“A” Week

“A” Week

A is for apple, angel, St Anne. The angel collage was one I did, hoping to inspire the girls by modeling a project. They liked mine but each went on a tangent. Oh well.

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.

A is for acorn and ant

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.

Sophie’s A is for angel collage. I think her attempt at an A is pretty good. At least she’s got the basic idea.

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.

The reverse side of Sophie’s collage.

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.)

Bella made a garden with cutouts from one of the seed catalogs. (Which would be a great activity for G is for Garden or F is for Flower.)

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.)

Bella and Sophie while away the afternoon reading books in the garden. When I went out Bella was “reading” The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog to Sophie.

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.


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  • you don’t need money and stuff to be a Montessori mom – what you did is a great montessori activity! Self-directed learning that incorporates the mind and the body are definitly hallmarks and that is exactly what this activity did. From my Montessori experience, this would fit in perfectly. You even let the children find the lesson themselves and work on it to their own abilities rather than pushing them further than perhaps they were ready (Ben), allowing them to focus if they really wanted (Sophie), or to work on it another time when they felt more ready (Bella). awesome.

    Last year was a trial period for us, where we tested abilites, tried out different levels of structure, felt our way through fitting things into our day-to-day, but we started homeschooling in earnest this year. Claire is almost 4 so obviously it is not very structured and we are not even close to being very academic, but we’re playing with a plan…my plan, hopefully not felt by anyone else. Mostly we jsut make sure certain things happen – lots of reading, lots of physical play, lots of chances for child driven imaginitive play, lots of outside time. and we take the opportunities to see the lessons when they appear naturally – Claire is very curious and when she asks questions we try to give her experiences to drive her curiosity further. I mention this because i have learned a lot from a former college classmate lately that I would really like ot pass on – it has greately informed our attitue towards out daily activites.

    This friend has chronic severe health difficulties that lead her to be bed ridden fairly often. She also has seizures and severe fatigue. they have two kids with hopes for more, and have structured their lives such that it all works. She and I talk a lot about what she feels she isn’t doing for her kids, and her occasional jealously over moms who can do more or who at least have a robust support system. But i have taken lessons from her.

    They have a bed on the floor that is often a family bed, so the kids are always welcome. they have arranged their house such that everything is accessible to the kids when mom is less mobile, yet they are quite safe. I tell her that she has inadvertantly made a Montessori house. grin  They also have tremendous calm to their daily life and their kids get tremendous freedom to imagine and explore the yard, craft their own play within reason and just be kids. they are not without supervision, but she often cannot participate physically. But they also get tremendous amounts of love and cuddles and security that over-structured, over-scheduled, over-guided kids often don’t get. Out of necessity, they just go with the flow and live with such joy on the now since the next day may bring such frustration. They will start homeschooling soon as well, but have no plans to push it to be sooned than needed – they have boys so they are taking care to not push. she is like me – in the no reading instruction before 6 or 7 unless child-guided/insisted.

    I try to bring that kind of calm and happy into our home and it has really changed much of my attitude towards our day to day. when i encounter the frustration of feeling rushed, I try to myself in their shoes and just relax, enjoy our ability to be flexible, and pretend that there is no real schedule. Rather than causing me to waste time, it helps me to enjoy our time more, which makes us all happier and more efficient, while making the occasional lost time into just saved memories.

    I mention all this because i think we all get blinders sometimes. I have been so positively influenced by this ability to shun the stress for the joy, that i really wanted to pass it on to another busy, home educating mama. grin (although, I honestly suspect that you might already do all this quite well)

  • Melanie, sounds like a great school day to me. And fun too. I know yesterday it was certainly warm enough for an outside water activity here. I can’t get over how big Ben looks to me now. I’d have sworn he was a baby just last week. I need Anthony in a picture to remind me just how long ago it was Ben was a baby.