I’m going to start something new. I want to transition this blog to really be our journey into our various callings, and one of those that takes up a whole heck of a lot of time is homeschooling our brood.
So I thought I’d post my thoughts on various books we’ve had the pleasure of reading in our homeschool. Most of these were read aloud, which means my oldest 2 were listening for sure, and typically the younger 1 or 2, depending on when we read it, were playing nearby.
I picked this book to review first for the setting: Alaska. My girlfriend is moving there next year to be a missionary with Alaska Missions and Retreats. When I think back to when we read this book, almost 2 years ago, I had no idea I’d be preparing my heart (and praying for hers) to send a friend there to serve Jesus! I have had a few friends live in Alaska for short term. This story is similar.
The setting is a rural classroom in 1948 where teachers seem to come and go with no one pouring into the students, instead, solely focusing on the hardships and the ‘fishy’ smell. Fredericka, Fred for short, yearns to learn, but her mother isn’t even keen on her going to school. So when the new teacher came into town, she almost had to hide her excitement. Miss Agnes was English (speaking british english) and the kids thought it was funny.
We can relate to that! When we were in Uganda last fall, they speak british english and my kids LOVED everyone’s accent. I reminded them this was what Miss Agnes spoke. They came away able to carry on a conversation with the accent, especially my oldest, where I still can’t even try without laughing at how bad I am :). Now, our littlest who had it, has lost his accent almost fully in less than a year.
When school was starting back up again, Fred was excited but her Mama was mad. She didn’t like her to be gone to school all day when she could be home helping. Fred felt sad for leaving Bokko, her deaf oldest sister, age 12. Fred was the only would who could understand her, know what she wanted. Mamma was too impatient.
What a statement. If a 10 year old knows that the mom is too impatient, too hurried to care for her other daughter, well that’s a picture into both souls. A humble younger sister who wants what’s best for her disabled sister and a mother who lacks compassion and patience. I learned a lot just understanding that relationship, and prayed that wouldn’t be what I became. I already struggle with compassion. When my kids get sick, I go into go mode: clean, empty trash can, strip the sheets, start the wash, wet rag to the face, clean the hands. Part of that is I don’t want to get nauseous myself. Part of it is my husband is so good at the compassion part, making sure they are ok, tending to them, not the sheets. Lord, hear my prayer.
Fred is excited for school as the class is, buzzing, wondering how this teacher would do. And I love how she reminisces as she waits on the new day. Remembers her father, who died of T.B. in Juneau. Shares how her family lives now, her mom working at the local store and sewing and her grandfather trapping and making snow shoes. She boasts on her mom’s ability to work hard all the time, the beauty in what she sews and the care she takes in it all.
“There were lots of things we could learn at home, but I liked the stuff we learned at school, too, and I wanted to get good at reading so I could read fast like Old Man Anderson.”
I love this idea that she respects all the things the previous generations can teach her, as well as the idea that an education is a beautiful thing.
As Miss Agnes calls her first class to session, she surprises them all. Throws books out, shares that she doesn’t like grades, pulls out crayons and paints and has the kids decorate the walls. She wants the room beautiful. They listen to beautiful music while they create.
An inspiration for my home, my school. Beautiful things lift spirits, they teach art, beauty, and color to my children, even when I don’t notice it.
Miss Agnes had a beautiful way of both teaching and inspiring the children in her classroom. She didn’t scare, control, or bark orders. She started where they were in their learning journey, met them there, and capitalized on what which they were good. She enjoyed helping others see their own improvement. And in the same moment, she was picky, she expecting good work, she would turn it back to be redone if it wasn’t precise.
Miss Agnes also believed in reading aloud, something that is most important in our own homeschool. She used unique voices for the characters, walked around while she read, had them practice penmanship. She also inspired with true accounts of why each subject was important: geography so you will know what’s going on in your world, arithmetic so no one will ever cheat you while you sell/trade for furs, etc., writing for Bokko, whom she couldn’t believe was not attending school simply because she was deaf.
Miss Agnes taught her to read, to spell in sign language, to communicate with her sister. And in doing so, to connect better with their mom. Her mom made Miss Agnes bread and “that’s how we knew Mamma wasn’t mad at Miss Agnes anymore.”
Miss Agnes was happy to help all of the families, she taught Bokko’s family sign language, other older adults came and asked her to teach them to read and write after school. She definitely instituted a lifelong learning mentality in this small fishing and trapping town, all the way up to the elderly. She made history and science come alive by using physical tools: a timeline on the wall, a microscope, etc.
With Miss Agnes the world got bigger and then it got smaller. We used to think we were something, but then she told us all the things that were bigger than us, the universe and all that, and then all the things that were smaller. Too small to even see. So people were sort of in between, not big or small, just in between. That was a really interesting thing to think about.
This was a beautiful picture of what a one room school house can be, with a respected teacher, a well run day, instituting excellence in learning and a passion for it, being fluid when people need time of for their families exception. If you haven’t already grabbed this short, 113 page read aloud, I beg you to. The ending is beautiful and you will feel invested in the characters as the story progresses!
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