Sunday, September 30, 2012

Electricity from Lemons

According to my phone I took this photo at 7:38 a.m.
Last week, N. and Tim did that lemon-battery thing that the internet tells me every homeschooler in America does at least once.  And it worked!  They used a kit similar to this one that friends had passed down to us (unused!).  Earlier in the summer, N. had tried this unsuccessfully, at a science summer camp, no less, so we were all quite pleased that it worked this time.  And N. actually explained to me how it worked when I got home from work to marvel at it.  He now knows more about electricity than I do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Field Trip: Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Our guide pointed out how Wright structurally framed this lovely view.
Shortly after I wrote about our summer visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's gas station, we piled in the car for our second road trip of the season between North Carolina and Minnesota.  We broke our two-day trip in Spring Green, Wisconsin so we could visit Taliesin, an estate that Frank Lloyd Wright created over many years on land owned by his extended family.  We knew we would not be able to tour the main house Wright designed at Taliesin because children under 12 are not allowed (N. was deeply offended by this.  He loves house tours and hated the thought of having to wait four years for this one).  But we spent a beautiful windy morning touring the Hillside School and Theater that Wright built for his aunts who ran an innovative experiential boarding school in the late nineteenth century and gave Wright his first architectural commissions.  As we toured this well-worn building that later became the locus of his own apprenticeship-model teaching, Wright's mode of work felt tangible.  The Hillside School buildings have a handmade, DIY-feeling to them that made Wright seem very immediate to us, as if he had only recently cantilevered this beam or replaced those windows.  The fact that the Hillside complex is still in use as an architecture school enhanced our feeling that it was more living structure than museum.

 Today architecture apprentices and fellows continue to work, as they have since the 1950s, in a large studio where the words of Emerson carved in wood across the front of the room reinforce Wright's philosophy: "What a man does, that he has" (Spiritual Laws).  I was struck by the long heritage of experiential learning centered in the Hillside buildings from Wright's aunts' school to his first youthful experiments with architecture on their property to the apprenticeship learning model that still governs the Taliesin Fellowship.  You learn by doing, and what you do is yours.

Bonus reading: Tim and N. read Wright's Autobiography last year. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Architecture in Children's Fiction

My 8-year-old son loves buildings, especially if they are old.  This passion drew my attention to the prominence of interesting buildings in much of the children's fiction we've read together, and I started to keep this odd list.  In these books at least one building plays a  significant role in the plot:
  • Iggy Peck, Architect  by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
  • Eloise [The Plaza!]
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder [maybe all the Little House books, now that I think about it]
  • Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright
  • The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
  • Betsy-Tacy; Betsy, Tacy, & Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace [Tib's chocolate-colored house]
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald [Mrs. P-W's upside-down house]
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren [Pippi's crazy house]
  • The Boxcar Children (#1) by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • The Giraffe, The Pelly, and Me by Roald Dahl
  • The Five Little Peppers by Margaret Sidney [the Little Brown House!]
  • Magic or Not, by Edward Eager
  • The Borrowers by Mary Norton
  • The Thyme Garden by Edward Eager
  • The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  • The House of Arden by E. Nesbit
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznik [Museum of Natural History]
What are some other examples of children's fiction in which the plot revolves in some way around a building?

[I'm linking to The Children's Bookshelf]

Monday, September 24, 2012

Another Historically Significant Gas Station

After visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's gas station in Cloquet, MN earlier this summer, N. suggested we check out an unusual gas station closer to home: the Shell Service Station, which was built around 1930 by Frank L. Blume & Co. to draw attention to the Shell Company.  There were once 8 of these stations in our city; this is the only one remaining.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was recently restored.  The structure is a bent-wood frame covered with hand-sculpted concrete (N. was surprised that the frame wasn't made of metal).

Here's a "lesson plan" from the National Park Service on Roadside Attractions that starts with this station and includes some other odd American novelty buildings.  I read somewhere that this was the first gas station to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but I don't know if that's accurate.

I'm adding Gas Stations to my ever-growing List of Things I Never Thought I'd Be Interested in Before I Had A Son and Started Homeschooling!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Drawing Update, 2012

It's been more than a year since I posted any pictures of N.'s drawings, but he continues to draw nearly every day.  Whenever we go somewhere, he brings his drawing bag and sketchbook; it's his favorite way of amusing himself when the adult conversation gets tedious or the restaurant food takes too long to arrive.  He almost exclusively draws the trains and buildings of his elaborate imaginary world, and his drawings have become very detailed and miniscule.  He enjoyed taking several art classes over the past two years where he got to explore other media, but he didn't get any instruction in the two aspects of drawing in which he most wants to improve: perspective and the human figure.  I'm in the process of arranging a few private drawing lessons to this end. 

From the beginning, one of the reasons we didn't send N. to conventional school was to preserve for him the daily time to draw that was clearly so important to him.  I'm sure somehow he'd find time to draw if he weren't homeschooled, but I'm glad that this activity that matters so much to him gets pride of place in his day.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How To Raise a Music-Lover

N. playing around on the piano at age 4 1/2
A musically inclined friend with a 5-year-old recently wrote to ask what sorts of things we did to expose N. to music at that age.  For us, it was easy to raise a music-lover because we really love music and it's been so much fun to share that with our son.

Here's what I told him at (great!) length about how this unfolds in our family:

First, we listen to a LOT of music at home and talk about it, especially during meals, not really didactically but just because we like music.  We listen to a wide range of stuff (although not really any current pop) from medieval through 20th-c.classical to jazz to traditional/folk/old-time to musicals and Hollywood themesongs to 50s classics.  Being home all day means lots of music-listening time!  N. goes through phases of obsessing about particular songs or CDs and we go with that till he moves on, however tired of the CD we may be (for a long time when he was 2 he was obsessedwith track 11 on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack: "In theHighways, In the Hedges.").  We prefer older kid-type music to contemporary more treacly artists; our favorites are Sam Hinton ("Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts" on SmithsonianFolkways), Pete Seeger, Ella Jenkins (she is so good!).  One contemporary album we like is Elizabeth Mitchell's "You are My Little Bird." In the past year we've started listening to the weekly Piano Puzzler on public radio, which is a great way to build your musical knowledge about composers' styles and popular American song history.  Listening to music is a big part of our daily life, so it would have been hard not to expose N. to that.

Second, Tim and I love going to concerts and I wanted to share this with N., so I started taking him from an early age to the second half of afternoon symphony concerts or other daytime concerts (if you go to the second half only, you usually don't have to pay, which made me feel OK about leaving whenever N. needed to because I hadn't just spent a bunch on tickets).  I would sit in the back with him to minimize disruption to others and bring something quiet for him to hold, such as a small stuffed animal. Gradually he got comfortable sitting for longer portions of the concerts.  I found that adult concerts are better suited than special children's concerts to developing a child's appreciation for concert-going because children's concerts are often a total zoo with so many kids in one place.  When N. was 4 he wanted to start going to the symphony with us regularly, so we got season tickets for the Sunday afternoon concert.  That first year he often fell asleep during the 2nd half of the concert but he still enjoyed going.  This year we're switching to the weeknight subscription because he's old enough to stay up for it.  Sometimes we talk about or listen to what's going to be on the program in advance, but not too often.  It's fun for him experience the music live first.  (I wrote at length about the process of taking N. to the symphony here.).  During his second-grade year N. went (voluntarily!) to six symphony concerts, six or seven chamber music concerts, a Richard Goode piano recital, his first opera (The Merry Wives of Windsor), a bluegrass festival, a cowboy music concert, and a concert of Hoagy Carmichael hits.  There are probably more I am forgetting.  As I said, we love going to music performances.

Third, making music. We sing around the house a lot and I play around a little on the banjo and cello, so N. has heard and joined in our music-making.  In addition to the kiddie music-makers we all accumulate (so many maracas!), we bought a piano when N. was 1 year old and encouraged him to play around on it as much as he wanted to, which was a lot.  It's great to have that experience of just playing with an instrument for awhile before beginning formal lessons, especially an accessible instrument like a piano.  We never took him to any of the "kindermusik"-type of general music classes for kids because N. didn't like participating in groups when he was younger.  We wanted to begin piano lessons when N.was 4 but one trial lesson revealed the teacher we'd chosen to be an authoritarian jerk, so we didn't continue (and 4 was probably too young).   We found his current teacher when he was 6 (he's 8 now) and she is absolutely wonderful.  I wrote about the beginning of N.'s piano lessons here, and have written about his wonderful teacher here, here, here, and here.  He's had some fun opportunities to play with and for other people and I'm glad he's had the chance to experience the joy of sharing music with others. 

It's possible that N. would have loved music even if we were uninterested in it, just as it's possible he could have hated music despite (or even because of) our passion for it.  But as it happens, he loves music and loves sharing it with us as much as we love sharing it with him.  N.'s inherent attraction to music has been developed by our family's saturation in it.  Spending so much time together as a homeschooling family inevitably does, our passions rub off on each other.