Bluebell Field in England (photo used under Creative Commons license)
Happy March Equinox Everyone!
Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions. It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!
Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator.
During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”
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.
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.
After the holidays, the one memory that lingers the longest for me is the fun my family had playing a board game together. There is something about sitting together, watching each other smile, laugh, grimace, and pout!
I’m not talking about a video or online board game. I’m talking about an actual game that has a board that one unfolds from a real box. I like to play a real board game in which one can feel the pieces and move them with one’s own hand. I like a game with a lot of pieces that has to be set up before the game can begin. I also like a game in which I could choose to be two or three players, and I also like a game with a bit of intrigue! Catan is a front-runner, and the games of Clue and Monopoly happen to be favorites of my family because they can take so long to play. We start a game and take a break for a snack or lunch and go back to it when we’re ready. Sometimes we even finish a game the next day.
A board game is a lot more than fun. It’s imagining strategy, thinking through moves, and creating logical outcomes. It is also practice for some important skills that we all use in our daily lives. We practice cooperation, we learn how to compromise, we work together through collaboration. Playing a board game with family and friends also gives us time to practice sympathy, compassion, and empathy with our fellow players.
I’ve played so many fun games! I love Scattergories, Apples to Apples, and the new game Sagrada is quick and fun! What games are your favorites?
If I only had one holiday tradition that I could carry out, it would be quality time with my family and friends every year! I asked my colleagues to send in their favorite holiday traditions, and the responses were fantastic. I would like to share their stories that prove family time is the true joy of the season.
Kay Gibson:I love the idea of sharing traditions. I tend to celebrate the season. I usually go to a solstice gathering where we have a bonfire and lots of good hot food and drinks. Hot apple cider and a warm bowl of chili in the glow of a fire is a great tradition for me. It is especially fun when there is snow on the ground, as it brings more light into the darkest part of the year (here in the northern hemisphere).
Sarah Antel:Foods connected to my family’s heritage have always been important and taken a center stage especially at the holidays. Growing up and into present time, Hungarian lekvar cookie dough was rolled out on my great grandmother’s wooden board, systematically cut, filled with prune butter, rolled around the filling, and baked. At some point during my childhood, Christmas Eve dinner consisted of Polish peirogies, shrimp, and a light mushroom soup. I’ve continued this tradition in my own home on Christmas Eve. And now that Sicilian traditions are also a part of our life, Christmas Day includes an abundance of seafood, eggplant parmesan, and Italian wedding soup.
Meg Minehan: Our family has a few favorite holiday traditions. Ever since my kids were quite young, we have decorated a tree for the animals. We create edible ornaments, such as birdseed and peanut butter pine cones and popcorn cranberry garlands. We choose a spruce, pine or balsam fir that is “just right.” It is especially fun during a snowy December when we can go back a few days later and inspect the visitors tracks!
Another favorite tradition we’ve incorporated in more recent years is our family, homemade gift exchange. We draw names, and the only rule is you must make the gift. These gifts are simple and fun. Sometimes treats are concocted in the kitchen or treasures are created with wood scraps, paper, or yarn. It is amazing how much thought goes into these presents. One year my son made his oldest sister a rustic birdhouse because he knows how much she loves birds.
Of course, food is always a part of our holiday gatherings. Even though most of the year we try to limit ourselves to more wholesome treats, this time of year, we bring out the white flour and colored, sanding sugar for holiday cutout cookies. These are in addition to the other traditions… i.e. Santa, our Christmas tree, etc.
Andy Kilroy:Our family does advent calendars, but a little differently. In Denmark, there are little elves called Julen. These little guys wear big red hats and the night of November 30 creep into the house and put chocolate on the calendars, which are embroidered and hung up on the wall. They then go and help themselves to sugar in the sugar bowls or canister leaving tiny footprints in the sugar they spill. In the morning of December 1, the children wake up and fly down the steps and discover 24 pieces of chocolate hung on the calendars – one for each day before Christmas to count down to the big day. Here is a picture of the calendar I made years ago for my son.
Lesley Arnold:When my kids were little we invited all their friends and parents to our house for a production of “The Night Before Christmas”. Our friend, a music teacher, interspersed the show with Christmas songs we all sang. Each family brought a present (in secret) wrapped with their own child’s name on it. (We tried to have it be a small gift so none were “outdone” by someone else’s gift.) I read “The Night Before Christmas” and my husband and friends acted out the poem. It was a big production with costumes and all! We even had a tiny sleigh and reindeer that we made and put on a pulley across the ceiling. The big event, though, was Santa Claus arriving. We put a picture of a fireplace in a doorway and he arrived through that! My father played Santa Claus and no one even knew it was him. In his big bag were all the presents for the kids. He called out each name and they came up and got their present. What a celebration it was! We still talk about my oldest daughter playing the sugar plum fairy at age 4! A wonderful event and the memory is the best gift!
Anna Logowitz:My sister and I were always in charge of choosing what color Chanukah candles we wanted for each night, and as we got older we also learned how to melt the ends so that they would stay upright in some of our shakier menorahs. The family menorah was simple dark metal, but over the years we accumulated two more. Our Aunt Nancy died when I was 9, and she had a flat little menorah, which became my sister’s and is now with me. My parents also went on a trip and brought back a beautiful one from an art school fair that branched like a tree and had birds sitting in it. We came up with different candle patterns, new ones each night, and watched to see which candles would last the longest.
My mother grew up Christian, and she repurposed two of her family’s traditions for us: Christmas cake became Good Luck Cake, to be eaten on the new year, and every year we made cookies – using Jewish and secular cookie cutters and a lot of very colorful homemade icing – to take to a party that we had with two other couples who had all been in a mixed marriage group with my parents before we were born. We ate them for dessert after latkes and corned beef, over a very large game a dreidel. That party is still going on after 35 years, I believe.
We usually managed to do at least one special thing every night, whether it was being out and about or doing something at home, and we would always pick one night to do Chanukah full out, i.e. make latkes, which are a lot of work and leave the house smelling like oil and onions for days! I used to love to go to school the next day with the smell still in my clothes, because it meant that this was a special time of year.
Michelle Menegaz:We have started a new tradition based on an old one. Every year we had the most beautiful poignant Advent Spiral celebrations in a beautiful round healing sound temple. We used our own apples, drilled holes for candles and made a spiral of greens, stones, shells, small wooden animals, wild berries of winter, etc. Along the path, we placed large golden yellow paper stars. Children would walk alone (if old enough) into the center of the spiral, light their apple candle from the lit pillar in the middle, and then walk back out, placing their apple on one of the stars. We had quiet singing and music as they traversed this highly symbolic journey of traveling through the dark to find light at the center of it all, then bringing their light back out to the world.
Over the years my growing daughter got tired of this and we got tired of the huge effort of making it. For a few years, there was nothing and it felt sad. Last year, we had an impromptu gathering of about 7 teen girls, some of whom helped me create a huge labyrinth of greens outside in the snow atop our pasture hill. We had a campfire down below and when it was dark and the mood was right, each girl trudged up the hill, took up an unlit beeswax tea light in a pint mason jar, walked the snowy path between the greens, and lit their candle from the same pillar in the middle. Those waiting sang songs of light and joy. They headed back out and nestled their jar amongst the greens, and cavorted down the hill. There was more laughter, more shouting, more action, more unbridled LIFE so it had a different tone. But every single girl thanked me profusely and said it was the best thing they had done in a long time and that they missed this sort of thing. We will be doing this again this Solstice!
So, review the essence of what you treasure about your traditions and see if you can bring that to meet your growing children, even the young adult ones, in a new way that feeds them still.
We will love to hear from you! What are your favorite holiday traditions?
This time of year I start thinking about the birds in my area. The temperatures are dropping close to freezing. I see birds in great flocks swooping into the bird bath and landing on the feeder. Last week there were about 15 Common Grackles splashing and crowding into my bird bath. The winter is upon us here in New Hampshire. The birds need to eat quite a bit of food to keep up their energy for traveling south. Those that stay will need food all winter. I often look out the kitchen window in the winter to see a little black -capped chickadee at the feeder, and I wonder how it can keep warm. The tiny little feet and the skinny little legs look so vulnerable. They need high energy foods and lots of it! I know there are Oak Meadow students that enjoy watching and feeding the birds. If you do also, then you might like to join the Project FeederWatch that is a program of the Cornell University Lab of Orinthology.
“Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.“
Here’s one: The Common Grackle often allows ants to crawl over its body so that they may secrete formic acid, which is thought to kill parasites, a practice called anting. Besides formic acid from ants, the Common Grackle has been observed using various other substances, such as walnut juice, mothballs, lemons, limes, and choke cherries in similar ways.
Do you watch the birds? Do you keep a list of the birds you’ve seen? Let us know!
“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!
With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’sCollegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.
Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!
While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:
Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder.
Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.
Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.
Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!
Oak Meadow founders, Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, believe that, in order to manifest a child’s education successfully, certain guidelines must be followed. Here are detailed guidelines for helping in the teaching process:
Clear a physical as well as psychological space: There should exist a particular spot where the student does work. It should be well stocked with supplies: main lesson book, additional paper for first drafts, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, highlighters, folders, notebooks, etc. In addition, it should be organized in some designated way so that order may be restored at the end of the learning period. Most importantly, it should be a pleasant place to be and one that is well lighted, with maybe an appropriate poster on the wall. There should be a comfortable chair with back support; however, chairs that encourage lounging are to be avoided.
A time must be set aside so the student knows not to plan other activities for that period of time. It does not work well to choose the time on a daily basis. The brain needs a rhythm and will come to a focus more easily as the lesson time approaches if it is a consistent time each day.
When a physical as well as psychological space have been cleared for schoolwork, half the battle with the undisciplined mind has been won.
Focus: If a student is having difficulty with focusing attention or understanding, the home teacher should sit beside the student and act as the “grounding agent” to bring the student to a point of focus. Ungrounded students must slowly be drawn into their lessons. For example, in grade 4 (and higher), a new sense of independence is encouraged in the coursework. However, this does not mean the student does everything independently. At the beginning of a new lesson, the home teacher should ask the student to read a paragraph, then ask the student to share the main idea of the paragraph. Highlight the word or words which are the main idea. Proceed to the next paragraph repeating the process. At the end of each page, the student should read back all the material that has been highlighted. Then putting paper or books aside, the home teacher should ask the student what was just read.
It may be slow and tedious at first, but as the brain stretches, the student will pick up speed. Always emphasize quality understanding over quantity of work done. Perhaps the student only does a fraction of the assignments while learning how to focus and organize the brainwork, which is fine. Accept this and praise the student for the fine progress. The only requirement is that you witness sincere progress.
How long each day should a home teacher focus with a student? At least one hour a day should be set aside for this kind of focused attention. The home teacher should not be in and out, but rather seated with the student for the whole hour without interruptions. Perhaps the home teacher may cover social studies and language arts three days a week and science two days a week in this manner for half an hour each day; and math for half an hour every day. Then the student should be left alone for another hour every day to do the assignment that can reasonably be done independently. This time should be eventually lengthened to three hours a day for a total amount of time spent on school work, with two of the hours being independent learning. More than that would be discouraging for the student who needs lots of time for physical activities.
When learning is difficult and a student is asked to spend more than three hours struggling through without help, it leads to burn out and the student shuts down altogether. Balance is very important. After each hour, the student should get up and do something physical. If the student has low blood sugar, offer at least one snack during the three hour period. The most important consideration is the rhythm of the schedule. The student should not be allowed to get up and go outside and get involved and forget the schoolwork. It should be more like a fifteen minute recess with an expectation that the work will be continued until the work for the day is completed, even if it is short of the assignment in the curriculum. (If enrolled in the school, Oak Meadow teachers are always willing to work with a student who needs a reduced load.)
Caring: Children need to feel that somebody cares about their work each day. The home teacher should read over the work and discuss it with the student. Praise and celebration for victories won are very important for all students, but especially the unfocused student. They need constant reminders that they are progressing and doing well. It is important to remind students where they have come from and how much they are accomplishing.
Accept your student with the present abilities: Do not present material the student is not ready for. Pressure creates negative stress and causes the mind to shut down. Begin with a review of material the student already knows, to get the mind moving and flowing. Then present the new material.
Remedial Students: If your student needs remedial work, choose one thing at a time to work on. For example, when working with reading comprehension and writing, do not be concerned about grammar initially. Then when the student is comfortable with the daily process, add grammar. Work with one grammar rule at a time. Start with each sentence beginning with a capital letter and ending with a punctuation mark. Proceed to capitalization rules, then punctuation, expanding sentences with adjectives and adverbs, then conjunctions, etc. If a student is a poor speller, present five words a week from the Dolch list. Also provide many ways to learn these words. Focus is the key to success.
Physical Activity: Emphasize the importance of daily physical activities to help the integration process. The martial arts are a wonderful tool for integration, as are walking and dance. Studies indicate that academic performance improves with daily vigorous physical activity. Discourage TV watching during the day.
Learning Styles: Become aware of your student’s learning style. Some people learn auditorily, others visually, and some are bodily kinesthetic learners. The best teachers use all three modes of teaching.
If your student is a visual learner, drawing pictures or diagrams will help to remember information. If your student learns best through hearing the information explained, share an hour each day with your student and explain the material being covered. Make up songs and jingles to remember key points. Some students learn best by teaching it to somebody else. Be a willing student and let your student teach you the material. Skits are great for learning.
Purchase a lap-size white board with marker (fruit flavored without the toxic fumes) so your student can draw, diagram, write jingles, and teach. Use it daily and you will be amazed at its effectiveness as a teaching tool.
I hope these guidelines will be helpful in making your home schooling adventure a very successful one. Wishing you all the best for an exciting year of learning!
This blog post is brought to you by our Oak Meadow teacher, Michelle Menegaz. I think you’ll enjoy it!
Hello Middle Schoolers!
This is a very important alert about the shark-infested waters of the Plagiarism Sea into which many middle school students dive at one time or another. It always starts out as a search fortreasure…the quick path to a wonderfully phrased and well-edited essay or report, but quite soon, the unsuspecting student becomes tangled in strands of broken copyright seaweed and the sharks begin to circle!
As an Oak Meadow teacher, I often notice that some of a student’s writing is almost word for word the same as parts of material in the sources used. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons for including citations for all sources. If no sources are cited, I can not be sure the work is original.) It’s really important that you always write in your own words and not copy sentences or paragraphs from other sources. Copying from other sources is considered cheating, and is taken very seriously at Oak Meadow. The first time it happens teachers give a warning, and if it happens again, it will more seriously affect grades.
Please take time to read more in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook in the section called “Original Work Guidelines.” This can go a long way towards ensuring that you avoid the weeds and sharks on the way to the true treasure…an original, well-crafted piece of writing or research. I can also recommend the Purdue OWL website. It has some very good content that you could use.
Plagiarism is a very tricky thing to define at times, since excessive paraphrasing can also be considered copying of a sort. There is definitely a learning curve about plagiarism in all its forms, especially with use of the internet. There are many reasons that students plagiarize their work. Using three reliable sources at all times and taking very brief notes from these sources can be enormously helpful. Another possible path to try would be to do the work in your own handwriting, in your own words of course, so there are not cut and paste errors.
It is extremely time consuming for an Oak meadow teacher to verify plagiarized work. Once the first warning is given, any further work that is plagiarized will need to receive a failing grade. Let’s avoid this!
In summary, here is what to do:
*Review the Original Work Guidelines in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook
*Read the bibliography piece called Citing Your Sources
*Discuss with your parents how to use your own words
There are various principles and tools of Oak Meadow education that can help to enhance the teaching of your children and to make your homeschooling endeavors easier and more enjoyable. One of the most important principles of Oak Meadow education is the triangle we call FOCUS, PROCESS, and RELATIONSHIP, for it is the basis of education.
Children have a natural desire and eagerness to learn about everything that surrounds them in their daily lives. As parents and home teachers, you have the natural desire to treasure and nurture these “gifts” in your children. The way to do this is by providing a safe environment that revolves around the FOCUS, PROCESS, and RELATIONSHIP triangle.
Let’s first discuss FOCUS. Early elementary children often find it difficult to maintain a point of focus on their own, so it is important that teachers must learn to be the focused leader in the children’s school lessons. If you, as the guide and the home teacher, can truly focus or be able to direct your total attention, then you will discover that, as a focused adult, you can help your children to also become focused. Children naturally respond to the attitudes, thoughts, and feelings of their environment, so if they experience you as a focused individual, it will be much easier for them to also attain this important quality.
The way to become focused is by engaging in the PROCESS. You can experience process through focusing upon anything; however, the quality of your experience is deeply affected by what you choose to focus upon. You must keep in mind that the end result or goal should not be the main point of focus. Although you might have in mind a certain plan of action for your children’s main lesson, it is more important to enjoy the process rather than to focus solely on the goal.
This is also where RELATIONSHIP enters into the triangle. RELATIONSHIP is the result of FOCUS and PROCESS. If you share a process in a focused manner, and focus on the process itself, then the relationship develops.
There are three important ingredients needed to develop a successful relationship. They are the same three ingredients that nurture true intelligence: love, warmth, and acceptance. To totally accept, support, and affirm the goodness and true being of your children allows them to engage in an activity that is enjoyable, where there is no judgment, and where the love flows easily. If any of these ingredients are left out, there will be a noticeable decrease in the ability to create a safe, learning environment.
A safe, loving, and focused experience can occur anytime or place – even with a baby on your lap or other children in the room. But the most essential thing to remember is to instruct your children only when they are in a state of receptivity. True learning is very different from memorization and repetition, and a focused child enjoying a shared process learns easily and quickly. A child who learns in this focused manner will be an enthusiastic learner for life.