Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bright Ideas for Summer

I'm planning a post about some of our summer plans, but here's something to whet your appetite: ReadWriteThink.org's  fabulous online publication, Bright Ideas for Summer. Featuring four "activities" aimed at children in grades 2/3 through 8, the Bright Ideas for Summer campaign promotes fun and educational opportunities to keep kids' brains in gear.

Here's the scoop:

Poetic Memories of Summer (grades 2-8): "Use the sun-splashed days of summer to inspire children to write poetry. Interactive, online poetry tools guide them as they explore the writing process." (My personal favorite, of course!)

Can You Convince Me? (grades 3-8): "Children learn how to make a convincing argument—an important skill in school and in life."

Summer Trading Cards (grades 2-8): "Children can dive deeper into summer reading by using the Trading Cards tool. They’ll examine a favorite character and write a new story for him or her."

Summer Superheroes (grades 3-8): "Calling all caped crusaders! Invite children to invent a story starring superheroes who have summer super powers."

Each activity features four sections: Preview, Get Started, Resources, and Comments. The Get Started section is the heart of the activity, with a list of items needed (all basic, so no worries there!), complete directions, and suggested ideas for further exploration. I am especially enamored with the online interactive tools!

Another fab feature: children can save their work AND share it within the Thinkfinity Community. They'll be published! For extra fun, check back over the summer to see other kids' work, too.

Not merely another typical list for summer fun, Bright Ideas for Summer is well organized, carefully planned, and thoughtfully produced. Highly recommended!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day: Brokenness and Light

I spoke with a good friend of mine on the phone yesterday. He's a veteran of the Korean War, active in the VFW, and the chairperson of his town's Memorial Day parade. This year is also the town's bicentennial, and the powers that be wanted a merged parade: one part observation and one part celebration. (Apparently there aren't enough funds to have a bicentennial blow-out on Independence Day.) Joe's response: "Memorial Day is a solemn occasion. We can't make the parade a big party."

Memorial Day is a solemn occasion.

I am not a fan of war. (Who is?) In fact, I hate it. I think it should be the Very Last Resort Ever.

And yet our world has been a contentious place for millennia, ever since Cain raised a hand against Abel. Or even when Adam spoke blame against Eve, and Eve pointed a finger at the serpent. It's no wonder we default to warfare. It's a broken world we live in.

But the shards of our brokenness admit rays of light.

Case in point: have you heard about the Maine Troop Greeters at Bangor International Airport? Here's a bit of background info from the airport's webpage:

Bangor International Airport is our nation's main departure and arrival point for troops serving our country around the world. Troops are given heart-felt welcomes and good-bys at Bangor, by a steadfast group of Troop Greeters and others.
The "original" Troop Greeters began greeting the troops returning from Operation Desert Storm.
The Troop Greeters at the Bangor International Airport come in at all hours of the day or night to welcome soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since May 2003 and the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Maine Troop Greeters have greeted more than 4000 flights and over 800,000 soldiers.

I've had the joy of seeing the greeters in action at Bangor International Airport, and it is awe-inspiring. In a world where words like "tragic" and "sacrifice" have lost meaning, these people, with their relentless dedication, are there to remind us that behind every sacrifice is a person, a family.

I'm not the only one amazed by these greeters. Himself and I watched a public television program about these remarkable folks. And here's a trailer for a movie about them, The Way We Get By. Don't miss this! (Caveat: a bit of coarse language; use your own discretion with children.)

And for me, that says it all.

Thank you.

I'm linking up with Miscellany Mondays.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Today in worship, a lovely woman with a gorgeous voice sang Twila Paris's song "How Beautiful." Typically associated with Easter, it's also appropriate for Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit graced the world.

We are the body of Christ.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weekly Happenings: About That Slow Mornings Post...

Forget I said anything about that. It seems I mistakenly thought our few slow mornings might last when it was only for this week -- and not even all week, at that!


 We're continuing with some work, much to the girls' delight (that last part is a big lie; I should have typed "which the girls are tolerating"). Each day, they complete a session on the Xtra Math website to practice their math facts. Miss Priss also completes a lesson from Life of Fred Fractions, and Tiny Girl a page from DK's Math Made Easy workbook.

 A few highlights from our readings:

  • Plutarch's Lives: "Brutus": Brutus and Cassius have amassed large armies to go against Octavius and Antonius. Brutus decides to richly furnish his soldiers in hopes they will fight better to preserve their fine "furniture." We shall see.
  • Oliver Twist: Oliver recuperates in the home of the fine benefactor, Mr. Brownlow; but his ne'er do well "friends" are looking for him to keep him from "peaching." The girls and I are worried about our little friend.
  • A Passion for the Impossible: Lilias and her two missionary friends are bringing to life the title of this book. They've arrived in Algeria knowing no one, not speaking the language, and having no concrete plans. The girls and I are concerned. Well, Miss Priss and I are. This is not Tiny Girl's favorite, so she is less personally involved.
  • This Country of Ours: President Garfield is assassinated, and the spoils system (thanks a lot, Andrew Jackson) is finally abolished.

 We continued our study of flowers, concentrating on their reproductive system. I didn't take any photos this time, mostly because I left my camera inside that afternoon and everyone (including me) was in a bad mood. We soon shook it off and proceeded to enjoy our study, but the camera remained inside.

We worked with two types of flowers, petunias and roses. We dissected both and observed each under our magnifying glass. (I can't wait until our stereo microscope arrives from Home Science Tools!) Using handouts I printed from different websites, we identified different parts. Two of us greatly enjoyed this. One of us had not shaken off all of her bad mood to participate fully. Her loss.

Here are websites I found helpful:

How Flowering Plants Reproduce
The Great Plant Escape
Flower Parts

And here's a slideshow presentation that I found particularly helpful, at least the first few pages. It goes into a bit more detail that we are.

If you're following me on Twitter, Instagram, of Facebook, then you've seen these photos before. If not (and hey, feel free to link up and join in on the fun!), here's a mosaic of our week:

From top left: 1.) Yours truly, at the summer's here! pool party; 2.) Miss Priss reading leisurely one morning; 3.) Tiny Girl and Max, at the barn early to beat the heat; 4.) My nifty nameplate from a previous workplace. Everyone had one, made by a manager's wife. I've had it almost 20 years. Sorry it's sideways; I was in a hurry.

I'll leave you with a word from Sir Walter Scott, in honor of Memorial Day and its vast significance to us:
Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking.


I'm linking up!
The Homeschool Mother's Journal
Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
No Ordinary Blog Hop
Photo Collage Friday
Camera Phone Friday

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Blessing and Bliss of Summer-Slow Mornings

We're moving more slowly in the mornings now. It's our summer schedule. We're finishing up readings and doing some math every day, but our pace is slower. We like it.

There's a bit more time to read.

The red-checked chair in the dining room is a favorite spot to read and talk. 

There's a bit more time to play.

Duck Life.

Since we're living the suburban American dream lifestyle (a big AHEM), we are also busy with summertime activities. Swim team practice is going strong for Tiny Girl. VBS is around the corner for Miss Priss and me. The girls' piano recital is next week. I'm again co-chair for swim meet concessions -- a big job. Woven through all of this is Tiny Girl's riding.

But this is all normal for June.

With the bulk of our scheduled school complete, we can relax longer in the mornings. There are more "I get to's" than "I have to's" for everyone. Including me.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Rich Cocoa Cookies

As you know, I am a dark chocoholic. And on Friday, I needed a fix. I'd had my eye on a recipe, which I tweaked just a tad.

Let me just say: Yowza. And since I love you, I'll share. The recipe, that is.

Rich Cocoa Cookies

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or kosher salt)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet and line with parchment paper. Mix together butter and sugar til smooth. Add eggs and vanilla, being careful not to overmix, and scrape down sides of bowl. Add cocoa powder and mix well. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until well blended. Drop by teaspoonsful onto prepared cookie sheet and bake for 10-14 minutes, or until edges begin to firm up. Do NOT overbake. Cool on racks. Let cookie sheet cool between batches.

Optional mix-ins: chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, any sort of nut, dried cranberries, or broken-up peppermints.

* I used Hershey's Special Dark cocoa, which is appreciably darker than regular cocoa. I like to think that makes a difference, but what do I know about it?

Look at that. Dark chocolate perfection. It doesn't get any better.

The dough was heavenly. Tiny Girl, not a dark chocolate fan herself, gobbled as much dough as I would give her. But since I wanted to make some actual baked cookies, I cut her off. I had to cut off Miss Priss and myself, too. It was getting ridiculous.

Crispy yet chewy fabulousness on a plate.

I made one third plain, one third with chocolate chips, and one third with Craisins. Miss Priss and I like the ones with chocolate chips best. Big surprise there. I'd like them with toasted pecans, too, but no one else  here likes nuts in baked goods. If I'd made any with nuts, I would have had to eat them all by myself. Not a good idea.

Here's an advertisement in real life:

Me, as I snatched another cookie off the cooling rack: "I can't stop eating these!"
Miss Priss: "I know! I've had six already."

An inspiration! Sandwich softened ice cream between two cookies and freeze a bit to cut down on drippage. How's that for a summertime treat?

Update! These turned out crunchier than I usually like, but they are fantastic dipped in hot tea or coffee. Next time, I may make them with half butter and half shortening to see if it makes them chewier.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Flowers at the Finish Line!

Pay no attention to the part about "finish line" in this post's title. Education never "finishes" at our house. We might change direction, change focus, change methods, mix it up a bit, you name it. But we never finish.

I'm still learning even now.

We are, however, setting aside some subjects for a break, such as regular copywork, grammar, and foreign language. Tiny Girl finished her level in Spelling Power, and Miss Priss completed her latest Word Roots workbook. Tiny Girl also reached a natural stopping point in her Building Thinking Skills workbook.

Readings will continue until we finish those scheduled for AO's year 5. I don't like to rush readings. Also, we'll do some math every day to defend against mathematical brain drain.

In our readings this week:

  • Abraham Lincoln's World: the world gets "smaller," i.e., not as remote
  • This Country of Ours: President Johnson is impeached (but prevails); Grant is elected president for two terms
  • Oliver Twist: our hero recuperates at the home of Mr. Brownlow
  • A Passion for the Impossible: Lilias departs for north Africa
  • Story Book of Science: flowers

I wanted to expand on our Story Book of Science lesson, so yesterday we took our readings outside (it was a gorgeous day). Armed with the Handbook of Nature Study, some flowers, and this helpful guide from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, we began our study.

We began by looking at roses. Himself and I had pruned our Knock Out rosebushes over the weekend and kept several unopened buds in a cup of water. Perfect! Above is an excellent example of a rosebud's unopened corolla (collective name for flower petals).

Here is a rose sepal (rhymes with steeple), one of the green outer leaves that protects the developing rosebud. Taken together, the group of five sepals of each bud is called a calyx.

We also considered verbena flowers. Each verbena cluster comprises several tiny flowers.

Lantana and verbena are in the same family, hence the resemblance.

The girls seemed to enjoy our study, which gladdened this mama's heart. Next week, we'll study flower reproduction.

Here's our week in pictures:

From left to right, starting at top: 1. A hydrangea bloom; 2. A tomato that's sprouted! 3. Reading about Lilias Trotter; 4. Taking a rest in the shade; 5. A velvet milkshake; 6. Reading aloud outside; 7. Jasper investigating our flowers; 8. Thirsty Georgette; 9. Breakfast: mini cinnamon rolls from Trader Joe's and a cup of coffee in my new handmade mug

I'm linking up! Click below for more fun, encouragement, and ideas. Who doesn't need those things, I ask you?

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners
The Homeschool Mother's Journal at iHomeschool Network
No Ordinary Blog Hop
Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Camera Phone Friday at My Home Sweet Home

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Enjoying Poetry with Your Children: Online Resources

Photo courtesy ToniVC via Foter
People have a lot to say about poetry. I found perusing the web for poetry resources to be a daunting task. It's impossible to read or even locate everything. However, I've highlighted below some resources that are most promising -- to my mind, anyway.

Silvia Vardell's blog, Poetry for Children, is a powerhouse of information. Her Poet Links list will introduce you to active children's writers you may not know. Perhaps you'll find one whose work delights your children. And you.

This page from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta suggests numerous books and websites on teaching poetry, as well as ideas for teaching and enjoying poetry. Developed by the Curriculum Laboratory, the page offers ideas for classroom centers, which homeschooling families could easily adapt. I especially like the prompts to spark an interest in children writing poetry of their own. Some of the listed websites and books are more pedagogically philosophical than necessary for my purposes, but lurking underneath this veneer are great suggestions and inspiration. I loved discovering Georgia Heard and her books!

Don't miss Poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets. Its drop-down menu, For Educators, provides a wealth of information, tips, resources, and plans. The site is also a good source for poet bios. I enjoyed the audio files of poets reading their own work. Hearing Robert Frost read "The Road Not Taken" or Dylan Thomas read "Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night" is a not-to-be-missed experience.

Teaching Student to Write and Read Poetry, a free ebook published by Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools for high school-aged students, is available here. I downloaded the PDF file and have only glanced at the contents, but I have high hopes based on my first look.
The Poetry Foundation website has a children's poetry section (look under the Resources drop-down menu) with book picks, a poem of the day, and articles on children's poetry. Here's the article that caught my eye: "Home Appreciation," about -- you guessed it -- homeschoolers and poetry. The website offers a FREE poetry app, too. And the Learning Lab (also under Resources) is packed with helpful and useful content.

While you're making your plans for next year, take some time to explore poetry. These resources can help you hone in on poets, explore poetry teaching methods, and discover family favorites. As always, use your discretion in making poetry choices for your family. What suits one family may not suit another.

This list is by no means exhaustive, nor was it meant to be. Use it as a springboard for your own poetry adventure. Click links and Google book titles (or poets or poem titles) to see what you might find. I found this poem at the Poetry Foundation website. I liked it, and perhaps you will, too:

The Ocracoke Ponies
by Jennifer Grotz
No one saw the first ones
swim ashore centuries ago,
nudged by waves into the marsh grasses.

When you look into their faces, there is no trace
of the ship seized with terror, the crashing waves
and the horses’ cries when thrown overboard.

Every afternoon you ride your bicycle to the pasture
to watch the twitch of their manes and ivory tails
unroll a carpet of silence, to see ponies lost in dream.

But it isn’t dream, that place
your mind drifts to, that museum of memory
inventoried in opposition to the present.

You felt it once on a plane,
taking off from a city you didn’t want to leave,
the stranded moment when the plane lifts into the clouds.

That’s not dream, it’s not even sleeping.
It is the nature of sleeping to be unaware.
This was some kind of waiting for the world to come back.

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Velvet Milkshakes = Pure Decadence

I just discovered a most scrumptious recipe that I call Velvet Milkshakes. A step WAY above your average milkshakes, these, my friends, are luxury.

Here's the recipe:

Velvet Milkshakes
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups ice cream, softened
1 (3.4 oz or 3.9 oz) package instant pudding mix

Process all in a blender til thoroughly mixed. Blender will be very full. Serve. Makes 5 cups.

You can choose whatever flavor combo you like. The first time I made these, I used chocolate pudding and chocolate ice cream. The second time, I tried chocolate pudding and coffee ice cream. Both were tasty.

One tip: don't skimp on the ice cream. I didn't measure it either time, but the second time I must have used too little because the shakes were thin. Delicious, but thin. And thick is what you want.

Serve these this summer and you're sure to enjoy rock star status!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day Musical, Which Turned Out to Be a Drama

In our church, the elementary children's choir performs a musical on Mother's Day. They work really hard on it. This year's performance, "The Tale of the Three Trees," was Tiny Girl's last, since she's in fifth grade.

One side of the stage. Photo courtesy Kristy.

About a third of the way through the performance, the risers on which several children were standing collapsed with a shocking BANG. You can imagine the reaction. Several children burst into tears, the choir volunteers ran up to check on everyone, and I could see Tiny Girl, who'd been on the top riser, on the floor holding her leg. I did not see any blood or tears, so although I was shaky, I wasn't unduly alarmed.

After about a minute, Himself, a rock in crises, said, "I'm going up to check on her." (When I asked him later what made him decide to do that, he replied, "She wasn't getting up. I knew something must be wrong.") I watched uneasily while he knelt down to talk to our child. Meanwhile, as a diversion, the children's minister interviewed other children about their parts in the musical.

Himself returned with a rueful smile. "She's going to have quite a bruise."

The children regrouped, the minister prayed, and the musical continued. And what a triumph it was! All the children performed beautifully. Tiny Girl limped to the front of the stage, sang her solo perfectly, and limped back to her place. It turns out that she was the only injured one.

She spent the rest of Sunday afternoon on the couch, leg elevated, with an ice pack and ibuprofen. Her foot and shin swelled, and Himself and I debated about what to do. We decided to wait and see.

Monday (yesterday) morning, Himself took her for x-rays. According to the x-ray tech, there are no breaks, but we're waiting to hear for certain from the radiologist. By yesterday evening, Tiny Girl, who quickly conquered the crutches, was feeling better. Her foot is turning a nice shade of blackish blue. But we are thankful; it could have been so much worse.

She's a trouper, but it's hard being on the sidelines. She's missing out on swim team practice, which started yesterday; riding; a professional baeball game tonight; and a visit to an area theme park's homeschool day this Friday. I'll have to be creative in keeping her spirits up. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Trying Not to Fizzle Out

I can tell we're all getting tired and need our summer break. Even I feel a tad unmotivated! But I want us to finish the year with more of a bang than a fizzle, so I'm going to have to put some oomph in my step. And resist naps!

I've continued with my new schedule of getting up between 6 and 6:15 AM in order to do some writing, blog reading, and planning. I'm psyched this is still going well because I have a track record of beginning new things and then scrapping them fairly soon after. This is why I refuse to make New Year resolutions. I don't know about you, but I feel guilty about enough things already and don't need the extra pressure.

Most subjects are tooling along fine. Here's a peek at some of our readings this past week:

  • Abraham Lincoln's World: a look at Asian history when Lincoln was an attorney in Springfield
  • This Country of Ours: Gettysburg and Sherman's March to the Sea
  • Oliver Twist: unsuspecting Oliver begins to learn pickpocketing techniques from Fagin and later gets hauled off for committing that crime -- except he's innocent
  • A Passion for the Impossible: Lilias Trotter decides between life as an artist or in complete Christian service
  • Mapping the World: atlases and hemispheres
  • Story Book of Science: months and seasons, Earth's revolution and rotation

Miss Priss wrapped a successful first year with her drama troupe this past weekend with A Tribute to Broadway. Our church's Wednesday evening programs concluded for the summer. Tiny Girl had her final rehearsal for the Mother's Day musical, The Tale of the Three Trees. Since she's finishing up fifth grade, it's her last children's choir musical. There's just one more piano lesson for each child before the recital.

Here's our week in pictures:

(From left to right, starting at top row) 1. Miss Priss liked this curl of mine. I have curly hair; she does not. 2. I love no-knead bread! 3. The girls reading Abe Lincoln's World together. 4. My basil plant. I pinched it back today and hope to make pesto. 5. Playing with homemade paper dolls. 6. Choir rehearsal at church. 7. A statue I love in our church garden. 8. Our historic sanctuary, which served as a hospital for Union soldiers in the Civil War. 9. Happy Georgette!

If you haven't yet read my series on Enjoying Poetry with Your Children, have a look-see!
Six Tips for Enjoying Poetry with Your Children
Four Tips Guaranteed to Kill a Developing Love for Poetry
Poetry Pushback: Working Through Resistance in Younger Children
Poetry Pushback: Bridging the Disconnect with Older Children
Poetry Pushback: Jolting Older Children Out of Their Apathy

Next week, I'll wrap up this series with a slew of poetry resources for you and your family. So check back soon!

I'm linking up in lots of wonderful places this week. You just never know where I might pop up!

Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
The Homeschool Mother's Journal
Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners
Camera Phone Friday @ My Home Sweet Home
Friday Favorite Things @ Finding Joy

Happy Mother's Day weekend! Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog; I hope you found something useful. I'll leave you with two quotations to celebrate mothers:

No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother's love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star. ~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. ~Tenneva Jordan

For Jessica, Unknown to Me

For Jessica, Unknown to Me

News came from the family
that my cousin's child had died.
A routine surgery, an air embolism,
and gone.

I never met her.
I don't know why there's now
an emptiness,
the loss of something
I didn't know I had.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Poetry Pushback: Jolting Older Children Out of Their Apathy

Photo credit: Casey David
 In my previous installment of this poetry series, Poetry Pushback: Bridging the Disconnect with Older Children, I made the argument that poetry study is a critical component of a liberal (wide) education. A nodding acquaintance with the "major" poets (you know the ones) goes a long way toward college prep. Even more importantly, poetry adds grace notes to life. (More on this topic later.)

So read and discuss with your older children Milton, Shakespeare, Spenser, and Dante. Introduce them to Browning, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Byron. Mull over Dickinson's pithy lines, Eliot's symbolism, and Donne's "Batter my heart, three-personed God." Light the fire of your children's imaginations.

 And if the fire is weak, throw on the gasoline.

Adolescents can be maddeningly apathetic about many things (chores, for instance, or polynomial equations -- frankly, I can relate) and then vividly passionate about others. These can be tumultuous years. Teens are busy individuating, shaping their specific dreams, formulating plans, studying the world. They often see things differently from adults.

True, all this can make teens and pre-teens difficult to live with (I know I was); but you can use it to your advantage when it comes to poetry. Tap into their energy, whether they are quiet percolators or swirling vortices. Give them a jolt.

Consider this, by Gwendolyn Brooks:

We Real Cool

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Did you flinch? Are you affronted? What's poetic about this? you may think. Didn't you just quote Philippians 4:8 in an earlier post?

 I did, and I began quoting at ". . . whatever is true. . . ." This poem is an example of an all-too-real truth in our culture. And not just American culture, either, but world culture, merely played out differently depending on the country.

 Read this poem with your older children. Listen to Gwendolyn Brooks read this poem* and consider her thoughts on it. Read this short interview with Brooks about the poem. And then talk about it with your teens.
  • Who are these kids?
  • Can you picture them?
  • How is their world different from yours?
  • What choices have they made?
  • Why might they have made these choices?
  • When Jesus spoke of the "least of these," do you think He meant these guys?
  • The predicted outcome is both bleak and realistic. Can anything be done to help?

That last question is intended as a call to action, to service. Now, I'm not suggesting you go hang out in pool halls, although people do that. But if your teen shows interest, talk about service options. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several actions my daughters and I could take:
  • Make sandwiches for a local homeless outreach program.
  • Serve breakfast to the homeless once a month with a church group.
  • Read to or tutor young at-risk children.
  • Donate books, games, whatever to youth outreach programs.
All because of a poem.

Poetry can also inspire young hearts and minds, even if those minds tend to cynicism. I admire this poem by Langston Hughes:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Its brevity may tempt you to zip through it; resist the temptation. Delve a little deeper. Spark some conversation.
  • Have you seen an injured bird that can't fly? How did it act?
  • Compare a bird when it's first injured to a bird that's adapted to its condition (at a nature center, perhaps).
  • Picture a "barren field frozen with snow." What does it look like? What's there?
  • How are dead dreams like injured birds or a snow-enveloped field?
  • Where do our dreams come from?
  • If we allow that God is the source of dreams/aspirations, what does it mean, then, when we let a dream die?
  • How can we determine if a dream is one of our own selfish desires or, conversely, part of God's plan for our lives?
  • Are we sometimes meant to let go of certain dreams and go in another direction?
  • If so, how can we keep from living like an injured bird?
  • On the flip side, what might happen if we reject God's dreams and follow paths of our own design?
You can hear Hughes read this poem here. He begins with his poem "The Dream Keeper" and flows into "Dreams."

Expose your child to a wide variety of poetic styles and expression. The Who's Who in Poetry list is important, but don't neglect the 20th century and later poets, either. If you need some help, I plan to list a bevy of resources in a later post. I'm gathering information now.

 A word of warning: Don't turn your child loose! Poetry can be as dangerous as any other literary form. And it's not just the contemporary poets, either. Some of the Earl of Rochester's poems (1647-1680), for instance, freely celebrate his dissolute and libertine lifestyle. Another word of warning: please resist throwing water on the fire by too much talk about symbolism and the like. The poet Jean Little says it better than I do in "After English Class":

I used to like "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."
I liked the coming darkness,
The jingle of harness bells, breaking--and adding to
--the stillness,
The gentle drift of snow. . . .

But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep--
They all have "hidden meanings."

It's grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don't think I'll bother to stop.

I recall discussing a short story (I've forgotten which one) in Advanced Junior English in high school. The teacher pointed out all the green in the story (basically the trees and plants in the woods). "Why do you think the author used all that green?" she asked. The class wisely chose not to respond aloud, but we were all thinking, Because a lot of the action takes place in the woods? The teacher smiled teasingly and drew out the word: "Money!"

Oh. Suuuuure. And since we were teenagers, I'm sure there was a fair amount of eye-rolling, even if we waited until after class to do it.

* Brooks mentions in this recording that this particular poem has sometimes been banned for the term "jazz," since it can have sexual overtones. Listen to the recording yourself to decide if you'd like your children to hear it. You can always have your children tune in after Brooks's intro.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Poetry Pushback: Bridging the Disconnect with Older Children

So it's time to read today's poem at your house. You hope for happy smiles and murmurs of appreciation, but you get wailing and much gnashing of teeth, perhaps manifested in heavy sighs, dismissive shrugs, and pained expressions. And let's not forget the adolescent's coup de grace: the eye roll. Frankly, it would be easier to just zip through the thing and be done with it.

Consider this: when your child(ren) whined about simplifying fractions, you did not throw in the towel. You persevered. You kept your end goal -- a well-educated child -- in mind. We study fractions; we study Tennyson.

To my way of thinking, a complete education includes exploration of and experience with poetry. A well-educated child should be acquainted with Browning, Coleridge, Donne, Wordsworth, et al. Reading poets such as these supplies our minds with beautiful and meaningful imagery, rich language and expression, and noble and profound ideas.

That's all well and good, but when you're faced with teenage (or pre-teen) ennui, what can you do? How can you make the experience more meaningful for your older children?

First off:

  • Read poetry together. A resistant (or even a developing) appreciation needs shoring up
  • Take time for discussion. Explore the poem with your children. Encourage them to connect with the poem. What emotions does the poem excite (or at least prod)? What images come to mind? What do you think the poet wants us to do with his/her words? What's the point? What is your favorite line or phrase?
  • Consider keeping a poetry notebook, journal, or commonplace book of favorite lines of poetry. Do some research on poets' lives. Search for interviews with poets to discover what they say about their work. Have children jot down their own impressions of a poem or a line of poetry.

Whoa. I just looked at the clock. We need to get started with our day! So I'll have to leave my next tip (it's a biggie) for tomorrow. Check back for part two of this post: Jolt Them Out of Their Apathy.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Weekly Happenings: In Which We Move Barns and Gear Up for a BIG Weekend

This week was hectic! Both girls had their annual check-ups on Monday (everyone is fine), and Tiny Girl's equestrian trainer also moved into her new barn. We helped move stuff on Monday afternoon: trunks, horse blankets galore, saddle pads, girths, etc. A high note (which would have been issued by my mouth if I'd seen it) was the scurrying rat in the storage room, irritated that its home under the blankets was ruined.

We were at the new barn every afternoon. The girls and I spread fresh shavings in the stalls. I shoveled shavings into a large wheelbarrow and then dumped four loads into each stall; the girls spread them out. This is a big, dusty job.

Miss Priss spreading shavings. 

We helped get the horses settled in: three ponies and one horse, who paced all afternoon at the gate of his turnout. The ponies revelled in their large, grassy turnouts, galloping, even bucking a bit, whinnying. No pacing for them!

Max grazing in his turnout.

Today, Tiny Girl and I leave for our Girl Scout Camporee. (Have I mentioned it's raining here? It hasn't rained like this -- a slow, steady rain -- in weeks. But today....) Miss Priss has a musical theatre production, A Tribute to Broadway, tomorrow night and is not able to join us. She has dress rehearsal tonight from 5:00 til 9:00 and has to be at the venue tomorrow at 3:00. Happily, Tiny Girl and I are going to be able to attend the show; the Camporee location is only 10 miles from the theatre venue. However, Himself is in charge of Miss Priss and her costumes, props, schedule, food, transportation, etc. He'll handle it beautifully, as he always does, but he's grousing a bit. "Wait. Do we have to go to the after-show 'party' at IHOP? That's not necessary!" Yes, they have to go.

Tiny Girl and I are looking forward to a fab weekend canoeing, letting arrows fly on the archery range, boating on the lake (pontoon), a luau pool party, s'mores, the whole nine yards. We may be sporting those plastic-wrappy Dollar Tree rain capes, but we'll be having a great time. Woo hoo!

We managed to get some schoolwork done. This week, we mixed up our math a bit. Miss Priss went back to Life of Fred Fractions, which she understands better since we spent some time with Ck12's sixth grade math program. Tiny Girl asked for a break from MEP, so she's been working in her Math Detective workbook (a Critical Thinking Company publication). I would normally post links, but my computer's been locking up (someone's coming this morning to take a look at it) and I don't want to take the chance since it's working well at this particular moment. I'll try to add them in later.

A peep at our some of our readings:
  • This Country of Ours: the battle of Gettysburg. I've ordered the (epic) movie from Netflix for us to watch as a family.
  • Story Book of Science: the power of steam
  • Oliver Twist: our hero's on the lam. He's hooked up with the Artful Dodger and made his way to London.
  • A Passion for the Impossible: Lilias meets John Ruskin in Venice
  • Plutarch's Lives, "Brutus": Brutus goes to Greece and raises an army when he hears about Rome's troubles between Octavius Caesar and Antonius.

Those are highlights from our week! How was yours?

When you have a moment, take a look at parts one, two, and three of my series on Enjoying Poetry with Your Children. There's more to come, including resources!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Poetry Push-Back: Working Through Resistance in Young Children

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times
Young children naturally seem to enjoy poetry, in general. But what if yours don't? What if their eyes glaze over when you read a poem to them? What if they openly resist listening?
Well, you could grit your teeth and slog through. But if your end goal is to cultivate a love of poetry in your children, I have a few items for you to think about:

Are you careful in your selections?
The unfortunate truth is that many poems for children are utter twaddle. I reviewed some online poetry websites and found a few that made me wrinkle my nose in distaste. Potty humor, slapstick silliness, doggerel*, and poor verse abound. The same holds true for nursery rhymes. Some are fun, lovely, or both; but others are just plain foolish. Of course, many of these parameters depend on personal taste. What's ridiculous to me may not be so to you.

But if you're asking Just what is poor poetry?, consider this, which I’ve just made up out of my own brain:

A rose climbs up our garden wall
as red as red can be.
When visitors all come to call
it’s quite a sight to see.

Ta da!

We can call this little quatrain a verse, but we cannot call it poetry. It inspires no connection, it invokes no emotions or understanding or images (other than the rose itself). It's not one whit engaging. In fact, there's nothing to it besides an ABAB rhyme scheme and a plodding meter. So in my most humble opinion, this is not poetry.

Let Philippians 4:8 be a guideline for you; it's excellent advice for anyone: ". . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things."

Are the children developmentally ready for the poems you've selected?
A year or so ago, the girls first encountered William Wordsworth, one of the poets AO designated for a term. Dutifully, I began reading his work to my daughters. They gave it a frosty reception, so I laid it aside for now. They were simply not ready, and I didn't want to ruin Wordworth for them, before they even begin to fathom "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

How do you approach the poems?
First, take care not to bog down younger children with too much background or biographical information on the poet. As Silvia points out, "They [her young children] are starting to pay attention to some of those poems, and they know, for example, who A. A. Milne is when we read his poetry because of Winnie." And that's all they need to know at this stage.

Second, consider your delivery, i.e., how you read poetry aloud. Take in account the themes, tones, or moods of poems when you read them to your children, and do your best to read poetry in such a way that inspires a connection.

Do you like the poem (or poet's work)?
You can't fake it with your children. They know you well and will be able to sniff out your dislike. Select poetry that you enjoy, too, and perhaps your enthusiasm will impress your children. (If your children are older, as mine are, the latter is not likely to be effective. More on older children in another post.)

Whew! That's a lot to think about. If this sounds like work, well, it can be. In my last post of this series, I'll point you to resources to help you in selecting good poetry for your family.

Here's an example from our family, in case you're interested:
When my children were toddlers, I had a subscription to a lovely little literary publication written for their age group. It's been many years, but I still remember this poem (and can quote it from my feeble memory):

Rickety Rackety
Rickety rackety
Rocking chair
I bring my book
And my teddy bear
Mama reads
And strokes my hair
As we rickety-rack
In the rocking chair.
-- by Heidi Roemer

And here's another:

Taste of Purple
Grapes hang purple
In their bunches,
Ready for September lunches,
Gather them, no minutes wasting.
Purple is Delicious tasting.
-- by Leland B. Jacobs

Yesterday, I read a marvelous post about one family's poetry experience. Pop over and read about Angie's quest to engage her younger children in poetical delights. For more insight into these topics, read part one of this series, especially Rev. H. C. Beeching's comments about poetry.

I'd love to read your thoughts and ideas, so comment away!

* Doggerel, according to Wikipedia, is a "derogatory term for verse considered of little literary value. The word probably derived from dog, suggesting either ugliness, puppyish clumsiness, or unpalatability (as in food fit only for dogs). "Doggerel" is attested to have been used as an adjective since the fourteenth century and a noun since at least 1630. . . . Doggerel is usually the sincere product of poetic incompetence, and only unintentionally humorous." The article also points out that writers often use doggerel to "for comic or satiric effect" and to lampoon "popular literary tastes. "

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Four Tips Guaranteed to Kill a Developing Love for Poetry

Welcome to part two of my series on poetry for children -- and all of us. In part one, I offered several tips for enjoying poetry with your children. Today I'll address some surefire ways to kill the joy, douse the flame, squelch the delight, sever the connection, and set your children on the path to lifelong irritation, derision, and other means of unappreciation: poetry is "boring, a waste of time, weird, difficult. . . ." Just in case that's your goal. I'm trying to address all options here.

Here we go:

  • Avoid reading poetry with your children. Pretty straightforward. Children never exposed to beautiful and, especially important, evocative poetry will never develop an appreciation for it.
  • Succumb to your children's resistance. Young children seem to have a natural predilection for poetry. My children loved (and still do) the poems of Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, A.A. Milne, Walter de la Mare, Sara Teasdale, Hilda Conkling, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Emily Dickinson. Even now, if we need to soldier on in an activity (say, housecleaning), I'll cry out, "Excelsior!" and they know what that means, thanks to Longfellow. But now that they're older, I'm getting some flack or a touch of boredom. Bad attitudes, all. Now's the time to throw in the towel.
  • Read a poem once and slam the book shut. Poetry, check! If you decide to expose your children to some poetry after all, do not talk about it or the poet. No background information, no short biographical sketch, no exploration of emotions or images the poem might have inspired, no thoughtful consideration of the beauty of the words . . . nothing. Make no attempt to encourage any connection with the poem whatsoever.
Alternatively. . .
  • Read a poem and immediately begin to dissect its parts. go beyond mere rhyme scheme. Peruse the poem for instances of dactyl, anapests, enjambment, caesuras, elisions that preserve the poem's meter, etc. Analyze the poem's metrical pattern. Is it iambic pentameter, blank verse, free verse, etc.? What's its arrangement, so to speak: sonnet (Petrarchan or Shakespearean?), villanelle, epic, sestina, epigram, lyric, blank verse, or perhaps an elegy? This is crucial if your children are in the middle grades. Nothing kills poetical delight easier than early and accelerated literary criticism.

Of course, it goes without saying that if your aim to to engender a love of poetry in your children, then you'd strive to forgo these tips. Basically:

  • Do read poetry with your children.
  • Do persevere in the face of discontent. (I'm planning a separate post on this topic.)
  • Do talk about the poem with your children. Share your thoughts, but take care not to trample on their own experience.
  • Do postpone serious literary criticism until the later years, perhaps until college. Considering a poem's rhyme scheme (ABBA, etc.) for middle graders is fine by me. If you'd like, casually add in a consideration of figurative language: simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia (which is fun!), and the like. If your children are in high school, a basic understanding of poetic analysis would put them on the right road for their literature classes. (Hmm. This would make a nice post topic, wouldn't it?)

Take at look at part one of this series for more ideas.

What are your experiences with poetry? Did any of the above points ring a bell with you, perhaps in your own education? How would you like things to be different for your children? Respond in the Comments section to your heart's content!