Homeschooling with Shakespeare II

Cora’s interest in Shakespeare, which I wrote about a few months ago, continues…

When we went to vote at the neighborhood middle school in November, we saw signs for an upcoming performance of Hamlet. After inquiring, we were invited to attend to a day-time performance attended by Columbus City School students from a few nearby schools.

Cora was excited to see kids, just a bit older than her, acting out the parts. This version was set in the 21st century, and rather than 14th century Denmark, the location was a video game company. The students used various digital technology to share behind-the-scenes memories – prerecorded videos – and conversations – text message screenshots – between the characters to expand the story they acted out.

We had a good time at the performance and Cora left determined to start acting with her friends. Since then, I have been volunteering at her school once a month, playing improv games and reading through scenes from Romeo and Juliet. We’re having fun, but Cora still wants to spend more dedicated time with kids studying and learning to reenact The Bard’s work. I’m on the lookout for summer camps and other opportunities. If we can’t find any, she has asked me to run one. (Please send leads if you have them! I’m not an actor!!!)

In the meantime, Cora got a new book for Christmas; a collection of Shakespeare’s plays, condensed into short stories by Angela McAllister and illustrated with gorgeous paper collages by Alice Lindstrom. Similar in style to Eric Carle but far more detailed, we have been enjoying examining the images and Cora has excitedly shared them with interested friends who come over.

Finding love notes in the forest of As You Like It
Conspiring against Julius Caesar

This week I found her elbow deep in buckets of Playmobil figures (which she hadn’t touched in months), making characters she could use to act out Shakespearean plot lines. This is the kind of independent, playful learning I dream about as a homeschooling mom who aspires to authentic, creative education.

Once she had her cast of characters, I read from her new book as she acted the story with the Playmobil. I wish I had more confidence in making stop motion animation to offer to do that with her. I might have to do some re-search…

Romeo and Juliet (bottom left) meet at the Capulet’s masquerade party. The audience of school kids on a field trip are delighted by the performance.
All the royalty die at the end of Hamlet

Tomorrow we’re visiting The Columbus Civic Theater for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This is one of those times when I’m so happy to be homeschooling. I never studied Shakespeare much myself, so reading the stories with Cora I’ve been introduced to cultural touchstones I see referenced elsewhere and have new understanding of. I’m looking forward to the play as much as she is since this theater is just a mile from our house and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been there since they opened in ten years ago.

One of Cora’s friends who is also currently hooked on Shakespeare is joining us for the performance. They are going to hang out after and you can bet I’ll be close by, seeing how the play winds its way into theirs.

Passing the time playing pass the drawing

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When Cora first started music classes, her wise teacher who was always able to teach to the parents while simultaneously teaching our kids, recommended we “sing through our days.” I came to know the value of this, especially after 3 years and 9 collections of music. We had learned nearly 200 songs, and it was easy to find one for just about any occasion. I quickly learned that singing was an antidote to many childhood woes – boredom, stubbornness, sleepy, hungry, sad, mad. A good living example of “fake it ’til you make it.”

This past weekend I stumbled on an example of drawing through the day, an idea I’d like to develop in future posts. Sitting through her third band concert in three weeks, Cora was having trouble sitting still for all four Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra groups. I pulled out some paper and suggested we play “pass the drawing,” our family’s version of exquisite corpse.

In case this is an unfamiliar concept, in this simple drawing game someone draws something then passes it to the next person to add something and so on. You can set rules like, only lines and shapes and no recognizable objects or not and let folks determine what adding something means for themselves.

Dan and I have played this with the kids for over ten years together–waiting for food at a restaurant, on a long car ride, at a party. We hadn’t played with Cora in awhile and it was great to see her thinking and expressing her ideas in pictures. I haven’t written much about her representational development lately, but it seems time (follow-up to come).

We made three drawing in total, I don’t know where the final one is hiding. She assigned us each one to keep and hers must be hiding someplace secret. I’ll ask her if she can find it tomorrow.

Field Trip: Hartman Rock Garden

The summer after I graduated from college I drove across the country with an old friend. We were moving to California, following some beatnik dream. We pulled off the highway somewhere in Kansas and passed a series of whirligigs with political messages hard to ignore. We stopped for gas, asked about what we’d seen, and learned they were the work of an older eccentric down the road. He might be up for a visit–though he had an ornery reputation–if we wanted to stop by.

We drove to M.T. Liggett’s barn and hung out with him for a few memorable hours, not realizing he was a veteran of the American folk art world. Just weeks after graduating magna cum laude with a dual degree in studio art and art history, I learned of a major gap in my education. I had little to no knowledge of outsiders like Liggett whose art showed no concern for the latest trends in SoHo or L.A., just the the “human urge to create” (Kakas, 2001). Stumbling upon Liggett and his work was something I will never forget, and something that seems nearly impossible in 2017 where so much has been marked on Google’s Earth.

Yesterday Cora and I went on a field trip Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield, OH with some friends. Standing in this suburban backyard folk art environment I was reminded of the wonder such spaces hold. I first learned about the garden last fall in an essay by Karen M. Kakas published in Histories of Community-Based Art Education (Congdon, Blandy, Bolin, 2001). I had been living in Ohio for over ten years and had the book on my shelf at least that long but that chapter hadn’t caught my attention before. The images were hard to ignore and I put a field trip to Hartman’s at the top of the Ohio list of things to do.

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As we pulled up to Hartman’s former home, a tour bus pulled away and we had the space to ourselves. It was amazing, not least because the project has been standing out in the elements for more than 85 years. Ben Hartman worked on the stone and cement structures between 1932 and 1939 after a Depression era lay off from his work at a local tool manufacturer. He referred to the project as his “personal WPA project,” an antidote to the boredom brought on by unemployment. After his death in 1944, his wife Mary took care of the property until her own passing in 1997. After ten years of neglect, the Kohler Foundation purchased and restored the site. Today it is maintained by a local non-profit, Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden.

The farther I get away from my interests in gallery-sanctioned artworks, the more projects like Hartman’s appeal to me. The authentic passion and creative compulsion to create it displays, the attention to details, the use of materials at hand. It all fits my definition of what art is and what sorts of efforts and examples we ought to build art education around. In her essay, Kakas asks, “Besides [aesthetic] enjoyment, what does the novice art viewer learn about art upon encountering these objects in someone’s backyard?” This is a question I hope to consider further and explore in projects at Over the Fence Urban Farm this summer.

Kakas suggests art educators “need to make our students aware that most [environmental artworks] are like an endangered species.” After visiting Hartman’s I visited its Facebook page and plan to attend a volunteer day this spring to help with maintenance work on the site. It’s less than an hour from our house and I can’t think of many comparable opportunities I can give Cora to be part of art history and preservation.

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This final image is a one Cora took of her favorite piece in the garden. She thought it was funny to imagine a bird sitting on a cactus. I think Hartman, a religious and patriotic man, had a more profound message in mind but I think he’d be satisfied with her finding humor in the piece.

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Summer vacation is just around the corner. I’m hoping we can find other folk art environments to visit. Where have you been and what have you seen? What impact such spaces made on you? What have they inspired you to create?

More DIY Barbie Dress-Up

I’ve been upcycling baby doll outfits out of Cora’s infant clothes for awhile. But, Barbie eluded me. She’s so itty bitty. Thanks to Jess at Craftiness Is Not Optional for a Barbie doll dress tutorial easy enough to do over a morning cup of coffee. After a year and a half living with naked hand-me-downs and arounds, it’s about to be Fashion Week around here!photo-1[Postscript: Read more on the challenge of making DIY Barbie clothes here.]

 

SuperMom: DIY Barbie Shoes

My kid thinks I can do anything. I’m glad for that. I’m hoping it will translate into her own internalized sense of confidence. Whenever she’s having trouble with something, particularly when I’m driving and really can’t help, I encourage her to keep trying. “You can do anything. You just need to keep trying. Keep practicing.” These words are not my own. My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I put my mind to. I’m fairly certain they never imagined I’d draw on those words at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning when asked to make high-heeled shoes for a Barbie doll. But, how could I say no? Even while I thought the task was hopeless, I had to try, least she stop trying. 45 minutes later, we had these. Watch out Manolo Blahnik.

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Supply List:

Recycled cereal box cardboard

(Gold) duct tape

Pony beads

Hot glue

Needle and thread (when/if hot glue fails)

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 9 [Homeschool Preschool Edition]

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Depending on your educational worldview, it may seem contradictory to hear a professional educator say she’s not sure she wants to send her kid to school. But I’m not.

I don’t want Cora to waste her time in a classroom being prepped for tests. I don’t want her sitting through classroom management nightmares. And I definitely don’t want her eating in a school cafeteria.

I’m sure I’d feel differently if she were going to attend some fabulous private school where teachers still have intellectual freedom, where parents are paying so much tuition kids wouldn’t dare make a nuisance of themselves, and where all the food is organic and locally-sourced. But that’s not the reality we are living in. We live within the bounds of a large urban school district with its attendant challenges, and a few assets like a nice range of specialized schools.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be a full-time homeschooler either. I have long argued that all parents must think of themselves as homeschoolers to some extent. Children just aren’t in school enough hours of their lives to leave their education completely up to school teachers. But I’m not sure I’m up to the task of teaching Cora everything she’ll need to learn. I could join a homeschooling co-op, but I haven’t been having the greatest luck lately with volunteer-led organizations. And, truth be told, part of me would welcome 5-6 hours of time to myself everyday.

As a kind of experiment, we’re trying out a homeschool preschool curriculum designed for the summer months by the mother-daughter team behind the blog Wee Folk Art. My friend Melissa (who plans to homeschool her daughter Maya, Cora’s best gal pal) recommended the program and upon initial investigation, I find it pretty well-thought out. They authors draw on their backgrounds in education (mother), the arts (daughter) and parenting (both). So far, the summer unit “Puddles and Ponds” seems age-appropriate, open-ended, and engaging.

Regular readers of this blog, and “Picturebooks on the Potty” specifically, will not be surprised to learn that one of the things I like best about the curriculum is the use of picturebooks as a foundation for each lesson. Cora and I are having a bit of trouble sticking to just two books a week, but after just a few days she’s already applying information from them to her observations in the real world.

The first two books we read were about clouds – The Cloud Book (de Paola, 1975) and Little Cloud (Carle, 1996). I don’t remember learning about clouds. I’m sure I did 30+ years ago but I’ve enjoyed this chance to reengage the terms and the science behind them. This afternoon, on a VERY long drive to pick George up from camp and drop him at a friend’s house (my least favorite type drive, the kind that makes me feel most like a taxi driver), Cora looked out the window and commented on the clouds. For the rest of the ride we talked about what we saw – wispy cirrus and fluffy cumulus clouds to the north, altocumulus in the distance to the east, and finally nimbostratus as a storm blew in from the south on our way back home. It almost made the drive seem worthwhile.

Shot at a red light. Earth to sky: Cumulus, Cirrus, and Cirroculumus

Our Craftiest Christmas To Date

Ellen Dissanayake (1995) famously suggested that art is the act of “making special.” From that standpoint, I cannot be more satisfied with our family’s crafty Christmas this year. Folks were making things around here for a week and it was wonderful. (Read more about it.) I was proud as a mother. I was engaged as an art educator, facilitating as much as seemed necessary to keep Santa’s workshop operating at maximum velocity. Makes me wish, for the first time in my entire life, that it could be Christmas everyday.

George the Sculpey Charmer

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Dan stole my heart by proving, once again, that he is an artist through and through.
Vintage guitars on wood veneer with freehand drawn detailing.

DSC_0031 Some folks limit their icing color palette for the holidays. We don’t get that.
DSC_0041 Cora’s cookie for Leigh, our music teacher. (Sorry Leigh, I think she ate it.)DSC_0045

Cora-crafted wrapping paper with her personal signature.DSC_0007

The contents of the box. Aluminum foil bead bracelet, from Kid Made Modern.
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Our third (or fourth??) annual handmade gift exchange for adults in the family rocked.
(back to front) Charley Harper inspired sandpaper paintings, wood box, fudge, oil painting of a cow on a slice of wood, guitar magnets, reusable snacks sacks and sandwich wrap, handkerchiefs embroidered with internal organs.

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But Somehow, I Have Near Infinite Patience for This…

Crafty Cora has been giving me a run for my money lately.

In case you are a new parent who hasn’t heard yet, the so-called “terrible twos” are nothing compared with the “trying threes.” (I think I could live without ever encountering the “ferocious fours”…) I won’t get into all the gory details here. It’s boring. The only important factor to consider in the context of this post is I have been losing my patience A LOT lately. It hasn’t helped that I have been swamped with student papers to respond to, some of which I’ll be writing about soon. (Fortunately, they’re that exciting!)

This afternoon it snowed. The city all but shutdown before dawn in advance of the “impending doom” declared by the local new outlets, so I didn’t plan any afternoon excursions. After a trip to the gym and the market, we were home to play, field a few phone calls, make challah, and start some XMas crafting.

It was marvelous. And it was messy.

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While I readily admit I have lost my ability to keep a cool head with regard to potty training and bedtime, I was like Buddha in the kitchen this afternoon. Flour and paint were everywhere but I didn’t loose my cool for a single moment. It helped that my attentions were appreciated. Cora was behaving like the “big girl” I know she can be. Like her brother and sister, she’s better when she’s busy. I also appreciated having a few hours to devote to her without any distractions. It’s been awhile since we had time together like that.

3 Things We Can Learn From The Fine Brothers

Cora has heard The Beatles many times. When she was a baby, “Blackbird” was in her lullaby rotation. There is a folder on the MP3 player she inherited from her sister filled with their tunes. I often suggest she listen to those tracks instead of her kids’ music, but l know I shouldn’t push it. Like a neighbor and local music reviewer suggests, I realize the possibility that the more I push the more she’ll rebel. But, this past weekend she had two new encounters that seemed to convince her, once and for all, that The Beatles are worth her time.

First, she played Beatles Rock Band with Rosa and Dan. Thanks to Music Together, Cora loves to spend time with family singing and never misses a chance to bang on a drum. Add the chance to play big kid video games and she was hooked. Like so many other kids who have learned The Beatles’s music while pretending to be John, Paul, Ringo, and George, she asked to listen to their music later that day. So, we watched old concert clips at dinner. She was mesmerized and so was I.

Sometimes, I still can’t get over how much content we have at our fingertips. Like this version of “Paperback Writer” or this one of “Hello Goodbye.” Both have great sound and (relatively) sharp video. It’s rare that I sit around watching videos on YouTube, but Cora’s interest kept me clicking on recommended links for awhile. At some point we came across “Kids React to The Beatles.” Cora only tolerated a minute or two before she demanded more music, but I bookmarked it to watch after she went to bed.

Awesome, right?! Once again, I stumbled upon a cultural phenomenon that took hold over the past three years while I was submerged in work and family life. Parents and educators know how illuminating it can be to listen to kids’ reactions to things – books, music, works of art, historical events. They give us new insights and help us understand how they perceive the world around them. The Fine Brothers catch all that in their Kids React videos, and so much more that I still need to process. Their work seems like one part cultural anthropology and one part social justice as they empower kids to share their viewpoints. Their most recent post about gay marriage is not to be missed.

Watching Kids React is interesting, but it’s even better to watch your kid (or your students) react. Here are three things we learn from the Fine Brothers about sharing cultural content with our kids:

1. Consume media together. I’ve certainly been guilty of encouraging my older kids to watch videos and play games as far away from me as possible. I find so much of what they want to watch and listen to a waste of time. But, there’s a lot to be gained from watching what our kids are watching, hearing them talk about it, and asking questions.

2. Allow your kids to have their own opinions and come to their own conclusions about what they see and hear. Too often we want our kids to like what we like. As much as we might hate it at times, our kids will develop their own preferences, and oftentimes those will conflict with our own. If you have the means, record their thoughts so you can all come back to them later.

3. Ask questions that challenge kids to question their initial reactions and consider others’ perspectives. While it is important to let them have their own opinions, it is also important to push kids to explore and articulate the values and experiences of their beliefs.

 

Serving time in the StoryCorps

While this makes two posts in a row that feature George, he and I haven’t had a lot of quality time together lately. So, it was with great excitement, and some anticipation, that I told to him about our invitation to participate in the StoryCorps project last weekend.

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I was excited because I LOVE StoryCorps – a ten year-old “independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.” Over 50,000 stories have been recorded so far, most archived at the Library of Congress. Excerpts from select stories are aired on NPR’s Morning Edition on Fridays. Some girlfriends and I routinely listen and then send each other text messages with our reactions. Some are funny, others endearing, many heart-wrenching.

I was anxious because the interview would be 40 minutes long, and I couldn’t remember the last time George and I spoken for that long. Couple that with the fact that our appointment was for 9 a.m. on a Sunday and George is 14 years old, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Luckily, George was intrigued by the idea: “Cool! We listen to NPR everyday,” he said cheerfully. Hearing we were among a small group of folks who were invited to participate in this series of recordings at the Columbus Museum of Art also appealed to him.

StoryCorps sent representatives to the museum as part of their award for winning a National Medal from the Institute of Library and Museum Services. George and I were invited because of a project we participated in last fall called Dispatchwork. (You can read about that here.) I thought we would be talking about that as part of our interview, but upon arrival and introductions, we learned we could talk about pretty much anything we pleased. We were given a list of questions on a range of subject to help keep our conversation moving.

George and I went back and forth asking one another questions and sharing our memories, ideas, and lessons for life. We both asked questions the other wasn’t prepared to answer, including some I have been harboring for a long time like, “Do you ever imagine what your life would be like if your mom and dad stayed together?” and “Do you ever wish Cora wasn’t around?” Perhaps, now that the door is open, we’ll revisit and respond to these queries in the future.

I don’t think our interview will ever make it to the radio, at least not on a national level. But I’m so grateful for this opportunity to practice the art of conversation with George. I know he will never forget this encounter with oral history, and who knows, perhaps someday his great-great-great grandchildren will listen to our conversation on a trip to Washington, D.C.