Friday, November 27, 2009

To Eat or Not to Eat Part II: The Fungus Amoungus

We are getting close to catching up in the autumn series of the outdoor hour challenges. While we were able to enjoy the fruit of our labor with the butternut squash study, we absolutely cannot do literally with our fungus amoungus study. Last Monday, Pamela and I walked and found all sorts of fungi that we either collected or photographed. I was careful to photograph the six specimens we collected in situ for our study later.

Before and After Shots of Mushrooms on a Dead Stump

Big Bouquet of Mushrooms and Their Mat of Mycelium

Mushrooms in Pamela's Opa's Yard

On Wednesday, we finally got around to studying our bounty. Earlier, I studied the pages on fungi in the Comstock nature study book: the cap shapes and diagram of the parts of a mushroom were especially helpful. We watched a mesmerizing, time-lapsed photography you-tube clip of fungi. Then, we measured the size of the caps or balls we found. Pamela decided to measure the diameter in centimeters and, next week, she will calculate the circumferences for pre-algebra. We recorded those numbers on a math sheet for next week. I believe the six specimens were three mushrooms, two puffballs, and the button stage of a mushroom (it was white when we first picked it and went all gray sitting in a Ziploc bag in the laundry room).

Pamela sketched the parts of her favorite mushroom. We kept it simple because I was not able to pull up the threads of mycelium even though I had a knife. We can get more detailed down the road. She wrote her observations on the mushroom sheet printed out earlier. Then, Pamela recorded more detailed information about each fungi on a sheet I made like one from another blog.

We also tried our hand at watercolors. To inspire us with much loftier paintings well beyond our abilities, we looked at a couple of Beatrix Potter's fungi, which are stored at the very Ambleside museum that houses the Charlotte Mason archives. (Aside: the folks in deluged Cumbria need your prayers right now as they recover from floods. The Armitt flooded a bit but I believe the archives, which are being digitized thanks to grant money, are safe. It is not clear how Beatrix Potter's paintings fared . . . ) Quoting the Armitt, Beatrix Potter was quite the naturalist in her day,
Beatrix discovered the beauty of fungi at Dalguise, learning much about them from the local postman, Charles Mclntosh. She became knowledgeable about obscure species and studied their propagation. Eventually she had over 250 drawings of fungi, over 40 of different mosses and many microscope studies of the process of germination. Her theory on this process was presented in the form of a paper 'On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae' to the leading scientists of the day at a meeting of the Linnean Society, but though proved to be right in later years, it was not then considered tenable.

We painted our mushrooms in watercolor and, after making spore prints, we inked up the gills and stamped them on our pages.

Notebook Pages (Pamela First, Mine Last)

You may be wondering why my watercolor page looks so messy. In early October, I was inspired to do a page like I have seen in the notebooks of naturalists: details around the edges and a nice, large picture in the middle with some lovely writing. I carefully painted the leaf and seeds of the weeping mulberry in our backyard. One warm, sunny day, I was heading out, my arms loaded with my nature book water colors, prepared and ready to go. I tripped and the watercolors splattered all over my beautiful page! Disheartened, I have neglected my nature notebook ever since. When I was thinking about fungi, and how they feed on decomposing leaves and trees, I realized this page with what appears to be decomposing watercolors would be a perfect spot for my mushrooms.

Finally, on Wednesday, we prepared spore prints and did not uncover them until today. We tried it on both black and white paper because some spores are white. I think the effects are much prettier on white, and I think we shall try it directly on our nature notebook pages next time. We sprayed it with an acryclic fixative so the mushroom gunk would stick.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

To Eat or Not to Eat Part I: Nature Study at Thanksgiving

Because of our hectic fall, we missed out on hitting the pumpkin patch last month and, to my chagrin, I could not find any pumpkins for a pumpkin nature study. I read through the pages on pumpkin in the the Comstock Nature Study book for inspiration. We did the next best thing and studied another member of the squash family: butternut squash. We did an indoor outdoor challenge by studying the ripened fruit. For a practical application of what she is learning in pre-algebra, Pamela measured the circumference of the squash at its neck and its widest diameter, which she found to be 23.2 centimeters and 40.7 centimeters, and will calculate their diameters when we do math next week. I created my own nature journal sheet, not as fancy as what Barb usually does, but it worked for us. Pamela studied the fruit using her senses, and her observation that interested me most was that the squash smelled like carrots. With Thanksgiving looming, we decided to put the squash "fruit" to good use by roasting the seeds and making pudding.

We adapted a recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds to squash seeds. Scooping out the pulp with an ice cream scooper disgusted Pamela, so I pulled out the large seeds with my fingers. Since she disliked the sliminess, I gave Pamela a spatula, which she found awkward, so she finally dumped them onto the sheet. I loved her problem solving skills!

How did they taste? We had a hung jury. Had I not over-roasted them, I think they would have been quite tasty! We sampled the least crispy ones of the batch--Pamela found it nasty, but I think roasted squash seeds have potential, baring my tendency to lose track of the timer. Note: David has rightfully asked me not to burn the pizza on occasion . . .
The second thing we made with squash was pudding! I adapted a buttnernut squash pudding recipe by substituting coconut milk for the evaporated milk (the same trick I use for pumpkin pie) and brown sugar for white because I felt like it. Pamela helped me by squashing the squash and spooning it into the blender. I didn't mind doing the rest since we had accomplished so much with one squash. Does she still think butternut squash reminds her of carrots? Nope, she wrote on her sheet that it reminded her of P. P. . . . mmmmm . . . pumpkin pie . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Acorns and Oaks Study

"Through cloud rifts the sunlight is streaming in floods to far depths of the wood. Retouching the velvet-leafed dogwood to crimson as vital as blood." Handbook of Nature Study

We took our first nature walk in ages last Friday and marveled at the beauty of the dogwoods, which Pamela likes to call redwoods. Nature study is something easy to skip, but, whenever we get back into the habit, we realized what was missing in our lives.

We had no problem finding acorns for this belated autumn series challenge. Our block is full of oaks. In fact, two tall willow oaks stand on the border of our property, on the neighbor's side. In the spring, yellow catkins color our driveway, while, in the fall, yellow leaves and acorns, which attract squirrels, blue jays, carolina wrens, and tufted titmice to our yard, leave clutter everywhere. Cars crossing the driveway leave a trail of smashed acorns the color of Cheeze-itz. We leisurely walked around several blocks near our home picking up acorns and leaves to journal at home.

Typical nature walks abound with opportunities for sharing joint attention and this walk was no exception. While Pamela was taking notes about an oak tree for her science folder, I noticed a visitor on the trunk. I said, "Pamela! I see a friend!"

"Where?" she asked.

I kept looking at the trunk and answered, "Right there on the bark. Don't you see our little friend."

Suddenly, she smiled and exclaimed, "A beetle!"

Animals are such swift creatures that Pamela finds it difficult to shift attention fast enough. I tried pointing out a hilarious action scene between a squirrel and mockingbird, but she missed it. So, I narrated what had happened for her. The hapless squirrel was madly scampering up the roof of a house with a mockingbird in hot pursuit. Just as the squirrel reached the apex, the mean jet jockey beaned it on the back of its head. The squirrel bounded over the roof like a muscle mobile bounding over a hill in a seventies car chase scene. If you do not believe it is possible, then you need to spend more time outdoors. Here is a video to prove my point!

We even discovered a bouquet mushrooms, neatly placed on a delicately woven mat of mycelium, which we will study next week for our fungus study.

Today, Pamela finished up her study, drawing an acorn on the notebook page, making leaf ink prints as suggested on page 642 of the Comstock book, and recording her ideas in her nature journal. While you may find it hard to see, Pamela drew the acorn in pencil and carefully made criss-cross lines for the texture of the saucer before she colored it with marker. She experimented with coloring her ink prints with marker.

The Comstock book suggested planting some acorns to see if they will sprout. Given my black thumb in cooking and gardening, there is very little chance of that!

Pamela recorded her thoughts in her nature journal and made these stunning ink prints. She decided what to write to reflect our walk.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Belated Goldenrod Study

Before going on our fall fest working vacation last month, Pamela and I did two nature studies that I ran out of time to blog, and we have not done anything since until our oaks and acorns walk today.

On a gorgeous sunny fall day, we headed over to our friend Tinkerbell's house where I had spied a field of goldenrod. Before leaving, I printed out the goldenrod page from the goldenrod post at the Handbook of Nature Study blog and read up on this beautiful wildflower on pages 503 to 506 of the Comstock book. Since we have not done a study on composite flowers, we focused on other aspects of the lesson.

The handbook is for guiding the teacher, not to reading aloud to the child. On the drive, I narrated my version of the book's neighborhood story for Pamela:
There are flowers which lived in villages and cities, just like people. Sometimes, we are too busy to see flower cities. We are going to find a flower village where everyone wears yellow and everyone lives in little apartment buildings with green roofs. Some families make nectar and pollen bread to fee the butterflies and bees. Others make fuzzy balloons like the dandelion seeds. Other families wave yellow flags to let the insects know where they live. Once we find the goldenrod village, let's figure out what kind of insects like to visit.
We found our golden cities, abuzz with bees, wasps, and ladybugs (or Asian beetles), but did not find any galls. We did not bother identifying the species of goldenrod because they are so numerous and hard to distinguish. Pamela quickly drew a very geometric picture of her find.

Our friend Tinkerbell and her mother saw us on their way home from school, and we wandered the neighborhood and found all sorts of lovely things:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Becoming the Alpha Dog

One thing I love about RDI is how Pamela blossoms in new and unexpected ways once we have filled in an important developmental gap. One day, she up and asked to go to a Christian rock concert and let me borrow the ear plugs for the heavy metal act. Then, she started serenading us in the car, everything from humming threads of classical music to singing snippets of the Beatles as my friends in the Northeast can attest. She has morphed into iPod commando and CD navigator on all car trips like any typical teenager. Her interest in other children has intensified for she boldly asks for their name and age since she wants to have friends of her own like Tinkerbell and Willboy. She is starting to get Monty Python humor and surfs the You-Tube for even more silliness.

In fact, her love of the poor woman who missed her flight at the Hong Kong airport recently saved us from an embarrassing moment. I walked to the neighbor's house for an impromptu chat at her porch. All I was planning to do was ask for a small favor, and, as boring as that sounded, our emerging social butterfly, Pamela, still wanted to come. My neighbor is a fountain of grace when it comes to issues on the spectrum for she has autistic teenage twin boys.

Pamela made up her mind to go inside. Because we had not given fair warning (which I always appreciate), I completely supported my neighbor telling Pamela no. She had just gotten home from work when I waylaid her and she had a million things to do. Pamela started getting pretty adamant and verbal about inviting herself in. My neighbor and I could tell Pamela was building up steam for tempest, and we gave each other that "she's going to blow" look.

Then, I remembered that poor lady who lost her cool on the You-Tube video, which has prevented Pamela's meltdowns in the past. I quietly turned my back to my neighbor and whispered confidentially to Pamela, "You don't want our neighbor to see you act like the lady at the airport, do you?" Pamela realized how that might appear to someone she is trying to befriend and immediately calmed down.

What does this have to do with being an alpha dog? Take deep cleansing breathes while I meander to my point.

The Navy taught me early in training is that, in order to be an effective leader, you need to learn to follow. Through RDI, we are learning how to guide Pamela better: she now enjoys being around people, follows their lead if it makes sense to her, and knows when to march to her own drummer. My friend Jamberry, another Navy family, posted a must-see picture of three men on ladders at her blog which vivifies this idea of apprenticeship.

One minor issue Pamela has had is dealing with the Arwenator, our hyperactive ball of fur. The said dog, when excited, jumps, licks and kills us with kindness. For years, Pamela has had difficulty asserting herself with the dog. About six months ago, we noticed a welcome change. First, Pamela figured out how to leave the room quickly and shut the door behind her. Since we always have a leash on our quick, cheeky dog (in case of escape), Pamela started grabbing the leash, putting the dog in the kitchen, and shutting the door. About a month ago, she alerted me that of the dog leaving us a smelly "gift" in the kitchen. A few minutes later, she proudly announced, "I did it. I cleaned the poop!"

Yesterday, Pamela and I were leaving for our walk. I decided to curb the zeal of the hyper dog by taking her with us. Pamela looked at me and asked, "What about my Loa?" I went back into the house and leashed up our other dog, the lazy, elderly, gluten-free/casein-free cream puff.

Pamela walked Loa for 30 minutes!

Steve, who drove past us while we were out, could not believe his eyes to see Pamela acting as alpha dog to lovely Loa.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Is for pre-Algebra

We are working through our pre-algebra plan, and Pamela is doing very well (the end of this post lists our math posts for the school year). Last week, she did a fantastic job on her second test in pre-algebra. Her two minor mistakes were (1) copying a number incorrectly and (2) miscalculating 1/3 of 15. She never asked for help during her test, nor did she need it! You may be wondering what the last four problems mean. Pamela set up whole-part pies to help her solve word problems. She writes the word that goes with the whole and the words that go with the parts (including the correct amount of slices in the pie--sometimes, there are more than two parts). She writes in numbers for the known, and an empty box for the unknown. When she figures out the answer, she writes it in the empty box.

The word problems were were:

17) Two fourths of the cake was eaten on Monday and one fourth was eaten on Tuesday. What part of the cake has been eaten?

18) Nick has 15 dimes. If he gives Sean 1/3 of the dimes, how many will Nick have left?

19) Buddy received $21 and spent $25. What was the total effect on his budget?

20) Jake found 46 coins on the beach with his metal detector, but lost 15 out of his pocket later that day. How many coins did Jake have left?

Those of you who are good at math may be thinking that November is late to be taking only the second test. Because of my unusual plan for a 36-week schedule (we are doing the tenth week right now), Pamela is taking the tests in chronological order. That means in the last month of school she may take a couple of tests a week, but, because she truly discovered knowledge for her self through our living math approach, she has approached each one with confidence!

Living Pre-Algebra Posts
How to Know if You've Been Taught Math Well
Chores (Negative Numbers)
Map Game (Negative Numbers)
A Week of Geometry Lessons
Number Theory
Short Math Update
Another Short Math Update
A Third Short Math Update
First Test

P.S. Stay tuned for an exciting announcement in the near future concerning what we will be using for algebra and geometry next year . . .

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Poem a Day Keeps Canned Lessons Away . . .

According to the poet Ogden Nash, "Poets aren't very useful because they aren't consumeful or very produceful."

Or are they?

Before talking out of both sides of my mouth, let me make one thing very, VERY, VERY CLEAR. The worse thing you can do to poetry--or any of the fine arts--is make it purely utilitarian. The last thing I want to do is be compared to the worst of the worst poetry teachers according to twice-poet laureate Billy Collins: "All they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with a rope and torture a confession out of it. They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means."

If this post might tempt you into waterboarding your children with poetry, STOP READING RIGHT NOW! I won't mention any names, but you know who you are . . .

Prior Knowledge
When I develop the weekly plan, I assess whether or not Pamela has enough background knowledge to enjoy the poems. Poets, like all good writers, leave out information that they assume readers will already have.
The mainspring of comprehension is prior knowledge—the stuff readers already know that enables them to create understanding as they read. Prior knowledge is vital to comprehension because writers omit information. For example, suppose you read "He just got a new puppy. His landlord is angry." You easily understand the logical connection between those sentences because you know things about puppies (they aren’t housebroken), carpets (urine stains them) and landlords (they are protective of their property). (Daniel Willingham)
Willingham, psychologist and author of the book Why Don't Students Like School, maintains that, "Kids who score well on reading tests are not really kids with good 'reading skills.' The kids who score well on reading tests are ones who know a lot about the world—they have a lot of prior knowledge about a wide range of things--and so that whatever they are asked to read about on the test, they likely know something about it." He put together a delightful video called Teaching Content Is Teaching Reading that dovetails nicely with Charlotte Mason's ideas. She understood something even more significant about reading,
'Thou hast set my feet in a large room,' should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. . . The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? (Charlotte Mason)
But, I digress . . .

Earlier in the year, we focused on Walter de la Mare's poems. When I came across Mrs. Earth, I realized Pamela would not get the first two lines,
Mrs. Earth makes silver black,
Mrs. Earth makes iron red
Before reading the poem, we polished a silver spoon and she noticed the black on the cloth. We also compared two cans of paint: new and rusted. These activities gave her the prior knowledge she needed to enjoy the poem. I did not even understand Up and Down until I consulted a map of Dicken's London, which I printed out for Pamela to highlight the street names before reading the poem. When we read de la Mare's The Window, I was not sure Pamela knew what blinds were because she might take it literally, so we sat near the window with plantation shutters. I told her they were like blinds, and looking out the window while I read set the mood.

While providing context helps, one can go overboard. If I think most of a poem is within reach of Pamela's understanding, I do not worry if it contains a couple of puzzling vocabulary words. Occasionally, a poem strikes her fancy and Pamela asks about unfamiliar words. About a week after I read Tired Tim in a bored, mopey voice, Pamela asked, "What's lags?" I explained to her that lagging is falling behind everyone because you are going so slowly. The other day, I asked Pamela what lags meant (this is two months after we read the poem). She said in her laconic fashion, "Slowly."

Sometimes, I have the opportunity to observe Pamela's ability to infer by waiting until after we read a poem to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar poem. We were studying poems in Christina Rossetti's Sing-Song. I assumed Pamela did not know what a linnet was, so I asked her to listen carefully and see if she could figure out it out. I paused after each important clue to give her time to think and guess:
Hear what the mournful linnets say:
"We built our nest compact and warm,
But cruel boys came round our way
And took our summerhouse by storm.
They crushed the eggs so neatly laid;
So now we sit with drooping wing,
And watch the ruin they have made,
Too late to build, too sad to sing."
Pamela caught the meaning easily, and we found a picture of a linnet, which we would never see in our nature studies here in the Americas. This poem set her up for another poem about linnets.

In the following Rossetti poem, I assumed she did not know the meaning of turf. After we read it, I asked her to study the poem and figure out what turf was. She guessed flowers--and I congratulated her for an excellent guess and told her it was grass.
O wind, where have you been,
That you blow so sweet?
Among the violets
Which blossom at your feet.
The honeysuckle waits
For Summer and for heat.
But violets in the chilly Spring
Make the turf so sweet.
People who read many living books naturally develop their vocabulary as they infer to distill meaning as Pamela did. They can read the dictionary or memorize definitions, but reading the best literature is a far more pleasant way to glean new words. While short and sweet poetry builds vocabulary, it also provides children with opportunities to infer. One easy way to start with a young child is to see if they can figure out the season of a poem and talk about the clues. Those who have had a steady diet of nature study and the outdoor life can figure these Rossetti poems out:
Bread and milk for breakfast,
And woolen frocks to wear,
And a crumb for robin redbreast
On the cold days of the year.
Growing in the vale
By the uplands hilly,
Growing straight and frail,
Lady Daffadowndilly.
Another interesting way to view a poem is by reading the title and trying to anticipate what to expect. Before starting de la Mare's Hide and Seek, I asked, "What do you expect will be hiding and seeking?" Pamela answered the logical thing, "Children." The unexpected appearance and disappearance of the moon, wind, and clouds delighted Pamela. I did not let her see his All But Blind. I paused after a few clues to see if she could guess the animals,
All but blind
In the evening sky
The hooded . . .
While Pamela enjoys anticipating and inferring, turning every poem into an exercise of some sort would rob her of the delights of simply reading a poem. In his program Poetry 180, Billy Collins recommends, "Unless students really want to discuss the poem, there is no need to do so. The most important thing is that the poems be read and listened to without any academic requirements."

Why read poetry "without any academic requirements"? Poetry inspires us to think about words and their meaning, to make connections, and laugh or cry. Poetry is the science of relations. According to the dictionary, poetry is "the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts." Pamela definitely derives pleasure and excitement from poetry, and it warms her imagination. One building block in vocabulary development is the joy of words, and daily poetry inspires that joy.

Pamela loves this Rossetti for its own sake. I don't know why. Maybe, it is because she loves calendars. Maybe because it is so predictable and yet unpredictable.
How many seconds in a minute?
Sixty, and no more in it.
How many minutes in an hour?
Sixty for sun and shower.
How many hours in a day?
Twenty-four for work and play.
How many days in a week?
Seven both to hear and speak.
How many weeks in a month?
Four, as the swift moon runn'th.
How many months in a year?
Twelve the almanack makes clear.
How many years in an age?
One hundred says the sage.
How many ages in time?
No one knows the rhyme.
Is this a poem that we waterboarded? No.

We simply enjoyed it for its own sake.
Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers. . . Poetry, too, supplies us with tools for the modelling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at for ourselves. The line that strikes us as we read, that recurs, that we murmur over at odd moments––this is the line that influences our living . . . As we "inwardly digest," reverence comes to us unawares, gentleness, a wistful tenderness towards the past, a sense of continuance, and of a part to play that shall not be loud and discordant, but of a piece with the whole. This is one of the "lessons never learned in schools" which comes to each of us only as we discover it for ourselves. Charlotte Mason

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NOT a Laconic Post

For those of you who are suffering with trudging through the drudgery of memorizing vocabulary words and their definitions through a canned curriculum, stick with this very un-laconic post . . .

Yesterday, Pamela and I finished reading The Story of the Warrior Queen, a chapter from the book Our Island Story. After the previous reading, Pamela had written,
The Romans want to steal some money and stuffs. They were fighting and went to Britain. The husband of Boadicea was a king and died. The Romans stole some stuffs.
Before reading, I asked Pamela to tell me what she remembered about the story and she did. Recalling what she learned from the previous lessons helps her brain tie any new knowledge to the old. Then, we read--I say we because Pamela said she would be the quotated and I would be the narrator,
After Boadicea had been so cruelly and unjustly treated, she burned with anger against the Romans. Her heart was full only of thoughts of revenge. She called her people together, and, standing on a mound of earth so that they could see and hear her, she made a speech to them. She told them first how shamefully the Romans had behaved to her, their Queen. Then, like Caractacus, she reminded them how their forefathers had fought against Julius Cæsar, and had driven the Romans away for a time at least. "Is it not better to be poor and free than to have great wealth and be slaves?" she asked. "And the Romans take not only our freedom but our wealth. They want to make us both slaves and beggars. Let us rise. O brothers and sisters, let us rise, and drive these robbers out of our land! Let us kill them every one! Let us teach them that they are no better than hares and foxes, and no match for greyhounds! We will fight, and if we cannot conquer, then let us die—yes, every one of us—die rather than submit."
Pamela orally narrated and then wrote,
The Queen felt angry. The Roman fought the queen. They hit her. She called her to people. The peoples had some swords and shelds.
Then, we read the next passage with the same reading roles,
Queen Boadicea looked so beautiful and fierce as she stood there, with her blue eyes flashing, and her golden hair blowing round her in the wind, that the hearts of her people were filled with love for her, and anger against the Romans. As she spoke, fierce desires for revenge grew in them. They had hated their Roman conquerors before, now the hatred became a madness.

So, when Boadicea had finished speaking, a cry of rage rose from the Britons. They beat upon their shields with their swords, and swore to avenge their Queen, to fight and die for her and for their country.

Then Boadicea, leaning with one hand upon her spear, and lifting the other to heaven—prayed. She prayed to the goddess of war, and her prayer was as fierce as her speech, for she had never heard of a God who taught men to forgive their enemies.

As she stood there praying, Boadicea looked more beautiful than ever. Her proud head was thrown back and the sun shone upon her lovely hair and upon the golden band which bound her forehead. Her dark cloak, slipping from her shoulders, showed the splendid robe she wore beneath, and the thick and heavy chain of gold round her neck. At her feet knelt her daughters, sobbing with hope and fear.
Pamela orally narrated and wrote, "She looked pretty and saw the sun. She was praying." Then we read together the next section,
It was a grand and awful moment, and deep silence fell upon the warriors as they listened to the solemn words. Then, with wild cries, they marched forward to battle, forgetful of everything but revenge.

The battles which followed were terrible indeed. The words of Queen Boadicea had stirred the Britons until they were mad with thoughts of revenge, and hopes of freedom. They gave no mercy, and they asked none. They utterly destroyed the towns of London and of St. Albans, or Verulamium as it was then called, killing every one, man, woman and child.

Again and again the Romans were defeated, till it almost seemed as if the Britons really would succeed in driving them out of the country. Boadicea herself led the soldiers, encouraging them with her brave words. "It is better to die with honour than to live in slavery," she said. "I am a woman, but I would rather die than yield. Will you follow me, men?" and of course the men followed her gladly.

At last the Roman leader was so downcast with his many defeats that he went himself to the British camp, bearing in his hand a green branch as a sign of peace. When Boadicea was told that an ambassador from the Romans wished to speak to her, she replied proudly, "My sword alone shall speak to the Romans." And when the Roman leader asked for peace, she answered, "You shall have peace, peace, but no submission. A British heart will choose death rather than lose liberty. There can be peace only if you promise to leave the country."

Of course the Romans would not promise to go away from Britain, so the war continued, and for a time the Britons triumphed.
Pamela narrated and wrote, "They had the bridge and battles. They had some swords. Britain was winning." Then, we read together the surprising and dramatic conclusion.
But their triumph did not last long. The Roman soldiers were better armed and better drilled than the British. There came a dark day when the Britons were utterly defeated and many thousands were slain.

When Boadicea saw that all hope was gone, she called her daughters to her. "My children," she said sadly, as she took them by the hand and drew them towards her, "my children, it has not pleased the gods of battle to deliver us from the power of the Romans. But there is yet one way of escape." Tears were in her blue eyes as she kissed her daughters. She was no longer a queen of fury but a loving mother.

Then taking a golden cup in her hands, "Drink," she said gently.

The eldest daughter obeyed proudly and gladly, but the younger one was afraid. "Must I, mother?" she asked timidly.

"Yes, dear one," said Boadicea gently. "I too will drink, and we shall meet again."

When the Roman soldiers burst in upon them, they found the great queen dead, with her daughters in her arms.

She had poisoned both herself and them, rather than that they should fall again into the hands of the Romans.
Pamela orally narrated and wrote, "The battle was over. Queen was lost. She drank the poison and died." Then came the best moment of the entire narration! I asked Pamela what she thought of Queen Boadicea. Reflecting on the queen's determination to defeat the Romans, she replied in her typical laconic way, "I failed!"

Laconic? You don't know what the meaning of Laconic is? Neither did I until I read the chapter called "Hard as Nails" in the book, A Child's History of the World (for another version of the story, try A Laconic Answer). The kids and I read this story seven years ago and, because I learned it in the context of a well-written tale, I have remembered it ever since! Keeping this experience in mind, I have never forced my kids to slog their way through memorizing vocabulary words because words are learned best in the context of literature, especially when children apply those new words in their narrations. The key to remembering vocabulary is to teach them what they need to know when they need to know it.

How does this look in real life you ask?

Yesterday, we were reading two pages in the chapter "Fear in the Dark" from the book Watership Down. I gave the section four breaks, and, because she finds this book difficult, Pamela asked me to be the narrator and we shared the dialog. Right before we hit the last section, I noticed an unfamiliar word, kestrel. Since the paragraph gave sufficient context clues, I decided to let Pamela infer the meaning.

Me: "Do you see the word kestrel?"

Pamela: "Kestrel. Yes."

Me: "Do you know what kestrel means?"

Pamela: "Means? No."

Me: "That's okay. I think you will be able to figure out what a kestrel is."

Then I read, "The hanger might have little or no undergrowth but at least the branches gave cover from the sky: and kestrels, they soon realized, were common in this solitude. Although kestrels seldom prey on anything bigger than a rat, they will sometimes attack young rabbits."

I stopped and asked, "What do you think kestrels eat?"

She studied the passage and said, "Rats. Rabbits."

I followed up with, "What do you think a kestrel is?"

She guessed, "A wolf?"

I just smiled and said, "Let's look for more clues. 'No doubt this is why most grown rabbits will not remain under a hovering kestrel. Before long, Acorn spotted one as it flew up from the south.'"

Then, I asked, "What was the kestrel doing?"

Pamela said, "Flying."

I followed up with, "What do you think a kestrel is?"

She smiled and said, "A bird!"

"Right! Do you know what kind of bird?"

At that point, she guessed wildly, "Seagull?" forgetting the context of the woods. I clarified, "Remember the bird is in the woods. It is hovering high in the sky and it swoops down to eat the rabbits." I demonstrated with my hand as I talked. No bells rang for Pamela, and she said, "I don't know."

I went ahead and told her that it was a hawk. In her narration, she wrote under the title Kestrel, "The hawk will catch the rabbits. It will fly."

Later in the day, I wanted to give Pamela another chance to recall the word. So, I said, "David, Pamela learned a new word today. Do you know what a kestrel is?"

"No, what is it?" he asked.

I said, "Pamela, David doesn't know what a kestrel is. Do you remember?"

She said, "Hawk. It's a hawk."

Today, before we read Watership Down, I plan to find a picture of a kestrel and let her talk about it to let her link the new reading to the old one.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Los Pollitos y Elefantes

Pamela and I "graduated" from our first nursery song in Spanish, Los Pollitos Dicen. Our goal this year is to build an ear for Spanish without obsessing over grammar, spelling, reading, etc. We watched the video a couple of times and Pamela managed to figure out some vocabulary words on her own: gallina (hen), pollito (chick), hambre (hungry), frío (cold), and pío (peep):
Los pollitos dicen, pío, pío, pío,
cuando tienen hambre
cuando tienen frío.

La gallina busca,
el maíz y el trigo,
les dá la comida,
y les presta abrigo.

Bajo sus dos alas,
duermen los pollitos,
hasta el otro día. Repeat all verses.

Cuando se levantan,
dicen mamacita,
tengo mucha hambre,
dame lombricitas.

I made one HUGE blunder in learning this song! I let Pamela see the words. For some reason, she correctly annunciates gallina (a "y" sound for the double l) but says pollitos incorrectly (an "l" sound for the same double l). I will strive to be more cautious as we start our next song, Los Elefantes.

I shared a story with Pamela about her father and sisters, who aspired to see how many verses they could manage in this counting song in which the number of elephants increases by one with every verse. Conceivably, one could reach infinity, given enough lifespans. Pamela guessed and guessed and even dared to guess a hundred verses. She fell short of guessing their actual achievement: one thousand. It must have been a very long car trip, especially for his parents!

I spent this week assessing the first phase of our language experiment based on the ideas of Francios Gouin (The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages). Charlotte Mason recommended his book, which she called "the most important attempt that has yet been made to bring the study of languages within the sphere of practical education" and went on to write, "Indeed, the great reform in our methods of teaching modern languages owe their origin to this remarkable work" (page 302 of Volume 1).

Gouin spends a good chunk of his book outlining all the false starts he had in acquiring German (which dovetail well with my lackluster efforts at learning Spanish and German). He tried focusing on grammar and irregular verbs, studying roots, listening to haphazard conversations, reading and translating, reading the dictionary, and buying the latest foreign language textbooks--all to no avail. Then, a great revelation hit him: why not try to learn a second language in the same way he learned the first? In light of how Steve taught himself to read and write English, I found the theory appealing.

Most children learn their first language through the ear. I say most because Pamela used the ear, eye, and hand to absorb the grammar and syntax of English due to her aphasia. At the beginning of the schoolyear, I was not completely sold on learning to speak and understand Spanish through the ear only, which is what Gouin recommends in the first phase of any language study, "Address the ear, then, first of all and principally. Afterwards take as auxiliaries the eye and the hand in reading and in writing. The ear is the prime minister of the intelligence" page 139. While Pamela's auditory channel has improved by leaps and bounds thanks to the extensive reading aloud that I did, could she learn new Spanish words this way?

I did hedge a bit about the ear only by using this free resource that combines the ear and eye because I am not a native speaker and at least the words sound proper. We did some review (colors, weeks, months, numbers) and some new words (feelings, pets, and fruits). Plus, I let Pamela see the lyrics of the nursery song (which I vow to avoid in the next song). Yesterday, I assessed Pamela's ear for Spanish reading stories about our pets and simple sentences to see how she would respond to an ear-focused method. She loved it!

The final two videos show this non-native speaker completely butchering the Spanish language. However, off camera, we did an experiment today. We have three fish in our fish tank. Steve described the red-bellied pecos in our fish tank very slowly in Spanish in short, full sentences, and Pamela pointed to the correct fish. He described the goldfish and, again, she nailed it. Steve was very impressed at her ear for understanding.

Phase II of experimenting with Gouin's ideas is rolling around in my brain right now, and I will share it with you if we make any headway.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fall Days in the Northeast

My Triumph


John Greenleaf Whittier

The autumn-time has come;
On woods that dream of bloom,
And over purpling vines,
The low sun fainter shines.

The aster-flower is failing,
The hazel’s gold is paling;
Yet overhead more near
The eternal stars appear!

And present gratitude
Insures the future’s good,
And for the things I see
I trust the things to be;

That in the paths untrod,
And the long days of God,
My feet shall still be led,
My heart be comforted.

O living friends who love me!
O dear ones gone above me!
Careless of other fame,
I leave to you my name.

Hide it from idle praises,
Save it from evil phrases:
Why, when dear lips that spake it
Are dumb, should strangers wake it?

Let the thick curtain fall;
I better know than all
How little I have gained,
How vast the unattained.

Not by the page word-painted
Let life be banned or sainted:
Deeper than written scroll
The colors of the soul.

Sweeter than any sung
My songs that found no tongue;
Nobler than any fact
My wish that failed of act.

Others shall sing the song,
Others shall right the wrong,—
Finish what I begin,
And all I fail of win.

What matter, I or they?
Mine or another’s day,
So the right word be said
And life the sweeter made?

Hail to the coming singers!
Hail to the brave light-bringers!
Forward I reach and share
All that they sing and dare.

The airs of heaven blow o’er me;
A glory shines before me
Of what mankind shall be,—
Pure, generous, brave, and free.

A dream of man and woman
Diviner but still human,
Solving the riddle old,
Shaping the Age of Gold!

Parcel and part of all,
I keep the festival,
Fore-reach the good to be,
And share the victory.

I feel the earth move sunward,
I join the great march onward,
And take, by faith, while living,
My freehold of thanksgiving.