Sunday, February 22, 2009

homeschooling update

I really meant to give a brief weekly update, but here two weeks have passed and I only have a few minutes. I guess I'll just have to hit the high points.
Highpoint 1: Mount Vernon. That was just the coolest place! I went in expecting to get to tour the home and walk around the grounds and see a few boring exhibits. It was so much better. The tour of the home went quickly - a bit too quickly, I think the guides are used to shuttling people in and out of there quickly, so they really only opened up if they were asked questions. TJ asked about a small play cannon in GW's library - turns out ship captains navigating the Potomac often shot their cannons (or whatever the equivalent was for non-military vessels) as they passed Mt. Vernon out of respect for GW. So he'd take his little cannon and fire back. He also had a key to the Bastille (french prison) given to him by someone (I forgot that part) who respected his role in obtaining the freedom of his people. But the educational experience, that was really cool. They had all kinds of multimedia exhibits - an age regression on the plaster mask GW made when he was alive, so there are a few life size likenesses that show how he looked as a younger man. Then there was the revolutionary battle movie where it actually snowed in the theatre, the playroom for the kids with a Mount Vernon doll house and colonial costumes and an educational resource room for teachers. They counted me as a homeschool mom and loaded me up with lesson plans and activities. So, after you finish with the educational experience, there is this innocuous looking hallway that talks about the history of the preservation of Mount Vernon, which started by a group of women in the 1850's. I think they are called the Mount Vernon Ladies Society or Association, or something like that. A woman from South Carolina figured that if the men could draft the Constitution, the women could save Mt. Vernon. Knowing civil war was iminent, she put together a committee from 12 different states, so most states and many people were represented. Together they raised 200,000 dollars (in 1850!!!!). They purchased the mansion from the Washington family and started the preservation process. So, about 1910, guess who designed and installed the first electric lighting system? Thomas Edison. Seriously! And Henry Ford brought them their first fire truck and made sure fire hydrants were present on the property. The Ford Foundation has been a supporter ever since. Apparently, this was the beginning of efforts to preserve our historic buildings and sites. I guess it's only fitting that we started there.
We had a great time! We'd done enough prep work before hand that the kids were familiar with GW and what was going on at the time, and could use the experience to really expand their understanding. Ok, well Emma thought the coolest part was seeing a pair of his dentures...
For a synthesis project, we talked about the qualities that made GW a good leader, and gave some examples. Then we discussed how the people wanted to honor GW after his death and designed and built a monument for him. The kids designed and built their own monuments (TJ and Emma). Nathan chose another option and made a beautiful drawing of Mt. Vernon.

Week 2: This week's field trip was the Museum of Natural History on the Mall. I attempted to drive there. If you know the area, you know this was mistake number one. all the parking garage attendants waved me off (the LC is too tall). We drove around for an hour until we found a parking spot. That didn't put any of us in the best of humors. But still, it's so exciting to actually be there. We parked in front of the Washington Monument, bought a big pretzel in one of the little snack shops, and the kids chased the pidgeons. The dinosaur fossils were great too. Hit of the trip was the 3-D Imax movie about dinosaurs of patagonia. I think TJ could have wandered around for hours, Nathan, Emma and I were done pretty quickly, though. We did see the hope diamond. Our synthesis project for week two was to draw and name your own dinosaur - describe it's characteristics, habitat, food, etc. TJ really got into it and called my sister because he wanted his dinosaur to have a latin name. We tried several different variations and came up with Oculocalumniacapprofundus Baca Raptor (or false eye thick headed fruit thief). Chewbaca Raptor, for short.

Next week, Air and Space Museum - we may try to actually go up into the Washington Monument as well. We'll see.

A few notes on homeschooling. Some days it works - like Friday. Great day, kids got right to work. But some days are not so great. It's very hard to resist the urge to play, and to realize that home school is not just an excuse to stay home and play. But I think as we go, there will be more good days and fewer not so good days. Already, the kids are taking to music well. I've been teaching Nathan and Emma some basic piano. They love that they are starting to learn some simple songs and like to play them independently. TJ is playing recorder. He has a whole book of recorder songs and hopes to get proficient enough to switch to a fife and play during Tracy's reenactments (Spanish American war era).
Well, time to sign off. will recap next week.