Friday, April 13, 2012

The resources we love

To get caught up, you can read about why we've chosen to school our children at home here

A year or two before my oldest started Kindergarten, I read a book that got me thinking about homeschooling again. 

We'd toyed with the idea of teaching our children at home when Anna was very young, but once I had four kids (aged 3 and under) running around my house, I assumed that homeschooling would be a recipe for disaster.  Or at the very least, insanity.

But then I grabbed a copy of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home from the library, and was completely inspired and challenged by what I found inside.  I loved the vision the authors set forth for Classical Education.  I liked the systematic approach to learning and the idea that children be taught according to the Trivium.  I loved the emphasis on History and the concept of studying things chronologically.

While I don't follow the book's instructions to the letter, I decided to embrace the authors' general approach. 

Below are the components and curriculums of homeschooling we have found helpful, and thus used to structure our program.  It takes awhile for your personal style and core to take shape, and I feel like these have emerged as our must-haves.

1.)  Classic Literature.  If you peruse the bookshelves in our modest schoolroom, you will find titles like Pollyanna, The Little PrincessHeidi, CS Lewis' Narnia series, books by the likes of Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, and George MacDonald, and every single book by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I want my children reading things that are worth reading, and to gain an appreciation for truly good writing.  While I believe there is a place for light fiction, I am also a big believer in cultivating an appetite for the beautiful and inspired.

2.)  The Story of the World.  This particular History curriculum is written by one of the women who wrote A Well Trained Mind.  We love, love, love this four-volume set, which is essentially a narrative view of history as opposed to a dry textbook.  And the activity books are excellent too!  I'm not much for the fun art projects (sorry kids), but I do make sure to check out the corresponding books from the library, and have bins filled with them in our home.  This way my children always have access to fairy tales and stories related to whatever time period or culture we're reading about.

3.)  Writing with Ease.  Copywork and narration comprise the core of this simple and easy-to-use system for teaching writing.  I'm working through the first volume with my second-grader this semester.  I love the simplicity and repetition of it, and each passage you read to the child is a selection from--surprise, surprise--a piece of classic children's literature.

4.)  First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind.  Grammar, memory work, all set up in a script format to guide the parent.  I use this in conjunction with our writing curriculum and I love the simplicity and ease of  use.

5.)  St. Joseph's First Communion Catechism.  I like to think of a learned catechism as a systematic approach to faith.  Memory work is a large part of a classic education, and right now my daughter is memorizing this in preparation for her First Communion in May.  You can read more about my convictions in regards to a child knowing their faith, and about this catechism, here.

6.)  Saxon math.  It covers the basics, promotes mastery of concepts,  and oh my goodness, the simple black-and-white pages don't give me a headache.  One of my children is easily distracted, and so this page layout works well for him.

7.)  Latin.  Now this is an area where I am completely intimidated.  And I'll be honest: I'm kind of cheating by listing it here because I haven't even attempted to teach it yet.  But, I have big plans to introduce my daughter to my friend Rosetta Stone next year.  They say that knowing Latin helps with grammar, writing, and spelling, and promotes a better understanding and mastery of the English language.  Plus, there are parts of the Mass that are in Latin.  So, we'll see.

8.)  Music.  None of my children appear to be the next Mozart or Beethoven, but I DO want them to learn a musical instrument (or two.)  Presently, they attend a one-day-a-week program for homeschooled children, where (among other things) my daughter is learning to play the recorder and the piano.  She doesn't practice as often as she should--and I confess to not making this as much of a priority as I'd like--but it's at least something.  She's learning to read music and gaining exposure to the arts, which is wonderful.  And eventually, I hope for my husband to teach each of our children how to play the guitar.

9.)  No TV.  Yes, it's true: we Heldts live in the stone age without cable or satellite.  And my children pretty much only watch cartoons-via-antennae, or movies, when I'm on death's doorstep and needing a cheap babysitter.  There are various reasons for this, one of them being: I want my children reading and imagining and playing--not camped out on the couch with Dora and Barney.  I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with kids watching cartoons, but I like to pretend that I'm stimulating their brain cells by restricting their access to such things. 

Finally, I'll close with another book recommendation (in case you didn't notice, I like me some books.)  If you are a Christian homeschooling parent (or a Christian parent, period), then this is simply a must-have.  Catholic Education: Homeward Bound is inspirational, practical, has lots of lists of resources and ideas, and I promise you don't have to be Catholic to enjoy it.  (If you are Catholic, well, what are you waiting for?  Go buy the book!)  I find myself referencing it regularly and it's probably about time to do a re-read.  If I could only own two books on homeschooling, this and The Well Trained Mind would be the ones.  I positively love the vision of family life casted by these two authors.

So there you have it: a few of my favorite homeschooling things. 

Have you found a particular approach that works for your family? 


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