Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nature Study, in The Armpit of Texas

It was exactly this month last year, humid and hot and swarmed with mosquitoes, that I was reading Charlotte Mason's writings on nature study.  Oh my goodness, the last thing I wanted to do was walk outside with my children.  It seemed almost dangerous.  In fact, I got brave and walked to the preschool two blocks away, and felt awful to bring home a baby with welts of mosquito bites.  Despite the stories of children learning about God's creation in the rainy dreary outskirts of London, I wasn't buying nature study.  It was just another dose of Mommy Guilt.  Oh yeah, my kids are supposed to be outside.  But I'm scared to go outside.  In fact, so are they.  We have nets hanging from all of our doors to keep the mosquitoes that make their way inside to a minimum, and we still have a few a day.

But despite the fact that we live in what's described by many of our neighbors as "The Armpit of Texas," nature study soon became one of the delights of our home school life.

 I first quit complaining and simply gave a try at getting us outdoors as much as possible.  In a few weeks the weather cooled.  The mosquitoes persisted, but we could tolerate longer sleeves, and I made peace with using 30% DEET on the kids most days.  Yes, we tried essential oils.  Our mosquitoes aren't scared of essential oils.  If the mosquitoes are really bad and the bites are inevitable, we'll take Zyrtec before we head out.

In October I tried to find days when were could spend the bulk of the day outdoors.  We packed snacks and lunch, lots of water and bug spray.  I often packed books, but we have yet to get any real reading or school work done on our outdoor days.  But some of our efforts were smaller than planning outdoor marathon days.  I tried to make it a habit to pack up and leave the house in time to walk, rather than drive, my preschooler to the nearby church on her preschool mornings.  I began to collect a few field guides, and I would pass out the laminated trifold bird, butterfly, and tree guides to the kids to reference as we went.  Truth is, we didn't find many of the species on our guides.  But we found a few, and they were absolutely delighted.

Come spring, I was amazed to hear my one-year-old insist that birdies say "coocoo" instead of the storybook "tweet tweet," because he'd so often heard us mimicking the mourning doves in our neighborhood as we watch them.  In fact, he's quite attuned to the songs of the birds now and will do his best to call back to them with their own song, having heard his siblings and I give our best attempts at replicating the sounds ourselves.  The kids each have a "favorite tree," and Abby will collect Magnolia leaves endlessly, because Magnolias are her favorite.  While I was pleasantly surprised to discover in the spring that my interest and a little intention had led my children to identify numerous neighborhood birds by sight and by call, a handful of trees, and a few local butterflies, it is really the affection that they have developed for the study of nature that I count a success. 

For we are here at the beginning still, thank Goodness.  They don't need to reference a repertoire of facts on plants, animals, or physics.  They need first an affection that drives them into a relationship with their subjects and a pursuit of understanding tinted with delight.  As we develop the skills of observation and attention, and then practice the discipline of memorization, the details will come together.  Meanwhile, we had a wonderful morning watching the turtles this Friday.  It was was of those mornings that makes my heart swell with contentment and which makes me so very, very grateful to have the freedom to do our learning together in a place like this.

And this year, as the mosquitoes swarmed and I sweated myself into a migraine in September, I let it go, gave up, and hauled the troops inside to read with a glass of cold water.  I've learned in this year that "consistent" doesn't mean "every day" or "every week" or "perfectly planned."  The cooler days will come (they're coming!), and there is plenty of opportunity to make our time out of doors fruitful and meaningful.  I've seen what an impact on our family a few changes in our rhythm and habits made last year.  I can't wait to see where this next season takes us.

It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.
(Vol 1, II, Out-Of-Door Life For The Children, p.61)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Grace, Beef Hearts, Plantain Crackers, and History Lessons

So this was our line-up for Jonathan's lessons yesterday, after we'd completed our Morning Time activities together with Abby and Joshua.  See, this photo makes me happy, really happy, because I LOVE these books.  And I love how much he loves (many of) them.   Our day was fun.  Of course, we try to fit it all into Joshua's naptime, and sometimes that works.  And sometimes it doesn't. 

I've had to sort through the Fables and identify only the ones where nothing bad happens to the characters (that's a limited selection, let me tell you), because he refuses to read them otherwise.  :)  He's loving Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, and we're both really enjoying the series of American history biographies by Jean Fritz.  Jonathan fell off the couch laughing yesterday as we read about Patrick Henry's dramatics, and those of his audience.  The second photo is Jonathan's request for documentation that he was winning the subtraction game.  He did win, for the record.  Some of these things we didn't complete, and some I slipped into he bedtime routine.

But I've got a pretty good list of things I'd like us to complete each day.  In fact, I strongly suspect that as I learn and grow, I'll cull the list and further simplify our schedule.  There's just so much I would like us to do.  I started the year telling myself that school would be a bit consuming at first and take up evenings with planning, but that once we settled into a routine, there would be more margin in my time.

It was true.  We're rolling.  There was some tweaking to do.  I scrapped History Plan A the first week of school and went with Plan B, which we're loving.  Plan B is Story of the World (AUDIOBOOK version -- woohoo!  It's wonderful.)  And school is juuuuust getting to a place where we're ready to do more on autopilot.

But now I'm approaching a season that looks more intimidating.  Dealing with a chronic migraine that has markedly worsened the past six weeks has made this season rough.  Adding in a new autoimmune condition, that seems to be worsening rather than resolving, adds an element of the unknown, as well as additional appointments.  After considering the situation and my health, we've decided to embark on a new diet.

And it looks intimidating, overwhelming.  Every time I pick up the book I start to cry.  David looks through the cookbook and is excited and fascinated by things like Stuffed Heart Roast (oh yes, they mean get a cow's heart, I have NO idea where, and cook it stuffed with... well, stuffed with stuff).  His enthusiasm really helps.  It does.  But I'm not sure I have the creativity and the skills to deal with the moment at 11am when I realize I'm hungry and getting a migraine, the toddler's asleep and I'm trying to get through the math lesson, and if I can just grab some cheese and crackers we can keep rolling and my brain might not explode.  That's apparently the point where I'm supposed to grab some plantains and turn them into crackers in my kitchen.  See?... It makes me cry. 

But today I also see the window for the motif of grace to enter again into our lives.  This is very likely a season to identify which are the more essential elements of school to remain on the "to-do" list, and which will happen on a more fluid "when we can, if we get to it" basis.  The process of identifying what stays and what slides on days and weeks where tensions are higher and time is shorter reveals our priorities.  Limitations always do that, don't they?

See, I could go into this with new spreadsheets and schedules.  I could assign the subjects we don't complete in the day to be done with Daddy in the evening, ensure they're completed on weekends, or resort to "educational apps," and look for opportunities for them to be completed more independently.  And all of those will sometimes be helpful.   But when I prioritize "getting it done" as my goal, well... that's what I am teaching.  There is value in being responsible for the tasks given to us.  But if instead our primary goals are the teaching of wisdom; teaching the skills of self-education; fostering a love -- no, a passion, for learning; developing children who can determine what they need or want to learn and how to do so; and... above all, my heart tells me, raising children who have an intimate understanding of Grace, such that they can readily receive it and readily give it.  Well, then... getting phonics and history and geography complete, with our mapwork and our timeline and the history spine and biographies, and practice reading out-loud and poetry recitation and on and on ... those really are more the means than the end.

And so, as we make plans for how to foster my health and our family's health, I don't think we're going to be getting it all done.  And we won't instead send them to school to get it all done there.  We'll be prayerfully identifying the priorities and setting the pace, and letting the lesson of grace seep in deep this year.  We may learn more anatomy than we would have otherwise if we're eating "offal," which is, from what I understand, eating parts of an animal that didn't previously seem like food.  We may be learning fractions a little early if we're spending excessive time in the kitchen, and we may scrap the math manipulatives and use our veggies for addition and subtraction.  And we may not complete all the books started, or even start everything that was on the list in August.  But I think we'll be learning a lot this year.

I discovered this poem by Julia Carney while listening to Cindy Rollins online at the Circe Institute.  I've copied the first half below.  I am encouraged that consistency doesn't mean a rigid every-single-day schedule.  As we return to a topic or a subject again and again, despite lapses or days or seasons that don't go right, we build so much with those little drop-by-drops.

Little drops of water,
little grains of sand,
make the mighty ocean
and the beauteous land.

And the little moments,
humble though they may be,
make the mighty ages
of eternity.

Little deeds of kindness,
little words of love,
make our earth an Eden,
like the heaven above.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kingergarten Curriculum Choices and Review - Language Arts

Our first year of homeschooling was a surprise journey.  While some families set out to educate their children at home from the beginning, and others may pull their children from public or private schools after much deliberation, I felt quite taken by surprise as we began homeschooling last August.  Having decided the first week of August that learning at home would be the right fit for our just-turning-5-yr-old, I set out nervously for our local homeschool bookstore to buy "curriculum."  I didn't know what I was looking for, but I was so very glad that something called "curriculum" was sold.  At least I would know what to teach.

I have to say that in the interim 12 months I have become whole-heartedly convinced that a curriculm is not purchased, but that it rather consists of the set of objectives, lessons, and the associated path of learning that is established by the teacher.  While I was so eager to buy curricula to tell me how and what to teach my children, it has become very clear to me that I am the one with the authority, responsibility, and knowledge sufficient to determine how and what to teach my children.   However, I am so very grateful for the expertise of published materials that I may use (in whole or in part) in that process!  For further thoughts on the subject, enjoy this piece from the Schole Sisters Blog

But from here, I'll move on to Curriculum Choices that Worked for Us, 2013-2014 Kinder.    

Phonics /  Reading:
Teaching Jonathan to read was one of the steps that led me to fall in love with home education.  It was truly one of the best seasons of parenting so far.  In his preschool years we had fiddled with The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in Twenty Easy Lessons.  After a break from the subject for a good while, we then went through the free resources at Starfall.com and it all clicked.  The next  summer as he turned 5, he was into the BOB Book readers.  After trying a workbook style language arts program for a total of 2 days, we discovered this simple book that fleshed out his grasp of phonics.  Classical Phonics was published around the turn of the twentieth century as a series of word lists for student practice, and I doubt many people use it alone.  But by this point it was all that Jonathan needed.  After BOB Books Jonathan read through the Little Bear (Level 1) series, then Frog and Toad (Level 2) and others by Arnold Lobel.  Both of these series were warm and absolutely delightful.  From there he read a few Mr. Putter and Tabby books and the Christian Liberty Nature Reader book K.  We found all of these to be a joy.

Once we had completed Classical Phonics around February, he had become a quite fluent reader.  I decided we would finish out our study of phonics as we approached it from the perspective of spelling, and we began All About Spelling, Level 1.  I think completion of this program will provide a very complete study of phonics.  We are now (in September) in chapter 20 (of 24) of Level 1, and he has reached a point where he is challenged.  I would expect that Level 2, which we'll begin in late fall after taking some time to work slowly through the next few chapters, will go more slowly than Level 1.   My draw to All About Spelling (AAS) initially was that it would provide a good study of phonics while separating his study of spelling and phonics from his handwriting skills.  This is in contrast to Spell to Write to Read  (SWR), which is another well respected phonics-based spelling program.  It does so my utilizing letter tiles for word building, instead of hand-written words.  However, by now the tiles are more tedious than writing, and we skip them for the majority of the work.  The program is still very open-and-go, which I much appreciate.  It is my understanding that SWR takes more work to implement, but I have not personally used it.

Handwriting / Copywork:
Since he'd begun Handwriting Without Tears in his preschool, we continued this with their next book, which I think was Letters and Numbers for Me.  The font is generally fine by me, though I have changed the way I have him write a few letters (their G drives me bananas).  But the book itself provides very little practice for each letter.  We finished the book before Christmas, and I made out pages of additional practice using their online free worksheet program to focus on letters that were giving him trouble.  The majority of the year we were focusing on using the correct stroke formation.  HWT actually has an iPad app that is helpful for teaching stroke formation, and I'm using it earlier with my second child to train early and maybe avoid the bad habits Jonathan got into while writing things on his own.  After the first half of the year, what worked best was for me to write out simple sentences from our reading (The Chronicles of Narnia were a favorite source) onto his HWT handwriting paper, skipping a line for him to copy.  At first I had him copy a page (3 lines) a day, but with time I became convinced by Miss Mason's admonition to have a young child complete only what he can do in excellence.  At this point I still have Jonathan copying only one line a day (usually about 4 or 5 words) of a poem, hymn, or scripture.  He is much more enthusiastic about copying something that he enjoys reading.  We also use copywork as a time to look at capitalization, punctuation, and a few parts of speech.

As I mentioned in the prior post, we read a poem or two a day.  I initially read from an unillustrated anthology.  When my 3 yr old's attention waned, we were all distracted.  I discovered there was great value in obtaining a well illustrated volume.  So we restarted poetry in the spring, with this beautiful copy of A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Our poetry was really a loved part of our Morning Time.  We also read Mother Goose for at least a month or two, to keep these classic cultural staples familiar.  This summer, we read through this version of A Child's First Book of Poems, and we discovered some real favorites.  Though we have moved on to a collection of poems by American authors for this term, Abby (nearly 4), still requests we read from A Child's First Book of Poems most days.

We have enjoyed a number of good read-alouds without need for "teaching" moments or discussion.  Their enjoyment, exposure to good language and beautiful thoughts, and creative stories are value enough.  We read through The Magician's Nephew; The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; and Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis.  We listened to Little House in the Big Woods and look forward to more from Laura Ingalls Wilder this year.  I wondered how Jonathan would take to it, but he was enthralled by the stories and details of their daily life.  We read Winnie the Pooh and plan to move on to The House at Pooh Corner later this year.  Steward Little, Trumpet of the Swan, My Father's Dragon, and Dr. Dolittle were also each a success.

For picture books, we drew heavily from the Five in a Row curriculum mentioned in my last post, utilizing volumes 1 and 2.  The vast majority of books we read were much loved.  Among our favorites were Make Way for Ducklings, A New Coat for Anna, Papa Piccolo, and How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kindergarten Part I: What Worked

Highlights of our first year homeschooling.  Here's what made our first year of homeschooling "work" for us.

* Very few academic "goals."  I wanted Jonathan to continue moving forward in his learning (in phonics, mathematics, etc),  but he was too young for me to say "he needs to mast X by the spring."  This left little stress on me to cross specifics off of our to-do list while I spent time getting to know him and myself in this new context.

* Flexibility.  Seeing as homeschooling was a decision made that very August, I knew we would need the freedom to try a variety of methodologies and learning styles as we discovered what fit our family, and what didn't.  I set myself up to not feel like a failure if we started a curriculum and let it go.  We were learning about us and the process of learning, and that in itself would constitute progress.  Along those lines, we actually scrapped the not-so-cheap phonics / language arts curriculum we bought after day 2.  Yup -- 2 days of workbook and I was over it.  The texts and readers were eventually returned, but we simply ate the cost of the workbook.  That was absolutely the right decision for us.  Just from those two days I had realized: Jonathan needed his handwriting and phonics work to be separate, so that he could progress in each at his own pace.  And I'd seen that workbooks (except for math, actually) make me want to poke my eyes out.  From there, I visited another homeschooling mom and perused her bookshelf for options.  We landed on a very simple phonics book that provided exactly what we needed.  The need for flexibility extends beyond choosing a curriculum.  There are weeks we've done bedtime school (after the younger two are down), days we've done backyard school or park school, and many days we've done no school because it is too pretty outside to bother with books.  On the other hand, we did our lessons every single bad weather day that the local district took off.  If the weather's that bad, might as well catch up on copywork and spelling.


* "Morning Time"  As the year progressed I began placing the topics that were of either highest priority or could be shared with the younger kids as the first part of our morning.  With time, we developed more of a routine.  Reading about "Morning Time" from a number of homeschooling bloggers, and eventually just a few weeks ago from Cindy Rollins herself, I identified the criteria I was using for what would be part of our morning time.  We include those subjects that:
1) Are highest priority (Bible study, scripture memory, prayer)
2) Are for the benefit of the younger children, too  (poetry, hymn, folksong, picture study, picture books)
3) I tend to put off and leave incomplete if left to the end of the day (Spanish)

 * Five In a Row.  Oh goodness, this curriculum brought much joy to all of us.  A few weeks (months?) into the year, I felt that our "Kindergarten" year was far too heavy.  Jonathan was learning lots and enjoying Classical Conversations immensely, but I was aware that he was memorizing a timeline of history and asking questions about the leaders of the Axis powers in WWII while his preschool and kinder counterparts were reading picture books.  We were reading a slew of random books from the library, too, but it wasn't the same.  We began Five in a Row, dwelling with a single, lovely story with beautiful illustrations each week, and we all developed an affection for these books.  While FIAR doesn't align perfectly with Charlotte Mason's methodologies, these books highlighted for me the hear of CM's philosophy, in which children are drawn into a relationship with literature, authors, history, and one another through the sharing of beautiful, well-written literature.  We learned so much about picture study and art appreciation from the illustrations.  We delved into world and American geography and a variety of historical periods.  We discovered favorite authors and favorite illustrators.  We didn't adhere very closely or exactly to the curriculum as outlined, but rather used the lesson plans as an outline for points of discussion and discovery.  FIAR was one of the greatest joys of our Kinder year.

* Poetry.  Why did I think poetry was for high school?  Why did I think you needed to understand cadence and stanza and AABA BBCB CCDC to study poetry?  I think Charlotte Mason's greatest influence on us this year (and there's more on her to come) was the realization that one can glean much from developing a relationship with an art (composer study, picture study, poetry) even before any kind of formal "study" begins.  In fact, I think she would venture that the formal study of an art can and often does hinder appreciation, affection, and relationship with art.  We read a poem or two a day, and the children are discovering their favorites.  We read Robert Louis Stevenson for a few months, and we began to "know" his voice.  His sickly childhood, his vivid imagination, the presence of his nurse in and out of the nursery were part of the scenes in which we pictured him.  It simply hadn't crossed my mind that the kids would come to love poetry.  And it takes very little on my part to once-in-a-while point out the details of a poem's structure.  One day I'll highlight a rhyme scheme, or I'll suggest we tap the rhythm while I give a second reading.  I thought asking them to memorize and recite poetry might be a bit of a drudgery, but Jonathan literally jumped up and down with excitement the day he realized he'd memorized a poem that he had come to love.  That first poem will always hold a special place in our hearts.

* Charlotte Mason.  A few weeks into our school year I was "introduced" to this English educator from the turn of the twentieth century, starting with "When Children Love to Learn" by Elaine Cooper.  CM brought nature study to our homeschool, encouraged me to let go of my drive to "school" my 5 year old, and got us outdoors as much as possible.  She showed me how relationships (not just with a teacher, but with those who have lived and written before us) drive our education.  She showed me how habit formation and inspiring character development provide a head-start on many issues of discipline.  I've developed more value for the habit of attention and can see how it can be fostered long, long before a child is old enough to become a problem in the classroom.  And I've discovered the power of narration in taking a subject into one's mind, turning it over to relate it to oneself as a person as well as to other materials and authors, and then communicating all of that back to another person.  Teaching a child as they learn by narration is a joy as you discover how they see the world and what God has brought to them in the material you've provided.  And Charlotte has reminded me that I am responsible for providing a feast of material and ideas to my children, but that ultimately they are solely responsible for their learning.

* Classical Conversations.  While CM and CC cannot be said to entirely mesh in their philosophies of education, both have brought much to our family.  CC brought us community and mentors in homeschooling.  As we are now attending a CC in our own area, the value of that community is growing richer.  Jonathan discovered a love of history as we learned a timeline of history and 24 sentences of key points in world history last year.  He absolutely loves our community day and his class of friends, and the opportunity to give a presentation before his peers each week is invaluable.

As far as actual curricula that we found worked well for us last year, I'll save that part for another post!

For context, Jonathan has an August birthday.  At the start of last school year he turned 5, and we were quite undecided whether the year would constitute Kindergarten or Preschool.  The work we did was largely Kinder level, but at this point we'll call it PreK5.  This 2014-2015 year will generally be "Kindergarten" for us as well.  And that brings us full-circle to the beginning: Flexibility.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The One That Was Going to Be Titled "What I Learned in Kindergarten"

I guess for some, a blog post with six months of rumination behind it would be extraordinarily well thought-out and organized.  For six months I've been considering, every-so-often, the extraordinary experience that this past year has been, wondering how exactly I would put down on "paper" all it has entailed - academically, personally, in family dynamics, etc, etc etc.

So I can't begin to cover all of that.

In fact, in the past six months, my attention has shifted from an amazement at all that Jonathan was asking and learning in his kindergarten year, much of which I'd frankly never encountered (Punic Wars?  Tojo of Japan?) to a recognition that the end of this year isn't about what I, or he, or we learned in our first year of home school.  Instead, I might title a post today, "What I've begun learning, since re-entering Kindergarten."

And that list can't be put into bullet points.  Instead, I think I'll share my best attempt at a short tour of our first year of homeschool.

Last summer, I was struck entirely indecisive over when to put our bright, late-summer-birthday just-turning-five-years-old son into Kindergarten.  He had no interest in spending more than a few mornings a week away from home, he was beginning to pick up on reading quite well, and was fascinated with space and anything I titled an "experiment."  A kind friend and former Kindergarten teacher went through a developmental test with him and agreed that he was ready to begin Kindergarten academically and should be in a gifted program, but that other factors supported him spending more time at home, as he preferred.
We didn't begin homeschooling because we had a problem with the public school system.  (We live down the road from an excellent school to which we fully intended to send our children.)  We didn't begin homeschooling to shelter the children from any particular influence.  We weren't looking to add in religious education, or to do something differently than what we believed the schools could do.  It was simply the right choice for us for this season, and that became increasingly clear.  I wasn't sure how we'd do it, but I was so excited I went out and bought a white board the day after we decided.  We even ordered a school desk, though I'm so very grateful that it actually never arrived.

We were introduced to Classical Conversations (CC) by a few friends, and CC seemed to provide the perfect solution to my concerns about homeschooling.  In fact, we didn't seriously consider it until we'd discovered CC.  He would have a group of classmates his age, he'd have a touch of classroom structure, and there would be curriculum provided to prevent me from dropping the ball on some essential element of his education that I hadn't considered.  But all that would be one day a week, leaving us the bulk of the week to pursue his wealth of interests and plans for his own projects and books and to arrange a wealth of play dates with friends.

The key point to this adventure, this experiment of "let's try home school for a year and see how it goes," was that we had never intended to put Jonathan into kindergarten this year anyways.  I figured that truly anything we learned was just icing on the cake.  It was a year to try things out, discovering how we work and learn together as a family.  We'd see how our options looked in a few months when it was time to make decisions again.  Would this be "Prek 4?" "Kindergarten?"  Who knows.  I figured we'd decide that once the year was over, rather than before.  I think the only reason I didn't melt from the anticipated pressure of being fully responsible for his education is that I really told myself our goal was "anything."  Whatever we do this year, great.

CC introduced us to new, dear friends, to a classical model of education, and to history.  Oh my goodness, did I end up smacked in the face with all of history.  The kids at CC learn the timeline of history, from creation to the present, in a single 14 minute song.  The timeline provides a frame of reference for the rest of their education as they learn about and mentally plug in a wealth of understanding.  But for my inquisitive child, it meant that his mother was suddenly subject to questions ranging from "What are Punic Wars?" to "But why did they fight World War I?"  I would not have survived without Wikipedia.  I'll confess that majority of Jonathan's understanding of history, outside of the 24 history sentences he learned this year, comes from Wikipedia at this point.  Because that's what's available to me when we're in a parking lot and he asks me for the fourth time in 10 minutes why the Roman Empire fell.

After a few weeks into the year, I had discovered I didn't have to create random unit studies from anything and everything to piece together our education.  I laugh now at how little I knew about home education.  I seriously thought I might be looking for worksheets on other people's blogs for everything we ever did.  It was a relief to learn I could find a published math curriculum :)  After trying a few options, I discovered a phonics book that was super simple and perfect for us.  Now it was time to take a step back and think more deliberately about where we were headed.

And that's about when I discovered Charlotte Mason.  The term "educational philosophy" became my obsession.  What is an education?  Why am I educating my child?  For what purpose?  What are my end goals for his education?  Who do I believe a child to be?  How was he made?  How does a child learn?  What material does he need to learn?  How do I teach him?  Oh my goodness, so many questions.  Living books, ideas v. facts, rote memorization v. learning something by heart, encyclopedias, textbooks,  historical fiction, utilitarian education, standardized testing.  What role, if any, do each of these have in our education?  Are textbooks pure evil?  Are facts foundational to his education?  Or will facts rather kill his very ability to truly understand and relate to a subject?  I was so overwhelmed.  I devoured books on project-based learning, classical education, and Charlotte Mason philosophy.

And I discovered that, despite my desire to find a direction and follow it, I am *gasp* an eclectic homeschooler.  At least for today.  ;)   We will be learning what works for us, what ignites delight and curiosity, what "sticks" in the long-term, and what's sometimes simply necessary.  And there's no short-cut to discovering that on our own.  It will be a matter of discovering daily how God has made my children, and who He's made them to be, as I learn more fully how He's made me, as a mother and a teacher.  And from there we'll discover the resources he brings into our path.

I see facts like the Timeline, history sentences, and science facts as forming a skeleton.  Those facts aren't the flesh.  They're just the beginning.  But they are so very helpful.  Carefully, repeatedly memorized facts will cement in our knowledge to last beyond a single year's final exams.  To the facts we add ideas, living books, relationships with nature and authors and composers and inventors.  They will provide the flesh of our education and its heart.  All this to be guided with a vision for guiding my children into the discovery and appreciation of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  The development of character and virtue is of even higher significance in their education than any specific academic skills or achievement.  It is my goal that they are driven to learn and that they develop the skills to learn.  The actual *what* of what they learn is actually less significant than I'd initially imagined.  If children leave our home with the skills and discipline to educate themselves in any area that catches their heart and mind, and the character to use that education to the glory of God and the service of others, I will consider their education wildly successful. 

So I was about there as the school year wrapped up, enthusiastically planning out our year ahead.  Mentally merging neoclassical educational methods with the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason, I began the summer piecing together our plans for our first formal year of homeschooling.  I'm very excited about our year ahead :)  Jonathan's the most patriotic 5 year old I've ever met, and I'm excited to get a taste of American history with him.  But the "What we're doing this year" post is for another day.

So what did I learn in Kindergarten?

I learned:
... that home school is definitely not "school" at home, not for us.
... that the kitchen table, a comfy couch, sharpened pencils, and great books are all we really need.
... that poetry is delightful even for the very young.
... that teaching art appreciation, classical music, and hymns can be so very simple.
... that wonderful, well-written, beautifully-illustrated picture books are the heart of Kindergarten.
... that children thrive in long stretches of unstructured time in nature.
... that there is much education to be had in pursuing a child's interests.
... that organization and routine are essential, but it is flexibility that will preserve our joy.
... that the majority of early math can be taught with snacks and games.... that being a model for imitation is key to teaching.  There is no replacement for a genuine love for literature, music, art, or math.
... that this is my education, too.
... that developing an intimate understanding of God's grace in my experience of our daily lives is absolutely one of the most valuable things I can offer my children.