Friday, January 31, 2014

Berkeley Art Museum visit

We visited the Kids' Club at the Berkeley Art Museum this week.

The children loved running on a huge felt rug created by artist Ashley Helvey (C has crocheted smaller versions out of t-shirts for our bathrooms):

They created clay sculptures as part of an interactive artwork by Charles Long:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Statue hunt

There are a lot of statues around the house, so today we did a statue hunt and writing exercise, to learn to write the names of some of the kids' favorites. These included:

  • Guanyin (Sanskrit: Avalokiteshvara), the female Buddha, goddess of kindness and compassion;
  • Kali (an incarnation of Parvati, wife of the supreme god Shiva) who represents time, change and destruction. We studied the statue in front of one fireplace, where Kali dances on Shiva's body, Shiva having thrown himself on the ground to protect the world from her earth-shattering dance. He is the only one who can eventually quell her rage!
  • Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, the elephant-headed lord of learning and letters, and remover of obstacles.
We also talked about Chinese guardian lions a.k.a. Foo dogs, manifestations of yin and yang. There are big lion statues at our door, and the kids love to climb on them. The yin (female) rests her paw on her cub and yang (male) rests his paw on a sphere depicting the world. What do they stand for? "Caring for babies and being powerful!"

All the statues are very familiar to the children since they see them almost every day – but they don't yet know all the stories associated with the gods and goddesses. Hindu (not to mention Chinese!) mythology is so rich and complex that we can learn about them bit by bit.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Band Practice with Rose

My friend Rose came over to our house to teach guitar and drums. She's a professional musician, who most recently played with Dot Dot Dot before moving from Chicago to San Francisco. That's her on the right side. Don't they look fun?

We decided to call it "band practice" instead of "music lessons" so that everyone could get involved. 

Rose is a fantastic teacher! She treats the kids as if they were adults, and in a very unassuming, laid-back way shows them how to do a chord and a strum, then repeat it til they've got it, then learn another riff, repeat, and then at the end, string them all together and voila! A song. 

I picked out Rock and Roll All Nite to learn, because it's easy, because KISS is a ridiculous/awesome band, and because it is a Rock and Roll anthem. We had the best time! At the end of an hour or so of learning things like how to tune the guitar, play the riffs and use the pick, we were ready. The kids played, the adults sang, Rose played guitar, we strummed and banged on things, and it was a huge success.

"Do you want to do it again?" "Yes!" the kids said, enthusiastically. We get to do it again next week. Any suggestions for songs? I was thinking, some day, we can learn the guitar solo from "Beat It" by Michael Jackson -- watch Rose play it, wow!

We need to practice more. This is inspiring!

Expanding Sesat School!

Hello parents! We are a group of three families in San Francisco, looking to expand our homeschool co-op. We are seeking children between the ages of 5 and 8. 

We participate as parents, one full-time, and have a teacher's assistant helping us. We have designed an entire floor of a large Victorian to be our classroom, and meals are served in the formal (but easy-going!) dining room. We are adjacent to a park, for outside time. 

Our kids are very social. We take field trips and plan various outings with the larger homeschool community. We often go on nature hikes with ranger guides, have visited farms to learn to shear sheep and card wool, traveled to Treasure Island to find buried treasure (buried by certain adults), do public service at a nursing home, learned Chinese calligraphy and visited the fortune cookie factory. 

We try to provide challenging material that stretches our kids' skills and creativity. Children learn at their own paces, some racing ahead, some taking their time, but get a lot of 1:1 attention from us, in addition to supporting each other. They pursue interests such as drumming, chess, writing books, yoga, animal care and the arts. Our kids are bilingual. In addition to English, our children speak Spanish and Finnish. 

We are inspired by Waldorf and Montessori. The parents have graduate degrees and have studied at Vassar, MIT, and abroad. We have had successful careers as entrepreneurs. Our staff assistant was a teacher and administrator at a preschool for 22 years, prior to working with us. 

You can see how we work and our interests and projects by reading the rest of this blog!

The School Day
A normal school day is from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Participating parents should arrive at 9 to prepare. Currently the kids are in a nature and wilderness course on Tuesdays. 

Circle time begins around 10 am, and lasts 10-20 minutes. Afterwards there are stories and projects. And then we work on our individual studies (reading and writing and curricular things). When studies/workbooks are done, there is free play until lunch at 11:30. After lunch we have specialized activities, such as gardening, band practice, dramatic arts and art classes. School is officially over at 2:30.

Then we go to our afternoon activities, which are currently: 

- Park Days (with other homeschoolers) 2X a week

Parent Participation
Member families are required to participate in the planning and operation of the school. The minimum responsibilities to the school are:
  • At least one parent must work at the school on alternating weeks or months, planned 3 months in advance. 
  • At least one parent must attend 1 parent meeting per month, which fall on the 1st Thursday at 7:30 p.m., held at the school.
  • Each family will be responsible for menu planning, shopping and preparation during their work weeks. Currently the children eat hot meals each day, together. 
4 days a week: 
$350/month (not including lunch. We currently have one student on a special diet)
$500/month (including lunch)

To apply, please email and we'll get in touch to send you a brief Q and A. as well as to set up a time to visit the school and to meet your children!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Telling time

“Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.”
- Dr. Ilias Leriadis, physician on the Greek island of Ikaria, famous for its long-lived residents.

Children have different reasons for learning to tell time. Last summer, the four-year old twins who live down the street from us in Helsinki showed up at our door wearing little wrist watches. Children in the neighborhood wander around rather freely, and the twins' parents expected them back in time for dinner from the park, or a friend’s house. Our children played with them every day and asked for their own watches, which they got – and wore gleefully, but briefly. By the end of summer, when we returned to the US, they had forgotten to wear them.

My own childhood memory is dominated by the image of the wall clock at preschool. I watched it intently through half-closed eyes during nap time, counting the minutes to when we children were allowed to stop pretending we were asleep, and resume play. That memory reminds me now of the foreboding, implacable clock that reigned over Biehl's Academy in Peter Hoeg's Borderliners.

Last week in New York our group spent a couple of days discussing the polar vortex that was causing extremely cold weather there. We talked about the poles, the seasons, and the orbit of the Earth around the sun; which led to a demonstration of the phases of the moon. It, in turn, led to the circadian rhythm, which brought us back to the question of measuring the time of day.

The younger children look at the hour hand of the clock and can say “It is 5” or “It is half past 8”. The six-year olds can tell the minutes past the hour (“It is 10:42”) but struggle with negative expressions (“It is 18 minutes to 11”).

Should a five or six-year old be able to tell time accurately? Why not. But we haven't imposed it on our children. We place great emphasis on resisting the tyranny of calendars and clocks in our grown-up lives. The kids have been free to learn to read clocks in their own time – or not. Now was a good opportunity to work on it with them.

At first I thought I'd use our Judy Clock, since it is such a common school prop. But I wanted to make it real, and for that we needed an actual timepiece. Caterina dug up an old alarm clock that once belonged to her grandfather. It turned out perfect for the job. The children loved making the alarm ring at different times. We also set my hourglass and measured its accuracy; and talked about some of the ingenious ways people measured time using candles, water, and sand before spring-driven clocks were invented. (I want to return to the history of time measurement later with them, when I've read up more on it.)

We also did some worksheets. A caveat: now that we've spent a few months using workbooks, I've grown more aware of their real nature. They are crammed with repetitive, generic tasks and the quality of the exercises varies a great deal, even within the same brand of books. I have learned they are best used with surgical precision, not as a blanket prescription.

Instead of assigning sets of pages or entire units from the books, I've started making custom exercise packets. I use a photocopier to hand-pick individual or small groups of exercises from the workbooks that center on the specific concept the child is having a hard time understanding, or procedure she is struggling to master. The ones I picked from Kumon's Telling Time: Learning About Minutes helped the six-year olds get a firmer grasp of counting minutes. The younger kids don't really yet get a lot out of worksheets – their minds respond better to things they can touch and feel. But it's important they get to participate, so we give them some work too, but keep it really short.

Later this week we plan to try out an adaptation of telling time bingo to rehearse conversions between digital and analog display, and also talk about half & quarter-hours, a.m. & p.m., and maybe make sundials.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sir Ken on education in the US

Ken Robinson echoes many of the points recently made in The Smartest Kids in the World in this 2013 TED talk about the Death Valley of American education. It's a follow-up to his How Schools Kill Creativity (which, with over 20 million views, has become the most popular TED talk of all time).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"This is what happens when a kid leaves traditional education"

My friend Mike sent me this TED talk by a 13-year-old skier and homeschooler, who says that when he grows up he wants to be "happy and healthy", and was told that schools teach you how to make a living, but not how to make a life.