Wild strawberries, which are said to be deadly when overripe, as these were: deadly because you die of disappointment: no taste, whatsoever. Bummer!


A surprise patch of St. John’s Wort – this after trying to grow it from seed (50 seeds, only one germinated). Thank you!



Hive 3 swarmed on the 16th and alighted in a tree high above the bee yard. It hung in there for four days, though rain and thunder and lightening. It even changed position once. I was thinking: they’re probably regretting it now, as they find the real estate market lacking.  Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Well, they must have found a place, but where, I do not know. I missed their take-off.


We caught the groundhog that had a nest in our slope. It hadn’t touched out garden (yet), but several of our neighbors will be very relieved.


Our river, the Sudbury, has been very high. Here’s one of Wayland’s streets. The river is also on the other side of it.


Over a couple of hours in the Community Garden plots, we weeded the patch on the right and sowed some of the other half (upper right). What fun to spend time with friends in the field! I think if these beans come through, we can call ourselves farmers. Thank you, friends!

photo (11)Speaking of growing. Here I am with a jolly bunch of the cutest preschoolers who came to the Hannah Williams Playground Ecological Food Garden to plant herbs and flowers. The event was covered in the local press (here and here).





Tea Party



“Mama, when you see it IN your eyes, but not outside your eyes, it’s a dream, right?”


“That’s why when you open your eyes it’s no longer there.”

“Mama, Peter Pan [movie] is made up of pieces.”

“Yes, like Kipper: episodes.”

“No, Kipper episodes are stories by themselves. Peter Pan episodes are all part of one big story!”

We do a lot of outdoors stuff too, when it’s not too hot – especially gardening, and taking walks around the block. I forget my camera though.




Amie plants her onion sign

Our latest guests have left and Amie and I have settled back into the-two-of-us routine. What with all the commotion of guests and visitors and extended playdates we have seriously slacked off on our “schooling”. August, I’ve decided, will see some school every morning.

Amie so far has been enthusiastic. I am careful not to force anything. I try to make it into a game and help her stay concentrated, but the moment she becomes reluctant I leave the rest of the “lesson” up to her. So far we have been doing:

  • 1/2 hour of math: Amie’s grandmother brought some neat math books from Malaysia, we’ve been doing two or three pages a day. Amie can write all her numbers, and addition under 10 is too easy now, so we’ve moved on beyond that – yesterday she had such a thrill when she read 23 as twenty-three. We’re now working on recognizing and counting in batches of 10 (10, 20, 30) and today I introduced subtraction under 10.
  • 1/2 hour of reading/writing: Amie can almost read three-letter words without sounding out the letters and is getting more fluent by the day. She can also sight-read “the,” “and,” etc. I read a BOB Book, she reads one – our box will be finished soon, and they’re simply too expensive, so I’ll be making some myself (and making them available here, of course!).  She can write all her letters and every day we write a story, or pretend to, at least. This is aside from storybook reading, which happens on and off during the day.
  • 1/2 hour of nature study, in nature: that comes easily, in the vegetable garden and buckwheat field, with the new seedlings, at the bird feeder and on walks in the neighborhood.


Amie harvests green beans

  • 1/2 hour of art/craft: there is always something being drawn or painted or glued, but these days I make it a point to sit next to her at her desk with her and draw too. We used to do that so often but somehow lost the habit – and maybe it shows: she hasn’t made big leaps in drawing lately. Time to revive it!
  • I should also involve Amie in food preparation and preservation. Those are definitely skills I would like her to pick up early.

I had a great moment of hope when Amie decided she “really, really” likes eggs. The dream of having a couple of chickens was instantly revived… Two bites  later her new-found love of eggs had already disappeared. I told her we would only get chickens if she also eats eggs, and she said she would try again.

Today a solar specialist came by with the SunEye (neat toy!) to see if our site has good potential for a solar water heater. He praised our roof – its condition and orientation (a little bit South-West) – but told us what we already know, that many more trees will have to go before a solar water system becomes viable. Knowing his ball park figure (around $10,000) and the price of tree removal…

What with all the gardening around here it’s been a while since I wrote about Amie’s non-gardening doings and goings. Here are some newer developments.

We’re working on her letters. She recognizes all the upper and lower case and can sound out and read three-letter words:

But writing them is something else altogether, especially those pesky rounded lower cases. Numbers too are a challenge. So this spring break we’re working on all those.

These days Amie sees us writing a lot of checks (unfortunately) and she was curious what that was about. I explained it to her and even found an old checkbook from a defunct account for her to play with. She wanted to write out her first check to me!

– How much do I owe you, Mama? she asked

– Oh, I said, by the time we’re done, mm… about a million

No problem. She asked our co-houser to help her fill it in, and when he – we call him Rabbit, so I’m going to start referring to him as Rabbit as of now – started writing in the amount, she changed her mind. When he had formed “10” she said:

– I want to pay Mama ten million dollars!

When he had added another 0, she said:

– Yes, a hundred million dollars!

She is so very generous!

She has been doing some multiplication with single digit numbers and division by 2. She needs her fingers and concrete things to do it: “If we have 6 ice cream sandwiches and there’s 2 of us, how many do we each get?” works, but “What is 6 divided by 2 make?” doesn’t.

Her Baba also taught her to add up a big and a small number. For instance, 76 + 4. This is how she explains it: You put the big number in your head: 76 (pinches thumb and index fingers together and touches her forehead, turning them and making a creaking sound, as if turning a key in a lock). Then you put the smaller number on your fingers (arranges her hand so 4 fingers are out). Then you count: 76, (takes away one finger) 77, (takes away another finger) 78, (takes away another finger) 79, (takes away last finger) 80!

She is not only a mathematician, like her Baba, but also a metaphysician, like her Mama (used to be). The other day she was acting all grumpy and DH observed that she was becoming a two-year-old again.

– No-o, she said, I can’t go back; I can only go forward.

Bookcover of A Handmade Life by Bill Coperthwaite

In 2002, Chelsea Green published William Coperthwaite’s book A Handmade Life, In Search of Simplicity, and the book has now been released in paperback (read the review). It is a book that aspires to social design, and it is most perceptive and inspiring on the issues of childcare, the nurture of the young, apprenticeship and education.

  • Nurture and apprenticeship

Bill Coperthwaite’s hopes for fairness, integrity and completeness in our lives and societies reside first of all with the children.

Coperthwaite holds both a Ph.D. in education from Harvard University and an unconventional view of the education of the young. The originality of his views, in fact, goes so far as to negate the usual meaning of “education”. For one who is of the opinion that “many of the most important lessons in life can be learned but not taught,” and that the best lessons are learned through experience, nurture and encouragement are the preferred words.

If, when reading his book you think of Coperthwaite as a “guru” in the sense of a life-teacher, he will challenge you to put that in perspective. At most he will commit to this one line, which sums up his message for the young and those in charge of them: “Apprentices needed, not disciples”.

  • Non-violent, natural learning

Coperthwaite diagnoses several ills of traditional schooling, for one, the fact that it runs solely on competitiveness and compulsion, not enthusiasm, curiosity and self-confidence.

For most, school is “a parade of failures, one after the other, year after year, with ever more ‘proof’ of inadequacy.” For most, it is the threat of the law, social condemnation and the loss of “prospect” that keeps them there. And Coperthwaite is talking not just about the students, but the teachers too: all seem to be in school against their wishes. It’s a sure recipe for disaster.

But all children are naturally excited and eager to learn. To nurture that, he proposes “non-violent learning”, in which all are learners, young and old, chose the curriculum and participate in a voluntary and firsthand exploration of the world.

Central to his are three components, the first of which is nature.

  • Nature

It is no surprise that Coperthwaite, who is homesteading “off the grid” in the wilds of Maine, locates the best kind of learning in nature. He asks: what are the most important geographical factors in your child’s life? A tree, the sky, the sea? Or the convenience store, parking lot, TV?

He is not advocating that we all go back to homesteading. His proposes not “back to the land”, but rather “down to earth”.

Nature inspires awe and tranquility. She teaches small, bite-size lessons – the ways of bees and grain – and, once in a while, whopping big ones too – as when a storm overtakes a scouting party and spurs survival instincts. All of these will teach a child about life: how it works, and also, more importantly, how to interpret and deal, indeed live, with it.

A close connection to nature not only heals the child – one need only read Richard Louv’s recent book, Last Child in the Woods (2006) for scientific and practical confirmation of that statement – but the earth as well, when that child grows up to be a good steward of it.

  • More remedies

Coperthwaite’s other prescriptions for a better education are a context of home and family, and a feeling of usefulness through physical work, whether it be work on the land or in crafts. I’ve written about these here.

Bookcover of A Handmade Life by Bill Coperthwaite

In A Handmade Life (read a general review here), Bill Coperthwaite promotes a different view of education. If education is more of an apprenticeship than a discipleship, if it allows the innate enthusiasm of children for the unknown to run its natural course, and if it acknowledges the value of nature, then children and, by extension, society, will be happier and smarter. But first and foremost, Coperthwaite points out that such an education would not yet be complete without a context of home and community and a deep-seated feeling of usefulness.

  • Home and community

Coperthwaite deplores the sequestering of the young in centers of learning (from daycare to college). Wouldn’t their education would be so much more complete, and relevant for their futures, if they were immersed into the community of adults again. Simply put: “Do you want better doctors? Improve kindergarten,” or rather, abolish it altogether!

Coperthwaite writes that “the home is the center of education and emotional security… a school is no substitute”. But he is not your average proponent of homeschooling (or unschooling): the home where schooling needs to take place needs to change.

What is missing from our homes is variety. We should enrich our nuclear families with the elderly, who have so much to offer in terms of experience, stories and time. Extending the family also means adding layers of personality and ways of dealing with problems. And it is important that every member of the family is valued for his or her usefulness. “Every child has a right to a family with a purpose,” he writes, and purpose entails work.

  • Usefulness and work

The best kind of work is physical work, what Coperthwaite calls bread labor. It includes raising and preparing food, making shelter and clothing, caring for children.

Children in our “civilized” societies rarely get to witness that kind of vital labor, or any work, for that matter. In the morning they and their parents go off in opposite directions: school and the office, shop or farm. When children do catch a glimpse of “work,” it is often as a negative: a stressful activity that adults rarely enjoy, something to be avoided.

This is shame and a crime, Coperthwaite finds. Children should get to participate in bread work again. But before we squirm at the thought of child labor, he makes it plain that that is not what he has in mind. Rather, young people, even small children, can be useful and indeed draw a lot of self-confidence and pride from their usefulness. Moreover, engaging in this kind of work will restore to them a sense of the value of the meat on their plate and the clothes on their backs.

  • Homemaking

For Coperthwaite, homemaking is “the most important profession and can be the most exciting of all.” He is a homemaker himself – he built his home, makes his supper, washes his clothes (by hand).

He is also childless, but he is not without insight into children, or without the regular company of children. Going by the many anecdotes about children, and Peter Forbes’ pictures in the book, it is company in which both he and the child thrive.

A Handmade Life, In Search of Simplicity, by William S. Copethwaite and with photographs by Peter Forbes is published by Chelsea Green Publishers (ISBN 1933392479).


The first Outdoor Hour challenge is simple. Read pages 1-8 (did that, read my “book review” here) and head outdoors! The focus is Comstock’s principle that “In nature-study the work begins with any plant or creature which chances to interest the pupil.”

So yesterday we went for an hour-long walk around our block and we brought a large bag for collecting  things. Amie is very into “collecting” and she gathered wood chips, stones, twigs, leaves, cones large and small, pine needles, maple seeds, and a feather.

As we walked we discussed the colors we saw, the sounds we heard, and even what the wind smelled like (“sour,” she said, but honestly I don’t think she’s even got sweet and salty straightened out yet). We checked out some strange berries, and Amie told me “they’re not for us for eating, but for the birds”.


We looked closely at two trees. One that had three things growing on it: moss, lichen, and some kind of climbing plant. We found it pretty amazing, that those are not the tree’s leaves, but the leaves of a different plant that lives on the tree! The other, otherwise bare tree was hollowed out, and we speculated about what had damaged it and what had been eating it, and whether it lived in the tree. (Click on the pictures for larger image)

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Back home I got Amie’s small table out of the guestroom – it was banished when we acquired her large desk – and baptized it our nature table.  We assembled all our treasures (along with some bugs that had come along for the ride).


Since then Amie has frequently returned to the table to rearrange things or to finger the small piece of bark with lichen on it that we found on our driveway.  the lichen look like tiny plants, but they feel so crusty and crumbly…

Drawing in our field books wasn’t part of this first challenge, but today, when she saw my own drawings of this morning (but about that tomorrow), Amie was keen to draw. It was a true exercise in observational drawing and magic to behold! I took a whole series of pictures, more of which you can see via the Flickr badge in my sidebar.

First it wasn’t clear to me what she was drawing, but it was to her!

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Then she moved on to draw and paint the feather – amid much speculation about which bird it used to belong to.

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The result:


I’m not sure what the two things are that we will be returning to throughout the week (part of the challenge). I’m reading up on the lichen (Comstock, p.715) and the feather (pp.29-33), etc. But I’m going to see where Amie takes it. Like Lori says, Don’t plan ahead, Plan along!

I’ll let you know what I’m working on.

  1. I’m researching how best to teach reading. Fascinating that whole Whole Word – Phonics war. So much of the history and psychology of writing is involved, and then throw your own toddler and her talents and interests into the mix. I love a complex challenge!
  2. In advance of my making up my mind about the letter vs. sound approach, Amie and I started a consistent project with the sounds-letters she already recognizes: a, b, g, m, o, s, and t. We’re having a blast! The moment the fuller than full memory card on my camera can be emptied, I’ll take a picture of our “Corridor Project”.
  3. Two weeks ago we inaugurated the cash box. At the end of the month we were always shocked to find that we had saved nothing. Where did it all go? So we are taking out $200 in cash a week and from that pay for our food, gas and small purchases (so not the fixed costs like mortgage, electricity, cable, etc.). It is so much easier to see it going-going-gone. Two weeks now we’ve made it!
  4. I’m writing the final chapters of my novel, the ones where everything comes together. It’s so exciting, too exciting sometimes. But Amie has been home sick all week, so I haven’t been able to work all week. The suspense is killing me!
  5. I’m dreaming again of the ole homestead… but keeping it small: a little structure to build. What will be its function (live there, guest space, study, workshop, kids’ house), structure (how big, how many floors, windows, what kind of roof and floor), materials (I’m leaning towards cob), energy source (solar, wind, composting toilet). We don’t have any land yet to build it on, but we’re looking! I got the magical Home Work Handbuilt Shelter book from the library and will accidentally leave it on the kitchen table to once more entice DH to share the dream.

Cover of Home Work, Handbuilt Shelter

I’ll report on all of these (but 4) soon!

  • Time for making gifts

Soulemama has a wonderful post about the gifts her two older boys made for their baby sister, Adelaide (2). Calvin made a tote-bag, first sewing it by hand, then turning to the machine – he’s a wizz at the machine! – and Ezra made a song, which he played on his brand new fiddle and then “translated” to a pillow.

Calvin, Ezra and Adelaide are homeschooled in the unschooling way. And it shows in these gifts. Not so much in the fact that the boys are sewing (though I am sure traditional schooling and the peer pressure it involves would probably dissuade boys from sewing), but in the fact that they had the time to make these wonderfully original gifts.

Most traditionally schooled kid would not have had the time to think so deeply about their gift and to execute it. They would have been forced, by lack of time, to spend some of their piggy bank money on a store-bought gift.

  • Sibling community

That is, if they give their siblings a gift at all. That’s the other about homeschooling siblings: they spend so much  more time together than traditionally schooled siblings do, get to know and appreciate one another, and learn to get along,  so much better.

  • But what about the only child?

This is homeschooling in a sibling context, of course. Amie is an only child, so though homeschooling, at least part-time, appeals to me, I still worry about the lack of community. It would be just me and her, and hopefully (sometime soon) some grandparents – are you listening?

I know, there is community out there! Other homeschooled kids who get together in play-school-groups. And if I am thinking part-time homeschooling, then Amie would still be exposed to school groups…

It’s my shortcoming, which I have to overcome: I’m not very social. But if I want to give homeschooling a chance, I need to find that community…

Amie and her letter Box (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • Letters

A couple of months ago, Amie started showing interest in letters. It was rather unavoidable, as we have wooden alphabet puzzles and alphabet fridge magnets. And she sees us reading, of course, and writing on paper (Mama) and on the computer (Baba and Mama).

She now also pretends to read her books,  some of which she knows by heart. It freaks out visitors, because she really seems to be reading fluently! She can recognize her written name and the A, B, C, K, M, O, P, S (and perhaps X).

  • The things and the name/drawing/picture of it

She also pretends to write. On those occasions it sometimes seems that she hasn’t quite grasped the difference between the name of a thing and the thing. She will say:

– “This is a dinosaur!” and will make big movements, while very slowly spelling out the word – “di-no-sau-ah!” (with a flourish at the end). I ask her:

– “Did you draw a drawing of a dinosaur or write the word ‘dinosaur’?” (we have always taken care to make those distinctions between pictures,  drawings, or name(s) of something, and the something). She answers:

– “It’s a drawing of a dinosaur!” (tone: are you stupid or what?)

  • The Letter Box Game

In any case, a fun game I invented is the Letter Box. It’s your average small cardboard box that has an easy-to-open flap. On it I stuck two cd-sleeves.

  1. Every morning, Amie chooses one letter from a cheapo stack of flashcards. The upper and lower case cards go into the cd-sleeves on top. In the picture above we’re working on M, one of her favorite letters.
  2. Throughout the day we collect things that start with that letter and put them inside the box. We cut out pictures of monkeys, for instance, put in (small) books whose titles start with the letter (Maisy), and small objects (money).
  3. In the evening, we up-end the box and review its contents. I hope it will become part of our routine.
  • Homeschooling Reading

That doesn’t mean we’re learning how to read, let alone actually reading. I have been doing some research on all the elements that need to come together and all the effort that needs to be expended for reading to happen… and I must admit, I am intimidated!

I don’t want to leave reading up to school, though. First of all, because  that kind of school is still very far off, and I think Amie might be interested before then. I also want her to learn reading in her own setting, that is, at home, as part of play, and out of her own volition.

Teaching has always been a large part of our parenting – of anyone’s parenting, for sure, but DH and I are very conscious of our roles as teachers. And Amie is a curious girl. She can now count to ten, for instance, not just say the words, but count 10 things: we taught her that and she eagerly aborbed it.

I wonder what kind of shape our teaching her / her learning how to read:

  • it will be a homeschooling project, that is clear (even though DH doesn’t like the idea of full-time homeschooling, as someone who grew up in the extremly competitive Indian school system, he is shocked at how late kids in the States learn to read or count, etc. At age 4 he could already spell ‘handkerchief’ – a word I just had to spellcheck to see if I got it right!)
  • but will it be more of an unschooling effort?
  • or will I scramble to read the latest research and to offer her many experimental inroads?

One thing is for certain, we can’t wait for our daughter to experience the joy of reading, but we’ll take it one step at a time, letting her lead the dance.