There are those days when the learning falls like pennies from heaven, when treasures of knowledge are found in a scavanger-hunt of discovery, when the storybook is here, and we are in it. There are just as many days when tasks loom ugly, the clock drags, the kids are cross, a pencil's been dropped for the hundredth time, and you're pretty sure that you don't have what it takes to guide your children through the learning.
Thank goodness you don't have to have everything it takes. I am most relieved when I remember that I'm not the be-all, end-all of all the information that our children will ever need in their eighteen years with us; I'm simply a learning facilitator, guiding our children in discovery.
For us, that discovery happens all the time, in all the places that we happen to be. But, there is also a structure that provides substance to our days and weeks, an assurance that the important will be learned at a steady rhythm. Our structured learning week falls into a Monday through Thursday pattern. Our weeks fall into a six-week cycle, and these cycles then flow into twelve-week terms.
On Monday & Tuesday we cover our core subjects of reading, faith, math & math drill, memory, English grammar, history, and geography. On Wednesday & Thursday, we cover the same core subjects, but switch out English grammar for Latin and history & geography for science. Writing and spelling are integrated into written narration for history, science, and book reports. We do our best to reserve Monday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoons for spending time outdoors.
Until now, we've used Friday mornings for making, for art, for poetry, and for music appreciation, which, at times has turned out to be an easier miss than I would like. This fall, I plan to take the entire four days of every third week and devote them to the former Friday morning fare. I'm hoping this will give a much-appreciated focus time for these fun subjects.
Our learning time begins at 7:45, and ends around 2:00 (later for the high schooler), with a 30 minute morning break and a 30 minute lunch. I've found that, while independence is being gained, my being present even during independent work is an important thing. While I'm waiting for the boys to complete their work, I check finished work, knit, do our home budget, or read. There are books on some subjects that I still read aloud to our younger two, and there are games we like to all play together.
If I were to define our learning method, I would say that it's been inspired by Maria Montessori and Charlotte Mason, as well as classical education, found in methods such as Classical Conversations and books such as the Well Trained Mind. That being said, I also find value in providing a child with a book that requires him to direct himself, stay on task, and follow instructions.
Here is a list of (some of) our current curricula (grades 5, 7, 10):
Handbook of Nature Study, and many other references
If I were to find myself at the beginning stage again, knowing what I know know, here is how I might proceed:
I would know to cherish each day of those younger years, and gently and naturally teach writing and reading as the interest presented itself. I would read aloud A LOT. Quality books, fairy tales, classics.
When a boy was ready to learn to write his name, I would casually describe capital letters only, and I would say, "Draw a stick, with a belly, and kicking leg (R). Now draw a stick with two arms up (Y). Next draw a slide line this way, and a slide line that way, with a bridge in the middle (A). Now draw a stick, then fly your pencil to the top of it, draw a slide line down, and a stick up (N). I would know that, when you think about it, all the capital letters can be described this way. I would do this while I folded laundry, cleaned the kitchen, or nursed the baby. I wouldn't turn it into anything other than a boy with a pencil, a paper, and a curious mind.
And the alphabet? I wouldn't even bother with teaching letter names at first, nor would I worry about them knowing about both captial and lower-case forms. I would just say the sound associated with the captial letter. Regarding vowels, I'd only show them words with a short vowel sound, to start. I would know that wooden Montessori letters are invaluable in this beginning stage. I'd also know that patience is greatly important, and that a 'click' will come and he'll be off and running (reading) better than you expected.
I would know that young minds can memorize an amazing amount of information, especially if it's set to a chant or tune. I would know that they don't have to understand it at the time, but when they come across the same information down the road (sometimes much further down the road) an awareness will explode and the context and understanding for that memorized piece will link in their brain and they'll never forget it.
I would know that English grammar is a fairly small body of information that can be learned in its entirety in three middle school years, or less. I would also know the value in a gentle beginning of this grammar understanding with First Language Lessons in grade 2 or 3.
I would know that an understanding of the how and why of arithmetic is a foundation not to be missed. I would then see how lightning-fast mental arithmetic becomes the most valuable piece of the math puzzle. I would know without doubt that daily math speed drill is worth it.
I would know that, if a child is struggling with a concept, a different angle may work, and if it doesn't, a rest probably will. I would know that the right curriculum is important, so and I'd keep looking until I found it.
I would know that life without Calvin & Hobbes wouldn't be complete.
I would know that good spelling often comes as a by-product of quality reading. I would know not to waste our time and his creativity by focusing on spelling errors before grade 3. After that, I would gently correct a mistake here or there that appears in his work, but mostly, I'd answer him when he wonders aloud how a word is spelled, because, really, he wants to get it right on his own.
I would know that Latin is valuable, but I'd know not to bring it into the mix until grade 4 or 5.
I would know that I wouldn't regret requiring beautiful handwriting.
I would know that just being in nature is nature study, simple as that. I would know that the more we're there, the more we'll see, the more questions we'll have, and the more we'll know. I will know that reference books are a very good thing, and so is Google.
I would know the value of teaching history in a continuum, from beginning to present, over and over. I would see the benefit of children's minds holding a timeline with dates and events in place.
I would be okay with them eating chocolate chips mid-morning every week if it meant that they memorized all the major countries and their capitals on every continent in the world. (My Father's World geography game).
I would know that science is a basic awareness of our world, and that an in-stride learning about it is just right until the more in-depth season beginning in the later middle school and high school years.
I would know that not every child is destined to play an instrument, but every child should hear every instrument, and all styles of music, and understand the story of music in our world.
I would know that we would begin many books that we didn't finish. I would know that this is okay.
I would know that every child can learn basic drawing and painting skills. I would know that not every child likes it. And I would know that, nonetheless, they would be glad of it in the end.
I would know that other's homeschool journeys are a click away. I would know, in viewing these that inspiration is an asset, and that comparison is a detriment.
I would know that I wouldn't regret this decision.
Here is some curricula I would recommend for the beginning years (around age 5-6) in grammar, math, and handwriting. I may use a Monetssori approach for teaching reading, though the book from Peach Hill Press looks intriguing:
This has been a great experience for me, writing this Living Less series over the past several weeks. I so hope that you've enjoyed these words and have found answers to your questions here. This thirteenth post concludes the series. I can't wait to see all of you back here on Monday!
P.S. There are some reader questions that I'm holding onto for future posts. Stay tuned if yours wasn't answered in the context of this series ;)
Have a lovely weekend, friends!
P.P.S. If there's something that I didn't cover about our homeschooling that you'd like to know, leave a comment and I'll answer!