Posts Tagged ‘Homeschooling’

American Scrapbook

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

AmerScrapbk

Unbelievably, it has been FIFTY YEARS since the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, and in honor of this anniversary the Kennedy Center here in Washington, DC has created a blockbuster lineup of events. Both President and Jacqueline Kennedy were enthusiastic supporters of the arts, so the celebration includes a bounteous variety of musical, theatrical, and dance performances, some ticketed and some free of charge. It is, after all, the Kennedys who helped bring to fruition a long-languishing plan for a National Cultural Center, which was renamed the Kennedy Center after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Whatever you may think of its architectual style, you must acknowledge that it’s been a fantastic addition to the Washington cultural scene all these years, providing a setting for a huge range of artistic performances (including Millennium Stage, with 365 free performances a year!) and inspiring the launch of many additional venues. And it has a lovely view from the terrace. Anyway, we’re all used to it now, as a familiar icon for which we feel affection, like some eccentric great-aunt who is known for her peculiar hats.

As part of a homeschoolers’ outing, my daughter and I attended American Scrapbook, A Celebration of Verse, a theatrical interpretation of some of the Kennedys’ favorite poetry. The family had a lovely tradition which (WARNING) will assuredly make you long to go back and raise your semi-literate, poetry-impaired children all over again: for the parents’ birthdays, the children Caroline and John Jr. each chose poems and then created drawings to accompany them, which were then pasted into a scrapbook.

This scrapbook collection inspired the play, which was essentially a seamlessly interwoven, thematically arranged series of “recitations”—although I hesitate to use that dry schoolhouse term, because the interpretations were so engaging and heartfelt. (I tried to sketch, but it was pretty dark and the actors were awfully “active,” thus the rough, scribbled result.)

The set was simple, modest, effective: tall wooden shutters that opened and closed in a variety of configurations to reveal changing images that supported, rather than distracted from, the spoken word.

Lively, imaginative, yet true to the spirit of the poems, the program transfixed the audience of elementary and middle-school children for an hour, which, when you’re talking about poetry, is truly a laudable achievement.

CakeEiffelWalter


AMusement for All

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Muses5

On this day in 1773 a committee of the Charlestown (South Carolina) Library Society established the first public museum in the United States. Except that there wasn’t yet a United States. South Carolina was still a British colony, and the Charlestown Library Society’s inspiration for its project was the British Museum, the world’s first national public museum, founded in 1753. But by the time the doors of the new museum opened to the public in 1824, South Carolina was, and has mostly remained, part of the U.S.A. To this day you can visit and admire its displays of local natural history specimens, which the [now] Charleston Museum has continued to acquire over the centuries, along with South Carolina memorabilia.

Collecting is undoubtedly a natural human impulse, ever since our hairy ancestors stored up grain for the winter. Once basic necessities were taken care of, human beings with leisure time and/or disposable income continued for millennia to assemble various collections, from seashells to sapphires, but they were primarily for private enjoyment, profit, or study. Royalty and the well-to-do collected, and even commissioned, statuary, paintings, and elaborate furnishings for their palaces. Scholars created and collected manuscripts to share with other scholars. Scientists and amateurs alike collected unusual plants, animals, fossils, and other natural specimens, increasingly so from the 18th century onward as human beings questioned assumptions about the origins of life, the earth and the universe.

But what we now call a Museum did not exist until rather recently. The word comes from the Mouseion at Alexandria, Egypt, which was not a collection of objects for perusal by curious passersby but rather a gathering place for scholars to share scientific and mathematical discoveries (option #2 above). If you were an educated Greek male living in the Mediterranean world in the 3rd century BC and possessed both scholarly interests and travel funds, off you went to Alexandria, which had by then replaced Athens as a cultural center. Euclid studied there. So did Archimedes. The Mouseion included the famous Library of Alexandria, which sought to collect works (or copies thereof) from all over the ancient world, and at its height boasted hundreds of thousands of papyrus scrolls. Eratosthenes served as one of its librarians.

The name Mouseion indicated an institution dedicated to the Muses, who are the nine daughters of Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. Each daughter embodies a different pursuit—Lyric Poetry, Tragedy, History, etc.—and is responsible for its nurture and inspiration. These are offspring to brag about at any parent gathering. “So, what are your daughters up to these days?” “Oh, they’re the Muses of Choral Poetry… Dance… Astronomy… .” References to the Muses abound in painting and literature, from Raphael to Moreau, Homer to Shakespeare.

We honor them still when we speak of Music, or when we cross the threshold of one of the world’s thousands of Museums, which today often still serve as centers for scholarly study, but in addition are open to ordinary citizens like you and me and contain fabulous collections of every imaginable kind of art, artifact, and animal, in every possible subject—science, history, transportation, sports, toys, bananas (I kid you not)—where we can open our eyes and our minds in wonder. And even get a slice of pizza and a postcard. Thank you, oh Muses.

This is a drawing of five of them, from my daughter’s homeschooling Ancient Greece main lesson block.

Paradise Lost

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Today is the birthday of John Milton (1608-1674), and in his honor I post the closing lines of his masterpiece Paradise Lost, along with a drawing by my daughter from our homeschooling Old Testament block several years ago. It’s not exactly a match, but I couldn’t resist.

Her drawing belies the solemnity of the poem. Adam and Eve actually look rather pleased at their departure from the Garden of Eden.

ExpulsionES

In either hand the hastening angel caught
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate
With dreadful faces thronged, and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

—John Milton


Red/Sugar Maple

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Another neighborhood tree sketch, this one by my daughter. If this IS a sugar maple, does that mean we could be tapping trees right here in Woodley Park, DC?

ESugarMaple

Norway Maple

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

My daughter and I have been doing some local tree sketches, then trying to identify them using tree guidebooks upon our return home.

NorwayMaple

Young at Art

Friday, November 12th, 2010

StoriesInArtNGA

The National Gallery of Art sponsors a host of programs for school groups, families, and young children, hoping to inform and inspire the next generation of art-lovers, and we have availed ourselves of a number of them. From my sketchbook I post a visit made some years ago with my daughter for a program in the “Stories in Art” series, during which an NGA docent reads aloud a story, tours the museum discussing with the children paintings relevant to the book, and then leads them in a hands-on art project, which might be drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, collage. On this occasion, the children listened to the delightful story The Cow Who Fell in the Canal (Phyllis Krasilovsky/Peter Spier), toured the collection of 17th-century Dutch and Italian paintings of waterways, and then painted their own landscapes.


Skywatcher

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

If you lived in 17th century England and were found guilty of stealing, consequences could be severe: whipping, branding, a term in the pillory, even hanging. An alternative was transportation to the New World and seven years of indentured servitude. The colonies needed laborers.

For some people what was essentially permanent exile might have seemed worse than hanging. But it apparently worked out well for one Molly Welsh, a dairymaid who was transported and indentured to a Maryland tobacco planter in 1683 when she was found guilty of stealing, or at least knocking over, a pail of milk. It was a life-changing accident. After working a seven-year term, Molly had earned enough to buy a tobacco farm of her own, and bought a slave named Banneka (or Banneky) to help work it. Although interracial marriage was illegal at the time, love triumphed. Molly freed Banneka; the two were married and had four daughters.

One of their daughters also fell in love with a slave, so her parents bought his freedom to enable them to marry. Because like many slaves he had no surname, when they married he took their name (now Banneker) as well. And these were the parents of Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), whose birthday it is today.

BannekerECS

Benjamin was from all accounts a very bright child. His grandmother Molly taught him to read and write, and he was eager to learn from any available source. But books were few. Around 1770, three Ellicott brothers from a large Pennsylvania Quaker family built a mill, homes, and store nearby, which eventually became the hub of a prosperous community (now Ellicott City). The Ellicotts and their offspring were mechanically inclined and enjoyed experimenting with mechanical and scientific inventions. The family befriended their knowledge-hungry neighbor Benjamin and lent him books, tools, and a telescope.

From that moment Banneker was devoted to astronomy, which he taught himself from the books and from studies of the night sky he made (in addition to carrying on the work of the family farm). He became so skilled that in 1791, when Andrew Ellicott, who had helped complete the Mason-Dixon Line survey, was hired to survey the land for the nation’s new capital city, he asked Benjamin Banneker to help him with the necessary astronomical observations. It’s pretty rough spending your nights outdoors for months stretched out on the cold ground measuring the stars when you’re 59 years old, but Banneker agreed. (This is the scene depicted above in my daughter’s Main Lesson book from our homeschooling Local History and Geography block.) So off they went to lay out the boundaries for the ten-by-ten-mile square that was to become Washington, DC. Some of the original boundary stones are still visible.

In the course of this project Banneker grew ill and was obliged to retire to the farm. But he was undeterred from his studies, and by 1792 he had created and published an almanac that included forecasts of weather, tides, eclipses and other movements of heavenly bodies—all calculated by Banneker—as well as festival days, essays and poetry (including work by Phillis Wheatley), instructions for home medical care, and Banneker’s views on free public education and religion.

The almanac was distributed in four states and went through several editions, one of which included an exchange of correspondence between Banneker and Thomas Jefferson, then serving as Secretary of State under George Washington. Banneker pointed out in his letter the irony of Jefferson’s having stated in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” while simultaneously “detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression.” In Jefferson’s polite and complimentary response, however, he avoids addressing this conundrum in his life, as he adroitly managed to do whenever it was mentioned.

Abolitionists in the colonies and Great Britain were thrilled with the almanac as another piece of evidence for the immorality—in fact, the downright senselessness—of slavery. Happy Birthday, Benjamin Banneker. Your work is another milestone on the road to freedom.

CakeBerries2Tashina

Heavenly Strings

Friday, November 5th, 2010

KarenBriggs

One of the numerous advantages of homeschooling is accompanying one’s children on field trips. Recently we attended a performance by amazing violinist Karen Briggs and her back-up combo. The concert, one of a series organized for school groups, was held in the Kennedy Center’s Jazz Club, which is set up with cafe tables and chairs rather than rows of seats, and intimate enough that Briggs could chat with us informally between pieces (and that I could see her well enough to sketch). She played for us a range of pieces, and her fiery interpretations and improvisations, drawing on classical, jazz, gospel, African, and Middle Eastern traditions, mesmerized and dazzled the audience, many of whom, it turned out, were young violinists. Briggs has played in concert halls all over the world and is probably best known for her work with keyboard artist Yanni. We all departed with stars in our eyes.

Yahrzeit3Erna

Yahrzeit3Joe


Día de los Muertos

Monday, November 1st, 2010

First paper cutouts, now dough…you must think I’ve forgotten how to draw.

PanDeMuertos

Today is All Saints Day, also known as Día de los Muertos in Latin American countries. For the last several years our homeschooling Spanish class has celebrated this day together. We set up a table and decorate it with autumn flowers and leaves, papel picado, and photographs and mementos of those who have crossed over (parents, grandparents, pets, anyone beloved). My daughter and I bake a huge anise-flavored Pan de Muerto—a skull surrounded by bones. The mother who teaches Spanish reads aloud a story about the day, written from a child’s point of view. We all sing “Hasta los Muertos Salen a Bailar” (“Even the Dead are Rising Up to Dance”) which is a really hard song to stop singing all day long once you’ve sung a few rounds. Then each family comes to the table, lights a candle, and says a few words about their loved ones, and the festival concludes with a skull-and-bones snack. Although the children devour the bread with enthusiasm, I think they actually appreciate the entire event, especially as each year brings more shared losses into our lives.

Bed-Schooling

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010
Germs
Greek history
And a spelling bee
With toast and tea
And a snooze at three.

CakeSprinklesZach