Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Children's Art

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Life has been too busy to blog, but today was one of those days that I had to share!

Last Tuesday, our Charlotte Mason study group discussed some of the elements of language arts, beginning with recitation. Most of the people in the group are fairly new to her ideas, so our meetings take me back ten years to when my family was first testing out her suggestions. Recitation was a flop for Pamela due to her aphasia (severe language disorder). Even the simplest line was beyond her because she skipped short, abstract words. Unlike E. in the anecdote Mason provided, committing to memory and reciting a poem required extensive and strenuous effort:
She read a poem through to E.; then the next day, while the little girl was making a doll's frock, perhaps, she read it again; once again the next day, while E.'s hair was being brushed. She got in about six or more readings, according to the length of the poem, at odd and unexpected times, and in the end E. could say the poem which she had not learned (page 225).
Modern research bears out the wisdom of Mason's suggestion to read the poem to E. "at odd and unexpected time" while doing different activities in various locations. Studying in the same place free of distractions doesn't increase memory. The brain associates what is being learned with background sensations it perceives at the time. In Mason's example, learning lines from Tennyson is shaded slightly with the sitting on the bed feeling one's hair brushed, or perhaps, stirring cake batter in the kitchen. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations to the poem scaffolds memorization. "What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting," explains one researcher.

For many years, David quickly learned whatever poem was put in front of him, while Pamela struggled with the first line. We continued to hope for Pamela to learn the children's art without any evidence recitation was within reach. About four years ago, the miracle started when we realized Pamela needed a multi-sensory approach to memorizing poetry: her brain could make the multiple associations required when she read it aloud, copied it in her own handwriting, and used it for studied dictation (how we do spelling and writing mechanics). She loved poetry so much, she spent one morning doing what she called a poem marathon.

Singing in unison and reciting the Lord's Prayer at church seemed beyond her until we started filling in developmental milestones through Relationship Development Intervention. She was missing the ability to coordinate her actions and adjust her pace to that of another person and RDI helped fill that gap. Last fall, Pamela finally started singing with me, taking turns alternating lines, and even picking up where I left off. She even sang to herself while quietly doing paperwork. This summer, Pamela has been quietly reciting the Lord's Prayer with the congregation in church. Because of my work on the church website, she has access to Sunday recitations of The Apostle's Creed (which she started preparing for recitation last year). Over the summer, she has listened to the recordings on our computer intently to memorize this challenging statement of belief.

Today, the entire body of New Covenant Presbyterian Church heard the evidence of the miracle coming out of Pamela. As if to anticipate our pastor's sermon on pursuing God (available later in the week), Pamela "boldly" (Luke 8:11 NIV) with "shameless audacity" (Luke 8:11 TNIV) recited The Apostle's Creed in unison with the church body. Because of a slight delay in her pace, I could hear her all the way up front where I sit with the choir during the first half of the service. As I looked out into the faces of our many, many friends in the congregation, I saw bright smiles everywhere from people who know what a precious moment this was.

During and after the service, they shared their appreciation. Fellow choir members chuckled, marveled, and patted me on the shoulder. A friend in the back pew stopped me on my way to sit with Pamela during the sermon. The lady who ran the children's catechism program for a long time told me she thought Pamela was ready to become a full-fledged "adult" member of the church. Her husband, an elder emeritus, commented he had no idea she knew the creed with such confidence. Another sweet friend wished we would all proclaim our beliefs with such gusto. The husband of another dear friend told me how much he is amazed by the pictures I post on Facebook of Pamela's watercolors (overdue post to follow) and the stories I share about her. Did I mention how many wonderful friends I have in my church?

And they weren't even in Sunday School class with us to witness Pamela's recitation of Tennyson's "The Eagle". For the past month, we have been studying great hymns that touch our hearts. Every week, we pick a hymn to research for the following Sunday: the lyrics, the story behind the hymn, and the person who wrote it. Someone shared their research of "Holy, Holy, Holy" by Reginald Heber and commented that Alfred Lord Tennyson considered it the world's greatest hymn. When she heard the poet laureate's name mentioned, Pamela perked up and said, "Just like 'The Eagle.'" Then she recited the poem for them.

Yesterday, Pamela was so proud of her accomplishment she recorded herself reciting the creed from memory. Just for the fun of it!

Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:5-13

P.S. The symmetry of all this is breathtaking. Hebrew 11 and Luke 11, which also contains "The Lord's Prayer" which Pamela recited unabashedly in church today.


Penny said...

Long time no see! Good to see a post from you, Tammy! :) I have missed your blogging widsom!

Penny said...


Nancy Kelly said...

AMAZING! Thanks for sharing this miracle - it brought happy tears to my eyes.

Sursum Corda,

poohder said...

I was proud when my children learned the creed too, so I understand how much more you are because of Pamela's aphasia. Awesome!

Bright Side of Life said...

You are back... :) I have missed reading your blog! Go Pamela, go Pamela... it great following her progress!

walking said...

I'm trying all y'all. I still have a lot to juggle so we shall see. :-)