Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Beginnings

Our third year of homeschool is barely a week in session and I already LOVE, LOVE, LOVE our new style!

After spending a lot of time (and blog space) last year researching Classical Education, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go. The book I was reading, “A Thomas Jefferson Education,” is awesome, but the recommendations are more for middle and high school students.  Yes, they do have a list in one of the appendices of books to read for elementary ages, but it just didn’t seem to fit our family.  Since my daughter is starting 4th grade, though, I wanted to have some type of plan.  (I don’t like “winging it” - for me, that means we would probably not have much schoolwork.)  My daughter’s interests are the same as many 4th graders, even though her low IQ and other special needs means she is not able to do the same work, which presented a unique challenge. Since Babygirl does not read on level, and gets frustrated if she has to read anything for an extended time, I knew I wanted most of this school year to be built around reading, but I didn’t want it to be just random books we picked up from the library.  Most series books that she could read may be entertaining, but I was not very excited about building an entire year of education on “Junie B. Jones” books.  They’re good to read and have some moral to them, but there still isn’t much depth.

A little more than a year ago, a friend of mine was cleaning out some things in her house and came across a set of “Treasury of Illustrated Classics” books.  She gave them to me – more than 20 classic books that were simplified for younger readers. They gave me the perfect foundation to build our plans for building a great school year.  They are written for younger children, but they keep much of the depth of character and morals, as well as some of the dilemmas, that the classic characters face.  They are also entertaining, able to keep my daughter’s interest.  To get my daughter excited about them, I let her pick out the order we would read the books.

Another problem is that in the Classical Education tradition, books should be read in a limited amount of time. In fact, in the “Thomas Jefferson” book, it suggests finishing one book per week.  I knew that would not happen. These books usually have about 150 – 200 pages each, way too much for Babygirl to read (or even listen to me read) per week.  So, I extended it to one book per 2 weeks. 

Since our homeschool is arranged in 10 sessions of 4 weeks of school, 1 week off, that means 2 books per session or 20 books per school year.  Was it possible for us to read that many books this school year? Would I be pushing her too hard, only frustrating both of us?

To add to the dilemma, the Classical method is to read, write, and discuss the books you are reading.  Discussing our reading is very simple for us, so I knew that would not be a problem.  If we divided up the reading, where she would read some and I would read a lot, I knew we could probably get through the book.  But – writing??? That is another of her big issues. Writing does not come easy at all for Babygirl.  In fact, it is very daunting for her – okay, terrifying would be a better word.  She has come a long way in the 2 years we’ve had to homeschool.  She now draws every chance she gets (I now have to hide copy paper when I buy a new ream or I may find it scattered over the room with one dragon on each page).  That is such an improvement, but letter formation is still hard for her.  How could we “write” this year?  I know we need to, but I don’t want to overwhelm her, which can happen very easily.  (Look back at my first year posts to see how difficult she is to work with when she is overwhelmed)

I decided to journal, which is the main method recommended by the “Thomas Jefferson Education” book. I also decided that we would keep the notebook nearby when we were reading our classical novels and we would write down “interesting vocabulary words” and important events from each chapter.  If nothing else, we would write a sentence summary of each chapter.  I also decided that I would start writing the journal, letting Babygirl tell me what to write.

Wow!  On chapter 2 of the first book, she was grabbing the pencil out of my hand so she could write the vocabulary words.  I am still writing the summaries or any important events, but she now writes all interesting words in the journal.  We talk about what each word means.  Two or three times per week, we read back over what we wrote about the book, letting us summarize the story and remind us what has happened.  Babygirl LOVES the new style!  She is ready for school and she keeps up well with the stories. Right now, she reads the first page of each chapter (usually about ½ to ¾ of a page), then I read the remaining 4 – 6 pages of each chapter.  She is already asking to read more than that one page, but since we are reading 4 – 5 chapters per day, I think she would get tired of reading too quickly.  Maybe next session I will add a little more for her to read aloud.

Yes, we do other subjects as well, and we are still trying to take 1 field trip per week and one trip to the library once every 2 weeks.  Last week, we went to the Oklahoma History Center, across from the state capitol building, since we are studying our state in Social Studies.  This week, the temperatures are dropping to the 90s for highs, so we will start going to the Zoo again a couple of times per month.  In Science, we’re studying about the human body.  Zoo trips this year will let us compare the different types of animal bodies. This session we’re studying skin, including the sense of touch and hygene, so she can focus on differences between the animal skins. We do a lot of discussion, videos, and research on the internet for these subjects.  Math is still very difficult for her, so we’re taking it slow, making sure she understands basic concepts before we move on.  We are also focusing on the “fruits of the Spirit” this year, taking one “fruit” per month.  This month is Love.

Read, write, and discuss is a style which I think will be fabulous for us. Letting classics be the center of our school day (we spend about 45 minutes or an hour daily on reading), she recognizes the value of reading herself. My hope is that by the end of the year, I can let her read independently and then we can discuss it and I can read what she wrote in her journal, but we are nowhere close to doing that yet.  It is still the first time we have had such a successful first week that I am afraid to get overexcited, but I am!  I hope your child's year begins just as wonderfully as ours!