I’ve changed my approach to scheduling our week: instead of doing a little bit of everything each day, I’m doing lessons in large blocks of time. Today’s major block was literature and language arts. Our start was delayed by Mr. December’s very drawn-out physics lesson (but really, how can I complain about that?) so we didn’t really get started until after lunch.
Instead of K going off on her own to do her work on a computer, I kept her in the living room with the rest of us and insisted that she handwrite her work today. She did a pretty good job, and I heard not a single complaint about people talking (one of her pet peeves, and often a precursor to a meltdown.) While R and N worked on their passage I invited E to fill in the blanks in the first sentence; after some mild resistance she checked the spelling on the page and then gave me the appropriate movable alphabet letters to add the missing words. In the end it looked like this:
We all reconvened to discuss the linguistic and literary element of the book’s introduction. The kids found the non-English words in the first paragraph and were highly amused to hear James D. Nicoll’s assertion that “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose vocabulary.” They pulled out all the adjectives, and then had to brainstorm adjectives for each letter of the alphabet (I gave them “xenophobic” for X and they came up with the rest.)
Through all of this, E played with her Lego and listened with one ear; K alternately participated in N and R’s lesson and worked on her own literature passage. Nobody screamed. Everyone was fine. It was so refreshing.
After a short break, I brought out our
Hannuka Chanukah חנוכה box and asked them to tell me what they know about the story of the holiday. K volunteered a fairly complete, if simplified, version. I asked them what they knew about what was happening in the world at the time: they responded with blank stares. So I read them a chapter about the historical context of Chanukah, pausing to reword or explain as needed. By the end they were, as Jane Austen might have said, all astonishment.
“How come they never taught us that stuff in school?” K demanded indignantly. “That’s way more interesting than the usual story!”
Wide eyed, R asked, “You mean there were Jews who wanted the Jewish laws abolished too? That’s crazy! I thought the Maccabees were only fighting the Syrian Greeks!”
N had many things to say on the subject, but (as so often happens) he rambled so much that I lost his point.
To end the lesson I asked the kids to help me put Chanuka on our history timeline. E decorated it with a shiny Menorah sticker and I wrote the caption—although I probably should have had the kids do it. Sometimes I get a bit too excited about this stuff and just do it myself.
After that the kids ransacked the Hannukah box for decorations and went to put up all the window clings they could find. Of course, there are never enough decorations, so we wound up in the Makery creating more. I put on our favourite album of Chanuka music and everyone did their own thing. I made a dreidel garland, K and N made window clings out of hot glue, and R folded teeny-tiny origami dreidels. E worked in mixed media and finished this sign:
That was the end of our school day, although I did read them another chapter and a half of The Birchbark House for literature. I went back to the Makery after dinner and started painting my drawing from last week’s art class (I’ll show you when it’s done.)
It was a good day, a full day, and a lot of learning happened. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, when I’ll introduce them to this month’s writing project and teach them about Michelangelo before we attempt to paint on plaster.