Why the Tree of Life?

7.27.2011

The Case of the Missing Part of Speech


The Case of the Missing Parts of Speech Director's Score w/Reprod. Parts

One last cool find for the night. I did this play, The Case of the Missing Part of Speech, in 5th grade (I think), and I had those catchy grammar songs stuck in my head for years and relied on them for successful answering on grammar tests for as long as I had to take grammar tests. I have been looking for a CD of the songs for awhile now, and I happened to do another search this week and found it!

Good Times Travel Agency

I've just discovered a really great series of historical picture books by Linda Bailey. The one pictured below is Adventure in the Middle Ages (Good Times Travel Agency), and each one in the series is similarly titled.

Adventures in the Middle Ages (Good Times Travel Agency)
The boys are just eating them up. Each story begins with the Binkerton twins, Josh and Emma, and their little sister Libby accidentally being drawn into the Good Times Travel Agency. It's not your normal travel agency, and if you pick up any one of the magical travel guides, it whisks you away to another time period. The storylines and historical details have been fantastic. So far, we have read the ones on the Middle Ages, Ancient Egypt and Ancient China. There are several more in the series. We have also been reading the Ms. Frizzle Adventures books, which are similar to Bailey's books and star Ms. Frizzle from the excellent Magic School Bus science book series. While those are good, too, I think the Good Times Agency books are much better.

7.20.2011

Description of a Pencil

by Kirven (with the help of spell check)

pencil triangle in pencil box dirty yews often me not like


(Background information: Kirven doesn't like narration/recall and summary making, so I am going to find him a different writing curriculum. In the interim, I asked him to describe his pencil today, and he was allowed to type and use spell check. He uses the Lyra triangular pencils, and his pencil box is very dirty. We are going to edit his little haiku-- count the syllables, it's really close!--- into an actual sentence tomorrow, and work on expanding it a little.)

7.12.2011

Learning How to Cook Without a Book

I don't mind cooking. No, that's a lie. I don't really like cooking. I thought I did for a while, but I really don't. The chore of getting dinner on the table every night is a real drag. You can throw baking right along in there, too.

I also don't really know how to cook. I mean, I can follow a recipe like anyone else, but I don't think that really counts as knowing how to cook. Not that many generations ago, women knew how to cook. I want to be able to do that.

Couple that with being in a serious dinner rut, and with various personal wishes of wanting to eat local, organic, in season, blah, blah, blah, I decided I needed to learn how to cook. I have tried getting the local box from Greenling three different times (local produce delivered to your doorstep once a week), but I always found it overwhelming and ended up with vegetables rotting in their drawers.

I wanted to be able to open up the frig and the pantry, see what I had available and make something sufficiently tasty for a weeknight dinner out of it.

So I began my quest, checked out a bunch of books from the library, and here is what I have to share:

How to Cook Without a Book: Recipes and Techniques Every Cook Should Know by Heart

This has become my bible, and I am working on memorizing it. I have learned how to sear any meat, prepare any pan sauce, steam/saute any vegetable, a stir-fry formula, pasta sauce formula, frittata formula, make up my own salad dressing... all with stuff I have currently available in the house.

Previously, I would plan out every meal for the week ahead, and buy only those ingredients. Now I am learning how to keep my pantry stocked with basics, and when I go to the grocery store, I can buy the meats that are on sale and know that I will use them that week and they won't be forgotten in the freezer. When I get our produce box or shop for it at the grocery store, I can wait and buy what looks good because I feel confident now that I will make something good out of it, even if I don't know yet what that will be. I might put that summer squash in a frittata or a pasta sauce, or I might saute it with onions and something else lying around in the fridge.

Plus, Anderson has written with the busy mom in mind. Her formulas are bare bones and meant to be fast. And I have found her ideas to be fast, not just wishful-thinking fast. These are weeknight dinners. She intends for you to save the more elaborate stuff for entertaining. You won't find a prize-winning roast in this particular book; you have to look elsewhere for that.

I am finding this exciting and very freeing. Dinner is kind of an adventure now. Some things have turned out barely palatable, but some things have been really, really good. And it will never again be the same way twice... cause I'm making it up as I go along.

The "barely palatable" dishes sent me on a hunt for this book that I eventually found:

The Flavor Bible by Page & Dornenburg

The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs

This is not a recipe book. I don't think there is a single recipe in it. What it is is a 2 inch thick dictionary of flavor. You look up what you have (like say, asparagus) and they tell you good ways to prepare/cook it and what flavors traditionally go with it and which flavors are daring possibilities. I'm not the kind of person who gets excited about cookbooks, and I'm not that much of a foodie, but this is a pretty cool book for the ignorant cook (like me) as well as the gourmet chef (who I think the book is really written for)....because it is one thing to cook without a book, and it is another to stare at your spice rack while dinner is beginning to burn in the pan and you are contemplating what to throw in.

And finally, I applied this same line of thinking to baking, and I found this:

Ratios by Michael Ruhlman
Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

From bread to batter, it is all really the same thing, just a different ratio. He also has ratios for sauces and other sorts of things. We made Ayla's 1-2-3 cookies from this book, but I am looking forward to playing around with this cookie ratio some on the next project day. Just as Anderson's book is very basic, so is this one. The 1-2-3 cookie, as Ruhlman says, is not art, it's just the basic food chemistry of a cookie. The art comes in playing around with it.

I'm pretty jazzed about all that I am learning, and I fully intend to pass this along to the kids.

Ayla's Cookies



Tuesdays are Ayla's project days, and today she wanted to make cookies. We made 1-2-3 cookies, and we made a really small batch. 1-2-3 is the ratio of the essence of cookieness. 1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour. Play around with the ratio, or the types of flours, fats or sugars, add flavorings, and you have infinite possibilities in cookiedom. Take flour away and you have icing, take sugar away and you have roux.

So, anyway, as I said, we did a very small batch: 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 3/4 cup of flour, and it only made 10 cookies. Very nice. I can do that any day of the week. I have a gigantic 6 qt. metal mixing bowl with a rubber bottom that I have realized works great with the toddler. I mean, this bowl is really big. She can mash flour and butter and sugar around with her bare hands, and it all stays in the bowl. Hallelujah.

The cookies turned out ok. Definitely needed salt and chocolate. But I like knowing the basic cookie now. And Ayla had fun creaming the ingredients with her hands and licking as much as she could before I reminded her that they needed to go into the oven next.

7.11.2011

Dunagan's Boat

Dunagan built a boat today to test the effects of a rudder.  He used a foam meat tray, a cup from an egg carton (& hot glue), a rudder from a milk carton (waterproof cardboard), a twig mast and a construction paper sail.  He had three separate slots for the rudder, and when he blew the sail, he could see which direction the rudder would steer.



Ayla's Painting

I've finally figured out toddler painting.
Paint directly onto the painting board (the ones used for older kids doing wet-on-wet watercolor), no paper.  Use washable tempera, and a big fat brush you don't care if they rub back and forth.  Take clothes off, don't bother with smocks.


7.10.2011

Water Shooters

The kids and Dad made Easy $5 Water Guns today from Instructables.






They shoot really far. Like, you think you're out of range... surely... but you're probably not.


Then we took them down to the neighbors' pool and made ourselves unwelcome. No, really we were invited. But I hope they invite us back.

For a pacifist family, we have a disturbing number of weapons. Guess it's the Texan in us.
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Rockport Beach

We spent the 4th of July with friends in Rockport at the beach.


We played at the beach in the mornings and hung out at the pool in the afternoons.


We even got to see fireworks, which we would have missed had we been in Austin. Fireworks were banned due to the drought.








Dunagan had this cool idea for a photo. I took his picture through a paper towel roll.
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Water Rocket

Project from a couple of Sunday's ago. You fill it up half way with water, and then use a bicycle pump to pump it full of air until it shoots up. They shot it in the culdesac until the fins broke off.




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Glassblowing

We went one evening with some homeschooling friends to watch my sister blow glass. It's always fascinating to watch the artiste.


The boys really enjoyed watching her. They've seen her work before, but it has been a very long time. I know Kirven has, but maybe Dunagan hadn't.


Dunagan spent a good deal of time collecting little bits of colored glass off the driveway. He has quite a collection now.


Boy, was it hot. Hot summer day plus the blazing glory hole.
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How's and Why's

I've been asked to share a little bit about why and how my homeschooling approach has shifted. I'm not sure I can keep it in a nutshell, so for those uninterested in the nuts and bolts of what I'm doing, please consider this a warning that your eyes may glaze over and feel free to skip this post. This is going to be ridiculously long. In fact, the commenter may give up before she reaches the end. :)

Enki is a holistic method in the sense that it takes into consideration not only the mind (which is what conventional and "classical" education focuses on pretty much exclusively) but also the heart and the body. (Waldorf and Montessori are also holistic). Most homeschoolers are "holistic" by default, in one sense I think, because as parents, we have our eye on the whole child all the time anyway. We look to their physical and emotional (character) health, as well as the development of their minds.

But Enki means holistic slightly differently. In Enki, new material is brought to the student through "all" the doorways: body, heart and mind (among others). So for example, say for math, you would tap and clap in appropriate rhythms the multiplication tables (for putting it into the body), hear a story in which the energy of the mathematical relationship is at play (and it will mirror where the child is developmentally--so this addresses the heart level), and then, after working with manipulatives and games for a good while, and letting a good amount of literal sleep play a role in making brain connections, then you bring pencil to paper to work math problems. So, there is this foundation of body and heart elements; movement, story and games, that comes before any real mental output. And "discovery learning" plays a huge role in Enki. The student is not told things directly and is left to discover things for themselves as much as possible.

Enki also has something called the "Enki Web" which is used as a tool to guide the teacher in picking appropriate topics, materials, whatever, to bring to the student. I just tried to cut and paste a picture of it, but it didn't work. That's probably for the best, since I don't want to run into copyright issues. Anyway, I'll try to describe it, because the Web *is* Enki. There's no way to stress that enough.

Imagine a large outer circle and a smaller inner circle. The large outer circle is labeled "Community & Family." The smaller inner circle is labeled "Vitality & Wisdom." Between these two circle are connection "web" lines, each labeled. It really looks like a web or a mandala. It's very pretty actually. The different lines are:
Activity of Learning
Teacher Health
Adult Models
Essential Energy
Environment
Rhythms
Unity & Diversity
Body, Heart & Mind
Developmental Mirror

Each of these items could have (and do have) pages and pages written about them, and it is a very useful tool for the teacher/parent. All of the materials that Enki Education sells have been "taken through" this Web and meet all the criteria it entails.

Having worked with Enki for five years now, I can safely say that it is a complete paradigm shift. It requires a lot of work to implement. In many ways, that extra work is well worth it. But after taking a class on the Web last summer and ruminating on my own experiences, I have come to several different conclusions.

#1: Not only Enki, but every educational method, theology, political/economic philosophy, etc... they all have their own "webs" and they are all different. In my home, with my children, Enki's Web isn't working out so well for me. Parts of it work, but not the whole. Therefore, if I jettison the Enki Web, I'm really not "doing" Enki anymore. Which is ok. As a homeschooler, I think I ultimately have to make my own "web." I'm not sure you can get around that.

#2 There is a big difference between working with a class and working with your own children. Enki is primarily for the classroom. It has been adapted for the homeschool, but there are so many things that would be totally awesome and amazing if you had compadres to do them with. They're not impossible to do on your own, but they become more work than I want to do. Because I am lazy.

#3 I can't make my children do things they hate. They liked to do circle at Enki camp with lots of other kids (that's where all the academic and sensory movement work happens), but they dug in their heels at home. So we were skipping a huge foundation, the movement work.

#4 I was spending way more time in lesson prep than I wanted to. Practically every spare moment. And then I had no energy to follow through. And I began to feel very resentful of my uncooperative kids who would not do what I had so lovingly prepared for them. I concluded that I needed to simplify and find things that they wanted to do (because, heck, isn't that why I'm homeschooling?)--- or that I could force them to do more easily.

#5 I found Enki to make learning more complicated than it had to be, at least in our home. I'm not sure it is necessary to bring something to the student through every possible doorway. I think that makes sense in a classroom with lots of different kids and different learning styles. But it began to feel like I was medicating for problems we didn't have, if that makes sense. The Enki approach does things in this way in order to keep all those doors open in the student and so that the student doesn't primarily become a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner to the exclusion of other learning styles. In theory, I agree with Enki, but in practice, I found it very difficult and overwhelming to implement.

#6 I began to feel really boxed in by this approach. The Enki Web is both Enki's strength and it's weakness. While it some respects it is freeing, because it is not a recipe and you have to ask the deep questions, I found it restraining because I began to realize that I had different criteria and questions. My "web" looks different and it will probably change as we go along. In fact, I don't even really want to sit down and articulate what my web is now, because I think I would just be creating another box for myself. I have a general idea of it in the back of my head, and beyond that, it is just a matter of staying present and aware of my kids and their interests, abilities and developmental stages.

#7 If Life circumstances or traveling threw us off schooling, all of my lesson plans went to pot. I just didn't find a way be flexible about it. Since it was all interconnected, it would either flow beautifully (and I would be exhausted at the end of the day) or it would all fall apart. I need everything separate and nothing contingent upon anything else. If every subject is on its own separate track, I can miss something and pick back up where we left off without dragging everything else down. I think this is a personality issue on my part. Perfectionism probably. This is not an inherent weakness in Enki.

So, what have we shifted to?

Language Arts:
I found Enki to be Incidental Phonics in orientation. I am actually a pure and direct phonics girl. This was a lack of understanding on my part going into Enki. They're actually very clear about it, but I didn't understand the difference enough. But now I do. I found Enki's approach to language arts (reading instruction, handwriting and spelling) akin to throwing my kids in the deep end and letting them figure it out. In some ways, this is not a fair statement, but this was my kids' experience with it, and I watched my oldest's interest in reading and self-confidence wither away to nothing. Other families have had wonderful results, and I want to be clear about that, but I finally pulled out my copy of The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and haven't looked back. They don't necessarily like it any better than the Enki way, but they're reading. And really, I picked Enki because I thought learning would be more enjoyable for them... but if they're hating it... what's the point then if I find it an inefficient method of instruction to boot.

Math:
I really like the Enki way of introducing math concepts. We're definitely sticking with that. I was on the fence about ordering Enki Grade 3, but I ordered yesterday. I decided there was enough that I could still use. Let's hope I'm right. But rather than Enki being a foundation, I'm going to use it more as a support. Kirven is now doing the Teaching Textbook 3, and whenever we do the Enki math stuff, it will be more as an illustrative review. So, to say "introducing" math concepts is a little misleading in how we'll use it, but I think the stories and activities make good connections in understanding.

Humanities:
I love Enki's approach to other cultures and the acknowledgment of inherent wisdom in all people. They're serious about it and deep and respectful. And it is not multicultural in a white guilt or Disney-esque sort of way. But the kids are also enjoying The Story of the World, which does not fit in with the Enki developmental mirror. It is my understanding that that sort of study of history would come later. But, we're going to do both. In Grade 3, everything is unit studies based, and I actually hate unit studies, so I will be breaking it all apart, I believe. We'll do what interests us, and I'm not going to sweat the rest. There are some really massive projects (build a Haudenosaunee long house---really cool, but, um, where?) that would be awesome with a class, but much more than I want to do. I get heart palpitations just thinking about the farming blocks that go along with the culture in focus. As Evan said, "why don't you learn how to garden in our own climate first." The boys have been known to plead on behalf of the plants I want to buy in order not to bring them home to our house of death. Enough said.

Science:
There's not much to Enki's approach to science in grade 1 & 2. Until Grade 3, it has been nature walks and nature stories. My boys are totally into robots and space and Mythbusters and Maker Faire and Instructables and The Elements and blowing things up. Enki science has been too lightweight for them. Everything is to remain in the realm of discovery learning, and it is best to give evasive answers to questions; answers such as "Hmm... I wonder..." And while we do do this a lot, there are a lot of times when the boys want meaty discussions about how the space shuttle works or why helium makes you sound funny. I don't think kids should learn everything from their own discovery all the time. I think there is a lot of self-impowerment in that approach, but I don't think they should have to reinvent the wheel on everything.

Media:
We were strictly no media for a very long time. I am still leery of it. We will never have violent video games. In fact, if they should ever cross our threshold because I've become apathetic about that too, please take me out to pasture and shoot me. But we are watching more and more things from Netflix and Kirven is doing several things on the computer. His math work is on the computer, as is Spanish and Typing (another thing not introduced this early in Enki). He is also going to be starting beginner programming with Dad whenever Dad reads up on it (way not Enki). Through Netflix, we've been watching Diego and Dora for Spanish, David Attenborough (love him) nature shows and Mythbusters. Now that we are in the deep of Texas winter and it is bloody hot outside, the kids have been watching 1-2 hours a day. And frankly, I like the babysitter. Good god, did I just say that? I still hate our Wii and the whining and fighting it creates, but they do move a little and they enjoy it a lot. And bizarrely enough, ever since the boys saw Star Wars, their creative play has skyrocketed. They have this game called Kings Game that is a mix of Star Wars and them being supreme rulers of the universe and it ranges all over the house and into the car and continues on in the grocery store, back into the car and then the house and they can play that for 2 or 3 hours and little bits in between. So, while I am still a total wet blanket about most media, I have my favorites and pandora's box was opened a long time ago around here. And need I mention how inspirational and educational Mythbusters is? Scientific method, problem solving, passion about science, blowing things up properly, what more can you ask for?

Geez, what else....

I think that about covers it. We're not in a box anymore, but Enki has influenced me in large and small ways, and it will continue to influence my approach. I'm still volunteering for them by writing some curriculum stories, and I enjoy that work. And I like working with Beth Sutton. I consider her a friend and a mentor. They really nail it when it comes to describing child development, and for that alone I have bought Grade 3, but I am also going to be bringing things to my kids that would be coming later (or never) in a pure Enki homeschool. It's just more interesting that way.

Firebox is Out

The sheetrock was still damp.

Anyone need a firebox?


7.07.2011

Chimney

It's coming down today.  After discovering the chimney leaks like a sieve when we got that big 12 inch rain (that wet stuff that falls from the sky, remember) last fall, we've known we had to take the chimney down and replace it with a window.  The kids have set up camp in the front yard to watch.


7.06.2011

Changing Directions

Our homeschool has undergone a slow and necessary transformation as I have sifted through what works for us and what doesn't. As a result, I am a little bit at a loss as to who my audience is now on this blog.

With Enki no longer our primary curriculum, and with a general feeling that I don't need labels anymore as much as I did in the past, I don't have quite the sense of purpose writing here as I did before. Impulsively, I deleted all the links in the side column, as some have noticed. Now, I kind of wish I hadn't, but that's ok, too. I don't think I want to be a hub of information for something I don't believe in 100%. Our homeschooling is much more eclectic now, and we're no longer exclusively using a method that requires so much outside support. In the past, I felt this blog was helping to fill a need, but now, not so much.

So, who am I writing for now? Family and friends, I think; my own personal scrapbook really. I plan to still post here, and actually want to get back to more regular posting. My biggest hurdle right now is forming a picture-downloading habit and finding a regular, dedicated blogging time.

And when I get my awesome Sportsmobile, and we're traveling across the country, I think this will be a great travelogue. No, seriously. Stop laughing.

But anyway, if you have been a longtime reader of my blog because of Enki (or Quakerism) and wondering why things have really fallen off, that's why.