Thursday, May 14, 2009

Planning for the Future - A Deliberate Education

I am a big planner. I like to plan, plan, plan! This is the perfect time of year to be both a planner and a homeschool mom - it's time to choose what we're going to study next year! Catalogs are arriving daily, message boards are humming and homeschool moms are getting together to review successes, failures and to look at each others curriculum libraries. Part of the reason that I enjoy this time of year so much is that I think it is best to be deliberate about academic education.

A large buffet is available in schooling choices, and no where is this more evident than in the homeschool community. Some of the items on the menu include: unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Thomas Jefferson Education, classical, whole-hearted education, school in a box and the ever popular, ecclectic, which is where I typically hang my hat. There are a great many things that people learn through the normal process of life (how to do laundry, balance a checkbook, change the oil in the car, etc.). There are also a great many things that are beneficial to know to operate in the twenty-first century that must be intentionally studied. It has always been my desire to take the approach that seems most effective at the particular point in time, child development phase and academic readiness combined with the need to ever-expand my son's knowledge base. I have done research on many educational philosophies and methods, reading several books and taking a little bit from each one as it was appropriate to our situation.

I originally heard about classical methodology during my son's preschool years. I was delighted to find a classical, Christian school nearby and we enrolled our son. The school implemented the classical methodology differently than I expected, with unit studies being the focus for history and science during what they called the phonics stage, K-2. After second grade, we decided to homeschool for a variety of reasons. We happily came home and began using Sonlight Curriculum for history and reading, filling in the other subjects with a variety of other materials.

This week I have been reading The Well-Trained Mind, Third Edition by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. At 814 pages, it is quite the undertaking. This book acts as a guide to those who desire to provide a classical education to their children through homeschooling. The first day I started reading, I was overwhelmed with what seemed like a demanding and complicated process. The second day, I was intrigued enough to begin underlining and bookmarking as well as formulating questions about classical education as seen through The Well Trained Mind (TWTM) lens. The authors have done a great job of engaging and inspiring me. Through this experience, I have found many ideas that I am considering implementing in our learning lifestyle when we begin school again in August.

My primary concern right now is that I don't try to do too much and overwhelm myself in the planning phase. It is a good thing to get help when you need it, so I will probably continue with the history portion of Sonlight for the ease of the available schedule. I will be supplementing it with other resources recommended in TWTM. I am also considering the concept of keeping a history notebook and am thinking about what that would look like with the combination of Sonlight and the grammar stage recommendations. I think that it will be a small change in the way that we have approached history in the past, one that will require more thought and deliberation on the part of the student, but won't necessarily put more stress on my planning and implementation time. We will complete the two part world history that we started this year, so our history sequence won't line up with the recommended sequence in TWTM, but that is really a minor difference.

For literature, I am considering two changes. One is to add Lightening Literature to our schedule. This will provide the structure that I need to teach literature analysis at an appropriate level. The second change is to move away from the exclusive use of the Sonlight reading list. In years past, I have thought that their literature selections were very good, but this year has been a bit disappointing. I have also seen that there are many really good books appropriate for my son that are not included until later grades (this is a result of his advanced reading level). Together my husband and I will look at several different book lists and come up with a list of books for him to read over the next two years. They will be a combination of original sources, novels, plays and non-fiction resources. Some will relate to the time period we will be studying, some will be simply what we consider "must read" books.

Apparently, I have been approaching the study of grammar, vocabulary, science and math from a perspective that aligns very closely with the recommendations in TWTM. I will be tweaking a bit, but overall, I seem to be on the right track.

For grammar, I had originally intended to use Shurley English, but to be honest, I was not too excited about it. While it contains a wonderful method to help students remember parts of speech and to parse sentences through a question/answer flow, it has many drawbacks for where we are in our school. The teacher involvement with the students daily work is high; we would not make use of the writing portion of the program, rendering 20% of the book uselesss; and it does not cover sentence diagramming. With the help of the folks on TWTM message boards, I have found a program called Analytical Grammar, which we will begin implementing
next school year. It looks to be a great program! I found a used CD of the Shurley English 6th grade jingles for $3 at our local homeschool store, so I have that to supplement if needed.

As we wind up our sixth grade year, I am looking forward to attending the HEAV conference in June. The seminars look great and there is a large variety of vendors in the vendor hall. There is a used book sale, also. A good friend and I are going together & we are looking forward to a great "girls weekend."

I look forward to fleshing out the school plans for the next few years and hope you will continue to enjoy "listening in" as I think by writing!

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