Saturday, November 5, 2011

Family Poetry Night at the Abrahamsons

When the kids were younger, we tried to have family time every night.  What did we do for family time?   Mostly we read.  We always had a read-aloud going, sometimes we played games, and Friday was movie night.  Periodically I would ask the kids to memorize a poem suitable to their age and ability; we'd then plan a night of recitation.  If you are not a homeschool family, this probably sounds artificially quaint or anachronistic even.  I mean, really, who makes their kids recite poetry and calls it entertainment?

But please understand, Joe and I are both lovers of the written word.  We don't have television, and at that time tried to limit even a DVD on the computer to Friday movie nights.  We intentionally strove to instill in our kids an appreciation for the simple things of life. 

And we were homeschoolers.  So we could call such evenings "school."  Besides the enjoyment of "simple things" we were striving to instill, we were teaching with these poetry recitations.  The children honed their skills in elocution, memorization, and speaking in front of others; they broadened their exposure to famous poets and poems, built their vocabularies, and gained familiarity with rhythm and sound.  And we'd often get little history lessons in, too, if a particular poem had historical merit, such as Walt Whitman's Captain, my Captain, which he wrote after Lincoln's death.  Any time we spent on these things in our evenings was time we did not have to spend on it during our school days.

But alas!

Gradually the increasingly greater age span of our children made finding a books or activities that would interest all of them at once more difficult. The older kids were often busy with evening activities.  One or another child sometimes had school work or lessons remaining into the evenings. Or Mom and Dad were simply tired out.  Gradually our family time slipped to periodic, then rare.

Lately, after the additional changes to our lifestyle due to having our kids in public school, our evening family time has dwindled to almost non-existent.  We try to stand firm on evening devotion and prayer time, but even that is challenging some nights.  Some kids fall asleep before we're ready, other's are coming in at all different times.  Supper gets late, or chores take longer than expected.

This has been a very sad thing in my life.

This fall, I've tried, striven, demanded that we regroup and get back to this time together.  I'm trying, with only moderate success, to be more faithful about an early supper.  I'm trying, with mixed results, to get most of the supper prep dishes washed up while I'm preparing the meal.  I've asked Joe to try to be home from his office during the evening, to lend a helping hand, or simply to "be there". 

And I've worked to initiate a "no computer from 5:00-8:00 pm" rule.  This has probably been the hardest, since we have such bad habits.  The computer sits in the kitchen.  Somebody is always on it.  Whoever is sitting here might visit with whoever is preparing supper.  The younger kids are always running through, and they know that if Joe or I is not the one fixing supper, we can be found at the computer during that time.  So they come there to visit with us.

But there is also much just plain, mind numbing, spacing out to whatever is on it, to the avoidance of everything else in the home.  It's like we've forgotten how to live without staring at the stupid computer.  I think a big part of it is that Joe and I have become so overwhelmed with the responsibilities that come with raising this many kids, that we've resorted to escapist computer use to deal with the pressure.

Bad, bad, bad.

How to we get back to better habits?

For one, we're starting with read-aloud.  I am bound and determined to keep plugging along no matter how many or few kids are home.  No matter if supper dishes are done or not; dirty dishes will always wait until morning.  No matter if Joe and I have laryngitis, as we did this week--one of the older kids read for us; they are able.  No matter what!

We're reading Little Britches by Ralph Moody.  Read this book if you never have.  In fact, read Moody's whole series of autobiographical books.  He has been described as the male counterpart to Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

We've actually read this book several times for read-aloud, but not for perhaps four of five years.  Even though it is one we've read previously, I chose it because 1) since it's familiar to the older kids, if they miss some, it's OK;  2) its story draws in boys and girls alike; 3) its timeless themes of hard work, independence, and family, is of interest to a variety of ages;  and 4) it's a family favorite, so I'm hoping to play on my older kids' sentimental side-- if they are tempted to think, "Stupid family time,"  they might instead think, "Hey, I remember this part!"

So far so good.  Not perfect, but we're still hanging in there.  I started my mission to recapture family time about a month ago, and we've gotten through 11 chapters.  We are mostly all still eager to get to the living room once Joe or I call, "Family time!"  But we still don't get to it every night.  It's something to continue working toward.

Last night we did something different.  Matt was off at the hunting shack with the family with whom he hunts; Clara and Sophie were at a slumber party; and Joe and I still have this annoying laryngitis type bug.   I especially didn't want Clara and Sophie to miss Little Britches, since they are old enough to be fully engaged in it, and young enough to not really remember much from the earlier times we've read it.

So we needed something different.  Yes, it was Friday, so we could have had movie night, but sometimes it seems as though the kids see so much video type stuff these days anyway, that even movie night is no longer special.  That's another thing we have to try to change.

I decided to try an extemporaneous poetry night.  I called the little ones over, grabbed a couple of my poem books, and quickly assigned each of the four little ones a little something to learn.  Then I assigned Louisa, Elsie, and Joe each one younger child to help, and I helped Inge.  She really is too little to quickly learn much of a poem, but I helped her learn John 3:16.  Much more valuable that a poem in the long run, anyway.

Joe helped John learn the first verse of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's, Paul Revere's Ride.
Listen my children' and you shall hear 
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
On the eighteenth of April, in seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive 
Who remembers that famous day and year.
Stella memorized Apple Blossoms by Helen Wing
The apple blossoms grow so high
Upon the branches of our tree,
I can't reach up to smell them; so
They send their perfume down to me.
Louisa helped Donna memorize the first verse of Helen Hunt Jackson's, September.  At least, that is what she was supposed to help Donna learn.  Jackson's poem begins,
The Goldenrod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
But, yes, well, my Louisa apparently wanted to add a little,... uh,... pizzazz to our recitations.  Donna, for her part, learned well what Louisa taught.  But that stinker, Louisa...What's a mom to do with such a girl?

Apparently, Donna, being unfamiliar with the word orchard, kept saying, "apple turds."  (I'm not sure what this says about my family.  A four year old is more familiar with turds than orchards.  What can I say?)  So Louisa built off this little confusion to come up with an entirly new ending to the poem,
The Goldenrod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees with apple turds
Smell yucky and taste gross.
Hmm.  Poor little Donna, standing there in front of us, saying her little poem in all seriousness; and Joe and I staring aghast for those first few heartbeats of realization.  Then, of course, we all kind of chuckled, Joe and I reprimanded Louisa for being so cheeky, and I quickly taught Donna the correct words so she could do it again, the right way this time.  That Louisa!

We finished off our poetry night with us older people reading our selections.  Elsie read The Moon, by Robert Hereford; and Louisa read The Road Less Traveled by Robert Frost.  I, with my croaking voice, read through the rest of Paul Revere's Ride.  Joe chose Longfellow's, Excelsior.

I'm sure they would never admit it, but I think even the older kids had fun, in a quiet (or cheeky) sort of way.

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