Friday, October 2, 2009

Where we are

Well, another big pause between posts. I just can't get my groove on in terms of finding a pattern for writing. I think about it all the time but the opportunity to sit down and put finger to keyboard is fleeting.

Obviously, there are the daily chores (getting up with the chickens, walking the dog, etc) that have to be done but we've also begun a new routine for "school" this Fall, which is very new to us. I haven't shared much about what we're doing this year, mainly because I was trying to figure out how to wrap it all up into a neat little descriptive package, easily accessible and understandable to all. But the truth of the matter is, it's not a neat little package (what in my life is, really?) nor is it completely formulated. It continues to evolve and take shape, much like the personalities of my boys.

Until this year, we were, primarily, an unschooling family. We had no set curriculum, no textbooks, no agenda. Well, that's not exactly true. I did make it my goal last year to teach Aidan to read and I used a book to guide us on that path. And I had heard of this neat math program that was a series of four workbooks, meant for a child to work through at their own pace. We got those books and gently introduced Aidan to early math concepts. But even those "formal" activities took up 30 minutes a day, maybe. The rest of our time we just read lots of books, hung out at the library and checked out more books (about anything and everything). I really let the boys call the shots.

This year, I longed for a little more direction. Just something to give me a small nudge in order to get this clan moving. Then, once the motors were warm, we could run amuck, letting our own interests take over.

Now understand this, I've always had a very strong suggestive nature with the boys and I've never shied away from picking out books that I want them to read and slipping them in with our other library selections. I've long been a fan of Charlotte Mason and her love and respect for the natural intelligence found in children. Her insistence that children hear and read beautiful language and living ideas through their books has always ruled our literature choices--since the beginning. And her commitment to nature study, art and music only solidified my respect for this woman's philosophy. We've kind of always "done" Charlotte Mason, but more as a lifestyle choice rather than a purely educational approach.

But, although I've always been drawn to the unschooling idea, I also have traditional leanings. I believe in phonics, I took Latin, my husband was a Classics/Philosophy major... you get the idea. The idea that my children would naturally fall upon these ideas on their own, no matter how much I was an unschooling believer, just didn't seem likely. How many seven year old kids pick up a Latin book and say, "I want to learn this!"? Maybe one or two? (Really?)

So, I started researching more about the Classical Model. The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, was a fascinating read. This philosophy centers around the classical pattern called the trivium, a way of organizing learning around the way a child's mind is naturally maturing. There are three stages-- the "grammar, logic and rhetoric."
The "grammar stage" is early elementary, where the child's mind is naturally tuned to memorize.
The "logic stage", or later elementary/middle school, in which the child begins to think more analytically.
And lastly, the "rhetoric stage", at the high school level, where the child learns to write and speak with more confidence and authority.

These authors have also penned different books, history and language "textbooks", that fall in line with these learning stages. The Story of the World is a four part series of history books that explore history from the Ancients through Modern times. We checked out from the library the first in this series last year and the boys really enjoyed the way it recounted history so easily, in the form of a story.

So, after a lot of contemplating, reading, researching, stalling... you name it, I decided to attempt to follow the Classical approach for the grammar stage. We now have a more formalized pattern for studying history, language and science. We are using The Story of the World for history, along with its accompanying activity book. Aidan LOVES, LOVES, LOVES it. Last week he told me that he wanted to read through the whole book as quickly as possible so he could get to the Greeks and Romans (is he his father's son or what?!?!). The activity book that goes along with the history book has map studies, coloring pages and other activities that Aidan begs to do. It also includes suggestions for supplemental activities as well as literature selections that complement the history study. I have found the literature suggestions to be worth the price of the book. I never would have known about the majority of the titles and the absolute bonus has been that our library has almost all of them! What a boon! We have been introduced to titles that have greatly enriched our history study. For example, we are reading through a book titled, When the Beginning Began by Julius Lester. It is a collection of stories gathered from Jewish legends and the author's own translations from the Hebrew of the Book of Genesis. It is totally rocking my world! The stories are fantastical, beautiful, humorous and they put an incredibly original spin on how the world was created. And they leave me thinking, deeply, about the concept of creation and evolution and that whole mixed bag of ideas and beliefs. This is not a trite little Sunday School lesson--this is the kind of stuff that I want to think about, along with my boys.

The other big part of this approach is Narration. We were already familiar with this because it is also a huge part of the Charlotte Mason approach. The idea is simple. After reading about anything, I have Aidan narrate back to me what we just read. The reason that I really like this is that it allows Aidan the opportunity to "write" down his thoughts without being slowed down by the mechanics of writing. Although Aidan can write fine enough (and very neatly for a lefty, I might add!), he is still very slow about it all and he can't spell everything he wants to say. I know for a fact that if he was required to physically write down a narration, rather than dictate it to me, we would be lucky to get a sentence out of him. His frustration would overrule everything else and he would just give up. This way, he gets to practice putting together his thoughts and communicating them clearly without the worry of how to spell everything correctly. I love this practice because it is already obvious that Aidan is a good writer. He uses transitions beautifully and his language is much fuller when he dictates to me. He still gets writing practice in when we practice spelling and copy work or when I make him write thank you notes, so it's not like he never picks up a pencil. It just makes sense to me to focus on the thinking aspect of the writing process while he is still building up his endurance physically writing. Plus, it is such a testimony to the fact that he has been filled up with good books and stories when he dictates to me, "Once there was a brave explorer who had found some pretty interesting things. People were curious about the legend of a cave filled with crystals..." He really likes to draw in his reader and then surprise them.

So, all of this to say, for someone who was all loosey goosey last year, this year looks like boot camp. I have run into what I feared I would if I ever chose a specific curriculum. Because I am such a rule follower, I find myself kind of hyperventilating when we don't do things exactly the way they suggest in The Well Trained Mind. I really have to coach myself down from the ledge of "All or Nothing" where I seem to gravitate. When I let go and just use these guidelines as what they are--guidelines-- than it's okay if I make it my own. That's hard for me but I'm slowly getting there.

So, today it will be the Assyrians and some multiplication problems and some phonics and lots of stories (like Sindbad, from the Tales of the Thousand and One Nights and and Gilgamesh The King and The Boxcar Children and the Mountaintop Mystery).

And of course, there are always the chickens to observe and feed and love on and sunshine to soak in and songs to sing and pumpkin bread to bake.

It's all good.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds wonderful, Holly! I'm so glad you and the boys are enjoying your activities.