Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Feeling Pressed for Time?

We all have busy lives for one reason or another and often feel pressed for time. I understand the feeling. Random events conspire to steal time when the clock is ticking. Steve is coming home for a visit, and precious minutes this morning were spent cleaning up a shattered pyrex bowl. Oh, yeah, and our lone dog has thrown up twice and now has left a little present that lacks its usual form. At least, she was nowhere near a carpet. So, now, on top of all the other cleaning, I have the worst kind of mess to remove and disinfect.

Charlotte Mason suggests we should change our thoughts when anxiety strikes.

Change your thoughts? Really? Have you seen my floor?

Before running off to do the dreaded task, I crank up Handel's Messiah. Thanks to an intriguing video about feeling short on time, I realize my problem is not the lack of time. Rather, it is the lack of awe. What better way to restore my sense of awe than to hear a masterpiece?

Melanie Rudd, who wrote her dissertation on time perception, explains that experiencing awe makes you feel like you have more time available and "makes you feel more rich in time." She and two other researchers conducted three experiments and concluded that people who experience a strong sense of awe felt like they had more free time, were less impatient, were more willing to spend time to help others, sought experiences over material goods, and were more satisfied by life.

What is awe? They defined awe as a powerful positive emotion which arises from encountering something so vast and large that it causes a person to seek more knowledge and understanding. They offered examples of situations that produce awe: thunderstorms, childbirth, and the Grand Canyon. They suspect that awe helps people savor the present. It harnesses the power of living in the moment and focuses attention on what is unfolding.

What conditions produced a sense of awe in their experiments? Reading a brief story. Reliving a memory. Handel's Messiah unfolds the greatest story ever told from beginning to end. Hearing Messiah triggers many wonderful memories: singing it at my alma mater, going to The Middletown Tavern afterwards with friends for cheesecake, and introducing it to my children when they were young. Messiah led me to other great choral works! Pamela requested it for our composer study for the first term, and she has already experienced a moment of awe. Intense stretches of music in the overture swept her away, and she smiled and clapped in time for a couple of bars.

Rudd describes two defining characteristics of awe: the event must create a sense of perceptual vastness—something large, complex, intricate (and Messiah is certainly that). It must also inspire a person to seek more knowledge to help one interpret and understand the world.

Some days, I feel like there is not enough time to pack in homeschooling plus all that other stuff. I feel pressed and I feel like I am dropping some forgotten ball somewhere. Somehow, things always get done. And, yet, Pamela often remarks about a homeschooling block of time, "That was fast!"

I think how we explore our great abundance and variety of books and things creates a sense of time flying. Short lessons that offer many diverse ideas means we have more opportunities to experience awe! Those moments of awe cause the mind to reason, imagine, reflect, and judge. Mason wrote, "History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold."

Pamela and I wander in these realms of gold every day! After reading about trade and London, Pamela brightened up when she recalled that we ordered our doorbell of our Edwardian era house from London. To provide background knowledge for a biography about Michael Faraday, we are studying electricity. When we played with a balloon, comb, and hole-puncher chads, seeing the power of static electricity made Pamela gasp and say, "Wow!" several times. The first chapter of The Yearling describes scenery very much like our own, and, after reading about the construction of a flutter wheel from sticks and palmetto fronds—readily available here in Carolina—I looked for pictures of one on my Nook. The illustration of Jody's flutter mill by none other than N. C. Wyeth created a sense of awe in me, and I am looking forward to building one with Pamela when the weather is more tolerable.

Do you experience glimmers of awe during your day?

Do you feel pressed for time?

Don't run to your calendar or to-do-list and find a better way to slice up your day. Go out and find some awe!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another Elaboration on Picture Study

In past posts, I have blogged many aspects of picture study, Charlotte Mason style: focus on theory of mind for Monet and Vermeer, making connections, videos of Monet study and da Vinci study in action, and museum visits.

What is picture study, you ask?

Mason taught pictorial art along two lines: appreciation and expression. We study masterpieces to see what a truly gifted artist can do. We focus on one artist per term, a new artist every term, to heighten their sense of beauty and foster a relationship with the work of an artist.

Mason outlined how to do a picture talk and basically you ask the child to (1) recall the previous picture, (2) study a new one carefully, and, when ready, (3) narrate the picture after you put away the card. Afterwards, you might have a conversation about the picture (the backstory, for example) or have child sketch the chief lines in the composition. You really do form a relationship with the work of an artist. You cannot imagine the exhilaration of seeing an original painting in its proper size and space with the finest detail of brushwork, form, and feeling before your eyes in a museum. The joy feel comes from our deep appreciation of an artist's accomplishments.

Since my last update, we have studied Millet, van Gogh and modern artist Makoto Fujimura, and Pamela met the latter last June as narrated in the following clip.

This term, we will be getting to know Winslow Homer, who, like Pamela, fell in love with watercolors. The "wrinkle" I added to picture study emphasizes the importance of theory of mind—knowing that what is in your mind may not be in the mind of another person unless you communicate. Pamela selects one picture from the stack of cards (the ones by Dover are quite handy and, once an artist I have in mind is available in one of Emily Cottrill's portfolios, I will try that). After she finishes studying the card, she must narrate the painting so well that I can figure out the one she had in mind. The following paintings illustrate the importance of describing a scene fully: Girl with Laurel (the upper painting) and Peach Blossoms (the lower painting). The two paintings have much in common: one young woman wearing a long dress and hat standing near flowering trees and a green field. If Pamela leaves out the wrong details in an oral narration, I might pick the wrong painting!

Since this was the first picture study of the term, Pamela probably did not realize how similar the two paintings looked. She selected Girl with Laurel, studied it, put away the card, and narrated the full scene. She described the girl and the background. Based upon her narration, I boiled down my selection to the two paintings. To spotlight the importance of offering a detailed description, I pointed out the information she had given me that helped me choose the right one. I said, "You told me there was a blue sky, but this one [Peach Blossom] has a gray sky. You also told me the girl was wearing a blue dress, but this girl is wearing a yellow dress. And, you said she carried a basket, but this one has no basket. So, it can't be Peach Blossom, so I am going to say it was Girl with Laurel." Giving her feedback on my thinking is an important part of helping see the effectiveness of her communication.

This year, I am adding another level of elaboration to Pamela's picture study. Because she is still learning English as a first language due to her aphasia, I let go of written narration a few years back. Pamela simply was not developmentally ready. Every day, she still works on the foundation for writing: oral narration, recitation, reading living books, copywork, and studied dictation. Her ability to describe paintings has improved to the point of being able to try her hand at written narration.

Because I would like her to write one narration a week, I plan to have her do picture study once a week as well. After she finishes her oral narration and I give her feedback, she will write a narration. I limited the scope of what she had to describe for her first attempt: I asked her to write about the girl while she was looking at the painting. I left the room to avoid influencing her in any way, and I am pleased with her efforts. She had already erased and made her own corrections before I returned. You can see the grammar glitches that come with syntactic aphasia. You can also see that her use of irregular verbs and personal pronouns is spot on!

The paintings themselves with offer natural elaboration: some will have two or more human subjects, several will have a crowd. The dramatic scenes will offer her the chance to describe actions and emotions. The seascapes and landscapes will require her to focus on background. When she feels comfortable in all of the above, then I can ask her to describe the whole picture while viewing it. Once she can do that well, I will remove the final piece of scaffolding and she will have to write her narration based upon her memory of the picture.

It is quite natural to make elaborations from Mason's ideas. There is one I plan to avoid. Some families try to take picture study from the line of simple appreciation to expression by making their own copy of the painting. I did this in the late 1990s before I came across Mason's ideas. It backfired on us because we were terrible at drawing and were clueless about elements of artistic composition. It became a chore, and we were never satisfied with our work. Mason was concerned for a different reason, "Beyond this of a rough study from memory of a given picture or of any section of it, these picture studies do not afford much material for actual drawing; they are never copied lest an attempt to copy should lessen a child's reverence for great work" (Page 216).

There is a time and place for art expression. Mason encouraged children to illustrate their favorite scenes from a book. And, if an artist has truly inspired them, perhaps they can try in the spirit of said artist.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Where We Do School in Spite of My Sore Throat

Pamela has been looking forward to today for a long time. Over the holidays, she choose to do schoolwork so that she could do exam week so that she could have the first day of school with a brand new crop of books. Unfortunately, a nasty sore throat started plaguing me yesterday and, between that and the nausea and headaches, I was afraid I might let her down.

Pamela's determination won my over, and we managed to do a full day with copious napping on my part. I loved seeing her bright smile when we began a new book. The wave of joy that swept across her face when she heard the recording of her daddy reading El cuento de Ferdinando kept me going.

This year, we upped the ante of copywork. Pamela now copies seven words in Spanish and two sentences from any book that we read during the day. I cracked up at the juxtaposition of her last entry of the last crop of books to the new entry. "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" is what Jesus said to the disciples on the day he calmed the storm. "And suppose you do know the answer to that question, what difference does it make? Who cares?" was taken from a science book asking if two different sized stones will hit the ground at the same time if dropped at the same time.

And, speaking of storms, we witnessed the coolest thing as we were leaving watercolor class last Thursday. The sky blackened and, near the end of class massive thunder rocked our ears. As we were getting up to leave, lightning struck and we saw blue and green flashes outside. The building lost power, and the static electricity in the air put Pamela's iPod to sleep. It did not wake up until the next morning. I figured out later that we witnessed St. Elmo's Fire, which is the making of plasma. Since Pamela needs to work on sequencing non-biographical events, I guided her through a written narration of what happened.

Seeing plasma live was one of those lovely moments God orchestrated for us. The Friday before, our Charlotte Mason community had tried to make plasma in the microwave, but we failed. Fortunately, the experiment had worked at my friend's house and she showed us a video of it. Pamela added this fourth state of matter to her science journal.

Devoting some time to the growing of plants is a scary thing since I have a black thumb. First Pamela matched the seeds to the packets. She knew five of them, which left her to guess correctly the sixth (buckwheat). Since she also needs to work on describing what she sees, I guided her through a written narration about the seeds.

With my sore throat, planting the seeds offered the chance to gesture to her. I guided her to narrate in writing the steps we took to plant seeds.

Pamela has such an eye for detail and pattern that mathematics is her best subject. This year we are going to test drive Jacob's Algebra and Jacob's Geometry, side by side, at very leisurely pace. We will also be throwing in Kahn Academy to hone basic arithmetic. Inspired by my friend Laurie Bestvater, I have been pondering how to keep a mathematics notebook. In addition to a three-ringed binder for loose-leafed papers, Pamela will put her problems in a composition book and her thoughts and ideas in a journal.

After reading the letter to the student, Pamela's entry cracked me up! She recalls watching her brother work through Jacob's Algebra as he prepared for the mathematics placement test at CSU. After we finished mathematics, Pamela announced that she was not getting a job and, if she had to get a job, she was going to be a farmer of her stuffed animals.

Pamela adored the first page of algebra, which focused on number tricks. She giggled as we tried the trick on 100 and 0, which turned out the result of 5 every time! For geometry, she drew two equilateral triangles using two different construction techniques: (1) using the 30-60 triangle from RightStart and (2) using the unusual compass from RightStart. I did not have a traditional protractor on hand, which I need to purchase. By the time we finished geometry, I was too worn out to go beyond making the triangles.

Pamela is continuing to work on her baby blanket for her "babies". Once she finishes this ball of yarn, I will teach her how to purl and she can practice stockinette stitches.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Be Inspired, a Nature Notebook Update

Last Friday was our ninth visit to Santee National Wildlife Refuge. It was also our shortest for the invigorating air encouraged us to press on! In spite of bracingly cold temperatures, we could not help but find treasures along the way. We spotted "male" pinecones and searched for the accompanying "female" pinecone. A facebook friend—quite knowledgeable in the natural history of Santee— identified it as a slash pine (Pinus elliottii) and stated that this pine is not native to Santee and were planted at the refuge about sixty years ago. My friend explained to the children how the males pollenate the females (and I love the beautiful illustration of joint attention in the photograph below). So many lovely varieties of pine live here that I think our first formal study from the Comstock book will be on pine trees. Since the slash pine pollenates in January and February—as we have already seen with our own eyes—we could begin with a study of pinecones first.

We heard and saw many geese out in the fields and watched a flock take off. The view was so lovely, I had to stop for pictures with the bitter wind stinging my face.

Starting nature study with children feels a bit dangerous. You never know what you are going to see. What if the teacher cannot answer a question? What if there are things we have trouble identifying? Other than experts, who can really tell one fungus from another? Heading outdoors to study the world is humbling because we realize how little we know.

And that is okay. Children benefit from knowing that adults are life-long learners, too.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, observes,
More recent research has suggested time spent in more natural environments (whether it’s a park, a wilderness or a nature-based classroom or play space) stimulates the senses, improves the ability to learn, and helps students connect the dots of the world.... Children are more likely to invent their own games in green play spaces rather than on flat playgrounds or playing fields. Green play spaces also suit a wider array of students and promote social inclusion, regardless of gender, race, class, or intellectual ability. One study found that so-called at-risk students in week-long outdoor camp settings scored significantly better on science testing than in the typical classroom. At the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, researchers have discovered that children as young as 5 show a significant reduction in the symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder when they engaged with nature.

I have seen this in action on the trail we adopted last fall! Even the youngest child is eager to explore when given permission. Boys turn water hyacinth lilies into hats and trumpets. Girls get manicures with water hyacinth lily bulbs. Children claim castles in the woods. They climb branches to ride horses. They turn fallen trunks into benches and balance beams. When someone loses a shoe in the mud, they have to apply engineering to retrieve it without getting their own shoe stuck.

We document delightful finds in our nature notebooks. During our walks, I snap many pictures, and I am pleased with the resolution of a Lumix point-and-shoot camera—a Christmas gift. I love the detail of this spider web snapped on a dewy morning!

After we get home, Pamela chooses her favorite memory of the walk and illustrates it in her notebook—something durable of 65-lb. paper or better, for it will store years of memories. We use watercolor pencils, which we bought many years ago. After the drawing is complete, we add water sparingly—I say we because I keep my own notebook. We try to identify the item, if possible, and record the common name as well as the Latin name. Then, Pamela describes what she observed. We make no corrections because this notebook has many purposes: it documents what we saw as well as her progress in illustrating and writing. It builds a sense of seasonal changes and natural history. I do not extract lessons in drawing and language arts, which might rob her of the joy of keeping a nature notebook.

Pamela made entries on butterflies and moths for the first two walks. My favorite free resource for identifying these insects is Butterflies and Moths of North America. I upload pictures and someone responsible for our location identifies it for me. I keep an online record of every caterpillar, moth, and caterpillar captured in film. I have added several species not already identified for our county! Pamela put the cloudless sulfur butterfly and io moth caterpillar in her notebook.

October 26 was an exciting walk for us. When we finally reached the gravel road crossing the trail, we came upon a snake sunning itself. The reptile was all stretched out. We discouraged the children from touching it, even though we knew it to be harmless. Too many nonvenomous snake are easily confused with venomous ones. When the stroller came too close, the creature sidled away into the woods. And, then, we watched it climb vines and saplings. I mistakenly identified it as a garter snake —yes, my silly fear of the things prevents me from spending too much time in their company and I was glad I did not squeal. It turned out to be a rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus).

I could not identify her November selections. My old camera lacked any decent resolution, and cheetos-colored fungus was beyond me. While the word fungus came to Pamela readily, her challenges with word retrieval made it hard to recall moss and lichen. I supplied the terms to her. She wrote branch, instead of trunk—more vagaries of aphasia.

We would have never come across the lovely golden silk orb weaver (Nephila clavipes) had we not decided to walk the trail backwards. Starting at the end enabled us to see many things we had failed to see on prior walks. We went right under the web following a deer path to the water. She was quite lovely, and we all wished we had a cricket on hand to feed her!

And lest you think the size of these fungus is exaggerated, check out the photograph. The thing was the size of a soccer ball.

The first walk of the New Year startled us with an exciting find: a dead Eastern red swamp crayfish (Procambarus troglodytes) lying on the side of the trail, not far from the platform for observing migratory birds. The creature was in perfect condition, and it was ginormous! We all gathered around it and studied it carefully.

Pamela's drawing of the crayfish was absolutely stunning! I can hardly believe that being handed a pencil and paper made her tantrum when she was six years old. We wondered if we would ever see it again—and we did not! However, a friend of mine walked the trail with her husband the intervening Sunday and all that was left was obliterated bits and pieces of shell strewn on the ground. Pamela thinks an eagle might have eaten it.

Why? Well, last Friday, we were standing on that same platform for observing migrating birds and watched an American bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fly across the field, heading toward us. The bird flew right over us into the woods. Later, we saw it soar above us closer to the tree line and heard its distinctive chatter call offered here at another one of my favorite sites for bird study. Pamela and I recited one of her favorite poems together ("The Eagle" by Alfred Lord Tennyson). As my friend Megan reminds us, nature has a magic that is deeper still and, when outdoors, poetry comes to mind. Since I had trouble spotting the eagle in my camera, I took no pictures so Pamela relied on her memory for this entry.

Then, I saw the most spectacular sight—and, unfortunately, everyone else was too far behind to enjoy it with me. I watched the bald eagle fly through the trees across the walkway pictured below. And, for a moment, I was memorized like Bilbo Baggins when the eagles rescued him and his unexpected company.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why Read Challenging Books? (Day One of Exam Week)

Pamela loves exams, or what she calls her term finale. She is still working on her ability to narrate orally and continuing to improve her communicate—imagine! She is in her early twenties and is making progress in her language! We keep questions pretty simple: tell me everything you know about . . . This first clip features snatches from some of the folk songs, hymns, and classical compositions from the term.

This year, Pamela read a couple of biographical picture books: one, a tall tale about John Henry, and two about Sojourner Truth and Sitting Bull. Because we have been doing exams at the end of every term, Pamela knows what is expected of her. Thus, she realizes that her daily narrations are not fodder for short-term memory because she will have to recall what she learned in the future.

Again, I see progress. Pamela's language is clear enough, and her train of thought is more connected. I think that even folks who do not know her can understand what she is saying. She can tell about a person's life from beginning to end (the Sitting Bull book focuses only on his childhood). She continues to supplement her words with gestures and emotion, strong emotion for Sojourner Truth, which we finished reading about six weeks ago. Now that Pamela is showing the ability to sequence in her narrations, I plan to focus on descriptions of people and places. At the end of the Sojourner Truth narration, I asked a few questions to tease out a description of her appearance.

Some books are very difficult for Pamela. Skeptics might wonder the point of reading material at the very edge of her ability to comprehend. But, then, I recall descriptions of Helen Keller's delight in books with language far, far, far beyond her ability. One of the teachers at a school for the blind noticed how much enthusiasm Helen had for reading a book in French when she had only a small vocabulary in the language,
Often I found her, when she had a little leisure, sitting in her favourite corner, in a chair whose arms supported the big volume prepared for the blind, and passing her finger slowly over the lines of Moliere's Le Medecin Malgré Lui, chuckling to herself at the comical situations and humorous lines. At that time her actual working vocabulary in French was very small, but by using her judgment, as we laughingly called the mental process, she could guess at the meanings of the words and put the sense together much as a child puzzles out a sliced object.
Researchers are finding that poetry and classic literature spark more electrical activity in the brain than abridged and modernized versions of the same. Unusual words, surprising phrases, and difficult sentence structures light up the brains of readers. Could novelty be part of the key? After the initial blitz, the brain shifts into high gear and is revved up for further reading. Poetry affects the area of the brain that processes episodic memory as readers "reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they have read." What did "the young and the staid alike" read? Passages from Shakespeare plays, including King Lear, Othello, Coriolanus and Macbeth . . . William Wordsworth, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes . . . The researchers will aim their next efforts at the reading of Charles Dickens. They conclude,
This is the argument for serious language in serious literature for serious human situations, instead of self-help books or the easy reads that merely reinforce predictable opinions and conventional self-images.

Walt Whitman was on the menu because of our readings connected to the Civil War. Pamela found his poems hard to memorize. In my efforts to learn "Aboard at a Ship's Helm", I completely forget "A Clear Midnight." Pamela, however, remembered the first few lines of it. While the poem about the sailor was too thorny, she captured the spirit of the poem in her narration. Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill was another challenging read. The last two chapters seemed particularly obscure, but Pamela persisted. She likes finishing her books, however difficult they may be. While typical students are able to glean far more than Pamela, she was pleased with what she did learn.

Thus, as we enter a new year of new books, I definitely plan to keep Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Shakespeare, Plutarch, and Robert Frost on the menu!

Taking this thinking a step further, we also read a book that had very difficult scientific ideas in it. While we were reading it, I wondered if Pamela would glean anything. Even though many concepts were beyond her grasp of science, Pamela picked up a good bit of vocabulary and understanding. In addition to being able to talk about the astronomer featured in the book, she could say something meaningful about supernovas, black holes, invisible rays, light, and the big bang theory. Can you?

One major point of reading living books is to develop lifelong interests. Pamela asked me if she could go to a planetarium. One of my homeschooling friends told me of Dooley Planetarium and Francis Marion University Observatory only forty-five minutes away. The planetarium offers free shows open to the public two Sundays a month (yes, I said FREE)! The observatory also has periodic open house events that we plan to attend in the coming term.

Hey, Pamela, I know you are reading my blog. When would you like to go?

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's All Relative

Braving a thermometer that regularly read in the teens, we spent the Christmas and New Year holidays in Kansas. One night driving home from seeing The Hobbit—for the second time—we watched the temperature gradually drop down from 15º to 5º! Driving back to Carolina, the weather felt down right balmy at 45º.

Tired of typical fare grabbed on the road, we decided to try Domino's gluten-free pizza. While their food labeling clearly states it does not reach the uber-scrupulous standards for celiac disease, Pamela usually has no problem with gluten-free food that might have a little cross contamination. We wanted to find out whether an occasional pizza would cause a reaction (skin rash, irritability, foggy thinking, incontinence, etc.). I had forgotten that this pizza establishment was not a sit-down restaurant, so we ended up eating at a rest area five miles down the road.

Both the temperature and level of gluten exposure have one thing in common: relativity. Compared to Kansas weather, we felt warm basking in the sun while eating our pizza. Compared to a regular pizza, the gluten-free pizza offered such a miniscule amount of the wheat protein that Pamela had no reaction.

Everything is relative.

Sometimes, hearing about autism-spectrum folks doing great things makes me fret about much far behind Pamela is. Online viewers of the Miss America 2013 competition chose Miss Montana, who still has residual speech anomalies in spite of having come far after getting diagnosed with mild autism eleven years ago. Lexi Madden is planning to major in art therapy in the fall. She is so far beyond where Pamela is and, believe me, Pamela has worked just as hard to come as far as she has.

And, then, I come across a post by Greg Lucas about finding joy in scrubbing urine off the bathroom floor.

It's all relative!

So, rather than succumb to grumblings caused by comparing my situations to that of others, I'm going to ponder moments of joy. Think of this as a virtual gratitude jar. Pamela . . .

  • . . . thinks it's funny when I make a mistake. We had her leftover burger and fries boxed up before we left the Mexican restaurant. When she realized I had left her leftovers behind, she cracked up and laughed at my forgetfulness.

  • . . . is so excited about starting a new year's worth of books that she drove me to homeschool during our break and on weekends. We started the term finale and she is the one coming up with the daily schedule.

  • . . . on her own initiative, entered page numbers for our daily readings for the last day of the week in a spreadsheet. She even knew how to change the highlighting of the cell from green to white to show what is ready to go (white) and what still needs work (green). Then, she told me, "I did the schedule!" with great joy in her efforts. Talk about an "Elves and the Shoemaker" moment for me!

  • . . . gets the mail every morning and even brings books that come in the mail to me. How thoughtful!

  • . . . found great delight and exclaiming loudly "REMEMBER THE ALAMO" while reading the book on that topic in our final week of the term.

  • . . . reminisced about all of our favorite horses when the topic came up in one of our books: Shadowfax, Goblin, Chùcaro, Pegasus, etc.

  • . . . is adamant in her proclamations that she is NOT college, NOT high school, NOT middle school, and NOT elementary school. She is Charlotte Mason (our style of lifelong learning). To respect her repeated announcement, I decided to shift the names of all my computer documents from "Year 6" to "Year 2013" since we are beginning a bunch of new books in January 2013.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Kicking-Off Our Study of World War I

Pamela is delighted that we are on the verge of studying the 20th century, focusing on the Great War, based on Ambleside Online's recommendations for this timeframe. In addition to our overall history narrative (the final volume of The Story of the World), we are going to read Rilla of Ingleside to see how war affects the homefront. We will also read the exciting book Falcons of France to understand a new type of warfare (this book is pricey because it was once be out-of-print). Over the Christmas holiday, Steve suggested we visit the National (yes, National) World War I Museum, which just happens to be in Kansas City, Missouri. The museum exceeded our expectations and you can bet we will come back after Pamela has grown more familiar with the landscape of the war. Even though it is pricier than our beloved Nelson-Atkins museum, we visited on Wednesdays when tickets are half-price (seven bucks per person, instead of fourteen). Tickets are good for two consecutive days.

I really like the thought put into organizing the collection. We began by watching a short movie that explained what factors led to war. We walked to the right side of the building, which focuses on the first half of the war. That side offered another movie about the war itself. The opening of that clip had haunting music and written descriptions that brought to mind Tolkien's description of the dead marshes. A veteran of trench warfare, he poured the images of dead bodies lying in mud and muck into the hobbit's nasty trek to Mordor. Underneath the screen was a static display of soldiers in the field with a German Focker hovering above in the dark of night. During the film, light and sound effects in the field below heightened the feeling of doom for those poor men.

The artifacts are organized into categories like any other museum. What I appreciated most were the scenes in which you could peek into a peephole and imagine soldiers in action. The very first display was the trench itself.

Contrast the dirt and grime of the trenches with a peek into a clean, peaceful hospital room.

We walked inside the crater of a bombed-out home. This reminded me of my mother who was born in Berlin in 1940. Her family lived in an apartment complex with a bomb shelter underneath. They heard the bomb sirens sound and ran to the shelter, which was full. After being turned away, they found room in the one across the street. After the dust cleared, they were horrified to learn that their apartment building had collapsed, killing everyone in the shelter.

Because we will focus on the first examples of aerial combat, I took a few pictures in the aviation section. Someone clever showed footage taken during a flight onto the floor, which inspired Pamela to flap and pretend to be a bird.

We also enjoyed the soundproof booths for listening to audio from that era: speeches, musics, poetry, and prose.

I chuckled at the Navy uniforms women wore in that era and tagged my sister, an electronics technician in the Navy Reserves, in the picture I posted on Facebook. I snapped pictures of Pamela standing near a mine and a torpedo.

Of course, even this Naval Academy graduate cannot neglect the army, so I took pictures of life in the trenches for soldiers: gas masks, an ambulance, and a tank.

We could not leave without making an entry in Pamela's book of centuries. She chose a machine gun, which was rather fitting since it was invented during the Great War. A year and a half ago, we had purchased a very durable, beautiful journal especially designed with Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in mind: it is holding up beautifully.

Leaving a museum without touring the bookstore is unfathomable. I looked for the book Dreadnoughts by Robert K. Massie for my personal reading and ended up having to download it on my Nook. However, I did find a postcard that was a blast from the past. Back in the early 1990s, the U.S. Navy decided to go all politically correct and banned this poster from recruiting stations. I, of course, seeing the folly of it, bought one for myself. When I posted a picture of it on Facebook, two friends chimed in: one has a small version of the poster and another friend's wife, who was a classmate of ours at the boat school, bought a coffee cup with the contraband picture. I love my friends!