Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Shakespeare Week

'The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good'  Robert Graves

The week of 14 - 20th March was Shakespeare Week, a national annual celebration aimed at children of primary-school age. As I signed up as a home educator, I was able to access the free resources, including a Shakespeare passport, as well as two films.

During the week, we learned about Shakespeare's life, starting with this clip from the BBC website. Every morning, I read to Charlie from 'Twenty Children's Shakespeare Stories'. I was disappointed in these, to be honest. I didn't like the illustrations and didn't think the stories were especially well written. However, Charlie was happy to listen to them and they did at least give him an outline of the plays. He chose to listen to: 'Macbeth', 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. 

I was much happier with the copy of 'Henry V', which I bought separately from the above collection. It looks as if this is a later edition from the same series which has been updated and improved. It is illustrated by the popular children's illustrator Tony Ross and the story is written in a far more entertaining style. We read this together before watching 'WillShake', an abridged version of 'Henry V' performed entirely by young children (available to view on Digital TheatrePlus until 26 April). Only 15-minutes long, this was beautifully produced and short enough to succeed in holding Charlie's attention till the end.

I can't say the same for the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of 'Love's Labour's Lost', shown in a live online performance towards the end of the week. This was too long and verbose for Charlie, who lasted until the first interval, then wriggled off the sofa to get a drink and didn't come back. I couldn't blame him. I knew the subject matter wouldn't grab him ("It's about love? Yeugh!") and thought it an odd choice as a play to inspire primary-school children to love Shakespeare. It was a wonderful production which I enjoyed, but I suspect many young school children struggled with it.

Friday, 20th March brought a very exciting event for a child like Charlie who loves anything about space: a total solar eclipse. 

We didn't have any special glasses, so were prepared to experience the eclipse using either a colander or pinhole projection. 

As it happened, the morning was overcast and the sun well hidden behind cloud. Nevertheless, we went into the garden at the appropriate time and waited for something to happen. It was subtle, but there was a darkening and stillness in the air, as if a storm was brewing. 

Afterwards, we watched Professor Brian Cox and Dara O Briain presenting 'Stargazing Live' on BBC2. After the, admittedly, slight anticlimax of our cloudy partial eclipse, watching the absolute darkness fall across the Faroe Islands was impressive.

The following week was the last one before the Easter holidays. I put away the textbooks and we spent the week mainly following Charlie's interests, with maybe a little direction from me now and again.

Bug hunting

Map reading

Homemade butternut squash and sweet potato soup

Learning Times Tables using rhymes

Reorganising books alphabetically
Learning about Australia with Little Passports
Drawing the Sydney Opera House
Photographing ninja cats
Lots of walks to the local park to enjoy the spring flowers

Buds appearing on the trees
And lots of time to just hang around...
The main advantage of home education is that it does not have to be like school at home: your child can learn through conversation with interested, engaged adults, trips out, travel, watching television, using the internet, reading, experiments and so on. Some home-educated children don't do any formal learning until they choose to sit exams. I know all that, but sometimes I still make the mistake of relying on too many textbooks and asking Charlie to demonstrate his learning on worksheets. These may have their place, but there are so many other ways to learn, especially when you're only nine years' old. 

During the Easter holidays, we are taking a break. Charlie will be playing games, going out, meeting up with friends and relaxing at home. I'm sure there will be lots of learning going on, but it will be untested and unrecorded. And that's absolutely fine.

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