May 5, 2010

Some Ideas for Next Year

I pretty much have our entire Y12 planned out. I have been well-pleased with our progress this year, and think that if we stick to our program, we will end our high school journey will great success. My son has been happy to continue on with Ambleside Online, a free Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum. He has read through (meaning completed) Years 4-11 (minus 10, which we will do next year). In all he has studied Ancients to Modern, read entirely from living or real books (novels, fiction, historical non-fiction and biographies). We have used a few textbooks, but only ones that were well-written and in a narrative (story-like) format.

Our history program has been rich and detailed. We have supplemented with some video instruction from the Annenberg Project (for science as well). We have found the video content on this free educational website to be exceptionally well-done (most is produced through Universities or WGBH Boston, aka for PBS). We have also enjoyed a Western Civilization course called The Western Tradition, which we used for Art History credit. It was exceptional and featured over 2700 images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in NY). And, speaking of Art History, we made great use of the Met's website called, A Timeline of Art History, whereby we studied the art of each period in-conjunction with our history.

Overall, I think our approach to learning at home as worked. I have a number of friends who used textbooks only, some that used a combination of textbooks and novels, and then some who used a literature-based reading program. There is no one way to home school, and there is no curriculum that is best. The neat thing about home schooling is that there is curriculum to meet every need and every learning style. So no matter what style your child needs (say factual as in textbooks or varied as in a unit study), you are sure to find something that will work in your particular situation.

For us, a classical reading approach has been the ticket to success. My son, funny enough, was not a reader when he was a child. He barely read, and I mean barely read anything. He did like books, but they were easy readers. He was not a book worm nor was he really interested in reading classical novels. He was a sight reader, still is, and struggled with both reading fluidity and comprehensions. Reading challenging books was, well, a challenge for him! We stuck it out and now he reads extremely well. He chooses to read difficult books, and has no issues with vocabulary or complex language. I am really pleased with his reading skill and know that he will do just fine in college courses.

I found Ambleside Online within a couple weeks of starting home schooling. I had rashly taken our son out of public school, and was using left over materials from his 5th grade teacher. I also was using some books from our own library. The problem was that we lacked any cohesive structure to our program, and I knew that I needed a road map to follow. I wanted to do my own thing, rather than use a packaged curriculum, but needed a little hand holding to do it. I needed a program that was well-designed, efficiently laid out, but still gave me room to tweak.

I also knew that money was going to be an issue, and with seven years of home schooling ahead of me, I needed something that was free or close to it. Ambleside fit the bill. Not only was it challenging, but it was well-designed, very thorough, and gave me the freedom to tweak as our needs changed. The only real mistake I made with this curriculum was starting my son in Y6. I should have followed the Lord on this one (conviction is there for a reason), and placed him in Y4. Had I done so, he would be finishing up Y11 for 12th grade. Instead, he is doing Y11 this year, and back tracking to Y10 for next year. In between, 8-9th grades, I had to slow him down, switch gears and use a difficult curriculum because the level of books in Y9 were simply too advanced for him. Had I waited a bit, he would have done better, and completed the entire rotation in sequence. Oh well, hindsight, you know.

This is my review of our progress over the last six years:
  • Classically inspired reading programs are challenging and develop language skill far better than traditional teaching methods
  • Books and lots of them feed the mind, fuel the imagination, and develop critical thinking skill
  • The more you study history in context (in relationship to other subjects) the better you are able to grasp the significance of the period
  • Literature, fine literature, is the building block for all language success. If you want to speak better, write better, and read better -- read fine literature. It is the only thing that will train you to be articulate and well-spoken.
As I approach the end of our Year 11, I am thinking that with one more year left, we have a few things we need to work on. The first is essay writing. We have been working on essay writing for three years, but we haven't really gotten to the point of writing a critical essay (5-6 pages). This is my goal for Y12. These are the types of papers expected of college students, so we need some practice in writing them. The second thing is to continue working on critical application -- theoretical and abstract study of literature and history. I am pleased that my son's critical thinking skill has finally arrived (he is a late bloomer), so I want to sharpen his focus and attention to detail. This will help him stand his own in college courses where opinion and fact are a necessity. Lastly, he needs to work on his foreign language as most colleges like to see language studied in the last years of high school. He has a number of languages already, but is currently studying Russian. He needs to finish this course up and then get moving on the Intermediate-Advanced curriculum.

My hope is that next year we can also take the ACT exam twice (perhaps a third time if necessary). I want him to have all his ducks in a row for college applications so we are collecting samples of writing, lab reports, special projects, DVDs of piano performance, etc. I am not creating a huge portfolio for him, just a small but varied, sampling of his high school studies. I also have several transcripts, one written as a narrative and explaining our educational methods, ready to go. I feel pretty confident that we are on track and have everything in order. Now, we just have to finish Y12.

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