Mojave in my Heart

From a not-so childlike beginning in New York City to my child inspired world here and now


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Fall Digest – 2nd Grade

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Our Language Arts blocks in October and November were carried primarily by Native American stories of the Plains Indians, the Lakota. I’ve really struggled with the math blocks being carried by stories this year– although we had success with them in 1st grade. It has felt like a lot of extra work for me (to learn and tell a story and build into it math concepts, manipulatives, and practice) without a lot of gain for the girls.  My girls seem to thrive on the stories so throughly in language arts that it was an OK and natural step to remove it from our math lessons and hone in on math practice– on paper, through movement and song, through anecdotal stories, with objects and in real life (like sewing, baking, knitting).  Now we do math every lesson day and still a lot of active math in our circle time (times tables, word problems, math facts). Second grade math seems to be about introducing new concepts and doing a lot of practice. There are so many new concepts in this grade that I wanted to focus on us being really comfortable with practice. In fact,  when I started to reflect on my own childhood math experiences it seemed that there was never enough time to finish the practice work! I want A&A to have plenty of time with problems and to build their confidence with uncrushed learning!

For the time being it seems we have struck a nice balance with these two big subjects — when heavy on the language arts we might scale back on new concepts in math and conversely when we need more math time, I’m taking on lighter stories for LA and spelling and writing practice. What’s so incredibly beautiful and practical about the approach we have taken at home is I integrate arts, history, geography, science, seasonal projects and music into  language arts and math. Maybe it is a mapping project from a novel we have read or props for a play, sewing bean bags for active math or studying the stars when our main lesson story centered on Ursa Major, the Big Dipper.

What stories should we do? In the 2nd grade, suggestions revolve around animal fables, trickster legends and saint stories. We started with some Aesop in September and I felt they were too thin — not enough heft to work with– both in narrative and spin-off ideas. It was a light way to begin, but when that well dried, I decided to go with material  I knew, what the girls loved and what resources I had accessible. It took a long time to arrive at that conclusion! I turned to well known illustrator and re-teller of Native American stories, Paul Goble. I took books out of the library that appealed to me and learned them– in order to tell them to the girls for their lessons. I chose legends which explained natural phenomena to the Lakota’s own trickster character, Iktomi.

Iktomi and the Berries was a great story and without planning, the story dovetailed nicely into the late fall season of berries here in the foothills. Iktomi hungry and tired, notices berries in the lake– not realizing that these berries are the reflection of berries from a tree branch overhead.  After trial and error, comical and outlandish, Ikto finally sees that they are on the tree. He gets out of the lake, angry and frustrated and beats the tree! All the berries fall and scatter downstream where the ducks take great delight in the unexpected feast. There’s a final line that says this is the traditional way to harvest berries — to shake or hit the branches and collect the berries on a blanket below. Iktomi actually came up with the idea! Hawthorn and chokeberries  were ripe and around; while we didn’t harvest these berries, we did notice them a-plenty and admired Iktomi’s approach to harvesting– picking one by one would be tedious.  The drawings from this story were incredible and yet so simple. We worked on a lot of words from the story for our reading and spelling practice, too. The girls re-tell the stories after I have told them and they just LOVED acting out the Iktomi stories. So playful and silly– the humor and pitfalls so clear and humors to their hearts and minds. I’m reminded of how important it is to surround our children with age-appropriate content because they absorb it and live it. Oh and we made elderberry syrup to boost our immunity for the season ahead.

With respect to math, we loosely follow Singapore Math. There’s a lot of hesitation in taking on a standard math approach in alternative circles of education — perhaps prematurely so…There’s so much to the delivery and pacing of material– not making it a death march is the freedom we have in homeschooling, but also empowering our children with the skills they need to succeed in the years to come is our (my) responsibility.  Just because one takes on a standard curriculum does not mean one is “doing school at home.” How could that be? I have two children, not 32, creativity, hands on time, and freedom.  It is great that they get the basics through this curriculum and all the fun we make of it!

This fall we had a great time: visiting the Haven, hiking new and old trails, celebrating Stephen’s birthday! Baking sourdough bread, pizza Fridays!  Canning our garden’s harvest, singing in a choir, biking around town instead of driving! We tossed up previous year’s Halloween traditions and had one of our best ever nights–trick or treating in our neighborhood. Celebrating All Soul’s, an important anchor in our end of fall traditions was special as we added layers of my Irish family and attempted a family tree…We shared a beautiful St. Martin’s celebration with our German school, too.  In our family fall rounds out with another trip around the sun– twin birthdays– the girls turned 8. I’m so grateful that with each year they grow, our connections grows. They are my best teachers.

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st. michael’s

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St. Michael’s or Michaelmas is a special celebration in our home and has been for many years. I appreciate the opportunity to pause and look inward as we turn away from the wide-open summer into the inward season of fall. The festival carries with it themes of bravery, good acts and reflection. We began preparing for Michaelmas two weeks ago with a story about a small town long ago terrorized by a dragon and the simple, but very brave individual who took down the dragon. What dragons are we taking on this season? What are we afraid of? The girls are nearly 8 now  and so the challenges they face are more tangible than in years past. For example, both of the girls have been taking on the challenge (and fear) of various climbing structures and monkey bars at the playground.  We have made it a priority to try out different playgrounds each day and to take on the higher monkey bars, the curving ones, the rocks walls, the climbing ropes, jumping form high structures and to do it again and again and watch our fears slowly disappear.

After I told the story of the dragon and we did some other reading, we created some beautiful dragon drawings with new techniques. We’ve tried to focus less on outlining but starting with the whole form- aiming to capture the feel and size not its exactness. I integrated a lot of form work into this story, too. We worked on “mountain” forms, “gate” forms, and a “stream” form. We collected and dried marigold and calendula petals to make our healing salve or courage salve (beeswax, oil and the extraction from these petals). We also cooked up a few batches of elderberry syrup ( to keep us strong and healthy in the winter months ahead). These are special fall traditions for us and I like to focus these activities in the weeks leading up to St. Michael’s. The following days we made up a puppet show from our dragon story and performed it many, many times, learned two St. Michael poems and continued our main lessons in language arts. We also finished a really fun novel called The Doll People by Ann Martin and started The Dragon Boy by Donald Samson.

(Arlene’s drawing on top, Ada’s below).

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This week I continued our language arts main lesson with a trickster tale from the Lakota about Iktomi. The girls love these stories and the trickster element appeals to them through humor, silliness and a message in there questioning right and wrong.  In addition to reading and phonics work, the girls did beautiful drawings of Iktomi and worked on beeswax modeling of the main characters in the story. They had a lot of fun reenacting the story, too. Rather than question and answer in our approach to comprehension, we re-tell, act out and create props or models from the stories. I kept extra time for festival prep and handwork this week too, although one of our projects was a bit of a bust (sewing felted dragons). We do a lot of active and mental math in circle time during these LA main lessons and I’m really proud of how well they are doing with their times tables and basic math facts. I think it is still very important to keep things hands on, too. We worked out lots of problems with the apples we’ve collected on walks. Sautéing them in butter afterward  is an enjoyable treat!

Something new we added this year was making a balance. We created a balance from a piece of wood and some rocks. We talked  little about good and bad deeds and what sort of day we wished to have. One equal of good and bad deeds or a day heavy in good or bad deeds? They loved this talk and the subsequent finding of rocks and making of each of their balances. Coincidentally (and I love when things like this happen), I had a book ready for Friday called Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor that fit ever so-perfectly into this activity. She is one of my favorite authors and I’m truly over the moon that the girls appreciate her books, too. I don’t think she is for everyone! Not a lot of flash here– simple, resonating messages about simplicity and happiness and life. In it she gives rules about how to find one’s perfect rock. It is a personal matter and requires all of YOU to find that right rock. You feel, touch, look, smell, hold…think…

Throughout the day we talked about taking responsibility and doing the right thing–even when it is hard to do or when others are not doing it, but that we try to listen very hard to the spirit inside of us, leading us to our truth.

We baked our dragon bread and made a hearty soup for dinner. A & A recited our poems and then ate together by candlelight.

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Happy cleans up from dinner every night.


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second grade

dsc02145I, like many other homeschoolers I know, struggled to pin down homeschooling plans. Anthroposophy and Waldorf education have largely directed us these years — as well as our own spontaneous spirits.  I appreciate the creative emphasis in Waldorf education tremendously and what I’m learning right now is that there is room for my own creativity–especially since I do not follow a set curriculum. As I grapple with the stories for second grade (in Waldorf education typically Fables, Trickster Tales, and Saints), I keep finding myself drawn to Native American stories and ideas. One area I’m having a lot of fun planning  “out of the box” is in form drawing. What is form drawing? Form drawing is unique to Waldorf education.  According to a little summary from Steiner College: It helps improve eye-hand coordination, supports thinking in a non-intellectual way, aids in being more “flexible” as one learns the form in their body and then on paper.  The first year was mostly straight and curved lines, some running forms. This year we continue with running forms and mirror. So think Celtic art and symbols– interlocking lines and loops–that’s where we might head one day. So I’m looking at some of our favorite storybooks and pulling from them, illustrations, “forms” that we can practice. In Byrd Baylor’s Everybody Needs a Rock, there’s a simple drawing repeated throughout the book of a boulder that I’m using. Ultimately it is shaped by 6-7 arches that we will practice as part of our form drawing.

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(painting and my verse writing from age 2.5)

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I decided to start out early and slow in August– with the hope of being able to correct or alter our path since I was faced with so many questions and doubts. Rather than one traditional block per time period (as is practiced in Waldorf education), I began our main lessons with two blocks, 3 days a week (Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday), a nature/hike day (Thursday) and a history morning followed by *circus class and our lovely homeschool playtime (Friday).  It was an intense start because my children enjoy immersing themselves DEEPLY in material, translation: it takes hours to get through material and so our days were very long and intense. Too long, in fact. Nonetheless this is what we did our first few weeks:

*Circus: How can I express my gratitude?  I have been longing for a homeschool group that fit our academic, parental-child, and emotional world and somehow, some way, by divine intervention, I have found myself in the making of a wonderful homeschool group. The kids are participating in a circus class, followed by free play at  nearby park. Last Sunday we inaugurated the year with a family potluck and a start of school/being together ceremony.

Circle: We have a lot of fun during circle! I know for a lot of my friends, circle has not been very easy. I think like anything else, you (the adult) have to be into it and open to what groove works for you as a group–however small a group that is. We play games sing songs, and recite verses. We played a lot these first few weeks! I thought:  how long are we going to lead each other around blindfolded or mirror each other’s movements as a fun game? Are they going to want to pile all of our couch cushions into a mountain so we can roll down? Or be kneaded like bread on baking day?  I decided to really be patient and provide time and space for this year’s circle time. We act like animals, recite poems, jump into yoga poses, and skip around the house. It takes time to connect and this is a  gem in our day.

Math: Review of Arabic and Roman numerals with a challenge.  I told a sweet container story about seashells from the beach which would guide our math block for the following weeks. In a creative, narrative form, I spun a tale of how seashells are made and a brief summary of their life cycle. I then re-introduced the math gnomes from last year (plus, minus, divide and multiply) as we pulled out our beach towels and bartered shells, shark teeth and special beach gems– all the while having to utilize our skills in math! They absolutely LOVED this. It was hands on, stimulating, engaging and super fun!  In subsequent weeks I introduced even/odd, counting in groups, number bonds all with an active and written component. Some days we played games with a mathematical component after our active math. Favorites: cards, mancala, and backgammon.

Language Arts: Aesops’ Fables are on tap right now. The girls get comfortable on the couch and beam at the start of story.  Storytelling is done in my own words, by candlelight.  I emphasize certain sounds which we then practice afterward by way of phonics.   Over the following days the girls re-tell the story together, often with pros we make as part of our lesson.  We follow it up with drawings and summarizing sentences in our lesson books. Learning is meaningful and creative, not rote and laborious.

Nature/Hiking: Thursdays we hike and embrace a monthly theme. August: peaches, mushrooms and crickets. September: ladybugs, fiery sumac, and the changing Aspen leaves all around the Rocky Mountains.

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History: Our history morning was the product of some serious deliberation. We started with a timeline of our own lives in hopes of beginning to understand before and after. We also outlined the continents and made our first world map. Since history is my strength, I narrated my own story about human evolution and the start of civilization in Mesopotamia.  I wanted to provide some historical foundation this year and I’m doing it by way of an ancient bird named Pee-Wee and her adventures experienced through the millennia. I hope to make our history mornings hands-on and full of stories. Epic of Gilgamesh was really a hit! A real surprise, but nonetheless a success.

Arts: one aspect of Waldorf education that I especially appreciate is how it is interdisciplinary and infused with art. We move and dance to learn through our body, we model with clay and beeswax, paint and draw, act out our learning through drama and sing often.

We’re also doing piano lessons twice weekly with Stephen and weekly German language classes. Both going very well.

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