1. Conversation with My 5th Grader
Him: Why couldn't you just give us a shorter school day, I mean, cut some of these books and subjects and stuff?
Me: Because then you wouldn't have a very full education, that's why.
Him: Well, but I mean, The Hound of the Baskervilles is just unnecessary literature.
Me: Literature is necessary.
What we have here is a failure of one philosophy to communicate with another. The Philosophy of 5th Grade Pragmatism is bound to lose to Mom's Inexorable Humanities Vision, just because, but it's determined to go down fighting. Which is kind of a drag, frankly, but there it is.
I love Life of Fred. Really, I'm kind of surprised by how much I love Life of Fred -- I mean, I was disposed to like it because it's funky and weird and funny, but I did not actually expect to discover that it's hard. As in, Children Have to Learn Math. Somehow, in my mind, I hadn't correlated Thinking Mathematically with, you know, Being Able to Do Math; the impression I often get from conversations about Thinking Mathematically is that Mathematical Thoughts are big and capacious and creative, and sort of gloss over tiny mundane things like what 7x8 actually equals in boring old objective reality. But then, I realize that math is about expressing objective reality, far more than verbal language is. As far as I can tell, it's well-nigh impossible to lie convincingly in math.
We have had a routine going which works on some levels, but not on others. It goes like this:
a. Warm-up/facts practice/drill. Some days I put some problems on the whiteboard -- every day last week, we began with three problems on the whiteboard: a column addition because they had forgotten how to do these, then a 2-digit-times-1-digit multiplication problem, then a a division problem -- while on other days we fill in a blank multiplication chart on paper, while on yet other days I let the kids play a multiplication-drill app on their Kindles. All this is good, though as I've learned, it is better to specify which app I want them to do, rather than saying, "Pick a math app and play it," because the latter may result in a lot of time being spent picking the app, then figuring out how to do the app, then doing two multiplication problems before time is up.
b. Reading a chapter of Life of Fred aloud, demonstrating the various problems on the whiteboard as we go, then having people do the Your Turn to Play section as independently as they can, which some days is very independently, and some days is . . . not.
So, this would work just fine, and it often does work just fine, except that what I'm noticing is that when you have two kids doing the lesson together, it often transpires that while one child is listening and tracking what we're doing, the other is . . . well, today, for example, the other child was drawing pictures of hairballs all over the paper meant for writing math problems on. Everyone is still having trouble with the steps of long division, but not surprisingly, the person who spends the math lesson drawing hairballs (why hairballs? it only just now occurs to me to wonder) hasn't even arrived at the point of having trouble with the steps, because this person is expecting me to wind up doing the problem for everyone, which is not exactly my ultimate objective.
So . . . I was planning to separate everyone in math after Christmas anyway, moving the 5th grader into the beginning of the Life of Fred pre-algebra series and the 4th grader into the intermediate math series (for children under 10, or children who need more before embarking on fractions, decimals, percents, et al.) that follows on these elementary books, with which we're finally almost finished. We're nearly done with Honey right now, and I anticipate that we'll have worked through Ice Cream and Jellybeans by the end of this semester. I'd planned to keep everyone together through the end of the elementary series, but now what I think I'm going to have to do is shift math so that each child can have an individual lesson, from which it will presumably be harder to tune out. There's nothing hard about that, of course, except that the routine was going so swimmingly . . . How I hate sacrificing my lovely routine to the end of having someone learn something.
Or else we could just take turns doing the work on the whiteboard, ie being put on the spot. That could work, too. I think I'll give our combined math "class" till the end of this week before I decide to go torquing the schedule around too much.
3. So, what is good right now?
Reading and narrating are going well, though the 4th grader is a far more voluble narrator of her reading than the 5th grader is of his. From her I get chirpy little retellings full of detail; from him I get, "Mom, I don't talk about things I read." If I sit there implacably enough, I am eventually treated to some account of what happened with Hadrian's Wall, or Jeroboam, or Aeneas, or the earth's inner mantle, which leaves me not unconvinced that more than what I'm hearing was absorbed by the reader -- but not exactly wallowing in evidence of that absorption, either.
What are we reading at the moment? I'm sure I've written all this before, but just in case . . .
Literature: Stories from The Iliad by Jeanie Lang; Understood Betsy
British History: Cambridge Historical Reader (about which I cannot say enough good, as an alternative to H.E. Marshall's Our Island Story, for a reluctant reader)
Ancient History: The Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Greeks, F.J. Gould
Geography: First Lessons in Geography; Tree in the Trail
Science/Nature: Among the Meadow People, A World in a Drop of Water
Religion: The First Christians, Marigold Hunt; Great Moments in Catholic History; Hurlbut's Story of the Bible
Literature: Stories from The Aeneid by Jeanie Lang; The Hound of the Baskervilles
British History: The Story of the English, H. E. Guerber
Ancient History: The Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Romans, F.J. Gould
Geography: First Lessons in Geography; Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay
Science/Nature: *The Practical Geologist, Junior Explorer Rocks and Minerals Activity Book
Religion: Pearls of Peace: A Scriptural Rosary Journey Through the Holy Land; Great Moments in Catholic History; Hurlbut's Story of the Bible
*Practical Geologist is turning out to be a little advanced even for the 11-year-old enthusiast. Rethinking a bit here . . .
Memory work and dictation are also working well. After much thought over the summer, I opted not to invest in a whole memory work "system," ie Classically Catholic Memory; instead, we're concentrating on memorizing geography facts, catechism questions, math formulae (eg, "divide, multiply, subtract, bring down" for long division), and sentences for dictation. For the last several weeks we've used one of our copywork passages for studied dictation on Friday, but this week I've just put a sentence -- taken from Edward Eager's Half Magic, as it happens -- on the board for people to study and memorize.
4. On the other hand, what's not happening at all?
Currently, art, composer study, and nature study are not happening. And here's why: our schedule, sparse enough though it seemed to me in the beginning, is too full of interruptions, mostly right around noon, when I'd want to be settling into lunch with read-alouds and discussions.
On Monday there's Gym and Swim class, and I've shortened our schedule to math-copywork-literature-religion to accommodate that. Gym and Swim is kind of a non-negotiable, being good physical activity plus social time with friends. Still, it creates a time crunch, and the rest of the week needs to absorb that, but . . .
Then on Tuesday, we've had an online MathArt class from Currclick. It's a great class, very interesting and worthwhile . . . except that it's at 12:30, so that we're just getting a longer day's work in, with math, copywork, literature, history, geography, religion, and science, barely in time to be ready for class, and by the time it's over, nobody wants to do any more school at all. In fact, by the time it's on, nobody wants to pay attention to anything any more.
I'm also finding that although it's advertised for middle- and high-schoolers, it's a little beyond the maturity and cognitive levels even of my 11-year-old. So I'm pondering dropping it and using our lunch hour for basket reading instead.
Wednesday is actually pretty open.
On Thursday we have Mass at noon. It's nice to go to Mass at noon, instead of at 8 a.m., but then again, it sort of bisects the day. But then again again, even if we didn't go to Mass at noon, there would be the siren song of homeschool rec swim at the Y, calling to us to drop our books and put on our goggles . . .
Friday is also pretty open, except for First Fridays, when we meet friends for noon Mass and a play day afterwards. So three to four weeks out of the month, this is another day that can absorb things not done on other days . . . except that it's Friday, and nobody wants a long school day . . .
Anyway, I'm very tempted to drop MathArt. Great class, not sure it's working for us right now. Too much stuff, when I'm trying to keep us Charlotte-Mason-ly simple.
Meanwhile . . .
5. Other things . . .
If you haven't signed up for Prufrock: The Books, Art, and Ideas Newsletter, you really should. I mean, if you want a daily dose of literary and cultural goodness delivered to your email inbox. Of course, if you don't, then by all means don't. But if you want to know about Evangelicals and Mariology, or how to understand Gravity's Rainbow, or what a "watergaw" is, AND if you want to read one good poem and see one good image every day between your rising and your going down, then you should subscribe.
Also, I seem still to be in a phase of adding to this ongoing novel thing. I can't tell how long it will last. Read now, while you can.
6. Oh, I forgot some things.
a. German. We have been memorizing this book, a sentence a week. It came with a funny little audio featuring very homemade wind, ocean, and bird sounds. The (spoiler alert) ship sinking is accompanied by a slurping sound that makes you imagine the ship being sucked, not down to the bottom of the ocean, but up from the bottom of a milkshake, via a straw.
b. The 10th grader's life is looking like this right now. Plus chemistry, German, soup-kitchen volunteering, and paid work at the vet's. And being drawn on by his brother with Sharpie while he sleeps. Yesterday he woke up with "Made in China" written across his back. Last time the 5th grader pulled this particular stunt, he took the precaution of hiding the Sharpie and leaving a dry-erase marker out in plain view, so that when the 10th grader retaliated, as expected, all the 5th grader had to do was wipe himself off. I think I'm going to write a study entitled, "The Dubious Uses of Genius in the Domestic Ecosystem."
And I think that's really all.