So we successfully navigated our first week of homeschooling last week. Mainly by not really having homeschooling plans. Thus far I’ve just wanted to spend a bit of time making sure Bella really knows the alphabet. So we are talking about one letter a week. Coloring some pages, maybe writing it a few times. Just putting it on the wall and living with it.
Coloring pages wouldn’t have been my first choice for covering the alphabet. I’d have liked to do more fingerpainting and collage and making letters out of dough and all sorts of fun hands-on creative activities. But I’ve had to sacrifice the ideal for the good enough. Anthony is still exclusively nursing. Ben and Sophie are two and three and very demanding. Grocery shopping takes two hours and that doesn’t include putting away the groceries or making lists. And cooking, laundry, cleaning, being present to all the members of my household, so many things must be attended to. And Bella likes coloring pages. She’s focusing on mastering the art of coloring. So she is happy. More than happy. For now it works for us. And when and if her enthusiasm fades and it seems to be failing… we’ll try something else.
I do have some other plans waiting in the wings. I’m still looking at curricula. And I’ve not actually read through and made plans to use some of the curricula I’ve got: Picture study, Catechesis of the good Shepherd…. Mainly, we’re continuing to do the kinds of learning we’ve been doing all along. We read plenty of books. We talk. A lot. Bella asks questions. I attempt to answer them. We go outside and look at things and wonder. Bella doesn’t think of any of that as “school” and I’m not sure I do either. I just think of it as life. But when I sat down with Dom to talk about what we think she should know we realized that she’s already on target for so many things.
I couldn’t be happier with how much she knows about her faith. Even without Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, she spontaneoulsy took to working on the Easter story, retelling it in many different media. And recently she was playing with the Bible Toy figures and had all the apostles eating at a restaurant while Jesus was the waiter.
Bella’s A is for angel collage. A bit muddled because Sophie asked me to cut her an S for Sophie and then decided she didn’t want it after all. But Bella did want it. And then got excited about gluing and cutting. I suppose if I want them to stay on task, I need to do more preparation and have lot of things for them to glue.
And I think she’s so far ahead of where I’d be happy with in terms of her knowledge of the natural world both in our backyard and outside of it. She can name so many birds and plants and trees. She knows more about the plants in our neighborhood than Dom does. I think we’ve got science pretty well covered. I was perusing a homeschooling article talking about nature study recently and the author’s claim that many children think that grass left uncut would become trees really jumped out at me. I was pretty sure that Bella would know better. But not positive. So I asked her how tall she thought the grass in our yard would grow if Daddy never ever cut it. She pondered for a minute, really gave it a good think, and then replied, “Like the grass at World’s End.” She’s got a habit of observing the world around her and questioning it. She’s capable of extrapolating a conclusion from a set of data. The other night when we were driving back from Maine Ben was watching the almost-full moon out of his window and delighting how it was running along with the car. Bella observed that it looked like it was running with us but that to people in another car going the other direction it would look like it was running along with them.
So while I do want to look into some more formal science lessons, I’m also not in a huge hurry because I do feel her natural delight is being well fed.
Likewise with literature. We just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods and a Bear Called Paddington and Bella is demanding that we spend some time with a chapter book every day. I think in part she loves the books but also because she sees it as a special time with just me and her because Sophie is fairly indifferent to them.
I don’t feel any need to do any formal memory work because Bella naturally memorizes just about every picture book that comes into the house. As well as many songs and some poetry. She doesn’t need much prompting to add things to her memory store. It’s just a matter of making sure we are reading worthwhile books so she has good material to remember. I want to pull out the poetry books and read some to see if anything takes hold. But I don’t want to assign memory work so much as let her own imagination grasp what pleases it.
Math is the one place where I think I may need a bit more structure, though I also feel comfortable with a leisurely approach to looking at curricula. She knows all her numbers and has been working on counting and telling time. She likes to help at the grocery store by entering the four digit codes from the produce into the scale, working on reading numbers and recognizing them. We’ve started giving her bits of money for odd jobs so she’s starting to learn about the value of money. Today she decided on her own to drop a quarter into the St Vincent de Paul box at church. This required quite a bit of planning on her part. She mentioned this intention several times this week but I was quite impressed that she remembered to fetch her coin before we left the house and then remembered to take it into church and then to drop it in the box after Mass all with no prompting from anyone.
Bella’s favorite new word this week is “devour”. She works it in whenever she can: “I devoured my ice cream, didn’t I?” (That doesn’t really fit, but I thought it was funny and I can have a non sequitur if I want to.)
I’ve been reading A Little Way of Homeschooling and although I’m pretty sure we’ll never call ourselves unschoolers, I find the book has done a lot to ease my mind of many homeschooling anxieties. It reminds me that learning still happens even when formal lessons do not. Learning is a child’s natural state so long as they are given freedom to explore and an environment rich in experience rather than in entertainment.
I especially love the chapters by Karen Edmisten, Melissa Wiley, and Willa Ryan. Those three were among the first Catholic homeschooling blogs I discovered and reading their thoughts, observing their methods, and discussing education with them have helped me to define my approach. Like Karen, I love curricula. I love looking at books and making plans. I always will. It’s the teacherly side of me. And I think it’s not at all a bad thing. But then once I’ve fiddled with them a while I don’t always have a burning desire to fully implement them. I am also content much of the time to let those go and drift, to observe and interact and acknowledge that learning is going on whether we are on plan or not. I did this with my classes when I taught college writing and literature. I am positive I will continue to do so with homeschooling. Especially now that I have had that approach so well described by Karen. I fell in love with Lissa’s Tidal Homeschooling when she first blogged about it and I still love it the way she describes it in this book. And Willa’s blend of classical and unschooling also speaks to my classical leanings. (I was a Classics major my Freshman year before I switched to English my Sophomore year.)
Based on all my early homeschooling research from before Bella was born, I’ve always been laying down the tracks, attentive to the ways Bella has been receptive of learning, eager to leverage our library’s resources to follow her interests and feed her inquisitive mind. Education in our house really is the atmosphere we breathe. This “doing school” that we’ve begun this fall is really as much about satisfying Bella’s desire to go to school and to be schoolish as it is to fill any gaps I perceive in what we’ve been doing. If she begins to read this year, I will be content. If she has a later start, I will be content. I’m not going to hurry her. I don’t think it would do much good if I did and possibly cause some harm. I think that reading readiness, as much of learning, is physiological and not in my control. Like walking and talking, it will happen when she is ready. I’m feeding her all she needs so that when the moment happens she’ll be ready to take off.
So yes, we didn’t do as many A activities as I’d perhaps have liked. But on the whole I think we’re doing ok. And she’s already looking forward to starting B week tomorrow. And also to L and S weeks too.