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Review: King Alfred’s English by Laurie J. White

King Alfreds English

This year I was looking for a way to teach my girls about the English language without teaching grammar itself.  I wanted to give them an understanding of its beauty and history so that they would learn to love it and also be able to use it more skillfully.

And then I was offered King Alfred’s English to review.  What a perfect resource to meet those needs!

In King Alfred’s English, Laurie J. White combines a study of history, linguistics, English literature, and the English Bible to show us the miracle of the language we speak.  From Caesar in 55 BC through Old, Middle, and Modern English, she traces native and foreign influences on the English language and shows how they affected both the structure of our language and its vocabulary….

To continue reading this review, please visit the Curriculum Choice.

For more homeschooling inspiration, visit Finishing Strong, and Trivium Tuesdays, Raising Homemakers.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book and, as usual, am not compensated for this review.

Homeschooling Methods and Content Based Learning, Part 1

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Imagine trying to follow any significant modern conversation, whether in person, online, or in print, without sharing a common knowledge base.  Imagine how lost you would often feel if you did not know anything at all about fairy tales, the Civil War, John F. Kennedy, the cell, Queen Victoria, Greek mythology, E=mc2, Buddhism, apartheid, the two world wars, jazz, DNA, football, or dinosaurs.

Part of our job as home educators is to teach our children this common knowledge base.  We do not need in-depth knowledge of any of these things, but we all do need some familiarity with them.  Many of them (such as those detailed in Hirsch’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy) are a natural consequence of a high-quality, organized education.  Although very few of us can catch every allusion and reference of those around us, missing most of them can be a serious handicap, and is an inevitable result of a disorganized curriculum, a content-poor education, or being new to the culture.

Furthermore, missing many of them also makes it difficult to learn more.  It is like trying to read a passage that contains vocabulary you don’t know—you will need to work very hard to understand and, what’s more, you will most likely lose interest in the topic.  So it makes sense that many kids give up when confronted with something that is totally unintelligible to them.  And that, according to Hirsch in The Knowledge Deficit, is why many disadvantaged kids can never get ahead.

That is also something to keep in mind when we educate our children.  We do really need to provide a content-rich education as well as a skills-based one.  In other words, our children need to learn facts and information as well as skills.  That is also why, when our children are very young, we need to read to them, to have conversations, to expose them to many things, and to minimize empty screen time.  Children with such early backgrounds apparently start doing better than others around grade 5, when the basic skills have been mastered and basic cultural literacy becomes a factor.

So, what kind of content is important?  As the debate over the US Common Core Standards shows, there is no universal agreement on that.  However, most homeschoolers would agree that it includes at least the basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as a solid knowledge of the Bible, history, basic science, and basic world culture (literature, worldviews, art, music).

The concept of learning facts and information is not necessarily fashionable in the world of public schooling, but we are not tied into that system.  Instead we can consider certain things as we teach our children.  With that in mind, I will discuss four broad styles of homeschooling: complete curriculum, scope and sequence guides, eclectic education, and unschooling/delight-direct learning. (The first two are addressed in this article, and the second two, along with our personal experience, in next week’s.)

One method of homeschooling is to buy a curriculum and use it through the homeschool years.  There are several written for homeschoolers and others written for classroom use.   An extreme version of this is online learning.

Advantages:  Parents need to make very few decisions once they have decided on a curriculum.  Teacher’s manuals are usually available and give both answers and background knowledge, allowing parents to teach subjects they originally knew very little about.  Most formal curricula, especially those designed for schools, cover the subject matter thoroughly, leaving very few gaps in subject matter.  Curricula designed by homeschooling parents often give detailed guidelines to enhance flexibility.  Formal grade assignment is usually quite straightforward.

Disadvantages:  This is one of the most expensive ways of homeschooling.  It is also very inflexible.  Curricula designed for classrooms are often full of busy-work and often contain too much material for each year.  Full curricula designed by homeschooling parents are not always authoritative.  Home educators outside the US will find it difficult to adapt some of these curricula to their country’s history, culture, and literature.  And children may feel stifled and lose their love of learning if they have no opportunity to pursue their own interests.  Furthermore, content gaps will most likely occur if one switches between curriculum providers.

We can also follow scope and sequence outlines as our main curriculumAmbleside Online has outlined a beautiful free K-12 curriculum guide based on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education.  The Well Trained Mind does something similar for families interested in Classical Education, although its schedule and scope could be considered too intense for most children.  There are many other scopes and sequences available, from curriculum suppliers, from some encyclopaedias, and from many educational organizations.  In my experience, most government scope and sequence documents are too vague to be of much practical use, although the US Core Standards are supposed to overcome this problem.

Advantages:  There is a broad and complete outline of all that a student should learn, often with connections between subjects in each grade.  This encourages organized and systematic learning and minimizes gaps in learning.

Disadvantages:  In many of these cases, parents need to know enough about the material to discuss it with their students, and few of us have the background to do that.  Many of the prepared curricula mentioned above contain these elements in their teacher’s guides; outlines rarely do.  Formal grade assignment is often difficult.

Next week I plan to discuss the second two broad styles of homeschooling, along with our personal experience and discoveries.

For more homeschooling encouragement see Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell it to Me Tuesday, Finishing Strong, and Trivium Tuesdays.

Disclosure: Although I mention several resources in this discussion, I am not compensated for doing so nor do I endorse them wholeheartedly.

Review: Career Exploration by Vicki Tillman

Career Exploration

As homeschooling parents of teens we are not only teachers; we are also guidance counsellors.  This is enough to frighten many parents but there are resources that make it easier. One of them is Vicki Tillman’s Career Exploration, a workbook that explores many aspects of a teen’s aptitudes, interests, and passions and helps translate them into possible career choices.

Of course, any sort of life planning should reflect one’s deepest values and beliefs, and that is how Career Exploration guides students.  As they go through this course, they are encouraged to ‘Remember that God has placed you here on earth for His purposes’ and reminded that ‘God will be using you wherever He places you to bring His Kingdom to life here on earth.’

Tillman begins by carefully navigating the tricky concept of ‘finding the will of God’, both by explaining it in a biblical, common sense way and by providing a helpful list of questions for students to answer.

The next few sections give insightful questions and checklists for teens to look objectively at themselves—their achievements, lifestyle values, strengths, and weaknesses.

Finally, after reflecting on all of the above information, teens are pointed to different sections of an enormous US government website and asked to answer detailed questions on a few of the careers they are interested in.  In order to really understand these careers, students are encouraged to try an apprenticeship or two.  Tillman provides paperwork to make this easier for both the teen and the future mentor.

College and career may seem a long way away for many teens, and many of them may have absolutely no idea what they are interested in, even after going through the self-assessments in this course.  Therefore Tillman encourages them to keep on trying new things both in life and in planning their high school curriculum.  I would also encourage them to repeat Career Exploration every year or two while following and broadening their interests.

The self-assessment section was very difficult for Miss 13 and Miss 15.  Thinking about who you are and what you want to do is not an easy thing, especially when you are that young.  Even so, it was a worthwhile activity.  The online explorations were easier for the girls and full of interesting information of all kinds.

To motivate my teens, I worked through some of the concepts with them, and I also explored the website.  Then I realized that there is one more aspect to this course:  Many homeschooling moms of teens are nearing the end of their homeschooling years, and they, too, may be wondering what to do during the next stage of their lives.  Vicki Tillman’s Career Exploration can help them as well, and encourage them that this is a time of new possibilities, not only of loss.

Career Exploration by Vicki Tillman is practical and, though it seems simple, requires a lot of effort from the student.  Teens who work through it carefully will have learned a lot about themselves and about possible options for their future.  Moms nearing the end of their homeschooling years can benefit from it as well.  This is one the simplest, least expensive, and yet most thorough guidance products available to homeschoolers and is something every homeschool family should explore.  You can purchase Career Exploration from 7 Sisters Homeschool.

For more about this aspect of homeschooling your teens, see You, Your Teen’s Guidance Counsellor or check out my many articles and reviews about different aspects of guidance counselling. 

For more encouragement see Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell it to Me Tuesday, Finishing Strong, and Trivium Tuesdays.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this workbook and, as usual, am not compensated for this review.

When Mom is Seriously Ill—Couch Schooling Attitudes

Love from a child, in the form of banana ice cream, chocolate chips, and frozen strawberries

Love from a child, in the form of freshly-made banana ice cream, chocolate chips, and frozen strawberries.

Two times in my life I’ve had a major health scare.  Eight years ago, a preliminary diagnosis gave me just a few months to live.  The second time was also a false alarm but it stopped me in my tracks none-the-less.  And that is why this article, which was meant to be a practical discussion of couch schooling, will be about Mom’s attitude instead.

Because it’s your attitude that matters in the long run.  If you are at peace with God and yourself and your situation, you will be able to find ways to make the practical details work out in your family’s unique situation.  If you are upset, stressed, or overwhelmed with negative emotions, nothing will go well.

So here are a few things to think about.

God never calls you do to more than he equips you to do.  If, for example, he has clearly not equipped you to leave the couch or has increased your need for sleep to 11 hours a day plus frequent rest breaks, then that has implications for what you should be trying to do.  So re-examine your goals and expectations.  You will most likely need to drop many things.  This will be painful, but it can also be a valuable chance to re-evaluate your priorities.

You will be cutting back, true, but there may even be other things you can and should add in.  Here’s a life-changing sentence from Hyatt’s new book Living Forward:  Ask yourself, “What does this experience make possible?”  I would add, “What does it make necessary?”

You will need to plan for as much healing as possible and this includes being thankful for what God has given you.  Yes, there are still good things even in the worst situation.  Even if you have received a death sentence, humanly speaking, there is a blessing in having time to prepare your children for this horrible event.  And if, as in my case years ago, the death sentence was premature, having pondered such things will change your life forever.

Look back and look forward, no matter why you are on the couch or how long you expect to be there.  Look back to what came before—the sickening crunch of breaking bones?  The soothing beeps and frantic bustle of the hospital? A positive pregnancy test?  An exhausting flu?   The never-ending grind of a chronic condition? Whatever it is, be comforted by this:  God knows it and has planned your way into—and through—these days. He loves you, and he can fix anything that would best be fixed but he won’t change things that are best not changed.  So, despite the pain it is all, somehow, good.  Someday we may understand, but remember, God didn’t tell Job the hidden story and he doesn’t need to tell any of us either.

Look forward.  You may be able to plan for the future, or anticipate it.  Even in the worst case scenario, you will go to God and, just as he has promised to be a father to the fatherless, he will also be a mother to the motherless. Prepare your little ones and your teens as well as you can with prayer and love, and your husband too. And live each day well, pointing them to God who is able to comfort them.

Or you may be looking forward to a long future on this earth.  Take the clarity that comes from being faced with your own limitations and plan wisely for that future.  Psalm 90 calls this numbering your days.

And be happyNotice and give thanks for the little gifts.  Rejoice in the bit of blue sky and the willow tree you can see from your pillow.  Treasure caring toddler caresses, even if you may not have the strength to give a hug in exchange. Enjoy time with loved ones, conversations, music, food prepared with love, good books if you have the strength to read them.  Give your family the gift of a wife and mother who is at peace.  Smile your love at them, even if there are tears in your eyes.

If God has made it impossible for you to do your usual tasks, enjoy the time off gratefully.  After all, how many people get to take days and weeks and months off from their everyday work?  This ‘vacation’ approach really helped my attitude when I was a long-term invalid years ago.

Be grateful to your caregivers and helpers and let go of your own way of doing things.  By their actions they are showing you their love; don’t you dare criticize this gift from their hearts!  It goes without saying that you let them know how thankful you are, and don’t take advantage of them.

Of course, none of this means giving up.  Plan for healing as much as possible.  Challenge yourself wisely.  Work diligently at getting well, whatever that means, but accept your current limitations with gratitude and good humor.

Finally, dear suffering mother, quiet yourself like a baby safe in its mother’s arms (Ps 131). Be at peace.  You are being taken care of, so don’t let worries flood your mind.  Yes, quiet yourself and be at peace. There is no need to fuss. And write this down somewhere, or everywhere:  “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10), making sure you will be reminded of it every single day, or maybe even every hour.

And if, by your words and your attitude, you can transmit this confidence to your children, they will have learned the most valuable lesson you can ever teach them.  Everything else, from phonics to Shakespeare, from adding to algebra, from Dick and Jane to Homer, is extra.  Important, yes, but extra.

So keep on running to God, read your Bible, ponder verses such as Phil 4: 4-8 in the endless tossing hours of the night, talk to God through the Psalms, and then, somehow—I don’t know how it happens—you will be given the strength and peace to give thanks in all circumstances.  You won’t always be happy; you will still experience pain; fear will still gnaw at your heart.  But God will be with you through it all , and you and your family will be OK.

May God bless you and your family and your time of illness.

On a personal note, although I am currently facing some medical uncertainty, I am OK.  My activities are curtailed somewhat, but I am not on the couch and am getting stronger week by week.  And I’m learning, once again, to notice the many miracles God places on my path and, even more, to be grateful for the miracle of his love and nearness.

Please, dear friends, forward this to people who need it.  I currently do not have the energy to do this, although when I am able I will link to some of the following: Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell it to Me Tuesday.

This is part of a series of occasional meditations  and devotional articles.

Review: The Last Ride by Susan Marlow

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I have never heard Miss 13, my reluctant reader, laugh and squeal her way through a book until she read The Last Ride by Susan Marlow.

Then she said, “Give it a good review, Mom!  It’s awesome!”

And a few days later she went back and read the best parts again, because it is so wonderful….

You see, Andrea Carter, now 15, and her beloved horse Taffy face a challenge in The Last Ride.  Cousin Daniel, of whom only Mother can say anything good, is coming to stay for a few months.  He has been getting into trouble, Andi and her sister discover unexpectedly, and his parents think the Carter ranch would be just the place to straighten him out.   And Aunt Rebecca, who disapproves of everything that Andi does, will bring him.

At first Andi, who is always getting into scrapes herself, thinks Daniel may be an exciting companion, but that hope is soon dashed.  He is worse than she could have imagined, and his behavior keeps on worsening until finally tragedy strikes….

I recommend you and your young teens read The Last Ride yourself to see what happened and why Miss 13 enjoyed it so much.

I did not enjoy The Last Ride quite as much as Miss 13 did, but that is probably because I was surrounded by the gentle beeping of hospital monitors while reading it.  Perhaps that is why I noticed the stress and tension while she only saw the humor and excitement.  Even so, I agree that it was a good book, well-written, exciting, and funny, with a strong Christian message woven in naturally.   I always appreciate that in Susan Marlow’s books.

I recommend The Last Ride as an exciting story for teens.  Horse lovers, old West buffs, and anyone else  will enjoy its excitement and humor and benefit from its message.

This is yet another book in the in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and may also be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, What to Read Wednesdays and The Book Nook.  For more encouragement see Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell it to Me Tuesday, and Finishing Strong.

Disclosure:  We received a review copy of this book from Kregel Books and have given our honest opinions.  We are not compensated for them.

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