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!

"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!