It is Random Acts of Kindness Week 2018! We are big fans of random acts of kindness EVERY day, but are particularly excited to spread some cheer this mid-February. Here is a printable image that you can copy and paste into a word document, print, and cut into tags to use with your Random Acts of Kindness (also called RAKs). And don’t forget to follow Oak Meadow on Instagram; we’re sharing one RAK a day on our Instagram Stories! (you can only view stories on the mobile app)
A seed of love, when planted in the tiniest of hearts, can grow to lead a life to that which happiness imparts. – Unknown
It is important to recognize that one of the major tasks for a home teacher is to create an atmosphere in which real learning can occur. Such an atmosphere exists where the children are nurtured and supported to explore their own personal interests, as well as the world around them. As we are all well aware, this best happens where there is a warm, loving relationship between the child and the parent.
Sharing love is like sharing a treasure. Whether it be through expressing warm thoughts towards one another, opening up and sharing feelings with each other, or just spending some pleasant moments together, it is the essence of the learning process. In a loving relationship, we also discover that communication becomes greatly enhanced. When communication comes from the heart, be it verbal or nonverbal, it allows the opportunity to better understand and accept the thoughts, ideas and actions that are shared with each other. This form of communication may come through a special hug, a quiet conversation, a wonder-filled nature walk, or even in the sharing of a favorite art exercise or baking activity. Whatever the form may be, grabbing these wonderful opportunities will truly aid in deepening the bond in our relationships.
When we are sharing these treasured times together with our children, we are spending true quality time with them. Quality time certainly does not mean planning a special activity at a particular time, but rather means experiencing quality moments that are unscheduled and spontaneous. All of us, as parents, have had our children rush to us with enthusiasm and bright faces saying, “Come quickly! I have to show you something!” How do we respond to our children’s excitement? Do we reply, “In just a minute.” Or do we say, “Later, I’m really busy right now.” Or do we not even hear them because we are so absorbed into our own work? If we could just keep in mind that, when we give our complete attention to these unexpected and unplanned moments, we are also acknowledging how important they are and how wonderful it is to be a part of the joy in their lives. If for some reason, you can’t drop everything and attend to your child’s request at that very moment, you can still express your eagerness: “I can’t wait to see it! First, just let me _______ (finish making your sandwich, hang up the phone, take the sleeping baby to bed, etc.) and then I’ll come right away.” Of course, then you have to do that, as quickly as possible.
I once asked my sweet little seven year old friend, Anna, “What do you think of when you think of love?” She replied without any hesitation, “My family.” This immediate response would be the same answer for most children. Family plays a very integral part of life for the child, which is certainly another valid reason why family-centered education will flourish most in a healthy, happy environment.
As your family ventures through homeschooling, please remember to keep in your heart that when you clear time and space to focus completely on your child’s lessons, when you teach the lessons with personal interest and enjoyment, and when you introduce the new material with sensitivity towards your child’s skill level, you are sharing love that will provide not only a sense of fulfillment for your child, but will also give you great satisfaction for your own teaching endeavors.
“Every moment and every event of every man’s life plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them. For such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere, except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.” ~ Thomas Merton
For those who live in the northern hemisphere, the months of January and February bring us to a midpoint of the winter season. We find ourselves experiencing drastic changes in weather, along with different forms of personal attention and focus. It is a time of contraction, in which we turn inwardly and reflect within. Often times, this season can also initiate a sense of tiredness and discouragement. Even our children’s attitudes can begin to disintegrate, and the enthusiasm during the first few months of school starts to wear off.
Since 1986, I have had the great honor and privilege to know and work with Oak Meadow’s co-founder, Lawrence Williams. Over the years, I have developed an amazing respect for his boundless wisdom and timeless energy in providing a quality education for homeschool families. I have also collected a plethora of articles written by Lawrence. So, “from the archives”, I have the pleasure of offering his timely article on:
Winter, Contraction and Frustration
Now that we are in a new year, and in the midst of winter, let’s stop for a moment to consider what effect this is having upon our children, the learning process, and us.
The learning process has two phases: expansion and contraction. These same phases are also apparent in the seasons of the year. The season in which we are presently immersed, winter, is the season when the forces of contraction are prevailing.
The predominant effect of the contractive phase is the feeling of being closed in, and the feeling that nothing is moving. In terms of the learning process, we often feel that our children are not making any progress, and we begin to doubt our effectiveness as teachers. Of course, this closed in feeling is much more apparent in the extreme northern latitudes, where the temperature is much colder, and snow covers the ground for most of the year. However, even if we are living further south, we still experience this sensation, although its effect is modified somewhat, and it tends to become a more subtle inner experience, rather than an outer obstacle.
Another effect, which is most fascinating, is that during the contractive phase, things do not appear as they really are. The same thing is occurring in nature. If we didn’t know any better, and just arrived on this planet without an instruction manual (a familiar feeling?), we would look at the barren trees and the frozen ground and would suspect that everything was dead, with no chance of revival. However, since we’ve lived through many winters, we know that things are not as they appear. Underneath the surface of the earth wonderful things are happening and in a few months life will spring forth again, and everything will be green and growing profusely.
So the most important thing to remember while teaching children in the midst of the contraction of winter is that, while it looks as if nothing is happening, it is only because everything is happening under the surface. However bleak it may look, however hopeless your children’s progress may seem, however many times you feel as if you are totally frustrated, just remember that it is not really that way. Within your children, just as within nature, marvelous things are happening at this moment, and in a few months the growth that is occurring will become apparent, as we move into the phase of expansion, when all things become visible.
The best way to handle the contractive phase is to accept it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. There are many ideal learning experiences available at this time of year. Take advantage of them. Don’t stay indoors, trying to complete academic work with everyone irritable. Go outdoors and look for animal tracks in the snow. Even if you are living in a more temperate climate, and there is no snow, watch for the events that happen in nature only at this time of the year, such as various animal migrations. By cooperating gracefully and joyfully with the opportunities available within this cycle, you will be teaching your children one of the most valuable lessons in life: how to find opportunities within apparent limitations.
In Lawrence William’s book, The Heart of Learning, Chapter 7 offers additional information on “Rhythm and Learning: Expansion and Contraction”. If you haven’t read this chapter recently, it might be a good time to add it to your reading list.
We are deep in the heart of winter up here in Vermont, and many of our most recent blog posts focus on one of my favorite topics / winter activities: reading.
I recently ordered an enormous stack of books to keep me occupied through the cold evenings and snow storms. It seemed like every day, the FedEx truck was stopping outside my house. Books by my favorite authors, books I’d been meaning to read for ages, are slowly, beautifully taking over my living room table. In the mornings, evenings, and on precious weekends, I dive in and out of them, embodying the words and worlds in those pages.
One of my favorite writers, who also lives in semi-obscurity in Vermont, has written in her essay, “Someone Reading a Book,” from her book, Madness, Rack, and Honey:
“Is there a right time to read each book? A point of developing consciousness that corresponds with perfect ripeness to a particular poet or novel? And if that is the case, how many times in our lives did we make the match?” -Mary Ruefle
I always think about this quote when I happen to read a book at what feels like precisely the right time. I thought about it this weekend three times:
1) I read the chapter from The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard about how it feels to sit and read by the fire on a snowy evening in a country cottage, while reading by the fire on a snowy evening in my country cottage.
2) I talked to a friend in Chicago about a new project we plan to start: writing letters to each other while reading the same book at the same time. She told me she would “reveal the book we’re going to read presently.” A few hours later, I posted a picture on Instagram of several books I planned to read over the weekend. This friend commented: “Are you kidding me! I was about to mail you the book we’re going to read. You already have the book.”
3) While working on one of my current creative projects, a collection of essays called “On Reading,” I get stuck on an essay about a female writer from the Surrealist movement, and start to do more research. Later, I am rereading another of my favorite books, Heroines by Kate Zambreno, aand I come across a section about the same female Surrealist writer I am trying to write about. I Google interviews with Kate Zambreno and read in one about how much she values those points of correspondence, when she discovers that another writer she admires is writing about the same topic she is writing about too.
From Mary Ruefle’s essay:
“There was one book I read not only at the right age but also on the right afternoon, in the right place, at the right angle. I read The Waves on an island, on a plotless day, when I twenty-two years old, sitting on a terrace from which I could see in the distance the ocean, and the horizon where it met the sky and the changing light that played there as the sun climbed to its zenith and descended again while I thumbed the pages and my blood pressure washed up and down with the words. The Waves is not one of my favorite books. But my memory of reading it is. I was very silly when I was young. I have that to be thankful for.”
The Waves by Virginia Woolf actually is one of my favorite books of all time (although, how many favorite books have I listed here? No matter, there is always room for more!), and my experience of reading The Waves is also one of my favorite reading memories. I read The Waves on the back deck of a house where I lived in Vermont in college, when I was twenty-one, on a plotless day, sitting on that porch from which I could see, very close, a mountain range, and where it met the sky, and the changing light that played there on that August afternoon as the sun reached its highest heat and cooled again, and I decided then that I would be a writer.
I wrote a letter to a friend recently, and before he read it, he told me where he planned to read it and said, “It matters where and when you read things.”
One thing I love about teaching for Oak Meadow is how much I know my students are reading “outside of school” – in environments away from a desk. And I hope my students experience these cosmic correspondences with books too – that they build lasting associations between themselves and the books they read, the days they read them, the landscapes they read them in.
Mary Ruefle’s book, Madness, Rack, and Honey, in which she writes about reading The Waves, was published by Wave Books. How many times will you make the match?
This is a guest post by Hannah Westbeld, a homeschooling mama of 3 who is active on Instagram as @myheartshomestead. She lives in Tennessee and her whole family loves using Oak Meadow curriculum, especially the math gnomes. Thanks, Hannah!
Sometimes I wish I could rewind time to bestow upon my earlier self the elusive gift of perspective. Having a healthy perspective is an incredibly powerful viewpoint that, once attained, can change our approach to almost every aspect of life. But in homeschooling particularly it is a tool unlike any other. It gives the parent, as the teacher, the ability to see and connect with their child’s unique learning abilities. It releases them from the constraints of mainstream educational standards and frees the child and the parent to learn together in a setting and at a pace that best suits their individual needs and interests, while allowing the process of education to unfold in a beautiful and natural way.
A few weeks ago, my oldest son asked if he could read to me from his current favorite book. We snuggled up, side by side on the couch, his head resting on my shoulder, as he read his favorite passages aloud, one by one. I listened intently to his words, my mind flashing to images of the times we had spent together just like that in years past. The earliest images were, of course, reading to him when his little fingers couldn’t yet turn the pages of his favorite board books. I saw him as a toddler pointing to his favorite images in picture books, slowly mastering the pronunciation of words. I saw us side by side on the couch when he began kindergarten, staring down at the pages of our first book of reading lessons. I saw the tears of frustration and sadness on his cheeks over the following two years when he simply couldn’t master the art of reading. I felt the anxiety I placed on my own shoulders as I questioned what I was doing wrong and wondered if I was qualified for this important role in his life.
But then I remembered how it felt as I allowed my own mind to change, grow, and adapt to his needs. I saw myself tucking away the lesson plans, gently wiping away his tears, and assuring him that I would read to him for as long as he needed. For the next several years I read to him and his younger siblings every chance I got. We lost ourselves in entire imaginative worlds, we discussed fairy tales, we read silly picture books. We read through novels. We stumbled across the power of phonograms and spent a few moments each day learning their sounds. And then one day he flawlessly read a street sign. Another day he read an entire paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ writing on his own. He began pulling familiar picture books from our bookshelves and reading them with an ease and excitement that stunned me. And then one day, not long ago, he read through his very first novel entirely on his own.
We’ve been on quite a journey together, he and I. Even though I look back wishing for better perspective when he first began Kindergarten, we were both given the gift of “the process” together. Together we learned what was best for him as an individual, and gifted each other one of life’s most beautiful things – perspective – and along with it the knowledge that learning is not defined by one moment or one grade level, but is, rather, a journey that occurs over the whole of our lifetime.
The winter season is my favorite time of year to curl up in my coziest reading chair by the warm fire and indulge in a good book. I have especially fond memories of snuggling in the oversized chair with my children and reading storybooks as the snowflakes fell softly outside the window. Perhaps this scenario is also familiar to you and your family.
When I hear the exciting news that a child has just begun learning how to read, it brings a great joy to my heart. This child has now entered a new realm of learning and a new way of discovering the world. Learning to read is like receiving a gift of a lifetime!
We are fortunate that our modern-day world makes books so readily available. There is a numerous assortment of amazing classics for children, including many Newbery and Caldecott Award winner and honor books. The American Library Association recently announced 2017’s Caldecott and Newbery Awards.
Each year the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) also creates a “Children’s Notable” list that identifies the best in children’s books, recordings, and videos.
I recently asked some of my local homeschool students to share the names of their favorite books. It was both entertaining and educational for the other children to hear which book titles were selected. Many were familiar favorites, while the new titles sparked interest in a desire to read some of these unfamiliar books. It was also delightful to listen to each child’s oral summary of their favorite book. We even discussed how our “favorite” books often change because there are so many unknown books that are just as fantastic as the ones that have already been read!
In Oak Meadow’s fourth grade syllabus, a suggested activity for Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Search for Delicious, offers doing a poll for the most delicious foods. It could be inspiring to poll the choices your children and their friends’ favorite books. We can even create a list of your children’s favorite books right here on the blog. My all-time favorite children’s book is Gwinna, beautifully illustrated and written by Barbara Berger. If you haven’t read this story to your children, I highly recommend it!
I had a student that submitted a research paper about the country of Japan. It was really well written, but I was especially taken by the font she used for typing her final paper. It was different from what she usually used. It made such an impression on me that I had to find out what font it was.
I was reminded of the 2005 commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in which he spoke about how he came to learn about calligraphy and, inspired by that course, later developed fonts for the Mac. You can watch the speech here.
So. I’ve been thinking how important it is to understand that each of the fonts one may use when typing actually COME from somewhere! They have a history! In my search for the history of one font I see all the time, every where I go, I discovered that there was actually a movie made about the font! You can view the trailer for Helvetica the movie here, and you can also purchase it.
How interesting to know that certain fonts are used to impress the reader! So if I use comic sans, I’m pretty much setting a certain mood. In fact, I may investigate further what font this blog is typed in. (It isn’t possible for me to change it to another font.) I think I’ll also find out which fonts the Oak Meadow curriculum uses.
By the way, the font the student used was Philosopher. Next time you type a paper, think about the font you are using and what impression it may leave on the reader!
Quotes on ceiling of Michel de Montaigne's study in France.
“Among the liberal arts, let us begin with the art that liberates us…”
Michel de Montaigne wrote these words in the late 1570s, when he withdrew from public life to hole up in a tower where he read, wrote, thought, paced, and ultimately, transformed the landscape of writing altogether.
Montaigne was a French nobleman and former magistrate whose life prior to his writing career has been called “unremarkable.” But it is precisely the things society has always called unremarkable that he fixed his mind on when he chose to sit down and begin writing in a style and form the world had never seen before.
Actually, he didn’t even sit. He felt his mind was more active if he paced around his library and dictated his thoughts to another person in the room. When he moved his books into the tower, he had his favorite quotes painted on the wooden beams that held up the ceiling. In this way, he could gaze up at them while walking and allow their ideas to inspire him as he walked.
“For our boy, a closet, a garden, the table and the bed, solitude, company, morning and evening, all hours will be the same, all places will be his study.”
This active approach to writing and thinking makes sense when we consider what he was writing about—ordinary, mundane things that everyone experiences but which no one ever talks about, to this day and certainly not in 1580. These were topics like: “Of thumbs,” “That we laugh and cry for the same thing,” “Of smells,” “Of sleep,” “Not to counterfeit being sick,” “Of the resemblance of children to fathers,” “Of liars,” “Of the custom of wearing clothes,” and so on. They weren’t informational articles, nor were they fictional stories or poems. They didn’t fall into any category of writing that anyone recognized. So what were they?
They were the mind in active work on the page—exploring, questioning, doubting, contradicting, and meandering, through the halls of sciences, poetry, fashion, law, history, morality, and a hundred other topics and disciplines, all with one unifying factor: the pursuit of curiosity.
Montaigne called them his essais, from the French word essayer—to try, or to attempt. Montaigne wasn’t an expert in the topics he was writing about or disseminating his superior knowledge. Instead, he was thinking and writing with a passionate rigor and a humble acknowledgement that learning and the pursuit of truth and discovery are never-ending processes.
“Put into his head an honest curiosity to inquire into all things; whatever is unusual around him he will see: a building, a fountain, a man, the field of an ancient battle, the place where Caesar or Charlemagne passed.”
This active, questioning, doubting, failing, and persevering definition of the word essay has been completely discarded from the American education system (if it was ever really present at all) through the industrialized uniformity of traditional curriculum design. When I say the word essay, I doubt you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, questioning and imagining, meandering and exploring! So fun, I love essays!” but rather, “Five paragraphs, same structure every time, topic sentences, plan the ending before I begin writing, never say the word I, hamburger method, makes me hate writing and feel like I am a bad writer.” At least that is what every writing student has told me the first time I asked them what an essay was.
The five-paragraph essay is one kind of essay, but it is not the only kind of essay, and it should not be the first kind of essay we learn how to write in school. I’ll tell you why: because it does not teach you how to think. In fact, it teaches you the opposite of thinking. It does teach organization of thought—but why should you learn how to organize your thoughts before you have been given the opportunity to think?
What Montaigne got so right in his essays that we should remember in our writing today is that essay writing is not so much about convincing your readers that you are an expert, but rather demonstrating the avenues, sidewalks, flight patterns, maps, and trajectories you’ve traveled to arrive at your discoveries. It’s about crafting a question (such as, “Since it is philosophy that teaches us to live, and since there is a lesson in it for childhood as well as for the other ages, why is it not imparted to children?”), reflecting on your initial knowledge about that question, researching the question, staging a conversation between your thoughts and your research, and reflecting on the discoveries that you made. By learning to think and write rigorously in this way, you also learn all the formalities of grammar and mechanics, and gain a comfort in writing in specific forms like lab reports or the five-paragraph essay.
In the spirit of Montaigne, and this rigorous, independent learning, I’ve designed a new writing course for Oak Meadow high-schoolers called Composition: Expression & Understanding, and you can enroll in the first semester now! Semester two will roll out this summer. This course will prepare you for the independent learning style of Oak Meadow, and it will strengthen your writing abilities in preparation for studies in all disciplines. But most importantly, this course will help you discover who you truly are, what you believe in, and how you want to pursue your own full and meaningful life. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?
This is a special guest post by Oak Meadow K-6 teacher Meg Minehan.
Meg Minehan is an Oak Meadow teacher for grades K-6. She currently homeschools her own children using the Oak Meadow curriculum. Meg co-leads a monthly forest and fields program for preschoolers in Chester, Vermont. She embraces winter by cross country skiing and sweating in her woodfired sauna.
Although all of us at Oak Meadow extol the benefits of getting children outside, we also recognize that getting young ones outdoors in winter can be quite challenging! Here are some helpful hints to help you and your children embrace these blustery, and for some of us, downright frigid days.
Perhaps most of you are familiar with the oft-quoted saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather…” Although my feelings about that quote can change depending on my mood, the wind speed, and the type of precipitation I am about to endure, it is important to acknowledge that wearing appropriate clothing in winter is a must. These past few weeks, you may have encountered temperatures that are too cold to be safe. Most days, however, can be safely enjoyed, if only for a short time, provided you and your children are clothed appropriately. But even after investing in or, better yet, inheriting quality outdoor clothing, how do you entice children and their caretakers to go outside?
For many children, a fresh snowstorm is usually a welcome invitation to play outdoors. There are the obvious tried-and-true activities, such as sledding, snowman making, snow fort building, snowshoeing, and skiing. Now that my children are older, ages 16, 13, and 10, these are some of their favorite activities. I no longer need to encourage them to go outdoors. In fact, usually I am calling them in, so we can get some of our Oak Meadow work done. When my children were young, however, this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes they needed a hook, something to entice them to “get out and blow the stink off ye.” (quote courtesy of my father, Ed Minehan) Here are some ideas that worked, at least some of the time, for my family.
Get Moving and Follow the Tracks: On the coldest days, the only option was to keep moving. Even getting out for a short hike or snowshoe was still worth it. To keep things interesting, we often went tracking. Because we live near the woods, this was, admittedly, pretty easy for us. But driving to a special trail adds a sense of adventure too. First, spend a little time familiarizing yourself with tracking patterns. Is the animal a straight walker, hopper, waddler, or bounder? Kids can practice walking in these styles as well. Next, examine the print of the animal’s foot. Notice the shape and size. Can you count the toes? Are their claws present? What other nearby animal signs or clues can you spot? To maximize child participation, I made each of my kids a laminated detective tracking card with pictures of the four patterns and common prints. I photocopied our cards from the Shelburne Farms Project Seasons book. There are many great tracking guides or cards available. We approached each tracking expedition like a mystery. As they got older, my children became more interested in the C.S.I. scene. They loved following the tracks and searching for evidence of last meals. Yes, sometimes the results were a little gruesome, but always exciting.
Curriculum Extensions: Keep in mind these snowy mysteries can lead to imaginative storytelling, story mapping, further research, and investigative writing projects. These activities can easily be integrated into science and language arts lessons. Talk to your Oak Meadow teacher about substituting assignments. We want you and your children to embrace winter too!
Trail Games: Simple trail games are another way to keep things interesting on a cold winter walk. One of my favorite games is Christmas Tree for a Mouse. I learned it from Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder. As we walked through the woods, we would look at various trees, gauge their relative sizes, and decide which animal would be perfectly suited to which tree. This can be a fun way to talk about the animals that live in your area. This game could be easily modified if Christmas trees aren’t part of your family’s traditions. Maybe you could find the tree with the best treehouse option for a mouse, a mink, or a bear. If you and your child are feeling really ambitious, you might even assist with the building process.
Winter Art: Scavenger hunts and treasure walks were also a good way to build enthusiasm for a cold winter walk. After collecting simple treasures, such as pine needles, cones, and winter berries, we would put them in a mold with twine or raffia hangers, fill with water, and wait for them to freeze. We’ve used mini-bundt pans for wreaths, but silicone molds work even better. These lovely ornaments or sun catchers can be hung nearby. Quite often, however, I would encourage us to share our decorations with the birds and squirrels. Aha! Another “excuse” to get out for a walk.
Finally, on those days when everyone needs a little extra enticement, there is nothing like the promise of homemade hot chocolate and a favorite board game awaiting. Happy winter!
NOTE: Oak Meadow recently posted a great link on Facebook about following tracks: http://www.audubon.org/news/a-beginners-guide-reading-bird-tracks-snow
As I sit here this evening with a winter storm warning in effect for my area of New England, I am once again fascinated by how these tiny snow crystals can impact whole regions of the United States.
Some of you may have read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That story is about an actual winter storm that raced across the prairie lands of the United States in the winter of 1880-1881. In his book The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin gives an account of the deadly prairie blizzard of 1888 and he also gives an excellent description of the different types of snowflakes there are and what the conditions are that create them. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the science of snow!
The Native American Indians had many ways to predict the weather by observing what was happening in the natural world around them for clues. In the 1880’s the weather news was sent via telegraph across the United States from Army base to Army base. The weather often arrived before the news of its coming. Today we have the National Weather Service and technology to help us predict storms and to warn us of storms.
If you are interested in learning more about snow crystals, go to your library and find the book Snowflake Bentley. You may also want to visit snowcrystals.com.
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.