Writing with a pencil by hand is a foundational skill. But it’s also a beautiful endeavor. I have fond memories of learning to form the ABCs. This work was quiet, slow, and mysterious. Yes, mysterious. My grandmother, who raised me, wrote little notes by hand and left them in various places around the house to my great delight. Her hand was one of a kind, a lovely extension of her loving self. It was not like any other by-hand note I’ve ever encountered in life. That’s the thing about penmanship. Penmanship is personal.
Sadly, digital teaching tools have pushed handwriting instruction to the back seat. But writing by hand is multi-sensory, connecting hand-eye coordination and memory. Writing by hand, the art of encoding language, strengthens the ability to read (decode) language. Writing by hand slows us down so that we might engage with and bring shape to our ideas.
This past Sunday, January 23, was the birthday of John Hancock—the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. I can see his strong, courageous calligraphy in my mind’s eye. His is the one famous signature that my elementary classmates and I committed to memory. So it is fitting that here at the end of January each year we celebrate the art of handwriting connected to this larger than life signature!
So at the dawn of 2022, may you pick up a pencil, craft your very own John Hancock, marveling at each individual stroke that defines your hand.
Each poem is a one-of-a-kind collage of sounds that tickle the tip-of-the-tongue and a rhythmic hammering that sparks a tap-of-the-toe.
Poetry is a larger part of our world than we often admit. It’s the songs we sing, commercial jingles, rap, billboards, and YouTube. Poetry is headlines, Facebook, and blogs. Poetry is in great books and essays. Poetry is everywhere!
And so poetry is worth our while—worth reading, worth writing, worth speaking out loud, worth memorizing.
This past winter, when I challenged my writing apprentices to memorize a poem, I had to endure another collective groan, “Noooo…!” And when I showed them the poem they would have two weeks to memorize, they went pale and were silenced.
The poem “Television” by Roald Dahl was the perfect poem for this project not only because we were exploring the theme “Unplug” in our writing workshop, but because if was long enough to prove the vast potential of their ability to memorize.
The lesson began, “Memorized poems fill the pantry of our imagination with food that is sure to sustain us in lean times. If you don’t believe, read Frederick, by Leo Lionni.”
I went on, “I know, these days we’re not used to memorizing long passages of traditional poetry. But, wait think about all the memorizing we do on a daily basis!”
We generated a list and I saw color return to their cheeks.
Row, row, row your boat…
The wheels on the bus go round and round…
Peter Piper picked a peck…
Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…
I shared a story about my oldest Hannah being able to recite all of Beatrice Potter’s Peter Rabbit when she was three simply because I read it to her so often, “Memorizing is something you are equipped to accomplish!”
Still, I was struck by downcast attitude of my writing apprentices, as if this was the most arduous task on the planet. Can you say “Mountain from a molehill?” It was actually painful to watch them shilly-shally.
I’m happy to report that by the end of week one most of them found their footing. By the beginning of week two, they were having so much FUN that I announced we would be making a film of the project. We would turn Dahl’s poem into a documentary.
Here’s how I helped them break the memorization into manageable bits:
1. Begin with a close reading. This poem is a very long single stanza. Count the sentences in the poem. Translate each sentence into your own words. Write out each translation on a piece of paper.
2. Copy the poem, one sentence at a time and say the sentence slowly as you write.
3. Break the poem into small, manageable sections. Read and repeat one line at a time from a section without looking. Listen to the rhythm. Read the next line from this section, then repeat (without looking) the two lines. Continue on in this manner.
4. Once the entire poem is memorized, breathe life into your reading by going back to your close reading notes. Use your voice to add inflection.
At the end of the list I promised, “Soon you will not only have the poem memorized, but you carry the poem in your heart.”
And they did.
And they do.
So before summer slips too far away, plan an UNPLUG activity or two… and please, please, please, memorize a poem!
During the course of our virtual traveling this summer, we decided to touch down in Times Square via a Ravensburger puzzle. The adventure took place on our dining room table until this past week when we decided some fresh air and bit of sunshine was in order.
We slid what little of the puzzle we had completed onto an unused presentation board so that it could be stored outside. The board allows us to leave the puzzle on the picnic table over night tucked safely from the family of four rambunctious raccoons and other neighborhood nocturnal wildlife who have adopted my boy’s ninja warrior pool as a watering hole—check out the foot print!
So with only a few days of summer left, unplug in the great outdoors!
Most of my boy’s friends are not only scheduled to the hilt with summer activities, the majority of their down time is spent video gaming or surfing the web.
My boys are embarking upon August charging ahead recklessly into the Unplug Challenge.
And guess what?
My boys are enjoying the plummet into low tech!
Today, unplugged is all about wire and divergent thinking.
Here’s what Sir Ken Robinson has to say, “Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but is an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to questions, lots of possible ways to interpret a question, to think laterally, to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one.”
So what can you make with a couple spools of wire?
Help us grow a collective “Unplug” list. Share your ideas on our Facebook page. Pass it on, and let’s see how long of a list we can create. If you have a longer story to share about “unplugging,” email it to us at email@example.com and we may just feature it here on four&twenty.
Here’s one from my house:
Play a board game.
My boys invited a friend to our house. Since the PS3 was off limits, they decided to play a board game. They were shocked to discover their friend had never played Monopoly, “No way.”
After a few minutes of indignant boy noises they, they stomped off to the game cabinet and passed on their wealth of knowledge in the most chaotic dissemination of Monopoly rules that I have ever witnessed. Midway through the game I brought them a bowl of popcorn so I could eavesdrop for a minute. The mock landlords were taking their jobs very seriously.
For the next couple hours my boy’s buddy was unplugged.
At first the Unplug Challenge gave me laryngitis. Seriously, the vibration of my vocal chords was a jumprope snapping, “No No No No No!”
The simple summer goal was to challenge my boys that low tech is fun. It began with a Victor Hugo quote posted prominently on the front of our refrigerator, “He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.”
My plan was more like a nudge. So each morning I reminded my boys that it would be their responsibility to deny the technological progress of the 21st century, dust off their imagination, and engage in endless possibility.
At first my boys were bored.
I reminded myself that boredom might be just the garden for imagination to bloom.
And on it went, “Mom can I _____________________.?”
Each time the blank was filled in with a noun or phrase having to do with video games or the word-wide-web, the answer was an affirmative NO.
The Challenge is doing the trick! I’m witnessing the resurgence of imagination in my pre-teen and teenage sons.
This weekend boredom led Liam and Søren to rummage through our shed where they discovered our old inflatable pool. That gave them an idea.
Since the adventure was to consume most of Saturday and Sunday, I enjoyed the snapshots I encountered here and there.
To begin, blowing up the thing was quite a challenge. Think Home Improvement. Yes, they actually began trying to use Dad’s air compressor to inflate. Not bad. I didn’t have the heart to stop their Tim-the tool-man-Taylor technique. Instead, I steadied myself for the pop. Luckily the compressor and the pool were not compatible so we never got to that point. Next, they tried the bicycle pump. No luck. Now think Tale of the Three Little Pigs. Yep, old school. They huffed and puffed for nearly an hour. Sure enough I eventually heard the hose running and, donning their beachwear, the quick-change artists were splashing, which is about all that a big lumbering teenager can do in an inflatable pool. Or so I thought. Not long after a few rounds of splashing, I saw them rigging up a balance beam, adjusting the ladder.
“What are you thinking boys?”
That’s when the fun got really fun—cannonballs from the ladder and walking the plank.
Suffice to say, my boys are enjoying old school activities, the kind that don’t involve watts or mega bites.
Yesterday, before lunch, we played one of our favorite word games in the garden, Quiddler. And then, later in the day, we played another favorite, Scrabble, in the living room because a note to self reminded me to, “Play more games.”