Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reading with Frog and Toad

Reading with Frog and Toad

    Of my three children, Sophia, was most fascinated with critters. When discovered, she wouldn’t leave them alone. Oh, the critters she had cornered. This is what happens when screen time is absent in the afternoons, I suppose. I am struck by the reality that this photograph is twenty years old. Caught in the act it reveals the quintessential Sophia. 

Early Reading
    What do you recommend for young children to read? At this request a set of early readers spontaneously comes to mind: those written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. I photographed our oft-read copies outdoors on a leafy October day along with Arnold Lobel’s popular characters. 

    Some of you know our family has been writing book reviews for more than ten years. Here is a sneak preview of Sophia’s review.

frog and toad books

Sophia’s Recommendation

    As a seven-year-old one of my favorite pastimes was catching frogs and toads. The poor things lived in a box with moss and rocks until my mother made me set them free. Even now, I will scoop up a toad if it chances across my garden path. Maybe this is why when introduced to the Frog & Toad early reading series, I was eager to do my reading lessons.

    Frog and Toad are two very different characters yet are best of friends. In their corduroy and tweed jackets you won’t find better dressed amphibians. Arnold Lobel (1933-1987) had an amazing ability to portray expression and action in a simple drawing. My toddler son is captivated by his pictures. Frog and Toad are Friends is providing us bedtime stories for now. Our favorites episodes are, Cookies, A Lost Button, The Corner and The Kite.

    Arnold Lobel turned ordinary, everyday events into clever, humorous, memorable adventures, retaining a childlike ability to make the world magical. When he was a boy he enjoyed telling stories and illustrating them to entertain his friends. But what he loved most was borrowing books from the library. Share Arnold Lobel’s stories with your young readers and they might say the same some day.•

Reading by Sound and by Sight 
    Each chapter in these “I Can Read” books is a mini story in itself – a story that repeats the use of some of the most commonly used “sight” words. When teaching reading what method can surpass that of tutoring? A child reads aloud at his inexperienced snail’s pace and sometimes stops at a sight word – a word not easily figured out by sounding out. The tutor (homeschool mom) says the word for him. She also makes note of these words for later practice. 

    Here is a way to practice sight words with movement (hand-eye coordination). Children find it a welcome change from necessary seatwork. I wrote out three sight words and taped them to a cardboard box above the holes I cut into it. When a wooden bead, a ball, a little car or train engine is rolled across the floor and aimed at one of the tunnels, a tally is kept by the student of how many beads enter the “where” tunnel, etc. Your cardboard box can be as plain or as decorated as you like.

frong and toad plush toys
    It isn’t cheating for a student to hear a book read aloud that he will later work at reading himself. Arnold Lobel reads his stories on CD and does a gentleman’s unhurried job of it. The acoustic musical interludes are quiet and tasteful.

These fine friends now sit on our bookshelf. Next to the outdoors it is their second best place to be. But when given a choice the first is in the hands of a child. 

Thank you for visiting,

Karen Andreola 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fabric Yo-Yos

Fabric   Yo-Yos

Necessity is the mother of invention.

    “You’ve given me ideas on frugal living,” several mothers have written to the Lady-of-the-house. She found it interesting. Apparently, the way her characters lived during the Great Depression in Lessons of Blackberry Inn made an impression. Frugality wasn’t intended to be one of the “lessons” in the story yet after reading the letters the Lady-of-the-house sat down and scribbled a list (from memory) of the frugal activities of her characters. Surprisingly her list ran to the bottom of the page. Not only did the characters save their pennies, they were resourceful at growing things and making things. They had to be. In the 1930s nothing was wasted. Even little scraps of cloth were saved. And if an old curtain, apron, or other piece of clothing was too worn or stained for use, a small corner of it, an unworn or unstained piece of it, might be salvaged. The scrapes could be turned into yo-yos. 

    The pastel yo-yos shown are hand sewn from circles cut 4 ½ inches in diameter. When gathered, the circles make a 2-inch puffed piece of quilt. A green yo-yo is placed over a cut circle to show the size difference. 

    Fabric is a thing of beauty in the discretionary life of the homemaker. It was while visiting a special fabric shop that the Lady-of-the-house first beheld a yo-yo. On the second floor of the shop is a quilt museum. Inside one the museum’s glass showcases is a faded calico (doll size) bed coverlet made of tiny yo-yos. Antique toys help create an old-fashioned ambiance. Lacey yo-yo coverlets were popular bedspreads in the summertime in the 1930s. 

    Anyway, the Lady-of-the-house was charmed by the showcase  – so much so that she soon began cutting out circles to make her first yo-yos. And when writing her fictional tale about a family living in the 1930s her characters make yo-yos, too. In the story Dora invites friends to a luncheon tea to show them how.

    Would you like to make a yo-yo? Cut a circle out of washed cotton. With the wrong side facing you fold a hem over a starting knot. The hem’s running stitch can be as casual and imperfect as a basting stitch and loose enough to gather. Red thread is used here for visibility in the photo. (Click to enlarge.) A thread of matching color is used to secure the yo-yo in its center with a few inconspicuous stitches. To attach your yo-yos whip stitch a few close stitches where they touch. 

    The Lady-of-the-house amuses herself in imagining Penelope of Lessons of Blackberry Inn arranging her red and green yo-yos for a small Christmas pillow. What fabric will she use for the rest of the pillow? Will she place yo-yos on the opposite side of the pillow as well?

    At the tea party Carol and her daughter Emily, also learn to make yo-yos. Over time their home sewing gives them a pile like this one. This is a craft that amiably accommodates the needle skills of young girls.

    A fun part is fiddling with fabric colors. You can be as fussy as you wish. You can add new colors and subtract others until you settle on a combination that pleases you. The Lady-of-the-house, arranging the yo-yos from her pile, has left out the black. On second thought she will keep the black. It ties in the other colors. It is possible, however, that she may change her mind again.

    Seeing a picture of a bright row of yo-yos along the edge of a window curtain in a young child’s room, made her consider sewing the same. Such ponderings are a relaxing exercise in creative daydreaming. For some mothers this daydreaming was (and still is) born of necessity. 

    The grandparents of the Man-of-the-house stand to the right of their friends in the photograph. It was taken in 1934 during the Great Depression in New York City. Shy Josephine was excellent with a needle. The Man-of-the-house has the inherited personality traits of Salvatore in the (probably) navy jacket.  

Thank you for visiting.
Karen Andreola

Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Affinity for Literature

An Affinity for Literature

"Literature – the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life."
                                                                                                           Charlotte Mason

  A “library discard” is on my nightstand. When I first visited the local library with my young children in the 1980s it was at the end of an era. We fingered through cards in the oak file drawers. Our books received a date-due card that was ink stamped and slipped neatly into the envelope where the title card was removed. Such was the handling of my well-worn copy of Jane Eyre printed in that not-too-long-ago-era.

    As night falls earlier in November the whole of my reading takes place in the dark. A little pool of light illuminates the page in a dark room that seems to match the pathos and eeriness of the early chapters of the story - especially when November rain splashes at on the windowpane. I am savoring Charlotte Brontë’s writing, pausing to reread paragraphs that require closer attention and invite deeper thought. Jane Eyre is said to be one of the most highly cherished treasures in English fiction. I can understand why.

    My daughter Sophia has always been a keen reader. (I supplied my children with books as I supplied them bread and butter.)  But recently Sophia admits in hindsight that her impressions of Jane Eyre were blurred because she thinks she was too young when she read it at age fourteen. In raising girls (who did not grow up too fast) I found that even a little more maturity would create - between the reader and the book - an affinity. This was the case with twelve-year-old Yolanda and Little Women. It was one of the few instances that once started she put the book aside. Sometimes it is better to wait. A few years later, at age fourteen, it came: an affinity for the story. An affinity is what enables us to form a close relationship with the writing. Little Women was a friend to Yolanda’s girlhood awakenings and graciously contributed to her blossoming into womanhood. This affinity is what turns a good book into something special.

“We wish for children to grow up to find joy and refreshment in the taste, the flavour of a book . . . a work possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader which belongs to a literary word fitly spoken. It is sad that we are loosing our joy in literary form. We are in such a haste . . . that we have no leisure to linger over the mere putting of a thought. But this is our error, for words are mighty both to delight and inspire.”    
Charlotte Mason, Parents & Children pages 262-263

    When Yolanda picked up Jane Eyre it was at a later age than that of her sister. At seventeen she lingered over it, in the manner she always did when reading books she liked. After she married Daniel, Jane Eyre became one of the books she chose to share with him. He enjoyed her reading aloud from it.

    Absorbed in Jane Eyre I was excited to pick up my needle to stitch a reproduction of a small sampler worked by Charlotte Brontë when she was six-year-old. Originally stitched in red it has suffered light damage. It has faded to pink and can be seen at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth.

    I am quite fond of my calico needle case. It is a gift from a good friend who has historical leanings and who has exquisite skill in sewing. She followed an early American pattern to make it. Such a needle case is referred to as a huswife. It rolls up to a dainty size, doesn’t it? 

     May I share a quote with you from my reading? To answer Miss Eyre’s inquiry as to the character of Mr. Rochester, the housekeeper forewarns her that he is peculiar. In chapter fourteen when the young governess is called into the drawing room to sit before Mr. Rochester’s discerning glare she listens to his judgments and takes courage to respond honestly to his blunt questions. (This scene is attributed to the 1944 film directed by Robert Stevenson.)

    Mr. Rochester admits he has faults (this harmless word begins his speech) but as he goes on to compare his youth to hers he becomes more incriminating. His mode of life has been one that “invites sneers and deserves them.” He tells Miss Eyre, “Like other defaulters I like to lay half the blame on ill fortune and adverse circumstances.” He adds that he has been “thrust on to a wrong tack at the age of one and twenty, and have never recovered the right course since.”  

    The next words of Mr. R. are really what give impetus to this post:  “but I might have been very different; I might have been as good as you – wiser – almost as stainless. I envy you your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure – an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment: is it not?” 

    Do we not home educate to enable our girls (and boys) to possess exactly what Mr. Rochester describes?

    Persevere in your teaching my friend. You have lofty aims therefore the climb on some days may seem steep or wearisome. In due time you will reap blessings. 

    Meanwhile to replenish your soul you might open a page to a little pool of light before you sleep. 

Discussion is invited.