Thursday, October 28, 2010

Teaching Shakespeare

We have tackled a bit of Shakespeare in the last couple weeks. I admit, I was fearful of whether or not my 9 and 7-year-old girls would comprehend the story line, but alas, Shakespeare reached them too! (Yes, I just said "alas").

Here's how it worked for me; maybe it will help someone else out there too. I am not saying this is the only way to teach Shakespeare; I am just sharing what has been successful for my kids. Even if these ideas don't work for you, I think any effort in exposing your children to one of the most famous writers of all time can't be wasted!

1. YouTube Video

We started by watching 3 short BBC animated videos on YouTube of A Midsummer Night's Dream ( Shakespeare's plays were meant to be seen and heard, after all! I thought this would be the best way to introduce Shakespeare and pique their interest. Thankfully, it worked! The videos were very entertaining and narrated the story in modern English, interspersed with a few original Shakespearean lines.

2. Story Version

A few days later, we read the story version of A Midsummer Night's Dream from Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, which is meant to be read by young children. This filled in more of the plot, characters, and motives, helping to clarify the story. I made sure to ask them to retell what was happening after every page so I could check for comprehension.

3. Notebooking Pages

I found some great materials online at for a notebook study on Shakespeare. The notebook pages ask the students to identify the following:

- Type of play: romance, comedy, tragedy, and history
- Setting
- Characters and traits
- Brief summary
- Conflict and resolution: man vs. man, man vs. society, man. vs. himself, man vs. nature, or man vs. fate (God).
- Answer the question: What is Shakespeare saying about human nature in this work?
- Copy a famous quote from the play
- Vocab words
- Personal review

We have worked on half of it so far, and it is so much fun discussing the questions with them!

4. Library Books

Bruce Coville's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," illustrated by Dennis Nolan, has incredibly beautiful, imaginative pictures of the play for them to look at, and the Eyewitness Book Series has a Shakespeare book with pictures of the Globe Theatre, costumes of the time, Shakespeare's home, etc. These are great ways for the kids to visualize the time period.

5. Telling Back (Narration)

The girls re-enacted the story by using their Polly Pockets. (Here's the link for Part 1 on YouTube:

Because of Shakespeare's universal themes and lively characters, Ellie was able to share the whole story by memory, and Chloe helped with the Polly Pockets. This is their form of telling back, but there are many other forms of narration that can work, such as poetry, a letter to a character, a puppet show, or even drawing pictures of scenes.

The best part? Ellie loved the story so much that she is now inspired to write her own script for A Midsummer Night's Dream, cast her friends in the roles (Chloe will be Puck), and perform it in the spring for the parents- Shakespeare in the Park for Kids! She said she wants no help from me, so I am just going to be there to watch. I hope she follows through!

Up next? Shakespeare's Twelfth Night!

Monday, October 18, 2010

No More Ho-Hum History!

I couldn't stand history class growing up. It seemed so meaningless to me. I had no interest in learning about the Battle of Waterloo or Eli Whitney or the Archduke of Ferdinand. I took copious notes in class and inhaled the information only to regurgitate it on a test or essay a few weeks later.

My experience leads me to ask, "Why do we teach history? Is it merely because it is a mandatory subject in primary and secondary education? How do we choose which parts of history we teach? Is mastery of history the ability to simply memorize and rattle off names of people, places, and dates?"

Charlotte Mason, from A Philosophy of Education, writes, "It is a great thing to possess a pageant of history in the background of one's thoughts. We may not be able to recall this or that circumstance, but the imagination is warmed" (p.178).

One reason we teach history is to warm the imagination, igniting an interest through a person in history or an event. That means there is great importance to learning the pageantry of the past. As we build a framework of history in our minds, we can shape who we are in the present as well as the future. Isn't that truly the purpose of learning history? To become better informed? To learn how to accept and reject ideas based on what someone did well or not well? Doesn't that lead to learning how to become more responsible citizens, which ultimately shapes character? One could argue that the study and understanding of history is critical to the knowledge of one's will and the power to influence others.

I have discovered this year that one of the most effective ways to learn character development through the study of history is to see "His Story" in history and the events in the Bible. Take for example the story of Joseph. He was a man who despite terrible circumstances, forgave those who hurt him the most. You can read about him in chapter 9 of Hillyer's book "A Child's History of the World" or in Genesis 37-50, or you can even watch the musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat for a modern take on the story.

After reading Hillyer's account of the time period surrounding Joseph and then the story of his life, we had an important discussion about forgiveness versus holding grudges. It was a tough conversation, because I have a hard time with that myself! Would I have forgiven my brothers if they had thrown me down a well and sold me to slavery with the original intention to kill me? Would I have shown them kindness years later when they begged in my presence for food? Would I have had the faith to say of all the negative circumstances in my life, "What you meant for evil, God meant for good?" We talked at length about the difficulties in Joseph's life and how his faith helped him to overcome bitterness.

But here was the icing on the cake: the movie "Joseph" came on TV late that very night as I was flipping through channels! I recorded it and then the next day we watched certain segments of Joseph as a young boy, the dynamics of his family (being a favorite of many brothers), the common dress and living quarters of that time, the Egyptian's extravagance and treatment of Pharoah, Joseph's dreams, his life of slavery, his rise to 2nd in command of all Egypt, and the final reconciliation with his family. It not only made the story come alive, but it also created a visual picture for the girls to view life circa 1850 BC. Perfect timing! So whether Ellie and Chloe will remember exactly what century these stories took place or what countries were involved, I know they will have an indelible memory of Joseph, his life, and the character he possessed.

Going one step further, however, we see that history also lends accuracy to the Bible as well. In my previous post I mentioned that we are studying the book of Daniel in CBS. Last week we read in Daniel chapter 5 about the Babylonian king Belshazzar who was entertaining 1000 guests with a big feast and much wine. The party was interrupted by a miraculous hand writing on the wall telling of his kingdom's demise, as interpreted by Daniel. That very night, his kingdom is handed over to Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:30-31). (Incidentally, we also viewed Rembrandt's rendition of the hand writing on the wall as a visual to the story.)

In class we learned that the secular ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote in the 5th century B.C., records that the Persians captured the city while during a festival, with revelry and dancing; the Babylonians were completely unprepared for what happened. In addition to Herodotus, an ancient archeological inscription states that the city of Babylon fell to the Persians quickly and without a battle. Both of these sources agree with the Biblical account of Daniel 5, and the girls are starting to see that the Bible stories we read are not just stories but are grounded in history.

Am I saying that every history lesson should center around the Bible if it is of value? Of course not. However, when history overlaps with literature, the Bible, poetry, and art, it truly "warms the imagination" and I can see their faces light up with excitement to see the connections. And when the history lesson centers around a desirable or undesirable character trait based on the people we have read about, history becomes more than just a list of names and places. It becomes a part of their intellectual, spiritual, and social development. It is a huge privilege for me to be involved in that process with my kids this year, and to change my own view of what studying history entails. I no longer dread history class!

Friday, October 8, 2010

What's New?

It's been a while since I've written, but a lot has happened in the last few weeks. I feel like I had to go into survival mode to continue doing what I'm doing while I was physically sick and emotionally spent from grief (see last post). I even completely lost my voice and it took so much energy to try to speak! However, this week I have felt better and thought I'd give a quick update on the homeschooling front.


We have begun reading "A Child's History of the World" by Hillyer. It tells the "story" of history, why we call time "B.C." and "A.D.", and the germination of human communication and belief in a very fascinating and child-friendly way. I couldn't stand history and social studies growing up because it was so boring, but Hillyer makes it come alive with the way he writes.

We also began collecting dates in a Book of Centuries. At the top of each page is the year, whether it is 3400 B.C. or 134 A.D., and we put them in order. We only have a few pages right now such as Menes, the 1st Egyptian King (3400 B.C.), Hammurabi, the 1st king of Babylon (1300 B.C.), the Rosetta Stone created (196 B.C.), and a few A.D. dates including their own birthdays. What I really like about the Book of Centuries is that it causes the kids to begin to see history as a continuum rather than in choppy units of time, which is how I was taught. I could never place what century important events were in, but here, they get a sense of it falling into a certain time period, before or after X, Y, or Z. It also excites them to add more to their book of centuries any time a date is given, even if it's not in the history reading. For instance, they wanted to write the date of when C.S. Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, as well as when we had a full moon for the fall equinox a few weeks ago, which hasn't happened in 20 years. It encourages them to view history as a living text and an important part of understanding life.

One side note: In CBS (Community Bible Study), the kids are I are studying the book of Daniel. Daniel was taken captive by the Babylonians in 605 B.C. to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. Well, where have we landed in our history readings the last few weeks? Ancient Babylonia! I couldn't have planned it, but God knew.


We finished Alpha and Beta of Math-U-See as of today. Although this is really easy stuff for them (mostly addition/subtraction), we needed to go over it completely to make sure we had a solid understanding, especially of multiple digit addition/subtraction. As we went through the DVD's, Ellie said that she never really understood the concept of regrouping (or what we used to call "borrowing" or "carrying" numbers), and I am so glad she really gets it now. If she had trouble with just that, no wonder she had trouble with other mathematical concepts! I am so thankful that we are catching some of the holes and filling them in for her. She loves "Mr. Steve-a-rino" as he calls himself on the videos. I wish I could meet him in person and thank him!


A great way to remember God's Word, practice reading, and grasp basic theology is to sing hymns. One of the ladies at our monthly book club for Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education said, "Your kids may not remember all the Bible verses they memorized as a child, but they will remember hymns." So we began singing a hymn together once a week. We started with "Breathe on me, Breath of God," and I am surprised at how much they love that hymn. They sing it on their own and Chloe tries to pick out the melody on the piano at 7:30am. Not that I mind, of course! But it's true; somehow the music really stays with you. I love hearing their little voices sing, "Breathe on me, breath of God. . . that I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do." Amen to that!


Not pleased with the progress on this. The library resources haven't really worked well for us, nor have the free ones online. I think it's also because I am not as familiar with the language. I really would love for them to learn it, but I just don't think I am equipped! I may have to start Spanish instead, but I was hoping to try something different. It may be Korean, which for those of you who know me well, is a shock!!


After doing a few weeks in Chemistry, we hit a wall. Why? It was my mistake for using a textbook over a living book (a book written by a single author invested in the topic). I should have known better! So now we are studying anatomy through reading the book "I am Joe's Body," a Reader's Digest series that was turned into a book. I'm sure you can imagine that the result has been much more successful- Ellie and Chloe have really latched on to it! Every organ is written in 1st person, so you really get a sense of what they do for Joe and also Joe's misconceptions of each organ; the stomach, for instance, really resents the fact that Joe blames him for the noises when he's hungry! The scientific detail is balanced with humor, so the kids love it. I highly recommend it, even for adults!

We also visited a new science museum in our town which was great fun for the kids. They got to work with simple machines, ride on a square-wheeled tricycle, work with mathematical formulas in inventive ways, and observe physics tricks. We went at 1pm on a school day and had the entire place to ourselves. I am planning to sign them up for the homeschool science classes there.


We are enjoying beautiful, breezy, 85-degree days out in TX right now, so we have spent a lot of time outdoors, whether for reading, picnic lunch or an extended play time at a park after we finish our work. I hope the weather stays like this for a while!

As for my own recess, I haven't been working out for the last 3 weeks! That's totally unacceptable to me, but I just couldn't get the energy going. I am hoping to get back into it starting Monday. If not, the next blog will be about the woes of gaining weight!