It's been a while since we've written about homeschooling. There are several factors at play in this; the primary one is that we've finally grown out of the idea that we have any wisdom to offer. Somehow, in our early years, we labored under the misapprehension that being homeschooled ourselves, we had some unique purview into the education of children, and we made ourselves insufferable by offering vast opinions on what every 18-year-old should know. (This last is the sort of thing that sends me to my knees in thanksgiving that the blogsphere was not in full swing when we were 18; if you think we were overblown at 27, imagine how it was when we were at the age to know everything and tell everyone about it. --And according to my time in the 5K the other weekend, I run a mile in 12 minutes.) Thanks, jerky 27-year-old Darwin.)
But! We're still slogging on, educating our children and educating ourselves. Since the local public starts today, it seems like a good time to take stock.
First of all, this article by Jennifer Fitz on Putting Together a Last-Minute Curriculum, although aimed at first-time homeschoolers, was helpful to me in assessing my planning priorities (especially since I do everything at the last minute). Her first point: before you do anything else, be legal. Here's what Ohio mandates that I teach:
a) language, reading, spelling, and writing;
b) geography, history of the United States and Ohio, and national, state, and local government;
f) physical education;
g) fine arts, including music; and
h) first aid, safety, and fire prevention.
As Jennifer points out, religion and Latin are not on that list. This is not to say that those subjects are unimportant, but they're not the first topics I need to plan, nor do I need to consider them when getting our work ready for our yearly assessment (no problem on the Latin, because we haven't started that yet, but my brother is a Latin teacher and Darwin was a classics major, so I ought to have all the support I need when I need it -- we're having fun right now with Minimus: Starting out in Latin). We'll be using the Faith and Life books for religion, and doing some scripture memorization as well, and the girls are enrolled in classes down at church. And I just found out that I'm teaching the fifth grade class.
This year we're covering 5th, 4th, and 1st grades, and perhaps teaching letters and numbers to Young Master (depending on how much effort I have to put into it -- Baby will probably be a more willing pupil). For a list of grade-appropriate topics, I consult the Core Knowledge series: What your Fifth Grader Needs to Know, What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know, etc. These books don't constitute a full-fledged curriculum, and that's fine with me. Instead, I'm dividing up the topics by weeks, and covering the year's worth of history or science that way, give or take when we need to. Each section (Language and Literature, History and Geography, Music, Visual Arts, Math, Science) contains an overview of the year's study, broken into topics or brief chronological narratives. With that as our basis, we'll be supplementing with primary sources, stories, topical reading, biographies, histories, and textbooks if we find ones that we like.
We tend to read a lot of literature, out loud and individually. Some books I plan to read, some we pick up as inspiration strikes, and some we pull from the reading selections in What your X Grader Needs to Know. Not all of the suggested reading is new to us -- the current fourth grader heard some of the literature last year when the current fifth grader was studying it. The fifth grade book recommends selections from Little Women, but we read the first half out loud last year, and we'll finish it this year. Some of the material we'll expand upon -- the story of Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence, and an abridged version of The Red-Headed League by Arthur Conan Doyle are suggested for fifth grade, but I'll have her read the original Sherlock Holmes story, and more of Tom Sawyer, if not all of it. (The issue being that I haven't even read all of Tom Sawyer myself, so I need to get cracking. Tom Sawyer: appropriate for a ten-year-old? Discuss.) I want to read more poetry this year, especially some of the longer poems of Longfellow. Maybe Hiawatha, maybe Evangeline, maybe both. Right now we're finishing Belles on Their Toes as summer reading. I read that when I was ten, and it's such a joy to me to see my ten-year-old laughing at the jokes and following the story.
Both the big girls followed the fourth grade history, which covered, in part, the Revolutionary War, but it won't hurt them to hear it again this year. And next year too, probably, if the answers I got when I asked recently about the thirteen colonies are any indication. The books cover various world history topics, in roughly chronological order, and I'm not worried about doing world history injustice. Do you know how little history I'd learned before I went to college? My kids are already doing better than I did.
Many homeschoolers like to follow some sort of program: Seton, Calvert, Abeka, K12, etc. That's fine if it works for you. Over the years I've learned that I do not do well trying to teach to someone else's educational schedule, and that if I try to do so, it ends in madness -- I like to compress, expand, speed up, slow down, as the spirit moves us. As I've cleared off my shelves in preparation for this school year, I've found that the first things to go are anything that smacks of curriculum: the spelling textbook someone gave me, the English program I never used, the kindergarten workbooks that we used to distract the baby when she wanted to climb on the table. There are a few exceptions. This year we're beta-testing a spelling program, and I'm already apprehensive at the idea of going at someone else's pace. This is where we start building good life skills.
We've used the Miquon books for math, which are really a collection of lab sheets instead of textbooks. And we supplement with the MCP math workbooks for practice. The big girls do math together. This seems to suit their abilities, in general. The younger has a stronger head for numbers. But every now and then we get some divergence, so I ease up on the younger and do some more in-depth work with the older, and that's borne good fruit.
I worried that we hadn't been doing enough writing, and was considering purchasing the Excellence in Writing program, but an experienced friend told me exactly what I wanted to hear: that if you're not confident in your own abilities as a writer, you'll find it helpful; if you are, and you feel like you can impart grammar and hone stylistic abilities on your own, you'll find it frustrating. Color me convinced! Anyway, the trick to doing more writing is to do more writing. So that's the plan.
Something we enjoyed a lot last year was doing a bit of logic, so that will continue this year. My aunt gave me a big anthology of Lewis Carroll's writings, and included were a selection of his logic games. I also took a lot of guidance from Brandon's post on teaching logic to children, which introduced us not only to a number of concepts, but to the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar (in which we learn that dead rats live in the basement). Another aunt gave us, over the summer, an assortment of logic puzzle books from Ivan Moscovich's Mastermind Collection. I find myself sorely out of my depth with most of these, especially when they tend toward the more mathematical, but the kids enjoy just paging through the books. I'm fine with that. I want them to have an introduction to this kind of thinking, and to find it enjoyable instead of onerous.
Phys. Ed.: everyone dances. Why dance? I don't know. The local arts center is a block and a half from our house, which means the kids can walk there, but after forking out the dough for this year's lessons and Company and recital costumes and extra pre-pointe class, I'm wondering why we just don't form our own basketball team. One child is gung-ho for archery, and Darwin is gung-ho to assist her with that. Also, this is the year we start piano lessons again. I mean it. And go to more art museums and plays. I mean it. I lead a children's schola on Fridays (music! Latin!), where none of my children pay me any mind because obviously it doesn't matter if you goof around if Mom is the one teaching the group, and she's not going to spank offenders in public. The Catholic school kids, meanwhile, are good as gold.
I don't know how we'll top last year's fire prevention lesson, in which we learned that smoke detectors in basements really do save lives, and that when your boiler combusts in November, it gets cold in the house. I hope that's a lesson we only need to learn once.