We just finished our first week of school at Harvest, easing the classes back into daily and weekly rhythms and good habits. Every year we choose one life of Plutarch and one Shakespeare play. This year, the elementary class and high schoolers are studying Alexander the Great and Macbeth. Every term we choose an artist, a composer, and a handwork. Yesterday we kick-started the Friday Feast by watching Fantasia 2000's take on George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, reading our first bit of Plutarch's Alexander the Great, getting a peek at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit that our curriculum coordinator visited over the summer, and building some of the geometrical designs that da Vinci drew for a friend's book. After Labor Day, we will kick-off Shakespeare.
Each class has a particular focus in history. Primary A is doing tales from different times to introduce them to stories of various people. Primary B is working their way through the Middle Ages with tales of knights, vikings, kings and queens, and Robin Hood. Elementary is studying the middle and southern colonies of our country and the Revolutionary War. High School is also studying that timeframe through higher level books. You can learn more details about each class by going to their individual pages on the website. Regardless on their focus in science, the entire school will have their eyes turned upwards in the third term in anticipation of an exciting astronomical event that has not occurred in this part of the world since I was a child in grade school -- a total solar eclipse. Since August 21, 2017 is just at the dawn of a new school year, we want them to end this school year anticipating the big day!
How did we ease the classes back into a groove?
We worked on developing the habit of attention. For the little ones it means alternating working hard on tasks that require intense concentration and then doing something active or hands-on before going back to another challenge.
When they weren't setting up their notebooks and practicing the habits they had by the end of last year, the elementary class did team building activities like the paper chain challenge and building and testing a beam bridge. They started reading books including their at home book.
High school got into the routine of home room and 45-minute classes with different teachers in different rooms and a different mix of friends for each. They started reading and narrating several books including the Bible, began their second language lessons (German or Spanish), worked on math lessons, and launched several threads in chemistry (took an inventory of supplies, made periodic table study cards, and learned about lab safety and notebooks).
Our Harvesters also had time to build community at recess, on nature walks, for a birthday celebration (with a special visit from one of our alumna), a visit to Lake Marion Nursing Home with our therapy puppy Maci, and lessons in dry brush.
We know that our Harvesters were excited this week and experienced moments of joy, wonder, and delight. We are very thankful that God has seen fit to bring in new friends and new families so that we can learn more about Him, the world, and the people who live in it.
At first glance, one might think these children are simply looking at a picture. They are doing far more! In fact, they are undergoing the same training as medical school students to sharpen their habit of attention. Students at Yale head to the museum and analyze detailed paintings of the Victorian era to assess the medical conditions of the subjects.
How does such a simple task build attention? Looking at something carefully rewards the viewer with a new discovery. When our primary students studied several self-portraits by van Gogh, they noticed that he did not blend his colors so that his hair and beard had strokes of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue in it. The class dubbed him "Rainbow man." One student criticized him for his "sloppy" brushwork and had a change of heart when the teacher backed up. From the blobs, dashes, and squiggles emerged a person that came alive in brilliant colors. The children begged the teacher to walk forward slowly and then backwards several times so they could see the magic happen!
We practice the habit of attention in things we do with our hands (drawing, copywork, sewing, and finger knitting). We focus with our ears in listening to a teacher or a friend's narration and in learning the words of the songs like Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Sandlappers, El chocolate, and Dos manitas. We pay attention with our eyes when reading a book; looking for math patterns; studying the spelling, punctuation, grammar, and capitalization in our sentences for dictation; and observing nature. Whether we are working or playing, we practice attention. Before we leave the lunch table or the classroom for the day, we look around to see what needs a bit of cleaning.
When attention wanders, the teachers guide it back to the lesson. During Spanish today, the children noticed blue jays and cardinals at the feeders. Our feathered friends completely distracted the class. So, the teacher practiced familiar phrases, el pájaro rojo and el pájaro azul, by introducing three new ones, come las semillas: the red bird eats the seeds and the blue bird eats the seeds.
The reward for attention is making new discoveries. When the teacher introduced plural adjectives like dos pájaros rojos, a primary student noticed the s sounds at the end of each word. Recalling the Shakespeare play he studied last year, he remarked, "That is like how Caesar talks." With delight, the teacher shared that Caesar spoke Latin and Spanish came from Latin.
Attention to nature is a habit teachers and students are cultivating. We are collecting still objects like bark, leaves, nests, snake skins, and feathers. Children catch insects to show to friends at recess. Lately, they have been bringing from home grasshoppers, a praying mantis, and a spider rescued from death by drowning in a swimming pool. Today, the primary class enjoyed a special treat: they took their nature notebooks on a short field trip. There, they watched a banana spider prepare a grasshopper for lunch. They had to pay careful attention for the task took less than a minute! The students also studied the spider's egg sac.
The elementary class is also working on their attention. They built a water filter for the pond and developed different solutions to its slow drainage problem. Over the weekend, the headmaster and her family troubleshooted the issue. Monday at recess, the students ran to the water filter, delighted that it was finally working, and studied the modifications. During science, they recorded their observations in their notebooks.
At the beginning, the class found history narrations a challenge. Most students could only remember one fact or idea from the reading and drew a blank a day later. They asked for tips, and their teacher saw a pattern in their narrations: the students paid attention to one thing to narrate and relaxed for the rest of the passage. Once they learned to concentrate from beginning to end and then narrate from beginning to end, their memory improved. In fact, they read four different books, only on Fridays. Every week, they can recall the reading from the week before!
Learning to marshal the powers of attention is not easy at first. After a month of school, the elementary class and their teacher had a conversation about this habit. They concluded, "The habit of attention changes who you are. It changes how you see the world."
Charlotte Mason could not have said it better!
A community called to offer another way to learn for students in Clarendon County