by Karen Glass
I did write extensively about the whole process of learning to write through written narrations in Know and Tell, but that big picture has to be broken down into individual school years, and semesters or terms, and—of course—individual weeks. What will we do about written narrations this year? What do I need to do this week?
I’m going to try to break this down into steps that you can use to evaluate your student, set realistic goals, and create a plan that will allow your child to make progress this school year—just this school year—without worrying too much about the Whole Thing. I’m assuming you understand the purpose of oral and written narration, and that you desire to make narration the foundation for a significant portion of your child’s writing instruction (there’s room for some outside resources, but that’s not what this is about). Let’s figure this out.
Okay, the first thing you need to think about is what your child is doing right now. What was the norm when you left off at the end of last school year? If you’re just getting started, the obvious place to begin is at the beginning, with one written narration per week. But maybe you’ve already been doing written narrations, and last year your child was doing two per week, or three. That’s where you start now. For the first four to six weeks of this school year, just let your child get back into the rhythm of doing what he already knows how to do. Don’t ask for anything else just yet.
As you think about this—where your child is with written narrations—there are two things to think about—how frequently the written narrations are done, and how long they are. As children make the transition from oral to written narrations, the earliest written narrations may be much, much shorter than oral narrations. Don’t worry about that. Some children can just barely write a sentence or two when they begin, while others are ready to write multiple paragraphs. No matter what your child is doing when you begin written narrations, accept what they can do.
What I never said plainly in Know and Tell, but wish I had, is that it is better to increase the frequency of written narrations first, and then work on asking for longer narrations. A child who can write three sentences will find it easier to write three sentences twice a week, and eventually every day, than to be pressed to write five sentence. Once he is writing three sentences every day (and that’s just an arbitrary example), the extra practice will be the best preparation for writing five sentences, or half a page, or five minutes longer, or whatever method you find most effective when asking for longer narrations.
Once you have determined where your child is with written narration skills, the second step is to think about where you’d like to be at the end of the school year. This is a goal that cannot be set by any arbitrary rule. You must think about your child’s age, inclination to write, and the amount of educational years still in front of you. If you are just starting written narration with a 9-year-old, begin with one per week, and maybe your goal will be three written narrations per week by the end of the school year. If you divide your school year into three terms as AmblesideOnline does, you can plan to spend the first term doing one per week, and add the second narration per week at the beginning of term two, and the third one at the beginning of term three.
Or perhaps your child is just starting written narration at age 11. You can start with one per week, but you would like your child to be writing daily by the end of the year. Add a second narration per week within three or four weeks, and another one every eight weeks or so, so that you finish the year with a child who is doing daily written narrations.
Or maybe you finished up last year with a child who had gotten up to daily narrations, but they are still short, only 30-50 words. Your child is 12, and you’d like to finish up the year with a child writing 100-150 words per day. Maybe you’d also like to introduce editing and correcting before the year is over. Let your child have a few weeks of writing what he is comfortable with, and bump up your expectations about 25 words at a time, every eight weeks or so. As the narrations get a little longer, introduce editing during the second semester with just one narration per week. (Just a note—my preference is to ask for a certain number of words and my children have responded well to that. You may prefer to increase length more generally—“half a page, a whole page”—, or by number of sentences, or by the amount of time spent writing. Choose the method that causes the least stress for your child.)
No one can decide what your goal should be, but you definitely want to have one for the school year, because that helps you to break down the process of getting from where you are to where you want to be into manageable increments.
The third step is to revisit your goal once or twice during the year. Maybe your child has already reached the level you were aiming for by Christmas break. That’s great, but you’ll probably want to thoughtfully move forward during the second half of the year. On the other hand, maybe your 9-year-old is still having a meltdown every time it’s written narration day. Perhaps changing the goal from “three narrations a week” to “two narrations a week” or even “one narration a week without a meltdown” is more realistic. Maybe your 11-year-old is already doing daily narrations and is ready to work on lengthening them a bit. Maybe your child needs a bit of a challenge with creative narrations or would benefit from reading a book on the craft of writing. Another thing I haven’t discussed, but which can be a part of your narration goals for the year, is mechanical correctness. Some children readily begin sentences with capital letters, and others don’t. Keep the “rules” as few as possible, but as your children grow more adept at actually getting words on paper, it’s okay to say, “Please make sure you’ve ended every sentence with a period,” or whatever rule you’re hoping to make habitual.
And that’s it! Plan your work, then work your plan, as they say. Just three things to do, and I think if you do them at the beginning of each term or semester, you’ll find that they keep you on track. Assess what your child is doing now. Set a goal and figure out the steps that will get you there. Reevaluate midway through the process to see if the goal needs to be adjusted. You're on your way! You and your child have an individualized plan that you can fold into your homeschool week, and when the school year is over, you’ll be able to see definitely what progress was made. And then next year, you can do it again, from your new starting point.
There are some charts in Know and Tell that will give you an overview of the process that you can expect to unfold across the grade levels, but they are guidelines and suggestions only. Every child is different when it comes to writing, but if you set realistic goals and work purposefully toward them, this may be your best narration year yet.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
by Karen Glass
Thursday, August 13, 2020
1. Brown Girl in the Ring
2. King John and the Abbot of Canterbury
3. The Saucy Sailor
Brown Girl in the Ring- this is a traditional Caribbean nursery rhyme and a singing game.
How to play 1: Stand in a circle with linked hands, one person in the center. The group sings the song and then pause at 'show me your motions'. The center person performs some dance move. The next verse in this version is 'come and face your partner'. The center girl chooses somebody from the circle, faces her and they dance a bit and then trade places. Here's a video of Jamaican school children playing this one.
How to play 2: The group stands in a circle like Farmer in the Dell, with one person in the middle. They circle the person in the center singing, and then stop at the end of the verse. The person in the middle chooses somebody in the circle to 'show their motion'- usually this is some personal dance move, but it can really be whatever works for your group- a funny face, the splits, jumping jacks, moon-walking, toe touching- once the designated person shows their motion, they trade places with the person in the middle, and the game repeats.
You do not have to play it as a singing game at all, of course. You can just have fun singing it together.
The song was popularized in America during the seventies, mostly by a group called Boney M, which had quite a colourful background (the singers mostly didn't sing on the recordings). This video is the Boney M. Soundtrack with just lyrics (their costumes were really quite something). Others had previously released it as well, but BoneyM is the group that hit the charts with it.
Jamaican poet and singer Loise Bennet released an album of children's songs from Jamaica in the fifties. It's faster, and instead of 'she looks like a sugar in a plum' she sings 'for he likes sugar and I like plum.' Listen here (youtube) or via Amazon streaming if you have prime (it's .99 to download if you don't)https://amzn.to/33UlWFx
You'll find a score and other background material here.
Johnny Cakes: In the U.S. Johnny Cakes are similar to pancakes. In Jamaica they are more like hush puppies, fried dumplings eaten with seasoned saltfish or cod.
Lyrics to the Boney M. version:
Brown girl in the ring
There's a brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la There's a brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la la Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum Show me your motion Tra la la la la Come on show me your motion Tra la la la la la Show me your motion Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum All had water run dry Got no way to wash my clothes
All had water run dry Got no way to wash my clothes I remember one Saturday night We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes I remember one Saturday night We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes Beng-a-deng Beng-a-deng Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la There's a brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la la Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum Show me your motion Tra la la la la Come on show me your motion Tra la la la la la Show me your motion Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum All had water run dry Got no way to wash my clothes All had water run dry Got no way to wash my clothes I remember one Saturday night We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes I remember one Saturday night We had fried fish and Johnny-cakes Beng-a-deng Beng-a-deng Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la See, brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la la Brown girl in the ring Tra la la la la She looks like a sugar in a plum Plum plum Brown Girl in the Ring- Amazon: https://amzn.to/3g0paKo (this one has some additional lyrics)-
2. King John and the Abbot of Canterbury
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
The Cruel War
The Alberta Homesteader or Starving to Death on My Government Claim
The Alberta Homesteader
'According to Hoyle' means according to the rules. The house could be a soddy, a hole in the ground with a roof (dug-outs, essentially). It had to meet gov't specifications, but those specifications were pretty meagre in terms of resulting in a thing of beauty or a joy forever.
1. My name is Dan Gold, an old bachelor I am I'm keeping old batch on an elegant plan You'll find me out here on Alberta's bush plain A-starving to death on a government claim. 2. So come to Alberta, there's room for you all, Where the wind never ceases, [and] the rain always falls Where the sun always sets and there it remains Till you [we] get frozen out of your [our] government claim. 3. My house it is built of the natural soil The walls are erected according to Hoyle The roof has no pitch, it is level and plain And I always get wet when it happens to rain. 4. My clothes they are [are all] ragged, my language is rough My bread is case-hardened and solid and tough My dishes are scattered all over the room And  my floor is [gets] afraid of the sight of a broom. 5. How happy I am [feel] when I roll into bed The rattlesnake rattles a tune at my head And  the little mosquito, devoid of all fear Crawls over my face and into my ear. 6. The little bed-bug, so cheerful and bright, He [It] keeps me up laughing two-thirds of the night And the smart little flea with the  tacks in his toes Crawls up through my whiskers and tickles my nose. 7. You may try to raise wheat, you may try to raise rye You may stay there and live, you may stay there and die But as for myself, I'll no longer remain A-starving to death on a government claim. 8. So farewell to Alberta, farewell to the west It's backwards I'll go to the girl I love best I'll go back to the east and get me a wife And never eat cornbread the rest of my life.
Various scores and notations are available here, which is the source for the above lyrics as well: http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiSTARVDT2;ttIRISHWSH.html
There's also an American version sometimes called Greer County Bachelor, or Starving to Death on my Government Claim. It's essentially the same, with a few words changes here and there. I included some of those renditions in the youtube playlist.
Please sing with us, with your children.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
"Education and study, and the favours of the Muses, confer no greater benefit on those that seek them than these humanizing and civilizing lessons, which teach our natural qualities to submitted to the limitations prescribed by reason, and to avoid the wildness of extremes." Plutarch, Life of Coriolanus
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Folksongs, by their nature and definition shift, change, are reshaped by time and the process of being passed down. They sometimes seem to reshape themselves. Lyrics vary. If you find a version you want to listen to and the lyrics are different from those posted below, it does not matter. If you need to fix that, just fix it. Print out the lyrics and take a pen to them, cross out what you don't want, ink in the words you prefer. Or just sing your version alongside t'other one. It's okay if you sing Spanish enemy while the recording artists are singing Turkish enemy.
Suggestion: Learn just the first verse and the chorus using a recording of somebody else's performance. Add the subsequent verses one by one, without using a recording.
Play the folksongs as background music while doing chores and see if reluctant singers don't find themselves singing along.
Scientifically- music has always been a part of human culture. Literacy has not. To Be verbs are not part of every language. Every culture sings. Singing increases happy hormones and regulates heart rhythms and breathing. Singing together increases a sense of cooperation and bonding. Let that work for you. Sing together and let the bonding begin. It will grease the gears of your homelife.
Follow the Drinking Gourd
The Golden Vanity
Down by the Bay
Playlist on youtube will be announced .
collected by H. B. , an entomologist and amateur folklorist, in the 1910s, unpublished until 1928
Whether this specific song was truly sung by enslaved black Americans in the 19th century is debated. Parks is the only one to have heard it and he claims to have heard it two different places. What is not debated is that many did escape by taking the drinking gourd, the Big Dipper, the North Star as a guide. More here.
Taj Mahal sings it here (an Amazon song you can download)
Kim and Reggie Harris sing it here (.99 to download)
The Golden Vanity
This is a very sad sea song with a charming tune. It is a charming tune that has vast sticking power and you won't be able to stop humming 'on the lowland, lowland low, as she sailed upon the lowland sea' at odd times for the rest of the school year, maybe longer. I share it because I love you all so much and it makes me so happy when you write to tell me stories of your children singing it 2,000 times a day and you catch yourself humming it and cannot stop. It is at least as old as the time of Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Drake. Imagine! You are subjected to an ear-worm that has been around since at least 1685! Doesn't it give you goosebumps?
In some versions the enemy ship is Spanish, in some she's Turkish, because of course, it's quite adaptable to whatever enemy you happen to be at war with, including your brother in the swimming pool.
Burl Ives version- free for Prime members, .99 for others. It's a Spanish ship here.
Peter, Paul, and Mary version for 1.29
The Golden Vanity
Oh there was a lofty ship and a lofty ship was she
And the name of that ship it was the Golden Vanity
And she feared she would be taken by the Turkish Enemy
As she sailed on the lowland, lowland low
As she sailed on the lowland sea.
Up stepped a little cabin boy, and boldly outspoke he.
And he said to the Captain, "what will you give to me
If I sneak alongside of the Turkish Enemy
And I sink her in the lowland, lowland low
And I sink her in the lowland sea?"
"Oh, I will give you silver, and I will give you gold,
And the hand of my daughter your bonnie bride will be,
If you'll sneak alongside of the Turkish Enemy
And you'll sink her in the lowland, lowland, low
And you'll sink her in the lowland sea.
So he jumped overboard, and overboard jumped he
And he swam alongside of the Turkish Enemy,
And with a little drilling tool he boar-ed holes three,
And he sank her in the lowland, lowland, low
He sank her in the lowland sea.
Then quickly he swam back to the cheering of the crew
But the captain did not heed him for his promise he did rue
And he spurned his poor entreatings when loudly he did sue
And he left him in the lowland, lowland, low- He left him in the lowland sea.
Then quickly he swam around to the port side
and up unto his messmates full bitterly he cried.
Oh messmates draw me up, for I'm drifting with the tide
and I'm sinking in the lowland, lowland low,
I'm sinking in the lowland sea.
Well, his shipmates brought him out, but on the deck he died,
And they stitched him in hammock that was so soft and wide,
And they lowered him overboard and he drifted with the tide,
And he sank into the lowland, lowland, low
He sank into the lowland sea.
And he sank beneath the lowland, lowland, low... He sank beneath the lowland sea.
A few versions add a couple of verses where the Captain also drowns, often haunted by the memory of the dirty trick he played on the cabin boy, but they come from a later time period, one where we as a people felt the need to tack a moral on to the end of every song, tale, and ditty, rather spoiling the effect, in my opinion.
Or perhaps what altered was the view of a person's place in the world, an issue of democracy vs hierarchy- and the moral of the first few centuries of singing the song was that cabin boys ought to do the right thing because it is their duty, and not seek to rise above their station by receiving gold, silver, and the captain's daughter for merely performing their duty. Most sailors, btw, did not learn to swim. It was something of a superstition. So a cabin boy who could swim is rather remarkable.
This song was also part of one of the collections used by Mason's PNEU schools, and I think I recall seeing this specific title listed in one of the Programmes. We are a bit more squeamish about these things in our own day, are we not? And yet, David had Uriah killed in an act as unjust as this one, and those in power break their promises to their underlings and see them die for it throughout history. And honestly, sometimes a tuneful, sad song is just what the heart needs to sing, even if it makes you cry.
Down by the Bay This silly song is a palate cleanser after the tragedy of the cabin boy.
Raffi, of course (for purchase): has a kid version, and here's a version free for streaming to prime members or .99 for others.
You can sing the song straight through all together in unison. You can also sing it as echo song, where every line is sung by one person, then echoed by the others, until you get to "Did you ever see a ....". Everybody sings that line together.
Down by the Bay
Where the watermelons grow
Back to my home,
I dare not go.
For if I do
My mother will say
Did you ever see...
A goose, riding a caboose
Down by the bay?
There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of variations on the second to the last line, and you can have fun creating your own. Samples:
the moon holding a balloon?
a whale with a polka-dot tale?
a pig wearing a wig?
a goose kissing a moose?
a bear combing his hair?
a llama wearing pink pajamas?
mouse building a house?
bee sipping green tea?
Rook reading a book?
frog dancing on a log?
Did you ever have a time when you couldn't rhyme?
This is a song to play with. You can sing it fast or slow. You can sing it so that one person sings and the others sing an echo line. You can play with harmonizing. You can, of course, make up your own rhyming questions. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't need to mean anything. It's silly fun. Some of your kids will find it comes naturally to drag out and really ham up the last expression of Downnnn byyyyyyyy theeeeeeeeeeeeee Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. (Guess how I know).
Based on my reading, it's probably a song soldiers made up around WWI and they used part of a Greek folk song for the tune, which is catchy, fast, easy to learn, quickly picked up. The infinite possibility of goofy verses makes it a good song for a group on a bus or car trip to sing. It's just clean goofy fun.
If you want to hear the older Greek folk song-you can hear it here, starting at the 29 second mark: Or here starting at 1:27: https://youtu.be/5h19StFle1A?t=87
From what I can grasp from comments, the Greek version is a folk song about being down by the seashore and longing for the singer's true love.
My youtube playlist for the yearhttps://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2IR3x_bkyR6OhkIG7ebE_R9TS5SLKE2D:
Saturday, September 7, 2019
"...we were berrying back in the woods to put up our yearly jam preserves and after an hour, a bit of boredom was setting in. So we started singing folk songs from last year– especially the "Nice Field of Turnips" while we pointed out what we were seeing. It was fun, it helped the time pass, and it was collaborative unlike headphones (I love my music so I'm not bashing on headphones but headphones while keeping watch out for our bear is not a wise plan). I think that they were more common way back because there were lots of these types of jobs and no portable music players. And telling a story via song is easy and fun, and unlike listening to a storyteller, everyone can be in on it. But they're still fun and useful today. I'm grateful for the impetus to teach them to my family!" K.S.
"We've noticed since learning folk songs that they turn up in our culture more than you would think. It's always fun when one of the kids points them out." L.N.
A. L. says her family enjoys playing and singing them while cleaning house. Even the toddler joins in.
"...my crew was bored in the car so they busted out in a few [folk songs] from last year too. It was fun." C. H.
"We sang folk songs while digging a trench for a retaining wall footing this week in El Salvador this week. We were too dirty and little cell reception, so no looking up lyrics." H.W.
" A couple months ago, we were driving through the mountains a lot later than we had intended. Dark, slow, no cell service, no radio....so we sang every folk song we knew. Over and over. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I'll never skip another." and "I had to come share another folk song story. This week we are camping and over did ourselves on a hike. It was too hot. In order to rally our spirits to get to a place where my husband could go get the truck and come back for us girls....we sang I love to go a wondering, and parts of Go get the axe (we are still learning it). It was beautiful, and because my husband works from home and sings with us most mornings, he was singing along." C.H.
One of the things I try to share about folk songs is that they give us a sound track for life, and give children another emotional vocabulary. Here is a wonderful example of that in action:
Regarding a 5 y.o. child, his mother shared that he "went through something this past year that was very sad and hard for him. He brought it up one day recently, and I affirmed with him that it was likely one of the hardest experiences he's faced this far in his life. He was quiet for a moment and then without a word of explanation, began to sing to himself, "You've got to walk that lonesome valley..." He then gave me a hug and left the room full of peace." A. R.
Sing. Sing together, sing while working, playing, passing the time, driving in the car, sitting in the living room during a power outage, at a backyard BBQ, while berry picking, weed-pulling, car-washing, rocking the baby, washing the dishes, folding the clothes. Make it an easy and natural part of your lives. Your children deserve no less.
Friday, August 2, 2019
People often ask for projects to do to supplement the reading in a Charlotte Mason education. For the most part, this type of supplementation is not necessary. If the students have spare time in the afternoons (or in some part of the day), they can use it to come up with their own projects. You may need to remove the screens and let them be bored for a bit in order to give this process a bit of a nudge, but boredom is a great starter dough for creativity.
There are also plenty of non-book activities already built into Miss Mason's philosophy and practice of education. Some of the non-reading things in the curriculum include:
- Singing folksongs
- Singing Hymns
- Drill- some sort of physical activity, exercise, sport, physical game
- Handicrafts- origami, cardboard sloyd, clay work, weaving, soap carving, basket making, cooking, baking, and so on.
- Map work
- Timeline, history book or century book work (you need not do all, but they are each slightly different)
- Picture Study
- Composer Study
- Recitation is kind of in the middle, it involves some kind of reading, but the focus is on style and saying the words clearly and with a speaking voice it is a pleausure to listen to.
- Narrations can be oral, written, acted, drawn set up as a scene using blocks, legos, tinker toys, toy soldiers, plastic farm animals, and more. Here are some ideas.
- Nature study, nature walks, and nature journals
- Occasional visits to museums and historical sites, with sketching (sketches here can go in their history books or timelines)
- Foreign Language
- Science experiments
- Some of the map and geography work is more hands on
- Mason also recommends some sort of service project the children can do
- She also recommends learning to play an instrument.
That's off the top of my head, and two or three times I thought I was done, and then I remembered something else. You don't have to do it all every day, or even every month. I just wanted people to see how many non-book related activities are part of a CM education.
Some children appreciate a bit of input into the curriculum, which can help when you are worried about 'too much just reading', but don't overdo it. They need to own their education, but they don't run it, they don't decide what topics are or not necessary. But giving them some choices here and there can be a useful way to get them invested in what they are doing. Decision fatigue is real, and it's harder for some kids than other, so again, use the following ideas with wise eyes on your children:
Sometimes after a reading ask if your child would rather narrate orally, or set up a scene from the story using his* legos.
Pack a picnic lunch to take on a nature walk and ask if he'd* rather help learn to make deviled eggs or cut the cheese into squares and make toothpick shiskabobs of the cheese squares and sausage slices with pickles.
For foreign language study, ask him to choose ten nouns or verbs to learn together and then practice using them all week.
For copywork, let him choose the sentence to copy form his reading. (this is the ideal)
If he is into artistic things, see about learning calligraphy.
When doing the folk songs and hymns, find two versions on youtube and ask which he prefers.
These things should be mixed up and sprinkled throughout your school day, because the schedule should be varied. Read something and narrate, then sing something, or do copywork, or go outside. Read something and narrate by drawing a picture, then read something and narrate with a diorama, then sing a song. Mix things up so it's not all book reading in a row.
*or her, hers, or she, of course.