September 29, 2009

Figuring out where to go and how to get there

I am in a bit of a quandry regarding our home schooling journey. My son is in 11th grade, and is really ready for college classes. He lacks discipline, in the sense that he still needs me to work with him, help him stay on task, etc. He is a good student otherwise and is ready for the level of work. Our real problem is with content or curriculum. I have been using a very strong college-prep program since 5th grade, but have not been consistent in using it. I have waffled, swayed, and generally, twisted it to fit our particular situation. It has not been an utter failure, just not as satisfying as I would have hoped. So, now I am trying to plan out the next year, wondering what to do, how to do, and what to use to do it with (LOL!)

My thoughts turn me back towards Ambleside Online/House of Education. This is a great curriculum, very intense, and strongly associated with Charlotte Mason's teaching methods. It offers a gentle approach, all the while stressing strong verbal and communication skill. Reading skill is a must. Students READ a lot of good books. It is light on writing, especially format writing, but does suggest expository writing as a viable outworking for all that reading. The main issue with the curriculum is lack of lesson planning. The curriculum does provide a road map, per se, a schedule of suggested assignments along with a strong, college-level reading list. The parent does have to participate, especially with planning and then mentoring. The parent also has to make sure the student "connects" with each book, mostly through narration and other forms of communication. It is weak on structure, which can be difficult for parents who are organizationally challenged or do not have good time management skills.

The other curriculum I carefully considered was The Well-Trained Mind. This curriculum is classical in nature, uses The Great Books, and follows the Socratic Method of teaching (Q&A - dialoging). It is intensive and uses a college-level reading list as well. The writing component is very stringent, more logic based, and requires a great deal of instruction. The advantage of this approach is that the student receives systematic instruction in writing (in argument/debate) over the course of many years, and thus well prepares them to defend themselves orally or in written communication. The biggest negative is it's dryness, it's reliance on self-instruction, and on reading books simply to read them (working down a list of Great Books).

The last curriculum I have looked at is using textbooks. Textbooks are my least favorite approach, but sometimes they work. Sometimes they are the best choice. The biggest issue with them is lack of content. They do contain content, don't get me wrong, they just don't contain a certain kind of content. Textbooks are designed to convey factual knowledge. They work really well for that purpose. They do not work well to instill a love of learning or to encourage original thinking. They display facts, they do not encourage free thinking.

So where do I go from here. This year we are reading Modern History. My son wanted to read from 1900-2000, so that is what we are doing. I am using books from Y11 (AO) along with some that I already had. He is not using AO's suggested schedule nor is he using any of her methods. Our success rate so far is average.

I cannot really go back to AO because Y11 is the last year they have completed. Y12 will be Ancient History and we already did that last year in 10th grade. The only period we have skipped is Y10 or the Civil War era. For some reason, my son just wasn't that interested in this period, and even though I have all these books, he just didn't connect with them this year.

Perhaps next year we will return to AO and complete Y10. This would give him the ability to say he read AO Y6-11 (out of order, but still having read most of these books). I might also just skip Y12 and enroll him in Junior College. I just don't know...I will need to pray some more about this and see what the Lord would like us to do.

September 28, 2009

Planning and more planning

We are almost one month into our home school program. I am mostly satisfied, but still not 100% happy with the outcome. DS seems to like the book choices, seems to be enjoying the history period. I guess I just wished that I had a better feel for what we were doing, a program of sorts to follow, and more guidance.

I am using my own curriculum this year. We have, in the past, relied on Ambleside Online's House of Education for our overall curriculum. We have had good success, medium success and some not-so success over the course of six years. Generally, the curriculum is very good. It is more that it is a Charlotte Mason inspired program, and therefore, there are no lesson plans or instructions outside of Miss Mason's own teaching suggestions. It requires a parent who is well-versed in CM, and who can diligently stick to her teaching methods. I am neither, though I have spent a lot of time reading about her philosophy and using most of her educational methods.

My son liked doing CM. I liked it at first too, but after awhile found all the books to be overwhelming. I mean, instead of having one or two books per subject, it was not uncommon to have five, ten or even fifteen (per year). This made it very difficult to coordinate the study. It made it difficult to connect the dots, so to speak. Even though I tried to keep it all scheduled and organized, I always felt like we were behind where we needed to be.

I tried other methods: unit studies, classical education, and even textbooks. Nothing really clicked for us, and we found most other curriculum lacking in rigor (academic strength). Our best approach has been an eclectic one, utilizing various methods and books, and combining them by courses. This is what we have done since 10th grade. Our success has been fair.

Perhaps the problem isn't the teaching method or the books or even the educational philosophy? Perhaps the problem is me? Perhaps it is just my own short-sightedness or unwillingness to let go and go with the flow? Perhaps it is my need to be in control of our days and weeks -- to micromanage our home school program?

In planning for next semester, there are some concerns coming up. One is beginning the ACT testing process. DS is pretty well set on going to college to study music, so I also need to make sure he has all his ducks in a row, music-wise. I also need to knock off Precalc (ewh!) My goal is to make sure he is ready academically to handle the ACT test. I also want him to be ready to take some classes at the Junior College.

It is hard to work all this in AND do home school. Home school planning is 90% battle; the rest is just walking through the park. I wish I felt more confident that what we were doing was right, that it was preparing DS for college. I think it is, but I cannot help worry about it. Oh well...just parental flutters, nothing more!

September 23, 2009

Schooling Update

Today, I am revising our home school schedule. DS is doing well, but really needs a daily list to help him stay on track. I have tried to give him a weekly schedule once before, and he starts out good, but then seems to get sidetracked with other interests, and before you know it, is behind on his studies. My goal is to prepare him for college...well...I don't think he is ready for that yet.

I am going to go back to using our online school schedule template. I started doing this back in 9th grade and it worked well. DS could easily login and check his schedule. He could read online assignments, click through to video labs, etc. It made it possible for him to do school without me, so that there was no excuse ("Mom didn't give me a schedule printout.")

Hopefully, this will help him stay on top of his studies and we can make sure we are completing all our assignments.

-->Link to our virtual school schedule

September 22, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Yesterday was our son's 16th Birthday! Hooray!! We went out to dinner and ate at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. It was GREAT!! We love eating at RC -- they have the best steaks in town (and in the entire world).

September 9, 2009

Music Lessons

I am learning to play the cello. It has been a dream of mine for a long time, something I have wanted to do for nearly twenty years. A friend loaned us her cello (my son's music teacher), and then this past weekend, another friend (of my parents) gave us his old cello (well-worn, but still useable).

I have been teaching myself (with my son leading -- he is so phenomenal at everything musical -- and he is a GREAT teacher), and have to say that I am actually making some progress.

I am not musical. Never have been. I struggled to learn to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in 4th grade and was dropped from the school band. I tried guitar in high school, but couldn't move my fingers and strum at the same time (ok, I admit it -- I cannot walk and chew gum OR rub my tummy while patting my head!)

My son has the music-gene, thankfully. He is an accomplished pianist, an extra-ordinary guitarist, as well as beginning cellist (well, let's just say he blows me out of the water and pretty much can either figure out what to play or can learn how to play it in less than five minutes). I love music, and I love listening to my son play music. My heart has longed to play music as well, but I really believed that I was incapable of playing or learning any instrument.

I complain a lot, especially about not being able to play my one piece of music, "Ode to Joy!" perfectly. My son tells me I am doing well. He also reminds me that I picked that piece of music. When I tell him I want to play it "my way" (something he did while learning piano), he smiles and says "No, you have to play it the way it was written." (Oh, thank you, Mrs. Macklin -- your patience and understanding of my son's uniqueness has rubbed off -- he GETS it!)

Sigh...I just want to play well. I don't expect to perform for anyone but my family. I would really like to be able to play hymns and praise songs and generally play pieces that I like. It is not a big request, just a little one.

Did I mention that my fingers hurt? LOL! (My son is smiling at me and I can hear him say: "it will get better, Mom. Just be patient.) God is so GOOD to me!

September 1, 2009

Update on School - Year 11

Well, we have completed our first week of school, and are beginning week two. So far so good. Eleventh grade is a challenge, to say the least, as there are all those worries and concerns about credit units and graduation (and college) looming up ahead. It also is a great year, because eleventh graders are mature students. They know how to do school, they know what is expected of them, they understand directions, and (best of all) can follow them. They also have interesting ideas and can voice their opinions. They are delightful to have in class and they generally are interested in learning new information.

Our program for Y11 changed radically two weeks ago. We started out as we normally do, set on using House of Education Y10 (from http://www.amblesideonline.org/). DS had been used to this curriculum and had completed Y6-8 and part of 9, over the past few years. AO/HEO is a very good curriculum. It is based off the teaching methods of Charlotte Mason and provides a solid, classical-type education. It is free too, which is a super bonus tossed in just for fun!

However, over the course of the past couple years, we have strayed from using it exclusively. We seem to drift back to it when we get stuck or when the money runs out and we still have some school year left to fill. We don't seem to choose it for the right reasons though. No, we use it as our 'fall back' curriculum, which I think is really a shame. It is a solid, good curriculum in it's own right, and our popping in and out of it, well just doesn't do it any justice.

This past year, I think the truth sunk in for me. My son just hasn't liked using this approach, and while he has been good about completing his courses, he just has been slowly losing interest in school. I thought it was the 'teen years' or hormones, but it became clear to me two weeks ago, when I saw the look on my son's face. It was so obvious that he didn't want to study AO/HEO anymore. He just didn't want to do it. It was a look of reluctance, a look that said "I will do it because you ask, but...I don't really want to do it at all."

I am not the type of parent that runs around picking curriculum to suit my son's interests (some parents do this -- they do total student directed studies). I incorporate his interests, of course, but I do try and keep us on a traditional schedule and plan out a scope and sequence for us to follow. It has just been more and more difficult to find studies that interest him and adhere to my scope and sequence. I am thinking college, he is thinking electronics. I am worried about credit units, he wants to build a robot. See what I mean?

So, two weeks ago, I prayed over my son's reaction to his 11th grade school program, and the Lord gave me His permission to follow my son's lead. I ditched our scope and sequence and embraced the course of study that my child wanted to follow. And...here we are...two weeks later...and finding school interesting and enjoyable again.

I think the biggest change for me was letting go of my scope and sequence and letting my son direct his studies. I still did all the planning, I still found all the books for him to read, etc.; I just followed his suggested timeline instead of my chronological/traditional approach to school.

This is a brief summary of what we are doing this year:


  • Bible - we are reading through the Bible in one year using an online reading plan. We have really enjoyed reading aloud the Word, looking up Hebrew and Greek words, and studying the Old Testament atlas.
  • Math - we are still waiting on our math curriculum. The Lord has directed me to use Saxon Advanced Math along with the Saxon Teacher DVDs for 11-12th grades (sort of split over two years). I need to order this curriculum, but money is tight right now, so we will wait a bit longer.
  • Language Arts - we are doing A LOT of reading this semester. Instead of following CM's recommended approach of reading a book slowly over a long period, I am reading a certain number of books each month. These include biography as well as literature titles. I am also including a poetry study in this course.
  • Social Studies - we are studying Modern Civilizations this semester so I am using a textbook I found at Half-Price books (Prentice Hall). I got it cheap (under $5) and it provides good background history for our course. DS is also reading Carson's "Basic History of the US" along with Churchill's "The Great Democracies". Overall, he should get a good worldview of the 20th century.
  • Science - our science study is really based on interest. DS is reading three "Dummies" books right now: A+ Certification, Robot Building, and Electronics. I will have him demonstrate his understanding of each book through either a report/poster presentation or a model/building project.
  • Music - our music program is on-going. This semester, DS is learning cello and is also teaching me cello (to prepare him to teach beginning music students -- he is such a good teacher!)

That is it. It is a boiled-down program, just the nuts and bolts, nothing fancy. There is no copywork, no nature study, no government books. It is the basics, and frankly, a pretty solid course of study. The books are all excellent; the assignments involve reading and then writing reports. Discussion is key, so we are spending a lot of time going over the books, the history, the author's background, the significant points, relevant themes, and key characteristics of each one. I never had time to do this with AO, but now that we are reading fewer books (more quickly) we are actually able to focus in on these details.

Here is our Fall Semester reading list (Language Arts & Social Studies):

  • World History: Connections to Today (Prentice Hall)
  • Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense by Laurence Perrine (HBJ)
  • A Basic History of the United States by Clarence B. Carson (Vols. 4-5)
  • The Great Democracies by Sir Winston Churchill
  • The Roosevelts: an American saga by Peter Collier
  • Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel by Albert Marrin
  • Hitler by Albert Marrin
  • Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
  • Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Adolf Hitler
  • Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This looks like a lot, I know, but in reality it takes about 1-2 hours per day. Our schedule is very low-key, and my son spends most of his time reading from his books. Here is a snapshot of our day today:

  • Bible read aloud from Genesis 3-6 and Matthew 2 (w/Mom)
  • Reading from The Roosevelts (pg. 31-60)
  • Reading from Lord Jim (pg. 19-36)
  • Poetry study using Perrines, ch. 1 along with selected poems (w/Mom)
  • Reading from 1984, pg. 15-26
  • Math - skipped until we get our curriculum in house
  • Piano practice and chamber practice
  • Cello lesson w/Mom (DS teaches, I practice and learn)
  • Reading from A+ Certification book -- DS reads on own, interest led
  • Discussion of books as needed (w/Mom)

Really, that is it. I would say that all in all we spend about four hours more or less. The bulk of our time is spent in discussion (whereas it used to be in reading silently -- DS coming to narrate). I enjoy this approach so much better than how we used to do it with CM. I am actually a partner in my son's learning now. Before, I just facilitated the books. I organized them, handed them out, and then listened to him as he narrated back to me. Now, I am teaching him, helping him understand complex issues, making connections for him (a big no-no in a CM class). I guess I never realized this before, but I am the adult (duh?) and as an adult, I have collective experience to help my student understand important events in our history. If I just let the "books do the teaching" as CM suggested, there is so much my son will miss. He will not see how important a particular book is or why some theme is critical to understand. I am not telling him what to think, I am just introducing key ideas and concepts and showing him why a particular author or book is important to our understanding of history. I guess I am more of a traditional teacher than I am a CM teacher. I simply see the necessity of this type of preparation, especially at the high school level. I can tell all ready that my time has reaped great rewards. My son is far better prepared to tackle a difficult book (like 1984) now that he is armed with some background, historical, and literary information. It just makes sense to me. Oh well...