Homeschooling

Memory Work

Most of you know that we’re a homeschooling family, and from time to time I like to review what we’re doing for memory work, which consists mostly of poetry. As some of you may be new to this, I’ll answer a few questions first.

Question #1:  How do you choose your memory work?

We memorize those poems, public addresses, Bible verses, or other literary works that we like. It’s as simple as that, but I think it’s an important point.  Your children will sniff it out immediately if they think you think a poem is dull or lame.  And you’ll hate teaching it. So don’t choose memory work that you don’t like.

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 enjoy and understand.

Furthermore, If you’ve never memorized anything with your family at all, ever, don’t panic, but do begin somewhere. It’s worth it. We cannot truly own something until we’ve interiorized it, or memorized it. If you really don’t know where to begin, crack open your Bible to the book of Psalms and pick one. Go for Psalm 23 if you’re completely lost. There are obvious reasons why everyone used to have that thing memorized.

Or, if you want a book of poetry for your small children, but don’t know where to start, buy Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.  He’s just plain fun, and we love reciting Where Go the Boats and Foreign Lands this time of year. Or belting out The Swing while pushing those little sweeties back and forth on swings.

Question #2:  How do you teach a poem?

For a number of years, we always did our reciting at the breakfast table.  Usually I’d begin by reading the poem first and then let everyone else have a shot at it.  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.

A few years ago, however, we began reading the Bible at breakfast, so now our poetry has become a part of “Morning Time.” This is a half hour slot in the mid-morning when everyone comes together to review Latin vocabulary, pray, and recite.

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.  For example, every Fall the little ones recite Autumn Fires 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 return to the great Catholic priest, 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.

But again, throughout the year, we do whatever strikes me or the children.

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, and it’s good to review our favorite ones from time to time. I don’t have a problem with repeating again and again our favorites.

Question #4: What are you memorizing now?

Three Must Haves: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare, and Stevenson

At this very moment, the boys are memorizing and loving Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech. It’s from his play, Henry V. In this selection, King Henry V is encouraging his English soldiers to fight valiantly against the French, on the feast day of St. Crispin. In spite of terrible odds, they do win.

One of my little girls is reciting Hopkins’ Pied Beauty, and the other little girls are enjoying Stevenson’s Foreign Lands.

The Eldest is required to recite at her school, but she isn’t home at the moment, so I don’t know what she’s working on. (Although I think it might be some Edgar Allan Poe.)

I hope that clears a few things up.  Just ask, if you have any more questions.

Lastly…The Well Read Poem

For those of you who might want more, I came across a lovely podcast that features one poem a week, read and explained by Mr. Thomas Banks. I’m greatly enjoying it.

Book Review

New Biography of Michael O’Brien and Some Novelties of Summer

If you’ve ever read any of Michael O’Brien’s books, chances are you’ve wondered, just who in the blazes is this man who writes so well?  As soon as I discovered that his biography, On the Edge of Infinity, was for sale, I bought it and was not disappointed.

I couldn’t put it down.

IMG_1346.jpg
You need this book written by Clemens Cavallin.

Not only do I consider Michael O’Brien the greatest Catholic novelist since J.R.R. Tolkien, but I also wonder about this man’s sainthood.  He’s got an amazing conversion story, going from such things as Ouija boards and seances to being attacked by malevolent spirits and spontaneously reciting Psalm 23.

This book is not boring.  And the neat thing is, as one suspects from reading O’Brien’s fiction, many of his stories come straight from his own life.  For example, has anyone ever read O’Brien’s A Cry of Stone?  This book features the story of Tchibi, a boy who experiences abuse from his headmaster at his private school.  O’Brien modeled this boy on his own experience of abuse at Grollier Hall in Canada.  It’s excruciating to read.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Back to On the Edge of Infinity.  Clemens Cavallin begins this biography of Michael O’Brien (born in 1948) with stories from Michael’s parents and grandparents.  Then Cavallin moves into detailing O’Brien’s childhood in the Canadian arctic and then chronicles the turbulent years following the Second Vatican Council wherein suddenly altars were stripped and destroyed, statues of saints disappeared, and families were discouraged from praying the rosary.  O’Brien’s family was deeply affected by these radical changes.

Naturally the book goes on to relate Michael’s conversion, his meeting of Sheila, their marriage, and his momentous decision in 1976 to devote himself wholly to God and to art – specifically icon painting.  (Writing fiction would come later.)

Probably what fascinated me the most in reading Cavallin’s biography, however, was Michael and his wife Sheila’s utter trust in God, to the point of downright poverty.  Seriously, at one point, Michael and his eldest son had to push the wheelbarrow to the local convent, because they didn’t have a working vehicle, to get the leftover vegetables from the sisters, just to eat for the week.

The other thing that I greatly appreciated about this book was its focus on art and beauty.  I’ll never get tired of this subject, because in our culture it is of extreme importance that we get it.  Art ought to be beautiful because it’s a reflection of the Divine.  Beauty matters!

Finally, if any of you have children and homeschool them, you will probably enjoy hearing about the trials and experiences of the O’Brien family.  Michael and Sheila homeschooled their 6 children.  And it wasn’t easy.

The Novelties of Summer

  1. I hope you’re all enjoying summer.  We are.  Normally the children start a little Summer School by now, but we haven’t yet.  For we’ve had this to contend with:

IMG_1354.jpg
This is our backyard.  We’re in the process of planting grass, trees, bushes, and a garden.  Oh, the work!

2.  We have had time for ice cream, however.

IMG_1398.jpg

3.  And we did just recently make a little pilgrimage to a beautiful rural church in Strasburg, North Dakota, named Sts. Peter and Paul.

IMG_1365.jpg
Here are the children on the front steps.

Even though this church is in the middle of nowhere, people still go to see it.  Why?  Because beauty is attractive.  The following is what one sees when walking in.  I apologize for the lack of lighting.  We didn’t know how to turn all the lights on.

IMG_1380.jpg
Check out those sweet confessionals flanking the sanctuary.

Of course you can see the high altar behind that newly inserted wooden table altar from the 1970s.  Here’s a closer look of both altars:

IMG_1367 2.jpg

And an even closer look of the high altar:

IMG_1374.jpg
Just look at that detail.

Question of the day:  Which altar speaks to the greatness of God?

 

Homeschooling

A New Year of Poetry: Bearing My Fardels with a Bodkin

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 To Be 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.

IMG_0680.jpg
Here’s the first part.  On the next page, it goes on for another 29 lines.  I’m glad Hamlet’s conscience wins out in this speech…

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!

 

IMG_0682.jpg
Here are two books you might consider owning.  A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

*Quietus, bodkin, fardels – death, dagger, burden