When I started out homeschooling my children I swore that I would not be one of those schizophrenic homeschooling moms who is addicted to curricula and constantly switches from one to another. And it should have been an easy resolution to keep. After all, I decided to homeschool before my oldest child was even conceived, and spent a good portion of the first few years of her life exhaustively researching homeschooling methods and curricula. My plan was to find the perfect curriculum and follow it perfectly with my perfectly predictable children from preschool through 12th grade.
And then life happened. Turns out my children are no more predictable than I am, and what works for them is not necessarily always what I originally envisioned would work for all my hypothetical children. Add to that the fact that new curricula are always being invented, developed, and talked about in homeschooling circles (not to mention the other fact that I am addicted to novelty, whether in reading material, meal menus, or place of residence) and I’ve discovered that it’s impossible to plan ahead too far. Which is not necessarily so bad when things usually end up being better than you could ever have planned them.
When Axa was about three, I decided on Great Books Academy. I loved the idea of basing a curriculum around good literature. We accordingly sent away for a gigantic softbound version of all Andrew Lang’s many-colored fairy books, as well as some miscellaneous gems like Draw Write Now and Kate Greenaway’s The Language of Flowers. We liked the fairytales, but I wasn’t too keen on the lesson plans and workbooks. In fact, I’ve been allergic to workbooks since childhood. I was sure there had to be some better pedagogical method out there.
A while later I discovered Charlotte Mason, and knew I had met a 19th century kindred spirit. I ordered her six-volume set of books on education, and discovered a pedagogy that made sense to me. For the next few years, we followed the curriculum at Ambleside Online, which aims to be as close as possible to the curriculum that Mason used in her own schools. I joined the associated community of homeschool parents following the curriculum, and learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of homeschooling from devout Christian mothers, some of whom were homeschooling as many as eight or ten children at once.
I credit the really wonderful classic books from the Ambleside reading lists that my kids have been listening to on cd since they were three for their precocious vocabularies. And it was the Ambleside moms who encouraged us to get outside for 4-6 hours per day (whatever the weather), resulting in the fact that we’ve gotten intimately close to nature on three different continents.
Last year, though, I realized it was time to move on from Ambleside. For the sake of my daughter, who is obsessed with dinosaurs and wants to be a biologist, I really feel like I need to provide a solid foundation in evolution, among other things. Relevant suggestions from the fundamentalist Christian viewpoint at Ambleside range from Answers in Genesis to Ruth Beechick’s Adam and His Kin to a “science” text entitled Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day.
On top of that, the more of we read from Ambleside’s history selections, the more bothered I am by the misogynist, racist, eurocentric version of history that, to be fair, was fairly typical when it was written, one hundred years ago.
Whew. I’ve been needing to get that off my chest for awhile. I love the Ambleside community to death, but I was getting tired of the endless discussions of whether nude art was O.K., if yoga was of the devil, or how to teach kids about their “sin nature,” and especially the general intolerance and utter incuriosity toward any viewpoint other than the evangelical Christian one. I have nothing against other Christians, and Mormons can be just as bad when they get in insular groups like that. I just needed a breath of fresh air. And I was always a renegade Amblesider anyway, since I let my kids read about pagan mythology and ancient civilizations from when they were little, with absolutely no anxiety over whether it would confuse them religiously.
Also, to be honest, my children were chafing at the way we were doing “school.” Homeschooling was becoming a chore for them and for me. We needed a change. So I joined an online secular homeschooling group, and an in-person secular homeschooling group. And I let my kids run wild and unschool for a few months while I rethought my homeschooling strategy. Which is the really awesome thing about homeschooling. As long as I keep up regular trips for the library (which is a pleasure for all of us and we never miss unless we’re deathly ill), the children seem to somehow keep learning anyway. We’ve had to delve into interlibrary loan when it comes to dinosaur and robot books, and we’ve been so busy watching nature documentaries (not to mention all the seasons of Meerkat Manor) that I haven’t had time to even think about finally catching up with the rest of the world and watching Downton Abbey. But other than that, I think we’ve suffered no ill effects.
And we’re pretty much ready to start some semi-formal homeschooling again. But slowly. Slowly! And with great attention to keeping it enjoyable and stimulating. In fact, we started out on Monday, gently easing ourselves in. Today we read the second chapter of Life of Fred (our new math curriculum, for which I have very high hopes), a poem out of The Tree that Time Built (recommended by my amazing homeschooling friend Erin) and the first chapter of The Early Human World.
Then we put up our new wall timeline, which at Axa’s request will focus on prehistory. I got some rolls of receipt paper at a thrift store, so I’ve tacked that up on the wall and am pasting dates on it (e.g. 500 MYA, 450 MYA, etc.), and Axa is working on drawing an animal to represent each period, beginning with the Cambrian. I’ve saved the other side of the hallway for my new history timeline, but that will be fun another day.
While Axa cut and pasted labels for the prehistoric timeline, Raj and I did a lesson out of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and broke out the National Gallery ABC Game that Grandma Betty got us for Christmas. By that time it was time to go to the goat farm. This time around, I’ve resolved to start one new book per day rather than rolling everything all out at once, so we are done with homeschool for the day. So far, so good. Tomorrow I’ll give you a rundown on all the books we’ll be using during this new term.