“I’ll never do a major overhaul of our homeschool.” Famous last words. Spoken by a prideful novice who was sure she’d avoided the “replicating brick and mortar school at home” box just because we didn’t have a desk, chalkboard and flag in the corner (instead we have a table, whiteboard and globe, but c’mon, those are TOTALLY DIFFERENT!). And while those 3 things aren’t going anywhere, my traditional education mindset just might be leaving the building.
Lest I sound like I look down on traditional school, that actually couldn’t be further from the truth. I had a great public school experience myself, from a small community elementary school where rich read-alouds and hands-on learning were the norm to wonderful AP teachers in highschool who taught with academic rigor and left me well prepared for college. My own degree is in special education, and while I was in college I worked in over a dozen schools through my job at the Florida Center for Reading Research. I love public school. So it’s no surprise I reached deeply into that toolbox when I started to teach at home.
I bought a big, boxed curriculum that seemed to replicate the best of what I remembered from elementary school. I loved how it started gently, and increased in rigor around 2nd/3rd grade, just like my school. It gave great suggestions for projects to make the work come alive, recommended excellent read alouds and of course, it came with a stack of all the worksheets I could need for a whole year. By sticking to this plan, I would *know* my child was on grade level and on track!
I have no regrets about our years with it. It gave me the confidence to get started in this whole schooling at home venture. For some things, the box approach has even worked well. I certainly appreciate having a math and phonics/grammar/spelling curriculum! But like a snake whose skin begins to feel too small I realized that this curriculum-in-a-box was a place to start our homeschool journey, not a place to stay.
So practically, what is going to change?
Morning Time. Ember will be 2 this year, and is already eager to be a part of whatever her big brother is doing. I wanted to create a learning time where they could both sing, listen to read alouds, review memory work, learn a new verse or hymn, or…??? Honestly, I bought a whole book on morning time called “Better Together”, so I’m sure there are more possibilities than I have yet considered.
From the limited version I’ve been doing over the last few weeks though, I know it’s a winner for our family. Not only does it wrap Ember into our day at her level, but it breaks up Caleb’s homeschool day nicely so that in the afternoon, during her nap, we’re freed up to focus on table work activities like grammar and math. Since those are always a priority to me, I found things like read alouds often got shuffled aside on busy days and became independent work for Caleb, rather than a time of connection and discussion for us, which was not okay with me because…
Read Alouds are Heart Work. This is something my eyes have only been opened to recently. Because much of our library stack corresponds with the history and science Caleb is learning, I tended to view read alouds as purely academic. I didn’t think about how many virtues, or at least ideals, were imparted to me as I was growing up through a well timed story. The bravery of Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, the racial reconciliation in Maniac McGee, the value of selfless friendship in Charlotte’s Web…my list could go on, and I’m sure yours could too. I totally credit my change in perspective the the Read Aloud Revival Podcast, and later her book, The Read Aloud Family. I recommend both resources highly. This year, I want to make sure our book buffet has a blend of academically informative and virtue formative reading.
Memory work for the trees. Read Alouds for the forest. Probably the biggest change of all is that we’ll be using Classical Conversations as our “spine” this year, not My Father’s World (the curriculum in a box). We originally joined CC for the community, the fine arts, presentation time and the science experiments. The memory work felt weird to me. I knew the tutors kept it fun through songs and games, but it still seemed so counter to everything I “knew” about education to start teaching my six-year-old Newton’s laws or how to skip count by 12’s. And yet…
My “aha” moment came at dinner one night. I prompted Caleb to share what he’d learned in school that day with David. We’d learned about Iowa. Just a few facts. He couldn’t remember any of them. Oh well, there are days like that, right? The dinner conversation continued, and we started talking about what famous people in history we’d enjoy meeting. Caleb asked, “Was it Amerigo Vespucci or Magellan who sailed around the world? Oh! Well then Magellan! Oh, or wait, maybe Columbus. Actually! All 3 of them were from Spain around the same time period, so maybe I would just travel back in time to Spain and meet all 3!” Those connections were based off of CC facts he’d learned in 1st grade.
The box curriculum teaches in a way that is familiar and comfortable to me, but it wasn’t what my child was ultimately retaining and drawing connections from, at least not when it came to details. So I realized that I wanted to start using memory work for the details (trees) and living books for the big picture (forest). How wonderful would it have been to use those facts to dive into learning about the country of Spain, navigation/maps, the effects of colonization on native peoples or a million other connections? I want to keep using the literature rich education he’s been getting through the box, but I want to build on the facts he’s actually remembering rather than the ones that are sliding away before dinner time.
I’ve resisted the label for years, but I guess it’s official…we are classical homeschoolers…at least for now. Because if experience has taught me anything, we might overhaul our approach to schooling one day again 🙂