All students entering high school and their families will meet tonight to discuss our high school course of study and graduation requirements, as outlined in the document below. The meeting is also open to prospective families, so if you have considered Willow Tree for your high school student and would like to know more about our program, please come out! We will meet at school at 6:30. I hope to see you all there!
This week, we had the incredible opportunity to study coastal ecosystems first hand at Camp Sewee, in Awendaw, SC. We spent three days exploring four different coastal areas. On our first day, we took a 40-minute boat ride to one of the barrier islands. There we saw all kinds of wildlife, including Stone Crabs, Hermit Crabs, Spider Crabs, and Square-Backed Crabs. We also saw lots of Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns.
On the second day, we went down to the docks to investigate marine life. We caught five Blue Crabs (all male and very feisty). Everyone loved holding these swimming crabs by their swimmerets. The students also learned to cast shrimping nets and crab nets. Later, we looked at Oysters, Sea Squirts, Sea Grapes, Bryozoans, and Barnacles that were growing on a block suspended in the water, and then we collected our own specimens of these "fouling" creatures to look at more closely under a microscope.
Next, we walked over to see the Salt Marsh. This was a very mucky area that smelled of sulphur. It was teeming with Fiddler Crabs, which burrow in the ground and eat the detritus (decaying matter). They scoop out the mud in little balls, and then when the tide comes back in, they use the mud balls to cork themselves in their holes. We also saw lots of Periwinkle Snails and conducted an experiment to see whether they prefer the upper, middle, or lower salt marshes by counting how many we saw in one square meter in each area.
We visited another area of salt marsh to study the grasses (and the edible Pickle Weed). The children chased and caught lots of Fiddler Crabs and played in the mud as they watched the tide coming back in. Several even tried raw oysters straight from the rake!
Back at camp, our counselors kept us busy playing games, singing campfire songs, and doing team-building exercises. A good time was had by all, as evidenced by the request to come back next year before we could even get out of the parking lot!
Camp Sewee is run by Clemson University's Youth Learning Institute and will run camps all summer.
Last week, students in Forms 1 and 2 worked with Mrs. Andy Smith to explore the concepts of perimeter, area, and volume. They measured lots of things! How many linoleum tiles did it take to cover the floor in our room? Do we have enough border to make frames around each of the prints in our James Whistler gallery in the hall? If we wanted to paint the room, how much paint would we need? If one quart of paint covers 100 square feet, would it be better to buy quarts or gallons? (We had to check the prices at Lowe's for that!) Of course, while we are working on reasoning and concepts, we can't let our facts get rusty. Games make multiplication practice fun!
Our high schoolers continue to develop strong math reasoning through the use of the Interactive Mathematics Program (http://mathimp.org/). This program integrates arithmetic, algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and statistics using problems that look a lot like brain teasers. The logic is that it does no good to memorize an algorithm and practice it forty or fifty times (as in traditional math programs) if the student cannot reason when to use it in real life. Here is a sample problem (from p. 276 of Book 1):
Three travelers met one night along the Overland Trail. The decided to have dinner together. Sam had seven cans of beans to contribute and Kara contributed five cans of beans. Jock didn't have any beans, but the three cooked up what they had. Each ate the same amount. After dinner, Jock offered the 84 cents in his pocket and said that the other two could divide it up in an appropriate way. The all agreed that in this way everyone would have contributed a fair share to the dinner. Jock thought that Kara's share of the money should be 35 cents, but Sam and Kara convinced him that this was wrong.
1. Explain why Jock might have thought that Kara's share was 35 cents.
2. Then explain what Kara's correct share should be.
We had several visitors at school this week. Paola, our Spanish immersion teacher, brought three of her friends to teach us a game from South America that we could use to practice our Spanish. On Friday, Ginger Hicks (Sarah's aunt) came to share with us about her travels. Ms. Hicks is the COO for an environmental agency that aids corporations in preventing and cleaning up disasters like the BP oil spill. Since our Form 3 and 4 students have been studying the Himalayan region in geography, Ms. Hicks brought pictures from her trip to the base camp at Mt. Everest. She shared her experiences in Tibet and talked about the culture there.
After Ms. Hick's talk, we all grabbed our fishing gear and walked over to the lake at Gardner Webb to meet our new friends from the Fishing Club. Some of these students are competitive anglers, and others fish for recreation. They took time to show students who were new to fishing how to bait and cast. It was wonderful to spend the afternoon outside!
It was another active week at Willow Tree! We began with a special challenge:
Nature Study Challenge: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find as many different specimens as you can on the lawn of the school. No flower beds, no meadow, no woods. Just the mowed part of the lawn. You know, the part where you play ball, where it's just grass, where there isn't anything interesting?
Believe it or not, we found 37 different types of plants growing just on the lawn! There were 6 types with yellow flowers, 6 with white, and 6 with purple/blue, and lots that were not flowering. Some groups snagged azaleas and magnolia leaves, but these were easily spotted and discarded. The plants were sorted and pressed, and now our task is to identify as many as we can to make a school wildflower field guide.
We also have our own "Space Race" (of sorts) going on. Students are working in groups to design and create balloon rockets based on what they have learned about force. On Thursday, they built prototypes and tested them. Now, it's back to work to improve those designs so that the rockets will go faster, longer.
On Friday, we went to Muscadine Ridge Alpaca Farm in Gaffney, SC. The Wurster family taught us all about raising alpacas. Alpacas were brought to the United States from South America in the 1980s. These guys had just been sheared last week. The fleece is used in a variety of ways, depending on the part of the body from which it came. It is longest along the back, so this fleece is used to make fine, soft yarn for things like scarves. The neck and belly fleece is a bit shorter, so it is used to make yarn for rugs. Fleece that comes from anywhere else is too short to be spun, so the Wursters allowed us to put it into suet feeders for the birds to take to line their nests. Did you know that alpaca manure is some of the best fertilizer you can put on your garden? It doesn't even need to be composted! You can put it right on the plants, and they will not burn. Another interesting fact is that alpacas have no natural defenses. For protection, they need to be placed in a fence with herding animals like donkeys or, preferably, llamas. Whenever a threat is present, one llama will herd the alpacas into a safe place while the other stands its ground, and then both will fight off the predator. They have even been known to kill mountain lions!
Oh, so much has happened since the last blog! For one thing, we just finished creating the most beautiful, rich, nourishing high school course of study. We are very proud to be able to offer a high school program that is totally unique--one that is both incredibly rigorous and delightful. Be sure to watch for changes to the high school page coming soon, and plan to attend the high school information meeting on May 16 at 6:30 to find out more!
We are also gearing up for this Saturday's yard sale! If you have items to donate, please bring them to 241 Lawhon Street between 3:00-5:00 through Thursday, or 3:00-8:00 on Friday. And don't forget to come out to shop Saturday between 8:00-12:00. The proceeds of this fundraiser will help us go to Camp Sewee in Awendaw, SC next month to study marine biology and coastal ecosystems. We can't wait to get down there! Our elementary children noted today that it is good that they are reading Pagoo by Holling C. Holling to get ready for the trip. And, of course, our weekly nature studies have already helped us develop good habits of observation and making field notes. The week before Spring Break, we got to study Ethan's chicks as we read about them in Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study. We decided it is much easier to draw things that will sit still!
But chicks are not the only visitors we have had recently. Megan Hoyt came from Charlotte one afternoon to talk to us about the life and work of Frederic Chopin, this term's composer. She told us all about how very shy he was, and how he was able to express his feelings through his piano music in a way that he could not by using words. We learned that, although he was from Poland, he spent much of his adult life in Paris at the same time that the impressionists were painting there. Since he was famous in his own lifetime, we all wondered if he was friends with any of the painters we have studied. Maybe we will find out as we continue to read his biography. It was obvious to the students that Chopin's music is very different from other composers we have studied, such as Bach and Handel. And this is for good reason: Bach and Handel lived during the Enlightenment Period, when the pervading ideas were more formal and rigid. Chopin composed during the Romantic Period, and so his music is much more flowing and emotional. Megan taught us about rhythm, and since Chopin often composed waltzes, she also demonstrated the basic steps for us. Then we all walked over to the sanctuary for a treat. Our resident concert pianist, Dr. Cindy Swicegood, played a private mini-concert as she taught us about arpeggios through Chopin's Etudes, or study pieces.
We even got to watch cartoons! Classical music shows up in some of the most unexpected places!
On the last day before Spring Break, we took a trip to Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens in Gastonia. It was stunning! First, we walked through the orchid house. There were lots of unusual specimens in there, and everyone took their time investigating every corner. Then, we each picked one or two favorites to sketch in our nature notebooks. It is always fun to see what connections the children will make to their reading. As we strolled through the formal gardens, one student spied two statues of little girls and exclaimed, "Oh, no! Medusa has been here!" Then we enjoyed a short hike down to the lake. We saw a tree that looked like what we imagined Sam's tree in Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain would have looked like. That was very exciting. As the first signs of Spring were just peeking out, we all agreed that we should definitely take another trip to Daniel Stowe when school starts back next year to see what it looks like in full bloom.
What would you say if I told you that, for children as young as third grade, one of the most well-loved parts of our school week was our study of Shakespeare? So many adults break into a sweat at the name, when they think back on their own experiences in high school or college. The archaic language! The convoluted plots! The confusing characters! Did I mention the archaic language?! Well, in fact, Shakespeare is a favorite part of our school week. Those who have been here both years just started their sixth full-length, unabridged Shakespeare play. Last year, they enjoyed A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night. This year, we have done The Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar, and last week we began As You Like It. And if we are running short on time, they actually ask if we can forego other activities so that we can be sure to have time for Shakespeare.
One thing that makes Shakespeare accessible to our students is immersion. The language is stiff, but they do not have to know the definition of every single word in order to understand what is happening. They can catch the gist of it, and they are able to narrate events very well. Of course, as they hear the language more and more, they understand it much easier. It also helps that, rather than reading silently or aloud, tripping over the verbiage, we watch productions by the BBC. At first, I thought this might be cheating, but then a friend reminded me that they were, after all, plays, and that a play was not meant to be read; it was meant to be viewed. So we watch a scene each week (with appropriate omissions--it is Shakespeare, after all!) during the term. Students also sometimes use Shakespeare for copywork or recitation. And they love it. In fact, they loved Julius Caesar so much that they begged to be able to put on their own production after we finished the play. We decided together that learning an entire play in a couple of weeks might be a bit too ambitious, so we chose one scene (the killing scene, of course!) to practice. They brought in sheets for togas, daggers, fake blood, and other props, and we invited the parents to come and listen. The children did not memorize their lines. Instead, they practiced reading with fluency and expression for two weeks, and their performances showed a great deal of comprehension and interpretation.
During exam week, students were asked to tell about either the death of Caesar or the revenge of Mark Antony and Octavius. It is fun to see how this third-grader incorporated Shakespeare's words, style, and phrasing into his narration:
"Cassius and Metellus Cimber and Trebonius and a couple other of his friends were throwing letters to Brutus to try to get Brutus to help kill Caesar at the Senate. And they had planned to kill Caesar on the Ides of March at the Senate House. And Brutus finally told Cassius that he would help them kill Caesar, so on the Ides of March they were trying to get Caesar to come to the Senate House and then when they got to the Senate House, Metellus Cimber said, 'Most high, most mighty, most puissant Caesar, I lay before thee my humble suit.' And then Caesar said, 'What? Is this man mad?' And then one of Caius Cassius's friends was behind Caesar and he stuck his dagger on the top on his shoulder. And then all the other ones started stabbing Caesar and Caesar fell against a statue and Brutus walked up to him and stuck him in the heart, and Caesar died. And then Mark Antony's servant came in and told Brutus that Antony would like to come into this place and be untouched, and Brutus said, 'Antony shall come untouched and leave untouched.' And then when Antony came in, he saw Caesar, and he was talking to himself and then he was talking to the gentlemen, and he said, 'I know not why you attended this deed, gentlemen, but I see not why Caesar was dangerous.' And he was begging his death of the people, and Brutus said, "Oh, Antony, beg not your death of us.' And then Antony went out with Caesar's body to the pulpit and was praying over him after Brutus had talked at the pulpit to the people. And then Brutus went out and Antony's servant boy came in and his servant said--I think it was that someone had the same name as one of the people that helped kill Caesar, and Antony had roused the people and they got angry, and since he had the same name as the person that had helped kill Caesar, they were going to kill him because they thought he had helped kill Caesar, but it wasn't. And then the war of Mark Antony and Brutus and Caius Cassius started right then. When Mark Antony was carrying Caesar's body to the marketplace, he said, 'Let slip the dogs of war!"
The students have already asked if we can perform part of As You Like It when we finish that play, so this may become a regular occurrence. And we look forward to it, "as they like" The Bard very, very much.
"It is well to bring up children to think it is rather a sad failure if they miss a chance of going a message, opening a door, carrying a parcel, any small act of service that presents itself. They should be taught to be equally alert to seize opportunities of getting knowledge; it is the nature of children to regard each grown-up person they meet as a fount of knowledge on some particular subject; let their training keep up the habit of eager inquiry."
What a wonderful day we had today! It all started with a short walk to the home of our brand new friend, Mrs. Cline, who lives near the school, and who needed a little help with cleaning up her yard. The children liked her immediately and worked diligently until the pink rose to their cheeks and Mrs. Cline invited us in for juice and cookies. It turned out that she provided us with a service, too; she was, indeed, a "fount of knowledge" about gardening. Her rosemary bushes were in full bloom, and she told us a story about it that she had heard as a child: When the holy family was en route to Egypt, Mary laid her cloak on one of these bushes by the roadside. When she removed it, the bush was covered with little blue flowers.
The children loved the footbridge in the back yard and suspected that the trail beyond might provide a great place to build a fort. When we walked across the creek, we saw lots of Running Cedar along the ground. Mrs. Cline invited us back in a couple of weeks to do our nature study there.
After lunch, we loaded up the vans and took a ride to the hospice center. The children visited with a few of the patients and delivered smiles and the hand-sewn pillows we made this term. It was wonderful to see them give of themselves so freely and experience the joy that comes with service to those in need.
This is the last week before our Term 2 Exams, so we are very busy finishing up all of our reading. However, we still manage to make time to be active. A couple of weeks ago, the Greene family came to share a recipe for pita bread. The Greenes are a local homesteading family that grows and sells produce at Foothills Farmers Market. Since they homeschool, the children were able to come in to talk about what a typical day on the farm looks like. Then we each made our own pita and ate it warm from the oven with butter. Yum!
Last Friday, we took a field trip to Charlotte, NC to visit Discovery Place and First Presbyterian Church. Of course, Discovery Place gave us an opportunity to study principles of science in a fun, hands-on way. While we were there, we also saw an IMAX movie about the migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico. The reason for the visit to First Presbyterian Church was to view a real fresco. Our study of Raphael this term taught us that a "fresco" is a picture that is painted right into wet plaster, so that when it dries it becomes a permanent part of a wall. We had seen many pictures of frescoes in Europe, and we thought it would be difficult to find one to see in person. Then we found out about Ben Long, who has painted frescoes throughout North Carolina. The one we saw showed the story of the Good Samaritan. The children were surprised to see just how big the painting was. They noticed that it looked different from far away than it did up close, and they moved slowly along the painting in order to see the details of each section. Now, if we could just get to Rome to see Raphael's frescoes...Maybe one day we will!
All that has been said about 'sight-seeing' and 'picture painting,' the little French talk, and observations to be noted in the family diary, belongs just as much to winter weather as to summer; and there is no end to the things to be seen and noted. The party come across a big tree which they judge, from its build, to be an oak––down it goes in the diary; and when the leaves are out, the children come again to see if they are right. Many birds come into view the more freely in the cold weather that they are driven forth in search of food.
On Friday, we bundled up and went to Broad River Greenway. The only green came from the American Holly trees and the Mountain Laurel, but the leafless landscape made it easier to notice and watch the birds. Among the other specimens found by students were fresh water clams and a spectacular turkey-tail mushroom. We also enjoyed looking at a tree trunk that has apparently been used as a scratching post by a rather large cat!
When we got back to school, we continued our outdoor classroom day by making houses for some of our school neighbors, Eastern Bluebirds. We see these guys almost every day flying around the school yard, so we thought we would invite them to just move in. We hope they will raise their families here this spring. Now, maybe we need to think about additions to our school garden to make them feel even more at home.
Willow Tree parent/board member, Dr. Philip Swicegood, came bearing hand and power tools, and the students eagerly gathered around to learn to use them. They traced the patterns and cut them out, and then nailed the pieces together and painted the finished houses. We screwed hinges on the top in hopes that we will get to peek in and see eggs soon, and so that we can clean out the houses at the end of the season. Our Outdoor Classroom day was cold, but it was lots of fun!
"In Science, or rather, nature study, we attach great importance to recognition, believing that the power to recognise and name a plant or stone or constellation involves classification and includes a good deal of knowledge. To know a plant by its gesture and habitat, its time and its way of flowering and fruiting; a bird by its flight and song and its times of coming and going; to know when, year after year, you may come upon the redstart and the pied fly-catcher, means a good deal of interested observation, and of, at any rate, the material for science." Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, p. 236
This was a fun week for nature study at Willow Tree. Normally, students go outside and find something of interest to them to study and then paint or sketch in their nature notebooks. But in the winter, it is easy for some children to get discouraged because they think everything is dead. Sometimes it helps them to have something specific to look for. So this week, we studied a plant I knew was growing at the playground--a place the kids go every single day, usually overlooking the tiny plants under their feet. I showed them this picture, and then we walked to the park and they were charged with finding it:
As you can see in the picture below, these plants are very low-growing. But the little pink/purple flowers came to our aid. By comparing a plant with flowers blooming to patches on the ground, we were also able to identify those plants on which the flowers had not yet bloomed.
Since henbit is a prolific weed, each student was able to pick a specimen to study. We rolled the stems around between our fingers and felt the square stem. A few children remembered from our walk with Dr. Jones last year that this means henbit is in the mint family. We noticed the opposite, scalloped leaves. Then we took our specimens back to school.
When we got back to school, we read in Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study about weeds, which are simply plants that are growing where we would prefer something else to grow. The book said that the plant was edible, but we decided we should explore that further before we tried eating it. We found the following video on YouTube, which helped us be sure we had identified the plant correctly and gave us the confidence to try it. It was great to have an expert give us pointers about the properties of henbit. Finally, each student did a dry brush drawing in their notebooks.
Today, we extended our study of edible plants with Stacey Costner, of Wild Dahlia Homestead (https://www.facebook.com/WildDahliaHomestead) We met Stacey last fall at the Foothills Farmer's Market, and she agreed to come and talk with us about the medicinal uses of plants. She brought a few fresh and dried herbs with her and made a tasty tea for us to try. The tea was made from several herbs that have different benefits. Lemon balm (or Melissa officinalis), which is part of the mint family and smells heavenly, is calming and spirit-lifting. We used dried, but you can also use fresh. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is good for circulation and mental clarity. We steeped the whole cutting--stem, leaves, and flowers. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is also good for awareness and attention, with the added benefit of staving off allergies when used regularly. We used dried nettle. (Be careful with this one when harvesting--It got its name for a reason!) Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), which is not what goes in your tomato sauce, has a slight bubble-gum flavor and is used for sweetness. It can also have a leveling effect for those with unstable blood sugar levels. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is part of the aster family, and helps with stress, upset stomach, and sleeplessness. We used the dried flowers. We added oat straw, which is soothing and is good for the nervous system. Finally, Licorice Root (