When we first enrolled Seamus at Montessori Option #1, we didn’t know how long we’d be there, or how well Seamus would take to the environment. Looking over the past two years, we’ve been pretty happy overall; we love the teachers, and we hope to enroll Tristan into Shay’s old Primary classroom in 2015. For the next year, however, we’re taking a break from private school. Money is tight, the house needs more assistance, much faster than we can do it while wrangling the boys, and Patrick and I both have exciting dental work coming up that insurance companies don’t enjoy paying for. We need a year to regroup, to pay off a few bills, and to finish our DIY drainage and retrofitting projects.
Does this mean we’re switching to our local public school? Well…no. Some of this is because of Seamus’ various quirks: He’s very bright and capable of working above his grade level, and gets bored easily when things are too simple. He can get into mischief when he’s bored. He is not a leader; if someone doesn’t do something he enjoys, he casts it aside if he wants to be friends. He will also cast aside rules, to the point where I often think that Sartre had it half right; Hell is other people’s children. Perversely enough, Seamus has manipulated both a TA and a parent volunteer into doing what he wants them to do. As you might have guessed, we’re still trying to help Seamus master some executive skills - impulse control, emotional equilibrium, and help him deal with some anxiety, which he expresses via tantrumming.
And some of this is because of the quirks belong to the school district: The uncommunicative nature of the main office- I have called and emailed several times with questions, and no one has ever gotten back to me. How despite having at least one magnet school, all the school information nights are held on the same date at the same time, making it difficult for parents to comparison shop if they so wish. The choice of an aftercare vendor whose policies are zealous to the point of exclusivity, which doesn’t seem to make the kids in their charge any safer. The lack of constructive criticism from the community - it was difficult to get any sort of feel for our zoned school, and Kindergarten Night left me very underwhelmed when thinking about the school for first through fifth grade. Testing.
None of these things are egregious enough on their own for me to stop everything and homeschool, but combined, I can see the potential for everything going wrong quickly, and I am unwilling to enroll him and gamble on getting a teacher who can/will work with his somewhat asynchronous development.
So two weeks ago I started our Summer Quarter here at the Norton School for Poetics and Power Tools*. My goal is to provide an academically challenging environment that plays best to how he learns (visually and kinesthetically), to provide time and opportunities for him to expend his huge reserves of energy, and to let him explore his interests. There are three legal paths to homeschooling in California, the one we’re choosing is to file a Private School Affidavit (PSA), which requires me to maintain an attendance record, a student file, and to provide appropriate instruction comparable to current state standards. California does not require testing or other evaluations, so I have a lot of leeway.
Two weeks in, here’s what I’ve worked out based on my reading, my paying attention to the kid, and trial and error:
Calendar: We will school year-round, with a dedicated 10-week block of academics, and two weeks in reserve for sick days, outside classes/camps, projects, or travel. I made travel and project journals for that two-week block, so they are school days . There is one week each quarter of downtime. I’d like to make our school weeks just four days, but we’ll see how things look by the end of the summer quarter.
School Day: Since the boys like to get up and GO first thing, we start early. The last two weeks have shown me that Seamus does best with some physical activity first thing in the morning, and that he can handle five academic works in a day before he bonks. I can sneak in about half an hour of “practical life” work somewhere in the middle of his day, and need to work in a break mid-morning.
Curriculum: I know, you were all waiting for this one.
I’ve read The Well Trained Mind, Project-Based Homeschooling, and Elizabeth Hainstock’s books on teaching at home in the Montessori way, and I’m mixing them together to create a secular classical curriculum. Many of the materials I’m using spiral, so Shay will reinforce old skills and content and build on them - similar to Montessori works extensions - which matches the way I’ve seen him pull information from books. Here it is, by subject.
Math - I bought these review workbooks post-kindergarten, to keep Seamus up on what he had learned, and he hated them. Since more of his first grade math has been traditional pencil-to-paper, I pulled them back out, but added the delightful, narrative-driven Life of Fred. Fred is a five year old math professor at Kittens University, and the series captures roughly a year of his life while taking the student from addition facts up to calculus. It spirals lightly and encourages logical thinking and problem solving. It’s not purely secular, but the religious tones are negligible. I’m dropping the review books this week, and introducing Miquon Math. Miquon was developed in the 1960s and is based on the idea that all children can learn to do higher math at younger ages. Miquon encourages creative problem solving, uses manipulatives, and takes kids from counting numbers to pre-algebra in a three-year program. It is also a spiraling program, revisiting concepts in increasingly complex problems. My plan is to alternate with LoF through this year, unless a preference is made. Both series are very affordable compared to the Montessori-derived Right Start and Schiller math programs, which can run you $300+, based on what you need. I think both LoF and Miquon cost me $60 each, and I can reuse both with Tristan, or sell them.
Language Arts - We’re trying the Spelling Workout Series right now. We’re using book B, which is pretty easy in its choice of words, but is giving Seamus some good practice at vocabulary building by requiring he learn definitions of each word and how to use them in sentences with each lesson. I use the KISS Grammar program, which is free, and spirals. Like Miquon, it encourages teachers to check students’ mastery of a concept by having the student create a lesson. So far, grammar is Shay’s best subject. For reading, I am creating a reading list based on the social studies component, so we have read Frozen Man by David Getz, Kali’s Song by Jeannette Winter, The First Dog by Jan Brett, and a Day with Neanderthal Man by Fiorenzo Facchini. As we progress through the millennia, we’ll read myths, fables, and folklore. Seamus is writing averse, so we’re doing a lot of pre-writing activites right now, and will start to sneak writing in via science and social studies this summer, before trying Writing Strands this fall.
Social Studies - The classical curriculum suggests carving world history up into four years and revisiting them, going into more detail each time. Despite starting homeschooling in second grade, we are starting with the first year, which is Ancient History (Ice Age to approx 500 CE). I’m using the Kingfisher Illustrated World History along with the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, and lots of supplementary materials as I find them. One local museum is showing an exhibit of Copper Age art right now, and another opens an exhibit on the ancient history of the Arabian Peninsula In October. I’m using selections from the Map Trek series for Geography, and we’ll make a timeline.
Science - The Well Trained Mind suggests pairing Life Science with Ancient History and Ancient Myths. This summer we’ll do selections from Exploratopia, then move on to Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. We’ll supplement as needed and take advantage of the fantastic science museums surrounding us.
Art, Music, PE - Aside from trying to keep us all more active in general, I plan to outsource much of this. The boys can take swim lessons, and Seamus can pick two additional extracurriculars, I think. I want us to be able to do other things as well, so I don’t want to overschedule him.
More on this later, I need to read through next week’s material.