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19 January 2007

That's SOME Castle

Well, after I ran across this cool idea for making a castle out of boxes last November, I decided that I needed to find someone with kids the right age to help me make something similar. Today, I went to my friends' house and we got down to work on some serious construction. Their Dad is a contractor, so they're into building things. He'd called up a local appliance place and they hit the Mother Load for boxes. "Just what was available today," I was told.

There was a refrigerator box; tall enough for me to stand up in, and large enough that there was some disassembly required to get it in the house. Once we got it to the basement, it became our "great hall" and "gatehouse," all rolled into one, complete with a drawbridge (still connected, yet sturdy, because the box was just that cool) and three arrow loops to let in a little light, without exposing the boys to enemy fire. Being a family that knows their way around construction work, they found rivets - Mr McGroovy's Cardboard Rivets - for us to use, rather than fooling around with tape much at all. So we riveted a couple of big washer boxes to our great hall and cut some doors. Since we went with arched doorways, they made great shields. We just riveted some arm loops onto the back. While I fed and changed the baby, the boys and their Mom added a couple more boxes for various towers - including one that we crenelated.

As the boys are too young to handle knives yet, they had to wait some while their Mom and I assembled their new castle. Amid many many reminders "get out of the box while I'm cutting" and a great deal of enthusiasm, they made several flags to adorn the castle's walls and exterior, as well as personalizing their shields. They glanced (briefly) at my copy of Anatomy of a Castle. They plan to look at it some more while they're over for next week's piano lesson.

While we were taking pictures, the boys insisted that the baby needed a shield too, and even found one just the right size for him, so I stood him up and their Mom took the picture. The "fierce" warrior look works for him, I think!

Unfortunately, we ran out of time before our creative juices - or our boxes and rivets - ran out. So we agreed that we're going to have to get together and work on it some more sometime.

Some interesting links:

Mr McGroovy's Cardboard Rivets

Castle Glossary
Castles of the World
Castles on the Web
Build a Model Castle

PS. Amazon had a used copy of Anatomy of a Castle for about $5.

18 January 2007

Classic Adventures: Bird Lists (and stuff)

Read this. Then read my comments:

I like the "and stuff." Reminds me of myself. Except that there's a lot more sites here than I'm familiar with. And I don't have a cool story to tell. Just a semi-dormant hobby. Which is OK. Well, not so much the dormant part. But if I keep the hobby part going then I'm sure that I'll have the story sooner or later. It gives me a chance to explore. And it reminds me that the Great Backyard Bird Count should be coming up here sometime soon. Gotta go look that up.

17 January 2007

A Little Paranoid

Dumbing Us Down was on my book list. Happily, the library had a copy. So I read it. And it's interesting, if a little paranoid. Given the state of our government, I'm not sure that a little paranoia might not be well-justified, but it's still something that should be taken in small doses, lest it make you crazy, despondent, or both. That being said, this book made me think.

Mr. Gatto starts out with a list of 7 things that he teaches. These things don't appear in the curriculum, but he claims they are at the core of what he's teaching.

1. Confusion
2. Class Position
3. Indifference
4. Emotional Dependency
5. Intellectual Dependency
6. Provisional Self-esteem
7. One Can't Hide

At first glance, I thought he was WAAAY out there. Then, as I mulled it over, experiences from my own time in school came to mind. When I spoke about it to my husband, he also found these lessons in his own schooling. Received in another state, 4 years ahead of me. It was unnerving.

He had interesting statistics on literacy and compulsory schooling:

Senator Ted Kennedy's office released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory education the state literacy rate was ninety-eight percent, and after it the figure never exceeded ninety-one percent, where it stands in 1990.

His thoughts on reform were blunt and to the point:

It is time that we squarely face the fact that institutional schoolteacing is destructive to children. Nobody survives the seven lesson curriculum completely unscathed, not even instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. (page 19)

He calls for less school, not more, for a retreat of government out of the classroom, and a a return of the classroom to the family and community. It's a thought provoking read at the very least, and if he's right on even half of his points, then it's also an urgent call for action. Clearly, in the homeschool movement, there are many people who think he's right on target. In the larger population, though, I'd say the jury's still out.

12 January 2007

Managing My Time

So, I headed over to welltrainedmind.com to see what sort of interesting things they have on their website. The book mentions message boards, and I'd really like to talk to someone who's done this. I'm feeling intimidated by homeschooling in general and by the classical education in particular. But it's the best model I've come across to date, so it's what I'm leaning toward right now.

Anyway, in the process of wandering around their site, I discover that Susan Bauer has a blog, so I stop by & I find that she's made herself a color-coded schedule. Interesting. I really wish she'd gone into a bit more detail about how it works, but it's an intriguing idea. One of my big issues with homeschooling is that I'm worried that I won't be organized enough. That Monkey's education will suffer because I slack off. I'm just not so good at big long projects... 12 years of education is one MASSIVE project.

So I think I might have to give this schedule idea some thought. Trying to put myself on a schedule might be more than a little interesting, what with A's "schedule" being so variable and unpredictable. But it does seem that some sort of schedule would help me get more done. There's so much that I'd like to get accomplished that I don't.

09 January 2007

What Kind of Reader Are You?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Missing That Box of Books

When I left home, I had to choose which books to take with me and which ones to leave in storage at my folks' place. Some of the books that I read in middle school went into a box which subsequently ... disappeared. Until now, it's been a bit annoying, but nothing more.

Now, as I embark upon the education of my son, I'm realizing that there were a number of "Great Books" in that box: Call of the Wild, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Tom Sawyer, and the Little House on the Prairie books. I also had some that were not on the list: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, as well as Island of the Blue Dolphins and some others.

In some ways, my missing box is reassuring. As I read The Well-Trained Mind (a book from my recent book-list), and consider all the things the authors suggest are part of a "good" education, and then compare that to the education I have, I feel half-educated. But I am encouraged by the fact that as I read the things that are on the lists of books they suggest, most of them in my free time. I've never analyzed the books the way The Well-Trained Mind suggests, but I have at least read them.

It's a start. If I am to give my Little Monkey a classical education, which I am considering and discussing with his Dad, feeling like I have a start is an important thing. The schedule they suggest in The Well-Trained Mind is rigorous. I feel somewhat inadequate to the task: I've always been a bit flighty. I struggle to keep to a schedule. I struggle to maintain staying power in my projects. On the one hand, it's an incredible opportunity for improving myself to make this happen for my son. There are also a number of years until he needs to begin formal schooling, and at this point it's as simple as making sure to read to him every day. We'll add other elements a little at a time when the time comes. I don't have to "eat the elephant" all at once. On the other hand, if I mess this up, it's my SON who pays the price.

But is the price he pays any less if I allow myself to be intimidated out of what appears at first reading to be the best system that I've come across yet?

Either way, it's very likely that some of those books will be replaced if I don't manage to find them. As they've been missing for about 10 years, I suspect that I'll be visiting my local bookstore.

05 January 2007

Some Tasty Reading

Every now & then, "baby shower" gifts trickle in. The most recent was a gift certificate to the Children's Bookshop, which my girlfriend owns. We got some fun stuff today: an abacus (OK, maybe my friend is right & it's a bit old for him, but there's lots besides counting that you can do with those beads!), a fun wooden caterpillar toy, and 2 books: How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten? and Eating the Alphabet.

Dinosaurs first. This one would have jumped into my cart, had I had one. It's got such improbable things as a T-Rex cuddling a teddy bear. What's not to love? I didn't realize it until I got home with it, but each dinosaur is also named in small print. I'm sure the Monkey will know all the dino's names at some point! Who knows, maybe this book will launch our first unit.

Of course, Eating the Alphabet could also launch a unit. There's tons of tasty stuff in there that I have already eaten, but also quite a bit of things that I haven't eaten, and a few I've never heard of! What's kind of neat is that she's written the names of the foods in capital and small letters. I'll have to ask my Mom (a kindergarten teacher) if she's familiar with this one. This book is one that I first heard of in Homeschooling: Year by year.

04 January 2007

This Could Be Interesting...

So, I took this quiz. It was supposed to be one of the cool ones that you copy/paste the code and have a neat little box to paste in your blog. It didn't work. I tried to get the code another way. It still didn't work. So I'll just tell ya: it said I'm an Unschooler at heart.

I'm not terribly surprised: there are lots of things about Unschooling that really appeal to me. Problem is, A's not excited at ALL about tht style. And I go back & forth. It'd be interesting to re-take this quiz in 5-7 years, when I'm actually Doing the whole Homeschooling thing, rather than just thinking intently about How to do it.

Update: Interesting how things change. I re-took the quiz in April 2007 & here's my result (I even *mostly* convinced it to display right):

What Type of Homeschooler Are You?

Mr. Potato Head You have your ideal of how things should look, but youre flexible enough to allow for change. You are not bothered by changing methods, mid-course if necessary. You use an eclectic combination of curriculum sources. Visit my blog: http://www.GuiltFreeHomeschooling.blogspot.com
Take this quiz!

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He Speaks!

I got a copy of Joseph Garcia's Sign With your Baby at a girlfriend's yard sale. I read it & started signing "milk" and "toilet/diaper" with the Little Monkey right away. The book says you should start showing your baby a few signs at about 6 months, but I figured more language never hurt anyone & started showing those 2 signs just before 3 months. I was prepared for a very long wait before we saw any signs back, but out little guy was surprisingly quick! You have to be paying very close attention, because he's not terribly coordinated yet, but he's giving the whole communication thing the "good ole college try!"

This is my Little Monkey eating his "T." It's pretty typical of how he does it right now: eats the T while we change his diaper. I suspect that it's going to be a while before we get a picture of "milk" as that one is much more fleeting, when we see it at all. The T, he has been chewing on through some of his changes the past couple of days.

Hey - if it means that my 3 month old can tell me even a little of what's on his mind, I'm all for it!

My, That's Dense!

OK, I've been working my way through those books I got at the library right after Christmas. My current one that looks like it's going to be very useful is Home Learning Year by Year: How to design a homeschool curriculum by Rebecca Rupp. I've actually only read the first little bit. With my munchkin just learning to sit up, I have not been quite as interested in what to teach in middle school just yet. But the book's got some great information. It's got recommended books and websites for standards in teaching various subjects, so you know what the "experts" say kids should know at a given age. It's also got - and my project tonight is to visit some of these - websites with some fun activities that help build a preschooler's foundation so they're ready for more "advanced" studies when they start "school."

One of the games she suggests is "Line Jumpers" at funbrain.com. Tried this one out Super Brain level - addition and subtraction of positive and negative numbers - and learned that it's been a while since I worked with negative numbers!


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