Thursday, June 25, 2009

Outdoor Hour Challenge #1

So we've decided to participate in the "Outdoor Hour Challenge" posted weekly at the
Handbook of Nature Study blog. A friend in our 0-5ish Playgroup, Del, put us on to the blog, and the amazing book it uses as its "textbook," the Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock. It's a wonderful way for us to be a bit more schematic with our nature study, even though we're outdoors almost every day and the kids seem to need little motivation. However, the first challenge asked us to read the first 8 pages of the Comstock text, go outside and explore, and then discuss what we observed. Here's what we did:
  • While gardening/weeding, the kids discovered some snails, tent caterpillars and various bugs living in and around the rotting stump of a dead tree. We watched them, picked some up, and talked about what we saw.
  • The next day, I made two terraria (glass jar, moist soil, leaves, cheesecloth and rubber band) and sent the kids out to find a garden snail; I had already found a tent caterpillar that morning while filling up the bird feeder.
  • After the kids collected a snail, I we put the snail and caterpillar into two different terraria and started watching our new "pets."

  • We watched the tent caterpillar explore the terrarium, climbing on leaves and wall; I pulled out the Comstock and read to them about the different body parts and Sy identified his head, thorax and abdomen, counted his legs (3 pairs of “true legs,” 4 pairs of “prolegs,” 1 “propleg,” called the "anal proleg" below), observed his head w/mouth, watched him eat some of the leaf, observed his movement, and identified his coloring (black with red spots) and his hair. We looked for his spiracles (holes on the side of the body for breathing), but we couldn't find them.

  • The snail soon dove down into the soil and didn't emerge for a couple of days, despite the fact that we've given him a nice chunk of sweet apple to nosh on. 
  • After adding a bit more water to his terrarium, he resurfaced and we were able to check out his really long eye stalks, his feeler stalks, and look at his striped shell.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Free, Conscious Activity

"When productive work is suffused with the qualities of play--that is, with freedom, creativity, and imagination--we experience that work as play . . . In our culture today, those people who have the most freedom of choice and opportunity for creativity within their work are most likely to say they enjoy their work and regard it as play" (Peter Gray,
"Play Makes Us Human I").

"Labor [is] life-activity, productive life itself . . . the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species - its species character - is contained in the character of its life activity; and free conscious activity is man's species character" (Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, 75-76).

These two quotes have given me a bit to think about. As homeschooling parents, we are constantly searching for ways to engage our children's desire to productively play, to learn with freedom and imagination, without squashing that desire through any preconceived notions of intellectual or academic progress, the pitfalls of rewards and punishments,  or pressure from outside to "prove" they will be intelligent, well-rounded kids as a result of their not being schooled with others. I have to also consistently remind myself that play is necessary, psychologically, socially, humanly, and that the institutions we regularly engage often are not of the same opinion.

While I find the above quotes to be similarly enlightening, I often wonder why play and "free conscious activity" are thwarted so early on in children's lives. And yet, in the process of watching David Simon's HBO series, The Wire, in reading Linn's The Case for Make Believe, Louv's Last Child in the Woods and now John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down, I have to admit that I don't wonder why, rather I know why. The institutions we must engage cannot be disentangled from the global system for which they were designed, and a system that stands in clear opposition to "free conscious activity."

As homeschooling parents, we are able to make a small difference in our children's lives by extending the length of time they can resist these oppressive modes of thought, their estrangement from what Marx has called their "species being." In enabling their "free, conscious activity," we are hopefully giving them more time to understand that being before having to confront the myriad institutional obstacles to "life-engendering life."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bugs, slugs and caterpillars

We spent the early morning observing bugs in the backyard. We discovered a tent caterpillar on the slide . . .

a snail on the deck . . .

and a small toad on the patio.

I just started Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods. I'm glad the woods are in our backyard.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

An unschooling summer 1

Having some unstructured play in the sand - a perfect beginning to the summer! 

With the semester finally over, we have been enjoying the summer and our unfettered time with the kids. In addition to the usual dinosaur books, we've been reading lots of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm brothers (Syler's favorite: Rotkäppchen - he's quite enamored of the wolf dressing up like grandma and devouring the heroine; Violet's favorite: Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten, which Uncle JD has expanded upon by gifting us the Lithuanian DVD of the Russian production from 1968, Bremeno Muzikantai/bremenskii musikanti - full of late 60s psychodelia, which the kids are loving.) The kids are busy playing in the backyard, making music, learning baseball basics, and digging in the dirt, while I'm delving into some pleasure reading venturing into more blogging time. Jason is still the domestic god, whipping up delicious dinners, mowing the lawn, and keeping the kids' creative juices flowing.

The kids have really gotten into observational and creative drawing, in the driveway, after hikes and on chilly days.

Driveway art

Pine cones found along the trail.

We've also discovered the joy of Ed Emberley's drawing books . . .

which show us how to use basic shapes in creating elaborate animals and entire worlds. Thanks, Ed.

We've been talking a lot about tall tales after reading Rebecca and Ed Emberley's version of The Story of Paul Bunyan. Sy is now ready to counter any exaggeration with "hey, I think that's a tall tale." Today we were entertained by a live circus performance, complete with feats of gymnastic agility and frolicking dances. Yesterday was the puppet magic show: the magician couldn't keep the purple egg from prematurely producing characters that couldn't breathe underwater. It was a comedy of errors. Today, Jason and the kids baked a pie and built Lego garages for the Hot Wheels. Violet will most likely read The Runaway Bunny to Mickey for the 40th time, and I will try to finish Susan Linn's The Case for Make Believe.