Tuesday, April 8, 2014

All the things I wanted to say, Part Four (last one!)

by Anne White

How do you keep resources and time organized in the upper years?

Charlotte Mason supplied her students with a carefully thought out timetable.  It made sure there was variety in the day, that a subject heavy in writing was followed by something different, and so on.  This also helped to keep things running smoothly when there were different ages working together,  needing the teacher's attention at different times. But since we want to encourage our students to take some responsibility for their own learning, we may decide to just give our older students a schedule or a list of things to be accomplished in the day or in the week, and let them figure out what to do when. At our house we are using a modified workbox system, where I load a row of magazine holders with the books we need for the day's school; but I also have a "teacher's binder" with lists of the chapters to be read and other ideas for the term. There are all kinds of ways to keep things on track, but which ones work best for you are going to depend on the particular needs and styles of you and your students, as well as whether you have your "courses" divided up into just a few major credits or not.  It's not hard to provide a few drawers or folders marked "Math," "Science," "Literature" and so on; but some parts of a CM education don't fit perfectly into those categories, and you may prefer to keep things a bit looser.

Cindy Rollins, longtime keeper of the Ordo Amoris blog, has a ritual called Morning Time, where all the students (and mom) get together and read things like poetry and Plutarch, do memory work, whatever works well as a group; and then they go off to do their invidual work. When I was homeschooling a middle schooler and a third/fourth grader together, we did a lot of combined readalouds and even things like science study together too; for those two years I tried to pick resources that would work for mixed grades.  Again, you may have to try things out; some students work well together, some work best with a parent, and some want to do it all on their own.

What are the possible pitfalls and problems of using CM in the upper years? What Daleks may try to exterminate your homeschool?

1.  Don't compare, don't worry about what everyone else is doing (or how well they're doing it).

2.  Don't underestimate the children, focusing on limits rather than possibilities.  One pitfall might be to overdo everything, overload and burn out; but the other might be to assume that certain subjects or books are too long, too difficult, or not relevant to today's world. Charlotte said not to drop whole subject areas just because we ourselves think they're too dry or too hard; it is important to open as many doors as we can, do as much exploring as possible.

3.  Even older kids need some variety, some surprises.  Charlotte Mason criticized people whose dinner menus were too predictable; I think she would have said the same about lessons that were always the same. Unless you have one of those students who gets severely stressed by mom's attempts to mix things up (there are some of those too), it's good to include some little twists and surprises.  Do some math or grammar orally.  Play a math game.  Spend some science periods looking through the microscope, or otherwise learning the material in a different way.  Find something different or interesting to do on Tuesday mornings or Friday afternoons--that might be when you check out nature trails, or discount times at the museum, or visit an elderly neighbour.

4.  Don't forget the whole-cookie analogy.  In our family, we tend to take a relaxed approach towards writing, including essay writing; we do use some commercial resources, but it's not very "programmed." Sometimes I've wondered if I'm shortchangiing my students by not making as big a deal of the formal, five-paragraph essay as other homeschoolers do; or by not giving them enough creative writing assignments. However, our older girls who have gone on to public high school have frequently had their papers picked out of the pile as exemplary.  And our youngest won a place in a student poetry anthology this year.  So the whole (cookie) is not made up of trying to glue a whole lot of unconnected crumbs together; the "top down" method of teaching writing largely by example seems to be just as effective.  (We use a few formal resources as they get older; it's not all osmosis; but I still think CM has given us an appreciation of what it is to learn these things naturally.)

To switch from Dr. Who to Star Trek for a minute, I like the ending of "The Undiscovered Country." Captain Kirk is heard in a voiceover saying:
Captain's Log, Stardate 9529.1: This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man - where no one - has gone before.  
You are the worldshakers, the innovaters, the ground-breakers, the brave ones. You may have to fight off a few Daleks on your journey through the galaxy, but the adventure will be worth it.

And to add one thought for Christians who are listening or reading:  I heard this week from a pastor (and former homeschool mom) who has organized a series of short-term missions trips to Asia, focusing on children's ministries.  Being a person who likes order and organization, she always plans ahead as much as possible.  On this particular trip, she felt unusually un-organized; her team was much smaller than originally planned, she had fewer ideas written down, and so on.  However, she committed the trip (and her anxiety) to the Lord, and they went ahead, working in co-operation with a local church.  Can you guess what happened?  An unusually large number of children not only came for the programs, but committed their lives to Jesus Christ.  When we are weakest, He is strongest.  (Or to put it as the pastor did--when our binders are the emptiest, He has the most room to fill in the details.)  This is not to discourage planning ahead!--but rather to remind us all of God's faithfulness.  If He has called us to this journey, He can carry it out as well.

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