Monday, March 28, 2011

Learning and Games: Borderline

For Christmas, a friend gave us "Borderline: Africa Edition," a geography card game similar to crazy eights.  I'd love to collect the various versions of these games, because Borderline: Africa is turning out to be a fun way to learn the geography of the continent I've always been least sure of.  The game is simple: you play cards that border the card most recently laid down.  N. likes it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Making a Cold Frame

 N. and I recently made a cold frame for growing seedlings out of old windows that I bought at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $25 total. N. did a lot of the work himself using a manual drill and screwdriver.  Since Tim and I have almost no carpentry-type skills, I was quite proud of N. and myself for putting this together!

We filled the finished structure with little newspaper pots and so far have planted two types of basil and sunflowers.  Grow, little seeds!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Field Trip to NYC

Fortunately, my university's spring break just happened to coincide with that of our homeschool, so we took a three-day trip last week to New York City to see the buildings and landmarks that N. loves. It was his first visit to the city, so N. determined the itinerary. 

We took an Amtrak train from Union Station in Washington D.C. to Penn Station; N. loved this trip though he couldn't stop lamenting the long-ago destruction of the old Penn Station! Immediately upon arrival, we went up to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. Then we saw the Chrysler Building, the Chanin Building, Grand Central Station, and the New York Public Library. N. loved taking the 7 train between Grand Central and Sunnyside, Queens, where we were staying.

The second day we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and back, saw the new Frank Gehry apartment tower going up nearby, the Woolworth Building, the old 1802 City Hall, St. Paul's Chapel, happened on the Canal Street Post Office, saw Carnegie Hall, visited the Steinway store across the street (where N. played a $100,000 piano built in 1891), played in Central Park, and visited the Natural History Museum.

The third day we went to the NYPL again and went inside this time, played a bit in Central Park again, then spent a long time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We saw the Guggenheim (only the outside and the central atrium) and then walked all the way back to Penn Station from there along Madison and later 5th Ave., stopping to see the The Plaza Hotel, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Rockefeller Center before catching our Amtrak back to D.C.
 N. enjoyed his introduction to New York. Of course there are a zillion more things I wish we could have done that he would have loved, including the transportation museum in Brooklyn, the Steinway factory in Queens, the Frick, the Pierpont Morgan Library... etc., not to mention plays or concerts for the grown-ups!   But N. saw everything he hoped to see on this visit, and he was satisfied. We plan to go again in the future. He loved the train and subway, all the trucks and taxis on the streets and all the people on the sidewalks. He was happy to see his favorite buildings and it was really fun to see the city through his eyes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Uncle Tungsten

Tim and N. have finished their epic journey through all five omnibus collections of James Herriot stories and although N. really wanted to begin them all over again (that honor is apparently reserved for me!), Tim has been reading N. Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks's memoir of his boyhood.  The book serves as history, science, biography, as well as a model of unschooling in our curriculum as Sacks describes being sent from London at age 6 to a country boarding school during the Blitz and his subsequent passion for chemistry, developed upon his return home.

Sacks' time at school during the war was absolutely horrifying (the boys were cruelly beaten by a sadistic headmaster) but in the remaining narrative we see Oliver given free rein at home as he performs dangerous chemistry experiments in his makeshift home lab.  N. is learning a ton about the chemistry from this book; he made a chart of some elements and their atomic numbers after one day's reading, for example.  He's also seeing Sacks as a model of interest-led learning; Sacks drew on the knowledge and resources of his intellectually distinguished family just as today's homeschoolers make use of (and often outstrip!) friends' and family members' expertise.  N. is learning about the history of science from this book as Sacks details his childhood interest in the lives and work of Mendeleev and Humphry Davy.

This kind of well-written, intellectually rich memoir seems like an ideal way to learn a range of interconnected subjects.  I hope we can find others like this.  Any suggestions?

New York Times Review here.