Saturday, September 14, 2013

Beowulf and the Peg People

Fairy Girl narrates the very condensed version of Beowulf.

Grendel the Monster

I have been so excited about this unit study of Beowulf with Fairy Girl for 4th grade. We use a combination of Live Ed and Waldorf Essentials curricula for our homeschooling and Norse Mythology is a shared theme in both. Although Beowulf is an Anglo Saxon poem, it reflects ideals from the time in history that the Norse Myths integrated with Christianity. The story of Beowulf is special to our family because our late beloved family dog shared the name, and our late (also loved) tabby cat went by the moniker, Grendel.

We spent about 4 weeks reading the Norton edition of Beowulf, along with several other versions: my favorite being my high school copy with my dialectic journal notes inside. I approached the topic both enthusiastically and tentatively because Fairy Girl (FG) is not one for the discussion of blood and guts. Gratefully, when reading an unabridged version the old language is hard enough to understand that most of the gory details went over her head. When some days the readings were too confusing, we would refer to a children's version for clarity. To finish up our study of the saga, I encouraged FG to perform a play for her brother.  Up to this point, we ushered him out of the room during our readings and narrations because he couldn't keep himself from all the questions he had about ogres and dragons and was a distraction to our work.  I thought, if FG could break the saga down into simple scenes and narrate a play just for him, he would finally feel included while, simultaneously, FG would show her understanding of the material.

There was no chance of giving Bubba nightmares by using our building blocks and wooden toys to act out the scenes. Writing the scenes out for herself proved too daunting of a task, I recorded as she dictated and then I assigned her the task of deciding what props she needed for each scene and recording those herself. FG can draw and color all day, but her hand tires after about a page of writing (partly because she draws all the time and partly because of her left-handedness). It took a few attempts until I realized she needed a deadline or it wasn't ever going to be complete. So I gave her a two day notice that she would perform a simple narration with her props and that it didn't need to be rehearsed.

I am so glad I pushed for that approach because it released a lot of the pressure that she was putting on herself. When you are listening to old English and your copywork is written in old English you tend to elevate your personal art (that's part of the goal, isn't it?) To balance her artistic side with her perfectionist side, we had to work with props that were readily available and adaptable. Here come the peg people!

Beowulf sets sail for Daneland

Grendel attacks Heorot Hall

"Take this mead cup as a token of our gratitude," said Queen Wealhtheow.

Terrible dragon that plagues Geatland.

Beowulf's funeral pyre.

There were a couple of good lines that came out of her impromptu paraphrased play. One of my favorites came as Wiglaf tries to convince the other warriors to help Beowulf fight the dragon, he utters, "It is better to die in smoke than to leave a friend in need." The warrior culture of Beowulf valued dying in battle rather than in your sleep, old age or disease. They valued loyalty and just and generous kings. We were both a little sad when Beowulf died and his men deserted him except for Wiglaf. I think her Wiglaf quote sums it up nicely.

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