One of focus points of our parent and child interview is the child’s vision for where God wants them to be, what they envision for their future and what they are interested in learning more about. I prayerfully think about my goals for the children and where I think they need more focus.
Our goals serve three purposes: To improve where we are weak, to enhance where we are strong, to explore something new.
We also want to be living balanced lives so we make sure that we have goals in all the following areas: Spiritual and Vocational, Academic, Esthetic and Cultural, Life Skills and Career, Physical and Health, Character and Virtue, and Relationships and Family.
Homeschooling is more than just teaching your children reading and writing and history. While all those academic things are good and important it is critical to be working on developing a balanced person. With that in mind each of the children have a Guiding Statement. This would be a mission statement in the corporate world, but craft a statement to guide us. This statement focuses on the being of our better selves. We also pick a motto for the year, a short little statement that is to improve where we are weak.
Each goal should be focused and well defined, achievable given the resources of the family, each goal should be measurable and each goal should be completely within the control (as much as anything can be) of the family. While it is worthy to aspire to “grow closer to God” that doesn’t really make a good goal as there isn’t a good measure for it. It would be better to say “I will make a pilgrimage to the Vatican”, but if that isn’t within the means of the family it will only lead to frustration. Your child could set the goal of attending daily mass, but if they can’t get there on their own and mom or dad can’t take them they will not be successful. But they could set the goal of saying a decade of the Rosary every night – it is focused and defined, achievable, measurable and within their control.
The first stage of planning for next year is taking an honest assessment of where we are and what is working and what could work better. This is one of those times where having a big family means a lot more work. This is a bit of a time consuming process. You really can’t skip this step even if you are moving from a school environment to homeschool. You just really need to know where you are in order to get to where you want to be.
The first things we are going to decide is if homeshooling is the best option for this child for the upcoming year or should we investigate other options, is the program and/or methodology we have been using working for us as a family and for this child in particular and which subjects are we continuing and which are we not. Once we say “yes, we are homeschooling next year.” I list out the subjects that each child has been working on this year and their extra curricular activities. For example Joshua has been working on Handwriting, Math, Spelling, Reading, History, Science, Grammar and Writing. We do CCD at our parish and Boy Scouts.
These go into my Yearly Assessment Worksheet. Then working across I ask the child their thoughts on the subject, I put down my assessment and if this is a subject that we will continue next year and if so will we use the same text series and what level we will need.
This is also a great time to do a parent interview. We do this from time to time through the year but the end of the year is the “big one”. I sit down with each child and we go through a bunch of questions. The kids know they are free to say anything. This is a time where they can say anything at all and there will be no repercussions of any kind. It is very valuable to be able to see what they are feeling and thinking.
These are the questions we are using. If they don’t have an answer I let them think about it overnight and ask them again. I ask the questions and let them answer and then I hand the questions to them if they want/need to have some thinking time. It is ok to not have an answer. Once I get the information I have a conference with each child and we talk about things they could do to make the family better. I never share the specifics of what any child says to another, but we do talk about any themes that are revealed.
Yesterday I listed out the texts that we are using for next year with the promise that I would return to our book lists in a future post. Today’s post is all about why we use “real” books, how we incorporate them into our educational plans and which books we use.
When I was a child in school I remember reading from text books that excerpt short passages from “real” books or contained banal stories written with particular language lessons as the single driving force behind them – I loved to read; I hated reading as a subject. As I started looking into homeschooling I found that this “twaddle” reading was objected to by more than my childhood self. In fact several schools of educational thought out and out reject that approach outright. So, since it fits with my general inclination and is support by others in the field of education: we go for real books. Stories and books that are valued for their literary quality, cultural value, beauty and meaning, and their place in space and time are selected instead of stories that are selected or created for their mechanical purpose and functionality.
Exposing children to good literature develops their mind and imagination. It creates a frame work for them to incorporate big ideas, important values, virtue, liberality of thought and curiosity. Learning classic children’s tales also imparts the cultural literacy that will enrich their understanding of literature throughout their lives.
The real problem for us isn’t finding enough good books it is limiting the number to a manageable amount. One of my favorite lists can be found here. For each child we select books that fit their interests and their reading level. For independent readers I assign a set amount of reading per day (one chapter usually) the child is supposed to note any words that they are unfamiliar with. When they have completed the reading assignment they look up 3-5 of the words in the dictionary and type the definition into their reading log. They also compose a short synopsis of the day’s reading.
For the first term Christopher will be reading Tom Sawyer and The Hobbit for his literature study. Hannah will have The Courage of Sarah Noble, The Boxcar Children and A Bear Called Paddington.
We also have reading time. The children are free to select any book off the following lists to read for 30 minutes a day.
Christopher’s Book list:
Call of the Wild
The Red Badge of Courage
Swiss Family Robinson
Last of the Mohicans
Story of King Arthur
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
or any classic he can talk me into.
Hannah is transitioning to independent reading so she can pretty much pull anything off the bookshelf that suits her fancy. I will develop a list for her for the second term. Josh and Sarah are still in the picture book stage.
We have read aloud time which is more directed to the younger children. This year we will start with Hedi, Peter Pan and the House at Pooh Corner. Once a week we will have a fairy tale story.
This is the first year for Christopher to be studying Shakespeare. I started thinking about this last summer when Ashley took a liking to Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’. It was one of those moments where my mind slipped around juggling uptight catholic mom, literature loving me and introduce the children to great books teacher roles. The younger kids liked it to, but it is violent and sensual, but nothing really explicit, but it was very trendy looking and all that suicide and people dieing and sex… but how do I really get “Stop watching Shakespeare” out of my mouth without laughing myself silly. So I let them watch it. Which turned out fine. They liked it, they got the basic story without being scandalised and and it stuck, they can reference it in a meaningful way. So, Shakespeare it is.
I am going to start with Much Ado About Nothing. First off it is one of my very favorites, it is included in Edith Nesbit’s highly recommended work and I really enjoy Kenneth Branagh’s version on DVD, which I happen to already have, which I think is sort of an elemental point. Shakespeare is meant to be seen. Plays studied only by sitting in front of a book lose their form and much of their vitality. Which is why I would much rather have the children read a good story rendition based on the play, watch it using the language as written (which both Branagh and Luhrmann keep reasonably close to) and memorise some of the key passages. My hope is that this will be rich and entertaining for the children this year.
This year we will also be doing several poetry until studies. The poems we select will come from several different anthologies including: A Children’s Garden, my old Oxford Anthology of English Literature and Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Child’s Anthology of Poetry.
Having looked in vain for a science text that I really liked I have decided to do something a little bit different. I purchased an older science text (from the 1980s oh-so-old) and I am using it’s table of context as more or less a “spine” for Physical Science. Along with this we will be studying biographies of important scientist. The first 12 weeks we will read about Aristotle, Galileo and Copernicus. I am still researching the specific biographies for this.
I wouldn’t take this direction if I wasn’t flat out obstinate about what I think is important in a science curriculum and arrogant enough to think that my college level course work in Chemistry and Physics is adequate to answer the questions of a 10 year old boy doing middle school science. But there it is.
Learning about nature requires something more than just reading a text. I love nature journals. this fall the children will be working on cataloging the trees that grow around us. Identifying native species and common foreign species and learning through observation, cataloging and study. We are going to use a good field guide to native plants for most of this work.
Art and Music History:
This term we will not be doing any biographies in either art or music, but starting second term we will study one artist and one composer.
Yesterday I blogged about the beginning of our homeschool plans for next year. Today I am going into more detail starting with the books and texts we are selecting.
First off, we decided against using an out of the box curriculum a couple of years ago. We had looked at a few of them, but we were having problems finding something that we really liked enough to devote ourselves to. And basically it boiled down to a few issues. I wanted faith to be a more or less integral part of the whole, but not a contrived part of it. We also had to find things that fit with the ages and interests of our children. Homeschooling is a way of life; it is not just another option. If you decide to homeschool it ends up affecting everything, in mostly very good ways, but everything is changed or at least colored by that choice to homeschool. When you select a curriculum that becomes part of your everyday life – every day. So we end up picking and choosing what we use from several different programs including Mater Amabilis (the biggest part), Ambleside, CHC, classical homeschooling and a big sampling of the wonderful things from the Real Learning forums.
After deciding the subjects we plan to study the next step is picking the texts, programs, etc. that we wish to use.
Math: Our math text of choice has been Singapore Math. We are considering switching Hannah to Saxon math, but if we do so it will be after the first 12 week term. For Term one we will have: Earlybird Kindergarten Math Textbook A and B , Singapore math 1B and 2A, Singapore math 2A and 2B, and Singapore math 6A and 6B
Literature and Reading: We do not use a reading text, instead we select actual books to read. I will make a separate post for the children’s reading lists. Our Shakespeare readings will come from: The Children’s Shakespeare
Other subjects do not have a particular text or reference. For some of them I wasn’t able to find exactly what I wanted and ended up cobbling together my own “text” for others we use reading lists or unit studies which I will describe in a future post. But the above list is pretty much it for texts.
Summer is just beginning and so has the work of planning next year’s studies for the children. It isn’t really work – though it can be rather time consuming – it is fun. There is something really exciting about going through all your supplies, perusing the web, reading through the catalogs and deciding on those things that you hope will spark your children’s excitement and wonder. This is all restrained by the realities of budget and time, but the initial planning phase is such a hopeful time.
This year I am doing a bit more formal lesson planning. I am breaking the year into three 12 week periods. Our calendar runs Term 1: September 7 – November 20 (one week off for Thanksgiving) then November 30 – December 4 then off for Christmas. Term 2: January 4 – March 22 one week then off for Easter. Term 3: April 5 – June 25 then off again for summer. I am working on creating the master “lesson plans” for the first term for each child. I created planning pages using MS Publisher – I print them out blank and then use pencil and post-it notes to fill in the plans until they are were I like them.
Christopher will be starting his first year of “middle school” studies. Approximately 6th grade work. Hannah will be doing early elementary school work, about the third grade level and Josh will be starting with grammar stage- first grade work. Sarah will begin some formal work, mostly pre-kindergarten stuff.
Christopher’s subjects will be: Religion, Math (pre-algebra), English, Literature (classic literature, and an introduction to Shakespeare), Writing (penmanship and composition), American History, World History, Geography and Cultures, Science (physical science and nature journal) Latin (beginning formal study), Art and Music History, Art (drawing and watercolor), Music (piano) and German (informal introduction).
Hannah’s subjects will be: Religion, Math, English (grammar), Reading, Writing (penmanship and copy work), American History, Geography and Cultures, Science (earth science and nature journal), Latin (informal), Art (drawing and watercolor), and Music (piano)
Josh’s subjects will be: Religion, Math, Phonics, Reading, Writing (penmanship), Geography and Cultures, Science (earth science and nature journal), Latin (informal), Art (drawing and watercolor), and Music (piano)
Sarah will have: Religion, pre-K Math, Letter Recognition, Arts and Crafts, World Cultures, Nature Discoveries, and Music (songs)
Usually I miss the hotly controversial postings about homeschooling until they are well past their expiration date, but this one I almost made it in time for. Apparently Jesse Scaccia, a teacher, has put his ‘well honed’ mind to the test and was able to come up with ten reasons that homeschooling is bad. His list boils down to: homeschool children are weird, homeschool parents are arrogant, selfish and isolationist, homes are not schools, Mr Scaccia has some sort of personal issue with homeschooling and apparently the Great Commission requires sending our impressionable offspring to schools that weren’t even in existence in the first century. I count five reasons there, but I don’t judge Mr Scaccia too harshly on his math problem; he is an English teacher not a math (or biology) teacher.
I am not overly interested in dissecting Mr Scaccia’s opinion except as it is related to the issue that homeschoolers are somehow more isolated culturally than schooled children and that this could in some way create citizens who are bigoted. To quote:
“4. Homeschooling could breed intolerance, and maybe even racism. Unless the student is being homeschooled at the MTV Real World house, there’s probably only one race/sexuality/background in the room. How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?
3. And don’t give me this “they still participate in activities with public school kids” garbage. Socialization in our grand multi-cultural experiment we call America is a process that takes more than an hour a day, a few times a week. Homeschooling, undoubtedly, leaves the child unprepared socially.”
Being socially isolated and culturally backwards I have no idea what MTV Real World house is, but considering it is MTV I am comfortable making a guess that more often than not it wouldn’t be a great environment in which to raise a child to be anything remotely resembling a cultured and liberal minded person. But let’s answer Mr Scaccia’s question: How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?
I have never lived among the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, but I do appreciate their culture. I could say the same about the Japanese or the Spartans of Ancient Greece. Other groups I have some first hand experience with: Members of the Modoc tribe of Southern Oregon and Northern California were family friends in my childhood. I have lived among African-Americans and Choctaw tribal members in the South and the next street over from Orthodox Jews in Boston and at the same time one apartment down from a family from Lebanon – the second wife was a particular friend. I have traveled in Mexico, Germany, France and Austria and brought home an appreciation of these countries’ art, music, culture and food. But none of these experiences were gained inside the walls of a traditional school — not a single one of them.
While I won’t deny that there may be some parents who homeschool their children with the hope of insulating them from other cultures and peoples 0r who, even worse, homeschool them in the hopes of indoctrinating them into a belief that their race is superior to others; such parents are the minority. They are a minuscule group defined by an ideology of fear, fear of blacks, fear of whites, fear of anyone who doesn’t agree with their world-view, but they do not represent homeschoolers at large. But, to quote Jefferson again: “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of the father” Even if a very few wacky parents wish to teach their children thus it is not an argument against homeschooling. It is at most an argument against parents being wacko, but since that is rather impossible to avoid (public school or not) the point is moot.
But turning again to the question at hand I realize that my personal experience will most likely be met with “Yes, but that is just your personal experience, how are most parents going to manage that?” Let me answer that obvious objection by talking about my personal experience a little more in depth.
Several months ago one of our librarians asked me a really interesting question, “How do you know if your children are keeping up with the kids in school?” The question itself sort of surprised me because I honestly had never given it much thought. I guess it just didn’t occur to me that my children should be learning in parallel to students in a public classroom. The librarian was somewhat surprised with my response “Why should I worry about that?” Looking back I could see that her question was really “How do you know if you children are learning what they need to know?” but her underlying assumption was that the public school has this information and that there is in fact some fixed amount of knowledge that children must acquire at some rate or they will be “behind”.
Now I will grant you that there are certain things which must be mastered in order to move on to more in depth and complicated knowledge. After all, one wouldn’t expect a child to be able to do division if they couldn’t even count, nor would you expect a child who didn’t know the alphabet to read, but in general knowledge doesn’t have to be acquired in a set in stone manner. A child’s interest in a subject can in fact be more of a motivation to learning than any set rubric.
Every once in a while I meet with someone who thinks that homeschooling means the children sit around a table and spend their day doing workbooks, reading textbooks or listening to mom lecture on a topic. Basically that homeschooling should reproduce the classroom in the home. Since the average American has only been exposed to the classroom model of education there is little surprise that this is the supposition. Add to that the fact that some homeschoolers really do try to “do school at home” and the fact that the movement is called “homeschooling” and we create the almost certainty that school is the right way to educate and that parents should educate their children the way the state does.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many different methods and theories when it comes to education. I am a pillager. I hunt through varrious methods and find what works for us and go from there. Here are a few of the methods I have shamelessly stolen from.
Unschooling What I like about unschooling is the idea that learning takes place organically. You don’t need to be following a set agenda at all times for your children to learn important things. If you provide your children a rich environment they will explore and learn better and more deeply then they would if forced to learn things they in which have little interest in a structured environment. Basically it is belief that children are designed to learn, they want to learn and all they really need is the tools. The most important thing I have taken away from unschooling is to get out of the classroom/box mentality, to be very hands-on, to spend time investigating and trying out those things we are learning. Our science and social studies are very unschool inspired.
Classical on the other end is the classical approach which is usually very structured. Certain subjects are introduced and mastered then built upon. There is something the resonates to me very strongly with this method. Logic and rhetoric, real critical analysis are here, built into the system they are built upon. We borrow a great deal from this method. We approach reading, grammar, mathematics and history with a strong classical flavor.
Charlotte Mason somewhere in here is Charlotte Mason. There is almost nothing I can agree with more than the basic idea that education isn’t about acquiring a set of facts or getting a job. It is about expanding our minds and our hearts, building our souls and consciences. Education is every bit as much about forming good habits and excellence in character as it is in learning dates and data.
I am by no means unique in the “take the best of each” approach to education. My children benefit from different approaches and so does my sanity.
A good friend of mine wrote me last week to ask about “the homeschooling thing”. Which delighted me to no end as I know their family would be fantastic homeschoolers. I found in answering her questions that I have quite different answers to the questions “Why did you start homeschooling?” and “Why do you homeschool?” both of which I am frequently asked and then there is yet a different answer to the rarely asked question “Do you think homeschooling is better than school?” and the more frequently asked “Are you nuts?”
Why we started homeschooling was pretty straight forward. Our local public elementary school is struggling under the burden of several large and diverse immigrant populations, the omnipresent specter of standardised testing, and the typical ills of city schools. Our parish school, in which our children were enrolled, went through a chaotic period, spiralling down into a toxic atmosphere and ending in a massive tuition hike before the school closed. Homeschooling at that point was a minor desperate reaction to figuring out what to do, but one that we were hopeful would work well for us.
And it has. Why we homeschool now really had nothing to do with why we started. I enjoy homeschooling. The kids enjoy it. Take away the better curriculum, the more engaging material, the spiritually sound environment, the great support of our parish homeschool group, the childrens’ homeschool friends, the one on one attention, take all that away and I still would love homeschooling because I get such a kick out of watching the children learn new things. Why we homeschool now is more a matter of lifestyle. Once we broke out of the box we started learning new things about learning. My husband and I are both self motivated learners. We both read a great deal, try new things, like talking about ideas and concepts and pushing ourselves ever so slightly each day to be more informed and engaged in life and learning. Basically we are autodidacts. So homeschooling fits us because our own experience has been that learning need not be confined to the classroom.
So do I think homeschooling is better than school. Well yes, for us. I can certainly see how others might not have the same type of experience. But good homeschooling would be very difficult for any school to match. First because homeschooling is focused on educating a particular child (or relatively small set of children) to the best of that child’s abilities taking into account that child’s aptitudes and interests. Secondly the nature of schools being political institutions creates a an atmosphere that is not educational in the classical sense. Politically the goals of schools are quite different from the goals of a classical education; schools more train than educate. Even where they educate the education is directed most commonly towards very utilitarian knowledge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact as a citizen I certainly want the bulk of my community’s members to be trained in useful skills that create a good work force that provides me with the services I need. But I want my own children to be educated in the sense that they become rational human beings with a deep understanding of their own faith, culture and the natural world. As institutions schools will always be bogged down in administrative overhead that impacts classroom learning but doesn’t affect the family educating their own.
So are we nuts? (this is by far the most common question I am asked about homeschooling) …. Probably. But it is a happy nuts.
Yesterday we took a walk through the yard to investigate the plants that we have growing. We were on the look out for angiosperm, gymnosperm, seedless vascular plants, and non-vascular seedless plants. We took small samples and photo. The children illustrated the samples on pages that will be going into their books. Tomorrow they will work on the narration for the pages. It should all bind up nicely.
Our history is concentrating on Ancient Greece. Christopher is working on a portfolio of various aspects of Greek society and culture. I am using a prepared book to guide us along in this but I am finding that I have to fact check the stupid thing so much I am basically just using it for the illustrations and crafts. It is sort of funny as one little thing caught my eye and caused me to look further.
The book claimed that Spartan woman often married at 15 and received little education. This is patently incorrect women in Sparta had rights that surpassed nearly every other woman in the ancient world. In addition to being educated they also owned outright approximately 40% of the land and controlled most the rest. The same laws that bound Spartan men to the military left the women at the helm of civil society and commerce. They also rarely married in their teens and a woman who died in child birth was given the honor of a tombstone with her name, something reserved for men who died in victorious battle and a few other noble instances. They were barred from war and state government only but so were most men. Only those men who could complete the rigours demands of Spartan military service were given the title citizen.
Of course this leads to a rather sad idea. One of two things happened here. Either the writer and publisher of this book dropped the ball and didn’t fact check and lazily went with some source that was unreliable. OR they knew they were fudging but for some reason like the idea that Sparta women married at 15 and received no education. I think their biases are showing: Education can only happen in a classroom and Woman are victims. Spartan girls did not get trucked off to school with their brothers at the age of seven. Instead they learned at home taught by their families and tutors. This (in the minds of some educational professionals) means they received no real education.
I have often pointed out to my own daughter that in many cultures and times she, at the tender age of 15, would be very seriously looking at becoming or already be a wife in charge of her own home and household. The funny thing is she doesn’t look at this with horror but more a sort of awe that a young woman would be expected to manage servants, home production of clothing and food, maintenance of the property, in some cultures the planting and harvesting of crops, perhaps wine making, olive pressing, carding, spinning, and weaving, and the care and education of her children. I just really don’t get the odd fascination that I find over and over again with the idea that woman were pathetic chattel dominated by oppressive men who wanted to keep them stupid and worthless when history and plain common sense say otherwise.
I would much rather my children look through history at the beauty and honor of women. How they have worked their looms, tended their homes and gardens, made good cheese and raised their children. I defiantly don’t want them too look at woman as historical victims. Victims are often worthy of pity, but they usually do not inspire respect.