Friday, October 17, 2014

For Mom

[I grew up listening to my mom’s Claudine Longet album.]

Like Brothers

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McKinnon and Levi have been raised together since birth (McKinnon was born less than six months after Levi) since Char and I have been best friends for 25 years and we’ve lived near each other for their whole lives. [In fact, we lived within walking distance for the first five years.]

They’ve both been homeschooled all this time, and they began classes with our Classical Conversations community together as third graders. Now they are in seventh grade and in the CC Challenge A program.

During all those busy, exhausting baby/toddler years of activities we enjoyed together, this world, this season, of middle school seemed like an unfathomable stop on the journey ahead.

And now these boys are at my kitchen table translating Latin passages together while Char is out of town for a few days.

Unreal.

Levi and McKinnon

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sweet Olive

Olive and Ben

We celebrated my “adopted sister” Olive’s birthday on Sunday along with my dad’s. We’re so blessed to have her and her son, Ben, in our lives.

She has a big court date in just over a week, and we’d appreciate any prayers on her behalf!

Olive's Birthday

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mom and Dad [Bambi and Poppy]

Mom and Dad

We celebrated my dad’s birthday (74!) today and my mom’s birthday (it’s a secret! but she’s much younger than my dad) two weeks ago. I wish I had snapped a picture of both of them together, but this will have to do. [I love my mom’s smirk.]

[I don’t know if I’ve told the story before of how my mom got the nickname “Bambi.” Holly’s kids called her “Grammy,” but Levi couldn’t say that when he was super little. He said something like “Bammy”—which we may have then helped morph into “Bambi” because it sounded better. And she’s been Bambi ever since! Her real name is Cheri, and she blogs over at Treading on Moss.]

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Learning by Heart

“There are times when memorization is out of favor in education. Some might say that “rote memorization” is not appropriate as a teaching strategy. “Rote memorization,” however, is loaded language, biased against the discipline and effort required to learn things permanently. There is nothing wrong with challenge. We must remember that the alternative to remembering is forgetting, and when we teach something as important as grammar, that will be needed for one’s entire life, the ban on memorization makes little sense. There are areas of knowledge that should be memorized, and in the past, there was a better term for it: to learn by heart.” ~Michael Clay Thompson 

 

::  Q&A: Ken Burns on Why Memorizing the Gettysburg Address Matters @ Mother Jones

"[Memorization] serves a huge purpose. We're all sitting here wringing our hands at the sorry state of education. Everybody has got ideas: You've got to do STEM, and all of a sudden you've thrown the baby out with the bath water of humanities and arts and history. Nobody teaches civics anymore. People dismissed memorization 40 or 50 years ago as rote. It's not that; these kids prove it's not.

"I think the fact that we have completely tossed out memorization is a huge, huge flaw. Who knows, maybe that and civics are the glue that hold everything together? Civics is in fact politics, and politics is how things work not only in the political realm but in every other realm. It may be this simple mechanical glitch that unites everything. This is my philosophy."

I watched this documentary when it was released in April. It brought me to tears. And it solidified my desire to have my boys memorize—poetry, speeches, Bible passages, history timeline, geography, prayers in Latin—not just because I want them to have the information at their fingertips, but because I want them to enlarge their hearts, to practice doing hard things, and to engage with ideas to the point of personal ownership.

I shared this documentary preview clip at the Classical Conversations Parent Practicums at which I spoke this past summer. My almost 10 year old son attended the first one with me, and I had him recite the Gettysburg Address—into a microphone in front of a room full of adults.

[I apologize for the shaky recording. I should have dug out the tripod. Yes, this is a ten year old boy with a black eye. He’ll tell you that a stack of chairs punched him.]

 

This is not a parlor trick. It’s not meant to impress you. It is meant to show you that no one is excluded from any realm of human endeavor. Your children can memorize. You can memorize.

Where we fail is in thinking that memorizing is an end. Rather, it is a doorway that leads to an exciting world. It is a sense of accomplishment for kids. It empowers them. It gives them a chance to practice delivery in front of people—a huge skill. It is an introduction to big ideas. It is sophisticated vocabulary and language patterns embedded in their minds.

I’ve shared these quotes before, but they are worthy reading, again and again.

“But more than that, we would desire to bring children into the garden of created being, and thought, and expression. Caldecott reminds us that for the medieval schoolmen, as for Plato, education was essentially musical, an education in the cosmos or lovely order that surrounds us and bears us up. Thus when we teach our youngest children by means of rhymes and songs, we do so not merely because rhymes and songs are actually effective mnemonic devices. We do so because we wish to form their souls by memory: we wish to bring them up as rememberers, as persons, born, as Caldecott points out, in certain localities, among certain people, who bear a certain history, and who claim our love and loyalty.” (Anthony Esolen, author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, in the Foreword from Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott)

“One simple and immutable fact about the human brain is that you can’t get something out of it that isn’t there to start with. Supernatural inspiration notwithstanding, human beings in general—and children in particular—really can’t produce... thoughts or concepts that they haven’t first experienced and stored. In other words, we cannot think a thought we don’t have to begin with. Even the most unique, creative, and extraordinary ideas can only exist as a combination and permutation of previously learned bits of information.” ~Andrew Pudewa, 1 Myth, 2 Truths

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Books to Love

PICTURE BOOKS

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::  The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry.

If you’ve read a book written and illustrated by Peter Sis, you will know that it is less a continual story than words and art blended together into a beautiful masterpiece. And this book is a beautiful masterpiece worth poring over. [If you a linear person who hates visual distractions in a story or you dislike small print, this book is not for you.] I happen to love The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Peter Sis, so I was ecstatic to discover this biographical picture book (one of my favorite genres!) at the library.

It begins: “Long ago in France, at the turn of the last century, a little boy was born to be an adventurer.”

We then learn about Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s childhood in France, his interest in airplanes (and the development of this new invention), his job as a pioneer air mail pilot, his life in the African desert where he rescued stranded flyers, his writings, his airplane crash in North Africa, his expeditions, his time as a war pilot in WWII, and finally his disappearance while on a flight in 1944.

It’s magical. And very much in keeping with the dreamy, random, thoughtful spirit of The Little Prince.

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After I read through The Pilot and the Little Prince, I was inspired to re-read the lovely picture book The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot July 25, 1909 written by two of my favorite author-illustrators, Alice and Martin Provensen.

 

BEGINNING CHAPTER BOOKS

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::  Mystery of Meerkat Hill: A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers

From the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series (a delight for more mature readers), we are given the childhood story of Precious Ramotswe for young readers. If you are tired of wading through insipid, junk-food beginning chapter books to find the hidden gems, let me save you some trouble. This story, set in Botswana, Africa, is lovely and entertaining in every way. I smiled all the way through. The simple red and black illustrations are charming. The setting is vivid, and the characters come to life. The book is full of shorter fascinating stories about ostriches, cobras, meerkats, and missing cows.

Botswana is very beautiful—it has wide plains that seem to go on and on as far as the eye can see, until they join the sky, which is high and empty. Sometimes, you know, when you look up at an empty sky, it seems as if it’s singing. It is very odd, but that is how it seems.

She loved her father’s stories, especially when he told them at bedtime. There is something very exciting about a bedtime story, and it is even better if the story is told after the lights have been turned out. The words sound different—as if they are being whispered just for you and for nobody else. The words are all around you, like a warm blanket.

Precious was very curious to find out as much as she could about other people. That was why she would become such a good detective when she grew up—detectives have to keep their eyes open; they have to look at people and think I wonder who that person is. I wonder where he comes from. I wonder what his favorite color is. And so on. She was very good at all that. But of course one of the best ways of finding something out is to ask somebody. That was a rule that Precious Ramotswe learned very early in her life, and would never forget.

Sometimes people who are very poor are ashamed of it, even if they have no reason to be. Being poor is usually not your fault, unless it’s because you are very lazy. There are all sorts of reasons why people can be poor. They may have not been able to find any work. They may be in a job where they are not paid very much. They may have lost their father or mother because of illness or an accident or, Precious thought, lightning. Yes, lightning was the reason here, and it made her sad just to think of it.

Precious looked at the house. It was not very large and she wondered how everybody could fit inside. But she did not want to say anything about that, as people are usually proud of their houses and do not like other people (and that means us) to point out that their houses are too small, or too uncomfortable, or the wrong shape. And so she said, “That’s a nice house, Teb.” That was not a lie. It is not a lie to say something nice to somebody. You have to remember that you can usually find something good to say about anything if you look hard enough. And it’s kind too…

Meerkats like attention. They like people to pat them on the head and say nice things. Rather like the rest of us, don’t you think?

I am eagerly looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series. My boys have also enjoyed the Akimbo series of beginning chapter books by the same author.

 

CHAPTER BOOKS

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::  Going Solo by Roald Dahl

No, this isn’t a new book (it was first published in 1986), but it may be new to you. If you or your older readers are interested in (auto)biographies, entertaining stories of life in Africa, the experiences of war pilots of World War II, and airplane crashes in the African desert, this is the book for you.

This autobiography by Roald Dahl is full of adventurous spirit, optimistic attitude, and hilarious stories. It made me laugh out loud several times.

[Heads up: This book does contain mild profanity such as hell, damn, and ass. It also contains one very funny story about naked adults in the first few pages.]