Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Un-Vacation

I've never cared for amusement parks. It's not because I'm old. This has been happening since I threw up on a roller coaster in fourth grade. My stomach hates curveballs. It has rejected its contents on a windy road on the way to Neueschwanstein castle in Germany, on Navy ships and sail boats, on a Navy training propeller plane and helicopter, and on a P-3 mission over the ocean near Russia. I even have to close my eyes during intense Imax moments. For many years, Steve and I tolerated amusement parks for Pamela's sake, hoping David would take on our role when he got bigger. He inherited my weakness so we take turns escorting Pamela until we all turn green.

I know families who love this kind of vacation. We're not one of them.

When I think of amusement parks, I think hot, sticky, sweaty, waiting in line, trying to block out what is offered to entertain us. The food is expensive and must be avoided for Pamela's sake. Everything is overpriced and, even if you pay for everything in advance, you end up paying for more than you intended. Lately, we've stopped at unusual places in our travels. We decided to make our weirdness official: over the holiday weekend, we attended a retreat called "Marvelous Mozart" at a Benedictine archabbey, located about half way between Kansas and South Carolina.

What about Pamela?

She loves all styles of music. Her i-Touch has every genre of music imaginable. On long drives, she chooses classical stations on Sirius with occasional dips into the broadway channel and kids' music. Pamela adores Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and too many to list here.

The retreat location was perfect and the grounds were lovely. The guest rooms, dining area, and classroom were all in the same building. Since Pamela knew how to find our room and get in with a key card, she could take a break whenever she pleased. If Steve and I lingered over coffee longer than she liked, she asked to go to the room. If she got a little bored with a session, she left early. The Benedictines built many breaks into the schedule, perfect for Pamela and I since we are both recovering from colds.

What did she do during a session? She watched a documentary about Mozart with us and watched several clips of his operas. She listened to some music as well. While some people took notes or read the handouts, Pamela doodled. She loves to doodle!
Archabbey accommodations lacked a few things. Since we pay for television at home, having no television in the room worked for us. The Internet was down, and monks aren't the most technically savvy people, which is more than balanced by their gracious hospitality. The bathrooms had a shower but no bath, just like two bathrooms in our house. We had no idea where the nearest store was, but we left the windows open at night and awakened to sweet birds. We ate our meals cafeteria style: simple, nourishing, filling, and good for the waistline. One night we had corn fresh off the cob — delicious!

How did Pamela do on the un-vacation? Very well. She had one moment of frustration during a lecture when someone who shall not be named was trying to figure out his complicated travel schedule. Pamela watched his every pen stroke and commanded him to stop after he made one too many changes for her taste. She demanded him to put it away and settled down after he did. She also had a mini-melt during the last lunch. She was out of sorts because she had planned for us to leave after breakfast. I had to stay for the Requiem session (a highlight for me). She rushed during lunch and dropped her tray on the floor in the serving area. I gave her a big hug to calm her because I walked her to her seat. Steve and kitchen staff cleaned up her spilled salad. To help her recover, we went ahead and got food for her. Up until this point, she had had no problems getting her own tray and serving herself.

Pamela and I took a quick nature walk around a little lake on the grounds. Steve had been spied it during his morning run and urged me to see it. Isn't the weather and view gorgeous?

I spotted several new things in this short trek: two new species of dragonflies and crawfish holes in the grass near the water. The dragonflies were moving so quickly I'm shocked my camera picked up anything. These short, stubby dragonflies are called eastern amberwings (Perithemis tenera). They hung out above the water's edge.

I've never seen anything like these black and prom-tuxedo-blue dragonflies. The widow skimmers (Libellula luctuosa) buzzed over water and fields like tie-fighters in a Star Wars movie. They went so fast all I could see was a blur of color. Apparently, the males defend their territory aggressively.

These crawfish holes remind me of mud castles I used to make at the beach as a child. If we ever come back, I want to bring a picnic lunch and watch for the crawfish to come out.

Can you tell that Pamela was in a hurry to go home?

And, in case you haven't had enough doodles....

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Digging for Knowledge

I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated. ~ Charlotte Mason
What does "digging for" do to the mind?

The best way to answer that question is to dig for yourself. Until we experience digging, we can only see what our children show us. Digging takes time. It is a slow process. It demands careful attention. The results are not always immediate.

Understanding Charlotte Mason's method requires us to dig. Because we are used to having knowledge poured into us, opening her books and studying them is a challenge. It's much easier to read someone else's interpretation of her ideas or to follow a checklist or "how to". This may be easier but it runs the risk of becoming a system, the very thing Mason sought to avoid. We must understand why we do what we do.

Right now, I'm digging into The Living Page by Laurie Bestvater. If you're looking for a quick summer read, TLP is not it! I read a little bit and narrate to my commonplace journal. I copy my favorite quotes and phrases. I join the grand conversation about this book with AmblesideOnline friends.

This is how I process nature study (pages 17-27), which addresses Mason's connection to scouting, how Gilbert White inspired her, what Mason expected in a nature notebook, her thoughts about nature lists, scrapbooks, collections, a family diary, science notebooks, lab books, calendar of firsts, natural history clubs, etc. I read a page and write down my thoughts. I look up examples of nature notebooks at the digital archives. I write a collection of phrases resonating with me: "make Glory 'visible and plain,'" "source of delight," "knowing glory," and "traveling companions and life records."

Reflecting upon my walks at Santee National Wildlife Refuge, I copy Laurie's words, "Perhaps it was his ongoing relationship with a relatively small patch of country over time, allowing him to form deep knowledge of a particular place and to notice even the smallest seasonal changes that Mason admires" (page 20).

I let go of my guilt about the lapses in nature notebooking last winter and spring when I read what one of Mason's student teachers wrote, "I am horrified to find that I have not written in my diary for nearly a month" (page 21). I copy her words into my commonplace journal. Then, I pull out my nature notebook and make my first entry in six months! The skink in my watercolor is too short and stubby. The artists in my family would see every flaw. I remind myself of a recent article about John Ruskin: "So if drawing had value even when it was practised by people with no talent, it was for Ruskin because drawing can teach us to see: to notice properly rather than gaze absentmindedly. In the process of recreating with our own hand what lies before our eyes, we naturally move from a position of observing beauty in a loose way to one where we acquire a deep understanding of its parts."

My goal is not to produce great art. My goals are to learn how to see, observe beauty in a skink, and understand its parts. Process, not product.

I think about the nature lists in the back of a notebook, which Laurie suggests students adapted to their own needs. I spend time in two states regularly and have a special walking place for both. Rather than sorting my items by kind (flower, bird, insect, etc.), I decide to sort mine by place. I get out my ruler and draw lines in the back of my notebook. Since I'm halfway through the notebook I begin my calendar with June 2014, rather than January. I make it a year and a half, rather than two. I leave a column for notes. I title it "Santee List." My first walk yields sixteen items: broad-headed skink (Eumeces laticeps), crane fly (tipulidae), eastern pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis), roly poly (Armadillidium nasatum), daddy long-legs (Pholcus phalangioides), orchard orbweaver (Leucauge venusta), banana spider (Nephila clavipes), tiger beetle larva "chicken choker" (Cicindelinae), eastern tent caterpillar tent (Malacosoma americanum), catalpa leaf (Catalpa bignonioides), bald cypress wood (Taxodium distichum), unripened black cherries (Prunus serotina), sweet gum balls (Liquidambar styraciflua), huckleberry (or blueberry or...?), white blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albidum), and naked puffball (Lycoperdon marginatum). Here's a video of the whacky crane fly.

Maybe, I'll attempt a calendar of firsts next spring.

I head over to AO's thread about this section of the book. One person asked about identifying and naming things. I write,
On learning the names of things, we take pictures and post them on Facebook. You would be amazed at how passionate the conversations between parents, grandparents, and knowledgeable friends get in naming things. If we don't know what something is, we give it our own pet name. There was this spider that we called either neon spiders or alien spiders and, one day, I got the perfect picture and we were able to name it: orchard orbweaver.

I think it is healthy for children to realize that *WE* are lifelong learners. It's okay not to know something and to research it together. Our elementary students do spend some of their free time trying to find the name of something and it is exciting when they figure it out and share it with the class. Also, you sometimes need to see something several times and to watch it undergo seasonal changes and to observe its behavior before you can name it. It's the relationship that really matters, not the name. The name is just the icing on the cake.

Oh, the funniest thing is when you learn that something has no common name. Then, the kids start to debate what the name should be!
Here are glimpses of Glory from our last walk.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Offering a Full Life

Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. 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. ~ Charlotte Mason (page 170)
Recently, a Facebook friend asked what we would like in a daycare program for special needs adults. What I described was basically a full life as described by Charlotte Mason. While the programs in my area don't meet her lofty expectations, our school does! At the beginning of the year, I imagined I would hang out there and teach Pamela when I wasn't helping out. Family obligations for two of our staff put a serious dent in my time with her, so she attended class with the elementary students for the last two terms of the school year.

Because her teacher and classmates were so gracious and giving, Pamela had a wonderful year! When we moved to Carolina almost a decade ago, I would have never imagined her attending class all day long with her academic peers. All I can say is that God is good!

She joined her class for all manner of living.

Weekly Nature Walks

Classroom Critters

Reading and Narrating Living Books

Science Projects





Field Trips

Tracking Snow Tracks

A Pool Party


Term Finales
I'm especially pleased about the term finales. Even though Pamela narrated less frequently and less consistently than she would have with me one-on-one, clearly she paid enough attention to have something to say during her term exams. Not only that, she has transitioned to doing all her term finale questions in writing. So, besides the benefits of having to self-regulate to the demands of a typical classroom, she made progress in her academics. That's a more than acceptable trade-off, especially when I consider the alternatives for her as an adult in the autism spectrum.