Archive for February, 2012


Books as visitors…

A book is a visitor that you invite into your heart.  The thing about this visitor, this book, is that once you invite it to visit, it never really leaves.  The same is true of films and music because these things, all of them, are based in stories, and we think in stories.  Every culture passes down stories from one generation to the next as a means of creating and retaining culture.  Because stories in every form are so native to our nature as human beings and because they are not (nor should they be) merely a matter of simple black and white morals, I think they have the ability to bypass the safety valves of the intellect and go straight to the heart. 

This matters because books, films, and music all make up the white noise of our personalities.  A good story is vitally important because it has the power to subtly change who we are.  A bad story–one that does not speak the truth about human nature–has the power to do that as well.  This matters for us, and it matters for our children as well perhaps even more.  We are all in the process of becoming more and more who God wants us to be, but they are changing more quickly.

Some would say that as long as a child is reading, that’s a good thing, and what they read doesn’t matter all that much.  I vehemently disagree.  Reading itself is a morally neutral act.  Reading good books is an act of virtue.  Reading bad books is an act of vice. 

Today, we find what I would consider to be a rather horrific widespread acceptance of darkness in books young people are reading.  It cannot but fail to increase the acceptance of that same darkness in life, making those who read it less capable of recognizing good from evil. 

If you are a homeschooling parent or any parent at all, you have the right and the authority to have a say in what your children are reading.  Please make sure that it tends toward what is good and true and beautiful.

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Let’s talk about Arithmetic

Math is not my strong suit, and I have to admit that we have made several switches of curriculum over the years, which has definitely cost my kids time.  This is especially true for my oldest.  With her, we started with Math-U-See, but when she started complaining about it, we switched to Horizons.  Because Math-U-See at that time anyway did things in such a different order from other programs, she had to go back about a year when she started Horizons.  I guess all I can say in that regard is that this is an area where it is really good if you can find something that works well for your child or children early on and stick with it through arithmetic.  Of course, if something is a dismal failure or causes floods of tears every day, it’s time to switch no matter what.

When it comes to arithmetic, I have a couple favorites at this point.  For those who like the spiral approach where a new topic is introduced a little at a time along with constant review of older topics, Horizons is great.  The only problem I have with it is that I think their expectations for kindergarten and first grade are awfully high–unreasonably so for most of my kiddos.  Another spiral program that I hear good things about is CLE, but I haven’t actually seen it.

My new-found favorite is a mastery-based program where the focus is on one topic at a time.  Regarding the question of spiral versus mastery, if you google it, you’re sure to find lots of strong opinions.  I’ll leave that to someone else.  My new favorite, though, is Math Mammoth.  We started using it about this time last year.  I originally got it for my then 5-year-old, but I ended up switching my 8- and 11-year-old children to it as well because I was so impressed (in spite of what I just finished saying at the beginning this post, LOL).

I was looking for something with more of an Asian math technique, but Singapore Math (apparently the gold standard in that regard) was just too foreign for me to get it.  I have come to think that, as important as it is for a curriculum material to be a good match for the student, it also has to be a good match for the mom or dad who is doing the teaching.  Math Mammoth looks like “normal” math, but the author, Maria Miller, places a great deal of emphasis on mental math.  She also explains everything right there in the text.  If I could ask for one thing, it would be for a slightly more elegant layout.  From the standpoint of good solid mathematical learning though, I am very impressed.

She offers all of 1st through 6th grade math (her light blue series) on one disc or download.  Of course, I have to pay to print them out, but her price makes that still quite a good deal compared to some other programs.  Of note, she also has quite a few Youtube videos about the teaching and learning of math.

I’m using it with my 3 youngest children now.  With the oldest of those three, he just needed some review before heading into algebra.  He had already gotten through 5th grade Horizons and then had gone through Life of Fred Fractions, Decimals and Percentages, and the 2 prealgebra books, but I noticed some gaps that I wanted to make sure were rock solid before he started algebra.  Per Maria’s suggestion, I give him the test first, and if he gets less than a 90%, he does the chapter.  If not, he skips it and goes on to the next test..  I couldn’t do that with a spiral program that covers lots of different concepts in one lesson, but I can with Math Mammoth.

I also like the fact that the expectations are right on for my kids with plenty of practice but not too much.  There are extra worksheets if a child needs extra practice, and unlike a certain math publisher I know of, there’s no need to feel guilty if you decide your child has the idea and is ready to move on even if there are some pages left in the lesson.  Math Mammoth is just a google away, and she also has sales through homeschoolbuyersco-op.org that make a good deal even better.  I really wish we had found this years ago.

I’ll try to post about Life of Fred in the near future.  It deserves a post of its own.

What is a classical education?

I’ve seen a lot of debate lately about what exactly is a classical education.  I saw one person eviscerate Dorothy Sayers and claim that her idea of a classical education was erroneous.  I’ve seen other people say that a classical education is largely about learning classical languages–Latin and ancient Greek, specifically.  I have heard other people say that it means reading the great books.

I really like Dorothy Sayers, and my ideas of what a classical education is largely came from her brief essay.  I think her method of describing a hopeful new future based on young people using the method of the trivium is brilliant and clear.  It’s easy to keep in mind:  Young children learn lots of “stuff” in the grammar stage (letter sounds, names of animals, continents, etc.), adolescents in the logic/dialetic stage learn to argue logically.  They tend to argue naturally.  This is the opportunity to help them do so logically and respectfully.  The rhetoric stage begins somewhere around high school.  This is the opportunity for young people to learn to speak and write eloquently.  It is also an opportunity to become involved in political issues and impassioned for the good.  I find that I can see the transition from logic to rhetoric.  It isn’t instant but gradual.

Nonetheless, I guess after so many years of homeschooling, I think there is a lot of room for variation in the definition of a classical education and even more room regarding how it is lived out in the daily lives of homeschooling families.  We homeschoolers really are quite the opposite of homogeneous.

For us, classical education is two things together really:

1. It is a method that takes into consideration a child’s natural stage of learning and orients the content and method of learning to that stage as mentioned above.

2. It involves choosing content from the good, the true, and the beautiful.  That means delving into great books and ideas.  At a young age, it means children’s classics like the Narnia books, the Little House books, Tolkien, mythology, fables.  Later, it includes the books that have formed the minds of men and women for many centuries.

So how do you define classical education?

My very favorite part of homeschooling is helping one of my children learn to read.  It’s so amazing to see a young child go from preliterate to literate–to watch the world of words and their meaning open up to a child.  Right now, I’m watching and helping this happen with our youngest child so far.  He is nearing the end of 100 Easy Lessons.  We’re also using Explode the Code Online and All about Spelling.  I like 100 Easy Lessons because it helps with blending so well, but I have found that one whole lesson is too much for one day–or has been for most of my children.  His goal for the day for Explode the Code Online is 3 butterflies, and with All about Spelling, we do about 1 lesson per week.

One thing I have found over the years is that it’s best to stop just when you notice that the child is losing attention.  Catherine Levenson said the same in her book on Charlotte Mason.  That way, they learn to use their full attention rather than doing what I do all the time–trying to divide it unsuccessfully.  Also, it makes for a more joyful learning attitude.  This is one of those things I wish I had known when I was first homeschooling my “guinea pigs.”

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