Sunday, April 25, 2010

Greens 2010

As I described last year, we grow lots of kale and a bit of collard greens over the winter.  This is the second year we've harvested, blanched, and frozen the whole crop before planting the spring garden.  Last year, N. wanted to help me with the greens, and his self-assigned task was swirling the blanched greens in an ice bath.  This year he wanted to take on a bigger role in the process.  In addition to cooling the greens, he filled the freezer bags with chopped greens and weighed them repeatedly on the kitchen scale till each bag weighed precisely 8 ounces, then carefully squeezed excess air out of the bags and sealed them closed.  After I labeled all the packages, he insisted on putting them in the freezer without assistance.  Throughout the whole process, it felt more like I was assisting him than the other way around!

It seems funny to chart N.'s growth and development through his participation in the annual freezing of greens, but I was struck by how very much older he seemed this year as he took charge of parts of the process.  Although it would have been easier, faster, and less messy to do the whole task myself, taking advantage of N..'s desire to participate gave him opportunities to practice thinking about fractions and multiplication as we talked about the various components of 16 ounces, to be engaged in the production and preservation of his own food, to follow precisely a multi-step process, to take a responsible role without being asked or required to.  As I ceded more steps of the process to N., I was also able to be more conversationally engaged with him, which helped me maintain my patience as the whole process inevitably slowed down in a 5-year-old's hands.  Being truly present in our conversation made the process more intellectually rich for both of us.  So, the moral of the story is that greens are delicious, easy to grow, and good for you in lots of ways!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tell me, O Muse

Tim tutors the 11-year-old homeschooled son of our friends/homeschool mentors. They meet more or less weekly to discuss literature and papers the boy writes on the readings (or on his passion for art history as it intersects with the readings, which are chosen precisely for these intersections).  Although N. doesn't participate directly in the tutorials (he plays while Tim and his student talk), every week as Tim prepares for his tutoring session, N. asks him to read the works to him.  Last year, they read major portions of the Hebrew Testament together.  This year, N. has heard some of the Metamorphoses, which seemed to fit in with his predilection for fairy tales (almost daily, Tim reads to him from Calvino's collection of Italian Folk Tales, Grimm's, or African Folk Tales).  Inspired by Ovid's story of Galatea, Tim and his student read Shaw's Pygmalion, which N. absolutely loved because the Broadway soundtrack of My Fair Lady has been in heavy rotation on our kitchen CD player for at least a year.  Not only did N. comprehend the play as Tim read it aloud, but he was so absorbed in it that he made Tim read it to him all in one sitting.  For the past month or so, they've been reading The Odyssey.  Fagels' translation makes for a riveting read-aloud, as do the poem's origins in oral performance, and N. has been really enjoying it.  I don't expect that N. fully "gets" everything he is hearing in these readings, though he and Tim pause frequently for questions and discussion.  Though it never would have occurred to us to read The Odyssey to a 5-year-old, we aren't checking this work off some list of classics, as if we have now "done Homer."  Instead, we hope this is merely the first exposure that he'll have to this great work, that since he's enjoying it, he'll have a positive memory of it that will inspire him to return to the poem, weaving his cloth over and over.