Monthly Archives: July 2011

Architecture and the modern mind.

I’ve been mulling an interesting discussion my husband and I had a few months ago.  He was discussing how art was an extension of the prevalent subconscious philosophy dominating a culture at the time.    The art of post WWII showed the failed ideals which underpinned Europe before.  What can we know?  What can we see?  What is truth?  Perception is reality.    I’ve been thinking about architecture a bit more in this ideal.  How we have placed efficiency and cost in the core of design.  The elements of design are lost to the budgetary needs and practical uses of the building.  Modern lines are beautiful when executed with excellence.  Often what is seen is the loss of materials which would bring about excellence.  We are left with mediocrity.
My state has proposed that all new schools have three designs at each level, elementary, junior high, and high, to choose among. (We are in the midst of trying to save historical facades in Charleston schools while making the buildings earthquake safe.)
The other day, I found my mind shifting to churches and worship after looking at Out of Ur’s post on a child’s journal of worship.  Then this amazing list appeared over on InternetMonk.  I found it equally applicable to educational practices as it is to worship practices.
  • We are technology rich and imagination poor.
  • We are good at stimulating certain surface emotions, bad at arousing deep thought and evoking wonder.
  • We believe in direct, practical communication, and have no clue about the art of subtle, indirect attraction that elicits curiosity.
  • We build auditoriums without windows and hide from the full spectrum of heaven’s light.
  • We are all prose and no poetry.
  • We are lyrics without music.
  • We are all legal brief and grocery list and no fairy tale.
  • We are draftsman’s drawings and there are no Giottos or Chagalls among us.
  • We are warehouse workers, with no more cathedrals towering over us, lifting our eyes to the heavens.
Something to ponder for a bit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Educational Philosophy

Ethnobotany – oh my

Wow.  My vacation was like taking a grad-level seminar. Off the family headed to Firefly.  I thought that my Botany teaching skills were lacking and that this class would really help.  Mark Williams, Robin Allison, Sandi Ford, Natalie Bogwalker, Alan Muskat, and James Veteto.  Soooooo. much learning.

Day 1:  Plant classification; parts of the leaf, flower, and placement on stems;  plant walk describing 25 trees and shrubs and 20 annuals.

Day 2:  Uses of plants to meet fundamental material needs;  mushrooms classification and fungi walk.

Day 3:  Nutrition and food; making herbal salves; fermentation

Day 4:  An historical approach to ethnobotany.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1 Comment

Filed under American History, Botany, Geography and World Studies, Going outs (Field Trips), Science

Firefly gathering intensive week

We’ve been up in Greenville/Asheville this week taking three intensives at Firefly.  JV and Dad – DV took primitive pottery; AV took forge making and iron working;  I took Ethnobotany.

Here are a few shots for you.

AV learning how to sharpen a blade he made.

Plant identification in Ethnobotany.

DV forming a pot.

People's pots bring fire.

Leave a comment

Filed under "Coming of Man", American History, Art, AV, Botany, Camping/Basic Survival Skills, Ceramics, Chemistry, Construction Skills, gardening, Geography and World Studies, Geology, Going outs (Field Trips), JV, Mineralogy, Moral Compas, Practical Life - Elementary, Projects, Rock classification, Science, Tectonics

A Montessori Camp – It is in the details.

Bronze Age Near East.

Previous post about this topic may be found here and  here and hereand here.

When you really care about some one, you plan and think and trash the first idea and fuss over the next three ideas until you have the perfect plan.  Then you fuss over the card, the presentation, the timing.  Montessori is all about that – the prepared environment. The work.  The observation to know what someone really needs when.  The execution of the plan in the lesson.

Montessori Camps should be the same way.  The set-up, although is less rigorous than the out of the box curriculum.  The planning is more challenging.  How to communicate the concepts?  How to provide challenging work to the children?  How to provide self-correction?  How to ride with it when the kids take for the rabbit trail?

The advantage is that because you are writing your own curriculum you know the kids and their abilities and their likes.  You know how to pitch it.  You can write segments to play to your volunteer’s strengths.  (In the younger kids camp this year, we had a violinist.  She was wonderful.  We took her skills into account.)

Some random thoughts and illustrations about a Montessori Camp.

Joe-Nathan and the Whalers - the safest catch

1.  If you are going to have music, set the stage up well. Work for success here. Sometimes I’ve worked with just one person and their instrument.  It is all in providing a modicum of professionalism.

This year we had an interning seminarian who is a very good guitar player.  He sucked in two other guys.  They have done this before with curricula I’ve written.  They came up with a band name – Joe-Nathan and the Whalers and a back story and personas.

They went down to Wal-Mart and acquired three Gordon Fisherman rain outfits ($7.95 each) and declared that they had tried out for ESPN 12’s reality series.  They called their show The Safest Catch and never used hooks (dangerous).  Each night they proceeded to tell a few fish related knock-knock jokes and because they all knew each other, ad lib where it fit in.  Then they got down to business and played their set.

2.  Expect the kids to do difficult things and to know when they are uncomfortable and should persevere or pause.

At this point in my relationship with this church, the kids know I’ll teach them how to do many different things that they have never been allowed to do before. (Note: the operative word is teach.)

We had planned a two part art project.  1.  Using wood burning tools to make a Mezuzah with the Shema burnt into the side. 2. To make a typographical map out of sheets of foam insulation. The plan for the map called for the children to use heat knives to cut the foam.  That didn’t work – the knives – we ditched it before day 1.  We brought out kitchen knives an AV and JV began the removal of the foam layers laboriously doing “pin-pushing for teens.”

All the kids were good with using 750 degree wood burning tools.  (If you burn yourself, before you scream your hand has to be in the ice bath. – No one burnt themselves.)  They were intimidated, careful, determined, proud, excited.

No kid wanted to try the knives once they saw AV and JV doing it one day. They were big knives and you had to push hard. So we got out paint and the kids started painting. We ended up repainting it because the levels weren’t right at that moment, but they needed something to do. The kids still have great ownership of the project. (We built Lego towns this past week as we discussed the trade routes.)

3.  Explain why you are doing things.  This builds trust.  When you need them to respond right away and can’t explain, you will get compliance because you have built up trust with the kids.

A couple of summers ago, a child broke a glass jar.  It shattered.  I yelled, “Freeze!”  All the kids stopped and looked at me.  I explained that I needed them to stay still for a moment.  The little girl was standing in the middle of the shatter pattern and had she moved she would have cut her feet.  The children who were farthest away were asked to look down carefully for glass, then lay on their stomachs and look and see if they could see any glass near them on the floor.  One of the adults went with a hand broom to each point to which they pointed.  I began closer to the middle removing the large pieces.  As areas were cleared from the permitter, the children would tell the other kids that it was safe and they could join the hunt for glass.  Eventually their sharp eyes would spot glass and we continued until our little friend was freed from her sharp jail.  Not one child moved until it was safe for them to move.

Leave a comment

Filed under Montessori

Why guiding one’s own education is deeply important.

I’ve been working with a child at the Camp on the Corner program who began in a Montessori school at 18 mo.  Our area has a crisis in schools available for students – most public schools are charter or magnate.  You have to get in when you can. I understand. He got in when he was five and left the Montessori program after his second year in Casa. I completely understand families must make choices which work for them and they must move forward and take the trade offs.  I can still be sad.  He has spent one full year in a teacher driven educational system.  It shows.  He only wants the answer; he doesn’t want to discover. Sigh.

Over at Montessori Muddle, Lensyl Urbano, states:  “A key tenant of Montessori is that students have an innate desire to learn, so, as a teacher, you should provide them with the things they need (prepare the environment) and then get out of the way as they discover things themselves.”  He continues on then to review economist Dan Ariely’s new book discussing the idea of doing things for ourselves and the value to our personhood and cultural expectations and identity.

I was deeply moved by the fading of the desire to learn in my little friend.  When JV miscalculates the load on his circuit and leaves the house smelling with smoke or when AV receives a note back from his Art History online course that the definitions he researched and turned in are not “the ones in the back of the book” – it is enough to just use those,  I am proud that they expect more of themselves. Even though our choice of educational road has been difficult, even painful at times,  I am content with our family’s choice.

1 Comment

Filed under AV, Educational Philosophy, JV, Montessori

Packing knives, the anti-safety creep

I can hear the Walmart greeter now – she leans into her walkie talkie, “Security put your eyes on the gentleman heading toward the back of the grocery section.  He has a full beard and a GIANT knife strapped to his hip. He might be a danger – to himself and others. I did mention the GIANT knife didn’t I?!”

Not only did the gentlemen of Earth Skills come packing pocket knives and huntin’ knives. Most of the women and many of the children were packing, too. One of JV’s favorite quotes was provided by one of the event’s founders.  One early morning a number of years ago, when this gentleman was asked if he had his pocket knife on him, he replied, “Do I have my pants on?”

The next morning as day was breaking and the birds were singing I cracked an eye to see JV trying to find his pocket knife.  I mumbled, “What are you doing?”

His reply, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

“Well go!”

“I’ve got to have my knife!”


My children learned the lesson that one of the founders of Earth Skills expounded on – you can manage many things in life with a knife in your pocket.  You are not more dangerous (the Earth Skills founders, instructors, and participants were kind and considerate) nor more prone to anti-social behavior because you carry a pocket knife (or a strap on huntin’ knife).  You are more prepared for the surprises of life.

My husband and I have a goal for our children – inspire independence. Safety creep is not part of this goal.  The lowly pocket knife is an essential part of the equipping of our children to manage themselves in this world – as is learning how to manage fire, but that is a different post.


Filed under Educational Philosophy, Going outs (Field Trips), JV, Practical Life - Elementary

Quick Takes Friday – An Independent Child’s Tool Box

So what does every five-year-old want to do?

Take over the world.

Providing them with the tools and training to do so is a parent’s duty.  In the spirit of spring, (It has to come sometime soon, right?) I submit this list.

By the way, our oldest received these for his birthday when he was 5.  Most items were located at the local hardware store.  He still uses the tools today and has added a few to the list.

One – Safety First!

Safety Goggles – although you can make functional ones out of  a 2 liter soda bottle. Download the PDF here HTgoggles.

What about Gloves? – In my experience, gloves are fun to put on but don’t stay on long and get in the way.  Most hardware stores in farming and more rural communities carry child-sized gloves.  If you can’t locate them, you can order online here.

Two – Storage

Tool box – needs to be able to be moved around by the child.

Three – The Tools

Hammer – find a nice sized light weight hammer.  Help may be found here.

Saw – we found that a hack saw was relatively easy to control.  We bought both – the regular saw and a hack saw. Other parents use key-hole saws.

Hand cranked drill with bits – this one is tricky.  We couldn’t find one at the local hardware store. and my dad had on he was willing to pass it on.  Traditional and Modern ones may be purchased on line.  A number of teachers I have worked with prefer the modern ones.  One found it in a crafts store with the scrap booking materials.

Screw driver – don’t go for the one with bits.  They get lost.  Go with a few sizes of screw drivers, too.

Regular pliers

Needle-nosed pliers

Adjustable wrench

Four – The Accessories

Vice – great for holding wood while the little guy is sawing.  If you don’t get one, you will be the vice.   It does require a permanent home. (see below)

Carpenter’s Apron – cute but pockets work, too.

Five – Other Stuff

Bag of Peas for missed hammer shots and band aids for other misses. Ouch.


  • Roofing nails (the ones with the orange plastic tab)  Really you want to go for these.  The collar helps protect the learning fingers from missed hammer blows and helps the child to locate them when they are pulled out of the log. (see below) Give the child or ten at a time in a tin cup.  You want to be able to see that your daughter remembered to pick-up all 10 so your tire doesn’t find the nail for you.
  • Ones with big heads – these are for real projects.

Screws – make sure it matches the screw driver type

Tape measure – cloth tape measures work wonderfully, and although they don’t make that cool noise when they retract, they don’t break or slice little hands.  The cranking motion is also a great way to work on pincher grip (finger strength for pencil control).

Log – no not the Ren and Stempy’s Log – this log is for practicing nailing the roofing nails into and pulling them out.  (Really recommended as a pre-present along with the hammer and roofing nails.)  The wood is soft.  Lay the log on its side and make sure goggles are attached to face. A tin cup with the nails set within arms reach. And away we go. There is a way to do it.  Try it yourself and think through all your tap, tap, hits.

Six – Now What?

Build – make something –  no, not with you child.  Build something yourself.  Fix something.  Be conscious of the way you do it and how you clean it up. You are modeling how it is done.

Educate – explain and show what each tool is used for.  I know you will discuss safety. Make sure you discuss rust.  Rust is one of the motivators for putting away tools.

Help don’t Do – she wants to do it herself.  If she doesn’t don’t help the first time by doing it.  Say something along the lines of, ” if you hold the screwdriver straight up and down instead of at an angle (and reach over and show her how to straighten her screw driver) then it will work better.”  You are providing skills not doing it.

Seven – Resources

1 Comment

Filed under Educational Philosophy, Montessori, Practical Life - 3 to 6 years, Quick Takes Friday, Woodworking