Homeschooling Right and Wrong List

This year’s math workbooks are officially recycled (it’s becoming quite a happy tradition in our house), and I have this need to list some things about this homeschool year that I might have done right and things I still need to work on.

Right: I switched from Ambleside Online to Five in a Row for my youngest daughter, and changed her attitude from “I hate school” to “let’s do school!”

I decided to read from Exodus and Luke for Bible class, having the kids tell the passage back to me. No curriculum, no fuss, just the Bible and us.

I did not force my oldest two to continue Spelling-You-See when we finished their workbooks mid-year. I like the curriculum, but they were burned out. So we did some free Bible spelling sheets from Garden of Praise. That went well.

I gave my son a geography workbook. Common core approved (and I’m anti-common core). It’s basically what I would call busy work. He loved it and does it on his own time. He has plans to finish it this summer.

We did plenty of art projects, some inspired by our own ideas and some following the directions of our lovely art instruction video series, Home Art Studio.

I persevered with out-loud readings (at least three a week). My middle daughter has improved her reading big-time since the beginning of the year. My youngest has also improved and is at a more advanced stage than her sister was last year at this time.

We read tons of books this year, and we enjoyed them. I read the entire Little House series out loud for the second time (upon request) and now we are in the middle of the Anne of Green Gables series. I read Robin Hood for the second time. I read Where the Red Fern Grows. And more. Lots more. We love stories.

Wow, this is really encouraging. But now I’m going to start the Wrong list, not to discourage, but to clarify what I need to do better next year.

Wrong: I frequently got too frustrated with my middle daughter’s inability to subtract. It’s not that she can’t subtract; she simply gets overwhelmed by all those numbers on the page. Patience, patience. If I stand next to her and guide her through the problems, she can handle it.

I’d like to have a more exact start time for school. Flexibility is a beauty of homeschooling, but my mornings seemed so up-in-the-air, and the children flung themselves into playing so I wouldn’t make them start school yet.

I need to combine history (so all three kids study the same thing) and forget about English history for a few years (or forever). Why on earth did I ever think Island Story was a good idea? I never learned that stuff and I was perfectly fine. In fact, I am still unlearned, and I have a hard time discussing it with my son because I don’t know what I’m talking about. Seems like a waste, although my son liked it better than I did.

I trusted Ambleside Online too much, and I got discouraged by the AO leaders who insisted things must be done such-and-such a way. We crammed in too many readings and I tried too hard to force them to narrate every reading. As a result, we didn’t enjoy some things and learned to hate narration. I think I won’t even say the word narration anymore. The N word.

Science. Well, I don’t know if this is wrong or not, but I was pretty lackadaisical toward science. We did it when the Spirit moved me. I should probably be more conscientious about that.

Nature study. We didn’t even try to keep a journal this year, and my youngest daughter missed that. I should be more conscientious about this, too.

That’s all for now. If you have read to the bottom of this post, then I hope it was helpful or interesting. Mostly, it was helpful and interesting for me. Sometimes I have to write stuff out to understand what I’m thinking.


Beginning Five In A Row

After fifteen weeks of school, my first-grader went from “I love school” to “School is boring. I’m bad at it.” So I decided Ambleside Online is not really working for her. It wasn’t too hard to decide what to do instead. When all my kids were preschool I used a booklist from the curriculum called Five In A Row. That excellent booklist had been on my mind. I did a little research on Five In A Row, discovered it was a literature-based unit study approach to homeschool, read a very positive review by Diana Waring (who writes homeschool articles I read almost every week), and ordered a fairly inexpensive copy of the Volume 2 teacher manual. It is very flexible. You can choose the order you do things.

I chose to read a book we already owned first. It is Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. I was a little apprehensive about the repeated readings (read the same book five days in a row) because that is very much NOT something Charlotte Mason would approve of. This style of schooling does feel very different from Ambleside Online. Whereas AO gives a feast of many great things, FIAR feels more like a cozy, intimate family meal. Conversational. Familiar.

It’s too soon to tell is FIAR is going to improve my daughter’s attitude toward learning, but I’m enjoying it even though it’s a little more daily work on my part. After all, this had been my third year of AO Year 1, and I was struggling to keep up the enthusiasm, too. I’m still using AO for my third and second-grader, who respond well to it. I think my second-grader does well to be right in the middle and nosy about everyone else’s business. She benefits from that wide range of learning. I hope we all benefit from adding a new curriculum into the school day.

Space and Time

Homeschooling has its ups and downs. Some weeks I feel behind. This week I felt like we had time to do everything. We even got to the art project I’ve been telling my kids “we might get to that later today” for the last three weeks. We finished reading Peter Pan this week, which the kids have been begging me to reread for exactly a year. I finally gave in. Now we’re reading Ben and Me by Robert Lawson, which is another reread, but I love it (way more than Peter Pan). We are nearing the end of our first Ambleside Online term, which means we are nearing the end of two books (Understood Betsy and The Princess and the Goblin). It also means we are finishing up our artist study of the term, which is Mary Cassatt. I am so happy to share her artwork with the kids. I think they like it as much as I do!

This is one of those posts I write mostly for myself. I tell myself, space and time opens up. Just when I’m feeling cramped and pressed and squeezed and processed, life opens up like a big Georgia O’Keefe flower painting. God gives me time to finish off loose ends. He leads me through paths of fresh air, down lanes with big climbing trees, through lawns covered with crisp leaves. He gives me opportunities to really, truly help a person. He leads my thoughts away from bad things. He gives me words to read and write. He empties my fridge of boring leftovers so I can cook interesting things.

Strangely, He encourages me through my own discouragement. I sometimes read or hear about other homeschools, and instantly I know my weaknesses. I’m not a certified teacher, and I know very few technical tricks about how to get different areas of my children’s brains working. I dislike talking my children through social aspects of their training (shaking hands, looking people in the eye); I’m not sure why, but I always feel foolish talking to them about things like that. I feel like some rambling hypocrite. Too much talkie-talkie, as Charlotte Mason might say. So I get discouraged because I think I’m failing concerning these things. But God helps me fight this discouragement. I am good at other things. I persevere. If I’m quiet, well, I’m living by example, then. If I’m inexact in my teaching, well, we don’t stop. We keep moving forward. We enjoy a literary rhythm that perhaps certified teachers might envy. I am their mother, and I am probably the best person for them to be around all day because I care the most.

So I write to myself, even when bad things happen, life keeps moving forward, opening up in new ways. Keep going. Keep going outside. Don’t worry about sleeping too much or too little. Keep eating. Drink Mt. Dew, but drink it moderately. Make yourself some tea, too. Read new books and old books. Go to Bible study. Pray in the shower.

What’s Going on in the CM World?

What isn’t going on in the world of Charlotte Mason education, would probably be the better question to ask. It seems I joined in on this movement that is blossoming and growing and becoming more aware of itself by the day. That doesn’t mean I’m aware of it all. Not yet. I’m kind of slow about these things. I don’t care for big conferences, and I decided to take a summer break on any CM meetings that are taking place in the area. I don’t even have much patience to follow the conversations about the changing CM world on various blogs and web sites.

However, I do know that CM educators are finding more and more info from the different articles and reviews that Miss Mason wrote. Those of us who began with the six big volumes are now becoming aware that those big volumes are only a framework. The articles and reviews and letters that are becoming more easily accessible flesh out Miss Mason’s theories. And we find out we have been doing things wrong. At least some things. I’m not an expert yet, but I’ve vaguely become aware that nature study techniques need to be restudied (less art, more inquisitiveness). And composer study is perhaps a crutch we educators have been leaning on to cover a much broader (and more intimidating) study of music.

As my oldest begins third grade in the fall, and as I slowly begin to turn my summer break into a preparation for the next school year, I find myself wondering how much studying I should do? I like to study, and I’m pretty good at research, but at the same time, will it do much good to find out exactly how Miss Mason taught her class? Will slogging through a pile of articles really help me become a better teacher to my own children? I don’t know. There are some educators out there who do extensive research (Art Middlekauf, I’m talking about you!), and they seem to benefit a great deal from it. I think these folks with the big brains and the big hearts for their kids can honestly combine the two into a really good education.

At the same time, I think trial and error has its advantages as well. I’ve tried following Ambleside Online to the letter. Now, I believe I’ll try combining AO with some new things I’ve been keeping my eye on. For example, I think I’ll buy the “Jot It Down” writing program from Brave Writer, which will change the way we do poetry, among other things.

I feel like the wisdom of Charlotte Mason sifts into my life. Sifting is kind of an old-fashioned thing, too. The older recipe books tell us to sift together our flour and baking soda and salt. I think a sifter is a tool people used to use (sorry if I’m completely ignorant about this–I grew up without sifting things). Well anyway, it’s all a metaphor that I’m trying to work out here. CM is the flour sifting into my other life-ingredients. Her ideas help make a fine cake:)

Some Pressing Thoughts on the Charlotte Mason Homeschooling Method

As my title suggests, I have pressing thoughts, so I’m impressing them upon you. Even if no one reads it, at least I’ve struggled through my ideas. My Charlotte Mason book study meeting last week got me thinking about my role as teacher. Here’s what I think I learned: I am to be see-through. I serve the children faithfully by putting them in the way of good literature. I also ensure that they are hearing the gospel as presented by the Bible itself. I am a sounding board to their ideas. I serve up a smorgasbord of education, lots of good stuff on a regular basis. And I allow them time to digest it all, too. I pray for their minds, bodies and souls. I remain see-through so they can see God through me, and the Holy Spirit can reach through me to work in them.

When I offer up personal opinions, I am being cloudy and not serving their best interests. Moreover, why should I need to speak? My actions ought to show what I believe. I ought to be someone the children can imitate. And isn’t that part of the sanctification process–showing yourself less and letting Jesus shine through more?

Now that I’ve learned all that, I need to mention the things that confuse me about this method. I haven’t figured it all out yet. For instance, there’s a lot of good literature that we read. And not all of it agrees with each other. I can’t even ensure that it all agrees with what I believe. Do I talk about it? Or do I let their little minds puzzle out their confusions themselves?

And also, concerning Bible studies, I find the Ambleside Online schedule (at least for Years 1 and 2), too easy and short. There are Scripture readings assigned for each week, but if we schedule Bible five days a week, that leaves me struggling to keep it alive. I get bored, too, with not enough to read.

And concerning the narratives. Yes, I am to be a sounding board for their ideas. And yes, they are supposed to narrate everything to get those ideas out in the open. But I am often a questioning board instead of a sounding board because my kids don’t like to narrate. “I can’t remember anything.” “Can I just say my favorite part?” Sure. “It was the end.” Oh.

I think Charlotte Mason told us that kids all enjoy narrating. Sigh. I wonder when mine will start believing her.

Maybe the better question is, when will I start trusting her? I get nervous about the stuff I don’t understand. And I think that’s when I stand in the way between a good education and my kids. I need to just trust that if I get out of the way, offer up the good stuff, and keep going at it faithfully, they will be nourished.

Let the feast continue.

Synthetic Thinking

Synthetic thinking can be understood as an approach to knowledge that places things together, comprehending the relationship of new knowledge to old knowledge, one discipline to another, and man to all things.

— from Consider This by Karen Glass, 2014

Consider This is a mind-bending, stereotype-breaking book explaining the relationship between Charlotte Mason and the classical tradition. One of my favorite parts of her book is her emphasis on synthetic thinking. I love to think synthetically! I love pulling ideas together so they speak about the same thing. When I find connections between an old memory and a poem I read for the first time–that get’s my brain humming. When I read a chapter about groundhogs from my son’s animal book and I find a way to relate it to something else we’ve read in a different type of book, that’s synthetic thinking.

Today we drove past a small lake, and my children kept calling it a river, and it dawned on me that they need a lesson on landforms and waterforms, but then, it also dawned on me that one of the books we are reading, Tree in the Trail by Holling C Holling, is teaching them quite a bit about landforms.

There are overlapping layers to the way we think, and our Ambleside Online curriculum contains a lot of overlapping layers as well. I don’t think my kids know when we are studying history, or when we are studying literature. It isn’t so different. I feel kind of bad for them when people ask them what their favorite subject is. School is school. It runs its course. And at the end, their minds have more ideas than when they began.

The Gentleness of Charlotte Mason

Last night I met with a group of homeschool mothers who shared some of what they learned at a recent Charlotte Mason national conference. Without writing two-and-a-half hours worth of encouragement and wisdom, I’d like to share some general ideas that kept coming back.

— Respect the person. Each person is different. Persons are more important than things.
— Nature study is key. During it we recognize the awe and wonder of God. God gave us nature as a place to go for peace and relaxation. We develop a habit of attention. Nature study changes attitudes of disengaged students.
— Atmosphere of the home is an important part of education. The atmosphere emanates from me. I need to model peace. Keep cutting back on things until there is peace in the home.
— Education is a life. I am not the supreme educator. Trust the Holy Spirit to work in my children. I am the children’s mother before I am their teacher.

I hope this short list of ideas resonates with you. It helps me to be less apprehensive about the coming school year, to set my priorities, and it also encourages me to go ahead and plan things, always knowing my plans will be bent out of shape in a lovely, living way.