I Was, in Fact, an English Major . . .

. . . so it stands to reason that I would be excited about teaching Lorelei English this year.  And I’m especially excited about this:
voyages in english
This book is sort of vintage and sort of not.  What do I mean?  Well, it’s a reprint of a book that was published in 1962.  I would rather have an actual copy from 1962, but those are harder to find and more expensive.
The Voyages in English series is a relic of the golden era of Catholic education.  The textbooks my kids used in their parochial schools were devoid of religion, except, of course, for their religion books.  Not so in the 60s and earlier, when English texts and readers presented our faith alongside academic concepts.
But I wouldn’t pick a textbook just for that.  This series is acknowledged as an excellent one.  This will be my first time using the fourth grade book.  For William and Teddy, I used a third grade book because I couldn’t find the fourth grade book at that time, and it was plenty advanced for fourth grade, believe me!  Sadly, it was lost in the fire.  Jake did pages from my own third grade English workbook, which was from a different, but still Catholic, series.  I also used to have the eighth grade grammar book, which I used for homeschooling Jake in seventh grade.  That book was AMAZING.  There were grammar concepts in there I had never even heard of.  Jake and I both love grammar so we thoroughly enjoyed that book.
Besides the Catholic content, this book is full of old-fashioned concepts like courtesy and citizenship.  While the presentation may seem a little dated, the concepts aren’t–or at least they shouldn’t be.  And explaining “vintage” ideas to Lorelei will make English a mini-history lesson as well.
The first chapter is called Fun with Our Pets, and it begins: “St. Francis of Assisi was a friend to all the animals and the birds.  They raised his thoughts to God, who was their Father as well as his Father.”  I love that!  One of the first things Lorelei will learn in this chapter is how to write a letter correctly.  I’m not sure that’s something they teach in schools anymore, but we are going to do it, and we are going to write actual letters to people and mail them! [Update: Once or twice, anyway.]
Chapter Two, Adventures in Bookland, starts thus: “All of us have many friends . . . There are also other friends whose companionship means much to us–the books that we read.”  Isn’t that awesome?  This is where we start learning how to write good paragraphs.
I won’t go crazy and tell you about every single chapter but there’s one that focuses on courtesy, and boy does Lorelei need that after a steady summer diet of the brats on the Disney Channel.
Anyway, I’m excited.  And I’m going to teach her how to diagram sentences too. 🙂 [Update: Maybe this year.]
 

No Textbook, No Problem

I can’t remember, way back when I decided to homeschool Jake for 4th grade, how I came up with my social studies curriculum.  But it’s a simple one, and we don’t use a textbook.
The theme of the year is States and Presidents.  Lorelei will learn all 50 states and their capitals.  She’ll also learn their postal abbreviations and will be able to fill them in on a map of the United States.  Copying the list of states will provide handwriting practice while also aiding learning.  Of course it won’t be all rote memorization–we will discuss facts about each state as we go.  And then she’ll get to pick one and do a report on it.
We will also memorize all the Presidents, in order.  Again, as we do that, we’ll be learning a few important things about each one.  And we will discuss the events in American History that were happening during each administration.  We won’t be using a textbook because we have numerous books about the states and the presidents that Lorelei can read selections from.  And again, she will pick her favorite President and write a report about him.
Every time I studied American History in school–which I think happened in 4th, 7th, and 11th grades (at least), we’d start off strong, with the discovery of America, maybe, or perhaps the 13 colonies.  But we always ran out of time before we reached the present day.  I think we might have made it to World War II one time!  I used to page ahead in the book to pictures of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter and the Vietnam War and the moon landing and wonder if we’d ever read those parts, but alas.
So our method probably lacks a little depth but at least we will cover it all!

A Dying Art

That would be penmanship, but it’s going to be a daily subject in our homeschool this year. [Update: This dream died halfway through the first year, I am ashamed to say.]
In my eight years of Catholic grade school, we had handwriting practice EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Yes, every single day for eight years.  At first, this was a sorry trial for me.  I struggled to print neatly in first grade.  My teacher had a set of rubber stamps she used to mark our papers.  The Excellent stamp was unattainable.  There were only two people in the class who EVER earned an Excellent.  I only hoped for a Very Good stamp.  But day after day my papers came back marked Try Harder, when I promise you I was already trying as hard as I could!
We moved on to cursive in the middle of second grade, and from third grade on, all work had to be completed in cursive.  Because my mind moved faster than my hand, my writing was messy and full of scribbled out words.  My handwriting can still be very messy today, if I’m in a hurry.  But when I try, I can write legible and attractive cursive.  I worked hard to achieve this result.  And I use it every day, because in this law office, all envelopes are addressed, by hand, in cursive, by me.
Even so, my writing is far from the elegant script we find in old letters.  That kind of cursive is already a lost art.  But in just a couple of generations, no one may be able to write in cursive at all!  My three big kids, a product of 13 years of Catholic education, did learn cursive.  But after a couple of years, they never had to use it again.  They were allowed to keep right on printing and then eventually started using computers for everything.  They never write in cursive and sometimes I think they might have forgotten how.  The only time I see any cursive coming from their pens is when they have to sign their names to something.
William was still being homeschooled at the time he would have started learning cursive, and I was more concerned about making sure he could print legibly at that point.  While they do at the moment still teach cursive in our public schools, he basically missed it, and since he’s getting to the age where it’s all typing all the time, he may never learn more than how to sign his name, unless he wants to.  And he probably won’t, because most kids seem to think cursive is an old-fashioned waste of time.
When I was little, cursive was a Big Deal.  It was like a code.  All the grownups wrote in it, and none of the kids could read it.  The Lunch Ladies at St. Joseph School used to write out the menu for the week in cursive and tape in on the wall in the hallway.  I remember my delight when at some point during first grade I taught myself to decipher it.  I also remember how eager I was to learn how to write, so eager that I got my grandmother to show me how so I had a head start before second grade.  I was already writing my name in cursive on everything,
Lorelei learned to write her name in cursive early too, and I don’t expect any resistance from her when it comes to this subject.  [HOW WRONG I WAS] And I’m glad, because I think it’s a shame that most kids never learn to write cursive well, and that many school districts are doing away with it all together.  I’m sad not only because good handwriting is beautiful to see, but also because learning to write in cursive stimulates different parts of the brain.  It helps kids learn.  And some kids who have great difficulty with printing don’t have that same difficulty with cursive.
So handwriting practice is going to be a daily part of our homeschooling curriculum.  We are going to do a page from our book every day.  I chose a book that combines religious instruction with handwriting instruction, but we won’t rely on this alone.  For example, when Lorelei is learning the Beatitudes this year, her handwriting work for the day will be to write them in her best handwriting.  The same will go for the Ten Commandments, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, the Stations of the Cross, and other religious concepts.  But we won’t only be linking handwriting to religion.  In Social Studies, it will be state capitals, or the names of the Presidents.  And writing neatly will be important in every subject. [This did work for Jake and Teddy, at least.]
What do you think?  Is it too late to save cursive?  Does it matter?  How often do you use cursive?

Math IS Fun

See, I think I misspoke (miswrote?) when I titled my last homeschooling post Math Doesn’t Have to Be Fun.  It was catchy, which is a good quality for a title, but I probably should have said something like Math Books Don’t Need to Be Fun.
Because I happen to believe that Math IS fun, and the people who are desperately trying to make the textbooks colorful and exciting are missing the point:  it’s all about the numbers, folks.
Have you ever seen someone getting really excited about Math?  My high school Algebra II/Advanced Math teacher, a sweet, wonderful, energetic Sister of Mercy named Sister Albertine, was like that.  I remember her explaining things to us on the blackboard, calling numbers “cute little creatures.”  I vividly recall the way she taught us about hyperbolas always approaching but never quite reaching the axis, which she demonstrated by taking tinier and tinier steps toward the classroom door.

Sister Albertine in recent years – photo credit: Tennova website

I mentioned in the last post that I love fractions.  I thought it was so cool that to divide them you turn them upside down and multiply them.  I love algebra too, and still enjoy solving a good complicated equation.   Most kids like number puzzles and patterns if they haven’t already been convinced that Math is hard and boring.
What’s needed to demonstrate that Math is fun, though, is not an illustrated textbook–it’s a good teacher with a love of the subject.  For fourth grade math, I hope I qualify! [edit: apparently not. 🙁]

Math Doesn't Have to Be Fun

Have you looked at your kid’s math book lately?  Besides being outrageously large and heavy, you’ll find that’s it’s colorful and has photographs on almost every page!  Also little boxes with things like “fun math facts” in them.  It makes my head swim to look in these books.  Sometimes it’s hard to find the math.
Contrast this with a really old math book, if you can find one.  I have some vintage ones that I’ve picked up here and there.  They are tiny–small enough to fit in a coat pocket.  But that doesn’t stop them from being full of really hard math.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I open a math book all I need to see are rows of math problems.  (Well, a little explanation is nice, too.)  When I was a kid, our math books were somewhat larger and more colorful than the vintage kind, but smaller and less distracting than those of today.  I would have been happy to use the series we used most of the way through grade school for homeschooling, as I have reused other books from my own school days, but you don’t get to keep your math book.
When I began homeschooling, I kept reading about something called the Saxon math program that homeschoolers all seemed to love.  So that’s what I got and used for Teddy and Jake, and I will be using the same thing for Lorelei.  Besides being full of math problems and devoid of color photography, the Saxon series also just does a good job at teaching math.  Subtitled “an incremental development,” the series starts each new lesson by reviewing what you’ve learned in the lesson just before.  Concepts build on concepts, and nothing is forgotten from lack of use.  Each set of exercises is preceded by a clear explanation with examples, so you can work through it and teach it to your kid (and perhaps remember how to do it yourself if you’ve happened to forget!).
math 1
math 2
math 3
math 4
You can buy the Saxon series direct from the manufacturer, or you can do what I did and get it on eBay way cheaper.  Now, you won’t get a workbook or a teacher’s manual or manipulatives if you do it that way, but I do homeschooling on the cheap.  It’s a drag not to have an answer key, although not such a big deal for me since I’m pretty sure I can still handle fourth grade math.
So is the approach effective?  Does it work?  I homeschooled my big boys for fourth grade, then sent them back to St. Joseph School.  Well, Jake was close to failing math in third grade.  He had no problem with the Saxon method.  I sat with him and wrote the problems for him because he has dysgraphia and he’d make a mess and get all frustrated before it was even time to start solving the problem.  When he took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills later in the year, he was ahead of his grade level.  Math never became his favorite subject, but he never struggled too much with grade school math again.  Teddy is basically a math genius.  He was already a year ahead when we started, and I think we got part of the way into a second book.  He went on to complete Algebra I AND Geometry before he even started high school.
Math isn’t Lorelei’s favorite subject, but she doesn’t have any particular problem with it.  I’m looking forward to using this book to help her become even more confident in her math skills.  And we get to do fractions!  I love fractions. [edit: Lorelei does NOT love fractions.  Or math of any kind.  I still love the Saxon series, but have had to resort to other means to get her past the mental block she has set up for herself.]

Do-It-Yourself Homeschooling: Spelling

Since school time seems to be rushing ever closer and there’s nothing I can do to stop that, I thought I might get myself in the mood for homeschooling Lorelei (and get my head on straight before we get started) by writing some posts about the curriculum we are going to be using.
You won’t find this curriculum on the internet or in a catalogue or at a homeschooling conference because I made it up myself.  I am still making it up, in fact.  To me, that is one of the best parts of homeschooling.
Today, let’s talk about spelling.
Now, if I can consider myself an authority on anything, it would have to be spelling.  There was a time in my life–a time that stretched over several years–when spelling was the only thing anyone thought about when they heard my name and pretty much the only thing people I didn’t know well ever wanted to talk to me about.  I won the Knoxville City Spelling Bee five times, the first time when I was just eight years old, and I came in 9th in the National Spelling Bee when I was 13.  From my own experience, and from observing my kids, and seeing trends in teaching spelling come and go, I’ve reached some conclusions about spelling ability in general and about the best way to teach kids to spell.
I used to think that if you were smart, and read a lot, you’d automatically be a good speller.  I still think that’s mostly true, but I’ve known plenty of very smart people–some of them my own kids–who still make spelling errors.  Maybe not many compared to the general population, but they still make them.  I can spell words I’ve never seen before, and my ability to spell carries over into other languages I’ve studied, leading me to believe that there’s something about being an excellent speller that you are either born with or you’re not.
That doesn’t mean you can’t learn to spell most words you will need in life, though. (Well, maybe some people really can’t, but I think most people can .)  So what is the best way to teach spelling?
Here’s one way that is stupid.  The teachers at my kids’ school attended a conference and learned about this method–the latest most exciting thing EVER which they stopped using after putting all my kids through it–called “Johnny Can Spell.”  This was based on teaching kids spelling “rules” which the teachers held up on cards and made the kids chant until they had them all memorized by rote.  How many things are wrong with this method?  Well, for one, English is notorious for having few rules and for breaking the ones it does have.  I used to take great pleasure in finding exceptions to each of these rules when the kids would tell them to me.  I remember one of the rules was “English words never end in i.”  It took me only a second to come up with “ski.”  My kid told the teacher and her response was that “ski” is not an English word.  Well, not originally, but it is now.  We don’t speak Old English these days.
The only rule they gave us when I was learning to spell was “i before e except after c,” which is a nice rule of thumb but STILL has exceptions, even if you add “or when sounded like A as in neighbor or weigh.” (weird, leisure)  And even if every single one of these rules was 100% accurate all the time, who spells like that?  Who has the time?
So in my homeschool, we go back to the way I was taught to spell, the way my parents were taught to spell.  I found this little gem of a book originally at my friend’s antique shop.  I lost it when the house burned down but was lucky enough to find it on Amazon so I could use it for Lorelei.  It’s the book they were using in the 1940s in Knox County, and in my opinion they should have kept right on using it.
spelling book
It’s a thin little book–each lesson takes only two pages!–and yet there is enough material in here for an entire school year.
Each lesson starts with a little story showing the words in context.  So on the first day of the week you read the story and find the words.
spelling book 3
Then you copy the words in your spelling notebook.  You can write a story with the words, or use them in sentences.  I used to love this assignment as a child.  It was so fun making up sentences, and I loved trying to make them into a story even when that was not part of the assignment.  Lorelei is burned out on sentence writing, because there were so many rules attached to this assignment when she attended school (at least five word sentences, can’t begin with articles, must use all “third grade” words) that she would get frustrated.  I’m looking forward to helping her learn to enjoy writing and being creative.
On Tuesday, there are a set of exercises to do with the words.  These vary.  Sometimes you look some of them up in the dictionary, or you might divide them into syllables, or talk about their root words.  There’s lots of variety.
spelling book 2
On Wednesday, you take a practice test.  If you miss any words, you write them down correctly in your notebook.
On Thursday, you practice the words you missed.  The book provides clear guidelines for how to study the words: “Look at the hard word and say it softly; look at the word and say each letter; close your eyes and try to see each letter of the word without looking at it; look at the word and copy it; write the word three times without looking at your book.”  Some people might think this is boring.  I think it’s a lot better than copying words on the computer in different fancy fonts. or writing each letter in a different color, or making the words into a train.  Believe me, when Lorelei was doing those things last year the last thing she was thinking about was the actual words and how to spell them.
There are also Review Words from the earlier chapters to look over on Thursday, and extra words to learn if you have time.
On Friday, you take the final test, which includes the Review Words.  If you miss any, you are supposed to keep a record of these and study them in your spare time.  Chances are they may come back in the form of Review Words in a later chapter.  Plus at the end of each six week unit, you spend a week reviewing all the words you’ve learned, following basically the same pattern outlined above.
And that’s it.  Basic and simple, and it works as well or better than any method of teaching spelling, without unnecessary bells or whistles.
Does anyone disagree?  Have you found other more effective ways of teaching spelling?  Tell me in the comments!
[Update: Rather tellingly, there is very little to update except that I was happily able to find the next book in this series, which incorporates grades 5-8, and we continue to use this method.  Lorelei is not a model homeschooler, but she appreciates the routine this method provides, and her spelling has steadily improved.]

Homeschooling Win!

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned to y’all that I plan to homeschool Lorelei next year.  She’s going to be in fourth grade, and I’ve done that before, so I already have a lot of resources, and I’ve slowly been gathering others over the last several months.
There was one place I was stuck, though, and it’s kind of an important place!  I couldn’t find a religion book that I liked.
The religion book I used for Jake and Teddy was actually my own religion book from way back in 1976-1977. (Yes, I saved those kinds of things and I’m glad!) While it’s true that catechesis in the 1970s was a mess, this book was pretty good.  St. Joseph’s School switched to a new program the following year–I still have that book–and it was dreadful, practically content-free.  But this one covered all the basic fourth grade stuff–Commandments, Beatitudes, Works of Mercy, and more–that is still being taught in fourth grade today.
And because I was using it for William in 2011, and it was in his backpack in the living room of what we now call “the burned down house,” it’s gone forever.
So you can find anything on the internet, right?  But I couldn’t remember the name of this book.  I knew what it looked like, and roughly when it was published, and what grade it was for, that’s all.  And no book that looked like that EVER appeared, not once, in many, many months of off-and-on searching.  I even asked the school if they had a record of what book we used back then–no dice.  I conducted research on Catholic publishing companies and looked up every book that was published around that time. My head swam with publishing companies (Sadlier, Benziger, Loyola) and their various programs.  Nope.  I spent hours on this, y’all.  I really had my heart set on that book.
Surely, you ask, there are plenty of other fourth grade Catholic religion textbooks out there?  Why, yes, yes, there are.  But I didn’t want to risk an old one that I hadn’t seen before because, as I mention above, many of the ones that were around back then were just bad.  And I don’t like the modern ones I’ve seen which are too jam-packed with information and fill-in-the-blank pages.  (Honestly, I just don’t like modern textbooks.)  What I liked about this one is that it was very simple with short chapters that I could use as a starting point for further discussion.
I finally found one that seemed similar in content (by looking at a screenshot of the Table of Contents) to the one I remembered.  I thought I could maybe try to make do.  But when I went to order it on Amazon it was about $25–kind of a lot to spend for an unknown.  I searched for it again and found some really cheap copies put up by someone who did not even bother to include a picture of the cover.  So that’s what I ordered.
Have you figured out the punchline yet?  We came home from a short vacation yesterday and my package was waiting for me.  As I tore open the bag I saw not the book I was expecting but the ONE I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR.  Apparently, it was just a different edition of the one I thought I was ordering.  Some of the material has been rearranged, and of course it has a different cover.  And to sweeten the pot, it’s not written in (which of course mine was) AND it’s a teacher edition with all kinds of other good stuff at the end.
religion book
So that’s a propitious omen for my return to homeschooling.  I look forward to sharing my other adventures with you this year!

Now It's Your Turn!

Y’all, I really need a little help here.  I participated in an education focus group earlier this week, and I’ve been asked to get some input from YOU on the follow-up questions I’m going to post below.  I know I have a lot of silent readers here (HELLO!), but this time I really need you to speak up and answer these two questions in the comments.  Okay?
Here goes:
What does it take (or what WOULD it take) to motivate you to take action on an educational issue?  This can be on a local, state, or national level.
Have you ever worked together with the larger school community, including educators and other parents, to creat change in your school and/or school district?  If so, would you share a bit about the effort and impact?
Y’all, please don’t make me look bad. 🙂  They are actually PAYING me for this and I don’t want to come up empty.  Thanks!

Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame

Today I watched my first Notre Dame football game as the parent of a student. After all, I’m “part of the Notre Dame family now,” (as we were reminded MANY times during last weekend’s orientation events).

Teddy's view from the student section today
Teddy’s view from the student section today

(Fortunately, the Notre Dame game was at 3:30 and the University of Tennessee game didn’t start until 6:00. My next door neighbor, a Notre Dame alumna, couldn’t understand why there would be any conflict for me if they aired at the same time! But I digress.)
I’ve grown up hearing about Notre Dame, which was always presented as the pinnacle for a Catholic student, and at one point I assumed I would go there. Then I read the Barron’s Guide which stated that there was nothing to do there in the dead of winter but stay on campus and drink beer. [edit: I am told this is accurate.] That probably sounds attractive to many high school students, but I was turned off and did not even apply.
Of course, now I’ve seen the place, and realize that as big and wonderful as the campus is, whether there is anything to do in South Bend is immaterial. I don’t have any regrets because I loved Georgetown, but I am very excited for Teddy and the adventures he is going to have.
The mystique surrounding Notre Dame is unbelievable. I don’t think there is anywhere I could have announced that Teddy had chosen that would have incited a more enthusiastic response. I had not realized myself until visiting the place just how attending a Catholic high school inculcates you with a familiarity with and reverence for the place. Teddy played high school football for the Knoxville Catholic Irish (and just last weekend, KCHS played the Chattanooga Notre Dame High School’s Irish!). The Notre Dame leprechaun was painted in the middle of the old Catholic High’s floor. Teddy wore gold and blue for most of his football career. We played the Notre Dame fight song at games when I was in high school. All the sports memorabilia that I saw at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center at the Purcell Pavilion looked eerily familiar. I told Teddy that all his high school sporting attire and t-shirts are going to fit right in (a good thing, too, since that’s most of his wardrobe).
ND purcell center detail 2
Notre Dame sets out to cultivate that mystique and to build loyalty from the moment you arrive with your kid. Once we were allowed on campus and directed to the back entrance to Teddy’s hall (St. Edward’s, the oldest one, built in 1882), we were met by an enthusiastic bunch of identically-dressed, cheering young men who surrounded our car, washed our windshield, and whisked Teddy and all his belongings upstairs in two minutes or less.
ND St. Edwards 3
As the weekend went on, we were fed every meal (for free!) in the campus dining halls (one of which features a fireplace big enough to roast a cow in and a mural of the Last Supper on the wall), offered the opportunity to watch Rudy (we were too tired), given ample time to walk around campus to absorb the iconic atmosphere, and welcomed officially via orientation events that went on until Sunday afternoon.
Saturday morning we were invited to meet with the rector and the rest of the residence hall staff in the hall chapel. Yes, EVERY hall has its own chapel and daily Mass at 10 p.m. I’m told that it’s really something to walk around campus on Sunday evenings and hearing the singing coming out of each hall. I’m not sure what I had envisioned when I pictured a hall chapel, but it wasn’t this.
ND Chapel Altar
St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)
St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)

We were welcomed, we were instructed, we were reassured about the safety and welfare of our sons. Later in the afternoon we attended a welcome at the Purcell Center for the freshman and then a special session for parents while students were meeting their first year advisers. That was the first time we heard “You are part of the Notre Dame family now” but it wasn’t the last. We heard from the President of the University, the Dean of First Year Studies, and others, before adjourning to explore the many course offerings in the different academic buildings–making John and me wish we could go back to school and major in more subjects!
We had plenty of time for exploration while Teddy was busy setting up his room and doing his own thing. We spent hours in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We walked around one of the two lakes. We visited the grotto. Teddy was only with us part of the time but he was doing his own exploring and said that his feet hurt. Seriously, how even an in-shape young person can handle all the walking necessary in that enormous place (no cars, y’all!) is beyond me.
Basilica interior
Basilica interior

View across the lake
View across the lake

grotto
grotto

On our last morning we went to the Purcell Pavilion again for a Mass celebrated by the President of the University. (Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, by the way, was very much in evidence throughout the entire weekend.) Mass was followed by a box lunch in our seats, during which Teddy joined us so that we could experience the last event together.
This was “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” and there was no doubt that it had been carefully orchestrated to make us feel part of that “Notre Dame family” and to send us off on a high note. It featured words of welcome from the Mayor of South Bend, the athletic director, the football coach, and the women’s basketball coach, followed by musical performances from the all-male Glee Club, a mixed ensemble, and the Notre Dame Band. Notre Dame has a lot of traditional songs apparently, and we heard them all. We sang the Alma Mater, and the whole thing culminated with “the moment we’d all been waiting for” (seriously, they said that, and by then it was pretty much true): the Notre Dame Fight Song.
I had never visited Notre Dame before and did not know what to expect, but to say I was impressed by the program and the place is to understate my reaction. I am very excited for Teddy, and I can’t wait to go back and visit again.
ND Golden Dome

"The School I Would Run"

The title is in quotes because I utter that phrase frequently, mostly when complaining about something that has happened in one of my kids’ schools or when reading about the latest stupid educational fad.  (I also sometimes say “If I ran the world” but that is another post for another day!)
This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it in any particular order.
AT MY SCHOOL WE . . .

  • Would have Mass EVERY MORNING.  My parochial-schooled kids only went twice a week.  For most of my childhood it was every day, then later switched to three days.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate and it doesn’t have to take more than thirty minutes.  I did not realize what a blessing and a privilege it was at the time, but I do now.
  • Would have gym EVERY DAY.  Physical exercise is important.  Kids are getting fatter.  Some kids don’t play sports and they need the exercise.  Taking breaks to move around aids in learning as well.  We had gym every day when I was a kid and I bet you did too, but my kids go twice a week, and sometimes it’s two days in a row!
  • Would have thirty minutes of recess EVERY DAY.  I don’t honestly know how much kids get these days but I’m sure it’s not that much.  They don’t have the freedom we did to rush through lunch to try to get as much playtime is possible, and half the time recess isn’t after lunch anyway. And my middle school child doesn’t get recess AT ALL.  Not only do kids need exercise, they also need nature.
  • Would not have a technology/computer class AT ALL.  I’m not saying that computers might not be available, maybe for enrichment activities of some kind, but the idea that we need to “prepare our kids for the future” by teaching them computer is laughable.  Were we in any way prepared for the digital age?  Are we doing okay anyway?  My kids get plenty of screen time at home and they don’t need anyone at school to teach them how computers work.  Besides, what we teach kids about today’s technology in kindergarten will be obsolete within a few years anyway.  Let’s use that time for things that really matter.
  • Would have regular art and music classes.  Because these things are fun and enhance academic learning besides.  HOWEVER, and I know the teachers of these subjects won’t like this, for the most part these subjects should be taught in the regular classroom, with the teacher rolling her materials in on a cart.  Why?  Because the “specials” schedule, with kids traveling to different rooms on different days, is confusing and disruptive and wastes huge amounts of instructional time because of the transition required, both for the movement of bodies and the settling down of them afterward.
  • Would treat Spanish as a serious academic subject or omit it all together.  My big kids had Spanish for nine years in grade school.  Now ask me if they are fluent.  Kids in Europe attain fluency in English so we know it’s possible.  Our schools teach kids colors and body parts and songs in Spanish year after year after year so they can show it off when they are applying for accreditation.  If the kids aren’t coming out fluent, it’s a waste of instructional time.
  • Would emphasize grammar and diagram sentences.  There is no better way to understand the structure of the English language.  And you can’t learn a foreign language later if you don’t understand the grammar of your own.
  • Would teach cursive and practice it daily.  Some studies have shown that learning cursive improves academic performance.  But it’s also close to becoming a lost art and it’s a civilized skill that an adult should possess, if only for writing thank you notes.
  • Would use a math book that is full of math problems, not distracting color photographs.  For homeschooling, we used the Saxon program.  Seriously, y’all, have you looked at your kids’ math books?  Why do we think we need to entertain kids constantly?  When it’s time for math, let’s do math,
  • Would teach spelling the old-fashioned way.  Because it works.  We used a speller from the 1940s at home.  You have a weekly list of words, you write sentences, you do activities with them, you take a pretest, you copy over the ones you miss, you do a post-test.  Over the years I have seen some incredibly stupid methods of teaching spelling.  I will write a whole post (rant) about that some time.
  • Would encourage creative writing.  My sister’s third-grade teacher gave them a writing prompt every morning in the form of a magazine photo she hung on the board.  They could write anything they wanted to.  Betsy brought home wonderful stories every day.
  • Would offer plenty of time for reading, with an engaging reading series like the Keys to Reading series that my classmates and I enjoyed at St. Joseph.
  • Would have no summer homework.  Enough said.
  • Would have, in fact, no homework at all.  Unless you goofed off and didn’t finish what you should have during the day, or with the possible exception of long-term projects.
  • Would require uniforms.
  • Would EXPECT good behavior, not reward it.
  • Would start later in the year, maybe later in the day, and would have a shorter day for kindergartners and first graders.  And don’t tell me we need more instructional time, not less. For one thing, I’m not buying it, and for another, I’ve freed up time by getting ride of Spanish and computers and unnecessary transit time.
  • Would have the option of writing a paper on a scientific subject rather than completing a science fair project.  A corollary:  projects with obvious parental involvement would get a WORSE grade than ones kids obviously did on their own.
  • Would offer every kid an opportunity to shine, whether they are athletes, mathletes, budding scientists, artists, musicians, or writers.  Rather than awarding everyone for everything, my school would instill the concept that everyone is especially good at something and celebrate that.  Yes, that means that some kids would go home ribbonless from Field Day. It’s painful (as I know from experience) but that’s life.

I will stop there for now since I DON’T have my own school and have to spend some time actually earning a living this morning.  But I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Would you like my school?  How would YOUR school be different from mine, or different from the ones you’ve experienced?
7th grade
UPDATE:  For the past few years I have had my own school in that I am homeschooling Lorelei and just want to state for the record that it is sadly missing a lot of the above elements!