Monday, August 25, 2008

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Originally uploaded by stueverfleetwood
This is the kind of jumping in that I mean in one of the first bullets in the post below.

Dori, age 2, scaring the crap out of her grandmother and jumping into the pool. Over. And over. And over again.

What will the kindergarten teacher do when my child ... ?

Back in January, the superintendent of the local school district came to our house to attend the estate sale before we moved in. Upon learing we were homeschoolers, he and his wife tried to sell me on the merits of the public elementary school. His wife seemed to think I would be interested in how cutely it is decorated* (as if) and he told me who was his best kindergarten teacher, Mrs. P. (sorry for the kids who aren't in her class). He could have gained some valuable market research and may have even been able to help me realize his points better had he asked me a thing, but he did all the talking.

Because I was taught by his type of system not to be bold and assert myself with authority, I just nodded and sold them a decorative oak shelf. Here's what I wish I would have asked the superintendent about his star kindergarten teacher, Mrs. P.:
  • Will Mrs. P. sit down with my daughter on her lap and read her really good stories every day? Will she welcome each question, even if it's right in the middle of the story?
  • When Addy is inspired by an idea, will she drop the day's lesson plan (or the week's or month's!) and dive right into it head first?
  • Will she base the curriculum on what excites Addy and helps her develop as a person, or will she be so worried about meeting state standards in specific areas that the life is drained out of it?
  • Can Dori come to the classroom every day, too, and take a spot right next to Addy so they can love and learn from each other, developing the kind of deep relationship sisters should?
  • Will she clear her classroom from the typical pop culture icons that send the wrong messages to developing young minds?
  • Will children in her classroom value people before things, self-esteem over group acceptance, words over fists? How about on the playground? On the bus? Little children are learning and need loving guidance every time. Will Mrs. P. be there on the bus, in the lunchroom and on the playground to provide it?
  • Will she uphold our family's values?
  • Will she spend all the time Addy needs to learn a concept without ever rushing her, labeling her or sending her off to a special classroom? Is she willing to drop months of lesson plans if Addy is ready to zoom on to something new?
  • Will she promise to never squelch Addy's love of learning by filling her time with busywork? Can she promise not to make her wait to be called on when she is eager with a question or idea?
  • Will she come to my home so she can continue to discuss what they're learning at the dinner table, in the car and at bedtime?
  • What will she say when Addy asks the hard questions, about God, or sex, or dying?

I really do want to know these sorts of things. I am very open to hearing from others, even if (maybe especially if?) they disagree with me.

* I was at the school for a public event. Behind a cute facade and inviting lobby, office and board room, down the hallways I saw cinderblock walls, solid steel doors and cold lockers. Not that I care.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Using the "Come Look with Me" series for homeschool art appreciation

I used to be afraid of art until I shared the book Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children with Addy when she was 5. I thought fine art was for the sophisticated — certainly not for a regular person like me.

The books in the Come Look with Me series introduce kids to great works of art in a very gentle way. The whole point of beginning to enjoy art is simply to start looking at it.

Each two-page spread covers one piece of art. On the left page is the print, nearly filling the page, with information about the artist, name of the piece, date, and where it is located (such as a gallery or private collection). The right-hand page has a few questions the parent can ask the child and discuss together, such as, "What do you think the child is looking at? What makes you think so?" and, "The artist used a lot of different lines in this painting. Find a straight line. ..." There are no wrong answers. The questions are designed to get the children looking — really looking — at the art.

Then at the bottom is a brief narrative about the artwork and the artist, explaining what is happening in the picture or how and why the artist created it. Each spread is an art appreciation lesson, without it ever feeling like a lesson. It's even easy for someone like me with no prior art background. I like that this book starts author Gladys Blizzard’s series of books with pictures of children, as it’s easy for children to get into paintings of kids their own ages.

Now that I’m not afraid to look at art and take it all in, it’s fun to explore it further. Addy and I are able to talk about artwork we see. We talk about how it was created, what the artist might have been feeling, and we compare it to other art we have seen.

I wish I had been exposed to art like this when I was 5 years old!

We started with Enjoying Art with Children and I acquired three more in the series that we will continue using. We study one piece of art per week. This is the cornerstone book, but you could start with any one.

Some things we have done at home to extend the learning from this book:
  • I bought an inexpensive table-top easel and set the book up in our living room, opened to the artwork we studied that week. Every time we walk by we can appreciate it even more and even notice new things.
  • We add the artist’s birth and death dates in the Sonlight Book of Time we keep for history and geography. (Any timeline will do.)

    This may save you scads of time: I'm offering free use of the timeline label stickers I created for Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children, Come Look with Me: Animals in Art, Come Look with Me: Enjoying Landscape Art with Children and Come Look with Me: The World of Play. Next semester we'll be using the American Girl art book in a similar way, so stickers are included here also for Imagine: The Girl in the Painting. Just print them on address labels, or you could print them on regular paper to cut and paste. Most of the images are in the public domain because of their age, but some are not, so use with care and know that these are for your home use only. Read the details on the file footer.
  • Once my daughter wanted to try to recreate one of the paintings, so we sketched it ourselves.
  • One of my favorite moments as a homeschooling mother was when our family had the chance to go to the Art Institute of Chicago and see one of the paintings. We were able to enjoy it and talk about it intelligently. My daughter was not bored at the art gallery as I would have been at her age. She was fascinated, all thanks to Come Look with Me!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Our pet population quadrupled in a week.

We moved into this house 5 months ago with a cat. A single, spayed cat. Tippy lives outside in the garage, which we figure is a nicer life than the one from which she was rescued. She was a wee kitten standing in the road — no homes anywhere in sight — as Bob barreled down it at 55 mph and I only urged him to swerve. We stopped, and somehow she ended up coming home with us.

Come spring this year a new kitty claimed our place as her own. We didn't find her; she found us. As soon as I found a vet who offered reasonable rates on spaying, it was too late. More later.

Now, we have known since Addy could walk that a rabbit would one day be added to our household. It was unavoidable. Her great uncle raises them and Uncle Dick and Aunt Maggie brought a bunny to Addy's 1st birthday party for her to play with. We were to give the green light when it was OK for her to have her own. My severe rabbit allergy stood in the way for a long time, but I finally gave in as it's getting better. Now Addy is 6 and a 4-H Cloverbud, so we gave the green light (or waved the white flag?) and on Thursday night added Buns to our list of garage dwellers. Buns (Addy named her, of course) is an 8-week old black-and-white Dutch. Very, very cute.

Either late in the night or early yesterday morning, the friendly cat that adopted us in the spring birthed four kittens. Although I made a nice nest for her in the garage and suggested other spots by leaving soft material around, she had them outside, under the kids' big yellow slide. Addy found them when she went out to play. Dori already knows that they're too little to touch, and gets concerned when they cry. She tells me I need to go to them.

We're still renting the home in town. Can you tell we're country people trapped in the city?