Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Day of Norse Mythology and Botany

Well, we've had busy days and not-so-busy days here.

Friday, Monday, and Tuesday (today) were snow days for the public school and many of my homeschool co-op kids stayed home due to the weather (snow, sleet, ice, hypothermia-inducing temperatures). I've had quiet classes with only a few children here.

Leah baked all day Monday (Vegan Blueberry Muffins, Toasted Almond Slices with Winter Spice Dough) and Natalie made a wonderful yeast bread from scratch (Cinnamon Oatmeal Bread) today. My littlest students have enjoyed paper weaving. And, of course, the kids all went out yesterday to play in the snow! It was perfect snowball snow. (Today is frostbite weather so we played Wildcraft for indoor recess.)

Becca is studying Ancient Egypt (the link is to all of my lesson plans for this block) and her lessons have gone on uninterrupted in spite of the snow and ice; in fact, on Monday night we did the first step in her Chicken Mummy (the link is to my notes from the last time I made a chicken mummy using a Cornish game hen... this was "King Cluck"... this time we are using a whole chicken and apparently she will be named "Cluckopatra") which involves soaking the bird overnight in a ziploc bag of rubbing alcohol. This morning we began the seemingly ENDLESS salt step! Because we have a chicken instead of a game hen, we can't fit the thing plus all of its salt in a gallon ziploc bag, so we are covering the chicken with salt in one of those absolutely huge metal Christmas gift tins which usually hold fancy popcorn.

She and I also took some time yesterday evening to play an Ancient Egyptian board game.

Passing Through the Netherworld: the Meaning and Play of Senet,
an Ancient Egyptian Funerary Game

once available from the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
we are using my copy from when I was a little girl

Last Thursday is the day which I really wanted to write about, but over the stormy weekend I kept losing my phone line and internet connection so it had to wait until now.

Last Thursday was a very busy productive day, from setting up a threading station for Zac (pipe cleaners, cut up straws in various lengths, an overturned colander), to watching Leah do a wonderful watercolor pencil drawing of the nine Norse worlds, to showing my Story Cubes set to an eager young writer, to watching my whole group play a lively game of Bingo during indoor recess, to giving a lesson on the Biome Cards of Antartica to a curious science-loving little boy, to helping a handwork-loving child choose a sewing pattern from Feltcraft, to sharing the Biomes of the World Mat with a student, to watching a beginning reader sound out Fox in Socks, to seeing Becca get excited about A Wrinkle in Time and Leah get really excited about Pride and Prejudice, to observing how wonderfully focused my class is after starting their day with Yoga, to teaching the group the fun game Rhyme Out, to talking about our virtue of the week (Faithfulness) and sharing a wonderful picture book with them, Freedom in Congo Square...

to spending the afternoon with my class deep in our study of Norse Mythology. And then ending the day with Botany in my Science Club.

But, let me back up a bit.

    Norse Mythology, Block I

    Week One, Day One
    We began with reading chapter 1 of D'Aulaire's (The First Gods and Giants) and doing the first painting in the series suggested by Painting in Waldorf Education, which is the warm vs cool (primary red, yellow, and blue Stockmar paints) of Muspelheim and Niffleheim. I finally realized that I could remember which world is which by remembering that in the winter you get the sniffles (thus, the cold world of Niffleheim).

    Week One, Day Two
    The next day we reviewed the story of The First Gods and Giants. Then we did another painting in the series, which is Muspelheim and Niffleheim again but using the warm red vs the cool red. It helps if you set out the yellow and blue and then set out the vermillion and carmine red. The red which is closer to the yellow is warm; the red which is closer to the blue is cool. I found it also helped to ask each child, which world are you going to paint first, and then tell them that they will be beginning with either warm red or cool red. AND that you help them by pointing to which red they are going to use first.

    After adding The First Gods and Giants to our MLBs along with our paintings, we moved on to chapters 2 and 3 (The Creation of the World; The Creation of Man).

    Week One, Day Three
    The next day we reviewed the story of The Creation of the World and The Creation of Man. For this watercolor painting, which was of Ask and Embla, we used the directions in Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools. We added our summaries of The Creation of the World and The Creation of Man to the MLB while waiting for the paintings to dry.

    The previous night I had done the chalkboard drawing of Yggdrasil and we read chapters 4 and 5 (Yggdrasil, the World Tree; Asgard and the Aesir Gods). The children were very impressed!

    Week One, Day Four
    The next day we reviewed the story of Yggdrasil the World Tree and Asgard and the Aesir Gods. We did rune activities and added our summary and our two page colored pencil drawing of the Nine Norse Worlds to our main lesson books. Then on this, the last day of Week One, we heard the story of Odin and Mimir.

    Week Two, Day One
    In the beginning of Week Two, we reviewed the story of Odin and Mimir (which I told from memory instead of using the D'Aulaire's book, since this was one of my storytelling assignments for the Sophia Institute teacher training program), we summarized the story and added it to the MLB, and we began the Yggdrasil modeling activity. I kept up my little wrought iron ornament tree from Christmas and we instead covered it with green wool to represent Yggdrasil. We began to use modeling beeswax to form the various animals and characters from the myths and add them to the display.

    Week Two, Day Two
    We read chapter 7 (Thor, the Thunder-God) and read the poem "The Challenge of Thor" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on p.166 of The Waldorf Book of Poetry. We then read chapter 8 (Loki, the God of the Jotun Race) and we used the suggestions in Arthur Auer's book of modeling exercises and did beeswax modeling for Thor and Loki. Students could choose which of the two gods they wanted to model. Several people also modeled Thor's hammer.

    Week Two, Day Three
    We reviewed what we had learned about Thor and Loki and then heard a myth which included both of them: chapter 9 (Sif's Golden Hair). I passed out the scripts for our table read (this script is from John Miles's book "Two Plays for Grade Four, published by Promethean Press) and students got to see which parts they were assigned and practice their lines. I made it clear that we were not going to have costumes, sets, or blocking... but I do think that a table read is still an effective way to have a story come to life.

    Week Two, Day Four
    Although we had bad weather, the plan for Day Four was to review the story of Sif's Golden Hair, read the poem "The Forging of Thor's Hammer" by S.M. Ryan on p.167 of The Waldorf Book of Poetry, do the table read and then, finally, add the story of Sif's golden hair to the MLB. I suggested a border of Sif's golden hair around the story, instead of having students try to draw a full illustration. Of the three students whom I've done this with so far, one chose a border of Sif's golden hair, one chose a border of Sif's golden hair but then also did an entire page showing the first and second set of gifts made by the dwarves, and one chose to have the border be drops of blood and Loki as the gadfly.

Thursday afternoon was also Science Club, and our current topic is Botany.

We have been having a lot of busy fun in Botany as well! First up I had my Science Club for my littlest students and we read A Seed is Sleepy and then did a fabulous Citrus Sensory Bin with ten kinds of citrus! Then it was time for the big kids to have their turn.

First, we checked on the results of our celery experiment. This was from Asia Citro's GREAT Science book for kids, The Curious Kid's Science Book. The experiment was "What Ingredients Will Celery Move to Its Leaves?" (pp.46-47). We used plain water, for the control, as well as adding various things to the water to see what would happen (food coloring, maple syrup, peppermint and vanilla extract, sugar, and salt). You can tell that the color moves up to its leaves just by looking at them, but with the flavorings you would need to actually taste the leaves and compare them to the control. Since Science Club meets just once a week, and some of our water was looking pretty cloudy and some of our celery was looking pretty unhappy and they had been in the sun all that time and not in the refrigerator, I decided NOT to have students taste their celery. We drew and wrote detailed observations and then made a fresh batch of the experiments which they could take home and taste-test in a more reasonable, and safe, time frame.

Next, it was time to Dissect a Plant. Asia Citro has this on page 48 of her book. I simply bought a few nearly-dead mums in the "save me" part of the grocery story's floral department. They were 99 cents each. I told the children that they were already dying and we were just going to take some time before we went back into the earth to look at them closely. Then I let them completely tear the plants apart... in an organized way of course... and sketch everything, from the soil, to the root system, to all of the parts of the shoot system. They had a fabulous time, and I put all of the soil from one plant into a pot for a later activity and all of the remaining soil and plant material went into a sensory bin for my two year old (I added an old beach shovel and he is happily playing garden with his bin every day).

After the excitement from the dissection had died down, I read the group A Log's Life by Wendy Pfeffer. Then we set up another activity for them to take home. These were dried pinto beans wrapped in a doubled layer of damp paper towel and put into a ziploc bag. I told the children to check their seeds at home every few days and see if they started to grow. They will be bringing their seeds back next Thursday for our next Science Club meeting. (It is really fun to soak and then dissect a bean, but I have bigger and better plans for these baby plants.)

Then, I asked the group, Do all plants grow from seeds?

We talked about this for a while (and next week I will read them Ruth Heller's Plants That Never Ever Bloom) and then I showed them the seeds and fruit from the earlier Citrus Sensory Bin as well as a collection of seeds from my kitchen cabinet (cumin, fennel, celery seed, and two colors of sesame seed). I told them the analogy that "a fruit is a suitcase for seeds." But, still, can a plant grow any other way?

Then I showed them the plant Natalie grew three year ago from a pineapple top! And then we prepped some fresh ginger, which is a rhizome, for planting in our empty pot full of ex-mum soil. We passed around the fresh ginger and they all looked for buds. So fun!

Lastly, after some brainstorming of more questions for science club (the longer we do this club, the more questions they come up with, which is great!) I told them our final activity for that session. Again, we are inspired by Asia Citro's book. Her challenge on page 49 is "Make a Plant Grow Down Instead of Up." How AMAZING is that!?! So when the children bring back their baby bean seedlings next week, we will be trying to have them grow upside down. That is, shoot system below and root system above. So their final task was to get their science journals and turn to the next blank page (after the celery experiment notes and the plant dissection drawings) and design a contraption that will get their plants growing upside down and make me a supply list so that I can have everything ready to go. I love watching their thinking unfold. Some children are using clear cling wrap to keep the soil in place when the plant is flipped upside down, while others are planting their seedlings in things that aren't soil (a banana, a watermelon). It should be interesting!!! And I promise that my next post will be full of pictures.

This post contains affiliate links to the materials I actually use for homeschooling. I hope you find them helpful. Thank you for your support!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Lesson Planning for Pride & Prejudice

Well, it's wonderful that my middle daughter (age 14) has decided to come back home! She desperately wanted to try public school and so I let her for 7th grade last year. I figured I didn't want to fight with her ALL. YEAR. LONG. And she did, in fact, have a good time there last year and was very happy.

This year for 8th grade, lo and behold (and as I suspected), the novelty wore off. Luckily, the state of Illinois allows you to homeschool for part of the day and go to public school for part of the day. So she will be able to continue to have her two excellent public school teachers for Science and Social Studies, and I will have her the rest of the time.

You've seriously NEVER seen a happier child.

She dove right into number bases (the first topic in Jamie York's 8th grade workbook) and gleefully learned octal, binary, and hexadecimal (this took her all of Monday and Tuesday). She started studying Latin again and she wants to learn Braille as well. She is taking Yoga, Script, and SWI with the wonderful parents who teach at my homeschool co-op. She's doing a creative writing program at the public library and a music writing program with Girls Rock. She requested Jane Austen and William Shakespeare for her literature study... and she asked me if she could please write more essays.

The first book she really wanted to read was Pride & Prejudice.

So, here I am lesson planning. I teach at the homeschool co-op full time using both Montessori and Waldorf approaches (Montessori choice time for part of the day and student one-on-one lessons individualized for mathematics, language arts, and geography; Waldorf age-appropriate main lesson blocks done whole group with main lesson books and the infusion of plenty of arts and handwork). I am already lesson planning every week for children from my youngest son (age 2 1/2 -- open-ended toys, sensory bins, puppet shows, songs, nature activities, recipes, and so on) up to teenagers.

And... now... Leah wants to read Pride & Prejudice!

This post contains affiliate links to the materials I actually use for homeschooling. I hope you find them helpful. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Writing Poetry Inspired by e.e. cummings

In our final Philosophy session before Winter break, our last day on Nature, the students and I considered Baruch Spinoza and his theory that "there is only one substance with infinite powers of transformation. This substance is nature, and it is God." (The quote is from page 246 of Marietta McCarty's book Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy with Kids, and not from Spinoza.)

As we explored this idea some of the older children realized that this "one substance" could be atoms! Hmmm... very true! We found it interesting that Spinoza (1632-1677) pre-dated the idea of atoms with Dalton (1766-1844).

(If you're ever using this book to teach about Spinoza, personally, I don't like the analogy of a worm and a tomato and have found that it just causes confusion in the classroom... a better example is a seed becoming a flower.)

We then went on to Marietta's suggestion of studying the concept of Resemblance (for example, the folds of our brain resemble the folds of our intestines), ending with the incredible TED talk by National Geographic photographer Franz Lanting, Life: A Journey through Time (21:33).

His book of photographs for this project is just beautiful!

When we returned to Philosophy this week it was to begin a new topic. Again, I used Marietta's book to guide my lesson planning. She suggests starting by listening to several versions of "Here Comes the Sun." I made a little playlist on Amazon Music the night beforehand and played Nina Simone (3:34), The Beatles (3:05), and Richie Havens (4:14).

The children had to listen to the song and try to guess the feeling which it invokes. I told them that this feeling will be our Philosophy topic. Mid-way through the Beatles version someone said, Happy! Yes, our new topic is Happiness. Philosophers are interested in things which at first seem to be too simple to be interesting. For example, if happiness is essential to humans, why do we so often lose it -- by NOT putting in our lives what makes us happy -- or we forget about it and don't even notice when we are happy?

Before we tried to explain what Happiness is, the children drew their own pictures showing happiness, with two restrictions (these are meant to invite clearer thinking). No people. No words.

Some children shared their artwork and talked about what they thought happiness was and what made them happy.

We talked about the three discussion questions on page 62. When asked if there's a difference between happiness and pleasure, one boy told me "Happiness is the result of pleasure." When I asked if pleasure could ever not lead to happiness, like when you eat too much cake at a birthday party, he responded with, "In some cases, if you eat too much, you can lose happiness in the pleasure and you also lose the pleasure."

In a favorite moment, when asked how you would like to look back on your life from the standpoint of old age, one little girl stated simply, "I would still like to play on the playground even though I'm old." Then, I shared with them a poet who never lost his sense of whimsy. That is the incomparable e.e. cummings!

The poem I read is #13 in his 100 Selected Poems. It is called "who knows if the moon's / a balloon ..."

You can also find it online for free in pdf format here.

After enjoying his image of the moon as a hot air balloon which could take us on a trip to a "keen city" in the sky, where "everyone's / in love and flowers pick themselves," children wrote their own poems about what the moon could be.

Here are a few which we wrote and wanted to publish in the blog:

Who knows if the moon's
a huge scoop of
ice cream
vanilla, of course,
hovering over us
and the earth is a cone

and when it gets smaller in the sky that's because
some outer space monster was
tempted and



What is the moon?
It could be cheese or...

Who knows if the moon
is a skeleton's head?
maybe... on Halloween
maybe... in the black scary night

Vain is his name
if there really is a skeleton on the moon

maybe the skeletons are aliens
who knows if dragons are real?
who knows if flying vipers are real?
who knows if there's basilisks in the sink?
who knows if the BFG is real?

maybe the basilisk is named BLARK

We have also been having some fun with words in our regular class! I recently introduced "The Dictionary Game." This has always been a favorite with past classes of students and, happily, I found it nicely explained in our read-aloud (and follow-up to the Human Body MLB), The Book of Think.

It works best to prominently display the grammar symbol for the part of speech. This helps students craft more authentic-sounding definitions. I like to use an old dictionary because it is more likely to have words which aren't used anymore. My favorite is the Webster's New Modern Self-Pronouncing Dictionary from 1938. Helping students have strong dictionary skills (alphabetical order, guide words, and how a dictionary entry is organized) are always important and this is a fun way to review them... practice parts of speech... and have a little fun with human psychology at the same time!

Yesterday's words were all nouns (the big black triangle in the Montessori Grammar Symbols). They were




This post contains affiliate links to the materials I actually use for homeschooling. I hope you find them helpful. Thank you for your support!