Originally posted at Lifting the Curtain blog during my blog tour, I have reposted it here.
When my wife and I had our first child, we began to think very seriously about her education. My wife had worked with children quite a bit, both in the public school system (as an AmeriCorps volunteer) and in others ways, such tutoring at the Boys & Girls club, summer camp counselor, theatre director, etc..
Her outlook, as well as my own personal experiences with both attending public school and substitute teaching there (and to some extent my college level teaching) definitely formed our opinions about the ways we wanted our own children to be educated.
One of the main reasons we initially homeschooled was because we thought that 5 years old was too young to be in a structured environment all day. I personally remember hating going to school in the early grades (I had to wake up early, ride the bus, be around people all day, etc.). We wanted our children to have as much time as possible to explore, imagine, and play outside. Consequently, our kindergarten, first, and second grade schooling was very informal. We use A Beka curriculum, which is actually pretty rigorous, but has quite a bit of repetition built in to the lesson plans, which lends itself to a more laid back approach to school – 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, with plenty of down time in between.
This way, our children can take the time they need to really work out their creative muscles. I find that our children (and I’m sure they are not unique in this) need a lot of down time to get into a good imaginative groove. When I was young, even if my brother and I had been playing for hours on a weekend, I always felt like things were just getting good when dinner would be ready, or we’d have to go in for bathtime or bedtime or something like that. Even last week, my older daughters were playing with their legos in their room for a long time, but still complained “Oh Mom, we were just getting to the exciting part!” when she called them to dinner. (I think she let them stay and finish playing for a while longer.)
Being able to spend this much time in “imaginings” is truly a luxury. If a child is at school all day, being constantly interrupted by the teacher, other children, or the school bell, where do they get this practice at focusing on one thing for a long period of time, and get to the place of deep creativity? Yes, it can happen after school, but not when there’s an hour or more of homework. Besides, what if the child is in little league or ballet classes or something of that nature? Team sports and extracurricular activities can be great, but not at the expense of downtime or creative playing, in my opinion. After all, that is where my first forays into storytelling began – it was in playtime with my siblings.
I find that as a writer, I also need to give myself time to get into my creative groove. I often have to go out somewhere (like Starbucks or Panera) after my wife gets off work to write so that I can more quickly “get to the exciting part” of the writing process, where ideas are flowing and the story starts to come to life. When I was first started writing Scar of the Downers, I would wait until everyone was asleep. Then, I would completely immerse myself in that world for hours at a time, and found that as I did so, the scenes would visually play out in my head, enabling me to more clearly describe the action. This was incredibly helpful when I was trying to write out action sequences, which require accurate description of a lot of things sometimes all happening simultaneously.
Writing fiction is all about the imagination. Watching my children daily tap into theirs was inspiring to me and showed me that to fully imagine my story, I just needed to do what they did – fully immerse myself into the story and stay there long enough to capture it and write it down.
But if I were to send my children away to school, I would have missed this part of their lives- their innocence, their inquisitiveness, their imagination. In one sense, to write fantasy, you have to look at the world with the same wonder a child does, and ask yourself, “What if?” What if this burning log was the body of a phantom? What if these pine needles were really creatures’ fingers? What if the ground could come alive? What if? What if? What if?
Children ask these questions. And they are answered with imagination. That is what being around them, and homeschooling them, has done. It enabled me to remember myself as a child. It enabled me to ask those same questions. What if?
In my opinion, it is the beginning of all fantasy.
The school year has begun. For many parents, that means getting backpacks together, lunches prepared and packed or paid for, and possibly making sure the school uniform is clean.
For homeschoolers, that means preparing lessons, making sure we ordered all the books, and keeping the house clean. (Who wants to learn around a pile of clothes?) But it also means figuring out how to keep the little ones occupied during school time.
Typically, in the past, we have done a “Box” curriculum. We’ve ordered through Abeka (it’s a common Christian curriculum), and it’s very comprehensive and rigorous. The only problems with it are that it’s somewhat expensive and it is basically an In-School curriculum that has been sort of adapted to a homeschool setting. What that means is that there are a lot of teacher’s manuals, a lot of worksheets, and a lot of curriculum books. That’s fine if you are only homeschooling one child, but we had about 20 books for each of our kids, and it was crazy last year.
Something had to change this year.
One of my wife’s passions in life is researching curriculums (weird, yes, I know), and she has always loved this book called The Well-Trained Child by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. She actually has read it for “fun” here and there throughout the years, wondering when it would be the time to take the plunge. This book describes itself as “a guide to classical education at home” and explains the ideas and benefits of classical education, and gives specifics on how to make it work.
I’ll write more about it as we go into it this year, but essentially it’s a holistic approach to education, and focuses on Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. We’re mostly doing this with Katie, since she’s in 5th grade and we want her to start acquiring skills of logic, research, and writing, but we’re going to also use some of it with Annabelle (the history and science). Katie’s History, Geography, Reading, Writing, and to some extent, Bible, will all be tied to the study of Ancient History (The Fertile Crescent through the Fall of the Roman Empire).
So, here are some of the books we are using…
The Story of the World is the history book and Atlas of the Ancient World is Geography, and there are many, many additional books and resources that we’ve bought online or found at used book sales or checked out from the library.
Then, we’re using Abeka for Language and Spelling (Abeka’s language program is the best out there), Saxon for Math, and Apologia for Science, plus she’ll start Logic and Critical Thinking later in the year.
Another thing that we’re doing this year is a Bible curriculum. We’re using Route 66: A Trip Through the 66 Books of the Bible, and I think it’s going to be good. Every week, they’ll go through a book or two of the Bible (starting with Genesis and ending with Revelation), looking up verses, doing fun little worksheets and learning a verse.
The thing that I’m mostly looking forward to is that the girls are doing History, Geography, Science and Bible together, and we’re taking a more relaxed view of the other subjects. In years past, I felt that I was bound by the teacher’s manual, and some of that was fine because in teaching reading and early math, it’s important to make sure to cover all the rules. But it was stressful. There were always so many books and remembering of what lesson we were on, not to mention the fact that to save money, we bought a mixture of new and used books, which meant that our editions didn’t always completely match and I would have to scramble to see what the differences were.
Also, we didn’t get to do many of the hands-on projects and experiments that were detailed out in the curriculum, due to time constraints. I think that with keeping the girls studying the same subject, we can do more of the experiments and hands-on projects that we tried to do last year, but didn’t always get to. That curriculum is geared toward a 5th grader, though, so I will have to adapt some of it for Annabelle. Thankfully, though, Belle is an incredibly strong reader, so I’m not too concerned about it.
I’ll post more about our schedule after we’ve been doing it a few more weeks to report if it’s going well or not, but meanwhile, my wife is in curriculum research heaven, and I’m looking forward to a different, more straightforward, hopefully easier to manage, school year.
(This is an earlier blogpost from May of last year. Also, beginning the 15th of this month, I will be running a free book giveaway through Goodreads for one month. So, on Tuesday you can register to win! You can check my homepage or click on this link)
If you're a stay-at-home Mom, you'll know that there are all these "groups" and "playtimes" that you can go be a part of, take your kids to, hang out with other moms, etc... My wife has told me on several occasions that I should go to some of these groups and take the kids, hang out with other- wait a minute. I'm a Dad. Not a Mom. So... I'm not sure about this.
I know that at one point in my life, the thought of hanging out with a bunch of women and being the only guy would have been ideal. You know maybe when I was in college and... not married with children.
So, I have to tell you something, and I don't claim to speak for every man, but I will speak for myself: I really have no desire to hang out with a group of women anymore. Frankly, that's my Monday through Friday routine. It's nothing personal. It just may be a bit awkward... for you and me.
In fact, it's a little too "girly." Since I have four girls (plus a wife), I feel like I already get my fair share of girliness. If I could bottle the estrogen that pumps through this house on a given day, I could probably rival any pharmaceutical company out there. And, let's face it. Do the women really want me there? Probably not. It would probably be weird for them. Sometimes I feel like maybe my kids miss out because of this, but then I just buy them an ice cream cone, take them to the playground, or direct a play for them to be in, and they're happy. Or, my wife takes off a few hours from work and we drive an hour to the nearest Barnes and Noble. Then we're all happy.
But my wife has mentioned several times that she thinks I should start a Dad's Group. I hate starting things, so that's a no go on many levels. But I started thinking... What would this Dad Group look like? I'm betting it would go something like this...
Dads arrive with the kids. If there are any girls among the children, their hair would either be down or in a ponytail. No braids or other fancy stuff.
No one says anything at first except for maybe "Hey!" More than likely, heads would just head nod as the men shuffle toward the coffee maker and get coffee. That itself would be in doubt because who would make the coffee? Each man would probably come armed with their own travel mug or cup bought from home, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, or a gas station.
There would be no snacks unless some guy brought donuts. We would nominate him to be the "planner" for the next one. (In other words, he would choose who bought donuts next time.)
Now, you could hear a few conversations spring up. What would they consist of? Who knows. But I'm sure movies would come up.
By this time, kids are running around like crazy and Dads are ignoring them (I feel like Moms would have toys set up, or a craft prepared). As far as men are concerned, the kids just need an open field or gym.
There would be definite periods of silence as men take sips of their coffee and stare at the sea of children crashing around... or at a car passing by... or a tree swaying in the wind. We wouldn't want to say too much. Don't want to be too "chatty." But during these periods of brief silence, we would call out the name of our children just to fill in the gaps of wordless minutes.
Side tangent: True story about my Dad... When I was a kid, my Dad and another man would meet occasionally at Burger King to "hang out." I would go with him to hang out with my friend. All they would do is sit at the same table and drink coffee. For 45 minutes or more, they would just sit there. And drink coffee. No small talk. No chit chat. Nothing. The would maybe speak a sentence about something every 10-15 minutes. That's it. That's hardcore.
Anyway, back to the Dad's Group. We wouldn't meet from 8-10 or 9-11. It takes too much "planning." We would meet until our travel mugs are empty of coffee. Think of it as some sort of coffee hourglass. When the coffee is gone, that would let us know that we've been there long enough.
So... we call our kids and leave. There would be no saying we're leaving and stay for fifteen more minutes to continue talking. Once we say, "Time to go," we're out! We get the kids in the car and drive away.
It's then I realize that we never introduced ourselves. Oh well, we'll introduce ourselves at the next Dad's Group... 3 months from now.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.