Unit planning tops my list of favorite activities. Poring over the objectives in the volume and the supplement, pulling resources off my shelves, and searching out Internet helps, always stirs up my imagination and creativity. But that is nothing compared to the actual learning, the reading together, the “aha” moments, and the meaningful conversations that always take place as we study together. This unit on “Speech, Sound and Language” opened up some areas of discovery for us. Let me share some of them with you.
One surprise was how fascinated we all were by the book The Story of My Life
by Helen Keller. The only thing that prevented us from non-stop reading was my sore throat, from bronchitis, and lunch time hunger pangs. I have to admit that I am a bit ambivalent towards Helen Keller. Knowing that she became part of a cult, Swedenborganism, has always tempered my interest in her life. But in reading about her accomplishments there is no escaping the tremendous determination and genius she displayed in overcoming substantial obstacles. Learning Greek is difficult for most people but she added to that Latin, French and German. She developed such a proficiency that she read works in those languages for pure enjoyment.
I was deeply impressed by how her teacher, Anne Sullivan, showed a self-sacrifice that would challenge any of us who calls herself Christian. Would I be willing to dedicate my life, even to the detriment of my own eyesight, so that another could succeed?
One of the great benefits in using living books is all the extra “goodies” we get from our reading experience. For example, through Helen Keller’s relationship with Alexander Graham Bell a whole different side of his character was revealed. Even though we studied him as the inventor of the telephone we became aware of his deep love for children and his ongoing work with the deaf. Helen also had special friendships with several famous writers of her era such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier and Mark Twain. These men showed real kindness to her. She read from Mark Twain’s own lips one or two of his tales. She said, “I feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake.”
A great challenge I have in using read-alouds is completing the book within the time frame of the unit. Many times the classic I want to use is much too long to accommodate a 2 week study. This book would have been manageable but then bronchitis set in. In the end we were finishing up as we began our next unit. But no one really minded.
Some other living books that I added for individual reading were, All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor for my 3rd grader, It’s a Jungle Out There! by Ron Snell for my 8th grader, and Fanny Crosby: The Hymn Writer by Bernard Ruffin for my 10th grader. Each touched on some of the objectives that were covered during the unit.
Several in my family were hit by a virus during this unit where talking became difficult and our hearing became muffled for weeks because of congestion. I can say with conviction that we came to value those abilities with new appreciation because of all we experienced in this unit.