The Hardest Subject: American History

History has been, for me, the most difficult subject to plan for and teach in our homeschooling journey so far. I’ve checked out over two dozen history curricula designed for homeschoolers, and even a few that are meant for public or private school classrooms. I’ve looked into secular history and Christian history options. I’ve investigated history curricula written long ago, and some written recently.

I was very disappointed by most of it.

History, in general, is written by the conquerors. This means that most history curricula is Euro-centric, glosses over injustices done to weaker people groups, glorifies “expansion” and “colonization” (i.e. stealing land and genocide), and tends to water down historical fact to the point of inaccuracy. I won’t name specific curricula here, but you can bet that if it’s one commonly used in homeschooling circles, I found that it taught history this way and would not feel comfortable using it to teach my child.

The good news is that I did find a curriculum I like for world history! We will be using Curiosity Chronicles: Ancient History. It is a secular curriculum geared toward grades one through three (for the first level, ancient history, and there are later levels for older grades available) that feels like it has enough variation in how it is presented to be able to connect to multi-aged children who learn in various ways, with hands-on activities, fun projects, written assignments, reading, etc. to bring history to life. They have their own supplementary book lists as part of their curriculum.

Side note: I don’t see anything wrong with fictionalized historical stories, either in picture books or chapter books. That doesn’t feel like “watering down”; it seems better to present history to children in story-form, so that’s fine! My issue is with changing actual historical facts to fit an inaccurate view of what happened, due to a socio-political agenda of the author or their own lack of true knowledge.

Why is so much of the historical curricula for homeschoolers so flawed?

I think there are many reasons. But I’m not going to speculate on that here. After being entirely frustrated with my search, I decided to create my own American history book list.

The suggested books from Whole Story History and The Parallel Narrative were very, very helpful in this endeavor. I highly recommend that anyone searching for history alternatives start with those two websites! My goal was to find books that presented European, Indigenous, secular, religious, and ethnic minority viewpoints on what happened in the early years of America, so that we could see history from multiple perspectives.

Here are the resources we will be using for American history, over the entire second grade school year:

~ Under Three Flags: Exploring St. Louis History, From the Ice Age to the Louisiana Purchase, by Maureen Hoessle

~ The Discovery of the Americas, by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

~ Before Columbus, by Muriel Batherman

~ The eight part documentary 1491: the Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus

~ Sunset of the Sabertooth, from the Magic Tree House series (#7), by Mary Pope Osborne

~ Exploration and Conquest, by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

~ Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, by Joseph Bruchac

~ Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl, by Kate Waters

~ Roanoke: The Lost Colony, an Unsolved Mystery from History, by Yolen/Stemple/Roth

~ Mayflower 1620: a New Look at a Pilgrim Voyage, by Arenstam/Kemp/O’Neill Grace

~ The Pilgrims of Plimoth, by Marcia Sewall

~ Tapenum’s Day: a Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times, by Kate Waters

~ Finding Providence: the Story of Roger Williams, by Avi

~ The New Americans, by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

~ The first thirteen episodes from the television program Liberty’s Kids, free on Youtube

~ Liberty or Death: the American Revolution, by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

~ Molly Bannaky, by Alice McGill

~ A Voice of Her Own: Phyllis Wheatley, by Kathryn Lasky

~ Abigail Adams, by Alexandra Wallner

~ John, Paul, George, and Ben, by Lane Smith

~ Paul Revere’s Ride, by Henry Longfellow

~ Children of the Earth and Sky, by Stephen Krensky

~ Children of the Wind and Water, by Stephen Krensky

~ George Washington, by Cheryl Harness

~ Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence, by Gretchen Woelfle

This will take us up to the beginning stages of the American Revolution. We’ll pick up where we left off when we begin third grade in August, 2020!

If I could choose just three resources from this list, I would say you should check out the books by Betsy and Giulio Maestro, the documentary 1491, and Under Three Flags. They are really great, and can be used for multiple children as a backbone for discovering early American history.

I have about a third of these books in our home, bought from book sales in the past for a dollar or two each. The rest of them are borrowed from the library when I need them. We will read these books, narrate and discuss them, do a little map-work, add big events and people to our historical timeline, and occasionally do an activity based on the week’s book. A few of the books will only be used for excerpts; some will be read all the way through, over the course of a week or a month.

Since this is my first year truly teaching American history, I’m ready and willing to change or adapt what the list looks like! At the very least, I have peace knowing that I am working towards giving my daughter a more balanced look at our nation’s history. She has both European and Indigenous ancestors in her heritage, based on her dad’s ancestry and my own, and I want her to grow up knowing the truth about both sides of her timeline.

 

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A Homeschooling Parent Manifesto, Second Grade

This Homeschooling Parent Manifesto was created from a post I wrote over five and a half years ago, when Harmony began preschool in a tiny homeschooling group I was part of! My views on education have changed and grown over those years, and while I’m not appalled or upset at anything I wrote back then, I wanted to change my manifesto to better reflect where I am as a homeschooling parent today. 

It really helps me to focus on what my goals are when I write them down in this way! I will be printing it out to put in my homeschooling planner, for review when I need to be reminded of what is important.

If you want to copy any of this and use it for your own inspiration or manifesto, please feel free to do so! If you share it publicly, please credit it back to my authorship. Enjoy!

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As a homeschooling parent, I determine to:

~ Instruct my child(ren) so that they will have the ability and desire to embark on their life-long journey of understanding themselves, loving others, exploring the world, and hungering for truth.

~ Trust my child(ren) to be active in their own education. They are the one(s) who will ultimately decide what to do with their lives, and their innate curiosity, energy, abilities, and talents will be key factors in their personal educational path.

~ Help my child(ren) discover their gifts and strengths in whatever area they choose to explore. I want to impart that learning can be done for the love of learning, not just because it is a chore or necessity. More importantly, though, I want my child(ren) to know that I love them for who they are, not for what they can do.

~ Develop individual academic paths based on the abilities, interests, and personality of each child so that they can best learn how to love beauty, how to think outside the box, how to think logically, how to gain understanding for themselves, how to express themselves, how to learn from the past so that they can become aware of the future, why things work the way they do, how to do practical mathematics, and how to succeed with practical life skills. 

~ Provide a supportive environment for my child(ren) to study, explore, investigate, research, learn, and experiment. I will encourage age/maturity-appropriate learning (regardless of assigned “grade levels”), letting my child(ren) take risks, be curious, and develop their skills and judgement. While the desire is for the child to be an independent, capable learner, I will always provide safety for the child(ren)’s personal well-being. I will provide resources, encourage mentorship, and give access to supplementary educational options as the child desires.

~ Focus on the development of the child as a whole person who is creative, expressive, passionate about what they love, resourceful, hard working, and wise, keeping in mind the end goal of a person who is healthy in mind, body, and soul. Education happens not only at a desk, but also in the kitchen, in the garden, at the store, out in nature, with friends, with a parent, by ourselves. The world is at our doorstep just waiting to be explored!

 

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Second Grade Curriculum

After agonizing over not being able to find a history curriculum I liked (as you can read in the previous post here), trying to decide what exactly to cover in second grade, and figuring out what I felt Harmony would connect with the most, I finally came up with an outline of what we will be learning about together for this upcoming school year! Yes, I view myself as learning right alongside her. I consider myself to be a life-long learner, and as a formerly homeschooled student myself, I’m excited to continue my own studies in each of these subjects.

This is divided by single subject, but we will only be reading short parts of these books as they fit into our schedule on a few days of the week, not doing every subject every day, and keeping academics to about three hours daily. Most of what we’ll be doing involves me reading aloud to her, just like last year! She still LOVES hearing stories read aloud, as long as they aren’t too intense or scary, so the Charlotte Mason emphasis on living books fits well. I got a lot of inspiration from the Wildwood Curriculum website and I’m grateful for the perspective it provides. I deviated quite a bit from it, so our schedule will look more eclectic than anything else, but it still has some Charlotte Mason principles that Harmony and I discovered worked well for first grade, like the loads of literature, narration, focus on character, lots of nature, etc.

I’m still writing out our weekly schedule, so I’ll do another post on that later, as well as more detail on some of these subjects, like history.

If something I’ve added to the list doesn’t connect with Harmony or serve her well, I have no problem taking it out! This is a tentative list. Some of the books are picture books that can easily be read in a single sitting; some of them will be covered over the course of an entire month. A few will be used for a semester or the entire year. Most will eventually be read entirely, over the course of study, but a few will only be used for selections. We will be using some of these books for multiple grades!

~ Character Study ~

I wanted to have three areas of focus: caring about self, caring about others, and caring about God. Everything here addresses one of those topics.

The Fruit of the Spirit

The Book of Matthew

Aesop’s Fables

Five-Minute Devotions of Nature

“Right, Wrong, and Being Strong”

“Learning to Be a Good Friend”

“Eight Keys to a Better Me”

“I Walk With Vanessa”

“Strictly No Elephants”

“The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade”

“What Does It Mean to Be Present?”

“Alphabreaths”

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~ Music ~

I am a guitar teacher and freelance musician, and my husband is also a musician, so there is quite a bit of music around the house anyway. Harmony just entered the second level of the guitar curriculum from my studio, so we will continue that! We listen to a LOT of music all day, in the car, on the radio, on the CD player, on the iPad, on YouTube, everywhere. This is just the deliberate selections I’ll be making!

Guitar lessons

Folk songs from Wildwood Curriculum

Listening music from Wildwood Curriculum

Solfege lessons from Sing Solfa

Hymns

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~ Memorization ~

We enjoyed memorizing poetry and verses last year, so we’ll continue it this year. We may not have our previous selections memorized forever, but the way it allows us to see the world helps shape who we are and how we view life, which I find very valuable.

“Rain in Summer”, by Henry W. Longfellow

Colossians 3:12-15

Co-op selections

“For These, All Things Beautiful”, from With Joy poems

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~ Reading Practice ~

Harmony will practice reading aloud excerpts from these books. She reads a lot on her own already, but we still need work with phonics, and there’s no need to do formal spelling or grammar yet. Reading aloud is wonderful work to begin learning the form of our language! I anticipate that she’ll probably love these characters and storylines so much that she’ll more than likely want to read them on her own, too.

“Mercy Watson” series

“Bink and Gollie” series

“The Land of Barely There” story books

“Nate the Great” series

“Mouse Scouts” series

“Encyclopedia Brown” series

“The Littles” series

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~ Writing ~

Most of what she will be doing is copy-work still. At the end of the year, we will begin learning how to write sentences and short paragraphs, but we’re going slowly. 

Cursive Handwriting, from Handwriting Without Tears

Writing With Ease, Level 1

“Merry-Go-Round: Nouns”, by Ruth Heller

“Kites Sail High: Verbs”

“A Cache of Jewels: Collective Nouns”

“Many Luscious Lollipops: Adjectives”

Thank-you notes

Poetry copy-work

Introduction to paragraph writing

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~ Spanish ~

We mostly sang songs in Spanish last year and watched episodes of Spanish cartoons from the free PBS show, Salsa. We don’t need a formal program yet.

Free songs and games from Rockalingua

Folk songs from Sing Solfa

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~ Literature, Read-alouds ~

This was Harmony’s favorite part of school last year! I’m excited to read these aloud to her and have discussions about them!

“Schoolroom in the Parlor”

“Velveteen Rabbit”

“Heidi”

“The Story of Doctor Doolittle”

“Much Ado About Nothing”

“Understood Betsy”

“The Secret Garden”

“Comedy of Errors”

“Half Magic”

Japanese folk tales

Irish folk tales

American folk tales

Native American folk tales

African folk tales

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~ Math ~

Harmony liked this program last year. She is technically supposed to be in second grade math, and this calls itself fourth grade math, but it doesn’t seem very advanced, and she has done a good job handling everything so far.

Teaching Textbooks, Level 4

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~ World History ~

We are excited to learn about the ancient history of our world! The other picture books are mostly from our library, to supplement the main stories of the Curiosity Chronicles book. I like this curriculum because it shows many different cultures and how they affected both the advancement of their own society, and it also shows how they fit into the civilizations around them, without making it seem like one culture should be elevated above another.

Curiosity Chronicles, Ancient History

Timeline documentation

“Sunset with the Sabertooth”

“Muti’s Necklace”

“Seeker of Knowledge”

“How to Build Your Own Country”

“Temple Cat”

“The Great Race: Chinese Zodiac”

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths

“I Have the Right to Be a Child”

“Archimedes, Take a Bath”

“What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras?”

“The Librarian Who Measured the Earth”

Usborne Book of Myths and Legends

“Day of the Dragon King”

“Cleopatra”

“The King’s Chessboard”

“The Chocolate Tree: a Mayan Tale”

“Why Do You Call Me a Barbarian?”

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~ American History ~

After struggling all summer with the fact that no American history curriculum or main book exists that I feel comfortable teaching with (I explored and read through almost two dozen curricula), I finally decided to create my own book list that will cover the topics that I believe are important to know, in a more inclusive, less Euro-centric way. I also wanted to highlight more of the women in our country’s legacy. Having the perspective of Native American cultures throughout the entire timeline of America is very important to me, too, so I am seeking to include books that provide that as much as possible. I won’t use a lot of the usual books that are often recommended for this subject because they either minimize the damage done to the Indigenous people groups who were already present in America when colonists/explorers arrived or make it seem like the colonists/explorers were doing something positive in their actions against the Indigenous people. I want to be clear with Harmony right from the very beginning that history is filled with many difficult decisions and situations, and there were people on every side from every culture who tried to do what was good and right, but there were also many injustices done. We will cover the earliest people groups who inhabited America up through the beginning of the Revolutionary War. We’ll focus far more on the Revolutionary War and Westward Expansion of white colonists next year for 3rd grade. I’ll be writing another post on these books and resources for them later!

“Under Three Flags: Exploring St. Louis History”

“The Discovery of the Americas”

“Before Columbus”

“Exploration and Conquest”

“Squanto’s Journey”

“Sarah Morton’s Day”

“Roanoke: The Lost Colony”

“Mayflower, 1620”

“Tapenum’s Day”

“The Pilgrims of Plimoth”

“Finding Providence: The Story of Roger Williams”

“The New Americans”

“John, Paul, George, and Ben”

“Liberty or Death: the American Revolution”

“A Voice of her Own: Phillis Wheatley”

“Abigail Adams”

“Molly Bannaky”

“Paul Revere’s Ride”

“Children of the Earth and Sky”

“George Washington”

“Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence”

“Children of the Wind and Water”

Episodes from the television show Liberty’s Kids

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~ Science ~

We belong to a wonderful home-school co-op where Harmony will take classes every week on different science topics! I’m grateful that she is getting a solid education in science that she absolutely loves, because I was never a fan of science as a student. I learn with her from the take-home work and the emails that are sent out after each class.

Co-op classes, with the subjects of Introduction to Chemistry, Chemistry, and Botany

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~ Art/Handicrafts ~

She likes this co-op class, too, but “not as much as science”, she said. Grandma, who lives a few minutes away, will also be doing handicrafts with her, which is awesome. I will be teaching and assisting at the co-op as well in the art program.

Co-op classes, with the subjects of Collage, Set Design, Art in Ballet, and Drawing

Activities with grandma, such as cooking, baking, embroidery, and felt sewing

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~ Nature Study ~

We had a difficult time getting outdoors for the last third of the year of first grade, because the midwest experienced record levels of snow and flooding, and because Adaline began to walk and RUN away from us whenever we went out! Most of our nature explorations happened at a nearby park or our own backyard, which isn’t bad, but wasn’t what we had hoped to do. So we are planning on letting Adaline spend time with grandma each week so Harmony and I can focus together on nature together again, much to our delight!

“Exploring Nature with Children: a Complete Year Long Curriculum”

Nature journaling

Nature excursions

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There it is! We start school on the 19th this month, so I still have a lot to do to get the weekly schedules written out for the first semester, arrange our school supplies, get our household organization back in order so I don’t have to worry about it as much during the school year, and finalize my own schedule. Harmony and I are both looking forward to starting second grade together!

 

 

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Homeschooling: The Good and the Hard

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog! Wow. I’m sure some of what I believe has changed since I first began writing about education over eight years ago, and that’s awesome. I always want to be growing and changing as I become a better educator, both as a music teacher and as a homeschooling parent. It’s good for me to look back on what I’ve written before so I can see how I’ve grown!

So here is an update on where I’m at currently as far as our homeschooling journey has gone.

First, a little background, if you’ve never read about me before.

I was homeschooled my entire life (except for one semester when I was seven, when I requested to attend public school, disliked it, and came back to homeschooling very happily), and Chris, my partner, had been homeschooled, attended a public school, and went to a performing arts high school. I had studied education in college, and along with becoming a music teacher, I felt that it was important for children to learn about social issues, that children needed to have a lot of freedom, and that I wanted to give my own children the opportunity to learn at their own pace, all of which homeschooling would hopefully bring. Chris and I knew that we would homeschool our children before we even got married, so it wasn’t a matter of deciding to homeschool, just the difficulty of figuring out how to actually do it.

We did an eclectic preschool year for Harmony at age four which was fun and worked well. Our kindergarten year was pretty much the same. I had purchased or was given a few little workbooks, used the Bob Books for learning to read, found many free resources to print off from online sites, and was investing in good books for our home library, but otherwise didn’t want to make too much of our learning academic yet. The choice of which curriculum, which method, which books to use for your homeschooling academics is never going to be easy. Not only are there SO many choices out there, but there will never be a one-size-fits-all, so I wasn’t in a hurry to jump into that search yet!

At the end of kindergarten, I already knew that Harmony was more than ready for first grade the next year. She surprised me by saying that she wanted more math that was harder. Khan Academy, skip-counting, introduction to word problems, and basic addition/subtraction concepts with manipulatives were all we did for kindergarten, and I thought it was enough. But she didn’t! After she whizzed through not only a kindergarten math pack and a first grade pack from the dollar store, we gave her two math placement tests, where she ended up at the third grade level. I was surprised! She had just turned six at that point. But we wanted to follow her lead, so we found a math program that was both affordable and seemed like it would work well for third grade math, Teaching Textbooks.

We also joined a homeschool co-op where Harmony just finished her third year. The children at the co-op are ages three to sixth grade, with several ages in each class, and they study art and science. It has been WONDERFUL. We are so thankful for our homeschooling friends, and the community we have through the co-op! But I’ll write more about that in another post.

It was after Harmony turned six that I began thoroughly researching homeschooling methods and curriculum, because I wanted to have a solid plan for first grade. The most appealing, in many ways, was the Charlotte Mason method. I was happy to discover Ambleside Online, a free guide for homeschooling families to follow with a Charlotte Mason mindset. There were and are so many things about it that I love, like the monthly folk songs, the emphasis on living books, the understanding of the child as a whole person, nature journaling, narration, and much more, so after reading as much as I could to prepare myself, I borrowed, put on our library list, or purchased (with gift cards, in many cases) a lot of the required books that were laid out for the first year of AO. It was nice to have such a helpful guide to follow!

Some of the readings or books bothered me, though. I felt like it was very Eurocentric, which was understandable since Charlotte Mason was a British educator at the turn of the twentieth century! The books she selected for her students were designed to carry on the knowledge of what they deemed to be a fully educated British citizen. Now, the appeal of her work is that many of her theories, both in how to interact with children and in what constitutes a whole person, are timeless, and she has a lot of goodness to be passed down to today’s educators. But since I was not trying to raise a British citizen, I decided to substitute some of the suggested books in favor of a more modern view of the world. At the same time, I also knew that some stories are classics for a reason, and just because a book was written long ago doesn’t necessarily mean it is no longer relevant or should be discarded! I tried to be very thoughtful about what I substituted.

I would say that first grade went well! We enjoyed the vast majority of the books. We learned a lot together. We fell into a nice groove that was only disrupted when Adaline, my second daughter (oh yeah, I’ve had another child since I wrote my last blog post here!), became a wild toddler tornado. We both learned how to interact kindly with each other, despite being tired (me) or whiny (Harmony) or distracted (by Adaline). It was a wonderful time of growth.

I was prepared to do AO year two for second grade, while continuing with Teaching Textbooks for fourth grade, since that was working well. But as I began delving into what Harmony would be learning with AO’s suggestions, I became uncomfortable with what felt to me like an outdated view of world history, social studies, and American culture.

Perhaps it was because my mom raised me to see how racism is not just speaking badly about minorities (as Ma does in Little House on the Prairie), but also in erasing minorities from history (only studying men’s contributions historically, only studying white people, only portraying one side of a story, glossing over extreme injustices, etc.). I can’t, in good conscience, have my child read a white-washed version of the story of Thanksgiving. I can’t, in good conscience, tell my child that the pioneers blithely swept across the plains and settled into “free land”, as if it was a positive event. I can’t, in good conscience, tell my daughter that Columbus discovered America, or that Pocohontas was a willing agent in “helping” the colonists. I can’t.

After searching for history resources, both in world history and American history, that had a more inclusive, less Eurocentric viewpoint, I realized that not only was I coming up with nothing, but also that much of the Christian homeschooling curricula available was objectionable to me for the reasons I just wrote. Feeling discouraged, I went onto a secular forum and asked about history resources there. Instantly, people brought up suggestions. I found several options that looked excitingly promising! Plus, I realized that there were other families out there who were feeling disillusioned with Christian curricula, like I was, because of the same reasons. We would call ourselves “Christian”, in various theological positions, but we were leaning towards a more secular education because we desired more ethnic, gender, and historic inclusivity and historical accuracy in our children’s upbringing.

It’s been a few weeks since I have been investigating all these areas. One of the best discoveries I’ve made is of a fairly new website called Wildwood Curriculum, a secular Charlotte Mason group that takes what are considered to be her universal, timeless theories/truths, and brings them into an updated format that is far more inclusive, accurate, and meaningful for today’s students. It still encourages families to use their own religious or spiritual guidance, and we will, but there is a lot that I appreciate about it, despite the label of “secular”, which often has a negative connotation in the Christian realm of homeschoolers. The books lists are very similar to Ambleside Online, there is still a huge emphasis on Charlotte Mason principles, and the age/maturity level is similar, too.

This is not meant to be a dig at Ambleside. I greatly appreciate many of the resources they offer! Nor do I want to make it seem like I am rejecting any kind of of curriculum that calls itself “Christian”. My journey is a unique one, as is every single homeschooling parent out there who seeks to provide their children with a good education. Every family’s path will be different. Every family will need to make difficult decisions about what to read, what to teach, when to show the ugly side of humanity’s history, when to introduce hard concepts, what to leave out. Nobody’s education is perfect. Nobody’s parenting is perfect! This is my story of who I am as a homeschooling mother and the decisions I am making for my children.

Right now, I’m still making specific book decisions, based on the Wildwood Curriculum’s suggestions. Harmony is still just as sensitive to intense or violent stories as she was last year, when I had to leave out or heavily edit the fairy tales we were assigned to read in AO (they are also part of the assignments in WC). We recently tried to read aloud an abridged version of Robin Hood (even though Charlotte Mason recommends not using abridged versions of books), and within the first few pages, Harmony was pleading that I stop because it was too scary. So I have to be cautious with what we cover! But I will say, I am much more happy to be planning our second grade year, knowing that there is a guide and a method that I can believe in more fully, which meets my expectations for the kind of education I hope to provide for my daughter.

I’ll share more over the summer as I pin down what we’ll be doing!

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I Lost A Student

I lost a student.

He graduated high school, attended his last lesson with me, performed his senior recital, and is now no longer a student of mine.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Each student that walks through my door is a person. I always remember that. They’re a small person, usually, a person with little life experience, but a REAL person nontheless: a child. I teach children because I love how much they learn and how they can love music with a purity that is rarely found in most adults. But because I teach children, there is always the knowledge that inevitably they will one day leave to bigger and better things in the big adult world.

In my years of teaching, I have seen dozens, possibly even hundreds, of students enter my music studio and exit, some after a few years, some after many years. Some quit when they reach high school. Some quit because they would rather focus on another instrument. Some quit because they want to focus on their social or academic or sports life. Some quit because they don’t care for guitar anymore. Some quit because they are simply graduating from high school and moving on. But they all do quit at some point.

I don’t do well with transitions. I always care deeply about the vast majority of children I teach (there have been a FEW students who have made my life as a teacher horrible, but they are usually gone fairly quickly), so every time a student finishes their time with me, there is pain as my heart lets them go, as every good teacher does.

And that’s usually the end.

But not every time.

His name is Colin.

Usually I use a different name for the students I talk about here on this blog, because they’re underage and I don’t have permission to use their names, but this time I’m sharing his real name, because I think that some day you folks out there are going to hear of him. He is a musician. A good one. And he’s got the potential to be a really great musician one day because he puts his soul into what he plays and sings and he sincerely wants to grow into the best kind of musician he can become.

A year ago I was stunned to realize that he was seventeen.

Didn’t he just start lessons with me as a 6th grader? Wasn’t it just the other day that he was wearing his black hoodie to every lesson, keeping his eyes down and refusing to talk? No… now there is a tall young man in the chair, playing his own compositions confidently with a fire that I never would have guessed was in the heart of that silent little boy.

After winter break we began planning for his senior recital.

I saw the end coming.

These have not been easy years. If Colin reads this, he won’t say it’s not true; I was very close to asking another teacher to take him as a student instead of me, multiple times, because there were lessons when I was utterly frustrated with him. We had major rough spots. During the first year of lessons he didn’t speak a word to me. There were weeks of not practicing what I assigned, days of me trying to urge him to learn a new skill or concept, lessons of moodiness and struggle, and just feeling like I was hitting a brick wall.

But in spite of all this, the honest answer is that I was learning just as many lessons from Colin as he was learning from me. Being his instructor taught me things that made me grow.

How to turn a comment into a positive critique instead of a negative remark.

How to teach someone who learns almost entirely by ear how to read music.

How to push someone out of their comfort zone just enough to grow, but not enough to drive them away.

How to take a deep breath and focus on the music instead of becoming angry when a student is being stubborn.

How to explain a music theory concept four different ways because the first way didn’t click.

How to not take it personally when a student is snippy or silent during a lesson, because you don’t know what they’ve been going through.

How to know when to be gentle in your correction and when to roar in your backlash against musical mistakes.

How to help each student find their own niche of interest in music, even if it takes you completely out of your comfort zone (Colin is the only person I’ve seen who can rap Eminem songs while playing classical guitar….).

And most importantly, how sometimes the best thing you can do for a student is to simply be there for them. They show up at their lesson; you show up as their teacher. Maybe some days you don’t feel like anything musically productive was accomplished. But maybe all they needed that day was to know that you were still there, not giving up on them, still hoping for the best and pushing them to become better.

Then maybe one day you’ll find that the young student you never would have guessed would make it this far is suddenly almost an adult, and you are in the spring semester of his final months of lessons, and now you’re just wishing you had more time.

And now he’s turning eighteen, graduating high school.

And it’s his final lesson.

You remember that you told him at guitar camp when he was fourteen that he should smile more often, because it transforms his face completely and he would be able to make friends more easily. Now he smiles all the time. Although he’s still a pretty serious guy. That’s okay… at least there’s more of a balance now than there was years ago.

He remembers that you taught him to palm mute bass lines and forced him to learn chords for an ensemble piece involving blues. You have barely any recollection of that. It’s fascinating to find what sticks out in one person’s mind, but not another’s.

You go to the sound check for his senior recital. He’s not used to singing with a microphone. You fiddle with amplifiers and mic stands. It has to be just right. Or at least as close to just right as possible.

You feel nervous on the day of the recital. He looks nervous too, but you both know it will be fine. Probably. Hopefully.

Over eighty people come to see him play classical guitar pieces, his own compositions, and cover songs. The audience cheers and claps. He makes a few mistakes, works through them, improvises a little, recovers, keeps going.

Then it’s over.

Everyone loved it.

And that’s the end.

He is no longer my student. No more lessons, no more time. This is the moment of separation that each teacher prepares for.

Except that afterwards, he gives me a hug and says, “Thank you for being my teacher. Now this is the beginning of a new era. I’m going to be a musician; I’m going to keep studying music. Now we can be friends.”

My eyes are already tear-filled with the emotion of letting go.

“Are you kidding?” he says. “I’m not going to forget my guitar teacher! Of course I still want you around. I’m going to play at coffee shops and things. And I’m going to study music. This isn’t goodbye.”

And with those words, I am invited back in.

I lost a student.

But it looks like I’ve gained a friend.

And more importantly, the world has gained another awesome musician, one whom I’m proud to call a fellow guitarist, who I’m sure will one day make a name for himself. Look out for Colin, world.

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Harmony

As part of Write Alm’s November Prompts, I saw that today’s prompt is: Harmony!

My daughter, Harmony, is now almost twenty-nine months old, or close to two and a half years. I’ve already posted about what our daily life looks like as home-schoolers, so here are more details of what we’re currently doing. It’s important for me to document what we’re doing as I study how children learn and what environment they learn best in, as well as understand better who my own child is and how she learns!

Harmony LOVES doing what I call “school”: projects with me or Chris that involve colors, numbers, letters, words, etc. Her favorite thing is for us to lightly write letters or words on a piece of paper so she can use a marker or pencil and trace over them. Also fun is color sorting, finger-painting, tracing/naming shapes, and spotting the differences in pictures on worksheets. Part of the fun is that she gets one-on-one time with us, and part of it is that she likes challenging herself to learn and focus. She will ask to do “school” with us.

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We do allow limited use of technology now for Harmony. Almost every day she either watches a Richard Scarry Alphabet dvd or the Numbers dvd. They are twenty minutes long, sweetly done with music and singing and fun repetition that she adores. Sometimes she’ll watch an episode of Magic School Bus. She also likes to play an alphabet game that we downloaded for free on our iPad. It allows her to trace letters and words with her finger, explore pronunciations of letters, see pictures representing letters, and practice beginning spelling. We also listen to a lot of Bible songs on the radio or My Little Pony songs on Youtube. She requests music every day.

Harmony is truly having a good time with writing! She recognizes all her letters and likes to trace them. She also seems to be teaching herself basic words to read, recognizing certain words in her books and ones that we write for her to trace. This is NOT something we have pushed her to do. Writing is something that I love; she sees me do it often, and she’ll ask to “write letters too” with mama at the dining room table while I write a letter or in my journal!

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We read an incredible amount of books together, too, which contributes to both of our love for words. I try to read different genres and levels of books: picture books for imagination, “educational” books about colors/seasons/shapes/etc., story books, introductory fairy tales, old classics such as Peter Rabbit, poetry for children, nursery rhymes, and science books (her favorite is the Magic School Bus book about honey bees). She is also memorizing songs and rhymes that she likes.

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I will sometimes suggest activities for her to do, or ask if she’d like me to read to her, and follow her direction. If she says “no” to something I volunteer, I don’t force it. If she agrees, then we spend time together doing the activity until I can tell she is getting tired of it. If she seems bored, I’ll suggest something else.

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She is learning how to play more independently, which is good too because I don’t want her to think that I am there to constantly entertain her! She is ALWAYS welcome to help with chores around the house. This week she:

~ Made pumpkin pie with me

~ Made her scrambled eggs for lunch with my help

~ Washed potatoes and peeled garlic for soup

~ Swept with her little broom while I swept

~ Learned how to rinse dishes off to put in the dishwasher

~ Put away the tupperware and silverware from the clean dishes

~ Sorted dirty laundry into piles for washing

~ Picked up her toys in the den

~ Made her bed

~ Took the sheets and blankets off our beds for washing

~ Helped daddy rake and pick up all the leaves in the front and back yards

~ Wiped off the dining room table with a washcloth

~ Helped with grocery shopping

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I ask her if she’d like to help, and when she says “yes”, I give her a job to do. If she doesn’t want to help me, that’s fine, but I expect her to not hinder me or whine while I try to get my work done! Sometimes she chooses to go look at books by herself or play in her room while I work.

Not everything we do is “educational”. I try not to turn every moment into a lesson of some kind. We are not in a rush for Harmony to do academics if she doesn’t want to or for her to be measured with some kind of standardized achievement test.

As humans, we’re learning and growing all the time, whether academically, or in our character, or our personality, or socially, or in a specific skill, but sometimes we are just having fun or relaxing! Just like I enjoy sitting on the couch chilling with a movie, Harmony likes to watch Clifford occasionally, or we’ll go play at the park for hours, or we’ll walk to the local bakery for a cookie. Play is one of the most important things a child can do!

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Much of what she does during the day is her choice. It’s a constant time of learning for us as parents and teachers, as well. We are teaching her that she needs to follow our directions when we do give them, such as getting her diaper changed so that she doesn’t get a rash (we’re potty-training, but not rushing it!), not chasing the cat, not leaping off the chairs, washing her hands after she uses the bathroom, and other similar things. Yet we want her to learn self-discipline, freedom, and independence, so we try to avoid ordering her around or needlessly saying “no”.

Ultimately, we want her childhood to be full of joy, play, curiosity, love, discovery, and wonder!

For more details on why play is so important for children, check out the great writing of Teacher Tom.

Posted in Exploring education, Homeschooling, Mothering | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Story of Joseph: the Boy Who Ran Away from School

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“Where were you on Monday night? You missed ensemble rehearsal,” I asked Joseph* as he walked in for his lesson on Thursday night. “Oh…” he looked flustered. “Um… I had homework. Lots of homework.”

I sat down to tune the guitar he handed me, puzzling over his response. I’ve known Joseph since he was seven years old, so at fourteen, I usually know when he’s not quite telling the truth. He had informed me last month that he completed the majority of his homework assignments in study hall, or during class, which meant that he rarely had homework to do after school. But I could see that he was embarrassed about something; I dropped the issue and turned to his music.

As the lesson was ending, I said, “Now do be sure to come to rehearsal this next Monday. We really need the entire group there all the time to have an effective practice.” Joseph nodded, and I handed him his music book, expecting him to pack his guitar up and leave.

He hesitated. “Hey…. I didn’t really have homework on Monday.” He was looking at the ground, red-faced behind his glasses. I stopped mentally preparing for the next student and focused on him. Something was wrong. “What happened?” I asked.

Joseph sighed. “I was in trouble. I left school early that day without telling anyone. I had an awful day. School has always seemed pointless, but Monday was the worst it’s ever been. Three different teachers yelled at me, the work they made us do was dumb, and I couldn’t stand being there any longer. So rather than go to my last class where I knew the teacher I hate the most would yell at me too, I just left the school and walked home. My friend saw me leave and he came with me.”

“Then what happened?”

“The school caught us leaving on security cameras, so they called my dad at work. He came home and found us playing video games. And everything kind of exploded from there.” Joseph looked up at me for the first time, defensively. “You would have left school too! I couldn’t take it. I hate it.”

I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I managed, “I’m guessing you were in trouble at home on Monday evening, which is why you couldn’t come to rehearsal.”

“Yeah.” Joseph lowered his gaze again. “And I was suspended for a long time.” “How long?” “A week.”

“A WEEK?” I gasped. “For leaving school one hour early?”

“Well, the principal told me that I probably would have been suspended for just a day. But when my dad brought me back to the school to apologize that afternoon when I’d left, I told the principal exactly what I thought about his school, and my teachers who don’t teach me anything useful, and the stupid homework, and the stupid classes. I just got it all off my chest. The principal was super mad at what I said and my attitude. That’s why he kicked me out for a week.”

I stared at Joseph. Surely this couldn’t be the same Joseph the principal had suspended. I saw a competent, attentive, intelligent student every week who absolutely loved music. He brought a sharp wit and humorous outlook on life to his lessons, yet I was often struck with his deep, sensitive way of thinking. He was always calm, but I knew he had strong views about education, creative writing, good music, and movies. He seemed well-balanced with spending time indoors playing video games with friends and skate-boarding outdoors. He was very dedicated to guitar, even recently growing out his right-hand nails, despite digs from his buddies, in order to get a better sound with his guitar tone. He and his dad were always playing guitar and drums together. I looked forward to his lessons every week.

“Anyway… I wanted to tell you what actually happened,” Joseph mumbled.

“Thank you.” I watched him put his guitar in its case, pondering what to say. “Joseph, while I do sympathize with your feelings about being treated like just another dumb kid at school, of course I can’t condone your actions or behavior with the authority you’re supposed to answer to there.”

“That’s okay,” Joseph grinned a little, but I could see that his eyes were sad. “I won’t run away again. They can keep me there. They just can’t make me like it.”

*Joseph’s real name has been changed.

 

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