My inner artist

Like most other children, I really liked to draw when I was young.

At the age of nine, my mom enrolled me in a YMCA art class, where I learned about various artistic styles and did the requisite imitations. For example, here’s my Mondrian,

The Seurat,

and the Kandinsky.

Later, as a teenager, I traded piano lessons for art lessons from a friend, and along with drawing and painting, I tried my hand at such varied artistic activities as Ukranian Easter eggs (several of which still hang on our tree each Christmas), wood-burning, and printing.

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Welcome Home, Part 4: The Florida Room

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but before I came to Florida, I thought that screened-in porches were just a really ugly way to obscure the entrance to your house, and make it seem dark, spooky, and forbidden. However, when I saw the screened-in porch at our new house, I changed my mind.

It reminded me a little of those gorgeous soaring aviaries in the San Diego zoo. And yes, my first thought was that we could get a pet sugar glider and keep it out there (Florida’s rules on exotic pets are much more relaxed than California’s). Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you ask Tony), our landlord won’t let us have any pets other than Axa’s birthday betta.

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My Favorite Homeschooling Books

This week I’ve been playing around in Goodreads. I have this problem with checking out books from the library, reading them, and then not being able to find them again when I want them. Goodreads keeps track of all the books I’ve read and whether I like them or not. And since lots of those books are available on Kindle now (have you checked out Amazon’s new book-lending program?) It’s kind of like my own virtual library.

Sometime when we have a house and I get all my books out of storage, I’ll reorganize my non-virtual library. But for now, my brain needs some help, and Goodreads is a great solution. So I’ve tried to remember off the top of my head all the books I’ve ever read (ha ha) and input them into Goodreads.  I guess the ones I don’t remember don’t really matter. So here are some book reviews from my brain’s archives for today:

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Avoiding Twaddle at the Library

When I was a kid, my mom would take the five of us to the library every week. Each child had a large plastic crate in his/her room for library books, which crates we took with us to the library when we went. With six library cards in the family and a limit of 20 books per card–well you can do the math for how many library books we went home with most weeks. The really hard days were the ones where the library computer system was down, and you could only check out five books on each card. It was like a mini version of “If you were stranded on a desert island . . . ”

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Teaching Math to Children

Sometimes I get so upset about all the problems in the world that I just want to write an endless stream of depressing rants. It’s nice to focus on the positive sometimes too, though. And homeschooling is usually positive for us. Learning happens in the least expected places, and my children are always surprising me. They seem to breathe in knowledge like air. I guess I should have expected it, but children begin as such an extension of oneself that it is a startling delight to see that they’ve developed their own unique ways of looking at the world.

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Jane Austen and the Mock Turtle

I like to read treatises and how-to books on education. But I also enjoy distilling educational theory out of books that have nothing to do with education. It fascinates me, for instance, to hear the Mock Turtle’s summation of the subjects offered at his school: Reeling and Writhing, Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision, Mystery (ancient and modern) with Seaography, Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils, Laughing and Grief, as well as Dancing the Lobster Quadrille. That’s Lewis Carroll’s whimsical but accurate summation of the typical education of his day (for boys. You’ll notice that in the same chapter Alice carefully mentions her French, but earlier as she tries to think how to address a mouse in The Pool of Tears, she can remember the vocative only from her brother’s Latin Grammar).

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Diary of a Neo-Edwardian Lady

We were at Lough (Lake) Ennell yesterday, and it was beautiful. It barely rained on us at all. And, I discovered the macro button on our camera (actually, Tony showed it to me). What joy and delight! I snuck up on every bug in sight, not to mention dozens of very obliging flowers. Maybe I really could do a nature journal. I’ve been stuck on that point for some time, as my repertoire of feminine accomplishments does not include brush drawing. I was just about to capture a slug when the camera battery finally died. From above, the slug looked as sedentary and blobby as slugs are wont to look. But from below! He was ravenously devouring a leaf. His prodigious lips engulfed it alarmingly. Raj and I had been watching him for five minutes when Axa came over to investigate. I pointed out his sharp tooth, of which I had caught several glimpses. In fact, we could even hear the little snip as he cut off each piece of leaf. Axa said, “I read in a book that slugs cut leaves with their sharp tongue.” She’s right, of course. She knows all sorts of things like that. I looked it up when I got home. The tongue of a slug is called a radula, and it’s covered in tiny teeth. Axa has opened a school for Raj. (This is something I’ve noticed about most homeschoolers, including myself. They have a fascination with playing school.) She was inspired in this case by Laura, who in These Happy Golden Years has just landed a job as a school teacher, even though she’s officially too young. Yesterday I peeked in on them. Axa was dressed up in several layers of dresses (petticoats perhaps?), and Raj was wearing somewhat less (how much less I decline to state. It rather resembled a miniature Jane instructing an even more diminutive Tarzan). She had arranged her magnetic tangrams into a little scene with flowers, sun, grass, and a worm made out of a pipe cleaner. She was deep in an explanation to her pupil regarding the importance of worms. “The worm,” she informed him, “eats little pieces of dead things and turns them into dirt. The grass needs the dirt to grow. If it weren’t for the worm, the little frog would die, because he needs the grass to keep his skin wet.” I tiptoed away, not wishing to interrupt such a delicately simply and warmly felt ecology lesson, every part of it gleaned from many personal interactions with the creatures named. This is why Charlotte Mason calls education “the science of relations,” or in other words, the art of developing relationships with the people, creatures, ideas, and things that one encounters in life and books. I’m almost embarrassed to admit to any degree of teaching when it comes to my children. Yes, I plan the curriculum (i.e. tell Tony which books are to be read and narrated at bedtime, download books for Axa from librivox, and make sure we have plenty of other good books around for the various other requested reading times). Basically, I collect books, and I’m very choosy. We read nothing that I don’t consider to be well worth reading. But we read a lot. Mostly, though, what I do is what Charlotte Mason calls “masterly inactivity.” Which means not interfering when children are seriously engaged in the business of “playing” (i.e. working, or rather learning, or really living). Masterly inactivity is the habit of noticing when children are doing important things (which is nearly always) and keeping out of their way so that they can do them. And whenever I do it, I am amazed at the beauty and intelligence of who they are.