I am not sure this post will help anyone, but I felt compelled to write it. If for nothing else, to be kept as a record of our schooling. As A.W. Tozer once said, “Others before me have gone much farther into holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large, it is yet real and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.”
Here we go! When I first became a parent the world of blogging was all the rage. Via the many blogs I used to read I came across the works of Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf), Maria Montessori (Montessori), classical education devotees and a myriad of other educational philosophies. None of which I began to follow immediately or intimately, but to each I owe a little of how I parent and educate today.
Through the blogging sphere, I also came across a book titled For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. This book is an outline of Charlotte Mason’s (CM) ideas on early childhood education and it was the emancipator of my educational discovery. After I finished reading Susan’s book I went seeking CM’s works and I found Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series (when it was still priced at $20 for the entire series). CM principals resonated with me on a deeper level than all of the others I had read before and because of writing I am teaching at home today. The seed is finally growing a tree and who knows, someday it might even bear fruit.
So why did I become so fond of CM’s philosophies? There are far too many qualities to a CM minded education, but here are a few of my favorite aspects: her views on a gentle education method, love for God, the proposed idea of laying down good habit rails (especially when it relates to overcoming lazy tendencies and keeping to a routine), her fondness for what is aesthetically pleasing, appreciation for the arts, the idea that children need to be outdoors and in nature as much as possible and the use of quality living books. I also related with her dislike for dry workbooks or long lessons and her viewing of a child as a full being.
Now, before we dig into the material I have selected for this year, let me tell you that for this 2015-2016 school year I am only formally teaching my oldest girl, Kennedy (3rd grade). My middle girl, Meryl, goes to our church three days a week for pre-school. Both of her teachers are gems (one a former homeschooling mom with grown children). I could not have asked for a better fit for my girl and their help during this season of my life is indispensable. When Meryl is home she plays with the littlest sister, listens to her older sister’s lessons, takes part in the lessons, builds legos, etc. There is never a shortage of things for her to do. The third girl, Florence is a toddler and she’s at home with us. She plays, climbs on furniture, scribbles on paper, and takes loooong naps (while we get the bulk our work done, thank goodness for short lessons).
During my most fervent CM seeking period I stumbled upon Ambleside Online (AO). AO is a treasure trove of CM information and it is worth the exploration time, plus it is free of charge. One caveat, I do not follow the AO suggested curriculum nor follow every single idea CM suggested (even though I love them so much). But, I have incorporated some of AO’s ideas and book lists into our little school and I have a CM bent mindset when it comes to child rearing and home education. While this list isn’t perfect, we ended up an eclectic mix that helps us get to where our vision is leading us. Isn’t the whole point of a home education to figure out what works best for each child? Personally speaking, following only one teaching method to the core would be much like decorating my house with furniture from one store. That just can’t happen.
Here are the criteria I kept in mind when choosing our material: use of quality literature, age appropriate yet challenging, sparks joy and curiosity, hands-on, and short lessons. While I am a lover of quality and timeless material I also took into consideration we live in the 21st century and my children would certainly ask to move out if I tried reading The Pilgrim’s Progress to them again.
Just for Fun
Several days a week we start our day with a simple activity from Tin Man Press. I’ve used many of their activities (even before I started homeschooling) and right now we are using Loosen up. On her home days, the middle girl partakes in this as well.
Kennedy reads independently for a minimum of thirty minutes every day. Most days we read (she and I) for an hour or so during our lesson time. This is an essential part of the daily rhythm for our literature-based approach. It happens rain or shine, willing or unwilling. I stick with CM’s approach, which is quite simple: age appropriate quality literature, no more than one chapter a day (of each book) and have a variety of books to be read at all times. There’s always history, science, fiction and a free read book going. There is also read-aloud at bedtime which adds another 20 or so minutes to our daily reading log. The latter depends on how tired we parents are. In addition, we periodically check out a PLAYAWAY or two from the public library. I especially like the ones with the audio and the book package. Even my non-fluent reader girl (BOB books level) enjoys listening to the audio stories and flipping through the book pages.
We have been following Brave Writer’s (CM inspired) approach to writing and to making our home a language arts home. I purchased The Writer’s Jungle (for me) and Partnership in Writing (for activities suggestions). So far we have really enjoyed the program, most especially since we incorporated free-writes and tea & poetry time on Fridays. We all look forward to setting a pretty table and enjoying our tea time together. I wrote about this here.
Daily Copywork, Narration, and Dictation
Again a Brave Writer approach. Our material comes from passages of the books Kennedy is currently reading, from books we’ve read before, or from scripture. I have used some material from Brave Writer’s The Arrow as well. Dictation is a time to check spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Kennedy particularly LOVES French-style dictation. Narration is the ultimate test of what has been learned. Having to put something you’ve read into your own words is no simple task and I use this method of learning very often. We narrate orally, on paper, with her dictating it to me, or via picture narration. Almost every day we do narration, in one form or another.
I definitely wanted to use a program for this because English is my second Language (didn’t you notice it yet?). We use All About Spelling. I personally find it a little too gadgetry but Kennedy likes all of the many pieces to the program. The program itself is simple and we move through it quickly. We started with level one at the beginning of the year and already caught up to level three where she should be. Along with All About Spelling we use our copywork, narration and dictation time to learn new words and spell hard to spell words.
We slack in this area, but we try to memorize a poem a quarter. I want to incorporate more scripture memorization, but I have been slow in doing so. As CM said, there will always be a second time to tick in.
I could make my own handwriting sheets and all, but let’s face it, there is not enough hours in the day to reinvent too many wheels. For this motive, we are using A Reason For Handwriting. Kennedy is learning cursive right now.
Brave Writer’s materials help us with grammar as well as writing, but I feel the need for a bigger boost in grammar. Again, English is my second language and I confess, while I have true adoration for proper grammar, I fail at it. We will need more help in this area next year and I am considering using Michael Clay Thompson’s books.
Teaching Textbooks (TT)
This curriculum came highly recommended by friends and according to AO it is a favorite of a lot of Charlotte Mason teachers. It is all interactive using CD-ROMs and a workbook. It involves much self-teaching and very little from me – which was a blessing at the beginning of this school year. However, I am finding she’s becoming somewhat disinterested in math and it was her favorite subject earlier on. For this reason, we will switch to another program next year. Right now I am considering using Math-U-See. If you like TT’s methods, keep in mind it is about a year behind as compared to other curriculums and I highly recommend your child taking their placement test. We had to move a grade up, so she is doing 4th-grade math according to TT. Again TT was a blessing for me during the early days, but I feel we are ready to tackle this subject with a more hands-on approach.
Science & Nature
CM teachers normally do not teach formal science lessons during 3rd grade. But…I have a degree in Cell & Molecular Biology and science just couldn’t wait. In the beginning of our home education journey, perhaps due to my higher education knowledge, I was making things more complicated than they needed to be. So, I did what mother’s do, I went looking for help. I opted to use Moving Beyond The Page, a literature-based unit study curriculum. I found out about this curriculum a few years ago via a homeschooling friend. I sort of dismissed it then because it had workbook pages and it reminded me a little of public school work. However, once I felt the need to have extra help I took another look at it and thank goodness I did. It has been a great fit for us. I use it as a guide (something to keep us more grounded and keep me accountable) and I supplement it quite a bit. I don’t use their workbook pages, but I use the information as an opportunity for dictation, copywork, vocabulary building, drawing, and such. We also use this opportunity to dig for more information, look for videos online, etc. The photo above is our take on their Sound Unit. I found interesting videos to go with it and to add another dimension to the studies she is reading about Hellen Keller. Their units can be purchased independently and the ones I have used so far have been of great quality.
We use Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study. If you are interested in this book, I highly suggest you look on Ebay for a 1930 or older version. This book is public domain and it is available on Amazon. However, the editions available on Amazon are poorly scanned and hard to read.
We are out of doors as much as time allows; we strive to take a walk or bike ride once a day, some days we succeed, some days we don’t. While I don’t make a point to have formal nature study lessons each week, we are constantly observing what is around us. We live in a beautiful area with miles and miles of paved bike paths, trees, ponds, and parks. There’s also a nature preserve within walking distance from us. I make a point to turn my children’s attentions to the types of trees around us and the abundant variety of wildflowers blooming in Spring and Summer. We observe the many species of birds (and snakes on occasion) that inhabit our parks, green areas, and backyard. And I call all of this nature study. I do hope, that with time we will begin to journal our findings a little more frequently. Right now, in my pregnant-and-running-after-a-toddler season of life, I find that observation is about all we can muster. (picture below taken just before my littlest decided to take a dive for the ducks. No worries, I was near her and no toddler was harmed.)
We study composers very informally and infrequently. Every so often, when we are at the library and I remember about composer studies, we pick up a book or two on a particular composer, read those books and listen to some of their pieces. Nothing too elaborate or boring. We usually have classical music on during lessons. I like to hear something soothing and with the volume low, just for a little background noise. My children recognize many of the music and often ask who is playing a particular piece. We usually save some bluegrass or folk music for free art times or for while I am making dinner and they are playing.
Kennedy started taking Suzuki style violin lessons after she turned five. She has formal private lessons once a week and group lessons several Sundays a year. As part of the violin studies, there are two recitals per year and four concerts. One of the concerts is outdoors and the others are in nursing homes. It is so great to see all of the students, ranging from ages 4-18 play together according to their abilities. Along with the Suzuki pieces, her violin teacher also incorporates a variety of fiddle pieces and seasonal (Christmas, Spring focused) pieces in their play repertoire. Kennedy announced this week that as soon as she finishes the current Suzuki book she is working on she would like to switch to playing the cello. This decision makes me very happy! Give me the sound of a stringed instrument any day.
Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too by Mona Brooks in the past, but I have to tell you we have truly come alive taking Creative Bug’s Drawing lessons with Lisa Congdon. This has become such a fun time for us. When we don’t draw together we make collages, paint, work with air-dry clay, sew, you name it. We do a formal drawing lesson once a week, but strive to incorporate as much drawing as we can into our daily lessons.
This needed a section of its own. I am a quilter after all. My goal for this year was to incorporate more sewing/quilting lessons into our school rhythm. It was a slow process, but I feel that we are finally making a little more space for it. In the past, my sewing time was ME time. It kind of still is, when I manage to get some nighttime sewing done, but slowly I am opening up to sharing my knowledge with my girls. Now that my oldest is Math savvy and has the fine motor control skills to cut fabric and handle a sewing machine she is becoming more interested in my favorite of arts. The picture below is the cushion cover, pillow case and quilt she made for her doll bed. She thought this was such a fun project and my heart rejoiced that I could spend this time teaching her.
I have been steadily adding more art time to our daily rhythm and we have started to do a picture narration at least once a week. Kennedy picks a picture from a chapter she read (or maybe we look for a picture online), draws the image in her own style, then writes a little narration on the back of the image. In the beginning, she was a little reluctant to do so much work, which is normal, she spent three years in the school of cut-and-paste and now she is in the school of DIY. Slowly, I can see she is beginning to take pride in her work and I think once Kennedy looks back at what we have done this year, she will see how great everything looks. As opposed to the collection of pre-printed pages she barely colored in, all of which ended up in the recycle can.
Art History/Picture Study
Masterpiece Cards is an excellent resource for thoroughly researched paintings and artists, and their blog is filled with great information too. I don’t stress much over formal lessons in art history or picture study. I love and appreciate art and I’d be at a museum every day if I could. I think this excitement is contagious to my children. Maybe next year I will be a little more formal with our lessons, but I have no plans to do so now.
Museum Field Trips
My children absolutely love driving down to Houston to pay a visit to The Museum of Fine Arts. We have been to numerous exhibitions and they all seemed to make a lasting impression on my girls. My now nine year old still remembers seeing Picasso’s work when she was five. I’d call that a win, wouldn’t you? Also, on the first Sunday of each month, the MFA has a family day. Their crafts are very well thought out and goes along with whatever main exhibit they have on show. It is definitely worth a trip at least once a month.
I LOVE history! My father is a Historian and college professor and his love for history is contagious. So contagious I got the history bug around 5th grade and I was never cured of it. Come to think about it now, I am not sure why I majored in science and not in history. My only guess is that curiosity can lead us in many different ways and sometimes without any reasoning. Oh, If I could go to school and get a second degree, History would be it.
I do believe the study of History needs to happen in a chronological order, but it does not matter when that time begins. Home educators can debate when to start until the cows come home, but I believe that the history most relevant to anyone, more especially children, is his or her own history or the history of the country they live in. Growing up in Brazil we learned gobbles of Brazilian and South American history and a smal but decent amount of world history. Yet with the pendulum swaying toward more Brazilian history than any other history I am still wildly curious about all history. So in saying all of this, when I read Beautiful Feet Books reasoning for teaching Early American History and moving on from there, I was exhilarated. One of my most favorite memories of college was not the time I spent mixing solutions, but the time I took Early American History. I remember my lectures (and my professor) as if they were yesterday. So I ended up ordering Beautiful Feet’s entire Early American History package and we began our journey.
I realize BF is highly regarded in the home education circle and what I am about say isn’t meant to throw the baby out with the bath water. But it is my duty as my children’s teacher to dig deeper and not just accept one opinion and regard it as the holy grail.
We began our BF studies with Leif The Lucky. I not only used the beautiful D’Aulaire book in the package, but also found videos and other online resources related to Leif Ericksson. I used the BF study guide for this section as well and we loved the study. Then…we arrived at Columbus and I could not believe my eyes. Both the D’Aulaire Columbus book and the study guide painted Columbus as a man of honor and faith. Which is an atrocity! God and Christopher Columbus could not have ben more separate. If you take any time reading about this man (from a scholarly view, not a romanticized one) you will find that he was a villain, killer, and a transatlantic sex slave trader (shipping 9 year old native girls into the hands of twisted man, gross). This D’Aulaire book also perpetuates the flat-earth myth. Columbus did not prove the world was round. In reality, scholars during the Middle Age had a spherical earth viewpoint, thanks to the Ancient Greeks. So dear friends, no matter how beautiful the D’Aulaire illustrations are it isn’t worth propagating this Columbus myth any longer, unless you are purely teaching Columbus as a fable. Of course, don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Also, beware that the D’Aulaire book on Pocahontas. It perpetuates some myths as well. This video explains more about the Indian princess than the D’Aulaire book could ever do. I am not sure why BF books would continue to use myth perpetuating books in their fine selections, but that’s not for me to decide. We can only learn and move on. I still really like most of their book choices and I am looking forward to using their history of the horse unit next year.
What I find more amazing and fun about homeschooling is the ability we have to be curious and branch out. When we studied Jamestown, we talked about the importance of women (of lack of them) in the settlement. Kennedy learned that because such few women were in the settlement, the entire colony almost failed completely. The men did not want to do a woman’s work, you know like cooking. The best part of this, I found the information in my historical quilting books. Who knew quilting books would be a part of my homeschooling journey?!
This is another area of informal and infrequent lessons. My girls are very acquainted with the area where we live and they know which direction to go (once I tell them where we are going on a bike ride or in the car). I often let them play navigators and they lead the way giving directions to help us get somewhere familiar to them ( the bakery, post office, grocery store, or the different parks). We also incorporate map lessons based on what History lesson we have going or simply when we get particularly curious about the location a city or country we run to the maps. For a little America love, we use the book The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A with 50 fact-filled maps! The content is just right and the illustrations are very cute. I think there’s an activity book coming out soon for it.
Well, gosh this post only took me a few months to write and I am sure it is still rough. But, I hope you can find even the tiniest of lights in it.