Friday, July 19, 2013

A new school year with new curricula and an old approach

I haven't talked much about our homeschool. For the most part, it's just putting one foot in front of the other. Reading the books, discussing the lessons, giving instructions, watching and listening and checking.

This year, though, for the second time, I've had to reconsider my methods.

I started out, when Sagittarius was 3 and hitting milestones in an atypical fashion, as an unschooler.  We worked on things as he needed and wanted them, I made lessons on the spot, we spent a lot of time out in the community, at museums, at the zoo, at art galleries, at the library, at community events, at the university. We knew all the docents, all the librarians, all the zoo keepers, all the zoo animals by name, many local musicians, artists, craftsmen, and professors.

Educational opportunities abounded. I followed his lead, but mainly I guided him. I decided where to go and who to speak to. I asked questions and explained things. It was a wonderful, enriching experience for both of us.

At home, things didn't progress as smoothly. Sagg was indecisive. He couldn't choose a topic at the library, let alone a book. Not even a picture book. His writing skills were very poor and not progressing with the child-led methods we were using. He thrived in math, but wouldn't read aloud, even as mastered his phonics lessons. His spelling was atrocious, and not improving with the spelling program we were using. Putting pencil to paper was painful for everyone.

Complicating things further, I had another child, and then another, we had moved out of the city, downgraded to only one car, and no longer had ready access to all the resources we had been using before. I could no longer be the activity director. I needed Sagg to step up and develop some interests. He didn't. I found it increasingly difficult to use a child-led method with a child who refused to lead.

I first began looking for a writing curriculum. Sagg needed more instruction than I was providing. In researching materials, I stumbled in classical schooling. I had heard of it, read about it in the past, liked the concept, but at that early stage, had found it too complicated, to inflexible, too time consuming, and rigid. Now I found that same structure comforting and promising. We needed something more planned and rigorous. This looked perfect.

We jumped in with both feet. Grammar, writing, lots of copywork, worksheets galore, and tons of reading. We were already using the Story of the World. I added an activity book. We answered questions, wrote narrations, and colored maps. My kids' education was rock solid. They both progressed amazingly. It was wonderful. 

It was also exhausting. We added yet another baby. The toddler had speech problems. The 1st grader-while extremely bright and a very quick learner- had a short attention span. The 4th grader's learning problems were, for the most part, behind him. His days dragged on and on often ending at 5pm, with the longest day spanning 14!! hours. 

Burn out set in. I cut back the writing and copywork, set aside the history twice, never did settle on a science curriculum, and eventually ended our school year early, because no one's heart was in it, and nothing was moving at a pace that was benefitting anyone.

Where was the love? Where was the laughter? What happened to the joy of learning? School work was turning into drudgery. Repetitive lessons were preventing us from having fun and engaging each other in enriching experiences.

It was time for a change, again. 

While I love classical methods, and the progress I've seen in my kids is undeniable, the more-is-more aspect is smothering the life out of our little school. I miss the days of freedom and fun. Let's bring some of that back, shall we?

First up is writing. 

I didn't feel that my soon-to-be second grader was ready for the intense repetition of Writing With Ease. Sagg had seen such great improvements with it in 3rd grade, that I had ordered the full set. But, it just wasn't working for us anymore. The optional exercises in First Language Lessons would easily meet my 7yo's needs without straining his brief attention span. Less is more for this kid. 

I found Imitations in Writing from Logos Press. Similar method, much slimmer books. No copywork, more freedom for creative expression. Perfect.
This series starts around 3rd grade, which turns out to be an optimal time to begin formal writing instruction in my opinion and experience.

Next, math.

My original plan was to begin with Singapore Math, which at the time ended with 5th grade, and then switch to Life of Fred which then began at 5th grade.

Here we are, getting ready for 5th grade. Decision time.

I found, however, that now, both programs are comprehensive. Singapore now continues through high school and Fred begins in elementary. Uh oh. 

I have found over the past 2 years, that Singapore had become increasingly teacher-intensive. For 5th grade and beyond, we would need many more materials, and much more time from me, not to mention, the expense would triple.
That's the opposite of what I need. I have 4 students at 4 different levels. I need  Sagg to work more independently as the little ones require more of my attention. I want Sagg to have some much-desired self-reliance. I also don't have unlimited funds. I would not prefer to spend half my annual budget on a single subject for one child.

So, Life of Fred wins this one.

But what about Aries? Singapore worked so well for Sagg. But Aries is not a workbook kid. They just don't hold his attention the way a more hands-on curriculum would. Life of Fred is fun and engaging, mom-centered and hand-on. The lessons move quickly, and we can slow down or speed up as necessary. The books are a bit more pricey up front, but we can buy as we go, and reuse for the younger kids.

Life of Fred wins this one, too. We are now a Fred family.

For supplementation, skills practice, and just a change of pace, we will use Khan Academy, one of the great educational advances of our time. 

First Language lessons is going well for us. We already have the books. This is the highlight of our school day. Each kid gets one-on-one time with Mom, listens to stories, memorizes and recites poetry, gets a little writing practice, and I get to indoctrinate the minions in the grave importance of proper punctuation. Everyone wins. FLL stays.

We have used Explode The Code for 7 years. It's working just fine. It's staying, at least for now. I broke down Aries's lessons a tad, spreading them out and shortening them. 2 pages a day, 5 days a week. Bite-sized chunks.

We're returning to Ambleside Online's reading lists, instead of the ones I made based on Writing With Ease. Still plenty of classics. These alternate with twaddle of their choice from the library. I tweaked the lists slightly to better accommodate our own personal style and preferences, adding in complete series where they are available, rather than selecting out one book from the series. 

For history, I am still pleased as punch with Story of the World. We scrapped the activity book last year, in favor of more self-directed discussion, free-flowing geography using a globe and historical atlas, and getting the kids up to act out the stories as we all read together. This interactive approach is far more effective than coloring sheets. I have broken the chapters down into twice- and thrice-weekly readings, spreading things out without sacrificing progression through the materials. I will add narrations back in, if only occasionally. 

Science will need it's own blog post. We used Netflix documentaries to study the entire course of natural history last year. It was an amazingly informative unit, which sparked a plethora of discussion, and creative pursuits among the children. This year, we are studying the cosmos in a similar fashion.
 I have never been satisfied with a packaged science curriculum for the early grades. I have decided this year, that is because we have no need for one. We read books and watch documentaries and take nature classes and hike and learn, and none of that requires a textbook. So we're doing our own thing this year. Next year, Sagg will additionally have formal science texts, but will still participate in our family studies.
New stuff:
Sagg is now entering the Logic Stage, according to the classical model. New development requires the introduction of new topics.
In practical application, this means he's done with phonics, reading well, beginning to write original works, advancing to prealgebra, and finishing up grammar. (The previous stage is called the Grammar Stage, during which children acquire facts-grammar, phonics, math facts, handwriting, spelling-to be applied later in their education).

English From the Roots Up introduces Latin and Greek roots of words used in our modern English language. The cards are packed with vocabulary. Right now we are just reading a few at a time, and Ben tries to decipher definitions of words like photograph, telescope, and telegram. When he is familiar with all the roots, he will play Concentration and other games with the cards. 

The logic stage clearly requires an introduction to logic. 10 is a bit young for formal logic, and Sagg is more creative than logical, so we're beginning a gradual introduction with Logic puzzles


We are continuing our art lessons from, and playing with fun art techniques found on Pinterest.

After agonizing for much too long over music instruction, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I ordered self-teaching violin and drum courses.

I am adding a formal schedule of instruction for the PreK set, but I will address that in a separate post.

I had all of this floating around in my head and keeping me up at night. I finally caved and printed out a lesson planner. I am surprised at how much I have enjoyed setting it up and having everything in the notebook and out of my head. Phwew. This first time planning this way has been an enormous amount of work, and in truth is not finished yet, but I use the notebook every day, at least once, even on weekends. 

We are 3 days into our new school year. So far, I am thrilled with the more family-centered approach. My kids are much happier. They are enjoying their work, and pleased with the more relaxed atmosphere. 

We have more free time in our day. We will have a long school year- 204 scheduled days- but our school days are only 4 hours long, leaving more time for outings and fun, without sacrificing the quality of their education. 

It's going to be a good year.

No comments:

Post a Comment