Sunday, November 7, 2010

Breakfast School Highlights

Family Read Alouds:


The Cat Who Wished to be a Man by Lloyd Alexander


Story of the World (Volume 1: Ancient Times) by Susan Wise Bauer

Games: Pig -- This is an awesome strategy and probability game

Apples to Apples -- This game hones your BS skills. :-) It always provokes hysterical laughter in this house. Sometimes our capacity for BS surprises even ourselves.

Rat a Tat Cat -- This is one of the best card games ever. It practices basic strategy and memory skills, and it inspired Eliza to teach herself to add.

Blink -- This is a fast paced card game dealing with sets.

Renaissance Art Game -- This is a variation of "Go Fish" or "Happy Families;" each card features a European Renaissance masterpiece. It came with a Sister Wendy art book that highlights interesting facts about the works of art featured in the game.  We talked about some of Michaelangelo's most famous works, including Pieta and Madonna of the Steps.


Madonna of the Steps is so lovely. Instead of being stiffly posed on Mary's lap, as he is in medieval paintings, Baby Jesus is nursing at Mary's breast. Michaelangelo created it when he was only 15. Michaelangelo was a genius, but he had an enormous ego and seemed to thrive on pissing people off. And he was ruthless in dealing with critics. More about that in a moment.

The Last Judgement, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, blends Christian theology with Classical Mythology. Charon, the ferryman from Greek Mythology, takes sinners to Hell. As you can see, he is ruthless in dealing with people who don't want to get off the boat. That oar isn't just for rowing. Minos sends each sinner to a different level of Hell, depending on the severity of his transgressions. The number of snake coils around his body indicates the level of Hell to which he's headed.

This is another detail from the painting, showing Minos, judge of the underworld. He actually appears to be a sinner being tormented. It's a disturbing image; James was particularly struck with the fact that the snake seems to be gnawing on the guy's favorite organ. If that isn't terrifying, I don't know what is. Pople Paul III and one of his officials, Biagio da Cesena, visited as Michaelangelo was close to finishing The Last Judgement. Cesena was horrified by all the nudity in the painting. Michaelangelo believed the human body, a creation of God, was sacred. But Cesena was not impressed. He insisted that Michaelangelo's work was only fit for public baths and taverns, not the pope's chapel.

Michaelangelo had his revenge. He painted Cesena's face on the naked, donkey-eared Minos. The official begged the artist and the pope to remove it, but it stayed. Biagio da Cesena was left in hell, for all eternity, for generations of art lovers and tourists to gawk at. Be careful with an artist's delicate ego!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Changing Seasons

Though the first day of winter is nearly two months away, I already feel a sense of the seasons shifting. Soccer season is over, creating gaps in my schedule that make me giddy. I feel myself slowing down a bit and more reluctant to spend all my time on the road, shuttling kids to various activities. It's an odd paradox that I work from home and my kids learn at home, yet we're never here. :-D

Right now I'm wanting to hunker down, with bread baking and chili simmering on the stove. I think it's some kind of atavistic mammalian urge to hibernate. :-) Recently, in one of my rare acts of maternal wisdom, I made a change in our schedule. We no longer do morning activities outside the home. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it?

One morning I rallied the troops for an appointment that was canceled in this last minute. We found ourselves slumped on the family room sofas, drinking tea and talking about our dreams from the night before. I looked around at all of them: my 16-year-old daughter, who's auditing a university film class, my 12-year-old son, who spends many of his waking hours storming through electronic worlds or running around like Tigger on crack, and my six-year-old, with her itinerary of field trips and playdates, who craves constant chatter and attention. We were together, and we were talking to each other, and it felt like a miracle. After that I did some shuffling of our schedule, and with a bit of prestidigitation, I cleared our mornings. We're back to mornings being for homeschool, afternoon for other things.

And we've returned to the routine of "Breakfast School." A simple thing -- we actually sit down and eat breakfast together and find ways, despite the wide span between my kids' ages, to learn together. So far, Breakfast School has been a rather unambitious undertaking. I fantasize about serving creative hot meals, but our fare actually consists of cold cereal or oatmeal. I ponder activities that are enriching and thought provoking. But actually we read a little and play a few board or card games. And only the youngest child is excited about this. The older kids lumber down silently, scowling at the injustice of being woken up early when there's no agenda outside the house. But it's something to build on. And sometimes, we're the midst of a game we all like (Apples to Apples and Rat-a-Tat-Cat are favorites) or reading a children's book that even the 16-year-old and I enjoy. No, especially the 16-year-old and I enjoy. After all, good children's stories have kind of a timeless quality. And we have a moment. A moment when we're together, the "big kids" aren't annoyed with their little sister, and nobody is fighting. A moment of shared attention and fun.

Then the Old Professor in my head starts shouting at me. You call this "homeschool?" The older kids are following un-curricula that are not academically rigorous even by your watered down standards. How are they ever going to become thoughtful, well-educated citizens, a force of good in the world? Or even pass their SATs? And you finally add a bit of home-spun structure and what do you do -- read a children's story, do a little history, and play games? Things that are barely challenging even for the six-year-old?

Then another voice in my head reminds me of my prime directive, before academics and "preparation for life." It's about nurturing the relationship among us. And when I'm floundering -- overwhelmed or unsure of our homeschooling goals -- this is the point to which I return. Creating shared experiences -- getting out in nature, playing a card game, talking about our strange dreams, even cleaning the house together. After all, this isn't preparation for life, this is life. And the relationships a child builds, starting with his family, is the fount from which most learning flows.

My oldest child is at a point where she's facing the prospect -- in the near future - of taking care of herself. My middle child is on the cusp of maturity, eager to run out the door and meet his friends. Even the "baby" is wanting to get out more, make more friends, and spend more time away from home. This is all healthy. In the blink of an eye, childhood will be over. Will they continue to have a close connection to their parents? Will home be a place of refuge and sustenance, a place to return when things get tough? Will they share a bond with each other, be lifelong friends? Or will they be siblings who sometimes remember to call each other on birthdays? Are they building relationships now, in our family room, that will prepare them for working relationships and friendships -- as well as passion and love -- throughout life?

This is what I hope for; it's a hope that's simple yet infinite. It gives me something to focus on when plans, goals, and commitments are swirling around us. And in the end, I hope I'll look back and say, "I was right. That one thing -- at least -- I know I got right."