Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Unschooling The Shakespeare Season

I gave you all a taste of our Shakespeare productions in yesterday's blog post, but because of a question about unschooling and the value of studying Shakespeare on Facebook, I am adding this post about our troupe, Front Lawn Players, a group founded in 2005, which performs a complete, unabridged play every spring.  The students, some unschooled, some more formally schooled, are all homeschoolers who dedicate time and effort to perform the works faithfully, in costume, on a set designed and built by parents and students.  We are blessed with talented parents (who design, direct, stage, schedule, prompt, drive, and more...) and kids (who act, and help out with all the other jobs) who have all seen the value of this kind of in-depth Shakespeare study (for that's what it really is) year after year.  Shakespeare by total immersion is the method.

Because the stage is a flatbed truck, it can be brought on site and assembled in no time.  Well, it takes a few hours, and is assembled by men, distracted by small children running around:

And voila!
Finished Set--two levels, two stairways

The Shakespeare season has been an annual event for so long, and takes up so much time--real educational time--and provides some many lessons, that we have become rather good at interpreting the lessons learned for consumption by education professionals (college applications, quarterly reports, etc.).  Subjects covered include the obvious--enhanced oral reading skills, language, diction, vocabulary, contextual understanding, history, acting, and the sort of things you would expect.  They also learn costuming (and through that, clothing styles from other centuries), ethics (deception is a common theme), religion (see Claire Asquith's Shadowplay and Joseph Pierce's Quest for Shakespeare), politics, economics (we have a budget--sort of), geography, law, and human nature.

And time management--are your lines memorized yet??

This year we are using the wonderful technology of Google+ hangouts for line practice.  This saves gas (we really do this on a shoestring budget), and ensures that the kids are getting the pronunciations correct and so do not have to unlearn mistakes.

Here are some video clips and some still photos and links to our productions.  I hope you'll agree that the kids really pull off something amazing.

Click through to youtube for the whole scene, which does not fit here.

We begin each year by announcing the cast list.  Casting is a chore that goes to our director.  We do not audition, since the company does not change, though graduates move on, and younger students move up to the senior group.  The students, theoretically, practice their lines and know them well by the time rehearsals begin in March.  In reality, everyone is constantly learning and relearning lines, stage directions, and cues until performance times.  The kids drive each other to excel.  Suddenly, chaos turns to order, and the play's the thing.

We perform in June for our homeschool group and for friends and relatives.  And that's it.

From the Junior (now senior) Players:  Poor Bottom!

The older kids--junior and seniors--have gone on to direct other "spin off" groups within our larger homeschooling group, and their younger siblings perform A Midsummer Night's Dream every year, until they join the senior players.  Best of all, the kids have made the sort of friendships based on common experience that will surely be lifelong.

Links to past productions:
Scenes from As You Like It and here.  Note the older set, on ground level.  Shakespeare does not need a big, complicated set.  Our first and subsequent productions of A Midsummer Nights' Dream do not even use a stage, but rely on a few props and the landscape.

Scenes from Twelfth Night, the play that taught me to spell Twelfth.

More than 15--Unschooling Add-Ons from the Comments

Well, clearly, the 15 things were not at all comprehensive, and some are unique to my homeschool.  More than one person reminded me that a kitchen is a good idea.  Heh.  Yes.  Much unschooling goes on in the kitchen!  A garden is also indispensable, but any backyard (or even a fire-escape) can be made into an unschooling space...even if you do no landscaping at all.  I do have another page of backyard suggestions here.

Helen suggested I add arts and crafts.  Ah, if only I were craftier!  Alas, while I do have a few fun standard crafts I have done (paper-making, paper lanterns, dipped candles...) I am the least crafty unschooler on the planet.  Those who knit amaze me.  Those who quilt are beyond my feeble comments.  And the same goes for any number of craft skills that take more than an hour or two.  But, yes, crafts--especially useful ones--provide perfect and natural unschooling moments.

Kimberlee would have me add tea, and I agree...but I am not a tea fan.  If you are, by all means, make tea a ritual in your unschooling life.  For me, it's coffee.  And I do love coffee.  Without it there would not be any homeschooling of any kind going on.  And in the evening?  Wine.  Or a margarita.  Ah.  Yes.  And if you visit, I will share a glass with you and wax eloquent about unschooling.

She also suggests silence, and I agree.  And making a fire using flint and steel.  Sure!  Or a bow drill!  But hey, I figured the list was just basics.  We can get into specifics as we get to know each other better.  But Kimberlee knows me pretty well by now.  Do visit her amazing blog.  And crafty?  Her blog is a place to find beauty.

If I could add one more thing, it would be...a camera.  Many tablet and phone devices have cameras, but invest in a good one, and keep it with you.  These days of digital imaging make photography more affordable, so investing in a high end camera is a good idea.

Next up...why Shakespeare?  Stay tuned!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top Fifteen Unschooling Necessities

At one conference many years ago, and several others more recently, I was asked what is the most indispensable thing for any homeschooler.  Most of the panelists talked about schedules and curricula.   I talked furniture.  Of course, unschooling, or relaxed homeschooling, is more than home decor, so here are the things we really need to make unschooling a breeze.  What would you add?

#1:  The humble couch--sofa, divan, Castro, daybed, or whatever you call it--is the most important item in our homeschool.  Can you see why?  When the kids are little, they can all crowd around for a story, reading time, sing along, or just a quick cuddle.  And for bigger kids, it is a comfy place to work, read, doze, or play a game on a tablet.  But big or small, when the picture books are opened, everyone gathers to listen.

#2:  I have been to homes without book shelves.  The people there could not be homeschooling.  Yes, books collect dust, and so often are left unshelved as untidy reminders of homeschooling going on around you. But book shelves tell stories themselves.  When I visit a new friend I head over to the book shelves to see what kind of books reside there.  I expect friends to do the same when they visit my home.

#3:  Library Card, because they are mostly free (thank you Ben Franklin).  All the books in the world, and a nice place to browse, too.  In our area, the library is a cooling center.  During the hot summer months, the library, with the a/c set on cold, maintains a temp of about 50 degrees.  In the winter, it's pretty cozy, and has a fun seating area in the young adult section.

#4:  Because TV can be ugly, and commercials are worse, get Netflix or Amazon Instant Video (I hear Downton Abbey is all the rage, and can be ordered by season).

#5:  Kindle, or iPad, or Nook, or tablet of any kind (and check out this discussion in the WSJ).  They are portable, instant, can store many, many books, and most are compatible with Audible.

#6:  Audible because no time should ever be wasted.  Exercise with it.  Drive with it.  Sleep with it.  Listening to different voices, accents, and even languages using audio books will expand your hearing horizons.  Expand your vocabulary without having to sound out words.

#7:  Music is about everything.  It can be political, romantic, jarring or soothing.  Play it.  Sing it.  Listen to it.  Go to concerts.  Put on your own concerts.  Dance informally, or take lessons.  Learn square dance calling.  Learn the art of the DJ.  Improvise.  Same goes for art.  Lessons or no lessons, try different genres and media.

#8:  Freedom to explore the world.  And this will include a good deal of risk.  Kids should be able to use public transportation to get to wonderful places, like parks and museums.  This will not only increase their feeling of independence, but will give you more freedom, too.

#9:  Time.  Well, simply skipping institutionalized school gives you this.  Don't waste it.

#10:  Shakespeare.  We spend three months every school year doing Shakespeare.  Pair up with a friend and read a play. Watch film versions, or better, go to a professional performance.  Get a group together and do scenes.  Get a big dedicated group together and do a whole play.  Nothing self-educates better than Shakespeare.

#11:  Get the kids some pets.  If you don't want pets, make sure your kids have friends with pets.  You don't need a dog, or a hog; a fish will do.  Or garden snails in a terrarium, which are free and adapt well to captivity.  These are especially nice if you want to show your kids the miracle of invertebrate life without any real expense.  Yes, you can release the hatchlings right into the wild, no fear.

#12:  Shower curtains.  You laugh?  Everyone with a shower needs them, and we use them even if we have a glass shower door.  Keeps things neat, and (this is the point) they can be educational.  No, I don't mean for mold sampling purposes, but for the fun things that are printed on them.  We have two that are terrific:  One has seashells with scientific names (can't find it anywhere anymore...but there are others!), and the other is the shower curtain of the periodic table.  Yes, I got a call from one of my college students thanking me for having that shower curtain hanging for so many years. She probably wishes we had alternated with the Human Skeleton curtain. Or how about a World Map?  The Water Cycle?  Pi?  Even Sea Life has earned a curtain. So, if you are an unschooler, it's curtains for you.

#13:  A job can make a difference in any kid's life, and the sooner the better.  Ben Franklin was selling beer at age 11.  What can your pre-teen or young teen do to earn money in these days of crippling child labor laws?  Here are some suggestions from my own family, and from friends' families, too:  Babysitter/mother's helper, music teacher, CCD hallway monitor (really), altar boy for funerals and weddings, shop helper, office worker, baker, yard worker, snow shoveler, a lemonade stand operator (if you dare), dog walker, house sitter...use your imagination.  And there's math involved in every paid job you can find, if only to calculate your income.

#14:  Tools.  Kids should be able to hammer a nail, drill a hole, oil a hinge, chop and saw wood, whittle, tie proper knots, wire a lamp, fix a leak, climb a ladder, whitewash a fence, start a fire with one match (and no accelerant) and more.  Unschooling doesn't mean no lessons, but it does mean that things can be learned purposefully.

#15:  Duct tape.  The kids will find a reason.