Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rushmore, a book review

We just read Rushmore by Lynn Curlee, and it's exactly the kind of book I look for to read with my children. Some interest in Mt. Rushmore had been generated by the second National Treasure movie, so I decided to follow up on that when I saw this book at a local library. The book is 48 pages with some of those pages being full page illustrations, and the text is medium sized with spacing between each line. The result is completely appropriate for the mid-elementary years – providing enough detail without getting bogged down. The story provides opportunities to talk about the time between the World Wars, the boom of the 20s, geography, immigration, art and sculpture, the Great Depression, politics and funding for federal projects, public works, the type of personalities needed to complete such a project, and engineering. And of course, adding biographies of the four presidents depicted, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and the first Roosevelt, would make sense. It would make a fabulous spine for a unit study, and I'm not even into unit studies!

We followed up by looking at some photograps of the real Mt. Rushmore, since the illustrations in the book do not include photographs. I particularly liked these, which include some closups (look at the eyes!) and this one of the sculptures under construction.

A Nature Walk

I struggle with the nature walk aspect of the Charlotte Mason education. I agree with it completely philosophically. One of the reasons I want to homeschool is so that my children can see their connections to the world around them, and that definitely includes the natural world. It is when the rubber hits the road that I have problems. My kids whine. They would never choose to take a nature walk. And here in New England, it is extremely hard to motivate ourselves to get out in the winter. I did finally put up a bird feeder this year, though, and that has been a good addition to our days.

Last Friday I saw an opportunity to get them out -- we took a walk before I dropped them with Grandma. That way I didn't have to pack food, which made things easier. We went to a new place, too. I had one unhappy boy, but the other two were okay, and found things to see on our forty-five minute walk. We saw curled fiddleheads, a stream running next to a stone wall, a man made stone bridge, leaves and blossoms just emerging, birds (we heard a woodpecker making two distinct sounds, presumably on two different trees). We walked uphill to a pond and saw a little life in that, as well as a huge pile of logs on the other side of it. My four year old told me that beavers have their doors underwater and have long sharp teeth. He would also walk a few steps and then say with amazement, "Look, Mom, another part of the lake." And I would have to look before he would move on. On one stop we saw a pile of large branches under the water and he decided that it was the beavers' playground. My oldest was fairly observant also, and particularly drawn to the stream. About halfway through I did have to make a rule that there are no bad guys in the woods -- they are constantly building stories around bad guys! My middle guy was happier once we turned around. Strangely, he's the one who seems to like nature best, but not, apparently, on this day.

I hope to have more of a nature walk routine through the summer. We do have plenty of outdoor time, but not a whole lot of observation. I also have Wild Days, and would like to get them started with nature journals. My six-year old hasn't been much of a artist, but that is changing, and I think he could do a nature journal now.

I'm tempted to add the moral of the story, but in Charlotte Mason fashion, I'll hope that the writing itself makes it clear!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Living Room Floor

I've tossed around the choices for a new living room floor for about a year – carpet, tile, laminate, or wood. I'm looking for an option that is affordable and environmentally friendly. I'm fed up with carpet, and with the dog turning ten, older dog or future puppy accidents are all too likely. We love the tile in our family room – we never fuss at the boys about what they are doing on it -- but we can't quite picture it in our more traditional living room. Also, the floor isn't quite flat. Laminate just doesn't suit my style – I really prefer less processing. I'm not completely comfortable with the engineering of bamboo, and the fact that it doesn't have the ability to be refinished (or at least not multiple times). We don't really like the look of cork for our living room. So we're left with wood, and the concern that wood and boys may not go together.

We do not have a formal living room. In fact, the boys may spend more time playing in the living room than in the family room. The stairs , the office, the front door, and the downstairs bathroom all abut the living room. Our TV is in the living room. Keeping the boys out is not an option.

I'm not crazy about the look of oak (just a personal preference). I've been looking at pine and hickory. I love the look of pine, and my hope is that we could manage to distress it in an attractive way. Hickory is much harder, but also more expensive. It's attractive, but I prefer the look of pine. I worry that hickory would get damaged, but not in an all-over way as is more likely with the pine.

I'm looking at penetrating oil finishes rather than poly. I like that I could refinish any parts of the floor that needed it. My top picks are Osmo, Bioshield, Velvit, Waterlox, or Tung oil.

I'm leaning toward the pine. I prefer the look, and I can get very affordable pine from a mill about an hour away – it's local, the logging has to meet any environmental standards here. Also, our boiler recently needed a new motor, using some of the money earmarked for the floor. I will finish it myself, probably with Osmo or Bioshield. I'd like to lightly stain it, so that it coordinates with our trim. We'll see if we have the nerve to purposely distress it when put it in – we probably should! Our tax rebate is going to be funding this project!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Homeschool Coop Update

Our homeschool coop has had a good year. In the fall we did a six week Lego League, then a winter program of ancient Egypt, and currently we're in the middle of six weeks of this and that -- whatever people were willing to offer. We have 18-24 kids, from eleven families. We're finding that if we have two groups, each with a leader and a helper, it takes about 40% of the moms to run each homeschool day. The activities I've mentioned have been for the older kids, seven and up. For the younger kids (3-6) we've had a coop kindergarten going. In the afternoons we've had a music teacher come in and teach two music classes -- one for the older kids and one for the younger. In the current session, we also have an art teacher teaching art to the older kids when the youngers are in music, and vice versa. We meet in people's homes. This year we've had two hosts.

I led one group during Lego League, and during the current session I've led two sessions for the older kids. Despite the fact that I have two children in the younger group, I haven't led that group yet! A few weeks ago I co-led a session on Leonardo Da Vinci. We did a little history and geography, read Leonardo's Horse, did anatomy measurements to corroborate the ratios he found, did a perspective art project, and did a picture study of the Last Supper, including having the thirteen kids line up as if they were in the painting!

Then last week, in two hours flat, I ran a restaurant with the older kids. There are so many things we could have focused on with this -- it's so complex! I tried to keep it simple -- this was my approach:

I asked that every student be sent with at least a dollar. This included the younger group, who were slated to be our customers. I brought in a bag of groceries: bread, butter, peanut butter, and jam, and asked the if they wanted to buy these groceries for the restaurant for $5. Five kids put their dollar in, and we wrote down that we owed them for the loan. I told the kids that they would each earn a dollar working at the restaurant today. Then we worked on the menu, and set up the table and kitchen space we would be using. The kids writing the menu had to come up with prices, and I recommended that $1 be the highest price, so that our customers would be able to buy something. They decided that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be a dollar, and various versions of toast would be less. (We could have talked much more about setting prices, but our first customers were due about 45 minutes after they bought their first groceries.) Once the menu was established, I acted as their first customer. Our original idea (that is, my husband's, since he came up with the restaurant plan), was to distribute that first dollar to the whole staff to make the point that we had to sell a lot more to pay each of them their dollar, and also pay our other costs. But I was vetoed by the kids, who thought it would be easier to divvy everything up at the end.

We assigned each customer a server, who was responsible for taking their order, getting their food, and giving them their bill. The customer either paid at the register, or the server brought the money. We didn't focus on making change, although that would definitely make sense.

At the end we counted up our money and talked about profit, and what other expenses a real restaurant would have.

I hope the kids got a sense of how complex it all is! We certainly could have done more with it, but I didn't want to get bogged down. I can see doing this a few times a year and letting the kids take a bigger part in the design each time.