Monday, July 29, 2013

In which our heroine gives up and does it her own way

Since I first contemplated homeschooling our children, when Moose was just a tiny thing and I was still working at the Rocket Factory, I've been drawn to the Charlotte Mason method.  The primary characteristics of Miss Mason's method that most people would recognize are nature study, narrations, and living books.  Now that I'm settling down to read her books (which can be read for free at Ambleside Online), I'm realizing that there is so much more.

So much more, indeed, that it's making my head hurt.  So much more that it's making me wonder if my plans are potentially detrimental, and certainly to think that I'm better off coming up with my own lessons for Moose this year.

In all honesty, do I think that I'm going to damage my son by not following the CM method to the letter?  Nah.  Despite the dire warnings about the world around us, there are plenty of people who do just fine with other teaching methods.  Not everyone, not by a long shot, but plenty.  I'm living proof of that.  I'm at least reasonably intelligent, I hunger for knowledge, I enjoy both reading and exploring nature, and (wait for it) I was educated in public and religious private schools.  There wasn't a drop of nature study or learning from "great books" in sight when I was in school.

That said, much of what I learned seems to be despite school rather than because of it.  My love of learning led me to seek out knew information whenever possible, and my constant reading brought me much of that information.  Most of what I remember I learned on my own, not at school.  Without a doubt, being taught to read, write, and do math has allowed me to learn on my own.  However, I would be surprised if I wouldn't have done better had I been taught at one of Miss Mason's schools.

After chatting with more experienced homeschooling parents on a Charlotte Mason Facebook page, I've decided to scrap my curriculum plans for the year and just hold off until at least next year.  That would have been a simple enough decision, since it's what I'd planned on doing all along, but I'm a stubborn creature and am having trouble admitting that we might not really be "doing school" this year after all.  I told our families that we would be, and I'm hesitant to back down.  Besides, Moose really does want to begin school, and I believe that following his lead is the best plan at this point.  I think we'll be doing basically the same things we'd have done anyway, but I'll be drawing up a basic schedule to give us some order to how we do them.  I'm going to be focusing on habit training, and we'll do a monthly theme (ponds and streams, weather, dinosaurs, and so on), Bible stories, some basic Scripture memorization, more songs, and plenty of art and science projects.  Oh, and books, but like music, books are such a part of the tapestry of our lives that it's hard even to remember that they need mentioned.  We have Rod and Staff's ABC series on its way for some desk work, but that's largely just because he enjoys it and considers it part of school.

As I fill in the remaining blanks on our schedule, I'll post it, but for now, suffice it to say that this is a huge weight off my shoulders.  On one hand, I now worry that Moose isn't spending enough time outside (though he spends significantly more time there than most children) and that I "connect the dots" for him too much instead of letting him do it himself.  On the other, I no longer have to agonize about what curriculum to order and how to find the components used or save up enough money to buy them new.

Of course, this might all change yet again in another few days.  I'm finally feeling at peace about it, though, so I doubt it.  In the long run, he's learning every moment he's awake, so I'm not too concerned.  He's come this far without formal instruction, so while there will come a time when he needs to begin a more rigorous education, I'm trying to be satisfied with letting him learn through play and not push him before he's ready both emotionally and academically.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In which our heroine has second thoughts about FIAR

It's late, so don't expect me to be elegant.  But...I'm having second thoughts about using FIAR.

I know, I know, I thought it was for the best.  I could do as much or as little as I wanted and tailor it to Moose's needs.  It was literature based, and the boy loves to read!  It's that tailoring that gets me, though.  I know anything worth doing is going to involve work, but FIAR is seeming like a LOT of work.  The parent's book gives suggestions, but what I keep hearing over and over is that there's so much you can find for each piece of literature if you look around online.  Pinterest and blogs are great, but I'm tired.  I don't know if I want to have to hunt around the web to come up with ideas for every single little thing.  I have ideas of my own, sure, but I just don't know.

I was attracted for a while to Sonlight P4/5.  There were only two drawbacks:  the cost and the way the stories were divided into little chunks to be spread across many days.  I prefer reading a whole story, or at least a coherent chapter of a story, instead of a snippet that many reviews say doesn't necessarily end at a sensible place.  I do, however, think we will be using Sonlight Core A in a year or two.

Moose is only 3.   He'll be turning 4 in October.  (Forgive me if I'm repeating myself.  As I said, it's late, and I'm pretty wiped out.)  I hesitate to say he's bright; so many parents do that, and it's become almost meaningless.  However, he does learn concepts quickly and easily.  He knows his colors, shapes, numbers, letters, most of his letter sounds, and many of the other concepts that seem to be introduced in preschool or kindergarten.  He learned all of those through play and daily life.  He has great spatial awareness.  He's fascinated by clocks and loves calendars.  He can do very basic addition and subtraction.  He is, dare I say it...bright.

A lady on a Charlotte Mason FB group suggested using My Father's World, specifically the kindergarten curriculum.  After reading the sample pages and various reviews online...I love it.  I want it.  I am as excited by the possibility of using this as I am about using Sonlight Core A for kindergarten.  I think Moose would love it, too.

Only two things give me pause:  the cost (currently $129 for the basic package or $214 for the deluxe package) and the kindergarten label.  How caught up should I be in a label?  I hate to push Moose, but I think it would be perfect for him.  One possibility would be to begin with MFW this fall, taking it extra slowly--3 days a week, maybe?--for now, and beginning with Sonlight Core A with Grade 1 readers when we finish.  Again, going slowly, we would finish both programs over the course of 3 years.  This would put him on track to begin first grade coursework "on time," when he would be supposed to enter first grade if he were in public school.

Alternatively, I could try to devise our own plan for this year and begin Core A next year.  I have a feeling that I'd be trying to come up with something that looks much like MFW kindergarten on my own, though.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Just for the sake of not starting with something labelled "kindergarten"?  With one infant already and another likely to be joining us in the fall when we open our home for foster care placements, I would really prefer a prepackaged curriculum.

Now if only My Father's World were as inexpensive as Five in a Row.  At least I had no problem with ordering the latter, reading through it, and deciding it might not be for us.  I hate making these sorts of decisions.  I think The Engineer needs to give me a schooling budget for the year, like we have budgets in place for every other category of our spending.  That would go a long way toward making me less nervous about ordering something.  Maybe I should bring that up to him tomorrow, after his guitar students leave.  For now, I'm off to bed.  Maybe tonight will be the night Sprite goes back to sleeping for more than 4 hours in a row.

Monday, July 22, 2013

In which our heroine schedules her son's autumn schooling

As I mentioned previously, my copy of Five in a Row (Volume 1) arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I'm trying to plot out a course for Moose's first season of schooling.  It's turning out to be both simpler and more difficult than I'd anticipated.  For those who aren't familiar with Five in a Row (FIAR), the premise is that you read the same book aloud with your child every day for a week, focusing on a different aspect of the book each time.  Lessons might involve social studies, language arts, art, applied math, or science.  Because Moose is so young, I'm picking some of the simpler suggestions for each topic, and we aren't supplementing with a more rigorous math or phonics program like parents of older students would.  The suggested age range is 4-8 years, and Moose won't be 4 until a month after we begin, but Before Five in a Row, the book recommended for children ages 2-4, seemed too simplistic.

Fortunately, Moose loves to read.  And by "loves," I mean begs to be read to frequently throughout the day.  He's by no means an inactive child; he would probably spend his a third of his day reading, a third playing with his toy trains, and a third running around outside if he were given a choice.  Actually, throw in an extra third for singing and playing music, dancing, making Sprite laugh, helping me cook and fold laundry, and coloring.  By "active," I guess I mean that he crams more activity into any given 24 hours than is technically possible.  But like I said, he loves to read, so choosing a literature-based program is likely to work well for us.  I like that it's one that we can fit easily into our days; I'm assigning us only one or at most two tasks per day.  He needs time to play and be a small child, and I need time to care for Sprite and, provided we follow through with our plans, a foster child sometime later in the year.

However, FIAR is such that it's almost not school.  That's great!  I mean, it's exactly what I think he needs at this stage in his life.  However, Moose wants to "do school," and to him, that means sitting down at a table with a pencil and doing his "work."  To that end, I've ordered Rod and Staff's ABC series, and I'm looking forward to its arrival.  As with my used copy of Five in a Row, if we end up not liking them, we haven't lost much money by trying.  The Rod and Staff books are only $3.25 each, and they came strongly recommended.  I figure we'll work our way through them at whatever pace seems enjoyable.

At some point, I'd like to post my proposed schedule through Christmas, but I still have a few books to plan out.  I'd like to slowly add in Bible verse memorization and a few other things over the course of the year, working our way toward Charlotte Mason's list of attainments for a child of 6 (link to an excellent page at Ambleside Online).  In my own scheming way, I have a plan, but my larger plan is to chill out and enjoy my child.  He's learned so much already without any sort of school, and I have little doubt but that he'll continue to do so.

Friday, July 5, 2013

In which our heroine thinks about organization

My Five in a Row, Volume 1 book has arrived!  I'm thrilled and looking forward to gathering up our resources for the fall.  We might also end up putting together a unit for Blueberries for Sal, in part because there are so many great activities that can be done in connection with the book and in part because it's just too great of a book to miss.  A friend's wild blueberries will be getting ripe soon, so I need to get moving.

In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out how to set up our school area.  We have a relatively small house and no spare room for a dedicated school area, so we'll almost certainly end up working at the kitchen table.  It seems like our lives revolve around the kitchen table, so this comes as no surprise.  I'd like to approach education as an integral part of life rather than something to be sequestered away during certain hours in a certain room.  Because of that, I want the physical evidence of our learning to be out in the open, part of our everyday life, and so it can't be an eyesore in our very open floor plan.

I'd like to put together some sort of a wall unit, along the lines of the command center at the Caldwell Project, to serve as both a holding and organizing area for all of the bits and pieces and papers that end up stacked on the table and as our school.  Originally, I was thinking of a bulletin board or (if it weren't so ridiculously expensive) the Thirty-One Hang-up Home Organizer, but I think the wood unit would look far nicer.  For now, it would probably end up with favorite bits of artwork, the activities for whatever book we're reading, and other things of that sort, but eventually, I'd like to have whatever poems, hymns, Bible verses, and so on that we're memorizing hanging up, as well as one picture at a time from whichever artist we're studying.  We're taking it very slow and won't need those spots for a while, but they'll be good to have in the long run.

I will say that taking it slow is hard sometimes!  I know I could push Moose and succeed in teaching him various skills, but I'd rather let him have these first years as a time to learn and grow organically, without pressure.  Still, it's ever-so-tempting to teach him now, if only to impress others.  I've taken this quote from Charlotte Mason as encouragement to do so:  "In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time."

Well, maybe not quiet.  After all, he is three, and Sprite does have a good set of lungs that she likes to exercise regularly.  But gentle, that we can do.