Archive for the ‘Methods of Home Education’ Category

How Do You Defend Your Relaxed Approach?

The other day I mentioned that I’m an advocate of a non-academic early childhood. In the comments, Betsy wrote:

I have a question about your relaxed approach. I have been relying
on this for years and every one has looked at me like I have three
heads. I got into quite the discussion after Mass on day when two moms
were playing the competition game of what they were going to home
school their soon to be 3 year olds. I chimed in talking about waiting
until the child is ready and being relaxed…you should have seen the
look of horror on their face!!! How do you handle the "neglectful"
response that people seem to give me all the time.

You know, I really love it when people give me an opening like those looks of horror, Betsy. I enthusiastically grab all opportunities to jump up on my soapbox!

In my experience, if you answer skepticism with an eager flood of information, people will nearly always reframe their initial response. Quite often, the are-you-crazy looks are a gut reaction, but when the skeptic hears that you have actually put some thought and research into the issue, her response changes. She may still disagree, but at least she acknowledges that your point of view is an informed one.

So, for example, if someone said, "Are you nuts? Everyone knows that you’ve got to give kids a strong start from an early age or they’ll be behind their peers and never catch up," I’d say, "Actually, there are many educators and scholars who believe just the opposite. Have you read the works of Charlotte Mason? No? John Holt? John Taylor Gatto? Montessori? No? Oh." (Brief pause to digest this astonishing fact.) "Well, if you’re interested in how children learn, you’d probably find them quite fascinating, especially Mason; I know I do."—And then I’d launch into a brief but fact-packed description of Charlotte Mason’s vision for children under seven, emphasizing the richness of a young life filled with storytelling, nature study, cheerful housework, and song.

I have never, ever presented that picture of early childhood to someone without having the person respond positively. "Oh, that sounds so nice!" is a typical response. I really think people—especially mothers of little ones—recognize the beauty of that vision, even if they remain in disagreement over the issue of early instruction in reading and math.

You know, that touches on an important point. In such conversations (and they occur with surprising frequency), I’m truly not out to convert anyone. I don’t initiate them; but if someone opens the door I will jump through it as if there were chocolate on the other side. My aim in this kind of discourse is simply to show that there is thought behind my opinion. It’s amazing how much that relaxes people and shifts the tone of the conversation from confrontation to exchange of ideas.

What happens is that people begin to ask questions—specific questions like, "But what about math?" or "So when do you start teaching reading?" Which means I can respond with specific answers, and suddenly, instead of being on opposite sides of an abyss, we’re two interested parties discussing learning strategies. It’s a whole different kind of conversation, because it naturally leads to book and idea recommendations. ("Oh, gosh, my kids have learned so much math just from playing store or cooking. You learn a ton about fractions from making cookies!")

And that kind of conversation is just FUN.

Homeschooling Curriculum: My Plans

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!

Homeschooling Curriculum: Open Thread

August 10, 2006 @ 11:09 am | Filed under:

I know, I know, it’s August and you’ve all already done your shopping. My plans to spend the summer reviewing curriculum were somewhat derailed by Scott’s job offer and subsequent departure, what can I say. But! I haven’t given up yet.

Except! It’s naptime for my little ones and I’m supposed to have an hour to write this post. But now I hear Wonderboy awake and sad upstairs. So I have to go. But I’ll be back. In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves. What I was going to do here was hit you with a whole bunch of reviews and links and then invite YOU to chime in with your own opinions. Instead I’ll invite your opinions first. What are your plans for the upcoming year? Let’s hear ’em! I’ll be back later.

POSTSCRIPT (but I can’t stay): So I went up to his room, where he was crying on the bed.

Me: What’s the trouble, buddy?

Him: Nee hee-hoo.   (That’s "Need tissue," for you consonant-using types.)

Well, no wonder. I’d cry too if I were lying there in dire need of a heehoo and not a heehoo within reach. Poor little guy.

Who Is This Charlotte Mason Person, Anyway?

July 22, 2006 @ 7:15 am | Filed under: , , ,

If the name means nothing to you, you may be wondering what all the hoopla is about. Charlotte Mason was a British educator and author of the late nineteeth and early twentieth centuries. She wrote a lot of books and articles about education; she founded a teachers’ college and a correspondence school for families (the PNEU, or Parents’ National Education Union). She had a vision for a method of learning (and living) that was an antidote to dry, dumbed-down or excessively stern and rote systems of education favored by governesses and schools of her day (and still, in many cases, ours).

Her method was simple, rigorous, and lively. For each term, she (or her colleagues) drew up a list of what she called "living books," eloquent and impassioned prose for all subjects: history, literature, science, geography, civics, and poetry. No dull, committee-written textbooks for her students. All reading was to be of the highest literary quality.

The material was read slowly and thoroughly. In the early years, teachers or parents read the books aloud to their young pupils; as the students got older, they assumed more of the reading themselves.

As they read (or listened), the students narrated back the material. That is, they re-told what they had just heard in as much detail as they could possibly remember. Until age ten or so, children narrated orally; after that, they wrote out their narrations, thus developing excellent composition and retention skills.

You don’t really know something unless you can tell it back—we’ve all experienced this. Often when one of my kids says something funny I want to remember, I repeat it over to myself until it is fixed in my mind. That’s narrating, and it’s a cornerstone of a Charlotte Mason education. Such a simple idea—simply tell it back!—and yet so incredibly effective. At age eleven, Jane has a memory that frightens astounds me: she can often repeat back word for word entire passages she has read. I’d like to take credit for passing on brilliant genes (as if I had anything to do with them, ha!) but it probably has more to do with her early training in CM’s narration techniques. I therefore grudgingly give all credit to Charlotte Mason and, you know, God.

Living books, narration, exposure to a wide range of subjects and ideas—these are the chief elements of a Charlotte Mason education. She also enthusiastically encouraged firsthand study of the natural world. She wanted her teachers (including parent-teachers) to get their students outside every day for fresh air and encounters with flora and fauna. Shoot, where did I just read the funniest excerpt on someone’s blog about a person spotting a child in a tree—and then much higher up was the child’s teacher "who had been trained at Miss Mason’s college"? I’ll look for that link. It was delightful and a perfect example of the adventurous and lively attitude Charlotte Mason liked to cultivate.

When we bring Charlotte Mason’s ideas into our homes and schools, we find that education becomes—as she put it herself—a life, a lifestyle. Our children retain their eagerness for knowledge and experience, their appetite for facts and big ideas. Miss Mason didn’t want children going through the motions of learning, cramming for tests and then forgetting everything right afterward. And of course none of us want that for our children either, whether they’re in school or not.

The Long-Promised Charlotte Mason Curriculum Post

July 19, 2006 @ 11:13 am | Filed under: , , ,

All righty. When I started the curriculum series I had no idea my hubby was about to be offered a job on the other side of the country. Naturally my post on Charlotte Mason curricula got shoved  to the back burner when we decided to up-end our entire lives. But I haven’t forgotten. So let’s talk about Miss Mason.

Perhaps you’ve read her amazing books. (Her writing is dense, not easy, but worth the effort. Take her slow. Read a passage a day and take time to ponder.)

(Oh! Oh! I just had the best idea. Someone should do a Charlotte Mason blog. Like the Blog of Henry David Thoreau, which offers a selection from Thoreau’s journal almost every day. All of Charlotte Mason’s works are online*, in the public domain. Some devoted blogger out there could choose a passage every day and post it for the enjoyment and edification of all the rest of us. I am tempted, tempted…but no. Really, very much no. PLATE ALREADY FULL. :::tells self sternly::: Overflowing, even. So: brilliant idea up for grabs.) *Updated to add: Ask and ye shall receive. Or I shall, at least.  The Blog of Charlotte Mason has begun!

*Enormous thanks to the diligent folks who volunteered their time to type out CM’s books for all of us to enjoy!

This post is not a primer on Charlotte Mason education. Much excellent material has been written in that vein already. This is simply a look at some of the places you can go to find materials to support your efforts to educate your children a la Miss Mason.

There are two free Charlotte Mason-inspired programs of study available at a click of your mouse: Ambleside Online and Mater Amabilis. Both websites offer thorough and detailed schedules for a curriculum steeped in literature, history, narration, geography, and nature study. Many of the books recommended for use in both programs are available as free online texts.

Ambleside is Protestant in orientation; Mater Amabilis is Catholic. Both sites contain a wealth of useful articles in addition to the schedules and booklists. Each has its own email discussion groups where you can ask questions and get advice from real parents using the programs. It is truly amazing that such comprehensive resources are being offered at no cost whatsoever; the women behind the two programs (in the case of Ambleside, a collaborative board of homeschooling parents, and for Mater Amabilis, homeschooling mothers Michele Quigley and Kathryn Faulkner) have poured hours of effort into these curricula purely out of a desire to share their knowledge of Charlotte Mason’s methods with others.

For more schedules and syllabi, see the Simply Charlotte Mason link below.

And then! There are the 4Real Learning discussion boards, home of naturalist MacBeth Derham and  Elizabeth Foss where hundreds of mothers (and a few fathers) share ideas, books, and philosophical questions connected to home education. See especially the artist study and composer study threads—generous volunteers have already assembled links to many months’ worth of paintings.

Other websites of interest:

UPDATED to add: Charlotte’s Daughters, Learning from Charlotte Mason and the Parents’ National Education Union, a compilation of syllabi from several Parents’ Union School terms.

Simply Charlotte Mason: or, as I like to call it, “Simply Crammed with Material.” Sample schedules, booklists, narration helps, nifty bookmarks, and much, much more.

Mozart and Mudpies: See how one mother applies Charlotte Mason methods in her peaceful home. (Broken link now fixed.) Want more glimpses into CM households? Visit the many inspiring blogs in the Ambleside Online/House of Education webring. Some of my favorites are Higher Up and Further In and Dewey’s Treehouse.

Looking for many of the living books treasured by CM devotees? Try the Baldwin Project for free downloadable texts (with illustrations), or inexpensive hard copies.

Charlotte Mason Research & Supply Company: the website of well-known author Karen Andreola (The Charlotte Mason Companion, Pocketful of Pinecones). Not much practical info here; Karen’s put all that in her books. (I dip into my CM Companion at least once a month for refreshment of spirit, and found I was lending it out so often that several years back I bought a second copy just to circulate among my friends.) The website contains information about Karen’s books and the Original Charlotte Mason Series.

Author Penny Gardner‘s site does contain several interesting articles in addition to ordering info for her useful book, The Charlotte Mason Study Guide, and her highly recommended italic handwriting and recorder instructional materials.

If you did not already click on the links embedded in the “not a primer” paragraph above, you’ll want to check them out:

Charlotte Mason 101.

The Deputy Headmistress’s Charlotte Mason tutorial.

I have many more links to add here (you should see my list: nature study, picture study, Shakespeare, other stuff, all these lovely bookmarks begging to be cut and pasted), but this is enough to get you started. I’ll post a notice whenever I update, and do be sure to share your favorite CM resources with me.

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It’s All Fun and Games: Curriculum for Unschoolers?

The Curriculum Series, Part 3
Part 1: Live and Learn.
Part 2: First How, Then What.

(Attention non-homeschoolers: big long list of Fun Stuff below! Scroll down to below the Dali painting.)

I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who took the “What kind of homeschooler are you?” quiz and came up as unschoolers, much to their surprise. It seems many of us recognize those muddy children in the first question as our own, and our families do a lot of experiential learning. To learn about Native Americans, we might try our hand at grinding corn to make our bread. Our dining-room tables are buried under “3 marbles, 2 dominoes, 5 Scrabble tiles, a 1/2-eaten jelly sandwich, 1 basket of unfolded clean laundry, 4 broken crayons, 3 markers (1 without a cap), a can of fish food, 2 screwdrivers, and a hammer.” When Life interrupts our plans with a sick relative or a cross-country move, we scrap the plans and learn what the roller coaster has to teach us.

Home education is a lifestyle as much as it is a school choice. Its rhythms and possibilities are so utterly unlike institutional education that it sometimes takes us a while, as homeschooling parents, to shake off the years of training that told us “education” was answering enough questions correctly on enough tests to earn us the grades that satisfied our parents and teachers. Whether or not we would remember the answers to those questions a year later seemed to be beside the point.

But once we do shake off that notion, we discover that there are a lot of other notions out there about what a good education is and how best to achieve it. And here we are back at the how.

Let’s look at some of the different answers to how and talk in very practical, specific terms about what stuff you can use if you want to educate your kids according to a particular how or method.

First up: Unschooling.

1086553091_cksbmgd384“Melting clocks are not a problem in your reality. You are an unschooler. You will tolerate a textbook, but only as a last resort. Mud is your friend. You prefer hands-on everything. If your school had an anthem, it would be Dont Worry, Be Happy.” (From Guilt-Free Homeschooling’s What Kind of Homeschooler Are You quiz.)

I’m laughing here, because the rest of this post has a completely oxymoronic premise. “Hi, I’m talking about curriculum! Let’s start with unschooling!” And unschooling is about learning through following your interests, not following a predetermined sequence of skill-building exercises and fact memorization. Unschoolers don’t try to recreate school at home, so who needs curriculum?

But I think of curriculum—all those books and schedules and lists and kits and guides and videos—as tools. Just because I have a good tool set, that doesn’t mean I’m a carpenter. I might just be a person who likes to make stuff, in which case a good hammer and saw come in handy.

So what are some of the tools a household of unschoolers might use? Besides the obvious, I mean, the good books, the art supplies, the kitchen, the garden, pretty much the whole wide world. Here is a list of Some Particularly Cool Stuff My Kids and I Have Learned a Ton From or Just Plain Had a Good Time With:

Settlers of Catan, the board game. Jane got this for Christmas last year. We’ve been obsessed ever since. Except when our friends hijack it and keep it for weeks because it is that great a game.

Signing Time DVDs. Catchy songs, immensely useful vocabulary in American Sign Language. I trumpet these wherever I go. We talk about Rachel like she’s one of the family.

Prismacolor colored pencils. Indispensable. I was amused to see that Jane mentioned them in the first line of her “I Am From” poem. She’s right; they have helped color the picture of her life.

Uncle Josh’s Outline Map CD-Rom. Because maps are cool, and maps you can color (with Prismacolor pencils, hey!) are even cooler. The kids are constantly asking me to print out a map of somewhere or other. You can find other outline maps available online (for free), but I like Josh’s for clarity. And once when I had a problem opening a particular map (it’s a PDF file), I called the help number and it was Uncle Josh himself, a most amiable gentleman, who quickly solved my problem.

The Global Puzzle. Big! Very big! Will take over your dinner table! (So clear off that laundry.)

Set. It may annoy you that your eight-year-old will be quicker at spotting the patterns in this card game than you will. There’s a free daily online version as well.

Quiddler. Like Scrabble, only with cards. This, too, can be played online.

Babble. Like Boggle, only online and free.

Chronology, the game. Like Trivial Pursuit, only with history.

Speaking of online games: the BBC History Game site is awfully fun.

And Jane was fairly addicted to Absurd Math for a while there. Need more free math puzzles? Nick’s got a bunch.

A Case of Red Herrings and Mind Benders. Logic and problem-solving puzzles: a fun way to pass the time on long car trips or in waiting rooms.

Zoombinis Logical Journey computer game. Stretch your brain trying to get the little Zoombinis to a village where they can bounce in peace.

Oregon Trail. The game that launched a massive wagon trail rabbit trail for my kids a couple of years ago—and they still aren’t tired of the game.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots : Gardening Together with Children. Plant a sunflower house! Up-end a Giant Bucket of Potatoes and dig through the dirt for your rewards! Grow lettuce in rainboots! Boots! With lettuce growing in them!

Wild Goose Science Kits. Fun experiments with a low mess factor. Best prices at Timberdoodle. Note to self: remember the Wild Goose Crime Kit come Christmastime.

A microscope. Sonlight sells a nifty set of prepared slides with paramecium and other fun stuff for the kids to peer at.

If the scope sparks an interest in dissection, there’s a way to do it online with no actual innards involved: Froguts! The site has a couple of free demos to occupy you while you save up for the full version. (Which I haven’t seen yet, but it does look cool.) HT: Karen Edmisten.

Klutz kits. Over the years, we’ve explored: knitting, embroidery, origami, magic, Sculpey, paper collage, paper dolls, beadlings, and foam shapes. Look under any piece of furniture in my house and you will find remnants of all of the above.

Which reminds me: Sculpey clay. Is it possible to get through a day without some? My children think not.

Usborne’s calligraphy book and markers. I think Anne-Marie sells Usborne so she probably has more information if you’re interested.

But while I’m on Usborne, my kids also love and use at least weekly: Usborne Science Experiments Volumes 1, 2, and 3.

Muse magazine. The highlight of Jane’s month. From the publishers of Cricket.

Classical Kids CDs. Beanie’s favorite is the Vivaldi. Alice’s daughter Theresa does a fabulous Queen of the Night impersonation from the Mozart.

Refrigerator poetry magnets. I gave Scott the Shakespearean set a couple of Christmases ago. Note to self: You are not as brilliant as you think! You were an English major, for Pete’s sake, with a minor in drama. Thou knowest full well old William was a bawdy lad. If you don’t want your little ones writing poems about codpieces, stick to the basic version. But oh how I enjoy the messages Scott leaves for me to find and then pretends he doesn’t know who wrote them:

I am
in love
with my

And of course of course of course, Jim Weiss story CDs. I rave about these every chance I get because they have added such riches to my children’s imaginations. For years, they have listened to Jim’s stories after lights-out. Greek myths, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, folk and fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book: of such stuff are dreams woven.

A good source for much of the above (and lots more): FUN Books.

I’ll continue to add to this list as more good stuff occurs to me. Your suggestions are welcome and encouraged!

Coming up next: Charlotte Mason. But bear with me: these linky posts take a while.

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First How, Then What

June 19, 2006 @ 11:50 am | Filed under:

The Curriculum Post, Part 2
(Part 1 is here.)

This morning a friend and I were talking about all the homeschooling materials we have bought and never used. Both of us have shelves full of books and resources we used just a little, or thought we’d use but never did, or decided not to use after we got a thorough look at them. We laughed at ourselves for being a ridiculous combination of curriculum junkies and unschoolers. It struck me that I don’t like to use curriculum, I just like to read it.

This is a good thing to know about myself. I like to know what’s out there, what the possibilities are. I love learning about learning: how people learn, what they’re using. And home education materials, the ones for sale in the catalogs, aren’t the sort of thing you find on the shelves of your local library. You might find all the great books that are used in various literature-based programs, for example, but you won’t find the nifty instructors’ guides with the schedules and timelines and all that stuff. And I love seeing the schedules. I’ve never, ever had a desire to follow one strictly, but I like to see other people’s notions of how to structure things.

So much comes down this to question of how. Really, the what is pretty easy to figure out. Math, science, history, literature, art, foreign languages: the details may vary but by and large there’s a body of knowledge most of us would like our children to absorb. We all want them to be able to think logically and communicate well, so reading and writing are generally prominent in our goals for our kids. But how to get there? It’s all about that how.

That’s why I began my answer to the “what curriculum do you recommend” question with that “what kind of homeschooler are you” quiz. It helps you get a feel for what learning style appeals to you—and to your individual kids. Chances are you’ll come up with several different answers within one family. I’ve got one child who likes to immerse herself deeply in one subject or interest at a time, soaking herself in the topic until she is saturated in every pore. The daughter next in line adores boxes and checklists and nice orderly schedules with a Plan spelled out clearly. The nice thing about our tidal homeschooling approach is that I can accommodate both those temperaments and the needs of my three younger children all at the same time. People have a hard time believe it, but really, homeschooling is the easiest thing I do. (And so! much! fun!)

In the days ahead, I’d like to take a closer look at some of the different answers to how. When I take Guilt-Free’s quiz, I always come up either Unschooler or Charlotte Mason Homeschooler, which is no surprise. That fits right in with my whole tidal learning thing—in our low-tide times we are more like unschoolers and in our high-tide times we are more like CMers.

One of the things I have learned about learning is that there is most definitely no one size (or style) that fits all. What works for my kids may not make any sense at all for your kids, and vice versa. But I think it helps all of us to know what’s out there, to see how other people are living and learning. So over the next week I’ll be looking at several different kind of learning styles, using Guilt-Free‘s fun quiz as a jumping off point, and making (and collecting from you!) specific curriculum recommendations for each one. This means I’ll need lots of reader input, so spread the word!

That’s the project. Call it harnessing my inner curriculum junkie for good.

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Live and Learn: The Curriculum Post, Part I

June 16, 2006 @ 10:50 am | Filed under:

A ClubMom mom wrote me with a couple of questions:

I am trying to figure out a starting point with curriculum. Could you give some suggestions?
My other concern; do you have any insight into how colleges are accepting homeschoolers. I have this overwhelming fear that I’ll ‘mess’ up their chances of getting into decent colleges.

I’ll address the college question soon.* For now: curriculum. You’ve decided you want to educate your children at home; now what? How do you choose between the truckloads of curriculum possibilities—let alone define your “homeschooling philosophy”?

My first piece of advice: Don’t rush into anything. Don’t shell out a fortune for materials. Don’t map out a daily schedule crammed with ten or twelve different subjects. Take some time to read and think about how people learn. Watch your children; notice what makes them light up, what draws them in deep. Listen to them; let them tell you about the things they’re interested in.

And while you’re doing that, take this quiz. Unlike most internet quizzes, which are purely for fun, this one is a useful tool for taking your own pulse as a mother, a learner, and a facilitator of your children’s learning. (GuiltFree’s Learning Styles Quizzes are helpful too.) Take the quiz, then come back here, and we’ll discuss the results. I’ll tackle the nitty-gritty of curriculum-choosing next week, but first let’s begin with this survey of style and tone.

*And about the college question: I’ve been collecting links to posts on this subject for some time, but I’d also like to encourage input from readers who have already experienced the college admissions process with their homeschooled students. If you’ve got stories to share, we’d love to hear them.

Curriculum, Part 2 is here.)

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What’s Your Favorite Homeschooling Magazine?

June 6, 2006 @ 3:33 am | Filed under:

Calling all homeschoolers: your friendly librarian needs some advice. Liz B. of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, one of our favorite blogs, is wondering what homeschooling magazines might be most useful for her patrons. Budgets being what they are, she can only choose one. Liz writes, “What I am looking for is something that would have the broadest appeal possible, to as many types of homeschoolers/unschoolers/worldschoolers/all the other schoolers as possible.”

My choice would be Home Education Magazine, which is the only homeschooling subscription I’ve stuck with over the past six years. Its articles are well written and engaging; they range over a wide field of topics and viewpoints (tipping somewhat toward an unschooling or natural learning perspective, but not exclusively). I especially appreciate the sensible and shrewd commentary on homeschooling law and politics. Most of all, though, I enjoy the personal flavor of the articles, the glimpses into other people’s homes, the enthusiasm with which the writers share their ideas and experiences.

How about the rest of you? I’d like to give Liz some good feedback here. What are your top five homeschooling publications, and why?

Oh, and while I’ve got you—the new Carnival of Homeschooling is up at PalmTree Pundit. Love the fish theme. There’s a Lilting House post among the trumpetfish. Toot!