Last spring I sat with one of my neighbors who was considering homeschooling and showed her the girls' portfolios. I was a wee bit horrified to see that work had been placed in the binders that was not 100% complete. I vowed at that moment that we would not rush to get from one thing to the next. This journey we are on is not a race. I realized then and there that we had to slow down and savor the moments, take the time necessary to complete something, and respect the fact that although we may work on many things together, there is an age difference, and the pace of the work is not always the same.
Before our holiday break, the girls talked about creating a unit based on fairy tales. To make this a reality we had to change the structure of the group a bit and move towards a “class” and less of a “workshop”. Given the ages of the girls (12-15) and the fact that one is now taking classes at a local community college, I think this change was just what we needed for this group of girls.
We are using The Beanstalk and Beyond: Developing Critical Thinking Through Fairy Tales by Wolf, Joan as a spine. Many of the activities are intended for a classroom and the age range is through middle school. I am not using this as a text, working from one lesson to the next, but as a guide to help me move through the themes that the girls expressed interest in.
We began by exploring the Quest as an element in fairy tales. Unlike in the past, we now have “homework”. Whether or not each girl does it is decided by their parents. I am not their teacher and this is not a graded class. I never charge a fee because I want the girls to feel free to come and go dependent on interest and availability and I never want a contractual relationship between us.
During the week the girls read and watched as many quest fairy tales as possible. Then they began to write their own using prompts from the text. As always, the girls could choose to use the prompt exactly as given or change it any way they like. Half of the plot was completed in the first week and the girls finished the story at home the second week. I have not seen my two girls this inspired to write in ages. They put hours and hours of work into their stories during the week and both had completed, edited and published stories to share when the group met last week. Both stories were over 10 typed pages and this was the norm for the group.
We always share as a group. Maybe just a sentence, maybe a warm up exercise, and very rarely, a completed story. Some girls are working on epic stories that I know one day will grace the shelves at our local bookstore. Some girls start and abandon stories. Others finish but have never shared. There are many reasons that stories may not be completed and it is often not my place to inquire why. This was the first time that the girls has a deadline, a “due date”. I set aside the entire class for an author share.
It took almost two hours for 5 girls to share their stories and receive positive feedback from their peers. That is a long time to sit, actively listen and be prepared to provide their thoughts. 2 of the girls were on vacation and would share at a later date.
These stories were truly wonderful. They each followed the same structure but each changed it in a way that suited their style and voice. For me, it was amazing to listen to each girl share their piece of writing, essentially a piece of themselves, in an environment free of criticism, full of genuine support and friendship, and respect.
Before I may not have set aside the time for my girls to create a work of art to cover their story. I may not have set a deadline or a due date. The work may have gone unfinished, incomplete, untold, which would have truly been a shame for these stories were meant to be shared.