Monday, January 4, 2010

2009 Schoolyear Start Update

[This is a reprint of MrsDarwin's post on how we started off the 2009-2010 homeschooling year.]

The school year doth approach. Here's some of what we're looking at for this school year (scheduled to start 8/31):

Learning Language Arts Through Literature: The newer editions have workbooks and reading packages and what-have-you, but I like the older series because all you need is the book, paper and pencil. I dictate a passage or set it up as copywork, then we talk about the grammar and spelling rules found in our passage.

Journaling: This year I want my second-grader to start writing a journal entry once a week.

Miquon Math and MCP Workbooks: Last year I had both the girls working on the same level, which is convenient because they're so close together, but I think that this year we may need to break out a bit.

Spelling Power: One book for spelling from start to finish, and you can use it for all the kids! My kind of program. We took the placement test and the second-grader begged for more. (The first-grader won't do formal spelling this year.) We're using the third edition -- I don't know if there's a huge difference between the third and the fourth.

Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, and The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism: The gold standard. We have a first communicant this year, and though I'll be teaching her first communion class at the parish, I've seen the featherweight workbooks they use.

Faith and Life: Again, a gold standard for religion textbooks, and perfect for youngsters to read aloud.

Famous Americans: Left over from my brother's third-grade Calvert books. Just right for
independent reading and just short enough to narrate back in depth. We might make a timeline to go with this and other reading.

French: I've realized that although I think Latin is swell, at the moment the only language I'm set to teach is French. I might work with a friend who passed some of her youth in France to put together a once-a-week language session for our kids.

Italics: I just like the look of the Italics handwriting script. We have the alphabet chart taking up most of the "dining room" wall. (The quotation marks mean that the dining room is really just a corner of the kitchen.)

Drawing with Children: Art, once a week.

Science: We're going to learn about weather and geography, courtesy of the library's great bounty.

Various read-alouds: Right now we're working through By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Princess and the Goblin, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Witch Family (thanks to OH). I haven't planned out what to read next -- inspiration usually strikes before we're done with any particular book (hence the four at a time).

Darwin's Homeschool Experience

[This is a reprint of a 2007 post in which Darwin describes his homeschool experience.]

It seems that the honorable MrsD has signed me up to provide my own retrospective of my homeschooling experience, so here it goes...

Initially, my mom started out homeschooling only my younger brother, the middle of the three children. He was very smart, but didn't fit in well with standard classroom technique in the 1st grade, and so after trying several different programs for him without our parish school and then the local public school, she started teaching him at home. This was in the mid eighties, and homeschooling was still relatively new. (I think mom was pretty much the first in her group of friends to start homeschooling, though others followed not long after.)

Her big concern was making sure that she covered everything, so there was a lot of use of "what your second grader needs to know" type books, and for each of us she used Calvert up through 8th grade, though with more and more substitutions as she became more comfortable with customizing the curriculum.

As time went by, the stress of having two kids in the parish school while one kid was homeschooled mounted, and my folks were getting increasingly unimpressed with the quality of the parochial education they were paying for. Classes tended to be pretty large (my 5th grade class had 43 kids in it) and progress was necessarily at the speed of the average to slow end of the spectrum. Meanwhile, I was becoming increasingly disrespectful of school authority, since I could easily pick things up in the first day or two of a unit, and then check out for the following several weeks while still getting top grades.

After a particularly tempestuous 5th grade year for me, my parents decided to pull both me and my sister (the youngest) out of school and homeschool the lot of us.

The transition took some work, and having the structure of using Calvert was probably very important for me the first couple years. I'd been used to having a (usually one-sided-ly) adversarial relationship with my teacher, and measuring success based on how I did versus my peers, neither one of which was helpful in a homeschooling situation.

I was a very independent type, and using the Calvert manuals and texts for most subjects (with Saxon for math) I was able to keep to myself and make my own schedule so long as I hit basic deadlines.

By the time we decided to keep homeschooling me through high school (that's a long story in itself -- but the short version is that the Catholic high schools in the area were all either academically pathetic or empty of any Catholic identity) I had got over my bad attitude and my parents felt confident in striking out on their own in curriculum development. (Besides, there really wasn't anything very good out there for high school in the way of set curriculums.)

What they came up with was:
Math: Algebra 1 - Calculus (Saxon)
Science: General, Physics, Chemistry, Biology
Language: Latin (Wheelock followed by Caesar and Virgil)
Humanities Program: A great books-type reading list plus a history text for each year, running from ancient to modern over four years.
(plus assorted religion, logic, art history etc. thrown as a side dish)

Academically it was very, very good, and since I generally had week-level goals, I got very used to scheduling out my own assignments in a way that was good practice for college work.

The main areas of frustration with my own homeschooling experience mainly had to do with (brace yourselves, folks) socialization. Perhaps partly because the homeschooling movement was still comparatively young, the only Catholic homeschool group we were able to find that had any other kids my age in it was 70+ miles away or Orange County. (Yes, that Orange County, but it's not like the show.) Since my mom didn't know how to drive until I taught her how right before leaving for college, we didn't tend to get out there much until I was old enough to drive. And even then, it was too far to carry on too much activity.

Not that things were totally isolated. I was in the Boy Scouts till I got my Eagle. But I did seriously miss the opportunity to belong to school clubs, drama productions, and generally see people I wasn't related to more than once a week.

MrsDarwin's Homeschooling Story

[This is a re-post of a 2007 post MrsDarwin wrote describing her experiences being homeschooled.]

Amidst all this talk of educational philosophy, I thought it might be germane to the issue to share some of my own homeschooling experience.

My parents began homeschooling when I was in fourth grade. They were increasingly wary of both the quality of the local public schools (this was rural Virginia, and at the time there wasn't a Catholic school until you reached Roanoke, an hour and a half off) and of the quality of the CCD classes in Bishop Sullivan's diocese in the mid-80s. At that time, the popular resurgence of homeschooling was in its infancy, and the vast store of resources currently available (including the wealth of advice on the internet) weren't so easy to find then. I recall that my mom had Mary Pride's Big Book of Homeschooling (or some such title) and that was about it.

We started off using the Seton Home Study program. Seton is dense and busy and is designed, I think, to simulate a strictly regulated private school with numerous defined study periods. This was not a good fit for my family. The initial excitement of opening the boxes and oohing over the neat stacks of books quickly gave way to a low-level despair. We kids chafed under the quantities of busy work (as did my parents, I think). We quickly fell behind the lesson plan, and stayed behind. We did lots of work without gaining all that much education.

Honestly, I don't think that harmed us. We lived in the country and could run around outdoors a good deal of the time. We had no TV. We read lots of books, enjoyed trips to the library, took piano lessons, and started going to daily Mass. My dad had been a forestry major, and he took the family on mountain hikes. Besides the underlying frustration of always being "behind in our schoolwork", life was fairly pleasant.

Eventually we moved to Cincinnati, dropped Seton, and began using whatever old Catholic school textbooks we stumbled across. Classwork became looser and looser until, by my senior year, I had no assignments, no oversight, and no instruction. I knew that my friends who went to school (which was most of them -- I was one of the oldest kids in the rapidly growing homeschooling group) thought that I was smarter than they were. We were actively involved with the large local Catholic homeschooling group. There was no question of us not being socialized (as if that had ever been an issue!). But I had no idea what I should be doing to prepare for college, if I was even going.

The one aspect of our homeschooling day that was very consistent was religious education -- one of my parents' primary reasons for homeschooling. My dad led us in a bible study each morning, and we often attended daily mass. We did lots of volunteer work because we were free during business hours. We had many excellent resources at our fingertips and were surrounded by knowledgeable Catholics who loved to discuss their faith. As I've said, religious education was one of the primary reasons for my parents' decision to homeschool, and on that front they were dedicated, consistent and informed. On that front, their homeschooling was a success.

On other fronts, I'm not so sure. If someone had laid out Charlotte Mason's principles of education to my mother, I think she would have exclaimed, "That's what we're doing!" But that's not necessarily so. It seems that Charlotte Mason called for the active involvement of the educator, and as we grew older my mother became more and more removed from our course of studies, in the "just do your work and get out of my hair" style. Most of this was for reasons unrelated to education. She had some deep personal problems and became extremely depressed and unstable, causing immense family stress. But the events and the strain of that situation have certainly left me with a negative impression of our family's homeschooling, without which I might have been inclined to describe us as "charmingly unorganized" or "lite but harmless".

Perhaps I'm unfair in my assessment of our schooling -- after all, my siblings and I are all mature, intelligent adults (or are in the process of becoming so) who have gone on to acheive our fair measure of academic excellence in more traditional settings. But it seems to me that homeschooling should be about more than just turning out functional products. There has to be a base of stability and of trust -- the child has to be able to trust parents, trust his education, trust that he is being educated and that this education really is superior to the available options. Certainly, from this vantage point it seems that none of us were harmed (at least educationally, at any rate) by our homeschooling experience. But then, to not be harmed seems rather a low bar.

Next up: Darwin talks about his generally positive homeschooling experience!
(I have to say how humbling and yet refreshing it is to discover, through the process of editing jumbled thoughts into a concise statement, what is is that one really thinks.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Few Introductions

My wife and I began blogging some four-and-a-half years ago under the names of Darwin and MrsDarwin, at a blog called DarwinCatholic. How all of this came about is really a rather long story, but in a sense it doesn't matter at this point. Names grow on one after a while, and after this many years it seems odd to be anything other than "the Darwins" in the online world.

We had pretty much decided, even before we had children, that we would homeschool them. This was to a great extent the result of our own experiences with homeschooling. I was homeschooled from 6th through 12th grades, and my wife was homeschooled in 5th grade and from 7th through 12th. Homeschooling was certainly not unheard of in the early through mid '90s, but it was somewhat less prevalent than now, and the homeschooling groups that I remember frequenting were much more heavily populated with younger children than older. So while I'm sure we're not alone in being homeschooling parents who were in their time homeschooled, we do seem to be in the minority among homeschooling parents in this respect.

Now we have five children: Eleanor (7), Julia (6), Isabel (3) and Jack (1) plus one on the way. For those who keep track of grades in order to know how their kids should be doing (something we do almost obsessively) Eleanor is doing 2nd grade work and Julia is doing 1st grade work, while Isabel is learning her letters and numbers.

We've written about homeschooling a number of times over the years. However, we decided to split off and start a separate homeschooling blog at this juncture because blogging has become such a mental habit for us that a good way to devote more thought and energy to planning and following through on homeschooling seemed to be to start a blog that we'd feel obligated to keep up with.

The crew "at work" in the dining room/school room.