by Melanie Bettinelli on May 22, 2013
John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”
Isabella Stewart Gardner by John Singer Sargent
Today we took a field trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Dom got a Living Social deal and we figured it was about time for our art loving Bella to visit the museum founded by her namesake.
Isabella Stewart was a New York heiress who married a Bostonian. They traveled extensively and she developed a taste for art, especially Renaissance Venetian art. When she inherited her father’s fortune she became a collector and after her husband died she built a gorgeous Italian style pallazzo on the Fenway to house her eclectic collection. The museum is rather a challenge for curators as Isabella’s will specified that the permanent collection cannot be substantially changed. The museum can neither add to or remove from the collection nor can they so much as move the objects and paintings around. In the Dutch room the empty frames of two stolen Rembrandts hang on the wall, stolen in 1990 in one of the most famous art heists in history.
I just love this museum. I love that it has so much personality, you can feel the presence of the woman whose vision it was. All the pieces, great and small that she collected. Here a bunch of vestments, there a collection of little glass bottles. Here a table set with golden cups and fine china, there a glass case full of lace. Chinese and Egyptian pieces, Greek and Roman, Medieval and Renaissance and Impressionist pieces jostle together with reliquaries, sketches, and furniture. There is a room full of tapestries with a gigantic fireplace, the intricately carved mantle is from France. A portrait of Mary Tudor, a self portrait of Rembrandt, a beautiful sedan chair, choir stalls, sarcophagi….
My favorite part of the museum is the central courtyard atrium. A fountain plays, orchids and hydrangeas bloom around a mosaic floor with a central medallion of Medusa’s head, the whole surrounded by beautiful cloisters filled with statues and objects d’arts. The glass roof is four stories above you and you feel like you are outside. I kept thinking: that’s is what I need in my house, a space where the kids can run and play in all weather but feel they are outside. Yes, I really wish I could live in the museum. I could get used to waking up in a room where I could look out on that courtyard full of flowers and green. It really is a little slice of heaven.
I wish I had photographs, but no cameras are allowed in the museum and no cell phone activity either. You’ll just have to click through and explore the museum’s site, which does let you browse their collections both by rooms and by genres and has a nice Explore feature as well.
Bella, Sophie, and Ben all loved it. Though as usual when going with children, we can’t stay very long. We arrived not long after the museum opened at 11, wandered over the first floor until 12. Then went out to have a picnic in the park across the street while watching the geese, squirrels, sparrows, and passing art students. The children amused themselves throwing sandwich crumbs and cheerios to the sparrows. At bedtime Bella told me that was her favorite part of the day. But she loved the art too. I know we will be back to this special place many times. (And as an Isabella she will get in free for life, though that doesn’t matter now as all children under 18 are free in accordance with the museum’s mission to teach art appreciation.)
After lunch we spent another hour or so wandering the second and third floors. Our exploration of the third floor was rather rushed since it was well past Anthony’s nap time and even Bella, Ben, and Sophie were fading. One rule of visiting museums with little people is to remember that you can’t see everything. You have to plan to give them enough to whet their appetites, trusting that some day you will return to drink more deeply. But it would take many days even for enthusiastic adults to begin to scratch the surface of this remarkable museum.
I did let each of the big kids get a print at the museum gift card since our Living Social deal included fifty dollars to spend there. Sophie got a beautiful picture of chrysanthemums, Bella got a portrait by John Singer Sargent of a woman holding a wine glass, Ben got a Spanish St Michael. I figure letting them each have a piece of art which is theirs is a great way of helping them to make connections, to feel that the art is theirs and the museum is theirs. Now I just need to go get some frames…. We also have some prints they got at Christmas and some I found on great sale last year. Once they are all framed the kids’ rooms are going to be little art galleries. How fun is that?
Oh and Lucia? How did she make out, you ask. She slept the whole time in the sling. Didn’t even wake up for lunch.
You can also read more about the museum and the famous theft at the museum’s Wikipedia page.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 16, 2013
1. Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?, an article in the NY Times.
I agree with the author that the industrial-factory model is the basic problem in education. I’m not really convinced that the proposed professional model they offer in it’s place goes far enough in challenging what is problematic in the current state of affairs because it doesn’t necessarily obliterate the old paradigm. It only attacks it in terms of the organization of teachers—replacing one kind of bureaucracy with another kind of government oversight structure: certification, bar exams—and does not address the philosophy of education itself. It doesn’t necessarily mean teachers will interact with students in a meaningfully different way. Unless it completely overthrows the notion that children can be treated like interchangeable parts and that education can be “standardized.”
But I’m convinced we make our children dumber by sending them to school. How? By stopping reading books over their heads when they arrive in kindergarten. Suddenly graded readers allow them to read only books that they can decode themselves. What they used to read passively (through their ears) is too often removed from their diets because “it’s above their level.”
It’s to the point now where the children of 50 years ago don’t remember that their parents read fairy tales, adventure stories, fables, etc. to them before they were in school. So they only read Dr. Seuss to their children and those children aren’t particularly interested in reading but if they are they are inclined to read very simple, inane, contentless works to their children.
We must make at least two distinctions: that between dependent and independent reading and that between reading and decoding. A child is reading dependently when he needs someone else to decode the sound symbols (letters) for him. He may not yet know how to decode or he may just feel like listening. The point is that he is being read to. But his intellect is still reading. The order and structure of the communication is the order and structure of written communication, which is a significantly different thing from spoken communication.
While listening, his eyes are not reading, but his mind is. This distinction is critical. When the child begins to decode words, he is not, to be very precise, reading. He is decoding symbols. The intellectual activity is profoundly different, which is why you can have a superb reader who can’t spel to saiv his lyfe.
3. A critique of California’s new recommended reading list of books for English, science and socials studies teachers: Reading list is diverse, inclusive and useless
. . . the list is too long and too indiscriminate. It contains 7,800 titles—2,500 for grades 9 – 12 alone—and it sets dozens of classics among thousands of contemporary, topical titles without distinction. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is followed by Macho, a 1991 tale of an illegal immigrant who becomes a field worker. Little Women makes the list, but the description of it says nothing about its historical status. Every work gets the same treatment, a one-sentence statement of content. The field is overwhelmingly wide and it has only one level, ranking Leaves of Grass, Huck Finn, etc. equal to pop culture publications.
Common Core Standards call for students to “demonstrate knowledge” of the ‘foundational works of American literature,” such as Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Bauerlein writes. The California list buries the classics in a pile of pop lit. The Iliad is on the list. So is Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven and a sequel to The Da Vinci Code
Part of what I think may be the basic problem with the “Common Core” reading list and with national standards in general is that we can’t even agree on what is “foundational”. Our society no longer has a common understanding of what we should be teaching our children. Modern America is secular, relativist, materialist, consumerist. Not many people still believe that we should be passing on a great Western Christian tradition to our children. Many people , especially in academia and education, the kind of people who are formulating these lists, don’t believe we have a cultural heritage that is worthy of being transmitted. When all is relative and your opinion is as good as mine and there is no such thing as Truth and most of our history is bad because it’s all about white male imperialists, then who cares whether kids can understand their own cultural heritage. Again, this is impressionistic rather than a specific critique of the common core. But my gut guess is that the Common Core does not align with my ideas of what education should be.
It is thus not directly but through their families that children belong to the larger political community, and it is also through their parents that the political community exercises paternalistic authority over them (except in cases where the authority of parents is clearly failing to fulfill its function—i.e., cases of abuse and neglect).
In other words, children’s relationship to the political community is fundamentally different from that of adults, because it is mediated through their belonging to a family and living under the authority of their parents.
Harris-Perry’s view is wrong because it fails to recognize the family as an authoritative community distinct and relatively independent from the larger political community with regard to its internal affairs, primary among which is the education and raising of children. And it is dangerous because the eradication of independent, intermediate authority structures between the individual and the state—of which the family and the church are the two most fundamental—is precisely, as Hannah Arendt famously pointed out, the essence of totalitarianism.
Of course the Catholic understanding is that the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society and that parents are the primary educators of their children. Which doesn’t mean parents must be the only educators of their children, just that in sending their children to a school of their choice, which can include state schools, they are exercising their right to delegate some of the tasks of education to another person for a time and that the school stands in loco parentis, deriving authority over the child from the parent’s delegation. For the state to usurp that parental authority is a violation of a fundamental human right, not only the rights of the parents to educate their children but of the children to be protected and nurtured by their parents within the family.
Just some things to chew on. Please feel free to discuss at length. What do you think about the proposal for professionalization of teaching, about reading aloud and teaching reading, about the Common Core, and about schools taking ownership of children’s education?
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 08, 2013
This morning at breakfast Bella was busy coloring a picture of the annunciation that I’d printed off for her yesterday. When she’d finished coloring she decided she wanted to add some text. So she found her Bible story book and began to copy out the words from the story: “God sent the angel Gabriel to a little town called Nazareth…” She back to copying them out at dinner tonight (after taking off most of the day for playing) and still at it after Dom had tucked her into bed when I went in to say goodnight.
Once again I was struck at how she finds her own little ways to observe the liturgical events that mean something to her. And also how unschoolers are right, children who are allowed to follow their passions will learn well beyond any curriculum we could set them. If I’d tried to assign copywork, even something a fraction of the length, she’d have melted into a sobbing puddle. But when it was her own idea, she went at it with a will. Catechesis and art and handwriting all accomplished as well as a great satisfaction. She even pointed out to me that she’d done the floor in black and white squares just like Vermeer in his painting of the lace maker.
Something New, Something Other: An Annunciation Diptych Joanne McPortland’s reflection on similarities between artistic depictions of the annunciation and of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ.
There is the certain similarity of positions, although in the Annunciation it is Mary of Nazareth who turns away while the angel my kneel before her, and in the Noli me tangere Mary of Magdala falls to her knees while the Risen Christ turns slightly away. There is the tradition that both encounters occur in a garden—the walled garden (or closed room, with a garden visible beyond) of Mary’s virginity, the burial garden in which the Magdalene mistakes Jesus for a gardener—with its echoes of the reversal of the Expulsion from Paradise. Both begin with a greeting that overcomes fear, and both conclude with immediate evangelical action: Mary of Nazareth hastes to the hill country to be with her kinswoman, Elizabeth; Mary of Magdala speeds to her brothers with the good news.
There are other resonances that act like open and close parentheses. Mary of Nazareth wonders how she can be with child without ever having known the embrace of the flesh; the Risen Christ refuses Mary of Magdala’s fleshy embrace. (Neither is meant as a rejection of the embodied love by which God blesses marriages and families, but a signal that Something New, Something Other is happening here.) A filled womb, an empty tomb. The first time we hear of Mary of Nazareth in the scriptural story of Jesus; the last time we hear of Mary of Magdala.
by Melanie Bettinelli on February 11, 2013
I bought the embroidery hoops and felt squares in October. Finally broke them out today. Bella’s been bugging me about it for a while and I was sort of goaded by Melissa Wiley’s recent post of her six year old daughter sewing.
We really didn’t do a lot. I put their felt in the hoops and threaded their needles and tied the thread and then went crazy rethreading the needles and untangling snarls and trying to get them to be patient since all three of them seemed to need help at once. (We did this during Anthony’s nap while my dad was holding Lucia.) I think I might get some books and kits for the girls on their birthdays. Such as the ones Melissa Wiley was recommending the other day on her blog. (To which Dom says, “If Melissa Wiley jumped off a bridge…?” Yes. Yes. I would.)
Bella had obviously been paying attention to our Little House reading and how Mary is praised for her fine small stitches. She was trying to sew the smallest stitches she could. She sewed a very crooked cross and referred to it as her “embroidery” it was so cute.
Now I’m thinking that if Bella can be so inspired by reading about characters learning to sew, maybe what we need is a literary heroine learning how to read to inspire her to push past her difficulty in that vein. I’m afraid our Bob books worked for a couple of days and then we hit book #3 or 4 and we were right back to tears and gnashing of teeth. I’m trying to think. It can’t be a preachy book where the point of the story is supposed to be learning to read. But is there a good work of literature whose hero or heroine masters letters and basic reading? (Not that I’m trying to push her. I’m backing off because clearly lesson-y things aren’t working and anyway she spends hours a day with her nose stuck in a book. But I think adding a few carrots might help her to give herself a push so to speak.)
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 24, 2012
Today we took a field trip to Gore Place, a Federal period mansion and home of Massachusetts Governor Christopher Gore. The occasion for our trip was a special program they were offering for the month of October, which is archaeology month in Massachusetts. When someone shared a list of archaeology month activities to our local homeschooling group site, it grabbed my attention because Bella has been quite taken with her archaeology books (checked out from the library to coordinate with the introduction to Story of the World, which introduces the study of archaeology) and has even declared that she wants to be an archaeologist.
Many of the events were too far away and many more were only on Saturdays, which we’ve already set aside for our family farmer’s market expeditions; but Gore Place was only about half an hour away, and offered flexibility and a program that was open to children as young as Bella. A chance to observe a real life archaeological dig!
Visitors may observe an excavation and ask the archaeologists questions about how they do their work and what they are finding. The dig is part of the ongoing research by archaeologists from the Fiske Center at UMass Boston at this late 18th/early 19th century home of Massachusetts Governor and US Senator Christopher Gore and his wife Rebecca. Work this October and November will be on the site of the Gores’ 1806 greenhouse.
The dig looked just like the one in Bella’s book! And the archaeologist who we talked to was really quite wonderful. She was very good at explaining exactly what everything was, what everyone was doing. She asked the kids a lot of questions and listened to their answers. She tried to figure out what they already knew and then used that as a jumping off point to introduce them to new ideas and terms. She let the kids handle various artifacts they’d found: nails, bits of glass and brick and flower pots.
She showed us how they carefully record every finding and put them into labeled bags. She showed us the maps they make of the excavation site and demonstrated screening some dirt that had just been removed from the dig, letting Bella identify the bits she pulled from the screen. She explained that the procedures they follow for a 150 year old greenhouse in MA are the same as archaeologists would follow at a dig in Egypt for 2000 year old artifacts.
Of course that part of the day only took about twenty minutes or so. And after that the kids wanted to run around and play.
Facebook scored major points today. Last night when I made the last-minute decision to make this field trip I posted about it on Facebook. I was kind of hoping maybe other people I know in the area would be interested in going too. I was very surprised, though, when we pulled up to see my sister-in-law there with my nieces and nephews and two of her daughters’ friends as well. She homeschools too, but they live on the other side of Boston so we don’t see each other nearly often enough anymore. She thought a field trip sounded like a great idea and so packed up all nine kids in her van and came. This is one of the things I love about homeschooling: the way you can make last minute decisions, the way you can follow a passion or a momentary inspiration and make a discovery.
They did have to get back home to do their school work. And take care of the baby and toddlers. So after watching the kids climbing the tree and playing for a bit, she took off and I decided to take a walk around the estate, see what there was before we had a picnic lunch and then headed home ourselves.
We were thrilled to discover that the estate has a working farm with sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and a guard llama as well as a small vegetable patch.
We also got an impromptu tour of the carriage house when I poked my head in the office to ask if we could use the bathroom. The woman in the office was heading over to the carriage house and said we cold use the bathroom there. We got to see a couple of old carriages and a sled as well as the horse stalls.
She was curious about how we’d heard about the place and when I told her it was on a homeschooling group site, she asked if there wasn’t a site she could post information to to push it to homeschoolers. I was most impressed at all the programs they had and how eager she was to help people find out about their programs. As we were leaving I noticed that the information kiosk at the parking lot actually had a QR code you could scan to get an audio tour of the property on your phone. Too bad I missed that. Would have been fun. Maybe we’ll come back for one of the Christmas teas. Or the nature walks or story times. Or for the sheep shearing festival in the spring. I think Gore place definitely needs to be one of the places we come back to.
It was a most successful outing.
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 22, 2012
Having pretty satisfactorily completed our Antarctic explorations—I don’t want to push it to the point that Bella gets bored; better to leave off when she’s still fascinated by penguins—I’ve decided we should move on to Australia. So I put a few books in our library queue, starting with an Australian author Bella already knows and loves.
How we found Alison Lester, I’m not sure. Somehow when Bella was very little and we first began going to our town library Lester’s books were in a section that Bella kept returning to again and again. Just the right height or next to the table she liked to sit at or something. The illustration style is very distinctive and charming and we’ve explored a variety of books from counting books to stories about the seasons and stories about babies. When I began to look for Australia themed picture books, Lester’s name came up on a list and I was excited to add a few of her books to our pile. A couple of them were nice stories but not peculiarly Australian in theme. The one that has been most useful in helping us all to get a sense of geography, though is Are We There Yet?
The story follows a little girl named Grace and her family—Mum, Dad and brothers, Luke and Billy—as they take a three-month vacation to drive around the continent. (I love that the parents pull the kids out of school for the entire winter term. Roam-schooling!) The family visits landmarks and sees sights, go to museums and zoos beaches and raft trips, stay with friends and family. Grace has her hat eaten by an elephant, learns to juggle, snorkels, sees whales, and penguins and dolphins. You get a real sense of the breadth and range of Australia and yet it doesn’t feel didactic because it’s chock full of amusing family vacation anecdotes. Every other page spread ends with little brother Billy asking the iconic road-trip question that is evidently as well-known in Australia as it is here in the US: “Are we there yet?” You can trace the family’s journey on the frequent maps—there’s a complete map on the front end paper and a smaller, map that shows the journey so far on every other spread, the ones that don’t have Billy asking his question.
It’s a grand adventure that Bella, Sophie and Ben have all requested numerous times since we brought it home. I think we’ve read it every night.
I’d like to go one step further and take the time to look up various places and animals and even words we don’t know. Find pictures, videos, etc and get multi-media interactive—as much for myself as for the kids. I’m learning so much! So far we have listened to whale song, which the book mentioned, and I looked up the word “sook” which evidently means something like “crybaby”.
Other Alison Lester books we have now are Magic Beach and Isabella’s Bed, both are also big hits.
One other picture book on Australia that we’ve enjoyed is Over in Australia: Amazing Animals Down Under.
Because I’m finding myself intrigued by Australia as well, I got A Concise History of Australia for myself. I picked this one because it was what the library had. I’m rather enjoying it. It’s a relatively recent book. The author is very aware of postcolonial concerns, feminist concerns, etc and yet seems to be interested in presenting them as competing narratives. Not knowing anything about Australian history, I’m finding it a pretty readable introduction to get the broad sense of it. The author does throw out some Australian words that I don’t quite know the meaning of. It seems like I can’t get away from that sense of being not quite sure of what things mean. I’ve got a few more history books coming for myself. I’ll probably skim them unless they seem very compelling and to offer a great deal more insight.
So what picture books (or others) can you recommend for our continuing Australian adventure?
by Melanie Bettinelli on September 17, 2012
by Bernard Nebel
I wasn’t looking for a science text for Bella. I was quite content with a loose kind of nature study. Watching the birds at our feeder, following our observations and letting Bella’s questions guide our investigations with library books as a resource. But then in some comment box on some blog, I wish I could remember where, someone mentioned this title and something about their comment intrigued me. I looked it up on Amazon and browsed through the introduction and table of contents and suddenly found that there was a science curriculum that exactly matched my ideas about education, that exceeded my own plans and yet so perfectly slips into what we are already doing that it’s like it was made for us.
What do I like about Nebel’s science curriculum? First, it gives full credit to the youngest children, assuming that they are capable of real scientific understanding. And it pays attention to how children actually learn. The focus is on conceptual understanding not on memorizing scientific facts. Lessons lead children to observe carefully, to think about what they’ve observed, to reason and draw conclusions. And the lessons build on the children’s real world experience, creating real relationships with the ideas they are exploring. They build on what children already know to help them understand new ideas.
Second, the lessons are laid out as stepping stones that build knowledge and understanding logically and systematically. While I’m not really good at creating this sort of systematic approach, it really appeals to me. It fills in many of the gaps that I would otherwise not think to cover with Bella.
Third, this is meant to be a comprehensive science curriculum. It doesn’t pick and choose from a menu of topics; but rather lays the foundations for understanding in all branches of science. Lessons are divided into four categories or threads that are followed in tandem (the nature of matter, life science, physical science, earth and space science) and the lessons within each thread are designed to build on on another in a carefully designed path. But the threads are also interconnected so that some lessons from one thread will be foundational for later lessons in another thread. So the lessons in the first thread lay the foundations directly for a later study of chemistry and chemical reactions; the second thread builds toward biology, anatomy and physiology, etc. I like that the curriculum doesn’t shy away from presenting lessons on energy, generally omitted from early science curriculum as being too abstract; but Nebel argues, the omission often leads to false notions taking root that are later difficult to erase. Lessons also tie into geography and will also build reading, writing and math skills.
Fourth, this is not a textbook that the child reads but a handbook for the instructor. It lays out the full lesson, gives broad outlines for discussions, presentations, follow-up activities, review, ideas for teachable moments, and ideas for things you can do at home and it always points to how each lesson ties into what has gone before and what will come later. It very easily translates into a home school environment. It demands no special knowledge or preparation from the instructor, anyone can pick this up and teach real science. It also demands no special materials but uses things we’ve already got available in our home.
Each chapter provides a list of additional reading, books that we can check out from the library to read and reinforce the ideas in the lesson. This is perfect for Bella and me. She gets so excited by the real books that we bring home that tie in with our science lessons. We’ve been getting ten to fifteen books and reading through them. Usually she’ll settle on one or two that she wants to read over and over again.
We’ve been dipping into this book slowly and really letting each lesson sink in with plenty of time for activities, questions, and follow-up reading. I don’t feel we need to rush things at all.
So far we’ve done just a few of the chapters, which has involved several lessons on organizing and categorizing and several on solids, liquids, and gasses and some lessons on energy. Bella has thoroughly loved these, so much so that she told me she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. The activities are also fun games that Sophie gets involved in too.
Our most recent topic has been energy. This was definitely one that would not have come up in our nature study format and yet Bella has absolutely adored it. First we discussed that energy is what makes things change or move or work. Then we discussed four broad categories of energy: light, heat, electric, and movement and we went around categorizing everything that works or changes by what kind of energy does the work. Then we got a bunch of books from the library mainly on electricity and fuels. Bella’s favorite was one on electricity that had a diagram of a hydroelectric plant and showed how movement energy became electricity and how it travels through wires to houses and businesses. She has now been happily identifying pylons and transformers and electric meters as we drive around and happily pointing out that she has broken the circuit when she flips a switch to turn off a light.
I plan to do future lessons on distinguishing between living, non-living natural, and man made things as well as some follow ups on energy. After that we will perhaps dive into the difference between plants and animals. Then perhaps an investigation into sound, vibrations and energy. Or maybe we’ll do gravity. The fun thing about the four threads is that we can have a variety of topics and still be on the path. I can switch things up and as long as I don’t go out of sequence we can have fun moving between the various branches of science.
Last year I only did two lessons for Bella’s kindergarten. I hope to step up the pace this year and do maybe two a month. But I also do like to give Bella enough space to really delve into a topic and I don’t feel a need to rush. We’ve got two years to finish the book. I do plan to keep going through the summer. No need to take a break from science. And if I go too slowly and need to step up the pace considerably next year to get through everything before we move on to Level 2… well, I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
And meanwhile we continue our relaxed nature study, our observations of the world around us, answering all of Bella’s questions, picking up books on topics that interest her like penguins and Antarctica and downy woodpeckers and anteaters. I don’t do any less of all the other science-y things I was doing already before I found this book. We read books about birds and earthworms, we talk about rocks and algae as topics come up. It’s just that on top of all that I now have a structured path that gives me an overall, systematic game plan to make sure she’s really building understanding and habits of scientific inquiry and that we aren’t leaving too many egregious gaps that we’ll have to scramble to fill later.
Nebel also has a second volume for grades 3-5 and a third volume for grades 6-8. Can I tell you how much I love that this isn’t separated by grade-level year but instead divides it into much more realistic sequences to follow over a much longer span of time? I don’t feel like I have to scramble to get it done on a timetable because I have a much longer view of where we are going.
One thing I am not so fond of: it is written specifically for classroom teachers and not homeschoolers so the outlines of discussions and activities assume the teacher as leader of a group. This means it takes a bit more mental work for me to translate them to discussions and activities that will work for my class of one—occasionally two. It isn’t a highly scripted book, it only offers a broad outline of a possible discussion. I thought I’d like that but when I sit down to prepare I’m often tired and distracted. And I’m a big picture thinker—I tend to see the forest rather than the individual trees unless I’m really focusing. Sometimes I have a hard time translating big picture ideas into concrete details of a lesson plan a more detailed script would at least give me something to depart from. However, this is really a minor quibble.
On the whole, I am very glad I’ve found a science curriculum that so neatly slips into our learning lifestyle.
by Melanie Bettinelli on September 08, 2012
It seems we’re on a homeschooling roll here at The Wine Dark Sea. It will probably settle down as we settle into our school year. But for now what we’re doing is at the top of my mind. This post, though, refers to books we were reading a couple of weeks ago. Things have just been too crazy to finish it before now; but I’m tired of it nagging me, so here goes.
Bella is already well on her way to being conversant with a number of artists thanks in large part to the Mike Venezia Getting to Know the World’s Great Artist series—I confess I’m not a huge fan of Venezia’s cartoons but Bella and Sophie love the series and I love the resulting familiarity with the artists. If you ask Bella who her favorite artist is, she’ll answer Mary Cassat. She also knows and loves Georgia O’Keefe and is familiar with Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renior, Edgar Degas, Edward Hopper, and perhaps a few others I can’t think of. I decided I wanted to tackle Vermeer next because well, I really like his work and I thought it would be interesting to her as well. So while I was ordering up our stack of Antarctica books, I also threw in a few books on Vermeer too.
I was right. It took a few days to get past the penguins but Dom did read Venezia’s Vermeer book to Bella one night and I am sure it sank in at least a bit. I think I’ll buy this one and add it to our library because she does love to read them over and over again but only when the mood strikes her. They are very kid friendly and the perfect tool to begin what I hope will be a lifelong love affair. After all, it was Venezia’s Mary Cassatt book that had Bella almost in tears when we saw a real life Mary Cassatt painting at the MFA.
Then one afternoon found Sophie and Bella and I snuggled on the couch looking at a big beautiful book of Vermeer’s paintings: Vermeer: The Complete Works. This book was perfect for us because it was large enough to really get a good sense of the details in the gorgeous full color, high-quality plates and yet was thin enough to easily hold on our laps. It contained his complete works but had only a very brief text accompanying each picture, so it was much lighter than the huge coffee table book that also had pages of text only. The descriptions weren’t hugely satisfying to read; but since I was mostly interested in looking at the pictures, that was fine by me.
And look we did. And discuss. We talked about the people and wondered what they were doing, imagining stories for them. We compared various people in different pictures. We noticed the light and shadows. We enumerated the various objects in each picture and then noticed the objects and articles of clothing that appear in more than one picture. Vermeer is very fun for that kind of I-spy game because he does use the same props over and over again. Sophie and Bella each had their favorites and Sophie found a few of the pictures uninteresting and wanted to skip over them. Mostly, though, they were entranced.
This book I found a copy of for very cheap and bought for our own collection. I also purchased a set of postcards, which I haven’t brought out yet. I think I want to save them for some kind of activity but I’m not yet sure what that will be. Highly recommended because it is both beautiful and affordable. Perfect for any home library.
I also picked up one book that was just for myself when it jumped out at me from the library’s catalogue page: In Quiet Light:Poems on Vermeer’s Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. Poetry inspired by paintings can be pretty insipid so I didn’t have huge expectations of this volume but I thought it might be interesting and was willing to give it a go. After all there is really no cost to getting a library book. I was very pleasantly surprised by the first poem, which may well remain my favorite of the collection. I read it in the car on the way somewhere and really wanted to read it aloud to Dom—however I was foiled by a certain three year-old who just had to make himself heard as he pontificated about trucks. I had to return this one to the library after reading it only once—poetry is like that, it takes so much more time than fiction or non-fiction—but I’m definitely adding it to my personal wish list. I need to read this book again. I want to have it on my shelves.
We checked out a few other Vermeer volumes; but these were the best of the lot. One of them was a huge coffee table book. It would be nice to have as a resource; but wasn’t something you could easily cozy up with on the couch. There were a couple of other children’s books; but they just weren’t ones the kids picked up and looked through or asked to be read. So they lost out by a sort of process of natural selection.
by Melanie Bettinelli on September 07, 2012
Do you see the Bettinellis, front and center? (I couldn’t get the kids in the picture without sitting in myself, which is why I’m the only mother in the “just the kids with the cardinal” photo.)
Many of my Catholic friends have a beautiful tradition of beginning their homeschooling year with a formal opening day and starting that off by taking everyone to Mass. I think I’m a little averse to the formal opening day thing—maybe I just have too much anxiety if I put too much weight on the first day. I’ve preferred to have a rolling start, beginning with one or two subjects a day and hopefully building to more consistency as we all figure out how to add in these new activities. So with no opening day, I didn’t take the kids to Mass at our parish—that probably would have derailed any attempts at lessons. However, this afternoon there was a formal opening Mass with Cardinal Sean for all homeschoolers in our diocese. I think there could have been no better way to kick of the school year.
Mass was at Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Newton, an absolutely gorgeous church. There was an opportunity for people to come early and have lunch and spend time socializing but last night was a terrible night. (I’d had a little tiny 8 ounces of Coke at lunch and my caffeine-sensitive toddler decided he couldn’t sleep. He spent most of the night bouncing between our bed and a pallet on the floor in our room. additionally, each of the other three had a wakeup. This after the two previous nights everyone had slept through the night without a peep.) So we were late getting started and arrived just before Mass began, having to squeeze through the knot of priests and altar servers waiting for the cardinal at the back of the church. But we did manage to sit before the opening hymn began. And though it was high nap time and Anthony only slept twenty minutes or so in the car, we made it through Mass with no meltdowns and only a few slight, quickly quashed crises (such as when Anthony thought it would be funny to bite my shoulder. Ouch!) Of course in that crowd a fussy baby or screaming toddler would have raised no eyebrows and received no stink-eyes. We were one of the smaller families present and there were plenty of babies and no shortage of happy squawks and miserable wails.
Cardinal Sean gave an inspiring homily in which he referred to homeschooling as an excellent form of Catholic education and exhorted parents as the primary educators of their children to teach their children above all to fall in love with Christ. He also quipped that St Anne homeschooled Mary and that Jesus was homeschooled by Mary and Joseph. We are so very blessed to have a bishop who understands and supports the homeschoolers in his flock. He’s even appointed Father Ed Riley, our former pastor and current director of formation at the seminary, as a special liaison to the homeschooling community.
The children’s choir sang beautifully. I wish I’d kept the program because my tired mommy brain doesn’t remember the selection of hymns. But I was blown away by the Kyrie and Sanctus and, well everything. I wished we could have lingered and looked at the church. I wish we could have been there early enough to have real conversations with all the fabulous friends who were there, most of our homeschooling acquaintances live much too far away to see more than a few times a year.
The drive there and back was a strain and everyone was tired and cranky when we got home and again at bedtime. Still, of all the special outings we can squeeze into our school year, I think this is one of the most important both for the kids and for me. A wonderful reminder of why we do what we do and that all of it must begin and end in the love of Christ and, as Cardinal Sean reminded us, the most important knowledge of all is the knowledge of Christ’s love for us, the love of an enthusiastic bridegroom for his beloved bride.
What a blessed way to begin the academic year!
Many thanks to Dalila Patrizzi for the use of the photos. I was far too busy to take any of my own. Also, a very great thank you to her for doing all the hard work of organizing the Mass. That it happened at all is really a testimony to her perseverance and faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on September 01, 2012
Looking at a digital sign outside one of the museum cafes. The sign was some contemporary art piece that Sophie wanted me to read to her. I love the expressions on all the kids’ faces, captivated by the moving lights.
On Thursday Mom and I took the kids to Boston for a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. I wanted to catch a Renoir exhibit before it ended next week. I knew that both Bella and Sophie would enjoy the experience and recognize the three Renoir pieces as well as several of the other Impressionists. Then, I figured we’d wander a bit and let them get a taste of what the museum had to offer. I went ahead and bought a membership so we can come back again and again to experience the Egyptian and Greek and Roman art as we get to them in our history studies and because I want all of the children to get used to going to museums and looking at art without needing to feel rushed or like we have to try to see everything in one trip.
The MFA brought in two canvases from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris to show Renoir’s three large dancing paintings together. I wish we could have lingered longer but we moved through this gallery and really the whole museum at a pace that was comfortable to Ben. Still, pretty awesome to see these pieces together.
Ben kept tangling himself up in my skirt. Ugh. Why must he do that. He raced through this gallery excitedly pointing at each painting. Then when we moved on to the next gallery he just crumpled. “I want to go back to where there’s sun!” he complained. Overwhelmed already, I had to pick him up as he sobbed loudly. I carried him through a couple of rooms and then when he’d stopped crying I put him into the stroller. After that he was fine for the rest of our visit. He whined and complained a bit but no more loud scenes.In general he was a great trooper who patiently tolerated many, many galleries of pictures, most of which he was completely indifferent to though every once in a while something did catch his fancy. Still, I think in the future he will come to be as great a museum lover as his sisters. Had I been able to give him 100% of my attention and really guide his experience, I don’t think he’d even have whined so much; but I was also guiding Bella and Sophie and trying to navigate our path through the museum.
We have a very cute book, Linnea in Monet’s Garden, about a little girl who goes to Paris in search of Monet’s water lilies. Bella and Sophie love it. Tonight after having seen some Monet’s paintings in person, Ben requested it as his bedtime story. See, I think it is already beginning to sink in a little bit.
Anthony was an awesome trooper too. he sat calmly in the stroller for a long time. We got to the museum at about 10 and left around 2 with a break for lunch between 12 and 12:30. He got rather boisterous at lunch and his shriek earned us a few glances from other patrons in the cafeteria, but in the galleries he was so very well behaved with the only exception I can recall being the time when he began kicking Ben in the back at which point we swapped Anthony to the front of the stroller and Ben to the back seat, satisfying both boys. Toward the end he got a bit cranky and he was almost asleep in the stroller as we walked back to the car. He might be into everything at home; but he is surprisingly tranquil when we are out and about.
Bella loved every minute of it, though her little legs did get very tired by the end. She was so excited to see the Impressionist paintings, she loved the religious art and proved herself quite adept at identifying the subjects of various pieces. She was so thrilled when we found a canvas by her beloved Mary Cassat. Oh how her eyes glowed. (And why didn’t I snap a photo at that point? Oh yeah, I was too busy drinking in her joy.) She was quite surprised to see furniture and table ware being treated as works of art: “I didn’t know they had things like that at the museum!”
We were all charmed by this 2012 painting, Warren Prosperi’s Museum Epiphany III, a painting set in the gallery that it hangs in. Bella was especially delighted: “I didn’t know there were new pictures in the museum!”
We might have lingered a bit too long; I have a hard time pulling myself away from museums. So much to see. But we got out before anyone was having a meltdown and everyone reported having a good day. One sour note: I gave in to temptation and had a Coke at the cafeteria at lunch time. Then paid for it with a toddler who was up between about 12:30 and 3 am. Too much caffeine even for a child who only nurses once a day. Dom looked at all our pictures and heard our stories and was sad he couldn’t come with us. Bella will never have a first trip to the museum again. Well, I was sad too that I couldn’t go with him to the CNMC. This is our life, never quite enough time to do everything we want.
Still, I’ve decided that things are never going to get less complicated. I was a bit nervous about taking four small children to the museum; but when Lucia arrives in late December or early January things are just going to get more crazy. And after that, who knows. I’m going to embrace this crazy, complicated life with little people and stop waiting for a better time to do things. Once I decided that I wasn’t afraid of taking them all to the museum, I realized it was actually pretty easy to manage. I think I’d prefer to go with another adult; but I think even with Lucia perhaps we can manage a day at the museum. They have really nice nursing rooms with rocking chairs and little chairs for the kids to sit on and a changing table. Maybe this spring I’ll find that I’m even brave enough to take five little kids to the museum.