Archive for the ‘Unschooling’ Category
This is part of a (much) longer response to the comments on my "Lovely, Lovely Low Tide" post. I thought this part of my comment was relevant to the ongoing discussion here:
I am certainly not perfect
and I try show my warts and all on this blog. I am constantly pondering
and working with questions, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me
seem inconsistent, like people must be wondering if I’m ever going to
pick a lane! I am comfortable, though, with who I am (my favorite John
Paul II quote was, "Families, be who you are!"), and who I am is
someone who likes to mull over a wide range of ideas and see what
WORKS. For me, for us, for my kids, my husband, in our unique and
I sometimes do feel an urge to "belong" to one school of thought or
another, to find that label that fits me perfectly. As I said in my
original Tidal Learning post, I couldn’t find the label, so I made one
up. It’s useful mainly as a way of answering people’s questions when I
meet a new homeschooler.
I have written elsewhere about how some part of me seems to stick out
of every niche I enjoy visiting (and that is probably true for most
people). I’m a pro-life Democrat, for Pete’s sake! Sort of. Ha!—I
don’t even fit THAT label across the board.
But still there is that desire to find the perfect label. There are
times I read Charlotte Mason and think: She makes so much sense! I want
to be a whole-hog CMer! And other times when I read Sandra Dodd and
think YES, I grok that, I’m an unschooler! But the reality is, I have
places where my understanding doesn’t completely line up with either CM
*or* radical unschooling. And that’s fine. I can still learn from both
schools (unschools?) of thought, and identify with aspects of each.
One area I’m keenly interested in is the balance between a rich
unschooling environment (the kind of environment & relationships
Sandra describes so vividly in her book and site) and the logistical challenges
of raising a big family, especially with my special-needs son. When
you’ve got big kids and babies in the same house, all with their own
(sometimes conflicting) needs, you’re probably going to have to make
compromises somewhere. Tia, that’s the issue you seemed to be exploring
in your post on Always Learning—-how your need for a clean, uncluttered
space seems to you a valid need that benefits the whole family, and how
you feel able to maintain that without shortchanging your children of
your time or attention. It seems like a good question to explore, but
is perhaps a bit out of context on that particular list. And I saw that
the reactions of experienced radical unschoolers there were coming out
of a sense of concern that your vision of it being possible to maintain
a tidy home while unschooling might make newbies feel like failures if
they can’t pull that off.
Probably some of the friction comes in the different definitions people
have of unschooling. I try to consistently use "radical unschooling"
when describing the lifestyle Sandra speaks of, which incorporates an
approach to parenting that believes kids grow up happier and nicer if
there aren’t constant conflicts with parents over chores, TV, and so
forth; and that the way to avoid that kind of tension is to relax
control in those and other areas.
While I find much to learn from in that vision of parenting, I cannot
say it totally lines up with mine. I’m completely on board with "say
yes as often as possible"—but I also see myself as the leader of this
crew of kids and am comfortable with the notion of parents being in authority
over their children. I don’t see authority as a bad thing or
necessarily meaning there will be friction and discontented children.
But I digress. I was saying that as I understand it, "radical
unschooling" has a specific meaning, and some discussions are not going
to be relevant in a radical unschooling context.
Just plain "unschooling" is a tricky term, because to some it means
radical unschooling, and to others it means "kids growing up without
‘doing school’ either in a schoolhouse or at home"—without necessarily
applying to *parenting* style. You’ll find, then, families who consider
themselves unschoolers but where the parents have an authoritative (not
the same as *authoritarian*, and I credit Jeanne Faulconer for writing
a post years ago that first made that distinction clear to me)
parenting style. That probably best describes how Scott and I are
raising our kids. So while I have great respect for people like Sandra
who have, by all accounts, raised some fabulous, considerate,
compassionate, respectful, nice kids according to the parenting
principles that accompany radical unschooling, I’m coming from another
perspective, one informed by my Catholicism (the only label that truly
fits me across the board), my experience, my husband’s viewpoints, and
the temperaments and needs of our specific children.
So yes, I think you can be both an authoritative parent and an
unschooler, and there are unschooling discussion lists where it might
be interesting to have that discussion, but I would naturally expect the
experienced & happy radical unschoolers to speak up with strong
arguments from their perspective. And if they all disagreed with my
opinion, I’d have to say, well, I went to the vegetarian banquet
looking for hamburger recipes!
Still, I love to hear the RU perspective, with its emphasis on JOY.
Joyful parent/child relationships, joyful person/learning
relationships, peace and delight and harmony in the home and with the
world. It’s a refreshing vision—invigorating, I think is the word I
used in my Low Tide post. Sandra’s work truly refreshes and empowers
me, and I would hate to discourage anyone from encountering it, even if
I’m not a radical unschooler myself.
One insight I had about myself during this current re-immersion in
Sandra’s website & list is that I was able to put my finger on why
our foray into pure CM method this past winter/spring fell flat after
six weeks, so that I found myself—for the first time in our
homeschooling experience—with a roomful of discontented kids.
(Discontented with our learning experiences, I mean. They have
certainly all been discontented before, like whenever I cook dinner.)
The realization that
came to me via my rethinking Sandra’s philosophy is that what was
different about our High Tide time this winter was that always before,
while we may have been taking an excursion aboard the S.S. Charlotte
Mason, I was captain of the ship, adjusting our course as needed, and
pulling into port for refreshment or exploration as my young sailors
required. This time around, I turned the ship’s wheel over to Cap’n
Mason herself—and much as I love her captain’s logs, she doesn’t know
my crew the way I do. After six weeks, they were ready to mutiny.
So I am back where I belong: comfortable in my own shoes. I’m a Tidal
Homeschooler, and it works for us, makes for fun times with my happy,
pleasant children. But it was the Radical Unschoolers who taught me
this lesson, and I will continue to enjoy learning from their
perspective— just as I learn from the pure Charlotte Mason folks and
the Real Learners and the classical-ed folks. I
really, really like to learn. So do my kids, so I’m content to "be who
The first time I posted about tidal homeschooling at Bonny Glen (in January of 2006), I said,
Our family enjoys both kinds of learning—the heady adventure of the
well-planned fishing trip, with a goal and a destination in mind, and
the mellower joys of undirected discovery during weeks at the
metaphorical beach. Around here, the low-tide times happen much more
often than the high tide times, and often I find that the children
catch more fish, so to speak, when the tide is out. Beachcombing
reveals many treasures.
I was talking about unschooling v. Charlotte Mason-style learning, which, as readers of this blog know, are the two philosophies/methods of education which most resonate with me—even though they are very different philosophies.
We have been unschoolish Charlotte Mason learners, and we have been Charlotte Masonish unschoolers; I described it in that post like this:
[T]he 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.”
I’d say that continues to hold true, a year and a half later. If you start looking for a definition of unschooling, you’ll find there’s a lot of disagreement between different people about what exactly unschooling is, and any definition I attempt to apply to it is simply my own take; but to my way of thinking, the term is most useful when applied to an approach toward childhood in which the parents do not “make” the children “learn stuff.” The children are learning, constantly, enormously; and the parents are actively engaged in discussion and strewing and facilitating and offering new experiences, and at times classes or curricula may be a part of those experiences—but only as the child wishes.
And so, since there have been some studies I have required of my children (Latin, for example), I can’t say I’m a full-fledged unschooler. I am very, very unschooly, most of the time.
This past winter, I veered farther off the unschooling path than ever before, with our very much by-the-book Charlotte Mason term that began after the holidays. And, as I talked about here, it started off great guns, loads of fun, a very rich and animated time of formal learning—and then we hit some rather large bumps and the fun started to spill out of the cart.
Scott’s back went out; we sold our old house; there were lots of
distractions. We stuck to our rhythm of morning read-alouds and
narrations, but last week I noticed the kids were squabbling with each
other a lot and our lesson time was turning grumpish.
(And re-reading that post, I see that a lot of what I’m writing here is a repeat of that one.)
I reassessed and saw that the year’s upheaval had tangled us up quite a bit, and I turned to my favorite homey activities to help us untangle: we immersed ourselves in the soothing pursuits of baking, painting, making things with yarn or clay, singing, telling stories. Our CM lessons continued but at a slower pace, and mostly for Jane. Gradually, as our spring got busy with recitals and outings, I retired the CM schedule altogether. I did this without fanfare or announcement, and the children seemed scarcely to notice: they’ve been too busy learning.
Learning about (to rattle off a few topics from the past week) the history of purple dye, the legends of Hercules, musical notes, how to make cookies without mom’s help, how to adapt a knitting pattern for crochet, measurement, air pressure (pumping up a baby pool and watching the pressure gauge), geography, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, ISBNs and book cataloging, ocean life (could be a long list itself), the joys of playing in the sea, snakes, turtles, goats, miniature horses, Lightning Lad and Superboy, writing and cracking codes—and that probably isn’t the half of it. Just today, Rose sat down to write a story, and when it was finished, she asked me to correct it (“I want it to be like a real book”), and that led to conversation about spelling rules (slam/slamming, split/splitting, reply/replied), punctuating dialogue, indenting paragraphs and when to start a new paragraph, capitalization of titles, when to capitalize “mom” and when not to, and more grammar stuff that I can’t remember.
Whenever our low-tide times come around, I laugh at myself for forgetting how true are the words I wrote above: I find that the children
catch more fish, so to speak, when the tide is out.
A week or two ago, reveling in the richness of low tide, I got in the mood to read some Sandra Dodd. Sandra’s website is one of the best educational resources on the ‘net. She has been collecting wisdom from experienced unschoolers (including herself) for over ten years, and her site is a vast (really, I’m not using the word carelessly—there must be a hundred? pages there, at least)* repository of quotes and anecdotes to inspire and edify anyone who is interested in how people learn. Be careful; you’ll lose yourself there for hours.
But you’ll find yourself, too. Sandra always makes me think. She can be challenging, in the sense of ‘one who challenges you to examine your assumptions.’ I’ve lurked on her email lists on and off over the years (and not always lurking; I used to participate in the discussion, two or three younguns ago), and I sometimes found her almost painfully blunt. But now, ten years into my own home education journey, I think I understand why she doesn’t mince words in conversation with other homeschooling/ unschooling parents. She doesn’t want them to lose precious time to friction and tension. She wants there to be joy and delightful connectedness between parents and children, always and as soon as possible.
I don’t necessarily agree with her on every topic, but I appreciate the way she gets me questioning, pushing, pondering, learning. I like her emphasis on saying yes as often as possible. That one simple idea can effect HUGE changes in your relationship with your kids. Sometimes I get so busy, so caught up in the logistics of managing this busy household, that I drift into scolding mode. Ugh. Sandra’s work reminds me not to scold, but rather to listen, and to smile, and instead of barking out a kneejerk “No” to the child who proposes something, to ask myself “Why not?”
A small example. On Sunday after Mass, the three older girls and I were standing on the sidewalk outside church, waiting for Scott to pick us up. There are two entrances to the church parking lot, and I had positioned myself at the corner of a traffic lane in the lot, so that I could see both entrances. I didn’t know which way he’d come in. The girls wanted to cross to the other side of the lane. I didn’t want to, because then I would only be able to watch one of the entrances.
A month ago, all wrapped up in my brisk busy-ness, I might have simply said no—offering no explanation.
A week ago, with my renewed focus on saying yes and, well, being nice (the busy me is not always the nice me), I might have said, “Sorry, gang; if we cross over there, we won’t be able to see Daddy coming.”
A day ago, with my wits sharpened and my desire to be connected and happy with my children renewed by an immersion in unschooling belief, I asked myself, “Why shouldn’t they cross the lane? I can stay here and watch for Scott. Anyway, even if I don’t stand here, it’s not like he won’t find us. It’s not a big place. Why do I need to watch for him at all? What was I thinking? Or rather, why wasn’t I thinking?”
So I said, “Sure!”
And guess what? Scott found us just fine.
Oooh, that pesky auto-response! It is so easy for a mother’s default setting to be NO. But truly, so unnecessary too.
About the same time I went poking around Sandra’s site, I treated myself to a copy of her book, Moving a Puddle, which is a collection of essays she wrote for homeschooling publications, message boards, and other places. I’d read some of them before, but many of them were new to me and it’s nice to have them all in a book I can curl up with or tuck in my bag. I got halfway through the book and had found so much I wanted to talk about that I simply had to order a copy for my pal Eileen in Virginia, Wonderboy’s godmother and my crony in unschooly Charlotte Masonishness. (Or is that Charlotte Masony unschoolishness?) She received it a few days ago and we’ve racked up quite the tasty phone bill, discussing and enthusing every day since she opened the package.
I feel downright invigorated, and I didn’t even know I needed invigorating.
Of course this begs the question: if low tide is so fabulous, why not stay there forever? Why have high-tide times at all? That’s the question I am continually examining (see this post: Accidental v. On-Purpose Learning), and will be pondering again this summer.
*Turns out there are over FIVE hundred pages at Sandra’s site, and that’s just the unschooling arm of it; she’s got other sections, too. 500! I told you it was vast!
The new edition of Unschooling Voices, a collection of posts by unschooling parents, is up. Enjoy!
The theme for this edition is "How has unschooling changed you?" And I think that’s fascinating to contemplate: how has homeschooling your children affected you?
Scott told me once about how Eric Clapton learned to play guitar. He wanted to learn, and so he sat down with a guitar and just played and played and played, to the exclusion of all else. It’s called "woodshedding," as in you go out to the woodshed and practice for hours.
What was funny about Scott telling me this (it was before we were married, I think) was that it sounded so much like HIM to me, the total immersion in an interest. It sounded like me, too: I have always been one-track that way, wanting to throw myself intensely into a new subject or interest.
The first Christmas we were married, I gave Scott a guitar of his own, and he hunkered down and taught himself to play.
A year later, when we had a six-month-old and I was reading about homeschooling and thinking this was the path we should take, I remembered about woodshedding. When I talked about home education in those terms, it made total sense to him. From initial skepticism he shifted to receptiveness and eventually to an enthusiasm for homeschooling that was (is) as vocal and wholehearted as mine. All this was before the baby’s first birthday.
Deciding to homeschool changed us both in granting us a sense of freedom about learning—how naturally it happens when there is an interest in a subject or skill. The change was in regard to how people work, how people learn. In school, I was always so good at seeing just what I needed to do to get the grade. I was more focused on the benchmarks than on the knowledge itself. Through the decision to homeschool, I pulled back from that very narrow focus and saw how there were times I had woodshedded to learn something I really wanted to know. I learned to weave that way, autodidacticly, immersing myself in weaving books and warp and weft until one day there was a towel in my hand, and I’d made it all by myself.
I’m seeing that happen with the kids now: the origami animals everywhere, everywhere; and the Sculpey creations, and the stories, and Jane’s pretty book she is filling with algebraic equations she wants to remember.
I love your approach, Lissa. Why stick to one way of teaching and learning?
You know, I can see an argument in favor of adopting one consistent methodology and sticking to it. Actually, Charlotte Mason herself makes that argument in my beloved Volume 6:
“The reader will say with truth,—’I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles’; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering, not ‘more or less,’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon’s antiseptic treatment; that is, from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied, for the rather casual ‘more or less’ methods of earlier days.”
I admit to having sometimes read these words with a wince, feeling a pang of guilt over not having scrupulously applied any one set of principles. I am an adapter, a tweaker, a “take what works and leave the rest” sort. And here we see Miss Mason herself tsk-tsking the “casual” manner in which I have applied her ideas to my children’s education.
(It isn’t really “casual.” I’m just not going 100% by her book.)
After the wince I always remember that I am working with real people here, and real circumstances quite unlike any Miss Mason might have envisioned when designing her curriculum. She can’t have imagined a mother trying to hear narrations while a hard-of-hearing toddler chatters loudly in the background, like an old man with an ear trumpet unaware that he’s shouting, and a winsome baby steals the pupils’ attention by threatening to take her first walk across the carpet when (gasp, not permitted!) Daddy isn’t home. I doubt she envisioned her method being put to work in homes in which the bulk of the day consists of one adult having full responsibility for the care and education of multiple children, AND meal preparation, AND basic housekeeping. And our “ands” could go on, couldn’t they? AND having paid work to do, AND having to spend a lot of time traveling to doctors’ appointments, AND etc etc etc.
Which is not to say one CAN’T home-educate in complete accordance with Charlotte Mason’s principles. Many people do (check out the Ambleside webring), beautifully, happily, and with great success.
I’m just saying that for me, my family, our tastes and circumstances, CM-inspired works better than full-on CM.
Unschooling Voices, Volume 8. Growing Without Schooling meets the 21st century.
The nice thing about what I call "tidal homeschooling" is that it keeps the pressure off me. By now, I have learned that our family’s life seldom maintains a consistent rhythm longer than, say, four to six weeks. I have learned to enjoy the ebb and flow, the seasonal change. When monkeys toss their fabled wrenches into our works, as those naughty little monkeys are wont to do, I know it’s time to do a little tweaking.
Our "high tide" Charlotte Mason term chugged along nicely during February, but this month we went a bit off kilter. Scott’s back went out; we sold our old house; there were lots of distractions. We stuck to our rhythm of morning read-alouds and narrations, but last week I noticed the kids were squabbling with each other a lot and our lesson time was turning grumpish. That is always, always, a cue for me to shift gears. (And mix metaphors. Good heavens, I am haphazard with the metaphors today. Metaphor soup!)
I’ve mentioned before that my introduction to the idea of homeschooling was through the writings of John Holt and Sandra Dodd. Sandra is the guru of radical unschooling, and though I don’t agree with her take on everything, I have learned a great deal from her writings. Jane was a babe in arms when I began to ponder Sandra’s ideas about children learning naturally, through life experience, apart from school; and truth be told, it was Sandra who sold me on the lifestyle, way back when I was lurking on the homeschooling boards at AOL.
Now you know that while I have a big streak of unschoolishness in me, I’m not an unschooler per se; the Charlotte Mason method, applied according to her principles, is not unschooling. But Charlotte, too, envisioned the kind of happy and eager childhood that you hear about in the writings of the unschoolers. And that’s my main answer to the question, "Why do you homeschool your kids?" I say, "Because I think it’s a way to give kids a great education and a joyful childhood."
During our low-tide times, which occupy the larger portion of the year, we are like unschoolers. We live and play; we take care of our home together, the children and I; we have adventures and read lots of great books.
During our high-tide times, we keep doing all of the above, but I’m the one picking out the books, and I have the kids narrate a lot of the reading back to me, and we work more deliberately on mastering skills that take practice, like piano and math and Latin.
After the big adventure of moving to California, quickly followed by the big adventure that is Christmas, all of us were ready for some structure, some predictability. Hence our current lineup of studies a la Miss Mason. And as I said, our "term" (the term amuses us, ba dum bum) got off to a terrific start. Last week, when the fun started to fizzle, I gave some thought to what might need tweaking.
The first question I always ask myself when I’m assessing our family rhythm is "What would we be doing if we weren’t doing this?" If, for example, we weren’t spending three mornings a week reading and narrating, how would we spend them? We already have activities the kids love which take us out of the house twice a week, sometimes more; plus I’ve tried to be good about making spontaneous outings to the zoo or the park, exploring this vast new land we’ve moved to. I find that an important ingredient for family harmony is having plenty of mellow time at home. I am not, therefore, inclined to add any more activities to the mix right now.
Home time, then. The kids want to do more painting. Check. I can make that happen. They want to do more baking, and Easter is around the corner…Check. Jane has a flat of herb seedlings going, and all of us are in the mood to do some gardening ("all of us" as in the entire Northern hemisphere), so: Check.
Thus far in my ponderings, I have found nothing that really requires a tweak. We can do all those things any afternoon of the week; I just need to remember to DO them. (Check.)
But the grumpishness of the last week or so, that’s got to go. That’s where the tweaking comes in. What jumped out at me when I gave some thought to the question was that it has everything to do with the challenge of keeping five small people happy at once. (Make that four small people and one medium-sized person; Jane is really getting to be such a big kid.)
I decided I was trying to do too much all together. After traveling in a pack (both literally and figuratively) for the past nine months, my kids are ready for some one-on-one time with me. This can be as simple as making sure Beanie gets to help me wash dishes, or Jane gets me for a few screens of Absurd Math, her favorite online pastime. Rose wants to stretch out on my bed and chatter; she is my most introverted child, and I think she soaks up a lot of observations during the big group activities and wants my ear in which to pour them later on.
This morning I gave Rose a stack of books and helped her set up camp on my bed. She beamed. While Jane read a picture book to Beanie, I spent some one-on-one with Rose. Then I grabbed Bean for some cozy couch time, and we rediscovered Eric Carle’s Animals Animals together. Jane went off to her favorite corner of the craft room and read the books I’d given her; later she came back and narrated to me while I changed a few diapers, nursed the baby, unloaded the dishwasher. It was a good morning. The house is a mess but our moods are tweaky clean.
This recent article in The Patriot Ledger presents a positive look at unschooling. Even the obligatory balance-it-out quotes from "experts" pose fairly reasonable questions, though I had to laugh at the patronizing remark from the Boston U School of Ed’s dean. (‘‘It probably doesn’t do the children any harm,’’ says he. What a ringing endorsement!)
I quite liked this quote from a parent of unschoolers (and author of a book on unschooling):
"Unschooling is ideal for all children, but not for all parents,’’ said
Kream, of West Bridgewater. ‘‘Unschooling parents need to be
enthusiastic about life and learning themselves, they need to want to
be very actively involved in their children’s lives and they need to be
caring, supportive and respectful parents. They also need to believe
that the desire to learn is intrinsic to human beings.’’
Rue Kream is right on the mark here; this quote speaks to the difference between unschooling and "unparenting," a brush with which unschooling is often erroneously tarred.
"Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants—doing nothing but living and walking about—came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child’s way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love."
(With thanks to Donna G., local Montessori teacher and my fellow speaker at a recent alternative education panel, for bringing it to my attention.)
And in that vein, here’s what Rilla learned yesterday.
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!