Friday, 21 September 2007

unschooling, part something

We are all kinda fighting a cold. I feel icky and scratchy-throated, and the boys have been blowing their noses and whining. Not real "sick", but sick enough for me.

I just made minor repairs to the small yamaha guitar, which had a cracked nut. By tomorrow, the glue will be dry, and instead of going to school we will stay home and have music lessons. I will have to go to town to collect my car, so I will pop into school to collect the boys' homework for the weekend.

THAT is what unschooling is all about. Sean and I can both teach music, thanks to our previous lives as rock stars! Missing a day of school will not be a disaster for the boys, since they love to learn and pick everything up quickly. We have tried to teach the boys that LIFE is an educational experience, it doesn't all happen in school.

Speaking of school...

I did a really interesting experiment at school last term. I took over the art class in grade 3 for two weeks, (there is no official art teacher) and it was a success. You can try this with a group of kids, a class or a family.

I wanted the kids to really understand that what they see on TV is not real. So first, I got the "Fellowship of the Ring" DVDs, which have a huge selection of great special features. I explained to the class (most of whom had seen the movie) that they were about to see HOW the sets were made, and that I would be TESTING them on it. That made them pay attention! I chose chapters concerning the drawing, deciding, and creating of the buildings, tools, weapons and so on. The DVD is long, so we could not watch it all, but they got to see the artists talking about their ideas, look at their sketches, see the craftsmen carving and cutting and generally having a cool time.

I asked the kids afterwards what materials were used to build "middle earth" after the DVD presentation, and they seemed to be pretty excited. Then I explained to them that "the Lord of the Rings" was a book before it was made into a movie, and that there is a PREQUEL to that story. The story of Frodo's uncle Bilbo, and how Bilbo found the One Ring.

Okay, I had their attention now. I told the class that we were going to produce one of the sets for a new movie, "The Hobbit", prequel to "Lord of the Rings".

Then, I read them the parts of "The Hobbit" that concern Smaug the Dragon and his cave. The descriptions of the cave and the dragon, Bilbo's fear, the jewels, weapons, and other items, and the cave door. That was the set we had to produce, and we had just an hour and a half, next week. We would need minature models, life-sized props, everything they could come up with! And they had to bring their materials with them, whatever they needed.

The response was amazing. Children who had never picked up a book were poring over the passages, looking for ideas. They were making sketches all week, engineering diagrams to scale, drawings of a dozen dragons, and jewelry galore.

I brought whatever I could think of on the big day: gold and silver spray paint, a friend with a bucket of papier-mache, carnival costumes to tear apart for the beads and sequins, and a hundred other things. And the kids got to work.

I should mention here that this was two classrooms working together. Over 40 nine-year-old girls and boys. Some worked singly, others in groups. There was a group of boys who made deadly looking swords and shields in every style and pattern, some very beautiful, and another boy who made rings and necklaces from wire and beads. 3 girls got icky with the papier mache, and made a cave. Other girls made "jewels", and there were some very serious dragon experts building a mind boggling dragon. I was everywhere, spraying swords silver and wings gold, and suggesting materials. I also had useful help from a few moms who understood that this was NOT a drill, but there were some other moms who just could not get it.

"okay, are they supposed to make groups?". "oh, if they need to. Some may prefer to work alone "

"so what are they supposed to DO?" "build a set design."

"how?" "I don't know, they have to figure that out."

"but what if they make a mess?". "then they will help clean up. There IS going to be a mess."

"they are making too much noise". "I know, isn't it wonderful?"

Those moms left, and probably went to have tea and shake their heads over the state of things.

But an amazing thing was going on. 40 kids, with noise and mess, were ALL working on their set. Every conversation was "do you have wire? Let's try an egg carton for the spines on the back. Wow, minature swords. Cool. Do you have any rubies?"

Okay, there was a swordfight, but we made it clear that any more, and they would have to make necklaces. They hung up their swords.

Someone even made Bilbo!

At the end of the day, we had a cave, with a to-scale dragon in it. How did they DO that? The cave was filled with tiny things, each amazingly made. We had a stunning array of weaponry props, just begging to be used by real-size warriors. We had jewelry for elven princesses, made from carnival costumes that had been torn apart with gusto by girls who I never knew had it in them.

We had 40 kids who had risen to the occasion, and were so proud of themselves.

And I THINK, that they now know that all that stuff in the movies? It has come out of someone's head. Someone made it. Isn't that something?

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