Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Attention, Comprehension, Retention: Fruits of Narration...and Painting

Use of narration in Charlotte Mason's teaching method is intended, among other things, to develop the habit of careful attention, with comprehension and retention, when reading or listening. I was treated to the fruits of this budding habit in my six-year-old this week at a Cub Scout meeting. A police officer came to talk to the boys about "stranger danger"; at the end of his presentation, when he called on the boys to review what he had told them, I found myself impressed at Aidan's precise recapitulation of the points of the officer's talk, especially since he is the youngest boy in the pack.

On another note, all three children have been very busy painting this past week. I limited the older ones to two sheets of paper each, and suggested that rather than making painting after painting as they usually do, they spend more time on each one and pay attention to details. They really did careful work -- more CM fruit, I think, this time from short lessons and perfect execution in handwriting and coloring -- and I can see it's time to give some real instruction in watercolor techniques and invest in some good paper. If they like it perhaps I'll add this book to our Year 5 booklist.

For Abby, I just give her a thick brush and a small amount of one color of tempera paint... and as many sheets of paper as she wants (Brown paper bags work well). This is the method/sequence I have used introducing all my children to painting as toddlers (with credit to Young at Art by Susan Striker):
one brush, one primary color of tempera
one brush, one secondary color of tempera
two or three colors, one brush each
two primary colors, one brush each, one empty pan and one more brush for color mixing (go through all the primary combinations)
one color, one pan of white, one brush (go through all colors + white)
one primary color, one secondary color, one brush each, plus extra pan and brush for mixing
It actually takes a couple of years to get through the sequence, allowing the children to really spend time mastering each stage. And of course, show them how to use a sponge to clean up the table and fingers afterwards.

Striker's book by the way is excellent in many ways, and lacking in others. The outline of the developmental stages of children's drawing is especially interesting and helpful (did you know your child's drawing can tell you if he's ready to begin writing?) She favors real child-produced artwork over pre-made partially-adult-done projects, and the real strength of the book is its explanations of how to do this with a controllable amount of mess (the one brush per color set-up for toddlers, for example). She opposes coloring books in favor of real drawing, but the neutral, non-judgmental, non-interfering approach she takes toward developing this skill leaves something to be desired. It's a bad idea of course to constantly criticize children's work (constructively or otherwise) rather than just enjoying it (isn't that what art is for). But while observation drawing comes naturally to some children (who will flourish without much direction), others (like mine!) need some adult direction and explicit instruction to get going. My children attempted little or no representational drawing until ages 4 and 5, until I got past Striker's bad advice in this department, and Mona Brooks' Drawing With Children got us moving in the right direction.

Baby robins!!!

The baby robins have hatched at last. Mr. & Mrs. Robin are very diligent in protecting them -- they will let us sneak a peek but begin to squawk and swoop at us if we take too long about it. They had to endure a pretty rough storm this week with high winds and hail -- Mrs. Robin sat on her babies throughout. I am amazed at these tough little birds.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Terrific Twos

Robin family update

We suffered an unseasonal winter storm, complete with sleet, wind, hail, and a couple of inches of snow. The robins were faithful; they sat and they sat. It's back up to 75 degrees now and the robin family seems to have weathered the storm well.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Educational standards and the Buskeros case

Cathy Duffy hits the nail on the head with regard to the Educational standards movement. The issues she raises towards the end of the article are at the core of the Melissa Busekros case in Germany. What is especially ironic about Melissa's case is that of six children in her family, she was the only one being home educated, only for the past 2.5 years, and only because she had fallen seriously behind in two important high school subjects.

The basic question is whether the family or the state bears chief responsibility (and authority) for the education of children. It is a sticky problem because governments do have both a duty and a legitimate interest in insuring that its populace is in some wise educated, in providing quality educational opportunities for those who do not have the means to provide or acquire them privately (but let the government also remember that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink!), and in defending children whose parents genuinely neglect or abuse them.

However, is it the proper role of government to engage in social engineering -- to construct culture? Because once you get beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic, that is what education is -- the assimilation of ideas, beliefs, and values which drive our public and private behavior and relationships and thereby shape the social order. Education is enculturation because those ideas are passed on through stories and poetry and art and song, through the handing down of history and the observations of science. All too often this is what is meant by "socialization", that big "s-word" that so many are concerned that homeschoolers will lack -- not merely the opportunity to make friends or to know how to get along with others, how to accept people who are different than yourself and how to behave in a social setting (which is all too often taught rather poorly in schools -- viz all the problems with bullying and cliques), but the acceptance and internalization of a unifying national value system. This is what the German government is concerned about when they wish to prevent the "formation of parallel societies". In the U.S. it is in vogue to wax eloquent about our "pluralistic society"; however, our fear of homeschoolers belies our real fear -- and our superficiality. We embrace the outward trappings of ethnicity and religion -- aren't the Amish quaint in their bonnets and buggies? -- but if we were to allow for the flowering of true internal plurality, what then would be the glue to hold our nation together? I'm not opposed to national values or national cultural identity -- a common culture -- but I am opposed to an artificial, top-down construction of common culture. I am opposed to an insipid, lowest common denominator, media-inspired, market driven common "pop" culture as the basis for national unity. And, as a Christian, I must of course oppose -- at least for myself and my own family -- that which is contrary to the Christian faith.

In our country we have determined that the state shall not establish a religion nor inhibit the free practice thereof...that would be very simple if only religion would stay neatly in it's little compartment. But it cannot because of what it is...our core beliefs about what the universe is and how it works bleed out into our relationships, our work, our politics, our choices.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Umbert the Unborn

I wish I could post a sample strip of this cute little preborn guy, but that would violate his you'll have to visit his website or check out his daily strip for yourself.

Good Friday

The bare altar at Christ Lutheran, stripped for Good Friday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007