The Poem: A Costless Lesson Plan for the Thrifty Homeschooler

We have found that a simple poem, quote or Bible verse can provide hours of education across several disciplines.  The cost?  Absolutely nothing.

The Water Harp (Allia)

I like the following poem as it has an educationally relevant message

There is no frigate like a book   

To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page   

Of prancing poetry.   

This traverse may the poorest take        

Without oppress of toll; How frugal is the chariot   

That bears a human soul!

By Emily Dickenson

We begin our lesson with handwriting.  The students copy this poem using their best possible handwriting.  We do this with a pencil so that individual letters and words can be reworked without ruining the whole.

Notice that each line of poetry begins with a capital letter.  Be sure your writers copy the correct punctuation.  Poetry often uses commas to indicate a continuity of thought, despite a line break.

Next we study vocabulary.  Be sure your reader knows the meaning of each word:

Frigate, nor, coursers, prancing, traverse, oppress, toll, frugal, chariot, bears

Have your students copy each word and its dictionary definition.  Be sure they know the spelling of each word and use it in a sentence of their own.

Example:

Frigate: a fast navel vessel of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, generally having a lofty ship rig and heavily armed on one or two decks.

The pirates were no match for the heavy armament of the frigate and were forced to find smaller prey.

Now try reading the poem aloud.  Listen carefully to the way rhythm is used.

Once every word has been defined we can go back and examine the poem.  What does it mean?  This is great for class discussion.  We talk about the actual meaning, the implied meaning and how this poem makes us feel and think about our own relationship with books.

Now we can study poetry and language.

Wikipedia, not always my favorite source, has an excellent discussion on the history and development of poetry and poetic language

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry

For convenience, I am including a segment here:

Poetry is primarily governed by idiosyncratic forms and conventions to suggest differential interpretation to words, or to evoke emotive responses. Devices such as assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and rhythm are sometimes used to achieve musical or incantatory effects. The use of ambiguity, symbolism, irony, and other stylistic elements of poetic diction often leaves a poem open to multiple interpretations. Similarly, metaphor, simile, and metonymy[5] create a resonance between otherwise disparate images—a layering of meanings, forming connections previously not perceived. Kindred forms of resonance may exist, between individual verses, in their patterns of rhyme or rhythm.

This is an excellent time to teach the meaning of various literary terms.  You may choose to study one term a day.  Learn the definition of alliteration, find examples of it in poetry, then experiment with creating your own sentences using alliteration.  Understanding and using some of the above literary devices will greatly enhance both the students’ comprehension of literature as well as improve their writing technique.

For the purpose of this lesson we will concentrate on the following two literary terms: metaphor and simile. Have your student define each term and then find each example of a metaphor and a simile within the poem.  Have them write one example of each on their own.

Discuss:  How has the use of metaphors and similes enhanced our understanding of Dickenson’s message?

Each piece of literature should be understood within its historical context.  So now it is time for a brief history lesson.  So we ask, who is Emily Dickenson and when did she live?  What forces influenced her thinking, writing style and perspective?

This link will bring you to an excellent, and exceedingly thorough discussion published in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).

http://www.bartleby.com/227/0302.html

Emily Dickenson was born in 1830, lived in New England and was surrounded by the Puritan faith.  How did this world vision influence her poetic works?  Did she follow her faith or was she a rebel within her society?  You may want to have a short history lesson on Puritanism and early American values.

It is now time for our writing lesson.  We will begin with the essay.  An essay is a short (depending on the age of your student) formal piece of writing that addresses a specific topic.  We suggest 3-5 paragraphs.  Have your student pick a topic relevant to today’s discussion. This is a good time to introduce the idea of beginning with a topic sentence and an outline.  Be sure the student includes: title, introduction, middle, and conclusion.  The essay can be further enhanced through the inclusion of specific examples, or quotes from sources.  Now you can explain how to footnote, or give credit for cited works.  Recopying the essay is an excellent opportunity to practice both rewriting and handwriting.

An alternative writing lesson is to have your students write their own poem.  Try to have them use metaphors or similes.  You may also ask them to use nature as an inspiration.  Again, have them recopy their poem using their best handwriting.

Every homeschool day must include art, and today is no exception.  Let your student create an illustration for Emily Dickenson’s poem and one for their own poem.  They may want to further decorate their own picture by including their poem (more handwriting) and adding a frame or border.

This final piece may make a beautiful decoration for your schoolroom, or perhaps, your students will have a wonderful gift to share with someone they love.

Another writing exercise can be a journal entry.  Have your students write a personal commentary on what this poem means to them.  Come back to the poem after several months, or towards the end of the school year, and see if the student finds new meaning in the poem.

We are not quite done yet.  You have begun the study of poetry, why not continue with a poetry reading?  Reading aloud greatly enhances literary fluency and diction.  We love to sit by the fire, sip hot chocolate and surround ourselves with piles of poetry books.  Our favorite is a series called Poetry for Young People.

http://www.sterlingpublishing.com/catalog?limit=10&section_key=21-32&offset=10

These books feature classic poets and each page is beautifully illustrated.

Now that your children are exposed to various poems and poets, have them pick a favorite poem.   They should memorize this poem.  Once they have memorized it they can practice reciting their poem.  This is a great time to teach the basics of public speaking:  the importance of knowing your material, speaking clearly, loudly and articulately, remembering to look at your audience, standing straight and remembering to breathe.  Now find an audience, and invite some other homeschooling families to participate and you can host a Poetry Party.  (Note:  great time for your kids to practice their cooking skills.)

Wow!  It has been a busy day!  It must finally be time to play!  See if your students can create metaphors for the world they find outside:

Pumpkin Siblings (Allia)

Example:  The crisp, crunchy leaves of autumn sing of pumpkins and sharp skies of fall.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is finding an entire day’s lesson in 7 lines of poetry.

Witch Trip to the Past: Salem, MA

We entered the small town of Salem in search of witches and real life mentions of the characters from the Henry Miller play, The Crucible.

Scooter in the rain, Salem, MA (Allia)

Truth and Scooter explore Salem Harbor (Allia)

The day was appropriately rainy and gloomy, a perfect match for the mystery we were seeking.  How did this small town, in 1692, bring itself to hang 20 innocent people?  Why did mass hysteria combine with greed and zealous righteousness to allow the “establishment” to commit unthinkable crimes against the people they were suppose to be protecting?

Creatress surveys the marsh, Salem, MA (Allia)

We began our investigation at the birthplace of Nathanial Hawthorne, author of (among other works) The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  The house was small and plain, like many old New England homes.  During his beginning forays into authorship, Hawthorne was a recluse within this home.  He was insecure and preferred to keep his attempts at writing a secret from his neighbors.  Local legend believes that Hawthorne, originally a Custom House official, was inspired to begin writing after an encounter with a ghost.

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, MA (Allia)

The second home we visited was that of Nathanial Hawthorne’s cousin.  It is believed that this is the house he used as inspiration for the setting of his mystery novel, The House of the Seven Gables. This house has been restored to enhance its similarity to the Hawthorne’s novel.  It includes a secret staircase that winds around an interior chimney and allows characters (and tourists) to make surprise entrances into various rooms.

Salem graveyeard (Allia)

Hawthorne is the great-great grandson of John Hathorne, the judge who infamously presided over the Salem Witch Trials, condemning so many people to their deaths.  In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables Hawthorne asks if the evil deeds of one’s ancestors reverberate upon future generations.

Speaking in the third person, Hawthorne provides us this insight into his thinking: The author has provided himself with a moral – the truth, namely, that the wrong doing of one generation lives into the successive ones…he (Hawthorne) would feel it a singular gratification if this romance (novel) might effectually convince mankind – or, indeed, any one man – of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity. Preface from The House of the Seven Gables

It is probable that Hawthorne is referring to himself.  Hawthorne’s themes often “center on the inherent evil and sin of humanity, and his works often have moral messages and deep psychological complexity.”  The Scarlet Letter exposes the injustice of morality as it is applied to young women during the Puritan era.  We are now eager to read The House of the Seven Gables.

The grave tour was fascinating and creepy.

Salem graveyard (Allia)

Tomb of Mayflower Pilgrim, Salem, MA (Allia)

We enjoyed seeing John Hathorne’s grave as well as the gravestone of an original Mayflower Pilgrim.

We also saw the Salem Witch Memorial of the 20 men and women that were hanged in 1692.  Here is where we found the Crucible characters come to life (or death).

Lest Terror Be Forgotten

June 10, 1692

Bridget Bishop”I am no witch.
I am innocent.
I know nothing of it.”

July 19, 1692

Sarah Wildes Elizabeth Howe”If it was the last moment I was to live,
God knows I am innocent…”
Susannah Martin”I have no hand in witchcraft.” Sarah Good
Rebecca Nurse”Oh Lord, help me! It is false. I am clear. For my life now lies in your hands….”

http://www.salemweb.com/memorial/

Salem gardens (Allia)

Happymess kids were fascinated with the idea that they could walk on the very same streets and visit the same homes where so many famous events occurred.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is visiting the past in the present.

Pinocchio: A Captivating Cautionary Tale for Read-Aloud Bedtime

We are not talking about the Disney reincarnation of Pinocchio, a brightly clad young puppet closely resembling Mickey Mouse, who hops about from one misadventure to another.  We are talking about the original, unabridged, version by Carlo Collodi.  I recommend the 1988 Alfred A. Knopf edition illustrated by Roberto Innocenti. The translation is lovely and the vocabulary is challenging but easily understood in context.  What really makes this edition so compelling for young and middle level readers are the illustrations.  Roberto Innocenti’s illustrations are breathtaking.  These are not beautiful pictures.  They are morose, macabre and slightly disturbing.  Children are completely enthralled by the images.  The pictures perfectly complement the edgy dangerous mood of this cautionary tale.

Roberto Innocenti

Here is the original block of wood from which Pinocchio is carved.  The wood maker is shocked to hear the wood crying out in pain each time he attempts to chop it into bits.  In great haste he gives this wood away to Geppetto who will carve the famous puppet from this magic wood.

Roberto Innocenti

Despite Pinocchio’s repeated bad behavior he does have a repenting heart and this is an endearing characteristic.  Here Pinocchio begs the Showman to take his life and spare the life of the Harlequin.  The Showmaster spares them both and Pinnochio has another chance to improve his behavior.

Pinocchio sets off with the best intentions and plans to reconnect with his loving father, Geppetto.  Unfortunately, he is accosted by the wily fox and cat who entice him into burying his gold pieces in the Field of Miracles.

Roberto Innocenti

Let us just say that this encounter leads to nothing but profoundly poor fortune.  Fortunately Pinnochio’s luck will prevail and his ever-repenting nature will continue to procure him a new chance to get on the path toward righteousness.

Roberto Innocenti

Having finally procured his freedom, Pinocchio is once again on his way to see his father.  In his hurry and hunger, having recently escaped from prison, Pinocchio stops to steal some grapes.  He is apprehended and forcibly employed as a guard dog for the local farmer.  His excellent job as an honest guard dog causes the grateful farmer to set Pinocchio free.

Bounce and Scooter reading Pinocchio

This is one of the best read-aloud bedtime stories.  Each night Bounce and Scooter hurry-hurry-hurry to get into bed so we can continue with the Pinocchio story.  They immediately identify with Pinocchio and his bad-boy antics.  They are not disturbed by his predicaments.  They have confidence that he will learn to behave himself and will be redeemed by the end of the story.  Pinocchio, like all  classic tales, has a clear message and honestly reflects the emotions and actions of real-life boys and girls.  This is an eminently satisfying tale of the battle between right and wrong.  Bounce and Scooter know that right will prevail, but it is so much fun to watch Pinocchio easily being mislead in the meantime.

The Phantom Tollbooth: A Novel Approach to Vocabulary Lessons

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, is a modern day classic novel perfect for middle level readers whom you hope to inspire with the desire to expand their verbal and imaginative horizons.

IMG_2120

In this fairytale-style novel a young boy, Milo, who is bored with life is given the whirlwind opportunity to have a mind (and vocabulary) expanding adventure. Milo receives the gift of a Phantom Tollbooth. This tollbooth allows Milo to enter a magical world that features ridiculous puns and verbal idioms come to life. Milo jumps to the Land of Conclusions, meets Grow Downs, the adults of the future (children who have not yet “grown-down” to their future height), and meets such dire characters as the Senses Taker. Through Milo’s misadventures and efforts to save two princesses, Rhyme and Reason, he learns to value knowledge and ultimately appreciate all of life’s varied experiences. The Phantom Tollbooth not only introduces a vast array of oddities of the English language, it also uses an extensive vocabulary that focuses the reader on the importance of word variety.

This is a great book to read on an electronic reader as your student may not be familiar with the meaning of many of the words. It is very encouraging to be able to immediately look up the meaning of a word and see the definition in the context of the text so as to understand how the word is used. Since many of the words are used humorously, middle level readers are thrilled to learn the meaning of the word so that they can “get the joke”.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a funny, tongue-in-cheek adventure novel that promotes knowledge of letters and numbers above ignorance. Milo escapes from the Doldrums, both in his own life and in his novel world. This is a valuable and enjoyable allegorical tale for our modern children.

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History is the Study of Lives, not Events

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana, also invoked by Winston Churchill

Napoleon, Empereur de francais…

A typical history course is one which follows a fairly straight forward, chronological, path through a series of wars and various social and cultural upheavals. This approach to the subject of history can be uninspiring to the young student. When I first began homeschooling I searched for a good history curriculum and was surprised (not really) that the textbooks where dull and the "story" moved intractably from one violent event to the next with little human empathy or emotion being imparted to the reader.

Inevitably I found that I needed to create my own curriculum if I wanted to get my students' attention. In the past 6 years we have studied the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the history of China from 1000 b.c. through Mao and the Cultural Revolution to the present, the history of Japan, the American Revolution, slavery and the Underground Railroad, World War I, the inter-war years and World War II, and at least another dozen sub-topics.

I have found that the best approach is to start with a simple skeleton or outline of the basic facts. This is reinforced by having my students create their own timelines of the key events. For this we have used long rolls of paper that stretch across the room. The timeline can be marked with measurements reflecting the desired time intervals. The students then write draw and create a collage of events, images and accomplishments from that section of history. We have also used printed book timelines that allow multiple timelines to be created on the same page so that various events from around the globe can be compared and the student can appreciate the different events that were occurring simultaneously. We have also used digital timelines that create the same effect but allow for uploading images and films to create a newsreel effect.

I have found, not surprisingly, that the best materials are the primary sources. When we are able to read a first person account of an event then the moment truly becomes "alive." Suddenly it is apparent that real people have lived and thought and tasted these events. We care about the event because we care about the people. Wasn't that the whole point anyway?

We have also had great success reading literature, seeing theatrical pieces and visiting museums. All these resources give a sense of how the past is both similar to and different from the present. We always consider the questions, "How is this similar to today?" and "In what ways are these issues still affecting our society?" also, "Is our culture really different or have these driving forces just manifested themselves differently?"

Ultimately we still turn to respected historical resources for information and analysis. After doing so much of our own research these texts provide real benefit. The student can discern from what viewpoint the text has been written and can evaluate which information has the most value. The study of history becomes the study of our lives and our predecessors, and as such, the study of history becomes indispensable to our study of humanity.

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Literature as a Window on History: The Crucible

We are opening our school literature season with a reading of the play, The Crucible by Henry Miller.  This play, written in the 1950’s, revisits Salem Massachusetts at the time of the Salem witch trials.   Today we discussed the nature of the insular Puritan society and the perceived impropriety of two girls caught dancing in the woods.  We discussed the ease with which a small lie can escalate into a communal lie and how quickly a community can rush to persecute the individual, in particular to protect itself from humiliation, or in this case, death.

This play was produced during the era of McCarthyism and ominously warns of the dangers in fearing the unknown and in erroneously accusing others. The notorious witchhunts of the 1950’s ruined the careers of many artists and playwrights as they hastened to defend themselves against accusations of Communism.

We talked about modern applications and the efforts that we make today to avoid these types of global persecutions.  The Crucible portrays fear, persecution and the phobic need for continuity of the current society as unfortunate aspects of the human condition.

Classic Children's Literature: The Gateway to Literacy

Reading is the key to literacy. A good book will capture your students' imagination. Their natural curiosity and determination to "find out what happens.." will take care of the rest. But not all books are created equal..

knuckle down

One of the best ways to inspire a young student is to provide high quality children's literature as standard reading material. Classic literature, like Tom Sawyer, Little Women or A Secret Garden all have common elements. They contain universal messages within the framework of everyday childhood experience. Through description and detailed dialogue today's children can understand the past and can relive difficulties that children from earlier decades have faced. Everyday obstacles are overcome with out resorting to magic or super powers but through human ingenuity and perseverance. Most importantly, the complex linguistic style and expressive vocabulary utilized in classic children's literature provide today's student with the ability to read, comprehend and ultimately write at a more sophisticated level. Additionally, the classics are fun. Once your student becomes accustomed to the reading level they will adore these amazing tales of adventure and childhood accomplishment.

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