Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sixth Grade Waldorf: Astronomy

Tides and the moon, chalk pastel

We had so much fun with this block; we could've just kept going, I think. Just sitting outside staring up at the stars—wondering and imagining—made for a refreshing, creative block. It was fun, incorporating Greek/Roman myths (constellations), explorers (navigation), and just plain old observation, watching the sky spin 'round the earth. (Yes, I know it's the earth that spins, but it seems the other way around. No wonder early philosophers thought everything revolved around Earth.)

The main resource I used was Kovac's "Geology and Astronomy," supplemented with appropriate library books to expand on the chapter topics:
    Stars, Seymour Simon
    Find the Constellations, H. A. Rey
    The Moon Book, Gail Gibbons
    Sky Phenomena,  Norman Davidson

 Following are some of our Astronomical studies and activities:

The making of Stickhenge.
At noon on the December solstice, we ventured outside to a small clearing to hammer a garden post into the ground. We then marked where the shadow of the post fell, inserting a stick at the topmost point of the stake's shadow. That evening we returned and using the post as a visual reference point, we marked the direction in which the sun set, again inserting a stick into the ground in the line of sight from the stake to the point on the horizon in which the sun set. And then we did it all over again. A lot.

This was a long term project, being updated weekly from winter to summer solstice. Eventually we pulled out all of the markers except the ones marking the two solstices and spring equinox. (Some weeks there seemed to be no movement, others the shadows would just "jump") In this way we "illustrated" the movement of the sun through the months. If I were a morning person, we would have marked the sunrises as well, creating a more circular pattern, like Stonehenge. But I am not a morning person, and neither is the Boy. So we opted for 1/2 of Stickhenge. Good enough.

Movement of the sun from southwest to northwest over a six month period.

Lengthening of shadows over a six month period.
Planetarium visit:
The York County Astronomical Society operates a planetarium out of an old high school,  offering shows once a month. We observed a show about the winter solstice, including some of the history of solstice celebrations, and a show regarding what we should be seeing in our local winter sky.

We also visited our middle son at school during a parent's weekend, where they had a planetarium show about constellations, and tricks on how to find them.

My favorite part! We have a fire circle in a small clearing in our back acre. (An acre that we've been naturalizing over the past 10 years). It is the perfect place to light a toasty fire and just gaze up at the stars. That college planetarium show (above) proved very helpful as we looked for the M-shape of Andromeda, the rectangle of Gemini, the belt of Orion, and others. Finding the North Star is a breeze, if you can find the dippers!

We studied the moon phases, tides, equinoxes and solstices, the zodiac (from an astronomical view, not astrological, although some may want to incorporate that), comets and asteroids, position of the planets, and a bit about navigating with stars.

Here are some excerpt from the Boy's main lesson book:

The Moon, colored pencil

Hercules, metallic sharpie

Rotation around the north star

The Solar System, chalk pastel


Shooting Stars, chalk pastel
The zodiac


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ancient Civilizations: Greece Part II History

The year has gotten away from me. It's time to wrap up final plans for seventh grade, and I realized I've not yet documented all of sixth grade. I will do my best to show what we covered in during our second semester, beginning with history.

Greek History. Hmmmm, what fun! Most of our stories came from Kovac's Ancient Greece . Each day I would deliver a story. Using the 3 day rhythm, we would review on day 2 and develop the ideas through artwork on day 3. But this semester, instead of focusing on painting or drawing, I had the boy write, write, write.

I realized about mid-way through the year that I had been rather lax on the writing skills. My goal was to get the child to write at least one paragraph, coherently and completely on his own. I started with having him write his ideas down. Then he formed them into complete sentences, then arranged them into a paragraph. Sounds simple, but for a boy that doesn't care for writing (Can't we just draw this story?") it was fairly exhausting!

 The "big" project was to write a comparison essay, using narrative. He chose to compare Sparta to Athens using the stories of two characters from the Kovac's book to illustrate the differences. (Solon and Lycurgas). The major struggle during this project was the Boy wanting to do it his way, rather than following my directions.

Doesn't look so intimidating, but this was a two week process!

 At one point he made two lists of characteristics, one for each city, handed it to me and said, "I've finished comparing." My response, "Hmm, yes, you did compare the two cities, but I would like you to put these characteristics in story form. Not list form." And his, "Well, I like my way better. "  This is when I had to put on my teacher face and get firm about completing the assignment, not changing the assignment to suit his wants. This time, anyway. It took two weeks of writing and rewriting, working through the draft process, but he finally completed it.  And was so proud of his accomplishment when he had.

During his free time, the Boy read some library books about Ancient Greece, including Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff. One we thoroughly enjoyed was Wise Guy:The Life and Philosophy of Socrates. The Boy spent the next few weeks tossing out Socratic quotes. (Where were those nosy homeschool quizzers that week? No....they only quiz on stuff we haven't covered yet!) 

We transitioned into our studies of Rome by reading aloud the Aenid, closing our books on the study of Ancient Greece.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shampoo Free — No More Toxic Hair

After months of reading about the benefits of going shampoo free, I have decided to experiment with it.  Notice I said "shampoo free," i can't stand the common vernacular "no 'poo." It makes me giggle; why would anyone poo their hair? So instead I'll use "shampoo free." 

So, why shampoo free? Lots of reasons really. Shampoo wasn't really a common item until the early 20th century, about 1914. Before that folks used soap, which if you've never tried it, can leave your hair a gross mess. 

But over the decades shampoo has become a toxic concoction. Lots of chemicals in those fancy bottles. Since we are trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, getting rid of as many harsh chemicals as we can is part of the plan.

Shampoo is a detergent. As it cleans It strips away oils from the hair, which sounds like a good thing, but it's not. The scalp produces oils to protect the skin and hair. So when it's stripped, the body needs to make more oil to compensate. And,  stripping  the oil removes the natural softener and detangler. Then a conditioner needs to be applied. Do you see a marketing ploy here?

This is all basic information I've been gathering. Just google "no poo method" and you'll find all kinds of info...and claims.

Some of the claims are dubious, just like the shampoo commercials that promise the hair of the gods if you use their product. "My hair is thicker, more luxurious, blah, blah, blah." I preferred reading the reviews of those who tried it and explained why it didn't work for them, and those who experimented with various recipes til they found one that did work for them. Those seemed much more honest.

I decided to give it a try after visiting with Middle son and his girlfriend. Her hair is long and straight. She had issues with various shampoos so decided to try shampoo free. And her hair looks great — healthy and clean. Middle son no longer uses any cleanser in his hair, he just rinses it. (His is fairly short.) Their results convinced me to give it a go. 

 I used this basic recipe for shampoo:
1 tablespoon baking soda mixed in one cup water til dissolved

And this for conditioner:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar mixed in one cup water. I decided to add  2 drops of rosemary essential oil. Rosemary is supposed to be good for hair, and it has a nice woodsy clean smelll. 

I wet my hair, then parted it in the middle and poured a bit if the baking soda solution on. Then i sectioned off other parts around my head, making sure to bet the nape area, bangs, and around the ears. I massaged it in to the scalp then rinsed.

Then I poured some of the vinegar solution on the bottom 1/3 of my hair (the ends). I usually don't need to condition the top so much. I combed it through my hair then rinsed. 

Really, its the same process as shampooing, just with different products.

It came out clean and shiny. A little frizzy, but that's what happens when I air dry instead of blow dry.

One week after starting shampoo free. (Second wash)
It has been three weeks since I started, or about 9 washes. The pic above is at one week. 

My hair does feel thicker, although I know it is not actually thicker. I think it must be the natural oils left on the hair strands beefing them up. It is also wavier, especially when I air dry.  In the pic above I had blown it out "straight" but there's still some wave evident. it was a terribly humid day, but I didn't use any styling product. 

The first two weeks were pretty icky; my hair felt like beach hair, a little stiff and crunchy. It was also pretty oily, especially at the crown. I wanted to wash it every day, but restrained myself — thank goodness for ponytails! Over the weeks there has been improvement, and I'm down to one wash every 3 or 4 days

After a few weeks in I may begin messing with the recipe. Husband says he misses the "clean" smell that shampoo gives, so I might try other essential oils or maybe distilling some herbs in the water. I've also read some recipes using coconut milk, aloe, and other natural ingredients that I may try.

One tip, if you want to try it....brush your hair well, from root to tip at least once a day. I usually do mine before bed. The brushing helps distribute the oils down the hair shaft.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Around the Homestead: Planting Time and Spring Maintenance

Garlic coming up

It has been a busy spring. A late starting, cool, but very busy spring.  

Over the past few weeks we have spent our weekends out in the yard. We planted potatoes, onions, and greens; mended fencing; rat-proofed one of the chicken sheds; moved the chicks to said shed; built bee boxes; acquired bees; repaired broken outdoor piping; cleaned up the firewood area; planted trees and shrubs; weeded garden areas, rocked-edged new garden areas; and had a weekend long yard sale. 

During the week, evenings draw to a close a little later each day, as the sun creeps it's way down the western sky, giving us more outdoor time. Each Friday afternoon finds us out in the sunshine, working on some new project, where we continue through the weekend. On Sunday evenings we break a bit early and treat ourselves to pizza or some ice cream from a local shop, and a movie (or Dr. Who) on Netflix.

Spring is always busy on the homestead. There's all the outside work to do, work we've put off since fall. Plus it's time to start planting the garden beds. I have been quite lazy about my planting, and I think the cool weather is to blame. (It can't possibly be that I'm just being lazy!) We have only broken the 70 degree mark a few days so far and our nights are still hovering in the 40s.

My seeds are started, but I've put very little in the ground, to date. This week I'd like to get the tomatoes, leeks, carrots, beans, and flowers in the ground. We'll see. I also have to requeen my hive. (My current queen ended up being a virgin queen, but that's another story.) And I'd like to get out in the canoe soon, too. Yes, something recreational!

The first asparagus spears

The asparagus is coming up and I have a collection of new recipes to try. Pickled asparagus being one. Sounds kind of weird, but I'd like to find a method for preserving asparagus that we'll actually eat. Otherwise Husband ends up taking bucketsful to work to give away.

Summer will soon be here, with it's lazy, hot days. There's just  a little window of time to get those outside chores finished before it gets so hot that the sun chases us back under the cool shade trees or indoors.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Beeginning of a New Adventure: The Bees Arrived!

Our Bee T.A.R.D.I.S.
Last Wednesday found me busily preparing for some very special additions to our homestead — honey bees! I needed to make sure their new home was prepared: boxes painted and dried, frames assembled and placed in the bottom box, sugar syrup mixed and ready to go, the "bee yard" tidied up and ready. Of course I had all this done days ago, but in my excitement I had to check and recheck. (Or was that my OCD?)

Because of all the excitement (mine), the Boy and I didn't get many of our academic subjects in that day. But learning about bees counts as school, right? The day seemed to take forever. But, finally, it was time to head to bee class where the bees for the participating students, plus those of a few other folks, would arrive from Georgia. 

Here is an abbreviated photo essay of the process of emptying the packages into our hives.

Bee packages in the back of the van

Karen getting her bees from Ron, while a classmate looks on.

Girls and Bees

 Ok, so the bees arrived...Now what? Our teacher, Jeremy, very patiently (This man has infinite patience!) demonstrated how to get them from the package box into our hives.

Spray with sugar syrup
Remove top, then can of syrup

Check for the queen...is she alive?
Yes she is!
Remove the cork on the fondant side

Place the queen cage in between two frames, with the escape hole up.

Queen cage placed!
Replace frames

Shake it, Shake it, Shake it! (Shake your groove thing...)
See them waggle! No it wasn't the refrain to "Shake Your Groove Thing"
that made them waggle. It's what they do to signal to others, "Hey Ladies! This is our home!"

Any questions?
Just the experience of watching Jeremy empty those bees into the hive was amazing! There were bees flying everywhere—bumping into faces, arms, fingers. Yet they were so gentle. Apparently this is because they don't have anything to defend yet. Once they get some brood and honey in their frames, I'm sure they'll be more defensive. None of the humans panicked and most of us observed and then worked our own packages without protective gear. A fellow beekeeper brought some home made mead to sample, so maybe that helped bolster confidence!

Some of the folks in the class were nonchalant about handling their bees. For a few, it was a major triumph to do this without panicking; these are stinging insects and to have thousands of them flying around can be quite intimidating. Karen, a few other classmates, and I laughed and joked our way through it all. It was a festive atmosphere...our bee party.

Karen opens her box

Popping the cork

The bees enter the T.A.R.D.I.S.

Bee on a classmate. We were all covered in sugar syrup!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ancient Civilizations: Greece Part I, Mythology

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the ability to tailor my son's education to his needs, and a close second is the ability to flex around the needs of the family.

While grade specific course objectives may state that your child needs to know x subject matter in a particular grade or age we, as educators, can determine if the child we teach is emotionally, physically, and spiritually ready to meet the subject matter. And, as parents, we sometimes have to bend a little in our expectations of running a perfect household (Ha!) whilst giving our child the most fabulous and thorough of educations.

Characters of the Iliad

Where am I going with this? An admission that we did not get to Greece in 5th grade, as is prescribed in almost all Waldorf curricula. Yes, we tried, but we were running out of school year and it was not a subject I wanted to rush. Plus, as we worked our way through India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt I could tell that the Boy was not quite ready to make the jump from 'story' to' history.'

Fifth grade is typically where Waldorf teachers make that all important leap with their classes—history told as a story to history told through fact. The children have reached that developmental milestone of being aware of the world around them. They thrive on physical challenges like the contests of the Greek Olympics. They are less dreamy and more of the world.

But my Boy was not completely there at the end of last school year. So we entered the world of Greek mythology this past fall. We told tales of the triumphs an tragedies of the Greek heroes and the meddlesome habits of the gods. We drew, painted, and modeled our way through the ancient myths.
12 Labors of Heracles

12 Labors of Heracles, Illustrated

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Beeginning of a New Adventure

Flowers, but no bees.
Spring is here, so the calendar tells me. You wouldn't know it by the temperature, or by the signs of spring in the yard. If we're lucky we might get up to 55 degrees today. And maybe actually above freezing tonight. The weather reminds me of February's sugaring weather...freezing at night, in the 40s during the day.  February weather, not April!

Crocuses have opened and are now withering away, but still no sunny daffodils waving in the breezes. Or the bursting forth of the forsythia. To me the forsythia is always the true sign that spring is here to stay.By now it should be warm enough for the flowers and when the flowers bloom, in come the bees. And very soon, like next week, come MY bees!

Last summer, while chatting about chickens with my friends Karen and Leslie (We probably sounded much like the hens we were discussing "pick a little talk a little cheep cheep cheep.") we came around to talking about raw honey and then to bees. All three of us expressed a mild interest in beekeeping.

Mild interest, for I don't really like crawly things. I appreciate them, love how they help us, but don't really like them. Each summer I find myself putting on a brave face and chanting to some child, "Worms (spiders, bees, etc.) are our friends. We must let them go back to their homes." Meanwhile my inner wuss is screaming "squish it!" Especially when it comes to spiders.

But, after a year's worth of research: attending beekeepers meetings, reading, perusing catalogues, taking an intro to beekeeping workshop, and taking what the beekeepers call a "short course," we are actually picking up a package of bees next week.

Einstein is attributed with stating, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” No one is really sure if he said that, but the point is a valid one. We need our pollinators, or we'll starve to death.

Unfortunately, our pollinators are dying off, and no one wants to say why. Most seasoned  beekeepers seem to think its a combination of things: pesticide use, genetically modified crops, loss of nectar sources, climate change, lowered disease resistance (due to the above). Lots of reasons all combining to wipe out a species that just can't adapt fast enough.

And beekeepers seem to be losing huge numbers of bees; dying off in late winter. (Some of the keepers at the York County Beekeepers Association are saying to expect a 50% die off this year.) It's been too cold to get in the hives to get hard numbers. 

So, while it might seem an exercise in futility, we're going to give it a try on our little homestead. My teacher, Jeremy Barnes, is estimating his losses at 10-20%, so maybe I'll be lucky if I emulate his methods. 

While I spend these last few chilly days (weeks?) dreaming about this year's yield in the garden and freezers full of chickens, I will also be nailing together hive bodies and frames, painting boxes, mounting beeswax foundation, and chanting to myself "Bees are our friends...."

Putting a frame together

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to Peel Shriveled Potatoes

I was at the York County Beekeeper's meeting last week (More about bees in forthcoming posts.) when the speaker remarked that for bees, March is the starving month. (Bees tend to run out of food right about now, just when they're starting to become more active.)

It made me think about our ancestors; March must have been their starving month, too. They survived on whatever they had preserved of their harvest. After a winter of eating from their stores, certain items would start to run out.

As I inventory our pantry, cold cellar, and freezer, I can see how our supplies are starting to dwindle. We still have plenty to get us through 'til the greens start producing, but the applesauce is nearly gone, there's only two or three chickens left, onions are long gone, we're down to three sweet potatoes. And a box of shriveled little potatoes, no bigger than a large chicken egg.

I despise peeling potatoes, and I really, really, really (getting the picture?) despise trying to peel small potatoes, let alone shriveled ones. For this very reason I sort my harvest of spuds into categories. Peelers (large and med/large), tiny ones that we eat whole, and everything else. I will begrudgingly peel those large ones, which seem to run out way too quickly. By winter's end we're down to the everything else category, which we mostly just dice and use for Saturday breakfasts, fried with eggs.

But my family also loves them mashed and for that they must be peeled. (According to our preference). Much to my joy and thankfulness, I discovered a quick and easy method for peeling those last wrinkled little potatoes hiding in the cold cellar.

It's just like peeling all those tomatoes piled up for summer canning.
Just three very basic steps:

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water for a short period.

2. Dunk them in ice water to cool.

3. Peel. 

How incredibly awesome is that?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waldorf Sixth Grade Geometry

From "Compass Drawings"

I know I say this about every block we study, but we have loved geometry. The Waldorf approach is so appealing, and gentle. The Boy and I both have benefited from the lovely way geometry is taught in the Waldorf curriculum.  We both gained a little confidence and were able to immerse ourselves in creating beautiful, orderly, shapes.

From "Compass Drawings"
Last year we spent time exploring geometry through form drawings, practicing various patterns of lines, circles, and squares, but all free hand. This year we broke out the compasses, rulers, and protractors to make our shapes more mathematically accurate.

Main Lesson Book Polygons, Circles

We learned how to measure radius, circumference, diameter, perimeter, and area. We learned how to divide a circle in halves, quarters, and in sixths, eighths, twelfths on up to 24ths. We created spirals, hexagons, octagons, squares, and stars. We learned about angles, intersecting lines, parallels, and perpendiculars. And the Boy spent quite a bit of time just experimenting with the compass and ruler. He would often ask if he could make up his own designs. I was happy to oblige, it's not often that I see such enthusiasm for "work" from him.
From "Making Math Meaningful"

 The main resources I used were "String, Straightedge, And Shadow, The Story of Geometry" by Julia Diggins, "Making Math Meaningful," Jamie York Press, and "Compass Drawings," Enasco.

I also picked up a few workbooks from a yard sale to use for concept practice (measuring area, perimeter, and determining radius, diameter, and circumference, etc) We don't typically use worksheets, so they're kind of a treat for the Boy. Yes, he likes worksheets!

Besides using our compasses and rulers, we also crocheted shapes. I found a great book, "Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs" at our local library. Choosing a pattern, I would begin, then would give verbal instruction to the Boy.(Single chain x amount,etc.) After a few rounds, he would begin to notice a pattern. We continued our crocheting until he would eventually start to verbalize the steps to the pattern. Then I knew he "got it." Not only in his head, but in his hands as well.

Patterns From "Beyond the Square"
We used paints, colored pencil, and chalk pastel to color our work. And we enjoyed it so much that the Boy has asked if we could continue with our compass drawings. 

We are moving on to our next block, Greek History, but I'll still throw in a compass drawing now and then.