Friday, January 22, 2010

Walking on the moon

by June

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 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 high finance, to the stars, to something great. In the meantime, we're all learning all the time.


elizabeth ~ so wabi sabi said...

I absolutely loved this post. I loved the story you told about faith and not fearing death and the connections you made through this learning experience...

this is my dream of homelearning too...jude is not quite 4 but we already have some of these forays...they just are not quite as long yet.

Laurie said...

What a lovely post! Isn't learning wonderful? Thank you so much for posting the Youtube link. I don't miss all the garbage, not having television, but then I do miss out on some stories worth hearing about. So thanks for that!

Unknown said...

Sorry, I have a fear of flying despite years of taking trips nationally and internationally, so I can't help you there other than to not comment in such a way as to increase your own fear! But, I can relate to daughters that have abilities outside my own realm of comfort. My oldest is adopted and so is wired in her own unique way. And like your girls , she loves science AND words! We sent her to a private classical school and it was a perfect fit for her. Now she is graduating and I can't believe time has flown so fast! She has dreams that I would never have considered because of my own limitations. It will be interesting to see where God leads her! (I have to be brave, too!).

Sharon said...

I fall in love with Homeschooling each time I read one of your posts... When my Little Man is ready, I'll have these books waiting for him!

Country Girl said...

Sweet post as always. I have always dreamed of homeschooling but my husband has never been on board. So instead I supplement the children in my own way. Maybe some day....

Dawn Suzette said...

This is awesome June! So fun to hear about your days... we go on so many daily journeys too.
Let me know if you find out how to let her take flight... I think I too am going to be in for a bit of an adventure ahead!

farmama sara said...

What an incredibly lovely post June! I love hearing about your homeschool journey! What a good good journey it is! Thanks for the wonderful links here! I wish you all the best with your beautiful girls....may all their dreams come true!
sending love from (snowy) colorado,

tara said...

june, what a lovely post! in recent moments of homeschooling doubts, posts like this make all of the difference. we do soar with our days, don't we? this life we have chosen is indeed magical, and i feel so lucky to have stumbled upon mamas like you here in blogland. take care, stay cozy, keep on!

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

This is such a beautiful memory..for the girls, for you and now youhave shared it with us - and we all are pleased :-)

Your family is amazing and the epitomy of what parents..REAL parents, not only involved in, but committed to their children's edcuatioon and raising competant, strong and beautiful cisizens of our thank you :-)

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

...and obviouisly, MY parents should have taught me spelling...or at least... editing. LOL

Garden Girl said...

This is so fantastic... I am all inspired to read the Archimedes book and do the Mystery Class with my boys.

You write so well, and describe the emotions we all go through so well. What a wonderful Mama you are!

sarah in the woods said...

This was such a wonderful inspiring post. We (or maybe just I) have been in such a homeschooling slump lately. Thanks for all the great links and suggestions and a beautiful picture of learning together.

Heather said...

This post speaks everything that is good and beautiful about homeschooling. Thank you for sharing this picture of your journey of learning with your children. They are beautiful girls!


p.s. in case you wonder who I am and how I got here, I posted on gardenweb, was replied to by tallclover (Tom on Vashon) and clicked through to your blog through his.

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