Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ten summers ago

In August 1997, Mr. Fixit and I dropped our one Squirreling (soon to be two Squirrelings) off at the grandparents' for the day, and headed to a Lifetime Canada homeschool conference at a church near Toronto. We had the privilege of listening to Diana Waring as the keynote speaker, and sat in on a workshop with Kathleen Julicher. I bought some things I thought we'd need for The Apprentice's Grade One year: Canada My Country (yes, we did Bucky the Beaver), Valerie Bendt's Frances Study Guide, and a couple of math workbooks...I think that's when we bought our Geography Songs tape too...and the Revised Edition of Laura Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum (now in its third incarnation).

I sweated over that purchase...literally, since I was very pregnant and it was about ninety degrees out. Fifteen dollars was a good chunk of change for us at that time. But I really, really wanted that shrink-wrapped book, and before we headed back home I gave in and bought it.

Our oldest-and-only was just five, but we weren't brand-new to homeschooling; I'd been going to support group meetings and reading every homeschool book I could find since before she was three; and we had already finished a whole year of kindergarten (we used Five in a Row). I had read about Charlotte Mason's philosophy (her books were in our group library), but hadn't seen any practical materials that would help us get going with it. (We weren't online yet either.) So Laura Berquist was about the closest I could find to what I wanted to do: something book-based but uncluttered, something that did not involve a passel of kids crawling into a giant model ear. We had one child and would be teaching only one until the pending arrival reached school age; and we lived in a two-bedroom bungalow with little room for model anythings.

Although I didn't identify with Mrs. Berquist's Catholic perspective, and never bought into the Trivium idea, I learned enough from that book to keep me going until the next door (the Internet and CM discussion groups) opened up. I learned what "proximately" meant. (Not "approximately," but "proximately" as in short-term goals.)

"This is the heart of designing your own curriculum, classical or otherwise. You need to be explicit about the ends you want to achieve."--Designing Your Own, p. 3

I learned how to combine a reasonable number of resources into a year's curriculum--and that it was all right to do, say, Bible stories for just part of the year and then catechism or church history for the other part. I learned how you could intersperse chapters from a core textbook with library books and other resources. Mrs. Berquist was a few years ahead of her time in that respect, as I don't remember hearing much about "history spines" at that point.
"I wanted my children to think that a new book or a new subject or a new project would be likely to be interesting...and I still think that the best way to achieve this is to have that attitude yourself. Talk to your children about their academic work. Conversation with you is the most formative part of their intellectual life."--Designing Your Own, p. 4
I learned that for some subjects you might go all-out, and for others you do just the minimum; then next year you might reverse that.

I learned how one teaching parent followed a well thought out plan with her family, while allowing for the different strengths and interests of her children.

"There is a mean between no workbooks and all workbooks, between fun and drudgery, and between flexibility and firmness."--Designing Your Own, p. 17
We took a lot home from that conference. From Diana Waring we heard about keeping humour in your homeschooling. We listened to Kathleen Julicher speak about the importance of curiosity and asking questions, and also picked up an early version of Gifted Children at Home, a book she had just written with Maggie Hogan and Janice Baker. And from Laura Berquist, I received calm assurance and encouragement.
"Evaluate your progress and success year by year, not moment by moment. Both you and your children will have ups and downs. Don't throw out good materials or despair of your ability because of a few bad days."--Designing Your Own, p. 17
The gas, the entrance fee, and the $15 book have been much more than repaid.


Shawna said...

Thanks! That was very reassuring for those of us just venturing out :-)

Kaber said...

sounds like it worked out very well for you!

I still have not ever been to a homeschool conference...LOL

Mama Squirrel said...

Well, if you want to drive up to Southern Ontario, you can come to ours next year! (But maybe there is something closer? (grin))

chickadee said...

i can't believe you remember that from 10 years ago. even what you bought! that's impressive. but how wonderful that all of that stayed with you and helped you formulate your homeschool.

Sherry said...

Just like in parenting, it all works out. It's almost always the most diligent parents who worry the most, but because of their diligence, they do well. It's interesting that a classical style book helped you so much when that is not the style you follow. Obviously, basic educational wisdom crosses the style lines!

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