Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Narration and the Silver Skates

and the Silver Skates

Three degrees F greeted us one morning this week. Pennsylvania has had temperatures suitable for freezing ponds for ice-skating. All our snow, however, has gotten in the way. I dug up a pair of our girls’ skates in memory of some thrilling days on ice. Placed outside the door they embrace the season and display an appreciation for it.

This gesture worked as a kind of therapy for me. It helped to uplift one who naturally sinks under the weather in January.

Roaming the rooms of the house to peruse our bookshelves for winter themes led me to our copy of Hans Brinker or the Sliver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (1830-1905). I opened its pages to reacquaint myself with the illustrations. They are of an early edition and make a colorful decoration for this post.

Leafing through Hans Brinker I stopped at the last page. Handwriting caught my eye. It was an inscription: “Read to Sophia in the winter of 1990 by Mom.”   If I meant to start a trend in those days I didn’t succeed. I must have been distracted by the ongoing business of reading aloud itself and all the other details of living the educational life. For it seems I had forgotten my initial idea of jotting down a record at the close of a book. I haven’t come across another inscription like it so far.

A Book of Virtues

I remember choosing Hans Brinker because I was familiar with the 1960’s made-for-TV Disney film I watched as a child. It was filmed in the beautiful land of Holland. Its characters showed a love of family, determination, patience in adversity, a willingness to work toward an unselfish goal, and trust in God. I decided also to read Hans Brinker for the purpose of developing my student’s skill of narration. The more I read of Miss Charlotte Mason’s original writings the more I understood what a critical part narration had to play in her educational method.

Walking on New Ground

I certainly was walking on new ground in those days. Home teaching had dawned but the sun was really just rising. When you consider what limited information was available for all us “do-it-yourselfers” I was glad to have Miss Mason’s writings. But with all the reading I did on education I never strayed from Miss Mason’s time-honored ideas. I clung to them. They spoke the clearest to my mind and heart. Not only was the educational method I was trying new to me, the books themselves were new. 

Feeding the Soul

As it was with all the children’s classics on our shelves, with each reading aloud I was reading the story for the first time. I experienced the satisfaction of feeding my children’s souls with inspiring literature, while I took joy in feeding my own soul what I had missed in my childhood. For the home teacher this is just one perk that comes with the job.

A Child's Telling

What is the method of narration? Simply put it is the child telling back in his own words what has just been read aloud to him. As the student matures he reads to himself and provides an oral or written narration to the teacher. Narration is brainwork. It is personal. It is personable. For the talker builds a relationship with the listener - and visa versa.

The modern author Jane M. Healy, Ph.D. in her book, Endangered Minds says, “. . . unless [children] possess the internal sense of responsibility for extracting the meaning, [of what they read] they are engaged in a hollow and unsatisfying exercise.” Pg. 25

A page later she says, “An effective way to probe a reader’s understanding is to ask him to tell what happened . . . give a summary or paraphrase. Many students have particular difficulty . . .  perhaps because they have never been required to synthesize or talk about texts in this way; they’ve been too busy filling in the bubbles.” 

Jane Healy reports her findings of how beneficial it is for children to build on oral expression with writing. When children are required to write regularly on what they are learning they have an improved understanding and memory, she said.

Doesn’t this modern message sound familiar? It describes narration to a "T". More than one hundred years ago Miss Charlotte Mason was traveling a circuit in England communicating the same message.  

A Homespun Newsletter

You’ve probably noticed how my friends are nameless. They enjoy a peaceful state of anonymity. (And - I’m smiling – I’m free to talk about them more this way.) One friend was much taken by the method of narration in the 1990s. She willingly made extra work for herself by putting together a newsletter to feature the narrations of her six children. It was mailed only to a small handful of family and friends. I was happy to receive a couple issues. While it gave her children that wonderfully encouraging feeling that comes with seeing one’s work in print, I imagine it demonstrated to her extended family in those earlier days of home teaching that, yes, aside from the fact that at first glance the newsletter looks “cute,” real learning is taking place in the home, and indeed, children like learning when they are given the opportunity to “tell.”

With contributions on a range of subjects, drawings and clip art, the little newsletter was truly interesting to read. As the children began entering their high school years and lessons became more sophisticated, so did their narrations. And the newsletter? Well, with her plate ever-more full my friend left that phase of their journey behind. But what lovely keepsakes those homespun newsletters will always be. 

“I don’t know if I can trust in narration,” a young mother said.
Understanding her insecurity to turn from relying on worksheets for every subject the second mother replied gently, “If you are not putting your trust in narration, you are putting your trust in something else.”

For a further introduction to Miss Charlotte Mason’s method of narration click HERE.

Post Script
Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates has recently been issued on DVD. I think you will like the film.
Perhaps I should share this tid-bit. As my narrator was a young age I skipped over several of the “travel” chapters. 

Thank you for visiting.
   Karen Andreola

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Progress in Pink

Progress in Pink

   Small servings of warm & fuzzy are to the liking of Lady-of-the-House. These servings spring up in her realistic fiction and will sometimes embody the ideas of a post. Friendly hints to “advance toward the direction of one’s dreams” is what she wishes to offer. If some of these dreams happen to be accompanied by a portion of warm & fuzzy, so be it.

Carol in Blackberry Inn writes a warm & fuzzy:
[Emma] carefully lifted my knitting out of its basket. “. . . look at this pretty sweater. What a lovely rose color.” I had been knitting a cardigan for my daughter Emily, and was particular about my pinks.” Emma held it up to admire it in the sunbeams that streamed in through the windows. It did look pretty in the sunlight, or was it Emma’s encouragement that made me appreciate it more? I felt gratified. “You’re nearly done,” she said, returning it to its nesting place, leaving it with another of her affectionate pats.

   Just as particular about her pinks the Lady-of-the-House carefully chose two rose yarns; one pale and one saturated in color. She started knitting a sweater for a one-year-old following a new pattern – one with stripes. Someone dear to her is expecting a baby come spring. She was told that the speed of the heartbeat is a clue the baby will probably be a girl.

   Some years ago the Lady-of-the-House purchased some fabric in pink and teddy-bear-tan. “A little quilt with touches of pink would be a welcome addition to my grandma’s someday box,” she daydreamed. A home educating mother arranged the fabrics for her and precut the squares.

     She has a flair for creating kits for mothers and daughters with no fear of pink – if it’s the right pink. Her kits are marvelously handy for teaching sewing to young girls. Not online, look for “Kits for Kids” (in many colors) at the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania homeschool fair.

    A certain hand dyed peachy-pink wool roving caught the eye of the Lady-of-the-House.

    The optimistic expression “give it a whirl” must have been born of a spinster. This is precisely what the Lady-of-the-House has been doing in her winter evenings. She’s been practicing spinning. The yarn is all regrettably over-spun. Nevertheless, she advances toward her goal – another day, another whirl.

    A whirl is like a bicycle gear. The band that turns the spinning wheel also turns the whirl.

    After making skeins of natural wool she took her pink and with a knitty-knotty turned it into a skein. Added to the pile it is pleasingly conspicuous resting on a white windowsill.

    She knows what she wishes to make with the pink – a pair of mittens – for herself . . .  eventually.

  Begun months ago with the reading of the novel Jane Eyre, (she is in its later chapters now, sipping the reading like tea) the reproduction sampler of six-year-old Charlotte Bronte is nearly finished. With the realization that this, too, is pink – to resemble a faded red - the decision for the title of this post was solidified.

    Pink is unpopular. Shyness about this color is common. Is pink a favorite of yours? According to folklore, people who love pink are full of compassion and have a strong inclination to nurture others. They may have a sweet tooth, too.

    With less timidity pink has managed to make its way into the life of the Lady-of-the-House. Could it be the feminine, warm and fuzzy side of life peeping out? 

Post Script
    The Lady-of-the-House received a telephone call from the (above) expectant mother. An ultra-sound showed the baby-on-the-way yawn and suck a thumb.
    “How cute,” said the Lady-of-the-House. What she heard next made her laugh out loud.
    “Oh, and Mom, it looks like William will have a brother, after all.” 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Roasting on an Open Fire

                   Roasting on an Open Fire

    When our fireplace is not lit an old drying rack is set before it. The towels you see hanging as if left to dry, were hand woven. I’ve collected them over our years of visiting museum shops.

    Both fireplace and drying rack suggest a lifestyle of the past. There are two ways we temporarily escape from the stresses of current events. One is with a keen interest in the future. This is Dean’s form of relaxation. He likes a good science fiction novel or film and lives in the optimistic but risky days beyond the horizon. Nostalgia is my temporary escape. 

    Every little once-in-a-while, I’ll stray away from ordinary practicality. I’ll exchange or enhance an ordinary chore with an activity that allows me to romanticize. Chickens roasting on an open fire are one such attempt. I am fulfilling a meal requirement while stepping into the past. Such a gesture takes extra effort but an inspiring idea has a way of energizing any task. Have you noticed?

    Maybe this cooking idea made its tantalizing appeal while I was watching the scene in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” – the remarkable way a phonograph was rigged to turn a spit over a fire to cook a chicken. Perhaps it was the day we stood in the Colonial kitchen at the Landis Valley Museum and watched a man in breeches twirling a chicken on string over the glowing embers of a small but hot fire in back of a wide fireplace. Or, it could have been an old-fashioned illustration I lingered over in a book. A picture by Tasha Tudor in A Time to Keep comes to mind.

    Anyway the idea made its appeal and eventually inspired me to carry out what was dancing in my imagination.

    What a bother it would have been to roast chickens in the fireplace if I hadn’t been swept up with nostalgic notions. Every ten minutes or so I was obliged to twist the strings of the hammocks I had made for my birds. After they unwound they would slowly start twirling in the opposite direction – fine and good. 

    But soon they’d need another hardy twist. In between twisting (I walked back and forth) I was making side dishes at the other end of the kitchen. I decided to cook double to “put by” meal-starters for the freezer. 

    Two and half hours of intermittent twisting and the roasters were ready to eat. Dean, my protector, checked doneness by inserting a modern meat thermometer into each. He was unusually generous with his compliments once the table was spread.

    I like to serve poultry carved off the bone. In this way the carcass is reserved for the stockpot. That’s what I did, too, that day. A large onion, some carrot, stalks of celery, whole cloves of garlic and aromatic herbs help season the stock. After a few hours of simmering the pot is set to cool.  Strained, the liquid goes in the refrigerator. It gelatinizes overnight. In its gelatin state it can be spooned into freezer bags.

    I was more tired on that day of cooking than normally. But I had enjoyed the experience and “put by” so perhaps my romanticizing was an efficient use of my time, after all.

    Recently I retrieved a frozen frugal bag of broth made from my nostalgic roasters. With the recollection of those spinning birds entertaining my thoughts I made a vegetable soup.

    While the macaroni boiled I prepared the veggies. Different bowls of healthy veggies are added to the pot consecutively. Diced summer squash and peeled and diced bell peppers are added last, with a can of black beans and one of tomato to round out the flavors. Add a sprinkle of oregano and ladle over a bowl of macaroni.  

Inspiring ideas (sometimes nostalgic ones) help the homemaker perform ordinary duties.   But love is the best inspiration of all.

    My daughter and her husband made rustic apple tarts. It was a superb finish to a fireside supper on a table set with my mother’s china. 

    Thank you for visiting.

    Comments are welcome. For those who prefer to send an unpublished message or question, my email is in the margin. Paper letters, from the nostalgic, are welcome too.

P.S. Thank you Dean and Nigel for helping with the photographs.