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The Way of BeautyOur Young People, Summer Time, and the Language Arts

With the close of the academic year, parents must find ways for their children to spend the summer in safe environments. If during the school year, texting others takes precedence over most activities, what is to be expected during the summer?  Statistics report that young teenagers text others more than one hundred times a day.

Summer Chores

Our young people deserve some respite from the typical structure of the school day. Still, the wise use of the leisure time is a lesson to be learned.  While many attend camp, others do not.

During the summer months, children should contribute to the family good by helping with household chores or those linked to family business.  Manual work can help them mature by stimulating their imaginations.  This is an important by-product of manual work, whether in the home, field, or factory.

Language Arts: An Overall View

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When parents read to their toddlers at night, an intimate bond grows between them.  Children feel loved because their parents’ attention is focused wholly on them. Positive attitudes are formed in early childhood as children associate good experiences with reading.  They will sleep more soundly with happy thoughts. As they grow older, the positive habit of reading is formed and implemented. In all likelihood, they will become independent readers.  Children who are accustomed to seeing books in the home, and children who hold books in their hands are inclined to be readers in their adolescent years.

Read, and Your World Will Grow Larger

Reading good literature enlarges a child’s world.  Vocabulary increases, and  language skills improve.

Emily Dickinson begins one of her poems with lines that expand our own thinking: 

“There is no frigate like a book

to take us lands away.”

More in The Way of Beauty

There was no one who understood this thought more than Abraham Lincoln whose speeches with their beautiful cadences reflect the great literature he read. 

In our own day, Dr. Ben Carson, the world-renowned pediatric surgeon and candidate for the Republican Party, grew up in a very poor household in which his parents divorced when he was a child.  Dr. Carson developed such a violent temper that one day, over a trivial matter, he nearly stabbed a classmate with his knife.  Determined that her son would not grow into a delinquent and join the prison population, his mother pressed him to read.  She became the instrument through which new worlds were opened up to him as he read voraciously one book after the other. 

When speaking to parents and young people, Dr. Carson repeats:  “Read and you can go everywhere and anywhere with anyone.”  In other words, “Read and your world will grow larger.”  Dr. Carson’s world did grow much larger as he embraced the medical profession with purpose and distinction.

Reading as Intelligent Enjoyment

When parents read uplifting and inspiring stories to their young children at their bedtime, certain favorite topics will emerge.  Animals, children living in faraway places, sports, suspense mysteries, the arts are only a few topics.  Reading biographies is a fine way to learn about the lives of great people who preceded them.  Biographies show children the worth of human life and how men and women have woven their own lives into the lives of historical figures. Reading biographies of these men and women and of saints too can inspire their imitation. Lives of the saints do this better than most.

Reading good literature can change life for the better in practical ways.  It improves vocabulary and language skills.  Children whose parents know a minimum of English need to read a great deal to increase their vocabulary.

The Language Arts as a Way to Virtue

Where do our children derive their inspiration? And by whom or what?  Reading good literature offers virtue to them as an attractive way of life. In fact, reading can be a way to virtue.  When children read stories about people who live virtuously, they are inspired to imitate them. 

The ancient Greeks, a growing number of theologians, and other educators hold that the cultivation of virtue makes individuals happy, wise, courageous and competent.  Summer is the time when our children should grow in virtues like faith, loyalty, hard work, and respect for elders.  Virtue is that quality of character by which individuals habitually recognize the right thing and do it.  Virtue is always in style and never takes a vacation.  

The Joy of Memorizing Poetry 

Readers ought not to be surprised at how many people learn poetry by heart.  They do it while jogging, traveling by public transportation, doing manual chores, going on errands.  Some years ago, learning poetry formed an essential part of the language arts curriculum.  Children loved poems like “If,” “The House with Nobody in It,” “Casey at the Bat,” and “St. Catherine, St. Catherine, o come to my aid.”

“Marlon Brando memorized heaps of Shakespeare,” writes Robert Pinsky. Maria Bartiromo, the daughter of Italian immigrants and a Wall Street Whiz, recites Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” whenever she delivers a commencement address.

Memorizing poetry, apart from the sheer joy it gives, is power—power of mastering the beauty of the English language.  It brings with it its own reward. 

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“Over the last two hours, my 11-year old kid has memorized 14 lines of Keats,” boasts a mother, “the result of sheer bribery.”  Other parents confess to rewarding their children with a dime for each poem they learn.   

The Art of Beautiful and Distinctive Handwriting

Handwriting is an effective and reliable indicator of personality and behavior.  Handwriting reveals the kind of person one is.  In fact, handwriting analysis is used in interviews, job selections, and many other aspects of business. Yet, in public schools, handwriting is no longer taught.  In Catholic schools, the handwriting class was the most rewarding for the children.   And  … for the duration of the lesson, the breathing of the children was the only sound heard, intent as they were on the art of beautiful and distinctive handwriting.

During the summer, children can discover that practicing their handwriting is a rewarding exercise.  They can follow one of two methods: the Zaner-Blöser method or the Palmer method explained on their webpages, too numerous to list here.  There are also websites that analyze your personality through your handwriting.  Be ready for a surprise.

One Hour a Day

An hour a day, divided into segments, should be expected from children and young people to devote to the Language Arts.  After a short time, they will experience the joy of having gained an intellectual power that no one can take from them.

Some References

Parents may wish to consult three short but excellent essays on poetry for children and for adults:  (1) Jim Holt, “Got Poetry? The Case for Memorizing Poetry” (NY Times April 2, 2009); (2) Kate Haas, “The Case for Bribing Kids to Memorize Poetry,” (NY Times, August 3, 2014); William Logan, “Poetry:  Who Needs It?”  (NY Times Sunday Review June 14, 2014).

The comprehensive book engines given below are only two of many that can be found on the internet.  Age-appropriate suggestions are provided.

http://frcoulter.com/books/novels.html

Http://fordham.readingprograms.org

Here are some poems that children can easily memorize:

Swift Things Are Beautiful
by Elizabeth Coatsworth

(recited quickly)

Swift things are beautiful:
Swallows and deer
And lightning that falls
Bright-veined and clear,
River and meteors,
Wind in the wheat,
The strong-withered horse,
The runner's sure feet.

(recited slowly)

And slow things are beautiful:
The closing of day,
The pause of the wave
That curves downward to spray,
The ember that crumbles,
The opening flower,
And the ox that moves on
In the quiet of power.

The Well of Beauty

By Eileen Lomasney, C.S.J.

A canticle of color,
A symphony of sound,
Asks the eager-hearted
“Where is beauty found?”
The liturgy of seasons,
The rhythm of the skies,
Reads like Wisdom's Primer
Furnishing replies.
We marry moods to beauty
Early in our youth
And find our spirit tutored
In goodness and in truth.
We search our inner being,
Our birth, our life and death,
To learn we are dependent
On beauty's very breath.
All syllabled creation
Spelleth last and first,
The Word is Beauty's Well-Spring,
O come, all ye that thirst.

Prayer to St. Catherine to Find a Husband

St. Catherine, St. Catherine, O lend me thine aid.And grant that I never shall die an old maid.
A husband, St. Catherine,a good one, St. Catherine.But anyone’s better than no one, St. Catherine.
A husband, St. Catherine,young, St. Catherine,handsome, St. Catherine,rich, St. Catherine,soon, St. Catherine!

René Descartes once remarked that “the reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”  And F. Scott Fitzgerald echoes the French philosopher and mathematician:  “That is part of the beauty of all literature.  You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”

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