Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Summer with Shakespeare

I am getting a little ahead of myself, but I have to say I was inspired today after reading chapter 30 in Karen Andreola's book, The Charlotte Mason Companion. It basically encouraged reading/listening to Shakespeare even in the elementary ages because of its universal themes.

I love Shakespeare. My college essay was about Shakespeare, the fact that I felt part of something greater than myself when I read it. As a 7/8 Literature teacher, I suggested to our team that we teach Taming of the Shrew to our 7th graders, and many of the teachers and parents balked. "It's too hard!" "They'll never understand iambic pentameter!" "The subjects are above their life experiences!"

But the kids loved it. We acted it out in class (it is a play, after all), we studied about the Elizabethan theater and Shakespeare's life, we memorized monologues, we did group activities of modernizing scenes for today's culture, and we watched the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, which is essentially the story set in present day. At the end of the year, my 7th graders said it was their favorite unit.

Introducing Shakespeare to 7th graders was a stretch, so I never even considered reading it with a 1st or 3rd grader! But "if a child is brought up with an early appreciation of Shakespeare, if Shakespeare becomes a natural part of his educational life, he will not be apprehensive about Shakespeare in his high school years. He will not feel that he is studying, but rather that he is delving into the plays." (p.127) Younger students can read Shakespeare's dramas in E. Nesbit's book "Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children", which is intended for children as young as 6! I plan to get that book for Chloe and start this summer. For Ellie, Andreola recommends "Tales from Shakespeare" by Charles and Mary Lamb, one of the first retellings of his plays written for children about age 10.

So why Shakespeare? His plays are universal. He overflows with ideas of "goodness, pity, generosity, courage, and love," and "in the lines of his plays, he metes out morsels of proverbs spoken by his characters, who entertain us thoroughly. . . His characters, as in real life, are often a mix of virtue and sinfulness . . . Shakespeare was not of an age but for all time" (p. 230). "As the Bible tells us all we need to know about God, Shakespeare tells us some things we ought to know about man. Shakespeare's plays are performed everywhere in the English-speaking world. Can a person who has no knowledge of Shakespeare be considered well-educated?" (p. 232) Well, that's a discussion for another day, but I am certainly on board!

How to start? Andreola suggests 4 things. First, read aloud the story of one of the comedies, maybe during one or 2 morning or bedtime readings. Second, borrow or purchase a Shakespare play on video and discuss it. Third, for grades 1-8, experience one play a year without notes or academic comments. Start with one of the lighter plays, like the comedies. Fourth, listen to professional actors read the text of a play on CD in the original language. The variety of voices and musical interludes stimulate their imaginations.

I don't expect my kids to "get" every nuance of every line, but I know that letting them hear, read, and become familiar with Shakespeare will give them a taste of one of the finer things in life. Homeschool or not, I want to do a summer with Shakespeare with the kids. Perhaps "A Midsummer Night's Dream?"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fear #2- Loss of Connection

Today I attended a Moms-in-Touch meeting at a friend's house to pray for our school, the teachers, and our kids. It's a wonderful national movement for mothers who want to cover their kids in prayer while they are away from home. The women who attend this meeting are very involved in the school and this morning, we talked a lot about the fun school field day coming up. It really made me think about the fact that if I homeschool, my kids will miss out on certain events that have made them feel connected to their friends, to their school, and to their neighborhood, such as the Sock Hop, Multicultural night, Spring Fling, just to name a few. They so enjoy these activities, and as a parent, it's fun to meet new parents and hang out with friends at the events. Perhaps this seems trivial to those who will say that I can join a co-op of homeschooling moms who also host dozens of wonderful field trips and events, but right now, I am feeling a bit hesitant because I don't want to lose the connections that I have right now.

It's the whole "social" dilemma. Does pulling a child out of school create an antisocial person? Who said that school is the best place to learn social skills? I know there are arguments for both sides, but I foresee that I will feel a loss of connection if we are not at the school. Can I live with that? Will I have enough of a resolve and conviction about what I am doing that it will be worth that loss? I'm sure we will meet new people and forge relationships with new friends, but it still won't make the change easy for me. I am a creature of habit, and I like my friends. I fear losing them for the sake of homeschooling.

Right now, the kids still want to do it. Homeschooling was Ellie's suggestion (age 9), and for her sake, I am really trying to consider it fairly. At this point, I am leaning more towards a "pilot" year of homeschooling for the older 2 kids (9 and 6) and sending Sophie (3) to preschool; we can try it out for a year and evaluate whether or not we want to continue next year. I am still reading in my Charlotte Mason's companion book to get a better sense of philosophy so as to root all my fears. I will share those findings in another blog coming soon. . .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fear #1- My Alone time

Today after the 2 big girls went to school, I dropped Sophie off at preschool and went grocery shopping, came home, put everything away, practiced a little bit for my recital, drove to meet Todd for lunch, ran another errand, and then started to panic. "How will I ever get anything done if I am homeschooling?" "Will I ever get to have lunch dates with Todd?" "Am I shackling myself to a life of being home all day long with no breaks?" Those were my thoughts as I drove to pick up Sophie after a productive and peaceful day by myself.

Here's the truth- I really enjoy my alone time. I mean, REALLY enjoy it. I like having time when there are no kids talking to me and I can listen to whatever music I want. I like having lunch with girlfriends and going window shopping with no one to watch after. I like having MY time. (Yes, I know that God owns everything and I am just a steward of His time, but sometimes I get caught up in owning what's not mine!)

I am scared that homeschooling will mean that I am never alone. Will I go insane? Will I become a worse mother with less patience? And is time alone a luxury or a right? Perhaps even a necessity?

I don't know, but I think I'm going to savor the last few days of preschool more than ever before!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where to begin?

If you are reading my blog, I'm guessing it's probably because you are curious to see what has prompted me to be suddenly interested in Charlotte Mason and the philosophy of education. I have to say, I am just as surprised as you are about this! But that's why I am glad I have this safe place to write my thoughts; it will help me process all of the new information and hopefully bring our family to a decision.

Those of you who know me are aware that when I plunge into something, I go deep. I leave no stone unturned and want to get as much information as possible on the topic before proceeding. It's just in my DNA! If I am in, I'm in 100%, and I don't look back. That's how I came to the decision of having home births for all 3 of my kids, and wow, did that generate a lot of discussion! My family thought I was crazy, some friends thought I'd gone all "granola", and a few people supported me. (But I studied that topic thoroughly and even convinced my HMO to pay for it!)

I have to say, I never expected that I'd be one of "those" people- having babies at home and considering home schooling. I'm not a tree-hugger, and I don't hate the government. I am not trying to isolate my family for protection against immorality, and I have met asocial home schoolers who are incapable of holding a conversation with another 8-year-old. So I don't tread lightly on this decision; I want to look at it from all angles and find out as much as I can about it.

The big question is, why now? Why do I think I even need to consider home schooling or doing something different with my children's education? Good question! I am still trying to answer it myself. I currently have a 3rd grader and a 1st grader at a wonderful school walking distance away. We love all the teachers and the activities, and we couldn't be more thankful for our home and our friends here in the neighborhood. It really doesn't make any sense that I would pay taxes and not get to reap the benefits of public school, especially right in my own backyard. And what about their friends? Won't they miss seeing them every day in class and recess?

I agree, right now, it really doesn't make sense. But here's something Ellie said to me when she turned 9 this year that I can't get out of my head: "Mom, I'm half-way done living here!" She said it with a smile, but it knocked the wind out of me. It's as if I blinked, and suddenly she was 9, and I know that in another 2 blinks, she'll be 18 and ready to go to college. It has really made me evaluate the time I spend with her. How much time, how many hours do I really have before she leaves? How much of myself will I have invested in her? How much do I really know about what she is learning and what is shaping her character? I am always amazed to see her papers come home and listen to the teachers tell me how well she is doing. But I have to admit, part of it makes me sad. I want to know her and engage in ideas with her, not just for homework, but for the bulk of her learning. Is that selfish? Am I being idealistic? I don't know, but it's just how I feel.

And then there's the tyrant of the almighty Schedule. If you read my previous blog, you'll see that I lived under an extremely tight schedule for all of my years at home. I never thought I would repeat the cycle, but I have. Every morning starts with a list, like get dressed, brush your teeth and hair, get your socks and shoes, eat your breakfast, sign this paper, make sure you have your assignment and your library book, don't forget your lunch, quick kiss and hug, and then I watch 2 backpacks bob away off to school. As soon as they get home, it's time to have a snack, talk about the day, practice their instrument, go to tennis or gymnastics, get homework done, maybe play a little bit outside, and then dinner, showers, and bedtime. And then add to that the different activities we have on the weekends- serving in the worship team, going to Awana's, birthday parties, and possibly some free time squeezed in there somewhere? It's insanity! The Meinershagens are hamsters: we are on a wheel running and running, doing the same things over and over again, not getting anywhere. My heart questions, "Is this the only way? Is this what I want my kids to remember about living at home?"

I'm sure we could change the situation by taking a few activities away, or trying to serve less at the church, or lowering my expectations of what can be accomplished in a day. Those are definitely options. But for the first time, I've actually considered the fact that they spend 7 hours of their day at school, and if I got to choose how they spent those 7 hours, we might actually be able to breathe a little more even while we manage all our activities. It's an option, and I want to see if it will be the right one for our family. Am I scared? Yes. Will I still have a social life if I homeschool? I hope so! Do I know for sure this is what we are supposed to do? No- still praying. But what I do know is, something's gotta change. What will that be? I guess we will all find out!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who is "Tammisuh?"

Yes, my blog is titled, "Tammisuh Talks." Most of you may know me as Tammy Meinershagen, but in my heart of hearts, I’m still Tammy Suh, the carefree girl I always will be inside. When I was 12, I signed my homework "Tammisuh" for fun, and that silly name has now returned to life on the web-isphere!

This post will give you some fun facts that let you inside my world as "Tammisuh."

1. I grew up in a 90% white town in the early 80's: Rockford, Illinois. People literally would ask me if I was Kristi Yamaguchi.

2. I have 2 younger brothers, Ken and Peter. Ken now lives in New York with his wife Angie; they are about to have their first baby boy in July. Peter is graduating from college this year!

3. We all attended Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Go Cats!!

4. My parents used to run a restaurant chain with my uncles called Aunt Mary’s (American diner), which still exists today. It now also has a bistro called Mary's Market that is very successful under my cousin Bryan's management. The best part about Aunt Mary's back then was the food my dad used to bring home for dinner, especially those shish kabobs!

5. My mom almost became a nurse, but did not finish because she got pregnant with me. This explains the desperation my parents felt in trying to convince me that I was too young to get married at 21 and not completely finished with my 5-year double degree program. Fortunately, I did finish and worked for 2 years as a 7/8 Language Arts teacher in Glencoe, IL before I had Ellie.

6. Some of my fondest childhood memories are at my home in 3256 Montlake Drive. The best times were after the Mendelssohn Club Music Competitions in February; after we had both practiced for months and months under the strict iron fist of my mother (who really only meant well, I know), we were allowed the entire afternoon for fun. This meant that we got dressed in our snowsuits, got our sleds out and built our racetracks out of snow in our sloping front yard. My brother Ken(ny) and I would be lost in trying to create the biggest obstacles for our courses, and just as we were crashing into a ginormous mound of snow laughing hysterically, my mom would come out screaming, “Tammy, you won!!”, and in that moment, I experienced true bliss. It was the greatest feeling ever. I’ll never forget those days. (I hope you realize that I’m not trying to be conceited. The relief of the competition coming to a close and knowing that all those hours were worth it, combined with the exhilaration of actually having fun for a change was an intoxicating combination for me.)

7. I would have to say that back then, Kenny and I were best friends. We played a lot together and people always used to marvel at how well we got along. Here’s the secret: we both felt like prisoners, so we bonded! I hate to admit that, but it’s the truth. My mom ran our house so tightly that there was no room to breathe. Every minute had to be accounted for and Ken and I would try to figure out how to get around it. If she ever went out, we would look at each other and read each other’s minds: we had a singular thought-FREEDOM! We’d sometimes actually run up and down the stairs screaming and then furtively look around the windows to see if she was watching. Then we’d both race to the TV and turn it on, but with the volume so low that we could barely hear it. We had to be ready for the sudden rumbling of the garage door opening. We were experts at covering up our tracks as soon as we heard the first sound; one of us would turn off the TV and then the other one would run to the piano to start playing while the other ran to do homework or practice violin/cello. My mom would walk in calmly and then come right up to each of us and say, “So how long have you been practicing?” And we’d try to keep ourselves from huffing and puffing while we said, “An hour.” Then without hesitation, she’d put us to the ultimate test; she took our pulse to see if it was racing. And of course, it was, not only from the running but the lying! She was always too smart for us.

So there's a little taste of life as Tammisuh. Thanks for reading my memories!

A Philosophy of Education

I just came back from my first meeting with some of the smartest ladies I have ever met. How refreshing to be in an environment of learners! It felt like I was back in college.

It was a book club discussion on Chapter 6, Volume 1, of Charlotte Mason's book, Philosophy of Education. The book was written in 1923, and yet it applies to us today. Mason essentially asks, "What is education?" My mind is blown away by the ideas expressed in the pages as well as by the women there tonight. My heart resonates so much with the premise that true education is about the love of learning, not about grades, projects, tests, and homework. The goal of education is not to "finish" something, but to learn it, to master it, and to be able to teach it back to someone else.

The measure of mastery is simple: Do you know it? Can you explain it and teach it? Then we move on. Did you have an issue with it? Are you confused? Then let's spend time working on it until you master it. It's not about whether you get an A, B, or C; if the focus is the grade, we have already lost the goal of education.

One thing that really struck me in the conversation was how little we remember of all our years of schooling. Why? What was the focus? Grades. Answering the questions. When I was a 7/8 Language Arts teacher, I remember telling my students that I wanted a classroom of thinkers. "Thinking is the hardest work there is," said Henry Ford. I wanted them to work hard and give their brains a sweat by creating new thoughts from their reading, not just regurgitate answers back and call it a day.

Mason agrees that watering down teaching if the children push back just results in a "condition of intellectual feebleness and moral softness which is not easy for a child to overcome." (p.97 Vol. 1). We talked about the comforts of life, and how when we coddle the children through adversity, they actually wither and stunt their growth. "A plant carefully protected under glass from outside shocks looks sleek and flourishing, but its higher nervous function is then found to be atrophied. Is it not the shocks of adversity and not cotton wool protection that evolve true manhood?" (p. 96 Vol 1.)

Children need challenge; they need to try the hard things in life. One lady suggested that since we don't experience a lot of difficulties in our culture, the best way for her kids to experience others' adversity is to read biographies. "The importance of biography is to keep us from arrogance," she said. They can't complain about how tough it is not to have a slushie after school when they read about the childhood of George Washington.

There is so much more we talked about, but I conclude tonight with the first part of chapter 6: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. It is the atmosphere of the environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas." (p. 94) The desire to know is natural; it is God-given, innate, instinctive. Why does the rain fall? How does a bird fly? What makes the world go round? We are born with it, and as parents, we need to cultivate this in our kids for as long as we have them. How, you ask? I'm sure it's different for each individual, but for me, I have a feeling that the journey toward instilling in my kids a love of learning vs. acquisition of knowledge is going to take me in a very new direction, and I am excited to see what's in store.