Recently, I’ve had several conversations with moms who are “formally” homeschooling, whatever that means, after working with their smaller children for a number of years. Inevitably, the conversation floats to teaching/learning styles—not the style of the children, but the style of the mom. We won’t get too far in instructing our children without some enthusiasm and confidence level of our own, right?
One piece of advice that I must have read somewhere early on—it’s not a pearl of wisdom that I would have known otherwise—is to begin thinking about how you envision school before you begin to spend precious dollars on curriculum that you’ll never use. I pass this on to others behind me on the journey because it has amazed me that, dependent upon your vision of school, you can save yourself so much in terms of purchasing, planning, and other preparation. I am a part of a list of college-bound homeschoolers, and after one new subscriber posed this simple question to the group, “What curriculum do you use?” I was amazed at how many of the parents consider themselves eclectic/ unschoolers and what this implies in terms of dollars spent. One parent posted the following in response to the question:
‘We didn’t use any boxed curriculum for our homeschooling. We were very eclectic in our approach. We did a lot of field trips, especially for Texas history. We took many classes at the local science museum, zoo and health museum that were offered at a reasonable fee. We used the library a lot, dd participated in a homeschool teen book club. We did use some homeschool co-ops early on for various things including art, literature, chemistry (from a homeschooler that used to be a chemist)… dd took 2 years of sign language through a small group of homeschoolers that met in someone’s house. We went to lots of theater performances and followed up with study guides. We went to many used book sales to get reading materials…dd has 10 years of robotics experience through our involvement in either running teams or tournaments… I had someone yesterday ask me that was new to homeschooling ask if it was expensive. I replied that it doesn’t have to be, we were pretty economically challenged during many of our homeschool years so did everything on a pretty tight shoestring… When dd was young and we were asked what curriculum did we used, I used to say Milton Bradley, we used a lot of games for early learning.’
I loved the Milton Bradley line, although we’d probably be in the midst of a custody battle with my inlaws if they ever heard me use it. I was floored in seeing her response, not because of any judgment passed upon her, but because her style was so completely different than mine. My hair would be gray worrying about whether our kids were learning anything, and yet this parent was seemingly so comfortable penning her non-traditional approach and often discussing the results. It’s not my style, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not effective.
My thoughts about what school would look like for us have varied over the years. I went from thinking of an approach like my non-traditional friend above (that thought never became a reality, by the way) to where we are now. I never saw desks, and as nice as it’d be to sequester our books to some room out of sight, I sort of like the way that the kids can readily move from room to room, considering wherever they are the “school room” for the day. I stress the term sort of; I’d still run a museum if it were totally up to me. I’m still changing “my style” as I gain more wisdom about the differences in the way the children learn.
The one staple for us has been good books, and this is where my mind travels most often when I think of how I want our school to look. I love reading to the kids, even though I kick myself that I don’t prioritize it enough away from our formal learning time. Everyone is so busy, and I tend to run straight for the computer when my time with them and school is out of the way. I love watching them enjoy a book and the times that we have together over stories. I’ve been looking over the kids’ proposed lists and getting anxious/excited about learning together, especially with the oldest’s selections. I started reading The Iliad on my own just to gain a bit of confidence in sharing it with her. It occurred to me that I must have read an abridged excerpt of this in an anthology when I was in high school, and I was robbed. The language and imagery are so rich and plentiful, and Greek mythology was a favorite of mine at a younger age. Of course, my daughter is at a different season of her life with very different interests, so I will end up reading with and to her in order to hold her interest. Teenagers can be so special, if you know what I mean. The rest of our list (we’re not reading every book on the ancient history list) looks like this:
Epic of Gilgamesh
Plato’s Republic (will read parts of this or some other selection that puts Plato and Aristotle in the context of history)
The Basic Works of Aristotle (see above)
Virgil’s Aenied (setting 50 B.C.]
We will also use the Bible as a history text (in addition to our normal studies) and The Compact View of World Religions to cover Christianity, as well as other religions at a bird’s eye view.
I am always amazed when looking at Great Books listings, particularly when looking over those selected for ancient history, that there is a big void in covering parts of Asia and Africa outside of Egypt. I sought to round out some of our studies by including some Asian and African works with the following selections for free reading time:
The Best of Father John by G.K. Chesterton
The Flames of Rome by Paul Maier
Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee by Robert van Gulik
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick
Ashaki, African Princess by Patricia Weaver
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Anyway, all of this is next year. Today, we finished Dragonwings today and will jump from 1910 to 1930 with Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, a teen’s story of the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and the Great Depression. From there, we’ll move to WWII. I found a story line I’d never heard of—the Navajo code talkers, who communicated secret information in a very patriotic service to the American war effort during the battles of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima. I’m pumped because, normally, Native Americans drop out of American history about the time that we gain independence from England. I found the perfect bit of historical fiction by Joseph Bruchac—I loved his account of the Trail of Tears. It’s the right age group, the right size, and the right price—free through our public library (as long as I turn it in on time—oh oh!). God bless.