Monday, February 23, 2015

Binder Update: Language Arts

I have kept track of hours for Language Arts.  
120 hours = 1 credit

I am writing this as if our year is over, when in actuality I count our academic year July 1 through June 30, so we still have 4 full months left.  

We have read:

Corresponding Activities
The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe
Watched the movie and discussed similarities and differences.  Completed a lapbook and biographical notebook page for C.S. Lewis.  Cover to lapbook is hand made artwork of lampost drawn over book print stained with tea to look aged.
Around the World in 80 Days
5 paragraph essay in which a favorite character’s personality trait was supported by evidence from the book.  Research completed at the library on the Hindu Gods and Goddesses and elements of the Hindu religion. Watched NatGeo documentary about the history of the Suez Canal.  Watched documentary: Understanding World Religions, What is Hinduism
Alice in Wonderland
Watched the Tim Burton adaptation as well as the Disney and realized this was one of the few times Disney’s version was accurately based on the story.  Completed a journal entry of many famous quotes from this story.
A Christmas Carol
Attended a dramatic reading performed by a local Shakespeare company.  Viewed the movie starring George C. Scott.
Harriet the Spy
Explored banned books.  Made an itinerary for a walking tour of the neighborhood that provided the setting for the book.  Spent day in NYC touring the park, looking for her brownstone, sampling an egg cream, etc. Created a brochure to bring awareness to banned books.
Fairy Tales: The Golden Goose, The Seven Ravens, The Snow Queen, several versions of multicultural Cinderella tales.
Completed two pieces of fictional writing inspired by fairy tales: one about a quest and the other an adaptation of Cinderella.  Each story is 10+ pages long.
Watched The Princess Bride.  Created a Venn Diagram comparing/contrasting The Snow Queen to Frozen.
Read Rump, the true story of Rumplestiltskin by Leisl Shurtliff.
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
Participated in a book club discussion about this book.  Lilah wrote all the questions that were discussed.  Completed a vision board of the book and the places mentioned in the book.

At one of our book club meeting, a mom mentioned that she had begun to keep a running list of every book they were using, across subject areas.  Why had I never thought of that?  I know that when it comes time to write course descriptions, I will need to list the books we used either as reference or assigned reading.  Having a list would be much easier than going back through a year's worth of weekly wrap ups.

I created a very simple spreadsheet so that I am able to sort by year, or by subject area, of by author, etc.

In addition to the books listed above, many other books were read for language arts, we just did not do accompanying activities.  

Six books were read for book club
  • Marley, A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan
  • Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
  • The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse
  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass
  • Rump, the true story of Rumplestiltskin by Leisl Shurtliff

(we still have March, April and May)

The Language Arts section of the Binder contains all this and more:

Cover Page:

Hours Checklist:

Book List Spreadsheet
Book List Covers:






My notes/record keeping:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

High School Binder: Weekly Wrap Ups

It is that time of year, not quite spring but close enough to start thinking about homeschooling housekeeping issues.  For me that means tidying up the 9th grade binder.  Over the next few weeks, I will share where we are with Grace’s 9th grade binder.

Her binder helps me stay on track of several items but today I will profile only one...

Weekly Wrap Ups:

I still do them even though I don’t print them on the blog anymore.  I print out the table depicting the work we accomplish during the week.  These are kept in the front section of the binder and become a compilation of our efforts over the year.  It is worth the effort every day to jot down what we do.  This would be impossible to recreate and it is comforting to know that I can be held accountable for documenting their educational journey.  

It’s an interesting transition, homeschooling elementary to homeschooling middle/high school.  I am not the only one who asks, “Is this hard enough?” “Is this thorough?” “Will they have what they need to do what they want?”  and yes even, “Will this be enough to get them into college?”

I dislike the assumption that if you unschool you have no aspirations of college.  This is simply untrue.  I don’t make my girls memorize tons of factual information.  I don’t make them spit it back out to me for a grade.  We don’t do random workbooks, or texts, and we don’t spend hours cramming for tests.  That does not mean they don’t want to go to college, nor does it mean that they will not be prepared for college as is mentioned in this Smithsonian Magazine article.  

Our goal is not homeschool to Ivy, nor is it even homeschool to a $60,000 private university.  To me this is not sound financial decision making.  Our plan is and has always been the 2+2 model.  Two years of community college first  followed by two years at a college or university.  We choose to ignore any snide remarks or condescending attitudes from academic elitists.

Their binder is their collection of work accumulated over the course of a year.  It is full of essays, notebook pages, book projects, certificates,  awards, performance records, teacher evaluations, internship hours and more.  They may not memorize the capitals of every European nation, but they memorize pages and pages of sheet music.  They have read works by C.S. Lewis, Jules Verne, Lois Lowry, and Charles Dickens, yet they still love Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Trixie Belden.  Their education is perfectly eclectic and definitely not traditional.  Their binder and ultimately, their portfolio and transcript will reflect this. 

Week of February 15 - 21, 2015
Grace: LOF lessons 1 through 4
Key To Algebra Workbook 1 - half the workbook completed this week.
Lilah who wanted to pick back up LOF for fun, resumed with Intermediate Series: Kidneys lessons 1through 9
language arts
Printed off list of literary terms.  Used teachable moment in LOF of idioms to introduce this list. 
Both girls completed their Cinderella stories. 

Writing Group - both girls shared their stories and received feedback from their peers.  We found examples of the literary terms in each other’s stories. 

Finished Like the Willow Tree (Dear America) by Lois Lowry
First great cities:
A History of the World in 100 Objects #11 King Den’s Sandal Label 
Found a site that breaks down the inscriptions on the label and explains each picture of hieroglyph.  Girls put this into their notebooks.
Geology Lesson 3 - Galapagos
Watched a bit about Galapagos Aquatic Lizards on a NatGeo documentary.  Girls took excellent notes independently in their notebooks without pausing the video.  This was the first time they have done this kind of note taking.  
Copied map of Galapagos Islands and added a map of where the islands are on the globe to their notebooks.  
Lilah watched a Magic School Bus video about undersea volcanos and subduction.
The barn was c-o-l-d!  Lilah worked on cantering and Grace on jumping. Grace is getting used to a new saddle that she will have to use to compete in the rated shows this spring.
Grace was given the task of taking Pachabel’s Cannon and using her new understanding of chords and improvisational playing to come up with a version to her liking.  She is also creating Amazing Grace with no sheet music.  

I spoke with her teacher regarding her transcript.  He does not level, but said she is solidly an intermediate player.  I think we will list Intermediate Piano 9 on her transcript.

Lilah is working on her Clementi piece and it is coming along nicely.
photography #3 - faces and places: Using the best lens to take portraits and how to make those portraits unusual.
Grace edited and uploaded her newest GoPro movie to YouTube using GoPro studio which she likes much more than iMovie.
Girls had their weekly lesson Chapter #6.
Grace is still volunteering 3 hours at the kennel (she has 120 hours since July) and in exchange for her work, Crosby has been attending doggy day care.  She loves that she gets to bring her dog to work.

Grace also volunteers 2 hours a week at Church helping me with my Faith Formation Class (6th grade).  Total time will be 20 weeks at 2 hours = 40 hours.  Not sure if this will factor into credits, but she will receive a letter to add to her portfolio for her service.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Valentine's Day 2015

Valentine’s Day will always mark the anniversary of our entry into this amazing world of homeschooling.  Lilah’s first Valentine’s Day party was thrown 6 years ago, when she was in 2nd grade.  Six years ago.  That is crazy!  Where has this time gone?  How did my little 6 year old girl grow into a 12 year young lady who would be in 7th grade if she were in school?  

Over the years some things have changes.  Some friends have moved on, while new friends have come into our lives.    Thankfully some friendships have endured and I have had the joy of watching them grow up alongside my girls.  

One thing that has never changed is that Lilah is the ultimate party planner.  She takes responsibility for games, food, and movies.  She makes shopping lists in her planning notebook and spends hours researching the perfect homemade valentine.  She bakes, decorates, and cleans.  For Lilah, the party is not just a gathering of friends, it is an experience she wants each friend to remember for a long time.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

High School Book List

My 1977 collection of Trixie Belden.  These books helped define my childhood.

This week I reached out through social media asking for books that my friend, family, and online followers remember reading in high school and would recommend to someone in high school now.  I am always disappointed by the book lists I see on the websites of schools and at the library. In my opinion they are too heavily weighted with dystopian books, or contain books that are frankly, too mature for high school students and really would be better suited for a college class (like 1984).  

The highlight of this year has been reading books with my sister-in-law Kris.  We try to pace ourselves so we finish the book around the same time.  She talks with the girls about characters and the plot and their opinions and then we gather on a weekend to have dinner and watch the movie.  Those books are not just part of us, they are part of our family experience.  Passpartout and Alice and The White Witch have all been featured in conversation and many, many connections have been made to these reads.  This week we read The Snow Queen and realized that C.S. Lewis must have drawn inspiration for the White Witch from The Snow Queen.  They are very similar in description and action.  

It does not matter what you label language arts as on a transcript.  English 101, 201, 301.  What matters is that you read books that allow you to participate in a conversation where you are able to discuss authors and plots and make inferences and substantiate opinions.  I want my girls to know the literary classics, as well as have familiarity with contemporary classics such as The Help and The Secret Life of Bees.  

So much of our learning occurs through our reading.  Recently, the girls opted for a fun audiobook and we have been reading Dear America: Like the Willow Tree by Lois Lowry.  The girls were not familiar with the Shakers until we read this book.  In this living books, we have learned so much about the religion and beliefs, ways of life, inventions and communal living.  We have researched Shaker communities in Connecticut and sadly the only one that was here is not a museum, but has been sold off and is in the hands of private owners.  We will take a ride to Enfield and walk around and perhaps take some pictures of the buildings, homes and grounds.  Even though Grace mentioned that this book is a bit "young",  it will go on her cumulative 9th grade book list.  Lois Lowry is a revered author and the content contained in this book warrants it.  

Here is the compiled list.  Many people participated in the creation of this list.  Some of these may not be appropriate for our family, but these are the books that people remember and feel should be passed on to the next generation of readers.

Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Ann Frank
Book Thief
The Hunger Games
The kite Runner
Pride and Prejudice 
Heaven is for Real. 
Rush revere and the American Revolution
To Kill a Mockingbird
Freak the Mighty 
1984 ( when older) 
Of Mice and Men
The Pearl
Fahrenheit 451
Tale of Two Cities
The Outsiders
Animal Farm
To Kill A Mockingbird
While Still We Live
The Lost World
Great Expectations
The Old Man and the Sea
Les Miserables
The Scarlett Letter
Wuthering Heights
Sign of the Beaver
Witch of Blackbird Pond
The Candymakers
The Master Puppeteer
I Rode of Horse Of Milk White Jade
The Hiding Place
Number the Starts
The Hobbit
Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Phantom Tollbooth
The Taming of the Shrew
Breaking Stalin's Nose
Mission to Cathay
Lord of the Flies
Catcher in the Rye
Johnny Tremain
Little Women
Romeo & Juliet
Othello, Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream
Great Expectations, Dombey & Son, David Copperfield
Sense and Sensibility
Lord of the Rings
Jane Eyre
A Clockwork Orange
Call of the Wild
Silas Marner
The Grapes of Wrath
The Adventues of Huckleberry Finn
Ender's Game
Where the Red Fern Grows
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Kite Runner
Charlotte's Web
The Alchemist
The Life of Pi
Cutting for Stone
The Secret Garden
The Help
The Secret Life of Bees

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why I'm Saying No To Facebook....

(This is really a letter to my daughters...)

Grace sometimes asks for a Facebook page.  Not to keep in touch with other kids or family, she has Instagram for that, but for keeping track of the weather and following her favorite weather outlets and meteorologists and I have said no.  I have always said no but I have not quite been able to articulate why.  After all she does have Instagram, which for us has been a hugely positive experience, and she does have Twitter, although she is not allowed to post to Twitter, only follow.  The once or twice that she has posted it was to report weather conditions in our town.

Facebook is a different story though.  Unlike Instagram or Twitter, Facebook hits you hard with advertisements and shows you the things that other people like.  It causes you  to react to a visual image or to an advertisement quickly, impulsively, and sometimes naively.  Recently someone I know posted a comment and a link to a newspaper picture that I wish I did not see.  I have been trying to avoid everything with IS because the visual imagery and the horror and terror upset me too much.  I can’t have that in my mind and eating away at my heart.  So I shut it out.  Sometimes I can’t, like at the drug store, I saw an image on a NY newspaper and it brought tears to my eyes and now I can’t undo what I saw.  Nor can I undo the words I read and the image I saw on Facebook.  

Not only is there no control over reading and being exposed to images your friends post, and the advertisements that pop up, your finger is quick to hit the “like” button.  I see this on my Facebook page all the time.  The “likes” by the younger people I follow, teens and young adults, make me pause and wish I could reach out on their behalf and hit erase, unwind, redo.  Once you “like” something, once you repost something, once you create a post, it is part of your digital footprint forever.  Forever.  You cannot erase it.  You cannot rewind.  You cannot undo.  Deleting is not a delete.  It remains permanently on Facebook’s or Instagram’s or Twitter’s server.  Anyone who is skilled at accessing information will be able to read your complete digital footprint.  It may not matter now, at 16, 17 or 18 but it sure as heck may matter at 22, 23, 24 when you are seeking employment and your footprint is searched.  

What seemed like a harmless “like” may lead someone to think you are a recreational drug user.  What seemed like a harmless “like” may lead someone to think you are a political extremist.  What seemed like a harmless “like” is an indication to who you are and what you value at that time in your life.  

My digital footprint on FB will certainly not get me hired as a teacher.  I have posted too many articles and commented on too many posts questioning the currently trends and philosophies of education.  I have openly supported homeschooling and alternative schooling.  Even if I am the most qualified applicant, my footprint may keep me from a job as an educator for a public school system.  I know that.  I accept that.  However, someone at 15, 16, 17 may not realize how posting now will affect them 5 and 10 years from now.

I want my girls to think of Facebook as a mirror.  What we post and what we comment are reflections of who we are.  It is a snapshot of both our personality and our personal values.  What we show to the FB community is no different that what we show to people in person however, people may forget our names, they may forget what we look like, they may forget a conversation we had, they may forget an illness or a tragedy we have experienced, they may forget where we went to dinner, or what the last movie we saw was.  They may forget the time we partied to hard on spring break or when when a nasty comment slipped out of our mouth.  They may forget when we hurt someone’s feelings, used poor grammar, or even when we blatantly told a lie.  They may forget when we said a disparaging comment about our children, or had a spat with a family member.  But FB never will.  What we put out is part of our permanent composition.  We build it with every post, with every “like”, with every share, with every comment.  

So this is why we do not have FB and this is why I do not foresee FB as an option for my girls for a very long time.  But rock on Twitter and Instagram.  We love you!

Monday, February 9, 2015


I have not posted much about Crosby because I honestly was not ready to share my thoughts on this dog.  For the past six months I have thought I made an enormous mistake.  Having never raised a puppy before, I honestly thought that reading books, watching The Dog Whisperer and taking a dog training class would give me a well trained, well behaved dog.  I was not naive about the work that goes into an animal and I expected interrupted sleep and accidents in the house.  I did not make a rash decision to adopt a dog from a shelter nor did I decide on a dog based on children’s requests.  I carefully researched breeders, I researched breeds and we selected based on a litter planned for a very honorable purpose, to produce dogs capable of serving veterans and we waited months for this little puppy to enter into our family.

Not only did Crosby enter into our family, he disrupted our entire family.  Daphne is 14 (we think).  She is an old lady.  She was bonded to Jake in a way that words cannot describe.  They slept together, their colors intertwined in a perfect ying/yang of fur.  When Jake passed, Daphne suddenly became even older.  We realized the extent to which her vision and her hearing are impaired.  She rarely moved.  She was content to snuggle on our lap or on her pillow but the spark of her personality faded away.  I thought she would love a dog to keep her company and make her get up and move her old legs but I was wrong.  She was very unaccepting of Crosby, would not play with him and did her best to be as far away from him as possible.  Give it time everyone said.  I did.  Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and there were moments of interaction but not many.

Crosby is a barker.  He barks for Daphne’s attention.  He barks when he is bored.  He barks to go out.  He barks to be fed.  His barking can drive me crazy.  His favorite time to bark is at 7pm right when we are sitting down to watch Gilmore Girls.  His barking fit can sometimes last an hour, making it impossible to enjoy our family time with our favorite shows.  Because Daphne has no idea what he is barking at (often we have no idea either) she starts to bark.  Because she has no idea what she is barking at she has no idea when to stop barking.  It can be difficult to calm her down and get her to stop.  I get angry.  Lilah gets angry.  Our lessons are interrupted.  Our life is interrupted.

Crosby will bite and nip.  For some reason I am the only one who can walk him.  He has ripped Grace’s jeans, her coat, my favorite cords, and my favorite gloves.  I envisioned three walks a day all shared by the three of us.  That is not a possibility.  Given his strength, I am afraid he would hurt the girls.  He is not nipping out of aggression, just out of uncontrolled excitement and energy.  He seems more like a herding dog than a mostly poodle with a bit of golden retriever.

I know bored dogs are bad dogs.  I know he has to be walked.  I know he has to be trained.  But how do you walk a dog that ruins all your clothes while you are walking him?  How do you teach a dog to do tricks when he will reach out unexpectedly and nip your hand with his very large teeth?  

What made me the most sad and caused me the most pain is that his personality was not what I had wanted in a dog.  Jake lived and breathed for us.  He was our constant shadow, our faithful companion, our best friend.  He lit up when we came home and he would have done anything for us.  I will never again choose a dog at 4 weeks old.  In fact, I may never ever choose another dog!  Crosby is independent and stubborn.  For the longest time it seemed as if he only wanted to take from us, take our food, take our yard, take our time, take our money (to replace the things he has destroyed) but he was not willing to take our affection.  His tail rarely wagged.  He rarely sat with us, preferring instead to lay by himself in a room on the opposite side of the house.  Sometimes I wonder what if I had picked another dog on that warm summer day?  What if I had picked one of his brothers or sisters like the ones I see on Facebook wearing their service dog vests and enjoying the snow off leash and bragging how they never ever have accidents in the house.  What if?

Over and over I would ask myself, what have I done?  
Over and over my Mom would tell me to give it time.
Six months.  Six months was what people said it would take for him to come ‘round.

And guess what?  He turned six months this week and for the first time he did what we affectionately call “circle tail”. He was excited that Greg came home from work and his tail wagged in a complete full circle.  After he said hello to Greg with no nipping and no jumping he visited each one of us and sought out some loving, which we happily gave him.    Coincidentally, for the first time, he snuggled with me on the floor and with Grace on the couch.  He seems to be underfoot a bit more and in the back room a bit less.  He thought it was funny to steal our blankets off of us while we watched Gilmore Girls.  First Graces, then Lilah’s, then back to Grace and then back to Lilah, over and over again like a toddler dropping a toy only to drop it again as soon as it was handed back to him.  Rather than barking, he was actually playing.  Rather than ignoring us, he was engaging with us.  

I hope six months is a turning point for our relationship with Crosby.  He has taught me some important lessons over the past six months.  If I did not have Grace in my life, I’m not sure I would still have Crosby in my life.  I thought dogs were like kids, you would automatically love them just because they are yours.  That is not the case.  My love for this dog has not been automatic nor is it unconditional.  I am slowly growing to love him and my feelings for him now are not where I hope they will be in the future.  But boy oh boy Grace sure gets unconditional love.  She is the most loyal person I have ever met.  He has taught me patience, something I continually need to practice.  Deep breathing.  The importance of kind words.  I have said some things over the past few months that I regret.  I wish I could take them back, but we have learned the value in apology and forgiveness.  

Daphne is still not Crosby’s biggest fan but now and then they will share a dog bed.  Now and then they will find their way to one another.  Now and then they will play tug of war.  Now and then they will enjoy each other’s company.

Crosby is a part of our family.  I hope the next six months are better than the last six months.  I still have big dreams for this dog.  When Daphne is no longer with us, I would like to travel with Crosby (who is excellent in the car).  I would like him to run off leash on the beach and swim in the Sound.  I would like him to enjoy walks with the girls and play in the park with other dogs on Sunday mornings in the summer.  I would like him to be well trained and know more than sit and down.  Most of all I would like him to want to be with us, at our side, as our companion.   I would like very much to love him deeply and feel that he loves me back.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

I'll get to it...

In life it is so easy to tell yourself “I’ll get to it....”.  I am so guilty of that.  I have piles of clean laundry to put away because I will get to it eventually.  Library books go overdue day after day because I will return them eventually.  "I’ll get to it" is a dangerous motto for me because it allows for unfinished projects to build up.  I might be okay with a small pile of dust bunnies gathering under the couch, but I do not want a small pile of unfinished work gathering on the girls’ portfolios.  Nope.  Not this year.

For me, this sometimes means that time must be set aside to do those things that are piling up.  We are not the type of homeschoolers that set aside 6 hours of straight work time and do all errands after.  For one, I get too tired once the sun sets and I lack the energy and determination to go out and run errands after dinner.  Two, this leads me right back to that “I’ll get to it” mentality.  

Life and learning are intrinsically connected for us.  A few posts ago I wrote that I want to get the girls photographs printed and put into their portfolios.  If we don’t do this, it will get pushed to the “I’ll get to it pile”.  For over a year I have told them we will get to the ski shop to research the cost of snowboard bindings and boots.   For over a year I have pushed it off because they are desperate to snowboard and I am not.  I am not a skier or a snowboarder.  I once was and I despise it.  So it was easy to push it off buying binding and boots until a day became a week which became a month and now has become a year.  Their snowboards are the right size, and now is the right time.  Their snowboards from Target are too small and during this week’s storm, I saw Lilah struggle to get her snow boots into the plastic bindings.  She has outgrown it.  Their Henri Bendel snowboards were a Christmas gift we gave the girls three years ago because Greg came across them at work.  They were made by K2 for his store and did not sell because most 5th Avenue shoppers are not looking for snowboards!  They were cheap and we knew one day the girls probably want to use them.  For three years they have sat in our attic and for three years the girls have waited to grow into them and to actually use them.

So what to do?  I think there has to be balance in homeschooling.  All work and kids are doing school at home.  All play and mom is a stressed mess.  Right now we have achieved a perfect for us balance of work and life.  Wednesday is a free day.  I had an appointment smack dab in the middle of the day which can seriously disrupt the work flow so I declared it a -- get the “I’ll get to it” issues off my plate day!

Visiting the ski shop first thing in the morning on a week day meant having the place all to ourselves. We were able to spend an hour trying on boots, looking at rentals, and deciding what we wanted to do.  We were not rushed, which is a good thing because girls with size 9 narrow and size 11 feet are never easy to fit.   With no line of people waiting, we were able to get great service and have all our questions answered.  

File this under Physical Education I hour later not only did I cross something off my “I’ll get to it later” list, we completed a gift that was given three years ago.  The best part is it does not look like the girls have to wait to use their new snowboards.  We pick them up Friday and the forecast is calling for a weekend full of fresh new white snow.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Writing Group: Taking Time to Share the Good Stuff

Last spring I sat with one of my neighbors who was considering homeschooling and showed her the girls' portfolios.  I was a wee bit horrified to see that work had been placed in the binders that was not 100% complete.  I vowed at that moment that we would not rush to get from one thing to the next.  This journey we are on is not a race.  I realized then and there that we had to slow down and savor the moments, take the time necessary to complete something, and respect the fact that although we may work on many things together, there is an age difference, and the pace of the work is not always the same.

I am proud that I have stuck to this philosophy and every single piece of work that has been placed in the binders for 2014-2015 is detailed, accurate, and complete.  This philosophy has carried over into our activities as well.  Writing group has always been a fun, social, enjoyable writing experience.  For two years we have met weekly to work on writing exercises and pieces of creative fiction.  However, over the two years I know my girls have not finished every story. Writers don’t necessarily finish every piece they start, but there is value in being able to handle an assignment, especially if the child will be continuing with higher education.  

Before our holiday break, the girls talked about creating a unit based on fairy tales.  To make this a reality we had to change the structure of the group a bit and move towards a “class” and less of a “workshop”.  Given the ages of the girls (12-15) and the fact that one is now taking classes at a local community college, I think this change was just what we needed for this group of girls.

We are using The Beanstalk and Beyond: Developing Critical Thinking Through Fairy Tales by Wolf, Joan as a spine.  Many of the activities are intended for a classroom and the age range is through middle school.    I am not using this as a text, working from one lesson to the next, but as a guide to help me move through the themes that the girls expressed interest in.

We began by exploring the Quest as an element in fairy tales.  Unlike in the past, we now have “homework”.  Whether or not each girl does it is decided by their parents.  I am not their teacher and this is not a graded class. I never charge a fee because I want the girls to feel free to come and go dependent on interest and availability and I never want a contractual relationship between us.   

During the week the girls read and watched as many quest fairy tales as possible. Then they began to write their own using prompts from the text.  As always, the girls could choose to use the prompt exactly as given or change it any way they like.  Half of the plot was completed in the first week and the girls finished the story at home the second week.  I have not seen my two girls this inspired to write in ages.  They put hours and hours of work into their stories during the week and both had completed, edited and published stories to share when the group met last week.  Both stories were over 10 typed pages and this was the norm for the group.  

We always share as a group.  Maybe just a sentence, maybe a warm up exercise, and very rarely, a completed story.  Some girls are working on epic stories that I know one day will grace the shelves at our local bookstore.  Some girls start and abandon stories.  Others finish but have never shared.  There are many reasons that stories may not be completed and it is often not my place to inquire why.  This was the first time that the girls has a deadline, a “due date”.  I set aside the entire class for an author share.

It took almost two hours for 5 girls to share their stories and receive positive feedback from their peers.  That is a long time to sit, actively listen and be prepared to provide their thoughts.  2 of the girls were on vacation and would share at a later date.

These stories were truly wonderful.  They each followed the same structure but each changed it in a way that suited their style and voice.  For me, it was amazing to listen to each girl share their piece of writing, essentially a piece of themselves, in an environment free of criticism, full of genuine support and friendship, and respect.

Before I may not have set aside the time for my girls to create a work of art to cover their story.  I may not have set a deadline or a due date.  The work may have gone unfinished, incomplete, untold, which would have truly been a shame for these stories were meant to be shared.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Moving beyond the postcard

There are a few new things going on ‘round here.  We took advantage of The Great Courses sale and bought NatGeo’s Travel Photography and a geology course: 36 Geographical Wonders of the World.  We love them both.  

To be fair, we have only done one lesson in each. I recently read an opinion that adult courses are usually very good because adults don’t have to take them!  They have to pull you in, teach you something interesting, and hold your attention.  This is what we have found to be true for both these courses based on lecture #1.

The photography course was 100% interest-led.  Both my girls have an eye for photography.  Both love their Instagram accounts, which give them the opportunity to connect with kids who have become friends all over the country from CA to FL and lots of places in between!  They both share Crosby’s Instagram account, and have researched popular pet photography accounts to get new ideas on photo composition.  Plus Crosby is a real challenge to capture because his fur is so dark you lose definition in almost every photo.  They have had to learn edits and use other apps for to enhance photos or their viewers would never know Crosby had eyes!

The real motivating factor behind Grace’s photography is our upcoming trip to Florida.  She wants to take really great pictures, not just point and click.  She is building a collection of cameras from her latest Christmas gift, her GoPro, and last year’s gift: her all purpose Olympus Tough camera, the TG-820 which is amazing underwater.  She is always allowed to borrow my Cannon T2i, a dslr camera.  

Our first lesson was about moving beyond the postcard.  Why capture the same photo that has been done over and over and over again?  If you think with an artist’s eye, you can make the ordinary extraordinary.  
*You have to think as an artist, not a travel photographer.  Many of the reviews of this course are missing the point.  This instructor has a budget, a travel allowance and access to the world’s most beautiful places.  He is going to approach photography differently that a family of 4 on a road trip down the east coast.  HOWEVER, the principles still apply and he makes point of that.

After a recent snowfall, the girls took my camera outside in the early morning light (6:30-7:00am) to photograph our yard as if it were a place they had never seen before.  If this were a stop on our travels, what would they capture? What would they want to remember?  This is what their artist’s eyes saw.  My house in a whole new way.  They had to explain to me where some of these pictures were taken.  

This week we watch lesson 2 and I take my memory card to CVS or Target and make hard copies of these photos for their portfolios and possibly for my walls.....

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