Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Trip Not to Do Over: 2010 and a Volcanic Eruption

"Are we there yet?" has taken on a whole new meaning. It's been 43 hours, but who's counting? We are still not there, not sure how we are going to get there, but we are trailing around 6 suitcases and various other backpacks, purses, cosmetic cases and knitting bags, and a toddler (no sling, nice going mama.) I am writing from a McDonald’s in a dubious quartier in downtown Paris, while the kids go up and down the escalator of the eerily empty mall we are in.

We have been caught up in one of the craziest natural disasters to hit the western world in a long time. A volcano erupted, in Iceland (it's always Iceland with me.) The volcanic ash from the fall-out, as it were, has formed itself into a giant cloud that has shut down all of the airports in Northern Europe.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Can Fame Beget a Reader? Bruce Coville and the Spark

We sat at a table with HIS table within sight. Gaël took small, distracted bites of his sandwich, but forgot to chew, had to be reminded. He would chew, chew, swallow hard and glance over at the clock across the great auditorium on the wall. "The line is getting longer, Mom."

I was attempting to have a friendly chat with a homeschool mom I had just met. She was brand new to homeschooling and looking for a little reassurance. Gaël barely glanced at them, he had his eyes on the man, the clock, and one hand on the new book. He did not fidget, but his whole small self thrummed with suppressed excitement. When was it going to be the official book-signing time?

"He won't get a chance to eat, that's not fair."
"I know, honey, don't worry. It bothers me too, but I guess he'll make it through." I hid a smile. Poor guy.

Bruce Coville, mentioned in an earlier post, was a guest author and speaker at the children's literature festival here. He had just sat down at his designated signing table, with a boxed lunch in front of him. Gaël and I were passing by, but it was a full 45 minutes before book signings were to start. We (I), rather not nonchalantly, wandered past, shook his hand and Gaël presented him with a well-read copy of one of his books that he had signed for Duncan over a decade ago. "We're fans," the obvious stated, we wandered off to find a table for lunch and to let the guy have a break to eat. The thing was; not everyone felt the same way. There was soon a line of about a million people waiting to have their books, programs or various body parts signed. It was like a rock star giving autographs, except they were swooning school children and teachers.

Gaël was in despair of ever getting his book signed. His strong sense of fairness and respect for rules, and his French-imparted respect for meal time, kept him from jumping up and joining the line with the others. We ate, and talked. A representative of our excellent Home School Assistance Program stopped by to offer a free book out of her program-provided bag of books. Naturally, Gaël chose another Bruce Coville offering. Now he had 2 to sign! 

"Here, put the rest of your lunch back in the bag. You can finish later. I'll be right there, go get in line." I tidied up the table, folded up napkins and got it all put away, and went to stand in line with my child.  There were quite a few kids in line at the next line over for another author, but the Coville line was longer. The buzz of 900 children in one auditorium was louder than ever. The quiet of home was calling, more insistent with each passing moment, but I would stick it out. 

When our turn (um, my kid's turn) arrived, he said, "Hi Gaël, would you tell me how to spell your name? And is this book for your brother?" The fateful phrase pronounced, the result was first a happy, "No, they are both for me!" followed by a, "Mama, we should maybe get a book for Charles and Valentine too." That was such a sweet sentiment of generosity that I said, "sure! Let's go get them a book too."

It was the beginning of a very long journey. The book table was surrounded by crazy hordes of small children, but Gaël made his way up to the Coville section and together we found two books we thought his siblings would enjoy. There was a line to pay, a long line, but we made it, only to learn that this particular line was for cash only, no machine for cards. We would have to go across the way to use a card payment. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, ma'am." 

THAT line was like nothing I've ever seen. From across the way, it made me feel a little ill. My palms went sweaty and I wanted to run away. I do not go to amusement parks, but I have heard that the lines can last forever to get on a ride...this was a bit like that. Except with the jostling, buzzing and shrieking of a million children, their teachers, parents and bus drivers all around us. "I'm looking for the missing St.Anthony's students!" The thought did occur to me that it was pretty cool that there were so many children buying books, but it was a passing one. The irritation was winning out over positive thoughts. I had agreed to this, so, I stayed. I could do no less and no more.

After paying, Gael went back to the line and I sat and knit while he waited. Not only did I not want to appear the stalker fan and hovering mother, but I was pretty much done with the day's lines. The bus drivers were becoming more agitated, their time table was getting all out of whack. Poor Bruce finally had to make an announcement that, sadly, he would only have time to write a name and scrawl his signature in each book, instead of the fun dedications he usually does, because the buses needed to leave. This did not seems to bother the kids; they still got to have their book signed and talk to him for a second. I wonder how many books got read that very same day by eager children, who had just had a little dream come true?

I know that in our house, a miracle happened that day. It has happened five times before, when each of my children, and husband, became avid readers. They went from reluctantly cracking a book because they had to, to the kind of person who is never without a book in their hand. It is known as a "de-clic" in French; a moment of profound and immediate change. Thierry went from being an adult who read for work, but for pleasure, would always choose a comic book/graphic novel. He read books, a Stephen King here or there, but it was not  a truly pleasurable leisure activity. It happened for him with a book that the rest of us were reading. He wanted to catch up on a fad, to see if there was anything to it. It was "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," believe it or not. We ended up ordering three copies of the six and seventh books so that there would be no bickering when each one arrived on the day of publication. Cate and Duncan each got a copy. As for the third: I got it during the day, he got it at night.

For my last reluctant reader, it was this experience of making literature a grand thing, something special, meeting the author, participating in the excitement of the day; a million children's noise notwithstanding. He took home his books and read them, one after another, with nary a moment for anything else.

Maybe it is overwhelming to a child to have an entire library of books at their disposal every day. Maybe the very specialness of not owning many books and choosing one yourself makes that book that much more appealing.  I thought I was doing us all a favor by having such a great selection of reading material in the house, and in one way this is true, but in another, it has been the opposite. Because it has always been there, there is less desire to read it. Going to the library and getting fresh books to read is more fun for the three younger ones.

The biggest part of the credit, however, goes to the excellent writing of Bruce Coville. I have been neglecting the laundry and sweeping (ironically) since yesterday, while I finish up reading "Diary of a Mad Brownie." It tells the tale of a wee Scottish brownie sent to live with a messy American child because of a 300-year-old curse. It is a celebration of imagination and sibling cooperation, all wrapped up in a tale of clashing cultures and times between today's modern world and the Enchanted Realm. I not only enjoyed every bit of the story, but my heart was warmed every time I thought of how this book brought Gael into the fold of the readers of the world. He has not been seen without a book in his hand since that day.

The same book has been re-published as part of a series. The above is the new title of the book.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - William Butler Yeats

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. - William Butler Yeats

Are there some things that you really must know in order to be well-educated, well-rounded or at least functional in our world? This "filling of a pail" is wildly popular in the homeschool as well as the schooling community. Just think of the popularity of the core-curriculum ideas and the hottest selling homeschool book series ever; "What your Kindergartner (1st grader, etc.) Needs to Know." I once owned the whole series, but soon sold them all on ebay and made enough money to invest in a year's subscription to Home Education Magazine, my favorite periodical resource. I did keep the first one, only because it contains the story of The Velveteen Rabbit.

Back to my question. Of course there are some things that are good to know, a lot of them really; hitting is not the way to get your doll back, do you need to take a boat to go from China to Russia, how to hang up a picture frame, change your socks every day, but if you think about it, they are clearly too numerous for one teacher to ever get around to teaching to even one pupil, much less thirty. 

Isn't it better to "light the fire", spark the curiosity and love of learning in a child and let it lead him where it will? A lifelong learner is someone who never grows old, who continues to hold the joy of discovery and novelty in their hearts. 

Does this mean we give up teaching anything at all, and just let children "go for it?" Just go about your business, as John Holt once suggested, and let children see your own passion for what you love. Even Steiner said, repeatedly, that it was not what the children are learning, but how it is being presented. He also prescribed subjects to be taught to each developmental stage. These subjects answer to the soul's needs at each stage and prepare the children for a multi-cultural world in which living in peace with their fellow humans is the ultimate goal. The answer lies somewhere between Steiner and Holt, with a good dose of Yeats in between.

Parents: choose your battles, pick your subjects, the ones you believe in, the ones that speak to your child; her developmental readiness, his interests, and delve into them with all you've got. Let them have your time and energy and enthusiasm for this present moment, this present topic. Let them find their own passion with your help. Go ahead, read the fairy tales, the botany lesson, but give it all you've got. This is what is meant by blocks in Waldorf education, this is what is meant by unit study and by child-led learning. Depth, focus, fire.

Unschooling Meets Waldorf: reposted from 2008

*Respect for the child and observation of his needs, sensitivity to developmental stages, trust in her capacity to learn and grow and lots of love have been the basis of our “educational programming,” since our children were born. Homeschooling made sense to me on this deepest level and unschooling followed naturally. *

“I want to know exactly what I need to do every day so that I can finish it and get on with my life.”

My oldest daughter, having reached the ripe old age of ten, finally eclipsed both of her parents in the organization department. Her room was neat, her work was neat, her ideas about what she wanted and did not want to do were clear. Her request could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.

At heart, I am an unschooler. I chose to homeschool because it meant following my instinct. I get to spend the "good" part of the day with my children (as opposed to the grumpy morning and worn-out afternoon hours before dinner). We learn together and explore the world and its wonders.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cleaning Homeschooling Messes: a Complete Guide

Often, as homeschoolers, we are on the lookout for project ideas and things to do to enrich our dear lambs' education and lives. What has been forgotten in all of the homeschool books and forums, is the fall-out from those projects and the very special methods it may take to clean up after them.

Here is a catalog of messes and how to repair your home after them.


This is a special sort of Waldorf mess, but if you have ever tried your hand at candle, soap or cream-making, you have most likely encountered it. To remove beeswax:
1) From the floor: take your patience and a nice, flat, butter knife and scrape. Be kind to your floor;

Monday, October 9, 2017

Joy From India to Iowa

Any time I could have been writing, has been spent instead, listening, to an incredible interview found in this book, between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; The Book of Joy. It has been profoundly peace-giving and inspiring, a life-changer. So much wisdom, love, joy and compassion are exchanged and offered from these two venerable, elderly men who have seen tragedy, loss, and despair, and come through it with a sense of wonder (and humor) still intact. I listened to it on audio, and it was an incredible experience, (I listened to it twice, as did my husband, who recommended it), but I will get a paper copy to return to as well. 

I am glad that this book was in my life, because the last three weeks have been mostly alone; Thierry has been to India and Germany, and back again to Germany. A shot of a festival he attended, from his cell phone camera:

That same night, Gael woke up sometime in the wee hours with a high fever, sore throat, sore ears...everything ached. The previous day had been busy; homecoming for Valentine, on the left:

This meant an afternoon of preparation, which, thankfully, was beautifully accomplished by her older sister and her friend, the super-talented Michaela. My dining room table, with the extra leaf pulled out, was taken over by beauty supplies. I have never seen such a spread.