Monday, May 24, 2010

Stories to Inhabit

Charlotte Mason spoke of "living books" as a better source for learning than the textbook approach. Her literature based method has experienced a popular resurgence in curricula for home educators as well as non traditional schools in the past decade or so.

One such curriculum I read about recently is the Five in a Row series, featured in the blog, Simple Homeschool. This method takes a children's classic, which is read over each day of the school week, and incorporates other activities along with it that relate to the story. In this way a large number of subjects can be covered in a way that allows children to relate them to their own experience with the story, rather than having to learn them in a more conventional, and disconnected, manner.

Eureka! A long smoldering passion burst into flame. My previous love as a post home schooled/ college stay-out, chasing new ideas for hands on learning and creating unit studies accordingly for my six younger siblings (and their home schooled friends) was instantly rekindled. The old, familar rush, the brainstorm, the pencil and notebook. It was all coming back.

So with a splash of Charlotte Mason here, and a swash of open-ended unschooling there, all mixed in a medium of incurable idealism for simple living, environmental conscience, social justice and outlandish back-to-the-landishness we begin our journey with Ox Cart Man.

Here is a preliminary sketch for my multi-experiential experiment with this book. The suggestions for teaching reading skills, although cumulatively progressive, can be mixed and matched depending on the skill level, interest and attention span of the child/ children. So can the discussion questions and accompanying activities.

Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall, pictures by Barbara Cooney

Day 1.
First, let children look at, read and explore the book, listening to and encouraging their observations. Then read the story aloud and allow the children to invite you into their thoughts about the narrative and pictures. Later, set the book open on a stand at a page that strikes your fancy, and begin to copy/interpret the illustrations and text. Provide paper, pencils, etc. and invite the children to participate. This kind of interaction with the art encourages deeper observation and appreciation for the style and skill of the illustrator. When not in use, the book can remain on the stand with art supplies nearby to encourage this to take place during free time. (Integrated subjects: Art, Creative Thinking)

Day 2. Read the story again, this time choosing simple words and sentences to slow down at and point to as you read. Invite participation to read easy words or parts as their interest and skill
level allows. Next, discuss these questions and do the activity: How far did the man walk? How far could you walk? Go for a hike or walk for an hour or two. When you come home, look on a map to measure the distance. Try to figure out how far you could walk in a whole day. In 10 days? Write or draw about the things you passed on your little journey. (Integrated subjects: Math, Spelling, Physical Health)

Day 3. Read as above, but pause a few times and let children fill in the word from memory. Discuss these ideas. How does this family work together to meet their needs? How are things different or the same with our family and families we know? What are some ways we can all work together to provide for one another in our homes and communities? Try some ideas today and plan some for the future. (Integrated subjects: Social Studies, Economics)

Day 4. Read the story with more interaction. Let children take turns reading or telling about each page. Enjoy their interpretations and comments. For further exploration: How are food and goods grown and made, bought and sold, in this book? How are things different or the same for us? How are the changes good, bad? What do you think is the best way to get food? Plan a trip to a farm or farmer's market and ask people how they grow their produce. (Integrated subjects: Science, Social Studies)

Day 5. Let the children tell the story from memory. Then read the book, allowing much interaction, reading parts in unison, pausing for words to be filled in, pointing at words to be learned, etc. To conclude: What is one skill you would like to learn? Something to make? To grow? Something to sell? Give away? Start learning how today! (Integrated subjects: Memorization, Reading, Forget it, this is real life fun stuff, not school!)

This, as I said, is a preliminary outline. Next we'll actually do it, and I'll share how it goes as we progress. Anyone want to join in?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two Blooms

About six years ago, when we rented a tiny trailer on an old farm, our next to the next door neighbor, Brenda, gave me a peony to plant. It came up quickly, but did not flower that year, and when we moved that winter, I decided to leave all the perennials we had planted there for the next tenants to enjoy. But the next spring, when we were visiting Brenda, she told us that the whole property had been sold to a developer. Since no one was renting the old trailer, and since everything would be destroyed to put up a subdivision, I dug up and took all of the plants to our new home.

Year after year, the peony came up. It survived being scratched up by chickens and tugged on by toddlers. It even started putting out flower buds, but every spring they would get pulled off before they had a chance to open. Finally, for the first time, one has survived to open fully. Here is my peony, held up for the camera by my sweet pea, Miriam: two lovely blooms for May. Photo courtesy of Virginia, my lovely, budding photographer.