First Week of Kindergarten

I have not done a post devoted to just our sweet first daughter in, well… years.  She made us parents and she is so very often a ray of light and joy in our home.  I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.  Last fall I had planned to start doing a bit of formal schooling with her here and there, but that never actually took root.  There has been so much chaos that it hasn’t happened, and I had initially expected Jacob to tag along in her studies on a more serious level.  But he’s just not ready for that yet, and so our first few tries failed considerably.

photo (57)After I got off of bed rest I thought we would just wait to get a routine like this going until after the baby came, but one week passed… then two weeks… and I realized that I simply didn’t have that kind of patience!  So I decided to jump in and go for it.  Tuesday was Evangeline’s very first day of kindergarten.  See?  I even took a picture!  She picked the pigtails.  :)

Our school week goes from Tuesday through Friday, although we do some things on our weekend days too.  I have a lot that I would love to cover with her before we officially start “1st grade”, but I decided going slow and adding things as we can would be the best way to do it.  This week we have been dabbling in: arithmetic, poetry, hymnody, Bible, Catechism, reading and ASL.  If I’m really confident we’ll get our nature study time in tomorrow too.  Next week we will start with our memory work  and hopefully nature studies and handwriting.  Music, art and handicrafts will follow after we are doing well with the rest.  History and foreign language will probably be the last subjects we add down the road.

It all sounds very ambitious, but we follow a primarily Charlotte Mason approach.  She advocates for very short lessons, a ton of free play and outdoor time, and would defnitely balk at the idea of “formal lessons” for my almost five year old.  :)  But all of you who know me know that my brain just doesn’t work that way and it has to be formally written down or else I will lose my mind!  And with two children with special needs and a new baby on the way… without some sort of structure I just wouldn’t get these quality moments in at all.  With all that said, this week has gone very well, and I’m pleased with where we’re headed for the rest of the year.

Our days are pretty simple, we have to schedule in time for therapies and meals, and I have two school times each day.  We have a school basket and each child gets to pick which lesson they want.  It takes about fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon.  All four kids are present, but not all of them are listening or participating at the same level 😉  The only child I have any expectations for at this point is Evangeline, but they all enjoy sitting in on the fun.

For arithmetic I found a great resource for the early years.  It is quite aged, but their reasoning is spot on and I really don’t see a reason to reinvent the wheel if this works perfectly well!  The book is called The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers”, and the arithmetic section we are working through begins on page 105.  Google reader has the text available for free here.  Every morning I put six random household objects in our school basket and we first practice recognizing a group without counting (How many oranges are on the floor?).  Stephen can recognize what one orange looks like and Jacob can recognize up to two objects.  I always let them do the easy questions before getting more in depth with Evie.  After that I ask her how many objects I need to add or take away from the group to make a different number (How many quarters do I need to put on the floor so we have four quarters?)  

She is now at a point where she can add and subtract objects up to five with almost 100% accuracy and she can recognize a group of six objects without counting them.  Once she masters that we’ll keep moving up through the number 10 and then she’ll “graduate” to the next phase of the arithmetic program.  I’ll have to write a more in depth post about this approach because I just love it so much.

We also do poetry, which is one of my favorite subjects to teach right now, partially because Evie loves it so incredibly much and it’s a pleasure to do it with her.  We are working on learning one classic children’s poem by heart each month.  Since this month only had a week left I picked a really short one to start with, it’s “Clouds” by Christina Rosetti and she learned it by heart after only two days of hearing it once or twice each.  She enjoys reciting it now, and her expressiveness is awesome.  Recitation is definitely a strong suit for her!  After we recite our poem I let each of the kids pick one other poem they want to read before we move on.

Bible is nice and short.  Each day we read one of the readings for Church on Sunday (an Old Testament, an Epistle and a Gospel reading).  We read each one twice during the week so that they can recognize them during the service on Sunday and understand a little better what’s going on.  We briefly discuss what the readings were about and I let the kids ask any questions they have before we move on.

For Hymnody we do two hymns at a time.  We have a weekly hymn we sing every day, which is also from the next Sunday’s service.  Our goal isn’t to know it by heart, but just to be familiar with it so that we can sing it well at Church.  I love to incorporate the children in the liturgy as much as possible, and this is part of that conscious effort.  We also have a monthly hymn we sing every day, and that varies according to the Church year.  Our goal for this is to memorize it by heart and add it to our family’s repertoire of hymns that we can enjoy on a regular basis.  I will usually have us sing one of the hymns at school time and we’ll sing the other during our family hymnsing before bed.

Catechism is done by Daddy so I really don’t know what he does for that… I do know he uses the My First Catechism book by CPH and our family also loves the “Follow and Do” series as well as the Sing the Faith CD, which is Luther’s Small Catechism put to music.  The Catechism is certainly part of our education, but we schedule it after Daddy gets home rather than during our normal school routine.  I would love to add in some instruction on the liturgy as well at some point, but we might wait until next year for that.

Reading is another subject that I am thoroughly enjoying (although really, it’s all been fun!)  We try to keep only quality children’s books around, (I use the suggested reading list from Ambleside Online) and reading takes place all throughout the day.  I do pick a couple of books out specifically to read once or twice during school time just to be sure that everyone is getting some reading time in at least once a day!  Our reading lessons, though, take place individually and spontaneously.  When Evie asks me to read a book I’ll ask if she wants to read too.  If she does, we pick a new word from that story for her to learn and I let her read all the words in the book that she knows while I fill in the rest.

I’m also writing each new word she learns down on a 3×5 card for her to “practice” if she feels like it.  That way, if she wants to read with Daddy or Grandma, they also have a list of all the words she knows.  She gets very frustrated if you read “her” word!  Lol!  I am teaching her phonics rather than just relying on sight words.  Every time she learns a word she has to tell me what sound each letter makes, and as new rules come up (ex: when t and h are together they make a different sound) we talk about them.  If she struggles to remember a word I encourage her to sound it out and she’s getting pretty good at it!

Last but not least, we are also continuing sign language (ASL) with all the kids.  My goal for Evie is for her to be conversational by the end of the year.  We have been signing with her on and off since she was a baby and she’s always loved it.  So far we’ve mostly just used Signing Time, but I am working through the Life Print Course  and modifying it for her as we move toward mastering grammar, comprehension and creating dialogue.  This week we are learning to finger spell our names (she figured it out without any help, because she loves to spell) and learning a majority of the content in Life Print’s 1st lesson, all the content that’s relevant for a five year old anyway.  😉

All in all this has been a much better week and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to a productive learning environment.  I know she’s not even five yet, but these early years have so much potential for setting ground work for a future love of learning.  Home school has always been one aspect of parenthood that I couldn’t wait to start and I’m so glad we’re finally here!

Baby School

img_0864The new American fad seems to be start your kid in school as early as possible.  The new phenomenon of “pre-preschool” is just… well laughable really.  Or is it?  As I sit here with a frame entitled “Evangeline’s School” (aka my almost 18 month old daughter) hanging on the wall opposite me – I find myself reevaluating my presuppositions about school for very young children.

I have gone through a lot of inner searching during my time preparing for homeschooling.  I knew that every school had a philosophy and I wanted to be sure that I knew what mine was before beginning to delve into any particular curriculum.  I wanted to teach with a purpose in mind, not just for the sake of school in and of itself.  So I began to inwardly digest all the education oriented material I was reading, meditating on teaching and raising children in light of what the Scriptures gives us and considering it all in the context of broader humanity – that is to start from the beginning of Creation rather than at my tiny point on the timeline.

I feel that worldviews are very important in making life decisions and even decisions such as whether to use this or that curriculum.  My “whys” for doing things have always been very important to me.  The worldview I started with in building my homeschool philosophy was that “school” has never been a required element per se in raising children or teaching them what they need to know to thrive in society.  Teaching and educating, however, have always been a requirement of good parenting (and even bad parenting) from the very beginning.

Knowing that the institution of “school” was not God-ordained and that many people throughout time have done just fine without it, I began rethinking what homeschooling might look like from a more organic and less cultural perspective.  Many families I know have drawn the same conclusions and prefer unschooling to any curriculum.  I briefly considered this as well, but I soon realized that intentionally educating your children is an important aspect of parenting.  Without such an intent I fear there is to much room to teach what you never meant to teach and to neglect that which you should have taught.

Indeed, I began to come to the notion that rather than no school at all I had fallen into a different category altogether: school all the time for all ages.  This goes wonderfully with the concept of fostering a lifetime of learning, and indeed that is exactly what I hope to do.  In fact, I believe that most schools of thought (no pun intended of course) encourage this particular take on life and education.  But my philosophy does differ greatly from two of the main currents, and I will explain how.

On one side of the spectrum we have those who believe that children should learn only those things which they want to learn, nothing more and nothing less.  They believe that learning is primarily building relationships and that as a child becomes interested in a topic or subject he may pursue it as long as it continues to be a pleasurable and profitable experience for him.

On the other side of the spectrum we have those who believe that education is less up to the student and more up to what is actually important.  In this method children have little say in what they must learn – education is a training and a preparation of sorts that must be gone through in order to prepare the child to enter adulthood.

The former method tends to give birth to more a more lax form of schooling while the latter tends to produce a more rigid and rigorous curriculum.  I think most of us who have considered it are somewhere in between the two.  I agree with the former on this point: that education is mainly the job of building relationships between our children and all that surrounds them in the world.  Here is where I diverge…

Some assume that since education is about relationship building between a child and nature or a child and music or what have you, they assert that you cannot force a relationship – it must be a mutual bond that grows as the two learn to get to know one another and become more acquainted.  If they do not get along then it is not up to you to continue trying to fit two unlike pieces in a puzzle, just as you would not force your child to be friends with a girl she is not interested in.  And this is sound reasoning as far as it goes.

However, I do not think it goes far enough.  Of course I would not force my child to be good friends with a child who they simply do not get along with.  What I would insist on is that they are always cordial and good-willed toward that person and that they do not make assumptions about him, but instead seek to come to a mutual understanding with one another.  This way if there are future interactions with said person, they do not have to be an unpleasant chore, but rather they will go about working together well enough to effectively and efficiently perform the needed task before moving on.

This is the backbone for my educational philosophy… or at least my philosophy in its infantile form.  I realize I am young and have much to learn, but I will learn as I go and that which I have not yet learned by experience I am leaning heavily on my worldview to supply me with wisdom.

From the very moment of conception our children begin to make connections with the world and, I believe, that our duty as educators begins at that moment, and arguably well before (as planning has proven itself to always be a better than not idea).  This is why I can empathize with those parents who have come to realize the benefits of early childhood education and consider pre-preschool as a viable option.  I think that their solution is misplaced as, especially in the earlier years, children are much better off learning about the world from their mother and father.

Rather what I have done is to begin this process in the home with what I have affectionately coined: Baby School.  Charlotte Mason would argue that a structured schooling before the age of six is inappropriate and I do tend to agree.  But the decidedly “J” part of my INFJ is horrified at the idea of not charting and scheduling everything always (just ask my poor husband).  So if you are as J as I am perhaps this idea will resonate with you as well.

I plan on closely following the Charlotte Mason model for school which starts in Year 1 and one of the curriculums I am utilizing does gives some tips for Year 0 (or kindergarten).  But what of all those years before kindergarten?? What is a person to do?  So I have developed more years for myself that I am putting in place now.  Should babies have structured school?  Probably not.  Should I have an idea of what I want their early childhood education to look like so I can be intentional about what I am teaching in these very formative years?  I think so.

And that… is how Baby School was born in our home.  It is subtle enough so that Evie doesn’t even quite know it exists.  But it is helpful enough that my brain is much more relaxed having a chart to work through every day.  Call me crazy, but it works for me, and if you think it might be helpful to you as well stay tuned.  There is much more about this philosophy that needs unpacking and lots of sorting out the hows and whats of my curriculum, so I will certainly be going into more detail about our Baby School soon!

In the meantime, what is your philosophy on education?

P.S. – Yes… the chart does say Feast Day on it because today is the day for Michael and All Angels.  Happy Michaelmas to you!  So we are taking a break from school today in order to celebrate.  How are you celebrating Michaelmas?

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