Friday, August 8, 2008

Calvin as a Teaching Tool? With Egyptians?

You know, it's weird how occasionally you'll start to see some theme, some concept, muscle its way into your life from many different unrelated directions at once.

Here's what I mean: you have a conversation with a family member about, say, Monarch Butterflies. And then, that evening, you flip on the TV to the Discovery Channel, and there's a show on about Monarch Butterflies. And then the next day, you go out in your yard to do some yardwork, and a Monarch Butterfly lands on your nose.

And you wonder whether the universe is trying to tell you something, and if so, what.

Well, our cosmic trajectory has just intersected with Calvin and Hobbes several times in the last few weeks, in ways that make us think that God is trying to tell us something. Could be worse, I suppose; he could have had our cosmic trajectory intersect with that of The Family Circle or something. And as much as I liked it, I'm not sure I'd want to start seeing in my life signs of The Far Side become immanent.


It started with the Pillowfight Fairy, as so many things do these days.

She has developed an absolute love of Calvin and Hobbes. And we have both The Complete Calvin and Hobbes--containing every strip ever written--and The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, which contains much of Bill Watterson's commentary on his creation. So the Fairy has been known to wander over to the bookshelf, pull out Volume One (which is almost as heavy as she is), hoist it up on the table, and read it for hours--to herself or to anyone who will listen, punctuated by fits of 5-year-old giggles.

And we've noticed something of a problem. For one thing, she has started sassing back to her Mommy and me in much the same way that Calvin does to his parents. Now we've tried explaining to her that much of the humor in C&H comes from the fact that Calvin says things that we all think, but would never say because it's completely inappropriate; but first-graders never listen to reason (as you'd think we'd understand, given how much Calvin and Hobbes we've read ourselves...). Calvin is not known for his tolerance of authority. So when the Fairy starts emulating him, Mommy and I start thinking: This. Ends. Now.

Furthermore, we've noticed certain new phrases entering the Fairy's vocabulary that we never taught her. I mean, when she declares over her dinner: "This stuff smells like bat barf!"; when she calls her siblings "Booger Brain"; when she tells her Daddy, "That's what you think, Bucko...." We know that we weren't the ones who taught her that.

That, and she keeps trying to transmogrify the Adrenaline Junkie into a slug.

So a funny thought crossed our minds. One of these days, we're going to introduce the Fairy to the wonders of Shakespeare. If she keeps this up, she'll wind up going around addressing everyone, "Thou vile pig-born strumpet!" or somesuch. And hopefully, those who are literate enough to understand her will be too amused to be insulted....

But for now, we figured we had to set some boundaries. So we banished Calvin and Hobbes for the rest of the month, and let her know that it was because she was starting to act a wee bit too much like him.


But like some kind of hideous alien zombie that keeps coming back even when you zap it, Calvin and Hobbes keeps popping back into our lives from weird dimensions. This next time, it sneaked up on us via the latest Carnival of Homeschooling. Barbara Frank submitted a post about the way that schools are depicted in C&H. Now, granted--the entire comic strip is written from Calvin's point of view; nevertheless, this post pointed out that there's not one positive depiction of school in the entire run of the comic strip. School is depicted as slavery, as torture, as something through which heroic adventurers demonstrate their heroism by escaping. Dramatically.

And Ms. Frank made the observation that C&H has become particularly beloved among homeschooling circles precisely because of its view of traditional, institutionalized schooling. Of course, it's a great comic strip for many other reasons; but given that many, many homeschoolers have had bad experiences with the public schools--either during their own childhoods, or with their own kids' schooling--the depiction of the schools in C&H resonates with many of them.

And it was also pointed out in the comments that Calvin and Hobbes is a great tool for teaching reading. It's funny, for everyone from the youngest kids up to the oldest grandparents, even though it uses really big words. You introduce young kids to it, and they will learn to read specifically so they can enjoy the humor in it.

(Incidentally, while I haven't been reporting on the Carnivals lately, there continues to be a lot of good stuff in them. This post is about the neurological processes associated with language and with reading, with a brief exploration of how this happens in Asperger's kids. And there are two posts, here and here, about the differences between gifted kids (and adults!) and their more "normal" peers, and how these differences need to be approached and handled. Gifted kids often have it tough, in many ways. This stuff is worth a look.)


Well, even though we banned Calvin for a month, the Fairy still has Calvin on the brain.

Wednesday we took a bunch of art supplies with us to the singing practice we were holding at Church. The idea was, of course, that Daddy would sing with the group (in preparation for Sunday's service), while the girls quietly, peaceably doodled.

(Of course, these ideas never quite work out as nicely as we hope. This may be related to the Fairy's affinity for Calvin, after all, but it doesn't explain the Adrenaline Junkie. She is explained by the fact that she's three....)

Well, one of the teen girls present was sketching out a profile of a very Manga-styled character, and was lettering a very stylized title for her creation down the side of the page. The Fairy saw this, and thought it was a great idea, so she pulled out her crayons and doodled....

Matching the layout of the Manga-inspired work of the other young lady. And then, before she ran out of time and we had to go home:
Yeah, she loves Calvin and Hobbes. I was pretty impressed, actually.


Now, in our homeschooling, we're following the scope and sequence recommended in The Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. And in this sequence, History of the Ancient World is covered (the first time) in the First Grade. So the Fairy has been learning about the Ancient Egyptians now for the last couple of weeks (since we decided to start our school year in July). And today, Tonya read for her from a (very old) library book entitled The Art of Ancient Egypt. Now, Egyptian art was of course very stylized. The book mentioned that there were several rules that this art had to follow (particularly when depicting people with social status):
One rule was to paint a clear outline and fill in with color. Another was to paint the head and legs from the side, and the shoulders and eyes from the front. That is why you see parts of the front and side of the figure at the same time.
Very interesting, of course; but a bit abstract if you're only five. Tonya tried to have the Fairy narrate back what she had heard; but it hadn't stuck.

So Tonya had a sudden flash of genius. The best way to teach the rules of Egyptian art, is to make the Fairy do a picture (she loves drawing) in which she has to obey the rules of Egyptian art! And Tonya let the Fairy choose the subject of the portrait.

Guess whom she decided to draw in the Egyptian idiom?
Let's see... shoulders viewed from the front, check. Feet viewed from the side (pointing the same way), check. Head from the side view, check. Almond-shaped Eye, viewed from a frontal perspective, check. Hips and legs from the side, check. Strongly outlined, fully colored in, check.

I think she got it. This image is ready to go on the inside of a tomb, with Anubis balancing his heart on the scales before Osiris to see whether he's ready to enter the afterlife. (Although my foreboding tells me that something really weird is about to happen in the next frame....)

Anyway, to lock in the lesson, Tonya had the Fairy do a written narration. These are the instructions on how to do an Egyptian-style drawing, as understood by the Fairy:

(Side note: We are having the Fairy use lined paper with each capital letter about 1/2 inch tall. We started using the new size of paper when we began her first-grade year in July. Prior to this, the paper we used had lines spaced about twice as far apart, giving letters that were a full inch tall. We noticed that, the moment we started using this paper, her writing became much more neat, much more regular, and much prettier. We can only conclude that writing smaller letters, for one who has mastered basic pencil skills, is much easier than writing the big stuff. It's faster, too.)


Arby said...

To learn, or not to learn, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the
slings and arrows of Miss Wormwood
for failing to complete my math homework,or to take arms against her and jump into Spaceman Spiff’s rocket ship and blast away to a safer planet? To add: To fail no more. And by “to add” we mean to actually put pencil to paper and manipulate numbers to their correct conclusion, and not pass off the assignment to a furry-brained tiger because “the Living Dead don’t need to solve word
problems.” Soft you now, the evil Mr. Spittle approaches. Hobbes, the water balloon, please...

Timothy Power said...

A hit, a palpable hit....

Holy schlaMOly, can't we all just talk like normal people?