done anything you might call "social eating" for a real long time now; today I ate many chips. On top of Thanksgiving, it left me feeling a little bit heavy this evening. I'll have to make sure to do some more jump rope!

We're so grateful to have this group; it would be looking like a long winter without them. Here's to everybody staying healthy and lots more fun to come!

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Native American study

One of our focuses so far in Bubble School (to the extent that we can focus on anything at all!) has been the Native people of the Northeast. It's a little bit because we started school on Indigenous Peoples' Day, and a little more because we're all interested in living a little more lightly on the land—and respecting and honoring the people who the place where we live really belongs to. We've learned some things about cooking with corn meal and making wetus; but the thing that I've learned most dramatically is that the history of the tribes of what is now New England is told entirely through the lens of the colonizers. Even in sensitive, scholarly accounts of the Eastern Algonquin people, they hardly exist before white folks wash up on these shores and run into them.

That's actually not surprising, given the historical situation. The Algonquins didn't have written history before colonization, and then the pace at which the genocide proceeded after made it impossible to preserve anything but the most superficial details about their stories and way of life over the last 10,000 years. It's pretty depressing.

We learned a little bit about that genocide too. The most rage-inducing part of it, as it applies to modern day, is the fact that tribes like the Massachusett and Nipmuc are denied Federal recognition because, contra the laws defining recognition, they don't "comprise a distinct community [that has] existed as a community from historical times." Yeah no duh, that's what a genocide will do. Other tribes, such as the Pennacook, no longer even have any groups big enough to be seeking recognition. All that: that's the history that's available to us. What if that's the history that was taught in Massachusetts elementary schools at Thanksgiving? One day.

In the meantime, I'd love to find even a little bit written by Native authors, even if they don't have any more access to pre-colonial history than white historians. We would appreciate at least a little balancing of the voices. Any suggestions? (Not entirely related but close: here's an article I read today about preserving foodways among Canada's First Nations..)

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bubbling up

Monday was an exciting day at our house. After a couple weeks of thinking and planning and feeling each other out, we had the first full day of our in-person school bubble. It was so great. With two other families, we gathered on the back deck to talk about Indigenous Peoples' Day, do some math and literacy work together, and process acorns in water boiling on the fire. And play and talk, of course. And when the rain got a little heavy for the group working on paper, we even went inside! The first time anyone but us has sat on our couches in almost seven months was a big moment... and it's not a coincidence that it was some of the same people who were here the last time back in March.

Lijah and two friends doing math work in our living room

math with friends!

We're part of a co-op, but it's having trouble getting going this fall. That may be my fault—I refuse to admit to any particular leadership, but I'm certainly one of the main organizers. In any case, between everyone's different schedules and risk profiles, nobody's really wanted to commit to in-person events; and most of the kids aren't that big on video-conferencing (we're trying to stay away from it ourselves, at least while the weather stays warmish). So a couple weeks ago I reached out to two families who we see socially who were also willing to consider getting together, and we agreed that we could try bubbling up to do some school work.

The bubble part is, of course, new and exciting—we spent five hours together yesterday, easily the longest stretch of time we've shared space with anyone since the pandemic started. But the school part is new too! For the last few years our co-op activities have been limited to fun outings, enrichment activities (awesome ones, to be fair!) and book groups. This fall we're going to be trying to do a little more consistent work together on things like math and writing, and giving our kids a chance to work with age peers rather than their siblings all the time. It's still a work in progress, but it was encouraging yesterday to observe the attention span the kids showed for working together. We're planning to gather every Monday and Friday, and we'll see how it goes... we have high hopes!

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another reader

Like Harvey before him, Zion has taken to reading. As the manager of the household I'd say it's because he wants an excuse to do something rather than work (or sleep), but as a homeschool parent I'm of course delighted. Because reading is wonderful, right?! It was Ramona Forever that was keeping him from going to bed last night and from doing his chores this morning, but luckily he finished it in time to take part in our school day.

I think it's safe to say that I have mixed feelings about reading. What I don't buy is the idea that reading is worthwhile for it's own sake—not just knowing how to read, but enjoying reading and appreciating particular books. In school it doesn't matter what it is, as long as you find something you want to read. And then you're all set! (until they catch you reading in math class; ask me how I know!). So you have an ecosystem of terrible books that make their ways from publishers to school libraries because, as they tell us, "at least they're getting kids reading!" Sure, I agree that there are tons of great books out there, books that expand your mind or transport you to places you could never visit otherwise; but I don't know that, oh, the graphic novel version of The Wings of Fire necessarily provides a path towards coming to enjoy them. Why not just tell kids—tell everyone!—that there are these great books out there, and wait for them to learn how to read so they can find out for themselves just how great?

Of course, I fully admit that my concerns are completely misguided. After all, I went through a period where I devoured as many Hardy Boys books as I could get my hands on! And I certainly don't want to suggest that graphic novels, as a form, have anything wrong with them; except for The Wings of Fire (which, admittedly, I've never even read!) all the books on this list are pretty darn good. Zion read his share of them—more than his share, probably—before he got started on chapter books (and in fact having finished Ramona he spent some time with Amulet this evening). I guess I'm just doing that grumpy old man thing where I only think books I like are any good. In my defense, though, I wouldn't be complaining if Zion, besides reading, was also doing everything he's supposed to!

Postscript: In between writing the previous paragraph and this one I did bedtime with kids. As I finished praying with Harvey Zion was reading Squirrel Girl in his bed with the headlamp. I asked him to turn it off, and he let me know that actually the nighttime is the best time for reading, because he didn't have anything else he needed to be doing! What about sleeping, my love? Ah, reading...

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