Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Red, Blue, Make-do and Mend (if you've a fancy to)

Red, Blue
Make-do and Mend
(if you’ve a fancy to)

     The Lady-of-the-House confesses to keeping at least two ankle-length jean skirts in her wardrobe. Fellow wearers of the jean skirt know how it stands up to the rigors of house cleaning, endures frequent washings, even on the hottest setting. One of her jean skirts is new. The other has had a long life.

     During the winter months she had only worn “the other” for stay-at-home. The Man-of-the-House decided she had worn it out. It cannot be said how long he kept his opinion to himself but his patience finally came to a halt. It startled the Lady-of-the-House. She was peacefully going about her business in the kitchen wearing a pretty pink apron, whiping breakfast crumbs from the counter, when he was frank with her. He said calmly but firmly, “I can’t stand seeing you in that skirt.”

     “Why?” she asked, with eyes wide and a voice as sweet as pie, as if she were hurt and had no idea he could be so mean, all the while knowing precisely what he was referring to.
     “It’s ripped and shredded, that’s why.” After the truth was out he reiterated, “I can’t stand seeing you in it.” This drove the point home. No husband wants to see his wife in rags.
     “I’ll mend it,” was his wife’s stubborn reply disguised as a bright idea. She didn’t wish to part with the one dependable everyday skirt that fit her perfectly. But she was half-confident she could mend it. Perhaps she was only forestalling the inevitable.

     “Hmm,” he answered unconvinced. He sighed deeply and stepped into his office to start his workday. It was unmistakably a sigh of exasperation. Without showing you the back of the skirt in this post it will suffice to say that it was so vertically ripped at the back and horizontally frayed at the hem that even when mended would never pass for a 1930’s dignified simplicity - a standard respectful of both civility and economy.

A New Skirt (Sort of)
     Mindful of her husband’s words (he was right) more drastic measures than mending were necessary to save her skirt and give it a new lease on life. She set about reconstruction. She dug into her tub of quilting cotton and found a half-yard of a blue that might do. “I can cut the hem high up – just above the nasty rip,” she ventured, “and with this cotton add a flounce for length.” This she did with happy success. While she was cutting and ironing the fabric she read its title: "Aged Elegance." As she fancied this description to be applicable to her project, it gave a lift to her work. 

     The moment of truth came when she put the skirt on. The Lady-of-the-House opened the door of her husband’s office and interrupted his concentration with a brief fashion show, twirling ‘round what little floor space the room has to offer, humming a tune for accompaniment. The Man-of-the-House took off his reading glasses and said, “Where’d you get that?” It wasn’t the response she had hoped for. Experience told her, however, that translated into the feminine it meant, “Oh, you’re wearing a new skirt. It’s nice.”

     “Do you like it?”
     “Yes, I do.” She thought she spied one eyebrow go up and was pleased. 
     “Oh goodie, because it’s the skirt you wanted me to throw away.” She couldn’t resist the jab. A smidgen of playful banter in marriage keeps communication open. He smiled and was duly and pleasantly impressed.

A New Purse (Sort of)
     That same week the adult son of the Lady-of-the-House told her, “Mom, don’t you think it’s time for a new purse.” She was surprised.
     “Do I detect a theme going around the house? I’ll have you know this is a Vera Bradley.”
     “A Vera what?”
     “Never mind.”
     She had grown fond of her posh purse – a gift from her mother almost a decade ago (who calls a purse a “pocket book” while others call it a handbag.) The purse had seen continual wear and certainly had been around. For this reason the Lady-of-the-House likes how washable these purses are. Yet hers was in a sorry state.  

     “This red goes with my red sandals – the only shoe-purse match I have in the house for the upcoming season,” she realized. She fretted alone with her thoughts, knowing her menfolk couldn’t possible sympathize to the degree she would find satisfactory. Although she hadn’t been known in the past for living up to the gentility of matching accessories, at least she might accomplish it now - with the red purse.

     “I’ll mend it,” she decided. Visiting the variety store in town, which sells cotton remnants, she settled on a calico to cover the threadbare handles. Patches will make-do for shopping. At the grocery store and the farm stand no one will notice the tampered-with handles that could mar Vera Bradley’s fine reputation – not in my little town,” she consoled herself. 

     When her married daughter stopped by, the Lady-of-the-House pointed to the red purse hanging on the corner cupboard. She asked her daughter what she thought of it. Her daughter's face looked puzzled. "Isn’t that the same purse you’ve always had?” 
     “No, it’s had surgery. I patched it up and gave it a new row of quilting.”
     “Really?” She gave it a second glance and said, “Oh, I see” with a giggle, “I didn’t notice.”  
     The Lady-of-the-House should have been happy with this but she had to admit that her home school graduate’s observation skills were a bit weak. On the other hand, to receive approval for the funny but neatly mended handles – from a female – was encouraging.  

A New Book Bag (Sort of)

     When a toddler the Lady-of-the-House (she has been told) had never clung to a security blanket. Looking at the good half-yard of denim that was cut off the bottom of her favorite jean skirt . . .  well  . . . she felt like Charles M. Schulz’s Linus. “How can I recycle this lovely soft, naturally aged fabric,” she wondered. “I know. I’ll make that book bag for myself that I’ve been meaning to make. I can use the remainder of the calico for the lining and add a bit of lace,” she daydreamed.

     It was only when she finished the project that she realized the reason for her mysterious attachment. It was nostalgia. The bag is made from the jean skirt that she wore during her final years of home teaching.

     This pile of snippets is all that is left of the red and blue make-do and mend. This, she can throw away.

Post Script
     I hope these stories bring a quiet spot of gaiety into your day.

     Going through google’s new “awaiting moderation” I find that I’ve somehow missed some of your kind comments on back posts. I’m sorry. I wonder how this could be. Both Dean, alias Man-of-the-House, and myself read them - he often before I do. I welcome his protection. I welcome your comments, too.

In Between Posts

     I’ve been writing articles for magazines. I was asked to be a columnist for “The Old Schoolhouse” on line magazine to write about Miss Charlotte Mason’s principles and am endeavoring to do so under the heading “Gentle Art of Learning.” We had the family of Paul and Gena Suarez (editors) in our home for a meal and found that we never ran out of things to talk about. I was also asked to be a guest writer for “HomeEducating Family.” Editor Kathleen Warren is a homeschool mom I met while living in Nashville twenty years ago. She was a subscriber to my “Parents’ Review” in the 1990s. 

Best Wishes,
(so says the ornate tea cup I purchased in the house of my great great grandmother Emma Cook which is now an antique shop painted pink.)

Karen Andreola

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Language Pie

Language Pie

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. 

Then, pulling off the road again we peered into the window of an historic stone house at Pool’s Forge that was locked, empty and needing restoration but it was prettily adorned with flowers.

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 
“What are you making?” the young mother asked her four-year-old son as she sat on the steps of the back deck. Baby was napping and her little boy was busy under the shade tree before her.

“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?”

“I need birthday candles,” he answered. “I want blue ones. Can you get them for me?” 

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. 

They are:

age-integrated conversation,
reading aloud,
silent reading,
spontaneous telling,
formal telling of a book’s passage with narration,
quiet reflection,
day-dreaming and imagination,
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,
Karen Andreola

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.