Author's Note: It was only after I wrote the following article that I realized how much it reflected some of the ideas in the book A Thomas Jefferson Education. I have written about TJEd before now, and how it appeals to me--the self-directed learning in the early years, combined with the classics (both reading and discussion) in the later years. Right now, my kids are in the Core Phase--the early years, and our primary focus as a family is to incorporate our kids into our daily life as much as possible, so that they are learning to be independent in the home and focused on pursuing their own projects and interests. I think the things my son is doing fit well with the Core Phase, and as I learn more about TJEd, it seems to fit our learning goals and styles very well, although we will certainly pursue a secular adaptation.
I learned of Ambleside Online just this morning through one of my secular homeschooling yahoo groups. This is a free online guide to implementing a Charlotte Mason homeschooling method at home. For those who may not be familiar with the ideas of Charlotte Mason, she developed a very literature- and writing-heavy, kind of unschoolish, slow, gentle form of education. There is much I like about the Charlotte Mason methods.
What's cool about Ambleside Online is that they provide book lists by school year as well as suggested CM activities. This will be very useful to us as we are always looking for good reading material for Ryan. He doesn't read on his own yet, but Brendan has been reading chapter books to him before bed each night and I intend to step up our daytime read-alouds, too. I strongly prefer to read him the "good stuff" both for his sake and for my own. We have already read much of the Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade lists, but it doesn't hurt to read them again, of course, and there are many things we haven't discovered yet.
You might be wondering just what it is we are doing to homeschool Ryan during his Kindergarten year. Well....not much. Please don't be alarmed, because I'm looking at those words, too, and they are mildly alarming to me even though I know Ryan is learning all the time and is really quite a bright child, as those of you who know him IRL can attest.
I'm a member of the Better Late Than Early homeschool club, which means that I'm not about to sit him down at a little table and have him practice writing or do math, etc. Boys in general--I keep reading this--need extra brain-maturing time before they are quite ready to do such school work. (Incidentally, is this really true and why? Need cites and evolutionary explanation, please!) My boy in particular has a serious case of the wiggles with a giant helping of not-ready-to-listen-to-Mommy's-bright-ideas on the side. (Of course I realize that while the wiggles might go away, the not-listening part will probably never fully subside.) I'm told that as children get closer to 6.5 to 7, they are generally mature enough to handle formal learning.
I think little kids need to be playing outside and building with Legos and using their imaginations and role-playing and learning to handle some "life-skills" independently. So what we are focused on besides our read-alouds are things like self-control, self-sufficiency (like making his own breakfast and grooming), interpersonal relations (with his sister and parents), and helping out around the house (laundry, etc.). And we talk--we discuss stories and movies and projects and my work and Brendan's work and the ethics of Good Guys and Bad Guys and better ways to handle disagreements with us and with Morgan and we also answer an average of about 1,452 questions per day.
Ryan spends much of his day in solo imaginative play like building and making up stories for his armies (be they beads, Legos, or soldiers) to act out. He is getting much better at handling his big emotions like anger, and while still prone to screaming, can now calm himself without help and more quickly, too. Uh, sometimes. He is learning to negotiate with his sister and often does it well. Of course, he's always up for working on projects around the house, and has even exhibited a willingness to help clean up toys (especially after I explained that if I did not get help, then we would whittle our toy inventory to a level that was easy for me to handle myself).
We have been guiding him toward more self-sufficiency in terms of tasks such as making breakfast, etc. This is an area some children have no problem with, but Mr. Ryan has long adhered to the creed "Ask not what I can do for myself, but rather what Mommy can do for me." It's so interesting to see my friend's 4 year old daughter become upset to the tantrum-point because she wasn't allowed to put her own straw in her drink while my nearly 5.5 year old will throw just as big a fit because it wasn't done for him. Since I do not want to be making my 9 or 12 or 17 year old breakfast, we are addressing this now. If I had to pick an area that needs doing most and that we should be stepping up our efforts on, this "becoming more self-sufficient in day-to-day tasks" would be it. I'm not asking for Eggs Benedict here. I think it's reasonable that he make his own toast with honey or locate a spoon without a big fit. You can tell I'll probably be fired over this --many times. :o)
As far as reading, writing, arithmetic: while those subjects are not our focus right now, we do encounter them as we go through our day, and we touch on them gently and quickly, then move along. For example, Ryan is picking up many sight words and as he is doing this is becoming interested in reading in general. I'm watching him carefully for signs that it's time to begin approaching reading in a more formal way. In the meantime, I'm happy to spell words out for him, play games with alphabet sounds, notice rhyming words and point out the ones that are spelled in the same way (mat-cat-pat, not bird-word-nerd). I bought a little flip book with index cards and am making him a Ryan's Stuff To Know book--at his request. So far there are just a few things, like our phone number and the word "peanut" but I think it will be nice to have some of his writing/reading questions all down in one place.
I am helping him to remember the correct way to hold markers, crayons, etc. He's getting better at remembering. Again, another area where I'm fascinated with the difference in children. Morgan is pretty solidly right-handed already (almost 2.5) and seems to grasp a writing utensil properly most of the time. Ryan took until he was about 4.5 to decide on his dominant hand--right, we think--and struggles with holding writing instruments properly. We have lots of dot-to-dot and maze books that he enjoys and this also provides him with an opportunity to practice writing skills and build up the muscles in his hand(s).
Math--the kid has already figured out that if 2 5s equals 10, then 3 5s must be 15. This is amazing to me as we have done NO formal arithmetic. He counted to 100 the other day. We have Cuisenaire rods and cubes of 1, 10, 100, and 1000 that he plays army with. Not particularly concerned about him in this area just now.
Literature, history, science. To the extent that we cover these topics, we mostly discuss the books that we read. I am amazed by his ability to remember entire passages nearly verbatim. He incorporates what we read (and yes, what he watches on TV!) into his imaginative play. A HUGE imagination, that one. We read Usborne and DK books when he has a particular question about rocks or dinosaurs or Roman Soldier Peopleguys and the armor they used.
Questions: he asks so many questions. It's impossible to really get across. We've already tackled such weighty topics as "Who invented the universe?" "How do gorillas get babies?" (and the corollary human questions!) "Why is Velma's voice different sometimes?" and "How do grownups become Bad Guys and why would they want to?" (answer, grown ups choose to be good or bad and you will definitely be happier if you choose to be a Good Guy). Talk talk talk--that's mostly what we do.
Whew! What began as a post to share Ambleside Online turned into a Day in the Life of My Kindergartener! This has been a good exercise for me though to help me wrap my head around some of my goals for Ryan. I wonder what our days will look like six months hence, how far along he will have progressed, what he will have learned. Will be interesting, no doubt!