Archive for the ‘Classical Education’ Category

Homeschooling Curriculum: My Plans

August 11, 2006 @ 8:32 am | Filed under: Classical Education, Curriculum, Fun Learning Stuff, Geography, Homeschooling, Joy of Learning, Methods of Home Education, Unschooling

Thanks to all of you who are sharing your homeschooling plans in yesterday’s open thread. Keep ’em coming!

As for my plans, here they are. But I warn you: this post is going to be one giant oxymoron. First I’m going to tell you how we are pretty much unschooling this year, with the exception of Latin, and then I’m going to hit you with a big long list of curriculum and stuff. And then, just to confuse you even more, I’m going to link up to a bunch more Charlotte Mason posts. And you’re going to say, But Lissa, didn’t Charlotte Mason lay out a highly structured programme? You keep calling yourself an unschooler, and I’m going to say Isn’t it interesting how “programme” is so much classier a word than “program”?, and you’re going to say Sort of, but you haven’t answered the question.

So now that we all know our lines, I’ll begin. With Scott out in California already and the rest of us still here in Virginia waiting for the person who will walk into this house and say People have been so happy here! I want to live in this house and be happy too! I will buy it! Immediately! Here’s a check! Happy trails to you!, it is obvious that this fall is not likely to be a time of consistency and routine for us. Sometime in the next few months (we hope), I will be piling this horde of children into the minivan and we’ll embark on the most hands-on of geography unit studies, which shall be called “Wow, Mom, Kansas Really DOES Go on Forever.”

(Which reminds me. I’m assembling a list of books on tape we might listen to on the trip. By the Great Horn Spoon, On to Oregon, Little House on the Prairie (natch), I forget what else. Got any suggestions?)

Anyway, because of all this flux in our lives, I’m not really making Big Educational Plans for this fall. Before Scott’s job offer appeared, I was leaning toward a Latin-Centered Curriculum approach with (as always) a great deal of Charlotte Mason influence and our usual Real Learning flavor. In light of our big changes, I’m dialing back a bit but the elements are the same.

Latin will be our most disciplined, regular subject. The arguments put forth in Tracy Lee Simmons’s Climbing Parnassus and Drew Campbell’s The Latin-Centered Curriculum (excerpted here and supporting articles here) have sold me on Latin’s benefits. Rose is using Prima Latina because I like its simple format with manageable lesson size, and I love that it includes Latin prayers. We are using the book and CD only, not the DVD.

Jane completed Prima Latina a couple of years ago, and has resumed her studies with the highly engaging Latin for Children (ecclesiatical pronunciation—although the DVD seems to use only classical pronunciation—V is pronounced like W, for example—and when we watch the DVD we have to remind ourselves to adjust the pronunciation. The chant CD, which we use more than the DVD, offers both forms). All of us are enjoying the chant CD and I’ve written before about how delightful it is to hear five-year-old Beanie running around chanting declensions.

Jane especially likes the LfC activity book, which is heavy on puzzles, crosswords, and such. Puzzle = perfect, in Jane’s opinion. We also scored an ancient, battered copy of Using Latin: Book One for a few
bucks, and Jane is really enjoying it as a supplement to Latin for
Children. It has you diving right in to real paragraphs in translation, and for both of us beginners, that has been a thrill.

Another Latin program I’ve heard great things about (for starters, Becky uses it, and her taste is impeccable) is Minimus. Does anyone care to weigh in with a review? I have to say, it looks extremely fun. I mean:

Minimus: Starting out in Latin is a unique course for 7-10 year olds, providing a lively introduction to the Latin language and the culture of Roman Britain with a highly illustrated mix of comic strips, stories and myths….The course centres on a real family who lived at Vindolanda in 100AD: Flavius, the fort commander,
his wife Lepidina, their three children, assorted household slaves, their cat Vibrissa—and Minimus the mouse! It features many of the artefacts and writing tablets from the Vindolanda excavations.

Comic strips! A mouse! A fort commander! Wish I’d heard of it before I spent my whole Latin budget last spring.

Greek. Rose’s interest in this language continues unabated. She is really enjoying Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek, but I make that recommendation with one caveat, and I truly hope this does not cause offense. I am extremely sympathetic toward people with speech impediments. Bear in mind that my own son has, at this point, only two consonants. But as a consumer I must make note of the fact that the woman who narrates the Hey Andrew pronunciation CD has a strong lisp, so that instead of “sigma” she says “thigma,” and so on. Since correct pronunciation is one of a student’s goals in studying a language, I do find this to be a fairly serious flaw in the Hey Andrew materials. Rose loves the workbooks, however, and I like the gentle and gradual progression. Since the whole ancient Greek thing was totally Rose’s idea, I’m just running with her interest and supplying her with the materials she enjoys.

Math. We do math in spurts of intensive activity, with long relaxed lulls in between. Plus, you know, lots of what I call “accidental math”—the kind that comes up all the time in the course of daily life. If there are sixty-four Skittles in a bag, how many do each of us get, bearing in mind that Mom gets twice as many as everyone else, that sort of thing. (Scott is reading this now and going WHAT??? I’m gone for three weeks and you’re feeding them SKITTLES??? Have you completely abandoned our principles? And haven’t you read about the dead bugs in those things? Don’t worry, honey. I was only kidding. I get THREE times as many as everyone else.)

What we do use, when we’re using (heh heh, we’re math junkies, get it), is Math-U-See. And I have been singing the praises of this program so loud and for so many years that its creator, Steve Demme, really should be giving me a commission. Heck, we even named our son after him.* But he isn’t. He’s never heard of me. But his Virginia distributor has. That woman’s got to LOVE me. Big huge order every year since we moved here.

*I’m joking. Of course that isn’t true. We named him after Steve from Blue’s Clues.

Rose is still working on the Beta level, and Jane, my little math addict, is about ready for the Algebra 1 program. I find myself in the bizarre position of having to scold her about going through her Math-U-See materials too quickly. It’s like when she was a toddler (pre-chemo days, which totally changed her eating habits, as in eradicated them for a couple of years) and I used to have to say “No more broccoli until you’ve eaten something else.”

The reasons MUS works so well for us are:

1) The DVD lessons, which aren’t fancy but are funny and pleasant. Steve Demme’s corny sense of humor really suits our taste.

2) The explanation of concepts. He doesn’t just show you what to do, he tells you why it works. I always did fine in math class at school, but even so, I find that when I watch the lessons alongside my kids, light bulbs are going off right and left. OH, so THAT’S why you flip-and-multiply to divide a fraction! I knew HOW to do it, but I never got why it WORKS before. Demme’s explanations are clear and simple and fun.

3) The manipulatives. Hands-on learning works best for my kids.

4) No prep time required. Let’s face it, I’m a busy woman. (Aren’t we all?) Right Start Math and Miquon both required too much advance work on my part. I like to spend my time doing things WITH the children, not preparing things for them to do.

All right, moving on. After Latin and math, there’s the whole wide world. I’m not being glib. We’ll encounter big ideas and events in all the other topic areas—history, science, literature, geography, civics, and so forth—through books, books, books. Read-alouds and read-alones. Picture books (I’ve got a big post on that in the works) and historical fiction, biographies and science books. Also: maps, puzzles, games, food and the homeschoogler’s best friend. (See the unschooling links post for specifics.)

We’ll continue to steep ourselves in the arts through Charlotte Mason-style composer and artist studies, assisted by the generous volunteers at 4Real (art, music) and Ambleside (art, music)—not to mention Higher Up’s cool artist-study Flickr badges. Charlotte’s ideas on habit-training and character formation will aid us in purposeful and harmonious living, especially in the midst of upheaval.

Sherry Early’s Picture Book Preschool and Elizabeth Foss‘s awesome Booklist will lend inspiration for connecting with nature, the seasons, and what our pal Betsy Ray calls the Great World. When I talk about picture books, I’m thinking primarily of five-year-old Beanie, but illustrated books speak volumes (so to speak) to older kids as well, so as is our wont, everyone listens in.

This all sounds lovely, you’re saying (okay, I don’t know what you’re saying, but the voices in my head think it sounds lovely), but what about language arts? Well, in this area too we are informal and experiential. We have drawn many ideas for sparking fun writing experiences from Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle. If you’re a regular reader of Bonny Glen and The Lilting House, you know I am a staunch believer in the benefits of reading aloud and in narration a la Charlotte Mason. Jane does several written narrations a week—sometimes on paper, sometimes on a private blog she has set up for her friends. Rose has one, too, and she’s beginning to do more and more writing on that. I noticed this morning that she was correctly spelling a couple of words that she had to holler for help with last week. The more she writes, the more she improves. And of course our Latin studies teach us a lot about grammar.

I doubt we’ll do much in the way of art and handcrafts this fall. I can’t deal with all those little scraps of paper and ribbon, not while we’re showing the house. Everything’s being packed up, anyway. Time enough for creative messes when we get settled in our new place. In the meantime, we’ve got the whole country to explore.

*UPDATED! I forgot American Sign Language! Pursuits continue apace!

And Then There’s “Classical Unschooling”

May 31, 2006 @ 7:14 am | Filed under: Classical Education, Methods of Home Education, Unschooling

Willa, one of my favorite bloggers and favorite people in general, pointed her readers toward this post at Dumb Ox Academy the other day. Faith’s blog is new to me, but I like her already. It appears we have a lot in common; like me, Faith sees good sense in both traditional classical education and unschooling. Faith writes:

I am drawn to two dissimiliar methods of home educating my kiddos. One is the structured, rigorous and time-tested method of classical schooling, complete with chanting declensions, and in depth analysis of ancient classics. The other is unschooling, following one’s bliss and trusting in the Lord to provide the pilgrim with everything he needs.

Now, I would characterize unschooling a bit differently, since my vision of “natural learning” involves a good deal of behind-the-scenes path-strewing on the part of mom and dad; and from what I’m seeing on Faith’s excellent blog, I get the impression she works this way too. This post goes on to share a terrific idea for using the fridge as an “unschooling bulletin board”:

So far the categories I have come up with are: Quote of the Week, Latin Phrase of the Week, Root Word of the week, Spelling Rule of the Week, and Math of the Week. I showed them to the kids at lunch time (I was very busy setting it up yesterday morning and they were getting curious about what I was doing!). So I showed them each category. My 11 yo immediately said, “get me a pencil and paper!” And then got some himself and wrote E=MC(squared) and posted it up. I’d forgotten science! And apparently when he and his dad were attending a baseball game on Sunday, dh had explained Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to him.

Read the rest of the post to see what Faith has chosen for her first week of Fridgeschooling. She promises to share each week’s selections on her new “On the Fridge” page. I love her first Quote of the Week. It’s from A Thomas Jefferson Education, a book I found useful and interesting, living as we do in Mr. Jefferson’s backyard. (And I have just remembered with a terrible pang that I promised to send my copy to a friend ages ago. Cindy, I’m so sorry, do you still want it? Mea culpa.) Like Andrew Campbell’s superb new book, The Latin-Centered Curriculum, Oliver van DeMille’s A Thomas Jefferson Education makes a case for an education steeped in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, with the parent serving as mentor, accompanying the student through the deep, unrushed study of a few key works. Multum non multa, as Campbell puts it: “Not many, but much.”

Willa herself has written several thoughtful and eloquent posts exploring the seeming oxymoron of “classical unschooling.” My own explanation of the concept is that classical ed informs the what, the content, and unschooling describes the how.

All Roads Lead to Rome (Even for Bunnies)

May 27, 2006 @ 9:07 am | Filed under: Classical Education, Connections, History, Literature, Rule of Six

David_sabine
The Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David, 1796-99

Over at Bonny Glen I’ve been talking about the connections my kids are making during our read-aloud of Famous Men of Rome. This is for me one of the best things about homeschooling: watching the light bulbs go off, seeing pieces of the big puzzle of Life, the Universe, and Everything fit together in the kids’ minds.

We just started reading this book last week. Today Romulus finished building his city and then had to do a little creative marketing to find inhabitants. On the lam? Facing criminal charges? Australia doesn’t exist yet, so give Rome a try! It’s got a wall and everything! River views available. The world has never had a shortage of scruffy, disenfranchised males, it seems, for a paragraph later Romulus’s town is bustling with happy outlaws. Oops, not so happy after all: it seems no women answered the cattle call.

I get this far in the reading and Rose gasps. "It’s like the rabbits!" she shouts. For some reason, connections must always be shouted around here. "It’s like Watership Down!"

Scott is reading them Watership Down at bedtime. Last night they reached the part where Hazel & Co. have just gotten nicely settled into their digs on the down, and they suddenly realize their new warren has no future if they don’t find some nice lady rabbits to join them. Rose is right: it’s the founding of Rome all over again.

The bunnies, however, are a little more gentlemenly with the ladies, as my girls will discover a few nights hence. When I continue the early Romans’ tale, the kids are outraged by the abduction of the Sabine women. Then Beanie says, "Hey, this remembers me of a movie," and Jane shouts, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers!" That charts our course for the rest of the morning: we hunt for the DVD and eventually remember where we left it. A short bike ride to the neighbors’ house later, Jane is brandishing the movie in triumph and we eat lunch to the tune of "And the women were sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’…"

The last week of May might seem like a strange time to start a history read-aloud. We don’t keep a traditional school-year schedule; we tend to follow a seasonal rhythm with our studies. For the new readers who are just getting to know me here at ClubMom, I thought it might be helpful if I gave a bit of background on our homeschooling style. Here’s how I have explained it before:

People often ask me what kind of homeschoolers we are: Classical? Charlotte Mason? Eclectic? Delight-Directed? Unschoolers? How, they want to know, does learning happen in our home? Am I in charge, or do I let the kids lead the way? And what about math?

Over the years I have written with enthusiasm about the Charlotte Mason method (which is highly structured) and unschooling (which is not). These educational philosophies seem to have intertwined themselves in my home, so that the what we do—read great books, study nature, dive deeply into history, immerse ourselves in picture study and composer study—is highly influenced by Charlotte’s writings and their modern counterparts; and the how we do it—through strewing and conversation and leisurely, child-led exploration—is influenced by the writings of John Holt, Sandra Dodd, and other advocates of unschooling. But I couldn’t say we’re "real CMers" because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered "real unschoolers."

The truth is, I couldn’t find any label that completely fit my family, so I made up my own. I call us "Tidal Learners" because the ways in which we approach education here change with the tide. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re flighty or inconsistent, changing direction haphazardly. We aren’t Fiddler Crab Homeschoolers. What I mean is that there is a rhythm to the way learning happens here; there are upbeats and downbeats; there is an ebb and flow.

Lately I have been reading a lot about Latin-centered classical education, and I am increasingly convinced of the merits of steady and intensive Latin studies. Because we have such a relaxed approach to the rest of our learning, it is no burden to make Latin lessons a regular part of our day. When planning our family routine—whether it’s the summer routine revolving around the neighborhood swimming pool or the winter routine which must allow for abrupt changes of plan in the event of good sledding weather—I keep a loose "rule of six" in the back of my mind. There are six things I try to make a part of every day:

• meaningful work (this includes household chores, which are "meaningful" because they make our own and others’ lives more pleasant; it also includes pursuits requiring daily practice, such as piano and, yes, Latin; and of course for Scott and me, writing is meaningful work)
• good books 
• beauty (art, music, nature)
• big ideas (discussions about what we’re reading or encountering in the world)
• play (including time spent with friends)
• prayer

Honesty compels me to admit that for myself I privately add a seventh component to my daily Rule of Six:

• a footrub from my incredibly sweet husband

Oh, and also:

• chocolate.

But for the family as a whole, the top six items are what shape our days. So this summer, Romans and Sabines and Latin and bunnies will be waiting for us whenever we come home from the pool.