An Education in Crabs

September 8, 2015 at 8:51 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , )

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for Money-Fax.com that featured this paragraph:

Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs are fantastic little creatures. You might even have fond memories of fishing them out of the ocean yourself or keeping them in your elementary school classroom. Hermit crabs are popular, and with good reason. They are just about the least expensive terrarium dweller you can hold.

A small plastic container, a fish bowl, or an old tank you find at a garage sale – almost anything can serve as a hermit crab habitat. Fill the bottom with sand and rocks and place a tray of water and a few extra shells larger than the one the crab currently inhabits in the tank. Again, only $10 spent at your local Wal-Mart or pet store can set you up for life of the crab.

The crab itself will cost anywhere from $5 – $15 and their food will cost about $3 per can. While that may sound like a lot for a hermit crab, these cans last quite awhile. All in all, you could easily have a hermit crab join your family for an initial cost of $20 – $40, depending on what you choose to purchase. – http://money-fax.com/4-inexpensive-family-pet-ideas/

A few weeks ago, however, we went to the beach and caught ourselves a few hermit crabs with our four year old.  Remembering my own article, I thought, we should keep these – it would be a fun starter pet and kiddo has already been begging for a new pet.  (We have two dogs, but you know kids, they want tiny creatures to pester and nurture.)

So I headed up to the gift shop and bought a hermit crab kit. $25.  It came with a free crab, but I told the lady at the counter that we had two downstairs under the dock.

“Oh, those are saltwater.  They’ll die if you take them home and don’t have a saltwater aquarium.  You should probably take the free one anyway and let those ones go.  These are freshwater brought from Florida.”

“Oh, ok.”

Then, she informed me that it’s best to buy an extra one.  They are community creatures.

“Sure, let’s do it.  We’ll let the other two go and take these two home.”

So, I took the little plastic container downstairs, full of gravel, a shell, a sponge, and food – plus two tiny crabs.house_hermit_crab

We explained to kiddo that the others needed to be free and she had no problem with that, after all, we were taking these fun ones home and she understood that the others had come from the ocean and these two from a shop.  She asked about extra shells, because we’ve read Eric Carle’s Hermit Crab book a thousand times.

We set the crabs up in the house when we got home from the beach that day and made plans to do some research and visit the pet store within the week.  We knew the plastic container was too small for our comfort – but we thought we were just being those people who spoil their pets.  I had no idea. No. Idea.

Nerd that I am, naturally, I bought a book.  I was a little disappointed that it was a “for dummies” title, 51MS-sTSuJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_because I’m a book snob and they seem so over marketed and written – well – for dummies.  BUT, they are actually great starting points for any kind of research on anything.  They are simplistic, concise, and give you the terms you need to dive deeper.  Terms you wouldn’t know to look up otherwise.  Like wikipedia, but more reliable, except the links aren’t necessarily up to date.

So it turns out, hermit crabs ARE community creatures.  In the wild they live with hundreds of other crabs.  It also turns out that the smallest container you want for these guys is a ten gallon tank for two small crabs.  Cheap guru that I am, I could have gotten one from a garage sale, but I didn’t.  I gave my sister our unused 20 gallon tank when we moved and my niece’s and nephews now have a tiny pet turtle.  I went the lazy route and bought a brand new ten gallon at PetsMart.  $30. (If you’re keeping track – remember my article peaked at a $40 expense to keep a crab alive.  So far in this story we’re at $55 pre-tax.)

EVOLUTION OF A CRABITAT

I bought more gravel to cover the bottom of the tank. $10.  I bought a crab shack because they need a place to hide. $8. A fake plant my daughter loved to make “it all so beautiful.” $4 (Actually, she paid for that one.) I was feeling pretty good about this terrarium.  Really good.

Then, I served pinterest.  I know.  Pinterest!

It led me to a lot of websites, blogs, and hermit crab advocates.  I discovered that I wasnP1030909‘t supposed to have gravel in the tank. They don’t like gravel.  They like soil substrate.  They like to bury themselves.  Not just like, they NEED.  Hermit crabs molt and to do so, you need 6 inches of soil for them to dive into.  Also, they’re climbers.  They want tree limbs.  Also, each crab needs its own hiding place, so one crab shack won’t cut it.  They want to live together but need their own bedrooms.  Who knew?

Also, they need a fresh water pool and a salt water pool.  So you need two kinds of water conditioners.  And two kinds of pools. And a mister to keep their climate humid enough because they have evolved gills – they can’t breathe in dry air.

By this time, I lost track of itemizing – but one trip to PetCo later and I’d spent another $70 or so.  While I was there, I also bought a wheat-germ plant that they had for sale for cats, but is actually good for crabs, which the workers didn’t know, I had just discovered this in all my internet surfing and wild book reading at the library.

I still need a heater, but I can’t afford one at the moment.  We’re in Texas, so I set the tank outside if I think they’re getting too cold – but come winter, these guys are having another $50-$100 spent on them.

On the plus side: I think they’ll live.  In captivity – because we con people into $25 habitats that slowly kill the crab – they live 3 months to 3 years.  In the wild, they live up to 30 years.  We’re shooting for a longer lifespan here.  We’re also using this as an educational project… we’re building an ecosystem.  Soon, we’ll add rolly pollies (they help keep the terrarium clean and co-habitate well with the hermies… again, who knew?)

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(Additional notes: hermit crabs can eat from your kitchen and like a wide variety of things in their diet that include meat, vegetables, and fruits.  We have begun a notebook compiling these lists.  One of ours has already changed shells twice – because he’s indecisive, not because he’s growing so much – and apparently this is common so it’s good to have not just one or two shells but a wide variety of empties at their disposal.)

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Fibonacci

May 8, 2015 at 11:39 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Unknown-1Title: The Man of Numbers

Author: Keith Devlin, PhD

Publisher: Walker & Company

Genre: Math History

Length: 183 pages

Swirl by Swirl – a child’s picture book – is where it started.  We checked it out from the library once, then twice, and finally again and again.  It’s about the Fibonacci sequence found in so many spirals in our natural world.  We love it.  Of course, it has a bit in the back about the Fibonacci sequence and the math involved, and that’s cool too, something to instill in young minds so that theP1000952re is familiarity with the topic before they begin Algebra in their tweens.

Of course, at some point I picked up The Pythagorean Theorem, and there Posamatier mentions Ptolemy and his great work The Algamest as well as Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci. Naturally, I requested these at my local library.  “There’s a book about Fibonacci called The Man of Numbers that’s here if you want to read that while you wait for the others to come in,” she told me.  Yes, yes, I would like to read that while I wait for the others.

I checked it out.

I ended up starting and finishing it, however, in one sitting while my kiddo made use of the sixty minute literacy computer session I allow her if she’s been good prior to coming to the library that day.  It was good.  Quick.  Informative.  And of course, just made me want Liber Abaci even more.

Devlin gives you all the necessary history in the concise nature of a mathematician.  He even laments how most mathematicians are concerned about the math and the theorems and not necessarily who originally came up with them or their history, causing much of the history surrounding mathematical ideas to be lost or misconstrued.  Who cares? It’s about the numbers.

I care.  Historians care.  We don’t care as much about the numbers as we do about the theory, the philosophy… we care about math’s heritage more than the practice of being all mathy.  At least that’s how I feel.  I’ll leave number crunching to my husband and daughter – I’ll just be able to tell them who came up with that particular way to crunch.

With all this caring comes the discovery that Fibonacci’s name wasn’t even Fibonacci.  Devlin recounts the fact that the man’s name was Leonardo and he hailed from Pisa.  Leonardo Pisano, as the people of that time and culture would say.  But he referred to himself as fillies Boracic, “son of Bonacci.”  Yet, his father’s name wasn’t Bonacci, so people assumed he meant that he was of the family Bonacci… the Bonacci family evolved and later historian Guillaume Libri coined the name Fibonacci.  Hundreds of years later.  Leonardo was renamed Fibonacci in 1838.

Fibonacci also referred himself as Leonardo Bigolli… a named once translated would be “Leonardo Blockhead.”  Though, Devlin asserts, it’s doubtful that Fibonacci was calling himself a blockhead.

Unknown-2That brings us to our latest picture book selection… Blockhead: the life of Fibonacci.  This delightful picture book was written by Joseph D’Agnese and was illustrated by John O’Brien.  Even though there’s a lot we don’t know about Fibonacci’s real life or how he came to discover his mathematical findings the way he did – it’s fun to imagine what his life was like and where he might have come up with his self-proclaimed nickname “Bigolli.”

For good measure, we re-read Swirl by Swirl afterward and are looking forward to memorizing a few things in the upcoming months.

The first is from Brahmagupta (quoted in Devlin’s book):

“A debt minus zero is a debt.

A fortune minus zero is a fortune.

Zero minus zero is a zero.

A debt subtracted from zero is a fortune.

A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt.

The product of zero multiplied by a debt or fortune is zero.”

The second are the first ten numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.

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Swirl By Swirl

March 9, 2015 at 4:42 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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Title: Swirl By Swirl

Authors: Beth Krommes & Joyce Sidman

Genre: Picture Book / Educational

We actually read this one quite a bit ago, I was hoping to review it when I finally got around to purchasing it, but I can’t wait any longer.  It’s too wonderful to keep under wraps any longer and it has been an inspiration to my kiddo who now draws swirls and “round ups” into all her artwork.

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The book is all about finding math in nature.  About how snails, flowers, and everything have mathematical patterns that create functional things we can see.  It first page by page identifies all these things… spider webs, tendrils on foliage, the curls of animals’ tails, etc.

Then, it explains the how and why of it all.

Kiddo’s eye lit up at the end of the book every time (we had to read it over and over again before we turned it back into the library).  My four year old’s mind was blown.

P1000956 I want to have this book on hand when she’s older as well, to revisit and enjoy the beautiful illustrations again and again through out her studies.  It’s so lovely.

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Abuse, Affairs, and Amateurs

March 8, 2015 at 9:11 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Usually if I don’t finish a book, I don’t review it.  If I don’t finish it, am I truly the most qualified person to throw opinions on it around to the public.

I’m not talking about books that you CAN’T finish because they are too awful.  I’m talking about the ones that I start, I sorta enjoy, and then I simply abandon to read something else – or, I decide that even though it’s interesting, it’s not quite interesting eno6022200ugh.  Or, I just get bored with the topic halfway through.

I used to not be this way.  I used to barrel through.  I used to treat a book like a ship, me its Captain, and come hell or high water I would make it to its end – together.  This practice became cause for some dark moods and much wasted reading time.

I picked up Wedlock when I took a sabbatical from my family (sort of) to work full time in the bookstore for a few months.  I saw it on the shelf as I was running history and thought, this looks interesting, and I loved Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.  I thought this one would be similar.  And it was.  But it wasn’t.

Although the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes is one for the history books, and she was an incredible closet botanist for her time, I found that reading about her life, unfortunately, felt more like reading about Kim Kardashian or Brittany Spears than, say, reading about Marie Curie.  The heiress was often in the social limelight, easily wooed by absurd men, and seemed to spend her life being abused by the system.  This is to no fault of the biographer, but to the fault of society and the fact that, although intellectuals will complain how enraptured we are as a modern society by celebrities and trashy magazines – the reality is that sMail Wedlockociety hasn’t changed all that much over the last few hundred years.

Moore’s book includes reports worthy of People magazine and Star.  Elite gossip regarding who has married whom, how much money so-and-so is in debt, affairs, bastard children… If these things excite you, this book is for you.  It just made me tired.  It made me very tired, indeed.

So I gave it up.  I was halfway through, and I pulled my bookmark and re-shelved it.

I’d love to do a full on study of her botany research.  I’d love to visit museums dedicated to her pursuits outside of her abusive marriage. (Alas, I must be content to surfing the internet for now, visiting other bloggers’ reports)  I wish I could see her experimental hothouses where she grew exotic plants.  But it seems we are mostly to be doomed to read about her trials of being swayed by sociopaths and used for her money.  That’s what makes sensational stories, after all, both now and then.

Most people will hear or read her story and say, “Aren’t we lucky that post suffrage, women now will not suffer like this!”  But I don’t feel that way.  Women will suffer like this as long as they behave like idiots, as long as they swoon over a seemingly kind word, as long as they can’t keep their panties up.  I found myself feeling less sympathetic for Mary’s plight and more and more annoyed that she seemed to just dig her hole deeper and deeper.  The simplest version of events, boiled down to all the ways she was victimized can be found here: http://historyandotherthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/03/mary-eleanor-bowes.html.  Beating and torturing your wife is never ok.  Treating any human the way Stoney treated Mary is completely unacceptable.  I’m not saying that these things in her life were not awful.  I’m just saying there is much she could have done to avoid additional pain, even in that era.

Although I agree with the commentator below in many ways, it pained me to see – centuries later – Mary’s missteps, all the things she could have done to avoid such a terrible life.

I have just finished reading Wendy Moore’s fantastic “Wedlock”, an account of Mary Eleanor Bowes’ life, in particular, her disastrous marriage to Stoney. What a woman, not only did she survive incredible domestic abuse and terror at the hands of her second husband, who tricked her into marrying him, but also had to suffer the heartbreak of losing her older children because of the dictates of the Georgian society of the time. Yet Mary Eleanor’s spirit was not crushed and eventually she managed to escape Stoney’s clutches and obtain just retribution for all his wrongdoings through the courts. The biography reads like a novel, I have never read a historical account so quickly. I can only recommend it.

I didn’t make it to the triumphs.  I didn’t make it to the courts.  I was still plodding through the terrible ache of lost children, another affair gone wrong with poor Mary not finding true love with her sexual partner yet again.  Tip: Keep your dress on, dear.  Don’t “fall in love” so quickly, and if you do, practice some propriety.  Knowing that bastards very rarely stay with their mothers, why risk having them?  I’m not talking about abortion, that to me is also unacceptable.  I’m talking about keeping a marriage bed pure – even if you’ve fled from your psychotic husband, shacking up with someone else isn’t going to make everything right, it just makes it all a little bit worse.

Has anyone else studied the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes?  What are your thoughts.  What do you suppose she was like aside from the tabloids and history books?  What would you say to her?  What would you ask her?

I’m filing this one away with Anna Karenina. 

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There is a Season

February 26, 2015 at 4:34 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , )

As a homeschool mom there’s a constant struggle for designating specific “school times” through out the day.  She is learning that education is a life pursuit, and at four can tell you that.  I can’t tell you how adorable it is to have a four year old look at someone when they ask her about school and tell them, “Education is a life pursuit.”  Every day, every moment, is a chance to learn something – and she is extremely aware of this as we stop to read information along trails, get sidetracked by research projects after asking a simple question, and discuss the scientific reasons things are happening in the kitchen as I cook.  But sitting down for specific lessons, that’s a bit harder to grasp.  We open our reading book and she thinks that crazy silly time shall commence.  She has a stubborn nature she gets from me combined with her father’s joy of watching me fume with frustration, seriously, I get angry and she laughs at me.  It’s a problem.

Someone from one of the homeschooling forums on Facebook gave us a great idea, though.  Read Ecc. 3:1 before every lesson.  Don’t know that one off the cuff?  The “lyrics” were made famous in the 1950’s by The Byrds.

The concept of there being a proper time and place for every activity and emotion, is a necessary lesson to teach toddlers (and kids, and teenagers, and humans at large).  Emotions, feelings, and attitudes toward chores can be intense.  There is a time to feel those things and a time to suck it up and do what you have to do.  Just like a gardener has “a time to plant and a time to uproot” there’s also “a time to weep and a time to laugh.”  We end the reading of these verses with, “there is also a time to be silly and a time to focus on your lessons.”

Needless to say, both little girl and I were excited to find this book at the public library last month.

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This picture is beautiful. It reveals art styles from all different regions, cultures, and time. It gives a child a great sense of the impact these words have on every human throughout history. Everyone must learn this lesson, the fact that everything has a time and place. That feelings can and will be embraced and (if we want to be overly bookish and quote An Imperial Affliction – a book by a character imagined by John Green in The Fault in our Stars) and say, “Pain demands to be felt,” but as every grown person has learned at some point, sometimes it can’t be felt right now. For a four year old, the wiggles must come out… but they can’t always come out right now either.

And everyone must learn this lesson.  Whether you are from China, Russia, Germany, Egypt, or Ancient Greece.  Whether you are Native American or from the heart of Mexico.  Whether you hail from the Ukraine or Australia, Japan or England.  Humanity is united in this one all encompassing lesson of life: “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up… a time to love and a time to hate… a time for war and a time for peace.”

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Hello Wilderness, We’ve Missed You

February 13, 2015 at 3:04 am (Education, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , )

Since moving away from our beloved Timberlane Estates, we’ve been in dire need for nature.  Especially with this winter we just had – harsher than I remember winter being – wet, muddy, colder sooner, and nowhere cozy to defrost.  Temporary living arrangements have caused us to leave the comfort of having a nearly 1000 square foot library just down the hall from our beds.  We also don’t have a fireplace here.  It’s been a long time since I lived without a fireplace.  But the change is good, it’s helped us redefine necessities, discover the beauty of new public libraries we hadn’t yet visited, save mP1000764oney for the land and dream home we want, and teach our daughter lessons she might have otherwise missed.

We’ve also discovered the Lake Houston Wilderness State Park.  We went from 100+ acres of trails and exploration that we knew like the back of our hands to not having anything most of the winter, to Lo! And Behold! 4700+ acres of trails and wilderness closer than we could have ever imagined.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Take a ride down the highway and pay attention to those marvelous brown signs!

It costs $3 per adult to get in, kids under 13 and senior citizens are free.  OR (and this is what we’ve done) it’s $25 for a year pass for an adult and three adult guests; basically, a family pass.

We’ve been back about every other day since we’ve discovered it.  We walk, tromp, and read.  We snack and picnic, we play in the creek, we stare at the trees.  We read all the sign posts and discover new plants we’ve never heard of.  We soak up vitamin D and work our muscles.

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To the left you’ll see a Hercules’ Club. We were pretty excited about this discovery and did a mini-research project on it when we got home.

In all this much needed tromping and new library resources at my fingertips, I stumbled across a Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants by a fellow named Nyerges.  It isn’t the best resource for Texans, only a few plants were ones I recognized, but if you hail from California then it’s right up your alley.  Either way, if you’re in the foraging scene, this book is a great read.  Nyerges personalizes a lot of his foraging facts with anecdotes of how he has confirmed or debunked various myths, legends, and general assumptions for certain plants.  My favorite was a bit about the Native Americans and poison oak – eat the young, red leaves and you’ll be immune to the rash for the rest of the season/year.  The science of immunizing oneself at its finest.  Already this is how we tackle seasonal allergies when it comes to pollen, it would not have occurred to me that there is a practical pre-remedy for poison oak.

 

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Teaching Life and Liberty

February 3, 2015 at 11:17 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000701Title: Thomas Jefferson

Author/Illustrator: Maira Kalman

Publisher: Penguin

If you want to teach about the founders of America via biographical picture books, Maira Kalman is a great place to start.  With spunky pictures and fonts, Kalman introduces children to Jefferson (and in another book she tackles Lincoln), his love for books, language, and gardening.

Kids can discover in Thomas Jefferson quirky details about how Jefferson got out of bed in the morning, his obsession for peas, and learn the quote he told his wife:

“Determine never to be idle.  No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.”

There’s a few pages dedicated to Jefferson’s friends: John Adam, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and the ideals the team struggled for.

Kalman doesn’t pull any punches.  She talks about slavery and addresses the truth of Sally Hemings.  Jefferson had so many wise quotes that adults praise and sharing them with a four year old is especially wise:

“When you are angry, count TEN before you speak; if very angry, to ONE HUNDRED.”

The book ends with a visit to his burial grounds and notes regarding his epitaph.

As a whole it’s lovely and educational.  When I told kiddo I was finally posting the review and asked her what she wanted to say about it, she said, “I think we should read it again.”

President’s Day is fast approaching.  This one is worth having in your hands on that day.

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A Boy Called Dickens

January 21, 2015 at 12:56 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

* A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books *

P1000704Title: A Boy Called Dickens

Author: Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrator: John Hendrix

As a homeschool family, we’re suckers for the educational picture book.  Especially biographies.

A Boy Called Dickens tells the life of Charles Dickens.  Obviously there are some creative liberties taken with Dickens’ boyhood thoughts and how he might have come to write certain stories, but that happens with any piece of biographical fiction.

As an adult Dickens fan, you recognize characters peeking around corners and haunting the boy’s subconscious as he works at the factory, tells stories to his friend, helps get his family out of debtor’s prison, and finally returns to school.

When I finished read the book, kiddo said, “Let’s read it again.”

I was out of breath from my strained fake British accent.  I’m not an actress, but I like to make story time fun.  It takes more effort than I’d care to admit.  “No, I’m not reading it again right now.”

“Well, I think we should do the same thing with this one – let other kids read it!”

“You mean you recommend it?”

“Yes.” She gave it a literal thumbs up, with a tongue half sticking out the side of her mouth in thought.

Any biographical picture books you can find are great teaching tools, and you might as well fill them with as much information as you can while they’re sponges.  History is easiest to remember as a tale, Dickens world and era becomes one you can touch and taste.  Telling it from his boyhood makes it more relatable to a tiny one.  Whether you’re a homeschool mom, or just someone who reads to your kids when you can, this book is a great resource; it’s colorful, factual, and engrossing.

(If you’re a seasonal reader, this one is perfectly wintery.)

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Houston Pow Wow 2014

November 17, 2014 at 12:11 am (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Already in the mere four years I’ve been a homeschool mom, with my child not even “school age,” homeschooling in general has proven to be as much an education for me as it is for her.  When you homeschool, field trips feel imperative.  Not only do you want your kid to interact in the world, but even the most extreme homebody, if not an agoraphobe, gets a touch of cabin fever now and again.

Pow Wow 2012 017In 2012, we discovered that Houston has an annual Pow Wow and attended.  I documented that trip here. The kiddo loved it. We studied everything a two year old could “study” about Native Americans at that time and watched a lot of Pocahontas after the event. The culture, the dancing, the drums, the music, the food, I tried to dip my very pasty child in the whole experience. She came away desperately wanting an out fit just like the girl’s she took a picture with in my previous blog post (see left).

Life happened and we missed the 2013 gathering, though we do intend to attend every year.

Grant ForemanThis year, though kiddo didn’t do much in the way of pre- Pow Wow “research,” I felt the need to grab a book. On my lunch breaks I’ve been perusing The Five Civilized Tribes. I was most interested in the segment on the Choctaw since that is the tribe our rumored ancestor was supposed to have been. (I’m convinced everyone claims a tie to the Native Americans, I’m not convinced everyone has one… I’m not convinced I even have one. But from a geographical standpoint, Choctaw makes good sense.)

I’m not done reading, so a full review cannot commence.  Currently, I’ve read through the Choctaw segment and now am knee deep in the Creeks.  The book, however, is thorough and enjoyable though – as the Christian Science Monitor reported – “pure history, sober, and fully documented.”  One would assume that it would read dry, but it’s not.  Sober and dry should not be used interchangeably when speaking of history, but often it is.  Especially when dealing with the history of the Native American Indian tribes.  Their cultures are too colorful and their history too rich to ever be considered dry.

My favorite bit about the Choctaw is how thoroughly devoted to educating their children they were.  Building school houses and hiring teachers was a huge deal for them.  They built educational requests into their treaties.  Although I don’t agree with institutionalizing, I do find it interesting how much they wanted to learn about those infiltrating their land.  Some would say that it was an effort to assimilate, but I don’t think so.  I think it was more of an effort to understand.  Understanding and knowledge is important to me, though, so perhaps that is always how I will interpret those sorts of actions.

P1000571We don’t speak with the competitors at the Pow Wows much.  I’d like to know what tribes they are affiliated with, who their ancestors are, whether they live next door or on a reservation.  I’d like to talk to them all, interview them all, watch them all more closely.  But they are there for a competition and seem to be far more in the public eye than what could possibly be comfortable.  Instead we politely nod, smile, purchase raffle tickets for Indian Blankets, donate money to musicians, and try not to take too many invasive pictures of the dancers.  Instead, my child makes friends with their children for the day and blows bubbles, and desperately contains herself from touching their bead work and feathers, lest a fiercely intense father of a playmate scowl at all his hard work being undone.

The event is beautiful.  It’s all so beautiful.

Today, however, it was rainy and cold.  The Pow Wow had to be moved from the arena to a pavilion.  The show must go on, though, rain or shine, and despite the cold and the wet, they danced, and they were brilliant and kind.  Kind – even when my daughter said quite boldly during their prayer time, “But Indians DON’T PRAY!”  I promise I didn’t teach her that.  I popped her little butt and said, “Everyone prays, now bow your head.”

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Literacy and Education

October 4, 2014 at 4:31 pm (Education, In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Every day I read.  And since having a child, every book I read is filtered through a mental checklist of sorts: Would this be useful to Kiddo?  How would I feel about her reading this? What age is this appropriate for? How can we apply tools, principles, morals, themes, etc. that we learn from reading this to our lives?

Does this mean she’s the center of my universe and I do it all for her?  No.  I read for myself.  It might not seem like it when I’m making lessons plans, blogging reviews with Amazon affiliate purchase links (every time YOU buy a book by clicking the link from my site, a portion of that money is used as much needed income – thank you), posting about bookstore events, etc.  But I do so much of it for me it verges on selfishness.  This is my vice, my hobby, my job, my world.  I am a book fiend and somehow I have made that work for me on as many fronts as possible.

But even with all that self-serving book binging going on, determining how my reading material could mold the mind of my child – whether directly or indirectly – is a constant subplot to my life story.

If I weren’t homeschooling, would I have been interested in titles like Why School? If I wasn’t teaching my daughter to read right now, would a book on literacy research been a desirable past time?

I laughed at myself several times this week.  By the time I’m done raising my daughter I could have a PhD in education, going by my thirst for educational theory.  However, it’s not even remotely close to what I desire to earn a PhD in.  Is every parent required to study this hard? No.  Is it necessary to do all this leg work to be a homeschool mom?  Absolutely not.  You are qualified to teach your child just by virtue of being their parent and longing to make a priority of their spiritual, educational, and physical growth, of viewing your parent-child relationship as something worthy of being tackled with excitement and care.  But for those naturally driven to research and reading, for those who have undeniably lofty ideas regarding the swoon of academia, for those who possibly have an unhealthy love for pens and paper, stacks and shelves, mahogany and oak, for those people it’s a little hard not to fall “victim” to the pull of differing philosophies regarding your life choice to teach your child yourself.  (God help me when it comes to instructing her on the laws of grammar as I’ve never quite mastered getting over run on sentences, they are my favorite grammatical mistake.  Those, and sentence fragments, I suppose.)

why schoolWhy School? is a diminutive sized hardback with a picture of an old one room schoolhouse on the front.  Behind the schoolhouse – identical to what I long to build on my future homestead, although much larger I’m sure – is a vast sky of blue inviting you to all the possibilities contemplation and the school of thought might have to offer you.  The book begins with a tale about a janitor who had suffered some brain damaged, but chose to work at a community college to be around “where it happens” and to have access to materials he could study and/or take home to his daughter.  It was a beautiful tale regarding academia and how it is viewed from different sets of eyes.  Most people see it as a mandatory road map in life, one they can’t get out of.  Some see it as a golden ticket to the land of opportunity.  Few actually see it for what it is meant to be: a place to learn.

The author, Mike Rose, talks about many things regarding school and college and life.  He discusses blue collar life vs. white collar life.  He addresses a few political issues, some I agree with and some I don’t.  But one thing is clear: he is passionate about learning.  He is passionate about education.  Rose’s goal is to make others aware of the importance of developing the mind and taking charge of what we put in it, whether it be tools and life skills or book facts.

“We live in a time of much talk about intelligence.  Yet we operate with a fairly restricted notion of what that term means, one identified with the verbal and quantitative measures of the schoolhouse and the IQ test.  As the culture of testing we live in helps define achievement and the goals of schooling, it also has an effect on the way we think about ability.” – pg. 73

I loved that part.  I loved how he addressed the parts of the brain used by those who work with their hands.  My husband works with his hands, he is a millwright.  More than anything, I want to balance my child’s developmental education with things both her parents are passionate about.  I want her to continue to love books, but I want to allow her to be passionate about building things (the girl is a master tower builder when it comes to legos and VHS tapes).  So much creative energy is dismissed when people look at their mechanic or a machinist.  People do not understand how even your diner waitress is the Queen of her domain, has mastered brain patterns you cannot fathom, and has an internal clock and rhythm you could not duplicate without years of practice and training.  I understood this example Rose provided well, having waited tables just long enough to say I learned to do it the best I ever could and could not do it forever.  (I was a good server, well-liked by most my customers, but I was no Wanda.)

lit resI read chapters of Rose’s book in between dives into Adolescent Literacy Research and Practice.  Where Rose is quaint and inspiring, though thoughtful and well-spoken, Adolescent Lit. is all academic essays, lengthy work cited pages, references to studies and schools of thought.  The book is written by public school educators for public school educators, but one would be remiss if they didn’t hear the constant hum of “Homeschooling is the answer” to nearly every issue they address.  The writers would laugh, I think, as there is an entire section dedicated to how people tend to read things and find support for their own arguments and core beliefs even where there may be none.

Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan were the contributors I enjoyed reading the most.  They talked in great detail about what literacy is truly about, what being able to write is for, and how important it is in the education process to not confuse its purpose.  Literacy and developing good writing habits are at the core of understanding any subject – not just literature – but math, science, and history as well.  Writing isn’t merely about communicating what you have learned, but a process of diving deeper into a subject and gleaning a more thorough understanding of it.  Not just about memorizing facts and regurgitating, but thinking about what those facts mean to you and how that may or may not affect your world view.  It is about engaging the brain and coming up with new thoughts about old concepts.  It is about developing theories from research.  It is about invention and progress.  It isn’t just about basic comprehension, it’s about eventual enlightenment on any given subject.

Several essayists in the book discuss the issue of the misconception that writing is only for the literature major and how there is only one way to read.  There is great detail on how the practices for reading a science text cannot be considered the same as those to read classic fiction.  So many do not address this, which is why we have children in our schools reading their chemistry and physics homework, plodding their way through formulas, but they haven’t internalized it.  They only barely understand, it’s passion-less math or vague theories… whereas teaching these same kids how to read their science text (and giving them more than just standard textbooks, but also journals produced by scientists and articles from the professional world) will bridge the gap between the information and the passion to do something with that information.  Not everyone is Einstein, but we are not raising independent thinkers with a drive to feed their brains.  We are raising frustrated honey bees who have been deprived of pollen, and by doing such a thing they become useless drones who produce nothing.

I say this screams “homeschool is the solution” to me because the essence of the discussion in the book is teach a child to read for each appropriate discipline and you give them the world.  You teach them how to teach themselves.  You teach them how to use their brains and be studious and good stewards of their minds.  Not for the sake of a grade, not for an award or blessing, but for the act of embracing the knowledge itself.  We are driven by standardized tests – and I get it, how else do you assess where a child is when you must maintain some semblance of order while still addressing the needs of 30 students at a time.  How else do you sort them out and provide the best education possible?  If you can, you teach them at home.  Smaller classrooms, a personal relationship, true observing of where that child is developmentally and how you can aid them on the path to true literacy.  In Texas a homeschool is considered a private school run out of the home.  If there was nothing I liked about Texas (and I love Texas, but if I didn’t), this fact alone would keep me here as long as possible.

There’s also a thing called Unschooling that I’m finding more and more I lean to (I am combining classical education and unschooling education styles in my “private school” that is the Klemm home).  Unschooling is child driven.  You pursue their interests with a passion when they have them.  You learn what you can while they are motivated to learn it.  Every moment is a possible classroom moment.  The other day we researched praying mantises after discovering one in the garden we were weeding.  Kiddo was so excited and immediately went to her bug book and found a picture of one, thrilled to see something in the book that she had just seen in real life.  Well that’s easy when they’re in pre-school, people like to say.  Yes, it is.  But it can continue to be that way as they get older.

“Reading classrooms at the secondary school level typically tend to minimize student choice (Guthrie & Davis, 2003).  However, giving students opportunities to ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-determine’ can make learning more personally meaningful and intrinsically motivating (Deci & Ryan, 1985, Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, 1991; Ryan & Powelson, 1991).” – pg. 286

What do you think?

 

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