2013-14 weekly snapshots
Song of the Swallows is a story written by Leo Politi set in the mission of Capistrano where hundreds of swallows nest every year. The relationship between human beings and swallows is illustrated through Old Julian the mission gardener and Juan a young lover of flowers and birds. As Juan observes and listens to Old Julian he is inspired by to tend his own garden and dream for swallows to come to his home to nest .
I was inspired to tell this wonderful story when I saw the swallows Tuesday morning, just before opening circle, flying over the fields at the farm. I shared that, for me, the return of the swallows is confirmation that Spring has truly returned with the song of the swallows. It seemed a fitting way to close out our final week of our Bird-life lesson theme block.
Other big news around Homestead this week was the arrival of four lambs and three piglets. With two broody hens setting, eleven ducks paddling about , two of our four goats pregnant, a greenhouse full of seedlings and twenty plus hens laying …. as one student said, “There sure is a lot of life going on around here."
This week we began our Monday Workshop session working with clay at Aruba Clay Studio. For the next five weeks we will be collaborating on a clay "fire story ring." The group sculpture that Steve, Homestead guest mentor and Rowan's Dad, is helping us make will be fired and permanently placed in the center of our restoration project ,of the previous 5 weeks, in which we planted a native forest in an area that had been taken over by blackberries. The sculpture will be part of a ceremonial circle the children want to create where all the trails they built join together. Steve led the children and I in a beautiful ritual in which we imprinted our hands into the base of the sculpture and then we each took a bite of the clay we worked into coils for the walls.
In math we continued working on sequences via graphs. So far we have made a bar graph illustrating various birds' migrations in miles and we have begun to illustrate heights of trees through a graph. The children are loving it. I love the way it easily integrates reading, writing words, numbers and figuring out number sequences, as well as scientific facts related to our lesson theme.
Homesteaders finished their songbird sculptures. The armatures were fashioned from wire and then wrapped in plaster cloth and finally painted with acrylics to represent their individual nature names. It was a joyful two week long afternoon art project in which we all stood around the big table in the barn...working with our hands and singing from our hearts while gentle Spring rains fell outside and the ducks laughed and splashed about just as joyfully.
The first week of Spring was all about balance. We practiced balance with our bodies and lightweight objects. We counter-balanced with one another. For main lesson, we retold and illustrated our own story of the balance of life and death on a farm. (The life and death of a Homestead chicken named Borage whose killing by a bald eagle we witnessed the previous week.)
In an effort to keep our relationships with each other and the more than human world around us in balance we reviewed and revised our community agreements. We recommitted to honor our agreements and remind one another to honor the agreements.
What follows are the Community Agreements the children and I have created and recently recommitted to:
HOMESTEAD COMMUNITY AGREEMENTS
Listen with your whole body when someone is speaking
Speak from your heart.
Try your best to always be kind.
Speak up, especially when you have a need that is not being met.
Listen and respond to others’ requests immediately.
Check in regarding individual comfort levels with regards to play.
Quiet voices and calm bodies inside the yurt at all times.
Respect the sacred fire circle.
Honor each others' family’s choices, (for example; no discussion of movies or t.v)
Co-create a safe learning environment for everyone. Use your common sense , ( for example; no throwing objects at each other, no sword or gun play, and no teasing.)
Resolve conflict with your words directly or ask for Dana’s support.
Interact with the farm animals in ways that build trust, (for example; no chasing, spooking, containing, restraining or poking them.)
Always share fairly.
Be truthful and take responsibility for your actions.
Honor the community agreements and remind each other to honor the agreements.
We began our week with unbridled enthusiasm for planting. With guild maps, gloves and shovels in hand the children continued the work of planting a forest, stopping only for lunch, a poem and quick plant identification game called, “You’re only safe if…you are touching…”
Tuesday morning during a group wander in silence to observe bird life we encountered a bald eagle swooping down and killing one of chickens before our very eyes. A stark and memorable lesson for the week of Equinox, a time to reflect upon balance.
Our story for the week came from an English ballad that recounts the true story of a working class man named Charlie Hudson. In it he says, “I can’t fly but me pigeons can, and, when I set them free, it’s just like part of me, gets lifted up on shining wings” It tells of the courage of taking a risk in order to realize a dream. As we drew an illustration of Charlie and his famed King of Rome (homing pigeon) we sang the song over and over. And, we sang the song again for our Spring Equinox ritual, a gathering in which we celebrated the rebirth of the earth and seeded our own dreams and intentions. We cast seeds ,(from plants we had grown the previous Spring and harvested and saved,) onto a beautiful fertile egg shaped mound of soil we had created earlier in the week
On Thursday morning Homestead alumni, Djuna, Maya and Shira joined us to teach on their day off from McMurray Middle School. We all enjoyed a ratio of 1 teacher per 2 students for math and language arts. The children were very excited to have the “big girls” full attention.
The jungle caught on fire and soon all the animals were running away from their beloved home towards the great lake. Hummingbird began making journeys back and forth carrying a few drops of water at a time and dropping it ahead of the fire’s edge. The baboons laughed at her and yelled, “You can’t put a fire out a drop of water at a time silly Hummingbird.” She replied, “I am doing the best I can.” It wasn’t long before many other animals were carrying water to stop the destruction of their home, inspired by Hummingbird. The story reinforces a concept the Homesteaders consistently embody: the power and satisfaction of working in community and putting forth our best effort in our work.
The children completed their paintings of representations of their nature names. Our newest song is : “Rockin’ Robin” and we are having so much fun singing it. Sing it at home with your kid!
We are still working on number sequences and place values in math.
In response to some children’s actions, that broke a community agreement with respect to how we interact with the farm animals, we held a council. I introduced the topic for council with a parallel story about some other children and their behavior regarding other farm animals. I then asked them to brainstorm some ideas for me to implement when a community agreement, regarding the animals, is not honored. Each child had five stones. A stone for each time they spoke. The structure insisted that everyone contribute to the conversation in a balanced way .
Delicate Wings is a story that honors the act of making oneself vulnerable. A teenage boy pushes through his fears and speaks his mind and feelings at the risk of losing very important friendships. His courage not only saves the lives of some birds but, eventually, inspires his friends and actually strengthens their connections. Speaking up and listening lessons have been recurrent themes over the past six months at Homestead. The emphasis on these basic elements of communication and seeking balance between listening and speaking is how we build emotional literacy foundations through narratives in our day-to-day learning at Homestead.
Tuesday morning wandered through the land looking for signs of the strengthening sun and identified by name twenty-eight species budding out. Afternoons were filled with painting with acrylics adding layers of detail and color to their images of their nature names.
I told a variation of a story, written by Louise Erdrich , called Grandmother’s Pigeon . The story evokes wonder and magic. A wise and wonderful elder encourages children to embrace, learn and be inspired from the mysteries of life.
We practiced sitting very still and quietly in a group as a way to study birdlife. Afternoons we painted with acrylic on canvas board. Tuesday the undercoat, Wednesday the under-painting and Thursday color/form and details.
In math the chipmunks are still learning about the concept of place values and putting lots of attention towards organizing addition and subtraction of 2-dgiit numbers into columns. Squirrels are working with same concept and organization of 3, 4 and 5-digit numbers.
Dreams of Home
Our week began with a rainy day hike in the Skeeter Creek ravine. The nettle stings, wipe outs in mud and tiny leaf buds on the Indian Plumb and Alder ….all signs reassuring us that the sun was indeed strengthening, despite the patches of snow still hanging around the shady forest floor. As we traversed the steep slopes and creek bottom the glory of familiar snags, shelf mushrooms and debris shelters was sung with gusto. When a hippo head was spotted emerging out of a muddy leaf bed, looking very much at home, we were inspired to create a spontaneous ceremony honoring the importance of home. We gathered stones from the creek and as each child placed a stone to encircle the hippopotamus’s head they said the name of an animal that they knew or thought to be endangered of losing its home. We ran out of stones as the children named specific species ranging from whales and frogs to elephants and owls.
The next day, riding on the back of the hippo in the forest, I told the children a story about a young hippopotamus who becomes an ambassador traveling the world in a dreamtime journey creating “installations of home” to remind humans that every being needs a home. The story describes the evolution of hippopotami from their whale cousins 55 million years ago into semi-aquatic beasts of sub-Sahara Africa making them ideal advocates for both water and land creatures.
The toughest lesson of the week presented itself with respect to Homestead’s beloved goats, in particular how we interact with them and their home. In essence the teaching moment was about “speaking up” as opposed to ”joining in” or remaining silent in the face of community agreements being broken.
Children were in “the zone” with basket weaving . Their baskets and trivets are beautiful examples of many hours of focus, effort and fun.
On Wednesday afternoon Aimee’ Van Roekel came in to wrap up the theatre workshop and the kids shared some of the exercises and Shakespeare quotes learned over the past 5 weeks with family at the end of the day.
In math the “the chipmunks” are continuing to build their understanding of tens and unit values through adding and subtracting double digit numerals, without carrying or borrowing. “The squirrels” are adding and subtracting with carrying and borrowing with three digit numerals.
Knots on a Counting Rope
Knots on a Counting Rope is a story of a boy named from his Grandfather’s dream. The boy, Strength of Blue Horses, is born blind and learns to see with his heart. Strength of Blue Horses rides in a trail race and finishes despite peoples doubting his ability to compete in the race. The boy’s Grandfather reminds him that everyone has dark mountains to cross, and that there is no beginning and no ending to our challenges in life, but that with courage and love we face our challenges. And try our best. When the boy shares his fear of being alone when his Grandfather dies, his Grandfather reassures him that he will never be alone for his love will always surround him.
We continued with the concept of tens and unit values and adding double digit numbers in vertical columns. We wrote a Sonnett in the Shakespeare workshop(see below) and learned about the choreography involved in theatrical/stage combat. Our new song is” Haida,” which involves synchronized hand and feet movements. This week we sang and danced Father Abraham in opening circles to keep warm. The weather provided lots of ice exploration and the opportunity to learn basic safety precautions around frozen bodies of water.
The highlight of the week was weaving. We began weaving baskets and trivets as our afternoon activity at the start of the Dreamtime unit. It was challenging for everyone. By the middle of this week every child was joyfully and competently weaving with sea grass. Afternoons flowed beautifully and there were complaints each day when it was time to stop for closing circle. Their effort and perseverance has transformed into pride and confidence in their hand-work.
The Well and the Flame
In preparation for the Homestead Imbolc celebration I told a variation of a story called The Well and the Flame in which a sister and brother are instructed in their dreams to tend a well that has been neglected and polluted. They also must ensure that a fire burns in every hearth of their village. The children in the story, Brigit and Alex, come to understand water as the life blood of the earth and therefore a source within all of us for love, joy and new ideas. Just as we must keep springs and wells in our environment clean , we must also tend the sacred well within each of us, and not become poisoned by greed and hatred. And, just as they are instructed to tend the fire of Old Man Maddog they are encouraged to tend the flame of inspiration that burns within them in order to grow strong, wise and brave.
Math this week, for some children, introduced the concept of tens and unit values as we begin to add double digits. Others continue to work on multiplication tables and values of hundreds, tens and units for addition and subtraction that involves carrying and borrowing.
Hands-on activities included tool sharpening, and building Old Man Winter to burn for the upcoming Imbolc celebration.
“Carrots” were added to “Apples and Onions” at Closing circle . A “carrot” is an appreciation for someone, usually related to something someone observed them doing. It is a way for us to acknowledge each others’ kind ways and good deeds of the day, within the group.
The First Basket comes from the Mandan people, who live in the North American prairie. The values of generosity, sharing and gratitude are conveyed in a dream, in which a cedar tree gives a Mandan woman instructions for making the first basket. The woman gives thanks and then shares what she has learned with other women. Their baskets even carry themselves when the women sing to them. However, when another woman from the village steals an entire Winter cache of seeds from the Mouse People the baskets stop carrying themselves. The Mandan believe that the necessities and comforts of life must be shared with all beings. Our drawing for this story was in part a weaving lesson as we attempted to illustrate the over under pattern in weaving.
For afternoon activity we have begun weaving with sea grass ,working in pairs.
We have been working on our endurance with morning runs, (finding our individual coyote gaits,) through the farm and forest, following opening circle and before chores. Our chores for the week were focused on blackberry removal in the area we will be planting out for our next workshop session and finishing touches on the new grand duck enclosure.
This Little Light of Mine was our new song for the week. Math involved addition and subtraction mental math problems. We have been putting a fair bit of attention towards organization of our written work with numbers. Check out their blue math books to see your child’s progress.
A highlight of the week was the children sharing their dreams for the future. They were asked the previous week, on the heals of our lesson about Martin Luther King’s dream, to think about what they want to set an intention for in their future. Standing on a mound of chips encircled by their peers they each began with, “I have a dream that.”
Here are examples of dreams shared:
“ I have a dream to get my pear tree pollinated” -Luca
“I have a dream that when I grow up I will have lots of animal friends” - Bella
“I have a dream that Homestead will go on for a really long time, like forever” - Bella
“I have a dream that I will make my room look like I’m flying in the clouds.” - Japhy
“I have a dream that my children will be judged by the content of their character” - Gerritt
“I have a dream that someday I will be a great carver and carve an entire house.” - India
“I have a dream that someday I will fly.” - Rowan
Our story for the week was about a little girl named Mahalia who grew up in Alabama when segregation, specifically Jim Crow laws, were being challenged and the Civil Rights Movement was changing the face of America. The story begins with Mahalia, a six year old African American girl, wondering why she and her brothers go to the old one room school house and the new school with new books and a new playground is only for the white children of her town. And why are there separate water fountains right next to each other with signs, ”White only” and ”Colored only?” She learns about the Civil Rights movement by listening to the radio at her neighbors’ house. The lunch counter sit ins and the bus boycott in Montgomery, initiated by Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat to a white person fascinate her as a child. As a teenager she works hard to buy a bus ticket to attend the Civil Rights March in Washington D.C. where she hears Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his famous, “I Have a Dream “ speech. That day, she sat on the edge of the great reflection pool with her feet in the water, cooling off in the sweltering August heat, alongside white, black, and brown people. She felt equal to everyone else with their feet in the water. She was inspired to work for change. Now Mahalia is a grandmother and her dream, set in motion by King’s dream, for her children to be judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin, came true. It was her dream that all of her children would receive a college education. And that is exactly what happened. In fact her grandchildren have also all gone to college.
The week began with our guest instructor Aimee Van Roekel leading the kids through a sleuth of theatre / acting warm ups and games.
For Math most of the children began basic subtraction equations using pictures and numbers “sentences.” Older kids are making calculators and multiplication flash cards.
Our new song for the Dreamtime theme is This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie.
We practiced our plant identification skills with some rousing games of “You’re Only Safe If…” I encourage parents to try this one at home. Lots of teaching moments were offered up by the goats this week thanks to a visiting buck, by the name of Bindweed. Sygny was in heat and the goat yard was full of activity. The prospect of Sygny becoming pregnant made for many apples at closing circle.
Afternoon activities this week focused on poetry as we begin to prepare for Imbolc. Homesteaders dispersed around the land with sketch paper, clip boards and charcoal and the task of observing “moments “ in nature and capturing “snapshots” of the season. They recorded field notes through their sketches. We came together and shared our observations then in collaboration created five and seven syllable sentences. From there we began to pick and choose which images seemed to go together using the ancient Japanese form of Haiku for structure.
Some people talking
Sirens alarming dogs bark
Goats running away
Grey squirrel scurries
Children sketching with charcoal
Closing circle time
Much chicken chaos
The goats eating blackberries
Bird flying to a big tree
A bird in a tree
The sun against the grey sky
Stumps in a circle
Ducks waddle around
Midnight sticking nose through fence
Fly lands on paper
A ripple in the water
Empty duck box
Stumps in a circle
Rough brown dock seed
A Nelson footprint
The last story for our Solar System unit was about Fisher and creation myth of the constellation of The Big Dipper. For math children identified number sequences. A highlight of our main lesson time was their reports on their planets. We went on two field trips. The first was an adventure to Skeeter Creek. The second a three hour hike along the near shore and intertidal ecosystems of Maury Marine Park. I shared the true story of how the land we journeyed upon had been saved by the people of Vashon-Maury Island. It was above all a story of restoring balance. In keeping with a Homestead tradition we made beeswax candles in celebration of the returning sun at Winter Solstice. We rehearsed all the songs we have learned over the past 13 weeks in preparation for the Winter Solstice Gathering. For the gathering we sang: The Canoe Song, La Arana Pequinita, If I Were To Talk To…, Zodiac Song, Bella Ciao, I am an Animal, Galaxy Song, Trees, and Light is Returning.
The Solar System unit began with the story of How Raven Stole the Sun. We learned about our Solar System through song, dance and book research. I assigned each child a planet and respective placement around a sun and then everyone revolved and spun in their orbit around the sun. There was lots of laughter as we all got dizzy together in the frosty sun filled meadow. We are learning lots of facts about time and space as we sing the newest song in the Homesteader repertoire, “The Galaxy Song.” www.metrolyrics.com/galaxy-song-lyrics-monty-python.html.
Afternoon activities for the week were a mix of sensory awareness games outdoors in the crisp clear air and cozy yurt time working with chalk pastels to create solar system illustrations based on each child’s individual understanding and imagination.
Our focus for the week was communication. The story I told was inspired by a desire for the children to understand that the strength of our community at Homestead depends on everyone learning to listen from their heart and speak from their heart. We must practice BIG EARS and BIG VOICES and to TUNE IN WITH ALL OUR SENSES. In the story, it is the smallest animal of the forest meadow community that hears the forest fire first, and must warn all the other animals. Encouraged by Barn Owl, Deer Mouse makes his voice heard and the animals are able to escape to the river. This is the last story for our Animal Behavior block and main lesson books will go home next week. As you look at their drawings and writings at home ask them to retell the stories.
Coinciding with our focus on communication we have had several big teaching moments to hone our communication skills. There were a couple of events that resulted in children being hurt either physically or emotionally or both due to lack of listening, lack of speaking up and sometimes speaking without sensing/thinking. We had our first spontaneous talking stick council as a whole group. Basically we stop whatever activity we are in the midst of (chick and duck enclosure construction this week) and stand in a circle and go around stating how we feel in the moment. Next, we circle around speaking our needs. My experience was that it was a powerful and moving experience for all. Everyone was able to practice listening and speaking up. In other instances I addressed the fact that words can be as hurtful to the heart as any physical blow to the body. I used basic empathy exercises of putting oneself in the others “shoes.” I initiated a reconciliation/healing process with a few children in which we ended by putting our hands together in a pattern, like a strong weave in a basket. I then pull my hand away, illustrating a broken connection, a hurt that goes unresolved, and we acknowledge our community basket is then weak. We will continue this social emotional work. It is, in my mind, the most important work we do together.
In math we are working on basic addition and forming our numbers, the older kids are working on sequences /pattern identification which also requires basic addition ( Eg. 22,26, ?, 34,38 ) .
Biggest news of the week…..chicks and ducklings have an outdoor enclosure to protect them from daytime predation. The Homestead Mama Hens proudly celebrated their babies’ first steps and scratches on mama earth upon completing their project on Thursday afternoon. It was a beautiful big deal!