Diversity in Education

farm day It has been six months now since both of my previously home schooled children have been enrolled in a new educational program offered at the elementary school here on Pender Island.  Since September, they have been attending a full time class (four days a week here in our district) for grades 4-8 focusing on ecological settings- in a true sense of the word: relating to or concerned with the relation of living organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

Yes, it is a program defined by the use of the natural outdoors and skills relating to living outdoors, enjoying outdoors, learning about nature, and challenging the physical strengths and confidences of active bodies in nature.  However, in the way that permaculture is not just about gardening, ecological learning is not just about plant identification and learning the life cycles of frogs.

This new program, initiated by parents and supported by the school board, started in September 2015 with 24 kids ages 9-13.  Some of those kids were previously home schooled,  some came from the previously established classrooms, and some were new students to the island.  Much of the focus in the first month was establishing respectful student relationships and group dynamics, regardless of age or social circles.  Co-operative games, trust games, continual cycling of group configurations, and blanket academic games allowed the teacher, Steve Dunsmuir, to begin the process of observing each student and their abilities on many levels.

Steve Dunsmuir came to us from Saturna Island, where he founded and taught the successful SEEC program for many years.  Steve Dunsmuir designed the Saturna Ecological Education Centre as part of his master’s degree in Environmental Education and Communication from Royal Roads University. He has taught and learned with almost every age group from kindergarten to university over his 25+ years as a teacher, and enjoyed four years as a Faculty Associate for Simon Fraser University’s Professional Development Program. He has also learned much from his wife and six children and was surprised to be named “Outstanding K-12 Educator” in 2010 by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM).

The PEEC program (Pender Ecological Education Community) was inspired by the format of the Saturna program, which has also branched into the Salt Spring hosted MYSEEC program for grades 6-8.  A similar program on Galiano has been created for the older students there, unofficially called MYGEEC.  “SEEC’s place-based approach to learning blurs the lines between school and the community so that both are one and the same. Our island is our classroom and our people and the natural world our teachers.”

forest daySo what do they do in a day?  It varies.  There are many project based activities that get attention during the week, like independent science research projects.  Sometimes a community member comes and talks or leads an activity, such as building books with cedar covers, or carving, or a presentation on archaeology.  The students participate in the school music program, and can take part in any lunch time activities or whole school events.  They have a buddy program with the primary grade class, and use the library, gym, and computer lab.  The whole class in engaged in a game called Archipelago, which is a multi-faceted experience ranging from geography and topography to native flora and fauna to writing skills, math, predictions, adventure, developing real and imagined skill sets for characters, and eventually creating settlements and pioneering skills.  They spend one full day every week at a local forest/farm, where they play games, develop outdoor skills (like fire, food and shelter), have Solo-tude time, write, build, hike, create spaces, and inhale a lot of oxygen, no matter what the weather.  They are learning to become Enviromentors, and will host days with visiting classes from on and off Pender, leading the visitors through games and activities.  As the weather improves, plans to explore further and for longer lengths of time are in the works.  One such outdoor adventure was a 7km hike, in preparation for the proposed plan of hiking the Juan De Fuca trail (Vancouver Island) at the end of the school year.  During their hike, the students looked for and found four geo-caches, (which they have all become experts at through developing orienteering skills with a compass), climbed Mt. Menzies where they had lunch overlooking a magnificent view of the islands, watched for and made notes of the various birds they saw, and looked at a small salmon hatchery in the Hope Bay stream were the eggs were “asleep” but about to release as fry.  The kids were also writing alliterative haiku poems, all day, according to an attending parent (of which there are usually a few, because we all feel like this is the school we all wanted…)

Academics have been expanded to fit the levels of the age spread, regardless of grade.  A math topic such as “the sphere factor” can be taken from basic circle and sphere calculations to complex formulas.  “Novel Ideas” are opportunities for any level of reading and writing skills to be exercised with reflection and comprehension.  Individualized spelling lists are given based on each students’ spelling errors.  A supportive relationship between Steve and the kids results in communication about challenges (not enough?  Too much?) and the ability to self evaluate is encouraged.  Parents have been invited for student-led conferences, where the kids take their parents around the class and explain the different activities and how they are doing, with Steve available for further open discussion.

Although much of this class is vastly different from when I went to school, some of it is not too different from what other “regular” classes have to offer.  I have highlighted here what appears to me to be normal opportunities, as well as the aspects that make PEEC an alternative choice for some students.  Diversity in education is a huge factor in raising diverse children in a world of diverse values.  My children are thriving in the class, in a way that as homeschoolers, they did not have access to.  I have heard nothing but positive comments from all parents of all the children enrolled, and that encourages me to believe that the PEEC class is off to a successful beginning.

For us, our journey as home schoolers appears to be over.  The term Life Learning, often used instead, is more aptly appropriate anyways.  Life has offered us a new direction, and we are all so very happy that it is a wonderful fit.

Angora Scarves

I have finally woven up two scarves using the skein of angora fibre that I spun from our chocolate french angora rabbit, Gustav.  I mixed it with some hand spun, hand painted merino from a Pender Island fibre artist, I Heart Ewe (iheartewe.etsy.com) that my daughter gave to me for christmas.  The two scarves are for each of us.

Truly, the softest fibre I have ever touched.  I look forwards to experimenting with more!

January Weaving

The (slightly) quieter schedule that engulfs us after the holiday swirl offers a perfect time to focus attention back at my loom.  After a recent trip to Knotty By Nature in Victoria for a new array of warp thread, including some shiny bamboo, I have been continually inspired to explore and play with many ideas and colours.

Moss & Arbutus- My first attempt to weave from an idea of composition that I originally drew.  Warp threads are bamboo, weft consists of merino, and baby llama/mulberry silk blend.  The white accents are hand spun angora collected from my own rabbits.  158cm long (63in.) x 27cm (10.5in.)  $75.

Fire- woven on the same bamboo warp as Moss & Arbutus, I used green baby llama/mulberry silk blend with Noro wool featuring long colour changes.  I played with the effect of clasp weaving using two yarns of differing thickness.  130cm (51in.) x 27cm (10.5in.)  $60.

Forest Windows was inspired by seeing small squares woven separately in a cloak somewhere online, creating little “windows” that opened on the sides.  Same bamboo warp as the above pieces, I used similar merino with the baby llama/mulberry silk blend, with moments of white alpaca.  145 cm (57in.) x 27cm (10.5in.) $65.

Pond is a tiny little neck warmer in the same hues as Ocean.  It is only 105cm (41in.) x 13cm (5in), and was woven on the same warp as Ocean, except that I split the warp and wove two separate pieces at the same time.  $35.

Ocean is a long expanse of blues, purples, and white with flecks of cream and deep green.  I used alpaca, merino, wool, and some locally spun and dyed merino on cotton warp.   Randomly placed spaces in the warp add some visual texture in the length.  This piece measures 195cm (78in.) x 32cm (12.5in.), and may one day become a piece of clothing.

All of these pieces are currently for sale.

 

Angora Heaven

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Locally harvested!  100% French Angora, Gustav, the fibre machine. 

It has taken a bit of time, almost 6 months in fact, to finally catch the chance to spin some of the super soft angora fibre that I have been collecting from the three rabbits, Gustav, Rosey and Peter.  In the time that I have been learning to care for them, I have witnessed their own unique bunny personalities, as well as individual fibre qualities and shedding times.  Gustav has proved to be the manufacturing machine, with a grow back and release time of about 2 months.  I have collected a large amount of his lovely grey tinted fibre.  Rosey loves to hold on to her wedding gown cascade of pure white fibre, and resists many of my attempts to pull it out until just the right time, which is closer to 3 or 4 months.  Peter is a satin x french angora, and has very fine fibre that doesn’t seem to ever grow too long, and doesn’t produce the quantity that I get from Gustav, as he sheds somewhere in the middle of the other two.  Peter has a lovely orange brown to his coat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My long term goal is to blend the angora with some other fibre, which means experimenting with carders to pre-blend the fibres together before spinning.  Since my time has been short, I have not been able to gather tools to test out before buying, so I decided last month to go ahead and try spinning some fibre 100% and without any carding.  Teasing out handfuls of lofty bunny hair which had been harvested straight from my rabbit, I gave it a light spray with water that had a few drops of jojoba oil and lavender oil in it, as was suggested by my most referred to book, The Nervous New Owners Guide To Angora Rabbits, by Suzie Sugrue.  That kept it from flying all around the room!  It was not too hard to spin, and I was inspired to keep the harvested fibre more orderly for next time.  The pieces that were nicely aligned spun up more evenly than the chunks that were tangled from the brush, or from being scrunched in the bag.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I made one large skein of 2-ply, 100% angora, and then a made another small quantity that was 2-ply, one of the ply’s being 100% alpaca.  The two fibres mixed wonderfully, and I think that once I get a handle on pre-blending, then the possibilities for creative mixing will become another source of heaven in my hands.

Marine Biology Beach Seine

beach seine netOur beautiful fall weather has offered some amazing days for outdoor explorations, especially at the beach!  As a snorkeler, I am always interested in finding out what is going on at different times of the year below the surface of the ocean.  Fish, however, are elusive, fast moving, and hard to identify as they scoot among the seaweeds.  So I was very happy to witness the workings of a beach seine collecting an array of fish that live in the nursery habitat of eel grass beds in the sheltered bays of the Gulf Islands.

Doug setting the seine net

Doug setting the seine net

Marine Biologists Doug and Jennifer Swanston came over from Vancouver for the day.  Jennifer has worked as a naturalist/interpreter for several groups, and has a BSc from UBC.  Doug Swanston has been working in the field of marine biology since the early 1980s, after graduating with his BSc from UBC.  He is involved in research as well as education.

eel grass beach seineA seine is a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights and its top edge buoyed by floats. Seine nets can be deployed from the shore as a beach seine, or from a boat.  Seine nets have been used widely in the past, all around the globe since the stone age.  Pre-European Maori deployed 1,000 meter long seine nets woven from green flax, with stone weights and light wood or gourd floats, and could require hundreds of men to haul.  American Native Indians on the Columbia River wove seine nets from spruce root fibers or wild grass, again using stones as weights. For floats they used sticks made of cedar which moved in a way which frightened the fish and helped keep them together.  Seine nets are also well documented in ancient cultures in the Mediterranean region, appearing in Egyptian tomb paintings from 3000 BC.  They are still in use today for fishing, but they also enable marine biologists to carefully collect samples of fish and other specimens for research, allowing them to be released with little disturbance.

setting the seine netDoug and Jennifer were working with a group of 24 children, from grades 4-8, who are a part of the Pender Ecological Education Community.  Doug began the day with some discussion of taxonomy and habitats; the classifications of seaweeds and grasses and the role that the different types have for different fish during the year.  The nursery habitats of the eel grass areas have been previously mapped, with help from the Seagrass Conservation Working Group, and are especially worth observing for fish populations throughout the year.  I have seen many types of small schools of fish while snorkeling, and the shallow, warmer waters protected by tall forests of the grasses with areas of sandy sea floors seem like the perfect place to hide and feed in relative safety from larger prey.

To set the seine net, Doug walked out into bay at the edge of the eel grass area and pulled along the floats of the net, leaving a rope going out of the water to the beach.  He continued to pull the net open as he waded, almost neck high, across to a large rock in the middle of the bay, and eventually came ashore with another rope.  Half the group was sent to one end of the rope, and the other half was to keep hold of the opposite side.  There were very controlled instructions, and an attentive atmosphere surrounded the kids, as movements were specific and closely monitored by Doug and Jennifer.  The group at the far end of the beach slowly pulled the rope towards the beach, while carefully walking along the beach towards the other group, who also began pulling and walking.  The idea was to make of the net a crescent shape, tucking the sides in towards the beach while leaving a gentle balloon out into the water so the fish were not startled or tangled in the net, but simply being herded in towards the beach.  As the net eventually came in closer, the excitement mounted, and Doug was wonderful at encouraging the interest but also outlining guidelines and procedures that will above all, ensure that the lives of the creatures being collected would not be harmed in any way- by being stepped on, dragged across barnacles and rocks, left out of the water, or suffering from scale damage due to too much handling.  To one concerned child he said,”this is a seine net!  If anything gets hurt, that would be insane!”

Once the net was pulled up closer to shore, the kids were encouraged to make an estimate of the number of fish rounded up.  Each child had a bucket with fresh sea water in it, and when the time came for Doug to really haul the net up, they each had the chance to scoop a fish for their own observations.  At this point, everyone was so excited- pointing and exclaiming and talking all at once, with questions and answers flying.  Silver and orange fish flashed in the vibrant green, while purple crabs clambered about and unknown creatures slithered.  Collected fish were named, shown, given seaweed to hide in, talked about, questioned, and eventually accompanied each student for a quick lunch break.  Doug was clear that the buckets had to be in a shady spot, and no hands were to be continually placed in the water, so the temperature doesn’t warm up.  Adequate oxygen levels needed to be considered, so a particularly large Whitespot Greenling was placed in a larger cooler of water.  It turned out to be a female carrying a belly full of eggs.

Doug went through the collected fish and made notes of what was found, as well as identifying to the group interesting facts about specific specimens.  Of particular interest was the bay pipefish, our local variety of sea horse, which depends on the eel grass beds entirely.  We also found a pen point gunnel, with beautiful eye stripes and a colour to match the eel grass itself.  There were lots of threespine sicklebacks, striped seaperch, pile perch, kelp perch, shiner perch, and tubesnouts, which congregate in large schools.  Doug estimated over a hundred fish were in the net, and as he pulled the net gently back out into the water to release them, he seemed quite excited that so much life was present and healthy in our local waters.

Discovery Apples!

Clockwise: Tydeman's Late Orange, Bramley's Seedling, Lord Lambourne, Rubinette

Clockwise: Tydeman’s Late Orange, Bramley’s Seedling, Lord Lambourne, Rubinette

Our orchard, now in it’s second year, (and first year of fruiting) has produced 8 varieties of apples out of the 17 types that we planted.  Most of the trees had flowers, and it is my guess that the intensely early heat and dryness that we experienced last spring might have contributed to incomplete pollination of many of the trees, or the flowers prematurely falling off.  We have the trees on an irrigation system to help establish the trees in their early years, but it was indeed a challenging season for water and heat.

slicing up Bramley's Seedling

slicing up Bramley’s Seedling

We had one early, transparent variety, a Lodi, drop it’s apples before we realized what type it was!  I spent some time after that looking up the varieties that we planted so we knew generally when to pick the few apples without wasting them.  (The varieties were chosen by Bob Duncan of Fruits Trees and More, and are a diverse collection of heritage apples ripening at different times and having different properties.  They are all a mystery to us and so we are slowly learning by experience!)

Here is what we tasted this year:

Lodi- early transparent from 1924, USA.  Good fresh eating (if harvested at the right time!)  We didn’t get a picture but it looked like a transparent- greeny yellow and soft.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lord Lambourne

Lord Lambourne- produced the most this year, with a harvest of 9 apples between 2 trees!  A delicious, juicy, crunchy, flavourful apple that we all loved. From 1923 in England.  Mid season.

Rubinette

Rubinette

Rubinette- only 2 apples, fruity and a beautiful red blush over a yellow background.  Almost glowing in colour.  1966, Switzerland- not entirely a heritage.  Mid season.

Bramley's Seedling

Bramley’s Seedling

Bramley’s Seedling- definitely a late season as the 2 huge apples we got were still tart and a bit hard.  However, the description we found said tart, excellent baking apple that keeps 4 months.  1809, England, gives it official heritage status in my mind.

snow

snow

Snow- We got 8 of these little gems between the 2 trees.  They are bright red and beautifully round.  Late season, so we haven’t picked them, but my son ate one and said it was delicious.  Trees Of Antiquity says this:  Snow Fameuse is one of the oldest and most desirable dessert apples, a parent of the aromatic McIntosh. It was found in almost every French settlement, in the late 1700’s, as the Snow apple was planted 1,000 miles in every direction of Canada and the lower states. Flesh is tender, spicy, distinctive in flavor, and snow white in color with occasional crimson stains near the skin. Snow apple is very hardy, heavy bearing tree that is excellent for home orchards. Snow Fameuse is delicious fresh off the tree, in cider, or in culinary creations. One of very few apples that often reproduce true to variety when established from seed.

Tydeman's Late Orange

Tydeman’s Late Orange

Tydeman’s Late Orange- As named, another late variety, but we only had one so we went ahead and tried it.  From England, 1949, good fresh eating and can store for 5-6 months.

Poppy's Wonder

Poppy’s Wonder

Poppies’ Wonder- I couldn’t find much about this variety, and I think this is why- “In the 1990’s, there have even been some great recent chance seedlings such as Poppy’s Wonder, created when a Cox seed was thrown in a compost pile in Victoria, BC and this fabulous apple tree resulted.” Harry Burton, on why we don’t need a GE apple.I think it is a late season apple, very red and round and sweet.

spitzenburg

spitzenburg

Spitzenburg- This single apple we harvested was fantastic.  Another heritage- Spitzenburg apple was discovered in the late 1700s by an early Dutch settler of that name. It was found at the settlement of Esopus, on the Hudson River, in Ulster County, New York. Much attention was bestowed upon Spitzenburg apple when Thomas Jefferson ordered a dozen trees for his orchard in Monticello. Unexcelled in flavor or quality, the fruit is great off the tree, but flavor radically improves in storage. Medium apple with crisp, yellow skin covered with inconspicuous red stripes and russet freckles. Flesh is tinged yellow, firm, aromatic, and complex in flavor; a perfect balance between sharp and sweet.  Late season.

rubinetteSo much to learn and discover!  We look forwards to getting to know the rest of the apples as they begin to produce in the coming years, along with the apricot, nectarine, peach, pears, and quince- and the  plums and asian pears that we have ordered for planting in march.

 

 

Angora Additions to the Family

For many years, I have had the idea to eventually raise angora rabbits as part of our family and farm.  I imagined that I would wait until all our building projects were done, when I might have more space in my time to learn and manage another project.  However, it seemed evident that our home schooling journey needed more long term and interactive projects, and I realized that the things I wanted to do were also things that my kids were interested in, and besides, home schooling for us is all about living, creating, and doing- just learning through life.  So I promptly gave my twelve year old daughter the task of taking on some research to find out what we need to know and do, and where to acquire some rabbits.  In her process, she herself fell in love with the possibilities of these cozy cute creatures, and began to be a major motivation to our moving forwards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rosey- Sable French Angora, 1 year old

We decided to find some French Angora rabbits, since that seemed to be the breed that was an easier level of management for first time bunny owners.  They have a clear face, free of long hair, and a thick coat of soft hair that doesn’t tangle as quickly as some other breeds.  We weren’t too keen on the rabbits that had a face hidden behind so much hair!  Their fibre can be gently pulled off their bodies every 3 months, when the new undercoat grows in, so no shearing required.  We looked at a space to give them, the food they needed, the protection they needed, and the management of their poop.  We also found that they are hypo-allergenic, which was just what we needed, since my mother with whom we live is seriously allergic to cats.  French angora’s seemed to be a lovely pet, (they generally have a good temperament and are playful and clean), they can live outside, (great for our small space), they produce beautiful fibre for all my weaving and spinning projects, and we obtain a constant supply of rich rabbit manure that can be applied fresh right to the garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peter- Chocolate Agouti French Satin x, 3 years old

We didn’t find any breeders in our area, or even distant area, but we did find an owner who was no longer able to look after her two french angora’s, and one french/satin x.  The two french’s, one male and one female, both young, are a breeding pair so we can grow our numbers if we like.  The other is an older male who has a beautiful, finer coat, and was the last one she was left with.  We decided to take them all.  They are all pedigree.

There was a lot of different types of housing offered for rabbits.  We were given a double long wooden hutch, so we started with that for Gustav, the young french angora male.

Gustav- Chocolate French Angora, 1 year old

Gustav- Chocolate French Angora, 1 year old

We built a 6 foot square enclosure for him to run around in when we are out in the yard with him.  I haven’t seen any signs that he might want to dig his way out.  It is shaded and covered from over head predators.  We added two enclosures underneath the wooden one, on the deck of our old trailer, which both open to two separate 4 foot square runs, with wire floors and a roof to keep the area dry and shaded.  We supplied a litter tray with a drop pan underneath, which they seem to be using after we placed them in the corners that the bunnies had decided were their bathroom areas.  Gustav’s hutch came with slatted floors and drop pans, which are so easy to empty and keep clean.

We have already collected quite a bit of fibre from them.  It has taken a few times of grooming to get them used to us, but mostly they have all been very patient while we brush and pluck and generally pick through their fibre, checking for any bugs, tangles, cuts or signs of needed care.  The previous owner of these rabbits generously supplied me with many books to read through, and I read that observation and time with the bunnies is the best way to know what they need.  (The Nervous New Owner’s Guide To Angora Rabbits, by Suzie Sugrue was the best!)  Between myself, my husband, my mother, and my two kids, we are constantly looking to see how they are doing and if they are happy.  My daughter goes to feed them as soon as she gets up in the morning, and we brush each of them in rotation every few days, and clean out their living areas thoroughly once a week, with daily litter pan emptying.  We feed them some greens and vegetables everyday, with a constant supply of timothy hay that is locally grown on the Saanich Peninsula.  They eat pellets, and a small amount of dried papaya to help their stomachs digest any of the long hair they swallow while grooming themselves.

All of this doesn’t take too long, but it certainly is a reminder of the commitment to have small creatures in our care.  It has been wonderful to witness the connections that the kids have made with the rabbits, and the level of responsibility that they have shown to keeping them healthy and loved.  My daughter put together a presentation for our home schooling group on angora rabbits.

I have yet to spin any of the fibre, but as I have collected it, I have been dreaming of the the super soft and warm scarves, hats, or shawls it could become.  Rabbits love greens!Every thing happens in it’s own time, and eventually I will understand the inticacies of the art of using the fibre, just as I am beginning to understand the procedures of care for our new family fluff balls!

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: