Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Museums Make You Smarter

You wouldn't know it from reading this blog, but the truth is that before moving to New York I knew next to nothing about art.  My only childhood memories of going to museums was on our once yearly school field trip and those were always history museums.  When the kids were younger in California, the extent of our museum trips with them was to children's museums.  Very rarely did we venture into an art museum.

Fast forward forty years and there isn't a week that goes by that we're not in a museum at some point.  Honestly, we average about 4 museum trips each week, if you include their classes.

On Saturday Ella and I took advantage of a kids' sketching tour at The Whitney Museum of American Art.  I had been to the new space that the Whitney moved into this year but the last time Ella was at the Whitney it was still in its old location.  I was excited to show it to her (it's a gorgeous building right on the Hudson River) and what better way to spend a Saturday morning with my favorite daughter than sketching art?  Also, the Whitney has the kids' tours before the museum is even open to the public, so we literally had the entire place to ourselves (along with the 3 other kids on the tour).  Pretty incredible.

Earlier in the week we met Kevin on Thursday evening after work down in Chelsea, the epicenter of art galleries.  Thursday nights are a happening time down there because that's the night all of the galleries have their openings and so art lovers from near and far come to see and be seen.  It was quite the scene and Kevin and I felt completely underdressed and a little uncool dragging our kids around with us until a woman looked at Ella admiring a picture made completely out of pencil sharpenings and said, "I wish I had thought to bring my daughter tonight."

We were there to see the opening of a book of photographs by one of our favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy.  You've seen his work on this blog at Storm King and if you haven't watched the documentary about him, Rivers and Tides, do yourself a favor.


What I love about his art is that it is so accessible for the kids.  Everything is made out of nature.  We often play "Andy Goldsworthy" when we're camping.

We continued to wander around Chelsea, popping into various galleries until the kids made us stop to eat.  This strange performance piece was a hit with the kids (yes, it's a live man with his head and legs in large pots of coffee beans).


So I'm becoming an art expert right along with the kids.  Luckily, I came across a study this week to help justify all of the time and money we've spent in museums.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Answering a Question You Never Asked

I watched a documentary about homeschooling this week.  I'm not going to link to it because frankly, it wasn't very good.  But in it the mother is asked repeatedly why she thinks she's qualified to teach her children.  What makes her think she can do a better job than a trained, certified teacher in a classroom?

I've never been asked that directly, but I'm sure many have wondered it to themselves.  I didn't feel like the mother in the movie was able to answer that question (she was still very new to homeschooling), but after more than a year into this, I can answer it pretty well for myself.

I have so much respect for classroom teachers.  I love teachers and know that they have the most difficult job there is.  It may seem counterintuitive but what I do at home with my kids doesn't resemble what a classroom teacher does.  Teaching a classroom of 20-30 children takes skills and training that I don't have.  Teaching my own two children however, is very different.  I actually don't even consider myself their teacher in the usual sense.  I don't stand in front of them and tell them information they need to know and send them off to practice it.  I see my job as helping them to teach themselves.  I may tell them which pages to read, what problems to work on.  I'm there to help them as needed.  But for the vast majority of the day they're working independently.

I'm smart enough to know what my limitations are and know when it's time to contract out a subject.  We take full advantage of all of the amazing resources and brains that New York City has to offer.  Taking a history course at the New York Historical Society from professionals who have spent years studying history?  In a place where they get to see and touch real artifacts and original documents?  Yes, please.  Learning about habitats and evolution at the zoo from an animal expert?  Yep.  Walking around the Metropolitan Museum of Art every week with someone who has multiple degrees in art history and ancient civilizations?  They do that too.  And learning the craft of writing while sitting one-on-one with a published author?  I wish I could do that.

In the Information Age we can access an incredible amount of quality education and programming right on our computers.  The kids have both taken advantage of customized math programs online that adapt to their skills and will feed them questions based on their responses to previous answers until they have mastered a topic.  Unlike a textbook or workbook, online programs can instantly tailor to the needs of a student, giving more exercises on areas they need more practice on and moving on when it's clear they know what they're doing.  It's incredibly efficient.  And as I write this post, both kids are sitting next to me teaching themselves the computer coding language Python on a website that Holden found all by himself.

Kevin and I want them to learn how to learn.  We know we can't fill them with all of the information they'll need for their lives in a thirteen-year education.  And with the way technology has changed the world, we don't have to.  But we do want them to be able to think critically.  We want them to love the process of finding solutions and answers.  We want them to have the time and the resources to follow their own paths.  Not after they graduate from college, but starting right now.

So Kevin and I are not doing this alone.  I'm not so arrogant as to think that I could replace a classroom teacher.  Our kids have many classroom teachers, online teachers, other parent teachers.  They have me and they have Kevin.

But in the end, we believe they will be their own best teachers.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Fatal Duel

It was a productive weekend for Team Skaggs.  Our Allen wrench got a workout assembling lots of flat-packed furniture.  Good storage is key when you live in a small space.  So we invested in some nice cabinetry from CB2 and IKEA to help with Ella and Holden's bedrooms.

I didn't like the original drawer pulls so I used some from IKEA's kitchen department

And in between assembling furniture Ella and I got out for a mother-daughter afternoon while Kevin refereed at Holden's soccer game.  The New York City Ballet has Family Saturdays periodically, so we went to our first this weekend.  They performed excerpts from several different ballets, with a great host explaining what we were seeing and inviting the kids in the audience to stand up and try it for themselves (please note that Ella is practically a tween now and much too cool for that kind of thing).

Seeing anything at Lincoln Center is worth the ticket price, in and of itself. 

On Saturday night Kevin and I got a wonderful night out as the kids participated in the local Jewish Community Center's Kids' Night Out.  The theme this month was science and microscopes.  A no-brainer.  It's as if they planned it just for Ella.  The kids came home with beautiful paintings of what they saw in the microscopes.  Kevin and I enjoyed an unprecedented three hours of uninterrupted conversation.  

And I'm throwing this last photo in just because it embodies my experience with New York City.  On Friday while I was waiting for the kids to be released from their history class at the New York Historical Society, I glanced down into the cabinet that I had been leaning on.  It turns out my resting spot was on top of the two actual pistols used by Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr in their infamous 1804 duel (Hamilton was the slower draw).  The actual pistols...how cool is that?


Friday, October 16, 2015

Carnegie on the Cheap

Anytime you have the opportunity to go to Carnegie Hall for $4 a ticket, you don't think twice.

A fellow homeschool mom was able to score a batch of discounted tickets for a group of us to see the Sphinx Virtuosi on Tuesday night. Kevin joined us and for the second year in a row we enjoyed a night of beautiful classical music played by talented young musicians. 

Sphinx is an organization that supports and promotes young people of color to pursue careers as classical musicians. The Sphinx Virtuosi is an all string band of fourteen musicians including an amazing 15 year-old violinist.

Not bad for four bucks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rip Van Winkle

A month or so ago I asked Ella how she wanted to celebrate her birthday this year.  If I was going to book a venue for a party or buy Broadway tickets, I'd need some advance notice.  She chose camping.  That's my girl.  Granted, this was on the heels of our awesome trip up to Woodstock for Labor Day weekend.  But let's just say I was pretty proud of her.


She brought her buddy Maeve with her and the five of us set off in a thunderstorm on Friday night, out of the city, up the east side of the Hudson, back up to Woodstock.

Camping in October on the East Coast isn't like camping in October on the West Coast.  It was very chilly, especially at night.  But we bundled up and made a lot of campfires and drank a lot of hot cocoa.

We enjoyed a beautiful fall hike on Saturday in the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve.  We hiked for about three hours and never ran into another person.  One deer, but no people.  We had the entire, gorgeous preserve all to ourselves.

We tried a new place, Rip Van Winkle Campground, and so of course Kevin had to bring his copy of Washington Irving's short story set in the Catskills, Rip Van Winkle, and read it by the camp fire.

On our way back down to the city on Sunday we had to stop at what I still think is the most photogenic place on Earth, and easily one of my favorite places in New York, Storm King Art Center, the 500-acre sculpture park with over 100 installations by such renowned artists as Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra, Mark Di Suvero, Alexander Calder, Andy Goldsworthy, and even Roy Lichtenstein.  Unfortunately, I hadn't brought my nice camera and my iPhone was almost out of memory, so my photos aren't excellent.  But you can see some better photos on my post from two years ago when we first visited.  We also happened upon a tour for children that we joined and had the most amazing and animated docent for an hour and a half.

Inside Noguchi.

Getting a different perspective of an Alexander Calder.

Andy Goldsworthy wall

My happy place.