Children who struggle with language can do this! My friend Niffercoo did not think her eight-year-old daughter with autism was processing Heidi. She wrote, "The oral narrations Reece has been giving me from this book have been fairly sparse. I've even been wondering how much she understands." She walked into her daughter's room one night and learned otherwise. She added, "Reece used her playmobil pieces and created these wonderful scenes. In this first one is Grandfather's house, with Heidi sleeping on her hay bed in the loft, Grandfather sitting on his chair that's attached to the wall, and Peter outside with the 'goat.'" Niffercoo grabbed her camera and took some lovely photographs of these scenes. Then, she shared how this living book has touched her own heart and presented some lessons to the teacher as well as the taught. Her post is a must-read!
Niffercoo's story reminds me of a passage Charlotte Mason quoted from Frederika Bremer's novel The Neighbours,
The Swedish Charles XII was my idol, and I often entertained my friends in my class with narration of his deeds till my own soul was on fire with the most glowing enthusiasm. Like a shower of cold water, Darius (the tall girl, whose name was Britsa) one day came into the midst of us, and opposed me with the assertion that the Czar Peter I was a much greater man than Charles XII. I accepted the challenge with blind zeal and suppressed rage.
My opponent brought forward a number of facts with coolness and skill, in support of her opinion, and when I, confuting all her positions, thought to exalt my victorious hero to the clouds, she was perpetually throwing Bender and Pultawa in my way. O Pultawa! Pultawa! many tears have fallen over thy bloody battlefield, but none more bitter than those which I shed in secret when I, like Charles himself, suffered a defeat there. (Page 165-166)
The upshot is that the girls challenged each other to a duel to defend the honor of their historical hero. What would inspire such a passion for history in teenagers? Charlotte Mason concluded that it had to be living books for teachers did not use oral lessons nor textbooks in the time covered in thist semi-autobiographical novel. She observed that children of her day typically did not develop unbridled passion over textbooks and our current generation of students are examples of apathy. As you read her thought-process, consider the type of cottage industry of horror "literature" aimed at pre-teen girls today or the gross-out books for boys,
What manner of book will find its way with upheaving effect into the mind of an intelligent boy or girl? We need not ask what the girl or boy likes. She very often likes the twaddle of goody-goody story books, he likes condiments, highly-spiced tales of adventure. We are all capable of liking mental food of a poor quality and a titillating nature; and possibly such food is good for us when our minds are in need of an elbow-chair. (Page 168).
Niffercoo's post alludes to the essential ingredient of the kind of book that inspires such enthusiasm. One passage in particular left my friend speechless, "I cried, yet I made it through the rest of the chapter. But I wasn't able to even ask Reece for a narration. I just sat there with my heart full of emotion. Who knew how wonderful this book was? I knew the basic story, from a Shirley Temple movie, I think. But reading it for myself, sharing it with Reece, is a priceless experience!"
Charlotte concluded, "The great work of education is to inspire children with vitalising ideas as to every relation of life, every department of knowledge, every subject of thought; and to give deliberate care to the formation of those habits of the good life which are the outcome of vitalising ideas. In this great work we seek and assuredly find the co-operation of the Divine Spirit, whom we recognise, in a sense rather new to modern thought, as the supreme Educator of mankind in things that have been called secular, fully as much as in those that have been called sacred. (Page 173)" (And, if the thought of finding sacred in the secular unnerves you, read Lisa Cadora's post "The Thaw" for what Charlotte meant.)
Getting back to how I assess what Pamela is learning, here are some observations that go beyond the sparse narrations:
- We finished reading some paragraphs on geography that I threw together based on a chapter in our geography book. It was talking about the difference between a picture and a plan. I tossed the reading notes in the trash, and she said, "No! I want to keep it." Then, she took them in her room.
- Pamela LOVES RightStart Intermediate Math, which blends drawing with graphic design tools, fraction review, measurement practice, figuring out patterns to prepare for pre-algebra, and learning some geometry by drawing and doing. She needs extra support in trying to maneuver the T-square and triangles and trying to steady them while drawing. Yesterday, she learned how to make crosshatches to shade fractions of a shape. She had such an easy time, I backed off and let her work unassisted. She beamed with pleasure at being able to fly solo. She also uses these tools in geography to draw up a plan of one of the rooms in our house.
- Last night the clear, cloudless sky revealed the harvest moon and Jupiter, side by side. I told Pamela I wanted to show her a planet in the sky. She gladly headed outdoors and ran down the driveway with excitement. Then, she said, "Space! It's space!" She spent the next hour going in and out of the house to catch more glimpses of this rare treat. The harvest moon, a full moon shining at the fall equinox, will not be seen again until 2029. Jupiter, aligned with Uranus, is especially visible to the naked eye because it is closer to Earth than it has been in fifty years.
- Pamela is doing some interesting things while we read. Sometimes, she stops in the middle of a passage to ask what a word means. She tracks with me so well as we take turns reading aloud that I no longer need to run my fingers underneath the words. If I say a word slightly louder and pause, she takes it as a cue to pick up the reading.
- We were reading a suspenseful moment in our animal story book when the police officer was going to shot a crow creating a nuisance. She said, "No! Don't shoot! Don't do it!" and then covered up the page with her hand. After I reassured her that the bird would be fine, we kept reading.
- Pamela stood up before we started reading our book on Native Americans and ran out of the room. She came back with the worn-out atlas and asked me to help her find where the main character lived. After finishing our short lesson, she said, "And who moved from Wisconsin to Kansas? Laura Ingalls!" For the next four books, she looked up all the places in which the books were set.
- We are on a scary chapter in our fantasy literature book. The children are transported to another world, but Pamela thinks they are still on earth. Before the reading, I asked, "I wonder where they are going." She replied, "Florida." We read a few paragraphs and Pamela realized that Florida was not known for its utter darkness devoid of any sound or vibration so she changed her prediction to Washington, D. C. She must know more about politics than I thought! We stopped after the three children materialized in a beautiful green field filled with multi-colored flowers and a golden light at the foot of a tall mountain. I asked again where she thought they were and she replied Colorado. She chose Florida and D. C. because the family in the book had lived there before. She chose Colorado because we had lived there and the description matches a valley behind Pike's Peak.
- She is using more Spanish words. The other day, she finished eating her breakfast and picked up her empty bowl. She said, "No hay más!" ("No more!"). When reading about a character's encounter with bears in another book, she talked about Mama osa y dos ositos (mother bear and two male bear cubs). When the character came home, she ate la sopa (stew) for dinner. When we discovered that more dry cells (batteries) generated brighter light, she used grande (large), mediano (medium), and pequeño (small). Pamela is even becoming a bilingual verbal stimmer . . .
- Pamela loves "The Simpsons," which we have on DVD. The other day, while reading about presidents, a realization hit Pamela about the election episode in 2008 in which the voting machine forces Homer to cast three votes for Senator McCain. She made the connection that Obama on the machine in 2008 was the same as President Obama in 2010. She said, "Just like Homer" and repeated "Obama . . . McCain!" three times and laughed uproariously because she suddenly got the joke. A few days later, we were reading that same book, which was written in 1962, and she thought of another election episode from 1996. Pamela asked, "Who's Bob Dole?" But, she did not ask about President Clinton because she already knew he had won.
The early years of our homeschooling journey were very difficult because Pamela struggled to get the words out. Remediating her body, her auditory processing system, and her aphasia took about ten years! What got me through those lean times was observing her reactions and what she did in her free time. A little bit of faith helped too.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1