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Autumn In The Alps

October 07, 2007

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Some how the spectacular beauty and the blazing fall color display in the Alps caught me by surprise.
We had not originally planned on being here in the fall, and after such an endless summer in the Mediterranean, it was a breath of fresh air and bolt from the blue. We are more Med people being from California, but suddenly being in the crisp cool air in the Alps in this season seemed so perfect and invigorating. Timing is everything and it seems funny that even when we are running late, the timing turns out so right. I love it when the “mistakes” in life lead you to right where you need to be when you need to be there.

Much of Slovenia looks like a big park and Austria is more dramatic and theatrical than I expected.
We meandered from the Julian Alps nearby Lake Bled thru the mighty Alps of Salzkammergut towards Salzburg. They have high season in verdant summers and white Christmas-y winters, so fall is a perfect time to go to avoid crowds and high prices. The vivid flowers are still in bloom, the grass is an unbelievable bright green and the brilliant fall foliage gives even the best New England harvest pageant a run for its money.

Cradling lush green valleys, these vibrantly colored, magnificent mountains bring a sight to “oooh” and “ahhh” about around every bend, so driving was a joy. Charming chapels with steeples and wood fronted houses draped with vibrant, well-tended flower boxes, rock lined rivers dot the harvest colored landscape with the dramatic Alps as a background. The towering Alps surround gleaming deep blue lakes that mirror their peaks or hide in billowing clouds of mysterious fog.

The bell ringing cows, goats and swimming swans add to the Alpine charm. Although we were not in Germany, suddenly we instantly knew why Heidi loved her mountains. We stopped at a random, rural gas station and using the bathroom there, I had to go back and get my camera as astonishingly, the view from it out into the lush bright green meadow was too priceless!

It is a good thing I got to experience the long tunnels thru mountains in Croatia, as there were many more in Austria, so I was more prepared. Mozart just loves them and she would be sad to see the light at the end, but I was always relieved. Sometimes they would have an extremely long one, then a break of light and then immediately into another long one. I think I actually got used to them after a while as there were so many and sometimes going thru a mountain rather than up and down it feels easier on
our vehicle. We had never been thru tunnels this long and I have driven all over the United States.

We try and do some “road school” on driving days since we have less time on touring days for the formal part of our school and Mozart is stuck in the back anyway. One thing I need to bring more of next year
is chapter books for my ever reading kiddo, as I have failed her a bit in this area and she has had to do lots of rereading and rereading again, despite my bringing a lot. But we have a separate drawer of homeschool books that has helped fill in the lull at times, along with ones we buy from time to time if we find anything appropriate in English.

She has some workbooks that work good for the road in math and one with reading tests, vocabulary tests and grammar that she enjoys. She likes stories, so things like “Best Children's Classics” or Joe Hayes “Watch out for Clever Women” folktales in Spanish and English, works out well and we have quite a few collections like that. She reads “The Random House Book of Poetry for Children” selected by Prelutsky when she is in the mood for poetry. I help her compile an appropriate stash for a long drive that gives her a little bit of everything. Madlibs are always a hit and take up no room.

“What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know” and other books in this Core Knowledge Series are wonderful resources for us and we use several grades. They have lots of good stories in the language and literature section as well as good information on lots of topics that she likes to read. We use it less as a text book and more as a fun reading book. It is also a good source for me, to make sure we are not missing anything essential.

She adores American Girls Guide to manners and reads that over and over. Math Shark and math wraps give her a fun way to work on math facts. She also really enjoys the Klutz books like “Earthsearch.. A Kid's Geography Museum in a Book” or their many fun-stuff-for-sitting-in-a-car books. I find that she often goes back and reads some of the books that we have bought along the way about the places we have visited which is nice to see. I learn a lot about what interests her by what she chooses and spends the most time on.

She uses her book drawers like her library and it has worked pretty good between fiction and non fiction books and she enjoys self selecting when the mood strikes or before a long drive or various transportation ride. As I write this, she has self selected and gotten down the book “Dibujar animales”, her colored pencil bag and a notebook to join me in a quiet time project before bed. That's how it works often, she decides and leads her own projects, so that gives her lots of freedom.

This book is a Spanish one that teaches how to draw different animals. Skinny and useful, so ripe for travel! It is one she has had since she was a baby, but still takes this one (or other similar ones) out from time to time to initiate a project. She use to draw things from this book with daddy on the tub using special crayons when she was about a year old with this book.

Now she is using it just to start her idea or help her draw the animals better than she might without it and she adds all kinds of other details from memory. She rapidly drew pages and pages using the book as a reference, then pulled them out of the spiral notebook, cut off the frayed edges, stapled them together and made a book cover and book of her own about drawing animals. She is a happy little maker and on one recent long ride, she wrote and made books most of  the way as it is a project she enjoys. She is a child who has always enjoyed procedure.

My only problem is how to add more books next year, which might mean getting rid of some of mine (and we parents only have one drawer!). If I provide good material, her busy nature and love of books actually makes homeschooling, even on the road, pretty easy. She gets the basics in and then the experience itself and touring gives a richness that could never be duplicated.

I am amazed at how much she remembers in our thirteen months of travel and think that often spending more time really gives her more sense of a place. I think the long stays make her feel like she actually has lived in these places, which in a way she has. She gets to know the grocery stores, bits of the language, public transportation, playgrounds as well as touring the museums and seeing the sites.

Piano mostly gets put on hold in fast travel, but we try to keep up with the violin which is easier because of its size. I must find her a teacher when we get to Spain as I think she needs more challenge in that area. We do try to not go longer than a week or two without piano, so that she does not lose any skills.
It has been fun to find pianos sometimes in hotels to practice on.

I thought we would do more specific work on art, but moving while homeschooling has unique challenges. Her father is an artist so they work on lots of projects together usually quite spontaneously and she is always making something on her own. We store what we can, she has her own little folder, or we take pictures of it. Perhaps it is her Virgo nature, but she is quite good at working in a small space and keeping order with her many small things as everything has to have its place in such tight quarters. The mini stapler, small pencil sharpener or scissors all must be put back in the proper spot if they are to be used again and art neatly stored. She still uses her small paint kit that she got in Paris last year at the Louvre and she would paint every day if we let her, but it is messy for an RV.

Recently, we have gotten repeated feedback that our listing of books has been helpful, so I will try to get my lists more together and up on the blog once we get to Spain. Two art series that Mozart has loved and reads over and over on her own are “The Child's Gift of Art” by Anholt ( ISBN0-7641-7524-6) with four books about DaVinci, Degas, Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh and all the Katie books by James Mayhew. They are fun stories for kids about art, are small, skinny and portable and I think they really support our museum tours. I love it that she can learn so much on her own by reading and am grateful for these authors who make learning joyful. I am a firm believer that adult museums can and should be a great source for young children too if approached right.

We are also excited by this part of the world because we are anticipating seeing more musical and opera performances here. One can not help but fall into singing tunes from the “Sound of Music” like that forty-some-year-old refrain “The hills are alive” and we have been watching that dvd together at night to prepare for our tour when we get to Salzburg. We also listened to Mozart's opera “The Magic Flute” on CD that he wrote in Salzburg (his birthplace), through this dramatic  scenery which seemed appropriate, as soon we will be celebrating everything Mozart!

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Marlana

That is absolutely breathtaking!

Jeanne

Aw, thanks Marlana! It's a really special area.

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