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A Homeschooling Experiment

Hi Readers,

I am taking a slight diversion from my typical posts regarding children’s books to introduce you to a young friend of mine who I think you’ll enjoy meeting and getting to know as much as I have.  Susan is a New England transplant, whose life on a New Hampshire farm took an unexpected turn  when her husband changed professions and was hired in Southern California.  She is currently stepping into the waters of home schooling her 3 preschoolers and I think you’ll enjoy her insight and thoughts as she prepares and plans for the “school” year ahead!  Susan will be contributing more of her musings as her journey takes her further into the world of children’s books for her preschool children, which will help to make this blog more relevant for all of you young mothers!

Starting Our Homeschool by Susan Arico

Homeschooling was always something my husband and I considered for our children’s education, something we talked about.  He’d earned a Master’s Degree in education and spent three years teaching in public schools – enough time to convince him that he’d rather not involve his children in them (and to realize he was better suited to an alternate vocation).  His own dislike of school as a child cemented my husband’s opinion that learning at home was a great idea for our kids.  I was open to the idea and could see its benefits, but I’d greatly enjoyed my childhood schooling and figured we’d sort out our plans later.

A few months before our eldest child turned four (and a week after our third was born), we enrolled him in preschool two mornings a week.  It was a sweet school we all loved; however, things went south quickly the December week he befriended a rowdy classmate with Sensory Integration Disorder.  At school our son continued to behave well but at home he began acting out significantly, trying out the misbehavior he was observing at school and flouting our authority.  After working with him, meeting with his lovely teacher and eventually the principal, and giving the situation six weeks to even out (it didn’t), we pulled him in February.  It was a jarring, sad process.

The homeschooling discussion was suddenly relevant and central.  Would we have him try preschool again the next year – and enroll our daughter (who would be three) too?  Why outside schooling, would we be better without it?  I began praying and reading extensively about homeschooling, talked with homeschooling moms, and attended a homeschooling conference.  We decided to keep both the oldest kids home the following year with an eye toward homeschooling them in kindergarten and beyond.

So this fall I’m embarking on a homeschool-like experiment with my preschoolers.  I know it’s unnecessary to do any formal learning with children prior to kindergarten age, but I’m using the year to optimally position ourselves for homeschooling, and also to experiment (as much for my benefit as for theirs) with different methods of teaching and learning.  The month we pulled our son from preschool I’d begun teaching him how to read using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (by Jessie Wise and Susan Buffington), because I realized that if our son wasn’t going to be learning letters at preschool I’d better step up to the task.  His enjoyment of reading lessons and quick progress encouraged me to continue on that path – as did my awareness that his learning to read would give him a degree of independence that would benefit us both greatly.

As the fall approached, I stepped back to think through what needs my children and I would face that I’d like our weekly activities to fulfill for us:

The needs for friendship and community, paramount for all of us;

The need for both my preschoolers, but especially my active son, to have ample opportunity to be active and expend physical energy;

The need for my children to have exposure to authority figures other than their father and me;

Their need to interact with their peers without a parent standing over their shoulder so they can practice navigating interpersonal relationships on their own;

My need to have one or several short times during the week away from my children;

Our corporate need to engage with people beyond the few families we routinely see at church programming and playgroup (because, as we’re recent transplants with no family nearby, our world in the day-to-day can feel confining and small);

Finally: the academic side of things – the actual schooling.  Because no one has even hit kindergarten in our house, this almost feels like the easy part.

I have no interest in becoming a parent who over-schedules her family and runs all over town.  In fact, the freedom of schedule and slower pace that homeschooling allows are two of its more appealing aspects to me.  But conversely, our being continuously cooped up at home would not work at all for our crew, so balance is critical. We need activity and flow throughout the week, allowing all of us feel constructive and sufficiently engaged in the world, while also having ample time at home to play, read, learn, bake, tidy, and be.

I’m feeling optimistic about our fall schedule as a solid first effort that we can tinker with as we go.  Our mornings consist of three away-from-home mornings: a preschool co-op with four other families; a mother’s church program in which the kids are in preschool-like classes by age; and a town-sponsored art class, 45 minutes in length, for the two preschoolers while the toddler and I play outside.  Then two at-home mornings a week in which the big kids do an hour of “school” with me while the toddler naps.   One afternoon we do a weekly playgroup with other families; another my son has soccer practice. The remaining afternoons are free.

All the while I’m positioning myself for what I want to teach my kids and how (and when) I want to teach it.  I’m experimenting with a ten-minute morning “circle time:” calendar, prayer, Bible verse, song.  I’m trying out Five in a Row, basically an enhanced daily reading enrichment program using top-quality children’s books; this takes 20 – 30 minutes that we can do at any time of day.  And most challenging for me, I’m working through the organization of it all.  Where will we keep our supplies?  Where will I hold circle time and position our calendar? Where can I put additional bookshelves?  I’m realizing that adequately preparing my mindset and our corporate space will make an enormous difference to my enthusiasm for homeschooling, both this year and in the long term.

Susan Arico

Susan and her husband are New Englanders currently living in southwest California where they’re raising their three children (ages 1, 3, and 4).  She is a strategy consultant to Christian nonprofits and blogs about parenting preschoolers at Heart Pondering

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OC Drawing Winners!

Dear Friends,
We have two winners for a free pass to the Orange County seminar coming up on October 16th!  Congratulations to Paula Noll and Trisha Regehr!  If you aren’t able to come to the seminar, or if you’ve already registered, you can use your winning towards $30 worth of purchases to Beautiful Feet Books!  You can print a copy of this post to verify your winnings and/or bring it to the seminar if you’d like to shop there. We will be bringing a selection of books for purchase at the end of the day. If you’ve won a free pass and are planning to come please do register here so we can have a packet for you at the seminar.  Call the 1.800.889.1978 number so the office can comp your registration.   Or, if you entered the drawing but don’t live in the area you can apply your winnings towards any online purchase at Beautiful Feet Books before December 31, 2010.  Thanks to all who participated and we will be continuing to hold drawings for free books, CDs and other items, so stay tuned!

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Final Day for Drawing to OC Seminar

Dear Readers,
Today is the final day to enter your name into a drawing for a free pass to the Orange County Seminar coming up on October 16th!  If you’ve subscribed to this blog but don’t know if your name has been entered for the drawing be sure to post a comment here and I will check and make sure your name (email address) is included.  The deadline to enter your name is tonight by midnight.  I will post the winners tomorrow morning.  So far I will be giving away 2 free passes, but if I get 10 more subscriptions to the blog today, I will add in another free pass.  Also, if you’ve recommended a friend subscribe, and they have, your name will be entered into the drawing again.  Just check with me to make sure I’ve got your name (and your friend’s) in the hat! So here’s the information on the seminar again.  If you have already registered for the seminar, your can use your winning ($30 value) toward books at Beautiful Feet! Hope to see you there!  Also, if your DH (darling husband) would like to attend, they can do so free with your registration!

Equipping Parents and Teachers with a Love of Literature

When: Saturday, October 16, 2010
Where: Lighthouse Coastal Community Church

301 Magnolia Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA
Time: 9am-3pm ( pre-registration due by Oct 7 ) There will be an hour long working lunch break where we will do literary analysis together.
Cost: $30 pre-registration.
At the door: $35
Objective: Provide Parent/Teacher training for the use of classical and historical literature in education, for family read-aloud time, and for pure enjoyment!

Components: Sessions will focus on the following areas:

Elements of literature–what makes a good book,  tools of literary analysis, and the importance of teaching history through literature

Literary choices appropriate for specific historic periods and specific grade levels: how individual works contribute to historical study and cultural understanding

Practicum–a hands-on opportunity to integrate the above skills with actual works (during a working lunch time)

An overview of the Charlotte Mason approach to note booking, nature studies and keeping joy in home education

An inspirational overview of children’s books that have inspired great men and women to do great things

To register go here.  Hope to see you there!  For reviews of my recent seminar in San Luis Obispo, visit here.

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Male Twenty-Something’s Reading Jane Austen

The following article, “How to Raise Boys Who Read” appeared in a recent Wall Street Journal and was forwarded to me by my DH. It struck so many chords with me, and touched so astutely upon topics discussed at a recent seminar I hosted that I had to send it along to all of you who are the vanguard of training up sons who are readers! Bravo! The final line in the article will confirm and affirm you in your mission. You can read the article here.

By way of commentary, I must relate a personal incident that proves the article’s thesis in a way that came home to me a few years ago. My eldest son was studying architecture for a year in Florence, Italy. His first few months there were lonely and he suffered from some culture adjustment mixed with acute homesickness. Because he had no technology to fill his empty hours, he picked up Jane Austen. Guess what? He loved her! He was impressed by how much he learned about human nature, how women think, and male/female relationships. Brilliant. Not only that, but because he’s a strapping 6’3″ male who is generally hungry and there is little inexpensive fast food in Italy–he also took up cooking! Brilliant again! Right about the same time NPR broadcast a study that showed that men who read English Literature and like to cook also have a higher libido than men who don’t. How’s that for the power of good books!? So as a fun aside to the academic and cultural importance of great literature, how about an added one–men who read great books are more manly than those who don’t!!

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Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Liars and Fakes, Jane Austen

Dear Friends,

As segue to a favorite children’s book, I was musing upon the theme of human character.  The notion that often very charismatic folks tend to be reckless and shallow, and that handsome young men can often be liars and fakes (ala Jane Austen), inspired a post on the topic.  Discussing this recently at a seminar made me wonder how often a particular character in literature gives us insight on someone we know in real life. I’m borrowing these themes from the following passage which appears in Kilpatrick’s and Wolfe’s Books that Build Character:

Good books make us better judges of character.  “By meeting certain character types in stories we are better prepared for the day when we will meet that type in person.  A young reader who has met Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows is less likely to be taken in by that peculiar brand of recklessness and charisma when he encounters it in a real person.  An adolescent girl who has read Jane Austen is better prepared for the fact that dashing and handsome young men often turn out to be liars and fakes.  A reader who has encountered Madame DeFarge in A Tale of Two Cities will have grasped the unpleasant but important knowledge that some people in this world are thoroughly ruthless.  A young person who reads widely gets more than the pleasure of plot and setting: he or she gets an introductory course in character studies.”

I certainly would have done well to have had these lessons through literature rather than having to learn them in the school of hard knocks.  Like many young women, I was taken in quite early by the devastatingly handsome young man (who sang and played guitar–double whammy!) and turned out to be a liar and a fake (shame on me), and I have often found myself attracted to particularly charismatic folks, little realizing how that very charisma can mask a shallowness and insincerity.  While I’ve met few people who are thoroughly ruthless, I’ve met enough that have a certain hard-nosed ruthlessness to parts of their character that can cause great pain to others.  And of course, in real life, people are seldom one way or another, but rather are a complex mix of good and bad.  The Wind in the Willows Mr. Toad is fun, energetic, entertaining, friendly, hospitable, and always on the cutting edge of new technology!  But all of this masks his inner demons (restlessness, self-absorption, recklessness, extravagance) and they get him into all kinds of trouble, bringing grief to those who know and care for him.

Of course, the beauty of what Kenneth Grahame has done in this classic novel for children, is to show the meaning of true friendship and how despite Toad’s bad behavior, his friends Mole, Mr. Badger, and Ratty continue to stand by him, rescuing, reproving, and attempting to rehabilitate him.  This is just one of many important character building themes in the story and why it remains such a classic after a century.  There is a lovely post about the centennial of this wonderful work here.

I have always particularly loved the Wind in the Willows with the original Ernest Shepherd illustrations (of A.A. Milne fame as well) and find the marriage of the two artists, Grahame being the literary artist and Shepard the visual, is a melding so perfect that it is like the expressions are one in the same.  I was delighted to discover that some 40 years after Shepard did his original pen and ink illustrations, that the publishers convinced him to revisit them and colorize them–which he did delightfully.  Other important artists that have tried their hands at Grahame’s inimitable tale have included Tasha Tudor, Aurthur Rackham, Paul Bransom and Michael Hague.  My favorite will always be Shephard’s but the other illustrators are worth a look as well.