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Yesterday’s spark



There are moments in the life of the teacher when an assignment hits a different note with your student and the ordinary becomes magical. A spark is lit and bursts into flame.

During a routine writing assignment yesterday, I read the poem “The Brook” by Tennyson to 8-year-old Satchmo. We read a fair amount of poetry, and he likes it okay. But I wouldn’t call him a poetry fan. Something was different yesterday. I could see it spark something in him. “I really like that, Mom!” and “Can we read it again?” And he didn’t even complain about his copywork, which was the last two lines of the poem. He did critique my handwriting, but that’s a different issue.

We also had an impromptu science discussion about the water cycle, and I had to rack my brains trying to remember the phrase “water table.”  We were really putting into practice Miss Mason’s adage, “Education is the science of relationships.” Or rather, Satchmo was. I was following that other piece of her advice and keeping out of the way of the child and the text.

Sometimes homeschoolers are tempted to portray every moment of our lives as a delight-directed fairyland where our kids are fascinated by every story, enchanted by every project, and mesmerized by every science experiment. Generally, my kids do enjoy their lessons, but it’s more like “Nice story. LEGOS!” Or more frequently now, “Nice story. KITTEN!” Our homeschool days are enjoyable more often than not, but they each have their subjects and assignments they aren’t fond of (my boys loathe handwriting, and engage in elaborate negotiations when called upon to write.) And even if they like the subject, it’s silly (and false) to pretend their every moment is a wonderland of enlightenment.

But every so often, something clicks, and a poem, story, experiment, or even (gasp!) math lesson will strike home in the heart and mind of one of my kids. A flame is kindled. It’s a privilege and a little humbling to be able to experience those moments. Here’s the poem that sparked Satchmo’s imagination and that he wants to memorize, even though it’s not an assignment. An eight-year-old memorizing poetry for the love of it. Who’da thunk? The italicized stanzas are those that were in his grammar book that he’ll memorize.

The Brook
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip’s farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,

And many a fairy foreland set
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I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.


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