Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ask for the Ancient Paths

I think I should have been a farmer's wife. For a variety of reasons. For one thing, I think it would do me some good to do some hard physical labor on a regular basis. (I'm guessing farmer's wives do more hard physical labor than I do?) Plus, I'm becoming increasingly aware of the value of homegrown healthy food, fresh air, and sunshine. But mostly, I'd like to be able to live in a more seasonal rhythm.

A friend of mine is blogging for Lent about her attempt to incorporate more spiritual disciplines into her life, but rather than "spiritual disciplines", she's terming them "rhythms". That's an illuminating twist for me. "Disciplines" is a harsh word -- it makes them sound like something I'm forcing on myself as a punishment. Something imposed from without, something I am going to want instinctually to resist but feel obligated to submit to because they're good for me. Like broccoli.

"Rhythms" is more palatable. "Rhythms" are intrinsic. They are part of how we are made, something deep in our soul that we've wandered away from and forgotten.

I think I've shared this story before: at my first Ob/Gyn appointment with my first pregnancy, my doctor gave me what he said were very important instructions. He said, "If you feel hungry, it's because your body needs food -- so eat. If you feel tired, it's because your body needs rest -- so lie down." I remember being awed by the simplicity of this. My body will tell me what I need. What a concept!

This has been a theme that has come up regularly in my adult life -- this idea that God made our minds, bodies, and souls to function in a certain way, and the more we mess around with that, thinking we can do it better, the more messed up we get.

We're made to sleep when it's dark and be up when it's light.

We're made to eat natural foods, not processed chemicals.

We're made to interact with people face to face.

We're made to parent our children by being physically with them in all the dailiness of life.

And I think we're made to live in seasonal rhythms. When I was a teacher, before my children were born, I think it was easier to do that. Summer was distinctively different from the other seasons -- I was able to set my own agendas, throw routine to the wind, live completely in the moment. By fall, I was craving routine again and the cooler weather was invigorating. When winter came, I spent my spare time wrapped in afghans, reading on the sofa, cuddling with hubby, hibernating, cocooning, in a good way. Spring woke me up and gave me a craving for cleaning, decluttering, organizing. And by summer, again, I was ready for a change.

Something in me says that's how it's supposed to be. We're created to live in cycles, in rhythms. Modern society, with its great technological advancements, thinks it has improved on God's ways, but it is sorely mistaken.

"This is what the Lord says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16) This is a key verse for many homeschool parents, who looked for the "ancient paths" of parenting and believed God would bless their families if they walked in them.

That took faith, and they were rewarded. I'm praying for the faith to walk in other ancient paths.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Being a Parent Taught Me a Lot About God

No, honey, that's not the way to put on your shirt. Remember? I showed you the other day. Oh, you don't want to do it my way? You want to do it your way. You're quite sure you can get it on just fine your way -- maybe better. Okay. Go ahead.

No, I'm not mad at you. Yep, I still love you. Even with your defiant pouty lip puffed out and your back turned toward me. I know that you're a child. My child.

No, I'm not going to hold that sleeve up for you because that's not where that arm goes in. I can only help you get it on if we're doing it the right way. No, I can't make the wrong way the right way just cuz it's the way you want to do it. Wrong just won't work. Sorry.

No, we can't leave the house until the shirt's on.

Yeah, I suppose I could just grab you and force it on you the way it needs to go, but then you would still be convinced that your way could've worked if I would have just stayed out of it. Getting you dressed is only part of the goal, here. You also need to learn the right way to dress. And that you can't always figure out the right way on your own. Some things really are too hard for you. That's why you have a mother.

No, I don't hate you, scowling in your pull-ups with your head stuck in a sleeve. I just hope you figure out soon that this isn't going to work. Before we waste a lot of time and miss out on other great plans I have for our morning. Before you're completely frustrated and in tears. Before you're a puddle of indignant, self-righteous fury lying on the floor, completely spent from the battle, finally acquiescing to mommy coming to make it all work like she said it would from the beginning. I wish you'd have trusted me all along. That would have made it much easier for both of us. Eventually, you will.

See? It needs to be turned this way. And here's where that arm goes. No, I know you couldn't do it by yourself -- if you could have done it by yourself, I wouldn't have offered to help. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. You're a child. I'm always here to help you know, until you can do it on your own. And yes, eventually you'll be able to put a shirt on by yourself -- this shirt anyway. But there are other shirts . . more complicated shirts. With buttons and such. I'll be there to help you with those, too. I know that you're a child.

My child.

Jesus and Sinners (Namely Me)

I had a lousy day the other day. And by that, I mean I was lousy. Undisciplined, unfocused, lazy, thoughtless, self-indulgent, careless, wasteful, self-absorbed, uncompassionate . . . all the things God's been working on in me. For a day there, I let it all fly to the wind and just didn't care how naughty I was.

And here's the thing: I don't think God was disappointed.

Disappointment involves a feeling of being let down -- of expectations not being met. You're disappointed in your child when you think she's matured to the point of being able to share her toys with a playmate and instead, she grabs back her Barbie doll and conks her friend over the head with it.

I don't think God was disappointed with my naughtiness because He expected me to be naughty.

Not in the sense that I'm a scum-of-the-earth worm incapable of righteous behavior and he knows it, but in the sense that he already knew how lousy I was going to be that day. God not only knows all the sins I've committed in the past -- He knows all the sins I'm going to commit in the future. When He looks at me, he sees the full gamut of my lifetime of wretched behaviors, thoughts, and motives. And still loves me unconditionally.

This is exactly what the Bible teaches. This is also the church's explicit teaching over the years, too, even though implicitly we may be taught otherwise. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had a hard time believing it . . . this scandalous idea that God loves sinners, while they're still sinners, before they have the chance or inclination to clean themselves up. Maybe because I don't love sinners very much. Maybe because I don't love myself when I'm sinning very much. But mostly, I think, because I think if God really loves me even when I'm lousy, I have no reason to be good.

This is religion. A man-made construct designed to keep humanity in line and under control so we don't all kill each other for each other's Barbie dolls. This is the dark side of the historical church. This is the hijacking of Christianity. But this is not Jesus.

Jesus is about a relationship -- a relationship He initiated with me before I even cared about him. A relationship that is genuinely for our mutual benefit: my joy and His glory. A relationship much like that of a parent with a newborn in that He has all the power, all the knowledge, all the love and He showers it all on me and in me so I grow to be like him . . . not SO He will love me, but BECAUSE He loves me.

I've always been a Good Girl. But I'm not a Good Girl anymore to make God love me. I'm a Good Girl because I'm so awed at how much He loves me already, and I love Him back.

Even after thirty-five years, I still need to be reminded what the Gospel -- the Good News -- is all about.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Feelings . . . Woh-Woh-Woh

I slept badly last night. Every time I woke up, I felt anxious. I had no idea why. So, of course, I started thinking through my life until I found something I might have reason to be anxious about -- which then gave that anxious feeling an object to focus on and feed on. Ugh.

In grad school, I read a study about a clinic that served patients with severe anxiety disorders. They discovered that the feeling people have during panic attacks -- the feeling that they're having a heart attack or something terrible like that -- that feeling is not so much a symptom as it is a cause. Their patients, for the most part, were experiencing the body's normal reactions to normal anxiety (quicker heartbeat, sweaty palms, faster breathing .... a bit more elevated than the average person would have, but still normal) and interpreting them incorrectly. They thought something was terribly wrong with them . . which made them more anxious . . which increased the symptoms . . which confirmed their fears and made them even more anxious . . and they eventually cycled into a full-blown panic attack.

When they taught their patients about the body's normal reactions to everyday anxiety and behavioral techniques to deal with them, 90-some percent of their patients had no more attacks. And these were all patients who couldn't survive without medication before this. My Jersey friend Peggy had a similar treatment and was cured of years and years of panic attacks.

At the time, I was fascinated by this study because I applied the idea to my depression problems. I would find myself, randomly, feeling a bit blue. There could have been any number of reasons for this: I was tired, I was coming down with a cold, I'd been home alone with a baby too long, I was coming off a sugar high from eating half a box of Apple Jacks. But I would think, "I'm depressed. Why am I depressed?" Well, if you look hard enough, you can always find something in your life to feel depressed about. I'm so unfulfilled in my work . . my husband doesn't understand me . . yada yada. So then I would obsess over this terrible situation in my life, get more depressed, finish the box of Apple Jacks, get more depressed, pout on the sofa, get more depressed . . . and ultimately I nursed that little blue feeling into a full-blown depressive episode.

In small group last night, we talked (well, I talked) a little bit about how deceptive our feelings can be. I've come to not trust my feelings very much. They're too easily affected by things -- the weather, the time of the month, "a bit of underdone potato", as Ebenezer Scrooge says. My feelings are not reality. My feelings do not define truth. I grow increasingly disturbed by the world's mantra to "listen to your heart". The Bible tells us the heart is "deceptive above all things". That's pretty darned deceptive.

The truth is, I have nothing in my life to feel anxious about. And even if I did, my feeling anxious would do nothing to solve the problem. Take that, stupid hormones.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Parenting Without a Map -- or the Reins

My eldest is "in a relationship", as her Facebook status informed me this week. *SIGH* Uncharted territory we're treading here.

I still vividly remember, late in my pregnancy with her, lying in a full bathtub trying to get a break from the belly weight. I looked at that belly, considered the little girl inside, and thought, "Someday, someone's going to hurt her. Some little snit out there is going to step on her feelings . . or crush her spirit . . or break her heart. And I can't do anything about it. I can't stop it from coming, and when it comes, I won't be able to take the pain away." I sobbed. It was overwhelming in the midst of the pregnant hormones also raging in me.

Every day, when I drop her off at school, I pray on the way out of the parking lot and ask God to protect her in every way: physically, intellectually, spiritually . . and emotionally. I decided this morning as I prayed that prayer that it's probably a good thing that it's not my job to protect her emotionally anymore because I don't have a clue how.

I don't know this boy. But even if I did know this boy, I wouldn't really know this boy. I don't really know her friends, even the ones I know. And as well as I know her, only God knows the nooks and crannies of her heart -- the particular bend of her spirit -- the strong and weak places in her soul. Only He knows which weak spots need protection and which need to be challenged to become stronger. Only He knows what will strengthen her and what will destroy her. If the responsibility for her emotional growth was in my hands, that would be a tragedy.

I know I have homeschooling friends who questioned my decision to put her in school full-time this year. People homeschool for many reasons, but a primary reason for some folks is to protect their children, in all those ways I mentioned. I sympathize with that mindset. Children need protecting. But she is no longer a child. Not yet an adult (much to her surprise, I'm sure), but no longer a child. To think that I know how to protect her is arrogant. To think that I could protect her even if I knew how, even more so.

Now, don't anyone panic and think that I'm abdicating my parental responsibilities here. I'm still protecting my daughter, as much as I can. I'm just realizing how little of that is actually in my hands -- and how much of it thankfully is in God's.

It's scary to let go control of your child. But it's sobering to realize that I never really had control. And more scary to think of the consequences if I had.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Such Randomness

OK, I'll be blunt. I have nothing in particular to say today. I just feel like I need to write for the discipline of it. I used to make my students do this -- write for five minutes straight without stopping, just to force their thoughts onto paper and see how their thoughts progress. Always an interesting exercise.

Leslie went to school this morning feeling lousy. Kinda sucks because she has to take ITED tests today in English -- her last class of the day. If she comes home sick, she has to make them up. If she stays and takes them, she's not taking them at her best. What to do, what to do . . .

Eastin's not feeling great either. I told her she can stay in her PJs until the kids come over this afternoon for writing class. It's a dreary day out -- that doesn't help any. She also woke up feeling sad about the dog getting older and not running up the stairs to jump on her bed and play in the morning anymore. We got hormones kicking in here, I believe.

I slept lousy last night. Who knows why. I'm struggling with what to do about my sleep problems. I saw my primary doc this week to renew a couple prescriptions, and he didn't have much good to say about what my other doc is trying to help me sleep. Not that he thought it was harmful -- just not going to be helpful. And he was gracious about it -- just a professional disagreement. But now I don't know who to believe. I just know nothing anybody is doing is helping.

We have Creative Team meeting this morning. Hard to be creative on a dreary day like this. Maybe I should make some cookies or something to take along. Yeah, that's good for the diet.

Speaking of diet, I'm still losing weight. The lowest I've been in . . hmmm . . maybe a decade? A long time. I stopped keeping close track of my weight when it got high enough that it made me sad. A few weeks ago, the homeschool PE group went swimming at the Y. When I looked at myself in the mirror in my swimsuit, I was startled. I didn't look like me! If I keep up the weight loss, I may need to get a new swimsuit for summer -- and the one I was wearing was pretty new.

Having a good week with Eastin in school. We're taking a week break from History (which we do occasionally) and I'm catching up on some little math and grammar issues she's been having. A fraction of a number means it's a multiplication problem. When you figure out the area of a triangle, you have to remember to divide by two. Four cubed doesn't mean four times three -- she knows that, but doesn't do exponents enough to remember it.

We also wrote some fun songs about verbs yesterday. Yes, really! When the girls were little, I made up a whole bunch of silly songs and hand rhymes for them to remember the parts of speech and such. They were VERY effective -- one of these days I may try to publish a book about teaching grammar. Anyway, we came up with some new ones yesterday for a couple of more advanced concepts she's studying now. And I think, for piano, I'm going to have her write out the music for the songs.

Oooh. It's almost nine. Time to start school. Hope you all have a good day today! Thanks for listening!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Creating my IDEAL School: Grammar School, part 3

This is my ideal school, right? Kind of a dream school, yes? Because what I'm about to describe will probably make you all say, "Yeah, in your dreams." So, I'll agree with you from the start.

The girls and I spent a lot of time at various kinds of children's and living history museums on the east coast, thanks to homeschooling and the opportunities to go on numerous field trips. A book I read once talked about how children's museums do a better job of educating kids than schools do. And they do sometimes, because they have a lot of advantages over the classroom teacher. Bigger budgets, for one thing. But the good children's museums are very hands-on and interactive. They allow kids to spend as much time as they want in the different areas and exhibits. They are memorable and fun.

So, here's my proposal: I think every school system should run their own children's museum. (The really small districts can work together with other small districts to have a museum in common that they all use.) They should have rotating exhibits (they could even be traveling exhibits among various districts) timed with the unit study topics being studied in the grammar schools.

Teachers like Mr. from my first grammar school post can schedule time in the museum for his advisory group whenever he would like during the unit. They can explore the Ancient Greece exhibit on their own, or sometimes he can teach a lesson in a particular area, using the materials and resources from the museum, saving himself the time and money of creating such a display.

Even better, the museum can employ people who can teach lessons in character -- like Pericles explaining to a new group of Athenian citizens how their democracy works. Or Archimedes demonstrating how he figured out the king's crown wasn't made of pure gold. (Sorry, I'm on a Greek jag lately.) High school students can do work in the museum during certain units as special projects -- or help create the exhibits.

Since eventually the grammar schools will come back to Ancient Greece in their rotation of unit study topics, all the materials for the exhibit can be stored away for next time, saving time and money the second time around. Businesses can sponsor certain exhibits that are in line with their work -- like a bank sponsoring an exhibit on economics. Homeschooling parents could use the museum, too, as well as the primary school teachers. Seriously, it would be QUITE cool, wouldn't it?

As I said, it's a dream. But I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Archimedean Insight

My youngest and I just read a book about Archimedes, the Ancient Greek mathematician and scientist who yelled "Eureka!" when he got into a full bathtub and it overflowed. Look him up -- amazing man.

The book's account of the Eureka incident is fun (it's a children's book -- which reminds me, by the way, that I think I want to write children's books someday about fascinating things in history that they wouldn't normally hear about because grown-ups think it's over their heads). The story may not be historically accurate as written, but it seems to be based on an accurate representation of Archimedes' personality. He would get so involved in thinking about a problem to be solved that he would forget to eat, sleep, bathe, all that. The book said his servants finally picked him up and dragged him out, kicking and screaming, to the local bathhouse to get him clean. The man drawing up his bathwater was so distracted trying to keep him from running away that he let the water fill up too high. And the rest is history.

I love this about Archimedes. That he would get so lost in thought that the rest of life got away from him. I've read that about other significant historical characters -- a prominent scientist from the Renaissance . . . Galileo? Copernicus? One of that crowd. And a famous preacher was like that, too. Jonathan Edwards, maybe?

I love it, because I can be the same way. When I get started thinking seriously about something -- like, a script I'm working on, or lesson plans for my homeschool, or a political debate with a Facebook friend -- I get so FLIPPIN' ANNOYED when I have to break off my train of thought and, say, make dinner. Or walk the dog. Or greet my wonderful husband when he gets home.

That was the best part for me of our recent getaway to Florida. When Keith was off playing golf or tennis or whatnot, I was able to just sit and think. No interruptions. No agenda. Oh, the glory of it! It was the most rejuvenating part of the trip, I think. One of the many doctors I spoke to about my sleep problems once asked if I was keeping myself awake at night by thinking too much. I replied that alone in bed at night was the only time and place that I could think. I mean, really think. The way I need to think.

You know, God made some people to be "people people". They are created to have a direct impact on others -- that's their domain of effectiveness. Others are "things people". They're most effective when working with things -- wood, metal, food, cloth, paint, and such. I am an "idea person". I'm most effective, I think, when I'm lost in my own brain. Unfortunately, idea people get kind of a bad rap these days. As much as I enjoyed my thinking time in Florida, planning out my ideal school (which I'm describing here to you all, gradually), I also felt guilty about it because it seemed like an impractical use of my time.

And this is another insight from my reading on Archimedes. He, along with many other Ancient Greek scientists, was interested in "pure science" as opposed to "practical science". Other civilizations of the time focused their study on what had immediate practical use -- like, for building a pyramid or predicting the seasons. Archimedes didn't want to know about the heavens just to be able to tell a farmer when to plant his crops. He wanted to know about the heavens just for the sake of knowing about the heavens. Everything he could possibly know about them. Yep, that's me, too. I would go back to college and get a multitude of degrees just for the sake of studying the subjects -- except I would feel guilty spending the time and money on the pursuit with no practical aim for the knowledge I obtain.

But here's the thing: Archimedes' discoveries in his pursuit of "pure science" and "pure mathematics" were used by scientists and inventors centuries later to make a myriad of "practical" things that have changed our lives. There is value to knowledge and thinking simply for the sake of knowledge and thinking.

So there!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Creating my IDEAL School: Grammar School, part 2

Returning to my Ideal School. In an earlier post, I wrote about Grammar School, the later elementary years, but I mainly addressed how skills would be taught at that level. As I said in another even earlier post, I think skills and knowledge should be treated differently. Grammar School-age kids, in my school, will learn the "grammar" of the various knowledge areas -- that is, the bits and pieces of information -- through unit studies.

What's a unit study? If I taught Ancient Greece to my youngest this year as a unit study, we would employ all the traditional "school disciplines" in our study of Ancient Greece. We would read children's versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey--that's literature. We would learn about the scientific experiments and discoveries of Archimedes -- that's science. We would talk about Pythagorus and learn the Pythagorean theorum -- that's math. We would make masks and act out scenes from Oedipus Rex or Antigone -- that's art and theater. We would write reports and stories and plays and journal entries -- that's writing. Get the idea? Take a body of knowledge -- usually from science, history or "social studies" -- and attack it from all angles.

Some activities will be done with the whole advisory group. Some will be done individually or in small groups, geared toward the students' interests and ability levels. So, Johnny in my advisory writes a one paragraph description of what the Olympics were like (Olympics!! There's PE!). Janie writes a two-page essay comparing Greek gods to Egyptian gods -- cuz she has a different set of writing skills and is really into mythology. Tommy rewrites the story of the Trojan horse from the point of view of someone inside the horse. They're all writing . . . they're all developing their skills and applying them to the subject matter (which is the purpose of those skills after all) . . . and they're all absorbing information about Ancient Greece.

Not necessarily all the same information, either. Let's face it -- 90% of the little facts about the world which we learned when we were young were immediately forgotten, unless they were facts that we used on a regular basis or just found particularly fascinating. Janie may remember the names of the 14 primary gods and goddesses until her dying day, while Tommy never bothered to learn all the names to begin with. But all the students will learn that the Ancient Greeks worshipped gods and goddesses. Because this is one of the "framework"-type facts that everyone should know, and and upon which all of the other bits and pieces of information we learn in our lives are eventually hung.

What do I mean by "framework facts"? The animal kingdom can be divided into vertebrates and invertebrates, broadly. Vertebrates can be divided into mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians, broadly. Fish all have gills and scales, lay eggs, and are cold-blooded, for the most part. These are framework facts. Students may forget details they learn about specific species of fish, but when they go to SeaWorld and hear that whales give birth to live young, they will know whales are not fish but mammals and can fit this new information into the broader framework of knowledge already in their minds.

Unit studies are FUN! -- if they are done well, as they would be done in my school. But since I'm creating the IDEAL school, I have another piece to fit into the puzzle. A critical tool for use in these unit studies.

To be described in a later post . . .

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fixing Poverty -- of All Varieties

I kind of wish my friends would stop posting such provocative articles, so I wouldn't be distracted from my necessary daily chores. Here's the latest: Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus. Much to rebut here, even while I agree with many of his criticisms of modern American Christianity. But I want to address one of his main assumptions because it's one that many friends of mine profess.

The idea that Jesus preached socialism.

Here's his argument, essentially: "Jesus wants us to take care of poor people. So, Jesus would want us to support federal social programs like Obamacare." A student of Logic would recognize that there's a missing premise here: "Jesus wants us to take care of poor people. Federal social programs like Obamacare take care of poor people. Therefore, Jesus would want us to support . . . "

For now, I'll set aside the possible case to be made that federal programs don't actually take care of poor people. Instead, let me give another version of this argument. "Jesus wants us to take care of poor people. Murdering the fifty wealthiest people in the country and passing out their money and possessions to the needy would take care of poor people. Therefore, Jesus would want us to murder the fifty wealthiest people in the country . . . "

You see the problem?

This argument only makes sense if the second premise (the one the author is missing) is consistent with the rest of Jesus' teachings. The real question here is whether taking care of the poor by means of federal social programs is consistent with the rest of Jesus' teaching. The author simply assumes that it is. I'm not so sure.

My reading of the gospels shows that Jesus is concerned not only with our actions but with the hearts that motivate them. (See the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5.) His command to charity is not just about meeting material needs -- it's about meeting spiritual needs. It's about the giver having humility, gratitude and compassion. His charitable deeds are to flow from his new nature in Christ and give glory to God as a result. Righteousness is not something to be imposed from without by laws requiring goodness; righteousness comes from within and results in goodness regardless of the laws. (If righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing! Gal 2:21)

I don't see how laws requiring citizens to give money to the government to take care of the poor encourages humility, gratitude and compassion in the citizenry. To the contrary, I can see how they bring about a decidedly uncompassionate attitude toward the poor (witness the extreme comments like, "I have to work so others can sit at home on welfare.") I'm not convinced Jesus would support a means for addressing poverty which only addresses half of the poverty equation -- material poverty and not spiritual poverty.

I know there's a case to be made against my views here. I'd love to hear someone make it! :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Creating my IDEAL School: Grammar School

So, next step up the educational ladder in my fabulous Ideal School System is Grammar School. (Again, suggestions for a more creative name are welcome.) And the most distinctive new thing here (which continues through the next two school levels also) is the use of what Big Picture Learning Schools call "The Advisory Group".

An advisory group consists of an advisor and 10-12 students. No, the advisor is not quite the same as a traditional classroom teacher, even though the advisor does teach. The advisor's primary role is to work with each student and his/her parents to set up an individual educational plan for that student. They consider skills, learning style, interests, and any other extraneous concerns and come up with a plan for where the student should head in a semester and how we're going to try to get them there.

Let's look at little miss Suzy, for example. Suzy's parents meet with her advisor, Mr. ("he has another name, too, but I just like Mr. and that's all." LOL! A bone there for fellow Junie B. fans). Here's one of the goals they set for Suzy: that by the end of the semester, little miss Suzy should have simple multiplication down pretty solid. Right now, she understands the concept of multiplication, kind of. But they want her to demonstrate that she knows how and when to use multiplication in real life. And they want her to have the multiplication table memorized.

So, here's the deal. Mr. may end up teaching Suzy this himself, alone or with some other advisory students needing the same instruction. Or he may find a computer program, if Suzy mainly needs a lot of drill and practice. Or workbooks, if Suzy's a left-brained workbook kind of gal. Or DVDs, if Suzy's a visual learner. Or perhaps a "workshop" class taught by another teacher in the school, if Suzy needs more extended direct instruction. Or maybe another student in the advisory group can solidify his own understanding of multiplication by teaching it to Suzy. In any case, Mr.'s job is to find the right means and environment for Suzy to learn the material, based on her individual learning style and needs.

This means, as you can imagine, that Mr. will be monitoring lots of different activities going on in his room at the same time. This may sound chaotic, but it is quite doable. Homeschool mamas do it all the time. As do many regular classroom teachers, for short periods in the day. If Mr. has done a good job of matching his students' learning styles to the instruction he chooses for them, they will be engaged and learning will happen.

Now, Mr.'s students won't all be "third-graders" -- they won't have a grade level, because grade levels are essentially meaningless. And they won't all be 8-year-olds -- whoever had the idea that kids need to spend the bulk of their days with kids all born within a year of their own birthdays? They don't need to be grouped by reading ability or anything, because they aren't learning skills as a group -- they're working individually, at their own pace. Mr. will have a nice, heterogenous group of kids of various ages and abilities, who get to know each other and cheer each other on in their learning, because they don't need to compete and compare themselves to each other, because there's no reason to believe anyone should be progressing lock-step with anyone else in there. They're all DIFFERENT, and they're all LEARNING; they're all exactly where they are supposed to be.

Of course, this doesn't mean no group interaction ever occurs. It does; it's just not the means for teaching skills. Remember when I said that skills and knowledge need to be dealt with differently? Here's where that comes in. Part of our "classroom" time in Grammar School is spent working individually on skills. The rest of it is spent in unit studies of knowledge areas -- done as a group.

And I'll talk about that in my next post.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Creating my IDEAL School: The Primary School

I have a personal bias about early childhood education. I strongly believe that the best place for a child in the early years is at home. Yes, I know some homes are horrendous places -- that's beyond the scope of this discussion. Given a reasonably healthy home environment, I think children should spend most of their first seven years or so with their families and friends and not in a structured setting that looks anything like our modern educational factories.

Unfortunately, keeping 'em home is infeasible for some families and undesirable for others, so a school option needs to be available. But in my ideal school, the learning environment for these young children is as close to a home atmosphere as possible. Very informal and unstructured. No grade levels--a multi-age group all learning together. One teacher for maybe 8-10 children at most. It would be awesome, in fact, if that teacher could have her classroom in her own home, like many daycare providers work out of their own homes. Call these first few years Primary School. Something like that. A more creative name would be good, but I'm not creative like that.

There are three primary goals for students at this age. The first is for the teacher to get an idea of each student's learning style. Are they more of an auditory learner, a visual learner, a kinesthetic learner? Are they more left-brained and systemic, or more right-brained and random? Do they need noise or quiet, activity or calm, etc. etc. You can't necessarily pinpoint a label on kids at this age (not that they ever should have a label pinned on them), but you can get a feel for their particular bent.

Secondly, this is the time to get kids started on their basic learning skills. Counting. Printing. Adding and subtracting. Spelling. And most importantly, reading. At this age, such skills develop in spurts and have varying ages of onset. Group instruction -- where a child is made to feel inadequate compared to others -- or where a child is forced to rehash skills they have down solidly to the point of stripping all the joy out of them -- is a no-no. Teach skills through games, play activities, one-on-one casual teaching moments, the way good parents already teach. And just let each kid advance as far as they can, as quickly as they like. Make it fun, low-pressure, and geared toward their learning styles, and they'll fly through the basics.

Finally, one of the most important goals is that kids come to see learning as exciting! Fun! They WANT to dress up like ancient Egyptians and learn about how to make a mummy! They WANT to catch butterflies and draw pictures of them and categorize them by color and size. They WANT to hear the story about Gulliver and the Lilliputians. School is A BLAST! There is no set curriculum to be covered at this age, information-wise. The teacher simply works with the kids' interests and plans activities to engage their curiosity. Sometimes in the "home/classroom", but often out in the real world. (Each teacher will need a van and a bus-driver's license to transport his/her own students around to where the action is.) A positive attitude toward learning is far more valuable at this point than "covering" a prescribed amount of material.

The teacher and parents together will decide when the child is ready to move on to Grammar School and a slightly more structured environment. I would expect that would be at approximately 7, but age is not the issue. Readiness is.

And, by the way, I would expect that ultimately, a lot of parents would decide to skip this level and "homeschool" their kid until Grammar School. And that would make me very happy. :)