Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Simple School

I suppose I am now what is called "the homeschool vetran" My oldest is 23 and has never been enrolled in a traditional school of any type. Does this mean I've been homeschooling for 23 year? or is it 18? Anyway....

I have been through a depressing amount of homeschool materials, spent WAY too much money. I often say the only thing I miss about Southern California is a little homeschool curriculum store I used to go to a couple times a year where you could pick up the books and look at them before buying them. Truth is, though, going to our church library (where most of my not-currently-in-use curriculum are) is pretty much the same thing.

Want to look at Abeka grammar?
Or Easy Grammar and it's compaign Daily Grams?
Or A Child's Lessons in Language?
Or Rod and Staff?
Or ....


(No Bob Jones though. The catelog alone is too boooorrrriiiinnnngggg to even read. and the one or two texts I have actually seen in person were worse. I think I have 1 BJ science text there somewhere, just for a sample.)

The same can be pretty much repeated for every subject.

But you know what? No curriculum is perfect. They all have their flaws. I have even thought about intentionally switching it around every year just to minimize these faults!

When I am getting unhappy with whatever we are currently doing (and mamma boredom plays a big part in that unhappy, unfortunately) I go through the same process.
  1. Get excited about some new thing I've never heard of, or some old thing I never paid a lot of attention to for some reason or another. 
  2. Look at the price tag.
  3. Multiply this by how many kids that I would have to buy it for.
  4. Cry
  5. Research other options that are similar, less perfect, but cheaper.
  6. Either drop the whole idea, wait till tax time and see if I still want it, or exchange work at my mom's for some cash.
Lately (the last couple of years) I have been kind of looking at the philosophies that are less 'schoolish,' more natural.

I first noticed when diligently following a preschool skill book with careful lessons designed for each week of a child's life that  the book was trying to replace a normal, natural home with formal lessons. For example it told me to make a sampler book of different textures (2 hours and $20 or so in materials) to teach my child with. "OoooKkkk. My child (6 months old) has touched and explored all these textures over the last week in just the course of everyday life. Why should I do all this extra work to mimic 'normal home life' when my child is already experiencing 'normal home life?'"

It didn't take long to realize that preschool curriculums are trying to give children locked in preschool classrooms the experiences they are missing at home.

So why should I go to extra work and money to duplicate a poor copy of the original when my child has the original?

It has taken a long time, but I am realizing how very much of "normal school" is the same thing. There is very little, actually that we don't cover in the course of normal, day to day, year in year out life.

There is some, though.

So, in the last couple of years I have been shifting my focus to something more "organic" more natural. More simple?

I went through the house, my parent's house, the church library, and the kindle and made a list of all the books I would like my kids to read before they "graduate" (another artificial concept, actually). I realized that this list covered absolutely every subject completely and thoroughly except the maths and grammar. And it simply didn't provide enough practice for penmanship, typing, spelling.

And the books on this list are things I, my Hubby, or my parents have bought as an adult for our own educations; books we find fun and interesting, as well as memorable to read.

So, why should I spend hundreds of dollars to buy boring textbooks every year to cover the same information in the interesting books I already own?

The children have been working their ways through this list for the last year or so, and so far, it's working well. I need to tweak it a bit for the younger ones.

Now I am focusing on those language arts.

So, what about picking a sentence and posting it on the wall over the weekend. On Monday all the younger ones (7-12 or 14) will copy it and we will discuss the parts of speech and how the words relate to each other. We will also discuss the spelling rules behind each word.

On Tuesday I'll have them copy it again and maybe color code the words?

On Wednesday I'll dictate the sentence to them. By this time they should be able to spell every word correctly, form each letter right, and understand how the words fit together. I will be able to see where each child is struggling and customize their work to help them.

No busy work.
No unnecessary review.
Just what each child needs.

Hmmm. We'll give it a try and see:-)


  1. Hi, Betty.

    As a kid, I would have *loved* that curriculum: "read a book! Read ALL the books!" In fact, that's basically what I *did* -- I would find something that interested me and go on a deep dive for weeks or months, which was great except for the part where I couldn't stop talking /about/ my passionate new interest. But my parents bore it with great fortitude, and hardly EVER fantasized about taping my mouth shut!... probably.

    I've carried over that learning style into adulthood, though at least now I'm able to keep myself to myself /a little/ bit. :) So I also appreciate your observation that education doesn't end when you leave school-- if your kids absorb *that* family value, you'll have done a great job. :)

    But I do think following a curriculum has value. Chief among its virtues is this: it forces the student to learn -- and the teacher to teach -- subjects that aren't strengths (and aren't even /fun/!), but that are important. I mean, I absolutely love history -- I devoured my history textbooks and of course read outside of school -- but *without* the often-boring stuff in the textbooks, I would have had no context for any of the outside reading. Basically my concern is that the boring-but-foundational stuff is SOOOO easy to skip when you guide your own studies. Also having a ticking clock -- in the form of curriculum guidelines saying, for instance, "by the end of the first semester of US History, students will be able to answer questions on the Gilded Age" (or whatever) -- is very helpful to make sure you cover /all/ the stuff instead of lingering on the parts that you most love to teach. (N.B. You should absolutely spend more time on stuff you love than stuff you don't! It's just that time can so easily slip away & I wouldn't trust /myself/ to stay on target. Your mileage may vary though.)

    I have one other, smaller concern: I hope you're teaching them at least a tiny bit of chemistry. Like, /practical household/ chemistry at the very very least-- I have a coworker who once, in an effort to get rid of a stubborn ol' stain, followed a series of /completely/ logical steps that resulted in a tiny homemade acid bomb that ate through the floor and the plumbing below it. True story! -- David

  2. You know, I have the same concerns you do about not using text books. That's why I've stuck with them for so long. But I am finally admitting to myself that the textbooks simply aren't covering much more than we do at the dinner table (Hubby is an American History buff, I'm into Ancient History). What we don't cover absolutely casually, we are covering with documentaries and books written by experts (i.e. those in love with a subject) instead of committees (lower than college, textbooks are generally written by committees, not individuals).

    Many of the books on the list are not in areas my children are interested in, but they have to read them anyway:-) We have some of the best Jr high and High school texts on the market, but they just hit the surface and then try so hard to not offend anyone that they just aren't giving what I want our kids to have, are just repeating was was just discussed last night making them a waste of the kids time. He already knows that.

    And the elementary ones? Often insultingly dumbed down. My current 7yo knows more than what is in the 4th grade science books just from our annual vacations and pets. I read one of the best kindergarten ones to my oldest when she was five. Took 20 minutes. We were both SOOOO disappointed!

    It's the grammar and spelling that are really hitting home this week. Putting the books aside and working on what the child needs, no matter his age, is so much more efficient. (and they aren't liking it much so far. They actually have to think, I think, comparatively. Ahhh the joys of being a masochist mom!)

    In other subjects, I have observed much the same thing. The textbooks give a surface amount of information. Just enough to bore, not enough to excite. Again, very often real life simply provides much of this information much more naturally (and really, I'm just admitting this to myself. Makes the vast majority of the money I've spent over the years seem quite ridiculous and very much a waste.)

    Now, there certainly is a place for texts, just not as central as I have been believing. I won't be throwing them away anytime soon, and actually, the best ones are on that reading list. "Don't care if you like it or not, kid. Slug through it. It's good for you." Other ones, I am using to guide me or to make sure I don't forget anything.

    Oh my! An acid bomb, ehh? I will make sure to cover that one! I actually constantly warn about mixing chemicals unless you just really know what you are doing. Both my Mom and her aunt in their younger days nearly killed themselves with the bleach/ammonia mixture.

    Actually, the best, easiest to understand chemistry explanation I have found in all our books put together is in "The Professional Cleaners Professional Handbook" by Don Aslett (which I bought simply because I was curious). Mr. Aslett has made a fortune by being the American cleaning expert. He wrote this book for those interested in going into the industry, but it not only explains the acid/alkaline thing well, he does a great job of explaining a good work ethic and how to be a top notch businessman in any industry. We do have chemistry texts around, but they are hard to understand. Except the one written in comic book form:-P The pictures make it much more understandable, yet, best I can tell, it actually has almost identically the same information as the "normal" ones. Certainly way more than I got in high school (though I took biology instead of chemistry, so might not be the best source for information on that one.)

    You would probably enjoy our dinner time conversations:-) They get, uhhhh, interesting sometimes.

  3. I think I WOULD enjoy your dinner-table talks! They sound like big, sprawling, topic-bouncing /events/, which is the BEST kind of dinnertalk! :)

    I have a couple of questions, though! 1) you say your textbooks "try so hard not to offend anyone," but you don't give examples. Please do! If you had a particular textbook in mind, where does it go wrong? What would you say instead?

    2) Also, you mentioned that you weren't impressed with your public school experience. What *was* your experience like? I ask in all innocence, because /my/ experience was not at all normal. Like, at aaaaalllllll. I went to public schools in very wealthy zip codes -- at least two of my elementary-school classmates lived in straight-up mansions, with like 20+ rooms and multiple stories, and my high school's robotics team had more members *and got more dates* than the football team. Walking the halls of my school, I'd hear people saying things like "It sucks I only got into three AP classes." So I'm guessing your public schools were less nerd-friendly -- but enlighten me!

    (As an aside, I know homeschoolers are often concerned that the public schools will corrupt their children's faith, so let me add that religion was always treated respectfully -- in fact, when we were reading "The Crucible," one of the English teachers came into our class during his period off, dressed up like Jonathan Edwards, and gave a rousing rendition of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" & then led a discussion of Calvinism. It was great fun! And this was in a school where the student body was plurality secular with large minorities of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu students -- plus a smattering of Buddhists. If there were any school where teachers /could/ have sneered at Christianity with impunity, this was it. And it never happened -- not for any of the other religions either, come to that.)

    1. There is no such thing as neutrality. If a text or person or institution is not teaching Christianity or Judaism or etc, they are teaching atheism (a=without, theism=God) which is very much a religion though it tries to pretend its not.

      Most textbooks are written by committees, not people with a passion for the subject. The few I have that were written by individuals with passion are SO superior to the ones written by committees as far as engendering interest in the subject (with a couple of notable exception such as Abeka's grade 8 history). You don't have to have a textbook format to teach that exciting information. Whatever format the enthusiast chooses is fine for portraying information.

  4. Oh also! Re. religion, me, and my dad:

    The simplest way to say it is that my dad has faith and I don't. That's /so/ simple as to be completely uninformative, though, so let me see if I can explain it with a tiny bit of biography, and then by tellin' you how my dad and I talk about religion.

    So, I wasn't raised Orthodox -- and neither was Dad. He was raised secular, and didn't get religion until my sister was born; then he decided he wanted his kids to be raised Jewish, so he joined a Reform congregation (which is the least observant Jewish denomination. Believing in God is not a requirement for being a Reform rabbi -- no joke). After a while, he was like, "But look, the commandments MEAN something. Religion isn't just about being nice to other people.", and he moved us to a Conservative congregation (which is more observant than Reform, but less than Orthodox).

    At some point with the Conservative congregation, my dad felt that the Conservatives were making /too/ many compromises with secular culture, so he moved on to a Modern Orthodox synagogue -- one that had sex-segregated services, very observant families, and extensive adult education programs so that he could make up for a lifetime without Jewish learning. Fair enough! But neither my sister nor I joined him at the Orthodox synagogue -- my sister, because she reaaaaaaaally didn't like the idea of segregated services; myself, because I just didn't /believe/.

    So! How do we talk about religion?

    Every Friday I go to Dad's house for Shabbat dinner. I bring my girlfriend and a bunch of questions, though the girlfriend part is optional. :) We talk about family stuff, we eat, and then we share some "words of Torah," as my dad puts it. Dad summarizes the Torah portion that's gonna be read at services the next morning; I pick something that strikes me as noteworthy; and we have a vigorous discussion -- what could this mean? Why is it worded this way? This seems to contradict passage X -- does it really?

    What I've learned over time is that when my dad reads the Torah, he sees a sacred text with sacred truths -- and there are so many /layers/ of truth to discover, which is what the commentaries are for (and oh my gosh there are SO many commentaries; that's where the meat of Jewish learning is). For him, studying Torah is spiritually rich, intellectually rewarding, just /fulfilling/ if I had to put it into one word.

    And when /I/ read the Torah, I'm like, "... how do you GET to that place of fulfillment from the text that we're actually reading? A lot of this seems weird and arbitrary and disproportionate -- that doesn't BOTHER you?"

    It's a pretty big divide.

    -- David

    1. Everyone has faith. No human being is without it. The difference is in what/who you choose to place your faith in. Most Americans (most humans really) place their faith in themselves or the government or science. Your father places his in the Torah. I place mine in the Bible (which isn't really much different than the Torah. I just think they missed a couple important parts.)

      Where do you choose to place your faith? Where did that decision come from?

  5. ... OK, last thoughts for realsies: I could have made that last comment WAY shorter by just telling a story.

    A few weeks ago, the Torah portion involved Balaam's ass. For my /dad/ (and possibly for you?), the talking donkey was a /little/ difficult but not /outlandishly/ so. God is God, and if He wants to make a donkey talk, He can. So the tale of Balaam's ass is just a literally true story -- albeit one that /also/ contains several deeper layers of meaning, because God's text is not a simple text.

    And for /me/, it was like, "... Dad. It's a /talking donkey/. You know where else you see talking donkeys? In SHREK! It's just a /story/. Talking animals are a big red blinking sign: NOT LITERALLY TRUE"

    I didn't /say/ that in so many words -- but I'm sure I was thinkin' it pretty loudly.

    So! Like I said: a biiiiig divide.

    OK, right. Done for real this time. I promise! :) - David

  6. You have trouble believing a donkey (who has the same type of vocal cord humans do) could talk but not that we are descended from rocks? (“Billions of years ago there was no life. It rained on the rocks, and then lightning struck that (mineral rich rock) soup to create life…”) Fascinating. (and assuming you are choosing to believe evolution instead of creationism).

    “In the beginning there was nothing. It exploded. And here we are”?

    And a talking donkey seems unrealistic to you?

    I simply don’t have enough faith to believe in A-theism/macro evolution. Just can’t fathom it. Too unrealistic to believe all this could happen by accident, especially when observational evidence shows that the laws of nature dictate disorder, not progress.

    You see, it was the very a-theistic education I received that very nearly pushed me out of worshiping God, and did push many of my friends away from God. And that is exactly why I am so adamantly against government education (A-theistic by court order). Of course they will never teach there is a power higher than them. They don’t want the competition. They teach a-theism underhandedly, but they teach it none the less.


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