Gearing up for the 2013-2014 school year

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A couple months ago the moderator of our homeschool social group announced she was stepping down from that role because she would be starting a Classical Conversations (CC) community here. Since my overall long term plan has been to do a classical approach to homeschooling, I was intrigued. I soon found myself connected to a few other locals of the same mindset and plans for this community were racing forward. I looked over a few things like the CC website and catalog and read some snippets in there from the founder and others that have used CC. What I read seemed to fit with my overall plan, but I admit that at the time with everything going on, I did not have the brain space to devote to a really thorough investigation.

From what I saw it seemed close enough to my goals that I thought it would be good to do for at least a year, for the motivation and accountability alone. Because I’m crazy, and a people pleaser to the core, I also agreed to be the tutor for the 4/5 class that Bean will be in.

This last year, in part to my evolving philosophy on schooling and education in the younger years, has kind of been more on the unschooling side of homeschool spectrum than I want to be. If I don’t have a structure laid out for me, chances are I won’t do it depending on the season of my life. This past year (or more) season has been one that lends itself to other preoccupations. Which, honestly, at my kids’ age is TOTALLY fine. Spend an afternoon with one of my kids, you will see that their learning capabilities have in no way been harmed because tough stuff has happened around here that deserved priority.

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Anyway, starting last week and progressing forward until the beginning of August, our family is getting somewhat of a break from the busy season. It was the first week that aside from one ballet class (that we are LOVING at our new studio), I’d had zero commitments, classes, play dates, or big weekend plans in AGES.

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Naturally, the reading bug hit me. I devoured The Well Trained Mind in just a few days. I tried reading The Well Trained Mind (TWTM) once before and I think because I was pregnant my brain was complete mush (pregnancy brain is VERY real) and could not comprehend the material. I tried to read some of my favorite Jane Austen novels at the same time and encountered the same problem. I found TWTM to be completely overwhelming. Of course I had nothing to worry about as this step-by-step curriculum plan and model begins very gradually in Kindergarten with basic skills and then REALLY starts in first grade. There was no rush.

Still even without TWTM in my brain, my eventual plan was a Classical education and every time I panicked or felt overwhelmed I’d call up my sister-in-law and discuss curriculum options with her. This time my feeling upon reading TWTM was one of relief and freedom. It really is laid out step by step and so easily and clearly. I actually felt the need to apologize for all those panic conversations with my sister-in-law in the past because it was almost like this “Doh!” moment for me as everything we had talked about before was laid out so clearly in the book.

This last week or more Stephen says I’ve gone beast mode on homeschooling. I bought a stack of (pretty) composition notebooks and started laying out all of our curriculum for the year (more on that later). I read some articles about homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective, picked a saint and a guiding quote for our school. I Blurb booked pictures from our last two years of school and then balked at the $50/book price tag (I guess my year books were around that price back in the day and if I think of it like that it is not so bad).

I also started trying to “get” Classical Conversations (I still don’t know that I completely get it), bought some art and science books for it, and started reading The Core by the CC founder. I’ve spent a couple days now reading reviews of the program on blogs and message boards to try and help me put into words how I was feeling, but having trouble expressing.

My initial impression that I got from the Classical Conversations website and catalog was that it was more of a complete program. However, once my Foundations guide (the main text of the program) arrived, I felt very confused and wondered if I was missing something because it all looked like a bunch of outlines to me. After reading the founder’s book, reading reviews and talking to my sister-in-law, I don’t think my initial impression was a correct one (though some families believe and promote that view of CC).

An analogy in my own life I have come up with best expresses how I feel about The Well Trained Mind and Classical Conversations. We have nearly converted to Orthodoxy at this point and I have had friends of various faith persuasions throughout my life. Many of these groups use the name Christian, but believe sometimes wildly different things. Many use similar or the same words that actually mean very different things to each group’s adherents. That’s how I feel about TWTM vs CC. I will add one more thought and that is, I believe there is a difference between learning something and memorizing. I still feel pretty confused by the seemingly random groupings of memory work laid out for each week with no context. My child is a “why” kind of child (like her mother) and I can see myself needing to explain A LOT of stuff to her with this program, some of which may or may not line up with our other curriculum. In this, I’m glad I did decide to tutor because I will be prepared to answer those whys.

Many other people have fleshed this out in more detail (just Google “Classical Conversations versus Well Trained Mind” or look up the posts tagged Classical Conversations on TWTM forums if you want a fuller picture). As someone that has yet to attend a practicum I am not sure my assessment is completely accurate or fair. It’s just how I feel from the outside looking in.

That said, from what I’ve read and what I was already planning to do this year anyway, I still think CC can compliment our goals. Memorization is good training for the brain even if we don’t completely know the context of what we are memorizing. So, I’m planning to look at the memory work as another subject we are tackling this year. Further, I think the fine arts and science will be great fun. I love the idea of doing these messy things in a group setting and having specific time carved out for them because I am sometimes reluctant to do messy projects at home (I did bust out the Playdoh for the first time in months this week and it wasn’t quite as messy as I often work it up to be in my anxious head). Lastly, this may seem a little absurd from a “classical” education standpoint, but I think the social aspect of the program will be a really valuable aspect for our kids especially in a season where we are kind of in limbo as far as a church community, have grown slightly apart from friends at our last community we had in this city prior to our move four years ago and obviously not as close knit with those from our previous city due to the distance.

Well, that was quite a lengthy tangent on classical education styles that I did not intend when I sat down to write tonight, but it was good to work through those thoughts in writing after trying to grapple with them the last week or so. So, on to this year’s plans!

I said I would talk about my notebooks later. So I guess I will start there. Prior to having kids when I was an editor of two community newspapers, I fell in love with a planner/agenda that was intended for moms. It gave full pages to every day of the week, had spaces for grocery lists, meal plans and all these other things I was trying to juggle at the time. It also did not have time slots for the days so you could list out things that needed to be accomplished each day in addition to actual appointments. As an editor, this was perfect because most days were not necessarily filled up with constant appointments and meetings, but rather lists of stories I needed to proof, pictures I might need to capture and people I needed to call. After awhile though, I started to feel like it was maybe just a little ridiculous to spend THAT much on a planner, even if it did come in cute covers. There were also a lot of wasted pages and sections that were for things I did not find useful. By the time I figured this out, I was pregnant with Bean, quitting my job and not really needing a planner anymore.

I’ve had an iPhone4 for a couple years now, but I’ve increasingly found that even if “there’s an app for that” for everything from menu planning to grocery lists, note taking, daily planning and to-do lists, I still prefer to at least initially write it out with pen and paper. So when I found my motivation this week and sat down with our curriculum I decided to use composition notebooks to map out our school year keeping some of the elements I loved from my old favorite planners, ditching the ones I did not find useful and incorporating things I need that would not be on one of those agendas like important days on the church calendar.

So today looks like this for example:
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And a day from our first week of school looks like this:
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Since we are still new (and unofficial) to Orthodoxy, I knew that this year one of the things I wanted to make a priority was learning about important days in the life of the Church as well as the traditions that are typical to those days so that we could begin to incorporate some of that into our family life. I tried to do that a little bit this last year from a hodge podge of Orthodox education sources, but I wanted something more coherent.

At one point I was even trying to find some sort of Orthodox encompassing curriculum (there isn’t one, but Protestant ones abound) and stumbled on the Children’s Garden of the Theotokos. I got some mixed reviews (dare I say negative?) from Orthodox homeschool friends, but having experience with picking and choosing already with Five in a Row, I decided I would go ahead with it anyway because it was the only thing geared toward children with resources conveniently in one package. At some point far down the road, I would love to come up (or be involved) with something comprehensive for Orthodox homeschoolers of a variety of age groups (bucket list).

One of the things I did during “homeschool beast mode,” was to look over this curriculum. I love all the art projects and many of the explanations and stories. I will not likely be using her ideas for circle time and other things that seem more suited to a corporate atmosphere such as a Sunday School class. Overall I think it will be a good and gentle way to begin creatively setting aside time to honor the heroes of the faith and important feast days in the church. I’m excited to learn and create together on this one.

Since all of the Garden of the Theotokos curriculum is tied to the church calendar, one of my first tasks after laying out the year in my composition books, was to figure out the important dates on the calendar like the beginning if the Nativity Fast, Lent, Pascha and others. Then I was able to write in lesson titles from the two Garden of the Theotokos project books: Seasons of Grace and Treasury of Feasts. They had to have two because there is no way for them to put them in a chronological order that would be correct every year since some important dates like Pascha move every year and others, like Christmas, are fixed every year.

I am still planning to finish out Five in a Row (vol. 2 & 3) next year, though as I said above, I tend to pick and choose on the discussion topics and activities we do to correspond with each book. I think we have loved every book on this list and I think it is still worth it. So my next task in my notebooks was to lay out for myself the order of the books and deciding which days it would be best to read them and do a discussion or activity from the curriculum.

I had a hard time with math, in part due to some pretty lousy teachers (just because you love math does not mean you love teaching) and because I had a hard time thinking more abstractly in my head. So based on that I thought a more hands on approach to math would be more helpful. Initially I was leaning towards the Right Start curriculum, but people in my local homeschool group kept raving about Math•U•See. I had a chance to head over to their website a few months ago and it seemed very similar and hands-on like the other program. It was also much less expensive. Based on that I decided to go with it and after reading The Well Trained Mind, I am even more satisfied with my decision as it is discussed thoroughly in there and recommended. Initially, since I normally do errands on Mondays and Tuesdays will be our CC Community day, I though we would just do it three days a week. However, everything I’ve read says a little math every day is best for retention and learning so we will plan to do one worksheet a day in the fall to start out with and see how it goes.

My original plan for handwriting curriculum was Handwriting Without Tears, but after reading The Well Trained Mind and checking out their other recommendations, I decided to go with the Zaner-Bloser curriculum instead. Cost was my main factor and Bean is already practicing some handwriting in various preschool workbooks she begs me to do all the time. Handwriting Without Tears seems especially geared towards kids having trouble picking up the skill and I don’t think that will be her. I may consider it in the future especially since our youngest is looking to be a lefty.

One of the main goals of the Kindergarten level is learning to read. I’ve had All About Reading Level 1 since sometime last year when Bean really wanted to start learning how to read. We made it through a few lessons, but it became clear to me at that point she was not ready, not retaining the information and having a huge problem connecting and blending the sounds together. We have tried to pick up All About Reading a couple times since our initial foray, but have tabled it again for the same reasons. She desperately wants to read now and has several books memorized which she says she is reading and I’ve had a hard time explaining the difference between reciting and reading to her (sounds like a theme from above). I’m planning to try it again this fall and in the meantime we are pointing out the phonetic sounds to her whenever we can.

So that about covers it for next year. The boys, including my nephew, will be able to sit in on any of it that they want to or their attention span allows. Sprout is so used to doing everything big sister does that he begs to do school too and he’s already mastered some letter and phonic associations, more than her, so we will see. I just really don’t want to push him, but I don’t want him to feel left out either.

Summary
Religious Studies: Children’s Garden of the Theotokos
Literature: Five in a Row
Math: Math•U•See
Handwriting: Zaner-Bloser
Reading: All About Reading
Science: Classical Conversations
Art: Classical Conversations
Memory Work: Classical Conversations

And since I have not shared much in the way of new/old abode, here are some pictures of and from our school and playroom (which used to be our living room before we moved):

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1 Comment

Filed under Family, Homeschooling, Parenting, Ramblings

One response to “Gearing up for the 2013-2014 school year

  1. dang. i’m with stephen on this one. mrs. beast. we’re still peeling crayon wrappers over here.

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