Friday, July 15, 2011

Teaching the Kids, Part II

So, first I had to (still have to) reassure my self that I can teach my own children. Even if I yell at them. A lot.

Next, the question arises: How am I going to do this?

My singleton brother, who has done some pretty amazing things, gave me the admonition: "KISS" (Keep It Simple, Stupid). And, yes, he's right. It is very simple: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, sinners. I want to give my children the tools they need for two things: to wonder at all times and to pray in every circumstance. With these tools, they will be able to be holy and thus happy should they choose.

And now, the how.

My firstborn is only 6 years old. I know almost nothing about teaching my own children, in the home, day after day; I haven't had to get up in the morning and trudge through hours of mathematics with seven recalcitrant children whose intellects have been darkened and their wills warped by the lingering effects of original sin. The days are coming, says the Lord.

In a way, however, I have been living in the world of home educators for at least six years (plus my own experience of being homeschooled for five years). The wonderful school at which I taught in Georgia, Regina Caeli Academy (do you want to start your own? The director offers seminars!), offered two days per week of seminar-type courses for home educated students. I taught the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum (a 4C: comprehensive, classical, Catholic curriculum) at the 6th through 12th grade levels, with a few dabbles in earlier elementary. Through the teacher training and classroom experience there, as well as through friendships up and down the East Coast, I feel like I've been handed an ocean of homeschool techniques and methods, book lists and syllabi.

There is so much to sift through and think about! A nerd's paradise (that's me)! A party girl's nightmare.

Before I actually had to make decisions about teaching Miriam, I loved to dabble here and there, reading about various sources. I wanted to try everything--unschooling with National Geographic! Charlotte Mason with Flower Fairies! Neo-classical entirely in Latin! But my child is not my in vita experiment. She--both by temperament and by her human nature--needs some sort of stability, some consistency, some theme in her education. Life will happen, and plans will have to change. But her little person is not my playground for indulging my latest book-fed whim.

At the beginning of last year I was ready to piece together my own curriculum. This is what a lot of moms do, and it works well. Between chronic pain, a newborn, moving, and some serious postpartum depression, however, I ended up abandoning all planning time and then feeling guilty for not "really teaching" her anything. We made it through about half of the Saxon math curriculum (and really only completing about 30% of each lesson) and 75 lessons of Teach Your Child to Read. The rest was painting, crafts, and saying, "Go outside and bring me a rock that you like." But you know, I think she's doing fine. Lesson learned: a first grader who falls in the middle of that learning spectrum (i.e., is basically "normal"--ah! I said it!) can pretty much un-school and be quite happy.

While she did well, I'm the one who's going to need a little more help now. With three small children, I'm not going to be creating my own Spanish course, hymn study, nature journals, scopes and sequences, or coming up with enough glitter-crafts to distract a 3-year-old for 20 minutes while I plan the second grader's next lesson. Not that a second-grader needs much planning. In the grand scheme of things, if I read to her from the Scriptures, take her outdoors, bring her to Mass, and maybe play with numbers, she'll figure out what she needs to figure out. But I need some visible goals, some visible results.

Piecemeal schooling works well for some families. It worked well for us during a year of health problems, financial stress, and a new baby. Now, however, I feel the energy coming back: This is a year to practice some discipline in myself and some intentional planning.

So, for the busy mom who doesn't have time to plan, that means it's time to look at what someone else has already planned.

That's next.

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