A week or so ago I alluded to a major change-up in the way that we are doing homeschool. We recently ditched some books that weren’t working, and added a whole new list of wonderful books that so far seem pretty great.
Another aspect of the change is that we are doing more of our homeschooling together. I had always imagined having a separate stack of books for each child, and only doing the really obvious things like art and composer study together. But that was back in the days when we were having a child every two years or so, and weren’t going to stop until we got to five or six, like our parents. Life conspired, and due to a combination of various factors, I find myself with two children who are no longer babies, toddlers, or even preschoolers, and no prospect of new babies for us in the immediate or foreseeable future.
I’m deeply ambivalent about this, as is evidenced by the major crying fest I had the other day when sorting through the baby clothes we’ve been lugging around for so many moves. My pile of “favorites” that I just couldn’t give away ended up so big that in the end nothing got given away. Because you never know, and anyway, I can always save them for my grandchildren. Only it is crazy to be thinking about future grandchildren when my oldest is seven.
Really, I just can’t let go of those clothes, because they represent such a sweet time. Through the rosy lens of nostalgia, I remember feeling like such a competent mother when it mostly involved tangible physical things like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and finding the perfect cloth diapers, soft-soled baby shoes, and natural wooden toys. Parenting gets so much more complicated when they’re older, and I have a feeling that parenting a seven-year-old is only the tip of the iceberg.
We just visited last month with my two little one-year-old nephews, and it was so much fun to remember what it was like to have babies. I admit it was nice in the evening to hand the baby to mom and dad and go downstairs with my two grown-up children who sleep through every night without fail and don’t have meltdowns when they miss their naps. Still, there is nothing more snuggly than little wet baby kisses.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the dynamics of our four-person family. I love the way Axa and Raj are best friends. I am finally getting over feeling that I am a deficient mother because I only have two kids (large families have always been very much a thing in the Mormon church, although by the time I was a kid, “large” meant five or six children rather than ten or twelve, and now many of my own contemporaries are stopping at four). I love that we all get to spend so much one-on-one time. I often take just one of them out on morning errands with me, while the other stays home with Daddy. I remember how much I craved that kind of time with my parents as a child (and it’s not easy to get when there are five children and a dad in medical school and residency), and I feel happy that my kids get it so often. I guess there are advantages to every size of family.
Anyway, this is all only tangentially related to our homeschool curriculum. I originally wanted to have each child do mostly separate homeschool work, because I was very skeptical that with six kids aged, say, one to twelve, it would be perfectly tailored to each child if we were doing most of it together. The programs I have seen where all the kids work together with a wide age split don’t really impress me, nor did I feel competent to create such a curriculum myself. But with only two, who are just two years apart, I feel more comfortable doing more things together. As you’ll see, we still have some subjects that happen separately, but by and large we are mostly working together (and when I say “working,” mostly what I mean is snuggling on the couch while I read to them).
So without further ado, here’s our home-designed curriculum.
Devotional/Religious Instruction – After five years of reading a few verses per day, we finished reading The Book of Mormon yesterday! Yes, we will be going to the beach to celebrate, just as soon as the Bobbles’ new swimming suits arrive in the mail this week. Our new project is the New Testament. We read the Matthew genealogy today, and Tony asked, “why do you think Matthew decided to start this book with a long boring list of names?” Axa replied, “It’s not boring!” I’ll take that as a good omen. Maybe we should be tackling the Old Testament.
For our song, we are currently practicing “If the Savior Stood Beside Me,” which Tony and Grammy and I will be singing at Axa’s baptism next month. We have memorized the Articles of Faith up to number 9. And when it’s my turn for Family Home Evening Lesson, I’ve been doing a series on women in the Scriptures and in L.D.S. Church history, since they don’t tend to get covered very well at Church. So far, I’ve done Emma Smith, Minerva Teichert, Judith, and Tabitha. Next up: Eliza R. Snow.
World History – I finally took the plunge and ditched all the imperialist British books. And I’ve found what promises to be an incredible alternative. It’s the Oxford University Press World in Ancient Times series. This is a ten-book set that covers ancient world history in a more culturally and geographically diverse way than any other I’ve seen. My friend Amira (who is a total kindred spirit in so many ways) recommended these for covering world history that really covers non-western history in more than smidgens and snatches.
Each book covers a different area, including the Near East, China, Egypt, Greece, South Asia, Rome, and America. There’s also a volume of primary sources. The series is technically intended for junior high students, but we are finding it to be both comprehensible and fascinating. Each book is co-written by a YA author and an expert in the particular field covered, which ends up in them being both very readable and well researched and accurate.
The icing on the cake is that the series starts with a volume called The Early Human World, which talks about the evolution of human ancestors. Since Axa’s current obsession is dinosaurs, this book, with its descriptions of fossils and excavations is a great bridge for us into human history. Yesterday we read a chapter with excerpts from the diary of Mary Leakey, who was the anthropologist wife of Jane Goodall’s mentor. Since we’ve watched multiple documentaries about chimpanzees lately, the children were excited. After we finish The Early Human World, we’ll read through all the other books simultaneously, so we get a picture of world history unfolding all over the world.
If you’re interested in these books, the $330 price tag for the set might give you sticker shock like it did me. Fortunately, if you’re willing to purchase them one by one from sites like the book depository, alibris, and Amazon’s Marketplace, you can get most of them for much cheaper. Use AddAll and search each book by ISBN, and it will tell you exactly where you can find each one for the cheapest. This is, in fact, how I get most of my books, usually for only a couple of dollars each. The icing on the cake is that they’re often ex-library books with the special heavy duty library binding and their dust jackets covered in heavy duty plastic.
Geography/Muslim History/Culture – Like everything else,Ibn Battuta has been on hold for awhile. We left him somewhere in Iran. But I think we’ll start him back on his journey one of these days.
Nature Study – Axa has named each of the lizards living in the environs of our house. She regularly observes and catches them, and knows a surprising number of intimate details about their lives. She’s also caught frogs, ring-necked snakes, grasshoppers, and a grouchy old gopher tortoise that wandered into our garage. We went successfully in search of manatees and unsuccessfully in search of sea turtles. One of these days we’ll get around to going in search of alligators.
We’ve watched quite a few nature documentaries about reptiles lately, notably David Attenborough’s Life in Cold Blood. The latest is entitled Super Croc, in which a paleontologist is searching for answers about a 40-foot fossil crocodile he’s unearthed in the Sahara. He teams up with a reptile expert, and they travel the globe together, catching large crocodiles and weighing and measuring them. It makes me a little queasy to see them riding crocodiles (and I must confess I hope my children aren’t getting career ideas from this movie), but it’s very educational.
Natural History – The Burgess Animal Book was such a hit that I was thrilled to find a set of over a dozen similar books by Thornton W. Burgess at our library. Axa read every one, and that was pretty much how she learned to read chapter books last year. She continues to check out innumerable books about reptiles, dinosaurs, sharks, and other animals. My natural history read-aloud for this term, though, is Insect Fact and Folklore, a charming older book I picked up for fifty cents at some books sale or other. It merges information about insects and their habits with legends and human interactions with insects from around the world.
Literature - Tony just finished reading Treasure Island to Axa and Raj, and recently started Tom Sawyer. I have George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin on my Kindle to read when we’re stuck waiting somewhere, or driving in the car. If I’m driving, sometimes Axa reads it aloud to us. We’ve already finished most of the literature and free reading selections from Ambleside Online Year 2, so we’ll probably start on Year 3. We’re also reading out of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.
Poetry – We’re reading out of The Tree that Time Built: a celebration of nature, science, and imagination. I like it pretty well, but I think pretty soon we’ll go back to reading a single author at a time. Maybe Christina Rossetti.
Science – Still using and loving Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Bernard Nebel. We’ll probably finish it up this term and be ready for Book 2.
Maths – Yippee, and hallelujah! I have found a math curriculum that my kids love. The year or so we spent on MEP was great, and the children both learned a lot, but Axa felt like it was getting to be drudgery, and I didn’t love the scripted lessons, since I generally prefer the role of fellow book-lover to the role of teacher. Our new curriculum is called Life of Fred, and every morning they beg to read it first thing. It’s hard to describe Life of Fred, except to say that it’s a set of quirky, amusing story books that somehow pack in a full mathematics course.
Just like Khan Academy, it took quite a few people raving about this series for me to finally get around to trying it out. The thing my kids like about it is that it is funny and very light on the busywork. The thing I like about it is that it presents every single math concept in a real life context. Each chapter has a story in the life of Fred (a five year old with a phD who has a doll named Kingie and teaches math at the university) that incorporates multiple mathematical concepts, and then a section entitled “Your Turn to Play,” contain several questions, some math-related, and some just fun.
We read a chapter a day together, and then when we get to the questions, Axa writes hers down and Raj whispers his in my ear if he wants (because I am not too big on kids under six having to write anything). Only time will tell, but I’m pretty sure we have found a winner. One thing about Life of Fred that I’ve heard mentioned a lot is that it doesn’t give kids a whole lot of extra practice. We are supplementing with Khan Academy and fun math problem books from the library.
Art Instruction – has not been happening much around here. But I have a whole beautiful wall full of drawings and collages my kids have made me in the absence of instruction. I’m going to get back on this, because we were having lovely results with Drawing for Children.
Engineering – Raj is fascinated by building things, and will spend hours in his room alone working on projects. I do a lot of thinking about what I can get him so that he can develop his skills and creativity. So far, we have: K’nex, Legos, Zoobs, Motorized Marble Run, Erector set, Tinker Toys, and lots and lots of cardboard, tape, and discarded household items.
His major fascination is robots, so I’ve been spending time on websites like this and this because yeah, robots were never my fascination, and I have some catching up to do. I’d like to help him build his own robot with an online tutorial, but at the age of five he’s not quite ready yet. In the meantime, we scour the library system for robot books. Edmund Scientific has a pretty good selection of robot kits, and I’m thinking of getting him one soon.
Art – We’re going to focus on cave paintings and other early art, to go along with our history curriculum. Anybody have any great ideas?
Copywork (penmanship) – I’ve gotten a little (O.K., a lot) more unschooly with this, and haven’t been doing much. Axa does a fair amount of writing in her own projects. This is something I’ll probably add in as the term progresses.
Foreign Language – Blech. I am doing so awfully with this, and I feel so guilty. But at least I bought them Il Gatto e il Capello Matto and Prosciutto e Uova Verdi (Dr. Seuss in Italian) for Christmas. Also, Grammy gave us Rummy Roots. Hurrah! It’s a card game that teaches Greek and Latin roots. Axa and I have made it all the way through set 1 and are beginning set 2. Considering the fact that the children play Go Fish! on their own for hours at a time, this is a pretty perfect fit for us, and I’m very impressed with how quickly it has taught Axa quite a few classical roots.
Composer Study – We’re doing Prokofiev, since we haven’t listened to Peter and the Wolf yet, and it’s so fun. Also, Prokofiev did a ballet of Romeo and Juliet, which is my children’s favorite Shakespeare play.
Phonics – Last year at this time, we were doing Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with Axa, and I was setting up tea time with cookies to make reading fun for her, combing the library for books that might spark her interest, sitting with her as she painfully made her way day after day through an easy reader book about sharks, and worrying myself to death that she would never like reading. She is now a voracious reader, so I guess something must have worked.
The unintended side effect is that now when I make my Parental Pronouncements of Fascinating and Useful Knowledge she usually responds gently, “I know.” Having witnessed the delights of reading second hand through Axa, Raj told me he wanted to learn to read, so we’re now working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with him. He’s far more motivated than Axa was, so he’ll probably be independently reading in the next couple of months.
So that’s pretty much what homeschooling looks like at Casteluzzo Academy these days. Anyone else want to share what you’re doing for homeschool this year?