Monday, March 12, 2007

my life as a homeschooler, part 2a: the age of reason!

In part 1, I discussed some of the techniques and materials I liked for early education. This post will focus on students past first-grade level, or so.

A child who can sit still and focus on a task without assistance can begin the process of taking ownership of his (or her, but for the purposes of this post I'm using his) education. This isn't going to occur magically, and doesn't mean by any account that your kid can be expected to singlehandedly educate himself. As I've already mentioned, there's a lot of work in it for you; if you accept that, however, it can pay off academically and personally.

"Taking ownership" in the form of doing some work independently is a necessary skill if you have several children schooling at different levels. As in the old one-room schoolhouse, some kids are going to have to be working at their lessons on their own while you assist the others. At this point in his life, it doesn't hurt a kid at all to start doing some things in workbooks; still, it's one of the advantages of homeschooling that workbooks shouldn't be all it's about.

I understand that there are (were? I'm afraid I haven't kept up) some curriculum packages, like Konos and Weaver, that are designed for out-of-the-classroom learning by kids working at multiple levels. Some packaged unit studies are also designed this way. (Never having been able to justify the expense of these nifty packages, I pulled together my own stuff and tried to apply this concept as I could.)

Disparately-aged children may all study the same subject--say, the American Revolution--together, but each at his own level and depth. That way there's some unity of curriculum in the family, which makes life easier for the primary teacher and facilitates outside learning experiences. A young child can read Sam the Minuteman, sing or play Yankee Doodle, and learn about the Boston Tea Party; an older one can study the root causes of conflict and the decisive battles in depth (or if that's not her cuppa tea, research the role of women in the conflict) and read the Declaration of Independence; everybody can go to Living History Days and watch and talk to the reenactors.

I did most of my educating at this level in two blocs, as I had two kids fifteen months apart, followed by one four years later and one three years after that. The two eldest did a lot of things together, working separately in areas in which their developmental abilities differed. (The eldest, by the way, is LD, so we were using some techniques and materials with him that weren't necessary with his sibs.) Subjects like science and history were pretty much done together, which enabled them to collaborate on lab science projects. They had fairly free rein, within reason, to choose independent reading so there was some difference there: the eldest went in for things like Classics Illustrated comics and Heinlein's juvenile fiction whereas his sister preferred the Childhood of Famous Americans books (caveat: some of these are pretty fictionalized!) and period fiction, especially that with female protagonists. The Little House books and E.L. Koenigsburg's fictionalized biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Minever were among her favorites around the age of ten.

At one point in our adventures I did cave in and buy a packaged curriculum. Kid #3 by around fourth grade level was slacking off considerably and giving every indication that he would benefit from a higher level of structure than he was getting with my do-it-yourself methods. We bought Calvert packages for him for the next three years (more on them below,) without the teaching service. It's a rigorous course and he did his share of complaining about it, but I think it was overall the right thing for him at the time.

Things I used for primary-level education (first to sixth grade) are below. I'm sticking mainly to things we all liked although there may be some things that were controversial, in which case I will make a note of it.

--The E. D. Hirsch Core Knowledge books, which I mentioned in the previous post. As I mentioned then, these are handy general resources for things a child should know. (Note to the Darwins: I think these could be a good reference for some of those "great stories and histories" you were seeking. Each book has some very good short historical accounts and excerpts from good literature. I'm looking at the 4th grade book now; some selected topics are: "A Voyage to Lilliput," "On Thin Ice" from Little Women, Sojurner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, a selection of King Arthur stories, and in the world history section, "The Byzantine Empire," "Charlemagne and the Growth of Learning," "Where English Comes From," "A Bad King and a Great Charter," and "The Travels of Ibn Battuta," to name a few. Check 'em out.)
--A copy of your state's curriculum requirements, so you can check off the boxes and have something to show for if anybody wants to know what you're doing.

--Edgar and Inri Parin D'Aulaire's wonderful and gorgeously illustrated books, especially Greek Myths and Norse Gods and Giants (back in print as D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths.) By far the best of the genre IMHO, though there are plenty of imitators out there today. We had a tradition of reading Leif the Lucky every Leif Ericson Day, which is, of course, the day before Columbus Day when we read about Columbus. Naturally, we'd read Jean Fritz's Brendan the Navigator the day before that.
--The Book of Virtues by William Bennett. Lots of "great stories" here, too. I think there's also a young reader's edition of this book.
--The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; also Caddie Woodlawn and its sequel Magical Melons (currently in print as Caddie Woodlawn's Family or some such.)
--The Wizard of Oz and other books by L. Frank Baum. We borrowed some of these on tape from the library for a trip once; the repartee in the books is clever and hilarious and will keep the adults as entertained as the kids!
--Astrid Lindgren's books, especially the Pippi Longstocking trio.
--Madeline L'Engle's Time Quartet, and some of her other books. I wasn't crazy about some of her later works and would caution that parental prereading and discussion are imperative for these as mature themes come up. Many of her books are unsuitable for kids still in the single-digits ages and iffy for 'tweens. Consider yourselves warned. A Wrinkle in Time, however, is a must-read. As a nearsighted nerdy kid, I adored Meg Murray.
--Kids' Sci-fi. Heinlein and Asimov wrote some good books for kids. Be wary; they also wrote adult works that you don't want to mix up with the kids' books. Particularly Heinlein--oh, la la. Group marriage, anyone? Bradbury's a little weird for younger kids, but Farenheit 451 ought to be read by everyone before he's gone too far into high school.
--Nat Hentoff's The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. Civil libertarian Hentoff usually writes for adults but has published a few works for young teens. All are fairly good; this is certainly the strongest. It deals with the issue of book censorship in schools and argues eloquently for the freedom to read.
--Biographical works (like Brendan mentioned above,) or historical fiction (like The Cabin Faced West) by Jean Fritz. Fritz's works on the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers, with titles like Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? are quick but thorough reads and excellent additions to younger kids' history studies.
--A good collection of Shakespeare stories for children. Throughout English literary history, such notables as Charles Lamb (with his gifted but tragic sister Mary) and E. Nesbit have turned out excellent volumes that are still in print; there are also some good collections of more recent vintage.
--The Childrens' Homer by Padraic Colum (sp?), or some other version depending on individual taste (like Hawthorne's A Wonder Book or Roger Lancelyn Green's The Tale of Troy)
--King Arthur. Sometime Inkling Lancelyn Green published a good selection of tales; older kids might go in for T.H. White's The Sword in The Stone, but should have some background in the old tales first. Also the Robin Hood tales. We liked Howard Pyle's collection, and a British one we found once at a library and have never seen again. That one included the story of the unconfirmed "find" of Friar Tuck's remains by a pair of 19th-century coal miners!
--A good general collection of poetry.
I could go on and on, so I'll leave the reading section at that. Public libraries often have "suggested reading lists," as do many homeschool resources. These days I seem to be down to the Christian Book Distributors catalog, but I've found that browsing the literature section of that or any good homeschool supply catalog is a great way to get reading ideas. Dover Press, a book company that publishes a lot of "dollar editions" (they may have gone up slightly since I last saw their catalog) of public domain literature is a good place to get ideas, and cut-rate volumes. (Read the fine print, though; they also do abridgements and adaptations so you might not get the whole book.)
Finally, the appendix to Marva Collins' Way, the story of the notable educator who founded an inner-city preparatory academy, includes her recommended reading list.

This is getting long and unwieldy, so I'll post the rest of the list, and perhaps some more Adventures in Homeschooling, tomorrow.

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Blogger mrsdarwin said...

Looking forward to a chance to read all of this thoroughly. Thanks for posting on homeschooling again.

6:55 AM  
Blogger The unconventional mother said...

Nice post.

8:04 AM  

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