Still thinking about notebooks …. in an earlier post, I wrote:
I would like to start them (the kids) on a bit of very relaxed notebooking — after reading Cindy Rushton’s book and looking through my closet with the older kids’ notebooks and other bits of memorabilia. We never did it in a big way, and in fact I would have said at one time that we DIDN’T notebook at all but I see that I do it constantly and have since I was about 11 or 12, and my older kids started even earlier….
Anyway, thinking about how notebooking has worked in our family, especially after reading Cindy’s post Notebooking and Unschooling, sent me on a trip down memory lane. Bear with me… and if it’s any excuse for inflicting this on you, I am only following the Golden Rule: I would actually be thrilled if Alice or anyone else was to share a similar narrative about how her/their interests and homeschooling bents developed, especially if it concerned notebooks, since I’m on a rabbit trail of interest here!
I think I started “notebooking” before I was born, in a way. That is, IF you use the term “notebooking” in a sufficiently broad, potential way. Some of my earliest memories are of my father’s archiving hobby, so I think it was definitely in the environment and possibly in the genetic material. He has often told me of how, in college, he started keeping a notebook listing all the books he read. He has kept it up to this day, and it’s very interesting — I’m sure that for him, it brings back all sorts of memories. I wish I had done that consistently, following his example, but I haven’t. More about that later.
At around the same age, starting medical school, he started keeping a journal or diary of his day to day life. This is another effort that has gone on up till the present day, though with some variations. In medical school he wrote fairly frequently and with the intensity of an idealistic and gifted young man; later he wrote as a dad and as a physician and medical director and as a diplomat in Europe. During some times of his life he hardly wrote at all, but he always picked the journalling back up. I used to see his whole shelf of black composition books up on the top of a bookcase in the family room. (Later on, he transcribed them into the word processor and then had them printed at Kinko’s and gave a copy to each of his nearest relatives — that is quite a legacy for my youngsters, especially since we live quite far from my parents and haven’t gotten to see them as often as we would have liked during my kids’ growing-up years).
When I was about nine my parents gave me one of those simple day by day diaries you give young girls, with a little lock and key. I was fascinated with it and tried valiantly to make entries into it, but two things stumped me. One was the format, with a date on the top of each page. I felt so guilty if I didn’t fill the whole page and sometimes if I came close, I would run the risk of having to write MORE than a page, which would run onto the next day’s heading…. ew, ugly! And if I skipped a few days, that left these glaring blank spaces in my diary. The other factor was my sheer lack of motor ability — I got tired after a very short time of writing. Yes, I think I must have been a right brained learner and I know my boys come by their slowness to gain handwriting fluency quite honestly.
A short time later I learned how to make little books. You take a few sheets of lined paper and cut them into quarters. Then you take half a sheet of construction paper and fold it over the outside as a binding. You staple the side several times down it s length, and you have a book. You can even make TINY books by using 1/8 sheets. This was much less intimidating than the diary, and my writing fluency was on an upward curve so I was able to actually write a complete story in one little book, and write a list of story titles in another little book. So if these count as notebooks, I was notebooking. By this time I was about eleven.
When I was about twelve, my father gave me one of his black, red-bound composition books and around the same time I read the “Diary of Anne Frank“. The two things worked together and I started a real journal. I could write 3 pages on one day and then nothing for a week, and there would be no blank spaces, and it was OK. Ann Frank’s lively vivid writing gave me a model, a voice, something I could emulate. I loved the way she chatted to her diary, naming it “Kitty” and telling it all the details of her daily life. I still have that little childhood journal somewhere; much of it silly, but a bit of it memorable. I documented the passing of my childhood friend, our German shepherd dog, within its pages. I still can’t bear to read it, both because of the preteen silliness and because of the pathos.
My parents, seeing my love for writing, now gave me a “blank book” as a present, the kind you can get at Border’s for a modest price. I always thought the “Jimmy-books” in LM Montgomery’s Emily series would have looked somewhat the same. This blank book did not look like a journal to me; it looked like a place for an anthology of stories and poems. So I worked away at it valiantly for a long time. I wrote a story about a pretend game my friends and brother and I played one whole summer, about some kids who escape from a wicked orphanage-keeper (I was reading Wolves in Willoughby Chase and Oliver Twist at that time) and find themselves in a sort of paradise. But they can re-enter our world and help save other kids who are now in as dire straits as they had been (ah, I think that was from reading The Little Lame Prince). I illustrated this story with little pictures. It was so much fun to write! I wrote the original draft in a small notebook during recess at school and then copied it painstakingly over into the blank book, adding the illustrations. I still had lots of pages in the book when I had finished that story and its sequel, so I wrote some (perfectly horrible) poems (I thought they were horrible even then) and a couple of descriptive essays which were just a bit better.
My father had also loved our dog Hansel and to get past his sense of loss, wrote a brief memoir about him and what he had meant to us, with photos. So I guess you could easily call that a sort of notebook. In his more recent years of retirement, my father has written an informal memoir of his early years, birth to high school, and has also become fascinated with our family’s genealogy, so has researched and compiled several books of information on family history. He compiled the letters that his mother and father wrote to each other before they were married, and transcribed his mother’s diary of her stint as an RN in WWII. This is purely for the sake of preserving family memories and for his own interest, and is in addition to his published books, which are several and scholarly in nature. I wanted to mention this influence because it was something Cindy Rushton wrote in her CM Primer that set me thinking about this whole subject. She wrote that she had learned her love for notebooking because her grandma-in-law had done it — made her own sewing textbook by taking notes in a class she was in, then putting the samples of the sewing alongside it. Cindy Rushton gave the advice that you might want to look in your own past and your own way of doing things for some “seeds” that might take root and flourish in your own homeschool. For some reason, the way she said it really resonated with me, though it seems like a truism when I write it out in paraphrase.
Moving on now to my teenage years: when I was in high school in Switzerland I kept two different kinds of notebook (in addition to a binder full of story fragments that I was working on). My best friends’ mom was a sometime accountant and had given me a beautiful large bound book that was some kind of day planner, but for a year already past, and not written in at all. I just loved the feel and look of this book and the layout was perfect for what I ended up using it for. I wrote out an elaborate imaginary family tree and then wrote detailed descriptions of the individual people in the sections that were meant for day to day logs of some kind, with the characters’ names, dates of births, relation to other members, location etc. I had descriptions of their appearance, character traits and notes about the events in their lives and what historical events their lives intersected with. I worked on this project over several years, off and on. There was some kind of appendix in the planner book and I used those pages to diagram the family trees. I think I even had an index of them all in the “address” section of the book. I worked hard on this and it was something I could pick up when I had a few minutes. I collected several “Baby Name” books just so I could find various names for them all; the names got pretty odd sometimes “Cynewulf”, “Tiphaine”etc but I learned a lot about word origins by trying to match up the name etymology with the location and historical time of the characters.
A little later, in my last couple of years of high school, I started copying out, word for word, a Larousse of Modern History that I found in the library — basically, a sort of encyclopedic narrative of history events perhaps a bit like the Dorling Kindersley or Kingfisher history books. It covered different cultures during the different time periods. The reason I made this effort was because the book was a library book (so I couldn’t keep it) and I needed the details in order to plan my family tree characters’ lives. I didn’t even realize there could be a copyright issue should I succeed in transcribing the whole thing, and back then there was no way to hop online and buy the book, though I would have most gladly paid the money in order to avoid all that writing! I wanted to be able to read it easily so I strove to make my writing as small and precise as I could, like typeprint. I didn’t get the whole book copied out or anywhere near it — and I didn’t even know till MANY years later that a woman called Charlotte Mason had made copywork or “transcription” into a staple of her educational methods! But I did realize that I was actually learning the history through my fingertips as I wrote, much more thoroughly than I would have by trying to simply read through that dense narrative.
During this time I read a biography about the Brontes which mentioned their childhood imaginary worlds, Angria and Gondal, and the way they made tiny little booklets chronicling the stories of those worlds. Some of this juvenilia provided the ground ideas for their later literature. I don’t think I could describe how this fascinated me. For one thing, the fact that they wrote in super-tiny script in super-tiny booklets that they hand-sewed. I had always loved small meticulous things. For another, the fact that these eminent authors had been children playing pretend games just like I had as a child with my brother and my friends. Also, I was probably lonely since none of my friends at the time had any interest in that kind of thing at all. Anyway, the result was that I researched everything I could find about the Brontes and practically memorized the details of their lives. This interest went on for several years, through my first couple of years of college. But at the time, still in high school, I started experimenting with making little sewn booklets and with writing microscopically. Part of this was so I could write during school hours and no one could glance over my shoulder and see what I was writing. My historical characters took leave of Earthern history and entered an imaginary world similar to that of the Brontes.
(Hmm, when I look back at this I can see why my grades at school were only passable. I had all this going on, plus my love for playing the classical guitar and piano. I felt like school was an intrusion on my time and energy. I enjoyed some of the social parts but also found that aspect overwhelming. I think I probably acquired some poor habits of isolation, and also of compartmentalizing. I had this rich, beautiful creative life and then this school obligation which seemed so trivial and arbitrary.)
Things got better when I went to university — so much more freedom and it was much easier to meet “kindred spirits”. My studies absorbed much more of my time so my notebooks from those times are mostly class notes, plus some story notebooks.
On that note I’m going to drop the childhood reminiscences and pick up with my children and their notebooking, which will probably be a bit more interesting. Or maybe not. But I did want to write this out, and if there’s a point and anyone is still reading, it’s the one Cindy Rushton made — look into what you did when you were young for ideas and inspiration for how to build your homeschooling efforts. Of course, the kids will have an influence too, which is what I wanted to talk about in the second part!
Now some random additions:
- Revealing all this trivia about my younger days makes me a bit fearful that I am now permanently identified as a complete geek. However, I’m going to continue homeschooling my kids anyway. If they grow up just like me, that’s the way it goes.
- It looks like Penguin is coming out with a printing of the Tales of Angria — several of the later stories Charlotte wrote between her childhood fanciful ones and the more serious ones she wrote for publication — but it’s funny — I never even got to read any of the stories — only bits and pieces quoted in different books about the Brontes — and that almost increased the fascination. The mystery would probably have not been so great if I could have just read them easily )
- Also: there’s a book called The Return of The Twelves which is a story about the Brontes’ little toy soldiers which started their whole imaginary world game. I’ve read it aloud to Liam and Sean at different times in our family history and it is pretty enjoyable, though more about Charlotte’s ill-fated brother Branwell and his earlier, soldiery conceptions of the imaginary characters, than about the later days of Angria. It’s good for ages about seven to maybe eleven.
- Finally, here is a picture of the little books the Brontes made and wrote stories in — the coin gives perspective. Are they awe-inspiring, or what? (I wonder if it’s just ME who gasps with enchantment when I look at those tiny books with their tiny precise script?)
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