So, remember when I said that I decided to homeschool (again) after months of contemplation because my eldest daughter made a fairy box for her younger sisters? Remember how I wrote that ridiculous pro/con list and it ended up all coming down to wanting my family to have more time together? And then, after the decision had been made, and I’d actually settled on a curriculum, I started getting all Type-A-Tiger-Mom and had to talk myself down off the ledge of cramming every single conceivable subject into their school day and remind myself that I was doing this ridiculous thing for peace and familial felicity?
Well, I promised I’d keep you posted, so here it goes:
Homeschooling is fabulous.
I love it, which is kind of a shock, because I am a serious introvert. My idea of a perfect Mother’s Day involves my children all going somewhere wonderful with their father and leaving me home. Alone. ALL.DAY. And yet, here I am, choosing to be surrounded by all of my kids at least six hours a day more than necessary, and delighting in every
My kids obviously spend a lot more time together, and watching them invent games, or make silly movies, or build full living room sized forts, makes up for the fact that they also scream and yell and fight more too. The plan worked, y’all!
The curriculum? Not so much.
I mean, it was good for a time. I chose a literature based curriculum that included lots of read-alouds and independent reading. Grey (4th grade) was studying Modern History, and Zoë (7th grade) studied World Geography. All of their reading tied into these “spines” in some way. We’d get up in the morning, stumble downstairs, feed the smaller
animals children and then settle into the couch to read the next twenty pages of whatever-it-was. While I read to one child (or gave dictation sentences, or pointed out a science assignment) the other child would diligently plug away at Khan Academy for math, or help a younger sibling do a puzzle or open a cheese stick. We were usually done with school in two hours, tops. Nice. Until my kids (Okay, just Zoë) started asking if we could do a little spelling, or maybe some grammar. See, my kids are regular kids who’d rather play Minecraft or knit or read Harry Potter or jump on the trampoline than do school. BUT, they also have these highfalutin ideas about going to fancy colleges (where they will never go without MASSIVE scholarships) and becoming things like Classics Professors (Zoë) or Mechanical Engineers (Grey). And somewhere along the line I guess Mike and I have done a decent job of convincing them that the only way to make those dreams come true is through hard work and diligent study. God bless ’em, they were worried that they weren’t working hard enough.
Then, one day, about six weeks ago, a friend showed up at the homeschool Friday afternoon open-play, with a bunch of materials to show someone else. It was this boxed curriculum (ie: you order it and everything you need for all subjects comes in a box) called Memoria Press. I’d heard of MP before. A few people I knew used it, and we’d even used a couple of their books in other curricula. I’d never been that interested because, well frankly, they advertise themselves as a “Classical Christian Education.” I mean, we are Christian, and we do homeschool, but those two facts are utterly unrelated. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that curriculum designed to appeal to a Christian audience comes with a certain Evangelical-Creationist-Anti-Science-Anti-Catholic-Anti-Feminist-Anti-Liberal-Anti-Tolerance theological bent. In other words, a theology of “Anti-ism” that just doesn’t mesh with our own theology of the All-Inclusive-Love-of-God. So, it was easier to use secular curricula, and add in what we wanted. Eventually, the word “Christian” immediately disqualified any homeschool resources I might discover.
But still… this curriculum was straight out of a very high performing private school where the average SAT score was over 1900. Twenty-five percent of each graduating class is made up of National Merit Finalists. They had to be doing something right. Besides, it came with a curriculum manual that included daily plans with LITTLE CHECK BOXES! Have I mentioned how much I love gold stars and check boxes?
So, I was
completely obsessed curious. I spent two weeks hounding everyone I knew who used Memoria Press. I went over to houses, I texted at inappropriate hours, I read the entirety of the MP website and back issues of their magazine, The Classical Teacher. It looked amazing. Zoë was jumping up and down at the prospect and Grey was willing. But I was nervous. How would I fit in a schedule that included: Latin, Grammar, Math, Spelling, Classical Studies, Greek Mythology, Christian Studies, Geography, American History, Astronomy (Grey), Botany (Zoë), Greek (Zoë), Poetry, Literature, Handwriting, and Composition?
Three weeks into the new curriculum (a Christmas gift from Aunt Charlotte) and I’ll tell you, it’s a raging success. I’m not gonna lie. Our school day is longer. Instead of two hours a day, we’re usually at it for about four (the state mandate, by the way), sometimes a little longer if too much dawdling occurs. But, after just a couple weeks, Grey can recite 10 of the brightest stars in the sky (a neat party trick, if nothing else) as well as the first four laws of capitalization. He can conjugate about 7 Latin verbs and give at least 20 English derivatives. He’s read a third of A Cricket in Times Square and written many, many, full sentence answers to comprehension questions. He’s learned to add four multi-digit numbers in his head and can tell you which states officially fall under the category of New England (please don’t ask me!) Zoë can recite four stanzas of Horatius at the Bridge (a VERY long epic poem that Winston Churchill once memorized) which is, again, a neat party trick and probably good for her brain, conjugate 15 Latin verbs, give English derivatives for many, many Latin words, tell you all about the various laws of addition (by name), write half of the Greek alphabet, summarize the first half of the Trojan War, explain the difference between herbaceous stems and woody stems and tell you which plants have which sort, and finally, FINALLY, hold a pencil correctly. This is the tip of the iceberg. These are only the things I remember, not because they are important to me, but because, after each of these accomplishments my children shouted over the dining room table, “I feel SO SMART!!!”
And isn’t that the point of education? Aren’t we supposed to be lighting a fire, showing our children just how much they are capable of doing?
For those of you who are curious, here’s what a week looks like in the Seventh Grade curriculum manual:
But really, it takes us about four hours, and honestly, for most of that time I’m helping the fourth grader or opening those cheese sticks.
And what about the whole religious aspect and those “Christian Studies”? Well, we’re only a few weeks in, so you can’t hold me to this, but so far it’s lovely. The only religious materials outside the Christian Studies (more on that in a minute) are Grey’s math text and Zoë’s English Grammar text. Both are from Rod and Staff, a Mennonite publisher. They are both inexpensive hard-bound books with black and white illustrations that emphasize drill and mastery. Honestly, other than the sentence examples and the word problems that feature “Sister Margaret”, “Brother Bill”, and multiplication of loaves and fishes, the whole thing reminds me of the secular children’s encyclopedias from the 1960s. They are straightforward, rigorous, and oddly calming.
So that leaves the Christian Studies component. Memoria Press starts formal Christian Studies in the fourth grade. Lucky us. I’ve put both kids into the same first year program and it’s been a lovely introduction to Bible stories. There is no theology. Just straight stories from the Old Testament (They use the Children’s Golden Bible) which, frankly, everyone should be familiar with if they have any hope of understanding the evolution of Western Civilization. There are memory verses every week (I tell myself I’m raising the next Garrison Keillor – have you heard that man recite the Bible on Prairie Home Companion?) but they aren’t overly taxing and they aren’t anti anything. We read one story a week, answer a few questions orally, and then repeat the verse a couple times a day for the rest of the week. Tops, this portion of the curriculum takes about 45 minutes a week. And I like it. It’s sweet, it’s not preachy, and the Golden Bible reminds me of being seven years old and eating Mrs. Warren’s butter cookies in Sunday School. So, win.
I’ll leave you with a picture of my dining room, right this very moment. Zoë is banging her head against the Latin imperfect tense and Grey is trying to make 20 math problems last three hours… so far, so good.