My BIG ADVENTURE for the summer was the four day Cub Scout camp-out at Camp Sam Wood with Arthur at the end of July. My son was in Boy Bliss! The first night it rained and thundered, and I was not happy; but we remained relatively dry. After that the weather was gorgeous and we got lots of exercise hiking and swimming. The scout camp was well-organized and the boys had lots to keep them busy! The best part for Arthur was he got to learn how to shoot a BB-Gun. I enjoyed the archery practice, too. I also had a nice time with the other scout leaders and parents who attended. And after being around ten 8 to 10 year-old boys for four days in the woods, I realized once again that my son is not as loud and loony as I sometimes think! While we were at camp, Stephanie and my daughter Fiona had some friends over for an overnight of Girl Bliss.
Arthur had his 10th birthday August 11th. Wow, that decade sure flew by! And a couple of weeks ago both the kids spent a week at our local community center’s Day Camp, where they both had tons of fun (and I got to have some fun by myself bike riding and such).
This summer I got to make two more concrete garden sculptures. Gosh, that was fun! And I’ve been helping out with weeding and harvesting at a nearby organic farm where we’d bought a share, which has been very enjoyable and provides us with loads of wonderful, healthy vegetables! And Arthur loves playing with their boys. The kids also got to go to Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester last week. All in all, it’s been a pretty nice summer!
Fiona is now all prepared to start public school for the first time (Hello Kitty backpack; Hello Kitty notebooks; Hello Kitty lunch bag; Hello Kitty sneakers…) She really craves more social interaction with girls, but I also think the structure of school might be good for her. She loves reading and says she’d like to be a teacher when she grows up (as well as a singer and dancer, of course!) She’s excited and eager to begin this new adventure. Arthur prefers homeschooling and still has no desire for the traditional educational experience. Not having the distraction of his sister around might be a good thing for us.
Hopefully I will be posting more often as summer comes to an end. September will be an interesting time for us all!
Just a quick post to show some artwork that my son Arthur and I have collaborated on recently.
I took a couple of pencil drawings he made and scanned them, then opened them in GIMP and added some color. I love the results! We’re thinking of maybe using some of these as illustrations for stories or poems. The possibilities are endless!
Although I’m not sure what kind of story would go along with that first picture! I’m reminded a little of Kandinsky’s later works when I see Arthur’s style.
Arthur is constantly drawing stuff; he’s got lots of them in his room. He’s colored many of his own with more traditional methods (marking pen; crayon) but lately he’s been doing a lot of drawing with just pencil. When I look at them, though, I’m always visualizing them with more intense colors; so using the Gimp was tons of fun for me. I’m looking forward to collaborating on stories as well as artwork.
Fiona has also been doing some very interesting and expressive artwork; both drawing and acrylic paintings. I can’t wait to get outside and do some painting with her when the weather gets a little warmer!
This afternoon the children and I went out to my sister’s property to do a little ‘nature study’ for our homeschool work. It warmed up again into the mid-sixties, with some hazy sun and a gusty Spring wind. We checked out the pond and found a lot of frog eggs that looked like long, transparent worms filled with black dots wound around weeds and sticks under the water. I don’t recall seeing long, stringy egg sacks like this before; usually frog eggs are in big globs. They were cool looking!
Fiona brought her notebook and a pencil, and we sat now and then as she wrote down the names of things we saw. By the time we went home she had written: willow pollen; frog eggs; fragmitis; cattails; deer tracks (lots of those); giant hill; lamb’s ear; holes; dandelions (the first we’ve seen this season); stones; May apples. After leaving the pond we’d climbed the tall grassy hill nearby that has many woodchuck holes in it. Arthur and Fiona both liked standing on top, enjoying the lovely view of green fields and being buffeted by the ferocious, not-quite-chilly wind. We also saw what I’m pretty sure now were coyote tracks in the mud beside the pond amid hundreds of deer prints.
Then it was off across the wide, short grass of a hay-field and into the woods where I’ve gone for over forty years. May Apples were popping up all over, and Trout Lilly and little white flowers whose names I forget at the moment. We explored the ancient piles of big rocks where long ago I buried my Guinea Pig Guinevere. No sign of Trilliums yet, though. By May they are usually all around the forest floor. After finding more deer prints and raccoon tracks near a swampy place, we finally headed back toward the house and our car, just as it began to get cloudy. It was a most pleasant afternoon!
This reminded me of a few things I wrote last Friday, when I went out alone to some other woods where I spent time with my friends as a teenager. Here is what I wrote:
The voice of life is all around me; whispering, creaking, hissing; breathing through branches laced with budding new green. I reach down to touch a cluster of unfolding leaves; small and soft as velvet feathers. Their life force tingles through my fingers; a sensation of GREEN that is not a color but a taste; vibration, electricity tickling my skin; flowing like honey up through fingers and arms. It makes me laugh out loud! The voice of the forest speaks through a hazy aura of sun through high treetops; delicious air that moves and mingles with my own breath. Everywhere, among dark shadow and brown earth there is GREEN; subtle, vibrant, unstoppable GREEN of life returning; igniting the forest within me and without.
Last Saturday my son Arthur had a Cub Scout camp out in which I participated. Though we were lucky; we had a big cozy lodge with a wood stove/fireplace, so we did not have to sleep outside. The Boy Scouts, however, slept in tents on the ground. It made me think of the many times I camped out in the woods in winter, even into my thirties, all by myself with nothing but a sleeping bag, ground cloth and a wool blanket. And I enjoyed it! This time I was extremely happy to have an inflatable mattress and a warm roof over our heads. God, I’m getting old!
We were also fortunate that this winter has been more like the beginning of spring. We’ve barely had an inch of snow so far this winter where we live. And last Saturday morning when Arthur and I arrived at Godfrey’s Pond, a beautiful hidden world of woods and lakes and hills tucked away among the farmlands of Genesee county, the sun was shining and there were geese everywhere. The air smelled like March, too. Though usually the first day of spring in Western New York is never this nice! Usually there’s a foot of snow on the ground. But this day was just glorious, even with a nippy breeze my spirits were soaring. The scent of water and earth and the warm sun on my face was glorious.
The Boy Scouts and their leader took us on a geocaching expedition, which took us over swamps and up into the hills and was a lot of fun. To tell you the truth, I was not really looking forward to this overnight. But getting some exercise in such lovely surroundings, and getting to hang out and get to know some of the other boy’s parents was quite fun. On last years sleepover, I was told, it got down to about five degrees at night. But during the day the kids spent all their time sledding. But despite the lack of snow the boys ran around like maniacs most of the time and Arthur was in absolute Boy Bliss the entire time!
I even got to go home in the afternoon for a couple of hours to take a nap! There was lots of food and in the evening there were many games for kids and adults alike to play. The boys ran around like maniacs some more with flashlights, then went for a night hike (the moon was bright and full). Arthur and four of his friends were the last ones to go to bed, after playing cards and enjoying the silliness of nine-year-old camaraderie and laughing more than he has in a long time. It was nice.
And I even slept better than I thought I would (thanks to the air mattress) despite waking up three or four times during the night. All in all; I am very glad I went!
Today, six days later, we are finally getting some wind and snow and I’ve been knocked out of my eternal spring reverie. Ah well; it was wonderful while it lasted! At least we can go sledding now.
Last evening we went to a high school graduation party for my great-niece (my nephew’s daughter) at a lodge in Black Creek Park. The park is a beautiful place with lots of woods and hills and grassy fields and miles of trails. The party was at a lodge that overlooks a large pond. After eating and socializing, while my son Arthur was playing volleyball with some other kids, my five-year-old Fiona wanted to walk down to see the pond, so I accompanied her.
The evening was perfect; an archetypal Summer with the warm sun setting just above the forest beyond the pond. We walked across the immensity of grass that smelled like fresh-cut hay, down into the long, cool shadow of trees. A crystal moon shone in the pure blue sky. Then Fiona began to run until we reached the edge of the pond.
The water was wide and dark and smelled like life itself. A few big rocks dotted the bank of well-worn earth. Fifi immediately dipped her hands into the water and squished the soft mud between her fingers and exclaimed in delight, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” We soon saw little fish swimming near to investigate us, and heard the echoing calls of bullfrogs nearby and answering croaks from across the water. Fiona took everything in with such reverence and wonder that I too was swept up in those memories of my earliest perceptions, experiencing a pond full of life for the first time. A big dragonfly whizzed by us, darting back and forth along the bank as Fiona continued to express in her own unique voice her perceptions of this summer night. I wish I could remember more of the things she said! She said she would love to be a fish swimming anywhere she wanted to go. And she said I would be a frog (’cause I told her I love the sound of frogs) and we could swim together through the cool water.
In the big woods beyond the big pond the songs of different birds floated on the evening air like music. And as Fiona continued talking to the fishies and playing in the water, I realized once again how much she is like me in the way we just automatically connect with nature. The way we become what our senses take in; the melting of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ until distinctions become meaningless, and the pure delight of being alive and connected to all living things is all there is.
Then she began to sing. She sang a song from the radio by The Band Perry that begins like this: “If I die young, bury me in satin; Lay me down on a, bed of roses; Sink me in the river, at dawn; Send me away with the words of a love song… Uh oh, uh oh.” Except instead of ‘satin’ she said ‘lay me down in sand’, which I thought sounded pretty cool.
And as she sang in that sweet, heavenly little voice, her song drifted out over the water and echoed back from the forest to fill the evening air like a mantra. I was transported again into a magical realm where time is suspended, and the power of her voice filled my senses for one long, long moment. It still gives me chills just to remember that feeling!
I realized the other day that even though we homeschool our kids, I’ve never written much about it here. Writing about the wonderful resource of the Khan Academy the other day got me thinking about it. I still hesitate about whether I should write it ‘homeschool’ or ‘home school’. The WordPress spell checker (spellchecker?) doesn’t seem to like it combined as ‘homeschooling’, but I just noticed it also doesn’t approve of the spelling of ‘WordPress’ either. I’ve seen it written both ways on the internet, but I think I prefer it all as one word; so for now on I shall use ‘homeschool’ and ‘homeschooling’ when referring to the way Stephanie and I educate our children. Also, Dictionary.com tells me homeschool is a proper word. So there!
But back to the subject; homeschooling is something that seems to have gained a lot of popularity over the years. I guess there are different reasons why people homeschool their kids. Many parents seem to do it for religious reasons, I suppose to more thoroughly instruct their children in their particular belief system. Or to protect them from the ever-lowering moral standards of average American society (I can certainly relate to that!) Then there’s the general state of fear, intimidation and violence that kids can be exposed to in schools these days. Even in suburban schools or in more ‘affluent’ areas, the bullying and violence that we hear about fairly often was unimaginable when I was a kid back in the sixties/early seventies. Heck, when I was a kid it was pretty rare to hear about someone getting a punch in the nose, let alone worrying about if some psychotic classmate was packing heat, or having death threats sent to you by email for being the least bit different!
My wife used to work with kids in the public school system, so I know part of the reason we homeschool our children is from the horror stories she’s seen first hand of what kids are capable of doing to each other in modern schools. I also think a major reason many parents choose homeschooling is because we’ve learned that there are many different ways that people learn, depending on the individual. I certainly don’t have anything against schools or teachers in general; but most public schools are limited to a certain style of instruction in a crowded environment and cannot give attention to a student’s individual needs the way home schooling can.
Another reason we chose homeschooling is that we want our children to be creative people, to be free-thinking individuals who follow their own core values as opposed to following the dictates of their peers or cultural fads or the false fulfillments of advertising that seems to dominate our culture. I think some people may thrive in an environment of group mentality; of doing what you’re told and conforming to the will of the masses; of competition over cooperation. But I also think that those who do well in our test-oriented superficial system of education do so in spite of the system, because of their own inane intelligence that is fostered outside the school environment by parents and relatives. And also there are the statistics that show again and again that America has fallen behind other nations, especially up-and-coming third world nations; in the sciences, technology, history, culture, the arts. And because of the decline in our general economy over the last decade or more, the things that I think matter most like Fine Arts, Music, Literature and Philosophy are the first things being cut from our school systems. Short term memorization has become more valued than cognitive thinking skills. And what can teachers do? Their budgets are constantly being reduced. Or teachers are losing their jobs. Resources for education dwindle, especially in the inner-cities, until it seems only the rich and entitled see any hope for a better life than their parents had.
I recently heard that the Rochester, New York City School District, near where we live, has a high school graduation rate slightly lower than 50%! And the Rochester area is better off than many cities in this country. That’s pretty scary!
But I’m getting off on a rant now, and I was really trying to avoid that! There are lots of reasons for homeschooling your precious offspring. And many different philosophies of home schooling, from unschooling to homeschool co-ops to Montessori . I supposed we’ve used a little of everything so far. But I can only say that at eight years old, my son reads voraciously and knows so much on such a wide range of subjects that I have little doubt he will grow up to be a well-rounded, compassionate, witty and highly ‘educated’ individual. As will his younger sister, who at five years of age has an amazing number of interests and talents. And we are very fortunate to live in an area with many large homeschooling groups and communities with all kinds of resources for sports, activities, education and socialization.
But primarily, life is our school. As it has been for thousands of years of human experience. Organized, institutionalized school systems are a rather recent development of the Industrial Age, after all. Every waking moment is a natural stimulus for exploration and study and experimentation. As little children, we found a natural delight in experiencing the world of our senses. That’s what I think ‘education’ is really about. You know, it cracks me up when someone will ask me (like last week) “So do you take time off from homeschooling in the summer”, or something like that; and I am dumbfounded for a moment at how to answer! Because most of us are so conditioned to think of ‘learning‘ as something that happens in an institution, or within the walls of a classroom; as something formal and separate from what the brain does in any other waking moment. So I suppose I could say “No, we don’t generally categorize life into ‘learning’ and ‘non-learning’ time. We learn just as much by playing and exploring as we do reading a book. Whenever we encounter the strange or unfamiliar or beautiful or frightening or puzzling world around us, we’re always learning. And everyone we meet and everything we see and hear and feel and touch is our teacher.
A while back my wife told me about a great home schooling resource called ‘The Khan Academy’. We’re home schooling our kids and I’m constantly in search of new resources besides textbooks and other written material we already have. There are numerous websites, TED, and other on-line educational resources, but I finally got around to checking out The Khan Academy the other day, and it is brilliant!
The website was started by a guy named Salman Khan, a successful hedge fund manager who originally made some algebra videos for his cousin and decided to branch out and create a ton of videos on Youtube covering a wide range of subjects. It has now grown into a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing a quality education to anyone (with a little help from Bill Gates) for free. But instead of me going over the story here, check out the links below for more in-depth information.
The range of topics covered on The Khan Academy site are incredible! Not just tons of math, but history, biology, physics, astronomy, economics, politics, SAT preparation; to name just a few. And the format of these videos is brilliant! This is not your average televised talking head type of video. It’s more like computer blackboard illustrations that go along with the narrative, all done by Sal Khan himself, that last approximately 10 to 15 minutes in length. And there are also interactive practice lessons available. My son and daughter love watching them, and so do I! There’s material for every age range right up through college level instruction. I’ve been spending at least an hour or so a day watching videos with the kids.
Such a simple idea, but I think his really could produce a revolution in education. But check out the Khan Academy for yourself. I love this guy!