Junior Philosopher

cimg5128The past several lunchtimes, my kids and I have been listening to Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, with varying levels of attention. Today, my son and I had this conversation:

son: “Are both Socrates and Plato philosophers?”

me: “Yes. They are both lovers of wisdom.”

son: “I’m a lover of wisdom.”

me: “Then maybe you’re a philosopher.”

son: “But I don’t even know how to be a philosopher.”

me: “All you need to do to be a philosopher is to love wisdom and seek wisdom.”

son: “Okay.”

I might need brush up on my Socratic dialogue skills now that I have a seven-year-old philosopher in the house.

Raising Readers: Selecting Books

A week or so ago, I wrote about how my spouse and I accidentally created a Reading Culture at our house, and then accidentally inculcated our children into it.

Today, I wanted to write about how our kids get books into their hands. Do they read just what they’re assigned to read by parents and teachers, or do they read only what they pick for themselves? Do my spouse and I limit what they are allowed to read, or do we let them  read whatever printed materials they get their hands on?

In our house, the short answer to both questions is: It’s something in between. Read More

Raising Readers: Reading Culture

I was sitting and reading one afternoon last fall when the cat got up from my lap and, wakened from the world of the novel on my lap, I realized that the house was very quiet. So, I decided to check on the kids. I looked in on them in the room we’ve dubbed “The Library,” and both of my  children were sitting on the couch, reading silently to themselves. They looked up at me and smiled and then looked back at their books.

“Holy cow!” I thought. “Finally, we can all read as a family!” Smiling, I went back to my book and my couch in the other room.

Friends have asked me how we got to this point. How did we get our kids to love reading? How do we get them to choose reading over screens and devices? In a recent post, Cheyanne of Tangerine Wallpaper posited some related questions, and I figured the topic of reading was worth a blog post (or two).

Really, we didn’t set out to make our kids into readers, but when I look at our house, I realize that we have developed something of a reading culture in our house, and even though we didn’t develop this reading culture for the purpose of promoting a love of reading in our kids, I think it contributes to the reading habits my kids have developed. Here’s what our reading culture looks like: Read More

Fruit Punctuation

This morning while I was peeling and chopping and tossing things into the slow cooker, my six-year-old told me about something in a book he was reading.

“It says ‘Anakin’ and then it has those big bananas,” he explained.

“Big bananas?” I asked, clearing onion skins into the compost bucket.

“Yes. You know, those big word bananas that explain what things are.”

I turned and looked directly at him. “Big…word bananas?”

“They’re like giant commas around words.”

“Oh! You mean parentheses?”

A cloud of deep thought crossed his face and then cleared into a smile of recognition.

“Yes!” he said. “Parentheses!”

Big word bananas. Okay.

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Guess Who

 

Lincoln MemorialMe: Do you know who that statue is?

6yo: Oh! I know him! I’ll give you a hint. His first name starts with “Z” and his second name starts with “M.”

Me: Um. Well, the name I know him by doesn’t start with those letters.

6yo: No, my friend told me all about him. His name has “Z” and “M.” He’s from DC Comics.

Me: No, this statue is of someone who was president of the United States.

6yo: Oh, well maybe he isn’t from DC Comics. His name is Zombie Man!

Me: Well, I know him as Abraham Lincoln.

6yo: Oh, yes! Abraham Lincoln! From the penny!

Me: Yes. Abraham Lincoln. From the penny.

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I suppose I should feel grateful that he remembered that Lincoln is on the penny and that somewhere in his head is a connection to DC. It’s a decent start for a six-year-old.

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Studying Ancient Egypt

To complement our study of ancient Egypt, we built a pyramid.

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In order to be as authentic as possible, each of these LEGO bricks weighs three tons. Next we need to mummify a minifigure.

Monarch Butterfly Rearing Recap: Release and Conservation

The ninth and last butterfly was still a pupa when I went to bed last night. The chrysalis seemed smaller than the others and hadn’t changed colors in the same way the others had, and I was starting to worry that this butterfly wasn’t going to emerge safely. But this morning, there he was, hanging upside-down in the the enclosure, wings already full-size. Read More

Mothering Monarchs

Wednesday before last, I went out to check the mail and discovered a Priority Mail package from Pennsylvania.

It held the ten swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) plants and one dozen live monarch caterpillars (and two that hadn’t made the journey) I’d ordered the week before Read More

Pandora’s Homeschool

“Mom, did you say eighty thousand people died in one moment?” asked my daughter.

This afternoon, my children and I sat under the Tree of Knowledge, and they accepted with trust the apple I offered them: I read to them about how our country dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all of the people living in those cities.

“Mom, have they ever dropped atomic bombs on any other country?” my daughter asked.

“No, not in war. Not except for tests,” I said.

“Good. Because that was an awful thing to do.”

Before I started today’s lesson, their world-view didn’t include atomic weapons used to intentionally annihilate two cities and hundreds of thousands of human lives. This knowledge has shifted their perception of the world.

“Mom, I can’t wait until we learn about the Ancients again because even though they did lots of bad things to people, they couldn’t kill nearly so many people at once as people can in modern times.”

And because we homeschool, I’m the one who gets to tell them about Stalin’s purges and the Holocaust and atomic weapons. It’s a mixed blessing. I’m glad they’re hearing these things from me and that I get to be there to see them process the information, and I’m also grateful for the opportunity to look more deeply into these issues myself, but it’s difficult to tell them about these things. It’s difficult enough just to confront them myself.

Maybe I’m less like Eve and more like Pandora. With each lesson, I open the box a little more and let out into their world one more evil. And now I’m wondering, do I leave Hope inside the box? Or do I let it fly free and trust that it can hold its own out in the world and—even more—in the hearts of my children?

The Starry Afternoon: An Artistic Victory

My kids love crafts, but for the past couple of years, my eight-year-old has been very resistant to anything labeled “art,” especially drawing. I think it has to do with perfectionism. No idea where she got that.

My efforts to get her on speaking terms with the world of art have only increased her resistance, which left me feeling awful. But I didn’t despair and have continued to look for programs that might bring the joy of art back to my girl.

Recently I discovered a series of free online art lessons by Sharon Jeffus called Art Through the Year.

The program and the projects looked fun and different from the other things we’d tried, so the kids and I gave it a whirl.

Each lesson consists of a ~30-minute video about a certain period in art history, or a certain technique, with printable instructions for projects that go along with the lesson.

The topic for Lesson 1 was “Post-Impressionism and Line.” Jeffus showed and talked about paintings by Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, and we learned about pointillism, line, and techniques for using oil pastels.

My four-year-old son's lion (his sister did the one on the right).

My four-year-old son’s lion (his sister did the one on the right).

There were two projects for this lesson, a lion drawn with lines and our own mixed-media rendition of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

My eight-year-old daughter's lions.

My eight-year-old daughter’s lions.

My children liked the lesson, and they loved the projects.

My lions.

My lions (I’m thirty-seven, since I told the kids’ ages).

I think it helped that the lesson was a video—my kids are so video-deprived, they’re happy to watch anything on a screen, but I was impressed with the quality of this video, especially since it was free. Jeffus used some different pronunciations for Seurat and Cézanne than I’ve heard before, but since I embarrassed myself by saying “facade” with a hard “C” more than 20 years ago, I don’t feel confident about the pronunciation of any French-derived words anymore. I knew who she was talking about, so no biggie.

My son's Starry Night.

My son’s Starry Night.

The pacing of the video was good for us, and I liked that Jeffus left a spot after she described the first project for the kids and me to pause the video and do that project before watching the explanation for the next.

While doing the projects, my kids didn’t lose their cool, they didn’t hit each other, and they worked on their projects for longer than I expected, given their prior irritability around any directed art projects. Our thirteen-year-old neighbor came over and did the Starry Night project with us, but she left before I had a chance to photograph her picture.

Top: Van Gogh's Starry Night. Bottom left: My daughter's. Bottom right: mine.

Top: Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Bottom left: My daughter’s Starry Night. Bottom right: my Starry Night.

We didn’t produce any amazing works of art, but we all had a blast, which is all I was hoping for.

My daughter’s review: “I hated art before because then I felt like I had to do something exact, but this art class has you do something general. I like art now.”

Both kids can’t wait for Lesson 2, “Shape & Shading with Pumpkins”!