August 26, 2008

Looking Back

I started thinking today about our home schooling journey and started to recall some of the things we have done that have worked out great. I also was reminded of some of the things that didn't go over so well. I thought I would put together a list of some of our positive and negative experiences over the past couple years.

Things That Have Worked Well

These are just some of the things that have worked well for us.

MEP Math - MEP or Mathematics Enhancement Programme from the Center for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching (University of Plymouth in the UK). MEP was a real life saver for us. We found MEP after a rather terrible experience using Saxon math. We had tried a number of other free curriculum and nothing was gelling for us. My son was struggling to move past 6th grade arithmetic and into Pre-Algebra and just couldn't get passed the basics. He had been an all-star math student up to 7th grade and then just crumbled when he was asked to tackle some more difficult concepts. MEP offered him a way out, a fun way out, and gave him a love for math again. We successfully completed Year 7-9 and earned two high school credits: Algebra 1 and Geometry.

Rosetta Stone - we were fortunate enough to be able to use RS through our public library system. The cost of this program is prohibitive (nearly $300), but well worth every penny in it's approach to teaching language. We were able to study mulitple languages at a time when my son was very interested in them. He completed French I/II, German I, Latin 1 and Spanish I before our library's contract with RS expired this past June.

Good Books - when we started to home school, I was really torn between using textbooks or reading from library books. I had friends on both sides of the camp, some that used living books and some that used A Beka or Bob Jones. We ended up going the living books route and found a treasure trove of resources: Ambleside Online,, Project Gutenberg, An Old Fashion Education to name a few. We have used good books for almost 5 years now and have no intention of switching (nothing against textbooks -- we do use them for math and science!)

Mentoring the Classics - we favor a TJE approach (some Charlotte Mason too) to our schooling. We read great classics and then discuss them. The method relies on a mentor (teacher/Mom) and a student studying together. Though I do not always read every book my son reads, I do pre-read and pre-screen them, and would say I have read *most*, but not all of his reading list.

A Beka - We absolutely love A Beka science books. This is our fourth year using these books for science and so far we have not had one miss. We love the colors, the layout and presentation of the material, and the straightforward way the text is written. They are excellent books and the least boring textbook we have read.

Easy Grammar - The BEST grammar text we have ever used. We tried A Beka, Simply Grammar, Holt & Reinhart, as well as Kelloggs and KISS. Easy Grammar is just what the name implies -- one of the easiest systems for learning English grammar. It worked like a charm and even for this old Mom -- after 35 years of schooling -- I was finally able to learn grammar and enjoy it!

Things That Have Not Worked Well

Textbooks - well, except for math and science, we pretty much stay away from them. We used a full course of A Beka textbooks last year (for 2 months) before we had to send the DVD program back to the company. We continued to use Health, Geography and Biology, but the rest have sat still on our book shelves. They are boring and repetitive and do nothing to really excite our interest in the subject area.

Saxon Math - there is not much I can say about Saxon other than it just didn't work for us. It was dull, boring and repetitious. The explanations were convuluted and never quite made sense. My son loathed it and I finally gave up trying to use it after the umpteenth nuclear meltdown when trying a lesson. We ditched it and have never looked back.

Workbooks - these go along with the textbooks. We have used workbooks sparingly over the course of our home schooling. The only positive experience we had was with Spectrum Math for 6th grade. My son liked the way the lessons were laid out and blitzed right through this book. Of course, that just set us up for failure the following year when trying to step into Saxon. Generally speaking, we have used workbooks as little as possible, preferring instead to use a living books approach and TJE (Thomas Jefferson Educational method of mentoring) and classical education.

Classical Curriculum

As we approach the start of our school year, once again, I am changing our courses at the last moment. I start planning our year in the spring time and then revise and revise over the summer. Usually, it all will come down to the week before school begins before I actually have everything in place and ready to go. Most of the time, the culprit is money, or lack thereof. High school level texts are downright expensive, and even purchasing them used, can hit our wallet rather hard. This year, we will again choose to follow the "penny pincher" path to home schooling. No matter how hard I try, I seem to end up looking at the cost of books and find myself saying "why?" Why spend $100 on a science text when a practically good text sits on the shelf? Why purchase a math book when we can study the same material online for free?

I am frugal to the core and simply hate to spend money needlessly. The Lord knows that I am this way and He graciously provides the books I need each year. Most end up coming right off my bookshelves. A few will be picked up used or through our local Half Price book store. I don't mind really, and neither does my son. We actually like having a personal library in our home.

So to the point of this post...

After prayerfully considering our options for Year 10 (including World History and US History), the Lord has suggested a more practical approach: reading through a Great Books list. I have mulled the idea over before, but never thought my son was up to the challenge. He just didn't seem to have the "stick-to-it-tive-ness" necessary to read through a list like that. However, in the last year, he has really matured and developed quite a solid mindset, a good worldview, and a stalwart attitude about history. I am very pleased with his development and think he has what it takes to read through a Great Books list.

We only have 3 years of schooling left so I am going to ask him to read three periods instead of four. At first, I considered using Veritas' Omnibus I and IV and just combining the books into a one year course. But after looking through them, I realized that we had already read some of the suggested books. I also was struggling with how to organize such a day and how to make this approach as simple as possible for me. I am rather organizationally challenged these days. The more I attempt to get my self together, the more I seem to fall apart.

Today, while I was struggling over the books and how to schedule them out, the Lord suggested I look over another Great Books list. I had printed the Great Books reading list off of the Well-Trained Mind website a number of years ago. I had tucked it away in my school binder, thinking we might use it some day. Well, today was the day and I pulled it out and read through it again. Presto! Click! It all made such sense to me.

My plan is relatively simple. My son will read through the list for the next three years. He will keep a history notebook, divided into 3 sections (Context, Book Notes, and Compositions). He will use the Mortimer Adler reading method (suggested the book, How to Read a Book,) for taking notes and will read through the list at his own pace. If he wants to read fast, he can. If he needs to read slow, he can do that as well. It will be his job to finish this list before he graduates. No pressure. No timetable. No schedule. Just him reading 2-3 hours each day and completing the requisite math and science courses we choose.

I am so relieved. It seems daunting, I know, but I happen to have an exceptionally gifted student on my hands. I have tried Classical education, traditional textbooks and Charlotte Mason's methods and none have really worked for him. He consumes books and texts and can read books, difficult books, in less time than I can take to schedule them out. He has worn me out and I have run out of ideas on how to keep his mind active and engaged.

I told him today about our plans. He was pretty non-challant about it. He is that way because he would much prefer to not do any school and just spend hours programming the computer or creating mods for his computer games. This summer he has spent 7-9 hours a day programming and I decided enough! I am giving him so much work to do that he will not have time to do much of anything else. I know, it sounds brutal. It probably is, but I know my child best, and he works best when he is under the gun and has a boat load of work to do.

Case in point - his piano teacher assigned him the following tasks for the month of August. He returns to lessons next week and all of this has to be completed:

  • Memorize the 1st movement of Chopin's Sonata
  • Learn two Czerny pieces, #5 and 6
  • Relearn the piano portion of Vivaldi's Concerto for 2 violins
  • Arrange for 2 more violins
  • Write original composition for Chamber (piano, guitar, and 4 violins)
The funny thing is that this didn't even phase him. I just asked him how he is doing and he said he is finished and ready for next week's lesson. UGH!

Here is our reading list and instructions on how to keep a History notebook. I have also simplified our graduation requirements and boiled them down to a list of things to be accomplished by the end of Year 12. I am going to ask my son to complete the list and when he is done, he can be graduated from high school. I know...weird, huh? I guess it is self-schooling at it's best. I have stressed and labored over how to school my son and how to meet state standards, college admission requirements, and make sure we cover everything -- to the point where I am sick and tired of the entire thing. I just don't care that much anymore. Sure I care about my son's education and sure I care about what he is learning -- but I don't care about all the details, the hoops, and the levels we "must" complete. I care more about what he thinks and feels, than how many credit hours he has completed.

Afterall, this is why we chose to home school him in the first place. We placed a far greater amount of interest in what he was learning, than in how he was to do it. Somewhere along the line, I lost sight of our reasons for home schooling and got myself all twisted up with the details and stages of learning. I lost my love for learning and I think drilled some of that right out of my son as well. time like the present. Time to learn, time to enjoy, time to live life again.

Update: September 1, 2008 I just finished typing up our revised school schedule. I have posted our weekly reading assignments to my website here. Feel free to click through and check out how we hope to do school this year.

August 6, 2008

Of Mice and Men, Part Two

The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men Gang aft agley

"No matter how carefully a project is planned,
something may still go wrong with it."
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy,
Third Edition.

I just posted the poem "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns (where his famous phrase, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" is from) because it got me thinking about how this is so very true. I have been working on my son's 10th grade curriculum for months. It is not unusual for me to spend a couple months each year, usually in the spring (initially) and then in the late summer, working out the details of our next year's program. This year, however, has been more difficult than in previous years. My son will start 10th grade and this year marks the final countdown, so to speak, for our home schooling adventure. I have three years to get him prepared for college and to make sure we have "crossed all the tees and dotted all our eyes." Credit hours and transcripts, courses and course descriptions...oh my goodness...there is so much to consider and keep in mind when planning out a high school program.

My son hopes to attend music college (probably a Bible college with a solid music program) and as such I need to make sure he is not only ready (academically), but also that he has taken the core and elective requirements necessary for acceptance. Every college has different requirements for admission, but most want to see a standard or traditional curriculum listed on the transcript. We don't follow a traditional textbook approach, so I need to make sure that what we do cover will match up to a college admission officer's scrutiny. I know that most colleges really want to see SAT or ACT scores (they use these as indicators of general ability) as well as a transcript that shows a student is well-rounded and ready for college study.

I know we will not have any issues on either point. My son is very smart and a good student. He is creative and gifted musically so he has many outside/extra-curricular pursuits. He is also articulate and well-versed in literature and history. He will do fine...

His mom, on the other hand, worries and frets (or should I say "sweats") over the details. Yes, I am very organized and a good planner. I am just not a detailed person. I tend to look at the "big" picture and gloss over the little details (knowing they will get done...eventually). Take writing for example. I have not spent as much time on our writing program as I should. I am not really worried about it though...I didn't learn to write well UNTIL I was in college (the fire and the frying pan) and I got very good grades. I don't plan on waiting until college, I am just not worried about it and know that we will make sure to cover all the important aspects of writing before he heads off to school. I guess I am more interested in seeing his mind develop and in knowing that he is developing critical thinking skill. We spend a great deal of time reading books (some day I will post our book list -- if not just to remind me of how much we have accomplished over the years) and then talking about them. We do a lot of hands-on work and 'real' life application. My goal is to present my son to the world as a well-adjusted, well-rounded, well-educated young man, ready and able to handle anything life may throw his way.

Nevertheless, big ideas and goals aside, those pesky details need to be addressed. I have blogged about some of our plans in previous posts. Most of that blogging has changed over the course of the past weeks and/or months. I have redefined our goals, changed courses, and generally, narrowed our options down to just the "nuts and bolts" of our 10th grade curriculum. It is a necessity, really; I mean, you cannot keep on going on the "big" picture. At some point, you have to come down to reality and figure out how you will get from point A to B.

So this is it...our plan for the fall. It is not too terribly thrilling and in many ways it does look pretty traditional. I am OK with that aspect because it does what it was intended to do: it moves us one step closer to Year 11.


This year we will focus on American History (1400-2000). Our spine will be A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. In addition, we will read a number of supplemental books (Slavery/Anti-Slavery and WWI-II) and study primary source documents.


English will coordinate with History (somewhat) and we will focus on the novel. I have several science-fiction/fantasy works scheduled along with one or two reality works (Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, for example). Included -- writing the essay. We will review Jensen's Format Writing and work hard at writing essays of various lengths (from 1 page to 6).


We will use Teaching Textbooks Algebra 2 this year. I have heard many good things about this program and we are going to give it a try. My son is a visual learner -- but the fact that this course work is designed for independent study -- is a BIG plus to me.


I have finally broken down and decided to use Apologia Chemistry. I have debated over using AP science for years, simply because I never was impressed with their General and Physical Science texts. I also had heard how hard these texts are and thought that they would be too intense for my science-loving, but not math oriented student. However, I reconsidered using it this year when I read a review that stated that Chemistry, in specific, could be done independently. My son is very gifted and I like the fact that these books are written to the student. We are going to give it a try and it we have good success, will continue with Physics next year.

Foreign Language

We will use Tell Me More German, a four year program, to continue our language study this year. We have used Rosetta Stone previously (through our library), but I feel my son needs something with more tracking ability -- to make sure he is getting the material. I have heard great things about this software program so we are going to bite the bullet and purchase it for Y10-12.


We will study the Old Testament this year (New Testament next) using the CLP book, The Kingdom of God. I have heard that it is difficult and dry...but we will just read it as supplemental to our listening of the KJV on tape.


Ugh! My worst subject in high school... We have to complete 1/2 credit in PE sometime before graduation. I am thinking we can do this if we are diligent to get out every day and run/walk or bike. It is not that big of a deal, but being that we all are "couch potatoes" even a little bit of exercise is work for us.


I am leaving this one up to my son. He has already covered Visual Basic and C++ for elective credit. I am not sure what is left for him to do (maybe SQL). LOL!

That is pretty much it. If you would like to see my high school program (a CM-inspired approach), you can read about it here:

It hasn't been updated to reflect our current plan, but it gives a good overview of "how" one might create a CM High school program.

Of Mice and Men, Part One

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough
by Robert Burns (1785)

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Isn't is funny how we become accustomed to certain sayings yet we have no knowledge of where they came from or how they were meant to be used. I found myself saying "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" and thought "hmmm....I wonder who actually said this and what did it really mean?" So, thanks to Google, I googled it and voila! I found it!! It was the poet Robert Burns and he wrote it as part of his delightful little poem entitled, "To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough." It makes perfect sense when you read the entire poem.

August 4, 2008

Homeschooling Through High School

If you happen to read my blog (more than once), you will find that I tend to write a lot of posts about home schooling. It requires the lion share of my time and attention, and as such, is the "thing" I tend to focus most of my energies (both mental and physical) on each day, each week, and each month. I have home schooled since 2004 and believe it has been one of the most difficult thing I have done (except give birth) in my life. It is not easy to home school, despite what people say when you ask them "is it hard to home school?" Most tell you , "no" or if they are honest they will say "it is a challenge, but I am up for it." Home schoolers, in general, try and stay up beat and will usually take the "it is fun route" over truth-telling. This is because home schooling is still a minority pursuit and many, many, many people are opposed to the idea of doing it. Though home schoolers have made great legal strides and now have equal access to curriculum, to events and activities, etc., we still are often looked down upon or treated as second-class citizens. This post was not meant to digress into a discussion of home, not at all. I just wanted to say that in being honest about it, I have found it very difficult to home school my child.

Performing "Ballade" by Brahms on August 2, 2008

That being said, said child will turn 15 in 45 days (yes, he is counting). He will begin 10th grade in the fall (September 2) and is actually looking forward to it (school, maybe; turning 15, definitely!) He has asked me to teach certain subjects, namely Chemistry; and, wants to continue his language study in German. I guess that does speak volumes. I don't know many high schoolers who are actually looking forward to taking Chemistry (I certainly did not) nor who are anxious and eager to continue foreign language studies. I guess I am fortunate to have a child who LIKES school.

My son has always liked school. He loved it when he could finally go to Kindergarten and loved every single year he was at the public school. Home schooling was our choice, his Dad's and mine. We took him out of public school for academic and social reasons in 5th grade and plan on home schooling him through graduation. I don't think my son really understood just how bad public school was for him. I know he suffered greatly with bullies and with being picked on daily. I think he looks back on it in hindsight and thinks it was a normal part of the experience. He wasn't the ONLY kid getting picked on, but he was our kid and we gave the school chance after chance to do something about it and they didn't, so we exercised our right to pull him from the school and took him home.

The academic issue was much harder to address and really is the primary reason we have chosen to home school. Our son is gifted academically and as a young student, struggled to fit into the classroom environment. Now as a teenager, he probably would do just fine in an honors course or enrolled at the Junior college. That being the result, of course, of 5 years of learning at home and maturing under our watchful care. He is by all accounts a very ready and able student. He will do well in college and we feel he is ready to handle all the unpleasantness of any college campus.

Back when he was 10, though, he didn't fare so well. He was skipped a grade (from 4-5th) and then by subject area into a 6th grade class. Academically, he did fine (all As). Socially, well...he got the brunt of the social injustice of the public school system: bullies and bullying. All this, simply because he was smart and gifted and able to compete with kids 1-3 years older than he was. Home schooling actually turned out to be a bonus for him. We felt we were sheltering him from the nastiness of the middle school years, when in turn, we actually were giving him the freedom to learn at his own pace and to develop primary interests (music, computers, programming) that have helped him become a well-rounded and dynamic young man.

Now as we approach 10th grade, our thoughts and our plans turn towards college. Last year, my big plan was to make it through our first year of high school. We put up with alot of questions, concerns, and downright antagonism to our home schooling through high school plan. It was tough and the microscope was on us nearly all the time (are you testing him? how will you know he passed his class? can you give him grades? Ugh!) We passed 9th grade with flying colors and are now ready to tackle some more "meatier" subjects: Algebra 2 and Chemistry. I have to admit that I am more excited about 10th grade than I have been about any of our other grades at home. It is something about the courses and the fact that my son is ready for them -- well -- it just makes me happy to be home schooling him.

A guitar duet on Seven Wicked Reels (with 4 violinists) on August 2, 2008

As I finalize our plans, I am settled in the knowledge that our son will graduate from our home school come 2011. He would like to study music and become a musician. We are thrilled with his desire to study music as he is a gifted pianist and can see him doing something with music and computers (his two great loves). I know that he has the skills to handle college classes and that he finally has developed some independence and responsibility, enough to ensure that he will be able to keep up with the demands of a college schedule and also the advanced coursework.

All in all, though our journey has been difficult at times, it has been rewarding and well-worth it. I do not think it was a mistake to home school when we did (5th grade) and am finally able to look back on those first few years and marvel at what we attempted and actually accomplished.

August 3, 2008

Praise the Lord.

Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.

2 Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.

3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,

4 praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and flute,

5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.

6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.