Saturday, April 18, 2009

The fruit on the tree....

It is a cool, overcast morning.  It is 60 degress F, the air is moist and the sky is grey.  It feels colder than 60 degrees, brrrrr.  After we finished our chores my son and I quietly walked out into the world. We try to find all of the new growth around us as if we are on an Easter egg hunt.  We bend, stoop, gently move mulch and dead leaves all the while  calling out "look here", "oh my, this wasn't here yesterday" and "wow".  It is like a song we sing to each other every morning.  It is almost comical how we unconsciously use the same exclamations on every outing.

Can you figure out what wonderful plant is unfurling here?

Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

Narcissus in the herb garden

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, peaking out of the dead leaves. 

The haze in this picture is light reflecting off of the cold frame glass.  We moved this cabbage into the cold frame in early September.  We also planted carrots and lettuce in early September as part of our homeschool work.  We planted late and thought we would just see what would happen.

We made a primitive hoop frame for the cold frames and covered them with plastic that we had found on a roll in the basement.  It was thick and heavy, I don't what its original purpose was but it worked great over the frames.  It was a bit stiff, this year we are going to try double-hinged glass windows over the top of a few of them instead and compare the difference.  Eliot Coleman recommends the plastic tunnel over the cold frame, it makes sense that it completely encapsulates the frame in an envelope of air, but a guy at the Vermont Solar Festival last year got great results with double, opposite hinged panes of glass.  He would open one panel in the day and close them both, overlapping on themselves at night.  We always find and pick up discarded windows at the transfer station (where we take our trash every week - it is like a smorgasbord of great treasures and the perfect place to catch up on all the town news).

The temperature inside of the frames was always about 20 degrees warmer (give or take) than the outside temp.  Snow fell in December and that was the last we saw of our carrots and lettuce.  By January the frames were covered in snow, we couldn't even see them anymore and by late January I stopped scraping the snow off the top of the plastic.

The snow melted away a few weeks ago and we pulled back the plastic tunnel.  There were small, greyish-green carrot tops and very green lettuce.  The picture above was taken about a week after we removed the plastic sometime after the vernal equinox.

Here is a picture of the box about a week ago.  The lettuce gets bigger every day and the carrots in the center of the box that get most of the sunlight are big and green.  I set the frame over a chunk of chives and a few dandelions too.  The chives are up and ready to eat.  Without the plastic the temp stays about 10 degrees warmer than the ambient air around it.  We also found that three of the four cabbage plants I scooped up and stuck in the frame just for the heck of it came back too.  I had heavily mulched that frame because we were nursing our Swiss Chard for as long as we could so the cabbage were nestled in deep straw. I packed straw around the outside of the frame between the wood and the plastic too.  So we may get some early cabbage this year!

We started our nature journal yesterday.  I am using the Ana Botsford Comstock book, Handbook of Nature Study, as my guide.  I have also been inspired by my girlfriend Jenny.  She has turned me on to so many great books, like Edith Holden's journal and Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's Book, and so many more that I could make a list.  I love the beauty of teaching my son from these books.  I love the Burgess books too.  I feel that I yearn for the innocence and magic conveyed by these authors and this time in pedagogical history.  Rudolf Steiner, Beth Sutton - who wrote the Enki curriculum fits that category, Charlotte Mason,  and many, many more.  I studied history, art history and social sciences in college.  I went back to get my teaching credential.  My focus was in special ed when "special ed" was the term they used to describe children with unique learning styles, behavioral issues or learning disabilities.  I had some amazing teachers in my day.  One in particular was Dr. Kent.  I wish I could remember his first name so that I could give him the proper honor he deserves here.  He was an elderly man and started teaching in the public school system way back in the late 1920's.  He had such a different perspective of teaching, more so than any of my other professors at Delaware State College.  His stories were magical.  He had high expectations for us as future teachers and set an amazing example.  He was one of the first African American students to attend his college in Ohio.  His philosophy of being a teacher was very Charlotte Mason/classical ed with a sweetness and compassion for his young students.  He cherished the young mind and believed in play, in music, in art and poetry.  He embraced individuals and honored the quirks and idiosyncrasies of his students.  It has been more than 18 years since I sat in his class and I can say that he was a great teacher.  His style of teaching and the classrooms that he created have all but vanished from the public school landscape and what a shame that is for the millions of students that spend most of their life within those walls.

I read the first section of the Comstock book in preparation for our lesson.  She writes; " Nature study should be so much a part of the child's  thought and interest that it will naturally form a thought core for other subjects quite unconsciously on his is legitimate and excellent training as long as the pupil does not discover that he is correlating...and if later his teacher had asked him to write for her an account of some part of it, because she wished to know what he discovered, the chances are that he would have written his story joyfully and with a certain pride..." (p. 16) and "If questions do not inspire the child to investigate, they are useless.  To grind out answers to questions about any natural object is not nature-study, it is simply 'grind'..." (p.22)  I only quote this because that is exactly what happened in our little room in the middle of the forest yesterday.  We watched the chickens, we looked at the feathers, we talked, I told him about the feathers as if it were my story.  A fire grew in his eyes and he took off.  We had been reading Edith Horton's journal so he had an idea of how he wanted to create his and drew pictures and wrote descriptions and couldn't wait to share his journal with his friends at oration day.  He even said to me, "Look how much I wrote!  I didn't copy it or have to be told and I tried to use all the big words I knew so I would sound like a palaeontologist." 

That is beauty in motion.  That is why I homeschool.  That is the fruit on the tree.  He loves to learn, it is enough, he is doing well, I am a good teacher.  

That is the question I ask myself and agonize over as a homeschool teacher/parent "Am I enough?" and the answer is YES!

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