Sunday, March 28, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 7: Gladiatorial Games

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: We had so much to do today, it was ridiculous! We took our quiz on the gladiator material and sang our songs. We added two new verses of Mark Antony's speech, and that was exciting. Next week we'll be adding the "Musa Mihi" portion of the Aeneid memorization, so we previewed that a little bit in our best Jar Jar Binks voices.

Memory Work: Last week the students got the poem "Horatio at the Bridge." Today we read it for the first time. This poem was written by Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British poet and politician during Victorian times. The Brits of this time romanticized the Romans because they too were forming an empire, taking over the world, and believed they were helping people by spreading their culture and civilization. The same values and beliefs that led the Romans to subdue and assimilate barbarians greatly appealed to the movers and shakers in the 19th century empire building nations. Here is a link to the whole poem, Horatius. We are reading and studying verses 24-33, but it would be great for the kids to read the whole thing. Next week we'll be reading it dramatically, taking parts for the Consul, and Horatio, and the other speakers.

Gladiatorial Games:

There were several key elements we adopted, to making this experience work.

1. No weapons, not even fake ones. I removed this rule in the enrichment class, because the younger children actually seemed way more capable of safely using them without incident.
2. Clear explanation of the concept of pantomime. As in... no touching.
3. Clear explanation of the concept of creating tableaux. As in... freeze.

Your job as teacheris to create and narrate a story including all the characters the children have chosen. You want to include all the important elements in the lesson. Make sure your wealthy sponsors are acknowledged. Make sure your gladiators holler at the emperor, "We who are about to die salute you!" Incorporate your wild animals, your condemned criminals, and give the crowd a chance to decide the fate of a doomed man. The kids' job is to not decapitate each other.

Here's how it works so no one gets hurt and everyone has fun: The children pause while you narrate the story, and freeze when you say "Pose!" So, you tell a little bit of the story, yell "Pose!" and then the children move into their next position and freeze. Yes, we did have some jumping on tables and there were some tense moments when a lion escaped. But there were no actual decapitations, and everyone got to play the part they wanted, including the guard who saved the emperor from an assassination plot. Here are some pictures:

For more pictures, visit the Aeneid set on my Flickr account.

Assignment: This week's fast facts sheet covers the Law of the Twelve Tables. The point of reading these is to take another look at the ways in which our ideas are the same as the Romans, and the ways they're different. We have only excerpts, but you can find a bit more about the Twelve Tables here. Some of these laws seem very reasonable to us, and some seem completely nuts. Next week we're going to talk about which laws are most important to our contemporary world, and what twelve things we'd write down if we had twelve ivory tablets to engrave, and an empire to build. Should be interesting!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 6: Roman Virtue Charades

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Quiz: Today the kids took a mega-quiz! We tackled twenty questions on the Roman dinner party and the Roman virtues. Wow, it was intense. We also had time to sing all of our songs, and in our "Arma Virumque Cano" song we added the verse that starts "Multa quoque." That is exciting. The kids are learning so much Latin, and they sound great!

Activity: Roman Virtue Charades

Academic Track: I wrote the fifteen Roman Virtues (and one Roman vice: furor) onto cards. I gave pietas, dignitas, gravitas, and furor extra cards since I want to emphasize those. I had the children pair up and gave each pair three cards to act out. They had some time to plan their sketches and then they each had a chance to get up in front of the class and act out their virtues so we could guess which one they were portraying. It was pretty hilarious! Here are a couple of pictures:

Celia and Martina preparing to act out constantia.

Richard demonstrating clementia. Seriously, he's just about to demonstrate it.

This was great fun. We even got to try out some Roman Virtue Pictionary, and I encourage you to try this with your kids at home. Take your list of 15 virtues and try and draw each of them. You draw and have your kids guess, then guess your kids' drawings. Maybe afterward you can turn it into a comic!

Enrichment Track: In the enrichment track we acted these words out together, and we chose four words on which to focus: furor, pietas, dignitas, and gravitas. First I wrote them on the white board and we sounded them out, then I acted them out myself and let the kids guess which one I was going for. After I'd done them each a bunch of times, I let the kids take turns coming up to stand in front of the board and do a virtue. Here are a couple of pictures:

Miranda doing "gravitas."

Katie doing "furor."

I can't resist sharing -- here's a video of the whole class together doing charades:

Assignment: Next week we're going to act out our gladiator games. Today the kids picked their roles. In the academic classes, we had some very interesting choices: assassin, guard, condemned criminal, emperor, etc. In the enrichment class, we also had interesting choices: gladiators, emperor, archers, and also a unicorn, pony, shark, and pet kitten. It's important to let the kids feel happy and comfortable with their roles, and look forward to the event. If you have to stretch to prepare a narrative for them that includes three emperors or a unicorn posse or a rainbow sparkle fairy or whatever, you can do that! Asking the kids to act out something violent is a sketchy business -- make sure it's a learning experience but also fun. Dressing up is great but not mandatory! Make sure for next week they have read the Funeral Games chapter of the book, and have read and understood the "Gladiator Games Fast Facts" sheet.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 5: Furor and Pietas

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: Today the kids got three new pages in their scrapbooks. The 9:30 class also got to paste in some photos of our Roman dinner party, but due to an error at Walgreen's photo processing center the other classes didn't print, so they'll get theirs next week. Encourage the kids to embellish their scrapbooks with whatever drawings, photos, notes, and stickers they like, particularly drawings they may create while listening to the story or after reading the story. The three new printed pages were as follows: Roman Virtues Fast Facts, the new song "I Will Be Roman," and a new poem excerpt, "Horatio at the Bridge."

We didn't take a quiz today, because we had way too much to do. Next week we'll take a mega-quiz that will cover Roman games, the Roman dinner party, and the Roman virtues. Prepare to write many Ts and Fs!

Lesson: Our lesson today covered the story of Dido and Aeneas, and a discussion of Roman virtues. I picked 15 virtues for the kids to learn, which are detailed on the Fast Facts sheet. We talked about how people in different families, different countries, and different time periods value different things based on what they want to accomplish. For example, we teach our children to be kind and share, whereas the Romans valued the ability to inflict and tolerate pain. A little different.

We talked about the story up to this point and hit all the major plot points, then discussed the situation that Dido and Aeneas found themselves in.

In the story, Dido represents "furor" which to Romans meant to be ruled by passions and selfishness, following the excitement and emotion, the precedence of the individual over the group. While she starts out the story as a good ruler, building her city and society, she is overwhelmed by her love for Aeneas, and becomes irrational, letting her personal agenda override her community's agenda. Aeneas, in this story, represents "pietas" which to the Romans meant dutifulness, doing what was right for the family, the community, the civilization, and the gods. We talked about how Virgil separates these two traits into two characters to illustrate the conflict between them, but how they really both exist within any human.

We talked about how in some situations you need to be ruled by your pietas, but in some situations it's okay to be ruled by your furor. Safety and duty are good, but in our society we also love that passion that pushes you down a ski slope, or toward a work of great art, or into political rebellion. I would love it if the parents would take over helping the kids to see these two pieces of themselves, and help them become more aware in situations that require furor and pietas to balance.

We talked about the other Roman virtues on our fast facts sheet. Next week we're going to play "Roman Virtue Charades" so the kids will have a chance to act out some of these virtues. Check out this link for an even greater list of Roman virtues. Next week we're going to read our excerpt of "Horatio at the Bridge," which is an illustration of Roman virtue. Or actually an illustration of Victorian romanticization of Roman virtue. But we aren't going to unpeel that layer!

Memory Work: This week Celia recited the entire excerpt from the Aeneid in Latin, and she did it with such impressive expressiveness that she sounded like a native speaker! Exciting! The kids seem to be working hard on the memory projects -- remember it's not mandatory, just for fun. Anyone who has run out of things to memorize can start memorizing "Horatio at the Bridge."


We made mosaics using sticky cardstock and tiny tiles. I forgot my camera, but here are pictures of the materials and where to get them.

We also used some other stuff as mosaic tiles... sparkly jewels, sequins, and other things. These no-glue collage boards are awesome. You peel them like a sticker and the sticky surface is very sticky. Some kids did geometric designs, some did pictures, some just enjoyed the materials in random and pleasing ways.

Assignment: For next week please read the chapter "Funeral Games." We're coming up to our gladiator games event, so we'll be planning that in class next week. The children will get to choose roles -- lions, gladiators, emperor, spectators, guards, etc. If you own the movie "Gladiator" and you've watched it enough to be able to choose scenes strategically so the kids won't see anything awful (and there are plenty of awful things in the movie) it would be great if they could see at least some of the coliseum scene, to get an idea of the scope of it. I don't recommend it for the younger kids, of course, but some of the older ones will benefit from certain scenes. We will be mixing gladiator fun with versions of the funeral games that the Trojans engaged in to honor Anchises, so look forward to that too! Volunteers are welcome, and let's hope for a sunny day so we can go outside.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 4: How to Throw a Roman Dinner Party

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Overview: The lesson to be learned from this event involves the concept of civilization and what it means to be civilized. The Romans valued their civility highly, and dinner parties were an opportunity to express these qualities in public. They practiced rituals, demonstrated courtesy and respect, and strictly adhered to traditions and conventions. It was very important for the Romans to define themselves as civilized and therefore superior to the barbarian cultures around them. As we discussed in The Jungle Book, a colonizing nation must see the colonized people as "other" and also as inferior, so that the invasion can be seen as helping the dominated peoples, and the conquerors can be seen as saviors.

The interesting thing about the Roman dinner party is that compared to a dinner party today, it's not very civilized at all! As I asked the kids... if someone came to your house for dinner and they sat on the floor, ate with their hands from the serving dishes, and maybe excused themselves to vomit in between courses, would that be civilized? What if they weren't wearing any pants? Today's standards of "civilized behavior" are different from the Romans' standards -- but who's to say that in another 2000 years people will find it low and vile to eat with forks and put napkins in our laps? So, during the party, you want to underscore the importane of the Roman rituals and behaviors, and pretend to be very proud of your intensely refined and civilized behavior.


Step one: Prepare the food and drink. We used olives, boiled eggs, raw cabbage, chicken, pepperoni, grapes, apples, pears, figs, and dates.

We decanted white grape juice into empty bottles that we had labelled appropriately.

Step two: Set the mood with some music. If you have any musicians skilled in playing the lyre, call on them now. We downloaded a Synaulia album and played that on a CD player.

Step two: Set the table. Remember that Romans ate close to the floor. You can simulate this by using a regular folding table without folding out the legs. Drape some fabric over the whole table, including some on the floor where the guests will recline. You'll need a centerpiece that can later be offered as a sacrifice. We used a cabbage.

Step three: Invite in your guests! Encourage everyone to dress up.

The Dinner:

Toast: Give everyone a cup with some ice in it. Explain about how the Romans didn't have refrigerators or freezers, but they did acquire ice from the mountains and keep it cold in deep pits. Boast that the fact that you have ice at your dinner party reflects your intense civilization and impressive wealth. A common table wine was called Mulsum, which was water, wine, and honey. Ask your students why the Romans might have watered down their wine, especially considering that dinner parties sometimes went on for hours. Have the slaves pour out the "wine" and then toast Rome!

Appetizers: You can give each guest a napkin with which to eat, but remind them that in Roman times they would have had their own napkin which they would bring from home to any dinner party they attended, kind of like a personal hankerchief. Pass around the eggs and olives. Talk about how a really great appetizer in Roman times would have been a stuffed dormouse.

Main course: Explain that Romans didn't eat a lot of beef, because they used their cows for work. After a few years of work, a cow would be so tough and chewy that you'd have to cook it for a week before it was edible. Why go through all that drama when you could cook up a pig right away. Pigs didn't have to work, and pork was the Romans' favorite meat.

Sacrifice: Between the main course and the dessert, the Romans paused to sacrifice to their household gods. Here is our altar:

Have one guest bring the sacrificial cabbage, and another light the candles. Then observe a moment of silence during which you respect your Roman values, and the ideas that are important to your family.

Dessert: Pass around the fruit, including the dates and figs, which some of your guests might find unfamiliar.


After dinner, invite your guests to entertain the group with poetry recitation, song, and dance. Celia M. and Sarah R, from our academic track class, were able to recite the soliloquy from Julius Caesar, and Martina E. set a new record for memorizing the Virgil, at 6 lines in Latin. In the enrichment track class, one of our slaves brought Max N.'s little brother Seth, who recited eight lines of Shakespeare to my amazement! He was immediately granted citizenship in the class. The enrichment track class also engaged in some dancing after dinner:

Guests can also entertain themselves by playing Knucklebones or Latrunculi.

I sent all my friends out to carouse through Rome after my party was over. I hope they all had a wonderful time! Didn't see a picture of your child? or just want to see more pictures of our awesome class? Click here for more Aeneid Class pictures.

Assignment for next week: Make sure you have read through chapter 3 in the book. By now everyone should have a copy! :) Next week we will be making mosaics. Please let your children have a look at some mosaic tile work online. Here's another page with mosaics, and another page.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

How to Get Your Child to Practice the Violin Without Sugar

A reader of this blog asked me if I had any more good practicing tips, having found my doll concert post helpful in getting her five-year-old to practice. So here is another idea which can be adapted in many situations to make practicing more fun. And here's another picture of my baby playing the violin:

The general principle here is to make the practice a physical journey that the child can visualize and experience kinesthetically. Here are several ways to do that:

1. Create practice cards with location on them. Place them around the house (or outside!) with each card giving the next location. So hand the child a card that says "Bathroom, standing on the toilet." They go to the bathroom, climb on the toilet, and play their first song. There they find a card that says "In the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room." They go there, play their next song, and there they find a card that says "Hall closet." Or whatever. If Mom is traipsing along behind to help with position and pitch, you can't go wrong. After a few times of playing this, let the child be in charge of placing the cards before practice begins. You could even let the child make the cards, place the cards, and *you* be the one who has to find the next card and listen to a piece at each location.

2. If you have, like we have, a bunch of little toy houses and buildings, set up a little journey for a favorite toy or doll. The castle, the pirate ship, the beauty salon, Barbie's house, the treehouse... whatever you have for little destinations. Say, "Now, this Polly Pocket has to go to all of these places today and at each place she's going to hear a different piece of music. When she gets back to the beginning, practice is over." At each destination, the child plays another piece of her practice, and along the way, Polly Pocket can run into all kinds of problems: becoming extremely hungry, getting tired and wanting to give up, being chased by bears, being hounded by Paparazzi, etc. When Polly Pocket gets home, the practice is over: no exceptions! Polly is exhausted. If you need a more tangible variation, have Polly Pocket deliver marbles at each location, or pick up marbles from each destination.
3. A simple, portable version of this involves a little toy frog or bee and a piece of paper, and some tiny stickers. Draw ten (or however many) lily pads (or flowers), with the names of the songs on them... you can have multiple "Minuet 1" lily pads if that one needs to be repeated. When the frog has visited a lily pad, the child can put a sticker on it or color part of it in. There should be seven stickers on each lily pad (or seven petals of the flower colored in) at the end of the week, then the child can turn in the whole thing for a reward. Moving the frog around the paper lets them keep track of their progress and gives them a sense of what's coming up.

I'm sure you can think of lots of other variations on this theme, using the idea that a violin practice can be mobile, visible, tangible, and progress can be marked in space. Be as goofy as possible, and don't worry about "Well, this is working now, but what about next week?" Next week, if you need to, you'll think of something else. Maybe that thing will involve sugar. But most likely, once your child gets accustomed to practicing "with joy" because you're turning yourself inside out to make it fun, you won't need all the bells and whistles to get a good practice. Everything goes in cycles, I have found. If you get yourself through a rough patch by pulling out all the stops with fun games and adventures, you'll find yourself on the other side with a happier child and a new attitude.