Thursday, January 29, 2015

George Washington's Slow and Beautiful Work

Speaking of copywork, this was read to my daughter this year. It wasn't planned (as it rarely should be) to inspire her copywork, but how could it not?

Propped up in front of George, one winter day, between a pewter inkwell and a jar of sand for blotting was a faded, green book. George was preparing to copy it. He took a bite of an apple. Then he dipped his goose quill, and on the first sheet of his copy book, carefully wrote this title:

He copied as many pages as he could that day, and more the next, and kept on until he had come at last to number 110.

"Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celstial Fire called Conscience."

He misspelled "celestial" but he finished off with a fine flourish of scrolls and the Latin word

Meaning THE END!

He had the rules. Now all he had to do was to practice them!


Genevieve Foster, she of the famous horizontal-view-of-history books -  George Washington's World, Abraham Lincoln's World, The World of William Penn, The World of Christopher Columbus, The World of Captain John Smith and Augustus Caesar's World - has also written this sweet set of books to introduce our elementary students to some important American heroes.  They are full of her excellent style and lovely illustrations. Titles in her Initial Biography series include George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Each book has some fabulous 2-page illustrations.

A special treat when you've finished George Washington is this virtual tour of Mount Vernon.  Very cool!

A free download to make your own copy of Washington's Rules of Civility, a staple resource for copywork, can be found here.

And here you can view George Washington's actual slow and beautiful work.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Grapple Them to Thy Soul: Resources for Hamlet

The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
                    Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel.- Polonius, from Hamlet, Act 1.3

Great advice, despite coming from Polonius.  Last semester we read Hamlet by William Shakespeare.  Charlotte Mason quotes from Hamlet quite often, including the lines above.  She prefaces the quote by telling us that "most of us carry in our minds tags of verse which shape our conduct more than we know." (Vol. 4, p. 10) It's so true. Because these "tags of verse" help shape our conscience, selecting only the best becomes paramount. And the quote above speaks deeply to me.

It has become a thing here at Sage Parnassus for me to share the resources that we used after each Shakespeare play.  You can access all of the past posts about the plays we've experienced here under the heading "Shakespeare in Our Community".

Oftentimes I introduce the play with a pre-reading activity at our TBG Community meeting. These serve as a sort of retelling, if you will.  Here is a great intro to the play that involves acting -   Pantomime Pre-reading Activity

I use the tried-and-true, affordable Folger's editions of the plays.  Each student who can read has their own copy.  It has become a rite of passage in our community to be able to have your own text.  In addition to that, each student now has a sizable library of the plays, marked up with their own notes and underlines.

As the teacher, I have a few favorite resources.  First, Shakespeare's Hamlet (Christian Guides to the Classics) by Leland Ryken is excellent.  Read World magazine's review of it here.

Another fabulous resource that I mentioned over 4 years ago is worth mentioning again.  That is, Marjorie Garber's Shakespeare After All . She brilliantly analyzes the plays with insight and depth that is astounding. And now you can take her class at Harvard - for free! Sandy tells me these lectures are well done so I 'm excited about this resource.

Finally, we did something fun with narrations this term.  Each student did a drawing narration for each act as we went through the play.  They were to draw the scene that struck them on paper 4.25 x 5.5.  When we met, they shared their drawings.  They were to design a book cover and place their 5 drawings in them.  Here are a few pictures of them.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Slow and Beautiful Work

"The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work..."                             - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 238
Transcription is copywork.  Often it is just something we do quickly and check off our list.  But it shouldn't be.  When we do our Work at Table, I remind myself to take a breath and slow down. Then I remind my children to take their time and do "slow and beautiful work" with their copywork.

Mason had some other ideas that I don't see mentioned very often when it comes to copywork.  One is that the student should look at the word, visualize it in their mind's eye, and then try to write it from memory.  This takes time!
Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory. - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 238
Above is a favorite copywork resource, The Boy's Book of Verse by Helen Dean Fish . It is, of course, perfectly appropriate for girls, too.  My 15 ds is presently copying "Ultima Ratio Regum" by Stephen Spender.  Read the one review at Amazon for a great endorsement. Which leads to my next point about letting the student select his own copywork.

Mason tells us to let the child choose the verse that he likes.  Mason tells us that if you make them always write the entire poem, it will "stale" upon the children. It's as if the copywork is almost to be thought of like a commonplace entry...or a nature notebook entry...or a Book of Centuries entry... - the student's own choice. 
A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure. - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 238
All of this reminds me of this Wendell Berry poem:

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.

- from New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry


P.S. - Jen Spencer brought this interesting technique idea to my attention.  Mason suggests that the student should, from the beginning, hold the pencil between the first and second fingers, steadying the pencil with the thumb. This would seem to indicate that the pen would then sit comfortably between the knuckle of the middle and the index finger. 
It would be a great gain if children were taught from the first to hold the pen between the first and second fingers, steadying it with the thumb. This position avoids the uncomfortable strain on the muscles produced by the usual way of holding a pen––a strain which causes writer's cramp in later days when there is much writing to be done.  - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 239

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Simple Living in the New Year

"Wise men are feeling strongly that prudence requires of us, ... to live simple lives, to avoid excesses, even if they come in the way of athletic or intellectual toils, and to eschew possessions more than are necessary for fit and simple living. Perhaps it is lawful for us to allow ourselves, in our furniture and implements, beauty of form and colour, and fitness for our uses; but it may be our duty not to accumulate unnecessary possessions, the care of which becomes a responsibility, and whose value lies in their costliness. These things interfere with that real wealth of a serviceable body and alert mind which we owe to the service of our country as well as that of our home." - Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, book 2, p. 54

The above quote is Mason musing on some lessons from Plutarch.  The whole section is interesting and I encourage you to read the entire passage. Her thoughts fit right into the simple living ideas that are popular today.  I am reminded of the William Morris quote, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be  useful, or believe to be beautiful."

Just a little interior design advice from Miss Mason herself!

Looking forward to a New Year with you,