Musings From a Mom
When my husband decided we should homeschool, he suggested I read up on it. And I did. Every book the library had. I interviewed others I knew who homeschooled and got the how, why, and when. We wanted our children to have a thoroughly Christian education, and we decided that the classical style was for us. I’ve read just about every book out there on the subject, bought most, inadvertently memorized parts of some, and they always lead to other books. However, it wasn’t until this year that I learned how to pull together classical Christian education and home schooling. Here’s what happened.
Every year I receive a flyer in the mail advertising the Veritas Academy Teacher Training. Every year I ask the headmaster of our homeschool if I can attend, he says yes, and I plan to go. Then I start counting the cost—literally. And the headmaster wants to come too, so I double the cost. Then I sigh deeply and give up. Airfare from West Texas, hotel, conference fees, rental car, food, finding childcare for our four children, is just too much from our family budget and resources.
Having discovered that the sessions were audio taped and available at www.wordmp3.com, I researched my technological options on how downloads worked (I asked my husband) and took the plunge into something I thought only teenagers had and knew how to operate—MP3 players.
During the summer of 2006 I listened to Veritas Academy Teacher Training downloads from years past. As I painted my daughter’s room or floated in the pool I listened over and over to a hodge-podge of downloads from past Veritas conferences.
It took me a few weeks, or months, to accept some hard truths from the conference downloads. That if we wanted to truly classically and christianly educate our children, I needed to step up to the plate and put in a great deal more time and effort than I had in our previous six years of homeschooling. It took me a few months to digest that my days, my labors, my responsibilities just got much heavier and longer. I didn’t want to accept it. Couldn’t I simply just tutor in the mornings and send the kids off to their rooms to complete all written work (worksheets, math practice and lesson practice, writing, reading) on their own as I had for the past two years? Hadn’t that worked so far? Didn’t the books about homeschooling say that homeschooling only took a couple of hours a day? Most of these books contained a quiet humor and small derision pointed at homeschoolers who weren’t wise enough to spend only a little time on it each day, and who were foolish enough to imitate traditional school settings with things like lesson plans, a daily schedule, and a yearly calendar. Apparently this was not so. And the source had credibility. Things must change. And they must start with me.
Wardrobe: One immediate change in our homeschool was that I have a new wardrobe. I’m a professional teacher. I simply don’t get paid monetarily. However, now I dress like one.
Permission: During most of Mrs. Detweiler’s talks she emphasized giving homeschoolers permission to act like a traditional school. Not only permission, but sometimes impetus. She brought home the importance of having school daily, a regular length, having lesson plans (I had no idea what they looked like), and a yearly calendar with each subject planned out for each grade. She also gave permission to not keep the perfect house, and to say “no” to good things (daytime Bible studies) so I can say “yes” to better or the best things, even if I don’t know what they are. She gave permission to “flex” school sometimes but that 95 % of the time I need to stick to my schedule and original plans. I also have permission to only school during school. By that, I mean, don’t do a load of laundry and teach history simultaneously. This can be difficult for those of us who love to multi-task. But it has paid off in the new diligence my children give to their work. Since it’s important enough for Mom to devote 100% of her time and attention to it, the children think they should probably work on it pretty hard, too.
Accountability: Accountability among homeschoolers is vital, and we tend not to like it very much. Who does? But we need it, and it can come in many forms. I’ve found that contests, a weekly class, lesson plans, a calendar, simply making lists of what needs to be done, spelling bees and recitations are a few means of accountability. There’s no accountability like the surety of having seven children show up at your house for Latin every Tuesday. Latin gets taught.
Age Appropriate Chants: I learned that as children neared the Logic stage they begin to resist chants, thus the need for age appropriate chants.
Memory Period: In years past we’ve memorized various poems, chants, etc. But it hadn’t occurred to me to plan 25-30 minutes into the school day to review items from previous years. We do that now and cover catechism, spelling rules, poems, scripture, old VP history songs and the plan is to change it every eight weeks or so.
Making Time Count: When we moved to West Texas from Dallas/Fort Worth almost three years ago, I began a small support group, called the Trivium, of about a dozen mothers who all home school classically or at least are interested in the various topics we discuss. They are very faithful in attendance to our monthly meetings, and I’ve found my closest friends there. Recently, I emailed my Trivium group the link to the Veritas sample school schedules and one wise friend emailed back, “Whew! It’s nice to know that even Veritas Academy can’t transcend time as we mere mortals know it.” Meaning that Veritas Academy keeps normal school day hours. Which implies it’s not how long you school each day, it’s what you do with the time you have. This was a point Mrs. Detweiler drove home. Along with pouring yourself into your children. If you have them for an hour for math, make that hour count. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are. What matters is what is actually done.
Fun: I learned that it’s all right for school to be fun. I’d previously thought if we were primarily doing “fun” things in school, I was giving in to the modern “fun” imperative of trying to make the kids think school is only good if they think it’s fun. Now I see that fun (like history and Bible projects) can be melded with hard work, and sometimes it’s good all on its own.
Tutoring Requires One-on-One: Children need to be tutored, not taught a few minutes of each subject, then given several hours of seatwork to complete on their own. My children love doing all our work together. I asked my oldest two children what they liked about this year’s home school, and they both agreed this was their number one, favorite change. We do almost all our school together, with Mom present at the school table, just devoted to helping, teaching, watching the kids. I’ve used Saxon DIVE CDs previously, but my children like it best when I teach them their math personally. So we start school each day at 7:30 and finish math by 9:00. My children have done very well in math before, but now their test grades are consistently high As. They are thriving under a living math teacher.
“A” Or Do-Over/Mastery: We have a new grading system in the Salmon Independent School District. It was learned from Andrew Pudewa and is called “A or Do-over,” and my children are slowly getting it, my daughter faster than my sons.
Planning: Previously I’d never planned out my entire school year or even a week at a time. Mrs. Detweiler encouraged that. Now my headmaster looks over next week’s lesson plans each Sunday night. There is something magic about having goals or plans written down. They seem to get accomplished simply because they are on paper.
Literature: Mrs. Fischer’s downloads on literature were very helpful. I am a bibliophile, but I’ve never taught children literature. It never occurred to me that it would be nice if each person reading had an individual copy of the same book. We have family read-alouds, but just for fun, I never thought the kids should read out loud with me over their shoulder seeing how they were doing. Boy did I learn about that one! Now we do projects, find derivatives from Latin, talking the chapters over, instead of just assigned individual reading, and this is a change for us. And we have literature as the last part of each school day so we can all lounge all over the sofa and easy chairs and enjoy it. This was from Mrs. Fischer’s downloads.
Tough Stuff First: I learned to plan the tough stuff first. No one except me dictates my schedule, so we have math first and literature last. Math is best done when the kids have fresh brains and full stomachs. So we begin math immediately following breakfast. I’m considering doing tests first as well.
Less Guilt: I no longer feel guilty about not conducting school on weeks or days off that we’ve planned to have off. If I keep on schedule there’s no longer any need to feel guilty about taking planned time off. I don’t need to think, “What school should we be doing today because we didn’t get enough done in the last month?” Although I still struggle with this, I don’t know many homeschooling moms who don’t struggle with guilt over not doing enough.
Long Days: Another result of our “new” homeschool is really long days. We commence around 7:30 a.m. and end by 4:30 p.m. whether we’re finished or not. If I’ve got gobs of energy left at 4:30 p.m., I probably didn’t pour myself into the children like I should have. I remember what Mrs. Detweiler said about only having one shot at rearing and educating Godly children: good intentions aren’t good enough, and I should consider teaching to be my full-time job. These things all help when I’m wiped out at the end of the day.
Excitement: Now my kids are excited about school. A few weeks into this school year my oldest child came to me one night and said he couldn’t decide what his favorite subject was, math, history or literature. Previously, when asked by someone outside the family, making casual conversation, asked him what his favorite subject was, his response was “I don’t have one.” Now he has to narrow it down. When told it’s time for history, my nine year old daughter usually says, “Yeah! I love history! Do we have a project today?” Previously I considered projects a waste of time, but apparently kids really like building Jamestown out of Popsicle sticks; it’s me that doesn’t. And it does reinforce things I previously thought only copywork or repetition or worksheets could do.
An Ending Time: When 4:30 p.m. rolls around, I decided school should be over. Finis. No more letting the kids drag out seatwork for hours and letting it become a battle. My oldest child loves that he rarely has seatwork and, even though our school day doubled in length this year, at 4:30 he’s DONE. And free to go build forts or swim or read on his own, whatever he wants to do.
Memorization: Memorize, memorize, memorize. It never occurred to me to have the kids memorize the songs or dates, rather than just to have a familiarity with them. Now I understand that what you sing, you memorize and that it’s a gift you have your entire life. The children are now required to memorize the songs and chants and dates and to actually list them on the tests instead of skipping that section as we used to do. And for the most part, they can do it.
I memorize (or try my best) the songs, chants, poems, etc. that the kids do. The kids realize it must be important if Mom is memorizing it too. And they have patience with me since my mind is not as nimble as theirs. I have memorization prizes wrapped up in my most expensive ribbon, and when a song is learned and recited (like a VP History or Bible song) the child can choose a prize (a big box of Sugar Babies or a box of modeling clay). And when I memorize a song and recite it, I get to choose a prize, too. When the kids recite something for a prize, they can only try once a day. This encourages them to truly master it before attempting to recite it for the headmaster.
Latin: From a download I learned to surround the children with Latin, and to have them memorize their facts cold, not to stumble through their brains until a possible answer arose. I teach a Latin class on Tuesday afternoons, and I do everything I can to use my one hour per week with them as best I can. Now I know that my students need to have their Latin facts mastered, not just a passing knowledge. I’ve been encouraging them and their parents to work hard at it using the comparison of 2 + 2. They need to know their Latin facts immediately just like they can answer what 2 + 2 is. I also learned to surround my students with Latin. I can do this best with my own children. So while driving, we only identify Slug Bugs/Punch Buggies (VWs) by their Latin or Spanish colors. A child must say “Punch Buggy Argentum!” in order to claim that point as his own. Saying “Punch Buggy Silver” doesn’t count. My daughter’s room has a verse painted on the wall in Latin. Why paint in English when you can use Latin? Most brief instructions around the house are given in Latin (Sta. Audite. Sedite.). We have a fun conversational Latin phrase book that sits around, and we pick it up just to giggle at, as well as The Cat in the Hat and Winnie the Pooh in Latin.
Homeschoolers Are Behind: It was surprising to hear that Veritas Academy often tests homeschoolers for admittance and finds them lacking. We all think our children are brilliant and several grade levels ahead of where they “should” be. Apparently this is not so. More homeschoolers must hear that.
Miscellany: I really learned a great deal of miscellaneous information from Mrs. Fischer’s download on what she learned with her education degree. This was one of my favorite downloads, and I think it was titled A Day in the Life of A Homeschooler. I learned random things, like ten minutes of preparation is worth two hours of teaching (that may have been Mrs. Detweiler), find the alpha male in your class and get him on your side, listening to the children read aloud, don’t let a single book you’re studying in literature class drag out more than six weeks, children love any project that involves food, fire, or popping balloons. I found that it is beneficial to have some knowledge of teaching (since I don’t have an education degree) and to hear it from someone who has a philosophy I trust and share and can separate the fluff from the important and just relate the important and practical in how to teach children. Mrs. Fischer did a fine job of that.
My schedule may not be for everyone, maybe not even anyone. But it’s working for us.
I know it’s odd, but I really am excited about listening to the 49 downloads from the 2006 conference. Except for the one on Physics and Chemistry.
Two downloads down, forty-seven more to go…
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