It was at breakfast midweek when Dean suggested, “Let’s go antiquing.”
“What, today?” My husband is more spontaneous then I am. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
“Yes, today,” he matter-of-factly stated.
“Alright,” I softened. I even lightened up.
It was far too beautiful a spring morning for sitting behind a computer with writing deadlines met. Butter-colored sunshine tantalizingly streamed through the kitchen’s east window onto the oak farmtable while we deftly set to work. Dean made a sandwich with yesterday’s home baked bread and I an avocado-pear salad. Apples, raisons, pecans and pretzels individually wrapped, made ready snacks for the picnic basket. Amply supplied we took to the winding back roads.
We didn’t go far. Yet, being roads new to us we passed some charming old homes we hadn’t seen before, a covered bridge – and many neat farms. We were lost twice (and blamed the detour.) Still, we managed to step into several antique shops to poke about their wares.
Although we returned home without an antique-anything we have snapshots to share and decorate this post. Click any image to enlarge.
The Art of Shaping Sentences
|"Mud Pies" by Ludwig Knaus (1829-1910) German painter|
“I’m making a birthday cake,” he answered. I’m going to bake-bake a cake-cake. I’m making it for you . . . and one for Daddy, and one for Baby . . . and one for me. ”
“That’s nice,” she said. She had been reading him nursery rhymes and noted that he must have picked up the repetition of Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, Baker’s man . . . He was absorbed in his task of making mud pies and mud cakes. The mud was a mixture of the sand from his sandbox that had spilled over into the surrounding garden soil. It didn’t matter whether no grass would grow there for a bit. What mattered was that the little boy was making something. And it gave him something to talk about. “Will you have a party?” his mother asked with a ring of interest.
“Yes. I’m going to have a party.” Then, after a pause he asked in a refreshed tone, “Mom, would do me a favorite?”
She understood him to mean, “favor” but chose not to correct him. “What do you need?”
He was pushing his plastic grocery cart up and down the garden path earlier so she thought to ask, “Didn’t they have any candles when you went shopping?”
“No.” he answered. “They gave them all out.”
“You mean they were sold-out?”
“Yes, they were sold-out,” he echoed. He was in mud not just up to his elbows but everywhere else. Although his answers were short he knew how to carry a conversation and form sentences while he formed his mud pies and cakes. He patted and molded and pressed each into shape. The mud cakes could be seen plainly. How his words were shaping his brain and organizing his thoughts could not be seen plainly --- but it was just as surely happening.
Conversation is the Curriculum
In a word-rich environment, one that makes time for conversation, children learn how to use language in empowering ways - long before they sit at a desk for their first language lesson. The language of a word-rich environment shapes their thinking, it shapes their out-look on life, it shapes their brains. As a child puts his words in order to form sentences he is putting his thoughts in order, too.
Yet our fast-paced, 21st century lives encourage a kind of linguistic passivity. From birth children are bombarded with noise and hurry. Obnoxious music plays in the marketplace. Screens flash images. Screens are even attached to the ceiling of our cars to keep children fuss-free in traffic. Where are the unhurried, quiet moments of conversation? Where is the stillness, the quiet or bored moments for reflecting upon his world with a sort of inner conversation?
Language is not the garment but in the incarnation of our thoughts. – William Wordsworth
A child can be in a room with designer-toys and didactic materials but it is the words he speaks to the words he hears that will be what develops his brain in readiness for reading, in readiness for gaining the lion’s share of his knowledge – that is - knowledge from books.
Reading is words in pattern. A child first becomes familiar with pattern, rhythm and rhyme by the pleasant way language is put together in his nursery rhymes. He hears them over and over. When the words are familiar to him, you can stop after a line and he will tell you the next. He is reading already in a sense, through his ears not his eyes, when he connects diddle with fiddle, moon with spoon, pig with jiggety-jig, Miss Muffet with tuffet.
An enormous amount of learning takes place in the young years - all without the aid of the workbook. How quickly, by grade one, the dial is turned and set to the workbook - when it seems that children cannot be expected to grow or learn much outside it. We cling to the security of the workbook for all the grades thereafter. Is it because without ten problems on a page we aren’t able to measure learning by the proper percentages of understanding? But my post is not about when to use and when not to use a workbook, how few or how many. Rather, I wish to open eyes a little wider to a sampling of other things – things less clearly visible – less apparently measurable – and mark them as trustworthy.
formal telling of a book’s passage with narration,
day-dreaming and imagination,
traditional story telling.
traditional story telling.
Also to note are hands-on experience and observation. These are learning experiences that can be shaped in words.
An Atmosphere of Home Learning
If education, according to Miss Charlotte Mason, is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life of ideas then as much as one third of education is atmosphere – the quiet, unhurried, word-rich environment where children live and breath within an atmosphere of learning – just as they live and breath within the atmosphere that surrounds the planet.
"The person rises to understand, master, and enjoy whatever he is surrounded with in language, ideas, literature, and in appreciation of beauty.” Susan Schaeffer Macaulay For the Children’s Sake pg 39
Years back I picked up a used copy of The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease published in the 1980s. It has underlinings by the previous owner. If one of the paragraphs were not already starred I would have starred it myself – in pink ink. Mr. Trelease eases the conscience of the teacher who thinks she is neglecting the curriculum in order to take time to read aloud to her class from a well-written story. Reading is the curriculum Jim Trelease points out boldly. He sees language to be the principle ingredient of all learning. “Not only is it the tool with which we communicate the lesson, it is also the product the student hands back to us – whether is it the language of math or science, or history.” How brilliantly basic!
He claims that children who hear words intelligently, intriguingly and elegantly expressed through a read-aloud, are better able to share their own thoughts verbally and in writing. “Each read-aloud, then, is a language arts lesson, bolstering the four language arts: the art of reading, the art of listening, the art of writing, the art of speaking.”
The Art of Knowing
When The Read Aloud Handbook was published, its ideas were ripe-for-the-picking among home teachers. Other voices were also praising the value of reading aloud. In the 1980s Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, too, upheld this teaching method in For the Children’s Sake when she introduced us to Miss Mason’s “living books” and the simple yet marvelously empowering method of narration. Susan Macaulay speaks highly of “literature [as] an important and central part of education.”
“The best thought the world possesses is stored in books,” says Miss Mason. She insists upon the right kind of books - well-written books on a variety of subjects – books that capture interest – books with juicy details – books that take their time – rather than those that are striped of life – the deliberately made-to-be facts-only schoolbooks that are typically set before a child and said to be authoritative. A living book, however – will enliven the learner. It opens the door of the child’s mind with nourishing ideas. When a child becomes a student of these books and can narrate, we perceive he has knowledge because it is shaped in his own words (as it was shaped in his own mind). Miss Mason heralds her discovery:
Here . . . is the key to that attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking, which we all feel should belong to an education that is only begun in school and continues throughout life. . . Philosophy of Education pg 29
To most of you I am preaching to the choir. May my message be affirming to you who are in the throes of teaching. You cannot see, as plainly, how language shapes the mind as a little hand shapes a mud pie. Take heart. I remind you that it is just as surely happening. We can call it “language pie.” Why not?
Discussion is invited,
I am honored and happy to be favorably quoted. Quote freely, please. And thank you for including my name with whatever I’ve written that resonates with you while you pass along the kindled torch of ideas to your readership.