This is the time of year to evaluate our little homeschools. The best thing I’ve done this year: use Five in a Row for my six-year-old daughter. I decided to use Volume 2 since Volume 1 included many picture books we were already familiar with, and Volume 2 only included three or four that we were familiar with. For twenty weeks my daughter and I have delved deep into twenty lovely picture books. I liked them all, she liked them all, and we are both happy to say that we are doing it again next fall! With Volume 3, probably.
Did we learn anything? Sure! Five in a Row acquaints us with history, geography, relationship issues, science topics, art (lots of different things about art, such as cross-hatching and perspective), even math. Plus, we learn a bit about authors and illustrators, how books are made, ideas behind stories, truth and fantasy, research, and writing techniques. That sounds like a lot for a six-year-old, but because it is all done through the medium of a picture book, and because I got to pick and choose the subjects that we discuss each day, and because I get to make it as laid-back and cozy as we like it, then the learning comes naturally. We have loved the little Friday habit we have of standing on a kitchen chair and sticking the story-disk of the week on our world map. Interesting how the stories stack up on the US east coast and the European west coast. I plan on doing a little ceremony next week of taking the story-disks off the map and pasting them on a chart I made of the books (I copied and pasted the book cover images off Amazon).
Is this a costly curriculum? Not at all! I bought the teacher’s manual used. As for the picture books, I already owned three of them, and the rest we checked out of the library. If it wasn’t in the library’s system, I requested an Interlibrary Loan, which the librarians were happy to assist me with. In one case, the librarian even bought the book for the library so I could check it out! She says I have good taste in children’s literature.
I’ve enjoyed having a special curriculum for my youngest daughter, and my other daughter has enjoyed listening to it as well:) Sometimes my nine-year-old son would listen, and definitely he read the library books by himself, but his learning type is very different from my girls, so it goes to show that different people need different curriculum approaches. I am so glad I decided to try out Five in a Row.
Here is the first verse of one of my favorite hymns:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
There are days when it is entirely necessary that God puts the tunes in my heart, constantly streams mercy into me, calls the songs out of me (loudly), teaches me pretty angelic poetry, and fixes me in one spot so I can’t run away from it all.
I searched for a calming work of art, and ended up looking at German expressionist, Auguste Macke’s paintings. Even with the bright colors, the texture of this painting is soft, not harsh. While there is something mysterious about the lady with her face turned away from us, it is a gentle mystery. She seems alone and quiet compared to the two couples in front of her. I like her beauty. I like that she is important enough to the artist to be the central object, and also the artist respects her privacy by not painting her face.
A story has only one master – its narrator; he decides what he wants his story to do. I know, I have always known, what I want my stories to achieve – I want to make people believe. Believe what I tell. Believe in it. Believe me. Belief is the one effect I’m always looking for… I must believe ancient Ireland as I describe it. The swords really did ring loudly off the shields. And the armor surely gleamed in the sun.
— from Ireland by Frank Delaney, 2005
I enjoyed this long, meandering novel more for the storytelling aspect than for the Irish history. As one boy grows up and follows (or tries to follow) the career of the last traveling storyteller in Ireland, the stories he comes across, either from the storyteller himself or from the other people he comes in contact with, unravel the history of a country. A secret concerning the boy and the storyteller also builds until it is finally revealed at the end.
My favorite story in the book is about two monks who create the beginnings of a great illuminated gospel as part of a contest to see which monk should be the next Abbott. The two monks are so very kind and generous, and also very creative and good at their work. The voting of the best illuminated page at the end of the story turns out a tie because everyone voted twice. So the monks rule the abbey together.
This was a good find at the library. There are more by this author, so I might read another one someday when I’m in the mood for a long, rambling story.
I just finished reading a new book written by Sally Clarkson and her son Nathan (c. 2016). It is called Different and tells a non-chronological story of Nathan’s life and how Sally loved him. Nathan was different from his siblings and most of the other people he knew. In his teens he was diagnosed as OCD, ADHD and ODD.
I like the hope and realism and raw truth in this book. They had strong faith in God, but it wasn’t their faith that pulled them through difficulties. They homeschooled, but this isn’t really a homeschool success story. They talked to each other and were honest to each other, but even that didn’t solve problems. This book is about the way they lived. It isn’t really about what they did or how anything was fixed. It’s simply a story of God working in a life, a difficult life. We can all live, right? That’s the hope. Keep living, keep looking to see what God will do next.
Here’s a quote I like from a section where Sally is speaking, “I also realized that each of my children, especially Nathan, needed to feel that the foundation of our relationship was unconditional love and respect for his or her essential self. Home was my primary tool for conveying that truth to them. For Nathan, I wanted it to be a place where he could breathe out the pressure to perform, to conform, to always be ‘good’ when what was defined as good was almost impossible for him, as God made him, to conform to” (141).
Isn’t that what God does for us? He makes us a haven where we can just breathe and be the person He made us. The world has this idea of how I should act, but God knows me best. He has this unconditional love for me that I can just fall back on. The falling back part is difficult, I know. It’s difficult to become different from the world, even from family members who know me well, but being different from the way I am made is even more difficult, almost impossible.
Most of the time I know my limitations of what I can do, and I make sure I don’t cross over that boundary (for instance, I know I don’t like fire, so I’ve never even tried to grill food). But when it comes to driving places, I sometimes cast a blind eye to my limitations. An art museum in Oshkosh? Yes, of course, I can do anything to get there! Well, I did try that today. I made it to Oshkosh, but my computer printouts didn’t seem to have directions that made sense, the roundabouts were not fun at all, and my foggy sense of direction ran a great risk of evaporating altogether. Plus, the upcoming roundabout looked very formidable and highway-ish from far down the road. So I turned around. Went back home. The children, who had been looking forward to the little field trip as much as I was, were quiet. (That’s unusual, by the way.) I got honked at twice during my foray into the big city. That was the most troubling thing of all, to me. I don’t think I did anything wrong except act like I’ve never driven in Oshkosh before. Why do people expect everyone else to be a savvy driver? For that matter, why does it seem like everyone else is a savvy driver?
The moral of the story is to know my limitations as a driver. I simply can’t go many places, even to fun field trip places. That is how God made me, and so that is how He wants my life and my homeschool to be. As much as I might want to explore different places, I am to be a homebody. And I need to accept that.
This is a celebration of the imagination. This is how pretty and bright and living the junk in our mind can be. Yes, it’s a cluttered mess, but doesn’t that make it all the more important to shed light on it, straighten it out, expose it? Yes, it’s totally different from all the scenery we know about, but doesn’t that make it more interesting, more unique in comparison? Yes, the forest in the background is equally interesting. I want to go there sometime, too. But for now, for this moment, I want to see what our own minds are capable of conjuring. Put the known objects we have been collecting since childhood into black-and-white. Paint the clutter in our imaginations. Write a descriptive essay about it. Write a poem! Be surreal. Don’t bother making connections. Who cares if that ladder looks like the one we used to climb into the haybarn? For now it isn’t even a ladder. It’s a bridge. Or two doorways leading to another land. Or a new form of punctuation signalling the end of a blog post.