Melissa Wiley at the Bonny Glen (actually this is on her other blog), and others (linked from Melissa's post), have been posting in answer to some non-homeschoolers' questions about why we’d want to homeschool, or how we have the nerve to do this without courses in pedagogy etc., etc.
An analogy I used last year was that of a professional chef vs. cooking for your own family. I made supper tonight (in the middle of a heat wave) and we ate it (in the middle of a thunderstorm). Aside from the freaky weather, how did I know how to do that? How did I manage to get it all on the table, in the right amount, at the right time? We had chicken breasts baked in canned pasta sauce (in the toaster oven), whole wheat fusilli, spaghetti squash (cooked on top of the stove), raw broccoli and carrots (cut up yesterday), and a frozen ricotta dessert topped with leftover canned pineapple. And it wasn't a complicated meal to make; it was just experience, knowing how much chicken to thaw, how to thicken the sauce at the end, remembering that we had leftover veggies, figuring that the pineapple would go nicely on top of the dessert. At home, you learn to cook (see #s 18 and 19 there) based on experience, reading, watching, asking other people how they do things. Family meals aren't like restaurant cooking, and they're not meant to be (unless you're Anne Tyler). Homeschooling compares better to home cooking than it does to the surgery-on-the-kitchen-table analogy. If the math lesson doesn’t connect, you can try it another way tomorrow, or wait awhile and then try it again. Surgeons don’t have that option; homeschoolers do.
But back to the pedagogy, qualifications question that keeps coming up: somebody out there has an idea that I (or any homeschool parent) must have a little schoolroom in my house with a blackboard and a pointer, or at least a kitchen table with chains to keep the students there; plus a piece of paper from the government that says I took a course in how to teach and what to teach; and that if I don't, then I don't know what I'm doing and shouldn't be teaching.
So this post is meant to show anybody who's interested how the process of planning a school year works, after ten years at this. These are some of my real-life thoughts and experiences as I plan for Ponytails' grade 4.
1. Mathematics: I order Making Math Meaningful Level 4, since we'll be done Miquon Math and I need to find something that has a good dose of word problems in it--something Ponytails is still weak on. When I get the books, I realize there’s some repetition of what she's already done, so I figure we can complete it in 3 days a week next year, and that leaves 2 days for activities in geometry, and other topics that MMM doesn't cover. How did I get the general idea of grade 4 math topics? I compared a couple of scope and sequences and made a list of goals for next year. I checked those that aren't included in our main book against a list of good library math books (not textbooks--there are a lot of other books on the 500's shelf) and a couple of our other resources like Family Math--for instance, I want to work on using a calculator, and Family Math includes several calculator games.
2. Language arts: again, I have a list of typical grade 4 skills, which I’ve gone over with Ponytails in mind, eliminating what she already knows and adding in a couple of other things I would like her to work on. I have two main goals for the year—-increased independent reading skills (especially in non-fiction) and improved ability in writing—-not her ability to express herself so much (see Theseus here) as her level of comfort with written work—-mechanics, handwriting, spelling, all the boring but important stuff. Also she'll be working on skills in finding things out—-choosing resources (a dictionary? A thesaurus?) and using them.
And how will we be working towards those goals? By checking off pages in a language textbook? Am I ordering a creative writing program, a speller, and basal readers? No, we've never done things that way. At our house it's more like this:
Reading skills: This will be the year I ask her to read more school books on her own—-not setting her adrift, but giving her 15 minutes to read a section and then following up. We will start with short sections and see if she can work up to reading a whole chapter and then telling back what she's read. It means working on habits like attentiveness, not getting distracted. (Do we need readers with chapter-end questions? No, we have books, magazines, newspapers, emails...)
Writing: again, beginning short written narrations—-or writing some and then dictating the rest. Knowing Ponytails, she will probably initiate some of her own writing projects as well.
Mechanics: we will use copywork and dictation, from books across the curriculum, as a place to work on mechanics and very basic grammar (just parts of speech, not diagramming); on noticing story details and picking out homonyms; on experimenting with synonyms or changing tense. Will I have all those lessons prepared ahead of time? No, it’s not practical. If something needs extra work, we spend extra time on it. It’s a waste of time for me to write out 36 weeks of language lessons for Ponytails, just like I don’t buy her new shoes until she needs them. (We do have a couple of yard-sale grammar workbooks to fall back on too.)
Handwriting: besides copywork, we will use Ruth Beechick’s 3-week cursive improvement course (from You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully Grades 4 to 8). (That's less involved than it sounds; it just means having her write sentences and then looking at specific things that need improvement.)
Spelling: I don’t know yet how much extra time Ponytails will need on this next year, so we'll just keep working on it along with her other language activities.
3. Latin (the thinking continues here): I look at the Latin program a friend loaned us, and decide this is not the year to be adding another language. We’ll include some Latin roots when we talk about prefixes and suffixes.
4. Nature studies: I look at the fat handbook we’ve had forever but hardly use,and realize we can use it next year for some book lessons about ladybugs, spiders, ants, worms, and other wiggly crawly things we have close at hand. I was going to add to our collection of magnifiers and bug-lookers anyway, and this will give us some things to examine and maybe draw.
5. Music: At a rummage sale, I find a book & record set of Leonard Bernstein’s 1960’s young peoples’ concerts. There’s a whole kid-size music appreciation course in there, and I know our library has some of the videos too. At our support group's annual conference I buy 2 new Music Maker packs for our lap harp, including a basic music theory pack.
6. I list books we own and can use for history, Bible, science, poetry and more. I write down a couple of others to ask for on a swap board or to look for at the library. Something with legs crawls out of Five Little Peppers, so I toss the book in case the little thing is thinking about multiplying (it was an old tattered copy anyway) and make a note to replace it (the book, not the bug). (No, I do not want to do nature study on a silverfish.) I plan to use one book of Greek myths, but then pick up something I like even better at a library sale and cross out the first one. I decide to order an audio book of Robinson Crusoe, because it's probably the hardest book we’ll be doing this year. An online friend has written her own geography e-text, so I decide to use that for both of our elementary-aged students. I also plan for each of them to make a scrapbook about Canada.
Interlude: I re-read some of my favourite Charlotte Mason chapters and Parents' Review articles and underline key points about why we do what we do. Call it inspiration.
7. I write down the plans in a binder, print out ideas for memory work, favourite songs, and a few other Internet printouts. I divide them up into terms, then roughly by weeks. I collect the books, find CDs, save cardboard and pop bottles for science experiments. We’re ready to begin again.
And did you remember the point of all this? Does this sound like homeschoolers are competent to make curriculum choices, to find resources, to teach lessons, to modify and supplement when needed, to set goals and evaluate progress?
I hope so.