Absent with Leave September 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 2:44 pm

(or at least an excuse.)

I’m sorry, gentle reader, for my neglect. You see, we have recently undergone a certain life change in our home. To be more accurate, I’m the one who has changed status, from SAHM to student. I’ve gone back to school to study for a Master-In-Teaching degree.

It’s all rather exciting, daunting, and disconcerting… all at once. It’s exciting because I’m enjoying my courses, fellow students (actually they call us a cohort) and the prospect of a career. I’ve always believed I had a gift for teaching, and right now I’m feeling called. I believe God is leading me this direction.

Which leads to the daunting aspect. The fact is that I’ve been a homeschooler and stay at home mom for so many years (17 as a homeschooler, 20 as a stay at home mom) that the idea of trading it all in feels like a betrayal. I’ve always said I respect people for making a choice about what’s best for their children, whether that choice is school, homeschool, or some other option. Yet when I am “crossing the line” I feel like I’m losing my identity and betraying those I’ve felt a kinship with in the past. I have to just breathe deeply, ask for guidance, and recommit myself to doing what I believe God wants of me at this point in my life, and not let my own self image interfere.

Do I still identify with homeschoolers? Yes. I still think of myself that way, and in fact I still have a daughter studying at home via an online public school program. And I have a son in kindergarten at the local school, because in his case there is little doubt in my mind that he needs it. Nobody has given me a hard time about going back to school to become a teacher; in fact, I’ve gotten nothing but support and positive words from everyone I know. Still, I feel weird about the whole thing.

The weirdest part is that I find myself identifying with teachers,, and classrooms, and classroom management, and all those things that really had an “otherness” feel about them before. I never thought teachers were the enemy, so why do I feel like a traitor?

I know this change of perspective is necessary if I am to succeed as a teacher. I need to think about things like a less individualized curriculum, and large group discipline, and seating arrangements and desks and notes home. Somehow, though, it feels like I’m leaving something behind. So it’s exciting, yes; but also bittersweet.

I imagine that the tone of my blog will change as I make this transition from housewife to student to new teacher to career person. I don’t think I’m changing tremendously, but I’m sure going to find myself in new circumstances, and responding to them. I pray that none of this will distract me from my truest calling, to know, love, and serve God in this world, preparing to be happy with Him in the next.

I invite you to go on this journey with me. I’m going to need the prayers.


A Fun Homeschool Video April 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 8:15 pm


Phonics Resources November 24, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:36 am

As some of you know, we are teaching our four year old to read. Now, he’s a very bright child, but he is also hyperactive, and sometimes has a hard time sitting still long enough to really learn. He also has an extremely literal language style, so sometimes we need to approach a subject from several perspectives to get its fullness across. After a lot of searching and experimenting, I’d like to share a few things that have really worked out well.

It’s a website loaded with games and music, and Hypertot loves it. It is his favorite thing to do. I mean that literally. They sing songs that teach short and long vowels. They lead children through the process of sounding out letters in stories phonetically. They organize by particular phonetic rules, so it can be done in logical groupings or in the order of your own phonics program. And it’s free. I can’t recommend Starfall enough.

Bob Books
This is a series of books that spend more time teaching by doing than instructing rules. Each book focuses on just a few letter sounds, and the books progress toward increasingly difficult phonetic concepts. The beauty of these books is that they give even the earliest reader the opportunity to read a real book, with just a few words on each page. And they do this not by having a limited vocabulary reader and memorizing words, but by using phonics progressively. The only downside is that the set comes in very small books.

Victory Drill Book
This book is not a phonics book, but can work well with a phonics program. It focuses on increasing fluency and speed, by having children read lists of phonetically related words without any other context. It might sound pointless, having lists of words without any story, pictures, or context; but actually the lack of context is the beauty of this program. It forces a child to read the words, not guess them. It also begins to teach them the concept of onsets and rimes (the beginning sounds and end chunks of like words), by presenting similar words together in a list. This is not a stand-alone program, but it can be very useful for building fluency, or for supplementing another program or collection of materials.

Reading Pathways
This I chose because it meets a very specific need for us. Hypertot was having a hard time making the transition from reading individual phonetic sounds to reading words. He would read every word as a collection of sounds, and by the time he had the word sounded out he couldn’t remember what he’d already read. Reading Pathways actually works a child through the transition from sounding out letters to reading words phonetically. It brings a child to reading “whole words” without a whole language approach but rather a phonics approach. I have never seen any other product like it, but I can tell you that Hypertot showed a stunning and immediate improvement in his comprehension from the moment we began using this book.


Whiteboard Idea October 31, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:29 am

I get these bees in my bonnet. When we’re lucky, they’re inexpensive or they pass. Today, it’s a moneysaving idea, and I’m looking forward to implementing it as soon as I get a chance to get out of the house. It’s a personal whiteboard for each kid old enough to read.

If you homeschool, you probably do whiteboards, too. Or if you have a big family, with kids who keep different schedules. Or if you’re looking for the perfect housekeeping “method” or chore chart. Today’s idea is simple. I go to Dollar Tree and buy some inexpensive frames that are hangable. If they don’t have hangable ones, I’ll buy a picture hanging kit there, too. We’re looking at maybe three bucks. I slip a thick piece of white paper or card stock into each one, and I hang them. Instapresto, white boards. They won’t stain like the ever popular tileboard (the stuff they make shower walls from) or those shiny cardboard signs. They can be washed, and it won’t ruin them. And they already come with a frame and ready to hang. One for each person, so I can write down chores when I think of them, or take phone notes, or whatever is needed. And they’ll be a whole lot more attractive than most commercial whiteboards that cost more. Dollar Tree usually has whiteboard markers, too.

Feel free to copy the idea or pass it on.


More on History Odyssey June 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:14 am

I’m posting again on History Odyssey, because two people left questions about it it the comments. Now that I’ve had a little experience it’s time for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Well, the bad isn’t terribly bad. So I’ll start there. Basically, it does require preparation in the sense that you kind of need to have all of the spine materials before you start. It is rather hard to get off to a good start while buying the materials piecemeal. The timeline can be a pain to make, so it might be worth buying one, even though it feels like a waste of money. For all these reasons, I have to admit that I haven’t gotten very far in the program yet.

The good is that what we have done has gone smoothly. The organization of it is every bit as good as I had initially thought. Because it’s so well organized, it is fairly easy to supplement with discussions, web pages, and anything else that suits the subject at hand. One thing I’d like to see added is suggested vocabulary words. Also, I would recommend that parents using this program have at least some of the materials covered at least some of the time as read aloud. Not only does this give some extra together time, but it gives you a chance to answer questions as they come up rather than later. The Story of Mankind is a bit old, and the language somewhat archaic to modern middle schoolers, so covering some of it together takes the edge off, and can be a positive experience. It reads aloud well.

The ugly… well, I haven’t found any yet. I really like it so far. In answer to Nancy’s question, I have not found anything either pro- or anti-Catholic. I checked through TSOM, which looked like the spine material with the most opportunity for bias, and found none whatsoever. I jumped to the chapter on the reformation, and even that was extremely evenhanded. I literally could not tell what the author’s personal beliefs were in a religious sense. Naturally, I haven’t been through all of the side readings yet, but so far everything looks good.


History Odyssey March 1, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 12:34 pm

One of the fastest ways to get me excited is with a new homeschooling book. I just received History Odyssey in the mail, after having ordered it by the slowest mail some time ago. And I have to say, it doesn’t disappoint. It looks fantastic, and I can’t wait to start with it. What I ordered is, specifically, History Odyssey, Middle Ages, Level 2. It’s the guide for grades 5-8 or 9, and it approaches history from a Classical Education perspective.

Now, if you’ve seen my previous words on the subject of Classical Education, you realize that when I say it, I do not mean an education that focuses on Rome and Greece. In fact, as you can see from the title of this guide, we are not even studying Rome and Greece this year, but the Middle Ages. And that includes Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, India, Africa, and the Americas. Wow. That alone was a tremendous selling point for me, as so many history programs focus only on one part of the world, and almost all English language programs seem to ignore Asia and Africa, and give only passing acknowledgment to South America.

For those who homeschool or afterschool and are interested in this program, let me tell you a little about it, at least what I can tell so far. You can decide for yourself if this is a program you’ll like; but I’ll warn you, my enthusiasm may rub off.

The first, and perhaps most important, thing you need to know is that this is not a textbook. In fact, it isn’t a book but a set of hole-punched pages. It does not contain the reading material for your history program, but instead organizes your program and lays out in-depth assignments. It comes with a list of materials you will need to buy (or check out at the library), so you may find it costlier than many other programs. That’s the biggest disadvantage. The flip side is that the reason for this is that it makes use of real books, not twaddle. These books are written by real writers. They include genuine reference books, novels, even literature. This is the stuff that turns kids on to history, not off. If you have ever known someone who was truly excited and knowledgeable about history, I’d stake my favorite pen that he or she reads historical fiction of some sort. Not only does historical literature awaken the real drama of the past, but it also presents historical people and events from varied perspectives, as opposed to the trimmed-clean versions you find in textbooks, that have all interest removed in order to avoid offending whoever writes the current rules of political correctness.

Besides the literature, this program is heavy on research, writing, notebooking, outlining, and timelining. But it doesn’t leave you on your own to figure out how to do these activities; it guides you through the process. In addition, it contains a number of blank maps and worksheets for completing the assignments that require them. In that regard, the program is self-contained.

The work itself is divided into mostly one-session lessons. The exception is the books to be read within the program. Each session should last up to two hours, and is made up of a list of activities with check boxes. This may sound silly, but those check boxes look very helpful to me. It helps me to keep track of what is done and where exactly we are in a program. It’s funny how overwhelming a program without a “list” or check boxes can look. The lessons themselves are subsections of parts or units that divide the study geographically, so that the student studies the era systematically, not neglecting large areas of the world.

When I ordered the program, I didn’t realize how necessary the other books were. Specifically, it is impossible to get started without first obtaining The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and The Story of Mankind. So, alas, I have to get these books before we can dive in. But I can’t tell you how eager I am to get started. I think I may get them from the library until I have my own copies.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who has used History Odyssey, or any other Classical approach to history, and how it has gone for you.


Classical Education Theory and The Well-Trained Mind September 10, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 1:39 pm

Robin at Heart of Wisdom made a good point. In the comments, she referred to her post on the subject of classical education, which discusses some criticisms that I believe are worthy of consideration. Chiefly, she criticizes an emphasis on the Greek and Roman classics, which tend to focus on mythology, philosophy, and a very humanistic approach to wisdom.

I have to agree with her that an approach that glorifies Greek and Roman thought may well have its spiritual dangers, and at the very least can detract from our time spent studying the great wealth of literature that either directly or indirectly presents us with the beauty and wisdom of Christian truth. I would go so far as to add that the glorification of ancient civilizations and their thought can also rob us of the opportunity to read many of the great later works that, although they may not address Christianity in any direct way, do lead us to analyze, support, or challenge more modern societal trends. I would hate to think of a reader getting so caught up in a twelve year Roman and Greek study that they never get to know Jane Eyre or Huck Finn.

What I want to point out is that I share a certain discomfort with the idea of an ancient, pre-Christian focused education; and this is precisely the reason I love The Well Trained Mind. In all of my previous exposure to classical education, I’ve seen reading lists that cover Homer and Plato ad nauseum, but never allow a child to move toward the pinnacle of wisdom, Christian teaching and literature, and the society that has grown out of it. The Well Trained Mind is the first introduction of classical education I’ve seen that took the ideas of classical education and moved beyond the study of Greek and Rome. It is one of the first popular works that stresses the method over the assumption.

The assumption is that classical education is about classical civilization, and that nothing less than 3,000 years old has anything to teach us. The method, rather, is about the learning and developmental stages that a child goes through when learning all about the world and civilization, not merely the origins of so-called “Western Civilization.” When done properly, classical education does not rest on the laurels of the Greeks. It seeks to give as complete a historical education as possible, so that children can learn not only the events of history, but the context of those events, in their chronological time. It is this extensive historical examination that forms the foundation of the concept of classical education as presented by the authors of The Well Trained Mind. To focus on just the Roman and Greek civilizations is to miss the entire point.

The method is a theory of the development of the child’s mind, based on solid observation. Yes, it was inspired by the trivium of ancient learning; but the ideas will ring true to any genuine observer of childhood. In the grammar years, children love to learn. They learn by music, by memorization, by play; most of all, they soak up information like little sponges. As they move into the middle years, both their abilities and their interests change. Now they want to understand what they’ve learned. No longer are they delighted to memorize; they want to satisfy their curiosity. They no longer want just to learn: they want to learn about. By the time they reach the high school years, they are ready to learn to think like adults: to take what they’ve learned, and come to understand, and discover how to analyze it for a greater depth of understanding. It is time to learn to put even their most complex learning to real use in life, applying their own interests, theories, and applications to discover a newfound relevance to what they learn.

As you see, in this model of education, the content includes all of history, and the method seeks to place the knowledge into a format that is right for the child’s age. In The Well Trained Mind‘s model of education, the child is not instructed to stagnate with twelve years of Virgil and Sophocles, but is required to study as much of history as time will allow. Although the classical period is included, it is only a part of ancient history, which also includes the Old Testament, the ancient Orient, the Native Americans, and the early Church. The goal is not to glorify the Greeks, but to give a child an idea of where all of mankind stood during a particular period of history. With this background, the child is far better able to understand the significance of the events that follow, because they have a context. What did it really mean to mankind when Christianity was legalized under Constantine? The student who understands what Pagan Rome was like has a far greater comprehension of the significance of such a tremendous event.

I want to thank Robin again for bringing this subject up. I think that as Christians who also work to be well-educated, it can be easy to fall into the trap of trendiness, and of reaching for an education that seeks to impress, rather than seeking to help us grow as people and as Christians. This is a good time for all of us to ask ourselves what we are doing to enrich whatever gifts God has blessed us with. The things I do to grow, or to help my children grow, are they for God’s glory or for ours?


Dear Old Golden Rule Days August 9, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 8:55 am

Well, that time is upon us again, mid-August: back to school sales, curriculum planning, trying to get kids back into the habit of sleeping at night and waking up during the day. And with it comes my latest Short Stack recommendation: The Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.

I started reading it at the beginning of the summer, and I’m still not finished; not because it isn’t holding me, but because there is so much in it to absorb, it must be taken in doses. Even just 2/3 finished, though, I cannot praise it highly enough. This book about classical homeschooling and afterschooling is a surprise and a help.

It is a surprise, because it shook to my foundations my concept of what classical education is. When I’d seen classical education recommended in articles, book catalogs, and email groups, it always sounded like a bunch of people had gotten together and decided not to teach anything except ancient Rome. Maybe some ancient Greece. So they would buy a fully packaged curriculum that taught ancient civilizations for twelve years in a row, and think that because they were homeschooling, their children were getting superior and individualized educations.

Where The Well-Trained Mind is concerned, I could not have been more wrong. Finally, someone has explained the point of classical education, and not just the first year’s content. Classical education, explains this mother and daughter writing team, teaches children within a method that takes into account their developmental levels. In addition, it covers history and literature more or less together, and systematically, chronologically. The good classical education should do an entire survey of history three times, in three cycles, and ancient civilization is only the first of four stages in each cycle. And it is not limited to Rome and Greece, but also covers other ancient civilizations: China, India, South America, Persia, and so on.

Those who think classical education means teaching nothing but classics just aren’t understanding the point. They are missing all the wonderful educational theory and thorough historical perspective. Perhaps they, like I had, got the idea that they could understand what the theory meant without doing any real study on the subject.

If you homeschool, and especially if you long to offer a better curriculum than a pre-packaged box of workbooks can provide, you might want to read this book. Start by glancing at the sections that pertain to your children’s ages, and at the sections that cover the subjects that attract you. Then turn back and read from the beginning. Even if you don’t have grammar-stage children, you will find the explanations and ideas about the learning stages invaluable.

If you afterschool, or are interested in learning more about it, you can still get a lot out of this book, enough to turn an adequate school-only education into a superb habit of lifelong learning.


What about Socialization? July 26, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 7:06 am

I was just reading, again, about Obama’s idea of proactive early sexualization sex education for kindergarteners. A few moments later I stumbled upon an article about reasons for homeschooling, and suddenly the obviousness of the connection between the two subjects stood out sharply. I don’t just mean the usual connection (homeschooling to prevent exposure to harmful teaching), but a more subtle one.

The part that stood out in the article about Obama was this:

“Keep in mind: I honor and respect young people who choose to delay sexual activity,” Obama continued. “I’ve got two daughters, and I want them to understand that sex is not something casual. That’s something that we definitely want to communicate and should be part of any curriculum. But we also know that when the statistics tell us that nearly half of 15 to 19 year olds are engaging in sexual activity, that for us to leave them in ignorance is potentially consigning them to illness, pregnancy, poverty, and in some cases, death.”

His speech is so riddled with problems it’s difficult to know where to start. Clearly, he is damning abstinence with faint praise, using phrases like “not something casual.” By offering them the “choice,” he is, himself, condemning his own daughters to the possibility of all the things he fears: illness, pregnancy, poverty, and possibly death. Children who are taught that there are no absolutes will almost always choose the easiest (or most tempting) path. Especially when the more disciplined path is presented as an equal alternative. Let’s be honest here, unless you have a set of values to back up your choices, self discipline never looks as easy, fun, or desirable as immediate gratification.

Let’s apply his style of thinking to food, instead, and see how it measures up. Food is much harder to resist than sex, because it is a necessity for life; yet I suspect he requires a level of parental discipline in the food department. Can you imagine a parent saying “Children are going to choose dessert over broccoli, so we should begin educating them from early on to use diet pills. Statistics tell us that a large percentage of teens are overindulging in desserts, which can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and in some cases, death.” Would he offer young children diet pills while giving them the choice to forego discipline and eat nothing but desserts? Of course not. It is a parent’s job to teach good eating habits. It is his job to teach his children that vegetables are better for him than cheesecake. It isn’t an equal choice that they should be respected enough to make on their own. A parent who refuses to teach self discipline to his children is a lousy excuse for a parent.

But enough said about sex education and kid sex. What does it have to do with homeschooling? The obvious answer is that many parents opt out of public schooling to prevent their children from being sent these harmful messages about dessert being equal to dinner. Many parents feel that the only way they can prevent their children from being taught whatever the current whim of the educational elite is is to teach them at home.

But the bigger question is also the question often asked about homeschooling: “What about socialization?” And the answer is that one must seriously question just how healthy this “socialization” that takes place in mainstream schools can be, if more than half of youngsters are engaging in these dangerous behaviors, and the educators and politicians are only concerned for their preparation for it. Is an environment where peers are taught to exercise no self discipline a healthy one? If this is socialization, I don’t want it.

On the other hand, many homeschoolers have large families and good support networks. When one daughter was in school, she got bullied daily. She was academically abused by the administration, she was physically and emotionally abused by her classmates, and she spent her recess times finding places to hide alone. Another daughter gained greater acceptance by engaging in dangerous activities, from which she still has not fully recovered. Is this somehow healthier than being among people who love them, and choosing with whom to socialize?

The fact is that the over-sexualization that happens in school is only one of the many harmful influences to which young children are exposed and by which they are often traumatized. When teachers and politicians look the other way and refer to it merely as a “choice,” they are doing about the same thing that the teachers did when they looked the other way while my daughter was abused and humiliated in 6th grade. They are allowing the inmates to run the asylum, because it is easier than teaching them right behavior.

If society is going to look the other way when students engage in harmful sexual activity or bullying, we might as well stop banning weapons in school. Perhaps along with condoms the schools could distribute knives so that the bullied kids can exercise “safe” bullying. And they could give out thong bikinis to the kindergarteners, too. It’s never too early to sexualize children and prepare them for molestation.

Or maybe I could just teach them at home, and protect them from both bullies and politicians.