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 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 November 21, 2012
Forgive me, my memory is a sieve right now. I know I mentioned in the comments of a previous post that I was planning to write a longish post about First Grade and what I planned to do and how it’s actually panning out several months into the school year. I no longer remember which post it was nor who was inquiring about the topic. But at least I didn’t forget that I was going to write the post! Several people have asked me at various times about homeschooling first grade, curriculum choices, how it’s going, etc.
I thought a good starting point would be the education plan I wrote up at the end of the summer and submitted to our local district. It’s meant to be a framework and was written as much for my own benefit as for the district. It’s more of an idealized goal, a target to aim for, rather than a realistic daily agenda. I knew quite well as I wrote it that I was setting my sights very high and that there was no way we would accomplish everything I was outlining here. I also knew we’d probably do a lot of things that I hadn’t even considered as I made my plans. My general plan of homeschooling is rather like my ideal vacation: I have a list of destinations I’d like to visit, sights I’d like to see; but I also know that I love detours, the unexpected find, the spontaneous change of plans (so long is it’s my idea and not sprung upon me.)
So I’ll post the plan and amend it (in bold) with my notes about how we’ve been meeting those goals and how we’ve fallen short. I think this is a good point to pause a bit and re-evaluate and maybe think about what tweaks I’d like to make.
First, a note: my two primary goals for Bella’s first grade year were making progress with math and reading. Everything else was a distant second. Some may object that perhaps faith formation should be up there as a primary goal. And I agree—sort of. But I think of faith primarily as an encounter with a person and not a school lesson. Therefore the proper framework for developing that relationship is domestic church and not the school room. True, the two spaces overlap, are literally mapped one on top of the other; but I do separate them in my mind. My catechesis plans—the “school work” part of religious formation—are modest: I’d like to work on memorization of some prayers, learning the catechism, basically preparing her for making her first penance and first communion. We read Bible stories and lives of the saints. Most of faith formation, though, is not what we do but how we live. Thus I try to weave daily prayer into the fabric of our lives: I begin the day listening to the liturgy of the hours podcast in the kitchen as I make breakfast; I pause to pray the Angelus when my phone rings at noon and six; we pray grace before meals; we gather at the end of the day as a family for bedtime prayers. We go to Mass on Sundays and holy days. We try to go to Adoration with other homeschoolers, to the inaugural Mass for homeschoolers with Cardinal Sean, and to build relationships with various priests and religious. Mainly what we do is establish habits of living the faith as a regular part of our family.
Education Plan for Academic Year 2012-2013
We plan to utilize many resources in our area including, but not limited to, local libraries, museums, historical societies, and the internet. We reserve the right to modify Isabella’s educational plan as her needs dictate.
Sophie and Ben play with the math manipulatives after Bella’s lesson. Making silly shapes.
Textbook: Saxon Math
We will complete Saxon K and then move into Saxon 1
[Since we didn’t do any formal math work last year, I didn’t think Bella was quite ready to jump over the K book to Saxon 1, but I also thought the K book might be a little simple for her. As I suspected when I wrote up my plan, Bella is moving rapidly through the K curriculum. In mid-November we are already doing lessons that the textbook has scheduled for February. Some lessons we are skipping altogether, such as identifying shapes and colors and other lessons that are mainly review. For some topics I’m consolidating a couple of lessons into one day’s work. The Saxon book schedules 12 lessons in a month and since we usually have been doing math four or five days a week, we’re well ahead. I know we’ll miss a week or two with the new baby; but I’m hoping to finish the K book early this spring and then move on into the first grade book.
As I expected, the hands-on math is really working for us. The variety of manipulatives makes math lessons seem like fun and games rather than work. (To me as well as to Bella.) Though there is actually a drawback there because Anthony and Ben usually want to play with whatever Bella is playing with. Finding things for them to do during math lessons can be a challenge.
Since Bella still doesn’t read or write, this Saxon curriculum is perfectly suited for her abilities. I am so very glad I didn’t just try to do math on my own. Also, I’m rather surprised how much I like having scripted lessons to work from. Not that I stick strictly to the script; but when I’m sleep fogged, I don’t want to have to think too hard. Improvising with something to start from is easier than making it up whole cloth.]
Look! A triangle!
Primary textbook: Elementary Science Education: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, Vol. I, grades K-2 : Bernard J Nebel PhD
This will be supplemented with various books from the reading lists appended to each chapter.
Additional special topics as she expresses interest. For example, she’s asked to learn more about insects and fungi.
Also, firsthand observations of flora and fauna in our immediate neighborhood and on field trips. Observations will be kept in a nature notebook.
I have planned supplemental field trips to the zoo, science museum, arboretum, butterfly exhibit, etc.
[We’re working our way through this book really slowly. As in I think we’ve done two lessons this fall. I’m mainly using it to launch unit studies rather than working my way through it with any kind of diligence I do like the book; but am a bit frustrated that the lessons aren’t more scripted. Having to think of what to say and to adapt them to Bella’s needs does get me frustrated and leads to my putting off preparing new lessons. Bella loved the unit on energy and we spent almost a month reading supplemental books on the topic. We did a lesson on air as matter, which was less interesting to both of us. Now we’ve been sidetracked away from this book to a topic that Bella picked on her own: an intensive study of rocks and minerals and fossils along with reading about archaeology in conjunction with our history lessons. I’m waiting until we finish our rocks books and archaeology books before moving on to another science topic. We had a special field trip to an archaeological dig. Bella has been pretending to be an archaeologist, digging under the couch cushions to find all sorts of treasures and digging in the backyard and finding bits of flower pots and other ceramics. She’s also been curating collections of rocks and shells. We’ve identified a couple of new birds in the yard and gone on a few nature walks. Science is happening but not as much as I’d like. Definitely not my strong suit.]
Bella says that this rubber band represents the Nile River. Later she stretched it into a broad rectangle to represent the Nile in flood.This was supposed to be a math lesson; but I guess it became geography.
History—History of the Ancient World
Primary textbook: The Story of the World Volume I by Susan Wise Bauer
Will supplement with additional books from the library and online resources as needed.
Will supplement with field trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
[We’re making our way through Story of the World pretty slowly. I was aiming for a chapter a week—they’re short and I was hoping to supplement with library books—but we’ve missed a few weeks and haven’t caught up. We have gone on a lovely long detour through Ancient Egypt. Bella has loved David Macauley’s Pyramid and several library books on Egypt (with a detour through Macauley’s Castle and Cathedral while we were at it.) This Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we plan to go to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to visit the Egyptian galleries.]
Bella says this triangle is the Nile Delta.
Lessons with globe and atlas will tie in with history lessons and literature studies.
Supplemental work with maps and cultural studies as interest arises.
Additionally Isabella has been keeping a geography notebook with a section for each continent that includes a map, pictures of indigenous animals, and will include pictures of people we’ve read about. Currently we are engaged in a unit study on Antarctica. I anticipate that we will move on to study of Australia and then Africa as Isabella’s interests dictate.
[We’ve looked at the map in conjunction with the Little House books, we’ve looked at the globe for various purposes including finding Egypt and Mesopotamia for history. We spent some time on Google maps looking at aerial views of present day Egypt and at the Great Pyramid at Giza. We checked out some books on Australia, though Bella didn’t get into that as much as Antarctica, the one about the family that spends the summer driving around all of Australia taught us all a lot about Australian geography. Bella has spent a little time working on her geography notebook. It’s the kind of thing she does when the whim strikes her.]
Read aloud books may include:
Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Melissa Wiley
Pooh stories by A.A. Milne
Doll stories by Rumer Godden
Milly-Molly-Mandy stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace
Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Others will be added as interest arises.
[We’ve worked our way through the Little House series to On the Banks of Plum Creek. This is our most consistent read aloud. We read it almost every day. We pick up Betsy Tacy and put it down. I think we’re on Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill. We’re still doing Five Little Peppers on occasion and Milly-Molly-Mandy. We read from something almost every day. I’m not trying to have Bella do any narration; but her comprehension is extremely high and her memory for what we read is excellent. She often recalls details I forget. I often overhear Bella and Sophie incorporating details from the books we read into their games.]
Bella’s handwriting practice. She copied the labels off the cans we’d been using to buy and sell for our math lesson. One thing I’ve noticed is how much more likely she is to find self-directed work to do after we’ve done a little work that I’ve directed.
Daily copy work, first working on forming the letters of the alphabet, then, as she develops proficiency, moving on to short passages from our literature selections.
[Bella bristles when I try to assign copywork; but when it’s her own idea she can spend hours copying letters on her own. Since my primary focus is on her learning to read first and write only once she’s gotten some mastery, I tend to just leave it to her to work on as she wishes. Often after our reading lesson she will decide to pull out paper and copy something or other. She sometimes has me write words for her to copy. She loves copying words off the covers of books. She’s also copied words off of cans and boxes and packages. Her handwriting has improved remarkably since the beginning of the year and I’m quite pleased with her efforts.]
Bella with a moth. Sophie found this moth that looked just like the yellow maple leaf it was perched on. Of course by the time I got the camera the moth had crawled off the leaf. It didn’t want to hold still for the camera. This was the best shot we could get.
The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise
Reading practice with various books at grade level.
Spelling practice using lists culled from the same books.
[I am so indebted to my dear friend Kate Wicker for suggesting this book to me. Both of my girls love it and four-year-old Sophie is learning to read right along with Bella. I love hearing both of them chanting together: “B stands for /b/ as in /b/, /b/ bat; C stands for /k/ as in /k/, /k/ cat...” We’ve worked our way through the alphabet and will probably finish learning the sounds of the letters by the end of next week. Then we’ll begin to read small words. But really they are already sounding out and reading and spelling short words all the time. We look at letter in the books we read and on signs and on packages at the grocery store. They have both become hyper-aware of the print all around them. They are very good at remembering the sounds of the letters they’ve learned. And a bonus is that Sophie, who has always had a little lisp with L and R is learning how to hear and say them correctly. At first teaching them vowels vs. consonants seemed extraneous; but it really does help. So does discussing the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonants, discussing where your tongue is placed when you make a sound and when a sound is nasal. We laugh at the nasal sounds and the way V vibrates our lips and they remember the sounds.Sophie sometimes remembers the sound of a letter when she can’t recall its name. It took us a bit of time to get up to speed and really get into the habit of doing a reading lesson every day; but now the girls look forward to it eagerly. And I really have hope that Bella and Sophie will both be reading on their own by the end of the academic year.]
Faith Formation (Catechesis)
Biographies of saints
Catechism memorization using the book Jesus and I
Additional work based on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, lesson plans found in Home Catechesis 3-6 by Moira Farrell
[We haven’t been reading many Bible stories but that tends to go in spurts. I’m sure one will come around sooner or later. We’re enjoying books on Blessed Pier Giorgio, St Pio of Pietraclina, and St Damien of Molokai. We lost the catechism book for month but recently found it again. I have only done one CGS presentation, that of the good shepherd. The kids all loved it. My parents sent us the Mass kit and I have yet to actually do a presentation. I keep forgetting. Part of it is having to wait until Anthony’s nap. Recently I’ve been falling asleep when I go to put him down. Then Bella wants to do her read alouds and Sophie and Ben want me to read them books too. This is also the time I allotted for science and catechesis and it doesn’t really seem like that plan works. However, there really isn’t any other time. So I’m not stressing about it too much. Bella is pretty solid in her faith and Sophie and Ben aren’t bad. We’ll get to it eventually.]
Math: graphing shoes
We will choose one composer each six-week term and will read a biography and listen to a selection of compositions.
Composers may include: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak, Brahms, Handel, Schubert.
[I tried to do Bach. We read a biography and listened to some of the pieces mentioned. Bella enjoyed it; but it wasn’t a book she wanted to read more than once. I’m thinking maybe we’re not quite ready for this. Or I haven’t found the right approach yet. But we listen to a wide variety of music all the time, including classical. I think that much of music appreciation come with just hearing good music. And so maybe we’ll save composers for learning when we learn about their historical periods. That would seem to make sense anyway.]
We will chose one artist to study each six-week term and will read a biography and will study one picture per week.
Artists may include: Georgia O’Keeffe
Lilly Martin Spencer
Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun
Rembrandt van Rijn
We will supplement with trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and other local museums.
[We’ve been to the MFA once and we bought a membership so we hope to go again several times in the next year. Bella loves the museum and loves art in general. She’s very visual and can spend hours looking at pictures in books. She’s very good at recognizing artists by their styles. One day after a library trip she was going through the bag and found a book I’d added to the pile. “I love this new book by Jan Brett,” she announced. Of course, she was correct that it was a Jan Brett book. She’s seldom wrong when identifying style. We’ve started assembling a postcard collection of some of her favorite artists. So far we have Vermeer, O’Keeffe, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cassatt, and a few others. Bella loves looking through them (as do Sophie and Ben and even Anthony for that matter) and has even sorted them for me after her brothers tossed the cards all over the place. I think I’m going to pick up some books on Rembrandt soon. I think she’ll like him a lot.]
Art supplies are available for her to use at will. She frequently finds her own projects such as making paper doll families and doll houses.
Occasional guided art projects to experiment with various media such as collage, modeling clay.
Nature notebook (see Science above)
[It’s a good thing Bella is so good at finding her own projects. I tend to not be very good at finding things for her to do. She and Sophie will still spend hours on paper dolls and doll houses and such. She loves drawing pictures for Ben and for her drawing is a means of artistic expression as recently when Sophie pointed out a beautiful sunset and Bella rushed to get her sketchbook so she could “save” it. We have a bunch of clay but haven’t opened it yet. I’d love to have some time when I could work one on one with Bella. Having to find things for three younger ones to do does make being crafty hard. That’s one reason we haven’t done much with clay. Ben and Anthony would probably make a huge mess of it. I should add that she’s hoping to learn some sewing too.]
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 October 21, 2012
I’ve been following along with reading the lists posted by the Bookworm and elsewhere as a part of the Take Up and Read Picture Book Challenge; but haven’t thus far dived in myself. I think I’ve been too busy trying to implement all my ideas for Bella’s homeschooling curriculum to spend much time on picture books. (I really need to write my post about my big picture plan for this first grade year. One of these days.) Of course, that doesn’t mean we aren’t up to our necks in picture books, just that for the most part I’m sitting in the passenger seat and letting the kids drive—with the exception of few books I’ve grabbed off the shelved on our library expeditions. Even Anthony is picking out books these days and demanding his share in the fun. Bella is still loving picture books too. I thought I might do a haphazard list of some of the things we’ve been enjoying from the library and our own shelves. Just what pops in my head as I sit here with no real rhyme or reason but to record a little flavor of our days.
Anthony’s absolute favorite is The Wheels on the Bus. He enjoys Goodnight Moon too and will tolerate just about any board book. Like Ben he loves both the original Otis book and the sequel Otis and the Tornado. Anything with a dog or other animals gets a huge vote. He loves to point out the animals and barks at them all, horses, cows, and cats, “Wroo wroo”
Ben’s favorites continue to be books about cars, trucks, trains, and construction equipment. But he also loves some classics like Madeline and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. He will gladly sit through books about little girls and puppy dogs and sweet babies. He may be picky about food; but when it comes to books at least, like all my kids, he’s pretty much an omnivore.
Sophie doesn’t seem to have strong tastes in books. I can’t seem to find a rhyme or reason to her library picks except that she often gravitates to the board books—especially her favorite Sandra Boynton’s like Snuggle Puppy. She often grabs a book and then pages through it while narrating a story that has absolutely nothing to do with the book at hand. She weaves in names and words and phrases from various books we’ve read, often weeks before. She has a great ear for language and a whimsical sense of humor that often veers into the absurd and just plain silly. She is also absolutely enamoured of an OOP book I found online, The Photo Album of St Therese of Lisieux. The photos are black and white and you’d never think they could captivate a four year-old; but oh Sophie loves her St Therese and will stare at blurry group photos of Carmelite nuns for an hour at a time.
Bella loves picture books of all sorts as well. But she cherishes our time set aside for longer read alouds. Right now we’re working our way through On the Banks of Plum Creek, Five Little Peppers, Milly Molly Mandy Stories, Betsy, Tacy and Tib and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Also we just finished reading a biography of St Damian of Molokai. She continues to pick out books about penguins and other animals too. This week it was a book about tigers. Based on our reading of the first chapters of The Story of the World Vol I, and a picture book about archaeology Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke (part of the Let’s Read and Find Out about Science series I’ve come to love), she has decided she wants to be an archaeologist. The other evening she picked up the Eyewitness Book of Archaeology and flipped through it. Even without anyone to read it to her, she was captivated by the pictures. I really need to read that to her soon.
A couple of the recent books we’ve brought home from the library that everyone has enjoyed:
The Seven Silly Eatersby Mary Ann Hoberman. Simcha recommended it recently so when I saw it on the shelf I grabbed it. Even better than I expected! She didn’t prepare me for how much I would love, love, love the pictures. The story is absurd and fun.
Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard. A sweet story about two little girls visiting their great aunt in Baltimore and learning some of her history as she tells them about her hats. Something about this one really hit me. The language and pictures were beautiful, it really captured a feeling for the specific time and place. I loved the way food, family, memories and millinery all intertwine in a simple story.
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 10, 2012
Today we had to rush out the door to be at the pediatrician’s by 9 am. Somehow we totally missed Sophie’s physical in March when she turned four and the office sent us a card. So seven months after her birthday I finally got her in. Also all the kids got flu shots. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the flu shot but last year we all got it bad and this year we’re going to have a new baby right in the middle of flu season. I know that if we don’t get the shot and we do get the flu, I’ll be kicking myself. This way even if we do get another strain, I will have the satisfaction of knowing I did what I could to prevent it.
Anyway, our pediatrician and the receptionist both exclaimed about how good the kids all were. And they were good. And how little they cried at the shots. Ben and Anthony did cry a little but stopped within a minute after the shot was gone. Sophie and Bella were both very brave, though obviously distressed. Dr. S. kept telling them to look at me not her and Bella obediently did though I could tell she wanted to look at the needle. That’s exactly how I am. I want to see it go in so the prick isn’t a surprise. To me not seeing—as when I get the stupid spinal before a c-section—is so much worse. The anticipation and not knowing is far ickier than the needle piercing my flesh. Sophie just ignored the doctor and watched and held my hand. She wasn’t too traumatized by the flu shot; but the finger prick for the hemocrit and lead tests really upset her, having to have her finger squeezed again and again to get enough blood. Poor thing.
After the doctor visit we went to the library and returned all of our books except the one Antarctica book which has gone missing somewhere and The Everlasting Meal, which is due on Friday but I’m keeping it till I finish and paying the fine because that’s how I roll. I got a pile of books on ancient Egypt for Bella and a couple on Australia. For our history and geography studies respectively. Also a bunch on rocks and minerals because yesterday in the car she was asking me why rocks are shaped like they are as she studied a piece of rock (maybe shale?) I’d picked up on the beach on Saturday. So we had a nice geology discussion on the way to the grocery store. Then she asked about what clay is made of and then pointed out all the rock walls and other rocks she saw. I think we’re definitely in for a focus on rocks.
When we got home we had lunch and read some books. I read all of David Macauley’s Pyramid to Bella. Even before I read it to her, though, she’d already flipped through and studied all the pictures and enthused about it: “Thank you so much for getting me the Pyramid book, Mom!” And then tonight I heard her telling Dom that one of the rocks books had “pictures of a real volcano!” So though we didn’t do any math or reading or formal school, at least we did feed her hungry mind.
Bella invented this “video game” the other morning. The small gray diamonds were the two players, one was hers and the other belonged to her imaginary friend, Jane. Or rather, one was the player and the other was the “enemy” and she and Jane were taking turns playing either role. The player had to navigate the maze made with all the upended pattern blocks and then had to fight the enemy.
Speaking of math and reading, both are going pretty well the last two weeks. We’ve been fairly consistent about doing math right after breakfast. Bella does a brief lesson and that usually leads to doing a bit more than the lesson actually calls for. She’s very quick and the book goes rather slow. While Bella does math Sophie has decided to do a handwriting workbook I got for her. She does a page or two with my help. Then I do a lesson with both of the girls from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. Starting the day with math and reading often means that the girls find other ways to practice those skills during the day. Bella loves to count by tens and twos and to try to count by fives. We often do very simple addition and subtraction. Sophie and Bella both like to find letters they recognize on signs and packages and books. And Bella, who is very resistant to any assigned handwriting practice, enjoyed painting letters in very large format on a big sheet of paper and then voluntarily amused herself for a good long time on Sunday copying out portions of book titles onto a piece of paper and doing it pretty well. Thus proving that she does know how to write most letters and does much better with the proper motivation.
I got a good deal on some fine art postcard books on Amazon and we spent a day tearing them apart and filing them in a little box I got for the purpose. Both girls loved studying the Vermeer, Van Gogh, Cassat, O’Keeffe, and Renoir pictures and organizing and comparing and contrasting them. They exclaimed both over pictures they recognized and over new ones. Even Anthony and Ben took turns looking at some of the pictures.
We spent an afternoon doing a science lesson from the book about air. Talking about how all matter has weight (mass) and takes up space. Weighing a bunch of things on the kitchen scale and blowing bubbles with straws were some highlights of the day. We tried to do something with balloons but couldn’t actually blow up the ones I’d bought so I have to postpone that part until I can buy some different ones.
Dom gave an impromptu cooking lesson, talking the girls through the making of a pot of curry. Bella also got to pick out her own produce at the farmer’s market. She’s got a good understanding of what makes a balanced meal: “I haven’t had any fruit today,” she’ll announce. Or, “I need some protein.”
The other morning Ben was marching about singing a song he’d made up about Jesus. Then he and his sisters were acting out the Nativity story with Sophie as Mary and Bella as the Angel Gabriel. They all are able to join in saying the Our Father and Hail Mary and Glory Be—except that sometimes they refuse to do so. Even Anthony loves to make the sign of the cross and will repeatedly pat my arm and point to a cross of picture of Jesus: “Look, look, Jees, Jees!”
All in all I feel like I never quite seem to have enough time to do all the schoolish stuff that I want to do; but I am happy that the kids all have plenty of time for free play and exercising their creativity. I’m glad that they are eager to learn and explore and are full of questions. Seeing four kids sitting around in the living room looking at books or quietly engaged in interactive play and telling collaborative stories, I feel like a success.
I don’t think I have a real point. Just taking stock. Thinking about what is and what could be. Far from perfection but… eh, not so bad either.
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 17, 2012
On Thursday we went to the library and as we were getting into the car everyone was complaining about how terribly hungry they were. But when we got home out came the books and everyone except Anthony was rapt, faces firmly buried in their books. I had to almost pry them away to get them to eat lunch.
Then I went to put Anthony down for his nap and shooed them all outside to play. When Anthony was asleep I found them happily swinging on the swings. I hesitated to call them in for story time when it was such a lovely day so I gathered a pile of books and a big blanket and headed out to the yard.
When they spotted me, they first asked, “What are you doing? What are you doing?” Then I spread out the blanket under the maples trees and plopped the books down on it. “Books! Books! Books!” screamed Bella and Sophie and Ben as they ran across the yard and threw themselves down on the blanket. We had a lovely afternoon reading our way through the stack. When I went in to get some water I grabbed the camera because they made such a pretty picture.
Then Bella, Sophie and Ben each had to take a few pictures with the camera.
After a while Anthony woke up and joined us.