Friday, 26 June 2015

Finishing Up the Hound

When we started looking into the Sherlock Holmes series, I used the related Boomerang back issue of The Hound of the Baskervilles to get a little more out of the story than just reading it for fun.

It took us more than the scheduled four weeks to complete the study.  The reason for the delay is partly due to our going out a lot, and partly due to the dictation passages being very long and rather difficult.  And since I think the dictation passages are difficult, I decided to do it in a buddy system with Tiger, in that we will take turns to do the dictation passage so that he would not feel as though he had to suffer through a difficult task alone.

The way we did it for the first three weeks' dictation was to have Tiger read the passage out loud to me twice before I recite it back to him.  The rule is that I could not start writing until I could recite the entire passage without any error.  This proved to be much harder than I had originally anticipated it to be.  It took me several attempts before I could start writing the passage down.  Even so, I still managed to get a few errors in my dictation, which Tiger was only too glad to point out.

By arrangement, I always did the dictation first.  This was to give Tiger the time to listen to and memorise the dictation passages while I struggled through mine, so that by the time it was his turn to write the passages down, he was able to memorise entire paragraphs with very little problem.  Given the length and difficulty of the passages, I think this is a fair way to encourage a child to complete a task that would otherwise seem insurmountable.

When we came to Week Four's passage, I decided that it was just too long to even try to do a successful dictation of it at this stage, so we used the passage for copywork instead.  Tiger does all his dictation and copywork in the handwriting exercise books where he can practise his penmanship at the same time.

While the passage in Week Four concentrates on the description of the hound in the story, we did a little research to establish what kind of hound it was and came to the conclusion that it would have a cross between a bloodhound and a mastiff, which can be a rather frightfully vicious dog, especially when it was painted with luminous paint, as in the story.

To spare us from having nightmares about being chased by luminous-coated mastiff-crossed hounds, Tiger decided to end the study by making his own stop motion animation version of the scene that we had just studied, using paper cutouts as his back drop for the moors, plasticine for the hound, and an unfortunate LEGO man for the victim.

I won't mind running into Tiger's colourful version of the hound.  It seems harmless enough and does not even have teeth, and it reminds me of a soppy St. Bernard which, incidentally, is from the mastiff family!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Busy Bee

We saw our first bee of the year (back in April)!

It was one of the rare sunny and warm day when we were enjoying the warmth of the sun in the garden when Tiger spotted the lone honey bee busying collecting nectar from flower to flower.  As it was a little dopey, we were able to observe it very closely such that we could even see its body being covered by pollen and it carrying its pollen basket on its hind legs!

As is becoming quite a (good) habit for us now, we decided to have a go at drawing a bee in our nature journal.

We later learned from the delightful little book shown below that we have drawn the queen bee, with its curved sting.

As we felt quite hungry after concentrating on our drawings, Tiger went into the kitchen and made a honey cake while we listened to a rather appropriate (even thought it's about bumblebee rather than honeybee) piece of music over and over again.

As wonderful as the piece of music is, I won't recommend doing that (i.e. listening to the same 3-minute piece over and over as we did) because now I can hear the music in my head all the time, as if there were a real bee buzzing around inside!  My propensity to hearing buzzing noise is not helped by us looking at the first 21 days of a bee's life while learning about the composer, Rimsky-Korsakov.

Tiger and I took more than six weeks(!) immersing ourselves in the poetic, meditative yet scientifically acute observational prose of The Life of the Bee, by the end of which we both learned a great deal about the fascinating behaviour of the bee and the intimate life within the hive.  The scientific accuracy of the prose that was written over a hundred years ago is validated by a more current documentary.

I got hold of a beeswax candle making kit for Tiger to have a go at feeling and smelling beeswax while making a few candles with the instructions in the kit.  The candles are incredibly easy to make and, according to Tiger, "very satisfying".

All is good until we started looking more into the current problems of honeybee survival.  It seems that the bees have been in trouble for at least 10 years now, and if the trend continues, the entire food chain is going to be aversely affected.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

From the Devil's Mouth

Very recently, I started the habit of keeping a commonplace book, which is a fancy name of  what is essentially a reading notebook or what Tiger calls a "quote book".   It is a very simple yet effective method to help one slow down and think of or reflect upon what one is reading, or at least that is how it has worked for me so far.  This practice has been used for centuries by numerous people, and all it takes to start is a pen and a notebook.

This week's entry is, at first glance, simply too long to be handwritten out, so I am sharing it here with all who are interested in education and who have been observing how numerous "progressive" educational reforms have turned out.

The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.”  These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised.  This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks.  Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not.  At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time.  Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling.  But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work.  Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem.”  An even more drastic scheme is not possible.  Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma — Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind.  The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.
In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way.  All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows?  And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching.  We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men.  The little vermin themselves will do it for us.
Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education.  But it will.  That is part of the same movement.  Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated.  The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you.  This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators.  If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they.  As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.”
 -- Screwtape Proposes a Toast, C.S. Lewis

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A Preview of Summer

Summer is not here yet but what we have been up to this past week or so is pretty much a preview of what I envisage our summer to be.

Plenty of Outdoor Playtime

When the sun is out (as it had been most of this week), Tiger spends much of his time in the garden, either playing, or doing some gardening work, or swinging on the rope swing that he made by himself.

If he was not in the garden, he could be found patroling the woods, or playing with other children in the hollow of a giant pine tree or in various playgrounds.

Being Physically Active

This year we see a marked improvement in Tiger's physical strength and stamina.  It gives me a lot of joy to see my boy healthy and strong, especially when he had been relatively weak and poorly up till 18 months ago.

A few of Tiger's regular activities (climbing and tennis) will take a break in the summer but others (table tennis, off-road riding, and swimming) will continue all through the summer.

Plenty of "Food for the Soul"

It is no secret that Tiger and I go to Shakespeare's Globe every summer.  To watch at least three Shakespearean play each year is a tradition that has been well established since Tiger watched Macbeth for the first time when he was six years old.  Since we cannot possibly wait until July/August to visit the place again, we have gone ahead to catch the performance of The Merchant of Venice.  We will watch a few more plays before the season ends.

Another venue that we love to go to is the Royal Opera House.  In a similar fashion to watching Shakespearean plays, Tiger started his annual pilgrimage to the Royal Opera House when he was five, to watch the ballet set to Tales of Beatrix Potter.  Compared to the ballet which always involves a lot of graceful movements, operas may not be the cup of tea for everyone.  Nonetheless, Tiger responded very well to his first opera, La Boheme, when we watched it live a few years ago so this year we are getting more exposure to the operas again.

Don Giovanni seems like a good place to start, with its action-packed plot and Mozart's etheral music.  To be honest, every opera I have watched is so full of passion (both in plot and in singing) that any opera will be able to keep a keen audience captivated, as it did us.  With any luck, we might be back for a few more performances before the end of the year!

Plenty of Food for the Tummy

A consequence of hanging out with his mother who is very fond of eating good (i.e. not necessarily expensive but must be interesting) food, Tiger has a well developed appreciation for different types of food.

As a result, Tiger has been very keen to learn to cook at home.  About two months ago, he volunteered to take over the responsibility for cooking our family dinner every Friday, which was welcomed and supported wholeheartedly by Tortoise and I.  I supervised him in the kitchen for the first two weeks, giving him tips on a few basics of cooking and reminding him of safety rules.  Now, he is able to take on the entire process from start to finish: from writing a shopping list for all the ingredients he needs (photo 1) to buying fresh ingredients (photo 2) to the entire cooking process (photos 3 to 5).

Tiger has gone from strength to strength in cooking over the relatively short period of time from when he first started taking over the responsibility for our Friday night dinners two months.  I must say that I am very impressed with his progress and the variety of dishes he is able to make from scratch, all by himself.  Below is a sample of his ever-expanding culinary repertoire:

The fact that he has even managed to cook rice just right (i.e. neither too soggy nor too dry) is very good going.  Then again, one can argue that Tiger has the advantage of having eaten rice all his life so he knows instinctively what a properly cooked pot of rice should look and taste like.

Informal Learning

While I believe that children learn all the time in their own ways, even when the learning doesn't tick any formal curriculum boxes, I want to make a conscious effort to let both Tiger and I have a proper rest over the summer.  However, just because I have saved some money by not signing Tiger up for summer classes, it doesn't mean that he won't learn things informally, just as he has done recently in a series of basic electronics workshops, which is cleverly disguised as toy-making (or toy-destroying, depending on your point of view) sessions.

In the session, the children did not use any textbook or any formal instruction.  All they needed are their enthusiasm to learn (which is plentiful) and an adult who is willing to show them the ropes.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Attending a Victorian Village School

While Tiger has not spent any time in the schools here (or anywhere else, for that matter), we are both very curious about what really goes on in the schools here, especially in the Victorian times, so we jumped at the chance to attend a Victorian school for a day.

The school that we went to is located  at the Stibbington Day Centre, which was a former school in the Victorian days, so the surrounding and atmosphere are all very quaint.  In addition, for a quintessentially Victorian experience, the children were all asked to dress up in Victorian school-children fashion and were given a Victorian identity (based on real students' register held in the school archive) upon arrival that they were to assume for the day.  Thus, Tiger became 12-year-old 'Arthur Liquorish' on that day.

We arrived early so the children had some time to play with the Victorian toys that the workshop leader had very kindly put outside for this purpose.

Suddenly, the headmaster appeared so all the children had to line up in one straight line before they were allowed to enter the school building.

There was more lining up to be done once inside the building.  The children were told to stand in two separate lines: boys on one side, girls on the other, and to arrange themselves in an orderly fashion from the shortest to the tallest.

The fun began once the children were inside the classroom.  Again, boys and girls were seated separately.

So what did Victorian children learn in school on any given day?

They learnt:
  1. spelling (of words such as 'obedient', 'punctual', 'diligent')
  2. currency addition (to know that 20 shillings = £1, and the resulting sums from adding different currency amounts together)
  3. about the British empire
  4. times table
  5. about the royal family
  6. handwriting
  7. simple arithmetic

Having a basic lesson is one thing, but you haven't been in a Victorian classroom if you haven't experienced some of the formidable discipline ushered out by the teacher!

Discipline starts with school rules (photo 1), of course.  If that is not enough, there's always the cane (photo 2) at hand.  Even if you were very obedient, if you can't answer simple questions (the discretion lies with the teacher), you would be made an example in front of the class by being called a dunce (photo 3).  Also, there are ingenious ways to assist children to sit up straight such as placing a wooden board behind their backs and making them hold it in place with their arms (photo 4).  For children who can't sit still, tying their hands behind the chair with a rope (photo 5) can work miracles.

When I was in school, I saw school rules being enforced and the cane being used a few times (on boys only, never on girls), but the methods shown in photos 4 to 6 were new to me.

After a humble school lunch of cheese sandwich which consisted of one slice of bread with one piece of cheese (I'm sure boys at the Victorian public schools had better lunches), the teacher led the children outside to do some physical exercises to 'strengthen their minds and bodies', before the school day ended.

Once the school day was over, everyone could relax and we proceeded to do a study about the surrounding village.

The workshop leader guided us through a one-hour walk in and around the village while explaining to us the changes that had taken place at various significant locations since the Victorian times, and how those changes have impacted the lives of the villagers.

We then stopped at the church, as it was a significant gathering venue in the village (nearly everyone went to church in the Victorian times) and still holds the register of the village.  We listened to a number of stories about people who lived in the village before going out to the churchyard to look for tombs of the families bearing names of the identities that the children were assigned to in the morning.

All the walking around in the village and looking at gravestones were in preparation for some family history work to be done back in the school hall.

Using the information gathered from the tombstones, stories about changes in the village, and register in the church, the children were taught to think about their own family tree as a starting point to investigate family history.

After some discussion, the children were given additional source documents (such as pages of the census conducted in 1891 and 1901, and the school log book) with information pertaining to the families whose children went to Stibbington school in the 1800s from which they learnt to deduce what happened to some of the children, such as there was a year in which the village suffered from the spread of a disease whereby a number of small children from the school died, or that a few children had to leave school at eleven or twelve years old to help earn an income for the family.

This was one of the most fascinating field trips that we have been to because the workshop was so well delivered, with the children being taught what happened to real children in the actual venue of a former Victorian school, using actual source documents.  It is certainly how we like to learn history!

This post is linked up to the Carnival of Homeschooling #472.
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