Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Guilt-Free Learning Notes, Sept. 21

Thanks to Melanie for hosting.

On Thursday afternoon, I was laying in bed with a sinus headache, trying to nurse the baby to sleep, when Julia came in with a little wooden doll she'd painted. What's real big right now are doing these exchanges where you paint umpteen dolls as a saint of your choosing, and then you exchange dolls among umpteen people, and then you end up with a collection of umpteen different wooden saints. The girls had been involved in one of these, but since there were three sisters participating, we ended up with three complete sets of saints. The doll Julia brought in now had been a blank left over from the saint exchange.

"Mom!" she said, pleased as could be. "Guess who this is!"
I tried to focus through the sinus tears in my eyes. "I can't see, honey. Who is it?"
"It's Catherine!"
"Catherine of Siena?"
"Catherine Morland!"

My friends, I tell you now, I thought my heart would burst, I was that proud. I feel this is my crowning triumph as a homeschooling parent, that my daughter is painting Jane Austen dolls of her own volition, and not Pride and Prejudice dolls, but Northanger Abbey dolls -- a full cast, too, because she went on to sand down some of the excess saints and paint Henry and Eleanor Tilney, Isabella and John Thorpe, and General Tilney with his greatcoat and his scowl. Who cares what we did for spelling (somehow a week behind)? For math ( -- a great success)? For history (dragging their feet through their Charlemagne book)? We played Northanger Abbey all weekend with little wooden dolls!

Left to Right: Catherine Morland, Henry Tilney, Eleanor Tilney, General Tilney, Frederick Tilney, Isabella Thorpe, John Thorpe, and Elizabeth Bennet thrown in for good measure.

What I really ought to be taking notes on is our morning bible study, because each morning I'm finding new food for meditation there. I've had quite a few ideas that I wish I'd written up into blog posts, but I didn't do it at the time, and those insights have slipped away, hopefully into the minds of the young students.

Someone asked me last week, "Mom, what was that story about the house, and the fortune teller comes in, but he won't tell the man's fortune, and then he's horrorstruck and can't speak?"
The answer to this turned out to be a story by Oscar Wilde, but it sounded enough like an episode from Jane Eyre that a lightbulb flickered on in my brain: we should read Jane Eyre! And so on Friday afternoon we read the first three chapters, to rapt attention from the three big girls. Isabel, age 8, was a particularly good narrator of the story when I asked what we'd just read, and the two older ones felt keenly Jane's injustices.

I think this one is going to be a winner, despite all the child abuse at the beginning. That, in fact, is one of the reasons I want to read it aloud. I want them to grapple with the problem of malicious adults -- malice in general -- in a safe place, with me, so that when they encounter evil in the world they'll have a framework for understanding it. I don't want them to be so sheltered that they never hear of child abuse. We read the first third of David Copperfield last year for just this reason. Not all adults are good; not everyone will treat a child kindly; some children meet with cruelty and live in terror. These are hard things for children to hear, and I want them to hear of them first with me, in the context of fiction.

I remember when I first read Jane Eyre. I was 13 and staying at my aunt's house, and Jane Eyre was the book on the bedside table. I went to bed early. I picked up the book. I read. It was midnight. It was 1:00. It was 2:00. I wiped away tears as Jane declared to Mr. Rochester that she was not an automaton. I read the whole thing in one glorious go, and I was hooked for life. I hope the girls love it as much I do; the early signs are encouraging. Julia is considering painting a Jane Eyre doll.

I'm hauling Jack through 100 Easy Lessons slowly but steadily. He's on lesson 60-odd, and he does fine when he's not flopping all over the couch or staring into space, reciting the alphabet to remember what the "y" says. Our lessons go something like this:
Jack: "A bug was standing on the side of a l..."
Me: L what?
Jack: "l...a..." little.
Me: Not "little", Jack. There's no i or t in that word.
Jack: Lap? Log?
Me: No, let's sound it out together. "A bug was standing on the side of a lllllll...." Say it with me, Jack. Jack, you're not even looking at the page.
Jack: Lllll.... log.
Jack: (flops around.)
Me: Son, sit up right here and eyes on the page. On the word. Right here, where my finger is. Let's start again. "A bug was standing on the side of the lllll..."
Jack: Llll aaa kkk....
Me: Silent e!
Jack: Lake. Can I read the rest of the story tomorrow?
Me: (thinking about it) Let's go to this next line, at least. Can you read this? I'll sound it out with you. Look at the page, son!

I do a lot of work keeping the older two on task, and I hope Isabel isn't falling through the cracks. I set her to journaling last week -- we went to the fair, and she wrote a nice entry about watching the goats run obstacle courses -- and she does handwriting and math regularly, and is reading Harry Potter and the A-Z Mysteries and generally floating through her day. She participates well in our Bible study, though, and is always the first one to summarize the reading or speculate on how the Psalm ties in to the first reading. She's also chugging through 3rd grade math on Khan Academy at a gratifying rate -- it's really just more fun to do math on the computer, though she, like everyone, needs to drill more with the memorization. We've been doing the Italics workbooks for handwriting, and I love the look, but I would like her to learn a more traditional cursive. Alas, the cursive workbooks I used for the girls seem to have gone out of print, so if anyone wants to recommend something, feel free.

I also worry that Diana gets lost in the shuffle. I can't think if I wrote about her and Jack playing War last time, but she's still content not to read her numbers yet. All the cuisinaire rods have been lost or vacuumed or eaten, so she doesn't have the benefit of those. She did show interest in writing her name last week, so I copied on a piece of lined paper and showed her how to make the letters. That's educational, right? She sits with us and hears the Bible and our books, and she sits with Jack when he helps me sound out those stupid Star Wars readers from the library, all about whiny Anakin and his non-canonical adventures. Was ever an origins story so boring? Whose bright idea was it to write a space opera all about politics? Who can get het up about the epic battles of the Separatists and the Trade Federation? Could the Jedi Council be any more boring? Yawn. And if I've told Diana once, I've told her fifty times that the girls have to wear more clothes than that when they fight, or they're going to get all bruised up. Look at all the padding Anakin wears, and then his Padawan apprentice with the face tattoos is in a miniskirt and a bandeau top. Think about that. So stupid. Even the evil assassin-ress has a strange outfit with odd cutouts, and it's just weird. No one wears this kind of stuff to fight. It's just not practical. Also, I haven't seen the Clone Wars series from Cartoon Network, but the easy reader books about the episodes make No Sense Whatsoever. And the character names, assembled from handfuls of scrabble letters tossed onto a table! I'll be so glad when the Star Wars phase of boyhood gives way to something else.

I spent my educational write-up beefing about Star Wars. But hey! Read the headline. It says NO GUILT.


Brandon said...

The Northanger Abbey dolls are definitely a ton of awesome. And it will give you bragging rights for years!

Jenny said...

I am ashamed of my Jane Eyre history. I read Wuthering Heights in high school and decided the Brontes must be insane and never picked up another book by them. I did not get it. At all. So then in college(whispering) I saw the mini-series on A&E back before A&E went trashy. And then got to the book.

I love Jane Eyre. Stupid Heathcliff kept me away for years.

I would be extra proud of those dolls! I agree that's bragging rights for years.

Sam recognizes a lot of letters, maybe half, but he is convinced he can't write any of them. Ask him to try and he will act like he is dying like a beached whale.

kohkis said...

I've never thought of the benefits of reading books like David Copperfield or Jane Eyre to kids, but you make a good case for it here. It's definitely better if kids get to grapple with the idea of evil and unjust adults through fiction first, rather than unexpectedly having to face people like that themselves.

But I must say, I *love* the animated Clone Wars series! :D Sure, I have some gripes with it (and Star Wars in general), but overall I find it really enjoyable (they even manage to make Anakin likeable sometimes!) And once I managed to get over her (very) silly outfit choices, Ashoka became one of my favourite characters. However, I've never seen the books, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were poorly made.

MrsDarwin said...

Kohkis, I'm certain that the Clone Wars series must be far more compelling and coherent than the DK early readers make them out to be. I think they're assuming that the kid knows the series and will recognize their favorite adventures. And Jack doesn't care as long as someone wields a light saber and flies a cool ship. But as an adult who doesn't know the series, my response is often "wut?" to the rather compressed narratives. Also, I can't stand the prequels, so there's that.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

The dolls are awesome. Such a win!

Skywalker said...

I loved this, especially the parts about teaching Jack to read. Brought back memories of teaching Evan and Sydney. They both read really well now, but I especially remember some points in the early months when I wanted to tear my hair out. Soon I'll be teaching Natalie, I hope the third time is the charm.
I really like hearing about what books your kids like to free read and for what ages, because I hate spending precious book money on crappy books, or even checking out pathetic library books, but I get over that faster.
The thing I wonder about having all of my kids home all day and homeschooling is: how do you do grocery shopping and cooking and laundry, and how do you do it when your sick or pregnant or postpartum. I know it's pathetic, but I've had to have my husband take half-days lots of times just so I could get enough rest to recover from something. And this is with only two little kids at home all day and the big two from three o'clock on.

Banshee said...

I don't know, maybe it would be too much work and seem unfair, but maybe you can get Jack to look at the page by having him copy out what he's supposed to be reading?

Or he could make the words out of magnetic letters or letter blocks? Or alphabet soup noodles? Or there's always cookie letters for maximum bribeability.

Banshee said...

Ooh, Scrabble letters. You've got Scrabble, right?