Ask Alison: Geology (part 2)


Alison is back with a few more thoughts about geology. Enjoy!


In my other post I mentioned books and activities that are very easy to do in and around the home. But I also think it is important to consider doing something BIG for geology if possible. And remember this does not have to be done during the time you are doing the main lesson. It can be anytime that works for your family. We just went to Big Bend National Park this fall, and even though Jack and James did their Geology main lesson years ago, we all still felt it was part of the same continuum. The expansive time frame of homeschooling is one of the things I love the most about it!

Recently I have been reflecting on the invigorating effect extreme locations can have on one’s imagination and stamina. Now I am never going to climb Mount Everest or float the Amazon, but over the years different trips have taken us to the deserts of Tucson, snow skiing in New Mexico, mountain hikes in west Texas, the beach in North Carolina, freezing plunges into Lake Michigan, the black swamp in Ohio, the bayous outside of New Orleans, steam boat rides on the Mississippi river, the Flint Hills of Kansas, the Sand Hills of Nebraska, and the pine forests of Northern Wisconsin.

As Waldorf homeschoolers we often stress about what should come first  – the observation or the explanation of a scientific phenomena. By the time your student reaches the age for a Geology main lesson, I think it is OK just to let this chicken or egg issue go. From my experience, children of this age really enjoy taking an arsenal of fast facts out into the field. Knowledge of some basic concepts relating to the earth’s structure, land formations, how different kinds of rocks are formed, gem stones and biomes can really make things conceptually  “pop” when out on a hike or on an excursion.

Those of you who know me well, also know that I can be somewhat of an armchair traveler or accidental tourist. I am grateful to my many years of Waldorf homeschooling for occasionally taking me out of my comfort zone. When I get back home, there is always that cup of tea or a cocktail waiting and my cozy couch to rescue me. Of course, there is also the perfect book to help process the journey sitting on my bookshelf. If you are interested, a perfect book to celebrate our planet’s mind blowing geologic extremes (my boys loved this sort of thing and now I do too) is Seymour Simon’s Extreme Earth Records.

Happy Travels  – armchair and otherwise,


Ask Alison: Geology (part 1)


Andrea and I talk everyday. The majority of our conversations revolves around homeschooling, and there is a phrase one of us utters every couple of days: “Ask Alison.” Sometimes it’s a question “Did you ask Alison . . . ” Sometimes it’s a statement “I’m going to ask Alison . . . ” Sometimes it’s a command, “Oh, when you talk to her, ask Alison . . . ” So hence a periodic pop-up on the blog here: Ask Alison. We all met at Taproot two years ago and hit it off instantly. You may remember her bird block back in August. It was a great way to start our year and I know a few other people took her advice as well.

A couple of months ago, I was completely spinning my wheels about the sixth grade geology block. I had a few resources, a couple of books, but no spark, no direction and no idea about how to bring it to Vincent. On a whim, I emailed Alison and asked her for a place to start. She emailed me about four times in 30 minutes. The woman is a science dynamo! The list below is a synthesis of her suggestions. We we able to find 80% of the books at the library and loved, loved, loved our geology block. I will post our block summary at some point, but I wanted to share Alison’s suggestions and enthusiasm in case you need a little inspiration yourself.


Here is a book list of books my boys loved for this block. Personally l like to do the structure of the Earth as a whole from core to crust. I think of geology as being about land forms, rock types (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary) and gem stones, volcanoes, earthquakes – plate tectonics, the history of the Earth’s formation (connects to astronomy) – maybe some fossils and paleontology thrown in for good measure. The idea of sifting through layers so to speak – the layers contain hidden treasures and each layer goes with a period in the Earth’s history – the fossil record.
  • How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World – by Faith McNulty
  • The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth – by Joanna Cole. I know, I know but kids LOVE it – I feel like I might have been Mrs. Frizzle in another life. (Sheila’s note: Alison was DEFINITELY Ms. Frizzle in a former life!!) There is probably a DVD of this somewhere out there as well.
  • Cave by Donald Silver
  • Life Story: The Story of Life on our Earth From its Beginning up to Now by Virginia Lee Burton (Mike Mulligan’s author)
  • Geography from A to Z: A Picture Glossary by Jack Knowlton – good source of spelling words – play with modeling the land forms with clay and digging  them in the dirt etc.
  • Earth From Above for Young Readers by Yves Bertrand. Beautiful book – you can mix it up and just open to a page a day (random surprise!) and then find where it is on the globe and talk about what the surface is like there (biome) and what land forms are present. Kids love it – geography and geology
  • Check out the DVD Gum Boots which is about diamond miners in South Africa and a musical and dance genre they created
  • Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans – seems a little youngish at first but both my boys LOVED it and it has a lot of really complex information presented in a very easy to understand way. Especially the three kinds of rock and how they are formed
  • Mountain Dance by Thomas Locker – beautiful.
  • Mastodon Mystery by Taylor Morrison
  • And for you  – John McPhee Basin and Range. I’m hard-core:)
  • Seymour Simon – EarthquakesVolcanoesIcebergs and Glaciers
  • Billy and Blaze and the Lost Quarry, C.W. Anderson
  • Billy and Blaze and the Indian Cave, C.W. Anderson

Project Ideas:

  • Rock and Gemstone pocket guides
  • Visit a jewelry store and/or a rock shop
  • Start a rock collection – organize by kind of rock, where and how are the gemstones were mined – geography again.
  • Get a crystal growing kit and some geodes to hit with hammers and crack open.
  • Oreo cookies and Plate tectonics – sound good?
  • Also think about making a clay model of the earth with the different layers in different colors and then slicing it in half.
  • You guys could also do some of those Dinosaur Digs in a Box to make it easy for you.  A surprise for a rainy day – you could drink some wine when they dig and chip away. (Sheila’s note: How can you not love her??!!)
  • Visit a Natural History Museum

Lesson Plans: January 2014


Hello, January. Here is what we’re up to.

Vincent, 12 years old, grade 6: Vincent will begin the new year with a block on geometry that will include both geometric drawing and history. I am using Melisa Nielsen’s geometry curriculum for grades 5-7 as my guide and I have found it to be exactly what I need. Melisa and I really gel when it comes to math. I highly (highly) recommend her math book for grades 1-5, especially if you are coming to Waldorf late. Her geometry book continues where her math book leaves off with the same simple clarity and full-scale lessons. I am starting Vincent with the Grade 5 lessons, as I think they provide a solid foundation, not to mention they will be challenging enough for both of us. To augment this practical and artistic study, we are also going to read the illuminating String, Straightedge and Shadow by Julia E. Diggins. This is a fascinating book about the philosophical foundations of mathematics in general and geometry in specific and also a wonderful continuation of The Library at Alexandria by Kelly Trumble that we read back in the fall with Rome.

Jude, 8 years old, grade 2: Jude will be exploring geometry as well, using Eric Fairman’s excellent guide Path of Discovery: Volume Two. I remember perusing this book back in the summer when I was doing my initial planning. I kept checking the cover to make sure what I was reading was really for a second grader. It was, and a lot of the same concepts are echoed in Donna Simmons’ Second Grade Mathematics as well. In addition to drawing the circle, square and triangle, we will also freehand an octagon and a hexagon. We will explore how triangles and squares relate, which will lead into a lesson on square and triangular numbers. The afternoons will find us all listening to the second book of the Little House series, Little House on the Prairie. This has become a tradition to start the new year with the Ingalls family. I buy the audio cds and we periodically revisit them throughout the year. (I think we listened to Little House in the Big Woods about five times last year.) We have gotten away from afternoon storytime and I am looking forward to having this quiet, intentional hour to sit, listen and sip tea.

Sheila, just about 44: January is a funny month. Usually chock-full of sweeping declarations and virtuous resolutions, it can be somewhat of a bust. Coming off December, which is always funky in some form or fashion, I usually try to start in slow this month: take stock and assess the first semester; get back to rhythm; plot out the remainder of the year. This is a lot, and yet, I normally see January as a place of prolonged paralysis. We don’t have the fresh energy that begins the new year, nor the downward momentum that kicks in around March or April. Last year, this led to serious thoughts of doubt (you can read about that here and here). Rather than staring wide-eyed at the next two months, viewing them as a dead-zone full of mental and emotional land mines, I am trying to reframe the picture and change my thinking. January and February are the fulcrum of our school year. They are a place of balanced rest. With this in the forefront of my mind, I’m going to use the next 60 days to collect my energy, make some adjustments and continue down the path. Thanks for walking with me.