Thursday, May 5, 2016

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder - by Karen Andreola

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder 

Nigel harvesting lettuce from his garden in Maine.

One spring, while I was in a temperamental-cleaning-mood, I stood in the doorway of my son's bedroom. "If I push a snow shovel along the floor we could actually walk in here. Then I could vacuum," I said.

His bedroom floor was regularly strewn with Lego, Tinker-toys, paper airplanes, and other miscellaneous clutter-y-bits.

Nigel was either taking things apart or putting things together.

Indoors, when not reading or eating our son was a boy-builder.

Perhaps you can relate. Is there a boy-builder in your house, or a girl-builder?

Outdoors, in Maine, he dug the foundations for his vegetable garden.

In good weather he added to his "fort" in the woods with an ax (Mom hiding her true colors of squeamishness).
Nigel's fort in springtime was surrounded by ferns.

With a boy-builder's inclination to know how things are made, I guess this is why Nigel was happy I made David Macaulay's The New Way Things Work part of his six grade science curriculum.

 He narrated portions of it. He kept a notebook of written narration, too, shorter though they were than his oral narration.

And because Nigel was a doodler I recommended he carry this impulse further. "Doodle something worthwhile in your science notebook," I told him. I was wearing my teacher's hat. He knew this was more than jest.
In The New Way Things Work, Mr. Macaulay's cartoon woolly mammoth throws his bulk around - offering students a comical introduction to physics. The book is largely illustrated.

It begins with the simple principles behind levers, pulleys, wheels, springs, gears, and so on.

As chapters progress we learn about heat, electricity, magnetism, flight, color photography, telecommunications, how a computer mouse works, and more.

Nigel adds: "I was shown the insides of mechanical devises I'd been wondering about - a microphone, violin, camera, microwave oven, and a car engine."

Curiosity Isn't Cool
Hearing an interview with Mr. Macaulay got me thinking. When asked why the average adult doesn't care how things work, he said, "They're missing that invitation that comes from looking at stuff around them." I detected exasperation in his tone. The interviewer could have asked a better question. One I assumed would be obvious. That is, "Why do young children have the urge to take things apart and find out how they work?"

Charlotte Mason observed how curious young children are. Their curiosity is wonderfully wide awake. Tragically, long before he becomes a complacent adult, the average student is lulled to sleep. How? By boring schoolbooks. And a tedious never-ending-cycle of cram. Educators aren't surprised that, stuck in the middle of the typical textbook-workbook-grind, a child starts to drag his feet. It's the status quo. Low-interest is common. It's to be expected. "I found school boring so there's nothing unusual about my kid hating it," I overheard a parent say with a  nervous chuckle. I shuddered.

Furthermore, in many a government school classroom, peer-opinion rules. It creates an atmosphere. When peers decide curiosity isn't cool, the curious student becomes an odd-ball. Rather than be snubbed, made fun of - or worse - suffer torment by Facebook-gossip, an odd-ball learns to maintain a low-profile.

Visiting a large youth-group, our son and another young man (home taught), were the only ones to volunteer answers to the discussion questions. They hadn't a clue this wasn't cool. It wasn't the "in" thing - even in church to appear alert, interested, or engaged. Evidently, a similar atmosphere of peer-opinion has seeped into some church groups.

Delightfully Different
Many a Charlotte-Mason-minded home-teacher has a child who (delightfully) is an odd-ball. He's an older, curious student. How refreshingly peculiar. She wouldn't brag about it. But if the topic arose, in polite conversation, she would smile and confess that her family lives in a kind of "alternate reality" or "alternate universe" (to borrow from science-fiction). Her homeschool is a vibrant place of learning. Her children are talkative. Sometimes tiresomely so.

What takes place in this alternate universe? With anticipation - within a warm family relationship - her students
delve into living books,
take part in discussion,
develop a train-of-thought with narration,

 It is a principle of education that: suitably satisfied, curiosity stays awake. 

A home-taught student could be an odd-ball because he reads odd books, such as The New Way Things Work. Its 400 pages of scientific facts satisfy the curiosity of the boy-builder.

This year Mr. Macaulay made another update published as The Way Things Work Now. But I am without a copy of it in my hands as I write you.

The Scenic Route
Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you can drive along highway 30 and honestly say you've driven through Amish Country. But what would you have really seen?

Slow down and take the meandering back roads, a few turns off the beaten path, and you will see much more.

Taking the scenic route was our approach to history - for both our son and daughters - who meandered off the beaten textbook path.

History is a string of wars. Wars have significance. But aside from war and its destruction, the scenic route gives a student picturesque tales of construction. David Macaulay's books of historical architecture offer us such a picturesque view.

Some of David Macaulay's books on the back kitchen steps.
The Films
The film versions are an off-shoot of Mr. Macaulay's architectural histories. I showed them (on video) during the upper elementary years - in case I needed to discuss any heathen dark spot depicted in them. Today the films are free on YouTube - where you may preview them. Please, as with anything on YouTube, cautiously take charge.
Mom building an Amish inspried doll quilt. Paper-piecing the rows.
Try Books on for Size
Charlotte Mason's says, "genius is that of taking pains". Mr. Macaulay's willingness to take pains in creating his books is symptomatic of a fascination for his subject. He is an odd-ball adult who never lost his curiosity. This seems pretty-cool to me.
Little guy on tip toe with money in his left hand from the sale of a melon.
I esteem his books as schoolbooks.We see no grade level stamped on the the covers. Good thing, too. This makes it easier for me to invite you to use them for a range of ages. Try them on for size. If they make a good fit - grade school or high school - feel no qualms about what age your children are.

Basting from the center out so the pins can be removed and hand-quilting begin.
Does Your Child Drag His Feet?
A student needn't be particularly fond of all his lessons. He can gain the power of self-discipline to complete a lesson that is hard or less interesting.

Stars quilted plainly, purple squares quilted fancy with black thread.
But, if Miss Mason had anything to say about it, there ought to also be something of interest in his diet of new knowledge. Is your child generally lacking in curiosity? This can be discouraging. I offer you my sympathy. May I make a recommendation? Don't be anxious to hurry down the highway. Go the scenic route. Homeschooling allows you freedom to explore. Keep looking until you find your student's something.

Do some of what you have to do,
With some of what you  like to do.
And you will do well.

Quilting, Etc.
The toddler quilt (in girly colors) and knitted vest (both not shown) are ready for upcoming birthdays. We've had a week of a clouds, rain, fog, and overcast days. When the parlor is bright again I hope to take out the camera to show you the the toddler quilt, next.
Pin-cushion filled with alfalfa seeds to hold her new basting pins.
A click on The New Way Things Work  will take you to the David Macaulay's page on Amazon where you can read about PyramidCathedral, City, and Castle, too. 
The Amish doll quilt in the shadows of the front hall and stairway.
Post Script: Our boy-builder is age 27. He now builds web-sites. 

Seeking to Minister and Stay in Touch,
Karen Andreola


Monday, April 4, 2016

Works-in-Progress by Karen Andreola

From Pocketful of Pinecones

Yolanda's Nature Notebook. The Downy Woodpecker fits the following excerpt from "Pinecones"

During morning lessons the children listened to me read aloud about the woodpecker. I'd like them to learn to recognize the drumming of its beak and have a chance to observe its unique hopping slide up a tree trunk. But I know that not all of what they will learn about God's creation will conveniently fit into my lessons. My students have a life time ahead of them in which to observe and discover - to become self-educated in their leisure, so-to-speak. My job is to allow their feet to walk the paths of wonder, to see that they form relations to various things, so that when the habit is formed, they will carry and appreciation for nature with them throughout their lives. pg 75

View from the kitchen window in springtime's soft morning sun. Yes, that is recent snow - not unusual for us in the woods. 
How nice it feels to rest within a schedule of lessons that is working well. But it isn't surprising that home teachers tweak. Changes are inevitable in the ebb and flow of the seasons of learning. See how fast the children grow?

As new patterns of daily activity emerge, each year a mother's job description is revised. That's okay. Each year Mom is older and wiser than she was. God is growing her mind and heart when she works - even through some difficulty - to bring order in her day.

Grandson Joseph requested a new vest of many colors. He outgrew the first one.
Keeping a string of lessons going each morning was always my goal. The children fell into a pattern. They moved from one subject to the next - off at their own desks after a group lesson around the kitchen table with me.
Front and back of garter-stitch vest awaits ribbing around arms and neck.
One child had my personal attention while the others worked independently.

I'd keep this going child-by-child on a rotating basis, listening to a young child read aloud, listening to an oral narration, reading through an older child's written narration, etc.

I recommend the three-needle-bind-off for shoulder seaming. It's so smooth. 

At times Nature Study, Music Appreciation, and Picture Study were haphazard - especially right before or right after, a household move.

As much as we followed a pattern for learning I remember a time of feeling perturbed. I stood in the hallway not knowing whether to turn right or left.

Using a rotary cutter with safety glove to make my granddaughter's quilt.
With hands-on-hips, I said to myself, "Why is it that no two weeks are exactly the same? Is this a mar on my efficiency?" In my government school experience, my classroom days were a blur of all-sameness. How monotonous. But sameness was what I was used to.

One thing was for certain. Our days of home learning were not monotonous.

"True Grips" attached to the quilt ruler help keep it securely in place while cutting.

Some of you are not on Facebook so I'll share this here.

In the home, no matter how consistently you work to instill good habits of quiet discipline. And aim for smooth and even days. No matter how well you prioritize and plan. Just when your schedule of lessons is working well. Life ushers its interruptions. They are part of life. And this is one way home teaching is much more like real life than an insulated-automated classroom.

The water heater dies. The basement is flooded. The washing machine is on the blink. A thunderstorm knocks out the electricity. The children have fevers and bad colds. Your best friend just had a Cesarean and you are watching her energetic two-year-old. It could be that Mom has another miscarriage. Dad losses his job. The family is uprooted as they relocate out-of-state in the middle of the school year. They miss old friends and must start over again to make new ones.

Piecing colorful "Hour Glass" blocks for Eloise's toddler quilt. The blocks await "squaring up." 
Children learn valuable life lessons (not in spite of) but (through) the interruptions of Providence. Mom and Dad learn, too. We’ve experienced all these bumps, detours, and more.

When the bumps in the road tumble you off your feet and you feel heavy, over-worked, anxious or discouraged -- remember this. The quickest (and best) way to get back on your feet is to get on your knees.

Never, never, give up my friend. God’s stream of living water is ever flowing. It can never run dry. You may be exhausted. But His wellspring is infinite, eternal and therefore, inexhaustible. It is there for thirsty hearts.   - John 4:10

Sketch out a pattern that welcomes learning, a pattern where each child has his needs met - even if this means trimming or combining when other re-arranging has proved unworkable. The most beautiful things in life are of design. Your family's patchwork pattern can be all its own. This is the art of home teaching.

My latest used find - a creamer to fit the mini daffodils from the garden.

And remember, too - even as we are nearing the end of a school-year - we are all Works-in-Progress.

Learning is for life.

I agree with Carol of Pocketful of Pinecones - don't you? 

Pinecones  is a teacher's guide to nature study disguised as a story to sooth and refresh for your Mother Culture. I linked it to Amazon.

End Notes
I hope to show you the finished vest-of-many-colors upcoming, as well as the toddler quilt. They are birthday presents in the making. Do you like the colors I picked out for the quilt? For your interest and convenience (and because I am asked) I am linking the Fons and Porter Safety Glove here.

If you are feeling a spark of enthusiasm to start quilting, I am also linking the Fiskar's Rotary Cutter with the handle shape I like, the True Grips that I stick onto my Omnigrid 6/12 Ruler and the Olfa 18/24 Cutting Board.

Comments are Invited.
Karen Andreola

Thursday, March 3, 2016

To All Unorthodox Teachers

Since the days of my homespun Parents' Review I've been talking about Mother Culture -since the 1993 issue pictured here. I liked the term Mother Culture so much I eventually made it one of my company brand names. Anyway, it is good to stimulate our minds in various directions, to keep something meaty, something sweet, a biography, a history, a novel, a devotional, etc, nearby, and pick up the one we feel fit for.

One week this winter I picked up something light, A Year with Miss Agnes. 

I have a pretty-good-guess that you will like it as much as I do. It's a children's book. Yet, because of its positive-vibes on the subject of education I recommend it for the home teacher.

Upon closing the book (oops, I speak out of habit - I read it on Kindle) I thought, This is a good example of a teacher who shares Miss Charlotte Mason's supposition that "the child is a person."  

Ten-year-old Frederika (Fred for short) describes her people - natives of Alaska - and the events in their lives - with fondness. She shares casually with the occasional native vocabulary and the tacked-on phrase "and all that stuff."
Nigel's map work at age 10, while reading Seabird.

In 1948 the Athabascan people follow the rhythm of the seasons with their extended fishing and hunting trips. In between this necessary wilderness survival the Athabascan children attend a one-room schoolhouse. It was a regular occurrence that teachers would come and go at the schoolhouse.

Photographed in 2111 while visiting my parents at the Jersey Shore. 

Frustrated, they rarely stay a whole year. One, teacher, however, is sane-enough, nerve-enough, clever-enough and generous-enough to pull it off. That teacher is Miss Agnes. Seeing that her students learn something and  catch a spark of a love-of-knowledge is a higher goal to her than forcing them through any rigid scope-and-sequence.

Tea Anyone?

Frederika's life is suddenly full of pleasant surprises. Miss Agnes arranges the desks in a circle. When the boys act up that first day this teacher doesn't holler or even act ruffled.

Fred explains,"Everything was different. But good different."

The differences are not surprising to the Charlotte-Mason-minded reader who will notice, on close inspection, that Miss Agnes's classroom runs on a certain atmosphere, discipline, and a kaleidoscope of new and interesting ideas.

(Married daughterSophia - now age 33 - made rolls from a recipe in The Tasha Tudor Cookbook this winter, then sent this photograph to me of what I had inscribed to her when she was a teen. I'd forgotten. My, the years fly.)

The teacher even talks funny. That's because Miss Agnes was brought up and educated in England. She drinks a strange brew at lunchtime - called "tea." I don't recall her drinking anything else. She must have been familiar with what was in the miserable textbooks of the day but she has other methods up her sleeves.

On her first day she has the children pull out all the ugly grimy hand-me-down textbooks from their desks. They are told to pack them away in cardboard boxes while she mentions that she pays no attention to grades or grade-levels. Fred is relieved to hear it. From her own box Miss Agnes pulls out colored pencils, paints, paintbrushes, and paper. Fred is agog.The first drawing assignment is to draw what they liked - but fill in all the white space. The walls of the school needed brightening up, Miss Agnes, says.

She plays opera on her record player. The singer speaks a strange language. Italian. On the big map she attached to the wall, she points out Italy. After lunch, while the children do penmanship Miss Agnes walks around the room reading aloud from a book the children never heard of: Robin Hood. This stimulates their imagination. (Fred tries to imagine all those shady tall trees), It brings them to a new land and time, like in a dream. It makes them, too, ask questions. (They want to know stuff.) Literature, for the-time-being, puts them in company with good English grammar (which Miss Agnes corrects in their speech).

The teacher is learning, too. She gets to know her students which enables her to challenge individual potential. More joys of learning are in store. But I'll let you meet them afresh. I will add another observation, though. Miss Agnes has a way of awakening a quality of self-education in her students. The only true education is self-education - Charlotte Mason reminds us.

The author, Kirkpatrick Hill is herself a teacher in Alaska. I took note of her dedication in the front of the book. It is inclusive of "all unorthodox teachers." Isn't this what we are? And our children are unorthodox learners to manage to come through years of education with their curiosity intact - a blessing Miss Charlotte Mason hoped every child (and teacher) would possess.

I finished my little quilt of Spools using a William Morris charm pack. The edges of the spools form a tiny pinwheel.

Can you tell how much I liked reading A Year with Miss Agnes? It would make a good read aloud. And your children will always have a little picture in their heads of Alaska. I link it here for you.

Hanging in the corner of the parlor I originally made it for my office/sewing room in the attic.

Post Script
Have your children filled-in a map following what they are reading? The map on the blog today was material published in 1990s by Beautiful Feet Books for the Holling Clancy Holling Series. Their geography course, it seems, has been updated with writing assignments.

Keep up your Mother Culture,
Karen Andreola