Friday, August 17, 2007

And King Arthur was Homeschooled Too...

...with Merlyn as his tutor. In T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Merlyn kicks off the Wart's (Arthur's) education by turning him into a fish:
The Wart found that he had no clothes on. He found that he had tumbled off the drawbridge, landing with a smack on his side in the water. He found that the moat and the bridge had grown hundreds of times bigger. He knew that he was turning into a fish.
"Oh Merlyn, " he cried. "Please come too!"
"For this once," said a large and solemn tench beside his ear. "I will come. But in future you will have to go by yourself. Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance."
--T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Merlyn has made us a beginning. And so has Muad'Dib. That education is experience, that every experience carries its lesson, that self-reliance is a necessary element -- are true. But education must necessarily be more than experience. It must go beyond experience. After all, what is life but one long succession of experiences? And how many people go through life's experiences without ever learning its lessons? Experience alone is a shaky foundation for knowledge, shakier still for faith. It is not our experiences, but how we reflect upon our experiences, which matters. And if our reflection leads us to the wrong conclusions, what then? Thus education also means imparting a framework through which we can interpret our experiences.

"Logic!" said the Professor, half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"
-- C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Muad'Dib was Homeschooled

That's what my dh quipped to me last night while reading his mooched copy of Dune. Okay, maybe not homeschooled, but at least instilled with one of the primary tenets of homeschooling:

Many have marked the speed at which Muad'Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed. For the others, we can say that Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. MuadDib knew that every experience carries its lesson.
-- Frank Herbert, Dune

Monday, August 13, 2007

cowboys herding cats

Sometimes, on "those" days, I liken parenting to herding cats. My children were asking me about this simile, and as is often the case, a picture is worth a thousand words -- and a YouTube video is worth a hundred thousand. I don't know who EDS is, but I hope their stock goes out the roof.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stereotypes and Reality

For this past week's Carnival of Homeschooling, Henry Cate of Why Homeschool wrote a Response to a Comment criticizing his blogging about the negative aspects of public schooling. The original commenter held some strong opinions about homeschooling, but his arguments demonstrated that he was more informed by stereotypes than by any real familiarity with actual homeschoolers. One of his assertions was that, "Only parents who can afford to stay home all day can afford to home school." This sparked the following little exchange, which caught my interest:
Janine Cate said...
>What I don't understand is why homeschooling elicits such animosity that traditional private & parochial schooling does not.

I think middle class parents don't feel guilty about not sending their children to a parochial or private school because of the cost. With homeschooling being within reach of middle class, it would be easy to get defensive.

Anonymous said...
Just to be picky ... many, many middle class families send their kids to private school. Private schools are not the exclusive domain of the rich. Very often, middle class private schooling parents make similar financial sacrifices that many homeschooling families make in order to give their children the education that's best for them. It's all about freedom of choice for each family.

But the commenter is correct that private schoolers do not seem to be called out as having "abandoned" public schools the way homeschoolers are.

Janine Cate said...
That's very true. For some reason middle class families are seen as noble for sacrificing to pay for private school while homeschool parents are seen as selfish. Go figure.
And then Dana at Principled Discovery has been playing around with some homeschool stereotypes . All this has had me thinking a bit about homeschool stereotypes, so it profoundly satisfied the armchair anthropologist in me to stumble across this poll, which demonstrates that the reality is much more diverse than the stereotypes:

Q: Will the stands the candidates take on education affect how you vote for President?
(of 58 respondents)

  • 59% - They must support homeschooling!
  • 16% - I don't care, I'll homeschool anyway.
  • 14% - I will vote for my chosen party anyway.
  • 12% - I don't vote.
NOTE: Well over half of those responding to this poll want the highest office filled by someone who recognizes the needs and contributions of homeschoolers.

Q: Why do you homeschool?
(of 459 respondents)

  • 42% - Just feel it is the right thing.
  • 22% - Religious reasons.
  • 19% - Academic reasons.
  • 12% - Child had trouble in public school.
  • 04% - Secular reasons.
  • 01% - Medical reasons.
NOTE: This counters the standard assumption that most homeschoolers do so for religious reasons - 78% of those answering this poll teach their own children at home for other than religious reasons.

Q: The media think homeschoolers have above average income.
Where do you really fit?

(of 386 respondents)

  • 11% - $10,000 - $20,000/year
  • 18% - $20,000 - $30,000/year
  • 20% - $30,000 - $40,000/year
  • 15% - $40,000 - $50,000/year
  • 13% - $50,000 - $60,000/year
  • 23% - more than $60,000/year
NOTE: With 49% of respondants living on under $40,000.oo, it is hard to uphold an argument that insists we are all 'well-off'. Only 23% are earning over $60,000.oo.

Q: How many children are you homeschooling?
(of 539 respondents)

  • 17% - Only one! An only child.
  • 08% - Only one! The rest go to public school.
  • 33% - 2.
  • 17% - 3.
  • 13% - 4 or more.
  • 12% - None, yet! But Thinking about it.
NOTE: 25% of respondents have a one-to-one student-teacher ratio! 67% are schooling three or fewer children for a ratio of 3-to-1 or better. 12% are looking into the possibility (some even before they have their children!).

Q: What style of homeschooling do you use most? ?
(of 246 respondents)

  • 07% - Umbrella School/School at Home
  • 18% - Packaged Curriculum/School at Home
  • 43% - Eclectic Curriculum/School at Home
  • 18% - No Curriculum/Relaxed Homeschooling
  • 10% - No Curriculum/Unschooling
  • 04% - Other
NOTE: Only 25% of those responding are using commercial pre-set curriculums. 43% are using some varied combination of the vast and diverse resources available, and 28% utilize little or no structure at all. -I've no clue what the other 4% are doing, but hey - it's probably pretty interesting!

Q: Have you seen a big difference in your homeschooled child?
(of 319 respondents)

  • 22% - Yes, improved academically over PS.
  • 16% - Yes, improved attitude over PS.
  • 39% - Yes, better attitude AND academically.
  • 10% - Yes, better attitude compared to peers.
  • 06% - Yes, better learning compared to peers.
  • 07% - No, behavior and learning no different.
The first two answers are those who have taken their child out of an institutional school. The third answer is those who felt *both* criteria were better. The fourth and fifth are those who have homeschooled all along. The last is those who felt *both* criteria showed no improvement.

NOTE: 39% said they see both better attitude and academic results in their homeschooled children compared to peers and/or the institutional schooled situation. A full 93% said that they had definitely noted improvement. 65% said they saw better attitudes in their homeschooled child than in peers and/or the institutional schooled situation. 67% said that they had noted academic improvement over peers and/or the institutional schooled situation. Only 7% said they had noted no improvement at all.

Q: Have you found homeschooling to benefit your family?
(of 485 respondents)

  • 34% - Yes, we are closer than ever!
  • 11% - Yes, less school related stress.
  • 05% - Yes, the kids are happier.
  • 45% - Yes, all of the above!
  • 02% - No, my kids hate it!
  • 03% - No, I hate it!
NOTE: Fully 95% of those responding to this poll said "Yes!". 5% noted that at least their kids were happier. 11% found at least some stress relief, while 34% said that they at least found their family social ties to be stonger. 45% felt that they had all those things going for them. Only 5% found homeschooling not helpful.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week: Getting Out There

Today we are "getting out there" to the county fair so dd7 can enter her 4-H displays. She joined 4-H mostly as an opportunity to make friends, but it hasn't been such a successful venue for that, mostly because meetings are structured around club business without much time for socializing. "Getting out" has one of two purposes -- relational or educational. It's ideal when then two overlap and mesh. We've had some great educational outings this past year...wild days on the prairie, the aviation museum, the zoo, the history museum. The relational thing though, has been difficult. In our old home, we got together with other homeschoolers every week, plus there were friends in the neighborhood and friends at church. So dd was used to a fairly high level of social contact -- not lots of friends, but a few friends she saw frequently. But this past year we moved, and in our new town, try as we might, we find ourselves more isolated. We've participated in two different homeschool groups, but we have to drive an hour and a half to get to either of them, so that limits our involvement. We've gone to the park and the pool, but all the children seemed to be either preschoolers or teenagers. Where were all the school-age children? Then we passed the schoolyard. It was full of kids. Oh. That's where they are. They're all in the school's summer day camp.

In spite of discouragement, I'm still determined to be proactive. So we're hosting a Not-Back-To-School Social for the area homeschoolers, whom we haven't seen all summer.

And we're not entirely friendless. The kids have found a few neighborhood and church friends, good kids from good families that I consider quality friends. And it's time for two important life lessons: learning the difference between acquaintances and real friends, and finding that your siblings can be your best friends.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week: How We Homeschool

Montessori preschool:
When my oldest children were three and four years old, I began learning about Montessori education and making and creating Montessori materials became quite a hobby. I used to stress and obsess, trying to be a Montessori purist, but now, with my third child, I find that Montessori teaching comes more easily and naturally to me and incorporates quite seamlessly into the rest of our homeschooling -- now that I am NOT trying to adhere rigidly to Montessori ideals. My dream was that my youngest would occupy herself with Montessori activities while I worked with my older ones on their lessons; sometimes that happens, sometimes not. But I find if I put in one or two ten-minute sessions of working with my littlest one each day, she is much more likely to involve herself with the materials independently (sometimes even at a time that is convenient for me!)

Montessori strove to make her schools more like a home than a school, and much of the work done by the children, especially the youngest ones, is "Practical Life" and "Care of the Environment" -- washing hands, dressing themselves, dusting, mopping, sweeping, polishing, folding, washing dishes, preparing food. So much of this is naturally a part of living at home with young children anyway, but the Montessori way of following a child's interest, breaking down a task into its parts, demonstrating slowly and with few words, and observing the child's progress, are incredibly effective and take only a few minutes to do while caring for your child or when he "helps" with chores.

Practical life is the foundation of Montessori education. Following that, works which focus on a specific tasks can be prepared and set out on a tray for the child to use. These are fun to make and can usually be put together using household or dollar store items. Examples might be transferring objects using a spoon, tongs, or tweezers, pouring, sorting, and sequencing. Many of these exercises are "Sensorial", that is they develop the use of the senses and the act of evaluating, naming, and classifying information received through the senses. (And if you've read Rand or Aristotle, it makes perfect sense why this would form the basis of a young child's education. I actually read Montessori first, then got very excited as I began to dabble in philosophy and found these same ideas.) My older children still fondly remember our Montessori trays, and are delighted now to revisit them and show their little sister how to do them.

Every Montessori activity is intended to foster self-direction, independence, concentration, precision, carrying out tasks in sequence, and small and large motor control. Tasks always move from simple to complex, and from concrete to abstract. Beauty, simplicity, and order are of essence in the "prepared environment" -- which is essentially an environment with work prepared and ready for the child to do when he is ready for it, and child friendly tools and work spaces at hand. In a classroom this means everything is available on low shelves at all times, everything is child sized, and nothing is off limits. At home, this is utterly impractical, but I have found that just having a few, rotating work choices available on shelves, and a few other mom-supervised activities prepared and at hand, as well as including my wee one in chores and giving her "jobs" to do is all that is needed to keep her busy and actively learning and working.
Several Montessori games have become a permanent part of our homeschool. One is the Silence Game. The children try to sit as perfectly quietly and motionlessly as they can until they hear me whisper their names one by one. The period of silence is gradually lengthened over the months and years, from less than a minute to several minutes as the children gain self-control. Another game we enjoy is the Birthday Game. On his birthday, a candle is lighted, which represents the sun. Then the birthday child carries a small globe around the candle once for each year, representing how many times the earth has travelled around the sun in his lifetime. Our older ones still ask for this game on their birthdays! Walking on the Line is yet another game --it's just what it sounds like, walking toe to heel on a line drawn on the ground. Montessori invented it after observing how children do this anyway!

From Practical Life and Sensorial works, we move to Math and Language activities. Maria Montessori was herself an excellent mathematician, and the math materials she designed are excellent. In fact, many of the math programs used by homeschoolers -- such as Schiller and Right Start -- are Montessori based. However, I have made most of our math materials inexpensively -- and gained a better understanding of math myself in the process. We are still using our Montessori math and geography materials on through the elementary years.
In future I'll be posting photos and instructions of how we've made and used Montessori lessons and materials for anyone interested.

Reading Reflex: I used the Montessori language works --sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, "I Spy" game, and pink-blue-and-green cards -- up to a point. But then we found ourselves stuck. Montessori's reading system probably works well for Italian, her native language, but leaves something to be desired in English. Reading Reflex by Carmen McGuiness filled in the holes for me. My older children are very proficient, happy readers. I've written more about Reading Reflex in this post.

Classical content: A classical education was my husband's idea. I am eternally grateful that he insisted on this. Our children thrive on it and are challenged, and it gives me structure and direction. The three stages of the trivium follow and nurture the natural pattern of human cognitive development. I follow the four-year cycle outlined in The Well-Trained Mind, with history forming the spine our our studies.

Independent work: A friend of mine who is a veteran homeschooler and is mom to six makes a weekly list for each of her children with tasks (schoolwork and chores) which must be accomplished and checked off during the week. I tried this out with my own children and found that, with a little coaching ("Good, you finished that one. Check it off and see what's next...") they quickly learned to work independently with their list as a guide. At this point, they each have about 1/2 to 1 hour's worth of independent work each day -- Bible/Bible story reading, reviewing catechism, math practice, typing practice, coloring and mapwork for history, and some additional reading.

Charlotte Mason:

narration:This has been such a useful tool for developing attention to detail, memory, and verbal expression (as if my little yappers needed help with verbal expression!)

copywork: I have actually struggled with copywork, how much to expect (especially when my children were just beginning to write), figuring out how to do it, and being prepared for it. Lindafay's blog has been helpful in this area, and I feel like we're finally getting the hang of it. However, for awhile this year we did some formal spelling study, and this made a big difference in the kids' spelling (and they loved it and begged for more -- my kids just seem to really like formal academic work) so we may go back to that. Getty Dubay handwriting books are also my favorites.

nature study: Can you believe I was stressed out by nature study? I couldn't plan for it, and I didn't feel knowledgeable enough to just let it happen. Wild Days by Karen Skidmore Radcliffe made it doable -- it is one of my favorite homeschooling books. I try to do two "wild days" per month, but if we find something interesting in the backyard -- which we do with ever increasing frequency as our habit of observation has increased-- I've learned to say, "Go get your nature notebooks!" We focus on nature study when it's nice outside, and save hands-on "hard science" for long, dark winter days when everyone has cabin fever anyway.

short lessons: Even though my dc often beg to go on, keeping lessons short keeps everyone interested. And, true to Montessori's principles, the children practice, internalize, and extend what they've learned through our lessons together in their play and free time. We spend 2-3 hours per day on formal studies.

arts, crafts and handwork: I don't do this during our "formal" lessons, but keep things ready to pull out on a rainy (or snowy) day. We've been enjoying Winky Cherry's sewing books, Drawing with Children, watercolor painting, origami, calligraphy, and nature crafts.

year-round schooling: Since our state has a "teaching time" requirement, I opted for keeping up our homeschooling year round, in order to (more or less) accomplish that and still maintain a relaxed pace. It also allows us to take a break when we feel we need it, and prevents end-of-summer boredom.

music: My dh and I have eclectic musical tastes, so there is always a variety of music playing in our home, from classical to liturgical to folk rock to ...some of dh's more extreme tastes. I have taught my children Suzuki violin, but we need to be more dedicated to that. The children have taught themselves recorder from a book pretty much independently after a brief introduction by me. Learning hymns and chants by heart has been a big part of family catechesis -- chanting has the bonus of being an excellent introduction to singing and ear training. And we keep meaning to get back to Mrs. Stewart's Piano Lessons.

languages: Dh and I both have language majors and post-graduate linguistics training, so we are language oriented as a family. The children have worked their way through the Hey Andrew! Level 2 Greek book; Dad is going to take over teaching that next year, now that they have a handle on the alphabet and a little vocabulary. Both children also expressed a desire to learn Spanish, so dh ordered the Pimsleur Spanish course. I was dubious since this is an audio course for adults, but the 30-minute lessons are perfect for kids too -- no reading or writing involved.

using the computer as a tool: I keep the computer stocked with a limited choice of educational games: typing, math, spelling, geography, and chess are the current ones. Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- And What We Can Do About It by Jane Healy really opened my eyes about how to make the best choices for educational computer use.

He Puts His Name on Us

22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 27 "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them."
Numbers 6:22-27
The Aaronic blessing concludes the liturgy of the church -- and it is not just a ritualistic goodbye, but a sacramental act. The Divine Name is actually being placed upon the people of God -- recalling baptism, when we were first signed with the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It it the triune name, indicated by the threefold repetition: the LORD bless you...the LORD make his face to shine upon you...the LORD lift up his countenance upon you..." When the pastor, acting in the name of Christ, puts God's Name on the people, He will -- and does --bless us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Why? ...Why Not?

I really cannot remember a time, at least from the time I got married and had any conscious thought of having a family of my own, that I was not planning to homeschool. It was more like an intuitive decision, a natural action. So to delineate my reasons for doing so is actually quite an exercise.

Still, once we hit that first challenging year of formal homeschooling, I found I needed to be able to remind myself "why" I was doing this thing. And this year, when we moved to a small town, with few if any other homeschoolers around, where community life centers around the schools, where we were not only the new kids in town but the oddballs as well, I found I needed to really spell out, for myself, why I homeschool.

It all seems like one reason in my own mind:

Family unity. Raising our young Christians in keeping with their baptisms. An integrated life. A meaty education. Learning to think. Learning right and wrong, rather than how to follow the crowd. Real history instead of "social studies". "Sex education". The precedence of the family over the state. Really belonging to an organic whole instead of being lost in the herd. Making sure my children go out into the world as adults, not as large children. Imparting practical skills, not just head knowledge. Sharing a way of life. Restoring what is broken in the modern world.

It's Back-to-Homeschool Week

Randi at I Have to Say... is hosting Back-to-Homeschool Week:

Next week, here on my blog, I will be hosting "Back to Homeschool Week". There is a topic for each day and my hope is that my fellow homeschoolers here in the blogosphere will participate by posting their own experiences on their blogs. This is the time of the year that our thoughts begin to turn towards curriculum, planning and scheduling, and I thought that gathering together to encourage one another would be beneficial all of us.

Join in the fun! I'll be posting my thoughts on the daily topics here. (Oh goody! I loove essay questions!)