Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A New School Year, A New Way of Learning

Here we are beginning another school year...well, I can't really say beginning since I haven't really officially started.  September is usually just too nice of a month to lock ourselves indoors and study.  Typically, we get going in October.  Ok, maybe November.  Hey, October is a tough month for our family with all the birthdays, our anniversary, Columbus Day, Halloween, etc.  And then in November there's Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season.  Well, we definitely most absolutely start by the middle of January.  Oh, the joys of homeschooling!

Anyway, I have been mentally and physically preparing for homeschooling the boys and as they are in the early years of their education, it's a whole other ballgame than homeschooling a middle/high schooler.  It takes much more dedication, motivation and effort on my part as teacher.  But I've been very excited about the direction we're headed and the first lesson about homeschooling is this:  if momma ain't excited about teachin', then the kids ain't excited about learnin'.  I've collected a few books on different methods of homeschooling, but I'm knee-deep in learning about the Charlotte Mason method and think I really am a Charlotte-Masonite at heart.  "Charlotte who?" you may ask. "And what does she have to do with homeschooling?"  She was a British educator in the 1800's who revolutionized education by believing in a liberal education for all, not just the rich class.  She firmly believed children were whole persons deserving of respect and should not be talked down to nor read dumbed-down books.  She was a big proponent of using "living" books (books written in a conversational style that sparks interest in a child) rather than using dry factual textbooks for all subjects.  She avoided busywork and developed the study of nature as a key component of education.  She focused on using narration as a tool, believing if a child could explain back to you in detail what you or they just read, they are developing stronger thought patterns and exercising their focus and attention.  After all, if a child can teach something back to you (or anyone), they most likely have a firm grasp of the material.

I really love the idea of using living books for my children.  Since I have always been a book nerd and hope to raise such, I love the practice of reading classics to my children and having them learn to appreciate them as well.  I also like the inclusion of music and art appreciation in the CM method and hope the boys can grow up knowing the masters of art along with well-known composers of music.  Since it only makes logical sense to me, we're also planning on going through history starting in Genesis and going from there using a CM handbook from Simply Charlotte Mason (love this website!) called Genesis Through Deuteronomy & Ancient Egypt.  The other thing I love about the CM method is most of it can be free by using the internet, the library, etc.  After all, their education curriculum will mostly include classic and vintage books to read.  You may ask what we do for some subjects such as science, grammar or math.  Living books can be found for science (books on such things as plants, insects, animals and bios of scientists and inventors) and grammar tends to come naturally with reading good books (though one can go over the grammar rules in the older grades).  Math is typically the one subject that needs to have a supplemental curriculum (we use Math-U-See which uses manipulatives in the early years).  I did purchase a science curriculum that looks fun and easy for their early years, but I plan on being very relaxed with it and am hoping to put more emphasis on the nature study than going through the textbook.  We also have already begun listening to the audio stories of the Jonathan Park series which teaches creation science in a very entertaining way.  So many fun things to teach and learn!

So I kind of lied when I said we hadn't even started homeschooling.  We have.  A bit.  A couple days a week we do something.  We've started to try to get into a routine of sitting down after breakfast to read our Bible story and go through our catechism.  Catechism? Yes, and we love it!  The boys are doing impressively good with it.  We came across a little catechism book for kids with cartoons at the last homeschool conference. Every time we sit down to do Bible, the boys learn the questions and answers  in the book thereby learning the very fundamentals of the doctrines of their faith.  At this point they have memorized and can recite each answer to every question halfway through the book.  (My favorite question and answer they've memorized and somewhat understand is: "What is sin?  Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God."  Yes, they actually know that and will repeat it if you ask them.)  We're also hoping to start a Scripture Memory System suggested by the CM website that will help us to hide God's Word in our hearts. 

We also have started handwriting by using the curriculum A Reason for Handwriting which appealed to me as it was learning how to write (print and/or cursive) by copying Scripture.  I'm not sure how CM it is for them to learn and practice their letters, but for now it's working and the boys are liking it enough to continue. 

Charlotte Mason was also a big believer in teaching the discipline of good habits.  Through short lessons, narration, the study of virtues, etc., the children will learn good habits of attention and good character as well as maintain their love of learning.  On the subject of virtues and good habits, I'm hoping to use a book I picked up at the homeschool conference called For Instruction in Righteousness.  This very thorough, jam-packed instruction guide includes every vice under the sun along with the verses that speak about that particular sin and the blessings/cursings that go along with avoiding/enacting that sin.  I hope to use the book not only as a teaching tool for homeschooling but as a discipline tool as well.

So that's our homeschooling plan for this year in a nutshell.  Being a veteran homeschooler now for 6 years, I understand things can change quite easily and drastically - curriculum can be abandoned, methods changed, new ideas brought forward - but I hope to implement the CM way into not only our studies but our life as well for isn't that the point of education?  That one becomes the other and vice versa?  Happy learning!