Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Taking it easy sick days at the Academy of Zion ...

Week in Review, Week 6

So, last week you heard me talk about how we were stepping back and trying to re-group and re-prioritize and thus, somewhat taking it easy.  Well, then this past week, we were recovering from illnesses in the home and Momma got sick, so we had another week of "taking it easy".  Luckily, when you homeschool, you're not on anyone else's schedule.  If you want your school year to take an entire year so that you can have breaks when you need them, you can.  If you want your school year to start in January and be "off" during the fall and winter holiday months, you can.  If your family is sick and you need to take it easy for a week, you can.  Give thanks for that!  

I'm still pondering on exactly how I want the school year to proceed, to be honest.  When I look at the next several months, it is a natural time of the year for us to take things easier.  It may be that the Academy of Zion follows a January to November sort of schedule.  I mean, really, the fall months are the best for getting outside and enjoying the weather.  And, there are so many wonderful things to do in November and December that, while educational, may not be math-intensive, for example.  We'll be doing a lot of baking and making soup.  We'll be doing crafts and making gifts for family for Christmas.  We'll be spending time with family in November when my mom comes to the States.  We'll be decorating for Christmas and celebrating our family traditions.  We'll be learning about the real St. Nicholas and St. Martin and St. Lucy.  We'll be celebrating "Give Thanks Day" (as we call it).  So many wonderful things to do over the next two months.  And, of course we'll be reading and painting and enjoying these things, but I'm thinking of starting my true 2nd grade "curriculum" in January.  When the Fairy really turns 8.  After all, that's what a Waldorf 2nd grade is, right?  Of course, the really awesome thing is that 2nd grade is all about the stories of the Saints (and Fables), so we'll be "doing school" for the next two months, even though my "real plans" will not start until later.  My goal for the next two months is to really get our rhythm set in stone.  Create habits ~ in all THREE of us!  Get used to getting up, following our routine.  Enjoying these times.  And, being ready to buckle down in January. 

All that aside, even with Momma being sick, we still had a beautiful week of "school" last week.  Let me share with you some of the high points...

On Monday I had plans to take the girls to the park to feed the ducks and do our Nature Study there.  Of course, I woke up feeling awful, so that plan went out the window.  Thankfully, God decided that if Momma couldn't go out to do Nature Study, then He'd just bring the Nature Study to us.  While I was outside on Monday morning, I found a dead frog in our yard.  

I called the girls over to examine it, and we all took a close look.  I noticed that it had webbed feet, so I asked the Princess what kind of feet it had.  Just as serious as can be, she answers "Frog Feet".  So cute!  The Fairy politely corrected her by stating that it had "webbed feet".  The Princess did know that those were to help him swim, so that's a good thing.  Anyway, we brought the frog inside and proceeded to look at pictures of frogs online.  We read the rhyme "Five Little Speckled Frogs" and "Bloop Bloop".   Then, all three of us did a watercolor pencil sketch for our Nature Notebooks.  Here they are:

The Princess
The Fairy

Tuesday was Daddy's day off, so we headed out to the beach to take care of some business (new driver's licenses, registration & tags sort of thing) and have some nice family time.  I was very proud to see the Fairy practice loving kindness by spending her hard earned money on a big ride-on horse for her sister!  She actually gave up buying ice cream so that she could buy that horse for the Princess!  That's the stuff that makes Momma's heart melt.  We also dropped off the Fairy's gift for the homeless child (see last weeks' post).  We had a wonderful day, and on the way home got to see the most gorgeous sunset.  So, in Academy of Zion fashion, we decided right then and there that we would paint that sunset the next day.  Here are our watercolor paintings from Wednesday:

The Fairy's
The Princess's
We continued reading in the Burgess Animal Book for Children.  We also listened to Mr. Bach Comes to Call, to further our Composer Study of Bach.  On her own time, the Fairy read through a couple more Bach books I had lying around (from the library).  As far as music study in the sense of "doing" it, there's been a good deal of that around here, too.  The Fairy has started practicing some songs on the guitar with Daddy.  

She's also started a Lyrics notebook, and has had me print the lyrics to several songs that she loves.  It's so cute to hear her singing them all the time, usually to the dogs.  We did turn the music off in the car the other day and all three of us sang a Taylor Swift song that they seem to like!  I'm usually VERY opposed to pop music, but at least she seems to be a simple girl with a guitar.  And, the lyrics were not inappropriate.  Most of the songs the Fairy has had me print have been by Trevor Hall and are all about LOVE and UNITY in the world, so she can read and sing those all day long!   

On a side note, she also discovered that our little dog, Sweet Pea, likes to "sing" whenever the Fairy plays the harmonica.  Needless to say, once they realized that one, the Fairy has played A LOT of harmonica this week!

I was lucky enough to be invited to a production the girls put on that involved horses ~ it was a play or a movie, and it was rather entertaining, as always!  I was also blessed to receive a gorgeous little paper doll from the Princess.  She said she made it to make me feel better!  So sweet.  

We also had a nice time building with our logs ~ they are similar to Lincoln Logs, but Lincoln Logs are made in China ... ours are 100% US made.  Momma built a house and a dog house while the girls built houses of their own.  Then, Daddy got home and joined in on the action.  He built some sort of strange looking building, and the girls decided to add in their wooden animals.  All while I was finishing up the preparation of our DELICIOUS home-made corn and potato chowder!  

We finished out the week with Dragons and Air Planes ...

On Saturday, the girls and I baked some Dragon Bread and that night we enjoyed a family movie night of How to Train Your Dragon (super cute movie, by the way).

On Sunday, we headed over to the Air Show and enjoyed an amazing performance by the Blue Angels.  I don't have many pictures, but the girls both repeatedly thanked me through "happy tears" ~ apparently their little bodies didn't know what to do with the emotions brought on by REALLY loud jets flying right over head and appearing to almost crash, but then not!  :-)  Anyway, here they are in one of the military helicopters (or something).

That about covers the week.  Momma and the Fairy were sick and/or recovering all week, so no, we did not break out our math lessons or do anything on a schedule.  But, the Fairy continued to read on a daily basis, spent loads of time singing and playing musical instruments, used her imagination, painted and so much more.  The Princess played and baked and cleaned and painted and sang and played some more.  So, I think they had a very educational week even still!  And, on a math note, the Fairy was just reading a recipe to me a little while ago, and when she got to the part that says "Serves 12", she was so surprised and said, "This thing says it will serve 12 PEOPLE, Momma.  That means we can all eat it like 3 times".  That's division and multiplication and word problems all wrapped up into that one little statement.  And, Momma's pretty happy with that!  See you next time.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflection, archaeology and humanity ...

Academy of Zion Week in Review Week Five ...

Let me first of all warn you ~ this is a LONG one.  If you don't have time right now to sip a cup of tea and enjoy, you may want to come back at a later time!  

Last week was a week of peaceful reflection for Momma and loads of fun and imagination for the girls.   We are five weeks into school this year, and I am finding myself coming full circle to last year.  Let me explain...

Last year was my first year of homeschooling.  When you first make the leap and decide to "do it", you really don't know much about "doing it".  So, you take what you do know, which if you were schooled in the public school system, what you "know" is conventional, regular old textbook educational methods.  You don't realize that there are a wealth of different ways to educate a child.  You don't realize that education is not simply about filling up little pails with information; it is about teaching a child to LOVE learning and teaching a child to think for themselves and know HOW to learn anything that might ever interest them.  You want to raise lifetime learners, not just little people who can pass standardized tests.  

So, when you first start out and you don't know any better, you buy "school at home" type materials.   You buy textbooks and workbooks and number 2 pencils.  You buy loose leaf paper and spiral bound notebooks.  You buy posters with classroom rules and the months of the year and so on.  You get excited about creating that perfect "classroom" in your home.  You just don't realize yet how much more there is to home education.  

So, last year, I started the year with conventional educational materials.   I started the year with a strict schedule and hard plans about how I was going to teach first grade and kindergarten.  Then, we started.  The weeks felt like drudgery.  It didn't seem like the Fairy was enjoying it much.  It felt forced and artificial.  It felt fun when we did the hands-on activities, when we went outside, when we did something different.  But, I still felt that pressure to teach math and language arts according to some prescribed plan the state had ... according to the same scope and sequence as the public school children.  

Eventually, I found myself learning about different educational methods and models.  Slowly, God brought me to Waldorf education, and I instantly fell in love.  I fell in love with the natural rhythms, the natural materials, the natural childhood, the play, the peace, the joy, the harmony of it all.  I became addicted to reading all I could about it.  If you know anything at all about Waldorf education, you understand why I immediately felt like I had to drop everything and start over.  There was no room for workbooks and textbooks and drudgery in my new-found love for Waldorf education.  So, while I learned, we quit doing our "conventional schooling".  We instituted daily walks outside.  We did art and played outside.  We read beautiful stories.  We started baking bread together.    

I still didn't really know "how" to do it, but I knew I wanted to.  I purchased one Waldorf curriculum, read through it and decided it didn't provide enough structure for me.  I really needed someone to tell me what to do because I was a "newbie".  So, I sold it and purchased another.  This one provided too much structure and wasn't Waldorf enough for my taste.  (I'm starting to sound a bit like the Three Bears story, aren't I?).  So, I sold it and bought another.  And, you guessed it.  It was "just right".  

We dove into it.  I still felt unsure of myself.  There is A LOT about Waldorf that I have no experience with.  It almost seems like I would need a year to teach ME before I could be a good enough teacher for my children.   I didn't know how to do Watercolor Painting (the "real" way).  I didn't know how to play a recorder or a pentatonic flute.  I didn't know how to TELL a story to my children rather than read it (and I didn't trust that I could memorize one anyway anymore with my severe case of Mommy Brain).  I didn't know how to knit; heck I didn't even know how to sew!  When something needs a button sewn on, Daddy does it!  So, while I knew that the RESULTS of a Waldorf education were something I truly wanted for my children, I didn't feel very confident that I could be the one to give it to them.  

Then, you add in the fact that last year I was starting with 1st grade Waldorf lessons.  If you know about Waldorf, you know that children are just learning the letters and numbers in the 1st grade.  Now, they are learning to deal with them in an entirely different way than in a traditional school setting.  They are learning to see their beauty, to see them in the natural world around them, to love them, to experience them.  But, regardless, I was bringing this to a child who already had spent a year in a public school kindergarten class where all she did was WORK and WRITE and READ.  I felt like I would bore her to go back to the letters and numbers.  

I was also trying to do these lessons with both children.   Another mistake!  In a Waldorf  education, formal lessons do not begin until the child is 7, and for very good reason.  Waldorf education pays great attention to the development of a child, and a child is in a "dreamy" state until they are about 7 years old.  They learn best by imitation and imaginative play and purposeful work.   The Princess was only 5 and I was including her in our lessons.  

All the way around, it just wasn't a smooth start and I gave up too quickly.  Then, I found myself in a Books a Million one day reading all about the Charlotte Mason method.  And, again I found myself falling in love.  Again, I found myself dropping everything to figure out this new method.  I've done enough reading about homeschooling Moms to figure out that my journey is totally natural and common.  Most homeschool Dads cringe at the words "So, I've been reading about this new method" from their wives.  They cringe because they know that more money is going to be spent on more books as their beautiful wife figures this thing out.  From what I understand, it seems that most moms go back and forth until they figure out exactly which methods and philosophies resonate with THEIR family.  It takes time and patience and prayer and lots of parental education.  But, eventually every family finds their own rhythm.  And, that is usually a mixture of philosophies that becomes their own.  

So, last year turned into a hodge podge of philosophies.  A year of Mommy education and children playing and a bit of unschooling.  They still learned as all children will as long as you do not plug them into some form of electronics.  But, lesson plans were rarely followed.  Last year I was thankful that they were young while Momma continued to figure this thing out.  

But, I was DETERMINED to make this year "real".  I spent MONTHS researching curriculum choices and reading blogs and figuring out what I wanted to do.  I spent tons of money, buying all the "best" stuff.  I had the year all figured out on spreadsheets and on paper it all seemed "perfect".  I got so caught up in all of the planning ON PAPER that I completely forgot everything I had loved about Waldorf.  

I started this year with plans to do all of this:
    Story of the World Volume 1 (The Ancients)  for History
    106 Days of Creation Studies for Science
    RighStart Math levels A and B separately with each child
    All About Spelling level 1 separately with each child
    Teach the Princess to read, separately
    Have the Fairy read aloud to me and to herself
    Read Aloud to them from the great classics 
    Study 6 different composers throughout the year
    Work our way through the Artistic Pursuits curriculum
    Have the Fairy do copywork daily
    Have the Princess work through a Phonics workbook
    Have the Princess work though a Handwriting book
    Have the Princess model each letter with clay
    Have the Princess make Mosaics of each letter 
    Work our way through the Book of Virtues for children, illustrating & narrating
    Read and illustrate a poem a week, memorizing a few
    Learn about the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu and Confucious
    Go outside and do a Nature Study each week, completing a Nature Notebook
    Learn US Geography, doing a different state with books and activities each week
    Complete Mindbenders together to work our brains

You may be thinking that that sounds like way too much.  When I tried to fit it all  neatly into a schedule, I had a very hard time doing it on paper.  We only have four days to work with because we spend our Fridays in another town at a homeschool co-op.  And, even in those four days, there's always a possibility that Daddy might be off work, and I just can't school when he's around.  So, I had a hard time fitting it all in on paper, but I wasn't willing to give anything up.  

Then, we started our co-op and I learned that they would be doing ANOTHER science class there.  One that I was supposed to teach them at home.  How the heck could I possibly fit that in?  But, again, I couldn't think of anything that I could give up.

Then, we started.  As you might expect, if you have a hard time fitting things in on paper, into nice, neat little 15 and 30 minute blocks, if you can't fit it on paper, there is no way it will all fit in real life.  Paper doesn't account for bathroom breaks or starting late or recesses that get extended or math lessons that take longer than expected or a child who cries every time she "messes up" on a drawing and starts over.  Week after week, we didn't get to everything I wanted to.  And, week after week I began to feel overwhelmed and guilty and artificial again.  I started to notice that our schedule barely had room for all of the work, which meant it surely didn't have room for the free time to play and explore.  Wasn't that one of the many reasons I chose to homeschool?  Because I didn't want my children to be stressed out and have their days so full like their public school counterparts?  Didn't I want them to have that freedom?  

I started to really ponder what was an absolute must and what we might be able to put off.  And, somehow I found myself on one of my old Waldorf homeschool blogs.  And, then the questions really started to pour in again.  

I was reminded that the Princess is again, still only SIX.  Technically, she should be helping me clean and bake and cook.  She should be hearing fairy tales and spending time dressing up and acting them out.  She should be outside exploring nature and creating beauty with her hands.  She should NOT be sitting at a table, working through phonics pages and handwriting worksheets.  How did I bring myself back to those conventional models?  Didn't I know better?  

Soooo,  short story LONG, we took last week off from formal lessons.  I started doing some serious soul searching and re-figuring.  Luckily, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous, so these girls have spent an ENORMOUS amount of time outside.  I didn't plug them into anything and let that baby-sit them while I planned.  Nope, they continued to learn, and learn a lot.  We had a beautiful week, with doors and windows open, beautiful music on the speakers, calm and peaceful breezes blowing through the house, children laughing.  It was a wonderful week.  

While Mommy was learning and soul-searching, the girls were doing all of this:

They spent the majority of the week in their Imaginary Kingdom, Petalua again.  Let's see.  The Fairy is the Queen of Petalua.  The Princess is the Royal Horse.  One of our cats is the Prince, the other is a Knight.  One of our dogs is the Princess and the other is a Royal Subject (whatever that means).  Apparently, Petaluans are invisible, well, the "common people" are.  There is an entire kingdom in the bamboo in our backyard.  They've painted the lattice pink with chalk and water.  They are spoiling Princess Sweet Pea immensely.  The Fairy just walked in and told me that tonight there will be a party in the Kingdom and I'm invited.  Last week, I attended a wedding between the Knight (our cat named Cow) and the Royal Horse (the Princess).   One day, while they were out in Petalua, the Fairy found a piece of wood that was buried.  She came running in to tell me, "Momma, Momma.  I'm an archaeologist.  I just found this piece of wood under Petalua.  It's all soft and I think I might find a whole town.  What if we discover a whole town????"  She was SO excited!  So, no workbooks, but a TON of imagination and whatever that is good for in a 7 and 6 year old brain!

The Royal Horse dressed for her wedding to the Knight

The Queen of Petalua, crowning the Royal Horse

Plans to defeat Evil Edward

The Fairy has also been really enjoying doing the Mad-Lib type things in her nature magazines.  You know the ones, where you have to enter a verb, adjective, noun, adverb, plural noun, etc. into blanks and then read the story.  She LOVES these!  To her, it's just fun.  To me, it's grammar lessons!  Awesome.

The Princess expressed some creativity with her lunch one day.  She decided to make a little man out of her veggies, then asked for MORE veggies (gotta love that) and turned it into a salad and ate it.  

Both children are always doing some sort of art.  The Princess LOVES to draw and color horses.  They both spent a good deal of time coloring.

The Fairy continued to read daily.  I'm noticing more and more that she is reading by choice (yippee) and actually writing when it suits HER needs (rather than the chore it is when I force it).  She actually wrote me a letter the other day, complete with perfect capitalization and use of commas and other punctuation.  

We continued to read through the Burgess Animal Book for Children.  

It is such a wonderful way to learn!  You can tell that the information that we are being fed is accurate like an encyclopedia entry, but it is told as a story, from the point of view of the animals themselves.  We are loving this!  I have placed lots of Burgess books on our Christmas lists (hint hint, family).  Children learn best through stories and experiences, so rather than a textbook (in these early years), we can learn about nature through books like these and getting out into nature to study and explore it first hand.  

During one of the Fairy's "quiet times", she made this doll from fabric and yarn.

She also painted this beautiful picture of a dolphin jumping out of the water.

In total Waldorf Kindergarten fashion, the Princess helped me to make Kale Tacos one night.  She has always LOVED to be the one to take the leaves off of the stems and wash and drain them!  

Both ladies got in the kitchen and helped me make the Ital Banana Porridge I posted about last week.

Continuing in our Ancient studies (though I haven't decided how I will proceed with that), Daddy read Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile to the girls one night.  The Princess made me proud when she remembered and told Daddy that the Nile is the river that floods every year.   

After the story, we had a little practice counting by 10s by giving "High Tens" all the way up to 100.  

At our Co-Op this week, The Fairy learned about Monet and did a replica of his Water Lillies.  My camera batteries are dead, I can't find the charger and I am out of regular batteries, so I don't have a picture of that one yet, but I will add it to the Art Treasury page at the top as soon as I stock up my batteries!  Both girls continued to learn soccer skills in PE and the other two classes were mostly quizzing this week (much to my disappointment ... too much "school" for my taste).  

Before the Co-Op, we had a wonderful little Family Picnic Lunch at the beach ...

My favorite thing about this week was a lesson in humanity ... When the Fairy put together a care package for a homeless little girl!  First of all, you must know that my oldest daughter has always had an unhealthy attachment to things.  One that I'm trying to break.  She thinks that EVERY single thing she owns has sentimental value because of who bought it.  I've had to remind her over and over that her Nanu (or whoever)  is going to buy her a TON of things in her lifetime and she cannot keep every single one.  Anyway, we spent some time cleaning out their room one day this week.  I was so proud of her for finally giving up some of her things without a struggle.  Then, she REALLY made me proud when she announced that she was going to fix up this doll and all its things for a homeless girl.  She took great care in putting it together, making sure to include outfits, a bottle, a doll toy, a little book, a blankie, etc.  Then, she put it all into her Tinkerbell bag and gave it to me to give to a homeless child.  Of course, this meant that Momma had to figure out how to give it to a homeless child!  Well, when we dropped off our other item at Good Will yesterday, we asked the lady working there, and she knew exactly who to give the package to and said she would gladly take care of it for us.  So, once again, my sweet sweet girl has given something of herself to make another child's day (the first time was when she donated over a foot of her hair to Locks of Love).

So, there you have it.  Our non-schooling school week in a nutshell.  It was beautiful.  It was playful.  It was harmonious.  It was natural.  And, we loved it. 

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