First Day of School?

Lucia.
Sleeping Lucia, because I didn’t take any appropriate pictures of schoolish things.

I decided to start school today (as much as we start, because really we never quite stopped) because Dom is home and could help hold the baby and distract the boys. So this morning after breakfast we launched into a more structured approach to daily math and reading lessons. It was pretty good primarily because Sophie is so very excited to begin doing math and likes doing reading work too. She kind of carries Bella along on her coattails.

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Sophie began working on Saxon K, which Bella and I loved last year. (It was only when we got into Saxon 1 that she decided there was too much writing and suddenly she hit a wall and just couldn’t go on any longer.) I think it will be a good fit for my Sophie who loves workbooks and worksheets and enjoys a methodical approach to learning.

I’m thinking of doing Miquon Math with Bella. I am going to borrow the books from a local homeschooling friend and we’ll see. Today Bella just filled out one of the Saxon worksheets. Doing that on her own with no formal lesson plan worked fine and gave us both a feeling of accomplishment.

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The girls are both in roughly the same place with reading. We practiced a few short i words and then read two sentences from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. I plan to look at Progressive Phonics as well, a local friend suggested their program. I think rather than printing out the books I’ll download the ebooks onto the iPad.

I suspect Sophie will learn to read first. Just because she’ll work harder at it. But Bella will click eventually. On her own timetable. I think focusing on teaching Sophie and letting Bella sort of listen in from the backseat, so to speak, takes the pressure off of Bella to perform and she does much better that way.

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After we finished our reading lessons Sophie decided to practice writing her big Bs. Bella decided to try to figure out how to write “grass”. That’s about as much handwriting as I could reasonably expect in a morning. When Sophie got frustrated with her handwriting I suggested she might want to use the Montessori sandpaper letters app on the iPad. So she gladly worked at that for about an hour. Then the other kids all took turns on the iPad. I think the girls looked at the Musical Instruments eBook, Ben and Sophie played Starfall, Anthony did a Montessori shapes app.

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This afternoon because it was rainy Dom let Ben watch Cars while Bella and I read a chapter of The Horse and His Boy and a chapter of The Golden Fleece and Sophie played Starfall. Then Bella and Sophie and Anthony watched the end of Cars.

At bedtime Bella and I read a chapter of a book about the Chinese Terra Cotta Warriors while Dom read stories to the other kids. Ben’s pick was a Magic School Bus book about honeybees. Sophie’s was Mouse Count. Anthony requested The Selfish Giant. And Sophie fell asleep looking at a book about saints while Ben paged through Anna’s New Coat.

Somewhere in there I baked a loaf of bread. Dom cooked soup for dinner. Lucia nursed a lot. I changed some diapers and dealt with some tantrums, broke up some fights, fixed some snacks. (Ben is trying to learn how to peel and cut his own apples.) We went to check on our garden, spied morning glories, cosmos, zinnias, marigolds, and wondered at our budding sunflowers. I read The King of Birds to Sophie. I read something I can’t remember to Anthony.

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This is a pretty typical day. We don’t really get more structured than this. Some days I try to squeeze in a catechism lesson. Sometimes we read books about saints or Bible stories. Sometimes we do some science books.

A friend asked if I think of myself as an unschooler.

I think of myself as having unschoolish tendencies, but not as an unschooler. I have great sympathy for unschooling ways of thinking, but I like a roadmap and I do more planning than I think is properly unschooling. And I need a math program. I can’t just wing it with math. I don’t like the feeling when I’m trying to make up my own math lessons. I want a book to work from, but I don’t have a problem with supplementing when we need something else, with skipping things we don’t need to do or finding a new book when it’s just not working. And I like to have some kind of program or book to focus my teaching of reading, although I’m always willing to ditch the plan if we run into a snag and to look for something that works better. I plan out a course of study for history and science, following a general path, though always ready to take side trips if something catches our eye. I have an idea of things I want to expose them to, but I’m always on the lookout for things I didn’t expect and I don’t want my plans to get in the way of grabbing those opportunities as they arise. And yet I don’t quite like the idea of making those side trips and detours the sum total of our educational journey as I think a true unschooler would. I try to take into account their learning styles and preferences and see tears and frustration as a signpost that perhaps we might want to try getting to the same objective by a different route or we might want to postpone– not give up but postpone–our attempt to get to that destination. I like to be free to seize unexpected opportunities when they arise and not feel like I’m straying from the plan. I don’t make weekly or monthly lesson plans. Last year I just wrote a one-time document at the beginning of the school year and then we made our way through the books at whatever pace we took them. I revisted my plan a couple of times to see how it was working and tweaked a bit.

I’m not sure I could explain how I choose what I choose, how everything comes together in my head. I think it’s kind of just who I am. I do not take naturally to lists and schedules, but I do take naturally to teaching and learning and I just love the process. I think I’m a natural teacher but I might be allergic to spreadsheets and charts and grades and so many things that people think are part of the trappings of teaching. They stress me out and I always fall behind and then feel bad and then want to give up. When I was teaching college classes I hated the planning part and found my students always got annoyed at my failure to keep on schedule. I was able to mostly stick with my syllabus, but it felt artificial and I just don’t see that kind of structure happening here with babies and toddlers and field trips and grocery trips and sicknesses and all the messiness of family life.

What I love most about homeschooling is all that sort of structure is completely optional. I kind of feel like an outsider when I’m chatting with other homeschoolers and they tell me about the lesson plans they’ve made and curriculum they’ve bought and organizational schemes they have. Maybe I’ll find as the kids get older and I have more school-aged students I might need to do more planning. Maybe. The only way I can stay sane right now is to go with the flow. I do periodically review how we are doing with Dom (he always says he thinks we’re doing fine.) and look back at my master plan and make resolutions to step things up where I feel they might be slipping. I always find things I’ve planned inevitably fall through.

And yet, somehow, learning happens. To me the process is kind of messy and mysterious and joyful.

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8 Responses to First Day of School?

  1. Charlotte September 3, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    I have heard that Singapore Math is a nice introduction to Saxon (if you have plans to switch them back to Saxon in the future which is what our experience has proven to be the way we will go with Cupcake). I have not used it myself but have talked to people about it, people who love Saxon for the older grades but hate it for the younger. The younger grade Saxon was why we left Saxon to begin with many years ago with the Professor. It’s just not designed for homeschoolers and in fact, was not written by John Saxon but rather a council of elementary education professionals. Anyway… maybe something to consider if Miquon doesn’t work out for you.

    • Melanie Bettinelli September 3, 2013 at 10:54 am #

      Charlotte,

      What attracted me about Saxon was my impression that the focus was on the manipulatives, starting with the concrete and moving from that to the abstract. That was true in the Saxon K book but in the Saxon 1 they jump too quickly from the manipulatives to the written problems without enough concrete hands-on work.

      I get the impression that Singapore doesn’t use manipulatives at all but is all written work, which means it relies on the child being at the stage of using symbolic pictures and mental images. Now, I haven’t looked at the actual books, but it looks like they are all workbooks and nothing hands on. Maybe they do use manipulatives but expect you to supply your own with household objects?

      Miquon Math was recommended to us by several different people when I made the complaint about Saxon jumping from manipulative mode to abstract mode too quickly. My understanding is that Miquon stays on concrete much longer, using the Cuisinaire rods for problem solving and transitions gradually from the actual rods to pictures of the rods instead of expecting the student to solve problems with numbers quite so soon.

      Really, I’d love to find a curriculum that is a boiled down Montessori in a box for homeschoolers. I found one that looks like it might be that, but there are no reviews and I don’t know anyone who has used it and I’m hesitant to buy a whole new curriculum which may or may not be what I’m looking for. The other advantage of Miquon is that I already have the rods and all I need to acquire is the books, which I’m borrowing from a local friend. The cost for trying it out is just the time we spend with it. I’m a big fan of free.

      But if we get to the point where Miquon isn’t working, I might well look at Singapore, especially for the older grades.

      • Katie September 3, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

        I haven’t commented before, but I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while now.

        I was homeschooled, and while my own little boys aren’t school age yet, I have been teaching for homeschool co-ops for eight years now. My favorite math curriculum by far is RightStart Math (having taught early elementary using Saxon and Singapore as well). I started it when my pre-kindergarteners finished Saxon K and were ready to move on conceptually in math, but in no way were ready for all the writing and such that comes with Saxon 1. The curriculum developer is a trained Montessori teacher, so lots of Montessori principles and ideas (as well as a more Asian approach like you find in Singapore), but with the structure of formal math curriculum with daily lessons. The early levels (K-2nd) use lots of manipulatives and very little worksheets.

        I really liked Right Start before I started studying the Montessori philosophy, but I appreciate the curriculum even more as I try to implement Montessori ideas into my home and teaching.

        • GeekLady September 7, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

          I’ve been noodling Right Start for a while – I like it’s approach, but it’s expensive. I’m thinking about buying just the instruction book and worksheets for level A and improvising manipulatives. It’s one of those things that’s hard to justify though, since I’m good at math, and suspect I could teach it just fine if I only had a list of topics I needed to cover.

      • Erica September 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

        I’ve used both the kindergarten and first half of first grade levels of Singapore Math, and I will say that there are lots of suggestions of how to work with manipulatives. If you explore their website you will find that they have many manipulatives for sale, but they also suggest household items you can use. Just my 2 cents about Singapore!

  2. Katherine September 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    We use A Beka for math as it is very colorful and varied enough it keeps their interest. I needed manipulatives too though as the book and fingers were not always enough. I bought several of those magnetic rocks through amazon as you can add or subtract as needed. They work well, but I need to be very careful none wind up on the floor as they are such strong magnets.

  3. Jocelyn September 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Thank-you so much for this post!!!

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