Thursday, September 18, 2008

Especially the Stories! (Part 2)

Have you ever worked really hard, thrown all your energy and efforts into something, and then when you were done (finally done!), scrapped it all and started over?  That's the story of my spring, summer and fall this year.  I began in early May; researching, reading reviews, pricing and choosing curricula, and then haunting ebay, amazon, and cbd (Christian Book Distributors) for the absolute best deals on the curricula I had chosen for 1st Grade and Kindergarden.  Once I had ordered everything, and it had all finally arrived, I spent most of the summer planning out lesson plans, projects, and worksheets for every subject.  Every day  -- at naptime, late into the night, and every spare minute I had during the day -- I worked on typing out 180 pages of daily lesson plans that combined the plans for each subject all onto one page per day.  When she visited in July, I enlisted mom's help so I could get them done before school started on August 11.  (She's a much faster typist than I am!)  Everything was finally finished, printed out, and ready to go with a week to spare.  Over three months of planning and prepping had gone into those lesson plans, and I was as prepared and organized as I was ever going to be.

Three weeks into our school year, I scrapped everything ... and started over.

Somewhere toward the beginning of my research, an article in a homeschooling magazine called, "What's So GREAT About Shakespeare?" by Linda Johnson, caught my attention.  I was so impressed with the article that I (somehow!) found and began to read her blog.  She talks a lot about Charlotte Mason (who is called the founder of the homeschooling movement) and the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling.  She uses words  like "living books", "narration", and "copywork".  Her kids study nature, great composers and their works, master artists and their art.  They do math, copywork and dictation (handwriting, spelling and grammar), and make useful craft projects.  They (both the kids, and the whole family) read a LOT of books, and they compile very detailed notebooks of what they're learning in history, geography, literature, and poetry.   

Which is all very neat and exciting, I thought, and I would love to put some of those things into practice in our homeschool someday, but I was going to stick with what I had planned for this year, thank you very much, and then maybe, MAYBE I'd start incorporating some of those ideas into my lesson plans next year.  So, to prepare, I read her blog all summer and filed away a whole bunch of neat ideas and how-tos.  I read other people's articles online about different homeschool methods and programs.  I read Elisabeth Elliott books in my spare time, and I read my Bible.  And my thoughts kept returning to quotes I had read online from Charlotte Mason's books that intrigued me greatly, so I started reading Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series too, and at some point, without me realizing it, my thinking began to change.  

Where is it written that we should dread each school day?  WHY do we dread it?  Are the kids as bored as I am with what we're learning?  Who determines what and how I teach my children?  What SHOULD our homeschool be like?  As these thoughts and others chased each other around in my brain, I began to realize that although we had decided to homeschool for the right reasons, I, at least (I can't speak for Mike), had not yet determined how to best educate my children.

After only three weeks of school, we were all disenchanted with those oh-so-detailed lesson plans.  The girls fly through their weekly memory verse.  The Bible curriculum was dumbed-down, and left out important details.  The handwriting worksheets were tedious and boring.  The accelerated math program...well, let's just say we're backing up a little on that subject :).  Their phonics workbooks are so easy and quick they could probably do them in their sleep.  The science was a little above their comprehension level.  Reading and Spanish are just fun; new and exciting.  :)  Geography, history, literature, and poetry, on the other hand, were, and still are, greeted with excitement and eagerness, BECAUSE (drum roll, please!) we read books and stories, both fiction and non-fiction.  What child does not enjoy being read to (especially when the subject is something they are interested in) or even reading something themselves for the first time?  In the first six weeks of school, we've read about Creation, the Nile River, the Rosetta Stone, hieroglyphics, Egypt, birds, animals, maps, globes, hemispheres, oceans, and continents.  We've been introduced to Adam and Eve, Menes (the first Pharaoh), Leif Ericsson, Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, John Cabot, Captain John Smith, Jamestown, Pocahontas, and others.  We've read from Shakespeare, Aesop's Fables, the Bible, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Rudyard Kipling, and James Herriot.  What's not to like?!?

That's the kind of thing that Charlotte Mason advocates; reading REAL books on all subjects, reading thought-provoking literature and poetry, and TALKING about what we're learning.  It is nothing but an exercise in futility for my children to trace out and copy letter after letter on a handwriting worksheet (which will eventually get thrown out), when as an alternative they could be practicing their handwriting skills as they copy a verse, a quote, or a line from a hymn into a special book (that they could keep forever if they want!), or maybe they could even write a letter!  Wouldn't it be wonderful, too, to read to my children from ACTUAL scripture instead of from an infantile Bible curriculum?

We still need the math program and the phonics practice workbooks, but I am determined to implement more and more of those lofty ideas of Charlotte Mason's into our school days.  In the last three weeks we have slowly added in more literature, poetry, and history readings than I had previously planned, and slowly phased out of most of the worksheets and fluff.  This new way of doing things has so far been so successful and satisfying that I have not looked back at those slaved-over and now-rejected lesson plans; instead, I keep discovering little assurances that this is the right choice for us and our homeschool right now.  

Take this morning, for instance.  Last night I came across a quote (Charlotte Mason, of course!) that I thought the girls would enjoy.  I paraphrased it (she wrote in the late 1800's - early 1900's, which is a little above the girls' reading level...for now!) and wrote it out on our whiteboard for them to see.  They didn't say anything about it, but when I came upstairs to start school, I found that Macey had copied it on a sheet of paper, illustrated it appropriately, and left it for me to find.  

THAT'S what I want our homeschool to be like.  I want them to enjoy what they do, see for themselves, take the initiative, understand, and to learn to LOVE to read, and listen to, books and stories! 

Especially the stories!  :)