Christopher starts Kindergarten today! We decided to go for it and try full time homeschooling after he had been at preschool on Notre Dame’s campus two afternoons per week for the last two years. I have been reading about homeschooling and philosophy of education nearly since he was born and, while I had always been trepidatious about taking on full-time homeschooling, I felt that as he got older, we saw his temperament develop, his enduring intense interest in everything we read to him, and the general rhythm of our family becoming more home-oriented, it was completely reasonable to homeschool. Ultimately, we are homeschooling because I think we can give our kids a rich education.
I am a devotee of Charlotte Mason, an early twentieth century British educator, whose first principle of education is that “children are born persons”. Children, like adults, have a mind that feeds on living ideas. Often we think children need children’s things – and to an extent that is true. But children appreciate truth, goodness, and beauty instinctively and to deprive them of fine art or good books or direct experience of nature is to starve the mind of its rightful food. Mason wrote that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, and this resonated with how I intuitively thought about education.
Mason’s methods depend largely on what she calls living books and narration. Living books are written beautifully and communicate “living ideas” that can be apprehended and assimilated by the child. This doesn’t mean cheap moralism, but instead communicates something real about the world. Narration consists of the child telling back what they have heard or read and is the mechanism by which he assimilates the ideas communicated. Mason also emphasized lots of outdoor time and nature study as another way for kids to encounter the Real. This all sounds very lofty. Getting down to brass tacks, this means we read a lot and go outside a lot, two things we are really into anyway.
Some Mason purists argue that there should be no formal education before age six. Christopher is five, but it is also important to me to remember that homeschooling is a year-by-year discernment and is also a privilege. There could be a time when I am not able to stay home full time or that Christopher would be better served by attending a conventional school. Most of his peers are getting some formal education now and while I think the over-institutionalization of Kindergarten is a detriment to healthy child development, I don’t want him to be totally behind should he need to go to school for first grade.
So all that said, here are our plans for this year! I thought I’d put it on the blog because I like reading these kinds of posts from other moms and also for my own memory and reference to see what worked and what didn’t for the future. Much of it is drawn from the Mater Amabilis Kindergarten syllabus, but I have made my own additions/substitutions.
Christopher decided he wanted to start reading on his fifth birthday. We whizzed through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons until we went to Germany and the lessons got longer. Christopher was initially completing them easily and even looking forward to it, but he started really resisting as the lessons got longer (and I probably pushed too hard for my poor five-year-old to keep up his reading lessons in a foreign country), so we have taken a break since July. I have promised to set a timer and to break the lessons into parts in order to keep them shorter, but he was still pretty grumpy about it this morning. We are currently on Lesson 50.
We will be starting with the Reception year of MEP, a curriculum developed in Hungary for the British public schools. It emphasizes nailing the mental concepts of numbers as a foundation for all of Math instead of simply parroting formulas. I don’t expect Reception to take all year, so we’ll just move on to Year 1 when we finish.
This is probably the subject I least know what to expect, especially since boys – Christopher included – generally are not as interested in fine motor work (except Legos). He already knows his manuscript letters for the most part, but rarely chooses to write. I have Cursive First for us to work through this year and I think it does a good job combining phonograms with sensory work, etc. He loved the salt box this morning (and so did Therese).
We’ll be following the Mater Amabilis plans for History and Geography, both of which seem really fun. The kids have been eyeing all the picture books on the shelf since I ordered them in the Spring. Charlotte Mason emphasizes starting with hero tales from the child’s own country, so Mater Amabilis scheduled some American history tales and Geography is basically a world cultures study organized by continent with attendant picture books.
We’ll also be following Mater Amabilis’ religion plans and I am adding the Nashville Dominicans’ Virtues in Practice study to the rotation.
In addition to the piles of books we bring home from the library, we’ll be (re-)reading Beatrix Potter and then Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgrin for our lunchtime books. We’ll also read selections from Joseph Jacobs’ English Fairy Tales. The kids have already enjoyed “The Three Sillies”.
Art & Music
We are following the Ambleside Online picture study and composer study rotation. Our first term we will be studying Pieter Brughel the Elder and Mozart. Mason-style art and picture study is mostly art appreciation, especially for young children. We will look and listen and share what we notice.
I am feeling ambitious and want to do one lesson a week from Drawing with Children using Donna Young’s lesson guides. It seems doable, but Christopher is also not really into drawing – his preschool teachers said it was like pulling teeth to get him to sit for crafts – but I’m hoping this might empower him to draw more. I have low expectations. I do think drawing is part of a good liberal arts education and it would set the stage for starting a real nature journal next year, but he’s also only five.
We are also going to go through Robert Levine’s Story of the Orchestra casually, probably during lunchtime on a day without a read-aloud. I saw Celeste Cruz went through it with her Kindergartners, so I got it at the library.
We will keep learning German songs from “Auf der Mauer, Auf der Lauer” and Meine schönsten Kinderlieder. This continues to give the kids familiarity with the sounds of the language and sets the stage for more formal lessons next year.
We will be following Mater Amabilis’ nature study recommendations as well as using Exploring Nature with Children to loosely guide our weekly nature walks. We all love this part of our life together and it naturally teaches observation skills necessary for future in depth science.
Our Morning Time is the first thing we do. The kids sit at the breakfast bar and eat (or refuse to eat) their eggs and we listen to our Bible memory verse/passage and a hymn, read the daily poem from Sing a Song of Seasons and a nursery rhyme from The Real Mother Goose, and listen to our German song. We will be adding Level One of IEW’s Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization and AmblesideOnline’s folksong rotation.
Both Christopher and Therese will be in Level I of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd this year. I’ll be assisting in Level II, which I think will be a nice change since I’m the teacher everywhere else. Christopher starts Cub Scouts this year (a Lion!) and we’re all psyched.
I put together a few Montessori-inspired works to occupy Therese and to give her something special to do while Christopher and I do lessons. The pouring work was a hit this morning.
Teddy will be focusing on his Latin declensions.
Since education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, we hope to orient the whole culture of our home to learning. One of the benefits of homeschooling for Kindergarten is that all this should only take at most an hour and a half (and it did this morning!), so Christopher has plenty of time for his own interests, of which there are many (currently whales and volcanoes).