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The highlight of our December focus table was our wooden calendar with an attendant Jack Frost, Tomten, and Snow Spirit. We also had a menagerie of sleeping animals interspersed with animals attired in their winter finest. The calendar (created by Etsy artist MamaRoots) is based on a european folktale called the Twelve Brothers. It’s quite similar to Cinderella stories and has a seasonal aspect to it. MamaRoot’s calendar is a beautiful and functional depiction of the story, and we will treasure it for years to come.

The books were less inspired. I had originally wanted to focus on a weather theme, but I went the easy route and purchased a pile of seasonal and holiday books from Building 19. One book stood out among them. It was entitled The Christmas Candle, and it was written by Richard Paul Evans. It’s a beautiful story that addresses the issue of social justice at this seemingly charitable time of year.

December Focus TAble

December Focus Table

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Somehow, my son made it into the Christmas pageant. This was surely not my intention, as I assumed he was too young. I think things transpired when I assisted at a rehearsal for older UU chidren. Suddenly, my son was donning moose antlers, and he was in the manager. Apparently, this sort of thing isn’t unusual at the church. Apparently, a Unicorn was on-hand for the “blessed event” a few years past.

Moose in the Manger

Moose in the Manger

 Moose up Close

Moose up Close

Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts is spectacular and recommended for all. We ensured that we took part in everything that the city had to offer on this special day. We started the day by visiting various “haunted” attractions around the city. These were the entertainment-style haunted houses and not historical homes. We started off at the Nightmare Gallery. The Nightmare Gallery contains a collection of highly detailed wax statues depicting characters from major Halloween movies. The wax statues are interspersed with real actors who jump out and scare people. We stood in a considerably long line but were entertained by the actor who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween. He was highly entertaining.

One might think that the Nightmare Gallery would be a bit much for a four year old, but it is just another attraction for any child who has grown up in Salem. My son took the entire attraction in stride and even hi-fived and received candy from a chainsaw wielding clown who put on quite a different show for the more mature audience.

After the Nightmare Gallery, we headed over to Thirteen Ghosts. This is a far-less intense attraction. It consists of a maze like path through a haunted attraction that is painted floor-to-ceiling in 3D paint. It is quite a trippy experience, and one must struggle to keep one’s balance and find one’s way through a disorienting series of rooms. Of course, these rooms are all dotted with the occasional actor sneaking or jumping up on one. This is perhaps my son’s favorite Halloween venue in the city.I think the cartoonish nature of the paint and surroundings appeals to him.

After Thirteen Ghosts, we took a haunted ghost tour lead by a costumed man and woman. It was quite a production, and a jaunt around Salem’s real and historic “haunted” homes was a welcome change. My son was not so enthusiastic and started to make quite a scene in a hundreds of years old graveyard. We found the needed respite for him in a trick-or-treating foray and a nightime carnival on the waterfront.

We ended the day with a late trip to the Witch’s Cottage. I had no idea this place even existed, but I will never forget it. The Witch’s Cottage is a seasonal theatre where costumed actors present a documentary-style show on ghosts and witches. It has surprising special effects and less well-known, local stories. It is quite excellent and highly recommended.

By this time, my son was quite tired and he had had all the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins he could stand for one day. We went home, and he sat in our floor-to-ceiling windows watching dressed-up revelers pass us by until he fell asleep.

Period Costume

Period Costume

Halloween on the Waterfront

Halloween on the Waterfront

One of the highlight’s of the season is a Halloween costume party thrown by our local, Unitarian Church. Every year, on a Friday evening close to Halloween, the UU children are treated to an evening of themed crafts and pizza and games. It culminates in a candlelight tour of the “haunted meeting house.” This year, the children took a fairly sedate trip through the darkened meeting house while atmospheric music played in the background. There was nothing overtly spooky to the experience, but the shadows cast by the church’s old architecture played tricks on the mind. My son loved it. It’s a welcome contrast to the busy streets of Salem filled with drunken revelers, hectic traffic, and adult venues.

Halloween Crafts Table

Halloween Crafts Table


Halloween Crafts Table

Halloween Crafts Table

Making Spider Trees

Making Spider Trees

I have been fascinated with the Waldorf festivals ever since my first introduction to this educational philosophy. I decided that these celebrations (Michaelmas, Martinmas, etc.) must be a definitive part of my child’s educational experience. Unfortunately, my good intentions have not always come to fruition. First and foremost, though I love the festivals conceptually, they do not feel natural. They feel more like a contrivance. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the other mass-celebrated holidays feel right in the sense that they are apart of my childhood family’s tradition and the tradition of the greater culture at large. Waldorf holidays such as May Day or Midsummer lack a certain authenticity for me, and it has been difficult to overcome. Additionally, it is often difficult to remember the dates associated with these holidays, and I have found myself at a loss as to what I should be doing on these days.

Michaelmas is just one such holiday whose celebration evades us. I purchased my first Waldorf curricula right after Michaelmas had passed. I had never heard of it before, and I lamented the fact that I missed the opportunity to celebrate it with my son. I endeavored to celebrate it with great fanfare in 2010. I became more and more excited for Michaelmas as I read blog posts about others’ celebrations, purchased craft materials, and downloaded dragon stories. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, life circumstances rose up against me and quashed my ability–and mood–to celebrate. Fortunately (or so I thought), I noticed that Michaelmas could be celebrated in late September *or* early October. I decided I would opt for the second date, but this too fell through. Thus, our Michaelmas pinata has sat unfinished for months. Maybe this year,….

Michaelmas Pinata

Michaelmas Pinata

We made an impromptu trip to the Boston Museum of Science. The MoS is a challenging environment for a four year old. However, we did manage to have some fun. My son was particularly interested in digging for dinosaurs in a sandbox. He also had fun in a play area that uses familiar things like bikes and swings to teach scientific concepts. I couldn’t help but notice the stuffed owls in a glass case. While they appealed to me, my son didn’t find them so compelling.

Owls at the Museum of Science

Owls at the Museum of Science

Picture Books
Owl Babies

Fiction
Animal Lore & Legend: Owl
Owl at Home
Poppy
The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark

Non-Fiction
Barn Owl (Science I Can Read Book)
All About Owls
Owl Puke
See How They Grow: Owl
Snowy Owls

The astonishingly gory Legend of the Guardians movie was a bit of a let down for my then four year old son. However, the movie did inspire us to try our hand at dissecting owl pellets. I ordered a very impressive pellet kid from a laboratory that caters to schools. My son dawned plastic gloves and grabbed his dissecting tweezers with great gusto until he saw what task lay before him. He was quite put off by the nasty, dark, gritty little pellet. The compactness and density of the pellet was so great that his little hands could not work it apart. When he did break a piece of it off, he saw that it was nothing more than a wad of super compressed hair. This startling realization prompted him to not want to touch the thing again. I ended up bent over this tiny little hairball prying apart layer after layer of hacked up, nasty hair. Though the packaging said there was no risk involved, I was a bit concerned about breathing in the little hairs and whatever detritus was associated with them.

After considerable work, my son and I were able to see the fruits of our labor. Microscopic and unidentifiable animal bones because visible. Originally, I had anticipated that the pellet would be large and that the bones would pop-out and be easily recognized, but these little bones looked like specs of fingernail parings. Furthermore, the slightest amount of pressure on the bones caused them to fracture. This made it virtually impossible to free some of the bones from their hair encasing.

In the end, we had a partially liberated skeleton of…something. We had no idea what to do with it. We could not match it to the skeleton on the educational brochure that came with the kit. There was virtually no way to mount or preserve such a tiny thing. It was also quite grey and ugly and bits of semi-digested hair still clung to it. It hung out on my desk for a few days until it quietly disappeared and quickly became forgotten.

Owl Pellet Kit

Owl Pellet Kit


Handling An Owl Pellet

Handling An Owl Pellet

October in Salem, MA is something to see. Throughout the year, there is pretty consistent interest in the city’s dark history as the epicenter of the “Witch Hunts.” A goodly portion of the downtown area is dedicated to tourism centered around this past. Halloween only takes the experience to a whole new level. Halloween lasts at least a month in the city, and people come from all over the world to visit allegedly haunted locations, places associated with the witch trials, and various merchants of all things occult or mystical. I did not want to focus on Halloween, per se. However, I decided to chose a topic that was evocative of mystery. I chose to augment our standard curricula with a section on owls. I decided that owls were real, flesh and blood creatures, unlike the imaginary witches which plagued the city 400 years ago. Owls have that dark, sinister, and spooky air about them, but they also provide a great opportunity to study life cycles, food chains, animal physiology, and the like. So, owls it was….

October Focus Table: Owls

October Focus Table: Owls

The vagaries of the economy finally caught up with me late last year. After 15 years of continuous employment (11 as a computer consultant), I found myself unemployed. I used that time to really test my commitment to homeschooling. The experience was wonderful. My child and I were able to suspend entire days of uninterrupted schooling time together, and our family rhythm greatly benefitted from it. However, I suddenly found myself working a new job for 12 hours a day and McDonald’s type wages. I literally walked away from that job and embarked on the adventure of trying to support a child with NO income whatsoever. Fortunately, I was able to obtain another consulting position, but the impact on our homeschooling exercise was fairly meteoric.

Throughout the spring and summer of last year, we had a fairly standardized routine. We faithfully followed a lively combination of Live Education and EarthSchooling curricula. We also spent a fair amount of time augmenting our indoor circle and crafting time with trips to a state forest, working farm, and playground. The Waldorf festival schedule was also easy to observe. During the abrupt transition to a thankless, temporary job, everything fell by the wayside. There was no time to plan or gather together resources for our focus table. There was no energy for or interest in late night homeschooling sessions, and festivals were forgotten. We chose to forego special blocks on things like owls and mushrooms. Instead, we took the easy way out around the end of the year. We read popular books on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. There was no Martinmas, Advent, or Yule for us this year. Homeschooling became an undesirable chore against the backdrop of our new and unforgiven lifestyle. Fortunately, I walked away from it all and found my current position. This allows me to work close to home and leave work behind when I leave the office. While I’d much rather spend the days with my child, the new schedule and stability have gotten us back on track. I’ll be posting some of the highlights from the late Fall and Winter season and continue on to our new developments.