Friday, December 23, 2011

Stone Thoughts

"I speak cold silent words a stone might speak
If it had words or consciousness,
Watching December moonlight on the mountain peak,
Relieved of mortal hungers, the whole mess
Of needs, desires, ambitions, wishes, hopes.
This stillness in me knows the sky's abyss,
Reflected by blank snow along bare slopes,
If it had words or consciousness,
Would echo what a thinking stone might say
To praise oblivion words can't possess
As inorganic muteness goes its way.
There's no serenity without the thought serene,
Owl-flight without spread wings, honed eyes, hooked beak,
Absence without the meaning absence means.
To rescue bleakness from the bleak,
I speak cold silent words a stone might speak."

-   Robert Pack

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oak and Moon

waning gibbous moon through autumn oak leaves
The cool autumn days were a much needed relief and my compass is finally finding north again, I think.  I must have been in the honeymoon phase of death during the first few months after Julien was born.  When that wore off in late September, things got dark.  Really dark.  

But autumn has a way of un-sticking our stuck places.  Sitting under this big oak tree season after season, watching her leaves change colors and her form change shape has certainly taught me that nothing lasts forever.

I've been practicing letting go -- again and again and again -- and I'm back to working with the moon cycles.  This is my second waning moon and, as I sit here right now, I cannot find the right words to describe the peace that has washed through me since giving my grief to autumn and to the waning moon.  I've been working with a meditation I wrote for A. --- visualizing each emotion, each thought, blowing away with the falling leaves.  My great oak tree is resting now, her leaves - whose birth we witnessed in spring - now cover the sweet, earthy ground below.  Her barren branches reach into the pale sunlight like arms stretching during the deep yawn that comes before sleep.  

I'm ready for the long rest of winter too.  I'm ready to nourish my body with roots and soups and home-baked bread and to welcome the stillness that only comes when we enter the dark half of the year. 

After breaking my cup in September, I've been filling it up again with some beautiful literature.  I've been sitting outside under my old, oak tree re-reading Thoreau's Walden, enjoying Noam Chomsky's Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order, falling in love with Jack Petrash's  Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out, and I'm just diving into Rhythms of Learning : What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents, and Teachers  -- a wonderful collection of essays by Rudolf Steiner edited by Robert Trostli.

Through the turning of the seasons and the pages of these books, I seem to be remembering that what matters most about education - and life - is not the pedagogy to which we subscribe, but the reverence we are able to nurture in our children.  I feel that this must be the thing most central to education.  By honoring one another, the earth, and the very sacredness of our own lives, we create a soft place to fall when things fall apart.  I think that when we listen very closely, we can hear the moon and the old oak trees whispering this wisdom. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Broken Cup

Recently, I've been taking the time to read the entire California Content Standards for Kindergarten through Third Grade.  My intention was to find creative ways to present this material to A. throughout the year.  I thought that she needed to keep up with her peers and feared that I would somehow be putting her at a disadvantage if she wasn't learning what the Joneses were learning.   

On September 12th, we hit the books pretty hard and, unfortunately, I was hit with more resistance from A. than I ever imagined possible.  She is a bright cookie and understands just about anything you put before her... but, quite suddenly it seemed, she wanted nothing to do with anything I gave her.  Of course, this was a huge red flag that we were doing something wrong... so we just s-t-o-p-p-e-d doing everything. 

We've taken a few days off for emptying our cup and I'm hoping that here, with a beginners mind, we'll discover something altogether new.  In fact, if I had to take the cup analogy even further, I would say that we've thrown the damn cup on the floor, stomped on it and shouted, "to life!"  Maybe here, amidst the broken [deconstructed] pieces, we can find a new perspective. 

Meanwhile, I've been plodding along at John Holt's classic, How Children Learn, and having quite a few light-bulb moments about my approach to our studies.  It seems that I've created a little version of public school at home again.  I'm so conditioned by my own education that I unconsciously fall back to this paradigm again and again!  Un-leanrning, it seems, is more difficult than learning!

Yesterday, I gathered all of the content standards together and set out to organize these several hundred pages into a three-hole binder.  Today I've discovered a better use for them and a better use of our time.  Instead of stressing about how to teach what the state of California has deemed necessary, I'm spending the next week paying attention to my girl and re-discovering what amuses her mind.  It was after all, a great mind, one who did not attend a factory-model school, who said this:

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” - Plato

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Ever-Evolving Pedagogy

I finally got my hands on a copy of John Holt's classic, How Children Learn," and I am loving it.  His observations take me right back to when A. was a toddler and my own fascination with her innate ability to learn.  I'm about a quarter of the way through and will try to post some of my thoughts and favorite excerpts as I go.  

If you've followed our blog for very long, you might have noticed our ever-evolving methods.  In preschool, I fell for the "more-faster-better" mindset of early education.  I was so mesmerized by how fast A. learned that I thought the best thing to do was set up a little version of school at home, teach formal lessons, and keep spreadsheets of what was learned.

By Kindergarten I'd seen the error of my ways, began slowing down, and became more conscious of the need to nurture A. as a complete human being and not just a mind to be filled with information.  We began exploring Waldorf and Montessori methods and incorporated both into an eclectic style of home-education.  

For First Grade, we used the complete Oak Meadow curriculum and, while we both enjoyed it, I felt as though my own creativity was being squashed a bit by my conflicting desire to go by the book.  I also noticed that A.'s natural pace is pretty fast and that she, like I imagine all children, becomes board when she's not challenged.  I learned that I needed to balance nurturing with inspiring.  The beauty of home-education, of course, is that we can curtail each day to keep interest high and encourage that innate passion for learning.

For Second Grade, we're flying without a net for now -- although I am considering purchasing the Oak Meadow Second Grade Syllabus and using the lesson plans for inspiration.  I'm also reading the California Content Standards through Third Grade and thinking up ways to reach those goals without worksheets or too much desk time.  I'm not married to the standards, however, and do plan to take great liberties with them.

I'm discovering that, if left to her own devices, A. will draw, paint, read, observe nature with her binoculars, write and illustrate little books, play piano, invent games (she's particularity fond of creating board games with intricate rules and pieces), and, of course, engage in imaginative play.  I'm trying to cultivate a more relaxed attitude and trust that learning takes place naturally; however, I am also admittedly so conditioned by my own education that, for me, it's essential that we stick to a flexible schedule and work towards specific goals.  I guess you could say that we're eclectic, partially child-led homeschoolers still slightly fearful of taking the leap into purely orthodox unschooling.

We're studying Homer's Odyssey right now.  We found a great edition titled, The Adventures of Odysseus by Barefoot Books and we're using this myth to inspire inquiry into all of the other subjects -- including math.  We're working with fractions right now and have had some great discussions about how fractions, like myths, are small parts of a greater whole. 

We made salt clay yesterday and worked with fractions -- slicing the "pie" into half, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths, looking at equivalent fractions (two eighths is the same as one quarter, etc.) and exploring the four functions with fractions.  I gave A. some informal instruction in this last week and made a point to compare fractions to the musical notation with which she's already so familiar.  A. is keeping a Main Lesson Book and has drawn circles and pies and toyed with some simple equations (If 1/4 plus 1/4 equals 1/2, then 1/2 divided by 2 equals 1/4).  

Later, we used our salt clay to make Greek-inspired "pottery" and spent the early evening painting our creations with geometric shapes and black silhouettes (we'd planed to paint scenes from the Odyssey but quickly discovered that painting on clay is much more difficult than we'd imagined).

Every year I ponder the same questions, explore the same fears and worries --- mainly, can we do this without that formal institution called "school?"  Every year I come back to the same answer.  That answer is yes; however, it does require, as Holt explains, faith that children can and will learn on their own.  I'm working to loosen my grip a little each day -- while still encouraging self-discipline.  I think Holt said it best when he called it faith:   

"Call it a faith. This faith is that man is by nature a learning animal. Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to "motivate" children into learning, by wheedling, bribing, or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do is bring as much of the world as we can into the school and the classroom; give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way.  We can trust them to do the rest."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Natural Learning

Thanks to grandma, we did a little school shopping at our local Montessori shop last week.  Some of the fun things we found there include Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure Game,  a Peg Loom, CitiBlocs, and, a card game called Yoga Pretzels.  On the back of each card are step-by-step instructions for getting into the pose and additional insights about the pose's health benefits.  There are even breathing cards to help us, "slow down, increase awareness, and make non-reactive choices" and fun games like "Yogini Says!"  A. is really enjoying yoga this week and I'm amazed by how many poses this kid knows.
We're also enjoying the new cooperative game, Wildcraft... and I'm realizing just how much A. learned this summer.  After tragedy struck in early June, all my plans for doing a summer lesson block on healing herbs came to a crashing halt.  What kept going though was our little healing garden and actual use of the herbs found there.  Without any formal instruction, worksheets, or boxed-curriculum, A. has learned to identify herbs and edible flowers including elderberry, calendula, violas, sage, nettles, oatstraw, catnip, and peppermint and can explain a little about how each is used for healing. 

I've also been reading the California Content Standards for Kindergarten through Third Grade and dreaming up creative ways to cover this material this year.  While I won't adhere to the standards completely (that would take all of the fun out of homeschooling!), I do want A. to keep up with her peers in the event that we transition to traditional school at some point. 

I'm hoping that we can learn some of these standards the same way that A. learned about healing herbs this summer.  By seeking out teaching-moments and cultivating an open and curious attitude, we can encourage natural learning and avoid some of the resistance and stress that squashes creativity and takes the fun out of education.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Creating the World

Autumn.  It's almost here and I cannot wait.  I'm always going on about how important it is to be present -- to enjoy the moment... but this summer cannot end fast enough for me.

Some of my restlessness is the heat.  We live in a pretty rural area and there is not much to do to escape the high temperatures.  Some of my restlessness is my grief, I'm sure.  I want to get on with things and leave this summer behind.  I'm eager to shake off all of the funk and crust and emotions that are no longer serving me... and move forward into the cool, dark half of the year.

It's interesting how autumn, which is really and ending, is also the beginning.  It feels like the right time for starting school, for getting back to the books.  As the days grow shorter, our minds turn inward.  As the nights grow longer, a deeper stillness settles within us.  It's the time of year of introspection and rich, warm soup.

(Funny how this continuum of beginnings and endings seems to be a topic to which I keep returning.  See: What Are the "Two Simple Happenings?")    

We've been easing back into the school-year with half-days and will begin our full schedule September 12th with the full Harvest Moon.  I like working with nature's rhythms like this.  When we're tuned into our natural environment, we're more likely to also notice our changing inner-seasons.  

We're trying on some unit studies this year and our first area of interest is mythology.  I'm calling the lesson block, "Creating the World," and plan to look at cosmogonic myths from around the world and stories that illustrate our shared heritage as human beings.  I have plenty of books on hand and we've checked out quite an assortment from the library --- as well as several audio books and DVDs.  

We'll also look at some historical figures who have overcome hardship and/or helped shape the world as we know it -- people like Marie Curie, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Hellen Keller and Thurgood Marshall -- and explore how real-life heroes resemble the heroes of mythology.  And, of course, we'll explore how each and every one of us is the author of our own story, creating our world each day with the choices that we make. 

After everything my family has been through, I think looking at the hero's journey will help remind us that, while life is full of darkness, it is also full of finding the light. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Journeys

I've decided to start a new blog where I can explore and process the birth and death of our boy, Julien.  I'd like to invite you all to join me there.  The blog is titled Two Simple Happenings and I hope that it will be a help to anyone who has experienced loss or suffering.  

Om School isn't closing it's doors... in fact we've been hard at work all week preparing our classroom for the new year.  Getting back into a rhythm feels great.  We're practicing piano twice per day, reading two chapters per day, working with the calendar to track the moon, clouds, and temperature, and putting our heads together to choose this semester's subjects.  We've decided to step completely outside the packaged-curriculum box this year and I'm excited about the journey ahead of us.
Related Posts with Thumbnails