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Entries in curriculum (3)


Missing the bus (for another year)

We live in a small cul de sac. Five houses, only ours being home to a child, and not a child who goes to school, yet of all the places in the neighborhood they could have designated as this year's bus stop, they chose the corner of our cul de sac. The first day of school and we are all snug in our beds, right where we like to be at 7:30 in the morning, and what should awake us at such an unseemly hour? The crazy laughter and singing from the school bus stop just outside our windows. I guess they just wanted to make sure we did not miss out on all the joys of a public education.

So we got up early for the first day of school after all. I went running, Calvin dressed nicely, we had breakfast at the counter, and we trudged to the front porch for photos (I wouldn't want to be left out of the facebook "first day of school" photo frenzy, after all), and then we went about our Tuesday as we have on many other Tuesdays before it.

Goodness. He's growing up. This year would see him in first grade in the public school, but in our house he learns outside of grade restrictions. Instead we try to go where interest and ability guide us. Calvin spent everyone else's first day of school playing piano, doing a math sheet or two, writing in his journal, reading Through the Looking Glass, taking swimming lessons, going out to lunch with his grandparents, grocery shopping, sorting books at the library, and building with Lego blocks. The rest of the week wasn't too different.

Having begun with the Well Trained Mind we have changed things a bit over the past month, spending the morning with more "formal" lessons, and the afternoon in choice learning. We're working in Math-U-See's Gamma books, we are midway through the Story of the World, which we combine with Intellego's history units, and we are also midway through the first BFSU book, which boils down right now to multiplication, the history of the ancients, and, right now, earth and life sciences. In addition we are using Spelling Workout book C, and First Language Lessons book 1, but because Calvin is such an avid reader most of those lessons are unnecessary, and I'd leave them behind if Calvin didn't seem to enjoy them so. More important will be what he reads, and choosing material that is both age and ability appropriate has been a challenge.

Even though we do not really take the summers off the way others do, this is the way we are beginning what feels like a new school year. It feels too defined to me, too far from our unschooling beginnings and hopes, but Calvin is thriving with this plan, and I find it comfortable. Some day soon, I would like to define for myself just what it would mean to teach following a desire with research, trying, and doing, but Calvin helps me with the planning now, and is interested in all that we do. It is a change in our methods, but I'm sure they will change again, which is the point of homeschooling for us: doing what works at the time.

And so we embark on another year of missing the bus to school.

Journaling our trip to the lake.

Reading Anansi stories.




Flexible schooling

We have gone through a transition over here. As far as homeschooling goes I have forever held unschoolers in a very high regard and from the start that kind of learning environment has always been my goal. Lately, however, I have found myself leaning harder and harder on guides—not curriculum per se, but learning guides—and I have been grappling with the increasing distance between where we are and where I want to be. I had this image of getting up in the mornings and following our learning desires from dawn until dusk, but lately we've both fallen enjoyably into following first Math-U-See, then the units in Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, and now the progression in The Story of the World. One subject at a time I have been giving in, or giving up, as I tell myself.

Then, a few weeks ago Calvin asked if he could stop writing in his journal and start doing some other kind of writing practice. I went in search of an answer to this request and came across The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. This is a method of education that is based on the classic trivium of learning stages: first grammar, then logic, then rhetoric. Now, in some part this seems like exactly what I wanted to avoid—the concept of rote memorization by repetition in the early grades seems like it was made to kill an interest in learning. But I decided to give some of it a try, and Calvin is eating it up. He loves the spelling workbooks, the poem recitation and memorization, and the grammar exploration.

So now I can no longer honestly say we are unschoolers.

This leaves me torn. If you consider that we started out unschooling (following Calvin's interests and encouraging learning in every situation) and only recently began to give over to outside influence in methods, Calvin is a wonderful example of unschooling success. He asks questions and pursues the answers, with or without adult help. He is eager to master skills and usually willing to try and try again in order to do so. When he has struggled beyond normal with a concept I have always set it aside and not much later he returns to it, usually on his own, only to grasp it with ease. He is a happy, eager, and able learner all on his own. So why am I looking to curricula at this point? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because in many cases I feel that following a natural progression of information can be helpful, and having a guide to that natural progression in front of me is a comfortable crutch. Or maybe it's because I think there actually may be something to the concept of the trivium.

Unfortunately, saying that we are following a classical education doesn't feel quite right, either.

We've been loosely trying the concepts in The Well Trained Mind for a couple of weeks now, and like I said Calvin is eating it up. But even though I know we'll have to give up the title of "unschoolers", I'm also not ready to say that we are plainly following the classical education arc. In health they say "everything in moderation" and I think methods and curricula should come with the same warning. I'm still trying to fit the process uniquely to Calvin's needs and desires, not just following the recipe to the letter. Math-U-See is where I come closest, but we use games and books to supplement the worksheets, and even as replacement for worksheets that are over-repetitive. We are doing the units in BFSU, but when there is extra interest we spend extra time and delve more deeply and do more research. The same is especially true for The Story of the World. Calvin has a great love for history. The place where I am having to be the most inventive is in the actual grammar portion of the classical education. Via unschooling, learning naturally by using and doing, Calvin has become quite proficient in this subject for his age, and yet there are some things, some skills, that have been missed. So we are wending our way through the grammar, spelling, and writing books recommended for his age, but they are actually rather easy for him, and I find myself supplementing, altering, and sometimes completely cutting out recommended lessons.

Perhaps I can refer to us from now on as flexible schoolers.

I am still thinking about this whole thing. I'm doing a lot of hard thinking, and it's been a real struggle. I feel more comfortable with the classical method and I think I do better with it, and that's saying something. But of course the real measure is Calvin. I don't ever want him to lose the love of learning, or especially his curiousity or independence. I will never stop him from following the thread of his own desire simply because it wasn't on the week's docket. Even while we are classically memorizing multiplication tables, the parts of speech, biological terms, and historical dates while in the grammar stage, we are also still building with Legos, reading whatever is in front of us, playing with art, experimenting with life, staring out the window at the birds visiting our feeder, etc., etc. And I'm still thinking about this whole thing, but we are having a great time, and that's good enough for me right now.



Legos, piano, kitchen counter science, and romping outside in the brilliant fall sunshine are the things that have dominated the last few days here. Today was library book sale day and we came home with two bags of treasure to enjoy. Jon played in his first piano recital in years this afternoon and we all delighted in his talent, and in the family time that inevitably follows such an event. The leaves have just about all fallen by now, and hot tea and evening fire weather is just around the corner.

Our journey through history is now well into the Cenozoic Era, and this week we'll be touring some painted caves in France, and making our way to the land bridge and into the Americas, where our ancestors will meet up with some of the fantastic mammals we've been reading about.

In September I purchased an American history curriculum by Intellego. I was drawn to it for the same reason that I'm drawn to clothing ads in the Sunday paper—I have no confidence in my ability to plan appropriately, be it my clothes for a day, or a journey through the history of our continent.

So I bought the curriculum for the security it could provide. And you know what? It worked, in a Dumbo's feather kind of way. It took until now to get to it because we were delayed in the Paleo and Mesozoic Eras, which was fun, but now we've arrived in the Cenozoic and are at the moment of the Beringia land bridge, which is where Intellego picks up. This weekend I broke out the curriculum only to find that it is mostly a collection of links to other people's free curricula online, with suggestions for activities on the side. So you see, the more I read it, the more confident I am that I could have figured this all out for myself. I was looking for confidence, after all.