Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted...

I'm off this afternoon to visit my folks back East. DH couldn't come because he just started his new job a month ago. My mother-in-law is gracious enough to fly back with me in August and then stay for a few days to visit. But on the way out it'll be just me and the three kids on the plane, yikes! Thank goodness it's a non-stop flight.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An Inflection Point for Homeschooling?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a fellow guest at a BBQ celebrating the engagement of one of DH's grad school buddies. This gentleman had a PhD. in Education from Stanford and is a past recipient of the prestigious Soros fellowship. He was on sabbatical from his job as an ed school professor to write a book about the persecution of his grandfather by Josef Stalin.

Anyways, the conversation turned to the subject of homeschooling and to my surprise, he was extremely in favor of the practice. He went on and on about the benefits of home education and the evils of compulsory schooling. Turns out he's a big fan of John Taylor Gatto. I had to leave partway through the conversation to deal with some issue with the kids but it made a big impression on my DH. My DH has heard most of the arguments before from me; however, I suspect it was more persuasive coming from someone with a doctorate and professorship in the field of education.

This conversation made me wonder if our society is at an "inflection point" in the acceptance of homeschooling. When somebody who is a professor of education starts approvingly quoting Gatto's work, that's a sign that home education has turned from being a fringe movement to a serious part of the discussion among the eduwonks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stop, it's Grammar Time!

To be frank, I've always felt that grammar instruction was akin to flossing one's teeth- something that it very important but not enjoyable.

I am grateful that back when I was going through, my school did still explicitly teach grammar. My youngest brother came of age during the "whole language" fad and did not receive much in the way of grammar instruction. I got a first-hand look at how his writing suffered when he asked me for feedback on his college honors thesis. While one would expect a certain number of errors in a draft, I was taken aback by how virtually every sentence needed one or more mistakes corrected, meanings clarified, and/or awkward phrasing revised. And this was a bright kid who'd received decent grades in honors English classes and a respectable score on the verbal portion of the SAT.

While I recognize the importance of teaching grammar, I've found the traditional method to be, well, rather tedious. I can absolutely understand why the "whole language" approach seemed so appealing on the surface. WL did throw the baby out with the bathwater, but critics of traditional grammar are correct when they call it boring.

Two years ago in her kindergarten year, Miss Scarlet did a highly compacted version of the 1st & 2nd grade book of Jessie Wise's First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. She did not need as much repetition as FLL built into the lessons plus many of the topics we skipped entirely as she had learned them years earlier (days of the week, months of the year, etc). So we got through the whole book in 7 months.

I had heard raves about the old Catholic version of Voyages in English so I made the mistake of ordering the 3rd grade book sight unseen. When it arrived, I found it was too repetitive of the content in FLL for Miss Scarlet. I had originally planned on exchanging it for the 5th grade VIE book but I ended up deciding to keep it in case I wanted to use it with one or more of my other kids.

After shelving VIE, we planned on enrolling her in the Stanford EPGY Language Arts & Writing course, which has a grammar component. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so because of the crisis in the financial services industry and the near-collapse of my DH's then-employer. Needless to say, we could not afford pricey online classes with all the uncertainty surrounding his employment situation.

While I was debating what to use instead of EPGY, I had Miss Scarlet do copywork and narration exercises using Susan Wise Bauer's Writing With Ease program. She also finished up some of the various workbooks I'd used as supplements to FLL such as Language of God for Little Folks Level A from Catholic Heritage Curricula, No Boring Practice, Please! Sentence Structure from Scholastic, and Reading-Thinking Skills 4 for Young Catholics from Seton.

I looked at a number of different grammar programs- the 4th grade book of First Language Lessons, Primary Language Lessons, English for the Thoughtful Child, Queen Homeschool Language Lessons, Simply Grammar, Michael Clay Thompson's Grammar Island, etc. -but while these all seemed like solid options, they did not jump out at me as being what I really wanted.

Then last week, while reading the "Kitchen Table Math" blog, I came across a recommendation for a grammar series by Don Killgallon. I really liked the concept behind the books, which is teaching grammar by having students write sentences imitating ones from literary classics. For a review with a more detailed explanation of this, click here. This approach reminded me a bit of the description I'd read of the ancient Greek progymnasmata exercises. I'd considered using the Classical Writing Aesop book but that one had seemed like it would require too much in the way of writing for my DD's motor skills (always a concern when using an above-grade level program). The elementary level Killgallon book looked like there was much less printing and more underlining, matching, circling the correct answer, and so on. It was relatively inexpensive, so I decided to give it a try.

I have received the copy of Story Grammar I ordered and I'm really excited about it. My goal in teaching grammar is not for my kids to score well on standardized tests but rather to help them become good writers. I have high hopes that the Killgallon book will assist me in progressing towards that goal.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wise Words from a Serendipitous Book Find

One of the things I love about my library's on-line book catalog is how it allows me to discover interesting books that I might otherwise never know about. While looking up the record for The New Global Student by Maya Frost (an excellent title that I plan to blog about soon), I saw that it was tagged with the subject "experiential learning". As I'm a big fan of that practice, I decided to see what other books in the catalog were similarly tagged.

That's how I discovered Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way by Mary Catherine Bateson. I didn't realize it when I requested the book, but Dr. Bateson is the daughter of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead. I've only read the first two chapters of Dr. Bateson's book, but it's been excellent so far as she is quite a gifted storyteller (guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree).

I was particularly struck by the following passage:
"The quality of improvisation characterizes more and more lives today, lived in uncertainty, full of the inklings of alternatives. In a rapidly changing and interdependent world, single models are less likely to be viable and plans more likely to go awry....Adaptation comes out of encounters with novelty that may seem chaotic....The improvisatory artist cannot be sure whether a given improvisation will stand as a work of art or be rejected as an aberration....

This same ambiguity sets new tasks for parents and teachers. Instead of passing on hallowed certainties and maintaining the status quo, they must make childhood an open-ended introduction to a process of continual change in which self-observation can become the best of teachers. If we knew the future of a particular child, we might be able to prepare that child with all the necessary skills and attitudes, and we might say at a given moment that the preparation is completed and it is time for real life to commence. That situation, however, is long gone, if indeed it ever existed. Rarely is it possible to study all the instructions to a game before beginning to play, or to memorize the manual before turning on the computer. The excitement of improvisation lies not only in the risk involved but in the new ideas, as heady as the adrenaline of performance, that seem to come from nowhere. When the necessary tasks of learning cannot be completed in the portion of the life cycle set aside for them, they have to join life's other tasks and be done concurrently. We can carry on the process of learning in everything we do, like a mother balancing her child on one hip as she goes about her work with the other hand or uses it to open the doors of the unknown. Living and learning, we become ambidextrous."
A big goal of my homeschooling is to incorporate it into our family's life as Dr. Bateson talks about in the above passage. I discussed a bit about how I do that in this post.

I also agree with Dr. Bateson about the importance of flexibility and creative thinking. As Daniel Pink points out in his superb book A Whole New Mind:Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, my kids are going to need so-called "right brained" skills in order to compete in this globalized economy. They may work in jobs that don't even exist today- certainly I know folks who work in jobs that did not exist when I was a child. Change is something they're going to need to know how to deal with- if they cannot figure out a way to adapt to changing circumstances, they're going to get left behind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

C'mon Google, Fix the Blogger "Scheduled Posts" Function Already!

They've known about the issue for weeks, and a fix was promised by yesterday. I've got a couple of posts in limbo land and it's too big a pain to rewrite them into new posts.

Homeschooling for My Mr. Mechanical

Do you ever get visions where you can vividly imagine just what your child will be like several years in the future?

I can just see my Rusty as a skinny red-headed 'tween going nuts building stuff here:

and here.

Not to mention First Lego League, Destination Imagination, The Tech Museum Challenge, and the Odyssey of the Mind.

If the curators were to permit it, I have this feeling that he'd be absolutely over the moon to help restore the historic military equipment at the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation.

He is only 3 1/2 so it'll be a while before he's old enough to do any of this. But I just know that he's the type of kid who'd enjoy tinkering with whatever machines he could get his hands upon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Amen to That, Sister!

I've been skimming through the 14 pages of comments to the "Scaling Back Career for Baby" post on Lisa Belkin's "Motherlode" blog at the New York Times website. Most of them have fallen into the predictable two camps of pro- and anti-SAHM. Yawn.

But then on comment #255, I came across this gem from a commenter named "Gail":
"The true crisis in this country is the waste of intellectual capital due to the difficulty women have in re-entering the work force after raising children. Our investment in the next generations growth and development is to be applauded, but once that job is done, the women and men who stepped off the career ladder should be able to again contribute. The U.S. is missing out on the productivity of (mostly) women, many with advanced degrees and high skills, due to the difficulty of reentry."

This is so true! There are so many moms (and some dads too) who have so much to offer a potential employer but get looked down upon because of their decision to sequence their career in order to raise a family. It's very discouraging that this is still the case three decades after feminism was supposed to free women to make their own individual life decisions.

There's a fabulous article over at the "Your On Ramp" website called "5 Reasons Why Moms Returning to the Workforce Make the Best Employees". Too bad the author is preaching to the choir because it's a message that hiring managers need to hear!

Planning for the Upcoming School Year

We homeschool year-round so the division between one school year and the next is an arbitrary one. I usually pick the Monday after return from our annual trek back East to visit relatives.

As Rusty will be turning 4, I've decided it's time to start some gentle preschool work with him. I'm not planning to do kindergarten until 2011 because his birthday is November and I think he could probably benefit from the "redshirting". Also that way both kids would be on the same part of the cycle for history & science.

With Rusty, I've decided to try the first activity book of the Core Knowledge preschool sequence. I feel that given his speech & language delay it would probably be a good idea to follow a formal preschool curriculum even though I did not use one with Miss Scarlet. As his speech therapist puts it, some kids just need explicit instruction for stuff that most kids pick up on their own. I liked the look of the CK preschool book and the price was certainly reasonable. Miss Scarlet decided to play teacher when the book arrived and did a few of the activities with Rusty. Some were too easy for him but others were on the challenging side. So overall, I think it's the right level.

Miss Scarlet will be "officially" in second grade but she's all over the map in terms of what she's doing. It's tricky trying to figure out what will be challenging but not too frustrating.

For religion, she's going to be finishing up the 2nd grade Faith and Life book (we had to shelve it around Christmastime in order to ensure we completed the parish CCD book We Believe by Sadlier prior to her 1st Communion). Once we're done with that, we'll continue on with the 3rd grade F&L volume.

For math, we're currently in the middle of the Level C book in Right Start. I'm trying to decide whether to continue on in that program when we finish or switch to Singapore. I really liked Level B of RS but am less happy with C. I had her take the Singapore placement tests to see where she would be in that program. She got everything right on the 1B test except for the two subtraction word problems. She could solve subtraction equations but got stumped by the word problem aspect. Right Start is a bit weak on word problems so even if I don't switch programs entirely I'm going to have her work through the Singapore Challenging Word Problems books. On the Singapore 2A test, she had trouble with the word problems again and also the multiplication & division equations. So my other math goal for the year is to have her memorize the multiplication table.

For science, we're going to be studying chemistry, and I think we're going to try The Elements by Ellen McHenry. I did not use a formal curriculum with science in the past but I'm less confident about my ability to properly teach chemistry. I did take chemistry in both high school and college; however, I don't feel like it's a subject that lends itself as easily to "winging it" with library resources as biology, geology, and astronomy did.

In history, we're going to be continuing doing unit studies in a roughly chronological order. We're finishing up our study of ancient India right now. Future units include ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Islam, the Vikings, Mesoamerican civilizations, medieval times, feudal Japan, and so on.

For English, I'm going to continue working through the Writing With Ease workbook for copywork, dictation, and narration exercises. I'm also going to try Story Grammar for Elementary School by Don & Jenny Killgallon. Thanks to Catherine Johnson at the "Kitchen Table Math" blog for the recommendation! Finally, I'm going to have Miss Scarlet do the Seton Reading-Thinking Skills 5 for Young Catholics workbook. It's great for vocabulary building and she really seemed to enjoy the grade 4 book when we did that one.

For spelling, I'm going to continue using the lists from the Words Their Way book. I discovered this one at my local library and really like how the lists are organized. The lists aren't groups of random words to be memorized but rather grouped by some feature. For example, the most recent list Miss Scarlet did had words with an unaccented final syllable ending in -r (e.g. motor, farmer, similar and so on).

For music appreciation, we're going to be using How to Introduce Your Child to Classical Music in Fifty-Two Easy Lessons from Emmanuel Books. I already had most of the pieces either in my CD collection or on my "I should really get a copy of this" list (and here's my excuse to get off my duff and acquire them!) The rest I should hopefully be able to borrow from my library.

For art, I'm leaning towards enrolling her in the local parks & recreation drawing class. Plus we'll continue to take field trips to local art museums.

For home economics, we're going to finish up Level 1 of Pearables Home Economics for Homeschoolers and then start on the Future Christian Homemakers Handbook. I'm not wildly thrilled with the tone in both books that the traditional homemaker role is the only proper one to which Christian girls ought to aspire. Yes, it's a very valuable one- in most cases the ideal one when a woman's children are young. But I certainly consider it a season in my life. I was employed full-time in the past and plan to resume my career at least on a part-time basis when my children are older and more independent. I want my girls to know there's nothing wrong with wanting both a career and a family, it'll probably just take some sequencing of the former in order to give the latter its proper priority. Okay, I'll get down off my soapbox now :-p

Anyways, I do like the actual lessons contained in the home ec titles mentioned so we're using them. Miss Scarlet will also continue participating in 4-H. She wants to do the baking project again and also the sewing project. That one will take special permission since she'll be younger than 8. If I can get her skilled enough on the sewing machine by the fall I think they may let her.

I think I've covered everything I'm planning to do in our homeschool next year.