Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ancient Civ. Day 1-3

Day One

We began with the Neandertals and spent the morning foraging (in our vegetable garden) with no language. There's an awesome Dig magazine issue about this: The Truth about Cavemen, which is what made me decide to do Primitive People instead of jumping straight into Egypt. I think it is the September 2007 issue -- you can look it up online. Scientists are divided about how much language these primitive people have but we decided to do without completely. It was amazing how much the children loved it! Natalie is constantly asking me if we can go out on the playground without talking again. We tore apart summer squash with our hands and ate huge chunks of it raw -- surprisingly delicious. Before going outside we set up the classroom aquarium/terrarium (it is made up of two joined together) with tadpoles and I made the analogy between the metamorphosis of frogs and the advances of humankind. As we went through the classroom door to the outside we entered the Stone Age and it was freaky. I was almost hesitant to go through the door, so seriously were we taking it. Back inside we set up our timeline of the past 1.8 million years. One inch for every 10,000 years. Language came about in the time of the Upper Paleolithic Creative Explosion -- suddenly humans had art, language, music, clothing, homes, even religion. It was amazing how quickly after the advent of language we ended up with agriculture, and more technological advances following one after the other, compared to the Dark Ages beforehand.

The children all informed me that they were hungry. Our foraging wasn't an adequate snack. And so we discussed how eating small meals of whatever you could find meant you had to eat more frequently. In fact, you spent the entire day just trying to survive -- to eat and to keep from being eaten. Next we divided the children up into two teams (they named themselves the Fantastic Six Explorers and the Go Blue Explorers, one team of 5 and one of 6) and they each hid three common household items to be artifacts in an archaeological dig for the other team to find. It was a fantastic morning.

In the afternoon we dug up the artifacts, imagined what they might tell us about those mysterious (invented) cultures, and then ventured into Ancient Egypt. Egypt is a good one for explaining how we learn about the past a little at a time; namely, the discovery and subsequent translation of the Rosetta Stone. And Egypt was a wonderfully rich and fascinating culture. The annual flooding of the Nile, providing the people with enriched soil in which things grew easily; that and the naturally warm weather made it conducive to settling, which happened as long ago as 5500 BC. We talked about the Ancient Egyptian civilization a bit and ended the day with covering a tray of sliced cucumbers with salt as a mummification experiment. The salt is supposed to draw out all the water -- at least, this is what it does to dead bodies...

Day Two

"A Day in Ancient Egypt"

The tray of cucumbers was full of standing water! (As I knew would happen, having done this experiment at home.) I was absent this day but the children went ahead with the planned activities. One was to do a watercolor resist map of Ancient Egypt (this map is from the front of one of my volumes of Myths and Legends, the same series as the Norse Myths book I recommended before -- I will find the link) with the Nile and its "fingers", the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea in blue beeswax crayon. Then, the children mixed up desert colors in watercolors and painted the remainder of the page desert. We have referred to this map for several days and it's been most handy. They also used two stamp sets of hieroglyphs to learn to stamp their names and so on (and we sent a sheet home detailing the alphabet) and then went outside to one of the blank walls of the school and wrote all over that with charcoal and clay. In hieroglyphic writing, of course. I was so impressed when I drove in and saw it. It was wonderful! Had it been raining I was prepared with large rolls of butcher paper and colored chalks, which are also supposed to make a wonderful mural.

Day Three

We finished Ancient Egypt in the AM and moved on to Babylon and Palestine. In the morning I read Tutankhamen's Gift by Robert Sabuda. Then we did wet on wet watercolor paintings with salt (to continue the idea that salt absorbs water). BTW, the children added more salt to the pool of water yesterday on the cucumber tray and it soaked right up. Now it has a hard crust on it. While one team was doing this the other was playing senet (an Ancient Egyptian game about passing through the underworld after death) and then we switched. The newspaper sent a reporter to cover our camps so she interviewed the children briefly and she took some pictures. We will see what comes of that. At lunch time I read to the children about the Babylonians and the wandering Jews (from Ur to Canaan, from Canaan to Egypt, from Egypt back to Canaan). After lunch we sliced tomatoes and set them out to dry in the sun. I am trying to do a food project each day. The first day we were talking about ancient ancient time so it was foraging for raw food. Day 2 was honey, a favorite of the Ancient Egyptians and also a naturally-occuring food. Today we began to discuss the problem of food preservation and the children came up with salt, smoke, and sun -- all of which are correct! We laid out trays of sliced tomatoes. Then we learned our Zodiac signs (many of these were originally Mesopotamian-named constellations with corresponding mythologies and were later renamed and re-storied by the Greeks and Romans) and looked at the drawings of our constellations. I have the books at school and am writing these notes at home, but the entire booklist with links will get added to the WC site. The Zodiac book we used I do remember off the top of my head -- it is by Jacqueline Mitton. Tomorrow we will do more with the Zodiac. Today we ended by talking about sand and water clocks, invented by the Babylonians! And the children each made a sand clock. This was accomplished by placing two empty baby food jars on top of each other, open mouth to open mouth. Then in between the two was placed a small circle of paper with a hole cut in the center. Sand is placed in the bottom jar, then the paper, then the top jar. Watch the clock until the second hand reaches 12, then holding the entire thing together with your hands, flip it and watch the sand run through. Time how long it takes the sand to run through, then either add or subtract sand or change the size of the hole in your paper until you have created a clock with measures a specific length of time. Then run a bead of glue around the rim of the bottom jar (with the sand in it), lay the paper on top and press it down firmly, and run a bead of glue around the rim of the second jar and flip it over and press into position. Let dry, then label your clock with the amount of time it measures. This was a spur of the moment project I invented, seeing that we had 20 minutes left in the day and it was too hot to go outside. Luckily we had a ton of baby food jars in the classroom, which is what made me think of it. The children used art sand which had been dyed many beautiful colors and this project kept them utterly and completely absorbed. In fact, they were working totally silently. And when parents came to pick them up they didn't want to go!

All in all, a very successful camp so far.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ancient Civilizations

Tomorrow I begin the final camp of the summer: two weeks on Ancient Civilizations. I intend to have us start with the Neandertals. Who can imagine living in a time before there was language? Or Art or Religion? We'll do an archaeological dig tomorrow, raw foods, charcoal and clay cave paintings (since we can't stay that far in the past forever!) and I really want them to start to realize just how much technology we have that we all take for granted. The first camp was food. The second shelter. The third story/culture. The fourth is technology. I have been thinking all day (and having it be Buy Local week here is resonating with me as well). Each thing I touch I think Do I know the person who made this? What would I do if I went to the stores tomorrow and this thing wasn't there -- could I make it myself? Do I even know how it's made? Then I was thinking I would support cottage industries by NOT buying something unless I bought it directly from the person who made it (bye bye China) but then I immediately realized at the grocery store that I don't know the cow that made my milk. Nor do I know anyone who works refining crude oil into gasoline. I don't know the person who made this computer or my sheets, pillows, mattress, or bed. The carpet, the paint, the walls of my home... all of it just shows up somehow in the store and I trade my shiny little metal things for their hard work and effort. I want the kids to have this realization as well. We'll be covering Croesus and the advent of weighed and stamped measures of gold by the end of this week but before that all our classroom dramatics will have to use the barter system.

I bought some different colored clays from around the world which will be so cool to paint with. And some raw flax and silk so we can spin something other than wool!

For F&G I wrote all the plans in advance but the other camps I have drafted and then been flexible. I have tried to keep notes each day as to my daily plan and I will gather them up and put them online. I do have detailed plans for week 1 of Ancient Civ and then will adjust my mental notes for week 2 (Ancient Greece and Rome) based on our speed covering the material. Basically, we are doing chapters 1 through 40 of V.M. Hillyer's A Child's History of the World.

    Day One

    Music & Movement 9 am 20 minutes

    Opening Circle 9:20 am 10 minutes
    “The Truth about Cavemen”

    Nature Walk/Snack 9:30 am 20 minutes
    No language, art, or religion – experience what this might have been like

    Storytelling 9:50 am 20 minutes
    A Child’s History of the World Chapters 1-4
    Sharing creation stories, different people believe different things, you get to choose with your family what you believe; the fact is, we don’t know for sure

    Morning Activity 10:10 am 50 minutes
    Establish teams, give names
    Set up archaeology dig for other team – choose one artifact to bury “Archaeology in the Classroom” article
    Each team is going to answer 6 questions about their research topic – paint the rainbow
    Return to archaeological dig, prepare presentations

    Art 11:20 am 30 minutes
    Team A: Charcoal
    Team B: Clay

    Cooking Activity/Resting 12:20 pm 20 minutes
    Raw foods (harvest from the garden)

    Storytelling 12:40 pm 20 minutes
    Chap 5 – Real History Begins or ‘Way ‘Way Back to the Time of the Gypsies
    Chap 6 – The Puzzle-Writers
    Chap 7 – The Tomb-Builders

    Afternoon Activity 1:00 pm 50 minutes
    Team A: Hieroglyphs (stamp set)
    Team B: Levers, pulleys – inventing the wheel

    Poetry/Drama 1:50 pm 20 minutes

    Cleanup Jobs 2:30 pm 20 minutes

    Closing Circle 2:50 pm 10 minutes
    Begin timeline
    Add historical periods/events to timeline at the end of each day

    Materials List

    Watercolor paper, paints, brushes, paint jars, pencils and string

    Plain white index cards or white paper

    Two artifacts for teams to bury (of their choice), trowels, paintbrushes, towels

    Graph paper


    Clay (dug from schoolyard)
    clay mask sample kit:

    Hieroglyph stamp set (one from classroom, one from home)

    Ink pads, stamp cleaner

    Photocopy of hieroglyph chart for take-home

    Long roll of paper for timeline

    Parent letter

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Building with Cob (a bench)

Some notes about building with cob.

Get Ianto Evans' book unless you are specifically making a cob oven in which case get Kiko Denzer's book.

Make sure you are building near a water source. Watering cans get heavy.

Know what clay looks like. Our shake tests weren't nearly as useful as just getting out there and putting our hands in the dirt. The next thing that really helped was practice bricks. Let them dry overnight to see how much cracking you get. Adjust your mix accordingly.

Our soil was nearly all clay so we added an equal amount of sand. Stand on one side of the two piles and blend them with your feet. Don't stand on the clay. If you mush it down it will be harder to integrate the sand properly.

We dug two child sized wheelbarrows full of clay and dumped it on the tarp for each batch. Doing two batches per day we finished the cob bench in 8 working days.

After the clay and sand are blended add water. Add LESS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED. Fixing a cob mix that has too much water in it is a pain in the neck. A real pain in the neck.

Do the twist on your mud to mix in the water thoroughly. Roll the batch over several times using the tarp. This helps you mix the bottom part you couldn't reach before. Now do your snowball tests. Hold a packed snowball of the mixture up to shoulder height and drop it. Add more "strength" or more "stick-um" as needed. Strength options are sand and straw. Stick-um options are clay and water. Your practice bricks will help you know what consistency you're aiming for. Don't skip making them. The practice bricks can be used later to practice plastering mixtures.

Now sprinkle with a light layer of straw and blend in with your feet. Make sure each strand of straw is completely smeared with clay. For us we used the amount of clay mentioned above, 360 lbs of cheap grade sand, one watering can of water for each batch (and a second watering can is helpful for washing hands and feet) and one bale of straw for the entire project. So not much straw is needed. Now the burrito test. Roll your tarp, then unroll and see if the mixture holds burrito shape instead of cracking and falling apart. If you have a burrito you are ready to build.

Make sure you put down a foundation first! We used cobblestones.

Locate your bench where it will be protected from the rain and ideally where it is shady both morning and afternoon, so that you get the maximum amount of building time. Locate it by your clay soil. Digging for clay takes a lot of time and work. Bringing over a few watering cans, a bale of straw, and a wheelbarrow with a couple of bags of sand in it is pretty easy comparatively. We located our bench at the edge of the playground and the entrance to the nature trail.

Make "loaves" of cob with your hands and begin to build. Keep the project wet between building sessions -- covering it with the tarp and holding the edges of the tarp down with your wheelbarrows works great. Get a thickish stick and poke holes in your top layer before you leave so that the next layer will attach better. Poking and then rotating the stick as you bring it out works best. If you stick the stick in and then pull it right out it may dislodge that loaf of cob.

The first 2 days it will look like you are making no progress at all. Your bench will only be a few inches high. Don't lose heart. All of a sudden it will be huge. We buried a cinder block and some pieces of something or another in our bench. This makes the project go faster both because whatever you bury takes up room and because it gives the cob more surface area which helps it dry, but it actually weakens the structure integrity so don't overdo it. However, this is a great place for your television to go!

Shape the sides as you go. It is easier to shape them when they are squishy than later when you go to plaster. Keep an eye on plumb. Walls can taper a bit from a broad base but overall they should rise evenly. It is easy for the builders to keep building inward a little as they go upward because they want the loaves to stay put as they place them on. A bench should of course be level as well. We found that our straight and thick "poking stick" worked as a level and a plumb bob perfectly.

If you are working with children I recommend the following. Have several digging sites for your clay, as many digging sites as there are wheelbarrows. Each wheelbarrow can have a different color so you have a green team, a yellow team, a red team, etc. Have a digging tool for each child, a trowel usually. While they are doing digging work the adult fills the watering cans, brings the straw out of storage (it MUST stay dry the entire time, no exceptions!) and gets a bag of sand. Kids dump their loads on the tarp. Some children with sensory integration disorders won't want to dance around in mud; these children can be tasked with digging the next batch of clay. The rest of the children mix. Then you need one or two children to keep the bench growing in the right shape (managers) and some builders. The managers control where the builders put their loaves of cob. Take a photo of each step of the process. First the foundation with nothing on it, then the results of each day's work. We are embedding white ceramic tiles, each with a name of a child who worked on the project, along the back wall of our bench.

Prepare to have a lot of people stop and ask you what you're doing. Be ready to explain what cob is over and over. Invite folks to take off their shoes and get dirty! It really is infectious.

A bench is a larger starter project than a low edging around your garden. If you want to give it a try but want to stay small go with the garden border. It will eventually melt back into the earth so what's the harm? And it saves you from having to go to the hardware store to buy those ugly concrete edging things. Kids love this project and you'll have fun too.

Ingredients in cob:

The difference between cob and adobe:
Basically, adobe is formed into bricks and dried in the sun. You then build using the bricks. You build with cob while it is still wet, which is what allows you to shape it into curves or any organic form you like.

How much does it cost?
Our bench was free clay, free water, free straw, free foundation stones and free decorative tiles. I paid for 6 bags of 60 pounds of sand each. Total cost $30.00.


I haven't had much time on the computer lately but I do want to enter here all my "stickies" from my laptop so that I can find them easily. It is a bit of a mishmash of websites I didn't want to lose so bear with me.

BTW tomorrow we finish our cob bench, plaster it, and embed tiles with the names of the 11 artists who created it. Monday we begin the Fables unit.


the workshops I attended at Rahima's conference in October:
"Integrating Brain, Body and Heart: Revelations from Recent Brain Research" by Tim Burns

"Hands-On Math for the Early Grades" by Barbara Dewey

"Educating Children for Peace and Philanthropy" by Joan Almon

"The Waldorf Curriculum through Eurythmy" by David-Michael Monasch

"Creating a Compassionate Family" by Jessica Hardoon Dancingheart

"Storytelling" by Barbara Dewey

"Teaching Reading and Writing" by Kelly Morrow

"Handwork: Developing Skills for Dealing with a Complex World" by Regina Mason

"Stress Management - Whole Person and Whole Family" by Susan Kaplan

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

Today was a perfectly marvelous day. As you can probably tell, I've been super-busy since summer camps started (I've been working 7 days a week for a while now) but today was the first day of a 3 day vacation with my girls. So I will write about it in blissful detail. We had scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon and fresh fruit for breakfast, then went to the Community House for a patriotic flag-raising ceremony and the Games. My girls have always been too shy to participate in the games but this year was different. Natalie did 4 and Leah did 3. Natalie entered the sack race, three-legged race, wheelbarrow race, and egg and spoon race. Leah entered the sack race, back-to-back, and egg and spoon race. Leah came in last in everything but back to back which she nearly placed second in but her partner dropped her arms and walked off the field in search of a drink. Such are the trials and tribulations of a four year old. Natalie placed a solid last place in everything but egg and spoon which she nearly won but got disqualified because she was so thrilled at being first that she decided to ensure her victory by holding the egg with her hand and that is against the rules.

After the excitement ended the girls and I spread out a beach towel under a tree and had hot dogs and chips for lunch. They each also got a frozen treat to cool off during the heat of the competition. Then it was home with their tie-dyed shirts (a project begun yesterday and handed out today with washing instructions) and changing into bathing suits. We enjoyed the pool (Natalie can stand in the 3 foot end and touch the bottom with her head out of the water, Leah can float on three pool noodles, and Becca prefers to sit on the edge and watch although I got her in the water in my arms and we swirled and danced and splashed for a while). Then it was home again for rest time. The children were all wiped out!! I made some swordfish steaks for dinner which was not a big hit and we ended up at the church for some hot dogs and side dishes. I figured to eat first because they hate hot dogs and this way they would be sure to get dinner but I guess hot dogs are preferable to swordfish. Corn on the cob, baked beans, applesauce, cookies and lemonade rounded out the meal.

After the picnic at the church we were on our way to the Ice Cream Social at the Community House (a lot of engagements for today!) when we passed a working house fire. One of the neighbors across the way from my father had white smoke pouring out of their roof and dark smoke coming from the chimney. I figured some idiot had thought to do fireworks inside because of the rain but my dad's girlfriend said there had been a lightning strike quite close and perhaps that was it. The amount of smoke increased a lot in the two minutes it took us to pass their house, me to curse the fact that I had left my phone at home and had no way to call for help, turn around and go back to confirm that it was a fire and go let my dad know. It was pouring down rain. He rushed out of the house and across the field (the whole time I was growing up he was a volunteer firefighter). We hung out for a while at his home in case he would come back and fill us in but by 8 pm I decided to get the girls home and in bed. We missed the ice cream social because the end of the road was blocked by emergency equipment (which had already started to respond by the time I got my dad, so she had apparently been able to call 911) and the bonfire was completely rained out so my dad's girlfriend got my kids some sherbet in lieu of ice cream and then we went to see my mom for a bit -- since the way home was still blocked -- and played there. All in all it was a late night and firefighters were still on the scene at 9 pm. I hope the family was okay. Grateful to come home and find our home intact. You always think things are so permanent and then you realize that it's really not that way at all, just our own illusions.

Housebuilding summer camp is going awesome (my daughter who is 6 uses this word all the time and it has crept into my vocabulary). Our cob bench is a huge sensation and the bamboo tipi has been planted with vine seeds. To make a trellis for them to grow on I introduced finger knitting and now can't get the kids to stop! They each take yarn home at night and bring in the results the next day. We have all different colors woven on to our tipi and it really is a lovely sight. The veg. garden, Pizza Garden, Herb Spiral and sheep are all doing fine and in a few weeks we will get chickens.

Hope everyone is having a lovely 4th.