Thursday, September 30, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I love cities- to visit that is. I was born in a fairly large one, and spent a good portion of my life in them. When my mother first dragged me to a rural area at age 10, I don't know if the thought of a mall that was only one story tall or the sound of crickets in the night were more frightening to me. In any case, I was not impressed with small town life at the time.
Still, I love to visit the city, and since I love to travel with my kids, they get regular doses of city life to balance out their home life in the woods. Our rural lifestyle does seem to make us a tad more sensitive to things like crowds, noise and pollution that city dwellers just accept as a normal part of life. Up close encounters with countless people and dozens of languages, hundreds of cars and buses, horns, shouts, lights and smog are all exciting and fun, but too much of it makes me feel like I've had way too much coffee. I can tell the kids get overstimulated too because we all act spastic and cranky after a couple of days of it.
So, one of the things I am always super grateful for when we spend any amount of time in a big city is finding the little refuges where nature has a little bit of space to do her thing, and so do we. Thank goodness people in the past had the foresight to set aside some land for parks before the sprawl of civilization took it all over. I do appreciate the tiny neighborhood parks, but when in a city the size of San Francisco, it's wonderful to have a huge open space like Golden Gate Park to spread your wings.
And I do mean huge- you could wander away and get lost for days in this park. Its' 1017 acres of public grounds are home to gardens, museums, playgrounds, squirrels, birds and probably quite a few people. I read that it was inspired by New Yorks' Central Park, but Golden Gate Park is 20% larger. Apparently, back in the 1860's, some San Franciscans began to feel the need for recreational space in their crowded city. I can't imagine they could even comprehend how much more crowded the city has become, and how much more valuable that recreational space is to both people and animals.
How amazing is it to be in the midst of a million or so people and find a place to do a cartwheel on a lawn or a tree to climb? While I can be fairly certain my own kids won't be suffering from nature deficit disorder, I wonder in hindsight if I didn't have it myself as a city kid. I don't actually remember visiting parks as a kid, but I sure appreciate visiting them now. I imagine there are countless other city kids who would probably never see a flower or a duck up close if it weren't for urban parks.
There are also the many, many things that are no-nos in places with high populations, and the signs to inform everyone. One very long sign featured 9 things you aren't allowed to do, but I couldn't get them all in one picture. We weren't planning on squirrel feeding, or flower stomping, but were a little disappointed that roller skating and dogs weren't allowed. Thankfully, in the large park, there are other areas where both dogs and wheels are allowed. We didn't see any "No Tree Climbing" signs, so my kids did climb a few lovely old trees, and Boy Child attempted to climb the concrete base of a windmill. We learned that over 155,000 trees were planted in the first 20 years of Golden Gate Park- again yippee for foresight because they are like an oasis in a concrete desert. A few hours replenishing our souls in nature and we were ready to tackle more city adventures.
I'd love to hear about the best urban parks in other areas around the country. It feeds our dream of seeing all 50 states before the kids are grown, and gives us ideas of where to stop when we do go. So, what are your favorite places to find trees in the city?
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Trying to follow standards certainly makes more sense in a classroom setting, but in a homeschool, really its all about the family. The family is kind of the whole point for us. I love when siblings and groups of mixed age kids get excited about some topic and go off on a self directed learning spree with it. My kids have loved the 39 Clues books, and have been led in a number of directions researching people and places in the world that weren't on the standards for either of their grades. They pulled out maps, books, got on the internet, and even made food inspired by what they read about. They were excited and motivated, they were having fun, and they remember what they learned. In my opinion, that constitutes a real education more than forcing facts in a textbook that has no current relevance to their real lives or interests.
Percy Jackson series led to a study of Greek mythology that neither of them was slated to learn for years, and The Alchemyst led them to reading about all sorts of different cultures and times. They never really thought about whether they were doing something for school or for life. They were just interested and learning- and to me, that is homeschooling at its' best.
The cashier at the bookstore sometimes looks at me sideways when using my educator discount card to buy a book she doesn't deem educational. "This is for use in the classroom?" Well, since the world is our classroom, I can honestly answer yes to that, but she still seems to be puzzled that there are no textbooks in my stack.
This year, since we chose to homeschool through a charter school, we're having another look at the standards. I know that the schools' funding and the families' freedom of curriculum is tied to the students doing well on the standards based tests, so we'll do our best to cover the material in a way that works for our family. There are actually a number of things that look interesting and a number of others that look pointless. There is quite a bit of repetition year after year, in some cases with the exact same wording listed multiple years in a row. The one thing we won't do is change our life learning style and try to force our kids into a one size fits all mold. We'll still follow our interests and learn together in real life ways, because for us, that's what it's all about. Worksheets will never take precedence over real life learning, no matter what the standards call for.
I'm always interested in hearing how other families make it work. What do you think about the standards? Do you use them at all? If so, how do you keep it fun?
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I hadn't been to the Academy before, but I have been hearing all about it since it reopened after a huge remodel. Well, it was amazing! Having listened to the tips from friends who had been in recent months, we knew to try to hit the rain forest exhibit early before the lines got too long. It was an impressive three story walk through with birds, butterflies and plants that reminded us of visits to family members in Costa Rica. Next was a show at the planetarium. We took my mother in law, who had grown up in the bay area, with us on this trip, and she had fond memories of taking her own young boys to shows at this planetarium many years ago.
The albino alligator would have been hard to miss, as he was a pretty popular exhibit. He didn't interact playfully with guests, like the penguins. In fact, he was so still that my Boy Child thought he was stuffed like the animals in the dioramas, but then he moved a finger and blinked, confirming he was still alive. He wasn't exactly cute like the penguins either. His pink eyes and long claws were kind of freaky, but boy was his hide fancy. I know it's a terrible thought, and I would never actually purchase an item like this, but I couldn't help but thinking he would make a gorgeous a handbag and boots. Of course, I would be appalled if I actually saw a purse made of real albino alligator, but I could see the inspiration for something similar in pleather. This poor guy is probably lucky to be housed here because I don't think he'd last long in the wild.
All around, it was a great field trip, and a day packed with the wonders of science and natural history. It was also a great way to kick off to our funschool year. I can't wait to see what other fun learning adventures await us. Any exciting field trips you all are planning or have taken so far this year?
Monday, September 13, 2010
Maybe I'm just feeling moody these days, but I have been really annoyed with other peoples' dire predictions concerning children lately. The negative outlooks start even before babies are even born. I teach Childbirth Classes, and so I talk to a lot of pregnant women. It is just awful how many horror stories about birth that people choose to share with women who are about to go through it. I don't know if it's therapeutic for the teller or what, but it sure isn't kind or necessary, and here's a news flash...it isn't the least bit helpful!!!
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
So, when we were headed to San Francisco on a recent fun trip, and I heard that the weather forecast called for a sunny, warm day, I mentioned walking across the Golden Gate. The kids had no idea you could do such a thing, and were all over the idea.
As we pulled into San Francisco, I noticed that while the sun was shining all around us, the bridge was shrouded in fog. But, we weren't that easily deterred, and figured that a little fog wouldn't hurt us.
The bridge really is the icon of the San Francisco skyline, and its' outline is plastered all over mugs and sweatshirts in gift shops all over the city. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built in the 1930's, the project came in $1 million under budget (which is pretty rare with public works projects) and it seems to have withstood earthquakes better than many of the bay areas other bridges. Seeing the construction up close and personal, it really is an impressive structure.
We parked on the San Francisco side of the bridge near the Presidio, and bundled up in sweatshirts, even though it was still technically summer. Plaques and statues near the base give some history of the architectural beauty. Apparently, many experts of the time didn't feel a bridge could even be built in that spot because of the harsh conditions there. The tides are strong, the wind is fierce and the fog is blinding, but humans are determined, and while only one person, the chief engineer named Strauss, got a statue of himself erected, many, many people worked hard to design and construct the bridge.
It may be a beautiful spot on a clear day, but since it's usually cold, damp and beyond blustery there, I can only imagine how miserable the working conditions must have been. And, as is often the case, many of the people who did all the work, didn't even get any credit.
Apparently, some of the steel workers who built the bridge did get to accidentally test the movable safety net below them. As you can imagine, in the 1930's the safety regulations were probably a tad bit more relaxed than today, and it was pretty much their only protection from an over 200 foot fall. The net worked for nineteen men, but sadly, failed on another eleven of them.
These days, even on the foggiest days, the bridge is full of traffic- cars, pedestrians and bicycles. By the time we made it across, our lungs felt very full of car fumes, and we were almost run over a few times by racy cyclists. But, then, miraculously, the sun made its' way through the clouds a few times and we were treated to some lovely views.
This led to spontaneous skipping and singing, which might be considered slightly embarrassing in some places, but no one even blinks an eye at such behavior in this city. So, we were free to rejoice out loud in the beauty of the sunshine.
I love when everyday life inspires us, and after this walk we were inspired to learn a little more about the building of suspension bridges. I found some fun activities to explore. The kids are busy at work and making bridges now and I'll post the results soon. So far, they've passed by me with straws, tape, dental floss, and marbles. I have no idea what else will go into their creations, but I'm looking forward to seeing the results.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
While I had fun at my childhood summer camp in the mountains, my kids have not yet had the overnight away camp experience. They've been camping dozens of times, and lived in the woods most of their lives, but they've never "been to camp." Someday they might, but the right opportunity just hasn't come around yet. I am one of those overprotective mothers' who wouldn't just send young children off with strangers, and the low number of adults in charge that I loved as a kid isn't so much of a selling point for me now. Besides, we've always been too busy enjoying summer as a family to have any time to pack them off.
We went out in a canoe on a lake, and despite the fact that it leaked and took on a bit of water, we had a nice paddle. There were some heavy patches of lake weed which sort of freaked us out when our paddles started getting stuck in it, and of course the kids came up with lots of scary things that could be in those reeds. After learning to steer clear of lake weed, we found some geese and plenty of fish. We observed the beauty in nature and breathed in the fresh mountain air.
Our couple of day family trip to camp brought back lots of fun memories for me. I was able to look up my old camp on the internet and see how much has changed and how much is the same. I was also able to see how outrageously expensive kids camps are. That makes me even less excited about the future prospects of my kids heading to one. I think I'd rather save for a trip to the tropics, and when I mentioned the fact that we could almost buy a ticket to Hawaii for the cost of a week at camp, they agreed the tropics were the way to go. Whether they go off to camp on their own in the future or not, I'm glad we had this camp experience as a family for now.