On Reading

from The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard.

We are deep in the heart of winter up here in Vermont, and many of our most recent blog posts focus on one of my favorite topics / winter activities: reading.

I recently ordered an enormous stack of books to keep me occupied through the cold evenings and snow storms. It seemed like every day, the FedEx truck was stopping outside my house. Books by my favorite authors, books I’d been meaning to read for ages, are slowly, beautifully taking over my living room table. In the mornings, evenings, and on precious weekends, I dive in and out of them, embodying the words and worlds in those pages.

One of my favorite writers, who also lives in semi-obscurity in Vermont, has written in her essay, “Someone Reading a Book,” from her book, Madness, Rack, and Honey:

“Is there a right time to read each book? A point of developing consciousness that corresponds with perfect ripeness to a particular poet or novel? And if that is the case, how many times in our lives did we make the match?” -Mary Ruefle

I always think about this quote when I happen to read a book at what feels like precisely the right time. I thought about it this weekend three times:

From The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

1) I read the chapter from The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard about how it feels to sit and read by the fire on a snowy evening in a country cottage, while reading by the fire on a snowy evening in my country cottage.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

2) I talked to a friend in Chicago about a new project we plan to start: writing letters to each other while reading the same book at the same time. She told me she would “reveal the book we’re going to read presently.” A few hours later, I posted a picture on Instagram of several books I planned to read over the weekend. This friend commented: “Are you kidding me! I was about to mail you the book we’re going to read. You already have the book.”

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

3) While working on one of my current creative projects, a collection of essays called “On Reading,” I get stuck on an essay about a female writer from the Surrealist movement, and start to do more research. Later, I am rereading another of my favorite books, Heroines by Kate Zambreno, aand I come across a section about the same female Surrealist writer I am trying to write about. I Google interviews with Kate Zambreno and read in one about how much she values those points of correspondence, when she discovers that another writer she admires is writing about the same topic she is writing about too.

From Mary Ruefle’s essay:

“There was one book I read not only at the right age but also on the right afternoon, in the right place, at the right angle. I read The Waves on an island, on a plotless day, when I twenty-two years old, sitting on a terrace from which I could see in the distance the ocean, and the horizon where it met the sky and the changing light that played there as the sun climbed to its zenith and descended again while I thumbed the pages and my blood pressure washed up and down with the words. The Waves is not one of my favorite books. But my memory of reading it is. I was very silly when I was young. I have that to be thankful for.”

The Waves by Virginia Woolf actually is one of my favorite books of all time (although, how many favorite books have I listed here? No matter, there is always room for more!), and my experience of reading The Waves is also one of my favorite reading memories. I read The Waves on the back deck of a house where I lived in Vermont in college, when I was twenty-one, on a plotless day, sitting on that porch from which I could see, very close, a mountain range, and where it met the sky, and the changing light that played there on that August afternoon as the sun reached its highest heat and cooled again, and I decided then that I would be a writer.

I wrote a letter to a friend recently, and before he read it, he told me where he planned to read it and said, “It matters where and when you read things.”

One thing I love about teaching for Oak Meadow is how much I know my students are reading “outside of school” – in environments away from a desk. And I hope my students experience these cosmic correspondences with books too – that they build lasting associations between themselves and the books they read, the days they read them, the landscapes they read them in.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

Mary Ruefle’s book, Madness, Rack, and Honey, in which she writes about reading The Waves, was published by Wave Books. How many times will you make the match?

For the Love of Reading!

readers on the floor

Photo courtesy the Seeley-Love family

“The love of learning,
The sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The winter season is my favorite time of year to curl up in my coziest reading chair by the warm fire and indulge in a good book. I have especially fond memories of snuggling in the oversized chair with my children and reading storybooks as the snowflakes fell softly outside the window. Perhaps this scenario is also familiar to you and your family.

When I hear the exciting news that a child has just begun learning how to read, it brings a great joy to my heart. This child has now entered a new realm of learning and a new way of discovering the world. Learning to read is like receiving a gift of a lifetime!

We are fortunate that our modern-day world makes books so readily available. There is a numerous assortment of amazing classics for children, including many Newbery and Caldecott Award winner and honor books. The American Library Association recently announced 2017’s Caldecott and Newbery Awards.

Each year the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) also creates a “Children’s Notable” list that identifies the best in children’s books, recordings, and videos.

I recently asked some of my local homeschool students to share the names of their favorite books. It was both entertaining and educational for the other children to hear which book titles were selected. Many were familiar favorites, while the new titles sparked interest in a desire to read some of these unfamiliar books. It was also delightful to listen to each child’s oral summary of their favorite book. We even discussed how our “favorite” books often change because there are so many unknown books that are just as fantastic as the ones that have already been read!

In Oak Meadow’s fourth grade syllabus, a suggested activity for Natalie Babbitt’s book, The Search for Delicious, offers doing a poll for the most delicious foods. It could be inspiring to poll the choices your children and their friends’ favorite books. We can even create a list of your children’s favorite books right here on the blog. My all-time favorite children’s book is Gwinna, beautifully illustrated and written by Barbara Berger. If you haven’t read this story to your children, I highly recommend it!

 

 

What font?

Helvetica font sample

Public domain photo

I had a student that submitted a research paper about the country of Japan. It was really well written, but I was especially taken by the font she used for typing her final paper. It was different from what she usually used. It made such an impression on me that I had to find out what font it was.

I was reminded of the 2005 commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in which he spoke about how he came to learn about calligraphy and, inspired by that course, later developed fonts for the Mac. You can watch the speech here. 

So. I’ve been thinking how important it is to understand that each of the fonts one may use when typing actually COME from somewhere! They have a history! In my search for the history of one font I see all the time, every where I go, I discovered that there was actually a movie made about the font! You can view the trailer for Helvetica the movie here, and you can also purchase it.

How interesting to know that certain fonts are used to impress the reader! So if I use comic sans, I’m pretty much setting a certain mood. In fact, I may investigate further what font this blog is typed in. (It isn’t possible for me to change it to another font.) I think I’ll also find out which fonts the Oak Meadow curriculum uses.

By the way, the font the student used was Philosopher. Next time you type a paper, think about the font you are using and what impression it may leave on the reader!

On Writing: An Honest Curiosity

Quotes on ceiling of Michel de Montaigne's study in France.

“Among the liberal arts, let us begin with the art that liberates us…”

Michel de Montaigne wrote these words in the late 1570s, when he withdrew from public life to hole up in a tower where he read, wrote, thought, paced, and ultimately, transformed the landscape of writing altogether.

Montaigne was a French nobleman and former magistrate whose life prior to his writing career has been called “unremarkable.” But it is precisely the things society has always called unremarkable that he fixed his mind on when he chose to sit down and begin writing in a style and form the world had never seen before.

Actually, he didn’t even sit. He felt his mind was more active if he paced around his library and dictated his thoughts to another person in the room. When he moved his books into the tower, he had his favorite quotes painted on the wooden beams that held up the ceiling. In this way, he could gaze up at them while walking and allow their ideas to inspire him as he walked.

“For our boy, a closet, a garden, the table and the bed, solitude, company, morning and evening, all hours will be the same, all places will be his study.”

Michel de Montaigne’s tower in France, where he wrote his famous essays.

This active approach to writing and thinking makes sense when we consider what he was writing about—ordinary, mundane things that everyone experiences but which no one ever talks about, to this day and certainly not in 1580. These were topics like: “Of thumbs,” “That we laugh and cry for the same thing,” “Of smells,” “Of sleep,” “Not to counterfeit being sick,” “Of the resemblance of children to fathers,” “Of liars,” “Of the custom of wearing clothes,” and so on. They weren’t informational articles, nor were they fictional stories or poems. They didn’t fall into any category of writing that anyone recognized. So what were they?

They were the mind in active work on the page—exploring, questioning, doubting, contradicting, and meandering, through the halls of sciences, poetry, fashion, law, history, morality, and a hundred other topics and disciplines, all with one unifying factor: the pursuit of curiosity.

Montaigne called them his essais, from the French word essayer—to try, or to attempt. Montaigne wasn’t an expert in the topics he was writing about or disseminating his superior knowledge. Instead, he was thinking and writing with a passionate rigor and a humble acknowledgement that learning and the pursuit of truth and discovery are never-ending processes.

“Put into his head an honest curiosity to inquire into all things; whatever is unusual around him he will see: a building, a fountain, a man, the field of an ancient battle, the place where Caesar or Charlemagne passed.”

Michel de Montaigne’s study, inside the tower.

This active, questioning, doubting, failing, and persevering definition of the word essay has been completely discarded from the American education system (if it was ever really present at all) through the industrialized uniformity of traditional curriculum design. When I say the word essay, I doubt you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, questioning and imagining, meandering and exploring! So fun, I love essays!” but rather, “Five paragraphs, same structure every time, topic sentences, plan the ending before I begin writing, never say the word I, hamburger method, makes me hate writing and feel like I am a bad writer.” At least that is what every writing student has told me the first time I asked them what an essay was.

The five-paragraph essay is one kind of essay, but it is not the only kind of essay, and it should not be the first kind of essay we learn how to write in school. I’ll tell you why: because it does not teach you how to think. In fact, it teaches you the opposite of thinking. It does teach organization of thought—but why should you learn how to organize your thoughts before you have been given the opportunity to think?

A copy of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays.

What Montaigne got so right in his essays that we should remember in our writing today is that essay writing is not so much about convincing your readers that you are an expert, but rather demonstrating the avenues, sidewalks, flight patterns, maps, and trajectories you’ve traveled to arrive at your discoveries. It’s about crafting a question (such as, “Since it is philosophy that teaches us to live, and since there is a lesson in it for childhood as well as for the other ages, why is it not imparted to children?”), reflecting on your initial knowledge about that question, researching the question, staging a conversation between your thoughts and your research, and reflecting on the discoveries that you made. By learning to think and write rigorously in this way, you also learn all the formalities of grammar and mechanics, and gain a comfort in writing in specific forms like lab reports or the five-paragraph essay.

In the spirit of Montaigne, and this rigorous, independent learning, I’ve designed a new writing course for Oak Meadow high-schoolers called Composition: Expression & Understanding, and you can enroll in the first semester now! Semester two will roll out this summer. This course will prepare you for the independent learning style of Oak Meadow, and it will strengthen your writing abilities in preparation for studies in all disciplines. But most importantly, this course will help you discover who you truly are, what you believe in, and how you want to pursue your own full and meaningful life. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Enroll Here: https://oakmeadow.com/news/courses/composition-the-art-of-expression/

All quotes from Montaigne’s essay, “Of the Education of Children.” http://essays.quotidiana.org/montaigne/education_of_children/

The Nutcracker Ballet

Edgar Degas painting - "Dress Rehearsal of the Ballet"

One of my favorite traditions during this time of year is watching the annual production of “The Nutcracker Ballet”. This grand holiday tradition dazzles and delights the audience with spectacular choreographed dancing, beautiful costumes, glorious scenery, and pyrotechnical magic as the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music is brought to life. “The Nutcracker” production is a very special performance for me, as it always brings back warm and wonderful memories of a magical family event during my children’s early home schooling years.

If taking your children to see “The Nutcracker Ballet” is a part of your holiday plans, then I highly recommend filling your home with the amazing orchestral soundtrack before you attend the performance. Since the performance is “told” in the form of music and dance, I also recommend reading aloud the story so your children can better understand the storyline during the performance. There are many books written about the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. One of my favorites is the original tale of Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann (in 1816), translated by Ralph Manheim, and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

If you are also interested in sharing a little history of this special ballet with your children, then I recommend the book, The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Cathy Gendron.

Who would ever have thought that during WW II, three small-town Utah boys interested in ballet would have  started this annual holiday tradition? “The Nutcracker Ballet” has retained its freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder in both children and adults. It is a memorable and magical event that every family should enjoy together at least once, if not every year as a family tradition.

My Dictionary is My Best Friend!

dictionary, collegiate, college, book

A classic dictionary, photo via Wikimedia Commons

“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
https://www.brainyquote.com

For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!

With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.

Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!

While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:

Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder. 

Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.

Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.

Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!

Enjoy learning new words~

 

 

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part Two

Photo by Cindie Young

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.” – Sleeping Beauty

Fairy tales and other traditional stories offer children many chances to witness the struggle of “good” versus “evil”. By introducing this in oral story form, children can connect with the parts that are important for their individual development at that point in time. When told in a matter-of-fact way, and from an adult who believes in the story’s merit and its place in child development, children will naturally relate to the underlying, archetypal themes of the stories. With this approach, the child’s imagination will not be taken to a place that is too frightening or disturbing, or be forced to focus on elements that are emotionally-charged in the adult perspective.

Fairy tales provide a reference for all the fears conjured up in a child’s world. Facing these fears at a young age can help the child to move through different challenges in later years and stages of life. Fairy tales are a way for the child to imagine—in the safety of the mind’s eye—what it feels like to be scared, honorable, brave, selfless, selfish, frustrated, wicked, embarrassed, silly, giddy, left out, confused, and more. This is one of the ways in which social and emotional intelligence is fortified. Many parents feel the need to sanitize stories to remove all the challenging elements, and yet stories that are grounded in archetypal themes can help children grow into strong adults.

Photo by Brooke Doughty

Parents can often be at odds with the fairy tales because the characters are narrowly defined, known for their beauty, cruelty, foolishness, cleverness, or other singular attribute. Their actions are also, to the adult mind, frustratingly stereotyped: a princess waits for her prince, a simpleton loses his way, a wicked person tricks an innocent. While it’s tempting to attach these characters to their genders, orientations, or race, it is important to remember that archetypes speak to the universal traits that all human beings have within: the valiant solider, the trickster, the loving nurse, the wicked witch, the noble prince, the sweet and caring mother, the beautiful maiden, the knowledgeable father, and the lonely hero. We all are every character inside.

Fairy tales and traditional stories show that good overcomes evil, and provide children with an unconscious sense of empowerment when they face their own personal struggles. It is important for children to have an inner sense that good will prevail. We want young children to believe and embrace that the world is good.

Of course, not every story will resonate with every student or every parent. For this reason, Oak Meadow parents are asked to read the tales before telling them to their child and to modify or substitute when necessary. In addition, you are encouraged to read and choose stories that will meet the needs of your individual child. That’s the challenge of teachers in any educational setting: to meet the children where they are and to encourage them forward from there.

This post was co-written by Leslie Daniels and DeeDee Hughes, Oak Meadow’s Director of Curriculum Development. 

Women's History Month

In the United States, March has been designated as Women’s History Month, and it can be a great time to spend time learning about important women who have made, and are making, contributions to our world.

In celebration of the contributions of women in the United States, our blog post this week is written by Deb Velto, a teacher with Oak Meadow. She shares a special interest in the contributions of a woman named Temple Grandin. Thanks to Deb!

Temple Grandin is an animal scientist who was recently inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame because of her work to improve the welfare of animals in the meat industry. Temple has a special ability to understand the animals she observes. Because of this gift, Temple was able to design a method of holding animals at a slaughterhouse that was more humane and would reduce the stress the animals experienced. She could see the stress the animals were experiencing and understand what would help them. Today, her methods are used by the meat industry throughout the world. Temple Grandin’s mind works differently than most scientists because she has autism. Although she has had to overcome many challenges related to being autistic, she attributes the way her mind works with her ability to understand animals.

Temple Grandin eventually became an important advocate for people with autism because she was one of the first people who was able to explain to others what it was like to be autistic. Her insights have helped parents and teachers learn to improve the way they interact with and teach autistic children. She invented something called a “squeeze box” which is still used today to comfort children and adults who have autism. Because her parents and others took the time to learn the way her mind worked, Temple was able to succeed. Today, Temple works to help people better understand autism through her books and lectures. She also continues her work for animals as a scientist and professor at the University of Colorado. Temple Grandin believes that the world needs all kinds of minds.  Do you agree? Do you know anyone like Temple, who may have a special gift, but also faces challenges because of the way their mind works? How do you think we can help people better understand and appreciate these kinds of differences?

If you would like to learn more about Temple Grandin try:

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals by Temple Grandin

The Temple Grandin website: http://www.templegrandin.com/

http://the-art-of-autism.com/temple-grandin-named-to-the-national-womens-hall-of-fame/

Dr. Seuss Day

The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

Dr. Seuss

Curling up with a good book and reading a story with children is often considered a family’s favorite pastime. Whether it is a picture book for the younger child or a chapter book for a more advanced reader, sharing stories is not only a delightful experience but also aids in the development of independent reading.

For the young child, rhyme and repetition are the precursors for early literacy and reading readiness. In the Oak Meadow kindergarten and first grade coursework, the practice of rhyme and repetition are emphasized as critical skills in the preparation of reading. The student is encouraged to listen to books with repeated phrases, along with listening to and reciting short rhyming poems, verses and tongue twisters. The student is also encouraged to retell stories, as well as act out stories with puppets and other props. Oftentimes a child will even imitate what the parent has read by pretending to read books, which can also aid in the development of memorization. These types of activities provide the child with a sense of mastery and accomplishment, which naturally enhances the joy of literacy and the desire for reading.

A favorite American children’s author, illustrator, and co-founder of Beginner Books is Dr. Seuss. March 2 marks his 113th birthday and is now celebrated as Dr. Seuss Day. Did you know his real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, but he used the pen name Dr. Seuss? Did you know his very first book (published in 1938), And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by the first forty-three publishers he showed it to? Since that time, forty-four of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books filled with zany rhymes and repetition have been published and are now available worldwide.

It’s a good week to visit the library and enjoy perusing the classics of Dr. Seuss. You might also like to visit Seussville or have fun testing your knowledge with the following Dr. Seuss book trivia quizzes:

https://www.familyeducation.com/quizzes/dr-seuss/dr-seusss-books

https://www.familyeducation.com/quizzes/dr-seuss/dr-seuss-book-trivia

My favorite Dr. Seuss book is The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Which one is your favorite?

Snow!

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.” Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley 1925

One of my favorite stories to share with children during the winter is Else Beskow’s book, Ollie’s Ski Trip. Ollie goes on a snowy adventure and discovers King Winter’s palace where he finds him sitting on his icy throne with sheer pride and pleasure. Ollie also meets King Winter’s spritely right hand man, Jack Frost, as well as Mrs. Thaw, who shows up with her broom to sweep away the last of the winter snow in preparation for the entrance of Lady Spring.

The season of winter goes hand in hand with the wonder of snow, which brings to mind a man by the name of Wilson Bentley, better known as the Snowflake Man. Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was a farmer who grew up and lived in Vermont. As a young boy, he was home schooled. He had a natural affinity with nature, and with snowflakes in particular. He received his first microscope on his 15th birthday (in 1881) and began examining snowflakes. He soon discovered that no snowflake is like any other. At the age of 19, Bentley took his first micro-photograph of a snowflake, and this was the beginning of a passionate hobby. He spent his entire adult life photographing snowflakes, and by the time he died in 1931, he had photographed over 5,000 images. Imagine that!

William Bentley’s official home site also provides an assortment of books for all ages on this marvelous “Snowflake Man”. If you are fortunate to live close to or pass by Jericho, Vermont, you can visit the Bentley Museum to view his photographed snowflakes and to learn more about his fascinating life and the captivating beauty of snow!

The Oak Meadow syllabus in kindergarten and in first grade offers the artistic project of making paper snowflake designs. Oak Meadow’s fourth grade coursework offers a block on poetry, which involves creating a portfolio of freestyle, rhyming and acrostic poems. Student Maren Doughty wrote a lovely acrostic poem on “SNOWFLAKES”…

Smelling hot chocolate
Now winter is here
Outside we go!
Wind howling
Freezing fingers and noses
Lots of snow angels shaped in the snow
All the gournd is covered white
Kids building snowman
Everyone is excited
Seeing snowflakes falling