Thursday, February 28, 2008

Letter from the Front

Dear Friends,

Thank goodness February is almost over! The sun is showing her face by 8:00am every morning now, and that's a great help to get us up and at it. That said, it's almost 9:30 and I haven't wakened the kidlets yet. It is so nice to have a peaceful morning: just the sunshine, the computer and me.

We have finally got up to speed with our schooling, but still, every day there is still something which needs to be carried over to the next day. It is a wee bit frustrating to me. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn't a race. We will finish when we finish...and hopefully that will be before they move out of the house.

The girl has graduated in the last few weeks from her "Henry and Mudge Books" to Junior chapter books. I can't tell you how proud I am of her. A concentrated effort to raise my son's reading skills (mostly by researching, finding and then handing him "good" books to read) is also paying off. He's listening to Centerburg Tales by Robert McClosky on Audio CD right now and reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. It surprises me he is enjoying it so much.

Unfortunately, I'm reading a perfectly dreadful book called "June Cleaver would forget the juice box." The premise is sound: Due to Momism, the current societal pressure on Mothers to raise their children to the be the BEST, women are running themselves ragged with quilt and likely stifling their kids. I don't think I've fallen into the trap of Momism....but you never know. The author promises to reveal our "hidden thought patterns" and help us change them. I haven't quite got to that part yet. I may not. I'm not yet recognizing myself in this book, even though, as it has been pointed out before, homeschooling can be a manifestation of "Momism."

Strangely enough, I'm reminded of Flylady: one of the reasons you may be a terrible housekeeper, she wrote in an essay once, is because you are a perfectionist. That was certainly true for me. The drive to do things perfectly means nothing gets done--1) it takes too much time to get it perfectly tidied and clean, and 2) it never stays that way, so, 3) why bother? It was one of those lighbulb moments for me. But the Juice Box book isn't delivering the lightening.

At the moment, homeschooling is all-consuming. I am still writing up my Canadian History curriculum. I found a terrific tool for making blank out-line maps of Canada recently and I've been mucking about with it. It isn't intuitive to me and the one map I did create printed much smaller than I'd expected. Still, decent black-line maps for Cdn. History are few and far between, so I shall persevere.

I recently re-vamped someone else's Human Body study to take advantage of the books I had. I still need to create a few "label me" diagrams, but that is essentially done.

Next up is for me to plan our poetry memorization and reading lists. Ugh. I don't know much about poetry and I'm really not familiar with it. I just know that a combination of words can grab me by the throat--and that's what I'm looking for. I am not a fan of R.L. Stevenson. His Child's Garden of Verses is recommended on every list I've ever seen for children. But, truly, I find most of it insipid. I recently got out When we Were Very Young by A. A. Milne and I like those much better. I also like Christina Rosetti.

My desk and dining room table are piled high with books and papers, my kitchen counters are crowded with dishes, the laundry is in heaps in the basement and my son is sleeping on the couch in the living room because the dog threw up on his bed (likely a reaction to his de-worming meds--or maybe it was something he ate. He's turning into a Large Beagle and he can reach stuff on the table.)

And did I mention I have one of those scratchy throats that may or may not turn into a cold?

That's life as we know it here at the Prairie Home.
I may get some time to check in with all of you this evening.
I'd like that.
Take Care,

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Lunar Eclipse

Didja know? Didja know? Didja?

To find out more about it click here.

More on Homeschooling

It's always difficult to know where to start educating yourself about homeschooling. There's almost too much information out there! But to get an idea of what is possible these three books are an excellent place to start.

I confess I haven't read Susan Schaeffer MacCauley's book. (Yes, she is one of those Schaeffer's). It wasn't in our library system back when I started. It is now, and I have it on request.

From this book, I learned that homeschooling is first and foremost about relationships: the relationship you have with your Creator, the relationships you have with your children and the relationships they have with each other. Protecting, nuturing, developing and growing these relationships is of paramount importance--and a good reason to homeschool no matter what curriculum or method you choose.

It goes beyond just this, of course, laying out an excellent way to approach one's academics. A way that doesn't let them take over your life. A way, I might add, diametrically opposed to the next one.

In this one, a mother and daughter team up to provide not only a vision for what educating your children with rigour and high standards may be like, but they offer specific curriculum suggestions that enable you to teach your children to think in the "classical" way. It is my "go to" book for planning the goals of our homeschool: but it tends to create "school at home" which is highly structured and very demanding.

That's why I'm looking forward to reading this book.

This book sets out the Charlotte Mason method. CM, as it is known in homeschooling circles is also quite rigorous academically, based on learning from "living books" and Nature. From the testimonies of all who follow it, it is more relaxed and the day's work flows from one thing to the next.

One part of me is scared to let go the reins and let things happen "naturally." Yes, partly I'm a control freak, but partly I tend to fall apart without a set structure in front of me and a clear plan to follow. Nothing gets done unless I know exactly what I'm doing. So, we'll have to see if this book will help me figure out what I need to know to relax things around here just a tad. School really doesn't have to look like school, and I'd like to figure out how to do that.

Homeschooling is always a journey, no matter which path you take.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Now What?

This is going to sound very odd to those of you who think you know me, but I'm not sure what to do with myself.
The flurry of beginning school again is now behind us and the daily slog is really getting to me--actually it's our whako schedule and the feeling that we're never "done" that's getting to me--plus the kid's resistence to "school"--it's wearing me down.

We didn't do much of school today at all--the weather is actually somewhat decent and the snow is the Spring snow--heavy and packable--perfect for snowmen and forts. It isn't going to be here forever, so I've been letting the kids spend an hour or more outside for the last couple of days.

But, I don't know what to do with myself. Oh, there's always housework--blech. I've been playing with my blog settings over at Sacred Cows. I've lost my enthusiasm for the Canadian curriculum course--I've got about as far as we're going to get before May.

I feel like I need a good history series to watch or something.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

New blog

Since I don't want to bore you with the ins and outs of our homeschooling, I've decided to create a blog exclusively devoted to that. I'm not sure if I will keep it up, or what I'm doing with it exactly, but it's here:

It's School of the Sacred Cows

Just in case you want to know.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Words from the Wise

Susan Wise Bauer, that is:
(She's considered something of a classical education guru in homeschooling circles.)

One thing classical homeschoolers really need to guard against is a devastating level of elitism: "We are doing the best homeschooling because our young children are doing such advanced work." This kind of elitism is non-Christian, it is unloving, and it is unproductive. I was recently asked, "What do you think of third-graders doing Saxon 5/4?" I said, "I can't think of a single thing you would gain by that. Some of them will be able to do it, but a lot of them aren't developmentally ready for it. You are going to finish advanced mathematics by the end of high school if you keep them on the normal schedule. What's the rush?" What do you gain by asking a seventh-grader to read the Iliad if that seventh-grader hasn't developed the maturity to understand and appreciate what he's reading? Nothing at all. You gain nothing in the way of emotional and mental development by pushing difficult tasks down to earlier grades.

I am not talking about the lowering of academic standards. I don't want them lowered; I am just talking about extending the time needed for children to meet those standards. Children move from grammar to logic stage thinking, and from logic to rhetoric stage thinking, at different times in different subjects. We should focus on this, rather than focusing on age or grade level. And I hope that classical schools will also begin to think seriously about what is being gained in the classroom if immature students are being asked to do work that continually frustrates them. Is our goal to educate as many students as possible, or to identify a small, advanced, elite core of classical scholars? I hope it's the first, and not the second. I think there is a very high level of achievement that all children can reach, given the appropriate amount of time. Keep the standards high, but give each child the appropriate amount of time for those achievements.

from The Old Schoolhouse.

Like every teaching parent, I need reassurance.

We are so far behind in our curriculum that there's no way ds is making it to University by 18! Yes, he's only ten, but my heavens, I calculated today that if we continue school without any breaks, we'll be done this year's curriculum by September 13, 2008.
September 13th?!
No breaks?

We took a long long break in the fall--the entire fall, in fact. We did about three weeks of school in August, and feeling smug and quite ahead of the game (public school doesn't start here until after Labour Day) we took a bit of time off--that turned into a week, that turned into two weeks. Then a month went by, and then another, and then, why, it's almost Christmas, so why not wait until after Christmas? One January 7th, I could wait no longer...the public kids went back to school and so did we.

It's been a tough month.

First, we decided to visit relatives in Montreal and the Ottawa Valley this spring, so I decided it was time to get moving on the Canadian History course I'd partially planned. I've been doing a lot of on-line research in the evenings, pulling together resources here. It's been fascinating, but time consuming.

Second, I've been introducing our curriculum back in slowly. My objective is to do math, latin, grammar and spelling every day. The kids love to do their History (using Bauer's Story of The World, Vol. 2) so they keep me on task to get it done! We added in Art--just to give our poor brains a rest.

I started Bible this week and it was a disaster.
And we did start that Canadian History course.

There's science to add (I have found two great lesson plans for a study on the Human Body) and writing and Bible Study for the younger, and dictation.

I am overwhelmed.

Because we are so far behind, all the planning I did last year seems irrelevant. The schedule, even before we fell behind was overwhelming. I had seven and a half hour days planned for the ten year old, and only an hour less for the seven year old.

It just doesn't feel possible to do everything I'd planned to do and get through a day--let alone a month--or, even, the rest of the year.

Contributing to this is the third thing: our daily wake/sleep cycles are completely out of whack. The kids and I are up until 2 or 3 in the morning--and thus not up and at it until noon. I feel preassured all day long to keep moving. I hate giving the kids breaks because it is nearly impossible to bring them back from them. So, I keep pushing, let's do one more thing before we....But, it's Newton's law in action: the more I push, the more they resist. I haven't found a rhythm to our day, such as it is.

Lastly, I've been spending a lot of time over at the Well-Trained Mind message boards. I've been checking out other homeschooler's blogs. And I'm depressed. The women (and men) on those boards would be the very last people in the world to heap scorn and shame upon my head, yet I'm intimidated by their energy and committment (pre-reading? A Mom is actually pre-reading her history book selections?) and in the inevitable comparison between her kids and mine, mine seem to be way, way behind.

I must take a few days and get a handle on what's happening and what I want to have happen. My original plan was a 40 week school year with a week off every six weeks. That leaves us with six weeks for a "vacation" --now to be divied up between the three week trip to be taken out East in the spring and maybe three more weeks in the summer.

I have yet to figure out how far back that pushes our curriculum to next fall--but as Bauer writes: is there really a rush? Still, I can't help cringing. You just can't take half a year off and expect not to be half a year behind. In the words of the Wise, this needs to be my focus as I reevaluate:

Children move from grammar to logic stage thinking, and from logic to rhetoric stage thinking, at different times in different subjects. We should focus on this, rather than focusing on age or grade level.

or where we are in the curriculum.


We are struggling with our circadian rhythm. No one, except the husband is sleeping anything like normal hours. For example, it is 2am here--and both kids and I are wide awake. And of course they refuse to do any school from about 5pm onwards. We just can't get anything done getting up at noon!

I found this poem by Emily Dickinson for us to memorize. It hit several chords. I thought I'd share:


Will there really be a morning?
Is there such a thing as day?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?
Has it feet like water lilies?
Has it feathers like a bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I've never heard?
Oh, some scholar! Oh, some sailor!
Oh, some wise man from the skies!
Please to tell a little pilgrim
Where the place called morning lies!

Here's more of her poetry.
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