Homeschooling with Shakespeare

Well, it’s been another long stretch since I posted anything in this space. It’s not for lack of thoughts of desire. I just need to make time for it again. I did write a personal essay for a journal that was based, in part, on my work in this space. Maybe if the feedback on that is positive it will motivate me.

In the meantime…

Following up on my last post, I’m back to part-time homeschooling with my daughter, who was the initial inspiration for this blog six years ago. Cora just turned 8 and is a second grader at Red Oak Community School the days we aren’t together. This fall we’ve been spending time with William Shakespeare. This was largely inspired by her first trip experience with Shakespeare in the Park late this summer. The magic of sitting outside as the sun went down and actors ran around (on and off) the stage at an Actor’s Theater of Columbus presentation of Midsummer Night’s Dream captivated her immediately.

 

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Cora talked about the performance for days following. This coincided with my reviewing notes for second grade homeschooling in A Well-Trained Mind (AWTM), one of the tools I use to help determine what to focus on during our homeschool days. This year’s social studies (see Story of the World: Volume II) and literature curricula include Shakespeare, though not until the end of the year. Since I’m the teacher, striving to embrace a a student-driven learning pedagogy, I decided to follow Cora’s interest. I used the resource guide in AWTM to identify materials for kids about Shakespeare including the amazing series Shakespeare Can Be Fun by Lois Burdett. While I take issue with the series title – why imply Shakespeare isn’t fun?! – the content is amazing.

Burdett wrote the series while teaching elementary school in Canada. There is surprising little about her or this work online, though it is clear she gave it her heart and soul. The books are layered with content starting with Burdett’s abbreviated versions of The Bard’s plays written in language kids can understand more easily than the originals, but retains his poetic voice. I believe she used these with her students to stage performances which are documented in photographs at the front and back of the books. Cora and I have been working together to interpret the meaning behind some of the lines like this one from Hamlet, “You don’t know how I feel. My pain these mourning clothes conceal.”

In addition to Burdett’s versions of the stories, each page includes drawings by her students (ages 7-10) and their own writings in response to the story. These include cleverly composed diary entires and letters written in the voices of the characters. There is a list of recommendations for these and other extension activities in the back of each book. The homeschooler in me is a little jealous of how well the kids seem to write for their age. But, I also noticed the handwriting looks pretty similar across student authors and I’m wondering if that was something the publisher had a (heavy) hand in…? Or is this just the result of lots of practice?

 

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From Burdett’s Hamlet (2000).

The drawings demonstrate close study and understanding of period dress and settings. The art educator in me would like to know more about her process for guiding drawing assignments. I’m sure the kids were using reference images in some way, which I am not at all against. Though I curious how she introduced this strategy, how she fit it into her curriculum overall, and how she guided the kids through multiple drafts of their work. I think I’m going to send her an email and see if she can share more information on this and the project in general.

Cora has been making some of her own drawings while we read (see below). They aren’t nearly as detailed as Burdett’s students but represent her way of making sense of and representing the texts visually. We might try looking up some fashion history as inspiration.  If we do, I’ll try to report how it goes. 

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Puck, #1 Jokster with the magic flower within which eye drops of love are found.

Of course we started our deep dive into the works of William Shakespeare with Midsummer Night’s Dream. After that we moved onto Shakespeare Retold (Nesbit and Caparo, 2016) which offers short, narrative versions of 7 plays. We have a short stack of Burdett books we look forward to working through and Cora is starting to talk about whom among her friends might be good acting partners. It’s been a good start to the year.

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Wintertime Nature Study

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It’s hard to be indoors this time of year. We spend so much time in the yard and garden from early spring to late fall I really feel trapped by the cold. This year I’ve made a commitment to getting out for a bit with Cora each day regardless of the weather. I’m meeting mixed results. The chickens help as she misses them as much as the swings. But overall we’re pretty disconnected from the natural world at this time of year.

We are growing all we can on the windowsills. The chia Gnome is sprouting his beard and potatoes are growing roots in glasses of water. For Christmas, we potted paperwhites for Cora to pass around as gifts. It’s been fun to these people’s homes and see the flowers growing taller and budding.

Cora has been eagerly waiting for our flowers. The other day I bumped into the tallest of the bunch and knocked off the largest bud. I was so pissed at myself but quickly realized the teachable moment this would give us to look inside the bud – if you’ve ever grown paperwhites you know the buds push out of their leaf cocoons to such a great extent that you can see the shape of them bulging. It was fun to cut that pod open and take out the guts. Cora chopped the stem, stuck it with a toothpick, and opened the flowers by hand.

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I’m teaching a course on the history of art education this term. We always start with Frederich Froebel’s vision of kindergarten. I think he would have approved of this hands- and minds-on discovery time. What are you doing to stay connected to the natural world this winter?

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 6

I’m not going to write about my own picturebook experiences tonight. Instead, I’m going to let a soon-to-be alumna of the University of Florida’s Masters in Art Education program do the work for me.

Kaitlin Gallagher Pozzo is lives in the Minneapolis, Minnesota metropolitan area where she teaches art and Italian to homeschooled toddlers and preschoolers and is a Curiosity Center volunteer at the Minnesota Children’s Museum.  For her capstone project, she examined various picturebooks about art, created and tested related lesson plans with her  3-year old daughter and a few of her homeschool tutees. The boys moved away before the study was over so some of their interactions took place on Skype which added another space for research and experimentation.

Kaitlin developed a website to house her research findings and to serve as a resource for homeschoolers and early childhood educators. The site is full of great photos of her daughter at work/play, book recommendations and related lesson plans for projects that go beyond crayons and coloring pages. The books are specifically about art, though Kaitlin also shares my understanding and passion for picturebooks that are art objects and recognition that, all too often, the two don’t overlap. In other words, picturebooks about art and artists are surprisingly not always artful.

Please check out Kaitlin’s work and recommend it to your friends, fellow educators, and parents of young children. She plans to expand it after graduation and would love to hear from readers with feedback and recommendations for new books to explore.

 

Freestyle Preschool

This post is dedicated to my friend Melissa, a partner in parenting and inspiration in all manner of creative and intentional living.

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Melissa and I met on a playground when our daughters, were just learning to walk. I felt an immediate connection to her, another East coast gal making a go of it in the midwest.  Like me, Melissa came to Columbus for Ohio State. Her husband is a graduate student in the Art & Technology program and another person I am thrilled to have Cora spending time with.  Andrew takes apart toys so he can mess around with their electronic guts.  He builds 3D printers in his basement studio and prints things that contribute to, and alter, the world the girls’ play in.  Case in point, the urinal he made for Maya’s dollhouse.  Melissa can make anything out of felt.  She sells her stuff on Etsy and gives the most beautiful gifts.

Harboring not so warm-and-fuzzy memories of their own early educations, Melissa and Andrew plan to homeschool Maya, beginning with preschool.  Since we do a childcare swap a few days a week, we’ve batted around the idea of doing this together. But I know that we have already begun.  As I said, when Cora is at Maya’s house, she is learning all sorts of things from the handmade and repurposed stuff there.  It’s like a museum with salon-style collections of images on the walls and shelves full of things collected and crafted over the years.  The girls roam pretty freely, exploring how to get along and make their own fun and games.

Our house feels a bit sterile by comparison.  I like to hide most everything behind cabinet doors when it’s not in use and Dan and I, for all our love for and friends who are artists, don’t have a ton of stuff on the walls. I guess you could say we have a somewhat minimalist decorating style.  But I’d like to think that what my home lacks in inherent inspiration I make up for through my interaction with the girls.  Mind you, I also take advantage of their increasing ability to entertain themselves.  (This past week while Maya was with us I got through the junk mail pile and cleaned the microwave!) But, when the opportunity arises, I’m starting to explore more intentional ways to push their learning, as I do when Cora and I are on our own.

DSC_0018And so it was last week when the girls had me playing a hair styling game in which I adorned their heads with every barrette in Cora’s collection.  They were disappointed once the supply exhausted, so I suggested we take them all out and do it again.  As I took the barrettes out of Maya’s hair I was truly amazed by the size of the pile.  I said, “This is a lot of barrettes!  I wonder how many there are here.  Let’s line them up and count them.” And we did.  The girls got a little lost in the counting after 12 or 13, but we made it all the way to 19.  Then we did the same for Cora’s pile.  Next we sorted everything by color.

This activity wasn’t rocket science.  But, it was grounded in a conscious desire to provide spontaneous frameworks for the girls to practice developmentally-appropriate skills.  Next up, developing some real and mental lists of more things to work on so I can be prepared the next time a teachable moment arises.  Recommendations welcome!