Sunday, March 1, 2009

Recipe for Literature Love



Hello and how has your weekend been? We've had a longer weekend of sorts. One Thursday a month we have an all-day science co-op with two other families. Due to illness with both other families, the co-op was postponed two weeks ago and then finally cancelled for this month altogether last Thursday. The girls were pretty disappointed; not only do they have a great time with their friends, but they also get out of all their other subjects.

After two disappointments (as well as a lack of lesson planning for that day, since we'd planned to be at the co-op), I decided we should have a reading day. This is something we do a few times a year - more often when someone is not feeling well, but in this case as a kind of treat. The girls had a few little things they had to get out of the way - Eve, studying her spelling words and a bit of language arts, and Maia had to spend a bit of time typing and editing her story - but Spanish and math and science were out the window... and we were out of doors!


I really couldn't have picked a better day. Not only was the weather a breezy, upper 70's day, but just as Eve was finishing up her language arts, I got the all too familiar aura that precedes my migranes. :( Thankfully, they don't scare me anymore. I only started getting them after the birth of my second child when I was in my early 30's and they aren't severe. I can take 4 ibuprofen and keep them at bay. I'll have a headache for the rest of the day, yes, and kind of a woozy, muddled feeling, but it's not something that I need prescription medication for, as I know many people have.
So, I was happy to have decided on reading. I picked up my latest library read, Debbie Macomber's The Shop on Blossom Street and settled into my seat in the sunshine while the girls read their books. Macomber's book is not my usual fare, but it is light and fun and about a knitting shop (of course!) and so it was a perfect fit for that day.

We alternated with our own silent reading and my reading aloud to the girls. In the morning (photo above) I read a long chapter from Dickens' Great Expectations and later that afternoon I read a couple of chapters from Jane Birdsall's latest Penderwick book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. Have you read the Penderwick books? We really love them. There are only two so far in what I hope will turn out to be a few more in this charming family series. They are definitely ones the girls could read to themselves, but we really all enjoy them as read-alouds.

I have to say that I think my girls are enjoying Great Expectations so much more than I did as a girl in 8th grade. My own educational philosophy includes more lying-on-your-back-in-the-sun and discussing the work, marveling at Dickens' vocabulary and sentence construction and re-reading favorite sentences or passages over again just to savor them, rather than a long list of vocabulary words and multiple choice questions at the end of each chapter.
I confess that I really do not remember much from so many of the classics I read for my literature classes in middle and high school. What I remember more is feeling nervous about tests, scrambling to get questions answered, and feeling grateful when I could find Cliff Notes. I even came to believe that I really could not understand much classic literature or read it for pleasure. It became something that I believed was good for me, but not something I would truly enjoy.
I was surprised, then, shortly after Eve was born, that after I picked up the copy of Wuthering Heights that I had on my shelf and read it just to read it that I really, really enjoyed it. I'd remembered liking it in high school, but beyond the ghost of Catherine coming to haunt Heathcliff, I couldn't remember much. What I found instead of it just being good for me, was that not only did I enjoy the language itself, but the story was a real page-turner.
I have been just as rewarded in my homeschooling journey. For yes, although it is my children I am teaching and their journey through their schooling years, it is my own journey as well. For the sake of my children I have filled their ears and minds with books I never glanced at in my elementary years, but that I'd heard were foundational stories in so many others' childhoods. I thrill that the characters in The Chronicles of Narnia series are as familiar to my children as old friends. I love when my children will point to a modern day movie character or even person they know and say something like, "She is so much like Anne!" (from Anne of Green Gables).
So now we just dive right in. There have been very few books over the years that we have decided we really don't enjoy. For example, I tried reading and then we tried audio books to get us through Hans Brinker and it just didn't hold our interest. There is too much good literature out there to get hung up on one we don't like, so I am okay if we drop those and then forge ahead and find so many others that we do.
Dickens, I find, requires some explanation with some of his language, but because he was a serial writer, his chapters are more often than not, cliff-hangers at the end of each one and the girls just love his writing. His characters are so real and funny and interesting (I'm discovering along with them) that although he wrote for an adult audience, even my fourth grader is following along, with great interest, Pip's adventures and wondering what the odd Miss Havisham will do next. I just remember kind of groaning my way through Great Expectations. I felt a bit lost with the story and dreaded the nightly assignments. It thrills me to no end that I hear and eager, "Okay!" when I suggest reading another chapter from it.
When accompanied with a lie out in the sun, a cuddle on the couch, on Mom and Dad's bed, or alongside our weekly art assignment (as the girls draw and I read), I find it creates the perfect recipe for a life-long love of great literature.


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