Half Term catch-up

I don’t usually stop and start in line with school terms, but since I have one child in school now, it made sense to take a break while Motorbiker was at home, and also since we moved house!
We made a really good start to the year, and got into a pretty good groove, but moving house is a big, unsettling business and I haven’t even decided where we will do our studies in the new house yet. I hope we can get settled quickly and start again.

Last term, we made a great deal of use of memory work (which I hadn’t planned, particularly, it just evolved as we went along).

I used a Happy Planner teacher planner that I wasn’t making use of, so I took the weekly calender pages out and punched the papers we’re using and slotted them into the current month. At the end of the month, anything we’ve successfully learned gets left behind the old month and new stuff, or things we’re still learning is put in the new month. That way it becomes a record of accomplishment as well. You could just as easily use a ring binder, but I quite like the disc bound system.

In case anybody is interested, I thought I would start to share what we’ve been learning and what we’ve been memorising so far (I had originally planned to do this all in one post but it got way too long and dense and, dare I say, a little bit boring! So I will break it up into several posts):

English:

  • General language arts and grammar: We finished Galore Park’s So You Want to Learn Junior English Book 2 and started Book 3
  • Spelling: This was one of the things that led us into memory work, as dyslexia was making learning spellings, even of the simplest words, just not happen. We have used various spelling lists (and I think when I get my books out of storage, I’ve got a good one on spelling patterns) but the lists are less important than the method – one list of ten words per week, and they’re written in Baba Zonee’s Memory Book. On day 1, BZ traces over the words, and we speak the words aloud, paying attention to phonics (consonant blends and particularly phonics blends). Day 2: repeat Day 1 and add copying out the words. Day 3: repeat Days 1 and 2 and add writing them out from dictation. Depending on how well the words are written from dictation, we may repeat on Days 4 and 5 but usually, we’re getting good results on Day 3. That’s a vast improvement on the results we had previously with reading, covering and writing dictated spellings as per the Jolly Phonics/ Jolly Grammar books. (The word lists are useful though.)
  • Other Copywork and Dictation: we’re using the selections in the back of Heart of Dakota’s ‘Bigger’ program – short sentences with basic words. We noticed that we got far better results spelling-wise if he wrote the dictation on the same day as the copywork. With even a day between (and looking/ reading at the passages first) the spellings were all over the place.
  • Poetry: also using the Heart of Dakota ‘Bigger’ poetry selections. Just reading and enjoying the poems – not requiring any analysis or any other associated work, just purely for pleasure.
  • Shakespeare: We read and/ listened to story versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, including Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, and then I discovered the wonderful book ‘How to Teach your Children Shakespeare‘ by Ken Ludwig, and so we decided to start learning short passages as recommended in the book. The passages are on the website in written and audio form, but don’t skip the book, it’s lovely.
  • Reading: BZ is reading Usborne’s ‘Starting Point science: Earth and Space‘ (which I originally read to him as part of Sonlight curriculum grade 2/C) and there’s a pile more in that same series for him to read next.

Maths:

We are using Parragon’s Gold Start Maths 7-9 as revision for Key Stage 1 and to make sure we didn’t miss anything (we used Singapore Maths primarily and, although I think it’s generally a rather good curriculum, it doesn’t follow the same scheme as the UK National Curriculum, so I’m just covering all the bases.) We have all sorts of resources for Maths, but I’m not sure what we will use once we have finished Parragon.

Bible:

We have been listening to David Suchet reading the NIV via Bible Gateway, and listening to Daily Morning Prayer with The Trinity Mission, although in the end we decided it was too much Bible readings and I changed to reading the prayers minus the readings. That means that we’re not following the set liturgical readings, but it happened to be going through Job which I felt was a bit too dour and not terribly helpful or conducive to JOY which is a priority! (That might sound shallow, but I just don’t think BZ is ready for Job!) We may go back to Trinity Mission prayers when they move on from Job.

We have also been memorising: the Books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, the names of the Disciples (which we finished in September), and Psalm 34. My plan is to start learning Psalm 23 when we get back to it.

What did you do this past term/ half-term? What memory passages have you enjoyed learning?

 

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Plans for September

After going to and fro in my mind over what to do – follow the national curriculum more closely with a view to doing GCSEs? Concede defeat over the severe dyslexia and put them all in school (it was a serious consideration, but none of us want to go that route), or go back to our Sonlight-style, literature-based lifestyle.

I wondered seriously about starting GCSEs at home, but again, nobody really wants that. We have found two possible options for maths and English post-16, both of which are free, so I think there’s no rush for that. Heck, I’m doing GCSE maths myself next year, and I’m 44! 🙂

I decided to go back to the literature-based lifestyle. I call it a lifestyle, because when we were doing Sonlight, we weren’t cooped up at home or in the classroom the way we have been recently, trying to squeeze ourselves into the National Curriculum boxes (although now I look back, I wonder why?! It has been miserable for all of us, and really, worse than unproductive, it turned them off learning).

On the contrary, the books we found were always portable, it meant that we could be out and about everyday – at the woods, at the beach, visiting with other home educators, whatever really, and we could still get the ‘work’ done, and it didn’t really feel like work (except on my throat which was known to need a constant supply of hot tea!)

Despite eldest’s difficulties with the system (possible Asperger’s without a firm diagnosis or Statement), his knowledge base was much larger than my own when I left school, so I’m confident that Sonlight gave him a good all-round education. The skills will come, but they have come frustratingly slowly.

My kids are just bright, late starters 🙂

The next question was, do we go on with Sonlight itself or another literature-based curriculum I have used in between, Heart of Dakota.

I actually decided to do both: I will be doing two levels anyway – we’re going to finally go back and finish the Sonlight read-alouds from core C over the summer, and then go on to start core D. We never did cores D and E first time round because they’re based on American history, but we always felt we had missed out on all those fantastic books!

coreD

So, as always, we will do a hotch potch – we’ll intersperse the American history with some British history and geography. But we’ll be moving away from the textbooks and back to the literature. They recall it so much more fully that way.

heart-of-dakota-world-geography

For my daughter, I decided to do Heart of Dakota’s World Geography year. The titles look really interesting, and I’ve been wanting to do it for a while.

I rather enjoyed HoD’s early grades, which I used (mainly for language arts) for my two youngest alongside Sonlight’s early grades, although we didn’t do all the books (HoD are much more Amero-centric than Sonlight, and more religious! But I like it because it has a much more Charlotte Mason style) but I skipped the first three higher levels in the ‘Hearts for Him Through High School’ series (although I have the guides if I want to go back to them).

300

And, because I am a book addict, I also ordered Sonlight’s core 300 (20th Century World History for high school) instructor’s guide, but not the books. I thought I would get the books gradually as we need them. And I’ll read these myself even if my daughter’s not interested. (I had been toying with doing their Church History core for myself but we hadn’t done the 20th Century in any great depth so I thought we should do this first) I rather think she will be interested anyway, and I know my eldest will love them.

So there will be a whole lot of reading going on in this house, and out of this house next year, all being well!

But as ever, the strict following of guides and manuals, ticking off every box, and doing every assignment, probably won’t happen.

We’ve tried that, and it sucks the joy out of it all, and it kind of defeats the whole purpose of home educating in the first place, which is freedom to enjoy learning.

For science, we’ll carry on with Apologia but I think we may set aside some more time for hands-on experiments. That’s one think I may go back to the National Curriculum for, but as I said many years ago, I will use it (as I’ll use the HoD manuals and the Sonlight instructor’s guides) more as a curriculum bank of ideas, a tool rather than a master. We won’t allow ourselves to be straight-jacketed by curriculum.

When things start to arrive, I’ll post again with details about the individual books and resources.

So I’m excited right now! We haven’t had a ‘Box Day’ for a few years now! How about you? What are you planning? What resources will you be using? What would you like to learn this year?

Celtic Homeschooling

It is no secret that one of my greatest joys is the discovery of Celtic Christian spirituality.

When we left the city, I was no longer able to attend a Messianic congregation, so I was essentially presented with three options: Anglican, Methodist or stay at home.

For most of the first three years, I stayed at home. Eventually I tried the Methodist and didn’t like it, but then I tried the Anglican and found that for various reasons, I loved it, and then out of Anglicanism I stumbled on Celtic Christianity, and I fell in love. 🙂

For anybody not familiar with Celtic Christianity, here are just some of its essential elements:

– A hopeful, positive outlook
– Love for nature and the outdoors
– An admiration and enjoyment of great stories, whether heard, read, or seen
– An emphasis on the ties that bind—kinship, friendship, anamchara (soul friend or mentor), community, and hospitality
– A lack of authoritarianism and compulsion, and thus freedom of conscience

What does this have to do with home education, I hear you ask?

Well, gradually it has dawned on me that one of the reasons that I feel so at home in Celtic Christianity is that I am by nature Celtic – both by ethnic heritage and by temperament – and it got me wondering about Celtic education.

As one does, when one suspects one has an original idea, I googled Celtic homeschool, and of course it does already exist, but in much the same way as the Celtic peoples and languages, it is small and on the fringe. It hasn’t been taken up in a big way like Classical (Latin / Roman / Greek) education has been. (Take a look at my page on Celtic homeschool above for links.)

I plan to write a longer post to discuss what Celtic home education might consist of, but for now let me suggest the following ideas:

– An emphasis on oral, rather than the written word
– Storytelling
– Celtic languages
– Celtic history and geography, preferably through hands-on, living experience
– Music, especially Celtic folk music, preferably through hands-on, having a go at playing and learning through doing
– Irish dancing
– Nature study
– Learning outdoors

That’s just a quick list of the top of my head, and I’m sure there is more that could be considered. But you can probably see immediately that there is some overlap and affinity with Charlotte Mason education (and although it is less obvious, I have also seen a deep affinity with Jewish thinking and being and learning), and I think that is one of the things that has made the whole concept of Celtic education appeal to me. It’s not a huge step away from what we are currently doing and what we have always naturally leaned towards.

Having moved house again, this time to a new build, we have been left once again (for six weeks so far) without telephone, internet and – because we only access it via the internet – television.

It has been painful, but it has forced us to look for other styles of entertainment, and we have found ourselves naturally singing more, listening to music more, making music more, talking more, reading more aloud, and it has struck me that this has been a natural (though enforced) move towards a Celtic kind of lifestyle, and it is something I would love to maintain and encourage even when (if!) we have our technological services restored.

On that note, I will leave you with a quote from Ian Bradley’s lovely book “The Celtic Way”:

“Only by recovering the Celtic values of imagination, instinct and identification with nature […can we…] have any real hope of breaking out of the alienation and exile caused by technology…”

Circle Time

wellplannedday

We have been taking some time off from academics over the last few weeks, and just really enjoyed some much needed ‘down’ time as frustrations had been mounting with the very hot weather.

But since we live on the north Cornwall coast, all our usual haunts are at the moment extremely crowded with tourists so, I’m thinking of starting back with lessons while the schools are on holiday.

Avoiding the crowds has always been one of the lovely advantages of home education – when we used to come on holiday down here, we would come in September, when it was a little cooler, and everywhere was a little less jam-packed.

I’m thinking this year of reviving a pattern of study that worked for one of our best years of home education – 3 weeks of lessons followed by 1 week of holiday, all through the year. It sometimes needs tweaking a little, for example, so that the holidays co-incide with the relevant festivals, but on the whole it’s a good arrangement and it works out to 36 weeks which is a standard ‘school’ year. It’s nice because you know that it’s never too long until you can rest, so it gives you something to look forward to, and something to work for. So rather than 3 ‘terms’ or ‘semesters’, you might have 12 mini blocks of study and 12 breaks.

Something else I am planning to use more is ‘Circle Time’. It is something that we have always done to a greater or lesser extent, but I have not made much use of it recently. When the children were young, we always started the day with a prayer, a poem and some music (I had a box of percussion instruments at one time, but that seems to have sadly got lost in our many moves – if anybody would like to donate any kind of instruments to us, they would be very gladly received!) We also used to review memory work (like the days of the week etc.) and talk about the weather during Circle Time as well.

Most recently, we have been having a prayer and a poem every day still, but the music and the memory work has been abandoned. It has certainly been harder to get up any enthusiasm for singing with my strongest singer gone. (He has ‘graduated’ to Sixth Form College)

But I have been doing a lot of reading recently on the Charlotte Mason method, and I am inspired to revive some of the things that we did right at the beginning of our home education adventure, and Circle Time is one of them.

In fact, I didn’t realise that Circle Time was a Charlotte Mason thing at all – for me it was originally inspired by my experience at Infant School. But I am reminded that when I went to school in the early 1970s, British schools were still feeling the positive influence of Charlotte Mason’s reforms. I hasten to add that Circle Time in British schools has evolved into something quite different, so if you want to google Circle Time, you might want to include the word ‘homeschooling’.

But to get you going, if you’re interested, you might like to read Mystie’s post, which refers back to Cindy Rollins fantastic website and series which is dedicated to the concept of Circle Time, although she refers to it as Morning Time, and Morning Meeting. I rather like that, and I particularly like the concept of ordering our days (and that order being as it were a ‘liturgy’), and ordering our affections (hence the name of Cindy’s website, Ordo Amoris, ordering the affections) which of course is a very Charlotte Mason idea, grounded in Classical education and thinking.

I’m not as organised as I’d like to be, but I am planning to start ‘school’ again tomorrow, to gently and slowly get going. We have booked to go on the Christian Home Educators’ Holiday at Cefn Lea in Wales in September, so the 3 week on / 1 week off rule will need to be bent slightly to accommodate that, but hopefully by the time we come back we won’t find it too hard to get back into the swing of things again as we will only have had the 1 week off.

If you use Circle Time or Morning Time, or have any kind of morning order or ‘liturgy’, I would love to hear from you, and next time I will post some information about what we are including in our Circle Time.

All Good Things

We have decided to finish up our school year and take July off from academics, partly to avoid the schools holiday rush. Even when we lived in the city I used to do this – we would take our holidays when everything was nice and quiet, and we’re back to work when the schools are off and the crowds are out. Now we’re near the sea, it works out even better.

But we’re coming up for another big milestone this September, and I feel as though now is the time to re-think my methods, books and curriculum.

Were he at school, my youngest (Baba Zonee, aka Bunny amongst other names) would go up to secondary level this year. That’s quite a shocker really, and makes me feel really, horribly old!

So now I officially have no primary age children, and it looks as though (saving for the ever possible miracle of new children) that we are beginning the final, home stretch of home education.

I have been thinking for a long time that I want to get back to my original ‘roots’ in Charlotte Mason education.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Charlotte Mason and her method of education, she was a British teacher and teacher of teachers who wrote with a revolutionary and forward-thinking concern for children as people to be nurtured and respected in a time when education, and the cultural view of humanity and children especially was strict and punitive.

Mason was influenced in part by classical ideas, but also such educational thinkers as Pellegrini. She emphasised a liberal arts education, offering children the best our culture has to offer, including art, music, literature and nature study.

She spoke about engaging children with ideas direct from the author’s mind, as opposed to dry, regurgitated text, and she railed against what she called ‘twaddle’ – often seen in textbooks.

In her day, she was influential, far out of proportion to the size of the small school for teachers that she ran from Ambleside in the Lake District, and she can be thanked for improving early years and primary education in the UK, but alas she is nearly forgotten over here. (‘A prophet in his home town’…)

Thankfully, she was rediscovered by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and later Karen Andreola and others, who helped to propel her theories into one of the major homeschooling methods.

Most people assume though that the Charlotte Mason method only covers the primary years, but I have learned that Charlotte’s own book series also cover secondary age, and her sixth and final book, ‘Towards a Philosophy of Education’, addresses secondary education in particular.

But before I launch into reading Charlotte Mason’s own writings, which are admittedly dense and couched in difficult Victorian language, I thought I would start by re-reading one of my all-time favourites, Karen Andreola’s ‘A Charlotte Mason Companion’.

I have created a new UK-based yahoo discussion group for the purpose:

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/cm-uk/info

We are planning to go through approximately one chapter per week, and perhaps if that works well, we can look at other Charlotte Mason classics.

Join us!

Culture Clash

I came across this BBC article via twitter this morning, which refers to the ‘Trojan Horse’ investigation into radical Islamicist principles being perpetuated in State schools in Birmingham, and looks at independent Christian schools with the implicit suggestion of the latter being equally damaging.

‘Life in a Christian Fundamentalist School’
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-27681560#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Firstly, I have looked at the ACE curriculum – we went to an ACE conference in around 1999 right at the beginning of our home education adventure. We decided it wasn’t for us for several reasons. It doesn’t allow for different learning styles or special needs, and the criticism that every subject is saturated with religion in an inappropriate way is justified in my opinion.

ACE also works on the basis of a philosophy of education which they refer to as ‘mastery’, believing that a subject can be put in a tight, neat box that can be ticked off and mastered. This is the antithesis of our philosophy, based on Charlotte Mason, which recognises the links between subjects and continual, life-long learning.

I think that the ‘office’ system where children have a screen around their desk *can* be helpful for some children but it would certainly not have been right for my children, and I would imagine that this aspect alone could be very negative for children who learn differently. On the whole, I am not a fan.

I also have some experience with American fundamentalist Christianity (which I will elaborate on at my personal blog). My personal experience of it was ‘broadly positive’ but I am very aware that others were damaged by it, and that inflexibility and a lack of ‘grace’, kindness, gentleness or empathy in conjunction with fundamentalist beliefs of any kind (whether religious or otherwise) can be very damaging indeed.

It is interesting to note however that Ofsted rated the teaching as good or excellent, and since the schools are not State funded, they are free to choose their own curriculum.

Ultimately, I suspect that one of the issues here is that the ACE curriculum is just too American culturally for the British palate. I doubt that even British fundamentalists (if there are any?!) would saturate their teaching materials in such a way. Looking at some other secular American materials, I have noticed there is a similar feel (scripted teachers’ notes, for example), even when the religion aspect is removed. There is simply a different way of thinking between the American and British cultures.

(Although having said that, the curriculum we did use, Sonlight, although American and Christian-based, is very different indeed, and could be said to be at the other end of the spectrum to ACE in that it encourages questioning and discussion from your own perspective and does not seek to teach children what to think.)

It does seem very sad that Mr Scaramanga has obviously felt that he was damaged by his experience.

I must leave advocates of the ACE curriculum to defend it and its teaching.

Although I can’t comment on the specific school in question, however, I would strongly deny the equivalence between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism. This may need further exploration, but without necessarily seeking to justify the latter, I would suggest that the two are ultimately rather different ‘beasts’.

I would also strongly question the idea that the teaching of creationism as ‘Truth’ rather than evolutionism as ‘Truth’ can be construed as intellectual abuse. It is not the inherent ‘Truth’ claims themselves but rather the way in which they are taught that makes a difference.

Christianity can stand questioning, it can stand criticism and discussion, and ultimately it stands. It doesn’t require indoctrination or suppression of views nor oppression of its people.

I hope that Mr Scaramanga is able to find some peace and regain some measure of faith, but I also hope that Christian educators and Christian education generally will not be tarred with the same brush.

History part 2, I guess!

I think where we left off last time was the basic discovery that home education was an option, and the decision to give it a try (maybe up until Big turned 7, when he would have gone to school in Sweden).

I seem to remember, in the summer of 1999, having made the decision to home educate, then wondering how on earth we would do it. I had the Charlotte Mason principles outlined in the book “For the Children’s Sake“, but surely I would need resources?

Oddly enough, although I had no thought of specifically Christian home education at that time, I remember randomly looking in Wesley Owen in Watford, a Christian bookshop which is sadly no more. I asked at the counter whether they carried any resources for homeschooling (I did not realise at that time that homeschooling is an American word which is not appropriate to British home educators – more on that another time).

They didn’t have any resources, but with one of those random co-incidences, another customer at the counter heard my question and piped up that he knew somebody (his sister?) who was doing this, and he had the details of a Christian organisation who supported home educators in the UK, The Home Service, which he was able to supply there and then.

Given that among the small home educating population in the UK, the Christian portion of that number is very small (in comparison to the US where a large proportion of homeschoolers are religious), the chances of this meeting seem so unlikely, it is one of those co-incidences that make me suspect there is no such thing as co-incidence (if you know what I mean)!

This contact propelled me into a world of Christian home education that has shaped my thinking about life, the universe and everything, the resources we have used (mainly American) and gave rise to some very sweet and long-term friendships, not to mention a sizeable detour out of Christianity into Judaism and back into Christianity via Messianic Judaism. It’s a long story, spanning more than ten years, with many twists and turns, and I’m not sure how this personal journey has shaped our home education or my children’s worldview – perhaps I shall be able to analyse that as I write in more detail about that journey.