Friday, May 6, 2016

Getting Familiar.

I've been thinking a lot lately about becoming familiar with things: art, school, routes to places in town, music, routines, eating habits, and exercise. You've probably heard the quote "Familiarity breeds contempt", and while this quote is attributed to many different people throughout history, the oldest claim to author I could find was Aesop. I feel this way at times, begrudging the regular, familiar duties of life, but when I think more deeply about the idea of becoming familiar with something or someone, I see how familiarity breeds a level of comfort and happiness in my life.

My first lightbulb moment with this idea was on the flight back from Thailand after my first trip around to that side of the globe. I had been gone for 12 days and while I was tired and ready to be home, I didn't feel particularly homesick. I thoroughly enjoyed the food in Thailand, the friendliness of the people, and seeing all the lush, tropical greenery was an experience I will never forget. But still, the moment I started seeing golden oak trees, red maples, and leaves covering the autumn landscape of Washington, my heart was leaping without my consent or even the slightest encouragement. I kept saying "I don't know why, but seeing the landscape here just makes me so happy!".

I remember feeling really surprised at how a familiar landscape could incite such a response in my spirit. I do love the Fall, and each year seeing the leaves change colors brings me some level of excitement, but when you have a time of separation from familiar places or things, the thrilling rush of being reunited is even more intense.

I see this in our schooling all the time. Most recently, our kids studied George Frederick Handel and his composition Water Music during our time at CC. We colored a picture of Handel, talked about the orchestra, I shared about his life and where he lived, then we listened to the song a couple times. We took note of the repeating portions of the song, which instruments echoed other instruments, and chatted a little about what we imagined happening while the music played. Cole especially took to the music and easily remembered Handel's full name, as he has a stuffed cat named Frederick.

Fast-forward three weeks later to our opening session at CC. One of the other tutors came up front and demonstrated playing some music on her clarinet. She played a few small pieces, and before the third she said we might recognize the tune. As she began, Cole jumped from his chair and looked at me with huge eyes, bouncing, trying to still whisper but hardly containing himself, "Mom! It's Water Music by George Frederick Handel!" and continued to bounce his little bum on his chair until she finished the refrain.

I have never seen a kid so thrilled to hear Water Music. It was his familiarity with the music made it exciting! The same goes for art. During our Language Lessons this year we studied a piece by Andrew Wyeth called The Master Bedroom which featured a sleepy dog on a tidy bed. Several months later, we happened to be leaving Goodwill when Asher pointed out a picture. The same exact print, nicely framed (and nicely priced) was sitting on a bottom shelf! Of course we bought it, and now it sits as a lovely reminder of the way God has taken seemingly meaningless tasks in our homeschooling and brought excitement into them. That print at Goodwill would have gone totally unnoticed by us had we not studied it earlier in the year.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay talks about this concept in her book For the Children's Sake. We try to make art fun for children by taking them to art museums, but in reality, to make it exciting and impactful for them, we need to teach them art first, then take them to a museum where they will encounter the beloved pieces they have already studied. It will be far more ingrained in their minds, education, and experience.

Obviously, familiarity does not guarantee interest, but a certain level of exposure and knowledge to important and beautiful people, places, and things, gives our children a greater chance at finding something they can pursue with passion. Exposing them to a base knowledge of classical music gives them access to different paths they would not have access to otherwise. Teaching children about famous artists and what the world was like for those people gives them more chances to connect the dots of history, art, humanities, and more.

On a day to day basis, familiarity for us adults means we can do our jobs without a lot of decision-making. We know where our spoons are, we know what cupboard to get a coffee mug from, and we know which button to press when we want to heat up our coffee for 30 seconds more. Aesop might be right in that this level of familiarity can make life feel boring, making us feel resentful, but that is why I prefer George Santayana's quote: "Familiarity breeds contempt only when it breeds inattention".

Let the topics you introduce to your children become familiar enough for them to recognize out in the world, then give them opportunity to find those familiar ideas somewhere new. Help them to know the names of important people, places, historical events, and music so that they can recognize it instantly in a book, in conversation, or on the radio. Not only will you be boosting their confidence in their ability to know the world they live in, you also make it far more exciting. Not just for them, but for you as well. Witnessing the joy beaming from your children over the information they retain, understand and expand upon is one of the most rewarding experiences for a parent.

This all sounds lovely right? But how do you start? I feel lucky that CC makes it pretty easy for us, giving us plenty of information to memorize and digest. But if you are going this alone, without a community or someone giving you a foundation to start from, you can still do it! Here is one practical way to start.

- Pick something you love: a work of art, a well-known historical event, an important person you admire, a president, an orchestral instrument, etc.

- Find out several things about your chosen item or person.

- Print out some pictures, related objects, portraits of people involved, or maps of the area.

- Talk about it! Just tell your children what you know, emphasizing a few important pieces of information.

- Two more times that week, talk about it some more. Ask the children to tell Dad about it over dinner, or to draw a replica of the art or portrait of the person.

- Find a book from the library where this topic will come up again. It can be a book fully devoted to the person or topic, but it doesn't have to be. Just make sure they encounter this same topic somewhere slightly unexpected.

- Lastly, wait and see where else it comes up! Maybe at the grocery store, where the art or portrait of a famous person will show up, or maybe even at Goodwill.

This method of introducing a topic and finding it in more places is probably my favorite part of homeschooling. It's confirmation that the world is far more connected than we realize, and that God intertwines all kinds of things together in our lives. If you have having trouble thinking of a topic to start with, here are some fun topics that have worked well for us.

- The Great Pyramids
- Vincent Van Gogh
- Beethoven
- Bach
- The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
- Geodes and Thunder Eggs
- the Flute
- Andrew Wyeth
- Georges-Pierre Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
- George Washington
- Abraham Lincoln
- The Huns
- The Roman Empire
- Volcanoes
- The Mediterranean Sea & prominent countries in Europe

Come back and tell me what you tried! The first attempt is always the hardest, but soon it will be a familiar (and lovely) process, one with many rich rewards for your entire family.

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