This was the second day of summer vacation in the Darwin household, but from the activities it would have produced some of the better homeschooling bragging rights of recent months.
I'd ordered a copy of Minimus: Starting out in Latin, which arrived while I was at work today (along with a copy of Istanbul Passageto get me through upcoming plane flights.) Our 10-year-old (who had been reading the first couple pages over my shoulder via Amazon when I ordered it) immediately snagged it, ran upstairs, and read the first ten chapters with enough comprehension to drive her eight-year-old sister nuts by correcting her on Latin vocabulary as she was trying to read it later. (Punches were thrown.)
Then when I got home from work I got out the telescope and projected the sun's image onto a piece of paper so the kids could see the transit of Venus across the sun's face.
From this, you could almost get the impression that we're some kind of homeschooling superheroes. If we're this good when school isn't in session, how much better are we when it is?
Despite past ambitions, we seem to keep finding ourselves to be much less of classical homeschoolers than we had imagined we would be. The things that very reliably happen around here are: math, spelling, religion, and reading/read alouds. Much to our relief and happiness, the oldest two have really blossomed into recreational readers over the last year, and the read alouds they enjoy are, I'm convinced, fairly decent. (I recently finished reading them The Hobbit and am now reading Stuart Little, while MrsDarwin is working through David Copperfield with them.)
However, while I know we'd both pictured guiding the kids through a detailed round of world history, mythology and the beginnings of world literature, this has been a lot more rocky. We were really good about reading mythology with them (and our oldest now enjoys reading it herself). They've heard plenty of the bible and about the saints. And we had a moderately successful run at reading Gombrich's A Little History of the World aloud to them a few years back. However, in a whole variety of other text books, story books, and books picked up from the library we've stalled out repeatedly in attempts to cover world and US history with them at a level that interests them as 3rd and 4th graders.
A big part of the problem, frankly, is me. Over the last 10 years, since leaving college, I've fallen back in love with reading history and read a lot of it. The problem is, that in the process I've managed to pick fights with nearly any book we try to use with them, except historical novels aimed at kids (The Winged Watchman was a hit in a way in which my attempts to explain the nature of communism and fascism over dinner was not) and a limited number of other subject specific books and materials. All the history books aimed at 3rd and 4th graders seem so simplistic. And yet, the kind of complex, conflicted, history that I enjoy reading so much simply doesn't involve an eight or ten year old, to whom a good story involves good guys, bad guys, and the whole world in the balance.
In some ways, I think time may simply be our friend here. As they get a little older, they'll be able to read and appreciate better stuff. And, frankly, I don't look back and think "wow, I learned so much in third grade history, it's a good thing that I got all that covered". Third grade history in parochial school involved something about California and the main things I can recall is the model of a Mission I built and the argument I got into with my teacher as to whether the Vikings discovered America before the Spanish. (I was told if I wrote "The Vikings" rather than "Columbus" on the test I would be marked down because that textbook discussed Columbus and not the Norse, and any reading I had done on my own was beside the point. I went ahead and did it anyway because I can never walk away from a fight.)