Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Homeschool Prep

I'm a homeschooler. I've been a homeschooler for over twenty years. Consequently, I'm not quite as gung-ho as I used to be but have become much more laid back about it all. Making school plans and ordering books is just part of the routine in August at the same time that we are snapping beans, making pickles, picking tomatoes and this year...making wedding cakes. I'm in no hurry to begin classes when there is still so much end of summer farm work to do.

We don't start school until after Labor Day. I don't care how the government school system runs its schedule. Some people follow that calender. I do not. We start the day after Labor Day and take a Christmas Break (not winter break) and an Easter Break (not spring break). We end school by Memorial Day whether we are done or not. Well, okay, usually we're done. Our school year works out to the required 180 days because we don't have teacher workshop days and no days off for bad weather.

This year we have a third grader, a fourth grader and a senior in high school. The two boys will share many classes together and only have their grades distinguished in Language, Writing, and Math.

It's taken me twenty years but I have finally figured out that history textbooks are mostly useless in elementary grades. They can be mind-crushingly boring. They tend to touch on topics and events only superficially. I also have found it difficult to find a curriculum that doesn't teach from the biased viewpoint of the publisher.

So last year I tried something different for history. We spent the year studying the explorers by simply reading books about them.

We read about the many European expeditions across the unknown seas in search of a passage to Asia. We learned of the difficulties of finding a route past the pesky chunk of land the explorers kept bumping into which we now know is the continent of South America. We read about the treacherous attempts to round the Horn of Africa and the tip of South America through cold stormy seas. The boys were disturbed to learn how many men lost their lives in sinking ships or in encounters with native peoples and in altercations with their own crews. We read a novel about a boy who joined the crew of such an expedition. The story was set on the ships of the great explorer Magellan and reading it gave us a unique description of the life of a young sailor during those perilous times of discovery.

Now that we have read about how America came to be discovered by the Europeans, this year we are going to read books about the colonization of the New World. Rather then using the dry boring history text that I plowed through with my other children when they were in elementary grades, we are going to simply read stories about colonial times, watch some movies and use an interesting reference book about the daily life of colonial peoples that may lead us to some hands-on projects.

Alyssa is a senior this year and her classes are a bit more challenging. Homeschoolers frequently are questioned about how we teach our high-schoolers. My answer is that we use many resources. We are blessed here with the availability of group homeschool classes for high school in our area. Alyssa has taken Biology and Chemistry in just such group classes, doing lab work with her homeschooled friends and meeting for class once a week as well as for testing. This year she will be taking Physics with the same group. Another group class this year will be English Poetry. I know she is excited about that one! I am anyway because I remember enjoying the study of poetry in high school and I think she will discover some delights. Last year Alyssa took a Geometry course online and it was an excellent class. This year she will be taking Algebra II from the same online teacher. The online school we use for math is Scholars Online Academy. Alyssa will also be taking a writing course, either online or with the local group in town. We are still working on plans for a history course and one option is a group class in town. Her classes with me at home will only be Vocabulary and Bible this year. Alyssa is also part of the cast of the local public high school's production of Les Miserables. This musical will be a good chance for her to apply what she has learned in her voice lessons this year.

As you can see, our preparation does not include shopping for school clothes. Sometimes school clothes around here include slippers and a robe and we're all set there.

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