It’s hard to believe that winter is nearly here. The leaves are off the trees and it seems like there is nothing green growing in sight. Yet this time of year is important to the growth process. Something is happening under the soil—something that is necessary for spring blossoms.
It’s the same with our children. Charlotte Mason believed that the goal of true education is growth. Children learn in order to grow, not just to know. And just as a winter woodland scene can appear to be bleak, so we go through some seasons with our children when we don’t see evidence of growth. [Continue reading A Winter Season …]
Reading aloud well is an art form and a skill that we would do well to practice, especially those of us who use the Charlotte Mason approach for homeschooling. Reading aloud holds a prominent place in Charlotte’s methods; it rests with us to make that time a pleasure for our listeners.
That’s why we have been dedicating several posts to tips on reading aloud well. As we wrap up this series, I want to touch on reading poetry aloud. Too many of us have a phobia of poetry in general, and specifically, of reading poetry aloud. We most likely have heard many poor examples of poetry readings and may feel less than confident with this genre of literature.
Charlotte Mason loved poetry, and she encouraged students to have plenty of practice in reading poetry aloud. She wanted her students to realize “that words are beautiful in themselves,” and she counted on the teacher to set the example.
Reading Poetry Aloud
The good news is that the same tips we have already looked at apply to reading poetry also.
Breathe through your nose, not your mouth.
Slow down and look ahead in order to read smoothly.
Put final consonants on words to improve your pronunciation.
Make your reading sympathetic, faithfully expressing the author’s heart in your delivery of his words.
But poetry seems different. Maybe it’s because most poetry has a sense of rhythm, and that’s where we get hung up.
Poetry Reading Tip #1: Be aware of the rhythm, but don’t let it hold you hostage.
Read aloud the two lines below and see if you can find the rhythm they follow: Thank you for the birds that sing;
Thank you, God, for everything
You can probably feel the syllables’ rhythm like this, in a 1-2, 1-2 pattern: THANK you FOR the BIRDS that SING;
THANK you, GOD, for EV-ryTHING
The trick is to be aware of that rhythm and complement it in your phrasing, but don’t read it in a sing-song-y voice that punches each capitalized word. In other words, don’t overdo it. Let the rhythm be a subtle layer of the poem, not the focus of it.
Just for fun, try this one too. Read it aloud and notice how the rhythm is different from the previous lines: Over the river and through the wood,
To grandfather’s house we go
This poem has more of a lilting 1-2-3, 1-2-3 feel to it: O-ver the RI-ver and THROUGH the WOOD,
to GRANDfather’s HOUSE we GO
Now see if you can read the two couplets aloud in a way that demonstrates the difference in their rhythms but doesn’t give their rhythms an undue amount of attention.
Of course, not every poem will have a prevalent rhythm, but many do. And when they do, deliver your phrasing in a manner that complements the rhythm, but don’t let it take over everything.
Poetry Reading Tip #2: Let punctuation guide your pauses, not line breaks.
A great section for practicing this tip is these lines from To a Skylark by William Wordsworth: Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
A privacy of glorious light is thine,
Whence thou doest pour upon the world a flood
Of harmony, with instinct more divine
Notice how the sentence and thought continues beyond the line break at the end of the third line: “a flood of harmony.” If you let the line break dictate a pause when reading this poem aloud, your listener would get a mistaken mental picture of a skylark pouring upon the world a flood! Then starting the next thought with “of harmony” would make no sense and confuse your listener even more.
Just as when you read biographies, stories and fables, and other types of prose, look for punctuation to guide your pauses. Don’t automatically stop at the end of each line.
Poetry Reading Tip #3: Focus on communicating the message of the poem.
The reason we don’t give undue emphasis to the poem’s rhythm or stop at every line break is because we are seeking to convey the author’s meaning. That is the ultimate goal. So encourage your students toward that goal, even as you take steps in that direction too.
Charlotte Mason emphasized that goal for both teacher and student.
“He should have practice, too, in reading aloud, for the most part, in the books he is using for his term’s work. These should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said, with a certain roundness of tone and precision of utterance. Quite young children are open to this sort of teaching, conveyed, not in a lesson, but by a word now and then.
“In this connection the teacher should not trust to setting, as it were, a copy in reading for the children’s imitation. They do imitate readily enough, catching tricks of emphasis and action in an amusing way; but these are mere tricks, an aping of intelligence. The child must express what he feels to be the author’s meaning; and this sort of intelligent reading comes only of the habit of reading with understanding” (Vol. 1, p. 228).
Set a good example when reading aloud, but don’t demand that your students copy your manners and inflection. Poetry reading—or any reading aloud, for that matter—should not be an exercise in mimicry. Encourage each student to read with his mind and heart engaged so as to discern the author’s meaning, then to convey that meaning in his own way as he shares it verbally.
For after all is said and done, that is the ultimate goal of any reading aloud: to faithfully communicate the author’s heart with the words he chose.
Here’s to many happy hours of reading aloud for the pleasure of others!
I once worked with an organist who had been taught the mechanics of playing the instrument. She had also been informed about the idea of “playing with feeling” and was careful to vary the speed and volume of the piece she was performing. The only trouble was that she threw in those variations at random. They did nothing to communicate the song itself or what the composer intended or felt as he created it.
During my high school years, I spent summers working at a camp. One particular week, all the campers had various special needs, and my job was to help serve the meals to their tables. As I was going about my duties, one of the campers motioned me over and tried to tell me something.
Last week we started a series on the art of reading aloud. Those of us who use the Charlotte Mason Method of homeschooling read aloud regularly. And Charlotte gave us some tips to help us read in a way that would bring pleasure to our listeners.
From the time my children were tiny, reading aloud has been a fixed pleasure in our lives. I remember sitting on the couch with a stack of books that my little ones had gleefully selected, hauled over, and handed to me. In my mind’s eye I can still see them climbing up beside me and settling in for a cozy late-morning read-aloud session.
Earlier this week a dear friend showed me her 100-year-old house. We tread on the original wood floors, admired the multiple fireplaces, and talked about the people who had lived there before. The house has a rich history, and my friend has been able to spend some time with one of the women from years gone by who, together with her sister, rented out some of the rooms and ran it as a boarding house for many seasons.
As we stood in the backyard beside the garden, my friend commented, “I feel like we’re just passing through here too. We’re taking care of it for the next people who will live here.” In the meantime, she has made that house a comfortable and welcoming place for her family, and indeed, for everyone who spends time there. [Continue reading A Lesson from an Old House …]
As I sit at my desk, I can see so many pieces of furniture that my father has crafted from wood for our family: four beautiful bookcases that stretch to the ceiling and hold much of my precious library; a shelving unit with adjustable shelves, originally created for one daughter’s special toys and now holding another daughter’s heirloom stamp collection; two tabletop book racks to keep certain beloved books close at hand. In the other room is a custom easel that he designed and built for displaying artwork in my oversized art books. And many of you have oohed and aahed over of his woodworking craftsmanship when you see our distinctive booth at convention exhibit halls. [Continue reading New Woodworking Handicrafts DVD …]
A couple of weeks ago, for no compelling reason, I pulled off the shelf a historical fiction book that I first enjoyed about 25 years ago. I figured its 1400 pages would again give me many happy moments over the coming weeks and months. (There’s nothing quite like the feeling of looking forward to spending time with old friends in the characters of a familiar book!)
The art of narrating—telling back what you know in your own words—can be a challenge for most every student. But for those who struggle with auditory processing or speech issues, narration can be even more challenging—for both student and parent.
As the mother of a special needs child, I appreciate those who are able to look past the differences and see the similarities. Yes, some children have special needs, but all children have many needs that are the same no matter their skill levels.
Though a child may seem to withdraw into her own little world, not looking at you or talking, or may pace back and forth over the same ten feet of carpet for 15 minutes, deep down inside she still has the universal need to feel loved and accepted. So when a friend makes it a point every Sunday at church to come over, greet my daughter by name, and even tickle the back of her shoulders to get a smile, my heart soars. [Continue reading The Heart of Education …]
Sometimes we make things harder than they need to be.
Take writing this blog, for instance. I started the process several times this morning, deliberating, pondering, debating over how best to communicate what I’ve been thinking and feeling. I must have written and rewritten five different introductions before I decided to simply state it outright.
Sometimes we make things harder than they need to be.
Last weekend the neighbor’s daughter came over to our house to deliver a message. We could tell she was a bit uneasy at our front door. She kept glancing over to the large spider web featured between two pillars of the porch, on which was sitting a beautiful striped garden spider.
“I don’t like spiders,” she told us.
“But this one is a garden spider,” I explained. “It eats the mosquitoes for us.”
For years we have tried to find a foreign language resource that we could recommend without hesitation. One that was truly Charlotte Mason in style. One that used the same methods Charlotte did. One that worked well in a family setting. One that didn’t require the parent to know the language already. One that could also be a great help to a parent who did already know the language. One that was interesting, not childish or twaddly. One that would work with all ages of students or adults. One that allowed you to linger and ponder and absorb rather than hurry you through the process. [Continue reading Exciting New Foreign Language Resource! …]
Maybe it’s never happened to you, but it has to me. I’ve cooked a particular dish for years and think I know the recipe inside and out. But then one day I come across the original recipe, and lo and behold, I’ve been leaving out an ingredient! Or I’ve been cooking at the wrong temperature. Or something else in that little reminder taps me on the shoulder and points out what I’ve forgotten (or at least, remembered incorrectly).
I just finished reading an excellent book on Contentment: The Secret to a Lasting Calm, by one of my favorite modern-day authors, Richard Swenson. Contentment is a quiet confidence that what I have is enough; an inner satisfaction that this is all that is needed.
Discontent, on the other hand, is an anxious desire for more and more, faster and faster.
As often happens when you are fed ideas, my mind started looking through its files for other ideas related to being content. Up popped a quote from Charlotte Mason in which she encouraged the teacher to “be content to proceed very slowly, securing the ground under her feet,” and I wondered if she used that word anywhere else. [Continue reading Learning to Be Content …]
A big part of homeschooling—and especially Charlotte Mason homeschooling—is cultivating our children’s characters through good habits.
“The habits of the child produce the character of the man.”
As you make plans for the upcoming school year, along with the academics, be sure to consider which habits you want to work on. We may feel like time spent on habit-training is not as important as time spent on academics. But really, cultivating good habits is the more valuable time investment. [Continue reading From Habits to Character …]
I hope the two tips we’ve covered so far have encouraged you to prepare for a successful homeschool year: plan for variety and shop with purpose. Today I want to remind you of one more quick tip: flex with life.
Just as it is difficult to create a building project without the proper tools, it is well nigh impossible to have a successful homeschool year without the right resources. Make sure you end up with a stack of useful resource tools when you finish your school shopping. Shop with purpose. [Continue reading 3 Tips for a Successful Homeschool Year: Tip #2 …]