Saturday, September 14, 2013

Experiencing the Fuller Life

Pamela and I have just finished our third week at Harvest Community School. We found this week quite hectic because the elementary class teacher enjoyed a week of vacation. That meant the headmaster and I took turns teaching. While I did not engage much with Pamela one-on-one, she still experienced a fuller life. She fascinates children because of her savant skill in calendars, her artistic abilities, her princess lunchbox, and her boldness in telling a teacher—me—, "Director! Director! Cut!" and "You're fired." When I am not working with her, she keeps herself busy, building puzzles and triazzles, swinging on the porch swing, playing with her calculator, and using a laptop. She has far more opportunities to interact with people in an environment similar to the kind of learning environment she has enjoyed for over a decade. Thursday, she helped the elementary class build a water filter for the school pond!

I have thoroughly enjoyed applying Relationship Development Intervention ideas as we help our auties (two full-time students in the spectrum and another part-time in addition to Pamela) adapt to this new way of learning. I glean so much from them in one-on-one moments when they take a break from the classroom. Thursday, I taught one boy who has a mechanical mind and nibble fingers to sew a needle case. On Friday, he hardly needed help in sewing a running stitch in the first line on his tic-tac-toe game. The other boy and I have been sharing many perspective-taking conversations to help him see that what he thinks is not always what another person thinks. Their parents are delighted to have a school where students are doing more than the three R's—where they are engaged with the kind of hands-on, meaningful tasks that Temple Grandin recommends for students in the spectrum: drawing, handwork (right now, sewing), cleaning the pond and surrounding area, building a water filter, etc.

Friday the 13th was delightful! While chatting with a parent dropping off her child, we spotted two hummingbirds seeking nectar from a can of bug spray with a bright orange cap. (Note to self, we need a hummingbird feeder!)

Friday is The Feast, a day in which homeschoolers join us for the whole day if they choose to do so. Pamela joins the elementary class in reading two science books that they only read once a week. She is familiar with one book (Project UltraSwan) but has never read the other book (The Wright Brothers). In this photo taken last week, you can see by the expression on Pamela's face how much she enjoys the class.

Yesterday, after the morning meeting (prayer, pledge, hymn, and Spanish), the elementary students headed to the reading room. Angie walked in and saw Pamela—all smiles—sitting in the teacher's chair. Having observed Pamela and I co-read books, Angie suspected that Pamela wanted to see the text. So, she sat in the chair next to Pamela. Angie was thrilled to see how Pamela felt like she belonged. First, every time, Pamela was asked if she wanted to narrate, Pamela said, "Yes," and then narrated. Sometimes, when other students were narrating, Pamela shifted her attention to the speaker! She smiled and stayed engaged the whole time (about a half hour). Finally, when Angie started reading the unfamiliar book, Pamela leaned in to see the book. Angie and I were so excited for Pamela to take so much delight in learning, side by side, with her academic peers!

Then, the whole school headed out for our weekly nature walk at Santee National Wildlife Refuge. After a little chaos the first week, we learned to assign a group of children to one or two adults and teens. We space out the departure of the groups, some walking the loop trail in one direction and some in the other direction. Last week, one of the school co-founders, who wrote a lovely blog post about nature walks the other day, showed her group how to "fish" for "chicken chokers" (tiger beetle larvae). This week, the children from her group, all assigned to different groups, showed their friends how to lure them out of their holes! None of the adults made this happen: the students figured it out all on their own!

We returned to the school for lunch, and the afternoon was so hectic that I neglected Pamela. The homeschoolers joined us at this point for readings about Egypt (Seeker of Knowledge, Voices of Egypt, and Tutankhamun), a van Gogh picture study, wool felt sewing, living science (projects about flight), and Shakespeare. In time, I hope to fold Pamela in once we figure out our rhythm and everything flows well.

A couple of lovely moments happened yesterday afternoon.

I watched one of our auties marvel over van Gogh's Village Street and Steps in Auvers. He kept staring at it, running his fingers over the brushstrokes, narrating the vivid colors and objects in the painting. The eyes of this boy, who has the same kind of word retrieval issues as Pamela, sparkled with delight as he gazed at the masterpiece.

Before I began reading aloud to the elementary class, one of the students recalled a discussion we had had about how to remember what they read more clearly. He said, "Remember we need to narrate from the beginning of the passage to the end, and not just jump around." In the past three weeks, we have seen greater mindfulness and improved attention.

Shakespeare's Henry V was a blast. Since Act I, Scene I, has only two actors, I broke up the reading into five pages, two students per page. I gave more experienced readers the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. To help the viewers tell them apart, I made a tall archbishop hat with double horizontal bars on the cross while the bishop wore a shorter hat and a single bar on the cross.

I gave the younger students important actions to perform: posting signs to set up the scene and representing "the church" (by holding a picture of a church), "the angel" (whipping the Adam out of Henry V), "the king" (Henry V) and "the dauphin" (future king of France). Their "acting" was perfect, even though they had not rehearsed. I gave a purse of pennies to "the church" and, when I asked "the king" to try to take it, "the church" tried to take it back from "the king" and said, "It's mine!" That is exactly what the archbishop and bishop were discussing. I gave the "Gordian knot" to the autie with nibble fingers and, while the clergy discussed the studious nature of Henry V, "the king" worked hard to undo the knot. "The angel" giggled at whipping "the king." Our youngest student wore the crown of the dauphin and his lip quivered when "the king" snatched his crown (and I had warned him that is what "the king" was supposed to do).

The past three weeks brings to mind this quote from Charlotte Mason. You can read some thoughtful ideas about one mom's take on this passage here.
Every new power, whether mechanical or spiritual, requires adjustment before it can be used to the full... to perceive that there is much which we ought to do and not to know exactly what it is, nor how to do it, does not add to the pleasure of life or to ease in living. We become worried, restless, anxious; and in the transition stage between the development of this new power and the adjustment which comes with time and experience, the fuller life, which is certainly ours, fails to make us either happier or more useful.


Happy Elf Mom said...

You probably go home each day very tired but very happy. The school is wonderful for letting Pamela be part of it all.

walking said...

God brought the three of us together through positive relationships. Both friends have always been so loving and accepting of Pamela. It just makes sense that she would be welcome because she has been in the lives of their children (sharing a watercolor class and sewing ministry with one family and doing nature walks and co-oping with the other family).

Anonymous said...

This is inspirational to read. Thanks for the book titles to check out!
That is a great quote too. It certainly fits with beginning a school year.
Bobby Jo

Bright Side of Life said...

So happy to read how well school is going; and I love how Pamela has just slotted into school life at her own pace. It is wonderful to hear that she is so keen to engage and play her part.

Mim said...

It comes to mind that Pamela was in and out of the new school building for several weeks as it was cleaned up from neglect, renovated, and then decorated. She saw it at it's worst and now she's there to see it lively and functioning as a learning center. As a parent of 2 students there, let me assure readers that it is obvious Pamela's enjoying herself! When anyone feels accepted and free they can enjoy their day. She's opened the door for kids coming from different backgrounds, homes and school settings to be a new family of sorts. Let the learning happen!