Today is our last day of the 2009-2010 school year. I can only say one word about it: Wow! I began this past school year after spending about four and half months reading and researching the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. Last year, I found myself dragging through each day with little joy in my role as a homeschooler. With a two year old, three year old, first grader and fourth grader, I never had any down time. I spent four hours each morning teaching my fourth grader using the Abeka curriculum. I also crammed in an hour in the morning teaching first grade to my son. My two toddlers spent the day roaming – most of the day they played together, more often they gravitated toward the TV. My husband sometimes took them to his office to play while he worked. In fact, as the year wore on, and I wore out, he did it more and more. This added guilt to my already over-worked brain and body. I needed help! I decided that I either needed a full-time tutor to teach my kids so I could enjoy my two babies (to me they were babies, anyway), or I needed a curriculum that would not tie me down; something that I didn’t have to spoon feed to my children. What would I do when they were all school age?
I fell in love with Abeka after using the video program (yes, I’m dating myself – no DVDs then!) during my last three years of high school. I had convinced myself that it was simply the best out there. And, it is an excellent curriculum. If you only have a few children, or are not a perfectionist with more than a few children, you should check into using this material. I still love it, especially their phonics program. I was, however, at my wit’s end as the 2009 school year came to a close. I could no longer spend hours drilling, lecturing, grading, reading, lecturing, drilling, and so forth, as the Abeka program dictates. I needed to spend some time with my 2 and 3 year olds also! I needed some energy for the end of the day when I faced the laundry, cooking, and cleaning. My husband needed a wife to spend time with and talk with at the end of the day, not a wet noodle. We had tried using the Abeka DVD program in years past, but that, too, requires a lot of supervision, especially for younger ones.
Enter, Charlotte Mason.
I had heard of Charlotte Mason, the 19th century British educator, and of her teaching method, since before I started homeschooling. Miss Mason believed that children should experience learning for themselves by doing, rather than by sitting in a dull classroom for hours each day. The only textbook she used was for mathematics. All other textbooks she referred to as “twaddle”. She preferred using what she called “living books”. These were books written about one main topic and by only one writer who deeply loved his subject matter. She let children tell her what they were learning, or write about it, rather than take long tests which were limited to whatever the teacher felt the child should know. She called this “narration”. She loved taking her students out on nature walks, having them observe God’s creation for themselves. They kept journals of what they saw with either real samples of nature, such as a pressed leaf or flower, or a drawing of something, like a tree or insect. Her students did “picture study” where they admired and observed artwork by a famous artist. They enjoyed memorizing poetry and listening to classical music. After reading about this method in more detail last summer, I was sold! I imagined us out on nature walks, reading good books aloud and individually, listening to Mozart, and having my children narrate to me about what they were learning in science and history. It was picture perfect…in my own head.
Things went along pretty well in August, September and October. I was struggling a bit with not having a lesson plan already prepared that told me each day’s activities, but I was adapting. I didn’t realize that I should have written out a detailed plan myself! This had always been done by Abeka before! The course of study was already laid out for me. I knew by looking at their science textbook’s table of contents what topics should be learned for each grade. With Charlotte Mason, you must make out your own course of study – for each student, in each subject – or be content with just winging it day by day.
This was definitely a year of learning. But I’m fairly certain that I learned more than my children. They did learn. We enhanced our vocabulary by reading some wonderful books as a family. They spent time out of doors, observing nature, something they would not have done without Charlotte Mason. However, when I learned in late November I was expecting my fifth child the following July, my “picture perfect” homeschooling life was turned on its head. I fought terrible morning – or should I say all day – sickness. I battled extreme fatigue. I fought two urinary tract infections. And school, which depended solely upon me, was lagging, to put it mildly.
I learned that I can’t “wing it”.
I needed a plan to refer to during these sick days, but I had none. My children forged ahead in math and English using the textbooks I had purchased for these core subjects. They continued to read good books. I graded and answered questions the best I could. Science and history were non-existent. So was spelling. Nature study? Seldom. Picture study? Nope. Music? Uh-uh. Poetry? Nada. And, did I mention we tried three different approaches to learning Math over the year? No? Well, yeah…we did. (blushing)
I was learning that I had made bad choices. I was learning that my personality likes organization too much to go into Charlotte Mason-style schooling without a better plan. It was driving me crazy! I felt like a failure. I collapsed in Terry’s office one afternoon, in tears, explaining how terribly I had ruined this school year. I was hoping he would say, “It’s okay, we have the money to just pick up with Abeka and finish this year. Next year, we’ll figure out something better.” I was worried he might say, “What’s the number for the Christian school in town?”
He said neither.
Instead, he said, “Valerie, we have to just make do with what we have purchased. We cannot afford to change to Abeka.”
I was crushed. I had messed up, and now I had to be reminded of my mistakes for the rest of the year.
We plodded along. Sickness hit our family again. This time, a trip to the ER when my youngest had a febrile seizure. I caught the virus she had and it stayed with me for eight long days. We had interruptions and then more interruptions.
I sat up late one cold February night, unable to sleep. I surfed the internet. I prayed. I thought about the baby that was on his way. I prayed. I thought about homeschooling next year. I prayed. I thought about what a failure I had been. I worried that my kids wouldn’t do well on the state mandated standarized test. I prayed. Suddenly, I remembered a curriculum that I had used most of my school days in the Christian school I had attended. It was called Accelerated Christian Education
, or A.C.E. I Googled them. Yep, they were still around. I browsed some more. They were pretty affordable. As I recalled, the student did most of his work independently. He set his own goals in each subject, called PACEs, and even graded his own work. When he completed a PACE, he took the test. If he passed, he received a star to go on a chart – a visual reminder of work accomplished and progress he’d made. Then, he got a new PACE for that subject. This goes on all year, for a total of 12 PACEs per subject. When I used A.C.E., there was no literature program, now there was! This made this program even more appealing. My kids could do much of their work on their own! This would free me up to spend time nursing our new baby, teaching Kindergarten to our five year old, and reading to my three year old! I might even get the laundry done! I sat in the glow of the computer light and smiled from ear to ear! Was this an answer to my prayers? I believed it was! I decided to talk to Terry about it in the morning. I didn’t think he would trust me to make another curriculum change, but I would just talk it over and see. If he didn’t trust my feminine judgment, well, I couldn’t blame him!
Next morning, I broached the subject with him. After explaining how it worked, he startled me with his response. “Sounds great! Just having fewer books to deal with sells me on it! I’m sick of the stack of books and papers that we had with Abeka.” We agreed to get a few subjects using ACE to finish out this school year. This would allow the kids to get familiar with the program and would also serve as a “test run”. If we saw multiple problems in our test run, we would go back to the drawing board for the 2010-2011 school year.
Today, my children completed their final PACE tests! They struggled some with the “working independently” part of the program at the beginning, but they are adjusting. This is one area in which I would like to see them improve! They cannot depend on me forever; they must use initiative to discover some things on their own. I was here to guide and assist them, but I didn’t have to “spoon feed” them. I have actually gotten to enjoy my younger children since we started using the ACE program. It isn’t perfect, but then, no program is.
As I look back across this year, I see so much that I have learned. I don’t even feel as much of a failure anymore. I believe that this whole educational experiment has been worth it just to see what kind of a teacher I am. I now see my weaknesses, therefore, I can see what I need to correct to better help my children. I can see how to better use my strengths.
So, as I look back, I’m reminded of the words of Thomas Edison. After trying 10,000 different filaments for his yet-to-be-invented light bulb, he is known to have said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” After trying, what feels like 10,000 ways to homeschool this year, I see that I haven’t failed. I’ve simply found what didn’t work.
Happily on summer break,