Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don Quixote Done!

I finally finished Don Quixote! It is the first book listed in The Well Educated Mind for the fact it is considered the first novel ever written. It was written in 1605 yet I was amazed at how common mankind's struggles are even after 400 years!

It felt like a huge accomplishment for me to finish all nine hundred and some odd pages because Quixote's insanity truly began to numb my brain after about the first four hundred! I keep a reading journal and summarized each.and.every.single chapter in the entire book. I was rewarded for this by the fact that I could orally summarize pretty much the entire book including all the major characters when I was done. The fact that there are over 600 characters in the novel makes this a triumph in itself! And still a month after finishing it I can still remember the majority of those details. I have always been a very fast reader but a week after finishing a book I can typically not recall anything but major themes and maybe a main character or two. A month after reading pretty much all the details are lost. After a year I can read the dust jacket and think, "Now did I ever read this book or not?" Sad but true.

Susan Wise-Bauer says in The Well Educated Mind, " Some books speak to us at one time of life and are silent at another. If a book remains voiceless to you, put it down and read the next book on the list." Even though I struggled with it, I persevered to the end of Quixote because I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. Actually I knew I could do it I just needed to know I would do it!

Francis Bacon says, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." I would say I took the middle road with this book. At the end I was so relieved to just be done, but after working through some of the elements of literary analysis that SWB lists in TWEM I found myself appreciating the book more and more. I still doubt that Don Quixote will rank as one of my top ten favorite books (actually I doubt it will make the top 50 when all is said and done ;) but it was a good start on my journey of self-education.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

SSA Summer Conference 2010

Last summer I blogged about creating my own homeschool conference. This year we were out of town celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary the weekend of the local conference so I took the opportunity to again design my own! You can read about some of the nuts and bolts of what I did and how I did it in my old post to jump start your own planning if your interest is piqued.

What I love is that I can plan two days to meet my exact needs. I am a Classical homeschooler with strong Charlotte Mason leanings. I always say - and this is an oversimplication but still helpful so I share it - the Classical model is the head of our school and Charlotte Mason is the heart. You will see that reflected in the sessions I planned. I also have an Aspie so I devoted a session just to him. In addition, I have embarked on a journey of self-education to fill in the gaps of my own education and prepare myself for the high school years so I included a time dedicated to that as well. Like last year I used many different mediums; I read books, journaled, listened to MP3 downloads, researched websites, and checked out blogs and message boards.

Also you will see four sessions dedicated to time management. I am typically a productive person and a git-er-done kinda gal. Yet, I have known for some time that time management would be a huge issue and challenge for me going into this year. Thatcher is getting older and the increasing demands of his school mixed with the reality of his ADHD make for a busy day there alone. Haddon will be in Kindergarten and Beckett in pre-K as well. While Haddon's and Beckett's lessons are small compared Thatcher's work they still increase my responsibility load and I find I am ever juggling more balls. And with this, I am still committed to spending daily time with God, making my marriage a priority, cooking from scratch as much as possible, blogging, my own self-education, exercise, and spending time with friends among other things. Whew that makes me tired reading over what I just typed!

So here is my schedule from my two days with links to resources I used below.

Simply Charlotte Mason MP3 - Reaching Your Child's Heart

Franklin Covey - Build a Personal Mission Statement (highly recommended!)

I hope someone might be encouraged to plan their own time away after reading this post. It was a highly motivating time for me and I felt refreshed and refocused at the end of the two days. No matter how you are planning to start the upcoming year, I hope you too feel the same way! :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why We Homeschool - Part Two

After six years on this journey, here are our reasons for homeschooling our boys:

1. Discipleship: One of the greatest privileges of motherhood is getting to pass the baton of faith to the next generation. Homeschooling allows me to oversee my boys’ spiritual formation every day, all the time. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” We are to take every opportunity to talk to our children about the great love of our God and homeschooling allows those conversations to happen with greater frequency. And honestly it is not just about their growth; homeschooling has been a huge instrument of discipleship in my own spiritual journey.

2. Education is Life: I am borrowing from Charlotte Mason who said “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Our goal is to raise boys who value learning and have a desire to discover and grow all their lives. School isn't what we do from 8:00-3:00. It happens 24/7: in the car driving to a doctor’s appointment talking about how our bodies fight infection and when we are at the beach looking for crabs, clams and hermit crabs to observe. It happens on bike rides when we stop to rest and identify the birds flying by. It happens as we sit in our fort eating lunch and discussing what clouds are floating by and what weather they tell us might be coming. It happens when we are baking a half batch of chocolate chip cookies and the boys are working hard to figure out what is one-half of three-fourths. There is no (artificial) division between learning and fun. It is all learning and it is (mostly) all fun.

3. Tailoring my Children’s Education: Each child is unique with their own special gifts, talents, abilities and desires. I can design an education plan to meet each of their individual needs and incorporate their desires. If one is on grade level in math, ahead in reading and behind in spelling I can work with them exactly at their level. Rare (if ever) is a child exactly on grade-level in every single subject. My boys will never be frustrated because the teacher had to move on and they didn’t quite get it yet. Conversely, they won’t have to sit bored because others need more drill and review and they are ready to go forward. Also, if one’s interest is sparked by a subject, we have the ability to stop and dig deep; no one is forcing us to move on. About delight-driven studies I love what Gregg Harris has to say:
In a delight-directed study, a child’s interests are fanned to flame and supported in ways that increase his interest in his studies. The child’s delight is the spark that ignites everything. Once established, like a fire, it is self-sustaining. The student begins to study for his own personal satisfaction, and the fruits of his study begin to flow outward to others.
4. Efficiency: defines efficient as, "performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort." There are so many ways that homeschooling fits this description. When you look at a typical seven hour school day in a traditional setting there is much that is necessary yet takes away from learning. One example is the time is takes to line up 20 wiggly students and walk across the school to get to art/music/PE/lunch/recess/library. I used to estimate that at least 30 minutes of every single school day was spent on these transitions x 5 days a week = 2 1/2 hours of just moving from place to place. Now add in roll call, morning and afternoon announcements, teacher’s time spent dealing with discipline, waiting in the lunch line, assemblies, packing up at the end of the day and much more and you realize there is a very sizeable chunk of time in school not spent learning.

Another way homeschooling is efficient is that we can be systematic in all we learn. We will not repeat a unit on Lincoln and Washington every February around Presidents’ Day. We will not study the life cycle of a frog or butterfly again and again and again. I can and have plotted a course of study that will provide a generous (in scope) and rigorous (in depth) education for my boys: we will study history chronologically from the beginning and work to modern times. We will study ancient history and biology in 1st, 5th and 9th grade each time digging deeper as they mature. Medieval history and earth science/astronomy will follow in 2nd, 6th and 10th. Early modern history (with a focus on American history) and chemistry come in 3rd, 7th and 11th. Finally we will conclude with modern history and physics in 4th, 8th and 12th.

5. Authentic Learning: It happens best when it is hands on and tied in with every day life rather than read from the pages of a text book. When we do study the life cycle of a butterfly or frog we actually order caterpillars and tadpoles and watch the amazing transformation happen before our eyes. In 4th grade when each boy will study Texas History we will pack up and head to San Antonio after reading The Boy in the Alamo to see the real thing. We will tour the state capital in Austin, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and visit the Treaty Oak. We will travel to the San Jacinto Monument where the Texians defeated Santa Anna's Mexican army and then see Sam Houston’s gravesite in Huntsville.

Of course this can’t always happen (although I would love to take my children all over the globe to experience culture and watch history come alive for them) but it can be much more frequent in a homeschool environment.

5. Excellence and Rigor: I have mentioned some of the details of our planned course of academics above. In addition the boys will have solid foundations in math, reading, spelling and writing. They will all begin learning Spanish in 1st grade, add Latin in 5th and a third language of their choosing in 9th. They will have training in music theory and learn to play at least one musical instrument. They will read and be read to excellent and beautiful literature to grow their minds and prepare them for a study of the great books in high school. They will have classes in logic and rhetoric. As the boys grow older we will use whatever means necessary to maintain this standard of excellence and rigor for their education: online courses, dvd lectures, dual enrollment at a local junior college, tutors and whatever we feel necessary to maintain the course.

6. Family Unity: In a time where the family dinner has become a luxury for many, we enjoy time with our children - time to bond and unite. I know the mantra is "quality not quantity" and that may be true in some things but when it comes to children I am of the opinion that it is quality and quantity. Children need their parents and a lot of them. They need time to process and question and have someone there who can take all the time they need to address those questions. And by keeping them at home we allow that to be more of a reality for our family.

7. Socialization: This is typically seen as a negative of homeschooling but I consider it a huge positive. My friend, Heidi, at Mt. Hope Chronicles says, “ In my experience, children in recent times lose their innocence early and mature later, creating a 10-15 year (or longer) adolescence. My hope is to help my children retain their childhood innocence longer and encourage maturation. I want my kids to think for themselves without a herd mentality.” I could not agree more or say it any better. My boys are around people of all different ages, interests and abilities. They do not spend the majority of their time with same age peers day after day. Socialization is primarily the responsibility of the family and I do not want to give that over to a room full of children who by definition should be immature and somewhat foolish:

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. - Proverbs 22:15

My children have plenty of time to pretend, build, draw, and run. They can finish their lessons with ample time for board games, nature walks and bike rides before soccer practice in the evening. My boys will be involved in community service, spend ample time with adults and family, and be involved in apprenticeships if they find a craft or trade they are interested in pursuing.

8. Flexibility: There is so much to be said for this aspect of homeschooling. In the beginning we schooled four days a week to spend extra time with dh on Friday, which is his day off. We have grown to need half days on Fridays but if we decide on a family outing we can make up lessons on Saturday or do a few extra evening lessons the following week. We have always done a typical 36 to 40 week school year but this year will try a six week on and one week off schedule to allow more time for rest and travel throughout the year - and less time to forget material over a long summer break necessitating needless review at the start of the next year (see #4 above). If someone is sick we can snuggle up and get ahead on our read-alouds, listen to audio books and play chess. If we come across a subject that is fascinating we stop and explore and if we come across an area that is just plain boring for that child we learn what we must and move on.

9. My own growth: One of the things I have absolutely loved most is learning alongside my boys. I have the opportunity to fill in the gaps of my own education! I never had a study in ancient history. Most of my high school teachers were near retirement and tired of the classics. I never read Shakespeare; I just had to memorize Mark Antony’s speech from Julius Caesar, nor did I ever have to read many of the books considered to be high school standards (although I was in honors courses all along the way). I was never taught literary analysis. My knowledge of geography is appalling -but rapidly getting better ;) and even though I took Spanish all the way through Spanish V we joked that the class was mostly about siestas and fiestas.

I have started my own study of the Great Books using The Well Educated Mind as my guide and am checking out Teaching Company DVD’s from the library. I am eager for all the future holds in this regard.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why We Homeschool - Part One

Many know they want to homeschool from the moment their children are born. Some come to that realization when their babies are very young. I even have a friend who had kids just so she could fulfill her dream of homeschooling. :) My journey took a much different path. I taught in public schools for almost a decade before I had children: pre-school special education (PPCD), first grade, second grade and third grade. I loved my years in the classroom and looked forward to when I would be back as a room parent and volunteer once my kids reached school age. We live in a great community with a wonderful school district - one of the best in the state. I never expected I would be educating my kids at home.

So how did we end up homeschooling? I could subtitle this post: What Got Us Here is Not What's Keeping Us Here! You see six years ago when we started homeschooling it was because we had a little boy with severe ADHD and "autistic tendencies". For many reasons we felt public school would not be a good fit for him until he was able to catch up a bit socially and emotionally. The main deciding factor came at four when started reading but couldn't sit still for ten seconds. If he had the perfect teacher and a class full of patient understanding kids then maybe. But I saw too many students like him and most often it didn't go that way. It's not fair to a teacher with 20 other students to have a basically one-on-one kiddo. And it's certainly not fair to a child who would academically be bored but without the necessary skills to sit still regardless. So I went into homeschooling thinking it would be for just a few years.

A digression: it is so important to me that my children love to learn, and school does not necessarily have anything to do with learning -at least in those first important years. Let me explain. The reality is a child can dislike learning but love school. Or a child can love learning but dislike school. A young child cannot make that distinction though; the two are inextricably tied together. If a child has a bad experience with a teacher, or a bully, or just isn't ready for school and ends up thinking, "I hate school!" then s/he most often resists learning. You can't separate the two in the mind of a young child. It can take years to overcome a hard year in Kinder or 1st grade. I taught many of those kids; I know. Most often they were late bloomers and weren't ready for the demands of the classroom either academically, emotionally and/or socially. And it left a bad taste in their mouths. As a teacher I tutored, rewarded, counseled with parents, encouraged and basically did everything I knew to help that child begin to love learning again. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't. I vowed that wouldn't ever be my kid!

Back to the story. I started homeschooling not entirely thrilled but relieved that it would be only for a short time. Those years were a grace to me because they started me on a path I don't think I ever would have begun on my own. And although I got off to a slow start, I have fallen in love with educating my children at home.

When people ask us why we homeschool the answer has always been something along the lines of, "Because Thatcher has ADHD and Asperger's and public school is not a good fit for him right now." People have pretty much been satisfied with that answer. It threatened no one. But now that Haddon is school age, and Beckett right on his heels, the question has become, "Are you going to put them in school." So I find myself six years into this journey and just starting to give my reasons for why we will homeschool all our boys! And those will be in my next post.