Saturday, May 22, 2010

Productivity and...Polyphemus?

It was a beautiful, productive Saturday in the McGaugh household. We all ate a breakfast of homemade honey raisin bran muffins with honey butter, served with yogurt (I buy lowfat plain yogurt and add the vanilla and sugar myself to control the sugar quantities---premixed yogurt can have an average of 27 grams of sugar, yikes!) topped with fruit: peaches, mandarin oranges, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and Temecula blueberries. With healthy fuel for the day, we were ready to learn and play.

Bill watched Katie while I took a 3-hour practice real estate exam. My score was decent and encouraging, yet still not reaching the mastery that I would like to demonstrate to myself before the actual exam. I am, however, training on older exams. Questions I've seen that were written more recently seem to be leagues easier than the ones on the older exams---a phenomenon I've noticed with certain AP test sets, as well, most notably the AP US test. Yet if the older exams are in fact more difficult, then I should be even more confident about my scores. We'll see what happens, of course. I figure: train on the hardest exams I can find and hope the real test is actually the easier version. We can hope, right?

After finishing my test, scoring it, and reviewing the answers, I browsed the library a bit for some more books to take home for Katie. I love the non-fiction section for the older kids in the children's section of the library. There are some real gems in there: art books, mythology, science, and more. I get so inspired... Lesson planning for her and figuring out what to tell her about next is absolutely my chief hobby at the moment, in addition to crafting (scrapbooking and cross stitching, cooking/baking, and speech writing....and I guess, studying).

When I returned home, I pittered around awhile and had some lunch (I had left a lunch in the fridge for Bill and Katie before I left) and organized my brain for the rest of the afternoon.

While I was gone, Katie and Bill had done three pages in her math/numbers workbook, and she earned three stickers! She loves these little workbooks we found at the teaching supply store. One of the pages, for example, had her count several sets of objects and then circle the number that corresponded to how many objects she counted (kind of like a multiple choice). She is a great counter, and we are so happy that she recognizes so many of her digits. Anyway, when I got home I had her re-explain the page to me to check for further understanding (did she understand the task well enough to tell me about it?) and she seemed to.

Then we worked more on her alphabet book. We are spiral-reviewing as we go, so I had her trace some more "Bs" and we reviewed the sound. Then she had two activities to do. In the first, she had a set of several pictures (ball, candle, boat, dog, etc) and had to circle only the pictures whose name began with the "B" sound. She did them all correctly. The second activity was a variation on the first, just to solidify the concept. Then we started "C." We did some writing and talking about the sound, but we'll do practice activities tomorrow.

We then switched to another activity, and I intended to show her a couple of the art books I brought home. We recently purchased one of those wonderful Eyewitness books, though, on mythology (also we own ones for the human body, dogs, and the universe...and we checked out the Renaissance and one on volcanoes from the library last week). They are written for much older children, but the pictures are fabulous and I can paraphrase some of the information as we go. They are illustrated encyclopedias of a sort. She LOVES the mythology book and has been captivated by some art depicting the most famous cyclops, Polyphemus. The other day, I told her about Odysseus a bit and recounted just the episode with Polyphemus. Today she begged to hear about him again during some of our reading time.

Well, I had a surprise for her. I found at the library an illustrated prose version of the Odyssey (really basic since it is written for middle schoolers) with supplemental maps, artifacts, and history blurbs in the margins. Since I know The Odyssey inside and out after teaching it for several years, I mainly borrowed this book for the illustrations. I wanted her to be able to compare the artistic renderings of Polyphemus with our Eyewitness book, mainly.

As it turned out, she wanted to hear the WHOLE story. Not just about Odysseus' encounter with Polyphemus. She sat next to me listening intently and asking questions as I narrated highlights from The Odyssey for about an hour. Her attention span and interest astonished me. By the end, she was talking about Penelope, Telemachus, Circe, Scylla... I actually tossed out a couple of themes and big ideas (not just plot points), because, hey, why not? She is just as capable of learning as a high school student when the concepts are presented certain ways. We talked about Odysseus' tragic flaw of pride and how he taunted Polyphemus after poking out the eye. We talked about Argus, the loyal dog who greeted the disguised Odysseus when he finally gets home...and how the dog is loyal like Penelope. Katie LOVED hearing about Penelope and Odysseus' tree bed and how Penelope tests Odysseus by suggesting that her maid move it. Katie had the right reaction to the suitors---she wanted them to go away and not steal from Odysseus' house. I told her about some of the Greek gods and goddesses. She perked up when I told her that both "Athena" and "Penelope" were names I had seriously thought about naming her, because I love both those characters so much.

Some people might think, hey, but this is a text that is taught in 9th grade, sometimes even later. Why now? I promise you, there is nothing in The Odyssey that doesn't absolutely rival every Disney animation I've ever seen. In fact, so much of western culture in some way alludes to, or takes its shape from, The Odyssey. Fairy godmother? Try Athena. Wicked witch? The beautiful Circe. The Little Mermaid turned sinister with bird wings? The Sirens. The Odyssey is filled with both the imaginative and the classic archetypes which captivate the mind at all ages. I have nothing against Disney films, by the way, and nothing against modern children's lit. We enjoy those fully at our house. Yet there is no reason to confine our children to them: there is some really awesome material from antiquity, truly. Plus, I love the themes of the Odyssey and we can have some discussions about developing one's own character. Why is Odysseus punished in the story? What does it mean to be faithful to a friend or husband? Why is "home" at the center of Odysseus' heart? Why is Odysseus known as "clever Odysseus?"

Amie is also working with us to supplement Katie on Tuesdays when I am at Toastmasters. Since Amie has all of our Greece pictures, she came up with the idea to get our Greece scrapbook out on Tuesday and show her pictures of us in Ithaca (home of Odysseus) and to talk about the islands, show her some pottery we bought, etc. Amie also has some workbooks and arts/crafts supplies to use with Katie during their times together. Part of the beauty of homeschooling/learning at home is that Katie can experience so many different teachers and styles. She got to work a bit with Daddy today, and she can work with me, Amie, and Boppa. Every family member has something to teach her. One of Bill's brothers would be a perfect fit to teach the bird-and-nature-loving Katie about bird species and life cycles. And my brother has much to teach about music. Everyone a talent or a passion, and we hope to expose Katie to all of her family's passions. People who love what they do or who love to learn make the best teachers. Already I am seeing how immense is the potential for designing our own curricula. I tend to think and design thematically, and Katie seems to respond well to that.

Anyway, we had a great day as a family and a great day of learning for everyone!