Friday, August 21, 2015

Homeschool Day in the Life (and Elsie Dinsmore)

I am waiting to see how a natural, workable rhythm develops before I write a daily schedule. A few weeks into school, this is how our days are rolling.

My husband gets home at 7 PM, making us night people (though we are naturally, anyway). The kids go to bed at 9:00 (girls) and 10:00 (boys). I go to bed between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM, and my husband retires between 10:30 and 11:30.

7:30 - 8:00 - My two girls (ages 6 and 8) and I wake up, while the boys sleep until 8:30 or 9:30 (boys are 11 and 13). The boys don't always fall asleep as soon as we put them to bed, and since studies show teens need morning sleep, I don't try to alter their wake-up time.

I start slowly in the mornings due to chronic headaches, but within an hour I begin making oatmeal and start the laundry. The girls have about 90 minutes of free time, during which they will draw, or play dress-up and pretend they are orphans, or school marms, or enter into some other make-believe world.

When alone, Mary is all about nature (frogs, toads, praying mantises, grasshoppers, crayfish, snakes), but with Beth she is all about pretending, and engaging in very physical play. My girls' energy levels are more what you'd expect from a couple of boys. They are hyper, touchy-feely, and exuberant (read: exhausting but full of love and charm).

9:30 - We start seatwork, comprised of journal writing and grammar for the boys, and narration, copywork, journal writing, and math fact practice for the girls.

Boys Writing: The boys either have a question to respond to about a Sonlight novel, or they do a 10-minute writing plunge from the teacher's manual of Jump IN: A Workbook for Reluctant and Eager Writers. Once a week, they choose one of their ten-minute writing plunges to rewrite for a grade. Otherwise, the plunges stay in rough-draft form. Plunges help writers develop their writing voice.

The Sonlight literature-response questions often take two days to respond to, with the second day including a rewrite (I give the questions, not the Sonlight curriculum).

Girls' Writing: I read a literary selection from Writing With Ease 1 and ask the girls questions about it, and then have them narrate it back to me. I then have them formulate one or two sentences about the passage, and they watch and help while I write it. I have them read it carefully back to me, and then those sentences become their copy work.

Two to three days a week, they free write in their journals.

After I get the girls to the copywork point, I start making our bread for lunch using our breadmaker on the dough cycle. It kneads it twice and after the first major rise, I roll out the bubbles with a rolling pin and shape the dough, placing it in a bread pan to rise in our oven for 45 minutes, followed by baking for 30 minutes.

10:30 - Next, I take my shower, during which my girls watch Wild Kratt's on the Kindle (no TV signal here) or access a Reading Rainbow book on the Kindle. The Kindle is best at this time because my girls are too rambunctious to be left unsupervised without a structured, quiet activity in place. It is very stressful to be showering and listening to rambunctiousness, wondering who is going to end up with stitches at the ER.

During my shower, my boys continue school with novel reading or science reading. They're in the same grade so they have to share all materials, alternating the use of their books.

11:30 - After my shower the girls do more math with me, and then all the children have outdoor time, while I work on dishes and laundry.

1:00 to 1:30 - Next, the bread is sliced and we have lunch, followed by devotions.

1:30 - 2:00 Devotions starts around this time and goes for about an hour. The children draw during the readings, but not during prayer. First, I read aloud from the Bible, followed by my reading an Elsie Dinsmore novel, which read more like devotionals.

Following the reading, we all take turns praying, with me including in my prayers a request to guide our characters according to what we read from the Bible passage and/or the Elsie Dinsmore.

I bought the first three Elsie books for a couple dollars each, which we read on the Kindle Paperwhite, but the rest of them we are accessing from Project Gutenberg for free on the Kindle Fire (see bottom of this link for all the Gutenberg links).

That's it for now. The second half of our day will be detailed next week.

Literary notes about Elsie Dinsmore (because it's controversial) and other sentimental, 19th century literature

Written between 1867 and 1905, the Elsie Dinsmore novels are didactic in nature, written with the purpose of influencing the spiritual growth of women and children (though appropriate and interesting to boys, too). After the first 12 novels of the series, the books read more like travelogues, with weaker or non-existent plots. Originally, I thought we'd read the whole series, but after researching it, we probably won't get beyond the first 6 or 7 as a family.

After the turn of the century, Americans, less evangelical as a whole, enjoyed pluckier heroines like Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables - 1908) and Jo March (Little Women - 1868). Though there's very little Bible in Little Women (Alcott wasn't a Christian, but a transcendentalist), it's still a coming-of-age character-shaping book, which many adult readers claim is too moralistic.

We've come a long way in the wrong direction, haven't we, in girls' and women's literature? No longer is the character or moral development of the reader any concern at all, which is why evangelicals are primarily responsible for the rebirth of Elsie Dinsmore. After outselling all but Little Women, (Elsie Dinsmore selling 5 million copies during its 70-year market reign) the Elsie series went out of print for 30 years, starting in 1943.

Including British readers, Elsie enjoyed 25 million readers--a figure encompassing more than just the first novel.

Martha Finley, the author, was an unmarried minister's daughter who wrote Sunday School literature. She suffered chronic back problems which left her often bedridden and dependent on her brother financially. Unsatisfied with her plight, she prayed that the Lord would provide her with some means of an income. Shortly thereafter, Elsie Dinsmore was born, and so adored that the public kept demanding more and more sequels, even dictating the name and subject matter of Elsie's Widowhood.

While Elsie was beloved by the reading public, critics didn't review it positively, and still don't for the most part, partly because of a lack of understanding of the genre itself, and the audience for which Elsie was intended. Nineteenth-century women's and girls' writings included stylistic flaws (like overuse of adverbs and telling with passive verbs, rather than showing, and with dialogue of the he said-she said variety) at which literary critics turn up their noses. The writings reflected the conservative Protestant era and conscience, in which character and religious training were of utmost importance.

I should add here that Miss Finley's writing does include exceptional vocabulary words (most still used today in learned circles). It's sure to expand the expressive and receptive vocabularies of your whole family. Also, note that her sentence structures are varied and complex. This is not twaddle by an means. It is good literature, just not quite expert.  Little Women, which most regard as good literature, was written with the same stylistic characteristics, and indeed both authors wrote far and away better than JK Rowling (Harry Potter), for example.

Other examples of these didactic, sentimental (also called domestic) fiction writings include Susan Warner's Wide, Wide World (1850), Harriet Beecher Stow's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), and Maria Susanna Cummins' The Lamplighter (1854). The era most known for these writings was 1850 until after 1870.

Elsie Dinsmore is controversial (either loved or hated) for various reasons, all of which I'll address:

~ The relationship between Elsie and her father, Horace, is described by modern-day critics to be too erotic (too much kissing and caressing). I've even seen this accusation on evangelical, homeschooling sites (homeschoolers and evangelicals are the largest reading public right now for Elsie Dinsmore). This accusation is entirely related to the outdated language, which we cannot, in our era, understand, due to our overly-sexualized culture. A caress or a passionate kiss did not constitute sexual language in that era. Also, I think we're just plain less affectionate nowadays, which isn't a good thing for children and young people.

~ Elsie cries a lot and the overall emotion of the novel is entirely overwrought, which sickens some readers. Emotion doesn't bother me, folks. I'm sappy, sappy, sappy and my kids are sappy too. My husband stands out as the only non-sappy one here. I can only say in Elsie's (or the author Martha Finley's) defense that this was, after all, termed sentimental fiction for a reason. It's supposed to tug on your heartstrings and make you weep for your beloved little heroine.

~ Elsie's character is too perfect and unrealistic. Some people hate her for her goodness and her spouting of Scripture constantly. Kids can't relate to her, critics say. Well, again, this is didactic literature, meant to influence women and girls' consciences. It is supposed to be like Pilgrim's Progress--suitable for futhering one's Christian growth and development. And Elsie is very humble, always saying she's a wicked sinner saved by grace. She loves the Lord exceedingly, partly because she had no family to speak of for the first 8 years of her life, and then some. Her relationship with the Lord is how she handles everything that comes her way. It is safe to say that her personal relationship with Jesus is what the Lord would have us all enjoy. The Lord is her strength and her song.

Also, Elsie is not supposed to be a real person, but a vehicle by which girls and women can be spurred on in their faith. My four children love and admire Elsie, and are never worried that they can't measure up to her, partly because Elsie does have a flaw (stubbornness), making her seeming angelic personality more of an illustration that we can never be good enough for God--and thus, the Cross. She is a very good little girl, and very obedient, except when her unbelieving father asks her to do something that violates her strict Sabbath observation. The problem is, she chooses something minor to make a stand on, which makes her case less compelling than it could be.

As you'll see if you read it, both Elsie and her father suffer from the same major flaw.

~ Elsie Dinsmore is racist literature. There is an Elsie Dinsmore Life of Faith modern rewrite that takes out some of the racist parts, but leaves out historical information. The original Elsie Dinsmore includes speech and attitudes which reflect a romanticized view of plantation living. Elsie is very rich and owns slaves, but she treats them well, buying them Christmas gifts and attending to them when they are sick, procuring doctors for them when needed, reading the Bible to them, and genuinely loving them. Later, she builds a school to educate them (after slavery was abolished), and her own slaves stay with her to work for wages--wages better than any other plantation owner pays. Elsie's slaves adore her and never want to leave.

Now, Martha Finley lived in the North, so it's fair to say she didn't have first-hand knowledge of plantation life. She treats the Civil War itself fairly, not siding with one or the other, but she presents a benevolent view of slavery--almost as though Elsie was doing her slaves a favor in owning them.

This novel is a reflection not of a slave's desire to be owned, but of the mixed views and emotions about which Christians thought of slavery. The idea that if you treat your slaves well, then it is okay to own another person, is of course ludicrous. It is offensive, but we have to regard period literature as a reflection of its time.

Someday, in regard to abortion, our society may be regarded as barbaric, depending on how views change over decades and centuries--and on how God intervenes. I would hope, like with slavery, that history makes the more righteous about-face. It took a very long time for views on slavery to change, and I fear it may be the same for abortion.

~ Elsie's father is cruel and abusive, and Elsie never stands up for herself (too passive). True, Elsie's father in the first two books can be cruel and jealous. These first two books are intense, until he becomes a Christian at the end of the second. Martha Finley initially wrote one long book, which the publishers broke up into two novels, explaining why Elsie Dinsmore ends abruptly, and the second book Elsie's Holidays at Roselands, picks up as if it's the next paragraph.

One more characteristic of sentimental women's fiction is that the female lead is redeemed through her submission to her father (usually) and to God. Her growth and maturity are earned through her eventual, successful management of her will. It's not a saved-by-works philosophy, but a saved-by-submission philosophy, with the Lord working the miracle in the heart of the heroine, and sustaining her through the process. Elsie is saved even at the beginning of the novel, but it is her submission to and deep and abiding love for God, throughout the novel, that eventually wins her father over.

She sacrifices herself to submit to God, becoming ill, and the symbolism (whether Martha Finley intended it, I don't know) at the end of the ordeal, is of her dying and coming back to consciousness, giving her father time to reflect on his cruel behavior and heart, and then submitting his own life to the Lord. It reminds one of Christ's sacrificial death that ultimately redeems us.

Contrast this with the plucky-girls literature popular after the turn of the century, in which girls matured and gained in poise and character through the passage of time, rather than through faith in the Lord, or through submission, or through any adherence to Scripture.

I love Elsie Dinsmore because she fills a void in modern society--at least in modern Christian society. As a character who deeply loves the Lord and wants to please him above all else, she is one of a kind. My children love her dearly, too.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Your results may vary.

And thanks for reading today!

Weekly Wrap-Up


Anonymous said...

I will pray for you and your headaches. Sandy x

Megan Russell said...

I've never heard of this book series, but I am going to look into it! Sounds like my daughters would enjoy them.

Christine said...

Thank you, Sandy! I hope your daughters do enjoy them, Megan. Thank you both for visiting.

Dawn Rebekah said...

Thanks for the tip on the book series.
BLessings, Dawn

Nita said...

I enjoy seeing how people's days go. Mine is so different and constantly changing that I sometime daydream of what it would be like if I was home with the kiddos all day. Funny thing was when I was - they wanted to keep our wacky schedule, lol! I'm visiting from weekly wrap up!

Christine said...

Thank you for visiting, Dawn and Rebekah. Nita, you do such a great job balancing all of it, and taking care of your marriage too.