Way way back in my family tree, a baby got named Archimedes. I know nothing about this great-great uncle except his name -- but that alone confirms for me that I come from a line of people who revere math and science. They design highways and airport terminals and cameras that take photos in 3D. And I don't fit. I'm a word person who feels her way through life. And I married a word person.
Guess what our daughters love?
And math. And not as in two-plus-two. As in the area of a circle equals pi times the radius squared. (They will correct me if I got that wrong.)
Thank goodness they also love words. Our approach to math and science, other than finding splendid teachers in the greater world, has been to read books. We started out years ago with picture books such as Jon Scieszka's amazing Math Curse and Science Verse. And now we're into biographies of great thinkers.
We've had an interesting time with the original Archimedes. It's been slow going through Jeanne Bendick's Archimedes and the Door of Science. Slow not because the narrative is difficult; it's beautifully readable. Slow because we shoot off in tangents.
One morning's experience seems to exemplify what homeschooling means around here. I struggle sometimes to explain fully to friends who are interested in homeschooling just how we go about learning. So, friends, here goes...
We snuggle down to read about Archimedes and astronomy. Almost every paragraph a question comes up... about the tides being pulled by the moon, about the Egyptian pyramids, about the changes in day length from winter to summer. As we talk, we find ourselves reviewing things we learned in space class last year. We recall our trip to see the King Tut exhibit in Philadelphia and refresh our memory about what we discovered there (besides the fact that little kids in a crowded exhibit hall see mostly the wide variation in belt styles). We remind ourselves of what we determined when we plotted our daylight hours for the Mystery Class on Journey North, (which we highly recommend as a great science site where kids can contribute to real science).
We try to keep reading about the astronomers charting the stars, but we get caught up in remembering a night during the Chinese Moon Festival. The girls were three or four. We went out in the canoe on the glassy lake and waited for the moon to come up. Blossom saw a plane only it wasn't a plane; it was Mars. Little as she was then, she still remembers that bright red planet. We all do.
We turn to the book once more, but we can't leave Mars behind. We get out our beloved copy of A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky and brush up on Mars. Then we think we might as well read about the moon again. We love the moon. We talk about how in this country we talk about the man on the moon; in China, there are stories about a jade rabbit and a woman who will live forever because of love. Seemingly off the top of my head, I predict when the moon will be new in February. I get it right. In amazement, Blossom and Fern ask me how I knew, and I tell them because Chinese New Year starts on the new moon. They Google to find a moon chart. We talk about the last full moon. We saw it rise in the winter sky over the Portland skyline. It was like a huge ghost. We talked about how it wasn't actually any larger than when it is high in the sky. If we held our hands over the buildings, it looked like its regular self. But seeing it next to the city just made it seem so extraordinarily huge. It is always huge. Its diameter is 2,160 miles.
Fern announces that she wants to walk on the moon someday. We talk about the men who walked on the moon and what that was like. She worries that her face will get red and puffy. Her science teacher, who trained with NASA, showed his students photos of astronauts training. Their faces apparently always get red and puffy. Fern remembers Sally Ride's face. Fern decides it would be okay to be red and puffy for a little while if it meant she could walk on the moon.
In the days that follow, we find an amazing new book about the Mercury 13 women. It's called Almost Astronauts and was a finalist for the Young Adults Library Services Association award. We learn about how Jerrie Cobb learned to fly a plane when she was 12. Fern declares she wants to become a pilot. She finds out she can fly before she can drive.
Birch builds a cardboard airplane with the girls. He takes them onto the air-traffic control website, where they can hear the control tower guiding planes into land. He promises to dust off his old flight simulator so they can try their hand at the joystick.
I find myself swallowing fears that Fern really means it. I talk to my dear friend who wanted to be an astronaut when she was Fern's age and who went on to be a solo global explorer...as a 19-year-old. I tell her I don't know if I have the right stuff to be an astronaut's mother. I want to keep my daughters under my wing. How can I let them soar? How did her mother let her? She tells me her mother believes that worry attracts what you worry about. You have to believe it will all turn out okay.
Fern, then age 7, on an early flight
Believing it will all turn out okay.... My mind jumps to a YouTube about a man who went every day to a collapsed pile of rubble in Haiti that was once the bank where his wife worked. He called her name. Every time the heavy equipment stopped for a minute, he rushed onto the rubble and called her name. On the sixth day, she answered. She said a drink of water would be a pleasure. She sang when the firefighters pulled her out, sang a song about not fearing death. A reporter asked her if she thought she would live, and after six days in the darkness, alone and in pain, she answered, "Why not?"
Somehow we started with Archimedes, and we moved from the stars and moon to a child's dreams and a mother's fears and at last to the pure wondrousness of the human spirit.
As Fern researches how to take flight, I study on how to let her. But who knows where her imagination and energy will focus. Reading our history book the other day, we were three paragraphs into a chapter about Jamestown when the Virginia Company was introduced. Which led to an explanation of buying shares in a company. Which led to an explanation of the stock market. Which led to some Googling about how small investors can get into the stock market...very small investors. Ones who penny-pinch their egg money and who desperately want a goat.
That's homeschool at our home. Who knows where we're headed exactly...to high finance, to the stars, to something great. In the meantime, we're all learning all the time.