Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nature Study, The Elixir Of Youth

After all, what is the chief sign of growing old? Is it not the feeling that we know all there is to be known? It is not years which make people old; it is ruts, and limitation of interests. When we no longer care about anything except our own interests, we are then old, it matters not whether our years be twenty or eighty.

It is rejuvenation for the teacher, thus growing old, to stand ignorant as a child in the presence of one of the simplest of nature's miracles - the formation of a crystal, the evolution of the butterfly from the caterpillar, the exquisite adjustment of the silken lines in the spider's orb web.

I know how to "make magic" for the teacher who is growing old. Let her go out with her youngest pupil and reverently watch with him the miracle of the blossoming violet and say: "Dear Nature, I know naught of the wondrous life of these, your smallest creatures. Teach me!" and she will suddenly find herself young.

~Anna Botsford Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study

One of the most common trees we see around are Oak Trees. Our kids climb them, play in their shade, swing on their branches, collect their acorns, observe their galls.

Any mother who has inherited a bowl full of acorns after a nature study knows well that there are more to those acorns than meet the eye. What seems like clean acorns will produce a bowl full of crawling larvae by dinner time

Arica, one of the mothers in our group, mentioned having read about how to rear some of these acorn inhabitants so I googled around and found this.

It sounded pretty involved with wooden frames and all so I just pulled out an old vase I had lying around, filled it with potting soil (I didn't have any sand handy) and threw the acorns on top, covered it with plastic, poked holes in the plastic with a toothpick, and tied a hairband around it.

While my husband sighed at the sight of yet another 'collection' of sorts, (in fact, he reminded me of the killer in Silence of the Lambs who had a similar interest in insects) and dinner guests shuddered at the sight of it, I cheerily peeped into my new pet project several times a day with excitement and anticipation at what might possibly emerge.

Amazingly, one of the larvae cocooned along the wall of the vase where it was in full view. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures, but was able to observe it change into a darker color and one day found it had emerged. There were both a beetle and a moth present so I'm unsure which it was I had been observing.

The moth that emerges is a filbertworm moth. There have been several of them, a couple came from a container that didn't even have dirt in it so they must have cocooned in the acorn itself.

At first, I thought, "Oh, a tiny moth."

But then I noticed the beautiful streaks of gold on its wings created by hundreds of tiny scales and the delicate ends of its wings resembling folds of exquisite draperies. Such minute, intricate handcraft. And I noticed those big green eyes... with a pupil!

Pupils that follow me when I take its picture!

I don't think I will ever quite forget those eyes!

So there you have it. I stand completely ignorant! You never do know what might be watching you in your neck of the woods, but finding out is your secret to the fountain of youth!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living Pulsing Thought

It is hard to describe how incredibly satisfying it is when you make a new discovery. When a light of truth comes on as a result of your very own digging - it is nothing less than thrilling.

I recently had just such a discovery.

In YR4, we read both Poor Richard - a biography of Benjamin Franklin and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe, side by side in the same first term. And last week, a discussion on the topic of Robinson Crusoe came up in the AO Yahoo Group, where someone asked, "What does CM say about Robinson Crusoe?" to which, Anne White replied with a link to a Parent's Review article titled:

"Robinson Crusoe" in Education by T.G. Rooper dating back to 1903

Defoe in the pillory for pamphleteering and political activities.
1862 line engraving by James Charles Armytage courtesy of Wikipedia

The article by Rooper is a biography of Daniel Defoe followed by some writing on educational philosophy related to Robinson Crusoe. In it, there is a quote by Benjamin Franklin:
I discovered in my father's library an old book, yellow with age, Defoe's Essay on Projects, a book full of novel and illuminating ideas, which had so great an influence upon me that it changed my whole system of philosophy and morality. The chief events of my life and the share which I have taken in the revolution in my country are to a certain extent due to the perusal of the Essay on Projects in my youth.
That Franklin was so influenced by Defoe's writing was fascinating to me and unraveled a chain of thought upon thought in my mind, connecting people, places, practices, books and ideas. I'm sure it is common knowledge to anyone who reads much history, which I am not, being more of the 'just awakening' sort, to me it was a brand new discovery of great consequence to my understanding of many things.

Charlotte understood about this thrill; hers was a cause to preserve this joy of discovery for children.
A child should be brought up to have relations of force with earth and water, should run and ride, swim and skate, lift and carry; should know texture, and work in material; should know by name, and where and how they live at any rate, the things of the earth about him, its birds and beasts and creeping things, its herbs and trees; should be in touch with the literature, art and thought of the past and the present. I do not mean that he should know all these things; but he should feel, when he reads of it in the newspapers, the thrill which stirred the Cretan peasants when the frescoes in the palace of King Minos were disclosed to the labour of their spades. He should feel the thrill, not from mere contiguity, but because he has with the past the relationship of living pulsing thought; and, if blood be thicker than water, thought is more quickening than blood. ~Vol. 3, p.161

living pulsing thought...

Why else would she rant against teachers who practiced otherwise:
The conscientious, ingenious and laborious teachers who produce these 'concentration series' are little aware that each such lesson is an act of lese majesté. The children who are capable of and eager for a wide range of knowledge and literary expression are reduced to inanities; a lifelong ennui is set up; every approach to knowledge suggests avenues for boredom, and the children's minds sicken and perish long before their school-days come to an end. ~Vol. 6, p.116
and rant...
A scheme which throws the whole burden of education on the teacher, which exalts the personality of the teacher as the chief agent in education, which affords ingenious, interesting, and more or less creative work to a vast number of highly intelligent and devoted persons, whose passionate hope is to leave the world a little better than they found it by means of those children whom they have raised to a higher level, must needs make a wide and successful appeal. It appeals equally to Education Committees and school managers. Consider the saving involved in the notion that teachers are compendiums of all knowledge, that they have but, as it were, to turn on the tap and the necessary knowledge flows forth. All responsibility is shifted ... triumphs are brought about by dramatic display, so ingenious, pleasing, fascinating, are the ways in which the teacher chooses to arrive at her point. I say 'her' point because women excel in this kind of teaching, but men do not come far short. What of the children themselves? They, too, are amused and entertained, they enjoy the puzzle-element and greatly enjoy the teacher who lays herself out to attract them. There is no flaw in the practical working of the method while it is being carried out. Later, it gives rise to dismay and anxiety among thoughtful people. ~Vol. 6, p.118
tell us how you really feel Charlotte ;-)

and rant...
I have even known of teachers who have thought well to compose the songs and poems which their children use. Think of it! not even our poets are allowed to interpose between the poor child and the probably mediocre mind of the teacher. The art of standing aside to let a child develop the relations proper to him is the fine art of education... ~Vol. 3, p.67
and rant...
Everything is directed, expected, suggested. No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no, not even that of Nature herself, can get at the children without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part. ~Vol. 1, p.188
and this...
...we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function.

But the children ask for bread and we give them a stone; we give information about objects and events which mind does not attempt to digest but casts out bodily. But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical.

"Education," said Lord Haldane, some time ago, "is a matter of the spirit,"––no wiser word has been said on the subject, and yet we persist in applying education from without as a bodily activity or emollient. We begin to see light. No one knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education, and as soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student. ~Vol. 6, p.26
and this...
He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher. ~Vol. 3, p.179

As a parent, learning side by side with my children, I find I need to be careful of keeping the learning theirs as well. It is human to want to tell all about everything we've learned and are excited about - and for a CM educator - there is much of that. We are, after all, the teacher and it's our responsibility to teach and now we can do so with such vigor and life because we are so excited about what we are learning through the CM method and we have new eyes to see... But in doing so, might we be robbing them of *their* opportunities for discovery and thrill?

I admit it is not always easy to discern what ought to be pointed out and what ought to be left for their own discovery.

I think in this instance, regarding Franklin and Defoe, I'll practice the 'art of standing aside' and save it for my daughter for another day. Defoe's time in history is still to come in Term 2 and one of her books may mention him yet. Without that, and without a fuller knowledge of the American Revolution, I don't think it would be quite as exciting to her right now.

I am every so grateful again for the AO Curriculum. As I travel through it, the many, many opportunities for the learner to make connections of their own - ones that haven't been pointed out, mapped out and beaten to a bloody pulp - ones that float about you like little seeds waiting to take root - are so richly abundant.

It is this very point that educators miss when they try to find ways to engage children in their education and fail.

Charlotte's advice?
Let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher's business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge, but by no means to be the fountain-head and source of all knowledge in his or her own person. The less parents and teachers talk-in and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children. Peptonised food for a healthy stomach does not tend to a vigorous digestion. Children must be allowed to ruminate, must be left alone with their own thoughts. They will ask for help if they want it. ~Vol. 3, p.162

Saturday, December 3, 2011

John Muir

As I was browsing through The Magic Catalog of Gutenberg E-Books on my Kindle for Christmas books to download, I came across the name 'John Muir'.

John Muir, 1912, courtesy of Wikipedia

I'm embarrassed to say I've lived in California for almost twenty years and the only thing I knew about him is that he was some sort of naturalist who had national parks and trails named after him.

I probably would have left it at that except that the title of one of his books The Story of My Boyhood and Youth caught my attention. It couldn't hurt to find out what inspired a naturalist as a boy and it didn't cost a thing so I downloaded it and started reading.

I was surprised to find he was originally from Scotland and even more so that I could hardly put the book down! Here are a couple excerpts:

With red-blooded playmates, wild as myself, I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing, and along the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and seaweeds, eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks when the tide was low; and best of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one.
To me the best story of all was 'Llewellyn's Dog,' ... It so deeply interested and touched me and some of my classmates that we read it over and over with aching hearts, both in and out of school and shed bitter tears over the brave faithful dog ... We have to look far back to learn how great may be the capacity of a child's heart for sorrow and sympathy with animals as well as with human friends and neighbors.
One of our best playgrounds was the famous old Dunbar Castle, to which King Edward fled after his defeat at Bannockburn [I believe it's the battle featured in the movie Braveheart]. It was built more than a thousand years ago, and though we knew little of its history, we had heard many mysterious stories of the battles fought about its walls, and firmly believed that every bone we found in the ruins belonged to an ancient warrior. We tried to see who could climb highest on the crumbling peaks and crags, and took chances that no cautious mountaineer would try. That I did not fall and finish my rock-scrambling in those adventurous boyhood days seems now a reasonable wonder.

Among our best games were running, jumping, wrestling, and scrambling. I was so proud of my skill as a climber that when I first heard of hell from a servant girl who loved to tell its horrors and warn us that if we did anything wrong we would be cast into it, I always insisted that I could climb out of it. I imagined it was only a sooty pit with stone walls like those of the castle, I felt sure there must be chinks and cracks in the masonry for fingers and tows. Anyhow the terrors of the horrible place seldom lasted long beyond the telling; for natural faith casts out fear.

I read a bit of the book to my husband today who is interested in reading it himself now. Wikipedia says of him: Because of the spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature expressed in his writings, he was able to inspire readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas.

As I read about his hands-on boyhood, I couldn't help but wonder what he would think of park rangers telling our children that if everyone took a stick there would be "no more sticks". I wonder if that's what he really envisioned with his preservation efforts.

I look forward to reading his writings on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, an area we have yet to visit, and being inspired to personally explore them, freely, with our kids some day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Holiday Handcraft Fair 2011

The Handcraft Fair we had earlier this year in the Spring worked out so well, we decided to have another one for the Holidays. It turned out to be another great event with so many different creative handcrafts.

My son made homemade artisan bread - crispy crunchy crust, and oh, so soft inside. You must try the recipe yourself - it's so easy to make and wonderfully satisfying.

Homemade applesauce

My daughter embroidered felt ornaments

My son made sculpey necklace ornaments with imprints of leaves, shells, and berries

And he tried his hand at a bit of sculpting

Look at what a four year old can do. I drew this pattern from Doodlestitching onto the fabric, put it in an embroidery hoop, threaded a dull darning needle, spent some time showing her how to stitch in one side and out the other, and she was able to stitch the pattern really well. I will say here that her personality is one of order and perfectionism. She likes to organize everything and is very meticulous about lining things up and things of that sort, so her personality probably lended to the embroidery. She made two - one for her grandma and the other for her friend.

Here are some of the other things we saw today

And last but not least, a little violinist played for us.

We'll be having our next Handcraft Fair in the Spring, hope you'll join us!