We are starting another Native American block for homeschool (we are using the Christopherous 3rd grade syllabus this year). Last week we stdied the people of the desert, which I had been really looking forward to.
Three years ago we went on a cross-country camping trip to California along I-10, so we all got to soak up the desert environment a little. It was amazing to watch the land and vegetation slowly change on our journey. You could see how the lyre-leaf sage in Florida was closely related to the chia in New Mexico. Mirin made a sword out of a saguaro rib that he still treasures all these years later. We hiked (and got lost looking for grottos), tasted mesquite and sagebrush, identified desert animals and plants, and even stopped by the Sonoran Desert Museum – which is hands down the most amazing museum I’ve ever been to (I’ve been to lots of museums, as my mother used to work for the local museum here and went touring them all over). The desert museum had docents giving incredibly interesting mini-lectures about the wildlife, ethnobotany, and history. We got to hold a stone that was older than the sun – pretty amazing – and walk through their humming bird aviary.
So a lot of last week ended up being, “Remember when Rosie was two and we were in the desert…” but we also read some books about desert animals, weaving and some stories from the people of the desert. We also learned about the cliff dwellers, the pueblos and building with adobe.
I left all the writing and more academic bits for the last day, and we did mostly stories and activities earlier in the week. It worked out really well. We made pots from clay – Mirin put a design on his with candle smoke. We cooked two great dinners – one with chicken (instead of turkey, which they raised) and tortillas, and another with lima bean breads and salsa. They were actually out of my Mayan cookbook, but they had similar foods to work with. I wish we could have had some mesquite beans, too.
The best thing we did was the loom above. Yes, we actually built a loom and wove on it! I am inept at building things, so this was a huge accomplishment for me, especially since it involved sawing through a steel-like piece of old growth long leaf pine that was rescued from an old building (the nine-year-old didn’t have the motivation to complete this step, so I did most of that). It’s a bit wonky – okay, it has an obvious lean to it – but it works!
Mirin had felled a weedy cherry laurel tree in the yard the week before, so we used forked branches from it and skinned them with his whittling knife. We also got other straight branches for the other necessary sticks.
Years ago I actually had a real Navajo loom I’d bought at an estate sale. It had a beautiful unfinished tapestry on it. The woman who had started it had died, and her daughter was selling her things. She urged me to purchase it and try to finish it, despite my misgivings. I did buy it, and ended up ruining the tapestry by trying to figure it out (this was before the internet was such a resource like it is now). Then the loom sat in my room and gave me nightmares until I gave it away (I think it was haunted by the poor lady who started the tapestry. I’m sure my feeble, clawing attempts were the cause). Anyway, once I had watched a few how-to videos, it all became clear, even so many years later, what all those sticks were used for. It is ingenious, really, how it is set up.
Mirin was also inspired to try building an adobe-like platform on his pit. This was all his idea, which made me so happy it had made such an impression on him. I’m finding more and more that if I step back and let things breathe, he really gets so much more of homeschool.