Monthly Archives: November 2014

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Advent Reflections: 2014/1

Going by the Waldorf celebration of Advent the first week celebrates the mineral kingdom and the festival of stones. To me this indicates a connection with the Earth (nature and seasons fits with the second week that focuses on the plant kingdom).

Being totally original I want to keep our resolution from last year to cut down on waste. I think we have become a lot more conscientious about it this year (especially in regards to food waste), but I would like to look more closely at the things we buy and get rid of to be sure we aren’t creating lots of unnecessary waste that goes into a landfill. I think we’re really good about recycling, but I would like to start looking at things and seeing if they can have a second life as something else. 

Ox Cart ManI have to say one of my favorite children’s books that exemplifies this idea is Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. A New England farmer takes a cart full of goods to market where he sells everything, even the cart and ox. He brings home a handful of new, useful things to his family who then spends the winter, spring and summer making new things to be taken to market the next fall. The beauty is how they put everything to use on their farm, even things that might not seem like they could be useful. The best example of this is the children collecting the feathers their geese and chickens have dropped to sell as pillow filling. I doubt our family would be that resourceful (although we can aspire!), but I think it’s a good message to look at everything around you and be sure there isn’t something else you can use it for as well as simply being conscious about waste. 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 1, Issue 8

- I came across this interesting piece about the Go the F*ck to Sleep book (and apparently its companion). Like the author of this post, I too found the book a little bit funny the first time through because, as parents, we’ve almost all had those moments. But I agree that the fact that the book became a best seller and warranted another book, belies a disturbing cultural trend that belittles kids and gives people permission to see them as less than people and their wants and desires as unimportant and subordinate to their parents’ wants and desires. 

Here’s a snippet. It’s a short piece I recommend it. 

But the worst thing about this book isn’t how unfunny it is. The worst thing is how mean-spirited it is. Again, the first book, on first read, was worth a cathartic laugh, tapping into the awful things parents sometimes think but dare not say. But doing a second book legitimizes those awful things and says, yes, this deserves a place in our culture’s comic vocabulary. Because it’s fun to swear at kids!

Trigger warning: the f-word is used many times both in the context of the title of the book it is talking about and as a humor device. 

– On a happier note, I was so pleased to read this post on Mummy Musings and Mayhem. Jode talks about how she is waiting the extra year to send her daughters to kindergarten, giving them the gift of time. She articulates everything I feel about it and it is so refreshing and validating to hear another parent say they are more interested in their child’s well-being than pushing academic achievement too early and/or in making themselves look good with their child’s academic achievement (a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses like competition I see parents engaging in with their kids as pawns in that). 

Because of Cam’s late August birthday we are in a school gray area. She is technically old enough to go to Pre-K in the fall of 2015, but she will be very, very young and, I think, immature. At this point we actually haven’t decided what to do. We can do two years of Pre-K, but that would be expensive. We could wait, and that’s a possibility. Or, and this seems the most likely route, we put her in in fall do a year of Pre-K and then pull her out to homeschool at which point her age doesn’t really matter. 

– I know this is posting the day after Thanksgiving, but I think it’s fine to talk about being grateful and thankful during the whole holiday season. Here’s a book suggestion and review of a book that shows what people around the world eat. It really puts things into perspective. If I’m not mistaken there are other books by this author-photographer pair about food. There is also a book by the same photographer that shows people around the world with all their belongings (or most of them) outside their homes with the family surrounding them. That is incredibly eye-opening. Look for these at your public library as they are hefty hardbacks. Good for bringing the holiday season back to Earth a little bit and helping children really see that they have more than enough.

For Your Bookshelf: Beautiful Stuff by Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini

Beautiful StuffBeautiful Stuff: Learning Wtih Found Materials by Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini

From GoodReads: Encourage your kids to express their creativity as they discover, collect, sort, arrange, experiment, and think with found and recyclable “stuff.” The real-life experiences of teachers and children will inspire ideas that you can try at home: choose objects and turn them into a display, transform materials into a face, build and glue wood scraps to make constructions. Appropriate for children four years of age and older.

At it’s heart Beautiful Stuff is a piece of documentation. The teachers at XX began by having students collect a small bag of materials at home and bring them in. They suggested recycled materials, broken jewelry and anything the kids were drawn to.

After bringing their bags to the classroom, the kids were invited to sort the materials. This went on for some time as they sorted by color, type, and various other attributes. It was incredibly fascinating to see how the kids viewed the materials and chose to sort them. Some of their distinctions were quite impressive. Shiny objects sorted out when sorting by color, for example.

After finding a good place to scale back on sorting activities, the materials were placed in a creation corner of the room. Sorting was allowed to continue, but not as a whole class project. The class went on to make several art pieces with the materials, self portraits and wooden structures. While working on these projects they moved from one language, or medium, to another, making a line drawing of their wooden structure for example. This really got the kids to think about their process and look closely at their work. 

The book details the process and thoughts of the children and teachers. The teachers offer thoughts on what they did right, what didn’t go as they planned, and how the project evolved over the year. There are pictures of the children working, the teachers interacting, and the creations of the children. And there are plenty of quotes and summaries of what the kids said. Each chapter ends with reflection of the teachers, their thoughts on what the kids learned and what they did. 

This could certainly serve as an introduction to what project-based, Reggio-style learning looks like and how it unfolds. It can also be a manual for how to do this specific project, although I would say you may have to tweak it for your child or particular group of children. I think this is a particularly good example of how Reggio teachers introduce topics to the kids and still let them run with where the project will go. Sometimes it can seem that Reggio has no curriculum and is completely student driven, which isn’t exactly the case. 

My only complaint is that the production quality of the book is so-so. I could have stood to have better design. Some captions and text blocks were, not exactly confusing, but distracting in their placement and didn’t help the flow of the text. The pictures were clearly all taken with a flash and were often grainy and dark. It think this was in part due to the fact that they were taken on film, but I think it speaks to the importance of taking better pictures. All in all, though, this was minor and the content was so overwhelmingly excellent.  Highly recommended as a guide and as an example. 

Reflection: 2014/25

Last Day of School: Cam had her last day of school this Friday. It was bittersweet since it was also the first day I was able to leave her by herself, without the help of a teacher. She seemed to turn some corner in terms of her socialization just as we decided to pull her out. Of course it doesn’t change the fact that driving out to Davis every other day sucks. 

Turkey

A pattern block turkey made in her Quiet Book.

Play dough sun

A sun with a face made from play dough and loose pieces.

Patterns: Cam has started to get into actually using art materials to represent things. She’s been making maps (that don’t especially look like maps, but that doesn’t really matter), but this week I saw some real objects that she proudly told me what they were without prompting.  It’s interesting to watch her make these cognitive leaps.

Reading: I won’t be sharing links in December (paring down the posts I’m doing next month to free up a little time) so I thought I would share this one. It really speaks to why I want to homeschool. Learning Without Limits on Happiness Is Here

Advent Reflections: I will be using this column during Advent (which starts November 30th) essentially to make resolutions. I’m hoping to tie them in with the different weeks of Advent that Waldorf uses, but we’ll see how well that works. We are not especially religious or even spiritual, but we do celebrate holidays and try to focus them around family values instead of commercial values or religious precepts. I like to think of Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation, as an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming year with some reflection back on the year that has just passed. 

Handwork: Martinmas

Gluing Lanterns I wrote last year about Martinmas and what we did. Our celebration this year was similar. Since St. Martin was known for sharing his cloak with a beggar one cold winter night we purchased a coat to give to the local coat drive. We made cookies which I will share in the December Cam in the Kitchen post. We also made the traditional lanterns for the holiday.

Martinmas LanternSince Cam was older this year I picked a lantern that she could make on her own. I made four and she made three which was about right. We’re giving them out to family and friends again. 

Supplies:

  • smooth-sided jars
  • pieces of tissue paper
  • white glue
  • paintbrushes
  • small bowl for glue

What To Do

  • I got some things set up on a tray a day or two before we actually did the craft. This made it easy to get it out and make the lanterns, but isn’t essential. I do suggest some prep before you get started though.
  • Cut the tissue paper into small- and medium-sized pieces. They will be covering the outside of the jars so use the sizes of your jars to decide how big to cut the pieces. 
  • In the small bowl, mix some white glue with a bit of water to thin it out. It should be think enough that it doesn’t really drip when painted on the jar, but not so thick it’s hard to spread.
  • Paint a layer of glue onto the outside of the jar. You can work in sections or cover the whole outside.
  • Begin placing the pieces of tissue paper around the outside. They can overlap. If you have a young child it might be easier for you to hold the jar while they place the tissue paper scraps on.
  • Once you have a patch (or the whole jar covered) brush over the tissue paper with the glue sticking the pieces down more and creating a thin layer to protect the paper. This will keep it from peeling off so easily and acts a bit like Modge Podge.  
  • Allow to dry completely. Place a candle inside (we use the battery operated candles, but you can use votives or tea lights).

Reflection: 2014/24

Martinmas: We celebrated Martinmas again this year. I really like how this is a holiday about charity and light at a time of year when we get so many messages about getting stuff. See my weekly post on Wednesday for more on what we do to celebrate. 

Reorganizing: Again. In the classroom. It isn’t really major, but I read the book Beautiful Stuff which I will review Thanksgiving week and it’s inspired me to involve Cam in sorting our recycled materials and have them more prominently displayed. 

Cool Stuff Vol.1, Issue 7

I came across this post on Happiness Is HereWhat If They Ask to Go to School? I really agree with what she says and how she turns the question around from what if they ask to go to school to what if they ask to be homeschooled? I have yet to be asked any really obnoxious questions about homeschooling when I’ve said I want to homeschool Cam (actually I’ve gotten a lot of really positive responses) but I know these arguments are out there and it’s only time before I encounter them.

I came across this video, The Mobile: A Reggio-Inspired Kindergarten Project through An Everyday Story. It’s an amazing 20 minutes that explores how a kindergarten class designed and built a mobile to hand in their school entry way. The production isn’t especially good (the music is all over the place and I found the kids reading quotes to be superflous and often distracting) but the content is awesome. It’s amazing to see these kids observe the space, suggest and collect materials, and design and create pieces. It’s worth the time to watch it. 

Here’s a great blog post about how student creativity can’t be turned on and off at the whim of a teacher. I think this is part of why I love Reggio. It infuses creativity into every aspect and there is no need to worry about turning it on when it’s time to have your weekly hour of creative thought. There are also some great ideas for helping kids be creative, particularly in classrooms, but I think the advice is applicable in home classrooms and in general.  

Cam in the Kitchen: Butter

Inspired by this post on How We Montessori I decided Cam and I should make butter. It’s fairly easy and requires movement. Both excellent qualities for a toddler activity. 

What You’ll Need:

  • a small container, preferably with a screw-top lid such as a small mason jar or tupperware (we used this one)
  • 1/2 pint of heavy cream, get the good stuff because there is only one ingredient and the quality will stand out
  • Raffi’s “Shake Your Sillies Out” (video here)
  • French bread rolls or baguette
  • second container and sieve

What To Do (it looks like a lot of steps, but it’s super simple):

  1. Bring the cream up to room temperature. It’s easiest just to leave it on the counter for awhile.
  2. Pour the cream into the container leaving some room at the top so it can slosh around.
  3. Put on the song and start shaking. I suggest taking turns with your child as they may not be the most efficient shaker. This is why I recommend a screw-top lid!
  4. Listen to the cream sloshing around. After a few minutes (3-5) you’ll notice that it isn’t sloshing anymore. If you open it to check, you’ll notice that it’s quite thick and starting to look like whipped butter. 
  5. Keep shaking. After a few more minutes you’ll notice that you hear sloshing again. This is the fat (butter) separating from the buttermilk (not exactly like the buttermilk you buy in the store). You can check on it a couple more times. Each time you’ll notice that the butter is coming together more and more. Feel free to taste at every stage. Cam did! 
  6. When it’s a consistency you’re happy with pour the buttermilk out into another container through the sieve. This will catch the butter if it falls out. You can save the buttermilk to use in baking (such as biscuits, see here for our recipe).
  7. Spread your fresh butter on the bread and enjoy!

Reflection: 2014/23

Dropping Out: After a lot of deliberation we’ve decided to pull Cam out of her preschool program. It has nothing to do with the program, the teachers, or the school. We love all those things and they ironed out all the wrinkles from the beginning of the year. It’s that Cam still cries at least once a week when I leave and tells us at home that she doesn’t want to go to school. She is also not really socializing with the kids. She just hangs around the adults. I know this will bring out all those opinions that this means she needs the socialization and that this is all because she’s an only child, but I think she just isn’t ready. We’ll try again in six months when she is older/more mature. There is also the drive to school which is realistically 40-50 minutes in the morning. That’s a lot of time in the car and I hate it. 

We are going to be sad to say goodbye to the school, but they have encouraged us to keep in touch and we intend to. 

New Interests: Cam has been drawing these abstract pictures on index cards, I call them her tiny pictures. They’re quite interesting and grouped together they are quite striking. Often, though, Cam tells me they are maps. She is suddenly very interested in making maps. I’m going to try and develop something that will steer her toward looking at and making more maps. 

Right around Halloween Cam began pretending to be a dragon and wanted to get her stuffed dragon, Puff, out. This interest has seemed to stick around so I got a ton of dragon books out of the library to see what it is she is drawn to with dragons. She may also get a dragon costume for Christmas.

Activity in the Hive: Planning and Documentation Experiment

At the start of October I decided I really needed to come up with a planning process that involved breaking up new provocations and aligning them with a broader plan.

Ever since I read about the Intended Projects document in Working in the Reggio Way (I discuss it a bit here) I have been trying to create my own. This document is an incredibly broad document and defines the overarching themes or concepts you’ll cover in a given period of time. Because it’s such a detailed and long document I really just needed the time to sit down, think through, and then put my thoughts together on paper (so to speak). I recently made the time to do this and to come up with some other pieces of the planning process.

Part of my intention was also to encourage myself to begin documenting Cam’s thinking and learning. This is one of the aspects I really love about the Reggio approach and I think it’s one of the more powerful pieces too because it requires a lot of reflection and listening to the child(ren) on the part of the educator.  

What I have now is essentially a series of documentations that form a beginning, middle, and end. Technically there is no end, but the final document can certainly come at a natural stopping or breaking point and must come after the project has had some time to develop and begin winding down.

My new planning process includes:

  • Intended Projects: This is a document meant to cover the planning for a season or even be a biannual document.  It lays out the broad themes and concepts I want to cover and names and generally plans provocations that will go with those themes.

I identified four core areas I want topics or themes to fall into (Language Arts, Numeracy, Art, and Nature) and then I picked what I wanted the broad topics to be (right now I have Building Letter Awareness as the Language Arts topic). Of course there is tons of overlap and I make note of that. I also have a written statement at the top that addresses both the question “what do I seek to make evident?” and discusses how these topics tie in with Cam’s expressed interests.

There are different types of projects identified within the document too: Umbrella Projects (which are those four core areas), Environmental Projects (these are projects that come out of any of the play areas we have set up in the house), Daily Life Projects (these are projects that come out of her wonderings and musings that happen in the natural course of daily life), and Self-Managed Projects (these I don’t expect to see until Cam is quite a bit older and more independent). Provocations can fall into several types of projects.

Under the general project planning I have a provocation strategies section that contains places to record questions (from me or Cam), materials, scaffolding (any prior knowledge she’ll need or provocations or activities that need to be planned or need to come first), books, and provocations (these are the actual set ups I want to put out). 

I should also note that this is not a static document. I add to it and build on it as I go along. It’s not intended to be perfect or comprehensive the first time around.

  • Provocation (Monthly) Planning: In my Intended Projects I name the provocations I want to set up. In my monthly planning I assigned a week of each month to one of the core areas/umbrella projects. On Mondays I set up the one or two provocations that go along with it (many of the provocations build on each other so there is an order to them). That means each provocation stays out for at least a month and it breaks the set-up process into much more manageable chunks. 
  • Provocation Documentation: This is a final document that will come toward the end of a provocation. It will record a statement about why I did the provocation (what questions Cam had that led there or interest that she showed), notes about context and objectives, materials available, a narrative, what was learned, and follow up ideas. I will also include pictures here. I have yet to finish one of these as we are still in the throes of the our current project How Clothes Are Made. I am hoping this will be a good place to harvest pictures and information to create documentation panels. 

I know all this sounds super formalized and school-y, but it’s all based on what Cam has expressed interest in. I chose Building Letter Awareness because Cam is frequently pointing to scribbles she makes and telling me what word she has written. I think she’s ready to start identifying letters and learning how to turn those scribbles into real letters. I am really interested in keeping a good record of what she is thinking and how she is approaching learning too, so I want to have good documentation of all that. And I am prone to getting lazy about setting things up for her (I’m procrastinating setting up some painting as I type) but if I’m hyper organized and front-load in the planning stage it’s easy for me to follow through. I guess you could say this (should) keep me honest. 

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Keep in mind that I am crazy organized and a total neat freak (always have been) so this may be way beyond what any normal parent wants to do. Any one else do planning like this? How do you approach planning?