Tag Archives: Susan Wise Bauer

When Narration Inspires: a ghostly retelling

Part of my New Year’s Day was spent on the floor of my basement while seven-year-old G scrunched down behind the sofa manipulating his stuffed animals to perform Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This season we have all been exposed to heavy doses of the redemptive ghost story. My family and I have watched three or four versions, including our favorite, the 2009 Disney one with Jim Carrey. We visited our local theater downtown with some friends and enjoyed a live performance. And probably most memorably we pulled out colored pencils and drawing paper while Patrick Stewart dramatically read to us the story on Audible. Thank you, Mr. Stewart! Do you remember when we were right behind you in the Starbucks line this summer in New York? At the one in Park Slope?

We began our immersion into Scrooge’s Christmas transformation in late November or early December, but it wasn’t until New Year’s Day when G invited me to our basement for his impromptu theater that I realized how much he had been internalizing the language, the story, and the message.

I attribute his burst of creativity to the steady practice of narration.

Narration is simply a retelling. Charlotte Mason, the British educator from the late 1800s to early 1900s, utilized narration in the earliest forms. Children as young as four or five were taught to retell a story, fable, or science lesson. We have practiced this a good bit in our home.

Although not in a strict Charlotte Mason manner, G has grown accustomed to hearing a story, then relating it back to me. This youngest and most verbose child of mine was not only an early reader but an eager listener. I now see the benefits coming to fruition. Even when I lack the patience to hear another story – and, believe me from this guy it happens daily – he reminds me with the words of Susan Wise Bauer, the author of our writing book, “But wait, Mom. I’m just getting to the ‘skeleton of the plot.'”

Narration does not just aid the eventual writing process, but it is writing at its rawest form. Unedited, unrevised in most cases, it allows the teller to recognize and create and verbalize his own thoughts. Never underestimate a child who realizes her ability to communicate.

And so, once it had been decided who of G’s stuffed friends would play Scrooge, and who would be ol’ Fezziwig,  I followed him downstairs as he adjusted the basement lighting and, surprisingly, managed a spotlight on “Mr. Monkey” as a lamplighter (never mind the fact that the light was imaginary and the “lighter” was a knitting needle). Thus, began his version of the familiar tale. I admit I was shocked at how well he remembered the story, how easily he moved the plot along. He had memorized large chunks of the dialog. “Bah. Humbug” was there, but so also were more obscure lines like, “Spirit, are they yours?…They are man’s…Beware them both.”

Although he left out chunks of the book and created a couple of extra scenes, they all seemed in the spirit of the novella. My favorite sections were when the stuffed tiger appeared as Jacob Marley sporting several glow stick necklaces as his “ponderous chain.” G’s Scrooge scoffs and amusingly adds to the famous line,

There’s more custard than cuss,

more gravy than grave about you.

Later, as the Ghost of Christmas Present bids a Teddy Bear version of Scrooge from his chambers, the miser looks around and asks, “What is all of this feast?” The Ghost answers, “It is the fruit of generosity. Something you have never shared.” This is a paraphrased line from Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

I applaud. I know this voluntary form of narration will tie the message even closer to his heart.

 

Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim. “Julius” was chosen as Tiny Tim for his size and because he had recently sustained a serious arm injury by the teeth of our six month old puppy. Dad saved the day by stitching him back up, but there remains an obvious scar. G explained, “Just like Tiny Tim has to walk with a crutch, it doesn’t matter if his arm looks different.” God bless us, everyone!

In the event that my narration of this puppet performance seems too impressive for a seven year old, rest assured, there was plenty of flipping back and forth off the couch, dead pauses while he changed characters, and some hand motions that I only assume were unclear due to the actors’ lack of thumbs. And yet, the meaning was there. He narrated what he remembered and what had stood out to him.

I learned a great deal about his memory that day, but even more about his heart.

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Of historical importance

photo

It seems peculiar that I should feel the need to write something in defense of spending so much time with history.  There has been such a push in education, however, in recent times to concentrate almost exclusively on “necessary” academic subjects, the three Rs, that is reading, writing and arithmetic.  Even science and foreign language take priority over history, cursive and art, which seem relegated to extras, or even worse.

For us, however, history seems to be at the heart of our academic day.  And I don’t mean the memorization of dates, quotes and people, but the love, deference and analysis that we give to the study .  I do not pretend to know enough to speak intelligently about educational philosophies, although I researched them heavily before beginning our home education.  If pressed into explaining what I am attempting to do with my guys I guess I would say we are definitely eclectic, influenced most by unit studies and Charlotte Mason.  As you can see in the blurry photo above, we happily make use of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World and supplement periodically, trying to find “living books,” which fit best into our current study.  Although Bauer is closely associated with classical education, her history works well with narration and my own ideas about literature-based learning.  I am not necessarily concerned that my children remember every important detail, but more that I am able to point the way for them to educate themselves, not merely while they are “of school age,” but far beyond. I want to teach them to teach themselves, to learn how to learn, and to love learning.

The question is not, -how much does the youth know when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

Charlotte Mason in School Education

What follows are a few simple reasons we find history significant to our studies:

1.  It is a means of incorporating multiple disciplines, such as reading, narration, writing, and geography, as well as developing other skills like note taking.

2.  It is easier to appreciate art and literature through the ages as it relates to major historical events and shifts in thought.  Not convinced art is significant in and of itself?  Some argue it is what defines us as human.

3.  It is a built-in venue for teaching writing and thinking.  Beginning with narration (or retelling stories) we can make use of historical events as a natural springboard for writing summaries, analyses and eventually drawing important connections.

4.  Closely tied to number three, the careful study of history teaches us to think.  There are no obvious or objective answers in history.  We glean from it what we will.  A proper study of history forces us to be critical in our view of world events.  Learning how events are interconnected, or how one event may precipitate another, is an important exercise for growing minds. Particularly important for middle schoolers who are naturally black-and-white in their thinking, history provides a way for us to discuss the morality, meaning and potential consequences of major decisions, thoughts and events.

5.  It helps us appreciate where others have been and where we are all going.  It is difficult to understand the present, and project appropriately about the future, if we do not have a grasp on the past.

6.  It helps us to appreciate different cultures, foods, languages and peoples.  Training our children to accept others begins early.  History is a natural way to cultivate this.

In spending our days looking through books on the Vikings, Napoleon or what precipitated the Great War, we are not merely looking up a date or a concise list to satisfy the requirements of an essay question.  Rather, we are the ones asking the questions.  We are drawing pictures and maps.  We are questioning who we are, and are learning to express it.

*Does your family enjoy history?  Is there a beloved subject you and your family find yourself defending?*

To Read or Not to Read

shakespeare

Shakespeare at ten and twelve years old may seem a bit amibitious, but when we reached the bard of Avon in our second volume of Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, S began asking the questions.  Tragedies?  What kind of tragedies did he write?  Were there alot of fighting scenes?  My husband began filling in the gaps with quotes and story plots.  Although his degrees are in biology, chemistry and pharmacology, he grew up educating himself in Greek myths and Shakespeare’s plays.  He has always kept up an avid interest in the classics.  I married one of the few Renaissance men.

About the time we finished the chapter on Shakespeare and the arts during the Renaissance, I discovered Jamie Martin’s post on Simple Homeschool.  Amazon has the FREE Kindle version of Tales of Shakespeare retold by Charles and Mary Lamb, which contains twenty of some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.  This brother-sister team originally published these works back in 1807 in order to give children the opportunity to enjoy the great comedies and tragedies.  Charles Lamb is most famous for his collaboration with his sister in this work, and with his friendships with the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

Although, the language is still somewhat stilted for today’s young reader, the stories provided a great opportunity for a challenging read aloud.  They are brief enough to be read in one sitting.  With an occasional pause for questions or explanations, my guys thoroughly enjoyed Macbeth and Hamlet.  Hamlet was by far S’s favorite.  I mean, really, what ten-year-old, adventure-seeking boy would not thrill with the final scene in Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark?

We followed this up by reading a few select quotes online from the original play.

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

“Conscience doth make cowards of us all.”

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?”

Next, we are waiting for Netflix to deliver Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet starring Mel Gibson with the superbly crazed eyes.  Bring on the popcorn, crackers and hummus; let’s see what is rotten in the state of Denmark!