homeschool resource center

Macomber Spring!

Spring has arrived at Macomber Center, and with it a revival of the wonderful assortment of outside activities enjoyed by our members.  Back when the snow was still on the ground but the days were warming up, we tapped a dozen of the large maple trees on the property, collecting 40 gallons of sap, which we boiled down to one gallon of amazingly good syrup. We all enjoyed more than one pancake feast featuring our own syrup.

With outdoors becoming more green and beautiful by the day, games of four square, base ball, basket ball, and pickle happen daily, and the Tae Kwon Do class happens outside, with green belts being earned and awarded to the entire group last week. Our grounds have so many beautiful places to explore, and this week there was a small stream on the way to the "secret" place that required a stick-and-mud bridge to be built for crossing.

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Inside activities included much music making, anagram and bananagram games, cooking, Scratch programing classes, marine dissection and forensic science classes, block building, and some iPad games as well. We are all looking forward to our end of the year pot-luck and movie night, when the latest film made here at the Center will be shown.

Winter Days

So much has happened at Macomber Center over these past cold weeks. We have enjoyed many return trips to Wachusett Mountain, where skiing and snowboarding happen on a weekly basis. There was excellent sledding on our campus for a few weeks, before the rain melted the snow away, leaving icy, bare ground in its place.  Skating at Loring Arena is a weekly occurrence, and recently a large group of our members paid a visit to the new Sky Zone trampoline park in Westborough, and jumped for an hour! Just before our winter break, seven kids completed the first level of the tae kwon do practice they have been learning since October. 

There has been much music-making at Macomber, with saxophones, harmonicas, guitars and piano all being practiced on many days. Ongoing biology and latin interests have persisted, and different levels of math have been explored.

We had a wonderfully successful Movie Premier Night, with dinner served before the showing of the latest movie produced at Macomber Center - "It Happened On Horrible Hill",  a fictional tale loosely based on Framingham history and its connection to the Salem Witch trials of 1692. The film featured Macomber Center kids - over 80 people came to our event, and a fabulous time was had by all!  We are looking forward to our next film, already being produced!

November News!

Macomber Center members have been busy over the past few weeks - we had a wonderful Halloween party, made some delicious pumpkin pies, played a lot of music on a variety of instruments, and moved deeper into exploring the wonders of biology.  A weekly class in Tae Kwon Do took root, and is progressing with a core of members gaining greater knowledge, physical and mental, with each session.

We spent an afternoon hiking in the wooded acres behind our building, in search of the Witch Caves, small boulder caves used as shelter by people fleeing the Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600's.  Another few days were devoted to making paper beads, with the goal of providing clean water for villages in Tanzania - a challenge supported by the Bezos Family Foundation, which provided funding in exchange for every twenty beads received.

Bingo became an unexpected favorite inside game! Our newest member brought a set in one day, and everyone ended up playing a card or two. And of course, many hours were spent outside, playing four-square, Newcomb, back-and-forth tag and basketball. Finally, we firmed up plans for our first trip (of many!) to ski and snowboard at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Massachusetts, reported to be opening this weekend...

Apple Pie and Leaf Piles!

Two sure signs of Fall were on display at the Macomber Center this week - piles of apples being turned into fragrant, delicious pies for lunch, and piles of leaves being constructed for jumping into! Many hands made short work of peeling enough apples for four delectable pies, which, served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream, disappeared in short order.

Our Center is encircled by woods full of falling leaves calling out to be raked and gathered into piles high enough for jumping in, and that was the activity of choice on this beautiful crisp autumn day. We are surrounded by such a wealth of natural beauty at the Macomber Center, and the kids find many ways to engage with and enjoy this lovely corner of town.

Lonesome Lake!

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Early on a rainy June morning Ben and five hikers from the Center set off for an overnight stay at the Lonesome Lake AMC Hut in the White Mountains. By the time they reached the Basin parking lot where the van would stay, the sun was out, and James Style was waiting to join the group on the trail up to the hut.  According to Ben,  "James is a scientist and naturalist, as well as an avid outdoorsman. So he experiences the outdoors through that lens, and when we take a trip with him we get a glimpse through that lens too."

The hike up to Lonesome Lake wound through Spring-green New Hampshire woods and involved crossing over more than one stream racing down the mountain. "It was really fun crossing the rivers", Calvin said.

Once at the Hut, backpacks were left in the bunk rooms, and the kids were off to jump in the lake! Martin reported that the lake was much warmer than he had expected it to be. After a wonderful hearty dinner served by the Hut staff, the group hiked around the lake before turning in for the night. James Morningstar reported that the stars were unlike anything he had ever seen.

The next morning a hot breakfast was provided, and the hikers packed up, said goodbye to the Hut staff and set out on the Fishin' Jimmy trail headed for Kinsman pond, and finally to North Kinsman peak, the highest point on the trail. Lunch was eaten, feet were rested, and then the group headed back on the Kinsman Pond trail which met up with Cascade Brook trail, at the bottom of which waited the van. A great trip was had by all, one which we hope to do again in the Fall.

Macomber Center, Last Week!

We had an extra-busy week last week, as we prepared for the Saturday Movie Premier and dinner party here at the Center.  The weather was beautiful all week long, resulting in many outside activities - games of capture-the-flag and four square happened almost daily, with one such four square game involving roving players on rip sticks and roller blades, to add to the excitement! Walks were taken in the beautiful Spring-green woods which surround our building, while some inside games happened too.  Settlers and Bananagrams are among the favorites, along with ping pong, plain and musical!

We had a delicious spaghetti feast on Wednesday, making a lovely meat sauce from scratch. Nicole Gareau came by after lunch to show interested kids how to make fabulous fabric flower clips for their hair. Then on Thursday, Mihoko, from Saori Worcester Studios brought two of her looms to the Center, and the kids learned how to weave Saori-style - unique woven pieces were produced, one of which was long enough to grace our buffet table on Saturday evening.  Many kids had a hand in making this colorful runner, and it certainly added a note of beauty to the table!

Saturday evening was our big night - two movies, made by Mark and the kids, were shown here at the Center, after a wonderful meal of quiche, plentiful salad, and ice-cold lemonade made from fresh lemons squeezed by Nell! She worked hard! As the sky darkened after everyone had eaten their fill, the tables were cleared and put away, the move screen was pulled down into place, and the room was transformed into a theater. The two movies that followed were the perfect end to a lovely evening, and were enjoyed by everyone! What a talented bunch of actors appeared on screen - huge thank you's to all of them, and to Mark, for creating such excellent entertainment!

This Week at Macomber Center!

What a packed week! Filled with Magic playing, cookie baking, airplane making, and flying too, of course! And then on to capture-the-flag games, skate board, unicycle, scooter and rip-stick riding, four-square games, and all manner of card games, British and Scottish accents included as a requirement!  And let's not forget the delicious waffle feast for Tuesday lunch; toppings on hot-off-the-griddle waffles included fresh strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, blueberries, vanilla ice cream, and two kinds of syrup - maple and blueberry. Wednesday started with a flurry of interest in building model airplanes, necessitating a trip to the crafts store to get supplies of balsa wood and glue.  A couple of high-flying, creative designs resulted, with aerodynamic adjustments being made along the way to successful flight. The beautiful weather prompted outside art work - our fabulous easel, generously donated to us at the start of this year, is easily moved outdoors for landscape painting.  Another lovely Open House happened on Wednesday afternoon, with 15 new kids visiting the Center, and having a wonderful time meeting our members and exploring our beautiful grounds - until the torrential rain arrived at the end of the day!

Thursday evening saw our first Macomber Center Social, an event including good food and music and fun for all who attended. The rain storms that raced through the day stopped for our evening, which allowed people to enjoy being outside and inside at the Center.

Friday morning we set off for a trip to Skyzone, a trampoline gym in Norwood, for a ninety minute jump session. We have been to the gym twice this year, but have not reserved such a long session before today. It included a 3-D dodge ball game, played by about twenty kids for at least 45 minutes - non-stop action! Everyone had a fabulous if exhausting time, to finish our week at Macomber, which included one new member and a visiting teen, hopefully soon to be a member!

Macomber Week In Review!

This was a packed week at Macomber Center - the final shooting for our second feature film took place, and it is in the process of being edited for the World Premier happening on Saturday, May 18th, at 7pm!

Planning continued for next week's Macomber Social, a first-time event for kids including music, food and new connections, happening on Thursday evening, from 7pm on.

Jeff Hyman joined us on Tuesday to demonstrate expert plasticine modeling! Kids tried their hands at building everything from hammerhead sharks and people to Sponge Bob Square Pants and houses. We had a wonderful music workshop occurring that same day, with Carol Hughes, Dan Dick , Ben Draper and various kids all making music on a keyboard, conga drum , guitar  and bass, plus vocals!

Mid-week we celebrated the birthday of our Member twins, Sam and Lillian, with balloons, made-at-the-Center chocolate cupcakes, and ice cream, followed by a bubble-blowing festival outside, with bubbles for everyone on a warm Spring day.

The warm weather prompted renewed outside explorations of our many acres of woods, swamps and fields, and ended with the first fresh mowed grass of the season being put to good use!

Another Macomber Center Week!

Another excellent week at Macomber Center - trips and cooking and movie shoots and many outside games, inside ones too, all happened in five days that flew by! A number of excellent musical ping pong rounds were played, many games of capture-the-flag took place, and one vigorous kick-the-can encounter (involving neither a can nor kicking that I could see) left the players hot and thirsty! On the one rainy, cool day of the week, we made a fabulous vegetable soup, with many people chopping and cutting up fresh veggies, stirring everything into our large soup pot, then asking every fifteen minutes or so for the next two hours, "Is the soup ready yet??" By noon the answer was "yes!", and we all enjoyed it with fresh bread and butter, for lunch.

We had two visiting members for the week, and they quickly became an active, lively part of our community, playing Settlers and Magic inside, four-square and capture-the-flag outside, acting in the Center movie shoot, and joining a trip to Skyzone for jumping and 3-D dodgeball. A number of our Center members helped with Spring clean-up on campus, loading cut brush and logs into a dump truck to be hauled away to a brush dump.

The week ended with a hiking trip to Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, on a beautiful Spring day. The hikers reached the summit, climbing the White Dot trail through pine and spruce woods fading to exposed ledge slabs. John Morningstar took this photo at the top! A wonderful time was had by all!

The week at Macomber Center.

Finally the first few days of Spring warmth arrived at Macomber this week - there was lots of outside activity as a result!  The basketball games picked up, four square and frisbee were played, scooters and rip-sticks ridden once more.

Nicole Gareau brought her extensive knowledge of jewelry-making to the kids, and a number of really beautiful necklaces were made from an extensive collection of beads donated to the Center earlier this year. Nicole also provided a laptop loaded with a teach-yourself-to-type program, and five kids are now on their way to typing proficiency, practicing daily (or almost)!

Final editing work occurred on one of the movies under production here, and plans for wrapping up shooting of the second film were put in place. We are anticipating an exciting movie premier night in the near future!

Everyone enjoyed a make-your-own sub sandwich for lunch one day this week, and afterwards joined in the Free Cone Day festivities at Ben and Jerry's in Framingham.  The Center also made another trip to the Rock Climbing gym in Worcester, where greater heights are scaled with each visit!

We held a very successful Open House one afternoon, hosting at least ten new families, who had the opportunity to take advantage of our beautiful site, in lovely weather. Many new contacts were made between kids, and parents were able to see us in action. A good time was had by all!

What Is The Macomber Center?

When we first opened the Macomber Center, we called it a homeschool resource center. One day someone came by to check it out. She wanted to know more about what we did here at the Center. I told her that the kids did pretty much what they would do on their own if they didn't have to go to school; read, eat, play, talk. "Well", She said, "you call yourselves a resource center. What are the resources?" I looked around and I thought for a moment. She had stumped me. What an obvious question. Was this a fatal flaw? And then suddenly it hit me: “The Center is the resource.” I felt a bit like George Costanza pitching his concept for a new sitcom to the NBC execs: “It's a show about nothing! It's like life; you read, you eat, you go shopping.” Maybe it came out sounding a bit too clever and off the cuff, but it was absolutely the truth, I just hadn't been able to formulate it before now.

As we have grown, we have been able to develop many wonderful resources which continue to increase and change with the needs of our members. But our Center is much more than the sum of its resources. What is really exciting about this place to me is that these kids have a place that's truly their own. They are not only learning to take responsibility for their own education, they're learning to take responsibility for their community as a whole.

Recently, a mother came to see the Center with her two young boys. They only spent about an hour here, but the two boys got exactly what we are about. The mother told us that when they got home, one of the boys exclaimed to his father that “you can call a meeting about anything you want, whenever you want to do anything!” and “They got rid of the video game system, which I would have voted for too, because there is sooo much to do there.” He really captured what, for me anyway, is essential about the center; it is a community directed by the kids. They are self-directed learners, who are figuring out how to build an institutional framework around their own needs and interests, a framework which will serve those needs, not frustrate them.

A few weeks ago some kids decided that they wanted to learn about physics and theoretical chemistry. We decided to go to Framingham State University to see if there would be a way to get someone to come to our center and teach these things. We had a lovely meeting with their internship coordinator. We sat around her table eating snacks that she had provided for us while the kids explained the kind of Center we are, how it works. Then they told her what they were looking for in an intern from the University, what they wanted to learn about and how they thought it should be taught. She walked us through the process of writing an internship program and registering it in their database.

Aside from pursuing the particular subject they are interested in, these kids are learning how to take control of the whole process, to bend the existing institutional framework into a shape that meets their own needs as self-directed learners. I see the Macomber Center moving more and more in this direction, through a collaborative process involving kids, staff, and volunteers, where mechanisms are being created so that needs can be easily met within the existing structure. Work-study programs, apprenticeships, visiting artists, scientists in residence, are all among the mechanisms I envision.

These days most kids are taught, through their experience in traditional schools, that institutions are immutable and given. They are taught that their role is to obey the established laws of the system. I believe that one of the most fundamental and important skills that kids can learn in today's world is to function effectively and creatively within a institutional setting. And they aren't going to learn this skill at home or in school. We are witnessing the breakdown and dismantling of all our major institutions. The people who understand that institutions are malleable will be able to participate in the design of their own lives and in creating the world they live in.

In his book The Meaning of Life, Terry Eagleton argues that “happiness and well-being is an institutional affair.” The kind of deep happiness and fulfillment that comes from the free flourishing of one's faculties requires the kind of social and political conditions in which one is free to discover and develop one's own unique strengths and talents and engage the world on the basis of those strengths and talents. Human beings are social creatures, we don't flourish and grow in a vacuum, or within institutions which restrict our freedom. Eagleton gives, as an analogy for this model, an improvising jazz ensemble: “the complex harmony [the individual players] fashion comes not from playing from a collective score, but from the free musical expression of each member acting as the basis for the free expression of the others. As each player grows more musically eloquent, the others draw inspiration from this and are spurred to greater heights.” This strikes me as a marvelous description of a learning community where kids and adults are committed to supporting and inspiring each other to grow and flourish as human beings.

We no longer call ourselves a homeschool resource center. We are no more a resource center than we are a home or a school; we are a group of kids and adults who have come together to discover new possibilities in a quickly changing world. We have struggled a bit this first year to define ourselves and articulate to the public exactly what we are. But the Center has begun to take its own shape and I can honestly say that the kids have had the biggest role to play in this this. I'm glad that we didn't rush this process.  The last thing we want the Center to be is some one-size-fits-all, rigid model that is not able to change, and falls prey to purist ideals and orthodoxy. We have no interest in trying to corner the market on freedom and self-directed learning. Kids have been educating themselves for thousands of years and the modern deschooling movements of unschooling and democratic free schools have been familiar to the mainstream for a long time now.  As far as I'm concerned, the more alternatives there are to coercive schooling the better. We believe, like hundreds of other independent learning communities established on this philosophy, that kids know how to educate themselves. As staff, our main job is to support this process in whatever way we can at a given time.

Macomber Music

At the Center, kids are able to play music any time they want.  We have a beautiful upright piano, two acoustic guitars, one violin, one electric guitar and two amplifiers. Several of the members are accomplished musicians, and many times each day you will hear the piano being practiced by different people.  Occasionally guitar, harmonica, piano and vocal collaborations can be heard coming from the music room - most enjoyable!

Making Apple Pie!

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On a lovely fall morning at the Center, with a kitchen full of ingredients, we made four delicious apple pies. At one table, flour and shortening, water and salt, and an egg were stirred into pie crust.  The dough was rolled out into four shells and four tops, ready for filling. Another table was surrounded by children peeling, coring and cutting up apples, then adding the spices and sugar needed to make a fabulous filling. The pies were piled high with fruit, covered, given a light dusting of sugar, and put in the oven to bake. A long, fragrant hour later, everyone sat down to incredibly delicious hot apple pie, with ice cream!