Friday, August 10, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week: Curriculum

You want me to talk about curriculum?

Oh, you really don't know what you are getting yourselves in for with that one.

This will be our ninth year using Ambleside Online, which is a free online Charlotte Mason curriculum project. Add in our usual large splash of thrift shop/dollar store/contrived/recycled, and we could go on talking for a long time.

But this post is going to be about where we're going with this year's homeschooling. First is something I've paraphrased from another AO user and blogger who goes by ShilohMom and is well known (by her more usual name) to AO list members for her many helpful suggestions and musings.

"We learn best
by exploring relationships to one another,
to the world around us,
and to our Creator God.

Things impress themselves upon us
and we form a relationship to them.

We explore the world through our senses
and through books.

The world becomes our textbook."

With a fifth grader (doing Year Four) and a first grader (doing Year One), our curriculum at first glance looks like it's going to be a mishmash of the American War of Independence, early British history, Robinson Crusoe, Paddle-to-the-Sea, and assorted natural history, geography, Bible studies and all the rest. No sense at all (and wouldn't it make more sense to try to keep two girls homeschooling together on the same page? and why would a first grader need to learn any British history?). We've also had to/wanted to make personal adjustments and accommodations to the "as written" years, so at first glance it looks even more muddled.

But put together, it does make sense, especially taking the general theme of exploring as our year's focus. Please pardon the number of times the word "explore" is going to have to be used in this post.

"We explore through our senses": the first several weeks of science will literally be a study of the senses. In the rest of the curriculum, we also incorporate the senses of sight (picture study, careful nature observation, drawing lessons); sound (music--singing, listening, and playing around with instruments, listening to stories, listening to our backyard birds, practicing attentiveness in other ways); touch (handicrafts); and taste and smell (cooking--something Ponytails enjoys--and tasting, especially when we try foods from other countries during our geography explorations). Like detectives, we learn to observe and pick out clues from what we see and hear; and detective stories may even make an appearance in some of the extra reading we do (Emil and the Detectives, Tintin, Encyclopedia Brown).

Like Benjamin Franklin, we explore the world of ideas and inventions. Like Robinson Crusoe, we explore what's around us (natural history) and learn to use what we have. Like mapmaker David Thompson (geography lessons in the spring term) and Viking explorers (Leif the Lucky) we start to make sense of our terrain and explore and map what's out there, including our close-to-home Great Lakes (Paddle-to-the-Sea, Year One).

Going further afield, we'll Explore the Holy Land. And starting in late fall, we'll be Exploring Creation with Astronomy. (Coincidence? I didn't make up those titles.)

"We explore the world....through books": We explore other lives, other times, through biographies, history, literature. We explore the world of imagination through plays, mythology (Padraic Colum's The Golden Fleece this year), poetry, Fifty Famous Stories Retold (Year One), stories of dragons (because, unlike Cousin Eustace, we would like them to recognize a dragon if they ever see one); brave and foolish animals, fables, and American fairy tales (Year Four).

We explore George Washington's World (Year Four) and that of Alfred the Great (Year One). We look at shadowy worlds of the past where truth and fairy tales sometimes get mixed (the early chapters of Our Island Story). We look at history that includes our own family story (some of our family lived in Pennsylvania during the 1700's, although as pacifists they had a slightly different perspective on the war). We learn about life in other times: the candle making, spinning and printing presses of colonial days.

And as for the rest? Oh yes--the "3 R's." We explore the world of numbers and mathematics...Miquon Math is very much an exploring curriculum, and our Year Four is also going to be exploring some new areas in math, after some work to figure out her mathematical Global Position.

We explore our own language through reading, discussion, narration, copywork, and a bit of grammar work (not something we spend a lot of time on at this stage). We begin to be aware of other languages as well (in our house, that includes French, and one of these days we might take a crack at Latin).

We explore God's Word, the thing that ties it all together for us--"the end of our exploring." Do you know where that quote comes from? It's from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding," and the rest of the stanza looks like this:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

I found "Little Gidding" discussed here (I'm sorry, I can't figure out the author's name). I thought his/her comment was appropriate to what I've been saying:
"Every time I read this I imagine a man exploring some place like Iceland. It is barren and beautiful and unexplored. He then travels and ends up where he started. But when he comes back, that place of beginning is of so much more meaning. Spiritually speaking, our place of beginning is also our place of end; though it is not the same place. Or, as Eliot might put it, it is the same place but we are not the same people. "


ShilohMom said...

Dear Mama Squirrel,

I am glad my post inspired you :o). You have been such a great inspiration to me as well. BTW - even though I am taking a break from AO, just know that my heart will always be with you all.

~Carol H. :o)

Renae said...

I really enjoyed the quotes in this post. I focus on observation and reflection which are an important part of exploring.

As an aside, we studied a bit about Alfred the Great last year. Is the book you mentioned on Ambleside? There are no reviews on Amazon. What do you think about it? I would enjoy learning more about his life.

Mama Squirrel said...

It's not an Ambleside book--I just got it on a whim from Hampstead House, a remaindered-book dealer in Toronto. I haven't used it with anybody yet--this will be our first and probably only time.

The book is meant for elementary grades; it has kind of Usborne-style pictures but full page figures rather than busy cross-sections; and more text than most Usborne books although it's only 24 pages long. I think we'll use it mostly as a resource for the pictures rather than read the text, unless there's some extra information that Our Island Story doesn't cover.

A Dusty Frame said...

Sounds good to me!

I just posted our Year 1 schedule and enjoyed reading yours.

JacciM said...

Hi, Mama Squirrel :)

We're in Year One, too. And, like you, we've thrown a fe of our own choices in there. It's been interesting to me to see how all of the "miss mash" books have so often come together in coherent ways for the children. Just today, we read "Horatius at the Bridge" from Fifty Famous Stories and also a chapter from Pierson's Among the Forest People about bees and a kingbird. The worker bees are willing to go sting the threatening kingbird at one word from the Queen Bee, even though doing so will mean their certain deaths (since bees die after they sting, of course). My five year old was listening in to the reading and she piped up. "Mama, that's just like Horatius". The bees? "Yeah. They were willing to die to save the hive just like Horatius was willing to die to save his village." I LOVE CHARLOTTE MASON!!!! :) Oh, I like your post a lot, too. Thanks for the good thoughts.

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