Public Speaking: Shakespeare Untangled, Only Slightly Mangled

Our local Homeschool Theater Company will be producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare.  Auditions are being held and the Happymess Kids, and others, are busy practicing, rehearsing and memorizing.

This unabridged, original language version will be performed with a cast of 24 students, ages ranging from 8-18.  No mean feat.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grow

We like to practice public speaking outdoors where loud, confident voices can shout to the treetops.

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:

 

Our homespun Happymess public speaking program consists of repeated practice in reading complicated, often strident, historic addresses and rehearsing literary monologues and soliloquies.

On of our favorites, for this exercise, is Socrates’ speech to the Athenians upon being condemned to death for speaking the truth:

In the next place, I desire to predict to you who have condemned me, what will be your fate: for I am now in that condition in which men most frequently prophesy, namely, when they are about to die. I say then to you, O Athenians, who have condemned me to death, that immediately after my death a punishment will overtake you, far more severe, by Jupiter, than that which you have inflicted on me. For you have done this thinking you should be freed from the necessity of giving an account of your life. The very contrary however, as I affirm, will happen to you. Your accusers will be more numerous, whom I have now restrained, tho you did not perceive it; and they will be more severe, inasmuch as they are younger and you will be more indignant. For, if you think that by putting men to death you will restrain any one from upbraiding you because you do not live well, you are much mistaken; for this method of escape is neither possible nor honorable, but that other is most honorable and most easy, not to put a check upon others, but for a man to take heed to himself, how he may be most perfect. Having predicted thus much to those of you who have condemned me, I take my leave of you.

This speech, once the words can be pronounced, can only be said loudly and forcefully.  Socrates is unapologetic and accusatory.  Our young public speakers learn to belt out his defense at top decibel. No room for stage fright here.

In fact, when Athena was interviewed after working as a reporter on closed circuit TV for Destination Imagination they asked her, “How did you get so good at public speaking?” to which she answered, “My mother had me stand on a rock in the backyard and shout Socrates’ death speech repeatedly across the yard.”  I wonder what the neighbors were thinking?

Another great public address we have used is that of Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro”, 1852.

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just. 

This can only be said unapologetically with force and conviction.

We like to place the “speaker” about 60 feet from the “audience”. This encourages audible, self-assured voices that be clearly heard at a reasonable distance. We emphasize speaking S-L-O-W-L-Y and         C-L-E-A-R-L-Y. In this case, Bounce is practicing the part of Oberon for his Midsummer Night’s Dream audition.

There sleeps Titania some time of the night,

Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;

 

Happymess kids are dancing around Truth as he attempts to memorize his speech and rise above the distractions created by several bouncing brothers.  They are deliberately trying to confuse Truth as he valiantly recites his piece despite their best efforts at confusion.  Ultimately, this builds confidence, as Truth knows nothing can come between him and his chosen piece of recitation.  Plus, everyone has a lot of fun in the process.

And there the snake throws her enameled skin,

Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. (2.1.249)

We will be studying Midsummer Night’s Dream on several levels, increasing the difficulty as the children become more familiar with the unusual language.

So, how do we get the kids to learn all this stuff?  We start slowly.  Bruce Coville has written a wonderful series of Shakespearean children’s books.  Each book is based upon a different play and closely follows the plot line while interspersing original text in the adapted and simplified version.  The illustrations, by Dennis Nolan, are truly fanciful and capture the magic of the original plays.  These books make Shakespeare accessible to any reader.

We will eventually read and study the original play using the Oxford Student Shakespeare edition.  This series is annotated throughout with stage notes, explanations of character attitudes, vocabulary definitions and explanations of references to other texts (Biblical, historical, etc.)

Many of the children, at the auditions, are quite young but have already performed several times with this theater company.  They were readily able to cope with the difficult language.  Their prior experience was apparent and impressive.  The directors have really had a positive impact on this homegrown troupe.

Rehearsal of this play, which will take months, will certainly build public speaking skills, emotional emphasis, and clarity of speech.   As are great historical speeches, Shakespearean language is at first incomprehensible.  It is a great surprise and joy to the students as they begin to untangle complex language and interweaving plot lines and discover that they can finally understand, enjoy and begin to “own” these words for themselves.

 All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.        As You Like It, William Shakespeare   

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is practicing public speaking skills through reciting Shakespeare in the backyard with the sun shining, the dog barking and the boys joyfully bouncing about. 

Missing From Schedule: Daydreaming

A fellow blogger recently reminded me that daydreaming is central to creativity, intelligence and enjoyment of life.

So why isn’t it in the Schedule??!

Homeschooling is work, lots of work.  When we aren’t focused on our worksheets and textbooks we are reading historical commentaries and related fiction.  We are practicing our piano and rehearsing for our play.  We are preparing for our next contest and checking our boxes on our assignment sheets.  Yes, we are working away.

Many people are quick to comment on what they presume to be missing from the Homeschooling Lifestyle.

They ask, “But what about socialization?” 

Can-Can Dancers created by Athena

I respond, “With 14 kids here running around designing new machines, creating art and theater and jumping on the trampoline, it is a wonder with all this socialization that they ever get anything done!” (Exasperated Homeschool Mom after Heavy Kid Infiltration)

Still unsatisfied, they query, “How do you know they are learning anything?  Do you get them tested?”

Heavy sigh accompanied with small smile, “Yes, they take all types of standardized tests.  They have weekly review tests.  We are quite confident that they are learning.”

Doubting Thomas continues, “But aren’t you worried that they won’t know how to react in difficult situations? How will they know how to make the correct decision?”

I answer, “And how is that exactly being taught in schools these days?”  Because really, if they are teaching morality, propriety and good judgment I am certainly the last to know.

But, do you know what is missing from Homeschool Happymess?  Good old fashioned daydreaming.

The advantage of attending regular school is that you have hours upon hours in which you can simply gaze out the window.  School affords the student with the opportunity to escape through all manner of dreams.

Universe created by Bounce

The opportunity to contemplate the universe, to imagine oneself as a super-hero, to solve global problems, to examine the wings of an errant butterfly, should not escape the homeschool student.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And echoed by Shakespeare, through Hamlet, ‘To sleep, perchance to dream…”

So in the name of good old-fashioned schooling, shall we have a day devoted to dreaming?  It will certainly be a worthwhile way to spend our time.

Bounce in Self-Designed Chapeau

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is a cornucopia of possibilities.  Let’s remember to allow our children the simple but necessary joy of daydreaming, so they can imagine, and eventually build, a better tomorrow.

Teaching Scooter to Read: A Cautionary Tale

For the 8th time in my life, I am embarking upon the initially impossible task of teaching a young child to read.  Not memorizing, but actually decoding the letters into real sounds and real words with meaning.  I will be honest. It is daunting.

We began months ago with rhyming words and consonant recognition.  This initial step was successful but we were not able to make much headway, so like a good progressive mommy, I gave Scooter time off to grow and develop.

Months later, as we were preparing for Kindergarten, I was called into the new school’s office for a “special” meeting.

“We are delighted to be offering Scooter a spot in our school,” the earnest headmistress assured me. “However, Mrs. Happymess, it has come to our attention that he may need some assistance learning to read…”

“Oh, of course, Miss Headmistress,” I smiling assured the brusque woman addressing me, “I can certainly help Scooter as he prepares for Kindergarten.”

Well, since those fateful words have been spoken, Scooter and I have used every learn-to-read program I can find, and we are still just mastering the consonant sounds.

To be sure, Scooter, as Dr. Seuss says, “Can read little words, little words like if and it.”  Actually, he can read Mat, Pan, Can, Jam, And, The End.  That’s about it, and I generally put that skill set into the memorizing rather than decoding box.

So when my husband and I recently went to Parents Night at Scooter’s school and were asked to write him a note, I struggled to compose one that I thought he could read.  It went something like this,

Dear Scooter,

I can see you like school.  We can be sad to miss you.  And do you like to eat jam with no ants?  Me too.  The End.

My husband was quite mystified.

“What the heck kind of note is that to write?”  He asked suspiciously.

“One he can read,” I answered defensively.

And there you have it.  Months and days and hours of effort and still we are learning the same lesson each day.

Our pediatrician smiled wisely and said, “They all develop at different times and there is no point trying to teach them beyond their capabilities.”  Truer words were never spoken, and yet she may not be acquainted with my tenacious tendencies.

Scooter is not without his charm.  In this picture he has copied the Bob Book cover and carefully written “Pre-Reading Skills,” not withstanding the fact that he has no idea what that actually means.

 My favorite learn-to-read books have always been the Bob Books.  They are simple, uncomplicated and truly tell a viable tale with very few letters.  Each story adds just one or two new words and your child will soon be able to gain confidence “reading” these short stories.

Once Scooter can read approximately 20 – 30 words I will begin to “write” my own little stories for him to read.  For me, this is always the really “fun” time in a child’s reading development.  They love reading the little, silly stories about themselves, their friends and family.  We are definitely not there yet.

This year, owing to needing additional material for Scooter, I have used Hooked On Phonics Pre-K and Kindergarten levels 1 and 2.  These are nice sets, easy to use and quite appealing.  Scooter enjoys the words and graphics.

Scooter loves interaction.  He is fascinated with the “sounds” this computerized D for Dinosaur makes.  I am wondering, Who is that knows what a dinosaur sounds like?  Scooter enjoys the “Dinosaur Dance.”

 I have also found some great FREE online reading programs.  My absolute favorite is Starfall.  www.starfall.com

This program offers a complete introduction to the alphabet, beginning word construction Pan, Can, Fan, etc. and then small stories using each new word and sound set.  Additionally, Starfall has some very nice introductory number and math programs.

 There are countless electronic learn-to-read programs but it still always comes back to the basics.  Words and Books.  After all our lessons, Scooter and I return to the basics of reading together.

 Scooter loves stories and I show him how the words I am reading are right there on the page.  Ultimately, I evaluate his reading skills based upon true decoding.  Can Scooter read a new word in a new context because he can sound out the letters and recognize the word?  Can he read a story and understand the meaning?  We are still a long way from success but I am confident we will get there.  Meanwhile, Scooter is learning that I love him and I love words and together we are loving the words that make up the stories that we always enjoy reading together.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the opportunity to practice eternal patience.  For each child, it is their first beginning. 

History: The Timeless Gift

A quick History lesson from Pulitzer Prize winner, David McCullough,

Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it.  Jefferson, Adams, Washington- they didn’t walk around saying, “Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?”  They lived in the present just as we do.  The difference was it was their present, not ours.  And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either.

 In a 2005 speech, David McCullough makes the point that “history” happens to the everyday man and woman.  What makes the story interesting, and thus memorable, is the way the people respond to the events of their time.  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Character is Destiny,” and McCullough makes the case that our Founding Fathers’ biggest attribute was their character.

McCullough encourages the teaching of history to ensure that we, the current occupants of this world, value the gifts we have been given by our predecessors.

He says, “We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed.  This is essential.  We have to value what our forebears did for us, or we are not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away.”

McCullough offers this analogy, “If you’ve inherited some great work of art that is worth a fortune, and you don’t even know that it is a great work of art and you’re not interested in it – you are going to lose it.”

Thus our precious Democracy will go by the wayside if we fail to teach our young students the value of freedom and personal liberty.  It becomes our responsibility as teachers, parents, and educators to instill a love of our Nation and an appreciation for the sacrifices that have afforded our freedoms.

One of our favorite books for the young historian. 

Our Happymess kids love history.  We strive to make every century seem relevant and interesting.  We use countless sources from illustrated children’s books, colorful atlases, ancient maps, primary sources, personal diaries, illustrated encyclopedias and dense historical dissertations.  We love documentary films, old newsreels and historical novels.  History is the story, our story.  And thus we were very gratified to find a perfect endorsement of homeschool-style teaching in the middle of McCullough’s presentation.

The original flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner national anthem. We visited this last year in Washington, DC.

And we need not leave the whole job of history teaching to the teachers.  The teaching of history, the emphasis on the importance of history, the enjoyment of history, should begin at home.  We who are parents or grandparents should be taking our children to historic sites.  We should be talking about those books in biography or history that we have particularly enjoyed, or that character or those characters in history that have meant something to us.  We should be talking about what it was like when we were growing up in the olden days.  Children, particularly little children, love this.  And in my view, the real focus should be at the grade school level…they can learn anything so fast it takes your breath away.  The very important truth is that they want to learn and they can be taught anything.  And there’s no secret to teaching history or making history interesting.  Tell stories.  That’s what history is: a story.  And what’s a story?  E.M. Foster gave a wonderful definition of it:  If I say to you, the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events.  If I say, the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.  That’s human.  That calls for empathy.  And we ought to be growing, encouraging and developing historians who have heart and empathy.

I wonder if McCullough knew he was actually accurately describing the homeschool movement and our emphasis on multi-disciplinary, multi-generational and multi-cultural education, all with the purpose of “making it feel real” and thus instilling empathy for all.

We are grateful for today’s history lesson, which was a portion of Lesson One from Exploring America, a homeschool curriculum designed by John Notgrass. We have used this program before and really love it.  Notgrass has written text, quizzes, short-answer questions and essay questions, which cover the myriad facts that together comprise our national history.  The companion volume, American Voices, is an amalgamated 400 pages of primary sources. Through these speeches, letters, poems and essays the student of American History can live and breathe the very words of the Americans who built our nation.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is bringing the past to life though original documents and mementoes. 

A Single Shard: One Hill, One Valley, One Day at a Time

We always begin our school year with an inspirational quote.  My goal is to allow my students to see themselves as part of the greater continuum of intellectual efforts and metaphysical thinking.  That was a mouthful!

In other words, school is not just learning facts. Homeschool Happymess is built upon the premise that learning can actually be interesting.

This year we are bridging the fun of summer with the seriousness of school with a wonderful novel, A Single Shard, written by Linda Sue Park.  The story takes place in 12th century Korea and teaches the values of friendship, honesty, integrity and hard work within the context of creating beautiful Celadon pottery.

The protagonist, Tree-ear, is a young orphan boy who desires to learn the art of pottery.  His mentor, Crane-man, is a homeless man who instills values by asking difficult questions which can only be answered through personal introspection.

When Tree-ear is presented with the question of facing hunger or stealing rice, Crane-man’s voice echoes in Tree-ear’s mind, “Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away.” Tree-ear ponders, “Does a good deed balance a bad deed?” He knows that Crane-man would say, “Questions (of morality) serve in two ways…They keep a man’s mind sharp, and his thoughts off his empty stomach.”

A Single Shard is a walking, talking vocabulary lesson.  The following is a sample list of the vocabulary words that Bounce (Grade 3/4) needed to learn in order to properly understand the story:  Perusal, Urchin, Garner, Sluggardly, Deftly, Emboldened, Impudence, Precariously, Ministrations, Diligent, Insolence, Parched, Felicitous, Vicious and Suffice.  Bounce’s actual list was much longer.  He rewrote every word, looked up the definition and wrote the definition along side each word.  Bounce was delighted to learn such interesting and unusual words.

Eventually, through hard work and self-sacrifice, Tree-ear is given the opportunity to represent the work of a famous potter, Minn.  He accepts the task, with encouragement from Crane-man, to carry Minn’s work to the faraway town of Songdo, where it will be viewed by the royal court.

This journey is so long that Tree-ear has grave doubts about his ability to carry out his mission.  But to not go is even more impossible.

Crane-man presents the journey to Tree-ear in the following manner,

“Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo.  But you must not tell your body.  It must think one hill, one valley, one day at a time.  In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.”

Happymess kids immediately recognized this quote as applying directly to their own lives.  Each child at our impromptu book club was able to think of a way in which this applied directly to themselves.  The group agreed that they had all grown weary of many school-related tasks long before the task had been attempted, yet alone completed.  They committed to taking a more cheerful, thoughtful and dedicated approach to this year’s enterprises.  In short, they recognized that often fear of hard work is greater than the actual work itself.

As a conclusion to our reading the children suggested making banners to remind themselves that each step in a task must be taken on its own merits.

We had great fun making the banners, even though for some of us this Herculean task took several days and nights.

And so there you have it, our 2012 school year quote with which we will commence our studies.  Our journey may be long and arduous but we will embark upon it one day at a time, lest our souls grow weary before we even begin.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is seeking inspiration in novel venues.

So Long Sweet Summer, So Long…

Summer is our favorite season.  The weather is warm and wild and thus prohibitive of difficult endeavors.  Freedom reigns.

Each person is free, like the wildflowers, to grow in any direction and to follow the sunshine of their dreams.

Happymess kids begin the summer with a trip to the zoo and a greenhouse.

The plastic gorilla is even more fun!

The Fourth of July was shared with friends and family.  Watching shards of light sparkle and reflect across the ocean waves is spectacular.

This summer Scooter got his first set of wheels.  He is finally able to ride to the library, church, candy store and beach with his brothers!  This is surely the high point of Scooter’s summer.

For the first time, Truth and Quantum left home to spend a week living in the woods.  We missed them, but loved coming up for the closing bonfire.

Athena traveled most of this summer.  We did manage to catch up with her long enough to enjoy kayaking on the lake together.

Oddly, perhaps, most of our summer was spent reading.

We read long, complicated historical novels like Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and fun, short books like Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown.  We read intriguing children’s books like A Single Shard by Sue Parks and we read Bob Books as we struggled to teach Scooter some basic reading skills.

One of our favorite activities is the Library Summer Reading Program.  Bounce and Scooter race to the library everyday to record the new number of hours they read.  They average 2-3 hours per day.

We allow Scooter to count his pre-reading activities towards his reading total.

One of the fun aspects of summer is that everyone enjoys the whimsy.  Here is the ceiling of our favorite summer diner.

Bounce loves art.  I am not a big fan of scraping paint off the floor so summer and art and I are best friends.  Bounce created an outdoor studio where he can paint whenever he likes.

 

As summer comes to its inevitable end, I begin organizing, arranging and planning for the unsentimental months ahead.  Here we have all the un-owned shoes looking for new feet so they can attend school next month.  I managed to find several pairs each for Bounce and Scooter.

And so the month of August draws to a close and we must finally say, “So long sweet summer.”  What a wonderful interlude it has been.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the freedom to dream, create and cherish the unscheduled and the free.

Global Finals Update 4: Day Before Departure

Tomorrow, we will wake up at five in the morning and begin the LONG drive down to Tennessee for the Destination Imagination Global Finals.  Our bags are packed, our cds are burned, and the trailer, containing all the props the two teams have worked on for months, has been (laboriously) filled and hitched to the back of my Suburban.  I am driving five of the fourteen kids involved (four of my own and a nephew) as well as my youngest son, who is coming to cheer on his older siblings

 

Today, some team members helped to decorate the car.  This is a fun (and slightly messy) Destination Imagination tradition.  The kids made sure to include their team names, the state they will be representing (they will compete with teams from all over the country and the world) and their names.

 

 

 

Connecticut is traditionally a very small group at the Global Finals. Whereas states such as Texas or countries such as South Korea can send from 200-400 teams, this year only 4 teams will represent our humble state.  They are all homeschooled.  This is because news of this amazing competition has spread through the homeschooled community in Connecticut, not because the competition typically attracts homeschoolers; globally, homeschooled groups make up a minute portion of the teams competing, which are generally school sanctioned.  The teams representing Connecticut are:

Team I.C.E. (competing at the high school level in the fine arts and improvisational Challenges) (thats us)

SolarNauts (competing at the elementary school level in the science Challenge) (thats us too)

VisionQuest (competing at the middle school level in the fine arts Challenge)

Crazed Carrots (competing at the elementary school level in the community outreach Challenge)

We wish all teams the best of luck.

As for us, we’re ready to start our journey.