Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The "Why" of Homeschooling

When the idea of homeschooling first came up, my daughter was still a baby. My husband seemed to think it would be a good idea, but I shot it down. When he asked why I wouldn't want to homeschool, I said with vim and verve, "Because when she's five, I want my life back!"

I've told this story before, and also the part about how my mom tried to tell me, "This is your life now," but it took a long time for that truth to sink in. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy being a mother. It was simply that I was 35 years old and used to a certain freedom, and this radical new path of motherhood took some getting used to.

By the time Beezy was three, my husband and I were definitely leaning toward homeschooling. I can't for the life of me remember what caused this change of heart, but surely it was a God thing. And books by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto were influential. Despite the belief that we were following the Divine Will, I was not Catholic at the time that my child's home education began in earnest, and religion wasn't at the top of the list of reasons for this choice.

Since then I have become profoundly aware of the Church's assurance that parents have received the responsibility and solemn authority to be the primary educators of their children. Parenthood is truly a divinely decreed vocation. That does not mean that Christian parents must homeschool. But the Church says that a true education must be a Christian one, with the purpose of all study being directed toward the supreme end of getting one's children to heaven. A Catholic school could certainly be a valid choice, if it faithfully adheres to the teachings of the Church on education. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. But even if one's parish school is excellent in the realms of both religion and academics, some of the same concerns that parents have about government schools also apply here.

The secular humanism that indoctrinates children in public schools has also crept into parochial ones. The Common Core standards of the federal government that have recently been adopted by most states in the U.S. bring with them a mediocre and morally questionable curriculum that requires increased hours spent in testing and preparation for the tests. Funding is withheld from schools that do not adopt Common Core. And while it is only the subjects of math and English that are currently being hijacked, the long-term plan is to infiltrate all subjects and to establish an invasive tracking program that follows people from the cradle to the grave. I fear that Catholic schools which have adopted Common Core put their traditional aims, purpose, and freedom at risk.

There are also those intangible but crucial considerations of the well-being of the family that come into play in the question of education. Sarah MacKenzie, in her book Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace, explains this perspective so eloquently:

"Our children are not projects. If, by the grace of God, we can manage to remember that our children are all made in his image--and more importantly, if we can treat them as such despite the mess and the chaos--then we will really be able to teach from rest. Therein lies the reason we've taken on this arduous task of home education at all--because a government school would not see our children as the image bearers that they are. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, there would be no Morning Offering, no Nicene Creed. They would miss countless opportunities to love on their siblings and form deep, meaningful encounters with each other, with us, and with material chosen specifically to nurture their souls. We want all else to pale in comparison to our quest toward honor, virtue, and wisdom."

Though I have not completely ruled out the possibility of a Catholic parochial school for my child, I have serious reservations. The school day and year have grown increasingly longer over the course of American history. In addition to the standard school day plus transportation time, homework and extracurricular activities leave little space for families to spend time--of either quantity or quality--together.

Since its advent, government schooling has sought to weaken the authority of parents. Teachers and the peer group exert undue influence. One benefit of the Catholic schools is that there may be lesser issues with negative socialization, and the prevalence of a religious atmosphere is surely preferable to the obliteration of anything to do with God in the public system. 

At a Catholic school there will, or at least should be, the due support given to parents as the primary educators of their children. Yet at any school, siblings are separated from one another for long hours every day, and family bonds in general may be strained (not to mention the pocketbook in the case of private schooling!). Cacophonous bells interrupt a child's concentration and short-circuit his ability to go deeply into any course of study. Children are shuffled from one room to another, and conformity is mandatory. Problems of bullying persist, and the personality of the child is encroached upon. I am not convinced, even in the best of circumstances, that giving so much of the care and education of one's children over to others is the wisest course or is in the best interest of families. Homeschooling may not be the best option for every family, but it is worthy of prayerful discernment and consideration.

In our fast-paced, busyness idolizing world, a homeschooling atmosphere can be a haven for the family. The fulfillment of God's design for the domestic church has a better chance for successfully coming to fruition. There is a control over one's time and a freedom that I would be hard-pressed to give up. If my daughter went to school, she would miss out on the benefits of a Charlotte Mason lifestyle of learning. Because of her unique learning style, she thrives best in a one-on-one teaching situation. We need not fear being "behind", though I know that such worries do intimidate many home educating parents. If we keep our eyes and hearts tuned to pleasing the Savior, faithfully and consistently tending to the work we have been given, then we will enjoy the true measure of our success.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tea Time & More on Loop Scheduling

After reflecting upon my new loop schedule for our Charlotte Mason curriculum, I decided to take "Tea Time" out of the Humanities loop and put it into its own category. (See previous post on loop schedules.) There were of couple of reasons for this. First, I realized that I had left out one of our books, The Care & Keeping of You, which we are using to cover health, a subject required by the state of Ohio. I don't want to have more than 5 items in a particular loop. My loops are all full!

The other reason is that I don't want to feel any pressure to work Tea Time in on a regular basis. I started thinking, anxiously, about how I would have to make sure we had some tasty baked goods to eat, and that I would need to ensure getting those subjects on that list accomplished. The last thing I want to associate with Tea Time is stress! Truth be told, we already have plenty in our current fall term. I recently came across this sage advice from Nancy Kelly: Keep cutting back until there is peace in your home. This was such a timely godsend! I realized that I could not fit poetry and Spanish into the current term, and that I should put those noble subjects off until winter.

Yet with Tea Time, I can perhaps include a little of those things that are well worth doing but that would overload our regular schedule, saving them for when I have time or when the mood strikes! It can be an occasional treat. Tea Time is a popular practice among CM home educators. It's a warm and leisurely event, imbued with culture. You can break out your fine China, have tea (or cocoa or whatever suits your fancy), arrange a pretty bouquet, and relax with your children. In addition to Spanish and poetry, I have music, correspondence, baking, and handicrafts on the list. You could read a delightful classic novel to your kids just for the pleasure of it, listen to an audio book, pray the Rosary together, write letters to Grandma, or work on your knitting. The possibilities are endless. The key is to enjoy spending time together doing something fun and enriching, but without the academic strings attached.

Tea time could be held at the traditional 4:00 p.m. of the English, or you could make it a special brunch with French toast or pancakes and call it "morning time". Some mothers like to have a "morning basket" in which to keep activities for such occasions. Some do Tea Time daily, making it the core of their homeschooling. Others have it once a week or only occasionally. You don't have to provide gourmet offerings, either. A simple plate of sliced apples, peanut butter, cheese, and crackers would do the trick. Do you have Tea Time in your home? How do you like to celebrate it? And that's exactly the perfect word for it--celebration. A celebration of family, of life, of learning, and of rest. Treat yourself and your children to Tea Time now and again, and discover its simply abundant treasures.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Catholic Charlotte Mason Loop Schedule

Shortly after posting my weekly Charlotte Mason schedule for the current fall term, I began reading Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooer's Guide to Unshakable Peace. Sarah is a Catholic mother of six, and she writes at the blog, Amongst Lovely Things. Who wouldn't wish to have unshakable peace, yes?

Last night I encountered this idea of "looping subjects", and my world was rocked! As I mentioned in the previous post, I often end up doing a particular subject on a different day than I have planned in my schedule. I have been finding it very useful to have the schedule nonetheless, so that I make sure to work everything in during a given week. In reality, I have been looping and didn't even realize it!

Sarah explains on p. 41, "The concept of looping is simply this: Instead of assigning tasks to certain days of the week, list tasks and then tackle them in order, regardless of what day it is."  In my opinion, it isn't even necessary to do them in order. Simply check each item off as you do it, and the next day choose another one from the list.

Sarah advocates using short loop schedules, with three to five items on each. You can also put an item in a loop more than once. I was up late last night working this out--so excited! I typed it up today and made copies for myself, so that I can start a fresh list each time I get through all the loops. Sarah says the time frame will likely be one or two weeks.

As you can see, my Daily Core items are reading, math, piano practice, literature read alouds, and writing, which has its own loop. The Extended Loops are for subjects in religion and the humanities, which are basically what remains to round out our liberal arts curriculum. You can read the details of the resources we use in the original schedule. Most likely, in addition to the Daily Core, we will include a task from each of the Extended Loops, for a total of seven subjects worked on per day. Today we did two in religion and none from the humanities. Sarah emphasizes that every subject does not need to be done every day, for the whole year long. Don't you feel more restful already?

In case you are not familiar with the "tea time" concept, that will be forthcoming in the next installment! I do hope this inspires you to create your own loop schedule. For ideas on how to accomplish such a thing with a large family that includes very little ones, get Sarah's book. I highly recommend it!! 

Daily Core:
American Cardinal Reader
Math lesson
Piano practice
Literature read aloud: Leif Erickson the Lucky (for lesson time, with narration and/or discussion); Anne of Green Gables (bedtime)

Writing loop:
copy work
word making w/ movable alphabet and sentence writing

Extended Loops:

Religion loop:
The Baltimore Catechism
The Rosary in Art (picture studies)
New Testament Bible reading (Rosary mysteries and decade prayers)
The Guiding Light (Old Testament Bible stories)
The Saint Book or Loyola Treasury

Humanities Loop:
The Story Book of Science
A Child’s Geography of the World (or map work/visual enrichment)
Nature walk or nature notebook
Memory work/recitation
The Care & Keeping of You

Tea Time: poetry, music, Spanish, baking, correspondence, handicrafts

Religious Ed. Class at parish church on Wednesdays
Gym and art classes at Catholic school & piano lessons on Thursdays
Art, lunch and recess at Catholic school on Fridays

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall 2015 Charlotte Mason Weekly Schedule

Being that we are halfway through our fall term, I thought it would be a good time to give a review of our weekly Charlotte Mason homeschooling schedule. The soccer season has ended, and Beezy has resumed piano lessons, so practice is now being incorporated into the daily routine. What I have found with the schedule I have set up is that it can be used very flexibly. I don't think I would do it at all if I felt compelled to adhere to it strictly! One conclusion I have come to is that I was trying to fit too many subjects into one term. I think I have found a reasonable balance between variety and simplicity...

Every day, Monday through Thursday, we do reading, writing, and math. I have considered making religion the 4th "R", but as the Catholic Faith permeates the curriculum, religion doesn't have to be its own subject. We start each lesson time with a prayer, often using Prayers for Young Catholics from the Daughters of St. Paul. This book is often used for copy work.

Currently we are using an American Cardinal Reader, a vintage reprint from Neumann Press. Each day there is some type of writing. It may be a prepared dictation lesson from the reader; copy work; word making (using the Montessori Movable Alphabet) and sentence writing using those words; cursive writing; or a grammar workbook lesson. We use a Total Math workbook from American Education Publishing, along with manipulatives for introducing new concepts, board games, and life learning that incorporates math skills, such as baking. Piano practice occurs about 4 days a week.

On most days, for history, I am reading aloud from Leif Erikson the Lucky by Frederic A. Kummer. Leif Erikson is the first biographical character for American history, as it was he who discovered America, before Christopher Columbus, and brought the Christian Faith (which was Catholicism) to its shores. Beezy narrates passages from the book. With this one source, we are covering history, geography, literature, and religion! This is a grand example of a living book. If it is a saint's feast day, we read The Saint Book by Mary Reed Newland instead. Most evenings we have a bedtime read aloud of the literary classic, Anne of Green Gables.

Monday:  This is Rosary day. We are using The Rosary in Art from Seton, a beautiful book from the 5th grade curriculum. On Mondays I read the story, directly from the New Testament (1952 Confraternity Bible), for one of the Rosary mysteries. We pray the mystery on the beads, and Beezy does copy work from a key verse. Then she does a picture study of one of the corresponding classical works of art from the book. The only problem I have come across is that, because there are about 5 pictures for each mystery, this has become picture study overload. As a result, I am spreading the picture studies out some, so we are not covering one mystery per week as I had planned. As such, the introduction of a new mystery sometimes does not occur on Monday. I have found it very easy to move subjects around as needed!

Tuesday:  Beezy reads an Old Testament story from The Guiding Light: The Catholic Bible in Pictures (an amazing 1955 edition found on Ebay) to herself and then does an oral narration. We do a spelling/word making lesson using the Montessori Movable Alphabet, and Beezy writes a couple of sentences using some of the words. For health, and particularly relevant for this current season of puberty, we are using The Care and Keeping of You from American Girl. Beezy reads the selection, and then we discuss it.

Wednesday:  We do a lesson from The Baltimore Catechism. We go over the vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson. I read the questions, Beezy reads the answers, and we discuss the topic. She has religious education class at our parish church in the evenings. Her class is working on memorizing the Apostles' Creed, so I regularly have Beezy read this over and give a recitation of it. This is also science day. Science may be anything from a nature walk or working on the nature notebook to a chemistry experiment or a chapter of The Story Book of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre. Occasionally the choice may be a documentary film. We do a lesson from the grammar workbook.

Thursday:  On Thursdays Beezy has "a la carte" art and gym classes at a Catholic school. We come home and have lunch and then do our CM lessons in the afternoons. I read a chapter from Hillyer's A Child's Geography of the World. Beezy does narrations, and we often locate places on a map or globe and look at monuments, buildings, bridges, etc., online. Sometimes we find an online documentary on the subject. There is a lot of American history included in this book, so there is a nice natural correspondence, as Charlotte Mason would say. Currently Beezy is learning the first verse of "My Country Tis of Thee". Cursive writing is also done on this day, and Beezy has her piano lessons.

Friday:  Fridays are light. Beezy has art, lunch, and recess at the Catholic school. Except for piano practice and a Spanish lesson (we are using flash cards from eeBoo), this day is otherwise reserved for a field trip, sleepover with a friend, or to catch up on lessons from the week if needed. We occasionally do music appreciation. We have read two picture books about early medieval composer (among many other talents!) St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church. We have listened to her music on youtube and on CD, and Beezy did a drawing narration.

I am planning to work in poetry and a needlepoint craft for the winter term! I hope this has helped you to form a picture of how the bountiful feast of a broad, self-designed CM curriculum can be spread. Let me repeat that my schedule is very flexible. I keep it handy to make sure that I cover all of our subjects each week. It's a general guideline, but by no means are we slaves to it. It has helped me enormously to put together this weekly plan, so I do highly encourage you to do something similar!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Blue Heron Nature Walk

Great Blue Heron

A friend of mine who blogs posted pictures on Facebook recently of a nature trail right outside our town. It's part of the national Rails to Trails project, in which former railroad tracks are converted to walking trails. Kudos to whoever came up with this plan!

My daughter Beezy and I checked out the Wabash Cannonball Trail in NW Ohio on Monday. It was such a beautiful day, and I didn't feel like doing the usual lessons. When you crave a bit of nature, give in! My powers of intuition have been highly tuned lately, and our timing turned out perfectly. From a bridge on the trail that sits above the road we came in on, I looked down to see a very tall bird standing in a roadside stream. Another walker came along, and I motioned him over to take a look. He told us that the bird was a Blue Heron. What good fortune! It stayed where it was for a long time.

All of Beezy's practice using the camera over the summer paid off, because she was able to get much better still shots than I was, and she recorded a wonderful video of the heron taking off in flight. When we came back home, I felt refreshed, so after lunch we proceeded to have our lesson time, and I easily found online information and short documentaries on this grand bird. Tuesday it rained all day, so I was glad I had followed my instincts. Once I get the photos developed, they will go into Beezy's nature notebook.

This focus on relationships with God's creation lies at the heart of a Charlotte Mason education. Natural science studies should be largely a hands on prospect. Homeschoolers have the freedom to go exploring when the mood or the opportunity strikes. I cannot emphasize enough how well this gentle art of learning benefits our family and our relationships with one another. I can teach from a place of rest, and my child can learn in a likewise manner.

Praying Mantis