History in Literary Language
The Lady-of-the-House and the Man-of-the-House tucked their young children into bed with a story. Then they climbed down the stairs into the kitchen for a hot drink. The Man-of-the-House took his tall mug into the living room. A minute later the Lady-of-the-House followed.
“Where’d you find that?” she asked as she entered the room. “It’s been missing for ages.”
He smiled as he held up the remote control. “Under the seat cushion.” He continued, “with a pencil stub and some popcorn.”
With this shortfall in her cleaning routine staring her in the face the Lady-of-the-House said curtly, “Please get up. I need to sweep out the sofa.”
“Right now?” responded the Man-of-the-House with a slight raise of one eyebrow. “I just got comfortable.” He held out his arm inviting her to sit down and get comfortable too. He spoke calmly and glibly. “Let’s watch something before it gets too late.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s eight ten. There may be something on PBS. We haven’t checked in a long time. There might be something good on.”
“Okay.” The Lady-of-the-House acquiesced.
“Hmm, it’s a documentary,” stated the Man-of-the-House, “about the Vikings it looks like.”
“Oh, the children and I just finished reading about Leif, Eric the Red’s son. Is there a blank video around somewhere? We could record this for the children.” The Man-of-the-House obliged her. He pushed a video into the slot.
A dignified man with a gray bread and a suit to match was talking. He sat in a leather chair at a desk made of fine-grained walnut. He spoke with authority. He was a professor. Behind him the dark wood paneling gleamed. A beautiful shot of a windswept hillside on the coast of Nova Scotia showed the site of what was once a dig. Under the rubble of moss and lichen covered rock a tiny artifact had once been uncovered. Back in his study the professor spoke again. The Lady-of-the-House was waiting to hear something significantly more than what she and her children had read in their children’s books. She grew impatient. The Man-of-the-House was bored but endured. After some minutes more the Lady-of-the-House said, “That’s enough. No use taping this.”
“We learned similar facts in our children’s books and in a more interesting manner.” Being a bookman the Man-of-the-House understood.
Much more recently the Man-of-the-House shot a photograph for his wife of Leif-the-Lucky on the Atlantic coast while on vacation - to amuse you – and to highlight a love of living books.
During rare moments when a busy home teacher is able to sit comfortably somewhere she is likely to be found on the sofa with a picture book in hand, her children close beside her. Cozy and sweet? Yes, it is. These cozy times, however, should not be underestimated in their power to train children in the habit of attention. Reading aloud from a picture book can be a wonderful way of introducing a subject, especially history.
A knowledge of history is gained through the unfolding of a story. For this reason, children understand history best through literary language. Focusing on the story of history allows children to develop their powers of imagination. The use of imagination will be an advantage to the intellectual activity of a student in the school years that follow, when there are fewer pictures in his books. Save the serious side of history, the details of politics and philosophy, for the older student.
Through a well-written story, such as Leif the Lucky, children in the elementary years can learn to see the connections between events, and to trace causes.
Children can be asked to tell a few paragraphs back in their own words by narrating. “Describe the place that Leif explored and called Vineland.” Along with the enjoyment of the story comes the mental benefit gained through narrating it. Hearing her student narrate is the best way for a teacher to find out what he knows.
The D’Aularie biographies are a set of picture books created by a husband and wife team about 50 years ago. These books by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire are part of a sequence of living books within the Early American History course guide by Rea Berg published by Beautiful Feet Books.
When Nigel, the 22-year-old son of the Lady-of-the-House, was 8 he followed the course. The pictures, filled in with colored pencil and the drawing of the longboat, are from Nigel’s history notebook. The guide recommends photocopying key black and white illustrations to be glued into the notebook and colored. The student writes a simple caption under his picture. The Lady-of-the-House wrote the captions out for Nigel to copy. This was his history writing for the day – in pencil that is. His longer writing was what he composed in his oral narration.
A pile of fill-in-the-blank paperwork is apt to eventually be discarded. A notebook of entries becomes a keepsake.
Barbarous atrocities by Viking pirates who raided the coast of England are unmentioned in Leif The Lucky. Sea voyages are emphasized. The later influence of Christianity is made plain and not intentionally swept under the rug as history writers do today. Even though the Vikings are part of Europe’s medieval history they have a small part to play in America’s distant past. The D’Aulaire’s drawings of the Vikings with American Indians makes this memorable. Reference is made to danger but there are lots more smiles in this book than anything else.
On page 172 of Philosophy of Education Miss Charlotte Mason reminds us that a knowledge of history belongs to the person who can tell what ‘tis all about.
“. . . so the teacher reads and the children ‘tell’ paragraph after paragraph, passage by passage. The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’
The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. . . .
She will bear in mind that the child . . . has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books. Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know.”
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