Our First Year of Homeschooling: How Far We Have Come
Reflections on a first year of home education
The past year has been an adventure marked with a plethora of accomplishments. Last September (2009), my daughter Cosette missed the "cutoff" for admission into our local Kindergarten class because her birthday falls after August 31st. As a result of this fortuitous accident of fate, I decided to walk over the threshold of the doorway of opportunity that I found open to me. I began home-schooling her.
Our family does not watch television, and engage with our computers on a very limited basis. Instead, we immerse ourselves in classic literature, board games, puzzles, puppetry, building materials, art projects, and music both recorded and live. We attend live theater, puppet shows, and festivals. We visit neighborhood parks, take scenic walks and spend time in museums. Home-schooling her is a natural extension of all the games and activities we already engage in together.
Learning by Immersion
In September of 2009, we set sail on our journey of joyful learning together with a light schedule of story time, counting activities, science exploration, art projects, and music. The diverse assortment of books that I read to her included both fiction and nonfiction: the art of Vincent van Gogh, the childhood events and antics of famous people both historical and contemporary, Grimm stories, architecture, poetry, astronomy, history, philosophy, counting, and the habits of all manner of creatures. One book series that Cosette enjoys is that of Scholastic's The Magic School Bus . An interactive math game we played involved her "buying" blocks of different shapes and sizes with American coins and dollars. After she used up her allotted "allowance," she built a house or tower with the blocks she chose. This introduced the concepts of monetary worth associated with different types of coins and the dollar bill, most and least, block sizes and shapes, and the physics of building a structure with enough balance to remain standing. We also built with the Lego set that her grandparents gave her for her birthday. She practiced writing with the erasable drawing boards. A small electronic toy called "Doodle and Draw," a gift from my mother, provided her with a chance to practice drawing letters, numbers, shapes,and various types of lines. Each afternoon we raced, skipped, threw balls to each other, and I pushed her on the swing. In the winter, we made snow angels and built little snow people. One little 'snow girl' was named "Sally."
In November of 2009, my daughter demonstrated her readiness to start reading books for herself. She sat in bed one morning and read words from Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb , by P.D. Eastman, with much delight, so I invited her to read it to me. Her brain was ready to decode the groups of letters on a page arranged in words and to learn the rules of grammar, so she could begin reading for both knowledge and pleasure. In the early stages, she read from books with fun themes while I still read the content that was beyond her reading level of interest to her. This was also the time that I began reading longer works to her at bedtime each night, such as The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, which we are still working our way through.
From Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb , Cosette moved on to Go Dog Go , also by P.D. Eastman, and two Seuss books, Hop on Pop and There's a Wocket in My Pocket (a little more challenging but equally delightful). Soon after finishing these books, she began reading books in the Read with Dick and Jane series, and is currently working through book 6. She also read through The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat , a Level 1 "I Can Read" book. In addition to her reading practice, and the time spent by my husband and I reading to her, the three of us have listened to summaries and commentaries of various Great Books, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain), which takes place in the area where her paternal grandparents live and she has visited, Gulliver's Travels (Swift), and Les Miserables (Hugo), for which she has developed great affection. Throughout her life, the three of us have attended Shakespeare performances on Boston Common, and she loves to quote one of her favorite lines in A Comedy of Errors ("I, sir, am Dromio!"), along with the gestures that went with it during that performance.
Weekly Library Visits
While visiting our local library, Cosette reads at least one of the Bob readers to me before she settles down to look at what she likes and to play with some of the toys in the children's room. She has her own library card to check out the books she would like to have read to her several more times during the week, and sometimes an easy book she could read to us. One such book was Agua, Agua, Agua , an Aesop fable.
Parallel to the reading to each other we have been doing, Cosette and I have engaged in rhyming exercises with her magnetic letters on the front of our refrigerator. This serves as a phonics game, since we start with a short base word of 3 letters and take turns choosing different beginning sounds. The progression started with the short "a" sound, has now reached the short "e" sound, and will soon move on to the short "i" sound. After we have covered all the beginning sounds that create real words, she enjoys the chance to create silly "nonsense" words with other letters we have not yet used as a reward for her hard work at learning.
In late November, around Thanksgiving, Cosette began to practice forming the letters of the alphabet - the capitals followed by the lower case. She also began writing numbers 1 through 10. She can write her first name, but still often writes the "s" backward. In addition to letters and numbers, she has written short words, including those that represent numbers 1 through 10. I bought her a small notebook with a cover that glitters with flowers and butterflies, in which she has practiced her letters amidst squiggly lines that reflect the pace at which all of her "happy thoughts" run through her mind.
Spelling starter kit
Lower case magnetic letters. Amazon also offers uppercase magnetic letters.
Pictures from Places we Love to Visit and Things We Love to Do
My daughter attended preschool in Boston before we moved to Central Massachusetts, and her teachers expressed concern about her not developing the coordination that comes with riding a tricycle. Now she pedals along with ease from home to home around our cohousing village. She is growing too big for it and will be ready to take on a bicycle with training wheels by September. She has also learned to tie her shoes, pour drinks for herself, make sandwiches, skip, run fast, blow bubbles, kick a ball, hop on a pogo stick, wink, and whistle occasionally. The main challenge she is working on currently is mastering the jump rope.
Movement to Music
Cosette is also an elegant dancer. My mother gave her a season of pre-ballet lessons as a Christmas present this past year, and in that class she has learned to move with style in a variety of ways: tarantella, tango, ballet, Duncan dance, line dancing, Irish reel, and march. Halfway through the Spring, I was invited by her teacher to play my mandolin for her class to collaborate on choreographing a dance to, and to give them the experience of dancing to live music. I chose a Russian dance tune called "Korobushka" (The Peddlar). It was a blast to see how the dance developed. I am happy that I caught many of the dances in their polished form with our camcorder to archive and to give to her grandmother to enjoy.
The science activities that my little scholar has engaged in encompass a wide spectrum. She has caught small frogs with her hands, which peed on her if she held onto them too long, collected rocks and leaves, fed and watered the plants on our back deck and our garden and watched them bloom, sowed wildflower seeds, weeded, observed a walking stick insect caught by a neighbor, and observed the eyes of a dead fly through her magnifying glass. She has also been star gazing and saw some meteors during the Perseid showers. In the kitchen, she has helped me make fruit smoothies (witnessed solids turning into liquids in the blender), kneaded bread, rolled meatballs and gnocchi, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch by herself. One of our favorite places to visit is Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston, MA. When she visited the Magic Fun House discovery museum in St. Louis, MO, she touched a ball that made her hair stand up with static electricity.
Young Scientists will find plenty of ideas for experiments ~
Usborne is a trusted publisher of richly detailed books for children among home-schooling families.
Cosette's knowledge of Geography has been developed through studying a world map sent to us from Doctors Without Borders and her small globe. She knows the 4 compass directions and can describe the relationship between 4 peripheral objects (N, S, W, and E) to a central object, using full sentences. She can locate the North and South Poles on her small globe, North and South America, and the Equator. We have also read about the countries of Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica. As a treat, one of the books I bought and read to her was How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz. The book describes a time and place of great suffering for a group of people related to my daughter' own blood heritage (Polish) in addition to describing how a boy becomes enamored of a map that taps his imagination and helps him forget his troubles for a while.
The one era of American History she has gained the most appreciation for is the American Revolution, from watching a series of short animated vignettes called "Liberty's Kids," which my husband has been streaming into his laptop through his Netflix membership, and through visiting the Paul Revere House in Boston, where her Papa works as a guide. She knows that George Washington was a both a general during the Revolution and was the first president of the United States. She has also visited Colonial Williamsburg and the Jamestown settlement, and could tell you which sides the "Red Coats" and "Blue Coats" were on.
Because her blossoming social awareness paralleled the 2008 election campaign, my daughter appreciates the significance of President Barack Obama's holding office in Washington, D.C., and admires him. She becomes excited each time she recognizes his image or voice. Since January 2009, my husband, Cosette, and I have listened to many of his speeches together. We have also read a biography of Barach Obama together, which we checked out of the library. In addition to books about President Obama, we have a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which we read to her every year on his birthday. She recognizes his voice when pieces of his "I Have a Dream" speech are played on the radio, and his image on postcards. As a result of her passion for princesses, we have also made sure we read a biography about Princess Diana to her.
Cosette's appreciation for art has sprung from activities she has engaged in as well as books we have read to her at bedtime, which contain companion poems that tell a story about the pictures. Matisse, van Gogh, Monet, Cassatt, and Degas are among them. We have also read to her a children's book titled When Pigasso Met Mootise, about the friendship that developed between Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. She can identify Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo daVinci, and Water Lilies by Claude Monet. She may not remember the title, but she does identify Two Girls on a Beach as a work by Mary Cassatt. She has also noticed the similarity of style between Egyptian cave art and Native American tribal totems. She often likes to take crayons and markers and imitates what she sees on paper. This has given us a treasury of early art to archive and measure her progress with later.
Listening while we Learn
Finally, our day would not be complete without music. During our lessons, Cosette and I have been listening to CD samplers of various classical composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Strauss, and Chopin. She also likes to listen to the Cinderella Suite by Prokiev (I brought her to see the ballet in October of 2008) and A Midsummer Night's Dream by Mendelsohn. She loves to explore sound by picking the strings of my mandolin and guitar, blowing into tin whistles and harmonicas, banging out rhythms on drums and tambourines, shaking maracas and cabasas, and improvising melodies on her small toy keyboard. She can distinguish between the sounds of violin, piano, drum, and dulcimer music when listening to a recording, or from another room when someone is playing live. Each night, I play lullabies on the mandolin and sing to her as she drifts off to sleep.
A Celebration of the Magic of Childhood ~
My daughter and I have made this album our summer soundtrack at home. Lots of classic children's songs are sprinkled in with original compositions by Maria Sangiolo.
Change of Pace
In the last year, some of our work was interrupted by my signing a contract to write a gardening book for a publisher in Florida, which took longer to write than the publisher would have liked because I juggled that project alongside home-schooling activities with my daughter. The slower pace was well worth the trouble it caused because I was determined not to neglect Cosette's needs. After each major writing deadline was met, we returned to a fuller home-schooling schedule, picking up where we left off until the next stage of requested revisions was sent to me by my editor. Now that the book is finished and ready for the publisher's layout team to perform their magic, my daughter and I have returned to our original home-schooling schedule, perhaps even fuller than the one we began with because she is closer to six and approaching readiness for a first grade curriculum.
Puppetry as a Response to Literature
In May, one of the highlights of our year was the process of creating together a puppet show about The Adventures of Peter Rabbit with puppets and props we already had around the house, and inspired by the gift of theater curtains from a cohousing neighbor. We performed the puppet show at the home-schooling book fair at the Barnes and Noble at the Shopper's World in Framingham, MA. We enjoyed meeting other fellow home-schoolers, and Cosette enjoyed seeing one of her fellow dancers.
Since the summer has been sunny and warm, we often take field trips, such as strawberry picking at our local family farm (Indian Head, in Berlin, MA). Another trip was an afternoon with a friend at Quinsigamond State Park in Shrewsbury, MA, which includes a beach by a river, where Cosette created her own "crab dance" and performed it in the water. When my mother visited us last month, we treated her to a visit at Tower Hill Botanical Garden.
In September, my husband and I will be enrolling her in the Kindergarten class of our local public school so that I may save up some money for the first grade curriculum materials, organize the materials we already have, procure a teacher's plan book for myself, and start mapping out lesson plans. In the meantime, I will be "after schooling" her, which is what many homes-schooling families do. This means that we will cover the classical home-schooling curriculum when she returns home from Kindergarten. We want her to experience a year of school where she has fun learning and discovering with other children her age and riding the school bus. We will continue reading to each other as we have been, and engaging in games that expose her to the concepts of math, science, and the arts. We will combine the suggested curricula from A Well-Trained Mind (Wise/Bauer), the Angelicum Academy , and What Every Kindergartener Should Know . When it is evident that she is ready to move on, we will begin exploring the History, Science, Literature, Art, and Culture of Ancient Civilizations (5,000 BCE - AD 400). We will visit more museums, take walks through natural conservation trails, create a variety of art projects, play outside for at least an hour or two each day, and enroll Cosette in a troop of Daisies.
Make your own learning tools ~
Instead of ordering all or your math supplies online, make them yourself using this book as a guide. Home-schoolers are do-it-yourselfers.
© 2010 Karen Szklany Gault
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