Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ballet Camp

After we returned from our month in Minnesota, one of N.'s last events of the summer was a program we called "ballet camp" (its technical name is a "ballet intensive").  He spent 5 days dancing from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (with a short lunch break).  He's taken four semesters of a once-a-week ballet class and he has enjoyed it a lot.  I have no illusions that N. is going to become a professional dancer.  But I thought this intensive would help him get more out of the weekly class he takes during the school year.  Ballet has been his sport, his organized physical activity.  I had been suggesting it since he was five because I love ballet and knew that the community ballet program at my university was supposed to be very good, with an emphasis on love of movement and solid technique, rather than shows and costumes as at some dance studios.  I always thought it would be cool to be a boy in ballet, but for a long time N. was uninterested in trying it.  Then when he was seven he became friends with a boy in our neighborhood who had been taking ballet class since age five, and N. decided he wanted to join him.

The classes N. takes have the great luxury of live piano accompaniment.  Sometimes I think N. pays more attention to the pianist, who improvises all the pieces he plays, than he does to the ballet teacher.  The musical aspect of dance is probably N.'s favorite part of the activity, and I think experiencing the relationship between music and movement is great for his musical development.

Anyway, the one-week intensive class developed in N. a much greater awareness of the details of ballet technique, and it fired his ambition to master those details in order to be able to partner with girls who are better dancers.  It is amazing what intensive learning can do!  Just as in our homeschool studies where we try to emphasize depth over breadth, this immersion in ballet opened up N.'s understanding of what he might accomplish in this art.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Learning by the Lake

Almost every summer we go to Minnesota (Tim's and my home state) for a few weeks, and this time we spent one of those weeks at a rented lodge on a small private lake in central Minnesota with my parents, two of my siblings, and their spouses.  N. learned how to do some of the classic Minnesota summer pastimes: he learned to fish -- to cast and to bait the hook with nightcrawlers (though he was spared by his dad the task of taking the fish off the hook) -- and he caught a small-mouth bass (that he named Bass Tweed, and later ate) and many little blue-gills and sunfish.  He learned how to clean a fish.  He learned how to drive a pontoon boat!  He learned how to build a campfire.  He roasted marshmallows and looked for agates heard the wild, strange laughter of loons.  He got so much out of the week!  Thanks, Mom & Dad!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Betsy-Tacy Guide to Birthdays

About this time over the past few years (except last year when we were in England and away from our books), N. has asked me to reread parts of the Betsy-Tacy books to him as he gets ready to celebrate his birthday (I read him the first four books in the series over the summer he turned 5).  Three years ago we reread the opening chapters of the first book, Betsy-Tacy, in which Betsy becomes friends with Tacy, the new girl across the street, at Betsy's 5th birthday party.  Two years ago we reread all of Winona's Pony Cart, a novel ancillary to the main series, in which much of the plot involves the 8th birthday party of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib's vivacious friend Winona.  This year as he approached his double-digit birthday, N. asked to hear Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, which begins with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib turning ten, memorably singing (to the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic") "O Betsy's ten tomorrow/ And then all of us are ten!/ We will all be ten tomorrow,/ We will all be ladies then!"

I think N. is drawn to these books at this time of year because they explore so effectively the complexity of birthdays.  The strange behavior of the new girl (which turns out to be merely extreme shyness) hangs somewhat darkly over Betsy's fifth birthday until Betsy gets to know Tacy.  Winona gets herself in a scrape by boasting about the pony she's deluded herself into believing she will receive as a birthday gift and inviting nearly all the children she knows to her party, rather than the select group her mother expects.  Later, Betsy is eager to turn ten and begin to be more grown up, but at the same time she worries that the fun of childhood will be over.  One's birthday can be a strangely emotional day, and Betsy, Tacy, and their friends seem to offer N. annual, familiar comfort and camaraderie.

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Bonus reading: I rant about reading Betsy-Tacy to boys here.  I enthuse about first reading the Betsy-Tacy books to N. here.