As I contemplate the vicissitudes of our kindergarten journey, I know beyond doubt that, like the Apostle Paul, I most certainly have not “already obtained” or in the slightest measure “been made perfect.”
“BUT I PRESS ON” (Phil. 3:12, 14).
Should I laugh or cry picturing myself last August? With one week to go till we entered the hallowed halls of homeschooling, I caressed the glossy curriculum I had stockpiled (in such a very organized fashion, mind you) in our hall closet. I had done my research so thoroughly; after all, I started when the girls were babes in arms. Weighing all the popular recommendations on the Charlotte Mason Facebook groups, I congratulated myself on my foolproof plan.
Oh dear. One week later, the reading curriculum just had to go. The lessons were so long, giving me ample time to fumble with the mountain of letter tiles, word cards, worksheets, and STUFF that accompanied it. Surely there must be something simpler? Bob Books to the rescue! Flutterbudget loved the feeling of reading an actual book herself. She giggled at the silly pictures. Whew, okay, some initial snags were inevitable, right?
But a couple weeks later, I scratched my head over the handwriting curriculum everyone loved so much. Why did they make S’s and C’s that funny way? No matter, a quick search turned up no end of other curriculums. We’d just grab another and be on our way again. But now the line spacing wasn’t right for Flutterbudget. And the next had far too much tracing. Sigh. What’s another $40 down the drain?
I couldn’t spend much time feeling bad about handwriting because now the math fits began in earnest. Literally, like down on the floor, rolling around fits. I remembered the grip of fear that clenched my gut upon opening the curriculum back in August. Was this really kindergarten math? I gasped to my hubby while double-checking the website. Yup. They sure didn’t expect us to compute double-digit sums and recognize “octagonal prisms” in kindergarten back in my day. But hey, wouldn’t it be impressive if we could? Besides, I had spent so embarrassingly much money on this one. It was do or die. And die we nearly did!
We hung on with the math curriculum until February. I’ve heard horror stories about February, the darkest month of the homeschooling year. Never make big decisions in a crisis moment in February, the veterans warn. So I pondered. I prayed. We had already shelved so much curriculum. I didn’t want to be inconsistent. I didn’t want Flutterbudget to think we give up and switch to something different whenever things get hard. But tears at the very sight of an abacus didn’t sit right with me either.
In the midst of this calamity we hit Box 3 of the Bob books. So many new sounds. Multi-syllabic words. Where could I turn for methodical phonics instruction? I found myself facing a shipwreck of Titanic proportions.
Into the insanity of this curriculum not-so-merry-go-round spoke the calm, eminently reasonable yet perpetually inspiring voice of Sally Clarkson. I happened to pick up Awaking Wonder and flipped rather impatiently through the first part of the book. Wonderful philosophy – for instance, see if this doesn’t make you breathe easier:
“Charlotte Mason, classical models…and unschooling proliferate the education world as the best ways to educate…I have seen that these methods all have their merits, and when they are practiced by engaged teachers, students will grow and develop well. Yet no model is perfect and no education allows a child to emerge without some holes in his learning experience” (117).
But still, we were talking craters – not cute little “holes” – in our learning experience. I needed practical, concrete advice to save our ship. Homeschooling for dummies, if you will. And that’s exactly what I found along about Chapter 7. The subtitle “The Place for Curriculum” of course won my immediate attention:
“Certain subjects required a line-upon-line, specific step-by-step sort of instruction. Teaching our children to read happened from a straightforward book that was simple and effective, one lesson every day or two…Covering at least one math curriculum a year…and at least one series of language arts workbooks each year simplified my academic purchases.”
Sally’s children spent 10-15 minutes completing a math worksheet and another 10-15 minutes completing a language arts worksheet. Every single school day of their lives. Simple, no-frills, incremental, effective. The rest of their time was spent – surprise, surprise – reading living books together. For 30-90 minutes after devotions each day, Sally read aloud to her children.
“…Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, we read aloud either history or literature. Tuesday was art, culture, and science. Friday was field trip day – adventuring to a museum or nature center or concert” (124).
Sally always included some picture books for the younger set, but the youngers also listened in on the older children’s books. Before beginning a new book, the children would research and share about the work’s author, historical context, and connections with other disciplines. And the children narrated after each reading.
“Instead of spoon feeding each child by being the lecturer-teacher, I sought to develop them into treasure seekers…A lifetime of researching the context and background of books we read would fill the treasure chest of my children’s minds with facts, data, ideas, philosophy, convictions of all sorts” (123).
It seems almost ridiculously obvious in its utter simplicity, but I knew I had found the basic foundation and pattern upon which I longed to shape our home school. Despite our math and reading curriculum woes, science and social studies were going like gangbusters. Now I knew why. We weren’t using a curriculum, ha! We just read tons of wonderful books and did some hands-on projects together as inspiration led. I had already planned to add in narration next year, and I loved the idea of incorporating background research as the girls matured.
One issue still niggled at me, though. I flipped to the back of the book. Surely Sally had included an appendix with listings of the math and language arts curriculum she used for each grade. Nope, nothing, nada. Rats!
But then it dawned upon me. Even if she had told me what to use, I probably would have ended up ditching it. Because the point isn’t to slavishly follow what works for someone else, but to find the courage to use what works for me and my children. To paraphrase a statement I read in one Facebook group (thank you for your wisdom, anonymous mom!), curriculum is not the boss of my homeschool, nor is someone else’s carefully devised plan. I can take what blesses us and leave the rest.
So, I went back to what I knew, what I grew up with, which happens to be Abeka math and phonics worksheets. Slow, methodical, repetitive, tons of practice – just what we needed. Worksheets suffer a bad rap in certain genres of homeschooling, but you know what, my kids enjoy Abeka’s cute, colorful worksheets. And it was simple enough to use “manipulatives” from around our house when we needed a concrete example (hello, ginormous collection of Calico Critters!) An immediate sense of peace and relief enveloped our days.
I made one other major change, too. Based on some moms’ cozy renditions of their home school days, I had thought it best to cuddle on the couch for our reading lessons. Similarly, the floor seemed the best place for math, what with the truckload of manipulatives we needed to spread out all over. But the couch and the floor gave too much space for writhing when things went poorly and for distractions when in a happier frame of mind. We moved school to the dining room table. Short math and phonics worksheets with lots of playtime in between. Reading and projects that didn’t feel like school the rest of the time. Focus and discipline improved dramatically.
So that’s a wrap. Now, please, please don’t run out and buy all the Abeka workbooks your curriculum cabinet can hold. Pray and ponder over what’s right for you and yours. I do hope you’ll read Awaking Wonder – not so you can follow Sally’s formula but so you can enjoy the relief and freedom that comes from knowing there’s no one right way. I’m living proof that the Father’s grace is greater than our trial and error.