Now I know that some of you live in warmer climates. You know who you are. You’re probably reading this on your iPhone, sitting on your deck, listening to birds sing, while the rest of us are freezing our tushies off and drinking anything hot to stay alive. I’ll have you know that the windchill was zero this morning. Zero. (Yes, it called for an extra cup of coffee just for coping reasons.)
Anyway, I wanted to brighten everyone’s day with a little poetry. My daughter recently came across a lovely poem in an obscure South Dakota centennial book.* The author is unknown, and I’ve typed it below for your enjoyment. Of course one might substitute “South Dakota” for “North Dakota.”
And I must warn my sensitive readers, this anonymous author uses the word butt. Goodness, the language some people use these days.
Winter in South Dakota
It’s winter in South Dakota
And the gentle breezes blow
Seventy miles an hour,
At thirty-five below.
Oh, how I love South Dakota,
When the snow’s up to your butt.
You take a breath of winter in
And your nose gets frozen shut.
Yes, the weather here is wonderful.
So I guess I’ll hang around.
I could never leave South Dakota
I’m frozen to the ground!
*Celebrating 125 Years of History and Growth, pg. 17. Email me later if you actually want the publisher, etc. I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, and I’m too cold to get off the couch right now. Happy Winter!
Happy feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary! This feast has a rich history, which I do not have time to relate. (Click HERE for it at New Advent.)
However, many of you may know that this day was originally named Our Lady of Victory to commemorate the naval victory of the Christian fleet over the Turkish fleet in the gulf of Lepanto in the Adriatic Sea in 1571.
Every October 7th our family reads G. K. Chesterton’s famous poem, Lepanto. If you’ve never read it before, give it shot! Chesterton covers this historic battle very well, and it reads like a marching army. We love it. May God bless the souls of Don John of Austria and Pope Pius V!
Now that we’re traveling into week 3 of school, I’m just starting to get a rhythm down. I think in a week or so, I’ll post my new schedule for those of you who are curious.
But onto a specific question, what are we memorizing?
We began the year with Psalm 23, The Good Shepherd. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” That should give you a good look into the state of my life right now. (Oh the agonies of buying and selling a house. I wish it upon no one.)
I chose this Psalm to begin the year with because a.) the children already know it, b.) the children really like it, and c.) I think it’s important to start the year off with something easy and familiar.
After two weeks of that, we have moved on, however. My eldest is now memorizing Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not ToBe soliloquy. It’s probably a little morbid for an 11-year-old, but the language is beautiful. We had to look up a few words like quietus and bodkin and fardels*, but in all, we’ve really been enjoying it, even if we don’t understand everything Shakespeare is trying to say. That’ll just have to come later.
The little children have returned to my favorite piece of poetry for the fall: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Autumn Fires. It is the cutest little poem. If you have small children, I recommend this one every single fall. Rake yourself a big pile of leaves, play in it, then have a big bonfire and belt out Stevenson. Here’s the ending of that little poem:
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
We never actually quit doing school; we go all year round. Why?
The children get a little bored in the “off” months, and it gives them something to do.
I get a little bored in the “off” months, and it gives me something to do.
It’s fun to learn new things with zero pressure.
What do we do for Summer School?
There are a few things that never go away, no matter what the season, which I call Early Morning School, Morning Time, Piano, and Mid-Morning Prayer Time. These things work well for our family and provide a nice structure to the day. That’s not to say that we can’t break from them if something comes up, but rather, they are there to guide us.
Early Morning School is that time before breakfast wherein the children will just pick on each other if there’s nothing to do. So the night before, I lay out a math facts sheet and a handwriting sheet for my 2nd and 4th graders. My 6th grader gets a math facts sheet and then works on her typing skills. None of these things require my assistance, which is good, because I’m usually nursing a baby and drinking my coffee.
Morning Time is that time during breakfast when I read the Mass readings aloud and then we recite our poetry. I’ve said it before, but I like doing these two things at the breakfast table because the children are more likely to listen as food is in their mouths. Right now we’re working on Paul Revere’s Ride. We do it every summer, leading up to the 4th of July, when we’re feeling very patriotic.
Piano also never ends in the summer. We keep right on with lessons. The four older children must play through each of their songs at least 3 times after breakfast. I tried once making them play for a certain amount of time, say twenty minutes a day, but found we were terrible at keeping track of time. But for whatever reason, playing a song three times was easier to do. (And I find that the ones who like playing piano will continue to play on.)
Mid-Morning Prayer Time happens sometime in the morning when I call everyone together, and we sing a hymn and offer a prayer for our intentions.
All of these things are further detailed in my Day in the Life Series, which you can find on my sidebar under “tags,” if you’re curious.
The only other thing that I’m consciously doing for school in the summer is grammar with my three boys. We are using Classical Academic Press’s Well-Ordered Language series. This takes about twenty minutes, then we’re done for the day. I don’t have anything “scheduled” for the afternoons. After all, one must have time to splash around in a kiddie pool and climb trees.
I had a few worthy questions about poetry the other day, so I thought I’d do a little explaining. But remember, this is just what works for our family. Your family may look a lot differently than mine and thereby have different needs and desires.
Question #1: How do you choose your poems?
I choose poems that I like, and you should too. I think this is really important. Your children will sniff it out immediately if you think a poem is dull or lame. And you’ll hate teaching it.
For example, if all your friends’ kids are memorizing Shakespeare, but you don’t understand Shakespeare, and it makes you break out in hives just thinking about reading all that “foreign” language, then don’t do Shakespeare! Quit stressing yourself out and pick something you do like and understand.
If you’ve never done poetry before, I recommend getting a book of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry. He’s just plain fun, and I love reciting Autumn Fires while raking and burning leaves in the fall. And all my children love belting out The Swing while pumping their little legs back and forth on swings.
Question #2: How do you teach a poem?
We always do our reciting at the breakfast table. Usually I read the poem first and then let everyone else have a shot at it. For the first couple of days, though, I have the children repeat after me, but they catch on quickly. If you have five children memorizing the same poem, it really doesn’t take that long before everyone has it memorized. Think about it. That’s six times of hearing the same thing every morning.
We keep at it until the poem is well memorized or I’m sick of it. Sometimes we work on a poem for a few weeks, sometimes for two months.
Question #3: Are you always memorizing new poetry?
Yes and no. There are certain poems that we always return to because they’re family favorites. I already mentioned Autumn Fires. We do this poem every fall because it’s what we’re living. We’re really raking leaves and burning them. And every winter we revisit Stevenson’s Wintertime and Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on Snowy Evening. In the spring, we always do Gerard Manley Hopkins, which I mentioned in a previous post. The summer always brings us around to a more patriotic theme with Paul Revere’s Ride and the Declaration of Independence, which of course, is not actually poetry.
But again, throughout the year, we do whatever strikes me. We also memorize passages of Scripture too. (Now there’s an endless supply of good stuff!)
I also keep a running list of the poems that we’ve memorized over the years. It’s fun to see what the children have done, but then also it’s good to review our favorite ones from time-to-time.
I hope that clears a few things up. Just ask, if you have any more questions.
We’re done with “school.” We’ve been done for awhile because we started the year extra early, like in July, because I wanted to be coasting when the baby came, which was in February. (Click HERE for the post on her birth. Whoa, what a story.)
But even though we’re finished with the big stuff – Math, Latin, Grammar, Writing – we’re not really done. We never are. I always liked to have something for the children to do otherwise they get bored. And start fighting.
Poetry is the one thing that never goes away. We’re always memorizing something because it’s fun. And it’s not hard, as we always do it at breakfast, and we all do the same piece.
Every spring we do Gerard Manley Hopkins. He was an Anglican, but was received into the Catholic Church by none other than John Henry Newman in 1866. Hopkins then became a Jesuit priest and spent the rest of his life teaching and writing poetry. (He was a terrible teacher, by the way, but excellent at writing the most beautiful poetry.)
We just finished up with Hopkins’ God’s Grandeur, Pied Beauty, and Spring. If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and read them. In fact, print them off, go stand outside in the warm sunshine and recite Pied Beauty aloud to any birds who might be listening.
Declaration of Independence
Now, however, we’re gearing up for summer and the 4th of July, when we revisit our patriotic poetry. We’ll do Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride and the Declaration of Independence. (Not the whole Declaration of Independence, just the first paragraph and a half of the second.)
If anyone is interested, I’ll write more about the rest of our Summer School later.
As part of my Lenten sacrifices, I am committed to meditating on Philippians 4:8.
“Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think of these things.”
My husband gave this penance to me, as I tend to dwell on negative things. So this morning, instead of lamenting the fact that I’m still pregnant (oh when will this baby come?) and it’s still cold outside and I still can’t get enough sleep, I thought I’d think about something lovely, gracious, and worthy of praise–my coffee pot!
But I don’t actually know how to write poetry properly. So let’s consider this Modern, Free Verse. (Whatever that means.)
Ode to My Coffee Pot
Oh my dear, loyal Coffee Pot,
Every night my husband programs you.
In fact, your Faithful Timer is my husband’s Favorite Feature.
For at 6am we say good morning to Jesus,
and then at 6:45,
as you graciously beep to signal the end of Morning Prayer,
we desperately stumble over to you.
O Brewer of Buzzes!
O Terror of Yawns!
Our children know that they ought not to disturb this Sacred Moment
of drinking your hot liquid blackness.
Because if they do, they might be greeted thus:
For you see, I am weak and have an addiction that must be satiated.
But since I am a good Catholic,
and know that everything must be enjoyed in moderation,
I sacrificially limit myself to just one pot.*
O thou Dearest Machine and Giver of Joy!
O Bestower of Wakefulness!
May God strengthen you, Dear Coffee Pot
and reward you with long, long life!
*I don’t actually drink a whole pot…I do share it with my husband.
Hello Dear Readers! Welcome to “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool: Part 2.”
But before we begin, remember that the following routine is just what works for our family. Of course your routines and daily schedules will be different, as your families are different!
8:15 am Breakfast
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. One of the best decisions we’ve made was to Eat Breakfast Like a Prison Camp. It works well for us. Everybody eats breakfast at the same time; everybody eats the same thing; everybody cleans up their spot together. We eat peanut butter toast every single morning, except Saturdays and Sundays. (Saturday is generally oatmeal, and Sunday is cold cereal, which the children think is the best thing ever.) I like this arrangement because it’s not stressful. There’s no complaining because the children know what to expect.
While the Toast Master is doing his thing, Child #4 sets the cups, Child #5 sets the napkins, and I am putting the first load of laundry in. Then we’re ready for action.
After Meal Prayer, I read the Mass readings of the day while the children eat. This is the beginning of what some call “Morning Time.” If you haven’t heard of it, check out Pam Barnhill on my sidebar and look for podcasts with Cindy Rollins. Rollins is the Queen of Morning Time, and later this week I’ll post my review of her great book, Mere Motherhood.
I have chosen to use breakfast as our Morning Time for two reasons. 1.) We are all naturally gathered together anyway. And 2.) The children have food in their mouths, so it’s generally quieter.
After I read the Mass readings, we do talk about them, but only briefly. Then I eat my food, and we finish with our Poetry. The children are always memorizing something, and most of the time, I have them all do the same thing. We just finished John 1 for the Christmas season, and now we’ve moved onto “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.
After all the children have had a chance to recite, they put their dishes away, and we break up for the next part of the morning.
At this point the children brush their teeth and take turns at the piano. (Child #2 and Child #3 have usually finished their piano before breakfast.) And I sweep the upstairs floors and switch out the laundry for a second load.
One-by-one, as they finish piano, they come back upstairs and begin Round Two of school. The Eldest works on a Science workbook from Seton, a little history reading from RC History, and Latin from Classical Academic Press. (Classical Academic Press, by the way, is now my favorite place for curriculum. More on that later.)
Child #2 and Child #3 commence Spelling and Phonics from Seton. Child #4 works on Math, also from Seton. Child #5 “plays” with Child #6, which means, that Child #5 is supposed to keep the Toddler busy and distracted enough so that she’ll not destroy everything when my back is turned.
And during this time, I pull aside Child #3, my slow reader, and have him read to me. Then Child #4 reads to me.
Then I pour myself a stiff drink* and get ready for Mid-Morning Prayer Time, which I’ll detail in Part 3 of “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool.” Stay tuned.