I can’t EMPHASIZE how important this activity is to do with your child of any age.
I am reading aloud again to my five children: my 22 year old, my 16 year old, my 14 year old, my 12 year old, and my 10 year old.
We are on Chapter 3 of Winnie-the-Pooh…my eldest told us the next day that as she fell asleep to the chapter, all she heard was “Pooh was trailing behind.” This was met with her brother dying of laughter. Eyeroll. They never really do grow up. It’s strange reading to them again all together. It’s magical. It’s not that I want to hold on to it Our favourite collective stories have been “A Wrinkle in Time,” “My Father’s Dragon,” “The Hobbit” and “The Penderwicks” (ALL The Penderwick books).
Yesterday I was reading a book and came across a great passage. I gasped and my daughter was sitting next to me. She asked me to read aloud the passage that made me gasp. I read it to her as she lay beside me on the couch. It was from The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl. She writes:
I already know (or believe—which comes to the same thing in my Catholic worldview) that daydreaming doesn’t make things up. It sees things. Claims things, twirls them around, takes a good look. Possesses them. Embraces them.Makes something of them. Makes sense. Or music. How restful it is, how full of motion. My first paradox.
I can see that I have lost her in a daydream as I read the last sentence. Sometimes they want me to read from by books or my Book of Hours – quotes that serve as snapshots of my life.
When I read to them, they each make a different face. Some gaze off. Some look at me in anticipation of the next thing in the story. Some fall asleep to “Pooh was trailing behind.”
There is something that happens when I read to them. The sound of my voice provides a rhythmic container that they can get cozy in. Or maybe it’s the ritual of this reading aloud that we can always come back to no matter what happens around us. It was the one thing I did when we moved into our home in the pouring rain without running water or electricity. I lit the candle every night, in the bedroom we all had to share and I read to them.
Sometimes I am tired and they still need the chapter read. I read slowly word by word until I myself am entranced by the cadence of the dialogue or the description of the place. My heart beat and my breath naturally match the flow. As I finish the chapter, and before they ask for another, I let them float away to their beds quietly ready to enter the dream world with these wonderful images told through a voice that will love them forever.
“Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”
– Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993
When I say “Team Humanities,” I really mean “Team Story.” Our story of being human actually begins with our ability to tell stories.
When my kids were little, we did story rounds. I would draw something on the chalkboard with the first sentence of the story and my little ones would help me draw out the rest of the story. Stories were a major part of our house. It is a major part of our humanity. We tell stories. We use our imagination. We create worlds in our minds. For more on the story prompt and the chalkboard drawing, read this blog post.
Stories can teach and can heal and can foster a sense of wonder.
I have written many blog posts on this trying to show what little it takes to homeschool on the days when life is too much. Those are the days especially when we tell stories. Like this Storytelling Sunday in 2013.
My children used to ask for the same stories to be told and still do. “Mama, the one with the two sisters…or the one with the 7 children…or that one with the king, you know? Or Goldilocks and the Seven Bears!!” That last one is my personal favourite.
Stories can be a way for humans to feel that we have control over the world. They allow people to see patterns where there is chaos, meaning where there is randomness. Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives—a form of existential problem-solving.
When children feel anxious or afraid, a story, like a security blanket, can help them feel comfort.
At a time like this, when everything is uncertain, I have been asked for a good story to tell. I have recommended this Eric Carle book: Papa please get the moon for me. The moon waxes and waned for everyone on this earth no matter where you are. You see the moon. And you know grandma who we can’t visit right now? Guess what, she sees the same moon. Arrange a time with loved ones to look at the moon together.
Tonight, light some candles and tell a story. This is what we were meant to do.
”Philosophy is written in this grand book – I mean the universe – which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.
– Galileo, 1611
A humanities slant to a traditional math subject…
“Mama, I REALLY love geometry.”
Since we started the block at the beginning of the month, she has been drawing and practicing her lessons even in her spare time.
“What do you love about it?” I ask.
“I love the straight lines. I love how precise and exact it is. You know, like baking. I don’t like cooking when you add a pinch or splash. I like measuring.”
She tells me this as I watch her swing her compass to make another circle or glide her pencil across the straightedge of her triangle. I don’t notice her words as much as I notice her body language. She is relaxed, almost relieved at having to do this task. There is order and certainty in a straight line or a circle with the flick of the wrist.
GEOMETRY. The root of the word is “earth measure.” Measuring the earth can be a poetic endeavor even if it is exact and precise.
Our geometry block was planned for a little later but I shifted gears and introduced it this month. Unfortunately, compasses are hard to find in our little town so it was a mad dash for parents and kids to try to find a compass, let alone an open store to buy one.
Another challenge was teaching a very physical and coordinated activity over Zoom with poor Internet. It’s easier to teach this when I am sitting next to the child. It can be frustrating to follow along with my exact instructions and when the audio cuts out or the screen freezes.
So why am I introducing this now? Why not wait until I have the students all together back in our little classroom?
Because they need this block right now. Three weeks of being at home with no end date in sight means there is a lot things that are up in the air. There is a lot of information and life just isn’t as black and white as we would like. I often answer questions with: “Vamos a ver.”
Geometry, on the other hand, at least the way we are diving into it, is known. We are using straight edges, compasses, and triangles. There is no ambiguity when I say “draw a circle with a 5cm radius.” It’s either a circle with a 5cm radius or it isn’t.
But still, it’s not just about angles and proofs. We spend most of the time building and playing with the forms to create patterns. We use these patterns to match what we find in nature.
As my husband watched me help #4 with one of the geometric constructions, he remarked that he would have enjoyed geometry more had he learned it the way she is learning it.
The first geometric construction I introduced was the 6-division of a circle and “the seed of life.” But first, I showed them a picture from Da Vinci’s Journal:
And then they made their own:
The seed of life is the pattern of creation. When we eventually look at embryology in the high school years, they will see these patterns again in the beginning of life.
Once she did the seed, as you can see, she continued to create the flower of life.
The circle itself is a powerful symbol. We work at inscribing shapes within the circle: the triangle, the square, the hexagon, the pentagon, etc. The children start to see the power of the circle to house all the shapes. I tell them the story of “Giotto and The Perfect Circle” and we try to make the perfect circle freehand like Giotto did.
The constructions get increasiningly difficult and need practice. Without the precision of measurement, the pattern won’t “look” right or by the end of the steps, it falls apart. A care in measuring that “90 degree angle” or that “5cm radius” is required. Patience is required to achieve on paper what nature and the universe itself does effortlessly.
Some get it on the first try and others need the instructions repeated. The onus is on me to communicate each step precisely and with clarity. We may have different definitions of a “point of intersection” or “dropping a vertical line” or even “centre.”
“Which centre?” I was asked. I stop to weigh my words because I assumed everyone understands that there is only once centre in a circle but then I realize that we have twelve points that could possibly be the center of the next circle:
It is a practice in communication, verbally and visually. How do I show what I mean without assuming that everyone knows what I mean? Am I clear? I also have to do this in Spanish and English.
I am grateful when they say “I don’t understand” or “Can you repeat that part please?” It forces me to take a step back and make things simpler. It is frustrating for them but it’s a test of perseverance and discipline for all of us. There is nothing more satisfying when they finally understand that particular “arc” that is supposed to cross the circle exactly where the next point should be.
I tell my group that we are learning the language of the universe as Galileo so aptly said. (They also had to write that quote in English and in Spanish.)
We also have gone back to basics to understanding what these terms mean. We take for granted that our kids know what this means. A point is a coordinate – a position without size. Even when I make a pencil point on the page, it has dimension.
How many straight lines can go through two points?
Only one. If you want to curve it, there are many ways to get there. But in this three dimensional reality, there is only one straight line that can be determined by two points.
This is a lesson for me too. There is one straight line to get from today to a day when we can all gather again, when I can go visit my parents, when there is no curfew or certain days we can drive. That line for me consists of moving through each moment doing the next right thing for me, my family, and the kids I show up for. Maybe I can’t see that next point but I know it’s there. It exists. I just have to choose how to walk this line until I can see it.
I am grateful for being to walk this line with these amazing kids.
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” ― A.A. Milne,
Yesterday I talked about a block I did with my son on Superheroes. Today I am posting a link to a blog post when I did a “Human and Animal” Block with my #3 who was 10 at the time and an “Animal Stories“ Block with #4 who was 8.
When we learn about animals, we speak about each one in relation to the characteristics of a human being so we can understand our differences as well as our similarities. This is different than simply treating each species as a zoology unit which they can study in a more scientific way when they get older. But in these younger stages, I want them to feel a connection through the heart.
Speaking of heart connection, one of our favourite read alouds during any animal block is Winnie-the-Pooh. I am starting it as our family read aloud tonight again. The kids, especially the big ones, are excited.
I sketched this after one of my geometry classes. I think it’s a perfect complement.
[A man] must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community. These precious things … primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the “humanities” as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.
– Albert Einstein
My son’s favourite main lesson block of all time is his Superhero block that we did when he was 8. He loved it so much that he did it again when I introduced it to a small group of 8-9 year olds at the end of last year.
We compared heroes from the Marvel Universe, a favourite world in our house, to real heroes from history. We looked at superheroes and compared superpowers. We imitated the “hero stance.” I made up games like a “rock, paper, scissors” action game where you had to duel another player and on the count of three perform one of the superpowers which were weather and element related.
This was a brief introduction to biography. Fiction and non-fiction. As I tell the “origin” stories of both types of heroes – the Captain America and the Martin Luther King Jr biographies for example – we see the “striving” of a human being. We see how obstacles are overcome and although the path isn’t easy, they keep going. Why do they persevere? What virtues are they trying to uphold?
Through these stories, the children experience the universality of the human journey as well as the extremely personal aspect. (Captain America used violence to fight for justice while Martin Luther King Jr did it with non-violent resistance.)
When we compared the superhero Storm with an African Warrior Queen, Kandake Amanirenas, the climate of the African desert and how they used it to their advantage to defeat their enemies was important. We did a watercolor painting together to emphasize what it must have been like in the desert, a stark comparison to the jungle that these kids live in.
We also look at cultural differences and contrasting world views which normally arise from unique upbringings – Wonder Woman and St. Bridget, for example. How does family support and cultural norms affect the way one sees oneself and the world around them?
While there are many potential avenues of abstract questions to be asked during this block, I refrain. I simply tell the story and ask them to re-tell the story the next day. We draw and after we do the pair of stories, they naturally compare. I only ask that they step into the shoes of these people that we learn about. What was life like at that time? What would life be like in the desert? What superpower would you want?
The beginning of a journey into being human. The beginning of recognizing the hero and villain within ourselves. The beginning of understanding that who we are becoming and have become is due to our experiences in our life.
And that some of us, with imagination only as our tool, dreamed bigger.
I was listening to a podcast where one of the founding developers of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, was talking about his company, Automattic, that now runs WordPress and other sites. The company has 1200 employees in 70+ countries. They are a fully distributed work environment. In the midst of this mandatory “stay-at-home” reality, the company has not been affected.
During the collapse of traditional work, WordPress is still chugging along.
(If that you can read this post and 36% of all other websites on the Internet, you can see that this statement is true. My blog is run on WordPress.)
He begins talking about how businesses need to start building a framework that is “anti-fragile” and even try to make it successful at a time like this. Those that can thrive in this situation have a moral imperative to keep working to keep the economy moving.
However, he said a surprising thing. When discussing some qualities and skills that the “Wordpress” team are looking for when hiring for this distributed work environment where there is no “physical” space to meet your coworkers, he mentioned that one of things they look for are people that can write well.
He says, “The written word is I think by far the most powerful for sharing things in a distributed organization and writing quality, clarity, and skill becomes more and more valuable I think in all organizations but the more distributed you are for sure.
Then the interviewer, Sam Harris quips, “This is going to be a windfall for all the Humanities degrees.”
Mullenweg chuckles and continues, “Absolutely. We screen for it very heavily in our hiring process. I actually don’t care where you went to college or anything like that but we do a lot to screen for writing ability both in how you apply, how we interact. We’ll hire many many people without ever actually talking to them in real time or on voice. We do it entirely through Slack and Tickets and other things to interact because that’s how we work.”
To sum up: A tech company that is fully distributed where its employees need technical skills to perform tasks is primarily concerned with the written word.
(As an aside, I know that my blog is often fraught with grammatical errors. I am not claiming to be perfect but I try to string and organize my thoughts in a coherent manner. I just don’t have the luxury to proof-read sometimes.)
As my kids get older and they have to communicate with employers or resolve issues in a professional way, they understand how the quality of communication – both written and oral – can affect the outcome of the situation. A polite and professional tone can mean a full refund from an airline that never gives refunds or an increase in pay. On the flip side, a poorly placed comma, let alone an emotionally charged sign-off, can potentially lead to a misunderstanding and a tense work environment. (True story.)
As your role in a company expands, or when you create your own business, leadership and motivation are added job skills that need to be honed. Effective communication from a leadership role can result in a successful company where people are motivated to work for a higher purpose than just the paycheck.
When you work with people or for people, and when your customers are people, you have to understand people. Humans. Humanity.
What does this have to do homeschooling? I promised posts on homeschooling and trust me, everything I talk about is in context.
If our definition of education includes preparing our kids for “work” and the “real world,” then we should know what the world of work is going to look at a decade from now, or even two decades from now. This pandemic and resulting effects on the economy and certain businesses have a lot of built in lessons.
Enter Team Humanities.
I am also Team STEM but I am first and foremost Team STEM with a HUMANITIES slant. For example, as we study geometric constructions this week, I start every class with a quote or poem that #4 and her class have to copy into their notebook before we take the compasses out:
Did you know that humanities programs are continuously being cut? Read this article.
This article is my favourite article on the Humanities as I can relate to it directly which I will touch on this week.
The humanities ARE necessary. They are the study of us. Humans and how we interact.
My economics block with a group of teens was more of a humanities class than anything else. How do we make decisions? What motivates us? How does an individual household’s decision-making process scale up to a country’s decision-making process? What do you need vs what do you want and how do you define happiness?
As you plan your offerings to the kids, I want to be the advocate for poetry, classic literature, philosophy, social and political thought. This isn’t just for teenagers or young adults. You can start early.
I will take this next week talking about ways in which we have introduced the Humanities into our learning environment. Today in my house a child just quoted Cicero while the other is copying a Mary Oliver poem. In my classes, we are always weighing individual rights versus the collective. We ask questions that can’t easily be Googled or balanced in an equation.
I have often asked myself why we can’t engage in healthy dialogue and agree to disagree but also see our commonalities – that we love our family, that we want to feel safe, and that we are all trying to figure out how to live.
Maybe it’s because we have lost this capacity to think deeply. To think for prolonged periods. To wonder without cease.
Tomorrow…I share one of my old posts when we were all confined to our house and turned to a favourite subject: POETRY.
I wrote the love letter at a time when everything in our life was up in the air. The only constant was our rhythm of learning. We had moved to Costa Rica and were in the middle of building our house and living in our fifth rental where all four kids were sharing a tiny room.
I have seen her struggle – struggle with employing tact vs honesty, struggle with her need for independence vs her need to feel taken care of, struggle with the choice to spend time with family or friends, struggle with the need to be alone with the desire to still feel included in our family shenanigans, struggle with discerning what she wants vs what we want vs what she thinks we want her to want. I have seen this in her distance even though she is sitting across from me at the dinner table. I have seen this in her eyes as she faces decisions that I will no longer make on behalf of her...
I’ve just let her be. I have instinctively followed her lead. I have been quiet when she needed a listener. I have spoken up when she needed to feel supported and validated. I have held her tight when she has been frustrated trying to find the words to match her emotions. I have been patient when she has been impatient (for the most part). I have let go when she needed to breathe her own air and live her own life. I have ached at every “I love you Mama” because I know it’s not a reflex statement but a declaration of gratitude and appreciation.
I wrote this a decade ago and it still rings true.
The difference today is that she lives over 3000km away from me for most of the year. Today I am grateful that she is with us. For now.
For now I see how she wakes up in the morning after missing most mornings with her for the past four years.
For now I am able to sit with her at the dinner table and try to figure out what she is thinking or try to spoil the book she is reading because I just finished it. (“So are you at the part yet when Circe goes to get the tail????”…“Mom, stop it!”)
For now we can do the same workout in the same space.
For now she is part of the chore chart which the others have been changing to “include” her more.
For now I can lie on the hammock with her.
For now we can read Women who run with the wolves, our novel study book for the last year, and discuss it in person. (We started it when she turned 21 and are still moving slowly through each chapter.)
For now she can share bits of her life – photos and videos of her friends, regale stories (I am assuming extremely filtered stories) of her trip to Miami, and what her life has been like.
For now she cooks with us while we dance to 80s and 90s music.
For now we are all together again, our family of seven.
Although I know she would have liked to celebrate her birthday with her friends back in Toronto, I love that she is here with us for her 22nd birthday. We gave her tiny presents of comfort – a mug, a washcloth that she needs, chocolate, a notebook, handmade bracelets by #4, a custom drawing from #5, and a Japanese pen.
And I wish her the same thing I did a decade ago. At the end of that letter, I wrote:
“Yes is a world, and in this world of yes live all worlds.” e.e. cummings
12…always say ‘Yes’ to this day. this moment. this story. this life.
Love: Mama and Daddy
To never stop saying yes even when there is so much to say no to.
To say yes even when the world doesn’t thing it’s safe to.
To say yes even when you are curious and uncertain.
“The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us.”
– Mary Oliver
This morning my second born made me this yummy smoothie bowl for breakfast as I was furiously typing away, prepping for lessons:
She even served it in my bowl. She’s a pro. My eldest bought me this to-go bowl (it comes with a lid) for my 40th birthday. It’s been a treat to have both home – the first and second born.
As most of you know, the first lives away from home. The second, however, has been absent this past year in many ways. She was working six days a week from 7:00am-3:00pm at a little cafe at the bottom of our road. She eventually worked part-time at another job as well. She was saving for a trip abroad this summer which of course has been postponed..indefinitely.
Fortunately she was able come to class for a couple of hours a few days a week but this was her new routine. She never failed to get up at 6:00am. We missed her but when she tried to integrate at home after work, there was always a little conflict. Her chores were neglected. She was too tired and too impatient for her siblings. She stressed over homework. We all had to sit down and redefine her responsibilities as we gave her more leeway in some areas and less in others.
Today on my class zoom call with my second and third born, I asked the question, ”What is one thing that you appreciate right now?”
#2 answered, “Being home. In the mornings, I have time to cook and meditate. I can do homework at a good pace.”
She still gets up at 6:00am. Now instead of rushing to get ready and leave the house for work, she makes her way to the kitchen with a relaxed saunter. The night before, she spends some time before bed preparing her chia yogurt to be refrigerated overnight and makes the homemade granola, instead of stressing over an essay due that she can’t focus on because she’s so tired.
She adjusted her habits to make room for other passions without losing the discipline and the will.
During this time, when each day feels like yesterday, it’s easy to slip into a “groundhog day” type of stupor. Routine can feel like a living hell, a prison sentence.
One of the habits that I am trying to cultivate with my older teen group is our journalling practice. We are on Day 10 of our daily journalling theme – “How to Live.”
I am using this as our guide for our journal practice.
Tomorrow, Day 10:
Q. How to live? A. Wake from the sleep of habit
I don’t necessarily use the content of Montaigne’s life story which is how most of the book relates to the attempt an answer of the question.
I reflect and then I offer some quotes to the kids like the Mary Oliver quote at the beginning of the post. They journal for 15 minutes about what they think and how this relates to their own experience.
21 days of writing in a journal developing their own philosophy of how to live that will change over the course of their life. And they also get the opportunity to develop this habit.
My colleagues, my fellow teachers/guides, are on this journey too – keeping track of their own thoughts on these prompts.
Although routine and habits can seem ordinary – the act of repeating. There is something when you make deliberate choice in it that also injects a little magic in the mundane.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”