Saturday, April 26, 2014

Impromptu Nature Study (or, bears!)

(Note:  There's an update at the bottom)

This morning my husband spotted these tracks on the road just up from our house.

Do you recognize those?

And then while we were finishing dinner, my husband happened to look out the window and spotted this guy!

 And if you look closely you can see two in this picture...

And if you look very closely you can see three in this picture...  There was actually a mother and three cubs, but we couldn't get them all in one photo.

Pretty remarkable, don't you think?

Ah, the wonders of life in the country!  And also the reason why we no longer keep chickens.  Did you know that bears eat chickens?  And they are just about impossible to keep out of anything, once they decide they want into it.  Thankfully the bears around here are bashful enough not to try to go into houses, and we no longer have much of anything outside they are all that interested in getting into.

Updated to add:  My two year old spotted them again this morning, when looking out an upstairs window.  They saw all four again, but only briefly.  Yesterday evening, we took a tour around the garden and noticed they had knocked down part of the nylon fencing, loosened a post, and torn open our green cone.  The top on that is broken, but the fence was easily tacked back up.  The post will need a little more work, but should be mendable.  They didn't try to get into the garden today, so we think they didn't get much out of the green cone.

Homeschool Planning Thoughts on the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel

At some point in the last school year I came across a suggestion to pray the Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel before beginning to plan the next homeschool year.  The timing is excellent, as this feast day falls nicely in the mid-spring.  If I start to plan too early, I neglect the current year in my efforts to figure out the following year.  Too late and I rush through the planning process, ending up with a poorly considered or only partially fleshed out plan.  And to spend nine days in prayer before beginning such an undertaking is certainly an appropriate and helpful undertaking.

In my prayer last year, I felt like I was hearing (for lack of a better word - really, how do you describe that inner sense that you're receiving an answer to prayer, an answer that is not in words or voice, but still is coming from outside yourself, and is something you can accept or disregard through the agency of free will? Anyway...) that I shouldn't feel that I had to create my own booklist. It was not only acceptable, but in fact beneficial, for me to largely use someone else's booklist and curriculum.  I was so relieved!  No longer did I feel like I had to figure it all out myself, reviewing and planning every last book.  I decided I'd use Mater Amabilis for many areas, Connecting with History for World History, Time Travelers for US History, Classically Catholic Memory for memorywork, Montessori 3 part cards for some of the science concepts, weekly enrichment classes at a local charter...  Yes, you can laugh now.  Anyone else catch how I pluralized "booklist" and "curriculum"?  Do you like how I took a clear answer and by changing one small but critical piece, managed to completely destroy the meaning of it?

I spent some time yesterday looking over my plans for the school year and writing up my thoughts on the various materials and pieces I tried to use.  As I reviewed everything, I kept thinking, "who was this crazy woman who planned our school year, and why on earth did I let her do it?"

Thankfully, many of the pieces I abandoned after the birth of my daughter in late November.  I felt guilty about this, but I justified it by thinking I would pick them up in the spring for the third term.  However, as I moved through our new pared down schedule, I began to realize that what we were doing was sufficient in many ways.  As I read Sarah's series on Teaching from a State of Rest and Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page, I was reminded of the beauty, wisdom, and simplicity of Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education.   I remembered that several years ago I set out to be a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, not a CM-inspired, neo-classical, occasionally and vaguely Montessori-ish homeschooler.  Yes, that path might work for another family, but it wasn't the path I wanted to follow in my family.  I came across this quote and I saw more of myself in it than I care to admit.  Thankfully narration has never gone by the wayside, but still it was a little too close for comfort.
How many parents come to Miss Mason's work super excited about it all...but then soon they're creating unit studies to go with Our Island Story (forgetting narration entirely), having their child memorize chronological lists of artists and composers (forgetting music and art appreciation entirely) and keeping their children so busy with timeline cards and even living books that they rarely have time for free play outdoors or a simple nature walk? We are free to be as CM-ish as we want, more so or less so depending on our family's needs--there are lots of different ways to homeschool!  But if we expect the results Miss Mason promises, we should attempt to understand both her methods and the principles behind them.  ~  Celeste, Joyous Lessons
I also realized, in reading The Living Page, how little opportunity I was giving my children to do the work necessary to learn and understand the variety of subjects and ideas that I was placing before them.  They were becoming people (much like myself, unfortunately) who could speak vaguely about a variety of subjects but who were not doing the hard work associated with detailed comprehension.  I'm not expecting a high level of expertise - I am fully aware that I am working with children - but there is more they could assimilate and comprehend, if given the tools and opportunity to do so.

In reading Sir Walter Scott's Waverly, I came across a quote that neatly spelled out my concerns.
Alas! while he was thus permitted to read only for the gratification of his amusement, he foresaw not that he was losing for ever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation—an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study.
I intend to make these two quotes, particularly that last sentence of Celeste's, my leading thoughts as I consider and prepare for the next school year.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Joshua Tree

At the beginning of the month, my family had the opportunity to go camping at Joshua Tree National Park with a group of people.  We went back and forth about whether it should be a family trip or not, finally deciding to make the 1100 mile round trip with everyone.  The children travelled very well, and we enjoyed listening to Swallowdale on the way down and Peter Duck on the way back up.  We are all very good travelers when we have a great audiobook!

Joshua Tree was windy, cold, and absolutely gorgeous.  I have not spent much time in the desert before, and this was a challenging, but rewarding introduction.  I thought I would share some pictures from our trip so that while the pictures don't do the place justice, you all could get at least a little glimpse.

Now that I'm mostly caught up from being gone (and largely recovered from fatigue and dehydration!) I'm hoping to restart my various intellectual pursuits this week and finish Chapter 4 of A Living Page.  I hope to post on that sometime Easter week.

The rocks next to our camp were great for scrambling.  The kids had so much fun exploring and climbing.  You can also see part of a Joshua Tree on the left of the photo.

The Yucca look something like the Joshua Trees, but they don't grow as tall and they have something like white strings that peel off their edges.

A close up of the Yucca bloom.

A Joshua Tree in bloom.  Experts think that the when the growing tip of the Joshua Tree is damaged by frost, it is stimulated to bloom and then branch.  So by looking at a Joshua Tree and seeing how much it has branched, you have a good idea of how many times it has bloomed.

Headstone Monument Rock.  My husband climbed part of this!  Joshua Tree is known for its amazing and bizarre rock formations, favorites for both photographers and rock climbers.

It is was wonderful to be here in the spring so we could see all sorts of flowers in bloom.

I believe this is a pencil cactus.  It certainly looks formidable, doesn't it.

A rock formation on the Geology Tour Drive in the north part of the park.  I took the younger kids on that while my husband and the older kids climbed.  The cold and the wind was just too much for the little guys.

Joshua Trees and a view of a distant, snow capped peak.

The growing tip of a Teddy Bear Cholla (pronounced choy-ya)  

These things were quite fierce looking. They largely reproduce when a piece breaks off, which rolls to other areas, roots, and grows into a new plant.  There are pack rats that will gather these pieces and bring them to their nest, which they use as a sort of barbed wire around their entrances.  Somehow they are able to move around them and carry them without getting too injured, and they offer protection against the coyotes and other predators that would like to dig up their middens and eat the rats.