All right! It's almost 11:30 the night before we start up lessons again, so it's prime time for me to start my lesson planning. This is how I roll. This afternoon at 2:30 I was feverishly printing out Epiphany coloring sheets and vocations crosswords for my religion class at 4:00. Tomorrow I'll be writing out details of the children's schola I'm leading for someone's co-op on Tuesdays. I'll be planning a day in advance for that because they're paying me a bit.
I'm flipping through our Core Knowledge books at the appropriate grade level to see what we've covered so far for each child. I'm pleasantly surprised to learn that we've already covered (and demonstrated some mastery) of all of the first grade math topics. Fifth grade? Not so much. I'm not too worried about fractions because I've overheard the girls dividing up cookies or portions of candy with a methodical care and accuracy that they rarely put into their math worksheets. Still, we're going to start our math time with ten minutes of quick drill, carefully timed and not a minute over.
Drill? Yes. I'm beginning to see just how crucial constantly pounding certain facts can be, if you actually want the kids to learn them. How much time did we spend last year talking about the Revolution? How much time on the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence? I asked Eleanor (age 10) this evening, "Eleanor, when was the Declaration of Independence written?"
She paused. "1556?"
"Nooo. Try again."
It was to laugh, or weep, take your pick.
I've been beta-testing a spelling program this year, one that involves learning words by copying paragraphs from a model, provided right there in the workbook. It's okay. The first grader likes it just fine, copying out lines from nursery rhymes and finding the vowel chunks and silent-e words. The fifth grader puts up with it -- it's only ten minutes a day, and at the end of the week, she copies her paragraph from dictation instead of the model, and counts up the words she's spelled right. The paragraphs all have to do with stories from American history, and the words aren't too difficult. But Julia, in fourth grade, has taken against it, and when Julia takes against something, let it be anathema. She says it is too easy and tells me so in angry, misspelled notes. She wants tests and crossword puzzles and little varying exercises. Back to the MCP workbooks for her, I guess.
Speaking of taking against, it's pulling teeth this year to get anyone to read anything that smacks of sneaky education. I remember devouring biographies, novels, easy science books, that "day in the life of" series about different careers, anything, at this age. Then I re-read them. The big girls moan and sigh if I demand they read a chapter about the Transcontinental Railroad (it was an interesting book, I thought) or begin Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates. I liked that book. Something I wonder on occasion is whether my children are spoiled by living in a houseful of books. It's as if the books are so commonplace, they've lost their allure. When I was little, we didn't have a lot of books, and I read and re-read ours until they fell apart. I remember the glory of receiving a box of books from my great-aunt when I was nine or ten. It contained Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, a set of old encyclopedias with synopses of great world lit alphabetically arranged at the end of each volume, a Mary Renault novel, and a bunch of children's books the titles of which I can't remember even though the plots have stuck with me, in detail. (Anyone ever read the one about four children, one of whom was named Ham and one who might have been named Dorry, who vandalize an old house and are made to clean it up, and in the process they discover lots of great historical detail about it and see the error of their stupid prank, and then learn that the crochety owner is going to have it torn down because he can't afford to keep it up?) I still read almost anything that comes into my hands, but these ones, although they will do their school reading when required, are in a phase in which they only want to read books called "The Spy Princess" or involving Harry Potter or fairy tales.
We were conveniently between readalouds over Christmas break, so I've been perusing the shelves looking for our next book. At the beginning of the year I'd resolved to add more poetry into our diet, and one of the authors on my list was Longfellow. I'm considering Evangeline. As a warm-up, I read the last section of The Song of Hiawatha tonight ("By the shore of Gitche Gumee,/ By the shining Big-Sea-Water...). Eleanor started improvising a tap dance to the drum-like rhythm, weaving increasingly intricate and faster patterns around the ONE-two-three-four of the lines. It was like being part of a minor number in a mid-century musical.
A college friend of mine, Bill Powell, recently wrote a book called Christmas by Heart: How to Memorize the Christmas Stories from Matthew and Lukewhich we started using over the break. Although the book includes schedules for memorizing the stories either on an Advent or Christmas track, we're a few days behind and it doesn't make a difference in how we use the daily prompts. It's full of good advice and tips for effective memorization, so I read those myself and then incorporate them into our memory sessions, which are usually after evening prayers when the girls are in bed. We'll continue this almost until Lent. Anyone who's interested in learning more about what we're doing can find lots of detail and sample chapters at Christmas By Heart.
And that's about as much planning as I can handle tonight. I don't know how the real teachers do it. I admire you mightily for your developed curriculums and your fine lesson plans. You can admire me for my... well, the way I... for my ability to make it up as I go along, I guess.