What would you say if I told you that, for children as young as third grade, one of the most well-loved parts of our school week was our study of Shakespeare? So many adults break into a sweat at the name, when they think back on their own experiences in high school or college. The archaic language! The convoluted plots! The confusing characters! Did I mention the archaic language?! Well, in fact, Shakespeare is a favorite part of our school week. Those who have been here both years just started their sixth full-length, unabridged Shakespeare play. Last year, they enjoyed A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night. This year, we have done The Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar, and last week we began As You Like It. And if we are running short on time, they actually ask if we can forego other activities so that we can be sure to have time for Shakespeare.
One thing that makes Shakespeare accessible to our students is immersion. The language is stiff, but they do not have to know the definition of every single word in order to understand what is happening. They can catch the gist of it, and they are able to narrate events very well. Of course, as they hear the language more and more, they understand it much easier. It also helps that, rather than reading silently or aloud, tripping over the verbiage, we watch productions by the BBC. At first, I thought this might be cheating, but then a friend reminded me that they were, after all, plays, and that a play was not meant to be read; it was meant to be viewed. So we watch a scene each week (with appropriate omissions--it is Shakespeare, after all!) during the term. Students also sometimes use Shakespeare for copywork or recitation. And they love it. In fact, they loved Julius Caesar so much that they begged to be able to put on their own production after we finished the play. We decided together that learning an entire play in a couple of weeks might be a bit too ambitious, so we chose one scene (the killing scene, of course!) to practice. They brought in sheets for togas, daggers, fake blood, and other props, and we invited the parents to come and listen. The children did not memorize their lines. Instead, they practiced reading with fluency and expression for two weeks, and their performances showed a great deal of comprehension and interpretation.
During exam week, students were asked to tell about either the death of Caesar or the revenge of Mark Antony and Octavius. It is fun to see how this third-grader incorporated Shakespeare's words, style, and phrasing into his narration:
"Cassius and Metellus Cimber and Trebonius and a couple other of his friends were throwing letters to Brutus to try to get Brutus to help kill Caesar at the Senate. And they had planned to kill Caesar on the Ides of March at the Senate House. And Brutus finally told Cassius that he would help them kill Caesar, so on the Ides of March they were trying to get Caesar to come to the Senate House and then when they got to the Senate House, Metellus Cimber said, 'Most high, most mighty, most puissant Caesar, I lay before thee my humble suit.' And then Caesar said, 'What? Is this man mad?' And then one of Caius Cassius's friends was behind Caesar and he stuck his dagger on the top on his shoulder. And then all the other ones started stabbing Caesar and Caesar fell against a statue and Brutus walked up to him and stuck him in the heart, and Caesar died. And then Mark Antony's servant came in and told Brutus that Antony would like to come into this place and be untouched, and Brutus said, 'Antony shall come untouched and leave untouched.' And then when Antony came in, he saw Caesar, and he was talking to himself and then he was talking to the gentlemen, and he said, 'I know not why you attended this deed, gentlemen, but I see not why Caesar was dangerous.' And he was begging his death of the people, and Brutus said, "Oh, Antony, beg not your death of us.' And then Antony went out with Caesar's body to the pulpit and was praying over him after Brutus had talked at the pulpit to the people. And then Brutus went out and Antony's servant boy came in and his servant said--I think it was that someone had the same name as one of the people that helped kill Caesar, and Antony had roused the people and they got angry, and since he had the same name as the person that had helped kill Caesar, they were going to kill him because they thought he had helped kill Caesar, but it wasn't. And then the war of Mark Antony and Brutus and Caius Cassius started right then. When Mark Antony was carrying Caesar's body to the marketplace, he said, 'Let slip the dogs of war!"
The students have already asked if we can perform part of As You Like It when we finish that play, so this may become a regular occurrence. And we look forward to it, "as they like" The Bard very, very much.
This week, Willow Tree students were busy, busy, busy. We finished the first act of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and began learning basic yoga positions. We drew floor plans of our homes and labeled them in Latin. We practiced reciting the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edward Lear. We rehearsed prepositions in Spanish and listened to a new Spanish folk tale. We recorded events from our history reading onto our class timelines and into our personal Books of Centuries. In science, we created journals and learned how to record and interpret data. In the pictures below, students are playing with Newton's Laws of Motion using different types of balls.
This afternoon, we took advantage of the sunshine to clean out the garden bed we build last year. The kale had gone to seed, so we will probably see baby kale plants very soon. We had to deal with a colony of fire ants that had decided to move into the loose, rich soil. We also found other species that had made our garden home, including stink bugs, spiders, and an enormous larvae. Once the bed was cleared, we built a new compost bin using pallets. This is where we will dispose of our compost-able lunch leftovers. Students will take turns turning and watering the pile each week. Once our outdoor projects were completed, we came inside to decide what to plant next week in our fall/winter garden.
We are terribly excited about our next outdoor adventure! Next Friday, we will travel to Mars Hill, NC to participate in the research at Big Bald Banding Station! This is where volunteer scientists capture, study, and release song birds and raptors. They use the data to track populations and migration patterns. This is going to be a wonderful experience for our kids!
Today we finished Act 1 of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's hilarious comedy about mistaken identity. Here is an account of what has happened so far (student narration):
There were two twins who were separated [shipwrecked during a storm] and each swam to different islands. One, named Viola, went to the duke to work as a boy even though she wasn't one. The duke sent her to Olivia because he loved her and asked if she loved him. She didn't, but she did love Viola, so she told one of her workers to give him a ring he had dropped and don't let him refuse to take it even though Viola didn't drop a ring.
We also began learning to read in Spanish today. So far, our study has been completely oral, and now we know why: Spanish spellings do not sound the same as English!
Our artist this term is Mary Cassatt. Today we studied this painting, titled Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. The students looked carefully at the piece, trying to imprint every detail on the eye. Then we turned the pictures face down and told all the things we remembered before making a sketch from memory. Then, just for fun, we made up stories about what might have happened to the little girl. Here are a few of the children's ideas. See if you can match your student with his/her story!
1) The girl's little sister got her in trouble and so now she's in a Time Out.
2) The girl is a super model posing for a picture.
3) The girl is relaxing while watching cartoons.
4) The girl is a space-time traveller who finds herself stuck in 1865 and is trying to figure out how to get home.
5) The girl got sap on her hand while playing in a pine tree and then touched the back of her head. She is now trying to figure out how to unstick her hand from her hair.
6) The girl has been playing with the dog and got fleas on her neck, so she is scratching.
A Charlotte Mason education is all about Life: Living books, living ideas, and living things bring us joy as they feed our minds and spirits. Yesterday we were able to bring new life into our back field by building a raised plant bed and planting autumn crops. In a few weeks we will be able to enjoy fresh salads with our lunches!
One of our distinctives is to keep Fridays special by rotating among outdoor classroom days, field trips, community service projects, and guest speakers (for whom we prepare a meal). Today was our very first outdoor classroom day. We walked across the street to the Gardner-Webb campus with our Nature Study notebooks at the ready. Each form was allowed to choose two to three of their favorite books from this term's reading to take along to read outside. I was equally surprised and pleased when Forms 2 and 3 unanimously chose Shakespeare's Macbeth as one of their choices! We just started this play a few days ago. (Since that time a stray cat has shown up at the school, and we have named it "Graymalkin", after a cat belonging to one of the witches in the play.) Other chosen books included Tolkein's The Fellowship of the Ring and Holling's Minn of the Mississippi.