I have started a little weekly gathering of homeschooled children at my home. We meet every Tuesday morning - there are four children, including my younger son and they range in age from 11 to 13.
The three who are not mine arrive at 9am - last week they were 15 minutes late and I had told them that they would be hung up by their toes and whipped with wet noodles if they were late again.... today they arrived 30 seconds early and we stood on the porch counting down to 9:00 on the dot, with loud, exuberant cries of "5...4...3...2...ONE!!!" as we got to the appointed time. Once coats are shed and backpacks scruffled through and laments shared about one child's new wheat free diet, we settle down around the dining room table.
"OK - what did we do last week?" I ask. Last week, we recall together, we talked about how good writing is lively, never boring and how we can use our senses to make our writing lively.
"We smelled things" remembers one boy - indeed - I had them sniff a variety of things (nutmeg, molasses, chutney, Italian herbs, liquid paper - carefully!! - the dog....) and then come up with words that described the smell. No cut rate words like "good" or "spicy" were allowed - words like "pungent" "aromatic" and the like were what I was looking for.
Today we searched for words to describe our cat who has a fondness for writing classes - whenever I teach a class at home he always either sits in the middle of the children, observing them with a slightly patronizing aura, or settles down nearby, folded up, meditating on our lessons. He is a - "huge", "plump!", "no - that's not big enough - monstrous!" cat. In the end we settled on "monumental" as a fitting way to describe Sam.
Then we wrote sentences describing each other - it was lovely to see children whom their parents worriedly described to me as "not very happy about writing" or "I don't know if he'll come - he's ashamed of his spelling" - jump to pick up their pens and gleefully write their sentences ("shhhh... I need to think"). My one comment "Nothing offensive, please" drew chortles. Then I placed a very unusual chess piece on a stool for them describe. And last, I asked them to describe the dog's chew toy.
Then they read out what they had written - I do not yet look at this group's writing - I also had them read out their home assignments. One boy didn't even want to do that - so I asked if he would just tell us a bit about it. He was happy to do that and in the end actually wound up reading us his lovely description of his cat. Practically falling over each other in their eagerness to get to read aloud, they shared delightful descriptions of "a boy hunched over his writing, concentrating fiercely" and "an ivory colored king ready to defend his stool" and "a pink and blue ball laden with bumps".
As cats seemed to be a theme for the day, I read them a delightful poem about cats. A moment's silence followed my reading - "oh yes, that's just like cats!" They sat quietly, thinking about cats.
We spent a few moments looking at their homework for next week - a fill in the blank assignment which seeks interesting ways of describing things plus a few short sentences which they need to write describing, among other things, the sight of a newborn kitten and the experience of walking across hot sand.
"Ok - 15 minutes break and then it's time for some geography." I say.
"Ok", they answer - "but we want to do some more writing". How satisfying for me to head toward the kitchen hearing them plotting, "ok, let's write about the dog..."