Thursday, February 16, 2006

Some Random Thoughts on Sparks and Poetry

It seems to me that one of the "jobs" of homeschool parents (and parents in general) is helping spark their children's interest in good and worthwhile things. I've noticed with my own children (and from working with others) that effective sparks are accomplished in different ways for different children. Often it is providing access to yourself and/or sharing your enthusiasm that spark the interest of children.

[note: you have to read down a bit on both of the above links to find the intended material]

On a related thought - learning is more enjoyable when we don't force mastery the first time we encounter something new. Progress and accomplishment is good, but sometimes I think we're in too much of a hurry to have children master something and wish to skip the in-between steps. It often helps me to break things up into smaller steps - like introducing children to a new thing. Then (even at a different time) let them get acquainted, explore that or enjoy it for awhile, etc. This is something that Montessori, in particular, helped me understand.

Anyway, one thing I'm thinking of is poetry. First a little background - although we played around with Haiku a little when I was in 7th grade (which didn't really develop any interest on my part - partly because the project was writing poetry - cold - they didn't share any with us first to help us enjoy or appreciate it), I was basically a poetry dunce all my life. I remember specifically having an entrance exam for Kolbe Academy when I transferred there from Our Lady of the Rosary School before my Sophomore year of high school. I aced the Algebra section, but was completely, utterly clueless about the poetry portion (even though I had fallen in love with Shakespeare my Freshman year).

In any case, it wasn't until recently, when sharing poetry with my children that I started to develop an appreciation - something which is giving my children an edge I never had. But the thing that struck me was that conventional wisdom seems to think that poetry is hard to understand and should be saved until we are mature enough to understand it. Also, it should always be studied carefully in order to be appreciated. Works like The Ballad of the White Horse, Lepanto and Evangeline, which I've read aloud to my children just this year, (I would even say that the poems "begged" to be read aloud - this wasn't something I carefully planned ahead of time) have helped me see that mastery isn't a prerequisite of appreciation. My children don't fully appreciate or understand these works, but they are fascinated by them, they enjoy them and (in some cases) even are learning to love them. It's okay to start with them simply enjoying the sound of the words such as:

"When God put man in a garden
He girt him with a sword,
And sent him forth a free knight
That might betray his lord;
"He brake Him and betrayed Him,
And fast and far he fell,
Till you and I may stretch our necks
And burn our beards in hell."(Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton)

"Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes."
(Lepanto by G.K. Chesterton)

Of course now I also see that one of the neat things about poetry is that it's the sort of thing you get more and more out of every time you go back to it. A lot of important things in life are kind of like that. It is good to help our children learn to love them. And sometimes that "spark" is all they need to start burning with enthusiasm for something good and true and beautiful.

Isn't their relationship with God a little bit like that too?

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