Author Archives: abh21

Animal Classification Booklet

Click to download PDF

Click to download PDF

Our winter session of homeschool co-op is just five weeks of classes, so I’m offering an animal classification class for ages 5-8. This is a really fun age group, very enthusiastic, and while it’s called “animal” it’s really vertebrate classification. We’re learning about one class of vertebrates–mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians–each week.

I wanted something for the kids to write in and keep. (Some of the kids really like paperwork.) After hunting around on the Internets a little bit, I decided just to go ahead and make my own, which I’m now sharing with you, because, well, why not? What you see there is just the cover. It’s a PDF file designed to be printed landscape on regular printer paper so you can fold it into a booklet. Print pages 1 and 2 back to back, and pages 3 and 4 back to back. Assemble and fold together. Each page has room for the kids to write down the characteristics of that particular vertebrate, and the back cover has a little bit of matching. All the images are from the fantastic image library at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

I also plan to share my full lesson plan with the activities and resources I’m using. Coming up: Mammals and Fish.

{PBL} Projects + School

One of V's scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of V’s scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of my biggest frustrations with school is how much time it takes up. My oldest chose to remain in school, and I haven’t managed to support him on any self-led projects on nights and weekends, which fly by so quickly. The school describes its curriculum as “project-based,” but their definition and implementation is somewhat different than mine. Recently, my son completed a school project on organic farming. The curriculum is pre-planned, and my son chose the topic from a pre-set list. The projects had certain requirements—for instance, each student had to interview someone local pertaining to their topic, asking at least five questions. Interviewing somebody is great—if the student decides that’s the best way to get information that otherwise is unavailable. But assigning an interview takes away so much of the learning process…What do I want to know? How can I find it out? What resources are available to me? Instead, it seems like somebody else decided fifth graders should interview “experts.”

Several weeks ago, my son and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: I think I want to make a movie for my project representation.

Me: That sounds cool. None of us have experience with that. Can Miss [x] mentor you as you figure out how to do that? [Because that is what is supposed to happen in project-based learning; the student has a mentor.]

Him: I don’t know. I think there’s a video camera I can borrow?

Me: That’s a start. Do you have an idea of how you want your movie to be?

Him: Well, I want to start with a scene of fields, you know, with the crops.

Me: Okay. It’s December, though. You won’t be able to film that here, unless you’re okay with, you know, dead-looking fields.

Him: But that’s not what I want.

Me: Could you draw a background for that, maybe? Or perhaps try stop-motion? I can show you some examples.

Him, beginning to sound frustrated: I don’t have a lot of time to figure all that out! Maybe I’ll just do a poster.

Me, after a long thinking pause: I can understand, given that you have a deadline for this, why you would want to do a poster. I won’t think less of you if you do. But it makes me sad that you have an idea and don’t feel you have the time or support at school to see it through. I’ll do whatever I can to mentor you, if you want to try a movie. I hope, if you don’t do a movie for this project, we can come back to it when you have more time to dig into it.

And we left it there, for the most part. It seemed my son had decided on a poster. He let me know the materials he’d need (my role in his homework is mainly procuring supplies when necessary). For Christmas, we gave him the book Unbored, which I’d hoped to look through myself, but I can’t get it out of his hands! After his first day back at school, he told me he was going to do a movie after all. Unbored has a chapter on stop-motion, he told me, and now he had a better idea of what he needed. Awesome, I said. Make a list, and a storyboard. A storyboard? “Draw out each scene—figure out what you want to show and say. Then you can figure out what props you need.”

And this he did, in detail. After looking at his storyboard, I pointed out that it didn’t seem stop-motion would work, but perhaps a series of photographs? He brainstormed props. I thought I remembered a Duplo farm set…we checked his sister’s LEGOS and yes, indeed, she has not only a bus and a mailman but a farmer with flowers, a chicken, a pig, and a tractor. He received her permission to borrow her farm LEGOS. He figured out solutions for his other scenes—he transformed a bottle of spray fixative into a pesticide bottle by drawing a new label. We added an acorn and butternut squash to the shopping list. He painted grains of rice black, to represent harmful insects on the plants. We lucked out with a sunny Sunday afternoon, he set up each scene in natural light, took multiple shots, and chose the best ones.

Shooting film for his movie.

Shooting film for his movie.

I’d have liked to set him loose to figure out Movie Maker on his own, but given the time constraints, I tried to figure out the basics ahead of time so I could help him. Together, we added his photos, edited the duration of each shot, and recorded his narration, which had to be matched to each scene just so. He typed up the title and credits, and we strung it all together. It is amazing. If this were a home-based project, more time would have been spent on figuring out the program and investigating different methods of movie making. It’s hard for me to accurately describe what I see as the difference in school projects and home projects, but I’ll try:

School is more interested in showing what was learned about the assigned topic. The movie is a means to prove he learned about organic farming.

I am just as interested in the learning going on to create the representation. Learning about a topic is one part of the learning; acquiring skills to share information in a chosen way is just as (if not more) important. He drew a storyboard, wrote a script, arranged his scenes, photographed them until he was satisfied. He had a vision and manifested it. He struggled with the computer program, worked through that, we figured it out, and he created a finished product which pleased him. All of this is more important to me than the facts he acquired about organic farming.

I still hope he returns to this interest when he has more time to dig into it for the sake of digging into it rather than as a means to fulfilling a school requirement. I will nudge, and I will mentor. And I am so glad he chose movie over poster after all.

Language Arts

That’s not exactly the right title for this post, but I’m not sure what is. We read all the time here. My older kids read voraciously to themselves; I read out loud every day. My 4yo will sit with a book and “read.” Because I have my younger two at home and my youngest cannot actually read yet, I read many of my 8yo’s homeschool-related books aloud. That way, my 4yo doesn’t feel left out. Usually we start the day with me reading from whatever chapter book we’re in, and we move on to history or science or project books, as well. (If I get laryngitis, our entire homeschool schedule will fall apart!)

So I have no worries whatsoever about my 8yo’s reading skills. He loves to read, he reads a variety of books, and he can tell me about what he’s reading. We talk about the books we’re reading together, and we’ve compared different versions of the same story (such as with The Wizard of Oz). Actually, now that I’m writing all of this, I’m not sure why I thought I needed to do anything additional with language arts. The main thing that’s missing is writing. My son doesn’t like the actual, physical act of writing. So I’m not forcing it.

Yet, I did feel like adding in something additional, so I thought back to my previous homeschooling experience, with my oldest during his first-grade year. We used Enki curriculum that year. As it turned out, I needed to supplement it quite a bit, because he wanted more in some areas (specifically science and math) than that curriculum offered. But I really enjoyed the storytelling sequence, of telling a story and working with it over a few days, and I decided to add something similar into our schedule when we started up again after the holidays.

In our history readings, we’re up to Roman times (and just past Greek), so I thought we’d work with myths. We have books of Greek and Roman mythology, but I wanted a version without illustrations–you’ll see why. After poking around Amazon a bit, I borrowed Classic Myths to Read Aloud from our local library. And this is our process: I read the myth aloud. The next day, I read it aloud again, and I have my 8yo tell it back to me. And then we each draw a picture related to the myth. I’d like him to add a sentence describing the illustration, but I got some resistance to that idea today. We’ll work up to it.

Meanwhile, he retold the myth beautifully. He remembered so many details. And we all love to draw, so working with the story in that way was fun for all of us. And we will have a collection of our own illustrations for various myths.

Illustrating a myth

Illustrating a myth

I don’t need him to write a book report to prove to me that he is comprehending what he is reading and is able to summarize it in proper narrative order. Without the distraction of the physical act of writing, he can focus better on what he’s doing. And did I mention how fun it is to sit on the floor together and draw?

So that is our “language arts.” We read… a lot. We talk… a lot. And we draw, too, because we like to and we can. And yes, he is still working on his monster book, which entails reading, researching, note-taking, and even…writing.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Three}

(Part One, Part Two)

Part Three: Realizing a Vision

In Part Two, I said that if someone hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. Learning new skills is both exciting on its own and a means to an end; sometimes it begins as one of those and progresses to the other. Do you want to re-create somebody else’s vision, or know how to express your own? I want to do the latter, and I want my kids to be able to do the latter, too. I learned embroidery because I wanted to embroider poetry on my jeans, but in the process it became another way for me to express myself, and while I embroidered some commercial patterns at the beginning, while I was learning, I can’t see doing that anymore, because I’d rather use embroidery as part of my own artwork.

Practicing embroidery

Practicing embroidery

My 8yo, who already knew embroidery’s properties so well from having watched me, and already knowing how to sew, decided to learn how to embroider so he could make his aunt a snowflake ornament, based on his own vision of the finished project. I helped him with the angles of the snowflake and transferred it onto the felt for him, but the idea was all his. And we didn’t have an example of “this is what your felt snowflake ornament should look like,” either. It was all his own thought process and design.

Following directions give us the skills to re-create somebody else’s vision. There is nothing essentially wrong with that. I have no problem with knitting a sweater somebody else designed if I like it and want to wear it. It saves me the trouble of doing the design work myself. But if I have an idea in my head, I appreciate having the ability to make it a reality, rather than trying to find somebody else’s vision that sort of approximates my own. Following directions is certainly a useful skill to have, and prevents any of us from having to re-invent the wheel. But exposure to process-based activity is essential to gain the skills and confidence to realize our own unique vision.

“Just messing around” with materials allows the space for accidents to happen, for unexpected results, for discoveries, and that is when we learn. If something unexpected happens when the goal is to re-create a predetermined end product, it can be perceived as a disaster. If it happens during a process-focused exploration of a material or technique, it is a delightful discovery, leading to knowledge that is filed away for future use. When and if we have an idea that requires that particular effect, we know how to obtain it. Process-based art is not pressure-filled. It is fun. It is play. It is essential, for children and adults.

We cannot expect children to be creative, original thinkers if we only present them with so-called “art activities” that involve following directions to reproduce an end product. They deserve (as we all do) the space and time to develop the confidence and skills to determine their own end product, and then figure out how to get there. When I said, “I’m going to knit a stocking,” having never knit before, nobody was around to tell me I couldn’t. When my child says, “I’m going to make a snowflake ornament out of felt and embroidery,” even though he’s never embroidered before, I’m not going to say, “You can’t do that.” I don’t even say, “Let’s look and see what patterns you can follow.” My response is: “Let’s practice embroidery so you know how to do it. Sketch out what you’re thinking. You can totally do this.”

The process of looking for an already-existing project that meets your criteria versus creating the project you have in your head is so very different. Children who only have experience in following directions to produce a version of somebody else’s vision may not ever make the leap into realizing they can create the steps to produce their own vision. It takes more work on the adult’s part to mentor a child’s individual vision. It is harder to have a room full of children interpreting new materials or techniques in different ways, rather than following directions all at the same time. I see my job as facilitator, and I am on my toes when we’re in the studio, especially if we’re doing something new. But this sort of mentoring is essential, because the ability to have an idea and realize that idea is essential. And one way to raise children who have the confidence and skills to not only realize their ideas but to have the idea in the first place is to provide plenty of exposure to process-based art.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Two}

(Part One)

Part Two: Knowing the Materials

When a child (or adult) has an idea and a specific end result in mind, if he or she hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. I can’t stress this enough. It seems so basic, but I see so many people going about it backwards. Until we learn how to use various materials, we have no idea which one is best for the task at hand. If we have a vision in our mind but have a limited number of techniques from which to choose, we may never reach our vision.

When my children come into the studio with an idea, they have a vast array of materials from which to choose. They learned how to use these materials not by following step-by-step directions to reproduce a project designed by someone else, but by experimenting with the materials in a controlled way. Parameters are, I think, necessary when learning a new material or technique. I didn’t just give them watercolors and leave the room. We used, at different times, watercolors wet on wet, wet on dry, pan watercolors, liquid watercolors, watercolors from a tube. The different methods and materials yield different results, and we learned what they were by doing. In the same way, watercolors are different from acrylics and gouache and tempera. So when my kids say they want to do X and they need paint, I can now ask them, What kind of paint? And they will think about their desired end result and decide what they think they need.

The same thing is true of every material in our studio.

Non-representational creativity is often difficult for adults to understand. They think kids are just “messing around,” the painting is “random,” the activity is “aimless.” If it’s not a picture OF something, an adult often doesn’t see the point. Firstly, if the child is enjoying himself, is another point necessary? But beyond that, quite a bit is going on—or can be going on—when someone is “just messing around” with a material. The first thing I did when I bought new watercolor pencils was scribble with them and add water to see what happened. It would be frustrating to try to use a material for a specific end result if I didn’t know what the material could and couldn’t do.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

In the same way, a child learns quite a lot while “smearing” paint around. He’s learning how paint moves, how much to put on the paintbrush to get different effects, what happens when wet paint touches. If it’s quality paint, he learns what happens when different colors mix. When my middle child was about five, he spent weeks investigating different paint colors, a couple at a time. He learned about tints and shades and secondary colors while he moved the paint around on large sheets of heavy paper that I’d pinned to the wall. Limiting the color palette meant that he could see what happened when just those two or three colors mixed. This is, again, about setting parameters to help a child learn about the materials in a useful, meaningful way.

During this time, he happened to be painting while an adult relative was over, and that adult stared at the non-representational paper that held all that exciting information about tints and shades, and instead of asking my son about it (and he would have eagerly explained what he’d done to get that range of color), she stared and stared until she found something that sort of looked like a flower and pointed it out. “You painted a flower.” No. But now, when he does want to paint a flower, or anything else, he is confident that he can mix any color he needs or wants, in a variety of paint types. In fact, like me, he’d rather have just the primaries, white, and black in his palette, and mix his own colors.

For more on this sort of sequential introduction of materials (as well as how to talk—and NOT talk—to children about what they’re doing), I highly recommend Susan Striker’s Young at Art.

Next: Part Three—Realizing a Vision.

Why Process Over Product? {Part One}

Part One: Discovery vs Following Directions

Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, has a terrific forum area of her website, and currently it contains an active thread on process vs product art for children. If you’ve dug around on this blog of mine at all, you know I’m passionate about allowing children the opportunity to explore process-oriented, open-ended art. This series of posts grew out of the thoughts I shared in that thread; I encourage you to join Lori’s forums, if you haven’t already.

Playing with monotypes

Playing with monotypes

In process-oriented art, the DOING is what is important: the PROCESS of making, exploring, and discovering. Product-based art is focused on the end result. In an open-ended activity, we don’t know where we’re going to end up, while in a closed activity, the end result has been predetermined by someone else. My elementary school “art” classes were exercises in following directions, with the (teacher’s) stated goal being 30 projects that looked just like hers. Sadly, this is still true in many schools. There is no room for creativity there, for amazing discoveries and delights.

One example given in the forum thread as a possible support for product-based “art” experiences for children is that of a new knitter following patterns until she knows enough to design her own, the connection being that children learn skills by following directions rather than by process-based exploration. I taught myself to knit because I wanted to make something specific, a Christmas stocking for my first baby. I decided upon a specific skill, knitting, which I needed to learn, so I did. And yes, I followed the pattern for the stocking. Taking a class wasn’t a possibility, so I didn’t “learn” that a new knitter’s first project should be a scarf. There was nobody to tell me, “Oh no, you can’t start right off knitting a tube with four needles. New knitters don’t do that. You have to progress through this predetermined sequence of easy projects before you can attempt anything like that.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I figured I could do anything. That is the confidence I want for my children. I taught myself to knit in October and had a hand-knit Christmas stocking ready in time. Sure, I struggled, and the argument can be made that I persevered because I had a specific end product in mind. But—and this loops back into the goals of authentic project-based learning—I was committed to learning a new skill in order to realize my own vision and goal (and even with that first pattern, I changed it to suit me). The next item I knit was the sweater sampler from Jacqueline Fee’s Sweater Workshop. This project didn’t result in anything recognizable or a useful “thing,” but the process taught me a variety of skills. Then I either followed patterns, or not. Or I began with a pattern, but modified it to suit me, because I understood what I was doing.

I can tell you with much assurance that only following patterns doesn’t teach a knitter much except how to follow patterns. It is the same with any other skill. Only following somebody else’s directions only teaches you how to follow somebody else’s directions. If you don’t truly understand your materials and how they behave, you won’t recognize when the directions are wrong. Or if you do, you won’t be sure how to fix it. Learning how to design knitted items doesn’t come from knitting a whole lot of them, following directions slavishly. It comes from experimenting with different stitches and techniques, different weights and needles, and comparing the resulting fabrics. It comes from playing with the materials.

And that will be Part Two: Knowing the Materials.
Part Three: Realizing a Vision

{I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how important a mentor is, even for adult self-taught learners. My sister, an accomplished knitter, loaned me several of her books, including The Sweater Workshop and Knitting in Plain English. These are not pattern books. They are think-for-yourself knitting books, and I’m sure being exposed to that sort of philosophy right from the start helped shaped my attitude towards knitting and every handwork skill I added thereafter.}

{PBL} Monster Project

“…zero in on what interests your child and stay there as long as she is interested.”
–Lori Pickert, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

I feel I should begin this post with a discussion on how any and all topics are valid project material, but I’m struggling with it because I’m having a hard time understanding the position that there would be invalid topics. If I, an adult, am free to focus on what interests me without external judgment—without anyone telling me, “No, that’s frivolous, that’s a waste of time, go do something I’ve decided is meaningful,” then it seems obvious that my child have the same opportunity to pursue an interest without judgment. (Keep in mind that rarely is project work the sum total of all learning. In our homeschool, it is part of what we do. My son also has required work.) Part of why I homeschool is because I don’t give a fig about state standards. Whoever is writing those standards hasn’t met my kid. So, unlike a teacher in a public school, I am not concerned if topics of study fit into a pre-determined state-mandated box. We have no box.

So when I saw we’d come to an end of Egypt-as-project, and we’d moved forward into other areas of ancient history but nothing there was causing enough momentum to turn into project work, I turned my mind to my son’s interests. What had been occupying his attention lately? Monsters had been dominating his pretend play, and not nebulous in-the-closet monsters, but things like vampires, werewolves, and the like. The types of monsters that have appeared in stories and legends around the world, for years. “Would you like to find out more about these monsters?” I asked. “Would you like to do a project on them?”

A selection of books used so far in the monster project

A selection of books used so far in the monster project

Several months in, my son has a better understanding of what I mean when I say project, versus what his teachers in school meant, so he was excited about the idea. He decided, too, that he’d like to create a field-guide type book with the information he gathered. So far he’s read a huge stack of books, made a list of twenty monsters he wants to include, decided the information he wants to include, if possible, about each one, and completed two entries (Mothman and Vampires) using Microsoft Publisher and my assistance. He is researching, sorting through information, prioritizing and organizing, taking notes, and arranging the information, as well as drawing a picture of each monster to scan into the computer and drop into the page as a jpg file. I am reminding, prodding, helping him set (and stick to) his goals, and assisting him with the computer and with research and note-taking.

Reading is not a struggle for him, but writing sometimes is. I am doing quite a bit of scaffolding. There was so much information on vampires that I wrote down his notes as he dictated them to me. I told him note-taking involved reading information and putting it into his own words so he didn’t forget what he wanted to remember. That’s all it took—he read, formulated his own words, and dictated notes. The physical process of writing is still, at age 8, something that slows him down. I can see that he is processing the information, understanding it, and rephrasing it, and that’s more important to me than whether he is writing it down himself or not. Because he is interested in this topic and completely excited at the look of his finished work as it comes out of the printer, motivation is much higher for him to work through the challenging bits. This is a child who has told me outright, “I didn’t care if I did a good job in school because I didn’t care about what we were doing.” Mind you, this was part of a larger conversation in which I learned that he was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of starting his monster book because it was so important to him. We worked through that enough that he felt able to begin.

“Without [a child’s authentic interest], learning is like pushing a boulder uphill. With it, we’re pushing the boulder downhill.”
–Lori Pickert, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

My eight-year-old is interested in monsters. I’m rolling the boulder downhill.

Mapping The Land of Oz

Around Halloween–a couple of days after Hurricane Sandy stormed through, when we had our power back but the library didn’t and we were all a little not-knowing-what-to-do-with-ourselves–I loaded up The Wizard of Oz for the kids to watch. They’d never seen it, and I thought it was high time they did. Of course they loved it, all three of them. When the library finally opened again, we borrowed L. Frank Baum’s original book version. My boys also found a graphic novel version based on the book. I began reading the book out loud to my homeschooled kids (reading aloud is part of our day, even though my 8yo can read to himself).

You can see where this is going, yes? The book and the movie are very different. The kids picked up on all the differences, and then we added the graphic novel to the mix (my 8yo read that to himself, and I read it aloud to my 4yo). The graphic novel and the book are very similar but not exact. Through discussion, my kids were comparing and contrasting different versions of the same story–fantastic stuff! Then we thought we’d try to map the Land of Oz.

To do this, I read the relevant parts from the original book, and my son (age 8) and I each made our own rough sketch, tracing the friends’ path.

N’s sketch of Oz, in progress

While we sketched, G (age 4) made her own drawing with colored pencils.

G’s drawing

When his sketch was completed, N used nicer paper and watercolor pencils to make a more finished version of his map.

Using watercolor pencils, in progress

G requested paint to make another map. Can you see the yellow brick road in this version?

G’s painted map of Oz

To finish, N added water to his watercolor pencil drawings. He was pleased with his final result.

N’s finished map of Oz

This is not just an artistic exercise–this is about processing what is read in a different, visual, spatial way. How do events connect in a story, both in time and in space? This is a great story to use for mapping, because the characters are traveling through Oz on a path, and Baum gives good cues on how things connect. (I’m tempted, myself, to try to map the story in time, too. Are there enough clues for me to figure out how long Dorothy spent in Oz?) My instincts tell me that going through the process of translating the written words into a visual map will help my children become better readers and to process information better. But my main impulse behind suggesting we do this is simply that I thought it would be fun. My kids like maps and were (as I suspected they would be) both excited to try mapping the Land of Oz.

Have you mapped a fictional land from a story book or novel? Do you have suggestions for other imaginary lands for mapping?

Math, Gently

After three years of school, my eight-year-old believed he hated math. I didn’t send him to school thinking that, so yes, I consider this a failure on School’s part. I myself am quite comfortable with math; I got all the way up to Calculus, which was required for my BS in Natural Resource Science. I can remember doing my Calc homework as a break. I liked how orderly math was, the problem-solving required, the way the Right and Wrong are clearly defined. My point is that my children aren’t picking up on math anxiety from me.

My oldest, who was homeschooled through first grade using Singapore Math, began second grade in his alternative public school well ahead of grade level and continues to be a top student in math. His early-years math experience (and curriculum) was much different from his brother’s. My younger son had three years of Everyday Math, which, in my opinion, is a terrible curriculum. He never stayed with anything long enough to learn it. The curriculum jumps around, supposedly so lagging students get lots of repetition (but not all at the same time) and advanced students don’t get bored. For three years his only homework was math sheets and reading at home, and even though the math sheet usually took only ten minutes, we had to add in the twenty minutes of fighting about it. And it seemed he wasn’t learning anything. When he finished second grade, he was still shaky on, for example, time and money. All that fighting, and it was all a waste of time.

When I decided to homeschool him, I decided to start with Life of Fred, gently. We began over the summer with the first book, Apples. We began with me reading the chapter aloud and going over the questions with him while he wrote the answers. We did it all together for the first two books, a chapter per day. Some days he fought it, but it got better. By the time we hit fall, we continued with one chapter per day, but I began having him read the chapter on his own, do the questions, and then we’d go over the answers together. Again, he fought this sometimes, but it gradually got better. Now he reads the chapter, does the questions, checks his answers, and moves the paperclip to the next chapter, all on his own. If he doesn’t understand a question or needs help, he tells me. Sometimes he still whines about it. But he does it. He’ll be starting the fifth book soon.

I’ve toyed with the idea of introducing something more rigorous at the half-year point, but I want to tread lightly. I don’t want him hating math. I hope he comes to see it as I do, a useful tool to get to where you need to be. I use math all the time–in recipes, in knitting, in sewing–and I try to talk about it when I do. One day not too long ago we were talking about I don’t even know what when I mentioned an Ancient Greek had used only math to figure out the circumference of the earth, and he came super close to the actual measurement. How? my kids wanted to know.

So I looked up the details. My eight-year-old and I looked at our globe pillow and at the map. He said he pictured the equator as a rope around the earth. Perfect, I said, and we moved to our circle rug. Pretend the edge of the rug is the rope. Pretend we’ve cut the earth in half. He picked two points on the edge of the circle, we tried to find the middle of the rug, we measured the angle, we did the math. Mostly I did the math–it’s not easy math. But he was so excited by it.

This is not like school math! He exclaimed. This is math that really does something!

We borrowed The Librarian Who Measured the Earth from the library and read it aloud. I bought him his own protractor and showed him how to use it. I printed out a page of angles (from this awesome site) for him to practice measuring. Next up is drawing circles with the compass so he knows exactly where the center is, and trying to find the circumference using Eratosthenes’ method, a bit more precisely than we did with the circle rug. I predict we will be outside measuring the angles of shadows before too long.

I can just imagine if I’d decided it was time for him to measure a sheet’s worth of angles just because. Fight, fight, fight. (What’s the point? What do I need this for?) But because he is excited about the way this Ancient Greek used angles to satisfy his own desire to know how big around the earth is, he wants to know how to measure angles. And in this way, I remind myself (deep breath), he will come to learn what he needs to know.

O’Keeffe Leaves

(Inspired by “Gorgeous Gigantic Flowers” in What’s the Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo.)

Materials: Watercolor paper (or other paper that can handle paint); paint (we used tempera cakes); pencil; permanent marker (we used Sharpies); leaves for looking at

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a straight-up art activity! My daughter said she wanted to make a painting using one of our Art Explorers books, so I told her to go ahead and pick one out. She chose the activity inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings, but when I looked at the materials list I realized we didn’t have any fresh flowers on hand.

However, a suggested alternate was leaves–and it being October in New England, we have leaves a-plenty. We headed outside to collect some. When we came back indoors, I took my O’Keeffe book off the shelf and showed my daughter some more flower paintings and the way they took up the entire canvas.

G wanted to follow the suggested process exactly, so after choosing a leaf for inspiration, she drew with her pencil and then traced over those lines with a black Sharpie. Then it was time to add color. We both used the tempera cakes. I quietly noticed a couple of things–her ability to trace over a line, and the fact that she is old enough (and so experienced with art supplies) to remember to rinse her brush between colors.

There is such joy in observing her growing up in this aspect as well–she is so confident in the art room, so comfortable, so sure of her decisions and what she needs for her artwork. Here is her finished piece along with the leaf that inspired it.

She decided she wanted to use all the colors, and she enjoyed mixing them. (The tempera cakes are the primaries plus white, black, and green.) She enjoyed the movement of her line, as well.

I also did this activity–I am grateful for the time and space to draw and paint and this activity was challenging for me. I also tried to follow the suggested directions and make the leaf spill off the page, as O’Keeffe’s flowers do. I discovered that it was easiest to do this if I started from the center, with the veins of the leaf. Here’s my finished page, with the leaf that inspired it.

I’m sure I’ll be trying this again. (We have lots of leaves, did I mention?!) I like, too, the idea of taking something so well known–O’Keeffe’s flowers–and translating it to our own landscape. I think I will be using this activity in the art class I lead at our co-op, too. There are a couple of kids who tend to draw small, and I’ve been looking for ways to encourage them to go bigger; I think this is a good activity for that.

I enjoy following G’s lead. When she is in charge of the day (or at least part of it), we tend to do fun things. I had no idea we’d be using autumn leaves to inspire a painting…now I can’t wait to do it again!