For years, I have felt like a black sheep, a fish swimming against the stream, and not even going in the same direction as others swimming against the stream!
Just this week, I finally got around to reading the book, “A Thomas Jefferson Education,” by Oliver Van deMille. This book has been recommended on our Homeschool Association website since I have been a part of it, and I always planned on reading it, but I have to say it took the “back burner” for over a year. Almost as soon as I started reading it this week, however, I knew this was an example of the style of teaching that I had been looking for.Unfortunately, I am just barely into the book, so I am far from an expert on this method! However, I was so excited about what I was reading that I had to start a blog about it. The general premise is that teachers should be “mentors.” We should be guiding our children/students, not grading them or their work. In fact, when they turn in their work, we should either tell them “great job,” or we should tell them to redo it. Simply do not allow sub-standard assignments to be turned in. Academics, like instruments or sports, should be practiced over and over until they are perfected.
I have gotten ahead of myself…sorry. I am just so excited about what I am reading that I want to share it all! What “work” does this book recommend? Read, write, and discuss. What should they read? Van DeMille recommends reading the Bible, the classics, and biographies or historical texts. After reading, they should write and discuss what they have read.
That’s too simple. What about all of the other subjects that schools teach? We “finish” reading, writing, and discussing in about thirty minutes or an hour, at the most. What are they supposed to do with the rest of the day? What about Math? Geography? Science? Spelling?
Read, read, read.
That’s the basis of this type of instruction. But, it is more than that. You need to ensure that what you are reading is quality work and that it is meaningful to your child’s life. No, I doubt Babygirl will suddenly inherit a great fortune, like Pip in Great Expectations, but she can read it and discuss the choices he is making throughout the book. We can discuss how he treats his friends, because I know that she will have to deal with those issues. Write daily about what was learned that day – again, making instruction meaningful. Discuss what was read and learned. That is something our children (and many 20 and 30 year olds) are missing today – the art of conversation. Not just reporting what has happened, but evaluating situations and events so that meaning can be drawn from them. My grandmother is awesome at that – she will ask question after question after I report the simplest event that it is almost infuriating, but then she fully gets the whole picture. Me? Well, I’m getting there, but I’m a long way from it. I will be learning as my daughter learns, I think, because I was never taught this way, either.
One daily schedule mentioned, particularly for middle and high school students, I think, was that in the morning, the “mentor” should schedule a meeting with the child to do any type of instruction that is needed, answer questions, and help direct the child for the day. Then, the next 4 – 5 hours should be spent in “independent education,” where the child is reading and investigating what they are reading. Geography could come from locating on a map the locations where Finius Fogg travels in 80 Days Around the World. Math could come from figuring the square footage of the men’s court in Solomon’s Temple, as described in the Bible. The child is directing himself. The text even mentioned having at least one essay per day! Then, the last 30 minutes to an hour of the day is spent with the mentor, discussing what was learned.
Some basic truths need to be remembered, though (and I am reminding myself, first and foremost, before I try to jump headlong without looking!). Children from the age of about seven to twelve are still developmentally in the “concrete” stage. That includes my daughter – right in the middle. That means she can’t gain as much from simply reading as a middle or high school student can – she is just not developmentally ready for that jump. So, while reading will certainly be a strong part of our curriculum, and while I will be adding classics to our “read aloud” time, and I will also be discussing things more than I am now, I still very much need to keep concrete education in our daily lives. Can’t get rid of the manipulatives yet!
Another basic truth is this: before 4th grade, children are learning to read. After 4th grade, children are reading to learn. This was a saying taught to me about 4 years ago at a teacher’s workshop, and it definitely shows the shift in focus of reading instruction. Babygirl is in 3rd grade this year, and she is still learning to read (with her special needs, we may be here for another year or two before she can do more independent work). So, we won’t be reading “Lord of the Flies” for many years. Children without special needs are able to read more in grades 4 – 5, but they are still below the age of twelve, so they are limited on the amount of evaluation they are capable of. Oh, I think they should be led to get a deeper meaning from texts, but they may have to revisit some of the readings when they are a little older to get greater depth out of them (which is awesome if there are younger brothers or sisters – let the older ones mentor the younger!)
As far as math, geography, science, and all those other subjects, well… I’m still reading the book, but it says we are to read about those, too. Learn those in connection with what we are reading about. I’ll keep you updated on what I find out. I hope you will read (or re-read) this wonderful book with me and make comments to this and my future blogs to let me know what worked for you and what didn’t!