Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Homeschooling Post

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;
c) mathematics
d) science;
e) health;
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.


Christina said...

It is interesting how the different strengths of the parents are apparent in the curriculum. Makes sense, teach the kids the stuff you are strongest at. I knew a physics major at college who had a classics education up until the 10th grade at which point he took classes to learn mathematics and physics. One of the smartest guys I knew.

I know if I was homeschooling (I have no kids at this time) the curriculum would be full of detailed lessons in earth science, math, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology. A post like this from me would be full of "This year the 10-year old will map out the procession of mars and the 8 year old will learn how to make a lunar map using the kids' telescope."

Unfortunately, without a strong effort to the contrary, Reading would include sci-fi/fantasy junk and writing would be "write a lab report".

Lisa said...

I think Tom Sawyer is fine for 5th grade - it seems to me that's when I read it.
Huckleberry Finn runs a little older and you should read it first to anticipate the questions. In my opinion anyway.

Lauren said...

I want to come and be homeschooled by you! Sounds like so much fun. What's on your 27th grade curriculum?

Brandon said...

I'm glad you liked the logic and are continuing with it. One of the things I like about logic is that a very tiny amount goes a very, very long way -- people just need actual practice with it.

I had completely forgotten about the dead rats.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Tom Sawyer should be fine. But Huck Finn is a different story, addresses a much more mature audience.

I know I looked up the legal requirement stuff last year. But I don't remember any of it now. Why didn't I save it?

I'd like to start Latin soon. Maybe next year? I'd love to find out more about the various options. Minimus seems to get good reviews.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I missed your posts on homeschooling. Some brief points, in lieu of an adequate comment:

1. If you're using Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum (What Your Nth Grader Needs to Know), see the Baltimore Curriculum Project.

2. Following the links to my old post on What Your 18yo Needs to Know, I discovered with shame that I'd pontificated on the need for a comprehensive knowledge of world geography. Six years later, Great Girl is headed to college, and I discovered she knew nothing whatsoever of world geography. Los Angeles, Israel, Singapore - they could be anywhere, who knows? We did a crash course over the summer called Where Things Are.

3. Middle Girl can run a mile in 10 minutes.

MrsDarwin said...

OH, thank you! I'm going to spend some time today studying this.

It's not that I feel that our youthful instincts were wrong -- I think they were generally sound, through a combination of good early training and innate common sense. But I am appalled by the arrogance with which we blithely assumed that we were going to school our elders, or anyone else, as if no one else had ever thought these amazing thinks or could express them so well. But I guess that humility is not the defining characteristic of the young.


A few Minimus reviews on Amazon (and I would concur) note that Minimus is fun to look at, but doesn't really have enough content to be a core component of a Latin education. I can see already that we're going to need a more instructional book, with more elements of grammar. I know several people who know and like Artes Latinae, or Latina Christiana, but I don't happen to own either of those programs, and I do have a copy of Minimus to hand. You see my rigor showing through, I know.

Lauren, my 27th grade program is as follows: if your house is clean, you're not reading enough. Now go sit down with Northanger Abbey.

MrsDarwin said...

Lisa, thank you!


You're right that one tends to focus on what one's own interests. Looking back at the post, I can't believe I didn't mention that we've been reading Shakespeare aloud, and even acting some of the scenes. I have one who is shaping up to be a fine dramatic reader, and I'm so pleased.

Brandon, the dead rats have become a byword around here. We spent all summer with Mrs. Jewls and the gang, pondering the missing 19th floor. I think we've exhausted the library's collection of Wayside School books.

Emily J. said...

I'll sell you my copy of Excellence in Writing! Oh why did I shell out the cash for that?!? I'd heard such good things about it that I thought I could sit the kids in front of the DVDs for a couple hours and they'd come out inspired and articulate. Instead most of the DVDs are geared toward parents. I feel quickly to sleep during the first one and never went back to finish it or the others. Meanwhile the kids threw metaphorical tomatoes at the bit that they watched. Now it makes a nice dust collector.

MrsDarwin said...

Emily, that's the story of most of my curriculum purchases!

Mary said...

Re: Writing

For about 4 years I had to fill a3-hr. credit completion program for those students who could not get themselves to school enough to keep their credits for the year. 3 hours of work covering all topics. The assignments I liked the best were the writing prompts we did to practice for the state writing assessments. 30 minutes of writing time prompted by an uncaptioned picture. Just free writing using the picture as the jumping off point. One picture was a old door with a number on the door frame. Another was a picture of two pigs with their feet on the top of a fence looking over. A patriotic parade, a hall table with a coat hanging next to it on a hook, the list goes on. Any picture works. I cut most of them from magazines. Some of them really got into it; great stories. I would not want to plan for all subjects all year! Have a great one!

Christine said...

Mrs. Darwin,

"if your house is clean, you're not reading enough."

I love it!

I need to embroider that on a pillow, or just make a couple of signs and hang them around my house for when I have guests.