Shakespeare, Narration, Reading, and a few thoughts…

04 Dec

In my Charlotte Mason fervor and excitement to study Shakespeare, I purchased the Lambs’s Tales from Shakespeare, Edith Nesbitt’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, and a nice used copy of Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield. I loved Garfield’s version, but didn’t think much of the Lambs’ version, and was really disappointed with the copy of Nesbitt’s book that I purchased. It’s not illustrated and doesn’t even have a table of contents (a purchasing mistake I don’t usually make).

All my fault, of course. The first 2 books are available free online, and although I did read a little of them, I just assumed they’d be great…they’re on the Ambleside website and I trusted the choices.

We persevered.

I chose Hamlet for our first play. We first read Marcia Williams’ retelling. There wasn’t anything magical about it, but it was a good overview of the play and the illustrations were engaging. We then tried the first 2 retellings I mentioned, but they were a total flop. I pulled out Shakespeare Stories, and although I loved it, it was too advanced for Stiggy.

But recently I found this from my library:

This is a fantastic book. The illustrations are bright and lovely and the stories are engaging and easier to follow for younger children. They don’t have the ‘and then, and then, and then…’ feel to them that Marcia Williams’ stories do. The text is right at Stiggy’s level, so it’s not too challenging for him, just a good read.

In all honesty, I was already aware of this book. But I didn’t think it was ‘literary’ enough. I wanted to use something of a higher calibre. But the whole point of reading Shakespeare at this age is to familiarize your child with the plays and enjoy them. If that’s not happening, all the flowery language in the world isn’t going to help. The child may learn a few new words,  but he’ll know nothing of Shakespeare’s plays.

I’m keeping hold of Nesbitt’s and the Lambs’ books for now. My plan is to read 16 plays (4 each year) over the next 4 years, then reread them using Garfield’s books (he has a Shakespeare Stories II), and in the last 4 years, read the original plays. If Stiggy wants to read more of them on his own, I’ll be thrilled. The other 2 books may be more appropriate at a later date.

Once again the lesson is this: trust your instinct. Just because a book is on Ambleside, in The Well-Trained Mind, or is a classic that has been around for years, it doesn’t mean it’s the best for your child. Older isn’t always better.

I also wanted to share a bit about narration.

I was really excited to use narration in our homeschool. Stiggy was already doing a lot of narration on his own. This year, I brought it into most of our subjects, even math. After some initial hesitation, he took to it quite well. But after a while he began to hate it. Well, he began to hate it when he had to narrate something that he didn’t find particularly thrilling. Switching subjects often triggered the question, ‘Do I have to do a narration?’ If I said yes, he’s moan and groan and the resulting narration was inevitably abysmal. He could usually narrate enjoyable stories (which I rarely had him do), math concepts…narrations from Story of the World were hit and miss depending on his interest level, but science narrations were very difficult, and narrating from Shakespeare was a disaster…although that may have to do with my poor choice of books, as I discussed above.

When I asked him a few days ago what he doesn’t like about our lessons he said: copywork and narration. I laughed a little about the copywork and reminded him that he does very little copywork now. He said, ‘oh, that’s right…well, just narration, then.’

I know most children dislike narration, but his dislike was so strong that it was causing him to dread lessons altogether. I certainly didn’t want that.

Now, I’d been of the firm belief that a child must narrate, otherwise the lesson is a bit of a waste. But right now, narrating is killing Stiggy’s love of learning and it’s ruining the lessons. Knowing he has to narrate is filling him with dread, not, as Charlotte Mason claims, making him pay close attention. He’s feeling pressured and freezing up.

This isn’t happening all the time, but often enough to cause problems. So, now when he asks me if he has to narrate, I tell him, ‘we’ll see…don’t worry about it. Let’s just read and see how it goes.’ If it’s something I know he’s enjoyed and totally absorbed, he narrates (effortlessly and sometimes gives me the entire story almost verbatim). If it doesn’t lend itself to narration (some material just doesn’t), then we skip the narration. If it falls somewhere in between, we discuss it and I may ask him a few questions that require narration-like answers. Or I may ask him to do a picture narration.

I think sometimes the reason he can’t narrate is that some of it just went over his head. This is when I step in and do a little summarizing. (I also don’t agree with CM’s idea that children should have only 1 chance to learn something. People are not computers, we often need things repeated a few times to get it all. This is certainly true with foreign language; I wouldn’t expect Stiggy to learn to count to 10 in Spanish by only hearing it only once. The brain needs repetition for many things to stick; it’s like a path is being created.)

I’m also following Susan Wise Bauer’s advice on how to teach a child to narrate. Stiggy’s narrations are often filled with unimportant details, so for readings that don’t produce a full narration (or any), I choose a few sentences and he practices summarizing. He seems to enjoy this and likes to try different variations of his summaries.

Sometimes a child should be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy a lesson without pressure. I know he’s listening, I don’t need to use narration as a motivator to make him pay attention. As he gets older, I will require more narration, but he has only just turned 6. And, as SWB says,

Remember that the goal of classical education is not “brute knowledge” of a certain amount of information, but rather training in the thinking skills that will allow the student to learn any information he chooses. Once your student has learned to summarize, he will be equipped to grasp and retain more knowledge in the later stages of classical education.”

I totally agree.

A little about reading…

Reading is going quite well. He seems to be over the most difficult phase of it and since he’s choosing what he reads (for the most part), he’s enjoying it much more. It’s still difficult and tiring for him, but he doesn’t dread it. He even occasionally pulls out a book and says he wants to read on the weekends.

I’ve recently switched back to The Road to Reading by T.H. MacDonald. This is an out-of-print book, but it’s excellent. I like the format and it’s thorough without being cumbersome. (I was finding The Ordinary Parent’s Guide a bit too thorough…everything was getting mixed up and even my head was beginning to swim with all the fiddly phonics rules that I feel most children will figure out on their own.) I also realised that at the rate we were going, it was going to take another 2 years to finish it. I really want to be done teaching phonics by this summer. Using R2R and teaching 1 truly useful rule a week, we should be done in about 40 weeks, maybe a little less. I’ve also found that his reading improves more quickly using R2R.

Parting Thoughts…

You know, I never thought there’d be such a steep learning curve to homeschooling. I’ve made so many changes, taken stock so many times (daily, it seems), and had to re-evaluate how we do things so often, I start to think I’m doing it all wrong sometimes. Surely no one else makes so many changes so often. It’s tiring at times and more than once I’ve wished I could have a few do-overs. I don’t have huge regrets, but sometimes I’d like the chance to do a few things differently. I’d worry less and cherish more.

Which is what I’m doing now.


4 responses to “Shakespeare, Narration, Reading, and a few thoughts…

  1. Bobbi

    December 4, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I love that Shakespeare book too. It makes it easier to expose the boys to his works without losing them to visual boredom.

    Also I’ve lost track of who we’ve sent what to and so forth. Would you be a dear and let me know if we (meaning my dear son) owe you a penpal letter? I realized with your last post that we’ve missed Stiggy’s birthday 😦 I’d have emailed but I also managed to lose email on my computer through a drive crash that made me reinstall the OS. 😛


  2. Suji

    December 4, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    You know, sometimes I think we have this steep learning curve or desire to evaluate and re-evaluate everything because we’re guiding our only kids. I think that parents of 2, 3 kids wouldn’t be able to evaluate methods and curricula as much as we can because they have other things to attend to. But all this work we do rethinking methods etc isn’t necessarily bad because if you’re like me, trial and error is the best way for me to learn.

    A thought about AO and narration. We went through the exact problem you guys are facing. But kiddo was a Shakespeare fan for a long time so although he didn’t dislike Nesbitt’s version he didn’t want to narrate it. His rationale was that “I know this, why do I have to repeat it?” and “I’ll tell you about it in my own time, thank you very much”. LOL. In not so many words but I could see those thoughts running through his head.

    That’s why we’ve just about dropped required narration altogether this past year and a half. I know it’s an excellent method to guage learning but he’s narrating all the time of his own free will that it seems cruel to require it for things he’d rather not narrate just yet.

    Sigh…I just have so much more to learn. I rewrote my blog intro to give others an idea of how we have evolved too.

    A word about Shakespeare Stories II…although the text is superb, a number of illustrations are a little improper for this age group IMHO. There’s a bit of a leap between the stories in SS I and SS II and I’ve put off SS II for a while just for the age appropriateness of it all.

    Enjoying your blog a lot M!

  3. whimsyway

    December 5, 2009 at 8:44 am


    I recently thought of that, too, Suji, that we do it because we have “onlies”. I certainly wouldn’t have time for it if I had a baby or a toddler running around. It’s not a luxury all parents have.

    I know what you’re saying about narration, but I don’t want him to narrate so much to check what he knows, but to reinforce what he knows and ‘cement’ the learning. But he’s only 6 and there’s time to grow into it. I think I’ll probably worry less once he’s reading independently and devouring books (well, I hope he’ll devour books!) 🙂 So, a part of it *is* about assessing learning, I guess, lol. 🙂

    Thanks for the heads up about SSII; I like to know that sort of thing in advance! 🙂

  4. talesfromleyton

    December 5, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Brilliant post Michelle, thanks for the recommendations 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: