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Fall, Apples and homeschooling…

9 Oct

Perusing friends posts and great fall photos got me to thinking about what I love about fall. It’s one of the richest times of the year-the trees are turning gorgeous colors, there’s a lot of activity by both animals and humans as they gather in and store foodstuffs, there’s a flurry of activity as football games are played weekly, harvest fairs and festivals take place, craft fairs spring up. The air itself becomes changeable. Now we really know the seasons have swung-some days the air is crystal with the red and yellow notes of autumn in the trees, other days it has a blue smudge along the hills from shifting air patterns and wood smoke. Smells are more pronounced-apples are abundant and if you drive by an orchard there is a winey fresh crisp scent that makes one want to run and shout. A late rose has a spice to it reminding one of cookies, dry leaves a different spicy smell and so on.

Once my children and I began to explore this world we found a ton of things to do, books to read, places to explore…really an explosion of colors, scents, tastes-the whole sensory experience!

I loved to do what we called Unit Studies, which takes a theme, say “Apples” in this case, and ties together all the disciplines and includes hands-on as well as the more formal writing reading and arithmetic. Of course, I took this farther by adding to them myself, and encouraging the children to add as well (to the extent that they’d come up with their own “unit studies”) With different age groups I tried to have activities and books for all levels so there was something for all. We often ended up rabbiting onto other topics, but that was okay-learning was actively happening!

One experience that comes to mind is the field trip to the local apple orchard. We spent the majority of the day at Gizdech Ranch which is a wonderful ranch, as it has not just apples, but all sorts of berries as well-you can do u-pick for about 3/4 of the year there…As well, there is an on-site bakery, fruit ‘stand’ (a store really), antiques shop and cider mill. You can spend the day there!

For our field trip the kids started with a tour of the orchards where they were taught how the apples were grown, what kinds there were, how the pickers knew they were ripe, how they were picked, what they were made into and what happened to the excess or apple waste! Whew. They then picked a bushel to take home, a job made quick by the fact apples are so large-if you aren’t careful you can pick quite a few in thirty minutes. At an u-pick farm that can add up quickly-apples are much heavier than berries! 🙂 This was followed by a tour of the apple sorting, washing and packing facility and the cooler. We watched a batch of apple cider being made (the non-alcoholic kind) and then it was off to the bakery! My favorite part-they were making apple pies with mounds of apples! Yum. Once the tour was done, apple pie was on our menu-before lunch even!

The day was so full it seemed foolish to push anything else into the schedule, however with all those apples it also seemed silly to not create! Apple pie, applesauce, apple butter, dried apples…we came up with a lot of things to make in the next week. A lot of apples were munched up in hand-really one of the best things about an apple; a quick snack, loaded with fiber, pectin and more! The ones we picked were small too, a perfect snack for little hands-big ones too.

So besides baking and preserving, lots of other things can be done with apples. Apple themed math of course-weights and measures, graphing, even addition and subtraction. For literature, we made apple books-large apple shapes, colored to reflect the child’s favorite apple and enclosing enough pages for them to draw and write inside. (A journal would work too, especially for old kids) These books were devoted to the exploration of apples, including poems, Journaling about the field trip, observations of apples… We cut apples in half different ways and made botanical drawings showing the seeds and stem along with the flowers. As well, I pulled out all the books I could find, plus more from the library with information about apples, or apple themes. It is amazing what you can find! (That was in pre-internet days too!) We covered history, famous people, stories both true and fiction-I don’t think we exhausted the subject either!

Crafts are fun done with apples. There is printing with halves-gift wrap, bags, aprons. Cinnamon-applesauce ornaments. Apple heads 🙂 which are hysterical when done-they start out all nice and plump then become wizened and wrinkled. Apple pomanders. The four seasons of an apple tree using tissue paper on a rail road board-draw four trees, color then add the foliage and flowers, or apples. Fun!

It’s easy to do this yourself. Call around to local orchards, many have tours or would be happy to have you come out. Much of what we did was just pulled from our bookshelves or various places around the house-it doesn’t have to be expensive. I ‘ve provided some links for you below-more can be found by searching for different phrases. Don’t forget your local library either-it can have a ton of resources and books (fiction and non-fiction) available, fun to look through and read. I’ll rustle up some of my favorite recipes and ideas and post them next!


Looking back…reviewing our homeschooling days…

3 Mar

Looking back at the past 16 years, well longer really, 22 years, I marvel at how much my children did on their own, that was not part of a curriculum, class or other scripted educational exercise. We started homeschooling when my daughter was 5 (and a half) since she was already well past the area kindergartens, and the private schools were well past our means. Even with her younger brother in tow, we managed to blow through the kindergarten math, reading, phonics et cetera and play, enjoying the world and seasons. Eventually, I managed the knack of “after the fact” recording, where I would figure out where everything fit in the assignment forms after the children did something, built something or we went somewhere, or….Looking back at those assignment sheets, they are crammed-yes, there is math, English, science, etc-but the projects, the art, the life experiences! WOW

(Least you think my children are out begging on street corners – my daughter graduated with a BA in psychology from SFSU, and is looking to work on her graduate degree, among other things. My middle son has graduated from high school and is living on his own and working on a cattle ranch as a cowboy and doing general all around work including welding. My youngest entered the only local high school (that we’d consider ) and made it into GATE classes. Not bad for having fun homeschooling!? eh?) (Alas, none of them are social misfits, and have friends and an awareness of the world that puts “PAID” to the whole socialization myth.)

My 3 managed to cram a lot into every day and week. They still do, too. My middle son is the child who basically taught himself through unschooling, while the other two were close behind…as a matter of fact, none of them are afraid to go and figure out how to do what they want to do and to find the funding or materials for it. Which is good because my bank account is not a bottomless pit of money, it is just a pit ….without much in it 🙂 Of course, my yard and house were pretty much a hopeless mess, but lets not dwell on that, shall we?

So for this post I thought I would pull out some recent examples of their creativity…and what was learned through each experience.

First the middle child…
Who decided to grow corn. What was impressivee was that he did all his own research, found his field, bought or got materials donated, and even made this handy plow (left) out of found materials. He eventually had a crop, that is until the deer came and ate it-even replanted three times. Sadly, we never saw the corn harvested and he never found out if he would have had the finances come out the way he figured. Possibly, had he invested in deer fencing he would have come out in the red, at least last year. Then this year he would have perhaps made a bit. Life changes though, and he is now too far away to maintain the field.

Some may think that this project was a failure, after all, he never harvested a crop. However, he learned a lot, and applied a lot of collected knowledge to make the corn field work, at least until the deer won. He learned perseverance, that there is more than one way to water corn (or that there is more than one way to approach a project), he learned to utilize found lumber and other things to build a fence and make a plow, he even used knowledge from an agriculture class to prepare the field and find seed and drip tape. No crop of corn was harvested, but a crop of learning, of experience and lessons in life was harvested, and that is what his life, our life, has always been about. It will carry into the future with him and help him be a can do type of person, something that is getting very rare indeed.

As for my other son, here is an example of what happens when you give a child room to imagine, to just play with out directions. Well, and a huge collection of Lego’s 😉 He loves Star Wars, but also adventure and fantasy. So one day they all morphed into a Indian Jones meets Star Wars sort of stage setting.

Here you can see what I mean, the rough and ready are taking on the droids. I believe the light and dark blue is water while the figure in the middle is a ‘statue’. Oh, and here is a knight just in to help-see him there on the far left, emerging from the watery depths?

What I find fun is that he uses Lego’s in ways my brother and I never thought of, such as the knight coming up from the deep.

The next photo shows Indiana Jones taking out a droid…ouch.

Again, someone may say, so? all kids play with Lego’s. True, yet many don’t go past the usual play and kits. Some, like my son spend hours planning, building sets or models, photographing them and publishing to Lego sites. They chat with other Lego hobbyist about anything Lego, and beyond. My son is much more aware of events taking place in the world today than many adults I know of, which makes him much more astute, especially of the political and economic climate. In discussing these current events with him, I have found him to be much more questioning of decisions made by the current crop of politicians, which is a good thing to learn early on. I want to stress I don’t force these conversations, but do remind myself to stop and listen when he wants to talk. We have a lot of lively conversations, that is for certain!

So there is just a very small piece of our journey. Next post (which will be soon, I hope!) I will share some of our favorite ways to learn through homeschooling and unschooing….hopefully they will help someone else find joy in their children and the journey of learning in life.

Just some of what goes on around here!

2 Feb

(Patrick with a Star Wars plane designed by him, circa January 2006)

Every day seems like a busy day around here! What with work and homeschool, and the usual activities going on, we never really seem to stay on a schedule. Our homeschool days look a lot looser than most, I suspect (more eclectic, really). That is partly because of the need for me to work (dh was out of work for 7 months, and the job he holds now is well, not the same as the last…).

It is also partly because we have so many interests and persue lots of different things. So the boys get assignments and they need to get them done with out me nagging so much! However there is the lure of the next good book, the Lego’s, planning the next scouting trip, current projects, the jeep my son is redoing..(the photo is of Mike on the right, with his friend P. on the left. They were up until 2:30 a.m. taking this apart! And P.s mom did not even know! He lives right around the corner, and was safe. But it was rather late!)

Even though I get a bit uptight about things needing to be done, I try to relax and work on the major things with the boys. Both boys read well, and can write. The things they have both learned come more from doing than text books. For Mike that is especially true because he is very hands on, visual-spatial and gets more out of life than a dry text. However being in the program we are in has forced him to do more traditional work, and that can be a good dimension of learning. For example, writing is a struggle, however he has learned to write and passed the CASEE first try in both english and math (big sigh of relief). He loves the drafting and welding classes at the local JC, and soon that will be his next round of schooling, which will open new worlds for him.

My daughter, Christina, now a Junior in college,has had successes with learning which has given me confidence that the boys will do fine. My goal is to teach them to facilitate their own learning: how to find what one needs to know, how to organize it, write it, figure it…how to search out others knowledgeable on the subject. It is these talents that will help them learn and grow. Not the memorization of facts, or the regurgitation of them at the right time. Testing is useless in a way because it only shows a limited snap shot of the person, and basing any opinion on it with out looking at the whole is just as we deal with all of that while living our lives!
Learning at home, taking each day at a time…

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