No mercy. I will show no mercy.
First, understand that just because I can compose 800-word essays 218 times in a single year, and it’s only August, it does not mean that my children can find the pointy end of a pencil.
Boy9 had the assignment the other day to write “three sentences about something you can see, like a flower, or a pet.”
He sat there, utterly stumped. “Write about your mouse.” Still stumped. “Okay…start by telling me out loud about your mouse.”
“Um. I have a mouse.”
“Now describe her.” Stumped again.
“Oh for goodness sake! (No, I didn’t say that part out loud, but I was thinking it.) Write something like this: ‘I have a white mouse. She has a twitchy nose. She is very fat.’ Just…describe what you see.”
And with that, he was inspired and wrote the following original essay: I have a white mouse. She has a twitchy nose. She is very fat.
Apparently, the ability to write doesn’t just come about by osmosis, as I had so dearly hoped, but must be taught deliberately.
So, I have a curriculum that breaks down the act of composing into small steps, and teaches these steps over a period of 4 or 5 years. First: copy work. You simply copy well-written sentences. Second: dictation. Well-written sentences are read out loud to you, and you write them down from memory. Third: narration. You read the child a small passage, and the child recaps in a couple of sentences what the passage is about. And so on and so on. Eventually, the child is composing his own thoughts.
Today we did some dictation. And here was the sentence to dictate, taken from the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson:
“The imposters requested him very courteously to be so good as to come nearer their looms, and then asked him whether the design pleased him, and whether the colors were not very beautiful, while at the same time pointing to the empty frames.”
There’s another sentence you probably didn’t finish, just like when I tried to get you to read the first sentence of Ben Hur a few months ago. Or maybe you finished it, but you skimmed it so fast that your eyes are sore.
The book instructed me to read the sentence to the child only three times, at which point he will have memorized it. Then he will tell it back to me, and then he will write it. The book warned me that I may need to help him spell courteously.
Snort! Really? Three times and he’ll have it memorized? I was rolling my eyes so much I think I pulled a muscle. I’d rather mow my lawn with kitchen shears than have to memorize that sentence after hearing it read to me only three times.
I showed Boy9 the sentence he would have to write from dictation, and before his swoon had fully formed, I quickly told him, “We’ll read it more than three times! And…I’m going to memorize it with you.”
Yes, people. I was prepared to memorize the sentence with him. I hate memory work only a little less than I hate scrapbooking or sewing. And you know how I feel about scrapbooking and sewing. Oh, the sacrifices of being a mother, coupled with the sacrifices of being a teacher! I’m expecting a seriously awesome eulogy delivered by children at my memorial service. That is, unless they haven’t moved beyond plagiarizing essays about their fat, white mice. (I had a white mother. She had a twitchy nose. She was very fat.)
So, we sat there for a good 10 minutes, reading the sentence piece by piece, memorizing it together.
But then it was time to put pencil to paper. I made two mistakes with the memory part, but the writing it down part was easy. I spelled courteously correctly, and design and beautiful. And I knew where to place all three commas. I am smarter than a 5th grader!
Because poor Boy9 struggled to keep up.
And here’s where I’ll show no mercy. He’s at the age where I don’t throw games anymore. Either he wins on his own merit, or he loses. No more stacking the Candy Land card deck so that the child never has to go all the way back to the Peppermint Forest or the Gumdrop Mountains when she’s already past Queen Frostine. And don’t tell me you didn’t do that. Any parent with half a brain in her head, and a desire for the game to end quicker than a 3-day cricket match, has stacked a Candy Land card deck.
But no more. We’ve moved on to cut-throat Connect Four, winner takes all.
It’s the same with dictation. Boy9 needs a little competition, and I’m willing to provide that for him. For the first few months, I’ll probably give myself a handicap and let him have a 3 or 4 minute start before I start writing the dictation. But the game is on, Boy9. The game is on.
As expected, Darling Husband and the boys were flagging a mere two and a half hours into the sale, while I was just getting started. This is just a small portion of one of the two rooms filled with books. The first room is a cafeteria, and the second room is a gymnasium. A cafeteria and a gymnasium, people! These room ain’t the size of your Aunt Tilly’s parlor.
Fortunately, when I was at Pam’s house last week, she gave me a souvenir she brought home from Paris. This bag. I used it to carry my books.
She bought one for herself and was so impressed with the roundness of the handles and that no matter how many baguettes she stuffed into that bag it didn’t dig into the palms of her hands, that she went back and bought one for me.
And, even though he got worn out and made me leave early, I’m glad that Darling Husband came along. At 6:00, when he finally dragged me away, he was shaky from hunger and didn’t want to have to go all the way home and then wait for dinner to be cooked.
Fortunately, according to mapquest, the book sale is exactly .58 miles from Li’s Buffet.