Sunday, September 25, 2011

Back-a-century weekend

One hundred and fourteen years, to be exact. A homeschoolers field trip to the historically recreated Fort Steele was perfectly timed. Less than two weeks after Erin's exciting departure to Montreal, and four days after Noah and Sophie headed out on a week-long all-high-school cross-curricular out-trip, Fiona was presented with the option of joining our regional homeschool group for this weekend trip.

We stayed in the original barracks of the North-West Mounted Police, a huge long single-story cob-chinked building equipped with about four dozen wooden cots with straw tick mattresses. Across the quadrangle was the cook-house where we used this huge wood cook-stove to bake corn bread, cook soup and porridge and brew up cocoa and coffee. Meals were mostly done by families individually but in a very collaborative way. ("Extra pancakes, going fast!" and "Who brought extra salt?" and "Tons of rice pasta. Can anyone use it?") To clean up we hauled water in buckets, heated it on the wood stove and washed our enamels metal spoons, cups and bowls by hand in grand assembly-line style.

At 5 pm each evening the gates were locked and we were left with the village all to ourselves. The curator and a couple of other live-in staff remained overnight but basically it felt like our village. We were free to roam all over it, to open sheds, to check on the animals, to poke around the alleys, the stagecoaches, the cabins. The streets were empty, except for the fifty or so of us. We no longer felt like visitors. Those magical evening hours transported us in a way a daytime visit never would have.

We had evening bonfires. The kids set each other scavenger games. They played tag and cops & robbers. We watched the stars. Listened to trains. Shared each others' stories.

And in the daytimes the kids had workshops, with a variety of knowledgeable and passionate guides who never talked down to anyone and let the kids do lots of hands-on projects. They had a morning of leather-working, an afternoon in the blacksmith's shop shaping nails.  They hand-churned butter, and made jonnycakes using a recipe from Sam Steele's own notebook.

They even brought out the collection of kids' costumes for us at no charge and let the children find breeches and pinafores and bonnets. Fiona found a chambray smock and bonnet to go with her purple hoodie.

They learned to churn butter, and were put to work hand-washing laundry, scrubbing it on a laundry board, cranking it through a wringer and hanging it to dry.
There was cinnamon flavoured ice cream to be churned. (Who knew the ice cream churn would require both a churner and a "sitter"?)
And there was gold to be panned for. Flakes were added to each child's pan and I think they all found their flakes successfully. There is gold found naturally in the creeks to this day, but it's scanty compared to the 1860s. Only two pans had flakes of gold without being "salted" by our prospector-guide.

Fiona really really loves history now. Canadian history was on her learning plan anyway, and this has started the year off with a bang.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mosaic table in process

Fiona and I have been working on the mosaic table top. The other day we put the adhesive mortar on and set the tile on the backer board. In this photo you can see today's progress.

Top left shows the tiles with no grout. Top right shows the first application of grout. This has hardened now (but not cured) so we have been able to clean and buff the tiles to bring out their colour and sheen again. Along the bottom you can see the part we just finished. Here the tiles are still hazy and dirty.

We'll probably need to buy another packet of grout to finish it, but it's coming along nicely and hopefully we'll have it done in a few days.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Student ID

My eldest kids occasionally need student cards to get discounts on admission tickets and public transit, but they're the only two teenagers enrolled in a Distributed Learning Program that has less than two dozen students. What to do? The DL school is certainly not about to hire a service to make student cards for two kids!

I turned to a desktop publishing program, scanned a signature that the DL program's Principal willingly scrawled on the back of an envelope for exactly this purpose when I met her by chance at a local café a couple of weeks ago, and I made my kids student cards. One colour laser copy and two laminating pouches later the cards look as official as any student card I've ever seen. Erin's even includes her residential address in Montreal, her signature and birth date as it seems big-city institutions often want more particulars.

I made Fiona one too, just for fun, so that she has some nifty photo ID to tuck into her wallet.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Noah's path

Erin and Sophie look like the ones making the big moves this year, but Noah is on a new path of his own that represents at least as big a shift.

He stopped computer-gaming. He went through a phase early in the summer of watching movies (dozens of them -- classics from the past five decades or so). And then that tapered off and he started writing. In on-line discussion forums devoted to Big Ideas (and some small ones too). To friends far and wide via immensely verbose chats. And on a blog somewhere in his own private corner of the webiverse.

He matter-of-factly decided, sometime over the course of the summer, that he was ready to go to school part-time. Maybe a course or two. Maybe a bit more. And he'd like some new clothes, a few of them, that actually fit and looked nice. And a haircut, please.

He started practicing his viola. A lot. He was suddenly in love with the entire Schubert Arpgeggione Sonata and the Rapsodie from the Bloch Suite Hébraique. His playing started to really soar.

And so it goes. We're now two weeks into the school year. He's at school a little more than half-time, taking Social Studies (i.e. Canadian History), English, Math and Writing. He seems to be opting for the high school diploma route and is well-situated, being a couple of credits "ahead" based on the work he did through the DL program last year. As a home-based learner he'll also be earning credits this year in Choral Music, Science, Digital Media, PE and possibly also Physics. He's going to be busy with Summit Strings, a number of gigs with the Symphony of the Kootenays, and of course the Corazón Vocal Ensemble.

And the travel! He's not only willing, but almost enthusiastic about travelling away from home and family. September includes a week-long cross-curricular out-trip through the BC interior and Alberta. October is a three-day trip to Banff for WordFest with his writing class. November he'll be off to Edmonton for a Youth Choir Festival. March will likely see him travelling to Montreal to visit Erin. At the end of April he'll be going to Cuba with Corazón for ten days of performing, workshopping and touring about.

He seems really happy and energized. I'm so happy for him!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mix-and-match schooling logistics

Okay, I know it's not going to continue to be this challenging, but can I just complain for a moment about the organizational challenges of having all these kids doing all these extremely different but fairly rigorously scheduled things?

My Yesterday
7:15 up and make lunches
7:45 awaken Sophie, make and drink my coffee
8:30 run Sophie to school
8:55 dash home to awaken Noah and Fiona
9:40 run Noah to school
10:00 - 11:00 Fiona's violin lesson
11:40 pick Noah up from school
12:00 make lunch, talk to Erin on the phone
12:30 homeschooling time with Fiona
1:45 drive to school with Noah and Fiona to pick up Sophie and two other teens
2:00 - 3:30 drive to Nelson for choir rehearsal
3:45-5:30 grocery shopping and many other errands
5:45 pick up six choir members for ride home
6:00 ensure choir members have munchies for ride home
6:15-7:45 drive home, dropping choir members off on the way
8:00-8:30 help Erin trouble-shoot various logistical issues on the phone from Montreal
8:30-9:00 supper
9:00-9:45 bedtime readaloud
9:45-10:30 computer / email time
10:30 bedtime

Today (Wednesday) isn't quite as bad, but included two sessions of coaching / teaching group violin classes, some private violin lesson teaching, all the to-and-from-school driving mentioned above, and additional time helping Erin with chemistry equations over the phone.

I'm just not used to it. I suppose it will get easier. But gosh, now I understand. For years I've heard homeschooling moms complain about the time constraints and hassles of having kids both within and out of school. Yes, I get it.

Mosaic tile table

We have a serious lack of deck furniture. We're getting by with fifteen-year-old resin chairs that were intended as a short-term solution when we bought them. When we completed our lovely new deck and couple of years ago the aesthetic mismatch became almost nauseating. We've had our eyes out for a suitable set for a couple of years now, but just haven't found it at the right moment, for the right price, when we're in the right big city with a vehicle (i.e. Chuck's truck) that could haul the stuff over whatever mountain passes would be required to get it home.

A month ago Chuck had some cedar left over from re-roofing the little cabin and threw together a basic but surprisingly attractive bench. So I figured maybe the answer after all these years is just to make stuff ourselves.

With that possibility in mind, I perked right up when I saw a lovely mosaic table in someone's living room last month. I procured some photos, had Chuck make up an octagonal coffee table and last weekend after dispatching Erin headed to the Universal Slate warehouse in Calgary for some stone tile.

Sophie, Fiona and I did a preliminary layout of tiles and stones and found objects one afternoon. The actual tile-setting and grouting will have to wait another few days, but I think it's going to look pretty great. Stay tuned for more photos.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fiona's Learning Plan 2011-2012

She's my only full-time homeschooler this year, and gosh, is she every loving that! She would also love to attend school in the flexible part-time way that Erin did for three years, and that Noah is doing this year, but that's not going to work easily until Grade 10, when teaching becomes subject-oriented rather than cross-curricular and part-time enrolment is officially allowed. She recognizes that elementary school is not going to be a good fit for her, and so she is happy to continue homeschooling. And she is really enjoying the prospect of getting more of my time and energy this year.

For those readers who are not familiar with our planning process, please do not be intimidated or confused by the organized, schoolish, subject-by-subject nature of this plan as written. What actually happens is that we go out for lunch and I ask Fiona to talk about how she would like to prioritize energy, time and money this year to support her learning. I listen to and jot down whatever she says. Whatever she says. If she runs out of things to talk about I might remind her of goals or ambitions she's expressed in the recent past, and activities and areas of learning that she has enjoyed and/or deemed important in the past. I jot down everything she comes up with, and then we briefly talk about various ways to facilitate those things and how they might be implemented, and what kind of resources and support she wants, if any.

This particular kid likes organized, sequential, school-like resources and loves to be busy with things that are tangibly about learning. It hasn't always been that way, and her siblings certainly haven't always chosen such routes. But in her case, at this age, she really likes curriculum materials! She was using only a math program 8 months ago, but last spring added a science program and is now keen to add programs for history and geography. On the surface the plan that follows sure doesn't look like it's for an unschooler, but it is: the choice to adopt structured materials is all hers.

After our preliminary meeting I go through all my notes and organize things in a subject-oriented way that makes sense to our supervising teachers and makes it easy to document. I do some research, often with her help, into the particular way we might realize her goals, and we revise the plan as appropriate. Eventually we take this draft in to our DL program teachers and explain it, asking them to order the resources we'd like to procure (within the learning allowance budget we're allocated) and talking about how we'll document what she's doing. This latter issue is easy Fiona's case: she loves creating projects and worksheets and bringing them in to show off to her DL teacher, and she is also happy to talk about the things that have been interesting to her recently. Compared to my reserved elder children she is a dream as a DL student.

Here is our first draft of her Learning Plan for this year:


Will continue with Challenge Math, alternating with  Singapore 6A/6B as desired. Consider Singapore New Syllabus Math (workbook-based!) if 6B is completed this year.


Really enjoyed the level 6 school science textbook she used last spring. Would like to continue this program and will order BC Science 7 textbook and workbook. Wants to do more astronomy. Resources: "365 Starry Nights" by Chet Raymo, Starwalk for iPad, "Nightwatch" by Terence Dickinson, Chuck's Dobsonian telescope. May explore RealScience4Kids Chemistry Level 1. Would enjoy hands-on chemistry like soap-making, bath bombs. Will continue to explore kitchen science with Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking."

Social Studies

Donna Ward workbooks: "Courage and Conquest," "Canadian Geography, Province by Province." Visit to Montreal in November. Three-day field trip / camp at Fort Steele historical site with various workshops: end of September. DVD series: "Canada: A People's History." "The Story of Canada" and "The Kids History of Canada" reference texts.


Sufferfest Kids' Race. Hiking, kayaking, geocaching. School downhill ski program (February) and recreational skiing. Community soccer. Would like swim classes but barring that would go for a few private lessons if possible, plus recreational swimming. Goal of swimming to Bigelow Bay dock on her own (note: already accomplished!). Meal planning -- will help making siblings' school lunches, occasional preparation on her own of a complete family dinner.


Continue work on cursive, signature, etc.. Reading... Novels, Muse magazine. Would like to participate in the school's Arts and Writers festival again this year. Will continue blogging, particularly by contributing to a school district wordpress blog which will comprise our homeschooling documentation for the year.

Critical Thinking

Would like to read and discuss "Nibbling on Einstein's Brain" and " The Philosophy Files."

Second Language

Possibly interested in French... Has access to Rosetta Stone. May be able to use / learn some French phrases during Montreal visit. Some continuing interest in Japanese.


Will continue with violin lessons and group classes. Would love the opportunity to participate in a string quartet or chamber music if possible. Will be part of the Community ABC Homeschoolers' Art Project if it happens. Would love more drama experience -- depending on availability in the community. Wants to take pottery classes once they start in October or November. Will continue to explore fibre crafts. Would like to learn to use the sewing machine.

Erin's move

Well, there she is. In Montréal.

We delivered her to the airport in Calgary two days ago. She arrived safe and sound at the rambling old empty house belonging to a friend of a friend, where she is renting part of the upper floor as an apartment. She arrived with her violin, the backpack containing her laptop and various arm's-reach essentials, and two huge suitcases containing her chemistry textbooks and as many of her worldly possessions as would fit within the 50+50 lb. weight allowance.

My brother, who lives within easy distance of Montreal, suitable for a quick overnight visit via train, was able to take a bag of winter bedding and clothing with him when he left after the reunion, so she has some more accoutrements available to her there. And the house is furnished, thankfully.
In the past couple of days she's managed to figure out the ancient gas oven downstairs well enough to successfully bake cookies, has bought herself a printer for her laptop, has made several trips downtown for groceries and kitchenware, contacted her teacher, cooked for herself and got in touch with her landlord to deal with some small issues pertaining to appliances and utilities. She's found a grocery store that delivers, and is going to head out bike-shopping in the next couple of days.

All in all, it seems to have gone smoothly so far.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

End of the season

Tomorrow will be the girls' last market. School and travel and fall activities begin next week and will conflict with marketeering. Fiona managed to package up all but these little bits of tea for tomorrow and hopes to sell off almost all of her stock -- though I'm sure we will manage to enjoy whatever is left over!

She and I had been experimenting with dried peaches and walnuts for a while and this week we finally hit on a blend that we all really like:

Okanagan Orchard Tea

4 parts white peony tea leaves
2 parts crushed dried peach slices
2 parts toasted walnut pieces
1 part crushed cinnamon sticks

It's a warming tea that reminds you of summer while taking the edge off chilly mornings or evenings. It will be the grand finale tea for the end of the her very successful summer as an entrepreneur.