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.


Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

Do you ever get stressed out with your children and not realize it? I just realized that’s what has been happening to me. Thankfully, I have a lovely monthly Charlotte Mason book study to attend and mentally recharge for two hours. It’s good to go someplace where you are reminded to stay relational with your children, to fill their different needs, to build their character rather than their conduct. It’s wonderful to remember that I need to step out of the way of the Holy Spirit. Serve my children, give them what they need, be quiet and trust in the Lord. Lean not on my own understanding.

This is hard to do. Especially when the children are very loud and annoying. But if God can provide this little two hour break for me once a month, then that’s something to rejoice about. I tend to worry that these parenting things don’t work if both parents aren’t doing them. But then again, if I am doing something positive and relational in my children’s lives, that is much better than if I wasn’t. I’m doing what I can. I’m going to pray more about it. And maybe peace will come.

My thoughts after this evening’s book study meeting…

Another evening with five ladies and Miss Mason’s philosophies on education. We discussed curriculum, and the wideness of the range of ideas brought to the children. We discussed science and math and how to keep the children from getting bogged down by technicalities. We discussed hanging works of art in our bathrooms. We discussed loving music and hating it, loving history and hating it. I think we are all agreed that we homeschool partly because we like how much we’re learning. It’s like we’re making up for those awful history textbooks, those hours of sitting in desks doing nothing, those teachers who did not inspire us the way good books do now.

I don’t think we’re really doing this for ourselves. We all have strong convictions about home education being good for our children. But I do know that my selfishness could extend in two branches, one desiring a quiet chunk of time during school hours for my personal writing and housework, the other desiring to teach things that I really enjoy. Either way, I’m certain my children would survive. Homeschooling isn’t really about survival, at least not in my case. It’s about making a choice to lead my children down a certain path which I believe is better than the other paths available.

It is God’s grace that the good path to lead them down is one I also enjoy to walk.

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.

Homeschooling Pippi

One of our read-alouds this summer was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and we really enjoyed it. I got to thinking what it would be like to be Pippi’s mom, suddenly returned from the dead (not an angel after all!). Obviously, traditional school didn’t work for Pippi. She’s the perfect candidate for homeschooling. But which method to choose?

Mrs. Longstocking might try the Unit Study approach. Pippi could do a complete unit study of her trips at sea. She could make a lapbook of maps, animals she saw, pirates she met. She must include a drawing of the ship, all the various parts labeled, and she ought to fill in the points of a compass. Pippi’s mom could read her related books from the library, make her add and subtract fish, and memorize verses from the book of Jonah.

Well, how about the Montessori approach? Allow Pippi to explore her surroundings. Give her plenty of natural toys and tools. Wood is good. Start collections of acorns and pine cones. Get out her trunk and have her do a rubbing of the imprint on a bar of gold.

Perhaps Pippi would do well with the Charlotte Mason method. She’s already a natural narrator, but she must be trained to tell the truth. Take her for a nature walk, and instruct her to look for a minute, memorizing what she sees. Then have her close her eyes and tell you what she saw in detail. If she says anything ridiculous about robbers or parrots, she must be gently admonished. But try again the next day. Make her understand how truthful narration helps her remember important ideas.

Mrs. Longstocking might consider Classical education. But she would really have to get Pippi to sit still and attend to her lessons. A well-trained mind must be properly exercised every day.

The Brave Writer method is a more modern educational approach, designed to encourage Pippi and her mother. Since Pippi is still learning her letters, her mother can jot down those exciting stories for her. And then they can have a party! Invite the neighbors over! Celebrate!

Perhaps Delight-Directed education is the way to go. What does Pippi really love to do? Make a kitchen full of cookies? Great! Teach her fractions as she measures ingredients. Run off the local police? That’s the perfect opportunity to schedule a tour of the police station. Climb trees like her monkey? Compare and contrast her climbing abilities with those of Mr. Nilsson.

And then, of course, there’s Unschooling. Pippi is already doing a great job learning through life experience. Supply her with good books, take her along on errands, and find a local 4-H club for her to join.

So many choices! I’ve had fun thinking about being Pippi’s mom. As it happens, it’s just as tough to decide how my own children would best be educated. I see advantages and disadvantages to each of these methods. Charlotte Mason is what I’m officially doing, but I believe I’ll be borrowing from other approaches as well.

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:)