Thursday, October 22, 2009

Science Camp: The Good

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to get a week at Science Camp. This is essentially the same Science Camp that public school children get, but the program was slightly modified to accomodate homeschoolers and their propensity for participating as families. So the children got to go off with their naturalist during the day and do various cool project, while the mom and siblings still to young to hit the trail chilled back at camp. It was a good setup.

There were cabins for the families to sleep in (bring your own sleeping bags, natch) and a dining lodge where meals were held. The lodge had a big fireplace, with a fire going all day, and the meals were surprisingly non-horrible. A few of them even attained goodness. In any event, we all ate a ton in an attempt to ward off the cold. Calories! Give me calories!

The meals also featured a surprisingly popular appearance by a recurring character, the Waste Wizard. Who was played by the naturalists, dressed up in ridiculous costumes. The kids went nuts! They loved it. Although the Waste Wizard had various things to say about reducing all kinds of waste, they would also carry around a bucket for the table scraps, which was used to measure how much food people had left on their plates. If, like me, you think the sight of children filling up their plates and then eating two bites is an abomination, then this is the place for you. After the first meal, there was much less of this behavior -- in fact, there was never a meal after that with more than half as much leftover food. Go, Waste Wizard!

We really enjoyed our time in the redwoods, even though it was colder and darker (those trees just don't let much light in, not even at high noon) than we had expected. A couple of mornings we were the first up, so we got to light the fire in the dining hall. There was actually an early-morning patrol, in the words of one regular attendee. She was the mom of a young child who didn't really let her sleep in in the morning, and it was great fun to hear her reading board books to her little boy. There was a guitar-strumming dad and his son, and various other drop-ins. Then breakfast, then off to the woods!

Ziad and Maya were in the same group, at my request. Not having been to this place before, our personal family protocol dictates that I keep them both in my visual sphere as much as possible, which means they HAD to be in the same group, and I had to accompany them. The very cool thing was that, despite the prevailing ethos of "Butt out parent! Your child cannot possibly achieve their full potential with you breathing down their neck!" we managed to land a naturalist who completely understood that I was NOT their to police him, my children, or their interaction, but merely to keep an eye on things and back him up if he needed it. Also to take note of any interactions during the day that might merit some discussion amongst ourselves in the evening. Because, really, no one needs to be in a group where Ziad has decided he is justified in carrying out some vendetta against a perceived slight. I actually think I may have averted that scenario, although, of course it's possible I'm exaggerating my own importance.

The days were very cool. There was a stream day, where they studied the invertebrate population of a stretch of water, and learned that the presence of the caddis-fly larvae, which cannot survive in pollution, indicated clean water. They also learned about a bunch of interesting insects and got to observe the fern-like gill structure of a salamander under a microscope. Then lunch on a huge fallen redwood, featuring runny grape jelly that was the most delicious I have ever tasted.

Next was a forst day, where they hiked up a hill to Big Tree, a large sequoia that we could not encircle with our arms, even though out of the eleven of us there, three were adults. That was also the Professor Trail, or each-one-teach-one day, where every student got to be an expert of one member of the forest biosphere and impart their wisdome, one-by-one, to the other members of their group.

The last full day was the ocean day, where everybody trucked down to the coast to look at the nature center, take a hike on the bluffs, then head to the beach for some habitat restoration. Then they got stainless steel water bottles with an insulating cover and carabiners attached to the tops! Way cool.

The last day ended at noon, and consisted largely of cleaning the cabins, cleaning around the camp, and saying good-bye. It's a very good program, and I would recommend it highly.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two links

First, second in a series of articles on homeschooling, first appearing in Salon:

Second, an article on women in Iran. Sadly, I can only link to an abstract; however, anyone wanting to read the article in it's print form is welcome to borrow it. Just give me a call.